The circulation of capital follows the following phases: first, a sum of money is transformed into means of production and labour-power. This takes place in the sphere of circulation, i.e. in the market. Second, in the sphere of production, the means of production are converted into commodities whose value exceeds that of their constituent parts. Third, again in the market, the commodities must be sold, i.e. their value must be converted into money, money which can now rebegin the circuit. In what follows here what is not going to be dealt with is: (1) in detail how capital passes through the sphere of circulation; and (2) how surplus-value is distributed throughout the capitalist class. These are items that will be dealt with in, respectively, volumes 2 and 3. Rather, the following assumptions and generalisations will be made. 1 We shall assume that the capitalist sells unproblemmatically her commodities at their value, and we shall not concern ourselves with their reappearance on the market, or the forms in which capital manifests itself while in the market and the conditions or reproduction behind these forms. 2 We shall consider the capitalist abstractly, as ‘the representative of all those who will share the booty with him.’1 The motive for this approach is that ‘an exact analysis of the process [...] demands that we should, for a time, disregard the phenomena that conceal the workings of its inner mechanism.’2
Karl Marx, Capital vol. 1 (Harmondsworth, 1990) [hereafter C.], p. 710.
C., p. 710. 2
Chapter Twenty-Three: Simple Reproduction 1 Production and reproduction3
There are two factors constant to all social production, independent of its social form. First, that production has to be continuous, since ‘a society can no more cease to produce than it can cease to consume’; and second – given that from the above we can infer that ‘every social process of production is at the same time a process of reproduction’ – that ‘the conditions of production are at the same time the conditions of reproduction’. No society can go on producing, in other words no society can reproduce, unless it constantly reconverts a part of its products into means of production, or elements of fresh products.4
Therefore, if production has a capitalist form, so too will reproduction. Just as in the capitalist mode of production the labour process appears only as a means towards the process of valorisation, so in the case of reproduction it appears only as a means of reproducing the value advanced as capital, i.e. as self-valorising value.5
If a sum of £1000 serves as capital, and produces an annual surplus-value of £200, this periodic increment in the value of capital arises as the revenue accruing from ‘capital-in-process’. If this revenue only serves as a fund for the capitalist’s own consumption, then we have a case of simple reproduction.
2 The continuous reproduction of capital
What are the distinctive features of the continuous reproduction of capital, as compared to the process of capitalist production seen in isolation? The prelude to capitalist production is the purchase of labour-power. But the worker is paid only after her work is done – only after she has realised both the value of her labour-power and a quantity of surplus-value. She has produced the surplus-value, which here we are regarding as a fund for the private consumption of the capitalist, as well as the variable capital, the fund out of which she herself is paid. This latter, each cycle, flows back to the worker, after she has produced it, in the form of wages. In all systems of social production, the producer must produce and reproduce her means of subsistence. Under capitalist relations, ‘if the labour-fund constantly flows to [...] [the worker] in the form of money that pays for his labour, it is because his own product constantly moves away from him in the form of capital.’6 The form of the labour-fund marks the fact that what is advanced to the worker is in reality her own objectified labour. Thus once we view capitalist production in the flow of its constant renewal – rather than as an isolated moment – we are able to see clearly that variable capital is not a value advanced form the capitalist’s own funds.7
3 The conversion of capital into accumulated capital
Our capitalist, whose capital of £1000 yields an annual surplus-value of £200, and who consumes the whole of that surplus-value, will, in 5 years, have consumed a value equivalent to that of his original capital. If she only consumes one half of it, she will have consumed this value in 10 years, etc. But, although she believes that she is only consuming the surplus-value arising from her capital, leaving the original sum untouched, what is really happening here is that at the end of the period or reproduction, when the value of the original capital is equal to 3
Where I insert my own subheads they appear, as here, in sans serif type.
C., p. 711.
C., p. 711.
C., p. 713.
But let us emphasise here that here we are dealing with the process of production and reproduction already in motion, not with its beginnings – the celebrated (and misnamed) ‘primitive accumulation’.
the total consumed value arising from it, what remains, although equal in quantity and maybe in material form to the original capital, is in fact not the original capital, for this is what has been consumed, but accumulated capital, or capitalised surplus-value. The mere continuity of the production process, in other words simple reproduction, sooner or later, and necessarily, converts all capital into accumulated capital, or capitalised surplus-value. Even if that capital was, in its entry into the process of production, the personal property of the man who employs it, and was originally acquired by his own labour, it sooner or later becomes value appropriated without an equivalent, the unpaid labour of others materialised either in the money form or in some other way.8
4 The result of capitalist production
We saw earlier9 that ‘the real foundation and starting point of capitalist production’ was the confrontation of the possessor of value and the possessor of the value-creating substance as buyer and seller. But the process of simple reproduction turns this starting point into the characteristic result of capitalist production, for the production process not only coverts material wealth into capital but maintains the worker in the state in which she enters in the production process: the source of wealth but bereft of the means to make this wealth for herself.
5 The reproduction of the capital-relation
What is the nature of the worker’s consumption? There are two ways to look at the matter. First, from the point of view of the individual worker: from the point of view of production as an isolated process of production. Here, the worker consumes productively in production by consuming the means of production with her labour, converting them into products which have a greater value than that of their constituent parts (an act which is, at the same time, also the consumption of her labour-power on the part of the capitalist). Then there is her unproductive consumption: her consumption of the means of subsistence she has obtained with the wage paid her for her labour-power. The one occurs in production, at the whim of the capitalist; the other, a private matter, outside of production, where, instead of belonging to the capitalist, she belongs to herself. But alongside this individual point of view, there is also the point of view of ‘the capitalist class and the working class, not an isolated process of production, but capitalist production in full swing, on its actual social scale’.10 We see now that the personal consumption of the worker is not some private matter independent of production but the production and reproduction of the workers themselves: the most indispensable means of production. ‘The individual consumption of the working class is the reconversion of the means of subsistence given by capital in return for labour-power into fresh labour-power which capital is able to exploit.’11 Capitalist production [...] reproduces in the course of its own process the separation between labour-power and the conditions of labour. It thereby reproduces and perpetuates the conditions under which the worker is exploited. It incessantly forces him to sell his labour power in order to live, and enables the capitalist to purchase labour-power in order that he may enrich himself. It is no longer a mere accident that capitalist and worker confront each other in the market as buyer and seller. It is the alternating rhythm of the process itself which throws the worker back onto the market again and again as a seller of his labour-power and continually transforms his own product into a means by which another man can purchase him. [...] The capitalist process of production, therefore, seen as a total, connected process, i.e. a process of reproduction, produces not only
C., p. 715.
In chapter 4.
C., p. 717.
C., pp. 717-8. 4
commodities, not only surplus-value, but also produces and reproduces the capital-relation itself; on the one hand the capitalist, on the other the wage-labourer.12