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

Rate of Surplus Value

Volume 30, MECW, p. 228-232

If the worker does 10 hours of necessary labour and 2 hours of surplus labour, the rate = 1/10 = 1/5 = 20%. It would result in an incorrect calculation, i.e. the rate of exploitation would be wrongly stated, if one were to consider the whole of the working day of 12 hours, and say, for instance, that the worker receives 5/6 and the capitalist 1/6 of it. The rate would then amount to 1/6 (12/6 = 2 hours), = 16 2 /3%. The same error would occur if the product were calculated, and indeed not the ratio of the surplus product to the part of the product which is equivalent to the wage, but to the surplus product as aliquot part of the aggregate product. This point is not only very important for the determination of surplus value but it is later of decisive importance for the correct determination of the rate of profit. [173]

[III-124f] “He” (one of the entrepreneurs in the first period of the development of the cotton industry) “communicated an admirable idea to me, I don’t know whether it is his own invention, but it is truly worthy of him: it is the organisation of night work The workers will be divided into two gangs, in such a way that each of them on alternate nights will be awake until the morning: the business will no longer come to a halt. The work, when confined to 17 hours, allowed an enormous capital — the value of the Machines, the rent of the buildings, etc. — to lie dormant for 7 whole hours. These 7 whole hours of interest a day will no longer be lost. He explained to me a plan thanks to which he will recover, and more than recover, the expenses of lighting, simply by his way of remunerating night work” (St. Germain Leduc, Sir Richard Arkwright etc. (1760 à 1792), Paris, 1842, [pp.] 145-46).a

This is now the norm in the cotton factories of Moscow. Much more frightful at this moment the system followed in the mirror factories of Manchester, with children being used as well. There are two gangs, which relieve each other every 6 hours, day and night, during the whole of the 24 hours. We read in Babbage (On the Economy of Machinery etc., London, 1832):

“The first machines for manufacturing tulle were very expensive when first purchased, at between £1,000 and £1,200 or £1,300 sterling. Every manufacturer who possessed one of these machines soon found that he was manufacturing more, but because its work was limited to 8 hours a day he could not, in view of its price, compete with the old method of manufacture. This disadvantage stemmed from the considerable sum of money devoted to the initial establishment of the machine. Soon, however, the manufacturers noticed that with the same expenditure of initial capital and a small addition to their circulating capital they could set the same machine to work for 24 hours. The advantages thereby realised induced other people to direct their attention to the means of perfecting the machine; so that its purchase price underwent a considerable reduction simultaneously with increases in the speed and quantity of tulle manufacture” (Ch. XXII).[174]

Dale, Owen’s predecessor in the cotton mill at New Lanark, and himself a philanthropist, still employed children for 13 hours a day, even those under 10 years old.

“To cover the expense of these so well combined arrangements, and for the general upkeep of the premises, it was absolutely necessary to employ these children in the cotton mills from 6 o'clock in the morning until 7 o'clock in the evening, summer and winter alike.... The directors of the workhouses, through misplaced motives of economy, did not want to send the children entrusted to their care, unless the owner of establishment took charge of them from the ages of 6, 7 or 8 years” (Henry Grey Macnab, Examen impartial des nouvelles vues de M. Robert Owen, et de ses établissements a New-Lanark en Ecosse. Traduit par Laffon de Ladébat, Paris, 1821, [p.] 64).

“Thus the arrangements of Mr. Dale and his tender solicitude for the well-being of these children were in the last resort almost entirely useless and unsuccessful. He had taken these children into his service, and without their labour he could not feed them” (l.c., [p.] 65).

“The source of this evil was that the children [III-124g] sent by the workhouses were much too young for the work, and ought to have been kept for four more years, and to have received primary schooling.... If this is the true and not exaggerated picture of the situation of our apprentices emerging from the workhouses, in our Present manufacturing system, even under the best and most humane regulations, how deplorable must the situation of these children be under a bad management?” (l.c., [p.] 66).

As soon as Owen took over the management:

“The system of accepting apprentices drawn from the workhouses was abolished.... They gave up the practice of employing children of six to eight years of age in the factories” ([p.] 74).

“Working hours, which were 16 out of the 24, have been reduced to 10 and a half per day” ([p.] 98).

This was naturally regarded as subversive of society. A great noise was made by the économistes and Benthamite “philosophers”.

* * *

“But it is still easier to obtain bread in the eastern islands of the Asian archipelago, where sago grows wild in the forests. When the inhabitants have convinced themselves, by boring a hole in the trunk, that the pith is ripe, the tree is cut down and divided into several pieces, the pith is extracted, mixed with water and filtered: it is then quite fit for use as sago meal. One tree commonly yields 300 pounds, and it may yield 500-600. There, then, one goes into the forest and cuts one’s own bread, just as with us one cuts firewood” (J. F. Schouw, Die Erde, die Pflanzen und der Mensch, 2nd ed., Leipzig, 1854, [p.] 148).

Suppose that 1 day (of 12 hours) a week is required for this bread-cutter to satisfy all his needs. If capitalist production were introduced, he would have to work 6 days a week in order to appropriate for himself the product of that one day.

Surplus labour naturally consists of the same kind of labour as necessary labour. If the worker is a spinner, his surplus labour consists of spinning, and his surplus product of spun yarn. If he is a miner, similarly, etc. It can therefore be seen that the kind of labour it is, its particular quality, the particular branch it belongs to, is entirely irrelevant to the ratio of surplus labour to necessary labour. Equally irrelevant, therefore, is the ratio between the values of different days of labour, or, which is the same thing, the ratio in which a day of more or less skilled labour is equated with a day of unskilled average labour. This equation has no effect at all on the ratio under investigation here. In order to simplify (the presentation) we can therefore always argue as if the labour of all the workers employed by the capitalist = average unskilled labour, simple labour.[69] In any case, in the capitalist’s own calculations (in the monetary expression of labour), every kind of labour is reduced, in practice and in fact, to this expression.

[III-124h] The qualitative differences between the different kinds of average labour, whereby one requires more dexterity, the other more strength, etc., cancel each other out in practice. But as regards the individual differences between workers who perform the same labour, the following must be pointed out: These differences are greatest in handicraft production (and in the higher spheres of so-called unproductive labour). They vanish progressively as time goes on, and in developed capitalist production, where division of labour and machinery prevail, their role is limited to a sphere almost too small for calculation. (If we set aside the short period during which apprentices learn their trade.) The average wage must be high enough to preserve the average worker’s life as a worker; and an average performance is here the prerequisite the worker must fulfil to be allowed into the workshop at all. He who stands above or below this average is an exception, and, viewing the workshop as a whole, its entire personnel provides the average product in the average time of the branch in question under the average conditions of production. In the daily or weekly wage, etc., no regard is in fact taken of these individual differences. They are taken into account in the piece-wage system, though. But this does not change the relation between capitalist and worker at all. If the labour time of A is higher than that of B, his wages are higher too, but also the surplus value he produces. If his performance falls below the average, his wages fall, but also the surplus value. The workshop as a whole, however, must provide the average. What is above and below the average is mutually complementary, and the average, which the great bulk of labourers perform in any case, remains what it was. These matters are to be considered under the wages of labour.[33] For the relation being considered here they are irrelevant. For the rest, the piece-wage was introduced very early on into the English factories. Once it was established how much could be performed on an average in a given period of labour, the wage was determined accordingly (the number of hours in the working day being simultaneously given). And in fact the wage (the aggregate) was then lower if 17 hours a day were worked than if 10 were worked. Only with extraordinary overtime working would the workers benefit from the distinction, so that they could appropriate to themselves a part of this extraordinary surplus labour. Which, incidentally, is also the case where there is extraordinary surplus labour under the daily wage system, etc.

We have seen that the basis of value is the fact that human beings relate to each other’s labour as equal, and general, and in this form social, labour. This is an abstraction, like all human thought, and social relations only exist among human beings to the extent that they think, and possess this power of abstraction from sensuous individuality and contingency. The kind of political economist who attacks the determination of value by labour time on the ground that the work performed by 2 individuals during the same time is not absolutely equal (although in the same trade), doesn’t yet even know what distinguishes human social relations from relations between animals. He is a beast. As beasts, the same fellows then also have no difficulty in overlooking the fact that no 2 use values are absolutely identical (no 2 leaves, Leibniz[175]) and even less difficulty in judging use values, which have no common measure whatever, as exchange values according to their degree of utility.

If the monetary expression (money to be supposed to keep its value, as it really does for longer periods) of an average working day of 12 hours were = 10s., it would be clear that the worker who works for 12 hours can never add more than 10s. to the object of labour. If the total amount of the means of subsistence he needs every day is 5s., the capitalist will have to pay 5s. and receive 5s. of surplus value. If it comes to 6 he will only receive 4, if 7 only 3, if 3 in contrast then 7, etc. With a given labour time — length of the working day — it must be firmly grasped that the sum total of the necessary and the surplus labour is represented in a product of constant value and of equal monetary expression of that value, as long as the value of money remains constant.