Letter to the Editors from the July 1908 issue of the Socialist Standard
W. L. B. (Manchester).—1. Could you give me a. good definition of Capital ? 2. I suppose Marx, when he mentions labour, includes mental and physical. 3. Will wine increase in value without labour of any kind ? Many years ago an aerolite fell in Sweden. The curator of the museum bought it for £84. Did labour create the aerolite and give it value?
1. Perhaps the best general definition of capital is "Wealth used for the object of obtaining a profit." In the narrowest technical sense, capital is money used to obtain more money; but Marx's own formula (in "Capital," p. 133) is as simple and direct as any student could wish. Our correspondent is referred thereto.
2. Alexander Bain has shown in his "Mind and Body" that it is impossible to separate mental from physical actions, and that the two are inseparably connected. And Marx himself had already recognised this fact in "Capital," (p. 11) where he says ''different productive activities are each a productive expenditure of human brains, nerves and muscles, and in this sense are human labour." But it should be noted that the apologists for capitalism usually state that Marx only dealt with manual labour, and left out of consideration the organising and directive activities required in production. This is a deliberate falsification of Marx's position. (See "Capital," pp. 311, 321, 322 (Vol. I.)
3. No. For wine to reach a given stage in ripeness or maturity, it is necessary to store it under certain conditions in specially constructed buildings, vaults, etc. This often involves a heavy initial outlay, to which there is to be added the cost of maintenance and upkeep of these places, and the various plants (machinery, etc.) used therein. To replace all these means of production a certain sum is set aside yearly, depending upon the average time these things last under normal wear and tear. Obviously the longer the wine is stored, the larger is the total amount of labour expended upon the storage, and—in general—the higher will be the price of the wine.
4. With reference to the aerolite, there is here a confusion of price and value. Price is the amount of money given for a thing, while value is the social labour-time embodied in the thing. On the average, and taken over sufficient periods of time, price is the monetary exponent of value, but in detail "the deviations of market prices from values are continual," while, strange though it may seem, things may have a price without having value. Marx says: "Objects that in themselves are no commodities, such as conscience, honour, etc., are capable of being offered for sale by their holders and of thus acquiring, through their price, the form of commodities. Hence an object may have a price without having value." ("Capital," p. 75). Labour did not create the aerolite, nor—except for the small amount of energy expended in bringing it to the curator—did it give the aerolite value. The price paid was entirely the subjective estimate of the curator for his museum purposes.