Crises and Automation

(The Artificial Fabrication of Arbitrary Value, Price, and Wage Across Post-Industrial, Post-Modern Capitalism)

According to Friedrich Engels, Anti-Duhring, “the only value known in economics is the value of commodities”.1 Commodities are products produced, not for individual consumption by their producers, but products produced for general public consumption. The value of a commodity, according to Engels, is determined via comparison with other commodities, namely, “they can be…said to be equal or unequal [with other commodities], according to the quantity of [general human] labor embodied in each”.2

As a result, for Engels, “social conditions remaining the same, two equal private products, [that is, commodities] may embody an unequal quantity of individual labor, but they always embody only an equal quantity of general human labor”.2 For Engels, commodities are produced according to many different types of individual labor expenditures, such as sowing, tanning, writing, pressing, etc., which may require shorter or longer work-periods, but despite these variable labor expenditures, at the abstract level these variable labor expenditures have the same value as abstract labor. That is, all commodities share and embody generalized human labor; i.e., abstract labor, and are equated as such, despite the various durations of their individual labor and labor-expenditures.

Abstract-labor is labor which can be reduced to quantification, specifically, scientific quantification, across a litany of different types of specific labor-expenditures. As a result, what different types of labor-expenditures share is that they are all forms of abstract-labor; i.e., quantifiable units of labor-time. It is through measurements of quantities of labor-power that commodities acquire value, share value and are able to be exchanged via these equalizing, measurable values, within the marketplace. Abstract labor is labor-power measured in quantifiable units of time.

Notwithstanding, despite value being the product and a measurement of scientific quantification, for Engels the value of a commodity is specifically a social measurement of scientific quantification. That is, the value of a commodity is, in fact, a social average of the sum of the labor-time calculated in a specific sphere of production, pertaining to a specific commodity. As Engels states:

An unskilled smith makes five horseshoes in the same time as a skillful smith makes ten. Society does not make the accidental lack of skill of an individual the basis of valuation; it recognizes as general human labor only labor of a normal average degree of skill at the particular time. Therefore, one of the five horseshoes made by the first smith has no more value in exchange than one of the ten made by the other in the same time. Individual labor contains general human labor only in so far as it is socially necessary.3

In this regard, for Engels, general human labor is socially necessary labor-time. It is the average labor-time socially necessary to produce a specific commodity across an individual sphere of production. And the value of a commodity “is determined…by the labor-time socially necessary for….[its] production”.4 It is important to note here that, for Engels, socially necessary labor-time; i.e., general human labor, “is usually measured, in labor-hours or days, etc., but in a roundabout way, through exchange, relatively. This definite quantity of labor time [is] not [necessarily] in labor-hours—[which] remains unknown—but… in a roundabout way, [via exchange, this] equal quantity of …social labor-time [is established]”.5 As a result, socially necessary labor-time, that is, general human labor for a given commodity, is measured in exact scientific units of labor-time; however, through exchange, this is flexible and a roundabout calculation in the sense that socially necessary labor-time is established in a roundabout way as a social average of all identical commodities exchanged in the marketplace.

For example, for Engels, lawnmowers of a similar make and model will exchange in the marketplace according to an average, socially necessary labor-time, which regulates this specific sphere of production, labor-time being, for Engels, scientifically quantifiable labor-time and nothing else. Consequently, according to Engels, despite the variability between the exact, scientifically, quantifiable labor-time embodied in a specific commodity in relation to the average socially necessary labor-time for these specific types of commodities, the value of a commodity, regardless of social necessity, is nevertheless fundamentally based on scientifically quantifiable units of labor-time.

Therefore, in Marx and Engels’ case, value in general, and value of a specific commodity, are always based on a median average of all the labor-time required to produce a specific type of commodity within a specific sphere of production. As a result, for Marx and Engels, value is solely an expression; i.e., an average expression of the scientific time-quantification of a commodity’s production-process, namely, the scientific quantification of labor-power expressed both as an exact time-measurement and as a broad average spanning the whole production sphere for a specific type of commodity, namely, socially necessary labor-time. It is in this regard that commodities can be equated, according to Marx and Engels, in the sense that they reflect and embody scientifically quantifiable labor-time and express an average of socially necessary labor-time.

For Marx and Engels, value is something scientifically quantifiable, whether value is an exact measurement of labor-power and/or an average expression of socially necessary labor-time. For Marx and Engels, there is no getting around this scientific fact. This fact lies at the basis of the capitalist production sphere and the consumption/circulation sphere in the sense that commodities are produced and exchanged based on the regulatory mechanism of socially necessary labor-time and scientific quantification. This is the nexus of Marx and Engels’ rational labor theory of value, namely, the law of value.

Notwithstanding, Marx and Engels’ rational labor theory of value is not universal, despite the fact that it claims otherwise, meaning that the rational labor theory of value is something grounded in the social collective, rather than any science. That is, it is not science that establishes a theory of value, but a socioeconomic community, which agrees through the medium of various mechanisms and institutional apparatuses to subscribe to a particular manner of determining value, price and wage, meaning that value, price and wage are things, which are socially constructed rather than scientifically measured.  As a result, value, price and wage are things far more subjective, arbitrary and artificial than Marx and Engels surmised. Value and its corresponding expression, price, is a conceptual-perception, more or less, established in the mind, both of the individual and/or a collective, rather than through any scientific quantification, although this is always a possibility.

As Marx states in Capital (Volume 3), “value is not present at the phenomenal level, in the exchange relationship of capitalistically produced commodities; it does not dwell in…empirical fact but an ideal or logical one”,6, meaning value and price are conceptual-perceptions, their connection is an ideal one, fabricated in the mind, by the mind, itself. In similar fashion, Pierre Joseph Proudhon correctly deduces in What Is Property?, that “value…is based on…opinion”7 in the sense that “value…is variable”.8 It is something that is socially fabricated and settled within the conceptual-perceptions of a community, whether it is through society and/or the individual, him or herself, namely, “the individual…fixes…price by the value placed upon his [or her] product by the public”.9 And this value and price-determination have relatively nothing to do with scientific quantification of labor-time and everything to do with conceptual-perception; i.e., ideological influences on conceptual-perception. And increasingly, within post-industrial, post-modern, bourgeois-state-capitalism, this is the case. As Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri state in Empire: 

In the [age] of Empire, value is outside of measure. In contrast to those who have long claimed that value can  be affirmed only in the figure of measure and order, we argue that value…[is] immeasurable. In postmodern capitalism there is no longer a fixed scale that measures value. In Empire, the construction of value takes place beyond measure….[because] in postmodernity …labor…functions outside measure.10

Like Proudhon, for Hardt and Negri, value is something, due to the advent of post-modernity, which lies outside scientific measurement. Value is something which is socially constructed, according to arbitrary imperatives, due to the fact that labor, as well, is something which lies outside scientific measurement, whose parameters are socially constructed according to arbitrary imperatives. For Hardt and Negri, labor is something that lies outside scientific measurement because what constitutes productive labor is today something that extends beyond the traditional factory across society, in general.

In contrast to Marx and Engels, for Hardt and Negri, labor and value are increasingly immeasurable in the age of Empire and post-modernity, because labor and value-determinations are no longer based in production, but, in fact, have transcended the modern industrial factory and now permeate the sum of social relations across society, in general. Labor is immeasurable because every moment in an individual’s life, living in post-industrial, post-modern capitalism, is a moment of production, from womb to tomb. Moreover, value is immeasurable as well because what is valuable today is no longer fixed. Value is no longer measureable because labor is no longer fixed inside the industrial factory; labor and value have become post-industrial and post-modern, meaning that labor and value have become subject to a variety of determining factors and models of analysis, calculation and determination outside Marx and Engels’ law of value. Due to the fact that labor and value are no longer solely localized in the traditional factory, many unquantifiable elements flow into value, price and wage.

As Hardt and Negri state, “the price of labor-power, like the price of grain, oil and other commodities is really determined socially and is the index of a whole series of [models and] social struggles,”11 meaning that value and the price of labor are increasingly determined through conceptual-perception, namely, the struggle between antagonistic ideologies, both conceptually and materially. That is, they are social constructs, fabricated in the minds of people through conceptual, ideological, and material struggles, across the social factory; i.e., the sum of society, due to the fact that “labor [has] moved outside the [traditional] factory walls” 12 to the point where every moment of one’s life is a moment of production, distribution and consumption.

As a result, unquantifiable elements, infecting the determination of value and price, have short-circuited all traditional, modern modes of measurements, and increasingly subjected value and price to the vagaries of conceptual-perception and/or corporate desire, pertaining to those whose network-power can dominate a particular sphere of production. Therefore, within post-industrial, post-modern, bourgeois-state-capitalism, value and price are sums which are ideologically manufactured by governing network-formations outside any rational calculation and/or foundation. In the age of post-industrial, post-modern capitalism, power is the great arbiter of value, price and wage, not any scientific quantification of labor-power.

The reason for this shift towards such a post-industrial, post-modern theory of value, based on whim, arbitrariness and power, is the result of the logic of capitalism and its attempts to maximize profit, that is, the logic which dictates “the maximization of profit, by any means necessary, at the lowest financial cost, as soon as possible”.13 Via this fundamental capitalist imperative, which all capitalists must adhere to because this logical imperative lies at the heart of the capitalist-system, in general, all capitalists, regardless of their individual selfish desires, must conform, extend, and maximize this logical imperative inherent in capitalism. This means that all production costs must be decreased to the minimum, while in contrast, profits must be increased to the maximum.

The essence of capitalism is fundamentally about lowering production costs to the minimum, ideally to zero, while maximizing profits to the Nth degree, a zenith determined by the current, socioeconomic parameters of capitalism and the capitalist system in general. This drive to lower production costs while maximizing profits is the engine of all capitalist developments, all capitalist expansions, and all capitalist intensifications, including all psychological and physical immiserations of the general population, derived from this specific capitalist mode of production and the tensions generated by this capitalist mode of production. This drive to lower production costs while maximizing profits, which stems directly from the logical imperative generated by the logic of capitalism situated at the center of socioeconomic existence and capitalist society, is the crux of all socioeconomic crises and breakdowns, including an ever-deepening, socioeconomic antagonism.

Socioeconomic crises and socioeconomic breakdowns arise when the stress between the drive to lower production costs to the lowest possible sum and the drive to maximize profit to the highest possible sum, extend beyond any sustainable and/or reasonable limit, where socioeconomic equilibrium is radically distorted and destabilized to such a radical point whereupon segments and sectors of the capitalist-system, itself, begin to seize-up, collapse and degenerate into radical antagonisms.

While it is true, that the spur of ever-increasing technological revolution/evolution, ever-increasing division of labor, ever-increasing State-finance-centralization, and ever-increasing profit-making-schemes, including the cannibalism engendered by capitalist competition, is derived from the logical necessities generated by the logic of capitalism, acting upon the workforce/population so as to lower production costs to zero, while maximizing profits sky-high, it is, nonetheless, this very necessity, which simultaneously drives capitalism towards perpetual crises, breakdowns, and antagonism.

Marx always theorized that the lowering of production costs would result in lower commodity-prices, as competition between various competing capitalists, within a particular sphere of production, would inevitably instigate the perpetual lowering of commodity-prices.  However, Marx seems to have missed an essential lever driving capitalist development, capitalist accumulation, and capitalist expansion; i.e., that the maximization of profit simultaneously coincides with the minimization of production costs, meaning that lower production costs do not necessarily translate into lower commodity-prices, due to the fact that the compelling logical necessity for the maximization of profit is an imperative preventing price-drop.

The incessant pressures applied to capitalist-enterprises by this logical necessity to perpetually lower production costs while maximizing profit, which presents itself in various manners like stockholders demanding higher dividends, is, in fact, short-circuiting Marx’s conclusion that prices tend to drop when production costs drop. Meaning that capitalist-enterprises are just as likely to keep commodity-prices the same, or even raise them, despite a technological advantage over their competitors, which technically could allow a specific capitalist-enterprise to lower commodity-prices, the reason being that the maximization of profit is the fundamental logic of the capitalist-system. To forgo the immediate, maximization of profit in order to attempt to chase a competitor from the field with lower commodity-prices is, in fact, detrimental to capitalist development, capitalist accumulation and capitalist expansion in the long-run.

Such a manoeuvre flies in the face of the logic of capitalism; i.e., to maximize profit by any means necessary at the lowest financial cost as soon as possible in the sense that such price-manoeuvres manufacture price-wars between like-minded capitalist-enterprises, which, in the end, is detrimental to all capitalist-enterprises, within a specific sphere of production. That is, price-wars, despite being initially beneficial to consumers, destroys commodity-markets and capitalist profits for all economic participants, including the specific production spheres where consumers amass income through wages in order to buy commodities. Consequently, Marx’s theorization that the lowering of production costs would result in lower commodity-prices, manufactures, over an extended period of time, price-wars that unravel fragile markets, spheres of production, employment opportunities and, ultimately, the logic of capitalism, itself.

Beneath Marx’s whole argument that lower production costs inevitably result in lower commodity-prices is the idea that capitalism and capitalist-enterprises function and operate based on competition; i.e., the coercive laws of competition, which is not necessarily the case, due to the fact that competition over time destroys profits, markets, spheres of production and, ultimately, capitalism. Notwithstanding, this is Marx’s whole logic in the sense that ever-increasing competition between capitalist-enterprises eventually leads to the downfall of capitalism, itself, via an ever-increasing proletarianization and immiseration of the global population:

All methods for raising the social productivity of…[capital] are put into effect at the cost of the individual worker. It follows therefore that in proportion as capital accumulates, the situation of the worker, …must grow worse. It makes an accumulation of misery a necessary condition, corresponding to the accumulation of wealth. …[where] the development of the forces of production [both]…produce bourgeois wealth…and…an ever-growing proletariat.14

It is in this regard that through the unmitigated coercive laws of competition, designed to encourage the maximization of production so as to reap greater levels of profit, capitalist-enterprises bring about their own downfall. This is Marx’s whole argument and thesis in Capital (Volume 1); i.e., that capitalist-enterprises and capitalism, in general, engender their own gravediggers through their attempts to improve production methods and maximize capitalist profit.

As a result, the logical necessity to maximize profit while minimizing production costs, a fundamental necessity generated by the logic of capitalism, is not necessarily conducive to pure competition in the manner which Marx believes it to be.  If the goal of all capitalist-enterprises is to maximize profit, which it is (and Marx would agree), then, there is a vested interest in capitalist-enterprises to keep commodity-prices high rather than low, regardless of technological innovation and ever-lower production costs, due to the fact that high commodity-prices keep markets afloat, keep spheres of production expanding, keep profits at their maximum and keep capital continuously accumulating ad infinitum. It is by continually manufacturing a set of socioeconomic conditions, which short-circuit competition between capitalists that capitalism survives, thrives and continually expands.

In contrast to Marx, the type of competition Marx describes in Capital (Volume One) arises between capitalist-enterprises, when capitalism is not functioning properly, when the logic of capitalism is not being fervently adhered to, when capitalist-enterprises are not fully maximizing profit, and simultaneously, fully minimizing production costs. The type of competition, Marx describes in Capital (Volume One) is manifested when capitalist-enterprises are engaged in price-wars, within their individual spheres of production, due to the fact that a set of mutually beneficial business ententes and/or relationships have completely malfunctioned and/or have ceased to work properly.

Contrary to Marx, the relationship between capitalist-enterprises is not one dictated by pure competition; i.e., the coercive laws of competition, but one dictated by the maximization of profit at the lowest financial cost as soon as possible. Economic cannibalism may be the primordial state of the capitalist mode of production, à la Marx; however, the primordial state of the capitalist mode of production is avoided through economic networking in the sense that the seemingly endless divisions [between capitalist-enterprises] are nevertheless unified on one crucial point — the logic of capitalism. What unifies these seemingly independent, antagonistic [capitalist] entities and networks is the overarching logic of capitalism.

The logic of capitalism loosely organizes these divisive [capitalist] entities and networks into a network of networks, where decision-making-authority is focused and localized on the basis that these divisive [capitalist] entities and networks best represent and embody the logic of capitalism. Consequently, seemingly divided and at war, these micro-dictatorial networks and [capitalist] entities nonetheless work in unison, akin to a school of predatory fish, [i.e. profit piranhas]. They work together in the sense that these [capitalist] entities are determined to satisfy the logical necessities of…capitalism by fulfilling their own mercenary ambitions for profit. In essence, these socioeconomic predators only coalesce as a unified force in their fundamental core directive: to maximize profit, by any means necessary, at the lowest financial cost, as soon as possible.15

Like a school of piranhas, capitalist-enterprises work together, and not necessarily together, so as to maximize profit, both for themselves, individually, and for their ilk in general. Like a school of blood-thirsty piranhas, capitalist-enterprises are individualistic and collectively-driven simultaneously. They are organized both simultaneously as a unitary force, like a school of predatory fish, and individualistically as a divisive force, always ready to pounce on those capitalist-enterprises that lag behind.  To ensure their survival and to ensure their development, capitalist-enterprises build relations; i.e., economic networks among themselves, founded on the logical imperatives of capitalism, so as to stave-off the brute force of the unadulterated, coercive laws of competition, which surely will result in their own destruction if they go it alone. And secondly, to ensure their survival and to ensure their development, capitalist-enterprises congregate in networks/groups to influence governments in their favor, to influence economic policy in their favor, to influence each other to hold a certain political line, which is mutually beneficial for their insatiable profiteering individually and their sphere of production collectively.

This economic fact is the reason capitalist-enterprises have invaded the courts, the State, and have built for themselves the State/Finance nexus, etc. Likewise, this economic fact is the reason why capitalist-enterprises amalgamate among themselves into larger capitalist-entities and continually attempt to refashion bourgeois-state-capitalism, in general, into a system well-disposed to the maximization of profit, specifically corporate-enterprises and profit-making. All this is driven by the logical necessity, engendered by the logic of capitalism, to maximize profit to the limit, and beyond, while minimizing production costs to the limit, and beyond.

Out of this economic imperative to maximize profit while minimizing production costs, capitalist-enterprises increasingly abandon the central pivot of all modern labor theories of value; i.e., quantifiable labor-time, in favor of conceptual-perception, whereupon value, price and wage are no longer determined by an average of socially necessary labor-time and by scientific quantification, but are determined by conceptual-perception, that is, “whatever an entity can get away with in the marketplace and in the production-process is considered valid and legitimate”. In this manner, capitalist-enterprises have detached value, price, and wage from their former scientific basis and established value, price, and wage upon the post-modern vagaries of conceptual-perception, where power and influence become the great arbiters of value, price and wage. The stronger an enterprise’s network over the means of production and a specific sphere of production, the greater is its ability to set arbitrary values, prices, and wages, according to its own selfish desires and conceptual-perception.

This newly-forged, post-modern lever over value, price and wage, created with the abandonment of the economic lynch pin of quantifiable labor-time, permits capitalist-enterprises and, broadly speaking, enterprising-networks, in general, to artificially fabricate arbitrary values, prices, and wages, for their own commodities, for their own services, and for their own self-perceived remunerations, through power and influence rather than scientific quantification. As a result, this post-modern lever significantly facilitates the adherence to the logic of capitalism, including the economic imperative to manufacture ever-greater drops in production costs, while fabricating ever-greater escalations in profit via arbitrary price increases. Only by coalescing into enterprising-networks, which are more or less socioeconomic-formations akin to a school of piranhas, unified yet not truly unified, can the coercive laws of competition be tamed and a post-modern theory of value be realized, where capitalist-enterprises have the option of both maximizing profit via arbitrary price increases while simultaneously minimizing production costs.

It is this specific socioeconomic phenomena; i.e., the maximization of profit via arbitrary price increases, while continuously reducing production costs, both within a specific enterprise and across a sphere of production, which is the root cause of ever-increasing, financial inequality and ever-increasing debt slavery across the workforce/population. That is, the increasing financial inequality and debt-slavery we see burgeoning across post-industrial, post-modern, bourgeois-state-capitalism is the result of this two-pronged assault by capitalist-enterprises, both to reduce production costs; i.e., to do more with less, and to augment profits; i.e., to make people pay more for less. This two-pronged capitalist assault is manufacturing an ever-increasing financial divide between rich and poor, including an ever-increasing debt-load placed upon the workforce/population.  As Proudhon states, “profit is impossible unless fraud [and/or theft] is used”16 and “it is clear that no man can enrich himself without impoverishing another”;17 yet, this is the basic kernel of capitalism, and evermore so, as capitalism expands and develops.

As a result, increasingly new economic techniques and profit-schemes must be conceived and implemented by capitalists to further maximize profits and further minimize production costs. The workforce/population must be regimented both within the production-process and across their everyday lives to do more with less, while simultaneously paying more for less. Therefore, the workforce/population must be regimented, both conceptually and materially, to accept higher prices for their commodities in the circulation/consumption sphere, stagnate wages for their labor-power in the production sphere, while receiving and working with less resources and services in the distribution sphere, all in the name of maximum capitalist profit.

In an effort to normalize this socioeconomic mechanism of higher prices and profits in combination with lower production costs, capitalism has engendered and stimulated such things as the tiny house movement, payday loan schemes, automobile leasing, etc., all of which are by-products of capitalist-enterprises, attempting to maximize profit, while minimizing production costs. All these profit-making schemes, derived from the imperative to lower production costs while maximizing profit, are founded on capitalist thievery and the defrauding of the workforce/population, squeezing it increasingly out of its income, while giving it less in return.

In a similar fashion to Proudhon, according to Marx, profit/surplus value is the product of capitalist thievery. For Marx, profit/surplus value is derived from the defrauding or thievery by capitalists, of unpaid, surplus labor-time from the worker in the production process when the worker is forced to work beyond the necessary time-frame for his or her own sustenance and maintenance. As Marx states:

The only thing which can make…a capitalist is not exchange, but rather a process through which  he obtains objectified labor-time, i.e., value, without exchange…[whereupon capital] obtains a value for which it has given no equivalent. Surplus value in general is value in excess of the  equivalent.18

It is by not giving the worker his due that capitalists are able to pocket surplus value and, in essence, generate profit. The worker, through the forced labor of wage-work, is defrauded of his or her labor-power, free of charge, because he or she works longer, within the production process, than he or she receives in return. According to Marx, wages are paid on the basis of what it costs to produce the worker as a worker, rather than the actual labor-time the worker expends within the capitalist production process. As a result, the capitalists defraud the worker of surplus labor in exchange for nothing in return. Hence, like Proudhon, Marx sees profit as theft.

Granted, according to Marx, “profit is made by selling a commodity at its value”,19 that is, socially necessary labor-time in the circulation/consumption sphere; however, the circulation/consumption sphere only hides the inherent capitalist exploitation taking place within the production sphere via the seeming egalitarianism of market exchanges, transpiring across the marketplace. In actuality, workers are constantly being short-changed on the value of their labor-power, due to the fact that the wages they receive for their labor-power expenditures is based on the socially necessary labor-time for their own reproduction as workers, and not on the actual time, workers spend in the capitalist production-process.

For Marx, this is the root of surplus value/profit in the sense that labor-power is “a commodity, whose use-value possesses the peculiar property of being a source of value, [surplus value]”,20 and by extending necessary labor-time into surplus labor-time, capitalists manufacture surplus value, and the more surplus value they manufacture, the less is necessary labor-time. As Marx states, when the capitalist purchases labor-power and utilizes this labor-power, within the production process, “it creates value, a greater value than it costs. That is why [the capitalist] bought it [in the first place]”.21 This is Marx’s theory of exploitation, or specifically, his theory of surplus value, both of which are founded on a form of capitalist theft in the sense that the worker is never compensated for his or her extra labor-time expenditures within the capitalist production process. He or she is always short-changed by the capitalists, pertaining to his or her labor-power expenditures, within the capitalist mode of production. He or she is never compensated for the surplus labor-time expended within production.

Notwithstanding, there are limits to this form of capitalist exploitation. There are limits to Marx’s modern labor theory of surplus value and exploitation, which is most likely the reason why post-industrial, post-modern, capitalism has jettisoned the modern labor-theory of value and surplus value. The reason is the modern labor theory of value and surplus value is grounded on specific time-measurements of quantifiable labor-power, and generally speaking, socially necessary labor-time, compounded by the intensity of the production process. Essentially, by being fundamentally based on quantifiable labor-time, the amount of surplus value which can be extracted by the capitalist from the worker is limited to the 24 hour workday, meaning there is only so much surplus labor, in relation to necessary labor, which the capitalists can extract, both intensively and absolutely.

For instance, the intensity of production, which is the manner by which the capitalist reduces necessary labor, via technological innovation and/or a more refined division of labor, etc., raises the level of surplus value; i.e., surplus labor, by reducing the level of necessary labor; that is, the labor-time needed to reproduce the worker as a worker, because added machinery can produce more; i.e., satisfy the basic maintenance requirements of the worker sooner, but again, this is limited to the 24 hour workday and the basic maintenance requirements needed to reproduce the worker as worker.

As Marx states, by increasing the intensity of production, “the prolongation of surplus labor…correspond[s] to a shortening of necessary labor”,22 but again, the level of basic maintenance requirements and the 24 hour workday is the limit which this prolongation of surplus labor can reach. Theoretically, the minimum level necessary labor can be reduced to is zero, which in contrast, means that the maximum limit that surplus labor can be raised is 24 hours, meaning that necessary labor-time is nil in relation to the surplus labor-time of 24 hours. In reality, this cannot be achieved even with a fully automated, capitalist mode of production, because some form of necessary labor-time is always required to reproduce the worker so that he or she can live.

As a result, the basic maintenance requirements of the worker, plus the limit of 24 hour workday, place serious limits on capitalist exploitation, including the Marxist labor theory of value and surplus value, due to the fact that there is only so much surplus value capitalists can extract from the worker during the 24 hour workday, and only so much time-reduction a capitalist can reduce necessary labor-time, that is, the labor-time necessary to reproduce the worker as a worker, without killing him or her. As Marx states:

We began with the assumption that labor-power is bought and sold at its value. Its value, like that of all other commodities, is determined by the labor-time necessary to produce it….Although the working day is not a fixed but a fluid quantity, it can on the other hand, vary only within certain limits. The minimum limit [of necessary labor is],…equal to zero…[meaning this is] the minimum limit…the worker must necessarily work for his own maintenance. On the other hand, the working day does have a maximum limit. It cannot be prolonged beyond a certain point. This maximum limit is …the 24 hours of the natural day, [it is the theoretical limit] a man can expend…his vital forces [within production, which cannot exceed 24 hours].23

Marx refers to these two limits, created with the adoption of the labor theory of value and surplus value by capitalists as absolute surplus value; i.e., the limit of the 24 hour workday, and relative surplus value; i.e., the limit of necessary labor and surplus labor in relation to the intensity of production. These limits are the two fundamental manners by which capitalists maximize the production of surplus value and, in general, profit via the Marxist law of value.

However, at a certain point, capitalists want more surplus value; i.e., profit, than the modern labor theory of value is able to permit and generate. The reason being the fact that the “capitalist….soul is the soul of capital. [And] capital has one sole driving force, the drive to valorize itself, to create surplus value…[as] capital is dead labor which, vampire-like, lives only by sucking living labor, and lives the more, the more labor it sucks”.23  This mercenary drive pushes capital and capitalists beyond the parameters of the Marxist law of value into post-industrialism and post-modernity whereupon capital and capitalists abandon quantifiable labor-time as the basis of value, price, and wage and adopted conceptual-perception as the basis of value, price, and wage, namely, the vagaries of unquantifiable, creative-power. This rabid thirst for profit by capitalists across post-industrial, post-modern capitalism, moves capitalists beyond modernity and the modern Marxist law of value into the more profitable, post-industrial, post-modern, theories of value and surplus value, namely, theories of conceptual-commodity-value-management.

Such post-industrial, post-modern theories of value and surplus value open the possibilities of profit-making onto a new terrain, where on top of making, according to Marx, “the means of production absorb the greatest possible amount of surplus labor”,23 the point is also to maximize profit via the artificial fabrication of arbitrary value, price, and wage. This logical combination between the simultaneous imperative to maximize profit and the simultaneous imperative to minimize production costs is the signature lever of post-industrial, post-modern, bourgeois-state-capitalism. It is the logical imperative to have the workforce/population pay more for less in the circulation/consumption sphere, coupled with the logical imperative to have the workforce/population do more with less in the production sphere, while squeezing the workforce/population increasingly into misery and debt.

Therefore, in the epoch of post-industrial, post-modern capitalism, no longer are capitalists solely concerned with maximizing surplus value and profit within the production sphere. The goal is to maximize profit across the sum of society, across all spheres, where every moment of the worker’s life is moment of production, some type or form of unpaid production. As a result, this totalitarian capitalist objective has meant the abandonment of the modern labor theory of value; i.e., the modern Marxist law of value, and the strict confines of quantifiable labor-time in favor of post-industrial, post-modern theories of value, namely, theories of conceptual-commodity-value-management, where value, price, and wage are things socially constructed in the shadowy realm of conceptual-perception.

Or, as Hegel states, “the realm of shadows, [where] simple essentialities [are] freed from all sensuous concreteness”.24 In this realm of whim and fancy, value, price, and wage become sums held together and in place via power-structures and enterprising-networks, whose sole claim to truth, legitimacy and validity is that they control the means of mental and physical production within a specific sphere of production. Consequently, value, price, and wage within post-industrial, post-modern capitalism is devoid of foundation and/or quantification; and coupled with the incessant capitalist drive to lower production costs to an absolute minimum, this mechanism proves to have deadly effects on the well-being of the workforce/population.

Furthermore, the detachment of value, price, and wage from the limits of socially necessary labor-time and quantifiable labor-power expenditures has unhinged material labor as the foundation-stone of capitalism and has brought forth conceptual-perception as the foundation-stone of capitalism in the sense that conceptual-perception becomes the manner by which value, price and wage are established, meaning that value, price, and wage become items artificially and arbitrary constructed and fixed in people’s minds, regardless of labor-time expenditures, instead of something fixed by scientific quantification. More or less, value, price and wage become sums, which are established through ideologies, belief-systems, and false-consciousness, all of which stem from power and influence, rather than quantifiable, labor-power expenditure, namely, whatever a capitalist-entity can get away with is considered valid and legitimate.

In a roundabout, convoluted way, anticipating this move away from modern labor-time towards conceptual-perception, Marx states in the Grundrisse, pertaining to the advent of post-industrial, post-modern capitalism, that “as soon as….labor-time ceases… to be [the] measure… for the development of general wealth, …the general powers of the human head…[become] the measuring rod for…value”.25 That is, knowledge and science become the prime factors of production in the sense that “the general state of science and the progress of technology [and] the application of this science to production [become]…the great foundation-stone of production and of wealth”.26

This in turn increasingly undermines the old capitalist mode of production founded on material labor in the sense that material labor is increasingly eliminated from the production-process. Whereupon, “real wealth comes to depend less on labor-time and the amount of labor employed than on the power of the agencies set in motion”,27 that is, on science, machinery, and the networks influencing production, namely, “the general productive forces of the social brain…absorbed into capital, as opposed to labor”.28

In this regard, capitalism increasingly slips out of the capital/labor relation and posits science, machinery, and networks, as the new source of profit and the new source for manufacturing profit; i.e., the new capitalist mode of production. This new capitalist mode of production founded on knowledge, science and networks arbitrarily and artificially fabricate values, prices, and wages for things, people and knowledge, due to the fact that quantifiable labor-time is no longer a suitable base for these purposes. Indeed, as “capital absorbs labor into itself—as though its body were by love possessed…social labor [i.e., knowledge, science and networks become] the ultimate development of the value-relation and of production resting on value,…the determinant factor in the production of wealth”.29

Therefore, with the advent of post-industrial, post-modern capitalism, “labor no longer appears…included within the production process. [It] steps to the side [in favor of the] understanding of nature and…mastery over it”,30 which is expressed through machinery, science and networks, both material and conceptual, which comprise this new capitalist mode of production. As a consequence, labor-time, being increasingly inconsequential in the determinations of value, price and wage gives way to conceptual-perception and theories of conceptual-commodity-value-management, which become the primary manners by which value, price and wage are determined.

Moreover, with the advent of post-industrial, post-modern capitalism, the workforce/population increasingly appears as superfluous, but, in fact, is increasingly engaged in social labor or universal labor, that is, unquantifiable modes of production, consumption and distribution across the sum of society, which are, in essence, immeasurable but time consuming, nonetheless. In fact, these unpaid modes reproduce capitalism, realize profit and ameliorate the capitalist-system, in general, and can only be accomplished by the workforce/population. So, in the age of post-industrial, post-modern capitalist, production is total, while specifically direct production; i.e., traditional modern factory production, is being colonized by machinery, science and networks, which is usurping the involvement therein of workforce/population.

Jettisoned from the direct production-processes of capitalism, the workforce/population is pressed to realize profit evermore in other capitalist spheres wherefore, as Marx states “the greater the scale on which fixed capital develops…the more does the…production process…becomes an externally compelling condition for the [capitalist] mode of production”.27 That is, the more production becomes a compelling force, via machinery, science and fixed capital, etc., the more does the workforce/population live by the dictates of capitalism.

As a result, the workforce/population is increasingly immersed in social production, both inside and outside the capitalist production sphere, producing and reproducing capitalism, both quantifiable and unquantifiable, conceptual and material as social labor; i.e., as an unpaid, universal, capitalist form of labor-power expenditure. As Marx states, “as capital… presses to reduce labor-time to a minimum…[it] diminishes labor-time in the necessary form…[but it also] increases it in the superfluous form; [thus, it] posits the superfluous in growing measure [as it minimizes]…the necessary”.31 Consequently, as capitalism increasingly develops and seeks to maximize profit while minimizing production costs, it simultaneously makes vast segments of the workforce/population redundant, and as a consolation, these redundant segments of the workforce/population are pressed into the social labor circuits of capitalism; i.e., all the unquantifiable duties, which reproduce capitalism, both mentally and physically, free of charge.

Notwithstanding, this balancing act between maximum profit and minimum production costs by capitalism, has a tendency to manifest socioeconomic crises in the sense that lowering production costs too low, means the workforce/population will not be able to afford commodities, resulting in over-production and under-consumption due to a swell of unemployment and market stagnation, etc. Simultaneously, raising prices too high means the workforce/population will again not be able to afford commodities, resulting in over-production and under-consumption. This is how, according to Marx, “beyond a certain point, the development of the powers of production become a barrier for capital [and] the capital relation a barrier for the development of the productive powers of labor”.32

Of course, the credit-system always steps in to smooth the oscillation between maximum profit-making and minimum production costs, which results in a burgeoning debt-load onto the workforce/population; nevertheless, as Marx states, “the bourgeois mode of production contains within itself a barrier to the free development of the productive forces, a barrier which comes to the surface in crises and, in particular, in over-production—the basic phenomenon in crises”.33 And this barrier is the limit of consumption, capable of being sustained by the workforce/population, which can only support a restricted level of commodities, after which there is a surplus of commodities that remain un-purchased and stockpiled, manifesting, over an extended period of time, increasing socioeconomic crises.

These sorts of crises are due to the fact that the surplus value embodied in these surplus of commodities remain unrealized across the circulation/consumption sphere. Therefore, these unprofitable commodities are placing an undue burden on the production sphere, which manifests incessant socioeconomic crises. Circulation is interrupted because the workforce/population has less income to purchase goods. The workforce/population has less income because the production sphere, despite being extremely productive, requires less workers, due to the fact that automation and science have usurped most workers across the production sphere, hence, crises and cataclysms.

And as machinery, science and enterprising-networks  develop and expand into full automation and artificial intelligence, vast segments of the workforce/population are thrown increasingly into the industrial reserve army, because capitalism requires less and less labor-power expenditures within the production-process, which is increasingly populated by machinery. In consequence, socioeconomic crises develop, expand and intensify, as financial inequality, debt-loads and unemployment increase for the vast majority the workforce/population in relation to a select few, who manage the capitalist-system and pocket massive sums of the general global wealth. In sum, it is as Marx surmised that:

The growing incompatibility between …the productive development of society and its existing relations…in bitter contradictions [manifest] crises [and] spasms  [And, in an ironic twist], the highest development of productive power [i.e., full-automation and artificial intelligence] together with the greatest expansion of existing wealth, [into fewer and fewer hands] …coincide[s] with…huge explosions, cataclysms, momentous suspensions of labor [and the] annihilation of… great portions of capital [as] the latter is reduced to the point where it [cannot] go on,… without committing [global] suicide.34

Only then, it seems, will the workforce/population realize that capitalism is a totalitarian fanaticism, that is, a fascist fervor for profit at any cost, devoid of all sound judgments, other than sucking all life, both mental and physical, from the sum of human existence. The only voice totalitarian capitalism understands, and will ever understand, is the voice of revolution, millions marching, arm in arm, over its cold metallic corpse, smashed to pieces underneath the boot of structural-anarchism.

  1. Friedrich Engels, Anti-Duhring, (Peking: Foreign Language Press, 1976) 306. []
  2. Ibid, p. 306. [] []
  3. Ibid, p. 306-307. []
  4. Ibid, p. 310. []
  5. Ibid, p. 307. []
  6. Karl Marx, Capital (Volume Three), Trans. David Fernbach (London: Penguin Books, 1991) 1031. []
  7. Pierre Joseph Proudhon, What Is Property?, (Lexington, Kentucky: Loki Publishing, 2017) 81. []
  8. Ibid, p. 81. []
  9. Ibid, p. 76. []
  10. Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Empire, (Cambridge Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2000) 356-357. []
  11. Ibid, p. 273. []
  12. Ibid, p. 402. []
  13. Michel Luc Bellemare, The Structural-Anarchism Manifesto: (The Logic of Structural-Anarchism Versus The Logic of Capitalism), (Montréal: Blacksatin Publications Inc., 2016) 6.b. []
  14. Karl Marx, Capital (Volume One), Trans. Ben Fowkes (London Eng.: Penguin, 1990) 799. []
  15. Michel Luc Bellemare, The Structural-Anarchism Manifesto: (The Logic of Structural-Anarchism Verss The Logic of Capitalism), (Montréal: Blacksatin Publications Inc., 2016) 42.a. []
  16. Pierre Joseph Proudhon, What Is Property?, (Lexington, Kentucky: Loki Publishing, 2017) 110. []
  17. Ibid, p. 127. []
  18. Karl Marx, “Grundrisse”, The Marx-Engels Reader, ed. Robert C. Tucker (New York, New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1978) 248-249. []
  19. Karl Marx, Value, Price and Profit, (New York, New York: International Publishers, 1976) 44. []
  20. Karl Marx, Capital (Volume One), Trans. Ben Fowkes (London, Eng.: Penguin, 1990) 270. []
  21. Ibid, p.430. []
  22. Ibid, p. 340-342. []
  23. Ibid, p. 342. [] [] []
  24. Georg Hegel, The Science of Logic, Trans. A.V.Miller (Amherst, New York: Humanity Books, 1991) 58. []
  25. Karl Marx, Grundrisse, Trans. Martin Nicolaus. (New York, New York: Penguin, 1973) 705-706. []
  26. Ibid, p. 705. []
  27. Karl Marx, “Grundrisse”, The Marx-Engels Reader, ed. Robert C. Tucker (New York, New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1978) 284. [] []
  28. Karl Marx, Grundrisse, Trans. Martin Nicolaus. (New York, New York: Penguin, 1973) 704. []
  29. Ibid, p. 694. []
  30. Ibid, p. 704. []
  31. Karl Marx, Grundrisse, Trans. Martin Nicolaus. (New York, New York: Penguin, 1973) 703. []
  32. Karl Marx, “Grundrisse”, The Marx-Engels Reader, ed. Robert C. Tucker (New York, New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1978) 284. 291. []
  33. Karl Marx, “Crisis Theory,” The Marx-Engels Reader, ed. Robert C. Tucker (New York, New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1978) 459. []
  34. Karl Marx, “Grundrisse”, The Marx-Engels Reader, ed. Robert C. Tucker (New York, New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1978) 291-292. []

Michel Luc Bellemare is the author of The Structural-Anarchism Manifesto: (The Logic of Structural-Anarchism Versus The Logic of Capitalism)

Read other articles by Michel Luc.