Capital: A Critique of Political Economy, Vol. II. The Process of Circulation of Capital

Karl Marx
Marx, Karl
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Friedrich Engels, ed. Ernest Untermann, trans.
First Pub. Date
Chicago: Charles H. Kerr and Co.
Pub. Date
Das Kapital, based on the 2nd edition.

by Friedrich Engels


It was no easy task to prepare the second volume of "CAPITAL" for the printer in such a way that it should make a connected and complete work and represent exclusively the ideas of its author, not of its publisher. The great number of available manuscripts, and their fragmentary character, added to the difficulties of this task. At best one single manuscript (No. 4) had been revised throughout and made ready for the printer. And while it treated its subject-matter fully, the greater part had become obsolete through subsequent revision. The bulk of the material was not polished as to language, even if the subject-matter was for the greater part fully worked out. The language was that in which Marx used to make his outlines, that is to say his style was careless, full of colloquial, often rough and humorous, expressions and phrases, interspersed with English and French technical terms, or with whole sentences or pages of English. The thoughts were jotted down as they developed in the brain of the author. Some parts of the argument would be fully treated, others of equal importance only indicated. The material to be used for the illustration of facts would be collected, but barely arranged, much less worked out. At the conclusion of the chapters there would be only a few incoherent sentences as mile-stones of the incomplete deductions, showing the haste of the author in passing on to the next chapter. And finally, there was the well-known handwriting which Marx himself was sometimes unable to decipher.


I have been content to interpret these manuscripts as literally as possible, changing the style only in places where Marx would have changed it himself and interpolating explanatory sentences or connecting statements only where this was indispensable, and where the meaning was so clear that there could be no doubt of the correctness of my interpretation. Sentences which seemed in the least ambiguous were preferably reprinted literally. The passages which I have remodeled or interpolated cover barely ten pages in print, and concern mainly matters of form.


The mere enumeration of the manuscripts left by Marx as a basis for Volume II proves the unparalleled conscientiousness and strict self-criticism which he practiced in his endeavor to fully elaborate his great economic discoveries before he published them. This self-criticism rarely permitted him to adapt his presentation of the subject, in content as well as in form, to his ever widening horizon, which he enlarged by incessant study.


The material for this second volume consists of the following parts: First, a manuscript entitled "A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy," containing 1472 quarto pages in 23 divisions, written in the time from August, 1861, to June, 1863. It is a continuation of the work of the same title, the first volume of which appeared in Berlin, in 1859. It treats on pages 1-220, and again pages 1159-1472, of the subject analyzed in Volume I of "CAPITAL," beginning with the transformation of money into capital and continuing to the end of the volume, and is the first draft for this subject. Pages 973-1158 deal with capital and profit, rate of profit, merchant's capital and money capital, that is to say with subjects which have been farther developed in the manuscript for Volume III. The questions belonging to Volume II and many of those which are part of Volume III are not arranged by themselves in this manuscript. They are merely treated in passing, especially in the section which makes up the main body of the manuscript, viz.: pages 220-972, entitled "Theories of Surplus Value." This section contains an exhaustive critical history of the main point of political economy, the theory of surplus value, and develops at the same time, in polemic remarks against the position of the predecessors of Marx, most of the points which he has later on discussed individually and in their logical connection in Volume II and III. I reserve for myself the privilege of publishing the critical part of this manuscript, after the elimination of the numerous parts covered by Volumes II and III, in the form of Volume IV. This manuscript, valuable though it is, could not be used in the present edition of Volume II.


The manuscript next following in the order of time is that of Volume III. It was written for the greater part in 1864 and 1865. After this manuscript had been completed in its essential parts, Marx undertook the elaboration of Volume I, which was published in 1867. I am now preparing this manuscript of Volume III for the printer.


The period after the publication of Volume I, which is next in order, is represented by a collection of four manuscripts for Volume II, marked I-IV by Marx himself. Manuscript I (150 pages), presumably written in 1865 or 1867, is the first independent, but more or less fragmentary, elaboration of the questions now contained in Volume II. This manuscript is likewise unsuited for this edition. Manuscript II is partly a compilation of quotations and references to the manuscripts containing Marx's extracts and comments, most of them relating to the first section of Volume II, partly an elaboration of special points, particularly a critique of Adam Smith's statements as to fixed and circulating capital and the source of profits; furthermore, a discussion of the relation of the rate of surplus value to the rate of profit, which belongs in Volume III. The references furnished little that was new, while the elaborations for Volumes II and III were rendered valueless through subsequent revisions and had to be ruled out for the greater part. Manuscript IV is an elaboration, ready for printing, of the first section and the first chapters of the second section of Volume II, and has been used in its proper place. Although it was found that this manuscript had been written earlier than Manuscript II, yet it was far more finished in form and could be used with advantage for the corresponding part of this volume. I had to add only a few supplementary parts of Manuscript II. This last manuscript is the only fairly complete elaboration of Volume II and dates from the year 1870. The notes for the final revision, which I shall mention immediately, say explicitly: "The second elaboration must be used as a basis."


There is another interruption after 1870, due mainly to ill health. Marx employed this time in his customary way, that is to say he studied agronomics, agricultural conditions in America and especially Russia, the money market and banking institutions, and finally natural sciences, such as geology and physiology. Independent mathematical studies also form a large part of the numerous manuscripts of this period. In the beginning of 1877, Marx had recovered sufficiently to resume once more his chosen life's work. The beginning of 1877 is marked by references and notes from the above-named four manuscripts intended for a new elaboration of Volume II, the beginning of which is represented by Manuscript V (56 pages in folio). It comprises the first four chapters and is not very fully worked out. Essential points are treated in foot notes. The material is rather collected than sifted, but it is the last complete presentation of this most important first section. A preliminary attempt to prepare this part for the printer was made in Manuscript VI (after October, 1877, and before July, 1878), embracing 17 quarto pages, the greater part of the first chapter. A second and last attempt was made in Manuscript VII, dated July 2, 1878, and consisting of 7 pages in folio.


About this time Marx seems to have realized that he would never be able to complete the second and third volume in a manner satisfactory to himself, unless a complete revolution in his health took place. Manuscripts V-VIII show traces of hard struggles against depressing physical conditions far too frequently to be ignored. The most difficult part of the first section had been worked over in Manuscript V. The remainder of the first, and the entire second section, with the exception of Chapter 17, presented no great theoretical difficulties. But the third section, dealing with the reproduction and circulation of social capital, seemed to be very much in need of revision. Manuscript II, it must be pointed out, had first treated of this reproduction without regard to the circulation which is instrumental in effecting it, and then taken up the same question with regard to circulation. It was the intention of Marx to eliminate this section and to reconstruct it in such a way that it would conform to his wider grasp of the subject. This gave rise to Manuscript VIII, containing only 70 pages in quarto. A comparison with section III, as printed after deducting the paragraphs inserted out of Manuscript II, shows the amount of matter compressed by Marx into this space.


Manuscript VIII is likewise merely a preliminary presentation of the subject, and its main object was to ascertain and develop the new points of view not set forth in Manuscript II, while those points were ignored about which there was nothing new to say. An essential part of Chapter XVII, Section II, which is more or less relevant to Section III, was at the same time drawn into this discussion and expanded. The logical sequence was frequently interrupted, the treatment of the subject was incomplete in various places, and especially the conclusion was very fragmentary. But Marx expressed as nearly as possible what he intended to say on the subject.


This is the material for Volume II, out of which I was supposed "to make something," as Marx said to his daughter Eleanor shortly before his death. I have interpreted this request in its most literal meaning. So far as this was possible, I have confined my work to a mere selection of the various revised parts. And I always based my work on the last revised manuscript and compared this with the preceding ones. Only the first and third section offered any real difficulties, of more than a technical nature, and these were indeed considerable. I have endeavored to solve them exclusively in the spirit of the author of this work.


For Volume III, the following manuscripts were available, apart from the corresponding sections of the above-named manuscript, entitled "A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy," from the sections in Manuscript III likewise mentioned above, and from a few occasional notes scattered through various extracts: The folio manuscript of 1864-65, referred to previously, which is about as fully elaborated as Manuscript II of Volume II; furthermore, a manuscript dated 1875 and entitled "The Relation of the Rate of Surplus Value to the Rate of Profit," which treats the subject in mathematical equations. The preparation of Volume III for the printer is proceeding rapidly. So far as I am enabled to judge at present, it will present mainly technical difficulties, with the exception of a few very important sections.


I avail myself of this opportunity to refute a certain charge which has been raised against Marx, first indistinctly and at various intervals, but more recently, after the death of Marx, as a statement of fact by the German state and university socialists. It is claimed that Marx plagiarized the work of Rodbertus. I have already expressed myself on the main issue in my preface to the German edition of Marx's "Poverty of Philosophy" (1885), but I will now produce the most convincing testimony for the refutation of this charge.*1


To my knowledge this charge is made for the first time in R. Meyer's "Emancipationskampf des Vierten Standes" (Struggles for the Emancipation of the Fourth Estate), page 43: "It can be demonstrated that Marx has gathered the greater part of his critique from these publications"—meaning the works of Rodbertus dating back to the last half of the thirties of this century. I may well assume, until such time as will produce further proof, that the "demonstration" of this assertion rests on a statement made by Rodbertus to Mr. Meyer. Furthermore, Rodbertus himself appears on the stage in 1879 and writes to J. Zeller (Zeitschrift für die Gesammte Staatswissenschaft, Tübingen, 1879, page 219), with reference to his work "Zur Erkenntniss Unserer Staatswirthschaftlichen Zustände" (A Contribution to the Understanding of our Political and Economic Conditions), 1842, as follows: "You will find that this line of thought has been very nicely Marx, without, however, giving me credit for it." The publisher of Rodbertus posthumous works, Th. Kozak, repeats his insinuation without further ceremony. (Das Kapital von Rodbertus. Berlin, 1884. Introduction, page XV.) Finally in the "Briefe und Sozialpolitische Aufsatze von Dr. Rodbertus-Jagetzow," (Letters and Essays on Political Economy by Dr. Rodbertus-Jagetzow), published by R. Meyer in 1881, Rodbertus says directly: "To-day I find that I am robbed by Schäffle and Marx without having my name mentioned" (Letter No. 60, page 134). And in another place, the claim of Rodbertus assumes a more definite form: "In my third letter on political economy, I have shown practically in the same way as Marx, only more briefly and clearly, the source of the surplus value of the capitalists." (Letter No. 48, page 111.)


Marx never heard anything definite about any of these charges of plagiarism. In his copy of the "Emancipationskampf" only that part had been opened with a knife which related to the International. The remaining pages were not opened until I cut them myself after his death. The "Zeitschrift" of Tübingen was never read by him. The "Letters," etc., to R. Meyer likewise remained unknown to him, and I did not learn of the passage referring to the "robbery" of which Rodbertus was supposed to be the victim until Mr. Meyer himself called my attention to it. However, Marx was familiar with letter No. 48. Mr. Meyer had been kind enough to present the original to the youngest daughter of Marx. Some of the mysterious whispering about the secret source of his critique and his connection with Rodbertus having reached the ear of Marx, he showed me this letter with the remark that he had at last discovered authentic information as to what Rodbertus claimed for himself; if that was all Rodbertus wanted, he Marx, had no objection, and he could well afford to let Rodbertus enjoy the pleasure of considering his own version the briefer and clearer one. In fact, Marx considered the matter settled by this letter of Rodbertus.


He could so much the more afford this, as I know positively that he was not in the least acquainted with the literary activity of Rodbertus until about 1859, when his own critique of political economy had been completed, not only in its fundamental outlines, but also in its more important details. Marx began his economic studies in Paris, in 1843, starting with the prominent Englishmen and Frenchmen. Of German economists he knew only Rau and List, and he did not want any more of them. Neither Marx nor I heard a word of Rodbertus' existence, until we had to criticise, in the "Neue Rheinische Zeitung," 1848, the speeches he made as the representative of Berlin and as Minister of Commerce. We were both of us so ignorant that we had to ask the Rhenish representatives who this Rodbertus was that had become a Minister so suddenly. But these representatives could not tell us anything about the economic writings of Rodbertus. On the other hand, Marx showed that he knew even then, without the help of Rodbertus, whence came "the surplus value of the capitalists," and he showed furthermore how it was produced, as may be seen in his "Poverty of Philosophy," 1847, and in his lectures on wage labor and capital, delivered in Brussels in 1847, and published in Nos. 264-69 of the "Neue Rheinische Zeitung," 1849. Marx did not learn that an economist Rodbertus existed, until Lassalle called his attention to the fact in 1859, and thereupon Marx looked up the "Third Letter on Political Economy" in the British Museum.


This is the actual condition of things. And now let us see what there is to the content of Rodbertus which Marx is charged with appropriating by "robbery." Says Rodbertus: "In my third letter on political economy, I have shown practically in the same way as Marx, only more briefly and clearly, the source of the surplus-value of the capitalists." This, then, is the disputed point: The theory of surplus value. And indeed, it would be difficult to say what else there is in Rodbertus which Marx might have found worth appropriating. Rodbertus here claims to be the real originator of the theory of surplus-value of which Marx is supposed to have robbed him.


And what has this third letter on political economy to say in regard to the origin of surplus-value? Simply this: That the "rent," as he terms the sum of ground rent and profit, does not consist of an "addition to the value" of a commodity, but is obtained "by means of a deduction of value from the wages of labor, in other words, the wages represent only a part of the value of a certain product," and provided that labor is sufficiently productive, wages need not be "equal to the natural exchange value of the product of labor in order to leave enough of it for the replacing of capital and for rent." We are not informed, however, what sort of a "natural exchange value" of a product it is that leaves nothing for the "replacing" of capital, or in other words, I suppose, for the replacing of raw material and the wear and tear of tools.


I am happy to say that we are enabled to ascertain what impression was produced on Marx by this stupendous discovery of Rodbertus. In the manuscript entitled "A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy," Section X, pages 445 and following, we find, "A deviation. Mr. Rodbertus. A new theory of ground rent." This is the only point of view from which Marx there looks upon the third letter on political economy. The Rodbertian theory of surplus value is dismissed with the ironical remark: "Mr. Rodbertus first analyzes what happens in a country where property in land and property in capital are not separated, and then he arrives at the important discovery that rent—meaning the entire surplus-value—is only equal to the unpaid labor or to the quantity of products in which it is embodied."


Now it is a fact, that capitalist humanity has been producing surplus-value for several hundred years, and has in the course of this time also arrived at the point where people began to ponder over the origin of surplus-value. The first explanation for this phenomenon grew out of the practice of commerce and was to the effect that surplus-value arose by raising the value of the product. This idea was current among the mercantilists. But James Steuart already saw that in that case the one would lose what the other would gain. Nevertheless, this idea persists for a long time after him, especially in the heads of the "socialists." But it is crowded out of classical science by Adam Smith.


He says in "Wealth of Nations," Vol. I, Ch. VI: "As soon as stock has accumulated in the hands of particular persons, some of them will naturally employ it in setting to work industrious people, whom they will supply with materials and subsistence, in order to make a profit by the sale of their work, or, by what their labor adds to the value of the materials.... The value which the workmen add to the materials, therefore, resolves itself in this case into two parts, of which the one pays their wages, the other the profits of their employer upon the whole stock of materials and wages which he advanced." And a little farther on he says: "As soon as the land of any country has all become private property, the landlords, like all other men, love to reap where they never sowed, and demand a rent even for its natural produce.... The laborer...must give up to the landlord a portion of what his labor either collects or produces. This portion, or what comes to the same thing, the price of this portion, constitutes the rent of land."


Marx comments on this passage in the above-named manuscript, entitled, "A Contribution, etc.," page 253: "Adam Smith, then, regards surplus-value, that is to say the surplus labor, the surplus of labor performed and embodied in its product over and above the paid labor, over and above that labor which has received its equivalent in wages, as the general category, and profit and ground rent merely as its ramifications."


Adam Smith says, furthermore, Vol. I, Chap. VIII: "As soon as land becomes private property, the landlord demands a share of almost all the produce which the laborer can either raise or collect from it. His rent makes the first deduction from the produce of labor which is employed upon land. It seldom happens that the person who tills the ground has wherewithal to maintain himself till he reaps the harvest. His maintenance is generally advanced to him from the stock of a master, the farmer who employs him, and who would have no interest to employ him, unless he was to share in the produce of his labor, or unless his stock was to be replaced by him with a profit. This profit makes a second deduction from the produce of the labor which is employed upon land. The produce of almost all other labor is liable to the like deduction of profit. In all arts and manufactures the greater part of the workmen stand in need of a master to advance them the materials for their work, and their wages and maintenance till it be completed. He shares in the produce of their labor, or in the value which it adds to the materials upon which it is bestowed; and in this share consists his profit."


The comment of Marx on this passage (on page 256 of his manuscript) is as follows: "Here Adam Smith declares in so many words that ground rent and profit of capital are simply deductions from the product of the laborer, or from the value of his product, and equal to the additional labor expended on the raw material. But this deduction, as Adam Smith himself has previously explained, can consist only of that part of labor which the laborer expends over and above the quantity of work which pays for his wages and furnishes the equivalent of wages; in other words, this deduction consists of the surplus labor, the unpaid part of his labor."


It is therefore evident that even Adam Smith knew "the source of the surplus-value of the capitalists," and furthermore also that of the surplus-value of the landlords. Marx acknowledged this as early as 1861, while Rodbertus and the swarming mass of his admirers, who grew like mush-rooms under the warm summer showers of state socialism, seem to have forgotten all about that.


"Nevertheless," continues Marx, "Smith did not separate surplus-value proper as a separate category from the special form which it assumes in profit and ground rent. Hence there is much error and incompleteness in his investigation, and still more in that of Ricardo." This statement literally fits Rodbertus. His "rent" is simply the sum of ground rent plus profit. He builds up an entirely erroneous theory of ground rent, and he takes surplus-value without any critical reservation just as his predecessors hand it over to him. On the other hand, Marx's surplus-value represents the general form of the sum of values appropriated without any equivalent return by the owners of the means of production, and this form is then seen to transform itself into profit and ground rent by very particular laws which Marx was the first to discover. These laws are traced in Volume III. We shall see there how many intermediate links are required for the passage from an understanding of surplus-value in general to that of its transformation into profits and ground rent; in other words, for the understanding of the laws of the distribution of surplus-value within the capitalist class.


Ricardo goes considerably farther than Adam Smith. He bases his conception of surplus-value on a new theory of value which is contained in the germ in Adam Smith, but which is generally forgotten when it comes to applying it. This theory of value became the starting point of all subsequent economic science. Ricardo starts out with the determination of the value of commodities by the quantity of labor embodied in them, and from this premise he derives his theory of the distribution, between laborers and capitalists, of the quantity of value added by labor to the raw materials, this value being divided into wages and profit (meaning surplus-value). He shows that the value of the commodities remains the same, no matter what may be the proportion of these two parts, and he claims that this law has only a few exceptions. He even formulates a few fundamental laws relative to the mutual relations of wages and surplus-value (the latter considered by him as profit), although his statements are too general (see Marx, CAPITAL, Vol. I, Chap. XVII, 1), and he shows that ground rent is a quantity realized under certain conditions over and above profit. Rodbertus did not improve on Ricardo in any of these respects. He either remained unfamiliar with the internal contradictions which caused the downfall of the Ricardian theory and school, or they misled him into utopian demands instead of enabling him to solve economic problems (see his "Zur Erkenntniss, etc.," page 130).


But the Ricardian theory of value and surplus-value did not have to wait for Rodbertus' "Zur Erkenntniss" in order to be utilized for socialist purposes. On page 609 of the second edition of the German original of "CAPITAL," Vol. I, we find the following quotation: "The possessors of surplus produce or capital." This quotation is taken from a pamphlet entitled "The Source and Remedy of the National Difficulties. A Letter to Lord John Russell. London, 1821." In this pamphlet, the importance of which should have been recognized on account of the terms surplus produce or capital, and which Marx saved from being forgotten, we read the following statements:

"Whatever may be due to the capitalist" (from the capitalist standpoint) "he can never appropriate more than the surplus labor of the laborer, for the laborer must live" (page 23). As for the way in which the laborer lives and for the quantity of the surplus value appropriated by the capitalist, these are very relative things.—"If capital does not decrease in value in proportion as it increases in volume, the capitalist will squeeze out of the laborer the product of every hour of labor above the minimum on which the laborer can live...the capitalist can ultimately say to the laborer: You shall not eat bread, for you can live on beets and potatoes; and this is what we have to come to" (page 24). "If the laborer can be reduced to living on potatoes, instead of bread, it is undoubtedly true that more can be gotten out of his labor; that is to say, if, in order to live on bread, he was compelled, for his own subsistence and that of his family, to keep for himself the labor of Monday and Tuesday, he will, when living on potatoes, keep only half of Monday's labor for himself; and the other half of Monday, and all of Tuesday, are set free, either for the benefit of the state or for the capitalist." (Page 26.) "It is admitted that the sums of interest paid to the capitalist, either in the form of rent, money-interest, or commercial profit, are paid from the labor of others." (Page 23.) Here we have the same idea of "rent" which Rodbertus has, only the writer says "interest" instead of rent.


Marx makes the following comment (manuscript of "A Contribution, etc.," page 852): "The little known pamphlet—published at a time when the 'incredible cobbler' MacCulloch began to be talked about—represents an essential advance over Ricardo. It directly designates surplus-value or 'profit' in the language of Ricardo (sometimes surplus produce), or interest, as the author of this pamphlet calls it, as surplus labor, which the laborer performs gratuitously, which he performs in excess of that quantity of labor required for the reproduction of his labor-power, the equivalent of his wages. It was no more important to reduce value down to labor than it is to reduce surplus-value, represented by surplus-produce, to surplus-labor. This had already been stated by Adam Smith, and forms a main factor in the analysis of Ricardo. But neither of them said so anywhere clearly and frankly in such a way that it could not be misunderstood." We read furthermore, on page 859 of this manuscript: "Moreover, the author is limited by the economic theories which he finds at hand and which he accepts. Just as the confounding of surplus-value and profit misleads Ricardo into irreconcilable contradictions, so this author fares by baptizing surplus-value with the name of 'interest of capital.' It is true, he advances beyond Ricardo by reducing all surplus-value to surplus-labor. And furthermore, in calling surplus-value 'interest of capital,' he emphasizes that he is referring by this term to the general form of surplus-labor as distinguished from its special forms, rent, money interest, and commercial profit. But yet he chooses the name of one of these special forms, interest, at the same time for the general form. And this causes his relapse into the economic slang."


This last passage fits Rodbertus just as if it were made to order for him. He, too, is limited by the economic categories which he finds at hand. He, too, applies the name of one of the minor categories to surplus-value, and he makes it quite indefinite at that by calling it "rent." The result of these two mistakes is that he relapses into the economic slang, that he makes no attempt to follow up his advance over Ricardo by a critical analysis, and that he is misled into using his imperfect theory, even before it has gotten rid of its egg-shells, as a basis for a utopia which is in every respect too late. The above-named pamphlet appeared in 1821 and anticipated completely Rodbertus "rent" of 1842.


This pamphlet is but the farthest outpost of an entire literature which the Ricardian theories of value and surplus-value directed against capitalist production in the interest of the proletariat, fighting the bourgeoisie with its own weapons. The entire communism of Owen, so far as it plays a role in economics and politics, is based on Ricardo. Apart from him, there are still numerous other writers, some of whom Marx quoted as early as 1847 in his "POVERTY OF PHILOSOPHY" against Proudhon, such as Edmonds, Thompson, Hodgskin, etc., etc., "and four more pages of et cetera." I select from among this large number of writings the following by a random choice: "An Inquiry into the Principles of the Distribution of Wealth, Most Conducive to Human Happiness, by William Thompson; a new edition. London, 1850." This work, written in 1822, first appeared in 1827. It likewise regards the wealth appropriated by the non-producing classes as a deduction from the product of the laborer, and uses pretty strong terms in referring to it. The author says that the ceaseless endeavor of that which we call society consisted in inducing, by fraud or persuasion, by intimidation or compulsion, the productive laborer to perform his labors in return for the minimum of his own product. He asks why the laborer should not be entitled to the full product of his labor. He declares that the compensations, which the capitalists filch from the productive laborer under the name of ground rent or profit, are claimed in return for the use of land or other things. According to him, all physical substances, by means of which the propertiless productive laborer who has no other means of existence but the capacity of producing things, can make use of his faculties, are in the possession of others with opposite material interests, the consent of these is required in order that the laborer may find work; under these circumstances, he says, it depends on the good will of the capitalists how much of the fruit of his own labor the laborer shall receive. And he speaks of "these defalcations" and of their relation to the unpaid product, whether this is called taxes, profit, or theft, etc.


I must admit that I do not write these lines without a certain mortification. I will not make so much of the fact that the anti-capitalist literature of England of the 20's and 30's is so little known in Germany, in spite of the fact that Marx referred to it even in his "POVERTY OF PHILOSOPHY," and quoted from it, as for instance that pamphlet of 1821, or Ravenstone, Hodgskin, etc., in Volume I of "CAPITAL." But it is a proof of the degradation into which official political economy has fallen, that not only the vulgar economist, who clings desperately to the coat tails of Rodbertus and really has not learned anything, but also the duly installed professor, who boasts of his wisdom, have forgotten their classical economy to such an extent that they seriously charge Marx with having robbed Rodbertus of things which may be found even in Adam Smith and Ricardo.


But what is there that is new about Marx's statements on surplus-value? How is it that Marx's theory of surplus-value struck home like a thunderbolt out of a clear sky, in all modern countries, while the theories of all his socialist predecessors, including Rodbertus, remained ineffective?


The history of chemistry offers an illustration which explains this:

Until late in the 18th century, the phlogistic theory was accepted. It assumed that in the process of burning, a certain hypothetical substance, an absolute combustible, named phlogiston, separated from the burning bodies. This theory sufficed for the explanation of most of the chemical phenomena then known, although it had to be considerably twisted in some cases. But in 1774, Priestley discovered a certain kind of air which was so pure, or so free from phlogiston, that common air seemed adulterated in comparison to it. He called it "dephlogisticized air." Shortly after him, Scheele obtained the same kind of air in Sweden, and demonstrated its existence in the atmosphere. He also found that this air disappeared, whenever some body was burned in it or in the open air, and therefore he called it "fire-air." "From these facts he drew the conclusion that the combination arising from the union of phlogiston with one of the elements of the atmosphere" (that is to say by combustion) "was nothing but fire or heat which escaped through the glass."*2


Priestley and Scheele had produced oxygen, without knowing what they had discovered. They remained "limited by the phlogistic categories which they found at hand." The element, which was destined to abolish all phlogistic ideas and to revolutionize chemistry, remained barren in their hands. But Priestley had immediately communicated his discovery to Lavoisier in Paris, and Lavoisier, by means of this discovery, now analyzed the entire phlogistic chemistry and came to the conclusion that this new air was a new chemical element, that it was not the mysterious phlogiston which departed from a burning body, but that this new element combined with the burning body. Thus he placed chemistry, which had so long stood on its head, squarely on its feet. And although he did not obtain the oxygen simultaneously and independently of the other two scientists, as he claimed later on, he nevertheless is the real discoverer of oxygen as compared to the others who had produced it without knowing what they had found.


Marx stands in the same relation to his predecessors in the theory of surplus-value that Lavoisier maintains to Priestley and Scheele. The existence of those parts of the value of products, which we now call surplus-value, had been ascertained long before Marx. It had also been stated with more or less precision that it consisted of that part of the laborer's product for which its appropriator does not give any equivalent. But there the economists halted. Some of them, for instance the classical bourgeois economists investigated, perhaps, the proportion in which the product of labor was divided among the laborer and the owner of the means of production. Others, the socialists, declared that this division was unjust and looked for utopian means of abolishing this injustice. They remained limited by the economic categories which they found at hand.


Now Marx appeared. And he took an entirely opposite view from all his predecessors. What they had regarded as a solution, he considered a problem. He saw that he had to deal neither with dephlogisticized air, nor with fire-air, but with oxygen. He understood that it was not simply a matter of stating an economic fact, or of pointing out the conflict of this fact with "eternal justice and true morals," but of explaining a fact which was destined to revolutionize the entire political economy, and which offered a key for the understanding of the entire capitalist production, provided you knew how to use it. With this fact for a starting point Marx analyzed all the economic categories which he found at hand, just as Lavoisier had analyzed the categories of the phlogistic chemistry which he found at hand. In order to understand what surplus-value is, Marx had to find out what value is. Therefore he had above all to analyze critically the Ricardian theory of value. Marx also analyzed labor as to its capacity for producing value, and he was the first to ascertain what kind of labor it was that produced value, and why it did so, and by what means it accomplished this. He found that value was nothing but crystallized labor of this kind, and this is a point which Rodbertus never grasped to his dying day. Marx then analyzed the relation of commodities to money and demonstrated how, and why, thanks to the immanent character of value, commodities and the exchange of commodities must produce the opposition of money and commodities. His theory of money, founded on this basis, is the first exhaustive treatment of this subject, and it is tacitly accepted everywhere. He analyzed the transformation of money into capital and demonstrated that this transformation is based on the purchase and sale of labor-power. By substituting labor-power, as a value-producing quality, for labor he solved with one stroke one of the difficulties which caused the downfall of the Ricardian school, viz.: the impossibility of harmonizing the mutual exchange of capital and labor with the Ricardian law of determining value by labor. By ascertaining the distinction between constant and variable capital, he was enabled to trace the process of the formation of surplus-value in its details and thus to explain it, a feat which none of his predecessors had accomplished. In other words, he found a distinction inside of capital itself with which neither Rodbertus nor the capitalist economists know what to do, but which nevertheless furnished a key for the solution of the most complicated economic problems, as is proved by this Volume II and will be proved still more by Volume III. He furthermore analyzed surplus-value and found its two forms, absolute and relative surplus-value. And he showed that both of them had played a different, and each time a decisive role, in the historical development of capitalist production. On the basis of this surplus-value he developed the first rational theory of wages which we have, and drew for the first time an outline of the history of capitalist accumulation and a sketch of its historical tendencies.


And Rodbertus? After he has read all that, he regards it as "an assault on society," and finds that he has said much more briefly and clearly by what means surplus-value is originated, and finally declares that all this does indeed apply to "the present form of capital," that is to say to capital as it exists historically, but not to the "conception of capital," that is to say, not to the utopian idea which Rodbertus has of capital. He is just like old Priestley, who stood by phlogiston to the end and refused to have anything to do with oxygen. There is only this difference: Priestley had actually produced oxygen, while Rodbertus had merely rediscovered a common-place in his surplus-value, or rather his "rent;" and Marx declined to act like Lavoisier and to claim that he was the first to discover the fact of the existence of surplus-value.


The other economic feats of Rodbertus were performed on about the same plane. His elaboration of surplus-value into a utopia has already been inadvertently criticized by Marx in his "POVERTY OF PHILOSOPHY." What may be said about this point in other respects, I have said in my preface to the German edition of that work. Rodbertus' explanation of commercial crises out of the underconsumption of the working class has been stated before him by Sismondi in his "Nouveaux Principes de l'Economie Politique," liv. IV, ch. IV.*3 However, Sismondi always had the world-market in mind, while the horizon of Rodbertus does not extend beyond Prussia. His speculations as to whether wages are derived from capital or from income belong to the domain of scholasticism and are definitely settled by the third part of this second volume of "CAPITAL." His theory of rent has remained his exclusive property and may rest in peace, until the manuscript of Marx criticising it will be published. Finally his suggestions for the emancipation of the old Prussian landlords from the oppression of capital are entirely utopian; for they avoid the only practical question, which has to be solved, viz.: How can the old Prussian landlord have a yearly income of, say, 20,000 marks and a yearly expense of, say, 30,000 marks, without running into debt?


The Ricardian school failed about the year 1830, being unable to solve the riddle of surplus-value. And what was impossible for this school, remained still more insoluble for its successor, vulgar economy. The two points which caused its failure were these:


1. Labor is the measure of value. However, actual labor in its exchange with capital has a lower value than labor embodied in the commodities for which actual labor is exchanged. Wages, the value of a definite quantity of actual labor, are always lower than the value of the commodity produced by this same quantity of labor and in which it is embodied. The question is indeed insoluble, if put in this form. It has been correctly formulated by Marx and then answered. It is not labor which has any value. As an activity which creates values it can no more have any special value in itself than gravity can have any special weight, heat any special temperature, electricity any special strength of current. It is not labor which is bought and sold as a commodity, but labor-power. As soon as labor-power becomes a commodity, its value is determined by the labor embodied in this commodity as a social product. This value is equal to the social labor required for the production and reproduction of this commodity. Hence the purchase and sale of labor-power on the basis of this value does not contradict the economic law of value.


2. According to the Ricardian law of value, two capitals employing the same and equally paid labor, all other conditions being equal, produce the same value and surplus-value, or profit, in the same time. But if they employ unequal quantities of actual labor, they cannot produce equal surplus-values, or, as the Ricardians say, equal profits. Now in reality, the exact opposite takes place. As a matter of fact, equal capitals, regardless of the quantity of actual labor employed by them, produce equal average profits in equal times. Here we have, therefore, a clash with the law of value, which had been noticed by Ricardo himself, but which his school was unable to reconcile. Rodbertus likewise could not but note this contradiction. But instead of solving it, he made it a starting point of his utopia (Zur Erkenntniss, etc.). Marx had solved this contradiction even in his manuscript for his "CRITIQUE OF POLITICAL ECOMONY." According to the plan of "CAPITAL," this solution will be made public in Volume III. Several months will pass before this can be published. Hence those economists, who claim to have discovered that Rodbertus is the secret source and the superior predecessor of Marx, have now an opportunity to demonstrate what the economics of Rodbertus can accomplish. If they can show in which way an equal average rate of profit can and must come about, not only without a violation of the law of value, but by means of it, I am willing to discuss the matter further with them. In the meantime, they had better make haste. The brilliant analyses of this Volume II and its entirely new conclusions on an almost untilled ground are but the initial statements preparing the way for the contents of Volume III, which develops the final conclusions of Marx's analysis of the social process of reproduction on a capitalist basis. When this Volume III will appear, little mention will be made of a certain economist called Rodbertus.


The second and third volumes of "CAPITAL" were to be dedicated, as Marx stated repeatedly, to his wife.

London, on Marx's birthday, May 5, 1885.


The present second edition is, in the main, a faithful reprint of the first. Typographical errors have been corrected, a few inconsistencies of style eliminated, and a few short passages containing repetitions struck out.


The third volume, which presented quite unforeseen difficulties, is likewise almost ready for the printer. If my health holds out, it will be ready for the press this fall.

London, July 15, 1893.

Notes for this chapter

In the preface to "The Poverty of Philosophy." A Reply to Proudhon's "Philosophy of Poverty," by Karl Marx. Translated into German by E. Bernstein and K. Kautsky, Stuttgart, 1885.
Roscoe-Schorlemmer. Ausuehrliches Lehrbuch der Chemie. Braunschweig, 1877, I, p. 13, 18.
"Thus the concentration of wealth into the hands of a small number of proprietors narrows the home market more and more, and industry is more and more compelled to open up foreign markets, where still greater revolutions await it" (namely, the crisis of 1817, which is immediately described). Nouveaux Principes, edition of 1819, L., p. 336.

Part I, Chapter I.

End of Notes



The conditions and the location of the place in which I translated volumes II and III of this work made it impossible for me to get access to the original works of the authors quoted by Marx. I was compelled, under these circumstances, to retranslate many quotations from English authors from the German translation, without an opportunity to compare my retranslated version with the English original. But whatever may be the difference in the wording of the originals and of my retranslation from the German, it does not affect the substance of the quotations in the least. The meaning of the originals will be found to be the same as that of my retranslation. The interpretation given by Marx to the various quotations from other authors, and the conclusions drawn by him from them, are not altered in the least by any deviation, which my translation may show from the original texts. If any one should be inclined to turn these statements of mine to any controversial advantage, he should remember that he cannot use them against Marx, but only against me.


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