Friday, 30 December 2016

Theories of Surplus Value Part I, Chapter 2 - Part 5

[2. Contradictions in the System of the Physiocrats: the Feudal Shell of the System and Its Bourgeois Essence; the Twofold Treatment of Surplus-Value]

The contradictory nature of the Physiocratic system arises because of the historical period in which it is developed, and the specific conditions existing at that time.

“It is in fact the first system which analyses capitalist production, and presents the conditions within which capital is produced, and within which capital produces, as eternal natural laws of production. On the other hand, it has rather the character of a bourgeois reproduction of the feudal system, of the dominion of landed property; and the industrial spheres within which capital first develops independently are presented as “unproductive” branches of labour, mere appendages of agriculture.” (p 49-50)

The precondition of capitalist production is that the direct producer is separated from the land. This process unfolds classically in England, but also across Europe. On the back of this process arises landed property. The landowners then confront the producers as a distinct and separate class. The surplus value created by the producers is appropriated by the landowners as rent.

“The Physiocrats therefore present the landowner as the true capitalist, that is, the appropriator of surplus-labour. Feudalism is thus portrayed and explained from the viewpoint of bourgeois production; agriculture is treated as the branch of production in which capitalist production — that is, the production of surplus-value — exclusively appears. While feudalism is thus made bourgeois, bourgeois society is given a feudal semblance.” (p 50)

The same historical context of a transitional period during which bourgeois society breaks out of the shell of feudal society explains why the Physiocratic system, which focusses on production, develops in France, whereas Britain, which was the more capitalistically developed society remained bound within the ideas of Mercantilism, and the Monetary System, which focussed on exchange.

Sir James Steuart
“In the latter country attention was naturally concentrated on circulation, on the fact that the product acquires value, becomes a commodity only when it becomes the expression of general social labour, money. In so far, therefore, as the question concerned not the form of value, but the amount of value and the increase of value, profit upon expropriation — that is, relative profit as Steuart describes it — is what catches the eye. But if the creation of surplus-value in the sphere of production itself is what has to be established, it is necessary first of all to go back to that branch of production in which surplus-value is found independently of circulation — that is, agriculture.” (p 50)

At this point, the situation presents itself to the Physiocrats in fairly simple terms. The labourer is paid wages that comprise only of the minimum of means of consumption required for the reproduction of their labour-power. But, they produce a greater quantity of these same products, the surplus product then being appropriated by the owners of the land as rent. This surplus value, for the Physiocrats, appears only as a surplus product, a surplus of use values, produced over and above what the labourer requires for their reproduction. The surplus appears to stem from a gift of Nature, and the rent is appropriated by the owner of that Nature.

“On the other hand, it is taken for granted that the landowner confronts the labourer as a capitalist. He pays for the labour-power, which the labourer offers to him as a commodity, and he receives in return not only an equivalent, but appropriates for himself the enlarged value arising from the use of this labour-power.” (p 51)

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