Thursday, 9 June 2016

Capital III, Chapter 36 - Part 5

In the ancient world, ownership of the means of production by the producer, was the basis of the independence of the artisan. Its because usury undermines it, that in all these societies, it is hated. Because usury was for a long time, proscribed by the Christian religion, its necessary function was taken on by Jews, which provides a material basis, therefore, for anti-Semitism, within these societies.

To the extent that the mode of production remains unchanged, the increasing indebtedness of members of the ruling class, be they slave owners or feudal lords, simply means that the pressure they exert on the producers beneath them, becomes even more severe, ever more oppressive.

“Or he finally makes way for the usurer, who becomes a landed proprietor or a slave-holder himself, like the knights in ancient Rome. The place of the old exploiter, whose exploitation was more or less patriarchal because it was largely a means of political power, is taken by a hard, money mad parvenu. But the mode of production itself is not altered thereby.” (p 596-7)

Usury dissolves the old forms of property, and thereby the political regimes that arise on them. But, it does not thereby automatically create anything positive or progressive in their place. For example, usury did not bring about any fundamental change in the Asiatic Mode of Production, other than, “...economic decay and political corruption.” (p 597)

Only when the other prerequisites for capitalist production are present does usury create the conditions for it to rise up above the existing mode of production. It ruins “... the feudal lord and small-scale producer, on the one hand, and centraliz(es) the conditions of labour into capital, on the other.” (p 597)

In the Middle Ages, there was no general rate of interest. The church forbade all lending at interest. The lack of supply of loan capital that resulted meant that, where lending did take place, the rate of interest was much higher than it would otherwise have been. Moreover, because the church forbade lending at interest, the legal protection for lenders was scant. But, with limited circulation of money, when individuals did require it, there was little alternative but to borrow it. There was no development, for example, of commercial credit.

What was considered usurious rates varied considerably. Often rates of only 10-20% were specified, but,

“In the time of Charlemagne it was considered usurious to charge 100%. In Lindau on Lake Constance, some local burghers took 216⅔% in 1348.” (p 597)

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