Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Theories of Surplus Value Part I, Chapter 2 - Part 16

[7. Contradictions in the Political Views of the Physiocrats. The Physiocrats and the French Revolution]

Within elements of Physiocratic theory can be seen the basic ideas of libertarianism or anarcho-capitalism. The support for the idea of laissez-faire, laissez-aller, by the Physiocrats, was described earlier. Similarly, the libertarians separation of the concept of liberty from democracy can also be found in the Physiocrats. The libertarians, like Hayek, believe that liberty may be better protected by a “benevolent despot” than by a democracy.

Marx quoted both Quesnay and Mercier de la Riviere to similar effect.

“Among others, Quesnay was for the absolute monarchy. 

“There must be only one supreme power… The system of opposing forces in a government is ruinous. It merely indicates discord among the great and the suppression of the small people” (in the above-mentioned Maximes générales, etc.). 

Mercier de la Riviére [says]: 

By the very fact “that man is intended to live in a community, he is intended to live under a despotism” ([L’Ordre naturel et essentiel des sociétés politiques], t. I, p. 281). 

And to crown all the “Friend of the People”, the Marquis de Mirabeau — Mirabeau the Elder! It was precisely this school, with its laissez faire, laissez aller, that overthrew Colbertism and all forms of government interference in the activities of bourgeois society. It allowed the State to live on only in the pores of this society, as Epicurus placed his gods in the pores of the world!” 

But, the glorification of landed property, by the Physiocrats, leads to its negation. By placing taxes exclusively on land this implies,

“... the virtual confiscation of landed property by the State, just as with the radical section of the Ricardians. The French Revolution, in spite of the protests of Roederer and others, accepted this taxation theory.” (p 66) 

In Britain, the Ricardians, and other bourgeois ideologists, proposed the nationalisation of the land, because, they argued, that rent was a deduction from profit, and thereby restrained accumulation. If rents were paid to the state, as the owner of the land, then this would provide the state with the revenues it required, and thereby diminish the taxes imposed on capital.

Turgot himself [was] the radical bourgeois minister who prepared the way for the French Revolution. For all their sham feudal pretences the Physiocrats were working hand in hand with the Encyclopaedists!” (p 66)

He abolished the guilds (though his edict was revoked three months later), ended compulsory labour imposed on the peasants, and tried to introduce a single tax on the rent of land.

The basis of colonialism within Mercantilism, and of imperialism, based on industrial capitalism, is also highlighted in the difference between the Mercantilist and Physiocratic theories of surplus value.

For Mercantilism

“... surplus-value is only relative — what one wins, the other loses: profit upon alienation or oscillation of wealth between different parties.” (p 66)

So, a colonial country increases its wealth by the exploitation of another country, via unequal exchange. There is no concept here that both countries may increase that wealth, as a consequence of their joint development. Quite the opposite. The more the colonised country is suppressed, the more it will supply its produce more cheaply, to the advantage of the coloniser.

The Physiocrats recognised that surplus value arises in production, and not in unequal exchange. This reflects the growing importance of wealth derived from capitalist production, rather than from trade. The limitation, for the Physiocrats, was that, in France, the capitalist production was occurring primarily in agriculture, rather than in industry.

“And since the net product is fixed in their minds as use-value, agriculture [is for them] the sole creator of it.” (p 66)

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