Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Capital III, Chapter 47 - Part 26

In the case of the small producers, Marx says, rational cultivation is impossible, because they lack the means and the knowledge to apply social productivity. Lenin, writing on agriculture, quotes Kautsky's analysis that it was only the more developed western European agricultural labourers who had shaken off the limitations of individualism, typical of the small peasant, and developed a sense of social solidarity through their trades unions, and other such bodies, who could develop agricultural co-ops, like Ralahine, that offered a progressive and superior alternative to capitalist farms.

But, rational agriculture was not possible for the large capitalist farms either, Marx says, because they were driven by the market, which led to both the soil and the agricultural labourers being degraded.

“Small landed property presupposes that the overwhelming majority of the population is rural, and that not social, but isolated labour predominates; and that, therefore, under such conditions wealth and development of reproduction, both of its material and spiritual prerequisites, are out of the question, and thereby also the prerequisites for rational cultivation. On the other hand, large landed property reduces the agricultural population to a constantly falling minimum, and confronts it with a constantly growing industrial population crowded together in large cities. It thereby creates conditions which cause an irreparable break in the coherence of social interchange prescribed by the natural laws of life. As a result, the vitality of the soil is squandered, and this prodigality is carried by commerce far beyond the borders of a particular state (Liebig). [ Liebig, Die Chemie in ihrer Anwendung auf Agricultur und Physiologie, Braunschweig, 1862. — Ed.] (p 813)

That was particularly evident at the time Marx was writing. Engels had detailed, at length, the appalling conditions of workers in the towns, but, as Marx sets out, the conditions of agricultural workers, and those of other workers detailed in Capital I, such as the miners, or the itinerant workers, moving around the country, building railways, roads, canals etc. was often worse.

“While small landed property creates a class of barbarians standing halfway outside of society, a class combining all the crudeness of primitive forms of society with the anguish and misery of civilised countries, large landed property undermines labour-power in the last region, where its prime energy seeks refuge and stores up its strength as a reserve fund for the regeneration of the vital force of nations — on the land itself. Large-scale industry and large-scale mechanised agriculture work together. If originally distinguished by the fact that the former lays waste and destroys principally labour-power, hence the natural force of human beings, whereas the latter more directly exhausts the natural vitality of the soil, they join hands in the further course of development in that the industrial system in the countryside also enervates the labourers, and industry and commerce on their part supply agriculture with the means for exhausting the soil.” (p 813)

Yet, it seems to me that this is a peculiarly one-sided, rather than dialectical view presented by Marx. It sounds more like a Malthusian or Ricardian pessimistic view, as opposed to the generally optimistic view of the potential for progress and modernisation that Marx usually presents, and which he also set out in the previous chapter. In Capital I, having lent on such a view of the destructive nature of capital, in respect of the extension of the working day beyond natural limits, Marx then described how the objective requirement of capital not to kill the goose that lays the golden egg, leads it, despite competition between capitals, to establish a normal working day, and to enshrine it in law, along with other similar provisions of the Factory Acts, so as to be able to continue to harvest surplus value from the workers in increasing masses.

Engels in his later Prefaces to his own “Condition of the Working Class in England”, sets out how the development of capitalism itself is sufficient to bring about such changes, in the self interest of the capitalists as a class.

“And in proportion as this increase took place, in the same proportion did manufacturing industry become apparently moralised. The competition of manufacturer against manufacturer by means of petty thefts upon the workpeople did no longer pay. Trade had outgrown such low means of making money; they were not worth while practising for the manufacturing millionaire, and served merely to keep alive the competition of smaller traders, thankful to pick up a penny wherever they could. Thus the truck system was suppressed, the Ten Hours’ Bill was enacted, and a number of other secondary reforms introduced — much against the spirit of Free Trade and unbridled competition, but quite as much in favour of the giant-capitalist in his competition with his less favoured brother. Moreover, the larger the concern, and with it the number of hands, the greater the loss and inconvenience caused by every conflict between master and men; and thus a new spirit came over the masters, especially the large ones, which taught them to avoid unnecessary squabbles, to acquiesce in the existence and power of Trades’ Unions, and finally even to discover in strikes — at opportune times — a powerful means to serve their own ends. The largest manufacturers, formerly the leaders of the war against the working-class, were now the foremost to preach peace and harmony. And for a very good reason. The fact is that all these concessions to justice and philanthropy were nothing else but means to accelerate the concentration of capital in the hands of the few, for whom the niggardly extra extortions of former years had lost all importance and had become actual nuisances; and to crush all the quicker and all the safer their smaller competitors, who could not make both ends meet without such perquisites. Thus the development of production on the basis of the capitalistic system has of itself sufficed — at least in the leading industries, for in the more unimportant branches this is far from being the case — to do away with all those minor grievances which aggravated the workman’s fate during its earlier stages.” 

Moreover, Engels in his Critique of the Erfurt Programme, and in various comments in Capital III, sets out the way that the replacement of private capital with socialised capital, in the form first of the joint stock companies and later the giant trusts and corporations, also leads to the ending of the “planlessness” of the early form of capitalist production. In the twentieth century, that process of introducing ever greater planning into the functioning of capitalism both at the level of the enterprise, and of the national, and even international economy, has proceeded further. In agriculture it is reflected in the introduction, for example, in Britain, after WWII, of the Milk Marketing Board, and later by the introduction of the Common Agricultural Policy in the EEC. It is seen in the various agreements to preserve fish stocks, by imposing quotas on the amount of fish of varying types that can be caught in particular waters.

Similarly, Marx has set forth the way capital was able to apply science and technology to agriculture, as much as to any other industry. The development of machinery enabled land to be ploughed, drainage to be introduced,, as well as livestock to be improved and so on. In fact, there is at least, if not more evidence of human activity in the past, causing despoliation of the land, and desertification than has capitalism, which, especially in the form of large agribusinesses has an incentive to protect the land over the longer term, as a valuable asset, just at it learned not to allow unchecked competition to lead to a destruction of the working-class.

No comments: