[OPE-L:3091] Re: formulas for the rate of surplus value

andrew kliman (Andrew_Kliman@msn.com)
Mon, 23 Sep 1996 07:50:56 -0700 (PDT)

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In reply to Allin's ope-l 3090, in which he writes:

"This may be off the mark, but I wonder if Marx was influenced by 'political'
considerations in defining the rate of surplus value as he did: for instance,
a rate of exploitation of 400 percent (s/v) sounds 'worse' than 80 percent
(s/(s+v)) -- though of course these figures carry the same information."

Your don't need to wonder. This very issue is the focus of Ch. 18 of
_Capital_ I, "Different Formulae for the Rate of Surplus-Value." Marx
discusses in very clear terms why he considers s/v "rigourously definite and
correct," while, in what Allin is writing as s/(s+v), "the actual degree of
exploitation of labour ... is falsely expressed."

s+v is what Marx calls the "value-product."

He writes:
"When the political economists treat surplus-value and the value of
labour-power as fractions of the value-product - a mode of presentation which
arises, by the way, out of the capitalist mode of production itself ...they
conceal the specific character of the capital-relation, namely the fact that
variable capital is exchanged for living labour-power, and that the worker is
accordingly excluded from the product. Instead of revealing the
capital-relation they show us the false semblance of a relation of
association, in which worker and capitalist divide the product in proportion
to the different elements which they respectively contribute to its

So Marx did have a theoretical-political reason for his definition, a
theoretical reason that is likewise political. Given that it is a pretty good
reason, and sufficient, I don't think we need to speculate about ulterior
motives. (Note that my use of "pretty good reason" does NOT imply that Marx
was "right" and Allin is "wrong." I'm addressing whether we can take Marx at
his word concerning why he defined the rate of exploitation one way and not

My quotes were from the Penguin/Vintage ed., p. 669, and 670-71.

Andrew Kliman