The Economic Doctrines of Karl Marx

6. The Surplus-Value of the “Small Master” and the Surplus-Value of the Capitalist

Given the value of labour-power and the corresponding labour-time necessary for the worker’s maintenance, the mass of surplus-value which the individual worker supplies is also determined by the rate of surplus-value. If the value of labour-power is 3s., and the rate of surplus-value equal to 100 per cent, the mass of surplus-value which labour-power creates is equal to 3s. But how large is the total mass of surplus-value which falls to a capitalist under specific circumstances? Assume he employs 300 workers upon the conditions indicated above. The variable capital which he daily expends is equal to £46, the rate of surplus-value 100 per cent. “The mass of surplus-value produced is equal to the magnitude of the variable capital advanced, multiplied by the rate of surplus-value.”

If one of these factors be taken away, the mass of surplus-value may be kept at the same level through an augmentation in the other. On the other hand, an increase in the one may be accompanied by a corresponding decrease in the other without altering the mass of surplus-value. This will be clear from some examples. A capitalist employs 300 workers; the necessary labour-time amounts to 6 hours, the value of the labour-power 3s.; the daily labour-time 12 hours. The mass of the surplus-value produced daily is equal to £45. The pliability of the workers enables the capitalist to increase the labour-time to 15 hours. Other conditions remaining equal, the rate of surplus-value now amounts to 150 per cent.

9 hours surplus labour / 6 hours necessary labour

In order to produce the same mass of surplus-value (£45) as before, the capitalist no longer needs to advance £45 variable capital, but only £30; instead of 300 workers, 200 now suffice.

If, however, the workers are not pliable, if, on the contrary, through some specially lucky strike they enforce a reduction of labour-time from 12 to 9 hours, the rate of surplus-value would only amount to 50 per cent.

3 hours surplus labour / 8 hours necessary labour

In order to produce the same mass of surplus-value as formerly, the capitalist must now employ 800 workers, and advance a variable capital of £90.

That the first course is the more agreeable for him to adopt needs no emphasis. The capitalist strives to increase the mass of surplus-value as much as possible; but it suits him better to achieve this object by increasing the rate of surplus-value than by increasing the variable capital through adding to the number of workers employed.

The rate of surplus-value cannot, however, be arbitrarily fixed; under clearly-defined circumstances it is a greater or a lesser magnitude. Given the rate of surplus-value, the production of a certain mass of surplus-value requires the employment of a definite quantity of variable capital to create it and a definite quantity of constant capital to absorb it.

This circumstance has become of historical importance.

Even before the development of capitalism, wage workers were employed who produced surplus-value. This was particularly the case in guild handicraft. But the number of workers which a medieval master-craftsman employed was small, and the mass of surplus-value which the master pocketed was correspondingly slight. As a rule it did not suffice to assure him a definite income, and he was obliged to work with his own hands; the “small” master is no wage worker and yet no capitalist an intermediate type between the two.

If the employer of wage earners was to become a real capitalist, he was obliged to employ so many workers that the mass of surplus-value produced by them not only afforded maintenance suitable to his class, but also enabled his wealth constantly to increase, which is a necessity for him under the capitalist mode of production, as we shall see.

It is not every sum of money which enables its owner to become a capitalist. If an owner of money is to become a capitalist, his supply of money must be large enough to suffice for the purchase of an amount of labour-power and of the means of production greater than is required by the limits of handicraft business. Moreover, the owner of money must be able to produce unfettered by any obstacles which prohibit him from increasing the number of workers beyond the necessary limits. The guild system of the Middle Ages attempted to prevent the transformation of the master craftsman into a capitalist by restricting the number of wage workers which one master could employ.

“It was the merchant who became the principal of the modern (capitalist) workshop, and not the old guild master.” (The Poverty of Philosophy)

The guild master is an appropriator of surplus-value, but not yet a fully-fledged capitalist.

The guild journeyman is a creator of surplus-value, but not yet a fully-fledged proletarian wage worker.

The guild master still works himself. The capitalist is only a captain and supervisor of the labour of others.

The guild journeyman still employs the means of production, which are only there on his account, to facilitate his work. He is the master’s assistant and collaborator, and as a rule may become a master himself.

On the other hand, the wage worker under the capitalist mode of production is the sole worker in the production process, and the source of surplus-value, of which the capitalist is the extractor. The means of production now serve primarily to absorb the labour-power of the worker: now it is they which employ the worker, who can never actually become a capitalist. The instruments of labour are no longer there to facilitate the work of the worker; now they assist in chaining him to his work.

If we glance around a capitalist factory, we see perhaps thousands of spindles and thousands of hundredweights of cotton. They have all been bought in order to become a source of profit, that is, to absorb surplus-value. But they cannot become profitable without the addition of labour, and therefore call out for labour, and again for labour. The spinning machine is not installed to facilitate the work of the worker, but the spinner is put there to make the machine profitable. The spindles revolve and demand human labour-power: the worker is hungry, but the spindle continues working, and therefore he must bolt his dinner while he serves his mistress. His strength ebbs and he wants to sleep, but the spindle still revolves briskly and requires more labour; and because the spindle revolves the worker may not sleep.

The dead tool has subjugated the living worker.

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