Theories of Surplus Value, Marx 1861-3

[CHAPTER V]  Necker

[Attempt to Present the Antagonism of Classes in Capitalism as the Antithesis Between Poverty and Wealth]

Some quotations from Linguet above have already shown that the nature of capitalist production was clear to him nevertheless, Linguet, can be brought in here after Necker.

In his two works Sur la législation et le commerce des grains (first published 1775) and De l’administration des finances de la France, etc. [published 1784], Necker shows how the development of the productive powers of labour merely results in the worker requiring less time for the reproduction of his own wage, and therefore working more time for his employer unpaid.  In dealing with this, he rightly starts from the basis of the average wage, the minimum of wages.  What he is mainly concerned with, however, is not the transformation of labour itself into capital and the accumulation of capital through this process, but rather the general development of the antithesis between poverty and wealth, between poverty and luxury, because, to the extent that a smaller quantity of labour suffices to produce the necessary means of subsistence, part of the labour becomes more and more superfluous and can therefore be used in the production of luxury articles, in a different sphere of production.  Some of these luxury articles are durable; and so they accumulate from century to century in the possession of those who have surplus-labour at their disposal, making the contrast ever deeper.

The important thing is that Necker traces the origin of the wealth of the non-labouring classes ||420| —profit and rent— entirely to surplus-labour.  In his treatment of surplus-value, however, what he has in mind is relative surplus-value, resulting not from the lengthening of the total working-day but from the shortening of the necessary labour-time.  The productive power of labour becomes the productive power of the owner of the conditions of labour.  And productive power itself is equivalent to the shortening of the labour-time that is necessary to produce a certain result.  The chief passages are the following:

First: De l’administration des finances de la France, etc.  (Œuvres, t. II, Lausanne et Paris, 1789):

“I see one of the classes of society whose wealth must always be pretty nearly the same; I see another of these classes whose wealth necessarily increases: thus luxury, which arises from a relation and a comparison, has had to follow the growth of this disproportion and become more evident as time went on” (l.c., pp. 285-86).  (The contrast between the two classes as classes has already been clearly noticed.) “The class of society whose lot is as it were fixed by the effect of social laws is composed of all those who, living by the labour of their hands, are subject to the imperative law of the owners” (owners of the conditions of production) “and are compelled to content themselves with a wage proportionate to the simple necessities of life; competition between them and the urgency of their needs bring about their state of dependence; these conditions cannot change” (l.c., p. 286).

The continual invention of instruments which have simplified all mechanical arts has, then, augmented the wealth and the fortunate lot of the owners; one part of these instruments, by reducing the costs of working the land, has increased the revenue of which the owners of such property can dispose; another part of the discoveries of genius has so greatly facilitated the labours of industry that the men who are in the service of the dispensers of the means of subsistence” (i.e., of the capitalists) “have been able, in an equal length of time, and for the same reward, to produce a greater quantity of products of all kinds” (p. 287).  “Let us assume that a century ago a hundred thousand workers were required to do what is done today by eighty thousand; the other twenty thousand would have found themselves obliged to take to other occupations to obtain wages; and the new products of their manual labour resulting from this would increase the pleasures and the luxuries of the rich” (pp. 287-88).

“For,” he continues, “it must not be forgotten that the rewards assigned to all trades which do not require any special talent are always proportionate to the necessary price of subsistence for each labourer; thus the speed of production, when the knowledge required has become common, does not accrue to the advantage of the labouring men, and the result is only an augmentation of the means for the satisfaction of the tastes and vanities of those who have at their disposal the products of the land” (l.c., p. 288).  “Among the various good things of nature which are fashioned and changed by men’s industry there are a large number whose durability greatly exceeds the usual span of life: each generation has inherited a part of the labours of the preceding generation” <he is here only taking into account the accumulation of what Adam Smith calls the consumption fund> “and in all countries there is a continual accumulation of a greater quantity of the products of the arts; and as this quantity is always divided among the owners, the disproportion between their possessions and those of the numerous class of citizens has necessarily grown greater and more noticeable” (p. 289).  Hence “the quickening pace of industrial production, which has multiplied the things of pomp and luxury on earth, the length of time in which accumulation has grown from this, and the laws of property, which have brought these good things into the hands of one class of society alone…these great sources of luxury would in any case have existed, whatever had been the quantity of coined money” (p. 291).

(The latter argument is directed against those who held that luxury was the result of the growth in the amount of money.)

Secondly: Sur la législation et le commerce des grains, etc.  (Œuvres, t. IV):

“When the artisan or the husbandman have no reserves left, they can no longer argue; they must work today on pain of dying tomorrow, and in this conflict of interest between ||421| the Owner and Labourer, the one stakes his life and that of his family, and the other a mere delay in the growth of his luxury” (l.c., p. 63).

This contrast between wealth that does not labour and poverty that labours in order to live also gives rise to a contrast of knowledge.  Knowledge and labour become separated.  The former confronts the latter as capital, or as a luxury article for the rich.

“The faculty of knowing and understanding is a general gift of nature, but it is only developed by education; if properties were equal, everyone would labour moderately&rdquo; (so once again, the quantity of labour-time is the decisive thing), “and everyone would know a little, because everyone would have a portion of time” (spare time) “left to give to study and reflection; but with the inequality of fortunes, resulting from the social order, education is prohibited for all who are born without property; because all sustenance being in the hands of that part of the nation which possesses money or land, and no one giving anything for nothing , the man born without any other resource but his strength is obliged to devote it to the service of the Owners from the first moment when his strength develops, and to continue thus all his life, from the moment when the sun rises to the moment when this strength has been worn down and needs to be renewed by sleep” (p. 112).  “Lastly, is it not certain that this inequality of knowledge has become necessary for the maintenance of all the social inequalities which gave rise to it?&rdquo; (l.c., p. 113), (cf. pp. 118-19).

Necker ridicules the economic confusion—characteristic of the Physiocrats in relation to the land, and of all subsequent economists in relation to the material elements of capital—which glorifies the owners of the conditions of production, not because they themselves, but these conditions, are necessary for labour and the production of wealth.

“They begin by confusing the importance of the owner (a function so easy to perform) with the importance of the land” (l.c., p. 126).  |IX-421||