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The commodity form commodification is taking hold of all spheres of social existence. This last point is crucial. Marx's original distinction between labour power and the 'general class' of commodities was that the latter were external to the person of the labourer, whereas labour power was incorporated within personhood itself. However, with people buying cosmetic surgery, the market in spare body parts and the future beckoning big business in human design and re-design facilities Joy, , the physical externality of the 'general class' of commodities to human beings is no longer what it was in Marx's day.

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These developments herald the breakdown of this aspect of Marx's original distinction between the two great classes of commodities. What, then, is the distinction between the two categories of commodities if the externality criterion is no longer what it was? It could be argued that a distinction still exists between the two great classes on the following considerations. First, labour power is an aspect of the person; it is internal to personhood, in a special sense. It is a unified force flowing throughout the person.

The installation of a new heart - an object originally external to the person in question, or an artificial hip joint - does not change this. Labour power has no specific location within personhood; it is a force flowing throughout the totality the person. Labour power has reality only within the person, whereas general commodities have existence external to the person and can also become elements of persons, as increasing numbers of medical products become incorporated within the human.

Labour power, as a human force, cannot leave humans and, for example, act as the same force within bricks.

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As Marx noted, labour power does 'not exist apart from him [the labourer] at all' Marx, , p. It cannot be external to the person though items of the 'general class' of commodities can be part of personhood. Marx notes the 'uniqueness' of labour power in this respect , p. Secondly, labour power unlike a brick is under the sway of a potentially hostile will. Internality and consciousness distinguish labour power from the general class of commodities and itself. However, it could be argued that some animals have a capacity to labour e. A final point presents human labour power as qualitatively different from animal labour power: socially average human labour power uniquely constitutes value.

It is the labour performed by socially average human labour power that is the foundation of the abstract labour that forms value. Abstract labour rests upon the socially necessary labour time required to produce any use value under conditions normal for a given society, and this presupposes socially average human labour power Marx, ; Neary and Rikowski, , pp. Human labour power at the socially average constitutes value, not concrete directly observable labour Marx, No other commodity either living or dead has this unique capacity.


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Wo men are the 'measure of all things'; the social universe of capital is constituted, and its most fundamental social forms value and capital are created and mediated in their transformations , by us. Yet capital, as social force and relation, comes to dominate us, its progenitors Postone, Labour power, on this account, is the special commodity that generates value the substance of capital and hence capital itself.

Without human labour power, there is no capital - no matter what the level of technological development. The next section offers a brief account of the generation of value and surplus value. It illustrates the centrality of labour power to the maintenance and expansion of the social universe of capital. In capitalist society, the labour process has a dual nature. First, it is a process of producing use-values; these are useful 'things' that 'become a reality only by use or consumption' Marx, , p. Without any usefulness, a product is not a commodity at all - no matter how much labour has gone into it.

The value of that labour will not be realised in its sale; there are no buyers for useless products, though what is "useful" has a social dimension much played upon by advertising companies and rip-off merchants.

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However, the capitalist labour process is also, and quintessentially, a valorisation process, a process of producing value. Commodities in capitalist society incorporate both use-value their qualitative aspect and value their quantitative aspect. After the capitalist or these days, representatives of capital have bought means of production and any raw materials required, it is the transformation of labour power our force, skills and so on - human mental and physical energy into actual labour that creates value through the production of commodities.

Value inheres within, is incorporated within, commodities. Workers and their offspring have to live - otherwise the whole process is put at risk for the future. Thus, the value of labour power itself is determined by the value of necessities 'required to produce, develop, maintain, and perpetuate the labouring power' Marx, , p.

The value of labour power is defined by the labour-time it takes the labourer and in toto the mass of labour powers to create value through acts of labour in the labour process sufficient to the total value of these "necessities". Any value above that level of labouring produces surplus value. Labour-time, therefore is split into two parts: that part that goes towards creating value for the social reproduction of the labourer s , and that part which is unpaid, unrequited labour-time.

The wage form masks this difference. When we are paid wages, it appears that we are paid for all the work that we do - to the last microsecond. This is an illusion, but a necessary illusion, and one upon which the whole capitalist system depends. Surplus value is the lifeblood of capital. It is the first form in which capital appears, and is the source of profit, state revenues and other forms of capital. It is the basis of subsequent production cycles.

However, although labourers sell their labour power as commodities the commodities they own to representatives of capital for a duration, there is no guarantee that enough labour will be undertaken to ensure the creation of surplus value. Collectively, capital's human representatives managers, managing directors etc. The concrete incentives for them to do so profits, salaries, share options, bonuses and so on are significant, as are competitive pressures to ensure their businesses stay in the market.

This misses the point, which is that of necessity surplus value must be created in order that the competitive scramble to appropriate it can even begin. For the system as a whole though individual capitals may fall by the wayside , surplus value production is an absolute, iron necessity. It is labour power, as a unique social and individual force, that enables all this to happen. The containment of the expression of our abilities and capacities within the value-form of labour, labour as the production of value , requires social oppression and repression on a vast, global scale.

Furthermore, in the era of global capitalism the quality of labour power within national capitals nation states has become of increasing significance in the struggle to grab the maximum from the total surplus value produced on a world scale. This expresses itself in a restless and manic race amongst contemporary nation states to outdo each other on the quality of their labour powers.

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Each of the leading capitalist states searches for the Holy Grail of education and training that can deliver better quality labour power than competitors. This is one of the social drives of capital generating such phenomena as school improvement and effectiveness initiatives within schools - a point expanded on in a later section. Relative Surplus-value: On the basis of labour power enhancement. There are two main ways of producing surplus value.

The first is to extend the length of the working day. This effectively extends the labour-time that labourers are engaged in producing surplus value through labour that is not reflected in the wage. Marx called this absolute surplus value production. It is an old method, coming back into fashion now that labour markets everywhere have been made more 'flexible', with the number of hours worked by full-time workers in Britain on the increase over the last 20 years. This form of surplus value production has absolute limits: there are only 24 hours in a day and workers have to sleep, eat and reproduce.

Attempts to break through the latter limits as in the Industrial Revolution result in the physical and mental deterioration of workers - thus ultimately affecting the quality of their labour powers not such a problem when vast masses of new labour power are to hand.


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The second method of surplus value creation Marx called relative surplus value production. Here, the labour-time it takes to produce value equal to the value of labour power necessary labour is reduced.

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The main way that this has occurred historically is through the application of machinery to production, including computer-based automation. Application of new technology has the effect of reducing the labour-time necessary for generating value equivalent to the value of labour power. It increases labour productivity. On a global scale, this effectively reduces the value of labour power across the board, as the value of each of the "necessities", constituting also the value of labour power, falls. This process increases the labour-time devoted to surplus value production, as a proportion of total labour-time whilst this remains constant.

The point at which surplus value arises from labouring in the labour process is reached earlier as compared with before the new technology was introduced. The working day is re-divided on the basis of necessary labour-time where the labourer generates value up to point equal to the value of labour power and labour-time over-and-above this when surplus value is produced - yielding more of the latter. This is only one way of producing relative surplus value.

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In an era of globalisation where technological innovation spreads more quickly than ever before, capitals have been seeking new ways of generating relative surplus value. One of the forms of relative surplus value production that has gained increasing sponsorship in recent years is the strategy of enhancing the quality of labour power itself. If this could be done it would have the effect of reducing necessary labour the labour-time taken to produce value equal to the value of labour power , hence increasing surplus value-creating time.

The technicist point regarding whether 'really existing' education and training policies actually have this effect is not the issue - though it is an issue for many education and training researchers. The essential point to grasp is that in contemporary capitalism there is a social drive to enhance the quality of human labour power. This social drive, like all of capital's social drives is infinite. It would not make any logical sense within the perverted social universe of capital to suggest any real limit on the basis of the functioning of the system itself 7.

However, in similar fashion to absolute surplus value production, the infinite social drive to enhance the quality of human labour power clashes with a number of practical considerations. First, labour power development depends on co-operation - which expresses itself in the 'problem of motivation', an individual willingness to aid development of one's own labour power. Secondly, when pushed too far we witness 'the humans are dropping like flies': humans buckling under as they are subjected to concrete and hence necessarily limited manifestations of an infinite social drive.

Thus: depression with no terminal point to 'improvement' ; various forms of stress and ill health; and so on. Thirdly, people may protest and effectively revolt against an impersonal social drive 'manifesting' itself as concrete social practice. Fourthly, those generating these social practices are only human, all too human though they are humans, that, like everyone else, have become forms of capital, humans capitalised - Rikowski, a. As capitalised life-forms, the designers of concrete schemes that seek to nurture a social drive that is infinite can do this precisely because they have some affinity with these social practices that express capital's social drives.

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