Raya Dunavevskaya 1979

Lecture 7
Part IV, Chapters 12-14
Relative Surplus Value

“The Production of Absolute Surplus Value” dealt with the prolongation of the working day. “The Production of Relative Surplus Value” describes the extraction of surplus value within the same working day. In the first case, capital subordinates labor “on the basis of the technical conditions in which it historically finds itself.” (p. 339) In the second case, it revolutionizes these technical conditions. Marx will analyze this fully in the last chapter of Part IV where he will consider “Machinery and Modern industry.”

In approaching “The Concept of Relative Surplus Value,” we should keep firmly in mind the fact that “The essential difference between the various economic forms of society between, for instance, a society based on slave labor, and one based on wage labor ills only in the mode in which this surplus-labor is in each case extracted from the actual producer, the laborer.” (p. 241)

And it is precisely the manner of, surplus labor which is so characteristically capitalistic that Marx describes in the labor process. Thus we see that the “live monster that is fruitful and multiplies” does so by virtue of the special capitalistic manner in which various kinds of concrete labor (mining, tailoring, etc.) are reduced to one mass of abstract labor. It is the way in which constant capital, or accumulated labor, dominates over variable capital, or living labor.

It is of crucial importance to understand clearly that the socially necessary labor time is the solvent which reduce the aggregates of concrete labor into the general mass of abstract labor Since there is no such thing as an abstract laborer, the manner in which the capitalist performs his mission of getting abstract labor is the key factor to his amassing surplus value. He utilizes one of the factors of production, accumulated or dead labor, against the other factor, living labor. Only in capitalist society does accumulated labor dominate living labor.

Laws, and their Manifestations

How does the fall of the value of commodities because of an increase in the productivity of labor, affect the value of labor-power itself? Marx answers: “In order to effect a fall in the value of labour-power, the increase in the productiveness of labour must seize upon those branches of industry whose products determine the value of labour-power, and consequently either belong to the class of customary means of subsistence or are capable of supplying the place of those means.” (p. 346)

It is at this point that it is most tempting to move to the field of competition, and ask how that would effect the value of labor power. But Marx warns us that “The general and necessary tendencies of capital must be distinguished from their form of manifestations.” (p. 347) Precisely because it is easy to move away from the abstract to the concrete, that Marx is most insistent on remaining within the inner’ abode of production:

“It is not our intention to consider, here, the way in which the laws, immanent in capitalist production, manifest themselves in the movements of individual masses of capital, where they assert themselves as coercive laws of competition, and are brought home to the mind and consciousness of the individual capitalist as the directing motives of his operations. But this much is clear; a scientific analysis of competition is not possible, before we have a conception of the inner nature of capital.” (P. 347)

And again:

“The law of the determination of value by labor-time, a law which brings under its sway the individual capitalist who applies the new method of production, by compelling him to sell his goods under the social value, this same law, acting as a coercive law of competition, forces his competitors to adopt the new method.” (p. 350) “Hence,” concludes Marx, “there is immanent in capital an inclination of and constant tendency to heighten the productiveness of labour, in order to cheapen commodities, and by such cheapening to cheapen the labourer himself.” (p. 351)

Cooperation and Manufacture

Marx divided into three parts the particular modes of producing relative surplus value, the object of which under capitalism is “to shorten that part of the working day, during which the workman must labour for his own benefit, and by that very shortening, to lengthen the other part of the day, during which he is at liberty to work gratis for the capitalist,” (p. 352) These were; (l) cooperation, which is “both historically and logically the starting point of capitalist production” (p. 353); (2) division of labor in manufacture; and (3) machinery and modern industry. The last of these divisions we will deal with in the next lecture.

Cooperation is the form of producing a single commodity by a number of laborers working together under the mastership of one capitalist. At first, then, “the subjection of labour to capital was only a formal result of the fact that the labourer, instead of working for himself, works for and consequently under a capitalist.” (p. 362) But once cooperation becomes a function of capital, it acquires distinctive characteristics: “The directing motive, the end and aim of capitalist production is to extract the greatest possible amount of surplus value, and consequently to exploit labour power to the greatest possible extent... The control exercised by the capitalist is not only a special function, due to the nature of the social labour-process, and peculiar to that process, but it is, at the same time, a function of the exploitation of a social labour-process, and is consequently rooted in the unavoidable antagonism between the exploiter and the living and labouring raw material he exploits.” (p. 363) And further: “As cooperators, as members of a working organism, they [the laborers] are out special modes of existence of capital.” (p. 365)

Marx next considers the two-fold origin of manufacture: (1).”..assemblage, in one workshop under the control of a single capitalist, of labourers belonging to various independent handicrafts but through whose hands a given article must pass on its way to completion”; and (2) “...one capitalist employing simultaneously in one workshop, a number of artificers, who all do the same or the same kind of work...” (p. 370) “But,” concludes Marx, “whatever may have been its particular starting point, its final form is invariably the same – a productive mechanism whose parts are human beings.” (p. 371)

The description of the detail laborer and his implements, the heterogeneous and serial forms of manufacture, all lead up to the division of labor in manufacture being compared with the division of labor in society; “The foundation of every division of labour that is well developed, end brought about by the exchange of commodities, is the separation between town and country, If may be said, that the whole economical history of society is summed up in the movement of this antithesis.” (387)

Marx’s theory of value is derived from the historical development of labor. “If at first,” says Marx, “the workman sells his labour-power to capital, because the material means of producing a commodity fail him, now his very labour-power refuses its services unless it has been sold to capital. Its functions can be exercised only in an environment that exists in the workshop of the capitalist after the sale. By nature unfitted to make anything independently, the manufacturing labourer develops productive activity as a mere appendage of the capitalists workshop. As the chosen people bore in their feature the sign manual of Jehovah, so division of labour brands the manufacturing workman as the property of capital.”


1. Define the distinction between absolute and relative surplus value.

2. What is the relationship between socially-necessary labor time and the necessity to extract as much surplus value as possible within the same working day?

3. Does the fall in the value of any commodity effect the value of labor power? Would a fall in the value of steel?

4. Does competition decide the law of value?

5. Draw a parallel between the division of labor in society and that in manufacture.

6. Define the differences between cooperation and manufacture.

7. In what respect is the manufacturing workman “the property of capital"?