Rosa Luxemburg
The Accumulation of Capital

Section Two
Historical Exposition of the Problem
Third Round
Struve-Bulgakov-Tugan Baranovski v. Vorontsov-Nikolayon

Chapter 22
Bulgakov and His Completion of Marx’s Analysis

The second critic of ‘populist’ scepticism, S. Bulgakov, is no respecter of Struve’s ‘third persons’ and at once denies that they form the sheet-anchor for capitalist accumulation.

‘The majority of economists before Marx’ he declares, ‘solved the problem by saying that some sort of ‘third person’ is needed, as a deus ex machina, to cut the Gordian knot, i.e. to consume the surplus value. This part is played by luxury-loving landowners (as with Malthus), or by indulgent capitalists, or yet by-militarism and the like. There can be no demand for the surplus value without some such extraordinary mediators; a deadlock will be reached on the markets and the result will be over-production and crises.’(1)

‘Struve thus assumes that capitalist production in its development, too, may find its ultimate mainstay in the consumption of some fantastic sort of ‘third person’. But if this great public is essentially characterised as consuming the surplus value, whence does it obtain the means to buy?’(2)

For his part, Bulgakov centres the whole problem from the first in the analysis of the social aggregate product and its reproduction as given by Marx in the second volume of Capital. He has a thorough grasp of the fact that he must start with simple reproduction and must fully understand its working in order to solve the question of accumulation. In this context, he says, it is of particular importance to obtain a clear picture of the consumption of surplus value and wages in such branches of production as do not turn out goods for consumption, and further, to understand fully the circulation of that portion of the social aggregate product which represents used-up constant capital. This, he argues, is a completely new problem of which economists had not even been aware before Marx brought it up.

‘In order to solve this problem, Marx divides all capitalistically produced commodities into two great and fundamentally different categories: the production of producer and consumer goods. There is more theoretical importance in this division than in all previous squabbles on the theory of markets.’(3)

Bulgakov, we see, is an outspoken and enthusiastic supporter of Marx’s theory. The object of his study, as he puts it, is thus a critique of the doctrine that capitalism cannot exist without, external markets.

‘For this purpose, the author has made use of the most valuable analysis of social reproduction given by Marx in volume ii of Capital which for reasons unknown has scarcely been utilised in economic theory. Though this analysis cannot be taken as fully completed, we are yet of opinion that even in its present fragmentary shape it offers an adequate foundation for a solution of the market problem that differs from that adopted by Messrs. Nikolayon, V.V. and others, and which they claim to have found in Marx.’(4)

Bulgakov gives the following formulation of his solution which he has deduced from Marx himself:

‘In certain conditions, capitalism may exist solely by virtue of an internal market. It is not an inherent necessity peculiar to the capitalist mode of production that the outside market be able to absorb the surplus of capitalist production. The author has arrived at this conclusion in consequence of his study of the above-mentioned analysis of social reproduction.’

And now we are eager to hear the arguments Bulgakov has based on the above thesis.

At first sight, they prove surprisingly simple: Bulgakov faithfully reproduces Marx’s well-known diagram of simple reproduction, adding comments which do credit to his insight. He further cites Marx’s equally familiar diagram of enlarged reproduction – and this indeed is the proof we have been so anxious to find.

‘Consequent upon what we have said, it will not be difficult now to determine the very essence of accumulation. The means-of-production department I must produce additional means of production necessary for enlarging both its own production and that of Department II. II, in its turn, will have to supply additional consumption goods to enlarge the variable capital in both departments. Disregarding the circulation of money, the expansion of production is reduced to an exchange of additional products of I needed by II against additional products of II needed by I.’

Loyally following Marx’s deductions, Bulgakov does not notice that so far his entire thesis is nothing but words. He believes that these mathematical formulae solve the problem of accumulation. No doubt we can easily imagine proportions such as those he has copied from Marx, and if there is expanding production, these formulae will apply. Yet Bulgakov overlooks the principal problem: who exactly is to profit by an expansion such as that whose mechanism he examines? Is it explained just because we can put the mathematical proportions of accumulation on paper? Hardly, because just as soon as Bulgakov has declared the matter settled and goes on to introduce the circulation of money into the analysis, he right away comes up against the question: where are I and II to get the money for the purchase of additional products? When we dealt with Marx, time and again the weak point in his analysis, the question really of consumers in enlarged reproduction, cropped up in a perverted form as the question of additional money sources. Here Bulgakov quite slavishly follows Marx’s approach, accepting his misleading formulation of the problem without noticing that it is not straightforward, although he knows perfectly well that ‘Marx himself did not answer this question in the drafts which were used to compile the second volume of Capital’. It should be all the more interesting to see what answer Marx’s Russian pupil attempted to work out on his own.

‘The following solution’, Bulgakov says, ‘seems to us to correspond best to Marx’s doctrine as a whole: The new variable capital in money-form supplied by II for both departments has its commodity equivalent in surplus value II. With reference to simple reproduction, we have already seen that the capitalists themselves must throw money into circulation to realise their surplus value, money which ultimately reverts to the pocket of the very capitalist it came from. The quantity of money required for the circulation of the surplus value is determined in accordance with the general law of commodity circulation by the value of the commodities that contained if divided by the average amount of money turnover. This same law must apply here; the capitalists of Department II must dispose of a certain amount of money for the circulation of their surplus value, and must consequently possess certain money reserves. These reserves must be ample enough for the circulation both of that portion of the surplus value which represents the consumption fund and of that which is to be accumulated as capital.’

Bulgakov further argues that it is immaterial to the question how much money is required to circulate a certain amount of commodities inside a country, whether or not some of these commodities contain any surplus value. ‘In answer to the general question as to money sources inside the country, however, our solution is that the money is supplied by the producer of gold.’(5)

If a country requires more money consequent upon an expansion of production, the production of gold will have to be increased accordingly. So here we are again: the producer of gold is again the deus ex machina, just as he had been for Marx. In fact, Bulgakov has sadly disappointed us in the high hopes we had of his new solution. His ‘solution’ of the problem does not go a step beyond Marx’s own analysis. It can be reduced to three extremely simple statements as follows:

  1. Question: How much money do we need for the realisation of capitalised surplus value? Answer: Just as much as is required in accordance with the general law of commodity circulation.
  2. Q.: Where do the capitalists get the money for the realisation of capitalised surplus value? A.: They are supposed to have it.
  3. Q.: How did the money come into the country in the first place? A.: It is provided by the producer of gold.

The extreme simplicity of this method of explanation is suspicious rather than attractive.

We need not trouble, however, to refute this theory which makes the gold producer the deus ex machina of capitalist accumulation. Bulgakov has done it himself quite adequately. Eighty pages on, he returns to the gold producer in quite a different context, in the course of a lengthy argument against the theory of the wages fund in which he got involved for some mysterious reason. Here he suddenly displays a keen grasp of the problem:

‘We know already that there is gold producer amongst other producers. Even under conditions of simple reproduction, he increases, on the one hand, the absolute quantity of money circulating inside the country, and on the other, he buys producer and consumer goods without, in his turn, selling commodities, paying with his own product, i.e. with the general exchange equivalent, for the goods he buys. The gold producer now might perhaps render the service of buying the whole accumulated surplus value from II and pay for it in gold which II can then use to buy means of production from I and to increase its variable capital needed to pay for additional labour power so that the gold producer now appears as the real external market.

‘This assumption, however, is quite absurd. To accept it would mean to make the expansion of social production dependent upon the expansion of gold production. (Hear, hear!) This in turn presupposes an increase in gold production which is quite unreal. If the gold producer were obliged to buy all the accumulated surplus value from II for his own workers, his own variable capital would have to grow by the day and indeed by the hour. Yet his constant capital as well as his surplus value should also grow in proportion, and gold production as a whole would consequently have to take on immense dimensions. (Hear, hear!) Instead of submitting this sophistical presumption to statistical tests – which in any case would hardly be possible – a single fact can be adduced which would alone refute this presupposition: it is the development of the institution of credit which accompanies the development of capitalist economy. (Hear, hear!) Credit has the tendency to diminish the amount of money in circulation (this decrease being, of course, only relative, not absolute); it is the necessary complement of a developing economy of exchange which would otherwise soon find itself hampered by a lack of coined money. I think we need not give figures in this context to prove that the role of money in exchange-transactions is now very small. The hypothesis is thus proved in immediate and evident disagreement with the facts arid must be confuted.’(6)

Bravo! Bravissimo! This is really excellent! Bulgakov, however, thus ‘confutes’ also his former explanation of the question in what way and by whom capitalised surplus value is realised. Moreover, in refuting his own statements, Bulgakov has only explained in somewhat greater detail what Marx expressed in a single word when he called the hypothesis of a gold producer swallowing up the entire surplus value of society – ‘absurd’.

Admittedly, Bulgakov’s real solution and that of Russian Marxists in general who deal extensively with the problem must be sought elsewhere. Just like Tugan-Baranovski and Ilyin [Lenin], Bulgakov underlines the fact that the opposing sceptics made a capital error with respect to the possibility of accumulation in analysing the value of the aggregate product. They, especially Vorontsov, assumed that the aggregate social product consists in consumer goods, and they all started from the false premise that consumption is indeed the object of capitalist production. This, as the Marxists now explain, is the source of the entire misunderstanding – of all the imaginary difficulties connected with the realisation of the surplus value, with which the sceptics racked their brains.

‘This school created non-existent difficulties because of this mistaken conception. Since the normal conditions of capitalist production presuppose that the capitalists’ consumption fund is only a part of the surplus value, and the smaller part at that, the larger being set aside for the expansion of production, it is obvious that the difficulties imagined by this (the populist) school do not really exist.’(7)

The unconcern with which Bulgakov here ignores the real problem is striking. Apparently it has not dawned on him that the question as to the ultimate beneficiaries, quite irrelevant so long as personal consumption of the entire surplus value is assumed, only becomes acute on the assumption of enlarged reproduction.

All these ‘imaginary difficulties’ vanish, thanks to two discoveries of Marx’s which his Russian pupils untiringly quote against their opponents. The first is the fact that, in terms of value, the social product is composed, not of v + s, but of c + v + s. Secondly, the ratio of c to v in this sum continually increases with the progress of capitalist production, and at the same time, the capitalised part of the surplus value as against that part of it that is consumed, is ever growing. On this basis, Bulgakov establishes a complete theory of the relations between production and consumption in a capitalist society. As this theory plays such an important part for the Russian Marxists in general, and Bulgakov in particular, it will be necessary to get better acquainted with it.

‘Consumption,’ Bulgakov says, ‘the satisfaction of social needs, is but an incidental moment in the circulation of capital. The volume of production is determined by the volume of capital, and not by the amount of social requirements. Not alone that the development of, production is unaccompanied by a growth in consumption – the two are mutually antagonistic. Capitalist production knows no other than effective consumption, but only such persons who draw either surplus value or labour wages can be effective consumers and their purchasing power strictly corresponds to the amount of those revenues. Yet we have seen that the fundamental evolutionary laws of capitalist production tend, despite the absolute increase, to diminish the relative size of variable capital as well as of the capitalists’ consumption fund. We can say, then, that the development of production diminishes consumption.(8) The conditions of production and of consumption are thus in conflict. Production cannot and does not expand to further consumption. Expansion, however, is an inherent fundamental law of capitalist production and confronts every individual capitalist in the form of a stern command to compete. This contradiction is negligible in view of the fact that expanding production as such represents a market for additional products. “Inherent contradictions are resolved by an extension of the outlying fields of production.”’(9) (Bulgakov here quotes a saying of Marx which he has thoroughly misunderstood; we shall later have occasion to deal with it once more.) ‘It has just been shown how this is possible.’ (A reference to the analysis of the diagram of enlarged reproduction.) ‘Evidently, the greater share of the expansion is apportioned to Department I, to the production, that is to say, of constant capital, and only a (relatively) smaller part to Department II which produces commodities for immediate consumption. This change in the relations of the two departments shows well enough what part is played by consumption in a capitalist society, and it indicates where we should expect to find the most important demand for capitalist commodities.’(10)

‘Even within the narrow limits of the profit motive and the crises, even on this strait and narrow path, capitalist production is capable of unlimited expansion, irrespective of, and even despite, a decrease in consumption. The Russian literature frequently points out that in view of diminishing consumption a considerable increase of capitalist production is impossible without external markets, but this is due to a wrong evaluation of the part played by consumption in a capitalist society, the failure to appreciate that consumption is not the ultimate end of capitalist production. Capitalist production does not exist by the grace of an increase in consumption but because of an extension of the outlying fields of production which in fact constitute the market for capitalist products. A whole progression of Malthusian investigators, discontented with the superficial harmony doctrine of the school of Say and Ricardo, have slaved away at a solution of the hopeless undertaking: to find means of increasing consumption which the capitalist mode of production is bound to decrease. Marx was the only one to analyse the real connections: he has shown that the growth of consumption is fatally lagging behind that of production, and must do so whatever ‘third persons’ one might invent. Consumption and its volume then should by no means be considered as establishing the immediate limits to the expansion of production. Capitalist production atones by the crises for deviating from the true purpose of production, but it is independent of consumption. The expansion of production is alone limited by, and dependent upon, the volume of capital.’(11)

The theory of Bulgakov and Tugan-Baranovski is here directly attributed to Marx. In the eyes of the Russian Marxists, it is on the whole the direct consequence of Marx’s doctrine, of which it forms an organic part. On another occasion Bulgakov says even more clearly that it is a faithful interpretation of Marx’s diagram of enlarged reproduction. Once a country has embraced capitalist production, its internal movement develops along the following lines:

‘The production of constant capital makes up the Department I of social reproduction, thereby instituting an independent demand for consumption goods to the extent of both its own variable capital and the consumption fund of its capitalists. Department II in its turn starts the demand for the products of Department I. Thus, a closed circle is already formed at the initial stage of capitalist production,, in which it depends on no external market but is self-sufficient and can grow, of itself, as it were, by means of accumulation.(12)

In the hands of the Russian Marxists this theory becomes the favourite stick with which to beat their opponents, the ‘populist’ sceptics, in the question of markets. We can only appreciate its daring to the full when we look at its amazing discrepancy with everyday practice, with all the known facts of capitalist economy. A thesis pronounced so triumphantly as the purest Marxist gospel is even more deserving of our admiration when we consider that it is grounded in an extremely simple confusion. We shall have further occasion to deal with this confusion when we come to the doctrine of Tugan-Baranovski.

Bulgakov further develops a completely erroneous theory of foreign commerce, based upon his misapprehension of the relations between consumption and production in capitalist economy. A picture of reproduction like the above in fact has no room for foreign commerce. If capitalism forms a ‘closed circle’ in every country from the very beginning, if, chasing its tail like a puppy and in complete ‘self-sufficiency’, it is able of itself to create an unlimited market for its products and can spur itself on to ever greater expansion, then every capitalist country as such must also be a closed and self-sufficient economic whole. In but a single respect would foreign commerce appear reasonable: to compensate, by imports from abroad, for certain deficiencies due to the soil and the climate, i.e. the import of raw materials or foodstuffs from sheer necessity. Completely upsetting the thesis of the ‘populists’, Bulgakov in fact advances a theory of international commerce among capitalist states which gives, pride of place to ‘the import of agricultural products, with industrial exports merely providing the requisite funds.

International traffic in commodities does not here seem to flow from the character of the mode of production but from the natural conditions of the countries concerned. This theory at any rate has not been borrowed from Marx but from: the economic experts of the German bourgeoisie. Just as Struve took over from Wagner and Schaeffle his Three Empire Theory, so Bulgakov adopts from the late List (R.I.P.) the division of states on the basis of ‘agriculture’ and ‘mixed agriculture and manufacture’, or rather adapts it, in deference to the times, to the categories of ‘manufacture’ and ‘mixed manufacture and agriculture’. Nature has afflicted the first category with a deficiency in raw materials and foodstuffs, making it thus dependent upon foreign commerce. The second category has been liberally endowed with all it needs; here foreign trade is of no account. The prototype of the first category is England, of the second – the USA. The stoppage of foreign commerce would mean the economic death-blow to England, but only a temporary crisis in the USA with a guarantee of full recovery.

‘Production there is capable of unlimited expansion on the basis of the internal market.’(13)

This theory, a hoary relic of German economics even now, has obviously not the least grasp of the interrelations obtaining in an international capitalist economy. It conceives of modern international trade in terms that may have been appropriate to the times of the Phoenicians. Just listen to the lecture of Professor Buecher:

‘Although the liberalist era has greatly facilitated international traffic, it would be a mistake to infer from this that the period of a national economy is nearing its end, to be replaced by a period of international economy ... Granted that we see in Europe to-day a number of small countries that are not independent nations in respect of their commodity supply, being compelled to import substantial amounts of their foodstuffs and luxuries, while their industrial productivity is in excess of the national needs and creates a permanent surplus for which employment must be found in alien spheres of consumption. Yet although countries of industrial production and those producing raw materials exist side by side and depend upon one another, such “international division of labour” should not be regarded as a sign that mankind is about to attain to a higher stage of development which it would be proper to contrast, under the label of world economy, with the ... previous stages. No stage of economic development has ever permanently guaranteed full autonomy in the satisfaction of wants. Every one of them has left certain gaps which had to be filled in by some means or, other. So-called “international economy”, on the other hard, has not, at any rate so far, engendered any phenomena which are essentially different from those of national economy, and we very much doubt that such phenomena will appear in the near future.’(14)

As far as Bulgakov is concerned, his conception at any rate results in an unexpected conclusion: his theory of the unlimited capacity for development of capitalism is confined to certain countries with favourable natural conditions. Capitalism in England is foredoomed because the world market will be exhausted before long. In the USA, India and Russia it can look forward to an unlimited development because these countries are ‘self-sufficient’.

Apart from these obvious peculiarities, Bulgakov’s arguments about foreign commerce again imply a fundamental misconception. Against the sceptics, from Sismondi to Nikolayon, who believed that they had to take recourse to outside markets for the realisation of capitalist surplus value, he chiefly argues as follows:

‘These experts obviously consider external commerce as a “bottomless pit” to swallow up in all eternity the surplus value which cannot be got rid of inside the country.’

Bulgakov for his part triumphantly points out that foreign commerce is indeed not a pit and certainly not a bottomless one, but rather appears as a double-edged sword, that exports always belong with imports, and that the two usually counterbalance one another. Thus, whatever is pushed out over one border, will be brought back, in a changed use-form, over another.

‘We must find room for the commodities that have been imported as an equivalent of those exported, within the bounds of the given market, and as this is impossible, ex hypothesi, it would only generate new difficulties to have recourse to an external demand.’(15)

On another occasion he says that the way to realise the surplus value found by the Russian ‘populists’, viz. external markets, is much less favourable than that discovered by Malthus, v. Kirchmann and Vorontsov himself when he wrote the essay On Militarism and Capitalism’.(16)

Although Bulgakov fervently copies Marx’s diagram of reproduction, he here exhibits no grasp whatever of the real problem towards which the sceptics from Sismondi to Nikolayon were groping their way. He denies that foreign commerce solves the difficulty as pretended, since it again brings the surplus value that has been disposed of into the country, although in a ‘changed form’. In conformity with the crude picture of v. Kirchmann and Vorontsov, he thus believes the problem to be that of destroying a certain quantity of the surplus value, of wiping it from the face of the earth. It simply does not occur to him that the real problem is the realisation of the surplus value, the metamorphosis of commodities, in fact the ‘changed form’ of the surplus value.

Bulgakov thus finally arrives at the same goal as Struve, though by a different route. He preaches the self-sufficiency of capitalist accumulation which swallows up its own product as Kronos swallows up his children, and breeds ever more vigorously without help from outside. Now only one further step is needed for Marxism to revert to bourgeois economics, and this, as luck would have it, was taken by Tugan-Baranovski.

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(1) S. Bulgakov, On the Markets of Capitalist Production. A study in Theory (Moscow 1897), p.15.

(2) Ibid., p.32, footnote.

(3) Ibid., p.27.

(4) Ibid., pp.2-3.

(5) Ibid., pp.50, 55.

(6) Ibid., pp.132ff.

(7) Ibid., p.20.

(8) Bulgakov’s italics.

(9) Capital, vol.ii, p.387.

(10) Bulgakov, op. cit., p.161.

(11) Ibid., p.167.

(12) Ibid., p.210 (our italics).

(13) Ibid., p.199.

(14) K. Buecher, The Rise of National Economy (Die Entstehung der Volkswirtschaft), 5th edition, p.147. Professor Sombart’s theory is the most recent contribution in this field. He argues that we are not moving towards an international economy but rather farther and farther away from it. ‘I maintain, on the contrary, that commercial relations to-day do not form a stronger but rather a weaker link between the civilised nations, in relation to their economy as a whole. Individual economy takes not more but rather less account of the world market than it did a hundred or fifty years ago. At least ... it would be wrong to assume that the relative importance of international relations with regard to modern political economy is increasing. The opposite is the case.’ Sombart scornfully rejects the assumption of a progressive international division of labour, of a growing need for outside markets owing to an inelastic home demand. He in his turn is convinced that the ‘individual national economies will develop into ever more perfect microcosms and that the importance of the home market will increasingly surpass that of the world market for all branches of industry’ (Die Deutsche Volkswirtschaft im 19. Jahrhundert, 2nd edition, 1909, pp.399-420). This devastating discovery admittedly hinges on a full acceptance of the Professor’s peculiar conception which, for some reasons, only considers those as ‘exporting countries’ who pay for their imports with a surplus of agricultural products over and above their own needs, who pay ‘with the soil’. In this scheme Russia, Rumania, the USA and the Argentine are, but Germany, England and Belgium are not, ‘exporting countries’. Since capitalist development will sooner or later also claim the surplus of agricultural products for the home demand in Russia and the USA, it evident that there will be fewer and fewer ‘exporting countries’ in the world – international economy will vanish. Another of Sombart’s discoveries is that great capitalist ‘non-exporting’ countries increasingly obtain ‘free’ imports in form of interest on exported capital – but the capital exports as well as exports of industrial commodities are of absolutely no account to Professor Sombart. ‘In the course of time we shall probably get to a point where we import without exporting’ (p.422). Modern, sensational, and precious!

(15) Bulgakov, op. cit., p.132.

(16) Ibid., p.236. A quite uncompromising version of the same view is given by V. Ilyin [Lenin]; ‘The romanticists (as he calls the sceptics) argue as follows; the capitalists cannot consume the surplus value; therefore they must dispose of it abroad. I ask: Do the capitalists perhaps give away their products to foreigners for nothing, throw it into the sea, maybe? If they sell it, it means that they obtain an equivalent. If they export certain goods, it means that they import others’ (Economic Studies and Essays, p.2). As a matter of fact, his explanation of the part played by external commerce in capitalist production is far more correct than that of Struve and Bulgakov.

Last updated on: 11.12.2008