Capital II. Chapter 12: The Working Period, Chapter 13: Production Time & Chapter 14: Circulation Time

In these chapters Marx is concerned with barriers to the speed of value’s circulation. The turnover of capital is the time it takes a capital value to move though production and circulation and reflux back to the capitalist as M’  — though throughout Marx ignores surplus-value: he just wants to show how values move, not how they expand.

As with this volume generally, the question of speeding things up is central. Once we have a value, how can we make it move faster and faster?

These chapters deal particularly with problems arising from the natural forms of commodities’ use-values — both producing them and selling them. The theme of confinement emerges: capital values are either tied-up in production or confined to the form of commodity capital in circulation.

Chapters 12 and 13 deal with production time. This is split into the working period and an excess of production time  beyond this. The working period is the time it takes to transform productive capital into a finished use-value that can then circulate as commodity capital. The production time that exceeds this is that time in which natural processes intervene and labour doesn’t need to work on the use-value: fermenting fruit or grain into alcohol, for example.

There is something significant at 319-20. Marx says that means of production transfers value to products outside the labour process, or the Working Period. Is this a contradiction of Marx’s insistence that the purpose of mixing labour and means of labour is to preserve the values carried by the latter? He then uses unproductive labour as an analogy for this contribution of value … doesn’t unproductive labour not contribute value…?

Chapter 14 deals with the time it takes for a commodity, that has left production, to be sold and for its value to be invested into new means of production and labour-power. Marx splits this into selling time and purchasing time.

Chapter 12: The Working Period

  • Marx compares discrete and continuous labour processes. A discrete labour process turns out its product in one working day, a continuous process is involves multiple working days to turn out a use-value. These distinct times are different between and within branches of production.
  • How much circulating capital is required given a working period?

‘speed of turnover [is] the length of time for which the individual capital must be advanced before the same capital value can serve again for a new labour or valorisation process’ (307).

  • For the point of view of the workers, the production of a product that takes 100 days is simply 100 discrete working days, for the capitalist it is one working period of 100 days. At the end of a working period a product has bit by bit become a finished use-value (308). Interruptions to the production have a greater impact on continuous labour processes.

‘If the job is not carried any further, then the means of production and the labour already consumed in its production have been spent to no avail’ (308).

  • The transfer of value happens ‘bit by bit’. It is transferred to a product and flows back in a longer of shorter time as money, depending on the working period need to create the finished use-value.

‘layer upon layer’ (309).

  • The labour that goes into the working period is added layer upon layer as working days go into the unfinished product. The same goes for raw materials and ancillaries: layer by layer they transfer value to a product that is not market-ready. The values given layer by layer to the unfinished, or developing, use-value are tied up in production, cannot leave it, are confined by the unfinished form of their use-value. As the working period goes on more and more circulating capital must be invested, this value also being tied up with no reflux coming in.
  • The reflux of value is different for different working periods. The time of advance is greater of shorter given the working period, the length of time of a greater or lesser mass of value that is tied up in production and cannot advance to circulation as commodity capital.
  • The working period is a problem for capital. It wants to get around this question of time. Goods must be ready for sale, the example of house building. Ground Rent. The credit system, centralisation of capital, etc… Speed, acceleration, centralisation of capital.

‘In so far as credit mediates, accelerates and intensifies the concentration of capital in a single hand, it contributes to shortening the working period, and with this also the turnover time’ (313).

Whether the reflux [of value] is slower or quicker, the fixed capital continues to operate. The circulating capital, on the contrary, becomes unable to function when the reflux is delayed, if it is tied up in the form of unsold, or unfinished  and not yet saleable products, and there is no additional capital to renew it in kind’ (314).

Marx refers us to India’s sacerd cows here. What do we make of this?

Chapter 13: Production Time

  • Working time is always production time, but production time is not always working time. The production time that exceeds to working time is about the natural formation of use-values. The labour process may be effectively stopped while the production period continues on, for example the growing time of fruit and vegetables, the fermentation time of alcohol. The amount of ongoing additions of labour-power and means of production are marginal.
  • The production time has two parts:

‘a period in which the capital exists in the labour process, and a second part in which its form of existence — that of an unfinished product — is handed over to the sway of natural processes, without being involved in the labour process’ (317).

  • The period that exceeds the working time is then shortened with innovations that reduce the time of natural processes; for example, improvements in tanning, dying or iron smelting. Shoe-lasts (the wodden molds that shoes are built around) took up to 18 months to set, before they could assist shoemakers. Their production is up to 18 months on top of the working time.
  • Marx suggests that production time in agriculture is outside artificial control. However  in the previous chapter he suggested ways in which it is controlled: for example the genetic selection of sheep with thin bones and lots of flesh (315).
  • In Russia the agricultural production period is such that only a diminished portion is working time. This leads peasants into factories and cottage industry. The cottage industries provide an opening to merchant capitalists. These disruptions are evened out across turnover periods for capital. ‘Not so for the worker’ (319).
  • The greater the second part of the production time, that given over to natural processes, the greater the unevenness of capital outlays. A comment on dead labour as fixed capital:

‘In the case of dead means of labour, non-use also gives rise to a certain depreciation. The product thus always becomes dearer, since the transfer of value to the product is not calculated according to the time for which fixed capital functions, but rather according to the time in which it loses value’ (319-20).

What is Marx saying here? We know that the role of labour is to preserve the value of means of production. It is the labour process that allows the transfer of value. Is Marx saying that value is transferred from dead labour to a product during the production time in excess of working time? That doesn’t seem right. Why should the depreciation of a use-value add this depreciation to the value of the product? Isn’t this the crisis that capitals face in depreciation, that the value lost is not redeemed in the sale of the product? The value is lost, right; not just from the dead labour but from reality as such? Goodness! Marx adds:

‘in every labour process, the labour-power expended unproductively, but unavoidably so under normal technical conditions, counts just as much as the productive. Every improvement that reduces the unproductive expenditure of means of labour, raw materials and labour power also reduces the the value of the product’ (320).

He argues by analogy that that the production time that is in excess of labour-time is like the unproductive labour that nevertheless counts towards the value of the product…? How does that work? Does it? Is this something to do with the ‘collective labourer’? Discussion point!

  • The impact of production time on class positions. Agricultural capital was dependent on manufacturing capital becomes of the production time of agricultural commodities. They had to go into debt as they waited on their commodities to form.
  • Crop rotation at some point involved leaving one of three fields fallow; this was then replaced by producing lower-grade grains on the fallow field to be fed to now permanently stalled cattle. By drawing the fallow field into the production time, it is as if the whole farming land had been extended by a third.
  • Timber production. Three comments:

‘in communal production capital disappears and the question is simply how much land the community can withdraw from arable and grazing land for timber production’ (321);

and from Kichhof,

‘someone who does not have other income or possesses substantial areas of forest cannot pursue regular forestry’ (321).’

And Marx Again:

‘The development of civilisation and industry in general has always shown itself so active in the destruction of forests that everything that has been done for their conservation and production is completely insignificant in comparison’ (322).

  • Part of the stock exists in the production process, given its natural — use-value — form. Auxiliary materials must exist as a stock. The deterioration of use-values = the deterioration of the values they bare.

Chapter 14: Circulation Time

  • Marx is going through the various things that affect the circulation time. Paragraphs one to 12 are about the selling time, paragrphs 13 to 22 are about the purchasing time. Turnover time is the sum of production and circulation time.
  • Selling time.
  • Market conditions. Within a particular brach of production, capitals may have different selling times. The time it takes to get commodities onto the market. A geographical question. Though communications and transportation improve, the relative differences remain the same. 5/10 becomes 1/2. Natural distances are overcome by railways, and other forms of transport. Local capitals serve local markets. The world market is introduced as a necessity once technical innovations in communications and transport are given conditions. What does Marx mean by ‘absolutely and relatively’ here? A greater number of use-values serve not to produce more use-values but to spatially displace use-values. So one increasing portion of the social capital sits in the commodity form, while another increasing portion is consumed moving it.
  • Purchasing time.
  • The circulation time has two parts, selling time and purchasing time —> the time it takes to sell produced commodities, and the time is takes to replace means of production and labour-power and so produce again.
  • Commodities’ values are at risk the longer they take to make it to market, the longer the window for a revolution in value is left open. Circulation is affected by terms of payment in purchase and sale. The size of an order extends the turnover time. If cotton is bought daily it turnover is a day; if 10 days output of cotton are ordered, it is delivered only after a working period of ten days.
  • The purchasing time assumes the constant presence of money capital:

‘In a particular business … n x $100 of the total capital advanced has to be present in the form of money capital; this is continuously being transformed into productive capital, but just as constantly being added to again by the influx from circulation, from realised commodity capital’ (331).

  • The length of time in which capital is ‘confined’ to the commodity form, is the length of time that it is delayed from being money capital that can make its transformation into productive capital. Marx uses the word confined here. Capital value is being confined, limited, barred, … by its bondage to some particular use-value.

1 Response to “Capital II. Chapter 12: The Working Period, Chapter 13: Production Time & Chapter 14: Circulation Time”

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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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