Capital: A Critique of Political Economy, Vol. I. The Process of Capitalist Production
By Karl Marx
One of Econlib’s aims is to put online the most significant works in the history of economic thought, and there can be no doubting the significance of Marx’s influence on both economic theory in the late 19th century and on the creation of Marxist states in the 20th century. From the time of the emergence of modern socialism in the 1840s (especially in France and Germany), free market economists have criticised socialist theory and it is thus useful to place that criticism in its intellectual context, namely beside the main work of one of its leading theorists,
Karl Marx.In 1848, when Europe was wracked by a series of revolutions in which both liberals and socialists participated and which both lost out to the forces of conservative monarchism or Bonapartism,
John Stuart Mill published his
Principles of Political Economy. The chapter on Property shows how important Mill thought it was to confront the socialist challenge to classical liberal economic theory. In hindsight it might appear that Mill was too accommodating to socialist criticism, but I would argue that in fact he offered a reasonable framework for comparing the two systems of thought, which the events of the late 20th century have finally brought to a conclusion which was not possible in his lifetime. Mill states in
Book II Chapter I “Of Property” that a fair comparison of the free market and socialism would compare both the ideal of liberalism with that of socialism, as well as the practice of liberalism versus the practice of socialism. In 1848 the ideals of both were becoming better known (and there were some aspects of the ideal of socialism which Mill found intriguing) but the practice of each was still not conclusive. Mill correctly observed that in 1848 no European society had yet created a society fully based upon private property and free exchange and any future socialist experiment on a state-wide basis was many decades in the future. After the experiments in Marxist central planning with the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917, the Chinese Communists in 1949, and numerous other Marxist states in the post-1945 period, there can be no doubt that the reservations Mill had about the practicality of fully-functioning socialism were completely borne out by historical events. What Mill could never have imagined, the slaughter of tens of millions of people in an effort to make socialism work, has ended for good any argument concerning the Marxist form of socialism.Econlib now offers online two important defences of the socialist ideal, Karl Marx’s three volume work on
Capital and the
collection of essays on Fabian socialism edited by George Bernard Shaw. These can be read in the light of the criticism they provoked among defenders of individual liberty and the free market: Eugen Richter’s anti-Marxist
Pictures of the Socialistic Future, Thomas Mackay’s
2 volume collection of essays rebutting Fabian socialism,
Ludwig von Mises post-1917 critique of
Socialism. One should not forget that
Frederic Bastiat was active during the rise of socialism in France during the 1840s and that many of his essays are aimed at rebutting the socialists of his day. The same is true for Gustave de Molinari and the other authors of the
Dictionnaire d’economie politique (1852). Several key articles on communism and socialism from the
Dictionnaire are translated and reprinted in Lalor’s
Cyclopedia.For further reading on Marx’s
Capital see David L. Prychitko’s essay
“The Nature and Significance of Marx’s
Capital: A Critique of Political Economy“.For further readings on socialism see the following entries in the
Concise Encyclopedia of Economics:
Poor Law Commissioners’ Report of 1834,
edited by Nassau W. Senior, et al.
March 1, 2004
Frederick Engels, Ernest Untermann, eds. Samuel Moore, Edward Aveling, trans.
First Pub. Date
Chicago: Charles H. Kerr and Co.
First published in German. Revised and Amplified According to the Fourth German Edition by Ernest Untermann Das Kapital, based on the 4th edition.
The text of this edition is in the public domain. Picture of Marx courtesy of The Warren J. Samuels Portrait Collection at Duke University.
- Editors Note to the First American Edition, by Ernest Untermann
- Authors Prefaces to the First and Second Editions, by Karl Marx
- Editors Prefaces, by Frederick Engels
- Part I, Chapter 1
- Part I, Chapter 2
- Part I, Chapter 3
- Part II, Chapter 4
- Part II, Chapter 5
- Part II, Chapter 6
- Part III, Chapter 7
- Part III, Chapter 8
- Part III, Chapter 9
- Part III, Chapter 10
- Part III, Chapter 11
- Part IV, Chapter 12
- Part IV, Chapter 13
- Part IV, Chapter 14
- Part IV, Chapter 15
- Part V, Chapter 16
- Part V, Chapter 17
- Part V, Chapter 18
- Part VI, Chapter 19
- Part VI, Chapter 20
- Part VI, Chapter 21
- Part VI, Chapter 22
- Part VII, Introduction
- Part VII, Chapter 23
- Part VII, Chapter 24
- Part VII, Chapter 25
- Part VIII, Chapter 26
- Part VIII, Chapter 27
- Part VIII, Chapter 28
- Part VIII, Chapter 29
- Part VIII, Chapter 30
- Part VIII, Chapter 31
- Part VIII, Chapter 32
- Part VIII, Chapter 33
- Works and Authors
WAGES by the piece are nothing else than a converted form of wages by time, just as wages by time are a converted form of the value or price of labour-power.
In piece-wages it seems at first sight as if the use-value
bought from the labourer was, not the function of his labour-power, living labour, but labour already realised in the product, and as if the price of this labour was determined, not as with time-wages, by the fraction, (daily value of labor power)/(working day of given number of hours) but by the capacity for work of the producer.
The confidence that trusts in this appearance ought to receive a first severe shock from the fact that both forms of wages exist side by side, simultaneously, in the same branches of industry;
e.g., “the compositors of London, as a general rule, work by the piece, time-work being the exception, while those in the country work by the day, the exception being work by the piece. The shipwrights of the port of London work by the job or piece, while those of all other parts work by the day.”
In the same saddlery shops of London, often for the same work, piece-wages are paid to the French, time-wages to the English. In the regular factories in which throughout piece-wages predominate, particular kinds of work are unsuitable to this form of wage, and are therefore paid by time.
*27 But it is moreover self-evident that the difference of form in the payment of wages alters in no way their essential nature,
although the one form may be more favorable to the development of capitalist production than the other.
Let the ordinary working day contain 12 hours of which 6 are paid, 6 unpaid. Let its value-product be 6 shillings, that of one hour’s labour therefore 6d. Let us suppose that, as the result of experience, a labourer who works with the average amount of intensity and skill, who, therefore, gives in fact only the time socially necessary to the production of an article, supplies in 12 hours 24 pieces, either distinct products or measurable parts of a continuous whole. Then the value of these 24 pieces, after subtraction of the portion of constant capital contained in them, is 6 shillings, and the value of a single piece 3d. The labourer receives 1½d. per piece, and thus earns in 12 hours 3 shillings. Just as, with time-wages, it does not matter whether we assume that the labourer works 6 hours for himself and 6 hours for the capitalist, or half of every hour for himself, and the other half for the capitalist, so here it does not matter whether we say that each individual piece is half paid, and half unpaid for, or that the price of 12 pieces is the equivalent only of the value of the labour-power, whilst in the other 12 pieces surplus-value is incorporated.
The form of piece-wages is just as irrational as that of time-wages. Whilst in our example two pieces of a commodity, after subtraction of the value of the means of production consumed in them, are worth 6d. as being the product of one hour, the labourer receives for them a price of 3d. Piece-wages do not, in fact, distinctly express any relation of value. It is not, therefore, a question of measuring the value of the piece by the working time incorporated in it, but on the contrary of measuring the working-time the labourer has expended, by the number of pieces he has produced. In time-wages the labour is measured by its immediate duration, in piece-wages by the quantity of products in which the labour has embodied itself during a given time.
*28 The price of labour-time itself is finally determined by the equation; value of a day’s labour=daily
value of labour-power. Piece-wage is, therefore, only a modified form of time-wage.
Let us now consider a little more closely the characteristic peculiarities of piece-wages.
The quality of the labour is here controlled by the work itself, which must be of average perfection if the piece-price is to be paid in full. Piece-wages become, from this point of view, the most fruitful source of reductions of wages and capitalistic cheating.
They furnish to the capitalist an exact measure for the intensity of labour. Only the working-time which is embodied in a quantum of commodities determined beforehand and experimentally fixed, counts as socially necessary working time, and is paid as such. In the larger workshops of the London tailors, therefore, a certain piece of work, a waistcoat
e.g., is called an hour, or half an hour, the hour at 6d. By practise it is known how much is the average product of one hour. With new fashions, repairs, etc., a contest arises between master and labourer, whether a particular piece of work is one hour, and so on, until here also experience decides. Similarly in the London furniture workshops, etc. If the labourer does not possess the average capacity, if he cannot in consequence supply a certain minimum of work per day, he is dismissed.
Since the quality and intensity of the work are here controlled by the form of wage itself, superintendence of labour becomes in great part superfluous. Piece-wages therefore lay the foundation of the modern “domestic labour,” described above, as well as of a hierarchically organised system of exploitation and oppression. The latter has two fundamental forms. On the one hand piece-wages facilitate the interposition of parasites between the capitalist and the wage-labourer, the “sub-letting of labour.” The gain of these middle-men comes
entirely from the difference between the labour price which the capitalist pays, and the part of that price which they actually allow to reach the labourer.
*30 In England this system is characteristically called the “Sweating system.” On the other hand piece-wage allows the capitalist to make a contract for so much per piece with the head labourer—in manufactures with the chief of some group, in mines with the extractor of the coal, in the factory with the actual machine-worker—at a price for which the head labourer himself undertakes the enlisting and payment of his assistant workpeople. The exploitation of the labourer by capital is here effected through the exploitation of the labourer by the labourer.
Given piece-wage, it is naturally the personal interest of the labourer to strain his labour-power as intensely as possible; this enables the capitalist to raise more easily the normal degree of intensity of labour.
*32 It is moreover now the personal interest of the labourer to lengthen the working day, since with it his daily or weekly wages rise.
*33 This gradually brings
on a reaction like that already described in time-wages, without reckoning that the prolongation of the working day, even if the piece-wage remains constant, includes of necessity a fall in the price of the labour.
In time-wages, with few exceptions, the same wage holds for the same kind of work, whilst in piece-wages, though the price of the working time is measured by a certain quantity of product, the day’s or week’s wage will vary with the individual differences of the labourers, of whom one supplies in a given time the minimum of product only, another the average, a third more than the average. With regard to actual receipts there is, therefore, great variety according to the different skill, strength, energy, staying-power, etc., of the individual labourers.
*34 Of course this does not alter the general relations between capital and wage-labour. First, the individual differences balance one another in the workshop as a whole, which thus supplies in a given working-time the average product, and the total wages paid will be the average wages of that particular branch of industry. Second, the proportion between wages and surplus-value remains unaltered, since the mass of surplus-labour supplied by each particular labourer corresponds with the wage received by him. But the wider scope that piece-wage gives to individuality, tends to develop on the one hand that individuality, and with it the sense of liberty, independence, and self-control of the labourers, on the other, their competition one with another. Piece-work has, therefore, a tendency, while raising individual wages above the average, to lower this average itself. But where a particular rate of piece-wage has for a long time been fixed by tradition, and its lowering, therefore, presented especial difficulties, the masters, in such exceptional cases, sometimes had recourse to its compulsory transformation into time-wages. Hence,
e.g., in 1860 a great strike among the ribbon-weavers
*35 Piece-wage is finally one of the chief supports of the hour-system described in the preceding chapter.
From what has been shown so far, it follows that piece-wage is the form of wages most in harmony with the capitalist mode of production. Although by no means new—it figures side by side with time-wages officially in the French and English labour statutes of the 14th century—it only conquers a larger field for action during the period of Manufacture, properly so-called. In the stormy youth of Modern Industry, especially from 1797 to 1815, it served as a lever for the lengthening of the working day, and the lowering of wages. Very important materials for the fluctuation of wages during that period are to be found in the Blue-books: “Report and Evidence from the Select Committee on Petitions respecting the Corn Laws,” (Parliamentary Session of 1813-14), and “Report from the Lords’ Committee, on the state of the Growth, Commerce, and Consumption of Grain, and all Laws relating thereto,” (Session of 1814-15). Here we find documentary evidence of the constant lowering of the price of labour from the beginning of the Anti-Jacobin War. In the weaving industry,
e.g., piece-wages had fallen so low that inspite
of the very great lengthening of the working day, the daily wages were then lower than before. “The real earnings of the cotton weaver are now far less than they were; his superiority over the common labourer, which at first was very great, has now almost entirely ceased. Indeed…the difference in the wages of skilful and common labour is far less now than at any former period.”
*37 How little the increased intensity and extension of labour through piece-wages benefited the agricultural proletariat, the following passage borrowed from a work on the side of the landlords and farmers shows: “By far the greater part of agricultural operations is done by people, who are hired for the day or on piece-work. Their weekly wages are about 12s., and although it may be assumed that a man earns on piece-work under the greater stimulus to labour, 1s. or perhaps 2s. more than on weekly wages, yet it is found, on calculating his total income, that his loss of employment, during the year, outweighs this gain…Further, it will generally be found that the wages of these men bear a certain proportion to the price of the necessary means of subsistence, so that a man with two children is able to bring up his family without recourse to parish relief.”
*38 Malthus at that time remarked with reference to the facts published by Parliament: “I confess that I see, with misgiving, the great extension of the practice of piece-wage. Really hard work during 12 or 14 hours of the day, or for any longer time, is too much for any human being.”
In the workshops under the Factory Acts, piece-wage becomes the general rule, because capital can there only increase the efficacy of the working day by intensifying labour.
With the changing productiveness of labour the same quantum of product represents a varying working time. Therefore, piece-wage also varies, for it is the money expression of a determined working time. In our example above, 24 pieces were produced in 12 hours, whilst the value of the product
of the 12 hours was 6s., the daily value of the labour-power 3s., the price of the labour-hour 3d., and the wage for one piece 1½d. In one piece half-an-hour’s labour was absorbed. If the same working day now supplies, in consequence of the doubled productiveness of labour, 48 pieces instead of 24, and all other circumstances remain unchanged, then the piece-wage falls from 1½d. to ¾d., as every piece now only represents ¼, instead of ½ of a working hour. 24 by 1½d. =3s., and in like manner 48 by ¾d.=3s. In other words, piece-wage is lowered in the same proportion as the number of the pieces produced in the same time rises,
*41 and therefore as the working time spent on the same piece falls. This change in piece-wage, so far purely nominal, leads to constant battles between capitalist and labour. Either because the capitalist uses it as a pretext for actually lowering the price of labour, or because increased productive power of labour is accompanied by an increased intensity of the same. Or because the labourer takes seriously the appearance of piece-wages, viz., that his product is paid for, and not his labour-power, and therefore revolts against a lowering of wages, unaccompanied by a lowering in the selling price of the commodity. “The operatives…. carefully watch the price of the raw material and the price of manufactured goods, and are thus enabled to form an accurate estimate of their master’s profits.”
The capitalist rightly knocks on the head such pretensions as gross errors as to the nature of wage-labour.
*43 He cries out against this usurping attempt to lay taxes on the advance of
industry, and declares roundly that the productiveness of labour does not concern the labourer at all.
e.g., in the Engineering Trade of London, a customary trick is “the selecting of a man who possesses superior physical strength and quickness, as the principal of several workmen, and paying him an additional rate, by the quarter or otherwise, with the understanding that he is to exert himself to the utmost to induce the others, who are only paid the ordinary wages, to keep up to him…. Without any comment this will go far to explain many of the complaints of stinting the action, superior skill, and working-power, made by the employers against the men” (in Trades-Unions. Dunning, l. c. pp. 22, 23). As the author is himself a labourer and secretary of a Trade’s Union, this might be taken for exaggeration. But the reader may compare the “highly respectable” Cyclopædia of Agriculture of J. Ch. Morton, Art. “Labourer,” where this method is recommended to the farmers as an approved one.
e.g., in the French edition, Hume is not yet mentioned, whilst in the English, on the other hand, Petty hardly figures any longer. The English edition is theoretically less important, but it contains numerous details referring specifically to English commerce, bullion trade, etc., that are wanting in the French text. The words on the title-page of the English edition, according to which the work is “Taken chiefly from the manuscript of a very ingenious gentleman, deceased, and adapted, etc,” seem, therefore, a pure fiction, very customary at that time.
as, the increase of its productive power.” (Ure, l. c., p. 317.) This last apologetic phrase Ure himself again cancels. The lengthening of the mule causes some increase of labour, he admits. The labour does therefore not diminish in the same ratio as its productivity increases. Further: “By this increase the productive power of the machine will be augmented one-fifth. When this event happens the spinner will not be paid at the same rate for work done as he was before, but as that rate will not be diminished in the ratio of one-fifth, the improvement will augment his money earnings for any given number of hours’ work,” but “the foregoing statement requires a certain modification…. The spinner has to pay something additional for juvenile aid out of his additional sixpence, accompanied by displacing a portion of adults” (l. c. p. 321), which has in no way a tendency to raise wages.
London Standard of October 26, 1861, there is a report of proceedings of the firm of John Bright & Co., before the Rochdale magistrates “to prosecute for intimidation the agents of the Carpet Weavers Trades’ Union. Bright’s partners had introduced new machinery which would turn out 240 yards of carpet in the time and with the labour (1) previously required to produce 160 yards. The workmen had no claim whatever to share in the profits made by the investment of their employer’s capital in mechanical improvements. Accordingly, Messrs. Bright proposed to lower the rate of pay from 1½d. per yard to 1d., leaving the earnings of the men exactly the same as before for the same labour. But there was a nominal reduction, of which the operatives, it is asserted, had not fair warning before hand.”
Quelle horreur!)…the demanding higher wages, because labour is abbreviated, is in other words the endeavour to establish a duty on mechanical improvements.” (“On Combination of Trades, new ed., London, 1834,” p. 42.)
Part VI, Chapter XXII.