Part V

The Production of Absolute and Relative Surplus Value

In Part III, Chapters 7-11 on absolute surplus value and in Part IV, Chapters 12-15 on relative surplus-value Marx analyzes these strategies of exploitation in terms of value, not in terms of money, an embodiment of value, nor in terms of profit, a monetary form of surplus-value. These three short Chapters 16-18 provide a bridge to Part VI on wages—the money form of the value of labor-power. They both remind the reader of ideas already discussed and begin to analyze some of the consequences of the value of labor-power taking the form of money.

Chapter 16: Absolute and Relative Surplus-Value

Mostly a reminder of the distinction and interrelationships between the two forms of surplus-value with some observations on the concept and historical evolution of productivity. The chapter ends with a critique of the failure of classical political economists and those who followed them to discover the antagonistic social relationships underlying such monetary phenomena as profits and wages.

Chapter 17: Changes of Magnitude in the Price of Labour-Power and in Surplus Value

The title of this chapter announces the transition from value analysis to money by indicating that the value of labor-power will be discussed in terms of its price. Thus, while reviewing his previous analysis of how absolute and relative surplus-value vary according to changes in productivity, intensity and value of labor-power, he examines the relation between those changes and the price (or wages) of labor. Marx highlights the centrality of rising productivity, not only for the struggle between workers and capitalists over how its fruits are shared but for a post-capitalist future in which rising productivity could be channeled into ever less shared work and ever more shared wealth.

Chapter 18: Different Formulae for the Rate of Surplus-value

Marx juxtaposes his theory to that of the classical political economists. He argues that their formulations hide the existence of exploitation and create the illusion that workers and capital receive income equal to their contribution to production. He also upholds the reasonableness of characterizing exploitation in terms of the extraction of unpaid labor, i.e., labor performed without compensation.