Graphic Witness: Hugo Gellert
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Hugo Gellert: Karl Marx' 'Capital' in Lithographs

page 38. CONCEPT OF RELATIVE SURPLUS VALUE


CONCEPT OF RELATIVE SURPLUS VALUE

The part of the working day which merely produces an equivalent for the value of the labor power expended during that time, the value the capitalist pays for, has hitherto been treated as a constant magnitude; and a constant in fact it is, under given conditions of production, at a particular economic stage of social development. Over and above this necessary labor time, the worker might work for 2, 3, 4, 6, or more hours a day. The rate of surplus value and the length of the working day were dependent upon the extent of this prolongation.

Whereas the necessary labor time was constant, the length of the working day as a whole was variable.

Now let us suppose a working day whose length and whose apportionment into necessary labor and surplus labor are given. For instance, let the line ac [a ----b---- c] represent a twelve hour working day, the portion ab representing 6 hours of necessary labor, and the portion bc representing 6 hours of surplus labor. The question is, how can the production of surplus value be increased, that is to say, how can the period of surplus labor be prolonged, without, or independently of, any prolongation of ac?

Though ac, the length of the working day, is regarded as fixed, bc is variable, for, while it cannot (by hypothesis) be extended beyond its term c, which is the fixed end of the working day ac, it can be extended in the opposite direction by pushing back its starting-point b towards a.

Assume that in the line a--b'--b---- c, b'b is equal to half bc, and therefore represents 3 working hours. If now, in the twelve-hour working day ac, the point b is pushed back to b', then, although the working day remains twelve hours as before, bc has been extended to become b'c, and the surplus labor has been increased by half, from bc to b'c, from 6 hours to 9 hours.

Evidently this extension of the surplus labor from bc to b'c, from 6 hours to 9, is impossible unless the necessary labor is simultaneously reduced from ab to ab', from 6 hours to 3. There must be a reduction of the necessary labor corresponding to the increase of the surplus labor; this meaning that part of the working time in which the worker has hitherto really been working for himself has been transformed into working time in which he is working for the capitalist. What has been changed in our assumed example is not the total length of the working day, but its apportionment into necessary labor and surplus labor.

. . . Hitherto, in considering the production of surplus value, we have assumed the method of production to be invariable. But if surplus value is to be produced by converting necessary labor into surplus labor, it will not suffice for capital to master the labor process in its traditional or extant form, and simply to increase the duration of that process. Capital must revolutionize the technical and social conditions of the labor process, must revolutionize the labor process itself, before the productivity of labor can be increased. Thus only can the value of labor power be lowered; thus only can the part of the working day necessary for the reproduction of this value be shortened.

I give the name of absolute surplus value to surplus value produced by a prolongation of the working day. On the other hand, to the surplus value that is produced by a reduction of the necessary labor time, and by a corresponding change in the relative proportions of the two components of the working day, I give the name of relative surplus value.


. . . Attempts to economize labor by increasing the productivity of labor do not, in capitalist production, aim at reducing the length of the working day. They aim only at reducing the amount of labor time necessary for the production of a definite amount of commodities. Although the worker, thanks to the increased productivity of his labor, now produces in an hour 10 times as great an amount of commodities as before . . . he still has to work 12 hours a day, producing in a day 1200 articles where formerly he produced 120. . . .

Within the system of capitalist production, the development of the productivity of labor has as its aim to shorten the part of the working day during which the worker has to work for himself, in order to lengthen the part of the working day during which he can work for the capitalist free, gratis, for nothing.

How far this result can be achieved in other ways than by the cheapening of commodities will be disclosed by an examination of the special methods of producing relative surplus value. To these we shall now turn.