In society, however, the relation of the producer to his product, as soon as it is completed, is an outward one, and the return of the product to the individual depends on his relations to other individuals. He does not take immediate possession of it. Nor does the direct appropriation of the product constitute his purpose, when he produces in society. Between the producer and the product, distribution steps in, which determines (by social laws) his share in the world of products; that is to say, distribution steps in between production and consumption.
Does distribution form an independent sector alongside and outside production?
(b) Production and distribution
When looking through the ordinary run of economic works, one's attention is attracted forthwith by the fact that everything is mentioned twice -- e.g., rent, wages, interest and profit figure under the heading distribution, while under the heading of production, land, labor and capital. As to capital, it is evident from the outset that this is counted twice: first as a factor of production, and secondly as a source of income (i.e., as a determining and determinate form of distribution). Interest and profit appear therefore in production as well, since they are forms in which capital increases and grows, and are thus phases of its production. As forms of distribution, interest and capital presuppose capital as a factor of production. They are forms of distribution whose precondition is the existence of capital as a factor of production. They are likewise modes of production of capital.
Wages represent also wage-labor, which is examined in a different section; the particular function that labor performs as a factor of production in the one case appears as a function of distribution in the other. If labor did not have the distinct form of wage-labor, then its share in the product would not appear as wages, as for instance in slavery. Finally, rent -- if we take the most advanced form of distribution by which landed property obtains a share in the products -- presupposes large-scale landed property (strictly speaking, large-scale agriculture) as a factor of production, and not land in general; just as wages do not presuppose labor in general. The relations and modes of distribution are thus merely the reverse aspect of the factors of production. An individual whose participation in production takes the form of wage-labor will receive a share in the product, the result of production, in the form of wages. The structure of distribution is entirely determined by the structure of production. distribution itself is a product of production, not only with regard to the content, for only the results of production can be distributed, but also with regard to the form, since the particular mode of men's participation in production determines the specific form of distribution, the form in which they share in distribution. It is altogether an illusion to speak of land in the section of production, and of rent in the section on distribution, etc.
Economists like Ricardo, who are mainly accused of having paid exclusive attention to production, have accordingly regarded distribution as the exclusive subject of political economy -- for they have instinctively treated the forms of distribution as the most precise expression in which factors of production manifest themselves in a given society.
To the single individual, distribution naturally appears as a social law, which determines his position within the framework of production, and within which he produces; distribution thus being antecedent to production. An individual who has neither capital nor landed property of his own is dependent on wage-labor from his birth as a consequence of social distribution. But this dependence is itself the result of the existence of capital and landed property as independent factors of production.
When one considers whole societies, still another aspect of distribution appears to be antecedent to production and to determine it, as though it were an ante-economic factor.
- A conquering nation may divide the land among the conquerors and, in this way, impose a distinct mode of distribution and for of landed property (thus determining production). Or,
- it may turn the population into slaves, thus making slave-labor the basis of production. Or,
- in the course of a revolution, a nation may divide large estates into plots, thus altering the character of production in consequence of the new distribution. Or,
- legislation may perpetuate land ownership in certain families, or allocate labor as a hereditary privilege, thus consolidating it into a caste system.
In all these cases (and they have all occurred in history) it seems that distribution is not regulated and determined by production but, on the contrary, production by distribution.
Distribution, according to the most superficial interpretation, is distribution of products; it is thus removed farther from production and made quasi-independent of it. But, before distribution becomes distribution of products, it is
(1) distribution of the means of production, and
(2) (which is another aspect of the same situation) distribution of the members of society among the various types of production (the subsuming of the individuals under definite relations of production).
It is evident that the distribution of products is merely a result of this distribution -- which is comprised in the production process and determines the structure of production. To examine production divorced from this distribution which is a constituent part of it, is obviously idle abstraction; whereas conversely the distribution of products is automatically determined by that distribution which forms a primary factor of production. Ricardo, the economist of production _par excellence_, whose object was the understanding of modern production and of its distinct social structure, for this very reason declares that distribution, _not_ production, is the proper subject of contemporary political economy. This is a witness to the banality of those economists who proclaim production as an eternal truth, and confine history to the domain of distribution.
The question as to the relation between that form of distribution that determines production and production itself, belongs obviously to the sphere of production. If it should be said that, in this case at least, since production must proceed from a specific distribution of the means of production, distribution is to this extent antecedent to, and a prerequisite of, production, then the reply would be as follows. Production has indeed its conditions and prerequisites which are constituent elements of it. At the very outset, these may have seemed to be naturally evolved. In the course of production, however, they are transformed from naturally evolved factors into historical ones, and, although they may appear as natural preconditions for any one period, they are the historical result of another period. For example, the employment of machinery led to changes in the distribution of both the means of production and the product. Modern, large-scale landed property has been brought about not only by modern trade and modern industry, but also by the application of the latter to agriculture.
The above-mentioned questions can be ultimately resolved into this: what role do general historical conditions play in production and the relations of production to the historical development as a whole? This question clearly belongs to the analysis and discussion of production.
In the trivial form, however, in which these questions have been raised above, they can be dealt with quite briefly. Conquests may lead to either of three results.
- The conquering nation may impose its own mode of production upon the conquered people (this was done, for example, by the English in Ireland during this century, and to some extent in India); or, - it may refrain from interfering in the old mode of production and be content with tribute (e.g., Turks and Romans); or,
- interaction may take place between the two, giving rise to a new system as a synthesis (this occurred partly in the Germanic conquests).
In any case, it is the mode of production -- whether that of the conquering nation, or of the conquered, or the new system brought about by a merging of the two -- that determines the new mode of distribution employed. Although the latter appears to be a precondition of the new period of production, it is in its turn a result of production, a result not simply occassioned by the historical evolution of production in general, but by a specific historical form of production.
The Mongols, for example, who caused devastation in Russia, acted in accordance with their mode of production (cattle breeding) for which large, uninhabited tracts are a fundamental requirement. The Germanic barbarians, whose traditional mode of production was agriculture with the aid of serfs, and who lived scattered over the countryside, could more easily adapt the Roman provinces to their requirements because the concentration of landed property carried out there had already uprooted the older agricultural relations. It is a long-established view that over certain epochs, people lived by plunder. But in order to be able to plunder, there must be something to be plundered, and this implies production. Moreover, the manner of plunder depends itself on the manner of production -- e.g., a stock-jobbing nation cannot be robbed in the same way as a nation of cowherds.
The means of production may be robbed directly in the form of slaves. But in that case, it is necessary that the structure of production in the country to which the slave is abducted admits of slave labor, or (as in South America, etc.) a mode of production appropriate to slave labor has to be evolved.
Laws may perpetuate a particular means of production -- e.g., land, in certain families. These laws acquire economic significance only if large-scale landed property is in keeping with the social mode of production -- as for instance in Britain. Agriculture was carried on in France on a small scale, despite the existence of large estates, which were therefore parcelled out by the Revolution. But is it possible (e.g., by law) to perpetuate the division of land into small lots? Landed property tends to become concentrated again, despite these laws. The influence exercised by laws on the preservation of existing conditions of distribution, and the effect they thereby exert on production has to be examined separately.
(c) Lastly, Exchange and Circulation
Circulation is merely a particular phase of exchange, or of exchange regarded in its totality.
Since exchange is simply an intermediate phase between production and distribution, which is determined by production, and consumption; since consumption is moreover itself an aspect of production, the latter obviously comprises also exchange as one of its aspects.
Firstly, it is evident that exchange of activities and skills, which takes place in production itself, is a direct and essential part of production. Secondly, the same applies to the exchange of products in so far as this exchange is a means to manufacture the finished product intended for immediate consumption. The action of exchange in this respect is comprised in the concept of production. Thirdly, what is known as exchange between dealer and dealer, both with respect to its organization and as a productive activity, is entirely determined by production. Exchange appears to exist independently alongside production and detached from it only in the last stage, when the product is exchanged for immediate consumption. But,
(1) no exchange is possible without division of labor, whether this is naturally evolved or is already the result of an historical process;
(2) private exchange presupposes private production;
(3) the intensity of exchange, its extent and nature, are determined by the development and structure of production -- e.g., exchange between town and country, exchange in the countryside, in the town, etc. All aspects of exchange to this extent appear either to be directly comprised in production or else determined by it.
The conclusion which follows from this is, not that production, distribution, exchange and consumption are identical, but that they are links, or sections, of a single whole, different aspect of one unit. Production is the decisive phase both with regard to the contradictory aspects of production and with regard to the other phases. The process always starts afresh with production. That exchange and consumption cannot be the decisive elements, is obvious, and the same applies to distribution in the sense of distribution of products. distribution of the factors of production thus determines the specific mode of consumption, distribution, exchange and the _specific relations of these different phases to one another_. Production, _in the narrow sense_, however, is in its turn also determined by the other aspects. For example, if the market, or the sphere of exchange, expands, then the volume of production grows and tends to become more differentiated. Production also changes in consequence to changes in distribution -- e.g., concentration of capital, different distribution of the population in town and countryside, and the like. Production is, finally, determined by the demands of consumption. There is an interaction between the various aspects. Such interaction takes place in any organic entity.