Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Socialism in Debate. Part 3. (1914)

From the July 1914 issue of the Socialist Standard
As mentioned in our April issue, it was brought to our notice that Mr. G. W. Daw, Conservative agent for Wandsworth, had stated publicly that Socialists are reluctant to open the columns of their journals to pronounced opponents. We therefore offered Mr. Daw space in this journal for three months to set out his case. The following is the outcome.

The Case Against Socialism. 

Mr. Daw’s Third Contribution.

Marx on machinery.
Karl Marx, in his work, “Das Capital,” explains to the world the economic basis not of Socialism, but of existing forms of industrialism, as viewed from a Socialist standpoint. In his discursive analysis and criticism of labour he seeks to fit existing conditions to preconceived theories, which may be summed up in the statement that the capitalist employers obtain all their surplus-value, viz., profit, from unpaid labour, and that without such labour, wealth would be non­ existent; that the amount of socially necessary human labour expended on a commodity alone determines its value in exchange for any other commodity. On this question of value he fails to realise that it is not objective but subjective. In other words, value is not a property inherent an the article, but a condition of mind which values a commodity when it is not an actual necessity, in which case supply and demand are the dominating factors. If these premises are wrong, how is it that gold is more valuable than silver? The difference in the labour necessary to obtain them does not account for the difference in value. This is admitted in a different form by Marx himself, when he says: “Nothing can have value without being an object of utility. If the thing is useless, so is the labour contained in it; labour does not count as labour, and therefore creates no value.” It is a perfectly fair deduction to draw from Marx’s own proposition, that utility, and not labour, is the basis of the exchange-value of commodities.

The cost of production is the point below which value cannot fall, at least, not permanently. But even the cost of production, does not depend on human labour alone. Steam propelled machinery is both producer of commodities and of wealth by reason of its facilitating transport. Now, it is impossible for such an observant mind not to have perceived this; but whilst unable to ignore the fact, Marx evades the obvious conclusion. “Modern industry,” he writes, “raises the productiveness of labour to an extraordinary degree; it is by no means equally clear that this increased productive force is not on the other hand, purchased by an increased expenditure of labour.” What is certainly obvious is that whilst Marx felt bound to acknowledge that machinery had increased productiveness to an “extraordinary degree,” he was what we should call in common parlance, “in a regular fix.” Here was an outside productive medium which could not be claimed as human labour or skill. He could only venture a guess that its use necessitated the employment of more human labour. Was this supposition correct? Was this increased production the result of an equal increased amount of human labour? I will let Marx answer for himself:
“If it be said that 100 million people would be required in England to spin with the old spinning wheel the cotton that is now spun by 500,000 people, this does not mean that the mules took the place of those millions who never existed. It means only this, that many millions of workpeople would be required to replace the spinning machine.” (p. 429.) 
Yes, to “replace the spinning machine.” Marx here gives away his case against machinery. The difference in the output by the employment of machinery is admitted by him to be equal to the labour of 99½ million people. As that quantity of human labour “never existed,” from whence does it come? Steam power applied to machinery. But mark well how cleverly Marx endeavours to obscure the issue. It is smart, but not straightforward.

After this it is useless for the philosopher to inform any practical man that “machinery, like every other component part of constant capital, creates no new value, but yields up its own value to the product that it serves to beget. In as far as the machine has value, and in consequence imparts that value to the product, it forms an element in the value of that product,” and here follows a conclusion which is absurd: “Instead of being cheapened, the product is made dearer in proportion to the value of the machine.” Two inferences are to be drawn from this statement: (1) That the manufacturer, by employing machinery, increases the cost of his goods, and so, by dispensing with the machine, he would cheapen the cost of production. (2) That the manufacturer employing cheaper, and consequently less efficient machinery, would have an advantage over a rival using more expensive machinery.

Machinery supplants the human skill and labour-power, so that, to quote the S.P.G.B. Manifesto, the worker has “lost his skill as craftsman and become a machine minder.” The skill and labour-power is derived from the machine, whilst the man has become in many instances a mere minder, or overlooker. If the capitalist exploits anything it is the machine. Yet on the following page of this manifesto we are gravely informed that wealth is produced by “labour-power” and is produced “by the working class alone.” If it be not true, Socialists say, take away the workers and where would the capitalist and his machinery be? This is plausible, but not conclusive reasoning.

To realise the fallacy of such an argument we may retort by asserting that without light no one could work, therefore all wealth is due to light. In order to give labour the foremost place as sole producer, Marxists are driven to adopt a process of reasoning which is not in accordance with facts. In the passage I have quoted from Marx, he admits the existence of a quantity of commodities from the machine spinning looms which cannot be accounted for by human labour-power. But he says it is impossible for profit to come from the machine itself beyond its own deperishment, which must be comparatively small. He ignores the fuel, which imparts an energy and labour force which is beyond all comparison with the labour expended in mining. Marx’s contention is that the profit the employer makes is from the unpaid human labour only. If that be so, then the manufacturers must be fools, for they are continually seeking to use more machinery to supplant human labour and thus lessen the profits; but, as the late Harry Quelch admits in one of his pamphlets: “It is to the capitalists’ interest to employ as few men as possible.”

Marx devotes much space to the careful analysis of the processes of labour applied to production, and makes endless comparisons; but he is, strange to say, silent on one very important point in his investigation.

While admitting that steam power enters into competition with muscle, he does not attempt to explain what peculiar property there is in human labour-power and skill (differing from the machine), by which he says it imparts three or four times the sum paid in wages by the employer. In one passage of his work Marx admits that “so soon as the handling of this tool becomes the work of a machine, then, with the use-value, the exchange-value too of the workman’s power vanishes” (p. 431). “But machinery acts as a competitor who gets the better of the workman and is constantly on the point of making him superfluous” (p. 436); further on he is compelled to admit that the “immediate result of machinery is to augment surplus-value and the mass of products in which surplus-value is embodied” (p. 446). After making these admissions Marx evades the logical conclusion and follows with a disquisition on surplus-value as if it came from human labour-power alone, conveniently dropping all further reference to steam power, and he concludes by asserting that all surplus-value, whatever particular form it may subsequently crystallise into, is in substance the materialisation of unpaid labour. Perhaps some Marxist will now explain why the employer’s surplus value comes from the human worker and practically nothing from the machinery. And when he has done so, he may then proceed to explain how it is that, if the employer’s profits depend on the surplus-value of the labour he employs, he so often fails in his business.
G. W. Daw.


The Socialist Reply.

Our opponent’s first point is that Marx failed to realise that “value is not objective but subjective,” and the illustration of the relation of gold to silver is taken with the totally inaccurate assertion that: “The difference in the labour necessary to obtain them does not account for the difference in value.” Then what does ? As Marx has already shown (“Capital,” p. 7), much more labour-time on the average is required to produce an ounce of gold than an ounce of silver ; hence the greater value of the former.

No matter what value a capitalist may “subjectively” place upon the commodities he owns, he finds the exchange-relationships determined by the general social conditions of production, without the slightest reference to his personal views in the matter at all. In fact, Mr. Daw admits this when he says: “The cost of production is the point below which value cannot fall, at least, not permanently.” This certainly contradicts any idea of “subjective” value determining exchange.

Again, as Marx has so well shown (“Capital,” p. 3, and “Value, Price, & Profit,” pp. 19-20), “supply and demand” only decide fluctuations of price. These fluctuations are about the line of value. Can our opponent tell us what decides the point at which equilibrium is reached when supply and demand equal each other if it is not the average labour-time under the prevailing conditions of production?

Mr. Daw is quite at sea in handling the quotation from Marx on utility. Utility is the subject, but not the measure, of value. A masterly exposition of this, with a splendid illustration of the factor of weight, is given on pages 25-26 of “Capital.”

Our opponent might just as well argue that volume, instead of density, is the basis of weight, because all things possessing weight have volume. But, as the old phrase has it, “a pound of feathers is as heavy as a pound of lead” ; and just as volume is not considered in determining weight, so utility is not considered in measuring value. One simple illustration will make this clear. Bread is immensely more useful—or possesses greater utility—than gold, yet its exchange value is enormously less. Why? Only one explanation answers the question—the amount of labour-power embodied in a given weight of gold is far greater than that embodied in the same weight of bread.

We are told, however, that “even the cost of production does not depend on human labour alone. Steam propelled machinery is both producer of commodities and of wealth [sic] by reason of its facilitating transport.”

In our last reply (June “S.S.”) we pointed out how machinery of any kind is useless without labour-power. It is quite true—as pointed out there—that the discovery of the mechanical powers and of the control of certain natural forces, increases the productivity of labour-power, but as claimed in the opening paragraph of our first reply, in the May “S.S.,” the only people who operate this machinery and manipulate these forces are the members of the working class. They, then, are obviously the ones exploited, as without them the machinery would be idle.

So far is it from being “useless” for Marx to say that “machinery, like every other component part of constant capital, creates no new value, but yields up its own value to the product it serves to beget,” that it is just this that is tabulated on every balance sheet of every industrial firm in ordinary business.

If a machine costs a thousand pounds and lasts on an average ten years, then each year’s balance sheet will show an item of 10 per cent. (or £100) under the heading of “Depreciation” for that machine. This amount is counted in the cost of production, and divided among the number of commodities turned out during the year. Thus no more than its own value is imparted to the articles by the machine. But now take the labourers. What they receive is always less than the value they turn out, and it is the only item on the balance sheet showing such a difference—such a surplus.

Mr. Daw’s misunderstanding of Marx in the other quotation given is simply extraordinary. The “increased expenditure” of labour mentioned by Marx refers, of course, to the greater speed and intensity with which the individual is burdened, as shown in page after page of the section quoted from. See, in particular, pages 391 to 417. Marx never maintained the absurdity that Mr. Daw tries to place on him, that a machine required more labourers to produce the same amount of wealth in a given time. No one showed the contrary more clearly. See pages 430 to 448 of “Capital.” And Mr. Daw is treading on very thin ice when he refers to Marx’s statements being “smart, but not straightforward,” as the quotation that he refers to as “after this” occurs 26 pages before, i.e., on page 383. Here Marx—as every reader of the section knows—is comparing the cost of modern machinery with the old handicraft tools, and it is obvious to the poorest intelligence, that the product of a day’s working with a modern machine has more value transferred from that machine than the product of a day’s working with hand tools has. Or to quote the same page, “it is as clear as noon-day that machines and systems of machinery . . . are incomparably more loaded with value than the implements used in handicraft.” The day’s product is therefore dearer, but the number of products being so much greater, each individual article is cheaper. As shown above, however, the best division of time to take is the average life of the machine, and compare the two methods upon that basis.

The above shows how stupid and childish are the “two inferences” our opponent attempts to draw from Marx’s statement.

Our previous contribution shows the absurdity of Mr. Daw’s statement that the capitalist “exploits the machine.” But we are told that by our reasoning it can be shown that all wealth “is due to light.” What a pity it is for Mr. Daw’s illustration, that men work in so many dark places, such as mines, and so on. Any schoolboy could see that light is not the essential factor in wealth production in the economic sense. Light exists where no wealth is produced, but on the other hand no wealth is produced where labour-power does not exist. Twist as they may the defenders of capitalism cannot find a single loophole in the Socialist case, as all the wriggles of our opponent show.

To say Marx “ignores the fuel” is met, among countless other instances, by page 384, where Marx refers to this and the other “forces furnished by nature without the help of man.”

The manufacturers only seek “to use more machinery” because, as shown in “Capital” on the pages given, and in our own contributions, it enables them to more fully exploit the workers employed. To say that Marx “does not attempt to explain what peculiar property there is in human labour-power and skill by which it imparts three or four times the sum paid in wages,” shows either an ignorance of what Marx said, or a deliberate dodging of what he wrote. The point is dealt with in numerous portions of Marx’s writings, and is specially analysed in pages 166 to 180 of “Capital.” Anyone—opponent or friend—who is interested, is advised to read the chapter entitled, “The Labour Process” for a complete answer to Mr. Daw. The peculiar thing about labour-power, as Marx proves, is that it is “a source not only of value, but of more value than it has itself.” (“Capital,” p. 175.)

The only “admission” about the quotation from page 446, is that machinery enables the capitalists to rob the workers of greater quantities of wealth than previously, an “admission” that all Socialists cheerfully agree to. There is no dropping of any “logical conclusion” by Marx, but only the fuller working out of that conclusion by examination from various sides.

Several Marxists have already shown both “how” and “why” surplus value “comes from the human worker and practically nothing from machinery.” The best instance is to be found in pages 156 to 180 of a book called “Capital,” written by a person named—Karl Marx.

The chief reason for failures in business is the fact that the big concern with the large capital, having the greater powers of exploitation, is able to beat the relatively small competitor out of existence. But it must be carefully noted that, though individuals may fail here and there, the capitalist class not only do not fail, but grow richer year by year.
Ed. Com.

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