The Capitalist Class. By Karl Kautsky (continued)

[Continued from the October issue]

Specially translated for the Socialist Party of Great Britain and approved by the Author.


If the extension of a concern forces its owner, the capitalist, to engage officials in order to lighten his task, the increase in the surplus-value due to the extension recompenses him for that expenditure. The larger the surplus-value, the more of his functions is the capitalist able to transfer to officials, until he has at last rid himself entirely of his managersLap, so that he has left only the “anxiety” of advantageously investing that part of his profit which he does not consume.

The number of concerns that have arrived at such a condition increases from year to year. That is proved most clearly by the growing number of Joint Stock Companies, where, as even the most superficial observer must recognise, the person of the capitalist has already ceased to be of any importance, only his capital being significant. In England 57 Joint Stock Companies were formed in 1845, 344 in 1861, 2,550 in 1888, and 4,735 in 1896. There were 11,000 companies, with a share capital of over £600,000,000 actively engaged in 1888, and 21,223 companies with a share capital of £1,150,000,000 in 1896.

It was considered that by the introduction of the system of share capital, a means had been found to make the advantages of larger concerns accessible to the small capitalists. But, like the system of credit, the system of share capital, which is only a particular form of credit, is, on the contrary, a means of placing the capital of the “smaller fry” at the disposal of the large capitalists.

Since the person of the capitalist can be dispensed with as far as his undertaking is concerned, anybody possessing the necessary capital can embark in industry, whether he understands anything about the particular trade or not. Hence it is possible for a capitalist to own and control concerns of the most varied kind, having perhaps no connection one with the other. It is very easy for the large capitalist to obtain control over Joint Stock Companies. He only needs to own a large proportion of their shares—which can easily he purchased—in order to make the undertakings dependent upon him and subservient to his interests.

Finally, it must be stated that generally, large capital increases more rapidly than small capital, because the larger the capital the greater (under otherwise equal conditions) the total amount of profit, and hence also tli,o income (revenue) which it yields ; again, the smaller the proportion of the profit consumed by the capitalist for his own use, the larger is the portion he is able to add as new capital to that already accumulated. A capitalist whose undertaking yields him £500 a year, will, according to capitalist ideas, be able to live only modestly on such income;. He will be fortunate if he succeeds in putting by £100—one-fifth of his profit—a year. The capitalist whose capital is large enough to yield him an income of £5,000 is in a position, even if he consumes for himself and his family five times as much as the first mentioned capitalist, to turn at least three-fifths of his profit into capital. And if the capital of a capitalist happens to be so considerable that it yields him £50,000 a year, it will be difficult for him, if he is a normal being, to use for his living one-tenth of his income, so that, though indulging in luxuries, he will easily be able to save nine-tenths of his profits. While the small capitalists have to struggle ever harder for their existence, the larger fortunes increase by leaps and bounds, and in a short time reach enormous proportions.

Let us summarise all this : the increase in the size of the undertakings : the rapid growth of the larger fortunes ; the diminution in the number of undertakings ; the concentration of a number of undertakings into one hand, and it then becomes clear that it is the tendency of the capitalist mode of production to concentrate the means of production, which have become the monopoly of the capitalist class, into ever fewer hands. This development is ultimately tending towards a state of things where all the means of production of a nation, nay, even of the civilised world, are becoming the private property of a single company, which is able to dispose of it at its discretion; a state of things where the entire economic structure is welded into one gigantic concern, in which all have to serve one single master and everything belongs to one single owner. Private property in the means of production in capitalist society leads to a condition where all are propertyless with the exception of one single person. It leads, indeed, to its own abolition, to the dispossession of all, to the enslavement of all. But the development of capitalist commodity-production leads also to the abolition of its own basis. Capitalist exploitation becomes contradictory, if the exploiter can find no other purchasers of his commodities than those exploited by him. If the wage-workers are the only consumers, then the products embodying the sxirplus-value become unsaleable—valueless. Such a condition would be as terrible as it would be impossible. It can never come to that, because the mere approach to such a condition must so intensify the sufferings, antagonisms and contradictions in society that they become unbearable, that society collapses if the development has not previously been steered into a different channel. Bui if this condition will never be reached, we are rapidly drifting that way, indeed, more rapidly than most imagine. For while on the one hand the concentration of the separate capitalist concerns into fewer hands is proceeding, on the other hand with the development in the division of labour the mutual dependence of the seemingly independent undertakings is growing, as we have already seen. This mutual dependence, however, becomes more a one-sided dependence of the small capitalists upon the larger ones. Just as most of the seemingly independent workers carrying on home industries in reaity are only wage-workera of the capitalist, so there are already many capitalists having the appearance of independence, yet subservient to others, and many capitalist concerns that appear to be independent are in reality merely branches of one huge capitalist undertaking. And this dependence of the smaller capitalists upon the larger increases perhaps more rapidly than the concentration of the various concerns in the hands of the few. The economic fabrics of capitalist nations are already to-day, in the last resort, dominated and exploited by a few giant capitalists, and the concentration in the hands of a lew firms is little else than a mere change of form.

While the economic dependence of the great mass of the population upon the capitalist class is growing, within the capitalist class itself the dependence of the majority upon a minority (decreasing in number but ever increasing in power and wealth) becomes always greater. But this greater dependence brings no more security to the capitalists than to the proletarians, handicraftsmen, petty traders, and peasants. On the contrary, with them as with all the others, the insecurity of their position keeps pace with their growing dependence. Of course, the smaller capitalists suffer most in that respect, but the largest capital, nowadays, does not enjoy complete security.

We have already referred to a few causes of the growing insecurity of capitalist undertakings, for instance, that the sensitiveness of the entire fabric as far as it is affected by external disturbances, increases ; but as the capitalist method of production intensifies the antagonisms between the different classes and nations, and causes the masses facing each other to swell and their means of combat to become ever more formidable, it creates more opportunities for disturbance, which give rise to greater devastations. The growing productivity of labour not only increases the surplus-value usurped by the capitalist, but it also increases the amount of commodities which are placed on the market, and which the capitalist is compelled to dispose of. With the growing exploitation competition becomes more intensified, as does also the bitter struggle of investor against investor. And hand in hand with this development there proceeds a continual technical evolution ; new inventions and discoveries are unceasingly going forward, and in so doing destroy the value of existing things, thus making not only individual workers and single machines, but entire plants of machinery and even whole industries superfluous.

No capitalist can rely upon the future ; none knows with certainty whether he will be in a position to retain what he has acquired and leave it to his children.

The capitalist class increasingly splits up into two sections: one section, growing in number, has become quite superfluous economically, and has nothing to do but squander and waste the increasing mass of usurped surplus-value that is not used as fresh capital. If one calls to mind what we have mentioned in the previous chapter regarding the position of the educated in present society, one will not be astonished to find that by far the greater number of the rich idlers are throwing their money away on mere coarse pleasures. The other section of the capitalists, those who have not yet become superfluous in their own undertakings, is decreasing in number, but their anxieties and responsibilities increase. While one section of the capitalists is decaying more and more owing to idle profligacy, the other section is perishing by never-ceasing competition. But the insecurity of existence of both sections grows. Thus the present method of production does not permit even the exploiters, even those who monopolise and usurp all the tremendous advantages, a complete enjoyment of them.

The great modern crises, which now rule the world market, arise from over-production, and are the consequence of the anarchy necessarily connected with the production of commodities.

Over-production in the sense that more is produced than is required can take place under any system of production. But, of course, it can do no harm if the producers produce for their own use. If, for instance, a primitive peasant-family harvest more corn than they require, they store up the surplus for times of bad harvest, or in the case of their barns being full, they feed their cattle with it, or at the worst leave it on the field.

It is different in the case of the production of commodities. This production (in its developed form) presupposes that nobody produces for himself.

[To be continued]

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