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(en) France, Alternative Libertaire AL #280 - rudiments, Capitalist logic in eight basic notions (fr, it, pt) [machine translation]

Date Mon, 12 Mar 2018 12:04:54 +0200

How is wealth created ? How does it concentrate in the hands of a minority ? Why is the flight from capital inevitable ? If you have only a vague idea, it's time to familiarize yourself with these tools. ---- All of these texts - with the exception of the one on domestic work - come from the archives of the very nice website As long as there is money. ---- The value ---- Economic analysts often speak of " produced wealth ", " price " or " cost of labor ", but very rarely " value ". Yet this concept of " value " is fundamental to understanding the capitalist system and the crisis it is currently going through. ---- By looking a little too BFMTV, we could say that if an object has a certain value and that we are willing to pay a certain price to have it, it is because we need it. In any case, it is the idea defended by the capitalists. For them if I die of thirst in the desert and meet the only person who has water for several miles around, I am willing to pay a lot for the first glass of water he sells me.[...]

This idea, called " marginal utility ", is theoretically true, but in reality hardly ever occurs.[...]In general when we are thirsty our problem is rather to know what we will choose to drink between Cacolac, Vichy Celestin or Sélecto.

What is a can

Of course, the ease of access plays on the price that we will pay for his Cacolac: it will necessarily be more expensive in a grocery at night than if you buy it at Aldi, but it will always remain in the same range of price.[...]Although there may be certain variations in the price of a commodity, which are due to many factors, this price always revolves around the same axis. This axis is the " value " of a commodity. In reality, the price is only a particular form[...]where the value is translated into euros or dollars.

What is this value then ? Of course, if a commodity is worth something it is also because we have an interest in using it.[...]But this " use value " is not quantifiable and does not interest the capitalist.

Constant capital does not create value, it transmits its own. Only the labor force - variable capital - creates a new value.
Indeed, difficult to know how much is the delicate and refreshing chocolate taste of a Cacolac one summer evening, and besides the boss has nothing to plug. Producing Cacolac, Dragibus or organic quinoa does not change the moment it sells at a price that allows it to earn enough profit. For the capitalist, only this " exchange value " exists.[...]Normally one wonders how much is worth a can of Cacolac only when one wants to buy it or to sell it.

Except that with the capitalist system, one is sure to be able to exchange his can at (almost) any time. Even if you do not want to sell your can of Cacolac we know how much it is worth. The value becomes permanent. We no longer speak of " exchange value " , but of " value " . It becomes autonomous from the purchase or the sale of the goods.

It is also the existence of this " value " that allows us to group objects as different as a kilo of rice, an Ipad Air or a liter of tap water under the same name of " commodity ", because it is the quantity of value contained in these goods which makes it possible to compare them between them.

But if it is neither utility, nor scarcity, nor the principle of supply and demand which gives this value to a commodity, where does it come from ?

The capitalists could say that if this commodity is worth it so much because it has cost them something to produce and they will lose money if they sell it cheaper. But let's take a closer look at what, for the boss, is the " cost " of a commodity:

Work: That the boss paid, in the form of salary, to his employees to buy their labor force.
The surplus value: The share of work of the workers that the boss did not pay and that he appropriates himself to make his profit.
Raw materials: which have value, because it took a certain number of people to sell their labor force to produce them. No steel without the work of the miner extracting coal and iron, nor the work of the steel worker melting with each other.[...]
Machines and electricity: which also have a certain " value ", because it took prolos to sell their labor power to manufacture them.[...]
We note that for this capitalist, the " cost " of production is actually the sum of the wages that were necessary to produce a commodity, to which must be added the sum of capital gains that the bosses recover for their profits.

So it is in fact all the past work that was needed to produce the raw materials and machines, as well as the current job that uses them to give a new commodity, which gives value to a can of Cacolac. Anyway, all this to confirm the next thunderous revelation: all the value comes from work !!![...]

The work force

For the capitalist who thinks about the profits of his business, the " cost " of the bottle of Cacolac he wants to sell, represents for him:

the cost of raw materials and electricity ;
wages ;
the money he intends to keep for himself or reinvest in his business ;
the cost of machines.[...]
In the capitalist system, it is work that gives value to all goods produced. But this work works itself as a commodity. The labor power of proletarians is bought and sold in a specific market called the labor market. In this more or less open market, the capitalist tries to pay this labor force as cheaply as possible, to the detriment of proletarians who have only that to sell. Seen like that we do not necessarily have the impression that there is a real difference with any other product that we could buy at Lidl, but in fact the work is a very special commodity: it is the only one allowing the creation of value.

When Raymond the boss exploits his employees, he does not buy their work, but their work force. He does not buy exactly the work Micheline the worker does, but his muscular and intellectual abilities for a certain number of hours.[...]This merchandise that is the human labor force is bought by Raymond with the sole purpose of being consumed to produce objects or services.

In fact when the boss pays the wages of his worker, he pays the price of the labor force and not the work done by the employee. This price of the labor force is determined like any other commodity by the amount of work necessary for its production and maintenance.[...]

The boss pays a salary corresponding to what is necessary to allow Micheline to be able to work today and return to work the next day. This price of the labor force, which BFM Business prefers to call the " cost of labor ", is thus partly determined by the value of the objects of first necessity essential to the survival of Micheline and his home. It is also partly determined by the costs of raising children from birth until they are also able to work.[...]

But to know exactly what is necessary to reproduce the work force is somewhat difficult, rather vague and different according to the times and places. Raymond will always try to make Micheline believe that she does not need to receive such a high salary. Conversely, Micheline and his comrades from the Cacolac factory are fighting to recover as much money as possible.

It is also the struggles of the workers to snatch wage increases that determine the price of this labor force. If the workers of the bottling plants have been fighting for ten years and have collective agreements allowing to have a mutual company and a salary scale advantageous, the price of the labor force in the sector of the bottling will be higher than in the textile industry, for example.[...]

The labor force is not paid according to the work done. It is paid according to the value necessary for the proletarian and survive and produce new small proletariat ... and the level of power in the class struggle.

It is that unlike a machine, the boss does not own us forever: the proletarians remain, at least formally, free. If the boss owned us, it would be up to him to manage our maintenance and our production, as he does with his machines. Here it is up to us to do it, as part of the home. And this relies heavily on the free work of women (see box) ...[...]


I work, the boss pays me. But how are the profits born ? If the boss pays me the right price, he can not make a profit, and if he pays less, he scares me ! Where is the trouble ?

Needless to try to continue our pattern of fraud: nowhere, they do indicate that it is our job they pay (although they suggest the opposite). What they buy is our work force.

More exactly, they rent it for a fixed period: thirty-five hours, for example. What we do during this time is then their property: that's the story.

On what basis is the purchase of our labor force calculated ?

As for any commodity: maintenance, and reproduction costs. A milling machine, for example, you have to make it you have to change parts every year, and say that it has ten years of life, at the end of which you have to buy another: well it's the same for us: We have a cost of training, maintenance, and reproduction. The whole thing is an average, and it is on the basis of that average that we are paid, or more exactly, based on the lowest range of that average. This is the principle of the Smic.

The salary thus varies in several ways: according to the degree of qualification (thus the expenses spent to train the workforce), according to the experience ... But also the capacities of mobilization. Example: sectors with few workers for a lot of demand[...]will have higher average wages[...].

But how does the boss go about making profit, to make an added value ... ?

Domestic work

In the public sphere, that of wage labor, one exchanges his work force for a salary. In the private sphere, domestic work is exchanged for ... nothing.

But this domestic work is essential for the maintenance of the workers, that is to say, the reproduction of the labor force. Yes, after work, it's still the job: you have to shop, manage the kids, wash them, make them eat, sleep, clean, and so on.

Now this free working time is very unevenly distributed. In heterosexual couples, the time to domestic work of women is higher than 72 % on average than men - 206 minutes against 120 minutes according to figures from INSEE 2010. Yet time working professional men is only 27 % higher than women's. And they benefit from 21 % more free time. This inequality increases with the arrival of the first and second children. It is then most often women who leave their job or take a part-time to devote themselves to domestic work. Capitalism takes this sexual division of domestic work which provides cheap labor, few financially independent and therefore not very combative, ready to accept the " flexibility " to " reconcile family and work " ... no wonder so that the most vulnerable professional sectors are also the most feminized. This sexual division of labor allows the State to save on collective crèches, canteens, the care of the elderly ...

To rebalance roles in the public sphere as in the private sphere, there is no alternative to sharing household chores !

the adapted text of AL's " Women at work " argument .

The capital gain

The law of money is the only one known to capitalism, everyone will agree. But how do the capitalists do to win ? How does capitalist exploitation work ?

As explained[...]the capitalists do not buy our work, but our labor force: they rent it, for a fixed term. During this period, we work for the boss, the bosses, the shareholders, even the collective enterprise, the cooperative, etc. Capitalism can take a good bunch of forms ... But some things do not change: to reproduce, it must extract surplus value[...].

It is about the value created by the prolos through their work, which does not come back to them in wages, but goes to capital.

Domi, the overwork !

Take the example of Dominique. Dominique works in a factory[of]luxury watches. To simplify, we will consider that it is an old-fashioned factory, that is to say in which the production process is carried out as a whole - this is also often the case in the luxury industry.

In the morning, when Domi shows up at work, with his comrades they have before them a pile of materials, not yet transformed. There is 1,000 euros worth of scrap and others.

Bim bam boom[...], at the end of the working day, this pile of raw materials has been transformed into 10 pretty little luxury watches. Ready to shine a thousand lights on the wrist of all those guys who have managed their lives ...

These beautiful little watches, the boss who will be called Richard, will sell them to a retailer for 1,100 euros.

In short, for 10 watches, Richard receives 11,000 euros. On it:

1,000 euros are used to pay for raw materials ;
1,500 euros are used to pay wages ;
6,000 euros are used to repay the bank that lent the money to buy machines.
Total: 7,500 euros in all. There are 3,500 left.

They are to be shared between Richard and the landowner of the factory, to whom Richard pays a rent. What right ? From that of private property, bin wish !

However, these 3,500 euros, come from the work of[...]Dominique and his comrades: it is they who produced this wealth, by transforming the raw materials[...]. They worked, put the machines into action, and so on. But in the end, the fruit of their work is monopolized by Richard and the owner of the land: they extracted the surplus value of the work of the prolos.

It is said that the part of the unpaid labor which gives the surplus value is surplus labor , that is to say what the proletarian does more than what makes it possible to pay his salary. It is in this sense that we are exploited. The percentage of overwork relative to total work is called " exploitation rate " ...

There are two different types of surplus value: absolute surplus value and relative surplus value.[...]

So back to Dominique in his luxury watch factory. His working day is eight hours. Of these eight hours, the work necessary to the formation of sufficient value to pay his salary, for example, will be one hour. The remaining seven hours, the value created by the work that provides Dominique goes to the boss.[...]

A very simple way of increasing the surplus value will be to increase the number of hours worked without increasing wages: if Dominique works ten hours instead of eight, while being paid the same, then the surplus value will increase 30 % !

This is called absolute surplus value. This is the very basis of exploitation, and historically it is the first. Thus, the continuous increase in the working day has allowed the capitalists of the XIX th century to a max of capital.

But we can not increase the working day beyond a certain point: we must sleep well, eat ... there is a biological limit. To this biological limit is added a social dimension, of struggle: that of the acceptance or not, of a working day of fourteen hours.[...]

The solution for the capitalists, is to make us work more intensely, during the same period of work: instead of producing 100 watches in eight hours, Dominique will produce 150. This is called the relative surplus value .

Taylorism, for example, which is a mode of organization of the work attributed to Frederick W. Taylor, fits into this perspective. We will time the gestures of the prolos, try to make them go as quickly as possible. We will increase the rates, set up production quotas ...[...]

The trend decline in the rate of profit

Richard's goal: profit. The capital invested by Richard the first year: 100 million euros.

This 100 million breaks down like that: 15 for wages, 15 for the rent of the land of the factory, 10 for raw materials, 60 to buy and maintain his machines. The machines cost 500 million, it borrowed over ten years which, if one adds the interest paid to the bank and the maintenance costs each year, makes an average of 60 million per year.

The workers produce a beautiful package of luxury watches. The first year, Richard earns 110 million: he made 10 % profit ... The following year, he reinvests all 110 million in his box. Do not worry about him, he lives at the expense of the box, with huge expense reports. It's tax deductible ! It now has a capital of 110 million. To maintain its rate of profit at 10 %, it must earn 11 million, 1 more than the previous year: the trouble begins. And every year it will be worse ! The third, if he maintained his rate of profit, his capital will be 121 million ! He will have to find 12.1 million, if he wants to maintain a rate of profit of 10 % ! The fourth ... in short.[...]

But here it is: if he invests for 100 million and he earns 10 (so the famous 10%) is a capital that pays. But suppose that the rate of profit falls as, one by one, the mass of capital invested eventually reaches 1 billion. If it wins 1% of 1 billion, that makes ... 10 million !

Richard is so disgusted: his billion invested in machines and various equipment does not allow him to earn more than the 100 million of his debut ! We will finally conclude that its machines are not worth at all 1 billion but 100 million: it's all its capital that devalorise !

Conclusion: to maintain its capital, it must permanently maintain its rate of profit ; it is the law n ° 1 of capitalism: the flight forward.

How to stop this decline ?

Let's take a look at the possibilities open to him to increase his profits.[...]

Increase productivity: when it renews its machines, the news will produce a greater quantity of goods while they will cost about the same amount of purchase as the old ones that are less efficient[...]. Which brings him to ...
Produce more: up to a point, it's possible.[...]The limit is the extent of the market: after a while, the rich having only two wrists they have the use of only a limited number of watches. This limit can be pushed back: by stimulating the irrational consumption of the rich, by encouraging them to collect watches, by advertising, etc.[...]We can also stimulate the consumption of the poor, by offering them credit: after all, it seems that if we do not have a Rolex at 50, we missed his life ! This is only one way to postpone the deadline: the poor also have only two wrists, and what is more capacity of repayment of reduced credits ...
Innovate: make watches that go really far under water, so that everyone buys his watches to him, not that of competitors. The problem is that its competitors will end up doing the same thing, and it's back to the same point.
Trimming on wages: no more fun ! Here too, he can do it in several ways:
Increase the rates ;
Increase the number of hours of work without wages following ;
Draw part of the prolos without reducing the workload ;
Take old people with seniority bonuses and replace them with young people or even temporary workers.
Does it remind you of something ? This is normal, the capitalists use all this arsenal. Is it enough ? For a good while, yes, it is.

This is why Marx called it the downward trend of the rate of profit: indeed, capital can slow down, until this tendency disappears, during its development. For a time. Because there are limits: cutting down on wages, for example, ends up weighing on consumption. Credit can make up for that, but not indefinitely ... And that's without counting on workers' resistance, the class struggle !

Finally, the profit rate goes down, down ... And the capitalists do not know where to invest their masses of money in a profitable way ... It's the crisis !


The definition of crisis can be divided into two major historical periods.

The first relates to the period before capitalism (all of human history until the beginning of the XIX th century).

During this period, crises are characterized by an under-production of use value (that is, goods satisfying a human need).

In precapitalist society agriculture is the basis of reproduction. Thus any natural or social disaster (wars, floods, droughts, etc.) results in a material destruction of the elements of reproduction: producers and means of production. These destructions lead to depopulation and famine[...].

The second concerns the capitalist period: during this period, crises are characterized by an overproduction of the exchange value (the goods produced in order to exchange for money.)

In the capitalist economy, material destruction is no longer a cause but a consequence. In this case, the overall development of the means of production leads to a situation in which a large quantity of goods can no longer be sold at a price which makes it possible to make a profit. There is a lack of paid consumption which leads to a slowdown in production, a decrease in the use of labor and means of production and, in return, a new upsurge in unemployment and poverty, and thus a further decline in consumption ...[...]


The 1970s. This is the end of what some have called the " glorious Thirties ", and the rate of profit is plummeting. Many workers' struggles are developing all over the world, it's time for capital to counter-attack to survive. It will be restructuring, a capitalist counterrevolution[...].

The new situation is working more, more intensely, longer ... To be paid less. Less direct pay at the end of the month, but especially less indirect pay, ie social benefits: pensions, health, unemployment, etc.

At the same time, an important part of the productive apparatus is relocated in countries where the prolos are much less well paid. If we add to this the generalization of Taylorism, even in the service jobs (for example the introduction of quotas, daily objectives to be fulfilled), we have the formula with which the capitalists have managed to solve the decline in profits.

This restructuring was imposed via what is called the financialisation of the economy.[...]

First, the first movement: capital, which could no longer be invested in the so-called " real " economy (the factories, for example) went into sectors that promised a stronger return, such as financial products.

Second movement: why finance would allow a better return ? Well, it does not allow magic wand blows better returns. But it allows a greater fluidity of capital: they engage and disengage incessantly, via the financial markets. I buy a package of shares when the price is favorable, and at the slightest rumor, I pull myself, I take my balls to drop them elsewhere.

Third movement: how can you do when you are a big box, to find investments ? Since Daddy's capitalism is over, and you have to get the dough where it is, ie on the markets, well, let's go !

But to remain " competitive ", seem profitable and therefore salable, requires drastic measures to restructure companies, relocate, fire, etc.[...]The history of the 1980s is full of financiers buying companies, firing at once before reselling (like Bernard Tapie in France ...).

In short, through the development of finance, it is a form of collective management[...]by capital, of the class struggle. And the whole engages in a flight forward always more radical. Only way to restore profits at half mast via attacks always more massive.

Finance is not an economic " parasite " on a healthy body. It is the very way in which capital has emerged from its crisis.

The worry is that if the capitalists are struggling to produce less, they have to sell their products ! But with what money the prolos of the countries of the center of capital, which are and remain the main market, will they buy all these things, if they earn less ? But by getting into debt, simply !

This is the magic solution, in fact: states impose less capital, allowing it to accumulate more. The prolos consume, although they are less well paid. And the debt explodes.

In summary:
Alain Bihr (sociologist): " Even insufficient, Marx remains necessary ! "
Political economy: The usefulness of Marxian criticism for libertarians
Basics: Capitalist logic in eight basic notions
the value
the work force
domestic work
the capital gain
the trend decline in the rate of profit
Marx or Keynes ? The development of capitalism is no longer epoch
On the borders of Marxism and anarchism, councilism
Proudhon, the instigator denied
Bakunin, the critic heard
Daniel Guérin, returned from " libertarian marxism "
The " other communism " remains relevant

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