Deville - The People's Marx (1893)

Chapter XVII: Changes of Magnitude in the Value of Labor-Power and Surplus-Value

I. Duration and intensity of labor constant. Productiveness variable.
II. Duration and productiveness of labor constant. Intensity variable.
III. Intensity and productiveness of labor constant. Duration variable.
IV. Simultaneous variations in the duration, intensity and productiveness of labor.

We saw that the ratio between the magnitude of surplus-value and the price of labor-power is determined by: 1st, the duration of labor, or its extensive magnitude; 2d, its degree of intensity, which governs the amount of labor expended in a given time; 3d, its degree of productiveness which regulates the amount produced by a given exertion in a given time. The combination of these three elements may give rise to very diverse results. One element may vary in magnitude while the other two remain constant, or two of them may vary simultaneously, or all three may vary. Moreover, one may increase while another diminishes, or one may merely increase or .diminish more rapidly than another. Let us consider the principal combinations.

I.—Duration and Intensity of Labor Constant. Productiveness Variable.

These conditions assumed, we get the three following laws:

1st. A working-day of given length always produces the same magnitude of value, however the productiveness of the labor may vary.

If one hour's work of ordinary intensity produces a value of ten cents, a day of twelve hours will produce just $1.20, no matter what the productiveness of the labor may be. We assume that the value of money is constant. If the productiveness of labor increases or diminishes, the same day will simply furnish a larger or smaller quantity of products, and the value of $1.20 will thus be spread over more or fewer commodities.

2d. Surplus-value and the value of labor-power vary inversely. Surplus-value rises with a rise in the productiveness of labor and falls when it falls—i.e., it varies in the same direction; while the value of labor-power varies in the opposite direction. It rises when productiveness fails, and vice versa.

If an increase in productiveness makes it possible to produce in four hours the same quantity of articles of subsistence that formerly required six hours, as the value of labor-power is determined by the value of these articles of subsistence, it will fall from 60 to 40 cents, but it will rise from 60 to 80 cents, if a decrease in productiveness makes it take eight hours to produce the means of sustenance before produced in only six. Since surplus-value rises when the value of labor-power falls, and vice versa, it follows that an increase in productiveness, while diminishing the value of labor-power, must augment the surplus-value, and that a decrease in productiveness, while raising the value of labor-power, must diminish the surplus-value. It should be remembered that the only variations in productiveness, which influence the value of labor-power, are those which occur in the industries whose products are ordinarily consumed by the working-classes.

Though surplus-value and the value of labor-power vary in opposite directions they do not necessarily vary in the same proportion. In fact, if a day produces a value of $1.20, and the value of labor-power is 80 cents, the surplus-value will be 40 cents. Now, suppose that in consequence of a rise in productiveness, the value of labor-power falls to 60 cents, and the surplus-value at the same time rises to 60 cents. This same difference of 20 cents decreases the value of labor-power, which was 80 cents by a quarter or 25 per cent., and increases the surplus-value, which was 40 cents, by a half or 50 per cent.

3d. The rise or fall in surplus-value is always the effect and never the cause of the corresponding fail or rise in the value of labor-power.

Suppose that $1.20, the value produced by a twelve-hour day, is made up of 80 cents—the value of labor-power, and 40 cents—surplus-value In other words, there are eight hours necessary labor and four of surplus- labor. If the productiveness of labor be doubled, then the laborer will have to work only half as long as before to produce the equivalent of his daily means of subsistence. His necessary labor will fall from eight hours to four and, consequently, his surplus-labor will rise from four hours to eight, just as the value of his labor-power will fall from 80 cents to 40 cents, and this fall will cause the surplus-value to rise from 40 cents to 80 cents. It is the variation in the productiveness of labor which, in the first place, causes the rise or fall in the value of labor-power, while the upward or downward movement of the latter causes, in its turn, a movement of surplus- value in the opposite direction.

Nevertheless, this reduction of the price of labor- power to its value determined by the value of the means of subsistence necessary for the support of the laborer may, according to the amount of resistance offered by the workers and the pressure exerted by capital, be more or less retarded, more or less fully effected. Labor-power may be paid for above its value, although its price does not vary or even falls, if that price exceeds its new value—if, in the above example, it remains above 40 cents, after the productiveness of labor has been doubled.

Some economists have maintained that surplus-value may rise without a fall in the value of labor-power, when the taxes that the capitalist has to pay are reduced. A reduction of taxes has absolutely no effect on the quantity of surplus-labor, and therefore no effect on the magnitude of the surplus-value which the capitalist extorts from the laborer. It only changes the proportion according to which the capitalist pockets the surplus-value himself or is compelled to share it with others. It does not alter in the least the relation between surplus-value and the value of labor-power.

II.—Duration and Productiveness of Labor Constant. Intensity Variable.

When there is an increase in productiveness, labor yields in a given time more products, but not more value. When there is a rise in intensity, it yields, in a given time, not only more products, but also more value, because in this case the increase in products is due to an increase of labor. If its duration and productiveness are given, labor will produce more value in the same ratio that its rate of intensity rises above the rate socially normal.

As the value produced during a day of twelve hours thus ceases to be a fixed magnitude, it follows that surplus-value and the value of labor-power may vary simultaneously in the same direction, at the same rate or at different rates. If a day of the same duration, by reason of a rise in the intensity of labor, produces $1.60, instead of $1.20, the share of the laborer and that of the capitalist I may evidently both rise simultaneously from 60 cents to 80 cents.

Such a rise in the price of labor-power does not imply that it is paid for above its value, for the heightening of the intensity of labor reacts on the value of labor-power, since it accelerates its exhaustion by wear and tear. In spite of the advance in price, the price may even be below the value of labor-power. This occurs whenever the rise in the price of labor-power does not counterbalance its increased wear and tear.

III.—Intensity and Productiveness of Labor Constant. Duration Variable.

If the duration be variable, labor may be either curtailed or prolonged. Under the conditions assumed, we obtain the following laws:

1st. The value produced by a day's work rises or falls with the length of the day.

2d. Every variation in the relation between the magnitudes of the surplus-value and of the value of labor- power springs from a change in the magnitude of the surplus-labor and, consequently, of the surplus-value.

3d. The absolute value of labor-power can vary only in consequence of the effect of the prolongation of surplus-labor on the wear and tear of labor-power. Every change in this absolute value is, therefore, the effect and never the cause of a change in the magnitude of surplus-value.

We assume that the working-day, to start with, is made up of twelve hours—six of necessary labor and six of surplus-labor, and that it produces a value of ten cents an hour or $1.20 a day, half of which goes to the laborer and the other half to the capitalist.

We begin by considering the curtailment of the working-day, let us say, from twelve hours to ten. After that, it produces a value of only one dollar. As the necessary labor is six hours, the surplus-labor is reduced from six hours to four, and, therefore, the surplus-value falls from 60 cents to 40 cents. Though the value of labor- power remains constant, compared to surplus-value its relative magnitude increases in consequence of the fall in surplus-value. The value of labor-power is now to surplus-value as 3 is to 2, 150 per cent., instead of being as 3 is to 3, 100 per cent. The capitalist can compensate this fall in surplus-value only by buying labor-power below its value. Beneath the customary arguments against reducing the hours of labor lies the assumption that it is to be done under the conditions here supposed, that is to say, the productiveness and intensity of labor are assumed to be fixed and constant, while in fact both are always increased soon after the curtailment of the working-day.

If there is a prolongation of the working-day, let us say, from twelve hours to fourteen, these two hours are added to the surplus-labor, and, therefore, the surplus- value rises from 60 cents to 80 cents. Although the nominal value of labor-power remains the same, compared to surplus-value it loses in relative magnitude, in consequence of the rise in surplus-value. The value of labor-power is now to surplus-value as 3 is to 4, 75 per cent., instead of being as 3 is to 3, 100 per cent.

When the working-day is, prolonged, labor-power may fall below its value, though its price remains constant or even rises, if this price does not counterbalance the greater expenditure of vital power, that the prolonged labor extorts from the laborer.

IV.—Simultaneous Variations in the Duration, Intensity, and Productiveness of Labor.

Here many combinations are possible, but all may be readily analyzed by the method followed in the above analyses. We will pause to consider only one case of peculiar interest—a rise in the intensity and productiveness of labor co-incident with a shortening of its duration.

The increase of the productivity and intensity of labor greatly augments the quantity of commodities produced in a given time, and thus curtails the part of the day in which the laborer only produces the equivalent of his means of subsistence. This necessary part of the working-day, though it is capable of further reduction, forms the minimum limit of the working-day—a limit that can never be reached under the regime of capital. If this regime was suppressed, surplus-labor would vanish, and the entire day would be equal to the necessary labor-time. Nevertheless, it must not be forgotten that a portion of the present surplus-labor, that portion which is devoted to the formation of a fund for reserve and accumulation, would then count as necessary labor, while necessary labor now includes only the labor devoted to the support of a class of wage-laborers who exist solely to produce wealth for their masters.

The more labor increases, in productive power, the more can its duration be shortened; and the more its duration is shortened, the more its intensity can be heightened. From a social point of view, the productiveness of labor increases with the avoidance of all useless waste both of the means of production and of vital power.

The capitalist regime, it is true, enforces economy in the use of the means of production upon each separate establishment; but, on the other hand, it converts the insane waste of labor-power into a means of economy for the exploiter, and it also compels, by its anarchical system of competition, the most reckless squandering of productive labor and of the social means of production, not to speak of the host of parasitic functions it begets and renders more or less indispensable.

The intensity and productiveness of labor being given, the time that society is bound to devote to material production is shorter, and the time at its disposal for the free development of the individual is longer, according as the distribution of work among all the members of the society is more equal, and as the power of one class to shift the natural burden of labor on to the shoulders of another class becomes smaller and smaller. In this direction, the shortening of the working-day finds its ultimate limit in the generalization of manual labor, when all work, the labor of each, will be as small as possible.

Capitalist society buys leisure for a single class at the cost of the transformation of the entire life-time of the masses into labor-time.