Mary E. Marcy

Marxian Economics: Transportation

(March 1917)

From International Socialist Review, Vol. 17 No. 9, March 1917, pp. :552–554.
Transcribed by Matthew Siegfried.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

THE men who build the roads, lay the tracks, construct the engines and the cars and who build the vast railroad yards, etc., as well as those who build ships, the docks and ship yards – all produce value or commodities for which they are paid only wages, that is a portion of the value of these products, but which wages are, on the average, the value of their labor power. Like all other revolutionary workers, they desire to receive the value of their products – to cease selling their labor power as men sell saws or cloth or cows.

But the railroad men, the men who run the railroads, and the men who sail the seas, the vast army of workers who transport things from where they are produced to where they may be needed, from the farms to the mills and thence to the cities where people need food or clothing, these men are producers of value in another way.

Ten carloads of cattle remain only ten cars of cattle both before and after a long journey across a continent. A shipload of horses sent from America to the war zone in France contains no more horses at the end than at the beginning of the journey. Neither the transport workers on the ships nor on the railroads in either case have produced any additional commodities. Both groups of workers have, however, produced additional value.

And it is obvious to everyone that transportation is a necessity in society as it is organized today. Without railroads bringing fresh meats and other fresh produce to the cities every day we would soon be reduced to hunger and starvation. Mighty ocean liners carry wheat from the great wheat-producing nations to the nations which would be speedily brought to famine and disaster if they were unable to obtain outside supplies. Without the railroads and the oversea lines, “civilized” society and modern industry would be impossible today. Both enable men to get necessary things quickly, to cover long distances in a short time. They have brought all men close to one another.

In these cases men produce value who do not produce any commodities. On page 170, Vol. II, Capital (Kerr edition), Marx says:

“The use value of things has no existence except in consumption, and this may necessitate a change of place on the part of the product, in other words, it may re- quire the additional process of production of the transportation industry. The productive capital invested in this industry adds value to the transported products, partly by transferring value from the means of transportation, partly by adding value through the labor-power used in transportation. This last named addition of value consists, as it does in all capitalist production, of a reproduction of wages and surplus value.

“Within each process of production, the change of place of the object of labor and the required instruments of labor and labor-power – such as cotton which passes from the carding to the spinning room, or coal which is hoisted to the surface play a great role. The transition of the finished product, in the role of a finished commodity, from one independent place of production to another in a different location, shows the same phenomenon on a larger scale. The transport of the products from one factory to another is finally succeeded by the passage of the finished products from the sphere of production to that of consumption. The product is not ready for consumption until it has completed these movements.

“We have shown previously that a general law of the production of commodities decrees: The productivity of labor and its faculty of creating value stand in opposition to one another. This is true of the transportation industry as well as any other. The smaller the amount of materialized and subjective labor required for the transportation of the commodities over a certain distance, the greater is the productivity of labor, and vice versa.

“The absolute magnitude of the value which the transportation of commodities adds to them is smaller in proportion as the productivity of the transportation industry and vice versa.”

And on page 172:

“The circulation, that is to say, the actual perambulation of the commodities through space, is carried on in the form of transportation. The transportation industry forms on one hand an independent branch of production, and thus a special sphere of investment of productive capital. On the other hand, it is distinguished from the other spheres of production by the fact that it represents a continuation of a process of production within the process of circulation and for its benefit.”

On page 340, Vol. III, Capital (Kerr edition), Marx explains further:

“Expressage, cost of transportation, storage, etc., all these costs are not incurred in the production of the use values of the commodities, but in the realization of their exchange value. They are pure costs of circulation. They do not enter into the strict process of production, but since they enter into the process of circulation, they are part of the total process of reproduction.”

The wage workers on the steamship lines and on the railroads, who transport the commodities of the world from nation to nation and from state to state, sell their labor-power just as do the cotton mill workers or the miners. They sell their labor-power on the market and receive something like the value of that labor-power – that is, wages enough to produce more labor-power for the next day and month, and children to take their places later on. Their wages may represent two hours of social labor, or three hours of social labor, and the value they add to the commodities they transport may represent eight or ten hours of labor. Tn this country, where some railroad men work on a mileage basis, they may add sixteen hours of value and receive wages representing four or six hours of. social labor, or value.

Marx puts the workers of the express companies in the same class with the transportation workers.


In writing of storage, Marx says storage may or may not add value to commodities. Where a speculator, for example, merely decides to keep his bushels of corn or wheat in the warehouses awaiting a rise in prices, this storing produces no value.

When a farmer is compelled to sell his wheat or oats as soon as they are produced in order to secure ready cash, and the man to whom he sells holds the grains on a rising market, the broker or purchaser is put to storage expense, but adds no value to these products.

In such cases the producer merely sells his product below its value and the expense of storing is paid out of the portion of the surplus value appropriated by the buyer.

But in other instances the nature of commodities makes their storage a necessity. Storing crops, to preserve them, necessary cold-storage are examples of this nature. This storage adds value to the commodities.

In Vol. II, Capital, on pages 154–155, Marx makes this plain. He says:

“Expenses of circulation, which are due to a mere change of form in circulation, ideally speaking, do not enter into the value of commodities. The capital parts expended for them are deductions from the productively expended capital, so far as the capitalist is concerned. Not so the expenses of circulation which we shall consider now. They may arise from processes of production, which are continued only in circulation, the productive character of which is merely concealed by the form of circulation.”

Speculators may buy and sell the same wheat, storing it in various warehouses, over and over again, at a time when there is a big demand for this commodity. The wheat will probably, or at least on the average, sell at its value ultimately. The man who originally bought of the farmer purchased the wheat below its value. No value is added by storing it in the warehouses, but the expenses of storage are borne by the various speculators who pay it out of the surplus value appropriated from the farmers, or producers.

This would not at all apply to necessary cold storage, which enables the world to buy eggs when the hens are not laying, to preserve meats for long periods of time in the hottest weather, or to ship meat to distant points preserved by up-to-date refrigeration.

All this work of the men and women employed in such storage is necessary labor which adds value to the commodities, altho it does not produce any commodities itself. This means value produced in the sphere of circulation. And the capitalists in these fields are able to enrich themselves to the extent of the difference between the wages paid these workers and the value added by them, less, of course, the wear and tear of machinery, etc., etc.

* * *


1. Do commodities, on the average, sell to the consumers at their value?

2. Do wage workers, on the average, receive the value of their labor-power?

3. Is virgin gold any more valuable in Washington than it is in Alaska? Is wheat any more valuable in Chicago than it is at the farm?

4. Do these commodities sell at a higher price in Washington and Chicago than they do in Alaska and at the farm?

5. Do the railroad men who haul logs from Northern Michigan to the furniture factory in Southern Michigan add any value to them?

6. Where does the railroad corporation get its profits? From the furniture manufacturer or from the labor of the railroad men?

7. Suppose wheat is sold by farmers to a speculator who ships it to Chicago from Indiana and this speculator re-sells to another man, who ships the grain to Missouri; suppose another purchaser ships it back to Indiana, who pays for the unnecessary transportation? The working class? The “consumer”? Or the speculator?

8. Whom does the railroad company exploit – the consumer, the shipper or the railroad workers?

9. Do any workers produce value who produce no commodities? Name those so employed in two industries.

10. Are there any workers who perform a useful function in society who neither create any value nor produce any commodities? If such workers are necessary, will we always aim to give them the value of such service even under an industrial democracy? Will these workers have to be paid out of the value created by the producers? Does anybody else produce any value?’

Top of the page

Last updated on 27 January 2023