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   Chapter 2 QUESNAY’S AND ADAM SMITH’S ANALYSES OF THE PROCESS OF REPRODUCTION

The Accumulation of Capital By Rosa Luxemburg Characters: 32804

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04


So far we have taken account only of the individual capitalist in our survey of reproduction; he is its typical representative, its agent, for reproduction is indeed brought about entirely by individual capitalist enterprises. This approach has already shown us that the problem involves difficulties enough. Yet these difficulties increase to an extraordinary degree and become even more complicated, when we turn our attention from the individual capitalist to the totality of capitalists.

A superficial glance suffices to show that capitalist reproduction as a social whole must not be regarded simply as a mechanical summation of all the separate processes of individual capitalist reproduction. We have seen, for instance, that one of the fundamental conditions for enlarged reproduction by an individual capitalist is a corresponding increase of his opportunities to sell on the commodity market. But the individual capitalist may not always expand because of an absolute increase in the absorptive capacity of the market, but also as a result of the competitive struggle, at the cost of other individual capitalists. Thus one capitalist may win what another or many others who have been shouldered from the market must write off as a loss. This process will enable one capitalist to increase his reproduction by the amount that it compels others by losses to restrict their own. One capitalist will be able to engage in enlarged reproduction because others cannot even achieve simple reproduction. In the same way, one capitalist may enlarge his reproduction by using labour power and means of production which another's bankruptcy, that is his partial or complete retirement from reproduction, has set free.

These commonplaces prove that reproduction of the social capital as a whole is not the same as the reproduction of the individual capitalist raised to the nth degree. They show that the reproductive activities of individual capitalists ceaselessly cut across one another and to a greater or smaller degree may cancel each other out.

Therefore we must clarify our concept of reproduction of capital as a whole, before we examine the laws and mechanisms of capitalist total reproduction. We must raise the question whether it is even possible to deduce anything like total reproduction from the disorderly jumble of individual capitals in constant motion, changing from moment to moment according to uncontrollable and incalculable laws, partly running a parallel course, and partly intersecting and cancelling each other out. Can one actually talk of total social capital of society as an entity, and if so, what is the real meaning of this concept? That is the first question a scientific examination of the laws of reproduction has to consider. At the dawn of economic theory and bourgeois economics, Quesnay, the father of the Physiocrats, approached the problem with classical fearlessness and simplicity and took it for granted that total capital exists as a real and active entity. In his famous Tableau économique, so intricate that no one before Marx could understand it, Quesnay demonstrated the phases of the reproduction of aggregate capital with a few figures, at the same time taking into account that it must also be considered from the aspect of commodity exchange, that is as a process of circulation.[60]

Society as Quesnay sees it consists of three classes: the productive class of agriculturists; the sterile class containing all those who are active outside the sphere of agriculture-industry, commerce, and the liberal professions; and lastly the class of landowners, including the Sovereign and the collectors of tithes. The national aggregate product materialises in the hands of the productive class as an aggregate of provisions and raw materials to the value of some 5,000 million livres. Of this sum, 2,000 millions represent the annual working capital of agriculture, 1,000 millions represent the annual wear and tear of fixed capital, and 2,000 millions are the net revenue accruing to the landowners. Apart from this total produce, the agriculturists, here conceived quite in capitalist terms as tenant farmers, have 2,000 million livres cash in hand. Circulation now takes place in such a way that the tenant class pay the landowners 2,000 millions cash as rent (as the cost of the previous period of production). For this money the landowning class buy provisions from the tenants for 1,000 millions and industrial products from the sterile class for the remaining 1,000 millions. The tenants in their turn buy industrial products for the 1,000 millions handed back to them, whereupon the sterile class buy agricultural products for the 2,000 millions they have in hand: for 1,000 millions raw materials etc., to replace their annual working capital, and provisions for the remaining 1,000 millions. Thus the money has in the end returned to its starting point, the tenant class; the product is distributed among all classes so that consumption is ensured for everyone; at the same time the means of production of the sterile as well as of the productive class have been renewed and the landowning class has received its revenue. The prerequisites of reproduction are all present, the conditions of circulation have all been fulfilled, and reproduction can start again on its regular course.[61]

We shall see later in the course of our investigation that this exposition, though showing flashes of genius, remains deficient and primitive. In any case, we must stress here that Quesnay, on the threshold of scientific economics, had not the slightest doubt as to the possibility of demonstrating total social capital and its reproduction. Adam Smith, on the other hand, while giving a more profound analysis of the relations of capital, laid out what seems like a maze when compared with the clear and sweeping outlines of the Physiocrat conception. By his wrong analysis of prices, Smith upset the whole foundation of the scientific demonstration of the capitalist process as a whole. This wrong analysis of prices ruled bourgeois economics for a long time; it is the theory which maintains that, although the value of a commodity represents the amount of labour spent in its production, yet the price consists of three elements only: the wage of labour, the profit of capital, and the rent.

As this obviously must also apply to the aggregate of commodities, the national product, we are faced with the startling discovery that, although the value of the aggregate of commodities manufactured by capitalist methods represents all paid wages together with the profits of capital and the rents, that is the aggregate surplus value, and consequently can replace these, there is no component of value which corresponds to the constant capital used in production. According to Smith, v + s is the formula expressing the value of the capitalist product as a whole. Demonstrating his view with the example of corn, Smith says as follows:

'These three parts (wages, profit, and rent) seem either immediately or ultimately to make up the whole price of corn. A fourth part, it may perhaps be thought, is necessary for replacing the stock of the farmer, or for compensating the wear and tear of his labouring cattle, and other instruments of husbandry. But it must be considered that the price of any instrument of husbandry, such as a labouring horse, is itself made up of the same three parts: the rent of the land upon which he is reared, the labour of tending and rearing him, and the profits of the farmer who advances both the rent of this land and the wages of this labour. Though the price of the corn, therefore, may pay the price as well as the maintenance of the horse, the whole price still resolves itself either immediately or ultimately into the same three parts of rent, of labour and profit.'[62]

Sending us in this manner 'from pillar to post', as Marx has put it, Smith again and again resolved constant capital into v + s. However, he had occasional doubts and from time to time relapsed into the contrary opinion. He says in the second book:

'It has been shown in the first Book, that the price of the greater part of commodities resolves itself into three parts, of which one pays the wages of the labour, another the profits of the stock, and a third the rent of the land which had been employed in producing and bringing them to market.... Since this is the case ... with regard to every particular commodity, taken separately; it must be so with regard to all the commodities which compose the whole annual produce of the land and labour of every country, taken complexly. The whole price or exchangeable value of that annual produce must resolve itself into the same three parts, and be parcelled out among the different inhabitants of the country, either as the wages of their labour, the profits of their stock, or the rent of their land.'[63]

Here Smith hesitates and immediately below explains: 'But though the whole value of the annual produce of the land and labour of every country is thus divided among and constitutes a revenue to its different inhabitants, yet as in the rent of a private estate we distinguish between the gross rent and the neat rent, so may we likewise in the revenue of all the inhabitants of a great country.

'The gross rent of a private estate comprehends whatever is paid by the farmer; the neat rent, what remains free to the landlord after deducting the expense of management, of repairs, and all other necessary charges; or what, without hurting his estate, he can afford to place in his stock reserved for immediate consumption, or to spend upon his table, equipage, the ornaments of his house and furniture, his private enjoyments and amusements. His real wealth is in proportion, not to his gross, but to his neat rent.

'The gross revenue of all the inhabitants of a great country comprehends the whole annual produce of their land and labour; the neat revenue, what remains free to them after deducting the expense of maintaining, first, their fixed, and secondly, their circulating capital, or what, without encroaching upon their capital, they can place in their stock reserved for immediate consumption, or spend upon their subsistence, conveniences, and amusements. Their real wealth too is in proportion, not to their gross, but to their neat revenue.'[64]

Here Smith introduces a portion of value which corresponds to constant capital, only to eliminate it the very next moment by resolving it into wages, profits, and rents. And in the end, the matter rests with this explanation:

'As the machines and instruments of trade, etc. which compose the fixed capital either of an individual or of a society, make no part either of the gross or the neat revenue of either, so money, by means of which the whole revenue of the society is regularly distributed among all its different members, makes itself no part of that revenue.'[65]

Constant capital, the fixed capital of Adam Smith, is thus put on the same level as money and does not enter into the total produce of society, its gross revenue. It does not exist within this total product as an element of value.

You cannot get blood out of a stone, and so circulation, the mutual exchange of the total product constituted in this manner, can only lead to realisation of the wages (v) and of the surplus value (s). However, as it cannot by any means replace the constant capital, continued reproduction evidently must become impossible. Smith indeed knew quite well, and did not dream of denying, that every individual capitalist requires constant capital in addition to his wages fund, his variable capital, in order to run his enterprise. Yet the above analysis of commodity prices, when it comes to take note of capitalist production as a whole, allows constant capital to disappear without a trace in a puzzling way. Thus the problem of the reproduction of capital is completely muddled up. It is plain that if the most elementary premise of the problem, the demonstration of social capital as a whole, were on the rocks, the whole analysis was bound to fail. Ricardo, Say, Sismondi and others took up this erroneous theory of Adam Smith, and they all stumbled in their observations on the problem of reproduction over this most elementary difficulty: the demonstration of social capital.

Another difficulty is mixed up with the foregoing from the very outset of scientific analysis. What is the nature of the total capital of a society? As regards the individual producer, the position is clear: his capital consists of the expenses of his enterprise. Assuming capitalist methods of production, the value of his product yields him a surplus over and above his expenses, that surplus value which does not replace his capital but constitutes his net income, which he can consume completely without encroaching upon his capital and which is thus his fund of consumption. It is true that the capitalist may save part of this net income, not consuming it himself but adding it to his capital. But that is another matter, a new step, the formation of a new capital which again must be replaced by subsequent reproduction and must again yield him a surplus. In any case, the capital of an individual always consists of what he requires for production, together with his advances on the running of his enterprise, and his income is what he himself actually consumes or may consume, his fund of consumption. If we ask a capitalist: 'What are the wages you pay your workers?' his answer will be: 'They are obviously part of my working capital.' But if we ask: 'What are these wages for the workers who have received them?'-it is impossible that he should describe them as capital, for wages received are not capital for the workers but income, their fund of consumption.

Let us now take another example. A manufacturer of machinery produces machines in his factory. The annual output is a certain number of machines. In its value, however, this annual output contains the capital advanced by the manufacturer as well as the net income that has been earned. Part of the manufactured machines thus represent income for the manufacturer and are destined to realise this income in the process of circulation and exchange. But the person who buys these machines from the manufacturer does not buy them as income but in order to use them as a means of production; for him they are capital.

These examples make it seem plausible that an object which is capital for one person may be income for another and vice versa. How can it be possible under these circumstances to construct anything in the nature of a total capital of society? Indeed almost every scientific economist up to the time of Marx concluded that there is no social capital.[66] Smith was still doubtful, undecided, vacillating about this question; so was Ricardo. But already Say declared categorically:

'It is in this way, that the total value of products is distributed amongst the members of the community; I say, the total value, because such part of the whole value produced, as does not go to one of the consuming producers, is received by the rest. The clothier buys wool of the farmer, pays his workmen in every department, and sells the cloth, the result of their united exertion, at a price that reimburses all his advances, and affords himself a profit. He never reckons as profit, or as the revenue of his own industry, anything more than the net surplus, after deducting all charges and outgoings; but those outgoings are merely an advance of their respective revenues to the previous producers, which are refunded by the gross value of the cloth. The price paid to the farmer for his wool is the compound of the several revenues of the cultivator, the shepherd and the landlord. Although the farmer reckons as net produce only the surplus remaining after payment of his landlord and his servants in husbandry, yet to them these payments are items of revenue-rent to the one and wages to the other-to the one, the revenue of the land, to the other, the revenue of his industry. The aggregate of all these is defrayed out of the value of the cloth, the whole of which forms the revenue of some one or other, and is entirely absorbed in that way.-Whence it appears that the term net produce applies only to the individua

l revenue of each separate producer or adventurer in industry, but that the aggregate of individual revenue, the total revenue of the community, is equal to the gross produce of its land, capital and industry, which entirely subverts the system of the economists of the last century, who considered nothing but the net produce of the land as farming revenue, and therefore concluded, that this net produce was all that the community had to consume; instead of closing with the obvious inference, that the whole of what had been created, may also be consumed by mankind.'[67]

Say proves his theory in his own peculiar fashion. Whereas Adam Smith tried to give a proof by referring each private capital unit to its place of production in order to resolve it into a mere product of labour, but conceived of every product of labour in strictly capitalist terms as a sum of paid and unpaid labour, as v + s, and thus came to resolve the total product of society into v + s; Say, of course, is cocksure enough to 'correct' these classical errors by inflating them into common vulgarities. His argument is based upon the fact that the entrepreneur at every stage of production pays other people, the representatives of previous stages of production, for the means of production which are capital for him, and that these people in their turn put part of this payment into their own pockets as their income and partly use it to recoup themselves for expenses advanced in order to provide yet another set of people with an income. Say converts Adam Smith's endless chain of labour processes into an equally unending chain of mutual advances on income and their repayment from the proceeds of sales. The worker appears here as the absolute equal of the entrepreneur. He has his income advanced in the form of wages, paying for it in turn by the labour he performs. Thus the final value of the aggregate social product appears as the sum of a large number of advanced incomes and is spent in the process of exchange on repayment of all these advances. It is characteristic of Say's superficiality that he illustrates the social connections of capitalist reproduction by the example of watch manufacture-a branch of production which at that time and partly even to-day is pure 'manufacture' where every worker is also an entrepreneur on a small scale and the process of production of surplus value is masked by a series of successive acts of exchange typical of simple commodity production.

Thus Say gives an extremely crude expression to the confusion inaugurated by Adam Smith. The aggregate of annual social produce can be completely resolved as regards its value into a sequence of various incomes. Therefore it is completely consumed every year. It remains an enigma how production can be taken up again without capital and means of production, and capitalist reproduction appears to be an insoluble problem.

If we compare the varying approaches to the problem from the time of the Physiocrats to that of Adam Smith, we cannot fail to recognise partial progress as well as partial regression. The main characteristic of the economic conception of the Physiocrats was their assumption that agriculture alone creates a surplus, that is surplus value, and that agricultural labour is the only kind of labour which is productive in the capitalist sense of the term. Consequently we see in the Tableau économique that the unproductive class of industrial workers creates value only to the extent of the same 2,000 million livres which it consumes as raw materials and foodstuffs. Consequently, too, in the process of exchange, the total of manufactured products is divided into two parts, one of which goes to the tenant class and the other to the landowning class, while the manufacturing class does not consume its own products. Thus in the value of its commodities, the manufacturing class reproduces, strictly speaking, only that circulating capital which has been consumed, and no income is created for the class of entrepreneurs. The only income of society that comes into circulation in excess of all capital advances, is created in agriculture and is consumed by the landowning class in the form of rents, while even the tenant class do no more than replace their capital: to wit, 1,000 million livres interest from the fixed capital and 2,000 million circulating capital, two-thirds being raw materials and foodstuffs, and one-third industrial products. Further it is striking that it is in agriculture alone that Quesnay assumes the existence of fixed capital which he calls avances primitives as distinct from avances annuelles. Industry, as he sees it, apparently works without any fixed capital, only with circulating capital turned over each year, and consequently does not create in its annual output of commodities any element of value for making good the wear and tear of fixed capital (such as premises, tools, and so on).[68]

In contrast with this obvious defect, the English classical school shows a decisive advance above all in proclaiming every kind of labour as productive, thus revealing the creation of surplus value in manufacture as well as in agriculture. We say: the English classical school, because on this point Adam Smith himself occasionally relapses quietly into the Physiocrat point of view. It is only Ricardo who develops the theory of the value of labour as highly and logically as it could advance within the limits of the bourgeois approach. The consequence is that we must assume all capital investment to produce annual surplus value, in the manufacturing part of social production as a whole no less than in agriculture.[69]

On the other hand, the discovery of the productive, value-creating property of every kind of labour, alike in agriculture and in manufacture, suggested to Smith that agricultural labour, too, must produce, apart from the rent for the landowning class, a surplus for the tenant class over and above the total of their capital expenses. Thus, in addition to the replacement of capital, an annual income of the tenant class comes into being.[70]

Lastly, by a systematic elaboration of the concepts of avances primitives and avances annuelles introduced by Quesnay, which he calls fixed and circulating capital, Smith has made clear, among other things, that the manufacturing side of social production requires a fixed as well as a circulating capital. Thus he was well on the way to restoring to order the concepts of capital and revenue of society, and to describing them in precise terms. The following exposition represents the highest level of clarity which he achieved in this respect:

'Though the whole annual produce of the land and labour of every country is, no doubt, ultimately destined for supplying the consumption of its inhabitants and for procuring a revenue to them, yet when it first comes either from the ground or from the hands of the productive labourer, it naturally divides itself into two parts. One of them, and frequently the largest, is, in the first place, destined for replacing a capital, or for renewing the provisions, materials, and finished work, which had been withdrawn from a capital; the other for constituting a revenue either to the owner of this capital, as the profit of his stock, or to some other person, as the rent of his land.'[71]

'The gross revenue of all the inhabitants of a great country comprehends the whole annual produce of their land and labour; the neat revenue, what remains free to them after deducting the expense of maintaining, first, their fixed, and secondly, their circulating capital; or what, without encroaching upon their capital, they can place in their stock reserved for immediate consumption, or spend upon their subsistence, conveniencies, and amusements. Their real wealth too is in proportion, not to their gross, but to their neat revenue.'[72]

The concepts of total capital and income appear here in a more comprehensive and stricter form than in the Tableau économique. The one-sided connection of social income with agriculture is severed and social income becomes a broader concept; and a broader concept of capital in its two forms, fixed and circulating capital, is made the basis of social production as a whole. Instead of the misleading differentiation of production into two departments, agriculture and industry, other categories of real importance are here brought to the fore: the distinction between capital and income and the distinction, further, between fixed and circulating capital.

Now Smith proceeds to a further analysis of the mutual relations of these categories and of how they change in the course of the social process, in production and circulation-in the reproductive process of society. He emphasises here a radical distinction between fixed and circulating capital from the point of view of the society:

'The whole expense of maintaining the fixed capital must evidently be excluded from the neat revenue of the society. Neither the materials necessary for supporting their useful machines and instruments of trade, their profitable buildings, etc., nor the produce of the labour necessary for fashioning those materials into the proper form, can ever make any part of it. The price of that labour may indeed make a part of it; as the workmen so employed may place the whole value of their wages in their stock reserved for immediate consumption. But in other sorts of labour, both the price and the produce go to this stock, the price to that of the workmen, the produce to that of other people whose subsistence, convenience and amusements are augmented by the labour of those workmen.'[73]

Here Smith comes up against the important distinction between workers who produce means of production and those who produce consumer goods. With regard to the former he remarks that they create the value-destined to replace their wages and to serve as their income-in the form of means of production such as raw materials and instruments which in their natural form cannot be consumed. With regard to the latter category of workers, Smith observes that conversely the total product, or better that part of value contained in it which replaces the wages, the income of the workers together with its other remaining value, appears here in the form of consumer goods. (The real meaning latent in this conclusion, though Smith does not say so explicitly, is that the part of the product which represents the fixed capital employed in its production appears likewise in this form.) In the further course of our investigation we shall see how close Smith has here come to the vantage point from which Marx tackled the problem. The general conclusion, however, maintained by Smith without any further examination of the fundamental question, is that, in any case, whatever is destined for the preservation and renewal of the fixed capital of society cannot be added to society's net income.

The position is different with regard to circulating capital. 'But though the whole expenses of maintaining the fixed capital is thus necessarily excluded from the neat revenue of the society, it is not the same case with that of maintaining the circulating capital. Of the four parts of which this latter capital is composed, money, provisions, materials and finished work, the three last, it has already been observed, are regularly withdrawn from it and placed either in the fixed capital of the society, or in their stock reserved for immediate consumption. Whatever portion of those consumable goods is not employed in maintaining the former, goes all to the latter, and makes a part of the neat revenue of the society, besides what is necessary for maintaining the fixed capital.'[74]

We see that Smith here simply includes in this category of circulating capital everything but the fixed capital already employed, that is to say, foodstuffs and raw materials and in part commodities which, according to their natural form, belong to the replacement of fixed capital. Thus he has made the concept of circulating capital vague and ambiguous. But a further and most important distinction crops up and cuts right through this conception: 'The circulating capital of a society is in this respect different from that of an individual. That of an individual is totally excluded from making any part of his neat revenue, which must consist altogether in his profits. But though the circulating capital of every individual makes a part of that of the society to which he belongs, it is not upon that account totally excluded from making a part likewise of their neat revenues.'[75]

In the following illustration Smith expounds what he means: 'Though the whole goods in a merchant's shop must by no means be placed in his own stock reserved for immediate consumption, they may in that of other people, who, from a revenue derived from other funds, may regularly replace their value to him, together with its profits, without occasioning any diminution either of his capital or theirs.'[76]

Here Smith has established fundamental categories with regard to the reproduction and movement of circulating social capital. Fixed and circulating capital, private and social capital, private and social revenue, means of production and consumer goods, are marked out as comprehensive categories, and their real, objective interrelation is partly indicated and partly drowned in the subjective and theoretical contradictions of Smith's analysis. The concise, strict, and classically clear scheme of the Physiocrat theory is dissolved here into a disorderly jumble of concepts and relations which at first glance appears an absolute chaos. But we may already perceive new connections within the social process of reproduction, understood by Smith in a deeper, more modern and vital way than was within Quesnay's grasp, though, like Michelangelo's slave in the unhewn block of marble, they are still inchoate.

This is the only illustration Smith gives of this problem. But at the same time he attacks it from another angle-by an analysis of value. This very same theory which represents an advance beyond the Physiocrats-the theory that it is an essential quality of all labour to create value; the strictly capitalist distinction between paid labour replacing wages, and unpaid labour creating surplus value; and, finally, the strict division of surplus value into its two main categories, of profit and rent-all this progress from the analysis of the Physiocrats leads Smith to the strange proposition that the price of every commodity consists of wages, plus profits, plus rent, or, in Marx's shorthand, of v + s. In consequence, the commodities annually produced by society as a whole can be resolved completely, as to value, into the two components: wages and surplus value. Here the category of capital has disappeared all of a sudden; society produces nothing but income, nothing but consumer goods, which it also consumes completely. Reproduction without capital becomes a paradox, and the treatment of the problem as a whole has taken an immense backward step against that of the Physiocrats.

The followers of Adam Smith have tackled this twofold theory from precisely the wrong approach. Before Marx nobody concerned himself with the important beginnings of an exact exposition of the problem in Smith's second book, while most of his followers jealously preserved Smith's radically wrong analysis of prices, accepting it, like Ricardo, without question, or else, like Say, elaborating it into a trite doctrine. Where Smith raised fruitful doubts and stimulating contradictions, Say flaunted the opinionated presumption of a commonplace mind. Smith's observation that the capital of one person may be the revenue of another induced Say to proclaim every distinction between capital and income on the social scale to be absurd. The absurdity, however, that income should completely absorb the total value of annual production which is thus consumed completely, assumes in Say's treatment the character of an absolutely valid dogma. If society annually consumes its own total product completely, social reproduction without any means of production whatever must become an annual repetition of the Miracle of the Creation.

In this state the problem of reproduction remained up to the time of Karl Marx.

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