Capital: A Critique of Political Economy, Vol. III. The Process of Capitalist Production as a Whole
By Karl Marx
One of Econlib’s aims is to put online the most significant works in the history of economic thought, and there can be no doubting the significance of Marx’s influence on both economic theory in the late 19th century and on the creation of Marxist states in the 20th century. From the time of the emergence of modern socialism in the 1840s (especially in France and Germany), free market economists have criticised socialist theory and it is thus useful to place that criticism in its intellectual context, namely beside the main work of one of its leading theorists,
Karl Marx.In 1848, when Europe was wracked by a series of revolutions in which both liberals and socialists participated and which both lost out to the forces of conservative monarchism or Bonapartism,
John Stuart Mill published his
Principles of Political Economy. The chapter on Property shows how important Mill thought it was to confront the socialist challenge to classical liberal economic theory. In hindsight it might appear that Mill was too accommodating to socialist criticism, but I would argue that in fact he offered a reasonable framework for comparing the two systems of thought, which the events of the late 20th century have finally brought to a conclusion which was not possible in his lifetime. Mill states in
Book II Chapter I “Of Property” that a fair comparison of the free market and socialism would compare both the ideal of liberalism with that of socialism, as well as the practice of liberalism versus the practice of socialism. In 1848 the ideals of both were becoming better known (and there were some aspects of the ideal of socialism which Mill found intriguing) but the practice of each was still not conclusive. Mill correctly observed that in 1848 no European society had yet created a society fully based upon private property and free exchange and any future socialist experiment on a state-wide basis was many decades in the future. After the experiments in Marxist central planning with the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917, the Chinese Communists in 1949, and numerous other Marxist states in the post-1945 period, there can be no doubt that the reservations Mill had about the practicality of fully-functioning socialism were completely borne out by historical events. What Mill could never have imagined, the slaughter of tens of millions of people in an effort to make socialism work, has ended for good any argument concerning the Marxist form of socialism.Econlib now offers online two important defences of the socialist ideal, Karl Marx’s three volume work on
Capital and the
collection of essays on Fabian socialism edited by George Bernard Shaw. These can be read in the light of the criticism they provoked among defenders of individual liberty and the free market: Eugen Richter’s anti-Marxist
Pictures of the Socialistic Future, Thomas Mackay’s
2 volume collection of essays rebutting Fabian socialism,
Ludwig von Mises post-1917 critique of
Socialism. One should not forget that
Frederic Bastiat was active during the rise of socialism in France during the 1840s and that many of his essays are aimed at rebutting the socialists of his day. The same is true for Gustave de Molinari and the other authors of the
Dictionnaire d’economie politique (1852). Several key articles on communism and socialism from the
Dictionnaire are translated and reprinted in Lalor’s
Cyclopedia.For further reading on Marx’s
Capital see David L. Prychitko’s essay
“The Nature and Significance of Marx’s
Capital: A Critique of Political Economy“.For further readings on socialism see the following entries in the
Concise Encyclopedia of Economics:
Poor Law Commissioners’ Report of 1834,
edited by Nassau W. Senior, et al.
March 1, 2004
Frederick Engels, ed. Ernest Untermann, trans.
First Pub. Date
Chicago: Charles H. Kerr and Co.
First published in German. Das Kapital, based on the 1st edition.
The text of this edition is in the public domain. Picture of Marx courtesy of The Warren J. Samuels Portrait Collection at Duke University.
- Preface, by Frederick Engels
- Part I, Chapter 1
- Part I, Chapter 2
- Part I, Chapter 3
- Part I, Chapter 4
- Part I, Chapter 5
- Part I, Chapter 6
- Part I, Chapter 7
- Part II, Chapter 8
- Part II, Chapter 9
- Part II, Chapter 10
- Part II, Chapter 11
- Part II, Chapter 12
- Part III, Chapter 13
- Part III, Chapter 14
- Part III, Chapter 15
- Part IV, Chapter 16
- Part IV, Chapter 17
- Part IV, Chapter 18
- Part IV, Chapter 19
- Part IV, Chapter 20
- Part V, Chapter 21
- Part V, Chapter 22
- Part V, Chapter 23
- Part V, Chapter 24
- Part V, Chapter 25
- Part V, Chapter 26
- Part V, Chapter 27
- Part V, Chapter 28
- Part V, Chapter 29
- Part V, Chapter 30
- Part V, Chapter 31
- Part V, Chapter 32
- Part V, Chapter 33
- Part V, Chapter 34
- Part V, Chapter 35
- Part V, Chapter 36
- Part VI, Chapter 37
- Part VI, Chapter 38
- Part VI, Chapter 39
- Part VI, Chapter 40
- Part VI, Chapter 41
- Part VI, Chapter 42
- Part VI, Chapter 43
- Part VI, Chapter 44
- Part VI, Chapter 45
- Part VI, Chapter 46
- Part VI, Chapter 47
- Part VII, Chapter 48
- Part VII, Chapter 49
- Part VII, Chapter 50
- Part VII, Chapter 51
- Part VII, Chapter 52
TRANSFORMATION OF COMMODITY-CAPITAL AND MONEY-CAPITAL INTO COMMERCIAL CAPITAL AND FINANCIAL CAPITAL (MERCHANT’S CAPITAL).
MERCHANT’S capital, or trading capital, consists of two subdivisions, namely commercial capital and financial capital, which we shall now proceed to define more in detail, so far as is necessary for the analysis of capital in its innermost structure. This is so much the more needed, as modern political economy, even in its best representatives, indiscriminately mixes trading capital with industrial capital and wholly over looks the characteristic peculiarities of the former.
The movements of commodity-capital have been analysed in volume II. The total capital of society exists always in part in commodities on the market about to be converted into money, and this part is naturally made up of ever changing elements and is continually changing in quantity. Another part exists as money on the market, ready to be converted into commodities. These portions of the total capital are perpetually passing through these metamorphoses. To the extent that this function of capital in the process of circulation becomes a special function of independent capital and becomes an established service assigned by division of labor to some particular species of capitalists, the commodity-capital becomes commercial or financial capital.
In volume II, chapter VI, under the head of cost of circulation, 2 and 3, we have explained to what extent the transportation industry, the storage and distribution of commodities in a distributable form, may be regarded as processes of production continuing within the process of circulation. These incidents in the circulation of commodity-capital are sometimes confounded with the peculiar functions of commercial or financial capital. It is true that the peculiar functions of these last-named forms of capital are sometimes practically combined with those incidental ones, but with the advancing development of social division of labor the functions of merchant’s capital evolve into a distinct type and are separated from those real functions connected with those incidents in circulation. For our present purpose, which is to define the specific difference of this special form of capital, we must leave aside those other functions as irrelevant. So far as capital employed only in the process of circulation, such as commercial capital, combines at times those other functions with its specific ones, it does not appear in its typical form. We do not get its pure type, until we strip it of all incidental functions.
We have seen that the existence of capital in the shape of commodity-capital and the metamorphoses through which it passes within the sphere of circulation in its capacity as commodity-capital on the market—a series of metamorphoses expressed by buying and selling, conversion of commodity-capital into money-capital and money-capital into commodity-capital—form a phase in the process of reproduction of industrial capital, that is, a phase in its process of production as a whole. But we have also seen at the same time that it is distinguished in its function as capital of circulation from its function as productive capital. These are two different and separate forms of existence of the same capital. One portion of the total social capital is continually on the market in the form of capital of circulation, passing through those metamorphoses. For each individual capital, however, its existence as commodity-capital, and its metamorphoses in this form, represent merely ever vanishing and ever renewed points
of transition, stages of transition in the continuity of its process of production. And the elements of commodity-capital on the market vary continually, being perpetually withdrawn from the market and just as perpetually returned to it as new products of the process of production.
Commercial capital is nothing else but a changed form of a portion of this capital of circulation, which exists continually on the market in the process of its metamorphoses within the sphere of circulation. We say explicitly, a portion, because a portion of the selling and buying of commodities takes place between the industrial capitalists themselves. We leave this portion entirely out of consideration in this analysis, because it contributes nothing to the definition of the concept, or to the understanding of the specific nature, of merchant’s capital. Moreover, it has been exhaustively treated in volume II.
The dealer in commodities, as a capitalist, appears first on the market as the representative of a certain sum of money, which he advances in his capacity as a capitalist. He desires to transform this sum of money from its original value x into x + &x, that is, the original sum plus his profit. But it is evident that his capital must first enter the market in the shape of money, not only on account of his capacity as a capitalist in general, but also as a trader in commodities in particular. For he does not produce any commodities. He merely trades in them, he acts as middleman in their movements, and in order to be able to trade in them, he must first buy them, must be the owner of money-capital.
Take it that a trader in commodities owns 3,000 p.st., which he invests as a trading capital. He buys with these 3,000 p.st., say, 30,000 yards of linen from some linen manufacturer, at 2 sh. per yard. Then he sells his 30,000 yards. If the annual average rate of profit is 10%, and if he makes a profit of 10% after deducting all incidental expenses, then he has converted his 3,000 p.st. into 3,300 p.st. at the end of one year. How he makes this profit is a question which we shall discuss later. At this place we merely intend to observe the form, which the movements of his capital take. He continually
buys with his 3,000 p.st. linen and sells this linen; he continually repeats this operation of buying for the purpose of selling, M—C—M’, the simple form of capital confined entirely to the sphere of circulation and not interrupted by the intervention of the process of production, which lies outside of its own movement and function.
What, then, is the relation of this commercial capital to the commodity-capital representing a mere passing phase of industrial capital? So far as the linen manufacturer is concerned, he has realised the value of his linen with the money of the merchant. He has thereby completed the first phase in the metamorphosis of commodity-capital, its conversion into money, and he can now, provided that circumstances remain the same, proceed to reconvert this money into yarn, coal, wages, etc., or into means of existence, etc., for the consumption of his revenue. Leaving aside the spending of his revenue, he can continue his process of production.
But while the sale of the linen, its metamorphosis into money, has taken place so far as its direct producer is concerned, it has not yet taken place so far as the linen itself is concerned. It is still on the market as a commodity-capital and awaits the completion of its first metamorphosis, awaits its sale. Nothing has happened to this linen but a change in the person of its owner. From the point of view of its own destination, of its position in the process, it is still a commodity-capital, a saleable commodity; only, it is now in the hands of the merchant instead of those of the manufacturer. The function of selling it, of serving as an agent in the first phase of its metamorphosis, has been transferred from the manufacturer to the merchant, has been converted into the particular business of the merchant, while it used to be a function, which the producer had to perform after completing the process of its production.
Now let us assume that the merchant would not succeed in disposing of those 30,000 yards of linen during the interval, which the linen manufacturer requires for the production of another lot of 30,000 yards and its marketing at 3,000 p.st. In that case, the merchant cannot buy this new lot, because
he still has the old stock of 30,000 yards on hand, which he has not yet reconverted into money-capital. A stagnation then ensues, an interruption of reproduction. Of course, the linen manufacturer might have some additional money-capital in reserve, which he might convert into productive capital independently of the sale of those 30,000 yards of linen, in order to continue his process of production. But this assumption would not alter the matter. So far as the capital tied up in the 30,000 yards of linen is concerned, its process of reproduction is and remains interrupted. Here we see indeed very clearly, that the operations of the merchant are really nothing but operations which must be performed under all circumstances in order to convert the commodity-capital of the producer into money-capital, operations, which promote the functions of the commodity-capital in the process of circulation and reproduction. If a clerk of the producer were to attend exclusively to the sale, and also with the purchase, instead of an independent merchant, this connection would not be obscured for a moment.
Commercial capital, then, is nothing but the commodity-capital of the producer, which has to pass through its transformation into money and to perform its function of commodity-capital on the market. The difference is only that this incidental function of the producer is now established as the exclusive business of a special kind of capitalists, of merchants, and becomes the independent business of a special investment of capital.
This is furthermore shown in the specific form of the circulation of commercial capital. The merchant buys a commodity and then sells it: M—C—M’. In the simple circulation of commodities, or even in the circulation of commodities as it appears when a process of circulation of industrial capital, C’—M—C, circulation is promoted by the circumstance that every piece of money changes hands twice. The linen manufacturer sells his commodity, the linen, converts it into money; the money of the buyer passes into his hands. With this money he buys yarn, coal, labor, etc., he spends the same money for the purpose of reconverting the value of linen
into those commodities which form the elements of production of linen. The commodity which he buys is not the same kind of commodity which he sells. He has sold products and bought means of production. But it is different with the movements of commercial capital. With his 3,000 p.st., the linen merchant buys 30,000 yards of linen. He sells the same linen for the purpose of recovering his money-capital (increased by profits) from the circulation. It is not the same pieces of money which here change places twice, but the same commodities; the linen passes from the seller into the hands of the buyer, and from the hands of the buyer, who becomes a seller, into those of another buyer. It is sold twice, and it may be sold still oftener, if a series of other merchants intervenes. And it is precisely through this repeated sale, this twofold change of place of the same commodity, that the money advanced by its first buyer for its purchase is recovered, its reflux to him promoted. In the case of C’—M—C the twofold change of place of the same money assists in the sale of one form of commodities and the purchase of another form. In the other case, M—C—M’, the twofold change of place of the same commodity assists in the recovery of the advanced money from the circulation. This shows that the commodity has not been definitely sold, when it has passed from the hands of the producer into those of the merchant, and that the latter merely continues the operation of selling—or promotes the functions of commodity-capital. But it shows at the same time that the operation C—M, which represents for the productive capitalist a mere function of his capital in its transient form of commodity-capital, constitutes for the merchant the movement M—C—M’, that is, a specific utilisation of his advanced money-capital. A phase in the metamorphosis of commodities here shows itself, with reference to the merchant, in the form of M—C—M’, that is, as the evolution of a separate kind of capital.
The merchant sells his commodity, in this case the linen, definitely to the consumer, whether it be a productive consumer (for instance, a bleacher), or an individual consumer who uses the linen for his private needs. By this means the
merchant recovers his advanced capital (with a profit), and he can then repeat his operation. If the money had served merely as a means of payment, when the merchant bought the linen from the manufacturer, for instance, if the merchant would not have had to make payment until after six weeks, he might be able to pay the manufacturer without even advancing any money-capital of his own. But if he should not have sold the goods at the end of six weeks, he would have to advance his 3,000 p.st. on the date of the expiration, instead of advancing them on delivery of the linen. And if a fall in the market-price should have compelled him to sell below his purchase price, he would have to make good the loss out of his own capital.
Now, what is it that lends to commercial capital the character of an independently operating capital, while in the hands of the producer who does his own selling, it is obviously merely a special form of his capital in some particular phase of his process of reproduction, during its sojourn in the sphere of circulation?
1) It is, in the first place, the fact that the commodity-capital completes its definite conversion into money, its first metamorphosis, its function on the market in its capacity as commodity-capital, in the hands of another agent than the producer, and that this function of commodity-capital is promoted by the operations of the merchant, by his buying and selling, so that these transactions constitute themselves into a separate and independent business distinct from the other functions of industrial capital. Through it a portion of a function, which used to be performed in circulation as a special phase of the process of reproduction, is molded into the exclusive function of an independent agent of the circulation distinct from the producer. But this alone would not be enough to give to this special business the aspect of a function of an independent capital distinct from the industrial capital in process of self-expansion. In fact, it does not assume this aspect in cases where the trade in commodities is carried on by traveling agents, or by other direct agents of the industrial capitalist.
Another element is necessary to complete its special character.
2) This second element is introduced by the fact that the independent agent of circulation, the merchant, advances money-capital (his own or borrowed) in this position. The transaction which amounts for the industrial capital in process of reproduction merely to C—M, to a conversion of commodity-capital into money-capital, to a mere sale, assumes for the merchant the form M—C—M’, purchase and sale of the same commodity, and thus to a reflux, by means of a sale, of the money-capital expended in a purchase.
It is always C—M, the conversion of commodity-capital into money, which assumes for the merchant the form of M—C—M, whenever he advances money for the purchase of commodities from their producers; it is always the first metamorphosis of commodity-capital, although the same transaction may amount for a producer, or for industrial capital in process of reproduction, to M—C, a reconversion of money into commodities (means of production), the second phase of this metamorphosis. For the linen producer, the first metamorphosis was C—M, the conversion of commodity-capital into money-capital. This transaction amounts for the merchant to M—C, the conversion of his money-capital into commodity-capital. Now, if he sells this linen to a bleacher, it means M—C, conversion of money-capital into productive capital, for the bleacher, which represents the second metamorphosis of his commodity-capital; while it means C—M, the sale of the linen, for the merchant. Actually the commodity-capital manufactured by the producer has now been definitely sold. This transaction, M—C—M, on the part of the merchant represents but the action of a middleman for the transaction C—M between two producers. Or let us assume, that the linen manufacturer buys with a portion of the value of the sold linen some yarn from a yarn dealer. This is M—C for him. For the merchant selling the yarn it is C—M, resale of the yarn. So far as the yarn itself is concerned, in its capacity of commodity-capital, it amounts to
its definite sale, its transition from the sphere of circulation into the sphere of production by means of C—M, the definite conclusion of its first metamorphosis. Whether the merchant buys from the industrial capitalist, or sells to him, the circulation of his merchant’s capital, M—C—M, always expresses but the same thing, which constitutes, from the point of view of the commodity-capital itself, a form of transition of the industrial capital in process of reproduction, C—M, the mere completion of its first metamorphosis. The M—C of the merchant’s capital amounts only for the industrial capitalist to C—M, but not for the commodity-capital produced by him. It is but the transfer of the commodity-capital from the hands of the industrial capitalist to those of the agent of circulation; Not until the merchant’s capital closes the transaction C—M does commodity-capital as such perform its final C—M. M—C—M amounts merely to two times C—M on the part of the same commodity-capital, two successive sales of it, which promote its last and final sale.
It is evident, then, that commodity-capital assumes in commercial capital the form of an independent class of capital through the fact that the merchant advances money-capital. This money-capital serves its purpose as capital only by attending exclusively to the conversion of commodity-capital into money-capital, and it accomplishes this by the continual purchase and sale of commodities. This is its exclusive work. This promotion of the process of circulation of industrial capital is the exclusive function of the money-capital with which the merchant operates. By means of this function he converts his money into money-capital, molds his M into M—C—M’, and by the same process he converts commodity-capital into commercial capital.
So long and so far as commercial capital exists in the form of commodity-capital, from the point of view of the process of reproduction of the total social capital, it is obviously nothing else but that portion of the industrial capital in process of metamorphosis, which is still on the market and serves as commodity-capital. It is therefore only the money-capital advanced by the merchant, which is exclusively destined for
purchase and sale and for this reason never assumes any other form but that of commodity-capital and money-capital, always remaining confined to the sphere of circulation. It is only this money-capital which is now to be analysed with reference to the entire process of reproduction of capital.
As soon as the producer, the linen manufacturer has sold his 30,000 yards of linen to the merchant for 3,000 p.st., he buys with the money so obtained the necessary means of production, and his capital re-enters the process of production; his process of production continues without interruption. So far as he is concerned, the conversion of his commodity into money has been accomplished. But we have already seen that the linen itself has not yet closed its metamorphosis. It has not yet been definitely reconverted into money, it has not yet passed as a use-value into productive or individual consumption. The linen merchant now represents on the market the same commodity-capital, which the linen manufacturer represented originally. So far as the manufacturer is concerned, the process of transformation has been abbreviated, but only to be continued through the hand of the merchant.
If the linen producer had to wait, until his linen had really ceased being a commodity, until it had actually passed into the hands of its final purchaser for productive or individual consumption, his process of reproduction would be interrupted. Or, if he did not wish to interrupt it, he would have had to restrict his operations, to transform a smaller portion of the value of his linen into yarn, coal, labor, etc., in short, into the elements of productive capital, and to hold back a larger portion of it as a money-reserve. While one portion of his capital would then be on the market in the shape of commodities, another would be enabled to continue in the process of production. In this way, one portion would return in the shape of money, while another would be going to market in the form of commodities. This division of capital of the individual producer is not abolished by the intervention of the merchant. But without it that portion of the capital of circulation which is held as a money reserve would have to be always greater in proportion than the portion employed
as productive capital, and the scale of production would have to be restricted accordingly. Instead of that, the producer is now enabled to employ a larger portion of his capital continually in the process of production itself, and a smaller portion as a money reserve.
This is offset on the other hand by the fact that another portion of the social capital, in the shape of merchant’s capital, is held continually within the sphere of circulation. It is employed for no other purpose but that of buying and selling. There seems then to have been no other change but that of the persons who hold this capital in their hands.
If the merchant, instead of buying 3,000 p.st.’s worth of linen with the intention of selling it again, were to employ these 3,000 p.st. productively himself, then the productive capital of society would be increased. It is true, that the linen producer would then have to hold back a larger portion of his capital as a money reserve, and likewise the merchant who has now been transformed into an industrial capitalist. On the other hand, if the merchant were to remain a merchant the producer would save time in selling which he could employ for the supervision of the process of production, while the merchant would have to devote his whole time to selling.
If the merchant’s capital does not exceed its necessary proportions, it may be assumed
1) that as a result of division of labor, the capital devoted exclusively to buying and selling (and this includes not only the money required for the purchase of commodities, but also the money which must be invested in the labor required for running the business of the merchant, in the constant capital of the merchant, store rooms, transportation, etc.) is smaller than it would be, if the industrial capitalist had to carry on the entire commercial part of his business himself;
2) that the exclusive occupation of the merchant with this business enables the producer to convert his commodities more rapidly into money, and permits the commodity-capital itself to pass more quickly through its metamorphosis, than it would in the hands of the producer;
3) that looking upon the entire merchant’s capital in proportion
to the industrial capital, one turn-over of the merchant’s capital may represent not only the turn-overs of many capitals in one sphere of production, but the turn-overs of a numbers of capitals in different spheres of production. The first is the case when the linen merchant, after buying with his 3,000 p.st. the product of some linen producer, sells it before the same producer can bring another lot of the same quantity to market, so that the linen merchant has to buy the product of another, or several other, linen manufacturers. When he sells this, he promotes the turn-overs of different capitals in the same sphere of production. The second is the case, if the merchant, after selling his linen, buys, for instance, some silk. In this way he promotes the turn-overs of capitals in different spheres.
In general it may be noted that the turn-over of the industrial capital is not limited merely by the time of circulation, but also by the time of production. The turn-over of merchant’s capital, so far as it deals in one sort of commodities, is limited, not merely by the turn-over of one industrial capital, but by the turn-overs of all industrial capitals in the same line of production. After the merchant has bought and sold the linen of one producer, he can buy and sell that of another, before the first can bring another lot of his product on the market. The same merchant’s capital may, therefore, promote successively the different turn-overs of the industrial capitals invested in a certain line of production. Its turn-over is therefore not identified with the turn-overs of one sole industrial capital, but with the turn-overs of many, and it does not take the place of but one money reserve, which one single industrial capitalist would have to hold back. The turn-over of the merchant’s capital in one sphere of production is naturally determined by the total production of that sphere. But it is not determined by the limits of production or the time of turn-over of any single capital of the same sphere, so far as its time of turn-over is determined by its time of production. For instance, let us assume that A supplies a commodity, which requires three months for its production. After the merchant has bought and sold it, say, in one month,
he can buy and sell the same product of some other producer. Or, after he has sold, say, the corn of some farmer, he can buy with the same money that of another and another, etc. The turn-over of his capital is limited by the mass of corn, which he can buy successively in a certain time, for instance, in one year, while the capital of the farmer is limited in its turn-over, aside from the time of circulation, by the time of production, which lasts one year.
However, the turn-over of the same merchant’s capital may promote equally well the turn-overs of capitals in different lines of production.
To the extent that the same merchant’s capital serves in different turn-overs to transform different commodity-capitals successively into money, buying and selling them one after another, it performs in its capacity as money-capital the same function with regard to the commodity-capital, which money in general performs by means of its turn-overs within a certain period with regard to commodities.
The turn-over of merchant’s capital is not identical with the turn-over or with one single reproduction of one industrial capital of the same size; it is rather equal to the sum of the turn-overs of a number of such capitals, either in the same, or in different spheres of production. The quicker merchant’s capital is turned over, the smaller is that portion of the total money-capital, which serves as merchant’s capital; the slower it is turned over, the larger is that same portion. The more undeveloped production is, the larger is the sum of merchant’s capital as compared to the sum of the commodities thrown into circulation; but so much smaller is it absolutely, or compared with more developed conditions. Vice versa, the opposite holds good. In such undeveloped conditions the greater part of the strict money-capital is in the hands of the merchants, whose wealth constitutes the money wealth as compared to the wealth of others.
The velocity of the circulation of the money-capital advanced by the merchant depends: 1) on the velocity with which the process of production is renewed and the different
processes of production are linked together; 2) on the velocity of consumption.
It is not necessary that merchant’s capital should pass merely through the above mentioned turn-over, by first buying commodities to its full amount and then selling them. The merchant may make both movements at the same time. His capital is then divided into two parts. One of them consists of commodity-capital, the other of money-capital. Here he buys and converts his money into commodities. There he sells and converts another part of his commodity-capital into money. On one side, his capital returns in the shape of money-capital, on the other it returns in the shape of commodity-capital. The larger the portion assuming one shape, the smaller the portion assuming another. This alternates and balances itself. If money is not employed merely as a medium of circulation, but also as a means of payment and in conjunction with the credit system, which develops along with it, then the money portion of the merchant’s capital is reduced still more in proportion to the volume of the transactions promoted by the merchant’s capital. If I buy 1,000 p.st.’s worth of wine on three months’ credit, and sell all the wine for cash before the expiration of the three months, then I do not need to advance one penny for these transactions. In this case it is quite obvious that the money-capital, which here serves as merchant’s capital, is nothing but industrial capital itself in the shape of money-capital, in process of reflux to itself in the shape of money. (The fact that the producer who sold 1,000 p.st.’s worth of wine on three months’ credit may discount his note, which is a certificate of indebtedness of the buyer, at some bank does not alter the matter and has nothing to do with the capital of the merchant.) If market-prices should fall in the mean time by 1/10, the merchant would not only make no profit, but would recover only 2,700 p.st. instead of 3,000 p.st. He would then have to put up 300 p.st. out of his own pocket. These 300 p.st. serve merely as a reserve for balancing the difference in price. But the same applies to the producer. If he had sold at falling prices, he
would likewise have lost 300 p.st., and could not begin production on the same scale without reserve capital.
The linen merchant buys 3,000 p.st.’s worth of linen from the manufacturer. The manufacturer uses 2,000 p.st. of the 3,000 to buy yarn. He buys this yarn from a yarn dealer. The money with which the manufacturer pays the yarn dealer does not belong to the linen dealer. For the latter has received commodities to this amount. It is the money-form of the manufacturer’s own capital. In the hands of the yarn dealer these 2,000 p.st. now appear as returned money-capital. But to what extent are they so, in what respect do they differ from the 2,000 p.st. representing the discarded money-form of the linen and the assumed money-form of the yarn? If the yarn dealer bought on credit and sold for cash before the expiration of his time, then these 2,000 p.st. do not contain one penny of merchant’s capital as distinguished from the money-form, which the industrial capital itself assumes in the course of its circulation. The commercial capital then, so far as it is not a mere form of industrial capital, held in the hands of the merchant in the shape of commodity-capital or money-capital, is nothing but that portion of the money-capital which belongs to the merchant himself and is circulated by the purchase and sale of commodities. This portion represents on a reduced scale that part of the capital advanced for production, which must always be in the hands of the industrial as a money reserve, medium of purchase, and which would always have to circulate as money-capital. This portion, in a reduced scale, is now in the hands of capitalist merchants, and performs its functions only in the process of circulation. It is that portion of the total capital which, aside from expenditures of revenue, must continually circulate on the market as a medium of purchase in order to maintain the continuity of the process of reproduction. This portion is so much smaller in comparison to the total capital, the more rapidly the process of reproduction takes place, and the more developed the function of money as a means of payment, that is, of the credit-system.
Merchant’s capital is simply capital performing its functions in the sphere of circulation. The process of circulation is a phase of the total process of reproduction. But no value is produced in the process of circulation, and, therefore, no surplus-value. Nothing takes place there but changes of form of the same mass of values. In fact, nothing occurs there but the metamorphosis of commodities, and this has nothing to do either with the creation or with the transformation of values. If surplus-value is realised by the sale of the produced commodities, it is only because that surplus-value already existed in them. In the second act, the reconversion of money-capital into commodities (elements of production), the buyer does not realise any surplus-value. He merely inaugurates the production of surplus-value by the exchange of his money for means of production and labor-power. So far as these metamorphoses cost time of circulation—a time, during which capital is not producing at all, least of all surplus-value—they limit the creation of values, and the surplus-value will express itself through the rate of profit precisely in an inverse ratio to the duration of the time of circulation. Merchant’s capital, therefore, does not create any value or surplus-value,
at least not directly. If it contributes toward shortening the time of circulation, it may help indirectly to increase the surplus-value produced by the industrial capitalists. To the extent that it helps to expand the market and promotes the division of labor between capitals, thereby enabling capital to work on a larger scale, its function enhances the productivity of the industrial capital and the accumulation of this capital. Inasmuch as it may shorten the time of circulation, it raises the ratio of surplus-value to the advanced capital, that is, the rate of profit. And to the extent that it confines a smaller portion of capital in the form of money-capital to the sphere of circulation, it increases that portion of capital which is engaged directly in production.
An Essay on the Distribution of Wealth, p. 19.) The same mistake was committed by Verri in his
Meditazionisull’ Economia Politica, § 4, and by Say in his
Traite d’Economie Politique, I, 14, 15. In his
Elements of Political Economy, J. P. Newman says: “In the existing economical arrangements of society, the very act which is performed by the merchant of standing between the producer and the consumer, advancing to the former capital and receiving products in return, and handing over these products to the latter, receiving back capital in return, is a transaction which both facilitates the economical process of the community, and adds value to the products in relation to which it is performed (P. 174).” The producer and the consumer thus save time and money through the intervention of the merchant. This service requires an advance of capital and labor, and must be rewarded, “since it adds value to the products, for the same products, in the hands of the consumers, are worth more than in the hands of the producers.” And so commerce appears to him, as it does to Mr. Say, as “strictly an act of production” (P. 175). This view of Newman is fundamentally wrong. The
use-value of a commodity is greater in the hands of the consumer than in those of the producer, because it is realised by the consumer. For the use-value of a commodity does not serve its end until this commodity enters the sphere of consumption. So long as it is in the hands of the producer, it exists only potentially. But one does not pay twice for a commodity, one does not pay first for its exchange value, and then an extra price for its use-value. By paying for its exchange-value, I appropriate its use-value. And its exchange value is not in the least increased by transferring it from the hand of the producer or middleman to that of the consumer.
Part IV, Chapter XVII.