Sunday, 30 July 2017

Theories of Surplus Value, Part I, Chapter 7 - Part 1

Linguet [Early Critique of the Bourgeois-Liberal View of the “Freedom” of the Labourer]

Linguet was a reactionary.

“He defends Asiatic despotism against the civilised European forms of despotism; thus he defends slavery against wage-labour.” (p 345)

But, like the reactionary socialists, of the type of Sismondi, Linguet provides an early critique of the ideas of the liberal bourgeoisie. In response to Montesquieu's comment that the spirit of the laws is property, Linguet points out that the rich have taken possession of all property, as means of production, and, by so doing, have removed any potential for liberty, for the vast majority.

“In order to get hold of some of this wealth appropriated by the rich, it must be purchased with heavy labour, which increases the wealth of these rich persons.” (p 346)

Marx notes that Linguet echoes the Physiocrats view of the surplus product deriving from Nature.

““Thus it is that all captive nature has ceased to offer to these children resources of easy access for the maintenance of their life. Its favours must be paid for by assiduous toil, and its gifts by stubborn labours” [p. 188].” (p 346)

Linguet seems to have a notion of the nature of the state as the means by which a ruling class (here the rich) maintains its power. He sees it in terms of the laws introduced by society being ones that sanctify the appropriation of that property, and enshrines the conditions for it continuing in the hands of the rich.

“Laws exist in order to “sanctify a primary usurpation” (of private property), “to prevent new usurpations” (p. 192). “They are, as it were, a conspiracy against the greater part of the human race” [p. 195] (that is, against those who own no property). “It is society which has produced the laws, and not the laws which have produced society” (p. 230). “Property existed before the laws” (p. 236).” (p 346)

There is a comparison here with Rousseau, who wrote,

“Man was born free, and he is everywhere in chains.” (The Social Contract)

For Rousseau, Man creates society as an act of conscious will to form a social contract. As individuals outside society, Men are completely free. But, outside society this freedom is expressed as an absence of law. There can be no property, because property entails legal ownership. There can then only be possession. Without a legal right to possession there is no property, and what one man possesses today, can be removed from their possession tomorrow, and that possession exercised by someone else. Men create society, and create laws to remove this arbitrariness. But, Linguet seems to recognise that, in reality, these laws are not laws created by all men acting out of free will, as Rousseau presumes.

But, there is also an element here of the idea that society is created out of an act of force by these rich individuals, which is similar to the concept put forward by Duhring, and criticised by Engels.

“On the one hand, there were peaceful and isolated husband-men and shepherds. On the other hand—

“hunters accustomed to live by blood, to gather together in bands the more easily to entrap and fell the beasts on which they fed, and to concert together on the division of the spoils” (p. 279). “It is among the hunters that the first signs of society must have appeared” (p. 278). “Real society came into being at the expense of the shepherds or husbandman, and was founded on their subjection” by a band of hunters who had joined hands (p. 289). All duties of society were resolved into commanding and obeying “This degradation of a part of the human race, after it had produced society, gave birth to laws” (p. 294).” (p 346)


““Violence, then, has been the first cause of society, and force the first bond that held it together” (p. 302). “Their” (men’s) “first care was doubtless to provide themselves with food… the second must have been to seek to provide themselves with it without labour” (pp. 307-08). “They could only achieve this by appropriating to themselves the fruit of other men’s labour” (p. 308). “The first conquerors only made themselves despots so that they could be idle with impunity, and kings, in order to have something to live on: and this greatly narrows and simplifies…the idea of domination” (p. 309). “Society is born of violence, and property of usurpation” (p. 347).” (p 347) 

But, as Engels describes, in opposition to Duhring, and also sets out in “The Origin of the Family, The State and Private Property”, this is a false conception. It is impossible to have slavery in conditions where the slave cannot produce more than is required for their own reproduction. In other, words, slavery is only possible where society, and with it the level of social productivity, has become reasonably developed.

The division of society into classes arises not because of the ability of some to mobilise violence, so as to subjugate and enslave another section of society, but because the productive potential of society itself develops so that some of its members are able to accumulate wealth, and to separate off into families, which are then able to acquire servants by economic means. The story of Joseph and the Pharaoh in the Bible is an example of that process, whereby peasant farmers become debt slaves. It is economic power that makes possible the mobilisation of force to consolidate social and political power, and to defend it, not vice versa.

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