Works of Karl Marx 1857–58

Pre-Capitalist Economic Formations

Exchange of labour for labour rests on the worker’s propertylessness

The formula “capital”, in which living labor stands in the relation of non-property to raw material, instrument and the means of subsistence required during the period of production, implies in the first instance non-property in land – i.e., the absence of a state in which the working individual regards the land, the soil, as his own and labor as its proprietor. In the most favorable case, he stands both in relation of landowner to himself in his capacity as a laboring subject. Potentially, the ownership of land includes both property in raw materials, and in the original instrument of labor, the soil, as well as in its spontaneous fruits. In the most original form, this means that the individual regards the soil as belonging to him, and finds in it raw material, instrument, and means of subsistence not created by labor but by earth itself. Once this relationship is reproduced, then secondary instruments and fruits of the earth produced by labor immediately appear included in the primitive form of landownership. It is this historic situation which is in the first instance negated by the more complete property-relationship involved in the relation of the worker to the conditions of labor as capital. This is historic situation No. 1 which is negated in the new relationship, or assumed to have been dissolved by history.

A second historical step is implied in property in the instrument – i.e., in the relation of the laborer to the instruments as to his own, in which he labors as the owner of the instrument (which assumes that the instrument is subsumed in his individual labor, i.e., which assumes a special and limited phase of development of the productive force of labor). We are considering a situation in which the laborer not only owns the instrument, but in which this form of the laborer as proprietor or of the laboring proprietor is already distinct and separate from landed property, and not, as in the first case, an accident of landed property and subsumed under it: in other words, the artisan and urban development of labor. Hence, also, we here find raw material and means of subsistence mediated as the property of the artisan, mediated through his craft, through his property in the instrument. This second historic step now exists distinct and separate from the first, which in turn will appear considerably modified by the mere fact that this second type of property or of working proprietor has established its independent existence.

Since the instrument itself is already the product of labor – i.e., the element which constitutes property is already established by labor – the community can here no longer appear, as it can in the first case, in its primitive form. The community on which this form of property is based already appears as something produced, secondary, something which has come into being, a community produced by the laborer himself. It is clear that where ownership of the instrument is the relationship to the conditions of labor as property, in actual labor the instrument appears merely as a means of individual labor, and the art of really appropriating the instrument, to employ it as a means of labor, appears as a special skill of the laborer, which makes him the owner of his tools. In short, the essential character of gild or corporative systems (artisan labor as its subject and the constituent element of ownership) is analyzable in terms of a relation to the instrument of production: the tool as property. This differs from the relations to the earth, to the land as one’s own, which is rather that of the raw material as property. In this historic state No. 2 property is thus constituted by the laboring subject’s relation to this single element of the conditions of production, which makes him into a laboring proprietor; and this state may exist only as contradiction of state No. 1, or, if you like, as supplementary to a modified state No. 1. The first formula of capital negates this historic state also.

There is a third possible form which is to act as proprietor neither of the land nor of the instrument (i.e., nor of labor itself), but only of the means of subsistence, which are then found as the natural condition of the laboring subject. This is at bottom the formula of slavery and serfdom, which is also negated, or assumed to have been historically dissolved, in the relation of the worker to the conditions of production as capital.

The primitive forms of property necessarily dissolve into the relation of property to the different objective elements conditioning production; they are the economic basis of different forms of community, and in turn presuppose forms of community. These forms are significantly modified once labor itself is placed among the objective conditions of production (as in slavery and serfdom), as a result of which the simple affirmative character of all forms of property embraced in No. 1 is lost and modified. All of these include potential slavery, and therefore their own abolition. So far as No. 2 is concerned, in which the particular kind of labor – i.e., its craft mastery and consequently property in the instrument of labor – equals property in the conditions of production, this admittedly excludes slavery and serfdom. However, it may lead to an analogous negative development in the form of a caste system.

The third form, of property in the means of subsistence, cannot contain any relationship of the laboring individual to the conditions of production, and therefore of existence, unless it is dissolved into slavery and serfdom. It can only be the relation of the member of the primitive community founded upon landed property, who happens to have lost his ownership of land without as yet having advanced to property No. 2, as in the case of the Roman plebs at the time of “bread and circuses” [that is, of a propertyless mass living on a public dole]. The relation of retainers to their lords, or that of personal service, is essentially different. For it (personal service) forms at bottom merely the mode of existence of the landowner, who no longer labors himself, but whose property includes the laborers themselves as serfs, etc., among the conditions of production. What we have here as an essential relation of appropriation is the relationship of domination. Appropriation can create no such relation to animal, the soil, etc., even though the animal serves its master. The appropriation of another’s will is presupposed in the relationship of domination. Beings without will, like animals, may indeed render services, but their owner is not thereby lord and master. However, what we see here is, how the relations of domination and servitude also enter into this formula of the appropriation of the instruments of production; and they constitute a necessary ferment of the development and decay of all primitive relations of property and production. At the same time, they express their limitations. To be sure, they are also reproduced in capital, though in an indirect (mediated) form, and hence they also constitute a ferment in its dissolution, and are the emblems of its limitations.

“The right to sell oneself and one’s dependents in times of distress, was unfortunately general; it prevailed both in the North, among the Greeks and in Asia. The right of the creditor to take the defaulting debtor into servitude, and to redeem the debt either by his labor or by the sale of his person, was almost equally widespread.” (Neibuhr, I, 600)

[In another passage, Niebuhr explains the difficulties and misunderstandings of Greek writers of the Augustan period over the relationship between Patricians and Plebians and their confusion of this relationship with that between Patrons and Clients, as being due to the fact that

“they were writing at a time when rich and poor constituted the only real classes of citizens; where the man in need, no matter how noble his origins, required a Patron and the millionaire, even though only a freedman, was sought after as a Patron. They could find scarcely a trace of inherited relations of attachment.” (I, 620)]

“Artisans were to be found in both classes (resident aliens and freedmen together with their descendants), and plebians who abandoned agriculture passed into the limited citizen status enjoyed by these. Nor did they lack the honor of legally recognized gilds, and these were so highly respected that Numa was supposed to have been their founder. There were nine such gilds; pipers, goldsmiths, carpenters, dyers, harness-makers, tanners, saddlers, coppersmiths, and potters, the ninth corporation embracing the rest of the crafts.... Those among them were independent citizens, or who enjoyed a status equivalent to citizenship, independent of any patron (supposing such status was recognized); or those who were descendants of dependent men whose bond had lapsed with the extinction of their patrons’ families: these undoubtedly remained as remote from the quarrels of ancient citizens and the commons [der Gemeinde] as the Florentine gilds remained outside the feuds of the Guelf and Ghibelline families. It is probable that the population in servitude were still as a whole at the disposal of the patricians.” (I, 623)

On the one hand, we presuppose historical processes which transform a mass of individuals of a nation, if not perhaps immediately into genuine free laborers, then at any rate into potential free laborers, whose property is their labor-power and the possibility of exchanging it for the existing values. Such individuals confront all objective conditions of production as alien property, as their own non-property, but at the same time as something which can be exchanged as values and therefore to some extent appropriated by living labor.

Such historic processes of dissolution are the following:

Closer analysis will show that what is dissolved in all these processes of dissolution are relations of production in which use-value predominates; production for immediate use. Exchange-value and its production presuppose the predominance of the other form. Thus in all the above circumstances, deliveries in kind and labor services [Naturaldienste] predominate over money payments and services remunerated by money. But this is only incidental [or this could be translated as “But this observation is by the way”]. Again, closer examination will also reveal that all the dissolved relations were rendered possible only by a certain degree of development of the material (and therefore also of the mental) productive forces.

What concerns us at this point is the following. The process of dissolution which turns a mass of individuals in a nation, etc., into potential free wage-laborers – individuals obliged merely by their lack of property to labor and to sell their labor – does not presuppose the disappearance of the previous sources of income or (in part) of the previous conditions of property of these individuals. On the contrary, it assumes that only their use has been altered, that their mode of existence has been transformed, that they have passed into other people’s hands as a free fund, or perhaps that they have partly remained in the same hands. But this much is evident. The process which has in one way or another separated a mass of individuals from its previous affirmative relations to the objective conditions of labor, which negated these relations and thereby transformed these individuals into free laborers, is also the same process which has liberated these objective conditions of labor potentially from their previous ties to the individuals which are now separated from them. (These conditions of labor comprise land, raw material, means of subsistence, instruments of labor, money or all of these.) They are still present, but present in a different form, as a free fund, one in which all the old political, etc., relations are obliterated, and which now confront those separated, propertyless individuals merely in the form of values, of values maintaining themselves and each other [an sich festhaltenden Werten]. The same process which counterposes the masses of free laborers to the objective conditions of labor, has also counterposed these conditions to them as capital. The historic process was one of the separation of hitherto combined elements; its results is therefore not the disappearance of one of these elements, but a situation in which each of them appears negatively related to the other: the (potentially) free laborer on one hand, (potential) capital on the other. The separation of the objective conditions from the classes which are now transformed into free laborers, must equally appear at the opposite pole as the establishment of independence by these very conditions.

Let us consider the relationship of capital and wage labor not as something which has already reached decisive importance, and encroaches on production as a whole (Marx note: For in this case capital, presupposed as the condition of wage-labor, is the product of labor, and established as condition by labor itself, created by labor as its own presupposition), but as something which is still in the process of historical formation. We consider the original transformation of money into capital, the process of exchange between capital existing only potentially on one hand, and the free laborers existing potentially on the other. We then find ourselves naturally making the simple observation, with which the economists make great play – namely, that the side which appears as capital must possess raw materials, tools, and food enough to enable the worker to live before production is completed. Moreover, it would appear that accumulation – an accumulation prior to labor and not arising from labor – must have taken place on the part of the capitalist, which enables him to set the laborer to work and to maintain him in activity, as living labor power.

(Marx note: Once capital and wage labor have been established as their own prerequisites, i.e., as a base presupposed for production, the following state of affairs appears to exist: In the first instance, it seems that the capitalist must possess not only a fund of raw materials and means of subsistence sufficient for the laborer to reproduce himself, to produce the necessary means of subsistence, to realize necessary labor; but also a fund of raw material and instruments of production, by means of which the laborer realizes his surplus labor, i.e., the capitalist’s profit. Further analysis will reveal that the laborer is constantly creating a double fund for the capitalist, or in the form of capital. One part of this fund constantly fulfils the conditions of his own existence, the other part, the conditions of existence of capital. As we have seen, surplus capital – and surplus capital in its relation to its prehistoric relation to labor – includes the appropriation of all real, present capital, and of each element of such capital, which is appropriated uniformly as alien labor transformed into an object and appropriated by capital, without exchange, without the transfer of an equivalent for it.)

This action of capital, which is independent and not established by labor, is then transferred from this history of its origin into the present, and transformed into a factor of its reality and effectiveness, of its self-creation [Selbstformation]. Finally, the eternal right of capital to the fruit of other men’s labor is derived from this state of affairs, or rather what happens is, that the mode of acquisition of capital is derived from the simple and “just” laws of the exchange of equivalents.

Wealth occurring in the form of money can only be realized against the objective conditions of labor, because and if these have been separated from labor itself. We have seen that money can in part be accumulated by the sheer exchange of equivalents; however, this is so insignificant a source that it is not worth mention historically – assuming, that is, that we suppose this money to have been earned by the exchange of one’s own labor. It is rather money accumulated by usury – especially usury on landed property – and mobile (monetary) wealth accumulated through mercantile profits, that turns into capital in the strictest sense, into industrial capital. We will have occasion to deal with both forms below – that is, insofar as they themselves appear not as forms of capital but as prior forms of wealth which are the prerequisites for capital.

As we have seen, the concept – the origin – of capital implies money as its starting point, and therefore it implies a derivation from circulation; capital appears as the product of circulation. Capital formation does not therefore arise from landed property (though it might arise from the agricultural tenant insofar as he is also a trader in farm products), nor from the gild (though this provides a possibility) but from mercantile and usurious wealth. But the merchant and usurer only encounter the conditions which permit the purchase of free labor, once free labor has been detached from the objective conditions of its existence as a result of a historical process. At this point, it also becomes possible to buy these conditions themselves. Under gild conditions, for instance, mere money (unless it is the money of gild masters) cannot purchase looms in order to put men to work on them; there are regulations determining how many looms a man may employ, etc. In short, the instrument of labor is still so intimately merged with living labor, appearing as the domain of living labor, that it does not truly circulate. What enable monetary wealth to run into capital is, on the one hand, that it finds free laborers, and on the other hand, it finds means of subsistence, materials, etc., which would otherwise be in one form or another the property of the now objectiveless masses, and are also free and available for sale.

However, the other condition of labor – a certain craft skill, the existence of the instrument as a means of labor, etc. – is found ready to hand by capital in this preparatory or first period of capital. This is partly the result of the urban gild system, partly of domestic industry, or such industry as exists as an accessory to agriculture. The historic process is not the result of capital, but its prerequisite. By means of this process, the capitalist then inserts himself as a (historical) middleman between landed property and labor. History ignores the sentimental illusions about capitalist and laborer forming an association, etc.; nor is there a trace of such illusions in the development of the concept of capital. Sporadically, manufacture may develop locally in a framework belonging to quite a different period, as in the Italian cities side by side with the gilds. But if capital is to be the generally dominant form of an epoch, its conditions must be developed not merely locally, but on a large scale. (This is compatible with the possibility that during the dissolution of the gilds individual gild-masters may turn into industrial capitalists; however, in the nature of the phenomenon, this happens rarely. All in all, the entire gild system – both master and journeyman – dies out, where the capitalist and laborer emerge.)

However, it is evident, and borne out by closer analysis of the historic epoch which we are now discussing, that the age of dissolution of the earlier modes of production and relations of the worker to the objective conditions of labor, is simultaneously an age in which monetary wealth has already developed to a certain extent, and also one in which it is rapidly growing and expanding, by means of the circumstances which accelerate this dissolution. Just as it is itself an agent of that dissolution, so that dissolution is the condition of its transformation into capital. But the mere existence of monetary wealth, even its conquest of a sort of supremacy, is not sufficient for this dissolution to result in capital. If it were, then ancient Rome, Byzantium, etc., would have concluded their history with free labor and capital, or rather, would have entered upon a new history. There the dissolution of the old relations of property was also tied to the development of monetary wealth – of commerce, etc. However, in fact the result of this dissolution was not industry, but the domination of countryside over city.

The original formations of capital does not, as is often supposed, proceed by the accumulation of food, tools, raw materials or in short, of the objective conditions of labor detached from the soil and already fused with human labor.

[Marx note: Nothing is more obviously and superficially circular than the reasoning which argues (a) that the workers who must be employed by capital if capital is to exist as such, must first be created and called into life by its accumulation (waiting, as it were, on its “Let there be labor”); while (b) capital could not accumulate without alien labor, except perhaps its own labor. I.e., that capital might itself exist in the form of non-capital and non-money, for prior to the existence of capital, labor can only realize its value in the form of handicraft work, of petty agriculture, etc.; in short, of forms, all of which permit little or no accumulation, allow for only a small surplus produce, and consume the greater part of that. We shall have to return to the concept of “accumulation” later.]

Not by means of capital creating the objective conditions of labor. Its original formation occurs simply because the historic process of the dissolution of an old mode of production, allows value, existing in the form of monetary wealth to buy the objective conditions of labor on one hand, to exchange the living labor of the now free workers for money, on the other. All these elements are already in existence. What separates them out is a historical process, a process of dissolution, and it is this which enables money to turn into capital. Insofar as money itself plays a part here, it is only to the extent that it is itself an extremely powerful agent of dissolution which intervenes in the process, and hence contributes to the creation of the plucked, objectiveless, free laborers. It is certainly not by creating the objective conditions of such laborers’ existence, but rather by accelerating their separation from them – i.e., by accelerating their loss of property.

For instance, when the great English landowners dismissed their retainers, who had consumed a share of their surplus produce of their land; when their farmers drove out the small cottagers, etc., then a doubly free mass of living labor power was thrown on to the labor market: free from the old relation of clientship, villeinage, or service, but also free from all goods or chattels, from every real and objective form of existence, free from all property. Such a mass would be reduced either to the sale of its labor power or to beggary, vagabondage, or robbery as its only source of income. History records the fact that it first tried beggary, vagabondage, and crime, but was herded off this road on to the narrow path which led to the labor market by means of the gallows, pillory, and whip. (Hence the governments of Henry VII, VIII, etc., also appear as conditions of the historic process of dissolution and as creators of the conditions for the existence of capital.) Conversely, the means of subsistence formerly consumed by the lords and their retainers, were now available for purchase by money, and money wished to purchase them in order through their instrumentality to purchase labor. Money had neither created nor accumulated these means of subsistence. They were already present, consumed, and reproduced, before they were consumed and reproduced through the intervention of money. The only change was that these means of production were now thrown on to the exchange-market. They had now been detached from their immediate connection with the mouths of the retainers, etc., and transformed from use-values into exchange-values, thus falling under the government and sovereignty of monetary wealth. The same applies to the instruments of labor. Monetary wealth neither invented nor manufactured spinning wheel and loom. But once spinners and weavers had been separated from their land, they and their wheels and looms came under the sway of monetary wealth, etc.

Capital unites the masses of hands and instruments which are already there. This and only this is what characterizes it. It brings them together under its sway.

This is its real accumulation; the accumulation of laborers plus their instruments at given points. We shall have to go into this more deeply when we come to the so-called accumulation of capital.

Admittedly, monetary wealth in the form of merchants’ wealth had helped to accelerate and dissolve the old relations of production, and had, e.g., enabled the landowner to exchange his corn, cattle, etc., for imported use-values, instead of squandering his own production with his retainers, whose number, indeed, was to a large extent taken as the measure of his wealth. (This point has already been neatly made by A. Smith.) Monetary wealth had given greater significance to the exchange-value of his retinue. This was also true of his tenants, who were already semi-capitalists, though in a rather disguised manner. The evolution of exchange-value is favored by the existence of money in the form of a social order of merchants. It dissolves a production whose object is primarily immediate use-value, and the forms of property which correspond to such production – the relations of labor to its objective conditions – thus giving an impetus to the creation of a labor market (not to be confused with a slave market). However, even this effect of money is possible only if we presuppose the existence of urban craft activity, which rests not on capital and wage-labor, but on the organization of labor in gilds, etc. Urban labor itself had created the means of production, for which the gilds became as great an embarrassment as were the old relations of landed property in an improved agriculture, which was in turn partly the consequence of the greater sale of agricultural products to the cities, etc.

Other circumstances assisted the dissolution of the old relations of production, accelerated the separation of the laborer or the non-laborer capable of work, from the objective conditions of his reproduction, and thus advanced the transformation of money into capital. Such were, e.g., the factors which in the 16th century increased the mass of commodities in circulation, the mass of currency in circulation, creating new needs and consequently raising the exchange value of native products, raising prices, etc. Nothing can therefore be more foolish than to conceive the original formation of capital as if it meant the accumulation and creation of the objective conditions of production – food, raw materials, instruments – which were then offered to the dispossessed workers. What happened was rather that monetary wealth partly helped to detach the labor power of the individuals capable of work from these conditions. The rest of this process of separation proceeded without the intervention of monetary wealth. Once the original formation of capital had reached a certain level, monetary wealth could insert itself as an intermediary between the objective conditions of life, now “liberated” and the equally liberated, but now also unfettered and footloose, living labor powers, buying the one with the other. As to the formation of monetary wealth itself, before its transformation into capital: this belongs to the prehistory of the bourgeois economy. Usury, trade, the cities and government finance which arise with them, play the chief parts in it. Also hoarding by tenant farmers, peasants, etc., though to a smaller extent.

Trade is everywhere the intermediary for exchange value, or alternatively, the transfer of exchange value can be described as trade – for just as circulation acquires an independent existence in commerce, so does money in the social stratum of the merchants. We may see that the development of exchange and exchange-value brings about both the dissolution of labor’s relations of property in its conditions of existence and also of labor as something which is itself part of the objective conditions of production. All these are relations which express both a predominance of use-value and of production directed towards immediate consumption, and also the predominance of a real community which is still present as an immediate prerequisite of production. Production based on exchange-value and a community based on the exchange of these exchange-values, and labor as the general condition of wealth, all presuppose and produce the separation of labor from its objective conditions. Though, as we saw in the last chapter on money, production for exchange and community based on exchange may appear to posit property as deriving solely from labor, and private property in the production of one’s labor as a precondition, this appearance is deceptive. The exchange of equivalents occurs (but it is merely) the surface layer of a production which rests on the appropriation of other people’s labor without exchange, but under the guise of exchange. This system of exchange has capital as its basis. If we consider it in isolation from capital, as it appears on the surface, as an independent system, this is mere illusion, though a necessary illusion. It is therefore no longer surprising to find that the system of exchange-values – the exchange of equivalents measured in labor – turns into the appropriation of other people’s labor without exchange, the total separation of labor and property, or rather that it reveals this appropriation as its concealed background. For the rule of exchange-values, and of production producing exchange-values, presupposes alien labor power as itself an exchange-value. I.e., it presupposes the separation of living labor power from its objective conditions; a relationship to these – or to its own objectivity – as someone else’s property; in a word, a relation to them as capital.

The golden age of labor emancipating itself occurred only in those periods when feudalism was in decay, but still engaged in internecine conflict – as in England in the 14th and the first-half of the 15th centuries. If labor is once again to be related to its objective conditions as to its property, another system must replace that of private exchange, for as we have seen private exchange assumes the exchange of labor transformed into objects against labor-power, and thereby the appropriation of living labor without exchange.

Historically, money is often transformed into capital in quite simple and obvious ways. Thus, the merchant sets to work a number of spinners and weavers, who formerly engaged in these activities as subsidiary occupations to their agricultural work, and turns a subsidiary occupation into a principal one, after which he has them under his control and sway as wage-laborers. The next step is to remove them from their homes and to assemble them in a single house of labor. In this simple process, it is evident that the merchant has prepared neither raw materials nor instruments nor means of subsistence for the weaver or the spinner. All he has done is gradually to confine them to one sort of labor, in which they are dependent on the buyer, the merchant, and thus eventually find themselves producing solely for and by means of him. Originally, he has bought their labor merely by the purchase of their product. As soon as they confine themselves to the production of this exchange-value, and are therefore obliged to produce immediate exchange-values, and to exchange their labor entirely for money in order to go on living, they come under his domination. Finally, even the illusion of selling him their products, disappears. He purchases their labor and takes away first their property in the product, soon also their ownership of the instrument, unless he allows them the illusions of ownership in order to diminish his costs of production.

The original historical forms in which capital appears at first sporadically or locally, side by side with the old modes of production, but gradually bursting them asunder, make up manufacture in the proper sense of the word (not yet the factory). This arises, where there is mass-production for export – hence on the basis of large-scale maritime and overland trade, and in the centres of such trade, as in the Italian cities, Constantinople, the Flemish, Dutch cities, some Spanish ones such as Barcelona, etc. Manufacture does not initially capture the so-called urban crafts, but the rural subsidiary occupations, spinning and weaving, the sort of work which least requires craft skill, technical training. Apart from those great emporia, in which it finds the basis of an export market, and where production is, as it were by its spontaneous nature, directed towards exchange-value – i.e., manufactures directly connected with shipping, including shipbuilding itself, etc. The rural subsidiary occupations contain the broad basis of manufactures, whereas a high degree of progress in production is required in order to carry on the urban crafts as factory industries. Such branches of production as glassworks, metal factories, sawmills, etc., which from the start demand a greater concentration of labor-power, utilize more natural power, and demand both mass-production and a concentration of the means of production, etc.: these also lend themselves to manufacture. Similarly, paper mills, etc.

The other aspect of this process is the appearance of the tenant farmer and the transformation of the agricultural population into free day-laborers. Though the last place where this transformation triumphs in its purest and most logical forms, is the countryside, some of its earliest developments occur there. Hence the ancients, who never advanced beyond specifically urban craft skill and application, were never able to achieve large-scale industry. For its first prerequisite is the involvement of the entire countryside in the production, not of use-values, but of exchange values. Glassworks, papermills, ironworks, etc., cannot be conducted on gild principles. They require mass-production, sales to a general market, monetary wealth on the part of the entrepreneur. Not that he creates the subjective or objective conditions; but under the old relations of property and production these conditions cannot be brought together. (After this, the dissolution of the relations of serfdom and the rise of manufacture gradually transform all branches of production into branches operated by capital.) However, the towns themselves contain an element for the formation of genuine wage-labor – namely, day-laborers outside the gild system, unskilled laborers, etc.

We thus see that the transformation of money into capital presupposes a historic process which separates the objective conditions of labor, and makes them independent of and sets them against the laborers. However, once capital and its process have come into being, they conquer all production and everywhere bring about and accentuate the separation between labor and property, labor and the objective conditions of labor. Subsequent development will show in what ways capital destroys artisan labor, small working landownership, etc., and also itself in those forms in which it does not appear in contradiction to labor: petty capital, and intermediate or hybrid types between the classic, adequate mode of production of capital itself, and the old modes of production (in their original form), or as renewed on the basis of capital.

The only accumulation which is a prerequisite for the rise of capital, is that of monetary wealth, which, when considered in isolation, is entirely unproductive, emerges only from circulation and belongs only to circulation. Capital rapidly creates itself an internal market by destroying all rural subsidiary crafts – i.e., by spinning and weaving for all, providing clothing for all, etc.; in short, by turning the commodities formerly produced as immediate use-values into exchange-values. This process is the automatic result of the separation of the laborers from the soil and from their property (though even only serf property) in the conditions of production.

Though urban crafts are based substantially on exchange and the creation of exchange-values, the main object of production is not enrichment or exchange-value as exchange-values, but the subsistence of man as an artisan, as a master-craftsman, and consequently use-value. Production is therefore everywhere subordinate to a presupposed consumption, supply to demand, and its expansion is slow.

The production of capitalists and wage-laborers is therefore a major product of the process by which capital turns itself into values. Ordinary political economy, which concentrates only on the objects produced, forgets this entirely. Inasmuch as this process establishes reified labor as what is simultaneously the non-reification of the laborer, as the reification of a subjectivity opposed to the laborer, as the property of someone else’s will, capital is necessarily also a capitalist. The idea of some socialists, that we need capital but not capitalists, is completely false. The concept of capital implies that the objective conditions of labor – and these are its own product – acquire a personality as against labor, or what amounts to the same thing, that they are established as the property of a personality other than the worker’s. The concept of capital implies the capitalist. However, this error is certainly no greater than that of, e.g., all philologists who speak of the existence of capital in classical antiquity, and of Roman or Greek capitalists. This is merely another way of saying that in Rome and Greece labor was free, an assertion which these gentlemen would hardly make. If we now talk of plantation-owners in America as capitalists, if they are capitalists, this is due to the fact that they exist as anomalies within a world market based upon free labor. Were the term capital to be applicable to classical antiquity – though the word does not actually occur among the ancients (but among the Greeks the word arkhais is used for what the Roman’s called the principalis summa reicreditae, the principal of a loan) – then the nomadic hordes with their flocks on the steppes of Central Asia would be the greatest capitalists, for the original meaning of the word capital is cattle. Hence the contract of metairie (crop-sharing) which is frequent in the South of France, because of capital shortage, is still sometimes called “bail de bestes à cheptel” (contract of leasing cattle). If we permit ourselves a little bad Latin, then our capitalists or Capitales Homines (headmen) would be those “qui debent censum de capite” (who pay a head tax).

Difficulties which do not arise in the conceptual analysis of money do arise in that of capital. Capital is essentially a capitalist; but at the same time production in general is capital, as an element in the existence of the capitalist quite distinct from him. Thus we shall later find that in the term capital much is subsumed that does not apparently belong to the concept. E.g., capital is loaned. It is accumulated, etc. In all these relations it appears to be a mere object, and entirely to coincide with the matter of which it consists. However, further analysis will clarify this and other problems. (In passing, the following amusing observation: The good Adam Mueller, who takes all figurative phrases in a mystical sense, had also heard about living capital in ordinary life, as opposed to dead capital, and dresses up the notion theosophically. King Athelstan could have taught him a thing or two about this:

Reddam de meo propio decimas Deo tam in Vivente Capitale quam in mortuis fructuis terrae.”

(I shall give a tithe of my property to God, both in living cattle and in the dead fruits of the soil.)

Money always retains the same form in the same substratum, and is therefore more readily conceived as an object. But the same thing, commodity, money, etc., can represent capital or revenue, etc. Thus even the economists recognize that money is nothing tangible, but that the same thing can be subsumed now under the heading capital, now under some other and quite contrary term, and accordingly that it is or is not capital. It is evidently a relation and can only be a relation of production.


Last uploaded: 22 January 2021