Capital I. Chapter 7: The Labour Process and the Valorisation Process

In Chapter 7 Marx answers the question he set up in Chapter 4: how does the capitalist turn a profit if equal values exchange (301-2)? He begins by analysing labour on a very general terrain, outside any determinate social form, giving a broad sketch of what he means when say ‘labour’. This can be seen as a general abstaction. He then makes an obscure reference to real subsumption (291), and the transformatio into the capitalist mode of production, before moving into the second and final section of the chapter. The process of value-creation and its extension into valorisation can be seen as the determinate abstraction: this is what is particular to the capitalist mode of production. In this second section Marx also insists on distinguishing between use-values and values, as well as useful labour and value creating labour.

1. The Labour Process

“The use of labour-power is labour itself” (283).

Marx immediately separates “the general character of” the production of use-values from its being “carried on under the control of a capitalist”. He continues: “We shall therefore, in the first place, have to consider the labour process independently of any specific social formation” (283). This is again Marx playing with sorts of abstraction. He is presenting a general abstration to orient our thinking about labour within capitalism by first stepping outside of capitalism, or any determinate social form.

  • Labour is many things: the metabolism between humantiy and nature, a force of nature, an exclusively human characteristic, mental and physical, self-realisation, an external determinaton of our will, internally determined by our will, “close attention” (283-4).
  • Labour has thre elements: i. Purposeful activity, ii. an object and iii. instruments of labour.
  • “Objects spontaneously provided by nature” vs. “raw material”.

“All raw material is an object of labour, but not every object of labour is raw material; the object of labour counts as raw material only when it has already undergone some alteration by human means” (285).

Marx here also refers to “land” here as “the universal material for human labour”.

“An instrument of labour is a thing, or a complex of things, which the worker interposes between himself and the object of his labour and which serves as a conductor, directing his activity onto that object” (285).

  • Nature becomes a bodily organ.
  • The objective condition for doing work at all are instruments of labour, the earth being the universal instance.

What does this say about the relation of human society to the rest of nature?

  • Use-value defined: “a piece of natural material adapted to human needs by means of a change in its form” (287). Labour is objectified in use-values, “the process is extinguished in its product” (ibid.). Unrest becomes being.
  • Means of production and productive labour; the instruments and objects of labour and labour itself.
  • Use-values are the result of production, as products, but in this form they also enter production as means of production.
  • Raw materials store up past labour.
  • Some raw material is destroyed in the production process some reappears in the product.

“Every object possesses various properties, and is thus capable of being applied to diffeent uses” (288).

  • Some raw materials enter many different processes, or enter their own production process (corn as seed and harvest).
  • A product may be both instrument of labour and raw material.
  • A product may be consumed or put into further production (see page 125). A use-value may go through a series of processes, repeatedly as a raw material, before it reappears in a product.

“Hence we see that whether a use-value is to be regarded as a raw material, as an instrument of labour or as a product is determined entirely by its specific function in the labour process, by the position it occupies there: as its position changes, so do its determining characteristics” (289).

  • Products entering the labour process lose their character as products and become simply the preconditions of the process itself.

“In a successful product, the role played by past labour in mediating its useful proerties has been extinguished” (289).

  • Products not consumed are wasted, are dead:

“Living labour must seize on these things, awaken them from the dead, change them from merely possible into real and effective use-values” (289).

  • Products destined for the production process must come into contact with living labour if they are to be use-values, and thus realised.
  • Productive consumption is distinguished for individual consumption, as the subsistence of labour is distinguished from the subsistence of an individual, as the consumer is separated from the product is distinguished from the consumer being the product.
  • Productive consumption consumes one set of product to create another set of products.
  • The general abstraction:

“The labour process, as we have just presented it in its simple and abstract elements, is purposeful activity aimed at the production of use-values. It is an appropriate of what exists in nature for the requirements of man. It is the universal condition for the metabolic interation between man and nature, the everlasting nature-imposed condition of human existence, and is therefore independent of every form that existence takes, or rather it is common to all forms of society in which human beings live” (290).

The footnote to this paragraph (291fn10) emphasises the failure of economists to distinguish between the sort of general abstraction Marx has present, for instance “instruments of labour”, to the determinate abstrations that can explain why instruments of labour become “capital”.

“The transformation of the mode of production itself which results from the subordination of labour to capital can only occur later on, and we shall therefore deal with it in a later chapter” (291).

Marx refer to real subsumption here. It is one thign for capitalists to force labour into their employ it is another to transform the form of labour as such.

  • The capitalist consumtion of labour has two characteristics: i. the worker is directed by the capitalist and ii. the results of the labour process are the property of the capitalist.

“By the purchase of labour-power, the capitalist incorporates labour, as a living agent of fermentation, into the lifeless constituents of the product, which also belong to him” (292).

“The labour process is a process between things the capitalist has purchased, things which belong to him” (292)

This final quote inverts the labour process. Marx says that it is a realtion between things. But we know that these things conceal social relations. The labour process, as a real process, is a relation between persons.

2. The Valorisation Process

  • The aims of the capitalist: a commodity, a value, a surplus value.
  • The process of production is the unity of the labour process and the valorisation process.
  • The value embodied in a use-value is determined by the labour-time socially necessary for its production.
  • 2 days’ labour is embodied in 10lb. of yarn at $12.
  • “According to the geneal law of value…” (294). If 10lb. of cotton plus the destroyed spindle = 10lb. of yarn, then they each embody the same quantity of labour, viz. they have the same value.
  • Labour objectified in the cotton and spindle is transferd to the yarn.
  • All the labour contained in the yarn is past labour, it doesn’t matter how far in the past it is: the past perfect and the perfect tense, the yarn has no past perfect tense, only the perfect.
  • The values of the cotton and the destroyed spindle are constituent parts of the value of the yarn.
  • On two conditions. i. they must result in a use-value and ii. the labour-time expended must not exceed the socially necessary quantity.

“Value is independent of the particular use-value by which it is borne, but a use-value of some kind has to act as its bearer” (295).

  • Given the labour process, the labour required to produce the yarn is specific—it cannot be used to make a rilfe. Given the valorisation process it is general and can be incorporated in any specific labour process. Quanity now takes precedence over quality.

“During the labour process the worker’s labour constantly undergoes a transformation, from the form of unrest into that of being, from the form of motion into that of objectivity” (296, also 287).

“… only social necessary labour-time counts towards the creation of value” (296).

  • Things become the material shape taken by so many hours of social labour.
  • The specificity of the labour being done (spinning) is a matter of indifference; it counts as the equal of the distinct labours that produced the means of production it vivifies.
  • If the value of labour-power is $3 per day and that it takes 6 hours to reproduce this value, the yarn produced in 6 hours of labour is also equal to $3, the same quantity of labour is likewise contained in a piece of gold worth $3.
  • The 10lb. of yarn has a value equal to the two days materialised in the means of production plus the 6 hours of labour needed to work them into yarn. The value of 10lb. of yarn is $15.
  • The value at this stage has not been valorised.

“The swollen value of the yarn is of no avail, for it is merely the sum of the values formerly existing in the cotton, the spindle and the labour-power: out of such a simple addition of existing values, no surplus value can be created” (298).

This brings us back to Chapter 4: M—C—M is pointless and absurd if the same value is given at each pole, if M doesn’t become M’ (see 248).

  • 10lb. of yarn are the equivalent of $15 regardless of how the yarn was produced: “the process is extinguished in its product” (287).
  • The value of labour-power is not transferred to the product, the $3 is rather replaced with a new value created by living labour.

“… the past labour embodied in the labour-power and the living labour it can perform … are two totally different things. […] the value of labour power, and the value which that labour-power valorises in the labour-process, are two entirely different magnitudes, and this difference was what the capitalist had in mind when he was purchasing the labour power” (300).

At the end of this very important paragraph, Marx notes that this situation is by no means an injustice towards the seller of labour-power, the worker. What does this mean?

  • The capitalist supplies the worker with means of production for 12 hours work, not the 6 need to replace the $3 wage. 10lb. of yarn were produced in 6 hours and were worth $15; 20lb. are produced in 12 hours and are worth $30. But the inputs only equal $27. The additional $3 is the surplus value. M finally becomes M’.

“Every condition of the problem is now satisfied…” (301).

Marx now returns to the problem he set out on page 268. The law of value cannot be broken, and yet the value invested must be expanded.

“This whole course of events, the transformation of money into capital, both takes place and does not take place in the sphere of circulation” (302).

  • Value becomes “an animated montster which begins to ‘work’, as if by love possessed” (302).
  • Valorisation is the continuation of the creation of value beyond a definite point.
  • Value creation is the labour process with all of its determing qualities removed, but time.
  • But this time only counts if it is socially necessary. This depends on the capitalist, not the worker, because the quality of the means of production determine the level of wasted time. The capitalist is also the person that buys the labour-power, and so buys it at a social standard. And the capitalist ensues the workers wastes no time.
  • The difference between labour that creates use-values and labuor that creates values, “resolves itself into a distinction between two aspects of the production process” (304).

“The process of production, consiered as the unity of he labour process and the process of creating value, is the process of creating commodities; considered as the unity of the labour process and the process of valorisation, it is the capitalist process of production, or the captalistm form of the production of commodities” (304).

Marx here draws together the abstraction he has been working with. When taken together as a phenomenon they are each, the labour process, the creation of value and the valoristaion process, aspects of capialism. I don’t think he is suggesting that we can have value-creation outside capitalism, or the labour process outside some definite social form.

  • Skilled and unskilled labour:

“All labour of a high value, or more complicated, character than average labour is expenditure of labour-power whose prodution has cost more time and labour than unskilled or simple labour-power, and which therefore has a high value” (305).

Jacques Bidet has provided an excellent critique of Marx on this point in Exploring Marx’s Capital (1985, 2009). It boils down to the problem of treating workers like machines. The worker doesn’t transfer value to the product, but creates a new value. How does the level of training impact this? There is also the slip between the words simple and unskilled. Is any labour unskilled? Marx eariler mentioned this question on page 135.


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Reading Capital in Sydney records reading notes on Marx's Capital I, II and III, and other bits and pieces.

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