TECHNOLOGICAL ADVANCEMENT CAN IT SUSTAIN CAPITALIST DEVELOPMENT?
The most essential prerequisite of the existence and dominance of the bourgeoisie as a class is the development of capital. In the Capitalist system the worker earns his wages in terms of exchange, of the amount he produces. It was Marx, who first pointed out that the Bourgeoisie purchases the labour power of the workers, involved in productive activity, by giving them wages.
A worker has to compensate the depletion of his labour power caused by his daily productive activities. Without this, his labour power cannot be utilised to the full in the production process. The wage that a capitalist owner pays to a worker is sufficient only to compensate his depleting labour power. Therefore, wage is determined on the basis of the value of the labour power and is independent of the working hours.
The labour power has its own characteristics. It can produce much more than what is needed to compensate its daily depletion. For example, a worker works 8 hours a day where 6 hours is sufficient for the compensation of his labour power. Then, the balance 2 hours will be the surplus labour. The value created by this surplus labour is called Surplus Value. Through appropriation of this surplus value, Capitalist development takes place.
The main objective of generating surplus value is to expand the capital as a part of the capitalistic development. The Bourgeoisie has been thriving thus by forcing more working hours on the workers on one hand, and by continuously developing the technology on the other. The labour power however remains unaffected by the changes in the working hours. Thus, the value added through the enhancement of working hours goes entirely to the creation of surplus value. Through sustained movement, the working class has successfully resisted the efforts by the bourgeoisie to force upon more working hours on them. The bourgeoisie can no longer create additional surplus value through this mechanism.
But they do have other options. The bourgeoisie can go on developing technology one of the most important means of production. Through this they can easily generate additional surplus value because each technological development can raise the productivity level of the worker to a considerable extent. There is no need, to impose more working hours on workers to generate additional surplus value thereby giving rise to discontent because new technology can do the same in a non-antagonistic manner.
New technological advancement can reduce the time of compensation of depletion of labour also. For example, if a worker requires 6 hours to generate the value to compensate his depleted labour power with older technology, he would require, say, 3 hours to generate the same value with the newer technology. Thus, 5 hours surplus labour is generated in place of earlier hours that the capitalist owner can appropriate to generate additional surplus value to further augment the process of Capitalist Development. The new technological development help in this way the bourgeoisie in generating additional profit and to utilise the same for the capitalist development.
But despite all these, the bourgeoisie is not able to stop erosion in the rate of profit. The diminishing rate of profit is not due to decreasing productivity of labour. It is caused by an increase in the rate of productivity. Thus within the process of capitalist development itself, there are inherent reasons for depletion of profit. The technological advancement is responsible for increasing productivity of the workers. This in turn leads to retrenchment of workers and forces upon increased oppression on the remaining workers and thereby extracts additional surplus value. At the same time, mass scale retrenchment leads to depletion in the surplus value generated.
Let us illustrate this conflicting aspect of technology. For instance in a factory where (originally) 100 workers were in work for 8 hours a day, 6 hours were compensated for depletion of his labour power and remaining 2 hours were for generation of surplus value. Therefore, the capitalist owner could extract 100 x 2 = 200 labour hour equivalent surplus value.
With advanced technological inputs, the productivity of labour becomes double, thereby requiring 50 workers to produce the same goods and at the same time each worker would require 3 hours a day to earn his wage and the owner would generate surplus value of the order of 5 hours a day from every worker. Thus the surplus value generated would be 50 x 5 = 250 labour-hour equivalent. Hence advancement in technology leads to generation of 25% more surplus value with 50% reduction in labour force.
If the process of technological advancement continues like this, then number of workers would be reduced to 25 and each worker would require only 1.5 hours for earning wages and the balance 6.5 hours per capita per day would be utilised to generate surplus value. Thus per capita surplus value generation would increase by 225%, but the total surplus value generated would be 25 x 6.5 = 162.5 man-hour equivalent. Thus despite higher per capita generation, the total surplus value generated has actually decreased.
It should be evident from above that capitalism can not solve the basic problems of mankind. Capitalism leads to increase in productivity at the expense of immense sufferings by the common man. The system is based on an inherent contradiction. Firstly, the productivity increases but this does not lead to any increase in production, as the demand for the products do not keep pace with this due to lack of purchasing power of the common man. Secondly, notwithstanding the increase in wage in monetary terms, the actual standard of living of the workers does not improve.
The real life does not always follow the rule of mathematics. The process of capitalist development also gets affected by various other factors and becomes somewhat complicated. However, the fundamental principle of this process remains unaffected by the external influences.
In todays world there is continuous and unprecedented development of Science & Technology inputs. This has helped in raising the productivity of the workers manifold. But as it has been analysed here this has ultimately resulted in shrinkage of generation of surplus value.
The other essential prerequisite of capitalist development is market. The bourgeoisie, ever since its emergence as a class, had been endlessly searching for this in the whole world. But the market cannot expand infinitely. Today, there is very little in the way of unexplored market to be conquered by the bourgeoisie and the existing ones are also approaching stagnation. This has led to in the most serious crisis of capitalist economy.
To tide over this crisis, imperialism, the highest stage of capitalism has come to its rescue by way of capturing the entire global market. Globalisation has become the catchword. Within the imperialist powers, USA has established its hegemonic power. It has used the international institutions like United Nations, Word Bank, IMF and WTO for its own interest. It has also resorted to military activism for the countries, which are not ready to follow its dictates.
There was a conscious attempt in many of the third world countries to follow a self-reliant path of development by relying upon indigenous industrialisation. But the market forces and the so-called liberalisation have shattered their dream. The process of deconstruction and de-industrialisation is active there. To capture the market of these countries, there is a concerted effort for de-industrialisation, i.e., closing down indigenous industries; divestment of profit making industrial enterprises specially those in the public sector; deregulating imports and thereby forcing the small and medium sector before an unequal competition with Multinational gains; forcing the Govt. to withdraw from the social sector etc.
Since the last decade, the international economy has faced one crisis after another. The imperialist countries are no exception in this regard. They have temporarily tided over the crisis by capturing the market of the third world countries. But the crisis still remains unresolved resulting in confronting courses of action within the imperialist countries themselves.
To remain competitive in the market Multinational Corporations is involved in a fierce competition to reduce the production cost. The ultimate effect of this is increasing exploitation of the working class. The Science and Technology revolution has virtually led to "Jobless Growth" in the advanced countries. The third world, knowingly or unknowingly, are also following this path.
The MNCs, in their attempt to reduce production cost further, are continuously shifting capital as well as production base from one part of the globe to the other. This has resulted in widespread destablisation in the world economy; the worst suffers being the third world countries. Even the advanced capitalist countries also cannot escape the consequences of this uncertain industrial and economic atmosphere.
Imperialism has taken one step after another to come out from the crisis of capitalist development. But each and every endeavor actually accentuates the problem. Poverty, retrenchment and unemployment have assumed unprecedented heights. As a consequence, market becomes even more shrunk resulting in worsening of the crisis.
The technological advancement has failed to generate additional surplus value. But it still remains the major agenda for the bourgeoisie. It is for this reason that the industrialised nations are strongly advocating for globalisation of market, capital, legal frame work, labour relation and so on but are totally silent about globalisation of technology. The modern technology remains the monopoly power of the advanced capitalist countries and with this powerful tool they want to conquer the rest of the world in an unequal competition. But ultimately this has become the gravedigger of the entire capitalist system of production.
Production is a social phenomenon. The capitalist system of production is heading towards its inevitable end. At this stage, intervention by social forces is necessary to ensure its downfall. Technology is the surest implement to advance social development. The bourgeoisie have misused it and brought immense misery to the mankind. But the same can be used for large-scale social development. The working class must thrive for that.
There has been rising discontent against globalisation and its resultant anti-labour, anti-people policies adopted by the bourgeoisie. But these are still unorganised & disjointed. It is essential to channelise these discontents into organised movements against the capitalist system of production.
Marxism calls for qualitative changes of the level of consciousness of the working class to fulfil this historical task.
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