Works of Karl Marx 1867

December 1867

Written: December 6, 1867;
First published: in the supplement to Die Zukunft, No. 291, December 12, 1867

Social-Demokrat of November S9, General Meeting of the General Association of German Workers

Debate on the Working Day

Speaker: v. Hofstetten (Owner of the Social-Demokrat):

1) "Labour-power is today a commodity. [...] The purchase price" (read: the value) "of a thing" (read: commodity) "is determined by the working-time necessary to its production. The worker must work a certain number of hours to reproduce the value he has received for his labour-power: that is the necessary part of the working day, but by no means, the working day itself. To reproduce this, an indetermined part must" (why?) "be added; although it is indetermined, it has its necessary limits."

Karl Marx: Capital.
Critique of political Economy, 1867. Section: "The Working Day"

1) "We started with the supposition that labour-power is bought and sold at its value. Its value, like that of all other commodities, is determined by the working-time necessary to its production. If the production of the average daily means of subsistence of the labourer takes up six hours, he must work, on the average, six hours every day, to produce his daily labour-power, or to reproduce the value received as the result of its sale. The necessary part of his working day amounts to six hours, and is, therefore, caeteris paribus, a given quantity. But with this, the extent of the working day itself is not yet given... One of its parts, certainly, is determined by the working-time required for the continual reproduction of the labourer himself. But its total amount varies with the length or the duration of surplus-labour.... Although the working day is not a fixed, but a fluent quantity, it can, on the other hand, only vary within certain limits" (pp. 198, 199 [214-15]).

2) "One of these" (limits), "the maximum limit, rests in the physical possibility" (how can a limit rest in a possibility!) "of how long a man is able at all to work, as in order to keep alive he must also sleep, rest, dress and wash himself. The minimum limit is given by the demands of the prevailing level of culture of an epoch. The duration of the working day and the surplus-labour also differ in accordance with this level and with the existing legislation. Accordingly, there are eight, twelve, sixteen, yes even 18-hour working days."

2) "The minimum limit" (of the working day) "is, however, not determinable; of course, if we make the surplus-labour=0, we have a minimum limit, i. e., the part of the day which the labourer must necessarily work for his own maintenance. On the basis of the capitalist mode of production, however, this necessary labour can form a part only of his working day; the working day itself can never be reduced to this minimum. On the other hand, the working day has a maximum limit. It cannot be prolonged beyond a certain point. This maximum limit is determined by two things. First, by the physical bounds of labour-power. Within the 24 hours of the natural day a man can expend only a definite quantity of his vital force and the extent of this expenditure of force is a measure for his physically possible working-time. A horse, in like manner, can only work from day to day for 8 hours. During part of the day this force must rest, sleep; during another part the man has to satisfy other physical needs, to feed, wash and clothe himself, etc. Besides these purely physical limitations, the extension of the working day encounters moral ones. The labourer needs time for satisfying his intellectual and social wants, the extent and number of which are determined by the general level of culture... But both these limits" (the physical and moral maximum limits) "are of a very elastic nature, and allow the greatest latitude. So we find working days of 8, 10, 12, 14, 16, 18 hours" (p. 199).

Herr v. Hofstetten makes nonsense of the passage he plagiarises. Thus, for example, he lets the maximum limit of the working day be determined by purely physical, and the minimum limit by moral limitations, although he himself has earlier mechanically repeated that the necessary part of the working day, i.e., its absolute minimum limit, is determined by the working-time necessary to maintain the labour-power!

3) "Experience in England has shown that with a shorter working day the same surplus-labour is achieved, as in that case labour is greatly intensified."

3) On the intensification of labour and the achievement of equal or greater surplus-labour" by the enforced legal restriction of the working day in England see pp, 401-09.

4) "The endeavour of the capitalists therefore is to aim at the longest possible working day." (What nonsense! The endeavour to aim!) "But the worker possesses as sole commodity only his labour-power, and if in that a certain point is overstepped" (what does that mean: a point is overstepped in the labour-power?) "he must say I am used up (!), I have been killed." (Well done! He is still supposed to say that after he has already been killed!) "Hence," (because he must say that!) "the extent of his labour must be fixed in the interest of the labourer, so that his commodity, labour-power, is maintained and can be exploited as long as possible. Therewith he demands only his due." (He has just complained that he has been used up; now he demands as his due to be exploited!)

4) "The capitalist maintains his rights as a purchaser when he tries to make the working day as long; as possible, and to make, whenever possible, two working days out of one. On the other hand, the peculiar nature of the commodity sold implies a limit to its consumption by the purchaser, and the labourer maintains his right as seller when he wishes to reduce the working day to a definite normal duration... I will" (he says) "husband my sole wealth, labour-power... The use of my labour-power and the spoliation of it are quite different things... You pay me for one day's labour-power, whilst you that of three days. That against our contract and the law of commodity exchange. I demand, therefore, a working day of normal length, etc. (pp. 202, 201).

5) "In England this measure" (for the working day) "is fixed by law at 10 hours(!) and there are factory inspectors who report on the observance of this law to the Home Secretary. In many countries there are also laws limiting the labour of children: in Austria, in Switzerland, in America and in Belgium (!) similar laws are in preparation (!). In Prussia there are also the same laws, but there they exist only on paper and have never been put into practice. In America, since the end of the Civil War which led to the emancipation of the slaves, an eight-hour day has even been demanded. The International Working Men's Congress' also proposed an eight-hour day, in 1866."

5) "The Factory Act of 1850 now in force" (not in England, but in specific industries of the United Kingdom named by Marx) "allows for the average working day of 10 hours... Certain guardians of the law are appointed, Factory Inspectors, directly under the Home Secretary, whose reports are published half-yearly by order of Parliament" (p. 207).

...Limitations of the working day for miners exist in certain States of North America in reality, not just in preparation (p. 244), limitation of the working day in general in France (p. 251), for children in some cantons of Switzerland (p. 251), in Austria (p. 252), in Belgium nothing of the kind (ibid.). The ordinances of Messrs. v. d. Heydt and Manteuffel, etc., would be praiseworthy if they were put into practice (ibid.). "in the United States of North America, every independent movement of the workers was paralysed so long as slavery disfigured a part of the Republic... But out of the death of slavery a new young life at once arose. The first fruit of the Civil War was the eight hours agitation. At the same time the "The International Working Men 's Congress", made the following resolution: "...We propose eight hours work as the legal limit of the working day" (pp.279, 280).

In the same manner as Herr v. Hofstetten, the speaker who followed him, Herr Geib of Hamburg, bowdlerised the history of the English factory legislation given by Marx. Both gentlemen take the same care not to divulge the source of their wisdom.