The Labor-Process and the Process of Producing Surplus-Value
“The change of value that occurs in the case of money intended to be converted into capital, cannot take place in the money itself, since in its function of means of purchase and of payment, it does no more than realize the price of the commodity it buys or pays for; and, as hard cash, it is value petrified, never varying. ……..”[i] (Ch 6) Therefore to add value to it something else is needed, the labor power or the capacity to labor, as a commodity, though a qualitatively different, not produced in the capitalist production process, available for sale in the market that is called objectification or commoditization of labor (chapter 6)[ii]. The interaction between the 2 commodities, inanimate (land, machines, raw material etc) and the animate (the labor power), bought by the capitalist, is called the labor process that adds value to the commodity to change the M-C-M circuit into M-C-(The labor process) -C’-M’. (M’>M and M’-M =surplus value). Chapter 7[iii] vividly explains the intricacies of the expending of the labor power that effectively is labor itself and uncovers the contradiction between necessary and surplus labor corresponding to the dual character of the commodity—the use value and the exchange value and appropriation of the surplus value (the product of the surplus labor) by the capitalist.
Beginning with the dual character of the commodity in terms of its use value and the exchange value or simply the value and its definition (Ch 1)[iv] in the simple exchange of commodities (Ch 2)[v] the Part 1 of the volume concludes with the explanation of the emergence of money as the “universal measure of value …. that by necessity must be assumed by that measure of value, which is immanently innate in commodities, labor-time”[vi], on the one hand; and as the medium of the circulation of commodities”, C-M-C, on the other. (Chapter3)[vii]. With the beginning of “the modern history of capital” dating back from “the creation in the 16th century of a world embracing commerce and a world embracing market.”[viii], the circulation circuit is inverted, leading to the transformation in the character of the circulation and of the money that becomes an end from the means. Part 2 of the volume begins with the analysis of this new transformation of money into capital with the inversion of the circulation circuit from C-M-C into M-C-M. The end points in simple circulation of commodities are C-C, selling for buying whereas in the inverted circuit of the circulation, the end points are M-M, buying to sell. This inversion inaugurates a new paradigm of analysis in Political Economy. (CI, Ch4)[ix]. Chapter 5[x], Contradictions in the General Formula of the Capital explains the contradiction between use value and the exchange value and generation of the surplus value, i.e. the expansion of the value advanced in the form of money, the merchant’s capital that paved the way for the development of the industrial capital. The Adam Smiths – the bourgeois political economists – unable to explain the generation of surplus in the exchange of equivalents conceal under the mysterious jargon “the invisible hands of the market”. “The conversion of the money into capital has to be explained on the basis of the laws that regulate the exchange of commodities in such a way that the starting point is the exchange of equivalents”[xi]. Adam Smiths do not explain, probably in the ‘collective’ interest of the “Wealth of Nation”, the mystery of the profit making ‘universal individual’, “only an embryo capitalist must buy his commodities at their value, must sell them at their value, and yet at the end of the process must withdraw more value from the circulation than he threw into it at the starting.”[xii] This mystery is revealed in the concluding chapter of this part (Chapter 6)[xiii] by introducing another commodity that the “Money bag” buys “a special commodity in capacity for labor or labor power” – “aggregate of those mental and physical abilities existing in a human being, which he exercises whenever he produces a use value of any description.”[xiv] Thus one of the necessary conditions for conversion of money into capital is availability of ‘free labor’ to add value to the commodity, prior to and outside circulation. For this the owners of the labor power needed to be freed from the means of labor to make him “free laborer, free in the double sense, that as a free man he can dispose of his labor-power as his own commodity, and on the other hand, he has no other commodity for sale, is short of everything of realization of his labor-power”[xv]. The capitalist, the buyer of this peculiar commodity, sets it in motion to valorize the value of the C of the M-C-M circuit and change it to M-C-C’-M’. The transformation of the use value of C into another, qualitatively different use value, C’ with the valorized Value, M’ takes place by expending the labor power on C.
This process of valorization of the value, is called labor process, under which labor power and means of production mutually consume each other to create surplus value to be appropriated by expenditure of surplus labor over necessary labor realized in the form of wages, is the starting point of the Part 3 (The Production of Absolute Surplus Value)[xvi] of the volume and is the subject matter of Chapter 7[xvii] divided in 2 sections – The Labor Process Or The Production of Use value; & The Production of Surplus Value. The 1st section defines and describes the labor and the labor process, the 2nd section defines and demonstrates the value in terms of labor time and surplus value in terms of the product of surplus labor and its appropriation by the capitalist.
THE LABOUR-PROCESS OR THE PRODUCTION OF USE-VALUES
“The capitalist buys labor-power in order to use it; and labor-power in use is labor itself. The purchaser of labor-power consumes it by setting the seller of it to work. By working, the latter becomes actually, what before he only was potentially, labor-power in action, a laborer. In order that his labor may re-appear in a commodity, he must, before all things, expend it on something useful, on something capable of satisfying a want of some sort. Hence, what the capitalist sets the laborer to produce is a particular use-value, a specified article. The fact that the production of use-values, or goods, is carried on under the control of a capitalist and on his behalf, does not alter the general character of that production. We shall, therefore, in the first place, have to consider the labor-process independently of the particular form it assumes under given social conditions.”[xviii]
Beginning with the purchase of 2 commodities, the means of production -- the work place, the instruments of labor the raw materials etc – and the labor power from the market, Marx alludes to the history of the evolution labor process as the continuing common link between various historic epochs and defines with familiar examples, the constituents of the means of production. As pointed in the above quote, the labor process is expenditure of the labor power on the means of production to produce some use value on behalf and in the direction of the capitalist. It should be noted that this transformation took place not with the change in the methods of production but with the change in the relations of production – the private ownership of the means of production and the “free wage labor”. Change in the methods of production took place subsequently with transformation of mercantile capitalism into full-fledged industrial capitalism and is dealt with in a subsequent chapter[xix].
Humans began to distinguish themselves from the animal kingdom by the human-specific attribute, the ability to produce and reproduce their means of survival by labor. “Labor is, in the first place, a process in which both man and Nature participate, and in which man of his own accord starts, regulates, and controls the material re-actions between himself and Nature. He opposes himself to Nature as one of her own forces, setting in motion arms and legs, head and hands, the natural forces of his body, in order to appropriate Nature’s productions in a form adapted to his own wants.”[xx] Thus the limbs, particularly the hands became the first implement human labor. Hence any human action is no labor, only purposive human action that produces objects of satisfaction of some human wants. “An immeasurable interval of time separates the state of things in which a man brings his labor-power to market for sale as a commodity, from that state in which human labor was still in its first instinctive stage”[xxi]. Thus the labor process is the process of the application of the labor power on the subject of labor, one of the three elementary factors of the labor process, the other two being the action itself – the work and the instruments of labor. [xxii] “All those things which labor merely separates from immediate connection with their environment, are subjects of labor spontaneously provided by Nature. Such are fish which we catch and take from their element, water, timber which we fell in the virgin forest and ores which we extract from their veins. If, on the other hand, the subject of labor has, so to say, been filtered through previous labor, we call it raw material; such is ore already extracted and ready for washing. All raw materials are the subject of labor, but not every subject of labor is raw material: it can only become so, after it has undergone some alteration by means of labor”.[xxiii] Thus the raw material that has gone through some alteration in form from that of its natural existence is one constituent of the means of the production.
Another elementary element of the labor process and the constituent of the means of production is the instrument of labor, “which the laborer interposes between himself and the subject of labor and which serves as the conductor of his activity.”[xxiv] With application of mind and creative assumption, human beings have been continuously developing the instruments of labor to make the labor more productive/effective. “No sooner does labor undergo the least development, than it requires specially prepared instruments. Thus in the oldest caves we find stone implements and weapons. In the earliest period of human history domesticated animals, i.e., animals which have been bred for the purpose, and have undergone modifications by means of labor, play the chief part as instruments of labor along with specially prepared stones, wood, bones, and shells. It is not the articles made, but how they are made, and by what instruments, that enables us to distinguish different economic epochs.”[xxv] The application of the labor power on the subject of labor with the help of the instrument alters the subject of labor. “The process disappears in the product; the latter is a use-value, Nature’s material adapted by a change of form to the wants of man. Labor has incorporated itself with its subject: the former is materialized, the latter transformed.”[xxvi] The instrument of labor and the subject of labor together constitute the means of production.[xxvii] “…whether a use value is to be regarded as raw material, as instrument of labor or as product, this is determined entirely by its function in the labor process, by the position it acquired: as this varies so does its character”[xxviii]
To sum up, the labor process is the application of labor power on the means of production – the subject and the instruments of labor – to add value to it. “…; it is the necessary condition for effecting exchange of matter between man and Nature; it is the everlasting Nature-imposed condition of human existence; and therefore is independent of every social phase of that existence, or rather, is common to every such phase. ……….. no more does this simple process tell you of itself what are the social conditions under which it is taking place, whether under the slave-owner’s brutal lash, or the anxious eye of the capitalist, whether Cincinnatus carries it on in tilling his modest farm or a savage in killing wild animals with stones.”[xxix]
Under capitalism, the capitalist buys objective factor -- the means of production -- and the subjective factor – the labor power for his selected trade from the market. Labor process in capitalist production acquires two particularly peculiar attributes. Firstly the labor power (for a agreed time) bought by the capitalist does no more belong to the laborer but to its buyer in the same way as horses or oxen. Secondly the product belongs to the capitalist and not to the producer except for the value she/he has sold the labor to be received at the end of the process. “Labor process is a process between the things that the capitalist has purchased, the things that have become his property. The product of this process therefore belongs to him.”[xxx]
THE PRODUCTION OF SURPLUS-VALUE
The 1st Section of the chapter concludes with the control over the labor process and right over its product of the capitalist in the capitalist production, i.e. commodity production system. The 2nd section deals with the valorization of the capital, i.e. production of the surplus value and its appropriation by the capitalist. The capitalist “wants to produce a use-value that has a value in exchange, that is to say, an article destined to be sold, a commodity; and secondly, he desires to produce a commodity whose value shall be greater than the sum of the values of the commodities used in its production, that is, of the means of production and the labor-power,... His aim is not to produce only a use value but a commodity also; not only use value but value; not only value but at the same time surplus value.”[xxxi]. And the “value of a commodity is determined by the quantity of the labor expended and materialized in it, by the working time necessary, under given social conditions, for its production.”[xxxii] The skilled labor time is calculated in terms of the multiples of simple labor. “In every process of creating value, the reduction of skilled labor to average social labor, e.g., one day of skilled to six days of unskilled labor, is unavoidable”[xxxiii]
Marx takes up familiar examples to define concepts and to demonstrate the laws governing them. In order to define the value in terms of labor time and creation of surplus value with surplus (unpaid) labor time, he cites the example of manufacture of yarn from the cotton. The capitalist buys the cotton the spindle and the labor power of spinner at their equivalent values. The values of the first two, the raw material and the instrument of labor – the means of production -- is determined by the labor embodied in the them in the previous labor processes and that of labor power by its productivity. The value of the yarn is determined by the expenditure of means of production, the constant capital, as shall be described as the constant capital in the next chapter added with the labor time expended in the labor process, the variable capital that alters the character of the constant capital by adding value to it. “The labor required for the production of the cotton, the raw material of the yarn, is part of the labor necessary to produce the yarn, and is therefore contained in the yarn. The same applies to the labor embodied in the spindle, without whose wear and tear the cotton could not be spun.”[xxxiv]
Marx distinguishes the labor producing the use value and the value. “The process of production, considered on the one hand as the unity of the labor-process and the process of creating value, is production of commodities; considered on the other hand as the unity of the labor-process and the process of producing surplus-value, it is the capitalist process of production, or capitalist production of commodities.”[xxxv]
The bourgeois political economists explain it in terms of exchange of equivalent but the capitalist draws more money from the circulation than he had thrown in, remains a mystery. Marx solves this mystery by introducing the concept of surplus value, as mentioned above, created surplus labor over the necessary labor needed for the survival of the laborer to be able to reproduce himself that he received in terms of wages. Thus the surplus value is created not in the process of circulation but prior to circulation, in the labor process and is realized in process of circulation in the form of the profit.
[i] P 164
[ii] Pp 165-72
[iii] PP 173-192
[iv] Pp 43-75
[v] Pp 76-87
[vii] Pp 97-144
[viii] P 146
[ix] Pp 145-153)
[x] Pp 154-163
[xi] P 163
[xii] Op cit
[xiii] Pp 164-172
[xx] P. 173
[xxi] Pp. 173-74
[xxiv] P. 174
[xxv] P. 175
[xxvi] P. 176
[xxvii] P. 176
[xxix] P. 179
[xxxi] P. 181