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
TAKE it, in accordance with the assumption on which this section is based, that the mass of profit appropriated in any particular sphere of production is equal to the sum of the surplus-values produced by the total capital invested in this sphere. Nevertheless the bourgeois will not consider his profit as identical with the surplus-value, that is to say, with unpaid surplus-labor. And he will do so, for the following reasons.
1) He forgets the process of production in the process of circulation. He is of the opinion that surplus-value is made by his realisation on the value of commodities, which includes realisation on their surplus-value. [There is a blank at this place, indicating that Marx intended to dwell in detail on this point.—F. E.]
2) Assuming a uniform degree of exploitation, we have seen that the rate of profit may differ considerably according to the relative cheapness or dearness of raw materials and the experience of the buyer, according to the relative productivity, efficacy, and cheapness of the machinery employed, according to the greater or lesser perfection of the general equipment of the various stages of the productive process, the simplicity and effectiveness of the management, etc.; all this without reference to any modifications due to the credit-system, to the mutual cheating of the capitalists among themselves, to any favorable choice of the market. In short, given the surplus-value for a certain capital, it depends still very much on the individual business ability of the capitalist, or of his managers and salesmen, whether this same surplus-value realises a greater or smaller rate of profit and thus yields a greater or smaller mass of profit. The same surplus-value of 1,000
p.st., a product of 1,000 p.st. of wages, may be calculated in the business of A on 9,000 p.st., in the business of B on 11,000 p.st. of constant capital. In the case of A we have then p’ = 1000/10,000, or 10%. In the case of B we have p’ = 1000/12,000, or 8 1/3%. The total capital produces relatively more profit in the business of A than in that of B, although the variable capital advanced in either case is 1,000 p.st., and the surplus-value produced by it likewise 1,000 p.st., so that there is in both cases the same degree of exploitation of the same number of laborers. This difference in the materialisation of the same mass of surplus-value, or the difference in the rates of profit, may also be due to other causes. Still, it may be due wholly to a difference in business ability in both establishments. And this fact leads the capitalist to the conviction that his profits are due, not to the exploitation of labor, but at least, in part, to other circumstances independent of that exploitation, particularly to his individual activity.
The analyses of this part of the work demonstrate the erroneousness of the view (Rodbertus) according to which (in distinction from ground-rent, in the case of which the area of real-estate is said to remain the same and yet to produce a higher rent) a change in the magnitude of a certain capital is said to have no influence on the proportion of profit to capital, and thus on the rate of profit, on the assumption that the mass of capital, on which profits are calculated, grows simultaneously with the mass of profits, and vice versa.
This is true only in two cases. In the first place, it is true, assuming all other circumstances, especially the rate of surplus-value, to remain unchanged, if there is a change in the value of that commodity which is a money-commodity. (The same occurs in the case of a merely nominal change of value, the rise or fall of mere tokens of value while other circumstances remain the same.) Take it that the total capital amounts to 100 p.st., with a profit of 20 p.st., so that the rate of profit is 20%. Now, if gold rises or falls by 50%, the same capital, in the first eventuality, will be worth 150 p.st., which was previously worth only 100 p.st., and the profit
will be worth 30 p.st., that is to say, it will be worth that much in money instead of 20 p.st., as before. In the second eventuality, the capital of 100 p.st. will be worth only 50 p.st., and the profit will be represented by the value of 10 p.st. But in either case 150 : 30 = 50 : 10 = 100 : 20 = 20%. But in all these cases there would have been no actual change in the magnitude of capital-value, but only in the money-expression of the same value and the same surplus-value. For this reason s/C, or the rate of profit, could not be affected.
The second case is that in which an actual change of magnitude takes place in the value, but without being accompanied by a change in the proportion of v to c, in other words, when the rate of surplus-value remains the same and the proportion of the variable capital invested in labor-power (considered as an index of the amount of labor-power set in motion) to the constant capital invested in means of production remains the same. Under these circumstances, we may have C, or nC, or C/n, for instance 1,000, or 2,000, or 500. If the rate of profit is 20%, the profit will be 200 in the first case, 400 in the second, and 100 in the third. But 200 : 1,000 = 400 : 2,000 = 100 : 500 = 20%, that is to say the rate of profit remains unchanged, because the composition of capital remains the same and is not effected by its change of magnitude. An increase or decrease in the mass of profit shows therefore merely an increase or decrease in the magnitude of the invested capital.
In the first case, then, there is but seemingly a change in the magnitude of the employed capital, while in the second case there is an actual change of magnitude, but no change in the organic composition of the capital, that is to say, in the relative proportions of the variable and constant portions. With the exception of these two cases, a change in the magnitude of the employed capital is either the
result of a preceding change of value in one of the components of capital, and therefore of a change in the relative magnitudes of these components (unless the surplus-value itself varies with the variable capital); or, this change of magnitude (for instance in the
case of enterprises on a large scale, the introduction of new machinery, etc.) is the
cause of a change in the relative magnitudes of the organic components of capital. In all these cases, other circumstances remaining unchanged, a change in the magnitude of the employed capital must be accompanied simultaneously by a change in the rate of profit.
An increase in the rate of profit is always due to a relative or absolute increase of the surplus-value in proportion to its cost of production, for instance to the advanced total capital, or to a decrease in the difference between the rate of profit and the rate of surplus-value.
Fluctuations in the rate of profit, independently of changes in the organic components of capital, or of the absolute magnitude of the capital, may occur through a rise or fall of the value of the advanced capital, whether it be fixed or circulating, caused by a prolongation or reduction of the working time required for its reproduction, this change in the working time taking place independently of already existing capital. The value of every commodity, including the commodities of which capital consists, is determined, not by the necessary labor-time contained in it individually, but by the
social labor-time necessary for its reproduction. This reproduction may take place under aggravating or under propitious circumstances, which differ from the conditions of original production. If it takes under altered conditions double the time, or half as much time, to reproduce the same material capital, and if the value of money remained unchanged, then a capital formerly worth 100 p.st. would be worth 200 p.st. or 50 p.st. If this appreciation or depreciation were to affect all parts of capital uniformly, then the profit would also be expressed correspondingly in double, or half, the amount of money. But if appreciation or depreciation imply a change in the organic composition of capital, if they imply a raising or lowering of the proportion between the variable and constant portions of capital, then the rate of profit, other circumstances remaining the same, will grow with a relatively growing, and fall with a relatively falling, variable capital. If only the
money-value of the advanced capital rises or falls (in consequence of a change in the valuation of money) then the money-value of the surplus-value rises or falls in the same proportion. The rate of profit remains unchanged.