A Summary of Das Kapital by Monty


Capital, Volume 1

Karl Marx

Summarised by Monty Hill de Monchaux

1) Commodities made for exchange. Has use value - “anything outside us that we find necessary, useful or pleasant.” Has value - can be exchanged.

2) Capitalist society introduces double life of the product of labor - use value and value.

3) Value and use value are contradictory - desire to maximise value clashes with human desire for use values. E.g. sale and ability to purchase product mediates access to use value for worker. Capitalists make decisions through this medium of saleability, hence distortion of use value suffered by workers - malformed, dangerous products. This is instituted as private property - a ‘feature’ of capitalism.

4) Overproduction - prices, profits fall. Surplus use values removed from market by capitalists. Productive capacity regularly constrained. Capitalists who control productive forces organise production based on maximisation of exchange, rather than use values.

5) Shared feature of all commodities is that all require human labor. Labor is objectified in productive process - changes object worked upon.

6) Different kinds of labor may be treated as though they were equal. Trading products of labor (commodities) treats this labor of different, useful kinds as equal. E.g. We may trade x bikes for y cars because we recognise abstract labor. Useful labor embodied in use value. Abstract labour embodied in value. Average socially necessary labor time it takes to create product determines value. E.g. slowing down when sewing jeans does not increase the value of product.

7). “Value is not material, it cannot be materially perceived.” Value is a social reality. Useful objects are commodified through their social treatment, in capitalism: exchange. Exchange as universal human relation makes value real.

8) Commodity Fetishism - belief that commodities (products of labor) possess not just material traits, but inherent ‘exchange value’. This mystification makes it appear as through commodities relations with one another are somehow natural, and not rendered by specific social and economic relations. Private producers exchange products. Producers can only produce a definite amount of a particular use value, at a certain point a product only has exchange value for its producer (while also containing use value for another producer). Production does not have to be organised privately, for exchange. The present mode of production is mutable. Political, social and psychological forms are specific to capitalism. Domination is the capitalist mode, it is not natural or intrinsic to humans.

9) Three forms of value; Commodity: use value for exchange. Money: universal commodity. Capital: money to generate more money. Value relations (e.g. xA is worth yB) become more fixed when generalised. Money emerges as commodity exchange becomes generalised, serves as standard measure and expression of a commoditys’ value to facilitate exchange.

10) “Direct producers sell in order to buy, capitalists buy in order to sell.” Worker sells ability to produce in order to buy commodities that have specific, necessary use values. Capitalist uses money to make more money, buys commodities to sell them for more money. Surplus value acquired by capitalist takes three forms; profit, interest, rent. Capitalist pays for interest on money borrowed, pays rent for land, equipment, left with profit which capitalist uses as either dividends, or capital. That is, for capitalists personal pleasures, or as investment in new process of capital accumulation. Capital is accumulated if money left after rent, interest, dividends is greater than original.

This principle of capital accumulation drives capitalism. Profit making is essential to such a system. Capitalists say value created in exchange. Capitalists disciplined by competition to keep price of products near to value - hence commodities tend to sell near cost in terms of average socially necessary labor time. Particular capitalists may accrue more or less surplus value but this does not bring into being new value, as gain by some is loss of surplus value to others. “Value has changed hands, but it has not been created, and profits - to be real - must be newly created. It is self-evident that capital is not produced by cheating.” (E.Marx). Profit is the aim in monopolised, and competitive industries alike. Capital is not created in exchange, but in production. Labor is the value creating commodity the capitalist finds in the market.

11) Money - as the universal commodity - can buy labor power. Only in this act can money act as capital. Capital required for capital accumulation. Capital only historically arises when capitalist (money owner, controls means of production) is able to find worker on the market. Divide in terms of capitalists (buyers, owners etc), and workers (sellers of own arms, brains etc) historically formed by definite series of events - not ‘natural’.

12) Means of production: raw materials, land, tools etc. Production is labor power acting with and upon means. Taking away means of production (e.g farm) from a direct producer (e.g farmer) leaves a worker with only labor power. Historical precondition for capitalism is expropriation of means of production by capitalist. Labor power and means of production reunite in form prescribed by capitalist. Worker (proletarian) does all productive labor of varying kinds, yet subject to capitalist.

13) Expropriation begins in England, throughout 15th, 16th, and 17th centuries. Continues throughout Europe and rest of world. Mass of people robbed  of productive forces by violence. Surplus labor is labor more than is required for survival. Capacity for surplus labor can and has been improved through development of productive forces.” Surplus product becomes the basis of all social, political, and intellectual progress.” (Engels). Slave society - slave owners control necessary and surplus labor. Feudal society - lords own serfs surplus labor. Exploitation is control of surplus labor of the oppressed by the oppressor.

14) Capitalism - surplus labor taken from worker in form of surplus value. How we get to this point? Property violently expropriated. Workers forced onto labor market. E.g aristocrats in late 14th century expropriating peasant land to expand wool manufacture. Money seeking tendency of capitalists demand this violence. Historical process of conversion from community property, small holdings to set of private business ventures. E.g Violently dispossessed peasants terrorised by ruling class, disciplined to demands of industrial wage labor - economic, and extra economic force ie compulsion by aversion to starvation, or threat of violence. Capitalist State has required instruments of terror of varying forms to discipline mass of workers. Means of production gathered together under control of capitalist, rather than dispersed throughout communities. Large quantities of newly rendered workers supply labor power to carry out industrial manufacture. Dual freedom for proletarian in bourgeois society; freedom from means of production, land, and free to sell labor power. Bentham: freedom for buyer and seller to contact one another, equality because equivalent commodities are exchanged, property because owned properties are exchanged. When we leave this realm of exchange and enter into that of production - where surplus value created by labor power - bourgeois illusion dissipates. Alienation: worker (possess labor power) subordinated to alien power, the capitalist (money owner). Commodification of labor power intrinsically subordinates worker. Worker ‘free’ to enter into subservience (or die). Alienation required for exploitation. Purpose, method, product of labor controlled by capitalist. Capital decides where to invest (money - commodity). Use of commodities alienated in general too - beyond control of worker. Capitalist meets resistance to this condition with denial of workers access to means of production, and subsistence. State exerts force to discipline worker (police protect private property).

15) Capitalist seeks to maximise surplus value through expansion of labor power, and means of production - money needed. Supply of money provided by worker. “What Marx discovered is that the value of labour-power may be less than the value of the labour product. This is the secret of surplus value, at last revealed.” (Engels) Value of labour power is equal to average labor time required to produce the worker. This work overwhelmingly performed by women - wives and mothers etc. Workers may produce commodities with greater value than labour power expended. E.g in half a day worker may produce commodities equal to value of their labor power - capitalist free to employ worker for longer as they control means of production. These two periods are necessary, and surplus labor. If worker spends close to average socially necessary labor time, labor may be treated as a given amount of abstract labor. Hence capitalists have ‘top of the line’ productive equipment, and workers close to or above average (socially defined) productivity levels. Labor power and means of production combined by capitalist. Means of production add value to product, labor power adds surplus value. Variable capital - value added by money spent on labor power varies (due to particular, relative skills of worker) and allows for surplus value. Constant capital - value added by money spent on means of production unvarying.

Why is this true of constant capital? Value of commodity is total amount of average socially necessary labor time. Labor in terms of useful labor spent making commodity, and labor embodied in tools required to make a commodity. Capitalist pays for value of the abstract labor contained in a given commodity. Means of production have definite value. This does not vary during production process. Value of commodity produced by a given means of production (without labor power) equal to average socially necessary labor time to produce particular commodity. Means can only imbue value equal to abstract labor embodied in the means itself. E.g the loom is itself a product of labor power. When purchasing means of production the capitalist purchases a definite quantity of abstract labor.

Value of a commodity = average labor hours required for production of means of production + labor power expended in use of means of production.

Total labor time (value of commodity) minus necessary labor time equals surplus value.

16) Capital = constant capital + variable capital. Capital’ = constant capital + variable capital + surplus value. Difference between the two is surplus value. Variable capital creates surplus value. Surplus value / variable capital = rate of surplus value. Rate of profit is ratio between surplus value and total investment (into constant and variable capital) ergo Rate of profit = surplus value / variable capital + constant capital = surplus value / capital. When constant capital is greater than 0, rate of profit less than rate of surplus value. Hence tendency for rate of profit to fall (borne out by reality). Therefore capitalism leads to profit crunches, economic crises. Ratio of constant to variable capital known as ‘organic composition of capital’. When constant capital rises relative to variable capital, organic composition ‘rises’. Capital production relies upon ever more effective means of production. Competition disciplines capitalist who must buy means of production and labor power to produce commodities as market is of definite size. Capitalist must sell products as cheap as possible to compete in market. This requires reducing average socially necessary labor time for producing a given commodity. It is more efficacious for capitalist to increase power of means of production in order to meet this end - lowering necessary labor time. Productivity rises, commodities abound, economic crisis lurks. Variable capital produces surplus value. Competition forces capital to increase organic composition - ie higher ratio of constant to variable capital - rate of profit (surplus value/constant capital + variable capital) falls.

Production for exchange value is risky. If rate of profit declines too much, investment unwise. Increasingly true as investment sums become larger and larger. Profit decline leads to trade wars, and military war. War allows capitalist to seize resources, damages competitors.

c=constant capital

v=variable capital

s= surplus value

Countertendency: if c rising how can capitalist maintain rate of profit? Increase s? Decrease v?

Necessary labor time constant, number of workers constant, surplus value extracted by increasing length of working day. I.e no change in v (value of labor power, no. of workers), s rises. This is called Absolute Surplus Value. Great for capitalist, heinous for worker. History of capitalist organisation to emiserate workers to this end is evident. Labor organises to fight back against class assault.

Workers forced to work faster, value of labor power remains same, fewer labor hours required to produce equivalent commodities to value of labor power. More hours of average labor completed by faster worker.

Value of labor power falls when average socially necessary labor time required for production of means of subsistence falls. Fewer hours of labor required to produce commodities as valuable as labor power. By reducing the portion of work day required for necessary labor, by increasing speed of worker, or cutting value of labor power, capitalist extracts relative surplus value. More of day is newly freed by capitalist for (uncompensated) surplus labor. As before, workers prevent these capitalist advancements through organisation. Capitalists invest money in ‘managing’ workers - maximising surplus value through measures directed at ‘efficiency’ at expense to worker. Compulsion may be covert or overt.

Capital continues to exhibit these profit seeking behaviours to counteract tendency of rate of profit to fall by extracting increased amounts of surplus value from workers absolutely (longer day) or relatively (productivity increasing measures). Variable capital may also be lowered by reducing size of labor force, wage cuts etc.

17) How much time socially required to reproduce labor power? Level of subsistence is defined socially in given historical epoch. Living wage contested. Workers fight for variegated necessities. Wage reflects particular state of power relation between worker and capitalist. Cheap labor is labor that requires less socially average labor for its reproduction. That is to say: a lower standard of living is imposed on a worker. Capitalist pits workers (sellers of labor power) against one another due to their monopolisation of means of production, workers prices be competitive for capitalist. Capitalists always seeking surplus value (difference between value of labor power,    represented by wages, and value of labor product, represented by price) even when wages are high.

1870 France and Prussia went to war, capitalists pit workers against one another under pretext of ‘national interest’. Parisian workers revolted against ruling class and war, formed commune, Prussian and French authorities combined to violently crush the commune. Imperialism - capitalists seek fresh markets, cheap labor power, resources etc, use workers in imperial core to violently suppress organisation of oppressed. Capitalists enjoy support of workers at home, super exploitation of workers abroad.

18) Value of labor power of interest to capitalist and worker alike for opposite reasons. Capitalist wants it to decline in pursuit of profit, worker wants it to increase. Workers can organise to increase price of labor power as a commodity, or refuse to treat labor power as commodity. With means of production being driven to be increasingly powerful, material abundance is within grasp of worker. Living labor power can unite for cooperative rather than competitive production. Wage relation obscures exploitation. “The predominant tendency is for workers to think that they are paid for their ‘labour’, not their labour-power, and that a ‘fair days wage’ is all they can hope for.”(Marx) Workers are paid for average labor time required to reproduce labor power, not for their particular labor, whether it be below, at, or above a socially formed average. Wage form makes it appear as though there is no division of working day into necessary and surplus labor - all labour appears as paid. Feudal - clear demarcation between labor for self and labor for lord, Slave - all labor unpaid, Wage labor - surplus labor and necessary labor alike appear as paid. Fetishism of labor: belief that labor is inevitably commodified in the manner particular to capitalism. Workers paid after work - appears that it is the product of labor itself that is bought rather than the capacity to (power) labor. Wages are not fair, nor can they ever be. Workers being divorced from means of production is not ‘natural’, it is the result of a specific historical process - namely, expropriation. Without capital, uniting of means of production and labor power removes sale of labor power, and means of production. Workers unite and freely associate, expend labor power to harness means of production to meet need (use values) rather than pursuit of profit (exchange values).

The exploited must be the ones to end exploitation.