Anti-Dühring/Part II/Chapter 6

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Anti-Dühring by Friedrich Engels
Part II, Chapter 6: Simple and Compound Labour

Herr Dühring has discovered in Marx a gross blunder in economics that a schoolboy would blush at, a blunder which at the same time contains a socialist heresy very dangerous to society.

Marx's theory of value is "nothing but the ordinary ... theory that labour is the cause of all values and labour-time is their measure. But the question of how the distinct value of so-called skilled labour is to be conceived is left in complete obscurity. It is true that in our theory also only the labour-time expended can be the measure of the natural cost and therefore of the absolute value of economic things; but here the labour-time of each individual must be considered absolutely equal, to start with, and it is only necessary to examine where, in skilled production, the labour-time of other persons ... for example in the tool used, is added to the separate labour-time of the individual. Therefore the position is not, as in Herr Marx's hazy conception, that the labour-time of one person is in itself more valuable than that of another, because more average labour-time is condensed as it were within it, but all labour-time is in principle and without exception—and therefore without any need to take first an average — absolutely equal in value; and in regard to the work done by a person, as also in regard to every finished product, all that requires to be ascertained is how much of the labour-time of other persons may be concealed in what appears to be only his own labour-time. Whether it is a hand tool for production, or the hand, or even the head itself, which could not have acquired its special characteristics and capacity for work without the labour-time of others, is not of the slightest importance in the strict application of the theory. In his lucubrations on value, however, Herr Marx never rids himself of the ghost of a skilled labour-time which lurks in the background. He was unable to effect a thoroughgoing change here because he was hampered by the traditional mode of thought of the educated classes, to whom it necessarily appears monstrous to recognise the labour-time of a porter and that of an architect as of absolutely equal value from the standpoint of economics" {Kritische Geschichte der Nationalökonomie und des Sozialismus p.499-500}.

The passage in Marx which calls forth this "mightier wrath" {501} on Herr Dühring's part is very brief. Marx is examining what it is that determines the value of commodities and gives the answer: the human labour embodied in them. This, he continues, "is the expenditure of simple labour-power which, on an average, apart from any special development, exists in the organism of every ordinary individual... Skilled labour counts only as simple labour intensified, or rather, as multiplied simple labour, a given quantity of skilled being considered equal to a greater quantity of simple labour. Experience shows that this reduction is constantly being made. A commodity may be the product of the most skilled labour, but its value, by equating it to the product of simple unskilled labour, represents a definite quantity of the latter labour alone. The different proportions in which different sorts of labour are reduced to unskilled labour as their standard, are established by a social process that goes on behind the backs of the producers, and, consequently, appear to be fixed by custom".

Marx is dealing here first of all only with the determination of the value of commodities, i.e., of objects which, within a society composed of private producers, are produced and exchanged against each other by these private producers for their private account. In this passage therefore there is no question whatever of "absolute value"—wherever this may be in existence—but of the value which is current in a definite form of society. This value, in this definite historical sense, is shown to be created and measured by the human labour embodied in the individual commodities, and this human labour is further shown to be the expenditure of simple labour-power. But not all labour is a mere expenditure of simple human labour-power; very many sorts of labour involve the use of capabilities or knowledge acquired with the expenditure of greater or lesser effort, time and money. Do these kinds of compound labour produce, in the same interval of time, the same commodity values as simple labour, the expenditure of mere simple labour-power? Obviously not. The product of one hour of compound labour is a commodity of a higher value—perhaps double or treble — in comparison with the product of one hour of simple labour. The values of the products of compound labour are expressed by this comparison in definite quantities of simple labour; but this reduction of compound labour is established by a social process which goes on behind the backs of the producers, by a process which at this point, in the development of the theory of value, can only be stated but not as yet explained.

It is this simple fact, taking place daily before our eyes in present-day capitalist society, which is here stated by Marx. This fact is so indisputable that even Herr Dühring does not venture to dispute it either in his Cursus or in his history of political economy ; and the Marxian presentation is so simple and lucid that no one but Herr Dühring "is left in complete obscurity" by it. Because of his complete obscurity he mistakes the commodity value, which alone Marx was for the time being concerned with investigating, for "the natural cost", which makes the obscurity still more complete, and even for the "absolute value", which so far as our knowledge goes has never before had currency in political economy. But whatever Herr Dühring may understand by the natural cost, and whichever of his five kinds of value may have the honour to represent absolute value, this much at least is sure: that Marx is not discussing any of these things, but only the value of commodities; and that in the whole section of Capital which deals with value there is not even the slightest indication of whether or to what extent Marx considers this theory of the value of commodities' applicable also to other forms of society.

"Therefore the position is not," Herr Dühring proceeds, "as in Herr Marx's hazy conception, that the labour-time of one person is in itself more valuable than that of another, because more average labour-time is condensed as it were within it, but all labour-time is in principle and without exception—and therefore without any need to take first an average — absolutely equal in value" {Kritische Geschichte der Nationalökonomie und des Sozialismus p.500}.

It is fortunate for Herr Dühring that fate did not make him a manufacturer, and thus saved him from fixing the value of his commodities on the basis of this new rule and thereby running infallibly into the arms of bankruptcy. But say, are we here still in the society of manufacturers? No, far from it. With his natural cost and absolute value Herr Dühring has made us take a leap, a veritable salto mortale, out of the present evil world of exploiters into his own economic commune of the future, into the pure, heavenly air of equality and justice; and so we must now, even though prematurely, take a glance at this new world.

It is true that, according to Herr Dühring's theory, only the labour-time expended can measure the value of economic things even in the economic commune; but as a matter of course the labour-time of each individual must be considered absolutely equal to start with, all labour-time is in principle and without exception absolutely equal in value, without any need to take first an average. And now compare with this radical equalitarian socialism Marx's hazy conception that the labour-time of one person is in itself more valuable than that of another, because more average labour-time is condensed as it were within it—a conception which held Marx captive by reason of the traditional mode of thought of the educated classes, to whom it necessarily appears monstrous that the labour-time of a porter and that of an architect should be recognised as of absolutely equal value from the standpoint of economics!

Unfortunately Marx put a short footnote to the passage in Capital cited above: "The reader must note that we are not speaking here of the wages or value that the labourer gets for a given labour-time, but of the value of the commodity in which that labour-time is materialised." Marx, who seems here to have had a presentiment of the coming of his Dühring, therefore safeguards himself against an application of his statements quoted above even to the wages which are paid in existing society for compound labour. And if Herr Dühring, not content with doing this all the same, presents these statements as the principles on which Marx would like to see the distribution of the necessaries of life regulated in society organised socialistically, he is guilty of a shameless imposture, the like of which is only to tee found in the gangster press.

But let us look a little more closely at the doctrine of equality in values. All labour-time is entirely equal in value, the porter's and the architect's. So labour-time, and therefore labour itself, has a value. But labour is the creator of all values. It alone gives the products found in nature value in the economic sense. Value itself is nothing else than the expression of the socially necessary human labour materialised in an object. Labour can therefore have no value. One might as well speak of the value of value, or try to determine the weight, not of a heavy body, but of heaviness itself, as speak of the value of labour, and try to determine it. Herr Dühring dismisses people like Owen, Saint-Simon and Fourier by calling them social alchemists {Kritische Geschichte der Nationalökonomie und des Sozialismus p.237}. His subtilising over the value of labour-time, that is, of labour, shows that he ranks far beneath the real alchemists. And now let the reader fathom Herr Dühring's brazenness in imputing to Marx the assertion that the labour-time of one person is in itself more valuable than that of another {500}, that labour-time, and therefore labour, has a value—to Marx, who first demonstrated that labour can have no value, and why it cannot!

For socialism, which wants to emancipate human labour-power from its status of a commodity, the realisation that labour has no value and can have none is of great importance. With this realisation all attempts — inherited by Herr Dühring from primitive workers' socialism — to regulate the future distribution of the necessaries of life as a kind of higher wages fall to the ground And from it comes the further realisation that distribution, in so far as it is governed by purely economic considerations, will be regulated by the interests of production, and that production is most encouraged by a mode of distribution which allows all members of society to develop, maintain and exercise their capacities with maximum universality. It is true that, to the mode of thought of the educated classes which Herr Dühring has inherited, it must seem monstrous that in time to come there will no longer be any professional porters or architects, and that the man who for half an hour gives instructions as an architect will also act as a porter for a period, until his activity as an architect is once again required. A fine sort of socialism that would be—perpetuating professional porters!

If the equality of value of labour-time. means that each labourer produces equal values in equal periods of time, without there being any need to take an average, then this is obviously wrong. If we take two workers, even in the same branch of industry, the value they produce in one hour of labour-time will always vary with the intensity of their labour and their skill—and not even an economic commune, at any rate not on our planet, can remedy this evil—which, however, is only an evil for people like Dühring. What, then, remains of the complete equality of value of any and every labour? Nothing but the purely braggart phrase, which has no other economic foundation than Herr Dühring's incapacity to distinguish between the determination of value by labour and determination of value by wages—nothing but the ukase, the basic law of the new economic commune: Equal wages for equal labour-time! Indeed, the old French communist workers and Weitling had much better reasons for the equality of wages which they advocated.

How then are we to solve the whole important question of the higher wages paid for compound labour? In a society of private producers, private individuals or their families pay the costs of training the qualified worker; hence the higher price paid for qualified labour-power accrues first of all to private individuals: the skilful slave is sold for a higher price, and the skilful wage-earner is paid higher wages. In a socialistically organised society, these costs are borne by society, and to it therefore belong the fruits, the greater values produced by compound labour. The worker himself has no claim to extra pay. And from this, incidentally, follows the moral that at times there is a drawback to the popular demand of the workers for "the full proceeds of labour"1.

Notes[edit]

1. A detailed criticism of the Lassallean slogan of "full" or unlimited "proceeds of labour" is given in Section 1 of Marx's Critique of the Gotha Programme. (Back)