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.



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.

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 the emergence of a petty bourgeoisie independent from the State, 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.