“One of the many Marx toys, have you all of them?” part #16 Ricky and Lucy

This is the sixth set of notes for a reading group on Marx’s Capital, and includes a Volume I refresher for further reading of Volume II. There are links to earlier posts and texts that may be useful.


Marx is probably too taken with a kind of scientism by proposing laws of surplus value as rate and mass.

capital gets personified and is about power and control, as well as the introduction of technology

Volume I, Chapter 10 Section 2: The Voracious Appetite for Surplus Labor

Outline of Marx's Discussion

  • 1. “Capital did not invent surplus labor.”
    Class society with the monopolization of MP has long produced surplus labor. (generic)

    2. Where use-value predominates
    —surplus labor is limited by set of wants
    —no boundless thirst from production itself

    3. Where exchange-value (capitalist market) dominates
    —there is just that boundless thirst, the aim is not use-value and therefore not limited by wants
    —this comes with capitalist world market and production for export, e.g., in the United States slavery transformed from paternalism to the using up of slaves' lives to maximize exchange-value and profit.

    4. Corvee labor
    —in Danubian Principalities, Reglement Organique (1831)
    —a “positive” expression of thirst for surplus labor. It is positive, because explicitly defined and expanded
    —here “surplus labor in an independent and immediately perceptible form,” i.e., work on seignoral estate.

    5.Factory Acts in England (1850)
    —negative expression of thirst, negative because the Acts set limits to surplus labor
    —limits set through state, forced by working class struggle & exhaustion of LP
    —capital responds with “nibbling and cribbling” at working day in a way that shows the nature of surplus value is no secret to anyone.

    6. Full-timers, half-timers: people defined as personified labor time.




    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:

  • Capital develops within production until it acquired command over labor
  • 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.
  • At first this coercion is exercised with no change in technology.
  • —become the means for the absorption of the LP of others
    —come to consume the workers instead of visa versa
  • But the relation between workers and their means of production is soon inverted and the MP

Chapter 12: The Concept of Relative Surplus Value

Outline of Marx's Discussion

  • 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'.

    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

    Increases in Productivity – Relative Surplus Value


    Competition acts to circulate productivity raising technological change:

    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” (p.438).

    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).

      • –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
    • –“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” (p. 431)
      –the capitalists achieve this by “revolutionizing” the “technical and social conditions of the [labor] process and consequently the mode of production itself” (p. 432)
      –“I call that surplus-value which arises from the curtailment of the necessary labor time, . . . relative surplus value.” (p. 432)
      –relative surplus value can be derived either from:

      • –an increase in the productivity of producing the means of subsistence
        –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
    • –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 ;aacute& 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” (p. 436)
        –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

David Ricardo worked to fix the issues he felt were most concerning with Adam Smith’s Labour Theory of Value. Both men worked with the assumption that land, labour, and capital were the three basic factors of production. However, Smith narrowed in on labour as the determinant of value. Ricardo believes that with production having 3 main factors it is impossible for only one of them to determine value on its own.[21] Ricardo illustrates his point by adapting Smith's deer beaver analogy to show that even when labour is the only factor of production the hardship and tools of the labour will drive a wedge in the relative value of the good. Due to his criticisms of the Labour Theory of Value George Stigler called his theory a “93% labor theory of value”.[22]


There were no landlords charging rent for using their land and no undertakers paying wages to workers, or tax inspectors taking a share of their income. Smith argued that two hunters would exchange items (beavers for deer) in the ratio by which it would cost each labourer in labour time to hunt the other animal they wanted to exchange for what they had caught earlier. If it took twice as long to catch a beaver than it did to catch a deer, he suggested that the beaver would exchange for two deer.
As society advanced from sole hunters to shepherds, then farmers, and finally commerce, the number of factors required for production would increase from one to many, and each owner of the constituent factors would require a share in the revenue received from selling the joint product. From this time on, labour was no longer the sole source of production and the labour time theory of exchange value would no longer be relevant. This much is clear from reading Wealth Of Nations closely, as I explain in my forthcoming book on Adam Smith for Palgrave’s Great Thinkers in Economics series (2008).

…At one time, not long ago, the whole world was limited to hunting as its mode of subsistence (as John Locke put it: ‘all the world was America’, alluding to the hunting tribes of North America, then being reported in detail by travellers and explorers).


….by calling attention to the role played by a subject’s class and social position in determining the value of art and literature, (Adam Smith) charted a potentially radical alternative to the Kantian model that has dominated aesthetic theory since the late eighteenth century.

Volume II Chapter 11: Theories of Fixed and Circulating Capital. Ricardo (Ed George)

Ricardo identifies two sorts of capital: ‘capital that is to support labour’ (fixed capital), and ‘capital invested in tools, machinery, and buildings’ (circulating capital); respectively, instruments of labour and variable capital. The distinction is made on the basis not of the valorisation process but – as in the case of Smith – on that of circulation. Two misconceptions arise:

1 ‘The differences in the degree durability of the fixed capital, and the variations in the composition of capital in terms of constant and variable, are taken as equivalent.’1This standpoint is that of ‘phenomena in their finished form’, as opposed to that of the ‘inner mechanism of capitalist production’. The former, however, as far as valorisation is concerned, only relates to how a given quantity of value is transferred to the product; the latter determines variations in the production of surplus-value. In terms of the circulation process, the former is concerned solely with the period of the renewal of capital.

2 As Marx notes, in the distribution of the social surplus-value between capitals, the effect on the equalisation of the general rate of profit and the transformation of values into process or production32 of differences in the time for which capital is advanced (i.e. variations in the lifespans of fixed capitals) and in organic compositions of capital are similar. In Ricardo’s categories, with instruments of labour on the one side and variable capital on the other, objects of labour disappear from the picture. They cannot appear as fixed capital, since their manner of circulation coincides with the capital laid out on labour-power; but neither can they appear as circulation capital, because of Smith’s legacy in conflating fixed/circulating capital and constant/variable capital.


What is happening here is the fetishism peculiar to bourgeois economics, which transforms the social, economic character that things are stamped with in the process of social production into a natural character arising from the material nature of things. […] [M]eans [instruments] of labour are fixed capital only where the production process is […] a capitalist production process and the means of production […] possess […] the social character of capital, secondly, they are fixed capital only if they transfer their value to the product in a particular way. If this is not the case, they remain means of labour without being fixed capital. […] What is at issue here is not a set of definitions under which things are to be subsumed. It is rather definite functions that are expressed in specific categories.5 1The confusion sowed in the Smithian conception has had the following consequences. The distinction between fixed and circulating capital is confused with that between productive capital and commodity capital.2 All circulating capital is equated with capital laid out on wages.3 The distinction between variable capital is completely reduced to the distinction between circulating and fixed capital, thus losing all sight of the real distinction.


Volume II, Chapter 12: The Working Period

Imagine two lines of business, thus:


Let us assume:

• same working day

• application of equal capitals

• same division between constant and variable capital• same division between fixed and circulating capital

• same division between social and necessary labour

• both products produced to order and paid for on delivery

Then: at the end of the week, when the yarn is delivered, the spinner receives her outlay of circulating capital and the wear and tear of the fixed capital contained in the value of the yarn;1 the turnover is complete, and the cycle can begin again anew. The locomotive manufacturer, on the other hand, must lay out fresh capital every day for three months. All else being equal, the latter needs 12 times as much circulating capital available than the former. That the capital advanced each week is equal is irrelevant to this circumstance. If the locomotive takes 100 days to build, for the workers each day forms a part of a discontinuous quantity; but for the product, the 100 days form a continuous quantity, a working day of 1,000 working hours, a single act of production. This act is the working period: the number of inter-related working days required to complete a finished product. Why does this matter? In the case of products requiring a more continuous production process, more additional outlay on circulating capital is required, since the period during which this capital is unable to exist in a form capable of circulation – in a finished commodity – is longer. This is not the case with regard to fixed capital, since the part of its value which remains fixed in production is independent of the length of the working period (excepting cases in which this latter is longer than the fixed capital’s use-value lifetime).2

Hence, first, even if, in our examples, equal capitals, divided equally into fixed and circulating capital, are invested, the reflux of these capitals is different. Second, although the same amount of productive capital is applied in the two processes over the longer working period, the amount of capital invested, because of the first observation, is greater in the case of the longer working period than in that of the shorter. Conclusion:

  • T]he length of time in which specific portions of the capital are advanced – […] the time during which capital is advanced – differs according to the length of the labour process, and so too does the amount of capital that has to be advanced, even though the capital applied daily or weekly is the same.3 (p.310)

Large-scale production thus requires more developed capitalist production: more advanced concentration ofcapital,4 and greater development of the credit system.5


  • October 25, 2021