Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Capital III, Chapter 20 - Part 1

Historical Facts about Merchant's Capital

Marx emphasises that merchant capital, whether in the shape of sellers of commodities, or money dealers, cannot be considered as merely another branch of industrial capital. Different industries, engaged in various forms of productive activity, such as farming, mining, manufacturing or transport are all simply subdivisions of industrial capital. But merchant capital is not. No part of the circuit of its capital is involved in the phase of production, during which new value is created, and surplus value is produced. The circuit of merchant capital is contained exclusively in the phase of circulation, of the realisation of the new value and surplus value that has been produced.

Indeed, for the money-dealing capital, it is not even involved in the realisation of that value. It merely acts to move the already realised money form of that value from one location to another. The difference between the merchant capital, as a separate and independent form of capital, from industrial capital, is illustrated by the fact that although activity is restricted purely to the phase of circulation, every industrial capital, in whatever branch, from farming to transport, must also engage, as well as in its specific form of production, in the same activities of circulation. Each of them must engage in selling the commodities they produce, in money-dealing, to make and receive payments etc.

“Aside from the crudity with which the economist generally considers distinctions of form, which really concern him only from their substantive side, this misconception by the vulgar economist is explained on two additional counts. First, his inability to explain the peculiar nature of mercantile profit; and, secondly, his apologetic endeavours to deduce commodity-capital and money-capital, and later commercial capital and money-dealing capital as forms arising necessarily from the process of production as such, whereas they are due to the specific form of the capitalist mode of production, which above all presupposes the circulation of commodities, and hence of money, as its basis.” (p 323-4)

But, of course, as Marx points out, if merchant capital is no different than any other branch of industrial capital, then, because merchant capital has existed across several modes of production, this means that the distinction between capitalist production and other forms of production disappears. There is just production, just as there is just buying and selling. The concept of capitalist production, as an historically specific, and so transient form of production, is dissolved.

“The great economists, such as Smith, Ricardo, etc., are perplexed over mercantile capital being a special variety, since they consider the basic form of capital, capital as industrial capital, and circulation capital (commodity-capital and money-capital) solely because it is a phase in the reproduction process of every capital. The rules concerning the formation of value, profit, etc., immediately deduced by them from their study of industrial capital, do not extend directly to merchant's capital. For this reason, they leave merchant's capital entirely aside and mention it only as a kind of industrial capital. Wherever they make a special analysis of it, as Ricardo does in dealing with foreign trade, they seek to demonstrate that it creates no value (and consequently no surplus-value). But whatever is true of foreign trade, is also true of home trade.” (p 324-5)

Yet, what kind of industrial capital would it be that produced no value nor surplus value?

But, merchant's capital does arise in previous modes of production. It “ older than the capitalist mode of production, is, in fact, historically the oldest free state of existence of capital.” (p 325) The point has been made previously that, in considering Marx's use of terms like “capital”, his dialectical method has to be remembered. Concepts and terms are only reflections of material things, and because material things can only be understood as processes, as something continually in the process of becoming, anyone seeking to pin Marx down to fixed forever categories will never understand him.

The use of the term merchant capital, in this regard, breaches Marx's definition of capital as a social relation between capital and wage-labour, as self-expanding value and accumulated surplus value. The merchant does not derive their profit from exploiting wage-labour, nor does their capital self-expand, and nor is it the result of accumulated surplus-value, at least not surplus value that it has produced.

But, merchant capital, like money-capital, as it arises, prior to capitalist production, does have this in common with capital proper, that it starts out as a sum of value, which is thrown into circulation, not for the purposes of obtaining commodities for consumption, in exchange, but solely for the purpose of withdrawing a larger sum of exchange value from circulation. In this sense, it is a sum of value that does expand solely from its own operation, i.e. not simply because its owner has added an additional sum of value to it. It expands in value solely from its operation in the sphere of circulation, which is the basis of the error of all those economic theories, through to the neo-classical and Austrian, that believe that value is a function of exchange rather than production.

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