[OPE-L:2078] absolute and relative surplus value

From: Gerald Levy (glevy@PRATT.EDU)
Date: Mon Jan 10 2000 - 06:51:41 EST

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Re Mike W's [OPE-L:2073]

> The question is what,
> if anything that would tell you. i.e. what precisely is the
> absolute/relative sv distinction for? (This is not rhetorical - I do not
> mean to imply that it has no purpose.)

The distinction can be used to grasp the strategies that are used by
capital against labor in its attempts to increase the extraction of
(ideal) surplus value from (productive labor) workers in the production

The form of absolute surplus value tells us why capitalists attempt to
increase the length of the working day/ work week (perhaps more important
in Marx's time).

The form of relative surplus value tells us why:

a) capitalists attempt to increase the intensity of work (although, some
argue that labor intensity is really a form of absolute surplus value. I
include it as relative surplus value because like technological change, an
increase in the intensity of labor increases the productivity of labor).

b) capitalists introduce technological changes in means of production
which increases the productivity of labor.

Marx, of course, argues that there are limits (natural and social) to the
extent to which absolute s and the intensity of labor can be increased and
that increasing relative s via technical change is the primary form in
which s is increased under capitalism. In considering those limits and
characteristics, we are also able to identify many of the ways in which
trade unions have fought capital's drive to increase surplus-value. E.g.
by resisting increases in labor intensity (speed-up), by fighting for the
8-hour-day (an especially important social/political conflict in Marx's
own time), by resisting the loss of skill, bargaining power, and
employment (on the micro level) that often accompanies technological
change. In all cases, solidarity is needed by workers to resist capital's
drive to increase s and this explains to a great degree why workers come
to form trade unions and why capital resists those efforts at unionization
and otherwise attempts to diminish the solidarity of workers by various
divide-and-conquer strategies.

> - do we need an empirically
> operational distinction to achieve that purpose?

No, but we need a clearly stated connection between labor time and
surplus-value (or what you call value-added).

In solidarity, Jerry

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