Wage Labor and Capital

June 6, 2015

According to the Democratic and Republican Party politicians, our country’s economic problems can all be solved by relying on the “free market” system, by the government assisting private enterprise and by everybody pitching in to help “increase the international competitiveness of U.S. capitalism.” According to the Democrats and Republicans, capital is the creator and source of wealth and the principal economic task is to constantly increase the accumulation and efficiency of capital.

But what is “capital?” If “capital” is looked upon either as a hoard of money or an accumulation of means of production (tools) and raw materials, it is obvious that, as such, it can never produce any new value. Dollar bills do not give birth to new dollar bills and even the largest factory in the world will not yield any new products whatsoever if it stands idle and is not set in motion by the labor of the workers.

The only thing which creates new values and wealth is labor. It is the muscles and minds, the sweat and creativity of the laboring masses which alone are capable of transforming nature in order to secure human needs and produce new material values. In fact, the means of production which function as capital in our society are themselves only the product of the labor of previous generations of workers. Thus, capital – taken as an accumulation of money or the means of production – rather than being the source of new value is itself only a value created by labor.

The politicians, by endlessly repeating that capital is the creator of wealth, are not only denying the role of labor as the source of all new values, by hiding the fact that the capitalist system is based precisely on the exploitation of wage-labor.

Under capitalism, the means of production – generally including not only the factories and other tools but also the land and natural resources of the country – are monopolized by the owners of “private property.” The other side of this coin is that the vast majority of the population – the laboring classes – are deprived of any property in the means of production. In other words, the workers – forcibly separated from the tools necessary to transform nature and secure a livelihood – have no way to live except to sell their labor-power (their ability to work) to the capitalists. It is this social relationship – the monopolization of the tools of society by one class, the capitalists, and the accompanying economic disenfranchisement of the other class, the workers – which allows the capitalists to appropriate the product of the labor of others.

Thus the very conditions under which the capitalist system operates – the fact that the tools of society are monopolized by a few – explodes a second myth propagated continuously by Rand Paul, Barack Obama and company – the myth of the so-called free worker and the so-called opportunity society.

How can it be said that the worker and the capitalist enjoy “equal opportunity?” The capitalist owns the means of production and has everything in society at his command. On the other hand, the worker, deprived of all property in the means of production, cannot even secure a livelihood unless she/he is able to find a capitalist willing to exploit her/him. True, unlike the slave system in which the master owned the slave outright, there is no legal compulsion to work for the capitalist. But economic necessity always confronts the worker with the question of going to work for the capitalist, or starving. Furthermore, even when the worker is “lucky” enough to find a job, it is the capitalist who claims ownership of the entire product of the workers’ labor, returning only a small portion of the value produced in the form of wages. And it is the capitalist, always quick to make it known that there are many unemployed workers desperate for jobs, who has all the advantages in setting the rate of wages.

Thus, rather than a “free economic system,” capitalism is a system of wage-slavery, a society which at its very base rests on social inequality. And this inequality is reproduced in every sphere of life as the worker finds that capitalism, rather than affording “equal opportunity,” blocks her/him at every turn. Not only does the capitalist system insure that the bulk of the wealth generated by society accrues to the capitalists, while the workers, at best, are able to eke out a livelihood, but the same “free market” system puts everything firstly at the disposal of those with money. The children of the rich go to the best private schools and colleges; the capitalists can afford the best medical care and enjoy longer life-spans, etc., and so forth. The worker finds that in the “free market” system, society only recognizes the claims and “rights” of the owner of private property, while the worker can make no claims and enjoys no rights.