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Chapter III. Surplus Value

WHEN the laborer has sold his labor power to the boss, the boss sets him to work for ten (10) hours, with the tools and upon the materials which he has provided. But in, say, the first three hours of the working day the laborer produces exchange-values for the boss equal to the exchange-value of his labor power for the whole day, say $3.00. The values created by the worker in the first three hours compensate the boss for the day's wage which he pays the worker.

But the worker does not quit working at the end of three hours, for he has agreed to work for ten hours. He continues creating values during the remaining seven hours. That is to say that for seven hours of his working day the worker creates values for which he receives no compensation, or that seven hours of the worker's daily time is devoted to creating values which the boss appropriates but for which he pays the worker nothing. The employer will claim that he is paying the worker for ten hours, and cite or show his contract to prove that he does. It is under the cover of this assumption that the exploitation of the worker under capitalism has been so successfully hidden.

This, as made clear by Marx, reads, (Value, Price and Profit,, page 79) "But by paying the daily or weekly [exchange] 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 say, daily, 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."

Paid and Unpaid Labor Time

It is quite easy to discern the exploitation of the chattel slave. He was provided with a living according to the standard of the slaves in slave society, and the products of his labor belonged to the master. There is no difficulty in seeing the nature and extent of the exploitation.

The exploitation of the serf also is apparent. He tilled his lord's acres for the greater part of the year and his own allotment the rest of the time.

But the wage worker appears to be paid for all of his time, when actually he is only paid for part of it. The balance of the time (seven hours) he labors and receives no equivalent. So the working time of the laborer is divided into two distinct periods: time for which he is paid, and time for which he receives no return—paid labor time and unpaid labor time.

Then it follows that commodities, which are the fruits of the expenditure of labor power by the worker—the crystallization of it—have in them also two elements—paid and unpaid labor.

As these commodities exchange with one another on the basis of the socially necessary labor time required to produce them, it follows that their exchange time is the sum of the paid and the unpaid labor time—the total time in each of them.

Marx, Value, Price and Profit, page 87: "The value of a commodity is determined by the total quantity of labor contained in it. But part of that quantity of labor is realized in a value, for which an equivalent has been paid in the form of wages; part of it is realized in a value for which no equivalent has been paid. Part of the labor contained in the commodity is paid labor; part is unpaid labor."

So the boss, buying the labor power of the wage worker, uses it to obtain values for which he gives the worker nothing in return—surplus values. This difference between his wage and the values resulting from his labor is what enables the capitalist to grow rich and keeps the worker poor.

Under capitalism it is not termed robbery. It is, indeed, considered highly respectable and moral; it is legalized and sanctified ; approved by our "best citizens" and is euphoniously designated business.


  • 1. What happens when the worker sells his labor power?
  • 2. How is the working day divided as regards the working time of the laborer?
  • 3. How was the chattel slave exploited? The serf?
  • 4. How is the wage worker exploited?
  • 5. Is there any difference between the chattel slave, the serf and the wage worker? Explain what it is.
  • 6. Explain surplus value by Marx's illustration of the spinner. Apply it to a farm hand.
  • 7. If the wage worker sells his labor power for ten hours how does the boss exploit him?
  • 8. How is the present slavery of the workers hidden from them?
  • 9. What part of the I. W. W. preamble covers this process of working class exploitation?
  • 10. In your opinion why do the workers fail to recognize their robbery in production?

Next page: Chapter IV. The Source of Profit