Rosa Luxemburg
The Accumulation of Capital

Section One
The Problem of Reproduction

Chapter 5
The Circulation of Money

In our study of the reproductive process we have not so far considered the circulation of money. Here we do not refer to money as a measuring rod, an embodiment of value, because all relations of social labour have been expressed, assumed and measured in terms of money. What we have to do now is to test our diagram of simple reproduction under the aspect of money as a means of exchange.

Quesnay already saw that we shall only understand the social reproductive process if we assume, side by side with the means of production and consumer goods, a certain quantity of money.(1)

Two questions now arise:

  1. by whom should the money be owned, and
  2. how much of it should there be?

The answer to the first question, no doubt, is that the workers receive their wages in the form of money with which they buy consumer goods. From the point of view of society, this means merely that the workers are allocated a certain share of the fund for consumption: every society, whatever its historical form of production, makes such allocations to its workers. It is, however, an essential characteristic of the capitalist form of production that the workers do not obtain their share directly in the form of goods but by way of commodity exchange, just as it is an essential feature of the capitalist mode of production that their labour power is not applied directly, as a result of a relation of personal domination, but again by way of commodity exchange: the workers selling their labour power to the owners of the means of production, and purchasing freely their consumer goods. Variable capital in its money form is the expression and medium of both these transactions.

Money, then, comes first into circulation by the payment of wages. The capitalist class must therefore set a certain quantity of money circulating in the first place, and this must be equal to the amount they pay in wages. The capitalists of Department I need 1,000 units of money, and the capitalists of Department II need 500 to meet their wages bill. Thus, according to our diagram, two quantities of money are circulating: I(1,000v) and II(500v). The workers spend the total of 1,500 on consumer goods, i.e on the products of Department II. In this way, labour power is maintained, that is to say the variable capital of society is reproduced in its natural forth, as the foundation of all other reproductions of capital. At the same time, the capitalists of Department II dispose of their aggregate product (1,500) in the following manner: their own workers receive 500 and the workers of Department I receive 1,000. This exchange gives the capitalists of Department II possession of 1,500 money units: 500 are their own variable capital which has returned to them; these may start circulating again as variable capital but for the time being they have completed their course. The other 1,000 accrue to them year by year out of the realisation of one third of their own products. The capitalists of Department II now buy means of production from the capitalists of Department I for these 1,000 money units in order to renew the part of their own constant capital that has been used up. By means of this purchase, Department II renews in its natural form half of the constant capital IIc it requires. Department I now has in return 1,000 money units which are nothing more than the money originally paid to its own workers. Now, after having changed hands twice, the money has returned to Department I, to become effective later as variable capital. This completes the circulation of this quantity of money for the moment, but the circulation within society has not yet come to an end. The capitalists of Department I have not yet realised their surplus value to buy consumer goods for themselves; it is still contained in their product in a form which is of no use to them. Moreover, the capitalists of Department II have not yet renewed the second half of their constant capital. These two acts of exchange are identical both in substance and in value, for the capitalists of Department I receive their goods from Department II in exchange for the I(1,000c) means of production needed by the capitalists of Department II. However, a new quantity of money is required to effect this exchange. It is true that the same money which has already completed its course, might be brought into circulation again for this purpose – in theory, there could be no objection to this. In practice, however, this solution is out of the question, for the needs of the capitalists, as consumers, must be satisfied just as constantly as the needs of the workers – they run parallel to the process of production and must be mediated by specific quantities of money. Hence it follows that the capitalists of both departments – that is to say all capitalists – must have a further cash reserve in hand, in addition to the money required as variable capital, in order to realise their own surplus value in the form of consumer goods. On the other hand, before the total product is realised and during the process of its production, certain parts df the constant capital must be bought continually. These are the circulating parts of the constant capital, such as raw and auxiliary materials, semi-finished goods, lighting and the like. Therefore, not only must the capitalists of Department I have certain quantities of money in hand to satisfy their needs as consumers, but the capitalists of Department II must also have money to meet the requirements of their constant capital. The exchange of 1,000s I (the surplus value of Department I contained in the means of production) against goods is thus effected by money which is advanced partly by the capitalists of Department I in order to satisfy their needs as consumers, and partly by the capitalists of Department II in order to satisfy their needs as producers.(2) Both lots of capitalists may each advance 500 units of the money necessary for the exchange, or possibly the two departments will contribute in different proportions. At any rate, two things, are certain:

  1. the money set aside for the purpose by ..both departments must suffice to effect the exchange between I(1,000s) and II(1,000c);
  2. whatever the distribution of this money, between the two departments may have been, the exchange transaction completed, each department of capitalist production must again possess the same amount of money it had earlier put into circulation.

This latter maxim applies quite generally to social circulation as a whole: once the process of circulation is concluded, money will always have returned to its point of origin. Thus all capitalists, after universal exchange, have achieved a twofold result: first they have exchanged products which, in their natural form, were of no use to them, against other products which, in their natural form, the capitalists require either as means of production or for their own consumption. Secondly, they have regained, possession of the money which they set in circulation so as to effect these acts of exchange.

This phenomenon is unintelligible from the point of view of simple commodity circulation, where commodity and money continually change places – possession of the commodity excluding the possession of money, as money constantly usurps the place which the commodity, has given up, and vice versa. Indeed, this is perfectly true with regard to every individual act of commodity exchange which is the form of social circulation. Yet this social circulation itself is more than mere exchange of commodities: it is the circulation of capital. It is, however, an essential and characteristic feature of this kind of circulation, that it does not only return to the capitalist the value, of his original capital plus an increase the surplus value, but that it also assists social reproduction by providing the means of production and labour power in the natural form of productive capital, and by ensuring the, maintenance of those who do not work. Possessing both the means of production and the money needed, the capitalists start the total social process of circulation as soon a the social capital has completed its circuit, everything is again in their hands, apportioned to each department according to the investments made by it. The workers have only temporary possession of money during which time they convert the variable capital from its money form into its natural form. The variable capital in the capitalists’ hands is nothing but the outward shape of part of their capital, and for this reason it must always revert to them.

So far, we have only considered circulation as it takes place between the two large departments of production. Yet 4,000 units of the first Department’s produce remain there in the form of means of production to renew its constant capital of 4,000c. Moreover 500 of the consumer goods produced in Department II [corresponding to the surplus value II(500s)] also remain in this department in the form of consumer goods for the capitalist class. Since in both departments the mode of production is capitalistic, that is unplanned, private production, each department can distribute its own products – means of production in Department I and consumer goods in Department II – amongst its own capitalists only by way of commodity exchange, i.e by a large number of individual sale transactions between capitalists of the same department. Therefore the capitalists of both departments must have a reserve of money with which to perform these exchange transactions – to renew both the means of production in Department I and the consumer goods for the capitalist class in Department II. This part of circulation does not present any features of specific interest, as it is merely simple commodity circulation. Vendor and purchaser alike belong to the same category of agents of production, and circulation is concerned only with money and commodity changing hands within the same class and department. All the same, the money needed for this circulation must from the outset be in the hands of the capitalist class: it is part of their capital.

So far, the circulation of total social capital presents no peculiarities, even if we consider the circulation of money. From the very outset it is self-evident that society must possess a certain quantity of money to make this circulation possible, and this for two reasons: first, the general form of capitalist production is that of commodity production which implies the circulation of money; secondly, the circulation of capital is based upon the continuous alternation of the three forms of capital: money capital, productive capital, and commodity capital. And as it is this very money, finally, which operates as capital – our diagram referring to capitalist production exclusively – the capitalist class must have possession of this money, as it has possession of every other form of capital; it throws it into circulation in order to regain possession as soon as the process of circulation has been completed.

At first glance, only one detail might strike us: if the capitalist themselves have set in motion all the money which circulates in society, they must also advance the money needed for the realisation of their own surplus value. Thus it seems that the capitalists as a class ought to buy their own surplus value with their own money. As the capitalist class has possession of this money resulting from previous periods of production, even prior to the realisation of the product of each working period, the appropriation of surplus value at first sight does not seem to be based upon the unpaid labour of the wage labourer – as it in fact is – but merely the result of an exchange of commodities against an equivalent quantity of money both supplied by the capitalist class itself. A little reflection, however, dispels this illusion. After the general completion of circulation, the capitalists, now as before, possess their money funds which either reverted to them or remained in their hands. Further, they acquired consumer goods for the same amount which they have consumed. (Note that we are still confining ourselves to simple reproduction as the, prime condition of our diagram of reproduction: the renewal of production on the old scale and the use of all surplus value produced for the personal consumption of the capitalist class.)

Moreover, the illusion vanishes completely if we do not confine ourselves to one period of production but observe a number of successive periods in their mutual interconnections. The value the capitalist puts into circulation to-day in the form of money for the purpose of realising his own surplus value, is in fact nothing but his surplus value resulting from the preceding period of production in form of money. The capitalist must advance money out of his own pocket in order to buy his goods for consumption. On the one hand, the surplus value which he produces each year either exists in a natural-form which renders it unfit for consumption, or, if it takes a consumable form, it is temporarily in the hands of another person. On the other hand, he (the capitalist) has regained possession of the money, and he is now making his advances by realising his surplus value from the preceding period. As soon as he has realised his new surplus value, which is still embodied in the commodity form, this money will return to him. Consequently, in the course of several periods of production, the capitalist class draws its consumer goods from the pool, as well as the other natural forms of its capital. The quantity of money originally in its possession, however, remains unaffected by this process.

Investigation of the circulation of money in society shows that the individual capitalist can never invest the whole of his money capital in production but must always keep a certain money reserve to be employed as variable capital, i.e as wages. Further, he must keep a capital reserve for the purchase of means of production at any given period, and in addition, he must have a cash reserve for his personal consumption.

The process of reproducing the total social capital thus entails the necessity of producing and reproducing the substance of money. Money is also capital, for Marx’s diagram which we have discussed before, conceives of no other than capitalist production. Thus the diagram seems incomplete. We ought to add a further department, that of production of the means of exchange, to the other two large departments of social production [those of means of production (I) and of consumer goods (II)]. It is, indeed, a characteristic feature of this third department that it serves neither the purposes of production nor those of consumption, merely representing social labour in an undifferentiated commodity that cannot be used. Though money and its production, like the exchange and production of commodities, are much older than the capitalist mode of production, it was only the latter which made the circulation of money a general form of social circulation, and thus the essential element of the social reproductive process. We can only obtain a comprehensive diagram of the essential points of capitalist production if we demonstrate the original relationship between the production and reproduction of money and the two other departments of social production.

Here, however, we deviate from Marx. He included the production of gold (we have reduced the total production of money to the production of gold for the sake of simplicity) in the first department of social production.

“The production of gold, like that of metals generally, belongs to department 1, which occupies itself with means of production.”(3)

This is correct only in so far as the production of gold is the production of metal for industrial purposes (jewellery, dental toppings, etc.). But gold in its capacity as money is not a metal but rather an embodiment of social labour in abstracto. Thus it is no more a means of production than it is a consumer good. Besides, a mere glance at the diagram of reproduction itself shows what inconsistencies must result from confusing means of exchange with means of production. If we add a diagrammatic representation of the annual production of gold as the substance of money to the two departments of social production, we get the following three sets of figures:

  I. 4,000c +  1,000v + 1,000s = 6,000 means of production
 II. 2,000c +    500v +    500s = 3,000 means of subsistence
III.      20c +        5v +        5s =      30 means of exchange

This quantity of value of 30, chosen by Marx as an example, obviously does, not represent the quantity of money which circulates annually in society; it only stands for that part which is annually reproduced, the annual wear, and tear of the money substance which, on the average, remains constant so long as social reproduction remains on the same level. The turnover of capital goes on in a regular manner and the,realisation of commodities proceed sat an equal pace. If we consider the third line as an integral part of the first one, as Marx wants us to do, the following difficulty arises: the constant capital of the third department consists of real and concrete means of production, premises, tools, auxiliary materials, vessels, and the like, just as it does in the two other departments. Its product, however, the 30g which represent money, cannot operate in its natural formulas constant capital in any process of production. If we therefore include this 30g as an essential part of the product of Department I (6,000 means of production) the means of production will show a social deficit of this size which will prevent Departments I and II from resuming their reproduction on the old scale. According to the previous assumption – which forms the foundation of Marx’s whole diagram – reproduction as a whole starts from the product of each department in its actual useform. The proportions of the diagram are based upon this assumption; without it, they dissolve in chaos. Thus the first fundamental relation of value is based upon the equation: I(6,000) equals I(4,000) + II(2,000). This cannot apply to the product III(30g), since neither department can use gold as a means of production [say, in the proportion of I(20c) + II(10c)]. The second fundamental relation derived from this is based upon the equation I(1,000v) + I(1,000s) = II(2,000). This would mean, with regard to the production of gold, that as many consumer goods are taken from Department II as there are means of production supplied to it. But this is equally untrue. Though the production of gold removes concrete means of production from the total social product and uses them as its constant capital, though it takes concrete consumer goods for the use of its workers and capitalists, corresponding to its variable capital and surplus value, the product it supplies yet cannot operate in any branch of production as a means of production, nor is it a consumer good, fit for human consumption. To include the production of money in the activities of Department I, therefore, is to run counter to all the general proportions which express the relations of value in Marx’s diagram, and to diminish the diagram’s validity.

The attempt by Marx to find room for the production of gold within Department I (means of production) moreover leads to dubious results. The first act of circulation between this new sub-Department (called by Marx Ig) and Department II (consumer goods) consists as usual in the workers’ purchase of consumer goods from Department II with the money obtained as wages from the capitalists. This money is not yet a product of the new period of production. It has been reserved by the capitalists of Department Ig out of the money contained in their product of an earlier period. This, indeed, is the normal procedure. But now Marx allows the capitalists of Department II to buy gold from Ig with the money they have reserved, gold as a commodity material to the value of 2. This is a leap from the production of money into the industrial production of gold which is no more to do with the problem of the production of money than with the production of boot-polish. Yet out of the 5 Ig v that have been reserved, 3 still remain, and as the capitalist, unable to use them as constant capital, does not know what to do with them, Marx arranges for him to add them on to his own reserve of money. Marx further finds the following way out to avoid a deficit in the constant capital of II which must be exchanged completely against the means of production (Iv + Is):

“Therefore, this money must be entirely transferred from lie to us, no matter whether it exists in necessities of life or articles of luxury, and vice versa, a corresponding value of commodities must be transferred from IIs to IIc. Result: A portion of the surplus-value is accumulated as a hoard of money.”(4)

A strange result, in all conscience! We have achieved an increase in money, a surplus of the money substance, by simply confining ourselves to the annual wear and tear of the money find. This surplus value comes into existence, for some unknown reason, at the expense of the capitalists in the consumer goods department. They practise abstinence, not because they may want to expand their production of surplus value, let us say, but in order to secure a sufficient quantity of consumer goods for the workers engaged in the production of gold.

The capitalists of Department II, however, get poor reward for this Christian virtue. In spite of their abstinence, they are not only unable to expand their reproduction, but they are no longer even in the position to resume their production on its former scale. Even if the corresponding commodity value is transferred from IIg to IIc, it is not only the value but its actual and concrete fort) which matters. As the new part of the product of I now consists of money which cannot be used as a means of production, Department II, in spite of its abstinence, cannot renew its constant material capital on the old scale. As our diagram presupposes simple reproduction, its conditions are thus violated in two directions: surplus value is being hoarded, and the constant capital shows a deficit. Marx’s own results, then, prove that the production of gold cannot possibly find a place in either of the two departments of his diagram; the whole diagram is upset as soon as the first act of exchange between Departments I and II has been completed. As Engels remarks, in his footnote, ‘the analysis of the exchange of newly produced gold within the constant capital of Department I is not contained in the MS.’(5) Besides, the inconsistency would then only have been greater. The point of view we advocate is confirmed by Marx himself when he gives an exhaustive answer to the question, as striking as it is brief: ‘Money in itself is not an element of actual reproduction.’(6)

There is another important reason why we should put the production of money in a third and separate department of social production as a whole: Marx’s diagram of simple reproduction is valid as the starting-point and foundation of the reproductive process not only for capitalism but also, mutatis mutaudis, for every regulated and planned economic order, for instance a socialist one. However, the production of money, just like the commodity-form of the products, becomes obsolete when private ownership of the means of production is abolished. It constitutes the ‘illegitimate’ liabilities, the faux frais of the anarchic economy under capitalism, a peculiar burden for a society based upon private enterprise, which implies the annual expenditure of a considerable amount of labour on the manufacture of products which are neither means of production nor yet consumer goods. This peculiar expenditure of labour by a society producing under capitalism will vanish in a socially planned economy. It is most adequately demonstrated by means of a separate department within the process of reproducing social capital. It is quite immaterial in this connection whether we picture a country which produces its own gold or a country which imports gold from abroad. The same expenditure of social labour which in the first case is necessary for the direct production of gold, is required in the second case to effect the exchange transactions.

These observations show that the problem of the reproduction of total capital is not so crude as it often appears to those who approach it merely from the point of view of crises. The central problem might be formulated as follows: how is it possible that, in an unplanned economy, the aggregate production of innumerable individual capitalists can satisfy all the needs of society? One answer that suggests itself points to the continual fluctuations in the level of production in accordance with the fluctuating demand, i.e the periodical changes in the market. This point of view, which regards the aggregate product of society as an undifferentiated mass of commodities, and treats social demand in an equally absurd way, overlooks the most important element, the differentia specifica of the capitalist mode of production. We have seen that the problem of capitalist reproduction contains quite a number of precisely defined relations referring to specific capitalist categories and also, mutatis mutandis, to the general categories of human labour., The real problem consists in their inherent tendencies towards both confilet and harmony. Marx’s diagram is the scientific formulation of the problem.

Inquiry must now be made into the implications of this diagram analytic of the process of production. Has it any real bearing on the problems of actual life? According to the diagram, circulation absorbs the entire social product; all consumers’ needs are satisfied, and reproduction takes place without friction; The circulation of money succeeds the circulation of commodities, completing the cycle of social capital. But what is the position in real life? The relations outlined in the diagram lay down a precise first principle for the division of social labour in a planned production – always providing a system of simple reproduction, i.e no changes in the volume of production. But no such planned organisation of the total process exists in a capitalist economy, and things do not run smoothly, along a mathematical formula, as suggested by the diagram. On the contrary, the course of reproduction shows continual deviations from :the proportions of the diagram which become manifest (a) in the fluctuations of prices from day to day; (b) in the continual fluctuations of profits; (c) in the ceaseless flow of capital from one branch of production to another, and finally in the periodical and cyclical swings of reproduction between overproduction and crisis.

And yet, apart from all these deviations, the diagram presents a socially necessary average level in which all these movements must centre, to which they are always striving to return, once they have left it. That is why the fluctuating movements of the individual capitalists do not degenerate into chaos but are: reduced to a certain order which ensures the prolonged existence of society in spite of its lack of a plan.

In comparison, the similarities and the profound discrepancies between Mark’s diagram of reproduction and Quesnay’s Tableau Économique strike us at once. These two diagrams, the beginning and end of the period of classical economics, are the only attempts to describe an apparent chaos in precise terms, a chaos created by the interrelated movements of capitalist production and consumption, and by the disparity of innumerable private producers and consumers. Both writers reduce this chaotic jumble of individual capitals to a few broadly conceived rules which serve, as it were, as moorings for the development of capitalist society, in spite of its chaos. They both achieve a synthesis between the two aspects which are the basis of the whole movement of social capital: that circulation is at one and the same time a capitalist process of producing and appropriating surplus value, and also a social process of producing and consuming material goods necessary to civilised human existence. Both show the circulation of commodities to act as a mediator for the social process as a whole, and both conceive of the circulation of money as a subsidiary phenomenon, an external and superficial expression of the various stages within the circulation of commodities.

It is socially necessary labour which creates value. This inspired fundamental law of Marx’s theory of value which provided the solution of the money problem, amongst others, further led him first to distinguish and then to integrate those two aspects in the total reproductive process: the aspect of value and that of actual material connections. Secondly, Marx’s diagram is based upon the precise distinction between constant and variable capital which alone reveals the internal mechanisms of the production of surplus value and brings it, as a value-relationship, into precise relation with the two material categories of production: that of producer and consumer goods.

After Quesnay, some classical economists, Adam Smith and Ricardo in particular, came fairly close to this point of view. Ricardo’s contribution, his precise elaboration of the theory of value, has even been frequently confused with that of Marx. On the basis of his own theory of value, Ricardo saw that Smith’s method of resolving the price of all commodities into v + s – a theory which wrought so much havoc in the analysis of reproduction – is wrong; but he was not much interested in Smith’s mistake, nor indeed very enthusiastic about the problem of reproduction as a whole. His analysis, in fact, represents a certain decline after that of Adam Smith, just as Smith had partly retrogressed as against the Physiocrats. If Ricardo expounded the fundamental value categories of bourgeois economy – wages, surplus value and capital – much more precisely and consistently than his predecessors, he also treated them more rigidly. Adam Smith had, shown infinitely more understanding for the living connections, the broad movements of the whole. In consequence he did not mind giving two, or, as in the case of the problem of value, even three or four different answers to the same question. Though he contradicts himself quite cheerfully in the various parts of his analysis, these very contradictions are ever stimulating him to renewed effort, they make him approach the problem as a whole from an ever different point of view, and so to grasp its dynamics. Ultimately, it was the limitation of their bourgeois mentalities which doomed d both. Smith and Ricardo to failure. A proper understanding of the fundamental categories of capitalist production, of value and surplus value as living dynamics of the social process demands the understanding of this process in its historical development and of the categories themselves as historically conditioned forms of the general relations of labour. This means that only a socialist can really solve the problem of the reproduction of capital. Between the Tableau Économique and the diagram of reproduction in the second volume of Capital there lies the prosperity and decline of bourgeois economics, both in time and in substance.

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(1) In his seventh note to the Tableau Économique, following up his arguments against the mercantilist theory of money as identical with wealth, Quesnay says: ‘The bulk of money in a nation cannot increase unless this reproduction itself increases; otherwise, an increase in the bulk of money would inevitably be prejudicial to the annual production of wealth ... Therefore we must not judge the opulence of states on the basis of a greater or smaller quantity of money: thus a stock of money, equal to the income of the landowners, is deemed much more than enough for an agricultural nation where the circulation proceeds in a regular manner, and where commerce takes place in confidence and full liberty’ (Analyse du Tableau Économique, ed. Oncken, pp.324-5).

(2) Marx (Capital, Vol.2, p.482) takes the money spent directly by the capitalists of Department II as the starting point of this act of exchange. As Engels rightly says in his footnote, this does not affect the final result of circulation, but the assumption is not the correct condition of circulation within society. Marx himself has given a better exposition in Capital, Vol.2, pp. 461-2.

(3) Ibid., p.548.

(4) Ibid., p.550.

(5) Ibid., p.551.

(6) Ibid., p.572.

Last updated on: 11.12.2008