[Marxism] Edward G Robinson on the Difference Between Labor-power and Labor
John A Imani
johnaimani3 at gmail.com
Thu Mar 2 13:18:34 MST 2017
*Edward G Robinson
the Difference Between Labor-power and Labor
"The sitting around on the set is awful. But I always figure that's what
they pay me for. The acting I do for free."
Identifying the difference between labor-power and labor has tripped up
many (self included) neophyte Marxists at the beginnings of their studies.
Simply put, labor-power is the ability to do work while labor is that
labor-power in action, i.e. working. Its kinda like a sewing machine and
the actual sewing. One pays for the sewing machine but does not pay
additionally for its usage.
Marx' creation of the category labor-power, rather his recognition of its
existence, can be seen as a means of resolving an economic contradiction:
If the wage is 'fair', i.e. if the worker is paid what he was worth, then
how is it that the capitalist makes a profit? Profit could then be
seen as coming
as a result of cheating, i.e. paying the worker less than he was worth.
(And, no doubt, this happens but wage-cheating is not necessary to making a
profit, i.e. not necessary for the existence of exploitation as profit =
This contradiction could be resolved only by recognizing the singular
difference between the worker and all of the other factors of production
that the capitalist bought so as to produce. These other factors (e.g.
materials, fuels, machines, etc.) were indeed worth only what they were
worth. For if a machine, say, selling for $1000 could add more than $1000
in value then the seller would be cheating himself. And if it could add
less than $1000 then the buyer would have been screwed. So a machine sells
for what it is worth. While there was and is something magical about
We were (and are) worth more than we are worth.
This seeming paradox is resolved when it is understood that what a person
is worth is what went into making him as a worker (food, shelter,
education, etc.). These are the workers' costs-of-production. And these are
paid back to him pro rata on a regular basis in the form of the wage. But
what a person is worth in working is more than that. Simply put a worker
out-reproduces himself, i.e. the value added by his work is more than the
value of what went into the makings of that worker. This is the secret of
humanity's long climb up from savagery: ants make the most wonderful hills
and nests but they have been doing the same thing for millions of years
while humankind has been on a more or less steady (until now) upward climb
because we are capable of producing a surplus, i.e. more than we ourselves
normally use. There is one unfortunate result of this wizardry: producing
more than one could use now meant that that one could be enslaved (not
episodically—as in the case of non-surplus-producing workers who if you
took part of what he produced then he would die—but over the long term, even
life-times); and a portion of what the worker produced could be seized by
one who was stronger or more intelligent or more crafty. The surplus is the
historical necessity that produced all class-based societies. And the
historical origin of capitalism rests just so upon this difference between
labor-power and labor. Value-wise this is labor – labor-power = surplus;
or, labor = labor-power + surplus.
So, yeah, ya see...the great Edward G was paid for his ability to act but
once paid he acted for free. Specifically, he worked part of the time to
make up his own salary while the profits from the other part of the time he
worked went to the studio heads. These, respectively, are termed 'necessary
labor' <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Socially_necessary_labour_time> and
'surplus-labor' <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Surplus_labour>; the results
of which are, respectively, wages and profits.
For those who want to read Marx' solution of a problem posed by but never
solved by what he called "Classical Political Economy" see:
*Quotation by Marx on the value of labour power and classical political
Or read the entire selection at *Capital Vol. 1**, chapter 19.*
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