Literature Study GuidesCapital Das KapitalVol 1 Part 3 Chapter 10 Summary

Capital (Das Kapital) | Study Guide

Karl Marx

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Capital (Das Kapital) | Vol. 1, Part 3, Chapter 10 : The Production of Absolute Surplus-Value (The Working Day) | Summary

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Summary

Marx opens Chapter 10 with a reiteration of the variable nature of the working day. It is difficult to pinpoint the minimum value of labor, because there are so many variables involved (such as place, time, and living conditions). Marx proposes the basic equation that the minimum limit of labor-time in the working day can be generally assumed as the amount of time needed for the workers to sustain themselves, though in the capitalist system it is more difficult to determine the minimum. The maximum working day is based on multiple factors, and "fluctuates within boundaries both physical and social." The worker, since his labor is the commodity the capitalist has purchased, rationally wants a work day that reflects his actual compensation. The capitalist wants maximum profit and therefore the longest possible work day. In the end the resulting work day length is somewhere between the two.

Later in this chapter Marx discusses the shift system and the changes in length in the working day throughout the 19th century. Capital is value in motion, and when it is not in motion, that is, when the process of production and circulation pauses, it ceases to increase in value. Because it is impossible for a worker to work 24 hours every day, the capitalist uses a shift system to keep production going day and night. This increases surplus-value even further. However, the assumption of the 24-hour work day also assumes no time for the worker to do anything except work. Workers are viewed simply as labor machines in this system, which "usurps the time for growth, development and healthy maintenance of the body."

The last part of Chapter 10 focuses on the development of the working day and the laws that have affected it. Britain gradually passed laws throughout the 19th century that limited the working day and age of children in factories, but other parts of Europe were ahead of Britain in these measures. Children still worked 8–12 hour days in many factories. In 1866 both the U.S. and Britain agreed to a standard 8-hour working day.

Analysis

Marx's focus in this chapter is on detailing the conditions and unreasonable length of the working day in 19th-century capitalist Europe. He makes it clear that the necessary working day and the working day preferred by the capitalist are two very different things. In the capitalist system the working day should be the maximum length possible to create the most surplus-value possible from the labor. In Marx's words, "Capital is dead labor which, vampire-like, lives only by sucking living labor." The thirst for profit in relation to prizing exchange-value has resulted in societies that use slave-labor as a way to create massive surplus-value. Marx points out that overwork is a common problem in the capitalist system. Vampires aren't the only creatures to which Marx likens capitalists. He also comments on capitalists' "werewolf-like hunger for surplus labor."

In Chapter 10 Marx aims to paint a picture of the results of capitalism in relation to workers' lives that will help readers understand their own views. The image he draws is one of factories with squalid, dangerous conditions, unsustainably long hours, and massive amounts of child labor. All this labor is paid the absolute minimum living wage, and the lifespan of the workers is considerably shorter than it would be under more humane conditions.

Capitalism prizes exchange-value over use-value, and thus overwork becomes a common result of the system. The unchecked desire for surplus-value in capitalism eventually led to a need for some sort of legal restrictions to be put in place. Marx describes various types of labor and the conditions that often coincide with long working hours. For instance, young children worked 15-hour days in factories, and adults up to 18 hours, with terrible conditions that often led to early death. Some trades fought back, but many types of laborers did not have the power to influence their working conditions.

In this chapter Marx also details the progression of laws that affected both the length of the working day and the ages and conditions of the workers. It is not hard to see why Marx detests the capitalist system, for in his definition capitalists are heartless overseers who live for profit at the expense of their laborers.

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