Frederick Engels: Synopsis of Capital

Frederick Engels
Synopsis of Capital

The Production of Absolute Surplus Value

1. The labour process and the process of producting surplus-value

2. Constant and variable capital

3. The Rate of Surplus Value

4. The working day

5. Rate and mass of surplus-value


The purchaser of labor-power consumes it by setting its seller to work. This labor-to-produce-commodities at first turns out use-values, and in this property it is independent of the specific relation between capitalist and labourer.... Description of the labor process as such. (Pp.141-49 [177-85])

The labor process, on a capitalist basis, has two peculiarities:

(1) The labourer works under the capitalist's control.

(2) The product is the capitalist's property, since the labor process is now only a process between two things purchased by the capitalist: labor-power and means of production. (P.150 [184-85])

But the capitalist does not want the use-value produced for its own sake, but only as the depository of exchange-value, and especially of surplus-value. Labor, under this condition — where the commodity was a unity of use-value and exchange-value — becomes the unity of the production process and of the process creating value. (P.151 [186])

Thus, the quantity of labor embodied in the product is to be investigated.

Yarn, for example. Let 10 lbs. of cotton be necessary for making it, say, 10 shillings, and instruments of labor — whose wear and tear are inevitable in the spinning, here denoted in brief as spindle share — say, 2 shilling. Thus, there are 12 shillings' worth of means of production in the product — i.e., inasmuch as

(1) the product has become an actual use-value, in this case yarn; and

(2) only the socially necessary labor-time was represented in these instruments of labor.

How much is added to it by the labor of spinning?

The labor process is here viewed from an altogether different angle. In the value of the product, the labors of the cotton-planter, of the spindle-maker, etc., and of the spinner, are commensurable, qualitatively equal parts of general, human, necessary value-creating labor, and therefore distinguishable only qualitatively, and for that very reason quantitatively comparable by the length of time, presupposing that it is socially necessary labor-time, for only the latter is value-creating.

Assumed the value of a day's labor-power is 3 shillings, and that it represents 6 hours of labor, that 1 2/3 lbs. of yarn are made per hour, hence in 6 hours: 10 lbs. of yarn from 10 lbs. of cotton (as above); then 3 shillings of value have been added in 6 hours, and the value of the product is 15 shillings (10 + 2 + 3 shillings), or a shilling and a half per pound of yarn.

But in this case there is no surplus-value. That is of no use to the capitalist. (Vulgar-economic humbug, p.157 [190])

We assumed that the value of a day's labor-power was 3 shillings, because 1/2 working-day, or 6 hours, is incorporated in it. But the fact that only 1/2 working-day is required to maintain the worker for 24 hours does not in any way prevent him from working a whole day. The value of labor-power, and the value it creates, are two different quantities. Its useful property was only a conditio sine qua non; but what was decisive was the specific use-value of labor-power in being the source of more exchange-value than it has itself. (P.159 [193])

Hence, the labourer works 12 hours, spins 20 lbs. of cotton worth 20 shillings and 4 shillings' worth of spindles, and his labor costs 3 shillings: total — 27 shillings. But, in the product there are embodied: four days' labor in the shape of spindles and cotton, and one day's labor of the spinner, in all five days at 6 shillings totalling 30 shillings' value of product. We have a surplus-value of 3 shillings: money has been converted into capital. (P.160 [194]) All the conditions of the problem are fulfilled. (Detail p.160 [194])

As a value-creating process, the labor process becomes a process of producing surplus-value the moment it is prolonged beyond the point where it delivers a simple equivalent for the paid-for value of labor-power.

The value-creating process differs from the simple labor process in that the latter is considered qualitatively, and only to the extent that it comprises socially necessary labor-time. (P.161 [195], details p.162 [196])

As the unity of labor process and value-creating process, the production process is the production of commodities; as the unity of labor process and the process of producing surplus-value, it is the process of capitalist production of commodities. (P.163 [197])

Reduction of compound labor to simple labor. (Pp.163-65 [197-98])


The labor process adds new value to the object of labor — but, at the same time, it transfers the value of the object of labor to the product, thus preserving it by merely adding new value. This double result is attained in this manner: the specifically useful qualitative character of labor converts one use-value into another use-value and thus preserves value; the value-creating, abstractly general, quantitative character of labor, however, adds value. (P.166 [199])

E.g. — let the productivity of spinning labor multiply sixfold. As useful (qualitative) labor, it preserves in the same time six-times as many instruments of labor. But it adds only the same new value as before — i.e., in each pound of yarn, there is only 1/6 of the new value previously added. As value-creating labor, it accomplishes no more than before. (P.167 [201]) The contrary is true, if the productivity of spinning labor remains the same, but the value of the instruments of labor rises. (P.168 [201])

The instruments of labor transfer to the product only that value which they lose themselves. (P.169 [203]) This is the case in differing degree. Coal, lubricants, etc., are consumed completely — raw materials take on a new form. Instruments, machinery, etc., transmit value only slowly and by parts — and the wear and tear are calculated by experience. (Pp.169-70 [203]) But the instrument remains continually as a whole in the labor process. Therefore, the same instrument counts as a whole in the labor process, but only partly in the process of producing surplus-value, so that the difference between the two processes is reflected here in material factors. (P.171 [204]) Conversely, the raw material, which forms waste, enters wholly into the process of producing surplus-value, and only partly into the labor process, since it appears in the product minus the waste. (P.171 [205])

But, in no case can an instrument of labor transfer more exchange-value than it possessed itself — in the labor process it acts only as a use-value and, hence, can give only the exchange-value that it possessed previously. (P.172 [205-06])

This preserving of value is very advantageous to the capitalist, but costs him nothing. (P.173,174 [205,207])

Yet, the preserved value only re-appears, it was already present, and only the labor process adds new value. That is, in capitalist production, surplus-value, the excess of the product's value over the value of the consumed elements of the product (means of production and labor-power). (Pp.175,176 [208])

Herewith have been described the forms of existence which the original capital value takes on in dropping its money-form, in being converted into factors of the labor process:

(1) in the purchase of instruments of labor;

(2) in the purchase of labor-power.

The capital invested in instruments of labor does not, therefore, alter the magnitude of its value in the production process. We call it CONSTANT capital.

The portion invested in labor-power does change its value; it produces:

(1) its own value, and

(2) surplus-value — it is called VARIABLE capital. (P.176 [209])

Capital is constant only in relation to the production process specifically given, in which it does not change; it can consist sometimes of more, sometimes of fewer instruments of labor, and the purchased instruments of labor may rise or fall in value, but that does not affect their relationship to the production process. (P.177 [210-11]) Likewise, the percentage in which a given capital is subdivided into constant and variable capital may change, but in any given case, the c remains constant and the v variable. (P.178 [211])


c v
C = £ 500 = 410 + 90

At the end of the labor process in which v is turned into labor-power, we get 410c + 90v + 90s = 590.

Let us assume c consists of 312 raw material, 44 auxiliary material, and 54 wear and tear of machinery — in all 410.

Let the value of all the machinery be 1,054.

If this were entered as a whole, we would get 1,410 for c on both sides of our calculation; the surplus-value would remain 90 as before. (P.179 [212])

Since the value of c merely re-appears in the product, the value of the product we get differs from the value created in the process; the latter, therefore, equals not c + v + s, but v + s. Hence, the magnitude of c is immaterial to the process of creating surplus-value — i.e., c = 0. (P.180 [213]) This also takes place in practice in commercial accounting — e.g., in calculating a country's profit from its industry, imported raw material is deducted. (P.181 [215]) Cf. Vol.III for the ratio of surplus-value to total capital.

Hence: the rate of surplus-value is s:v, in the above case 90:90 = 100%.

The labor-time during which the labourer reproduces the value of his labor-power — in capitalist or other circumstances — is the NECESSARY LABOR; what goes beyond that, producing surplus-value for the capitalist, SURPLUS-LABOR. (Pp.183,184 [215,217]) Surplus-value is congealed surplus-labor, and only the form of extorting the same differentiates the various social formations.

Example of the incorrectness of including c — pp.185-96 [217-29] (Senior)

The sum of the necessary labor and the surplus-labor equals the working-day.


The necessary labor-time is given. The surplus-labor is variable — but within certain limits. It can never be reduced to nil, since then capitalist production ceases. It can never go as high as 24 hours for physical reasons, and, moreover, the maximum limit is always affected by moral grounds as well. But, these limits are very elastic. The economic demand is that the working-day should be no longer than for normal wear-and-tear of the worker. But what is normal? An antinomy results and only force can decide. Hence, the struggle between the working class and the capitalist class for the normal working-day. (Pp.198-202 [231-35])

Surplus-labor in previous social epochs. As long as the exchange-value is not more important than the use-value, surplus-labor is milder — e.g., among the ancients; only where direct exchange-value — gold and silver — was produced, surplus-labor was terrible. (P.203 [235]) Likewise, in the slave states of America until the mass production of cotton for export. Likewise, corvee labor — e.g., in Rumania.

Corvee labor is the best means of comparison with capitalist exploitation, because the former fixes and shows the surplus-labor as a specific labor-time to be performed — Reglement organique of Wallachia. (Pp.204-06 [235-36])

The English Factory Acts are negative expression of the greed for surplus-labor, just as the foregoing was its positive expression.

THE FACTORY ACTS. That of 1850 — (p.207 [239]). 10.5 hours and 7.5 on Saturdays = 60 hours per week. Mill-owners' profit through evasion. (Pp.208-11 [240-43])

Exploitation in unrestricted, or only later-restricted, branches:

— lace industry (p.212 [243])
— potteries (p.213 [244])
— lucifer matches (p.214 [246])
— wall-paper (pp.214-17 [246-48])
— baking (pp.217-22 [248-51])
— railway employees (p.223 [253])
— seamstresses (pp.223-25 [254-56])
— blacksmiths (p.226 [256])
— day and night workers in shifts:
(a) metallurgy and the metal industry
(pp.227-35 [256-63])

These facts prove that capital regards the labourer as nothing else than labor-power, all of whose time is labor-time as far as this is at all possible at a given moment, and that the length of life of labor-power is immaterial to the capitalists. (Pp.236-38 [264-65]) But is this not against the interests of the capitalist? What about the replacement of what is rapidly worn out? The organized slave trade in the interior of the United States has raised the rapid wearing out of slaves to an economic principle, exactly like the supply of labourers from the rural districts in Europe, etc. (P.239 [267]) Poorhouse supply (labor-power provided by poorhouses). (P.240 [267]) The capitalist sees only the continuously available surplus-population and wears it out. Whether the race perishes — apres moi le deluge. Capital is reckless of the health or length of life of the labourer, unless under compulsion from society... and free competition brings out the inherent laws of capitalist production in the shape of external coercive laws having power over every individual capitalist. (P.243 [270])

Establishment of a normal working-day — the result of centuries of struggle between capitalist and labourer.

At the beginning, laws were made to raise working-time; now to lower it. (P.244 [271])

Only with modern large-scale industry was this, and more, achieved; it broke down all bounds and exploited the workers most shamelessly. The proletariat resisted as soon as it recollected itself.

The five acts of 1802-33 were only nominal, since there were no inspectors. Only the Act of 18833 created a normal working-day in the four textile industries: from 5:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m., during which time young persons from 13 to 18 years of age could be employed only 12 hours with 1.5 hours' pauses, children from 9 to 13 years of age only 8 hours, while night work of children and juveniles was prohibited. (Pp.253-55 [278-80])

The relay system and its abuse for purposes of evasion. (P.256 [281])

Large-scale industry, thus, at first creates the need for limiting working-time, but it later found that the same overwork has gradually taken possession of all other branches as well. (P.277 [298]

History further shows that the isolated "free" labourer is defenceless against the capitalist and succumbs, especially with the introduction of women's and children's labor, so that it is here that the class struggle develops between the workers and the capitalists. (P.278 [299])

In France, the 12-hour day law for all ages and branches of work was passed only in 1846, (Cf., however, p.253 [278], footernote on the French child labor law of 1841, which was really enforced only in 1853, and only in the Department du Nord.) Complete "freedom of labour" in Belgium. The 8-hour movement in America. (P.279 [301])

Thus, the labourer comes out of the production process quite different than he entered. The labour contract was not the act of a free agent; the time for which he is free to sell his labour-power is the time for which he is forced to sell it, and only the mass opposition of the workers wins for them the passing of a law that shall prevent the workers from selling, by voluntary contract with capital, themselves and their generation into slavery and death. In place of the pompous catalogue of the inalienable rights of man, comes the modest Magna Charta of the Factory Act. (Pp.280,281 [302])


With the rate, the mass is also given. If the daily value of one labour-power is 3 shillings, and the rate of surplus-value is 100 per cent, its daily mass = 3 shillings, for one labourer.

I. Since the variable capital is the money expression of the value of all the labour-powers simultaneously employed by one capitalist, the mass of the surplus-value produced by them is equal to the variable capital multiplied by the rate of surplus-value. Both factors can vary, different combinations thus arising. The mass of surplus-value can grow, even with decreasing variable capital, if the rate rises — that is, if the working-day is lengthened. (P.282 [303-05])

II. This increase in the rate of surplus-value has its absolute limit in that the working-day can never be prolonged to the full 24 hours; hence, the total value of one worker's daily production can never equal the value of 24 working-hours. Thus, in order to obtain the same mass of surplus-value, variable capital can be replaced by increased exploitation of labour only within these limits. This is important for the explanation of various phenomena arising from the contradictory tendency of capital:

(1) to reduce the variable capital and the number of workers employed; and

(2) to produce the greatest possible mass of surplus-value nonetheless. (Pp.283,284 [305-06])

III. The masses of value and surplus-value produced by different capitals, for given value and equally high degree of exploitation of labour-power, are related directly as the magnitudes of the variable components of these capitals. (P.285 [306-07])

This seems to contradict all facts.

For a given society, and a given working-day, surplus-value can be increased only by increasing the number of workers — i.e., the population; with a given number of workers, only by lengthening the working-day. This is important, however, only for absolute surplus-value.

It now turns out that not every sum of money can be transformed into capital — that a minimum exists: the cost price of a single labour-power and of the necessary instruments of labour. In order to be able to live like a worker, the capitalist would have to have two workers, with a rate of surplus-value of 50 per cent, and yet save nothing. Even with eight, he is still a small master. Hence, in the Middle Ages people were forcibly hampered in transformation from craftsmen into capitalists by limitation of the number of journeymen to be employed by one master. The minimum of wealth required to form a real capitalist varies in different periods and branches of business. (P.288 [309])

Capital has evolved into command over labour, and sees to it that work is done regularly and intensively. Moreover, it compels the workers to do more work than is necessary for their sustenance; and, in pumping out surplus-labour, it surpasses all earlier production systems based upon direct compulsory labour.

Capital takes over labour with the given technical conditions, and at first does not change them. Hence, with the production process considered as a labour process, the worker stands in relation to the means of production not as to capital, but as to the means of his own intelligent activity. But, considered as a process of creating surplus-value, otherwise. The means of production become means of absorbing the labour of others. It is no longer the labourer who employs the means of production, but the means of production that employ the labourer. (P.289 [310]) Instead of being consumed by him... they consume him, as the ferment necessary to their own life-process, and the life-process of capital consists only in its movement as value constantly multiplying itself.... The simple transformation of money into means of production transforms the latter into a title and a right to the labour and surplus-labour of others.