Universal Law of Capitalist Accumulation

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Universal Law of Capitalist Accumulation


of the basic economic laws of capitalism, determining the polarization of capitalist society and the progressively deepening social gulf between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat.

The accumulation of capital causes the growth of wealth among the capitalist class and the worsening of the position of the proletariat. The accumulation of capital is a specific form of expanded reproduction peculiar to capitalism; that is, it is the reproduction of capital and capitalist relations of production on an increasing scale. K. Marx not only discovered the universal law of capitalist accumulation but also demonstrated the historical trend of capitalist accumulation. The process of accumulating capital expands the arena of capitalist exploitation and leads to an ever-increasing growth of wealth among the biggest capitalists. This is confirmed, for example, by the fact that the profits of the big bourgeoisie in a country such as the USA increased during the period 1961-65 more than fourfold in comparison with the prewar level. The average annual profit of US corporations before taxes amounted to $60.8 billion in 1961-65, as contrasted with $19.9 billion during the years 1941-45. The dimensions of the accumulation of capital increase commensurately with the increase in the degree of exploitation, the growth of labor productivity, the amount of all operating capital, and the difference between the working and the consumed capital. Also leading to the accumulation of capital is the lowering of wages below the value of the labor force.

The pursuit of additional surplus value as well as the competitive struggle impel capitalists to introduce technical improvements. Therefore, with the growth of capitalism there is also a growth of the technical structure of capital and consequently of its organic structure as well (that is, the ratio between the value of constant and variable capital insofar as this ratio is determined by technical structure and reflects changes in the latter). The growth of the organic structure of capital can be slowed down or even stopped because of countervailing factors (for example, lowered costs of raw material). However, such factors do not alter the general trend toward growth in the organic structure of capital.

In a capitalist society there is a constantly operating tendency to increase the quantity of individual amounts of capital by means of concentrating and centralizing capital. Such concentration and centralization of capital leads to a concentration of production—a concentration of an ever-greater proportion of productive capacity and labor force in the largest enterprises, which produce an ever-increasing part of the output. With the growth of the technical and organic structure of capital variable capital increases more slowly than constant capital, and thus its proportion in the total amount of capital declines. Such a decline in the proportion of variable capital results in a relative decrease in the demand for manpower, even though the demand is increasing on an absolute scale. Capitalist competition leads to the ruin of many small-scale producers, who are then compelled to seek employment as hired workers. Moreover, the development of machine production creates conditions for hired work by women and adolescents. The supply of the labor force also increases because of the natural growth of the working population. At the same time, the use of more highly productive technology, the intensification of labor, and also the lengthening of the working day, which often takes place, leads to a situation where the capitalists under a given rate of production discharge some of the workers.

Thus the mechanism of capitalist accumulation and the general conditions of the growth of capitalist production create a ratio, unfavorable for the working class, between the supply of the labor force and the demand for it. A certain part of the working class becomes unemployed; that is, it be-comes a reserve army of labor for capitalist industry. During economic crises unemployment sharply increases, and during an upswing phase it declines. The industrial reserve army is not only a result but also a condition of capitalist accumulation.

The accumulation of capital thus creates a tendency to-ward the growth of unemployment, which in turn is an important factor in determining the tendency toward the absolute and relative impoverishment of the working class. The universal law of capitalist accumulation is closely linked with the law of surplus value—the fundamental economic law of capitalism.

In the process of capital accumulation an ever-increasing part of the aggregate capital is concentrated in the hands of the biggest capitalists, whereas an ever-increasing part of production is concentrated in the large and very large enterprises. At the same time a social division of labor develops. Many branches of production are forming subsidiary branches, and new, narrowly specialized branches are being formed. Increasingly closer ties between the specialized parts of social production are being established by means of the market.

With the growth of capital accumulation the process of the socialization of labor is intensified. Production acquires more and more of a social character. However, although it is social in its nature, it constitutes the private property of a comparatively small number of capitalists. With the development of capitalism there is an ever-deepening contradiction between the social character of production and the private form of appropriation. This is the basic contradiction of capitalism, the contradiction that determines all its contradictions. It signifies the lack of correspondence between the capitalist relations of production and the character of the productive forces, a discrepancy that increases more and more with the development of capitalism. The capitalist relations of production, which were a growth factor for the productive forces during the early stages of capitalism, become increasingly a factor that retards their growth.

The growth of the capitalist socialization of labor signifies the development of the material prerequisites for the transition to a more progressive social structure—socialism. The increasing lack of correspondence between the capitalist relations of production and the character of the productive forces makes this transition objectively necessary.

In the process of its development capitalism creates not only the objective but also the subjective prerequisites for the transition to socialism. The size and the social role of the proletariat increase, its organizational capacity is intensified, and the level of its class consciousness is raised. The working class, led by its communist party, which also rallies around itself the nonproletarian masses of toilers, opposes v/ith in-creasing determination the system of capitalist exploitation and demands that it be replaced by socialism—the social system that has neither private ownership of the means of production nor exploitation of man by man.

Thus, the historical tendency of capitalist accumulation consists of preparing and developing the objective and subjective prerequisites for the transition from capitalism to socialism.


Marx, K. “Kapital,” vol. 1. K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 23, chs. 23-24.
Marx, K. “Zarabotnaia plata, tsena i pribyl’.” Ibid., vol. 16.
Marx, K., and F. Engels. “Manifest Kommunisticheskoi partii.” Ibid., vol. 4.
Lenin, V. I. “Karl Marks.” Poin. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 26.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
According to Marx, that law is an absolute, universal law of capitalist accumulation. Owing to it, "the accumulation of wealth at one pole is at the same time accumulation of poverty and torment of labor, slavery, ignorance, callousness and moral degradation on the other pole, i.e.

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