Literature Study GuidesCapital Das KapitalVol 1 Part 3 Chapter 7 Summary

Capital (Das Kapital) | Study Guide

Karl Marx

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Capital (Das Kapital) | Vol. 1, Part 3, Chapter 7 : The Production of Absolute Surplus-Value (The Labor Process and the Valorization Process) | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 7 continues to investigate the concept of labor. Marx proposes to examine the labor process "independently of any specific social formation." He specifies there is an important distinction between conscious human labor and the instinctive labor of animals. After specifying this, he breaks down the concept of labor into three basic elements:

  1. "purposeful activity,"
  2. "the object on which that work is performed," and
  3. "the instruments of that work."

Some objects of labor are provided by nature, such as timber or other such resources, and some require work to become an object of labor, which are called "raw materials." Commodities with use-values can be seen as raw materials, instruments of labor, or the product/commodity of that labor, depending on what part of the labor process they are used in. In this way Marx explains that "labor consumes products in order to create products."

The "would-be capitalist" must purchase both the labor-power and the means of production (raw materials and instruments). Then, the capitalist consumes the commodity of the worker's labor. Marx states that the process of the laborer making a commodity is not essentially different when the laborer is working for the capitalist as opposed to themselves. While the basic process of production might be unaltered, there are two distinct characteristics of the process as a whole. First, the capitalist controls the labor of the worker whose labor they have purchased. Second, the product that results from the labor is not the property of the worker but instead the property of the capitalist.

Unlike a regular buyer of a commodity, the capitalist is not interested in the product for its own sake or for its use-value. Instead, the capitalist is interested solely in the exchange-value of the product. Marx states that the capitalist has two main agendas: "to produce a use-value which has an exchange-value" and to produce a product that is "greater in value than the sum of the values of the commodities used to produce it." This refers to the "surplus-value" mentioned previously.

Next Marx attempts to analyze the "process of creating value" through production. In analyzing the production, it is necessary to "calculate the quantity of labor objectified in it." Basically, the product or commodity of labor can be seen as "embodied labor." Marx makes a particular point to emphasize that in this model, all labor must be viewed as the same—differentiations in types of labor are not made. The quantity of labor or amount of time spent on the labor is the only important characteristic of the labor. However, if the product of labor is the embodiment of the amount of labor, the question remains: how is surplus-value created?

Surplus-value is created in the difference between the expenditure of labor and the actual labor-time. A worker may need to work only half a day in order to create enough product to subsist on. However, if the worker is paid a subsistence wage but retained to work for 12 hours instead of six, he can create twice as much product on the same wage. This example illustrates the difference between the exchange-value of labor power, or how much it costs to produce/reproduce, and the use-value of labor-power, which is how much value it can produce. In this way the capitalist manages to work the system to his favor. Capitalists buy materials at their value and sell the product at its value, but the labor process is where they make their surplus.

Analysis

Marx finds it important to clarify the difference between human and animal labor. He uses examples to illustrate this distinction, explaining that the difference between what an architect does and what a bee does "is that the architect builds the cell in his mind before he constructs it in wax." Inherently, what Marx seems to be identifying as the difference between animal labor and human labor is the presence or lack of creativity and purpose. The bee builds from instinct and imprint, whereas the person builds with specific purpose, forming the plans in his mind out of creative drive. The human mind is instrumental in the process of human labor, because it possesses the power of intellect. Thus, ideas play a crucial part in the processes through which humanity produces and reproduces itself.

In this chapter Marx focuses on "objects of labor" and "instruments of labor." He makes a point of distinguishing between raw materials and materials taken straight from nature that are already useful. The term instrument, he states, names something that utilizes "the mechanical, physical and chemical properties of some substances ... to set them to work." Marx also sees the relationship between humanity and nature as a metabolic one, where a bidirectional transformation happens. Humans adapt new technology in response to natural conditions and fluctuations.

As the chapter progresses, Marx points out some important distinctions of the capitalist-bought labor process. These distinctions have to do with control and ownership. The capitalist owns the labor of and pays the wage to the worker, giving him a sort of control over the laborer that doesn't exist in the simpler system of equal-value exchange. He gets closer to the reason he sees capitalists as people who are "at home in vulgar economics."

Marx's dislike of the capitalist system becomes abundantly clear in his explanation of how surplus-value works. The surplus-value, or profit, is being made off the worker, who must work more in order to make ends meet. In a system where commodities are simply traded for other commodities, even with money as a sort of middleman, the laborer has to work only as much as necessary to produce enough of a commodity to live. In the capitalist system, the worker must work much more in order to survive. His work, in turn, gives the capitalist a lot of power over the worker, for the capitalist now sets the time and the pay for the labor, and the worker has no choice but to work double to survive. Additionally, the capitalist "is to ensure that his workmen are not idle for a single moment" to get the most profit for his money. Meanwhile, the worker makes no profit at all, but instead works double for the same amount of money.

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