1920s >> 1924 >> no-234-february-1924


Manchester. November 14th, 1923.
Dear Comrade,
I would be greatly obliged if you could please explain to me the following point in the next issue of the SOCIALIST STANDARD.
I remain,
Yours fraternally,
S. Million.

In “Capital,” Chapter 7, Section 1 (The Labour-process or the Production of Use- values), Marx says :—

“Suppose that a capitalist pays for a day’s labour-power at its value ; then the right to use that power for a day belongs to him, just as much as the right to use any other commodity, such as a horse that he has hired for the day. To the purchaser of a commodity belongs its use, and the seller of labour-power, by giving his labour, does no more, in reality, than part with the use-value he has sold. From the instant he steps into the workshop, the use-value of his labour-power, and therefore also its use, belongs to the capitalist.”

Marx thus shows that it is his labour-power, and not his labour, which the labourer sells to the capitalist.

In Chapter 7, Section 2 (The Production of Surplus-value), Marx says :—

“The circumstance, that on the one hand the daily sustenance of labour-power costs only half-a-day’s labour, while on the other hand the very same labour-power can work during a whole day, that consequently the value which its use during one day creates is double what he pays for that use, this circumstance is, without doubt, a piece of good luck for the buyer, but by no means an injury to the seller. . . . Every condition of the problem is satisfied, while the laws that regulate the exchange of commodities have been in no way violated. Equivalent has been exchanged for quivalent. For the capitalist as buyer paid for ; each commodity, for the cotton, the spindle, and the labour-power, its full value.”

Since Marx admits that the capitalist pays for thè commodity, labour-power, at its full value (i.e., a sum of money necessary for the means of sustenance and reproduction of labour-power), and since the circumstance that the labourer can in a day create double the value to that he consumes, “is by no means an injury to the seller,” by what economic law does Marx prove the exploitation, or the robbery, of the working classes?


If the questioner will read more carefully Sec. 2 of Chapter 7 (from which he takes his second quotation), he will see that Marx is speaking from the point of view of the market, and is dealing with appearances only, accompanying his statement with ironical remarks. Equivalent is exchanged for equivalent, therefore how can there be any robbery, is the view of the capitalist as set out by Marx. Subsequent chapters investigate the problem in greater detail and go behind the appearance to see what gives rise to it.

The buying and selling of labour-power presupposes the labour market, which in its turn presupposes a propertyless class that must find buyers for its labour-power or perish. The labour-power sold on the market is consumed outside the market in the sphere of production, and it is here that the worker is robbed. In using up his labour-power the worker not only produces surplus value for the capitalist, but at the same time he produces his own means of subsistence ; the worker is paid with a portion of his own product. This position arises from the fact that the worker does not own his product.

Owing to a process of robbery that has gone on for ages, the means of wealth production have eventually come into the hands of their present owners—the capitalists. The bulk of society—the workers—are thus left with only one method of obtaining a legitimate living—selling their labour-power to the capitalist. In doing thi£ they. do something more in reality : they hand over to the capitalist a portion of their product without any equivalent. This latter fact is concealed from the worker by the money— or wage—relation. Just as the serf gives over to the feudal lord a portion of his product for nothing, so does the wage-labourer.

Marx sums the matter up in Chapter 24 as follows : —

“The exchange of equivalents, the original operation with which we started, has now become turned round in such a way that there is only an apparent exchange. This is owing to the fact, first, that the capital which is exchanged for labour-power is itself but a portion of the product of others’ labour appropriated without an equivalent ; and, secondly, that this capital must not only be replaced by its producer, but replaced together with an added surplus. The relation of exchange subsisting between capitalist and labourer becomes a mere semblance appertaining to the process of circulation, a mere form, foreign to the real nature of the transaction, and only mystifying it. The ever-repeated purchase and sale of labour-power is now the mere form ; what really takes place is this—the capitalist again and again appropriates, without equivalent, a portion of the previously materialised labour of others, and exchanges it for a greater quantity of living labour. At first the rights of property seemed to us to be based on a man’s own labour. At least, some such assumption was necessary, since only commodity owners with equal rights confronted each other, and the sole means by which a man could become possessed of the commodities of others was by alienating his own commodities; and these could be replaced by labour alone. Now, however, property turns out to be the right on the part of the capitalist to appropriate the unpaid labour of others or its product, and to be the impossibility, on the part of the labourer, of appropriating his own product. The separation of property from labour has become the necessary consequence of a law that apparently originated in their identity.” (pp. 597/598).

(Socialist Standard, February 1924)

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