Monday, 31 July 2017

Theories of Surplus Value, Part I, Chapter 7 - Part 2

Slavery may be contrary to nature, but the question, Linguet says, is whether it is contrary to the nature of society. It is not, he says, because it is the foundation of society, which requires that property be in the hands of a minority. In that case, the issue becomes which form of slavery is most beneficial. In talking of slaves and servants in the modern world, Linguet did not mean just lackeys or those in bondage.

““The towns and the countryside are peopled by another kind of servant, more widely spread, more useful, more laborious, and known by the name of journeymen, handicraftsmen, etc. They are not dishonoured by the brilliant colours of luxury; they sigh beneath the loathsome rags which are the livery of penury. They never share in the abundance of which their labour is the source. Wealth seems to grant them a favour when it kindly accepts the presents that they make to it. It is for them to be grateful for the services which they render to it. It pours on them the most outrageous contempt while they are clasping its knees imploring permission to be useful to it. It has to be pleaded with to grant this, and in this peculiar exchange of real generosity for an imaginary favour, arrogance and disdain are on the side of the receiver, and servility, anxiety and eagerness on the side of the giver. These are the servants who have truly replaced the serfs among us” (pp. 463-64).” (p 347-8) 

And this condition, Linguet says, places them in a worse condition than the slaves and serfs of previous times, because they were never in this position of the potential to starve to death due to lack of employment.

““He is free, you say. Ah! That is his misfortune. He is bound to no one; but also no one is bound to him. When he is needed, he is hired at the cheapest price possible. The meagre wage that he is promised is hardly equal to the price of his subsistence for the day which he gives in exchange. He is given overlookers to compel him to fulfil his task quickly; he is hard driven; he is goaded on, for fear that a skilfully concealed and only too comprehensible laziness may make him hold back half his strength; for fear that the hope of remaining employed longer on the same task may stay his hands and blunt his tools. The sordid economy that keeps a restless watch on him overwhelms him with reproaches at the slightest respite he seems to allow himself, and claims to have been robbed if he takes a moment’s rest. When he has finished he is dismissed as be was taken on, with the coldest indifference, and without any concern as to whether the twenty or thirty sous that he has just earned for a hard day’s labour will be enough to keep him if he finds no work the following day” (pp. 466-67).” (p 348)

Linguet identifies the fact that, deprived of means of production, the worker is really a slave, because they must work for someone else, to live. The fact that they are nominally free to work for whoever they choose, he says, is mere sophistry, because,

“... the number of those who make others work is very small and the number of labourers on the contrary is immense” (pp. 470-71). “What is this apparent liberty which you have bestowed on them reduced to for them? They live only by hiring out their arms. They must therefore find someone to hire them, or die of hunger. Is that to be free?” (p. 472).” (p 349)

Moreover, this fact means that they must hire themselves out on the cheap, and as this makes their condition all that more wretched, the more desperate they become for employment, which means they sell themselves even more cheaply.

““Their” (the slaves’ and the labourers’) “chains are made of the same material and only differently coloured. Here they are black, and seem heavy: there they look less gloomy and seem hollower: but weigh them impartially and you will find no difference between them; both are equally forged by necessity. They have precisely the same weight, or rather, if they are a few grains more in one case, it is in the one whose external appearance proclaims that it is lighter” (p. 510).” (p 349)

Back To Part 1

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