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«Part II: The Transformation of Money in Capital Ch. 4: The General Formula for Capital Ch. 5: Contradictions in the General Formula of Capital Ch. 6: ...»

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Let us put ourselves in the place of the labourer who receives for 12 hours' labour, say the value produced by 6 hours' labour, say 3s. For him, in fact, his 12 hours' labour is the means of buying the 3s. The value of his labour-power may vary, with the value of his usual means of subsistence, from 3 to 4 shillings, or from 3 to 2 shillings; or, if the value of his labour-power remains constant, its price may, in consequence of changing relations of demand and supply, rise to 4s. or fall to 2s. He always gives 12 hours of labour. Every change in the amount of the equivalent that he receives appears to him, therefore, necessarily as a change in the value or price of his 12 hours' work. This circumstance misled Adam Smith, who treated the working-day as a constant quantity, [10] to the assertion that the value of labour is constant, although the value of the means of subsistence may vary, and the same working-day, therefore, may represent itself in more or less money for the labourer.

Let us consider, on the other hand, the capitalist. He wishes to receive as much labour as possible for as little money as possible. Practically, therefore, the only thing that interests him is the difference between the price of labour-power and the value which its function creates. But, then, he tries to buy all commodities as cheaply as possible, and always accounts for his profit by simple cheating, by buying under, and selling over the value.

Hence, he never comes to see that, if such a thing as the value of labour really existed, and he really paid this value, no capital would exist, his money would not be turned into capital.

Moreover, the actual movement of wages presents phenomena which seem to prove that not the value of labour-power is paid, but the value of its function, of labour itself. We may reduce these phenomena to two great classes: 1.) Change of wages with the changing length of the working-day. One might as well conclude that not the value of a machine is paid, but that of its working, because it costs more to hire a machine for a week than for a day. 2.) The individual difference in the wages of different labourers who do the same kind of work. We find this individual difference, but are not deceived by it, in the system of slavery, where, frankly and openly, without any circumlocution, labour-power itself is sold. Only, in the slave system, the advantage of a labour-power above the average, and the disadvantage of a labour-power below the average, affects the slave-owner; in the wage-labour system, it affects the labourer himself, because his labour-power is, in the one case, sold by himself, in the other, by a third person.

For the rest, in respect to the phenomenal form, "value and price of labour," or "wages," as contrasted with the essential relation manifested therein, viz., the value and price of labour-power, the same difference holds that holds in respect to all phenomena and their hidden substratum. The former appear directly and spontaneously as current modes of thought; the latter must first be discovered by science. Classical Political Economy nearly touches the true relation of things, without, however, consciously formulating it. This it cannot, so long as it sticks in its bourgeois skin.


[1] "Mr.Ricardo ingeniously enough avoids a difficulty which, on a first view, threatens to encumber his doctrine — that value depends on the quantity of labour employed in production. If this principle is rigidly adhered to, it follows that the value of labour depends on the quantity of labour employed in producing it — which is evidently absurd.

By a dexterous turn, therefore, Mr. Ricardo makes the value of labour depend on the quantity of labour required to produce wages; or, to give him the benefit of his own language, he maintains, that the value of labour is to be estimated by the quantity of labour required to produce wages; by which he means the quantity of labour required to produce the money or commodities given to the labourer. This is similar to saying, that the value of cloth is estimated, not by the quantity of labour bestowed on its production, but by the quantity of labour bestowed on the production of the silver, for which the cloth is exchanged." — "A Critical Dissertation on the Nature, &tc., of Value," pp. 50, 51.

[2] "If you call labour a commodity, it is not like a commodity which is first produced in order to exchange, and then brought to market where it must exchange with other commodities according to the respective quantities of each which there may be in the market at the time; labour is created the moment it is brought to market; nay, it is brought to market before it is created." — "Observations on Certain Verbal Disputes," &tc., pp.

75, 76.

[3] "Treating labour as a commodity, and capital, the produce of labour, as another, then, if the values of these two commodities were regulated by equal quantities of labour, a given amount of labour would... exchange for that quantity of capital which had been produced by the same amount of labour; antecedent labour would... exchange for the same amount as present labour. But the value of labour in relation to other commodities... is determined not by equal quantities of labour." — E. G. Wakefield in his edition of Adam Smith's "Wealth of Nations," Vol. I., London, 1836, p. 231, note.

[4] "There has to be a new agreement" (a new edition of the social contract!) "that whenever there is an exchange of work done for work to be done, the latter" (the capitalist) "is to receive a higher value than the former" (the worker). — Simonde (de Sismondi), "De la Richesse Commerciale," Geneva, 1803, Vol I, p. 37.

[5] "Labour the exclusive standard of value... the creator of all wealth, no commodity."

Thomas Hodgskin, "Popul. Polit. Econ.," p. 186.

[6] On the other hand, the attempt to explain such expressions as merely poetic license only shows the impotence of the analysis. Hence, in answer to Proudhon's phrase;

"Labour is called value, not as being a commodity itself, but in view of the values supposed to be potentially embodied in it. The value of labour is a figurative expression," &tc. I have remarked: "In labour, commodity, which is a frightful reality, he (Proudhon) sees nothing but a grammatical ellipsis. The whole of existing society, then, based upon labour commodity, is henceforth based upon a poetic license, on a figurative expression.

Does society desire to eliminate all the inconveniences which trouble it, it has only to eliminate all the ill-sounding terms. Let it change the language, and for that it has only to address itself to the Academy and ask it for a new edition of its dictionary." (Karl Marx, "Misere de la Philosophie," pp. 34, 35.) It is naturally still more convenient to understand by value nothing at all. Then one can without difficulty subsume everything under this category. Thus, e.g., J. B. Say: "What is value?" Answer: "That which a thing is worth";

and what is "price"? Answer: "The value of a thing expressed in money." And why has agriculture a value? Answer: "Because one sets a price on it." Therefore value is what a thing is worth, and the land has its "value," because its value is "expressed in money."

This is, anyhow, a very simple way of explaining the why and the wherefore of things.

[7] Cf. "Zur Kritik &tc.", p. 40, where I state that, in the portion of that work that deals with Capital, this problem will be solved: "How does production, on the basis of exchange-value determined simply by labour-time, lead to the result that the exchange-value of labour is less than the exchange-value of its product?" [8] The "Morning Star", a London Free-trade organ, naif to silliness, protested again and again during the American Civil War, with all the moral indignation of which man is capable, that the Negro in the "Confederate States" worked absolutely for nothing. It should have compared the daily cost of such a Negro with that of the free workman in the East-end of London.

[9] I give in order that you may give; I give in order that you may produce; I produce so that you may give; I produce so that you may produce.

[10] Adam Smith only accidentally alludes to the variation of the working-day when he is referring to piece-wages.

Transcribed by Bill McDorman Html Markup by Stephen Baird (1999) Next: Chapter Twenty: Time-Wages Capital Volume One- Index Karl Marx Capital Volume One

Part VI:



TIME-WAGES Wages themselves again take many forms, a fact not recognizable in the ordinary economic treatises which, exclusively interested in the material side of the question, neglect every difference of form. An exposition of all these forms however, belongs to the special study of wage labour, not therefore to this work. Still the two fundamental forms must be briefly worked out here.

The sale of labour-power, as will be remembered, takes place for a definite period of time. The converted form under which the daily, weekly, &tc., value of labour-power presents itself, is hence that of time wages, therefore day-wages, &tc.

Next it is to be noted that the laws set forth, in the 17th chapter, on the changes in the relative magnitudes of price of labour-power and surplus-value, pass by a simple transformation of form, into laws of wages. Similarly the distinction between the exchange-value of labour power, and the sum of the necessaries of life into which this value is converted, now reappears as the distinction between nominal and real wages. It would be useless to repeat here, with regard to the phenomenal form, what has been already worked out in the substantial form. We limit ourselves therefore to a few points characteristic of time-wages.

The sum of money [1] which the labourer receives for his daily or weekly labour, forms the amount of his nominal wages, or of his wages estimated in value. But it is clear that according to the length of the working-day, that is, according to the amount of actual labour daily supplied, the same daily or weekly wage may represent very different prices of labour, i.e., very different sums of money for the same quantity of labour. [2] We must, therefore, in considering time-wages, again distinguish between the sum-total of the daily or weekly wages, &tc., and the price of labour. How then, to find this price, i.e., the money-value of a given quantity of labour? The average price of labour is found, when the average daily value of the labour-power is divided by the average number of hours in the working-day. If, e.g., the daily value of labour-power is 3 shillings, the value of the product of 6 working-hours, and if the working-day is 12 hours, the price of 1 working hour is 3/12 shillings = 3d. The price of the working-hour thus found serves as the unit measure for the price of labour.

It follows, therefore, that the daily and weekly wages, &tc., may remain the same, although the price of labour falls constantly. If, e.g., the habitual working-day is 10 hours and the daily value of the labour-power 3s., the price of the working-hour is 3 3/5d. It falls to 3s. as soon as the working-day rises to 12 hours, to 2 2/5d as soon as it rises to 15 hours. Daily or weekly wages remain, despite all this, unchanged. On the contrary, the daily or weekly wages may rise, although the price of labour remains constant or even falls. If, e.g., the working-day is 10 hours, and the daily value of labour-power 3 shillings, the price of one working-hour is 3 3/5d. If the labourer, in consequence of increase of trade, works 12 hours, the price of labour remaining the same, his daily wage now rises to 3 shillings 7i5/d. without any variation in the price of labour. The same result might follow if, instead of the extensive amount of labour, its intensive amount increased. [3] The rise of the nominal daily or weekly wages may therefore be accompanied by a price of labour that remains stationary or falls. The same holds as to the income of the labourer's family, as soon as the quantity of labour expended by the head of the family is increased by the labour of the members of his family. There are, therefore, methods of lowering the price of labour independent of the reduction of the nominal daily or weekly wages. [4] As a general law it follows that, given the amount of daily or weekly labour, &tc., the daily or weekly wages depend on the price of labour which itself varies either with the value of labour-power, or with the difference between its price and its value. Given, on the other hand, the price of labour, the daily or weekly wages depend on the quantity of the daily or weekly labour.

The unit-measure for time-wages, the price of the working-hour, is the quotient of the value of a day's labour-power, divided by the number of hours of the average working-day. Let the latter be 12 hours, and the daily value of labour-power 3 shillings, the value of the product of 6 hours of labour. Under these circumstances the price of a working hour is 3d.; the value produced in it is 6d. If the labourer is now employed less than 12 hours (or less than 6 days in the week), e.g., only 6 or 8 hours, he receives, with this price of labour, only 2s. or 1s. 6d. a day. [5] As on our hypothesis he must work on the average 6 hours daily, in order to produce a day's wage corresponding merely to the value of his labour power, as according to the same hypothesis he works only half of every hour for himself, and half for the capitalist, it is clear that he cannot obtain for himself the value of the product of 6 hours if he is employed less than 12 hours. In previous chapters we saw the destructive consequences of over-work; here we find the sources of the sufferings that result to the labourer from his insufficient employment.

If the hour's wage is fixed so that the capitalist does not bind himself to pay a day's or a week's wage, but only to pay wages for the hours during which he chooses to employ the labourer, he can employ him for a shorter time than that which is originally the basis of the calculation of the hour-wage, or the unit-measure of the price of labour. Since this unit is determined by the ratio daily value of labour-power ———————————————————working-day of a given number of hours' it, of course, loses all meaning as soon as the working-day ceases to contain a definite number of hours. The connection between the paid and the unpaid labour is destroyed.

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