An excerpt from:
Economic Manuscript of 1861-63
Karl Marx, Volume 32, Marx-Engels Collected Works
5) Theories of Surplus Value.
l) Opposition to the Economists (Based on the Ricardian Theory)
1)The Source and Remedy of the National Difficulties etc. A Letter to Lord John Russell, London, 1821 (anonymous)
The pamphlet is no theoretical treatise. [It is a] protest against the false reasons given by the economists for the distress and the "national difficulties" of the times. It does not, consequently, make the claim that its conception of surplus value as surplus labour carries with it a general criticism of the entire system of economic categories, nor can this be expected of it. The author stands rather on Ricardian ground and is only consistent in stating one of the consequences inherent in the system itself and he advances it in the interests of the working class against capital.
For the rest, the author remains a captive of the economic categories as he finds them. Just as in the case of Ricardo the confusion of surplus value with profit leads to undesirable contradictions, so in his case the fact that he christens surplus value the interest of capital.
To be sure, he is in advance of Ricardo in that he first of all reduces all surplus value to surplus labour, and when he calls surplus value interest of capital, he at the same time emphasises that by this he understands the general form of surplus labour in contrast to its particular forms -- rent, interest of money and industrial profit.
He thus distinguishes the general form of surplus labour or surplus value from their particular forms, something which neither Ricardo nor Adam Smith [does], at least not consciously or consistently. But on the other hand, he applies the name of one of these particular forms -- interest -- to the general form. And this suffices to make him relapse into economic slang.
"The progress of increasing capital would, in established societies, be marked by the decreasing interest of money, or, what comes to the same, the decreasing quantity of the labour of others that would be given for its use" ([p.] 6).
This passage reminds one of Carey. But with him it is not the labourer who uses capital, but capital which uses labour. Since by interest he understands surplus labour in any form, the matter of the remedy of our "national difficulties" amounts to an increase in wages; for the reduction of interest means a reduction of surplus labour. However, what he really means is that in the exchange of capital for labour the appropriation of alien labour should be reduced or that the worker should appropriate more of his own labour and capital less.
Reduction of surplus labour can mean two things:
Less work should be performed over and above the time which is necessary to reproduce the labour capacity, that is, to create an equivalent for wages;
or, less of the total quantity of labour should assume the form of surplus labour, that is, the form of time worked gratis for the capitalist; therefore less of the product in which labour manifests itself should take the form of surplus produce; in other words, the worker should receive more of his own product and less of it should go to the capitalist.
A nation is really rich only if no interest is paid for the use of capital; if the working day is only 6 hours rather than twelve. WEALTH IS DISPOSABLE TIME, AND NOTHING MORE([p.] 6).
Since what is understood by interest here is profit, rent, interest on money -- in short, all the forms of surplus value -- and since, according to the author himself, capital is nothing but the produce of labour, accumulated labour which is able to exact in exchange for itself not only an equal quantity of labour, but surplus labour, according to
him the phrase: capital bears no interest, therefore means that capital [XIV-860] does not exist. The product is not transformed into capital. No surplus produce and no surplus labour exist. Only then is a nation really rich.
This can mean however: There is no produce and no labour over and above the product and the labour required for the reproduction of the workers. Or, they [the workers] themselves appropriate this surplus -- either of the product or of the labour.
That the author does not simply mean the latter is, however, clear from the fact that the words "no interest [is paid] for the use of capital" are juxtaposed to [the proposition that] "A nation is really rich if the working day is 6 hours rather than twelve"; "wealth is disposable time, and nothing more".
This can now mean:
If everybody has to work, if the contradiction between those who have to work too much and those who are idlers disappears -- and this would in any case be the result of capital ceasing to exist, of the product ceasing to provide a title to alien surplus labour -- and if, in addition, the development of the productive forces brought about by capital is taken into account, society will produce the necessary abundance in 6 hours, [producing] more than it does now in 12, and, moreover, all will have 6 hours of disposable time", that is, real wealth; time which will not be absorbed in direct productive labour, but will be available for enjoyment, for leisure, thus giving scope for free activity and development. Time is scope for the development of man's faculties, etc. It will be recalled that the economists themselves justify the slave labour of the wage labourers by saying that it creates leisure, free time for others, for another section of society -- and thereby also for the society of wage labourers.
Or it can also mean: The workers now work 6 hours more than the time (now) required for their own reproduction. (This can hardly be the author's view, since he describes what they use now as an inhuman minimum.) If capital ceases to exist, then the workers will work for 6 hours only and the idlers will have to work the same amount of time. The material wealth of all would thus be depressed to the level of the workers. But all would have disposable time, that is, free time for their development.
The author himself is obviously not clear about this. Nevertheless, there remains the fine statement:
A nation is really rich if the working day is 6 hours rather than twelve. WEALTH IS DISPOSABLE TIME, AND NOTHING MORE.
Ricardo himself, in the chapter entitled "Value and Riches, Their Distinctive Properties", also says that real wealth consists in producing the greatest possible amount of values in use having the least possible value. This means, in other words, that the greatest possible abundance of material wealth is created in the shortest possible labour time. Here also, the "disposable time" and the enjoyment of that which is produced in the labour time of others, [appear] as the true wealth, but like everything in capitalist production -- and consequently in its interpreters -- [it appears] in the form of a contradiction. In Ricardo's work the contradiction between riches and value later [appears] in the form that the net product should be as large as possible in relation to the gross product, which again, in this contradictory form, amounts to saying that those classes in society whose time is only partly or not at all absorbed in material production although they enjoy its fruits, should be as numerous as possible in comparison with those classes whose time is totally absorbed in material production and whose consumption is, as a consequence, a mere item in production costs, a mere condition for their existence as beasts of burden. There is always the wish that the smallest possible portion of society should be doomed to the slavery of labour, to forced labour. This is the utmost that can be accomplished from the capitalist standpoint.
The author puts an end to this. Time of labour, even if exchange value is eliminated, always remains the creative substance of wealth and the measure of the cost of its production. But free time, disposable time, is wealth itself, partly for the enjoyment of the product, partly for free activity which -- unlike labour -- is not determined by a compelling extraneous purpose which must be fulfilled, and the fulfilment of which is regarded as a natural necessity or a social duty, according to one's inclination.
It is self-evident that if time of labour is reduced to a normal length and, furthermore, labour is no longer performed for someone else, but for myself, and, at the same time, the social contradictions between master and men, etc., being abolished, it acquires a quite different, a free character, it becomes real social labour, and finally the basis of disposable time -- the time of labour of a man who has also disposable time, must be of a much higher quality than that of the beast of burden.