WHAT ARE WAGES?
loom, he has no more share in the product (the cloth), or in the
price of the product, than the loom itself has.
Wages, therefore, are not a share of the worker in the commodities produced by himself. Wages are that part of already
existing commodities with which the capitalist buys a certain
amount of productive labour-power.
Consequently, labour-power is a commodity which its possessor, the wage-worker, sells to the capitalist. Why does he sell it ?
It is in order to live.
But the putting of labour-power into action, i.e., the work, is the
active expression of the labourer's own life. And this life activity
he sells to another person in order to secure the necessary means
of life. His life-activity, therefore, is but a means of securing his
own existence. He works that he may keep alive. He does not
count the labour itself as a part of his life; it is rather a sacrifice
of his life. It is a commodity that he has auctioned off to another.
The product of his activity, therefore, is not the aim of his activity. What he produces for himself is not the silk that he weaves,
not the gold that he draws up the mining shaft, not the palace that
he builds. What he produces for himself is wages; and the silk,
the gold, and the palace are resolved for him into a certain quantity of necessaries of life, perhaps into a cotton jacket, into copper
coins, and into a basement dwelling. And the labourer who for
twelve hours long, weaves, spins, bores, turns, builds, shovels,
breaks stone, carries hods, and so on—is this twelve hours' weaving, spinning, boring, turning, building, shovelling, stone-breaking, regarded by him as a manifestation of life, as life ? Quite the
contrary. Life for him begins where this activity ceases, at the
table, at the tavern seat, in bed. The twelve hours' work, on the
other hand, has no meaning for him as weaving, spinning, boring,
and so on, but only as earnings, which enable him to sit down at a
table, to take his seat in the tavern, and to lie down in a bed. If
the silk-worm's object in spinning were to prolong its existence as
caterpillar, it would be a perfect example of a wage-worker.
Labour-power was not always a commodity (merchandise).
Labour was not always wage-labour, i.e., free labour. The slave
did not sell his labour-power to the slave-owner, any more than
the ox sells his labour to the farmer. The slave, together with
his labour-power, was sold to his owner once for all. He is a