Deville - The People's Marx (1893)

Chapter XXIII: Simple Reproduction

The part of capital advanced in wages is only a part of the past labor of the laborer. —All capital advanced is transformed sooner or later into accumulated capital. —The productive consumption and the individual consumption of the laborer. —Simple reproduction keeps the workingman in the situation of a wage-laborer.

No matter what its social form, production must be continuous. A society can not cease to produce any more than it can cease to consume. In order to produce continuously, it must continually transform a part of its products into means of production—into elements of new products. To maintain its wealth at the same level—all the conditions remaining the same—it must replace the instruments of labor, the raw materials, and the auxiliary substances; in a word, the means of production consumed during, for instance, a year, by an equal annual quantity of articles of the same kind. In other words, these must be reproduced. If production has the capitalist form, reproduction will have the same form. From the point of view of the former, the labor-process serves then as a means for creating surplus-value. From the point of view of the latter, it serves as a means of reproducing or perpetuating as capital—i.e., as self-expanding value—the value that has been advanced.

As a periodic increment of the value advanced, surplus-value acquires the form of a revenue flowing from capital. If the capitalist consumes this revenue, and it is, therefore, spent as regularly as it is received, this will be a case—all other conditions remaining the same—of simple reproduction. In other words, the capital will continue to function without expanding. But this repetition by capital of the same operations on the same scale gives it certain characteristics which we are going to examine.

The Part of Capital Advanced in Wages Is Only a Part of the Past Labor of the Laborer.

Let us first consider that part of capital which is advanced in wages—the variable capital.

Before beginning to produce, the capitalist buys labor-powers for a definite period of time; but he pays for them only after the laborer has worked and added to the product the value of his own labor-power and a surplus-value. Besides this surplus-value, which is the capitalist's consumption fund, the laborer has, therefore, produced the fund for his own payment, the variable capital, before its return to him in the shape of wages. A part of the labor performed by him last week or last month pays for his labor of to-day or of next month. That part of his product which returns to the laborer as wages is, it is true, paid to him in money; but the money is only the value-form of the commodities, and this in no way alters the fact that it is always only a part of his own past and realized labor that the laborer receives under the form of an advance from the capitalist.

Yet, before renewing and repeating itself, this movement of production must have begun and gone on for a certain time, during which the laborer—not having produced anything as yet—could not yet be paid out of his own product, and could not live on the air of heaven. Must it not be that when the capitalist class first appeared on the market to buy labor-power, it had already accumulated by its own industry and economy a hoard which enabled it to advance the laborer's means of subsistence in the form of money? Provisionally we are willing to accept this solution, but we will examine its merits more carefully in the chapter on the primitive accumulation.

All Capital Advanced Is Transformed Sooner or Later into Accumulated Capital.

At all events, the continuous reproduction soon changes the original character of the entire capital advanced—both the variable part and the constant part.

If a capital of $5,000 yields annually a surplus-value of $1,000 which the capitalist consumes, it is clear that after this annual movement has been repeated five times the sum of the surplus-value consumed will be equal to $1,000 multiplied by 5, or to $5,000—i.e., to the total value of the capital advanced.

If only half of the annual surplus-value were to be consumed, the same result would be reached at the end of ten years instead of five, for by multiplying half of the surplus-value, $500, by 10, we get $5,000, just the same. Generally speaking, by dividing the capital advanced by the amount of surplus-value consumed annually we get the number of years, at the expiration of which the original capital will have been entirely consumed by the capitalist, and will, therefore, have disappeared.

Hence, after a certain time, the capital-value, which belonged to the capitalist, is equal to the sum of the surplus-value that he has gratuitously acquired during this same time, and the sum of the value that he has advanced is equal to the sum of the value he has consumed.

It is true that he has all along had in his hands a capital whose magnitude has not varied. But when a man runs through all his property by making debts equal to it, the value of his property then represents merely the sum of his debts. In the same way, when the capitalist has consumed the equivalent of the capital he advanced, the value of this capital then represents merely the sum of the surplus-value appropriated by him.

Simple reproduction suffices, therefore, to transform sooner or later all the capital advanced into accumulated capital, or capitalized surplus-value. Even if the original capital were acquired by the personal labor of the employer, after its entrance into the domain of production it becomes, after a longer or shorter period of time, value appropriated without an equivalent—the materialization of the unpaid labor of others.

The Productive Consumption and the Individual Consumption of the Laborer.

The consumption of the laborer is twofold. In the process of production he consumes by his labor the means of production, in order to transform them into products with a value higher than that of the capital advanced.

This is his productive consumption, and it is at the same time the consumption of his labor-power by the capitalist to whom it belongs. But the money given as the purchase price of this power is spent by the laborer for the means of subsistence, and this is what constitutes his individual consumption.

The productive consumption and the individual consumption of the laborer are then entirely distinct. In the former, he acts as the motive-power of capital and belongs to the capitalist. In the latter, he belongs to himself and performs his vital functions outside the domain of production. The result of the former is the organic life of capital; the result of the latter is the individual life of the laborer himself.

By transforming a part of his capital into labor-power, the capitalist ensures the preservation and expansion of his entire capital. But he kills two birds with one stone. He profits both by what he receives from the laborer and also by what he gives to him.

The capital which is paid out for labor-power is exchanged by the working-class for the means of subsistence, and the consumption of these serves to reproduce the muscles, nerves, and brains of existing laborers, and to form new laborers. Within the limits of what is strictly necessary, the individual consumption of the working-class is, therefore, only the transformation of the means of subsistence that the sale of their labor-power enabled them to buy into new labor-power—into fresh material for capital to exploit. As it is the production and reproduction of the instrument of labor most indispensable to the capitalist—the laborer himself—the individual consumption of the laborer is, therefore, a factor in the reproduction of capital.

It is true that the laborer devotes himself to his individual consumption for his own gratification and not to please the capitalist. But does the fact that the beasts of burden also love to eat, make their nourishment any the less the business of their owners? The consequence is that the capitalist does not have to watch over the individual consumption of the laborers. He boldly trusts to the free laborer's instincts of self-preservation and propagation. In this matter his one anxiety is to limit the individual consumption of the laborers to what is most strictly necessary.

Therefore, that sycophant of capital, the vulgar political economist, considers as productive only that part of individual consumption without which the working class could not continue to exist and grow, and which, therefore, is absolutely necessary to furnish capital with labor-power (in sufficient quantities) to consume. All that the laborer may spend in excess of this amount for his own physical or intellectual enjoyment is unproductive consumption—a crime in the eyes of the vulgar economist.

The individual consumption of the laborer may rightly be called unproductive, so far as regards the laborer himself, for it reproduces naught but the needy individual; on the other hand, it is productive for the capitalist and the State, since it produces the power that creates their wealth.

Simple Reproduction Keeps the Workingman in the Situation of a Wage-laborer.

From the social point of view, the working-class is therefore, like every other instrument of labor, an appendage of capital. For the productive movement of capital, the individual consumption of the laborers is, within certain limits, a necessary condition. This individual consumption which secures their maintenance and reproduction, at the same time destroys the means of subsistence which they procured by selling themselves, and obliges them to constantly reappear on the market.

We saw, in Chapter VI, that the production and circulation of commodities were not enough to give birth to capital. Besides these conditions it was necessary that the plutocrat should find on the market other men, free, but forced to sell "voluntarily" their labor-power by their lack of anything else to sell. The separation between the product and the producer, between one category of persons having in their possession all things necessary for the realization of labor, and another category of persons owning nothing but their own labor-power that was the starting point of capitalist production.

But this, which was the starting-point, afterward becomes, thanks to simple reproduction, a result constantly renewed. On the one hand, the movement of production incessantly transforms material wealth into capital and into means of enjoyment for the capitalist. On the other hand, the laborer is afterward exactly what he was before—the personal source of wealth, but expropriated from the means necessary for the realization of his own labor. The periodic repetition of the movement of capitalist production continually transforms the product of the wage-laborer into a value which pumps dry the power which creates value, into means of production which dominate the producer, into means of subsistence that become the purchase price of the laborer himself.

The capitalist mode of production, therefore, of itself reproduces the separation between the laborer and the conditions of labor. It thereby reproduces and perpetuates the conditions which compel the laborer to sell himself in order to live, and enable the capitalist to buy him in order to enrich himself. It is no longer chance which brings them face to face on the market as seller and buyer. It is the actual character of the mode of production itself that incessantly flings the laborer back upon the market as the vendor of his own labor-power, and incessantly transforms his product into the means by which the capitalist buys him.

In reality, the laborer belongs to the capitalist class, to the class which controls the means of life, before he sells himself to an individual capitalist. His economic servitude is masked by the periodic repetition of this sale, by the sham "free contract," by the change of individual masters, and by the oscillations in the market-price of labor.

The movement of capitalist production considered in its continuity (or regarded as reproduction) does not, therefore, produce commodities alone, nor surplus-value alone, but it reproduces and perpetuates its foundation—the workingman in the situation of a wage-laborer.