[iDC] Social Production and the Labor Theory of Value

Sareeta B Amrute amrutes at u.washington.edu
Thu Oct 29 18:53:28 UTC 2009

Dear Christian and List:

I really enjoyed your last post, and it stimulated a series of questions for me.

1) If, as you suggest, Internet producers are maximally exploitable because no wage is paid to them, this begs the question (which has been discussed on this list and seemed embedded in the term 'playlabor/playbor' itself), why do they engage in these forms of surplus value creation/exploitation?  In my view, answering this question requires us to take 'ideology' seriously (An earlier post on McLuhan also moved in this direction). There is of course a view of ideology that treats it as false consciousness, but I do not think this gets us very far.  Among its many problems, the ideology as false consciousness thesis would suggest that all we need to do is educate people on how they are being exploited and they would stop.  A more fruitful way of thinking through ideology might be as part of production of surplus value itself. That is, ideology is not false representation, but an account of 
actually existing social relations, one that in a certain sense makes possible (because its widely agreed-upon) the continued production of surplus value for capitalist.  To quote Marx's famous passage on fetishism, 'to the producers, therefore, the social relations between their private labors appears as what they are, i.e. they do not appear as direct social relations between persons in their work, but rather as material relations between persons and social relations between things.'  The key phrase here is 'as they really are'.  So, what is the relationship between the 'dinglich' and the 'sozial' that is being established in web 2.0 economies?

2) My second question is on necessary labor.  While the producer in your formulation is not being paid a wage (but MTurk would be an exception here), it may be worthwhile to think about what necessary labor is in this economy.  That is, what is required (the amount of labor) for the worker to reproduce herself in order to be vital (to capital itself perhaps)?  Although it is true that in your scenario the capitalist is paying out no contribution for the subsistence and reproduction of the worker, clearly the worker thinks/feels that she is 'getting something out of' all of this labor.  Borrowing from Spivak's notion of affectively necessary labor (see Scattered Speculations p. 162), it may be useful to ask what other conditions are vital to the reproduction of the worker here (i.e. connectivity itself, the circulation of reputation, the transfer of information all via Facebook)?  I recognize 
that you still might argue that the capitalist is contributing nothing to this affectively necessary labor, since setting up the platform etc. does not require compensating those who work on it, but the difference seems important.  It might allow a discussion of desire to enter into a discussion of web 2.0 political economy. It would be nice to hear some thoughts on this.


Then, it seems as if the capitalist is contributing    On Tue, 27 Oct 2009 idc-request at mailman.thing.net wrote:

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>   1. Re: Social Production and the Labor Theory of Value
>      (Christian Fuchs)
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> Date: Mon, 26 Oct 2009 14:59:46 +0100
> From: Christian Fuchs <christian.fuchs at sbg.ac.at>
> Subject: Re: [iDC] Social Production and the Labor Theory of Value
> To: idc <idc at mailman.thing.net>
> Message-ID: <4AE5AB52.2070805 at sbg.ac.at>
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> Thank you for brining up the issue of the labour theory of value, Adam,
> and thanks to Mark for following up on this issue. I think this topic is
> important for the discussions about digital labour, but of course it is
> a difficult issue, which in my opinion requires to discuss what Marx
> actually wrote about value, surplus value, class, exploitation, etc. I
> agree with most of Mark's reply on this issue and I disagree with much
> of what Adam has written in his posting.
> Let me add my own views.
> The exchange value of a commodity is the quantitative relationship in
> which it is exchanged with other commodities: x commodity A = y
> commodity B, further developed by marx in capital, vol. 1, in the
> wertformanalyse (analysis of value form). Exchange value is not the same
> as value. In exchange, the values of two commodities are equivalized,
> but the value of each single commodity is determined in the labour
> process. Labour is the substance of value.
> Therefore for such a discussion, we need to start with the question.
> What is the law of value? So let's go to Marx, Capital, Volume 1:
> Marx says that when speaking of the value of a commodity, labour "counts
> only quantitatively", it is a matter of "the 'how much', of the temporal
> duration of labour". "the maginitude of the value of a commodity
> represents nothing but the quantity of labour embodied in it"
> "A use-value, or useful article, therefore, has value only because
> abstract human labour is objectified (vergegenst?ndlicht) or
> materialized in it. How, then, is the magnitude of this value to be
> measured? By means of the quantity of the 'value-forming substance', the
> labour, contained in the article. This quantity is measured by its
> duration, and the labour-time is itself measured on the particular scale
> of hours, days etc".
> "In general, the greater the productivity of labour, the less the
> labour-time required to produce an article, the less the mass of labour
> crystallized in that article, and the less its value. Inversely, the
> less the productivity of labour, the greater the labour-time necessary
> to produce an article, the greater its value".
> Can the law of value be applied to Facebook? Yes:
> The capitalist exchanges access to user data and to his Internet
> platform with money in the form x commodity A = y commodity B. The value
> of the Internet platform as commodity is determined by the amount of
> labour objectified in it that is created by the substance of value -
> labour, i.e. by the users. The more Facebook users there are, the more
> playlabour time is objectified in the Facebook platform, the higher the
> value of Facebook, the higher advertising rates (at the price level) can
> be set, the more profit can be made.
> When we talk about labour value, we always talk about labour time, which
> is different from the price level, which we can observe and calculate
> because existing economic statistics are not based on labour values, but
> on prices. It is generally speaking not possible to calculate prices
> directly from labour values, there is not a simple mystical formula for
> solving the transformation problem because this is a much more complex
> problem. But there is a causal relationship between values and prices:
> Marx: "When the labour-time required for their production falls, proces
> fall; and where it rises, prices rise, as long as other circumstances
> remain equal".
> Marx's category of the rate of surplus value or rate of exploitation
> measures the relationship of surplus labour to necessary labour, e = s /
> v. At the value level, this means the relation of the hours a labourer
> produces surplus value to the number of hours s/he works to reproduce
> his/her wage. At the price level, this is the relation of profit to wages.
> In the case of Facebook produsers: e = s /v, v => 0, s=>total number of
> working hours, therefore: e => infinity. Which means: The rate of
> exploitation of Internet produsers converges towards infinity, they are
> enormously exploited because no wages are paid to them. By outsourcing
> production from wage labour to unpaid labour, web 2.0 capitalists can
> accumulate ever more capital. The value produced (i.e. the objectified
> labour time) by  Internet produsers is divided in such a relation  that
> all of their labour time is surplus labour time.
> It is a wage labour fetishism to say that only labour that receives a
> wage can be exploited, produces value, etc. This would mean that a slave
> is not exploited. But if the slave is not exploited, why would one want
> to start a revolution in order to break the chains of slavery? Wage
> labour fetishism not only affirms slavery, it also establish a dangerous
> dualism that considers all those who do not work for a wage (the
> unemployed, etc) as parasites. This terroristic labour ethic is typical
> for contemporary capitalism, but was also an element of Nazism and
> Stalinism. A fetisthistic labour theory of value is one that does not
> see human activity as the source of value, but wage labour.
> At the gates of hell of most of the Nazi death camps, there were signs
> saying: "Arbeit macht frei" (Labour makes you free, see for example the
> gate to the extermination camp Auschwitz here:
> http://www.bufata-chemie.de/reader/ig_farben/pics/4-2-2_01_tor_auschwitz.jpg
> ). All those, whom the Nazis considered as "unproductive labourers" or
> as "unproductive capitalists", were either vaporized or killed by the
> hardest compulsory labour (that benefited the  German war machine and
> certain German industrialists).  Saying that labour only creates value
> if it is commodified, brings us dangerously close  to arguing that
> non-wage labour is unproductive, which always is the first logical step
> for the concept or praxis of the annihilation of so-called "unproductive
> labour" that is seen as parasitic and can easily be connted as Jewish,
> foreign, black, unemployed, homeless, etc.
> Adam referred to the "Maschinenfragment" in the "Grundrisse",
> specifically to the passage, where Marx says that the emergence of
> General Intellect anticipates a communist society, in which "the measure
> of wealth is then not any longer, in any way, labour time, but rather
> disposable time". Communism is for Marx a highly productive, automated
> society, in which goods are produced automatically without any or hardly
> any human labour/work necessary. As a result, all time becomes
> disposable time and humans  can for the first time be real humans
> because they are emancipated from  hard work.  General Intellect
> becomes an immediate force of production when there is a very high
> degree of productivity, because the technologization of production
> increases the informatization of production. Marx says that if this
> situation is given within capitalist relations of production, then the
> law of value does not vanish within capitalism (it only vanishes in a
> fully automated communist society), but a contradiction in the character
> of value production emerges/is intesified that Marx also formulated in
> the Maschinenfragment: "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".
> Contemporary technology anticipates communism, but is embedded into
> capitalist relations of production, where labor time is the source of
> wealth and the law of value applies, so that the contradiction between
> the productive forces and the relations of production is intensified.
> Concerning the productive forces, we are objectively close to communism,
> but concerning the relations of production, this results within
> contemporary capitalism in an expansion and intensification of
> exploitation, i.e. a situation of convergence towards infinite
> exploitation, in which no wages are paid, but there is maximum
> exploitation.
> Negri and other Autonomist Marxists have in my opinion incorrectly
> interpreted the Maschinenfragment by assuming that the situation, where
> disposable time is the source of wealth, exists in contemporary
> informational capitalism. They observe the existence of General
> Intellect and assume that this means the end of labour time as the
> source of wealth. But Marx refers to communism in the specific passage.
> The contemporary situation is described by the contradiction between
> labour time and disposable time that Marx mentions and that I just
> cited. Disposable time only becomes the governing principle of the
> economy in a true communist society, not in capitalism.
> Toni Negri wrote in "Marx beyond Marx" that Marx's "Capital" is much
> inferior to the "Grundrisse", which implies one should stop reading
> Capital and instead focus on the Grundrisse. But the Grundrisse is in
> many respects only a fragment that contains interesting passages, but
> there are reasons why Marx published Capital, Vol. 1, as his main work,
> and saw the Grundrisse only as a preliminary study. I think it is a
> problem that there is a tendency in Autonomist Marxism to ignore or not
> to read Capital.
> Cheers, Christian
> --
> - - -
> Priv.-Doz. Dr. Christian Fuchs
> Associate Professor
> Unified Theory of Information Research Group
> ICT&S Center
> University of Salzburg
> Sigmund Haffner Gasse 18
> 5020 Salzburg
> Austria
> christian.fuchs at sbg.ac.at
> Phone +43 662 8044 4823
> Personal Website: http://fuchs.uti.at
> Research Group: http;//www.uti.at
> Editor of tripleC - Cognition, Communication, Co-Operation | Open Access
> Journal for a Global Sustainable Information Society
> http://www.triple-c.at
> Fuchs, Christian. 2008. Internet and Society: Social Theory in the
> Information Age. New York: Routledge. http://fuchs.uti.at/?page_id=40
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Sareeta B. Amrute
Assistant Professor of Anthropology
University of Washington
tel: 206-543-7796

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