July 14, 2008


Since internet is still a difficult proposition here, I really can't post anything else again until one week later from today, so I'm going to fit in more than possible into one post. I still owe everyone a post from chapter nine (I was out in some villages), and chapter ten is itself about eighty pages with too many intriguing lines to summarize easily. Not only that, but I also realize that at this point it might be useful to revisit and reply to others' posts, to keep some sort of inter-readership engagement alive, or at least the possibility of it.

From what I remember of Max's post (I am typing this without a connection at home), he raised two general problematics in reading the early chapters of volume one.

First, what is the role of use-value? Does it provide basis for a humanist ontology from which to critique exchange-value?

Second, how does one theorize transition without necessarily running into the cul-de-sac of the twentieth century transition debates?

These questions are certainly related, for if use-value is/was a historical mode of production -- or at least the dominant tendency of one -- then that would mean one could discover through empirical investigation how the world of use-value became one of exchange-value. Here it would perhaps be useful, at a later date, to look at Althusser and especially Balibar's essays on transition and modes of production.

My hunch is that, as scholars of the non-European world (not an innocent category, I know), some of us cannot escape from these sorts of discussions because they are the crux of the how/why/when of difference. Even in a purportedly homogeneous part of the world, of course, there is difference between the agricultural industrial reserve army outside of London and the capitalist class in charge of the textile mills. Let me state that, in trying to think through difference from a reading of Capital, I believe it is more rewarding to work with Marx's logic and how he shows the means through which capital generates and sustains inequality in the face of purported equality rather than to search for a positivistic, transhistorical model of transition. That is, a history that attempts to tell the story of how a use-value society shifted to one of exchange-value is misguided because it presumes that these elements are autonomous rather than parasitic upon one another. The real substance of Capital is to show that difference is not simply incidental to history but part of an eternally coherent pattern. How far back one thinks they can stretch this analysis is, of course, an open question.

That said, I would be remiss for not mentioning that I am still struck by how many instances Marx will write something that gives legitimacy to these sorts of transition debates and the so-called humanist Marx. In his narration of the history of the working day in chapter ten, he makes the temporal comparison between the 14th century labor laws of England which tried to extend the working day, versus those of the nineteenth century which shortened it. In short, a change had occurred - a revolution instantiated by wage labor - that had converted work from an activity aimed at producing concrete use-value to one dominated by the abstraction of socially necessary labor time. And of course Marx will often make broad statements about the tendency of humankind to work and labor in all conditions -- something that the humanist Marxists (e.g. "the goal of socialism is to abolish the alienation of labor, to reconnect labor to its species-being," etc.) wrote about extensively in the early to mid- twentieth C.E.

As I've written before and as Max pointed out, I think the best reading is one in which one concludes that exchange and use-value are not opposed or autonomous - historically or conceptually - but rather in constant, mutual dialectics (oops). Something along the lines of Lukacs, Spivak or even the passage I quoted earlier about how use-value, in order to serve as use-value, needs to be realized, that is, exchanged.

I guess this is as good a place as any to jump into some textual analysis. Of these two chapters, the u-v/x-v distinction only really gets airtime in the discussion of Senior's famous last hour (pages 333 to 339) and a little more subtly in the working day. The math is a little tricky for me to follow, and I'll talk about it a bit in the next paragraph. But before delving into it, I think that, apropos what I just said, it is interesting that Marx constantly insists upon the fixity of use-value as a stable thing which the worker is being denied in only being paid wages (its exchange-value). Marx will repeatedly say things like "the worker's use-value is five times the exchange-value," when all of these are really conditioned by the market and there's no guarantee that the commodities he has produced will actually be realized, consumed by buyers at the exact price set by the capitalist. This problem of realization is, I have read, questioned in later volumes that try to understand why crises occur (overproduction and underconsumption are two concepts tossed about by crisis theorists). For now, Marx works with the assumption that such use-value is stable, perhaps for simplicity's sake, but in the end it also reads as - in Max's words - a stable, ontological condition.

At any rate, the crux of the wage labor discussion is that wages are the exchange-value of labor, and supposedly they represent the minimum amount of money a worker needs in order for it to replace itself (in addition to some other considerations of quality of life, recreation, etc. that are up for debate in the work laws of the mid-nineteenth century). However, the use-value of labor is embodied in the work the laborer performs, as a result of which the capitalist can accrue a profit by selling commodities that are more than mere raw materials.

The discussion about Senior's famous last hour purportedly is about the importance of recognizing the distinction between constant and variable capital. But I think the distinction between use-value and exchange-value -- and how their conflation is the origin of exploitation -- is also a central issue.

Senior's argument is simply that if a capitalist invests ₤100,000 -- 80,000 in constant capital and 20,000 in variable capital -- and if the worker is paid to work 23 half-hours, and if the total value of the commodities is 115,000, then one could divide the total 115,000 by 23, arguing that for each half hour, the worker generates 5,000. The first twenty are thus spent merely replacing the 100,000 investment, another for replacing the wear and tear of the machinery and the last two half hours - 10,000 in value - constitute the surplus value.

Marx rebukes Senior for his circular logic -- Senior has no reason to suppose that the total value can be divided by 23 evenly. More importantly, if one recognizes that the 80,000 worth of constant capital (machines, building, etc.) will be there no matter the work of the laborer [that is, if Cc+ Vc = Cc + SV, then you can subtract Cc from both sides -- "You are altogether on the wrong track, if you think that he loses a single moment of his working day in reproducing or replacing the values of the cotton, the machinery and so on"] , then one would recognize that it is not the laborer's responsibility to replace the value of Constant capital, and hence the laborer is only responsible for earning its wages and generating surplus value, which can be divided into two equal halves of its work. That is, it is generating 40,000 while being paid for only 20,000. During half of the time, the laborer is working for free for the capitalist -- not simply in the last hour.

The question I have kept asking myself throughout my thinking of this chapter, however, is whether or not Senior recognizes the distinction between the use-value and exchange-value of labor. In other words, does he recognize the fact that labor will do things that produce a value that is greater than the amount he paid for labor? I suppose the heart of his deception is to make it appear as though these two amounts are virtually the same. But if his hypothetical 10% profit industry was making more money - say 20% - he would have to recognize the discrepancy.

But Marx does reprimand Senior for thinking about labour-power in a strictly exchange-value sense which merely divides total value by chunks of time, without recognizing the actual work of labour-power: "On the contrary, it is because his labour converts the cotton and the spindles into yarn, because he spins, that the values of the cotton and spindle go over to the yarn of their own accord. This is a result of the QUALITY of his labor, not its QUANTITY" (335-336, emphases added).

What I think Marx tries to say with this passage, which is ambiguous and appears seemingly out of context, is that Senior -- and wage labor generally -- does not recognize the actual work of labor and treats it in congealed, undifferentiated chunks of time. This treatment of labour allows one to play mathematical tricks to obscure the value generated by it (such as Senior) but it also simply obscures the fact that labour is not an even, homogeneous process. In reality, I bet, some hours are more productive than others. From the standpoint of use-value, the value of labor is found in the end result of the work and not its market value, which was determined before the work was even undertaken. In Senior's formula, quality is obscured by a focus on quantity.

This shift seems to be located by Marx in the shift from working to simply make things to working a certain number of hours paid according to time. Here is a passage I thought remarkable and had never read before:

Still, during the greater part of the eighteenth century, up to the epoch of large-scale industry, capital in England had not succeeded in gaining control of the worker's whole week by paying the weekly value of his labour-power ... the fact that they could live for a whole week on the wage of four days did not appear to the workers to be a sufficient reason for working for the capitalist for the other two days (385).

This passage indicates very starkly what Marx seems to only hint at in previous sections. Specifically, as wage-labor has intensified, the emphasis on the use-value of labor-power and on simple reproduction has shifted towards one focusing upon the exchange-value of labor-power, which obscures the ability of labor to generate surplus-value. Man, I'm being confusing right now. What I mean is: in Marx's scheme, there once was a time when you were paid for the work you did, flat. If you made useful things, you took home all the money you made from that. Later, in the early stages of wage-labor, capitalists did not yet manipulate wages in order to force workers to work all week because in some vague sense wages represented the amount of work one had to do each week in order to survive and in order to satisfy the demands of the market. But, in the final shift, when capitalists seemed more concerned with making workers work more -- on the assumption that the more things they make, the more people will buy, which is a separate concern from the attempt to make workers work longer -- workers are reduced to wages and the goal is to WIDEN THE GAP between wages (exchange-value) and the surplus-value that could be had from the work (use-value). In this final stage, the antinomy of use-value and exchange-value is exploited fully, through minute regulation of time.

Sorry this post is so long and sorry I haven't made many coherent arguments. I haven't even discussed the implications of Marx's temporal analysis. Of course, it is similar to Moishe Postone's work. I think there are foundations here to argue that for Marx -- or for the logic of capital -- the so-called break from capital (history 2s for Dipesh) is really internal to the overall search to maximize value from a work force without exhausting them to death so quickly. And we could also add here some analysis of ideology - the distance one keeps between themselves and their work is what actually allows them to work for so long and so hard. By telling themselves that "I'm not really a heartless capitalist in my real life, I only do it at work, in my free time I like to go fishing and watch opera," they only sustain their commitment to their job.

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