Thursday, 18 April 2013

Capital I, Chapter 29

Genesis of the Capitalist Farmer

In the previous chapter, Marx had described how the first proletarians had been created as a result of force, and how the State had been employed to ensure that wages were minimised. Now Marx turns to the creation of the first capitalists, in particular the capitalist farmers.
The process of expropriation of the small peasants creates a smaller number of larger landowners. This in itself does not explain the development of capitalist farming. As seen previously, some of these large landowners simply turned over their estates to sheep, and then some to game for hunting. In order to understand the development of the capitalist farmer, its necessary to look at the evolution of other social forces.

“The serfs, as well as the free small proprietors, held land under very different tenures, and were therefore emancipated under very different economic conditions. In England the first form of the farmer is the bailiff, himself a serf. His position is similar to that of the old Roman villicus, only in a more limited sphere of action. During the second half of the 14th century he is replaced by a farmer, whom the landlord provided with seed, cattle and implements. His condition is not very different from that of the peasant. Only he exploits more wage labour.” (p 694)

For a time he shares the means of production with the landlord, each sharing the output on the basis of a contract. But, in England, this is soon replaced with the payment of money rent, as the farmer provides their own means of production and extracts surplus value through the employment of wage labour.

But, the scale of operation here limits the degree to which the farmer can accumulate. On the one hand, the farmer continues to rely on their own labour alongside the employment of wage labourers. On the other, the wage labourers themselves are only dependent for part of their income on wages. They continue to produce some of their own food etc. via their own means of production.

It is the agricultural revolution, that begins in the last third of the 15th Century, which transforms this situation. The gradual usurpation of common land means that the cattle that grazed on this land, also comes into the hands of these farmers at little cost. This also provides them with a supply of manure to improve their soils. Their ability to enclose their own larger farms, as opposed to the open strip system, means the crops are protected, and can be cultivated by more efficient methods.

But, these farmers also benefited from a piece of historical good fortune. In the 16th century, contracts for farms frequently lasted for 99 years.

“The progressive fall in the value of the precious metals, and therefore of money, brought the farmers golden fruit. Apart from all the other circumstances discussed above, it lowered wages. A portion of the latter was now added to the profits of the farm. The continuous rise in the price of corn, wool, meat, in a word of all agricultural produce, swelled the money capital of the farm without any action on his part, whilst the rent he paid (being calculated on the old value of money) diminished in reality. Thus they grew rich at the expense both of their labourers and their landlords. No wonder, therefore, that England, at the end of the 16th century, had a class of capitalist farmers, rich, considering the circumstances of the time.” (p 695)

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