In the first part of this chapter, Marx attempts to analyze the labor-process. When a person purchases labor-power, he sets that labor-power to work. The seller becomes a worker, and is compelled to produce certain use-values. To simplify, we first look at the labor process itself. Labor is a process between man and nature, as man takes on the materials of nature and adapts them to his own needs. Through this he changes his own nature. Man's labor is different from that of animals: "what distinguishes the worst architect from the best of bees is that the architect builds the cell in his mind before he constructs it in wax." Man realizes his own purposes through his labor. He must subordinate his will to the work, and force his attention on it.

Marx says that the "simple" elements of the labor process are the work itself, the object onto which work is performed, and the instruments of that work. Many objects of labor are spontaneously provided by nature, such as caught fish. The object of labor is "raw material" only if it has already been altered in some way by labor, for example, as is the case with extracted iron ore. An instrument of labor is something that directs the worker's activity onto an object, such as a tool. More broadly, we may also include the conditions necessary for carrying out the labor process, such as workshops and roads. The labor process then alters the product, producing a use-value. Labor becomes "bound up" with its object; "labor has been objectified, the object has been worked on." Other use-values, the products of previous labor, also enter into the current labor process as a means of production. Whether a use-value should be seen as raw material, as an instrument of labor, or as a product, is determined simply by its function in the labor process. Labor consumes products in order to make products. In its abstract form, then, the labor process is purposeful activity aimed at making use-values, and is common to all human society.

Marx then looks at our would-be capitalist. He has just bought all of the needed factors for the labor process, both the means of production and labor-power. He then consumes the labor-power he has bought, by making the laborer consume the means of production through his labor. In the beginning, the mode of production must be seen as a constant, the capitalist taking the laborer as he is. The labor process, when the capitalist consumes labor-power, has two main characteristics. First, the worker is under the control of the capitalist, to whom his labor belongs. Secondly, the product of the worker's labor (the use-value of his labor-power) is owned by the capitalist, and not by the worker.

In the second part of this chapter, Marx turns to the valorization process, the creation of value. Capitalists do not produce use-values for their own sake. Rather, they are produced only insofar as they have an exchange-value. Furthermore, the capitalist wants a commodity greater in value than the sum of the values of the commodities he used to produce it—he wants surplus value. Thus, let us now look at the production of commodities as a process of creating values.

The value of a commodity is determined by the amount of labor "materialized in its use-value." Thus, we must see how much labor-time is objectified in it. We can treat the labor required to make raw materials and the labor required to make the final product as part of the same process. Part of the value of the commodity thus comes from the value of the means of production. It is important to note that in this context, all kinds of labor have the same character. We are no longer concerned with the quality or character of the labor, but rather only with its quantity. The total value of the product is equal to the total amount of labor put into it. This result would seem to suggest that there is no surplus value, because the value of the end-product is equal to the values of the inputs.

There is, however, surplus value. This comes from the fact that the cost of maintaining labor-power is different than labor-power's expenditure in work. The first determines labor's exchange-value, the second determines its use-value. The fact that half a day's labor is necessary to keep a worker alive does not mean that he can't work more than this. The capitalist takes advantage of this distinction. The capitalist pays the value of a day's labor, and therefore has it for the day. However, let's say sustenance for the laborer only costs a half-day's labor. Here, the value of a day's labor- power is half a day's labor, and the capitalist can pay the worker at that value. The other half-day's labor goes beyond the value of labor-power, and is therefore surplus-value. Thus, the value the work created is double what the capitalist pays for it. Marx says, "this circumstance is a piece of good luck for the buyer, but by no means an injustice towards the seller." The capitalist paid full value for all of the commodities he used, and then he consumed their use-value. Because of the asymmetry between the use-value and exchange-value of labor, however, this allows the capitalist to make a profit.


Marx begins this chapter with a discussion about the character of the labor-process. According to Marx, labor is pivotal for people's self-definition. Marx believes that how people labor largely defines how they live. The way humans labor sets them apart from animals, and they have a special relationship with those products of their labor. In this chapter, Marx attempts to create a schema for understanding how the production process works, and then more particularly how the capitalist structure works.

Marx's labor theory of value again makes an appearance, as he tries to explain a seeming paradox. A capitalist purchases all of the inputs needed to make a commodity (labor-power, raw materials, etc.) at their value. He also sells the end-product at its value. If this is the case, where does the surplus value come from? If there's no surplus value, then capitalism cannot exist, because there would be no profit. Marx's answer comes from the unique character of labor- power. Labor-power's use-value (what it can create) is not the same thing as its exchange-value (what is needed to sustain the worker). A worker sells himself at his value, but he produces more than this value. In this way, the capitalist gains surplus-value. This is significant, because it explains how exploitation can occur as the result of a series of freely made trades. The worker could complain that he is not being paid for the value of what he produces. However, the capitalist can reply that the worker is being paid his value. Once the worker is paid for a day's work, the capitalist has the right to use him for a day. Justice is part of the overall mode of production of the times, and as a result, this exchange can be considered "just."

Why do the workers put up with such exploitation? Couldn't they demand higher wages, that match the value their labor-power produces? Marx's answer is that the workers don't have the capacity to work without the capitalists; they require factories and other means of production. The workers are selling an abstract capacity to labor, and because of this, the capitalist is able to exploit them by only paying labor-power's value. Consider whether you think Marx's characterization of the labor market is fair. Does labor have the ability to fight exploitation and set wages closer to the value of what they produce? Think of this both historically and theoretically.

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