The Use-Value of Labour-Power : An Elaboration
What is the nature of the
relation between the wage workers and the capitalist? Is it a relation of Buying and Selling? Is it a relation of exploitation of the labour of workers by the capitalist? Or is it a relation involving both the aspects?'It is a relation involving both the aspects'—this is what Marx shows in his "Capital". Marx shows that the relation begins like that of Buying and Selling and ends like one in which the capitalist exploits the labour of the workers. The entire 'Capital', in fact, attempts to demonstrate that the Master-Worker relationship is a relationship of exploitation of labour by the Master. If it is so, the question is: "Isn't the depiction of the relation of exploitation of labour as that of Buying and Selling posing a threat to the working class? Discussion in this essay revolves around this question. One might say, 'do you really think that the same question did not occur to Marx? Well, this question is raised not as a critique of Marx but as an issue that merits discussion to understand the Master-Worker relations more clearly.
The depiction of the relation of exploitation of labour as something that begins as a relation of Buying and Selling, I am afraid, will weaken the argument of occurrence of exploitation of labour. To understand my fear, one has to recall the nature of the relations of Buying and Selling. We ought to examine it first in order to realize why we should not portray the relationship of exploitation as a relation of Buying and Selling even at the beginning.
Relation of Buying and Selling
Let us say that there are two independent producers. One person makes pots while another makes footwear and they exchange their goods with other goods which they need. Such exchange may take place either in the form of barter, by giving their goods and taking others' goods. Or they may sell their goods and buy others' goods by paying money. Whatever may be the form, essence is the same. It is an exchange.
If an "exchange" takes place between 2 different goods, it implies that the values of the two goods are equal and that exchange has taken place just because they had the same values.
Assuming that the value of the pot is 4 and the value of the footwear is 6, the potter would agree to exchange but the shoe-maker would not agree. It is because the shoe-maker could incur a loss of 2 due to such an exchange. As one person does not agree to incur loss, there won't be an exchange between the value of 6 and the value of 4. In other words, it is the general principle that an exchange (even if it takes place by means of money) would take place between equal values only. (If unequal exchanges take place due to business tactics, fraud etc., they are different issues. We are not discussing those issues here.)
Suppose the value of a pot is 4 and the value of a pair of shoes is 4. In such a ease, if one gives the pot and takes the shoes in return, it would be an exchange of equal values. Even if the potter sells his article for 4-money and buys shoes with 4-rnoney, it is still an exchange of equal values. Let the exchange take place in whatever manner, it amounts to giving away 4-value and taking 4-value in return. Neither side gains profit nor incurs loss due to such an exchange. Both sides get back the same amount of value which they give away. Neither of the two sides would get the reduced value.
Even though we don't find terms like 'Buying and Selling' in the barter system, the same thing happens. In the case of exchanges that take place by means of money, it amounts to Selling if an article is given and money is received and it amounts to buying if money is given and an article is received. 'Thus those terms (Buying and Selling) are clearly present in such exchanges. When an exchange takes place between two articles, what actually happens is an exchange between the labour of two individuals. 'They use'the labour of each other. In that sense, it is a labour relation between those individuals. One uses the other's labour. Thus it is a relation of labour between those individuals.
Buying and Selling take place not only between things but also between types of labour which are not always in the form of things. For instance, if a washerman washes the clothes of a barber, the barber, would do hair culling for the washerman. 'These exchanges might take place in terms of money calculations. If exchanges take place between types of labour which are not in the form of things they appear as 'labour relations" more apparently.
Another important aspect of Buying and Selling relation is that if a person buys an article the Use-Value of that-article will belong to the buyer. If a potter does not sell a pot, he would use it for himself. If he sells it and if it goes to another person, 'the Use-Value' of that article belongs to not the seller but the buyer.
'The seller of a thing (a commodity) can get back the value of that thing but cannot get its Use-Value. He can buy another kind of Use-Value with the value which he got back. But he cannot use the Use-Value of the article which he has sold out.
Based on what we discussed so far, 3 things come to our notice. (1) Relation of Buying and Selling is a labour relation. (2) Relation of Buying and Selling is a relation of equal values. (3) In the relation of Buying and Selling, the Use-Value of the sold article would belong to those who bought that article.
It is none other than Marx who explained these points. All of us have learnt all these points from Marx. The question, however, is ‘do we find the same 3 aspects in the relation between the capitalist and the wage workers’? In view of what we already know about different kinds of relations, there is no exchange of labour in the relation between the Master and the Worker. Where there is no exchange of labour at all, the question whether it is an equal or unequal exchange does not arise. In such an event, can we, even once, describe the Master-Worker relationship as a relationship of Buying and Selling? This is the point of our discussion. This is my doubt!
Now we have to examine the characteristic features of the Master-Worker relationship.
Relationship between the capitalist and the wage Worker
"Worker" is the one who does the 'work".
"Capitalist" is the one who gives the "work".
(Wherever there is a 'Master-Worker' relation they play those roles.)
The entire work that a Worker performs in a working day constitutes his "labour". Let us suppose that the value of that labour is 7. But the entire 7 won't go as the wage of the Worker. Wage would be less than 7. Therefore let us suppose that the wage is 2. Though the term 'value of Labour-Power' is not an appropriate term to refer to the wage of the worker, let us consider it so for a moment. From where does the capitalist bring that wage 2? That wage is paid from 7 which is the value of the Labour-Power of the Worker. In this example, the portion that goes away from the value of labour of the Worker is 5. Its name is "surplus value".
When the capitalist sells in the market the new commodity which the Worker produced at the work place, the entire money first reaches the hands of the capitalist. After deducting the expenses incurred initially on the means of production etc, in producing the commodity, it is the capitalist who first appropriates the 5-surplus value. 5-surplus value means 5-money. Viewed as labour, it is the "surplus fabour" of 5-value. Viewed as production, it is 'surplus product" of 5-value. It is the portion which the Worker does not get. The fact that the Worker performed labour worth 7 and received wage worth 2 implies that he could buy products worth 2 only and could not buy products worth 5 which he did not get. This portion of 5 which the Worker did not get would be distributed in varying proportions by the capitalist in the form of rent for the land on which the work is carried out, in the form of interest and profit on the capital. Snatching of surplus value from the labour of the Worker is "exploitation of labour". All those who share and consume that surplus value constitute the class of exploiters of labour. All those who lose their surplus labour (surplus value) and are subjected to exploitation constitute the "class of Workers" or "working class" (proletariat).In this class every Worker (male or female) produces commodities, and is subjected to daily exploitation which always benefits the exploiting class.
What are the features of the relationship between a capitalist and a worker? Does this relation have 3 features which we find in the relation between two independent producers?
(1) Master-Worker relationship is not a labour relation. It is the labour of the Worker that goes to the Master and the Master (here a capitalist) does not give any labour to the Workers. This is not a relation where the labour of one person goes to another.
(2) Where there is no labour relationship, the question whether it is an exchange of equal or unequal value does not arise. The labourer gives his labour to the capitalist. The money which the capitalist pays to the worker as wage is something which the capitalist takes out from the labour of the worker. It is not the money which comes from the labour of the capitalist.
(3) To whom does the Use-Value of the commodity called "Labour-Power" of the worker belong? This is a point which we need to examine later.
It was Marx who originally talked about the concepts which we have mentioned so far: value of labour, value of Labour-Power, surplus value, exploitation of labour, exploiting class, relationships of Independent producers, Master-labour relationship and so on. Society could understand the secret of exploitation of labour only when Marx explained it. However, I find it strange to note that Marx who had explained the process and the relation of exploitation of labour in such a rational and elabourate manner describes the relation as a relation of Buying and Selling.
Marx describes the Labour-Power of a worker as a "commodity'. He describes the process as follows : the worker sells his commodity to the capitalist and the capitalist buys it; in return to his commodity; the worker receives the Value of Labour-Power in the form of wage.
If we consider Labour-Power as a commodity and if the Worker sells it to the capitalist, to whom does the Use-Value of that commodity belong? It belongs to those who bought it, doesn't it?
What, in fact, is the Use-Value of Labour-Power? Performing labour. Labour-Power means capacity of an individual to do labour. However, the nature of the Labour-Power is such that it can do less labour as well as more labour. It can do either way. A given Labour-Power can stop itself after performing a certain amount of labour whose value is equivalent to the value spent on producing it (the Labour-Power). Or, it can continue to perform labour till it produces a value I0 times more than the expenditure incurred for its maintenance. A person who had a meager meal of rice-water which costs I0 paisa/pennies may work for I0 hours and produce a value of I0 rupees/dollars. This means the nature of Labour-Power is such that it can perform labour whose value is greater than its own. This is the Use-Value of Labour-Power. Since Labour-Power has such a unique feature, it is possible for the capitalist to earn (surplus) value greater than the value spent on the maintenance of the Worker.
The capitalist buys the commodity called Labour-Power for the sake of its Use-Value, doesn't he? What, then, is wrong if the capitalist earns surplus value through that commodity? Everyone makes use of the value of a commodity which is bought, isn't it? How does it amount to exploitation of labour if the buyer of a commodity called "Labour-Power" makes use of the Use-Value of that commodity?
Yet, what exactly happens between a capitalist and the Worker is exploitation of labour. But if we say that Labour-Power is a commodity, which the workers sell and the capitalist buys, will it not weaken the argument that exploitation of labour is taking place? Will the working class not land in big trouble?
When Marx called Labour-Power a commodity, we may attribute a certain meaning to it. But will that meaning save the working class from the trouble? We need to examine this point.
What does Marx, mean when he called Labour-Power a "commodity'?" Marx has not referred to the entire labour of a Worker as "commodity". Nor he said that the Worker is selling his entire labour. He used that word while referring to "Labour-Power" only. Marx described the relationship between a capitalist and a worker as a relation of Buying and Selling with reference to "Labour-Power" only—we may argue. But our discussion relates to what he said about Labour-Power. If Labour-Power is a commodity, if the worker sells it, if wage is its value and if the capitalist buys that commodity by paying wage, will the buyer have the right to use that commodity or not? If the capitalist gets more value through the commodity which he bought, how can we argue that it amounts to 'exploitation of labour'? But, what is carried out by the capitalist in reality is exploitation of labour. Does calling Labour-Power a commodity not amount to counterposing the reality?
My argument is that in order to show that exploitation of labour is a reality, we have to abandon the argument that the capitalist buys Labour-Power.
What, in fact, does Marx say about the Use-Value of the Labour-Power? Does he say that it belongs to the worker or the capitalist? He says it belongs to the capitalist. Does Marx not know the fact that the Use-Value of a commodity belongs to those, who bought that commodity? Marx repeatedly says that the Use-Value of a given Labour-Power belongs to the capitalist. In fact, he says it is the right of the capitalist. Because of this right, he further says, the capitalist is exploiting the surplus value.
The question here is, if it is the right of the buyer to use a commodity, how can it be exploitation if he uses that commodity?
We need to examine some statements of Marx on this issue. In these statements, we come across terms like commodity, Buying, Selling etc.
The title given by Marx to the chapter VI in volume 1 of 'Capilal' in which he discussed the concept of Labour-Power is 'The Buying and Selling of Labour-Power'. Marx: "One is a buyer, the other seller" (Moscow edition I975, p. I65) [This means, the capitalist and the worker enter into a relation of Buying and Selling.]
"The possessor of money does find on the market such a special 'commodity in capacity for labour or Labour-Power" (p. I64). (Here, Possessor of "money" is the capitalist. But, the money which he pays as Wage to the Labour-Power is not his labour. It is not his own. Had Marx said this point at the beginning itself, it would have been difficult to understand it. Hence he called the capitalist 'the possessor of money'. In fact, it could have been said at the outset that the money does not belong to the capitalist but Marx chose not to say so.
"…the owner of the labour power should sell it, only for a definite period…." (p. I65). [Only for a definite period' means 'for a certain number of hours only'. That is, for I0 or I2 hours which constitute a given working day. In the case of slaves, there won't be any limit to the working time. They are expected to do work day in and day out, except during sleep at midnight! But there would be a limit to the-working day of the wage workers. If its limit is I5 hours, they ought to perform labour throughout I5 hours. They need not work beyond I5 hours but I5 hours limit itself is the definite period.]
"Nature does not produce on the one side owners of money or commodities, and on the other, men possessing nothing but their own labour-power" (p. I66). [This is to say that the Master-Worker relations are not natural but arise due to certain conditions in the society.]
"....the value of labour-power is the value of the means of subsistence necessary for the maintenance of the worker". (p. I67). ['The maintenance of the worker does not simply mean food. All the expenses connected with the needs that arise depending on the conditions of a given society, expenses connected with the bringing up of the children and; many other aspects constitute value of Labour-Power. Marx touched upon all relevant aspects there.]
[Here, in order to make it simpler, I give the essence of the matter in a condensed manner without quotation marks.] Suppose the value of the labour done by a worker throughout the working day is 6 shillings. If the worker accepts for a wage of 3 shillings, the value of his Labour-Power will be equal to the value of labour which he performs in half-a-day. (p.I69).
Regarding the question to whom does the use-value of a given commodity belong to, Marx says the following: "Suppose that a capitalist pays for a day's labour-power at its value: then the right to use that power for a day belongs to him, just as much as the right to use any other commodity, such as a horse that he has hired for the day. To the purchaser of a commodity belongs its use and the seller of labour-power, by giving his labour, does no more, in reality, than part with the use-value that he has sold. From the instant he steps into the workshop, the use-value of his Labour-Power, and therefore also its use which is labour, belongs to the capitalist." (p. I80) Marx is saying so in order to show how the capitalist is able to grab greater value by using the Labour-Power of the worker. But, once he said that the capitalist has purchased the Labour-Power, is it possible to argue that the capitalist is grabbing more labour from the Labour-Power of the worker'?
See the following quotation till the end. After seeing it one would exclaim thus "Marx, what is this? This is too much!"
"What really influenced him was the specific use-value, but of more value than it has itself. This is the special service that the capitalist expects from Labour Power... The seller of Labour-Power, like the seller of any other commodity, realizes its exchange value, and parts with its use-value. He cannot take the one without giving the other. The use-value of l.ahour-Power or in other words, labour belongs just as little to its seller, as the use-value of oil after it has been sold belongs to the dealer who has sold it. The owner of the money has paid the value of a day's Labour-Power; his therefore is the use of it for a day: a day's labour belongs to him. The circumstance, that on the one hand the daily sustenance of Labour-Power costs only half a day's labour, while on the other hand the very same labour-power can work during a whole' day, that consequently the value which its use during one day creates, is double what he pays for that use, this circumstance is without doubt, a piece of good luck for the buyer, but by no means an injury to the seller.'" (p. I88)
Though words like 'good luck' and 'bad luck' are insane words, Marx should have added the expression "bad luck for the seller" (worker) to the expression 'good luck for the buyer" (capitalist). Marx, is it not an injury to the worker?
Well, let us think once again what Marx meant here. He said, it is "by no- means an injury to the seller ( worker)". He said this with reference to the Labour-Power. Once certain amount of "wage" is fixed, the workers would get that amount and hence there is no injury. This is what he meant. While saying so, Marx also says that the worker's surplus is going to the capitalist.
Marx, on the one hand, argues that the capitalist buys the Labour-Power and the use- value of the Labour-Power belongs to the capitalist only and on the other hand, he argues that the appropriation of surplus value through the Labour-Power is exploitation of labour. How do these two aspects reconcile with one another? What should the workers do? Which should they choose and which should they reject out of the two mutually contradictory arguments? They have to retain the correct one and give up the incorrect one. If the entire value of labour of the worker goes to the worker as wage, why does a capitalist at all start an industry with workers? As exploitation of labour of the workers by the capitalist is a fact, we have to consider this argument as right and stick to it. However we have to give up the ideas of buying and selling of Labour-Power which will lead to the argument that 'the use-value of the Labour-Power belongs to the capitalist'. Only then the problem is resolved.
Since there appears a contradiction in describing the relation between the capitalist and the workers as a relation of buying and selling, how should we explain their relation? We should explain that it is not a relation of buying and selling.
The nature of that relation is as follows:
A worker does not have means of production even if he has, they are inadequate and henee he cannot live like an independent labourer. The capitalist, on the other hand, is an idler who stopped doing labour since he accumulated means of production and money by means of exploitation through the past generations. Thus it is a relation that forms between a helpless worker who is compelled to search for a Master and an idler who is obliged to depend on the labour of such helpless workers. If we call the worker a "seller" and the capitalist a "buyer", then it would be a relation between equals. But their relation is not such a relation. The reason for the worker to approach a landlord or capitalist : for work is the fact, that the landlords/capitalists have appropriated all means of production including land since ages.
What really takes place between a worker and a capitalist is not buying and selling. What happens is this : the worker goes to the capitalist and asks for work. As the capitalist would like to live without doing any labour, he would employ only a certain number of workers that he needs. As those workers have to be alive in order to work daily, he would pay some amount of money in the name of wage as per his own calculations. (That wage is not paid out of the money of the capitalist. The capitalist, who does not do any labour, does not possess a single paisa of his own which he earns by doing labour. The money of that wage is something which he pays out of the labour of the workers. But outwardly it appears as if the wage is paid out of the capitalist's money. Finally, it is the surplus value which the capitalist receives. Thus, many things in the world appear one way outwardly and in an altogether different way in reality.] Since what really happens between the capitalist and the workers is this, we need to emphasize this point. This is how we have to state: "As two things happen namely the worker works and the capitalist pays wage outwardly, it appears as if sale and purchase have taken place. But in reality they are not sale and purchase. Where is the money for the capitalist to purchase the Labour-Power? It is the money of the worker which the capitalist pays as wage. Hence, what is there for the capitalist to buy? This is not a relation of buying and selling. If we take a stance like this, there won't be any scope for the capitalist to argue, 'the use-value of the Labour-Power is mine'. We should not use the word 'commodity' with reference to Labour-Power. We should not use the words "buying and selling' with reference to the worker and the capitalist. As what actually happens is exploitation of labour by the capitalist, we should consider all the terms that do not express the fact as 'mistakes' and correct them accordingly.
value of Labour-Power
We ought to carefully understand what Marx said about the value of the Labour-Power. First let us examine Marx's words : "Equivalent has been exchunged for equivalent. For the ctipitalist as buyer paid for each commodity for the cotton, the spindle and the Luhour-Power; its full value." (Capital-I. Moscow edition, I975 : 189).
A capitalist, who would like to buy any means of production, has to buy it from other capitalists : 'He has to pay the full value of those means. [The money which the capitalist spends on means of production is also not something that the capitalist gets by performing labour himself. The money that he spent on the old means, of production is something that he got from exploitation of labour. Whenever those means of production are spent out, that money keeps coming back overtime. New means of production increase due to new surplus value. His money connected with old as well as new means of production is not something which the capitalist got by doing labour himself.]
In these words, Marx says that the capitalist is paying the full value to the Labour-Power of the worker just as he paid the full value of cotton and the spindle. If we assume that value of the Labour-Power is something that satisfies the needs of the worker, it does not mean that Marx was unaware of the fact that the capitalist does never pay such wage. Yet Marx says that the capitalist pays the full value (good wage) to the value of the Labour-Power in order to prove that the value of labour consists of 2 portions. The labour of the entire working day produces such a large value that we can show that there remains surplus-value over and above the "full value of the Labour-Power" that is paid to the worker. If the capitalist does not pay good wage, then the portion of the surplus value will increase further. However huge a wage a capitalist might pay, he would add some surplus over the wage in the name of "profit" and then fixes the price. The reason for obtaining the value thus added through the commodity is not because the capitalist added some profit. It is an outward reason. The actual reason is the fact that in the production of a commodity, the worker performed so much labour that it gives both the value of Labour-Power as well as surplus. That is why even after deducting the value of Labour-Power from the value of labour, surplus value still remains and it goes to the capitalist.
Another question. What is the limit to the value of the Labour-Power? Is it possible to calculate the value of the Labour-Power as is done in the case of value of labour? It is very easy to calculate the value of labour in the case of every commodity. Let us suppose 10-money is obtained when a commodity is sold. It means that so much value is obtained because that commodity has so much value. Let us suppose that the value of the means of production to produce that commodity is 3. If we deduct 3 from I0, the remaining 7 is the value of labour of those who produced that commodity. Thus, we can find out with certainty the value of the labour of a person who produced that commodity, once that commodity is exchanged with money.
Well, then how to find out the, ‘value of Labour-Power’? What is its limit? If an independent producer produces the commodity, he would use the entire value of his labour, he would use less quantity if it is less: more quantity if it is more. It is meant for his own use. This means, the natural limit to the value of Labour-Power is the value of labour. Both are same. In fact, large quantity of labour that exceeds the needs does not take place in the case of Independent producers. It takes place as per the requirements. However more labour an independent producer performs and through it accumulates small property the whole thing constitutes his needs only. The question, 'what is the limit to the value the Labour-Power'—does not arise in this case. Where, there is no Master, the value of labour itself constitutes the value of the Labour-Power. There won't be any difference between the two. There won't be a separate calculation for the value of Labour-Power.
This naturalness, however, does not find place in the case of wage workers. Let us suppose that the value of the labour of a worker is 7. If only a certain portion of it should go to him as "value of the Labour-Power" (as wage), how much should it be? What is its limit? Here arises the question of wage calculation. If the worker gets the entire value of his labour (7) without reference to the wage calculations, won't this value of labour be the value of his Labour-Power?
There is another aspect of the matter here. Suppose, a worker performs labour under the command of the Master and produces 20-value daily. Let us suppose that he would satisfy all his needs and live comfortably if he gets 8 out of that 20. In such a situation, he cannot use the value of his labour even if he gets the entire 20 value. Except 8 value, he does not require the remaining I2 value. What does this mean? If he does not have a Master, he could work to the extent of 8-value and then stop working. The length of the working day would decrease. What happens due to the existence of a Master is that the worker is obliged to do more labour than what he actually needs.
Out of the value of that work 20, 8 are for the worker and 12 for the Master. If the worker gets 4 as wage out of that 20, the remaining I6 goes to the Master.
While talking about the workers, it is a fair principle to say "everyone must get the value of their labour". But the length (hours) of a working day in a society where there, is no Master-worker relationship need not be the same as in a society, where there is such a relation. We need no work for 15 hours daily, increase production with insane speed and use up the entire production in a crazy manner. Crazy consumption of production means things like making the dining table with gold, instead of ordinary wood. Such consumption is crazy labour, crazy production and crazy consumption! All these taken together constitute an insane condition!
Assuming that our bodies have the capacity to do any amount of labour, if we convert our consumption of ordinary products into the consumption of products 100 times more valuable, our crazy situation destroys all the natural resources and will put us all on the death bed.
Finally, what is the conclusion at which we have arrived with regard to the natural limit of the value of Labour-Power? The limit of the value of labour power should not exceed the value of labour. It should neither be part of value of labour nor less than that. Value of labour itself is value of Labour-Power. However, the wage, which the capitalist fixes will never be like this. It will always be a very small portion of the value of labour. Hence we can call it "wage", but why should we call such a small portion "value of Labour-Power"?
If a commodity is exchanged with money, it is an exchange of equal values according to the law of value. If we consider wage as the exact value of Labour-Power and if 2-wage is paid per day for the Labour-Power, the worker who receives that wage is obliged to accept that it is the real value of the Labour-Power, that its value is 2 and hence he got that much money and it does not possess more value than that.
Just as calling Labour-Power a commodity is wrong, calling value of Labour-Power a wage is also in a way wrong. Wage is not the value of Labour-Power that satisfies the needs of the worker. Therefore, value of Labour-Power must be called a wage only in order to discuss certain points. Wage, in fact, is not the value of Labour-Power. If we give it such a good name, it amounts to respecting it (wage) a lot. "Wage" is a relation of exploitation. To give it another rational name, we should call wage a wage only. Marx is very much opposed to wage. He argues that the working class must remove the term "wage" from its banner.
We have to recall once again the use-value of Labour-Power that Labour-Power can perform labour whose value is more than its own value. The Labour-Power which is made of 2-maintenance can work not only to the extent of 7 only but also up to I0 or I8. It is not obligatory on its part to do so. But it can if required.
The relation of a worker with the capitalist (with any Master for that matter) is a relation whereby the worker can retain his Labour-Power with the least value (with wage) and produce excess value in the work place. 'That's why Labour-Power does so in that relationship.
If the capitalist buys Labour-Power, whatever excess labour is done due to the Labour-Power and whatever excess value that labour attains whatever excess money that labour secures, what relation does the worker, who sold that commodity have'? How can the worker argue that the capitalist takes surplus value and engages in 'exploitation of labour.' 'The capitalist himself can argue with the worker with greater confidence. Let us see how the arguments between them would proceed!
"Look here my boy! It seems that the other day you chattered a lot at the union meeting of yours! The capitalist steals our surplus value and exploits us and a lot more like that. Speak up now whether this is true!" "Indeed, all that is true. I said so"
"Did you really believe so before saying all that stuff? Tell me what is the labour exploitation happening because of me!"
"Each and every worker among us knows this. How can I speak without believing so? My labour is larger than your wages. With my labour you will earn a hundred Rupees but you will give me only a fiver or a tenner as my wages. The rest is yours! Is this not exploitation of labour?"
"Look here, I read Marx. Did you read him too, first of all?"
"Thoroughly. I learnt all from Marx."
"What is our relation?"
"That of a master and a worker. You are the Master and I am the worker."
"No. Ours is a relation between equals. A relation of buying and selling. You are the seller and I am the buyer."
"If we are equals, how is that you are the master and I am the worker?"
"We are equals nevertheless. Do you know what the commodities you sell are?"
"If you know what you are buying, wouldn't ' know what I am selling? It is my "labour power" that I sell."
"Well said. Am I paying or evading the value of your commodity?"
"Sure you would like to evade. Except that, the next day you won't get a single worker. Therefore you are paying, of course".
"You admit that I am not evading what is due to you; that is good enough for me. Tell me once again the name of the commodity that you are selling please".
"I shall tell you a hundred times. It is my labour power. My labour power."
"Does it have a value? Mow much'?"
"Well, aren't you giving wages'? That is what it is?"
"Are the wages so unacceptable to you'? Marx called the wages as 'the value of labour power'. Did you read?"
"It depends on the context. He said so to prove that there should be a surplus value over and above what you pay as the value of Labour Power. Don't tell me Marx said what you pay as wages would unburden the worker!"
"You honour your teacher in a grand fashion. Will you accept if I reduce the wages further?"
"Why should I? If I reduce my work, will you accept? Every commodity has its own value. Whatever the value, that must be paid.".
"That means, you admit that the wages I pay you are the value of your Labour Power. I give back the value of your commodity understood?"
"Alright, you do argue well. Tell me then, what now?"
"Last night I flipped through Marx's book. Aren't you the union leader? I summoned you as I wanted to share an issue with you. Why do you call our relation as that of a Master and a worker? You sell and I buy. Our relation, is that of a seller and a buyer who are equals. Get to know that first."
"No, what I sell and what you buy is limited only to part of my Labour Power. I do not sell you all of my labour. You extract the surplus value of the whole of my labour. You may be paying something for my Labour Power, but do you make a full payment for my entire labour? How can a relationship such as this could be the one between equals?"
"Alright, let me repeat my initial question. What is the commodity that you sell?"
"I will also repeat my initial answer. The commodity I sell is my "Labour Power."
"Do I pay its value'?"
"Of course! Am I retarded to sell the commodity without a payment?"
"You are retarded? No, you are too smart. That is why I summoned you. Alright, tell me what is "the use value" of the commodity that you sell? Not "the exchange value", tell me its "use value".
"Oh! you know all the values! I toil for several hours using my Labour Power. The value of my labour is much larger than the value of the wages that you give. The Labour Power of a worker generates a larger value than its own."
"How could a smaller value give more value?"
"When I say "less value", it applies to the wages you give. "Wages" mean a few products of subsistence. The products, will not move into the workplace by themselves to toil. It is the worker who comes to the workplace and toils for more hours. The value produced by the worker is far greater than that consumed by him for his subsistence. That is how you can extort the surplus value."
"I get profit because I add profit to my capital. Why do you call it surplus value?"
"Every capitalist does this gimmick of adding profit like you. The means of production that you buy are akin to the commodity that you sell. The actual value of a commodity includes profit. The value of a commodity is not fixed by your adding of profit. It is arrived at based on the quantity of labour that we perform."
"Bravo, you studied Marx quite thoroughly. You say that the use value of the Labour Power can produce more value than its own don't you? Say it again!"
"Absolutely. You too seem to have studied Marx quite well. Did you not come across "surplus value" anywhere?"
"I did, let me assure you. I too studied Marx quite well, although not as thoroughly as you did. Tell me one thing! You purchased a shirt, is the use value of the shirt yours or the seller's'? Who will wear the shirt, you or the vendor?"
"Won't I use the item I purchased? Why ask these questions?''
"Well said. What about 'the Labour Power' then? You sold it and I purchased. Will the use value of the commodity I purchased be mine or yours?"
"No need to rush. Take your time. Think it over and answer. Who will use the commodity, the one who bought it or the one who sold it? If I get a far greater value through the Labour Power, am I to blame?"
"No hurry. Think well and answer!"
"No, there is nothing to think. If one buys inanimate things, the use value of the things belongs to the one who purchased them. However, is the Labour Power 'a thing'? It is an integral component of the human body. An inanimate thing and a human being are not the same."
"In that ease, why did you call the human body 'a commodity'?" "Commodity" means the Labour Power, not the body."
"Where will the Labour Power be if not inside of the body? Isn't it the body which needs nourishment? Will you nurture the power independently without nurturing the body?"
'Please think over, coolly.
"A commodity' is not only a thing, anything subjected to 'selling' is a commeditiy. What did you study in Marx? Aren't tasks like driving a cart or teaching commodities, though they are nothings? The cows and buffaloes are also commodities, once they are sold. Likewise, why not the Labour Power too is "a commodity"? You sold it to me and I bought it. I paid off its value. The use value of the commodity I purchased belongs to me. Whatever additional values I procure through this transaction are mine alone. Didn't Marx said so? Look, hereafter do not talk about exploitation of labour! Do not deliver such ignorant lectures at your union! I summoned you just to say this. No hurry, think it over!"
"No, no, there is nothing more to think. Nothing more to think even for a moment. My thinking has come to an end. The thing called 'the Labour Power" is not 'a commodity'. It appears that way that's all. All these days, I assumed that I sold it and yon purchased. The sellers and the buyers are equals. If we are buyers and sellers, are we equals? I know that we are not. Yet, I have been under the illusion that I sell and you buy. That was a big mistake. Now I realize how much my mistake helped you and emboldened you to profess what you perpetrate is not exploitation of labour. Are you buying my Labour Power? With what'?"
"With what? With my money."
"With your money? Is the money yours? 'What is the labour that you do to earn money? After selling my labour, you toss me a Paisa from my own; money. You make the remaining heap of money your own! At least now, I have opened my eyes. Don't try to show off that you buy my Labour Power. It is not a commodity."
"What did your teacher say? Don't you care for your own teacher's word?"
"I do care, I do care a lot. However, I have enough wisdom to place my teacher's mistakes in front of him."
"Will your teacher change his theory, if you change your thinking?"
"Why should the theory be changed'? If there is an error in the way of our thinking, that should be changed. If there is a mistake, why will not Marx rectify it? He certainly will. Mistakes are possible even; when one is extremely intelligent."
"Do you mean Marx too erred?"
"I must say so. It is my teacher's error that rendered the worker helpless while the capitalist boasts arrogantly that there is no exploitation."
"This is not the real mistake that your teacher committed. The real mistake is the teaching of proletarian dictatorship. That is the one that should be changed."
"The proletarian dictatorship is one thousand percent the best principle. If not for that theory, how are we to be liberated from the capitalist imprisonment? Do you know what Marx called the heap of your means of production? He called it 'the dead labour'. He said that the dead labour is dominating the living labour. Intoxicated by your assets, you have encroached upon the 'hills, valleys, forests, oceans and the entire planet earth. Without possessing, the proletariat dictatorship as our weapon, how could we liberate the planet earth from your Kabandha (crushing) arms'? How could we make you lethargic gang stand in front of the machines next to us? Our dictatorship is our protective armor."
"Why are you so agitated'? Don't yon see how patient I have been with you? Don't you comprehend how much I toil to manage this company? Having invested this much capital...."
"Never utter this again in front of the workers. You will only become laughing stock. We know the secret of yourr capital. All of your old capital is the accumulation of the surplus value of the previous generations.The new capital that accumulates every year is the surplus value extracted from today's working class. Someone like you drinks and roams all day without lifting a blade of grass? Own property? Is the capital yours?"
"My goodness! Why are you so worked up? Do you actually know why I have summoned you? The real error Marx committed is not when he called the Labour Power a commodity! Think calmly! It is a grand mistake to chant of "exploitation of labour". Perhaps, you could request for a raise in wages..,"
"If the wages are raised, your surplus value will shrink. You will fall sick." "Look here my dear boy! I like you very much! I love you very much!' "What is this? How insulting this is for me! Where have I blundered?"
"My boy! Listen to me! Marx hasn't erred. He was too intelligent. The Labour Power is a commodity. You sold it and I bought it. Its use value is all mine! Get that point right! Teach this in the union meetings!"
"Marx also taught about the 'exploitation of labour'. When should I talk about this at the union?"
"No. That is a grave mistake. Let it be! Didn't Marx say that all the use value of the Labour Power belongs to the buyer? Teach this in the union! Think coolly, don't be in a haste.'"
"I understand it well now that an error committed by an activist, however small it may be, will only benefit the enemy. How else a person who exploits my labour could talk to me so boldly? Just a consequence of my mistake!"
"No, you are not at fault. Do not keep harping on your labour again and again. Talk only about your Labour Power. Did you sell it or not? You did. Did I buy it or not? I did. Then, its use value will be mine, how can it be yours? Why don't you think straight?"
I told you a long time ago that my thinking has come to an end. It is not the selling and buying that transpires between us every day. As I have no means of living independently, out of no choice I have come to you. What did Marx say? He said that there should exist either the system of the independent producers or socialism. However, his aim was socialism. He said so since there would be no exploitation in either of the systems. 'However, independent producers will have to sell their products. Then there would, prevail competition and rivalry among them. I would not like to see human beings living under such conditions. Socialism is my aim. That will develop into communism. I would like to live my life working for that. Wage enhancement? Will you increase the wages to the extent that you can make no profit. Have you ever noticed how exactly people live on wages that you pay them? Does anyone have a house with four rooms? Do the people have clean food and drinking water? Do the children have access to education? Can the old folk afford leisure? Is there a semblance between your lives and ours?'
"You say that there is no exploitation of labour and that the master and the workers are equals. Think properly! No hurry whatsoever."
"What is the use of preaching to you? We must do what we ought to do the value which "the Labour Power" has is the wages plus the surplus value. The entire value is ours. It is all our money. An exchange between you and us is a stage show. If you don't get an iota of our value, it means that we get the entire use value of our Labour Power. It will happen not now but in near future. In socialism."
"Look my boy! You are quite smart and intelligent. You work hard. You have been working here for the past five years. You have organized strikes with the workers by convincing them to go off work. Even then, I haven't thrown you out. I have a great hope in you. If you join hands with me together we can make this company ten times larger. I will make you the manager of your section. I will increase your salary ten times. I will arrange for your family to move to a better apartment. Why do you think of socialism and communism instead of taking care of your own life? A lot of people like you make sacrifices and perish. You call Lenin a great leader. Did socialism survive even there? You are a smart fellow. Why are you obsessed? Say "yes" just once. I will declare you, the manager tomorrow itself.
"Instead of making me the manager, it would be a great honor if you have me assassinated for having campaigned for socialism among the workers."
"I thought you were a smart fellow. You invite the trouble of losing your job."
"That is real emancipation for me. I have been wasting my time in your service for the last five years. If I leave your service, I will be able to spend my time day and night in the service of my class. Unable to assess what the disciples of Marx may have learnt from their teacher 'you have summoned me. Try your tricks elsewhere but never on the disciples of Marx. Your tricks won't work on them." ooo
[Translation from Telegu : B R Bapuji & R Udaykumar. Copy editing : P Sreelakshmi]
Frontier, Autumn Number
Vol. 46, No. 13-16, Oct 6 - Nov 2, 2013
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