Do workers create all wealth?
[Translated from GegenStandpunkt 1-16]
I have two questions:
1. According to Marx the workers create the wealth. But my acquaintances will not quite admit it. They argue that without a boss, no production would take place. Without entrepreneurs, there would also be no wealth. How big the entrepreneur’s share in wealth depends on the size of the company, for example, the smaller the company, the more the boss’s share in wealth, etc.
2. Who then is the actual “work giver”? Usually, this is the entrepreneur – so it is said. I contend that the workers are the true “work givers” because they give the boss their work and the boss is the “work taker” because he takes the work of the workers.
Can you answer my questions or confirm my assertions.
Workers produce those goods that make up the material wealth of society – this is a rather banal fact; for that to sink in, you don’t need to take a look at Marx’s “Critique of Political Economy”: in the car factory, workers produce the various models; for that, they use the machines, conveyor belts, and processed materials which have been produced by other workers; they work in buildings that were constructed by people like them; transport and its means are again results of work; and so on and so forth, across all industries – in short: the work which makes the means of consumption and production is done by the people who carry it out.
Nevertheless, your acquaintances are also not wrong. In capitalism, without the entrepreneur (the “boss”) who commands the workers, there exists no production and no wealth. The reason is that in this system workers themselves have none of the things that are needed in order to make useful stuff. Because all the objective elements and requirements of production – factories, machines, raw materials, etc. – belong to the people who are often referred to as “the economy,” the workers have no say in the decisions about what and how much should be produced with which means, and certainly not how the workload is organized and who does it. The owners of the material means are the subjects who decide all that. As private owners, they determine how the society produces. By virtue of their exclusive command over the means of social production, they define the purpose of the work and therefore how it takes place in accord with their interests. And this does not aim, as is no secret, at providing the society with useful goods; employers have work done because and as long as it is profitable for them – so that the money they invest in means of production and in labor power is increased through the work of the latter. The workers are the means for this. From the standpoint of the employer’s interest in achieving a growing money surplus, his expenditure on labor power is a cost, and as such calculated just as tightly as those on raw materials and machinery, all under the imperative of producing with as little paid work as big a pile of salable stuff as possible. With his expenditure on wages, the entrepreneur buys the right to command the labor power of those he hires for a fee in terms of this calculation. This also decides the “entrepreneur’s share in wealth”: to him belongs the entire work that is done in the plant under his command and thus also the total result of production: its financial yield, on which everything is centered.
The entrepreneur’s interest in having work done for his own augmented property is often praised because those who need work in order to earn money are offered the opportunity to work, so “work” is “given” to them which would not exist – as your acquaintances say – without this interest. The reversal you notice between “work giver” and “work taker” fits quite well with the total dependence of the workers. Because on their own they can’t work and be paid for it, thus can only work in the service of an employer, the power of the property of the capitalists, their command over work, is transformed into a service to the workers and their profitable use into a collaborative work between employers and employees. Only then can the question arise, and one can argue endlessly about this, what each side – employer and employee – contributes, thus justly deserves from the collective result. However, a communal production of social wealth with different contributions and unfairly distributed incomes does not exist in the capitalist relations of exploitation. Just as little as the praise for the “work giver” hits the mark, your turning of “work giver” into “taker” fits just as little: The boss does not take work results away from his employees that would “really” belong to them. As we said: If they are working for lack of the objective means to do it themselves, then their whole productive activity is from the outset the property of their user. He has indeed paid them to cede their capacity to work for his use. So all debates about distribution are a moot point.
Two more reading tips:
Work and Wealth, I.
Second, Marx didn’t think that workers create all wealth, but rather criticized this first as false and second as a justification argument by the then-existing Social Democracy in its distribution debates with the capitalists. See “Critique of the Gotha Program.”