Karl Kautsky

The Economic Doctrines of Karl Marx


Part II.


IN the first part of this book we have spent most of our time in the commodity market; we have seen how commodities are exchanged, bought and sold; how money performs the most various functions, how money turns into capital as soon as it finds the commodity labour-power in the market.

Having bought labour-power, the capitalist withdraws with his new acquisition from the market, where it cannot be of any use to him, and repairs to the spot where he can consume, or employ, it, to the workplace. Let us follow him thither. Let us leave the sphere of commodity-circulation and take a turn in the sphere of production.

“Labour-power in use is labour itself.” The capitalist consumes the labour-power which he buys by setting its owner to work for him, to produce commodities.

As we have already seen in the first part, the commodity-producing labour has two sides; it is a creator of use-values and of commodity-values. As creator of use-values, labour is not a special peculiarity of commodity production, but a constant necessity for the human race, independent of any particular social form. The labour process comprises three factors: (1) the conscious and deliberate activity of man, (2) the subject of work, and (3) its instruments.

Labour is a conscious and deliberate activity of man, an operation performed by man upon natural materials, in order to give them a form useful for his needs. The elements of such activity may be detected in the animal kingdom, but it is only when the human race has reached a certain stage of development that it completely loses its instinctive character and becomes a conscious activity. Work is not merely muscular exertion, but also the expenditure of brain and nerve. Marx most aptly observes:

“Besides the exertion of the bodily organs, the process demands that, during the whole operation, the workman’s will be steadily in consonance with his purpose. This means close attention. The less he is attracted by the nature of the work, and the mode in which it is carried on, and the leas, therefore, he enjoys it as something which gives play to his bodily and mental powers, the more close his attention is forced to be.”

The worker works on an object, which is the subject of his work; in this activity he employs accessories, things whose mechanical, physical, or chemical properties he directs to influence the subject of work according to his purposes. The result of the preparation of the subject of work with the help of the instruments of labour, is the product. The instruments of labour and the subject of work are the means of production.

In making a table a carpenter used up wood. If the subject of work is not provided by Nature, like a tree in the primeval forest, for example, but has required the expenditure of labour, such as the labour of felling and transporting the wood, then it is called raw material.

In our example wood is raw material, and likewise the glue, the paint, and the varnish which are used in making the table. Wood is the prime material, glue, paint, and varnish are accessories. Plane and saw, etc., on the other hand, are the instruments of labour, and the table is the product.

“Whether a use-value appears as raw material, as the means of labour, or as a product, depends entirely upon its function in the labour process, and upon the place which it occupies; and its change of place changes its condition.”

A head of cattle, kine for example, may successively function as product (cattle rearing), instrument of labour (draught cattle), and as raw material (in fattening).

The instruments of labour are extremely important for the development of the human race. The method of producing depends in the first place upon them, but to the social conditions under every mode of production there corresponds a juridical, religious, philosophical, and artistic superstructure.

Under every mode of production the means of production (the subject of work and its instruments) and labour-power form the necessary elements in the production of use-values, that is of the labour-process. The social character of this process differs, however, with the varying modes of production. Let us now investigate the shape it assumes under the capitalist mode of production.

To the producer of commodities the production of use-values is only a means to the end of the production of commodity values. As a commodity is a synthesis of use-value and value, he cannot produce values unless he produces use-values. The commodities which he creates must satisfy a need, must have a use for somebody, else he cannot sell them. The circumstance that his commodity must be a use-value is, however, only a necessary evil for the commodity producer, and not the object of his social activity.

Consequently the production process of commodity production is at the same time the process of the production of use-values and commodity-values; it is a combination of the labour-process and of the value-forming process.

This applies to commodity production generally. We have now, however, to examine a special type of commodity production in the production process: the production of commodities by means of purchased labour-power for the purpose of obtaining surplus-value.

What form does the labour process there assume?

It does not undergo any immediate alteration of an essential nature through the intervention of the capitalist.

Let us take, for example, a weaver working for himself. His loom belongs to him; he buys the yarn himself; he can work when and how he likes; the product of his labour is his own property. But he becomes impoverished and is obliged to sell his loom. How shall be now live? There is nothing left for him but to hire himself out to a capitalist and to spin for him. The latter buys his labour-power, and also buys the loom and the necessary yarn, setting the weaver to work up the purchased yarn at his (the capitalist’s) loom. Perhaps the loom which the capitalist bought is the same that the weaver had been obliged to dispose of in his need. Even if this is not the case, the weaver works in the same manner as before, the labour-process has undergone no essential change.

Nevertheless two important changes have taken place. The weaver no longer works for himself, but for the capitalist; the latter now controls the worker’s labour, and takes care that he does not work too negligently or too slowly, etc. And the worker no longer owns the product of his labour, which belongs to the capitalist.

These are the immediate effects produced in the labour-process as soon as capital is master of the process of production. What shape does the value forming process now assume?

First of all let us calculate the amount of the value of the product which is produced for the capitalist as a commodity by purchased labour-power with purchased means of production.

Let us suppose that the capitalist buys the labour-power for one day. The means of life necessary for the worker’s maintenance are produced in six hours of socially necessary labour time. Such an amount of labour time is embodied in 3s. The capitalist buys the labour-power at its value; he pays the worker 3s. for the working day.

Now the capitalist holds a supply of cotton yarn for a use-value which is much sought after and can easily be sold. He resolves therefore to produce yarn and purchases the instruments of labour – for simplicity’s sake we will consider these to be spindles and cotton. A pound of cotton may represent two working hours, and would therefore cost 1s. A pound of yarn is spun out of a pound of cotton. If one spindle is used up or consumed in the spinning of every 100 lbs. of cotton, 1/100th of a spindle would be consumed in the spinning of 1 lb. Each spindle embodies 20 working hours = 10s. In a working hour 2 lbs. of cotton are spun, and therefore 12lbs. in 6 hours – always presupposing normal, average, socially necessary conditions of production.

Under these circumstances how much value would be embodied in a pound of yarn?

First of all the value of the cotton and the spindle consumed in its production. This passes into the product without curtailment or augmentation. The use-value of the cotton and spindle has become something different, their value has remained unaltered. This becomes clear if we regard the various labour processes requisite for the production of the final product as successive parts of one and the same labour process. If we assume that the spinner is also a cotton planter and the cotton is spun immediately after it is picked, the yarn will appear as the product of planter’s and spinner’s work, and its value will be measured by the labour-time socially necessary for the growing of the cotton and its working up into yarn. No alteration is effected in the value of the product if, under otherwise equal conditions, the labour-processes necessary for its production are carried on for the account of different people. The value of the prepared cotton now reappears in the yarn; the same applies to the value of the used-up spindle. We leave accessories out of account for the sake of simplicity.

To this transmitted value is now added the value which the work of spinning imparts to the cotton. In a working-hour 2lbs. are spun – let us assume that 1s. represents 2 working hours. A working hour would therefore form a value of 6d.

Consequently the value of 1lb. of yarn. is equal to the value of 1lb. of cotton (= 1s.) plus 1/100th of a spindle (= 1.2d.) plus ½ working hour (= 3d.), or expressed in shillings 1 + 1/10 + ¼ = 1s. 4.2d.

According to this, in 6 hours 12 lbs. of yarn are spun of a value of 16s. 2.4d. But how much has it cost the capitalist to achieve this result? He has been obliged to provide 12 lbs. of cotton = 12s., 12/100ths of a spindle = 1s. 2.4d. and one unit of labour-power 3s., making in all 16s. 2.4d., which is as much as he owns in yarn-value.

So far, therefore, he has worked in vain; so far the purchased commodity labour-power has not created any surplus-value for him.

Nevertheless our capitalist is not disconcerted. He has bought the use-value of the labour-power for the whole day; he has honestly bought it at its full value, and therefore has the right to employ its use-value to the utmost. It does not occur to him to say to the worker:

“I have bought your labour-power with a sum of money which represents 6 working hours. You have worked 6 working hours for me; we are quits and you may go.” He says rather: “I have bought your labour-power for the whole day, and it belongs to me for the whole day; therefore keep working briskly as long as you can, do not lose a moment of the time which is not your own, but my, time.” And he causes him to work perhaps 12 hours instead of 6.

After a further 6 hours, at the end of the working day, he reckons again. He now possesses 24 lbs. of yarn of a value of 32s. 4.8d. His expenditure comprises 24 lbs. cotton = 24s., 24/100ths of a spindle = 2s. 4.8d. and 1 unit of labour power = 3s., together 29s. 4.8d. Pondering he lays down his account book. He has gained 3s., or, as it is expressed, “earned” them. He has earned them, acquired surplus-value, without violating the laws of commodity-exchange. The cotton, the spindles, the labour-power, they were all bought at their value. If he has realised surplus-value, it is only by virtue of the fact that he has consumed these purchased commodities, not as means of enjoyment, but as means of production, and that he has consumed the use-value of the labour-power bought by him beyond a certain point.

Under the system of commodity production, the process of production is always a value-forming process; whether it be carried on with hired labour-power or with the producer’s own labour-power. It is necessary, however, for the value-forming process to be prolonged beyond a certain point in time in order to create surplus-value. If surplus-value is to be produced, the process of production must last longer than the time necessary to replace the value of the purchased labour-power by newly created value.

The peasant who tills his own field, or the handicrafts man working on his own account, may also work longer than the time necessary to replace the means of life which he has consumed. He too can create surplus-value, and his labour may be a value-breeding process. But as soon as the value-breeding process is carried on with alien labour-power, it becomes a capitalist process of production; the latter being necessarily a value-breeding or profit-making process.


Last updated on 22.11.2003