Dana’s Book Clubs

Barnard/Columbia/Bucuresti Book Club – Spring &Summer 2021 (Open to CU, UB, and any interested student of Marx)

Book Club – Marx, Capital . Vol. 1 ; Also, available here

January 1 – July 1, 2021 – Ended – stay tuned for the new book club starting in August, 2021 from Duquesne University.

Chapter Dana’s questions
1 Ch1. Sect.1. 

  1. Can wealth be described in any other way than accumulation of commodities?
  2. Do you think we can have wants satisfied otherwise than as means of subsistence or means of production?
  3. Let’s talk about use-value and exchange value.
  4. Does use-value become a reality only by use or consumption? “use -values become a reality only by use or consumption:they also constitute the substance of all wealth, whatever may be the social form of that wealth.”
  5. Commodities are the “material depositories of exchange-value” as a quantitative relation.
  6. Let’s consider  exchange value as human labor in the abstract; as use-values commodities are different qualities; as exchange-value merely different in quantity; not an atom of use-value;
  7. Exchange value=Congelation of human labor measured by duration;
  8. Problematic or not?: the value of a commodity remains constant if the amount of congealed work is the same;
  9. Nothing can have value without being an object of utility (for others)


  1. Is division of labor still necessary for the production of commodities (different labor; different use-value; coat; linen; you can’t exchange coat for a coat)
  2. Use-values cannot be exchanged unless they contain different useful labor embodied in them. Is that true? Two coats looking identical but with different labels have different use-value and exchange value;
  3. Let’s consider product activity as the expenditure of human labor
  4. The value of labor; skilled and simple labor – problematic – there is no connection anymore – therefore the reward of CEOs and manual workers is out of sink;
  5. “Since the magnitude of the value of a commodity represents only the quantity of labor embodied in it, it follows that all commodities, when taken in certain propositions, must be equal in value.
  6. Worth thinking about : “an increase in the quantity of use-values is an increase of material wealth. With 2 coats 2 men can be clothed, with 1 coat one man. Nevertheless, an increased quantity of material wealth  may correspond to a simultaneous fall in the magnitude of its  value.” How   can you prevent the fall in value while increasing the material wealth (or the production of coats)?


  1. Commodities have utility and exchange value.
  2. Exchange value  is relational to something else; another exchange value (qualitatively different or money)
  3. Human labor creates value but it is not  a value; only when  it becomes  congealed in use-value items, it has value.
  4. The relational value  needs a constant = money
  5. Nonsense or deep observation? It is not the exchange of commodities that regulates their magnitude of their  value but it is the magnitude of their value that controls their exchange
  6. Money – utility universal value equivalent; exchangeable in itself for itself
  7. NOTHING yet on how the exchange is established – 1 coat for $

Sect. 4

  1. P. 59. Interesting nature of comedies; they develop a relationship with each other although they are human products. TRUE  or FALSE for fashion ?
  2. Bourgeois economy- commodity economy
  3. Fallacy – ignore the time Robinson Crusoe spent praying because it was recreational – can people create value while enjoying their recreational work? 
  4. Personal dependance characterizes the social relations of production in feudalism
  5. The social relations between individuals in the performance of their labor appear at all events as their own mutual personal  relations and are not disguised as social relations between products of labor
  1. Commodities have qualities that differentiate them from other “things”, such as
    1. Things (without power of resistance) p.70
    2.  Within the realm of possession 
    3. Objects of juridical relations between their possessors (guardians)
    4. Objects of private property
    5. Object of contractual relations, 
    6. Contracts are a reflection of economic relations between the contractual parties;
    7. In capitalism, people exist for one another merely as representatives of and as owners of commodities 
  2. (Contradiction? not necessarily true?) To their owners commodities possess no immediate use-value (M doubted there would otherwise have been exchanged)
  3. Commodities have use-value to their non-owners (always true?)
  4. Later – specified commodities must show their use value, before they are realised as values (to their owner?)
  5. To realize their value, commodities must be convertible into suitable commodities of equal value
  6. “In the beginning was the deed” (what does that mean for M?)
  7. Revelations 17:13 and 13:17 – i believe this is anti-semtic (any thoughts about the meaning of restrictions for those engaged in buying and selling?) (p. 72)
  8. I can’t believe what Marx says that “money” was a creation of nomadic people because they were on contact with foreign communities soliciting the exchange of products (bartering can be used for that: beads, etc), but that it reached national scale during the French bourgeois revolution (that ignores the Glorious Revolution (i love its name) and the subsequent capitalist society there, then in the US…this is a bit too unsettling. 
  9. The money form must have required a level of development and settlement to make the money.
  10. (as an aside there are  so many theories of money that there cannot be a simple answer. If you want to have not only a means of exchange, money has a very  long history. If you also require a common unit of account and convertibility  of all other private moneys into that unit – money exists only with the  rise of nation states.  One of the most thoughtful writers on the matter is Roy Kreitner at  Tel Aviv university ; student of Christine Desan at Harvard who describes money as a constitutional  project…)
  11. But Marx uses the idea of land as money and relates it to the French revolution (which is inaccurate)  but let’s wait until he develops it in later chapters
  12. Money serves as the manifestation of the value of commodities. How?
  13. The use value of the money-commodity becomes two-fold. How?
  14. Interesting thought (especially then) all commodities are merely particular equivalents of money
  15. Troublesome assertion: asserting magnitude by the labor-time required for its production 
3 Sect. 1

  1. “It is not the money that renders commodities commensurable. Just the contrary. It is because all commodities, as values, are realized human labour”… that they can be measured by the same commodity, money. But was this irrefutably demonstrated? How do you feel about using such conclusory/conclusive  statements?
  2. Money = measure of value = labour time = necessary for the very existence of commodities (phenomenal form). Thoughts?
  3. Money has no price; its own equivalent;
  4. We have discussed this before, but here is again the value of a ton of iron is “the quantity of human labor that is contained in [it]” – and that simply is not true: + scarcity; potential usefulness (ok, future labor); anything else that might influence its value?
  5. What 2 functions do money serve? (pg 81)
  6. Inflation leaves the relative prices of commodities the same 
  7. “A general rise in the prices of commodities can result only, either from a rise in their values – the value of money remaining constant – or from a fall in the value of money, the values of commodities remaining constant.” Thoughts?
  8. “Price is the money-name of the labour realised in a commodity.” I would say that price is the money-name of the exchange value of a commodity.
  9. Marx does not prefer my wording not because “price being the exponent of the magnitude of a commodity’s [exchange] value, is the exponent of its exchange -ratio with money [but  not necessarily] the exponent of the commodity’s [use] value . He introduces deviating value in gold as money. Of course, that is not the standard measure for money today…
  10. Magnitude of value expresses  a relation of social production [between the article and the amount of labor required to produce it]. Thoughts? Can it express a different relation? 
  11. Very interesting: “although money is nothing is nothing but the value-form of commodities, price ceases altogether to express value. Objects that in themselves are no commodities, such as conscience, honor, etc. are capable of being offered for sale by their holders, and of thus acquiring, through their price, the form of commodities
  12. The transubstantiation discussion (unnecessary today because money is not gold-based any longer) it is illuminating  (85); 
  13. BUT for Marx, is money about trust (for Dantem faith as a coin)? Thoughts?

«Assai bene è trascorsa

d’esta moneta già la lega e ’l peso; 

ma dimmi se tu l’hai ne la tua borsa».

Ond’io: «Sì ho, sì lucida e sì tonda,

che nel suo conio nulla mi s’inforsa». (Par. 24.83-87)

“Now this coin is well-examined,

and now we know its alloy and its weight.

But tell me: do you have it in your purse?”

And I: “Indeed I do—so bright and round

that nothing in its stamp leads me to doubt.”

Sect 2.

  1. Insists that commodities exchange from hands to hands thus from  non-use-values become use-value. But this seems pedantic and untrue (as discussed; selling my blue glasses, etc). Thoughts?
  2. Use-value is associated with consumption. Potential use value is on the market. Can Marx be right here and wrong in Q.1 above?
  3. “Commodities as use-value stand opposed to money as exchange value”. Thoughts? 
  4. The linen explanation – how prices go up and down for the same commodity on the market at the same time (caught together hung together) . Thoughts? (90)
  5. The division of labor converts the product of labor into a commodity (now we understand why Marx needed the division of labor; but is it necessary to explain the role of money?)
  6. Beautiful explanation of the realization of a commodity’s price.
  7. “Up to this point we have considered men in only one economic capacity, that of owners of commodities, a capacity in which they appropriate the produce of the labor of others, by alienating that of their own labor.” How?
  8. Money the metamorphosed shape of all other commodities, the result of their general alienation
  9. Difference between barter and money circulation (money is not consumed through one exchange)
  10. What produces a crisis: if the interval between sale and purchase become too pronounced…
  11. “The antithesis, use-value and value, the contradictions that private labor is bound to manifest itself as direct social labor, that a particulariΩed concrete kind of labor has to pass for abstract human labor, the contradiction between the personification of objects and the representation of persons by things; all of these antitheses and contradictions, which are immanent in commodities, assert themselves and develop their modes of motion, in the antithetical phases of the metamorphosis of a commodity.  
  12. These modes imply the possibility of a crisis
  13. C-M-C
  14. The price depends of the mass of commodities in circulation

Sect. 3

  1. Transformation from coin into money from movable to immovable (civil law terminology)
  2. Money as accumulated wealth = social power becomes the private power of who has it (gold) 
  3. A commodity has specific value =satisfies specific wants; but its value shows the social wealth of its owner (very interesting)
  4. Money as means of payment
  5. Credit – money springs directly out of the function of money as a means of payment. Certificates of the debts owning for the purchased commodities circulate for the purpose of transferring those debts to others. (118)
  6. Conversion of taxes in kind into money taxes
  7. Universal money
  8. Bourgeois form of production…and universal money
Chp 4&5 The transformation of money into capital

Ch. 4. 

  1. “Capital, as opposed to landed property invariably takes the form of money” / Thoughts?
  2. Distinction between money that is only money and money that is capital = difference in their form of circulation. Thoughts?
  3. MCM=CMC because 
    1. Antithetical phases
    2. Same material and same dramatis personae
    3. Each circuit is the unity of the same antithetical phases (sell/buy)
  4. MCM # CMC because
    1. Inverted order of succession
    2. What is not spent is advanced.  
  5. Trade is speculation (127)
  6. Fn 127: trade is gmabling; every transaction in which one buys  in order to sell, it is a speculation (Corbet, etc)
  7. Momentarily the surplus value is distinguishable from value…but not at the end…Money ends the movement only to begin it again. …the expansion of value has no limit…[remember this when we read chl 5] The conscious representative of this movement … the capitalist ….consciousness and a will]. Thoughts?
  8. Fn 128 capital is divisible into original capital and profit … profit is invested as capital [Engels]
  9. Fn 129 Aristotle’s economics =has a limit = goods, etc;  and chrematistic = art of making money (speculation)
  10. Fn 130 commodities are not the goal of the merchant/”trading capitalist” money is [Chalmers]
  11. All commodities are money [anti-semitic; self hating remark] 
  12. Industrial capital; interest bearing capital, [introducing variations of capital]

Ch. 5

  1. The inverted order in which money becomes capital is the reason for money to become capital rather than remaining a value measure; buy to sell for profit ; but how? If I make a profit here I lose it there and the sum value remains the same, but is it so? a) if there is one standard of measuring value [M introduces quantity of incorporated social labor], and M assumes supply and demand are equal
  2. Could Condillac be right that [at least sometimes] value depends on our wants? [the psychological aspect of value?]
  3. Despite Marx’s assertions, commerce does add value to products. But how? 
  4. The buyer performs an act of production transforming stockings into money
  5. So, something happens during the exchange phase to produce the surplus value;
  6. Is it the added value through the labor added during the exchange ? 
  7. Does it originate outside?
  8. Are there laws that explain how value is respected both in selling and purchasing and nevertheless value is added
  9. Marx anticipates the next chapters
Chp. 6
  1. The change of value that occurs in the case of money…must occur in the commodity bought in the first place.. not in its value [sic] for equivalents are exchanged [dn: unproven] and the price is paid in full…”therefore …the change originates in its use-value, i.e. in its consumption
  2. NOW this is so inelegant because M is leading us to accept his labor-power theory, and his theory of selling labor for a wage (commodity=labor; price=wage)
  3. However, his theory of alienation is introduced on p 148, and that is very persuasive “the alienation of labour -power and its actual appropriation by the buyer, its employment as a use-value, are separated by an interval of time. But in those cases in which the formal alienation buy sale of the use-value of a commodity, is not simultaneous with its actual delivery to the buyer, the money of the latter usually functions as means of payment.”
  4. Cliffhanger  “we shall at last force the secret of profit making.”
Chp. 7 Sect. 1. The Labor Process or the Production of Use Value

  1. Labor in action is labor power, a laborer. In order for the labor to reappear in a commodity – labor has to expand into something useful, capable of satisfying a want. 
  2. The capitalist sets the laborer to produce a particular use-value; a specified article;
  3. The production of use values is carried on under the control of a capitalist.
  4. Q: Does a capitalist need to buy labor? To what extent that is important? (Think Facebook)
  5. Labor is a process in which Man and Nature participate, and in which man in his own accord starts, regulates, and controls the material re-actions between himself and Nature
  6. Q; Does man have to oppose Nature; or appropriate it to its own needs? Can’t we develop a better plan of working alongside Nature?
  7. At the end of the labor-process we get a result that already existed in the imagination of the laborer at its commencement. (this is very perceptive; because this is where it can start the collaboration HUMAN/NATURE)’
  8. The elementary factors of the labor process: a. The personal activity of man (labor and capitalist) (ie. work itself BUT also Investment;); b) the subject of that work (raw materials*) (data) and c) its instruments (the thing that  comes between Human and Nature)
  9. Means of production: (previous products; but what about fish as means of production in the fishing industry?)
  10. Raw materials may form the principal substance of a product or may enter into its formation as an accessory (Q: how is that different from the subject of the work?)
  11. A use-value is to be regarded as raw material, as instrument of labor, or as product, this is determined entirely by its function in the labor -process, by the position it occupies; as this varies so does its character.
  12. On the contrary, it is generally by their imperfections as products, that the means of production in any process assert themselves in their character of products. A blunt knife it reminds us of Mr. A the cutler; in the finished product the labor by means of which it has acquired its useful qualities is not palpable, has apparently vanished. 
  13. Living labor seizes upon things and rouses them from their death-sleep, changing them from mere possible use-values into real and effective ones. 
  14. The labor process turned into the process by which the capitalist consumes labor-power, exhibits two characteristic phenomena. First, the labor works under the control of the capitalist (important for the theory of surplus value). Second, the product of the process is the property of the capitalist. 

Sect. 2 The Production of surplus value

  1. Meaning of capitalism as progressive: the production of products for mass-consumption; production of commodities (as the basis to create wealth)
  2. Q: what about today, is mass-consumption the basis of wealth creation? With 650 billionaires, is the economy meant to produce for mass consumption? 
  3. We know that the value of each commodity is determined by the quantity of labor expended on and materialized in it, by the working time necessary, under given social conditions, for its production. Q: Do we know that? It is an assumption, a proposal, not a demonstration.
  4. The proletarian, by selling their labor renounces all claim to the labor product. Q: what about us vis-a-vis data collected by Google, Facebook. Etc?
  5. Work produces use values; labor creates value (fn 186)
  6. The values of the means of production are parts of the value of the product (use value – yarn); but the labor used – must not exceed the time really necessary to produce the product (M’s theory of surplus value); but is that so? It could be a valid explanation BUT is it the only possible explanation for the accumulation of capital (surplus value?)
  7. M’s theory that the capitalist pays for labor less than its value – or that labour is paid for 4 hours of consumption – what it needs to reproduce; refresh, etc- but it is used for 8 hours, and the consumption of labor for 4 hours is pure surplus value (basis of capitalist accumulation) ;
  8. Also, M assumes that with this exception, the capitalist is fair (equivalent has been exchanged for equivalent)
  9. The metamorphosis: conversion of money into capital (more money that it has been invested) (a live monster that is fruitful and multiplies)
  10. Fn 192 – Questionable  theory against using slaves and in favor of wage labor — ending with data pillage 
Ch. 8
  1. The various factors of the labor process play different parts in forming the value of the product.
  2. The laborer adds fresh value to the subject of his labor by expending upon it a given amount of additional labor, no matter what the specific character and utility of that labor may be.
  3. The value of the means of production, constituent element of a non-use value
  4. The twofold role of a workman’s labor: a) add exchange value (in its abstract amount) and add use value (in its specificity)
  5. The process of production surplus value – comes from the labor (after working what is supposed to represent its value);
  6. Constant capital (is it constant, what is the role of technology)
  7. Variabil capital (how does it fluctuates)
Ch. 9 The rate of surplus value

  1. Is there a fallacy in the title: how can you calculate the rate of surplus value mathematically? (5 pages later s/c+v; but how do you separate s from v if it is just labor time?)
  2. Is value= c+v+s or is whatever the market wants it to be?
  3. Does a capitalist really plan in advance the price (M assumes price=value)?
  4. If there is concerted activity (monopolization) or planned economy, but not otherwise.
  5. How can the rate of surplus be 100%? Where do these figures come out?
  6. The congelation metaphor: surplus value (s) is surplus labor time; materialised labor
  7. VERY INTERESTING: Capitalism = the economic system where wage-labor creates wealth; unlike slave-labor; but the US was a capitalist society; so, something else is unique not wage-labor (there is place for innovation; M is incomplete)

Sect. 2

  1. The value of the yarn is the value of the means of production + new value added in the process of transforming the raw material into yarn; and that value has an exchange value determined by its use value; 0 ~ infinity (function of wants); anything else is just boys & girls having fun with mathematical formulas (which cannot be explained)

Sect 3. Incomprehensible

Sect 4: let’s talk and think about China & USA today: “the greatness of a man’s or a nation’s wealth should be measured, not by the absolute quantity produced, but by the relative magnitude of the surplus-value”

Ch. 10 Working-Day Sect. 1 – The Limits of the Working-Day

  1. “We started with the supposition that labour-power is bought and sold at its value.” [it cannot be]
  2. “The necessary part of his working-day amounts to 6 hours, and is, therefore, caeteris paribus [other things being equal], a given quantity. But with this, the extent of the working-day itself is not yet given.” Does it seem correct? a) is it bought at its value? b) we need at for b). But is this the only possible explanation?
  3. “Within the 24 hours of the natural day a man can expend only a definite quantity of his vital force. A horse, in like manner, can only work from day to day, 8 hours. During part of the day this force must rest, sleep; during another part the man has to satisfy other physical needs, to feed, wash, and clothe himself. Besides these purely physical limitations, the extension of the working-day encounters moral ones. The labourer needs time for satisfying his intellectual and social wants, the extent and number of which are conditioned by the general state of social advancement. The variation of the working-day fluctuates, therefore, within physical and social bounds. But both these limiting conditions are of a very elastic nature, and allow the greatest latitude. So we find working-days of 8, 10, 12, 14, 16, 18 hours, i.e., of the most different lengths.
  1. The capitalist has bought the labour-power at its day-rate. To him its use-value belongs during one working-day. He has thus acquired the right to make the labourer work for him during one day. But, what is a working-day? [splendid]
  2. As capitalist, he is only capital personified. His soul is the soul of capital. But capital has one single life impulse, the tendency to create value and surplus-value, to make its constant factor, the means of production, absorb the greatest possible amount of surplus-labour.[capital creates value]
  3. I demand the normal working-day because I, like every other seller, demand the value of my commodity. [dignity; legally]
  4. The capitalist maintains his rights as a purchaser when he tries to make the working-day as long as possible, and to make, whenever possible, two working-days out of one. 
  5. On the other hand, the peculiar nature of the commodity sold implies a limit to its consumption by the purchaser, and the labourer maintains his right as seller when he wishes to reduce the working-day to one of definite normal duration. There is here, therefore, an antinomy, right against right, both equally bearing the seal of the law of exchanges. 
  6. Between equal rights force decides. Hence is it that in the history of capitalist production, the determination of what is a working-day, presents itself as the result of a struggle, a struggle between collective capital, i.e., the class of capitalists, and collective labour, i.e., the working-class. [superb]

Sect 2. The greed for surplus-labor

  1. Capital has not invented surplus-labour. 
  2. Wherever a part of society possesses the monopoly of the means of production, the labourer, free or not free, must add to the working-time necessary for his own maintenance an extra working-time in order to produce the means of subsistence for the owners of the means of production,  whether this proprietor be the Athenian caloς cagaqoς [well-to-do man], Etruscan theocrat, civis Romanus [Roman citizen], Norman baron, American slave-owner, Wallachian Boyard, modern landlord or capitalist. [we understand how he came up with this idea of time added to subsistence][ I believe it is wrong. In capitalism it is a negotiation; not a fair one but a negotiation, therefore, the wage does not need to ensure subsistence. ]
  3. It is, however, clear that in any given economic formation of society, where not the exchange-value but the use-value of the product predominates, surplus-labour will be limited by a given set of wants which may be greater or less, and that here no boundless thirst for surplus-labour arises from the nature of the production itself. [such an obsessive attitude!; where is the proof?]
  4. The code of the corvée, which the Russian General Kisseleff proclaimed in 1831, was of course dictated by the Boyards themselves. Thus Russia conquered with one blow the magnates of the Danubian provinces, and the applause of liberal cretins throughout Europe. [a slight historical problem: there are two sets of byards, Russians and Romanians; but they are quite independent] [anyway stylistically great writing!]


  1. The underpaid/unpaid labor of men was made the source whereby the competition was carried on [M understands there is no correlation between value of the labor and how much the worker is paid]

Sect 4. Day & night work

  1. Constant capital, the means of production, considered from the standpoint of the creation of surplus-value, only exist to absorb labour, and with every drop of labour a proportional quantity of surplus-labour. While they fail to do this, their mere existence causes a relative loss to the capitalist, for they represent during the time they lie fallow, a useless advance of capital. And this loss becomes positive and absolute as soon as the intermission of their employment necessitates additional outlay at the recommencement of work. 
  2. The prolongation of the working-day beyond the limits of the natural day, into the night, only acts as a palliative. It quenches only in a slight degree the vampire thirst for the living blood of labour. To appropriate labour during all the 24 hours of the day is, therefore, the inherent tendency of capitalist production.


  1. “What is a working-day? What is the length of time during which capital may consume the labour-power whose daily value it buys? How far may the working-day be extended beyond the working-time necessary for the reproduction of labour-power itself?” 
  2. It has been seen that to these questions capital replies: the working-day contains the full 24 hours, with the deduction of the few hours of repose without which labour-power absolutely refuses its services again. [but the previous sect answered it]
  3. The capitalist mode of production (essentially the production of surplus-value, the absorption of surplus-labour), produces thus, with the extension of the working-day, not only the deterioration of human labour-power by robbing it of its normal, moral and physical, conditions of development and function. [correct]
  4.  It also produces the premature exhaustion and death of this labour-power itself.  It extends the labourer’s time of production during a given period by shortening his actual life-time.[globalization] [ for England think India; disappointing M does not bring it up]
  5. the value of the labour-power includes the value of the commodities necessary for the reproduction of the worker, or for the keeping up of the working-class.
  6. The slave-owner buys his labourer as he buys his horse. If he loses his slave, he loses capital that can only be restored by new outlay in the slave-mart. [America until 250 years ago]
  7. Hence Capital is reckless of the health or length of life of the labourer, unless under compulsion from society. To the out-cry as to the physical and mental degradation, the premature death, the torture of over-work, it answers: Ought these to trouble us since they increase our profits? But looking at things as a whole, all this does not, indeed, depend on the good or ill will of the individual capitalist. Free competition brings out the inherent laws of capitalist production, in the shape of external coercive laws having power over every individual capitalist. [food for thought]


  1. After capital had taken centuries in extending the working-day to its normal maximum limit, and then beyond this to the limit of the natural day of 12 hours,  there followed on the birth of machinism and modern industry in the last third of the 18th century, a violent encroachment like that of an avalanche in its intensity and extent. All bounds of morals and nature, age and sex, day and night, were broken down. Even the ideas of day and night, of rustic simplicity in the old statutes, became so confused that an English judge, as late as 1860, needed a quite Talmudic sagacity to explain “judicially” what was day and what was night. 
  2. Capital celebrated its orgies. [effective writing]
  3. A normal working-day for modern industry only dates from the Factory Act of 1833, which included cotton, wool, flax, and silk factories. Nothing is more characteristic of the spirit of capital than the history of the English Factory Acts from 1833 to 1864. ….[ By 1860 ] labour of young persons and women during the night-time (from 8 in the evening to 6 in the morning), and in the latter, the employment of journeymen bakers under 18, between 9 in the evening and 5 in the morning were forbidden[think India]


  1. The reader will bear in mind that the production of surplus-value, or the extraction of surplus-labour, is the specific end and aim, the sum and substance, of capitalist production, quite apart from any changes in the mode of production, which may arise from the subordination of labour to capital. 
  2. He will remember that as far as we have at present gone only the independent labourer, and therefore only the labourer legally qualified to act for himself, enters as a vendor of a commodity into a contract with the capitalist. If, therefore, in our historical sketch, on the one hand, modern industry, on the other, the labour of those who are physically and legally minors, play important parts, the former was to us only a special department, and the latter only a specially striking example of labour exploitation. Without, however, anticipating the subsequent development of our inquiry, from the mere connexion of the historic facts before us it follows:
  3. First. The passion of capital for an unlimited and reckless extension of the working-day, is first gratified in the industries earliest revolutionised by water-power, steam, and machinery, in those first creations of the modern mode of production, cotton, wool, flax, and silk spinning, and weaving. 
  4. The changes in the material mode of production, and the corresponding changes in the social relations of the producers gave rise first to an extravagance beyond all bounds, and then in opposition to this, called forth a control on the part of Society which legally limits, regulates, and makes uniform the working-day and its pauses. This control appears, therefore, during the first half of the nineteenth century simply as exceptional legislation.
  5. Second. The history of the regulation of the working-day in certain branches of production, and the struggle still going on in others in regard to this regulation, prove conclusively that the isolated labourer, the labourer as “free” vendor of his labour-power, when capitalist production has once attained a certain stage, succumbs without any power of resistance. [M theory of class conflict] has C changed?
  6. The creation of a normal working-day is, therefore, the product of a protracted civil war, more or less dissembled, between the capitalist class and the working-class.
  7. In the United States of North America, every independent movement of the workers was paralysed so long as slavery disfigured a part of the Republic. Labour cannot emancipate itself in the white skin where in the black it is branded. But out of the death of slavery a new life at once arose. The first fruit of the Civil War was the eight hours’ agitation, that ran with the seven-leagued boots of the locomotive from the Atlantic to the Pacific, from New England to California. The General Congress of labour at Baltimore (August 16th, 1866) …
  8. It must be acknowledged that our labourer comes out of the process of production other than he entered. In the market he stood as owner of the commodity “labour-power” face to face with other owners of commodities, dealer against dealer. 
  9. The contract by which he sold to the capitalist his labour-power proved, so to say, in black and white that he disposed of himself freely. The bargain concluded, it is discovered that he was no “free agent,” that the time for which he is free to sell his labour-power is the time for which he is forced to sell it, that in fact the vampire will not lose its hold on him “so long as there is a muscle, a nerve, a drop of blood to be exploited.” 
  10.  For “protection” against “the serpent of their agonies,” the labourers must put their heads together, and, as a class, compel the passing of a law, an all-powerful social barrier that shall prevent the very workers from selling. by voluntary contract with capital, themselves and their families into slavery and death.
  11. In place of the pompous catalogue of the “inalienable rights of man” comes the modest Magna Charta of a legally limited working-day, which shall make clear “when the time which the worker sells is ended, and when his own begins.” Quantum mutatus ab illo! [What a great change from that time! – Virgil] [M is a Beenthamite without acknowledging it:)]
Ch 11

Chapter 11: The Rate and Mass of Surplus Value: Outline of Marx’s Discussion

The rate of surplus value = s/v = (for example): (6 hours)/(6 hours),

or 100% or (3 shillings)/(3 shillings), or 100%

First Law:

  • mass of surplus value = Sm = Vt(s/v),
    where Vt = (v = value of average labor power)(# workers)
    = total variable capital
    = total hrs necessary to reproduce LP
    Implication of First Law:
    A decline in one factor can be compensated by an increase in another in order to maintain the mass of surplus value.

    • e.g., if Vt declines, a rise in s/v can maintain Sm at the original level. Therefore, the level of exploitation is, to some degree, independent of the supply of workers.
    • e.g., a decline in s/v can be compensated by an increase in the number of workers.
      (At the level of society, the growth of population sets a limit to such an increase.)

Second Law:

But, the absolute limit of the average working day (< 24 hrs) sets an absolute limit to the degree to which the decline in the number of workers can be compensated by a rise in s/v through an extension of the working day.

e.g., if Vt = 1500 for 500 workers, s/v = 100% for a working day of 12 hours, then Sm = 1500.
if the number of workers drops to 100 and Vt = 300, and the length of the working day is raised to its physical limit, say of 18 hours, the 100 workers will only be able to produce a Sm of 600.

Third Law:

The mass of surplus value varies directly with the investment in variable capital, i.e.,

ΔSm/ΔVt > 0

this is not affected by differences or changes in c/v
—either between different branches of industry
—or in the same branch
But, this law contradicts immediate experience which is that different industries tend to generate the same rate of profit even though their organic composition of capital may be quite different .

Observations on the Definitions of Classes:

  • Independent workers: own/control their means of production
    e.g., small farmers concerned primarily with their own subsistence
  • Capitalist who-also-works: hybrid, e.g., a “small master”, such as those in the guilds
  • Capitalist qua capitalist: “capital personified”
    • fully devoted to the “control of the labor of others”
    • requires an increase in the number of workers controlled
    • this was opposed by the guilds
    • in order for this to happen some minimum amount of capital had to be available to the would-be capitalist

—if minimum too large then capitalists might acquire either 1) state subsidies or 2) a monopoly in the market for their goods.
—thus Hegel’s quantitative change (increasing number of employees) which becomes qualitative (conversion of the small master into a capitalist)

Main Points:

  1. Capital develops within production until it acquired command over labor
  2. This command is coercive:

—forces people to work more than necessary for their needs
—more coercive than all earlier systems of directly compulsory labor — unbounded.

  1. At first this coercion is exercised with no change in technology.
  2. But the relation between workers and their means of production is soon inverted and the MP

—become the means for the absorption of the LP of others
—come to consume the workers instead of visa versa
This chapter provides a summary of some keys ideas in section III on absolute surplus value. So, the first thing to keep in mind is that within the context of the discussion of absolute surplus value, the intensity and productivity of labor are held constant. BUT WHY?
The First Law
Thus, the First Law states that the only way the capitalists can increase the mass of surplus value is by increasing the number of workers (which raises Vt) and/or increasing the length of the working day (which raises s/v by raising s {and v + s}).
(It should be obvious that an increase in Vt that occurred because of an increase in the value of labor power would undercut the mass of surplus value, not increases it. Mathematically this would occur because an increase in Vt that occurred because of an increase in v would also result in a fall in s (and in s/v) as long as the length of the working day were held constant at v + s. In other words, the better paid workers would be producing less surplus value in the same work time. For this reason, Marx assumes v is constant in this chapter and changes in Vt are due solely to changes in the number of workers.)
Let’s look at an example of the implications of the first law, a case in which a decline in the number of workers is offset by an increase in the length of the working day (which produces an increase in s/v)

Assume: v = 3 shillings [or 6 hours of work],
# workers = 100,
so, Vt = 300 shillings, [or (v{#}) = (3•100), or (6•100 = 600 hrs)]
if s/v = .5 (or 50%), [1.5/3 in shillings, 3/6 in terms of hours)]
then, Sm = 150 shillings in a 9 hr working day [9 = 6(v) + 3(s)]
= 300 hrs surplus labor [3•100].
If Vt declines from 300 to 150, because the number of workers falls from 100 to 50,
Sm would fall to 75.
But, if the length of the working day is lengthened from 9 to 12, then s/v will rise
from 3/6 (or .5) to 6/6 (or 1, or 100%) and Sm will remain at 150 shillings.
[before 100 workers were producing 300 surplus hours (100•3hrs), now 50 workers are producing 300 surplus hours (50•6)]
In other words, if for some reason capitalists must reduce employment, then they can try to compensate by getting their remaining workers to work longer so as to raise the rate of surplus value and to keep getting the same amount of surplus value. The law also says that if workers somehow manage to reduce the rate of exploitation, e.g., by forcing up v (or wages), then the only way for the capitalists to maintain their total mass of surplus value would be by putting workers to work.
The Second Law
The point of the second law is that this process of compensation has its limits and those limits are set by the absolute length of the average working day. Biologically speaking, that absolute limit must be something less than 24 hours because no one can work continuously without rest and sleep without dying. At the height of capitalist power the level of such an absolute limit was explored as capital pushed the daily number of hours people were forced to work out to 14, 15 even 18 hours. Marx recognized that such extreme limits, although sustainable for a number of years, had the long run effect of shortening the life time of the workers. This, of course, didn’t matter to the capitalist as long as new recruits were available —from new generations or from immigration or through foreign conquest. Fortunately, as we saw in chapter 10, the absolute limit came to be set not biologically but socially, by the power of the working class. Moreover, that limit was forced down over time by working class struggle. Therefore, this “absolute limit” he evokes here is a very real historical reality which constrains the capitalists’ ability to cope with a contraction of their labor supply.
In the example given above, we have seen that a halving of the labor force (e.g., a drop from 100 to 50 workers) could be compensated by a doubling of the s/v from 50 to 100% so that Sm stayed at 150 shillings (or 300 hours). But what the second law says is that given some limit to the length of the working day (say 18 hours), at some point a drop in the number of workers cannot be compensated. We can calculate that limit in this case by working backward using Sm = Vt (s/v) = (v•#)(s/v). If 18 hrs = 6v (assuming v fixed) + 12 (s), then extending the working day to its maximum means that an Sm of 150 shillings or 300 hours would be produced by “#” workers when 300 hrs = (6•#)(12/6) or 150 shillings = (3•#)(6/3). In both cases # = 25. In other words, if the number of workers fell below 25, it would be impossible for those remaining to produce 150 shillings worth of surplus value even working the maximum of 18 hours. A similar calculation will show that there would be such a limit even if workers could be forced to work 24 hours a day. So the limit will exist even if the capitalists had the power to literally work people to death.
For Marx, as he suggests briefly, this limit is important primarily because while capital always seeks to produce the maximum mass of surplus value, there are also strong tendencies for it to also reduce the number of workers as much as possible in any production process in order to facilitate control over the remaining workers. This tendency he will discuss at length in the next section on relative surplus value. It will appear as a part of the technological changes capitalists introduce in order to raise the mass and rate of surplus value by raising productivity.
The Third Law
The third law, that with v and s/v constant, the mass of value and surplus value produced is exclusively dependent on the mass of labor set in motion, is clearly derived directly from the first law. We can also state the 3rd law as: Sm varies directly with the number of workers employed, or ΔSm/ΔVt >0 or even, more directly, ΔSm/Δ# >0.
Now, inasmuch as this is pretty evident from everything said to this point, the main issue Marx emphasizes is that this holds true regardless of the amount of investment in constant capital. He juxtaposes the cotton spinner who has a very high organic composition of capital (c/v) with a baker who has a very low organic composition. After showing how surplus value is uniquely dependent upon the living labor set in motion by the capitalist, Marx turns to the issue of constant capital. He does this because, as he says, immediate experience suggests that most capitalists earn more or less the same average rate of profit despite employing very different technologies and c/v’s. Yet this seems to contradict the assertion that s and Sm depend uniquely on v.
Remembering that the rate of profit = Sm/(Ct+Vt) where Ct equals the total investment in constant capital, it would certainly seem that differing levels of Ct would produce differing rates of profit given the same Vt and Sm, even if Sm varies only with Vt and not with Ct. Given that Ct does vary enormously from industry to industry, and indeed from firm to firm, this would seem to contradict the notion of an average or general rate of profit. Marx deals no more with this issue in Volume I of Capital, but returns to this issue in part I of Volume III of Capital. In that discussion he argues that the notion of an average or general rate of profit remains valid because of the tendency for capital to reallocate itself across profit rate differentials and thus to create a tendency for profit rates to equalize. In that discussion the determining factor of the rate of profit is the organic composition of capital (the rate of exploitation is held constant) which tends to rise as a result of the substitution of controllable constant capital for less controllable workers —the dynamic discussed in part IV of Volume I of Capital under the rubric of relative surplus value. His discussion of such a tendency to reallocation later finds an impoverished expression in the neoclassical theory of long term equilibrium in an industry via the mechanisms of firm entry and exit —impoverished because emptied of its explicit class content.
Definitions of Classes and Individual Psychology
These comments emphasize the class distinction between worker and capitalist in two ways. The first is the question of control. While independent workers (not members of the working class —and thus not really “workers” but just people, or peasants, or artisans, etc) control their tools only in order to live, capitalists control tools in order to control people. The “capitalist” who also works is but a “small master” as in the feudal guilds where, say, a goldsmith would both work at his craft and employ a small number of apprentices. The capitalist qua capitalist, or the capitalist properly speaking, only works in the sense of controlling the labor of others, but not even in the sense of coordinating and managing their labor, rather in the simplest sense of making sure that they do in fact work —usually by hiring someone else to make sure that happens, e.g., a supervisor or manager. For small masters to become such capitalists they must have enough money to put to work enough people to generate a surplus value not only large enough for their own consumption but also large enough to allow investment and growth. (This aspect of capitalism will be emphasized and studied by Marx in part VII on “accumulation.”)
This discussion of intermediate cases between the extreme class prototypes (the worker who only works and the capitalist who only imposes work on others) is useful not only because it shows Marx’s awareness of such real life complexity, but also because it speaks to the issue of class in the age of the “middle class.” The contemporary counterpart to Marx’s “small master” would appear at first to be the middle class, lower level corporate managers who both work (have work imposed on them by those higher up) and impose work on others (those lower down). Further consideration shows that virtually everyone in contemporary capitalism lives this dichotomy somewhere in the highly segmented corporate wage hierarchy. Moreover, given the nature of contemporary social institutions for converting life into labor power, e.g., the public school system, virtually everyone lives this dichotomy internally, psychologically, as well as externally in their work situation. The inculcation of self-discipline, which is a prime prerequisite for getting middle and higher waged jobs, is a primary objective of schooling.
To the degree that such inculcation is successful, each person lives a continual tension between their capitalist side that keeps reminding them of their obligation to work and their working class side which repeatedly rebels against the subordination of their life to work. Among students such tension takes the form of internal conflict between the sense of obligation to go to class or to complete assigned homework and desires to play or to follow one’s own intellectual curiosity down uncharted, and unassigned paths. Among workers such tension takes the form of conflict between the sensed need to always be on time and always be focused on their work and the desire to carve out free time through absenteeism or playing on the job.
Resolution of the tension through the suppression of desire leads to the pathologies of workaholism, unidimensionality and social isolation. Resolution of the tension through the complete rejection of imposed work while perhaps leading to a happier and psychologically healthier life in the short run, may also lead to problems of survival in the longer run. Most people experiencing the unending pressures of capital to work and the insurgence of their own needs and desires struggle to work out a compromise whereby they can live with the tension. They learn how to resist the internalized “ought” enough to preserve space for some personal fulfillment, while giving in to it enough to survive. The tradeoff capital offers is clear enough: the more you are willing to subordinate your life to work, the more (on the average) you will be rewarded with income. At least that is the promise. In reality, of course, there are all kinds of limitations (such as sexual or racial discrimination as well as the wage hierarchy itself) which prevent some from being rewarded no matter how much they internalize the capitalist work ethic, no matter how hard they work.
What all this shows is that the issue of class in capitalism, whether at the level of society or at the level of the individual, concerns the struggle over competing ways of life: the capitalist way in which life is subordinated to work and alternative ways in which life is self-constructed and work is subordinated to that self-construction.
Main Points
In these four points Marx sketches what he considers vital aspects of the emergence of capitalism. First: capital develops within production (or takes it over) until it acquired direct command over labor. Thus the merchant capitalist becomes an industrial capitalist only as putting out and then the factory provide mechanisms to control other peoples’ labor. Capital is power over others, power to command their lives and make them convert their lives into labor. This is the basic point of part VIII on primitive accumulation.
Second, this command, which makes capital what it is, is coercive. Capital forces people to be workers, to be part of the working class; it forces them to work more than they otherwise would. Especially, it forces them to work longer than they would. This was the point of the discussion in Chapter 10 of the capitalist success at forcing out the length of the working day, at introducing night work and so on. Here he repeats what he emphasized in section 2 of chapter 10, that capitalism is more successful in the imposition of work than all earlier systems of directly compulsory labor. Unlike such earlier systems which imposed labor to achieve some finite purposes (building a pyramid or a Gothic cathedral or a chateau or a castle or the feeding of royalty, etc) the capitalist imposition of work knows no limits; it is unbounded, there is an endless “thirst” for surplus labor and its monetary equivalent. Where the imposition of work is the substance of the social order, the backbone of civilization, then the eternal maintenance of that order requires that such imposition be endless.
Third, command over labor, over life as labor, is prior to any question of technology. The capitalists at first take command, impose work, using the technologies available, whatever they are. The imposition of work is the main thing; how it is imposed is secondary. This priority is obvious in the putting out system and in early factories where traditional methods of production dominate. However….
Fourth, the method of production as embodied in the means of production themselves, soon become the vehicle for capitalist command. They are no longer tools in the hands of workers, but tools of the capitalist for the control of workers. Instead of being the means workers use to produce useful things, the means of production become, under the control of the capitalists, the means of absorbing the labor power of others, the means for putting people to work. Instead of the workers consuming their tools in the accomplishment of their own ends, the workers are consumed by the means of production in the accomplishment of the capitalists’ own ends which may involve the fetishistic chase after money and, quite independently of the consciousness of the capitalist, always involves the imposition of work. Note: there are many times and places where capitalists understand quite explicitly their role in maintaining social order. One common example is in periods of high unemployment when policy makers worry about the lack of jobs leaving too many people too free – people who’s free time threatens to be used in ways inimical to capitalist plans. Another example occurs during strikes by school teachers in which those same policy makers worry about the dangers of having vast numbers of young people loose in the streets instead of safely incarcerated in school houses.
This discussion which ends section III on absolute surplus value, sets up the reader for the next section on relative surplus value by focusing attention on the issue of technology and the means of production. Relative surplus value, Marx will show, is that surplus value obtained through the manipulation of technology for the purpose of imposing more work on the workers or of obtaining a greater proportion of the work they are already performing.
Concepts for Review

rate of surplus value
mass of surplus value
variable capital
First Law and implication
Second Law
Third Law

Questions for Review
1. Practice thinking about the meaning of the First Law in terms of hours of abstract labor time. In the following table it is assumed 1) that the cost of reproducing each worker is given at 6 hrs of labor per day, 2) that the length of the working day is 12 hours and 3) that the rate of exploitation is set at 100%. Calculate the missing values in the table using the “first law.”

# workers v (hrs) Vt work day total hrs ave. s/v Sm in hrs
1 6 6 12 12 100% 6
2 6 12 12 24 100% 12
3 6 12 100%
100 6 12 100%

2. Practice thinking about the meaning of the first law in terms of money. In the following table it is assumed 1) that the cost of variable capital per worker is 3 shillings a day, 2) that the length of the working day is 12 hours, and that 3) the rate of exploitation = 100%. Calculate the missing values in the table using the first law.







work day


total value


ave. s/v Sm


1 3 3 12 6 100% 3
2 3 6 12 12 100% 6
3 3 12 100%
100 3 12 100%

3. A central implication of the first law is that capitalists can compensate for a decline in Vt by raising s/v through an increase in the length of the working day. In the following table, use the first law to calculate by how much the length of the working day and s/v must be increased in order to maintain an Sm = 300.




@v= 3 shillings

Working day


s/v Sm
100 300 12 100% 300
90 270 300
80 300
70 300
60 300

4. The second law says there are absolute limits to the ability of the capitalists to compensate for a decline in the number of workers through an increase in s/v and the length of the working day. Extend the above table and calculate the # of workers below which Sm will fall even if they could be made to work 24 hours a day.




@v=3 shillings

Working Day


s/v Sm
50 300
40 300

5. The Third Law states that the mass of surplus value will vary directly with the number of workers set to work given the length of the working day and s/v. Calculate the values in the following table to show this, starting from the employment of 100 workers.

# workers Vt

@ 3 shillings



s/v Sm


Δ# ΔSm


200 12 100%
150 12 100%
100 300 12 100% 300 -0- -0-
50 12 100%

6. As Marx showed in Chapter 10, eventually workers struggled successfully to reduce the length of the working day. Fill in the following table to see what the impact on s/v and Sm would be with no compensating increase in the number of workers.




@v= 3 shillings

Working day






100 300 12 6/6=100%
100 300 10
100 300 8

7. What do you think is the principle purpose of this chapter? Why didn’t Marx just leave it out?

8. Discuss Marx’s analysis of workers who embody both elements of the working class (they work) and elements of the capitalist class (they impose work on somebody). Does this make sense to you for the period Marx is describing? Does it make sense to you today, in your experience and what you know of the corporate wage hierarchy?

9. What do you think of the application of the class dichotomy to the analysis of individual psychology? Do you recognize the tensions being discussed in your own life? In others? What other explanations might be offered for just such tensions? What kind of resolutions are possible? Might these be the object of some kind of “therapy”?

Chapter XII The concept of relative surplus value

  1. Even if the “boundaries of the working day” cannot be extended [say by workers’ struggles to set legal limits on the length of the working day] and are given as A – C, (where A is the beginning of work and C is quitting time – and this day is broken into two parts: A — B [necessary labor] and B —- C [surplus labor]) it is still possible for the capitalists to increase their share of value (and thus their surplus value), by reducing necessary labor, i.e., reducing the workers’ share of A——-B (V) to A—B’ (V’). With the working day fixed, this would increase the capitalist share from B —- C to B ——-C’.
  2. This could be achieved by:

a. Pushing down the wage to the equivalent of A-B’ —but, if we assume the wage must = value of labor power (V) and that the workers wages support them just at the level of subsistence, then a fall in wages below this level would mean a collapse in the ability of the workers to reproduce themselves, which would eventually undercut A – C. Marx notes that this often happens but must be assumed away in the analysis of self-sustaining accumulation.

b. Pushing down the value of the means of subsistence

–i.e., reducing V without reducing the real wage or the ability of the workers to reproduce themselves.

–to do this requires an increase in productivity in the production of the means of subsistence

  1. Increases in Productivity – Relative Surplus Value

–“we mean an alteration in the labor process of such a kind as to shorten the labor-time socially necessary for the production of a commodity” 

–the capitalists achieve this by “revolutionizing” the “technical and social conditions of the [labor] process and consequently the mode of production itself” 

–“I call that surplus-value which arises from the curtailment of the necessary labor time, . . . relative surplus value.”

–relative surplus value can be derived either from:

  1. –an increase in the productivity of producing the means of subsistence
  2. –an increase in the productivity of producing the instruments and raw materials used in the production of the means of subsistence, which in turn lowers the value of the means of subsistence
  1. Competition

Competition acts to circulate productivity raising technological change:

–the capitalist who introduces productivity raising change lowers costs and thus increases profits if sales continue at a price indicated by average productivity, that capitalist thus gains a temporary advantage and gains a greater share of surplus value vis a vis competitors

Marx’s examples involve showing how increased production in the same period results in less value per unit of output, thus lower costs;

–the increased productivity, assuming it is translated into increased production, will expand supply and push down prices, threatening other capitalists’ profits and market share

–they are therefore under pressure to adopt the same or similar productivity raising innovations in order to lower their costs “the law of the determination of value by labor-time . . .acting as a coercive law of competition, forces his competitors to adopt the new method” 

–if they do this their costs will fall, output will rise, prices will fall and the temporary advantage of the original innovator will be wiped out

–however, as a result of this process, overall V has fallen so S/V has risen for the capitalists as a class and more relative surplus value has been realized collectively

  1. Productivity and the Working Day

Marx is careful to note that although rising productivity makes it possible for the amount of work by all workers to be reduced – because what they need can now be produced with less work – this “is by no means what is aimed at in capitalist production” 

Instead, the only reduction in work is experienced by those workers displaced by machinery and unable to find other work (and thus to earn their bread).

  1. In chapter VII,  M  defined work in very abstract and theoretical terms: first the labor process and then valorization. In chapter XII M discusses the capitalist strategy of reorganizing of the labor process to increase (relative) surplus value. In  chapter XIII M explains the qualitative changes involved in such reorganization. Reorganization is, first of all, reorganization of co-operation.

Capitalist Production

  • = large number of workers (Handicraft becomes manufacture as number of workers grows.)
    = extensive scale
    = large quantities of products
    = Simultaneous employment of a large number of laborers =revolution in the objective/material conditions of the labor process, e.g., economies of scale, increasing returns to scale, fall in value per unit of output
  • What does  that mean?


  • — “many workers working together side by side in accordance with a plan”
    -either in the same process, same kind of work
    -or in different but connected processes
    = a “social force”, a “new power”
    = a “new productive power, which is intrinsically a collective one”
    = workers strip “off the fetters of [their] individuality, and develop the capabilities of [their] species”
  • When numerous labourers work together side by side, whether in one and the same process, or in different but connected processes, they are said to co-operate, or to work in co-operation
  • Do you agree that from the fusion of many forces … results heightened efficiency? 

Therefore, sources of productive power of cooperation (social labor):

1. heightens mechanical force of labour
2. extends sphere of action over a greater space, or , contracts field of production
3. sets large masses of labour to work at critical moments (e.g., harvests)
4. excites rivalry between individuals
5. creates continuity and manysideness
6. simultaneous operations
7. economizes the means of production by use in common
8. lends to individual worker the character of average social labor


Co-operation implies:

  • –“a directing authority” to “secure the harmonious co-operation”, e.g., an orchestra
    –“special function arising from the nature of the social labour process”
    –“a function of the exploitation of a social labor process”, i.e., valorization
  • But, what about “laborers cannot cooperate without being brought together in one place”? What about COVID-19?

Co-operation and control

  • =all combined labor on a large scale necessitates directing authority 
  • Thoughts? 
  • Cooperation is brought about the capital that employs them
  • =increased resistance to the domination of capital
    = increased repression of this resistance 
  • Co-operation under capitalist authority:

= “a plan drawn up by the capitalist”
= “the powerful will of a being outside them”
= “in form it is purely despotic”
= requires “officers (managers) and NCO’s (foremen, overseers)”
Workers are brought together by capital

  • –they are “incorporated into capital”
    –their productive power is a “free gift” to capital, costs it nothing
    –their productive power appears as “inherent in capital”
    –as their numbers increase so too does their resistance
    Earlier forms/results of co-operation:

–Egyptian pyramids and such, under domination of ruling class
–early hunting peoples
–Indian community with common ownership of MP, indiv. rooted in tribe or community
Cooperation = “the fundamental form of the capitalist mode of production”


“the social productive power of labour, or the productive power of social labour. This power is due to co-operation itself. When the labourer co-operates systematically with others, he strips off the fetters of his individuality, and develops the capabilities of his species.”

“Just as the social productive power of labour that is developed by co-operation, appears to be the productive power of capital, so co-operation itself, contrasted with the process of production carried on by isolated independent labourers, or even by small employers, appears to be a specific form of the capitalist process of production. It is the first change experienced by the actual labour-process, when subjected to capital. This change takes place spontaneously. The simultaneous employment of a large number of wage-labourers, in one and the same process, which is a necessary condition of this change, also forms the starting-point of capitalist production. This point coincides with the birth of capital itself. If then, on the one hand, the capitalist mode of production presents itself to us historically, as a necessary condition to the transformation of the labour-process into a social process, so, on the other hand, this social form of the labour-process presents itself, as a method employed by capital for the more profitable exploitation of labour, by increasing that labour’s productiveness.”

  • Cooperation = the productive power of capital – brilliant but
  • Is this the power  of capital? What  about the pyramid construction?
Ch. XIV Section 1

That co-operation which is based on division of labour, assumes its typical form in manufacture, and is the prevalent characteristic form of the capitalist process of production throughout the manufacturing period properly so called. That period, roughly speaking, extends from the middle of the 16th to the last third of the 18th century.

Manufacture takes its rise in two ways: 1. Assemblage by ariticer (one person doing many jobs) 2; labor division -one capitalist employing simultaneously in one workshop a number of people each doing one job: “Instead of each man being allowed to perform all the various operations in succession, these operations are changed into disconnected, isolated ones, carried on side by side; each is assigned to a different artificer, and the whole of them together are performed simultaneously by the co-operating workmen. This accidental repartition gets repeated, develops advantages of its own, and gradually ossifies into a systematic division of labour.”

  • What is the impact of this explanation? (aside from representing  a particular  reality?)

Section 2. – the detail laborer

If we now go more into detail, it is, in the first place, clear that a labourer who all his life performs one and the same simple operation, converts his whole body into the automatic, specialised implement of that operation. Consequently, he takes less time in doing it, than the artificer who performs a whole series of operations in succession.

Section 3 

The organisation of manufacture has two fundamental forms which, in spite of occasional blending, are essentially different in kind, and, moreover, play very distinct parts in the subsequent transformation of manufacture into modern industry carried on by machinery. This double character arises from the nature of the article produced. This article either results from the mere mechanical fitting together of partial products made independently, or owes its completed shape to a series of connected processes and manipulations. (heterogenous  v. serial manufacturer) .

Section 4

Division of labour in a society, and the corresponding tying down of individuals to a particular calling, develops itself, just as does the division of labour in manufacture, from opposite starting-points. Within a family, and after further development within a tribe, there springs up naturally a division of labour, caused by differences of sex and age, a division that is consequently based on a purely physiological foundation, which division enlarges its materials by the expansion of the community, by the increase of population, and more especially, by the conflicts between different tribes, and the subjugation of one tribe by another.

  • The foundation of every division of labour that is well developed, and brought about by the exchange of commodities, is the separation between town and country. [27] It may be said, that the whole economic history of society is summed up in the movement of this antithesis. We pass it over, however, for the present.
  • Just as a certain number of simultaneously employed labourers are the material pre-requisites for division of labour in manufacture, so are the number and density of the population, which here correspond to the agglomeration in one workshop, a necessary condition for the division of labour in society. [28] Nevertheless, this density is more or less relative. A relatively thinly populated country, with well-developed means of communication, has a denser population than a more numerously populated country, with badly-developed means of communication; and in this sense the Northern States of the American Union, for instance, are more thickly populated than India.

What do you think about these two assertions (bullet points)?

Section 5.

Marx says, “the worker is brought face to face with the intellectual potentialities of the material process of production as the property of another and as a power which rules over him.” The worker becomes impoverished of his individual productive power. Capitalists wish to discourage imagination, and they make the worker machine-like. Manufacture attacks the individual at his very basis, and is thus “the first system to provide the materials and the impetus for industrial pathology.”

Marx believes labor to be integral to the human character; M finds such a change in how people labor to be extremely important. According to Marx, its impact on the individual worker is quite devastating. Being forced to do the same repetitive task every day squelches the imagination. It makes the worker little more than a machine. Like Smith, Marx gives a very harsh critique of the role of manufacture and of the division of labor on the individual. 

The knowledge, the judgement, and the will, which, though in ever so small a degree, are practised by the independent peasant or handicraftsman, in the same way as the savage makes the whole art of war consist in the exercise of his personal cunning these faculties are now required only for the workshop as a whole. 

Intelligence in production expands in one direction, because it vanishes in many others. 

What is lost by the detail labourers, is concentrated in the capital that employs them.  It is a result of the division of labour in manufactures, that the labourer is brought face to face with the intellectual potencies of the material process of production, as the property of another, and as a ruling power. 

This separation begins in simple co-operation, where the capitalist represents to the single workman, the oneness and the will of the associated labour. It is developed in manufacture which cuts down the labourer into a detail labourer. It is completed in modern industry, which makes science a productive force distinct from labour and presses it into the service of capital. 

In manufacture, in order to make the collective labourer, and through him capital, rich in social productive power, each labourer must be made poor in individual productive powers.

  • “Ignorance is the mother of industry as well as of superstition. Reflection and fancy are subject to err; but a habit of moving the hand or the foot is independent of either. Manufactures, accordingly, prosper most where the mind is least consulted, and where the workshop may … be considered as an engine, the parts of which are men.” 

As a matter of fact, some few manufacturers in the middle of the 18th century preferred, for certain operations that were trade secrets, to employ half-idiotic persons. 

  • “The understandings of the greater part of men,” says Adam Smith, “are necessarily formed by their ordinary employments. The man whose whole life is spent in performing a few simple operations … has no occasion to exert his understanding… He generally becomes as stupid and ignorant as it is possible for a human creature to become.”

After describing the stupidity of the detail labourer he goes on:

  • “The uniformity of his stationary life naturally corrupts the courage of his mind… It corrupts even the activity of his body and renders him incapable of exerting his strength with vigour and perseverance in any other employments than that to which he has been bred. His dexterity at his own particular trade seems in this manner to be acquired at the expense of his intellectual, social, and martial virtues. But in every improved and civilised society, this is the state into which the labouring poor, that is, the great body of the people, must necessarily fall.” 

For preventing the complete deterioration of the great mass of the people by division of labour, A. Smith recommends education of the people by the State, but prudently, and in homeopathic doses. G. Garnier, his French translator and commentator, who, under the first French Empire, quite naturally developed into a senator, quite as naturally opposes him on this point. Education of the masses, he urges, violates the first law of the division of labour, and with it

Ch. XV Section 1 – The Development of Machinery
John Stuart Mill says in his “Principles of Political Economy”:“It is questionable if all the mechanical inventions yet made have lightened the day’s toil of any human being.” [1]

That is, however, by no means the aim of the capitalistic application of machinery. Like every other increase in the productiveness of labour, machinery is intended to cheapen commodities, and, by shortening that portion of the working-day, in which the labourer works for himself, to lengthen the other portion that he gives, without an equivalent, to the capitalist. In short, it is a means for producing surplus-value.

In manufacture, the revolution in the mode of production begins with the labour-power, in modern industry it begins with the instruments of labour. Our first inquiry then is, how the instruments of labour are converted from tools into machines, or what is the difference between a machine and the implements of a handicraft? We are only concerned here with striking and general characteristics; for epochs in the history of society are no more separated from each other by hard and fast lines of demarcation, than are geological epochs.

One of the basic themes of this chapter is set out in the very first paragraph where Marx quotes John Stuart Mill to the effect that machines have not “lightened the day’s toil of any human being.” Marx’s response, of course, is that in capitalism machinery is not introduced to lighten toil but to increase relative surplus value. In this way he introduces an argument which will frequently appear in the chapter: the paradox of capitalism that the very machinery which reduces the effort necessary to produce a given product results in more work rather than less. The various ways in which machinery causes an increase in labor will be explored at different points in the text.

What his exposition of the nature of machines primarily deals with is the way in which machines accomplish the same tasks as those carried out by workers. They substitute both mechanical contrivances for the various gesture and operations of the workers and motor power for human energy. He traces the development of machines from relatively simple substitutes for particular operations to complex systems of machinery driven by non-human energy sources. But the story is always the same: machines accomplish that transformation of non-human nature that he identified in Chapter 7 as the nature of human work. Thus particular machines replace particular workers and systems of machines replace large numbers of co-operating workers. In the place of the co-operation of humans, we have the co-operation of machines. In this process some humans are rendered redundant and expelled from production and others are reduced to being mere tenders of machines.

Section 2 – The Value Transferred by Machinery to the Product

The basic message of this section is the same as that of Chapter 8 on constant and variable capital: machinery, as a sophisticated form of constant capital, only adds to the value of the product what it transfers to it. It does not create any new value. As I discussed in my commentary on Chapter 8 this is a misleading way of putting things. The “transference” under consideration here is merely the validation of the contribution of the labor that went into creating the machine to the final product created with the use of the machine. Therefore the amount of value “transferred” depends on how much labor went into the machine and how much product is processed by the machine. The greater the former, the more transferred. But, the greater the latter, the less transferred per unit of output. So, the longer a machine lasts, ceterus paribus, the smaller the amount of value attributable to it per unit of product, i.e., the less of a role the original labor of producing the machine plays in the creation of the final product.

There are two essential ingredients in the creation of machines and in their functioning which deserve comment here: “natural forces” and “science”. Now for Marx “natural forces” includes both non-human forces like steam, water, etc. and human forces like “the productive forces resulting from co-operation”. Although he doesn’t define “science”, it is certainly one of the elements of human co-operation. Science has developed as a collective way of thinking about and interacting with the world through the interconnected activities of vast numbers of people. Instead of saying, as he does in footnote 23 that “‘Alien’ science is incorporated by capital just as ‘alien’ labor is.”, Marx should say “as one aspect of ‘alien’ labor”. For what is science if not the development and elaboration of just that thinking “will” which Marx defined in Chapter 7 as making the worst of architects better than the best of bees?

Section 3 – The Proximate Effects of Machinery on the Workman

A. Appropriation of Supplementary Labour-Power by Capital. The Employment of Women and Children

B. Prolongation of the Working-Day

C. Intensification of Labour

The Great Paradox

The “most immediate effects of machinery on the worker” which Marx describes here are all negative: the introduction of machinery is used by capital to impose work on women and children, to prolong the working day and to intensify labor. The great paradox which Marx sees in the capitalist use of machinery appears fully elaborated here: the machine reduces the need for muscle power —which should lighten labor— but draws in and exhausts women and children; the machine makes it possible to produce more in a shorter period —which should lighten labor— but it is used instead to prolong it; the machine which allows one to accomplish the work of many faster than ever —which should lighten labor— is used to make the one work at an exhaustingly rapid pace. Thus at the end of section (b) he writes:

Hence too the economic paradox that the most powerful instrument for reducing labor-time suffers a dialectical inversion and becomes the most unfailing means for turning the whole lifetime of the worker and his family into labor-time at capital’s disposal for its own valorization. (p. 532)

In quoting from Aristotle’s Politics and the poetry of Antipater and Stolberg, Marx is showing how this capitalist use of the machine amounts to a betrayal of the dreams and hopes of humanity. From time immemorial humans have sought to use their intelligence and imagination not only to improve their world but to reduce their drudgery and free themselves for new and more diverse pursuits. In some ways, as Marx and Engels argued in the Communist Manifesto, capitalism liberates the possibilities for such developments by destroying many traditional barriers to innovation and change. But even in its historically unprecedented flexibility, capitalism imposes new barriers —including the endlessness of its imposition of work.

The Historical Relation Between Absolute and Relative Surplus Value

Although, as this chapter makes clear, absolute and relative surplus value often co-exist as capitalist strategies, Marx nevertheless suggests a fundamental historical linkage between the two approaches. On the one hand, during the period of the “formal” subordination of labor to capital, before there is any capitalist modification of the labor process, absolute surplus value dominates, i.e., the main way capitalist seek to extract more surplus labor is through making workers work longer. On the other hand, the historical success of workers’ resistance to absolute surplus value forces capital to shift its emphasis to relative surplus value.

Section 4 – The Factory

Section 5 – The Strife Between Workman and Machine

Section 6 – The Theory of Compensation as Regards the Workpeople Displaced by Machinery

Section 7 – Repulsion and Attraction of Workpeople by the Factory System. Crises in the Cotton Trade

Section 8 – Revolution Effected in Manufacture, Handicrafts, and Domestic Industry by Modern Industry

A. Overthrow of Co-operation Based on Handicraft and on the Division of Labour

B. Reaction of the Factory System on Manufacture and Domestic Industries

C. Modern Manufacture

D. Modern Domestic Industry

E. Passage of Modern Manufacture, and Domestic Industry into Modern Mechanical Industry. The Hastening of this Revolution by the Application of the Factory Acts to those Industries

Section 9 – The Factory Acts. Sanitary and Educational Clauses of the same. Their General Extension in England

Section 10 – Modern Industry and Agriculture

Chapter XVI Problematic concepts – but also stepping stones from individual labor to class relations:Notion of  collective labor: the transition from a microview of labor to class:

  • So far as the labour-process is purely individual, one and the same labourer unites in himself all the functions, that later on become separated. When an individual appropriates natural objects for his livelihood, no one controls him but himself. Afterwards he is controlled by others. A single man cannot operate upon Nature without calling his own muscles into play under the control of his own brain. As in the natural body head and hand wait upon each other, so the labour-process unites the labour of the hand with that of the head. Later on they part company and even become deadly foes. The product ceases to be the direct product of the individual, and becomes a social product, produced in common by a collective labourer, i.e., by a combination of workmen, each of whom takes only a part, greater or less, in the manipulation of the subject of their labour. As the co-operative character of the labour-process becomes more and more marked, so, as a necessary consequence, does our notion of productive labour, and of its agent the productive labourer, become extended. In order to labour productively, it is no longer necessary for you to do manual work yourself; enough, if you are an organ of the collective labourer, and perform one of its subordinate functions. The first definition given above of productive labour, a definition deduced from the very nature of the production of material objects, still remains correct for the collective labourer, considered as a whole. But it no longer holds good for each member taken individually.

Productivity – productive labor – not something you want to do under capitalism – not producing surplus value – but then – who contributes to productive labor – feminism: what about domestic value 

  • On the other hand, however, our notion of productive labour becomes narrowed. Capitalist production is not merely the production of commodities, it is essentially the production of surplus-value. The labourer produces, not for himself, but for capital. It no longer suffices, therefore, that he should simply produce. He must produce surplus-value. That labourer alone is productive, who produces surplus-value for the capitalist, and thus works for the self-expansion of capital. If we may take an example from outside the sphere of production of material objects, a schoolmaster is a productive labourer when, in addition to belabouring the heads of his scholars, he works like a horse to enrich the school proprietor. That the latter has laid out his capital in a teaching factory, instead of in a sausage factory, does not alter the relation. Hence the notion of a productive labourer implies not merely a relation between work and useful effect, between labourer and product of labour, but also a specific, social relation of production, a relation that has sprung up historically and stamps the labourer as the direct means of creating surplus-value. To be a productive labourer is, therefore, not a piece of luck, but a misfortune. In Book IV. which treats of the history of the theory, it will be more clearly seen, that the production of surplus-value has at all times been made, by classical political economists, the distinguishing characteristic of the productive labourer. Hence their definition of a productive labourer changes with their comprehension of the nature of surplus-value. Thus the Physiocrats insist that only agricultural labour is productive, since that alone, they say, yields a surplus-value. And they say so because, with them, surplus-value has no existence except in the form of rent.
  • The distinction between absolute and relative surplus value

From one standpoint, any distinction between absolute and relative surplus-value appears illusory. Relative surplus-value is absolute, since it compels the absolute prolongation of the working-day beyond the labour-time necessary to the existence of the labourer himself. Absolute surplus-value is relative, since it makes necessary such a development of the productiveness of labour, as will allow of the necessary labour-time being confined to a portion of the working-day. But if we keep in mind the behaviour of surplus-value, this appearance of identity vanishes. Once the capitalist mode of production is established and become general, the difference between absolute and relative surplus-value makes itself felt, whenever there is a question of raising the rate of surplus-value. Assuming that labour-power is paid for at its value, we are confronted by this alternative: given the productiveness of labour and its normal intensity, the rate of surplus-value can be raised only by the actual prolongation of the working-day; on the other hand, given the length of the working-day, that rise can be effected only by a change in the relative magnitudes of the components of the working-day, viz., necessary labour and surplus-labour; a change which, if the wages are not to fall below the value of labour-power, presupposes a change either in the productiveness or in the intensity of the labour.

If the labourer wants all his time to produce the necessary means of subsistence for himself and his race, he has no time left in which to work gratis for others. Without a certain degree of productiveness in his labour, he has no such superfluous time at his disposal; without such superfluous time, no surplus-labour, and therefore no capitalists, no slave-owners, no feudal lords, in one word, no class of large proprietors. [1]

  •  Beautiful demise of Mills

“And even in the former case” (when the workman is a wage labourer to whom the capitalist advances all the necessaries of life, he the labourer), “may be looked upon in the same light,” (i.e., as a capitalist), “since, contributing his labour at less than the market-price, (!) he may be regarded as lending the difference (?) to his employer and receiving it back with interest, &c.

In reality, the labourer advances his labour gratuitously to the capitalist during, say one week, in order to receive the market price at the end of the week, &c., and it is this which, according to Mill, transforms him into a capitalist. On the level plain, simple mounds look like hills; and the imbecile flatness of the present bourgeoisie is to be measured by the altitude of its great intellects.

Chapter XVII “Changes of Magnitude in the Price of Labour-Power and in Surplus Value” discusses how capitalists extract surplus value in relation to wages.

Marx divides the chapter into four sections:

(1) Length of the Working Day and Intensity of Labour Constant. Productiveness of Labour Variable

(2) Working-Day Constant. Productiveness of Labour Constant. Intensity of Labour Variable.

(3) Productiveness and Intensity of Labour Constant. Length of the Working-Day Variable.

(4) Simultaneous Variations in the Duration, Productiveness, and Intensity of Labour.

The  value of labour-power is the value of the maintenance and reproduction of labour, a type of subsistence wage. 

  •  some variance in the cost of reproducing labour
  •  surplus value takes various forms such as 
    • profit, 
    • interest and
    •  ground rent 

“The value of labour-power is determined by the value of the necessaries of life habitually required by the average labourer. The quantity of these necessaries is known at any given epoch of a given society, and can therefore be treated as a constant magnitude. What changes, is the value of this quantity. There are, besides, two other factors that enter into the determination of the value of labour-power. One, the expenses of developing that power, which expenses vary with the mode of production; the other, its natural diversity, the difference between the labour-power of men and women, of children and adults. The employment of these different sorts of labour-power, an employment which is, in its turn, made necessary by the mode of production, makes a great difference in the cost of maintaining the family of the labourer, and in the value of the labour-power of the adult male. Both these factors, however, are excluded in the following investigation.”.

So (1) the cost of reproducing certain skilled types of adult labour is greater than that for reproducing unskilled labour and (2) the value of labour-power is different for unskilled adults and children, and therefore the subsistence wage can vary between different workers because of this. But Marx ignores the latter variables in this chapter. More than adults v. children; what about differences among adults 

Instead, Marx’s assumptions are that

“(1) that commodities are sold at their value; (2) that the price of labour-power rises occasionally above its value, but never sinks below it” 

In such a scenario,

“… we have seen that the relative magnitudes of surplus-value and of price of labour-power are determined by three circumstances; (1) the length of the working day, or the extensive magnitude of labour; (2) the normal intensity of labour, its intensive magnitude, whereby a given quantity of labour is expended in a given time; (3) the productiveness of labour, whereby the same quantum of labour yields, in a given time, a greater or less quantum of product, dependent on the degree of development in the conditions of production. Very different combinations are clearly possible, according as one of the three factors is constant and two variable, or two constant and one variable, or lastly, all three simultaneously variable. And the number of these combinations is augmented by the fact that, when these factors simultaneously vary, the amount and direction of their respective variations may differ.”

So M sees changes in the magnitude of surplus value by these different factors.

To sum up how surplus value is extracted, M listed three methods:

(1) by increasing the length of the working day while holding down the real wage to a subsistence level and using the same intensity of labour (that is, increasing absolute surplus value);

(2) decreasing the price of the basic commodities making up the value of the maintenance and reproduction of labour (through use of machines and greater productivity), which reduces the value of the real subsistence wage when the working day and the intensity of labour are held constant (that is, increasing relative surplus value);

(3) given a stable working day, increasing the intensity and speed of work by labourers (often by using machines to speed up work) and so increasing the socially necessary labour time worked per hour, while holding down the real wage to a subsistence level (that is, increasing relative surplus value).

But of course the three factors might sometimes change at the same time

(1) Length of the Working Day and Intensity of Labour Constant. Productiveness of Labour Variable.

Marx sets out three laws under these conditions:(1) “A working day of given length always creates the same amount of value, OVER TIME,  no matter how the productiveness of labour, and, with it, the mass of the product, and the price of each single commodity produced, may vary”. This means that when productivity increases while the length of the working day and intensity of labour are constant, the output per hour rises, but the total amount of labour value produced in one day remains the same, and it is simply divided between more units of the same output product (and this requires that the unit price falls).

(2) “Surplus-value and the value of labour-power vary in opposite directions. A variation in the productiveness of labour, its increase or diminution, causes a variation in the opposite direction in the value of labour-power, and in the same direction in surplus-value” .

(3) “Increase or decrease in surplus-value is always consequent on, and never the cause of, the corresponding diminution or increase in the value of labour-power” .

We must remember that there is an absolutely fundamental assumption underlying all these laws: that commodities tend to exchange at their true labour values. Marx has told us that this is his assumption at the beginning of the chapter: “that commodities are sold at their value” . Without this assumption, as we will see below, the whole analysis falls apart.

The second law means that “no change can take place in the absolute magnitude, either of the surplus-value, or of the value of labour-power, without a simultaneous change in their relative magnitudes, i.e., relatively to each other. It is impossible for them to rise or fall simultaneously” . Furthermore, when production involves the means of subsistence, “[i]t follows from this, that an increase in the productiveness of labour causes a fall in the value of labour-power and a consequent rise in surplus-value, while, on the other hand, a decrease in such productiveness causes a rise in the value of labour-power, and a fall in surplus-value” .

The third law concerns the magnitude of surplus value or labour-power, “[a]ccording to the third law, a change in the magnitude of surplus-value, presupposes a movement in the value of labour-power, which movement is brought about by a variation in the productiveness of labour. The limit of this change is given by the altered value of labour-power.

The third law is affected by the struggles between workers and capitalists, and so when the value of the subsistence wage falls, the money wage may not always fall all the way to its new level. That is, the real wage may temporarily rise above subsistence level.

Marx’s final example of the third law is interesting:

“The value of labour-power is determined by the value of a given quantity of necessaries. It is the value and not the mass of these necessaries that varies with the productiveness of labour. It is, however, possible that, owing to an increase of productiveness, both the labourer, and the capitalist may simultaneously be able to appropriate a greater quantity of these necessaries, without any change in the price of labour-power or in surplus-value. If the value of labour-power be 3 shillings, and the necessary labour-time amount to 6 hours, if the surplus-value likewise be 3 shillings, and the surplus-labour 6 hours, then if the productiveness of labour were doubled without altering the ratio of necessary labour to surplus-labour, there would be no change of magnitude in surplus-value and price of labour-power. The only result would be that each of them would represent twice as many use-values as before; these use-values being twice as cheap as before. Although labour-power would be unchanged in price, it would be above its value. If, however, the prices of labour-power had fallen, not to 1s. 6d., the lowest possible point consistent with its new value, but to 2s. 10d. or 2s. 6d., still this lower price would represent an increased mass of necessaries. In this way it is possible with an increasing productiveness of labour, for the price of labour-power to keep on falling, and yet this fall to be accompanied by a constant growth in the mass of the labourer’s means of subsistence. But even in such case, the fall in the value of labour-power would cause a corresponding rise of surplus-value, and thus the abyss between the labourer’s position and that of the capitalist would keep widening.” (Marx 1906: 573).

Here production of output doubles per hour (and hence per day) with the same total value spread out over more units, but the unit price of the output commodity falls by half (in accordance with the halving of its embodied social necessary labour per unit). Marx seems to think that the commodity produced is a subsistence good, so that even though the money wage of 3 shillings is unchanged it buys twice as much of that good. So here the real wage or value of the labour-power in this industry has risen above subsistence level, even though the rate of exploitation is the same.

In his second example, the money wage falls towards the true subsistence wage, but remains slightly or somewhat above it. Here it is possible for the real wage to rise even though the money wage would tend to fall as subsistence commodities are cheapened. As Marx says:

“In this way it is possible with an increasing productiveness of labour, for the price of labour-power to keep on falling, and yet this fall to be accompanied by a constant growth in the mass of the labourer’s means of subsistence. But even in such case, the fall in the value of labour-power would cause a corresponding rise of surplus-value, and thus the abyss between the labourer’s position and that of the capitalist would keep widening.” (Marx 1906: 573).

 Marx doesn’t say how prevalent such a phenomenon is. And, moreover, if it were really the case that a constantly increasing real wage were a feature of real world capitalism, Marx’s theory would fall apart, because the real wage would not tend to subsistence wages. How is minimum wage determined?

To understand Marx’s second scenario properly, let us examine it in depth, because there is a profound problem with Marx’s analysis.

So, in scenario 2 involving time 1 and time 2 with different productivity of labour, we assume the following conditions:

(1) total working day = 12 hours;

(2) same intensity of labour in both periods of time;

(3) value of labour-power in time 1 (T1) = 3 shillings (or abbreviated as 3s.), and necessary labour-time is 6 hours;

(4) surplus-value in T1 = 3 shillings (or 3s.), and surplus labour-time is 6 hours.

In time 1 (T1), the rate of surplus value s/v (with variables measured in money terms) is 3/3 = 1 or 100%.

We can represent the working day and the various quantities in the table below:

Each hour of the day in the table is marked from 1 to 12. Here the value of labour-power is equal to 6 hours, and has a value of 3 shillings (or 36 pence). This represents the necessary labour-time equal to the subsistence wage. We can see that with a total labour value of 6 shillings, if the workers were paid the full value of their labour, then they would be paid 6 shillings, or 6 pence per hour.

But if productivity doubled per hour with the same intensity of labour and constant working day, and the business was producing the subsistence good, what would happen?

The value of the subsistence wage of labour-power would fall to 1 shilling 6 pence (or 18 pence), because the total amount the workers can produce per hour has doubled. So now necessary labour-time has fallen to 3 hours.

We can represent the working day in this case and the various quantities in the table below:

The rate of surplus value s/v (measured in labour time) is 9/3 or 3, which is 300%. The money wage has fallen but the subsistence wage is the same as measured in the quantity of subsistence goods. The workers are no better off in terms of the real wage.

But now let us come to time 2 in Marx’s example where the money wage is 2 shillings 10 pence (34 pence). While the true subsistence wage would be 1 shilling 6 pence, the actual wage is above this.

We can represent time 2 in the table below:

Since the value of the new wage is now 2 shillings 10 pence (or 34 pence), the workers are now being paid for 5 hours and 39.6 minutes of their labour-time: they are being paid over and above their new necessary labour-time of 3 hours (and the value of labour-power is normally the value of that necessary labour-time or subsistence wage, which in this case should be 1 shilling 6 pence).

The blue box with the value of the wage measures the number of hours for which the workers are being paid: as we can see, this is above the necessary labour-time (represented by the first three boxes in grey shading).

So there is clearly a sense in which the workers are being less exploited because

(1) the real value of their wage is above subsistence level: their real wage has risen and

(2) they are being paid for some of their surplus labour time as compared with time 1 where they were being paid for none of it.

If the original output per hour was 1 subsistence good, the original real wage was 6 subsistence goods. With doubled output per hour, the new real wage in goods is about 11 goods and 1 third of a good.

But there is a paradoxical result: if we calculate the rate of surplus value, it has risen against time 1. So s/v (measured in values in pence) is 38 pence/34 pence = 1.117 or 111.7%. The original rate of surplus value was 100%.

So,  there are serious problems with Marx’s whole concept of surplus value: even as workers can be less exploited in the sense in which their real wage is rising and they are being paid for more than their necessary labour time and some of their surplus labour time as against an earlier period, the Marxist rate of exploitation based on the rate of surplus value can rise in some instances.

But, Marx does not inform us how prevalent he thinks such a phenomenon is. This is actually a profoundly devastating point: for if such a phenomenon was very common and prevalent, then workers would be seeing their real wage rise and rise over time and their living standards soar, and they would not feel exploited because, as Marx himself admits, nobody really is interested in the concept of surplus labour time. With a real wage that does not tend towards the subsistence level but can keep rising over time, Marx’s theory falls apart.

And, here are some unrealistic assumptions in Marx’s whole theory as follows:

(1) that commodities tend to exchange at their true labour values, and

(2) the real wage tends towards the value of the maintenance and reproduction of labour, the subsistence level.

BUT Marx abandoned assumption 1 in volume 3 of Capital.

And once we throw aside both these assumptions, we can see that, generally speaking, in the long run in capitalism the workers are liable to be less exploited in two senses:

(1) they tend to earn a rising real wage over time above subsistence level, as more and more of their subsistence goods are cheapened along with other goods, and they tend to be paid more and more of their surplus labour time, and WHAT IS SUBSITENCE WAGE // new ailments/ erosion of the planet

(2) the rate of exploitation falls as the rate of surplus value falls, since real wages rise and commodity prices do not tend to equal labour values, and so the laws of this chapter fall apart.

Marx’s analysis in Chapter 17.

Marx charges Ricardo with certain errors, and Marx notes that since the profit rate requires the value of constant capital to be added, the rate of surplus value and rate of profit can diverge.

Marx ends this section with a comment that raises the transformation problem:

“It is, besides, obvious that the rate of profit may depend on circumstances that in no way affect the rate of surplus-value. I shall show in Book III. that, with a given rate of surplus-value, we may have any number of rates of profit, and that various rates of surplus-value may, under given conditions, express themselves in a single rate of profit.”.

This is a reference to the Classical theory of the tendency of capitalism to converge to an average uniform rate of profit.

(2) Working-Day Constant. Productiveness of Labour Constant. Intensity of Labour Variable

Under these conditions, the total socially necessary labour time performed in a given time is increased to increase the quantity of output, but the unit price of the output product remains the same as the unit value embodied remains the same

Marx states:

“Hence the length of the working-day being constant, a day’s labour of increased intensity will be incorporated in an increased value, and, the value of money remaining unchanged, in more money. The value created varies with the extent to which the intensity of labour deviates from its normal intensity in the society. A given working-day, therefore, no longer creates a constant, but a variable value; in a day of 12 hours of ordinary intensity, the value created is, say 6 shillings, but with increased intensity, the value created may be 7, 8, or more shillings. It is clear that, if the value created by a day’s labour increases from, say, 6 to 8 shillings, then the two parts into which this value is divided, viz., price of labour-power and surplus-value, may both of them increase simultaneously, and either equally or unequally. They may both simultaneously increase from 3 shillings to 4. Here, the rise in the price of labour-power does not necessarily imply that the price has risen above the value of labour-power. On the contrary, the rise in price may be accompanied by a fall in value. This occurs whenever the rise in the price of labour-power does not compensate for its increased wear and tear.

We know that, with transitory exceptions, a change in the productiveness of labour does not cause any change in the value of labour-power, nor consequently in the magnitude of surplus-value, unless the products of the industries affected are articles habitually consumed by the laborers. In the present case this condition no longer applies. For when the variation is either in the duration or in the intensity of labour, there is always a corresponding change in the magnitude of the value created, independently of the nature of the article in which that value is embodied.” (Marx 1906: 575).

So here as the intensity of labour per hours in a given fixed working day rises, it is likely that the value of the subsistence wage must rise given the increased labour of the worker.

The average intensity of labour in a given working day might also vary between nations:

“If the intensity of labour were to increase simultaneously and equally in every branch of industry, then the new and higher degree of intensity would become the normal degree for the society, and would therefore cease to be taken account of. But still, even then, the intensity of labour would be different in different countries, and would modify the international application of the law of value. The more intense working day of one nation would be represented by a greater sum of money than would the less intense day of another nation.” .

(3) Productiveness and Intensity of Labour Constant. Length of the Working-Day Variable

The total working day may be shortened or lengthened, and Marx identifies three laws as follows:

(1) The working-day creates a greater or less amount of value in proportion to its length—thus, a variable and not a constant quantity of value.

(2) Every change in the relation between the magnitudes of surplus value and of the value of labour-power arises from a change in the absolute magnitude of the surplus-labour, and consequently of the surplus-value.

(3) The absolute value of labour-power can change only in consequence of the reaction exercised by the prolongation of surplus-value upon the wear and tear of labour-power. Every change in this absolute value is therefore the effect, but never the cause, of a change in the magnitude of surplus-value.”.

If the working day is shortened, this reduces the surplus labour and surplus value.

If the working day is lengthened, this increases the surplus labour and hence surplus value .

Although the price of labour-power might rise in such a situation, given the increased energy and more hours of labour expended each day, the daily value of labour-power will rise, and likely the price of labour will drop below its actual value:

“When the working-day is prolonged, the price of labour-power may fall below its value, although that price be nominally unchanged or even rise. The value of a day’s labour-power, is, as will be remembered, estimated from its normal average duration, or from the normal duration of life among the labourers, and from corresponding normal transformations of organised bodily matter into motion, in conformity with the nature of man. Up to a certain point the increased wear and tear of labour-power, inseparable from a lengthened working-day, may be compensated by higher wages. But beyond this point the wear and tear increases in geometrical progression, and every condition suitable for the normal reproduction and functioning of labour-power is suppressed. The price of labour-power and the degree of its exploitation cease to be commensurable quantities.” .

This is why there arose limits to the length of the working day.

(4) Simultaneous Variations in the Duration, Productiveness, and Intensity of Labour.

Here there are many different combinations but Marx limits himself to two instances.

(4.a) Diminishing Productiveness of Labour with a Simultaneous Lengthening of the Working-Day. (In Agriculture – where there is little connection between and the product what follows does not support it)

If the price of those commodities which determine the value of labour-power rise, then that value rises, and this requires a rise in necessary labour time per day. But this might be compensated by an increase in the length of the working day so that surplus value can be maintained:

“Therefore, with diminishing productiveness of labour and a simultaneous lengthening of the working-day, the absolute magnitude of surplus-value may continue unaltered, at the same time that its relative magnitude diminishes; its relative magnitude may continue unchanged, at the same time that its absolute magnitude increases; and, provided the lengthening of the day be sufficient, both may increase.”.

Marx makes an interesting point about the pessimism of Classical economists on the basis of the Napoleonic wars:

“In the period between 1799 and 1815 the increasing price of provisions led in England to a nominal rise in wages, although the real wages, expressed in the necessaries of life, fell. From this fact West and Ricardo drew the conclusion, that the diminution in the productiveness of agricultural labour had brought about a fall in the rate of surplus-value, and they made this assumption of a fact that existed only in their imaginations, the starting-point of important investigations into the relative magnitudes of wages, profits, and rent.”.

Marx argues that both intensity of labour and prolongation of the working-day increased in the 1799 to 1815 period, so that surplus value increased.

(4.b) Increasing Intensity and Productiveness of Labour with Simultaneous Shortening of the Working-Day

This process reduces the necessary labour time of the working day.

Marx ends with an interesting analysis:

“If the whole working-day were to shrink to the length of this portion, surplus-labour would vanish, a consummation utterly impossible under the regime of capital. Only by suppressing the capitalist form of production could the length of the working-day be reduced to the necessary labour-time. But, even in that case, the latter would extend its limits. On the one hand, because the notion of ‘means of subsistence’ would considerably expand, and the labourer would lay claim to an altogether different standard of life. On the other hand, because a part of what is now surplus-labour, would then count as necessary labour; I mean the labour of forming a fund for reserve and accumulation.

The more the productiveness of labour increases, the more can the working-day be shortened; and the more the working-day is shortened, the more can the intensity of labour increase. From a social point of view, the productiveness increases in the same ratio as the economy of labour, which, in its turn, includes not only economy of the means of production, but also the avoidance of all useless labour. The capitalist mode of production, while on the one hand, enforcing economy in each individual business, on the other hand, begets, by its anarchical system of competition, the most outrageous squandering of labour-power and of the social means of production, not to mention the creation of a vast number of employments, at present indispensable, but in themselves superfluous.

The intensity and productiveness of labour being given, the time which society is bound to devote to material production is shorter, and as a consequence, the time at its disposal for the free development, intellectual and social, of the individual is greater, in proportion as the work is more and more evenly divided among all the able-bodied members of society, and as a particular class is more and more deprived of the power to shift the natural burden of labour from its own shoulders to those of another layer of society. In this direction, the shortening of the working-day finds at last a limit in the generalisation of labour. In capitalist society spare time is acquired for one class by converting the whole life-time of the masses into labour-time.” .


Chapter 18: Different Formulae for the Rate of Surplus-Value

Chapter 18 is simply a series of different formulae that Marx proposes can be used to calculate the rate of surplus-value. Overall, Marx gives three different formulae that can be used, depending on a given situation.


Marx works to redefine the concept of productivity in the context of capitalism. He explains productivity as something undesirable, because it rewards the capitalist but not the worker. To this end he argues that “to be a productive worker is therefore not a piece of luck, but a misfortune.” Marx takes the reader on a winding route to illustrate how relative and absolute surplus-value actually do exist as separate concepts, pointing out how they might seem interchangeable and then giving a winding explanation as to why they are not. He also spends the last few pages of the chapter introducing and contradicting the arguments of John Stuart Mill, a contemporary political economist of Marx’s, about capitalist production.

In Chapter 17 Marx introduces a range of situations in which three circumstances of surplus-value can vary. He focuses primarily, however, on two specific situations. The first is the case of “diminishing productivity of labor with simultaneous lengthening of the working day.” To illustrate this situation, Marx gives the example of a farmer who experiences “diminishing productivity resulting from the diminishing fertility of the soil,” which lengthens his work day and leads to a “corresponding increase in the prices of its products.”

Marx’s second example illustrates relative surplus-value, in the situation of “increasing intensity and productivity of labor with simultaneous shortening of the working day.” In the capitalist system the working day being shortened here is of course not the overall day, but is the “necessary labor” portion of the working day. Normally, this type of shift would be beneficial to the worker, but within the capitalist system it only adds to the workload. 

Ultimately, the main idea here is that the length of the working day, the intensity of the labor, and the productivity of that labor all vary and this variation affects surplus value.


Outline of Marx’s Argument:

The value of “labor” cannot be measured by labor. For “Labor is the substance, and the immanent measure of value, but it has no value itself.”
The Physiocrats and the Classical economists saw that behind the market price of “labor” lay its costs of production, but conceived of its production in terms of the production of the worker.
But what is produced and what the worker sells is not “labor” but “labor power.”
The worker sells labor power in exchange for a wage, but:.
–the wage-form hides the distinction between necessary labor (to reproduce labor power) and surplus labor (appropriated by the capitalist).
In corvée labor distinction between labor for self and labor for the lord is clear.
But in slave and wage labor the “form of appearance” hides the “essence”:
–In slave labor all labor seems to be for the owner, hides labor for self.
–In wage labor all labor seems to be for the worker, hides surplus labor for capitalist.
The wage is thus one form of appearance of the essential value of labor power that lies behind it, but the discovery of this “essence” required clear “scientific” thought of which the bourgeois economists did not prove capable.

Ch XX Wages themselves again take many forms, a fact not recognizable in the ordinary economic treatises which, exclusively interested in the material side of the question, neglect every difference of form. An exposition of all these forms however, belongs to the special study of wage labour, not therefore to this work. Still the two fundamental forms must be briefly worked out here.

The sale of labour-power, as will be remembered, takes place for a definite period of time. The converted form under which the daily, weekly, &c., value of labour-power presents itself, is hence that of time-wages, therefore day-wages, &c.

Outline of Marx’s Argument

  • Wages take many forms.
    Two commonplace forms: time wages and piece wages.
    The Wage = “price of labor”, in this chapter usually payment per hour
    Nominal wages = money exchange value of labor power
    Real wages = the sum of the means of subsistence purchased by wages
    Average “price” of labor = average daily value of labor power divided by the average number of hours worked,
    e.g., (daily wage of 3 shillings)/12 hours = hourly price, or wage, = 3s/12 = 36d/12 = 3d = hourly wage of 3 pence.
    (In pre-metric English measure, 1 shilling = 12 pence, today 1s = 10d).
    So, if the daily wage is fixed, e.g., 3s, then if the capitalists impose longer hours, the effective hourly wage drops: 
  • With a daily wage of 3s, 10 hours of work implies hourly wage of 3s/10 = 36d/10 = 3.6d = 3 6/10d = 3 3/5d.
    Or, w/12 hrs of work, the hourly wage falls to 3/12 = 3d
    Or, w/15 hrs of work, the hourly wage falls to 3/15 = 2 2/5d
    As we saw in chapter 10, if the working day is lengthened with no change in the value of labor power, then the capitalists make more surplus value or profit.
    Conversely, if the hourly wage is fixed, then a change in the number of working hours will change the workers income.
    The importance of this: whether or not workers earn enough to survive, i.e., to reproduce their labor power, will depend on whether they have enough hours of work.
  • Suppose daily value of labor power = 3s and normal working day = 12 hours, under these conditions, the hourly wage = 3d, but . . .
    Then suppose the capitalist reduces working hours (say during a downturn in the business cycle):
    Hours reduced from 12 to 8, but wages still 3d/hr implies daily wage = 2s
    Hours reduced from 12 to 6, but wages still 3d/hr implies daily wage = 1s 6d
    In both cases, the workers are now earning less than the wage they require for survival. And assuming the workers are still producing the same value product per hour, the capitalists are making more surplus value or profit.
    The implication of these two sets of observations is that unless capitalists are constrained by law, e.g., Factory Acts in Marx’s time, they may manipulate hours and wages for their own benefit, to the detriment of the workers.
  • “The capitalist can now wring from the worker a certain quantity of surplus labor without allowing him the labor-time necessary for his own subsistence. He can annihilate all regularity of employment, and according to his own convenience, caprice, and the interest of the moment, make the most frightful over-work alternate with relative or absolute cessation of work. He can abnormally lengthen the working day without giving the worker any corresponding compensation, under the pretense of paying ‘the normal price of labor’.” (p. 686, Penguin Edition)
    “Hence,” Marx writes, “the perfectly rational revolt of the London building workers in 1860 against the attempt of the capitalists to impose on them this sort of wage by the hour.” And hence too, the fight for the Factory acts to put a limit on such manipulations.

In Marx’s time, as in our own, notions of a “normal” working day implied an awareness – on the part of both capitalists and workers – of the imposition of “overtime” or hours in excess of the “normal”, whatever that happened to be.
1) Overtime should be paid at a higher rate, because the “deterioration” of labor power accelerates during extra, exhausting hours, and therefore, the value of labor power (the cost of repairing and reproducing that labor power rises). Sometimes the capitalists recognize this and pay a bit more, although Marx suggests that the bit more they pay is not proportional to the cost of repairing the extra wear and tear on the worker.
2. If, using methods such as those described above, the capitalist succeeds in lowering wages at current hours, then workers will need and either be willing to accept or even fight for longer hours.
3. The same effect is sometimes achieved by increasing the intensity of work. Higher intensity means more labor being supplied, an increased supply of labor will tend to lower wages, lower wages will lead to more overtime.
4. These kinds of dynamics are circulated through “competition” wherein the success of one capitalist in this area will lead other capitalists to seek the same success as the success of the first allows the undercutting of the others through the reduction in the prices of their wares.


Outline of Marx’s Argument:

  • Piece wage = payment according to the number of pieces produced
    Piece rate = payment per piece
    Piece wage = “converted form of time wages” and time wages are a converted form of the value of labor power, so…
    Piece wage = a form of a form, just like time wages

    Piece wages seem as if workers sell their embodied labor in each piece.
    Piece wages seem as if the wage is not determined by the value of labor power.
    Piece wages and time wages often exist side-by-side:
  • — in the same industry
    — in the same factory
    Marx gives us an example as a point of departure:
  • — 12 hours of labor, 6 required to reproduce labor power, 6 for capitalist
    — 24 pieces produced
    — value of 24 pieces = 6s (shillings) or 72d (pence)Therefore:
  • –value product per hour = 6d [72/24]
    –value per unit = 3d [72/24]
    –piece wage = 1.5d/piece, or a total of 3s for days work –surplus value = 3s (or six of the 12 hours)
    The Particularities of Piece Wages
  • “piece wages become . . . the most fruitful source of reductions in wages, and of frauds committed by the capitalists.” (p. 694)
    “the piece wage is the form of wage most appropriate to the capitalist mode of production.” (pp. 697-698)
    1) Setting of piece rates is a source of struggle between workers and capitalists

    • –What is the socially necessary labor time (SNLT) per piece? What is the “average degree of efficiency?”
      –In general, these questions are answered by experience.
      –But, with new technology or new products there is a struggle
      –Whatever the SNLT is determined to be, that is the standard each worker must meet, or be dismissed. 
  • –The standard is set in terms of time, e.g., waistcoat = 1 hour
    –The standard also sets the average intensity of labor required, e.g., to produce a waistcoat within 1 hour
    2) With piece work the need for direct “superindendence” is reduced or even eliminated; workers are forced to work fast and well to meet the going standard of production under the threat of not being fully paid, or losing their job.
    3) Piece wages tend to produce hierarchies of wages
  • a) The “sweating system” wherein a parasitic middleman “sublets” or “subcontracts” workers and takes a cut of their wages
    b) An employer signs a contract with only one worker who then subcontracts other workers, oversees them and pays them.
    c) Individual abilities vary, therefor output and wages vary from individual to individual and this produces a wage hierarchy and competition among workers.
    4)Piece wages result in workers being willing, or even desirous, of longer working hours.
  • –they may be willing because lower piece rates make them want to work longer to maintain their total wages
    –they may be desirous in order to make more money than others
    5) Technological change that increases the productivity of a given time and intensity of labor will:
  • –either, lead to a rise in wages if the piece rates remain the same
    –or, lead capitalists to try to reduce piece rates in order to capture all of the fruits of rising productivity
    To illustrate this dynamic, Marx modifies the example previously given on the basis of a doubling of productivity, i.e., total output goes from 24 to 48. As a result:

–@ 1.5d/piece workers wages would double (assuming the sales price remained the same at 3d/piece.)
–the total product value would double and the worker and the capitalist would now get 6s each instead of only 3s.
–therefore, the capitalists try to lower the piece rate from 1.5d to .75d in order to capture all the increased value
–if they are successful, then of the new total value of 12s the workers would continue to get only 3s while the capitalist walks off with 9s.
–therefore, there is a struggle over who benefits how much from the rise in productivity brought on by the introduction of the new technology.
–“the change in the piece rate . . . tends to constant struggles between capital and workers.” (pp. 699-700)
–The capitalists accuse the workers who try to share in the increased productivity of “intimidation” and of trying to “establish a duty on mechanical improvements” (p. 700, fn 20)


“Piece-work”, to the experienced worker whether in home, factory or field always carries the flavor of exploitation. The subtlety that Marx insists upon – how the form of payment leads workers to drive themselves to high intensity and long hours – is not always immediately apparent to new and naive workers. To them piece-work may seem to provide an opportunity for great achievement: the more you work, the more you get paid. They don’t realize at first that the piece rates have been set so that even with their greatest efforts they will earn little in relation to what they produce. They don’t realize, because they haven’t had the experience, that if they outperform past standards, the piece-rates will be adjusted downward so that their income rises but little, even with increased effort.


The paradox of the cost of labor in advanced and less advanced economies (before capital was globalized) 

 it will be found, frequently, that the daily or weekly, &tc., wage in the first nation is higher than in the second, whilst the relative price of labour, i.e., the price of labour as compared both with surplus-value and with the value of the product, stands higher in the second than in the first. [3]

3. James Anderson remarks in his polemic against Adam Smith: “It deserves, likewise, to be remarked, that although the apparent price of Labour is usually lower in poor countries, where the produce of the soil, and grain in general, is cheap; yet it is in fact for the most part really higher than in other countries. For it is not the wages that is given to the labourer per day that constitutes the real price of labour, although it is its apparent price. The real price is that which a certain quantity of work performed actually costs the employer; and considered in this light, labour is in almost all cases cheaper in rich countries than in those that are poorer, although the price of grain and other provisions is usually much lower in the last than in the first…. Labour estimated by the day is much lower in Scotland than in England…. Labour by the piece is generally cheaper in England.” (James Anderson, “Observations on the Means of Exciting a Spirit of National Industry,” &tc., Edin. 1777, pp. 350, 351.) On the contrary, lowness of wages produces, in its turn, dearness of labour. “Labour being dearer in Ireland than it is in England … because the wages are so much lower.” (N. 2079 in “Royal Commission on Railways, Minutes,” 1867.)

It is well known that in Eastern Europe, as well as in Asia, English companies have undertaken the construction of railways, and have, in making them, employed side by side with the native labourers, a certain number of English working-men. Compelled by practical necessity, they thus have had to take into account the national difference in the intensity of labour, but this has brought them no loss. Their experience shows that even if the height of wages corresponds more or less with the average intensity of labour, the relative price of labour varies generally in the inverse direction.

sublime clarity of criticism;

In an “Essay on the Rate of Wages,” [6] one of his first economic writings, H. Carey tries to prove that the wages of the different nations are directly proportional to the degree of productiveness of the national working-days, in order to draw from this international relation the conclusion that wages everywhere rise and fall in proportion to the productiveness of labour. The whole of our analysis of the production of surplus-value shows the absurdity of this conclusion, even if Carey himself had proved his premises instead of, after his usual uncritical and superficial fashion, shuffling to and fro a confused mass of statistical materials. The best of it is that he does not assert that things actually are as they ought to be according to his theory. 

Let’s talk about the role of taxes; the role of the state in all wage

For State intervention has falsified the natural economic relations. The different national wages must be reckoned, therefore, as if that part of each that goes to the State in the form of taxes, came to the labourer himself. Ought not Mr. Carey to consider further whether those “State expenses” are not the “natural” fruits of capitalistic development? 

The reasoning is quite worthy of the man who first declared the relations of capitalist production to be eternal laws of nature and reason, whose free, harmonious working is only disturbed by the intervention of the State, in order afterwards to discover that the diabolical influence of England on the world market (an influence which, it appears, does not spring from the natural laws of capitalist production) necessitates State intervention, i.e., the protection of those laws of nature and reason by the State, alias the System of Protection. 

He discovered further that the theorems of Ricardo and others, in which existing social antagonisms and contradictions are formulated, are not the ideal product of the real economic movement, but on the contrary, that the real antagonisms of capitalist production in England and elsewhere are the result of the theories of Ricardo and others! Finally he discovered that it is, in the last resort, commerce that destroys the inborn beauties and harmonies of the capitalist mode of production. A step further and he will, perhaps, discover that the one evil in capitalist production is capital itself. Only a man with such atrocious want of the critical faculty and such spurious erudition deserved, in spite of his Protectionist heresy, to become the secret source of the harmonious wisdom of a Bastiat, and of all the other Free-trade optimists of today.

Part VII- 

The accumulation of capital: the most coherent part of the book 1 & ½ page; of sublime clarity


Ch XXIII The Apex of the Book: Accumulation of Capital (here simple reproduction)

The conditions of production are also those of reproduction

The matter takes quite another aspect, when we contemplate, not the single capitalist, and the single labourer, but the capitalist class and the labouring class, not an isolated process of production, but capitalist production in full swing, and on its actual social scale.

Within the limits of what is strictly necessary, the individual consumption of the working class is, therefore, the reconversion of the means of subsistence given by capital in exchange for labour-power, into fresh labour-power at the disposal of capital for exploitation. It is the production and reproduction of that means of production so indispensable to the capitalist: the labourer himself.

In former times, capital resorted to legislation, whenever necessary, to enforce its proprietary rights over the free labourer. For instance, down to 1815, the emigration of mechanics employed in machine making was, in England, forbidden, under grievous pains and penalties.

The reproduction of the working class carries with it the accumulation of skill, that is handed down from one generation to another

From a social point of view, therefore, the working class, even when not directly engaged in the labour process, is just as much an appendage of capital as the ordinary instruments of labour. Even its individual consumption is, within certain limits, a mere factor in the process of production. That process, however, takes good care to prevent these self-conscious instruments from leaving it in the lurch, for it removes their product, as fast as it is made, from their pole to the opposite pole of capital. Individual consumption provides, on the one hand, the means for their maintenance and reproduction: on the other hand, it secures by the annihilation of the necessaries of life, the continued re-appearance of the workman in the labour-market. The Roman slave was held by fetters: the wage labourer is bound to his owner by invisible threads. The appearance of independence is kept up by means of a constant change of employers, and by the fictio juris of a contract.

Capitalist production, therefore, of itself reproduces the separation between labour-power and the means of labour. It thereby reproduces and perpetuates the condition for exploiting the labourer. It incessantly forces him to sell his labour-power in order to live, and enables the capitalist to purchase labour-power in order that he may enrich himself. [17] It is no longer a mere accident, that capitalist and labourer confront each other in the market as buyer and seller. It is the process itself that incessantly hurls back the labourer on to the market as a vendor of his labour-power, and that incessantly converts his own product into a means by which another man can purchase him. In reality, the labourer belongs to capital before he has sold himself to capital. His economic bondage [18] is both brought about and concealed by the periodic sale of himself, by his change of masters, and by the oscillations in the market-price of labour-power. [19]

Capitalist production, therefore, under its aspect of a continuous connected process, of a process of reproduction, produces not only commodities, not only surplus-value, but it also produces and reproduces the capitalist relation; on the one side the capitalist, on the other the wage labourer. [20]


Ch. XXIV Simple accumulation = investment rather than consumption of surplus value 

[recap ch XXIII In the language and symbolism of Marx’s reproduction schemes, for simple accumulation the capitalist society has to reproduce itself on an expanded scale: – It must produce enough of the means of production to replace those used up in its own activities plus enough of the means of production to replace those used up plus enough new means of production to be purchased by the surplus-value realized and invested in each department. 

– It also must produce enough of the means of subsistence to sustain/reproduce the labor-power employed in its own activities, plus enough new means of subsistence to sustain/reproduce the new workers hired with the surplus-value realized and invested in each department.]

There are two basic points in ch xxiv: 

  1. The first is that for capitalism to expand beyond simple reproduction the surpus-value earned through the exploitation of workers, and accruing to the capitalists as money realized through the sale of the commodities produced by those workers, must be invested rather than consumed. 
  1. The second point is that such investment, wherein surplus-value is used to purchase new means of production and to hire new workers to expand production, doesn’t violate the “laws of exchange”, i.e., we can continue to assume equality in exchange. But, because the extraction of surplus-value constitutes the very unequal exploitation of workers, the “laws of exchange” hide the reality of the situation.

Section 1: Capitalist Production on an Progressively Increasing Scale. The inversion which converts the property laws of commodity production into laws of capitalist appropriation.


The employment of surplus-value as capital = accumulation of capital.
Although net revenue (sales minus costs) = surplus-value, it takes the form of money. It only becomes capital when invested in more means of production and in the hiring of more labor.
For this to happen annual production must include: whatever new means of production that are needed to replace worn-out means of production (depreciation), new means of production that can be bought by the net revenue or surplus-value, new labor power (workers) that can be hired and new means of subsistence to sustain them.
The availability of new labor-power implies wages that “suffice, not only to maintain [the existing working class], but also to increase its numbers.”
“The cycle of simple reproduction alters its form and, to use Sismondi’s expression, changes into a spiral.”
Thus laws of private property that assume equal exchange [and indeed often prosecute unequal exchange or cheating] thus hide the real relationship. Equal exchange (assuming wages = value of labor-power) is a mere semblance – a form that mystifies the real content of the relationship, i.e., money/surplus-value (=unpaid labor) is stolen from workers.
“Originally the rights of property seemed to us to be grounded in a man’s own labor.” [e.g., John Locke’s theory of property](1)) But in capitalism property – of the means of production – “turns out to be the right . . . to appropriate the unpaid labor of others”.
“General law of commodity production” = “law of exchange” = exchange of equal values. Marx assumes this to always hold, yet exploitation exists because workers produce more value than the value of their wages.
Generalization of commodity production only occurs when labor-power becomes a commodity – which happens only with the development of capitalism – thus capitalism includes this generalization.

Section 2: The Political Economists’ Erroneous Conception of Reproduction on an Increasing Scale.


The classical political economists were correct to emphasize how hired retainers, e.g., butlers, housemaids, were unproductive workers because they produced no new products on which a profit could be realized. Whereas industrial workers, who produce such profitable products, are productive workers.
They were also correct to distinguish hoarding where money or things are just piled up, from capital investment where money is spent to buy means of production and labor-power that are put to work producing new products and new profits.(4)
So, consumption of surplus product by productive workers is, indeed, “a characteristic feature of the process of accumulation.”
BUT . . .
Adam Smith is wrong to pretend that accumulation is “nothing more than the consumption of the surplus product by productive workers.” “In actual fact,” Marx writes, “the surplus-value, like the value originally advanced, divides up into constant and variable capital, into means of production and labor-power . . . labor-power is itself consumed by the capitalist.” While wages buy the means of subsistence “which are consumed, not by ‘productive labor’, but by the ‘productive worker.'”
Section 3: Division of Surplus-value into Capital and Revenue. The Abstinence Theory 


Surplus-value can be either consumed by the capitalist (as “revenue” spent on consumption goods – call the surplus-value diverted to consumption Sc) or invested (as “capital” spent on means of production and the hiring of laborers – call this part Si).
Capitalists can do both: consume some of their surplus-value and invest some. Total S = Si + Sc.
In the short run, this is a zero-sum game: “With a given mass of surplus-value, then, the larger the one part, the smaller the other.” ↑Si ⇒ ↓Sc.
As capital “personified”, “his motivating force [of the individual capitalist] is not the acquisition and enjoyment of use-values, but the acquisition and augmentation of exchange-values.” Any diversion of surplus-value into personal consumption “counts as a robbery committed against the accumulation of his capital.”


Marx criticizes and mocks Nassau W. Senior’s “abstinence theory” – a theory Senior concocts by replacing the word “capital, considered as a means of production” with the word “abstinence”. His “theory”, Marx shows, amounts to the resurrection and glorification of the attitudes and practices of the capitalists of a much earlier era when the individual capitalist struggled to accumulate, a struggle that often did require personal sacrifice. Senior would, Marx mocks, have us feel sorry for “the self-chastisement of this modern penitent of Vishnu, the capitalist” and rever “that peculiar saint, that ‘knight of the woeful countenance, the ‘abstaining’ capitalist.”(7)

This critique is prepared by devoting the first 4-5 pages of the section to what amounts to an historical sketch of the rise of capitalism, at least so far as the attitudes of capitalists and their apologists have concerned the degree to which capitalists have chosen to invest versus consume their surplus-value.

Section 4: The circumstances which, independently of the proportional division of surplus-value into capital and revenue, determine the extent of accumulation, namely, [1] the degree of exploitation of labor-power, [2] the productivity of labor, [3] the growing difference in amount between capital employed and capital consumed, and [4] the magnitude of the capital advanced.

Outline of Marx’s Discussion

Rate of of surplus-value (s/v) = f(the degree of the exploitation of labor-power)
↑ productivity of labor ≠ ↑ in the exploitation of labor
↑ in the exploitation of labor can be f(↑ productivity of labor)
↑ in the exploitation of labor can be f(↑ hours of work)
↑ in the exploitation of labor can be f(↓ wages)
Up to now we have assumed wages = value of labor-power, equal exchange of LP for M
“In the practical movement of affairs” capitalist efforts to ↓ wages, even below the value of labor-power, have been common.
Capitalists in one country have often complained about local wages being higher than those in other countries.
Capitalists have examined diets to see how close wages could be pushed to the bare minimum of biological subsistence. Some have come up with recipes for cheap food, e.g., beggar-soups, as the basis for finding the lowest possible wage.
Adulteration of food and medicines have reduced their prices, and thus the minimum subsistence wage.
Wages have been kept below the value of labor-power when the difference could be made up from parish charity, the poor rate or the workhouse.
Where they have been able to force workers to work longer hours while keeping total wages constant, capitalists have been able to raise the amount of surplus product, the amount of surplus-value and the rate of surplus-value (s/v).
Longer hours with the same tools reduces the cost of those tools (per unit of output) and this too raises the rate of profit and rate of accumulation. Especially in extractive industries (e.g., mining, quarrying) where tools are the only constant capital.
A rise in the productivity of labor also lowers the value of constant capital (c) as the application of science to industry improves technology, so old machines are replaced by newer and cheaper, but generally more productive ones.
Therefore, a given amount of surplus-value is able to generate more and more accumulation as time goes on.
As the # of workers and mass of capital increases, “the more does the sum of value increase that is divided into a fund for consumption (Si) and a fund for accumulation (Si).”
With the total mass of Si + Sc growing, “The capitalist can therefore live a more pleasant life, and at the same time ‘renounce’ more.” i.e., allow Sc/Si to fall.

Section 5: The So-called Labor Fund

Outline of Marx’s Discussion

Marx has shown that “capital is not a fixed magnitude but . . . elastic, and constantly fluctuates with the division of surplus-value into revenue and additional capital.”
Yet, “Classical political economy has always liked to conceive social capital as a fixed magnitude of a fixed degree of efficiency.” This became dogma with Bentham.
This dogma has been used for “apologetic purposes”, namely by arguing that the amount of capital that can be converted into labor-power is of fixed size. In other words “the mass of the means of subsistence . . ., or the so-called labor fund, was turned by this fable into a separate part of social wealth, [and} confined by natural chains.”
This dogma justifies telling workers that there is no point in fighting for higher wages because at any point in time the amount of the labor fund (or wage-fund) is fixed and can only be redistributed over the number of available workers. This amounts to putting the division of the total capital into constant and variable capital off-limits to any discussion or negotiation.
It also justifies telling workers that if some workers fight for and succeed in raising their wages, the increase will just be taken from other workers because the total amount available is fixed.
Classical political economists, such as H. Fawcett, equated the “wages-fund” with the “circulating capital of a country.” Whatever that amount is, the average possible wage will be determined by the size of the labor force over which it is distributed. For Marx, as he remarks in a footnote, fixed and circulating capital – categories derived from the analysis of circulation – are not at all the same as his constant and variable capital.

The weapon provided by the new neoclassical or marginalist doctrine that replaced the wages-fund doctrine was the doctrine of the “marginal productivity of labor”, or, put more generally, was the neoclassical doctrine that to each factor of production is due the value of its marginal product. Whereas the wages-fund supposedly defined an absolute upper limit to what workers could possibly receive, so, according to this new doctrine, labor should neither expect, nor struggle to achieve any more than the value of its marginal product. Moreover,the doctrine argued that given free markets, labor would receive neither more nor less than the value of that product. (The only possibilities of “exploitation” in this theory were those few cases, due to imperfectly competitive markets, where labor received less than the value of its marginal product.)

The obvious question that flows from the above is “what is meant by the value of a factor’s marginal product”? Well, an essential element of the marginal revolution was the replacement of labor as the source of value, first by utility and then by nothing at all. Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832) – the same Bentham Marx mocks in this chapter – was one of those who popularized the concept of “utility” as a replacement for labor as a source of value. But once the “marginal utility” of any commodity (including money) was seen to decline as the quantity of its consumption rose, that observation came to be used to argue for the redistribution of money from the rich to the laboring poor in order to increase the total utility of society. As a result, neoclassical theory was reworked in the 20th Century, to get rid of “utility”, “marginal utility” and “declining marginal utility” until the only concept of “value” that remained was market value, or price. So the value of the marginal product of labor (or of any factor) was the market value of that product. In short, the labor theory of value, some version of which was common to the classical political economists and Marx was excised from economics.

How then did this new doctrine provide a weapon against the struggles by labor to raise wages (and other benefits)? William Stanley Jevon’s saw great dangers to both workers and society of wage struggles by workers organized in unions. In a lecture given in 1866 to primary school teachers about the importance of teaching economics to working class children to avoid the evils of class struggle, we find the following:

“The best example I can give, however, of the evils and disasters which may accompany progress is to be found in trade unions and the strikes they originate and conduct. Of these I may say, in the words of a recent article of the Times, that ‘every year sees these organizations more powerful, more pitiless, and more unjust. Such atrocities as that reported from Sheffield are but the extreme cases of a tyranny which is at this very moment paralyzing the large part of the trades of the country . . . there is one great disaster almost the greatest that I can figure to myself. It is that our working classes, with their growing numbers and powers of combination, may be led by ignorance to arrest the true growth of our liberty, political and commercial.” 

In short, Jevons interpretation of the new marginalist doctrine accepted – in a manner altogether parallel to the reasoning of those who had embraced the wages-fund doctrine – that wages had an upper limit, in the new theory this limit was set by the value of its marginal product. Any effort to exceed that limit was doomed. The implication that Jevons draws from this, for the edification of workers, is that the best way to achieve increases in wages is to collaborate with their employers in improving the productivity of labor – which will then, through market forces – be returned to them in the form of higher wages. Now it must be noted that Jevons not only saw, and argued, that this path was a better one for raising wages but that it was a path to the transcendence of the class struggle. He argued that as wages rose, workers could earn enough and save enough to become capitalists themselves and as they did, they would abandon their objections to what they call “the tyranny of capital.” He evoked:

“But all this is changed for the man who has even a moderate amount of savings. Not only does he disarm sickness or misfortune of half its terrors, but he may also, by co-operation, become his own employer; and then he will, I presume, cease to complain of the tyranny of capital.” (11)

Marx’s analysis, of course, has demonstrated why such a path may work for this or that worker but it is delusional to think that it would work for all, or even for most – given the nature and dynamics of capitalism.

Ironically, or perhaps inevitably, there was a progressive insight at the core of Jevons’ thinking, that would be largely ignored by capitalists for many years to come, namely, that increases in labor productivity made it possible for real wages to rise without undermining profits (the marginal productivity of capital) or provoking inflation. Over time a few capitalists, like Henry Ford, would recognize and accept this principle, but it would not be until John Maynard Keynes demonstrated that the principle was applicable at the level of the whole economy that capitalists would begin to see wage struggles and wage increases as not only compatible with the system but at least potentially a vital motor of its development.

All of this was implicit in Marx’s analysis of relative surplus-value, but unlike these economists who were devoted to the promulgation of capitalism he was not preoccupied with discovering how workers struggles might be compatible with it but rather with how they might lead beyond it.

Ch 25 Contents

Section 1 – The Increased Demand for labour power that Accompanies Accumulation, the Composition of Capital Remaining the same

Marx examines the extra demand for labour caused by accumulation of capital, and this is related to changes in the composition of capital (Marx 1990: 762).

Marx now defines two concepts as follows:

(1) the value composition of capital which is the ratio of the constant to variable capital c/v expressed in values , and

(2) the technical composition of capital 

Marx describes the distinction between these two concepts as follows:

“The composition of capital is to be understood in a twofold sense. On the side of value, it is determined by the proportion in which it is divided into constant capital or value of the means of production, and variable capital or value of labour-power, the sum total of wages. On the side of material, as it functions in the process of production, all capital is divided into means of production and living labour-power. This latter composition is determined by the relation between the mass of the means of production employed, on the one hand, and the mass of labour necessary for their employment on the other. I call the former the value-composition, the latter the technical composition of capital. Between the two there is a strict correlation. To express this, I call the value-composition of capital, in so far as it is determined by its technical composition and mirrors the changes of the latter, the organic composition of capital. Wherever I refer to the composition of capital, without further qualification, its organic composition is always understood.

The many individual capitals invested in a particular branch of production have, one with another, more or less different compositions. The average of their individual compositions gives us the composition of the total capital in this branch of production. Lastly, the average of these averages, in all branches of production, gives us the composition of the total social capital of a country, and with this alone are we, in the last resort, concerned in the following investigation.” (Marx 1906: 671–672).

We cannot, however, measure the technical composition of capital in homogenous quantitative units because the means of production and labour are heterogeneous elements.

For Marx the organic composition of capital is the value composition of capital “in so far as it is determined by its technical composition and mirrors the changes of the latter” (Marx 1906: 671). So the organic composition of capital is the value composition but considered only when v and c change owing to physical productivity changes (Harvey 2010: 264).

So the simple value composition of capital can change owing to factors other physical changes in productivity (Harvey 2010: 264).

The average composition of capital is the average throughout the whole economy or total social capital of a country.

When accumulation of capital occurs with added demand for labour-power given a constant composition of capital, real wages can rise.

Marx concludes the section by making clear that the very “law of capitalist production” is to set limits to the rising real wage since capitalism requires unpaid labour time:

“The law of capitalist production, that is at the bottom of the pretended ‘natural law of population,’ reduces itself simply to this: The correlation between accumulation of capital and rate of wages is nothing else than the correlation between the unpaid labour transformed into capital, and the additional paid labour necessary for the setting in motion of this additional capital. It is therefore in no way a relation between two magnitudes, independent one of the other: on the one hand, the magnitude of the capital; on the other, the number of the labouring population; it is rather, at bottom, only the relation between the unpaid and the paid labour of the same labouring population. If the quantity of unpaid labour supplied by the working-class, and accumulated by the capitalist class, increases so rapidly that its conversion into capital requires an extraordinary addition of paid labour, then wages rise, and, all other circumstances remaining equal, the unpaid labour diminishes in proportion. But as soon as this diminution touches the point at which the surplus-labour that nourishes capital is no longer supplied in normal quantity, a reaction sets in: a smaller part of revenue is capitalised, accumulation lags, and the movement of rise in wages receives a check. The rise of wages therefore is confined within limits that not only leave intact the foundations of the capitalistic system, but also secure its reproduction on a progressive scale. The law of capitalistic accumulation, metamorphosed by economists into a pretended law of nature, in reality merely states that the very nature of accumulation excludes every diminution in the degree of exploitation of labour, and every rise in the price of labour, which could seriously imperil the continual reproduction; on an ever enlarging scale, of the capitalistic relation.” (Marx 1906: 680).

Fundamentally, all Marx’s remarks here on rising wages must be qualified by the understanding that he is talking about conditions in which there is a given a constant composition of capital. Marx now turns to conditions where productivity increases and there is a changing organic composition of capital.

Section 2 – Relative Diminution of the Variable Part of Capital Simultaneously with the Progress of Accumulation and of the capitalism also involves centralisation:

“Every individual capital is a larger or smaller concentration of means of production, with a corresponding command over a larger or smaller labour-army. Every accumulation becomes the means of new accumulation. With the increasing mass of wealth which functions as capital, accumulation increases the concentration of that wealth in the hands of individual capitalists, and thereby widens the basis of production on a large scale and of the specific methods of capitalist production. The growth of social capital is effected by the growth of many individual capitals. All other circumstances remaining the same, individual capitals, and with them the concentration of the means of production, increases in such proportion as they form aliquot parts of the total social capital. At the same time portions of the original capitals disengage themselves and function as new independent capitals. Besides other causes, the division of property, within capitalist families, plays a great part in this. With the accumulation of capital, therefore, the number of capitalists grows to a greater or less extent. Two points characterise this kind of concentration which grows directly out of, or rather is identical with, accumulation. First: The increasing concentration of the social means of production in the hands of individual capitalists is, other things remaining equal, limited by the degree of increase of social wealth. Second: The part of social capital domiciled in each particular sphere of production is divided among many capitalists who face one another as independent commodity-producers competing with each other. Accumulation and the concentration accompanying it are, therefore, not only scattered over many points, but the increase of each functioning capital is thwarted by the formation of new and the subdivision of old capitals. Accumulation, therefore, presents itself on the one hand as increasing concentration of the means of production, and of the command over labour; on the other, as repulsion of many individual capitals one from another.

This splitting-up of the total social capital into many individual capitals or the repulsion of its fractions one from another, is counteracted by their attraction. This last does not mean that simple concentration of the means of production and of the command over labour, which is identical with accumulation. It is concentration of capitals already formed, destruction of their individual independence, expropriation of capitalist by capitalist, transformation of many small into few large capitals. This process differs from the former in this, that it only presupposes a change in the distribution of capital already to hand, and functioning; its field of action is therefore not limited by the absolute growth of social wealth, by the absolute limits of accumulation. Capital grows in one place to a huge mass in a single hand, because it has in another place been lost by many. This is centralisation proper, as distinct from accumulation and concentration.” (Marx 1906: 685–686).

There is a three-fold process at work in capitalism: (1) accumulation, (2) concentration (accumulation over time) and (3) centralisation of capital.

Marx notes that a major effect of competition is the falling prices of commodities:

“The battle of competition is fought by cheapening of commodities. The cheapness of commodities depends, ceteris paribus, on the productiveness of labour, and this again on the scale of production. Therefore, the larger capitals beat the smaller. It will further be remembered that, with the development of the capitalist mode of production, there is an increase in the minimum amount of individual capital necessary to carry on a business under its normal conditions. The smaller capitals, therefore, crowd into spheres of production which Modern Industry has only sporadically or incompletely got hold of. Here competition rages in direct proportion to the number, and in inverse proportion to the magnitudes, of the antagonistic capitals. It always ends in the ruin of many small capitalists, whose capitals partly pass into the hand of their conquerors, partly vanish.” (Marx 1906: 686–687).

Marx is essentially referring here to what we would now call increasing returns to scale and falling average unit costs of large enterprises designed to have excess capacity utilisation.

But there is an important related point which Marx neglects: as the prices of commodities fall, so too would the prices of means of production (constant capital, whether fixed or circulating capital).

Section 3 – Progressive Production of a Relative surplus population or Industrial Reserve Army

Accumulation and concentration of capital induce more use of constant capital and reduce variable capital:

“The accumulation of capital, though originally appearing as its quantitative extension only, is effected, as we have seen, under a progressive qualitative change in its composition, under a constant increase of its constant, at the expense of its variable constituent.

The specifically capitalist mode of production, the development of the productive power of labour corresponding to it, and the change thence resulting in the organic composition of capital, do not merely keep pace with the advance of accumulation, or with the growth of social wealth. They develop at a much quicker rate, because mere accumulation, the absolute

increase of the total social capital, is accompanied by the centralisation of the individual capitals of which that total is made up; and because the change in the technological composition of the additional capital goes hand in hand with a similar change in the technological composition of the original capital. With the advance of accumulation, therefore, the proportion of constant to variable capital changes. …

Since the demand for labour is determined not by the amount of capital as a whole, but by its variable constituent alone, that demand falls progressively with the increase of the total capital, instead of, as previously assumed, rising in proportion to it. It falls relatively to the magnitude of the total capital, and at an accelerated rate, as this magnitude increases. With the growth of the total capital, its variable constituent or the labour incorporated in it, also does increase, but in a constantly diminishing proportion. The intermediate pauses are shortened, in which accumulation works as simple extension of production, on a given technical basis. It is not merely that an accelerated accumulation of total capital, accelerated in a constantly growing progression, is needed to absorb an additional number of labourers, or even, on account of the constant metamorphosis of old capital, to keep employed those already functioning. In its turn, this increasing accumulation and centralisation becomes a source of new changes in the composition of capital, of a more accelerated diminution of its variable, as compared with its constant constituent. This accelerated relative diminution of the variable constituent, that goes along with the accelerated increase of the total capital, and moves more rapidly than this increase, takes the inverse form, at the other pole, of an apparently absolute increase of the labouring population, an increase always moving more rapidly than that of the variable capital or the means of employment. But in fact, it is capitalistic accumulation itself that constantly produces, and produces in the direct ratio of its own energy and extent, a relatively redundant population of labourers, i.e., a population of greater extent than suffices for the average needs of the self-expansion of capital, and therefore a surplus-population.” 

The industrial reserve army is a necessary consequence and necessary condition of capitalism:

But if a surplus labouring population is a necessary product of accumulation or of the development of wealth on a capitalist basis, this surplus population becomes, conversely, the lever of capitalistic accumulation, nay, a condition of existence of the capitalist mode of production. It forms a disposable industrial reserve army, that belongs to capital quite as absolutely as if the latter had bred it at its own cost. Independently of the limits of the actual increase of population, it creates, for the changing needs of the self-expansion of capital, a mass of human material always ready for exploitation. With accumulation, and the development of the productiveness of labour that accompanies it, the power of sudden expansion of capital grows also; it grows, not merely because the elasticity of the capital already functioning increases, not merely because the absolute wealth of society expands, of which capital only forms an elastic part, not merely because credit, under every special stimulus, at once places an unusual part of this wealth at the disposal of production in the form of additional capital; it grows, also, because the technical .conditions of the process of production themselves—machinery, means of transport, &c.—now admit of the rapidest transformation of masses of surplus product into additional means of production. The mass of social wealth, overflowing with the advance of accumulation, and transformable into additional capital, thrusts itself frantically into old branches of production, whose market suddenly expands, or into newly formed branches, such as railways, &c, the need for which grows out of the development of the old ones. In all such cases, there must be the possibility of throwing great masses of men suddenly on the decisive points without injury to the scale of production in other spheres. Over-population supplies these masses.

In a crucial passage, Marx now states that the industrial reserve army is what governs the movement of wages:

“Taking them as a whole, the general movements of wages are exclusively regulated by the expansion and contraction of the industrial reserve army, and these again correspond to the periodic changes of the industrial cycle. They are, therefore, not determined by the variations of the absolute number of the working population, but by the varying proportions in which the working class is divided into active and reserve army, by the increase of diminution in the relative amount of the surplus-population, by the extent to which it is now absorbed, now set free. F

Section 4 – Different Forms of the Relative surplus population. The General Law of Capitalistic Accumulation

In this section, Marx distinguishes four subdivisions in the industrial reserve army as follows:

(1) the urban floating surplus-population;

(2) the latent surplus-population (rural reserve army);

(3) the stagnant reserve army, and

(4) paupers living in poverty.

Marx sees an absolute general law of capitalist accumulation:

“The greater the social wealth, the functioning capital, the extent and energy of its growth, and, therefore, also the absolute mass of the proletariat and the productiveness of its labour, the greater is the industrial reserve-army. The same causes which develop the expansive power of capital, develops also the labour-power at its disposal. The relative mass of the industrial reserve-army increases therefore with the potential energy of wealth. But the greater this reserve-army in proportion to the active labour-army, the greater is the mass of a consolidated surplus-population, whose misery is in inverse ratio to its torment of labour. The more extensive, finally, the lazurus-layers of the working-class, and the industrial reserve-army, the greater is official pauperism. This is the absolute general law of capitalist accumulation. Like all other laws it is modified in its working by many circumstances, the analysis of which does not concern us here.” (Marx 1906: 707).

So for Marx the more productive and wealthy a capitalist society is, the “greater is the industrial reserve-army.” This is another dogmatic communist myth that has been disproven by the history of the past 150 years, for there is considerable evidence that unemployment on average was much higher in the 19th century than in more developed and wealthier 20th century capitalist economies.

Section 5 – Illustrations of the General Law of Capitalist Accumulation

A. England from 1846-1866

B. The Badly Paid Strata of the British Industrial Class

C. The Nomad Population

D. Effect of Crises on the Best Paid Part of the working class

E. The British Agricultural Proletariat

F. Ireland

Part VII- ch 26 We have seen how money is changed into capital; how through capital surplus-value is made, and from surplus-value more capital. But the accumulation of capital presupposes surplus-value; surplus-value presupposes capitalistic production; capitalistic production presupposes the pre-existence of considerable masses of capital and of labour power in the hands of producers of commodities. The whole movement, therefore, seems to turn in a vicious circle, out of which we can only get by supposing a primitive accumulation (previous accumulation of Adam Smith) preceding capitalistic accumulation; an accumulation not the result of the capitalistic mode of production, but its starting point.

This primitive accumulation plays in Political Economy about the same part as original sin in theology.

In themselves money and commodities are no more capital than are the means of production and of subsistence. They want transforming into capital. But this transformation itself can only take place under certain circumstances that centre in this, viz., that two very different kinds of commodity-possessors must come face to face and into contact; on the one hand, the owners of money, means of production, means of subsistence, who are eager to increase the sum of values they possess, by buying other people’s labour power; on the other hand, free labourers, the sellers of their own labour power, and therefore the sellers of labour. Free labourers, in the double sense that neither they themselves form part and parcel of the means of production, as in the case of slaves, bondsmen, &c., nor do the means of production belong to them, as in the case of peasant-proprietors; they are, therefore, free from, unencumbered by, any means of production of their own. With this polarization of the market for commodities, the fundamental conditions of capitalist production are given. The capitalist system presupposes the complete separation of the labourers from all property in the means by which they can realize their labour. As soon as capitalist production is once on its own legs, it not only maintains this separation, but reproduces it on a continually extending scale. The process, therefore, that clears the way for the capitalist system, can be none other than the process which takes away from the labourer the possession of his means of production; a process that transforms, on the one hand, the social means of subsistence and of production into capital, on the other, the immediate producers into wage labourers. The so-called primitive accumulation, therefore, is nothing else than the historical process of divorcing the producer from the means of production. It appears as primitive, because it forms the prehistoric stage of capital and of the mode of production corresponding with it.


What makes capitalism a new kind of society has been the creation of two new classes: a capitalist one made up of those who seek to organize most people’s lives around the work of producing commodities and another, a class of workers, made up of those whose lives are subordinated to that organization. The secret of this creation—hidden by pro-capitalist political apologists in the telling of history—is that the emerging class of capitalists imposed this social order with brutality and violence, forcibly serparating people from their means of livelihood and destroying their ways of life. Those means included: privately owned tools, formal and informal land tenure and commons, such as pastures, fishing waters, forests and often language and culture to which everyone in a community had acess. Although this forcible separation created a situation where the reality (and threat) of destitution and starvation would largely replace the lash as a coercive instrument of control, violence continued to provide capitalists with a supplementary weapon for keeping people subordinated, right down to the present. This is true whether the violence has been wielded by corporate goons, paramilitary thugs or by government police and military.

Marx both critiques political economy by showing it to be at once apologetic and false and gives an overview of the actual processes through which capitalism emerged as a new kind of social order—an outline of the history he examines more thoroughly in the subsequent chapters.(3)

His analysis temporarily ignores the central subjects of political economy —the interactions of “money and commodities”—to focus on the social social conflicts that shaped the new world in which those things came to figure so centrally. The violence that capitalists required to impose their order reveals the depth of resistance. The agents of this new order, the “knights of industry”, exploited every opportunity to achieve power, to subordinate the exploited classes of the old order in a new way and to usurp the power of the feudal lords, the “knights of the sword.” Here the nascent capitalist class is portrayed as using “base” means, of “making use of events in which they played no part whatsoever” and of using various “revolutions”as “levers.”

The Myths of Political Economy

Myths about the class structure of capitalism have served to justify its historical origins and on-going class disparities. The central myth, still promulgated today, is a morality tale that portrays capitalists as obtaining their wealth by frugally saving and investing. It suggests that everyone has always been able to become a capitalist by the same means, and those who do not, have no one to blame but themselves.

In 19th Century English literature, this myth was already the object of ridicule far more ascerbic than that of Marx’s. For example, in Charles Dickens’s (1812–70) 1854 novel Hard Times, which narrates the lives and tragedies of several people in a fictional Manchester-style, manufacturing city called Coketown, we find many passages where various persons are repeating this myth. Examples include the self-praising speeches of Mr. Josiah Bounderby—the novel’s central capitalist—constantly bragging (falsely it turns out) about how he raised himself out of the mud to his present august position as mill owner and banker. (4) More concise, however, is a pretty exchange between Bounderby’s ex-housekeeper Mrs. Sparsit and Bitzer, his light porter, general spy and informer at the bank, in which the repetition of the myth reveals both a distain for those irrational creatures (the workers) who put human relationships before personal profit and a self-delusion about the origins of wealth. Both, of course, are merely repeating the self-justifying truisms of Bounderby in an almost ritual, and mutually reinforcing, manner. (5) The effect is both comic and appalling.

Extensions: Capitalism Can Not Eliminate the Alternatives

As he argues here, and again in Chapter 25 on accumulation, capitalist development never means giving everyone a living wage in exchange for work. On the contrary, many, perhaps most (on a world scale) of those whose previous ways of life are progressively destroyed are doomed to remain unwaged and poor.

This is one reason why so many people have resisted and fought to preserve their independence as communities and their uniqueness as cultures. In the United States, as in other so-called developed capitalist countries, most people have lost that struggle and been swept into the world of factories, offices, ghettos and suburbs. Some have preserved unique cultural attributes by forming rural or urban communities. We have the Amish in the countryside, Native Americans on reservations, and ethnic communities in cities. Others, from time to time, have broken away to form intentional communities that escape, to some degree, subordination to wage labor. But most people have been integrated into the waged/unwaged hierarchies of capitalist society. In the Global South, where factories have been fewer and capitalist development has concentrated its poverty, a higher percentage of people have had better luck in preserving some land, some control over their means of production and more of their traditional culture. They are not outside of capitalism, they too are exploited, as we will see, in a variety of ways, yet they still have some space that supports their ongoing struggle for autonomy. In Capital, Marx does not talk much about these situations because his historical examples are mostly drawn from the British Isles where very little of pre-capitalist social forms and culture survived.(13)

One place where access to land and community cohesion have made possible resistance to total subsumption to capitalism and a certain degree of autonomy is Mexico. In the early 1990s, in the run-up to the passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the Mexican government pushed through a consitutional amendment aimed at undercutting one of the few fruits of the Mexican Revolution (1910-20) won by peasants and the indigenous: the collective ownership of land in the form of ejidos where the land belonged to communities and not to individuals and could not be bought and sold. While not organized like the Russian mir, the ejidos nevertheless provided the material foundations for peasant, especially indigneous, communities to survive and preserve elements of their languages, music, dress and self-organization quite different from the institutions of the centralized Mexican state. Thus, they have formed unwanted rigidities to Mexican and American business with an interest in expanding their investments and tapping more people as cheap labor.

While the amendment of the Mexican constitution pleased business, indigenous communities saw it as a death knell foretelling widespread ethnic genocide. As a result in the southern state of Chiapas the indigenous members of many communities united to form, equip and launch a rebellion against such a destiny. These are the Zapatistas, self-named after one of the heroes of the Mexican Revolution, Emiliano Zapata (1879-1919), a peasant from the state of Morelos who became leader of the Liberation Army of the South.

On January 1, 1994, the same day NAFTA went into effect, fighters of the Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional (EZLN, or Zapatista Army of National Liberation) poured out of the jungles and forests and seized six cities in Chiapas. As they did so they explained their rebellion as a last ditch defense against their extermination as peoples and demanded official recognition of their rights to preserve and evolve, in their own ways, their traditional forms of social organization. The Mexican government counterattacked with troops but was soon forced into negotiations by widespread protests all over Mexico and around the world. Those protests were sparked by the ability of the Zapatistas, especially their main early spokesperson Subcomandante Marcos, to clearly articulate not only NAFTA’s threat to their communities and their demands for autonomy, but also a more general critique of neoliberalism that resonated around the world so much so as even to inspire foreign musicians, such as the band Rage Against the Machine to celebrate their rebellion in the song “People of the Sun.” (14) Outflanked and defeated repeatedly in the subsequent political struggle, the state attacked again in early 1995 and was again forced to back off.

Over the last two decades, the conflict has continued and so far, despite the consitutional amendment permitting communities to be privatized, broken up, sold off and dispersed, the indigneous of the Zapatista movement have been successful in resisting such pressures. Indeed, they have continued to reorganize themselves in more and more explicitly anti-capitalist ways and carried those efforts to the rest of grassroots Mexico seeking ways of building a nationwide, anti-capitalist movement. (15) They continue to resist the final enclosure of the Mexican countryside and the completion of the kinds of processes described by Marx in these chapters.

Because many pre-capitalist forms in Britain were also exploitative, such as the rural world of tenants dominated by a landed aristocracy, Marx had no nostalgia for them. In many areas of the rest of the world, however, those cultures which predated capitalism were either not exploitative, or the people had spheres of autonomy filled with their own traditions, skills and rituals, as in Mexico where strong elements of precolumbian, mesoamerican culture have survived and evolved. (16) Where capitalism has succeeded in destroying such cultures the world has suffered an absolute loss of cultural diversity and human meaning with little to take their place other than the alienated world of capitalist poverty. Where capitalism has failed to impose its own rules of the game because of peoples’ resistance, the conflict continues.

Late in his life, Marx not only studied the peasant mir in Russia but also delved into anthropological works on so-called primitive cultures, looking, his notebooks suggest, for further possibilities of avoiding the evils of capitalism through the further development of autonomous cultural practices. (17)

Today, we can look around the world, to some degree here in the U.S. and in the other “developed” capitalist countries, but to a larger degree in the Global South and see the wide variety of distinct ways of life which have been preserved (with change of course), or invented, that still offer a diverse array of alternatives to the dominant culture of capitalism. Whether these alternatives are judged satisfying or seen as points of departure, they show something extremely important: capital has never been able to shape the world entirely according to its own rules.

Beyond the survival of pre-capitalist cultural practices, people have also repeatedly created new kinds of social relationships that are incompatible with the capitalist rules of the game and in the process, have posed new alternatives to it. In his theoretical chapters, Marx shows capitalism really has no creativity at all, but lives by absorbing and harnessing the creativity of those it dominates. The realization of this constant failure of capital to bend all people during all their lives to its demands alerts us to the essential source of potential change: those alternatives preserved and created through struggle.

With these notes of warning about too simplistic an adoption of Marx’s analysis as being universally valid in its details, and even more so as being a prescription for a painful but necessary historical passage, we can proceed to examine the elements of this original accumulation which Marx selected for detailed treatment

Ch 27-30 Ch. 27: Expropriation of the Agricultural Population from the Land

  • England: serfdom disappeared by last part of 14th Century
  • – mostly independent peasants in 15th Century
    – part time laborers
    – right to common land for grazing, timber, etc.
    – small peasant propertiesPrelude to Revolution: last 1/3 of 15th Century to first 1/3 of 16th Century
  • – dissolution of bands of feudal retainers
    – partly by royal power reducing wealth of aristocracy
    – partly by feudal lords
    – driving peasants from land for sheep walks (fx increased wool price)
    – usurping commons
    – destruction of houses – futile legislation for 150 years after Henry VII (1489) to stem this trend, i.e., to 1630.16th Century: Reformation
  • – colossal spoliation of catholic church property – ex-feudal proprietor of land
    – dissolution of monasteries
    – estates given to royal favorites, drove out hereditary sub-tenants
    – estates sold at nominal price 17th Century: “Glorious Revolution” of William of Orange
  • – theft of state lands, seized and given away or sold at low prices 18th Century: Law becomes tool of land theft
  • -“Bills for the Enclosure of Commons” by Parliament dominated by “landed and capitalist profit grubbers.”19th Century: “the clearing of the estates”
  • – clearing of cottages and people
    – particularly dramatic in Scotland, e.g. by the Duchess of Sutherland:
    – 15,000 people pushed out by British soldiers in appropriation of 794,000 acres of land,
    – pushed to seashore, later driven away again when sea-shore let to London fishmongers.
    – conversion of sheep-walks to “deer-forests” for sport (led to famine)Results:

    • 1. destruction of yeomanry (independent peasants) by 1750
    • – replaced by tenants at will, small farmers on yearly leases, a servile rabble,
      – and sheep/deer, agricultural labor
    • 2. destruction of a whole system of private property and its replacement by another
      3. driving of people into the manufacturing towns:

– creation of the human material to be shaped into an industrial working class,
– “driven from the land and forbidden to emigrate”

This historical analysis of the first step in the creation of the working class centers on the forcible expropriation of the means of livelihood of peasants and craftspeople. In England some 6,000,000 acres or 1/4 of the cultivated acreage was enclosed by direct act of parliament. Another 4-7 million acres are estimated to have been enclosed privately. (1) The second step—forcing them into the factories—comes in the next chapter. This expropriation of the land was a long process, 300 to 400 years, and only through considerable violence were these changes accomplished. Vast numbers resisted and had to be forcibly dispossessed, a violence that forced them to seek refuge in woodland or cities or even flee abroad.
One area of dispossession, which Marx highlights, is the highlands in Scotland where the Dutchess of Sutherland and others drove their clansmen from the land. Such enclosures and the human misery produced were fought by those directly victimized and protested by sympathizers.

Ch. 28: Bloody Legislation against the Expropriated, from the End of the 15th Century. Forcing down of Wages by Acts of Parliament

The conversion of peasants and artisans into waged and potentially waged workers involved a long and brutal campaign by capital to drive the “freed” population into the labor market—a campaign whose difficulty was due to resistance, documented in centuries of “bloody legislation” aimed at its suppression.

In part, resistance was a refusal of the factory and the refusal to be reduced to a machine among machines in that factory. The following statement by one American manager reveals how capitalists saw workers: “I regard my work-people just as I regard my machinery. . . . They must look out for themselves as I do for myself. When my machines get old and useless, I reject them and get new, and these people are part of my machinery.”(1) No residue here of the paternalism of feudal times, much less the closeness and mutual support of so-called primitive cultures, only the most violent redefinition of human beings as animate tools, an attitude echoed in more recent times by economists who consider workers “human capital.”(2)

As early as 1857, Marx observed in his Grundrisse notebooks, “They must be forced to work within the conditions posited by capital”.(3) They do not go willingly from the fields, forests and villages to the “satanic mills” of early capitalist factories and into the dank tenements available to such mill workers. Force must be used because they resist. Marx cites begging, vagabondage and robbing as forms taken by the resistance to entering factories and he describes the bloody legislation passed to repress them. However, he does not analyse these activities in any detail; we get no texture of this resistance, only of punishment by whip and branding iron. When he analyses the factory in Chapters 13, 14, and 15 on cooperation, the division of labor and machinery and modern industry, he does show how the struggle continued inside the factories through machine breaking, strikes and so on.

[Charlie Chaplin’s classic film Modern Times (1936) presents an eloquent visual representation of workers as part of the machinery, paced by machinery, eaten up by machinery and driven crazy by the factory. Although it concerns the assembly line of Fordism in the 20th Century its basic vision is every bit as valid for earlier periods.]

Ch. 29: Genesis of the Capitalist Farmer

  • The expropriation of the agricultural population only created “great landed proprietors.
    Genesis of the Capitalist Farmer: “was a slow process” evolving through many centuries.
    For England:
  • 1) First form: the bailiff, himself a serf, like the Roman villicus.
    2) Second form: emerging in the second half of the 14th Century was the farmer provided by the landlord with seed, cattle and farm implements, exploiting more wage labor.
    3) Third form: metayer or sharecropper who advances part of inputs, rest advanced by landowner and they divide the output.
    4) Fourth form: 15th Century on, capitalist farmer proper who has his own capital for investment, employs wage labor and pays rent.
    This emerging class gets boost in 15th/16th Century from:

1) “Usurpation of the common lands” which allows expansion in cattle and manure.
2) Fall in value of gold and money causing a rise in the prices (e.g., agricultural output) which undermines real wages and rents, raising surplus value/profits.
So, by the end of the 16th Century, England had a “class of capitalist farmers.”


Analyzing the emergence of the capitalist class, Marx begins in the countryside, where he began his discussion of the genesis of the working class. The expropriation of the rural population made it possible for the landed proprietors to reorganize the countryside, directly or through intermediaries. In some cases, landlords took over supervision of waged workers on their enlarged domains. In most, they hired others to reorganize agricultural production increasing its commercialization, demanding only their share of the surplus-value as rent. The examples Marx gives shows the decreasing control of landlords, per se, and the increasing control of the emerging class of capitalist farmers. Like the capitalist class more generally, in order to emerge as a dominant class, agrarian capitalists had to first gain control over production, independent of the landlords, and second, employ a reorganized labor force to produce a marketable surplus.

As the point of departure of this process in Europe varied enormously, so too did the paths along which the new class emerged. They varied from region to region and country to country. The history in the United States was just as varied, starting from family farming, waged labor and plantation slavery. After slavery was ended by revolt and civil war, small farmers, whether independent or sharecroppers, were slowly squeezed off the land in an ongoing process of enclosure by large-scale capitalist agribusiness, with considerable help from the US government.

The Resistance to Market Forces in American Farming

In the United States, the westward movement of people seeking alternatives to the emerging factories (in Europe and on the East Coast of North America) created a class of independent family farmers linked together in many kinds of community. These farmers were akin to the independent yeoman farmers Marx saw being wiped out in England. Obtaining land by displacing Native Americans, their labor could only be harnessed/exploited by the emerging capitalist system through the market (the manipulation of domestic terms of trade and high interest rates). Such exploitation culminated in the Populist Revolt in the late 19th Century, when millions of American farmers joined together to protest, among other things, the falling ratio of the prices they received for their crops to the prices they paid for their tools, seeds, etc. They also protested the limitation of the money supply to gold—that kept supplies of money limited, prices down and interest rates up—and demanded the monetization of silver.(1)

Ch. 30: Reaction of the Agricultural Revolution on Industry. Creation of the Home-Market for Industrial Capital

  • largely self-sufficient peasantry, which worked the land, produced raw materials, and processed them into final consumption goods, e.g., raised sheep, worked wool into thread and hence into cloth and clothes.
    Expropriation of the land had three results:
  • 1. Peasants became workers and landlords either became or hired agrarian capitalists.
    2. Produced raw materials, along with the land became the property of the agrarian capitalists.
    3. The destruction of independent artisanal and handicraft production so that all consumer goods had to be purchased.Destruction of Artisanal Production

– begins with expropriation of the land which often involved the destruction of villages and means of artisanal production such as looms
– is temporarily limited by the rise of cottage industry which is subordinated to merchant capital.
– this begins the period of manufacturing controlled by merchants, in isolated workshops, with the aim of profits
– is completed with the rise of industrial factories in which production and workers are concentrated in “labor barracks”
– creates the home market which replaces what were once home made or artisan goods produced to meet local needs 

Home market = demand for food + clothes + housing, etc., from people who had previously provided their own but are now working for wages and buying what they need on the market.


The expropriation of land and the bloody legislation against the expropriated produced not only a proletariat available for work in capitalist industry, but also a market for the goods being produced by that industry. Previously, that market was quite limited because most people produced what they needed. It was restricted to the wealthy with money to spend or to local exchange, often under conditions of barter or reciprocity within a community. Marx points out that the rise of a waged working class also meant the rise of a class of consumers who increasingly bought everything they needed in the market.

Ch 31

Chapter 31:The Genesis of the Industrial Capitalist

Outline of Marx’s Argument

  • Industrial capital grew up more rapidly than agrarian capital
  • – less through gradual accumulation by workers or artisans
    – more through the annexation of labor by merchant or usurer capital
    – despite traditional restrictions of guilds, etc.
    – began in sea ports and villages beyond such constraints
    – accelerated and solidified through the victory of capital over the feudal ruling classes
    – financed by wealth accumulated through forceThe wealth that financed the rise of industry, Marx emphasizes, was not accumulated through frugality
  • – but rather by force
    – above all, in the beginning, by colonialism
    – “enslavement and entombment in mines” of the indigenous population of the Americas
    – “the conquest and plunder of India”
    – the enslavement of Africans
    – the monopolization of trade (including the Opium trade in China)
    – but also the use of banks, the national debt and taxation (imposed by state power)
    – “Force is the midwife of every old society which is pregnant with a new one. It is itself an economic power.”Colonialism: Marx: Dutch, English, Spanish
  • – violence and the plunder of wealth
    – massacre and the direct theft of land and riches
    – enslavement of populations
    – monopolization of trade (including the slave trade)
    – the English East India Company in India: salt, tea, betel, opium
    – the Dutch in Indonesia: slaves
    – trade in both directions: exports of local wealth, imports from the home country
    – concentrated wealth in the hands of those who invested it in industry
    – led to commercial wars between competing colonial powersPublic Debt: one of the earliest and longest lasting mechanisms that Marx discusses
  • – private finance capital loaned money to the state in exchange for negotiable bonds
    – the state used the money to finance the violence of primitive accumulation: army, navy
    – repaid the debt with interest, through the imposition of taxes on the people
    – which concentrated more money in the hands of finance capital
    – the circulation of state debt & the creation of large scale banking gives rise to the massive expansion of credit
    – in the hands of capitalists – before the rise of consumer creditTrade Protection: monopolization of trade and the extorsion of heavy taxes combine in the use of:
  • – protective duties
    – export premiums
    – the destruction of competing industries (e.g. Irish woolen manufacturing)
    – all of which plundered both the English people and their trading partners and the concentrated wealth in the hands of the capitalistsThese methods financed industrialization

    • In England:
    • – the impoverishment of the workers
      – the enslavement of their children (who were not free agents in the labor markets)
      – cruel working conditions and minimal pay
      – the rise of night work: “the beds never get cold”In the colonies:

– slavery (“the veiled slavery of the wage-labourers in Europe needed the unqualified slavery of the new world as its pedestal”)
– scalp hunting and murder
“If money,” Marx concludes, “‘comes into the world with a congenital blood-stain on one cheek,’ capital comes dripping from head to toe, from every pore, with blood and dirt.” (p.926)


Industrial capital, the prototypical form of capital, emerged alongside agrarian capitalism. Marx refutes the myth that this emergence was accomplished purely through conscientious frugality and entrepreneurial investment by describing the actual sources of finance for investment that became permanent features of capitalism, well beyond the early period of primitive accumulation.

Ch 32 What does the primitive accumulation of capital, i.e., its historical genesis, resolve itself into? In so far as it is not immediate transformation of slaves and serfs into wage labourers, and therefore a mere change of form, it only means the expropriation of the immediate producers, i.e., the dissolution of private property based on the labour of its owner. Private property, as the antithesis to social, collective property, exists only where the means of labour and the external conditions of labour belong to private individuals. But according as these private individuals are labourers or not labourers, private property has a different character. The numberless shades, that it at first sight presents, correspond to the intermediate stages lying between these two extremes. The private property of the labourer in his means of production is the foundation of petty industry, whether agricultural, manufacturing, or both; petty industry, again, is an essential condition for the development of social production and of the free individuality of the labourer himself. Of course, this petty mode of production exists also under slavery, serfdom, and other states of dependence. But it flourishes, it lets loose its whole energy, it attains its adequate classical form, only where the labourer is the private owner of his own means of labour set in action by himself: the peasant of the land which he cultivates, the artisan of the tool which he handles as a virtuoso. This mode of production presupposes parcelling of the soil and scattering of the other means of production. As it excludes the concentration of these means of production, so also it excludes cooperation, division of labour within each separate process of production, the control over, and the productive application of the forces of Nature by society, and the free development of the social productive powers. It is compatible only with a system of production, and a society, moving within narrow and more or less primitive bounds. To perpetuate it would be, as Pecqueur rightly says, “to decree universal mediocrity”. At a certain stage of development, it brings forth the material agencies for its own dissolution. From that moment new forces and new passions spring up in the bosom of society; but the old social organisation fetters them and keeps them down. It must be annihilated; it is annihilated. Its annihilation, the transformation of the individualised and scattered means of production into socially concentrated ones, of the pigmy property of the many into the huge property of the few, the expropriation of the great mass of the people from the soil, from the means of subsistence, and from the means of labour, this fearful and painful expropriation of the mass of the people forms the prelude to the history of capital. It comprises a series of forcible methods, of which we have passed in review only those that have been epoch-making as methods of the primitive accumulation of capital. The expropriation of the immediate producers was accomplished with merciless Vandalism, and under the stimulus of passions the most infamous, the most sordid, the pettiest, the most meanly odious. Self-earned private property, that is based, so to say, on the fusing together of the isolated, independent labouring individual with the conditions of his labour, is supplanted by capitalistic private property, which rests on exploitation of the nominally free labour of others, i.e., on wage labour. [1]

As soon as this process of transformation has sufficiently decomposed the old society from top to bottom, as soon as the labourers are turned into proletarians, their means of labour into capital, as soon as the capitalist mode of production stands on its own feet, then the further socialisation of labour and further transformation of the land and other means of production into socially exploited and, therefore, common means of production, as well as the further expropriation of private proprietors, takes a new form. That which is now to be expropriated is no longer the labourer working for himself, but the capitalist exploiting many labourers. This expropriation is accomplished by the action of the immanent laws of capitalistic production itself, by the centralisation of capital. One capitalist always kills many. Hand in hand with this centralisation, or this expropriation of many capitalists by few, develop, on an ever-extending scale, the cooperative form of the labour process, the conscious technical application of science, the methodical cultivation of the soil, the transformation of the instruments of labour into instruments of labour only usable in common, the economising of all means of production by their use as means of production of combined, socialised labour, the entanglement of all peoples in the net of the world market, and with this, the international character of the capitalistic regime. Along with the constantly diminishing number of the magnates of capital, who usurp and monopolise all advantages of this process of transformation, grows the mass of misery, oppression, slavery, degradation, exploitation; but with this too grows the revolt of the working class, a class always increasing in numbers, and disciplined, united, organised by the very mechanism of the process of capitalist production itself. The monopoly of capital becomes a fetter upon the mode of production, which has sprung up and flourished along with, and under it. Centralisation of the means of production and socialisation of labour at last reach a point where they become incompatible with their capitalist integument. This integument is burst asunder. The knell of capitalist private property sounds. The expropriators are expropriated.

The capitalist mode of appropriation, the result of the capitalist mode of production, produces capitalist private property. This is the first negation of individual private property, as founded on the labour of the proprietor. But capitalist production begets, with the inexorability of a law of Nature, its own negation. It is the negation of negation. This does not re-establish private property for the producer, but gives him individual property based on the acquisition of the capitalist era: i.e., on cooperation and the possession in common of the land and of the means of production.

Chapter 32: The Historical Tendency of Capitalist Accumulation

Outline of Marx’s Analysis

  • Three historical phases:
    1. either: a) slaves, serfs, or b) private property in means of production based on the labor of its owner
  • – peasants own land, artisans own tools
    – fragmentation of holdings, excludes co-operation
    – small scale industry
    – «first negation: of individual private property»
    – violent and protracted
    2. private property in means of production of capitalism
  • – based on expropriation of personal private property
    – cooperation, division of labor in workplace, socialized labor
    – large scale industry, application of science
    – expropriation of capitalist by capitalist via centralization of capital
    – internationalization of production and markets
    – growth in mass of misery, oppression, slavery, exploitation
    – growth in the revolt of the working class
    – expropriation of the expropriators
    – -«second negation: of capitalist private property»
    – quicker, less violent
    3. social property in the means of production

– individual property founded on achievements of capitalism
– based on the carrying on of production by society
– i.e., co-operation and possession in common of means of production


This chapter sums up both the historical processes of primitive accumulation and the dynamics of capitalist development itself, especially the processes of centralization of capital and class struggle, which Marx argues will bring the overthrow of capitalism.

The Ideology of Private Property

Marx juxtaposes capitalist private property to small-scale, personal private property in the means of production, e.g., land and tools, which he notes existed to some degree under most earlier social systems. He contemptuously condemns the capitalist ideology of private property, not only because it serves as a justification for violence and exploitation, but also because it ignores how the creation of capitalist private property involved the mass destruction of earlier forms of property.

Ch 33 Three interesting dimensions to Marx’s analysis stand out. First, the chapter extends his previous comments on the hypocrisy of capitalist ideology of private property Wakefield’s work illustrates clearly how that ideology is set aside when it becomes an obstacle to capital accumulation.(1) Second, it expands his analysis of colonialism in Chapter 31. Third, his reading of Wakefield provides a political methodology for reading other economists.

Land and Power

By demonstrating an acute awareness of how access to land helps people resist the labor market and wage labor, Wakefield confirms Marx’s analysis in Chapter 27 of the capitalist use of expropriation. Unlike England, in Australia and in North America, there was too much land to enclose. Immigrants—both those fleeing capital’s depredations in Europe and those transported as criminals—fled to unenclosed land to avoid the clutches of waged labor. This goes far toward illuminating the drama of past and current struggles over land tenure and its reform around the world. Unfortunately, the backdrop to this story of struggle between colonizing capitalists and immigrant workers in Australia and in North America, was the expropriation, slaughter and displacement of the aboriginal population.



Barnard Book Club -Fall 2020

Environmental Science Department

The Rule of Five – Available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and on Clio.columbia.edu

Week Chapter/pages Proposed Questions
10/28 1-2; Ch. 1: 3-15; Ch. 2:16-25
  1. What makes Joe Mendelson memorable as a lawyer? 
  2. How did the presidential aspirations of Vice-President Al Gore influence the Clinton Administration’s environmental policies?
  3. Explain the role of Carole Browner, the EPA Secretary regarding the EPA rulemaking role (ability to regulate pollution).
  4. What is your understanding about how Congressional hearings work?
  5. What was the goal of Medelson’s petition to the EPA?
  6. What were the three legal arguments Mendelson made in his petition to the EPA requiring it to regulate carbon dioxide emissions in specific instances?
  7. Which one was the strongest in your view?
  8. Which one was the weakest in your view?
  9. Is the right to petition a first amendment right? Based on what?
  10. Once filed with the EPA, it took seven (7) years to Mendelson’s petition to reach the United States Supreme court. Briefly describe what happened to his petition before it reached EPA’s Office of General Counsel.
11/4 Ch3: 26-35; Ch.4 36-53

Ch. 5 54-64

  1. On the campaign trail, what did candidate G.W. Bush promise regarding environmentalism?
  2. Once electected, President Bush continued his policies, and her nomination at the helm of the EPA proved it.
  3. What does Lazarus mean when he refers to the fact that Vice-President Cheney kneecapped Secretary Whitman?
  4. How do you view the letter that VP Cheney had drafted for Congress, describing the rulemaking powers of the EPA?
  5. Lazarus refers to the letter drafting in the following terms:  “Presidents have wide-ranging policy discretion in deciding whether, when, and how to exercise the authority conferred on them by the Constitution and by act of Congress. But as the US Supreme Court made clear in no less than its landmark 1803 ruling in Marbury v. Madison almost 2 centuries before, ‘It is emphatically the province and duty of the judicial department to say what the law is’.” How do you judge the White House decision to dictate its federal agency to abdicate its rulemaking power (stating that it has no power to regulate carbon dioxide emissions?)
  6. At page 44  (Ch. 4), Lazarus explains the concerted efforts of the major environmental NGO on Mendelson to do nothing, one year after his petition was filed with the EPA. How do you explain that approach?
  7. What is your understanding about the folks working for the EPA? How can they be described? Politicians? Technocrats? How would you like the EPA to be staffed?
  8. Chapter 5,  “the carbon dioxide warriors” , introduces four other lawyers who championed litigation upon the EPA’s denial of Mendelson’s petition. Can you briefly describe their background?
11/11 Ch. 6: 65-78; Ch.7:79-87
  1. How are lawsuits against the EPA’s denial under the Clean Air Act, litigated differently than any other administrative  lawsuits?
  2. https://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/pdf/05-1120P.ZS 
11/18 Ch.8: 88-96; Ch. 9:97-106; Ch.10: 107-121 Name of Judge Tatel https://youtu.be/D9v3FM0YFS0 
11/25 Ch.11:122-33 ; Ch.12:134-52;
12/2 Ch. 13:153-67 Ch.14:168-84;
  1. Your view on the amount of preparation Milkey put into it; LH’s participation in the Moots; 
12/9 Ch.15:185-203 Ch.16:204-18; Ch. 17:219-38
12/16 Ch.18: 239-54; Ch.19:255-70;
12/23 Ch.20:271-84; Epilogue 285-94