Capital: A Critique of Political Economy, Vol. III. The Process of Capitalist Production as a Whole

Karl Marx
Marx, Karl
Display paragraphs in this book containing:
Frederick Engels, ed. Ernest Untermann, trans.
First Pub. Date
Chicago: Charles H. Kerr and Co.
Pub. Date
Das Kapital, based on the 1st edition.
13 of 55

Part II, Chapter X


ONE portion of the spheres of production has an average composition of their capitals, that is to say, their capitals have exactly or approximately the composition of the average social capital.


In these spheres of production, the price of production of the produced commodities coincides exactly or approximately with their values as expressed in money. If there is no other way of reaching a mathematical limit, this would be the one. Competition distributes the social capital in such a way between the various spheres of production that the prices of production of each sphere are formed after the model of the prices of production in these spheres of average composition, which is k + kp', cost-price plus the average rate of profit multiplied by the cost-price. Now, this average rate of profit is nothing else but the percentage of profit in that sphere of average composition, in which the profit is identical with the surplus-value. Hence the rate of profit is the same in all spheres of production, for it is apportioned according to that one of the average spheres of production in which the average composition of capitals prevails. Consequently the sum of the profits of all spheres of production must be equal to the sum of surplus-values, and the sum of the prices of production of the total social product equal to the sum of its values. But it is evident that the balance between the spheres of production of different composition must tend to equalise them with the spheres of average composition, no matter whether this average composition is exact or only approximate. Again, there are tendencies toward equalisation between the more or less similar spheres, and these tendencies seek to bring about the ideal average, which does not really exist, so that there is a trend toward crystallisation around the ideal. In this way the tendency necessarily prevails to make of the prices of production merely changed forms of value, or to make of profits but mere portions of surplus-value, which are assigned, however, not in proportion to the surplus-value produced in each special sphere of production, but in proportion to the mass of capital employed in each sphere of production, so that equal masses of capital, whatever may be their composition, receive equal aliquot shares of the total surplus-value produced by the total social capital.


In the case of capitals of average, or approximately average, composition, the price of production coincides exactly, or approximately with the value, and the profit with the surplus-value produced by them. All the other capitals, of whatever composition, tend toward this average under the pressure of competition. But since the capitals of average composition are of the same, or approximately the same, structure as the average social capital, all capitals have the tendency, regardless of the surplus-value produced by them, to realise in the prices of their commodities the average profit, instead of their own surplus-value, in other words, to realise the prices of production.


On the other hand it may be said that whenever an average profit, and a general rate of profit, are brought about, no matter by what means, such as average profit cannot be anything else but the profit on the average social capital, the sum of these average profits being equal to the sum of surplus-values produced by the average social capitals, and that the prices brought about by adding this average profit to the cost-prices cannot be anything else but the values transformed into prices of production. It would not alter matters, if certain capitals in certain spheres of production would not submit to the process of equalisation for some reason or other. In that case the average profit would be computed on that portion of the social capital which takes part in the process of equalisation. It is evident that the average profit cannot be anything else but the total mass of surplus-values allotted to the various masses of capital in the different spheres of production in proportion to their magnitudes. The average profit is the total amount of realised unpaid labor, and this total mass of unpaid labor, the same as the paid, dead or living, labor, is materialised in the total mass of commodities and money falling to the share of the capitalists.


The real difficulty lies in the question: How is this equalisation of profits into an average rate of profit brought about, seeing that it is evidently a result, not a point of departure?


It is obvious that an estimate of the values of the commodities, for instance in money, can not be made until they have been exchanged. If we assume such an estimate, we must regard it as the outcome of an actual exchange of commodity-value for commodity-value. But how should such an exchange of commodities at their real values have come about?


Let us assume that all commodities in the different lines of production are sold at their real value. What would be the outcome? According to our foregoing analyses, the rates of profit in the various spheres of production would differ considerably. It is quite obvious that we are dealing with two different things, whether on the one hand commodities are sold at their values (that is to say, sold in proportion to the value contained in them, or exchanges with one another at the price of their values), or whether, on the other hand, they are sold at such prices that their sale yields equal amounts of profits on equal masses of the respective capitals advanced for their production.


If capitals employing unequal amounts of living labor are to produce unequal amounts of surplus-value, it must be assumed, at least to a certain degree, that the intensity of exploitation, or the rate of surplus-value, are the same, or that any existing differences in them are balanced by real or imaginary (conventional) elements of compensation. This would presuppose a competition among the laborers and an equilibration by means of their continual emigration from one sphere of production to another. Such a general rate of surplus-value—as a tendency, like all other economic laws—has been assumed by us for the sake of theoretical simplification. But in reality it is an actual premise of the capitalist mode of production, although it is more or less obstructed by practical frictions causing more or less considerable differences locally, such as the settlement laws for English farm laborers. But in theory it is the custom to assume that the laws of capitalist production evolve in their pure form. In reality, however, there is always but an approximation. Still, this approximation is so much greater to the extent that the capitalist mode of production is normally developed, and to the extent that its adulteration and amalgamation with remains of former economic conditions is outgrown.


The whole difficulty arises from the fact that commodities are not exchanged simply as commodities, but as products of capitals, which claim equal shares of the total amount of surplus-value, if they are of equal magnitude, or shares proportional to their different magnitudes. And this claim is to be satisfied by the total price realised by a certain capital on the commodities produced by it within a certain space of time. This total price, again, is but the sum of the prices of the individual commodities produced by this capital.


The essential point will become most visible, when we look upon the matter in this way: Let us assume that the laborers themselves are in possession of their respective means of production and exchange their commodities with one another. In that case these commodities would not be products of capital. The value of the various instruments of labor and raw materials would differ according to the technical nature of the labors performed in the different lines of production. Furthermore, aside from the unequal value of the means of production employed by them, they would require different quantities of means of production for given quantities of labor, according to whether a certain commodity can be finished in one hour, another in one day, and so forth. Let us assume, also, that these laborers work on an average equal lengths of time, allowing for compensations due to different intensities of labor. In that case, two laborers, both working one day, would have in the commodities produced by them, first, an equivalent for their outlay, the cost-prices of the means of production consumed by their labor. These would differ according to the technical nature of their lines of production. In the second place, both of them would have created equal amounts of new value, namely the working day added by them to the means of production. This would comprise their wages plus the surplus-value, the last representing surplus-labor exceeding their necessary wants, the product of which would belong to them. If we were to use capitalist terms, we should say that both of them receive the same wages plus the same profit, or the same value expressed, say, by the product of a working day of ten hours. But in the first place, the values of their commodities would differ. The commodities of I, for instance, might contain more value for each portion of the consumed means of production than the commodities of II. And, to introduce all possible differences, we may assume right now that the commodities of I absorb more living labor, and consequently require more labor-time for their production, than the commodities of II. Then the value of the commodities of I and II, we repeat, differs considerably. So do the sums of the values of their commodities, which represent the product of the labor performed by laborers I and II in a certain time. The rates of profit would also differ considerably for I and II, assuming that we call rate of profit, in this case, the proportion of the surplus-value to the total value of the invested means of production. The means of subsistence daily consumed by I and II during production, which take the place of wages, will form that part of the invested capital which we would call variable capital under different circumstances. But the surplus-values would be the same for I and II, or, to express it more accurately, since both I and II receive the value of the product of one day's labor, both of them receive equal values after the value of the invested "constant" capital has been deducted, and we may regard one portion of this remaining value as an equivalent for the means of subsistence consumed during production, and the other as surplus-value. If laborer I has higher expenses, they are made good by a greater portion of the value of his commodities replacing this "constant" part, and he has to reconvert a larger portion of the total value of his product into the material elements of this constant part, while laborer II, if he receives less for this purpose, has to reconvert so much less. Under these circumstances a difference in the rates of profit would be of no concern, just as it is immaterial for the wage-laborer to-day what rate of profit may express the amount of surplus-value filched from him, and just as in international commerce the difference in the various national rates of profit is immaterial for the exchange of their commodities.


The exchange of commodities at their values, or approximately at their values, requires, therefore, a much lower stage than their exchange at their prices of production, which requires a relatively high development of capitalist production.


Whatever may be the way in which the prices of the various commodities are first fixed or mutually regulated, the law of value always dominates their movements. If the labor time required for the production of these commodities is reduced, prices fall; if it is increased, prices rise, other circumstances remaining the same.


Aside from the fact that prices and their movements are dominated by the law of value, it is quite appropriate, under these circumstances, to regard the value of commodities not only theoretically, but also historically, as existing prior to the prices of production. This applies to conditions, in which the laborer owns his means of production, and this is the condition of the land-owning farmer and of the craftsman in the old world as well as the new. This agrees also with the view formerly expressed by me that the development of product into commodities arises through the exchange between different communes, not through that between the members of the same commune.*27 It applies not only to this primitive condition, but also to subsequent conditions based on slavery or serfdom, and to the guild organisation of handicrafts, so long as the means of production installed in one line of production cannot be transferred to another line except under difficulties, so that the various lines of production maintain, to a certain degree, the same mutual relations as foreign countries or communistic groups.


In order that the prices at which commodities are exchanged with one another may correspond approximately to their values, no other conditions are required but the following: 1) The exchange of the various commodities must no longer be accidental or occasional, 2) So far as the direct exchange of commodities is concerned, these commodities must be produced on both sides in sufficient quantities to meet mutual requirements, a thing easily learned by experience in trading, and therefore a natural outgrowth of continued trading, 3) So far as selling is concerned, there must be no accidental or artificial monopoly which may enable either of the contracting sides to sell commodities above their value or compel others to sell below value. An accidental monopoly is one which a buyer or seller acquires by an accidental proportion of supply to demand.


The assumption that the commodities of the various spheres of production are sold at their value implies, of course, only that their value is the center of gravity around which prices fluctuate, and around which their rise and fall tends to an equilibrium. We shall also have to note a market value, which must be distinguished from the individual value of the commodities produced by the various producers. Of this more anon. The individual value of some of these commodities will be below the market-value, that is to say, they require less labor-time for their production than is expressed in the market-value, while that of others will be above the market-value. We shall have to regard the market-value on one side as the average value of the commodities produced in a certain sphere, and on the other side as the individual value of commodities produced under the average conditions of their respective sphere of production and constituting the bulk of the products of that sphere. It is only extraordinary combinations of circumstances under which commodities produced under the least or most favorable conditions regulate the market-value, which forms the center of fluctuation for the market-prices, which are the same, however, for the same kind of commodities. If the ordinary demand is satisfied by the supply of commodities of average value, that is to say, of a value midway between the two extremes, then those commodities, whose individual value stands below the market-value, realise an extra surplus-value, or surplus-profit, while those, whose individual value stands above the market-value cannot realise a portion of the surplus-value contained in them.


It does not do any good to say that the sale of the commodities produced under the most unfavorable conditions proves that they are required for keeping up the supply. If the price in the assumed case were higher than the average market-value, the demand would be greater. At a certain price, any kind of commodities may occupy so much room on the market. This room does not remain the same in the case of a change of prices, unless a higher price is accompanied by a smaller quantity of commodities, and a lower prices by a larger quantity of commodities. But if the demand is so strong that it does not let up when the price is regulated by the value of commodities produced under the most unfavorable conditions, then these commodities determine the market-value. This is not possible unless the demand exceeds the ordinary, or the supply falls below it. Finally, if the mass of the produced commodities exceeds the quantity which is ordinarily disposed of at average market-values, then the commodities produced under the most favorable conditions regulate the market value. These commodities may be sold exactly or approximately at their individual values, and in that case it may happen that the commodities produced under the least favorable conditions do not realise even their cost prices, while those produced under average conditions realise only a portion of the surplus-value contained in them. The statements referring to market-value apply also to the price of production, if it takes the place of market-value. The price of production is regulated in each sphere, and this regulation depends on special circumstances. And this price of production is in its turn the center of gravity around which the daily market-prices fluctuate and tend to balance one another within definite periods. (See Ricardo on the determination of the price of production by those who produce under the least favorable conditions.)


No matter what may be the way in which prices are regulated, the result always is the following:


1) The law of value dominates the movements of prices, since a reduction or increase of the labor-time required for production causes the prices of production to fall or to rise. It is in this sense that Ricardo (who doubtless realised that his prices of production differed from the value of commodities) says that "the inquiry to which he wishes to draw the reader's attention relates to the effect of the variations in the relative value of commodities, and not in their absolute value."


2) The average profit which determines the prices of production must always be approximately equal to that quantity of surplus-value, which falls to the share of a certain individual capital in its capacity as an aliquot part of the total social capital. Take it that the average rate of profit, and therefore the average profit, are expressed by an amount of money of a higher value than the money-value of the actual average surplus-value. So far as the capitalists are concerned in that case, it is immaterial whether they charge one another a profit of 10 or of 15%. The one of these percentages does not cover any more actual commodity-value than the other, since the overcharge in money is mutual. But so far as the laborer is concerned (the assumption being that he receives the normal wages, so that the raising of the average profit does not imply an actual deduction from his wages, in other words, does not express something entirely different from the normal surplus-value of the capitalist), the rise in the price of commodities due to a raising of the average profit must be accompanied by a corresponding rise of the money-expression for the variable capital. As a matter of fact, such a general nominal raising of the rate of profit and the average profit above the limit provided by the proportion of the actual surplus-value to the total invested capital is not possible without carrying in its wake an increase of wages, and also an increase in the prices of the commodities which constitute the constant capital. The same is true of the opposite case, that of a reduction of the rate of profit in this way. Now, since the total value of the commodities regulates the total surplus-value, and this the level of the average profit and the average rate of profit—always understanding this as a general law, as a principle regulating the fluctuations—it follows that the law of value regulates the prices of production.


Competition first brings about, in a certain individual sphere, the establishment of an equal market-value and market-price by averaging the various individual values of the commodities. The competition of the capitals in the different spheres then results in the price of production which equalises the rates of profit between the different spheres. This last process requires a higher development of capitalist production than the previous process.


In order that commodities of the same sphere of production, the same kind, and approximately the same quality, may be sold at their value, the following two requirements must be fulfilled:


1) The different individual values must have been averaged into one social value, the above-named market-value, and this implies a competition between the producers of the same kind of commodities, and also the existence of a common market, on which they offer their articles for sale. In order that the market-price of identical commodities, which however are produced under different individual circumstances, may correspond to the market-value, may not differ from it by exceeding it or falling below it, it is necessary that the different sellers should exert sufficient pressure upon one another to bring that quantity of commodities on the market which social requirements demand, in other words, that quantity of commodities whose market-value society can pay. If the quantity of products exceeds this demand, then the commodities must be sold below their market-value; vice versa, if the quantity of products is not large enough to meet this demand, or, what amounts to the same, if the pressure of competition among the sellers is not strong enough to bring this quantity of products to market, then the commodities are sold above their market-value. If the market-value is changed, then there will also be a change in the conditions under which the total quantity of commodities can be sold. If the market-value falls, then the average social demand increases (always referring to the solvent demand) and can absorb a larger quantity of commodities within certain limits. If the market-value rises, then the solvent social demand for commodities is reduced and smaller quantities of them are absorbed. Hence if supply and demand regulate the market-price, or rather the deviations of market-prices from market-values, it is true, on the other hand, that the market-value regulates the proportions of supply and demand, or the center around which supply and demand cause the market-prices to fluctuate.


If we look closer at the matter, we find that the conditions determining the value of some individual commodity become effective, in this instance, as conditions determining the value of the total quantities of a certain kind. For, generally speaking, capitalist production is from the outset a mass-production. And even other, less developed, modes of production carry small quantities of products, the result of the work of many small producers, to market as co-operative products, at least in the main lines of production, concentrating and accumulating them for sale in the hands of relatively few merchants. Such commodities are regarded as co-operative products of an entire line of production, or of a greater or smaller part of this line.


We remark by the way that the "social demand," in other words, that which regulates the principle of demand, is essentially conditioned on the mutual relations of the different economic classes and their relative economic positions, that is to say, first, on the proportion of the total surplus-value to the wages, and secondly, on the proportion of the various parts into which surplus-value is divided (profit, interest, ground-rent, taxes, etc.). And this shows once more that absolutely nothing can be explained by the relation of supply and demand, unless the basis has first been ascertained, on which this relation rests.


Although both commodity and money represent units of exchange-value and use-value, we have already seen in volume I, chapter I, 3, that in buying and selling both of these functions are polarised at the two extremes, the commodity (seller) representing the use-value, and the money (buyer) the exchange-value. It was one of the first conditions for the sale of a commodity that it should have a use-value and satisfy some social need. The other essential condition was that the quantity of labor contained in a certain commodity should represent socially necessary labor, so that its individual value (and what amounts to the same under the present assumption, its selling price) should coincide with its social value.*28


Now let us apply this to the mass of commodities on the market, which represent the product of a whole sphere of production. The matter will be most easily explained by regarding this whole mass of commodities, coming from one line of production, as one single commodity, and the sum of the prices of the many identical commodities as one price. In that case the statements made in regard to one individual commodity apply literally to the mass of commodities sent to the market by one entire line of production. The postulate that the individual value of a commodity should correspond to its social value has then the significance that the total quantity of commodities contains the quantity of social labor necessary for its production, and that the value of this mass is equal to its market-value.


Now let us assume that the bulk of these commodities has been produced under approximately the same normal conditions of social labor, so that this social value is at the same time identical with the individual value of the individual commodities constituting this mass. In that case, a relatively small portion of these commodities may have been produced below, and another above, these conditions, so that the individual value of the one portion is greater, and that of the other smaller, than the average value of the bulk of the commodities, but in such proportions that these extremes balance one another. The average value of the commodities in these extremes is then equal to the average value of the great bulk of average commodities. Under such circumstances, the market-value is determined by the value of the commodities produced under average conditions.*29 The value of the entire mass of commodities is equal to the actual sum of the values of all individual commodities combined, no matter whether they were produced under average conditions, or under conditions above or below the average. In this case, the market-value, or the social value, of the mass of commodities—the necessary labor time contained in them—is determined by the value of the average bulk.


Let us assume, on the other hand, that the total mass of commodities brought to market remains the same, while the value of the commodities produced under the least favorable conditions is not balanced by the value of the commodities produced under the most favorable conditions, so that the mass of commodities produced under the least favorable conditions constitutes a relatively large quantity, compared to the average mass as well as to the other extreme. In that case the mass produced under the least favorable conditions determines the market-value, or social value.


Take it, finally, that the mass of commodities produced under the most favorable conditions is considerable in excess of the mass produced under the least favorable conditions, and is large even compared with the average mass. Then the mass produced under the most favorable conditions determines the market-value. We leave aside the question of a transfer of the market, whenever the mass of commodities produced under the most favorable conditions regulates the market-price. We are not dealing here with the market-price in so far as it differs from the market-value, but with the various modes of determining the market-value itself.*30


In fact, assuming the strictest case (which, or course, is realised only approximately and with a thousand modifications) of our first illustration, the market-value regulated by the average values of the total mass of commodities is equal to the sum of their individual values, although this market-value is forced as an average value upon the commodities produced at the extremes. Those who produce under the worst conditions must then sell their commodities below their individual values; those producing under the best conditions sell them above their individual values.


In the second case, the two lots of commodities produced as the two extremes do not balance one another. The lot produced under the worst conditions decides the question. Strictly speaking, the average price, or the market-value, of every individual commodity, or of every aliquot part of the total mass, would now be determined by the total value of the mass as ascertained by the addition of the values of the commodities produced under different conditions, and by the aliquot part of this total value falling to the share of the individual commodity. The market-value thus ascertained would be above the individual value, not only of the commodities belonging to the most favorable extreme, but also of those belonging to the average lot. But still it would be below the individual value of the commodities produced at the most unfavorable extreme. The extent to which this market-value would approach the individual value of this extreme, or coincide with it, would depend entirely on the volume occupied in that sphere of commodities by the lot of commodities produced at the unfavorable extreme. If the demand exceeds the supply but slightly, then the individual value of the unfavorably produced commodities regulates the market-price.


Finally, if the lot of commodities produced at the most favorable extreme occupies the greatest space, as it does in the third case, compared not only to the other extreme, but also to the average lot, then the market-value falls below the average value. The average value, computed by the addition of the sum of values of the two extremes and of the middle, stands here below that of the middle, and approaches it or recedes from it, according to the relative space occupied by the favorable extreme. If the demand is weak compared to the supply, then the favorably situated part, whatever may be its size, makes room for itself forcibly by contracting its price down to its individual value. The market-value cannot coincide with this individual value of the commodities produced under the most favorable conditions, except when the supply far exceeds the demand.


This mode of determining market-values, which we have here outlined abstractly, is promoted on the real market by competition among the buyers, provided that the demand is just large enough to absorb the quantity of commodities at the values fixed in this manner. And this brings us to the second point.


2) To say that a commodity has a use-value is merely to say that it satisfies some social want. So long as we were dealing simply with individual commodities, we could assume that the demand for any one commodity—its price implying its quantity—existed without inquiring into the extent to which this demand required satisfaction. But this question of the extent of a certain demand becomes essential, whenever the product of some entire line of production is placed on one side, and the social demand for it on the other. In that case it becomes necessary to consider the amount, the quantity, of this social demand.


In the foregoing statements referring to market-value, the assumption was that the mass of the produced commodities remains the same given quantity, and that a change takes place only in the proportions of the elements constituting this mass and produced under different conditions, so that the market-value of the same mass of commodities is differently regulated. Let us suppose that this mass is of a quantity equal to the ordinary supply, leaving aside the possibility that a portion of the produced commodities may be temporarily withdrawn from the market. Now, if the demand for this mass also remains the same, then this commodity will be sold at its market-value; no matter which one of the three aforementioned cases may regulate this market-value. This mass of commodities does not only satisfy a demand, but satisfies it to its full social extent. On the other hand, if the quantity is smaller than the demand for it, then the market-prices differ from the market-values. And the first differentiation is that the market-value is always regulated by the commodity produced under the least favorable circumstances, if the supply is too small, and by the commodity produced under the most favorable conditions, if the supply is too large. In other words, one of the extremes determines the market-value, in spite of the fact that the proportion of the masses produced under different conditions ought to bring about a different result. If the difference between demand and supply of the product is very considerable, then the market-price will likewise differ considerably from the market-value in either direction. Now, the difference between the quantity of the produced commodities and the quantity of commodities which fixes their sale at their market-value may be due to two reasons. Either the quantity itself varies, by decreasing or increasing, so that there would be a reproduction on a different scale than the one which regulated a certain market-value. If so, then the supply changes while the demand remains unchanged, and we have a relative overproduction or underproduction. Or, the reproduction, and the supply, remain the same, while the demand is reduced or increased, which may take place for several reasons. If so, then the absolute magnitude of the supply is unchanged, while its relative magnitude, compared to the demand, has changed. The effect is the same as in the first case, only it acts in the opposite direction. Finally, if changes take place on both sides, either in opposite directions, or, if in the same direction, not to the same extent, in other words, if changes take place on both sides which alter the former proportion between these sides, then the final result must always lead to one of the two above mentioned cases.


The real difficulty in determining the meaning of the concepts supply and demand is that they seem to amount to a tautology. Consider first the supply, either the product on the market, or the product which can be supplied to the market. In order to avoid useless details, we shall consider only the mass annually reproduced in every given line of production and leave out of the question the varying faculty of some commodities to withdraw from the market and go into storage for consumption at a later time, for instance next year. This annual reproduction is expressed in a certain quantity, in weight or numbers, according to whether this mass of commodities is measured continuously or discontinuously. They represent not only use-value satisfying human wants, but these use-values are on the market in definite quantities. In the second place, this quantity of commodities has a definite market-value, which may be expressed by a multiple of the market-value of the individual commodity, or of the measure, which serve as units. There is, then, no necessary connection between the quantitative volume of the commodities on the market and their market-value, since many commodities have, for instance, a high specific value, others a low specific value, so that a given sum of values may be represented by a very large quantity of some, and a very small quantity of other commodities. There is only this connection between the quantity of articles on the market and the market-value of these articles: Given a certain basis for the productivity of labor in every particular sphere of production, the production of a certain quantity of articles requires a definite quantity of social labor time; but this proportion differs in different spheres of production and stands in no internal relation to the usefulness of these articles or the particular nature of their use-values. Assuming all other circumstances to be equal, and a certain quantity a of some commodity to cost b labor time, a quantity na of the same commodity will cost nb labor-time. Furthermore, if society wants to satisfy some demand and have articles produced for this purpose, it must pay for them. Since the production of commodities is accompanied by a division of labor, society buys these articles by devoting to their production a portion of its available labor-time. Society buys them by spending a definite quantity of the labor-time over which it disposes. That part of society, to which the division of labor assigns the task of employing its labor in the production of the desired article, must be given an equivalent for it by other social labor incorporated in articles which it wants. There is, however, no necessary, but only an accidental, connection between the volume of society's demand for a certain article and the volume represented by the production of this article in the total production, or the quantity of social labor spent on this article, the aliquot part of the total labor-power spent by society in the production of this article. True, every individual article, or every definite quantity of any kind of commodities, contains, perhaps, only the social labor required for its production, and from this point of view the market-value of this entire mass of commodities of a certain kind represents only necessary labor. Nevertheless, if this commodity has been produced in excess of the temporary demand of society for it, so much of the social labor has been wasted, and in that case this mass of commodities represents a much smaller quantity of labor on the market than is actually incorporated in it. (Only when production will be under the conscious and prearranged control of society, will society establish a direct relation between the quantity of social labor time employed in the production of definite articles and the quantity of the demand of society for them.) The commodities must then be sold below their market-value, and a portion of them may even become unsaleable. The opposite takes place, if the quantity of social labor employed in the production of a certain kind of commodities is too small to meet the social demand for them. But if the quantity of social labor spent in the production of a certain article corresponds to the social demand for it, so that the quantity produced is that which is the ordinary on that scale of production and for that same demand, then the article is sold at its market-value. The exchange, or sale, of commodities at their value is the rational way, the natural law of their equilibrium. It must be the point of departure for the explanation of deviations from it, not vice versa the deviations the basis on which this law is explained.


Now let us look at the other side, the demand.


Commodities are bought either as means of production or means of subsistence, in order to be used for productive or individual consumption. It does not alter matters that some commodities may serve both ends. There is, then, a demand for them on the part of the producers (who are capitalists in this case, since we have assumed that the means of production have been transformed into capital) and on the part of the consumers. It appears at first sight as though these two sides ought to have a corresponding quantity of social demands offset by a corresponding quantity of social supplies in the various lines of production. If the cotton industry is to accomplish its annual reproduction on a given scale, it must produce the usual quantity of cotton and an additional quantity determined by the annual extension of reproduction through the necessities of accumulating capital, always assuming other circumstances to remain the same. This is also true of means of subsistence. The working class must find at least the same quantity of necessities on hand, if it is to continue living in the accustomed way, although these necessities may be of different kinds and differently distributed. And there must be an additional quantity to allow for the annual increase of population. This applies with more or less modification to the other classes.


It would seem, then, that there is on the side of demand a definite magnitude of social wants which require for their satisfaction a definite quantity of certain articles on the market. But the quantity demanded by these wants is very elastic and changing. Its fixedness is but apparent. If the means of subsistence were cheaper, or money-wages higher, the laborers would buy more of them, and a greater "social demand" would be manifested for this kind of commodities, leaving aside the question of paupers, whose "demand" is even below the narrowest limits of their physical wants. On the other hand, if cotton were cheaper, the demand of the capitalists for it would increase, more additional capital would be thrown into the cotton industry, etc. It must never be forgotten that the demand for productive consumption is a demand of capitalists, under our assumption, and that its essential purpose is the production of surplus-value, so that commodities are produced only to this end. Still this does not argue against the fact that the capitalist as a buyer, for instance of cotton, represents the demand for this cotton. Moreover it is immaterial to the seller of cotton, whether the buyer converts it into shirting or into guncotton, or whether he intends to make it into wads for his and the world's ears. But it does exert a considerable influence on the way in which the capitalist acts as a buyer. His demand for cotton is essentially modified by the fact that he disguises thereby his real demand, that of making profits. The limits within which the need for commodities on the market, the demand, differs quantitatively from the actual social need, varies naturally considerably for different commodities; in other words, the difference between the demanded quantity of commodities and that quantity which would be demanded, if the money-prices of the commodities, or other conditions concerning the money or living of the buyers, were different.


Nothing is easier than to realise the inequalities of demand and supply, and the resulting deviation of market-prices from market-values. The real difficulty consists in determining what is meant by balancing supply and demand.


Demand and supply balance one another, when their mutual proportions are such that the mass of commodities of a definite line of production can be sold at their market-value, neither above nor below it. That is the first thing we hear.


The second is this: If the commodities are sold at their market-values, then supply and demand balance.


If demand and supply balance, then they cease to have any effect, and for this very reason commodities are sold at their market-values. If two forces exert themselves equally in opposite directions, they balance one another, they have no influence at all on the outside, and any phenomena taking place at the same time must be explained by other causes than the influence of these forces. If demand and supply balance one another, they cease to explain anything, they do not affect market-values, and therefore leave us even more in the dark than before concerning the reasons for the expression of the market-value in just a certain sum of money and no other. It is evident that the essential fundamental laws of production cannot be explained by the interaction of supply and demand (quite aside from a deeper analysis of these two motive forces of social production, which would be out of place here). For these laws cannot be observed in their pure state, until the effects of supply and demand are suspended, are balanced. As a matter of fact supply and demand never balance, or, if they do, it is by mere accident, it is scientifically rated at zero, it is considered as not happening. But political economy assumes that supply and demand balance one another. Why? For no other reason, primarily, than to be able to study phenomena in their fundamental relations, in that elementary form which corresponds to their conception, that is to say, to study them unhampered by the disturbing interference of supply and demand. The other reason is to find the actual tendencies of economic movements and to fix them, as it were. For the inequalities are of an antagonistic nature, and since they continually follow one after another, they balance one another by their opposite movements, by their opposition. Since supply and demand never balance each other in any given case, their differences follow one another in such a way that supply and demand are always balanced only when looking at them from the point of view of a greater or smaller period of time. For the result of a deviation in one direction is a deviation in the opposite direction. Such a balance is only an average of past movements, a result of a continual movement in contradictions. By this means the market-prices differing from the market-values reduce one another to the average of market-values and balance the different plus and minus in their divergencies. And this average figure has not merely a theoretical, but also a practical, value for capital, since its investment is calculated on the fluctuations and compensations of more or less fixed periods of time.


The relation of demand and supply explains, therefore, on the one hand only the deviations of market-prices from market-values, and on the other the tendency to balance these deviations, in other words, to suspend the effect of the relation of demand and supply. (Such exceptions as commodities having prices without having any value are not considered here.) Demand and supply may bring about a balance in the effect caused by their inequalities in many different ways. For instance, if the demand, and consequently the market-price, fall, capital may be withdrawn and the supply reduced. But instead it may happen that the market-value itself is reduced and balanced with the market-price through inventions, which reduce the necessary labor time. Vice versa, if the demand increases, and consequently the market-price rises above the market-value, too much capital may flow into this line of production and production may be increased to such an extent, that the market-price finally falls below the market-value. Or, it may lead to a rise of prices which cuts down the demand. It may also bring about a rise in the market-value itself for a shorter or longer time, in some lines of production, in which a portion of the desired products must be produced under more unfavorable conditions during this period.


If demand and supply determine the market-price, so does the market-price, and in the further analysis the market-value determine demand and supply. This is obvious in the case of demand, which moves in opposition to price, rising when prices fall, and falling when prices rise. But it may also be noted in the case of supply. For the prices of the means of production which are incorporated in the supplied commodities determine the demand for these means of production, and thus the supply of the commodities whose supply implies the demand for these means of production. The prices of cotton are determining elements for the supply of cotton goods.


This confusion of a determination of prices by demand and supply, and at the same time a determination of supply and demand by prices, is worse confounded by the determination of the supply by the demand, and the demand by supply, of the market by production, and of production by the market.*31


Even the ordinary economist (see our foot-note) recognizes that the proportion between supply and demand may vary in consequence of a change in the market-value of commodities, without a change in the demand of supply by external circumstances. The author of the Observations continues after the passage quoted in the foot-note: "This proportion" (between demand and supply) "however, if we still mean by 'demand' and 'natural price' what we meant just now, when referring to Adam Smith, must always be a proportion of equality; for it is only when the supply is equal to the effectual demand, that is, to that demand, which will pay neither more nor less than the natural price, that the natural price is in fact paid; consequently there may be two very different natural prices, at different times, for the same commodity, and yet the proportion which the supply bears to the demand, be in both cases the same, namely the proportion of equality." It is admitted, then, that with two different natural prices of the same commodity at different times demand and supply may balance one another and must balance one another, if the commodity is to be sold at its natural price in both instances. Since there is no difference in the proportion of supply and demand in either case, but only a difference in the magnitude of the natural price itself, it follows that this price is determined independently of demand and supply, and cannot very well be determined by them.


In order that a commodity may be sold at its market-value, that is to say, in proportion to the necessary social labor contained in it, the total quantity of social labor devoted to the total mass of this kind of commodities must correspond to the quantity of the social demand for them, meaning the solvent social demand. Competition, the fluctuations of market-prices which correspond to the fluctuations of demand and supply, tend continually to reduce the total quantity of labor devoted to each kind of commodities to this scale.


The proportion of supply and demand repeats, in the first place, the relation of the use-value and exchange-value of commodities, of commodity and money, of buyer and seller; in the second place, the relation of producer and consumer, although both of them may be represented by third merchants. In studying buyers and sellers, it is sufficient to confront them individually, in order to set forth their relations. Three individuals suffice for the complete metamorphosis of commodities, and therefore for the complete transactions of sale and purchase. A converts his commodity into the money of B, to whom he sells his commodity, and he reconverts his money into commodities which he buys for it from C. The whole transaction takes place between these three. Furthermore: In the study of money it had been assumed that the commodities are sold at their values, because there was no reason to take into consideration any divergence of prices from values, it being a question of changes of form experienced by the commodities in their transformation into money and their reconversion from money into commodities. As soon as a commodity has been sold and a new commodity bought with the receipts, we have the entire metamorphosis before us, and for the consideration of this process it is immaterial whether the price of the commodity stands above or below its value. The value of the commodity is essential as a basis, because the concept of money cannot be developed on any other foundation but this one, and because price, in its general meaning, is but value in the form of money. Of course, it is assumed in the study of money as a medium of circulation that more than one metamorphosis of a certain commodity takes place. It is the social interrelation of these metamorphoses which is studied. Only by this means do we arrive at the circulation of money and at the development of its function as a medium of circulation. While this connection of the matter is very important for the transition of money into its function of a circulating medium, and for its resulting change of form, it is of no moment for the transaction between the individual buyer and seller.


In a question of supply and demand, however, the supply means the sum of the sellers, or producers, of a certain kind of commodities, and the demand the sum of the buyers, or consumers, of the same kind of commodities (both productive and individual consumers). There two bodies react on one another as units, as aggregate forces. The individual counts here only as a part of a social power, as an atom of some mass, and it is in this form that competition enforces the social character of production and consumption.


That side of competition, which is momentarily the weaker, is also that in which the individual acts independently of the mass of his competitors and often works against them, whereby the dependence of one upon the other is impressed upon them, while the stronger side always acts more or less unitedly against its antagonist. If the demand for this particular kind of commodities is larger than the supply, then one buyer outbids another, within certain limits, and thereby raises the price of the commodity for all of them above the market-price, while on the other hand the sellers unite in trying to sell at a high price. If, vice versa, the supply exceeds the demand, some one begins to dispose of his goods at a cheaper rate and the others must follow, while the buyers unite in their efforts to depress the market-price as much as possible below the market-value. The common interest is appreciated only so long as each gains more by it than without it. And common action ceases, as soon as this or that side becomes the weaker, when each one tries to get out of it by his own devices with as little loss as possible. Again, if some one produces more cheaply and can sell more goods, thus assuming more room on the market by selling below the current market-price, or market-value, he does it, and thereby he begins an action which gradually compels the others to introduce the cheaper mode of production and which reduces the socially necessary labor to a new, and lower, level. If one side has the advantage, every one belonging to it gains. It is as though they had exerted their common monopoly. If one side is the weaker, then every one may try on his own hook to be the stronger (for instance, any one working with lower costs of production), or at least to get off as easily as possible, and in that case he does not care in the least for his neighbor, although his actions affect not only himself, but also all his fellow strugglers.*32


Demand and supply imply the transformation of values into market-prices, and to the extent that they proceed on a capitalist basis, to the extent that the commodities are products of capital, they are based on capitalist processes, that is, on quite different and more complicated conditions than the mere purchase and sale of goods. In these capitalist processes it is not a question of the formal conversion of the value of commodities, into prices, not a question of a mere change of form. It is a matter of definite differences in quantity between market-prices and market-values, and, further, prices of production. In simple purchases and sales, it is enough to consider merely the producers of articles as such. But supply and demand, in a wider analysis, imply the existence of different classes and sections of classes which divide the total revenue of society among themselves and consume it as revenue among themselves, which, therefore, constitute the demand in the form of revenue. On the other hand, the attempt to grasp the question of the supply and demand among the producers as such requires an analysis of the total conformation of the capitalist process of production.


Under capitalist production it is not a question of merely throwing a certain mass of values into circulation and exchanging that mass for equal values in some other form, whether of money or other commodities, but it is also a question of advancing capital in production and realising on it as much surplus-value, or profit, in proportion to its magnitude, as any other capital of the same or of other magnitudes in whatever line of production. It is a question, then, of selling the commodities at least at prices which will yield the average profit, in other words, at prices of production. Capital comes in this form to a realisation of the social nature of its power, in which every capitalist participates in proportion to his share in the total social capital.


In the first place, capitalist production is essentially indifferent to the particular use-value, or the peculiarity, of any commodity produced by it. In every sphere of production it is the sole purpose of production to secure surplus-value, to appropriate in the product of labor a certain quantity of unpaid labor. And it is likewise the nature of the wage-labor subject to capital to be indifferent to the specific character of its labor, to transform itself in accord with the requirements of capital, and to submit to being transferred from one sphere of production to another.


In the second place, one sphere of production is now as good or as bad as another. Every one of them yields the same profit, and every one of them would be useless, if the commodities produced by them did not satisfy some social need.


Now, if the commodities are sold at their values, then, as we have shown, considerably different rates of profit arise in the various spheres of production, according to the different organic composition of the masses of capital invested in them. But capital withdraws from spheres with low rates of profit and invades others which yield a higher rate. By means of this incessant emigration and immigration, in one word, by its distribution among the various spheres in accord with a rise of the rate of profit here, and its fall there, it brings about such a proportion of supply to demand that the average profit in the various spheres of production becomes the same, so that values are converted into prices of production. This equilibration is accomplished by capital in a more or less perfect degree to the extent that capitalist development is advanced in a certain nation, in other words, to the extent that conditions in the respective countries are adapted to the capitalist mode of production. As capitalist development proceeds, it develops also its own peculiar conditions and subjects to its specific character and its immanent laws all the social requirements on which the process of production is based.


The incessant equilibration of the continual differences is accomplished so much quicker, 1), the more movable capital is, the easier it can be shifted from one sphere and one place to another; 2) the quicker labor-power can be transferred from one sphere to another and from one local point of production to another. The first condition implies complete freedom of trade in the interior of society and the removal of all monopolies with the exception of those which naturally arise out of the capitalist mode of production. It implies, furthermore, the development of the credit-system, which concentrates the inorganic mass of the disposable social capital instead of leaving it in the hands of individual capitalists. Finally it implies a subordination of the various spheres of production to the control of capitalists. This last implication is of itself included in the assumption that it is a question of a transformation of values into prices of production in all capitalistically exploited spheres of production. But this equilibration meets great obstacles, whenever numerous and large spheres of production, which are not operated on a capitalistic basis (such as farming by small farmers), are interpolated between the capitalist spheres and interrelated with them. A great density of population is also a requirement.—The second condition implies the abolition of all laws which prevent the laborers from moving from one sphere of production to another and from one local center of production to another; an indifference of the laborer to the nature of his labor; the greatest possible reduction of labor in all spheres of production to simple labor; the elimination of all craft prejudices among laborers; and last, not least, a subjugation of the laborer under the capitalist mode of production. More detailed statements concerning these points belong in a special analysis of competition.


It follows from the foregoing that the individual capitalist as well as the capitalists as a whole in each particular sphere of production are participants in the exploitation of the total working class by the total capital, and in the degree of that exploitation, not only out of general class sympathy, but also for direct economic reasons, because, assuming all other conditions, among them the value of the advanced constant capital, to be given, the average rate of profit depends on the intensity of exploitation of the total labor by the total capital.


The average profit coincides with the average surplus-value produced for each 100 of capital, and so far as the surplus-value is concerned, the foregoing statements apply as a matter of course. In the determination of the rate of profit, the value of the advanced capital becomes an additional element. In fact, the direct interest taken by the capitalist, or the capital, of any individual sphere of production in the exploitation of the laborers directly employed by him, or it, is limited to the endeavor to make an extra gain, a profit exceeding the average, either by exceptional overwork, or by a reduction of wages below the average, or by an exceptional productivity of labor. Aside from this, a capitalist who would not employ any variable capital, and therefore no laborers (an exaggerated assumption), would be as much interested in the exploitation of the working class by capital, and would derive his profit quite as much from unpaid surplus-labor, as a capitalist who would employ only variable capital (another exaggeration), and who would invest his entire capital in wages. The degree of exploitation of labor depends on the average intensity of labor, if the working day is given, and on the length of the working day, if the average intensity of exploitation is given. The degree of exploitation of labor determines the size of the rate of surplus-value, and therefore the size of the mass of surplus-value for a given total mass of variable capital, and consequently the magnitude of the profit. The individual capitalist, as distinguished from his sphere, has the same special interest in the exploitation of the laborers personally employed by him that the capital of a certain sphere, as distinguished from the total social capital, has in the exploitation of the laborers directly employed by it.


On the other hand, every particular sphere of capital, and every individual capitalist, has the same interest in the productivity of the social labor employed by the total capital. For two things depend on this productivity: In the first place, the mass of use-values by which the average profit is expressed; and this is doubly important, where this average profit serves as a fund for the accumulation of new capital and as a fund for revenue to be spent in enjoyment. In the second place, the amount of the value of the total capital invested (constant and variable), which, with a given amount of surplus-value, or profit, for the whole capitalist class, determines the rate of profit, or the profit on a certain percentage of capital. The special productivity of labor in any particular sphere, or in any individual business of this sphere, interests only those capitalists who are directly engaged in it, since it enables that particular sphere, or that individual capitalist, to make an extra profit over that of the total capital.


Here, then, we have the mathematically exact demonstration, how it is that the capitalists form a veritable freemason society arrayed against the whole working class, however much they may treat each other as false brothers in the competition among themselves.


The price of production includes the average profit. We call it price of production. It is, as a matter of fact, the same thing which Adam Smith calls natural price, Ricardo price of production, or cost of production, and the physiocrats prix nécessaire, because it is in the long run a prerequisite of supply, of the reproduction of commodities in every individual sphere.*33 But none of them has revealed the difference between price of production and value. We can well understand, then, why these same economists, who always resist a determination of the value of commodities by labor-time, by the quantity of labor contained in them, always speak of prices of production as centers, around which market-prices fluctuate. They can afford to do that, because the price of production is an utterly external and, at first glance, meaningless form of the value of commodities, a form as seen in competition and thus reflected in the mind of the vulgar capitalist, and consequently in that of the vulgar economists.


Our analysis resulted in the discovery that the market-value (and everything said concerning it applies with the necessary modifications to the price of production) implies a surplus-profit for those who produce in any particular sphere of production under the most favorable conditions. With the exception of crises, and of over-production in general, this applies to all market-prices, no matter how much they may deviate from market-values or market-prices of production. For the market-price signifies that the same price is paid for commodities of the same kind, although they may have been produced under very different individual conditions and may have considerably different cost-prices. (We do not speak at this point of any surplus-profits due to monopolies in the strict meaning of the term, whether they are artificial or natural.)


A surplus-profit may also arise, when certain spheres of production are in a position to evade the conversion of the values of their commodities into prices of production, and thus a reduction of their profits to the average profit. We shall devote more attention to the further modifications of these two forms of surplus-profit in the part dealing with ground-rent.

Notes for this chapter

In 1865, when Marx wrote these lines, they expressed as yet merely his "view." To-day, since we have the extended researches into the nature of primitive societies made from Maurer to Morgan, these things are accepted facts which hardly anyone cares to deny.—F. E.
Karl Marx, Critique of Political Economy, Berlin, 1859.
Karl Marx, Critique of Political Economy, Berlin, 1859.
The controversy between Storch and Ricardo, incidental to their discussion of ground rent (a controversy which is merely referring to the same object, while the two opponents take no notice of one another) whether the market-value (or rather what they call market-price and price of production respectively) is regulated by the commodities produced under the least favorable conditions (Ricardo), or by those produced under the most favorable circumstances (Storch), resolves itself into the fact that both are right and both wrong, and that both of them have left out of consideration the average case. Compare Corbett on the cases, in which the price is regulated by the commodities produced under the most favorable conditions.—"It is not meant to be asserted by him (Ricardo) that two particular lots of two different articles, as a hat and a pair of shoes, exchange with one another when those two particular lots were produced by equal quantities of labor. By 'commodity' we must here understand the 'description of commodity', not a particular individual hat, pair of shoes etc. The whole labor which produces all the hats in England is to be considered, for this purpose, as divided among all the hats. This seems to me not to have been expressed at first, and in the general statements of this doctrine. (Observations on some verbal disputes in Political Economy, etc. London, 1821, pages 53, 54.)
The following sagacious statements are great nonsense: "Where the quantity of wages, capital, and land, required to produce an article, have become different from what they were, that which Adam Smith calls the natural price of it, is also different, and that price which was previously its natural price, becomes, with reference to this alteration, its market-price; because, though neither the supply, nor the quantity wanted may have changed"—both of them change here, just because the market-value, or, in the case of Adam Smith, the price of production, changes in consequence of a change of value—"that supply is not now exactly enough for those persons who are able and willing to pay what is now the cost of production, but is either greater or less than that; so that the proportion between the supply, and what is, with reference to the new cost of production, the effectual demand, is different from what it was. An alteration in the rate of supply will then take place, if there is no obstacle in the way of it, and at last bring the commodity to its new natural price. It may then seem good to some persons to say that, as the commodity gets to its natural price by an alteration in its supply, the natural price is as much owing to one proportion between the demand and supply, as the market-price is to another; and consequently, that the natural price, just as much as the market-price, depends on the proportion that demand and supply bear to each other. (The great principle of demand and supply is called into action to determine what A. Smith calls natural prices as well as market-prices, Malthus.)"—Observations on certain verbal disputes, etc., London, 1821, pages 60 and 61.—The good man does not grasp the fact that it is precisely the change in the cost of production, and thus in the value, which caused a change in the demand, in the present case, and thus in the proportion between demand and supply, and that this change in the demand may bring about a change in the supply. This would prove just the reverse of what our good thinker wants to prove. It would prove that the change in the cost of production is by no means due to the proportion of demand and supply, but rather regulates this proportion.
"If each man of a class could never have more than a given share, or aliquot part of the gains and possessions of the whole, he would readily combine to raise the gains" (he does it as soon as the proportion of demand to supply permits it); "this is monopoly. But where each man thinks that he may any way increase the absolute amount of his own share, though by a process which lessens the whole amount, he will often do it; this is competition." An Inquiry into those Principles respecting the Nature of Demand, etc. London, page 105.

Part II, Chapter XI.

End of Notes

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