Capital I. Chapter 11: The Rate and Mass of Surplus Value

I doubt these are the most enlightening notes. But…

  • The value of labour-power = necessary labour = constant.
  • “One labour-power” (417). The rate of surplus value then gives the mass of suplus value on this one labour power. A labour-power is expressed in $3. If the rate of surplus value  is 100% (v/s = 1), one labour-power creates a surplus value of $3 (s = v × 1).
  • The variable capital is the sum of labour-powers (n) employed by a given capital: v = n × $3.
  • If 100 labour-powers are exploited during a working day, the variable capital in motion is $300, this is also the mass of surplus-value created. First law:

“… the mass of surplus value produced is equal to the amount of the variable capital advanced multiplied by the rate of surplus-value; in other words: the mass of surplus-value is determined by the product of the number of labour-powers simultaneously exploited by the same capitalist and the degree of exploitation of each individual labour-power” (418).

  • S = s/v × V = P × (a’/a) × n. S is the total surplus value, v is the value of one labour power and s is the surplus it produces, V is the total variable capital, P is the “value of an average labour-power” (418), (a’/a) is the degree of exploitaion is (surplus labour/necessary labour), n is the number of workers employed.

“… the workers employed by a capitalist are reduced to average workers” (418).

Two comments. In the equation above P was “value of an average labour-power” and here Marx reduces each worker employed to “average workers”. What is this reduction and what is an average worker?

  • The absolute numeber of workers employed can be reduced alongside either an increase in the absolute length of the working day or an increase in the “degree of exploiation of labour-power”. Thus:

“The supply of labour exploitable by capital is independent of the supply of workers” (419).

  • The total value produced during a working day is always less than the value expression of 24 hours. The absolute limit to the working day is, “by nature always less than 24 hours” (419).

“This self evient second law [that the limit of the working day is less than 24 hours] is of importance for the explanation of many phenomena, arising from the tendency of capital to reduce as much as possible the number of workers employed, i.e. the amount of its variable component, the part which is changed into labour-power …, which stands in contradiction with its other tendency to prouce the greatest possible mass of surplus value” (420).

Marx is referring to the to the tendency to unemployment, what he will later call “the general law of capitalist accumulation” in Chapter 25.

  • Third law:

“… the masses of value and surplus value produced by different capitals … vary directly as the amounts of the variable components of these capitals…” (421).

Marx emphasises that the constant capital, or the means of production, do not impact these masses.

“This law clearly contradicts all experience based on immediate appearances” (421).

Again Marx puts us off to later discussion. What he is getting at here is the non-equivalence of surplus-value and profit—though he hasn’t yet introduced profit as a concept. The heart of the issue is that any individual capital is always under the condition of the total social capital for its branch of industry—and beyond that society. The social place equalises the profit rates of capitals that, through their compositions may produce greater of lesser masses of surplus value. The appearance is that capitals taking equal masses of profit must be produce equal masses of surplus value: isn’t surplus-value just another word for profit? (these question are only set out later, in Capital III.

And a comment on science:

“Vulgar economics, which like the Bourbons ‘has really learnt nothing’, relies here on the mere semblance as opposed to the law which regulates and determines the phenomena. In antithesis to Spinoza, it believes that ‘ignorance is sufficient reason’” (421-2).

What “regulates and determines” a phenomena is a law.

  • The “social working day … the total social capital” (422).
  • Hegel: quantity into quality. If a worker owned their means of production, their necessary labour might be 8 hours. But the worker doesn’t. The worker is employed by the capitalist who proived means of production for 12 hours, not 8. But this only produces a surplus of 4 hours for the capitalist: only half the labour necessary to reproduce a worker. The capitalist is not a worker. Two workers will only equal the living standard of a worker and provide nothing more. The capitalist therefore employs as many workers as possible. It is the addition of worker on worker that eventually transforms the petit maitre into a capitalist.
  • Subsidies, monopolies and joint-stock companies. The sum of capital required to transfor the small master into a capitalist may be such that an individual is unlikely to possess it. The state can then intervene, and/ or grant monopoly right to an industry and later joint-stock companies emerge.
  • Main points so far:
  • i. Capital results from capitalists gaining command over “self-activating labour-power” (424).
  • ii. Capital compels workers to work beyond neceeary hours into the valorisation process.

“As an agent in producing the activity of others, as an extractor of surplus labour and an exploiter of labour-power, it surpases all earlier systems of production, which were based on directly compulsory labour, in its energy and its quality of unbounded and ruthless activity” (425).

I think this is the first place Marx has talked about capital, not capitalists, as an agent (a subject). It echos his early reference to value as an automatic subject, capital is simply a developed form of value—value in motion. Capital is a social relation and the way he talks about it here conveys the way social relations become objective and gain command over individuals, or “the activity of others”.

  • iii. Formal subsumption: Capital begins by producing surplus-value without changing the mode of production, or the technical conditions of the labour process (425).
  • The inversion and distortion of “the relation between dead labour and living labour” (425):

“The means of production are at once changed into means for the absorption of the labour of others. It is no lnoger the worker who employs the means of production but the means of production that employ the worker. Instead of being consumed by him as material elements of his productive activity, they consume him as the ferment necessary to thei own life process, and the life-process of capital consists solely in its own motion as self valorising value. Furnaces and workshops that stand idle by night, and absord no living labour, are ‘a mere loss’ to the capitalist. Hence furnaces and workshops constitute ‘lawful claims upon the night-labour’ of the labour-powers. As soon as a certain sum of money is transfored into means of production, i.e. into objective factors of the production process, the means of production themselves are transformed into a title, both by right and by might, to the labour and surplus labour of others” (425).


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Reading Capital in Sydney records reading notes on Marx's Capital I, II and III, and other bits and pieces.

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