Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Necessary Labour

Necessary labour has to be distinguished from socially necessary labour-time. The former refers to the labour that must be expended to ensure that the producer's consumption fund is produced. Socially necessary labour-time refers to the labour-time required, on average, to produce use values, and consequently value. These are two entirely different things.

If a producer requires eight hours to produce the items of consumption needed to reproduce their own labour-power, this eight hours constitutes necessary labour. If, the worker then spends a further two hours working, producing additional items of consumption, these two hours constitute surplus labour. Yet, the entire ten hours could constitute socially necessary labour-time. 

Suppose that, in addition to this particular producer, who produces food, there is another producer who makes ploughs and other equipment. This second producer spends all their time producing these means of production. They are able to do this because, the first producer only produces food. Although, the first producer performs surplus labour of two hours, when they produce food over and above what they require, for their own consumption, taken from the standpoint of the whole society, i.e. of the two producers, they do not perform surplus labour, because the food producers, in the additional two hours, produce the food required by the equipment makers to be able to live without themselves producing food.

The two hours spent by the equipment producer, producing equipment, which they exchange with the food producer, is also surplus labour not necessary labour. It is surplus labour because it does not produce consumption goods required by themselves or the food producer. Nor is it time expended producing means of production used in this year's production of consumption goods.  It forms part of the total value of output for this year, which is equal to 12 hours (10 hours of output from the food producer and 2 hours from the equipment producer), but it forms no part of this year's revenue (which is equal only to the value of consumption goods produced = 10 hours.)  The means of production produced by the equipment maker do not take part in the production process until the following year, and so only become part of the value of food production at that time.  But, although the two hours of labour of the equipment maker is not necessary labour, it is socially necessary labour, provided the product of that labour is all required.

In the model Marx sets up in Capital II, Chapter 20, explaining this the figures are:

Department 1 c 4000 + v 1000 + s 1000 = 6000

Department II c 2000 + v 500 + s 500 = 3000

In this model the 2000 c (means of production) used by Department II are NOT the 2000 c of means of production produced by Department I, and equal to the Department I (v + s).  That output of Department I, is this year's output.  It is exchanged at the end of the year with Department II, for 2000 of consumer goods, which are part of its output for this year, and form the consumption for Department I workers and capitalists next year.  Department II's 2000 of means of production, used in its current production, and forming part of the value of its current output is 2000 of value it already possessed, and which had been produced in previous years.  The 2000 c, produced by Department I, represented by the 1,000 v + 1,000 s, only reproduce the 2,000 of means of production already in the hands of Department II, and whose value is transferred to its output for this year.

The total value of output here is then 9,000.  Department II's output is equal to 3,000.  This comprises 1000 of new value created by Department II workers, and which is then divided into 500 to reproduce Department II labour-power, with a surplus value of 500 being left over for the consumption of Department II capitalists.  The remaining 2000 of value is comprised of the value of means of production already in the hands of Department II producers, which was produced in previous years, and whose value is merely transferred into Department II's current output.

Department I's output is 6000.  It comprises 2000 of new value created by its workers, which is divided into 1000 for the reproduction of the labour-power of its workers, and 1,000 left over as surplus value used to fund the consumption of Department I capitalists.  This 2000 of value, which is exchanged with Department II, at the end of the year, only replaces the 2000 of value that Department II already had in its possession.  It is not the 2000 of value, that Department II uses in this year's production.  This 2000 is part of this year's value of output, but does not take part in the production of Department II until next year.  That is why the total value of output is 6000 from Department I, and 3000 from Department II, giving 9,000 in total.  The other 4000 of output value from Department I, itself simply replaces the value of means of production that Department I itself already had in its possession, and which was the product of previous year's production.

If the food producer wants the equipment that has been produced, and is prepared to exchange their surplus food for it, then the labour performed by the equipment maker was socially necessary. If, however, the food producer does not want the equipment, or only wants part of it, then either all or some of the labour, expended by the equipment maker, was wasted. It was not socially necessary labour, because it was used to create products no one wanted. That is they were not use values, and a product can only have value if it is a use value.

As Marx sets out, socially necessary labour-time does not just require that each individual commodity is produced using the most efficient methods available, at the time. It also requires that the total production of any class of commodity does not exceed the demand for that commodity at its market value or price of production. If it does, the labour-time expended on that excess production was not socially necessary, and creates no value.

“But it is merely the same law which is already applied in the case of single commodities, namely, that the use-value of a commodity is the basis of its exchange-value and thus of its value. This point has a bearing upon the relationship between necessary and surplus labour only in so far as a violation of this proportion makes it impossible to realise the value of the commodity and thus the surplus-value contained in it. For instance; let us assume that proportionally too much cotton goods have been produced, although only the labour-time necessary under the prevailing conditions is incorporated in this total cloth production. But in general too much social labour has been expended in this particular line; in other words, a portion of this product is useless. It is therefore sold solely as if it had been produced in the necessary proportion. This quantitative limit to the quota of social labour-time available for the various particular spheres of production is but a more developed expression of the law of value in general, although the necessary labour-time assumes a different meaning here. Only just so much of it is required for the satisfaction of social needs. The limitation occurring here is due to the use value. Society can use only so much of its total labour-time for this particular kind of product under prevailing conditions of production.”


If the food producer above had themselves spent the two hours of surplus labour-time producing equipment they required, this would not in any way have changed the fact that this two hours was surplus labour-time, rather than necessary labour-time. That is no matter how useful, to them, the equipment, produced during those 2 hours, might be to them. The equipment produced is not itself required for consumption, and it is only the time spent producing consumption goods that constitutes necessary labour. This expenditure of labour produces not consumption goods, but means of production. It represents accumulation, the value of which is thrown into circulation only when those means of production are themselves employed in the production process. Only then does the labour required to reproduce these means of production, so that production of means of consumption can continue, on the most efficient basis, does labour-time, spent in that way, become necessary labour.

That is because the working-day divides into two parts of necessary labour and surplus labour. The necessary labour is the labour-time required to produce the necessary means of consumption, including the time required to produce the means of production necessary for that production. If I can only catch rabbits by first building traps, then the time required to build traps is necessary labour-time. But, the time I might spend at the end of the day building enclosures within which to breed and farm rabbits, is not necessary labour-time. It is surplus labour-time, used for the purpose of accumulation of means of production. But, as soon as I then begin to use the enclosures, the labour-time I must expend to maintain them becomes necessary labour-time, because it is an essential part of me farming rabbits efficiently.

But, these two hours of surplus labour, spent at the end of the day, although it is not necessary labour, is still socially necessary labour. It does not produce goods required for the reproduction of the producer, but it does produce use values, products required by the producer and so these products have value, the labour used in their production created new value, and to the extent it was manifest in this surplus product, it represents a surplus value.

The fact that the producers are able to perform this surplus labour, in excess of necessary labour, to thereby produce a surplus product, and consequently a surplus value, and the fact that they are made to do so, is the basis of each form of class society, so that the difference between each mode of production rests upon the different means by which this surplus value is pumped out of the producers – as direct labour service by the slave; as rent by the serf and peasant; as surplus exchange value by the wage labourer.

“All ground-rent is surplus-value, the product of surplus-labour. In its undeveloped form as rent in kind it is still directly the surplus-product itself. Hence, the mistaken idea that the rent corresponding to the capitalist mode of production — which is always a surplus over and above profit, i.e., above a value portion of commodities which itself consists of surplus-value (surplus-labour) — that this special and specific component of surplus-value is explained by merely explaining the general conditions for the existence of surplus-value and profit in general. These conditions are: the direct producers must work beyond the time necessary for reproducing their own labour-power, for their own reproduction. They must perform surplus-labour in general. This is the subjective condition. The objective condition is that they must be able to perform surplus-labour. The natural conditions must be such that a part of their available labour-time suffices for their reproduction and self-maintenance as producers, that the production of their necessary means of subsistence shall not consume their whole labour-power.”


The surplus value produced by the direct producer is not a surplus exchange value of the kind obtained by the productive-capitalist. The latter lays out a certain quantity of exchange value in its physical form, as money-capital, and buys productive-capital in the form of means of production and labour-power. As a result of the production process, the workers create new value, and this new value is greater than the value of their labour-power. The consequence is that this greater amount of new value then represents a surplus exchange value that is appropriated by the capitalist. The quantity of exchange value advanced by the capitalist at the start of this process, has been turned into a greater sum of exchange at the end of it, without the capitalist giving anything in exchange for the difference. It is this fact, that the exchange value advanced, self-expands in value as a consequence of the production process, that makes it capital rather than simply an amount of exchange value.

But, for the direct producer, the food producer, although they have a surplus product, over and above what was required to reproduce their labour-power, i.e. over and above the necessary labour they needed to perform, and although this product is a use value, and so represents two hours of value, it is not a surplus exchange value, of the kind appropriated by the capitalist. The food producer did not obtain this surplus value without giving something in exchange for it, as the capitalist did. The food producer gave two hours of their own labour-time to obtain this surplus product and its surplus value.

If we return to the situation of the food producer and the equipment maker, a total of twelve hours is worked, but only the ten hours worked by the food producer constitutes necessary labour. It is only this necessary labour that produces the means of consumption required by the two producers. Although it appears that the two hours of additional food production is surplus production, from the standpoint of the society, it is not, because the food is required for the subsistence of the equipment maker. It is, in fact, the two hours spent by the equipment maker, which from the standpoint of the society represents surplus-labour.

Marx points out that it is this division of labour, between food producers and the producers of means of production that is at the basis of all economic and social development. A society must first be able to produce more food than it immediately requires to feed itself, before it can devote some time to producing other things. It must be able to feed the whole of society from the labour of only a part of society, so that another portion of society can devote itself wholly to producing means of production.

“The Physiocrats, furthermore, are correct in stating that in fact all production of surplus-value, and thus all development of capital, has for its natural basis the productiveness of agricultural labour. If man were not capable of producing in one working-day more means of subsistence, which signifies in the strictest sense more agricultural products than every labourer needs for his own reproduction, if the daily expenditure of his entire labour power sufficed merely to produce the means of subsistence indispensable for his own individual requirements, then one could not speak at all either of surplus-product or surplus-value. An agricultural labour productivity exceeding the individual requirements of the labourer is the basis of all societies, and is above all the basis of capitalist production, which disengages a constantly increasing portion of society from the production of basic foodstuffs and transforms them into "free heads," as Steuart [Steuart, An Inquiry Into the Principles of Political Economy, Vol. I, Dublin, 1770, p. 396. — Ed.] has it, making them available for exploitation in other spheres.”


This is also the basis of the total social exchange of commodities between Department I, producing means of production, and Department II producing means of consumption.

The working-day for an individual or for a society then can be divided into necessary labour and surplus labour. The product of the necessary labour is a necessary product, and the product of the surplus labour is a surplus product with a corresponding surplus value.

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