Elements of Marxist Economics
Latest update on March 28, 2023
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The Elements of Marxist Economics was originally composed in Ponza in 1929. It was in these years, despite our defeat at Lyon and shortly afterwards at the VI Enlarged Executive of the Communist International in 1926, that our current, in emigration or confinement, in prison or in solitude, nevertheless supported the last and vehement battle in defense of the Marxist doctrine and program against all mystification. Since then is it our characteristic, repeated a thousand times in this text, that Marxism is a unique and invariant block which cannot be reduced to a simple “method” of interpreting facts as they happen. Rather, it offers a global vision of the course of human history and the very becoming of nature; it is not a mosaic of which one can change the tesserae at will, leaving the overall picture unchanged, but a scientific and global conception of the world in which everything is linked, and no one can willingly accept or reject any seperate part at will without disfiguring it and thus destroying its revolutionary power.
The text, in its original form, was intended “in a certain way to sort out and align the economic part” of Capital but from all its pages, as from those of Marx’s cyclopean work, both the battle cry of the working class fighting for the overthrow of the bourgeois mode of production, whose infamies hidden behind a democratic screen and its State superstructure are denounced, is the anticipated vision of society in which mankind will finally emerge from its prehistory and, ideally rejoining the beginnings of an associated community life, will base all relations of production and human coexistence on criteria that are not mercantile, not individualistic, not vulgarly contingent, but finally human and rational.
So it’s all economics, “philosophy”, politics: in short, class warfare.
The work we take to publish is an exposition, in a somewhat different form from the original, of the First Book of Capital. It is not a summary and much less a vulgarisation. The study of Marx’s fundamental work requires a historical and philosophical economic preparation whose results must be applied in parallel. Here, the economic part of the text is in a certain way thinned out and aligned.
A similar work for the historical and philosophical part can give sufficient basis to the work for a correct approach and knowledge of the integral doctrine of communism, in its classic original enunciation.
The first part of this study corresponds to the First Section of the First Book entitled by the author Commodities and Money.
For the Practical purpose of establishing a new numbering, we will consider the study divided into the seven following points:
1. Definition of the commodity and its two properties: value in use and exchange value.
2. Exchange value. The quantitative concept and difficulty in finding the measure.
3. The simple form of value. Whenever we talk about value, we will henceforth refer to exchange value. The simple form is the statement of equivalence, for the purpose of exchange, between two goods which are both susceptible to use (consumption), so that a given quantity of commodity A corresponds to a given quantity of commodity B.
4. General form of value and equivalent form. It occurs when we consider a given number of different goods and we know all the equivalences between pairs of them. With two goods we have one equivalence, the simple form. With three goods we have six equivalences, with four twelve. With ten goods we would have ninety equivalences, a system too complicated for practical and mnemonic purposes. To remember the ninety relationships it is enough to know those of nine goods with only one and therefore only nine relationships from which the others easily derive. One commodity has been chosen as the equivalent of all. We are at the general form of value.
5. Historical-social character of the whole question. We have briefly summarized a chapter, the one on “The fetishism of commodities and the secret thereof” that summarizes all the elements of the Marxist doctrine in a masterful foreshortening, on the economic, historical and philosophical side together. We have reported just enough to clarify that Marxist economics does not go into the subtleties in the analysis of commodities to find immanent and immutable laws of the economic process (the claimed natural laws of economics) but – in order to expose with rigorous development the scientific investigation on the becoming of human society in all its complexity and in the historical succession of its events – referred to different eras from a different mechanics of the economic world. It therefore investigates not the relationship between the piece of cloth and the iron pound, but the relationship between real men in production and consumption to data carried out in history.
6. Circulation. Value and price. At this point the market as a whole is studied, when a commodity chosen as a general equivalent, such as salt, is finally replaced by currency, first metallic and then also paper and conventional. In this development is put in front of the hypothesis that in order to have a measure of the value we can adopt the one of the average human working time that every goods requires in general to be produced. The progressive application of this hypothesis (which, as is known, is not found for the first time in Marx but is due to the economists of the first capitalist era and in particular to David Ricardo (1772‑1823) who published his fundamental work, Principles of Political Economics, in London in 1821) to the whole economic world present in the development of research will decide on the validity of the hypothesis itself.
7. Path of the money. The Second Section, where Capital finally comes onto the scene, deals precisely with the transformation of money into capital – investigated by studying the dynamics no longer of those who enter the market to bring goods or withdraw them for their own use, but of those who descend as bearers of money. As a premise Marx recalls how much it is necessary to establish regarding the essential monetary mechanism in the bourgeois economy, before continuing with the exposition of all “the process of capitalist production”, the theme of the First Book of the work.
* * *
Having said this as a prologue to the First Section of the First Book, it will be good to give some indication of the partition of the whole work, which in Marx’s plan was to include four Books or Volumes. Of them only the First is known in full in Italian, while the Fourth could not have be written by Marx.
The Second Book deals with the process of the circulation of Capital, the third of the aspects that cover the overall economic process; the Fourth was to expose the history of theory, of which, however, there are copious materials in the first Books and their annotations.
Among the many Prometeo tasks may be that of an exposition of the two subsequent Books of Capital, much less known than the First.
It is good, however, to remove a current convention and much used for revisionist purposes,that is, that the two subsequent Books examine a part of the real economic process that was omitted in the First, and that this analysis was carried out by the author to the point of leading him to important corrections if not to renunciations of the main doctrines of the First Book such as those of surplus-value, the accumulation of capital, the growing misery, etc. This opinion, contradicted by the context of even the most recent works that appeared until Marx’s death (1883) and afterwards, as by the posthumous reworking and exegesis by Engels, corresponds to an erroneous evaluation of the constructive framework of the work. The First Book covers the complete field of Marx’s doctrine on capitalism and is certainly not an abstract treatment of relations that are established in the sphere of production and that prescind from the relations of the circulation of goods and currency. To believe this would be to consider the substantial content of Marx’s method destroyed.
What defines the relationship between the First Book of Capital and the rest of the Work is an entirely different criterion. As rich as it is in historical, critical, bibliographic and polemical material, the First Book carries out the economic study of the whole process, from the first exchange to barter on through the birth and accumulation of capital to the conclusion that capitalism will be succeeded by a social economy and not a mercantile one, traced out lapidarily in the penultimate chapter, as we shall see at the appropriate time. The data, the study and the laws of circulation are already fully understood in this development. But all the material is taken up and re‑examined in the following books – and, explaining the concept better, we can well say in all the later and also future work of Marxists – by way of study of the particular phenomena of capitalist development, from which, given the character of the method, the verification and control of the general theory and the proof of its efficiency must incessantly be drawn.
The First Book therefore gives us the essential development of the capitalist process and its real social characteristics in the relationship between capitalist and wage‑earners, which is impractical and unimaginable without taking into account the phenomena of circulation and consumption, and finds the laws of this process, although not crystallizing them in the statics of an abstract world but verifying them in all situations: of nascent capitalism and put in relation with different economic types, and then in the course of its development and its conquest of the world. Therefore, it always takes into account the real historical environment, since it can never be said to be in the presence of a “model” of capitalist economy in the “pure” state.
And, in fact, the famous First Section of the First Book, on circulation, is the cornerstone on which the whole study of production rests, and because of the well‑known warnings of Marx himself and of the best commentators it is the most difficult, especially for readers who are not well prepared, even though its comprehension is completely indispensable to the whole.
But it has also been said many times that a work like Marx’s, from which every apriorism and every metaphysics of principles have been expelled, must be acquired in all its parts, and reading the first chapters presupposes a certain assimilation of the theses of the following parts. Marx himself suggested to some readers to start halfway through the book from the descriptive and historical chapters and then to the decisive ones of scientific analysis.
The First Book therefore stands for everything else as the fundamental trace, the guideline of the whole system, which has its own completeness and complete cycle, and was written by the author on the basis of all the materials that economic history up to its time offered him, and of which he reserved detailed exposure to the following volumes.
It holds the place that in modern physics and astronomy hold the Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica by Isaac Newton (1687). Of a single jet, from the truth due to Galileo that the force acting on a material body in motion is the cause not of its speed but of its acceleration (i.e. it increases or decreases the speed itself), the mathematical procedure, with the methods of calculation of the very small quantities found by Newton, leads directly to establish the laws of motion of a planet around the sun and finds deductively the laws that Kepler had inferred from Tycho Brahe’s observations on planetary revolutions. The theoretical principle thus receives dazzling confirmation. It is worth noting that even the first part of Newton’s work, which establishes in geometric form the first propositions of infinitesimal calculus, found at the same time by Leibniz in another more expressive form, is hard to study and boring, while the deduction of the following chapters in which the famous law of universal gravitation is great and brilliant even in form.
The three or four very simple statements by Galileo, Newton, Kepler give full reason for all the motions of the bodies of the solar system, planets and satellites, and have definitive value in the history of science. This does not detract from the fact that they derive from a pure and abstract case, that of central motion, which considers only two celestial bodies, while in the system there are a great number of them. The real effect is therefore very complicated. Already the problem of the three bodies appears, analytically, much more difficult. Yet admitted the Newton’s famous action at a distance, each body attracts each other and deforms its trajectory more or less. Something similar to the passage from Marx’s simple M → M’ barter to the general picture of today’s economic movement. To the following volumes of Capital we will therefore compare the gigantic later work performed by astronomers in deducing the particular motions of the various bodies, and especially the fundamental and classical Mécanique Céleste by Laplace, the famous applications such as the discovery of Neptune made by Le Verrier by calculating the perturbations of Saturn’s orbit, identifying its precise position in the sky, then verified by observation through the telescope.
The same theory therefore regulates the study of many effective deviations of detail from the standard law and the pure Keplerian ellipses, but Newton’s law remains solidly established and reconfirmed. The standard process is absolutely valid and yet it never happens. Not only are the heavens no longer immutable and incorruptible as they were for Aristotle and Thomas, and they are rectified by the same valid mechanics for the motion of the grave earths studied by Galileo, but Kepler’s geometrically exquisite orbits are not immutable traces to the motion of the planets. Each of them never traces them twice, the real phenomenon is always different from the theoretical one, but this only confirms the validity and effectiveness of the scientific law.
Introduced further considerations on thermal processes it becomes possible to attempt a history of the solar system and Laplace puts forward his hypothesis on the origin of the planets from the sun and their future fallout into it. This, of course, does not take away the validity of the scientific conquest contained in the first classical construction of the general law of motion.
To avoid confusion, not always innocent, we mention one last point. The methodological issues mentioned here are not affected, in the development of the comparison with the cosmogonic problem, by recent acquisitions and scientific doctrines that introduce in the balance in addition to the thermal considerations those of atomic energy, nor by broader constructions such as those of relativistic theory that have not denied (in the sense that interests us here) the classical law of gravitation, but have framed it in a broader conception as a “limit case”. All this, like the question of determinism in the science of nature and in the science of man, must be reserved for further studies such as those on Marxism and theory of knowledge.
* * *
The notes we are publishing serve as an introduction to the reading of Capital, and even better to the political work with the handling of that fundamental and revolutionary instrument. A book is for us like a machine; more, like a weapon.
It would be useful, since any work of investigation is nowadays for us socialists collective and not personal, for the illumination of the text by already prepared militants.
For example, the fourth paragraph of the first chapter on the fetish character of the commodity contains very topical propaganda material on points that the opportunists of the moment put under their feet at least three times a day, while they claim to be students of Marx
In a few pages it provides a historical glimpse of the various economies whose use of the dialectical method we will discuss in our course extensively, it is shown that not all past economies were mercantile, and that the socialist economy is defined, as a first condition, by being non‑commercial and non‑monetary. The thesis is contained that any apologetics of capitalism in economics and of equality and freedom in politics, tending to contrast the perfection and dignity of bourgeois institutions with the “artificiality” of feudal ones, is scientifically worth as little as the position of all theologians, according to whom the religions of others are artificial, theirs alone is natural. Any religion that is not theirs is an invention of men, theirs is the revelation of God. Marx quotes himself here in his answer to Proudhon on the Misery of Philosophy. For us Marxists all religions are “inventions” of men.
Today, under the incredible label of Marxism, from Attlee to Stalin, from Saragat to Togliatti, of all the nuances that fit in, under the incredible label of Marxism, no one is beating mercantilism or deism. They all feel they are going in an anti‑capitalistic sense without bothering the commodity fetish, the “beast” (it is Marx who quotes the Apocalypse of John) currency, nor the god of the altars.
None of them remember reading:
«The religious world is but a reflection of the real world. A society in which the product of labour generally takes the form of a commodity; where consequently the most common relationship between producers consists in buying the values of their products and, in this simple form, in comparing their private work with each other as equal human labour (these characteristics remain intact in the statizations of both Labour and Russian totalitarianism); such a society finds in Christianity with its cult of abstract man, and especially in its bourgeois development, Protestantism, deism, etc., the most appropriate form of religion.
«In general, the religious reflection of the real world can only disappear because the conditions of work and practical life will present man with clear and reasonable relations with his fellow human beings and with nature.
«Social life, of which material production and the relationships it implies form the basis, will not tear the mystical veil of fog that hides its appearance except on the day when the work of men freely associated, consciously acting according to a determined plan and masters of their own social movement, will manifest itself. But this requires a material basis of society or a set of conditions of material existence, which in turn are but the product of a long and painful historical development».
But now, in order not to frighten the allies of the fideist movements, the “Marxists” no longer speak of these problems. Their followers are made to believe that silence is only a temporary skillful maneuver.
At most they say that Lenin quotes from Marx that religion is the opium of the people: a phrase of passage in which the terms are not in the light of theoretical rigor. Do we need a passage from Lenin, to avoid they say that we are the ones who invent a Marx and a Lenin in our own way? Here it is:
«We materialists, after Engles, term the Kantians and Humeans agnostics, because they deny the objective reality of the source of our sensations. The agnostics says: I do not know if there is an objective reality, reflected, represented by our sensations; I declare it impossible to know. Hence the denial of objective truth the agnostic and a tolerance −a bourgeois, philistine, cowardly tolerance− of the dogmas of house goblins and wood demons, Catholic saints and the like»
(Materialism and Empirio criticsm, Chap II, par. 4).
The allusion to werewolves and spirits comes from a polemic with the self‑styled Russian Marxist Bagdanov who, embracing the philosophy fashionable in 1910 of Mach & Avenarius, however, claimed the anti‑fideist position. Lenin contests this and among other things says «If truth (including scientific truth) is but an organizing form of human experience, then the fundamental postulate of clericalism is admitted, the door remains open to it, and room is made for the “organizing forms” of religious experience».
Where we see that for the Marxist the terms fideism, clericalism, religion Christianity and deism, are equal expressions of an enemy thesis, and that the same heterodox as Bogdanov were until yesterday ashamed to have a tolerance for them.
But today, a duly purged edition of Marx and Lenin is expected. While you’re at it, couldn’t you include the formation of the commission in the Lateran Pacts?
A commodity is an object which possesses two properties: a) being useful, that is able to satisfy human needs; b) and susceptible to exchange with other commodities.
We use the term use‑value to describe this property a). Does it correspond to a measurable quantity? No, because use‑value of even the same commodity varies according to the circumstances of time, place and person. Use‑value is therefore a qualitative property that cannot be treated as a quantitative magnitude (1).
Exchange-value: We thus designate the second property of the commodity, that is, its exchangability.
Is exchange value quantitatively measurable? And if so, to what known quantities must it be attributed to? We answer the first question in the affirmative because, although at first sight a given commodity allows for many isolated exchanges for various quantities of other commodities, in all these relations there must be something in common.
As for the second question, we cannot ascribe a measure of exchange value to the specific properties that define use‑value, such as color, flavor, shape, chemical composition, etc., because the commodity can be exchanged for other commodities of any use‑value without changing its exchange value. The common character of various commodities that can be exchanged indiscriminately can only be reduced to the fact that they are all products of human labor.
2. Exchange value
We then propose to measure exchange value by referring to labor, a common measurable quantity. Human labor is only measurable as labor time.
It must be immediately understood that it is not a matter of the time of work occasionally required to produce a given commodity, which can vary under a thousand circumstances, but of the average time of work required to reproduce it systematically, i.e. socially necessary labor time
Exchange value is the ability of a commodity to be exchanged with others in a given relationship, and is a measurable quantity.
The number which will measure exchange value with respect to an agreed unit of measurement is always proportional to the social-average labor time required to produce a given commodity, i.e. the number itself is given by this time divided by the labor time required to produce the agreed unit of the exchange value.
The productive power of average labor varies if the processes of technology vary. When this happens, the exchange value of goods of that type varies. Of course, it also varies for the goods still existing, produced with the unimproved system and with a longer working time.
Hence it can be seen that the formula that value is crystallized labor is also erroneous and it is necessary to formulate the law in the precise terms stated above.
Labor is represented in a dual form within the commodity: use value is in relation to the particular quality of the labor required; the exchange value is in relation to the quantity of average human labor time is required to reproduce it.
When we speak of time and labor power, we are referring to simple labor, from which complex or qualified labor must be distinguished. Throughout this discussion, complex labor is always reduced to simple labor, as we will see later.
3. The simple form of value
A commodity has two forms: its natural form, most often physical and material, and its value form.
And in which form does value appear to us? In practice, as experimental data, value appears to us in the form of money, which is basically the price. It is a matter of arriving at this practical data, familiar to all, by a deductive analysis that starts from the simple property of exchange that all goods possess, since we have established that they have a value (of exchange) insofar as they can be exchanged.
Let’s start from the simplest fact of the exchange between two lots of commodities:
|x commodity A||=||y commodity B|
The form of value appears here at first in a way we can describe as simple or particular. We then have an equality, with two members. Although we can, as in any quantitative equality, change their places, nevertheless the expressions x Commodity A and y Commodity B have a different character. They express the same quantities of value; but y Commodity B is used to define how much Commodity A is worth. So we will call the first member the relative form, and the second the equivalent form.
|Value of x commodity A||=||Value of y commodity B||=||Value V|
|Relative Form||Equivalent Form|
If we wanted to express the absolute magnitude of the value V by a number, that is to say, to express it according to a general unit of measurement, applicable to all goods A, B, C, D, etc. we could not do so starting from the data of the simple formula. We can in fact deduce from this relation:
|Value of x commodity A||=||Value of y commodity B||=||Value V|
But this does not allow us to say what is the magnitude of a unit (Kg, etc.) of A, because it depends on the value of B. Moreover the value of A, as well as that of B, can change as a result of variations in the time of the work necessary for A or B; in this case the ratio will change, and we will thus have various expressions of the value sought, i.e. we will not have yet arrived at an absolute measure.
4. Total or expanded value form
With the simple form, the commodity of interest to us finds only one equivalent, and we do not arrive at a general measure of value. Taking a step further, suppose we know all the equivalents of commodity A expressed by the other commodities on the market.
|Value of x
|=||Value of y
|=||Value of z
To have an idea of the whole market (we think of the time of barter) we must know how to write for each commodity the developed form indicated above. If there are n goods, this one consists of n‑1 equalities, and in all there are n(n‑1) equalities. For example, for 10 goods we must know 90 relations.
The n(n‑1) or 90 relations are not all independent, however, and are all contained in the n‑1 or 9 of the developed form. We then only have to reverse the latter and to refer the value of all the other n‑1 goods to that of the commodity A, which has become the unique equivalent or general equivalent. We will have:
y commodity B = z commodity C = m commodity D etc. = x commodity A
In practice this means that, as bartering has become widespread, in order not to have to remember 90 relationships, one commodity has been elevated to the rank of common equivalent of all others.
We do not yet have an absolute expression of the measure or quantity of value, but we do have a measure of it, as it were, expressed by the quantity of the equivalent commodity which corresponds to each special commodity. Thus the savages, for example, trade in cattle by expressing their value in pounds of salt.
With the development of trade the equivalent commodity fulfills not only a mnemonic function, but is in fact exchanged for all other commodities, the direct contact between the individual exchangers having disappeared. The simple form (for example: 1 cow = 3 goats) is no longer realized, but we have the exchange between a cow and 30 pounds of salt, then between 10 pounds of salt and a goat. Or the trader interposes himself between the one who sells the cow and the one who sells the goat, because they can both be materially distant; the trader carries the merchandise or the salt equivalent to bring everyone together. The salt no longer circulates only to be consumed, but much more frequently to facilitate the circulation of other goods.
It is necessary, however, that the equivalent commodity be easy to transport, not very bulky, absolutely unalterable. These qualities are combined in gold, which has become the general equivalent: and so we pass to the form of value.
5. Historical and social character of the question
Having reached this stage of the analysis of value, Marx inserts a chapter on “the fetish character of the commodity and its secret”. This chapter has a historical and polemical character and it presupposes an enunciation of the doctrine of economic determinism that does not enter into the object of Capital, but is inseparable from the Marxist doctrine on the character of the Marxist economics.
This chapter is not a digression, and it is not the intention here to give a summary of it, whereas it should rather be given the widest development.
In analyzing the forms of value, we applied the positive scientific method to the question. But the object of our research was not facts of absolute and immanent character, as for example the nature of chemical elements – discovered in 1800, but valid also for discussing the conditions of the original nebula as well as those of the distant future of the universe. We had to go into the historical field to explain the stages of our research, linking the simple form of value to the time of barter in kind, the general form and to that of trade, etc... Thus the results to which we tend do not have an immanent character, but are relative to the various times and degrees of development of the society.
Recognizing labor time as the measure of quantities of value is not enough without an analysis that applies this key to various economies.
What is acquired for the first time by Marxist research is that exchange value is not an absolute property of things, but the reflection of the relations of social organization. Objects are commodities because there is a certain system of relations between the people who produce and consume them. Moreover, it is natural that the economists who preceded us should see in the commodity a primary datum, because they take for definitive and natural relations those which correspond to the society in which they live and to the interests of the classes they represent. Marx develops here our doctrine, which makes opinions depend on the stage of development of the social economy and on the class struggle.
Above all, the polemic against the traditional economists does not take place on ground that is common to any of them, and they play the role of passive objects of research, rather than collaborators – or even adversaries. We are not concerned with what they may allege later, even for a very long time to come: in the same way the founders of modern mechanics and astronomy do not consider biblical and peripatetic developments as working material. If one does not understand this, it is useless to hope to understand how the analysis, starting from the minimal fact of the permutation of two objects, arrives at the doctrine of surplus-value which must provide the key to the positive and historical interpretation of the contemporary productive mechanism.
We therefore strip the commodity of its fetish character by discovering the laws that assign it a value and provide us with the means to measure it in the relations between men and groups of men for whom commodities and values are involved.
(Chapter II, “the process of exchange”, is implicitly summarized in the historical considerations indicated in parallel to the passage from the simple form to the money form).
6. Circulation - Value and price
We have tried to consider value as a measurable quantity, in order to treat it by the scientific method and to discover the laws relative to it. We have assumed that the quantitative value is proportional to the average social work time. By analyzing the experimental facts, we applied and verified the hypothesis. We have reached the general equivalent commodity and a new step forward has brought us to money.
We leave aside the observations on mono or bi‑metallism.
Gold by its quantity and weight, expressed in the monetary terminology, indicates therefore with a certain unit to measure the value of goods.
In conclusion we have reduced the measure we are looking for to the value of gold, that is, according to our hypothesis, to the time of work necessary to produce the gold. So the term of comparison is variable, and therefore general oscillations can occur, which are easy to interpret.
The price expresses the ratio between the value of the commodity considered and the value of the gold unit (for example, according to the original ratio: one pound = sterling). Or, which is the same thing, the price, according to us, expresses the ratio between the labor time needed for the commodity and the labor time needed for the pound of gold.
When we talk about the necessary working time, we want to distinguish it from the working time that was actually required in a specific case; this time can be higher or lower as a result of mistakes or, on the contrary, of the producer’s manufacturing secrets. In addition, due to other considerations, the price can express more or less than the abstract value of the merchandise, because of exceptional circumstances of the alienation.
If, for example, while using the necessary average time, all the producers provide a given market with a quantity of the commodity X exceeding the consumption, let’s say of 20%, as a result of an error in the social division of labor, this 20% will be lost. And this can also manifest itself in the form of a temporary fall in price below value, with each producer discounting 20% of his working time, as in the case where, as a result of clumsiness, he has used 6 hours instead of 5. The opposite case can also occur, that is, a rise in price above value.
This case should not be confused with that of a fall in price as a consequence of new technical inventions which reduce the necessary working time; for in this case it is the value itself which has fallen and which will not rise again. In the previous cases, known phenomena, provoking the opening of new enterprises or the closing of old ones, tend to level the prices.
(The winning horse of the Derby has a very high price because among 20 competing horses, which have absorbed equal care (working time), only one can win this price. The profit of one breeder compensates for the losses of the other 19, but this does not prevent the relationship between the value of a horse and the amount of work absorbed by its breeding. It is only a question of a production that, for technical reasons, does not give a series of equal objects, but products that are very different due to unforeseeable circumstances at the beginning of the enterprise).
We can therefore speak of a quantity of value which does not necessarily coincide with the price form, but which is its basis, since the price can oscillate above and below the value. An opportune research will succeed in determining it.
In the same way, in the physical sciences, it is difficult to establish at first sight the mass of a given body, of a wooden ball for example. We feel that it tends to fall, and we measure its weight: but it varies according to whether we are at the pole or at the equator, at sea level or in the mountains, and finally it even becomes negative if we immerse the ball in water. This does not prevent the constant quantity of mass from being measurable, and from being used to formulate the laws that will elucidate all these variations of weight, which previously appeared as an arena of contradictory data. A later refinement of the scientific results, which establishes that the mass of a body in motion varies at the same time as its speed, does not prevent that it is rightly introduced and treated this quantity in the field of the phenomena considered in the research.
The science of mechanics was born when mass was measured, a datum which, in a certain sense, is neither concrete nor sensible; the science of economics was born with the measurement of the quantity value, whereas it is not a scientific work if one claims to have to limit oneself to knowing and recording contingent prices, under the pretext that it is only these that are measured and expressed in figures.
Let us now continue the analysis of the market by examining the path followed by the commodity. The possessor brings it to the market, sells it for a certain amount of money, which is not for his own use, but only to buy another commodity. The cycle is:
The second part of this cycle (M → G) is, for the owner of the other commodity, the first part (G → M) of another cycle and so on, indefinitely. The set of all these cycles, each of which has a common half with another, represents the circulation, according to the diagram:
G1 → M → G2 → M → G3 → M → G4 → etc.
7. The circulation of money
In the movement of the circulation of goods, money passes in its turn from hand to hand; but while each commodity arrives on the market from the outside to leave it immediately, money on the contrary remains constantly there.
It is obviously not necessary for the money in circulation to be equal to the sum of the prices of all the individual “buy‑sells”; on the contrary, since each gold fragment circulates several times, a smaller sum is sufficient. The quotient of the sum of all prices (business figures) in a given time by the mass of money available is called the speed of circulation in that time.
It is worth noting, with regard to money, the transition from the form in which pure gold is used to the form of gold money – the weight of which may be less than the theoretical value – then to coins of silver and non‑noble metals with a partly conventional value, and finally to paper money, the value of which is purely figurative: all forms which, under normal conditions, do not alter in any way the circulation relations between money and goods.
Money can, moreover, assume other functions, besides those of measuring the value of goods or serving as a vehicle for their exchange. These forms are: hoarding or accumulation; deposit to meet payments in advance or delayed in relation to the moment when the merchandise changes owner (the game of debit and credit); universal currency or element of compensation in exchanges between nations, for which gold transfers compensate for the imbalances in trade balances, gold being, in this sense, the only currency that is effectively valid throughout the world. Today, something that did not exist in Marx’s time, it is not only gold that is capable of assuming a worldwide validity, but also a paper currency: the dollar, which circulates without being exchanged against other national currencies.
The detailed study of these economic phenomena is not necessary before proceeding to the study of the transformation of money into capital, which is the starting point of the laws of circulation that bring into play the commodity and money.
8. From the circulation of money to the appearance of surplus-value
The formula for the circulation of money and commodities is thus G → M → G. If we consider the person who brings commodities to exchange them for others of different use values while having the same quantity of (exchange) value, except for secondary circumstances. For this person, money is only an indication of value and a vehicle of exchange. But in the whole mercantile system, currency immediately introduces new relations and new actors, whose intervention makes the exchange of use values possible for others. They use money and with it they buy goods which they resell for more money. Circulation, from this second point of view, is represented by the formula M → G → M. The intervention of this second group of actors cannot be explained without a motive.
This is not a quest for use values, since their money eventually returns to money, without qualitative change. Therefore there can be no purpose and motive except in a quantitative change. While in the case of G → M → G, the movement of a constant value is explained. This is no longer the case for M → G → M, if the amount of money remained the same after purchase and sale. Philanthropy or other ideal forces cannot be the incentive for the bearers of money, this is determined by the fact that in general the amount of money the second time is greater than the first time. The formula therefore becomes M → G → M’, where M’ = M + ΔM. The original amount of money, M, is increased by an increment ΔM (Delta M). This increase is called surplus-value.
For the money bearer the movement of money in exchange serves as production of surplus-value, which is immediately added to the per‑existing value and returns to the cycle to increase yet again.
It is in this way that money, from simple representation of value and vehicle of exchange, neccesarialy becomes capital.
Capital is value whose peculiarity is to increase continuously.
A mercantile system, once past the stage of bartering in kind, must blossom into capitalism.
In this definition, summarized in the formula M → G → M’, only commercial capital would seem to be considered. That is, all the goods which stay in possession of the professional money bearers of the market, who offer goods purchased from producers.
But even for industrial capital there is money which is transformed into commodities only to return to money with the sale of the latter, this will be the subject of further discussion.
Marx at the beginning of this Section establishes – in a fundamental historical reference that accompany the illustrative exposition of the capitalist process – that «capital appears only where production and the circulation of goods, or trade, have reached a certain development. The modern history of capital dates from the creation of trade and the world market in the sixteenth century».
The pure form M → M’ then represents usury, in which there is no passage through a commodity. Usury is meant in the sense of any arrangement of money for interest.
In M → M it is possible to reduce the formula to hording, which removes money from circulation. In doing so this takes away money’s possibility to generate surplus-value, and thus is not yet in the form of capital.
9. Seeking the origin of surplus‑value
Surplus-value, the increase (ΔM) in the amount M underwent to become M’, can not and will never be explained in the field of circulation alone.
All attempts made in this sense fail before the elementary fact that circulation consists of a series of exchanges between equivalents.
One can point to many exceptions to this law, but they are not worth expounding on, when the increase from M to M’ occurs with confirmable regularity.
If one ascribes to buying the virtue of bringing about an imbalance in favor of the money‑bearer, or such virtue is ascribed to selling, since both in the simple circuit M → G → M, and in the whole of circulation each interested party appears as many times a seller and buyer, the supposed differences offset each other in a general equality. The same is true if all prices went up or down together.
The explanation that the one who buys in order to consume pays more than the one who sells having made a product does not hold up either. As the consumer draws his money from the fact of having been in turn a producer. Therefore we should suppose consumers who draw value from something other than productive work, i.e. not through exchange. Such a class will therefore receive money, not through circulation, but by extorting, in the material sense of the term, the merchandise or money belonging to others. This explanation is inadequate for the mercantile age.
It is not even worth mentioning exceptionally disproportionate or even fraudulent buying and selling, because this explains the transfer of special values from one hand to another, rather than the formation of the smallest part of surplus-value.
We insert a parenthesis to show that not even the trade unions or even monopoly regime of producers can explain the normal genesis of surplus-value in the circulation sphere. If in the ordinary mercantile regime of free competition the producer of commodity A was free to raise their price, they would have realized a surplus-value. But this can never happen, because it is obvious that buyers would abandon them and turn to other sellers of the same commodity, so that this mechanism, except for secondary phenomena, maintains all prices at a minimum level corresponding to exchange value. Now, we could suppose that all or some of the producers of commodity A agree to raise its price arbitrarily; the game of competition would be eliminated and a surplus-value resulting purely and simply from circulation would be realized.
To such an objection one may reply that if, in the analysis, we wanted to substitute for the general and typical system of free competition, a stable system of monopolies – and not an intermediate system which will always remain to be examined, but which serves for the application and not for the research of general laws – we would then be led to consider that all the groups of producers have constituted themselves into monopolies, and sell each other commodities at overvalued prices but which find a new equilibrium by compensation. We would thus find ourselves back at the same point. The monopolization agreements will have achieved, in an intermediate stage, an appropriation of value on the backs of the lagging monopolists, but they will not have been able to produce surplus-value.
In conclusion, the problem reduces down to these seemingly contradictory terms: In circulation, exchanges take place only between equivalents; money circulating as capital leaves circulation having undergone an increase.
In pursuit of the solution, do not lose sight of the fact that for a capitalist economic society in a stable and normal set‑up both statements have systematic value, that is, they are realized in the vast majority of cases, so that citing particular cases and moments of instability cannot serve to evade the need to give an equally general solution to the “system of equations” that we can write:
Value of M = value of G
Value of G = value of M’
Value of M’ is larger than the value of M .
We shall see why the equations are not incompatible, as would be found if we gave them a purely arithmetical sense – or, in other words, why this patently contradiction to the formal rules of logical syllogism (a contradiction which, as Marx recalls, Aristotle discerned but could not explain, nor could he with the data of his time explain) is implemented in the reality of economic life, since in this, Capital is generated.
10. The commodity “labor power”
At what stage of the process can the increase in value have originated? It cannot come from money from itself since a quantity of money remains materially unchanged. Therefore, the increase arises from the exchange of money for commodity. It cannot arise from the second act G → M’ just as it cannot arise from the first M → G, if these are exchanges between equivalents.
Marx’s fundamental discovery is this: the increase in value cannot arise from the two exchanges; it arises, rather, from the use of the commodity, since there exists in the market a commodity whose use coincides with a systematic increase in its exchange value.
If the use of a commodity produces value, and if value corresponds to the availability of labor time, the mysterious commodity in question must be such as to make human labor available: that commodity is precisely labor, or, more accurately, labor power.
Under certain historical conditions, while those who buy any commodity generally resell it for the same amount of money (value), those who buy labor power pay for it at a certain amount while systematically reselling it for a higher amount. What the buyer of labor power resells are actually material goods to which has undergone transformations by applying purchased labor power to them. This is the case when the worker, or owner of labor power, because of legal and social conditions cannot make contact with the commodity to be transformed (raw material). Either because he does not possess money, and therefore cannot anticipate the value of the raw material itself; or the transformation of labor requires technical means (tools of labor, concentration of large numbers of workers) which are the monopoly of others (of the owners of money or capital).
There is another condition: namely, that the worker is free, for he must remain in possession of his own labor power in order to sell it in portions (periods of time). Should he be able or required to sell or surrender it all at once he himself would become a commodity (slavery).
Hence, in certain historical conditions, which they cannot claim to have always existed, just as they cannot claim to always exist in the future, conditions which we call peculiar to the capitalist epoch, we have the production of surplus-value, and the accumulation of it into capital. This is realized through the buying and selling of labor power, that is, through the organization of the wage earner by those who possess the money and the technical tools of labor.
Surplus-value and capital as economic phenomena appear later than exchange and exchange value, and also later than money.
11. Purchase of “labor power”
How then is payment determined for the commodity labor power (wage labor)? As with any other commodity, those who seek it pay the minimum possible i.e. they run elsewhere if they are offered better terms; so that the price tends to reach a minimum, given by the labor time required to produce that commodity.
Labor power is also a commodity in this sense, since in order to produce it the worker must provide for the expenditure of his own body, that is, he must procure:
1. personal means of subsistence, such as food and a minimum of satisfaction of other needs;
2. the means of subsistence for his family (without which the working class would become extinct);
3. vocational education, which also involves time and expense.
This minimum is reducible to a sum of commodities which, demanded from producers, and in any case from possessors, must be paid at a price determined by the labor time required to produce them (just by our fundamental assumption). This price will be demanded by the worker to alienate his labor power (under average conditions, that is, disregarding interference from exceptional phenomena).
Having thus occurred the buying and selling of labor power, the capitalist, becoming its master, employs it. (We neglect here the other benefit of employing labor before actually paying for it, thanks to the custom of paying wages at deferred periods.)
The use of labor power, purchased at the right price, is done by applying it to raw materials equally purchased at the right price.
In order to understand how the right selling price of the finite commodities left at the capitalist’s disposal exceeds the sum of the fair prices paid (the birth of surplus-value), it is necessary to move from the field of circulation, where everything proceeds in the name of pure equivalence and full freedom, to the study of that of production, where instead the basis of in‑equivalence or surplus-value and class division are discovered.
(1) - It is of particular importance to deal with measurable quantitative magnitudes in scientific research. The aim of all science is the organic exposition of a given group of facts or phenomena acquired by our experience, in such a way as to highlight the relationships which constantly run between the facts themselves. The scientific experience of this relationship is called law. The most complete and satisfactory form of a scientific law is that of a relationship between measurable quantities (mathematical formula). For quantities to be measurable it is necessary to be able to refer them to other quantities already known, and in this reference lies the law itself. Example: you know how to measure space (length) in meters, time in seconds, you measure speed taking as a unit that of a meter in a second, and apply the law speed = space / time.
Some laws translate relations, corresponding to experience, between quantities already all known, we have then a real new discovery; others, like that given in example, are reduced to introducing deductively a new quantity, and have value of theoretical conventions; however the application to phenomena of their logical consequences will decide their validity or not. Therefore not all conventions, which define quantities by giving the way to measure them and to refer them to others, are arbitrarily possible, but, even if first assumed as hypotheses, they are finally either confirmed or rejected by the application to experimental facts. So for example with the atomic hypothesis the notion of the quantity “atomic weight” was introduced and while for a long time it was thought to be an expedient of convenience to make the chemical formulae square, further studies on experimental data allowed to ascertain the real existence of atoms and to determine their weight both absolute and relative to that of hydrogen unity.
Anticipating a conclusion that may be part of research on the “theory of knowledge” in the Marxist system, we also note that treating the entities investigated with numerical measures and mathematical relations between their quantitative measures leads to making the notions and relations and their possession and handling less individual, more impersonal and collectively valid. The pure qualitative appreciation contained in judgments and investigations communicated in words of common language, retains the personal imprint because the words and their relationships take on a different value from man to man according to previous tendencies and material emotional and cognitive predispositions. Therefore, all judgments and moral, aesthetic, religious, philosophical and political principles communicated and disseminated verbally and in writing are personal and subjective. The systems of figures and relationships of mathematical symbols (algorithms) with which even many people who claim to be educated are unfamiliar, tend to establish results that are valid for all researchers, or at least transferable to broader fields without being easily distorted by particular interpretations.
The transition, in the history of society and its knowledge, is certainly not simple; it is hard and difficult and not without returns and errors, but in this sense the modern scientific method is constituted.
Of great interest for this purpose, and in order to give a real and material objective value to human knowledge, will be the examination of modern “algorithms” that have reached such power to work and walk “on their own” in a certain sense outside of consciousness and intelligence, and as real “machines” for knowledge. Their science becomes no longer a fact of the ego, but a social fact. The theoretical “I”, like the economic and juridical “I”, must be broken!
Marx wanted to treat with scientific method even human economic facts, similarly to what science and bourgeois philosophy had done for the phenomena of physical nature.
He did not simply use an algorithm because he thought and worked, he exposed and fought at the same time; and in addition to the weapons of the new era, he had to and knew how to use those with which the enemy resisted: polemics, eloquence, invective and sarcasm, under which he prostrated his contradictors many times.
It is in the din of this battle that the new science of society and history was built.
Now we have to overcome a first point: to make a science of value, whether the ideological and philosophical economists like it or not, it is necessary to introduce a measure, just as Galileo and Newton were able to make science of gravity by measuring masses, accelerations and forces. The fruitfulness of the new method – while giving solutions susceptible to future more grandiose developments, and not leading to “true absolutes” alien to science – routed and buried forever the wrong approaches of the past on these problems.
Every working process, independently of the type of social organization, consists of three elements: man’s personal activity, or labor power; object of labor, or raw material (found in nature but always with the addition of previous labor); means of labor, or instruments of production.
As long as we are in the presence of self‑employed workers (artisans) they own their own labor power, raw material, work tools. Consequently, the result of the working process, or product, belongs to them.
In the capitalist system the worker owns only his labor power; but he sells it so that the capitalist becomes the owner. To him belong also the raw materials and the instruments of work: by right the products belong to him.
The transformation of money into capital, the formation of surplus-value appear together with the separation of the worker from the instrument of labor and the product of his labor.
13. The birth of surplus-value
Let’s consider the productive process from the capitalist’s point of view. He goes to the market and comes back having bought – at their right price and value – as much the raw material as the work tools as the labor power.
He applies the labor power of his laborers, by means of his tools, to the raw material, and receives from them a certain volume of products. He returns to the market and sells them.
Let us consider the quantitative examination of such a value movement of value.
Let’s denote by V the value of the labor power (wages paid), by A the value of that part of the productive tools worn out in the group of operations we consider, by B the value of the raw materials employed; finally by F the value of the products obtained.
It is clear that F contains in full the values of A and B, i.e., production tools and raw material bought at the market. According to our basic hypothesis these values depend on the labor time required to produce these tools and materials.
As for the value of labor power V it is, as we have seen, related to the labor time required for the workers’ means of subsistence.
Every commodity, like materials and instruments, possesses an exchange value insofar as it possesses in its turn a use value, but in such a way that the two values are not comparable, nor communicable with each other (e.g.: I can reduce the value of a kilo of sugar to three hours of work, but I cannot refer its use value as food to a working time, but only to chemical, organoleptic qualities, etc. of the sugar). On the contrary, for the special commodity of labor power, if the exchange value, or market price, derives, as always, from labor time (necessary to produce the means of subsistence, as has just been said), the use value also lends itself to be measured precisely in labor time, because the use of this commodity is precisely labor: use by the purchasing capitalist of the labor of the selling wage‑earner.
Since the value of F (product) must then consist of the work time necessary to
completely put together the products considered, it is clear that we will have:
Labor time for F = Labor time for B + Labor time for A + Actual labor time
supplied by wage earners.
An equality between working times translates into an equality between the respective exchange values.
For the commodity labor power we must consider no longer its exchange value (wages), but its use value, reducing this to the time of work.
If, to fix the ideas, each hour of labor corresponds to the value of £3, the
working time of the raw materials, since they are worth B pounds, will be B:3;
of the instruments of production A:3; of the product F:3. If the worker has
worked 10 hours, the equality between the working times before written becomes:
|+||10 (expressed in hours)|
Back to values:
This is what the capitalist gets from the sale of the product. The figure B and the figure A he has spent in full because they signify exchange value, i.e. market prices.
But the figure 10·£3 does not represent the exchange value but the use value of labor power (10 hours of work actually done, for £3, the general ratio for measuring values in labor time).
What do those 10 hours of labor power cost the capitalist? We have indicated their cost with V, which is their exchange value, their price (wage). Now, since this value depends on the means of subsistence and on the time absorbed by them, it is independent of the 10 hours inferred from consumption, and not from the production, of labor power. If another team of workers were employed to provide food, clothes, etc. for the capitalist’s workers who work 10 hours, it’s clear that for each of them and for each day less labor time would be sufficient: let’s say 6 hours. Apart from the new surplus-value which would accrue to the aforesaid workers if they were in their turn wage‑earners, or supposing these to be self‑employed, the price V will be determined by those 6 hours multiplied by £3.
That the time of 6 hours turned out to be less than the time of 10 hours is not an assumption on our part, but a fact which can be deduced not only from special calculations, however laborious they may be, but from the very fact of the existence of capitalism and its profits, which we are only endeavoring to discover, starting from our hypothesis about labor.
If the expenditure V per labor is 6·£3, the total expenditure results:
B + A + 6·£3
The proceeds from the sale of the product were:
F = B+A+10·£3 = (B+A+6·£3) + (4·£3)
We have for the capitalist a profit of 4·£3 = £12 which represents the surplus-value in the productive operation under consideration.
14. Summary of the demonstration
The question we have been asking from the beginning is to represent the phenomena of the present economy with quantitative laws.
Experience gives us facts:
a) we have a mercantile economy, that is, the products of labor become commodities susceptible to exchange, and the exchange is made by means of the general equivalent called money;
b) whoever owns money can use it to buy the instruments of production and obtain a benefit, a surplus-value from production by means of wage earners (we also have a capitalist economy).
Accepting the fact that the measure of exchange value is expressed by the quantity of money given for a commodity, that is, by its price on the market, when we place ourselves in average, normal and general conditions, we have stated the hypothesis that this value is proportional to the working time necessary to reproduce that commodity, always in average, normal and general conditions.
Having analytically examined the phenomena of exchange, from barter to the introduction of the general equivalent commodity, to the function of money – having eliminated all objections relating to special exchanges and to exceptional circumstances and all those deviations from the average which may occur to a greater or lesser extent – we have shown that in the circulatory field nothing but exchanges between equivalents take place.
However, in order to explain the fact that the owner of money becomes the owner of capital and realizes a profit which has as its starting and ending points exchanges in the market, we have discovered and stated that this is due to the acquisition of a special commodity, labor power, which, while requiring a given labor time for its production, makes available a greater labor time in its consumption.
This commodity is paid in fact, and in accordance with our hypothesis, at a price (wage) proportional to its production (subsistence) labor time. But it transmits to the product a greater working time, and therefore a greater exchange value, whence the surplus-value.
The meaning of all this in the social field is the following: as long as the worker (artisan) is able not to separate himself from the instrument of work and the product of work, and sells this for his total benefit, he recovers in the exchange value of this his entire working time.
But when capitalism appears – because of the accumulation of money on the one hand (the origins of which we will not now discuss: slavery, land feudalism, etc.) and on the other hand because of the discovery of technical means, which diminish the working time necessary to a given product through the use of machines, and because of the concentration of many workers – the price of the artisan’s product falls: in fact its exchange value is adjusted to the minimum working time technically necessary. It matters little on the market that the craftsman with outdated processes has taken longer.
Let us suppose that prices fall so low as not to compensate for the artisan’s slightest need, e.g., the artisan having to yield at the price of 3 hours’ labor the product of 12 hours’ work, while his means of subsistence are worth 6 hours. The artisan will have only to sell his labor power, for its exchange value of 6 hours, working 12 hours for the capitalist who, quadrupling the output of his work, is able to pay 6 hours for the labor power which on the market could only be exchanged into the value of 3 hours.
We have thus satisfactorily explained the fundamental phenomenon of capitalist economy (fundamental also in relation to those which preceded it) by formulating an important consequence of the theory of value (first enunciated by Ricardo): the doctrine of surplus-value (Marx’s central discovery) is already contained in the following theses: on the market, only equivalents are exchanged; all the profit of capital arises from the purchase and employment of labor power.
The quantitative laws of this doctrine remain to be formulated (3).
[Prometeo, no. 7, May–June 1947]
15. Constant capital and variable capital
As we have seen, the money anticipated by the capitalist to acquire the means of production and row materials appears entirely in the price of the product. This is why we call this fraction of capital, constant capital.
Raw materials and instruments are of two kinds: some reappear in the product, others disappear as they are used, such as fuels and are called auxiliary; instruments of labor, such as machines, installations, buildings, are taken into consideration only for the fraction of their value actually spent during the productive operation considered.
The money advanced instead for the wages of the workers, that is for the purchase of labor power, reappears in the sale of the products increased by a surplus-value, and we shall call this variable capital.
We had summarized the balance of the capitalist operation in the two formulas:
B + A + V (raw materials + tool wear + wages)
B + A + V + S = F (raw materials + tool wear + wages + surplus-value = value of the product)
We then have: B + A = constant capital, which we denote by C, and V = variable capital.
Calling K the total capital advanced, S the surplus-value, and K′ the capital gained at the end we have:
K = C + V
K′ = C + V + S = K + S
16. Rate of surplus-value
Rather than knowing case by case the absolute quantity of surplus-value realized by the capitalist, it is more interesting to know the relation in which surplus-value stands to the capital which produced it.
It is very important to point out that the capital which is actually susceptible to produce surplus-value is that advanced for the purchase of labor power, that is, variable capital V. As for constant capital C, it reappears integrally in the product and in itself does not give rise to any increase.
It is for this reason that, wishing to define a quantity whose measure gives us the idea of the intensity of production of surplus-value, Marx assumes as the rate of surplus-value not the ratio of this to the whole of capital, but the ratio to variable capital alone.
So, denoted by s the rate of surplus-value:
In the quantitative example we have given V was 6h⋅£3 = £18. The surplus-value was 10h⋅£3 - 6h⋅£3 = 4·£.3 = £12. The rate of surplus-value is s = £12 / £18 = 66.66%.
Passing now to examine working time, and referring for the purpose of fixing the ideas to a single day of a single workman and to the number of hours of which it is composed, which we shall call t (in the example 10 hours), a new quantity is defined: the work required and the relative time required. By such we mean the time or number of hours that the worker would have to work in order to transmit to the product a value exactly equal to that which he was paid for his labor power. In our case the workman was paid at the rate of £18, i.e. 6 hours’ labor. If he worked 6 hours he would reproduce exactly the value paid to him as wages, that is the value equivalent to his subsistence: in this case surplus-value would disappear, and with it the reason for the existence of the capitalist enterprise.
However, the worker works 10 hours instead of 6, and we distinguish the 10 hours into 6 hours of necessary work and 4 which we will call surplus-labor, calling this time surplus-labor time.
Let us repeat: necessary labor‑time is that which would suffice to reproduce the value of wages; surplus‑time or surplus-labor that the worker works in further, and which produces the difference in value, or surplus-value, for the benefit of the capitalist.
As the values are proportional to the working times in which they are produced
|Necessary labor time||Variable capital (wage)
These two ratios reduce to the one we have already indicated as the rate of surplus-value; hence the theorem: the surplus-labor divided by the necessary labor gives the rate of surplus-value.
In our example the written proportion would be:
17. General law of surplus-value
It is also possible to show this by other means.
Let us summarize the notations; remembering that we refer to a single worker and a single day’s work:
V = Variable capital or daily wage
S = Surplus-value
s = Rate of surplus-value, i.e. S/V
t = Hours of work
n = Hours of necessary work
e = Hours of surplus-labor
z = Production of value per hour.
The worker transmits to the product the value (abstraction of constant capital)
V + S, working t hours. So in one hour the worker produce the value:
|z||=|| V + S
Now we want to calculate the necessary work time n in which the worker produces
the value V. By definition in n hours the worker produces the value
So, knowing the hourly value production, one division is enough:
V + S
We have thus found n.
Very simple is the calculation of e (surplus-labor):
|e||=||t - n||=||t -||t·V
|=||t·V + t·S - t·V
V + S
V + S
The problem was to find the ration of e (surplus-labor) to n (necessary labor);
dividing one by the other in the respective formulae, we have:
|e / n||=||
V + S
V + S
|=||S / V||=||s|
Thus the fundamental proportion remains proved, which we repeat here for the sake of clarity: surplus-labor stands to necessary labor as surplus-value stands to wage capital; this common relation is the rate of surplus-value.
18. Demonstration of the fundamental law
To show that ascribing surplus-value only to wages and not to all capital is not an arbitrary assumption, let us take the example of a firm in which there is only variation in the proportionality of constant capital to variable capital; the exchange value or price of products, the price of raw materials and work tools remains the same, independently, so too does the wages and the work day.
If the price of finished labor is to remain the same, representing it as labor time, we are not obligated to imagine a change in the technical processes of production: we can choose an example (convincing for that matter even to those who do not start from our theory of value) in which the firm also comes to incorporate an earlier stage of processing, producing directly what it previously purchased in the market.
Suppose that a steel mill which previously purchased pig iron to convert into steel would take iron ore, from which pig iron is made, to be processed directly (see in symbols in §20).
It is evident that the capitalist will spend less on raw materials, the cost of ore is far less than pig iron, and although there is a relative increase in the tools of labor, the share of constant capital will decrease in total.
Even vulgarly it is recognized that the capitalist will make a greater profit because he will accumulate the profit of two per‑existing firms. But he will also realize a greater profit for the same total capital up front since, albeit for each kilo of steel he will also have the burden of the new plant producing pig iron, such a burden he also paid before in the market price of pig iron, rather increased by the profit from producing pig iron.
In other words, the capital advanced for a labor operation is always included in the selling price of the relevant stock of product, so with the same financial potential the capitalist will be able to produce the same kilograms of steel if not more.
But on that figure his profit has increased; and this is because the capital invested in obtaining the kilogram of steel now contains less expenditure on raw materials and more expenditure on the purchase of labor power. So it is the amount of wage capital that, with equal treatment of workers, with equal market conditions, varies in proportion to the capitalist’s gain. Thus one must refer surplus-value to the mass of wage capital alone and not to the mass of all capital.
And this is also valid socially speaking, since in the various portions of constant capital other portions of surplus-value from previous workings are included, assuming they were carried out by the capitalist mechanism. The pig‑iron capital was, with the portion not represented by iron ore and wear of plants, already affected by surplus-value, collected by the pig‑iron seller; the iron ore capital for the mine capitalist was affected by surplus-value drawn from the miners’ surplus-labor; and analogously can be said of the mechanical steel plants, of the pig‑iron industry, in the mine, finally succeeding satisfactorily – outside of pleasantries about pearl fishers and the like – our explanation which, both qualitatively and quantitatively, discovers in every exchange value a labor time, and in every profit a surplus-labor.
Marx warns against falling into the gross mistake of confusing the rate of surplus-value with the rate of profit. Vulgar economics understands the rate of profit to be the ratio of the capitalist’s net earnings (the difference between income and expenses over a certain period, e.g., one year, provided that the “asset” value of all facilities remains unchanged and any liabilities offset) and the total value of the capital invested in the facilities increased by the amount of money required to meet purchases of raw materials, payment of wages, etc.
Vulgar economics also distinguishes within profit an interest to be paid for invested capital, and the remaining difference, or actual profit of the entrepreneur.
It is not now the case to push further the comparison between that computation and the calculations we followed. Suffice it to consider that the counting of time includes our having kept in mind an entire work cycle, e.g.: that by which the kilo of steel is arrived at. The more the extent of time increases of that productive act increases, the more the profit of the entrepreneur increases and in general the rate of profit as well.
On the other hand, the rate of surplus-value depends on the degree of exploitation of labor power and is always much higher; Marx’s easy examples show that profit rates, e.g., of 10‑15%, can correspond to a surplus-value rate of even 100%.
However, as an exercise in applying the above, one could institute the calculation on profit in a company that would be transformed in the manner indicated in the example of the steel mill, assuming concrete figures for prices and quantities of ore, pig iron, steel, for wages, hours of work, annual days of work, etc.
19. Breakdown of the value of the product into proportional parts of the quantities of the product of the working day
We gave at the beginning the example of the product of the value F, which consisted of the value of the raw materials and the wear of the instruments (B+A = C, constant capital) and the value generated in a 10‑hour workday. We used to equate the exchange value of £3 with one hour’s work.
Now let us suppose that the value C is £60. We will then have:
Of the £30 of value added by the worker, 18 = 6·£3 represented the wage or variable capital V; 12 = 4·£3 representing the surplus-value.
Let us suppose now that the product, worth £90, weighs 1,800 kg.
As we have £90 = £60+£18+£12, we can put 1,800 kg = 1,200+360+240 kg. We then have represented in proportional parts of the product the elements that constitute its value. 1,200 kg = £60 represent the constant capital; 360 kg = £18 represent the variable capital; 240 kg = £12 represent the surplus-value. Adding these last two parts, we obtain 600 Kg = £30 = 10 hours of work, which represent the total value produced by labor (both the necessary labor and the surplus-labor). That is, they would represent the value added for 10 hours of work to the value of raw materials and worn‑out tools.
This subdivision is legitimate but completely conventional; it cannot provide an interpretation of the productive process, because, if it is true that the £60 exist prior to the application of work as raw materials and machines, as parts of the product, but neither a pound, nor a gram can be obtained without work. We have here a purely conventional notation. It is necessary to convince ourselves that our conclusion on the distribution of the £30 of value of labor in wages and surplus-value is quite different; this distribution is provided to us by a law which adapts exactly to the technical, economic, historical and social characters of the studied phenomenon.
In a similar exercise we will divide no longer the 1,800 kilograms, but the 10 hours taken to produce them, into parts proportional to the elements of value. For just as there subsists, other things being equal, proportionality between quantities of products and their values, there also subsists proportionality between product value (and quantity) and processing time. In one hour 180 kilograms of weight and £9 of value would come out of the worker’s hands, that is, one‑tenth of 1,800 kilograms and £90.
So to the following subdivision:
This representation can be interpreted in a misleading way (see Marx’s “Senior’s last hour”, Capital, Vol. I) by saying that out of the 10 hours, the worker works for the capitalist for only 1h20min. With such an argument it was intended to show that the 8‑hour day would have ruined the capitalist. Such an argument for us could only be in favor of the 8‑hour day! But experience shows sufficiently that the 8‑hour day is perfectly compatible with the production of surplus-value.
In fact, such an argument is equivalent to assuming that the worker also produces the raw materials and instruments, whose value represents, on the contrary, pre‑existing labor time.
The exact distribution according to our theory is as follows:
£90 = £60 + £18 + £12 = value of the product.
30h = 20h + 6h + 4h = value expressed in labor time.
20 hours represent the labor contained, as value, in the constant capital purchased by the capitalist.
6 hours the necessary (paid) labor.
4 hours the surplus-labor (unpaid).
Reducing the workday to 8 hours would remove only 2 of the 4 hours of surplus-labor, assuming that associated phenomena (increase in labor productivity) do not at the same time reduce the work time absorbed by the means of subsistence, i.e. the necessary work.
20. Appendix: Calculation for the company referred to in chapter 18.
General treatment of the case of firm 2 that utilizes the products previously processed by firm 1, demonstrating the legitimacy of attributing surplus-value to wage capital alone.
Firm 2 incorporates firm 1 for previous processing of its raw materials. This firm 1 produces in one year exactly the quantity B2 needed by firm 2: B2 = F1.
For constant capital, we distinguish:
|C1 = A1 + H1 + B1
C2 = A2 + H2 + B2
Ctot = A1 + H1 + B1 + A2 + H2 = C1 + C2 ‑ B2
Thus it has been demonstrated that, in the transition from two separate firms to a single unified firm:
- Variable capital V1+V2 remains the same
- Profit S1+S2 remains the same
- Rate of surplus-value thus remained the same
- Constant and total capital decrease by B2
- Rate of profit has thus increased
- Sales decreases by F1
The same profit, or surplus-value, S1 + S2, cannot therefore be the result of
constant capital, which has decreased. So we rightly take as the rate of
surplus-value its ratio to variable capital, which alone brought it about. If we
were to put it in relation to constant capital or total capital, we would face
the absurdity of finding a different proportion between the two terms of the
ratio solely by virtue of the change in management of the two firms (4).
[Prometeo, no. 8, November 1947]
21. Length of the working day
The length of the working day is variable. It has a minimum which, under the capitalist regime, will never reach the necessary working time, and it has a maximum which depends on the physical limits of the worker’s endurance. By placing fully on the terrain of capitalist economy, by considering labor power as a commodity and the wage as its fair price, the worker, like every other seller, has the right to be protected by law in determining the quantity of the commodity he sells, that is, the time he undertakes to work in the day.
If this were not the case, not only would the canon of juridical equality among those who enter the marketplace be violated, but if the worker’s body were to be weakened, the number of years for which he would have the strength to work would be diminished, thus depriving him of a large part of his only private property: his labor power. By physically crippling the working class this would, moreover, prove to be in the long run to the detriment of the capitalists themselves, although any given entrepreneur pays attention to nothing but the pursuit of the maximum of working time.
Hence a struggle for the legal limitation of the working day, amply described by Marx in chapters that need to be not so much summarized as updated for the present day.
Rather, it is interesting to see what theoretical conclusions such an exposition leads to. Far from concluding with the apologia of social law, Marx ironically reduces the pompous catalog of human rights to its measly result, for the worker, of knowing how long he has “freely” sold himself, and how much remaining time belongs to him.
But this result, if it prevents the physical annihilation of the working class, does not detract from the fact that, as we know, a large part (surplus-labor) of even legally sold time consists of unpaid time.
What the workers need (Ch. X Sec. 7) is not to affirm a limit to the working day, but «to put their heads together and, as a class, compel the passing of a law, an all‑powerful social barrier by which they can be prevented from selling themselves and their families into slavery and death by voluntary contract with capital». These words are not to be interpreted in the banal sense of the introduction of the normal working day or collective bargaining and even of the wage fixed by law, but in the sense of the historical abolition of the principle which makes labor a commodity, and of the possibility of freely selling even a single hour of work, that is to say: of the abolition of capitalism.
22. Surplus-labor and capitalism
We have said that the production of surplus-value appears under the capitalist regime in the precise sense in which surplus-value is the difference in a commodity value which appears after a series of exchanges on the market.
But even before labor power was treated as a commodity on the (free) market, the worker was forced in different ways to give away large parts of his time for free (surplus-labor). That was the case for the slave economy, agrarian economy, etc., etc. But Marx observes that when the form of a society is not mercantile, or is scarcely so, that is to say, when commodities are more interesting for their use value than for their exchange value, the social order does not give rise to an excessive hunger for surplus-labor. The owner of slaves has no interest in making them work beyond a certain limit, because he generally consumes rather than sells the slave’s products, and he would have to pay for a new slave if the first one died or became unable to work. The feudal landlord makes the peasant work for free on his land on corvée days; although this system seems inhuman, it produces a lower rate of surplus-labor than modern capitalism (Chap. VIII, 2).
23. Capital and surplus-value
Up to this point the analysis has proceeded by imagining that the capitalist always pays the same price for labor power (constant wages), and that this price exactly expresses its value.
Under these conditions, that is to say, while holding the necessary labor‑time constant, capital, in order to satisfy its need of obtaining the maximum surplus-value, since this is given by V·s,
can only follow one of these paths:
1. increase the rate of surplus-value, or surplus-labor, that is, the working day – but we have already seen that historically, it tends to decrease;
2. increase variable capital, and this can be done by increasing the number of workers. In this sense, capital is always taking new steps forward by transforming artisans, smallholders, etc. into workers, taking advantage of population growth, urbanism, colonization. However, despite this tendency to increase the mass of variable capital, which is the only means of increasing the mass of surplus-value, we can see that capital is increasingly forced to largely take the form of constant capital in modern production.
However, further analysis will show that the contradiction with the law of dependence between variable capital and surplus-value is only apparent (5)
On the understanding that the formation of surplus-value is the characteristic of capitalism, another observation needs to be made about the initial conditions for the capitalistic phenomenon to emerge.
The new master must have sufficient financial means to employ a minimum number of workers, such as is necessary to guarantee him enough surplus-value to not only improve his personal standard of living, but also to set aside a margin of money to be further transformed into capital. These lower bounds are very variable according to social conditions; we have here an example of a purely quantitative distinction that gives rise to a qualitative difference (between the artisan or master craftsman and the capitalist).
However, the technological transformation of production processes is not an indispensable condition for the establishment of relations of the capitalist type. Capitalism came into being using traditional technology at first. The revolutions in the field of technology, machinery, and the use of mechanical forces followed later on. For us, these innovations are, on the one hand, brought about at an ever‑accelerating pace by the needs of capitalism, and on the other, they represent the conditions that make it technologically and economically possible to abolish it.
(2) - The titles in the original work are: The production of absolute surplus-value for section III and The production of relative surplus-value for section IV.
We make more use of simple mathematical formulas than the original. Sure enough,
this is not just a matter of allowing Marx’s theses to be grasped with less
effort, but above all of re‑establishing their exact meaning in a way that
falsifiers and adversaries find impossible to contest. In the text, great skill
is required to arrive at a good understanding when models of the phenomenon – of
necessity theoretical – are subject to scientific treatment, and when it comes to broad historical-narrative expositions.
(3) - The entirety of this first enunciation of the formation of surplus-value in Marx’s work is flanked and enlivened by an evocative description of the relation between boss and worker, through a polemic with official bourgeois economics and with the vacuous ethical and juridical concepts which underlie the present institutions, or rather the apologetics of them. Marx points out, step by step, which of his findings and postulates are held to be self‑evident in the admissions of ordinary economists, and where lie the pitfalls and tricks which lead them to avoid his rigorous and scientific conclusions, out of the prejudice and interest of school and class.
In his historical references Marx underlines with incomparable effectiveness the theses, which we will encounter again later and which are essential to Marxism, that the extortion of surplus-value has not existed in all social epochs, since it was lacking in primitive communities, such as in the autonomous individual and familial production of the small artisan and of the peasant smallholder as long as the latter remained free, that is to say, not subject to tithes and corvée. In contrast, it comes into being in various forms with slavery, feudal serfdom, and wage labor. This lays the groundwork for the demonstration that the fact of surplus-labor and surplus-value, and therefore of exploitation, far from being inseparable from every kind of economy, as the bourgeois theorist pretends, can and will disappear in the future economy.
In a brilliant critique of the ethical-juridical kind, in which the author dialectically and subtly pretends to take seriously the moral norms of bourgeois philosophy and those of modern law, reducing them to absurdity and ridiculousness, we are shown the perfect legal, ethical, and Christian fairness of everything that takes place on the market, with exchanges in which everyone sells at a fair price what is rightfully his, and at last, the “fraud” hidden in the secret of the productive process is revealed.
To set the foundation for the judgment on the philosophical, religious, moral and political superstructures of the capitalist world, it is pointed out in powerful passages that there are two conditions for the “game” of the appropriation of surplus-value to be possible every time the capitalist comes into contact with the worker, and for it to be applied on an ever larger scale in the historical process.
They consist in the freedom of the worker, in a double sense. First, he must be free to alienate his own labor power, and therefore the new jurisprudence (whereby all citizens are equal before the law) must break the feudal serfdom which bound men to the land, and the guild system which bound them to the trade and shop. Second, he must be freed from every hindrance of possessing on his own account instruments of labor and small supplies of raw materials, as he did when he was an artisan or a peasant. This is accomplished through the initial expropriation of small producers, from which capitalism was ferociously born.
At the same time we are shown that this process, however infamous, was needed to bring about the more intense and higher-yield forms of production necessitated by modern technological means. But the whole mastery of these descriptive and critical fundamentals of the current mode of production, and of the path by which it has been realized, serves as a basis for the thesis that its dynamic aspects, such as the application of scientific discoveries and machinery, and the principle of the associated and co‑ordinated labor of an ever larger number of producers, are not separable from the extortion of surplus-value and the monopoly of the means of production and exchange held by the capitalist class.
The study of Marx’s work and its use as an argument and means of propaganda and of class and party struggle can be made after having mastered the central line of investigation and deduction of which we have tried to present the outline, perhaps dry but clear, and then by following the development of Marx’s “narration”, stopping at all those seeming digressions which, despite appearing as such, in reality represent syntheses and anticipations of the programmatic and political positions of the communists.
This gives the lie to the idiotic assumption that the true “spirit” of Marxism
is a cold description of the economic phenomena of today’s social world,
carefully eschewing the risk of forecasting and proposing its overthrow.
(4) - Do not find this succession of little formulas too dry. It is intended as a demonstration of the validity of the general law of surplus-value given by Marx, illustrated using economic enterprises of the capitalist type.
We are here at the end of Section III, which establishes the definition of surplus-value. At the end of Section V and before proceeding to the treatment of the accumulation of capital, in a small summary chapter on the various formulas of surplus-value, Marx contrasts the two groups of formulas which characterize classical bourgeois economics and Marxist economics (Chap. XVI of the original text).
Both are based on the admission that value is given by labor. But they present the matter quite differently when it comes to answering the following question: what part of the working day does the worker work for himself, and what part does he work for the owner of the company?
In both cases we may speak of necessary labor for the first part, which is that which is paid in full, and of surplus-labor for the second part (of labor time), which is the part whose equivalent goes to form the profit of the company owner.
According to the bourgeois economist, the formulas are:
Cost of the product
In other words, that ratio reproduces what capitalist accounting calls the rate of profit, earnings, dividend, and so on. We find the same fraction by writing in the numerator the profit margin on a given production output, that is, the excess of the realized price over the total cost, and in the denominator this same cost.
If a car, let us say, costs – between materials, wages, wear and tear, machinery, etc., etc. – one hundred thousand, and is sold for 110,000, the company earns 10%. It is then claimed that the worker has only been exploited for 10% of his labor time. If he has worked 11 hours, he has recovered the full proceeds of ten, and only for one hour has he worked for the capitalist.
Modern official economics, with its pretensions to positive exactitude, always follow this thesis, and therefore rejects Marx’s theory of surplus-value, treating it as a brilliant polemical exercise and not as science.
In the latter, however, the formulas take a very different turn and look as
follows (starting from the same initial ratio):
The degree of exploitation, i.e., the amount of unpaid labor, is not put in relation to the whole expenditure, i.e., to the whole advanced capital, but to the wage expenditure alone, called by us the variable part of the total capital.
The difference between the two interpretations is enormous. Quantitatively, as Marx shows here and elsewhere, it implies that the rate of surplus-value is much higher. If in that car only twenty thousand, out of the hundred thousand, have been spent on wages, the rate rises from 10% to 50%, since it is now given by the ratio of the profit of 10,000 to the variable capital of 20,000. One‑third of the day is unpaid. There are examples, such as one taken from contemporary English agriculture, of rates of up to 300%.
Qualitatively, then, the formula of current economics lends itself to showing the relation between wage‑earner and capitalist as a form of free association, while the Marxist law shows its fundamental antagonistic character.
With our little calculation concerning the merger of two companies, we wished to show how establishing the quantitative relation between surplus-value and wage‑capital is not a whim of our economic school, but rather the only way of accounting for the phenomenon under study, since what in the single cycle appears as constant capital in the hands of the company owner is nothing but the accumulated product of previous wage‑capitals, which have given rise to other previous surplus-values from unpaid labor.
The subterfuge and tendentiousness are thus inherent to the very act – common as
it may be – of presenting the balance sheets of productive enterprises (even
non‑private ones), which are accepted as self‑evident and accurate by academic
economics and bourgeois legality.
(5) - Since accumulated surplus-value becomes new capital, and surplus-value arises from capital invested in labor, there is a limit to accumulation given by the size of the working population, which tends to rise with the number of inhabitants of the earth; by the portion of the earth that has been pervaded by capitalist “civilization”; and by the ratio of proletarians to citizens due to the progressive expropriation of the middle classes.
But may it not seem that the enormous mass of constant capital, that is, capital consisting of plant and commodity (product) reserves, has in the modern world increased to an even more impressive extent than the mass of available working days? And does this not contradict the Marxist construction?
We certainly do not want to answer such a question now, since we must first expound and understand the whole doctrine of accumulation (section VII), and further still, the doctrine of the Marxist school on imperialism. But it is interesting to consider how a “conservative” solution, namely that which prolongs the duration of the capitalist cycle, consists in the “destruction” of the constant capital produced, that is, of plant and stockpiles, and in the reduction of countries that are already rich and advanced in the industrial sense to “unequipped” countries by the devastation of their installations (factories, railways, ships, machinery, buildings of all kinds, etc.).
Thus the reconstitution of that enormous mass of dead capital allows for a further mad rush to invest in variable capital, that is, in living, exploited human labor.
Wars effectuate this elimination of installations and commodity stockpiles, whereas the destruction of laboring hands does not reach the same proportion owing to the increase in population of the prolific human animal.
In the very civilized reconstruction (the biggest deal of the century, for the bourgeois: an even more criminal aspect of capitalist barbarism than wartime destruction itself, for us, disciples of Marx), it then sustains itself on the insatiable creation of new surplus-value.