Literature Study GuidesCapital Das KapitalVol 1 Part 6 Chapters 19 22 Summary

Capital (Das Kapital) | Study Guide

Karl Marx

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Capital (Das Kapital) | Vol. 1, Part 6, Chapters 19–22 : Wages | Summary



Chapter 19: The Transformation of the Value (and Respectively the Price) of Labor-Power into Wages

In Chapter 19 Marx examines the question, "How is the price of labor determined?" He proposes that the price at which labor rests "at the moment when demand and supply are in equilibrium ... is its natural price." This natural price should be the focus of analysis, and not the oscillation of the price under supply and demand. In searching for the value of labor, Marx argues, political economists were actually asking the question, "What is the cost of production (which is the cost of producing/reproducing the worker)?" and mixed up the value of labor with the value of labor-power. Marx points out that "the value of labor must always be less than its value-product," meaning that the value of labor in the capitalist system must always be lower than the commodity being produced, otherwise the capitalist would have no surplus-value and would make no money.

Chapter 20: Time-Wages

There are two fundamental forms of wages. Chapter 20 deals with the "time-wage." The time-wage is what it sounds like: it is defined as the wage "in which the daily value, weekly value, etc. of labor-power is directly presented." In other words a time-wage is a wage that is paid for a set amount of time and can be measured in days, weeks, or other increments. In the case that the capitalist decides on a fixed daily wage, they might add more hours to the working day and thus decrease the amount the worker is earning per hour. With a fixed hourly wage the capitalist may add or detract hours from the working day and not guarantee the worker a living wage. Marx introduces the concept of overtime, wherein the capitalist pays the worker a higher wage for hours worked outside the affixed working day. However, according to Marx the overtime wage is "often in a proportion which is ridiculously small."

Chapter 21: Piece-Wages

Chapter 21 examines the second type of wage, which Marx calls the "piece-wage." He begins by stating that "the piece-wage is nothing but a converted form of the time-wage." A piece-wage refers to the type of wage that is paid by the piece or job. For instance, a worker might be offered a certain amount of money in order to complete a given job, such as helping build a ship or making a saddle. In order for a capitalist to make surplus-value off this type of wage system, they must calculate the amount of time required to produce a certain number of pieces, and then be sure to calculate in surplus labor when setting a wage. Thus, the worker makes an item and is paid only a fraction of that item's actual exchange-value. Piece wages also allow the capitalist to set a certain standard of efficiency—that is, if the capitalist decides that a certain piece should be completed in an hour, and the worker can't meet that standard, then the worker is fired.

Chapter 22: National Differences in Wages

Chapter 22 is simply a brief study of the differences in wages across different European countries. There are certain factors that influence how the value of labor-power is factored across different countries, such as the general cost of living, "the cost of training the workers ... the labor of women and children, [and] the productivity of labor." Marx also proposes that the "average intensity of labor" and "average productivity" differ from country to country. Marx then gives two case studies concerning the spinning industry in England and Europe, and the railroads being built in Eastern Europe and Asia.


Section 6 primarily focuses on the concept of the wage and how workers' labor is valued and compensated. Marx sees the daily wage as a way to cover up the fact that workers are producing both necessary labor and surplus labor. Putting value on the work day allows the capitalist to set a price for labor that incorporates both necessary labor and surplus-value without paying the actual value for the amount of labor worked.

In one of the key points for his text, Marx argues that "the form of appearance ... makes the actual relation invisible." In other words, the "form of appearance," or the daily wage, covers up what is actually happening with regard to the amount of work being done and the value of the commodity being produced. As with his discussion of commodity fetishism and his rejection of circulation as a source of surplus-value, Marx Is critiquing conventional political economy by illuminating the many ways in which what "appears" to be the case for capitalist production is not really the case.

Regarding time-based wages, Marx points out an interesting flaw in the hourly wage argument. It might seem that the hourly wage is fairer to the worker, because when they are paid a daily wage it is easier to cover up the necessary labor/surplus labor discrepancy. However, if the capitalist agrees to pay the worker an hourly wage, then the capitalist can reduce the hours of a given working day and only "pay wages for the hours during which he chooses to employ the worker." This gives the capitalist the power to change the hours in a working day and thus creates the potential for a worker to find themselves not working enough hours to make a living wage. Marx points out that this also makes it possible for the capitalist to "wring from the worker a certain quantity of surplus labor" which then, in turn, doesn't allow the worker "the labor-time necessary for his own subsistence."

The piece-wage is, in Marx's opinion, even more problematic than the time-based wage. Because employers essentially equate the creation or work on a certain piece with a certain amount of time, the piece-wage allows employers to create a competitive environment where the workers are constantly pushing to become more efficient—or do more work in a shorter amount of time and create more surplus-value for the employer. It also creates the false illusion that workers are being paid for the commodity they are producing, or their "product is being paid for and not [their] labor-power."

To wrap up Part 6 Marx delves into some examples of different wage and production rates across England and Europe. He makes a point to quote and poke fun at the arguments of American economic theorist Henry Charles Carey, whom he accuses of "shuffling a confused mass of statistical material to and fro in his usual ... superficial manner."

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