Graphic Witness: Hugo Gellert
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Hugo Gellert: Karl Marx' 'Capital' in Lithographs

Degree of Exploitation of Labor Power

RATE OF SURPLUS VALUE: degree of exploitation of labor power

. . . We have seen that during one part of the labor process the worker produces nothing more than the value of his labor power, that is, the value of his necessary means of subsistence. Since his work as producer is done in a society where the social division of labor prevails, he does not produce the necessaries of life for himself directly, but produces, in the form of some particular commodity, such as yarn, a value equal to the value of his means of subsistence, or to the value of the money with which he buys them.

The portion of his working day spent in this way is larger or smaller according as the value of the average amount of the means of subsistence that he needs daily is smaller or larger, that is, according as the average daily labor time required for their production is longer or shorter. If, on the average, the value of his daily means of subsistence is the embodiment of six working hours, then on the average, the worker will have to labor for six hours daily in order to produce this value. If he were not working for a capitalist, but on his own account, independently, then, other things being equal, he would have, on the average, to work for the same aliquot [number of hours or] part of the day in order to produce the value of his labor power, and thus acquire the means of subsistence necessary for his own maintenance or persistent reproduction.

Since, however, in that part of the working day in which he produces the daily value of labor power (3s., let us say), he produces nothing more than an equivalent for the value of labor power which has already been paid by the capitalist, since the new value he creates does nothing more than replace the value of the variable capital which has been advanced, this production of value would appear to be nothing more than reproduction.

I therefore term that part of the working day in which such reproduction is effected, necessary labor time; and I term the labor expended during this period, necessary labor. The latter is necessary for the worker, because it is independent of the social form of his labor. It is necessary for capital, and for the world of capital, because the continued existence of the worker forms their foundation.

The second period of the labor process, that in which the worker has overstepped the limits of necessary labor time, costs him labor, calls upon him for the expenditure of labor power, but it does not serve to create any value for him. It serves to create surplus value, which smiles upon the capitalist with all the charms of an entity created out of nothing. This part of the working day I term, surplus labor time; and all the labor expended in it I term surplus labor.

If we are to understand value in general, it is of supreme importance that we should learn to regard it as a mere congelation of labor time, as nothing more than materialized labor; and for the understanding of surplus value, it is just as important that we should learn to regard this as a mere congelation of surplus labor time, as nothing more than materialized surplus labor. What distinguishes the various economic types of society from one another (distinguishes, for instance, a society based upon slavery from a society based upon wage labor), is nothing other than the way in which surplus labor is extorted from the actual producer, from the worker.

Since the value of the variable capital is equal to the value of the labor power which this variable capital buys, and since the value of this labor power determines the length of the necessary portion of the working day, while surplus value is determined by the length of the surplus portion of the working day, it follows that the ratio between surplus value and variable capital is identical with the ratio between surplus labor and necessary labor. . . .

The rate of surplus value is, therefore, a precise expression for the degree of the exploitation of labor power by capital, or of the exploitation of the worker by the capitalist. . . .

The part of the product that represents the surplus value . . . . I term surplus product. Just as the rate of surplus value is determined by its relation, not to the total capital advanced, but to the variable part of that capital, so the relative magnitude of the surplus product is determined by its ratio, not the remainder of the total product, but to that part of the product which represents necessary labor. Inasmuch as the production of surplus value is an end and aim of capitalist production, wealth should be measured by the relative magnitude of the surplus product, not by the absolute magnitude of the product.

The sum of the necessary labor and the surplus labor, the period of time in which the worker produces both the value which replaces the value of his labor power and surplus value in addition, constitutes the actual time during which he works -- his working day.