Literature Study GuidesCapital Das KapitalVol 1 Part 3 Chapters 8 9 Summary

Capital (Das Kapital) | Study Guide

Karl Marx

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Capital (Das Kapital) | Vol. 1, Part 3, Chapters 8–9 : The Production of Absolute Surplus-Value | Summary



Chapter 8: Constant Capital and Variable Capital

The value of the product of labor has multiple factors. The values of all of the parts of labor—the worker's labor, the instruments used, and so on—are transferred to the product of that labor. Marx reinforces the concept that labor should be viewed as abstract social labor and not differentiated by specific types. Marx explains two aspects of labor-value. He states that "by the simple addition of a certain quantity of labor, new value is added." Additionally, the quality of that labor causes "the original values of the means of production [to be] preserved in the product."

Marx discusses the concept of use-value again in this chapter, pointing out that all commodities with a use-value that are used for making further commodities "only give up to the product the value they themselves lose as means of production." Thus, the value is transferred from instruments and raw materials into the final product. Marx calls this "constant capital." Conversely, variable capital is what Marx terms "that part of capital which is turned into labor-power."

Chapter 9: The Rate of Surplus-Value

Marx begins this chapter by setting up an equation to illustrate how surplus-value is created. In this equation C stands for the total capital, and it consists of c (the money paid for means of production, or the constant capital) and v (the money paid for labor, which is the variable capital). Thus, C = c + v. However, after the labor is completed the surplus must be considered in the equation, which now looks like this: = (c + v) + s. Marx refers to the rate of increase of surplus-value from the variable capital as the "rate of surplus-value." It is important to distinguish between the rate of surplus-value, which looks at the surplus in relation to the variable capital, and the "rate of profit," which considers the surplus in relation to the whole capital (the C in the equation).

In the second part of this chapter Marx simply tweaks this equation to illustrate how it can be representative of any of the different parts of the production process: money, time, weight, and so on. For instance, C could be used to represent total money, total time, and so on.

The last part of Chapter 9 focuses on criticizing a theory proposed by the English economist Nassau W. Senior. Senior argued against an act that would have reduced working hours from 11 to 10 hours. His argument was based on the idea that a one-hour reduction would cause the manufacturers (the capitalists, in this example) to lose their entire profit. Marx uses the rate of surplus-value to counter this argument, showing that a one-hour reduction would simply cause the reduction of a percentage of the profit relative to the labor wages.


Chapter 8 revisits much of the same information about labor that was discussed in Chapter 7. Marx uses the example of yarn and the labor of spinning to illustrate how labor-value works. This information is basically a rehashing of his earlier explanations of how labor and value function. Marx draws a distinction between the capital whose value stays constant during the production process, such as raw materials, and the capital whose value changes or increases during production, or labor-power. Thus, labor-power is the element of the production process that creates surplus value.

Chapter 9 continues to lay out some basic definitions of concepts that Marx will use throughout the text. In this chapter Marx works on using equations to clearly illustrate the different components of the production process, and how they work together to equal the total capital. He also introduces the concept of "exploitation of the worker," arguing that the "rate of surplus-value" can be seen as "an exact expression for the degree of exploitation ... of the worker by the capitalist." Marx sees the arguments of capitalists like 19th-century economist Nassau Senior as attempts to milk the absolute maximum profit out of the worker, with little care for the conditions or quality of life of that worker. The fact that manufacturers and capitalists alike refused to give workers a one-hour reduction in the work day illustrates a desperation for and obsession with the concept of the surplus, or profit.

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