“’….the first aspect is important, because capital here - quite unintentionally - reduces human labour, expenditure of energy, to a minimum. This will redound to the benefit of emancipated labour, and is the condition of its emancipation”.
2) There is an ever-increasing distinction between production time and labour time. As Paolo Virno writes in his ‘5th thesis on post-Fordism’,
” …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. 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.”
Marx himself explicitly refers to this distinction between ‘production time’ and ‘labour time’ on p.668 of the Grundrisse,
“…until now it has been assumed that production time coincides with labour time. But now there take place, e.g. in agriculture, interruptions of work within the production process itself, before the product is finished. The same labour time may be applied and the duration of the production phase may differ, because work is interrupted. If the difference is only that the product in one case requires a longer working time in order to be finished than in another case, then no case at all is constituted, because it is then clear according to the general law that the product in which a greater quantity of labour is contained is of that much greater value, and if the reproduction is less frequent in a given period of time, then the reproduced value is all the greater. And 2 × 100 is just as much as 4 × 50. As with the total value, then, so with the surplus value. The question is constituted by the unequal duration required by different products, although the same amount of labour time (namely stored-up and living labour together) is employed upon them. The fixed capital here allegedly acts quite by itself, without human labour, like e.g. the seed entrusted to the earth’s womb. In so far as additional labour is required, this is to be deducted.”
And elsewhere, ” Labour no longer appears so much to be included within the production process; rather, the human being comes to relate more as watchman and regulator to the production process itself. (What holds for machinery holds likewise for the combination of human activities and the development of human intercourse.) No longer does the worker insert a modified natural thing [Naturgegenstand] as middle link between the object [Objekt] and himself; rather, he inserts the process of nature, transformed into an industrial process, as a means between himself and inorganic nature, mastering it. He steps to the side of the production process instead of being its chief actor. In this transformation, it is neither the direct human labour he himself performs, nor the time during which he works, but rather the appropriation of his own general productive power, his understanding of nature and his mastery over it by virtue of his presence as a social body – it is, in a word, the development of the social individual which appears as the great foundation-stone of production and of wealth. The theft of alien labour time, on which the present wealth is based, appears a miserable foundation in face of this new one, created by large-scale industry itself. As soon as labour in the direct form has ceased to be the great well-spring of wealth, labour time ceases and must cease to be its measure, and hence exchange value [must cease to be the measure] of use value.”
3) The process of communism - understood as the liberation from work requires the fullest development of this trend with labour time playing an increasingly smaller role in production time and the organic composition of capital gravitating to ever greater amounts of fixed over variable capital.
Marx writes, “…the development of fixed capital indicates in still another respect the degree of development of wealth generally, or of capital. The aim of production oriented directly towards use value, as well as of that directly oriented towards exchange value, is the product itself, destined for consumption. The part of production which is oriented towards the production of fixed capital does not produce direct objects of individual gratification, nor direct exchange values; at least not directly realizable exchange values. Hence, only when a certain degree of productivity has already been reached – so that a part of production time is sufficient for immediate production – can an increasingly large part be applied to the production of the means of production.”
One might suppose this point was reached with the first integrated circuits in the late 1950’s and the subsequent huge growth in computational power per dollar seen on an annual and/or bi-annual basis i.e. the observation of what later became known as ‘Moore’s Law’.
4) Within the existing system of social relations (i.e. within capitalism) these trends merely expel ever greater numbers of people from socially useful work (either rendering them unemployed, moved to precarious forms of temporary or part-time work or to affective low-paid ‘service’ jobs that previously did not exist) as opposed to diminishing the length of the working week and duration of one’s working life as was frequently envisaged in the 1950’s and 60’s.
5) This is now evident in the massively increased of unemployment we see in the countries of the Western Hemisphere. In the 1960s’s unemployment for the United Kingdom stood at 1.6% (now 8.2%), 4% for the United States (now 8.1%) and officially zero for the USSR. The European Union currently has a youth unemployment rate of 22.4% and global youth unemployment stands at 12.7%. This is not to say that industrial jobs have instead gone to China since the re-structuring of the mid-1970s as is commonly assumed.
Indeed it is a common misconception that the de-industrialisation of high-GDP countries such as the UK and the US can be blamed on the industrialisation of previously low-GDP countries such as China since the early 1970’s. Indeed between 1993 and 2006 China did not create any new jobs in manufacturing, with the total number of workers hovering constantly at around 110 million. This was in spite of the fact that the economy grew by over 300% in the period - with the country becoming a world leader in the manufacture and export of a vast array of products.
The number of people, as a percentage of the global population, engaged in industrial production has not increased since the early 1970s, with increased surplus and value since that period being the consequence of more efficient systems of production, automation and distribution - all of which minimise and will continue to minimise the total volume of human labour necessary to what will continue to be expanding production overall. The very nature of ‘(re)industrialising’ is to reduce to the bare minimum the human element within the production process, with greater investment being directed towards fixed as opposed to variable capital (wages). How precisely does this constitute a ‘plan’ for jobs?
8) While this tendency, for all variable capital to be tendentially superceded by fixed capital, is in Marx’s words, ‘a condition for the emanicipation of such labour’ and for post-capitalism itself, under capitalism it can only lead to the immiseration of the working population with fewer and fewer people able to insert themselves in the production process engage in wage labour, and given ever decreasing state spending on the reproduction of the working class outside of work (through the disintegration of collective unemployment benefit, public health insurance and so on) fewer and fewer people will thus be able to subsist. All of this in spite of unparalleled technological sophistication and abundance unknown in human history. As Marx writes,
“…the measure of wealth is then not any longer, in any way, labour time, but rather disposable time. Labour time as the measure of value posits wealth itself as founded on poverty, and disposable time as existing in and because of the antithesis to surplus labour time; or, the positing of an individual’s entire time as labour time, and his degradation therefore to mere worker, subsumption under labour. The most developed machinery thus forces the worker to work longer than the savage does, or than he himself did with the simplest, crudest tools.”
9) This vision, of the almost total elimination of labour time from the production process is already embryonic in accounts of the ‘Third Industrial Revolution’
“…many people will look at the factories of the future and shudder. They will not be full of grimy machines manned by men in oily overalls. Many will be squeaky clean—and almost deserted. Some carmakers already produce twice as many vehicles per employee as they did only a decade or so ago. Most jobs will not be on the factory floor but in the offices nearby, which will be full of designers, engineers, IT specialists, logistics experts, marketing staff and other professionals. The manufacturing jobs of the future will require more skills. Many dull, repetitive tasks will become obsolete: you no longer need riveters when a product has no rivets.”
As with the transition from the First to the Second Industrial Revolution during the 19th century these changes built on innovations such as solid freeform fabrication, 3D printing and ever more modular and digitized forms of production will lead to huge amounts of job losses without any possibility of absorbing those laid off. This happening in the context of already existant un(der)employment of a level not seen in Europe and North America since before the Second World War.
For some reason the Economist believes this will only lead to labour-saving (and therefore profit-maximising) innovations for capital without even contemplating the quite clear and dangerous consequences it would present for social cohesion and conflict at a most basic level (let alone the problems this presents for consumer demand given more and more people won’t be able to earn a wage to buy the increasing number of goods and services in circulation).
10) Complete Breakdown in Value - Marx writes in the Grundrisse,
“…the exchange of living labour for objectified labour – i.e. the positing of social labour in the form of the contradiction of capital and wage labour – is the ultimate development of the value-relation and of production resting on value. Its presupposition is – and remains – the mass of direct labour time, the quantity of labour employed, as the determinant factor in the production of wealth. But to the degree that large industry develops, the creation of real wealth comes to depend less on labour time and on the amount of labour employed than on the power of the agencies set in motion during labour time, whose ‘powerful effectiveness’ is itself in turn out of all proportion to the direct labour time spent on their production, but depends rather on the general state of science and on the progress of technology, or the application of this science to production…The surplus labour of the mass has ceased to be the condition for the development of general wealth, just as the non-labour of the few, for the development of the general powers of the human head. With that, production based on exchange value breaks down…Capital itself is the moving contradiction, [in] that it presses to reduce labour time to a minimum, while it posits labour time, on the other side, as sole measure and source of wealth. Hence it diminishes labour time in the necessary form so as to increase it in the superfluous form; hence posits the superfluous in growing measure as a condition – question of life or death – for the necessary. On the one side, then, it calls to life all the powers of science and of nature, as of social combination and of social intercourse, in order to make the creation of wealth independent (relatively) of the labour time employed on it. On the other side, it wants to use labour time as the measuring rod for the giant social forces thereby created, and to confine them within the limits required to maintain the already created value as value. Forces of production and social relations – two different sides of the development of the social individual – appear to capital as mere means, and are merely means for it to produce on its limited foundation.”
A sensible project sounds like the relationship between debt, technological innovation and value within post-Fordism.