The discovery of surplus value: Karl Marx and Senior’s ‘last hour’

Smith, Kenneth (2017) The discovery of surplus value: Karl Marx and Senior’s ‘last hour’. Journal of Classical Sociology, 17 (1). pp. 41-54. ISSN 1468-795X , 1741-2897

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This essay claims to discover the point at which Marx worked out his theory of surplus value sometime during the 10-year period between 1857 and the publication of Capital Vol. I in 1867. This, it is claimed, was due to his reading of a well-known pamphlet by an English Oxford University professor of political economy, Nassau W. Senior. Senior had claimed that capitalist manufacturers made all of their profit during the last hour of the then normal 12-hour working day. Marx knew that this was incorrect since, if Senior was right, the capitalists might just as well employ their workers for this 1 hour alone and not bother with the other 11 hours of the working day. The workers must then have been doing something else which was of value to the capitalists over and above merely producing their profit. This something else Marx realised was nothing less than the renewal of the worn out fabric of the capitalist enterprise and hence, along with this, the recreation year after year of the capitalists claims to be the legitimate owners of the enterprise. This essay then also claims to have identified two letters by Marx written just 11 months apart which might help to further date the discovery of surplus value, in the first of which, written in 1862, Marx gives Senior’s incorrect view of surplus value as profit and in the second of which, written in 1863, he gives his mature view of surplus value as profit plus the recreation of the capitalist mode of production itself. Having made this theoretical breakthrough by 1863, Marx finally stopped making notebooks and threw himself into the writing of Capital Vol. I in 1864, the year in which by chance Nassau Senior died.

Item Type: Article
Keywords: Capitalism, length of the working day, Marx, Nassau W. Senior, profit, surplus value
Depositing User: J McPeak
Date Deposited: 02 Jun 2017 12:58
Last Modified: 13 Dec 2017 12:00

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