Direct Social Labor

Direct Social Labor


a special form of social labor existing under certain production structures, by which the labor performed by individual workers is directly subsumed under aggregate social labor free of private expropriation.

Direct social labor first arose in the primitive tribal commune. Collective labor and communal ownership of the means of production created strong common interests among members of the commune; at the same time, extremely primitive tools made possible only bare subsistence. Under such conditions, the question of what kind of labor was to be performed was decided collectively, with no one entitled to act at discretion. This situation was furthered by a very weak, still impermanent division of labor.

The primitive communal system decayed with the improvement of labor implements, with the development of a fixed division of labor, and with the rise in labor productivity to a point at which a surplus beyond the subsistence level could be regularly produced. With this, social labor gradually lost its direct aspect. The emergence of such phenomena as surplus production, private individual ownership, commodity production, and the division of society into classes caused this process to deepen. The social aspect of labor now manifested itself only indirectly, through exchange. Labor in this context assumed a contradictory character—on the one hand it was increasingly performed by private producers, but on the other hand, as a result of a growing social division of labor, its social nature intensified. This applied to all presocialist modes of production, but most of all to capitalism, where productive forces attained a level of development such that the social nature of labor entered into antagonistic contradiction with the private form of appropriating the means of production and the product itself.

Under socialism, direct social labor reemerges under fundamentally new conditions as centrally planned and organized labor on a societal scale. Socialist ownership of the means of production ensures that the producer’s individual labor functions as direct social labor. The socialization of the means of production and the directly social nature of labor under socialism predetermine the objective necessity as well as the real possibility of planned development of production. Without a spontaneous market operating beyond the control of the producers, as there is under capitalism, socialist society itself directs the centrally planned production and distribution of material and labor resources throughout the various sectors of the economy, based on a scientific assessment of the needs of the overall economy and of all the members of society. Thus each economic unit—and within each unit, each worker—fulfills a defined part of the general task implied in the national economic plan.

Under socialism, however, direct social labor does not develop fully. This is a result of the actual level of productive forces; inadequate socialization of production; the existence of cooperative-kolkhoz property alongside public property; the preservation of personal holdings among kolkhoz farmers, production workers, and office workers; and the continuing existence of socioeconomic differentiations in labor and the resulting need to monitor standards of labor and consumption. As long as such differentiations persist, the process by which all labor becomes direct social labor remains incomplete; the recording and evaluating of different types of labor, that is, of the contribution made by each worker, are achieved through commodity-money relationships, which are used in a planned manner by socialist society.

In the course of building communism the direct social nature of labor will deepen and at the stage of communism will reach full maturity. This assumes a significantly higher level of development of productive forces and of socialization of production, the establishment of universal communist ownership, the elimination of commodity-money relationships and socioeconomic differentiations in labor, and complete mastery by society of the mechanism for the scientific control of production and of all processes of social development.


Marx, K. ”Kritika Gotskoi programmy.” In K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch.. 2nd ed., vol. 19. Pages 17–18.
Marx, K. Kapital, vol. 1. Ibid., vol. 23, ch. 12, sec. 4.
Engels, F. Anti-Dü hring. Ibid., vol. 20, part 3, ch. 4. Pages 330–31.


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