v and the value of labor power (fwd)

Roger Odisio rodisio at igc.org
Thu Aug 26 00:05:07 PDT 1999

Rakesh Bhandari wrote:

> Now let's do what Marx does in vol I. Focus on the production of surplus
> value and therefore abstract from circulation, realization and finance
> in which unproductive labor is employed.
>
> You seem to be defining the value of labor power, used
> productively, as the sum of variable capital invested. But how do we know
> the latter is big enough to pay wages that approximate the the value
> of labor power, used productively? If you equate the two (v and the valueof
> labor power), you make it impossible for the wage paid to labor power used
> productively to ever fall below the value of labor power.

Wages are not paid out of v, but out of revenue from the sale of the product. There is no sum or fund of variable capital. It is a calculated number, done after the fact only by people like you and me to uncover how much value in a round of production was needed to reproduce productive labor, and how much value accrues to capital as surplus value. Capitalists never heard of v. Wages have no connection to v, except in the way I described before, as a floor which some capitalists try to ignore. Again, wages are something negotiated separately between capital and labor as part of the class struggle over distribution.

I don't equate v and the value of labor as if they were two different concepts. I said they were two expressions of the same concept--the reproduction cost of productive labor.

Let me explain what I mean by this, and then set out what I understand you to be saying for comparison. Marx began by distinguishing labor power and labor, and asking what was the value of labor power. Answer: its (re)production cost. He then considers total value in production, i.e., the value of a commodity produced, which he repesents by the formula C = c+v+s. He calls the reproduction cost of dead labor (means of production) constant capital for it adds only its value to the product, a constant value. He calls *the reproduction cost of productive labor* variable capital because, as you say, it adds value to the product beyond its own value. Productive labor produces the equivalent of its own value, plus an excess--surplus value, which is the third component of the formula. This division between the production of its own value and the excess produced by productive labor is expressed by v and s, respectively. Put another way, once constant capital is accounted for, the amount of surplus value produced is that value remaining in excess of productive labor's subsistence. Thus, v is but the formulaic expression of the value of labor power. Once known in quantity, it performs the crucial task of determining the amount surplus value expropriated by capital.You start from the same understanding of the value of labor power--the reproduction cost of productive labor. But then you define v as wages. This is where we diverge. Marx did say that variable capital makes its appearence as wages in the sphere of circulation. And he often did equate wages and v, but that was a simplification, a first approximation for reasons I have explained. In no sense does Marx define v as wages or even imply that wages cannot deviate from v. In fact, marxists have long recognized that the deviation of wages from v is an important phenomenon to explain (e.g., Meek). In any case, your defintion of v with wages causes you to worry that my definition of v with the value of labor power, which I am guessing means you conclude that all three are equated, puts me in a bind. How, you ask, is it then possible for wages ever to fall below labor's reproduction cost, causing immiseration, as I have claimed? I hope I have cleared that up. The answer, of course, is that wages are not equated with v and the value of labor power, but vary according to the terms of the direct and indirect class struggle.

I've thought about whether your formulation is simply a workable alternative to mine. But I concluded it is not for several reasons, perhaps the most important being the following. If v is defined as wages, which we agree deviate from the reproduction cost of productive labor (the value of labor power) then v in the formula C = c+v+s does not give you surplus value after all. As I said, surplus value, by defintion, is that which is left over after the reproduction cost of dead and living labor have been accounted for. v as wages gives you a different number for s to the extent that wages deviate from labor's reproduction cost. Thus, v in the formula *must* be an expression of the reproduction cost of labor (the value of labor power) in order for it to be used to calculate surplus value.

> We can of
> course safely say that v will tend to big enough to pay productive labor
> wages that appromixate the value of labor power; otherwise productive
> labor will not over time be able to expend the effort to produce surplus
> value. Yet it seems to me to be a mistake to *define* the value of labor
> power, used productively, as the monetary sum of variable capital
> divided by the number of productive laborers. Is this what you are doing?