Capital Volume II

Chapter 8: Fixed Capital and Circulating Capital

1. Distinctions of Form

We have seen (Buch I, Kap. VI) [English edition: Ch. VIII. — Ed.] that, in relation to the products toward the creation of which it contributes, a portion of the constant capital retains that definite use-form in which it enters into the process of production. Hence it performs the same functions for a longer or shorter period, in ever repeated labour-processes. This applies for instance to industrial buildings, machinery, etc. — in short to all things which we comprise under the name of instruments of labour. This part of constant capital yields up value to the product in proportion as it loses its own exchange-value together with its own use-value. This delivery of value, or this transition of the value of such a means of production to the product which it helps to create is determined by a calculation of averages. It is measured by the average duration of its function, from the moment that the means of production enters into the process of production to the moment that it is completely spent, dead and gone, and must be replaced by a new sample of the same kind, or reproduced.

This, then, is the peculiarity of this part of constant capital, of the labour instruments proper:

A part of capital has been advanced in the form of constant capital, i.e., of means of production, which function as factors of the labour-process so long as they retain the independent use-form in which they enter this process. The finished product, and therefore also the creators of the product, so far as they have been transformed into product, is thrust out of the process of production and passes as a commodity from the sphere of production to the sphere of circulation. But the instruments of labour never leave the sphere of production, once they have entered it. Their function holds them there. A portion of the advanced capital-value becomes fixed in this form determined by the function of the instruments of labour in the process. In the performance of this function, and thus by the wear and tear of the instruments of labour, a part of their value passes on to the product, while the other remains fixed in the instruments of labour and thus in the process of production. The value fixed in this way decreases steadily, until the instrument of labour is worn out, its value having been distributed during a shorter or longer period over a mass of products originating from a series of constantly repeated labour-processes. But so long as they are still effective as instruments of labour and need not yet be replaced by new ones of the same kind, a certain amount of constant capital-value remains fixed in them, while the other part of the value originally fixed in them is transferred to the product and therefore circulates as a component part of the commodity-supply. The longer an instrument lasts, the slower it wears out, the longer will its constant capital-value remains fixed in this use-form. But whatever may be its durability, the proportion in which it yields value is always inverse to the entire time it functions. If of two machines of equal value one wears out in five years and the other in ten, then the first yields twice as much value in the same time as the second.

This portion of the capital-value fixed in the instrument of labour circulates as well as any other. We have seen in general that all capital-value is constantly in circulation, and that in this sense all capital is circulating capital. But the circulation of the portion of capital which we are now studying is peculiar. In the first place it does not circulate in its use-form, but it is merely its value that circulates, and this takes place gradually, piecemeal, in proportion as it passes from it to the product, which circulates as a commodity. During the entire period of its functioning, a part of its value always remain fixed in it, independently of the commodities which it helps to produce. It is this peculiarity which gives to this portion of constant capital the form of fixed capital. All the other material parts of capital advanced in the process of production form by way of contrast the circulating, or fluid, capital.

Some means of production do not enter materially into the product. Such are auxiliary materials, which are consumed by the instruments of labour themselves in the performance of their functions, like coal consumed by a steam-engine; or which merely assist in the operation, like gas for lighting, etc. It is only their value which forms a part of the value of the products. The product circulates in its own circulation the value of these means of production. This feature they have in common with fixed capital. But they are entirely consumed in every labour-process which they enter and must therefore be wholly replaced by new means of production of the same kind in every new labour-process. They do not preserve their independent use-form while performing their function. Hence while they function no portion of capital-value remains fixed in their old use-form, their bodily form, either. The circumstance that this portion of the auxiliary materials does not pass bodily into the product but enters into the value of the product only according to its own value, as a portion of that value, and what hangs together with this, namely, that the function of these substances is strictly confined to the sphere of production, has misled economists like Ramsay (who at the same time got fixed capital mixed up with constant capital) to classify them as fixed capital. [Karl Marx, Theorien über den Mehrwert (Vierter Band des Kapitals), 3. Teil, Berlin, 1962, SS. 323-25. — Ed.]

That part of the means of production which bodily enters into the product, i.e., raw materials, etc., thus assumes in part forms which enable it later to enter into individual consumption as articles of use. The instruments of labour properly so called, the material vehicles of the fixed capital, are consumed only productively and cannot enter into individual consumption, because they do not enter into the product, or the use-value, which they held to create but retain their independent form with reference to it until they are completely worn out. The means of transportation are an exception to this rule. The useful effect which they produce during the performance of their productive function, hence during their stay in the sphere of production, the change of location, passes simultaneously into the individual use in the same way in which he pays for the use of other articles of consumption. We have seen [Karl Marx, Capital, Vol. I, pp. 181-82. — Ed.] that for instance in chemical manufacture raw and auxiliary materials blend. The same applies to instruments of labour and auxiliary and raw materials. Similarly in agriculture the substances added for the improvement of the soil pass partly into the plants raised and help to form the product. On the other hand their effect is distributed over a lengthy period, say four or five years. A portion of them therefore passes bodily into the product and thus transfers its value to the product while the other portion remains fixed in its old use-form and retains its value. It persists as a means of production and consequently keeps the form of fixed capital. As a beast of toil an ox is fixed capital. If he is eaten, he no longer functions as an instrument of labour, nor as fixed capital either.

What determines that a portion of the capital-value invested in means of production is endowed with the character of fixed capital is exclusively the peculiar manner in which this value circulates. This specific manner of circulation arises from the specific manner in which the instrument of labour transmits its value to the product, or in which it behaves as a creator of values during the process of production. This manner again arises from the special way in which the instruments of labour function in the labour-process.

We know that a use-value which emerges as a product from one labour-process enters into another as a means of production. [Karl Marx, Capital, Vol. I, p. 181. — Ed.] It is only the functioning of a product as an instrument of labour in the process of production that makes it fixed capital. But when it itself only just emerges from a process, it is by no means fixed capital. For instance a machine, as a product or commodity of the machine-manufacturer, belongs to his commodity-capital. It does not become fixed capital until it is employed productively in the hands of its purchaser, the capitalist.

All other circumstances being equal, the degree of fixity increases with the durability of the instrument of labour. It is this durability that determines the magnitude of the difference between the capital-value fixed in instruments of labour and that part of its value which it yields to the product in repeated labour-processes. The slower this value is yielded — and value is given up by the instrument of labour in every repetition of the labour-process — the larger is the fixed capital and the greater the difference between the capital employed in the process of production and the capital consumed in it. As soon as this difference has disappeared the instrument of labour has outlived its usefulness and has lost with its use-value also its value. It has ceased to be the depository of value. Since an instrument of labour, like every other material carrier of constant capital, parts with value to the product only to the extent that together with its use-value it loses its value, it is evident that the more slowly its use-value is lost, the longer it lasts in the process of production, the longer is the period in which constant capital-value remains fixed in it.

If a means of production which is not an instrument of labour strictly speaking, such as auxiliary substances, raw material, partly finished articles, etc., behaves with regard to value yield and hence manner of circulation of its value in the same way as the instruments of labour, then it is likewise a material depository, a form of existence, of fixed capital. This is the case with the above-mentioned improvements of the soil, which add to it chemical substances whose influence is distributed over several periods of production or years. Here a portion of the value continues to exist alongside the product, in its independent form or in the form of fixed capital, while the other portion of the value has been delivered to the product and therefore circulates with it. In this case it is not alone a portion of the value of the fixed capital which enters into the product, but also the use-value, the substance, in which this portion of value exists.

Apart from the fundamental mistake — the mixing up of the categories “fixed” and “circulating capital” with the categories “constant” and “variable capital” — the confusion of the economists hitherto in the definitions of concepts is based first of all on the following points:

One turns certain properties materially inherent in instruments of labour into direct properties of fixed capital; for instance physical immobility, say, of a house. However it is always easy to prove in such case that other instruments of labour, which as such are likewise fixed capital, possess the opposite property: for instance physical mobility, say, of a ship.

Or one confuses the economic definiteness of form which arises from the circulation of value with an objective property; as if objects which in themselves are not capital at all but rather become so only under definite social conditions could in themselves and in their very nature be capital in some definite form, fixed or circulating. We have seen (Buch I, Kap. V) [English edition: Ch. VII. — Ed.] that the means of production in every labour-process, regardless of the social conditions in which it takes place, are divided into instruments of labour and subjects of labour. But both of them become capital only under the capitalist mode of production, when they become “productive capital,” as shown in the preceding part. Thus the distinction between instruments of labour and subject of labour, which is grounded on the nature of the labour-process, is reflected in a new form: the distinction between fixed capital and circulating capital. It is only then that a thing which performs the function of an instrument of labour becomes fixed capital. If owing to its material properties it can function also in other capacities than that of instrument of labour, it may be fixed capital or not, depending on the specific function it performs. Cattle as beasts of toil are fixed capital; as beef cattle they are raw material which finally enters into circulation as a product; hence they are circulating, not fixed capital.

The mere fixation of a means of production for a considerable length of time in repeated labour-processes, which however are connected, continuous, and therefore form a production period — i.e., the entire time of production required to finish a certain product — obliges the capitalist, just as fixed capital does, to make his advances for a longer or shorter term, but this does not make his capital fixed capital. Seeds for instance are not fixed capital, but only raw material which is held for about a year in the process of production. All capital is held in the process of production so long as it functions as productive capital, and so are therefore all elements of productive capital, whatever their material forms, their functions and the modes of circulation of their values. Whether this period of fixation lasts a long or a short time — a matter depending on the kind of process of production involved or the useful effect aimed at — this does not effect the distinction between fixed and circulating capital.[20]

A part of the instruments of labour, which includes the general instruments of labour, is either localised as soon as it enters the process of production as an instrument of labour, i.e., is prepared for its productive function, such as for instance machinery, or is produced from the outset in its immovable, localised form, such as improvements of the soil, factory buildings, blast furnaces, canals, railways, etc. The constant attachment of the instrument of labour to the process of production in which it is to function is here also due to its physical mode of existence. On the other hand an instrument of labour may physically change continually from place to place, may move about, and nevertheless be constantly in the process of production; for instance a locomotive, a ship, beasts of burden, etc. Neither does immobility in the one case bestow upon it the character of fixed capital, nor does mobility in the other case deprive it of this character. But the fact that some instruments of labour are localised, attached to the soil by their roots, assigns to this portion of fixed capital a peculiar role in the economy of nations. They cannot be sent abroad, cannot circulate as commodities in the world-market. Title to this fixed capital may change, it may be bought and sold, and to this extent may circulate ideally. These titles of ownership may even circulate in foreign markets, for instance in the form of stocks. But a change of the persons owning this class of fixed capital does not alter the relation of the immovable, materially fixed part of the national wealth to its immovable part.[21]

The peculiar circulation of fixed capital results in a peculiar turnover. That part of the value which it loses in its bodily form by wear and tear circulates as a part of the value of the product. The product converts itself by means of its circulation from commodities into money; hence the same applies to the value-part of the instrument of labour circulated by the product, and this value drips down in the form of money from the process of circulation in proportion as this instrument of labour ceases to be a depository of value in the process of production. Its value thus acquires a double existence. One part of it remains attached to its use-form or bodily form belonging in the process of production. The other part detaches itself from that form in the shape of money. In the performance of its function that part of the value of an instrument of labour which exists in its bodily form constantly decreases, while that which is transformed into money constantly increases until the instrument is at last exhausted and its entire value, detached from its corpse, is converted into money. Here the peculiarity of the turnover of this element of productive capital becomes apparent. The transformation of its value into money keeps pace with the pupation into money of the commodity which is the carrier of its value. But its reconversion from the money-form into a use-form proceeds separately from the reconversion of the commodities into other elements of their production and is determined rather by its own period of reproduction, that is, by the time during which the instrument of labour wears out and must be replaced by another of the same kind. If a machine worth £10,000 lasts for, say, a period of ten years, then the period of turnover of the value originally advanced for it amounts to ten years. It need not be renewed and continues to function in its bodily form until this period has expired. In the meantime its value circulates piecemeal as a part of the value of the commodities whose continuous production it serves and it is thus gradually transformed into money until finally at the end of ten years it entirely assumes the form of money and is reconverted from money into a machine, in other words, has completed its turn-over. Until this time of reproduction arrives, its value is gradually accumulated, in the form of a money reserve fund to start with.

The remaining elements of productive capital consist partly of those elements of constant capital which exist as auxiliary and raw materials, partly of variable capital invested in labour-power.

The analysis of the labour-process and of the process of producing surplus-value (Buch I, Kap. V) [English edition: Ch. VII. — Ed.] showed that these different components behave quite differently as creators of products and as creators of values. The value of that part of constant capital which consists of auxiliary and raw materials — the same as of that part which consists of instruments of labour — re-appears in the value of the product as only transferred value, while labour-power adds an equivalent of its value to the product by means of the labour-process, in other words, actually reproduces its value. Furthermore, one part of the auxiliary substances — fuel, lighting gas, etc. — is consumed in the process of labour without entering bodily into the product, while the other part of them enters bodily into the product and forms its material substance. But all these differences are immaterial so far as the circulation and therefore the mode of turnover is concerned. Since auxiliary and raw materials are entirely consumed in the creation of the product, they transfer their value entirely to the product. Hence this value is circulated in its entirety by the product, transforms itself into money and from money back into the elements of production of the commodity. Its turnover is not interrupted, as is that of fixed capital, but passes uninterruptedly through the entire circuit of its forms, so that these elements of productive capital are continually renewed in kind.

As for the variable component of productive capital, which is invested in labour-power, be it noted that labour-power is purchased for a definite period of time. As soon as the capitalist has bought it and embodied it in the process of production, it forms a component part of his capital, its variable component. Labour-power acts daily during the period of time in which it adds to the product not only its own value for the whole day but also a surplus-value in excess of it. We shall not consider this surplus-value for the present. After labour-power has been bought and it has performed its function, say for a week, its purchase must be constantly renewed within the customary intervals of time. The equivalent of its value, which the labour-power adds to the product during its functioning and which is transformed into money in consequence of the circulation of the product, must continually be reconverted from money into labour-power or continually pass through the complete circuit of its forms, that is, must be turned over, if the circuit of continuous production is not to be interrupted.

Hence that part of the value of the productive capital which has been advanced for labour-power is entirely transferred to the product (we constantly leave the question of surplus-value out of consideration here), passes with it through the two metamorphoses belonging in the sphere of circulation and always remains incorporated in the process of production by virtue of this continuous renewal. Hence, however different otherwise may be the relation between labour-power, so far as the creation of value is concerned, and the component parts of constant capital which do not constitute fixed capital, this kind of turnover of its value labour-power shares with them, in contradistinction to fixed capital. These components of the productive capital — the parts of its value invested in labour-power and in means of production which do not constitute fixed capital — by reason of their common turnover characteristics confront the fixed capital as circulating or fluent capital.

We have already shown [Karl Marx, Capital, Vol. I, Ch. VI, pp. 167-76. — Ed.] that the money which the capitalist pays to the labourer for the use of his labour-power is nothing more or less than the form of the general equivalent for the means of subsistence required by the labourer. To this extent, the variable capital consists in substance of means of subsistence. But in this case, where we are discussing turnover, it is a question of form. The capitalist does not buy the labourer’s means of subsistence but his labour-power. And that which forms the variable part of his capital is not the labourer’s means of subsistence but his labour-power in action. What the capitalist consumes productively in the labour-process is the labour-power itself and not the labourer’s means of subsistence. It is the labourer himself who converts the money received for his labour-power into means of subsistence, in order to reconvert them into labour-power, to keep alive, just as the capitalist for instance converts a part of the surplus-value of the commodities he sells for money into means of subsistence for himself without thereby warranting the statement that the purchaser of his commodities pays him in means of subsistence. Even if the labourer is paid a part of his wages in means of subsistence, in kind, this nowadays amounts to a second transaction. He sells his labour-power at a certain price, with the understanding that he shall receive a part of this price in means of subsistence. This changes merely the form of the payment, but not the fact that what he actually sells is his labour-power. It is a second transaction, which does not take place between the labourer and the capitalist, but between the labourer as a buyer of commodities and the capitalist as a seller of commodities, while in the first transaction the labourer is a seller of a commodity (his labour-power) and the capitalist its buyer. It is exactly the same as if a capitalist, on selling his commodity, say, a machine, to an iron works, has it replaced by some other commodity, say, iron. It is therefore not the labourer’s means of subsistence which acquire the definite character of circulating capital as opposed to fixed capital. Nor is it his labour-power. It is rather that part of the value of productive capital which is invested in labour-power and which, by virtue of the form of its turnover, receives this character in common with some, and in contrast with other, component parts of the constant capital.

The value of the circulating capital — in labour-power and means of production — is advanced only for the time during which the product is in process of production, in accordance with the scale of production determined by the volume of the fixed capital. This value enters entirely into the product, is therefore fully returned by its sale from the sphere of circulation, and can be advanced anew. The labour-power and means of production, in which the circulating component of capital exists, are withdrawn from circulation to the extent required for the creation and sale of the finished product, but they must be continually replaced and renewed by purchasing them back, by reconverting them from the money-form into the elements of production. They are withdrawn from the market in smaller quantities at a time than the elements of fixed capital, but they must be withdrawn again from it so much the more frequently and the advance of capital invested in them must be renewed at shorter intervals. This constant renewal is effected by the continuous conversion of the product which circulates their entire value. And finally, they pass through the entire circuit of metamorphoses, not only so far as their value is concerned but also their material form. They are perpetually reconverted from commodities into the elements of production of the same commodities.

Together with its own value, labour-power always adds to the product surplus-value, the embodiment of unpaid labour. This is continuously circulated by the finished product and converted into money just as are other elements of its value. But here, where we are primarily concerned with the turnover of capital-value, and not with that of the surplus-value occurring at the same time, we dismiss the latter for the present.

From the foregoing one may conclude the following:

1. The definiteness of form of fixed and circulating capital arises merely from the different turnovers of the capital-value, functioning in the process of production, or of the productive capital. This difference in turnover arises in its turn from the different manner in which the various components of productive capital transfer their value to the product; it is not due to the different parts played by these components in the generation of product value, nor to their characteristic behaviour in the process of self-expansion. Finally the difference in the delivery of value to the product — and therefore the different manner in which this value is circulated by the product and is renewed in its original bodily form through the metamorphoses of the product — arises from the difference of the material shapes in which the productive capital exists, one portion of it being entirely consumed during the creation of an individual product and the other being used up only gradually. Hence it is only the productive capital which can be divided into fixed and circulating capital. But this antithesis does not apply to the other two modes of existence of industrial capital, that is to say, commodity-capital and money-capital, nor does it exist as an antithesis of these two modes to productive capital. It exists only for productive capital and within its sphere. No matter how much money-capital and commodity-capital may function as capital and no matter how fluently they may circulate, they cannot become circulating capital as distinct from fixed capital until they are transformed into circulating components of productive capital. But because these two forms of capital dwell in the sphere of circulation, Political Economy as we shall see has been misled since the time of Adam Smith into lumping them together with the circulating part of productive capital and assigning them to the category of circulating capital. They are indeed circulation capital in contrast to productive capital, but they are not circulating capital in contrast to fixed capital.

2. The turnover of the fixed component part of capital, and therefore also the time of turnover necessary for it, comprises several turnovers of the circulating constituents of capital. In the time during which the fixed capital turns over once, the circulating capital turns over several times. One of the component parts of the value of the productive capital acquires the definiteness of form of fixed capital only in case the means of production in which it exists is not wholly worn out in the time required for the fabrication of the product and its expulsion from the process of production as a commodity. One part of its value must remain tied up in the form of the still preserved old use-form, while the other part is circulated by the finished product, and this circulation on the contrary simultaneously circulates the entire value of the fluent component parts of the capital.

3. The value-part of the productive capital, the part invested in fixed capital, is advanced in one lump sum for the entire period of employment of that part of the means of production of which the fixed capital consists. Hence this value is thrown into the circulation by the capitalist all at one time. But it is withdrawn again from the circulation only piecemeal and gradually by realising the parts of value which the fixed capital adds piecemeal to the commodities. On the other hand the means of production themselves, in which a component part of the productive capital becomes fixed, are withdrawn from the circulation all at one time to be embodied in the process of production for the entire period in which they function. But they do not require for this period any replacement by new samples of the same kind, do not require reproduction. They continue for a longer or shorter period to contribute to the creation of the commodities thrown into circulation without withdrawing from circulation the elements of their own renewal. Hence they do not require from the capitalist a renewal of his advance during this period. Finally the capital-value invested in fixed capital does not pass bodily through the circuit of its forms, during the functioning period of the means of production in which this capital-value exists, but only as concerns its value, and even this it does only parts and gradually. In other words, a portion of its value is continually circulated and converted into money as a part of the value of the commodities, without being reconverted from money into its original bodily form. This reconversion of money into the bodily form of the means of production does not take place until the end of its functioning period, when the means of production has been completely consumed.

4. The elements of circulating capital are as permanently fixed in the process of production — if it is to be uninterrupted — as the elements of fixed capital. But the elements of circulating capital thus fixed are continually renewed in kind (the means of production by new products of the same kind, labour-power by constantly renewed purchases) while in the case of the elements of fixed capital neither they themselves are renewed nor need their purchases be renewed so long as they continue to exist. There are always raw and auxiliary materials in the process of production, but always new products of the same kind, after the old elements have been consumed in the creation of the finished product. Labour-power likewise always exists in the process of production, but only by means of ever new purchases, frequently involving changes of persons. But the same identical buildings, machines, etc., continue to function, during repeated turnovers of the circulating capital, in the same repeated processes of production.

II. Components, Replacements, Repairs and Accumulation of Fixed Capital

In any investment of capital the separate elements of the fixed capital have different lifetimes, and therefore different turnover times. In a railway, for instance, the rails, sleepers, earthworks, terminals, bridges, tunnels, locomotives, and carriages have different functional periods and times of reproduction, hence the capital advanced for them has different times of turnover. For a great number of years, buildings, platforms, water tanks, viaducts, tunnels, cuttings, dams, in short everything called “works of art” in English railroading, do not require any renewal. The things which wear out most are the tracks and rolling stock.

Originally in the construction of modern railways it was the prevailing opinion, nursed by the most prominent practical engineers, that a railway would last a century and that the wear and tear of the rails was so imperceptible that it could be ignored for all financial and other practical purposes; 100 to 150 years was supposed to be the life of good rails. But it was soon found that the life of a rail, which naturally depends on the speed of the locomotives, the weight and number of trains, the diameter of the rails, and on a multitude of other attendant circumstances, did not exceed an average of 20 years. In some railway terminals, great traffic centres, the rails even wear out every year. About 1867 began the introduction of steel rails, which cost about twice as much as iron rails but which last more than twice as long. The life-time of wooden sleepers was from 12 to 15 years. It was also ascertained with regard to the rolling stock that freight cars wear out faster than passenger cars. The life of a locomotive was estimated in 1867 to be about 10 to 12 years.

The wear and tear is first of all a result of use. As a rule “the wear of the rails is proportionate to the number of trains.” (R.C., No. 17645.)[22] With increased speed the wear and tear of a railway increased in a higher ratio than the square of the speed; that is to say, if you doubled the speed of the engine, you more than quadrupled the cost of wear and tear of the road. (R.C., No. 17046.)

Wear and tear is furthermore caused by the action of natural forces. For instance sleepers suffer not only from actual wear but also from rot.

“The cost of maintaining the road does not depend so much upon the wear and tear of the traffic passing over it, as upon the quality of wood, iron, bricks and mortars exposed to the atmosphere. A month of severe water would do not more damage to the road of a railway than a year’s traffic.” (R. P. Williams, “On the Maintenance of Permanent Way,” Paper read at the Institute of Civil Engineers, Autumn, 1867. [R. P. Williams’s paper was published in Money Market Review of December 2, 1867. — Ed.])

Finally, here as everywhere else in modern industry, the moral depreciation plays a role. After the lapse of ten years, one can generally buy the same number of cars and locomotives for £30,000 that would previously have cost £40,000. Depreciation in the rolling stock must be set at 25 per cent of the market price even when there is no depreciation whatever in its use-values. (Lardner, Railway Economy.)

“Tube bridges will not be replaced in their present form.”

(Because now there are better forms for such bridges.)

“Ordinary repairs, taking away gradually, and replacing are not practicable.” (W. P. Adams, Roads and Rails, London, 1862.)

The instruments of labour are largely modified all the time by the progress of industry. Hence they are not replaced in their original, but in their modified form. On the one hand the mass of the fixed capital invested in a certain bodily form and endowed in that form with a certain average life constitutes one reason for the only gradual pace of the introduction of new machinery, etc., and therefore an obstacle to the rapid general introduction of improved instruments of labour. On the other hand competition compels the replacement of the old instruments of labour by new ones before the expiration of their natural life, especially when decisive changes occur. Such premature renewals of factory equipment on a rather large social scale are mainly enforced by catastrophes or crises.

By wear and tear (moral depreciation excepted) is meant that part of value which the fixed capital, on being used, gradually transmits to the product, in proportion to its average loss of use-value.

This wear and tear takes place partly in such a way that the fixed capital has a certain average durability. It is advanced for this entire period in one sum. After the termination of this period it must be totally replaced. So far as living instruments of labour are concerned, for instance horses, their reproduction is timed by nature itself. Their average lifetime as instruments of labour is determined by laws of nature. As soon as this term has expired they must be replaced by new ones. A horse cannot be replaced piecemeal; it must be replaced by another horse.

Other elements of fixed capital permit of a periodical or partial renewal. In this instance partial or periodical replacement must be distinguished from gradual extension of the business.

The fixed capital consists in part of homogeneous constituents which do not however last the same length of time but are renewed piecemeal at various intervals. This is true for instance of the rails and railway stations, which must be replaced more often than those of the remainder of the trackage. It also applies to the sleepers, which on the Belgian railways had to be renewed in the forties at the rate of 8 per cent annually, according to Lardner, so that all the sleepers were renewed in the course of 12½ years. Hence we have here the following situation: a certain sum is advanced for a certain kind of fixed capital for say ten years. This expenditure is made at one time. But a definite part of this fixed capital, the value of which has entered into the value of the product and been converted with it into money, is replaced in kind every year, while the remainder continues to exist in its original body form. It is this advance in one sum and the only partial reproduction in bodily form which distinguish this capital, as fixed, from circulating capital.

Other pieces of the fixed capital consist of heterogeneous components, which wear out in unequal periods of time and must so be replaced. This applies particularly to machines. What we have just said concerning the different durabilities of different constituent parts of a fixed capital applies in this case to the durability of different component parts of any machine figuring as a piece of this fixed capital.

With regard to the gradual extension of the business in the course of the partial renewal, we make the following remarks: Although, as we have seen, the fixed capital continues to perform its functions in the process of production in kind, a part of its value, proportionate to the average wear and tear, has circulated with the product, has been converted into money, and forms an element in the money reserve fund intended for the replacement of the capital pending its reproduction in kind. This part of the value of the fixed capital transformed into money may serve to extend the business or to make improvements in the machinery which will increase the efficiency of the latter. Thus reproduction takes place in larger or smaller periods of time, and this is, from the standpoint of society, reproduction on an enlarged scale — extensive if the means of production is extended; intensive if the means of production is made more effective. This reproduction on an extended scale does not result from accumulation — transformation of surplus-value into capital — but from the reconversion of the value which has branched off, detached itself in the form of money from the body of the fixed capital into new additional or at least more effective fixed capital of the same kind. Of course it depends partly on the specific nature of the business, to what extent and in what proportions it is capable of such gradual addition, hence also in what amount a reserve fund must be collected to be reinvested in this way, and what period of time this requires. To what extent furthermore improvements in the details of existing machinery can be made, depends of course on the nature of these improvements and the construction of the machine itself. How well this point is considered at the very outset in the construction of railways is shown by Adams:

“The whole structure should be set out on the principle which governs the beehive — capacity for indefinite extension. Any fixed and decided symmetrical structure is to be deprecated, as needing subsequent pulling down in case of enlargement.” (p. 123.)

This depends largely on the available space. In the case of some buildings additional storeys may be built; in the case of others lateral extension, hence more land, is required. Within capitalist production there is on the one side much waste of material, on the other much impracticable lateral extension of this sort (partly to the injury of the labour-power) in the gradual expansion of the business, because nothing is undertaken according to a social plan, but everything depends on the infinitely different conditions, means, etc., with which the individual capitalist operates. This results in a great waste of the productive forces.

This piecemeal reinvestment of the money reserve fund (i.e., of that part of the fixed capital which has been reconverted into money) is easiest in agriculture. A field of production of a given area is here capable of the greatest possible gradual absorption of capital. The same applies to where there is natural reproduction as in cattle breeding.

Fixed capital entails special maintenance costs. A part of this maintenance is provided by the labour-process itself; fixed capital spoils, if it is not employed in the labour-process (Buch I, Kap. VI, S. 196 and Kap. XIII, S. 423, [English edition: Ch. VIII and XV. — Ed.] on wear and tear of machinery when not in use). The English law therefore explicitly treats it as waste, if rented lands are not cultivated according to the custom of the land. (W. A. Holdsworth, Barrister at Law, The Law of Landlord and Tenant, London, 1857, p. 96.)

This maintenance resulting from use in the labour-process is a free gift inherent in the nature of living labour. Moreover the preservative power of labour is of a two-fold character. On the one hand it preserves the value of the materials of labour by transferring it to the product, on the other hand it preserves the value of the instruments of labour without transferring this value to the product, by preserving their use-value through their activity in the process of production.

The fixed capital however requires also a positive expenditure of labour for its maintenance in good repair. The machinery must be cleaned from time to time. It is a question here of additional labour without which the machinery becomes useless, of merely warding off the noxious influences of the elements, which are inseparable from the process of production; hence it is a question of keeping the machinery literally in working order. It goes without saying that the normal durability of fixed capital is calculated on the supposition that all the conditions which it can perform its functions normally during that time are fulfilled, just as we assume, in placing a man’s life at 30 years on the average, that he will wash himself. It is here not a question of replacing the labour contained in the machine, but of constant additional labour made necessary by its use. It is not a question of labour performed by the machine, but of labour spent on it, of labour which it is not an agent of production but raw material. The capital expended for this labour must be classed as circulating capital, although it does not enter into the labour-process proper to which the product owes its existence. This labour must be continually expended in production, hence its value must be continually replaced by that of the product. The capital invested in it belongs in that part of circulating capital which has to cover the unproductive costs and is to be distributed over the produced values according to an annual average calculation. We have seen [Karl Marx, Capital, Vol. I, p. 426, Note 1. — Ed.] that in industry proper this labour of cleaning is performed by the workingmen gratis, during the rest periods, and for that very reason often also during the process of production itself, and most accidents can be traced to this source. This labour does not figure in the price of the product. As far as that goes the consumer receives it gratis. On the other hand the capitalist thus does not pay the maintenance costs of the machine. The labourer pays in persona, and this is one of the mysteries of the self-preservation of capital, which in point of fact constitute a legal claim by the labourer on the machinery, on the strength of which he is a co-owner of the machine even from the standpoint of bourgeois law. However, in various branches of production, in which the machinery must be removed from the process of production for the purpose of cleaning and where therefore the cleaning cannot be performed in between, as for instance in the case of locomotives, this maintenance work counts as current expenses and is therefore an element of circulating capital. For instance a goods engine should not run more than 3 days without being kept one day in the shed. If you attempt to wash out the boiler before it has cooled down that is very injurious. (R.C., No. 17823.)

The actual repairs or patchwork require expenditures of capital and labour which are not contained in the originally advanced capital and cannot therefore be replaced and covered, at least not always, by the gradual replacement of the value of the fixed capital. For instance if the value of the fixed capital is £10,000 and its total life of 10 years, then these £10,000, having been entirely converted into money after the lapse of ten years, will replace only the value of the capital originally invested, but they do not replace the capital, or labour, added in the meantime for repairs. This is an additional component part of the value, which is not advanced all at one time but whenever a need for it arises, and the various times for advancing it are in the very nature of things accidental. All fixed capital demands such subsequent, dosed out, additional outlay of capital for instruments of labour and labour-power.

The damage which separate parts of the machinery, etc., may incur is naturally accidental and so are therefore the repairs involved. Nevertheless two kinds of repairs are to be distinguished in the general mass, which are of a more or less fixed character and fall within various periods of the life of fixed capital. These are the ailments of childhood and the far more numerous ailments of the post-middle durability period. A machine for instance may be commissioned in ever so perfect a condition, still actual use will reveal shortcomings which must be remedied by subsequent labour. On the other hand the more a machine passes beyond the mid-durability point, the more therefore the normal wear and tear has accumulated and the more the material of which it consists has been worn out and become decrepit, the more numerous and considerable will be the repairs required to keep it going for the remainder of its average durability. It is the same with an old man, who incurs more medical expenses to keep from dying prematurely than a young and strong man. So in spite of its accidental character repair work is unevenly distributed over the various periods of life of fixed capital.

From the foregoing and from the generally accidental character of repair work on machines its follows:

In one respect the actual expenditure of labour-power and instruments of labour on repairs is accidental, like the circumstances which necessitate these repairs; the amount of the repairs needed is unevenly distributed over the different periods of fixed capital’s life. In other respects it is taken for granted in estimating the average life of fixed capital that it is constantly kept in good working order, partly by cleaning (including the cleaning of the premises), partly by repairs as often as required. The transfer of value through wear and tear of fixed capital is calculated on its average life, but this average life itself is based on the assumption that the additional capital required for maintenance purposes is continually advanced.

But then it is also evident that the value added by this extra expenditure of capital and labour cannot enter into the price of the commodities concerned at the same time as it is incurred. For example, a manufacturer of yarn cannot sell his yarn dearer this week than last, merely because one of his wheels broke or a belt tore this week. The general costs of spinning have not been changed in any way by this accident in some individual factory. Here, as in all determinations of value, the average decides. Experience shows the average occurrence of such accidents and the average volume of the maintenance and repair work necessary during the average life of the fixed capital invested in a given branch of business. This average expense is distributed over the average life and added to the price of the product in corresponding aliquot parts; hence it is replaced by means of its sale.

The additional capital which is thus replaced belongs to the circulating capital, although the manner of its expenditure is irregular. As it is of paramount importance to remedy every damage to machinery immediately, every comparatively large factory employs in addition to the regular factory force special personnel — engineers, carpenters, mechanics, locksmiths, etc. Their wages are a part of the variable capital and the value of their labour is distributed over the product. On the other hand the expenses for means of production are calculated on the basis of the above-mentioned average, according to which they form continually a part of the value of the product, although they are actually advanced in irregular periods and therefore enter into the product or the fixed capital in irregular periods. This capital, expended in repairs properly so called, is in many respects a capital sui generis, which can be classed neither as circulating nor as fixed capital, but belongs with greater justification to the former, since it figures among the running expenses.

The manner of book-keeping does not of course change in any way the actual state of affairs booked. But it is important to note that customarily many lines of business figure the costs of repairs together with the actual wear and tear of the fixed capital in the following manner: Let the advanced fixed capital be £10,000 and its durability 15 years. The annual wear and tear is then £666⅔. But the depreciation is calculated on a durability of only ten years; in other words, £1,000 are added annually to the price of the produced commodities for wear and tear of the fixed capital, instead of £666⅔. Thus £333⅓ are reserved for repairs, etc. (The figures 10 and 15 are chosen only by way of illustration.) This amount is spent on an average for repairs, so that the fixed capital may last 15 years. Such a calculation naturally does not prevent the fixed capital and the additional capital spent on repairs from belonging to different categories. On the strength of this mode of calculation it was assumed for instance that the lowest cost estimate for the maintenance and replacement of steamships was 15 per cent annually the time of reproduction being therefore 6⅔ years. In the sixties, the English government indemnified the Peninsular and Oriental Co. at the annual rate of 16 percent, corresponding to a reproduction time of 6¼ years. On railways the average life of a locomotive is 10 years, but the depreciation, counting in repairs is taken as 12½ per cent, which brings down its durability to 8 years. In the case of passenger and goods cars, the estimate is 9 per cent, or a durability of 11 1/9 years.

Legislation has everywhere drawn a distinction, in leases of houses and other objects which represent fixed capital to their owners and are leased as such, between normal depreciation, which is the result of time, the action of the elements, and normal wear on the one hand and on the other those occasional repairs which are required from time to time for maintenance during the normal life of the house and during its normal use. As a rule, the former are borne by the owner, the latter by the tenant. Repairs are further divided into ordinary and substantial ones. The last-named are partly a renewal of the fixed capital in its bodily form, and they fall likewise on the shoulders of the owner, unless the lease explicitly states the contrary. Take for instance the English law:

“A tenant from year to year, on the other hand, is not bound to do more than keep the premises wind and watertight, when that can be done without ‘substantial’ repairs; and generally to do repairs coming fairly under the head ‘ordinary.’ Even with respect to those parts of the premises which are the subject of ‘ordinary’ repairs, regard must be had to their age and general state, and condition, when he took possession, for he is not bound to replace old and worn-out materials with new ones, nor to make good the inevitable depreciation resulting from time and ordinary wear and tear.” (Holdsworth, Law of Landlord and Tenant, pp. 90 and 91.)

Entirely different from the replacement of wear and tear and from the work of maintenance and repair is insurance, which relates to destruction caused by extraordinary phenomena of nature, fire, flood, etc. This must be made good out of the surplus-value and is a deduction from it. Or, considered from the point of view of society as a whole, there must be continuous over-production, that is, production on a larger scale than is necessary for the simple replacement and reproduction of the existing wealth, quite apart from the increase in population, so as to be in possession of the means of production required to compensate for the extraordinary destruction caused by accidents and natural forces.

In point of fact only the smallest part of the capital needed for replacement consists of the money reserve fund. The most substantial part consists in the extension of the scale of production itself, which partly is actual expansion and partly belongs to the normal volume of production in those branches of industry which produce the fixed capital. For instance a machine factory must arrange things so that the factories of its customers can annually be extended and that a number of them will always stand in need of total or partial reproduction.

On determining the wear and tear as well as the costs of repairs, according to the social average, great disparity necessarily appears, even in the case of capital investments of equal size, operating otherwise under equal conditions and in the same branch of industry. In practice a machine, etc., lasts with one capitalist longer than the average period, while with another it does not last so long. With the one the costs of repairs are above, with the other below average, etc. But the addition to the price of the commodities resulting from wear and tear and from costs of repairs is the same and is determined by the average. The one therefore gets more out of this additional price than he really added, the other less. This circumstance as well as all others which result in different gains for different capitalists in the same line of business with the same degree of exploitation of labour-power tends to enhance the difficulty of understanding the true nature of surplus-value.

The line between repairs proper and replacement, between costs of maintenance and costs of renewal, is rather flexible. Hence the eternal dispute, for instance in railroading, whether certain expenses are for repairs or for replacement, whether they must be defrayed from current expenditures or from the original stock. A transfer of expenses for repairs to capital account instead of revenue account is the familiar method by which railway boards of directors artificially inflate their dividends. However, experience has already furnished the most important clues for this. According to Lardner, the subsequent labour required during the early life of a railway for example

“ought not to be denominated repairs, but should be considered as an essential part of the construction of the railway, and in the financial accounts should be debited to capital, and not to revenue, not being expenses due to wear and tear, or to the legitimate operation of the traffic, but to the original and inevitable incompleteness of the construction of the line.” (Lardner, loc. cit., p. 40.)

“The only sound way is to charge each year’s revenue with the depreciation necessarily suffered to earn the revenue, whether the amount is actually spent or not.” (Captain Fitzmaurice, “Committee of Inquiry on Caledonian Railway,” published in Money Market Review, 1867.)

The separation of the replacement and maintenance of fixed capital become practically impossible and purposeless in agriculture, at least when not operated by steam. According to Kirchhof (Handbuch der landwirthschaftlichen Betriebslehre, Dresden, 1852, p. 137),

“wherever there is a complete, though not excessive, supply of implements (of agricultural and other implements and farm appliances of every description) it is the custom to estimate the annual wear and tear and maintenance of the implements, according to the different existing conditions, at a general average of 15 to 25 per cent of the original stock.”

In the case of the rolling stock of a railway, repairs and replacement cannot be separated at all.

“We maintain our stock by number. Whatever number of engines we have we maintain that. If one is destroyed by age, and it is better to build a new one, we build it at the expense of revenue, of course, taking credit for the materials of the old one as far as they go.... there is a great deal left; there are the wheels, the axles, the boilers, and in fact a great deal of the old engine is left.” (T. Gooch, Chairman of Great Western Railway Co., R. C. on Railways, p. 858, Nos. 17327-17329.) “...Repairing means renewing; I do not believe in the word replacement...; once a railway company has bought a vehicle or an engine, it ought to be repaired, and in that way admit of going on for ever.” (No. 17784.) “...The engines are maintained for ever out of this 8½ d. We rebuild our engines. If you purchase an engine entirely it would be spending more money than is necessary ... yet there is always a pair of wheels or an axle or some portion of the engine which comes in, and hence it cheapens the cost of producing a practically new engine.” (No. 17790.) “I am at this moment turning out a new engine every week, or practically a new engine, for it has a new boiler, cylinder, or framing.” (No. 17823. Archibald Sturrock, Locomotive Superintendent of Great Northern Railway, in R. C., 1867.)

The same with coaches:

“In the course of time the stock of engines and vehicles is continually repaired. New wheels are put on at one time, and a new body at another. The different moving parts most subject to wear are gradually renewed; and the engines and vehicles may be conceived even to be subject to such a succession of repairs, that in many of them not a vestige of the original materials remains.... Even in this case, however, the old materials of coaches or engines are more or less worked up into other vehicles or engines, and never totally disappear from the road. The movable capital therefore may be considered to be in a state of continual reproduction; and that which, in the case of the permanent way, must take place altogether at a future epoch, when the entire road will have to be relaid, takes place in the rolling stock gradually from year to year. Its existence is perennial, and it is in a constant state of rejuvenescence.” (Lardner, op. cit., pp. 115-16.)

This process, which Lardner here describes relative to a railway, does not fit the case of an individual factory, but may well serve as an illustration of continuous, partial reproduction of fixed capital intermingled with repairs within an entire branch of industry or even within the aggregate production considered on a social scale.

Here is proof of the lengths to which adroit boards of directors may go in manipulating the terms repairs and replacement for the purpose of extracting dividends. According to the above-quoted paper read by R. P. Williams, various English railway companies wrote off the following sums from the revenue account, as averages over a number of years, for repairs and maintenance of the permanent way and buildings (per English mile of track annually).

London & North Western£370
London & South Western£257
Great Northern £360
Lancashire & Yorkshire£377
South Eastern£263
Manchester & Sheffield£200

These differences arise only to a very minor degree from differences in the actual expenses; they are due almost exclusively to different methods of calculation, according to whether items of expenses are debited to the capital or the revenue account. Williams says so in so many words that a lesser charge is booked because this is necessary for a good dividend, and a higher charge is booked because there is a greater revenue which can bear it.

In certain cases the wear and tear, and therefore its replacement, is practically infinitesimal so that nothing but costs of repairs have to be charged. Lardner’s statements below relative to works of art in railroading apply in general to all such durable structures as docks, canals, iron and stone bridges, etc.

“That wear and tear which, being due to the slow operation of time acting upon the more solid structures, produces an effect altogether insensible when observed through short periods, but which, after a long interval of time, such, for example, as centuries, must necessitate the reconstruction of some or all even of the most solid structures. These changes may not unaptly be assimilated to the periodical and secular inequalities which take place in the movements of the great bodies of the universe. The operation of time upon the more massive works of art upon the railway, such as the bridges, tunnels, viaducts, etc., afford examples of what may be called the secular wear and tear. The more rapid and visible deterioration, which is made good by repairs or reconstruction effected at shorter intervals, is analogous to the periodic inequalities. In the annual repairs is included the casual damage which the exterior of the more solid and durable works may from time to time sustain; but, independently of these repairs, age produces its effects even on these structures, and an epoch must arrive, however remote it be, at which they would be reduced to a state which will necessitate their reconstruction. For financial and economic purposes such an epoch is perhaps too remote to render it necessary to bring it into practical calculation, and therefore it need here only be noticed in passing.” (Lardner, loc. cit., pp., 38, 39.)

This applies to all similar structures of secular duration, in which cases therefore the capital advanced need not be gradually replaced commensurate with their wear and tear, but only the annual average costs of maintenance and repair need be transferred to the prices of the product.

Although, as we have seen, a greater part of the money returning for the replacement of the wear and tear of the fixed capital is annually, or even in shorter intervals, reconverted into its bodily form, nevertheless every single capitalist requires a sinking fund for that part of his fixed capital which falls due for reproduction only after a lapse of years but must then be entirely replaced. A considerable component part of the fixed capital precludes gradual reproduction because of its peculiar properties. Besides, in cases where the reproduction takes place piecemeal in such a way that at short intervals new stock is added to the depreciated old stock, a previous accumulation of money of a greater or smaller amount, depending on the specific character of the branch of industry, is necessary before the replacement can be effected. Not just any sum of money will suffice for this purpose; a definite amount is needed.

If we study this question on the assumption of simple circulation of money, without regard to the credit system, of which we shall treat later, [The capitalist credit system is treated in parts IV and V of the third volume of Capital. — Ed.] then the mechanism of this movement is as follows: It was shown (Buch I, Kap. III, 3a) [English edition: Volume I, Ch. III, 3a, — Ed.] that the proportion in which the aggregate mass of money is distributed over a hoard and means of circulation varies steadily, if one part of the money available in society constantly lies fallow as a hoard, while another performs the functions of a medium of circulation or of an immediate reserve fund of the directly circulating money. Now in our case money that must be accumulated as a hoard in the hands of a relatively big capitalist in rather large amounts is thrown all at once into circulation on the purchase of the fixed capital. It then divides again in society into medium of circulation and hoard. By means of the sinking fund, in which the value of the fixed capital flows back to its starting-point in proportion to its wear and tear, a part of the circulating money again forms a hoard, for a longer or shorter period, in the hands of the same capitalist whose hoard had, upon the purchase of the fixed capital, been transformed into a medium of circulation and passed away from him. It is a continually changing distribution of the hoard which exists in society and alternately functions as a medium of circulation and then is separated again, as a hoard, from the mass of the circulating money. With the development of the credit system, which necessarily runs parallel with the development of modern industry and capitalist production, this money no longer serves as a hoard but as capital; however not in the hands of its owner but of other capitalists at whose disposal it has been placed.


20 On account of the difficulty of determining what is fixed and what circulating capital, Herr Lorenz Stein thinks that this distinction is meant only to facilitate the treatment of the subject.

21 End of Manuscript IV, beginning of Manuscript II. — Ed.

22 The quotations marked R. C. are from: Royal Commission on Railways. Minutes of Evidence taken before the Commissioners. Presented to both Houses of Parliament, London, 1867.—The questions and answers are numbered and the numbers given here.