MIA: Encyclopedia of Marxism: Glossary of Terms



Circuits of Capital

Marx identified three Circuits of Capital:

Commodity Capital: C' – M' – C', in which the surplus value contains in products is realised in money form by the Commercial capitalist, and then reinvested in more commodities.

Money Capital: M – C – P (MP+L) – C' – M' in which Money is invested in commodities in order to realise surplus value returned to the Finance capitalist in the form of money with interest, and

Productive Capital: P (MP+L) – C' – M' – C’ – P', in which the owner of means of production and labour produces a product and puts it into the market in order to realise the surplus value, which is re-invested in means of production and labour.

As capital circulates and passes through the production process, it undergoes metamorphosis M – C – M’ and passes between the three interconnecting circuits, each of which is the home of a sector of the total social capital.

The successful progress of production of surplus value and its realisation in the form of increased money is dependent on the supply of suitable commodities for the reproduction of labour power and creation of means of production in the market. Thus all three circuits and all three sections of the social capital mutually support one another.

See Part I of Volume II of Capital.


Citizen, Citoyen, Bürger

The word “citizen” in English lumps together a number of distinct meanings, which can only be represented by using French and/or German words.

The French word citoyen means the participant in the political life of the community, the individual who is a carrier of political rights, the enjoyer of “positive freedom.” During the French Revolution, when people addressed one another as ‘Citizen Marat’ or whatever, the word was citoyen.

On the other hand, the German word Bürger most graphically expresses the person as an individual participant in the economic life of the community, the bearer of social rights, the right not to be interfered with and to carry on any activity that does no harm to others, the enjoyer of “negative freedom.” The French translation of Bürger is bourgeois, and thus the bourgeoisie is the class of “individuals.” Bürger is sometimes translated as “individual.” The German Bürgerlicher Gessellschaft, literally “bourgeois society,” is usually translated into English as Civil Society, itself a term whose meaning has now changed considerably. Bürger can be translated into English as “Burgher” conjuring up the image of a respectable businessperson, in the days when those who did not own property enjoyed few rights.

In German, the word Staatsbürger is also translated as “citizen.” Staatsbürger is closer to citoyen and nowadays usually means someone who is a (German) national, with a passport and associated legal rights, as opposed to someone who may only be a (German) resident. This meaning could be translated into English as subject, as in “British subject,” except that “subject” carries the antiquated meaning of being subordinated to the Head of State, which is not present in the German Staatsbürger.

Further reading: The Webster On-line dictionary has a complete list of translations of “citizen” but it necessary to know of the specific shades of meaning and connotations. See On The Jewish Question, Marx 1844 for Marx’s discussion of the concepts.


Civil Disobedience

The term was coined by Henry David Thoreau in 1848, after spending one night in jail for refusing to pay tax due for his time spent in the wilderness, but the practice was only developed to a science by Gandhi who made it the central tactic of the Indian Independence Movement. The most famous application of civil disobedience was the Salt March in March-April 1930, when hundreds of thousands marched 380 km to the seaside to harvest salt, in defiance of the British monopoly; 60,000 were arrested and many more beaten, but it drew the masses together behind Gandhi, and convinced the British that the Independence Movement was unstoppable and that they would have to negotiate with Gandhi.

The success of Gandhi’s method impressed a number of African Americans, and from 1935 to 1955 dozens of them visited India to study his philosophy. These included Martin Luther King and James Lawson, who introduced the tactic in the Birmingham Bus Boycott. Lawson trained the young members of SNCC in the use of civil disobedience. The SNCC used the tactic in lunch counter sit-ins and popularized the approach, and it was used successfully by the civil rights movement and the peace movement throughout the following decade.

The British anti-nuclear movement did not adopt civil disobedience until after its effectiveness had been demonstrated by the Civil Rights Movement in the US, and the US anti-nuclear movement also adopted civil disobedience about this time. Prior to 1960, Bertrand Russell’s CND was hesitant to flout the law.

The founders of civil disobedience, Gandhi and Lawson, were both pacifists, but this was not the case for the majority of those who used the tactic under their direction. There is no essential connection between pacifism and civil disobedience, in fact, many pacifists regard civil disobedience as inherently violent because of its tendency to be confrontational and will not use civil disobedience.

See Civil Disobedience by Henry David Thoreau 1849
and Civil Disobedience, in International Socialism , Summer 1961
and The problem of violence and radical opposition , Herbert Marcuse 1967



In Marxist literature, “civilisation” means class society, the whole epoch which lies between tribal society and the classless, communist society of the future. Thus, for Marxists, the term “civilisation” does not carry the connotation of superiority that it has in bourgeois literature. The word entered the English language with Boswell in 1772 who used the term in contrast to “barbarism”.


Civil Society

Civil Society (in German bürgerliche Gesellschaft or bourgeois society) refers to the system of social relations based on the association of people independently of the State and the family which first emerged in Europe in the seventeenth century. Civil society is characterised by "free" labour and a commodity market, a system of law enforcement and voluntary association.

See Engels' discussion of the translation of bürgerliche Gesellschaft in his Letter to Marx, 23rd September 1852:

Middle class society for bürgerliche Gesellschaft is not strictly grammatical or logically correct; it is as if one were to translate feudale Gesellschaft as nobility society. An educated Englishman would not say this. One would have to say bourgeois society or, depending on circumstances, commercial and industrial society, to which one might append the following note:

By Bourgeois Society, we understand that phase of social development in which the Bourgeoisie, the Middle Class, the class of industrial and commercial Capitalists, is, socially and politically, the ruling class; which is now the case more or less in all the civilized countries of Europe and America. By the expressions: Bourgeois society, and industrial and commercial society, we therefore propose to designate the same stage of social development; the first expression referring, however, more to the fact of the middle class being the ruling class, in opposition either to the class whose rule it superseded (the feudal nobility), or to those classes which it succeeds in keeping under its social and political dominion (the proletariat or industrial working class, the rural population, etc., etc.) — while the designation of commercial and industrial society more particularly bears upon the mode of production and distribution characteristic of this phase of social history.

Early bourgeois thinkers such as Thomas Hobbes (omni bellum omni, the war of all against all) and Jean-Jacques Rousseau (The Social Contract) generally saw Civil Society as expressing human nature and tried to work out how it could be managed to avoid catastrophe.

It was Hegel who showed in his Philosophy of Right, that it was the growth of Civil Society which was the most characteristic feature of modern society, in contrast to medieval society in which the state was inseparable from the kinship system which determined the station of every person in life and even their occupation.

Hegel saw Civil Society as expressing the work of the Idea "behind the backs" of people who were governed by forces of which they were unconscious (like Adam Smith's “invisible hand”), whereas he saw the State as the self-conscious actualisation of Reason. Hegel promoted the separation of the State from Civil Society, arguing as many were to argue later, that the state had no business interfering in the economy.

After his early critique of Hegel's political theory, Marx did not use this concept because it tended to obscure the more fundamental relations between superstructure and relations of production.

Nowadays, the term "Civil Society" is sometimes used to refer to activity which is outside the domains of both the state and capital, sometimes to strengthening of the "rule of law", and sometimes to refer to the development of voluntary association independently of commercial relations.

Further Reading: Philosophy of Right, Objective Spirit and Avineri Chapter 5 and Chapter 7.