I have been studying Marxist economics for a little over 3 months now and have been really trying hard to understand the arguments made.

Right now I'm watching Dr. Stephen Resnick's course on Marxist Economics and am having difficulty understanding the Matematics behind the concept of capitalist exploitation through "speed up" or increase in intensity.

He presents the following formula: $$\text{I}=\frac{SV+V}{lh}$$

-$\text{I}$ is intensity
-$SV$ is surplus value
-$V$ is variable capital/ value added by workers
-$l$ is number of laborers
-$h$ is the number of hours each laborer works

he argues that there exists a way to increase surplus if we hold l and h fixed. Mathematically im not sure how this is done.

It cant be from a change in machinery/capital stoc as noted in a previous video of Dr. Resnick since this would decrease the capitalists level of surplus1.

So if there is no change in hours worked, number of workers and machinery- How is this increase in surplus value occurring?

1. this is based on the equation:



-$r$ is the rate of profit

-$\frac{S}{V}$ is the rate of exploitation/rate of surplus value

-$\frac{C}{C+V}$ is the index of mechanization/rate of mechanization, where $C$ is value of machinery.


2 Answers 2


I not familiar with Marxist theory, but assuming your equations are right, we can just banter about the math:

Given: $I,h$ are both fixed

$I*h = \frac{sv + v}{l}$

I would assume in the short run $l$, labor force is also fixed, if you're trying to solve this for the whole economy, the workers must end up somewhere. So,

$I*h*l = sv + v$

$fixed\_value = sv+v$

So, all I can tell you is that if $SV$, surplus value, is going up, $V$, the value added by workers must go down. Jokingly, I suspect his recommendation is to not work so hard!

  • $\begingroup$ Mathematically this makes sense. It appears to be the same as exploitation through change in relative surplus value. Excellent $\endgroup$
    – EconJohn
    Commented Jun 21, 2018 at 2:36
  • $\begingroup$ @EconJohn Wait, quick question- why is $I$ being held constant here? Shouldn't it be holding $l$ and $h$ constant? At roughly the 8:20 mark, Resnick specifically mentions increasing SV and holding V constant, which necessarily implies an increase in $I$, no? $\endgroup$
    – AndrewC
    Commented Jul 28, 2018 at 1:14
  • $\begingroup$ @AndrewC Yes, however the formula for labor intensity implies that there exists a fixed level of intensity for each value set (i.e. $V+SV$) $\endgroup$
    – EconJohn
    Commented Jul 30, 2018 at 3:24

Though I'm certainly no expert in Marxist economic theory, I think he's presenting it as an "if you can figure out a way of speeding workers up, then you can generate additional surplus from their efforts. Effectively, this is just saying "say you're Ford, and have teams of 7 working on assembly lines that generate 4 cars per hour. Suppose there is some way to increase the intensity of labor, by getting them to work faster and produce 5 cars per hour, and not changing the number of assembly lines or workers per line. Then, if you can hold their wages fixed, you can generate more surplus for the capitalist."

(I'd imagine a historical example might be the semi-mechanized looms of the English Industrial Revolution, where the speed of the mechanisms was dictated by the machinery, and could therefore be bumped up by a factory owner.)

I don't think there's a single coherent mathematical argument explaining why this speed would be increased, just highlighting the different ways the ratio of interest can change.


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