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
THE particular form, in which the commercial capital and financial capital accumulate money, will be discussed in the next part of this volume.
From what has gone before it follows as a matter of course that nothing can be more absurd than to consider merchants’ capital, whether in the shape of commercial or of financial capital, as some particular kind of industrial capital, such as that invested in mining, agriculture, stock raising, manufacture, transportation, etc., which constitute side lines of industrial capital formed by division of social labor and thus different spheres for its investment. The simple observation, that every industrial capital, when in the circulation phase of its process of reproduction, performs in the shape of commodity-capital and money-capital the very same functions, which appear as exclusive functions of the two forms of merchants’ capital, should make such a crude conception impossible. On the other hand, in commercial and financial capital the differences between the productive nature of industrial capital and its functions in the sphere of circulation are independently individualised,
by transferring definite forms and functions assumed momentarily by industrial capital into independent forms and functions of separate portions of capital permanently tied up in circulation. A changed form of industrial capital is widely different from distinctions between productive capitals following from the nature of the various lines of industry.
Aside from the brutality with which the economist ordinarily handles distinctions of form, in which he is interested only so far as their material side is concerned, the vulgar economist is influenced by two other reasons in his violation of distinctions. There is, in the first place, his incapability to explain the peculiar nature of mercantile profit. In the second place, he writes for the apologetic purpose of proclaiming his opinion, that the process of production by its very nature, is the source of such forms as commodity-capital and money-capital, or later of merchants’ capital and financial capital, instead of showing that they are due to the specific form of capitalist production, which is conditioned above all on the circulation of commodities and therefore of money.
If commercial capital and financial capital do not differ from the production of grain any more than this differs from stock raising and manufacture, then it is evident that production and capitalist production are one and the same thing, and that especially the distribution of the social products among the members of society for the purpose of productive or individual consumption need no more be promoted by merchants and bankers than the consumption of meat by stock raising or that of clothes by their manufacture.
The great economists, such as Smith, Ricardo, etc., are embarrassed over mercantile capital as a special kind, since they analyse the basic form of capital, industrial capital, and take notice of capital of circulation (commodity-capital and money-capital) only to the extent that it is a phase in the process of reproduction of all capital. The rules concerning the formation of value, profit, etc., which are directly deduced from an analysis of industrial capital, do not fit merchants’ capital directly. Therefore these economists leave merchants’ capital entirely out of consideration and mention it only as a kind of industrial capital. Whenever they treat of it particularly, as Ricardo does in dealing with foreign commerce, they seek to demonstrate that it does not create any value (and consequently no surplus-value). But whatever is true of foreign commerce, applies also to home commerce.
Hitherto we have considered merchants’ capital merely from the point of view of the capitalist mode of production, and within its limits. However, not only commerce, but also merchants’ capital, is older than the capitalist mode of production. In fact, it represents historically the oldest free existence of capital.
As we have already seen that the money trade and the capital advanced for it require nothing for their existence but the presence of commerce on a large scale, and further of commercial capital, it is only the latter, which we have to consider here.
Since commercial capital is tied up in the circulation, and since its function consists exclusively in promoting the exchange of commodities, it follows that it requires no other condition for its existence—aside from undeveloped forms arising from direct barter—but those indispensable for the simple circulation of money and commodities. Or rather, the circulation of money is
the condition of its existence. No matter what may be the basis on which production is carried on, which throws its products into circulation as commodities
—whether it be the basis of a primitive commune, or of slave production, or of small agricultural, small bourgeois, or capitalist—the character of the products as commodities is not altered, and as commodities they have to pass through the process of exchange and through the forms incidental to it. The extremes, between which merchants’ capital acts as a mediator, exist for it as given propositions, just as they do for money and its movements. The only requisite is that these extremes should be present as commodities, regardless of whether production is wholly a production of commodities, or whether only the surplus of the independent producers over the immediate needs satisfied by their production is thrown on the market. The merchants’ capital promotes only the movements of these extremes, these commodities, which are premises of its own existence.
The extent to which production ministers to commerce and supplies the merchants, depends on the mode of production. It reaches its maximum under a fully developed capitalist production, in which the product is primarily produced as a commodity, not for direct subsistence. On the other hand, on the basis of every mode of production, commerce promotes the production of surplus products destined for exchange, for the purpose of increasing the enjoyments of wealth of the producers (who are here understood to be the owners of the products). Commerce impregnates production more and more with the character of a production for exchange.
The metamorphosis of commodities, their movements, consist, 1) materially, of an exchange of different commodities for one another; 2) formally, of a conversion of commodities into money by sale, and a conversion of money into commodities by purchase. And the functions of merchants’ capital resolve themselves into these functions of buying and selling commodities. It promotes merely the exchange of commodities, which must be conceived at the outset as being something more than a bare exchange of commodities between direct producers. Under slavery, feudalism, vassalage, so far as primitive organisations are concerned, it is the slave holder, the feudal lord, the tribute collecting state, who are the owners
and sellers of the products. The merchant buys and sells for many. In his hands are concentrated purchases and sales, and purchase and sale cease consequently to be dependent on a direct necessity of the buyer (as a merchant).
But whatever may be the social organisation of the spheres of production, whose exchange of commodities the merchant promotes, his wealth exists always in the form of money and his money always serves as capital. Its form is always M—C—M’. Money, the independent form of exchange value, is his starting point, expansion of the exchange value his independent purpose. He occupies himself with the exchange of commodities and the operations incidental to it, which are separated from production and performed by a non-producer, and this is merely a means to increase wealth and at that wealth in its most general social form, exchange value. His compelling motive and compelling end are the conversion of M into M + ΔM. The transactions M—C and C—M, which promote the act M—M’, appear merely as stages of transition in this conversion of M into M + ΔM. This M—C—M’ is the characteristic movement of merchants’ capital which distinguishes it from C—M—C, the exchange of commodities between the producers themselves, which has for its ultimate end the exchange of use-values.
To the extent that production is undeveloped, the money wealth will be concentrated in the hands of merchants, will appear in the specific form of merchants’ wealth.
Within the capitalist mode of production—that is, as soon as capital has seized hold of production and given to it a wholly changed and specific form—merchants’ capital appears merely as a capital with a
specific function. But in all previous modes of production, and so much the more production ministers to the direct wants of the producers themselves, merchants’ capital appears as the capital which performs
the function of capital.
There is, then, no difficulty in understanding how it is that that merchants’ capital is the historical form of capital long before capital has subjected production to its control. Its existence and development to a certain level are themselves
historical premises for the development of capitalist production. For they are, 1), premises for the concentration of moneyed wealth, and 2), the capitalist mode of production is conditioned on production for exchange, commerce on a large scale instead of with a few individual customers, and this requires also a merchant, who does not buy for the satisfaction of his own individual wants, but concentrates the transactions of many buyers in one commercial transaction. On the other hand, all development of merchants’ capital tends to give to production more and more the character of a production for exchange and to impregnate the products more and more with the character of commodities. But the development of merchants’ capital by itself is incapable of bringing about and explaining the transition from one mode of production to another, as we shall presently see.
Within capitalist production, the merchants’ capital is reduced from its former independent existence to a special phase in the investment of capital in general, and the compensation of profits reduces its rate of profits to the general average. Then it serves only as an agent of productive capital. The particular social conditions, which formed together with the development of merchants’ capital, are then no longer paramount. On the contrary, where merchants’ capital still predominates, we find backward conditions. This is true even of one and the same country, in which, for instance, the pure merchants’ towns form far better analogies with past conditions than the manufacturing towns.
An independent and prevailing development of capital in the shape of merchants’ capital signifies that production is not subject to capital, in other words, it means that capital develops
on the basis of a mode of production independent and outside of it. The independent development of merchants’ capital stands therefore in an inverse ratio to the general economic development of society.
The independent mercantile wealth, as a prevailing form of capital represents the independent establishment of the process of circulation as against its extremes, and these extremes are the exchanging producers themselves. These extremes remain independent of the process of circulation, just as this circulation remains independent of them. The product becomes a commodity in this case by way of commerce. It is commerce which, under such conditions, develops products into commodities; it is not the produced commodity itself which, by its movements, gives rise to commerce. Capital in the capacity of capital appears here first in the process of circulation. In the process of circulation money first develops into capital. In the circulation, the products first assume the character of exchange values, of commodities and money. Capital can and must form in the process of circulation, before it learns to control the extremes, that is, the various spheres of production between which circulation intervenes as a mediator. The circulation of money and commodities may act as an intermediary between spheres of production of widely different organisation, whose internal structure is still, predominantely adjusted to the production of use-values. This independent status of the process of circulation, by which various spheres of production are connected by means of a third link, expresses two facts. On the one hand it shows that the circulation has not yet seized hold of production, but as yet regards it as an existing fact. On the other hand, it shows that the process of production has not yet absorbed circulation and made a phase of production of it. But in capitalist production, both of these things are accomplished. The process of production rests wholly upon the circulation, and the circulation is a mere phase of transition of production, in which the product, having been created as a commodity, is realised in money and its elements of production replaced by products, which have likewise been created in the shape of commodities.
That form of capital, which developed directly in circulation, the merchants’ capital, appears here merely as one of the forms of capital in its process of reproduction.
The rule, that the independent development of merchants’ capital is inversely proportioned to the degree of development of capitalist production, becomes particularly manifest in the history of the carrying trade, for instance, among the Venetians, Genoese, Dutch, etc., where the principal gains were not made by the exportation of the products of the home industries, but by the promotion of the exchange of products of commercially and otherwise economically undeveloped societies and by the exploitation of both spheres of production.
Here the merchants’ capital is pure, separated from the extremes, the spheres of production, between which it intervenes. This is one of the main sources of its formation. But this monopoly of the carrying trade disintegrates, and with it this trade itself, in proportion as the economic development of peoples advances, whom it exploits at each end of its course, and whose backward development formed the basis of this trade. In the carrying trade, this appears not only as the disintegration of a special line of commerce, but also as the disintegration of the supremacy of purely commercial nations and of their commercial wealth in general, which rested upon this carrying trade. This is but one of the special forms, which expresses the subordination of the commercial capital to the industrial capital with the advance of capitalist production. The manner in which merchants’ capital behaves wherever it rules over production is drastically illustrated, not only by the colonial economy (the colonial system) in general, but particularly by the methods of the old Dutch East India Company.
Since the movement of merchants’ capital is M—C—M’,
the profit of the merchant is made, in the first place, only within the process of circulation, by the two transactions of buying and selling; and in the second place, it is realised in the last transactions, the sale. It is a profit upon alienation. At first sight, a pure and independent commercial profit seems impossible, so long as products are sold at their value. To buy cheap in order to sell dear is the rule of trade. It is not supposed to be an exchange of equivalents. The conception of value is included in it only to the extent that the individual commodities all have a value and are to that extent money. In quality, they are all expressions of social labor. But they are not values of equal magnitude. The quantitative ratio, in which products are exchanged, is at first quite arbitrary. They assume the form of commodities inasmuch as they are exchangeable, that is, inasmuch as they may be expressed in terms of the same third thing. The continued exchange and the more regular reproduction for exchange reduces this arbitrariness more and more. But this applies not at once to the producer and consumer, but only to the mediator between them, the merchant, who compares the money-prices and pockets their difference. By his own movements he establishes the equivalence of commodities.
The merchants’ capital is at first merely the intervening movement between extremes not controlled by it and between premises not created by it.
Just as from the mere form of the circulation of commodities, C—M—C, money rises not only as a measure of value and medium of circulation, but also as the absolute form of the commodity and thus of wealth, in the form of a hoard, so that its conservation and accumulation as money become its life’s purpose, so money, in the shape of a hoard, issues from the mere form of the circulation of merchants’ capital, M—C—M’, as something which is preserved and increased only by its alienation.
The trading nations of the ancients existed like the gods of Epicure in the intermediate worlds of the universe, or rather like the Jews in the pores of Polish society. The trade of the first independent and highly developed merchant towns and
trading nations rested as a pure carrying trade upon the barbarism of the producing nations between whom they intervened.
In the precapitalist stages of society, commerce rules industry. The reverse is true of modern society. Of course, commerce will have more or less of a reaction on the societies, between which it is carried on. It will subject production more and more to exchange value, by making enjoyments and subsistence more dependent on the sale than on the immediate use of the products. Thereby it dissolves all old conditions. It increases the circulation of money. It seizes no longer merely upon the surplus of production, but corrodes production itself more and more, making entire lines of production dependent upon it. However, this dissolving effect depends to a large degree on the nature of the producing society.
So long as merchants’ capital promotes the exchange of products between undeveloped societies, commercial profit does not only assume the shape of outbargaining and cheating, but also arises largely from these methods. Leaving aside the fact that it exploits the difference in the prices of production of the various countries (and in this respect it tends to level and fix the values of commodities), those modes of production bring it about that merchants’ capital appropriates to itself the overwhelming portion of the surplus-product, either in its capacity as a mediator between societies, which are as yet largely engaged in the production of use-values and for whose economic organisation the sale of that portion of its product which is transferred to the circulation, or any sale of products at their value, is of minor importance; or, because under those former modes of production, the principal owners of the surplus-product, with whom the merchant has to deal, are the slave holder, the feudal landlord, the state (for instance, the oriental despot), and they represent the wealth and luxury, which the merchant tries to trap, as Adam Smith correctly scented in that passage on feudal times, which I have quoted above. Merchants’ capital in its supremacy everywhere stands for a system of robbery,
*49 and its development, among the
trading nations of old and new times, is always connected with plundering, piracy, snatching of slaves, conquest of colonies. See Carthage, Rome, and later Venetians, Portuguese, Dutch, etc.
The development of commerce and merchants’ capital brings forth everywhere the tendency toward production of exchange values, increases its volume, multiplies and monopolises it, develops money into world money. Commerce therefore has everywhere more or less of a dissolving influence on the producing organisations, which it finds at hand and whose different forms are mainly carried on with a view to immediate use. To what extent it brings about a dissolution of the old mode of production, depends on its solidity and internal articulation. And to what this process of dissolution will lead, in other words, what new mode of production will take the place of the old, does not depend on commerce, but on the character of the old mode of production itself. In the antique world the effect of commerce and the development of merchants’ capital always result in slave economy; or, according to what the point of departure may be, the result may simply turn out to be the transformation of a patriarchal slave system devoted
to the production of direct means of subsistence into a similar system devoted to the production of surplus-value. However, in the modern world, it results in the capitalist mode of production. From these facts it follows, that these results were conditioned on quite other circumstances than the mere influence of the development of merchants’ capital.
It follows from the nature of the case that as soon as town industry as such separates from agricultural industry, its products are from the outset commodities and require for their sale the intervention of commerce. The leaning of commerce upon the development of the towns, and, on the other hand, the dependence of the towns upon commerce, are to that extent intelligible. However, in what measure industrial development will keep step with this development, depends upon quite other circumstances. Already ancient Rome, in its later republican days, developed merchants’ capital more highly than it had ever existed in the antique world, without any progress in the development of crafts, while in Corinth and in other Grecian towns of Europe and Asia Minor the development of commerce was accompanied by highly developed crafts. On the other hand, in direct opposition to the development of towns and its conditions, the trading spirit and the development of commerce are frequently found among unsettled nomadic peoples.
There is no doubt—and it is precisely this fact which has led to many wrong conceptions—that in the 16th and 17th centuries the great revolutions, which took place in commerce with the through geographical discoveries and rapidly increased the development of merchants’ capital, form one of the principal elements in the transition from feudal to capitalist production. The sudden expansion of the world market, the multiplication of the circulating commodities, the zeal displayed among the European nations in the race after the products of Asia and the treasures of America, the colonial system, materially contributed toward the destruction of the feudal barriers of production. However, the modern mode of production, in its first, period, the manufacturing period, developed only in places, where the conditions for it had been
previously developed during medieval times. Compare, for instance, Holland with Portugal.
*50 And, on the other hand, when in the 16th, and partially still in the 17th, century the sudden expansion of commerce and the creation of a new world market exerted an overwhelming influence on the overthrow of the old mode of production and the rise of the capitalistic one, this was accomplished on the basis of the already created capitalist mode of production. The world market forms itself the basis of this mode of production. On the other hand, the immanent necessity of this production to produce on an ever enlarged scale tends to extend the world market continually, so that it is not commerce in this case which revolutionises industry, but industry which continually revolutionises commerce. The commercial supremacy itself is now conditioned on the greater or smaller prevalence of the conditions for a large industry. Compare for instance, England and Holland. The history of the decline of Holland as the ruling commercial nation is the history of the subordination of merchants’ capital to industrial capital. The obstacles presented by the internal solidity and articulation of precapitalistic, national, modes of production to the corrosive influence of commerce is strikingly shown in the intercourse of the English with India and China. The broad basis of the mode of production is here formed by the unity of small agriculture and domestic industry, to which is added in India the form of communes resting upon common ownership of the land, which, by the way, was likewise the original form in China. In India, the English exerted simultaneously their direct political and economic power as rulers and landlords, for the purpose of disrupting these small economic organisations.
*51 The English commerce
exerts a revolutionary influence on these organisations and tears them apart only to the extent that it destroys by the low prices of its goods the spinning and weaving industries, which are an archaic and integral part of this unity. And even so this work of dissolution is proceeding very slowly. It proceeds still more slowly in China, where it is not backed up by any direct political power on the part of the English. The great economy and saving in time resulting from the direct connection of agriculture and manufacture offer here the most dogged resistance to the products of great industries, whose prices are everywhere perforated by the dead expenses of their process of circulation. On the other hand, Russian commerce, unlike the English, leaves the economic basis of Asiatic production untouched.
The transition from the feudal mode of production takes two roads. The producer becomes a merchant and capitalist, in contradistinction from agricultural natural economy and the guild-encircled handicrafts of medieval town industry. This is the really revolutionary way. Or, the merchant takes possession in a direct way of production. While this way serves historically as a mode of transition—instance the English clothier of the 17th century, who brings the weavers, although they remain independently at work, under his control by selling wool to them and buying cloth from them—nevertheless it cannot by itself do much for the overthrow of the old mode of production, but rather preserves it and uses it as its premise. For example, even up to the middle of the 19th century the manufacturer in the French silk industry and in the English hosiery and lace industries was but nominally a manufacturer, and merely a merchant in point of fact, who permitted the weavers to continue their work in the old unorganized
way and exerted only the control of the merchant, for whom they work in reality.
*53 This method is everywhere an obstacle to a real capitalist mode of production and declines with the development of the latter. Without revolutionising the mode of production, it deteriorates merely the condition of the direct producers, transforms them into mere wage workers and proletarians under worse conditions than those who have already been placed under the immediate control of capital and absorbs their surplus-labor on the basis of the old mode of production. The same conditions exist in a somewhat modified form in the London furniture industry, so far as it is carried on by handicrafts. Particularly in the Tower hamlets it is practised on a very extensive scale. The whole production is divided into numerous separate lines independent of one another. One business makes only chairs, another only tables, a third only bureaus, etc. But these lines of business themselves are run more or less like crafts, by one small master with a few journeymen. Nevertheless the output is too large to work directly for private persons. The products are bought by owners of furniture stores. On Saturdays the master sees them and sells his product, and the transaction is closed with as much haggling as is done in a pawnshop over the loan on this or that piece. The masters need this weekly sale, were it for no other reason than to buy more raw materials for next week and pay wages. Under these circumstances, they are really only middlemen between their employes and the merchants. The merchant is the real capitalist, who pockets the largest share of the surplus-value.
A similar condition exists in the transition to manufacture from lines, which were formerly carried on as handicrafts or as sidelines to rural industries. According to the development
of such small independent businesses—which may even employ machinery that admits of a craftslike operation—the transition to large scale industry takes place. The machine is driven by steam, instead of by hand. This is the case, for instance, of late in the English hosiery industry.
There is, consequently, a threefold transition. First, the merchant becomes directly an industrial capitalist. This is the case in crafts conditioned on commerce, especially industries producing luxuries, which are imported by the merchants together with the raw materials and laborers from foreign countries, as they were in Italy from Constantinople in the 15th century. In the second place, the merchant converts the small masters into his middlemen or, perhaps, buys direct from the self-producer, leaving him nominally independent and his mode of production unchanged. In the third place, the industrial becomes a merchant and produces immediately on a large scale for commerce.
In the Middle Ages, the merchant is merely the man who, as Poppe correctly says, “removes” the goods produced by the guilds or the peasants. The merchant becomes an industrial capitalist, or rather, he lets the craftsmen, particularly the small rural producers, work for him. On the other hand, the producer becomes a merchant. The master weaver, instead of receiving his wool in installments from the merchant and working for him with his journeymen buys wool or yarn himself and sells his cloth to the merchant. The elements of production pass into his process of production as commodities bought by himself. And instead of producing for the individual merchant, or for definite customers, the master cloth-weaver produces for the commercial world. The producer is himself a merchant. The merchants’ capital performs no longer anything but the process of circulation. Originally the commerce was the premise for the transformation of the crafts, rural domestic industries, and feudal agriculture into capitalist enterprises. It develops the products into commodities, either by creating a market for them, or by carrying new equivalents in the form of goods to them and supplying production with new raw and auxiliary materials. In this way
it opens up new lines of production, which are based at the outset upon commerce, both as concerns the production for the home and world market and as concerns conditions of production originated by the world market. As soon as manufacture gains sufficient strength, and still more large scale industry, it creates in its turn a market for itself and captures it with its commodities. Now commerce becomes the servant of industrial production, and a continual expansion of the market becomes a vital necessity for industrial production. An ever more extended wholesale production floods the existing market and thereby works continually toward a still wider expansion of the market and a bursting of its bonds. What restricts this wholesale production, is not commerce (to the extent that it expresses the existing demand), but the magnitude of the employed capital and the developed productivity of labor. The industrial capitalist always has the world market before him, compares, and must continually compare, his own cost-prices with those of the whole world, not only with those of his home market. In former periods this comparison falls almost entirely upon the shoulders of the merchants, and thereby secures for merchants’ capital the supremacy over industrial capital.
The first theoretical treatment of modern modes of production—the mercantile system—started out necessarily from the superficial phenomena of the process of circulation, which are presented in an independent form by the movements of merchants’ capital. Therefore it grasped only the semblance of things. This was partly due to the fact that merchants’ capital is the first free mode of existence of capital in general. On the other hand, it was due to the overwhelming influence exerted by this capital during the first period of revolution of feudal production, the period of genesis of modern production. The real science of modern economy does not begin, until theoretical analysis passes from the process of circulation to the process of production. It is true, interest-bearing capital is likewise a very old form of capital. But we shall see later, why mercantilism did not take its departure from it, but assumed a controversial attitude towards it.
mediation between producers and consumers, “one” might just as well designate production itself as a
mediation of consumption (between whom?), and this implies, of course, that the merchants’ capital is as much a part of the productive capital as agricultural and industrial capital. In other words, because I can say, that man can
mediate his consumption only by means of production (and he has to do this even without getting his education at Leipsic), or that labor is required for the appropriation of the products of nature (which might be called a
mediation), it follows, that a
mediation arising from a specific form of production—a real
mediation—has the same absolute character and rank of a necessity. The word
mediation settles everything. Moreover, the merchants are not mediators between producers and consumers (leaving out of consideration consumers which do not produce), but mediators of the exchange of products of producers among themselves. They are but middle men in an exchange, which in a thousand cases takes place without them.
Der Gang des Welthandels im Mittelalter,” 1860) is indeed still living in the conceptions of a world, in which the merchants’ capital is
the general form of capital. He has not the least inkling of the modern meaning of capital, any more than Mommsen has, when he speaks in his history of Rome of “capital” and “the rule of capital.” In modern English history, the commercial estate proper and the merchant towns are also political reactionaries and in league with the landed and financial aristocracy against industrial capital. Compare, for instance, the political role of Liverpool as against Manchester and Birmingham. The complete rule of industrial capital was not acknowledged by English merchants’ capital and moneyed interests until after the abolition of the duties on corn, etc.
Bücher vom Kaufhandel und Wucher. Vom Jahr, 1527.)
History of Commerce.)
Part V, Chapter XXI.