Distinction Between Labor Power and Labor

Marx lays the basis for this theory of surplus value when he distinguishes between the exchange value of labor as a commodity and its use value (or between buying labor power and buying labor). The capitalist employer
buys labor power but gets labor; he pays out the value of the labor power (subsistence) as a wage, but he gets the use value of the labor as his own to utilize in whatever way he can. The exchange value of the labor power (or the wage) is determined by the cost of producing it (its subsistence), whereas the use value of the labor to the employer, who after the hiring owns it, is determined by what use he can make of it.

Although there are a number of ways in which the employer can make the use value of the labor in creating exchange values greater than the exchange value he paid for it, the most obvious way is to make the laborer work more hours than enough to create exchange values equal to those laid out by the employer as a wage. This capitalist employers will do—they would obviously be fools if they didn't—and so arises surplus value.

Marx constructed the following illustration of surplus value for a workingmen's organization:

Now suppose that the average amount of the daily necessaries of a laboring man require six hours of average labor for their production.

Suppose, moreover, six hours of average labor to be also realized in a quantity of gold equal to 3$. Then 3.? would be the Price, or the monetary expression of the Daily Value of that man's Laboring Power. If he worked daily six hours he would daily produce a value sufficient to buy the average amount of his daily necessaries, or to maintain himself as a laboring man.

But our man is a wages laborer. He must, therefore, sell his laboring power to a capitalist. If he sells it as 3s daily, or 18s weekly, he sells rit at its value. Suppose him to be a spinner. If he works six hours daily he will add to the cotton a value of is daily. This value, daily added by him, would be an exact equivalent for the wages, or the price of his laboring power, received daily. But in that case no surplus value or surplus produce whatever would go to the capitalist. Here, then, we come to the rub.

In buying the laboring power of the workman, and paying its value, the capitalist, like every other purchaser, has acquired the right to consume or use the commodity bought. You consume or use the laboring power of a man by making him work, as you consume or use a machine by making it run. By paying the daily or weekly value of the laboring power of the workman, the capitalist has, therefore, acquired the right to use or make that laboring power work during the whole day or week. The working day or the working week has, of course, certain limits, but those we shall afterwards look more closely at.

For the present I want to turn your attention to one decisive point. The value of the laboring power is determined by the quantity of labor necessary to maintain or reproduce it, but the use of that laboring power is only limited by the active energies and physical strength of the laborer. The daily or weekly value of the laboring power is quite distinct from the daily or weekly exercise of that power, the same as the food a horse wants and the time it can carry the horseman are quite distinct. The quantity of labor by which the value of the workman's laboring power is limited forms by no means a limit to the quantity of labor which his laboring power is apt to perform. Take the example of our spinner. We have seen that, to daily reproduce his laboring power, he must daily reproduce a value of three shillings, which he will do by working six hours daily. But this does not disable him from working ten or twelve or more hours a day. But by paying the daily or weekly value of the spinner's laboring power the capitalist has acquired the right of using that laboring power during the whole day or week. He will, therefore, make him work daily, say, twelve hours. Over and above the six hours required to replace his wages, or the value of his laboring power, he will, therefore, have to work six other hours, which I shall call hours of surplus labor, which surplus labor will realize itself in a surplus value and a surplus produce. If our spinner, for example, by his daily labor of six hours, added three shillings' value to the cotton, a value forming an exact equivalent to his wages, he will, in twelve hours, add six shillings' worth to the cotton, and pro­duce a proportional surplus of yarn. As he has sold his laboring power to the capitalist, the whole value or produce created by him be­longs to the capitalist, the owner pro tern of his laboring power. By advancing three shillings, the capitalist will, therefore, realize a value of six shillings, because, advancing a value in which six hours of labor are crystallized, he will receive in return a value in which twelve hours of labor are crystallized. By repeating this same process daily, the capitalist will daily advance three shillings and daily pocket six shillings, one half of which will go to pay wages anew, and the other half of which will form the surplus value, for which the capitalist pays no equivalent. It is this sort of exchange between capital and labor upon which capitalistic production, or the wages system, is founded, and which must constantly result in reproducing the working man as a working man, and the capitalist as a capitalist.