[Classics] Anti-Dühring

8. Capital and Surplus-Value. (Conclusion)

“In Herr Marx’s view, wages represent only the payment of that labour-time during which the labourer is actually working to make his own existence possible. But only a small number of hours is required for this purpose; all the rest of the working-day, often so prolonged, yields a surplus in which is contained what our author calls ‘surplus-value’, or, expressed in everyday language, the earnings of capital. If we leave out of account the labour-time which at each stage of production is already contained in the instruments of labour and in the pertinent raw material, this surplus part of the working-day is the share which falls to the capitalist entrepreneur. The prolongation of the working-day is consequently earnings of pure exploitation for the benefit of the capitalist” {D. K. G. 500-01}.

According to Herr Dühring, therefore, Marx’s surplus-value would be nothing more than what, expressed in everyday language, is known as the earnings of capital, or profit. Let us see what Marx says himself. On page 195 of Capital, surplus-value is explained in the following words placed in brackets after it: “Interest, Profit, Rent”. On page 210, Marx gives an example in which a total surplus-value of £3.11.0. appears in the different forms in which it is distributed: tithes, rates and taxes, £1.10; rent £1.80; farmer’s profit and interest, £1.20; together making a total surplus-value of £3.11.0.—On page 542, Marx points out as one of Ricardo’s main shortcomings that he “has not {...} investigated surplus-value as such, i.e., independently of its particular forms, such as profit, rent, etc.”, and that he therefore lumps together the laws of the rate of surplus-value and the laws of the rate of profit; against this Marx announces: “I shall show in Book III that, with a given rate of surplus-value, we may have any number of rates of profit, and that various rates of surplus-value may, under given conditions, express themselves in a single rate of profit.” On page 587 we find: “The capitalist who produces surplus-value—i.e., who extracts unpaid labour directly from the labourers, and fixes it in commodities, is, indeed, the first appropriator, but by no means the ultimate owner, of this surplus-value. He has to share it with capitalists, with landowners, etc., who fulfil other functions in the complex of social production. Surplus-value, therefore, splits up into various parts. Its fragments fall to various categories of persons, and take various forms, independent the one of the other, such as profit, interest, merchants’ profit, rent, etc. It is only in Book III that we can take in hand these modified forms of surplus-value.” And there are many other similar passages.

It is impossible to express oneself more clearly. On each occasion Marx calls attention to the fact that his surplus-value must not be confounded with profit or the earnings of capital; that this latter is rather a subform and frequently even only a fragment of surplus-value. And if in spite of this Herr Dühring asserts that Marxian surplus-value, “expressed in everyday language, is the earnings of capital”; and if it is an actual fact that the whole of Marx’s book turns on surplus-value—then there are only two possibilities: Either Herr Dühring does not know any better, and then it is an unparalleled act of impudence to decry a book of whose main content he is ignorant; or he knows what it is all about, and in that case he has committed a deliberate act of falsification.

To proceed:

“The venomous hatred with which Herr Marx presents this conception of the business of extortion is only too understandable. But even mightier wrath and even fuller recognition of the exploitative character of the economic form which is based on wage-labour is possible without accepting the theoretical position expressed in Marx's doctrine of surplus-value” {D. K. G. 501}.

The well-meant but erroneous theoretical position taken up by Marx stirs in him a venomous hatred against the business of extortion; but in consequence of his false “theoretical position” the emotion, in itself ethical, receives an unethical expression, manifesting itself in ignoble hatred and low venomousness, while the definitive and most strictly scientific treatment {498} by Herr Dühring expresses itself in ethical emotion of a correspondingly noble nature, in wrath which even in form is ethically superior and in venomous hatred is also quantitatively superior, is a mightier wrath. While Herr Dühring is gleefully admiring himself in this way, let us see where this mightier wrath stems from.

We read on: “Now the question arises, how the competing entrepreneurs are able constantly to realise the full product of labour, including the surplus-product, at a price so far above the natural outlays of production as is indicated by the ratio, already mentioned, of the surplus labour-hours. No answer to this is to be found in Marx's theory, and for the simple reason that there could be no place in it for even raising that question. The luxury character of production based on hired labour is not seriously dealt with at all, and the social constitution with its exploitatory features is in no way recognised as the ultimate basis of white slavery. On the contrary, political and social matters are always to be explained by economics” {501}.

Now we have seen from the above passages that Marx does not at all assert that the industrial capitalist, who first appropriates the surplus-product, sells it regardless of circumstances on the average at its full value, as is here assumed by Herr Dühring. Marx says expressly that merchants’ profit also forms a part of surplus-value, and on the assumptions made this is only possible when the manufacturer sells his product to the merchant below its value, and thus relinquishes to him a part of the booty. The way the question is put here, there clearly could be no place in Marx for even raising it. Stated in a rational way, the question is: How is surplus-value transformed into its subforms: profit, interest, merchants' profit, land rent, and so forth? And Marx, to be sure, promises to settle this question in the third book. But if Herr Dühring cannot wait until the second volume of Capital[88] appears he should in the meantime take a closer look at the first volume. In addition to the passages already quoted, he would then see, for example on p. 323, that according to Marx the immanent laws of capitalist production assert themselves in the external movements of individual masses of capital as coercive laws of competition, and in this form are brought home to the mind and consciousness of the individual capitalist as the directing motives of his operations that therefore a scientific analysis of competition is not possible before we have a conception of the inner nature of capital, just as the apparent motions of the heavenly bodies are not intelligible to any but him who is acquainted with their real motions, which are not directly perceptible by the senses; and then Marx gives an example to show how in a definite case, a definite law, the law of value, manifests itself and exercises its motive power in competition. Herr Dühring might see from this alone that competition plays a leading part in the distribution of surplus-value, and with some reflection the indications given in the first volume are in fact enough to make clear, at least in its main features, the transformation of surplus-value into its subforms.

But competition is precisely what absolutely prevents Herr Dühring from understanding the process. He cannot comprehend how the competing entrepreneurs are able constantly to realise the full product of labour, including the surplus-product, at prices so far above the natural outlays of production. Here again we find his customary “strictness” {D. C. 95} of expression, which in fact is simply slovenliness. In Marx, the surplus-product as such has absolutely no outlays of production; it is the part of the product which costs nothing to the capitalist. If therefore the competing entrepreneurs desired to realise the surplus-product at its natural outlays of production, they would have simply to give it away. But do not let us waste time on such “micrological details” {D. K. G. 507}. Are not the competing entrepreneurs every day selling the product of labour above its natural outlays of production? According to Herr Dühring, the natural outlays of production consist

“in the expenditure of labour or energy, and this in turn, in the last analysis, can be measured by the expenditure of food” {D. C. 274};

that is, in present-day society, these costs consist in the outlays really expended on raw materials, means of labour, and wages, as distinguished from the “tax” {D. C. 135}, the profit, the surcharge levied sword in hand {23}. Now everyone knows that in the society in which we live the competing entrepreneurs do not realise their commodities at the natural outlays of production, but that they add on to these—and as a rule also receive — the so-called surcharge, the profit. The question which Herr Dühring thinks he has only to raise to blow down the whole Marxian structure — as Joshua once blew down the walls of Jericho[89] — this question also exists for Herr Dühring's economic theory. Let us see how he answers it.

“Capital ownership,” he says, “has no practical meaning, and cannot be realised, unless indirect force against human material is simultaneously incorporated in it. The product of this force is earnings of capital, and the magnitude of the latter will therefore depend on the range and intensity in which this power is exercised {179} ... Earnings of capital are a political and social institution which exerts a more powerful influence than competition. In relation to this the capitalists act as a social estate, and each one of them maintains his position. A certain measure of earnings of capital is a necessity under the prevailing mode of economy” {180}.

Unfortunately even now we do not know how the competing entrepreneurs are able constantly to realise the product of labour above the natural outlays of production. It cannot be that Herr Dühring thinks so little of his public as to fob it off with the phrase that earnings of capital are above competition, just as the King of Prussia was above the law.[90] We know the manoeuvres by which the King of Prussia attained his position above the law; the manoeuvres by which the earnings of capital succeed in being more powerful than competition are precisely what Herr Dühring should explain to us, but what he obstinately refuses to explain. And it is of no avail, if, as he tells us, the capitalists act in this connection as an estate, and each one of them maintains his position. We surely cannot be expected to take his word for it that a number of people only need to act as an estate for each one of them to maintain his position. Everyone knows that the guildsmen of the Middle Ages and the French nobles in 1789 acted very definitely as estates and perished nevertheless. The Prussian army at Jena[91] also acted as an estate, but instead of maintaining their position they had on the contrary to take to their heels and afterwards even to capitulate in sections. Just as little can we be satisfied with the assurance that a certain measure of earnings of capital is a necessity under the prevailing mode of economy; for the point to be proved is precisely why this is so. We do not get a step nearer to the goal when Herr Dühring informs us:

“The domination of capital arose in close connection with the domination of land. Part of the agricultural serfs were transformed in the towns into craftsmen and ultimately into factory material. After the rent of land, earnings of capital developed as a second form of rent of possession” {176}.

Even if we ignore the historical inexactitude of this assertion, it nevertheless remains a mere assertion, and is restricted to assuring us over and over again of precisely what should be explained and proved. We can therefore come to no other conclusion than that Herr Dühring is incapable of answering his own question: how the competing entrepreneurs are able constantly to realise the product of labour above the natural outlays of production; that is to say, he is incapable of explaining the genesis of profit. He can only bluntly decree: earnings of capital shall be the product of force — which, true enough, is completely in accordance with Article 2 of the Dühringian constitution of society: Force distributes. This is certainly expressed very nicely; but now “the question arises” {D. K. G. 501}: Force distributes—what? Surely there must be something to distribute, or even the most omnipotent force, with the best will in the world, can distribute nothing. The earnings pocketed by the competing capitalists are something very tangible and solid. Force can seize them, but cannot produce them. And if Herr Dühring obstinately refuses to explain to us how force seizes the earnings of capitalists, the question of whence force takes them he meets only with silence, the silence of the grave. Where there is nothing, the king, like any other force, loses his rights. Out of nothing comes nothing, and certainly not profit. If capital ownership has no practical meaning, and cannot be realised, unless indirect force against human material is simultaneously embodied in it, then once again the question arises, first, how capital-wealth got this force—a question which is not settled in the least by the couple of historical assertions cited above; secondly, how this force is transformed into an accession of capital value, into profit; and thirdly, where it obtains this profit.

From whatever side we approach Dühringian economics, we do not get one step further. For every obnoxious phenomenon—profit, land rent, starvation wages, the enslavement of the workers—he has only one word of explanation: force, and ever again force, and Herr Dühring's “mightier wrath” {501} finally resolves itself into wrath at force. We have seen, first, that this invocation of force is a lame subterfuge, a relegation of the problem from the sphere of economics to that of politics, which is unable to explain a single economic fact; and secondly, that it leaves unexplained the origin of force itself—and very prudently so, for otherwise it would have to come to the conclusion that all social power and all political force have their source in economic preconditions, in the mode of production and exchange historically given for each society at each period.

But let us see whether we cannot wrest from the inexorable builder of “deeper foundations” {see D. C. 11} of political economy some further disclosures about profit. Perhaps we shall meet with success if we apply ourselves to his treatment of wages. On page 158 we find:

“Wages are the hire paid for the maintenance of labour-power, and are at first taken into consideration only as a basis for the rent of land and earnings of capital. In order to get absolute clarity as to the relationships obtaining in this field, one must conceive the rent of land, and subsequently also earnings of capital, first historically, without wages, that is to say, on the basis of slavery or serfdom... Whether it is a slave or a serf, or a wage-labourer who has to be maintained, only gives rise to a difference in the mode of charging the costs of production. In every case the net proceeds obtained by the utilisation of labour-power constitute the income of the master... It can therefore be seen that... the chief antithesis, by virtue of which there exists on the one hand some form of rent of possession and on the other hand propertyless hired labour, is not to be found exclusively in one of its members, but always only in both at the same time.”

Rent of possession, however, as we learn on page 188, is a phrase which covers both land rent and earnings of capital. Further, we find on page 174:

“The characteristic feature of earnings of capital is that they are an appropriation of the most important part of the proceeds of labour-power. They cannot be conceived except in correlation with some form of directly or indirectly subjected labour.”

And on page 183:

Wages “are in all circumstances nothing more than the hire by means of which, generally speaking, the labourer's maintenance and possibility of procreation must be assured”.

And finally, on page 195:

“The portion that falls to rent of possession must be lost to wages, and vice versa, the portion of the general productive capacity” (!) “that reaches labour must necessarily be taken from the revenues of possession.”

Herr Dühring leads us from one surprise to another. In his theory of value and the following chapters up to and including the theory of competition, that is, from page 1 to page 155, the prices of commodities or values were divided, first, into natural outlays of production or the production value, i.e., the outlays on raw materials, instruments of labour and wages; and secondly, into the surcharge or distribution value {27}, that tribute levied sword in hand {23} for the benefit of the monopolist class—a surcharge which, as we have seen, could not in reality make any change in the distribution of wealth, for what it took with one hand it would have to give back with the other, and which, besides, in so far as Herr Dühring enlightens us as to its origin and nature, arose out of nothing and therefore consists of nothing. In the two succeeding chapters, which deal with the kinds of revenue, that is, from page 156 to 217, there is no further mention of the surcharge. Instead of this, the value of every product of labour, that is, of every commodity, is now divided into the two following portions: first, the production costs, in which the wages paid are included; and secondly, the “net proceeds obtained by the utilisation of labour-power”, which constitute the master’s income. And these net proceeds have a very well-known physiognomy, which no tattooing and no house-painter's art can conceal. “In order to get absolute clarity as to the relationships obtaining in this field” {158}, let the reader imagine the passages just cited from Herr Dühring printed opposite the passages previously cited from Marx, dealing with surplus-labour, surplus-product and surplus-value, and he will find that Herr Dühring is here, though in his own style, directly copying from Capital.

Surplus-labour, in any form, whether of slavery, serfdom or wage-labour, is recognised by Herr Dühring as the source of the revenues of all ruling classes up to now; this is taken from the much-quoted passage in Capital, p. 227: Capital has not invented surplus-labour, and so on.—And the “net proceeds” which constitute “the income of the master” — what is that but the surplus of the labour product over and above the wages, which, even in Herr Dühring, in spite of his quite superfluous disguise of it in the term “hire”, must assure, generally speaking, the labourer's maintenance and possibility of procreation? How can the “appropriation of the most important part of the proceeds of labour-power” {174} be carried out except by the capitalist, as Marx shows, extorting from the labourer more labour than is necessary for the reproduction of the means of subsistence consumed by the latter; that is to say, by the capitalist making the labourer work a longer time than is necessary for the replacement of the value of the wages paid to the labourer? Thus the prolongation of the working-day beyond the time necessary for the reproduction of the labourer’s means of subsistence—Marx’s surplus-labour—this, and nothing but this, is what is concealed behind Herr Dühring's “utilisation of labour-power”; and his “net proceeds” {158} falling to the master—how can they manifest themselves otherwise than in the Marxian surplus-product and surplus-value? And what, apart from its inexact formulation, is there to distinguish the Dühringian rent of possession from the Marxian surplus-value? For the rest, Herr Dühring has taken the name “rent of possession” [“Besitzrente“] from Rodbertus, who included both the rent of land and the rent of capital, or earnings of capital, under the one term rent, so that Herr Dühring had only to add "possession" to it.[*6] And so that no doubt may be left of his plagiarism, Herr Dühring sums up, in his own way, the laws of the changes of magnitude in the price of labour-power and in surplus-value which are developed by Marx in Chapter XV (page 539, et seqq., of Capital), and does it in such a manner that what falls to the rent of possession must be lost to wages, and vice versa, thereby reducing certain Marxian laws, so rich in content, to a tautology without content—for it is self-evident that of a given magnitude falling into two parts, one part cannot increase unless the other decreases. And so Herr Dühring has succeeded in appropriating the ideas of Marx in such a way that the "definitive and most strictly scientific treatment in the sense of the exact disciplines" {D. K. G. 498}—which is certainly present in Marx's exposition—is completely lost.

We therefore cannot avoid the conclusion that the strange commotion which Herr Dühring makes in the Kritische Geschichte over Capital, and the dust he raises with the famous question that comes up in connection with surplus-value (a question which he had better have left unasked, inasmuch as he cannot answer it himself)—that all this is only a military ruse, a sly manoeuvre to cover up the gross plagiarism of Marx committed in the Cursus Herr Dühring had in fact every reason for warning his readers not to occupy themselves with “the intricate maze which Herr Marx calls Capital” {D. K. G. 497}, with the bastards of historical and logical fantasy, the confused and hazy Hegelian notions and jugglery {498}, etc. The Venus against whom this faithful Eckart warns the German youth had been taken by him stealthily from the Marxian preserves and brought to a safe place for his own use. We must congratulate him on these net proceeds derived from the utilisation of Marx's labour-power, and on the peculiar light thrown by his annexation of Marxian surplus-value under the name of rent of possession on the motives for his obstinate (repeated in two editions) and false assertion that by the term surplus-value Marx meant only profit or earnings of capital.

And so we have to portray Herr Dühring's achievements in Herr Dühring's own words as follows:

“In Herr” Dühring's “view wages represent only the payment of that labour-time during which the labourer is actually working to make his own existence possible. But only a small number of hours is required for this purpose; all the rest of the working-day, often so prolonged, yields a surplus in which is contained what our author calls” {500} — rent of possession. “If we leave out of account the labour-time which at each stage of production is already contained in the instruments of labour and in the pertinent raw material, this surplus part of the working-day is the share which falls to the capitalist entrepreneur. The prolongation of the working-day is consequently earnings of pure extortion for the benefit of the capitalist. The venomous hatred with which Herr” Dühring “presents this conception of the business of exploitation is only too understandable” {501}...

But what is less understandable is how he will now arrive once more at his “mightier wrath” {501}.


[88] Marx intended to include the third book in Vol. II of Capital.

[89] According to a Biblical story, when Jericho was besieged by the Israelites under Joshua, its impregnable walls came tumbling down at the sound of holy trumpets and the shouts of the besiegers (Joshua 6: 1-4, 9, 19).

[90] This is an allusion to King Frederick Wilhelm IV's speech from the throne at the opening of the United Diet in Prussia on April 11, 1847, in which he stated that he would never allow "the natural relations between the monarch and the people" to be turned into "conventional, constitutional ones" and "the used up sheet of paper" take the place of "primordial holy loyalty".

[91] Engels enumerates a number of major battles in European wars of the nineteenth century.

[*6] And not even this. Rodbertus says (Sociale Briefe Letter 2, p. 59): "Rent according to this" (his) "theory, is all income obtained without personal labour, solely on the ground of possession." – Note by Engels

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