Surplus Labor

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Surplus Labor


labor expended by the workers engaged in material production, to create the surplus product.

The distinction between necessary labor and surplus labor originated at the stage in the development of the productive forces of society when it became possible to produce more goods than were necessary to support the existence of the worker and his family. In slaveholding society, where the worker was the property of the slaveholder, all labor was for the benefit of the exploiters. In feudal society the distinction between necessary and surplus labor was sharper. The peasant worked for himself during part of his labor-time and for the feudal lord during the other part (the corvée), or he gave the feudal lord part of his labor without compensation, in the form of payments in kind or in money.

Under capitalism, surplus labor became the source of surplus value. The appropriation of the results of surplus labor is possible because legally free wage workers are compelled to work for economic reasons. The distinction between necessary and surplus labor is concealed in the form of wages, which create the impression that the wage workers are paid for all of their labor. In reality, only the value of their labor power, or necessary labor, is compensated in the form of wages. Surplus labor is appro-pr’ated without compensation by the capitalist. An increase in the proportion of surplus to necessary labor is characteristic of capitalism. In their pursuit of profits the capitalists do their utmost to increase surplus labor-time by lengthening the workday, by the intensification of labor, and by reducing necessary labor-time. As a result, the rate and mass of surplus value increase, as does the degree of exploitation of wage labor.

Under socialism, the socioeconomic significance of surplus labor changes qualitatively. Surplus labor becomes one of the most important means for satisfying the growing material and intellectual needs of the associated producers and for making possible the comprehensive development of all members of socialist society. Under the conditions of socialism, surplus labor is labor expended in the production of material goods intended for social consumption (administration, defense, and the support of disabled members of society). Surplus labor is also labor expended for the creation of additional means of production and consumer goods, which serve as the material foundation for expanded socialist reproduction. Thus, under socialism, surplus labor is used in the interests of the workers.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in classic literature ?
Of these there was an army, the huge surplus labor army of society; called into being under the stern system of nature, to do the casual work of the world, the tasks which were transient and irregular, and yet which had to be done.
The argument then went this way: the Philippines had too much surplus labor and the export market was wide and offered great opportunities for export-oriented industries.
Arthur Lewis, which explains how employment in new, more productive sectors can absorb surplus labor and push up wages over all.
It puts critical geographic information systems theory into discussion with critical ethnic studies and builds the case that CLEARmap does not passively "read" urban space, but provides ostensibly scientific ways of reading and policing negatively racialized fractions of surplus labor in ways that reproduces, and in some instances extends the tentacles of carceral power.
As a result informal work serves as an "escape valve" for Bolivia's surplus labor pool, informality serves as a way for the state to generate revenue from confiscations and bribes, and it allows the state to minimize its investment in both markets and workers.
Then there would be the mass of humanity increasingly "precariatized" and thrown into the ranks of surplus labor, who only need basic numeracy and literacy skills in order to supply labor for the system, and whose potential for critical thinking could nevertheless pose a serious threat to the capitalist order.
LKY's government adopted interventionist economic policies that fostered positive impacts, such as tremendous growth in manufactured exports, elimination of unemployment and absorption of surplus labor, and accumulation of high savings, surplus capital and equities.
China's dual economic structure, the rural surplus labor force gradually shifted to
Ultimately, it is the general law of capitalist accumulation a Marxist pedagogy of becoming must grasp if it is to assist in conceptualizing and enacting a movement to, as we will see, abolish surplus labor time, the material substance and lifeblood of capital itself, which is now a global system dominated by a diminishing US imperialist uni-power.
"Currently, construction employment is generally back to its long-term average in most regions, thus leaving little surplus labor for contractors and developers to draw from as construction activity continues to recover," explains Kevin Gillen Ph.D., Meyers Research's Chief Economist.
In other words, the appropriation of surplus labor was an open fact of society, not hidden as it is in commodity relations of capitalism, which "conceals the social character of private labour and the social relations between the individual workers, by making those relations appear as relations between material objects, instead of revealing them plainly" (168-69).