Raya Dunavevskaya 1979


Lecture 11
Part VII Chapters 23-24

Part VII is the climax to Volume I. In the fourth German Edition of CAPITAL, which Engels published in 1890 from the last notes made by Marx to the French Edition, part VIII “The so-called primitive Accumulation of Capital,” appears only in the form of additional chapters to Part VII, “The Accumulation of Capital.”

In approaching this part we should bear in mind the changes Marx introduced into the French Edition, which, he wrote, “possesses a scientific value independent of the original and should be consulted even by readers of the German.” (Dona Torr Edition, p. 842) The two most important of these changes, since incorporated in all editions, including the American are to be found on (1) pp. 640-4 where Marx expands the thesis of the transformation of the laws of property into the laws of capitalist appropriation; and (2) pp. 687-8 which explain how the law of centralization of capital develops until it reaches its extreme by being united “in the hands of one single capitalist, or in those of one single corporation.” We will discuss the first addition in the course of this lecture and the second in the following lecture.

The Sine Qua Non of Capitalist Production

Before analyzing simple reproduction, Marx explains why he proceeds from production to reproduction, without stopping to consider the act of selling the commodities produced. He merely assumes that the capitalist has sold what he produced. “So far as accumulation takes place,” writes Marx, “the capitalist must have succeeded in selling his commodities, and in reconverting the sale-money into capital. Moreover, the breaking up of surplus value into fragments neither alters its nature nor the conditions under which it becomes an element of accumulation... We therefore assume no more than what actually takes place. On the other hand, the simple fundamental form of the process of accumulation is obscured by the incident of the circulation which brings it about, and by the splitting up of surplus value. An exact analysis of the process, therefore, demands that we should, for a time, disregard all phenomena that hide the play of its inner mechanism.” (p. 619)

The conditions of production are the conditions of reproduction. The mere continuity of the process of production, even apart from accumulation, sooner or later “converts every capital into accumulated capital, or capitalised surplus value,” (p. 624) since, no matter with what capital the capitalist started that amount would soon have been consumed by him, if it were not that capital had begotten a surplus value. That surplus it got from variable capital. “Even if the capital was originally acquired by the personal labour of its employer, it sooner or later becomes value appropriated without an equivalent, the unpaid labour of others materialised either in money or in some other object... The separation of labour from its product, of subjective labour-power from the objective conditions of labour was therefore the real foundation in fact, and the starting point of capitalist production.” (p. 624)

“... Since the process of production is also the process by which the capitalist consumes labour-power, the product of the labourer is incessantly converted not only into commodities but into capital, into value that sucks up the value-creating power, into means of subsistence that buy the person of the labourer, into means of production that command the producers. The labourer therefore constantly produces material, objective wealth, but in the form of capital, of an alien power that dominates and exploits him; and the capitalist as constantly produces labour-power, but in the form of a subjective source of wealth, separated from the objects in and by which it can alone be realised; in short, he produces the labourer but as a wage-labourer. This incessant reproduction, this perpetuation of the labourer is the sine qua non of capitalist product ion.” (p. 625)

Marx proceeds to make the distinction between productive consumption and individual consumption. The latter he shows to be under capitalism, “a mere incident of production.” (p. 626) So emphatic is Marx on this point that the wage laborer is a factor of production that he says it is not the laborer that buys the means of consumption, but the means of consumption the laborer. “The fact,” he concludes, “that the labourer consumes his means of subsistence for his own purposes, and not to please the capitalist, has no bearing on the matter, The consumption of food by a beast of burden is none the less a necessary factor in the process of production, because the beast enjoys what it eats. The maintenance and reproduction of the working-class is, and must ever be, a necessary condition to the reproduction of capital.” (p. 627)

The Capitalist Relationship

Capitalist production produces not merely capital but it produces and reproduces the capitalist relationship: “Capitalist production, therefore, of itself reproduces the separation between labour-power and the means of labour. It thereby reproduces and perpetuates the condition for exploiting the labourer. It incessantly forces him to his labour-power in order to live, and enables the capitalist to purchase labour-power in order that he may enrich himself.” (p. 652-5)

The crucial point here is that the existence of the wage-laboring class is now not merely the historic beginning of capitalist production, but is the result of that production. If it is asked, but isn’t the worker free, the answer is that in fact “the labourer belongs to capital before he has sold himself to capital. His economical bondage is both brought about and concealed by the periodic sale of himself, by his change of masters, and by the oscillations in the market-price of labour-power.” (p. 633)

The sine qua non of capitalist production, the continual reproduction of the labourer, likewise gives the lie to the apparent equality of exchange in the capitalist market where capitalist and laborer exchange commodities:

“The exchange of equivalents, the original operation with which we started, has now become turned round in such a way that there is only an apparent exchange. This is owing to the fact, first, that the capital which is exchanged for labour-power is itself but a portion of the product of others’ labour appropriated without an equivalent; and, secondly, that this capital must not only be replaced by its producer, but replaced together with an added surplus. The relation of exchange subsisting between capitalist and labourer becomes a mere semblance appertaining to the process of circulation, a mere form, foreign to the real nature of the transaction, and only mystifies it. The ever-repeated purchase and sale of labour-power is now the mere form; what really takes place is this – the capitalist again and again appropriates, without equivalent, a portion of the previously materialised labor of others, and exchanges it for a greater quantity of living labor.” (p. 639)

In other words, the relation of capitalist to laborer is the exact opposite of what it appeared to be when we witnessed that relation in the market. This is clear enough from the above passage. Nevertheless, it is precisely here that Marx made one of his two major additions to the first published text of CAPITAL. In order to make clear beyond the shadow of a doubt, how it is that the transformation of money into capital, which proceeded with strict compliance of the economic laws of the production of commodities, should only result in inequality. Marx explains:

“(1) That the product belongs to the capitalist, not to the laborer.

“(2) That the value of this product comprises a surplus value over and above the value of the advanced capital.

“(3) That the laborer has reproduced his labour-power and can sell it once more, if he finds a buyer for it.” (p. 641)

The Material Form of Capital

By establishing the fact that the perpetuation of the laboring class is the indispensable condition of capitalist production, Marx demonstrated the quintessential importance of the fact that the material form of variable capital is actual living labor. For it is only living labor that produces surplus value; the means of consumption are only the medium to reproduce the laborer. Yet, so far as the products of production are concerned, the material form of variable capital is of course, means of consumption just as the material form of constant capital is means of production. Marx demonstrates that “surplus value is convertible into capital solely because the surplus product whose value it is already comprises the material element of new capital.” (p. 656) Furthermore, Marx emphasizes:

“We here take no account of export trade, by means of which a nation can change articles of luxury either into means of production or means of subsistence, and vice versa. In order to examine the object of our investigation in its integrity, free from ail disturbing subsidiary circumstances, we must treat the whole world as one nation, and assume that capitalist production is everywhere established..."( 636,ftn.)

These two factors of production – living labor and means of productions-are also the factors of reproduction. Moreover, it does not alter matters any, continues Marx, if simple reproduction is replaced by reproduction on an enlarged scale. No greater error can be committed than to think that the conditions of expanded reproduction are changed simply because “the popular mind is impressed by the sight, on the one band, of the mass of goods that are stored up for the gradual consumption by the rich, and on the other hand,, by the formation of reserve stocks.” (p. 645)

The Error of Political Economy

Classical political economy realized that accumulation resulted not in the expansion of consumption, but expansion of production. Nevertheless, so unaware were these economists of the role of constant capital in production that they, “by a fundamentally perverted analysis, arrived at the absurd conclusion that, even though each individual capital is divided into constant and variable, the capital of society resolves itself into only variable capital, i.e., is laid out exclusively in payment of wages.” (p. 647)

In the section on the Erroneous Conception of Reproduction by Political Economy on a Progressively Increasing Scale Marx expands on the above point, and anticipates the problems be will deal with in full in Volume II:

“The annual process of reproduction is easily understood so long as we keep in view merely the sum total of the year’s production. But every single component of this pro-duct must be brought into the market as a commodity and there the difficulty begins. The movements of the individual capital, and of the personal revenues, cross and intermingle and are lost in the general change of places, in the circulation of the wealth of society; this dazes the sight, and propounds very complicated problems for solution. In the third part of Book II, I shall give the analysis of the real bearings of the facts.” (p. 647)

The Abstinence Theory

In discounting the theory that it is the abstinence on the part of the capitalist, which makes accumulation possible, Marx does not let us forget that the capitalist is only personified capital. It is not so much the “evil” of the capitalist as the contradictory nature of the capitalist mode of production which is the root evil:

“Except as personified capital, the capitalist has no historical value, and no right to that historical existence, which, to use an expression of the witty Lichnowsky, ‘hasn’t got no date’...But, so far as he is personified capital, it is not values in use and the enjoyment of them, but exchange value and its augmentation that spur him into action. Fanatically bent on making value expand itself, he ruthlessly forces the human race to produce for production’s sake; he thus forces the development of the productive powers of society, and creates those material conditions, which alone can form the real basis of a higher form of society, a society in which the full and free development of every individual forms the ruling principle.” (pp. 648-9)

Marx then relates the passion for money on the part of the miser, and on the part of the capitalist; “Only as personified capital is the capitalist respectable. As such, he shares with the miser the passion for wealth as wealth. But that which in the miser is a mere idiosyncrasy is, in the capitalist, the effect of the social mechanism, of which be is but one of the wheels. Moreover, the development of capitalist production makes it constantly necessary to keep increasing the amount of the capital laid out in a given industrial undertaking, and competition makes the immanent laws of capitalist production felt by each individual capitalist as external coercive laws. It compels him to keep constantly extending his capital, in order to preserve it, but extend it he cannot, except by means of progressive accumulation.” (p. 649)

It is this compulsion which has given rise to the classical formula, “Accumulate, accumulate!” Because classical economy was not deceived by the spurious supposition that the capitalist’s abstinence made accumulation possible, its formula correctly reflected the inherent law of capitalist production: “Accumulation for accumulation’s sake, production for production’s sake: by this formula classical economy expressed the historical mission of the bourgeoisie and did not for a single instant deceive itself over the birth-throes of wealth. But what avails lamentation in the face of historical necessity?” (p. 652)


1. Whet is the real foundation of capitalist production? What is its sine qua non?

2. What is meant by the expression “In reality, the labourer belongs to capital before he has sold himself to capital"?

3. Do market transactions augment total annual production? Do they alter the nature of the objects produced?

4. What is significant about the material form of capital? Analyze the following; “surplus value is convertible into capital solely because the surplus product whose value it is, already comprises the material elements of new capital.”

5. How do the laws of property become transformed into laws of capitalist appropriation?

6. What is significant about the sentence. “The exchange of equivalents, the original operation with which we started has now become turned around in such a way that there is only an apparent exchange."?

7. What are the three results of capitalist production? How are these altered if simple reproduction is replaced by reproduction on an enlarged scale?

8. What is the erroneous conception of classical political economy about reproduction on an enlarged scale?

9. Does abstinence help in converting surplus value into capital?

10. What is the so-called labor fund?

11. What determines the extent of accumulation? What determines its rate?

12. Explain; “Accumulation of capital, is, therefore, increase of the proletariat.”