The law of value in the simplest terms...

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el psy congroo
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Jun 13 2017 15:12
Tom Henry wrote:
1) What is the actual physical basis for how capital accumulates?

Augmenting nature through physical labor and work? 'Private property'?

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That is, what is the essential component for capital accumulation in capitalism?

Capital itself? Labor?

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2) What are the actual physical barriers to this accumulation?

The lack of technology? Lack of training or education (aka 'human capital')? The exhaustion of an essential resource or element? Nature itself? Time?

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That is, what are the actual causes of crises? (And which crises are we talking about?)

I'm wondering the same.

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Jun 13 2017 16:09

El Psy is more or less on the right track here, but I'll elaborate a bit and I am sure Artesian will chime in at one point to fill in blanks. (Edit: I see I haven't really elaborated that much, but I hardly slept last night and this heat is killing me; hopefully this post makes sense)

One point that I should make immediately is that when it comes to Marx, you can never focus on the "physical" alone (what Marx terms "sensible"), but more on the supersensible/abstract forms that material/physical objects appear in (hence, commodity, money, capital etc.).

Tom Henry wrote:
1) What is the actual physical basis for how capital accumulates?

Broadly, it is matter both in terms of the "material" of living labourers (human beings) and the stuff that makes up commodities (doesn't matter if it's digital objects or services). If this matter does not move around, to factories, warehouses, markets and so on, there cannot be any capital accumulation because capital/value is always invested in matter. Matter (or use-value) is thus the material support for the supersensible/abstract process that is capital, which must pass through the forms of money-commodity...production process... commodity (with surplus value)--money.

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That is, what is the essential component for capital accumulation in capitalism?

Labour-power/labour. Without labour-power being a commodity, there is no basis for capitalism. Sure there are many other essential components, but it all goes back to labour.

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2) What are the actual physical barriers to this accumulation?

There are so fucking many barriers, although barriers to capital are not inherently so. Capital posits barriers to itself, which include space, time, need, availability of equivalents (money), available raw material/ means of production, class struggling workers, tech, and many
more.

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That is, what are the actual causes of crises? (And which crises are we talking about?)

That things of social need takes on the form of and is produced as commodities. Someone earlier in the thread asked why Marxist say that all of the contradictions of capital (which leads to crises) can be tied to the commodity's contradiction between use-value and value.

S. Artesian
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Jun 14 2017 02:44

I'm in Canada, but close to Detroit and Buffalo. I fucken hate this heat. Give me a nice old-timey Norwegian summer: overcast and low 20s.

Tom Henry
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Jun 24 2017 02:49

Thanks for all this good stuff. I am working my way through it.

I still have questions, and after thinking about it I am going to ask them separately, to keep things contained. So, my questions may seem a little haphazard and disjointed, but bear with me!

In post 64 S. Artesian wrote (in regard to barriers to accumulation for capital):

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The organized, collective resistance of the workers; the fact that the working day can only be so long (although capital has a certain evil genius for working around that).

What is this ‘evil genius’?

I ask this because I think you mean the extraction of relative surplus value (as opposed to absolute surplus value) … but you may not mean this specifically. If you do mean relative surplus value then what is the importance the extraction of relative surplus value, and its constant revolutionizing, has for defining capitalism? (I ask this because I feel, perhaps wrongly, that analysis/understanding of this is crucial to understanding the law of value.)

A brief note on the difference between absolute and relative surplus value as I read it, in order to explain what I am asking:

Marx identified the crucial difference between old school extraction of 'absolute surplus value' (making people work harder and longer to acquire greater profit) and 'relative surplus value' (using technology and organizational innovations to get more production/profit from the same level of effort and time, a process that is constantly revolutionized, or rather, revolutionizes itself, in order to further increase wealth in the arena of competition).

Capitalism is a mode of production that began by taking ownership of all the means of production (dispossessing all laborers, or increasing numbers, and forcing them to work for a wage in order to survive) – this is the period of the formal subsumption (?) of labor and it equates to the extraction of absolute surplus value as the social norm.

But discoveries made in regard as to how to increase productivity through organisational innovation and technological invention led to a situation where minds were put to work, as it were, in the endeavour (in reality they were born into a particular culture – one based on emerging or fully-fledged capitalism, so they did it 'unconsciously') to constantly improve efficiency and production in order to increase wealth.
(Where and when, or by what historical process, these 'discoveries' were made, by the way, is another huge subject for discussion, so I don't want to go into that here.)

Thus, the extraction of relative surplus value became dominant, the societal norm – capitalism became the mode of production for society. It is at this point (whenever one chooses to say that capitalism established itself on the basis of the extraction of relative surplus value above all else) that capitalism achieved a ‘life’ or ‘culture’ of its own. This is when labor in society, in general, is defined as being under real subsumption (?). It is when capitalism becomes the motor itself for its future development, and when humans become the tools for that development.

So, what do you mean precisely by the ‘evil genius’ of capitalism?

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Tom Henry
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Jun 25 2017 02:19

I may be jumping the gun here, as in perhaps I should wait for others to comment, but I just want to clarify a couple of things in how you (S. Artesian) define the ‘evil genius’ of capitalism:

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I'm referring to changing work rules-- using temporary employment, part-time "spot" working; wage tiers; eliminating overtime payments-- driving down the wage. Now to be sure, relative surplus value does reduce the value of the labor power-- by reducing the value of the means of subsistence necessary to reproduce the labor power. The "evil genius" part comes with reducing the wage without reducing the value necessary to reproduce the labor power.

I’m not sure precisely what you mean here (‘reducing the value of the means of subsistence’ etc) – but perhaps I can ask one question:

How is your list of ‘changing work rules’ specific to capitalism? Why can’t measures like these (i.e., measures taken to make one’s labouring for others more precarious or less recompensed) be undertaken in a pre-capitalist labor situation, such as feudalism?

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Tom Henry
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Jun 25 2017 06:54

I'm not sure what point you are trying to make here... I'm confused...!

el psy congroo
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Jun 25 2017 18:22

'[I]f wages fall below the ability of workers to purchase their means of subsistence, they will be unable to reproduce themselves and the capitalists will not be able to find sufficient labor power.' (Wikipedia)

I'm not sure if what Artesian references is evil genius or suicidal myopia?

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Jun 25 2017 18:43

What is functional evil genius (or just common inventiveness with the aid of consultants, tax lawyers etc. who sell the same recipes to each client) for individual capitalists, is suicidal myopia for the capitalist class as a whole.

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Tom Henry
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Jun 26 2017 07:42

It’s all on you Khawaga!

However, just a brief interjection (and I am still not understanding what you have written S. Artesian):

S. Artesian writes:

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IMO, "relative surplus value" is not an adequate, or even correct, analysis for the way capital expands, because quite simply, it confuses the value of labor power with the productivity of labor power.

So, when Marx, Capital Vol 1, Chapter 12 writes:

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The technical and social conditions of the process and consequently the mode of production itself must be revolutionized [this is the transition from the extortion of absolute surplus value to relative surplus value, or formal to real subsumption of labor] before the productivity of labor can be increased. Then, with the increase in the productivity of labor, the value of labor-power will fall, and the portion of the working day necessary for the reproduction of that value will be shortened [but this does not mean that the actual working day will be shortened in capitalism, of course].

And when he writes in the Appendix of Vol 1, under the title The Real Subsumption of Labor under Capital, or the Specific Mode of Capitalist Production:

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We have demonstrated in detail the [Chapter 12 and following] the crucial importance of relative surplus value. […] With the production of relative surplus value the entire real form of production is altered and a specifically capitalist form of production comes into being.

He is misguided or missing the point (or I am?)? (Or is it, as has been suggested previously, not without complete merit perhaps, that Marx never actually writes what he actually means!)

The thing is, I think capitalism EITHER exists more as a different mode of production (or society) to previous ones, which means that it is not just a form of society that naturally develops from previous societies OR capitalism is the natural and inevitable consequence of humanity embarking (voluntarily or not) on the project of living within state societies. Would Marx say that full, properly functioning, societal-wide, capitalism (like what we know today, guv) emerged from the particular elements that gave bosses (merchants) the ‘idea’ of owning all the means of production, and making labor ‘free’, as they had been handed down from history which then inspired them to revolutionize technology and the organization of labor (by serious and societal wide re-investment in the machineries of production) so that their workers could produce more in the working day so as to increase their boss's wealth? OR would he say that modern capitalism was a foregone conclusion as soon as people organized themselves (voluntarily or not) in hierarchical and sedentary living conditions?

Tom Henry
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Jun 28 2017 07:00

Maybe we need to change tack? Like in the game, ‘stuck in the mud’… but at the end of that game everyone ends up stuck… smile

In post #36 vicent suggested, in order to understand what the law of value was, we look at the “law of value series” of videos by Brendan M Cooney. I think this is worthwhile. I haven’t seen all of them but what I have seen seems OK.

One could start at the Law of Value 5: Contradiction (parts 1 and 2):
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=REQSvBXfC1U&t=303s

Also, in post#2 Khawaga gave his simplest terms version of what the Law of Value was:

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Value of commodities is measured by the (socially necessary) labour-time that goes into them.

Of course, even though this sentence is short there is a lot in it. Therefore, looking at the videos above might put it into context.

Because these and other things had been put into this thread I figured that the basic explanation of what the law of value was had been done (even though not everyone might get it, of course).

Thus, my question in post#48 aimed at extending the discussion into the question of what is the law of value theory for, and what is it useful for? I asked this because there is a lot of thinking about value form being done lately by radicals. I also asked it because it relates to ‘crisis theory’ and the notion of the contradictions of capitalism not just being two-dimensional ‘problems’ within capitalism, but antagonisms that have an apparently real effect on the possibility of communism.

In post#51, Khawaga gives an answer to why the law of value is useful:

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The LTV is of use to use because it tells us how capitalist society is organized around the production and circulation of value, and that this is what is actually enslaving us. As such, the LTV tells us more about what we don't want in a communist society and hence also what we should struggle for and against. Hence, on the basis of the LTV you would not push co-operatives as the solution to get out of capitalism. But the LTV, like Marx's analysis of the capitalist MoP, helps us analyze capitalist society and understand how it functions. But the LTV is really shit to use for purposes of, say, political agitation. If you're on the picket lines, people would be looking at you like you're mad if you talk about how the capitalist are just exploiting us for surplus-value rather than just saying that bosses are fuckers that squeeze us so thin that it's hard to put food on the table.

But there is also a lot more in this than meets the eye.

Yes, I can agree, I think, that “capitalist society is organized around the production and circulation of value, and that is what is enslaving us” – but I have to ask: who do you mean by “us”?

If the labor theory of value tells us what we should struggle for and against (for example, not cooperatives), what exactly, and exactly how, does it tell us to struggle for and against? (In post#55 Zanthorus complained that I was asking for a manual for 'action', which was impossible for a 'social theory', but isn't this a kind of manual at least?)

If, going on from the fact that the labor theory of value tells us what to struggle for and against, then why shouldn’t we, as pro-revolutionaries, be trying to explain that at the points where struggle is most intense – i.e., on the picket line?

I know that Khawaga doesn’t mean to do this, but one could extrapolate from what he has written here that knowledge of the labor theory of value must and should, or by default due to the ‘intelligence’ of revolutionaries, remain the preserve of revolutionaries. If one went down to a picket line and told folk there that you thought the bosses were “fuckers that squeeze us so hard that it’s hard to put food on the table” (depending on what kind of workers they are, eg cleaners or teachers), then I am sure they would be pleased that you understood their situation, but they might also think that they don’t need you to tell them this.

In post#60, I thought that things might be made clearer if we went back a bit and talked about how capitalism worked and what relation its crises might have to the theory that it was likely (?) to end in communism.

So, my change of tack to get at all this is to ask what people think about the different types of surplus value (which I have gone into from my own perspective here: https://libcom.org/blog/thoughts-david-graeber%E2%80%99s-%E2%80%98debt-first-5000-years%E2%80%99-03012012?page=2)

So, what do people think about this from Marx (from The Real Subsumption… in the Appendix) in Capital Vol 1:

Quote:
If the production of absolute surplus-value was the material expression of the formal subsumption of labor under capital, then the production of relative surplus-value may be viewed as its real subsumption.

Why am I picking this? Because in order to have a view on what Marx writes here one must have a view on what absolute and relative surplus value is, and also what formal and real subsumption of labor is.

And what I think I want to know is: does how one interprets these categories from Marx affect one’s view of the trajectory of labor struggles, and ‘proletarianization’, since the beginning of capitalism (or, perhaps more tellingly, since 1914, or since the 1970s, etc)?

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Jun 28 2017 12:00

Real subsumption has had a lot of hubbub made about it. Its really, as far as I can tell, simply the complete legal and social 'subsumption' of the production and distribution process under the power of capitalists. Put another way, the difference between capitalists exerting influence on older forms of production, and them organizing production process directly, itself.

People forget that capitalism is a *class* society; that a particular group in society has legal and social rights/privileges, and that these are fundamental in the commission of production and distribution along class lines.

So subsumption, periodization, whether or not you use the term surplus value with your co-workers (this is like saying a dr. shouldn't use the name of a drug, procedure, diagnosis), fits within the perspective; are you trying to overthrow a system of class rule, or understand how some machine with automaticity works?

The law of value forms the *basis* for Marx's work; from explaining the *origin* of profit (in the form of surplus value) to explaining it's *distribution* among the classes in society (what laws govern how income is distributed?). The law of value is the fundamental component which gives explanatory scope to the rest of the argument.

This is sort of like (forgive me if the metaphor is forced) Darwin's natural selection; it is the guiding principle, and foundational statement of his argument about the nature of speciation, variation, biological development and change. It cannot stand on it's own, and of course requires that detailed supporting arguments be made, but it forms the bottom of the argument.

In the same way, the law of value is foundational to marx; but it is meaningless to talk about value without assuming classes.

The answer to your question is; the law of value helps us understand class society and capitalism in particular, and helps us understand how to fight it. People on the left have this idiotic obsession with "man-on-the-streetisms". It's a complete distraction. So long as you establish a relationship with people, you can speak technically if you define your terms and show how it's useful to them. People aren't shopping for neat ideologies, people like to be stimulated they like to argue. Not everyone, all the time, but there's no reason to dumb stuff down or pretend workers "know how capitalism works *intuitively*". They don't.

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Jun 28 2017 13:37

I should add; a perfect example of the fumbling of real Subsumption is Endnotes discussion; they take the appearance of real Subsumption, for the essence. The mistake taylorism as one manifestation of real Subsumption, for the *lack of taylorism* equaling the lack of real Subsumption. But taylorism has a narrow application; based on both social and technical limitations, and ultimately upon class struggle.

To take marx's terms, the material expression of real (political/legal and direct social) Subsumption is the production of relative surplus value. This happens wherever capitalists are able to control the application of technology to the process directly. It may be taylorism or lean production or any number of slick new management ideologies. I believe William petty called it 'improvement' etc.

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Jun 28 2017 16:33

On my phone and on holiday so can't chime in as much as I could, but on the issue of subsumption I agree with Pennoid. Some people and groups read too much into it and taking it to refer to historical stages (see communization folks in particular) when it really refers to something quite simple: how capital takes a pre-existing labour process and transform it to fit production that is specifically capitalist,the end result being a machine replacing living labour. In general, it is just a more particular version of how preconditions are produced as results (e.g. commodities, money, class relations), which are the the Conditions for the next cycle of reproduction which again reproduce them as a result etc and ad finitum.

I'll try to respond to other points when I'm on my laptop.

Tom Henry
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Jun 29 2017 01:19

S. Artesian writes:

Quote:
In the same way, the law of value is foundational to marx; but it is meaningless to talk about value without assuming classes.

Word.
That's it, exactly. The law of value is the relation of classes.

I shall briefly examine this:

The beginning of the Communist Manifesto:

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The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles.

[…O]ppressor and oppressed stood in constant opposition to one another [and] carried on an uninterrupted, now hidden, now open fight, a fight that each time ended either in revolutionary reconstitution of society at large, or in the common ruin of the contending classes.

[…]

The modern bourgeois society that has sprouted from the ruins of feudal society has not done away with class antagonism. It has established new classes, new conditions of oppression, new forms of struggle in place of the old ones.

Our epoch, the epoch of the bourgeoisie, possesses, however, this distinctive feature: it has simplified the class antagonisms. Society is more and more splitting up into two great classes directly facing each other: Bourgeoisie and Proletariat.

[But] the bourgeoisie [has] forged the weapons that bring death to itself [and] has also called into existence the men who are to wield those weapons – the modern working class – the proletarians.

[These weapons that bring death are] its relations of production, of exchange and of property [and this] society that has conjured up such gigantic means of production and of exchange is like the sorcerer who is no longer able to control the powers of the nether world whom he has called up by his spells [note: does this mean capitalism has run away with itself and is out of human control?]

And finally, Engels, in a preface to the Manifesto writes:

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[This long history of class struggle] has now reached a stage [i.e., capitalism; also ‘stage’ meaning next level, rather than continuous development?] where the exploited and oppressed class (the proletariat) can no longer emancipate itself from the class which exploits and dominates it (the bourgeoisie), without at the same time for ever freeing the whole of society from exploitation, oppression and class struggles – this thought belongs solely and exclusively to Marx.

And then, in The Holy Family, Marx writes:

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The possessing class and the proletarian class represent one and the same human self-alienation. But the former feels satisfied and affirmed in this self-alienation, experiences the alienation as a sign of its own power, and possesses in it the appearance of a human existence. The latter, however, feels destroyed in this alienation, seeing in it its own impotence and the reality of an inhuman existence.

[…]

In its economic movement, it is true, private property presses towards its own dissolution, but it does this only by means of a developmental course that is unconscious and takes place independently of it and against its will, a course determined by the nature of the thing itself. It does this only by giving rise to the proletariat as proletariat-this poverty conscious of its own spiritual and physical poverty, this dehumanization which is conscious of itself as a dehumanization and hence abolishes itself. The proletariat executes the sentence that proletariat-producing private property passes upon itself, just as it executes the sentence that wage labour passes upon itself by producing others' wealth and its own poverty. When the
proletariat wins victory, it by no means becomes the absolute side of society, for it wins victory only by abolishing itself and its opposite. Both the proletariat itself and its conditioning opposite – private property - disappear with the victory of the proletariat.

So, after having read through this one must assume that S. Artesian is right to equate the law of value to [the particular] relations of classes [in capitalism]. Thanks to Pennoid for this.

So, we are back at coming up with a succinct definition for the law of value – although, of course, in order for people to understand it they need to understand the particular relations of classes in capitalism as opposed to other societies.

So, back to my annoying question: what is it useful for?

But this time, let us just take the paragraph above from Marx (“In its economic movement… victory of the proletariat”) and ask how this prognosis has affected the thinking of radicals. What is the victory of the proletariat and how will it be attained? How does the proletariat avoid the ‘mistakes’ of the Paris Commune, of 1871, and the Russian Revolution? Does the law of value actually tell us this? Or are we on new terrain?

Just one more thing, Pennoid is justly critical, I think, of Endnotes’ ‘fumbling’ on ‘real subsumption’ but when he writes:

Quote:
Real subsumption has had a lot of hubbub made about it. Its really, as far as I can tell, simply the complete legal and social 'subsumption' of the production and distribution process under the power of capitalists. Put another way, the difference between capitalists exerting influence on older forms of production, and them organizing production process directly, itself.

This is a description of the extraction of absolute surplus value under the condition of the formal subsumption of labor, not a description of the real subsumption of labor. I think these categories are really useful, and crucial to understanding the difference between the relations of classes (and production) in capitalism and all other societies – and in understanding how things like decadence theory, programmatism, and communization theory are confused, confusing, and misleading. So, I actually think one should, contra Khawaga, read more into these categories, in the sense of taking them more seriously at face value (as Marx actually described them), rather than apparently misreading them and turning them into some kind of incomprehensible, mystical sooth-saying apparatus a la TC, Endnotes, and Dauve. Though, to be honest, when Marx writes things like: “[The fall of the bourgeoisie and the victory of the proletariat are equally inevitable” then I guess his far-left adherents can be understood in their (what might be called) equivocation?

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Jun 29 2017 16:43

Capitalists organizing the production process directly *is* the real Subsumption. That is when they are able to apply the technology of organization, chemistry, biology, engineering etc. To the whole process, thus driving down the snlt to produce a given output, especially the means of subsistence.

They can only do this as they break down the old forms of production, hence the two categories of formal and then real Subsumption; they describe the historical process of the conquest of power or the development of power of the bourgeoisie as against workers.

To concretize it; formal Subsumption was like petty agriculture; this provided the *social* basis for its own dissolution, hence why the peasants were a "doomed social class". The same rules that made them "free" and independent, laid the foundation for the accumulation of land as private property, as capital. The formal Subsumption (sale of product on the market) eventually gives way to the real Subsumption (pushing out of 'family' farming) and the development of capitalist industrial agriculture.

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Jun 29 2017 19:54

Marx explains the distinctions here: https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1864/economic/ch02a.htm#469a

The formal subsumption is the actual conversion of the laborer's labor-power into a commodity, into value producing value. It is distinct from the mercantile appropriation of the product, say of handicraft or agriculture. Formal subsumption is the actual "reduction" "dispossession" of the laborer through which labor-power is compelled to become a means of exchange. It is the vital process of capital.

The actual processes of production do not change-- the "putting out" method for example still functions. Home production is still the dominant process, but the instruments of production become a) the condition of labor b) a force belong to the "other" the capitalist, and so exert authority over the laborer(s)

The real subsumption represents a temporal and spatial dispossession-- the instruments of production, the condition of labor, are now relocation, centralized, concentrated, and exert their "authority" not over the individual laborer in isolation, but over the class of laborers. Circumscribed within the shell of private property are the growing forces of social productiion.

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Jun 30 2017 13:08
Quote:
We have already analysed the essence of this latter mode of production so exhaustively [236] that we can be very brief here. It is production which is not limited by any predetermining or predetermined barriers set by needs. (Its antagonistic character implies barriers to production, which it constantly wants to go beyond. Hence crises, overproduction, etc.) This is one side, one distinction from the earlier mode of production; the positive side, if you like. The other side is the negative, or antagonistic one: production in opposition to, and without concerning itself about, the producer. The real producer as mere means of production, objective wealth as an end in itself. And therefore the development of this objective wealth in opposition to, and at the cost of, the human individual. The productivity of labour in general = the maximum of product with the minimum of labour, hence the greatest possible cheapening of the commodities. This becomes a law in the capitalist mode of production, independently of the will of the individual capitalist. And this law is only realised because it implies another one, namely that the scale of production is not determined according to given needs but rather the reverse: the number of products is determined by the constantly increasing scale of production, which is prescribed by the mode of production itself. Its purpose is that the individual product, etc., should contain as much unpaid labour as possible, and this is only attained by engaging in production for production’s sake. On the one hand this appears as a law, to the extent that the capitalist who produces on too small a scale would embody in his products more than the quantity of labour socially necessary. It therefore appears as the adequate implementation of the law of value, which first develops completely on the basis of the capitalist mode of production. On the other hand, however, it appears as the drive of the individual capitalist, who endeavours to reduce the individual value of his commodity below its socially determined value in order to break through this law, or to cheat it to gain an advantage for himself.

Was this particular passage referenced before? It relates the process of real subsumption to the law of value.

el psy congroo
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Jun 30 2017 19:02

I've followed this thread closely for about two weeks (rare for Libcom nowadays) and while reflecting on the themes and topics in it that interested me, I've found the last few exchanges -- mainly those from yesterday -- somewhat befuddling; for now I'll get back to Tom's question of 'what's the law of value for?', as well as offering some other thoughts.

I think Marx created his law of value 'for' helping industrial workers to understand the 'exact' behavior (almost to a mechanical level) of capital. He wanted to highlight, as has been pointed out in this thread a few times now, the very notion of value itself is 'dehumanizing'. Capital, it's domination over Earth (like the great evil 'Aku' from Samurai Jack), and it's social relations cannot, nor ever intends to, address the issue of social need. Value, the question of a given thing or beings 'worth', spawns directly from the capitalist system, the system where we're forced to fight essentially for basic survival, for basic needs, on a daily or weekly basis; the system of utterly fake scarcity; the system of the total robbery of commonly-generated social wealth.

I'd like to thank the poster spacious for their post #72:

'What is functional evil genius (or just common inventiveness with the aid of consultants, tax lawyers etc. who sell the same recipes to each client) for individual capitalists, is suicidal myopia for the capitalist class as a whole.'

This brings to the fore the biggest barrier to capital's accumulation: capital itself.

Capitalism forces us into a position of total alienation or 'estrangement' from the fruits and products of our labor and their 'use-value'. You can't sell your commodity and have it, too. The concept of 'use-value' itself addresses commodities satisfying social needs, and not much more. 'Use-value' is still a product of class society, it still asks the question of 'worth' (in my view a terrible question to ask) and in the end is itself also 'dehumanizing'. More importantly, as the apes called Homo sapiens, that is to say the animals that we are, there was no question of 'worth' before class society created it. We are only in a position to hold and question a concept such as 'worth' because we are ourselves products (that is, commodities) within this modern society, a class society. When we talk of worth and value we are conditioned by them.

The user Tom Henry viewably raises a number of other issues and questions which I find important; the one about periodizations resulting from understandings (or lack-of) in the theory of value, how it informs 'crisis theores', theories of capitalism's 'decadence' or 'decline' -- I cannot answer, but am eager to see it discussed further.

Tom also asked these intriguing questions:

'What is the victory of the proletariat and how will it be attained? How does the proletariat avoid the ‘mistakes’ of the Paris Commune, of 1871, and the Russian Revolution? Does the law of value actually tell us this? Or are we on new terrain?'

Obviously this is one of the more controversial elements of this discussion, but it shouldn't be shied away from; quite the opposite. There are many like the SI, elements of John Zerzan's work, Jacques Camatte, Fredy Perlman and others, who have pointed out specifically what this 'new terrain' looks like. Modern marxism and marxists demonstrate an inability to address, head-on, many the questions at play in this thread. I myself have shown an aversion to those labelled 'post-leftists' in the past. But more and more, I find myself agreeing with (the modern, survivalist, commune-retreating) Camatte when he says in his The Wandering of Humanity that 'Capital becomes autonomous by domesticating the human being.' This, in my muddled mind, is what real subsumption is. It's when, as Camatte said, 'Human beings are...turned into the willing slaves of capital.'

Tom Henry
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Jul 2 2017 05:37

Yes, S. Artesian and Pennoid, we can find various pieces in Marx’s works where he discusses formal and real subsumption – not sure why you put those up? Does that mean you agree with me?

I like epc’s contribution because it tends more towards a general doubt and uncertainty, and a desire to get somewhere new. If we understand the methodology of ‘science’ we know that science can only disprove theories, it can never prove them. Proofs can only exist within the closed and imaginary worlds of mathematics and philosophical logic. Science is defined as a real world undertaking looking at evidence. ‘Scientific understanding’ is what we colloquially call current scientific theories. But modern science, since the Enlightenment, has contained all the elements of relativism and postmodernism within its method, since each new ‘understanding’ is accepted as just an understanding, or theory, waiting to be demolished, altered, or transcended.

Having gone ‘backward’ in discussing the law of value, I now want to leap forward:

If, as Marx and Engels state, ‘The history of all hitherto existing [state] society is the history of class struggles,” then is it not true that, since the world has definitely witnessed significant technical progress since the emergence of the state, class struggle has been part of that development rather than an obstruction or impediment to that development? (Despite, as Marx affirms, that the events that have resulted in our present material abundance, or level of technology, have been ‘the product of a long and tormented historical development’?)

If one follows Marx here is it possible to say that the class struggle has, ultimately, helped create more productive forms of exploitation? Since, in the current day we have the most effective form of exploitation of humans that the world has ever seen, despite millennia of objections to this by sections of ‘the masses’, and despite a long history of class struggle under capitalism.

Is it the case, then, that it was the workers’ struggles against the formal subsumption of labour - the extortion of absolute surplus value - that ‘forced’ the new capitalist owners of (all) the means of production to enact the real subsumption of labour through the extortion of relative surplus value?

Therefore, would it be logical to assume that the working class, in its struggle as a class (class struggle), aids the development of capitalism?

Therefore, should ‘revolutionaries’ participate in class struggle, on the side of the workers, consciously knowing that this struggle aids the development of capitalism (is this the argument of some Accelerationists, is it the argument of ‘Jehu’, see below?) – because capitalism needs to reach its ‘limits’ before it will collapse?

Or should revolutionaries (we who claim to have some idea of what is going on, thanks to reading people like Marx, etc) refrain from class struggle, even oppose it, in order to hinder the development of capitalism? (Bear with me here!)

If we think capitalism is heading for its own destruction, or reaching its limits, should we help it along its way, or should we hinder its progress? But the answers are the opposite of what we might think they should be. Hindering the progress of capitalism would mean arguing against class struggle. Promoting the fullest development of capitalism (and its possible eventual downfall, the thing we all hope for) would mean engaging in class struggle. If we therefore engage in class struggle, accepting these terms, then we will be doing it for motives that must remain hidden. If we support the development of capitalism we must support the antagonism between classes. But we must not tell those we support that the reason we are doing this is because we want capitalism to refine and progress so much that it implodes. We must not 'admit' that it is only through the long and tormented road that humanity has travelled on through history that we are where we are now, so close to revolution. We must not say that we support the deepening of exploitation, the escalation of misery, for the short time we have before the hoped-for arrival of (inevitable) communism.

Capitalism, apparently, will be abolished when value is abolished. And value will only be abolished when workers are expelled from the labour process: when they are abolished as workers caught in the wage relation; when there is no longer any means of making value, or profit, according to the law of value that rests on socially necessary labor time.

How might this happen?

Firstly, the process whereby workers are relieved of the necessity to work could be the result of a proletarian (?) movement as suggested by ‘Jehu’ in his recent blog proposal:

Abolish Wage Labor by 2027: Is such a movement possible?

Secondly, we just wait until the new non-working class are driven into such dire straits that the only choice they have (apparently or hopefully) is to revolt and abolish money, and freely distribute all the stuff that is being produced by machines.

Or will the UBI solve this dilemma, for a time at least?

And all this, perhaps, relies on humans preventing or controlling the so-called technological singularity, the prophesied next great leap forward in technology made possible by AI when it becomes effectively able to upgrade itself, Terminator-style.

So, what does the law of value, which is, as we have accepted, the relation of classes, actually tell us? Does it tell us to support capitalism or to oppose it?

PS. I just wanted to say that I never use those 'up' and 'down' vote buttons, as I don't think they help readers in analysing what they are reading, but it's always nice if I get an up vote... wink

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Pennoid
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Jul 2 2017 10:26

Er, the kind of 'automatic' elimination of working categories has never in the past led to a decimation of the right of property owners to exploit; never led to the destruction of their class privilege.

I'm a pessimist; I think its more likely that a kind of automated neo-antiquity (with a monopoly on robots rather than land) would be the order of the day. Then we'd have a more Roman "proletariat" of humans; with no robots and not means of living independently; but only off of some degrading dole. And a small class of owners.

Again, you can't decouple the production and distribution of value or goods from the social relations; law, politics, etc. If the working class doesn't conquer state power through the form of fits class dictatorship, then humanity is pretty fucked.

Spikymike
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Jul 2 2017 14:05

As I see it - The development of capitalism from the formal domination of capital towards it's real domination (a continuing but as yet incomplete process) is a product of the inter-relationship of class struggle and competition between capitalist factions. Class struggle is not 'a choice' but a necessity in our defence (both material and human) against the capitalist class and their representatives, but in so far as that struggle remains sectional then 'success' in the struggle will remain limited to a respite in the struggle in which the continued domination of capital will result in it's further refinement or modernisation. The potential for a rupture in the otherwise never ending cycle of class struggle is dependent it would seem on a mixture of 'objective' and 'subjective' factors that cannot be predetermined or manipulated by pro-revolutionary minorities, but the inherent contradictions of capitalism's law of value suggest that extended crisis (amidst potential abundance) on a global scale are inevitable and provide the 'objective' circumstances for a 'rupture' dependent on an alignment of 'subjective' forces that are equally global in scale. The worry of course is that the continued process towards the 'real domination ' of capital will see every aspect of humanities social and psychological make-up so degraded that we are unable to think outside, to imagine, a completely different way of life. But such imagination does seem too periodically resurface if not always in the traditional language we anarchist and communists are used to. The may be a bit of repetition for Henry but maybe not others!

S. Artesian
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Jul 2 2017 21:05
Quote:
Yes, S. Artesian and Pennoid, we can find various pieces in Marx’s works where he discusses formal and real subsumption – not sure why you put those up? Does that mean you agree with me?

Was only responding to clarify the distinction between formal and real subsumption of (EDIT) labor bycapital in Marx's critique.

Both conditions, "formal or subsumption" are conditions under, and expressions of, the law of value.

Tom Henry
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Jul 2 2017 23:57

Spikeymike writes:

Quote:
Class struggle is not 'a choice' but a necessity in our defence (both material and human) against the capitalist class and their representatives, but in so far as that struggle remains sectional then 'success' in the struggle will remain limited to a respite in the struggle in which the continued domination of capital will result in it's further refinement or modernisation.

But this is either misunderstanding or avoiding the point I was trying to make about ‘revolutionaries’. Yes, of course, generally speaking class struggle is not a choice for people when they are at the site of struggles and they need to defend themselves and those around them. (Although one could argue that although there seems no choice, one only has to look at a scab to see that, in fact, there is... but perhaps this takes us into philosophical questions of free will.) BUT I wasn’t talking about proletarians at the site of struggle, I was talking about the ‘voluntarist’ activities of ‘revolutionaries’. We make the choice to ‘support’ distant struggles, or to intervene in local ones, for example, going down to the picket line, etc, or, as I did in my distant youth, getting work in a place fairly rife with industrial struggle. The point I was trying to make, which seems to have been missed here so far is this: was I effectively – by my choice to intervene - helping capitalism to improve itself, or was I hindering its progress? If the progress of history is ‘the history of class struggles…’ then what is actually going on?

Secondly, Spikeymike writes:

Quote:
The development of capitalism from the formal domination of capital towards it's real domination (a continuing but as yet incomplete process) is a product of the inter-relationship of class struggle and competition between capitalist factions.

Yes, the real domination of capital (the real subsumption of labor) is indeed ‘a product of the inter-relationship of class struggle and competition between capitalist factions’. This has been established on this thread, I think. But what is the real significance of the class struggle aspect? Above, you say that we have no choice in what we do, but here you are saying that class struggle aids the development of capitalism. This is a very determinist perspective on the role of 'revolutionaries'.

When you support class struggle do you think to yourself?: I support this sectional struggle but I know that all sectional struggles actually ultimately aid capitalism.

While we are on the topic of sectional as opposed to general struggles, would you say that ‘successful’ general struggles that have occurred in capitalist history have actually resulted quite quickly in escalations of the capitalist machine? For example, Russia 1917, which led to the fastest and most enormous industrialisation of a region so far, England 1648, France 1789, or Cuba, etc.

Marx wrote:

Quote:
After each new popular revolution, resulting in the transfer of the direction of the State machinery from one set of the ruling classes to another, the repressive character of the State power was more fully developed and more mercilessly used, because the promises made, and seemingly assured by the Revolution, could only be broken by the employment of force [Civil War in France, 1977, p238].

He wrote this in his enthusiasm for the heroic example of the Paris Commune of 1871. He and Engels referred to the Paris Commune as an example of the Dictatorship of the Proletariat.

Now, what we have to bear in mind is that the Paris Commune ‘failed’. Lenin took up the notion of the Dictatorship of the Proletariat in Russia, and what we have to remember is that the revolution there ‘succeeded’.

In the quote above Marx identified popular revolts as being the ‘tools’ of different sections of the already existing ruling class, and he was right (because usually he was a proper scientist). What he couldn’t identify, because it hadn’t happened (even though Bakunin and the anarchists in the First International were on to it theoretically) was a popular revolt that became the tool of a new ruling class. What he couldn’t witness in 1871 in France he could have witnessed in the period 1917 to 1921 in Russia.

These are difficult questions, and they relate directly to Marx’s categories around surplus value and the subsumption of labor, and it is long overdue that ‘revolutionaries’ seriously engaged with them.

Spikeymike also writes above, forgive me for repeating:

Quote:
The development of capitalism from the formal domination of capital towards it's real domination (a continuing but as yet incomplete process).

The significant line here being: “a continuing but as yet incomplete process”.

While we might think that capitalism is developing – indeed the whole essence of capitalism is, according to Marx, that it constantly revolutionizes its processes, due to the inter-relationship of class struggle and competition in the market – do we not think that capitalism has effectively achieved, on a global scale (which doesn’t mean in every single pocket of humanity, of course) its real domination of labor? Are you mistaking here the well-known constant revolutionizing of the wide/general production process with the transition from the extraction of absolute to relative surplus value?

If we don’t think that the extraction of relative surplus value is the dominant, and properly established, production strategy in the formation of value, then do we think that we are still at the level of the formal domination of capital (the formal subsumption of labor)?

If so then do we not think that capitalism relies on the extraction of relative surplus value from labor but on the extraction of absolute surplus value?

In this case (your case?) capitalism is still only, in general, at its first stage. If this is the case, then it would have been hard for Marx to identify the extraction of relative surplus value, since it didn’t really exist as a societal wide phenomenon when he was around. This would also mean that he would have had no understanding of how the Industrial Revolution had happened, since it was only a feature of absolute surplus value. And such prophesying about the immanence of a hypothesised real subsumption would have been unscientific for him.

Marx wrote, in Capital Vol 1, as I put in a previous post:

Quote:
If the production of absolute surplus-value was the material expression of the formal subsumption of labor under capital, then the production of relative surplus-value may be viewed as its real subsumption.

The reason I am persisting with this is because I think that these categories Marx has defined are really useful for understanding where we are now and how we got here as proletarians. But few people seem to take them seriously, or understand them, and prefer to keep things vague. And keeping things vague is the direct opposite of a doubting, ‘question everything’ approach, even if, as is the usual case with honest scepticism, it means we end up by admitting that we do not know.

Tom Henry
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Jul 3 2017 07:00

I think it might also be useful to check out (to understand what I am getting at) what I wrote on the 'Formal and Real Subsumption' thread back in October 2016.

https://libcom.org/forums/thought/formal-real-subsumption-28012008?page=1#comment-586250