[Classics] Anti-Dühring

7. Capital and Surplus-Value

“To begin with, Herr Marx does not hold the accepted economic view of capital, namely, that it is a means of production already produced; on the contrary, he tries to get up a more special, dialectical-historical idea that toys with metamorphoses of concepts and history. According to him, capital is born of money, it forms a historical phase opening with the sixteenth century, that is, with the first beginnings of a world market, which presumably appeared at that period. It is obvious that the keenness of national-economic analysis is lost in such a conceptual interpretation. In such barren conceptions, which are represented as half historical and half logical, but which in fact are only bastards of historical and logical fantasy, the faculty of discernment perishes, together with all honesty in the use of concepts” {D. K. G. 497-98} —

and so he blusters along for a whole page...

“Marx's definition of the concept of capital can only cause confusion in the strict theory of national economy ... frivolities which are palmed off as profound logical truths ... the fragility of foundations” {D. K. G. 498} and so forth.

So according to Marx, we are told, capital was born of money at the beginning of the sixteenth century. This is like saying that fully three thousand years ago metallic money was born of cattle, because once upon a time cattle, among other things, functioned as money. Only Herr Dühring is capable of such a crude and inept manner of expressing himself. In the analysis which Marx makes of the economic forms within which the process of the circulation of commodities takes place, money appears as the final form. “This final product of the circulation of commodities is the first form in which capital appears. As a matter of history, capital, as opposed to landed property, invariably takes the form at first of money; it appears as moneyed wealth, as the capital of the merchant and of the usurer... We can see it daily under our very eyes. All new capital, to commence with, comes on the stage, that is, on the market, whether of commodities, labour, or money, even in our days, in the shape of money that by a definite process has to be transformed into capital.” Here once again Marx is stating a fact. Unable to dispute it, Herr Dühring distorts it: Capital, he has Marx say, is born of money!

Marx then investigates the processes by which money is transformed into capital, and finds, first, that the form in which money circulates as capital is the inversion of the form in which it circulates as the general equivalent of commodities. The simple owner of commodities sells in order to buy; he sells what he does not need, and with the money thus procured he buys what he does need. The incipient capitalist starts by buying what he does not need himself; he buys in order to sell, and to sell at a higher price, in order to get back the value of the money originally thrown into the transaction, augmented by an increment in money; and Marx calls this increment surplus-value.

Whence comes this surplus-value? It cannot come either from the buyer buying the commodities under their value, or from the seller selling them above their value. For in both cases the gains and the losses of each individual cancel each other, as each individual is in turn buyer and seller. Nor can it come from cheating, for though cheating can enrich one person at the expense of another, it cannot increase the total sum possessed by both, and therefore cannot augment the sum of the values in circulation. “The capitalist class, as a whole, in any country, cannot over-reach themselves.”

And yet we find that in each country the capitalist class as a whole is continuously enriching itself before our eyes, by selling dearer than it had bought, by appropriating to itself surplus-value. We are therefore just where we were at the start: whence comes this surplus-value? This problem must be solved, and it must be solved in a purely economic way, excluding all cheating and the intervention of any force—the problem being: how is it possible constantly to sell dearer than one has bought, even on the hypothesis that equal values are always exchanged for equal values?

The solution of this problem was the most epoch-making achievement of Marx’s work. It spread the clear light of day through economic domains in which socialists no less than bourgeois economists previously groped in utter darkness. Scientific socialism dates from the discovery of this solution and has been built up around it.

This solution is as follows: The increase in the value of money that is to be converted into capital cannot take place in the money itself, nor can it originate in the purchase, as here this money does no more than realise the price of the commodity, and this price, inasmuch as we took as our premise an exchange of equivalents, is not different from its value. For the same reason, the increase in value cannot originate in the sale of the commodity. The change must, therefore, take place in the commodity bought; not however in its value, as it is bought and sold at its value, but in its use-value as such, that is, the change of value must originate in the consumption of the commodity. “In order to be able to extract value from the consumption of a commodity, our friend, Moneybags, must be so lucky as to find ... in the market, a commodity, whose use-value possesses the peculiar property of being a source of value, whose actual consumption, therefore, is itself an embodiment of labour, and, consequently, a creation of value. The possessor of money does find on the market such a special commodity in capacity for labour or labour-power.” Though, as we saw, labour as such can have no value, this is by no means the case with labour-power. This acquires a value from the moment that it becomes a commodity, as it is in fact at the present time, and this value is determined, “as in the case of every other commodity, by the labour-time necessary for the production, and consequently also the reproduction, of this special article“; that is to say, by the labour-time necessary for the production of the means of subsistence which the labourer requires for his maintenance in a fit state to work and for the perpetuation of his race. Let us assume that these means of subsistence represent six hours of labour-time daily. Our incipient capitalist, who buys labour-power for carrying on his business, i.e., hires a labourer, consequently pays this labourer the full value of his day's labour-power if he pays him a sum of money which also represents six hours of labour. And as soon as the labourer has worked six hours in the employment of the incipient capitalist, he has fully reimbursed the latter for his outlay, for the value of the day's labour-power which he had paid. But so far the money would not have been converted into capital, it would not have produced any surplus-value. And for this reason the buyer of labour-power has quite a different notion of the nature of the transaction he has carried out. The fact that only six hours’ labour is necessary to keep the labourer alive for twenty-four hours, does not in any way prevent him from working twelve hours out of the twenty-four. The value of the labour-power, and the value which that labour-power creates in the labour-process, are two different magnitudes. The owner of the money has paid the value of a day’s labour-power; his, therefore, is the use of it for a day — a whole day’s labour. The circumstance that the value which the use of it during one day creates is double its own value for a day is a piece of especially good luck for the buyer, but according to the laws of exchange of commodities by no means an injustice to the seller. On our assumption, therefore, the labourer each day costs the owner of money the value of the product of six hours’ labour, but he hands over to him each day the value of the product of twelve hours' labour. The difference in favour of the owner of the money is six hours of unpaid surplus-labour, a surplus-product for which he does not pay and in which six hours’ labour is embodied. The trick has been performed. Surplus-value has been produced; money has been converted into capital.

In thus showing how surplus-value arises, and how alone surplus-value can arise under the domination of the laws regulating the exchange of commodities, Marx exposed the mechanism of the existing capitalist mode of production and of the mode of appropriation based on it; he revealed the core around which the whole existing social order has crystallised.

However, this creation of capital requires that one essential prerequisite be fulfilled: “For the conversion of his money into capital the owner of money must meet in the market with the free labourer, free in the double sense, that as a free man he can dispose of his labour-power as his own commodity, and that on the other hand he has no other commodity for sale, is short of everything necessary for the realisation of his labour-power.” But this relation between the owners of money or of commodities on the one hand, and those who possess nothing beyond their own labour-power on the other, is not a natural relation, nor is it one that is common to all historical periods: “It is clearly the result of a past historical development, the product ... of the extinction of a whole series of older forms of social production.” And in fact we first encounter this free labourer on a mass scale in history at the end of the fifteenth and the beginning of the sixteenth century, as a result of the dissolution of the feudal mode of production. With this, however, and with the bringing into being of world trade and the world market dating from the same epoch, the basis was established on which the mass of the existing movable wealth was necessarily more and more converted into capital, and the capitalist mode of production, aimed at the creation of surplus-value, necessarily became more and more exclusively the prevailing mode.

Up to this point, we have been following the “barren conceptions” of Marx, these “bastards of historical and logical fantasy” in which “the faculty of discernment perishes, together with all honesty in the use of concepts”. Let us contrast these “frivolities” with the “profound logical truths” and the “definitive and most strictly scientific treatment in the sense of the exact disciplines” {D. K. G. 498}, such as Herr Dühring offers us.

So Marx “does not hold the accepted economic view of capital, namely, that it is a means of production already produced” {497}; he says, on the contrary, that a sum of values is converted into capital only when it increases its value, when it forms surplus-value. And what does Herr Dühring say?

“Capital is a basis of means of economic power for the continuation of production and for the formation of shares in the fruits of the general labour-power” {D C. 40},

However oracularly and slovenly that too is expressed, this much at least is certain: the basis of means of economic power may continue production to eternity, but according to Herr Dühring’s own words it will not become capital so long as it does not form “shares in the fruits of the general labour-power”—that is to say, form surplus-value or at least surplus-product. Herr Dühring therefore not only himself commits the sin with which he charges Marx—of not holding the accepted economic view of capital—but besides commits a clumsy plagiarism of Marx, “badly concealed” {D. K. G. 506} by high-sounding phrases.

On page 262 {D. C.} this is further developed:

“Capital in the social sense” (and Herr Dühring still has to discover a capital in a sense which is not social) “is in fact specifically different from the mere means of production; for while the latter have only a technical character and are necessary under all conditions, the former is distinguished by its social power of appropriation and the formation of shares. It is true that social capital is to a great extent nothing but the technical means of production in their social function; but it is precisely this function which ... must disappear”.

When we reflect that it was precisely Marx who first drew attention to the “social function” by virtue of which alone a sum of values becomes capital, it will certainly "at once be clear to every attentive investigator of the subject that Marx’s definition of the concept of capital can only cause confusion” {D. K. G. 498}—not, however, as Herr Dühring thinks, in the strict theory of national economy but as is evident simply and solely in the head of Herr Dühring himself, who in the Kritische Geschichte has already forgotten how much use he made of the said concept of capital in his Cursus. However, Herr Dühring is not content with borrowing from Marx the latter’s definition of capital, though in a “purified” form. He is obliged to follow Marx also in the “toying with metamorphoses of concepts and history” {497}, in spite of his own better knowledge that nothing could come of it but “barren conceptions”, “frivolities”, “fragility of the foundations” {498} and so forth. Whence comes this “social function” {D. C. 262} of capital, which enables it to appropriate the fruits of others’ labour and which alone distinguishes it from mere means of production?

Herr Dühring says that it does not depend “on the nature of the means of production and their technical indispensability” {262}.

It therefore arose historically, and on page 262 Herr Dühring only tells us again what we have heard ten times before, when he explains its origin by means of the old familiar adventures of the two men, one of whom at the dawn of history converted his means of production into capital by the use of force against the other. But not content with ascribing a historical beginning to the social function through which alone a sum of values becomes capital Herr Dühring prophesies that it will also have a historical end. It is “precisely this which must disappear” {262}. In ordinary parlance it is customary to call a phenomenon which arose historically and disappears again historically, “a historical phase”. Capital, therefore, is a historical phase not only according to Marx but also according to Herr Dühring, and we are consequently forced to the conclusion that we are among Jesuits here. When two persons do the same thing, then it is not the same. [A paraphrase of a dictum from the comedy Adelphoe by the Roman playwright Terentius (Act V, Scene 3).—Ed.] When Marx says that capital is a historical phase, that is a barren conception, a bastard of historical and logical fantasy, in which the faculty of discernment perishes, together with all honesty in the use of concepts When Herr Dühring likewise presents capital as a historical phase that is proof of the keenness of his economic analysis and of his definitive and most strictly scientific treatment in the sense of the exact disciplines.

What is it then that distinguishes the Dühringian conception of capital from the Marxian?

“Capital,” says Marx, “has not invented surplus-labour. Wherever a part of society possesses the monopoly of the means of production, the labourer, free or not free, must add to the working-time necessary for his own maintenance an extra working-time in order to produce the means of subsistence for the owners of the means of production.” Surplus-labour, labour beyond the time required for the labourer's own maintenance, and appropriation by others of the product of this surplus-labour, the exploitation of labour, is therefore common to all forms of society that have existed hitherto, in so far as these have moved in class antagonisms. But it is only when the product of this surplus-labour assumes the form of surplus-value, when the owner of the means of production finds the free labourer—free from social fetters and free from possessions of his own—as an object of exploitation, and exploits him for the purpose of the production of commodities—it is only then, according to Marx, that the means of production assume the specific character of capital. And this first took place on a large scale at the end of the fifteenth and the beginning of the sixteenth century.

Herr Dühring on the contrary declares that every sum of means of production which “forms shares in the fruits of the general labour-power” {D. C. 40}, that is, yields surplus-labour in any form, is capital. In other words, Herr Dühring annexes the surplus-labour discovered by Marx, in order to use it to kill the surplus-value, likewise discovered by Marx, which for the moment 3 does not suit his purpose. According to Herr Dühring, therefore, not only the movable and immovable wealth of the Corinthian and Athenian citizens, built on a slave economy, but also the wealth of the large Roman landowners of the time of the empire, and equally the wealth of the feudal barons of the Middle Ages, in so far as it in any way served production—all this without distinction is capital.

So that Herr Dühring himself does not hold “the accepted view of capital, namely, that it is a means of production already produced” {D. K. G. 497}, but rather one that is the very opposite of it, a view which includes in capital even means of production which have not been produced, the earth and its natural resources. The idea, however, that capital is simply “produced means of production” is once again the accepted view only in vulgar political economy. Outside of this vulgar economics, which Herr Dühring holds so dear, the “produced means of production” or any sum of values whatever, becomes capital only by yielding profit or interest, i.e., by appropriating the surplus-product of unpaid labour in the form of surplus-value, and, moreover, by appropriating it in these two definite subforms of surplus-value. It is of absolutely no importance that the whole of bourgeois economy is still labouring under the idea that the property of yielding profit or interest is inherent in every sum of values which is utilised under normal conditions in production or exchange. In classical political economy, capital and profit, or capital and interest, are just as inseparable, stand in the same reciprocal relations to each other, as cause and effect, father and son, yesterday and today. The word “capital” in its modern economic meaning is first met with, however, at the time when the thing itself makes its appearance, when movable wealth acquires, to a greater and greater extent, the function of capital, by exploiting the surplus-labour of free labourers for the production of commodities; and in fact it was introduced by the first nation of capitalists in history, the Italians of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. And if Marx was the first to make a fundamental analysis of the mode of appropriation characteristic of modern capital; if he brought the concept of capital into harmony with the historical facts from which, in the last analysis, it had been abstracted, and to which it owed its existence; if by so doing Marx cleared this economic concept of those obscure and vacillating ideas which still clung to it even in classical bourgeois political economy and among the former socialists — then it was Marx who applied that “definitive and most strictly scientific treatment“ {498} about which Herr Dühring is so constantly talking and which we so painfully miss in his works.

In actual fact, Herr Dühring’s treatment is quite different from this. He is not content with first inveighing against the presentation of capital as a historical phase by calling it a “bastard of historical and logical fantasy” {498} and then himself presenting it as a historical phase. He also roundly declares that all means of economic power, all means of production which appropriate “shares in the fruits of the general labour-power” {D. C. 40}—and therefore also landed property in all class societies—are capital; which however does not in the least prevent him, in the further course of his exposition, from separating landed property and land rent, quite in the traditional manner, from capital and profit, and designating as capital only those means of production which yield profit or interest, as he does at considerable length on page 156 and the following pages of his Cursus. With equal justice Herr Dühring might first include under the name 'locomotive" also horses, oxen, asses and dogs, on the ground that these, too, can be used as means of transport, and reproach modern engineers with limiting the name locomotive to the modern steam-engine and thereby setting it up as a historical phase, using barren conceptions, bastards of historical and logical fantasy and so forth; and then finally declare that horses, asses, oxen and dogs are nevertheless excluded from the term locomotive, and that this term is applicable only to the steam-engine.—And so once more we are compelled to say that it is precisely the Dühringian conception of capital in which all keenness of economic analysis is lost and the faculty of discernment perishes, together with all honesty in the use of concepts; and that the barren conceptions, the confusion, the frivolities palmed off as profound logical truths and the fragility of the foundations are to be found in full bloom precisely in Herr Dühring’s work.

But all that is of no consequence. For Herr Dühring’s is the glory nevertheless of having discovered the axis on which all economics, all politics and jurisprudence, in a word, all history, has hitherto revolved. Here it is:

“Force and labour are the two principal factors which come into play in forming social connections” {D. C. 255}.

In this one sentence we have the complete constitution of the economic world up to the present day. It is extremely short, and runs:

Article One: Labour produces.

Article Two: Force distributes.

And this, “speaking in plain human language” {D. K. G. 496}, sums up the whole of Herr Dühring's economic wisdom.