Deville - The People's Marx (1893)

Chapter V: Contradictions in the General Formula for Capital

The circulation of commodities is based on the exchange of equivalent values. —Even admitting the exchange of unequa1 values, the circulation of commodities cannot create surplus-value.

The Circulation of Commodities is Based on the Exchange of Equivalent Values.

We are now going to inquire whether there is anything in the nature of the circulation of commodities that permits the expansion of the values that enter into it, i.e., the formation of surplus-value.

Let us consider the direct barter of two commodities, an exchange in which money intervenes only ideally, as the expression in money of the commodities. It is clear that both parties may benefit by it. Both get rid of products that have no utility to them, and obtain others that they need. A man who has much wheat and no wine, exchanges with another who has much wine and no wheat, a value of 100 dollars in wheat for 100 dollars in wine. From the point of view of use-value or utility, there is in this an advantage for both. The exchange, in this respect, is a transaction by which each party benefits. But, from the point of view of exchange-value, the exchange of 100 dollars in wheat for 100 dollars in wine produces no increase in wealth for either of the parties, since each of then had before the exchange a value equal to that which he got by the exchange.

This result is in no way altered by the actual introduction of money as the intermediary or instrument of circulation between the commodities, by the separation of the sale and the purchase into two distinct acts.

Abstractly, apart from the accidental circumstances not due to the laws governing circulation, there is in circulation, beside the substitution of one useful product for another, nothing but a mere change in the form of the commodity. The same magnitude of value is always in the hands of the owner of the commodity; but he has this value, first in the form of his own product, placed upon sale, then in the form of money, the realized price of his product, 100 dollars as we assume, and finally, in the form of the product of some one else bought for that same sum, some of wine for instance. These changes in form do not imply any change in the quantity of value, any more than does the changing of a ten-dollar bill into five two-dollar bills. The only regular outcome, then, of circulation, which is with respect to the value of commodities only a, change in form, is the exchange of equivalent values.

If then, as regards use-value, exchange profits both parties, it cannot be, in its pure form, as regards exchange-value, a source of profits. Therefore, no production of surplus-value can be due to the nature of circulation itself.

Even Admitting the Exchange of Unequal Values, the Circulation of Commodities cannot Create Surplus-value.

Nevertheless, as in fact we are obliged to admit the formation of surplus-value, and as in the actual course of events there is nearly always a departure from the hypothetical normal form, let us suppose, in order to attempt an explanation of this formation, that there is an exchange of unequal values.

In any case, there are upon the market only commodity-owners confronting commodity-owners. The inciting motive of the exchange, which is that the parties have not in their possession the objects they need, and have the objects others need, places them in a position of reciprocal independence.

To say that surplus-value results, for the producers, from the fact that they sell their commodities for more than they are worth, amounts to saying that in the character of vendors they have the privilege of selling too dear. The vendor has produced the commodity himself or he represents the producer of it; but the buyer also has produced, or represents the person who did produce, the commodity metamorphosed into that money with which he buys. On both sides there are producers; the only difference is that one buys and the other sells. If the owner of commodities, under the title of producer or vendor, sells commodities for more than they are worth, and if, under the title of consumer or purchaser, he pays too high for them, he makes in the one case what he loses in the other, and this does not advance us a single step toward the solution of the question.

It would be just the same, were we to suppose, instead of the vendor having the privilege to sell too dear, that the buyer had the privilege of paying less than their value for commodities. As he was a vendor before be was a buyer and becomes a vendor again afterward, be would lose, as vendor, the profit realized as purchaser.

We have been considering sellers and buyers in general, without taking their individual characteristics into account. Let us suppose now that Peter, who is very shrewd, does business with Paul and James. Peter sells Paul wine worth 80 dollars for 100 dollars, and with this 100 dollars he buys from James wheat worth 120 dollars; Peter thus makes a profit of 40 dollars.

Before the exchange, we had 80 dollars' worth of wine in Peter's possession, 100 dollars in money in Paul's, and 120 dollars' worth of wheat in James'—a total value of 300 dollars. After the exchange, we have 120 dollars' worth of wheat in the hands of Peter, the cunning fellow, 80 dollars' worth of wine in Paul's hands and 100 dollars in money in James'—a total value of 300 dollars. The value in circulation has not increased a single penny. There is only a difference in its distribution between Peter, Paul and James. It is just as if Peter had stolen forty dollars. A change in the distribution of the circulating values does not increase their quantity.

Turn or twist them all you will, the facts remain the same. If equivalent values are exchanged, no surplus- value is produced; neither is any produced if unequal values are exchanged. The circulation or exchange of commodities cannot create any value. The quantity of values thrown into circulation being incapable of expanding there, there must take place, outside the sphere of circulation, something that renders possible the formation of surplus-value. But is this formation possible outside the sphere of circulation?

It appears impossible that, outside of the realm of circulation, the commodity producer can impart to his product the power of breeding surplus-value; for, apart from circulation, he is alone with his commodity containing a certain quantity of his labor, which determines the value of his product. He can raise the value of his product by adding to it new value by means of new labor, but without new labor he cannot make this value increase by its own virtue.

Our conclusion then is: the possessor of money must, first, buy commodities at their just value, then sell them for what they are worth, and yet, in the end, must withdraw more value than he advanced; this transformation of money into capital must take place within the domain of circulation, and at the same time it must not take place there. These are the conditions of the problem.