[OPE-L:6542] Re: Variable Capital

jurriaan bendien (Jbendien@globalxs.nl)
Wed, 6 May 1998 15:33:50 +0200

Eduardo writes:

>4) In sum, variable capital exists initially in money form ($90), then it
>is transformed - through the purchase of LP (i.e., the rental of the use
>value of LP) - into living labor. By existing as living labor within the
>production process, it incorporates a new value into the commodity capital
>produced. The magnitude of variable capital at time t + h (which exists as
>part of the value of the commodity capital produced) is $180, but $90
>represent a reproduction of the value originally advanced and the other
>portion ($90) represent the excess or surplus-value.
This interpretation sounds plausible enough. However, as I have tried to
point out, the value of $180 pertains to the NEW VALUE PRODUCT, NOT TO
living labour power which increases in value, but the assets of the
capitalist (although one might argue that work experience can increase the
value of labour-power in a FUTURE wage contract). The augmentation of
capital occurs through the materialisation of living labour in the new

Incidentally, Eduardo's $180 is only a "hypothetical" or potential value or
worth, since the product has not yet been sold, and its social value
realised. The exact magnitude of the value-creating process that has
occurred is determined only "after the fact", we know this only in
retrospect, after the production process is complete.

Perhaps the analytical difficulty lies in the fact that, whereas from a
human point of view constant capital is the "objective factor" in the labour
process, and labour-power the "subjective factor", from the point of view of
capitalist production labour-power becomes simply a "component of capital",
an "asset" i.e. the labour force functions as a component of capital. But
this is strictly speaking a reification (objectification in thought), be it
a reification which originates in material reality, i.e. the peculiar
circumstance that labour-power is bought and used by capital for the purpose
of value-augmentation as such.

Eduardo writes:

>The following quotation presented by Jurriaan, it seems to me,
strength[ens] my case:
>> "The variable capital functions as variable capital only to the extent
>that it is
>> actually applied, and during the time for which it is applied" (Cap 2,
>> Penguin, p. 375).

Actually, this quote would support both our interpretations. Marx
emphasises here that variable capital is variable capital only if it is "put
to work", i.e. actually used to preserve and transfer value, and create new
value. Eduardo says that at the endpoint of the period of being "put to
work", the variable capital has "expanded" in value, I am saying that
variable capital (i.e. the capital invested in labour-power), has been
"expended" (or "consumed").

Eduardo writes:

>Let me present another textual evidence to support my argument:
>"The position is otherwise with that portion of capital we have called
>variable but which only becomes the really variable portion of capital when
>it has been exchanged for labour power. In reality, money - the portion of
>capital that the capitalist has expends on the purchase of labour power -
>is nothing but the means of subsistence available on the market (or dumped
>on it on certain terms), and destined for the individual consumption of the
>workers. Money then is only the transmuted form of these means of
>subsistence which the worker immediately transforms back into means of
>subsistence as soon as he receives it... One part of capital, and thereby
>the capital in its entirety, is transformed into a variable magnitude by
>the fact that instead of money - which is a constant magnitude - or the
>means of subsistence as which it may appear and which are likewise constant
>magnitudes, it is exchanged for living labour-power - a value creating
>force, something which can be smaller or greater, which can manifest itself
>as a variable magnitude and which in fact always enters the process of
>production as a fluctuating, developing magnitude and hence as one
>contained within different limits, rather than as a magnitude that has
>become fixed". (Results of the Immediate Process of Production, In:
>Capital, vol. 1, Vintage Books, p. 983-984).

This passage would I think again support both our interpretations. The
magnitude of the value preserved, transferred or created is indeed
"variable" and not "fixed" in the immediate production process, in the sense
that the worker may do more work or less work than anticipated, the wrong
work, or no work at all. As Marx puts it, "One part of capital, and thereby
the capital in its entirety, is transformed into a variable magnitude by
the fact that... it is exchanged for living labour-power". That is why
labour must be subordinated by capital: to ensure the maximum surplus-value

Eduardo writes:

>What I'm saying is that variable capital exists as living labor within the
>immediate process of production and therefore, at the end-point (time t +
>h) the magnitude of capital (which now exists as commodity capital) has
>increased. It ceases to exists as living labour but it has now been
>incorporated into the commodity capital.

But this is not quite the same thing that Eduardo suggested earlier, namely
that the variable capital ITSELF had increased in magnitude. If variable
capital "ceases to exist as living labour", as Eduardo says, it is no longer
variable capital.


Jurriaan Bendien