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

Karl Marx
Marx, Karl
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Frederick Engels, ed. Ernest Untermann, trans.
First Pub. Date
Chicago: Charles H. Kerr and Co.
Pub. Date
Das Kapital, based on the 1st edition.

Part I, Chapter II


THE general formula of capital is M—C—M'. In other words, a certain quantity of values is thrown into circulation for the purpose of drawing a larger quantity out of it. The process by which this larger quantity is produced is capitalist production. The process by which this larger quantity is realized is the circulation of capital. The capitalist does not produce a commodity on its own account, he does not care for its use-value, nor does he consume it personally. The product in which the capitalist is really interested is not the tangible product itself, but the excess of the value of the product over the value of the capital assimilated by it. The capitalist advances the total capital without regard to the different roles played by its components in the production of surplus-value. He advances all these components uniformly, not merely for the purpose of reproducing the advanced capital, but rather with a view to producing a surplus-value in excess of it. He cannot convert the value of the variable capital advanced by him into a greater value except by its exchange for living labor and by the exploitation of this labor. But he cannot exploit this labor unless he advances at the same time the material requirements for the incorporation of this labor, namely instruments and materials of labor, machinery and raw materials. This he can do only by converting a certain amount of value in his possession into requirements of production. He could not be a capitalist at all, nor undertake to exploit labor, unless he enjoyed the privilege of owning the material requirements of production and finding at hand a laborer who owns nothing but his labor-power. We have already shown in the first volume that it is precisely the ownership of means of production by idlers which converts laborers into wage-workers and idlers into capitalists.


It is immaterial for the capitalist whether he is supposed to advance constant capital in order to make a profit out of his variable capital, or whether he advances variable capital in order to make a profit out of the constant capital; whether he invests money in wages in order to make his machinery and raw materials more valuable, or whether he invests money in machinery and raw materials in order to be able to exploit labor. Although it is only the variable portion of capital which creates surplus-value, it does so only on condition that the other portions, the material requirements of production, are likewise advanced. Seeing that the capitalist can exploit labor only by advancing constant capital, and that he can utilize his constant capital only by advancing variable capital, he lumps them all together in his imagination, and he is all the more apt to do so as the actual rate of his gain is not calculated on its proportion to the variable, but on its proportion to the total capital, in other words, that it is calculated on the rate of profit, not on the rate of surplus-value. And we shall see that the rate of profit may remain unchanged and yet may express different rates of surplus-value.


The cost of the product includes all those elements of its value which the capitalist has paid, or for which he has thrown an equivalent into circulation. This cost must be made good in order that the capital may merely be preserved, or reproduced in its original magnitude.


The value contained in a certain commodity is equal to the labor-time required for its production, and the sum of this labor consists of paid and unpaid portions. But the expenses of the capitalist consist only of that portion of materialized labor which he paid for the production of the commodity. The surplus-value contained in this commodity does not cost the capitalist anything, while it cost the laborer his labor just as well as that portion for which he is paid, and although it creates value and is embodied in the value of the commodity quite as well as the paid labor. The profit of the capitalist is due to the fact that he offers something for sale for which he has not paid anything. The surplus-value, or the profit, consists precisely of the excess of the value of the commodity over its cost-price, in other words, it consists of the excess of the total amount of labor embodied in the commodity over the paid labor contained in it. The surplus-value, whatever be its genesis, is a surplus above the advanced total capital. The proportion of this surplus to the total capital is expressed by the fraction s/C, in which C stands for the total capital. Thus we obtain the rate of profit s/C = s/(c+v), as distinguished from the rate of surplus-value s/V.


The rate of surplus-value measured by the variable capital is called rate of surplus-value. The rate of surplus-value measured by the total capital is called rate of profit. These two modes of measuring the same magnitude express different conditions or relations of this magnitude, owing to the difference of the two standards of measurement.


The transformation of surplus-value into profit must be deduced from the transformation of the rate of surplus-value into the rate of profit, not vice versa. And the rate of profit is indeed that from which historical research takes its departure. The surplus-value and the rate of surplus-value are, relatively, the invisible and unknown essence, while the rate of profit and the resulting appearance of surplus-value in the form of profit are phenomena which show themselves on the surface.


So far as the individual capitalist is concerned, it is evident that the only thing which interests him is the relation of surplus-value, of the excess of value at which he sells his articles, to the total capital advanced for the production of commodities. On the other hand, the definite relation of this surplus, and its internal connection, with the various components of capital does not interest him, for it is rather to his interest to indulge in vague notions relative to this definite relation and this internal connection.


Although the excess in the value of a commodity over its cost-price is created in the process of production, strictly so called, it is realized in the process of circulation. And it assumes so much more easily the semblance of arising from the process of circulation, as it depends in reality on the market conditions under competition whether any surplus is realized or not, or how much of it. It is not necessary to lose any words at this point about the fact that it is merely a different way of dividing the surplus-value, when a commodity is sold above or below its value, and that this different division, this change of proportions in which different persons share in the surplus-value, does not alter in the least the magnitude or the nature of that value. It is not alone the metamorphoses discussed by us in volume II which take place in the process of circulation, but they are accompanied by actual competition, the sale and purchase of commodities above or below their value, so that the surplus-value realized by the individual capitalist depends as much on the outcome of the mutual endeavor to outwit one another as on the direct exploitation of labor.


Aside from the working time, the time of circulation exerts its influence in the process of circulation and limits the amount of surplus-value realizable within a certain period. Still other elements arise in the process of circulation and influence the strict process of production. Both the strict process of production and the process of circulation continually intermingle, interpenetrate one another, and thereby incessantly falsify their characteristic marks of distinction. The production of surplus-value, and of value in general, receives new directions in the process of circulation, as we have previously shown. Capital passes through the cycle of its metamorphoses. Finally it steps, so to say, forth out of the internal organism of its life and enters into external conditions of existence, into conditions in which the opposites are not capital and labor, but capital and capital in one case, and individual buyers and sellers in another. The time of circulation and the working time cross one another's paths and seem to determine equally the amount of surplus-value. The original form in which capital and wage-labor meet one another is disguised by the interference of conditions which seem to be independent of them. The surplus-value itself does not appear to be the result of the appropriation of labor-time, but an excess of the selling price of commodities over their cost-price, so that this last named price is easily regarded as their intrinsic value, while profit appears as an excess of the selling price of commodities over their immanent value.


It is true, that the nature of the surplus-value impresses itself incessantly upon the consciousness of the capitalist during the process of production. This is shown, among other indications, by his greed for the labor-time of others, to which we called attention in the analysis of surplus-value. But in the first place, the strict process of production is but a fleeting stage passing continually into the process of circulation, just as this does into it, so that the more or less vague inkling of the source of the gains made in the process of production, the source of the surplus-value, stands at best on the same ground with the idea that the realized surplus is due to a movement of capital in the process of circulation and independent of the process of production, a movement of capital independent of its relation to labor. These phenomena of circulation are quoted by modern economists like Ramsay, Malthus, Senior, Torrens, etc., as direct proofs of the alleged fact that capital, in its mere material existence, independent of any social relation to labor which makes capital of it, may be a source of surplus-value quite as well as labor itself and without its help. In the second place, under the head of expenses, among which wages are classed the same as the price of raw materials, wear and tear of machinery, etc., the appropriation of unpaid labor figures only as a saving in the payment of an article added to the expense, only as a smaller payment for a certain quantity of labor. A saving is recorded in the same way, whenever raw materials are bought more cheaply, or the wear and tear of machinery decreases. In this way the appropriation of surplus-labor loses its specific character. Its characteristic relation to the surplus-value is obscured. And this is greatly facilitated, as shown in volume I, part VI, by the representation of the value of labor-power in the form of wages.


By posing equally as sources of an excess of value (profit), all elements of capital mystify the nature of the capitalist relation.


The way in which surplus-value is transformed into profit via the rate of profit is but a continued development of the perversion of subject and object taking place in the process of production. We have already seen that all subjective forces of labor in that process appeared as productive forces of capital. On the one hand, the value of past labor, which dominates living labor, is incarnated in the capitalist. On the other hand the laborer appears as materialized labor-power, as a commodity. This perverted relationship necessarily produces even under simple conditions of production certain correspondingly perverted conceptions, which represent a transposition in consciousness, that is further developed by the transformations and modifications of the circulation process proper.


We can see by the example of the Ricardian school that it is a mistake to attempt a development of the laws of the rate of profit directly out of the laws of the rate of surplus-value, or vice versa. In the head of the capitalist they are naturally not distinguished. In the formula s/C the surplus-value is measured by the value of the total capital advanced for its production and partly consumed in it, partly merely invested in it. Indeed, the formula s/C expresses the degree of self-expansion of the total capital advanced, or, to state it in conformity with the conception of the internal organic connection and nature of surplus-value, it indicates the proportion of the variation of the variable capital to the magnitude of the advanced total capital.


The magnitude of the value of the total capital has no direct internal relation to the magnitude of the surplus-value. So far as its material elements are concerned, the total minus the variable capital, in other words, the constant capital, consists of the material ingredients, the instruments and materials of production, required for the materialization of labor. In order that a certain quantity of labor may be incorporated in commodities and thereby produce value, a certain quantity of instruments and materials of production is required. According to the peculiar character of the incorporated labor, a definite technical relation is established between the quantity of labor and the quantity of means of production in which this labor is to be incorporated. To that extent there is also a definite relation between the quantity of surplus-value, or surplus-labor, and the quantity of means of production. For instance, if the necessary labor for the production of wages amounts to 6 hours daily, then the laborer must work 12 hours in order to perform 6 hours of surplus-labor, or produces a surplus-value of 100%. He uses up twice as many means of production in 12 hours as he does in 6. But nevertheless the surplus-value incorporated by him in 6 hours is not directly related to the value of the means of production used up in those 6, or in those 12 hours. This value is here immaterial. It is only the technically required mass which is important. It does not matter whether the raw materials or instruments of labor are cheap or dear, so long as they have the required use-value and are available in quantities proportioned to the technical demands of the labor to be incorporated in them. Now, if I know that x lbs. of cotton are consumed by one hour's spinning and cost a shillings, then I also know that 12 hours' spinning will consume 12 x lbs. of cotton costing 12 a shillings. And in that case I can calculate the proportion of the surplus-value to the value of the 12 as well as to that of the 6. But the relation of the living labor to the value of the means of production enters here only to the extent that a shillings serve as a name for x lbs. of cotton. For a definite quantity of cotton has a definite price, and therefore a definite price may also serve as an index to a definite quantity of cotton, so long as the price of cotton is not changed. If I know that I must let the laborer work for 12 hours, in order to appropriate for my own 6 hours of surplus-labor, and if I know the price of this quantity of cotton needed for 12 hours, then I have a circuitous means of determining the proportion between the price of cotton (as an index of the required quantity) and the surplus-value. But on the other hand, I can never make any conclusions from the price of the raw material as to the quantity that may be consumed by one hour's spinning, but not by 6 hours'. There is, then, no necessary internal connection between the value of the constant capital, nor the value of the total capital c + v, and the surplus-value.


If the rate of surplus-value is known and its magnitude given, then the rate of profit expresses nothing else but what it actually is, namely a different way of measuring surplus-value, this being measured by the value of the total capital, instead of the value of that portion of capital from which surplus-value directly originates by way of an exchange with labor. But in reality, in the world of phenomena, the conditions are reversed. Surplus-value is given, but only as an excess of the selling price of commodities over their cost-price. And it remains a mystery where this surplus is originated, whether it is due to the exploitation of labor in the process of production, or to overcharging the purchaser in the process of circulation, or to both. There is also given the proportion of the surplus-value to the value of the total capital, or the rate of profit. The calculation of this excess of the selling price over the cost-price of commodities on the value of the advanced total capital is very important and natural, because by its means the ratio is actually determined in which the total capital has been expanded, the ratio of its self-expansion. If the rate of profit is made the point of departure, there is no basis on which to make any conclusions regarding the specific relations between the surplus and the variable capital invested in wages. We shall see in a subsequent chapter what funny somersaults Malthus made in trying to get in this way at the secret of the surplus-value and of its specific relation to the variable capital. What the rate of profit actually shows is a uniform relation of the surplus to equal portions of the total capital, which from this point of view does not show any internal differences at all, unless it be that between fixed and circulating capital. And this difference is shown only because the surplus is calculated in two ways. In the first place it is calculated as a simple magnitude, as an excess of the selling price over the cost-price. In this form, the entire circulating capital enters into the cost-price, while of the fixed capital only the wear and tear enters into it. In the second place, the relation of this excess in value to the total value of the advanced capital is calculated. In this case, the value of the fixed capital is taken into the calculation entirely, the same as that of the circulating capital. In other words, the circulating capital enters both times in the same way, while the fixed capital enters the first time in a different, the second time in the same way as the circulating capital. Under these circumstances, the difference between the fixed and circulating capital is the only one which obtrudes itself.


The excess in value, then, if determined by the rate of profit, appears as a surplus generated annually, or during a definite period of circulation, by the total capital above its own value.


While the rate of profit differs numerically from the rate of surplus-value, the profit and the surplus-value are actually the same thing and numerically equal. However, the profit is a transformed kind of surplus-value, a form in which its origin and the secret of its nature are obscured and extinguished. Profit is, therefore, that disguise of surplus-value which must be removed before the real nature of surplus-value can be discovered. In the surplus-value, the relation between capital and labor is laid bare. But in the relation of capital and profit, that is to say, the relation between capital and that form of surplus-value which appears on one hand as an excess over the cost-price of commodities realized in the process of circulation, and on the other hand as a surplus determined by its relation to the total capital, the capital appears as a relation to itself, a relation in which it, as the original amount of value, is distinguished from a new value generated by itself. It is dimly recognized, that capital generates this new value by its movement in the processes of production and circulation. But the way in which this is done is surrounded by mystery, and thus surplus-value seems to be due to hidden qualities inherent in capital itself.


To the extent that we follow up the process of self-expansion of capital, the nature of the relation of surplus-value to capital becomes more and more mystified, and it becomes increasingly difficult to discover the secret of its internal organism.


In this first part, we shall consider the rate of profit as numerically different from the rate of surplus-value, while profit and surplus-value will be treated as the same numerical magnitude having only a different form. In the second part we shall see that the transformation continues and that profit presents itself as a magnitude differing also numerically from surplus-value.

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