1930s >> 1935 >> no-376-december-1935

Marx on Piecework

(Quoted from “Capital,” vol. I, chapter 21, Moore and Aveling translation, Glaisher, 1912 edition.)
(All italics are ours.)

. . . it is self-evident that the difference of form in the payment of wages in no way alters their essential nature, although the one form may be more favourable to the development of capitalist production than the other, (p. 562.)

About the book of one John Watts, who praised piece-work, Marx says: “ . . .  it is a very sink of long-ago-rotten, apologetic commonplaces.” (Footnote, p. 562.)

   Piece-wages do not, in fact, distinctly express any relation of value. . . . The price of labour-time itself is finally determined by the equation: Value of a day’s labour = daily value of labour-power. Piece-wage is, therefore, only a modified form of time-wage, (pp. 563, 564.)
    Piece-wages become . . .  the most fruitful source of reductions of wages and capitalistic cheating, (p. 564.)
    They (i.e., piece-wages) furnish to the capitalist an exact measure for the intensity of labour. . . . Piece-wages therefore lay the foundation . . .  of a hierarchically organised system of exploitation and oppression. . . . The exploitation of the labourer by the capitalist is here effected through the exploitation of the labourer by the labourer, (pp. 564, 566.)
     Given piece-wage, it is naturally the personal interest of the worker to strain his labour-power as intensely as possible; this enables the capitalist to raise more easily the normal degree of intensity of labour. It is, moreover, now the personal interest of the worker to lengthen the working day. . . . The prolongation of the working day, even if the piece-wage remains constant, includes of necessity a fall in the price of the labour, (pp. 565, 566.)
     Piece-work has, therefore, a tendency, while raising individual wages above the average, to lower this average itself, (p. 566.)
      . . . piece-work is the form of wages most in harmony with the capitalist mode of production. (p. 567.)

The above quotations express very pungently Marx’s view of piece-work, the system which for some five years now the Bolsheviks have been introducing and extending in the Soviet Union. They have done so in the name of Socialism in order to increase production. Our capitalists had the same motive, but did not need to use such a specious excuse. The S.P.G.B. affirms that not only the piece-work system, but the wages system as a whole, runs directly counter to Socialist administration, whether in Russia or anywhere else.
D. S.

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