Saturday, 18 June 2016

Capital III, Chapter 37 - Part 2

The price of land can then be calculated on the same basis, as capitalised rent. But, landed property, as it exists under capitalism, is not the same as it existed under other modes of production, or at the time Marx was writing, even in other parts of the world. For example, in Asia, the Asiatic Mode of Production was based on communal ownership of land by the village commune. This also applied in Russia. In Scotland and Ireland, the land was owned collectively by the clans, and in North America, prior to European settlement, the hunting grounds belonged collectively to the tribe or nation.

But, also, under feudalism, the concept was not of the land belonging to the people, but of the people belonging to the land. The emancipation of the serfs, therefore, really meant separating the serfs from the land on which they depended for their existence.

“In the section dealing with primitive accumulation (Buch I, Kap. XXIV [English edition: Part VIII. —Ed].), we saw that this mode of production presupposes, on the one hand, the separation of the direct producers from their position as mere accessories to the land (in the form of vassals, serfs, slaves, etc.), and, on the other hand, the expropriation of the mass of the people from the land. To this extent the monopoly of landed property is a historical premise, and continues to remain the basis of the capitalist mode of production, just as in all previous modes of production which are based on the exploitation of the masses in one form or another. But the form of landed property with which the incipient capitalist mode of production is confronted does not suit it. It first creates for itself the form required by subordinating agriculture to capital. It thus transforms feudal landed property, clan property, small peasant property in mark communes — no matter how divergent their juristic forms may be — into the economic form corresponding to the requirements of this mode of production.” (p 616-7)

In the Communist Manifesto, Marx and Engels speak of the revolutionising role of capitalism in freeing millions from the “idiocy of rural life”. But, its not just by creating millions of industrial jobs in the towns and cities that it achieves this. It is also by transforming agriculture itself into capitalist agriculture, and thereby dissolving all of these previous historical forms of landed property, and the social relations that existed upon them.

The serfs, vassals etc. are rescued, precisely because that social structure is itself destroyed. For millennia, agriculture, throughout the globe, was conducted on essentially the same basis, apart from the different crops cultivated and so on, dependent on climate and soil conditions. That is that it was, in Marx’s words, a “mere empirical and mechanical self-perpetuating process employed by the least developed part of society”. Each year, the harvest provided the consumption fund for the following year, as well as the seed etc. to provide the circulating constant capital, for the next year.

The effluent provided by the population, and animals provided the manure, fed back into the soil, along with the worn out clothes and other organic material, to replenish what had been taken out. No great intellectual challenges were presented to life, based on doing the same repetitive tasks this year as were done last year. Wherever life revolves around the continued dull repetition of tasks, idiocy is bred.

But, capitalism, in agriculture, necessarily strips this away too, as it brings the same kind of application of science to food production, as it brings to the production of all other commodities. In fact, as even conservative commentators noted, private landed property acts as a restriction on the ability of capitalism to do this effectively, because it prevents the kind of rational use of the land that agronomy requires.

“Very conservative agricultural chemists, such as Johnston, admit that a really rational agriculture is confronted everywhere with insurmountable barriers stemming from private property. So do writers who are ex professo advocates of the monopoly of private property in the world, for instance, Charles Comte in his two-volume work, which has as its special aim the defence of private property. "A nation," he says, "cannot attain to the degree of prosperity and power compatible with its nature, unless every portion of the soil nourishing it is assigned to that purpose which agrees best with the general interest. In order to give to its wealth a strong development, one sole and above all highly enlightened will should, if possible, take it upon itself to assign each piece of its domain its task and make every piece contribute to the prosperity of all others. But the existence of such a will ... would be incompatible with the division of the land into private plots — and with the authority guaranteed each owner to dispose of his property in an almost absolute manner. ["Traité de la propriété," Tome I, Paris, 1834, p. 228. — Ed.]” (Note 27, p 617)

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