Marx on the Impersonality of Capital
(«Proletarian»; Nr. 20; Autumn-Winter 2023)
We reproduce here three quotations from the third volume of «Capital» to illustrate the impersonality of capital, capital as a non-human factor, the non-private nature of capital, as well as to demolish the «theories» that see in the disappearance of the individual capitalist, in state capitalism, in nationalisations, etc., an overcoming of the capitalist system.
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ON THE DISAPPEARANCE OF THE CAPITALIST AS A PERSONALITY
«Stock companies in general – developed with the credit system – have an increasing tendency to separate this work of management as a function from the ownership of capital, be it self-owned or borrowed. Just as the development of bourgeois society witnessed a separation of the functions of judges and administrators from landownership, whose attributes they were in feudal times. But since, on the one hand, the mere owner of capital, the money capitalist, has to face the functioning capitalist, while money capital itself assumes a social character with the advance of credit, being concentrated in banks and loaned out by them instead of by its direct owners, and since, on the other hand, the mere manager who has no title whatever to the capital, whether through borrowing it or otherwise, performs all the real functions pertaining to the functioning capitalist as such, only the functionary remains and the capitalist disappears as superfluous from the production process.» (1)
ON THE SOCIAL AND NOT PERSONAL OWNERSHIP OF CAPITAL
«Aside from the stock-company business, which represents the abolition of capitalist private industry on the basis of the capitalist system itself and destroys private industry as it expands and invades new spheres of production, credit offers to the individual capitalist, or to one who is regarded a capitalist, absolute control within certain limits over the capital and property of others, and thereby over the labour of others. The control over social capital, not the individual capital of his own, gives him control over social labour. The capital itself, which a man really owns or is supposed to own in the opinion of the public, becomes purely a basis for the superstructure of credit. This is particularly true of wholesale commerce, through which the greatest portion of the social product passes. All standards of measurement, all excuses more or less still justified under capitalist production, disappear here. What the speculating wholesale merchant risks is social property, not his own. Equally sordid becomes the phrase relating the origin of capital to savings, for what he demands is that others should save for him. (…) The other phrase concerning abstention is squarely refuted by his luxury, which is now itself a means of credit. Conceptions which have some meaning on a less developed stage of capitalist production, become quite meaningless here. Success and failure both lead here to a centralisation of capital, and thus to expropriation on the most enormous scale. Expropriation extends here from the direct producers to the smaller and the medium-sized capitalists themselves. It is the point of departure for the capitalist mode of production; its accomplishment is the goal of this production. In the last instance, it aims at the expropriation of the means of production from all individuals. With the development of social production the means of production cease to be means of private production and products of private production, and can thereafter be only means of production in the hands of associated producers, i. e., the latter’s social property, much as they are their social products. However, this expropriation appears within the capitalist system in a contradictory form, as appropriation of social property by a few; and credit lends the latter more and more the aspect of pure adventurers. Since property here exists in the form of stock, its movement and transfer become purely a result of gambling on the stock exchange, where the little fish are swallowed by the sharks and the lambs by the stock-exchange wolves. There is antagonism against the old form in the stock companies, in which social means of production appear as individual property; but the conversion to the form of stock still remains ensnared in the trammels of capitalism; hence, instead of overcoming the antithesis between the character of wealth as social and as private wealth, the stock companies merely develop it in a new form.» (2)
ON THE FADING OF THE PRIVATE CHARACTER OF CAPITAL
«We have seen that the average profit of the individual capitalist, or of every individual capital, is determined not by the surplus labour appropriated at first hand by each capital, but by the quantity of total surplus labour appropriated by the total capital, from which each individual capital receives its dividend only proportional to its aliquot part of the total capital. This social character of capital is first promoted and wholly realised through the full development of the credit and banking system. On the other hand this goes farther. It places all the available and even potential capital of society that is not yet actively employed at the disposal of the industrial and commercial capitalists so that neither the lenders nor users of this capital are its owners or producers. It thus does away with the private character of capital and thus contains in itself, but only in itself, the abolition of capital itself. By means of the banking system the distribution of capital as a special business, a social function, is taken out of the hands of the private capitalists and usurers. But at the same time, banking and credit thus become the most potent means of driving capitalist production beyond its own limits, and one of the most effective vehicles of crises and swindle.
The banking system shows, furthermore, by substituting various forms of circulating credit in place of money, that money is in reality nothing but a particular expression of the social character of labour and its products, which, however, as antithetical to the basis of private production, must always appear in the last analysis as a thing, a special commodity, alongside other commodities.
Finally, there is no doubt that the credit system will serve as a powerful lever during the transition from the capitalist mode of production to the mode of production of associated labour; but only as one element in connection with other great organic revolutions of the mode of production itself.» (3)
(1) Marx Karl, Capital Volume III, in Marx & Engels Collected Works, Vol. 37; ch. XXIII, p. 386
(2) Mark Karl, Capital Volume III, in Marx & Engels Collected Works, Vol. 37; ch. XXVII, p. 436–437
(3) Marx Karl, Capital Volume III, in Marx & Engels, Collected Works, Vol. 37; ch. XXXVI, p. 601–602
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