The Economic Doctrines of Karl Marx

3. Simple Reproduction

Simple reproduction is only a repetition of the process of production on the same scale. Yet the act of repetition invests this process with a number of fresh characteristics.

Let us assume that a money owner, who may have acquired this money through work, transforms it into capital. Owning £500, he expends £450 in constant capital, and £50 in variable, in wages. By employing this capital he creates a quantity of products to the value of £550, which he also sells at their full value. The surplus-value of £50 is consumed by him, and reproduction takes place upon the old scale: £450 are expended in constant, £50 are expended in variable capital. We can now detect a distinction between this and the former case: the £50 which were expended during the first process of production in wages were not created by the workers employed in the undertaking; they came from another source; perhaps they had been earned by the capitalist himself.

But where do the £50 come from which are expended in wages during the repetition of the process of production? They constitute the realisation of value created by the workers during the previous process of production. The workers have not only transferred the value of the constant capital £450) to the product, but created fresh value (to the amount of £100) of which a part (£50) is equal to the value of their labour-power, and a part is surplus-value.

If we regard the capitalist process of production as a single process of production (or commencing with the first outlay of capital) wages appear to be an advance out of the pocket of the capitalist. If we regard the capitalist process of production as a process of reproduction, it is obvious that the worker is paid out of the product of his own labour. In this sense it is correct to say that the worker receives a portion of the product of his labour in wages. Only it is the product already sold of a previous period of production of which he receives a portion in the shape of wages.

Let us revert to our example. Let us assume that each period of production occupies half a year. Every year our capitalist pockets a surplus-value of £100 and consumes it. At the end of five years he has consumed £500, a value equal to that of his original capital. But ho still owns a capital of the value of £500.

This new capital value is equal in magnitude to the original, but its foundation is different. The original £500 did not originate from the labour of the workers employed in his business, but from another source. But he has consumed this £500 within five years; if, in addition, he still possesses £500, the latter must be derived from surplus-value. Thus every capital, from whatever source it might originate, is after a certain time transformed through the agency of simple reproduction into capitalised surplus-value, into the product of surplus alien labour, into accumulated capital.

The starting point of the capitalist process of production is the divorce of the worker from the means of production, the accumulation of the propertyless workers on the one hand, and the accumulation of means of production and of means of life on the other hand. In the capitalist process of reproduction, this starting point appears as the result of the process of production. The capitalist process of reproduction itself continuously creates and maintains its own conditions, capital and the class of wage workers.

The means of life and means of production which the wage workers create do not belong to them, but to the capitalists. The wage workers constantly emerge from the process of production in the same condition as they entered it, as propertyless proletarians; on the other hand, at the end of each period of production, the capitalists always find themselves in possession of means of life, which purchase labour-power, and means of production, which producers can operate.

Thus the worker keeps on creating the conditions of his dependence and his poverty.

The reproduction of the working class is rendered necessary by the process of the reproduction of capital.

As long as we were investigating the process of production as a single, and therefore an isolated, process, we were dealing with the individual capitalist and the individual worker. Here it, seems that labour-power and the labourer, who cannot be divorced therefrom, belong to the capitalist only during the time of their productive consumption, during the working-day. The time left over belongs to the worker himself, and his family. If he eats, drinks, sleeps, he does so merely for himself, not for the capitalist.

But as soon as we consider the capitalist mode of production in its state of movement and its various ramifications, and therefore as a process of reproduction, we are concerned from the outset, not with the individual capitalist and worker, but with the class of capitalists and the class of workers. The process of reproduction of capital requires the perpetuation of the working class, that is to say, the workers must constantly restore the labour-power they have expended and continuously provide for the growth of fresh workers, in order that the process of production may be constantly renewed.

Capital finds itself in the agreeable situation of being safely able to leave the making of these important arrangements to the self-preservative and propagative instincts of the workers.

Seemingly the workers live only for themselves outside of labour-time; but in reality they live for the capitalist class, even when they are out of work. If after their work is done, they eat, drink, sleep, and so on, they thereby maintain the class of wage workers, and therefore the capitalist mode of production. When the employer pays the worker his wages he only gives him the means of maintaining himself, and to that extent his class, for the benefit of the capitalist class.

Precisely because the workers consume the means of life which they buy with their wages, they are continuously obliged to offer their labour-power for sale.

Thus from the standpoint of reproduction, the worker is engaged in the interest of capital, not only during his labour time, but also during his “free” time. He eats and drinks no longer for himself, but so that he may maintain his labour-power for the capitalist class. It is therefore not a matter of indifference to the capitalist how the worker eats and drinks. If, instead of resting and recuperating his labour-power, the worker gets drunk on Sunday and has a headache on Monday, the capitalist does not regard this as an injury to the worker’s own interests, but as an offence against capital, an embezzlement of the labour-power that is due to capital.

It is no longer the labour-power that is bought for a certain time, but the whole worker, the whole working class, which appears as an appendage of capital, from the standpoint of the process of reproduction. Where the worker does not perceive this and possesses the means of escaping, as by emigration for instance, the capitalist has no hesitation, under certain circumstances, in demonstrating to the worker by legal compulsion that he has to maintain and propagate himself, not for himself, but for capital. For example, the emigration of skilled workers was formerly prohibited by law in most States. To-day this is not necessary. The capitalist mode of production has become so strong that its laws are executed as economic necessities, without the aid of legislation. The worker is to-day bound to capital with invisible chains, and finds capital everywhere, wherever he turns.

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