Hyderabad: The discussion forum ‘In Defense of Reason’ (https://www.facebook.com/InDefenseOfReason/) organized the third round of Marxist Study Circle at Lamakan on 17 and 18 June. The topic of this round of the study circle was: “The Basics of Marxist Political Economy”. The speaker was Anand Singh (https://www.facebook.com/anand.banaras) who is an activist associated with workers’ Newspaper ‘Mazdoor Bigul’ and Marxist theoretical journal ‘The Anvil’.
On the first day of the study circle, Anand started the session by briefly highlighting the increasing relevance of Marxist Political Economy even after 150 years of the publication of Karl Marx’s magnum opus, Capital (Volume 1), particularly at a time when the global capitalist system is passing through its terminal crisis.
He started the discussion by first explaining how the entire material wealth in a capitalist society consists of innumerable commodities which are the products and human labour and are produced for selling in the market. A commodity has two aspects: qualitative and quantitative.
In qualitative terms, the usefulness of a commodity was termed by Marx as its Use Value which is conditioned by its physical or chemical properties. The Use Value of a commodity is independent of the amount of labour involved in its production and it gets realized in the course of its consumption.
For instance, Use value of rice is that it can satisfy hunger, Use value of a cloth is that it can cover human body, Use value of a fan is that it gives relief from heat, Use value of a music album is that it can fulfill the need of entertainment.
Further, Anand elucidated that being a qualitative measure, the Use Value of a commodity does not give any indication of the quantitative relationships among the commodities as to the proportion in which commodities are exchanged in the market.
That’s why Marx introduced another term called Exchange Value which expresses the proportion in which Use Value of one kind gets exchanged with the Use Value of another kind. After making abstraction from the Use Value, Marx then pondered over the common property which is part of all the commodities.
What is common among all the commodities is the fact that they all are the products of human labour. So, the duration of labor involved in the production of a commodity could be a legitimate criterion to determine the worth or the Value of a commodity.
So a commodity could be visualised as human labour objectified. Exchange Value is nothing but mode of expression or a form of appearance of Value. However, the labour used in the measurement of Value cannot be the concrete labour because concrete labour of different kinds viz carpenter’s labour, tailor’s labour, blacksmith’s labour, mason’s labor etc.
are qualitatively different. Yet there is a similarity also in these various forms of labor which lies in the fact that they all are expenditure of physical and mantal labour or of human muscles and nerves. This homogeneous aspect of labour abstracted from its concrete manifestation was termed by Marx as abstract labour.
Since abstract labour is homogeneous, it needs to be used as a criterion for measuring the Value of a commodity. So, while the concrete labour creates Use Value, the abstract labour is responsible for Value. Anand further explained that if merely labour time is used as a criterion for Value of a commodity,
it could give an impression that a commodity produced by a lazy or unskilled worker creates is more valuable than the one that is produced by an efficient and skilled worker.
That’s the reason instead of using the term labour time, Marx coined the term Socially Necessary Labour Time by which he meant the labour time required to produce a commodity with an average amount of skills and intensity prevalent at a given time.
Anand further explained that within a commodity there is a constant tussle between the two aspects of Use Value and Value or between the Concrete labour and abstract labour and commodity acts as a unifier between these opposing aspects.
This contradiction within a commodity gets resolved only when it is sold in the market. He then went on to explain how in the course of history the exchange of commodities, the need of a universal equivalent led to the emergence of money as a medium of exchange.
He also explained the concept of commodity fetishism as to how under capitalism the commodities (and money) which are the products of human labour are elevated to the divine status and are mystified so much so that commodity relations conceal the relations among men in society.
On the second day of the study circle on 18 June, Anand elucidated the theory of surplus value as propounded by Marx and how capitalists exploit workers.
He began by saying that in capitalism even labour power – the ability to do labour – becomes a commodity because after getting freed from the feudal bondage and from his means of production, the worker does not own anything other than his ability to do labour.
The Use Value of this commodity called labour power is that it could create new Value while its Value is determined by the socially necessary labour time required in the production of the commodities required for his survival as an individual as well as of his family. The money form of this Value is called as wages.
The capitalist, in his pursuit of profit purchases the labour power, raw material, machinery and technology etc. from the market and puts them to use in the production arena.
Marx termed the expenditure on machinery, technology, raw material etc. as constant capital because their Value gets transferred in the produced commodity as it is. The expenditure incurred in purchasing the labour power was termed as variable capital because it could create more Value than its own worth.
Marx elaborated further that whatever Value worker receives in form of wages gets created only in a part of the entire working day and hence during the rest of the time the worker creates a Value for which he does not get paid.
This Value was termed by Marx as Surplus Value which is appropriated by the capitalist simply because he is the owner. This surplus value forms the basis of capitalist’s profit. This appropriation of the surplus value is what is known as exploitation and this constitutes the main plunder in a capitalist society.
The capitalists seek to elongate that part of working day for which the worker is not paid while the workers’ interest lies in the elongation of the first part for which he is paid. Hence there exists a clear cut antagonism between the interest of the capitalist and that of the worker.
The capitalist first tries to increase the surplus Value by increasing the working hours. However, there is a physical limit upto which he could do that and moreover it leads to the resistance of workers as well. Hence the second method tried by the capitalist is to increase the speed of machinery and thereby increasing the intensity of work and in the process shortening the part of the working day for which the worker is paid.
If this also is not sufficient, the capitalist is driven to invest in the new technology so that the number of workers required could be reduced and productivity could be enhanced and in the process the unemployment increases and reserve army of labor swells.
Anand also explained as to how the capitalist mode of production inevitably leads to accumulation of wealth on the one pole of society while misery and suffering accumulates on the other pole.
In both the sessions, there was an enthusiastic participation of students, professionals and citizens from different walks of life who asked many questions related to the topic under discussion as well as some general questions related to capitalism and communism.