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VOLUME III. THE PROCESS OF CAPITALIST PRODUCTION AS A WHOLE. - Karl Marx, Capital: A Critique of Political Economy. Volume III: The Process of Capitalist Production as a Whole 
Capital: A Critique of Political Economy. Volume III: The Process of Capitalist Production as a Whole, by Karl Marx. Ed. Federick Engels. Trans. from the 1st German edition by Ernest Untermann (Chicago: Charles H. Kerr and Co. Cooperative, 1909).
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|c = 50, and v = 100, then p' = 100/150, or 66 1/3%.|
|c = 100, and v = 100, then p' = 100/200, or 50%.|
|c = 200, and v = 100, then p' = 100/300, or 33 1/3%.|
|c = 300, and v = 100, then p' = 100/400, or 25%.|
|c = 400, and v = 100, then p' = 100/500, or 20%.|
In this way, the same rate of surplus-value, with the same degree of labor exploitation, would express itself in a falling rate of profit, because the material growth of the constant capital, and consequently of the total capital, implies their growth in value, although not in the same proportion.
If it is furthermore assumed that this gradual change in the composition of capital is not confined to some individual spheres of production, but occurs more or less in all, or at least in the most important ones, so that they imply changes in the organic average composition of the total capital of a certain society, then the gradual and relative growth of the constant over the variable capital must necessarily lead to a gradual fall of the average rate of profit, so long as the rate of surplus-value, or the intensity of exploitation of labor by capital, remain the same. Now we have seen that it is one of the laws of capitalist production that its development carries with it a relative decrease of variable as compared with constant capital, and consequently as compared to the total capital, which it sets in motion. This is only another way of saying that the same number of laborers, the same quantity of labor-power set in motion by a variable capital of a given value, consume in production an ever increasing quantity of means of production, such as machinery and all sorts of fixed capital, raw and auxiliary materials, and consequently a constant capital of ever increasing value and volume, during the same period of time, owing to the peculiar methods of production developing within the capitalist system. This progressive relative decrease of the variable capital as compared to the constant, and consequently to the total, capital is identical with the progressive higher organic composition of the average social capital. It is, in another way, but an expression of the progressive development of the productive powers of society, which is manifested by the fact that the same number of laborers, in the same time, convert an ever growing quantity of raw and auxiliary materials into products, thanks to the growing application of machinery and fixed capital in general, so that less labor is needed for the production of the same, or of more, commodities. This growing value and volume of constant capital corresponds to a progressive cheapening of products, although the increase in the value of the constant capital indicates but imperfectly the growth in the actual mass of use-values represented by the material of the constant capital. Every individual product, taken by itself, contains a smaller quantity of labor than the same product did on a lower scale of production, in which the capital invested in wages occupies a far greater space compared to the capital invested in means of production. The hypothetical series placed at the beginning of this chapter expresses, therefore, the actual tendency of capitalist production. This mode of production produces a progressive decrease of the variable capital as compared to the constant capital, and consequently a continuously rising organic composition of the total capital. The immediate result of this is that the rate of surplus-value, at the same degree of labor-exploitation, expresses itself in a continually falling average rate of profit. (We shall see later why this fall does not manifest itself in an absolute form, but rather as a tendency toward a progressive fall.) This progressive tendency of the average rate of profit to fall is, therefore, but a peculiar expression of capitalist production for the fact that the social productivity of labor is progressively increasing. This is not saying that the rate of profit may not fall temporarily for other reasons. But it demonstrates at least that it is the nature of the capitalist mode of production, and a logical necessity of its development, to give expression to the average rate of surplus-value by a falling rate of average profit. Since the mass of the employed living labor is continually on the decline compared to the mass of materialised labor incorporated in productively consumed means of production, it follows that that portion of living labor, which is unpaid and represents surplus-value, must also be continually on the decrease compared to the volume and value of the invested total capital. Seeing that the proportion of the mass of surplus-value to the value of the invested total capital forms the rate of profit, this rate must fall continuously.
Simple as this law appears from the foregoing statements, all of political economy has so far tried in vain to discover it, as we shall see later on. The economists saw the problem and cudgeled their brains in tortuous attempts to interpret it. Since this law is of great importance for capitalist production, it may be said to be that mystery whose solution has been the goal of the entire political economy since Adam Smith. The difference between the various schools since Adam Smith consists in their different attempts to solve this riddle. If we consider, on the other hand, that political economy up to the present has been tinkering with the distinction between constant and variable capital without ever defining it accurately; that it never separated surplus-value from profit, and never even considered profit in its purely theoretical form, that is, separated from its different subdivisions, such as industrial profit, commercial profit, interest, ground rent; that it never thoroughly analyzed the differences in the organic composition of capital, and for this reason never thought of analyzing the formation of an average rate of profit; if we consider all this, we no longer wonder at its failure to solve the riddle.
We intentionally analyze first this law, before we pass on to a consideration of the different independent categories into which profit is subdivided. The fact that this analysis is made independently of the subdivisions of profit, which fall to the share of different categories of persons, shows in itself that this law, in its general workings, is independent of those subdivisions and of the mutual relations of the resulting categories of profit. The profit to which we are here referring is but another name for surplus-value itself, which is merely observed in its relation to the total capital, instead of its relation to the variable capital from which it arises. The fall in the rate of profit therefore expresses the falling relation of surplus-value itself to the total capital, and is for this reason independent of any division of this profit among various participants.
We have seen that a certain stage of capitalist development, in which the organic composition of capital, c : v shows the proportion of 50 : 100, expresses a rate of surplus-value of 100% by a rate of profit of 66 2/3%, and that a higher stage, in which c : v shows the proportion 400:100, expresses the same rate of surplus-value by a rate of profit of only 20%. What is true of different successive stages in the same country, is also true of different contemporaneous stages of development in different countries. In an undeveloped country, in which the first-named composition of capital is the rule, the average rate of profit would be 66 2/3%, while in a country with the other, higher, stage of development, the average rate of profit would be 20%.
The difference between two national rates of profit might be eliminated, or even reversed, if labor were less productive in the less developed country, so that a larger quantity of labor would be incorporated in a smaller quantity of the same commodities, a larger exchange-value represented by a smaller use-value, so that the laborer would consume a larger portion of his time in the reproduction of his own means of subsistence, or of their value, and have less time to spare for the production of surplus-value, and consequently would perform less surplus-labor, so that the rate of surplus-value would be lower. For instance, if the laborer of the less developed country were to work two-thirds of the working day for himself, and one-third for the capitalist, then, referring to the above illustration, the same labor-power would be paid with 133 1/3 and would furnish a surplus of only 66 2/3. A constant capital of 50 would correspond to a variable capital of 133 1/3. The rate of surplus-value would then amount to 133 1/3 : 66 2/3 = 50%, and the rate of profit to 183 1/3 : 66 2/3 = about 36½%.
Since we have not analysed the different subdivisions of profit, so that they do not exist for the present so far as we are here concerned, we make the following preliminary remarks merely in order to prevent misunderstanding: It would be a mistake to measure the level of the national rate of profit by, say, the level of the national rate of interest, when comparing countries in different stages of development, especially when comparing countries with a developed capitalist production to countries, in which labor has not yet been fully subjected to capital, although the laborer may already be exploited by the capitalist, as happens, for instance, in India, where the ryot manages his farm as an independent producer, whose production, strictly so called, is not yet under the complete sway of capital, although the usurer may not only rob him of his entire surplus-labor by means of interest, but also curtail his wages, to use a capitalist term. For the interest of such stages comprises all of the profit, and more than the profit, instead of merely expressing an aliquot part of the produced surplus-value, or profit, as it does in countries with a developed capitalist production. On the other hand, the rate of interest in capitalist countries is overwhelmingly determined by conditions (loans granted by usurers to owners of large estates who draw ground-rent) which have nothing to do with profit, but which merely indicate to what extent usury appropriates ground-rent.
In countries with capitalist production in different stages of development, and consequently with capitals of different organic composition, a country with a short normal working day may have a higher rate of surplus-value (the one factor which determines the rate of profit) than a country with a long normal working day. In the first place, if the English working day of 10 hours, on account of its higher intensity, is equal to an Austrian working day of 14 hours, then dividing the working day equally in both instances, 5 hours of English surplus-labor may represent a greater value on the world-market than 7 hours of Austrian surplus-labor. In the second place, a larger portion of the English working day may represent surplus-labor than of the Austrian working day.
The law of the falling tendency of the rate of profit, which is the expression of the same, or even of a higher, rate of surplus-value, says in so many words: If you take any quantity of the average social capital, say a capital of 100, you will find that an ever larger portion of it is invested in means of production, and an ever smaller portion in living labor. Since, then, the aggregate mass of the living labor operating the means of production decreases in comparison to the value of these means of production, it follows that the unpaid labor, and that portion of value in which it is expressed, must decline as compared to the value of the advanced total capital. Or, an ever smaller aliquot part of the invested total capital is converted into living labor, and this capital absorbs in proportion to its magnitude less and less surplus-labor, although the proportion of the unpaid part of the employed labor may simultaneously grow as compared with the paid part. The relative decrease of the variable, and the relative increase of the constant, capital, while both parts may grow absolutely in magnitude, is but another expression for the increased productivity of labor.
Let a capital of 100 consist of 80 c + 20 v, and let the 20 v stand for 20 laborers. Let the rate of surplus-value be 100%, that is to say, the laborers work one-half of the day for themselves and the other half for the capitalist. Now take a less developed country, in which a capital of 100 is composed of 20 c + 80 v, and let these 80 v stand for 80 laborers. But let these laborers work two-thirds of the day for themselves, and only one-third for the capitalists. Assuming all other things to be equal, the laborers in the first case will produce a value of 40, while those in the second case will produce a value of 120. The first capital produces 80 c + 20 v + 20 s = 120; rate of profit 20%. The second capital produces 20 c+80 v+40 s=140; rate of profit 40%. In other words, the rate of profit in the second case is double that of the first case, and yet the rate of surplus-value in the first case is 100%, while it is only 50% in the second case. But a capital of the same magnitude appropriates in the first case the surplus-labor of only 20 laborers, while it appropriates that of 80 laborers in the second case.
The law of the falling tendency of the rate of profit, or of the relative decline of the appropriated surplus-labor compared to the mass of materialised labor set in motion by living labor does not argue in any way against the fact that the absolute mass of the employed and exploited labor set in motion by the social capital, and consequently the absolute mass of the surplus-labor appropriated by it, may grow. Nor does it argue against the fact that the capitals controlled by individual capitalists may dispose of a growing mass of labor and surplus-labor, even though the number of the laborers employed by them may not grow.
Take for illustration's sake a certain population of working people, for instance, two millions. Assume, furthermore, that the length and intensity of the average working day, and the level of wages, and thereby the proportion between necessary and surplus-labor, are given. In the case the aggregate labor of these two millions, and their surplus-labor expressed in surplus-value, represent always the same magnitude of values. But with the growth of the mass of the constant (fixed and circulating) capital, which this labor manipulates, the proportion of this produced quantity of values declines as compared to the value of this total capital. And the value of this capital grows with its mass, although not in the same proportion. This proportion, and consequently the rate of profit, falls in spite of the fact that the same mass of living labor is controlled as before, and the same amount of surplus-labor absorbed by the capital. This proportion changes, not because the mass of living labor decreases, but because the mass of the materialised labor set in motion by living labor increases. It is a relative decrease, not an absolute one, and has really nothing to do with the absolute magnitude of the labor and surplus-labor set in motion. The fall of the rate of profit is not due to an absolute, but only to a relative decrease of the variable part of the total capital, that is, its decrease as compared with the constant part.
The same thing which applies to any given mass of labor and surplus-labor, applies also to a growing number of laborers, and thus under the above assumptions, to any growing mass of the controlled labor in general and to its unpaid part, the surplus-labor, in particular. If the laboring population increases from two million to three million, if, furthermore, the variable capital invested in wages also rises to three million from its former amount of two million, while the constant capital rises from four million to fifteen million, then the mass of surplus-labor, and of surplus-value, under the above assumption of a constant working day and a constant rate of surplus-value, rises by 50%, that is, from two million to three million. Nevertheless, in spite of this growth in the absolute mass of surplus-labor and surplus-value by 50%, the proportion of the variable to the constant capital would fall from 2 : 4 to 3 : 15, and the proportion of the surplus-value to the total capital, expressed in millions, would be
|I. 4 c + 2 v + 2 s; C = 6, p' = 33 1/3%.|
|II. 15 c + 3 v + 3 s; C = 18, p' = 16 2/3%.|
While the mass of surplus-value has increased by one-half, the rate of profit has fallen by one-half. However, the profit is only the surplus-value calculated on the total social capital, so that its absolute magnitude, socially considered, is the same as the absolute magnitude of the surplus-value. In this case, the absolute magnitude of the profit would have grown by 50%, in spite of its enormous relative decrease compared to the advanced total capital, or in spite of the enormous fall of the average rate of profit. We see, then, that in spite of the progressive fall of rate of profit, there may be an absolute increase of the number of laborers employed by capital, an absolute increase of the labor set in motion by it, an absolute increase of the mass of surplus-labor absorbed, a resulting absolute increase of the produced surplus-value, and consequently an absolute increase in the mass of the produced profit. And this increase may be progressive. And it may not only be so. On the basis of capitalist production, it must be so, aside from temporary fluctuations.
The capitalist process of production is essentially a process of accumulation. We have shown that the mass of values, which must be simply reproduced and maintained, increases progressively with the development of capitalist production to the extent that the productivity of labor grows, even if the employed labor-power should remain constant. But the development of social productivity carries with it a still greater increase of the produced use-values, of which the means of production form a part. And the additional labor, whose appropriation reconverts this additional value into capital, does not depend on the value, but on the mass of these means of production (including the means of subsistence), because the laborer in the productive process is not operating with the exchange-value, but with the use-value of the means of production. Accumulation itself, however, and the concentration of capital that goes with it, is a material means of increasing the productive power. Now, this growth of the means of production includes the increase of the laboring population, the creation of a laboring population which corresponds to the surplus-capital or even exceeds its general requirements, leading to an overpopulation of working people. A momentary excess of the surplus-capital over the laboring population controlled by it would have a twofold effect. It would, on the one hand, mitigate the conditions, which decimate the offspring of the laboring class and would facilitate marriages among them, by raising wages. This would tend to increase the laboring population. On the other hand, it would employ the methods by which relative surplus-value is created (introduction and improvement of machinery) and thereby create still more rapidly an artificial relative overpopulation, which in its turn would be a hothouse for the actual propagation of its numbers, since under capitalist production poverty propagates its kind. The nature of the capitalist process of accumulation, which process is but an element in the capitalist process of production, implies as a matter of course that the increased mass of means of production, which is to be converted into capital, must always find on hand a corresponding increase, or even an excess, of laboring people for exploitation. The progress of the process of production and accumulation must, therefore, be accompanied by a growth of the mass of available and appropriated surplus-labor, and consequently by a growth of the absolute mass of profit appropriated by the social capital. But the same laws of production and accumulation increase the volume and value of the constant capital in a more rapid progression than those of the variable capital invested in living labor. The same laws, then, produce for the social capital an increase in the absolute mass of profit and a falling rate of profit.
We leave out of consideration the fact that the same amount of values represents a progressively increasing mass of use-values and enjoyments to the extent that the capitalist process of production carries with it a development of the productive power of social labor, a multiplication of the lines of production, and an increase of products.
The development of capitalist production and accumulation lifts the processes of labor to a higher scale and gives them greater dimensions, which imply larger investments of capital for each individual establishment. A growing concentration of capitals (accompanied by a growing number of capitalists, though not to the same extent) is therefore one of the material requirements of capitalist production as well as one of the results produced by it. Hand in hand with it, and mutually interacting, goes a progressive expropriation of the more or less direct producers. It is, then, a matter of course for the capitalists that they should control increasing armies of laborers (no matter how much the variable capital may relatively decrease in comparison to the constant capital), and that the mass of surplus-value, and of profit, appropriated by them, should grow simultaneously with the fall of the rate of profit, and in spite of it. The same causes which concentrate masses of laborers under the control of capitalists, are precisely those which also swell the mass of fixed capital, auxiliary and raw materials in a growing proportion as compared to the mass of the employed living labor.
It requires but a passing notice at this point, that, given a certain laboring population, the mass of surplus-value, and therefore the absolute mass of profit, must grow if the rate of surplus-value increases by a prolongation or intensification of the working day, or by a lowering of the value of wages through a development of the productive power of labor, and must do so in spite of the relative decrease of the variable capital compared to the constant.
The same development of the productive power of social labor, the same laws, which express themselves in a relative fall of the variable as compared to the total capital and in a correspondingly hastened accumulation, while this accumulation in its turn becomes the starting point of a further development of the productive power and of a further relative fall of the variable capital, this same development manifests itself, aside from temporary fluctuations, by a growing increase of the employed total labor-power, a growing increase of the absolute mass of surplus-value, and consequently of profits.
Now, in what form must this two-faced law with the same causes for a decrease of the rate of profits and a simultaneous increase of the absolute mass of profits show itself? A law based on the fact that under certain conditions the appropriated mass of surplus-labor, and consequently of surplus-value, increases, and that, so far as the total capital is concerned, or the individual capital as an aliquot part of the total capital, profit and surplus-value are identical magnitudes?
Take that aliquot part of capital which is the basis of our calculation of the rate of profit, for instance 100. These 100 illustrate the average composition of the total capital, say 80 c + 20 v. We have seen in the second part of this volume, that the average rate of profit is determined, not by the particular composition of individual capital, but by the average composition of social capital. If the variable capital decreases as compared to the constant, or to the total capital, then the rate of profit, or the relative magnitude of surplus-value calculated on the total capital, falls even though the intensity of exploitation were to remain the same, or even to increase. But it is not this relative magnitude alone which falls. The magnitude of the surplus-value or profit absorbed by the total capital of 100 also falls absolutely. At a rate of surplus-value of 100%, a capital of 60 + 40 produces a mass of surplus-value and profit amounting to 40; a capital of 70 c + 30 v a mass of profit of 30; a capital of 80 c + 20 v produces only 20 of profit. This fall refers to the mass of surplus-value and thus of profit, and is due to the fact that the total capital of 100, with the same intensity of labor exploitation, employs less living labor, sets in motion less labor-power, and therefore produces less surplus-value. Taking any aliquot part of the social capital, this is, of capital of average composition, as a standard by which to measure surplus-value—and this is done in all calculations of profit—a relative fall of surplus-value is identical with its absolute fall. The rate of profit sinks in the above cases from 40% to 30% and 20%, because the mass of surplus-value, and of profit, produced by the same capital falls absolutely from 40 to 30 and 20. Since the magnitude of the value of capital, by which the surplus-value is measured, is given as 100, a fall in the proportion of surplus-value to this given magnitude can be only another expression for the fact that surplus-value and profit decrease absolutely. This is, of course, a tautology. But we have demonstrated that the nature of the capitalist process of production brings about this decrease.
On the other hand, the same causes which bring about an absolute decrease of surplus-value and profit on a given capital, and consequently in the percentage of the rate of profit, produce an increase of the absolute mass of surplus-value and profit appropriated by the total capital (that is, by the capitalists as a whole). How can this be explained, and what is the only way in which this can be explained, or what are the conditions on which this apparent contradiction is based?
While any aliquot part, any 100 of the social capital, any 100 of average social composition, is a given magnitude, for which a fall in the rate of profit implies a fall in the absolute magnitude of profit, just because the capital which serves as a standard of measurement is a constant magnitude, the magnitude of the social capital, on the other hand, as well as that of the capital in the hands of individual capitalists, is variable, and in keeping with our assumptions it must vary inversely to the decrease of its variable portion.
In our former illustration, when the percentage of composition was 60 c + 40 v, the corresponding surplus-value and profit was 40, and the rate of profit 40%. Take it that the total capital in this stage of composition was one million. In that case the total surplus-value, and total profit, amounted to 400,000. Now, if the composition changes later to 80 c + 20 v, while the degree of labor exploitation remains the same, then the surplus-value and profit for each 100 is 20. But as we have demonstrated that the absolute mass of surplus-value and profit increases in spite of the fall of the rate of profit, in spite of the decrease in the production of surplus-value by a capital of 100, that it grows, say, from 400,000 to 440,000, there is no other way in which this could be brought about than by a growth of the total capital to 2,200,000 to the extent that this new composition developed. The mass of the total capital set in motion has risen by 220%, while the rate of profit has fallen by 50%. If the total capital had only been doubled, it could have produced no more surplus-value and profit with a rate of profit of 20% than the old capital of 1,000,000 at a rate of 40%. If it had grown to less than twice its old size, it would have produced less surplus-value or profit than the old capital of 1,000,000 which, with its former composition, would have had to grow from 1,000,000 to no more than 1,100,000, in order to raise its surplus-value from 400,000 to 440,000.
We meet here once more the previously analysed law, that the relative decrease of the variable capital, or the development of the productive power of labor, requires an increasing mass of total capital for the purpose of setting in motion the same quantity of labor-power and absorbing the same quantity of surplus-labor. Consequently the possibility of a relative surplus of laboring people develops to the extent that capitalist production advances, not because the productive power of social labor decreases, but because it increases. Relative overpopulation does not arise out of an absolute disproportion between labor and means of subsistence, or of means for the production of these means of existence, but out of a disproportion due to the capitalist exploitation of labor, a disproportion between the growing increase of capital and its relatively decreasing demand for an increase of population.
A fall in the rate of profit by 50% means its fall by one-half. If the mass of profit is to remain the same, the capital must be doubled. In order that the mass of profit made at a declining rate of profit may remain the same as before, the multiplier indicating the growth of the total capital must be equal to the divisor indicating the fall of the rate of profit. If the rate of profit falls from 40 to 20, the total capital must rise at the rate of 20 to 40, in order that the result may remain the same. If the rate of profit had fallen from 40 to 8, the capital would have to increase at the rate of 8 to 40, or five times its value. A capital of 1,000,000 at a rate of 40% produces 400,000, and a capital of 5,000,000 at a rate of 8% likewise produces 400,000. This applies, so long as the result is to remain the same. But if the result is to be higher, then the capital must grow at a faster rate than the rate of profit falls. In other words, in order that the variable portion of the total capital may not only remain the same, but may also increase absolutely, although its percentage in the total capital falls, the total capital must grow at a higher rate than the percentage of the variable capital falls. It must grow at such a rate that it requires in its new composition not merely the same old variable capital, but more than it for the purchase of labor-power. If the variable portion of a capital of 100 falls from 40 to 20, the total capital must rise higher than 200, in order to be able to employ a larger variable capital than 40.
Even if the mass of the exploited laboring population were to remain constant, and only the length and intensity of the working day to increase, the mass of the invested capital would have to increase, since it must rise for the mere purpose of employing the same mass of labor under the old conditions of exploitation as soon as the composition of capital varies.
In short, the same development of the social productivity of labor expresses itself in the course of capitalist production on the one hand in a tendency to a progressive fall of the rate of profit, and on the other hand in a progressive increase of the absolute mass of the appropriated surplus-value, or profit; so that on the whole a relative decrease of variable capital and profit is accompanied by an absolute increase of both. This twofold effect, as we have seen, can express itself only in a growth of the total capital at a ratio more rapid than that expressed by the fall in the rate of profit. In order that an absolutely increased variable capital may be employed in a capital of higher composition, that is, a capital in which the constant capital has relatively increased still more than the variable, the total capital must one only grow in proportion to its higher composition, but even still more rapidly. It follows, then, that an ever larger quantity of capital is required in order to employ the same, and still more an increased amount of labor-power, to the extent that the capitalist mode of production develops. The increasing productivity of labor thus creates necessarily and permanently an apparent overpopulation of laboring people. If the variable capital forms only one-sixth of the total capital instead of one-half, as before, then the total capital must be trebled in order to employ the same amount of labor-power. And if the labor-power to be employed is doubled, then the total capital must be multiplied by six.
Political economy has so far been unable to explain the law of the falling tendency of the rate of profit. So it pointed as a consolation to the increasing mass of profit, the increase in the absolute magnitude of profit for the individual capitalist as well as for the social capital, but even this consolation was based on mere commonplaces and probabilities.
It is simply a tautology to say that the mass of profit is determined by two factors, namely first the rate profit, and secondly by the mass of capital invested at this rate. It is therefore but a corollary of this tautology to say that there is a possibility for the increase of the mass of profit even though the rate of profit may fall at the same time. This does not help us to get one step farther, since there is also a possibility that the capital may increase without resulting in an increase of the mass of profit, and that it may even increase while the mass of profit is already falling. For 100 at 25% make 25, while 400 at 5% make only 20.35 But if the same causes, which bring about a fall in the rate of profit, promote the accumulation, that is, the formation of additional capital, and if each additional capital employs additional labor and produces additional surplus-value; when, on the other hand, the mere fall in the rate of profit implies the fact that the constant capital, and with it the total old capital, have increased, then this process ceases to be mysterious. We shall see later, to what falsifications of calculations some people have recourse in order to deny the possibility of an increase in the mass of profits while the rate of profits is simultaneously decreasing.
We have shown that the same causes, which bring about a tendency of the average rate of profits to fall, necessitate also an accelerated accumulation of capital and consequently an increase in the absolute magnitude, or total mass, of the surplus-labor (surplus-value, profit) appropriated by it. Just as everything is reversed in competition, and thus in the consciousness of its agents, so is also this law, this internal and necessary connection between two apparent contradictions. It is evident, within the proportions indicated above, that a capitalist disposing of a large capital will receive a larger mass of profits than a small capitalist making apparently high profits. A superficial observation of competition shows furthermore that under certain circumstances, when the greater capitalist wishes to make more room for himself on the market by pushing aside the smaller ones, as happens in times of commercial crises, he makes a practical use of this, that is, he lowers his rate of profit intentionally in order to crowd the smaller ones off the field. Particularly merchant's capital, as we shall show at length later on, shows symptoms, which seem to attribute the fall in profits to an expansion of the business, and thus of capital. We shall later on give a scientific expression for this false conception. Similar superficial observations result from the comparison of rates of profit made in some particular lines of business, according to whether they are subject to free competition or to monopoly. The utterly shallow conception existing in the heads of the agents of competition is found in our Roscher, namely the idea that a reduction of the rate of profits is "more prudent and humane." The fall in the rate of profit is in this case attributed to an increase of capital, it appears as a consequence of this increase, and of the resultant calculation of the capitalist that the mass of profits to be pocketed by him will be greater at a smaller rate of profits. This entire conception (with the exception of that of Adam Smith, which we shall mention later) rests on the utter misapprehension of what the average rate of profit represents and on the crude idea that prices are indeed determined by adding a more or less arbitrary amount of profit to the actual value of the commodities. Crude as these ideas are, they arise necessarily out of the inverted aspect which the immanent laws of capitalist production represent under competition.
The law that the fall in the rate of profit due to the development of the productive powers is accompanied by an increase in the mass of profit expresses itself furthermore in the fact that a fall in the price of commodities produced by capital is accompanied by a relative increase of the masses of profit contained in them and realised by their sale.
Since the development of the productive powers and the higher composition of capital corresponding to it set in motion an ever increasing quantity of means of production with an ever decreasing quantity of labor, every aliquot part of the total product, every single commodity, or every particular quantity of commodities in the total mass of products absorbs less living labor, and also contains less materialised labor, both as to the wear and tear of fixed capital and to the raw and auxiliary materials consumed. Every single commodity, then, contains a smaller amount of labor materialised in means of production and of labor newly added during production. Hence the price of the individual commodity falls. The mass of profits contained in the individual commodities may nevertheless increase, if the rate of the absolute or relative surplus-value grows. The commodity then contains less newly added labor, but its unpaid portion grows over its paid portion. However, this is the case only within certain limits. In the course of the development of production, with the enormously growing absolute decrease of the amount of living labor newly embodied in the individual commodities, the mass of unpaid labor contained in them will likewise decrease absolutely, however much it may have grown as compared to their paid portion. The mass of profit on each individual commodity will decrease considerably with the development of the productive power of labor, in spite of the increase of the rate of surplus-value. And this reduction, the same as the fall in the rate of profits, is only delayed by the cheapening of the elements of constant capital and the other circumstances mentioned in the first part of this volume, which increase the rate of profit at a stable, or even falling, rate of surplus-value.
To say that the price of the individual commodities falls, which together make up the total product of the capital, is simply to say that a certain quantity of labor is realised in a larger quantity of commodities, so that each individual commodity contains less labor than before. This is the case even if the price of one of the parts of constant capital, such as raw material, etc., should rise. With the exception of a few cases (for instance, if the productive power of labor cheapens all the elements of constant and variable capital uniformly) the rate of profit will fall in spite of the increased rate of surplus-value, 1), because even a larger unpaid portion of the smaller total amount of newly added labor is smaller than a smaller aliquot portion of unpaid labor was in the former large amount of total labor, and 2), because the higher composition of the capital is expressed through the individual commodity by the fact that that portion of its value, in which newly added labor is materialised, decreases as compared to that portion of its value, which represents raw material, auxiliary material, and wear and tear of fixed capital. This change in the proportions of the various component parts of the price of the individual commodities, the decrease of that portion of their price, in which newly added labor is materialised, and the increase of that portion, in which formerly materialised labor is represented, is that form which expresses through the price of the individual commodities the decrease of the variable capital as compared to the constant capital. To the extent that this decrease is absolute for a certain amount of capital, for instance 100, it is also absolute for every individual commodity as an aliquot part of the reproduced capital. However, the rate of profit, if calculated merely on the elements of the price of the individual commodity, would be different from what it actually is. The reason for this is as follows:
[The rate of profit is calculated on the total capital invested, but only for a definite time, in fact, for one year. The rate of profit is the proportion of the surplus-value, or profit, made and realised on the total capital and calculated in percentages. It is, therefore, not necessarily equal to a rate of profit, whose calculation was not based on one year, but on the period of turn-over of the invested capital. These two things do not coincide, unless the capital is turned over exactly in one year.
On the other hand, the profit made in the course of one year is merely the sum of the profits on the commodities produced and sold during the same year. Now, if we calculate the profit on the cost-price of the commodities, we obtain a rate of profit = p/k, in which p stands for the profit realised during one year, and k for the sum of the cost-prices of the commodities produced and sold during that year. It is evident that this rate of profit p/k will not coincide with the actual rate of profit p/c, or mass of profit divided by the total capital, unless k = C, that is, unless the capital is turned over in exactly one year.
Let us take three different conditions of some industrial capital.
I.—A capital of 8,000 p.st. produces and sells annually 5,000 pieces of commodities, at 30 sh. per piece, making an annual turn-over of 7,500 p.st. It makes a profit of 10 sh. on each piece, or 2,500 p.st. per year. Every piece, then, contains 20 sh. of capital advance, and 10 sh. of profit, so that the rate of profit per piece if 10/20 = 50%. The turned-over sum of 7,500 p.st. contains 5,000 p.st. of advanced capital and 2,500 p.st. of profits. Rate of profit for one turn-over, p/k, likewise 50%. But the rate of profit calculated on the total capital is the rate of profit p/c = 2500/8000 = 31¼%.
II.—Let the capital increase to 10,000 p.st. Owing to an increased productivity of labor, let it be enabled to produce annually 10,000 pieces of commodities at a cost-price of 20 sh. per piece. Let these commodities be sold at a profit of 4 sh., in other words, at 24 sh. per piece. In that case the price of the annual product is 12,000 p.st., of which 10,000 p.st. is advanced capital and 2,000 p.st. profits. The rate of profit p/k is 4/20 per piece and 2000/10,000 for the annual turn-over, or in both cases = 20%. And since the total capital is equal to the sum of the cost-prices, namely 10,000 p.st., it follows that p/c, the actual rate of profit, is in this case also 20%.
III.—Let the capital increase to 15,000 p.st., owing to a further growth of the productive power of labor, and let it produce annually 30,000 pieces of commodities at a cost-price of 13 sh. per piece, each piece being sold at a profit of 2 sh., or at 15 sh. per piece. The annual turn-over amounts in that case to 30,00 × 15 sh., = 22,500 p.st., of which 19,500 are advanced capital and 3,000 p.st. profits. The rate of profit p/k is then 2/13 = 3000/19,500 = 15 5/13%. But the actual rate of profit p/c = 3000/15,000 = 20%.
We see, then, that only in case II, where the turned-over capital-value is equal to the total capital, is the rate of profit per piece, or per total amount turn-over, the same as the rate of profit calculated on the total capital. In case I, where the amount of the turn-over is smaller than the total capital, the rate of profit calculated on the cost-price of the commodities is higher. In case III, where the total capital is smaller than the amount of the turn-over, the rate of profit calculated on the cost-price of commodities is smaller than the actual rate calculated on the total capital. This is a general rule.
In commercial practice the turn-over is generally calculated inaccurately. It is assumed that the capital has been turned over once, as soon as the sum of the realised commodity-prices equals the sum of the invested total capital. But the capital can complete one whole turn-over only in the case that the sum of the cost-prices of the realised commodities equals the sum of the total capital.—F. E.]
This demonstrates once more how important it is under the capitalist mode of production that the individual commodities or the commodity-product of a certain period should not be considered as isolated by themselves, as mere commodities, but as products of advanced capital and in their relation to the total capital, which produces them.
Although the rate of profit must be calculated by measuring the mass of the produced and realised surplus-value by the consumed portion of capital reappearing in the commodities as well as by the sum of this portion plus that portion of capital which, though not consumed, is employed and continues to serve in production, the mass of profit cannot be equal to anything but the mass of profit, or surplus-value, contained in the commodities themselves and to be realised by their sale.
If the productivity of industry increases, the prices of the individual commodities fall. There is less paid and unpaid labor contained in them. Let the same labor produce, say, thrice, its former product. Then the individual product requires two-thirds less labor. And since the profit can constitute but a portion of the amount of labor congealed in the individual commodities, the mass of profit in the individual commodities must decrease. And this must hold good, within certain limits, even if the rate of surplus-value should rise. In any case, the mass of profits on the total product does not fall below the original mass of profits so long as the capital employs the same number of laborers at the same degree of exploitation. (This may also take place, if fewer laborers are employed at a higher rate of exploitation.) For to the same extent that the mass of profit on the individual product decreases does the number of products increase. The mass of profits remains the same, only it is distributed differently over the total amount of commodities. Nor does this alter the division of the amount of value created by newly added labor between the laborers and capitalists. The mass of profit cannot increase, so long as same amount of labor is employed, unless the unpaid surplus-labor increases, or, supposing the intensity of exploitation to remain the same, unless the number of laborers grows. Or, both of these causes may, of course, combine to produce this result. In all these cases, which, however, according to our assumption, presuppose an increase of the constant capital as compared to the variable and an increase in the magnitude of the total capital, the individual commodity contains a smaller mass of profit and the rate of profit falls even if it is calculated on the individual commodity. A given quantity of additional labor is materialised in a larger quantity of commodities. The price of the individual commodities falls. Abstractly speaking, the rate of profit may remain the same, even though the price of the individual commodity may fall as a result of an increase in the productivity of labor and a simultaneous increase in the number of these cheaper commodities, for instance, if the increase in the productivity of labor extended its effects uniformly and simultaneously to all the elements of the commodities, so that the total price of the commodities would fall in the same proportion in which the productivity of labor would increase, while on the other hand the mutual relations of the different elements of the price of commodities would remain the same. The rate of profit might even rise, if a rise in the rate of surplus-value were accompanied by a considerable reduction in the value of the elements of constant, and particularly of fixed, capital. But in reality, as we have seen, the rate of profit will fall in the long run. In any case, a fall in the price of any individual commodity does not by itself give a clue to the rate of profit. Everything depends on the magnitude of the total capital invested in its production. For instance, if the price of one yard of fabric falls from 3 sh. to 1 2/3 sh.; if we know that it contained before this reduction in price 1 2/3 sh. worth of constant capital, yarn, etc., 2/3 sh. wages, and 1/3 sh. profit, while it contains after this reduction 1 sh. of constant capital, 1/3 sh. of wages, and 1/3 sh. of profit, we cannot tell whether the rate of profit has remained the same or not. This depends on the question, whether the advanced total capital has increased, and how much, and how many yards of fabric more it produces in a given time.
This phenomenon arising from the nature of the capitalist mode of production, namely, that an increase in the productivity of labor implies a fall in the price of the individual commodity, or of a certain mass of commodities, an increase in the number of commodities, a reduction of the mass of profit in the individual commodity and of the rate of profit on the aggregate of commodities, an increase of the mass of profit in the total quantity of commodities, this phenomenon shows itself on the surface only in a reduction of the mass of profit in the individual commodities, in a fall of their prices, in an increase of the mass of profits in the augmented number of commodities as a whole, which have been produced by the total capital of society or by that of the individual capitalist. It is then imagined that the capitalist adds less profits to the price of the individual commodities on his own free volition and makes up for it by the returns on a greater number of commodities produced by him. This conception rests upon the idea of profit upon alienation, which in its turn is deduced from the ideas of merchant's capital.
We have seen previously, in parts four and seven of Book I, that the growth in the mass of commodities resulting from the productivity of labor and the consequent cheapening of the commodities as such (unless these commodities become determining elements in the price of labor-power) do not affect the proportion between paid and unpaid labor in the individual commodities, in spite of the fall in price.
Since everything appears inverted under competition, the individual capitalist may imagine: 1) That he is reducing his profit on the individual commodity by cutting its price, but still making a greater profit on account of the larger quantity of commodities which he is selling; 2) that he is fixing the price of the individual commodities and determining the price of the total product by multiplication, while the original process is really one of division (see Book I, chapter XII) and the multiplication is correct only in a secondary way, being based on that division. The vulgar economist does practically no more than to translate the queer concepts of the capitalists, who are in the thralls of competition, into a more theoretical and generalising language and to attempt a vindication of the correctness of those conceptions.
Practically, a fall in the prices of commodities and a rise in the mass of profits contained in the augmented mass of these cheapened commodities is but another expression for the law of the falling rate of profit with a simultaneous increase in the mass of profits.
The analysis of the extent to which a falling rate of profit may coincide with rising prices does not belong in this chapter any more than that of the point previously discussed in volume I, chapter XII, concerning relative surplus-value. A capitalist working with improved methods of production that have not yet become general sells below the market-price, but above his individual price of production. In this way his rate of profit rises until competition levels it down. During this leveling period the second requisite puts in its appearance, namely the expansion of the invested capital. According to the degree of this expansion the capitalist will be enabled to employ a part of his former laborers under the new conditions, and eventually all of them or more, in other words, he will be enabled to produce the same or a greater mass of profits.
IF we consider the enormous development of the productive powers of labor, even comparing but the last 30 years with all former periods; if we consider in particular the enormous mass of fixed capital, aside from machinery in the strict meaning of the term, passing into the process of social production. as a whole, then the difficult, which has hitherto troubled the vulgar economists, namely that of finding an explanation for the falling rate of profit, gives way to its opposite, namely to the question; How is it that this fall is not greater and more rapid? There must be some counteracting influences at work, which thwart and annul the effects of this general law, leaving to it merely the character of a tendency. For this reason we have referred to the fall of the average rate of profit as a tendency to fall.
The following are the general counterbalancing causes:
I. Raising the Intensity of Exploitation.
The rate at which labor is exploited, the appropriation of surplus-labor and surplus-value, is raised by a prolongation of the working day and an intensification of labor. These two points have been fully discussed in volume I as incidents to the production of absolute and relative surplus-value. There are many ways of intensifying labor, which imply an increase of the constant capital as compared to the variable, and consequently a fall in the rate of profit, for instance setting a laborer to watch a larger number of machines. In such cases—and in the majority of manipulations serving to produce relative surplus-value—the same causes, which bring about an increase in the rate of surplus-value, may also imply a fall in the mass of surplus-value, looking upon the matter from the point of view of the total quantities of invested capital. But there are other means of intensification, such as increasing the speed of machinery, which although consuming more raw material, and, so far as the fixed capital is concerned, wearing out the machinery so much faster, nevertheless do not affect the relation of its value to the price of labor set in motion by it. It is particularly the prolongation of the working day, this invention of modern industry, which increases the mass of appropriated surplus-labor without essentially altering the proportion of the employed labor-power to the constant capital set in motion by it, and which tends to reduce this capital relatively, if anything. For the rest, we have already demonstrated—what constitutes the real secret of the tendency of the rate of profit to fall—that the manipulations made for the purpose of producing relative surplus-value amount on the whole to this: That on one side as much as possible of a certain quantity of labor is transformed into surplus-value, and that on the other hand as little labor as possible is employed in proportion to the invested capital, so that the same causes, which permit the raising of the intensity of exploitation, forbid the exploitation of the same quantity of labor by the same capital as before. These are the warring tendencies, which, while aiming at a raise in the rate of surplus-value, have at the same time a tendency to bring about a fall in the mass of surplus-value, and therefore of the rate of surplus-value produced by a certain capital. It is furthermore appropriate to mention at this point the extensive introduction of female and child labor, in so far as the whole family must produce a larger quantity of surplus-value for a certain capital than before, even in case the total amount of their wages should increase, which is by no means general.
Whatever tends to promote the production of relative surplus-value by mere improvements in methods, for instance in agriculture, without altering the magnitude of the invested capital, has the same effect. While the constant capital does not increase relatively to the variable in such cases, taking the variable capital as an index of the amount of labor-power employed, the mass of the product does increase in proportion to the labor-power employed. The same takes place, when the productive power of labor (whether its product passes into the consumption of the laborer or into the elements of constant capital) is freed from obstacles of circulation, of arbitrary or other restrictions which become obstacles in course of time, in short, of fetters of all kinds, without touching directly the proportion between the variable and the constant capital.
It might be asked, whether the causes checking the fall of the rate of profit, but always hastening it in the last analysis, include the temporary raise in surplus-value above the average level, which recur now in this, now in that line of production for the benefit of those individual capitalists, who make use of inventions, etc., before they are generally introduced. This question must be answered in the affirmative.
The mass of surplus-value produced by a capital of a certain magnitude is the product of two factors, namely of the rate of surplus-value multiplied by the number of laborers employed at this rate. Hence it depends on the number of laborers, when the rate of surplus-value is given, and on the rate of surplus-value, when the number of laborers is given. In short, it depends on the composite proportion of the absolute magnitudes of the variable capital and the rate of surplus-value. Now we have seen, that on an average the same causes, which raise the rate of relative surplus-value, lower the mass of the employed labor-power. It is evident, however, that there will be a more or less in this according to the definite proportion, in which the opposite movements exert themselves, and that the tendency to reduce the rate of profit will be particularly checked by a raise in the rate of absolute surplus-value due to a prolongation of the working day.
We saw in the case of the rate of profit, that a fall in the rate was generally accompanied by an increase in the mass of profit, on account of the increasing mass of the total capital employed. From the point of view of the total variable capital of society, the surplus-value produced by it is equal to the profit produced by it. Both the absolute mass and the absolute rate of surplus-value have thus increased. The one has increased, because the quantity of labor-power employed by society has grown, the other, because the intensity of exploitation of this labor-power has increased. But in the case of a capital of a given magnitude, for instance 100, the rate of surplus-value may increase, while the mass may decrease on an average; for the rate is determined by the proportion, in which the variable capital produces value, while its mass is determined by the proportional part which the variable capital constitutes in the total capital.
The rise in the rate of surplus-value is a factor, which determines also the mass of surplus-value and thereby the rate of profit, for it takes place especially under conditions, in which, as we have seen, the constant capital is either not increased at all relatively to the variable capital, or not increased in proportion. This factor does not suspend the general law. But it causes that law to become more of a tendency, that is, a law whose absolute enforcement is checked, retarded, weakened, by counteracting influences. Since the same causes, which raise the rate of surplus-value (even a prolongation of the working time is a result of large scale industry), also tend to decrease the labor-power employed by a certain capital, it follows that these same causes also tend to reduce the rate of profit and to check the speed of this fall. If one laborer is compelled to perform as much labor as would be rationally performed by two, and if this is done under circumstances, in which this one laborer can replace three, then this one will produce as much surplus-labor as was formerly produced by two, and to that extent the rate of surplus-value will have risen. But this one will not produce as much as formerly three, and to that extent the mass of surplus-value will have decreased. But this reduction in mass will be compensated, or limited, by the rise in the rate of surplus-value. If the entire population is employed at a higher rate of surplus-value, the mass of surplus-value will increase, although the population may remain the same. It will increase still more, if the population increases at the same time. And although this goes hand in hand with a relative reduction of the number of laborers employed in proportion to the magnitude of the total capital, yet this reduction is checked or moderated by the rise in the rate of surplus-value.
Before leaving this point, we wish to emphasize once more that, with a capital of a certain magnitude, the rate of surplus-value may rise, while its mass is decreasing, and vice versa. The mass of surplus-value is equal to the rate multiplied by the number of laborers; however, this rate is never calculated on the total, but only on the variable capital, actually only for a day at a time. On the other hand, with a given magnitude of a certain capital, the rate of profit can never fall or rise, without a simultaneous fall or rise in the mass of surplus-value.
II. Depression of Wages Below their Value.
This is mentioned only empirically at this place, since it, like many other things, which might be enumerated here, has nothing to do with the general analysis of capital, but belongs in a presentation of competition, which is not given in this work. However, it is one of the most important causes checking the tendency of the rate of profit to fall.
III. Cheapening of the Elements of Constant Capital.
Everything that has been said in the first part of this volume about the causes, which raise the rate of profit while the rate of surplus-value remains the same, or independently of the rate of surplus-value, belongs here. This applies particularly to the fact that, from the point of view of the total capital, the value of the constant capital does not increase in the same proportion as its material volume. For instance, the quantity of cotton, which a single European spinning operator works up in a modern factory, has grown in a colossal degree compared to the quantity formerly worked up by a European operator with a spinning wheel. But the value of the worked-up cotton has not grown in proportion to its mass. The same holds good of machinery and other fixed capital. In short, the same development, which increases the mass of the constant capital relatively over that of the variable, reduces the value of its elements as a result of the increased productivity of labor. In this way the value of the constant capital although continually increasing, is prevented from increasing at the same rate as its material volume, that is, the material volume of the means of production set in motion by the same amount of labor-power. In exceptional cases the mass of the elements of constant capital may even increase, while its value remains the same or even falls.
The foregoing bears upon the depreciation of existing capital (that is, of its material elements) which comes with the development of industry. This is another one of the causes which by their constant effects tend to check the fall of the rate of profit, although it may under certain circumstances reduce the mass of profit by reducing the mass of capital yielding a profit. This shows once more that the same causes, which bring about a tendency of the rate of profit to fall, also check the realisation of this tendency.
IV. Relative Overpopulation.
The production of a relative surplus-population is inseparable from the development of the productivity of labor expressed by a fall in the rate of profit, and the two go hand in hand. The relative overpopulation becomes so much more apparent in a certain country, the more the capitalist mode of production is developed in it. This, again, is on the one hand a reason, which explains why the imperfect subordination of labor to capital continues in many lines of production, and continues longer than seems at first glance compatible with the general stage of development. This is due to the cheapness and mass of the disposable or unemployed wage laborers, and to the greater resistance, which some lines of production, by their nature, oppose to a transformation of manufacture into machine production. On the other hand, new lines of production are opened up, especially for the production of luxuries, and these lines take for their basis this relative overpopulation set free in other lines of production by the increase of their constant capital. These new lines start out with living labor as their predominating element, and go by degrees through the same evolution as the other lines of production. In either case the variable capital constitutes a considerable proportion of the total capital and wages are below the average, so that both the rate and mass of surplus-value are exceptionally high. Since the average rate of profit is formed by leveling the rates of profit in the individual lines of production, the same cause, which brings about a falling tendency of the rate of profit, once more produces a counterbalance to this tendency and paralyses its effects more or less.
V. Foreign Trade.
To the extent that foreign trade cheapens partly the elements of constant capital, partly the necessities of life for which the variable capital is exchanged, it tends to raise the rate of profit by raising the rate of surplus-value and lowering the value of the constant capital. It exerts itself generally in this direction by permitting an expansion of the scale of production. But by this means it hastens on one hand the process of accumulation, on the other the reduction of the variable as compared to the constant capital, and thus a fall in the rate of profit. In the same way the expansion of foreign trade, which is the basis of the capitalist mode of production in its stages of infancy, has become its own product in the further progress of capitalist development through its innate necessities, through its need of an ever expanding market. Here we see once more the dual nature of these effects. (Ricardo entirely overlooked this side of foreign trade.)
Another question, which by its special nature is really beyond the scope of our analysis, is the following: Is the average rate of profit raised by the higher rate of profit, which capital invested in foreign, and particularly in colonial trade, realises?
Capitals invested in foreign trade are in a position to yield a higher rate of profit, because, in the first place, they come in competition with commodities produced in other countries with lesser facilities of production, so that an advanced country is enabled to sell its goods above their value even when it sells them cheaper than the competing countries. To the extent that the labor of the advanced countries is here exploited as a labor of a higher specific weight, the rate of profit rises, because labor which has not been paid as being of a higher quality is sold as much. The same condition may obtain in the relations with a certain country, into which commodities are exported and from which commodities are imported. This country may offer more materialised labor in goods than it receives, and yet it may receive in return commodities cheaper than it could produce them. In the same way a manufacturer, who exploits a new invention before it has become general, undersells his competitors and yet sells his commodities above their individual values, that is to say, he exploits the specifically higher productive power of the labor employed by him as surplus-value. By this means he secures a surplus-profit. On the other hand, capitals invested in colonies, etc., may yield a higher rate of profit for the simple reason that the rate of profit is higher there on account of the backward development, and for the added reason, that slaves, coolies, etc., permit a better exploitation of labor. We see no reason, why these higher rates of profit realised by capitals invested in certain lines and sent home by them should not enter as elements into the average rate of profit and tend to keep it up to that extent.36 We see so much less reason for the contrary opinion, when it is assumed that such favored lines of investment are subject to the laws of free competition. What Ricardo has in mind as objections, is mainly this: With the higher prices realised in foreign trade, commodities are bought abroad and sent home. These commodities are sold on the home market, and this can constitute at best but a temporary advantage of the favored spheres of production over others. This aspect of the matter is changed, when we no longer look upon it from the point of view of money. The favored country recovers more labor in exchange for less labor, although this difference, this surplus, is pocketed by a certain class, as it is in any exchange between labor and capital. So far as the rate of profit is higher, because it is generally higher in the colonial country, it may go hand in hand with a low level of prices, if the natural conditions are favorable. It is true that a compensation takes place, but it is not a compensation on the old level, as Ricardo thinks.
However, this same foreign trade develops the capitalist mode of production in the home country. And this implies the relative decrease of the variable as compared to the constant capital, while it produces, on the other hand, an overproduction for the foreign market, so that it has once more the opposite effect in its further course.
And so we have seen in a general way, that the same causes, which produce a falling tendency in the rate of profit, also call forth counter-effects, which check and partly paralyse this fall. This law is not suspended, but its effect is weakened. Otherwise it would not be the fall of the average rate of profit, which would be unintelligible, but rather the relative slowness of this fall. The law therefore shows itself only as a tendency, whose effects become clearly marked only under certain conditions and in the course of long periods.
Before passing on to something new, we will, for the sake of preventing misunderstanding, repeat two statements, which we have substantiated at different times.
1) The same process, which brings about a cheapening of commodities in the course of development of the capitalist mode of production, also causes a change in the organic composition of the social capital invested in the production of commodities, and thereby lowers the rate of profit. We must be careful, then, not to confound the reduction in the relative cost of an individual commodity, including that portion of its cost which represents wear and tear of machinery, with the relative rise in the value of the constant as compared to the variable capital, although vice versa every reduction in the relative cost of the constant capital, whose material elements retain the same volume or increase in volume, tends to raise the rate of profit, in other words, tends to reduce the value of the constant capital to that extent as compared with the shrinking proportions of the employed variable capital.
2) The fact that the additional living labor contained in the individual commodities, which together make up the product of capital, stands in a decreasing proportion to the materials and instruments of labor consumed by them; the fact, that an ever decreasing quantity of additional living labor is materialised in them, because their production requires less labor to the extent that the productive power of society is developed,—this fact does not touch the proportion, according to which the living labor contained in the commodities is divided into paid and unpaid labor. On the other hand, although the total quantity of additional living labor contained in them decreases, the unpaid portion increases over the paid portion, either by an absolute, or by a proportional reduction of the paid portion; for the same mode of production, which reduces the total quantity of the additional living labor in the commodities, is accompanied by a rise of the absolute and relative surplus-value. The falling tendency of the rate of profit is accompanied by a rising tendency of the rate of surplus-value, that is, in the rate of exploitation. Nothing is more absurd, for this reason, than to explain a fall in the rate of profit by a rise in the rate of wages, although there may be exceptional cases where this may apply. Statistics do not become available for actual analyses of the rates of wages in different epochs and countries, until the conditions, which shape the rate of profit, are thoroughly understood. The rate of profit does not fall, because labor becomes less productive, but because it becomes more productive. Both phenomena, the rise in the rate of surplus-value and the fall in the rate of profit, are but specific forms through which the productivity of labor seeks a capitalistic expression,
VI. The Increase of Stock Capital.
The foregoing five points may be supplemented by the following, which, however, cannot be more fully detailed for the present. A portion of capital serves only as interest-bearing capital, and is so calculated, to the extent that capitalist production makes progress and hastens accumulation. This term interest-bearing capital is not applied here to capital loaned by a capitalist who is satisfied with interest on it, while the industrial capitalist borrowing it pockets the investor's profit. This has no bearing upon the level of the average rate of profit, for this rate is concerned only with profit as composed of interest + profit of all sorts + ground rent, and the proportional division into these particular categories is immaterial for it. We speak here of interest-bearing capital in the sense that these capitals, although invested in large productive enterprises, yield only large or small amounts of interest, so-called dividends, after all costs have been paid. This is typical of railroads, for instance. These dividends do not help to level the average rate of profit, because they represent a lower than the average rate of profit. If they did help in this, then the average rate of profit would fall much lower. Theoretically such capitals may be included in the calculation, and in that case the result will be a lower rate of profit than that which actually seems to exist and determine the actions of the capitalists, since the constant capital is the largest as compared to the variable capital precisely in these enterprises.
UNRAVELING THE INTERNAL CONTRADICTIONS OF THE LAW.
I. General Remarks.
WE have seen in the first part of this volume, that the rate of profit expresses the rate of surplus-value always lower than it actually is. We have now seen, that even a rising rate of surplus-value has a tendency to express itself in a falling rate of profit. The rate of profit would be equal to the rate of surplus-value only if c = O, that is, if the entire invested capital were paid out in wages. A falling rate of profit does not express a falling rate of surplus-value, unless the proportion of the value of the constant capital to the quantity of labor-power set in motion by it remains unchanged, or the amount of labor-power has increased relatively over the value of the constant capital.
Ricardo, under pretense of analysing the rate of profit, actually analyses only the rate of surplus-value, and he does so on the assumption that the working day is intensively and extensively a constant magnitude.
A fall in the rate of profit and a hastening of accumulation are in so far only different expressions of the same process as both of them indicate the development of the productive power. Accumulation in its turn hastens the fall of the rate of profit, inasmuch as it implies the concentration of labor on a large scale and thereby a higher composition of capital. On the other hand, a fall in the rate of profit hastens the concentration of capital and its centralisation through the expropriation of the smaller capitalists, the expropriation of the last survivers of the direct producers who still have anything to give up. This accelerates on one hand the accumulation, so far as mass is concerned, although the rate of accumulation falls with the rate of profit.
On the other hand, so far as the rate of self-expansion of the total capital, the rate of profit, is the incentive of capitalist production (just as this self-expansion of capital is its only purpose, its fall checks the formation of new independent capitals and thus seems to threaten the development of the process of capitalist production. It promotes overproduction, speculation, crises, surplus-capital along with surplus-population. Those economists who, like Ricardo, regard the capitalist mode of production as absolute, feel nevertheless, that this mode of production creates its own limits, and therefore they attribute this limit, not to production, but to nature (in their theory of rent). But the main point in their horror over the falling rate of profit is the feeling, that capitalist production meets in the development of productive forces a barrier, which has nothing to do with the production of wealth as such; and this peculiar barrier testifies to the finiteness and the historical, merely transitory character of capitalist production. It demonstrates that this is not an absolute mode for the production of wealth, but rather comes in conflict with the further development of wealth at a certain stage.
It is true that Ricardo and his school considered only the industrial profit, which includes interest. But the rate of ground-rent has likewise a tendency to fall, although its absolute mass increases, and it may also increase proportionately more than the industrial profit. (See Ed. West, who developed the law of ground-rent before Ricardo.) If we consider the total social capital C, and use p'' to indicate the industrial profit remaining after the deduction of interest and ground rent, i to indicate interest, and r to indicate ground-rent then s/C=p/C=(p''+i+r)/C=p''/C+i/C+r/C. We have seen that, while s, the total amount of surplus-value, is continually increasing in the course of capitalist development, nevertheless s/C is just as steadily declining, because C grows still more rapidly than s. Therefore it is no contradiction, that p'', i, and r, should be steadily increasing, each by itself, while s/C=p/C as well as p''/C, i/C, and r/C, each by itself, should ever decline, or that p'' should increase relatively more than i, or r more than p'', or, perhaps, more than p'' and i. With a rise in the total surplus-value or profit s = p, but a simultaneous fall in the rate of profit s/C=p/C, the proportional magnitude of the parts p'', i, and r, which make up s = p, may change at will within the limits set by the total amount of s, without thereby affecting the magnitude of s or s/C.
The mutual variation of p'', i and r is but a varying distribution of s among different classes. Consequently p''/C, i/C, and r/C, the rate of industrial profit, the rate of interest, and the rate of ground-rent to the total capital, may rise relatively to one another, while s/C, the average rate of profit, is falling. The only condition is that the sum of all three cannot exceed s/C. If the rate of profit falls from 50% to 25%, because the composition of a certain capital with a rate of surplus-value of 100% has changed from 50 c + 50 v to 75 c + 25 v, then a capital of 1,000 will yield a profit of 500 in the first case, and a capital of 4,000 will yield a profit of 1,000 in the second case. We see that s or p have doubled, while p' has fallen by one-half. And if that 50% was formerly divided into 20 profit, 10 interest, 20 rent, then p''/C = 20%, i/C = 10%, and r/C = 20%. If conditions remained the same after the change from 50% to 25%, then p'/C would be 10%, i/C would be 5%, and r/C = 10%. If, however, p'/C should fall to 3% and i/C to 4%, then r/C would rise to 13%. The proportional magnitude of r would have risen as against p'' and i, but nevertheless p', the rate of profit, would have remained the same. Under both assumptions, the sum of p'', i, and r would have increased, because it would have been produced by a capital of four times the size of the former. By the way, Ricardo's assumption that the industrial profit (plus interest) originally pockets the entire profit, is historically and logically false. It is rather the progress of capitalist production which, 1), places the whole profit at first hand at the disposal of the industrial and commercial capitalists for further distribution, and, 2), reduces rent to the excess over the profit. On this capitalist basis, rent further increases, so far as it is a portion of profit (that is, of the surplus-value produced by the total capital), while the specific portion of the product, which the capitalist pockets, does not.
The creation of surplus-value, assuming the necessary means of production, or sufficient accumulation of capital, to be existing, finds no other limit but the laboring population, when the rate of surplus-value, that is, the intensity of exploitation, is given; and no other limit but the intensity of exploitation, when the laboring population is given. And the capitalist process of production consists essentially of the production of surplus-value, materialised in the surplus-product, which is that aliquot portion of the produced commodities, in which unpaid labor is materialised. It must never be forgotten, that the production of this surplus-value—and the reconversion of a portion of it into capital, or accumulation, forms an indispensable part of this production of surplus-value—is the immediate purpose and the compelling motive of capitalist production. It will not do to represent capitalist production as something which it is not, that is to say, as a production having for its immediate purpose the consumption of goods, or the production of means of enjoyment for capitalists. This would be overlooking the specific character of capitalist production, which reveals itself in its innermost essence.
The creation of this surplus-value is the object of the direct process of production, and this process has no other limits but those mentioned above. As soon as the available quantity of surplus-value has been materialised in commodities, surplus-value has been produced. But this production of surplus-value is but the first act of the capitalist process of production, it merely terminates the act of direct production. Capital has absorbed so much unpaid labor. With the development of the process, which expresses itself through a falling tendency of the rate of profit, the mass of surplus-value thus produced is swelled to immense dimensions. Now comes the second act of the process. The entire mass of commodities, the total product, which contains a portion which is to reproduce the constant and variable capital as well as a portion representing surplus-value, must be sold. If this is not done, or only partly accomplished, or only at prices which are below the prices of production, the laborer has been none the less exploited, but his exploitation does not realise as much for the capitalist. It may yield no surplus-value at all for him, or only realise a portion of the produced surplus-value, or it may even mean a partial or complete loss of his capital. The conditions of direct exploitation and those of the realisation of surplus-value are not identical. They are separated logically as well as by time and space. The first are only limited by the productive power of society, the last by the proportional relations of the various lines of production and by the consuming power of society. This last-named power is not determined either by the absolute productive power nor by the absolute consuming power, but by the consuming power based on antagonistic conditions of distribution, which reduces the consumption of the great mass of the population to a variable minimum within more or less narrow limits. The consuming power is furthermore restricted by the tendency to accumulate, the greed for an expansion of capital and a production of surplus-value on an enlarged scale. This is a law of capitalist production imposed by incessant revolutions in the methods of production themselves, the resulting depreciation of existing capital, the general competitive struggle and the necessity of improving the product and expanding the scale of production, for the sake of self-preservation and on penalty of failure. The market must, therefore, be continually extended, so that its interrelations and the conditions regulating them assume more and more the form of a natural law independent of the producers and become ever more uncontrollable. This internal contradiction seeks to balance itself by an expansion of the outlying fields of production. But to the extent that the productive power develops, it finds itself at variance with the narrow basis on which the condition of consumption rest. On this self contradictory basis it is no contradiction at all that there should be an excess of capital simultaneously with an excess of population. For while a combination of these two would indeed increase the mass of the produced surplus-value, it would at the same time intensify the contradiction between the conditions under which this surplus-value is produced and those under which it is realised.
If a certain rate of profit is given, the mass of profit depends on the magnitude of the advanced capital. Accumulation is then determined by that portion of this mass, which is reconverted into capital. This portion, in its turn, being equal to the profit minus the revenue consumed by the capitalists, will depend not merely on the value of this mass, but also on the cheapness of the commodities which the capitalist can buy with it, commodities which pass partly into his individual consumption, partly into his constant capital. (Wages are here assumed to be a given quantity.)
The mass of capital which the laborer sets in motion, whose value he preserves by his labor and reproduces in his product, is quite different from the value which he adds to it. If the mass of the capital equals 1,000, and the added labor 100, then the reproduced capital equals 1,100. If the mass equals 100 and the added labor 20, then the reproduced capital equals 120. In the first case the rate of profit is 10%, in the second 20%. And yet more can be accumulated out of 100 than out of 20. And thus the river of capital rolls on (aside from its depreciation by an increase of the productive power), or its accumulation does, not in proportion to the level of the rate of profit, but in proportion to the impetus which it already has. A high rate of profit, so far as it is based on a high rate of surplus-value, is possible when the working day is very long, although labor may not be highly productive. This is possible, because the wants of the laborers are very insignificant, and therefore the average wages very low, although labor itself unproductive. The low level of wages will have for its counterpart a lack of energy among laborers. Capital then accumulates slowly, in spite of the high rate of profits. Population stagnates and the working time, which the product costs, is long, while the wages paid to the laborer are small.
The rate of profit sinks, not because the laborer is less exploited, but, because less labor is employed in proportion to the employed capital in general.
If a falling rate of profit goes hand in hand with an increase in the mass of profits, as we have shown, then a larger portion of the annual product of labor is appropriated by the capitalist under the name of capital (as a substitute for consumed capital) and a relatively smaller portion under the name of profit. Hence the phantastic idea of the priest Chalmers, that the capitalists pocket so much more profits, the smaller the quantity of the annual product expended by them as capital. The state church then comes to their assistance in order to help them to consume the greater part of the surplus-product instead of capitalising it. The preacher confounds cause with effect. By the way, the mass of profits increases also at a small rate with the magnitude of the invested capital. However, this requires at the same time a concentration of capital, since the conditions of production then demand the employment of capital on a large scale. It likewise requires its centralisation, that is, a devouring of small capitalists by the great capitalists and decapitalisation of the former. It is but a second instance of separating the producers from their requirements of production, for these small capitalists still belong to the producers, since their own labor plays a role in this problem. Generally speaking, the labor of a capitalist stands in an inverse proportion to the size of his capital, that is, to his degree as a capitalist. This divorce of requirements of production here, and producers there, is inseparable from the nature of capital. It begins with the inauguration of primitive accumulation. (Vol. I, chap. XXVI), becomes a permanent process in the accumulation and concentration of capital, and expresses itself finally as a centralisation of already existing capitals in a few hands and a decapitalisation of many (a change in the method of expropriation). This process would soon bring about the collapse of capitalist production, if it were not for counteracting tendencies, which continually have a decentralising effect by the side of the centripetal ones.
II. Conflict between the Expansion of Production and the Creation of Values.
The development of the productive power of labor shows itself in two ways: First, in the magnitude of the already produced productive powers, in the volume of values and masses of requirements of production, under which new production is carried on, and in the absolute magnitude of the already accumulated productive capital: secondly, in the relative smallness of the capital invested in wages as compared to the total capital, that is, in the relatively small quantity of living labor required for the reproduction and self-expansion of a given capital as compared to mass production. It is at the same time conditioned on the concentration of capital.
So far as the employed labor-power is concerned, the development of the productive powers shows itself once more in two ways: First, in the increase of surplus-labor, that is, the reduction of the necessary labor time required for the reproduction of labor-power; secondly, in the decrease of the quantity of labor-power (the number of laborers) employed in general for the purpose of setting in motion a given capital.
Both movements do not only go hand in hand, but are mutually conditioned on one another. They are different phenomena, through which the same law expresses itself. However, they affect the rate of profit in opposite ways. The total mass of profits is equal to the total mass of surplus-values, the rate of profit = s/C = (surplus-value)/(advanced total capital). Now, surplus-value, as a total, is determined first by its rate, secondly by the mass of labor simultaneously employed at this rate, or what amounts to the same, by the magnitude of the variable capital. One of these factors, the rate of surplus-value, rises in one direction, the other factor, the number of laborers, falls in the opposite direction (relatively or absolutely). To the extent that the development of the productive power reduces the paid portion of the employed labor, it raises the surplus-value by raising its rate; but to the extent that it reduces the total mass of labor employed by a certain capital, it reduces the factor of numbers with which the rate of surplus-value is multiplied in order to calculate its mass. Two laborers, each working 12 hours daily, cannot produce the same mass of surplus-value as 24 laborers each working only 2 hours, even if they could live on air and did not have to work for themselves at all. In this respect, then, the compensation of the reduction in the number of laborers by means of an intensification of exploitation has certain impassible limits. It may, for this reason, check the fall of the rate of profit, but cannot prevent it entirely.
With the development of the capitalist mode of production, the rate of profit therefore falls, while its mass increases with the growing mass of the employed capital. Given the rate, the absolute increase in the mass of capital depends on its existing magnitude. But on the other hand, if this magnitude is given, the proportion of its growth, the rate of its increment, depends on the rate of profit. The increase in the productive power (which, we repeat, always goes hand in hand with a depreciation of the productive capital) cannot directly increase the value of the existing capital, unless it increases, by raising the rate of profit, that portion of the value of the annual product which is reconverted into capital. So far as the productive power is concerned (since it has no direct bearing upon the value of the existing capital), it can accomplish this only by raising the relative surplus-value, or reducing the value of the constant capital, so that those commodities which enter either into the reproduction of labor-power or into the elements of constant capital are cheapened. Both of these things imply a depreciation of the existing capital, and both of them go hand in hand with a relative reduction of the variable as compared to the constant capital. Both things imply a fall in the rate of profit, and both of them check it. Furthermore, so far as an increased rate of profit causes a greater demand for labor, it tends to increase the working population and thus the material, whose exploitation gives to capital its real nature of capital.
Indirectly, however, the development of the productive power of labor contributes to the increase of the value of the existing capital, by increasing the mass and variety of use-values, in which the same exchange value presents itself and which form the material substance, the objective elements, of capital, the material objects of which the constant capital is directly composed and the variable capital at least indirectly. With the same capital and the same labor more things are produced, which may be converted into capital, aside from their exchange value. Things which may serve for the absorption of additional labor, and consequently of additional surplus-labor, and which therefore may become additional capital. The amount of labor, which a certain capital may command, does not depend on its value, but on the mass of raw and auxiliary materials, of machinery and elements of fixed capital, of necessities of life, of which it is composed, whatever may be their value. As the mass of the employed labor, and thus of surplus-labor, increases, so does the value of the reproduced capital and the surplus-value newly added to it grow.
These two elements playing their role in the process of accumulation should not, however, be observed in their quiet existence side by side, as Ricardo does. They imply a contradiction, which expresses itself in antagonistic tendencies and phenomena. These antagonistic agencies oppose each other simultaneously.
Together with the incentives for an actual increase of the laboring population, which originates in the augmentation of that portion of the total social product which serves as capital, there are the effects of other agencies, which create merely a relative over-population.
Together with the fall of the rate of profit grows the mass of capitals, and hand in hand with it goes a depreciation of the existing capitals, which checks this fall and gives an accelerating push to the accumulation of capital-values.
Together with the development of the productive power grows the higher composition of capital, the relative decrease of the variable as compared to the constant capital.
These different influences make themselves felt, now more side by side in space, now more successively in time. Periodically the conflict of antagonistic agencies seeks vent in crises. The crises are always but momentary and forcible solutions of the existing contradictions, violent eruptions, which restore the disturbed equilibrium for a while.
The contradiction, generally speaking, consists in this that the capitalist mode of production has a tendency to develop the productive forces absolutely, regardless of value and of the surplus-value contained in it and regardless of the social conditions under which capitalist production takes place; while it has on the other hand for its aim the preservation of the value of the existing capital and its self-expansion to the highest limit (that is, an ever accelerated growth of this value). Its specific character is directed at the existing value of capital as a means of increasing this value to the utmost. The methods by which it aims to accomplish this comprise a fall of the rate of profit, a depreciation of the existing capital, and a development of the productive forces of labor at the expense of the already created productive forces.
The periodical depreciation of the existing capital, which is one of the immanent means of capitalist production by which the fall in the rate of profit is checked and the accumulation of capital-value through the formation of new capital promoted, disturbs the existing conditions, within which the process of circulation and reproduction of capital takes place, and is therefore accompanied by sudden stagnations and crises in the process of production.
The relative decrease of variable capital as compared to the constant, which goes hand in hand with the development of the productive forces, gives an impulse to the growth of the laboring population, while it continually creates an artificial over-population. The accumulation of capital, so far as its value is concerned, is checked by the falling rate of profit, in order to hasten still more the accumulation of its use-value, and this, in its turn, adds new speed to the accumulation of its value.
Capitalist production is continually engaged in the attempt to overcome these immanent barriers, but it overcomes them only by means which again place the same barriers in its way in a more formidable size.
The real barrier of capitalist production is capital itself. It is the fact that capital and its self-expansion appear as the starting and closing point, as the motive and aim of production; that production is merely production for capital, and not vice versa, the means of production mere means for an ever expanding system of the life process for the benefit of the society of producers. The barriers, within which the preservation and self-expansion of the value of capital resting on the expropriation and pauperisation of the great mass of producers can alone move, these barriers come continually in collision with the methods of production, which capital must employ for its purposes, and which steer straight toward an unrestricted extension of production, toward production for its own self, toward an unconditional development of the productive forces of society. The means, this unconditional development of the productive forces of society, comes continually into conflict with the limited end, the self-expansion of the existing capital. Thus, while the capitalist mode of production is one of the historical means by which the material forces of production are developed and the world-market required for them created, it is at the same time in continual conflict with this historical task and the conditions of social production corresponding to it.
III. Surplus of Capital and Surplus of Population.
With the fall of the rate of profit grows the lowest limit of capital required in the hands of the individual capitalist for the productive employment of labor, required both for the exploitation of labor and for bringing the consumed labor time within the limits of the labor time necessary for the production of the commodities, the limits of the average social labor time required for the production of the commodities. Simultaneously with it grows the concentration, because there comes a certain limit where large capital with a small rate of profit accumulates faster than small capital with a large rate of profit. This increasing concentration in its turn brings about a new fall in the rate of profit at a certain climax. The mass of the small divided capitals is thereby pushed into adventurous channels, speculation, fraudulent credit, fraudulent stocks, crises. The so-called plethora of capital refers always essentially to a plethora of that class of capital which finds no compensation in its mass for the fall in the rate of profit—and this applies always to the newly formed sprouts of capital—or to a plethora of capitals incapable of self-dependent action and placed at the disposal of the managers of large lines of industry in the form of credit. This plethora of capital proceeds from the same causes which call forth a relative over-population. It is therefore a phenomenon supplementing this last one, although they are found at opposite poles, unemployed capital on the one hand, and unemployed laboring population on the other.
An overproduction of capital, not of individual commodities, signifies therefore simply an over-accumulation of capital—although the overproduction of capital always includes the overproduction of commodities. In order to understand what this over-accumulation is (its detailed analysis follows later), it is but necessary to assume it to be absolute. When would an overproduction of capital be absolute? When would it be an overproduction which would not affect merely a few important lines of production, but which would be so absolute as to extend to every field of production?
There would be an absolute overproduction of capital as soon as the additional capital for purposes of capitalist production would be equal to zero. The purpose of capitalist production is the self-expansion of capital, that is, the appropriation of surplus-labor, the production of surplus-value, of profit. As soon as capital would have grown to such a proportion compared with the laboring population, that neither the absolute labor time nor the relative surplus-labor time could be extended any further (this last named extension would be out of the question even in the mere case that the demand for labor would be very strong, so that there would be a tendency for wages to rise); as soon as a point is reached where the increased capital produces no larger, or even smaller, quantities of surplus-value than it did before its increase, there would be an absolute overproduction of capital. That is to say, the increased capital C+8Delta;C would not produce any more profit, or even less profit, than capital C before its expansion by 8Delta;C. In both cases there would be a strong and sudden fall in the average rate of profit, but it would be due to a change in the composition of capital which would not be caused by the development of the productive forces, but by a rise in the money-value of the variable capital (on account of the increased wages) and the corresponding reduction in the proportion of surplus-labor to necessary labor.
In reality the matter would amount to this, that a portion of the capital would lie fallow completely or partially (because it would first have to crowd some of the active capital out before it could take part in the process of self-expansion), while the active portion would produce values at a lower rate of profit, owing to the pressure of the unemployed or but partly employed capital. Matters would not be altered in this respect, if a part of the additional capital were to take the place of some old capital crowding this into the position of additional capital. We should always have on one side the sum of old capitals, on the other that of the additional capitals. The fall in the rate of profit would then be accompanied by an absolute decrease in the mass of profits, since under the conditions assumed by us the mass of the employed labor-power could not be increased and the rate of surplus-value not raised, so that there could be no raising of the mass of surplus-value. And the reduced mass of profits would have to be calculated on an increased total capital.—But even assuming that the employed capital were to continue producing value at the old rate, the mass of profits remaining the same, this mass would still be calculated on an increased total capital, and this would likewise imply a fall in the rate of profits. If a total capital of 1,000 yielded a profit of 100, and after its increase to 1,500 still yielded 100, then 1,000 in the second case would yield only 66 2/3. The self-expansion of the old capital would have been reduced absolutely. A capital of 1,000 would not yield any more under the new circumstances than formerly a capital of 666 2/3.
It is evident that this actual depreciation of the old capital could not take place without a struggle, that the additional capital 8Delta;C could not assume the functions of capital without an effort. The rate of profit would not fall on account of competition due to the overproduction of capital. The competitive struggle would rather begin, because the fall of the rate of profit and the overproduction of capital are caused by the same conditions. The capitalists who are actively engaged with their old capitals would keep as much of the new additional capitals as would be in their hands in a fallow state, in order to prevent a depreciation of their original capital and a crowding of its space within the field of production. Or they would employ it for the purpose of loading, even at a momentary loss, the necessity of keeping additional capital fallow upon the shoulders of new intruders and other competitors in general.
That portion of 8Delta;C which would be in new hands would seek to make room for itself at the expense of the old capital, and would accomplish this in part by forcing a portion of the old capital into a fallow state. The old capital would have to give up its place to the new and retire to the place of the completely or partially unemployed additional capital.
Under all circumstances, a portion of the old capital would be compelled to lie fallow, to give up its capacity of capital and stop acting and producing value as such. The competitive struggle would decide what part would have to go into this fallow state. So long as everything goes well, competition effects a practical brotherhood of the capitalist class, as we have seen in the case of the average rate of profit, so that each shares in the common loot in proportion to the magnitude of his share of investment. But as soon as it is no longer a question of sharing profits, but of sharing losses, every one tries to reduce his own share to a minimum and load as much as possible upon the shoulders of some other competitor. However, the class must inevitably lose. How much the individual capitalist must bear of the loss, to what extent he must share in it at all, is decided by power and craftiness, and competition then transforms itself into a fight of hostile brothers. The antagonism of the interests of the individual capitalists and those of the capitalist class as a whole then makes itself felt just as previously the identity of these interests impressed itself practically on competition.
How would this conflict be settled and the "healthy" movement of capitalist production resumed under normal conditions? The mode of settlement is already indicated by the mere statement of the conflict whose settlement is under discussion. It implies the necessity of making unproductive, or even partially destroying, some capital, amounting either to the complete value of the additional capital C, or to a part of it. But a graphic presentation of this conflict shows that the loss is not equally distributed over all the individual capitals, but according to the fortunes of the competitive struggle, which assigns the loss in very different proportions and in various shapes by grace of previously captured advantages or positions, so that one capital is rendered unproductive, another destroyed, a third but relatively injured or but momentarily depreciated, etc.
But under all circumstances the equilibrium is restored by making more or less capital unproductive or destroying it. This would affect to some extent the material substance of capital, that is, a part of the means of production, fixed and circulating capital, would not perform any service as capital; a portion of the running establishments would then close down. Of course, time would corrode and depreciate all means of production (except land), but this particular stagnation would cause a far more serious destruction of means of production. However, the main effect in this case would be to suspend the functions of some means of production and prevent them for a shorter or longer time from serving as means of production.
The principal work of destruction would show its most dire effects in a slaughtering of the values of capitals. That portion of the value of capital which exists only in the form of claims on future shares of surplus-value of profit, which consists in fact of creditor's notes on production in its various forms, would be immediately depreciated by the reduction of the receipts on which it is calculated. One portion of the gold and silver money is rendered unproductive, cannot serve as capital. One portion of the commodities on the market can complete its process of circulation and reproduction only by means of an immense contraction of its prices, which means a depreciation of the capital represented by it. In the same way the elements of fixed capital are more or less depreciated. Then there is the added complication that the process of reproduction is based on definite assumptions as to prices, so that a general fall in prices checks and disturbs the process of reproduction. This interference and stagnation paralyses the function of money as a medium of payment, which is conditioned on the development of capital and the resulting price relations. The chain of payments due at certain times is broken in a hundred places, and the disaster is intensified by the collapse of the credit-system. Thus violent and acute crises are brought about, sudden and forcible depreciations, an actual stagnation and collapse of the process of reproduction, and finally a real falling off in reproduction.
At the same time still other agencies would have been at work. The stagnation of production would have laid off a part of the laboring class and thereby placed the employed part in a condition, in which they would have to submit to a reduction of wages, even below the average. This operation has the same effect on capital as though the relative or absolute surplus-value had been increased at average wages. The time of prosperity would have promoted marriages among the laborers and reduced the decimation of the offspring. These circumstances, while implying a real increase in population, do not signify an increase in the actual working population, but they nevertheless affect the relations of the laborers to capital in the same way as though the number of the actually working laborers had increased. On the other hand, the fall in prices and the competitive struggle would have given to every capitalist an impulse to raise the individual value of his total product above its average value by means of new machines, new and improved working methods, new combinations, which means, to increase the productive power of a certain quantity of labor, to lower the proportion of the variable to the constant capital, and thereby to release some laborers, in short, to create an artificial over-population. The depreciation of the elements of constant capital itself would be another factor tending to raise the rate of profit. The mass of the employed constant capital, compared to the variable, would have increased, but the value of this mass might have fallen. The present stagnation of production would have prepared an expansion of production later on, within capitalistic limits.
And in this way the cycle would be run once more. One portion of the capital which had been depreciated by the stagnation of its function would recover its old value. For the rest, the same vicious circle would be described once more under expanded conditions of production, in an expanded market, and with increased productive forces.
However, even under the extreme conditions assumed by us this absolute overproduction of capital would not be an absolute overproduction in the sense that it would be an absolute overproduction of means of production. It would be an overproduction of means of production only to the extent that they serve as capital, so that the increased value of its increased mass would also imply a utilisation for the production of more value.
Yet it would be an overproduction, because capital would be unable to exploit labor to a degree required by the "healthy, normal" development of the process of capitalist production, a degree of exploitation, which would increase at least the mass of profit to the extent that the mass of the employed capital would grow; which would therefore exclude any possibility of the rate of profit falling to the same extent that capital grows, or of the rate of profits falling even more rapidly than capital grows.
Overproduction of capital never signifies anything else but overproduction of means of production—means of production and necessities of life—which may serve as capital, that is, serve for the exploitation of labor at a given degree of exploitation; for a fall in the intensity of exploitation below a certain point calls forth disturbances and stagnations in the process of capitalist production, crises, destruction of capital. It is no contradiction that this overproduction of capital is accompanied by a more or less considerable relative over-population. The same circumstances, which have increased the productive power of labor, augmented the mass of produced commodities, expanded the markets, accelerated the accumulation of capital both as concerns its mass and its value, and lowered the rate of profit, these same circumstances have also created a relative over-population, and continue to create it all the time, an over-population of laborers who are not employed by the surplus-capital on account of the low degree of exploitation at which they might be employed, or at least on account of the low rate of profit, which they would yield with the given rate of exploitation.
If capital is sent to foreign countries, it is not done, because there is absolutely no employment to be had for it at home. It is done, because it can be employed at a higher rate of profit in a foreign country. But such capital is absolute surplus-capital for the employed laboring population and for the home country in general. It exists as such together with the relative over-population, and this is an illustration of the way in which both of them exist side by side and are conditioned on one another.
On the other hand, the fall in the rate of profit connected with accumulation necessarily creates a competitive struggle. The compensation of the fall in the rate of profit by a rise in the mass of profit applies only to the total social capital and to the great capitalists who are firmly installed. The new additional capital, which enters upon its functions, does not enjoy any such compensating conditions. It must conquer them for itself, and so the fall in the rate of profit calls forth the competitive struggle among capitalists, not vice versa. This competitive struggle is indeed accompanied by a transient rise in wages and a resulting further fall of the rate of profit for a short time. The same thing is seen in the over-production of commodities, the overstocking of markets. Since the aim of capital is not to minister to certain wants, but to produce profits, and since it accomplishes this purpose by methods which adapt the mass of production to the scale of production, not vice versa, conflict must continually ensue between the limited conditions of consumption on a capitalist basis and a production which forever tends to exceed its immanent barriers. Moreover, capital consists of commodities, and therefore the overproduction of capital implies an overproduction of commodities. Hence we meet with the peculiar phenomenon that the same economists, who deny the overproduction of commodities, admit that of capital. If it is said that there is no general overproduction, but that a disproportion grows up between various lines of production, then this is tantamount to saying that within capitalist production the proportionality of the individual lines of production is brought about through a continual process of disproportionality, that is, the interrelations of production as a whole enforce themselves as a blind law upon the agents of production instead of having brought the productive process under their common control as a law understood by the social mind. It amounts furthermore to demanding that countries, in which capitalist production is not yet developed, should consume and produce at the same rate as that adapted to countries with capitalist production. If it is said that overproduction is only relative, then the statement is correct; but the entire mode of production is only a relative one, whose barriers are not absolute, but have absoluteness only in so far as it is capitalistic. Otherwise, how could there be a lack of demand for the very commodities which the mass of the people want, and how would it be possible that this demand must be sought in foreign countries, in foreign markets, in order that the laborers at home might receive in payment the average amount of necessities of life? This is possible only because in this specific capitalist interrelation the surplus-product assumes a form, in which its owner cannot offer it for consumption, unless it first reconverts itself into capital for him. Finally, if it is said that the capitalists would only have to exchange and consume those commodities among themselves, then the nature of the capitalist mode of production is forgotten, it is forgotten, that the question is merely one of expanding the value of the capital, not of consuming it. In short, all these objections to the obvious phenomena of overproduction (phenomena which do not pay any attention to these objections) amounts to this, that the barriers of capitalist production are not absolute barriers of production itself and therefore no barriers of this specific, capitalistic, production. But the contradiction of this capitalist mode of production consists precisely in its tendency to an absolute development of productive forces, a development, which comes continually in conflict with the specific conditions of production in which capital moves and alone can move.
It is not a fact that too many necessities of life are produced in proportion to the existing population. The reverse is true. Not enough is produced to satisfy the wants of the great mass decently and humanely.
It is not a fact that too many means of production are produced to employ the able bodied portion of the population. The reverse is the case. In the first place, too large a portion of the population is produced consisting of people who are really not capable of working, who are dependent through force of circumstances on the exploitation of the labor of others, or compelled to perform certain kinds of labor which can be dignified with this name only under a miserable mode of production. In the second place, not enough means of production are produced to permit the employment of the entire able bodied population under the most productive conditions, so that their absolute labor time would be shortened by the mass and effectiveness of the constant capital employed during working hours.
On the other hand, there is periodically a production of too many means of production and necessities of life to permit of their serving as means for the exploitation of the laborers at a certain rate of profit. Too many commodities are produced to permit of a realisation of the value and surplus-value contained in them under the conditions of distribution and consumption peculiar to capitalist production, that is, too many to permit of the continuation of this process without ever recurring explosions.
It is not a fact that too much wealth is produced. But it is true that there is periodical overproduction of wealth in its capitalistic and self-contradictory form.
The barrier of the capitalist mode of production becomes apparent:
1) In the fact that the development of the productive power of labor creates in the falling rate of profit a law which turns into an antagonism of this mode of production at a certain point and requires for its defeat periodical crises.
2) In the fact that the expansion or contraction of production is determined by the appropriation of unpaid labor, and by the proportion of this unpaid labor to materialised labor in general, or, to speak the language of the capitalists, is determined by profit and by the proportion of this profit to the employed capital, by a definite rate of profit, instead of being determined by the relations of production to social wants to the wants of socially developed human beings. The capitalist mode of production, for this reason, meets with barriers at a certain scale of production which would be inadequate under different conditions. It comes to a standstill at a point determined by the production and realisation of profit, not by the satisfaction of social needs.
If the rate of profit falls, there follows on one hand an exertion of capital, in order that the capitalist may be enabled to depress the individual value of his commodities below the social average level and thereby realise an extra profit at the prevailing market prices. On the other hand, there follows swindle and a general promotion of swindle by frenzied attempts at new methods of production, new investments of capital, new adventures, for the sake of securing some shred of extra profit, which shall be independent of the general average and above it.
The rate of profit, that is, the relative increment of capital, is above all important for all new offshoots of capital seeking an independent location. And as soon as the formation of capital were to fall into the hands of a few established great capitals, which are compensated by the mass of profits for the loss through a fall in the rate of profits, the vital fire of production would be extinguished. It would fall into a dormant state. The rate of profit is the compelling power of capitalist production, and only such things are produced as yield a profit. Hence the fright of the English economists over the decline of the rate of profit. That the bare possibility of such a thing should worry Ricardo, shows his profound understanding of the conditions of capitalist production. The reproach moved against him, that he has an eye only to the development of the productive forces regardless of "human beings," regardless of the sacrifices in human beings and capital values incurred, strikes precisely his strong point. The development of the productive forces of social labor is the historical task and privilege of capital. It is precisely in this way that it unconsciously creates the material requirements of a higher mode of production. What worries Ricardo is the fact that the rate of profit, the stimulating principle of capitalist production, the fundamental premise and driving force of accumulation, should be endangered by the development of production itself. And the quantitative proportion means everything here. There is indeed something deeper than this hidden at this point, which he vaguely feels. It is here demonstrated in a purely economic way, that is, from a bourgeois point of view, within the confines of capitalist understanding, from the standpoint of capitalist production itself, that it has a barrier, that it is relative, that it is not an absolute, but only a historical mode of production corresponding to a definite and limited epoch in the development of the material conditions of production.
IV. Supplementary Remarks.
Seeing that the development of the productive power of labor proceeds very disproportionately in the various lines of industry, not only in degree, but also in at times in opposite directions, it follows that the mass of the average profit (= surplus-value) must be considerably below that level, which one would naturally assume according to the development of the productive forces in the most advanced lines of industry. The fact that the development of the productive forces in different lines of industry proceeds in considerably different rates, or even in opposite directions, is not due merely to the anarchy of competition and the peculiarity of the bourgeois mode of production. The productivity of labor is also conditioned on natural premises, which frequently become less productive to the extent that productivity, so far as it depends on social conditions, increases. This leads to opposite movements in these different spheres, progress here, retrogression there. Consider, for instance, the mere influence of the seasons, on which the greater part of the raw materials depends for its mass, the exhaustion of forests, coal and iron mines, etc.
While the circulating part of constant capital, such as raw material, etc., continually increases in mass to the extent that the productivity of labor grows, it is not so with the fixed capital, such as buildings, machinery, apparatus for lighting, heating, etc. Although a machine becomes absolutely dearer with the growth of its bodily mass, it becomes relatively cheaper. If five laborers produce ten times as many commodities as formerly, this does not increase the outlay for fixed capital tenfold; although the value of this part of the constant capital increases with the development of the productive forces, it does not increase by any means in the same proportion with them. We have frequently pointed out the difference in the proportions of the constant to the variable capital, as it expresses itself in the fall of the rate of profit, and the difference in the same proportions as expressed with the development of the productivity of labor with reference to the individual commodity and its price.
[The value of a commodity is determined by the total labor-time, whether past or living, incorporated in it. The increase in the productivity of labor consists precisely in this that the share of the living labor is reduced while that of the past labor is increased, but in such a way that the total quantity of labor incorporated in that commodity declines, so that the living labor decreases more than the past labor increases. The past labor—the constant part of capital—materialised in the value of a certain commodity consists partly of wear and tear of fixed, partly of circulating constant capital entirely consumed by that commodity, such as raw and auxiliary materials. That portion of value which comes from raw and auxiliary materials must decrease with the productivity of labor, because this productivity seeks expression through these materials by reducing their value. On the other hand, it is precisely characteristic of the rising productivity of labor, that the fixed part of the constant capital is strongly augmented and with it that portion of value which is transferred by wear and tear to the commodities. In order that a new method of production may turn out to be a real increase in productivity, it must transfer in wear and tear a smaller portion of the value of fixed capital than is deducted from it through a saving of living labor, in short, it must reduce the value of the commodity. It must do so as a matter of course, even if an additional value is transferred to the commodity through an increase in the quantity or value of raw and auxiliary materials, as may sometimes happen. All additions of value must be more than compensated by the reduction in value resulting from a decrease in living labor.
This reduction of the total quantity of labor incorporated in a certain commodity seems to be the essential mark of an increase in the productive power of labor, no matter under what sort of social conditions production is carried on. There is no doubt that the productivity of labor would be measured by this standard in a society, in which the producers would regulate their production according to a preconceived plan, or even under a simple production of commodities. But how is this under capitalist production?
Take it, for instance, that a certain line of capitalist industry produces an average normal commodity of its sphere under the following conditions: The wear and tear of fixed capital amounts to ½ shilling per piece; raw and auxiliary materials are transferred into it at the rate of 17½ shillings per piece; in wages, 2 shillings, and surplus-value 2 shillings, the rate of surplus-value being 100%. Total value 22 shillings. We assume for the sake of simplicity that the capital in this line of production has the composition of the average social capital, so that the price of production of the commodities is identical with the value and the profit of the capitalist with the created surplus-value. In that case the cost-price of the commodity is ½ + 17½ + 2 = 20 sh., the average rate of profit 2/20 = 10%, and the price of production of one individual commodity 22 sh., equal to its value.
Now let us assume that a machine is invented, which reduces the living labor required for each individual commodity by one-half, but at the same time trebles that portion of the commodity's value which is due to the wear and tear of fixed capital. In that case, the calculation is modified in this way: Wear and tear 1½ sh., raw and auxiliary materials the same as before, 17½ sh., wages 1 sh., surplus-value 1 sh., together 21 sh. The commodity has then fallen 1 sh. in value: The new machine has certainly increased the productivity of labor. From the point of view of the capitalist, the matter has now the following aspect: His cost-price is now 1½ sh. for wear, 17½ sh. for raw and auxiliary materials, 1 sh. for wages, total 20 sh., as before. Since the rate of profit is not at once altered by the new machine, he will receive 10% more than his cost-price, that is, 2 sh. The price of production, then, remains unaltered at 22 sh., as before, but it is 1 sh. above the value of these commodities. So far as a society producing under capitalist conditions is concerned, the commodity has not become any cheaper, the new machine signifies no improvement. The capitalist is therefore not interested in the introduction of this new machine. And since its introduction would make his present and not yet worn-out machinery simply worthless, would make old iron of it, would mean a positive loss for him, he takes good care not to commit such a utopian mistake.
The law of increased productive power, then, does not apply absolutely to capital. So far as capital is concerned, the productive power is not increased by the enhancement of productive labor in general, but only by saving more in the unpaid portion of living labor than is expended in past labor, as we have already indicated in volume I, chapter XV, 2. Here the capitalist mode of production falls into another contradiction. Its historical mission is the ruthless development in geometrical progression, of the productivity of human labor. It becomes disloyal to its mission, whenever it puts a check upon the development of productivity, as it does here. Thus it demonstrates once again that it is becoming weak with age and more and more outliving its usefulness.]37
Under competition, the increase in the minimum of capital required for the successful operation of an independent industrial establishment in keeping with the increase in productivity assumes the following aspect: As soon as the new and more expensive equipment has become universally established, smaller capitals are henceforth excluded from these enterprises. Smaller capitals can carry on an independent activity in such lines only during the incipient stage of mechanical inventions. On the other hand, very large enterprises, such as railroads, with an extraordinarily high relative proportion of constant capital, do not yield any average rate of profit, but only a portion of it, interest. Otherwise the rate of profit would fall still lower. At the same time, this offers direct employment to large aggregations of capital in the form of stocks.
An increase of capital, or accumulation of capital, does not imply a fall in the rate of profit, unless this growth is accompanied by the aforementioned alterations in the proportions of the organic constituents of capital. Now it so happens that in spite of the continual and daily revolutions in the mode of production, now this, now that, greater or smaller portion of the total capital continues for certain periods to accumulate on the basis of a given average proportion of those constituents, so that its growth does not imply any organic change, and consequently no fall in the rate of profit. This continual expansion of capital, and consequently expansion of production on the basis of the old method of production, which proceeds quietly while the new methods are already developing by its side, is another reason, why the rate of profit does not decrease in the same degree in which the total capital of society grows.
The increase of the absolute number of laborers, in spite of the relative decrease of the variable as compared to the constant capital, does not take place in all lines of production, and not uniformly in those in which it does proceed. In agriculture, the decrease of the element of living labor may be absolute.
By the way, it is but a requirement of the capitalist mode of production that the number of wage workers should increase absolutely, in spite of its relative decrease. Under this mode, labor-powers become superfluous as soon as it is no longer compelled to employ them for 12 to 15 hours per day. A development of the productive forces which would diminish the absolute number of laborers, that is, which would enable the entire nation to accomplish its total production in a shorter time, would cause a revolution, because it would put the majority of the population upon the shelf. In this the specific barrier of capitalist production shows itself once more, proving that capitalist production is not an absolute form for the development of the productive powers and creation of wealth, but rather comes in collision with this development at a certain point. This collision expresses itself partly through periodical crises, which arise from the circumstance that now this, now that, portion of the laboring population is rendered superfluous in its old mode of employment. The barrier of capitalist production is the superfluous time of the laborers. The absolute spare time gained by society does not concern Capitalism. The development of the productive powers concerns it only to the extent that it increases the surplus labor time of the working class, not to the extent that it decreases the labor time for material production in general. Thus capitalist production moves in contradictions.
We have seen that the growing accumulation of capital implies its growing concentration. Thus the power of capital, the personification of the conditions of social production in the capitalist, grows over the heads of the real producers. Capital shows itself more and more as a social power, whose agent the capitalist is, and which stands no longer in any possible relation to the things which the labor of any single individual can create. Capital becomes a strange, independent, social power, which stands opposed to society as a thing, and as the power of capitalists by means of this thing. The contradiction between capital as a general social power and as a power of private capitalists over the social conditions of production develops into an ever more irreconcilable clash, which implies the dissolution of these relations and the elaboration of the conditions of production into universal, common, social conditions. This elaboration is performed by the development of the productive powers under capitalist production, and by the course which this development pursues.
No capitalist voluntarily introduces a new method of production, no matter how much more productive it may be, and how much it may increase the rate of surplus-value, so long as it reduces the rate of profit. But every new method of production of this sort cheapens the commodities. Hence the capitalist sells them originally above their prices of production, or, perhaps, above their value. He pockets the difference, which exists between these prices of production and the market-prices of the other commodities produced at higher prices of production. He can do this, because the average labor time required socially for the production of these other commodities is higher than the labor time required under the new methods of production. His method of production is above the social average. But competition generalises it and subjects it to the general law. Then follows a fall in the rate of profit—perhaps first in this sphere of production, which gradually brings the others to its level—which is, therefore, wholly independent of the will of the capitalist.
It must be noted here, that this same law rules also those spheres of production, whose product passes neither directly nor indirectly into the consumption of the laborers or into the conditions under which their necessities are produced; it applies, therefore, also to those spheres of production, in which no cheapening of commodities can increase the relative surplus-value or cheapen labor-power. (It is true that a cheapening of constant capital may increase the rate of profit in all these lines while the exploitation of the laborer remains the same.) As soon as the new mode of production begins to expand, and thereby to furnish the tangible proof that these commodities can actually be produced more cheaply, the capitalists working under the old methods of production must sell their product below their full prices of production, because the value of these commodities has fallen, because the labor time required by these capitalists for the production of these commodities is longer than the social average. In one word—this appears as the effect of competition—these capitalists are compelled to introduce the new method of production, under which the proportion of the variable to the constant capital has been reduced.
All circumstances, which bring about the cheapening of commodities by the employment of improved machinery amount in the last analysis to a reduction of the quantity of labor absorbed by the individual commodities; in the second place, to a reduction of the wear and tear portion of machinery transferred to the value of the individual commodity. To the extent that the wear and tear of machinery is less rapid, it is distributed over more commodities and displaces more living labor during its period of reproduction. In both cases the quantity and value of the fixed constant capital are increased over those of the variable capital.
"All other things being equal, the power of a nation to save from its profits varies with the rate of profits, is great when they are high, less, when low; but as the rate of profit declines, all other things do not remain equal....A low rate of profit is ordinarily accompanied by a rapid rate of accumulation, relatively to the numbers of the people, as in England...a high rate of profit by a slower rate of accumulation, relatively to the numbers of the people." Examples: Poland, Russia, India, etc. (Richard Jones, An Introductory Lecture on Political Economy, London, 1833, p. 50ff.) Jones emphasises correctly that in spite of the falling rate of profit the inducements and faculties to accumulate are augmented; first, on account of the growing relative overpopulation; secondly, because the growing productivity of labor is accompanied by an increase in the mass of use-values produced by the same exchange value, that is, an increase in the material elements of capital, thirdly, because the lines of production become more varied; fourthly, because the credit system, lock companies, etc., are developed, and with them the facility of converting money into capital without becoming an industrial capitalist; fifthly, because the wants and the greed for wealth increase; sixthly, because the mass of investments in fixed capital grows; etc.
The following three principal facts of capitalist production must be kept in mind:
1) Concentration of means of production in a few hands, whereby they cease to appear as the property of the immediate laborers and transform themselves into social powers of production. It is true, they first become the private property of capitalists. These are the trustees of bourgeois society, but they pocket the proceeds of their trusteeship.
2) Organisation of labor itself into social labor, by social co-operation, division of labor, and combination of labor with natural sciences.
In both directions, the capitalist mode of production abolishes private property and private labor, even though it does so in contradictory forms.
3) Creation of the world market.
The stupendous productive power developing under the capitalist mode of production relatively to population, and the increase, though not in the same proportion, of capital values (not their material substance), which grow much more rapidly than the population, contradict the basis, which, compared to the expanding wealth, is ever narrowing and for which this immense productive power works, and the conditions, under which capital augments its value. This is the cause of crises.
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 + 8x, 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.38
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.
WE have seen in volume II, that the mere functions of capital in the sphere of circulation—the operations which the industrial capitalist must perform, first, in order to realise the value of his commodities, and secondly, in order to reconvert this value into elements of production, operations which promote the metamorphosis of the commodity-capital C'—M—C, the acts of selling and buying—produce neither value nor surplus-value. It was rather seen that the time required for this purpose, objectively so far as the commodities, subjectively so far as the capitalist is concerned, creates barriers to the production of value and surplus-value. What is true of the metamorphosis of commodity-capital in general, is, as a matter of course, not in the least altered by the fact that a part of it may assume the shape of commercial capital, or that the operations, by which the metamorphosis of commodity-capital is promoted, may become the particular business of a special class of capitalists, or the exclusive function of a portion of the money-capital. If selling and buying of commodities —and that is what the metamorphosis of the commodity-capital C'—M—C amounts to—by the industrial capitalists themselves do not create any value or surplus-value, they will certainly not become creators of value by being transferred from the industrial capitalists to other persons. Furthermore, if that portion of the total social capital, which must be continually on hand in order that the process of reproduction, instead of being interrupted, may proceed continuously—if this money-capital does not create any value or surplus-value, then it cannot acquire the faculty to do so by being continually thrown into circulation for the performance of its function by some other section of the capitalists than the industrial capitalists. We have already indicated to what extent merchant's capital may be indirectly productive, and we shall discuss this point more at length later on.
Commercial capital, then—stripped of all heterogeneous functions, such as storing, expressing, transporting, distributing, arranging, which may be connected with its true function of buying in order to sell—creates neither value nor surplus-value, but promotes only their realisation and thereby the actual exchange of commodities, their transfer from one hand to the other, the social circulation of matter. Nevertheless, since the circulating phase of industrial capital is as much a phase of the process of reproduction as production is, the capital performing its functions independently in the process of circulation must yield the average annual profit just as well as the capital performing its functions in the different lines of production. If merchant's capital were to yield a higher percentage of average profit than industrial capital, then a portion of the industrial capital would transform itself into merchant's capital. If this capital were to yield a lower average profit, then the opposite process would take place. A portion of the merchant's capital would transform itself into industrial capital. No species of capital enjoys a greater facility to change its occupation than merchant's capital.
Seeing that merchant's capital itself does not produce any surplus-value, it is evident that surplus-value appropriated by it in the shape of average profit must be a portion of the surplus-value produced by the total productive capital. But the question is now: How does the merchant's capital manage to appropriate its share of the surplus-value or profit produced by the productive capital?
It is only outward semblance that commercial profit is a mere addition to, a nominal raise of the prices of commodities above their value.
It is evident that the merchant can draw his profit only out of the price of the commodities sold by him, more even, that this profit, which he makes by the sale of his commodities, must be equal to the difference between his purchase price and his selling price, equal to the excess of the latter over the former.
It is possible, that additional costs (costs of circulation) may enter into the commodities after their purchase and before their sale, and it is also possible, that this may not happen. If such costs should be added, it is evident that the excess of the selling price over the purchase price does not represent merely profit. In order to simplify the analysis, we assume first, that no such costs are added.
For the industrial capitalist, the difference between the selling price and the purchase price of his commodities is equal to the difference between their price of production and their cost-price, or, looking upon the matter from the point of view of the total social capital, equal to the difference between the value of the commodities and their cost-price for the capitalists, and this again resolves itself into the difference between the total quantity of labor incorporated in them and the quantity of the paid labor incorporated in them. Before the commodities bought by the industrial capitalist are taken back to market as saleable commodities, they pass through the process of production, in which that portion of their price which shall be realised as profit must be created. But it is different with the trading merchant. The commodities are in his hands only so long as they are in the process of circulation. He merely continues their sale, the realisation of their price begun by the productive capitalist, and therefore he does not cause them to pass through any intermediate process, in which they can once more absorb new surplus-value. While the industrial capitalist merely realises the previously produced surplus-value or profit by means of the circulation, the merchant must not only realise his profit in and by the circulation, but he must first make it there. This seems possible in no other way than that of selling the commodities bought by him from the industrial capitalist at their prices of production, or, from the point of view of the total commodity-capital, their values, above their prices of production, by making a nominal addition to these prices, in other words by selling the total commodity-capital above its value and pocketing this excess of their nominal value over their real value. In short, it seems that he would be selling them for more than they are worth.
This method of raising prices seems easy to grasp. For instance, one yard of linen costs 2 sh. If I want to make 10% profit on my sales, I must add 1/10 to the price, I must sell one yard of linen at 2 sh. 2 2/5d. The difference between its actual price of production and its selling price is then 2 2/5d. and this represents a profit of 10% on 2 sh. This amounts to my selling one yard of linen to the buyer at a price which is in reality the price of 1 1/10 yard. Or, what amounts to the same, it is as though I sold to the buyer only 10/11 of one yard for 2 sh. and kept 1/11 for myself. In fact, I might buy back 1/11 of one yard for 2 2/5 d., if the price of one yard is 2 sh. 2 2/5d. This would be but a round-about way of sharing in the surplus-value and surplus-product by a nominal raise in the price of commodities.
This is the realisation of commercial profit by raising the price of commodities, as it appears at first glance on the surface. And it is indeed a fact that this whole conception of the rise of profit from a nominal raise in the price of commodities, or from their sale above their value, has its origin in the point of view of commercial capital.
But on closer inspection it is quickly seen that this is a mere semblance, and that, assuming capitalist production to be the prevailing mode, commercial profit cannot be realised in this manner. (It is here always a question of averages, not of exceptions.) Why do we assume that the dealer in commodities can realise his profit of 10% on his commodities only by selling them 10% above their price of production? Because we had assumed that the producer of these commodities, the industrial capitalist (who impersonates The producer before the outside world as the personification of industrial capital), had sold them to the dealer at their prices of production. If the prices paid by the dealer for commodities are equal to their prices of production, so that the price of production, or in the last instance the value, represents the cost-price for the merchant, then the excess of the latter's selling price over his purchase price—and only this difference constitutes his profit—must indeed be an excess of their commercial price over their price of production, so that in the last analysis the merchant would be selling all commodities above their values. But why did we assume that the industrial capitalist sells his commodities to the merchant at their prices of production? Or rather, what was the premise of that assumption? It was that the commercial capital did not share in the formation of the average rate of profit (and as yet we are dealing with merchant's capital only in so far as it is commercial capital.) We started necessarily from this premise in the discussion of the average rate of profit, first, because the commercial capital as such did not exist for us at that time; and secondly, because the average profit, and thus the average rate of profit, had to be first developed out of a mutual leveling of profits, or surplus-values, actually produced by the industrial capitals of the different spheres of production. But in the case of merchant's capital we are dealing with a capital which shares in the profit without participating in its production. Hence it now becomes necessary, to supplement our former presentation at this point.
Let us suppose that the total industrial capital advanced for one year is 720 c + 180 v = 900 (say million p.st.), and that s' = 100%. The product is then valued at 720 c + 180 v + 180 s. Now let us call this product, the produced commodity-capital, C. Its value, or its price of production (both are identical for the total social commodity-capital), is then 1080, and the rate of profit for the total social capital of 900 is 20%. These 20% constitute, according to our previous analyses, the average rate of profit, since the surplus-value is not calculated in this instance on this or that capital of some particular composition, but on the average composition of the total industrial capital. In short, C = 1,080, and the rate of profit = 20%. Now let us further assume that aside from these 900 of industrial capital, there are invested 100 of merchant's capital, which share in the profit, just as the industrial capital does, in proportion to their magnitude. According to our assumption, the total capital consists of 900 industrial + 100 commercial = 1,000, so that the commercial capital is 1/10 of the whole. Therefore it participates to the extent of 1/10 in the total surplus-value of 180, and by this means secures a profit at the rate of 18%. Actually, then, the profit remaining to be distributed among the other 9/10 of the total capital is only 162, which amounts likewise to 18% on the total capital of 900. In other words, the price at which C is sold by the owners of the industrial capital of 900 to the dealers is 720 c + 180 v + 162 s = 1,062. Now, if the dealer adds his average profit of 18% on his capital of 100, he sells the commodities at 1,062 + 18 = 1,080, which is their price of production, or, from the point of view of the total commodity-capital, their value, although he makes his profit only in and by the circulation, and only by an excess of his selling price over his purchase price. But nevertheless he does not sell the commodities above their value, nor above their price of production, just because he had bought them from the industrial capitalist below their value, or below their price of production.
The merchant's capital, then, plays a determining role in the formation of the average rate of profit in proportion to its pro rata magnitude in the total capital. Hence if we say in the cited case that the average rate of profit is 18%, it would be 20%, were it not for the fact that 1/10 of the total capital is merchant's capital, which implies a reduction of the rate of profit by 1/10.
This requires also a more precise and detailed definition of the price of production. By price of production we mean, now as before, that price of the commodities, which is equal to their cost (the value of the constant + variable capital contained in them) + the average profit. But this average profit is now differently determined. It is determined by the total profit produced by the total productive capital, but it is not calculated merely on this total productive capital. It is not calculated, as first assumed, so that, if the total productive capital were 900, and the profit 180, the average rate of profit would be 180/900 = 20%. It is rather calculated on the total productive + the merchant's capital, so that, if the total capital is 900 productive + 100 merchant's capital, the average rate of profit is 180/1000 = 18%. The price of production is, therefore, equal to k (the costs) + 18, instead of k + 20. In the average rate of profit, the share of the total profit falling to the merchant's capital is included. The actual value, or price of production, of the total commodity-capital is, therefore, k + p + m (where m indicates profits in merchant's capital). The price of production, or the price at which the industrial capitalist as such sells his commodities, is thus smaller than the actual price of production of commodities. Or, looking upon the matter from the point of view of the total commodity-capital, the prices at which the class of industrial capitalists sell are lower than the values of commodities. Thus, in the above case, 900 costs + 18% on 900, or 900 + 162 = 1,062.
It follows, then, that the merchant, when selling a commodity at 118 for which he paid 100 does indeed raise the price by 18%. But since this commodity, for which he paid 100, is really worth 118, he does not sell it above its value. We shall retain the price of production as more closely defined above. Then it is evident, that the profit of the industrial capitalist is equal to the excess of the price of production of his commodities over their cost-price, and that the commercial profit, as distinguished from this industrial profit, is equal to the excess of the selling price over the price of production of the commodities, which is their cost-price for the merchant; but that the actual price of the commodities is equal to their price of production plus the commercial profit. Just as the industrial capital realises only such profits as exist previously in the commodities as surplus-value, so the merchant's capital realises profits only because the entire surplus-value, or profit, has not yet been realised in the price charged for the commodities by the industrial capitalist.39 The selling price of the merchant, then, stands above his purchase price, not because the former stands above the total value, but because the purchase price stands below this value.
The merchant's capital participates in the compensation of the surplus-value to an average profit, although it does not take part in its production. So the average rate of profit implies that general deduction from surplus-value which falls to the share of merchant's capital, a deduction from the profit of the industrial capital.
From the foregoing it follows:
1) The larger the merchant's capital in proportion to the industrial capital, the smaller is the rate of industrial profit, and vice versa.
2) It was seen in the first part, that the rate of profit is always lower than the rate of the actual surplus-value, that it always expresses the intensity of exploitation too low. In the above case, 720 c + 180 v + 180 s means a rate of surplus-value of 100%, and a rate of profit of only 20%. And if the merchant's capital is included in the calculation, then the difference between the rate of surplus-value and the rate of profit becomes still greater, the latter being only 18% in the present case. In that case, the average rate of profit of the direct exploiter of labor expresses the rate of profit in lower figures than it actually represents.
Assuming all other circumstances to remain the same, the relative volume of the merchant's capital (excepting the small dealer, who represents a hermaphrodite form) will be in a reverse ratio to the velocity of its turn-over, or in a reverse ratio to the energy of the process of reproduction in general. In the process of scientific analysis, the formation of an average rate of profit appears to take its departure from the industrial capitals and their competition, and only later on does it seem to be corrected, supplemented, and modified by the intervention of merchant's capital. But in the course of historical events, the process is reversed. It is the commercial capital, which first determines the prices of commodities more or less by their values, and it is the sphere of circulation, while promoting the process of reproduction, which first affords an opportunity for the formation of an average rate of profit. The commercial profit originally determines the industrial profit. Not until the capitalist mode of production has asserted itself and the producer himself has become a merchant, is the commercial profit reduced to that aliquot part of the total surplus-value, which falls to the share of the merchant's capital as an aliquot part of the total capital engaged in the social process of reproduction.
In the analysis of the supplementary compensation of profit through the intervention of the merchant's capital it was found that no additional element for the advanced money-capital entered into the value of commodities, and that the addition to the price, by which the merchant makes his profit, was merely equal to that portion of the value of commodities, which the productive capital did not calculate, but rather left out of calculation in the price of production. The case of this money-capital is similar to that of the fixed capital of the industrial capitalist, which is not all consumed and does not pass as an element into the value of commodities. By the purchase price which the merchant pays for the commodity-capital, he replaces its price of production, M, in money. His own selling price, as we have previously shown, is equal to M + 8Delta;M, and this 8Delta;M stands for the addition to the price of commodities determined by the average rate of profit. By selling these commodities, he recovers together with this 8Delta;M his original money-capital, which he advanced for their purchase. Here, then, we see once more that his money-capital is nothing else but the commodity-capital of the industrial capitalist transformed into money-capital, and this change does not affect the magnitude of the volume of this commodity-capital any more than a direct sale to the ultimate consumer instead of the merchant would. It merely anticipates payment by the consumer. However, this is correct only on the condition, which we had hitherto assumed, that the merchant has no expenses, or that he need not advance any fixed or circulating capital during the process of metamorphosis of the commodities, of buying and selling, aside from the money-capital which he must advance for the purchase of the commodities from the producer. But this is not so in reality, as we have seen in the analysis of the costs of circulation, volume II, chapter VI. These costs of circulation represent either expenses, which the merchant has to reclaim from the other agents of the circulation, or expenses, which are due directly to his specific business.
No matter what may be the character of these costs of circulation—whether they arise from the purely mercantile nature of the business, or whether they belong to the specific costs of circulation of the merchant, or whether they represent items, which are charges for subsequent processes of production added within the process of circulation, such as expressage, transportation, storage, etc.—they always require that the merchant should have, aside from his advanced money-capital, some additional capital for the purchase and payment of such means of circulation. To the extent that this element of cost consists of circulating capital, it passes wholly as an additional element into the selling price of the commodities; to the extent that it consists of fixed capital, it is transferred in proportion to its wear and tear. It is, however, an element, which forms a nominal value, even if it does not add any real value to the commodities. Such nominal values, which do not add any real value to the commodities, are the purely mercantile costs of circulation. But whether fixed or circulating, the entire additional capital participates in the formation of the general rate of profit.
The purely commercial costs of circulation (that is, excepting the costs of transportation, shipping, storage, etc.) resolve themselves into the costs required for the purpose of realising the value of commodities, by transforming it either from commodities into money, or from money into commodities, by means of exchange. We leave entirely out of consideration any processes of production, which may eventually continue during the process of circulation, and which may exist separately from the merchant's business. In fact, the actual transport industry and shipping may be, and are, lines of occupation entirely separated from the merchant's business, and the purchaseable or saleable commodities may be stored in warehouses or other public sheds, and the cost of storage, so far as it has to be advanced by the merchant, may be charged up to him by other people. All this becomes apparent in commerce on a large scale, in which the merchant's capital assumes its purest form, unalloyed by other functions. The express owner, the railroad director, the ship owner, are not "merchants." The costs which we consider here are those of buying and selling. We have already remarked in another place that these resolve themselves into accounting, bookkeeping, marketing, correspondence, etc. The constant capital required for this purpose consists of offices, paper, postage, etc. The other costs resolve themselves into variable capital advanced for the employment of mercantile wage workers. (Expressage, cost of transportation, advances for duties, etc., may be considered as being advances made by the merchant for the purchase of commodities and entering into the purchase price to be paid by him.)
All these costs are not incurred in the production of the use-value of the commodities, but in the realisation of their exchange value. They are pure costs of circulation. They do not enter into the strict process of production, but since they enter into the process of circulation they are part of the total process of reproduction.
The only portion of these costs that interests us here is that advanced as variable capital. (Furthermore the following questions remain to be analysed: 1) How is the law, that only socially necessary labor enters into the value of commodities, enforced in the process of circulation? 2) How does accumulation represent itself in the case of merchant's capital? 3) How does merchant's capital function in the actual process of reproduction of society as a whole?)
These costs are due to the economic form of the product, that of a commodity.
Seeing that the labor time lost by the industrial capitalists themselves while directly selling commodities to one another, in other words, the circulation time of the commodities, does not add any value to these commodities, it is evident that this labor time is not endowed with any other character by transferring it from the industrial capitalist to the merchant. The conversion of commodities (products) into money, and of money into commodities (means of production) is a necessary function of industrial capital and, therefore, a necessary operation for the capitalist, who is but personified capital endowed with his consciousness and will. But these functions do not create any value, nor do they produce any surplus-value. The merchant, by performing these operations, by further promoting the functions of capital in the sphere of circulation after the productive capitalist has ceased to do so, merely steps into the shoes of the industrial capitalist. The labor time required for these operations is devoted to certain necessary operations in the process of reproduction of capital, but it adds no value to it. If the merchant did not perform these operations (did not expend the labor time required for them), he would not be using his capital as a circulation agent of industrial capital; he would not be continuing the interrupted function of the industrial capitalist, and consequently he could not participate as a capitalist, in proportion to his advanced capital, in the mass of profit produced by the class of industrial capitalists. In order to share in the mass of surplus-value, in order to expand the value of his advanced capital, the commercial capitalist need not employ any wage workers. If his business is small, he may be the only worker in it. But his wages are derived from that portion of the social profit which falls to his share through the difference between the purchase price paid by him for commodities and their actual price of production.
Under these circumstances, and assuming the merchant's advanced capital to be small, the profit realised by him may not be a bit larger, or may even be smaller, than the wages of one of the better paid skilled wage workers. In fact, there are employed, side by side with him, many commercial agents of the industrial capitalist, such as buyers, sellers, travelers, who receive the same or a higher income than he, either in the form of wages, or in the form of a check upon the profit (percentages, tantièmes) made by each sale. In the first case, the merchant pockets the mercantile profit as an independent capitalist; in the other case, the salesman, the wage laborer of the industrial capitalist, receives a portion of the profit, either in the form of wages, or in the form of a proportional share in the profit of the industrial capitalist, whose direct agent he is, while his principal pockets both the industrial and the commercial profit. But in all these cases the income of the circulation agent is derived from the merchant's profit, even though he may regard it merely as wages paid to him for the performance of his labor, or, where it does not appear in this light, though his profit may not be any larger than the wages of a better paid wage laborer. This follows from the fact that his labor is not labor producing any values.
The prolongation of the act of circulation implies for the industrial capitalist 1) a personal loss of time, to the extent that it prevents him from performing his own function as a manager of the productive process; 2) a prolonged stay of his product, in the form of money or commodities, in the process of circulation, that is, a process, in which it does not produce any value and by which the direct process of production is interrupted. If this process is not to be interrupted, production must either be restricted, or more money-capital must be advanced, in order that the process of production may proceed on the same scale. This means every time that either a smaller profit is made by the capital hitherto invested, or that additional money-capital must be advanced in order to make the same profit. All this remains unchanged, when the merchant takes the place of the industrial capitalist. Instead of the industrial capitalist, the merchant then spends this prolonged time in the process of circulation; instead of the industrial capitalist, the merchant advances additional capital for the circulation; or, what amounts to the same, instead of a large portion of the industrial capital straying off continually into the process of circulation, the capital of the merchant is wholly tied up in it; and instead of the industrial capitalist making a smaller profit, he must yield a portion of his profit wholly to the merchant. So long as merchant's capital remains within the boundaries, in which it is necessary, the only difference is that this division of the functions of capital reduces the time exclusively needed for the process of circulation, that less additional capital is advanced for this purpose, and that the loss of the total profits represented by the profits of merchant's capital is smaller than it would have been otherwise. If in the above example, a capital of 720 c + 180 v + 180 s, assisted by a merchant's capital of 100, leaves a profit of 162, or 18% for the industrial capitalist, or, in other words, implies a deduction of 18, then the additional capital required without the assistance of this independent merchant's capital would probably be 200, and the total advance to be made by the industrial capitalist would be 1,100 instead of 900, which, with a surplus-value of 180, would mean a rate of profit of only 16 4/11%.
Now, if the industrial capitalist, who acts as his own merchant, advances not only the additional capital with which he buys new commodities, before his product in process of circulation has been reconverted into money, but also capital (office expenses and wages for commercial laborers) for the realisation of the value of his commodity-capital, or, in other words, for the process of circulation, then these costs form additional capital, but they produce no surplus-value. They must be made good out of the value of the commodities. For a portion of the value of these commodities must once more be converted into these circulation costs; and no additional surplus-value is created thereby. So far as this concerns the total capital of society, it means that a portion of it must be set aside for secondary operations, which are no part of the process of creating value, and that this portion of the social capital must be continually reproduced for this purpose. This reduces the rate of profit for the individual capitalist and for the entire class of industrial capitalists, a result, which follows from every addition of auxiliary capital, whenever such capital is required for the purpose of setting in motion the same mass of variable capital.
To the extent that these additional costs connected with the business of circulating are transferred from the shoulders of the industrial to those of the commercial capitalist, the same reduction in the rate of profit takes place, only to a smaller extent and in another way. The matter now assumes the form that the merchant advances more capital than would be necessary, if these costs did not exist, and that the profit on this additional capital increases the amount of the commercial profit, so that the merchant's capital shares with the industrial capital to a greater extent in the leveling of the average rate of profit, thereby lowering the average profit. If in our above examply 50 additional capital are advanced for those costs together with a merchant's capital of 100, then the total surplus-value of 180 is distributed over a productive capital of 900 plus a merchant's capital of 150, a total of 1,050. The average rate of profit then falls to 17 1/7%. The industrial capitalists sells his commodities to the merchant at 900 + 154 2/7 = 1,054 2/7, and the merchant sells them at 1,130, namely 1080 + 50 for costs which he must recover. For the rest it must be assumed that the division between merchant's and industrial capital is accompanied by a centralisation of the expenses of commerce and, consequently, by their reduction.
The question is now: How is it with the commercial wage workers employed by the commercial capitalist, in this case by the merchant?
In one respect, such a commercial laborer is a wage laborer like others. For, in the first place, his labor-power is bought with the variable capital of the merchant, not with the money spent by him as revenue, and consequently this labor-power is not bought for private service, but for the creation of value by means of the capital advanced for it. In the second place, the value of this labor-power, and thus his wages, are determined in the same way as those of other wage workers, namely by the cost of production and reproduction of his specific labor-power, not by the product of his labor.
However, we must make the same distinction between the commercial wage worker and the wage workers directly employed by the industrial capital which we found existing between the industrial capital and merchant's capital, and thus between the industrial capitalist and the commercial capitalist. Since the merchant, as a mere agent of circulation, produces neither value nor surplus-value (for the additional value, which he adds to the commodities by his expenses, resolves itself into an addition of previously existing values, although the question here poses itself: How does he preserve the value of his constant capital?) it follows that the mercantile laborers employed in these same functions cannot very well create any direct surplus-value for him. Here, as in the case of the productive laborers, we assume that wages are determined by the value of labor-power, and that the merchant does not make money by depressing wages, so that he does not allow in his accounts for any advance of wages which he paid only in part, in other words, that he does not make money by cheating his clerks.
The difficulty in the case of the mercantile wage workers is by no means that of explaining the way in which they produce any direct profits for their employer, even though they do not create any direct surplus-value (of which profit is but a changed form.) This part of the question has already been solved by the general analysis of commercial profits. Just as the industrial capital makes profits by selling labor embodied and realised in commodities for which it has not paid any equivalent, so the merchants' capital makes profits by not paying the productive capital for all the unpaid labor incorporated in the commodities (that is, commodities in so far as the capital invested in their production functions as an aliquot part of the total industrial capital), while in selling it demands payment for this unpaid portion still contained in the commodities and not paid for by itself. The relation of the merchant's capital to the surplus-value is different from that of the industrial capital. The industrial capital produces surplus-value by the direct appropriation of the unpaid labor of others. The merchant's capital, on the other hand, appropriates a portion of this surplus-value by having this portion transferred from the industrial capital to itself.
It is only by its function of realising values that the merchant's capital serves in the process of reproduction as capital and in this capacity gets a share of the surplus-value produced by the total capital. The mass of profits depends for the individual merchant on the mass of capital, which he can invest in this process, and he can use so much more of it in buying and selling, the more unpaid labor his clerks perform. The function itself, by virtue of which the money of the merchant capitalist is capital, is largely performed by his employes. The unpaid labor of his clerks, while it does not create any surplus-value, at least appropriates surplus-value for him, which amounts to the same thing so far as results on his capital go. This unpaid labor is for him, therefore, a source of profit. Otherwise the mercantile business could never be carried on capitalistically, on a large scale.
Just as the unpaid labor of the laborer of the productive capital creates surplus-value for it in a direct way, so the unpaid labor of the commercial wage workers secures a share of this surplus-value for the merchant's capital.
Here is the difficulty: Seeing that the labor time and the labor of the merchant himself do not create any value, but only secure for him a share of already produced surplus-value, how is it with the variable capital, which he invests in the purchase of commercial labor-power? Must this variable capital be included in the expense account of advanced merchant's capital? If not, then it seems to be in contradiction with the law of the compensation of the average rate of profit; for where is there a capitalist who would advance 150, if he could place only 100 in account? If yes, it seems to be in contradiction with the nature of merchant's capital, since this class of capital does not act in the capacity of capital by setting in motion the labor of others, as the industrial capital does, but rather by performing its own work, that is, the process of buying and selling, and only for this and by this means does it transfer a portion of the surplus-value produced by the industrial capital to itself.
(Therefore the following points must be analysed: the variable capital of the merchant; the law of necessary labor in circulation; the way in which the merchant's labor preserves the value of his constant capital; the role of merchant's capital in the total process of reproduction; and finally, the two-fold materialisation in commodity-capital and money-capital on one side, and in commercial capital and financial capital on the other.)
If every merchant had only as much money as he is personally able to turn over by his own labor, there would be an infinite dissociation of merchant's capital. This dissociation would increase to the extent that productive capital, in the forward march of the capitalist mode of production, would produce and operate on a larger scale. The disproportion between the two classes of capital would increase. In proportion as capital in the sphere of production would be centralised, it would be decentralised in the sphere of circulation. The purely commercial business of the industrial capitalist, and thus his purely commercial expenses, would be infinitely expanded thereby, for he would have dealings with 1,000 capitalists at a time instead of 100. In this way, a large part of the advantage of the independent organisation of merchant's capital would be lost. Not only the purely commercial expenses, but also the other costs of circulation, sorting, expressage, etc., would grow. This applies to the industrial capital. Now let us consider the merchant's capital. In the first place, let us look at the purely commercial labors. It does not require more time to figure with large than with small numbers. But it costs ten times as much time to make 10 purchases at 100 p.st. each as it does to make one purchase at 1,000 p.st. It costs ten times as much correspondence, paper, postage, to carry on a correspondence with 10 small merchants as it does with one large merchant. A limited division of labor in a commercial office, in which one keeps books, another has charge of the treasury, a third carries on the correspondence, one man buys, another sells, another travels, etc., saves immense quantities of labor time, so that the number of workers employed in wholesale commerce stand in no proportion to the comparative size of the business. This is so, because in commerce much more than in industry the same function, whether performed on a large or a small scale, costs the same labor time. For this reason, concentration appears historically in the merchant's business before it shows itself in the industrial workshop. There are furthermore the expenses for constant capital. 100 small offices cost incomparably more than one large office, 100 small warehouses more than one large one, etc. The costs of transportation, which enter into the accounts of commercial business at least as advances, grow with this dissociation.
The industrial capitalist would have to spend more for labor and circulation in the commercial part of his business. The same merchant's capital, when distributed among many small capitalists would require more laborers for the performance of its functions, on account of this dissociation, and, besides, more merchant's capital would be needed in order to turn over the same commodity-capital.
Let us designate the entire merchant's capital directly invested in the purchase and sale of commodities by B, and the corresponding variable capital invested in wages of commercial help by b. Then B + b is smaller than it would be, if every merchant had to worry along without any assistance and without investing any capital in b. However, we have not yet overcome all difficulties.
The selling price of the commodities must suffice, 1) to pay the average profit on B + b. This explains itself by virtue of the fact that B + b represents a reduction of the original B and a smaller merchant's capital than would be required without b. But this selling price must also suffice, 2) to cover not only the additional profit on b, but to recover also the paid wages, the variable capital of the merchant. There is the difficulty. Does b form a new constituent of the price, or is it merely a part of the profit made by means of B + b, which takes on the appearance of wages only so far as the mercantile wage worker is concerned, and simply replaces the variable capital from the point of view of the merchant? In this last case, the profit made by the merchant on his advanced capital B + b would be only equal to the profit due to B according to the general rate, plus b, which he pays out in the form of wages without getting a profit on it.
The crux of the matter is, indeed, to find the limits (mathematically speaking) of b. Let us first define the difficulty exactly. Let us designate the capital invested directly in buying and selling commodities by B, the constant capital (expenses of objective materials of commerce) consumed in this function by K, and the variable capital invested by the merchant by b.
The recovery of B offers no difficulties. It simply represents for the merchant the realised purchase price, the price of production for the manufacturer. The merchant pays this price and in reselling he recovers B as a part of his selling price. Apart from this B, he also receives a profit on B, as we have previously explained. For instance, let the commodities cost 100 p.st. The profit on this may be 10%. In that case the commodities are sold at 110. These commodities cost previously 100, and the merchant's capital of 100 merely makes an additional 10 out of them.
Now let us look at K. It will at most be as large as, but in fact smaller, than that portion of the constant capital, which the producer would have to invest in the department of buying and selling, and which would be an addition to the constant capital invested by him in direct production. However, this portion must be continually recovered by the price of the commodities, or, what amounts to the same, a corresponding portion of the commodities must be continually expended in this form, must, from the point of view of the total capital of society, be continually reproduced in this form. This portion of the advanced constant capital would reduce the rate of profit just as well as the entire mass of it invested in production itself. To the extent that the industrial capitalist gives up the commercial part of his business to the merchant, he is no longer compelled to advance this part of the capital. The merchant advances it in his stead. In a way he does this but nominally, since a merchant neither produces nor reproduces the constant capital consumed by him (the cost of the objective materials of commerce). Its production appears as a specific business, or at least as a part of the business, of some industrial capitalists, who play a similar role as those, who supply the constant capital for the producers of necessities of life. The merchant recovers this constant capital and his profit on it. Both things reduce the profit of the industrial capitalist to that extent. But owing to the economies and concentration which come with a division of labor, he loses less profits than he would, if he had to advance his own capital for this purpose. The reduction of the rate of profit is smaller, because the advanced capital is smaller.
So far, then, the selling price is made up of B + K + profits on B + K. This portion of the selling price offers no further difficulties. But now b, the variable capital advanced by the merchant, enters into this consideration.
The selling price is then made up of B + K + b + profits on B + K + profits on b.
B makes good merely the purchase price and adds nothing to this price but the profit on B. K adds K itself plus a profit on K; but K + profit on K, the circulation cost advanced in the form of constant capital plus a corresponding average profit, would be larger in the hands of the industrial capitalist than it is in those of the merchant. The reduction of the average profit assumes this form: It is as though the full average profit had been calculated, after deducting B + K from the advanced industrial capital, but the deduction from this average profit for B + K paid to the merchant, so that this deduction appears as the profit of a particular class of capital, of merchant's capital.
But it is different with b + profits on b, or in the present case, where we have assumed a rate of profit of 10%, with b + (1/10)b. Here lies the real difficulty.
What the merchant buys with b, is according to our assumption nothing but commercial labor, in other words, labor required for the promotion of the functions of circulating the capital, of performing the acts C—M and M—C. But this commercial labor is that labor, which is generally necessary, in order that any capital may perform the functions of commercial capital, the conversion of commodity-capital into money and money into commodities. It is labor which realises values, but does not create any. And only to the extent that a capital performs this function—that a capitalist performs these operations with his capital—does this capital serve as commercial capital and participate in the regulation of the general rate of profit, that is, draw its dividend out of the total profit. But in b + profit on b, it looks as though labor were being paid, in the first place (for it makes no difference, whether the industrial capitalist pays the merchant for his own labor or the clerk employed by the merchant for his), and in the second place, as though it contained a profit on labor, which the merchant himself has to perform. The merchant's capital gets in the first place its b refunded, and in the second place a profit on it. This arises from the fact that it demands pay, in the first place, for work, which it performs in its capacity as merchant's capital, and that it receives, in the second place, a profit in its capacity of capital, for performing work, which is remunerated in the profit as the function of capital. This, then, is the question which we have to solve.
Now, if b would not be invested by the merchant in wages—since b is paid only for commercial labor, for labor required for the realisation of the value of commodity-capital thrown on the market by industrial capital—then the condition of the matter would be the following: In order to buy or sell anything for B = 100, the merchant would spend his time, and we will assume, that this is the only time at his disposal. The commercial labor represented by b, or 10, if paid for by a profit instead of wages, would presuppose another commercial capital of 100, which, at 10%, would be equal to b = 10. This second B of 100 would not be added to the price of commodities, but the 10% would. We should then have two operations with 100, making 200, that would buy commodities at 200 + 20 = 220.
Since merchant's capital is nothing but an independent form of a portion of industrial capital engaged in the process of circulation, all questions referring to it must be solved by representing the problem at first in that form, in which the phenomena peculiar to merchant's capital do not yet appear in an independent shape, but still in direct connection with industrial capital as one of its subdivsions. As an office separate from the workshop, the mercantile capital serves continually in the process of circulation. It is here that we must first analyse the b under consideration—in the office of the industrial capitalist himself.
The office is from the outset always infinitesimally small compared to the industrial workshop. For the rest, it is clear that the commercial operations increase to the extent that the scale of production is enlarged. These are operations, which must be continually performed for the circulation of the industrial capital, in order to sell the product existing in the shape of commodities, to convert the money so received once more into means of production, and to keep account of the whole. The calculation of prices, bookkeeping, managing funds, carrying on the correspondence, all these belong under this head. The more developed the scale of production is, the greater, if not in proportion, will be the commercial operations of industrial capital, and consequently the labor and other costs of circulation for the realisation of value and surplus-value. This necessitates the employment of commercial wage workers, who form the office staff. The expenses for these, although incurred for wages, differ from the variable capital invested in the purchase of productive labor. It increases the expenses of the industrial capitalist, the mass of capital to be advanced, without increasing the direct surplus-value. For these expenses are made for labor, which is employed only for the realisation of already created values. Like every expense of this kind, these expenses reduce the rate of profit, because the advanced capital increases, but not the surplus-value. If the surplus-value s remains constant, while the advanced capital C increases to C + 8Delta;C, then the place of the rate of profit s/C is taken by the smaller rate of profit s/(C + 8Delta;C). For this reason, the industrial capitalist endeavors to limit these expenses of circulation to a minimum, just as he does with his expenses for constant capital. Hence industrial capital does not maintain the same relations to its commercial wage laborers that it does to its productive wage laborers. The greater the number of productive wages laborers employed under otherwise equal circumstances, the more voluminous is production, the greater the surplus-value or profit. On the other hand, the larger the scale of production, the greater the quantity of value and surplus-value to be realised, the greater, in other words, the produced commodity-capital, the larger grow the absolute office expenses, even if they do not grow relatively, and give rise to some kind of division of labor. To what extent profit is the first condition for these expenses, is shown among other things by the fact, that with the increase of commercial salaries a part of them is frequently paid by a share in the profits. It is in the nature of things that labor consisting merely of intermediary operations, which are connected either with a calculation of values, or with their realisation, or with the reconversion of the realised money into means of production, a labor whose amount depends on the quantity of produced values about to be realised, should not act as cause of the respective magnitudes and masses of these values, as directly productive labor does, but as their result. The case of the other costs of circulation is similar. In order that plenty may be measured, weighed, wrapped, transported, plenty must be supplied. The amount of labor consumed in packing, transporting, etc., depends on the quantity of the commodities which are the objects of its activity, not vice versa.
The commercial laborer does not produce any surplus-value directly. But the value of his labor is determined by the value of his labor-power, that is, of its costs of production, while the application of this labor-power, its exertion, expression, and consumption, the same as in the case of every other wage laborer, is by no means limited by the value of his labor-power. His wages are therefore not necessarily in proportion to the mass of profits, which he helps the capitalist to realise. What he costs the capitalist and what he makes for him are two different things. He adds to the income of the capitalist, not by creating any direct surplus-value, but by helping him to reduce the costs of the realisation of surplus-value. In so doing, he performs partly unpaid labor. The commercial laborer, in the strict meaning of the term, belongs to the better paid classes of wage workers, he belongs to the class of skilled laborers, which is above the average. However, wages have a tendency to fall, even in proportion to the average labor, with the advance of the capitalist mode of production. This is due to the fact that in the first place, division of labor in the office is introduced; this means that only a onesided development of the laboring capacity is required, and that the cost of this development does not fall entirely on the capitalist, since the ability of the laborer is developed through the exercise of his function and increases so much faster, the more onesidedly the division of labor develops. In the second place, the necessary preparation, such as the learning of commercial details, languages, etc., is more and more rapidly, easily, generally, cheaply reproduced with the progress of science and popular education, to the extent that the capitalist mode of production organises the methods of teaching, etc., in a practical manner. The generalisation of public education makes it possible to recruit this line of laborers from classes that had formerly no access to such education and that were accustomed to a lower scale of living. At the same time this generalisation of education increases the supply and thus competition. With a few exceptions, the labor-power of this line of laborers is therefore depreciated with the progress of capitalist development. Their wages fall, while their ability increases. The capitalist increases the number of these laborers, whenever he has more value and profits to realise. The increase of this labor is always a result, never a cause of the augmentation of surplus-value.40
We see, then, that a duplication takes place here. On the one hand, the functions of commodity-capital and money-capital (which later become merchant's capital) are general forms assumed by industrial capital. On the other hand, particular capitals, and therefore a particular series of capitalists, are exclusively devoted to these functions. And these functions develop into specific spheres of enhancing the value of capital.
The commercial functions and expenses of circulation become independent only in the case of the mercantile capital. That side of industrial capital, which is devoted to the circulation, exists not only in its continuous shape of commodity-capital and money-capital, but also in the office alongside of the workshop. But it assumes an independent existence in the mercantile capital. For this capital, its office is its only workshop. The portion of capital employed in the form of expenses of circulation appears much larger in the business of the large merchant than in that of the industrial capitalist, because the offices connected with every industrial workshop are concentrated in the hands of a few merchants, and so is at the same time that portion of the capital, which would have to be invested for this purpose by the entire class of industrial capitalists. These merchants take care of the circulation and provide for the expenses incidental to its continuation.
For the industrial capital, the expenses of circulation appear as dead expenses, and so they are. For the merchant they appear as a source of his profit, which is proportional to the level of the average rate of profit, whose existence is assumed. The investment to be made by the mercantile capital for these expenses of circulation is, therefore, a productive investment. And for this reason the commercial labor which it buys is likewise immediately productive for it.
THE TURN-OVER OF MERCHANT'S CAPITAL. THE PRICES.
THE turn-over of industrial capital is the combination of its time of production and time of circulation. It comprises, therefore, the process of production as a whole. The turn-over of merchant's capital, on the other hand; being in reality nothing but a movement of commodity-capital in an independent form, represents merely the first phase in the metamorphosis of commodities, C—M, as a movement of some capital returning to itself. M—C, C—M, is the turn-over of merchant's capital from the mercantile point of view. The merchant buys, converts his money into commodities, then sells, converts the same commodities back into money. And so forth in continuous repetitions. Within the circulation, the metamorphosis of industrial capital always presents itself in the form of C'—M—C''; the money realised by the sale of the produced commodities C' is used for the purchase of new means of production C''. This amounts to a practical exchange of C' for C'', and the same money thus changes hands twice. Its movement acts as an intermediary between two different kinds of commodities C' and C''. But in the case of the merchant, it is the same commodity, which changes hands twice in the process M—C—M'. It merely promotes the reflux of his money to him.
For instance, if a certain merchant's capital is 100 p.st., and the merchant buys for these 100 p.st. commodities and sells these commodities for 110 p.st., then his capital of 100 p.st. has completed one turn-over, and the number of its turn-overs in one year depends on the number of times which it can repeat this movement M—C—M'.
We leave entirely out of consideration at this point those expenses, which may be concealed in the difference between the purchase price and the selling price, since these expenses do not alter in any way the form, which we are now analysing.
The number of turn-overs of a certain merchant's capital shows evidently some analogy to the repeated cycles of money in its capacity as a mere medium of circulation. Just as the same dollar, which circulates ten times, buys ten times its value in commodities, so the same money-capital of the merchant, when turned over ten times, buys ten times its value in commodities, or realises a total commodity-capital of ten times its value, for instance a merchant's capital of 100 a value of 1,000. But there is this difference: In the circulation of money as a medium of circulation, it is the same piece of money, which passes through different hands and performs repeatedly the same function, thereby making up for the limited number of the circulating pieces of money by the velocity of its circulation. But in the case of the merchant it is the same money-capital, the same money-value regardless of the pieces of money of which it may be composed, which repeatedly buys and sells the amount of its value, thereby returning repeatedly to the same hands from which it departed as M + 8Delta; M, value plus surplus-value. This is characteristic of its turn-over as a turn-over of capital. It always withdraws more money from circulation than it threw into it. By the way, it is a matter of course that an accelerated turn-over of merchant's capital (in which the function of money as a means of payment likewise predominates whenever the credit system is developed) is accompanied by a more rapid circulation of the same quantity of money.
A repeated turn-over of commercial capital, however, never expresses anything else but a repetition of buying and selling; while a repeated turn-over of industrial capital expresses the periodicity and renovation of the entire process of reproduction (which includes the process of consumption). For the merchant's capital, this appears merely as an outward condition. The industrial capital must continually throw commodities on the market and withdraw others from it, in order that the turn-over of merchant's capital may continue rapidly. If the process of reproduction proceeds slowly in general, then the turn-over of merchant's capital does likewise. Now, it is true that the merchant's capital promotes the turn-over of the productive capital, but only in so far as it shortens the time of circulation of the latter. It has no direct influence on the time of production, which is also one of the limits of the time of turn-over of industrial capital. This is the first barrier for the turn-over of merchant's capital. In the second place, aside from the barrier formed by reproductive consumption, the turn-over of the merchant's capital is ultimately limited by the velocity and volume of individual consumption, since the entire part of commodity-capital which passes into the fund for consumption depends on that.
However, aside from the turn-overs in the world of merchants, in which one merchant always sells the same commodity to another, whereby this sort of circulation may assume the aspect of great prosperity during times of speculation, the merchant's capital abbreviates in the first place the phase C—M for the productive capital. In the second place, under the modern credit system, it disposes of a large portion of the total capital of society, so that it can repeat its purchases, even before it has definitely sold its previous purchases. And it is immaterial in this case, whether the merchant sells directly to the ultimate consumer, or whether a dozen other merchant's intervene between the first merchant and the ultimate consumer. Owing to the immense elasticity of the process of reproduction, which at any time may be driven beyond all bounds, this process finds no obstacle in production itself, or at best a very elastic one. Aside from the separation of C—M and M—C, which follows from the nature of commodities, a fictitious demand is here created. In spite of its independent status, the movement of merchant's capital is never anything else but the movement of industrial capital within the sphere of circulation. But thanks to its individualisation it moves within certain limits independently of the bounds of the process of reproduction, and thereby drives this process itself beyond its boundaries. The internal dependence and the external independence drive merchant's capital to a point, where the internal connection is violently restored by a crisis.
Hence we note the phenomenon that crises do not show themselves, nor break forth, first in the retail business, which deals with direct consumption, but in the spheres of wholesale business and banking, by which the money-capital of society is placed at the disposal of wholesale business.
The manufacturer may actually sell to the exporter, and the exporter may in his turn sell to his foreign customer, the importer may sell his raw materials to the manufacturer, and the manufacturer his products to the wholesale dealer, etc. But at some particular and unseen point, the goods may lie unsold. On some other occasion, again, the supplies of all producers and middle men may become gradually overstocked. Consumption is then generally at its best either because one industrial capitalist sets a succession of others in motion, or because the laborers employed by them are fully employed and spend more than ordinarily. With the growing income of the capitalists their expenditures increase likewise. Besides, we have seen in volume II, Part III, that a continuous circulation takes place between constant capital and constant capital (even without considering any accelerated accumulation), which is in so far independent of individual consumption, as it never enters into such consumption, but which is nevertheless definitely limited by it, because the production of constant capital never takes place for its own sake, but solely because more of this capital is needed in those spheres of production whose products pass into individual consumption. However, this may proceed undisturbed for a while, stimulated by prospective demand, and in such lines the business of merchants and industrial capitalists prospers exceedingly. A crisis occurs whenever the returns of those merchants, who sell at long range, or whose supplies have accumulated also on the home market, become so slow and meager, that the banks press for payment, or the notes for the purchased commodities become due before they have been resold. It is then that forced sales take place, sales made in order to be able to meet payments. And then we have the crash, which brings the deceptive prosperity to a speedy end.
But the superficiality and meaninglessness of the turn-over of merchant's capital are still greater, because the turn-over of one and the same merchant's capital may promote simultaneously or successively the turn-overs of several productive capitals.
Now, the turn-over of merchant's capital may not only promote the turn-overs of several industrial capitals, but also the opposite phase of the metamorphosis of commodity-capital. For instance, the merchant buys linen from the manufacturer and sells it to the bleacher. In this case, the turn-over of the same merchant's capital—in fact, the same C—M, a realisation on the linen—represents two opposite phases for two different industrial capitals. So far as the merchant sells at all for productive consumption, his C—M always means M—C for some industrial capitalist, and his M—C always C—M for some other industrial capitalist.
If we leave out of consideration, as we do in this chapter, K, the expenses of circulation, in other words, if we leave aside that portion of capital which the merchant advances apart from the money required for the purchase of commodities, it follows that 8Delta; K, the additional profit made on this additional capital, will likewise be left out. This is the strictly logical and mathematically correct mode of analysis, if we wish to study the way in which the profits and turn-over of merchant's capital affect prices.
If the price of production of 1 lb. of sugar is 1 p.st., the merchant can buy 100 lbs. of sugar with 100 p.st. If he buys and sells this quantity in the course of one year, and if the annual rate of average profit is 15% he would add 15 p.st. to 100 p.st., and 3 sh. to the price of production of 1 lb. of sugar, 1 p.st. That is, he would sell one pound of sugar at 1 p.st. 3 sh. But if the price of production of 1 lb. of sugar should fall to 1 sh., then the merchant could buy 2,000 lbs. of sugar with 100 p.st., and he could sell the sugar at 1 sh. 1 4/5 d. per lb. The annual profit on capital invested in the sugar business would still be 15 p.st. on each 100 p.st. Only he has to sell 100 lbs. in the first case, while he must sell 2,000 lbs. in the second place. The high or low level of the price of production would not have anything to do with the rate of profit. But it would have a great deal, or even a decisive deal, to do with that aliquot part of the selling price of each lb. of sugar which resolves itself in mercantile profit; in other words, it would have a great deal to do with the addition to the price which the merchant makes on a certain quantity of commodities, or products. If the price of production of a certain commodity is small, then the amount advanced by the merchant for the purchase of a certain quantity of that commodity is also small, and so is the amount of profit made by him on this quantity of cheap commodities. Or, what amounts to the same, he can buy with a certain amount of capital, for instance with 100, a large quantity of these commodities, and the total profit of 15, which he makes on 100, will be distributed in small fractions over each individual portion of this mass of commodities. The opposite takes place in the opposite case. This depends entirely on the greater or smaller productivity of the industrial capital, with whose products he trades. If we except the cases, in which the merchant is a monopolist and monopolises at the same time the production of certain goods, as did the Dutch East India Company once upon a time, we must say that there is nothing more ridiculous than the current idea that it depends on the merchant whether he wants to sell many commodities at a small profit or few commodities at a large profit on the individual commodities. The two limits of his selling price are: On one hand, the price of production of commodities, over which he has no control; on the other hand, the average rate of profit, over which he has also no control. The only thing which he has to decide is whether he wants to deal in cheap or in dear commodities, and even here the size of his available capital and other circumstances have something to say. Therefore it depends wholly on the degree of development of the capitalist mode of production, not on the good will of the merchant, what course he shall follow in this. A purely commercial company like the old Dutch East India Company, which had a monopoly of production, could imagine that it would be able to continue a method, adapted at best to the beginnings of capitalist production, under entirely changed conditions.41
The following circumstances, among others, help to maintain that popular prejudice, which, like all wrong conceptions of profit, etc., arise out of the views of pure commerce:
1) Phenomena of competition, which, however, concern merely the distribution of mercantile profit among the individual merchants in their capacity as shareholders in the total merchant's capital; such as the underselling of other merchants by one of them for the purpose of beating his competitors.
2) An economist of the caliber of Professor Roscher of Leipsic may still imagine that a change in the selling prices may be brought about by considerations of "prudence and humanity," instead of being due to a revolution in the mode of production itself.
3) If the prices of production fall on account of an increased productivity of labor, and if consequently the selling prices also fall, then the demand, and with it the market prices, often rise even faster than the supply, so that the selling prices yield more than the average profit.
4) A merchant may reduce his selling price (which amounts after all to no more than a reduction of the current profit which he adds to the price) in order to turn over a large capital more rapidly in his business.
All these things concern only competition between merchants themselves.
We have already shown in volume I, that the high or low level of the prices of commodities determines neither the mass of surplus-value produced by a certain capital nor the rate of surplus-value; it is merely true that, according to the relative quantity of commodities produced by a certain quantity of labor, the price of the individual commodity, and with it the share of surplus-value falling upon this price, is greater or smaller. The prices of every quantity of commodities are determined, so far as they correspond to their values, by the total quantity of labor incorporated in these commodities. If much labor is incorporated in few commodities, then the price of the individual commodities is low and the surplus-value contained in them is small. No matter in what proportion the labor incorporated in a commodity is divided into paid and unpaid labor, and no matter what portion of its price may represent surplus-value, it has nothing to do with the total quantity of this labor, nor, consequently, with its price. On the other hand, the rate of surplus-value does not depend on the absolute magnitude of the surplus-value contained in the price of the individual commodity, but on its relative magnitude, on its proportion to the wages contained in the same commodity. The rate of surplus-value may therefore be large, while the absolute magnitude of the surplus-value in each individual commodity may be small. This absolute magnitude of the surplus-value in each commodity depends in the first place on the productivity of labor, and only in the second place on its division into paid and unpaid labor.
Moreover, in the case of the commercial selling price, the price of production is a condition determined by external circumstances.
The high prices of commerce in former times were due 1) to the dearness of the prices of production, in other words, to the unproductivity of labor; 2) to the absence of an average rate of profit, which enabled the merchant's capital to absorb a much larger quantity of the surplus-value than would have fallen to its share, had the capitals enjoyed a greater general mobility. The cessation of this condition, in both of its aspects, is due to the development of the capitalist mode of production.
The turn-overs of merchant's capital vary in length, their numbers consequently are greater or smaller, in different lines of commerce. Within the same line of commerce, the turn-over is more or less rapid in different phases of the economic cycle. However, an average number of turn-overs, which is found by experience, takes place.
We have already noted, that the turn-over of merchant's capital differs from that of industrial capital. This follows from the nature of the case; one single phase in the turn-over of industrial capital appears as a complete turn-over of some independently constituted merchant's capital, or of a part of some such merchant's capital. This turn-over has also a different relation to the determination of profit and prices.
In the case of the industrial capital, its turn-over expresses on one hand the periodicity of reproduction, and on it depends the mass of commodities, which may be thrown on the market in a certain period. On the other hand, its time of circulation forms a barrier, which is elastic and exerts more or less of a restraint on the creation of value and surplus-value, because it exerts a pressure on the volume of the process of production. The turn-over therefore acts as a determining element on the mass of annually produced surplus-value, and thus helps to determine the average rate of profit, but it acts as a negative, not as a positive element. For the merchant's capital, however, the average rate of profit exists as a given magnitude. The merchant's capital does not directly participate in the creation of value or surplus-value, and it participates in the formation of an average rate of profit only to the extent that draws a dividend, in proportion to its size in the total social capital, out of the mass of profit produced by the industrial capital.
The greater the number of turn-overs of a certain industrial capital is under the conditions described in Volume II, Part II, the greater is the mass of profits created by it. Now, the formation of an average rate of profit distributes, the total profit among the different capitals, not in proportion to their actual participation in its direct production, but in proportion to the aliquot parts which they constitute in the total capital, that is, in proportion to their magnitudes. But this does not alter the essence of the matter. The greater the number of turnovers of the industrial capital as a whole is, the greater is the mass of profits, the mass of annually produced surplus-value, and therefore the rate of profit, always assuming other circumstances to remain unchanged. It is different with merchant's capital. For it, the rate of profit is a given magnitude, determined on one hand by the mass of profit produced by the industrial capital, on the other hand by the relative magnitude of the total merchant's capital, by its quantitative relation to the sum of capital advanced in the processes of production and circulation. The number of its turn-overs does indeed exert a determining influence on its relation to the total social capital, or on the relative magnitude of the total merchant's capital required for the circulation. For it is evident that the absolute magnitude of the total merchant's capital and the velocity of its turn-over are inversely proportioned to one another. But, all other circumstances remaining the same, the relative magnitude of the merchant's capital, or its aliquot proportion in the total social capital, is determined by its absolute magnitude. If the total social capital is 10,000, and the merchant's capital 1,000, then it is 1/10 of the total; if the total capital is 1,000, and the merchant's capital 100, it is again 1/10. To that extent, the absolute magnitude of the merchant's capital may vary, while its relative magnitude in the total social capital remains the same. But in the present case, we assume that its relative magnitude of 1/10 of the total social capital is given. This relative magnitude, again, is determined by its turn-over. If it is turned over rapidly, its absolute magnitude will be 1,000 in the first case, and 100 in the second, so that its relative magnitude will be 1/10. But if it is turned over more slowly, then its absolute magnitude may be 2,000 in the first case, and 200 in the second case. Then its relative magnitude will have increased from 1/10 to 1/5 of the total social capital. Circumstances which reduce the average turn-over of merchant's capital, for instance, the development of means of transportation, reduce to that extent the absolute magnitude of merchants' capital and thereby increase the average rate of profit. The opposite takes place, if things are reversed. A developed mode of capitalist production, compared to previous conditions, exerts a twofold influence on merchants' capital. In the first place, the same quantity of commodities is turned over with a smaller mass of actually functioning merchants' capital; for the proportion of the merchants' capital to industrial capital is reduced by the more rapid turn-over of merchants' capital and the greater velocity of the process of reproduction that is its basis. On the other hand, the development of the capitalist mode of production turns all production into a production of commodities, which puts all products into the hands of the agents of circulation. This is so much more notable, as under previous modes of production, which produced things on a small scale, a large portion of the producers sold their goods directly to the consumers or worked for their personal orders, leaving out of consideration that mass of products, which were immediately consumed by the producer himself, and that mass of services, which were performed in natura. While, therefore, under former methods of production, commercial capital represented proportionately a larger share of the commodity-capital which it turned over, it was.
1) absolutely smaller, because a disproportionately smaller part of the total product was produced in the shape of commodities, passed as commodity-capital into circulation, and fell into the hands of merchants. It was smaller, because the commodity-capital was smaller. But it was proportionately larger, not only because its turn-over was slower, and because it constituted a larger portion of the mass of commodities turned over by it, but also because the price of this mass of commodities, and consequently the merchants' capital to be advanced for it, were greater than under capitalist production on account of a lower productivity of labor, so that the same value was incorporated in a smaller mass of commodities.
2) Not alone is a larger mass of commodities produced on the basis of capitalist production (taking account also of the reduced value of these commodities), but the same mass of products, for instance, of corn, also becomes to a greater extent commodity, that is, more and more of the product becomes an object of commerce. As a consequence, not only the mass of the merchants' capital, but of all capital invested in the circulation, increases, such as capital invested in marine shipping, railroading, telegraph business, etc.;
3) However, there is one point of view, which belongs in the discussion of "competition among capitals," namely: The merchants' capital, which is not serving in any function, or serving only in part, grows with the progress of the capitalist mode of production, with the facility of its investment in retail trade, with the increase of speculation, and with the superfluity of released capital.
But, assuming the relative magnitude of the merchants' capital in proportion to the social capital to be given, the difference of the turn-overs in the various lines of commerce does not affect the magnitude of the total profit falling to the share of the total merchants' capital, nor the general rate of profit. The profit of the merchant is determined, not by the mass of the commodity-capital turned over by him, but by the magnitude of the money-capital advanced by him for the promotion of this turn-over. If the yearly general rate of profit is 15%, and the merchant advances 100 p.st., which he turns over once a year, then he will sell his commodities at 115. If his capital is turned over five times per year, then he will sell a commodity-capital of 100 purchase price five times per year at 103, which will amount in one year to a commodity-capital of 500 sold 515. This constitutes the same annual profit of 15% on his advanced capital of 100 as before. If this were not so, then the merchants' capital would yield a much higher profit in proportion to the number of its turn-overs than the industrial capital, and this would be a contradiction to the law of the average rate of profit.
It follows, then, that the number of turn-overs of merchants' capital in the various lines of commerce affects the mercantile prices of commodities directly. The amount of the mercantile addition to the price, the addition of that aliquot part of the mercantile profit of a given capital which falls upon the price of production of the individual commodities, stands in an inverse ratio to the number of turn-overs, or the velocity of turn-over, of the merchants' capitals in the various lines of commerce. If a certain merchants' capital is turned over five times per year, it will add to a commodity-capital of its own value but one-fifth of the profit, which another merchants' capital of the same value, which is turned over but once per year, will add to a commodity-capital of the same value.
This modification of selling prices by the average time of turn-over of the capitals in different lines of commerce amounts to this: In proportion to the velocity of turn-over, the same mass of profits, which is determined by the annual rate of average profit for any given magnitude of merchants' capital, independently of the specific commercial character of the operations of this capital, is differently distributed over masses of commodities of the same value. For instance, if the merchants' capital is turned over five times per year, it will add 15/5 = 3% to the price of commodities, and if turned over once per year, it will add 15% to their price.
The same percentage of the commercial profit in different lines of industry, according to the proportions of their times of turn-over, increases the selling prices of commodities by different percentages calculated on their values.
On the other hand, in the case of industrial capital, the time of turn-over does not affect in any way the magnitude of the value of the individual commodities produced during that time, although it does affect the mass of value and surplus-value produced in a given time, because it affects the mass of exploited labor. This is indeed concealed and seems to be otherwise, as soon as one has an eye only to the prices of production. But this is due solely to the fact that, according to the previously analysed laws, the prices of production of the various commodities deviate from their values. As soon as we look upon the process of production in its totality, upon the mass of commodities produced by the entire industrial capital of society, we shall find the general law vindicated.
We see then, that a closer inspection of the influence of the time of turn-over on the formation of the values leads us back, in the case of the industrial capital, to the general law and to the basis of political economy, to-wit, the law that the values of commodities are determined by the labor time contained in them. But the influence of the turn-overs of merchants' capital on the mercantile prices reveals phenomena, which, without a very lengthy analysis of the connecting links, seem to point to a purely arbitrary fixing of prices. They seem to be fixed purely on the intention that a certain capital should make a definite quantity of profits in one year. Particularly it looks, on account of this influence of the turn-overs, as though the process of circulation determined by itself the prices of commodities, independently, within certain limits, of the process of production. All superficial and false conceptions of the process of reproduction as a whole arise from the point of view of merchants' capital and from the conceptions, which its peculiar movements call forth in the minds of the agents of circulation.
If it is realised—and the reader will have realised it to his great dismay—that the analysis of the actual internal interconnections of the capitalist process of production is a very complicated matter and a very protracted work; if it is a work of science to resolve the visible and external movement into the internal actual movement, then it is understood as a matter of course, that the conceptions formed about the laws of production in the heads of the agents of production and circulation will differ widely from these real laws and will be merely the conscious expression of the apparent movements. The conceptions of a merchant, a stock gambler, a banker, are necessarily quite perverted. Those of the manufacturer are vitiated by the acts of circulation, to which their capital is subject, and by the compensation of the general rate of profit.42
Competition likewise plays a completely perverted role in these heads. If the limits of value and surplus-value are given, then it is easy to understand, in what manner the competition of capitals will transform values into prices of production and further into mercantile prices, and surplus-value into average profit. But without these limits, we cannot see any reason at all, why competition should reduce the average rate of profit to such and such a level instead of some other, should make it 15% instead of 1,500%. Competition at best can only reduce the rate of profit to one and the same level. But it does not contain any element, by which this level could be determined.
From the point of view of merchants' capital, the turn-over itself takes on the guise of a determining element of prices. On the other hand, while the velocity of the turn-over of industrial capital, in so far as it enables a certain industrial capital to exploit more or less labor, exerts a determining and limiting influence on the mass of profit and thus on the average rate of profit, this rate of profit exists as an external fact for the merchants' capital, and the internal connection of this rate with the production of surplus-value is entirely obliterated. If the same industrial capital, under otherwise equal circumstances, particularly with the same organic composition, is turned over four times per year instead of twice, it produces twice as much surplus-value and, consequently, profit. And this becomes palpable, as soon and so long as this capital has the monopoly of that improved mode of production, to which it owes its accelerated turn-over. Vice versa, differences in the times of turn-over in different lines of commerce manifest themselves in such a way that the profit made on the turn-over of some given commodity-capital is in an inverse ratio to the number of turn-overs of the money-capital which turns this commodity-capital over. Small profits and quick returns appears particularly to the shopkeeper as a principle, which he follows on principle.
For the rest, it is a matter of course, that this law of turn-overs of merchants' capital holds good in each line of commerce only for the average of turn-overs made by the entire merchants' capital invested in each particular line, and always without a consideration of any succession of alternating and mutually compensating turn-overs of longer or shorter duration. The capital of A, who deals in the same line as B, may make more or less than the average number of turn-overs. This does not alter the turn-over of the total mass of merchants' capital invested in this line. But this is of decisive moment for the individual merchant or shopkeeper. He makes in this case an extra profit, just as the industrial capitalists make extra profits, if they produce under conditions more favorable than the average. If competition compels him, he can sell cheaper than his competitors without lowering his profit below the average. If the conditions, which would enable him to turn his capital over more rapidly, are themselves for sale, such as a favorable location of the shop, he can pay extra rent for it, that is to say, a portion of his surplus-profit is converted into ground rent.
THE purely technical movements performed by money in the process of circulation of industrial capital, and, as we may now add, of commercial capital, which assumes a part of the circulation movement of industrial capital as its own peculiar movement,—these movements, if individualised into an independent function of some particular capital that performs nothing but just this service, convert a capital into financial capital. In that case, one portion of the industrial capital, and of commercial capital, persists not only in the form of money, of money capital in general, but as money-capital, which performs only these technical functions. A definite part of the total social capital separates from the rest and individualises itself in the form of money-capital, whose capitalist function consists exclusively in performing the financial operations for the entire class of industrial and commercial capitalists. As in the case of the commercial capital, so in that of financial capital a portion of the industrial capital in process of function in circulation separates from the rest and performs these operations of the process of reproduction for all the other capital. These movements of such money-capital, then, are once more merely movements of an individualised part of industrial capital in the process of reproduction.
Capital appears as the first and last point of this movement only to the extent that capital is newly invested, as happens in accumulation. But for every capital, which is already in process, this first and last point appear merely as points of transit. To the extent that industrial capital, from the moment of its exit from the sphere of production to that of its return to it, passes through the metamorphosis C'—M—C, M represents merely the final result of one phase of this metamorphosis and becomes at once the starting point of its supplementing second phase, as we have already seen in the discussion of the simple circulation of commodities. And although the C—M of industrial capital signifies always M—C—M for the commercial capital, nevertheless the actual process for this last named capital, once that it has become engaged, is also C—M—C. But the commercial capital passes continually through and simultaneously through the acts C—M and M—C, that is to say, there is not only one capital in the stage C—M, while another is in the stage M—C, but the same capital buys continually and sells continually at the same time, on account of the continuity of the process of production. It is continually and simultaneously in both stages. While one of its parts is converted into money, to be reconverted later into commodities, another is simultaneously converted into commodities, to be reconverted into money.
Whether the money serves here as a means of circulation or of payment, depends on the form of the exchange of commodities. In both cases, the capitalist has to pay out money continually to many persons, and to receive money continually from many persons. This purely technical labor of paying money and receiving money constitutes an employment by itself, which necessitates the making of balances, the balancing of accounts, so far as money serves as a means of payment. This labor belongs to the expenses of circulation, it does not create any values. It is abbreviated by being organised as a special department of agents, or capitalists, who perform this work for all the rest of the capitalist class.
A definite portion of the capital must be continually available as a hoard, as potential money-capital. It constitutes a reserve of means of purchase, a reserve of means of payment, unemployed capital in the form of money waiting to be put to work. And one portion of the capital continually returns in this form. This requires not only the collecting, paying, and bookkeeping operations, but also the storing of a hoard, which constitutes an operation by itself. This work consists indeed in a continual conversion of a hoard into means of circulation and means of payment, and its restoration to the form of a hoard by means of money secured through sales and due payments. This continuous movement of that part of capital, which exists in the form of money, separated from the function of capital itself, this purely technical function causes its own labors and expenses, which belong to the expenses of circulation.
The division of labor brings it about, that these technical operations, which are conditioned on the functions of capital, should be performed as much as possible for the entire capitalist class by one class of agents, or capitalists, into whose hands it is concentrated as their exclusive function. We have here, as in the case of commercial capital, a division of labor in a twofold sense. It becomes a special business, and because it is performed as a special business for the money-mechanism of the whole class, it is concentrated and performed on a large scale. And then a further division of labor takes place within this special business, on one hand by a separation into various independent lines, on the other by a segmentation of the work within each office of these special lines. Large offices, many bookkeepers and cashiers, far going division of labor, disbursing of money, receiving of money, balancing of accounts, keeping of current accounts, storing of money, etc., all these things, separated from the acts that necessitate these technical operations, make of the capital advanced for these functions a financial capital.
The various operations, whose individualisation gives rise to special lines of financial business, follow from the different capacities of money itself and from its different functions, through which capital in its money-form must likewise pass.
I have pointed out on a previous occasion, that the money business in general developed originally from an exchange of products between different communes.43
The financial business, the trade with money as a commodity, developed first out of international commerce. As soon as different national coins exist, the merchants buying in foreign countries must exchange their national coins into foreign coins, and vice versa, or exchange different coins for uncoined pure silver or gold as international money. This gives rise to the business of money-exchange, which is one of the primitive foundations of modern financial business.44 Out of it developed the modern banks of exchange, in which silver (or gold) serve as world money—now called bank money or commercial money—as distinguished from current money. The business of money-exchange, so far as it consists merely of notes of payment to travelers from one money-exchanger in one country to another in another country, developed as early as Roman and Grecian times out of the simple money-exchange.
The trade with gold and silver as commodities (raw materials for the making of articles of luxury) forms the primitive basis of bullion trade, or of that trade, which promotes the functions of money as world money. These, functions, as previously explained (Volume I, chapter III, 3c), are twofold: A currency back and forth between the various national spheres of circulation for the purpose of balancing the international payments and for performing the migrations of capital in quest of interest; simultaneously with this movement, there is a movement of precious metals from their sources of production across the world market and a distribution of their supply over the various national spheres of circulation. In England, the goldsmiths still served as bankers during the greater part of the 17th century. The way in which the balancing of international accounts in the money trade is further developed, is not discussed here, any more than any points referring to the business of dealing in valuable papers, in short, we leave out of consideration all special forms of the credit system, since this does not yet concern us here.
In the shape of world money, national money strips off its local character; one national money is expressed in another, and thus all of them are finally reduced to their contents in gold or silver, while these two metals, being the two commodities circulating as world money, are simultaneously reduced to their mutual ratios, which change continually. The money trader makes this intermediate business his special occupation. Money changing and bullion trading are thus the primitive forms of the money trade, and they arise from the twofold functions of money as national money and world money.
The capitalist process of production, and commerce in general, even under precapitalist methods, imply:
1) The accumulation of money in the shape of a hoard, that is, in the present case, the accumulation of that part of capital, which must always be on hand in the form of money, as a reserve fund of means of payment and means of purchase. This is the first form of a hoard, such as it reappears under the capitalist mode of production, and as it forms in general with the development of merchants' capital, at least for the purposes of this capital. These remarks apply to national as well as international circulation. This hoard is in continuous flux, pours ceaselessly into circulation, and returns uninterruptedly from it. The second form of a hoard is now that of fallow, unemployed, capital in the form of money, including newly accumulated and not yet invested money-capital. The functions first required by this formation of a hoard are those of safekeeping, bookkeeping, etc.
2) This is connected by an expenditure of money in buying, its reception on selling, making and receiving of payments, balancing of payments, etc. The money dealer performs all these services at first as a simple cashier of the merchants and industrial capitalists.45
Dealing in money is fully developed, even in its first stages, as soon as its ordinary functions of lending and borrowing are supplemented by the credit business. Of this more in the following part, which deals with interest-bearing capital.
The bullion trade itself, the transfer of gold or silver from one country to another, is merely the result of the trade in commodities. It is determined by the quotations of bills of exchange, which express the stand of the international payments and of the rate of interest on the different markets. The bullion trader as such acts but as an intermediary between results.
In discussing the way, in which the movements and forms of money develop out of the simple circulation of commodities, we have seen (Vol. I, chap. III), that the movements of the mass of money circulating as a means of purchase and payment are determined by the metamorphosis of commodities, by the volume and velocity of this metamorphosis. And we know now, that this metamorphosis is itself but a phase in the entire process of reproduction. As for the movement of the raw materials of money—gold and silver—from their places of production, it resolves itself in a direct exchange of commodities, an exchange of gold and silver as commodities for other commodities. Hence it is as much a phase of the exchange of commodities as the securing of iron or other metals by means of exchange. And so far as the movements of precious metals on the world-market are concerned (we leave aside at this point the consideration of their movements to the extent that they express the transfer of capital by loans, a transfer, which takes place also in the shape of commodity-capital), they are quite as much determined by the international exchange of commodities as the movements of money as a national means of purchase and payment are determined by the exchange of commodities on the home market. The emigrations and immigrations of precious metals from one national sphere to another, which are caused by a depreciation of national coins, or by a double standard, are extraneous to the circulation of money as such and represent merely corrections of deviations brought about arbitrarily by state decrees. And finally, as concerns the formation of hoards, which constitute reserve funds for means of purchase and payment, either for the home trade or for foreign trade, and likewise of hoards, which represent merely a form of capital temporarily unemployed, they are both necessary precipitates of the process of circulation.
Just as the entire circulation of money, in its volume, its forms, and movements, is purely a result of the circulation of commodities which in its turn represents from the capitalist point of view only the process of circulation of capital (including the exchange of capital for revenue, and of revenue for revenue, so far as the expenditure of revenue is realised in retail trade), so it is a matter of course, that the trade in money does not promote merely the circulation of money, a mere result and phenomenon of the circulation of commodities. This circulation of money itself, as a phase in the circulation of commodities, is a fundamental requisite for the trade in money. This trade promotes merely the technical operations of money-circulation, concentrating, abbreviating, simplifying them. The trade in money does not form the hoards, but supplies the technical means by which the formation of hoards may be reduced to its economical minimum (so far as it is voluntary, that is, so far as it is not an expression of unemployed capital or of disturbances of the process of reproduction). For if the reserve funds of means of purchase and payment are managed for the capitalist class as a whole, they need not be so large as they would have to be, did each capitalist manage his own. The trade in money does not buy the precious metals, but merely promotes their distribution, as soon as the trade in commodities has bought them. The trade in money facilitates the squaring of balances, so far as money serves as a means of payment, and reduces by the artificial mechanism of these compensations the amount of money required for this purpose. But it determines neither the connections, nor the volume, of the mutual payments. For instance, the bills of exchange and checks, which are exchanged for one another in banks and clearing houses, reflect quite independent transactions and are the results of real operations. It is merely a question of a better technical compensation of these results. So far as money serves as a means of purchase, the volume and number of purchases and sales are quite independent of the money trade. This trade cannot do anything but abbreviate the technical operations that go with buying and selling, and by this means it is enabled to reduce the amount of cash money required to turn the commodities over.
The money trade in its pure form, which we consider here, that is, the money trade not complicated by the credit system, is concerned only with the technique of a certain phase of the circulation of commodities, namely with the circulation of money and the different functions of money following from its circulation.
This distinguishes the money trade essentially from the trade in commodities, which promotes the metamorphosis of commodities and their exchange, or which gives even to this process the aspect of a process of a certain capital separated from the industrial capital. While, therefore, the commercial capital has its own form of circulation, M—C—M, in which the commodity changes hands twice and thereby recovers the money, in distinction from C—M—C, in which the money changes hands twice and thereby promotes the exchange of commodities, there is no such special form of circulation, which can be demonstrated in the case of financial capital.
To the extent that money-capital is advanced by a separate class of capitalists for the technical promotion of the circulation of money—a capital representing on a reduced scale the additional capital, which the merchants and industrial capitalists must otherwise advance themselves for these purposes—the general form of capital, M—M', is found also here. By the advance of M, the advancing capitalist secures M + 8Delta;M. But the promotion of the transaction M—M' does not concern itself in this case with the objective materials, but only with the technical processes of this metamorphosis.
It is evident, that the mass of money-capital, with which the money dealers have to operate, is the money-capital of the merchants and industrial capitalists in process of circulation, and that the operations of the money dealers are merely those originally performed by the merchants and industrial capitalist.
It is equally evident, that the profit of the money dealers is nothing but a deduction from the surplus-value, since they are operating merely with already realised values (even when they have been realised in the form of creditors' claims).
As in the trade with commodities, so in that with money a duplication of functions takes place. For a portion of the technical operations connected with the circulation of money must be carried out by the dealers and producers of commodities themselves.
HISTORICAL DATA CONCERNING MERCHANTS' CAPITAL.
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.46
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 + 8Delta;M. 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 + 8Delta;M. 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.47
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.48
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.52
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.54
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.
DIVISION OF PROFIT INTO INTEREST AND PROFITS OF ENTERPRISE. THE INTEREST-BEARING CAPITAL.
THE INTEREST-BEARING CAPITAL.
IN our first discussion of the general, or average, rate of profit in Part II of this volume, we did not have this rate before us in its complete form, since the equalisation of profit appeared there only as an equalisation between the various industrial capitals invested in different spheres. This was further supplemented in the preceding Part, in which the participation of merchants' capital in this equalisation and the commercial profit were discussed. By this means the general rate of profit and the average profit presented themselves within more circumscribed limits than before. In the further process of our analysis it should be remembered, that any future reference to the general rate of profit or to the average profit means only this latter, completed, form of the average rate. Since this rate is now the same for the industrial and the mercantile capital, it is no longer necessary, so far as this average profit is concerned, to make any distinction between industrial and commercial profit. Whether capital is invested industrially in the sphere of production, or commercially in the sphere of circulation, it yields the same average profit annually in proportion to its magnitude.
Money—which signifies here any independent expression of a certain amount of value, whether it exists actually as money or as commodities—may be converted into capital on the basis of capitalist production. By this conversion it is transformed from a given value to a self-expanding, increasing, value. It produces a profit, that is, it enables a capitalist to extract a certain amount of unpaid labor, surplus-products and surplus-value, from the laborers and to appropriate it to himself. In this way it acquires, aside from its use-value as money, an additionel use-value, namely that of serving as capital. Its use-value consists then precisely in the profit, which it produces when converted into capital. In this capacity of potential capital, of a means for the production of profit, it becomes a commodity, but a commodity of a peculiar kind. Or, what amounts to the same, capital as capital becomes a commodity.55
Take it that the average rate of profit is 20%. In that case a machine, valued at 100 p.st., employed as capital under the prevailing average conditions and with an average exertion of intelligence and adequate activity, would yield a profit of 20 p.st. In other words, a man having 100 p.st. at his disposal, holds in his hand a power by which 100 p.st. may be turned into 120 p.st., or by which a profit of 20% may be produced. He holds in his hand a potential capital of 100 p.st. If this man relinquishes these 100 p.st. for one year to another man, who uses this sum actually as capital, he gives him the power to produce a profit of 20%, a surplus-value, which costs this other nothing, for which he pays no equivalent. If this man should pay, say 5 p.st. at the close of the year to the owner of the 100 p.st., out of the produced profit, he would be paying for the use-value of the 100 p.st., the use-value of its function as capital, the function of producing 20 p.st. of profit. That part of the profit, which he pays to the owner, is called interest. It is merely another name, a special term, for a certain part of the profit, which capital in process of its function has to give up to its owner, instead of keeping it in its own pockets.
It is evident, that the possession of 100 p.st. gives to their owner the power to absorb the interest, a certain portion of the profit produced by his capital. If he did not give the 100 p.st. to the other man, then this other could not produce any profit, and could not act in the capacity of capitalist at all with reference to these 100 p.st.56
To speak in such a case of natural justice, as Gilbart is doing (see note), is nonsense. The justice of the transactions between the agents of production rests on the fact that these transactions arise as natural consequences from the conditions of production. The juristic forms, in which these economic transactions appear as activities of the will of the parties concerned, as expressions of their common will and as contracts which may be enforced by law against some individual party, cannot determine their content, since they are only forms. They merely express this content. This content is just, whenever it corresponds, and is adequate, to the mode of production. It is unjust, whenever it contradicts that mode. Slavery on the basis of capitalist production is unjust; likewise fraud in the quality of commodities.
The 100 p.st. produce the profit of 20 p.st. by functioning as capital, whether it be industrial or commercial. But the indispensable condition of this function as capital is that this money is used as capital, that this money is invested in the purchase of means of production (in the case of industrial capital), or of commodities (in the case of merchants' capital). But in order to be expended, it must be there. If A, the owner of the 100 p.st., were to spend them for his private expenses, or to keep them as a hoard, they could not be invested by B, in his capacity as a capitalist, as capital. B does not invest his own capital, but that of A. But he cannot expend the capital of A without the consent of A. Therefore it is really A, who first expends these 100 p.st. as capital, although his whole function as a capitalist is limited to this expenditure of 100 p.st. as capital. So far as these 100 p.st. are concerned, B acts in the capacity of a capitalist only because A lends him this money and thus expends it as capital.
Let us first consider the peculiar circulation of interest-bearing capital. Then we shall analyse in the second place the peculiar manner, in which it is sold as a commodity, being merely lent instead of relinquished for good.
The point of departure is the money, which A advances to B. This may be done with or without security. However, the first named form is the more ancient, with the exception of advances on commodities or on certificates of indebtedness, such as bills of exchange, bonds, etc. These special forms do not concern us here. We are dealing here with interest-bearing capital in its ordinary form.
In the hand of B, the money is actually converted into capital, passes through the process M—C—M', and returns as M' to A, as M + increment of M, where the increment of M represents the interest. For the sake of simplicity we leave out of consideration the case, in which capital stays in the hands of B for a long term and interest is paid at periodical intervals.
The movement, then, is M—M—C—M'—M'. What appears duplicated here is 1) the expenditure of the money as capital, 2) its reflux as realised capital, as M', or as M + increment of M.
In the movement of merchants' capital, M—C—M', the same commodity changes hands twice, or even more than twice, if one merchant sells to another. But every change of hand of these commodities indicates a metamorphosis, a purchase or sale of commodities, no matter how often this process may be repeated until it ends in consumption.
On the other hand, the same money changes hands twice in C—M—C, but this indicates the complete metamorphosis of the commodity, which is first converted into money and then from money back into another commodity.
But in the case of interest-bearing capital, the first change of hands of M is not a phase of either the metamorphosis of a commodity or of the reproduction of capital. It does not become so until the second change of hands, in the hands of the man acting in the capacity of a capitalist, who carries on a trade with it or transforms it into productive capital. The first change of hands of M does not express anything else in this case but its transfer, or handing over by contract, from A to B. This is a transfer, which usually takes place under certain juristic forms and stipulations.
This duplicated expenditure of money as capital, the first of which is merely a transfer from A to B, is supplemented by the duplication of its reflux. As M', or M + increment of M, it flows back out of the process to the man acting in the capacity of a capitalist. This man in his turn transfers it back to A, together with a part of the profit, of realised capital, of M + increment of M, which, however, is not equal to the entire profit, but only a part of the profit, the interest. It flows back to B only as the thing which he had invested, as capital in process of function, but as the property of A. In order that its reflux may be complete, B must return it to A. But B has not only to return the amount of the capital, he must also turn over to A a part of the profit, which he made with this capital, and this part is called interest. For A gave him this money only as a capital, that is, as a value, which is not only maintained by its movements, but brings also a surplus-value to its owner. It remains in the hands of B only so long as it is performing its function of capital. And it ceases to be capital as soon as it is returned to its owner on the stipulated date. When no longer serving as capital, it must be returned to A, who never ceased being its legal owner.
The form of lending, which is peculiar to this commodity, this capital as a commodity, and which also occurs in other transactions instead of that of sale, follows from the simple definition that capital serves here as a commodity, or that money as capital becomes a commodity.
It is necessary to make a distinction here.
We have seen in Volume II, chapter I, and recall at this point, that capital serves in the process of circulation as commodity-capital and money-capital. But in neither of these forms does capital become a commodity as capital.
As soon as the productive capital has transformed itself into commodity-capital, it must be thrown upon the market, it must be sold as a commodity. There it serves simply in the capacity of a commodity. The capitalist then appears only as a seller of commodities, just as the buyer is only a buyer of commodities. As a commodity, the product must realise its value in the process of circulation, by its sale, must assume the form of money. In this respect it is quite immaterial, whether this commodity is bought by a consumer for the purpose of subsistence, or by a capitalist as a means of production to become a part of his capital. In the act of circulation, the commodity-capital serves only as a commodity, not as capital. It is a commodity-capital, as distinguished from a simple commodity, 1), because it is pregnant with surplus-value, so that the realisation of its value is simultaneously a realisation of surplus-value. But this does not alter in any way its simple existence as a commodity, as a product of a certain price. 2) It is a commodity-capital, because its function as a commodity is a phase in its process of reproduction as capital, so that its movement as a commodity, being a part of its movement in process, is simultaneously its movement as capital. Yet it does not become capital by the act of selling as such, but only through the connection of this act with the whole movement of this definite amount of value in the capacity of capital.
In like manner it serves only as money pure and simple, when acting in the capacity of money-capital, that is, as a means of buying commodities (the elements of production). The fact that this money is at the same time money-capital, a form of capital, is not due to the act of buying, which is the service performed by it as money. It is due to the connection of this act with the total movement of capital, since this act, which it performs as money, inaugurates the capitalist process of production.
But so far as they perform any service and play any actual role in the process, commodity-capital on the market serves only as a commodity, money-capital only as money. At no time during the metamorphosis, viewed by itself, does the capitalist sell his commodities as capital to the buyer, although they represent a capital for himself, nor does he give up money to the sellers in his capacity as a capitalist. In either case he exchanges his commodities simply as commodities, and the money simply as money, as a means of purchasing commodities.
It is only in the connection with the whole process, at the moment where the point of departure appears simultaneously as the point of return, in M—M' or C—C', that capital in the process of circulation appears as capital (while it appears as capital in the process of production through the subordination of the laborer under the capitalist and the production of surplus-value). In this moment of return, however, the connection disappears. What is present is M', that is money plus increment of money (regardless of whether the amount of value increased by this increment has the form of money, commodities, or elements of production), a certain amount of money equal to the amount originally advanced plus an increment, which is the realised surplus-value. And it is precisely at this point of return, where capital exists as a realised capital, as an expanded value, that capital never passes into circulation—considering this point as a fixed point of rest, whether imaginary or real—, but rather appears to be withdrawn from circulation as a result of the whole process. Whenever it is again relinquished, it is never transferred to another as capital, but sold to him as a simple commodity, or given to him as simple money in exchange for commodities. It never appears as capital in its process of circulation, but only as a commodity or as money, and this is the only form in which it exists so far as others are concerned. Commodities and money are here capital, not inasmuch as commodities change into money, or money into commodities, not with reference to their actual relations to sellers or buyers, but only with reference to their ideal relations, that is, subjectively speaking, their relations to the capitalist himself, or objectively speaking, as elements of the process of reproduction. So far as capital is capital, it exists only in its actual function, not in the process of circulation, but only in the process of production, in the process by which labor-power is exploited.
But it is different with interest-bearing capital, and it is precisely this difference, which constitutes its specific character. The owner of money, who desires to invest his money as interest-bearing capital, transfers it to some one else, throws it into circulation, makes a commodity of it as capital. It is not a capital for himself alone, but also for others. It is not capital merely for the man who offers it for investment, but it is handed to others at the outset as capital, as a value endowed with the use-value of creating surplus-value, profit; a value which preserves itself in process and returns to its original owner, in this case the owner of money, after performing its function. It moves away from him only for a certain time, it passes for a while from the possession of its owner into that of a capitalist performing his business, it is neither given up in payment nor sold, but merely loaned. It is relinquished only with the understanding that it shall in the first place return to its point of departure after a certain time, and that it shall return, in the second place, as realised capital, a capital having actually performed its function of creating surplus-value.
Commodities, which are loaned out as capital, are loaned either as fixed or as circulating capital, according to their constitution. Money may be loaned in either form. For instance, it may be loaned as fixed capital in the form of an annuity, whereby a portion of the capital returns with the interest. Some commodities, owing to the nature of their use-values, can be loaned only as fixed capital, such as houses, ships, machines, etc. But all loan capital, whatever be its forms, and no matter in what manner the nature of its use-value may modify its return, is only a specific form of money-capital. For the thing that is loaned here is always a definite sum of money, and it is this sum on which interest is calculated. If the thing that is loaned is neither money nor circulating capital, it is paid back in the same way in which fixed capital returns. The lender receives periodically a certain interest and a portion of the consumed value of the fixed capital itself, an equivalent for the periodical wear and tear. And at the end of the stipulated term the unconsumed portion of the loaned fixed capital is returned in natura. If the loaned capital is circulating capital, it is like-wise returned in the manner peculiar to circulating capital.
The manner of reflux, then, is always determined by the actual circulation of the capital in process of reproduction and its specific kind. But so far as loan capital is concerned, its reflux assumes the form of return payments, because its advance, by which it is relinquished, has the form of loaning.
In this chapter we treat only of money-capital proper, from which the other forms of loaned capital are derived.
The loaned capital returns in a twofold way. First it returns in the process of reproduction to the capitalist performing his function, and then its return is duplicated by its transfer to the lender, the money-capitalist, in the form of a return payment to its real owner, its legal point of departure.
In the actual process of circulation the capital appears always as a commodity or as money, and its movements are always dissolved into a series of purchases and sales. In short, the process of circulation resolves itself into the metamorphosis of commodities. It is different, when we consider the process of reproduction as a whole. If we take our departure from money (and it is the same, when we start off with commodities, since we then take our departure from their value and look upon them from the point of view of money), we see that a certain sum of money is expended and returns after a certain period with an increment. This sum has preserved itself and expanded itself in the course of a certain rotation. To the extent that money is loaned as capital, it is loaned as just such a sum of money, which preserves and expands itself, returns after a certain period with an increment, and is ready to pass through the same process once more. It is not expended either as money or as a commodity, it is neither exchanged for commodities when advanced in the form of money, nor sold in exchange for money, when advanced in the form of commodities. It is expended as capital. This reflexive relation to itself, in which capital presents itself when the process of production is viewed in its entirety and as a unit, and in which money appears as self-increasing money, is here imposed upon it as its character and peculiarity without the intervention of any intermediary movement. And it is expended in this peculiar form, when it is loaned as money-capital.
A very queer conception of the role of money-capital is held by Proudhon "Gratuité du Crédit. Discussion enter M. F. Bastiate et M. Proudhon. Paris, 1850.") Loaning appears as an evil to Proudhon because it is not selling. Loaning at interest is for him "the faculty of always selling the same article over and over, and of receiving its price again and again, without ever relinquishing the ownership of the things one is selling" (page 9). The object, such as money, a house, etc., does not change owners, as it does in selling and buying. But Proudhon does not see, that no equivalent is received for money handed over as interest-bearing capital. It is true that objects are passed from one to another in every act of buying and selling, so far as they are at all processes of exchange. The ownership of the sold object is always relinquished. But its value is not given up. In selling the commodity is relinquished, but not its value, which is given in return in the form of money, or in another form which here takes the place of money, namely of certificates of indebtedness, or of titles of payment. In buying money is given away, but its value, which is recovered in the shape of commodities. The industrial capitalist holds the same value in his hands during the entire process of reproduction (except the surplus-value), only it assumes different forms.
To the extent that exchange takes place, that is, an exchange of objects, no change of value takes place. The same capitalist always holds the same value in his hands. But so long as surplus-value is produced by the capitalist, no exchange takes place. As soon as exchange takes place, the surplus-value is already incorporated in the commodities. If we do not have in mind the individual acts of exchange, but the total circulation of capital, M—C—M', we see that a definite amount of values is continually advanced, and that this amount plus the surplus-value, or the profit, is recovered from the circulation. It is true, the individual acts of exchange do not reveal the fact that they are promoting this process. And it is precisely this process of M as capital, on which the interest of the money-lending capitalist rests and from which it arises.
"In fact," says Proudhon, "the hat maker, who sells hats...receives their value, no more and no less. But the money-lending capitalist...does not recover merely his capital: he recovers more than his capital, more than he throws into circulation; he receives an interest over and above his capital." (Page 169.) The hatter stands here in the place of the productive capitalist as distinguished from a loan capitalist. Evidently Proudhon did not learn the secret, which enables the capitalist to sell commodities at their value (the equalisation of values by the prices of production is here immaterial for his conception), whereby he receives a profit in addition to the capital, which he throws into circulation. Let us assume that the price of production of 100 hats is 115 pounds sterling, and that this price of production happens to be identical with the value of the hats, which means that the capital invested in the production of hats is of the same composition as the average social capital. If the profit is 15 p.st., or 15%, then the hatter gets this profit of 15 p.st. by selling his hats at their value of 115. They cost him 100 p.st. If he has produced them with his own capital, he pockets the whole surplus of 15 p.st. If he has borrowed the capital, he may have to give up 5 p.st. for interest. This does not alter anything in the value of the hats, but only in the distribution of the surplus-value already contained in this value between different persons. Since the value of the hats is not affected by the payment of interest, it is nonsense on the part of Proudhon to say: "As in commerce the interest of capital is added to the wages of laborers in making up the price of commodities, it is impossible that the laborer should be able to buy back the product of his own labor. To live by working is a principle, which implies a contradiction under the rule of interest."57
How little Proudhon understood the nature of capital, is shown by the following statement, in which he describes the movement of capital in general as a movement peculiar to interest-bearing capital: "Since money-capital, from exchange to exchange, comes always back to its source by the accumulation of interest, it follows that re-investment is always made by the same hand and profit accrues always to the same person."
What is it, now, that remains a riddle to him in the peculiar movement of interest-bearing capital? The categories buying, price, giving up objects, and the spontaneous form, in which surplus-value appears here; in short, the phenomenon that capital as such has become a commodity, so that selling has been turned into lending and price into a share in the profit.
The return of capital to its point of departure is the most general and characteristic movement of capital in its total circulation. This is by no means a peculiarity of interest-bearing capital. Its peculiarity is rather the externalised form of its return without the intervention of any circulation. The loaning capitalist lets go of his capital, transfers it to some industrial capitalist, without receiving any equivalent. His handing over of capital is not an act of the real circulation of capital at all, but serves merely as a prelude for the industrial capitalist who effects this circulation. This first change of place of money does not express any act of metamorphosis, neither buying nor selling. Its ownership is not relinquished, because no exchange takes place, no equivalent is offered. The return of the money from the hand of the industrial capitalist to that of the loaning capitalist supplements merely the first act of handing over the capital. This capital, after having been advanced in the form of money, returns to the industrial capitalist from the process of circulation in the form of money. But as the capital did not belong to him when he expended it, neither can it belong to him on its return. The passage through the process of reproduction cannot by any means give him the ownership of this capital. Hence he must restore it to its lender. The first transfer of the capital from the hands of the lender to those of the borrower is a legal transaction, which has nothing to do with the actual process of reproduction, but merely inaugurates it. The restoration, which transfers the returned capital from the hands of the borrower back to those of the lender is another legal transaction, a supplement of the first. The first inaugurates the actual process, the second takes place after this process. The point of departure and of return, the dispensation and recovery of the loaned capital, thus appear as arbitrary movements promoted by legal transactions, which take place before and after the actual process of capital and have nothing to do with it. So far as this actual process is concerned, the industrial capitalist might as well own the capital at the outset, so that it would return to him as his property.
In the first introductory act the lender gives his capital to the borrower. In the second and closing act after the process, the borrower returns the capital to the lender. To the extent that we consider merely the transaction between these two—and leaving aside the question of interest for the present—, in other words to the extent that we have in mind only the movement of the loan capital itself between the lender and the borrower, the whole movement is comprised within these two acts (separated by a longer or shorter time, during which the process of actual reproduction of capital takes place). And this movement, this dispensing on condition of returning, constitutes per se the movement of lending and borrowing, which is a specific form of a conditional dispensation of money or commodities.
The characteristic movement of capital in general, namely the return of money to the capitalist, the return of capital to its point of departure, assumes in the case of interest-bearing capital a wholly externalised form, separated from the actual movement of which it is an expression. A lets go of his money, not in the sense of money, but of capital. This implies no transformation of the capital. It merely changes hands. Its real transformation into capital is not performed until it is in the hands of B. But it has become capital for A as soon as he has given it to B. The actual reflux of capital from the processes of production and circulation takes place only for B. But for A the reflux assumes the same form as the dispensation. The capital returns from the hands of B to those of A. Dispensing, loaning money for a certain time and recovering it with interest (surplus-value) make up the complete form of the movement, which is peculiar to interest-bearing capital as such. The actual movement of the loaned money as capital constitutes a process, which is outside of the transactions between the lender and the borrower. In these transactions the intermediate process is obliterated, invisible, not directly comprised.
Being a peculiar sort of commodity, capital has its own peculiar mode of alienation. Its return in the present case is not the expression, not the consequence or result, of a definite series of economic processes, but the outcome of a specific legal agreement between buyer and seller. The time of return depends on the duration of the process of reproduction. But in the case of interest-bearing capital, its return as capital seems to depend on the mere agreement between lender and borrower. The return of capital as a part of this agreement no longer appears as a result due to the process of reproduction, but seems to take place without depriving the loaned capital of the form of money. It is true that these transactions are actually determined by the reproductive returns. But this is not evident in the transactions themselves. Nor is it always the case in practice. If the return in reproduction does not take place at the proper time, then the borrower has to face the problem. what other resources he can call into play to fulfill his obligations towards the lender. The mere form of this capital—that is, money expended as a certain sum, A, and returning as another sum A + IA/x, after a certain lapse of time, without any other intermediate connection but this lapse of time—is but an abstract image of the actual movement of capital.
In the actual movement of capital, its return is a phase of the process of circulation. The money is first converted into means of production; the process of production transforms it into commodities; by the sale of the commodities it is reconverted into money, and in this form it returns to the hands of the capitalist, who originally advanced the capital in the form of money. But in the case of interest-bearing capital, both the alienation and the return are the results of a legal transaction between the owner of capital and another person. We see only the alienation and the return. Whatever passes during the interval is obliterated.
But since money, when advanced as capital, has the faculty of returning to the person, who expended it as capital, since M—C—M' is the immanent form of the movement of capital, for this very reason the owner of money can loan it as capital, a thing having the faculty of returning to its point of departure, of preserving its value while under way in process, and of increasing it. He loans it as capital, because it returns to its point of departure after having been transformed into capital, so that the borrower can restore it to the lender after a certain period, because he has recovered it himself.
The loaning of money as capital—its alienation on condition that it be returned after a certain time—is therefore conditioned on the requirement that this money be actually employed as capital, so that it may actually flow back to its starting point. The actual cycle of money as capital is therefore the basic condition of the legal transaction, by which the borrower has to return the money to the lender. If the borrower does not invest the money as capital, it is his own business. The lender loans it as capital, and as such it is supposed to perform the capitalist functions, which include the circulation of money-capital until it reaches once more its starting point in the form of money.
The transactions M—C and C—M' in the circulation, in which a certain amount of value serves as money or commodities, are but intermediary processes, individual phases of a whole movement. As capital, this sum passes through the whole movement M—M'. It is advanced as money, or as a sum of values in some form, and returns as a sum of values. The lender of money does not expend it in the purchase of commodities, or, if this sum of values exists in the form of commodities, he does not sell it for money, but he advances it as capital, as M—M', as a value, which returns after a certain lapse of time to its point of departure. Instead of buying and selling, he loans. This loaning, then, is the form corresponding to its alienation as capital, instead of its alienation as money or commodities. This does not mean, however, that loaning may not be used in transactions, which have nothing to do with the capitalist process of reproduction.
We have so far considered only the movements of loaned capital between its owner and the industrial capitalist. Now we shall have to inquire into interest.
The lender expends his money as capital; the amount of values, which he relinquishes into the hands of another, is capital and returns to him. But the mere return of the loan capital into his hands as the same amount would not be its reflux as capital, but merely the return of a loaned sum of values. In order to return as capital, the advanced sum of values must not only be preserved in process, but must also be expanded, must return with a surplus-value, must be recovered as M + increment of M. This increment of M is in the present case the interest. It is that portion of the average profit, which does not remain in the hands of the practicing capitalist, but falls to the share of the money capitalist.
The fact that the money capitalist expends it as capital implies that it must be restored to him as M + increment of M. Later we shall also have to consider the case, in which interest is paid in fixed intervals without the simultaneous return of the capital, whose definite return does not take place until at the end of a longer period.
What is it that the money capitalist gives to the borrower, the industrial capitalist? What does he really pass over to him? It is only this transaction of handing over money which makes of the loaning of money a lending of money as capital, that is, the lending of capital as a commodity.
It is only by this act of passing money over to another that the capital is loaned by the money lender as a commodity, or that the commodity at his disposal is given to another as capital.
What is it that is alienated in ordinary sale? It is not the value of the sold commodities, for this changes merely its form. The value exists ideally in a commodity as its price, before it passes actually into the hands of the seller as money. The same value and the same amount of value merely change their form in such a case. In one instance they exist in the form of a commodity, in another in the form of money. The thing which is actually alienated by the seller, and which for this reason passes into the individual or productive consumption of the buyer, is the use-value of the commodity, is the commodity as a use-value.
What, then, is the use-value, which the money capitalist passes over for the period of the loan and relinquishes into the hands of the borrower, the productive capitalist? It is the use-value, which the money assumes by being capable of being invested as capital and performing the functions of capital, so that it can create a definite surplus-value, the average profit (any excess or fall below this is here a matter of accident), during its process, in addition to preserving its original magnitude of value. In the case of other commodities the use-value is ultimately consumed. Their substance disappears in consequence and with it their value. But the commodity capital has the peculiarity, that the consumption of its use-value not only preserves its exchange value and its use-value, but also increases them.
It is this use-value of money as capital, this faculty of producing an average profit, which the money capitalist relinquishes to the industrial capitalist for the period, during which he yields to the latter the use of the loan capital.
The money thus loaned shows in this respect a certain analogy with labor-power in its relation to the industrial capitalist. There is only this difference, that he pays for the value of labor-power, while he simply pays back the value of the loaned capital. The use-value of labor-power consists for the industrial capitalist in the faculty that labor-power creates more value (the profit) by its consumption for the industrial capitalist. And in like manner the use-value of the loan capital appears as its faculty of preserving and increasing value.
The money-capitalist alienates indeed a use-value, and for this reason the thing which he gives away is given as a commodity. And to this extent the analogy with a commodity is complete. In the first place, it is a value, which passes from one hand to another. In the case of a simple commodity, a commodity as such, the same value remains in the hands of the buyer and seller, only it has different forms; both have the same value which they had before the transaction, the one in the form of a commodity, the other in that of money. The difference in the case of loan capital is that the money capitalist is the only one who gives away a value when loaning money; but he preserves it by means of future restoration. In the transaction of loaning only one party receives value, since only one party relinquishes value.
In the second place, it is a real use-value, which is relinquished on one side and received and consumed on the other. But it differs from the use-value of ordinary commodities in that it is itself a value, namely the excess over the value of the original capital realised by the use of money as capital. The profit is this use-value.
The use-value of the loan capital consists in being able to serve as capital and to produce in this capacity the average profit under average conditions.58
What, then, does the industrial capitalist pay, and what is, therefore, the price of the loaned capital? That which men pay as interest for the use of what they borrow is, according to Massie, a part of the profit it is capable of producing.59
What the buyer of an ordinary commodity buys is its use-value; what he pays for is its exchange value. What the borrower of money buys, is likewise its use-value as capital; but what does he pay for? Surely not for its price, or value, as in the case of ordinary commodities. No change of form takes place in the value passing between the borrower and the lender, such as takes place between the buyer and the seller, so that this value would exist in one instance in the form of money, in another instance in the form of a commodity. The sameness of the alienated and returned value shows itself here in an entirely different way. The sum of values, the money, is given away without an equivalent, and is returned after the lapse of a certain period. The lender always remains the owner of the same value, even after it has passed from his hands into those of the borrower. In the simple exchange of commodities, the money is always on the side of the buyer; but in the lending, the money is on the side of the lender. It is he, who gives away his money for a certain period, and it is the borrower, the buyer of capital, who receives it as a commodity. But this is possible only when the money serves as capital and is advanced for this purpose. The borrower borrows money as capital, as a value producing an increment. But at the moment of borrowing it is as yet only potential capital, and so is any other capital at the moment when it is advanced. Only by its use does it expand its value and realise itself as capital. But after it has become realised capital, the borrower has to return it, as a value plus a surplus-value (interest). And this interest can be only a portion of the realised profit. Only a portion, not the whole of it. For its use-value for the borrower consists in producing a profit for him. Otherwise there would not have been any alienation of its use-value on the part of the lender. On the other hand, it cannot be the whole profit which falls to the share of the borrower. Otherwise he would not be paying anything for the alienation of the use-value, and he would return the advanced money to the lender as simple money, not as a capital having realised itself. For it is realised capital only when it is M + increment of M.
Both of them expend the same sum of money as capital, the lender and the borrower. But only in the hands of the latter does it serve as capital. The profit is doubled by the double existence of the same sum of money as a capital for two persons. It can serve as a capital for both of them only by dividing the profit. That portion, which falls to the share of the lender, is called interest.
It is our assumption, that this entire transaction takes place between two kinds of capitalists, the money-capitalist and the industrial or the merchant capitalist.
It should never be forgotten, that capital as such is here a commodity, or that the commodity, which is here in question, is capital. All the relations, which become manifest here, would be irrational from the point of view of a simple commodity, or even from the point of view of capital serving as a commodity-capital in its process of reproduction. Lending and borrowing, instead of selling and buying, is here a distinction arising from the specific nature of the commodity, of capital; also that it is interest, not the price of the commodity, which is paid here. If interest is to be called the price of money-capital, it will be an irrational form of price, which is quite at variance with the conception of the price of commodities.60 The price is then reduced to its purely abstract and meaningless form, signifying a certain sum of money paid for some thing, which serves in some manner as a use-value. On the other hand, the concept of price really signifies the value of some use-value expressed in money.
To call interest the price of capital is to use at the outset an irrational expression. A commodity has here a double value, namely first a real value, and secondly a price differing from this value, while ordinarily price signifies the expression of the value in money. Money-capital is primarily but a sum of money, or the value of a certain quantity of commodities incorporated in a sum of money. If a commodity is loaned as capital, then it is only the disguised form of a sum of money. For that which is loaned as capital is not so and so many pounds of cotton, but so much money existing in the form of cotton as its value. The price of capital, therefore, refers to it as a sum of money, even if not a currency, as Mr. Torrens thinks (see above note 60). How, then, can a sum of values have a price beside its own price, that is, aside from the price expressed in their own money-form? Price is precisely the value of commodities (and this holds good also of the market-price, whose difference from value is not one of quality, but only one of quantity, since it refers only to the magnitude of the value) as distinguished from their use-value. A price which is different in quality from value is an absurd contradiction.61
Capital manifests itself as capital by its employment. The degree of its self-expansion expresses the quantitative ratio, in which it realises itself as capital. The surplus-value or profit produced by it—its rate or magnitude—is measurable only by its comparison with the value of the advanced capital. The greater or lesser self-expansion of interest- bearing capital is, therefore, only measurable by a comparison of the amount of interest, its share in the total profits, with the value of the advanced capital. While the price expresses the value of commodities, the interest expresses the self-expansion of money-capital and thus appears as the price, which the lender receives for it. This shows how absurd it is at the start to apply indiscriminately to this question the simple relations of exchange through buying and selling, as Proudhon does. For the basic premise is here that money serves as capital and may thus be transferred as capital itself, as potential capital, to another person.
Capital itself appears here as a commodity, inasmuch as it is offered on the market as the use-value of money actually handed over as capital. Its use-value consists in producing profits. The value of money or of commodities employed in the capacity of capital is not determined by their value as money or commodities, but by the quantity of surplus-value, which they produce for their owner. The product of capital is profit. On the basis of capitalist production it is merely a difference in the employment of money, whether it is expended as money or advanced as capital. Money, or commodities, are in themselves, potentially, capital, just as labor-power is potential capital. For in the first place, money may be converted into elements of production and is to that extent only an abstract expression of them, personifying their existence as values; in the second place, the material elements of wealth have the capacity of being even potentially capital, because the opposite supplement, which makes capital of them, namely wage-labor, is present on the basis of capitalist production.
The opposing social peculiarities of material wealth, its antagonism to labor in the form of wage-labor, considered apart from the process of production, are expressed even in capitalist property as such. This particular fact, when separated from the process of capitalist production itself, of which it is a constant result and, being its constant result, is its constant prerequisite, expresses itself in such a way that money and commodities alike become latent, potential, capital, so that they may be sold as capital, and that they represent in this form a command over the labor of others, a claim to the appropriation of the labor of others, so that they become self-expanding values. In this way it also becomes clearly apparent that this relation supplies the title and means for the appropriation of the labor of others, and that this is not due to any labor offered as an equivalent on the part of the capitalist.
Capital appears furthermore as a commodity, inasmuch as the division of profit into interest and profit proper is regulated by demand and supply, that is, by competition, just as are the market-prices of commodities. But in the present case the difference becomes quite as apparent as the analogy. If demand and supply balance, the market-price of commodities corresponds to their price of production. In other words, their price is then seen to be regulated by the internal laws of capitalist production, independently of competition, since the fluctuations of supply and demand do not explain anything but the deviations of market-prices from the prices of production. These deviations balance mutually, so that in the course of long periods the average market-prices correspond to the prices of production. As soon as these prices coincide, these forces cease to operate, they compensate one another, and the general law determining prices then applies also to individual cases. The market-price then corresponds even in its immediate form, and without the help of averages drawn from the movements of market-prices, to the price of production, which is regulated by the immanent laws of the mode of production itself. The same is then true of wages. If supply and demand balance, they neutralise each other's effects, and wages are then equal to the value of labor-power. But it is different with the interest on money-capital. Competition does not, in this case, determine the deviations from the rule, but there is rather no law of division except that enforced by competition, because no such thing as a "natural" rate of interest exists, as we shall see presently. By the natural rate of interest people merely mean the rate fixed by free competition. There are no "natural" limits for the rate of interest. Whenever competition does not merely determine the deviations and fluctuations, in other words, whenever a neutralisation of the opposing forces of competition puts a stop to all determination, the thing to be determined becomes a matter of arbitrary and lawless estimation. We shall dwell on this further in the next chapter.
In the case of interest-bearing capital, everything is outward appearance: The advance of capital seems a mere transfer from the lender to the borrower; the reflux of realised capital a mere transfer back to its owner, a return payment with interest from the borrower to the lender. The same holds good of the fact, due to the capitalist mode of production, that the rate of profit is not merely determined by the relation of the profit made in one single turn-over to the advanced capital-value, but also by the length of the time of turn-over itself, so that it is a question of a profit realised on the industrial capital in definite periods of time. This likewise appears in the case of interest-bearing capital in the outward fact, that a definite interest is paid to the lender for a definite period of time.
With his customary insight into the internal connection of things, the romantic Adam Müller says ("Elemente der Staatskunst," Berlin, 1809, p. 37): "In determining the prices of things, time is not considered; while in the determination of interest, it is principally time which is taken into account." He does not see that the time of production and the time of circulation enter into the determination of the price of commodities, and that this is precisely what determines the rate of profit for a given time of turn-over of capital, while the determination of profit for a certain time in its turn determines that of interest. His sagacity consists here, as it always does, in seeing the clouds of dust on the surface and having the presumption to declare this dust to be something mysterious and important.
DIVISION OF PROFIT. RATE OF INTEREST. NATURAL RATE OF INTEREST.
THE object of this chapter, and in general all other phenomena of credit requiring our consideration later on, cannot here be analysed in detail. The competition between lenders and borrowers and the resulting minor fluctuations of the money-market fall outside of the scope of our inquiry. The circle described by the rate of interest during the industrial cycle requires for its presentation the analysis of this cycle itself, but this is likewise beyond our intentions for the present. The same is true of the greater or lesser approximate equalisation of the rate of interest in the world market. We merely intend here to analyse the independent form of interest-bearing capital and the individualisation of interest as differentiated from profit.
Since interest is merely a part of profit, paid according to our assumption by the industrial capitalist to the money-capitalist, the maximum limit of interest is marked by profit itself, and in that case the portion pocketed by the productive capitalist would be equal to zero. Aside from exceptional cases, in which interest might be actually larger than profit and could not be paid out of profit, one might consider as the maximum limit of interest the entire profit minus that portion (to be subsequently analysed), which resolves itself into wages of superintendence. The minimum limit of interest is wholly undefinable. It may fall to any depth. But counteracting circumstances will always appear and lift it again above this relative minimum.
"The relation between the amount paid for the use of some capital and this capital itself expresses the rate of interest, measured in money." "The rate of interest depends, 1), on the rate of profit; 2), on the proportion in which the total profit is divided between the lender and the borrower." (Economist, January 22nd, 1853.) "Since that which is paid as interest for the use of that which is borrowed is a part of the profit, which the borrowed is able to produce, this interest must always be regulated by that profit." (Massie, l. c., p. 49.)
Let us first assume, that a fixed relation exists between the total profit and that one of its parts, which has to be paid as interest to the money-capitalist. In this case it is evident, that the interest will rise or fall with the total profit, and this profit is determined by the general rate of profit and its fluctuations. For instance, if the average rate of profit were 20% and the interest one-quarter of the profit, then the rate of interest would be 5%; if the rate of profit were only 16%, the rate of interest would be 4%. With a rate of profit of 20%, the rate of interest might rise to 8%, and yet the industrial capitalist would still make the same profit as he would with the rate of profit at 16% and the rate of interest at 4%, namely 12%. If the interest should rise only to 6 or 7%, he would keep a still larger share of the profit. If the interest amounted to a constant quota of the average profit, it would follow, that to the extent that the general rate of profit would rise, the absolute difference between the total profit and the interest would increase, and to the same extent would that portion of the total profit increase, which the productive capitalist would pocket, and vice versa. Take it that the interest amounts to one-fifth of the average profit. One-fifth of 10 is 2; difference between total profit and interest 8. One-fifth of 20 is 4; difference 20-4 = 16. One-fifth of 25 is 5; difference 25-5 = 20. One-fifth of 30 is 6; difference 30-6 = 24. One-fifth of 35 is 7; difference 35-7 = 28. The different rates of interest of 4, 5, 6, 7% would in this case always represent one-fifth of the total profit. If the rates of profit are different, then different rates of interest may represent the same aliquot parts of the total profit, or the same percentage of the total profit. With such constant proportions of interest, the industrial profit (the difference between the total profit and the interest) would be so much greater, the higher the average rate of profit would be, and vice versa.
Assuming all other conditions to be equal, in other words, assuming the proportion between interest and total profit to be more or less constant, the productive capitalist will be able and willing to pay a higher or lower interest directly proportional to the level of the rate of profit.62 Since we have seen, that the height of the rate of profit is inversely proportional to the development of capitalist production, it follows that the high or low rate of interest in a certain country is to the same extent inversely proportional to the degree of industrial development, at least so far as differences in the rate of interest actually expresses differences in the rates of profit. And this mode of regulating interest applies even to its average.
In any event the average rate of profit is the ultimate limit determining the maximum limit of interest.
The fact that the rate of interest is related to the average profit will be considered more at length immediately. Whenever a certain whole, such as profit, is to be divided between two parties, the first thing to be considered is the magnitude of the whole. The magnitude of the profit is determined by its average rate. Assuming the average rate of profit, and thus the magnitude of profit, for a capital of a certain size, to be given (for instance 100), it is evident that the variations of interest will be inversely proportional to those of the profit remaining in the hands of the capitalist working with a borrowed capital. And the circumstances, which determine the amount of profit to be divided (the values produced by unpaid labor), differ widely from those, which determine its distribution between these two kinds of capitalists, and frequently produce effects in opposite directions.63
If we observe the cycles of variation, in which modern industry moves along—condition of rest, increasing activity, prosperity, overproduction, crisis, stagnation, condition of rest, etc., which fall outside of the scope of our analysis—we shall find, that a low rate of interest generally corresponds to periods of prosperity, or of extra profit, a rise of interest to the transition between prosperity and its reverse, and a maximum of interest up to a point of extreme usury to the period of crises.64 With the summer of 1843 came a period of remarkable prosperity; the rate of interest, which had still been 4½% in the spring of 1842, fell to 2% in the spring and summer of 1843;65 in September it fell even to 1½%. (Gilbart, I, p. 166); whereupon it rose to 8% and more during the crisis of 1847.
It may happen, however, that low interest is found in times of stagnation, and moderately rising interest in times of increasing activity.
The rate of interest reaches its highest point during crises, when money must be borrowed in order to meet payments at any cost. Since a rise of interest implies a fall in the price of securities, this offers at the same time a fine opportunity to people with available money-capital, who may acquire possession at cut-rate prices of such interest-bearing securities as must at least regain their average price in the regular course of things, as soon as the rate of interest falls again.66
However, there is also a tendency of the rate of interest to fall, quite independently of the fluctuations of the rate of profit. This is due to two main causes.
I. "Let us assume that capital were never borrowed for any other but productive investments, it is nevertheless possible, that the rate of interest may vary without any change in the rate of gross profits. For, as a people progresses in the development of wealth, there arises and grows more and more a class of people, who find themselves possessed of funds through the labors of their ancestors, and who can live on the mere interest on them. Many, having actively participated in business in their youth and prime, retire, in order to live quietly in their old age on the interest of the sums accumulated by them. These two classes have a tendency to increase with the growing wealth of the country; for those who start out with a moderate capital acquire more easily an independent fortune than those, who start out with little. In old and rich countries, therefore, that portion of the national capital, whose owners do not care to invest it themselves, makes up a larger proportion of the total productive capital of society than in newly settled and poor countries. How numerous is not the class of annuity-holders in England! In proportion as the class of annuity-holders increases, that of the capital loaners increases also, for they are both the same." (Ramsay, Essay on the Distribution of Wealth, p. 201)
II. The development of the credit system, and with it the continually growing control of the industrials and merchants over the money savings of all classes of society by the co-operation of bankers, and the progressive concentration of these savings into such volumes as will enable them to serve as money-capital, must also depress the rate of interest some-what. We shall discuss this more at length later.
With reference to the determination of the rate of interest, Ramsay says that it "depends in part on the rate of gross profits, in part on the proportion in which this is divided into interest and profits of enterprise. This proportion depends on the competition between lenders and borrowers of capital. This competition is influenced, but not exclusively regulated, by the prospective rate of gross profits.67 Competition is not exclusively regulated thereby, because on one side many are borrowing without any intention of productive investment, and because on the other the magnitude of the total loanable capital changes with the wealth of the country, independently of any change in the gross profits." (Ramsay, 1. c., p. 206, 207.)
In order to find the average rate of interest, it is necessary, 1), to calculate the average rate of interest during its variations in the great industrial cycles; 2), to find the rate of interest in such investments as require loans of capital for a long time.
The average rate of interest prevailing in a certain country—as differentiated from the continually fluctuating market rates—cannot be determined by any law. In this sense there is no such thing as a natural rate of interest, such as economists speak of when mentioning a natural rate of profit and a natural rate of wages. Massie has justly said with reference to this (p. 49): "The only thing which any man can be in doubt about on this occasion, is, what proportion of these profits do of right belong to the borrower, and what to the lender; and this there is no other method of determining than by the opinions of borrowers and lenders in general; for right and wrong, in this respect, are only what common consent makes so." The balancing of demand and supply—assuming the average rate of profit to be a fact—does not signify anything here. Wherever else this formula serves as an excuse (and is then practically correct) it is used to find the fundamental rule, which is independent of competition and rather determines it, this rule indicating the regulating limits, or the limiting magnitudes, of competition; this formula serves particularly as a help to those, who are bounded by the horizon of practical competition, its phenomena, and the conceptions arising from them, and who try thereby to get a rather shallow grasp of the internal connections of economic conditions within the sphere of competition. It is a method by which to pass from the variations that go with competition to the limits of these variations. This is not so in the case of the average rate of interest. There is no reason by which the idea could be justified, that the average conditions of competition, a balance between lenders and borrowers, should secure for the lender a rate of interest of 3, 4, 5%, etc., on his capital, or a certain percentage of the gross profits, say 20% or 50%. Whenever competition as such determines anything in this matter, its determination is a matter of accident, purely empirical, and only pedantry or fantasticalness can attempt to represent this accidental character as something necessary.68 Nothing is more amusing than to listen in the reports of Parliament of 1857 and 1858 concerning bank legislation and commercial crises to the rambling twaddle of directors of the Bank of England, London bankers, provincial bankers, and theoretical professionals, when referring to "the real rate produced." They never get beyond such commonplaces as that "the price paid by loanable capital probably varies with the supply of such capital," that "a high rate of interest and a low rate of profit cannot exist together in the long run," and similar specious platitudes.69 Custom, legal tradition, etc., have as much to do with the determination of the average rate of interest as competition itself, so far as this rate exists not merely as an average figure, but as an actual magnitude. An average rate of profit has to be assumed as a legal rate even in many law disputes, in which interest has to be calculated. Now, if we press the inquiry, why the limits of an average rate of interest cannot be deduced from general laws, we find the answer simply in the nature of interest. It is merely a portion of the average profit. The same capital appears in two roles, as a loanable capital in the hands of the lender, and as an industrial capital, or commercial capital, in the hands of the investing capitalist. But it performs its function as capital only once, and produces profit only once. In the process of production itself, the loanable nature of this capital does not play any role. To what extent the two parties divide the profit, in which they both share, is in itself as much a purely empirical fact belonging to the realm of accident as the division of the shares of common profit of some corporative business among different share holders by percentages. In the division between surplus-value and wages, on which the determination of the rate of profit essentially rests, the decision is made by two very different elements, labor-power and capital; these are functions of two independent variables, which limit one another; and their qualitative difference is the source of the quantitative division of the produced value. We shall see later that the same takes place in the division of surplus-value between rent and profit. But nothing of the kind occurs in the case of interest. In this case the qualitative differentiation, as we shall see immediately, proceeds rather from the purely quantitative division of the same lot of surplus-value.
From what has gone before it follows that there is no such thing as a "natural" rate of interest. But while, in distinction from the general rate of profit, there is on one side no general law, by which the limits of the average interest, or average rate of interest, may be determined and differentiated from the continually fluctuating market rates of interest, because it is merely a question of dividing the gross profit between two possessors of capital under different titles, there is on the other side the fact that the rate of interest, whether it be the average or the prevalent market rate, appears as a uniform, definite and tangible magnitude in a very different way from the general rate of profit.70
The rate of interest holds a similar relation to the rate of profit as the market price of a commodity does to its value. To the extent that the rate of interest is determined by the rate of profit, it is so always by the general rate of profit, not by any specific rates of profit, which may prevail in some particular lines of industry, and still less by any extra profit, which some individual capitalist may make in some particular line of business.71 It is a fact, then, that the general rate of profit re-appears as an empirical, given, reality in the average rate of interest, although the latter is not a pure or reliable expression of the former.
It is true, that the rate of interest itself differs according to the different classes of securities offered by the borrowers and according to the length of time for which the money is borrowed; but it is uniform within every one of these classes at a given moment. This distinction, then, does not militate against a fixed and uniform shape of the rate of interest.72
The average rate of interest appears in every country for long epochs as a constant magnitude, because the general rate of profit—in spite of the continual variation of the particular rates of profit, in which a variation in one sphere is offset by an opposite variation in another sphere—varies only in long intervals. Its relative constancy is revealed in this more or less constant nature of the average rate, or common rate, of interest.
As concerns the continually fluctuating market rate of interest, it exists at any moment as a fixed magnitude, the same as the market price of commodities, because all the loanable capital as an aggregate mass is continually facing the invested capital, so that the relation between the supply of loanable capital on one side, and the demand for it on the other, decide at any time the market level of interest. This is so much more the case, the more the development and simultaneous concentration of the credit system impregnates the loanable capital with a general social character, and throws it all at one time on the market. On the other hand, the general rate of profit always exists as a mere tendency, as a movement to compensate specific rates of profit. The competition between capitalists—which is itself this movement toward an equilibrium—consists in this case in their activity of gradually withdrawing capital from spheres, in which the profit stays for a long time below the average, and in the same way taking capital into spheres, in which the profit is above the average. Or it may also consist in their distributing additional capital gradually and in varying proportions between these spheres. It is always a matter of a continual variation between supply and demand of capital with reference to different spheres, never a simultaneous mass effect, as it is in the determination of the rate of interest.
We have seen that interest-bearing capital, although a category absolutely different from a commodity, becomes a peculiar commodity, so that interest becomes its price, which is fixed at any time by supply and demand, just as the market price of an ordinary commodity is fixed. The market rate of interest, while continually oscillating, appears therefore at any moment just as constantly fixed and uniform as the prevailing market price of commodities. The money-capitalists offer this commodity, and the investing capitalists buy it and make a demand for it. This does not take place in the equalisation of profits toward a general rate of profit. If the prices of commodities in a certain sphere are below or above the price of production (leaving aside any oscillations, which are found in every business and are due to fluctuations of the industrial cycles), a balance is effected by an expansion or restriction of production. This signifies an expansion or restriction of the quantities of commodities thrown on the market by industrial capitalists, by means of immigration or emigration of capital to and from particular spheres. It is by such a compensation of the average market prices of commodities to prices of production that the deviations of specific rates of profit from the general, or average, rate of profit are corrected. This process does not, and cannot, at any time assume the appearance as though the industrial or mercantile capital as such were commodities seeking a buyer, but it does in the case of interest-bearing capital. To the extent that this process is perceptible, it is so only in the oscillations and compensations of the market prices of commodities to prices of production, not in any direct fixation of the average profit. The general rate of profit is actually determined, 1), by the surplus-value produced by the capital; 2), by the proportion of this surplus-value to the value of the total capital; and, 3), by competition, but only to the extent that this is a movement, by which capitals invested in particular spheres seek to draw equal dividends out of this surplus-value in proportion to their relative magnitudes. The general rate of profit, then, derives its determination actually from causes, which are quite different and far more profound than those of the market rate of interest, which is directly and immediately determined by the proportion between supply and demand. It is, therefore, not such a tangible and obvious fact as the rate of interest. The particular rates of interest in the different spheres of production are themselves more or less unsettled; but so far as they are perceptible, it is not their uniformity, but their differences, which appear. The general rate of profit itself appears only as the minimum limit of profit, not as the empirical and directly visible shape of the actual rate of profit.
In emphasizing this difference between the rate of interest and the rate of profit, we still leave out of consideration the following two circumstances, which favor the consolidation of the rate of interest: 1), The historical pre-existence of interest-bearing capital and the existence of a traditionally sanctioned general rate of interest; 2), the far greater direct influence exerted by the world market on the fixation of the rate of interest, independently of the economic conditions of a certain country, compared to its influence on the rate of profit.
The average profit does not appear as a directly existing fact, but merely as a final result of the compensation of opposite fluctuations, to be ascertained by analysis. Not so the rate of interest. It is, at least in its local validity, a daily fixed thing, a fact which serves even to industrial and mercantile capitals as a prerequisite and figure in their calculations. It becomes a general faculty of every sum of money of 100 pounds sterling to yield 2, 3, 4, 5%. Meteorological reports do not register the stand of the barometer and thermometer more accurately than the reports of the Bourse do the stand of the rate of interest, not for this or that capital, but for the money-capital on the market, for the available loanable capital in general.
On the money market only lenders and borrowers face one another. The commodity has the same form, money. All specific forms of capital according to its investment in particular spheres of production or circulation are here blotted out. It exists here in the undifferentiated, homogenous, form of independent value, money. The competition of the individual spheres ceases here. They are all thrown together as borrowers of money, and capital likewise faces all of them in a form, in which it is as yet indifferent to its definite investment in this or that specific manner. The character worn by industrial capital only in its movement and competition between individual spheres, the character of a common capital of a class comes into evidence here in full force by the demand and supply of capital. On the other hand, money-capital on the money market has actually that form, in which it may be distributed as a common element among the capitalists in the various spheres, regardless of its specific employment, as the requirements of production in each individual sphere may dictate. Add to this that with the development of large scale industry money-capital, so far as it appears on the market, is not represented by some individual capitalist, not by the owner of this or that fraction of the capital on the market, but assumes more and more the character of an organised mass, which is far more directly subject to the control of the representatives of social capital, the bankers, than actual production is. Under these circumstances, not only the demand for loanable capital is expressed with the full force of a class, but also its supply appears as loanable capital in masses.
These are some of the reasons, why the general rate of profit appears as a vanishing shape of mist compared to the definite rate of interest, which, while fluctuating in its magnitude, yet faces all borrowers as a fixed fact, because it varies uniformly for all of them. In like manner the variations in the value of money do not prevent it from having the same value for all commodities. In like manner the market prices of commodities fluctuate daily, yet this does not prevent them from being reported daily. In like manner, the rate of interest is regularly reported as "the price of money." It is so for the reason that capital itself is here offered in the form of money as a commodity. The fixation of its price is thus a fixation of its market price, as it is with all other commodities. Thus the rate of interest always appears as the general rate of interest, as so much for so much money, as a definite quantity. Not so the rate of profit. It may vary even within the same sphere for commodities with the same price, according to the different conditions under which different capitals produce the same commodity. For the rate of profit of the individual capital is determined, not by the market price of a commodity, but by the difference between the market-price and the cost-price. And these different rates of profit, first within the same sphere and then between different spheres themselves, can be balanced only by continual fluctuations.
(Note for later elaboration): A specific form of credit. It is known that when money serves as a means of payment instead of as a means of purchase, the commodity is transferred, but its value is not realised until later. If payment is not made until after the commodity has again been sold, then this sale does not seem to be the result of the purchase, but it is by this sale that the purchase is realised. In other words, the sale becomes a means of purchase.—Secondly; Titles to debts, bills of exchange, etc., become means of payment for the creditor.—Thirdly: The compensation of titles to debts replaces the money.
INTEREST AND PROFIT OF ENTERPRISE.
INTEREST, as we have seen in the two preceding chapters, seems to be originally, is originally, and remains in fact merely a portion of profit, of surplus-value, which the investing capitalist, whether industrial or commercial, has to pay over to the owner and lender of money-capital whenever he uses loan capital instead of his own. If he employs only his own capital, no such division of profit takes place; it is all his. In fact, to the extent that the owners of capital employ it themselves in the process of reproduction, they do not compete in the determination of the rate of interest. This alone shows that the category of interest, an impossibility without a determination of the rate of interest, is alien to the movements of industrial capital itself.
"The rate of interest may be defined to be that proportional sum which the lender is content to receive, and the borrower to pay, for a year or for any longer or shorter period for the use of a certain amount of moneyed capital...when the owner of capital employs it actively in reproduction, he does not come under the head of those capitalists, the proportion of whom, to the number of borrowers, determines the rate of interest." (Th. Tooke, History of Prices, Newmarch ed. London, 1857, II, p. 355.) It is indeed only the separation of capitalists into money-capitalists and industrial capitalists, which transforms a portion of the profit into interest, which creates the category of interest at all; and it is only the competition between these two kinds of capitalists which creates the rate of interest.
So long as capital serves in the process of reproduction—even assuming that it belongs to the industrial capitalist himself, so that he has no need of paying it back to some lender—just so long the capitalist has at his disposal as a private individual, not this capital itself, but only the profit, which he may spend as revenue. So long as his capital performs the functions of capital, it belongs to the process of reproduction, it is tied up in that process. He is indeed its owner, but this ownership does not enable him to dispose of it in some other way, so long as he uses it as capital for the exploitation of labor. It is the same with the money-capitalist. So long as his capital is loaned out and serves as money-capital, it brings him as interest a portion of the profit, but he cannot dispose of the principal. This becomes evident, whenever he loans his capital, say, for one year, or longer, and receives interest at certain stipulated times without recovering his principal. But even the return of the principal does not make any difference here. If he gets it back, then he must always loan it out again, so long as he expects it to produce the effects of capital, in this case of money-capital, for him. While he is keeping it in his own hands, it collects no interest, it does not act in the capacity of capital; and so long as it gathers interest and serves as capital, it is not in his hands. This accounts for the possibility to loan capital for all eternity. The following remarks of Tooke against Bosanquet are, therefore, entirely wrong. He quotes Bosanquet (Metallic, Paper, and Credit Currency, p. 73): "If the rate of interest were depressed to 1%, then borrowed capital would be almost on a par with owner's capital." Tooke makes the following comment on this: "That a capital borrowed at this, or even at a lower rate, should be considered as being almost on a par with one's own capital is such a strange contention, that it would hardly deserve any serious consideration, did it not come from so intelligent a writer, who is so well informed on particular points of his subject. Has he overlooked the fact, or does he hold it to be so unimportant, that his assumption implies the condition of return payment?" (Th. Tooke, An Inquiry into the Currency Principle, 2nd. edition, London, 1844, p. 80.) If interest were equal to zero, then the industrial capitalist working with a borrowed capital would be on a par with a capitalist working with his own capital. Both of them would pocket the same average profit, and capital, whether borrowed or the owner's, serves as capital only to the extent that it produces profit. The condition of return payment would not alter this in the least. The more the rate of interest approaches zero, falling, for instance, to 1%, the more borrowed capital is placed on a par with owner's capital. So long as money-capital is expected to act in the capacity of money-capital, it must always be loaned out again and again, and this must take place at the prevailing rate of interest, say 1%, and always to the same class of industrial and commercial capitalists. So long as these perform the functions of capitalists, the only difference between one working with a borrowed and one working with his own capital is that the one has to pay interest and the other has not; that the one pockets the whole profit p, and the other only p—i, profit minus interest. To the extent that the interest approaches zero, p—z becomes equal to p, and to the same extent do both capitals stand on a par. The one must pay back the capital and borrow it again; but the other, so long as his capital is expected to perform its function, must likewise advance it again and again to the process of production and cannot dispose of it freely without any dependence upon this process. The only remaining difference between the two is the obvious one that the one is the owner of his capital and the other is not.
The question which arises here is this: How is it that this purely quantitative division of profit into net profit and interest turns into a qualitative one? In other words, how is it that even the capitalist who employs only his own capital, and not a borrowed one, ranges a portion of his gross profit under the specific category of interest and calculates it separately as such? And furthermore, why is all capital, whether borrowed or not, differentiated in itself as interest-bearing capital from net profit producing capital?
It is understood that not every accidental quantitative division of profit turns in this manner into a qualitative one. For instance, some industrial capitalists associate for some business and divide the profits among themselves according to some legal agreement. Others carry on their business, each by himself, without any associate. These last do not calculate their profit under two heads, one part as individual profit, the other as profits of the company for associates who do not exist. In this case the quantitative division does not turn into a qualitative one. It takes place, when the ownership is vested accidentally in several juridical personalities. It does not take place, when this is not the case.
In order to answer this question, we must dwell a little longer on the actual point of departure of the formation of interest; that is, we must take our departure from the assumption, that the money-capitalist and the industrial capitalist really face one another, not merely as legally different persons, but as persons playing entirely different roles in the process of reproduction, or as persons in whose hands the same capital really passes through a twofold and wholly different movement. The one merely loans it, the other employs it productively.
For the productive capitalist, who works with a borrowed capital, the gross profit falls into two parts, namely into the interest to be paid by the lender and the surplus over the interest forming his own share of the profit. If the general rate of profit is given, then this last portion is determined by the rate of interest; if the rate of interest is given, then this last portion is determined by the general rate of profit. And furthermore: Whatever may be the divergence in any individual case of the gross profit, the actual magnitude of value of the total profit, from the average profit, it does not alter the fact that the portion belonging to the investing capitalist is determined by the interest, since this is fixed by the general rate of interest (aside from special legal stipulations) and assumed to be paid beforehand, before the process of production begins, and before its result, the gross profit, has been made. We have seen that the peculiar and specific product of capital is surplus-value, or more closely defined, profit. But for the capitalist working with a borrowed capital it is not the profit, but the profit minus the interest, that portion of the profit which remains for him after the interest has been deducted. This portion of the profit necessarily appears to him as the product of a capital performing its function; and so far as he is concerned it is really so, because he is the representative of capital in action. He is its personification to the extent that it is in function, and it performs its function to the extent that it is profitably invested in industry or commerce and engaged, through its employer, in such operations as are prescribed by the line of its industry. In distinction from interest, which he has to pay out of the gross profits to the lender, the remaining portion of the profit, which he pockets, necessarily assumes the form of industrial or commercial profit, or, to designate it by a term comprising both of them, the form of profit of enterprise. If the gross profit is equal to the net profit, then the magnitude of this profit of enterprise is exclusively determined by the rate of interest. If the gross profit varies from the average profit, then its difference from the average profit (after deducting the interest from both of them) is determined by all constellations causing a temporary deviation, either of the rate of profit in any particular sphere from the general rate of profit, or of the profit made by some individual capitalist in a certain sphere from the average profit of this sphere. Now, we have seen, that the rate of profit within the process of production itself does not depend merely on the surplus-value, but also on many other circumstances, for instance, on the purchase prices of the means of production, on methods more productive than the average, on economies in constant capital, etc. And aside from the price of production, it depends on special constellations of the market, and in every business transaction on the greater or lesser smartness and thrift of the individual capitalists, whether, and to what extent, a man will buy or sell above or below the price of production and thus appropriate in the process of circulation a greater or smaller portion of the total surplus-value. At any rate the quantitative division of the gross profit turns here into a qualitative one, and it does so all the more as the quantitative division itself depends on the nature of thing that is to be divided, on the manner in which the capitalist manages his capital, and on the amount of gross profit it yields for him in his capacity as active capitalist. The investing capitalist is here assumed not to be the owner of the capital. The ownership of capital is vested in the money-capitalist, who stands opposed to him. The interest, which he pays to the lender, thus appears as that portion of the gross profit, which is absorbed by the ownership of capital as such. In distinction therefrom, that portion of the profit, which falls to the share of the investing capitalist, appears then as profit of enterprise, arising solely from the operations, or functions, which he performs with the capital in the process of reproduction, particularly of those functions, which he performs as the impersonator of enterprise in industry or commerce. From his point of view, the interest appears merely as the fruit of the ownership of capital, of capital "itself" abstracted from the process of capital in reproduction, of a capital not "working," not performing its function; while profit of enterprise appears to him as the exclusive fruit of the functions, which he performs with the capital, a fruit of the movements and performances of capital, of performances, which appear to him as his own activity as differentiated from the inactivity, the non-participation, of the money-capitalist in the process of production. This qualitative separation of the two portions of gross profit, which makes interest appear as the fruit of abstract capital, of the ownership of capital outside of the process of production, and profit of enterprise as the fruit of capital performing its function in the process of production, of the active role played by the employer of capital in the process of reproduction, this qualitative separation is by no means merely a subjective point of view of the money-capitalist on one side and of the industrial capitalist on the other. It rests upon an objective fact, for the interest flows into the hands of the money-capitalist, the lender, the mere owner of capital, who represents only capital property before the process of production and outside of it; while the profit of enterprise flows only into the hands of the investing capitalist, who is not the owner of the capital.
In this way, both the industrial capitalist working with borrowed capital and the money-capitalist not working himself with his capital play a role, in which a merely quantitative division of the gross profit between two persons having two different legal titles to the same capital and to the profit produced by it turns into a qualitative division. One portion of the profit appears now as interest, as a fruit coming to capital in one of its forms; the other portion appears as a specific fruit of capital in an opposite form, and thus as profit of enterprise. One appears as the fruit of mere ownership of capital, the other as a fruit of the performance of the function of capital, as a fruit of capital in process, of the functions performed by the active capitalist. And this ossification and individualisation of the two parts of the gross profits among themselves, as though they were derived from two essentially different sources, now becomes a fixture for the entire capitalist class and the total capital. And this takes place regardless of whether the capital employed by the active capitalist is borrowed or not, and whether the capital belonging to the money-capitalist is employed by himself or not. The profit of every capital, and consequently the average profit established by a mutual compensation of capitals, is separated into two qualitatively different, separately individualised, and mutually independent parts, to wit, interest and profit of enterprise, both of which are determined by particular laws. The capitalist working with his own capital divides the gross profit into interest due to himself as its owner lending it to himself, and into profit of enterprise due to himself as an active capitalist performing his function, just as does the capitalist working with a borrowed capital. For this division, in its qualitative aspects, it becomes immaterial whether the capitalist really has to divide his profit with another or not. The employer of capital, even when working with his own capital, falls apart into two personalities, into the mere owner of capital and the employer of capital; his capital itself, with reference to the categories of profit which it yields, falls apart into capital property outside of the process of production and yielding interest of itself, and capital in the process of production yielding profit of enterprise through its function in the process.
Interest, then, becomes so firmly established, that it no longer appears as a division of gross profits, to which production is indifferent and which takes place only occasionally when the industrial capitalist works with the capital of some other man. Even when he works with his own capital, his profit is separated into interest and profit of enterprise. Thus a merely quantitative division turns into a qualitative one. It takes place without regard to the fact, whether the industrial capitalist is, or is not, the owner of the capital employed by him. It is no longer a question of different quota of profit assigned to different persons, but of two different categories of profit holding different relations to the capital, being related to different forms of capital.
It is a simple matter, in view of the foregoing remarks, to explain, why this character of qualitative separation becomes established for the total social capital and the entire capitalist class, as soon as the separation of gross profits into interest and profits of enterprise has assumed its qualitative aspect.
1) This follows from the simple empirical circumstance, that the majority of the industrial capitalists, even if in different proportional numbers, work with their own and with borrowed capital, and that the proportion between self-owned and borrowed capital changes in different periods.
2) The transformation of a portion of the gross profits into the shape of interest converts the other portion into profit of enterprise. The latter is indeed but the antagonistic form assumed by the excess of the gross profit over the interest, as soon as interest exists as an independent category. The entire analysis of the problem, how gross profit is differentiated into interest and profit of enterprise, resolves itself into the inquiry, how a portion of the gross profits becomes universally ossified and individualised in the shape of interest. Now, historically, interest-bearing capital exists as a complete, traditional form, and with it interest as a ready subdivision of the surplus-value produced by capital, long before the capitalist mode of production and the conceptions of capital and profit belonging to it existed. Thus it is that popular conception still regards money-capital, interest-bearing capital, as typical capital, as capital par excellence. Thus, also, we find up to the time of Massie the prevailing idea, that it is money as such, which is paid in interest. The fact that loaned capital yields interest, whether it is actually employed as interest or not—even when borrowed only for consumption—lends strength to the idea of the independence of this form of capital. The best proof of the independence, which interest seemed to have with reference to profit and interest-bearing capital with reference to industrial capital, during the first periods of the capitalist mode of production, is that it was not until the middle of the 18th century that Massie, and after him Hume, discovered the fact that interest is but a portion of the gross profit, and that such a discovery was necessary at all.
3) Whether the industrial capitalist works with his own or with borrowed capital, it does not alter the fact that the class of money-capitalists face him as a special class of capitalists, money-capital as an independent form of capital, and interest as the independent form of surplus-value peculiar to this specific capital.
Qualitatively speaking, interest is surplus-value supplied by the mere ownership of capital, yielded by capital as such, even though its owner remains outside of the process of reproduction. It is surplus-value realised by capital outside of its process.
Quantitatively speaking, that portion of profit, which forms interest, does not seem to be related to industrial or commercial capital as such, but to money-capital, and the rate of this portion of surplus-value, the rate of interest, fortifies this relation. For, in the first place, the rate of interest, despite its dependence upon the general rate of profit, is independently determined, and, in the second place, it appears with all its variations as a fixed, uniform, tangible and always given relation, just like the market-prices of commodities, compared to the intangible rate of profit. If all capital were in the hands of the industrial capitalists, there would be no interest and no rate of interest. The independent form assumed by the quantitative division of gross profit creates the qualitative one. If the industrial capitalist compares himself to the money-capitalist, only his profit of enterprise distinguishes him from the other man, the excess of his gross profit over the average interest, the latter being empirically given by means of the rate of interest. On the other hand, if he compares himself to the industrial capitalist working with his own, instead of borrowed capital, the other differs from him only as a money-capitalist by pocketing the interest instead of paying it over to some one else. On either side the portion of the gross profit differing from the interest appears to him as profit of enterprise, and interest itself as a surplus-value yielded by capital as such, which it would yield even without any productive employment.
This is practically correct for the individual capitalist. He has the choice, whether he wants to invest his capital as an interest-bearing one or as a productive one, regardless of whether it exists in the form of money-capital from the out-set, or whether it has to be converted into money-capital. But to make this conception a general one and apply it to the total capital of society, as some vulgar economists do, who even go so far as to regard this capital as the source of profit, is, of course, preposterous. The idea of a conversion of the total capital of society into money-capital without the existence of people, who shall buy and utilise the means of production, which form the total capital with the exception of relatively small portion existing in the shape of money, is sheer nonsense. It implies the additional nonsense, that capital could yield interest on the basis of capitalist production without performing any productive function, in other words, without producing any surplus-value, of which interest would be but a part; that the capitalist mode of production could run its course without any capitalist production. If an excessively large number of capitalists were to convert their capital into money-capital, it would result in an extraordinary depreciation of money-capital and an extraordinary fall of the rate of interest; many would at once be face to face with the impossibility of living on their interest, and would be compelled to retransform themselves into industrial capitalists. But we repeat that it is a fact for the individual capitalist. For this reason, he necessarily considers that part of his average profit, which is equal to the average interest, as a fruit of his capital as such, apart from the process of production, even when he works with his own capital; and he differentiates from this portion, from this interest, that surplus of the gross profit, which constitutes his profit of enterprise.
4) (A blank in the manuscript.)
We have seen that that portion of the profit, which the investing capitalist has to pay to the mere owner of borrowed capital, converts itself into the independent form of a portion of profit, which all capital as such, whether borrowed or not, yields under the name of interest. How large that portion shall be is determined by the quotation of the average rate of interest. Its origin does not show itself any more in anything but the fact that the investing capitalist, when owner of his capital, no longer competes in the determination of the rate of interest, at least not actively. The purely quantitative division of profit between two persons having different legal titles to it has turned into a qualitative division, which seems to arise from the nature of capital and profit itself. For, as we have seen, as soon as a portion of the profit generally assumes the form of interest, the difference between the average profit and the interest, or the portion of profit exceeding the interest, assumes a form antagonistic to interest, that of profit of enterprise. These two forms, interest and profit of enterprise, exist only as opposites. They are not reduced to the surplus-value, of which they represent proportional parts cast in different moulds, but are merely referred to one another. Because one portion converts itself into interest, the other portion appears as profit of enterprise.
By profit we always mean average profit here, since the variations of individual profit and of profit in different spheres, due to the fluctuations of the competitive struggle and other circumstances affecting the distribution of the average profit, or surplus-value, do not concern us in this analysis. This applies quite generally to the foregoing inquiry.
Interest is then net profit, as Ramsay calls it, which capital as such yields, either for the mere lender remaining outside of the process of reproduction, or for the owner employing his capital productively. For this latter capitalist also, capital yields this net profit, not in his capacity as a productive capitalist, but of money-capitalist and lender of his own capital as an interest-bearing one to himself as an investing capitalist. Just as the conversion of money, and of value in general, into capital is the constant result of capitalist production, so its existence in the form of capital is its constant prerequisite. By its ability to transform itself into means of production, it commands continually unpaid labor and thereby transforms the process of production and circulation of commodities into a production of surplus-value for its owner. Interest is, therefore, merely the expression of the fact, that value in general, in other words, value representing materialised labor in its general social form, or value assuming the form of means of production in the actual process of production, faces living labor-power as an independent power, and is a means of appropriating unpaid labor; and that it is such a power, because it represents the property of another in opposition to the laborer. But on the other hand, this opposition to wage-labor is obliterated in the form of interest; for interest-bearing capital as such has not wage-labor, but productive capital for its object. The lending capitalist faces as such the capitalist performing his actual function in the process of reproduction, not the wage-worker, who is expropriated from the means of production under capitalist production. Interest-bearing capital represents capital as ownership compared to capital as a function. But to the extent that capital does not perform its function, it does not exploit the laborers and does not come into opposition to labor.
On the other hand, profit of enterprise is not in opposition to wage-labor, but only to interest.
1) Assuming the average profit to be given, the rate of profit on enterprise is not determined by wages, but by the rate of interest. It is high or low inversely as the rate of interest is.73
2) The investing capitalist derives his claim to profits of enterprise, and consequently the profit of enterprise itself, not from his ownership of capital, but from its production function as distinguished from the form, in which it is only inert property. This appears as an obviously existing contrast, whenever he is working with a borrowed capital, so that interest and profits of enterprise each go to different persons. The profit of enterprise arises from the function of capital in the process of reproduction, it is a result of the operations by which the investing capitalist promotes this function of industrial and commercial capital. But to be a representative of invested capital is not a sinecure like the representation of interest-bearing capital. On the basis of capitalist production, the capitalist directs the processes of production and circulation. The exploitation of productive labor requires exertion, whether he performs it himself or has it performed by some one else in his name. In distinction from interest, his profit of enterprise appears to him as independent of the ownership of capital, it seems to be the result of his function as a non-proprietor—a laborer.
Under these circumstances his brain necessarily conceives the idea, that his profit of enterprise, far from being in opposition to wage-labor and representing only the unpaid labor of others, is rather itself wages of labor, wages of superintendence of labor. These wages are superior to those of the common laborer, 1) because they pay for more complicated labor, 2) because the capitalist pays them to himself. The fact that his function as a capitalist consists in creating surplus-value, which is unpaid labor, and to create it under the most economical conditions, is entirely forgotten over the contrast, that the interest falls to the share of the capitalist, even if he does not perform any capitalist function and is merely the owner of capital; and that, on the other hand, the profit of enterprise falls to the share of the investing capitalist, even if he is not the owner of the capital, which he employs. The antagonistic form of the two parts, into which profit, or surplus-value is divided, leads him to forget, that both parts are surplus-value, and that this division does not alter the nature, origin, and living conditions of surplus-value.
In the process of reproduction, the investing capitalist represents capital as the property of another in opposition to the wage-laborers, and the money-capitalist, represented by the investing capitalist, shares in the exploitation of labor. The fact, that the investing capitalist can perform his function or employ means of production as capital only as the personification of the means of production in opposition to the laborers, is forgotten over the antagonism between the function of capital in the process of reproduction and the mere ownership of capital outside of the process of reproduction.
In fact, the forms assumed by the two parts of profit, of surplus-value, when divided into interest and profit of enterprise, do not express their relation to labor, because their relation refers only to themselves and to the profit, or rather to the surplus-value as a whole compared to them as parts of this unit. The proportion in which the profit is divided, and the different legal titles, by which this division is sanctioned, are based on the assumption that profit is already in existence. If, therefore, the capitalist is the owner of the capital, which he employs, he pockets the whole profit, or surplus-value. It is immaterial to the laborer, whether the capitalist pockets the whole profit, or whether he has to pay over a part of it to some other person, who has a legal claim to it. The reasons for dividing the profit among two kinds of capitalists thus turn surreptitiously into reasons for the existence of the surplus-value to be divided, which the capital as such draws out of the process of reproduction quite apart from any subsequent division. Seeing that the interest is opposed to the profit of enterprise, and the profit of enterprise to the interest, that they are both opposed to one another, but not to labor, it follows that both profit of enterprise plus interest, in other words, the total profit, and further the surplus-value, are derived—from what? From the antagonistic form of its two parts! But the profit is produced, before this division takes place, and before there can be any mention of it.
Interest-bearing capital stands the test of such only to the extent that borrowed money is actually converted into capital, and that a surplus is produced with it, of which the interest is a part. But this does not militate against the fact, that the faculty of drawing interest is innate in it outside of the process of production. So does labor-power evince its faculty of producing value only so long as it is employed and materialised in the labor-process; yet this does not argue against the fact, that labor-power is potentially a faculty of creating values, which does not arise out of the mere process of production, but is rather antecedent to it. As a faculty creating value, it is bought. One might also buy it without setting it to work productively. It may be used for purely personal ends, for instance, for personal service, etc. So it is with capital. It is the borrower's affair, whether he employs it as capital, actually setting in motion its inherent faculty of producing surplus-value. What he pays, is in either case the surplus-value inherently latent in the commodity capital.
Let us now consider profit of enterprise more in detail.
Since the specific social faculty of capital under capitalist production, that of being property in the hands of one and yet commanding the labor-power of another, becomes fixed, so that interest appears as a part of the surplus-value produced by capital in this interrelation, the other part of the surplus-value, the profit of enterprise, must necessarily appear as derived, not from capital as such, but from the process of production, separated from its social faculty, which is already expressed as a distinct mode of existence by the term interest in capital. Now, separated from capital, the process of production is simply a labor-process. Hence the industrial capitalist as differentiated from the owner of capital does not appear, in this case, as a functionary of capital, but as a functionary separated from capital, as a simple agent of the labor-process, as a laborer, and specifically as a wage-laborer.
Interest itself expresses precisely the existence of the conditions of labor in the form of capital, in their social antagonism to labor, and in their transformation into personal powers in opposition to labor and dominating it. Interest represents the mere ownership of capital as a means of appropriating the products of the labor of others. But it represents this character of capital as something, which belongs to it outside of the process of production, and which is not by any means a result of the specifically capitalist nature of this process of production itself. Interest places this process in such a light, that it does not seem opposed to labor, but rather without any relation to labor and simply the relation of one capitalist toward another. It thus assumes a form which places it outside of the relation of capital toward labor, and renders it indifferent toward this relation. In interest, then, which is that specific form of profit, in which the antagonistic character of capital assumes an independent form, this is done in such a way, that the antagonism here appears completely obliterated and left out of consideration. Interest is a relation between two capitalists, not between a capitalist and a laborer.
On the other hand, this form of interest bestows upon the other portion of profit the qualitative form of profit of enterprise, and, further on, of wages of superintendence. The specific functions, which the capitalist as such has to perform, and which precisely differentiate him from the laborer and bring him into opposition to the laborer, are presented as mere functions of labor. He creates surplus-value, not because he performs the work of a capitalist, but because he also works aside from his capacity as a capitalist. This portion of surplus-value is thus no longer surplus-value, but its opposite, an equivalent for labor performed. Owing to the fact that the estranged character of capital, its antagonism to labor, has been relegated to a place outside of the actual process of exploitation, namely to the interest-bearing capital, this process of exploitation itself appears as a simple labor process, in which the exploiting capitalist performs merely a different kind of labor than the laborer. In this way the labor of exploitation and the exploited labor both appear as labor, as identical. The labor of exploitation is labor just as well as the labor which is exploited. It is the interest which represents the social form of capital, but it does so in a neutral and indifferent way. It is the profit of enterprise which represents the economic function of capital, but it does so in a way, which takes no cognizance of the definite capitalist character of this function.
In the present case, what passes in the consciousness of the capitalist is quite similar to what passes in the case of the fluctuations for which the capitalist makes allowance in the equalisation of the average profits, as indicated in part II of this volume. These compensating causes, which exert a determining influence on the distribution of the surplus-value, are distorted by the capitalist conception into originating causes and subjective justifications of profit itself.
The conception of profit of enterprise in the shape of wages of superintendence of labor, arising from the antagonism of profit of enterprise to interest, is further strengthened by the fact, that a portion of the profit may indeed be separated, and is separated in reality, as wages, or rather the reverse, that a portion of the wages appear under capitalist production as a separate portion of the profit. Already Adam Smith indicated, that this portion assumes its pure form, independently of profit and wholly separated from it (as the sum of interest and profit of enterprise), and likewise separated from that portion of the profit, which remains in the shape of profit of enterprise after the deduction of the interest, in the salary of the superintendent in those lines of business, whose size, etc., permits a sufficient division of labor to justify a special salary for the labor of a superintendent.
The labor of superintendence and management will naturally be required whenever the direct process of production assumes the form of a combined social process, and does not rest on the isolated labor of independent producers.74 It has, however, a double nature.
On one side, all labors, in which many individuals cooperate, necessarily require for the connection and unity of the process one commanding will, and this performs a function, which does not refer to fragmentary operations, but to the combined labor of the workshop, in the same way as does that of a director of an orchestra. This is a kind of productive labor, which must be performed in every mode of production requiring a combination of labors.
On the other side, quite apart from any commercial department, this labor of superintendence necessarily arises in all modes of production, which are based on the antagonism between the laborer as a direct producer and the owner of the means of production. To the extent that this antagonism becomes pronounced, the role played by superintendence increases in importance. Hence it reaches its maximum in the slave system.75 But it is indispensable also under the capitalist mode of production since then the process of production is at the same time the process by which the capitalist consumes the labor-power of the laborer. In like manner, the labor of superintendence and universal interference by the government in despotic states comprises both the performance of the common operations arising from the nature of all communities and the specific functions arising from the antagonism between the government and the mass of the people.
In the works of ancient writers, who have the slave system under their eyes, both sides of the labor of superintendence are as inseparably combined in theory as they were in practice. So it is also in the works of the modern economists, who regard the capitalist mode of production as the absolute mode of production. On the other hand, as I shall show immediately by an example, the apologists of the modern slave system utilise the labor of superintendence quite as much to justify slavery, as the other economists do to justify the wage system.
The villicus in Cato's time: "At the head of the rural slave community (familia rustica) stood the manager (villicus, derived from villa), who took receipts and made expenditures, bought and sold, received instructions from the master, gave orders and meted out punishment in his absence....The manager occupied naturally a freer position than the other slaves; the Magonian books advise to permit him to marry, raise children, and have his own funds, and Cato recommends that he be married with the female manager; he alone probably had any prospects of being liberated by the master for good behavior. For the rest, all of them formed one common economy....Every slave, including the manager himself, was supplied with his necessities at the expense of his master, in definite periods according to fixed rates, and he had to get along on that. The quantity varied according to labor, and for this reason the manager, whose work was lighter than that of the other slaves, received a smaller ration than the others." (Mommsen, Römische Geschichte, second edition, 1856, I, p. 808-810.)
Aristotle: "For the master proves himself such not in the buying, but in the employing of slaves." (The capitalist proves himself such, not by the ownership of capital, which gives him the power to buy labor-power, but in the employment of laborers, nowadays of wage laborers in the process of production.) "But there is nothing great about this knowledge. For whatever the slave must be able to perform, the master must be able to order. Whenever the masters are not compelled to drudge at superintendence, the manager assumes this honor, while the masters attend to affairs of state or study philosophy." (Aristotle, Republic, Bekker edition, Book I, 7.)
Aristotle says in plain words, that rulership on the political and economic field imposes upon the powers that be the functions of government, and that they must understand the art of consuming labor-power. And he adds, that this labor of superintendence is not a matter of great moment, and that for this reason the master, who is wealthy enough, leaves the "honor" of this drudgery to an overseer.
The labor of management and superintendence arising out of the servitude of the direct producers has often been quoted in justification of this relation, not because it is a function due to the nature of all combined social labor, but because it is due to the antagonism between the owner of means of production and the owner of mere labor-power, regardless of whether this labor-power is bought by buying the laborer himself, as it is under the slave system, or whether the laborer himself sells his labor-power, so that the process of production is the process by which capital consumes his labor-power. And exploitation, the appropriation of the unpaid labor of others, has quite as often been represented as the reward justly due to the owner of capital for his labor. But it was never better defended than it was by a champion of slavery in the United States, a certain lawyer O'Connor, at a meeting held in New York, on December 19th, 1859, under the slogan of "Justice for the South." "Now, Gentlemen," he said amid great applause, "nature itself has assigned this condition of servitude to the negro. He has the strength and is fit to work; but nature, which gave him this strength, denied him both the intelligence to rule and the will to work. (Applause.) Both are denied to him! And the same nature, which denied him the will to work, gave him a master, who should enforce this will, and make a useful servant of him in a climate, to which he is well adapted, for his own benefit and that of the master who rules him. I assert that it is no injustice to leave the negro in the position, into which nature placed him; to put a master over him; and he is not robbed of any right, if he is compelled to labor in return for this, and to supply a just compensation for his master in return for the labor and the talents devoted to ruling him and to making him useful to himself and to society."
Now, the wage-laborer, like the slave, must have a master, who shall put him to work and rule him. And assuming this relation of master and servant to exist, it is quite proper to compel the wage-laborer to produce his own wages and also the wages of superintendence, a compensation for the labor of ruling and superintending him, "a just compensation for his master in return for the labor and talents devoted to ruling him and to making him useful to himself and to society."
The labor of superintendence and management arising out of the antagonistic character and rule of capital over labor, which all modes of production based on class antagonisms have in common with the capitalist mode, is directly and inseparably connected, also under the capitalist system, with those productive functions, which all combined social labor assigns to individuals as their special tasks. The wages of an epitropos, or régisseur, as he used to be called in feudal France, are entirely differentiated from the profit and assumes the form of wages for skilled labor, whenever the business is operated on a sufficiently large scale to warrant paying such a manager, although our industrial capitalists do not "attend to affairs of state or study philosophy" for all that.
That not the industrial capitalists, but the industrial managers are "the soul of our industrial system," has already been remarked by Mr. Ure.76 So far as the commercial part of the business is concerned, we have said as much as was necessary in the preceding part of this volume.
The capitalist mode of production itself has brought matters to such a point, that the labor of superintendence, entirely separated from the ownership of capital, walks the streets. It is, therefore, no longer necessary for the capitalist performs the labor of superintendence himself. A director of an orchestra need not be the owner of the instruments of its members, nor is it a part of his function as a director, that he should have anything to do with the wages of the other musicians. The co-operative factories furnish the proof, that the capitalist has become just as superfluous as a functionary in production as he himself, in his highest developed form, finds the great real estate owner superfluous. To the extent that the labor of the capitalist is not the purely capitalistic one arising from the process of production and ceasing with capital itself, to the extent that it is not limited to the function of exploiting the labor of others, to the extent that it rather arises from the social form of the labor-process as a combination and co-operation of many for the purpose of bringing about a common result, to that extent it is just as independent of capital as that form itself, as soon as it has burst its capitalistic shell. To say that this labor as a capitalistic one, as a function of the capitalist is necessary, amounts merely to saying that the vulgar economist cannot conceive of the forms developed in the womb of capitalist production separated and freed from their antagonistic capitalist character. Compared to the money-capitalist the industrial capitalist is a laborer, but a laboring capitalist, an exploiter of the labor of others. The wages which he claims and pockets for this labor amount exactly to the appropriated quantity of another's labor and depend directly upon the rate of exploitation of this labor, so far as he takes the trouble to assume the necessary burdens of exploitation. They do not depend upon the degree of his exertions in carrying on this exploitation. He can easily shift this burden to the shoulders of a superintendent for moderate pay. After every crisis one may see plenty of ex-manufacturers in the English factory districts, who for low wages superintend their own former factories as managers of the new owners, who are frequently their creditors.77
The wages of superintendence, both for the commercial and the industrial manager, appear completely separated from the profits of enterprise in the co-operative factories of the laborers as well as in capitalistic stock companies. The separation of the wages of superintendence from the profits of enterprise, which is at other times accidental, is here constant. In the co-operative factory the antagonistic character of the labor of superintendence disappears, since the manager is paid by the laborers instead of representing capital against them. Stock companies in general, developed with the credit system, have a tendency to separate this labor of management as a function more and more from the ownership of capital, whether it be self-owned or borrowed. In the same way the development of bourgeois society separates the functions of judges and administrators from feudal property, whose prerogatives they were in feudal times. Since the mere owner of capital, the money-capitalist, has to face the investing capitalist, while money-capital itself assumes a social character with the advance of credit, being concentrated in banks and loaned by them instead of by its original owners, and since, on the other hand, the mere manager, who has no title whatever to the capital, whether by borrowing or otherwise, performs all real functions pertaining to the investing capitalist as such, only the functionary remains and the capitalist disappears from the process of production as a superfluous person.
From the public accounts of the co-operative factories in England78 it is manifest, that the profit, after the deduction of the wages of the superintendent, which form a part of the invested capital the same as the wages of the other laborers, was higher than the average profit, although they paid occasionally a much higher interest than the private factories. The cause of the greater profit was in all these cases a greater economy in the use of constant capital. What interests us particularly here is the fact that here the average profit (= interest + profit of enterprise) presents itself actually and palpably as a magnitude, which is wholly separated from the wages of superintendence. Since the profit was here higher than the average profit, the profit of enterprise was also higher than the current one.
The same fact is revealed by some capitalist stock companies, such as joint stock banks. The London and Westminster Bank paid in 1863 annual dividends of 30%, the Union Bank of London and others 15%. Aside from the salary of the director, the interest paid for deposits is here deducted from the gross profit. The high profit is explained in this case by the small proportion of the paid-up capital to the deposits. For instance, in the case of the London and Westminster Bank, it was in 1863: Paid-up Capital 1,000,000 pounds sterling; deposits 14,540,275 pounds sterling. In that of the Union Bank of London, 1863: Paid-up capital 600,000 pounds sterling; deposits 12,384,173 pounds sterling.
The confounding of the profit of enterprise with the wages of superintendence or management was due originally to the antagonistic form assumed toward interest by the surplus over the interest. It was further promoted by the apologetic intention to represent profit, not as a surplus-value derived from unpaid labor, but as wages of the capitalist himself for labor performed by him. This was met on the part of the socialists by the demand, that profit should actually be reduced to what it pretended to be theoretically, namely mere wages of superintendence. And this demand was all the more disagreeable to the apologists of the capitalists, as these wages of superintendence, like all other wages, found on one hand their level and fixed market-price to the extent that a numerous class of industrial and commercial superintendents was formed,79 while on the other hand these wages fell, like all wages for skilled labor, with the general development, which reduces the cost of production of specifically trained labor-power.80 With the development of co-operation on the part of the laborers, of stock enterprises on the part of the bourgeoisie, even the last pretext for the confusion in matters of profit of enterprise and wages of management was removed, and profit appeared also in practice what it was undeniably in theory, mere surplus-value, a value for which no equivalent was paid, realised unpaid labor. It was then seen that the investing capitalist really exploits labor, and that the fruit of his exploitation, when he worked with a borrowed capital, was divided into interest and profit of enterprise, a surplus of profit over interest.
On the basis of capitalist production, a new swindle develops in stock enterprises with the wages of management. It consists in placing above the actual director a board of managers or directors, for whom superintendence and management serve in reality only as a pretext for plundering stockholders and amassing wealth. Very interesting details concerning this are found in "The City or the Physiology of London Business; with Sketches on 'Change, and the Coffee Houses, London. 1845."Here is a sample: "What bankers and merchants gain by being on the boards of eight or nine different companies, may be seen from the following illustration: The private account of Mr. Timothy Abraham Curtis, handed in by the court of bankruptcy on his failure, showed an income of 8,900 pounds sterling per year under the head of directorships. Since Mr. Curtis had been a director of the Bank of England and of the East Indian Company, every stock company was happy to secure him as a director." (P. 82.)—The remuneration of the directors of such companies for each weekly meeting is at least one guinea. The proceedings of the court of bankruptcy show, that these wages of superintendence are as a rule inversely proportioned to the actual superintendence performed by these nominal directors.
EXTERNALISATION OF THE RELATIONS OF CAPITAL IN THE FORM OF INTEREST-BEARING CAPITAL.
IN the interest-bearing capital, the relations of capital assume their most externalised and most fetish-like form. We have here M—M' money creating more money, self-expending value, without the process intermediate between these two extremes. In the merchants' capital, M—C—M', there is at least the general form of the capitalistic process, although it clings to the sphere of circulation, so that profit appears merely as profit from selling; but it is at least seen to be the product of a social relation, not the product of a mere thing. The form of merchants' capital presents at least the aspect of a process, of a unity of antagonistic phases, of a movement divided into two transactions, namely into the purchase and sale of commodities. This is obliterated in M—M', the form of interest-bearing capital. For instance, if 1,000 pounds sterling are loaned by some capitalist, when the rate of interest is 5%, then the value of 1,000 pounds sterling as a capital for one year is C + Ci', C standing for the capital and i' for the rate of interest. In the present case this would mean 5%, or 5/100 or 1/20, and 1,000 + 1,000 times 1/20 = 1,050 pounds sterling. The value of 1,000 pounds sterling as capital is 1,050 pounds sterling, that is, capital is not a simple magnitude. It is a relation of magnitudes, a relation of principal sum, as a given value, to itself as a self-expanding value, as a principal sum having produced a surplus-value. And we have seen that capital assumes this form of a directly self-expanding value for all investing capitalists, whether they work with their own or with a borrowed capital.
M—M'. We have here the original starting point of capital, we have money in the formula M—C—M' reduced to its two extremes M—M', in which M' stands for M + increment of M, money creating more money. It is the primal and general formula of capital concentrated into a meaningless summary. It is capital perfected, a unity of the process of production and process of circulation, yielding a certain surplus-value in a certain period of time. In the form of interest-bearing capital this appears spontaneously without any intervention of the processes of production and circulation. Capital appears as a mysterious and self-creating source of interest, a thing increasing itself. The Thing (money, commodity, value) is now capital even as a mere thing, and capital appears as a mere thing. The result of the entire process of reproduction appears as a faculty inherent in the thing itself. It depends on the owner of the money, which represents the universal exchange-form of commodities, whether he wants to spend it as money or loan it as capital. In the interest-bearing capital, therefore, this automatic fetish is elaborated in its pure state, it is self-expanding value, money generating money, and in this form it does not carry any more scars of its origin. The social relation is perfected into the relation of a thing, of money, to itself. Instead of the actual transformation of money into capital, only an empty form meets us here. As in the case of labor-power, so here in the case of interest-bearing capital the use-value of money becomes that of creating value, and at that a greater value than it contains itself. Money as such is potentially self-expanding value and is loaned as such, and loaning is the form of sale for this peculiar commodity. It becomes a faculty of money to generate value and yield interest, just as it is a faculty of a pear tree to bear pears. And the money lender sells his money as such an interest-bearing thing. But that is not all. The actually invested capital, as we have seen, presents itself in such a light, that it seems to yield the interest, not as a capital performing its function, but as a capital in itself, as money-capital.
And still something else becomes perverted. While interest is only a portion of the profit, that is, of surplus-value, which the investing capitalist squeezes out of the laborer, it looks now on the contrary as though the interest were the typical fruit of capital, the primal thing, and profit, in the shape of profit of enterprise, a mere accessory and by-product of the process of reproduction. Thus the fetish form of capital and the conception of a fetish capital are perfect. In M—M' we have the void form of capital, the perversion and individualisation of the relations of production in their highest degree. The interest-bearing form is the simple form of capital, in which it is assumed to be antecedent to its own process of reproduction. It is the faculty of money, or of a commodity, to expand its own value independently of reproduction, a mystification of capital in its most flagrant form.
For vulgar political economy, which desires to represent capital as a spontaneous source of value and its creation, this mystic form is, of course, a great boon. It is a form, in which the source of profit is no longer discernible, and in which the result of the capitalist process of production receives an independent existence apart from this process.
It is not until capital becomes money-capital, that it can assume the form of a commodity, whose self-expanding faculty has a definite price, which is quoted in the current rate of interest.
As an interest-bearing capital, in its direct form of interest-bearing money-capital (the other forms of interest-bearing capital, which do not concern us here, are derived from this one and require its existence), capital assumes its pure fetish form, M—M' as a subject and a saleable thing. In the first place, its continual existence as money gives to it a form, in which all its functions are obliterated and its real elements invisible. For money is precisely that form, in which the distinctions of commodities as use-values are concealed, and with them the distinctions of the industrial capital consisting of these commodities and their conditions of production. It is that form, in which value, in the present case capital, exists as an independent exchange-value. In the process of reproduction of capital, the money-form is but a transient one, a mere passing link. But on the money-market, capital always exists in this form. In the second place, the surplus-value produced by it, which has here again the form of money, appears as inherent in it. Like the growing of trees, so the breeding of money appears as an innate quality of capital in the form of money-capital.
In the interest-bearing capital, the movement of capital is contracted. The intervening process is omitted. In this way a capital of 1,000 appears with the fixed faculty of being of itself 1,100 and converting itself after a certain period into 1,100, just as wine in a cellar improves its use-value after a certain period. Capital is then a thing, which is of itself capital. The money is then pregnant. As soon as it has been loaned, or invested in the process of reproduction (when it yields interest to its owner separate from profit of enterprise for his function as investing capitalist), the interest accumulates, whether it be awake or asleep, at home or abroad, day or night. In the interest-bearing money capital, then, the fervent wish of the hoarding miser is fulfilled (and all capital is money-capital, so far as the expression of its value is concerned, or is considered as the expression of money-capital).
It is this inherent dwelling of interest in money-capital as a thing (and this is the aspect here assumed by the production of surplus-value by capital), which engages Luther's attention so much in his naive thundering against usury. After demonstrating, that interest may be demanded, when failure to pay back a loan to a lender, who has to meet a certain payment himself, caused a loss to him, or when he might have made a profit on a bargain, for instance in buying a garden, but lost it for the reason that the borrower failed to return the loan on time, Luther continues: "Now that I have loaned you 100 guilders, you make good my double loss due to the fact that I could not pay on one side and not buy on the other, so that I had to lose on both sides, and this is called double interest, for loss sustained and gain stopped....Having heard that John lost on his loan of 100 guilders and demands just damages, they rush in and charge double interest on every 100 guilders, which interest was only charged for the loss due to nonpayment and to inability to make a profit on a bargain, just as though every 100 guilders could naturally grow double interest, so that whenever they have 100 guilders, they loan them out and charge for two losses, which they have not at all sustained....Therefore you are a usurer, who takes damages out of his neighbor's money for an imaginary loss that you did not sustain at all, and which you can neither prove nor calculate. This sort of loss is called by the jurists not true, but fantastical interest. It is a loss of which each dreams for himself....It will not do to say that you might incur a loss, because I might not have been able to pay or buy. That would be making something out of a thing that is not so, a thing that is uncertain into a thing that is absolutely sure. Such usury would eat up the world in a few years....If the lender accidentally incurs a loss, without his fault, he may demand damages for it, but it is different in trade and just the reverse. There they scheme to profit at the expense of their needy neighbors, how to amass wealth and get rich, to be lazy and idle and live in luxury on the labor of others, without any care, danger and loss. To sit behind the stove and let my 100 guilders gather wealth for me in the country and yet keep them in my pocket, because they are only loaned, without any danger or risk, my friend, who would not like to do that!" (Martin Luther, An die Pfarherrn wider den Wucher zu predigen, etc., Wittenberg, 1540.)
The idea of capital as a self-reproducing and thereby self-expanding value, lasting and growing eternally by virtue of its inherent power—by virtue of the hidden faculties of the scholastics—has led to the fabulous fancies of Dr. Price, which far outdo the fantasies of the alchemists; fancies, in which Pitt seriously believed and which he used as pillars of his financial administration in his laws concerning the sinking fund.
"Money bearing compound interest grows at first slowly; but since the rate of increase is constantly accelerated, it becomes so fast after a while as to defy all imagination. A penny, loaned at the birth of our Savior at compound interest at 5%, would already have grown into a larger amount than would be contained in 150 million globes, all of solid gold. But loaned at simple interest, it would have grown only to 7 sh. 4½ d. in the same time. Hitherto our government has preferred to improve its finances in the latter instead of in the former way."81
He flies still higher in his "Observations on Reversionary Payments, etc., London, 1782." There we read: "1 sh. invested at the birth of our Savior" (presumably in the Temple of Jerusalem) "at 6% compound interest would have grown to a larger amount than the entire solar system could contain, if it were transformed into a globe of the diameter of the orbit of Saturn." "A state need never to be in difficulties on this account; for with the smallest savings it can pay the largest debt in as short a time as its interests may demand." (P. 136.) What a pretty theoretical introduction to the national debt of England!
Price was simply dazzled by the enormousness of the figures arising from geometrical progression. Since he regarded capital, without taking note of the conditions of reproduction and labor, as a self-regulating automaton, as a mere number increasing itself (just as Malthus did with men in their geometrical progression), he could imagine that he had found the law of its growth in the formula s = c(1 + i)Ñ, in which s stands for the sum of capital plus compound interest, c for the advanced capital, i for the rate of interest expressed in aliquot parts of 100, and n for the number of years in which this process takes place.
Pitt takes this mystification of Price quite seriously. In 1788 the House of Commons had resolved to raise one million pounds sterling for the public benefit. According to Price, in whom Pitt believed, there was, of course, nothing better than to tax the people, in order to "accumulate" this sum after raising it, and thus to spirit the national debt away by the mystery of compound interest. "The above resolution of the House of Commons was soon followed up by Pitt with a law, which ordered the accumulation of 250,000 pounds sterling, until, with the expired annuities, the fund should have grown to 4,000,000 pounds sterling annually." (Act 26, George III, chap. 22.) In his speech of 1792, in which Pitt proposed that the amount devoted to the sinking fund be increased, he mentioned among the causes of the commercial supremacy of England machines, credit, etc., as "the most wide-spread and enduring cause of accumulation." This principle, he said, was completely developed in the work of Smith, that genius, etc....And this accumulation, he continued, was accomplished by laying aside at least a portion of the annual profit for the purpose of increasing the principal, which was to be employed in the same manner next year, and which thus yielded a continual profit. By the help of Dr. Price, Pitt thus converted Smith's theory of accumulation in an increase of popular wealth by means of the accumulation of debts, and in this way he gets into the pleasant progress of infinite loans, made for the purpose of paying loans.
Already Josiah Child, the father of modern banking, tells us that 100 pounds sterling at 10% will produce in 70 years by compound interest 102,400 pounds sterling. Traité sur le commerce, etc., par J. Child, traduit, etc., Amsterdam et Berlin, 1754, p. 115. Written in 1669.)
How thoughtlessly the conception of Dr. Price is applied by modern economists, is shown by the following passage of the "Economist": "Capital, with compound interest on every portion of capital saved, is so all-engrossing that all the wealth in the world from which income is derived, has long ago become interest of capital....all rent is now the payment of interest on capital previously invested in the land." (Economist, July 19th, 1859.) In its capacity of interest-bearing capital capital claims the ownership of all wealth which can ever be produced, and everything it has received so far is but an instalment for its all-engrossing appetite. By its innate laws, all surplus-labor belongs to it, which the human race can ever perform. Moloch.
In conclusion we present the following hodge-podge of the romantic Müller: "Dr. Price's immense increase of compound interest, or of the self-accelerating forces of man, presuppose an undivided or unbroken order for several centuries, if they are to produce such enormous effects. As soon as capital is divided, cut up into several independently growing slips, the total process of accumulating forces begins anew. Nature has distributed the progression of power over a course of about 20 to 25 years, which fall on an average to the share of every laborer (!). After the lapse of this time the laborer leaves his track and must transfer the capital accumulated by the compound interest of labor to a new laborer, having to distribute it as a rule among several laborers or children. These must first learn to vitalise and employ their share of capital, before they can draw any actual compound interest out of it. Furthermore, an enormous quantity of capital gained by bourgeois society is accumulated for many years, even in the most restless communities, and is not employed for any immediate expansion of labor, but rather entrusted to another individual, a laborer, a bank, a state, under the term of a loan, whenever a considerable amount has been gathered together. And in that case the one who receives it sets the capital into actual motion and draws compound interest out of it, so that he can easily agree to pay simple interest to the lender. Finally the laws of consumption, greed, waste, oppose those immense progressions, in which the forces of man and their products might increase, if the law of production or thrift were alone effective." (A Müller, 1. c., II, p. 147-149.)
It is impossible to concoct a more hair-raising nonsense in a few lines. Leaving aside the droll confusion of laborer and capitalist, of value of labor-power and interest of capital, etc., the decrease of compound interest is supposed to be explained by lending capital at compound interest. This procedure of our Müller is characteristic of romanticism in all fields. It is made up of current prejudices, skimmed from the most superficial semblance of things. This false and trivial substance is then supposed to be "uplifted" and rendered poetical by a mystifying mode of expression.
The process of accumulation of capital may be conceived as an accumulation of compound interest in the sense that that portion of the profit (surplus-value), which is reconverted into capital, and serves to absorb more surplus-value, may be called interest. But
1) Aside from all accidental irregularities, a large part of the available capital is continually depreciated in the course of the process of reproduction, because the value of the commodities is not determined by the labor-time originally spent in their production, but by the labor-time spent in their reproduction, and this decreases continually in consequence of the development of the productivity of social labor. On a higher stage of development of the social productivity all available capital appears therefore as the result of a relatively short time of reproduction, instead of as the result of a long process of saving capital.82
2) As we have proven in Part III of this volume, the rate of profit decreases in proportion as the accumulation of capital and the productivity of social labor corresponding to it increase, since these two express themselves precisely in a relative and progressive decrease of the variable portion of capital as compared to the constant. In order to produce the same rate of profit, when the constant capital set in motion by one laborer increases tenfold, the surplus labor time would have to increase tenfold, and soon the total labor time, and finally the full 24 hours of a day, would not suffice, even if wholly appropriated by capital. The idea that the rate of profit does not decrease is, on the other hand, the basis of the progression of Price, as it is in general the basis of "all-engrossing capital with compound interest."83
By the identity of surplus-value with surplus-labor a qualitative limit is imposed upon the accumulation of capital. This is formed by the total working day, the prevailing development of the productive forces and of the population, which limit the number of the simultaneously exploitable working days. But if surplus value is conceived of in the meaningless form of interest, then the limit is merely quantitative and defies all fantasy.
Now, in the interest-bearing capital the idea of a capitalist fetish is perfected, the idea, which attributes to the accumulated product of labor, and at that in the fixed form of money, the power of creating surplus-value by its inherent secret qualities, in a purely automatic manner, and in geometrical progression, so that the accumulated product of labor, as the "Economist" thinks, has long discounted all the wealth of the world for all times as belonging to it and coming to it by right. The product of past labor, the past labor itself, is here pregnant in itself with a portion of present or future living surplus-labor. We know, on the contrary, that as a matter of fact the preservation, and to that extent the reproduction, of the value of the products of past labor is only the result of their contact with living labor; and secondly, that the control exerted by the products of past labor over living surplus-labor lasts only as long as the relations of capital, which rest on the definite social relation, in which past labor dominates independently over living labor.
CREDIT AND FICTITIOUS CAPITAL.
AN exhaustive analysis of the credit system and of the instruments created by it for its own use (credit money, etc.) is beyond the scope of our plan. We merely wish to dwell here upon a few particular points, which are necessary for a characterisation of the capitalist mode of production in general. To this end we shall deal only with commercial and bank credit. The connection between the development of this form of credit and that of public credit is not considered here.
I have shown previously (in volume I, chapter III, 3 b.), in what manner the function of money as a medium of payment, and consequently a relation of creditors and debtors, is formed among the producers of commodities and the traders, as the outcome of the simple circulation of commodities. With the development of commerce and of the capitalist mode of production, which has an eye only to the circulation, this natural basis of the credit system is extended, generalised, elaborated. Money serves here on the whole merely as a means of payment, that is to say, commodities are not sold for money, but for a written promise to pay for them at a certain date. We may comprise all these promises to pay for brevity's sake under the general category of bills of exchange. Such bills of exchange in their turn circulate as means of payment until the day on which they fall due; and they form commercial money in the strict meaning of the term. To the extent that they ultimately balance one another by the compensation of credits and debts, they serve absolutely as money, since no transformation into actual money takes place. Just as these mutual advances of the producers and merchants to one another form the real foundation of credit, so their instrument of circulation, the bill of exchange, forms the basis of credit money proper, of bank notes, etc. These do not rest upon the circulation of money, whether it be metallic money or government paper money, but upon the circulation of bills of exchange.
W. Leatham, a banker of Yorkshire, writes in his "Letters on the Currency," 2nd edition, London, 1840: "I find, that the total amount in bills of exchange for the entire year 1839 was 528,493,842 pounds sterling" (he assumed that the foreign bills of exchange composed about one-fifth of the whole) "and the amount of bills of exchange simultaneously current in the same year to 132,123,460 pounds sterling" (p. 56). "The bills of exchange make up a greater part of the amount in circulation than all the rest together" (p. 3). "This enormous superstructure of bills of exchange rests (!) upon a basis formed by the amount of bank notes and gold; and if in the course of events this basis is too much contracted, its solidity, and even its existence, become endangered" (p. 8). "Estimating the entire circulation" (he means of the bank notes) "and the amount of the obligations of all banks for which immediate payment may be demanded, I find a sum of 153 millions, whose conversion into gold might be demanded according to law, and to offset it only 14 millions in gold to satisfy this demand" (p. 11). The bills of exchange cannot be placed under control, unless the superfluity of money and the low rate of interest, or discount, can be prevented, which create a part of them and encourage this dangerous expansion. It is impossible to decide, how much of them is due to actual business, for instance, to real purchases and sales, and what part of them is fictitious and consists only of prolonged bills, that is, when a bill of exchange is drawn for the purpose of taking up a current one before it becomes due, and thus of creating fictitious capital by the manufacture of mere means of circulation. In times of superfluous and cheap money I know this is done to an enormous degree" (p. 43, 44). J. W. Bosanquet, Metallic, Paper, and Credit Currency, London, 1842: The average amount of the payments settled on every business day in the Clearing House (where the London bankers mutually exchange the due bills and filed checks) exceeds 3 millions of pounds sterling, and the daily supply of money required for this purpose is little more than 200,000 pounds sterling (p. 86). [In the year 1889, the total turn-over of the Clearing House amounted to 7,618 and ¾ millions of pounds sterling, which, in 300 business days, averages 25 and ½ millions of pounds sterling daily.—F. E.] "Bills of exchange are undoubtedly currency, independent of money, inasmuch as they transfer property from hand to hand by endorsement" (p. 92). "On an average it may be assumed that every circulating bill of exchange bears two endorsements, and that on an average every bill thus performs two payments, before it becomes due. Accordingly it seems that alone by endorsement the bills of exchange promoted a transfer of property to the amount of twice 528 millions, or 1,056 millions of pounds sterling, more than 3 millions daily, in the course of the year 1839. It is, therefore, certain the bills of exchange and deposits together, by transferring property from hand to hand and without the assistance of money, perform the functions of money to a daily amount of at least 18 millions of pounds sterling" (p. 93).
Tooke says the following about credit in general: "Credit, in its simplest expression, is the well or ill-founded confidence, which induces one man to entrust to another a certain amount of capital, in money or in commodities estimated at a certain value, which amount is always payable after the lapse of a definite time. Where the capital is loaned in money, that is, in bank notes, or in a cash credit, or in a check upon some correspondent, an addition of so and so many per cent. upon the returnable amount is made for the use of the capital. With commodities, whose money value has been agreed upon by the parties concerned, and whose transfer constitutes a sale, the stipulated sum, which is to be paid, includes a compensation for the use of the capital and for the risk assumed until the time of payment. Written agreements to pay on definite days are generally given for such credits. And these transferable obligations, or promises, form the means by which the lenders, when they find an opportunity to use their capital, either in the shape of money or commodities, are generally enabled to borrow or buy more cheaply, their own credit being strengthened by that of the second name upon the bill of exchange." Inquiry into the Currency Principle, (p. 87.)
Ch. Coquelin, Du Crédit et des Banques dans l' Industrie. Revue des deux Mondes, 1842, tome 31: "In every country the majority of the credit transactions takes place in the circle of the industrial relations themselves...the producer of the raw material advances it to the capitalist, who works it up, and receives from him a promise to pay on a certain day. The manufacturer, having completed his share of the work, in his turn advances his product on similar conditions to another manufacturer, who has to manipulate it farther, and in this way credit extends more and more, from one to the other, down to the consumer. The wholesale dealer gives to the retail dealer commodities on credit, while he receives himself credit from a manufacturer or commission agent. All borrow with one hand and lend with the other, sometimes money, but more frequently products. In this manner an incessant exchange of credits, combining and crossing in all directions, takes place in the industrial relations. The development of credit consists precisely in the multiplication and growth of these mutual credits, and here is the real seat of its power."
The other side of the credit system is connected with the development of the money trade, which, of course, keeps step under capitalist production with the development of the trade in commodities. We have seen in the preceding part (chapter XIX), how the care of reserve funds of business men, the technical operations of receiving and issuing money, of international payments, and thus of the bullion trade, are concentrated in the hands of the money traders. Borrowing and lending money becomes their particular business. They step as middlemen between the actual lender and the borrower of capital. Generally speaking, the banking business on this side consists of concentrating the loanable money-capital in the banker's hands in large masses, so that in place of the individual money lender the bankers face the industrial capitalists and commercial capitalists in the capacity of representatives of all money lenders. They become the general managers of the money-capital. On the other hand, they concentrate the borrowers against all lenders, and borrow for the entire world of commerce. A bank represents on one hand the centralisation of money-capital, of the lenders, and on the other the centralisation of the borrowers. Its profit is generally made by borrowing at a lower rate of interest than it loans.
The loanable capital, of which the banks dispose, flows to them in various ways. In the first place, since they are the cashiers of the industrial capitalists, there is concentrated into their hands the money-capital, which every producer and merchant must have as a reserve fund, or which he receives in payment. These funds are thus converted into loanable capital. In this way the reserve fund of the commercial world, being concentrated into a common treasury, is reduced to its necessary minimum, and a portion of the money-capital, which would otherwise slumber as a reserve fund, is loaned and serves as interest-bearing capital. In the second place, the loanable capital of the banks is formed by the deposits of the money-capitalists, who entrust them with the business of loaning it. Furthermore, with the development of the bank system, and particularly as soon as they pay interest on deposits, the money savings and the temporarily unemployed money of all classes are deposited with them. Small amounts, each by itself incapable of acting in the capacity of money-capital, are combined into large masses and thus form a money power. This aggregation of small amounts must be distinguished as a specific effect of the bank system from its intermediate position between the money-capitalists proper and the borrowers. Finally, the revenues, which are but gradually consumed, are also deposited with the banks.
The loan is made (we refer here only to the commercial credit in the strict meaning of the term) by discounting bills of exchange, that is, by converting them into money before they come due, and by advances in various forms: direct advances on personal credit, Lombard loans on interest-bearing papers, government papers, stocks of all kinds, furthermore advances on bills of lading, dock warrants, and other certified titles of ownership in commodities, and by overdrawing on their deposits, etc.
The credit given by a banker may assume various forms, for instance, that of exchanges on other banks, checks on them, opening of credit in the same way, finally, in the case of banks entitled to issue notes, the bank notes of the bank itself. A bank note is nothing but a draft upon the banker, payable at any time to the bearer, and substituted by the banker for private drafts. This last form of credit appears particularly important and striking to the layman, first, because this form of credit money steps from the mere commercial circulation into the general circulation and serves as money there, and in the second place, because in most countries the principal banks issuing notes represent a queer mixture of national and private banks and thus have actually the national credit to back them up and give to their notes the character of a more or less legal tender, for in this case it is apparent, that the thing which the banker handles is credit itself, since a bank note stands only for a circulating token of credit. But the banker also deals in all other forms of credit, even when he advances cash money deposited with him. In fact, a bank note simply represents the coin of wholesale trade, and it is always the deposit, which carries the most weight with banks. The best proof of this is furnished by the Scotch banks.
The special credit institutions, and the particular forms of banks, do not require any further consideration for our purposes.
The banks have a twofold business.... 1) To collect capital from those, who have no immediate use for it, and to distribute it and transfer it to others, who can use it. 2) To receive deposits from the incomes of their customers and to pay them whatever amount they may require of this deposit for the expenses of consumption. The former is circulation of capital, the latter circulation of currency.—The one is a concentration of capital on one side, and its distribution on the other; the other is a management of the circulation for the local needs of the vicinity.—Tooke, Inquiry into the Currency Principle, p. 36, 37.—We shall revert to this passage later, in chapter XXVIII.
Reports of Committees. Vol. VIII., Commercial Distress. Vol. II., Part I., 1847-48, Minutes of Evidence. (Subsequently quoted as Commercial Distress, 1847-48.) In the forties, when discounting bills of exchange in London, bills of exchange of one bank were often drawn on another instead of bank notes. (Testimony of J. Pease, provincial banker, No. 4636 and 4656.) According to the same report, the bankers were in the habit of giving such bills of exchange in payment to their customers, as soon as money grew tight. If the party receiving them demanded bank notes, he had to discount this bill of exchange once more. This amounted to a privilege of making money for the banks. Messieurs Jones, Lloyd and Co., made payments in this way "since time immemorial," as soon as money was scarce and the rate of interest above 5%. The customer was glad to get such banker's bills, because bills of Jones, Lloyd and Co. could be easier discounted than his own; these bills often passed through twenty to thirty hands. (Ibidem, No. 901 to 904, 905.)
All these forms serve to make a claim to payments transferable.—There is scarcely one form, which credit may assume, in which it has not at times performed the functions of money; whether this form is that of a bank note, or of a bill, or of a check, the process is essentially the same and the result is essentially the same. Fullarton, On the Regulation of Currencies, 2d edition, London, 1845, p. 38.—Bank notes are the small currency of credit. p. 51.—
The following is from J. W. Gilbart The History and Principles of Banking, London, 1834: The capital of a bank consists of two parts, the invested capital and the banking capital, which is borrowed (p. 11 et seq.). The banking capital, or borrowed capital, is maintained in three ways: 1) through the acceptance of deposits; 2) through the issuing of the bank's own notes; 3) through the drawing of bills. If some one is willing to loan me 100 p.st. for nothing, and I loan these 100 p.st. to some one else at 4%, I shall make 4 p.st. by this transaction in the course of one year. Likewise if some one is willing to accept my promise to pay and to return it to me at the end of the year and to pay me 4% for it, just as though I had given him 100 p.st. by this transaction, I make 4 p.st. by it; and again, if a man in a country town brings me 100 p.st. on the condition that I shall pay this amount to some third person in London after the lapse of 21 days, all the interest I may draw in the meantime on this money will be my profit. This is an objective summary of the operations of a bank and of the way in which a banking capital is created by deposits, bank notes and bills of exchange (p. 117). The profits of a banker are generally proportionate to the amount of his borrowed or banking capital. In order to determine the actual profit of a bank, the interest on the first investment of capital must be deducted from the gross profits. The remainder is the banking profit (p. 118). The advances of a banker to his customers are made with the money of other people (p. 146). Precisely those bankers, who do not issue any bank notes, create a banking capital by discounting bills of exchange. They increase their deposits by their discounting operations. The London banks discount only for those firms, that keep a deposit in account with them (p. 119). A firm discounting bills of exchange in its bank and having paid interest upon the whole amount of these bills must leave at least a portion of this amount in the hands of the bank without receiving any interest on it. In this way the banker receives a higher rate of interest than the current one on the advanced money and creates for himself a banking capital by means of the surplus remaining in his hands. (p. 120.)—Economising of reserve funds, deposits, checks: The deposit banks economise by a transfer of credit accounts the use of the circulating medium and transact business of a large volume with a small amount of actual money. The money thus released is employed by the banker in making advances to his customers by means of discounts, etc. Hence the transfer of credit enhances the effectiveness of the deposit system (p. 123). It is immaterial, whether the two customers, that deal with one another, keep their accounts with the same or with different bankers. For the bankers exchange their checks among themselves in the Clearing House. By means of transfers the deposit system might be extended to such a degree that it would do away entirely with the use of metal money. If every one were to keep a deposit account in the bank and to make payments by means of checks then such checks would be the only circulating medium. In this case the assumption would have to be that the bankers hold the money in their hands, otherwise the checks would have no value (p. 124). The centralisation of the local transactions in the hands of the banks is promoted, 1) by branch banks. The provincial banks have branch establishments in the smaller towns of their district the London banks in the different quarters of the city. 2) By agencies. Every provincial bank has its agent in London, in order to pay its notes or bills there and to receive money, which is paid down by inhabitants of London for the account of people living in the provinces. (p. 127.) Every banker gathers in the notes of the others and holds them. In every large city they meet once or twice a week and exchange their notes. The balance is paid by a check on London. (p. 134.) The purpose of banks is to facilitate business. Whatever facilitates business, facilitates also speculation. Business and speculation are so closely linked in some cases, that it is difficult to tell where business stops and speculation begins. Wherever there are banks, capital can be obtained more easily and cheaply. The cheapness of capital promotes speculation, just as the cheapness of beer and meat promotes gluttony and drunkenness (p. 137, 138). Since the banks issuing their own notes always pay in these notes, it may seem as though their discount business were transacted exclusively with the capital made in this way, but this is not so. A banker may very well pay all the bills discounted by him with his own notes, and yet nine-tenths of the bills in his possession may represent actual capital. For while he may have given only his own paper money for these bills, it need not stay in the circulation until these bills become due. The bills may be running for three months, while the notes may return in three days. (p. 172.) The overdrawing of accounts by customers is a regular business practice. This is indeed the purpose, for which cash credit is granted. Cash credits are not granted on personal security, but on deposit of collateral papers (p. 174, 175). A capital advanced on bonded wares has the same effect as though it had been advanced in discounting bills. If a man borrows 100 p.st on his goods as a security, it is the same as though he had sold them for a bill of exchange of 100 p.st. and discounted this bill with his banker. But this advance enables him to hold his goods over for a better condition of the market and to avoid sacrifices, which he would have had to make, in order to obtain money for urgent purposes (p. 180, 181).
The Currency Question Reviewed, etc., p. 62, 63: It is here indisputably true that the 1,000 p.st. which I deposit to-day with A are issued to-morrow and deposited with B. The day after to-morrow it may be issued once more by B and form a deposit with C, and so forth infinitely. The same 1,000 p.st. of money may, therefore, multiply themselves into an absolutely indeterminable sum of deposits by a series of transfers. Hence it is possible that nine-tenths of all deposits in England may have no other existence but that in the entries of the banker's books, of whom every one stands good for his part of them. In Scotland, for instance, the money in circulation (and mostly paper money at that) never exceeds 3 million p.st., while the deposits amount to 27 millions. So long as no general and sudden demand is made for the return of the deposits (a run on the bank), the same 1,000 p.st., traveling backward, may balance an equally indeterminable sum with the same facility. Since the same 1,000 p.st., with which I balance to-day my debt with some business man, may balance to-morrow his debt with some other business man, and the day after to-morrow balance this man's account, and so forth infinitely, it follows that the same 1,000 p.st. may pass from hand to hand and from bank to bank and balance any imaginable sum of deposits.
[We have seen, that Gilbart knew even in 1834 that "whatever facilitates business facilitates speculation, both being so intimately linked in many cases, that it is difficult to tell, where business stops and speculation begins." If the securing of advances on unsold commodities is facilitated more and more, then more and more of such advances are taken, and in the same proportion increases the temptation to manufacture commodities, or throw already manufactured ones upon distant markets, for no other immediate purpose than that of obtaining advances of money on them. To what extent the entire business world of a country may be seized by such a swindle, and what it finally comes to, may be studied in the history of English business during the years 1845 to 1847, which furnishes a flagrant example. There we can see what credit can accomplish. Before we mention some of the most conspicuous cases, we must make a few preliminary remarks.
About the close of 1842 the pressure, which had crushed English industry almost without interruption since 1837, began to weaken. During the following two years the demand of the foreign countries for products of English industry increased still more. The year 1845 to 1846 marked the period of greatest prosperity. In 1843 the opium war had opened the doors of China to English commerce. The new market offered a convenient excuse for the further expansion of already extended industries, particularly of the cotton industry. "How can we ever produce too much? We have to clothe 300 millions of people." Thus spoke a Manchester manufacturer to the writer in those days. But all the newly erected factory buildings, steam engines, spinning and weaving machines did not suffice to absorb the surplus-value, which poured into them from Lancashire. With the same passion, which was exhibited in the expansion of production, the building of railroads was undertaken. Here the longing of manufacturers and merchants for speculation found its first satisfaction, as early as the summer of 1844. Stock was underwritten to the full extent possible, that is, so far as the money went to cover the first payments. The idea was that a way would be found in due time to get the missing amount. But when further payments were due (Question 1059, C. D. 1848-57, indicates that the capital invested in railroads in 1846-47 amounted to 75 million p.st.), it was necessary to resort to credit, and as a rule the actual business of the firm itself had to add its drop of blood.
In most cases the actual business was already overburdened. The enticing and high prices had misled people into far greater operations than the available cash justified. It was so easy, and cheap besides, to get credit. The bank discount was low. In 1844 it was 1¾ to 2¾%, in 1845 until October it was less than 3%, then it rose for a little while to 5% (until February 1846), then it fell once more to 3¼% in December 1846. The bank had in its cellars a supply of gold of unusual dimensions. All inland quotations stood higher than ever before. Why should a man let this fine opportunity pass by? Why shouldn't he go in for all he was worth? Why not send to the foreign markets, that longed for English goods, all the commodities that could be manufactured? And why should not the manufacturer himself pocket the double gain arising from the sale of yarn and fabrics to the Far East, and from the sale, in England, of the back freight received in their stead?
Thus arose the system of mass consignments, by virtue of advances, to India and China, and this soon developed into a system of consignments purely for the sake of getting advances, as described more at length in the following notes. This had to lead inevitably to an overcrowding of the markets and to a crash.
This crash came as the aftermath of a crop failure in 1846. England, and still more, Ireland, required enormous imports of means of subsistence, particularly of corn and potatoes. But the countries that supplied these things could be paid only to a very small degree in products of English industry. They had to be paid in precious metals. This took at least nine millions of gold to foreign countries. Of this amount of gold fully seven and a half millions came out of the cash treasury of the Bank of England, whose freedom of action on the money market was seriously impaired thereby. The other banks, whose reserves are deposited with the Bank of England, which reserves are practically identical with those of the Bank of England, were thus compelled to cut down their own money accommodations. The rapidly and easily flowing stream of payments became clogged, first here and there, then universally. The banking discount, which had still been 3 to 3½% in January of 1847, rose to 7% in April, when the first panic broke out. Then a temporary lull came in summer, lowering this discount to 6½ and 6 %. But when the new crop failed likewise, the panic broke out afresh and more violently. The official minimum discount of the Bank rose in October to 7%, in November to 10%, in other words, the overwhelming mass of checks could be discounted only at outrageous rates of interest, or not at all. The general stopping of payments brought about the bankruptcy of several of the first firms and of very many medium-sized and small firms. The Bank itself was in danger of ruin from the shrewd Bank Acts imposing the limitations of 1844. In this emergency the government yielded to the universal demand and suspended these Bank Acts on October 25, thereby taking off the absurd legal fetters thrown around the Bank. Now the Bank was enabled to throw its supply of bank notes into circulation without any interference. The credit of these bank notes being practically guaranteed by the credit of the nation, and thus unimpaired, the shortness of money was immediately relieved in the most effective manner. Of course, quite a number of hopelessly caught large and small firms failed nevertheless even then, but the climax of the crisis had passed, the banking discount fell once more to 5% in September, and in the course of 1848 that renewed business activity was resumed, which took the edge off the revolutionary movements on the continent in 1849, and which inaugurated in the fifties a formerly unknown industrial prosperity and ended—in the crash of 1857.—F. E.]
I. A document issued by the House of Lords in 1848 gives information concerning the depreciation of government papers and bonds during the crisis of 1847. According to it the depreciation of October 23, 1847, compared to the stand of values in February of the same year, amounted to 93,824,217 pounds sterling in English government bonds, 1,358,288 pounds sterling in dock and canal stock, and to 19,579,820 pounds sterling in railroad stocks, a total of 114,762,325 pounds sterling.
II. With reference to the swindle in East Indian business, in which it was no longer a question of making drafts, because commodities had been bought, but rather of buying commodities in order to be able to make out discountable drafts which should be convertible into money, the "Manchester Guardian" of November 24, 1848, remarks that Mr. A in London instructs a Mr. B to buy from the manufacturer C in Manchester commodities for shipment to a Mr. D. in East India. B pays C in six-months-drafts to be made by C on B. B secures himself by six-months-drafts on A. As soon as the goods are shipped, and the bill of lading mailed, A makes out six-months-drafts on D. The buyer and shipper thus get possession of funds many months before the goods are actually paid for. And it was a common custom to renew the drafts when due under the pretense of allowing time for turn-over in such a protracted business. Unfortunately the losses in this business did not lead to its restriction, but to its extension. In proportion as the interested parties grew poor their need of making purchases increased, in order to find in new advances a compensation for capital lost in previous speculations. Purchases were then no longer regulated by supply and demand, but became the most important feature in the financial operations of a shaky firm. But this is only one side of the picture. What happened in the export of manufacturing goods here, occurred in the purchase and shipment of goods on the other side. Firms in India, which had credit enough to get their checks discounted, bought sugar, indigo, silk or cotton, not because the purchase prices as compared with the latest London quotations promised a profit, but because previous drafts on a London firm would soon be due and would have to be covered. What was simpler than to buy a cargo of sugar, to pay for it in ten-months-drafts on the London firm, and to send the bills of lading by overland mail to London? Less than two months later the bills of lading of these barely shipped goods, and thus the goods themselves, were pawned in Lombard Street, and the London house came into the possession of money eight months before the bills of exchange made out for these goods were due. And all this passed off smoothly, without interruption or difficulties, so long as the discounting firms found enough money to advance on bills of lading and dock warrants, and to discount the drafts of Indian firms on select firms of Mincing Lane to unlimited amounts.
[This fraudulent procedure remained in vogue so long as the goods from and to India had to sail around the Cape. But since they pass through the Suez Canal this method of creating fictitious capital has lost its foundation, thanks to steam navigation and the shortening of the trip. And when the telegraph reported the stand of the Indian market to the English and that of the English market to the Indian business man on the same day, this method was completely killed. F. E.]
III. The following is from the previously quoted report on Commercial Distress, 1847-48: In the last week of April, 1847, the Bank of England informed the Royal Bank of Liverpool, that it would henceforth reduce its discount business with the latter bank by one-half. This communication had a very disastrous effect, because the payments in Liverpool had lately been made far more in bills of exchange than in cash, and because the merchants, who ordinarily carried much cash money to the bank for the purpose of squaring their notes, had been able to bring only checks of late, which they had received themselves for their cotton and other products. This had assumed large proportions and caused the business difficulty. The endorsed checks, which the bank had to turn into cash for the merchants, had mostly been made out by outsiders, and had so far been balanced generally by the payments received for the products. The checks which the merchants now brought in place of the former cash were bills of exchange for different lengths of time and of different kinds, a considerable number being bank checks for three months from date, the majority being checks for cotton. These bills of exchange, when bank checks, had been endorsed by London bankers, the others were endorsed by merchants in Brasilian, American, Canadian, West Indian, etc., business... The merchants did not draw on one another, but the customers in the home country, who had bought products in Liverpool, covered them by drafts on London banks, or drafts on other firms in London, or on drafts of some one else. The communication of the Bank of England caused a shortening of the running time of checks drawn against sales of foreign products, which used to run frequently longer than three months. (p. 26, 27.)
The period of prosperity in England, from 1844 to 1847 was, as described above, connected with the first great railroad swindle. The above-named report makes the following statements concerning the influence of this swindle on business in general: In April, 1847, nearly all commercial firms had begun to starve their business more or less, by investing a part of their commercial capital in railroads (p. 41.)—Loans were also made by private parties, bankers and insurance companies at a high rate of interest, for instance, at 8% (p. 66). These large advances of these business firms to railroads caused them to take up in their turn too much capital from banks on discount checks, by which to carry on their own business (p. 67.—(Question): Would you say that the payments on railroad stocks contributed much to the pressure which burdened the money market in April and October 1847? (Answer): I believe that they hardly contributed anything to the pressure in April. In my opinion they had rather strengthened than weakened the bankers going on into April, and perhaps even into the summer. For the actual employment of the money followed by no means as rapidly as the deposits; as a result most of the banks had a rather large amount of railroad stocks in their hands in the beginning of the year. [This is corroborated by numerous statements of bankers in C. D. 1848-57.] This gradually melted away in summer and was considerably smaller on December 31. One cause of the pressure in October was the gradual decrease of the railroad funds in the hands of bankers; between April 22, and December 31, the balances of railroads in our hands were reduced by one-third. This effect was produced by railroad deposits in all of Great Britain; they have gradually stripped the banks of deposits (p. 43, 44).—Samuel Gurney (Chief of the ill-famed firm of Overend Gurney 8 Co.) says likewise: In 1846 there was a much greater demand for capital for railways, but it did not raise the rate of interest. There was a condensation of small sums into larger masses, and these larger masses were consumed in our market; so that on the whole the effect was to throw more money on the money market of the city, not so much to take it out.
A. Hodgson, Director of the Liverpool Joint Stock Bank, shows to what extent bills of exchange may form a reserve for bankers: It was our custom to hold at least nine-tenths of all our deposits, and all money received from our customers, in our bill books in the shape of bills of exchange, which fell due from day to day...so much so, that the amount of bills due daily during the time of the crisis almost equaled the amount of demands for payment made on us every day (p. 53).
Speculative Bills.—No. 5092. "By whom were the bills of exchange (against sold cotton) mainly endorsed?"—(R. Gardner, the cotton manufacturer mentioned several times in this work): "By produce jobbers; one trader buys cotton, transfers it to some jobber, draws checks on this jobber, and gets these bills discounted."—No. 5094. "And these bills of exchange go to the Liverpool banks and are discounted by them?"—"Yes, and also by others....Had not this accommodation existed, which was mainly allowed by the Liverpool banks, cotton would have been, in my opinion, from 1½ d to 2 d per pound cheaper last year."—No. 600. "You said that an enormous number of bills of exchange was in circulation, drawn by speculators upon cotton jobbers in Liverpool; does the same apply to your advances on bills of exchange for other colonial products than cotton?"—(A. Hodgson, banker in Liverpool): "It refers to all kinds of colonial products, but most particularly to cotton."—No. 601. "Do you, as a banker, try to keep away from bills of exchange of this sort?"—"Not at all; we regard them as legitimate bills when kept within moderate bounds....This sort of bills is often prolongued."
Swindle in the East Indian and Chinese Market, 1847.—Charles Turner (Chief of one of the first East Indian firms in Liverpool): "We all know the occurrences, which have taken place in the matter of business to Mauritius and similar businesses. The jobbers were accustomed to make advances on goods, not only after their arrival, for the covering of the bills of exchange drawn for these goods, which is quite in order, and advances on bills of lading...they have also made advances on the product before it had been shipped, and in some cases before it had been manufactured. For instance, I had, in one case in Calcutta, bought bills of exchange amounting to 6-7,000 pounds sterling; the proceeds of these goods went to Mauritius in order to assist in planting sugar there; the bills came to England, and more than half of them were protested; then, when the shipments of sugar finally arrived, by which these bills were to have been paid, it was found that this sugar had already been pawned to third parties, before it had been shipped, or even before it had been boiled (p. 78). Now the goods for the East Indian market must be paid to the manufacturer in cash; but this does not mean much, for if the buyer has some credit in London, he draws on London and discounts the drafts in London, where the discount is now low; he pays the manufacturer with the money so obtained...it takes at least twelve months before a shipper of goods to India receives his return shipment...a man with ten or fifteen thousand pounds sterling going into Indian business would secure credit from some London house to a considerable amount; he would give to this house 1% and draw on it with the understanding, that the proceeds of the goods sent to India are to be sent to this London house; but the tacit understanding on both sides is that the London house shall not have to make any advances of cash; in other words, the drafts are prolongued until the return shipments arrive. The bills of exchange are discounted in Liverpool, Manchester, London, some of them are held by Scotch banks" (p. 79).—No. 730. "There is a firm, which recently failed in London; the examination of its books revealed the following condition of affairs: Here is one firm in Manchester, and another in Calcutta; they opened a credit with the London firm for 200,000 pounds sterling; that is, the business friends of this Manchester firm, who sent consignments of goods from Glasgow and Manchester to the firm in Calcutta, drew on the London house up to the sum of 200,000 pounds sterling; at the same time the understanding was, that the Calcutta firm would also draw on the London firm up to the sum of 200,000 pounds sterling; these bills of exchange were sold in Calcutta, other bills of exchange were bought with the proceeds, and these were sent to London in order to enable the firm there to pay the first drafts made by the Glasgow or Manchester firm. In this way this firm sent bills of exchange amounting to 600,000 pounds sterling into the world."—No. 971. "At present, when a firm in Calcutta buys a ship's cargo (for England) and pays for it with its own drafts on its London correspondent, and when the bills of lading are sent here, these bills of lading are used immediately for the purpose of securing advances in Lombard Street; hence they have eight months time in which to make use of the money before their correspondents have to pay the drafts."—
IV. In the year 1848 a secret committee of the