Fugitive Capital

S. Artesian

A. Marx’s law of value– that commodities will exchange in proportion to the labor-time necessary for their reproduction is at its origin and in its final analysis, a statement of the relations between classes.

  1. The law is the expression of the conflict between the labor process as the means for the development and satisfaction of social needs with the condition within which that labor process is circumscribed:  the capitalist ownership of the means of production as private property.
  2. With that condition, the labor process is transformed into a valorization process, augmenting the private property; embedding labor in both the objects and means of production as accumulated capital.
  3. That, at certain times, and in the long run, the labor process manifested into the accumulation of capital, fails to deliver profit, fails to deliver sufficient profitability to maintain the accumulation, is the conflict between the labor process and the valorization process.  This defines capitalism as a restrictive condition.

B.  Marx’s explanation of the labor theory of value begins with the examination of the relations of exchange among commodities in order to determine the common condition, the substrate, that makes commodities fungible equivalents, “substitute-able.”

  1. The relationship between labor and value, the conversion of labor into value is the conversion of specific concrete labor, defining an object, into an abstract, detached measure of the labor activity– time.
  2.  Value is a specific, historical, class configuration of the general condition of social reproduction, i.e. that human labor is a) the social appropriation of nature b) capable of producing in mass, type, and qualities, surplus beyond the needs of immediate direct consumption; beyond the requirements for use.
  3. Capital changes these general characteristics into its specific mode of production by compelling the laborers to present their ability to labor, their power, as an object, an article for exchange, as if their time were useless save as a means to obtain the equivalent of those means of subsistence necessary to sustain the laborer through this, or the next, working day, as the laborer; as if the labor power were defined by its limitation rather than its ability to produce surplus. 

C.  A rose by any other name would smell as sweet, but an hour is an hour is an hour and time is money.

  1. With capital dominant, labor is not expressed in articles, or objects of production, but in and as time.  Labor is labor-time.  All production is configured as surplus production.  All labor is dedicated, as much as possible, to surplus labor-time.
  2. The supremacy of time means consequently then that productivity, the ability to increase the quantity or mass of the output in a given unit of time cannot augment the value produced.  An hour is an hour and only the hour has, and is of, value.
  3. The increase mass of output cannot change, in itself, the relation between the necessary and surplus labor-time unless that declining value of the individual articles directly reduces the quantity of time required to produce the equivalent of the wage, of the necessary labor-time.
  4. Such reduction is not the reduction of the mass of wages in relation to the total capital employed, but rather is a reduction in proportion of time necessary  to the wage, and requires, therefore, a decline in the wage.

D.  Marx is originally very clear in the limited nature of “relative” surplus value: Given the length of the working-day, the prolongation of the surplus-labour must of necessity originate in the curtailment of the necessary labour-time; the latter cannot arise from the former.  In the example we have taken, it is necessary that the value of the labour power should actually fall by one-tenth, in order that the necessary labour-time may be diminished by one-tenth….The technical and social conditions of the process, and consequently the very mode of production must be revolutionised, before the productiveness of labour can be increased.  By that means alone can the value of labour power be made to sink…..But an increase in the productiveness of labour in those branches of industry which supply neither the necessaries of life, nor the means of production for such necessaries, leaves the value of the labour power undisturbed. 

  1. However, Marx swiftly jettisons the restricted terms of relative surplus value extraction:   “Machinery produces relative surplus-value; not only by directly depreciating the value of labour-power, and by indirectly cheapening the same through cheapening the commodities that enter into its reproduction, but also, when it is first introduced sporadically into an industry, by converting the labour employed by the owner of that machinery, into labour of a higher degree and greater efficacy, by raising the social value of the article produced above its individual value, and thus enabling the capitalist to replace the value of a day’s labour-power by a smaller portion of the value of a day’s product. During this transition period, when the use of machinery is a sort of monopoly, the profits are therefore exceptional, and the capitalist endeavours to exploit thoroughly “the sunny time of this his first love,” by prolonging the working-day as much as possible. The magnitude of the profit whets his appetite for more profit.”
  2. There are similar passages in Marx’s Grundrisse, and in other sections of the Economic Manuscripts 1857-1864.  
  3. Marx “flips” to this generalization of the extraction of relative surplus value as it explains the continuous application of technology to production, and replacement of living labor  by accumulated labor in the  means of production.  Nevertheless, he does not show exactly how the generalized introduction and expansion of machinery enhances the extraction of relative surplus value.
  4. Let’s try a thought experiment.  Suppose there is a railroad, where a road crew made up of  one locomotive engineer and one conductor haul 100 cars, each car carrying 100 tons of polyethylene pellets,  100 miles in 10 hours.  The haul rate, the tariff,  for the pellets is $.035 per ton mile.  The locomotive engineer and conductor are paid at a rate equivalent to $70 per hour each.  We ignore for the moment the incremental costs, and value transferred, by the locomotive, the fuel, the track structure, the train control system, the train dispatchers, car inspectors, yardmasters, etc.   So we have 10,000 tons x 100 miles x .035 or a revenue stream to the railroad of $35,000 dollars.  The crew is paid $1400 dollars.  The ratio of revenue, or C to v is 25:1.  The crew has reproduced its own value within in the first 4 miles of the trip, or 24 minutes.
  5. Now improvements in the track, in the train control system, and in the locomotive traction power are made, and the same crew can haul the same load 150 miles in ten hours.  The bulk of capital costs, “c” has increased, but incrementally they may remain the same, or even decline, as better traction control results in less wear and tear to the locomotives, to less rolling contact fatigue between the wheel and rail, to less fuel consumption; the improved train control system results in less delay time, etc.  So the actual part of the unit cost attributable to c remains the same or declines.   Anyway, we now have 10,000 x 150 x .035, or a revenue of $52, 500.  The crew earnings are still $1400, so now the C:v ratio is 37.5:1.  The additional mileage traversed by the crew is supposed to be irrelevant– i.e. it represents a productivity advance, which creates no additional value in the ten hours elapsed time.  The crew has again reproduced its own wage in the first 4 miles of the trip, but now the 4 miles represents 16 minutes.
  6. Has the rate of  relative surplus value been enhanced?  In a sense, yes, but what is that sense?  What appears as intensified exploitation of labor is actually in the lag, the delay between the reduced time required for the transport and the manifestation of that reduced time in a declining tariff.  Once the other railroads, or other major railroads, have made the same or equivalent improvements in their “network velocity,”  the rate for hauling the pellets will decline, and the rates of reproduction, of the wage, and of the entire capital will fall back to an average.
  7. What has occurred is an apportioning of the total surplus value in favor of the first railroad(s) that implement the capital improvements.  Now in real life, an increase in the haul from 100 to 150 miles would trigger additional payments to the road crews, but that is a function of class organization, and no sure thing.
  8. At a certain, critical moment, when all railroads have made their capital improvements,  the tariff declines by 1/3 and no enhanced rate of relative surplus value extraction will appear anywhere in the field.
  9. When that occurs, when the technology becomes universal, then in fact the rate of profit will decline, as the rate of profit is always calculated on the the total capital invested in the means of production (and not yet “realized” by depreciation), and not the increments transferred to any unit of production.  Then capital takes flight, sometimes literally, sometimes figuratively.  The “real domination of labor by capital,”  the supposed result of technical progress, then turns its primitive face towards labor, attacking compensation, benefits, pensions, work rules; “tiering” the wages of the work-force; fleeing (where and when possible) to areas of lower wages.

December 9, 2017

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: