Sunday, 4 September 2016

Capital III, Chapter 47 - Part 3

The Physiocrats were also correct, Marx says, in saying that the productiveness of agricultural labour is the basis of the production of all surplus value, and so the development of capital. Its only because it becomes possible to produce more means of subsistence in a working-day than is required for a day's subsistence, i.e. to produce a surplus product, that its possible to undertake accumulation of that surplus, and to use it for other purposes. The fundamental requirement then is to be able to produce a surplus of food. Had primitive man not been able to do that, no development would have been possible. There could have been no accumulation of means of production and consequently no rise in social productivity, making possible the creation of larger scale social surpluses. There could have been no possibility of exchange, and so no creation of commodity production, and exchange, or, therefore, of money. And, without that, there could have been no creation of capital.

“An agricultural labour productivity exceeding the individual requirements of the labourer is the basis of all societies, and is above all the basis of capitalist production, which disengages a constantly increasing portion of society from the production of basic foodstuffs and transforms them into "free heads," as Steuart [Steuart, An Inquiry Into the Principles of Political Economy, Vol. I, Dublin, 1770, p. 396. — Ed.] has it, making them available for exploitation in other spheres.” (p 786) 

Because of the seasonal nature of agricultural labour and production, it has always been the case that agricultural labour was involved in other production, alongside it. Only a small portion of agricultural production was exchanged, the largest part required to feed the peasant producers themselves, or to provide the wool and other materials required for this auxiliary production.

Of that part of the agricultural surplus that was exchanged, an even smaller portion represented the revenue of the large landlords. The rest comprised this auxiliary industrial production.

“Domestic handicrafts and manufacturing labour as secondary occupations of agriculture, which forms the basis, are the prerequisite of that mode of production upon which natural economy rests — in European antiquity and the Middle Ages as well as in the present-day Indian community, in which the traditional organisation has not yet been destroyed.” (p 786-7)

Capitalism destroys this relation. The classical, example, is Britain, whereby in the industrial revolution, by the last third of the 18th century, the old handicraft industries have fallen under the control of capitalist production, particularly in textile production, spinning, weaving, dyeing, bleaching etc.

At the same time, direct peasant producers are expropriated, and are turned into either agricultural day labourers or industrial factory workers, driven into the towns.

There are attempts to reverse this and some limits placed upon it. For example, there was legislation that required all new houses to have a certain minimum amount of garden, so as to be able to grow food. That was in sharp contrast to the dense building, and massive overcrowding in the factory towns in the 19th century. The Chartists had various savings schemes designed to buy up land, to be used as agricultural co-ops, most notably the Chartist Land Co-operative, through which draws were made for parcels of land on which to settle urban workers. See: Chartist Land Plan. But, these were attempts to swim against the tide of history. Only co-operative production on a large scale offered a progressive alternative.

In other parts of Europe, the process was not so clear cut. In Germany, until quite recently, it was common for industrial workers to also have a family small holding. In the Eurozone crisis, Spanish workers have survived 25% unemployment, by returning to their families in the countryside, where at least it was possible to obtain food.

“Adam Smith emphasises how, in his time (and this applies also to the plantations in tropical and subtropical countries in our own day), rent and profit were not yet divorced from one another [Smith, An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, Aberdeen, London, 1848, p. 44. — Ed.], for the landlord was simultaneously a capitalist, just as Cato, for instance, was on his estates. But this separation is precisely the prerequisite for the capitalist mode of production, to whose conception the basis of slavery moreover stands in direct contradiction.” (Note 42a, p 787)

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