Surplus value

“Commodities are sold at their real values.” Karl Marx

“Good, then,” says our opponent, “since commodities are so exchanged, wherein lies the robbery of which you complain ? The capitalist, in exchange for the commodity labour-power, gives an equivalent value in the shape of money, which the worker can again exchange for any commodity he requires.”

To the casual observer it would appear that there is a contradiction in the Socialist teaching. If the above quoted statements are correct it would seem that the worker does not receive sufficient to satisfy his natural requirements because his labour is not of sufficient value. The question will naturally arise, whence comes the wealth upon which the capitalist lives ? Is it that his labour is of more use to the community, and that consequently he receives more in exchange ? Scarcely, for, as can be readily seen, those who receive the greatest share of the world’s wealth, whatever their ability may be, do not use that ability in production.

The millionaires do nothing in the creation of their bank balances. The capital from which they draw their vast incomes is often invested in concerns they know little about. Maybe the industry in which they are “interested” is in a country they have never visited. The process by which the wealth is obtained is foreign to them, and all that they are concerned with is that the shares purchased by them (or their agents) are of a certain value and are “a good speculation.”

It is possible that the wealthy individual has been instrumental in floating the company in which his money is invested, or he may be familiar with the purchase and sale of “stocks and shares.” He may have amassed his millions in a successful gamble on the Stock Exchange, or in the purchase of a patent or a mine.

But starting a company produces nothing, and a lifetime spent in buying and selling shares, however many thousands it may bring into the pocket of the fortunate speculator, will not raise one atom of metal or a morsel of coal; will not produce an ear of corn or weave a single thread of linen cloth.

In what way, then, does the capitalist obtain vast stores of wealth without producing a fraction of it, while those who seemingly produce all are often without the bare necessaries of existence ?

Before unravelling this tangle, and having shown how the capitalist can obtain wealth without doing anything useful, let us see what the worker does and how he is rewarded.

The proletarian, whether artizan or labourer, seeks a job, the reason being, not that he is particularly fond of the atmosphere of a capitalist factory, mine, or workshop, but that, having nothing to exist upon, he is compelled to get food, clothing, and shelter from those who possess these things.

The worker obtains a situation in a factory, and proceeds to operate some tool or machine, to take part in the production of some commodity. He works for a certain number of hours, and at the expiration of that time is given a sum of money which is called his wage.

He has exchanged his commodity, labour-power, for another commodity, gold. The value of the gold he receives is equivalent to the value of the labour-power expended.

How are these values determined and in what way are these different articles related ?

The value of the gold is determined by the amount of socially necessary labour time required to produce it, and the value of labour-power is determined in exactly the same way.

If, for instance, the time taken to produce an ounce of gold be found equal to the average number of hours required to produce those things necessary for the maintenance of an artizan for the period of one month, then an ounce of gold will be (on the average) the price of one month’s labour-power. In other words his wage will be one ounce of gold (£3 17s.10½d.) per month.

During the period of labour the artizan has expended an amount of energy that can be replaced by the expenditure of £3 17s.10½d. Has he lost anything ? Does not the transaction leave him where he was before ? Let us see.

Were we considering a machine or other inanimate object, we should say : “That which was used has been replaced and there has been a fair exchange.” But the worker is human, and as such does not exist merely to labour. He has occupied the whole of a month either in working or in recuperating. This experience has not been an enjoyable one, and had he consulted his own desires he would have ignored the “hooter” and gone about some other and more enjoyable business. He has lost a week of his life, and in return he has nothing to show. To the ordinary worker one week is as the next, and his whole life, with very few and short periods excepted, is spent in the same way. He has been robbed of all the pleasure and happiness that otherwise he might have enjoyed.

How has the employer fared ? He has taken the worker’s labour-power and given in return just sufficient to replace it. Employer and employed enter into a bargain. The employed does the work and gets nothing ; the employer does nothing and gets—what ?

I have previously stated that the proletarian had to enter the factory in order to obtain the means of life from those who possess those things. The capitalist has capital, and enters into the bargain with that. Where did he get it ? He may have got it as a legacy ; he may have “worked hard and saved it by thrift” ; possibly, very possibly, he “pinched ” it, but that does not matter for the moment. He advances sufficient for the labourer to live upon for a certain period, and during that period the latter must work and add value to some article or raw material, the property of the employer.

Now while the capitalist pays the full value for labour-power, that is, its cost of production, he does not give the labourer the value of his labour, namely, what he produces.

Given the present mode of production—scientific method, organised labour, power-driven machinery, etc., the worker can produce in 6 hours sufficient to provide himself and his family with necessaries for a much longer period—for at least 48 hours. If, then, the employer works that individual for 24 hours and gives him in return sufficient to maintain him for 48, he can show a profit amounting to the product of 18 hours labour—three-quarters of the fruits of the labourer’s toil.

That is what we call surplus value—value produced by the workers for which they receive nothing in exchange.

The difference between the labour-power of the worker and all other commodities is that in its consumption it creates a greater value than itself.

Prior to the capitalist system there was surplus labour. The labourer at one time produced for himself and also for his feudal lord. His week was divided into days during which he worked on his own land and days in which he was compelled to work for another, but the division was more clear and he could see that a great portion of his life was spent in work from which he obtained no benefit. Under capitalism, however, it is made to appear that the toiler receives full value for his labour by clouding its real meaning, and giving to the term “labour” the significance that should be applied to the expression “labour power.”

“Those who labour in reality feed both the pensioners (called the rich) and themselves.” Yes, and the “pensioners ” are fed well for doing nothing, while those who labour exist upon the offal and the shoddy.

To abolish the commodity nature of human labour-power is the object of the Socialist, for while the labourer is compelled to sell his commodity in the open market its price will approximate to its cost of production and the working class will be compelled to accept a subsistence while robbed of the comforts of life that they themselves produce.


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