Friday, 24 June 2016

Capital III, Chapter 37 - Part 8

Marx describes the situation in Ireland, where the tenant was usually a small farmer, owning their own means of production. Frequently, the rent paid to the landlord not only absorbed part of the surplus labour of the former, but also part of what was required for the farmer's own subsistence.

“Besides, the landlord, who does nothing at all for the improvement of the land, also expropriates his small capital, which the tenant for the most part incorporates in the land through his own labour. This is precisely what a usurer would do under similar circumstances, with just the difference that the usurer would at least risk his own capital in the operation.” (p 625-6)

It was this extortion that was at the heart of the Irish Tenancy Rights Bill. But, indicating the extent to which the old feudal aristocratic ruling class still exercised control over the political regime, in Parliament, long after the dominance of capitalist property had been established, Marx quotes Lord Palmerston's rejection of it, with the words,

“The House of Commons is a house of landed proprietors.” (p 626)

In order to understand ground rent, in its pure form, Marx says, such circumstances must be ignored. Also must be ignored things like the rental of allotments to factory workers in towns and cities, where the rent bears no relation to the actual productivity of the soil. The analysis must be confined to where capital proper operates in agriculture. In England, Marx says, there are a number of small capitalists who as a result of “education, training, tradition competition and other circumstances”, are led to invest their capital in agriculture and to be satisfied with less than the average profit, and to turn over part of it to the landlord.

“Since landlords everywhere exert considerable, and in England even overwhelming, influence on legislation, they are able to exploit this situation for the purpose of victimising the entire class of tenants.” (p 626)

The Corn Laws had been designed in 1815 to keep the price of bread at the high level it reached during the anti-Jacobin war, and thereby ensure continued high rents for landlords.

“But they did not have the effect of maintaining prices at the level decreed by the lawmaking landlords to serve as normal prices in such manner as to constitute the legal limit for imports of foreign corn. But the leaseholds were contracted in an atmosphere created by these normal prices. As soon as the illusion was dispelled, a new law was passed, containing new normal prices, which were as much the impotent expression of a greedy landlord's fantasy as the old ones. In this way, tenants were defrauded from 1815 up to the thirties. Hence the standing problem of agricultural distress during this entire period. Hence the expropriation and the ruin of a whole generation of tenants during this period and their replacement by a new class of capitalists.” (p 626-7)

But, the capitalist farmer could also protect some of their profit from the ravages of the landlord by transferring the burden to the agricultural labourer, whose wages were pushed down below the subsistence level, so that a portion of what was really wages, appeared under the heading of ground-rent. This was also to demonstrate the hypocrisy of the supposedly philanthropic aristocracy that responded to its political defeats at the hands of the bourgeoisie, by lamenting the terrible condition of the factory workers. In fact, as the parliamentary inquiries demonstrated, those scions of philanthropy, such as Lord Shaftesbury, treated their own workers even more abominably. Those enquiries,

“... proved convincingly and beyond a doubt that the high rates of rent, and the corresponding rise in land prices during the anti-Jacobin war, were due in part to no other cause but deductions from wages and their depression to a level that was even below the physical minimum requirement; in other words, to part of the normal wage being handed over to the landlords.” (p 627)

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