Capital II. Chapter 21: Accumulation & Reproduction on an Expanded Scale

Chapter 21 closes Capital II. It develops by complicating the discussion of simple reproduction given in the preceding chapter. Here Marx insists that it is the technical composition of capital that determines the expansion of production, whereas simple reproduction is only notable for its demonstration of the circuits of capital’s value composition(s). There are some interesting comments on the consumption by workers, which speak directly the present tendency to get works to work more by encouraging them to buy more stuff: Marx comments on this directly (591-2).


The most significant point in this chapter is to do with what happens with that part of revenue that is capitalised, rather than hoarded or consumed.

It is a banal point that the distinction between simple (Chapter 20) and expanded reproduction is that a sum of value is capitalised. Marx does insist twice that this is the necessary condition of any real accumulation. But the important thing Marx introduces is that the total social capital may retain the same total value, but its use-value composition will change.

This means that the same labour-power is bought and realised, but it is realised as living labour on a different composition of use-values, a different technical composition or capital. The same value, given by simple reproduction, is now dispersed into a different composition of use-values. Marx calls this the ‘material substratum’ (573) of expanded reproduction.

For example:

If we simply consider the level of reproduction on the part of department I in value terms, then we still find ourselves within the limits of simple reproduction, for no additional capital has been set in motion in order to create this virtual excess of constant capital (the surplus product), and no more surplus labour than was performed on the basis of simple reproduction. The distinction here lies only in the form of the surplus labour applied, the concrete character of its particular useful mode (572).


[Reproduction on an expanded scale] has nothing to do with the absolute size of the product, and is thus in the first instance only simple reproduction, as far as its value goes. It is not the quantity, but the qualitative character of the given elements of simple reproduction that is changed, and this change is the material precondition for the ensuing reproduction on an expanded scale (582).

This might also shed some light on Marx’s repeated insistence on given long disquisitions on simple reproduction and then rather short stabs on expanded reproduction, as if it were an after thought. Perhaps what he is doing is dealing with the question of value first, to put this aside, and then dealing with the use-value question if this is really what he wants to pronounce in his exposition. It is plausible that it is.

In the Grundrisse Marx highlights his own dispute with Ricardo on just this point:

… use does not come to a halt because it is determined only by exchange; although of course it obtains its direction thereby. In any case, this is to be examined with exactitude in the examination of value, and not, as Ricardo does, to be entirely abstracted from, nor like the dull Say, who puffs himself up with the mere presupposition of the word ‘utility’. Above all it will and must become clear in the development of the individual sections to what extent use value exists not only as presupposed matter, outside economics and its forms, but to what extent it enters into it (Grundrisse, 1973, p 267-8).

Something Marx sets out as an early question is the place of use-value within the determination of value, surplus-value, &c (this part of the Grundrisse was written in 1857; the part of Capital we’re reading was written in 1878). So perhaps when he repeatedly presents simple reproduction separately to expanded reproduction he has this in mind. Simple reproduction is only an abstraction from expanded reproduction. Is it an abstraction of the value composition of capital in order to then highlight the technical composition in when dealing with expanded reproduction itself?


The other interesting thing here is ‘company town’ character of capitalism. He has already shown in his account of simple reproduction that capitals buy labour-power with a sum of value that workers have produced in a prior period (putting primitive accumulation aside).

Marx now notes (quoting a piece from The Nation) that, not only do capitalists expect workers to return the money they are paid by buying their means of subsistence, workers must buy more to keep up with the pace of ‘invention’ (591).  The piece from The Nation laments that workers do not consume enough:

‘working-pople have not kept up in culture with the growth of invention, and they have things showered on them which they do not know how to use, and thus make no market for’

The problem is raise to the desires of the worker to the level of the minister, lawyer and doctor, by ‘raising’ the worker as a consumer. The problem is that workers are actually aiming to work less at this point in history, not more. How will the they consume more without working more?

‘The problem remains how to raise him as a consumer by rational and healthful processes, not an easy one, as his ambition does not go beyond a diminution of his hours of labour, the demogogues rather inciting him to this than raising his condition by the improvement of his mental and moral powers.’

Marx provides his usual caustic rebuttal a page later:

Reduction in wages and longer hours of work, this is the kernel of the ‘rational and healthful process’ that is to raise the worker t the dignity of rational consumers, so that they may ‘make a market’ for the ‘things showered upon them’ by civilisation and the progress of invention.


Another point might be to do with the reproduction schemes in their numerical form. What is Marx doing with this? On the one hand he is showing the movement of value through means of production and into means of consumption.

On the other hand, the final two chapters of Capital II are the first time that Marx gives a full scale proof of his concept of value. It is the first time he has shown a model of capitalism reproducing itself on an expanded scale, viz. accumulating.

Do these last two chapters give a first proof of what Marx has been developing since he introduced the division of value and use-value in Capital I?


A final point might be political. Engels said that there wasn’t much for politics in this volume, that the ‘Marx party’ would be disappointed by it. However.

Patrick Murray has insisted that Marx comes down with two departments for reasons other than economic presentation. Instead the two department presentation must work if Marx’s assumption that the tendency of capitalism is towards ‘two great classes’, workers and capitalists.

Everything in Department I has nothing to do with workers, and can only be usefully deployed by capitalists; viz. half of the material world is only relevant if you’re a capitalist.

Department II is further subdivided into IIa and IIb: necessary means of subsistence and luxury items. The concept ‘necessary means of subsistence’ isn’t positive. It isn’t ‘biological necessities’, as Marx is treating humanity, not animals. The concept in fact captures an always-already given level of social consumption.

For example Marx includes cigarettes in the necessary box, because it was socially given that you smoked. Today, lots of what people refer to as excess consumption is in fact given as a definite level of socially valid consumption, below which one is excluded from full participation in social wealth, viz. they fall into relative poverty.

Marx allows that workers have access to luxury items, but this purpose of this division is to highlight capitalist consumption. The concept ‘luxury items’ again isn’t positive but includes a socially given standard of consumption by capitalists, which in one era might have included the Grand Tour and in another might include consumer space travel. The point however, is that there is a section of Department II (means of consumption), that is not theoretically relevant to the reproduction of labour-power, or to the lives of workers.

I guess the outcome of this is the material appearance of capitalist society is its self stamped with its social relations. This is perhaps and avenue for research.


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Reading Capital in Sydney records reading notes on Marx's Capital I, II and III, and other bits and pieces.

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