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Capital, Vol. 1: Ch. 7-9

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Class five in this series covers chapters 7 through 9 in “Part III: The Production of Absolute-Surplus Value.”  The chapters are titled (in order), “The Labor Process and the Valorization Process,” “Constant Capital and Variable Capital,” and “The Rate of Surplus Value.”

Harvey starts off his lecture by reviewing Marx’s arguments over Part I and II of Capital and I think it is good to go over them briefly here.

As I’ve written about before Marx started off with the commodity and stated there was a differentiation within the unity of the commodity.  A commodity has use value and exchange value (see previous posts or watch the lectures on these concepts).

Within labor value there is socially neccessary labor time (which is the only thing that creates any real labor value as unnecessary labor time is wasted).  Within this concept there is concrete labor and abstract labor.  These two elements come together and create a form of value which arrises from it.

Marx then goes on to explain that there are equivalent and relative forms of value which produce the money form (the universal commodity); but the money form only represents a representation of what came before there was a monoey form (that is, use value and relative value and equivalent forms of value, etc.).

Because money only represents what came before and since it is hard to see this in everyday life (the true value of money and nature of money is hidden buy the market) this leads to a fetishism which creates material relations between peoples.  Now relationships are dictated by interactions through the market.

(Almost done with this “short” review) ;-)

On the market there are buyers and sellers who relate to each other through money.  Money has a dual relationship to it.  Money is a measure of value and a means of circulation.  And while nations each have there own form of money in the end there ends up being only one kind of money, world money, for a international market.  The universal form of money contains a relationship between debtors and creditors.

Through the circulation of capital (i.e., constant and moving money) there has to be someone who, at the end of the day, will get more money than there started out at the beginning of the day.  This poses a contradiction between the equivalents of exchange and the non-equivalents of profit, or, surplus value (how does one get more money out of money if all things are sold on the market at an equivalent price?).

This contradiction is resolved by finding a commodity in the market which can bridge this problem; there needs to be a commodity which can be exploited in order for the capitalist to get her or his profit.  This commodity is labor power (which is sold by the worker to the capitalist for money).

With that being said let us review one of the more interesting things I got from reading chapters 7 through 9 and from the lecture.

In chapter 8 Marx looks at constant and variable capital and what it means to the worker and the capitalist.

Constant capital is constant because it is past labor incorporated into products prior to thier incorporation into a particular labor process.  Essentially, the value transferred through the production process is the same at the beginning as it is at the end.  The value of cotton at the beginning of the weaving process is the same value and the same cotton at the end of the process when it is made into the shirt, the value of cotton remains constant in this regardless if it is in the cotton form or the shirt form.

While this makes sense in a simple process such as turning cotton into a cotton shirt what about energy input and labor put into a product that has disappeared? (such as coal being burnt up in an engine or a worker working on a machine to stamp bottle caps, etc.)  Marx says that there is a transfer of value that goes on even though there is not physical transfer of material.  This can only happen, Marx says, because value is immaterial and objective.  What this means to the worker working on a machine (to make a product such as a car, etc.) is that the worker is giving the capitalist a free ride on the value the worker transfers through the machine to the commodity.  This is because machines can’t transfer value without the help of a worker (in some form).  Marx shows us that the worker is preserving the value of the capitalist through this process but is essentially not being given the proper pay through this process.

This can be seen because the value of the commodity is three-fold: there is constant capital (explained above), variable capital (the equivalent to the value of labor power), and surplus value.

After all of this Marx explains that constant capital is not about the creation of value.  Machines cannot be a source of value.  Yet if machines do not create value than what does?

In chapter 9 Marx explains this in a simple and straightforward formula (that I will go over briefly here).  Marx states on p. 326:

The rate of surplus-value is therefore an exact expression for the degree of exploitation of labour-power by capital, or the worker by the capitalist. (Bold mine)

Constant Capital = C

Variable Capital  = V

Surplus Value     = S

C/V (that is Constant Capital over Variable Capital):

is a ratio of the value of the raw materials which a given worker can process (the higher it is the greater the level of productivity of the worker; a highly productive worker can move a lot of C without a lot of V).


is the amount of surplus value versus variable capital.  With Surplus Value over Variable Capital we get the rate of exploitation by the capitalist over the worker.

S/C + V:

is the rate of profit.  The surplus over the amount of total capital advanced.

And this brings me to what I found the most interesting and most important point of chapters 7 through 9 (being that I am apart of the proletarian class myself and have argued back and forth with management over this issue a lot).  The capitalist always talks about the rate of profit it makes in relation to her or his workers but the capitalist never talks about the rate of exploitation, S/V.

Harvey states that between the equations of S/V and S/C + V the rate of exploitation by the capitalist over the worker is always higher than the rate of profit.  While the capitalist loves to talk about S/C + V (the rate of profit) the worker is always being exploited at a higher rate with S/V; and in fact, the capitalist can have a low rate of profit while still maintaining a high rate of exploitation over the worker.  What Marx is trying to do here, Harvey explains, is trying to set up an accounting system which the bourgeois economists typically don’t take into account when they calculate for their accounting system.  Harvey then states:

So when you go to management and say, “Hey, I’m being highly exploited and I don’t like this!” (1)

And the management says, “Just look at my rate of profit! It’s very very low!”

And if you’re naive you’ll say, “Oh yeah, I see.  You’re not making much out of this are you, so poor you.  I’ll work even harder, you know.”

Well, Marx is saying you better watch out because you should be really looking at the rate of exploitation.  Which is the amount of labor time, socially necessary labor time which you are giving to the capitalist without remuneration.

I didn’t know what remuneration was and looked it up, it’s “money paid for work or a service.”


1. Obviously, in reality, it’s more like. “Hey! Why the fuck wasn’t I paid for last Thursday?!” or “Why the fuck aren’t you letting me get overtime and not allowing me to double shift for the day!”, etc.

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Batay Ouvriye


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