Capital Volume II

Chapter 9: The Aggregate Turnover of Advanced Capital, Cycles of Turnover

We have seen that the fixed and circulating component parts of productive capital are turned over in various ways and at various periods, also that the different constituents of the fixed capital of a business have different periods of turnover, depending on their different durabilities and therefore on their different times of reproduction. (On the real or apparent difference in the turnover of different constituents of circulating capital in the same business, see the close of this chapter, under 6.)

1) The aggregate turnover of an advanced capital is the average turnover of its various constituent parts; the mode of its calculation is given later. Inasmuch as it is merely a question of different periods of time, nothing is easier than to compute their average. But

2) We have here not alone quantitative but also qualitative difference.

The circulating capital entering into the process of production transfers its entire value to the product and must therefore be continually replaced in kind by the sale of the product, if the process of production is to proceed without interruption. The fixed capital entering into the process of production transfers only a part of its value (the wear and tear) to the product and despite this wear and tear continues functioning in the process of production. Therefore it need not be replaced in kind until the lapse of intervals of various duration, at any rate not as frequently as the circulating capital. This necessity of replacement, the reproduction term, is not only quantitatively different for the various constituent parts of fixed capital, but, as we have seen, a part of the perennial fixed capital, that which lasts longer, may be replaced annually or at shorter intervals and added in kind to the old fixed capital. In the case of fixed capital of different properties the replacement can take place only all at once at the end of its period of durability.

It is therefore necessary to reduce the specific turnovers of the various parts of fixed capital to a homogeneous form of turnover, so that they will remain different only quantitatively, namely, according to duration of turnover.

The qualitative identity does not come about if we take as our starting-point P ... P, the form of the continuous process of production. For definite elements of P must be constantly replaced in kind while others need not. However the form M ... M' undoubtedly yields this identity of turnover. Take for instance a machine worth £10,000, which lasts ten years of which one-tenth, or £1,000, is annually reconverted into money. These £1,000 have been converted in the course of one year from money-capital into productive capital and commodity-capital, and then reconverted from this into money-capital. They have returned to their original form, the money-form, just like the circulating capital, if we study the latter in this form, and it is immaterial whether this money-capital of £1,000 is once more converted at the end of the year into the bodily form of a machine or not. In calculating the aggregate turnover of the advanced productive capital we therefore fix all its elements in the money-form, so that the return to that form concludes the turnover. We assume that value is always advanced in money, even in the continuous process of production, where this money-form of value is only that of money of account. Thus we can compute the average.

3) It follows that even if by far the greater part of the advanced productive capital consists of fixed capital whose period of reproduction, hence also of turnover, comprises a cycle of many years, the capital-value turned over during the year may, on account of the repeated turnovers of the circulating capital within the same year, be larger than the aggregate value of the advanced capital.

Suppose the fixed capital is £80,000 and its period of reproduction 10 years, so that £8,000 of it annually return to their money-form, or it completes one-tenth of its turnover. Suppose further the circulating capital is £20,000, and its turnover is completed five times per year. The total capital would then be £100,000. The turned-over fixed capital is £8,000, the turned-over circulating capital five times £20,000, or £100,000. Then the capital turned over during one year is £108,000, or £8,000 more than the advanced capital. 1 + 2/25 of the capital have been turned over.

4) Therefore the turnover time of the value of the advanced capital differs from its actual time of reproduction or from the actual time of turnover of its component parts. Take for instance a capital of £4,000 and let it turn over, say, five times a year. The turned-over capital is then five times £4,000, or £20,000. But what returns at the end of each turnover to be advanced anew is the originally advanced capital of £4,000. Its magnitude is not changed by the number of turnover periods, during which it performs anew its functions as capital. (Apart from surplus-value.)

In the illustration under No. 3, then, the sums assumedly returned into the hands of the capitalist at the end of one year are (a) a sum of value amounting to £20,000 which he invests again in the circulating constituents of the capital, and (b) a sum of £8,000 which has been set free by wear and tear from the value of the advanced fixed capital; simultaneously this same fixed capital remains in the process of production, but with the reduced value of £72,000 instead of £80,000. The process of production therefore would have to be continued for nine years more, before the advanced fixed capital outlived its term and ceased to function as a creator of products and values, so that it would have to be replaced. The advanced capital-value, then, has to pass through a cycle of turnovers, in the present case a cycle of ten annual ones, and this cycle is determined by the life, hence the reproduction or turnover time of the applied fixed capital.

As the magnitude of the value and the durability of the applied fixed capital develop with the development of the capitalist mode of production, the lifetime of industry and of industrial capital lengthens in each particular field of investment to a period of many years, say of ten years on an average. Whereas the development of fixed capital extends the length of this life on the one hand it is shortened on the other by the continuous revolution in the means of production, which likewise incessantly gains momentum with the development of the capitalist mode of production. This involves a change in the means of production and the necessity of their constant replacement, on account of moral depreciation, long before they expire physically. One may assume that in the essential branches of modern industry this life-cycle now averages ten years. However we are not concerned here with the exact figure. This much is evident: the cycle of interconnected turnovers embracing a number of years, in which capital is held fast by its fixed constituent part, furnishes a material basis for the periodic crises. During this cycle business undergoes successive periods of depression, medium activity, precipitancy, crisis. True, periods in which capital is invested differ greatly and far from coincide in time. But a crisis always forms the starting-point of large new investments. Therefore, from the point of view of society as a whole, more or less, a new material basis for the next turnover cycle.[22a]

5) On the way to calculate the turnovers, an American economist states:

“In some trades the whole capital embarked is turned or circulated several times within the year. In others a part is turned oftener than once a year, another part less often. It is the average period which his entire capital takes in passing through his hands, or making one revolution, from which a capitalist must calculate his profits. Suppose for example that a person engaged in a particular business has one half of his capital invested in buildings and machinery; so as to be turned only once in ten years; that one-fourth more, the cost of his tools, etc., is turned once in two years; and the remaining fourth, employed in paying wages and purchasing material, is turned twice in one year. Say that his entire capital is $50,000. Then his annual expenditure will be,

$25,000 : 10 = $ 2,500
 12,500 : 2  =   6,500
 12,500 × 2  =  25,000

... the mean term in which his capital is turned being about sixteen months [In the manuscript Marx points out the fallacy of such a method of calculating the period of the turnover of capital. The mean term of turnover (16 months) given in the quotation was calculated with account taken of a profit of 7.5 per cent on the aggregate capital of $50,000. Profit discounting, the turnover of capital is equal to 18 months. — Ed.]

“... Take another case, ... say that one-fourth of the entire capital circulates in ten years, one-fourth in one year, and one half twice in the year. Then the annual expenditure will be,

       $12,500 : 10 = $ 1,250
        12,500      =  12,500
        25,000 × 2  =  50,000
Turned over in 1 year $63,750

(Scrope, Pol. Econ., edit. Alonzo Potter, New York, 1841, pp. 142, 143.) [The book referred to is A. Potter’s Political Economy, Its Objects, Uses, and Principles, New York, 1840. According to the author’s “Advertisement”, the second part of the book is substantially a reprint (with many alterations made by A. Potter) of G. J. P. Scrope’s The Principles of Political Economy, London, 1833. — Ed.]

6) Real and apparent differences in the turnover of the various parts of capital.

The same Scrope says in the same passage:

“The capital laid out by a manufacturer, farmer, or tradesman in the payment of his labourer’s wages, circulates most rapidly, being turned perhaps once a week (if his men are paid weekly), by the weekly receipts on his bills or sales. That invested in his materials and stock in hand circulates less quickly, being turned perhaps twice, perhaps four times in the year, according to the time consumed between his purchases of the one and sales of the other, supposing him to buy and sell on equal credits. The capital invested in his implements and machinery circulates still more slowly, being turned, that is, consumed and renewed, on the average, perhaps but once in five or ten years; though there are many tools that are worn out in one set of operations. The capital which is embarked in buildings, as mills, shops, warehouses, barns, in roads, irrigation, etc., may appear scarcely to circulate at all. But, in truth, these things are, to the full, as much as those we have enumerated, consumed in contributing to production, and must be reproduced in order to enable the producer to continue his operations; with this only difference, that they are consumed and reproduced by slower degrees than the rest ... and the capital invested in them may be turned perhaps every twenty of fifty years.” [pp. 141-42.]

Scrope confuses here the difference in the flow of certain parts of the circulating capital, brought about for the individual capitalist by terms of payment and conditions of credit, with the difference in the turnovers due to the nature of capital. He says that wages must be paid weekly out of the weekly receipts from paid sales or bills. It must be noted here in the first place that certain differences occur relative to wages themselves, depending on the length of the term of payment, that is, the length of time for which the labourer must give credit to the capitalist, whether wages are payable every week, month, three months, six months, etc. In this case, the law expounded before, holds good, to the effect that “the quantity of the means of payment required for all periodical payments” (hence of the money-capital to be advanced at one time) “is in inverse [This is evidently a slip of the pen, the proportion being direct and not inverse. — Ed.] proportion to the length of their periods.” (Buch I, Kap. III, 3b, Seite 124.) [English edition: Ch. III, 3b, p. 141. — Ed.]

In the second place, it is not only the new value added in the process of production by the week’s labour which enters completely into the weekly product, but also the value of the raw and auxiliary materials consumed by the weekly product. This value circulates with the product containing it. It assumes the form of money through the sale of the product and must be reconverted into the same elements of production. This applies as much to the labour-power as to the raw and auxiliary materials. But we have already seen (Chapter VI, II, 1) that continuity of production requires a supply of means of production different for different branches of industry, and different within one and the same branch of business for different component parts of this element of the circulating capital, for instance, for coal and cotton. Hence, although these materials must be continually replaced in kind, they need not always be bought anew. The frequency of purchases depends on the size of the available stock, on the time it takes to exhaust it. In the case of labour-power there is no such storing of a supply. The reconversion into money of the part of capital laid out in labour-power goes hand in hand with that of the capital invested in raw and auxiliary materials. But the reconversion of the money, on the one hand into labour-power, on the other into raw materials, proceeds separately on account of the special terms of purchase and payment of these two constituents, one of them being bought as a productive supply for long periods, the other, labour-power, for shorter periods, for instance a week. On the other hand the capitalist must keep a stock of finished commodities besides a stock of materials for production. Let us leave sales difficulties aside. A certain quantity of goods must be produced, say, on order. While the last portion of this lot is being produced, the finished products are waiting in the warehouse until the order can be completely filled. Other differences in the turnover of circulating capital arise whenever some of its separate elements must stay in some preliminary stage of the process of production (drying of wood, etc.) longer than others.

The credit system, to which Scrope here refers, as well as commercial capital, modifies the turnover for the individual capitalist. On a social scale it modifies the turnover only in so far as it does not accelerate merely production but also consumption.


22a “Urban production is bound to a cycle of days, rural production on the contrary to one of years.” (Adam G. Müller, Die Elemente der Staatskunst, Berlin, 1809, III, p. 178.) this is the naive conception of industry and agriculture held by the romantic school.