As I understand it, capital is created through the surplus value, that is the difference between the value of a worker's work (i.e. the wage that he is paid) and the new value that is created through his work. A simplified example would be this:

Worker A makes 100 ice cream cones per hour and is paid 10$ per hour
Raw material for making a single ice cream cone costs 0.2$
Worker B makes 100 scoops of vanilla ice cream per hour and is paid 20$ per hour
Raw material for making a single scoop of vanilla ice cream costs 0.5$

That would make the cost for a single cone with a scoop of vanilla ice cream exactly 1.00\$.

Cone with ice cream is sold for 2$

That would leave a profit of 1\$ per sold cone with ice cream for the owner of the ice cream shop (assuming that the building itself does not require any regular payment).

Worker A and B are paid 0.3\$ for creating a value of 1.3\$. According to Marx they are paid 1\$ too little for their work.

Is the capitalist attributed any part in the creation of this value? I don't want to talk about the fact that he owns the means of production, but rather about this: Does the capitalist create a bigger value by aggregating the work of the two workers? This is obviously trivial for ice cream cones, but I could imagine something meaningful for example in the production of cars, where the organization itself requires work. Is this work done by the capitalist considered at all in Marxism? Or is any creation of value attributed to the individual workers who in turn are therefore exploited?

  • $\begingroup$ The assumption in Marxist theory is that value is only created through labor. Therefore by assumption/definition capital cannot create value and must be through exploitation of labor. $\endgroup$
    – BB King
    Commented Feb 5, 2016 at 19:46

4 Answers 4


I'm not a Marx expert, but I've read The Capital some years ago and as far as I can remember Marx said that only the workers produce value. All others' wages (and the workers' wages too!) and other costs are covered by the produced values of the workers, so the others decrease the "profit", which could remain at the workers otherwise. Therefore Marx suggested the workers to make collectives without any capitalists.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Well, I could imagine a capitalist doing the same work that any other worker is doing, in addition to owning the company. I doubt Marx didn't think of that, and instead said that capitalists per se cannot create value. Does Marx not consider the organizing of a company (for example when producing cars) work in itself? Especially in today's production chains, and especially with information technology. $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 5, 2016 at 0:38
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ You named it! The capitalists could create some value without expropriating worker's labour, only if they put themselves to work! $\endgroup$
    – Simón
    Commented Nov 23, 2016 at 22:12
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ But please let us know how it goes to your car-making company-without-workers with only you organizing it. $\endgroup$
    – Simón
    Commented Nov 23, 2016 at 22:13
  • $\begingroup$ A manager or factory director would be a worker, too, in the Marxian sense. The distinction is strictly between capital ownership and workers in that sense. It is capital ownership that doesn't create value according to Marx, ie a factory owner that does nothing but "owning". $\endgroup$
    – BrsG
    Commented Jul 30, 2021 at 15:56


  1. If a capitalist does the same work as any other worker, then he/she is in a worker state. No matter he/she is the owner meanwhile.
  2. All others' wages and costs (owner, who doesn't work or "just" organize the process, the management, etc) are covered by the value produced by the workers, who produced the products, which were sold. Of course there are useful activities, which leads to higher productivity (for example invent new technologies), but until they are not in use they are only take money...but from where? From the profit. And to reach a profit an extra value has to be produced by the workers.
  3. If these new technologies are started to be used, who guarantee that the extra profit from it will be shared with the workers if not the workers own their tools, equipments and manage their own collectives? There is a difference between these two cases: a; when the workers are the owners, but also have to do activities which don't produce real value or b; they only "working powers in human bodies" for someone else.
  4. Of course, Marx didn't take today's technologies into consideration, because he lived in the XIX. century. That was a different world, where the human working power was the main source of the production, because it was the cheapest (even against the machines at that time). I think he mainly raised his voice against the exploitation of the workers, who lived in deplorable circumstances, while the factory owners became richer and richer.
  5. Finally, his opinion maybe wasn't perfect, that's why "critics of Marx" exists. :-)

Socially necessary labour power is a requirement for the circulation of value, embodied in classical reproduction schema as “lp.”

An individual human being who owns capital exerts themselves in relation to that capital. They make a decision regarding who will make decisions about their capital. They may go further and directly make decisions about their capital. They may go further and make decisions about the day to day uses of their capital and what their wage slaves do. They may go further and actually lay hand on tool to physically convert wool to yarn, or reading to academic journal articles.

In each and every of these cases they are exerting labour power, injecting labour into the process, and embody actual living labour. To this extent a capitalist contributes toward potential value like any other human: he spins wool, he bullies spinners, he purchases jennies, he distributes capital between spinning and weaving, he hires a director to ensure the work is done for him.

The socially necessary price for these services as “labour” is far below the stipends actually doled out to management and other nomenklatura: they’re not paid a wage for their labour, but given stipends from profit for imprisoning workers in an industrial hell. The socially necessary price will be that of a worker conducting the same job: advanced operational administrative is a good proxy, government service prices.

So yes, they add value only to the extent they exert labour power and only in relation to the socially necessary price of complex labour of that sort.


The tricky point about considering the "added value" of a better work organization or, more generalized, more productivity, is that it indeed lessens the creation of value! [Always from Marx's point of view] you have to keep in mind that value (money) is nothing but human work productively put in the creation of (marketable) commodities. Then, as labor force becomes more productive or -what is the same- as it takes less social work to produce the commodity, the value added is lessened: commodity becomes "less valuable". Of course, all that applies from a macro perspective ['capital in general' in Marx's terms], but from a micro view, capitalist is focused in "appropriating" value, and not in "creating" value. [This is a common point of subtle misunderstanding of Marx, which results in very common misinterpretation of reality]. Then, when a certain capitalist engaged in productive production succeeds in saving work, this is to say, in saving costs, she achieves an advantage to "appropriate" more value (money, profit), even when she has contribute to lessen the value created on aggregate, social, level!

In the other hand, the certain hours devoted by the person of capitalist in organizing tens of thousands of workers manufacturing millions of cars are not relevant. More if we consider that organizing is (like designing) a work needed "once and for ever", so society does not need to keep on doing that work to "reproduce" the commodity-car, which is the relevant aspect to consider that work time as productive and, thus, as value-creating.

  • $\begingroup$ How can you say that organizing is not relevant work, or that it only needs to be done once? $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 29, 2020 at 17:25
  • $\begingroup$ @user253751 If you have facts or arguments to show, I's like to see them. Your question seems to make sense only if we implicitly accept a lot of matter that you and me, and the rest of readers of this, are supposed to share. Otherwise, taken literally, the answer to your question is straightforward (and useless), something like "typing accordingly". $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 11, 2020 at 10:36
  • $\begingroup$ Trying to do steps forward and making some sense of it, I'd limit myself to explain the same statement with other words, maybe adding some details: $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 11, 2020 at 10:47
  • $\begingroup$ "Organizing is not relevant work" just in its value creation dimension, again under Marx's labour value theory. And it is precisely because organizing work to make it more productive (which is in other dimensions very relevant) is an effort made in an instant to produce 1,000 units or 10^10 units or whatever: every unit of product doesn't NEED a NEW waste of organizational work to be (re)produced, therefore this work is not ellegible as social neccesary abstract labor. In that sense, organizational work is "a work that only needs to be done once" $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 11, 2020 at 10:48

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.