Query about Capital vol 3

January 2023 Forums General discussion Query about Capital vol 3

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    ste finch

    Can I get some advice on the 1st sentence of Capital vol 3 ch 5?
    “The increase of absolute surplus-value, or the prolongation of surplus-labour, and thus of the working-day, while the variable capital remains the same and thus employs the same number of labourers at the same nominal wages, regardless of whether overtime is paid or not, reduces the relative value of the constant capital as compared to the total and the variable capital, and thereby increases the rate of profit, again irrespective of the growth of the quantity of surplus-value and a possibly rising rate of surplus-value”

    How can overtime be paid without affecting v?
    In what way does a prolongation of the working day reduce the relative value of c compared with C and v?
    Is this just one of those sentences that wouldn’t have appeared as it is had Marx had time to revise?
    Is he really talking about the efficiency of capital here? (as he goes on to highlight the reduction in T/O time for the fixed capital)
    Thanks for any clarifications comrades


    You are right that passage is not very clear. David Fernbach in the 1981 Penguin translation translates it a bit differently, presumably to try to make it clearer:

    “An increase in absolute surplus-value or any extension of surplus labour and hence the working day, with variable capital remaining the same and thus the same number of workers being employed at the same nominal wage, causes a fall in the value of constant capital compared with the total capital and compared with the variable capital, and thus raises the rate of profit, quite apart from the growth in the mass of surplus-value and a possibility rising rate of surplus-value. (It is immaterial here whether overtime is paid or not.)”

    Marx seems to be explaining the empirical fact, as noted for instance by the Factory Inspector quoted in a footnote, that prolonging the working day and running the machines longer results in a greater (amount of) profit:

    “Since in all factories there is a very large amount of fixed capital in buildings and machinery, the greater the number the hours that machinery can be kept at work the greater will be the return.”

    Running the machinery and using the buildings more means they depreciate more quickly, irrespective of whether the amount of profit increases and of whether or not the workers are paid overtime. Later in the following sentences Marx points out, as you note, that this means

    “the value of the fixed capital is now reproduced in a shorter series of turnover periods, and the time for which it has to be advanced in order to make a certain profit is reduced.”

    In other words, less capital needs to be advanced for buildings and machinery as part of total capital, reducing the proportion of constant capital in total capital and so increasing the rate of profit (even if total profit remains the same, which in practice it won’t but will increase).

    Of course the whole of volume 3 of Capital was stitched together by Engels from Marx’s unrevised manuscripts. So, it is not surprising that it contains many passages which are not immediately clear as to what Marx was getting at.


    The increase of the absolute surplus value or the prolongation of surplus labor, and consequently of the working day, the variable capital remaining unchanged, that is, employing the same number of workers with the same nominal wage and it is irrelevant here whether the overtime is paid or not it makes the value of constant capital decrease relatively compared to global capital and variable capital and thereby increases the rate of profit, even disregarding the growth and mass of surplus value as well as the possibly increasing rate of surplus value. The dimensions of the fixed part of constant capital, factory buildings, machinery, etc., remain the same whether you work with it for 16 or 12 hours. The extension of the working day does not require a new outlay for this part, the most onerous, of the constant capital. To this must be added that the value of fixed capital is thus reproduced in a shorter series of rotation periods, that is to say, the time during which it must be advanced in order to achieve a given profit is shortened. Hence, the extension of the working day increases the profit, even if overtime is paid, and up to a certain limit even if it is paid at a higher price than normal working hours. Thus, the ever-increasing need for fixed capital increases in the modern industrial system [94] was a major incentive for the lengthening of the working day on the part of the furiously profit-hungry capitalists [1].

    I find my Grijalbo and Siglo XXI easier to be understood and it is a much better translation than the English version. Also the Grijalbo and Siglo XXI have footnotes for every page and every chapter. What Adam just explained it is the real content of that sentence

    ste finch

    My difficulty was, as I suspected, due to the lack of ‘polish’, as the economic effects that each of you describe are evident from the subsequent text, but thanks anyway for both replies.


    I am going to learn German in order to read the new MEGA collection of Marx and Engels to read their writings in the original version. Peter Hudis said that the only person able to understand Marx handwriting was Engels. Hudis speaks and write in German and I think that he translated the complete works of Rosa Luxembourg

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