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The New International, February 1947


W.H. Emmett

Correspondence ...

[On Luxemburg’s Theory of Accumulation]


From The New International, Vol. 13 No. 2, February 1947, pp. 63–64.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


Limitations of space have made it necessary for us to abridge the following communication. Its author, W.H. Emmett, is known well for his Economic Handbook of Marxism and for previous contributions to these pages. – Editors


I wish to make some commentary on the discussion of Luxemburg’s Theory of Accumulation by F. Forest in the April and May issues of The New International. Especially, I would refer to the general bearing as to the cause of modern commercial crises.

A persistent and engaging question of the discussion in The New International seems to be: What exactly does Marx mean by “Capitalist Accumulation”? More definitely and substantially it seems to be: Does Marx refer to the capital of a single capitalist nation, or to that of a number of nations or, say, all the nations of Europe, or to the capital of the whole capitalist world? Before venturing an answer to this evident question, let us briefly contemplate a rather simple analogy.

Whenever one may meet with anthropological work about the attributes or characteristics of human nature, we can easily understand that it matters not whence the examples of human nature may come from a special part of the world, or any number of parts, or from all parts of the habitable globe. Wherever they may be found, humanity’s physique or make-up, speech, general activities and character, will always effectually differentiate mankind from all the rest of the animal kingdom. The essential distinctiveness of that human nature is quite independent of any particular race or races of mankind, and independent, too, of any countries to which they may happen to belong.

Similarly with the capital of Marx’s “Capitalist Accumulation.” The phenomenon of accumulating capital is quite independent of “a closed society” and quite independent of any pre-capitalist or “non-capitalist surroundings.”

Despite her wide research, Forest’s two articles will not withstand much economic probing or analysis. The question as to which or what capital? or where? should never arise. The formula or label, c + v + s, definitely and quite sufficiently marks off the capital under discussion as industrial capital, otherwise standard capital. And it does not matter where or how much one may have in mind, the fact always remains the same in this regard, viz., that it is just industrial capital.

The “closed society” idea might be correct in some sense or other, and it may possibly help study in some way. Such hypothetical distinction might thus be all very well-where it may be appropriate. But in the matter of Capitalist Accumulation it does not seem capable of any proper application. The accumulating capital depicted by Marx in Part III of Vol. II just means the increasing capital outfit of any employer at all, or any industrial capital in general. Marx’s description of “capitalist accumulation” applies to any c + v + s capital whatever, in any part of the world, or if you will, in many parts or even in all parts of the globe.

Forest’s reference (p. 107) to “the exclusion of foreign trade as having nothing to do fundamentally with” the class conflict also seems rather forced. I do not see that Marx, in either of the quoted pages, in Vol. II and Vol. III of Capital, in any way refers to any “class conflict,” or to any of its fundamental relationships.

In the case of Vol. II, Marx excludes consideration of foreign trade at certain points, not because of its non-relation to class conflicts, but because such secondary topic would only result in confusion. For instance, on pages 547–8, when we seek to understand reproduction on a given scale, or when we wish to comprehend the gold reproduction, “we transfer the gold mines [mentally of course] into the country with capitalist production whose annual reproduction we are analyzing,” so to leave aside the irrelevant activities of foreign commerce. But very certainly, this is not because of foreign commerce’s non-relation to .the class conflict. In Vol. III, too, the matter of “exclusion” would seem to be related to quite another kind of “conflict,” instead of any class affair, viz., that “conflict” between “Expanding production and the creation of values.” (See sub-title, p. 289, Vol. III.) But there is no trace here of any “conflict” between worker and capitalist. There is no sort of mention about any conflict of persons, the real “conflict” in question is merely one of conditions. and such conflict of conditions is one of the Internal Contradictions in the operation of that “law” the “falling tendency of the rate of profit.”

It seems absurd to encounter such confusion on such a simple matter. Marx excluded consideration of foreign commerce where such consideration would, not assist clarification, because it would complicate the issue under discussion and cause unnecessary and desultory trouble. And it seems to be thought that therefore foreign commerce is ousted, through its non-relation to class conflict!

As with every other serious study, what is to be assumed or noticed (or maybe what is to be excluded from the scene of observation) will precisely depend upon what at the moment is to be examined. Marx not only does not always exclude “foreign commerce”; but neither does he always assume that the capitalists fully pay the labor-power at its value. Mostly, of course, he does assume value-for-value exchanges, but a very effective instance of the contrary occurs in the second paragraph on p. 595 of Capital, Vol. II. Instead of assuming such full payment of labor-power’s value by capitalists, Marx there declares it to be “a thing which they rarely do!”

With the matter of “foreign trade” ; sometimes this topic will be excluded, according to what main topic is at the time to be discussed. But on p. 546 of Vol. II, discussing eases of the relative overproduction and also of the relative underproduction (equally characteristic of industrial crises), Marx tells us that “Foreign trade could relieve the pressure in either case.”

On p. 548 Marx declares that “Capitalist production does not exist at all without foreign commerce.” Yet, at this point, just because this “foreign commerce” merely results in some use-values being substituted for other use-values without affecting the general value relations, “we leave it aside.”

But now, if “foreign trade” were always to be “excluded,” even to the extent that “Marx would not be moved from his premise,” how could Marx tell us that foreign trade is an indispensable part of capitalist production? And why, then, should he write that “Capitalist production does not exist at all without foreign commerce”? If foreign trade is to be “excluded,” how comes it that (against the falling tendency of the rate of profit) the fifth (or No. 5) of the “counteracting” or “counterbalancing causes,” is this very same “foreign trade”? How is it that under this heading the subject is of sufficient importance to occupy about four pages of Marx’s Vol. III?


Not only did Marx sometimes “exclude” consideration of foreign trade. But sometimes he also avoided any entanglement with “fixed capital.” He writes in one place “... we must for the present leave out of consideration that portion of value which is transferred from the fixed capital to the annual product by wear and tear, unless this fixed capital is reproduced ... during the year” (Vol. II, p. 458).

From his three “vantage points,” he paraded the process of Capitalist Circulation in its various threads up to the stage of Simple Reproduction; and he showed that in the absence of any upset by, or concern about, fixed capital (in short, by “excluding” the fixed capital), the surplus value can all be “realized” and distributed without leaving any remainder to cause any trouble, for example, anything like the commercial crises. He shows the exchanges which dispose of the surplus value when the process is not blocked by the circulation of fixed capital.

Not only so, but he also shows that the surplus value is divisible into necessaries and luxuries, and he shows the distribution of these sub-divided parts of surplus value as fair, or equal, shares for the capitalists in both Division I and Division II.

In Division I, the surplus value. assumed as being 1000, or 60 per cent of the newly produced value, is “realized” by the capitalists of this Division. It is distributed amongst them in proportionate shares (arbitrarily, of course) consisting of three-fifths as life’s necessaries and two-fifths as luxuries, that is, 600 as necessaries and 400 as luxuries, which together equal the surplus value of 1000. The details of which distribution (if one wishes the pleasure of looking them up) are given by Marx on page 471.

In Division II there is the same assumption of 50 per cent of the new value product being the surplus value, viz. 500. And it is “realized” by the capitalists in this Division II. It is proportionately shared out amongst them (again arbitrarily, of course), three parts as necessary and two parts luxuries, that is: 300 and 200, equal to the 500 of surplus value. (See Vol. II, pp. 468–70.)

It seems necessary to notice that “Accumulation” is not any direct cause of the crises. So far from “Accumulation” being directly the “cause” of crises the subject “Accumulation,” etc., is broached by Marx in his Vol. II, only well after he had already demonstrated how the non-conforming and unruly fixed-capital was causing the crises. That is to say, in his Vol. II Marx commenced work on the subject of “Accumulation in Division I,” etc., only about thirty pages after having already traced out the direct and inevitable cause of the commercial crises.

W.H. Emmett

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