- Capitalism and Alternatives -

Labor v. labor-power

Posted by: Barry Stoller on March 04, 19100 at 23:59:59:

In Reply to: Well....not in the Barry White sense posted by David on March 04, 19100 at 12:29:37:

Stoller: Once labor-power is sold, it can never return to the laborer. The capitalist takes that labor-power and, after valorizing his / her capital, realizes the constituent parts constant capital (machines, materials, etc.), variable capital (wages) and surplus-value (the value created by labor-power OVER what labor needs to survive). Thus, workers create the very thing that enslaves them: the means of production that are owned by the capitalist minority.*

: ... I do not think that capitalists own labor power. I believe a more accurate description would be to say that they have the ability (means) to employ that labor power.

Wrong. The laborer owns his / her labor. The capitalist owns the labor-power of the laborer. There’s a difference:

That which comes directly face to face with the possessor of money on the market, is in fact not labor, but the laborer. What the latter sells is his labor-power. As soon as his labor actually begins, it has already ceased to belong to him; it can therefore no longer be sold by him. Labor is the substance, and the immanent measure of value, but has itself no value.(1)

Labor-power is MORE than labor. Labor-power is the exertion of one laborer PLUS many other laborers; this socialized labor is owned by the individual capitalist, not the individual laborer. The socialized labor-power of workers (living labor) is combined with machinery and materials (dead labor) which represent the socialized labor of past laborers. Living labor transmits the value of dead labor plus adds new labor that produces MORE value than what is required to reproduce the laborer:

[T]he productivity of a laborer (like that of a machine) and his value are entirely different things.(2)

The value (which is reflected in wages) of the laborer is 'determined by the quantity of labor necessary to produce it.'(3) What laborers receive is enough of what laborers produce to keep laborers (and the next generation of laborers) alive in accordance with historically- and socially-determined needs. What labor-power produces, on the other hand, is MORE than what is required to produce the laborer. That 'something extra' is surplus-value.

: The labor power belongs to the worker, they can choose not to lease their labor, the result is that they don't earn money and consequently go hungry.

The labor belongs to the laborer, the labor-power belongs to the capitalist BECAUSE the capitalists continually own more and more of what laborers create. Because what laborers create (the means of production) becomes alienated from them---as the private property of capitalists---laborers are compelled to submit to the capitalist's terms or else the workers, as you accurately state, 'don't earn money and consequently go hungry.'

Now, let's move this dialogue forward and have you explain to me WHY you consider this state of affairs---work or starve---to be 'freedom'?



1. Marx, Capital volume one, International 1967, p. 537.

2. Marx, Theories of Surplus-Value volume one, Progress 1968, p. 211.

3. Marx, Value, Price and Profit, International 1933, p. 39.

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