- The Future of Work: Super-Exploitation and Social Precariousness in the 21st Century by Adrián Sotelo Valencia
The financial crisis and recession of 2007–2009, together with the ongoing malaise of the global economy that ensued, has unleashed a torrent of conflicting analyses concerning the root causes and future course of what Anwar Shaikh has called the First Great Depression of the 21st Century. Shaikh belongs to a growing current of radical political economists who regard the "law of the tendency of the rate of profit to fall" (ltrpf) as central to Marx's theory of capitalist crisis and as indispensable to explaining long-term trends within an increasingly crisis-ridden and debt-burdened global economy. Despite the many differences separating them, proponents of the ltrpf – among them, Shaikh, Guglielmo Carchedi, Andrew Kliman, Fred Moseley, Michael Roberts, and this writer – have converged around several major propositions: that the current global crisis is rooted in the persistent profitability problems of productive capital; that these problems stem in good part from technological innovations that diminish the role of living wage-labour in the processes of commodity production; that the growing prominence of "finance" and credit/debt in the advanced capitalist and global economies is a manifestation of an unprecedented proliferation of "fictitious capital" in recent decades; and that the problem of insufficient production of surplus value, which underlies all of these issues, can only be overcome through a massive devaluation of capital stocks, a major increase in the rate of exploitation of wage labourers, and draconian measures to reduce systemic "overhead" costs.
To the literature supporting these fundamental propositions Adrián Sotelo Valencia's book adds a number of very distinct theoretical hypotheses as well as several well-aimed polemics against recent critiques of Marx's theory of labour value, the major postulates of which constitute the foundation of the ltrpf. A prominent Mexican sociologist, Sotelo brings to the analysis of what he calls the "structural crisis" of global capitalism a perspective heavily informed by the "advanced dependency theory" of the Brazilian Marxist Ruy Mauro Marini. He seeks to establish, both through theoretical argument and empirical illustration, that the phenomenon of "super-exploitation" – once mostly confined to the "dependent" capitalist economies of the Global South – is now evincing a tendency to "generalize … as a category that can be seen throughout the system." According to Sotelo, this development flows inexorably from capital's need to "maximize surplus value extraction in order to restore the conditions for its own reproduction and to elevate the rate of profit throughout the system." (5)
Sotelo's book is divided into two parts. Part I is devoted to establishing the validity and contemporary relevance of Marx's [End Page 310] theorization of capital and labour as "antipodes" (whose conflict is fundamental to social change under capitalism) as well as the Marxian postulate that living labour is the sole source of value and surplus value (and therefore of profit). Not only has a crisis in the production of surplus value "facilitated the deviation of capital reproduction towards the unproductive, speculative spheres of fictitious capital" (5), but a "crisis of relative surplus value is the essence of the structural crisis of capital in advanced capitalism." (42)
In Marx's theory, the category of relative surplus value refers to surplus value resulting from increases in the productivity of labour brought about by labour-saving and labour-displacing technological innovation. It depends, therefore, on a diminution in the time devoted during the working day to the creation of the new value that constitutes the wage fund of the productive workforce. Relative surplus value must be distinguished from "absolute surplus value," which depends on a prolongation of the working day in order to increase the amount of time devoted to the "unpaid" labour that creates surplus value. As Sotelo emphasizes, growing reliance on relative surplus value leads over time to a falling average rate of profit, motivating capital to mobilize what Marx calls the "counteracting" factors to falling profitability. Among the latter are such measures...