Skip to main content

Chapter 2 - Surplus Value—the Source of Thieves' Loot

Under any system in which the means of producing a living are the exclusive property of a limited class, the worker, deprived of such means, purchases the right to work for his living, paying for it in surplus labor. The worker's day, economically speaking, is divided into two parts; the first and shooter period during which he works to reproduce the value of his own labor-power, or, in other words, his living; and a second and longer period in which he produces the surplus value which he is forced by necessity to yield to the owner of the land, machinery or other means of producing wealth. The commodities produced during the entire working day, no matter what their kind or character may be, are sold by the employer and thus are transmuted into a price-form, money, and the employer returns the worker's portion to him in this form. It is called wages, but the money-form in which it is paid to the worker merely conceals the commodity-form in which it was originally produced. It is in reality merely part of the total amount of commodities produced by the worker during the whole day's work, and the smaller part; for the greater portion is retained by the employer. The transmutation into the money or price-form also conceals the division of the day's work into its two constituent parts—the necessary labor and the surplus labor. The part of the day's product retained by the capitalist employer is surplus value. It is the wealth produced in this second period of the working day—surplus value—that constitutes the sole object of all capital investment. It is the basis of all capitalist values. It is the substance of all so-called earning power of capital. It is the soul of capitalism. It is the sacred cow that is worshipped as a god. It is the incentive of all endeavor by capitalist-minded humans. It is the subject of all sermons and precepts by gowned clerics and bewhiskered philosophers who do homage to the sacred cow: "Servants, obey your masters—work long and hard for him, and great will be your reward—in heaven. On earth you will get just wages—a mere subsistence—while your master takes the rest; but in heaven, after you are dead—ah! the golden glories that await you—ideological reflections of all the product of the unrequited surplus labor which you gave to your master on earth and which he converted into the physical earthly realities that he enjoys ease, comfort, luxury, peace."

To, produce this surplus value and to convert it into the price form of money and credit to the utmost possible expansion is the object of all capitalist endeavor. The more efficient the worker and the more effective the machinery and tools upon which his labor-power is expended, the greater the share of wealth accruing to the owner of the means of production. The worker's share remains fairly constant—just enough to reproduce his labor-power—subsistence for himself and enough more to enable him to breed and support his off-spring—reproductions of himself to replace him when he is worn out and "scrapped." There is always a reserve army of unemployed workers on hand even in the best of times to keep down the wage through competition for the job at the level of a mere subsistence. Indeed, the entire working mechanism of capitalist society—its laws, institutions and political forms as well as its religions and ethical and moral codes are devised to that end—to maintain a surplus army of propertyless, unemployed workers for the purpose of stabilizing the wages and controlling the workers at a subsistence level. The surplus wealth that may be produced by the extension of the working day or the intensification of the surplus labor, either through speeding up the work or developing the effectiveness of the implements and means of production, is practically unlimited. We may say that while the worker's share of the wealth produced always remains practically at a bare living level, the master's share may be indefinitely increased by any or all of the following means:

  • 1.—By prolonging the working day.
  • 2.—By improving and increasing the efficiency of the machinery and means of production.
  • 3.—By lowering the wages or the worker's share of the day's product.
  • 4.—By intensifying the labor by speeding up the worker.
  • 5.—By expanding the market or raising the price of the produce without raising wages.

It will be noticed that by any or all of these means the part of the product of the day's work remaining in the hands of the employer is increased while the worker's share remains unchanged. That is the peculiar quality of the surplus value upon which our capitalist system rests and which so endears it to the gamblers in the wealth produced by others, called capitalists—the unproductive gentry who "toil not neither do they spin," yet Solomon in all his glory was a poor skate compared to one of these latter-day parasites.

Next page: Chapter 3 - Economic Determinism