Marx’s Economic Manuscripts of 1861-63
2) Absolute Surplus Value by Karl Marx

e) Character of Surplus Labour

Volume 30, MECW, p. 185-193

Once there exists a society in which some people live without working (without participating directly in the production of use values), it is clear that the surplus labour of the workers is the condition of existence of the whole superstructure of the society. They [the non-workers] receive two things from this surplus labour. Firstly: the material conditions of life, because they share in, and subsist on and from, the product which the workers provide over and above the product required for the reproduction of their own labour capacity. Secondly: The free time they have at their disposal, whether for idleness or for the performance of activities which are not directly productive (as e.g. war, affairs of state) or for the development of human abilities and social potentialities (art, etc., science) which have no directly practical purpose, has as its prerequisite the surplus labour of the mass of workers, i.e. the fact that they have to spend more time in material production than is required for the production of their own material life. The free time of the non-working parts of society is based on the surplus labour or overwork, the surplus labour time, of the working part. The free development of the former is based on the fact that the workers have to employ the whole of their time, hence the room for their own development,[153] purely in the [III-105] production of particular use values; the development of the human capacities on one side is based on the restriction of development on the other side. The whole of civilisation and social development so far has been founded on this antagonism.[154]

On the one hand, therefore, the free time of one section corresponds to the surplus labour time, the time in thrall to labour, of the other section — the time of its existence and functioning as mere labour capacity. On the other hand: The surplus labour is realised not only in a surplus of value but in a surplus product — an excess of production over and above the quantity the working class requires and consumes for its own subsistence.

The value is present in a use value. The surplus value is therefore present in a surplus product. The surplus labour is present in surplus production, and this forms the basis for the existence of all classes not directly absorbed in material production. Society thus develops in contradictory fashion through the absence of development of the mass of workers, who form its material basis. The surplus product need not express surplus value at all. If 2 quarters of wheat are the product of the same amount of labour time as previously 1 quarter, the 2 quarters will not express any higher value than the 1 quarter did previously. But if we presuppose a definite, given development of the productive forces, surplus value will always be represented by a surplus product, i.e. the product (use value) created over 2 hours is twice as large as that created over 1 hour. To put it more definitely: the surplus labour time worked by the mass of workers over and above the quantity necessary for the reproduction of their own labour capacity, their own existence, over and above the necessary labour, this surplus labour time, which presents itself as surplus value, is simultaneously materialised in extra product, surplus product, and this surplus product is the material basis for the existence of all the classes apart from the working classes, of the whole superstructure of society. It simultaneously provides free time, gives them disposable time for the development of their other capacities. Thus the production of surplus labour time on one side is at once the production of free time on the other. The whole of human development, so far as it extends beyond the development directly necessary for the natural existence of human beings, consists merely in the employment of this free time and presupposes it as its necessary basis. Thus the free time of society is produced through the production of unfree time, the labour time of workers prolonged beyond that required for their own subsistence. Free time on one side corresponds to subjugated time on the other side.

The form of surplus labour we are examining here — labour prolonged beyond the necessary labour time — is common to capital and all forms of society in which development has taken place beyond the purely natural relation; a development which is therefore antagonistic, making the labour of one section into the natural basis of the social development of another section.[154]

Surplus labour time as considered here — absolute surplus labour time — remains the basis in capitalist production too, although we shall become acquainted with yet another form.

In so far as we have here only the opposition between worker and capitalist, all the classes which do not work must share the product of surplus labour with the capitalist, so that this surplus labour time not only creates the basis of their material existence but also their free time, the sphere of their development.

Absolute surplus value, i.e. absolute surplus labour, later too always remains the dominant form.

Just as plants live from the earth, and animals live from the plants or plant-eating animals, so does the part of society which possesses free time, disposable time not absorbed in the direct production of subsistence, live from the surplus labour of the workers. Wealth is therefore disposable time. [155]

We shall see how the political economists, etc., consider this opposition as natural.

Since surplus value is initially represented in the surplus product, but all other work is disposable time in comparison with the labour time employed in the production of the means of nourishment, it is clear why the Physiocrats base surplus value on the surplus product of agriculture; they only make the mistake of regarding it as a simple gift of nature.[126]

[III-106] Here the following can already be remarked:

The branches of labour employed in the production of commodities are distinguished from each other according to their degree of necessity, and this in turn depends on the extent to which the use value they create is necessary for physical existence. This kind of necessary labour is related to use value, not exchange value. That is to say, we are concerned here not with the labour time necessary to create a value reducible to the sum of the products necessary to the worker for his existence; rather with the relative necessity of the needs satisfied by the products of different kinds of labour. In this respect the most necessary of all is agricultural labour (understanding by this all work required to procure the immediate means of nourishment). It is agricultural labour which first provides the disposable free hands for industry, as Steuart says.[156] However, we must make a further distinction. While one person employs the whole of his disposable time in agriculture, the other can employ it in manufacture. Division of labour. But the surplus labour in all other branches similarly depends on the surplus labour in agriculture, which provides the raw materials for everything else.

*"It is obvious that the relative numbers of persons who can be maintained without agricultural labour, must be measured wholly by the productive powers of cultivation” * (R. Jones, On the Distribution of Wealth, London, 1831, pp. 159-60). [157]