surplus value


Class Analysis to Define Historical Tasks and Alternatives

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By Jan Makandal

December 8, 2015

 

[This was written as part of a debate about defining the working class].

 

I will argue that the definition of unproductive worker is quite a secondary point, since all will have to be organized in the struggle against capitalism. For us, whether an unproductive worker is considered a worker or a petit bourgeois in the social category of laborers, either way they need to be organized under the leadership of the productive workers—because the surplus value produced by productive workers is the source of all capital.

 

Our only difference in this case will be which class among the social category of laborers (or which fraction of the working class) is to construct that leadership role, and which class (or fraction of class in the social category of laborers) will be the fundamental allies of the proletariat. We have seen such orientation in Russia and China. It requires an analysis of the social formation we aim to radically transform.

 

A very interesting thing happened in Vietnam—due to a lack of working class presence in the Communist Party there, the party changed its name from the Communist Party to the Party of Labour, and then later went back to the Communist Party. Ho Chi Minh pointed out the irony of a Communist Party with no workers.

 

A synthesis of past practices, either of socialist revolution and/or national liberation movements, is enough to construct a theoretical framework that takes into consideration the limitations of these struggles and revolutions, at least so far as to determine the central role of the working class, and the role of intellectual petit bourgeois radicals and the need for their objective transformation into proletarian revolutionaries. One commonalty of those struggles is the heavy role played by petit bourgeois radicals, with a lesser role of leadership played by the workers (or no role at all).

 

We want to learn from these experiences in their respective social formations. In Russia, the Bolsheviks conflated leadership with control. And Mao attempted to introduce the working class into a party dominated by the rural petite bourgeoisie [sectors of the peasantry] in the revolutionary transformation of China. Only dogmatists will take these experiences as cast in stone, and will refuse to see the need to learn from them for the future. In fact, this is why we identify this moment as a moment of stagnation and ossification of proletarian theory. This period will continue as long as the petite bourgeoisie thinks they are Marxist.

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Students, Workers and the Specter of Surplus Value

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By Vincent Kelley
November 2015

Workers in the industrial belt in Gurgaon. Photo by Vincent Kelley, 2015.

Workers in the industrial belt in Gurgaon. Photo by Vincent Kelley, 2015.

It’s six in the morning in Delhi, India. The smog sits above the sprawling city as I and some friends take the long auto-rickshaw ride to the industrial belt on the outskirts of the nation’s capital. We left early to help distribute workers’ newspapers to the thousands of workers walking to their morning shifts. As we approach the industrial belt—shielded from the eyes of the city’s increasing and increasingly isolated middle class—the smog gets thicker. Already the most polluted city in the world, the air in the industrial belt is suffocating. It’s no wonder why. Just past where we stand to distribute the papers, an interminable line of factories stretches out into the distance, guarded by bouncers. Many of these factories are where raw materials are fused with human labor to produce products for U.S. multinational capital. Indeed, this setting is where Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “Make in India” initiative is being realized, as the country surpasses China and the U.S. as the number one global destination for foreign direct investment.

 

The constant stream of workers walking to these factories for hours at a time seems more reminiscent of early 19th century London than it does 2015 in a leading “developing” economy, one in which the Prime Minister tells the country’s dispossessed, “achhe din aane waale hain” (the good days are about to come). As I was distributing papers along with three other students and the publishers of the newspaper, I realized on a visceral level that this was the setting in which the core exploitation to fuel global capitalism was happening. I also began to reflect on my position as a student in relation to these workers. Far from the peaceful green environment of the campus space where I was studying, the industrial belt literally felt like a whole other world. Upon returning to the U.S., I wondered if these two worlds may have a parallel even in the imperial center of the globe.

 

Switch contexts to Grinnell, Iowa, home of Grinnell College and, despite the College’s efforts to downplay the fact to prospective students, roughly 9,000 rural Iowans. As I was in town distributing leaflets and a workers’ newsletter on a crisp fall evening, I met a man smoking a cigarette outside of a dilapidated house behind a grocery store. After striking up a conversation with him, I quickly found out that he worked at one of two plastics factories in Grinnell. Shortly after meeting me, the worker said in a suspicious and even accusatory tone, “Are you studying here or something?” As a senior, I was already well aware of the stark “town-gown” divide between Grinnell and Grinnell College, but it is always a clear reminder of this physical and social partition to hear it implied so strongly after just meeting a “townie.”

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Marxism is Not a System: A Critique of the ISO’s Conception of Surplus Value

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Jan Makandal

October 20, 2015

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Marxism is not a self-contained, complete system resting on a philosophical base. Rather, it is a theory that has no absolute beginning and is constantly incomplete in its elaboration, as a whole or in any of its aspects (for example the economic aspect as elaborated in Marx’s Capital).

This doesn’t mean Marxism is non-scientific or non-systematic. It clearly defines objects of study in order to explain their objective necessities, establishing its systematic characteristic of analyzing the different forms of class struggle, and the connections between these struggles.

Marxism argues that the history of any society is the history of class struggles. This doesn’t mean that class struggle is merely the principal phenomenon that we can observe in history; instead Marxism asserts that all historical phenomena are diverse and complex historical forms of class struggle.

When a self-defined revolutionary organization pretends to define the “ABCs of Marxism,” it is not only assigning a false beginning to something that is perpetually incomplete, but it is also assigning a false permanency to an interpretation of a reality that is in a constant mode of evolution. Such an approach can only realize dogmatism. It is a reversal, a reduction from an unfinished science to a finished one.

The “ABCs of Marxism,” a series of graphics with texts, or memes, by the International Socialist Organization (ISO) display that erroneous approach. Marxism, with its periodization, cannot be learned by rote. It is to be applied, reinforced, and most importantly it is to be in a constant mode of rectification.

In one of the “ABCs” series, headed “Exploitation,” the ISO attempts to define surplus value this way: “All workers create more value at work than they receive in wages. The extra ‘surplus’ value goes in the boss’s pocket as profit.” [See graphic at end of this piece for reference].

In a paragraph of text added to the graphic in a Facebook post, the Chicago chapter of the ISO developed a technical mechanism to get that money back: “When we say ‘tax the rich’ we’re really just saying ‘give workers back what the bosses stole.’ And once you start thinking about it like this, it becomes obvious to ask whether it’s possible to simply do away with the original theft—the exploitation—itself.”

But confining our goal to simply doing away with exploitation opens the door to reformism, to alternatives other than revolution. Under this conception, the creation of a Labor Party would be another possible route, since presumably if elected they could tax the rich and return profit to the worker. Lowering the cost of labor reproduction through increasing relative surplus value (taxing the rich to fund social programs) would be yet another possible route for the ISO. Whether the ISO advocates a revolution or an electoral or a legislative path, this conception will not be able to lead to a radical transformation of the mode of production from capitalism to something totally different. It cannot possibly realize anything more than a “system upgrade” or a reformed capitalism.

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Two Forms of Surplus Value

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By Jan Makandal

(November 2014)

Part of a series on Surplus Value

In many of his writings, Marx distinguishes between two typical forms of production of surplus value, according to which class struggle is unfolding:

  1. The production of an absolute surplus value.
  2. The production of a relative surplus value.

The production of the absolute surplus value corresponds to the productivity of social labor, to the value of the labor power. This designation is to show that the extraction of a surplus is the essence of capital accumulation. This surplus value is termed absolute, because it is the only productive form of accumulation of capital. So far, history has not produced any additional forms of productive surplus value. (more…)


A few brief and partial observations on the economic laws and the contradictions of capitalism

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Jan Makandal

December 2014

The proletarian theory of capitalism is the concentration of all revolutionary innovations, with contributions by many, and Marx at the center pole. It is in constant development. Even Marx recognized his work as unfinished. In Das Kapital, he did not completely elaborate on a series of capitalism’s economic laws, but presented them as presuppositions, theorems or consequences of the production of surplus value and of the reproduction of social capital.

For example, the law of value is generally stated as a law of exchange of goods to their value, which corresponds to the socially necessary quantity of labor time required for their production. This formulation is based on the principle that the objective determination of the value of goods is realized by the labor time necessary for their production.

This formulation is not entirely correct; it is inexact, and it is the same argued by bourgeois economists, who have all been (like Marx) unable to scientifically develop it. So attempts have been made to explain value using other principles. One of these was by putting the problem into the context of mercantile circulation and basing the argument (an empirical argument to say the least) on a consequence of the mercantile circulation: competition. This leads to the theory of the tendency of the rate of profit to fall, from which some draw the erroneous conclusion that the demise of capitalism is inevitable.

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A Brief Discussion of the Origin of Surplus Value

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(October 2014)

Part of a series on Surplus Value

To understand how capital accumulation is accomplished, we must address the origin of surplus value.

Capital and value are not simply added sums, but rather exist at a social level. Thus surplus value is not a physical form in which an added sum is produced. Capital is interested solely in increasing its quantity of value; the objects of capital (goods, money) are irrelevant, mere means to an end. The movement of capital is essentially the constant growth of a monetary quantity, a developed form of circulation of money.

What capital pursues is that constant growth. For example, Apple periodically issues new versions of its iPhone. Though Apple may advertise its goal as making its customers happy through product improvement, its only actual interest and reason for existence is the constant accumulation of value.

Surplus value can’t be produced in mercantile circulation, including any specific operations of mercantilism. Nor can it be produced in any specific operations of finance capital. Even while these forms generalized by capitalism are essential to its functioning, they do not produce value. Rather, at the level of the social formation as a whole, mercantile and money circulation are both endemically governed by the rules of exchange between equivalent values, which are imposed on every individual act of exchange. In all exchanges in the spheres of circulation and finance, no new value is or can be created. Surplus value requires the creation of new value.

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On Value

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Kiki Makandal

(November 2014)

“… the emergence of a completed socialist society, with the withering away of classes, commodities, money and the state.” (Page 92)

What we mean by value and how is value determined by the social context

Value is determined by the context of appropriation.

When appropriation is collective, value refers to collective social priorities and is resolved through collective prerogatives to influence social decisions (by the collective) dealing with integrated social activities that combine activities necessary for the production of necessary goods and services (necessary for social reproduction and welfare) with activities that engender cultural flourishing at its highest potential (“épanouissement”). Values refer to the process of collectively determining social production and distribution of goods and services according to need and ability to reflect the most harmonious, equitable and socially nurturing intents. As such, there are no commodities that have to be individually possessed or acquired or produced, but rather there are social needs that have to be addressed and collective social resources allocated to meet those needs in activities that no longer alienate labor from other social practices but that integrate the production of socially necessary goods and services within socially nurturing cultural practices. There is no longer a distinction between work and leisure; there is no longer a distinction between labor and culture, people can fish leisurely, people can farm leisurely… The concept of value refers not to “worth” but to relative social importance. It is completely different from “value” in the context of individual appropriation. There is no need to compare the relative “worth” of objects or services. There is only a need to collectively determine their production and allocation in the interest of the common good.

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A Synopsis of Accumulation

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(November 2014)

Part of a series on surplus value

2015-05-04-so-hungry-woThe movement of capital produces surplus value with the sole purpose of turning itself into more capital, to reproduce itself on an ever-widening scale.

The simple reproduction of capital, for example through circulation, creates no new value, but instead adds to the existing value. This resulting fictitious value is consumed by the capitalist bloc in an unproductive manner. Individual capitalists consider it the ideal form of reproduction, because it provides quick and easy profits without the hassle of building and maintaining infrastructure or dealing with a workforce. But for the capitalist class as a whole, unproductive reproduction is very problematic.

The true objective of capitalist production is its own accumulation. This is both an end and a means—only through concentration can capital increase its productivity—both by increasing the productivity of labor (relative surplus value) for the production of absolute surplus value (on which all forms of capital expansion and accumulation depends).

To our sensory perception, it seems that in each cycle of production capital and labor come from two distinct poles. The capitalist and the wage earner, both owners of merchandise, appear to conduct an exchange between equivalent values: wages for labor power. In reality, it is not an equivalent exchange. When we consider the transformation of surplus value into capital, and the reproduction of capital in cycles of production, then it becomes apparent that new capital is constituted from previously accumulated surplus value. Capital is surplus that has already been extorted, stolen to be used for the further extortion of another new surplus. This is what accumulation is all about.

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Notes on Surplus Value and Labor Power

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by Jan Makandal

Much debate on the left is based on an eclectic usage of concepts such as capital, labor power and surplus value. This eclectic usage allows a totally descriptive approach, leading to a very simplistic analysis that is unable to consolidate further in the elaboration of previous revolutionary militants, in particular Marx. This approach is incapable with deepening these concepts. Instead it causes a reverse effect of reducing these concepts to simple questions of accounting and numbers, and even worse, reducing these theories/concepts (for example the theory of surplus value and all its forms such as exploitation) to a simple theory of profit. This is exactly what Marx fought against from Ricardo, a bourgeois theorist—the tendency to constantly define surplus value and the process of capitalization of surplus value as a simple form of making a profit.
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