According to Marx, at any given epoch of a given society (there is) a quantity of necessaries recognised as the necessaries of life habitually required by the average worker.
The variations in the type and amount of goods recognised as necessary for life between different epochs and different societies is due to the different “physical conditions” and to the different “degrees of civilisation” and “comfort” prevalent.
In advanced capitalist societies, the necessities of life include a heated dwelling, food, clothing and access to some means of transportation, be it public or private. However, the average labourer in advanced capitalist societies has access not only to the necessaries of life but to a variety of luxury items as well.
For example the average worker has access to fine food and drink, an automobile, a television and stereo system.
The average worker’s access to luxury items can be explained by the necessity in capitalism of reproducing the working class. The reproduction of the capitalist mode of production requires the reproduction of the class of workers, which in turn requires providing the workers with the necessaries of life.
Marx describes the ideal capitalist society as one in which all production takes the form of commodity production.
Commodity production is the production of use values or “useful things”, not for the sake of consumption or use but rather for the sake of exchange. Commodity production is “depositories of exchange-value”.
“The value of labour-power is determined, as in the case of every other commodity, by the labour-time necessary for the production, and consequently the reproduction, of this special article”.
But, unlike other commodities, labour is a commodity whose usevalue possesses the peculiar property of not only being a source of value but a source of more value.
It is this special feature of labour power which accounts for the exploitability of the worker. If the worker works per day more than the amount of time which is the value of a day’s worth of labour-power, then the capitalist will possess, by the end of the productive process, more value than he did when he got to the market.
This additional value that the capitalist ends up with is what Marx calls surplus value. It is the appropriation by the capitalist of the surplus value created by the worker’s labour that constitutes the exploitation of the worker by the capitalist.
* John P Naidu, Springfield Durban.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.
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