Monthly Archives: August 2014

‘Skill’ (Concrete Labour) and the Division of Labour as Functions of Capitalist Commodity Production.

‘Skill’ (Concrete Labour) and the Division of Labour as Functions of Capitalist Commodity Production.

‘Skill’ in the worker is a technical function of the requirements of capital insofar as the use value of commodities – which results from the application of this skill in production – is the repository of value. It is a continuously evolving, historically determined, function in terms of its development and operation in the service of capital. What required 10 workers to achieve in 10 days, 50 years ago, can now be done by one (or even none) in five minutes with automation and computer controlled production. And producing a product of considerably higher quality in terms of its use value. Capital only requires the forms of ‘skills training’ in workers which adequately fits its needs. It does not lay out capital which is wasted in the acquisition of skills which are surplus to its requirements because this is capital wasted. And capital wasted is capital not realising its notion, its raison d’etre. It is the negation its own intrinsic character as capital. This is a root of the merely utilitarian and philistine approach of capital in its relationship to labour and society as a whole.

But this approach also excludes and marginalises those who are highly qualified in specific areas. Only if a skill can be employed productively to create surplus value – either directly in production or indirectly in research, development and management – will its bearer be employed by capital. If the employment of any skill at any level cannot cannot yield surplus value for capital then it is not a skill as such for capital. Those, for example, with doctorates in Engineering can be completely wasted and under-utilised by capital if they cannot provide exploitable skills. Under socialism, of course, such people would be treasured and developed as the innovators of production and technique. They would be afforded unparalleled scope for development and teaching. In this sense, many workers are, indeed, not only often overskilled for capital’s requirements. But – in the course of being scientifically under-utilised in production – they have those more advanced skills denuded and wasted in the course of capitalist production. We may refer to this as a form of “deskilling” in which acquired skills are not put to full actual and potential use and development.

The proletariat as a whole (Marx writes about this in Volume 1, Capital, p.618, Penguin) becomes more universal and flexible in its labouring capacities as the capitalist system evolves because this is precisely what capital itself demands. This, of course, has implications for the labourer in terms of the degradation and dehumanisation of his role in production in which he becomes a ‘mere appendage of the machine’ and working monotonously in a ‘supervisory capacity’. His labour-power is dehumanised as the variable component of capital itself in the reproduction of capital. Living labour becomes reified (Verdinglichung) as a mere material element in the production of capital with all its dehumanising, alienating consequences for the labourer in his relationship with his fellow men and himself .

But this increasing degradation of labour and the labourer alongside the growth in structural unemployment becomes a function of the progressive increase in the organic composition of capital which tends to transform the ‘skilled worker’ into a mere ‘supervisor’ of production. The machine – in one form or another – replaces human labour. At the same time, the worker in this supervisory function is expected to be able to move effortlessly from one area of production to another with the breaking down of divisions and barriers in production and in society generally. Today a person can move through different occupations (if they are lucky enough to find work) in the course of life whereas in Marx’s time this was not so easy.

The division of labour is a product of the unfolding of the historical process and reaches its highest point of development in the epoch of global capital. It is only necessary for this epoch of capitalist commodity production and exchange and becomes increasingly unnecessary as this epoch is transcended. The division of labour within the workplace and in society as a whole are inseparable sides of the singularity of this division of labour within the developing historical process of capitalist production as a whole. The social division of labour under capitalism is a necessity for this system based on the reproduction of capital. As, of course, is the technical division of labour whilst capital continues to exist as the dominant social relationship of production and distribution. Exchange remains just as intrinsically necessary to this process as production and distribution under capital which, of course, does not apply in those stages of communist society far beyond the epoch of capital and beyond the initial stages of socialist society dominated by the compulsion of natural necessity.

Labour for capital is alienated labour (Marx : “the theft of alien labour time”) done for another for a wage which is used to purchase the means for reproducing and sustaining that labour-power as a commodity for re-sale to the owners of capital or its various agencies. It is labour that must produce surplus value or, if not, it ceases to be variable capital for capital as a whole and is useless labour for capital accordingly. The purchase of labour power takes place on condition that the value produced by the labourer is always greater than the actual value of the labour power itself. Otherwise, no surplus value could be produced and therefore no profit made. The negation of capitalist commodity production means that this alienated character of labour will be supplanted by the “free activity of the social individual” within a forever deepening “true realm of freedom”. (Vol 3, Capital, The Trinity Formula. pp 958-59 ff. Penguin Classics Edn, (translated by David Fernbach) 1991.)

Shaun May

August 2014





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The Organic Composition of Capital : An Example of How Bourgeois Economics Tries to Bury the Secret of Capitalist Exploitation.

The Organic Composition of Capital : An Example of How Bourgeois Economics Tries to Bury the Secret of Capitalist Exploitation.

Marx writes that capital’s ‘value composition, in as much as it is determined by and reflects, its technical composition, is called the organic composition of capital’ (pp 145-46, Capital, Vol 3, Lawrence and Wishart, London, 1974). Marx makes a distinction between the value composition and the technical composition of capital. The technical composition is the “real basis of its “organic composition”. In other words the actual physical relationship between machinery, materials, etc, employed and the number of productive labourers is the “real basis” of its “organic composition”. This technical composition – as the “real basis” of the organic composition – is reflected in the value composition of productive capital. Not commodity capital, of course, which – as a value composition – does not have an “organic composition” as such.

However, the technical composition can rise, fall or remain the same with constant or varying value composition and vice versa. The relationship between the two compositions may remain constant or rise or fall according to the productivity of labour i.e whether the latter rises or falls accordingly.

The value composition of commodity capital is, of course, different and includes the component of surplus value. But the value composition of commodity capital is not included in Marx’s category ‘organic composition’ because it is not a ‘technical composition’. Productive capital (C+V) does not contain the value component of surplus value but rather surplus value is the manifestation of surplus labour created in the course of the valourisation process in the production of commodities. Accordingly, the value composition here (productive capital) is contrasted with that of commodity capital in which productive capital exists only in potentio.

Only productive capital has a “technical” and therefore “organic” composition in contrast to commodity capital (C+V+S) which also, nevertheless, like productive capital (C+V), does have a value composition. The category of ‘organic composition’ is a category of productive capital and not of any other form of capital (commodity or money capital). For Marx the organic composition of capital is NOT the ratio between the value accumulated as dead labour (C) and the value created by productive workers (V+S)

Marx writes that the organic composition of capital is equivalent to the relationship between dead accumulated labour and necessary labour time which is a totally different conception as reflected in the ratio C/V. Nowhere in Marx is there any explicit conceptual development or suggestion that the organic composition of capital is anything other than the relationship between constant and variable capital.

The constancy or variation in the relationship between constant and variable capital does not actually change the determinate character of this relation. It merely alters the form of the relation. Whether or not relative surplus value is being produced which is an academic question anyway. If no valorisation is taking place, then the means of production are not functioning as capital per se. The organic composition of capital has a “real basis” in its technical composition and this is always reflected, either directly or inversely, in the alterations in the value composition and vice versa. The rise in the quantity of relative surplus value produced is a consequence of the increase in the organic composition of capital and therefore a relative fall in its variable compared to its constant component.

The organic composition of capital is its value composition rooted in and mirroring alterations in its technical composition. If we admitted the formula C/(S+V) for the organic composition, the law of the tendency of the rate of profit to fall would itself actually be undermined by the very basis of its concept. The root conception (organic composition) would negate the derived one (law of tendency of the rate of profit to fall)

This value composition of productive capital – which mirrors directly or inversely the technical composition – is called by Marx the ‘organic composition of capital’. The value composition of productive capital always, therefore, in one way or another, directly or inversely, reflects its technical composition. And this applies regardless of the constancy or variation in variable capital. The “value of the real wage” may rise or fall or remain constant but this does not alter the character of the value composition as being equivalent to the organic composition of capital under historically determined technical conditions of production. Theoretically, if no relative surplus value were produced, this would not alter the determinate character of the relation involved in the organic composition. This organic composition is only determined by “unpaid labour” insofar as unpaid labour is the substance of surplus value which is then accumulated after realisation. This may or may not alter the organic composition of capital. C/(S+V) is the ratio of constant capital to the total value created by productive labour i.e. (V+S) in the valorisation process during production. But this is definitely NOT what Marx means by the organic composition of capital.

The bourgeois vulgarisers of Marx, and those who have never studied Marx, or those who only have a superficial acquaintance with his work, sometimes refer to this latter ratio [C/(V+S)] as the “capital-output ratio”. The term is frequently found in the pages of the economics texts and journals of the bourgeois vulgarians and ideologues of capital such as Kaldor and the “Post-Keynesian” Pasinetti, for example. Sometimes we find it used by so-called “Marxists” who have themselves vulgarised Marx. They give Marx a bad name when they accredit such conceptions to him.

Most of them are located in superannuated posts at some of the “best” universities and in the financial institutions of the enemy class. Kaldor was based at Cambridge and was an advisor for the Wilson government in the 1960s in Britain.

The burying of the distinction between variable capital and surplus value in the term “output” serves to conceal the secret of capitalist exploitation and the origins of profit itself as the realisation of uncompensated labour. What Marx refers to as “the theft of alien labour time” is buried under the “capital-output ratio” of the bourgeois vulgarian. Marx must be studied with the necessary degree of attention and thought which he deserves rather than being casual with his conceptions. In other words, we must and should leave dilettantism in such matters to those who feel comfortable with it, whoever they may be.

Shaun May

August 2014

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