Digitial Value - A Letter to Raoul

I won't reply to the whole of your text for now, but there is one particular paragraph which bothers me. It is: "Graham writes (Jan 28): "Of course all workers are exploited" and, a few lines later: "in this real process, some workers create surplus value and others do not." But, how can capitalist exploitation exist without creation of surplus value?"

What I wrote in your quote is something I have taken for granted for many years, long before becoming interested in free software - so long that now I have no idea where in Marx this is stated explicitly, or whether I just took it as a logical consequence of Book 3 of Capital.

Anyway, my (Marx's?) answer to your question is: Surplus value is the difference between the value created by a worker in a period and the value of the worker's labour-power for that period. Some workers do not create value, and therefore do not create surplus value.

But no-one is paid in value, and profit is not accounted for in terms of surplus value. Wages and profit are in money, not value. Equalisation of the rate of profit means that the total surplus value created is shared between industries in proportion to the size of their capital and so the profit of an industry has no necessary relation to the surplus value created in that industry, although it does to the surplus value created in the economy as a whole.

Just as profit is equalised through investment moving from low-profit to high-profit industries, so wages are equalised through competition among workers for jobs. In this simple, abstract model there are no unions, and wages will end up at the minimum needed for social survival. They will not be higher or lower for those who do not create surplus value.

As a random example say the equalised profit rate for all industries is 5%. Take the entire workforce for a particular industry, with a capital of 10 billion and a wages bill of 1 billion. For simplicity assume the entire capital is turned over in the period.

The industry has then paid 9 billion for raw materials, depreciation, and rent, and had sales of 10.5 billion. For 1 billion in wages it has received 1.5 billion in income. Each worker is working 2/3 of the day to cover his own wages, and 1/3 of the day for free, an exploitation rate in money terms of 33%.

Now say the industry in question is the advertising industry. This is one explicitly stated by Marx not to create value. It makes no difference: the workers are still exploited at 33%. The fact that they create no surplus value affects the overall rate of profit and so affects the monetary rate of exploitation for all workers to some extent (basically all workers need to be exploited a bit more to keep the advertising industry going, if the rate of profit is to be maintained), but it does not give the workers in that industry any special 'non-exploited' status.

The exploitation rate in money terms can therefore be quite different from the underlying exploitation rate in value terms (also in the example above rent does not appear in profit, as it does when using value terms).

In this extremely simple version (no unions, skill differentials, etc, complete mobility of labour, no middle class) the exploitation rate in money terms is actually identical for all workers, no matter what they do.

To me this is an argument I had always taken for granted - it certainly doesn't let you say that 'some workers are exploiting others'. Is this not a standard argument?

Or is it that you are from a tradition of interpreting Marx which says that Marx's attempt to convert from value to prices was a failure, and has taken a more Sraffian approach of saying that value is all there is? I have never come across a left group (as opposed to academics) that says this, but guess it is possible - certainly it seems to me that a lot of the time you are mixing value and price oddly, which could be a sign of some 'deep' difference like that which we have not realised...


February 23, 2006

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