Karl Marx: The Myth of Skilled and Unskilled Labour (1867)

Marx & Engels and Comrades!

The process of production, considered on the one hand as the unity of the labour-process and the process of creating value, is production of commodities; considered on the other hand as the unity of the labour-process and the process of producing surplus-value, it is the capitalist process of production, or capitalist production of commodities. 

Karl Marx – Das Kapital (1867)

We stated, on a previous page, that in the creation of surplus-value it does not in the least matter, whether the labour appropriated by the capitalist be simple unskilled labour of average quality or more complicated skilled labour. All labour of a high or more complicated character than average labour is expenditure of labour-power of a more costly kind, labour-power whose production has cost more time and labour, and which therefore has a higher value, than unskilled or simple labour-power. This power being of higher value, its consumption is labour of a higher class, labour that creates in equal times proportionally higher values than unskilled labour does. Whatever difference in skill there may be between the labour of a spinner and that of a jeweller, the portion of his labour by which he creates surplus-value results only from a quantitative excess of labour, from a lengthening-out of one ad the same labour-process, in the one case, of the process of making jewels in the other of the process of making yarn. (1) – See ‘Footnote 1’ Below: 

Karl Marx: Das Kapital, Lawrence A Wishart, (1974), 191-192 

Karl Marx – Every Worker Must ‘Think’!

Footnote 1 

The distinction between skilled and unskilled labour rests in part on pure illusion, or, to say the least, on distinction that have long since ceased to be real, and that survive only by virtue of a traditional convention; in part on the helpless condition of some groups the value of their labour-power. Accidental circumstances here play so great a part, that of the working-class has deteriorated, and is, relatively speaking, exhausted, which is the case in all countries with a well-developed capitalist production, the lower form of labour, which demand great expenditure of muscle, are in general considered as skilled, compared with much more delicate forms of labour: the latter sink down to the level of unskilled labour. Take as an example the labour of a bricklayer, which in England occupies a much higher level than that of a damask-weaver. Again, although the labour fustian cutter demands great bodily exertion, and is at the same time unhealthy, yet it counts only as unskilled labour. And then, we must not forget, that the so-called skilled labour does not occupy a large space in the field of national labour. Laing estimates that in England (and Wales) the livelihood of 11,300,000 people depends on unskilled labour. If from the total population of 18,000,000 living at the time when he wrote, we deduct 1,000,000 for the “genteel population,” and 1,500,000 for paupers, vagrants, criminals, prostitutes, etc, and 4,650,000 who compose the middle-class, there remain the above mentioned 11,000,000. But in his middle-class he includes people that live on the interest of small investments, officials, men of letters, artisans, school masters and the like, and in order to swell the number he also includes in those 4,650,000 the better paid portion of the factory operatives! The bricklayers, too, figure amongst them. (S Laing: “National Distress.”, etc. London: 1844) “The great class who have nothing to give for food but ordinary labour, are the great bulk of the people.” “James Mill, in art: “Colony.” Supplement to the Encyclop. Brit., 1831.) 

Karl Marx – The Bourgeois Must Not Define Our Thinking!

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