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Workers Know All About Capital Accumulation, Don't We?

by Richard Mellor Sunday, Mar. 25, 2007 at 1:59 PM

It is within the pages of the main Bourgeois journals that we find the strongest confirmation of Marx's economic writings.

Commenting on the economic rise of China and India, Martin Wolf wrote in the Financial Times, "The big difference was the growth of output per worker, with China again, accumulating capital far faster..." (1)

It is always heartening to read the serious journals of capitalism for those of us that agree with Marx's explanation of how wealth is created in a capitalist economy. It is in these pages that his views are regularly confirmed, even by their omission.

Wolf is talking here about the accumulation of capital, or should we say wealth. Accumulating capital is the goal of a capitalist; accumulating it faster than your rivals is the difference between life and death whether an individual or a nation of capitalists. And Wolf hints here at the source of this accumulation; it is "output per worker". China gets more out of its workers per hour than India. It could be more cars, more shoes, more Nike jerseys, whatever.

Michael Mandel in Business Week is also interested in output per worker or what they call productivity. Like Wolf, he is a theoretician of capitalism. Their purpose is to help the capitalist class understand their system and navigate it.

Fluttering on the edge of the Marxist precipice, both these economists of finance capital have no fear of falling over and in to the actual process of production itself. They are both right that capital accumulation is key for the obvious reason that they are bourgeois economists, and that output per worker is crucial. But workers should step over; much more so than Wolf or Mandel, we know too well what “output per worker means” For many a clerical worker it means smaller booths, fewer windows, an ergonomic work area that allows the shortest distance between two points so that memo can be typed faster, those other documents finalized quicker.

For a production worker it means increased belt speeds. For a nurse it means you’ll never have time to talk to that patient or get to know them as a human being, to give them the human side of care in the way that you would like to. For all workers it means more overtime and weakening of jobsite protections. It means multi-tasking and more output with fewer hands. It means layoffs, unemployment and increased stress and tiredness in the home. It means competition between us and all the tension that entails as we are forced to work faster and harder in order to increase “output per worker” for our individual bosses.

Oh yes, we know what capital accumulation means in a very real way.

Wolf clearly sees that it is production that creates wealth in capitalist society. In the factories, the mines, the tech centers of Silicon Valley and Bangladore. But he does not delve in to the process of production itself; it was Marx that did this and it is a place where capitalist economists cannot go.

Marx explained that in the market economy, the source of wealth is the productive process itself. Here one class participates as the owner of capital and buys the labor power of another, the ability of that other to work, The capitalist pays the seller of labor power less in wages than is produced in value. If we were talking of the production of shoes, the workers hired for that process would produce more value in shoes than they were paid wages for; it is an unfair exchange, or put a better way, the capitalist’s profit or wealth comes from the unpaid labor of the working class.

It is obvious then, that the more you can get out of a worker per hour, the more wealth is created through the production process in general.

This wealth, this product of collective human labor power, is stolen from those that sell this labor power and it is our historic task to re-posses it.

The incredible productive power of human labor power with new technology was evidenced in the tech boom of the nineties and it gives us a glimpse of what could actually be accomplished with that surplus value as Marx called it. Mandel points out that since 1995 output per hour averaged about 2.7% per year. (2) He writes his column warning his class that productivity fell in 2006 and 2005’s figures were revised downward.

I don’t intend to go in to the implications of this decline in productivity and you can read Mandel’s commentary by clicking on the link below (3), but he gives us some figures that describe what this 10 years of productivity increases meant.

This ten year period of increased productivity means that today’s economy is “….2 trillion bigger than it would have been.”, writes Mandel. That translates in to .4 trillion in extra output. This has helped keep inflation lower and as he says, “…gave the economy enough momentum to fight off the disasters of 2001—the terrorist attacks, the stock market crash, the collapse of Enron—with only a minimal recession.” I should add that it is paying for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as Bush’s tax cuts for his wealthy friends.

The pages of the same papers repeatedly champion the cheap price of money. The world is “awash” with it, they argue. The papers today reported Morgan Stanley’s profits up 60% for the first quarter of 2007. Every day we read about the immense wealth we create through our labor, from finances houses like Morgan Stanley to Oil companies like Exxon. The private equity boom is driven to an extent by this cheap money.

It is how production is organized, nothing else, that is the cause of poverty and war. Once we understand why we can never receive “eight hours pay for eight hours work.”, it becomes easier to understand in our own minds that it is possible to work only a couple days a week and eliminate hunger and poverty. It becomes clear that work under capitalism is a system of organized robbery and that our collective ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange is the way to end it.

At one time in history, the capitalist class was faced with a dilemma. It didn't have political power, it didn't rule society. Eventually it became evident that they had to take power if there was to be a future.

History moves on; the working class is faced with the same decision.

(1) Financial Times 3-20-07

(2) The Real Threat Isn't Housing: BW 3-19-07


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