Capital: A Critique of Political Economy, Vol. II. The Process of Circulation of Capital
We have seen in vol. I, chap. VIII, that a portion of the constant capital retains that form of the use-value, in which it entered into the process of production and does not share in the transfer to the products toward the creation of which it contributes. In other words, it performs for a longer or shorter period, in the ever repeated labor process, the same function. This applies, for instance, to buildings, machinery, etc., in short to all things which we comprise under the name of instruments of labor. This part of constant capital yields value to the product in proportion as it loses its own exchange-value with the dwindling of its use-value. This transfer of value from an instrument of production to the product which it helps to create is determined by a calculation of averages. It is measured by the average, duration of its function, from the moment that the instrument that it is completely spent and must be reproduced, or replaced by a new specimen of the same kind.
This, then is the peculiarity of this part of constant capital of the instruments of labor:
A certain part of capital has been advanced in the form of constant capital, of instruments of labor, which now perform their function in the labor-process so long as their own use-value lasts, which they bring with them into this process. The finished product, with the elements it absorbed from the instruments of production, is pushed out of the process of production and transferred as a commodity to the sphere of circulation. But the instruments of labor never leave the sphere of production, once that they have entered it. Their function holds them there. A certain portion of the advanced capital-value is fixed in this form by the function of the instruments of labor in the process of production. In the performance of this function, and thus by the wear and tear incidental to it, a part of the value of the instruments of labor is transferred to the product, while another remains fixed in the instruments of labor and thus in the process of production. The value thus fixed decreases constantly, until the instrument of labor is worn out, its value having been distributed during a shorter or longer period, over a mass of products which emanated from a series of currently repeated labor processes. But so long as an instrument of labor is still effective and has not been replaced by a new specimen of the same kind, a certain amount of constant capital-value remains fixed in it, while another part of the value originally fixed in it is transferred to the product and circulates as a component part of the commodity-supply. The longer an instrument lasts, the slower it wears out, the longer will its constant capital-value remain fixed in this form of use-value. But whatever may be its durability, the proportion in which it yields its value is always inverse to its entire time of service. If of two machines of equal value, one wears out in five years and the other in ten, then the first yields twice as much value in the same time as the second.
This value fixed in the instruments of labor circulates as well as any other. We have seen that all capital-value is constantly in circulation, and that in this sense all capital is circulating capital. But the circulation of the portion of capital which we are now studying is peculiar. In the first place, it does not circulate in its use-form, but it is merely its exchange-value which circulates, and this takes place gradually and piecemeal, in proportion as it is transferred to the product which circulates as a commodity. During the entire period of its service, a portion of its value always remains fixed in it, independent of the commodities which it helps to produce. It is this peculiarity which gives to this portion of capital the character of fixed capital. On the other hand, all other substantial parts of the capital advanced in the process of production form the circulating, or fluid, capital.
Some portions of the means of production do not yield their substance to the product. Such are auxiliary substances, which are consumed by the instruments of labor themselves in the performance of their function, such as coal consumed by a steam engine; or substances which merely assist in the operation, such as gas for lighting, etc. It is only their value which forms a part of the value of products. In circulating its own value, the product circulates theirs. To this extent they share the fate of the fixed capital. But they are entirely consumed in every labor-process which they enter, and must therefore be replaced by new specimens of their kind in every new labor-process. They do not preserve their own use-form while performing their function. Hence no portion of capital-value remains fixed in their natural use-value during their service. The fact that this portion of the auxiliary substances does not pass bodily into the product, but yields only its value to swell thereby the value of the product, although the function of these substance is confined to sphere of production, has misled some economists, for instance Ramsay—who also confounded fixed capital with constant capital—to class them among the fixed capital.
That part of the means of production which yields its substance to the product, in other words, the raw materials, may eventually assume forms which enable it to pass into individual consumption. The instruments of labor, properly so called, that is to say, the material bearers of the fixed capital, can be consumed only productively and cannot pass into individual consumption, because their substance does not enter into the product, into the use-value, which they help to create, but they rather retain their independent form until they are completely worn out. The means of transportation are an exception to this rule. The useful effect which they produce by their productive function during their stay in the sphere of production, that is to say, the change of location, passes simultaneously into the individual consumption, for instance into that of a traveler. He pays for its use in the same way in which he pays for the use of other articles of consumption. We have seen that sometimes the raw material and auxiliary substances pervade one another, for instance in the manufacture of chemicals. In the same way, instruments of labor, raw material and auxiliary substances may pervade one another. In agriculture, for instance, the substances employed for the improvement of the soil pass into the plants and help to form the product. On the other hand, their influence is distributed over a lengthy period, say four or five years. A portion of them, therefore, pass into the product and enhance its value, while another portion remains fixed in its old use-form and retains its value. It persists as an instrument of production and retains the form of fixed capital. An ox is fixed capital, so long as it is a beast of toil. If it is eaten, it does not perform the functions of an instrument of production, and is, therefore, not fixed capital.
That which determines whether a certain portion of the capital-value invested in means of production is fixed capital or not is exclusively the peculiar manner in which this value circulates. This peculiar manner of circulation arises from the peculiar manner in which the means of production yield their value to the product, that is to say the manner in which the means of production participate in the creation of values in the process of production. This, again, arises from the special nature of the function of these means of production in the labor-process.
We know that the same use-value, which comes as a product from one labor-process, passes as a means of production into another. It is only the function of a product as a means of production in the labor-process which stamps it as fixed capital. But to the extent that it arises itself out of such a process, it is not fixed capital. For instance, a machine, as a product, as a commodity of the machine manufacturer, belongs to his commodity-capital. It does not become fixed capital, until it is employed productively in the hands of its purchaser.
All other circumstances being equal, the degree of fixity increases with the durability of the means of production. This durability determines the magnitude of the difference between the capital-value fixed in the instruments of labor and between that part of its value which is yielded to the product in successive labor-processes. The slower this value is yielded—and some of it is given up in every repetition of the labor-process—the larger will be the fixed capital, and the greater will be the difference between the capital employed and the capital consumed in the process of production. As soon as this difference has disappeared, the instrument of labor has ceased to live and lost, with its use-value, also its exchange-value. It has ceased to be the bearer of value. Since an instrument of labor, the same as every other material bearer of constant capital, yields value only to the extent that its use-value is converted into exchange-value, it is evident that the period in which its constant capital-value remains fixed will be so much longer, the longer it lasts in the process of production, the more slowly its use-value is lost.
If any one means of production, which is not an instrument of labor, strictly speaking, such as auxiliary substances, raw material, partly finished articles, etc., yields and circulates its value in the same way as the instruments of production, then it is likewise the material bearer, the form of existence, of fixed capital. This is the case with the above-mentioned improvements of the soil, which add chemical substances to the soil, the influence of which is distributed over several periods of production, or years. In this case, a portion of the value continues to exist independently of the product, it persists in the form of fixed capital, while another portion has been transferred to the product and circulates with it. And in the latter case, it is not alone a portion of the value of the fixed capital which is transferred to the product, but also a portion of the use-value, the substance in which this portion of value is embodied.
Apart from the fundamental mistake—the confounding of the categories "fixed capital and circulating capital" with the categories "constant capital and variable capital"—the confusion of the economists in the matter of definitions is based on the following points:
They make of certain qualities, embodied in the substances of the instruments of labor, direct qualities of fixed capital, for instance, the physical immobility of a house. It is always easy in that case to prove that other instruments of labor, which are likewise fixed capital, have an opposite quality, for instance, physical mobility, such as a vessel's.
Or, they confound the definite economic form, which arises from the circulation of value, with some quality of the object itself, as though things which are not at all capital in themselves, but rather become so under given social conditions, could be of themselves and intrinsically capital in some definite forms, such as fixed or circulating capital. We have seen in volume I that the means of production in every labor-process, regardless of the social conditions in which it takes place, are divided into instruments of labor and objects of labor. But both of them do not become capital until the capitalist mode of production is introduced, and then they become "productive capital," as shown in the preceding part. Henceforth the distinction between instruments and objects of labor, based on the nature of the labor-process, is reflected in the new distinction between fixed and circulating capital. It is then only, that a thing which performs the function of an instrument of labor, becomes fixed capital. If it can serve also in other capacities, owing to its material composition, it may be fixed capital or not, according to the functions it performs. Cattle as beasts of toil are fixed capital; if they are fattened, they are raw material which finally enters into circulation as commodities, in other words, they are circulating, not fixed capital.
The mere fixation of some means of production for a certain length of time in repeated labor-processes, which are consecutively connected and form a period of production, that is to say, the entire period required to complete a certain product, demands advances from the capitalist for a longer or shorter term, just as fixed capital does, but this does not give to his capital the character of fixed capital. Seeds, for instance, are not fixed capital, but only raw material which is held for about a year in the process of production. All capital is held in the process of production, so long as it performs the function of productive capital, and so are, therefore, all elements of productive capital, whatever may be their substantial composition, their function and the mode of circulation of their value. Whether the period of fixation lasts a long or a short time, according to the manner of the process of production or the effect aimed at, it does not determine the distinction between fixed and circulating capital.*25
A portion of the instruments of labor, which determine the general conditions of labor, may be located in a fixed place, as soon as it enters on its duties in the process of production or is prepared for them, for instance, machinery. Or it is produced from the outset in its locally fixed form, such as improvements of the soil, factory buildings, kilns, canals, railroads, etc. The constant fixation of the instrument of labor in the process of production is in that case also due to its mode of material existence. On the other hand, an instrument of labor may continually be shifted bodily from place to place, may move about, and nevertheless be continually in the process of production, for instance, a locomotive, a ship, beasts of burden, etc. Neither does immobility in the one case bestow the character of fixed capital on the instrument of labor, nor does mobility in the other case deprive it of this character. But the fact that some instruments of labor are attached to the soil and remain so fixed, assigns to this portion of fixed capital a peculiar role in the economy of nations. They cannot be sent abroad, cannot circulate as commodities on the market of the world. The titles to this fixed capital may be exchanged, it may be bought and sold, and to this extent it may circulate ideally. These titles of ownership may even circulate on foreign markets, for instance in the form of stocks. But the change of the persons of the owners of this class of fixed capital does not alter the relation of the immobile, substantially fixed part of national wealth to its circulating part.*26
The peculiar circulation of fixed capital results in a peculiar turn-over. That part of value which is lost by wear and tear circulates as a part of the value of the product. The product converts itself by means of its circulation from commodities into money; hence the value of the instrument of labor circulated by the product does the same, and this value is precipitated in the form of money by the process of circulation in the same proportion in which the instrument of labor loses its value in the process of production. This value has then a double existence. One part of it remains attached to the form of its use-value in the process of production, another is detached from the instrument of labor and becomes money. In the performance of its function, that part of the value of an instrument of labor which exists in its natural form constantly decreases, while that which is transformed into money constantly increases, until at last the instrument is exhausted and its entire value, detached from its body, has assumed the form of money. Here the peculiarity in the turn-over of this element of productive capital becomes apparent. The transformation of its value into money keeps pace with the like transformation of the commodity which is its bearer. But its reconversion from the form of money into that of a use-value separates itself from the reconversion of the commodities into their other elements of production and is determined by its own period of reproduction, that is to say by the time during which the instrument of labor has worn out and must be replaced by another specimen of the same kind. If a machine lasts for, say, a period of ten years, then the period of turn-over of the value originally advanced for it amounts to ten years. It need not be replaced until this period has expired, and performs its function in this natural form until then. Its value circulates in the meantime piecemeal as a part of the value of the commodities which it turns out successively, and it is thus gradually transformed into money, until it has entirely assumed the form of money at the end of ten years and is reconverted from money into a machine, in other words, has completed its turn-over. Until this time arrives, its value is meanwhile accumulated in the form of a reserve fund of money.
The other elements of productive capital consist partly of those elements of constant capital which exist in auxiliary and raw materials, partly of variable capital which is invested in labor-power.
The analysis of the processes of labor and self-expansion (vol. I, chap. VII) showed that these different elements behave differently in their role of producers of commodities and values. The value of that part of constant capital which consists of auxiliary and raw materials—the same as of that part which consists of instruments of labor—reappears in the value of the product as transferred value, while labor-power actually adds the equivalent of its value to the product by means of the labor-process, in other words, actually reproduces its value. Furthermore, a part of the auxiliary material, fuel, gas, etc., is consumed in the process of labor without entering bodily into the product, while another part of them enters bodily into the product and forms a part of its substance. But all these differences are immaterial so far as the mode of circulation and turn-over is concerned. To the extent that auxiliary and raw materials are entirely consumed in the creation of the product, they transfer their value entirely to the product. Hence this value is entirely circulated by the product, transformed into money and from money back into the elements of production of the commodity. Its turn-over is not interrupted, as that of fixed capital is, but it rather passes uninterrupted through the entire cycle of its transformations, so that these elements of production are continually reproduced in substance.
As for the variable part of productive capital, which is invested in labor-power, it buys labor-power for a definite period of time. As soon as the capitalist has bought labor-power and embodied it in his process of production, it forms a component part of his capital, definitely speaking, the variable part of his capital. Labor-power performs its function daily during a period of time, in which it not only reproduces its own daily value, but also adds a surplus-value in excess of it to the product. We do not consider this surplus-value for the moment. After labor-power has been bought, say, for a week, and performed its function, its purchase must be continually renewed within the accustomed space of time. The equivalent of its value, which labor-power embodies in its product during its function and which is transformed into money by means of the circulation of the product, must be continually reconverted from money into labor-power, must continually pass through the complete cycle of its transformations, in other words, must be turned over, lest the continuous rotation of its production be interrupted.
That part of the value of capital, then, which has been advanced for labor-power, is entirely transferred to the product—we still leave the question of surplus-value out of consideration—passes with it through the two metamorphoses belonging to the circulation, and always remains in the process of production by means of this continual reproduction. Whatever may be the differences by which labor-power is distinguished, so far as the formation of value is concerned, from those parts of constant capital which do not represent fixed capital, it nevertheless has this manner of turn-over in common with them, as compared to the fixed capital. It is these elements of productive capital—the values invested in labor-power and in means of production which are not fixed capital—that by their common characteristics of turn-over constitute the circulating capital as opposed to the fixed capital.
We have already stated that the money which the capitalist pays to the laborer for the use of his labor-power is but the form of the general equivalent for the means of subsistence required by the laborer. To this extent, the variable capital consists in substance of means of existence. But in this case, where we are discussing the turn-over, it is a question of form. The capitalist does not buy the means of the existence of the laborer, but his labor-power. And that which forms the variable part of capital is not the subsistence of the laborer, but his active labor-power. The capitalist consumes productively in the labor-process the labor-power of the laborer, not his means of existence. It is the laborer himself who converts the money received for his labor-power into means of subsistence, in order to reproduce his labor-power, to keep alive, just as the capitalist converts a part of the surplus-value realized by the sale of commodities into means of existence for himself, and yet would not thereby justify the statement, that the purchaser of his commodities pays him with means of existence. Even if the laborer receives a part of his wages in the form of means of existence, this is still a second transaction in our days. He sells his labor-power at a certain price, with the understanding that he shall receive a part of this price in means of production. This changes merely the form of the payment, but not the fact that that which he actually sells is his labor-power. It is a second transaction, which does not take place between the parties in their capacity as laborer and capitalist, but on the part of the laborer as a buyer of commodities and on that of the capitalist as a seller of commodities; while in the first transaction, the laborer is a seller of a commodity (his labor-power) and the capitalist its buyer. It is the same with the capitalist who replaces his commodity by another, for instance when he takes iron for a machine which he sells to some iron-works. It is, therefore, not the means of subsistence of the laborer which determine the character of circulating capital as opposed to fixed capital. Nor is it his labor-power. It is rather that part of the value of productive capital which is invested in labor-power that receives this character in common with some other parts of constant capital by means of the manner of its turn-over.
The value of the circulating capital—invested in labor-power and means of production—is advanced only for the time during which the product is in process of formation, in harmony with the scale of production dependent on the volume of the fixed capital. This value enters entirely into the product, is therefore fully returned by the sale of the product in the circulation, and can be advanced anew. The labor-power and means of production carrying the circulating part of capital are withdrawn from the circulation to the extent that is required for the formation and sale of the finished product, but they must be continually replaced and reproduced by purchasing them back and reconverting them from money into elements of production. They are withdrawn from the market in smaller quantities at a time than the elements of fixed capital, but they must be withdrawn so much more frequently and the advance of capital invested in them must be repeated in shorter periods. This continual reproduction is promoted by the continuous conversion of the product which circulates the entire value of these elements. And finally, they pass through the entire cycle of metamorphoses, not only so far as their value is concerned, but also their material substance. They are continually reconverted from commodities into the elements of production of the same commodities.
Together with its value, labor-power always adds surplus-value to the product, and this surplus-value represents unpaid labor. This is just as continuously circulated by the finished product and converted into money as its other elements of value. But in this substance, where we are first concerned about the turn-over of capital-value, and not of the surplus-value turned over at the same time, we dismiss the latter for the present.
From the foregoing, the following deductions are made:
1. The definite distinctions of the forms of fixed and circulating capital arise merely from the different turnovers of the capital-value employed in the process of production, the productive capital. This difference of turn-over arises in its turn from the different manner in which the various elements of productive capital transfer their value to the product; they are not due to the different participation of these elements in the production of value, nor to their characteristic role in the process of self-expansion. The difference in the transfer of value to the product-—and therefore the different manner of circulating this value by means of the product and renewing it in its original material form by means of its metamorphoses—arises from the difference of the material forms in which the productive capital exists, one portion of it being entirely consumed during the creation of the individual product, and another being used up gradually. Hence it is only the productive capital, which can be divided into fixed and circulating capital. But this distinction does not apply to the other two modes of existence of industrial capital, that is to say commodity-capital and money-capital, nor does it express the difference of these two capitals as compared to productive capital. It applies only to productive capital and its internal processes. No matter how much money-capital and commodity-capital may perform the functions of capital and circulate, they cannot become circulating capital as distinguished from fixed capital, until they have been transformed into circulating elements of productive capital. But because these two forms of capital dwell in the circulation, the economists since the time of Adam Smith, as we shall presently see, have been misled into confounding them with the circulating parts of productive capital under the head of circulating capital. Money-capital and commodity-capital are indeed circulation capital as distinguished from productive capital, but they are not circulating capital as opposed to fixed capital.
2. The turn-over of the fixed part of capital and therefore also its time of turn-over, comprises several turn-overs of the circulating parts of capital. In the same tine, in which the fixed capital turns over once, the circulating capital turns over several times. One of the component parts of the value of productive capital acquires the definite form of fixed capital only in the case that the instrument of production in which it is embodied is not worn out in the time required for the finishing of the product and its removal from the process of production as a commodity. One part of its value must remain tied up in the form of the old use-value, while another part is circulated by the finished product, and this circulation simultaneously carries with it the entire value of the circulating parts of productive capital.
3. The value invested in the fixed part of productive capital is advanced in a lump-sum for the entire period of employment of that part of the instrument of labor which constitutes the fixed capital. Hence this value is thrown into the circulation by the capitalist all at one time. But it is withdrawn from the circulation only in portions corresponding to the degree in which those values are realized which the fixed capital yields successively to the commodities. On the other hand, the means of production themselves, in which a portion of the productive capital becomes fixed, are withdrawn from the circulation in one bulk and embodied in the process of circulation for the entire period which they last. But they do not require reproduction, they need not be replaced by new specimens of the same kind, until this time is gone by. They continue for a shorter or longer period to contribute to the creation of the commodities to be thrown into circulation, without withdrawing from circulation the elements of their own reproduction. Hence they do not require from the capitalist a renewal of his advances during this period. Finally, the capital-value invested in fixed capital passes through the cycle of its transformations, not in its bodily substance, but only with its ideal value, and even this it does only in successive portions and gradually. In other words, a portion of its value is continually circulated and converted into money as a part of the value of the commodities, without reconverting itself from money into its original bodily form. This reconversion of money into the natural form of an instrument of labor does not take place until at the end of its period of usefulness, when the instrument has been completely worn out.
4. The elements of circulating capital are as continually engaged in the process of production—provided it is to be uninterrupted—as the elements of fixed capital. But the elements of circulating capital held in this condition are continually reproduced in their natural form (the instruments of production by other specimens of the same kind, and labor-power by renewed purchases) while in the case of the elements of fixed capital, neither the substance has to be renewed during their employment, nor the purchases. There are always raw and auxiliary materials in the process of production, but always new specimens of the same kind, whenever the old elements have been consumed in the creation of the finished product. Labor-power is likewise always in the process of production, but only by means of ever new purchases, and frequently with changed individuals. But the same identical buildings, machinery, etc., continue their function during repeated turn-overs of the circulating capital in the same repeated processes of production.
In the same investment of capital, the individual elements of fixed capital have a different life-time, and therefore different periods of turn-over. In a railroad, for instance, the rails, ties, earthworks, station-buildings, bridges, tunnels, locomotives, and carriages have different periods of wear and of reproduction, hence the capital advanced for them has different periods of turn-over. For a long term of years, the buildings, platforms, water tanks, viaducts, tunnels, excavations, dams, in short everything called "works of art" in English railroading, do not require any reproduction. The things which wear out most are the rails, ties, and rolling stock.
Originally, in the construction of modern railways, it was the current opinion, nursed by the most prominent practical engineers, that a railroad would last a century and that the wear and tear of the rails was so imperceptible, that it could be ignored for all financial and practical purposes; from 100 to 150 years was supposed to be the life-time of good rails. But it was soon learned that the life-time of a rail, which naturally depends on the velocity of the locomotives, the weight and number of trains, the diameter of the rails themselves, and on a multitude of other minor circumstances, did not exceed an average of 20 years. In some railway-stations, which are centers of great traffic, the rails even wear out every year. About 1867, the introduction of steel rails began, which cost about twice as much as iron rails but which on the other hand last more than twice as long. The life-time of wooden ties was from 12 to 15 years. It was also found, that freight cars wear out faster then passenger cars. The life-time of a locomotive was calculated in 1867 at about 10 to 12 years.
The wear and tear is first of all a result of usage. As a rule, the rails wear out in proportion to the number of trains. (R.C. No. 17,645,)*27 If the speed was increased, the wear and tear increased faster in proportion than the square of the velocity, that is to say, if the speed of the trains increased twofold, the wear and tear increased more than fourfold. (R. C. No. 17,046.)
Wear and tear are furthermore caused by the influence of natural forces. For instance, the ties do not only suffer from actual wear, but also from mold. The cost of maintenance does not depend so much on the wear and tear incidental to the railway traffic, as on the quality of the wood, the iron, the masonry, which are exposed to the weather. One single month of hand winter will injure the track more than a whole year of traffic. (R. P. Williams, On the Maintenance of Permanent Way. Lecture given at the Institute of Civil Engineers, Autumn, 1867.)
Finally, here as everywhere else in great industry, the virtual wear and tear plays a role. After the lapse of ten years, one can generally buy the same quantity of cars and locomotives for 30,000 pounds sterling, which would have coat 40,000 pounds sterling at the beginning of that time. Thus one must calculate on a depreciation of 25 per cent on the market price of this material, even though no depreciation of its use-values taken place. (Lardner, Railway Economy.)
Tubular bridges in their present form will not be renewed, writes W. P. Adams in his "Roads and Rails," London, 1862. Ordinary repairs of them, removal and replacing of single parts, are not practicable. (There are now better forms for such bridges.) The instruments of labor are largely modified by the constant progress of industry. Hence they are not replaced in their original, but in their modified form. On the one hand, the quantity of the fixed capital invested in a certain natural form and endowed with a certain average vitality in that form constitutes one reason for the gradual pace of the introduction of new machinery, etc., and therefore an obstacle to the rapid general introduction of improved instruments of labor. On the other hand, competition enforces the introduction of new machinery before the old is worn out, especially in the case of important modifications. Such a premature reproduction of the instruments of labor on a large social scale is generally enforced by catastrophes or crises.
By wear and tear (excepting the so-called virtual wear) is meant that part of value which is yielded gradually by the fixed capital to the product in course of creation in proportion to the average degree in which it loses its use-value.
This wear and tear takes place partly in such a way that the fixed capital has a certain average life-time. It is advanced for this entire period in one sum. After the lapse of this period, it must be replaced. So far as living instruments of labor are concerned, for instance horses, their reproduction is timed by nature itself. Their average lifetime as means of production is determined by laws of nature. As soon as this term has expired, the worn-out specimens must be replaced by new ones. A horse cannot be replaced piecemeal, it must be replaced by another horse.
Other elements of fixed capital permit of a periodical or partial renewal. In this instance, the partial or periodical renewal must be distinguished from the gradual extension of the business.
The fixed capital consists in part of homogeneous elements, which do not, however, last the same length of time, but are renewed from time to time and piecemeal. This is true, for instance, of the rails in railway stations, which must be replaced more frequently than those of the remainder of the track. It also applies to the ties, which for instance on the Belgian railroads in the fifties had to be renewed at the rate of 8 per cent, according to Lardner, so that all the ties were renewed in the course of 12 years. Hence we have here the following proposition: A certain sum is advanced for a certain kind of fixed capital for, say, ten years. This expenditure is made at one time. But a certain part of this fixed capital, the value of which has been transferred to the value of the product and converted with it into money, is bodily renewed every year, while the remainder persists in its original natural form. It is this advance in one sum and the reproduction in natural form by small degrees, which distinguishes this capital in the role of fixed from circulating capital.
Other parts of the fixed capital consist of heterogeneous elements, which wear out in unequal periods of time and must be so replaced. This applies particularly to machines. What we have just said concerning the different life-times of different parts of fixed capital applies in this case to the life-time of different parts of the same machine, which performs a part of the function of this fixed capital.
With regard to the gradual extension of the business in the course of the partial renewal, we make the following remarks: Although we have seen that the fixed capital continues to perform its functions in the process of production in its natural state, a certain part of its value, proportionate to the average wear and tear, has circulated with the product, has been converted into money, and forms an element in the money reserve fund intended for the renewal of the capital pending its reproduction in the natural form. This part of the value of fixed capital transformed into money may serve to extend the business or to make improvements in machinery with a view to increasing the efficiency of the latter. Thus reproduction takes place in larger or smaller periods of time, and this is, from the standpoint of society, reproduction on an enlarged scale. It is extensive expansion, if the field of production is extended; it is intensive expansion, if the efficiency of the instruments of production is increased. This reproduction on an enlarged scale does not result from accumulation—not from the transformation of surplus-value into capital—but from the reconversion of the value which has detached itself in the form of money from the body of the fixed capital and has resumed the form of additional, or at least of more efficient, fixed capital of the same kind. Of course, it depends partly on the specific nature of the business, to what extent and in what proportion it is capable of such expansion, and to what amount, therefore, a reserve-fund must be collected, in order to be invested for this purpose; also, what period of time is required, before this can be done. To what extent, furthermore, improvements in the details of existing machinery can be made, depends, of course, on the nature of these improvements and the construction of the machine itself. That this is well considered from the very outset in the construction of railroads, is apparent from a statement of Adams to the effect that the entire construction should follow the principle of a beehive, that is to say, it should have a faculty for unlimited expansion. All oversolid and preconceived symmetrical structures are impracticable, because they must be torn down in the case of an extension. (Page 123 of the above-named work).
This depends largely on the available space. In the case of some buildings, additional stories may be built, in the case of others lateral extension and more land are required. Within capitalist production, there is on one side much waste of wealth, on the other much impractical lateral extension of this sort (frequently to the injury of labor-power) in the expansion of the business, because nothing is under-taken according to social plans, but everything depends on the infinitely different conditions, means, etc., with which the individual capitalist operates. This results in a great waste of the productive forces.
This piecemeal re-investment of the money-reserve fund, that is to say of that part of fixed capital which has been reconverted into money, is easiest in agriculture. A field of production of a given space is capable of the greatest possible absorption of capital. The same applies also to natural reproduction, for instance to stock raising.
The fixed capital requires special expenditures for its conservation. A part of this conservation is provided by the labor-process itself; the fixed capital spoils, if it is not employed in production. (See vol. I, chap. VIII; and chap. XV, on wear and tear of machinery when not in use.) The English law therefore explicitly regards it as a waste, if rented land is not used according to the custom of the country. (W. A. Holdsworth, barrister at law. "The Law of Landlord and Tenant." London, 1857, p. 96.) The conservation due to use in the labor-process is a natural and free gift of living labor. And the conservating power of labor is of a twofold character. On the one hand, is preserves the value of the materials of labor, by transferring it to the product, on the other hand it preserves the value of the instruments of labor, provided it does not transfer this value in part to the product, by preserving their use-value by means of their activity in the process of production.
The fixed capital requires also a positive expenditure of labor for its conservation. The machinery must be cleaned from time to time. This is additional labor, without which the machinery would become useless; it is labor required to ward off the injurious influences of the elements, which are inseparable from the process of production; it is expended for the purpose of keeping the machinery in perfect working order. The normal life-time of fixed capital is, of course, so calculated that all the conditions are fulfilled under which it can perform its functions normally during that time, just as we assume in placing a man's average life at 30 years that he will wash himself. Nor is it here a question of reproducing the labor contained in the machine, but of labor which must be constantly added in order to keep it in working order. It is not a question of the labor performed by the machine itself, but of labor spent on it in its capacity of raw material, not of an instrument of production. The capital expended for this labor belongs to the circulating capital, although it does not enter into the actual labor-process to which the product owes its existence. This labor must be continually expended in production, hence its value must be continually replaced by that of the product. The capital invested in it belongs to that part of circulating capital, which has to cover the general expenses and is distributed over the produced values according to an annual average. We have seen that in industry, properly so-called, this labor of cleaning is performed gratis by the working men during pauses, and thus frequently during the process of production itself, and many accidents are due to this custom. This labor is not counted in the price of the product. The consumer receives it free of charge to this extent. On the other hand, the capitalist thus receives the conservation of his machinery for nothing. The laborer pays this expense in his own person, and this is one of the mysteries of the self preservation of capital, which constitute in point of fact a legal claim of the laborer on the machinery, on the strength of which he is a part-owner of the machine even from the legal standpoint of the bourgeoisie. However, in various branches of production, in which the machinery must be taken out of the process of production for the purpose of cleaning, and where this labor of cleaning cannot be performed between pauses, for instance in the case of locomotives, this labor of conservation counts with the running expenses and is therefore an element of circulating capital. A locomotive must be taken to the shop after a maximum of three days' work in order to be cleaned; the boiler must cool off before it can be washed out without injury. (R. C. No. 17,823.)
The actual repairs, the small jobs, require expenditures of capital and labor, which are not contained in the originally advanced capital and cannot therefore be reproduced and covered, in the majority of cases, by the gradual replacement of the value of fixed capital. For instance, if the value of the fixed capital is 10,000 pounds sterling, and its total life-time 10 years, then these 10,000 pounds, having been entirely converted into money after the lapse of ten years, will replace only the value of the capital originally invested, but they do not replace the value of the capital, or labor, added in the meantime for repairs. This is an element of additional value which is not advanced all at one time, but rather whenever occasion arises for it, so that the terms of its various advances are accidental from the very nature of the conditions. All fixed capital demands such additional and occasional expenditures of capital for materials of labor and labor-power.
The injuries to which individual parts of the machinery are exposed are naturally accidental, and so are therefore the necessary repairs. Nevertheless two kinds of repairs are to be distinguished in the general mass, which have a more or less fixed character and fall within various periods of life of the fixed capital. These are the diseases of childhood and the far more numerous diseases in the period following the prime of life. A machine, for instance, may be placed in the process of production in ever so perfect a condition, still the actual work will always reveal shortcomings which must be remedied by additional labor. On the other hand, the more a machine passes beyond the prime of life, when, therefore, the normal wear and tear has accumulated and has rendered its material worn and weak, the more numerous and considerable will be the repairs required to keep it in order for the remainder of its average life-time; it is the same with an old man, who needs more medical care to keep from dying than a young and strong man. In spite of its accidental character, the labor of repairing is therefore unequally distributed over the various periods of life of fixed capital.
From the foregoing, and from the otherwise accidental character of the labor of repairing, we make the following deductions.
In one respect, the actual expenditure of labor-power and labor-material for repairs is an accidental as the conditions which cause these repairs; the amount of the necessary repairs is differently distributed over the various life-periods of fixed capital. In other respects, it is taken for granted in the calculation of the average life of fixed capital that it is constantly kept in good working order, partly by cleaning (including the cleaning of the rooms), partly by repairs such as the occasion may require. The transfer of value through wear and tear of fixed capital is calculated on its average life, but this average life itself is based on the assumption that the additional capital required for keeping machine in order is continually advanced.
On the other hand it is also evident that the value added by this extra expenditure of capital and labor cannot be transferred to the price of the products simultaneously as it is made. For instance, a manufacturer of yarn cannot sell his yarn dearer this week than last, merely because one of his machines broke a wheel or tore a belt this week. The general expenses of the spinning industry have not been changed by this accident in some individual factory. Here as in all determinations of value, the average decides. Experience teaches the average extent of such accidents and of the necessary labors of conservation and repair during the average life-time of the fixed capital invested in a given branch of industry. This average expense is distributed over the average life-time. It is added to the price of the product in corresponding aliquot parts and hence also reproduced by means of its sale.
The extra capital which is thus reproduced belongs to the circulating capital, although the manner of its expenditure is irregular. As it is highly important to remedy every injury to a machine immediately, every large factory employs in addition to the regular factory hands a number of other employees, such as engineers, wood-workers, mechanics, smiths, etc. The wages of these special employees are a part of the variable capital, and the value of their labor is distributed over their product. On the other hand, the expenses for means of production are calculated on the basis of the above-mentioned average, according to which they form continually a part of the value of the product, although they are actually advanced in irregular periods and therefore transferred in irregular periods to the product or the fixed capital. This capital, invested in regular repairs, is in many respects a peculiar capital, which can be classed neither with the circulating nor the fixed capital, but still belongs with more justification to the former, since it is a part of the running expenses.
The manner of bookkeeping does not, of course, change in any way the actual condition of the things of which an account is kept. But it is important to note that it is the custom of many businesses to class the expenses of repairing with the actual wear and tear of the fixed capital, in the following manner: Take it that the advanced fixed capital is 10,000 pounds sterling, its life-time 15 years; the annual wear and tear 666 and 2/3 pounds sterling. But the wear and tear is calculated at only ten years, in other words, 1,000 pounds sterling are added annually for wear and tear of the fixed capital to the prices of the produced commodities, instead of 666 and 2/3 pounds sterling. Thus 333 and 1/3 pounds sterling are reserved for repairs, etc. (The figures 10 and 15 are chosen at random.) This amount is spent on an average for repairs, in order that the fixed capital may last 15 years. This calculation does not alter the fact that the fixed capital and the additional capital invested in repairs belong to different categories. On the strength of this mode of calculation it was, for instance, assumed that the lowest estimate for the conservation and reproduction of steamship was 15 per cent, the time of reproduction therefore equal to 6 2/3 years. In the sixties, the English government indemnified the Peninsular and Oriental Co. for it at the rate of 16 per cent, making the time of reproduction equal to 6 1/3 years. On railroads, the average life-time of a locomotive is 10 years, but the wear and tear including repairs is assumed to be 12½ per cent, reducing the life-time down to 8 years. In the case of passenger and freight cars, 9 per cent are estimated, or a life-time of 11 1/9 years.
Legislation has everywhere made a distinction, in the leases of houses and other things, which represent fixed capital for their owners, between the normal wear and tear which is the result of time, the influence of the elements, and normal use and between those occasional repairs which are required for keeping up the normal life-time of the house during its normal use. As a rule, the former expenses are borne by the owner, the latter by the tenant. The repairs are further distinguished as ordinary and substantial. The last-named are partly a renewal of the fixed capital in its natural form, and they fall likewise on the shoulders of the owner, unless the lease explicitly states the contrary. For instance, the English law, according to Holdsworth (Law of Landlord and Tenant, pages 90 and 91), prescribes that a tenant from year to year is merely obliged to keep the buildings water-and-wind proof, so long as this is possible without substantial repairs, and to attend only to such repairs as are known as ordinary. And even in this respect the age and the general condition of the building at the time when the tenant took possession must be considered, for he is not obliged to replace either old or worn-out material by new, or to make up for the inevitable depreciation incidental to the lapse of time and normal usage.
Entirely different from the reproduction of wear and tear and from the work of preserving and repairing is the insurance, which relates to destruction caused by extraordinary phenomena of nature, fire, flood, etc. This must be made good out of the surplus-value and is a deduction from it. Or, considered from the point of view of the entire society, there must be a continuous overproduction, that is to say, a production on a larger scale than is necessary for the simple replacement and reproduction of the existing wealth, quite apart from an increase of the population, in order to be able to dispose of the means of production required for making good the extraordinary destruction caused by accidents and natural forces.
In point of fact, only the smallest part of the capital needed for making good such destruction consists of the money-reserve fund. The most important part consists in the extension of the scale of production itself, which is either actual expansion, or a part of the normal scope of the branches of production which manufacture the fixed capital. For instance, a machine factory is managed with a view to the fact that on the one side the factories of its customers are annually extended, and that on the other hand a number of them will always stand in need of total or partial reproduction.
In the determination of the wear and tear and of the cost of repairing, according to the social average, there are necessarily great discrepancies, even for investments of capital of equal size and in equal conditions, in the same branch of production. In practice, a machine lasts in the case of one capitalist longer than its average time, while in the case of another it does not last so long. The expenses of the one for repairs are above, of the other below the average, etc. But the addition to the price of the commodities resulting from wear and tear and from repairs is the same and is determined by the average. The one therefore gets more out of this additional price than he really spent, the other less. This as well as other circumstances which produce different gains for different capitalists in the same branch of industry with the same degree of the exploitation of labor-power renders an understanding of the true nature of surplus-value difficult.
The boundary between regular repairs and replacement, between expenses of repairing and expenses of renewal, is more or less shifting. Hence we see the continual dispute, for instance in railroading, whether certain expenses are for repairs or for reproduction, whether they must be paid from running expenses or from the capital itself. A transfer of expenses for repairs to capital-account instead of revenue-account is the familiar method by which railway managements artificially inflate their dividends. However, experience has already furnished the most important clues for this. According to Lardner, page 49 of the previously quoted work, the additional labor required during the first period of life of a railroad is not counted under the head of repairs, but must be regarded as an essential factor of railway construction, and is to be charged, therefore, to the account of capital, since it is not due to wear and tear or to the normal effect of the traffic, but to the original and inevitable imperfection of railway construction. On the other hand, it is the only correct method, according to Captain Fitzamaurice (Committee of Inquiry of Caledonian Railway, published in Money Market Review, 1867), to charge the revenue of each year with the depreciation, which is the necessary concomitant of the transactions by which this revenue has been earned, regardless of whether this sum has been spent or not.
The separation of the reproduction and conservation of fixed capital becomes practically impossible and useless in agriculture, at least in so far as it does not operate with steam. According to Kirchhoff (Handbuch der landwirthschaftlichen Betriebslehre, Berlin, 1862, page 137), "it is the custom to estimate on a general average the annual wear and tear and conservation of the implements, according to the differences of existing conditions, at from 15 to 20 per cent of the purchasing capital, wherever there is a complete, though not excessive, supply of implements on the farm."
In the case of the rolling stock of a railroad, repairs and reproduction cannot be separated. According to T. Gooch, Chairman of the Great Western Railway Co. (R. C. No. 17, 327-29), his company maintained its rolling stock numerically. Whatever number of locomotives they might have would be maintained. If one of them became worn out in the course of time, so that it was more profitable to build a new one, it was built at the expense of the revenue, in which case the value of the material remaining from the old locomotive was credited to the revenue. There always was a good deal of material left. The wheels, the axles, the boilers, in short, a good part of the old locomotive remained.
"To repair means of renew; for me there is no such word as 'replacement';...once that a railway company has bought a car or a locomotive, they ought to keep them in such repair that they will run for all eternity (17,784). We calculate 8½ d. per English freight mile for locomotive expenses. Out of this 8½ d. we maintain the locomotives forever. We renew our machines. If you want to buy a machine new, you spend more money than is necessary.... You can always find a few wheels, an axle, or some other part of an old machine in condition to be used, and that helps to construct cheaply a machine which is just as good as an entirely new one (17,790). I now produce every week one new locomotive, that is to say, one that is as good as new, for its boiler, cylinder, and frame are new." (17,843.) Archibald Sturrock, locomotive superintendent of Great Northern Railway, in R. C., 1867.
Lardner says likewise about cars, on page 116 of his work, that in the course of time, the supply of locomotives and cars is continually renewed; at one time new wheels are put on, at another a new frame is constructed. Those parts on which the motion is conditioned and which are most exposed to wear and tear are gradually renewed; the machines and cars may then undergo so many repairs that not a trace of the old material remains in them.... Even if the old cars and locomotives get so that they cannot be repaired any more, pieces of them are still worked into others, so that they never disappear wholly form the track. The rolling stock is therefore in process of continuous reproduction; that which must be done at one time for the track, takes place for the rolling stock gradually, from year to year. Its existence is perennial, it is in process of continuous rejuvenation.
This process, which Lardner here describes relative to a railroad, is not typical for an individual factory, but may serve as an illustration of continuous and partial reproduction of fixed capital intermingled with repairs, within an entire branch of production, or even within the aggregate production considered on a social scale.
Here is a proof, to what extent clever managers may manipulate the terms repairs and replacement for the purpose of making dividends. According to the above quoted lecture of R. B. Williams, various English railway companies deducted the following sums from the revenue-account, as averages of a period of years, for repairs and maintenance of the track and buildings, per English mile of track per year:
These differences arise only to a minor degree from differences in the actual expenses; they are due almost exclusively to different modes of calculation, according to whether expenses are charged to the account of capital or revenue. Williams says in so many words that the lesser charge is made, because this is necessary for a good dividend, and a high charge is made, because there is a greater revenue which can bear it.
In certain cases, the wear and tear, and therefore its replacement, is practically infinitesimal, so that nothing but expenses for repairs have to be charged. The statements of Lardner relative to works of art, which are given in substance below, also apply in general to all solid works, docks, canals, iron and stone bridges, etc. According to him, pages 38 and 39 of his work, the wear and tear which is the result of the influence of long periods of time on solid works, is almost imperceptible in short spaces of time; after the lapse of a long period, for instance of centuries, such influences will nevertheless require the partial or total renewal of even the most solid structures. This imperceptible wear and tear, compared to the more perceptible in other parts of the railroad, may be likened to the secular and periodical inequalities in the motions of world-bodies. The influence of time on the more massive structures of a railroad, such as bridges, tunnels, viaducts, etc., furnishes illustrations of that which might be called secular wear and tear. The more rapid and perceptible depreciation, which is compensated by repairs in shorter periods, is analogous to the periodical inequalities. The compensation of the accidental damages, such as the outer surface of even the most solid structures will suffer from time to time, is likewise included in the annual expenses for repairs; but apart from these repairs, age does not pass by such structures without leaving its marks, and the time must inevitably come, when their condition will require a new structure. From a financial and economic point of view, this time may indeed be too far off to be taken into practical consideration.
These statements of Lardner apply to all similar structures of a secular duration, in the case of which the capital advanced for them need not be reproduced according to their gradual wear and tear, but only the annual average expenses of conservation and repairs are to be transferred to the prices of the products.
Although, as we have seen, a greater part of the money returning for the compensation of the wear and tear of the fixed capital is annually, or even in shorter periods, reconverted into its natural form, nevertheless every capitalist requires a sinking fund for that part of his fixed capital, which becomes mature for complete reproduction only after the lapse of years and must then be entirely replaced. A considerable part of the fixed capital precludes gradual production by its composition. Besides, in cases where the reproduction takes place piecemeal in such a way that every now and then new pieces are added in compensation for worn-out ones, a previous accumulation of money is necessary to a greater or smaller degree, according to the specific character of the branch of production, before replacement can proceed. It is not any arbitrary sum of money which suffices for this purpose; a sum of a definite size is required for it.
If we study this question merely on the assumption that we have to deal with the simple circulation of commodities, without regard to the credit system, which we shall treat later, then the mechanism of this movement has the following aspect: We showed in Volume I, chapter III, 3a, that the proportion in which the total mass of money is distributed over a hoard and means of production varies continually, if one part of the money available in society lies fallow as a hoard, while another performs the functions of a medium of circulation or of an immediate reserve-fund of the directly circulating money. Now, in the present case, the money accumulated in the hands of a great capitalist in the form of a large-sized hoard is set free all at once in circulation for the purchase of mixed capital. It is on its part again distributed over the society as medium of circulation and hoard. By means of the sinking fund, through which the value of the fixed capital flows back to its starting point in proportion to its wear and tear, a part of the circulating money forms again a hoard, for a longer or shorter period, in the hands of the same capitalist whose hoard had been transformed into a medium of circulation and passed away from him by the purchase of fixed capital. It is a continually changing distribution of the hoard existing in society, which performs alternately the function of a medium of exchange and is again separated as a hoard from the mass of the circulating money. With the development of the credit-system, which necessarily runs parallel with the development of great industries and capitalist production, this money no longer serves as a hoard, but as capital, not in the hands of its owner, but of other capitalists who have borrowed it.
Notes for this chapter
On account of the difficulty of determining what constitutes the distinguishing mark of fixed and circulating capital, Mr. Lorenz Stein thinks that this distinction is suitable only for lighter study.
End of Manuscript IV, beginning of Manuscript II.
The quotations market R. C. are from the work: Royal Commission of Railways. Minutes of Evidence taken before the commissioners. Presented to both house of Parliament, London, 1867. The questions and answers are numbered, as indicated above.
Part II, Chapter IX.
End of Notes
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