In his lecture Value, price and profit Karl Marx argues that profit is made by capitalists by (i) selling commodities for their real price (= real value expressed in money), (ii) paying the workers (down the complete supply chain) as wages the real value (expressed in money) of the commodities they produce but (iii) letting them work more time than needed for the production of these commodities (= produce more commodities, but unpaid for).

I don't understand why he insists on (ii) and (iii) instead of just saying that the capitalists pay the workers simply less than the real price (by which they sell the commodities).

What's the difference between "working full time for half wages" and "working half time for full wages and half time for no wages"?

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    $\begingroup$ I suspect that the matter, while could be the same from an arithmetical point of view, isn’t the same from a theoretical point of view. The reason could be, I suppose, that Marx wants to stick to his labour theory of value, but this leads to difficulties. The wages determined by the market are different from that expected from his labour/value theory. So, he prefers to say that workers are employed more time, instead of saying that the wage per hour is lower. $\endgroup$ Dec 16, 2022 at 19:34
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    $\begingroup$ I suppose, therefore, that behind this there is the famous Marxian ‘problem of transformation of values in prices’, which led to contradictions and was one of the reasons of the abandonment of labour theory of value. Unfortunately, at the moment, I have no time to read the texts , verify my hypothesis and work out an answer. But on first impression I can give you this clue, a hypothesis at first sight that shoul be verified. $\endgroup$ Dec 16, 2022 at 19:35
  • $\begingroup$ I think there is no difference, and I believe that in Capital vol. 1 Marx draws explicit equivalence, but I don’t remember which page exactly. $\endgroup$ Dec 20, 2022 at 23:45

1 Answer 1


Your summary of Marx's argument in these lectures is inaccurate. In these lectures too, Marx advances his known theory of surplus. He does not say that capitalists pay to the workers the full value of the commodities the workers produce, but the full value needed for the workers and their families to survive.


We must now return to the expression, “value, or price of labour.” We have seen that, in fact, it is only the value of the labouring power, measured by the values of commodities necessary for its maintenance.

Marx argument is the well-known one: when you work $H$ hours, you produce $Y$ goods that are more than you need to survive -but you are paid only $W<Y$ goods, where $W$ is the goods that you need in order to survive. The rest is the surplus, which due to the socioeconomic structure is kept by the capitalist (and maybe others like landlords), but it should be given to labor because it was labor that produced it, since "capital" does not possess this "surplus-creating property".

Marx's picture is not "you work 8 hours but by abusing as an individual my power over you I only pay you for 4 hours" but "your wage is determined, by the socioeconomic system, as what you need to survive, not as the value you produce. So I pay you what the system dictates, I am not "exploiting" you in the traditional sense of the word. Still, because you produce more than what you need to survive, I can sell the products at their "real/fair" price (so I do not exploit the consumers either) and still see a surplus -which I keep, because the system is what it is".

  • $\begingroup$ Marx doesn’t say it should be given to workers, at least not explicitly. He frames his theory as a descriptive one. $\endgroup$ Dec 20, 2022 at 3:41
  • $\begingroup$ @LudwigNagasena I was not referring to any specific book, but to the overall stance -and action- Marx took on the matter. $\endgroup$ Dec 20, 2022 at 16:32
  • $\begingroup$ I think you shouldn’t say that the summary is inaccurate and that Marx’s argument is well-known, if your interpretation relies mostly on your impression of Marx’s actions and only vaguely relies on text. $\endgroup$ Dec 20, 2022 at 23:56
  • $\begingroup$ @LudwigNagasena The summary in the post is indeed inaccurate because the post says "(ii) paying the workers (down the complete supply chain) as wages the real value (expressed in money) of the commodities they produce". $\endgroup$ Dec 21, 2022 at 13:35

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