Analysis of Wealth. III. Exploitation

Just as there are two aspects of a commodity, utility and its exchange-value, so there art two ways of viewing its production, or in other words, the labour process.

At one and the same time the labourer produces a use-value and an exchange-value ; the former by transforming raw material into useful articles, the latter by adding labour thereto.

We have already seen that capital in the process of expansion assumes two forms. Part of it becomes represented by raw material, tools or machinery, etc., the passive factors in wealth production, while the rest is invested in a special commodity, labour-power, the active, value-creating agent. Both these factors are obviously indispensable. Without raw material, etc., the labourer would have nothing in which to embody value ; without the labourer raw material would become useless and valueless. For the only use raw material possesses is to serve as the element of the complete commodity, and its exchange-value only counts in so far as it becomes part of the total value of such complete commodity. Raw material, machinery, etc., lying idle, untouched by labour, rot and rust, and lose their exchange-value along with it.

Hence by transforming them into new commodities the labourer does more than add new value ; he preserves old. In so far as raw material, etc., is so transformed, the labour previously expended upon it counts as part of the total labour necessary in the production of a commodity.

On the other hand, the passive factors in the labour process are incapable of transferring a greater value to the finished product than they already possess. The value of the raw material and machinery does not multiply itself ; it remains constant and is called by Marx constant capital.

In realising the utility of the constant capital the labourer preserves it : that is one aspect of his activities. Let us now turn to his function as the producer of new value.

We have seen in a previous article that the amount of value the labourer adds to the commodity is determined by the length of time he inevitably occupies. Thus in our first example he worked six hours and added a value of three shillings ; in the second instance, by working twelve hours a value of six shillings was produced.

We also saw that the object of the capitalist in purchasing labour-power was to take advan­tage of its capacity for producing more value than it possessed itself. That in the first case the capitalist realised no surplus-value because the labourer produced no more than the equivalent of his value, but that in the second case the surplus amounted to 3s, the product of the extra six hours labour.

In each of these cases the constant part of capital adds no more than itself to the total value. The amount of the constant capital in the second case is twice that of the first in order that the labourer might work twice as long, but this makes no difference to the result. The new value of 6s. is added by the labourer.

Just as any purchaser seeks to obtain the maximum use-value from his commodity, so the capitalist uses up labour-power to its limit ; seeks to obtain the maximum of value, and therefore of surplus-value, from its exercise. It is the object of the present article to show how this is achieved. One thing must be borne in mind, viz., that the rate of surplus-value is not calculated on the total capital, but only on the part which is expended in the purchase of labour-power. Thus in the above instance, whereas the wages of the labourer were 3s. and the total value produced by him was 6s., the rate of surplus-value was 100 per cent. ; that is to say the surplus was equal to the wages.

When the capitalist speaks of his “rate of profit” he would in this case reckon the 3s. surplus-value in proportion to the total capital advanced, viz., 27s., thus making the rate a little over 11 per cent.

Well as this method may serve him in his conventional dealings, it hides the true extent of the exploitation of labour-power.

We have seen that the capitalist obtains his surplus by prolonging tho labourer’s work beyoud the time necessary to reproduce a value equivalent to his wages. It is, therefore, to the capitalist’s interest, to extend the working day as much as possible. The limit in this direction is simply the physical capacity of the labourer.

In order to exert his powers the labourer must have time to eat and sleep and recuperate, but beyond this the capitalist, having purchased these powers, has sole right over their exercise during the period for which he has purchased them. The only difference, in fact, between the wage-labourer aud the chattel-slave is that the former sells himself piecemeal, i.e., in periods, while the latter is sold once for life.

It is, of course, possible that the capitalist may use up in one day a greater quantity of labour power than the worker can restore in three (“Capital,” p. 217). In other words, he may use more labour power in a day than he pays for. It is the labourer’s business to claim the price of his commodity, and hence a struggle ensues as to the extent of the working-day.

In sections 5 and 6 of Chap X. (“The Work­ing Day”) Marx shows how the manufacturers succeeded in extending the working day by degrees from the normal day of the Middle Ages to twelve hours in the seventeenth century. Then how, with the introduction of machinery in the eighteenth century, a violent encroachment took place on the remaining leisure of the workers. “All bounds of morals and nature, age and sex, day and night, were broken down” (p. 264).

Men, women, and children were worked to the point of exhaustion, until even the capitalist legislature, threatened by working-class revolt on one hand and the extreme physical and mental deterioration of that class (the source of surplus-value) on the other, were compelled to place legal restraint on private greed by limiting the hours of labour. For years they dallied and toyed with the matter, passing laws and abstaining from granting money for their administration and adopting all manner of devices to render their concessions purely nominal. Only when the most distinguished medical authorities had pointed out the danger to the ruling class of persisting in the industrial murder of children, did this class definitely prescribe that no children under 13 years of age should be worked more than 12 hours in one day. Even then it left, all manner of loopholes for the evasion of the Act (1833), of which the manufacturers, in their blind profit-lust, were not slow to take advantage.

With eloquent thoroughness Marx shows how rival sections of the ruling class exploited the
misery of the workers on the political field in order to gain their own ends ; how time and again they betrayed them, and finally only conceded the meagre right of sufficient time in which to eat and sleep after a bitter struggle over every inch of ground for half-a-century.

These passages are indeed enlightening as to the character and methods of our masters, which have changed, if at all, only in the direction of greater duplicity.

The very nature of machinery enables the master class to increase the speed at which their slaves work, thus exhausting them more rapidly and reducing a legally limited working day to nominal value. Hence the workers are under the necessity of continually struggling to obtain still further reductions in the hours of labour. For by so much as the speed at which they work is increased, by so much is their life-time shortened.

Hitherto we have considered only one means of increasing the surplus-value, i.e., the lengthening of the working day. Capital, however, by no means rests content with pushing that to its limit. It is for ever seeking to reduce the value of labour-power and consequently the necessary time spent by the workers in reproducing that value, thus leaving a greater portion of a given working day in which they must produce surplus-value. This result is effected chiefly in two ways.

From the time the capitalist class first assumed control of industry there has gone on an increasing splitting-up of the forces of production among the producers. By concentrating numbers of workers in one workshop the earlier manufacturers were enabled to divide a handicraft into separate parts, each part being taken up by a different worker. Instead of being a skilled craftsman the worker became a mere special cog in a machine, and in this way the time spent in learning his calling was considerably reduced. Another effect of this alteration in the process of production was an increase in the product of a given number of men. The specialisation of individuals economised the time necessary to prodce each individual commodity. This resulted in reducing the cost of the articles produced and consequently the maintenance of the labourer. Thus in two ways the exchange-value of labour-power fell ; wages suffered a reduction and the increased product went to the capitalist.

The effects of this division of labour, which Marx defines as Manufacture proper, were insignificant compared with those resulting from the advent of machinery and modern industry. Here the worker loses the last vestige of skill and has his productive capacity enormously increased by being converted into an attendant of a monster which operates not one but many tools at once. The time spent in learning his task now falls to almost nil, while the cost of his necessaries is still further reduced and his wages along with it. Surplus-value increases by leaps and bounds, and since machinery is constantly being improved, more universally and economically adopted, there has as yet been discovered no limit to this increase.

We see, then, that capital grows by securing domination over living labour-power and consuming it to the limit of its capacity. In this process the labourer preserves the constant part of capital, reproduces the equivalent of his wages, and adds a surplus which may be converted into new capital.

Despite various theories concerning the “abstinence” of the capitalist, however, the whole of this surplus-value does not become capital. Quite a considerable portion goes to provide the person of the capitalist with the necessaries, comforts, and luxuries proper to his social status. Still, he does “save” !

What specially interests us here though is that his whole consumption fund, large though it may be, involves no reduction of the amount of his wealth. Even if he consumed the whole of the surplus produced by the labourers he would become no poorer. He would remain a capitalist.

There is, however, another aspect of this relationship. In the course of time the capitalist inevitably spends a sum equivalent to his original capital in his own personal consumption. The capital he has invested therefore becomes prac­tically the creation of the labourer : a sum of accumulated surplus value. If, for instance, the capitalist makes a profit of 20 per cent. per annum and consumes the lot, then in five years he will in effect have consumed the whole of his capital. The sum intact which he still retains is the fruit of his exploitation of labour-power, and it is with this sum that he continues to purchase labour-power.

The reason the labourer offers himself for hire is precisely because he does not possess the means of production. By continually yielding to the capitalist all his product over and above his necessary price, wages, he reproduces his own propertyless condition. Saving by the capitalist, nay, the mere existence of the capitalist, involves the absence of opportunity to save for the worker. The process of exploitation perpetuates itself.

The accumulation of surplus-value, the fruits of the process, simply enables the process to be carried on more extensively. In other words, the workers produce the means for their employment on an ever-increasing scale. Their reward for doing this will be dealt with in a further article.

E. B.

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