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Is the extraction of surplus value sufficient for the necessity of revolution?

As I understand it, the extraction of surplus value is: the essential component of the "immiseration" of the proletariat, so it shows that the class has gradually lost more and more to the ruling class; and the basis of the "falling rate of profit", which shows that the ruling class gradually profit less as a function of their current power over the proletariat.

But prima facie, this, how surplus value keeps being made the same no matter how much has already been extracted, is more of a formula for the gradual irrelevance of class. So what other assumptions, perhaps historical rather than economic, are needed to convert this - which seems like stability - into political instability?

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    The extraction of surplus value is not sufficient for a falling rate of profit in Marx's view, the falling rate of profit also requires increasing "organic composition of capital", meaning increasing replacing of workers (variable capital) with machinery and other tools (fixed capital). If we imagine a world where technological progress has completely stagnated so the socially necessary labor time for different goods stays fixed, I don't think Marx would predict any tendency of the rate of profit to fall, so there'd be no progressive tendency for revolution to become more likely with time.
    – Hypnosifl
    Nov 15, 2021 at 16:40
  • the claim was that it was the basis - necessary and practically suifficient - to the falling rate of profit @Hypnosifl ? Ianyway, I get your point. thanks, but I don't see it as the only thing missing to show that surplus value entails revolution
    – user56770
    Nov 15, 2021 at 16:41
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    Mass psychology has to catch up to economics: "For a revolution to take place, it is usually insufficient for “the lower classes not to want” to live in the old way; it is also necessary that “the upper classes should be unable” to rule in the old way", Lenin.
    – Conifold
    Nov 15, 2021 at 21:17
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    Upper classes are typically capable of counteraction, and they have the propaganda and suppression apparatuses of the state to back it up. As Marx already emphasized, cultural and political superstructure is not a perfect mirror of the economic base, it has autonomous driving forces of its own: "it is always necessary to distinguish between the material transformation of the economic conditions of production... and... ideological forms in which men become conscious of this conflict and fight it out".
    – Conifold
    Nov 16, 2021 at 0:08
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    You may be interested in Marxist style analyses of the post-industrial situation. E.g. that capitalism managed to dissolve and co-opt proletariat, and a new lower class is needed as a vehicle of revolution (New Left ideology, see Baudrillard). Or that socialism generated a new upper class of statist bureaucracy paralleled by capitalist technocracy, inducing convergence of the two systems that both need to be upended (Đilas and Galbraith).
    – Conifold
    Nov 16, 2021 at 11:42

4 Answers 4

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As wages decrease relative to profit, and the rate of profit falls, then, relative to the amount of capital, the working class can buy less commodities


Immiseration is Marx's prediction that

profits would increase faster than wages

The falling rate of profit that

—the ratio of the profit to the amount of invested capital—decreases over time


These two claims together mean that wage (not just variable capital, which I think is about 'value' and has its relative reduction more trivially derived from Marx) falls relative to capitalist investment (as, presumably, a greater proportion of capitalist wealth is spent on the means of production).

As production needs to be realised in consumption, and there is a "limited expansive capacity of social consumption" (Capital volume 3), then less money on wages equates to the working class buying less commodities, and then if due to competition the capitalist class do not (see Luxemburg)

  • commodity production, M-C-M, stalls and less money is made.
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  • I'm a bit confused about this. Really, I should join a good reading group, rather than ask here
    – user62133
    Aug 12 at 23:17
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It is not necessary as it derives an "ought" from "is".

  • Profit is extracted from X
  • X is miserable
  • Revolution is necessary

That revolution is necessary is neither self-evident analytically (necessarily true), nor does it follow from premises.

For it to be necessary you need to introduce a supporting "axiom" that 'egalitarianism is Good' in order to substantiate this. However, you then fall onto the open-question argument.

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  • man, not every ethical question is prohibited. this is one answer, one which does not engage with the history of marxism
    – user56770
    Nov 15, 2021 at 17:22
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    It may mean "logically necessary." It may be that revolution is necessary in the sense that it is necessary that A=C if A=B and B=C. (Marx is inconsistent on whether it's determined or morally required.)
    – Mary
    Aug 13 at 0:09
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Everyone overthinks Marx on this particular point. It's easier to understand if we forget about class for a second and make it personal. Say you are employed by a guy named Joe, who owns a big machine that makes widgets. He needs you to run the machine because he has all sorts of 'front store' stuff to do: selling widgets, advertising, keeping books, etc. He doesn't need you particularly, because he has 300 other people who could do the job. Joe just likes you, so you got the job. Great! But then things start to happen:

  • He lowers your wages because there's a glut of widgets, and he needs to be more competitive.
  • He lowers your wages again because he needs to upgrade his equipment, and it costs a lot
  • He lowers your wages again because he needs to pay for his daughter's wedding or his son's tuition at some private school

Every time Joe and/or his widget company face a financial problem, he cuts your wages to help pay for it. And yes, he may cut his own income as well, but he will never lower his own standard of living more than he will lower yours (I mean, how many people are that generous or enlightened?). You could quit, sure, but then someone else would step into your job and you'd be in that mass of 300 people looking for a job like yours. And it wouldn't really help anyway, because everybody you might work for is just like your friend Joe. Better the devil you know than the devil you don't...

So here's the simple, psychological question: How low are you willing to let your wages go, and how frustrated are you willing to get in this job? Sooner or later you're going to have to tell Joe that you're not making enough to feed and house your family, while he's throwing lavish parties and sending his kids to the best schools. But that's a risk: do you think he'll see the light give you a raise, or just fire you and hire someone who works more cheaply and complains less?

Marx's thought is that if a whole lot of people are in your position, and a whole lot of people like Joe are running the show, then you end up with two classes of people, one of which is wealthy and indifferent, and the other which is impoverished and frustrated. And an entire class of frustrated people — if they recognize themselves as a class, with a common source for their frustration — are prone to angry outbursts. That could be a violent revolution or a peaceful political revolution, depending, but (within a Liberal system, where the idea of individual rights and individual advancement is prevalent) people are disinclined to stew in their own juices.

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  • Increasing exploitation isn't necessarily about decreasing wages, it's possible for in Marx's terms for exploitation to increase while wages stay constant or even increase. Also Marx wasn't just arguing that class conflict meant workers are generally prone to angry outbursts from time to time, he saw the theorized tendency of the rate of profit to fall as central to his argument as to why some kind of revolutionary overturning of the capitalist system was basically inevitable given enough time.
    – Hypnosifl
    Nov 15, 2021 at 18:10
  • @Hypnosifl: Yeah, I know, I just wanted to simplify things to get it out of that 'heady' space of class conflict. Exploitation boils down to owners guaranteeing their own standard of living at the expense of employees' standard of living. It's employers competing with other employers (socially and commercially), with employees caught in the crossfire. Nov 15, 2021 at 18:17
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Given that the working class revolution may fail to come, it seems fair to assume that there is no one historical event or state of affairs that can be added to Marx's economic analysis to show that the working classes are revolutionary.

Indeed, it may be better to think of the revolutionary potential of the working class as an axiom or assumption of Marxism, discovered in historical analysis of past class based societies, and the existence of surplus value as showing that it is necessary (ethically; or at least for the working class) while still possible.

The falling rate of profit would then amount to the fetter on capitalist power which shows that, unless technological advance ends, capitalists are losing power interior to the capitalist system - the more capital that is generated by them the less use their capital is at that - so that there are social crises, and, via e.g. the crisis of over accumulation (in which M-C-M stalls and capitalists lose money), economic ones. Perhaps, then, instead of making revolution more likely, the falling rate of profit, at least without reforms that grant the proletariat more of a say, makes commodities become more fetishistic because capitalists lose control relative to their wealth; the social relation becomes ever more thing like, automatic and mysterious, making Marxism more relevant for the furthering of human ambition.

tl;dr

You need to study (living) history, and it may not happen.

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  • my theory is that marxist economics shows less that revolution is inevitable for the system (only the class as a historical entity), than that capital will become more volatile. invest in bitcoin! lol
    – user56770
    Nov 15, 2021 at 21:01

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