Karl Kautsky

The Economic Doctrines of Karl Marx


Part III.


WE have reached the end of the exposition of the capitalist mode of production, which we have investigated in the footsteps of Karl Marx.

We have seen that the primitive mode of production was based on and conditioned by social, systematically-organised labour, that both the means of production and the products were social property. To be sure the products were distributed, and thus became individual property, but only so far as they were useful objects for individuals. As the immediate result of social labour, the products were primarily the property of society.

This mode of production was supplanted by the simple commodity production of private workers, working independently of each other, each of whom created products with means of production which belonged to himself, and it goes without saying that these products were the his private property.

But from simple commodity production there developed capitalist commodity production. The individual workers producing independently of each other were replaced by large, concentrated workplaces. While each of these was producing commodities independently of the other, it was organised internally for systematic, social production. As these great capitalist businesses confronted each other as commodity producers, their reciprocal intercourse perpetuated commodity production and therefore the property rights of simple commodity production, that is, private property in the means of production and the products.

But with this private property is twisted into its contrary.

Under simple commodity production private property was the result and fruit of labour. The worker was the owner of his means of production and of his products. Capitalist production broke down the connection between labour and property. The worker had no longer any property in his product. On the contrary, both the means of production and the products belonged to the non-worker. The transformation of production into a social process upon a capitalist foundation increasingly transformed the non-worker into the owner of all wealth, and the worker into a propertyless person.

This does not quite exhaust the contradiction between the prevailing mode of production and the prevailing mode of appropriation.

We have seen how simply and transparently production was carried on under primitive communism, how society adjusted it to its desires and needs.

Under the system of commodity production, the social conditions of production become a power that overshadows the individual producer. The latter becomes its abject slave, and his position becomes the more miserable as the new masters do not prescribe his duties, do not intimate to him their needs, but leave him to guess them. Production was now subject to laws, which operated like natural laws independently of the producers and frequently against their wills; laws which asserted themselves through the periodical intervention of abnormal conditions, like a fall in prices, dearness, etc.

Now under the regime of simple commodity production, these abnormalities, so far as they sprang from social causes, remained insignificant and restricted to a narrow sphere, corresponding to the lower productivity of the scattered businesses of the individual workers.

Thereafter the productivity of labour was enormously increased by the capitalist mode of production, which unchained and carried to the highest pitch all those productive forces which are marked by social, deliberately-organised labour, which enlist in their service the natural forces subjugated by science. The consequence is that the periodical intervention of abnormal conditions, by means of which the laws of commodity production assert themselves, which formerly only caused temporary and local inconveniences, easily got over and often obviated, have now become periodical catastrophes lasting for years, growing in extent and intensity with the capitalist mode of production, and seeming to have settled into the position of a chronic plague.

Yet another fact. Under primitive communism, where the product of social labour belongs to society, by whom it was distributed among the individuals according to their needs, the share of each grew with every increase in the productivity of labour.

Under the rule of commodity production, the quantity of use-values, which correspond to a definite magnitude of value, grows with the productivity of labour. Under simple commodity production, the product of his labour belongs as a rule to the worker. He may consume it himself, either wholly or in part.

In this case the quantity of use-values at his disposal manifestly grows in the same degree as the productiveness of his labour. But he may also exchange the product of his labour, either wholly or in part – only a small portion of the product becomes a commodity under simple commodity production.

He will receive all the more use-values in exchange for the product of a special kind of labour, the greater the productivity of labour in general. Here also the worker alone benefits from the growth in the productiveness of labour.

Under capitalist commodity production, labour-power itself is a commodity, whose value like that of any other commodity falls as the productivity of labour rises. The greater, therefore, the productivity of labour, the less is the relative share in its advantages which the worker receives in the price of labour-power. But the more the capitalist mode of production gains the upper hand, the more the mass of the people consists of wage-workers, and the more, therefore, they are excluded from the fruits of the augmented productivity of their labour.

All these antagonisms necessarily give rise to conflicts between the capitalist class and the workers, conflicts which arouse the latter to class-consciousness, impel them to engage in political activity, and bring labour parties into existence in all capitalist countries. But the circumstances above indicated also create sufferings of the most varied kinds, and not merely those which are confined to the working class, sufferings which cause more and more people outside the class of wage-workers to regard the existing conditions as intolerable.

Thus everything presses for a solution of the contradiction, which is embodied in the capitalist mode of production, the contradiction between the social character of labour and the traditional form of appropriating the means of production and the products.

Only two methods of solving it seem possible; both aim at bringing the mode of production and the mode of appropriation into harmony. The one way points to the abolition of the social character of labour, to a return to simple commodity production, to replacing large-scale industry by handicraft and small peasant agriculture. The other method does not attempt to adapt production to the mode of appropriation, but aims at adapting the mode of appropriation to production, it points to social property in the means of production and the products.

There are many to-day who attempt to deflect the course of development into the first direction; they proceed from the erroneous assumption that the mode of production can be shaped at will by legal enactments. This attempt is condemned by bourgeois vulgar economists, the advocates of capital.

But they themselves try to play a similar game. In order to make it appear that the prevailing mode of production is in harmony with the prevailing mode of appropriation, they ignore the peculiar and essential characteristics of the modern mode of production in their economic expositions, and represent the latter as if it were simple commodity production; it is only necessary to peruse the accessible writings of vulgar economy; there commodities are to-day exchanged as they were among barbarians, there hunters and fishers, who have free access to the forests and the sea, figure as wage-workers, and bows and arrows, boats and nets, as capital.

The illusions which these gentry seek to evoke are dissipated in the colonies, that is, in countries with virgin soil which are colonised by emigrants. There we find complete freedom of the labour contract, the property of the worker in his products, and therefore in the fruits of his labour. We find there the general conditions which our economists represent as those of the capitalist mode of production: but strange to say, capital ceases under these conditions to be capital. In such colonies free land still exists in abundance, and access thereto is open to all. Every worker, as a rule, may produce there independently; he is not obliged to sell his labour-power. Consequently, each prefers to work for himself instead of for another. Money, means of life, machines, and other instruments of production, therefore, cease to be capital. They do not breed value.

The same economists who declaim so pathetically about the sanctity of property and the freedom of the labour contract put forward demands in young colonies, with a view to permitting capital to thrive, for the exclusion of the workers from landed property and the promotion of their emigration by the State, at the expense of those workers who are already there, in other words, the forcible separation of the worker from the means of production and of life, and the artificial creation of a redundant working population, which is in fact not free, but obliged to sell its labour-power. And where a docile working class – especially belonging to a backward race – is in existence, unvarnished compulsory labour, or slavery, proclaimed.

“The same interest, which compels the sycophant of capital, the political economist, in the mother country, to proclaim the theoretical identity of the capitalist mode of production with its contrary, that same interest compels him in the colonies to make a clean breast of it, and to proclaim aloud the antagonism of the two modes of production.”

The handiwork of this species of economists has been drastically exposed by Marx in his Capital. But his work has accomplished more than merely to expose the vulgar economists in all their mediocrity and inaccuracy.

People are fond of describing Marx as a mind which always denied, which only dissolved by criticism, but was never able to work constructively. Yet the present sketch of the exposition of the production-process of capital which Marx has given us suffices to show that he actually created a new economic and historical system. The criticism of his predecessors only formed the foundation of this system.

In the act of overcoming the old, one climbs to a higher standpoint, and one cannot criticise without acquiring a deeper insight; one cannot pull down any scientific system without erecting behind it another and more comprehensive system.

Marx was the first thinker who revealed the fetishistic character of the commodity, who recognised capital not as a thing, but as a relationship between things, and as a historical category. He was the first who investigated the laws of movement and of the development of capital. And he was the first who deduced the aims of the present-day social movement as a necessary consequence from the anterior historical development, instead of excogitating them out of his inner consciousness as the dictates of some “eternal justice.”

From the standpoint to which Marx has raised us, we can not only perceive that all the attempts of the vulgar economists to transmogrify the existing conditions into patriarchal conditions are as vain as the attempts to reverse the course of development. We can also perceive the sole path that is left for the further development of society: the adaptation of the form of appropriation to the mode of production, the assumption by society of ownership of the means of production, the complete and unreserved accomplishment of the transformation, which has only been half carried out by capital, of production from isolated production into social production. With this, however, a new epoch opens for mankind.

Anarchical commodity production is replaced by the deliberate systematic organisation of social production, and an end is made of the domination of the producers by the product. Man, who has become to an ever increasing extent the master of natural forces, will thereby become the master of social development. “Only from that time will man himself, more and more consciously make his own history,” says Engels, “only from that time will the social causes set in movement by him have, in the main and in a constantly growing measure, the results intended by him. It is the ascent of man from the kingdom of necessity to the kingdom of freedom.”


Last updated on 22.11.2003