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“Our pamphleteer overlooks two things”

Summary:
Socially Ambivalent Labour Time VI: TSV part 3, chapter 21: “Our pamphleteer overlooks two things” Although Marx discussed socially necessary labour time in chapters 4, 8, 9, 16, 17, and 20, he didn’t mention it in chapter 21 where he discussed the 1821 pamphlet, The Source and Remedy of the National Difficulties by Charles Wentworth Dilke. Marx’s reticence here is notable if only for the fact that the pamphlet proposed a method for calculating a sort of socially necessary labour time. Dilke’s method differed fundamentally from Marx’s in that Dilke focused on consumption rather than the production of surplus value as did Marx. It is perhaps more intuitive to focus on consumption because, after all, what is the purpose of production if not to

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Socially Ambivalent Labour Time VI: TSV part 3, chapter 21: “Our pamphleteer overlooks two things”

Although Marx discussed socially necessary labour time in chapters 4, 8, 9, 16, 17, and 20, he didn’t mention it in chapter 21 where he discussed the 1821 pamphlet, The Source and Remedy of the National Difficulties by Charles Wentworth Dilke. Marx’s reticence here is notable if only for the fact that the pamphlet proposed a method for calculating a sort of socially necessary labour time.

Dilke’s method differed fundamentally from Marx’s in that Dilke focused on consumption rather than the production of surplus value as did Marx. It is perhaps more intuitive to focus on consumption because, after all, what is the purpose of production if not to provide for consumption? But that misses the point of production under capital, which is to accumulate surplus value.

Marx outlined two ways Dilke identified for capital to overcome the limits to its expansion: investment in fixed capital, which itself runs into limits and foreign trade to facilitate the consumption of luxury goods by the owners of capital and their retainers. Actually, Dilke also paid attention to the role of the extension of credit in the formation of fictitious capital, but Marx did not mention this.

Most significant for our inquiry, in my opinion, is the paragraph outlining the two things that “our pamphleteer” overlooked: 

As a result of the introduction of machinery, a mass of workers is constantly being thrown out of employment, a section of the population is thus made redundant; the surplus product therefore finds fresh labour for which it can be exchanged without any increase in population and without any need to extend the absolute working-time.

“Our pamphleteer” thus overlooked how capital’s perpetual generation of a relative surplus population solved the problem of surplus capital. See “Necessary labour. Surplus labour. Surplus population. Surplus capital“!

One other thing in chapter 21. Marx stressed the importance of Dilke’s analysis of foreign trade as the means whereby necessaries are transformed into luxuries. In his commentary on the analysis, he mentions “abstract labour” and “social labour.” Taken together in context these two terms stand as synonyms for socially necessary labour time. 

But it is only foreign trade, the development of the market to a world market, which causes money to develop into world money and abstract labour into social labour. Abstract wealth, value, money, hence abstract labour, develop in the measure that concrete labour becomes a totality of different modes of labour embracing the world market. Capitalist production rests on the value or the transformation of the labour embodied in the product into social labour. But this is only [possible] on the basis of foreign trade and of the world market. This is at once the pre-condition and the result of capitalist production.

In these two paragraphs — the first critical of the pamphleteer, the second praising him — Marx summed up his relative surplus population view of socially necessary labour time:

Abstract wealth, value, money, hence abstract labour, develop in the measure that concrete labour becomes a totality of different modes of labour embracing the world market. Capitalist production rests on the value or the transformation of the labour embodied in the product into social labour. But this is only [possible] on the basis of foreign trade and of the world market. This is at once the pre-condition and the result of capitalist production… As a result of the introduction of machinery, a mass of workers is constantly being thrown out of employment, a section of the population is thus made redundant; the surplus product therefore finds fresh labour for which it can be exchanged without any increase in population and without any need to extend the absolute working-time.

Finally, Marx’s possessive reference to “our pamphleteer” and “our pamphlet” is unique to The Source and Remedy. The many positive comments he wrote about the pamphlet in Theories of Surplus Value and his many references to it in the Grundrisse make it clear that these terms of endearment were not meant ironically. My contention is that Marx’s category of socially necessary labour time and the integral relationship to it of relative surplus population (or the industrial reserve army) were grounded in a constructive critique of the pamphlet, which Marx held in high regard.

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