Translated and Edited by Mike Baker: published by the
Movement for Workers' Councils, London 1990.
Marked up by Jonas Holmgren for the Marxists Internet Archive.
If we subject the category SNL (Socially Necessary Labour) to closer examination, we observe that two totally disparate elements have here been thrown together under the one heading. On the one hand it contains the simple determinative element that a specific form of labour satisfies a specific social need and is therefore socially necessary; on the other hand, insofar as a temporal aspect (labour-time) is involved, it gives expression to an element of economic regulation. Thus Kautsky, for instance, speaks of the socially necessary labour which is contained in a particular product "from its first origins through to its final completion, including transport and other auxiliary operations", and which cannot be estimated "even with the help of the most colossal and perfected statistical apparatus". Even though, according to Kautsky, it is theoretically possible to calculate this category in full, in practice this is unrealisable and therefore, as far as any purposes of budgetary control are concerned, it must, according to Kautsky, be rejected as practically useless.
Turning now to Varga, it is his intention that Socially Necessary Labour (SNL) should also have a defined regulatory and accounting role to play. It is even his wish that this should find expression in the name given to the term, and for this reason he speaks of an "inherent social cost price":
"By this we understand the inherent cost price plus an additional increment for the maintenance of the non-labouring sections of the population, plus a further increment for the realisation of social accumulation. This is the solution in principle". (E. Varga: Die wirtschaftspolitischen Probleme der proletarischen Diktatur, p. 147). (Varga's emphasis).
This "solution in principle" does indeed appear an attractive proposition. Adopting Varga's "formula for inherent costs" into the overall theoretical scheme, one arrives at the following:
(P + C) + L + GSU + ACC
Unfortunately, however, Varga does not provide any information as to how the additional increments for the GSU establishments and accumulation are to be determined or in what magnitude they are to be brought into relation with the rest of the schematic. For that reason it is not possible to subject the formula to any further examination. Speaking in general terms, we can only observe here the difficulty arises as with Kautsky, and that for the realisation of these "formulae for inherent costs" a monstrous giant brain would be necessary such as would be needed for the drawing up of the well-known "world equation" enunciated by Laplace; expressed in plain terms, this is as much to say that these "inherent cost formulae" are complete nonsense. It is for this reason that it should not cause us any astonishment if the much-prized "solution in principle" was found to be incapable of any practical application in Hungary, and that the demands of reality imposed upon their situation something quite different. In practice, the theory of inherent social costs was pushed aside by a price policy, from which we can draw the conclusion that in this case also the category of inherent social costs was dethroned and shown to be useless.
It would appear that, in the end outcome, the economists have applied the term Socially Necessary Labour (SNL) over far too wide a sphere, and that they have also included in its summation all those general costs of administration, etc., (See K. Marx: Critique of the Gotha Programme), which do not properly belong in the sphere of production at all; or else, at the opposite extreme, they have focused their attention too exclusively upon the collective end product, with the result that all the myriad different production-times adhering to hundreds of different products have been irretrievably mixed together (cf. Kautsky). In this particular form the category of Socially Necessary Labour (SNL) is indeed quite useless. Nevertheless, all labours performed in both reproduction and distribution are socially necessary. They must therefore be reproduced. The only possible solution is for each economic group to produce independently, whereby the entire SNL is reproduced.
We see, then, that the category SNL can find application only in respect of real use-value producing labour, and not in any administrative-accounting function. Reproduction of SNL is thus based upon and reflects the reproduction of each productive operation in the economy, and for that reason it is not the category SNL at all which is applicable to each separate work activity or particular division of the labour process; on the contrary, the decisive category applicable to each separate activity is that of Average Social Reproduction Time (ASRT). This is amenable to application in its widest sense by all "producers" and it is in this way that the problem of average social labour-time simultaneously finds its solution.
We must now subject to further examination exactly why it is that reproduction time is applicable here and not production time; furthermore, we must also clarify to what extent these terms are synonymous and to what extent they are opposites.
To do this we must recall our original stipulation that each separate productive establishment must calculate the production time required for its product by application of the formula (p + c) + L; that is to say, it establishes how many hours of average social labour are contained in that particular product. Our outline then went on to show how Average Social Production Time was computed from the totality of all productive establishments joined in a single production group or "guild". The method according to which this computation is carried out ensures the simultaneous reproduction of the entire production group, and for this reason, in place of Average Social Production Time, we name this the Average Social Reproduction Time. In this way the two in fact coincide. The difference between the production times of the separate (industrial) establishments and Average Social Reproduction Time is subsumed within the Productivity Factor.
It is an unwritten law for capitalist concerns that they must promote productivity to the maximum, since otherwise they will be pushed out of the market. For this reason they must strive to keep the wages of the workers as low as possible and to employ always the most productive machinery. Thus it often occurs that machines still capable of useful productive employment are scrapped. This, of course, represents a colossal waste of productive resources, and is characteristic of the capitalist mode of production. Seen from a strictly economic point of view, such an occurrence would mean that, in the case of a productive establishment equipped with obsolete means of production, production time would lie above the social average; or that, conversely, since the founding of the particular capitalist establishment in question, average social production time in that particular sector of the industrial economy had fallen due to rising average social productivity, and so had led to a relative increase in the production time applicable to the above obsolete establishment.
It is of course a conscious aim of the communist mode of production to reduce Average Social Production Time continuously. This has as its consequence a general fall in reproduction times. Expressed in capitalist terms, this is as much as to say that, at any given moment, means of production in the separate productive establishments have become obsolete. We must, therefore, now examine how this tendency expresses itself in a communist economy.
Let us take, for example, an industrial establishment in which the fixed means of production have been calculated at 100,000 labour-hours; let us assume further that these instruments of production are depreciated over a period of 10 years. In such a case 10,000 labour-hours per annum must be estimated as having to be taken into account in the product. However, should the average social reproduction time (asrt) of the means of production fall, the result of this would be that the establishment would be able, in its reproduction, to procure either the same quantity of machines of a better quality or a greater quantity of machines of the same quality - that is to say, the productivity of the establishment would have been raised. Expressed in other terms, this would mean that accumulation, or an extension of the production apparatus, would have taken place without the deployment of an extra outlay of labour.
For this establishment, a fall in the ASRT applicable to its means of production leads to a change in its production time and thereby also to its Productivity Factor. The is so for the simple reason that, in the final analysis, the ASRT must be included in the total calculation. The Average Social Production Time (ASPT) of the entire production group thus remains identical with the ASRT, for the simple reason that the means of production, seen as a statistical average, are used up and "flow through" the establishments as an uninterrupted stream. At any one moment this particular establishment will be modernised and renewed, at another moment another one, and so on. The lowest social reproduction times will thus, at any given moment, be continuously taken up by and reflected in the production process.
ASRT is therefore the decisive category for communist production. Just as, in the case of the capitalist economic system, the category Value (necessary and surplus value) stands at the centre of the entire economy, in the economic life of a communist society it is the category Average Social Reproduction Time which is the focal point around which everything revolves.
The foundation of ASRT is the average social hour of labour. It is, of course, true that this category also has some validity under capitalism. Here, however, the separate and peculiar characteristics of individual use-values can find no expression in their form as commodities, since in the market the product is exchanged for money, that is to say changed into that universal commodity which eliminates all individual characteristics. Under communism it is ASRT which subsumes within itself all individual characteristics, those of slower and more relaxed workers, those who are more capable or less capable, those who labour either by hand or by brain. Average Social Reproduction Time is thus a category which, as a thing-in-itself, as a specific parameter, has no material existence and like the laws of nature, which express only the general within which all specific phenomena reside, the Average Social Hour of Labour, which at the concrete level does not exist, expresses the general which is subsumed within the infinite many-sidedness of the social metamorphosis of materials.