Does labour create wealth?

does labour create wealth?

Wealth, also known as surplus value, is a product of the efforts put together by the working class. This treatise is an attempt to justify the fact that “Labour creates Wealth” in the society, especially in the capitalist system of society in the Marxian Philosophy. Here, Marx developed the theory that, the capitalist class (also known as the Bourgeoisie) exploits the working class by appropriating the surplus value produced by the working class (known as the Proletariat), and thereby becoming wealthy, whereas the working class are becoming increasingly impoverished.

Introduction/Background of the Discourse

Karl Marx (1818-1883), the philosopher, social scientist, historian and a revolutionary, is regarded as the most influential socialist thinker to emerge in the 19th century. His philosophy, which was advanced by his friends – Fredrick Engel and Vladimir Ilych Lenin, was no doubt, so outstanding that it led to social and economic transformation. According to Marx, however, no society survives economically without the enormous contributions of labour. The argument that labour creates wealth is an important one which calls for reflection and cannot be overemphasised. The power house of every society is labour. Labour therefore forms the basis of every economy of a society. The economy of such society remains stagnant if labour is not given priority. Take for instance, if the Labour Congress of a country should embark on a strike, the economy of that country remains crippled and stagnant, if the strike persists.

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This article therefore seeks to appraise the view that labour creates wealth, and in doing this, we shall look at the concepts of wealth, labour and how labour actually creates wealth which can be seen in the labour theory of value.


Wealth is anything useful produced by human labour from materials found in nature. In a capitalist society, Marx said, wealth takes the form of an immense accumulation of commodities. This could also be referred to as surplus value in a capitalist society. A commodity is an article of wealth produced for the purpose of being exchanged for other articles of wealth. Thus commodity production is an economic system where wealth is produced for sale, for the market.

Surplus Value

Samuel Enoch Stumpf in his book Philosophy History and Problems posited that “since the product of labour could be sold for more than the cost of labour, the capitalist would then reap the difference, which Marx called surplus value”. For the Oxford Advanced Learners’ Dictionary, 7th Edition, surplus value is an amount that is extra or more than you need.


Labour is the second factor of production, which indeed is an important factor in any economic society. It is a factor that can be referred to as the backbone of every economy in the society.

How Labour Creates Wealth

Under this subhead, we shall look into the labour theory of value, where the working class are exploited under capitalism and how capitalist society works. But we shall solely be concerned with the effort – both mental and physical, put up by human beings, thus leading to the creation of wealth.

The Labour Theory of Value

The Labour Theory of Value is a theory in the science of political economy to explain how the working class are exploited under capitalism and how capitalist society works. It is from this exploitation that the creation of wealth can be traced to be created through the human efforts put together in both mentally and physically.

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Labour Power as a Commodity

Labour-power is the ability of human beings to work, human energy. Indeed this fact is the basis of capitalism since it presupposes the separation of the producers from the ownership and control of the means and instruments for producing wealth.

Unpaid Labour

Labour-power has a peculiar characteristic. Because wealth can only be produced by human beings applying their mental and physical energies to materials found in nature and because labour (the expending of labour-power) is the basis of value, labour-power has the property of being able to produce and create new value. Let us assume that our worker’s labour-power is worth 4 hours of labour a day. After he has worked 4 hours does he stop? Of course not. Under his contract, he must work for another 4. Since he is working in his employers’ place, with his employers’ tools, machinery and raw materials anything he produces belongs to his employer. Thus, in this case, the employer gets 4 hours of free labour. This is the source of his profit, which he shares with his creditors as interest and with his landlord as (ground) rent (and with the State as taxes). So the source of all Rent, Interest and Profit is the unpaid labour of the working class.

Let us look into this process of exploitation a little closer. The first point to notice is that it takes place at the point of production. Workers are exploited at work. When a worker receives his wage (or salary, another name for the price of labour power) he has already been exploited. He cannot therefore be exploited again by moneylenders or shopkeepers or landlords or taxmen (though of course they can rob and cheat him, and he them, but that’s a different matter). So-called secondary exploitation is a myth.

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It is therefore worthy of note that “labour” is the foundation and bases upon which every economy in the society is laid, as propounded by Marx. And even a close look at it in real life, a hand engaged in labour can never lack, and therefore becomes rich. So it is in the capitalist system of the society where the working class are being exploited by the bourgeois who after excessive hard labour, accumulates and keep for themselves what is referred to as wealth and/or surplus value.


  1. Advanced Learners’ Dictionary, 7th Edition, Oxford Concise Dictionary of Politics. Edited by Mclean, Laon and Alistair Macmillan. Oxford University Press, Oxford 1996/2003.
  2. Samuel Enoch Stumpf: Philosophy History and Problems.
  3. An Introduction to Marxian Economics 1: The Labour Theory of Value. A Journal of the Socialist Party Great Britain, London, UK, No. 1331, July 2015.00

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