Let us run through the steps:
(1) Let us assume that the concept of abstract socially necessary labour time is valid (even though the concept is incoherent, cannot be properly defined and is empirically irrelevant). But, as I note, let’s assume – for the sake of argument – that it is coherent and empirically relevant.The conclusion is clear: under the logic of Marx’s own theory, capitalism has historically had a tendency to reduce the rate of exploitation. Marx should have been talking about the glorious tendency of capitalism to reduce its exploitation of the working class!
(2) For Marx, the total working day is divided into two parts of the working day as follows:(1) necessary labour-time, which is “determined by the working time required for the reproduction of the labour-power of the labourer himself” (Marx 1906: 256), andThe capitalists only tend to pay for the value of labour-power and steal the value of surplus labour-time (or surplus value s). The necessary part of the working day is determined by the value of variable capital v bought by the capitalist (Marx 1990: 326), which is value of labour-power. The rate of surplus value is s/v (Marx 1990: 324; Brewer 1984: 43), which is also the rate of exploitation.
(2) the surplus labour-time (Marx 1990: 341).
(3) Exploitation for Marx, in its most important sense, arises from the (alleged) manner in which capitalists tend to pay only a wage equal to the value of labour-power, which is the value of reproduction and maintenance of workers, and so this allows the capitalist to steal the value of surplus labour time.
Capitalists can increase this exploitation by increasing the total working day to extend the surplus labour time of workers (and so gain more absolute surplus value) or decreasing the real wage equal to the value of reproduction and maintenance of workers (which is called by Marx relative surplus value). For Marx, the rate of surplus value is the rate of exploitation.
(4) but the long-run trajectory of capitalism in first world countries is to decrease the working day, so that capitalists have not in the long run been able to increase extraction of surplus value by relentlessly increasing the working day.
(5) furthermore, the crux of Marx’s argument is that workers tend only to be paid a wage equal to the value of reproduction and maintenance of workers (a type of subsistence wage), so that this in turn is equal to that part of the working day necessary only for the reproduction and maintenance of labour-power: the hours of the working day beyond this represent the surplus labour time, whose value is surplus labour value extracted from labour.
(6) but the long-run tendency of capitalism is to increase the real wage, even for workers. The real wage – even for workers – has, generally speaking, soared in the past 160 years and has soared well above subsistence level.
(7) even worse for Marx, the long-run tendency of capitalism is to make work less intense and arduous in many industries through use of machines and automation, so that, for example, the socially necessary labour time needed to build a house is far less today than it was 100 years ago, because of machine tools. So therefore many types of workers have seen a rising real wage and a less arduous working day with respect to the same type of work people did 100 years ago, even while their working day has remained stable or even declined.
(8) it follows directly that capitalists cannot be succeeding in stealing more relative surplus value by holding down the real wage to subsistence levels.
(9) if the working day is stable or falling in the long run, and the real wage has a long-run tendency to rise, then it follows that people are being paid more and more above subsistence level, and that they are being paid more and more for their surplus labour time, sometimes for all their surplus labour, and in some cases perhaps even more than their surplus labour time.
Had Karl Marx only lived another 30 years, the old fraud may even have been forced to recognise that his central claim in volume 1 of Capital – that capitalism only ever increases the extraction of unpaid surplus labour value – was false, given the soaring real wages even of workers.
Brewer, Anthony. 1984. A Guide to Marx’s Capital. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
Marx, Karl. 1906. Capital. A Critique of Political Economy (vol. 1; rev. trans. by Ernest Untermann from 4th German edn.). The Modern Library, New York.
Marx, Karl. 1990. Capital. A Critique of Political Economy. Volume One (trans. Ben Fowkes). Penguin Books, London.