Thesis 5: In post-Fordism there exists a permanent disproportion between “labor time” and the more ample “production time.” (From Paolo Virno, Grammar of Multitude)
Marx distinguishes between “labor time” and “production time” in chapters XII and XIII of the second book of the Capital. Think of the cycle of sowing and harvesting. The farm laborer works for a month (labor time); then a long interval follows for the growing of the grain (production time, but no longer labor time); and at last, the period of harvesting arrives (once again, labor time). In agriculture and other sectors, production is more extensive than labor activity, in the proper sense of the term; the latter makes up hardly a fraction of the overall cycle. The pairing of the terms “labor time”/ “production time” is an extraordinarily pertinent conceptual tool for understanding post-Fordist reality, that is to say, the modern expression of the social working day. Beyond the examples from agriculture adopted by Marx, the disproportion between “production” and “labor” fits fairly well the situation described in “Fragment on Machines”; in other words, it fits a situation in which labor time presents itself as “miserable residue.” The disproportion takes on two different forms. In the first place, it is revealed within every single working day of every single worker. The worker oversees and coordinates (labor time) the automatic system of machines (whose function defines production time); the worker’s activity often ends up being a sort of maintenance. It could be said that in the post-Fordist environment production time is interrupted only at intervals by labor time. While sowing is a necessary condition for the subsequent phase of the grain’s growth, the modern activity of overseeing and coordinating is placed, from beginning to end, alongside the automated process. There is a second, and more radical, way of conceiving this disproportion. In post-Fordism “production time” includes non-labor time, during which social cooperation takes its root (see thesis 4). Hence I define “production time” as that indissoluble unity of remunerated life and non-remunerated life, labor and non-labor, emerged social cooperation and submerged social cooperation. “Labor time” is only one component, and not necessarily the most prominent one, of “production time” understood in this way. This evidence drives us to reformulate, in part or entirely, the theory of surplus-value. According to Marx, surplus-value springs from surplus-labor, that is, from the difference between necessary labor (which compensates the capitalist for the expense sustained in acquiring the labor- power) and the entirety of the working day. So then, one would have to say that in the post-Fordist era, surplus-value is determined above all by the gap between production time which is not calculated as labor time and labor time in the true sense of the term. What matters is not only the disproportion, inherent in labor time, between necessary labor and surplus-labor, but also, and perhaps even more, the disproportion between production time (which includes non-labor, its own distinctive productivity) and labor time.
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