Thursday, 4 April 2013

Capital I, Chapter 26

The analysis has shown how money arises out of commodity production, and how money is transformed into capital. Capital in turn produces Surplus Value, which, when accumulated again becomes capital. But, for surplus value to arise, this presupposes the existence of capital. So, there must be some process of primary Accumulation of Capital that is not a product of surplus value. It is this process that Marx next analyses.

Its origin is supposed to be explained when it is told as an anecdote of the past. In times long gone by there were two sorts of people; one, the diligent, intelligent, and, above all, frugal elite; the other, lazy rascals, spending their substance, and more, in riotous living. The legend of theological original sin tells us certainly how man came to be condemned to eat his bread in the sweat of his brow; but the history of economic original sin reveals to us that there are people to whom this is by no means essential. Never mind! Thus it came to pass that the former sort accumulated wealth, and the latter sort had at last nothing to sell except their own skins. And from this original sin dates the poverty of the great majority that, despite all its labour, has up to now nothing to sell but itself, and the wealth of the few that increases constantly although they have long ceased to work. Such insipid childishness is every day preached to us in the defence of property.” (p 667)

In fact, the true history of this primary accumulation of capital, is little different to the accumulation of other forms of property in history, be they slaves, serfs or feudal domains. It is a history of violence, robbery and deceit.

In themselves money and commodities are no more capital than are the means of production and of subsistence. They want transforming into capital. But this transformation itself can only take place under certain circumstances that centre in this, viz., that two very different kinds of commodity-possessors must come face to face and into contact; on the one hand, the owners of money, means of production, means of subsistence, who are eager to increase the sum of values they possess, by buying other people’s labour power; on the other hand, free labourers, the sellers of their own labour power, and therefore the sellers of labour. Free labourers, in the double sense that neither they themselves form part and parcel of the means of production, as in the case of slaves, bondsmen, &c., nor do the means of production belong to them, as in the case of peasant-proprietors; they are, therefore, free from, unencumbered by, any means of production of their own.” (p 668)

Once capitalist production has started, on this basis it is able to continue to reproduce this separation on an ever expanded base. Moreover, it is able to do so, not now on the basis of the need to use force, but simply on the basis of what appear to be free and equal, voluntary exchanges. This is no different from the way that after the feudal lords had acquired their domains by force, they were able to extract their rents and taxes apparently by Right, even Divine Right, or the way the slave owner was entitled to the surplus product of the slave based on some supposed superiority. The difference between Capitalism and these previous forms of exploitation is that they made no attempt to hide the real relations of inequality, and indeed were based on it as some kind of natural order, whereas the fundamental ideological basis of Capitalism is the notion that everyone is free and equal.

But, of course, this real history exposes the childish myth that property accumulates in some hands rather than others because of the diligence of some and laziness of others. It was never the case that property arose on that basis. Land, for example, did not simply exist waiting for entrepreneurial individuals to seize it. Human societies arose out of the animal kingdom as collectives. Land was utilised by these primitive communist societies on a collective not an individual basis, be that in the form of hunter-gathering or settled agriculture.

The only way individual ownership can then arise, as Engels describes in The Origin of The Family, Private Property and The State is through the break up of these collectives, and for individuals to seize for themselves what belongs to all.

Capital is only able to meet with the wage labourer in the market, because the worker has been previously deprived of their means of production. Again, that has nothing to do with laziness. If we take Marx's comments about the reason for high US wages, it was because workers emigrating to America, as soon as they could, acquired land, and turned themselves back into property owning peasants.

The so-called primitive accumulation, therefore, is nothing else than the historical process of divorcing the producer from the means of production. It appears as primitive, because it forms the prehistoric stage of capital and of the mode of production corresponding with it.

The economic structure of capitalist society has grown out of the economic structure of feudal society. The dissolution of the latter set free the elements of the former.

The Duchess of Sutherland was one of
those who stole what were collectively
owned clan lands, from the thousands of
her clansmen.  She did so backed up by the
violence of the British State, which drove them
them from their own land.
The immediate producer, the labourer, could only dispose of his own person after he had ceased to be attached to the soil and ceased to be the slave, serf, or bondsman of another. To become a free seller of labour power, who carries his commodity wherever he finds a market, he must further have escaped from the regime of the guilds, their rules for apprentices and journeymen, and the impediments of their labour regulations. Hence, the historical movement which changes the producers into wage-workers, appears, on the one hand, as their emancipation from serfdom and from the fetters of the guilds, and this side alone exists for our bourgeois historians. But, on the other hand, these new freedmen became sellers of themselves only after they had been robbed of all their own means of production, and of all the guarantees of existence afforded by the old feudal arrangements. And the history of this, their expropriation, is written in the annals of mankind in letters of blood and fire.” (p 668-9)

This transformation, therefore, conforms with the dialectic of history. On the one hand, in freeing the worker of all those feudal restrictions and monopolies it performs a revolutionising and progressive role. At the same time, it does so only by establishing new monopolies and restrictions, and replacing the exploitation of the producers in one form with their exploitation in another.

Although we come across the first beginnings of capitalist production as early as the 14th or 15th century, sporadically, in certain towns of the Mediterranean, the capitalistic era dates from the 16th century. Wherever it appears, the abolition of serfdom has been long effected, and the highest development of the middle ages, the existence of sovereign towns, has been long on the wane.
In the history of primitive accumulation, all revolutions are epoch-making that act as levers for the capital class in course of formation; but, above all, those moments when great masses of men are suddenly and forcibly torn from their means of subsistence, and hurled as free and “unattached” proletarians on the labour-market. The expropriation of the agricultural producer, of the peasant, from the soil, is the basis of the whole process. The history of this expropriation, in different countries, assumes different aspects, and runs through its various phases in different orders of succession, and at different periods. In England alone, which we take as our example, has it the classic form.” (p 670)

Back To Chapter 25

Forward To Chapter 27

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