Deville - The People's Marx (1893)

Chapter XI: Rate and Mass of Surplus-Value

The prolongation of the working-day counterbalances a decrease in the number of the laborers.—A certain minimum of money necessary for the transformation of money into capital.

The Prolongation of the Working-Day Counterbalances a Decrease in the Number of the Laborers.

Let us assume that the average value of one day's labor-power is 80 cents, and that six hours a days are requisite to reproduce it. Hence to buy this power, the capitalist must advance 80 cents. How much surplus-value will this 80 cents yield him? This depends on the ratio of the labor devoted to the formation of surplus-value—surplus-labor—to the labor devoted to the reproduction of wages—necessary labor. In a word, it depends on the rate of surplus-value. If this rate is 100 per cent., the surplus value will amount to 80 cents representing six hours' surplus-labor; if the rate is fifty per cent., it will be forty cents, representing three hours surplus-labor. Hence, the rate of surplus-value determines the mass of surplus-value individually produced by one laborer, the value of his labor-power being given.

The variable capital is the expression in money of the value of all the labor-powers the capitalist employs at once. If 80 cents, the price of one labor-power, produces daily a surplus-value of 40 cents, the price of 100 labor-powers, a variable capital of 80 dollars, will produce a surplus-value of 40 dollars, a sum equal to the result of the multiplication of the variable capital, 80 by 50/100, a fraction which expresses the rate of surplus-value. Therefore, the mass of surplus-value produced by a given variable capital is equal to the value of this capital multiplied by the rate of surplus-value.

Suppose that the rate of surplus-value falls 50 per cent., and thus becomes 25 per cent., instead of 50 per cent., and that, on the other hand, the variable capital is doubled and becomes 160 dollars, instead of 80 dollars, then the surplus-value would be equal to 160 multiplied by 25/100, or to 40 dollars as before. Consequently, the mass of surplus-value remains constant, when the rate of surplus-value falls if the variable capital increases, or inversely, when the variable capital decreases if the rate of surplus-value rises in the same proportion.

A contraction of the variable capital may then be counterbalanced by a proportional rise in the rate of surplus-value; or, as the variable capital depends on the number of the laborers employed, a reduction in the number of the laborers employed may be counterbalanced by a proportional prolongation of their working-day. Up to a certain point, the amount of labor exploitable by capital, thus becomes independent of the number of laborers.

Nevertheless, this compensation of the fewness of the laborers by the prolongation of the day has impassable limits. The working-day, in fact, has physical limitations. However prolonged, it is still always less than the natural day of twenty-four hours. With 100 laborers paid 80 cents a day, and working twelve hours—6 hours being necessary labor-time—the rate of surplus- value is 100 per cent., and the capitalist has a daily surplus-value of 80 dollars. If he hires only one-third as many laborers, his surplus-value will inevitably be less, because he cannot impose upon them three times as many hours of surplus-labor; for eighteen hours of surplus-labor, added to the six hours of necessary labor, would make the working-day as long as the natural day, leaving no time for the absolutely indispensable daily rest. The physical limitations of the working-day—necessarily limiting the surplus-labor contained by it—set an absolute limit to the compensation of a reduction in the number of laborers employed by a prolongation of the working-day, i.e., by raising the degree of exploitation.

A Certain Minimum of Money Necessary for the Transformation of Money Into Capital.

As value is only realized labor, it is evident that the mass of value a capitalist produces, depends exclusively on the quantity of labor he exploits. As we have just seen, he can exploit more or less labor with the same number of laborers, as the working-day is longer or shorter. But, if the value of labor-power and the rate of surplus-value, or, in other words, the division of the day into necessary labor and surplus-labor are given, then the total mass of value, including the surplus-value, that a capitalist realizes is exclusively determined by the number of laborers that he employs, and this number depends on the magnitude of the variable capital that he advances, on the sum that he devotes to the purchase of labor-power.

The mass of surplus-value produced is then proportional to the magnitude of the variable capital. From this point of view the constant capital has no effect. The value of the means of production, be it great or small, has not the slightest influence on the mass of the value produced, which is only the new value added by labor to the value preserved by the means of production.

It follows from what has been said that not every sum of money is convertible into capital. This transformation requires the would-be capitalist to have in his hands a certain minimum of money. As he wishes not only to live by the labor of others, but also to grow rich by that labor, he must have a number of laborers sufficiently large so that their surplus labor-time shall provide at once for his support and his enrichment.

Of course, he can participate in the work himself, but he is then nothing but a hybrid between capitalist and. laborer, a small employer. At a certain stage of economic development, the capitalist must be able to devote all his time to the appropriation and oversight of the labor of others and to the sale of the products of that labor. He must then exploit a sufficient number of laborers to exempt him from himself participating in the labor of production.

This minimum of money that must be advanced varies with the varying degrees of the development of production. With a given degree of development, it varies in different industries, according to their special technical conditions.


In production considered from the point of view of the utility of the product the means of production, so far as the laborer is concerned, act only as materials for the exercise of his productive activity. If it is considered from the point of view of surplus-value, the means of production are at once transformed into means for the absorption of the labor of others.

The laborer no longer employs them, but, on the contrary, they employ the laborer. Instead of being consumed by him as the material elements of his productive activity, they consume him as the indispensable vital element of their own life-process, and the life-process of capital is nothing but its expansion as constantly multiplying value.

As a means to compel others to work, to exploit labor-power, and to extort from it surplus-labor, the capitalist system surpasses in energy, efficiency and unlimited power, all earlier systems of production based on the different kinds of directly compulsory labor.