V. I.   Lenin

A Characterisation of Economic Romanticism




The Foreign Market As the “Way Out
of the Difficulty” of Realising Surplus-Value

Sismondi’s next error, which springs from his fallacious theory of social revenue and the product in capitalist society, is his doctrine that the product in general, and surplus-value in particular, cannot possibly be realised, and that consequently it is necessary to find a foreign market. As regards the realisation of the product in general, the foregoing analysing shows that the “impossibility” is due entirely to the mistaken exclusion of constant capital and means of production. Once this error is corrected, the “impossibility” vanishes. The same, however, must be said in particular about surplus-value: this analysis explains how it too is realised. There are no reasonable grounds whatever for separating surplus-value from the total product so far as its realisation is concerned. Sismondi’s (and our Narodniks’) assertion to the contrary is simply a misunderstanding of the fundamental laws of realisation   in general, an inability to divide the product into three (and not two) parts in terms of value, and into two kinds in terms of material form (means of production and articles of consumption). The proposition that the capitalists cannot consume surplus-value is merely a vulgarised repetition of Adam Smith’s perplexity regarding realisation in general. Only part of the surplus-value consists of articles of consumption; the other part consists of means of production (for example, the surplus-value of the ironmaster). The “consumption” of this latter surplus-value is effected by applying it to production; the capitalists, however, who manufacture products in the shape of means of production do not consume surplus-value, but constant capital obtained by exchange with other capitalists. Hence, the Narodniks too, in arguing that surplus-value cannot be realised, ought logically to admit that constant capital also cannot be realised—and in this way they would safely go back to Adam. . . . It goes without saying that such a return to the “father of political economy” would be a gigantic step forward for writers who present us with old errors in the guise of truths they have “arrived at by themselves.” . . .

But what about the foreign market? Do we deny that capitalism needs a foreign market? Of course not. But the question of a foreign market has absolutely nothing to do with the question of realisation, and the attempt to link them into one whole merely expresses the romantic wish to “retard” capitalism, and the romantic inability to think logically. The theory which has explained the question of realisation has proved this up to the hilt. The romanticist says: the capitalists cannot consume surplus-value and therefore must dispose of it abroad. The question is: do the capitalists supply foreigners with products gratis, or do they throw them into the sea? They sell them—hence, they receive an equivalent; they export certain kinds of products—hence, they import other kinds. If we speak of the realisation of the social product, we thereby exclude the circulation of money and assume only the exchange of products for products, since the problem of realisation consists in analysing the replacement of all parts of the social product in terms of value and in terms of material form. Hence, to commence the argument about realisation   and to end it by saying that they “will market the product for money” is as ridiculous as answering the question about realising constant capital in the shape of articles of consumption by saying: “they will sell.” This is simply a gross logical blunder: people wander away from the question of the realisation of the aggregate social product to the view point of the individual entrepreneur, who has no other interest than that of “selling to the foreigner.” To link foreign trade, exports, with the question of realisation means evading the issue, merely shifting it to a wider field, but doing nothing towards clearing it up. [1] The problem of realisation will not be made one iota clearer if, instead of the market of one country, we take the market of a certain group of countries. When the Narodniks assert that the foreign market is “the way out of the difficulty”[2] which capitalism raises for itself in the realisation of the product, they merely use this phrase to cover up the sad fact that for them “the foreign market” is “the way out of the difficulty” into which they fall owing to their failure to understand theory. . . . Not only that. The theory which links the foreign market with the problem of the realisation of the aggregate social product not only reveals a failure to understand this realisation, but, in addition, reveals an extremely superficial understanding of the contradictions inherent in this realisation. “The workers will consume wages, but the capitalists cannot consume surplus-value.” Ponder over this “theory” from the point of view of the foreign market. How do we know that “the workers will consume wages”? What grounds have we for thinking that the products intended by the entire capitalist class of a given country for consumption by all the workers of that country will really equal their wages in value and will replace them,   that there will be no need for a foreign market for these products? There are absolutely no grounds for thinking so, and actually it is not so at all. Not only the products (or part of the products) which replace surplus-value, but also those which replace variable capital; not only products which replace variable capital, but also those which replace constant capital (forgotten by our “economists” who also forget their kinship . . . with Adam); not only products that serve as articles of consumption but also those that serve as means of production—all these products are realised in the same way, in the midst of “difficulties,” in the midst of continuous fluctuations, which become increasingly violent as capitalism grows, in the midst of fierce competition, which compels every entrepreneur to strive to expand production unlimitedly, to go beyond the bounds of the given country, to set out in quest of new markets in countries not yet drawn into the sphere of capitalist commodity circulation. This brings us to the question of why a capitalist country needs a foreign market. Certainly not because the product cannot be realised at all under the capitalist system. That is nonsense. A foreign market is needed because it is inherent in capitalist production to strive for unlimited expansion—unlike all the old modes of production, which were limited to the village community, to the patriarchal estate, to the tribe, to a territorial area, or state. Under all the old economic systems production was every time resumed in the same form and on the same scale as previously; under the capitalist system, however, this resumption in the same form becomes impossible, and unlimited expansion, perpetual progress, becomes the law of production.[3]

Thus, different conceptions of realisation (more exactly, the understanding of it, on the one hand, and complete misunderstanding of it by the romanticists, on the other) lead to two diametrically opposite views on the significance of the foreign market. For some (the romanticists), the foreign market is an indication of the “difficulty” which capitalism places in the way of social development. For others, on the contrary, the foreign market shows how   capitalism removes the difficulties of social development provided by history in the shape of various barriers—communal, tribal, territorial and national. [4]

As you see, the difference is only one of the “point of view.”. . . Yes, “only”! The difference between the romanticist judges of capitalism and the others is, in general, “only” one of the “point of view,”—“only” that some judge from the rear, and the others from the front, some from the viewpoint of a system which capitalism is destroying, the others from the viewpoint of a system which capitalism is creating.[5]

The romanticists’ wrong understanding of the foreign market usually goes hand in hand with references to the “specific features” of the international position of capitalism in the given country, to the impossibility of finding markets, etc.; the object of all these arguments is to “dissuade” the capitalists from seeking foreign markets. Incidentally, we are not being exact in saying “references,” for the romanticist gives us no actual analysis of the country’s foreign trade, of its progress in the sphere of new markets, its colonisation, etc. He has no interest whatever in studying the actual process and in explaining it; all he wants is a moral condemnation of this process. So that the reader can convince himself of the complete identity between this moralising of contemporary Russian romanticists and that of the French romanticist, we shall quote some specimens of the latter’s arguments. We have already seen how Sismondi warned the capitalists that they would find no market. But this is not all he asserted. He also claimed that “the world market is already sufficiently supplied” (II, 328) and argued that it was impossible to proceed along the capitalist path, that it was necessary to choose another path. . . . He assured the British employers that capitalism would not be able to give jobs to all the agricultural labourers displaced by capitalist farming (I, 255-56). “Will those to whom the agriculturists are sacrificed   derive any benefit from it? Are not the agriculturists the nearest and most reliable consumers of English manufactures? The cessation of their consumption would strike industry a blow more fatal than the closing of one of the biggest foreign markets” (I, 256). He assured English farmers that they would not be able to withstand the competition of the poor Polish peasant, whose grain costs him almost nothing (II, 257) and that they were menaced by the even more frightful competition of Russian grain from the Black Sea ports. He exclaimed: “The Americans are following the new principle: to produce without calculating the market (produire sans calculer le marché), and to produce as much as possible,” and here is “the characteristic feature of United States’ trade, from one end of the country to the other—an excess of goods of every kind over what is needed for consumption . . . constant bankruptcies are the result of this excess of commercial capital which cannot be exchanged for revenue” (I, 455-56). Good Sismondi! What would he say about present-day America—about the America that has developed so enormously, thanks to the very “home market” which, according to the romanticists’ theory, should have “shrunk”!


[1] This is so clear that even Sismondi was conscious of the need to disregard foreign trade in analysing realisation. “To trace these calculations more exactly,” he says on the point about production corresponding to consumption “and to simplify the question, we have hitherto completely excluded foreign trade; we have presupposed an isolated nation; human society itself is such an isolated nation, and whatever relates to a nation without foreign trade is equally true of the human race” (I, 115). —Lenin

[2] N.-on, p. 205. —Lenin

[3] Cf. Sieber, David Ricardo, etc., St. Petersburg, 1885, p. 466, footnote. —Lenin

[4] Cf. later: Rede über die Frage des Freihandels (Karl Marx, On Free Trade.—Ed.) —Lenin

[5] I am speaking here only of the appraisal of capitalism and not of an understanding of it. In the latter respect the romanticists, as we have seen, stand no higher than the classical economists. —Lenin

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