The Accumulation of Capital

  • Geoffrey Kay


In capitalist society reproduction takes place on an ever-extending scale. The social product always exceeds necessary consumption: as it does in every class society. But capitalism differs from other class societies in one vital respect: the surplus takes the form of surplus value, is appropriated by capital as profit and systematically ploughed back into production, for it is the nature of capital to expand. ‘Accumulate, accumulate! That is Moses and the Prophets. Accumulation for accumulation’s sake, production for production’s sake …’1


Social Capital Quantitative Aspect Capitalist Production Capitalist Society Class Struggle 
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  1. 2.
    Marx, ‘The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte’, Marx and Engels, Selected Works, vol. 1 (Moscow: Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1962), p. 247.Google Scholar
  2. 4.
    Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations, vol. 1, 6th ed. (London: Methuen, 1961), pp. 8–9.Google Scholar
  3. 6.
    See J. K. Galbraith, The New Industrial State (London: Penguin, 1969).Google Scholar
  4. 7.
    Kidron speaks for many people when he writes ‘… the relations between different capitals are by and large competitive; … and an individual capital’s competitive strength is more or less related to the size and scope of its operations…. Were it not… [so] … there would be no compulsion on each capital to grow as fast as it might through “accumulation” … and “concentration”’. Michael Kidron, Western Capitalism since the War (Penguin Books, 1970), p. 48. Baron and Sweezy, who seem well aware that the mainsprings of accumulation are to be found in the nature of capital: ‘The heart and care of the capitalist function is accumulation: accumulation has always been the prime mover of the system’ (p. 55), nevertheless assert ‘the Marxian analysis of capitalism still rests in the final analysis as the assumption of a competitive economy’.Google Scholar
  5. Paul Baron and Paul Sweezy, Monopoly Capital (London: Penguin Books, 1968), p. 17. If one wished to make out a strong case for the importance of competition in Marx’s work, it could best be done on the question of the means by which a general rate of profit is established. Chapter 10 of Capital, vol. 3 is indeed entitled ‘Equalisation of the General Rate of Profit Through Competition’. But the whole spirit of the analysis here puts competition very firmly into second place. ‘For … the average rate of profit’, Marx writes, ‘depends upon the intensity of exploitation of the sum of total labour by the sum of total capital’ (p. 197). In other words, competition comes into play only after surplus value has been produced. Moreover, for this reason, individual capitalists become aware of their common social interests at the very moment they are competing. Hence ‘they form a veritable free-mason society vis-à-vis the whole working class, while there is little love lost between them in competition among themselves’ (p. 198). As Marx says elsewhere on this question ‘the capitalists are “communists”’, Theories of Surplus Value, Part Three, p. 83. It is clear that the function of competition of distributing surplus value around the economy can be carried out by administrative mechanisms and that a system of regulated prices as part of a general planning policy can perform the task just as efficiently.Google Scholar
  6. 18.
    The literature on this subject is now extensive. Two works which raise many of the important issues and give extensive references are Charles Bethelheim and Paul Sweezy, The Transition from Capitalism to Socialism (London and New York: Monthly Review Press, 1971), andGoogle Scholar
  7. E. H. Carr, The Bolshevik Revolution, vol. 2 (London: Penguin Books, 1971).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Geoffrey Kay 1975

Authors and Affiliations

  • Geoffrey Kay
    • 1
  1. 1.The City UniversityLondonUK

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