Private Labor

Private Labor


(1) Labor on discrete small units, where production is closed: that is, directed toward the satisfaction of the producer’s own needs, as in a natural economy (seeSMALL HOLDING). Private labor of this type is possible only if the division of labor does not go beyond the bounds of family cooperation, if the land is parceled out, and if the other means of production are scattered. As Marx noted, “This method of production is compatible only with the narrow original boundaries of production and society” (K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 23, p. 771). Independent private labor on separate small units eventually leads to the development of private ownership. In examining the disintegration of communal property, Marx wrote that “the most essential point is the parceling of labor, the source of private appropriation” (ibid., vol. 19, p. 419).

As productive forces developed, small holdings were increasingly drawn into the social division of labor and cooperation of labor, and the private labor characteristic of the small holding assumed a form typical of commodity production. Even under these conditions, however, private labor of the kind associated with the small holding is anomalous and is found only on patriarchal, single-family farms.

(2) A particular historical form of labor inherent in spontaneous commodity production, a form assumed by the production units making up a system of the social division of labor when private ownership is dominant. The social division of labor is a necessary but insufficient condition for the emergence and existence of this form of private labor, which is found only where the social cooperation of labor is spontaneous and relations between the various primary elements in the division of labor assume the character of value relations. “Only such products can become commodities with regard to each other as result from different kinds of labor, each kind being carried on independently and for the account of private individuals” (K. Marx, ibid., vol. 23, p. 51).

In the spontaneous cooperation of labor, under which labor inevitably becomes private, the social contact between private producers comes about only through, and within the framework of, the exchange of the products of labor, thereby generating a system of indirect relations, involving the reduction of labor through value. Money is the most highly developed form of value; in it the essential lack of independence of private labor is manifested. In any equivalent form of exchange, consequently, “the labor of private individuals takes the form of its opposite, labor directly social in its form” (ibid., p. 68).

The spontaneous cooperation of labor also gives rise to commodity fetishism, in which the relations between commodities (the results of private labor) disguise the social relations between people.

As the planned cooperation of labor progresses, the economic isolation of private acts of labor decreases. Even under capitalism there may be social contacts between the producing elements not only in the marketplace but also in economic programming and in interrelationships with the bourgeois state in the area of taxes, prices, and other forms of economic regulation. As long as capitalist ownership is dominant, the contradiction between the social and private nature of labor remains the chief cause of all antagonisms in capitalism, including its basic contradiction—that between the social character of production and the private, capitalist form of appropriation.

In a planned socialist economy, labor loses the characteristics of private labor: the production units no longer labor independently of one another, nor do they make contact with one another only in the exchange of commodities. Labor ceases to be the private affair of independent producers and increasingly becomes direct social labor; under communism all labor will be direct social labor in the fullest sense of the term. Socialism still retains some features of private labor: workers and the production units are still relatively isolated, and the indirect reduction of labor through the operation of the law of value remains. These features will disappear as socialism is transformed into communism.


Marx, K. Kapital, vol. 1, sec. 1. In K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 23.
Marx, K. “Nabroski otveta na pis’mo V. I. Zasulich.” Ibid., vol. 19. Pages 400–21.
Programma KPSS. Moscow, 1976. Pages 85–90.


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