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.
14 of 25

Part II, Chapter X


In Quesnay's analysis, the distinction between fixed and circulating capital assumes the form of avances primitives and avances annuelles. He correctly represents this distinction as one to be made with regard to productive capital, to capital directly engaged in the process of production. But owing to the fact that he regards the capital invested in agriculture, the capital of the capitalist farmer, as the only really productive capital, he makes these distinctions only for the capital of this farmer. This also accounts for the annual period of turn-over of one part of the capital, and the more than annual (decennial) of the other part. Incidentally it may be noted, that in the course of their development the physiocrats applied these distinctions also to other kinds of capital, to industrial capital in general. The distinction between annual advances and others extending over a longer period retained such lasting value for social science that many economists, even after Adam Smith, returned to it.


The distinction between these two kinds of advances is not made, until money has been transformed into the elements of productive capital. It is a distinction which applies solely to the divisions of productive capital. Quesnay, therefore, never thinks of classing money either among the primitive or the annual advances. In their capacity as advances on production, these two categories confront on one side the money, on the other the commodities existing on the market. Furthermore, the distinction between these two elements of productive capital is correctly defined as resting on the different manner in which they enter into the value of the finished product, and this implies the different way in which their values are circulated together with those of the products. From this, again, follows the different method of their reproduction, the value of the one being entirely replaced annually, that of the other only partially and in longer intervals.*29


The only progress made by Adam Smith is the generalization of the categories. He no longer applies them to one special form of capital, the tenant's capital, but to every form of productive capital. Hence it follows as a matter of fact that the distinction between an annual period of turn-over and one of longer duration, derived from agriculture, is replaced by the general distinction of the different periods of turn-over, so that one turn-over of the fixed capital always comprises more than one turn-over of the circulating capital, regardless of the periods of turn-over of the circulating capital, whether they be annual, more than annual, or less. Thus Adam Smith transforms the annual advances into circulating capital, and the primitive advances into fixed capital. But his progress is confined to this generalization of the categories. His analyses are far inferior to those of Quesnay.


His unclearness is manifested at the very outset by the crudely empirical manner in which he broaches the subject: "There are two different ways in which a capital may be employed so as to yield a revenue or profit to its employer." (Wealth of Nations. Book II, Chap. I, page 189, Aberdeen addition, 1848.)


As a matter of fact, the ways in which value may be employed so as to perform the functions of capital and yield surplus-value to its owner are as different and varies as the spheres of investment of capital. It is a question of the different spheres of production in which capital may be invested. If put in this way, the question implies still more. It includes the other question of the way in which value, even if it is not employed as productive capital, may perform the functions of capital for its owner, for instance, as interest-bearing capital, merchants' capital, etc. At this point we are already far away from the real object of the analysis, that is to say from the question: How does the division of productive capital into its various elements affect their periods of turn-over, leaving out of consideration their different spheres of investment?


Adam Smith continues immediately: "First, it may be employed in raising, manufacturing, or purchasing goods, and selling them again with a profit." He does not tell us anything else in this statement than that capital may be employed in agriculture, manufacture, and commerce. He speaks only of the different spheres of investment of capital, including commerce, in which capital is not directly embodies in the process of production and does not perform the functions of productive capital. In so doing he abandons the foundation on which the physiocrats base the distinctions of the elements of productive capital and their influence on its periods of turn-over. He goes still farther and uses merchants' capital as an illustration of a problem, which concerns exclusively differences of productive capital in the process of production and the creation of value, which differences cause those of its turn-over and reproduction.


He continues: "The capital employed in this manner yields no revenue or profit to its employer, while it either remains in his possession or continues in the same shape." The capital employed in this manner! Smith is referring to capital invested in agriculture, in industry, and he tells us later on that a capital so employed is divided into fixed and circulating capital! But the investment of capital "in this manner" cannot make fixed or circulating capital of it.


Or does he mean to say that capital employed in the production of commodities and their sale at a profit must again be sold after its transformation into commodities and must pass in the first place from the possession of the seller into that of the buyer, and in the second place from its commodity-form into the money-form, so that it is of no use to its owner so long as it retains the same form in his hands? In that case, the problem amounts to this: The same capital-value, which formerly performed the functions of productive capital in a form typical of the process of production, neo performs those of commodity-capital and money-capital in forms typical of the process of circulation, where it is no longer either fixed or circulating capital. And this applies equally to those elements of value which are added by means of raw and auxiliary material, in other words to circulating capital, and to those which are added by the consumption of instruments of production, or to fixed capital. We do not get any nearer to the distinction between fixed and circulating capital in this way.


Adam Smith says furthermore: "The goods of the merchant yield him no revenue or profit till he sells them for money, and the money yields him as little till it is again exchanged for goods. His capital is continually going from him in one shape, and returning to him in another, and it is only by means of such circulation, or successive exchanges, that it can yield him any profit. Such capitals, therefore, may very properly be called circulating capital."


That which Adam Smith here calls circulating capital, is a thing which I shall call capital of circulation, that is to say, capital in a form characteristic of the process of circulation, changes of form due to exchange (a change of substance and of hands), in other words, commodity-capital and money-capital, as distinguished from the form of productive capital, which is characteristic of the process of production. These are not special divisions made by the industrial capitalist of his capital, but different forms assumed and discarded by the advanced capital-value during its course of life, in ever renewed cycles. The great backward step of Adam Smith as compared with the physiocrats is that he does not discriminate between these forms and those which arise in the circulation of capital-value through its successive metamorphoses while it exists in the form of productive capital, and which are due to different ways in which the various elements of productive capital take part in the formation of values and transfer their own value to the products. We shall see the consequences of confounding these fundamentals, productive capital and capital in the sphere of circulation (commodity-capital and money-capital) on one side, and fixed and circulating capital on the other. The capital-value advanced in fixed capital is as much circulated by the product as that which has been advanced in the circulating capital, and both are equally transformed into money-capital by the circulation of commodity-capital. The difference arises only from the fact that the value of fixed capital circulates piece-meal and is, therefore, reproduced in the same way in shorter or longer intervals in its natural form.


That Adam Smith means nothing else by this term of circulating capital in the above passage but capital of circulation, that is to say, capital in the form of commodity-capital and money-capital characteristic of the process of circulation, is shown by his singularly ill-chosen illustration. He selects for this purpose a kind of capital which does not belong to the process of production, but to the sphere of circulation. This is merchants' capital, which consists only of capital of circulation.


How absurd it is to start out with an illustration, in which capital does not perform the functions of productive capital, is immediately shown by himself,. "The capital of a merchant is altogether a circulating capital." But later on we learn that the difference between circulating and fixed capital arises out of the essential differences within the productive capital itself. On one side, Adam Smith has the distinction of the physiocrats in mind, on the other the different forms assumed by capital-value in its cycles. And these things are jumbled together by him without any discrimination.


But it is quite incomprehensible how profit should arise by the transformation of money and commodities, by the mere exchange of one of these forms for the other. And an explanation becomes impossible for Adam Smith, because he starts out with merchants' capital which moves only in the sphere of circulation. We shall return to this later. Let us first hear what he has to say about fixed capital.

"Secondly, it (capital) may be employed in the improvement of land, in the purchase of useful machines and instruments of trade, or in such like things as yield a revenue or profit without changing masters, or circulating any further. Such capitals, therefore, may very properly be called fixed capitals. Different occupations require very different proportions between the fixed and circulating capitals employed in them.... Some part of the capital of every master artificer or manufacturer must be fixed in the instruments of his trade. This part, however, is very small in some, and very great in others.... The far greater part of the capital of all such master artificers (such as tailors, shoemakers, weavers) however, is circulated, either in the wages of their workmen, or in the price of their materials, and to be repaid with a profit by the price of the work."


Apart from the naive determination of the source of profit, the weakness and confusion of these statements becomes at once apparent, when we consider, e.g., that, for a machine manufacturer, a machine is his product, which circulates as commodity-capital, or in Adam Smith's words, "is parted with, changes masters, circulates farther." According to his own definition, therefore, this machine would not be fixed, but circulating capital. This confusion is due to the fact that Smith confounds the distinction between fixed and circulating capital, which arises out of the different circulation of the various elements of productive capital, with differences of form successively assumed by the same capital when performing the functions of productive capital within the sphere of production, while in the circulation it becomes capital of circulation, that is to say commodity-capital and money-capital. According to the place which the same things occupy in the life-processes of capital, they may, in the opinion of Adam Smith, perform the functions of fixed capital (means of production, elements of productive capital), or of "circulating" commodity-capital (products transferred from the sphere of production to that of circulation).


But Adam Smith suddenly changes the entire basis of his division, and contradicts the statements with which he had opened his analysis a few lines previously. This is done especially by the statement that "there are two different ways in which a capital may be employed so as to yield a revenue or profit to its employer," that is to say as circulating or as fixed capital. These two categories would, therefore, be different methods of employment of different capitals independent of one another, some being employed in industries, others in agriculture. But immediately he says: "Different occupations require very different proportions between the fixed and circulating capitals employed in them." Here fixed and circulating capital are no longer different independent investments of different capitals, but different proportions of the same productive capital, which represent different portions of the total value of this capital in different spheres of investment. They are here differences arising from the appropriate division of the productive capital itself and valid only with respect to it. But this is contrary to the distinction of commercial capital, which according to him is circulating capital as compared to fixed capital, when he says: "The capital of a merchant is altogether a circulating capital." It is indeed a capital performing its functions entirely within the sphere of circulation, and is for this reason distinguished from productive capital embodied in the process of production. But for this every reason it cannot be regarded as a constituent part of the circulating portion of productive capital, as distinguished from its fixed portion.


In the illustrations given by Adam Smith, he defines the instruments of trade as fixed capital, and the portion of productive capital invested in wages and raw materials, including auxiliary materials, as circulating capital, "repaid with a profit by the price of the work."


He starts out, then, from the various constituents of the labor-process, from labor-power (labor) and raw materials on one side, and instruments of labor on the other. And these are constituents of capital, because a quantity of values is invested in them for the purpose of performing the functions of capital.


To this extent they are material elements, modes of existence of productive capital, that is to say, of capital serving in the process of production. But why is one of these constituents called fixed? Because "some parts of the capital must be fixed in the instruments of trade." But the other parts are also fixed in wages and raw materials. Machines, however, and "instruments of trade...such like things...yield a revenue or profit without changing masters or circulating any further. Such capitals, therefore, may very properly be called fixed capitals."


Take, for instance, the mining industry. No raw material at all is used there, because the object of labor, such as copper, is the product of nature, which must be obtained first of all by labor. The copper to be obtained, the product of the process, which circulates later on as a commodity, or commodity-capital, does not form an element of productive capital. No part of its value is thus invested. On the other hand, the other elements of the productive process, such as labor-power, and auxiliary materials such as coal, water, etc., do not enter bodily into the product. The coal is entirely consumed and only its value enters into the product, just as a part of the value of the machine is transferred to it. The laborer, finally, remains just as independent so far as the product, the copper, is concerned, as the machine. Only the value which he produces by his labor becomes a part of the value of the copper. But in this illustration, not a single constituent part of productive capital changes masters, nor do any of them circulate further, because none of them enter bodily into the product. What becomes of the circulating capital in this case? According to Adam Smith's own definition, the entire capital employed in mining would consist only of fixed capital.


On the other hand, let us look at some other industry, which utilizes raw materials that form the substance of its product, and auxiliary materials that enter bodily into the product, instead of only so far as their value is concerned, as in the case of coal for fuel. Simultaneously with the product, for instance with the yarn, the raw material composing it, the cotton, likewise changes masters, and passes from the process of production to that of consumption. But so long as the cotton performs the function of an element of productive capital, its owner does not sell it, but manipulates it for the purpose of making it into yarn. He does not take his hand from it. Or, to use Smith's crudely erroneous and trivial terms, he does not make any profit by parting with it, by its changing masters, or by circulating it. He does not permit his materials to circulate any more than his machines. They are fixed in the process of production, the same as the spinning machines and the factory buildings. Indeed, a part of the productive capital in the form of coal, cotton, etc., must be just as continually fixed as that in the form of instruments of labor. The difference is only that the cotton, coal, etc., required for the process of production, say, for one week, is always entirely consumed in the manufacture of the weekly product, so that new specimens of cotton, coal, etc., must be supplied; in other words, these elements of productive capital consist continually of new specimens of the same species, identical only so far as the species is concerned, while the same individual spinning machine, the same individual factory-building, continue their participation in a whole series of weekly productions without being replaced by new specimens of their kind. All the elements of productive capital constituting its parts must be continually fixed in the process of production, for it cannot proceed without them. And all the elements of productive capital, whether fixed or circulating, are equally distinguished as productive capital from capital of circulation, that is to say, commodity-capital and money-capital.


It is the same with labor-power. A part of the productive capital must be continually fixed in it, and the same identical labor-powers, just as in the case of the machines, are everywhere employed for a certain length of time by the same capitalist. The difference between labor-power and machines in this case is not that the machines are bought once for all (which is not even the case when they are paid for in instalments), while the laborer is not. The difference is rather that the labor expended by the laborer enters wholly into the value of the product, while the value of the machines enters piecemeal into it.


Smith confounds different definitions, when he says of circulating capital as compared to fixed: "The capital employed in this manner yields no revenue or profit to its employer, while it either remains in his possession or continues in the same shape." He places the merely formal metamorphosis of the commodity, which the product in the form of commodity-capital, undergoes in the sphere of circulation and which brings about the change of masters of the commodities, on the same level with the bodily metamorphosis, which the different elements of productive capital undergo during the process of production. He unceremoniously jumbles together the transformation of commodities into money, of money into commodities, or purchase and sale, with the transformation of elements of production into products. His illustration for circulating capital is merchants' capital which is transformed from commodities into money and from money into commodities—the metamorphosis C—M—C belonging to the circulation of commodities. But this metamorphosis within the circulation signifies for the industrial capital in action that the commodities into which the money is retransformed are elements of production (means of production and labor power), in other words, that it renders the function of industrial capital continuous, that it makes of the process of production a continuous one, a process of production. This entire metamorphosis takes place in circulation. It is the process of circulation which brings about the bodily transition of the commodities from one master to another. On the other hand, the metamorphoses experienced by productive capital within the process of production take place in the labor-process and are necessary for the purpose of transforming the elements of production into the desired product. Adam Smith clings to the fact that a part of the means of production (the instrument of labor, strictly speaking) serve in the labor process (yield a profit to their master, as he erroneously expresses it) without changing their natural form and wear out only by decrees; while another part, the materials, change their form and fulfill their duty as means of production by virtue of this very fact. This difference in the behavior of the elements of productive capital in the labor-process, however, serves only as the point of departure for the difference between fixed capital and capital which is not fixed, but it is not this difference itself. This is evident from the mere fact that this different behavior is common to all modes of production, whether they are capitalist or not. But on the other hand, this different behavior of the substances is accompanied by a different yield of value to the product, and this in its turn corresponds to a different reproduction of value by the sale of the product. And this is what constitutes the difference in question. Hence capital is not fixed capital, because it is fixed in the means of production, but because a part of the value invested in means of production remains fixed in them, while another part circulates as a part of the value of the product.

"If it (the stock) is employed in procuring future profit, it must procure this profit by staying with him (the employer), or by going from him. In the one case it is a fixed, in the other it is a circulating capital." (Page 189.)


In this statement, it is the crudely empirical conception of profit derived from the ideas of the ordinary capitalist, which is remarkable, being contrary to the better esoteric understanding of Adam Smith. Not only the price of the materials, but also that of the labor-power is reproduced by the price of the product, and so is that part of value which is transferred by wear and tear from the instruments of labor to the product. Under no circumstances does this reproduction yield any profits. Whether a value advanced for the production of a commodity is reproduced entirely or in part, at one time or gradually, by the sale of that commodity, cannot change anything except the manner and time of its reproduction. But it can in no way transform that which is common to both, the reproduction of value, into a production of surplus-value. We meet here once more the common idea that surplus-value arises only through sale, in the circulation, because it is not realized until the product is sold, until it circulates. As a matter of fact, the different genesis of the profit is in this case but a mistaken phrase for the truth that the different elements of productive capital are differently employed, and have a different effect in the labor-process as different productive elements. In the final analysis, the difference is not attributed to the process of production or self-expansion, not to the function of productive capital itself, but it is supposed to apply only subjectively to the individual capitalist, whom one part of capital serves a useful purpose in one way, while another does in a different way.


Quesnay, on the other hand, had derived this difference from the process of reproduction and its requirements. In order that this process may be continuous, the value of the annual advances must be annually reproduced in full by the value of the annual product, while the value of the capital stock is reproduced only by degrees, for instance, in ten years, and is not fully worn out to the point of replacement by another specimen of the same kind until then. Adam Smith here falls far below Quesnay.


Nothing remains therefore to Adam Smith for the determination of the fixed capital but the fact that it is represented by instruments of production which do not change their form in the process of production and continue to serve in production until they are worn out, as distinguished from the product, in the formation of which they co-operate. He forgets that all elements of productive capital are continually confronted in their natural form (instruments of labor, materials, and labor-power) by the product and by the circulating commodity, and that the difference between the part consisting of materials and labor-power and that consisting of instruments of labor is this: Labor-power is always purchased afresh, not bought for good like the instruments of labor; the materials manipulated in the labor-process are not the same identical specimens throughout, but always new specimens of the same kind. At the same time the false impression is created that the value of the fixed capital does not participate in the circulation, although Adam Smith has previously analyzed the wear and tear of fixed capital as a part of the price of the product.


In mentioning the circulating capital as distinguished from the fixed, he does not emphasize the fact, that this distinction rests on the circumstance that circulating capital is that part of productive capital which must be fully reproduced by the value of the product and must therefore fully share in its metamorphoses, while this is not so in the case of the fixed capital. On the contrary, he jumbles it together with those forms which capital assumes in its transition from the sphere of production to that of circulation, that is to say, commodity-capital and money-capital. But both forms, commodity-capital as well as money-capital, are bearers of the value of the fixed and the circulating parts of productive capital. Both of them are capitals of circulation, as distinguished from productive capital, but they do not represent circulating capital as distinguished from fixed capital.


Finally, owing to the entirely confused idea of the making of profit by the staying of the fixed capital in the process of production, and the passing from it and circulating of the circulating capital, the essential difference between the variable capital and the circulating parts of the constant capital in the process of self-expansion and the formation of surplus-value is hidden under the identity of form, so that the entire secret of capitalist production is obscured still more; by the application of the common term "circulating capital" this essential difference is abolished; political economy subsequently went still farther by neglecting the distinction between variable and constant capital and dwelling on the difference between fixed and circulating capital as the essential and typical distinction.


After Adam Smith has defined fixed and circulating capital as two different ways of investing capital, each of which yields a profit by itself, he says: "No fixed capital can yield any revenue but by means of a circulating capital. The most useful machines and instruments of trade will produce nothing without the circulating capital which affords the materials they are employed upon, and the maintenance of the workmen who employ them." (Page 188.)


Here it becomes apparent what the previously used phrases "yield a revenue, make a profit, etc.," signify, viz., that both parts of capital serve in the formation of the product.


Adam Smith then gives the following illustration: "That part of the capital of the farmer which is employed in the implements of agriculture is a fixed, that which is employed in the wages and maintenance of his laboring servants is a circulating capital." (Here the difference of fixed and circulating capital is correctly applied as referring to the different circulation, the turn-over of different constituent parts of productive capital.) "He makes a profit of the one by keeping it in his own possession, and of the other by parting with it. The price or value of his laboring cattle is a fixed capital" (here he is again correct in that it is the value, not the material substance, which determines the difference), "in the same manner as that of the instruments of husbandry; their maintenance" (meaning that of the laboring cattle) "is a circulating capital, in the same way as that of the laboring servants. The farmer makes his profit by keeping the laboring cattle and parting with their maintenance." (The farmer keeps the fodder of the cattle, he does not sell it. He uses it to feed the cattle, while he exploits the cattle themselves as instruments of labor. The difference is only this: The feed used for the maintenance of the cattle is wholly consumed and must be continually reproduced by new feed, either by means of the products of agriculture or by their sale; while the cattle themselves are reproduced only to the extent that each specimen becomes worn out.) "Both the price and the maintenance of the cattle which are bought in and fattened, not for labor, but for sale, are a circulating capital. The farmer makes his profit by parting with them." (Every producer of commodities, hence the capitalist producer likewise, sells his product, the result of his process of production, but this is not a means of constituting this product a part of either the fixed or the circulating part of his productive capital. The product has now rather that form, in which it is released from the process of production and compelled to perform the function of commodity-capital. The fattened stock serve in the process of production as raw material, not as instruments of labor like the laboring cattle. Hence the fattened cattle enter bodily into the product, and their whole value enters into it, just as that of the auxiliary material, the feed, does. The fattened cattle are, therefore, a circulating part of the productive capital, but they are not so, because the sold product, these same cattle, have the same natural form as the raw material, that is to say these cattle when not yet fattened. This is a mere coincidence. At the same time Adam Smith might have seen by this illustration that it is not the material form of the elements of production, but their function within the process of production, which determines the value contained in them as a fixed or circulating one.) "The whole value of the seed, too, is a fixed capital.... Though it goes backwards and forwards between the ground and the granery, it never changes masters, and therefore it does not properly circulate. The farmer makes his profit not by its sale, but by its increase."


At this point, the utter thoughtlessness of smith's distinction reveals itself. According to him, the seeds would be fixed capital, if there would be no change of masters, that is to say, if the seeds were directly reproduced out of the annual product by subtracting them from it. On the other hand, they would be circulating capital, if the entire product were sold and a part of its value employed for the purchase of another's seed. In the one case, there would be a change of masters, in the other there would not. Smith once more confounds circulating and commodity-capital at this point. The product is the material bearer of the commodity-capital, but of course only that part of it which actually enters into the circulation and does not re-enter directly into the process of production, from which it came as a product.


Whether the seed is directly subtracted as a part of the product, or whether the entire product is sold and a part of its value converted in the purchase of another man's seed, in either case it is mere reproduction which takes place, and no profit is produced by it. In the one case, the seed enters into circulation with the remainder of the product as a commodity, in the other it figures only in bookkeeping as a part of the value of the advanced capital. But in both cases, it remains a circulating part of the productive capital. It is entirely consumed in getting the product ready, and it must be entirely reproduced by means of it, in order to make self-expansion possible.


According to Adam Smith, raw and auxiliary materials lose their independent form, which they carried as use-values into the labor-process. Not so the instruments of labor proper. An instrument, a machine, a factory-building, a vessel, etc., serve in the labor-process only so long as they preserve their original form and enter the labor-process to-morrow in the same form in which they did yesterday. Just as they preserve their independent form as compared to the product during life, in the labor-process, so they do after death. The corpses of machines, shops, factory-buildings, still exist independently of the products, which they helped to form. (Book I, chapter VIII, page 227.)


These different ways in which means of production are used in the formation of the product, some of them preserving their independent form as compared to the product, others changing or losing it entirely,—this difference pertaining to the labor-process itself, regardless of whether it is carried on for home use, without exchange, without any production of commodities, as it was, for instance, in the patriarchal family, is falsified by Adam Smith, (1) by vitiating it with the irrelevant definition of profit, saying that some of the elements of production yield a profit to their owner by preserving their form, while others do so by losing it; (2) by jumbling together the changes of a part of the elements of production in the labor-process with that metamorphosis in the circulation of commodities which consists of the exchange, the sale and purchase, of products and involves a change of masters of the circulating commodities.


The turn-over presumes the reproduction by the intervention of the circulation, by the sale of the product, by its conversion into money and its reconversion from money into elements of production. But to the extent that a part of the product of the capitalist producer serves him directly as his own means of production, he figures as its seller to himself, and this transaction is so entered in his books. This part of the reproduction is not accomplished by the intervention of the circulation, but proceeds directly. But a part of the product thus re-employed as means of production replaces circulating, not fixed, capital, to the extent, (1) that its value passes wholly into the product, and (2) that it is itself wholly reproduced in its natural form by means of the new product.


Adam Smith, however, tells us what circulating and fixed capital consist of. He enumerates the things, the material elements, which form fixed, and those which form circulating capital, just as though this character were due to the natural substance of those things, instead of to their definite function within the capitalist process of production. And yet in book II, chapter I, he makes the remark that although a certain thing, for instance, a residence, which is reserved for direct consumption, "may yield a revenue to its proprietor, and thereby serve in the function of a capital to him, it cannot yield any to the public, nor serve in the function of a capital to it, and the revenue of the whole body of the people can never be in the smallest degree increased by it." (Page 186.) Here, then, Adam Smith clearly states that the character of capital is not inherent in the things themselves, but is a function with which they may or may not be invested, according to circumstances. But what is true of capital in general, is also true of its subdivisions.


The same things form constituent parts of the circulating or fixed capital, according to whether they perform this or that function in the labor-process. A domestic animal, for instance, as a laboring animal (instrument of labor), represents the material mode of existence of fixed capital, while as stock for fattening (raw material) it is a constituent part of the circulating capital of the farmer. On the other hand, the same things serve either as constituent parts of productive capital, or belong to the fund for direct consumption. A house, for instance, when performing the function of a workshop, is a fixed part of productive capita; when serving as a residence, it is not at all a form of productive capital. The same instruments of labor may in many cases serve now as means of reproduction, now as means of consumption.


It was one of the errors following from the conception of Smith that the capacity of fixed and circulating capital was regarded as vested in the things themselves. The mere analysis of the labor-process on his part, in book I, chapter V, shows that the capacity of instruments of labor, materials of labor and products changes according to the different role played by one and the same thing in the process. The determination of what is fixed or circulating capital, in its turn, is based on the definite roles played by these elements in the labor-process, and therefore also in the process of the formation of value.


In the second place, in enumerating the things of which fixed and circulating capital may consist, Smith plainly discloses the fact that he jumbles together the distinction between fixed and circulating capital, applicable and justified only with reference to productive capital (capital in its productive form), with the distinction between productive capital and those of its forms which belong to the process of circulation, viz., commodity-capital and money-capital. He says in the same place (pages 187,188): "The circulating capital consists...of the provisions, materials, and finished work of all kinds that are in the hands of their respective dealers, and of the money that is necessary for circulating and distributing them, etc." Indeed, if we look closer, we observe that he has here, contrary to previous statements, used circulating capital as being equivalent to commodity-capital and money-capital, that is to say to two forms of capital which do not belong to the process of production at all, which are not circulating capital as opposed to fixed, but capital of circulation as opposed to productive capital. It is only in co-ordination with these that those constituents of productive capital, which are advanced in materials (raw materials or partly finished products) are actually embodied in the process of production, play a role. He says:

"...The third and last of the three portions into which the general stock of society naturally divides itself, is the circulating capital, of which the characteristic is, that it affords a revenue only by circulating or changing masters. This is composed likewise of four parts: first, of the money..." (but money is never a form of productive capital, of capital performing its function in the productive process; it is always merely one of the forms assumed by capital within its process of circulation.)..."secondly, of the stock of provisions which are in the possession of the butcher, the grazier, the farmer...and from the sale of which they expect to derive a profit... Fourthly and lastly, of the work which is made up and completed, but which is still in the hands of the merchant and manufacturer. And, thirdly, of the materials, whether altogether rude or more or less manufactured, of clothes, furniture, and buildings, which are not yet made up into any of those three shapes but which remain in the hands of the growers, the manufacturers, the mercers and drapers, the timber-merchants, the carpenters and joiners, the brick-makers, etc."


His second and fourth count contain nothing but products, which have been released by the process of production and must be sold; in short, they are products which now perform the function of commodities, or commodity-capital, and which, therefore, have a form and occupy a place in the process, in which they are not elements of productive capital, no matter what may be their destination, whether they answer their final purpose as use-values in individual or productive consumption. The products mentioned under secondly are foodstuffs, those under fourthly all other finished products, which in their turn consist only of finished instruments of labor or finished articles of consumption not included in the foodstuffs under count two.


The fact that Smith at the same time speaks of the merchant, shows his confusion. To the extent that the producer transfers his product to the merchant, it does no longer form any part of his capital. From the social point of view, it is indeed still a commodity-capital, although in other hands than those of its producer; but for the very reason that it is a commodity-capital, it is neither a circulating nor a fixed capital.


Under every mode of production not carried on for direct home-consumption the product must circulate as a commodity, that is to say, it must be sold, not in order to make a profit out of it, but that the producer may be able to live at all. Under the capitalist mode of production we have the further fact that the surplus-value embodied in a certain commodity is realized by its sale. In its capacity as a commodity, the product leaves the process of production and is, therefore, neither a fixed nor a circulating element of this process.


By the way, Smith here testifies against himself. The finished products, whatever may be their material form, their use-value, their utility, are all commodity-capital, that is to say capital in a form typical of the process of circulation. Being in this form, they are not constituent parts of any productive capital which their owner may have. Of course, this does not argue against the fact that, after their sale, they may become constituent parts of productive capital in the hands of their purchaser, and then represent either fixed or circulating capital. This shows that the same things, which at a certain time appear on the market as commodity-capital distinct from productive capital, may or may not perform the function of productive capital after they have been removed from the market.


The product of the cotton spinner, yarn, is the commodity-form of his capital, is a commodity-capital from his point of view. It cannot again perform the function of some constituent part of his productive capital, neither as raw material nor as an instrument of labor. But in the hands of the weaver who buys it, it is embodied in his productive capital as one of its circulating parts. For the spinner, on the other hand, the yarn is the bearer of the value of his fixed and circulating capital (not considering the surplus-value). So is a machine, the product of a machine maker, the commodity-form of his capital, commodity-capital from his point of view. And so long as it persists in this form, it is neither fixed nor circulating capital. But if it is sold to a manufacturer for use in his production, it becomes a fixed part of his productive capital. Even if a certain product re-enters as a use-value for the purpose of production into the same process from which it emanated, for instance coal in the production of coal, even then that part of the output of coal which is intended for sale represents neither fixed nor circulating capital, but commodity-capital.


On the other hand, the utility-form of a certain product may be such that it is incapacitated for service as an element of productive capital, either as raw material or an instrument of labor. This is the case, for instance, with articles of food. Nevertheless it is a commodity-capital for its producer, in which the value of his fixed as well as his circulating capital is incorporated; and it is the representative of the value of either the one or the other of these two forms according to whether the capital employed in its production has to be reproduced in full or partially, in other words, according to whether this capital transfers its full or its partial value to the product.


With Smith, in his count No. 3, the raw material (raw material, partly finished product, auxiliary material), does not figure as a part embodied in the productive capital, but merely as a special kind of use-values of which the social product generally consists, a mass of commodities existing apart from the other material elements, foodstuffs, etc., enumerated under Nos. 2 and 4. On the other hand, these materials are indeed incorporated in the productive capital and therefore also classed as its elements in the hands of the producer. The confusion arises from the fact that they are partly regarded as performing a function in the hands of the producer (in the hands of the growers, the manufacturers, etc.), and partly in the hands of merchants (mercers, drapers, timber-merchants), where they are merely commodity-capital, not elements of productive capital.


Indeed, Adam Smith forgets here, in the enumeration of the elements of circulating capital, all about the fact that the distinction of fixed and circulating capital applies only to the productive capital. He rather places commodity-capital and money-capital, the two forms of capital typical of the process of circulation, opposite of the productive capital, but quite unconsciously.


Finally, it is worthy of note that Adam Smith forgets to mention labor-power as one of the elements of productive capital. And there are two reasons for this.


We have just seen that, apart from money-capital, circulating capital is only another name for commodity-capital. But to the extent that labor-power circulates on the market, it is not capital, not a form of commodity-capital. It is not capital at all; the laborer is not a capitalist, although he brings his commodity to market, namely his own skin. Not until labor-power has been sold and incorporated in the process of production, in other words, until it has ceased to circulate as a commodity, does it became an element of productive capital, variable capital and the source of surplus-value, a circulating part of productive capital so far as the turn-over of the capital-value invested in it is concerned. Since Smith here confounds the circulating capital with commodity-capital, he cannot place labor-power under his category of circulating capital. Hence the commodity-capital here appears in the form of commodities which the laborer buys with his wages, that is to say, means of subsistence. In this form, the capital-value invested in wages is supposed to belong to the circulating capital. That which is incorporated in the process of production is labor-power, the laborer himself, not the means of subsistence by which the laborer maintains himself. True, we have seen in volume I, chapter XXIII, that, from the point of view of society, the reproduction of the laborer himself by means of his individual consumption belongs to the process of reproduction of social capital. But this does not apply to the individual and isolated process of production which we are studying here. The "acquired and useful abilities" which Smith mentions under the head of fixed capital, are on the contrary elements of circulating capital, when they are abilities of the wage-worker and have been sold by him with his labor.


It is a great mistake on the part of Smith to divide the entire social wealth into (1) a fund for immediate consumption, (2) fixed capital, and (3) circulating capital. According to this, wealth would have to be classified as (1) a fund for consumption, which would not represent a part of social capital engaged in the performance of its functions, although some parts of it may continually assist in this performance; and (2) as capital. In other words, a part of the wealth would be performing the functions of capital, another those of non-capital or a fund for consumption. And it seems that it is here an indispensable requirement for all capital to be either fixed or circulating, about in the same way that it is a natural necessity for a mammal to be either male or female. But we have seen that the distinction of being fixed or circulating applies solely to the elements of productive capital, that, therefore, there is also a considerable quantity of capital—commodity-capital and money-capital—existing in a form which does not permit of its being either fixed or circulating.


Seeing that the entire mass of social products, under capitalist production, circulates on the market as commodity-capital, with the exception of that part of the product which is directly consumed by the individual capitalist producers in its natural form as means of production without being sold or bought, it is evident that not only the fixed and circulating elements of productive capital, but also all the elements of the fund for consumption are derived from the commodity-capital. This is equivalent to saying that, on the basis of capitalist production, both means of production and of consumption first appear as commodity-capital, even though they are intended for later use as means of production or consumption. Labor-power itself is likewise found on the market as a commodity, if not as commodity-capital.


This accounts for the following confusion in Adam Smith: "Of these four parts" (meaning circulating capital, that is to say capital in its forms of commodity-capital and money-capital typical of the process of circulation, which Adam Smith transforms into four parts by making distinctions between the substantial parts of commodity-capital) "three—provisions, materials, and finished work, are either annually or in a longer or shorter period, regularly withdrawn from it, and placed either in the fixed capital, or in the stock reserved for immediate consumption. Every fixed capital is both originally derived from, and requires to be continually supported by, a circulating capital. All useful machines and instruments of trade are originally derived from a circulating capital, which furnishes the materials of which they are made and the maintenance of the workmen who make them. They require, too, a capital of the same kind to keep them in constant repair." (Page 188.)


With the exception of that part of the product which is immediately consumed as means of production, the following general rule applies to capitalist production: All products are taken to market as commodities and, therefore, circulate as capital in the form of commodities, as the commodity-capital of the capitalist, regardless of whether these products must or may serve in their natural form, as use-values, in the performance of their function as elements of productive capital in the process of production, in other words, as means of production and, therefore, as fixed or circulating parts of productive capital, or whether they can serve only as means of individual, not of productive, consumption. All products are thrown upon the market as commodities; all means of production or consumption, all elements of productive and individual consumption, must therefore be released from the market by purchasing them as commodities.


Of course, this truism is correct. It applies for this reason to the fixed as well as the circulating elements of productive capital, for instruments of labor as well as raw material in all its forms. (This, moreover, is leaving aside the fact that there are certain elements of productive capital which are furnished ready by nature and are not products.) A machine is bought on the market as well as cotton. But this implies by no means that every fixed capital comes originally from some circulating capital; it is only through the confusion, on the part of Smith, of capital of circulation with circulating capital, with capital that is not fixed, that this erroneous conclusion is reached. And to cap the climax, Smith refutes himself. According to him, machines, as commodities, form a part of No. 4, the circulating capital. To say that they come from the circulating capital means that they were performing the function of commodity-capital before they performed the function of machines, but that substantially they are derived from themselves; so is cotton, as the circulating element of some spinner's capital, derived from the cotton on the market. But as for deriving fixed capital from circulating capital for the reason that labor and raw material are required for the making of machines, as Adam Smith is doing in his further arguments, we say that in the first place, fixed capital is also required for the making of machines, and in the second place, fixed capital, such as machinery, is likewise required for the making of raw materials, since the productive capital always includes instruments of labor, but not always raw materials. He says himself immediately afterwards: "Lands, mines, and fisheries, require all both a fixed and circulating capital to cultivate them;"—thus he admits that not only circulating, but also fixed capital is required for the production of raw materials—"and"—renewed confusion at this point—"their produce replaces with a profit, not only those capitals, but all the others in society." (Page 188.) This is entirely wrong. Their produce furnishes the raw materials, auxiliary substances, etc., for all other branches of industry. But their value does not reproduce the value of all other social capitals; it reproduces merely the value of their own capital (plus the surplus-value). Adam Smith is here stampeded by his recollection of the physiocrats.


Socially speaking, it is true that that part of the commodity capital which consists of products available for immediate or later service as instruments of labor—unless they are produced uselessly and cannot be sold—must in fact perform this service whenever they cease to be commodities and become actual elements of the productive capital, in stead of being merely its prospective ones.


But there is a distinction arising from the natural form of the product.


A spinning machine, for instance, has no use-value, unless it is consumed in spinning, so that it performs its function as an element of production and, from the point of view of the capitalist, constitutes a fixed part of his capital. But a spinning machine is movable. It may be exported from the country in which it was produced and sold in a foreign country directly or indirectly, for raw materials, etc., or even for champagne. In that case it has served only as commodity-capital in the country in which it was produced, but never as fixed capital, not even after its sale.


But products which are localized by being imbedded in the soil, and therefore can be consumed only locally, such as factory buildings, railroads, bridges, tunnels, wharves, etc., improvements of the soil, etc., cannot be bodily exported. They are not movable. They are either useless, or they must serve as fixed capital, in the country that produced them, as soon as they have been sold. From the point of view of their capitalist producer, who builds factories or improves land for speculation and sale, these things are forms of his commodity-capital, or, according to Adam Smith, a form of circulating capital. But from the point of view of society, these things must finally serve in the same country as fixed capital in some process of production fixed by their own locality, unless they are to be useless. This does not imply by any means that immovable things are fixed capital of themselves. They may belong to the fund for consumption, for instance residence houses, and in that case they do not belong to the social capital at all, although they are an element of the social wealth, of which capital is only a part. The producer of these things, to use the language of Smith, makes a profit by their sale. In other words, circulating capital! Their user, their final purchaser, can use them only by utilizing them in the process of production. Therefore, fixed capital!


Titles to property, for instance railroad shares, may change hands every day, and their owner may even make a profit by their sale to foreign countries, so that the title may be exported, if not the railroad. But nevertheless these things themselves must either lie fallow in the country that produced them, or serve as a fixed part of some productive capital. In the same way the manufacturer A may make a profit by the sale of his factory to the manufacturer B, but this does not prevent the factory from serving as fixed capital, the same as before.


However, it does not follow that fixed capital necessarily consists of immovable things, because the locally fixed instruments of labor, which cannot be detached from the soil, must to all intents and purposes serve at some time as fixed capital in the same country, even though they may serve as commodity-capital for their producer and do not constitute any elements of his fixed capital, which is made up of the instruments of labor required by him for the building of factories, railroads, etc. A ship and a locomotive produce their effects only by motion; yet they serve as fixed capital for the owner who uses them, although not for him who produced them. On the other hand, some things which are very decidedly fixed in the process of production, which live and die in it and never leave it any more after they have entered it, are circulating parts of the productive capital. Such are, for instance, the coal consumed by the machine in the process of production, the gas used for lighting the factory, etc. They are circulating capital not because they bodily leave the process of production together with the product and circulate as commodities, but because their entire value is transferred to that of the product in whose production they assisted, so that their value must be entirely reproduced by the sale of the product.


In the last quotation from Adam Smith, notice must furthermore be taken of the following phrase: "A circulating capital which furnishes...the maintenance of the workmen who make them" (meaning machines, etc.).


In the works of the physiocrats, that part of capital which is advanced for wages figures correctly under the Avances annuelles as distinguished from the Avances primitives. On the other hand it is not the labor-power used as a part of the productive capital of the farmer which figures in their accounts, but the foodstuffs given to the farm laborers (the maintenance of workmen, as Smith calls it). This corresponds exactly to their specific doctrine. For according to them the value added to the product by labor (like the value added to the product by raw material, instruments of labor, etc., in short by all the substantial parts of constant capital) is equal only to the value of the articles of consumption paid to the laborers and necessary for the maintenance of their labor functions. Their doctrine stands in the way of their discovering the distinction between constant and variable capital. If it is labor that produces surplus-value in addition to the reproduction of its own price, then it does so in industry as well as in agriculture. But since, according to their system, surplus-value arises only in one branch of production, namely, agriculture, it does not come out of labor, but out of the special activity (assistance) of nature in this branch. And only for this reason agricultural labor is for them productive labor, as distinguished from other kinds of labor.


Adam Smith classes the maintenance of laborers among the circulating capital as distinguished from fixed.


1. Because he confounds circulating capital as distinguished from fixed with forms of capital belonging to the sphere of circulation, with capital of circulation; this mistake persisted after him without being criticized. He therefore confounds the commodity-capital with the circulating part of the productive capital, and in that case it is a matter of course that, whenever the social product assumes the form of commodities, the maintenance of the laborers as well as that of the non-laborers, the materials as well as the instruments of labor, must be taken out of the commodity-capital.


2. But the physiocratic conception likewise intermingles with the analysis of Smith, although it contradicts the esoteric—really scientific—part of his own deductions.


The advanced capital is universally converted into productive capital, that is to say it assumes the form of elements of production which are themselves the products of past labor. Labor-power is included in them. Capital can serve in the process of production only in this form. Now, if instead of labor-power itself we take the laborer's necessities of life into which the variable part of capital has been converted, it is evident that these necessities of life are not essentially different, so far as the formation of values is concerned, from the other elements of productive capital, from the raw materials and the food of the laboring cattle, with whom Smith, after the manner of the physiocrats, places the laborers on the same level, in one of the passages quoted above. The necessities of life cannot expand their own value or add any surplus-value to it. Their value, like that of the other elements, can re-appear only in that of the product. They cannot add any more to their value than they have themselves. They, like raw materials, partly finished articles, etc., differ from fixed capital composed of instruments of labor only in that they are entirely consumed in the product of the capitalist who pays for them and uses them in the manufacture of this product, so that their value must be entirely reproduced by this product, while in the case of the fixed capital this takes place gradually and piecemeal. The part of productive capital advanced for labor-power (or for the laborer's articles of consumption) differs here only in the matter of material from the other material elements of productive capital, not in the matter of the process of production or self-expansion. It differs only in so far as it falls into the same category, namely, that of circulating capital, with one part of the objective elements active in the formation of the product (materials, Adam Smith calls them), while another part of these belongs in the category of fixed capital.


The fact that the capital invested in wages belongs to the circulating part of productive capital and shares this circulating quality, as distinguished from the fixed character of productive capital, with a part of the material objects, the raw materials, etc., instrumental in creating the product, has nothing whatever to do with the role played by this variable part of capital in the process of self-expansion, as distinguished from the constant part of capital. It refers merely to the manner in which this part of the invested capital-value is reproduced out of the value of the product by way of the circulation. The purchase and repeated purchase of labor-power belongs in the process of circulation. But it is only within the process of production that the value invested in labor-power (not for the benefit of the laborer, but that of the capitalist) is converted from a definite constant into a variable magnitude, and only thus the advanced value is converted into capital-value, into self-expanding value. But by classing the value advanced for articles of consumption among the circulating elements of productive capital, as Smith does, instead of the value invested in labor-power, the understanding of the difference between variable and constant capital, and thus the understanding of the capitalist process of production in general, is rendered impossible. The mission of this part of capital of being variable as distinguished from the constant capital invested in material objects instrumental in production, is hidden under the mission of the capital invested in labor-power of serving in the turn-over as a circulating part of productive capital. And the obscurity is made complete by enumerating the laborer's maintenance among the elements of productive capital, instead of his labor-power. It is immaterial, whether the value of labor-power is advanced in money or immediately in articles of consumption. However, under capitalist production, the last-named eventuality can be but an exception.*30


By thus emphasizing the role of the circulating capital as the determining element of the capital-value invested in labor-power, by using this physiocratic conception without the fundamental premise of the physiocrats, Adam Smith haply rendered the understanding of the role of variable capital as a determinant of capital invested in labor-power impossible for his followers. The more profound and correct analyses given by him in other places did not survive, but this mistake of his did. Other writers after him went even farther. They were not content to make it the essential characteristic of capital invested in labor-power to be circulating as distinguished from fixed capital; they rather made it an essential mark of circulating capital to be invested in articles of consumption for laborers. This resulted naturally in the doctrine of a labor fund of definite magnitude consisting of requirements of life, which on one side established a physical limit for the share of the laborers in the social product, and on the other had to be fully expended in the purchase of labor-power.

Notes for this chapter

Compare with regard to Quesnay the Analyse du Tableau Economique in Physiocrates, edition of Daire, part I, Paris 1846. There we read, for instance, that the annual advances consist of the expenses incurred annually for the work of cultivation; these advances must be distinguished from the primitive ones, which form the funds for the establishment of the farming business." (Page 59.) In the works of the later physiocrats, these advances are sometimes termed capital, for instance by Dupont de Nemours in his Origine et Progres d'une Science Nouvelle, 1767, Daire edition, I, page 291, where he speaks of "capital or advances," furthermore by Le Trosne: "As a result of the longer or shorter duration of the employment of manual labor, a nation possesses a considerable fund of wealth independent of its annual reproduction, and this fund is a capital accumulated in long periods and originally paid by productive acts, which are always continued and increased." (Daire, II, page 928.) Turgot employs the term capital more regularly for advances, and identifies the advances of the manufacturers still more with those of the tenants of land. (Turgot, Reflexions sur la Formation et la Distribution des Richesses, 1766.)
To what extent Adam Smith has blocked his own way to an understanding of the role of labor-power in the process of self-expansion is proven by the following sentence, which places the labor of human laborers on the same level with that of laboring cattle, after the manner of the physiocrats. "Not only his (the farmer's) laboring servants, but his laboring cattle are productive laborers." (Book II, chap. V, p. 243.)

Part II, Chapter XI.

End of Notes

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