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

Karl Marx
Marx, Karl
Display paragraphs in this book containing:
Friedrich Engels, ed. Ernest Untermann, trans.
First Pub. Date
Chicago: Charles H. Kerr and Co.
Pub. Date
Das Kapital, based on the 2nd edition.
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Part II, Chapter XIII


The working time is always the time of production, that is to say, the time during which capital is held in the sphere of production. But vice versa, not all time during which capital is engaged in the process of production is necessarily a working time.


It is not in this case a question of interruptions of the labor-process conditioned on natural limitations of labor-power itself, although we have seen to what extent the mere circumstance that fixed capital, factory buildings, machinery, etc., are unemployed during pauses of the labor-process, became one of the motives for an unnatural prolongation of the labor-process and for day and night work. It is rather a question of an interruption independent of the length of the labor-process and conditioned on the nature and the production of the goods themselves, during which the object of labor is for a longer or shorter time subjected to lasting natural processes, causing physical, chemical, or physiological changes and suspending the labor-process entirely or partially.


For instance, grape juice, after being pressed, must ferment for a while and then rest for some time, in order to reach a certain degree of perfection. In many branches of industry the product must pass through a drying process, for instance in pottery, or be exposed to certain conditions which change its chemical nature, for instance in bleaching. Winter grain needs about nine months to mature. Between the time of sowing and harvesting the labor-process is almost entirely suspended. In timber raising, after the sowing and the incidental preliminary work are completed, the seed may require 100 years in order to be transformed into a finished product, and during all this time it requires very insignificant contributions of labor.


In all these cases, additional labor is contributed only occasionally during a large portion of the time of production. The condition described in the previous chapter, where additional capital and labor must be contributed to the capital already tied up in the process of production, is found here only in longer or shorter intervals.


In all these cases, therefore, the time of production of the advanced capital consists of two periods: One period, during which the capital is engaged in the labor-process; a second period, during which its form of existence—being that of an unfinished product—is surrendered to the influence of natural process, without being in the labor-process. It does not alter the case, that these two periods of time may cross and pervade one another here and there. The working period and the period of production do not coincide. The time of production is greater than the working period. But the product is not finished until the time of production is completed, only then it is mature and can be transformed from a productive into a commodity-capital. According to the length of the period of production not consisting of working time, the period of turn-over is likewise prolonged. In so far as the time of production in excess of the working time is not once and for all determined by definite natural laws, such as regulate the maturing of grain, the growth of an oak, etc., the period of turn-over may be more or less shortened by an artificial reduction of the time of production. Such instances are the introduction of chemical bleaching instead of lawn bleaching, the improvement of drying apparatus in drying processes. Or, in tanning, where the penetration of the tannic acid into the skins, by the old method, required from six to eighteen months, while the new method, by means of the air-pump, does it in one and a half to two months. (J. G. Courcelle-Seneuil, Traite theorique et pratique des Entreprises industrielles, etc., Paris, 1857, second edition.) The most magnificent illustration of an artificial abbreviation of the time of production which is taken up with natural processes is furnished by the history of the production of iron, more especially the conversion of raw iron into steel during the last 100 years, from the puddling process discovered about 1780 to the modern Bessemer process and the latest methods introduced since then. The time of production has been enormously abbreviated, but the investment of fixed capital has increased accordingly.


A peculiar illustration of the divergence of the time of production from the working time is furnished by the American manufacture of shoe-lasts. In this case, a considerable part of the expense is due to the fact that the wood must be stored for drying for as much as 18 months, in order that the finished last may not change its form by warping. During this time, the wood does not pass through any other labor-process. The period of turn-over of the invested capital is, therefore, not determined solely by the time required for the manufacture of the lasts, but also by the time during which the wood lies unproductive in the drying process. It is for 18 months in the process of production before it can enter into the labor-process proper. This illustration shows at the same time, how it is that the periods of turn-over of different parts of the total circulating capital may differ in consequence of conditions, which do not owe their existence to the sphere of circulation, but to that of production.


The difference between the time of production and the working time becomes especially apparent in agriculture. In our moderate climates, the land bears grain once a year. The abbreviation or prolongation of the period of production (for winter grain an average of nine months) is itself dependent on the change of good or bad seasons, and for this reason it cannot be as accurately determined before-hand and controlled as in industry properly so called. Only such by-products as milk, cheese, etc., are successively producible and saleable in short periods. On the other hand, the working time meets with the following conditions: "The number of working days in the various regions of Germany, with regard to the climatic and other determining conditions, will permit the assumption of the three following main working periods: For the spring period, from the middle of March or beginning of April to the middle of May, about 50 to 60 working days; for the summer period, from the beginning of June to the end of August, 65 to 80; and for the fall period, from the beginning of September to the end of October, or the middle or end of November, 55 to 75 working days. For the winter, only the chores customary for that time, such as the hauling of manure, wood, market goods, and building materials, are to be noted." (F. Kirchhoff, Handbuch der landwirthschaftlichen Betriebslehre. Dresden, 1852, page 160.)


To the extent that the climate is unfavorable, the working period of agriculture, and thus the outlay for capital and labor, is crammed into a short space of time. Take, for instance, Russia. In some of the northern regions of that country agricultural labor is possible only during 130 to 150 days per year. It may be imagined what would be the losses of Russia, if 50 out of its 65 million of European inhabitants would remain unemployed during six or eight months of the winter, when all field work must stop. Apart from the 200,000 farmers, who work in the 10,500 factories of Russia, local house industries have everywhere developed in the villages. There are some villages in which all farmers have been for generations weavers, tanners, shoemakers, locksmiths, knifemakers, etc. This is particularly the case in the provinces of Moscow, Vladimir, Kaluga, Kostroma, and Petersburg. By the way, this house-industry is being more and more pressed into the service of capitalist production. The weavers, for instance, are supplied with woof and web directly by merchants or middlemen. (Abbreviated from the Reports by H. M. Secretaries of Embassy and Legation, on the Manufactures, Commerce, etc., No 8, 1865, pages 86 and 87.) We see here that the divergence of the period of production from the working period, the latter being but a part of the former, forms the natural basis for the combination of agriculture with an agricultural side-industry, and that this side-industry, on the other hand, offers points of vantage to the capitalist, who intrudes first in the person of the merchant. When capitalist production later accomplishes the separation of manufacture and agriculture, the rural laborer becomes ever more dependent on accidental side-employment and his condition is correspondingly lowered. For the capital, all the differences are compensated in the turn-over. Not so for the laborer.


While in most branches of industry proper, of mining, transportation, etc., the work proceeds uniformly, the working time being the same from year to year, and the outlay for the capital passing daily into circulation being uniformly distributed, making exception of such abnormal interruptions as fluctuations of prices, business depressions, etc.; while furthermore also the recovery of the circulating capital, or its reproduction, is uniformly distributed throughout the year, provided the conditions of the market remain the same—there is, on the other hand, the greatest inequality in the outlay of circulating capital in such investments of capital, in which the working time constitutes only a part of the time of production, while the recovery of the capital takes place in bulk at a time determined by natural conditions. If such a business is managed on the same scale as one with a continuous working period, that is to say, if the amount of the circulating capital to be advanced is the same, it must be advanced in larger doses at a time and for longer periods. The durability of the fixed capital differs here considerably from the time in which it actually performs a productive function. Together with the difference between working time and time of production, the time of investment of the employed fixed capital is, of course, likewise continually interrupted for a longer or shorter time, for instance, in agriculture in the case of laboring cattle, implements and machines. In so far as this fixed capital consists of laboring cattle, it requires continually the same, or nearly the same, amount of expenditure for feed, etc., as it does during its working time. In the case of inanimate instruments of labor, disuse also implies a certain amount of depreciation. Hence there is an appreciation of the product in general, seeing that the transfer of value is not calculated by the time in which the fixed capital performs its function, but by the time in which it depreciates in value. In such branches of production as these, the disuse of the fixed capital, whether combined with current expenses or not, forms as much a condition of its normal employment as, for instance, the waste of a certain quantity of cotton in spinning; and in the same way the labor-power unproductively consumed in any labor-process under normal conditions, and inevitably so, counts as much as its productive consumption. Every improvement which reduces the unproductive expenditure of instruments of labor, raw material, and labor-power, also reduces the value of the product.


In agriculture, both the longer duration of the working period and the great difference between working period and productive period are combined. Hodgskin truly says with regard to this circumstance that the difference in the time (although he does not here distinguish between working time and productive time) required to get the products of agriculture ready and that required for the products of other branches of production is the main cause for the great dependence of farmers. They cannot market their goods in less time than one year. During this entire period they must borrow from the shoemaker, the tailor, the smith, the wagonmaker, and various other producers, whose articles they need, and which articles are finished in a few days or weeks. In consequence of this natural circumstance, and as a result of the more rapid increase of wealth in other branches of production, the real estate owners who have monopolized the land of the entire country, although they have also appropriated the monopoly of legislation, are nevertheless unable to save themselves and their servants, the tenants, from the fate of becoming the most dependent people in the land. (Thomas Hodgskin, Popular Political Economy, London, 1827, page 147, note.)


All methods by which partly the expenditures for wages and instruments of labor in agriculture are distributed more equally over the entire year, partly the turn-over is shortened by the raising of various products making different harvests possible during the course of the year, require an increase of the circulating capital invested in wages, fertilizers, seeds, etc., and advanced for purposes of production, This is the case, for instance, in the transition from the three plat system with fallow land to the system of crop rotation without fallow. It applies furthermore to the cultures dérobées of Flanders. "The root crops are planted in culture dérobée; the same field yields in succession first grain, flax, rape, for the wants of man, and after their harvest root crops are sown for the subsistence of cattle. This system, which permits the keeping of horned cattle in the stables without interruption, yields a considerable amount of manure and thus becomes the fulcrum of crop rotation. More than a third of the cultivated area in sandy districts is taken up with cultures dérobées; it is as though the cultivated area had been increased by one third." Apart from root crops, clover and other leguminous crops are likewise used for this purpose. "Agriculture, being thus carried to a point where it merges into horticulture, naturally requires a relatively considerable investment of capital. In England, a first investment of 250 francs per hectare is assumed. In Flanders, our farmers will probably consider a first investment of 500 francs far too low."(Emile de Laveleye, Essais sur L'Économie Rurale de la Belgique, Paris, 1863, pages 59, 60, 63.)


Take finally timber growing. "The production of timber differs from most of the other branches of production essentially by the fact that in it the force of nature is acting independently and does not require the power of man and capital in its natural propagation. Even in places where forests are artificially propagated the expenditure of human and capital power is inconsiderable compared to the action of natural forces. Besides, a forest will still thrive in soils and locations where grain does no longer give any yield or where its production does not pay. Forestry furthermore requires for its regular economy a larger area than grain culture, because small plats do not permit a system of felling trees in plats, prevents the utilization of by-products, complicates the production of the trees, etc. Finally, the productive process extends over such long periods that it exceeds the aims of private management and even surpasses the age limit of human life in certain cases. The capital invested in the purchase of the real estate" (in the case of communal production there is no capital needed for this, the question being simply how much land the community can spare from its cultivated and pasturing area for forestry) "will not yield returns until after a long period and is turned over gradually, but completely, with forests of certain kinds of wood, only after as much as 150 years. Besides, a consistent production of timber demands itself a supply of living wood which exceeds the annual requirements from ten to forty times. Unless a man has, therefore, still other sources of income and owns vast tracts of forest, he cannot engage in regular forestry." (Kirchhof, page 58.)


The long time of production (which comprises a relatively small amount of working time), and thus the length of the periods of turn-over, makes forestry little adapted for private, and therefore, capitalist enterprise, which is essentially private even if associated capitalists take the place of the individual capitalist. The development of civilization and of industry in general has ever shown itself so active in the destruction of forests, that everything done by it for their preservation and production, compared to its destructive effect, appears infinitesimal.


The following statement in the above quotation from Kirchhof is particularly worthy of note:"Besides, a consistent production of timber demands itself a supply of living wood which exceeds the annual requirements from ten to forty times." In other works, a turn-over occurs one in ten, forty, or more years.


The same applies to stock raising. A part of the herd (supply of cattle) remains in the process of production, while another part of the same is sold annually as a product. In this case, only a part of the capital is turned over every year, just as it is in the case of fixed capital, machinery, laboring cattle, etc. Although this capital is a fixed capital in the process of production for a long time, and thus prolongs the turn-over of the total capital, it is not a fixed capital in the strict definition of the term.


That which is here called a supply—a certain amount of living timber or cattle—serves in a relative sense in the process of production (being simultaneously instruments of labor and raw materials); on account of the natural conditions of its reproduction under normal circumstances of economy, a considerable part of this supply must always be available in this form.


A similar influence on the turn-over is exerted by another kind of supply, which productive capital only potentially, but which owing to the nature of its economy, must be accumulated in a more or less considerable quantity and advanced for purposes of production for a long term, although it is consumed in the actual process of production only gradually. To this class belongs, for instance, manure before it is hauled to the field, furthermore grain, hay, etc., and such supplied of means of subsistence as are employed in the production of cattle. "A considerable part of the productive capital is contained in the supplies of certain industries. But these may lose more or less of their value, if the precautions necessary for their preservation in good condition are not properly observed. Lack of supervision may even result in the total loss of a part of the supplies in the economy. For this reason, a careful inspection of the barns, feed and grain lofts, and cellars, becomes indispensable, the store rooms must always be well closed, kept clear, ventilated, etc. The grain, and other crops held in storage, must be thoroughly turned over from time to time, potatoes and beets must be protected against frost, rain, and fire." (Kirchhof, page 292.) "In calculating one's own requirements, especially for the keeping of cattle, and trying to regulate the distribution according to the nature of the product and its intended use, one must not only take into consideration the covering of one's demand, but also see to it that there is a proportionate reserve for extraordinary cases. If it is then found that the demand cannot be fully covered by one's own production, it becomes necessary to reflect first whether the missing amount cannot be covered by other products (substitutes), or by the cheaper purchase of such in place of the missing ones. For instance, if there should happen to be a lack of hay, this might be covered by root crops and straw. As a general rule, the natural value and market-price of the various crops must be kept in mind in such cases, and dispositions for the consumption must be made accordingly. If, for instance, oats are high, while pease and rye are relatively low, it will pay to substitute pease or rye for a part of the oats fed to horses and to sell the oats thus saved." (Ibidem, page 300.)


It has been previously stated, when discussing the question of the formation of a supply, that a definite, more or less considerable, quantity of potential productive capital is required, that is to say, of means of production intended for use in production, which must be available in proportionate quantities for the purpose of being gradually consumed in the productive process. It has been incidentally remarked, that, given a certain business or capitalist enterprise of definite proportions, the magnitude of this productive supply depends on the greater or lesser difficulties of its reproduction, the relative distance of the supplying markets, the development of means of transportation and communication, etc. All these circumstances influence the minimum of capital, which must be available in the form of a productive supply, hence they influence also the length of time for which the investment of capital must be made and the amount of capital to be advanced at one time. This amount, which affects also the turn-over, is determined by the longer or shorter time, during which a circulating capital is tied up in the form of a productive supply, of mere potential capital. On the other hand, in so far as this stagnation depends on the greater or smaller possibility of rapid reproduction, on market conditions, etc., it arises itself out of the time of circulation, out of circumstances connected with the circulation. "Furthermore, all such parts of the equipment or auxiliary pieces, as hand tools, sieves, baskets, ropes, wagon grease, nails, etc., must be so much the more available for immediate use, the less the opportunity for their rapid purchase is at hand. Finally, the entire supply of implements must be carefully overhauled in winter, and new purchases or repairs found to be necessary must be made at once. Whether or not a man is to keep a great or small supply of articles of equipment is mainly determined by local conditions. Wherever there are no artisans and stores in the vicinity, it is necessary to keep larger supplies than in places where these are in the locality or near it. But if the necessary supplies are purchased in large quantities at a time, then, other circumstances being equal, one profits as a rule by cheap purchases, provided the right time has been chosen for them. True, the rotating productive capital is thus curtailed by a so much larger sum, which cannot always be well spared in the business." (Kirchhof, page 301.)


The difference between the time of production and working time admits of many variations, as we have seen. The circulating capital may be in the period of production, before it enters into the working period proper (production of lasts); or, it is still in the period of production, after it has passed through the working period (wine, seed grain); or, the period of production is occasionally interrupted by the working period (agriculture, timber raising). A large portion of the product, fit for circulation, remains incorporated in the active process of production, while a much smaller part enters into the annual circulation (timber and cattle raising); the longer or shorter time for which a circulating capital must be invested in the form of potential productive capital, hence also the larger or smaller amount of this capital to be advanced at one time, depends partly on the nature of the productive process (agriculture), and partly on the proximity of markets, etc., in short on circumstances connected with the sphere of circulation.


We shall see later (Volume III), what senseless theories were advanced by MacCulloch, James Mill, etc., in the attempt of identifying the diverging time of production with the working time, an attempt which is due to a misinterpretation of the theory of value.


The cycle of turn-over, which we considered in the foregoing, is determined by the durability of the fixed capital advanced in the process of production. Since this process extends over a series of years, we have a series of annual, or less than annual, successive turn-overs of fixed capital.


In agriculture, such a cycle of turn-over arises out of the system of crop rotation. "The duration of the lease must certainly not be figured less than the time of rotation of the adopted system of crop succession. For this reason, one always calculates with 3, 6, 9, in the three plat system. In the three plat system with complete fallow, a field is cultivated only four times in six years, being planted with both winter and summer grain in the years of cultivation, and, if the condition of the soil permits it, wheat and rye, barley and oats, are likewise introduced into the rotation. Every species of grain, however, differs in its yields from others on the same soil, every one of them has a different value and is sold at a different price. For this reason, the yield of the same field is different in every year in which it is cultivated, and different in the first half of the rotation (the first three years) from that of the second. Even the average yield of one period of rotation is not equal to that of another, for its fertility does not depend merely on the good condition of the soil, but also on the weather of the various seasons, just as prices depend on a multitude of circumstances. Now, if one calculates the income from one field on the average of the crops for the entire rotation of six years and the average prices of those years, one finds the total income of one year in either period of rotation. But this is not so, if the income is calculated only for half of the period of rotation that is to say, for three years, for then the total yields would be unequal. It follows from the foregoing that the duration of a lease in a system of three fields must be chosen for at least six years. It would be still more desirable for tenants and owners that the duration of the lease should be a multiple of the duration of the lease (!), in other words, that it should be 12, 18, or more years instead of 6 years, in a system of three fields, and 14, 28 years instead of 7 in a system of seven fields." (Kirchhof, pages 117, 118.)


(The manuscript at this place contains the note: "The English system of crop rotation. Make a note here.")

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