Chapter 7 Week 2

Pages 293-307

During the previous session the focus was on the concept and material process of labor. In this discussion we went through a critical element for understanding the discussion for this session. Specifically I am referring to the connection of laborer and context to product.

In the labor process the laborer enters into a conflict with the particularity of the moment and the nuances of material and tools. In the labor process a laborer, who is a person at a time and space, comes into contact with a material, which is in its form only in that time and space. This extreme historical particularity not only ensures that every act of production is a unique unrepeatable moment, unlike any other moment, but that it is inherently tied to the particularities of that moment.

As such, we cannot approach labor as something that either necessarily produces a specific product, all products, even of the same type, are different materially, nor something that can be thought of as a mechanism of the past or the future. Labor exists as an activity, in which we come into contact with material and tools, all of which contribute to the final outcome. But, this is just labor as labor. As we have seen, the introduction of capital fundamentally shifts the calculation around time.

Early in the chapter Marx foreshadows this a bit. In the discussion at the beginning of the chapter there are two distinctions that are made, one is between time and labour-power, and the second is between unique product of labor and generic object of commodification. During the act of production, as production, one is engaged in activity on a particularized basis. The act is a unique act, which have never occurred before and will never occur again, and this uniqueness is formed from the particularity of time, the particularity of material, of labor, of action and of tooling, all of which are not ever to be repeatable in this same form. This act is actualized immediately, it is only ever what it is, and results in the object being produced in a unique form.

The problem, within the context of commodity circulation, is that without a nested series of generalizations. The first layer of generalization we have discussed extensively, the generalization of value in the ways that value is attributed to objects. This imparting of equivalent forms of value eliminates the particularity of the object. On a second layer, this also generalizes the act of production as well.

When a capitalist purchases labor, they are not purchasing actualized labor, or labor that is occurring. Rather, what is purchased is the potentiality of activity of the worker in the future, or labour-power. In order to do this all acts of labor need to be rendered equivalent, and able to be valued quantitatively; we call that a wage. The process in which labor gets rendered equivalent and imbued into the value of the commodity is called valorization, and that is where we will be focusing our attention today.

Before jumping into the notes I want to re-emphasize another point made in weeks past. The content for this section really focuses heavily on the labor theory of value. Within this conceptualization labor is utilized through the medium of tools to change a material into a use-value. In the end product the value of that product is in itself an expression of all of the labor accumulated in that object, and every step that was taken to get to that object. But, as Marx has stated, there is a problem here. If labor were the only determination of all value, including exchange value, then all products would be valued at what their value in production was, and profit would be impossible.

What occurs in the valorization of the commodity, and labor within the commodity, is that value shifts form from a qualitative value of the particularized object and moment to the quantitative magnitude of equivalent objects and moments. After this process of wrenching moments and things out of history, profit margins are then added to this quantified value. These margins are based on conditions that exceed the object, such as social conditions, political circumstances, abstract risk, supply and demand dynamics and so on. This addition of profit margins have been used by capitalist economists to claim that the labor theory of value is not relevant, but this position misses something, once profit is added and the quantitative value exceeds that of the quantification of all labor embodied in the object we leave the realm of value and enter the realm of price. Again, it is the labor theory of VALUE, and not the labor theory of PRICE. To understand what is going on in this section that distinction is critical.

With that all out of the way, here are the notes for this session.

Labor, in its base form, creates use-values, or it produces objects that have a use for the recipient or consumer of that object. As we have discussed, this concept of value, which is particular to the consumer at a particular moment, is eliminated in the process of capitalist circulation, and all value is reduced to exchange value, with exchange value being expressed in a magnitude of quantity. In this form the object retains its use-value for the consumer, but for the capitalist these use-values are only produced to function as the “material substratum”, or mechanism of transport, for abstract exchange value. In this form use becomes contingent on exchange, and labor is turned toward producing objects, not based on utility or use, but purely based on the possibility of exchange.

“Our capitalist has two objectives : in the first place, he wants to produce a use-value which has exchange-value, i.e. an article destined to be sold, a commodity ; and secondly he wants to produce a commodity greater in value than the sum of the values of the commodities used to produce it, namely the means of production and the labour-power he purchased with his good money on the open market. His aim is to produce not only a use-value, but a commodity; not only use-value, but value; and not just value, but also surplus-value.” (293)

Take, for example, something like a stock. It is a commodity, even if it is an abstract commodity, and it would seem like that stock does not have any direct use-value. But, in reality that stock allows one to have a level of control over the entity they hold stock in to the proportion of stock that they own out of the total. Stock is also tradeable, and can in itself be used as a mechanism through which its direct use is to create surplus value. Even in this case, where we are talking about an abstraction that only exists in relation to another abstraction (a part of an abstract legal entity), there is still value in the use of the object.

For the object as such, the object as object, the value of the object is related to the labor utilized to produce the object as a use-value. Though the abstraction of price will emerge in the circulation process, the value of the capitalist commodity is still determined by aggregate labor, now expressed through the lens of capitalist production as a quantity of equivalent labor and laborers.

“It must be borne in mind that we are now dealing with the production of commodities, and that up to this point we have considered only one aspect of the process. Just as the commodity itself is a unity formed of use-value and value, so the process of production must be a unity, composed of the labour process and the process of creating value [ Wertbildungsprozess ].

Let us now examine production as a process of creating value. We know that the value of each commodity is determined by the quantity of labour materialized in its use-value, by the labour­ time socially necessary to produce it. This rule also holds good in the case of the product handed over to the capitalist as a result of the labour-process.” (293)

Outside of labor itself, however, all of these circumstantial elements, like social unrest, cannot be directly taken into account in the price of the object for a very simple reason; the object is priced now, but social unrest, for example, has an endless timeline of possibility. These elements are also not able to be generalized as a standard cost, the events themselves and the dynamics of existence are not able to be subsumed to generalized concepts. But, most importantly for our discussion here, these elements cannot be eliminated either; they are the distance between life and abstraction, and to eliminate contingency would mean to eliminate life itself. So, without an ability to take these elements into account, or the ability to eliminate them in the calculation of value, the value of the commodity comes to be determined by an averaging of potential costs.

“Hence in determining the value of the yarn, or the labour-time required for its production, all .the special processes carried on at various times and in different places which were necessary, first to produce the cotton and the wasted portion of the spindle, and then with the cotton and the spindle to spin the yarn, may together be looked on a s different and successive phases of the same labour process. All the labour contained in the yarn is past labour; and it is a matter of no importance that the labour expended to produce its constituent elements lies further back in the past than the labour expended on the final process, the spinning. The former stands, as it were, in the pluperfect, the latter in the perfect tense, but this does not matter. If a definite quantity of labour, say thirty days, is needed to build a house, the total amount of labour in­corporated in the house is not altered by the fact that the work of the last day was done twenty-nine days later than that of the first. Therefore the labour contained i n the raw material and instruments of labour can be treated just as if it were labour expended in an earlier stage of the spinning process, before the labour finally added in the form of actual spinning.” (294-295)

In most economics this elimination of contingency if treated like a simple efficiency calculation. In reality, this imposition of generic average is the very foundations for the assembly line, Taylorism and the entirety of the performance metric driven workplace, which is structured to construct the worker as an entity as close to a machine as possible; this is the ultimate core of the alienation of the laborer from labor within the wage structure. We will return to some of these themes when we get to Chapter 15, which is about the factory, in a couple of weeks.

“We have now to consider this labour from a standpoint quite different from that adopted for the labour process. There we viewed it solely as the activity which has the purpose of changing cotton into yarn ; there, the more appropriate the work was to its purpose, the better the yarn, other circumstances remaining the same. In that case the labour of the spinner was specifically different from other kinds of productive labour, and this difference revealed itself both subjectively in the particular purpose of spinning, and objectively in the special character of its operations, the special nature of its means of production, and the special use-value of its product. For the operation of spinning, cotton and spindles are a necessity, but for making rifled cannon they would be of no use whatever. Here, on the contrary, where we consider the labour of the spinner only in so far as it creates value, i.e. is a source of value, that labour differs in no respect from the labour of the man who bores cannon, or (what concerns us more closely here) from the labour of the cotton-plan ter and the spindle-maker which is realized in the means of production of the yarn. It is solely by reason of this identity that cotton plan ting, spindle-making and spinning are capable of forming the component parts of one whole, namely the value of the yarn, differing only quantitatively from each other. Here we are no longer concerned with the quality, the character and the content of the labour, but merely with its quantity. And this simply requires to be calculated. We assume that spinning is simple labour, the average labour of a given society. Later it will be seen that the contrary assumption would make no difference.” (295-296)

“During the labour process, the worker's labour constantly under­goes a transformation, from the form of unrest [ Unruhe] into that of being [Sein ] , from the form of motion [Bewegung] into that of objectivity [Gegenstiindlichkeit]. At the end of one hour, the spinning motion is represented in a certain quantity of yarn; in other words, a definite quantity of labour, namely that of one hour, has been objectified in the cotton. We say labour, i.e. the expenditure of his vital force by the spinner, and not spinning labour, because the special work of spinning counts here only in so far as it is the expenditure of labour-power in general, and not the specific labour of the spinner.

In the process we are now considering it is of extreme importance that no more time be consumed in the work of transforming the cotton into yarn than is necessary under the given social conditions; If under normal, i.e. average social conditions of production, x pounds of cotton are made into y pounds of yarn by one hour's labour; then a day's labour does not count as 12 hours' labour un­less 12x lb. of cotton have been made in to 12y lb. of yarn ; for only socially necessary labour-time counts towards the creation of value.

Not only the labour, but also the raw material and the product now appear in quite a new light, very different from that in which we viewed them in the labour process pure and simple. Now the raw material merely serves to absorb a definite quantity of labour. By being soaked in labour, the raw material is in fact changed into yarn, because labour-power is expended in the form of spinning and added to it ; but the product, the yarn, is now nothing more than a measure of the labour absorbed by the cotton. If in one hour 1 2/3 lb. of cotton can be spun into 1 2/3 lb. of yarn, then 10 lb. of yarn indicate the absorption of 6 hours of labour. Definite quantities of product, quantities which are determined by experience, now represent nothing but definite quantities of labour, definite masses of crystallized labour-time. They are now simply the material shape taken by a given number of hours or days of social labour.” (295-296)

“By turning his money into commodities which serve as the building materials for a new product, and as factors in the labour process, by incorporating living labour into their lifeless objec­tivity, the capitalist simultaneously transforms value, i.e. past labour in its objectified and lifeless form, into capital, value which can perform its own valorization process, an animated monster which begins to ' work ', ' as if its body were by love possessed '.

If we now compare the process of creating value with the process of valorization, we see that the latter is nothing but the con­tinuation of the former beyond a definite point. If the process is not carried beyond the point where the value paid by the capitalist for the labour-power is replaced by an exact equivalent, it is simply a process of creating value ; but if it is continued beyond that point, it becomes a process of valorization.

If we proceed further, and compare the process of creating value with the labour process, we find that the latter consists in the useful labour which produces use-values. Here the movement of production is viewed qualitatively, with regard to the particular kind of article produced, and in accordance with the purpose and content of the movement. But if it is viewed as a value-creating process the same labour process appears only quantitatively. Here it is a question merely of the time needed to do the work, of the period, that is, during which the labour-power is usefully expended.Here the commodities which enter into the labour process no longer count as functionally determined and material elements on whieh labour-power acts with a given purpose. They count merely as definite quantities of objectified labour. Whether it was already contained in the means of production, or has just been added by the action of labour-power, that labour counts only according to its duration. It amounts to so many hours, or days, etc.” (302-303)