Part Two: The ambiguous case of the Soviet Union
To explain profit, Marx proposed the existence of a new type of commodity peculiar to the capitalist mode of production. This new commodity, labor power, had the characteristics of a typical commodity; it had a value equal to its socially necessary labor time and it had a specific social use value: it could be used as capital to produced surplus value. The specific social use value of this commodity, argued Marx, explained how capital created profit apparently out of nothing.
It also explained how capital violates the premises of commodity exchange generally.
In commodity production, of which capital is a specific historical form, the value of a commodity is equal to the socially necessary labor time required for its production. The time spent on production of the commodity in excess of what is necessary on average for its production creates no value.
To illustrate his point, Marx pointed to the case of a producer who, by lack of skill or laziness, spent more time producing her commodity than the social average. This additional labor time, argued Marx, produced a commodity with no more value than that embodied in a commodity produced by a skillful efficient producer. In the market, each would fetch the same price, with no more paid for the commodities of lazy unskillful producers than for the commodities of efficient ones.
The reproduction of labor power as a commodity, however, operates according to decidedly different laws than those of simple commodities. It is the source of surplus value and the quantity of surplus value created by its productive consumption is directly proportional to its duration. In contrast to ordinary commodities, therefore, the duration of labor expended by labor power in production must always exceed the duration of socially necessary labor time required for the reproduction of the labor power itself.