Literature Study GuidesCapital Das KapitalVol 1 Part 4 Chapters 12 13 Summary

Capital (Das Kapital) | Study Guide

Karl Marx

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Capital (Das Kapital) | Vol. 1, Part 4, Chapters 12–13 : The Production of Relative Surplus-Value | Summary



Chapter 12: The Concept of Relative Surplus-Value

Here Marx introduces the concept of "relative surplus-value." Though surplus-value has been treated so far as a constant, Marx informs his reader that the situation isn't quite so simple. If the length of the working day remains constant, then in order to increase the surplus labor the necessary labor must be shortened: "prolongation of surplus labor would correspond to a shortening of necessary labor." In order to make this possible, an increase in productivity must take place. Marx divides surplus-value into two categories: relative and absolute. Absolute surplus-value is surplus-value achieved by the lengthening of the working day. Relative surplus-value is surplus-value created by "shortening the necessary labor-time" and thus creating more surplus labor-time.

Chapter 13: Co-operation

In Chapter 13 Marx breaks down capitalist production in more detail. According to Marx, the "starting-point of capitalist production" is created by "a large number of workers working together, at the same time, in one place" who are all producing "the same sort of commodity under the command of the same capitalist." In this type of production workers lose their individual qualities and become a mass of average social labor. Marx explains that when a group of workers labor "side by side in accordance with a plan ... this form of labor is called co-operation," thus the title of the chapter. In order for this type of collective labor to work, it must be directed by an authority figure. Marx likens the capitalist bringing together his workers to how "a general should command on the field of battle." The cooperation of workers, under the direction of the capitalist, is the "fundamental form of the capitalist mode of production." It is important to note that cooperation is a natural human mode of working, but the introduction of the capitalist "master" is what makes this mode particular to capitalism.


In order to increase production—which Marx proposes as the only way to shorten necessary labor-time and thus create more surplus labor—Marx looks to technology. Technology and machinery are the important elements that create the possibility of greater productivity. They allow more commodities to be created at a faster rate. Since Marx is highly critical of capitalism, it's possible to infer that he might also be critical of technological development intended to increase labor productivity. In the capitalist system, the development of technology is driven by a desire to increase productivity, not to create a better quality of life for the workers. In fact, years later Indian leader Mahatma Gandhi would find similar issue with capitalist ideas of widespread industry and the technology that allowed it, and would become a proponent of cottage industry and small-scale, worker-centric local production.

Marx sees the constant striving of capitalism toward cheaper, faster labor as a drive "to cheapen commodities and, by cheapening commodities, to cheapen the worker himself." Though new machinery and technology could help to shorten the worker's workday, which is something that would benefit the worker, this is not the goal of the capitalist. The capitalist's goal is to shorten the amount of time the worker works for themselves, in order to increase the time they work for the capitalist.

In Chapter 13 Marx continues the thread of Chapter 12. In these chapters he concretely examines the concepts that he addressed in earlier chapters in the abstract. He moves from theoretical concepts of labor and labor-time to the reality of how the capitalist work system must be organized and the importance of highly productive machinery in that process. The cooperation of workers as a collective under the pay and direction of the capitalist is essential for the system to succeed. There is no room in the system for the importance or skills of the individual. Average labor working on a massive, cooperative scale—as though the workers are one unified entity—is the foundation of how labor was organized in capitalism in Marx's time. While cooperation is a natural tendency of humankind, this particular cooperation is controlled by the capitalists. The capitalists hold power over the workers, and thus "subjects their activity to his purpose."

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