Relationship of Surplus Value

Relationship of Surplus Value to Lengthening of the Workday

Although the capitalist employer is in no sense individually responsible for the phenomenon of surplus value, he does have a great deal to do with the determination of its amount. As has been noted, every extension in the length of the standard workday past the number of hours socially necessary to produce labor's subsistence adds to the surplus value acquired by the capitalist employer because it extends the unpaid portion of the workday; it keeps the worker at work for a longer time after he has pro­duced enough value to repay the capitalist employer for the wage he must pay the worker. This is the most direct, most obvious, and in Marx's day most widely used device to increase the degree of exploitation of the worker by the capitalist employer. Marx refers to its possibilities in many portions of his writings, and he reviews in minute detail the practical attempts of employers of his day to stretch out labor hours and thus increase surplus value. Marx argued that only drastic legal limitations on the length of the workday could set limits to this type of exploitation. The following quota­tion from Capital hints at the prevailing length of the workday in Marx's time and also discloses the vivid style in which he portrayed these con­ditions:

In the last week of June, 1863, all the London daily papers published a paragraph with the "sensational" heading "Death from simple over­work." It dealt with the death of the milliner, Mary Ann Walkley, 20 years of age, employed in a highly respectable dressmaking establishment, exploited by a lady with the pleasant name of Elise. The old, often-told story was once more recounted. This girl worked, on an average, 16'/2 hours, during the season often 30 hours, without a break; whilst her failing labor power was revived by occasional supplies of sherry, port, or coffee. It was just now the height of the season. It was necessary to conjure up in the twinkling of an eye the gorgeous dresses for the noble ladies bidden to the ball in honor of the newly imported Princess of Wales. Mary Ann Walkley had worked without intermission for 261/2 hours, with 60 other girls, 30 in one room, that only af­forded 1/3 of the cubic feet of air required for them. At night, they slept in pairs in one of the stifling holes into which the bedroom was di­vided by partitions of board. And this was one of the best millinery establishments in London. Mary Anne Walkley fell ill one Friday, died on Sunday, without, to the astonishment of Madame Elise, having previously completed the work in hand. The doctor, Mr. Keys, called too late to the deathbed, duly bore witness before the coroner's jury that "Mary Anne Walkley had died from long hours of work in an over­crowded workroom, and a too small and badly ventilated bedroom." In order to give the doctor a lesson in good manners, the coroner's jury thereupon brought in a verdict that "the deceased had died of apoplexy, but there was reason to fear that her death had been accelerated by overwork in an overcrowded workroom, etc." "Our white slaves," cried the Morning Star, the organ of the free-traders, Cobden and Bright, "our white slaves, who are toiled into the grave, for the most part silently pine and die."

It is not in dressmakers' rooms that working to death is the order of the day, but in a thousand other places; in every place I had almost said, where "a thriving business" has to be done. . . . We will take the blacksmith as a type. If the poets were true, there is no man so hearty, so merry, as the blacksmith; he rises early and strikes his sparks before the sun; he eats and drinks and sleeps as no other man. Working in moderation, he is, in fact, in one of the best human positions, physically speaking. But we follow him into the city or town, and we see the stress of work on that strong man, and what then is his po­sition in the death rate of his country. In Marylebone, blacksmiths die at the rate of 31 per thousand per annum, or 11 above the mean of the male adults of the country in its entirety. The occupation, instinctive almost as a portion of human art, unobjectionable as a branch of human industry, is made by mere excess of work, the destroyer of the man. He can strike so many blows per day, walk so many steps, breathe so many breaths, produce so much work, and live an average, say, of fifty years; he is made to strike so many more blows, to walk so many more steps, to breathe so many more breaths per day, and to increase altogether a fourth of his life. He meets the effort; the re­sult is, that producing for a limited time a fourth more work, he dies at 37 for 50.

Relationship of Surplus Value to Use of Machinery

The use of machinery, Marx held, would merely stimulate the capitalist employer to make the workday still longer.
Machinery sweeps away every moral and natural restriction on the length of the working day. Hence, too, the economical paradox, that the most powerful instrument for shortening labor time, becomes the most unfailing means for placing every moment of the laborer's time and that of his family, at the disposal of the capitalist for the purpose of expanding the value of his capital.

The attempt to get the most out of the machine would drive its owner to keep it in operation for the greatest possible portion of the potential working time. This necessarily stretches out the hours of its human tender. Moreover, since the absolute amount of surplus value realized by the capi­talist employer depends in part on the number of workers he hires, and since the use of machinery will decrease this number, Marx argues that the employer will attempt to compensate himself for the absolute loss in surplus value due to the decreased number of employees by stretching out the day of each employee and thus making a greater portion of the day of each worker unpaid labor time.

Relationship of Surplus Value to Technological Progress

Moreover, anything that occurred or that the capitalist employer might do to decrease the labor content of commodities constituting labor's sub­sistence would thereby decrease the amount of time socially necessary to produce this subsistence. As long as the length of the working day re­mained constant, such improvements in processes or machinery as brought this result would automatically increase surplus value by cutting the por­tion of the total produced value that the employer had to pay to the worker as a wage—in other words, increasing the unpaid-for portion of the work­ing day. The increasing use of machinery and improvements in machinery and processes would all work toward this end.

Relationship of Surplus Value to Speeding Up the Worker

The same net results in terms of increased surplus value could be achieved by intensifying and speeding up the worker's movements. The more prod­uct the worker turned out in a given time, the amount required for subsistence remaining unchanged, the greater would be the surplus value. Marx argued that as hours came to be limited by law, the employer turned to the practice of speeding up his labor. He pointed to machinery and "piece wages" as the two chief devices the employer used to this end. "As soon as that shortening [of the workday] becomes compulsory, machinery be­comes in the hands of capital the objective means, systematically employed for squeezing out more labor in a given time. This is effected in two ways: by increasing the speed of the machinery, and by giving the workman more machinery to tend."

Piece wages were useful devices to the employer in speeding up his workers because "they furnish to the capitalist an exact measure for the intensity of labor." Marx thus found that "piece wages is the form of wages most in harmony with the capitalist mode of production" and that "in the workshops under the Factory Acts, piece wages become the general rule, because capital can there only increase the efficacy of the working day by intensifying labor."

Relationship of Surplus Value to Cooperative Use of Labor

In still another manner the capitalist employer by his own efforts could increase surplus value. Marx pointed out that when workers engaged in production as cooperating members of a factory unit, their cooperative endeavors are more productive than the aggregate of their efforts would be if they applied them individually. This added labor power is unpaid for, since the capitalist employer buys his labor by separate units. The product of this uncompensated labor power goes to expand surplus value." Likewise, anything the capitalist employer does to increase the efficiency and smoothness of this cooperation among the units of labor power he has purchased accrues to the recipients of surplus value. Moreover, "be­cause this power costs capital nothing, and because, on the other hand, the laborer himself does not develop it before his labor belongs to capital, it appears as a power with which capital is endowed by Nature—a produc­tive power that is immanent in capital."18

Marx concludes that, with wages tied to subsistence, all the improve­ments in production, the increasing efficiency of industry, and the very increases in productivity of labor itself will go to enhance the surplus-value incomes of capitalist employers, lending capitalists, and landowners. Such is the exploitation of workers by owners under the capitalist system of economic organization.


Modern Exploitation of Labor Compared with Historical Exploitation

Exploitation of labor did not begin with the capitalist system, however. Engels found three historical forms of exploitation: "Slavery is the first form of exploitation, the form proper to the world of antiquity; it was followed by serfdom in the Middle Ages, and wage labor in the more re­cent period. These are the three great forms of subjection, characteristic of the three great epochs of civilization... ,"

Similarly, Marx held that the wage worker in modern society was in reality a slave: "The essential difference between the various economic forms of society, between, for instance, a society based on slave labor, and one based on wage labor, lies only in the mode in which this surplus labor is in each case exacted from the actual producer, the laborer."

Marx, however, pictured modern "wage slavery" as more subtle and concealed than the older forms of slavery. In the first period to which Engels referred, it was quite clear that none of the labor of the slave ap­peared to be paid for. He was kept alive by his owner, who could demand all the slave's time for his service. Under serfdom, the portion of the serf's labor that was uncompensated for was also clearly marked off. He owed his lord a certain portion of his time; the rest was his own. If the service to the lord was analogous to surplus value, it at least was not a hidden surplus. In contrast, the slavery of the modern wage worker is concealed. Ostensibly, he is a free agent contracting to sell his services to an em­ployer. He is not required to render any services except those he agrees to sell. Thus all the labor time he puts in appears to be paid for. But if the amount the worker can get per day is limited by the amount his family needs for its subsistence, and if the length of the working day is specified by the employer, who also may issue rules concerning how rapidly the employee must work during those hours, then, Marx contends, compensa­tion is not proportionate to labor performed, and a concealed portion of the workday is not paid for.

The wage form thus extinguishes every trace of the division of the working day into necessary labor and surplus labor, into paid and unpaid labor. All labor appears as paid labor. ... In slave labor, even that part of the working day in which the slave is only replacing the value of his own means of existence, in which, therefore, in fact, he works for himself alone, appears as labor for his master. All the slave's labor appears as unpaid labor. In wage labor, on the contrary, even sur­plus labor, or unpaid labor, appears as paid. There the property relation conceals the labor of the slave for himself; here the money relation conceals the unrequited labor of the wage laborer.

The Roman slave was held by fetters: the wage laborer is bound to his owner by invisible threads. The apearance of independence is kept up by means of a constant change of employers, and by the fictio juris of a contract.