Front Page Titles (by Subject) SECTION 2.—THE GREED FOR SURPLUS LABOR, MANUFACTURER AND BOYARD - Capital: A Critique of Political Economy. Volume I: The Process of Capitalist Production
Return to Title Page for Capital: A Critique of Political Economy. Volume I: The Process of Capitalist Production
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
SECTION 2.—THE GREED FOR SURPLUS LABOR, MANUFACTURER AND BOYARD - Karl Marx, Capital: A Critique of Political Economy. Volume I: The Process of Capitalist Production 
Capital: A Critique of Political Economy. Volume I: The Process of Capitalist Production, by Karl Marx. Trans. from the 3rd German edition, by Samuel Moore and Edward Aveling, ed. Federick Engels. Revised and amplified according to the 4th German ed. by Ernest Untermann (Chicago: Charles H. Kerr and Co., 1909).
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The text is in the public domain.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
SECTION 2.—THE GREED FOR SURPLUS LABOR, MANUFACTURER AND BOYARD
Capital has not invented surplus-labour. Wherever a part of society possesses the monopoly of the means of production, the labourer free or not free, must add to the working time necessary for his own maintenance an extra working time in order to produce the means of subsistence for the owners of the means of production,7 whether this proprietor be the Athenian , Etruscan theocrat, civis Romanus, Norman baron, American slave owner, Wallachian Boyard, modern landlord or capitalist.8 It is, however, clear that in any given economic formation of society, where not the exchange value but the use-value of the product predominates, surplus-labour will be limited by a given set of wants which may be greater or less, and that here no boundless thirst for surplus-labour arises from the nature of the production itself. Hence in antiquity overwork becomes horrible only when the object is to obtain exchange value in its specific independent moneyform; in the production of gold and silver. Compulsory working to death is here the recognized form of over-work. Only read Diodorus Siculus.9 Still these are exceptions in antiquity. But as soon as people, whose production still moves within the lower forms of slave-labour, corvée-labour, 8c., are drawn into the whirlpool of an international market dominated by the capitalistic mode of production, the sale of their products for export becoming their principal interest, the civilized horrors of over-work are grafted on the barbaric horrors of slavery, serfdom, 8c. Hence the negro labour in the Southern States of the American Union preserved something of a patriarchal character, so long as production was chiefly directed to immediate local consumption. But in proportion, as the export of cotton became of vital interest to these states, the over-working of the negro and sometimes the using up of his life in 7 years' of labour became a factor in a calculated and calculating system. It was no longer a question of obtaining from him a certain quantity of useful products. It was now a question of production of surplus-labour itself. So was it also with the corvée, e.g., in the Danubian Principalities (now Roumania).
The comparison of the greed for surplus-labour in the Danubian Principalities with the same greed in English factories has special interest, because surplus-labour, in the corvée has an independent and palpable form.
Suppose the working day consists of 6 hours of necessary labour, and 6 hours of surplus-labour. Then the free labourer gives the capitalist every week 6×6 or 36 hours of surplus-labour. It is the same as if he worked 3 days in the week for himself, and 3 days in the week gratis for the capitalist. But this is not evident on the surface. Surplus-labour and necessary labour glide one into the other. I can, therefore, express the same relationship by saying, e.g., that the labourer in every minute works 30 seconds for himself, and 30 for the capitalist, etc. It is otherwise with the corvée. The necessary labour which the Wallachian peasant does for his own maintenance is distinctly marked off from his surplus-labour on behalf of the Boyard. The one he does on his own field, the other on the seignorial estate. Both parts of the labour-time exist, therefore, independently, side by side one with the other. In the corvée the surplus-labour is accurately marked off from the necessary labour. This, however, can make no difference with regard to the quantitative relation of surplus-labour, to necessary labour. Three days' surplus-labour in the week remain three days that yield no equivalent to the labourer himself, whether it be called corvée or wage-labour. But in the capitalist the greed for surplus-labour appears in the straining after an unlimited extension of the working day, in the Boyard more simply in a direct hunting after days of corvée.10
In the Danubian Principalities the corvée was mixed up with rents in kind and other appurtenances of bondage, but it formed the most important tribute paid to the ruling class. Where this was the case, the corvée rarely arose from serfdom; serfdom much more frequently on the other hand took origin from the corvée.11 This is what took place in the Roumanian Provinces. Their original mode of production was based on community of the soil, but not in the Slavonic or Indian form. Part of the land was cultivated in severalty as freehold by the members of the community, another part—ager publicus—was cultivated by them in common. The products of this common labour served partly as a reserve fund against bad harvests and other accidents, partly as a public store for providing the costs of war, religion, and other common expenses. In course of time military and clerical dignitaries usurped, along with the common land, the labour spent upon it. The labour of the free peasants on their common land was transformed into corvée for the thieves of the common land. This corvée soon developed into a servile relationship existing in point of fact, not in point of law, until Russia, the liberator of the world, made it legal under pretence of abolishing serfdom. The code of the corvée, which the Russian General Kisseleff proclaimed in 1831, was of course dictated by the Boyards themselves. Thus Russia conquered with one blow the magnates of the Danubian provinces, and the applause of liberal crétins throughout Europe.
According to the "Réglement organique," as this code of the corvée is called, every Wallachian peasant owes to the so-called landlord, besides a mass of detailed payments in kind: (1), 12 days of general labour; (2), one day of field labour; (3), one day of wood carrying. In all, 14 days in the year. With deep insight into political economy, however, the working day is not taken in its ordinary sense, but as the working day necessary to the production of an average daily product; and that average daily product is determined in so crafty a way that no Cyclops would be done with it in 24 hours. In dry words, the Réglement itself declares with true Russian irony that by 12 working days one must understand the product of the manual labour of 36 days, by 1 day of field labour 3 days, and by 1 day of wood carrying in like manner three times as much. In all, 42 corvée days. To this had to be added the so-called jobagie, service due to the lord for extraordinary occasions. In proportion to the size of its population, every village has to furnish annually a definite contingent to the jobagie. This additional corvée is estimated at 14 days for each Wallachian peasant Thus the prescribed corvée amounts to 56 working days yearly. But the agricultural year in Wallachia numbers in consequence of the severe climate only 210 days, of which 40 for Sundays and holidays, 30 on an average for bad weather, together 70 days, do not count. 140 working days remain. The ratio of the corvée to the necessary labour 56/84 or 66 2/3% gives a much smaller rate of surplus-value than that which regulates the labour of the English agricultural of factory labourer. This is, however, only the legally prescribed corvée. And in a spirit yet more "liberal" than the English Factory Acts, the "Réglement organique" has known how to facilitate its own evasion. After it has made 56 days out of 12, the nominal days work of each of the 56 corvée days is again so arranged that a portion of it must fall on the ensuing day. In one day, e.g., must be weeded an extent of land, which, for this work, especially in maize plantations, needs twice as much time. The legal day's work for some kinds of agricultural labour is interpretable in such a way that the day begins in May and ends in October. In Moldavia conditions are still harder. "The corvée days of the 'Réglement organique,'"cried a Boyard, drunk with victory, "amount to 365 days in the year."12
If the Réglement organique of the Danubian provinces was a positive expression of the greed for surplus-labour which every paragraph legalised, the English Factory Acts are the negative expression of the same greed. These acts curb the passion of capital for a limitless draining of labour-power, by forcibly limiting the working day by state regulations, made by a state that is ruled by capitalist and landlord. Apart from the working-class movement that daily grew more threatening, the limiting of factory labour was dictated by the same necessity which spread guano over the English fields. The same blind eagerness for plunder that in the one case exhausted the soil, had, in the other, torn up by the roots the living force of the nation. Periodical epidemics speak on this point as clearly as the diminishing military standard in Germany and France.13
The Factory Act of 1850 now in force (1867) allows for the average working-day 10 hours, i.e., for the first 5 days 12 hours from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., including ½ an hour for breakfast, and an hour for dinner, and thus leaving 10½ working hours, and 8 hours for Saturday, from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m., of which ½ an hour is subtracted for breakfast. 60 working hours are left, 10½ for each of the first 5 days, 7½ for the last.14 Certain guardians of these laws are appointed, Factory Inspectors, directly under the Home Secretary, whose reports are published half-yearly by order of Parliament. They give regular and official statistics of the capitalistic greed for surplus-labour.
Let us listen, for a moment, to the Factory Inspectors.15
"The fraudulent millowner begins work at a quarter of an hour (sometimes more, sometimes less) before 6 a.m., and leaves off a quarter of an hour (sometimes more, sometimes less) after 6 p.m. He takes 5 minutes from the beginning and from the end of the half hour nominally allowed for breakfast, and 10 minutes at the beginning and end of the hour nominally allowed for dinner. He works for a quarter of an hour (sometimes more, sometimes less after 2 p.m. on Saturday. Thus his gain is
Or 5 hours and 40 minutes weekly, which multiplied by 50 working weeks in the year (allowing two for holidays and occasional stoppages) is equal to 27 working days."16
"Five minutes a day's increased work, multiplied by 50 weeks, are equal to two and a half days of produce in the year."17
"An additional hour a day gained by small instalments before 6 a.m., after 6 p.m., and at the beginning and end of the times nominally fixed for meals, is nearly equivalent to working 13 months in the year."18
Crises during which production is interrupted and the factories work "short time," i.e., for only a part of the week, naturally do not affect the tendency to extend the working day. The less business there is, the more profit has to be made on the business done. The less time spent in work, the more of that time has to be turned into surplus labour-time.
Thus the Factory Inspector's report on the period of the crisis from 1857 to 1858:
"It may seem inconsistent that there should be any over-working at a time when trade is so bad; but that very badness leads to the transgression by unscrupulous men, they get the extra profit of it.... In the last half year, says Leonard Horner, 122 mills in my district have been given up; 143 were found standing," yet, overwork is continued beyond the legal hours.19
"For a great part of the time," says Mr. Howell, "owing to the depression of trade, many factories were altogether closed, and a still greater number were working short time. I continue, however, to receive about the usual number of complaints that half, or three-quarters of an hour in the day, are snatched from the workers by encroaching upon the times professedly allowed for rest and refreshment."20 The same phenomenon was reproduced on a smaller scale during the frightful cotton-crisis from 1861 to 1865.21 "It is sometimes advanced by way of excuse, when persons are found at work in a factory, either at a meal hour, or at some illegal time, that they will not leave the mill at the appointed hour, and that compulsion is necessary to force them to cease work [cleaning their machinery, 8c.], especially on Saturday afternoons. But, if the hands remain in a factory after the machinery has ceased to revolve...they would not have been so employed if sufficient time had been set apart specially for cleaning, 8c., either before 6 a.m. [sic!] or before 2 p. m. on Saturday afternoons."22
"The profit to be gained by it (over-working in violation of the Act) appears to be, to many, a greater temptation than they can resist; they calculate upon the chance of not being found out; and when they see the small amount of penalty and costs, which those who have been convicted have had to pay, they find that if they should be detected there will still be a considerable balance of gain....23 In cases where the additional time is gained by a multiplication of small thefts in the course of the day, there are insuperable difficulties to the inspectors making out a case."24
These "small thefts" of capital from the labourer's meal and recreation time, the factory inspectors also designate as "petty pilfering of minutes,"25 "snatching a few minutes,"26 or, as the labourers technically called them, "nibbling and cribbling at meal times."27
It is evident that in this atmosphere the formation of surplus-value by surplus-labour, is not secret. "If you allow me," said a highly respectable master to me, "to work only ten minutes in the day over-time, you put one thousand a year in my pocket."28 "Moments are the elements of profit."29
Nothing is from this point of view more characteristic than the designation of the workers who work full time as "full-timers," and the children under 13 who are only allowed to work 6 hours as "half-timers." The worker is here nothing more than personified labour-time. All individual distinctions are merged in those of "full-timers" and "half-timers."30
[7.] "Those who labour.... in reality feed both the pensioners...[called the rich] and themselves." (Edmund Burke, 1, c., p. 2.)
[8.] Niebubr in his "Roman History" says very naively: "It is evident that works like the Etruscan, which, in their ruins astound us, presuppose in little (!) states lords and vassals." Sismondi says far more to the purpose that "Brussels lace" presupposes wage-lords and wage-slaves.
[9.] "One cannot see these unfortunates (in the gold mines between Egypt, Ethiopia, and Arabia) who cannot even have their bodies clean, or their nakedness clothed, without pitying their miserable lot. There is no indulgence, no forbearance for the sick, the feeble, the aged, for woman's weakness. All must, forced by blows, work on until death puts an end to their sufferings and their distress." ("Diod. Sic. Bibl. Hist." lib. 3, c. 13.)
[10.] That which follows refers to the situation in the Roumanian provinces before the change effected since the Crimean war.
[11.] This holds likewise for Germany, and especially for Prussia east of the Elbe. In the 15th century the German peasant was nearly everywhere a man, who, whilst subject to certain rents paid in produce and labour was otherwise at least practically free. The German colonists in Brandenburg, Pomerania, Silesia, and Eastern Prussia, were even legally acknowledged as free men. The victory of the nobility in the peasants' war put an end to that. Not only were the conquered South German peasants again enslaved. From the middle of the 16th century the peasants of Eastern Prussia, Brandenburg, Pomerania, and Silesia, and soon after the free peasants of Schleswig-Holstein were degraded to the condition of serfs. (Maurer, Fronh8otilde;fe iv. vol.,—Meitzen, der Boden des preussischen Staats.—Hansen, Leibeigenschaft in Schleswig-Holstein.—ED.)
[12.] Further details are to be found in E. Regnault's "Histoire politique et sociale des Principautés Danubiennes." Paris, 1855.
[13.] "In general and within certain limits, exceeding the medium size of their kind, is evidence of the prosperity of organic beings. As to man, his bodily height lessens if his due growth is interfered with, either by physical or social conditions. In all European countries in which the conscription holds, since its introduction, the medium height of adult men, and generally their fitness for military service, has diminished. Before the revolution (1789), the minimum for the infantry in France was 165 centimetres; in 1818 (law of March 10th), 157; by the law of 1852, 156 c. m.; on the average in France more than half are rejected on account of deficient height or bodily weakness. The military standard in Saxony was in 1780, 178 c. m. It is now 155. In Prussia it is 157. According to the statement of Dr. Meyer in the Bavarian Gazette, May 9th, 1862, the result of an average of 9 years is, that in Prussia out of 1000 conscripts 716 were unfit for military service, 817 because of deficiency in height, and 399 because of bodily defects.... Berlin in 1858, could not provide its contingent of recruits; it was 156 men short." J. von Liebig: "Die Chemie in ihrer Anwendung auf Agrikultur und Physiologic, 1863," 7th Ed., vol 1., pp. 117, 118.
[14.] The history of the Factory Act of 1850 will be found in the course of this chapter.
[15.] I only touch here and there on the period from the beginning of modern industry in England to 1845. For this period I refer the reader to "Die Lage derarbeitenden Klasse in England, von Friedrich Engels, Leipzig, 1845." How completely Engels understood the nature of the capitalist mode of production is shown by the Factory Reports, Reports on Mines, 8c., that have appeared since 1845, and how wonderfully he painted the circumstances in detail is seen on the most superficial comparison of his work with the official reports of the Children's Employment Commission, published 18 to 20 years later (1863-1867). These deal especially with the branches of industry in which the Factory Acts had not, up to 1862, been introduced, in fact are not yet introduced. Here, then, little or no alteration had been enforced, by authority, in the conditions painted by Engels. I borrow my examples chiefly from the free trade period after 1848, that age of paradise, of which the commercial travellers for the great firm of free trade, blatant as ignorant, tell such fabulous tales. For the rest England figures here in the forground because she is the classic representative of capitalist production, and she alone has a continuous set of official statistics of the things we are considering.
[16.] Suggestions, 8c. by Mr. L. Horner, Inspector of Factories in: Factory Regulations Act. Ordered by the House of Commons to be printed, 9th August, 1859, p. 4, 5.
[17.] Reports of the Inspector of Factories for the half year, October, 1856, p. 85.
[18.] Reports, 8c., 30th April, 1858, p. 9.
[19.] Reports, 8c., l. c., p. 43.
[20.] Reports, 8c., l. c., p. 25.
[21.] Reports, 8c., for the half year ending 30th April, 1861. See Appendix No. 2; Reports, 8c., 31st October, 1862, p. 7, 52, 53. The violations of the Acts became more numerous during the last half year 1863. Cf. Reports, 8c., ending 31st October, 1863, p. 7.
[22.] Reports, 8c., October 31st, 1860, p. 23. With what fanaticism, according to the evidence of manufacturers given in courts of law, their hands set themselves against every interruption in factory labour, the following curious circumstance shows. In the beginning of June, 1836, information reached the magistrates of Dewsbury (Yorkshire) that the owners of 8 large mills in the neighbourhood of Batley had violated the Factory Acts. Some of these gentlemen were accused of having kept at work 5 boys between 12 and 15 years of age, from 6 a.m. on Friday to 4 p.m. on the following Saturday, not allowing them any respite except for meals and one hour for sleep at midnight. And these children had to do this ceaseless labour of 30 hours in the "shoddy-hole," as the hole is called, in which the woolen rags are pulled in pieces, and where a dense atmosphere of dust, shreds, 8c., forces even the adult workman to cover his mouth continually with handkerchiefs for the protection of his lungs! The accused gentlemen affirm in lieu of taking an oath—as quakers they were too scrupulously religious to take an oath—that they had, in their great compassion for the unhappy children, allowed them four hours for sleep, but the obstinate children absolutely would not go to bed. The quaker gentlemen were mulcted in £20. Dryden anticipated these gentry: "Fox full fraught in seeming sanctity, That feared an oath, but like the devil would lie, That look'd like Lent, and had the holy leer, And durst not sin! before he said his prayer!"
[23.] Rep., 31st Oct., 1856, p. 34.
[24.] l. c., p. 35.
[25.] l. c. p., p. 48.
[26.] l. c., p. 48
[27.] l. c., p. 48.
[28.] l. c., p. 48.
[29.] Report of the Insp., 8c., 30th April, 1800, p. 56.
[30.] This is the official expression both in the factories and in the reports.