Saturday, 15 December 2018

Theories of Surplus Value, Part III, Chapter 19 - Part 41

14. The Reactionary Role of Malthus’s Writings and Their Plagiaristic Character. Malthus’s Apologia for the Existence of “Upper” and “Lower” Classes 

Malthus’s book On Population was a lampoon directed against the French Revolution and the contemporary ideas of reform in England (Godwin, etc.). It was an apologia for the poverty of the working classes. The theory was plagiarised from Townsend and others. 

His Essay on Rent was a piece of polemic writing in support of the landlords against industrial capital. Its theory was taken from Anderson. 

His Principles of Political Economy was a polemic work written in the interests of the capitalists against the workers and in the interests of the aristocracy, Church, tax-eaters, toadies, etc., against the capitalists. Its theory was taken from Adam Smith. Where he inserts his own inventions, it is pitiable. It is on Sismondi that he bases himself in further elaborating the theory.” (p 61-2) 

Marx sets out Malthus' arguments as to why society must be divided into upper and lower classes. He provides the following quote from Malthus “An Essay on the Principles of Population”. 

““it has been observed that those cottagers, who keep cows, are more industrious and more regular in their conduct, than those who do not… Most of those who keep cows at present have purchased them with the fruits of their own industry. It is therefore more just to say that their industry has given them a cow, than that a cow has given them their industry” [Malthus, An Essay on the Principles of Population, fifth ed., Vol. 2, London, 1817, pp. 296-97].” (p 62) 

Marx draws similar conclusions in Capital about the speculative losses made by some capitalists, and the way it benefits more dynamic elements of that class. He says, 

“And it is therefore correct that diligence in labour (together with the exploitation of other people’s labour) has given cows to the parvenus amongst the bourgeoisie, while the cows give their sons the taste for idleness.” (p 62) 

In fact, Malthus' argument, as set out, is a good reason to oppose the right to inherit wealth. Yet, the classes that Malthus sought to defend are the epitome of inherited wealth and status. Malthus also says in the same work, 

““But it is evident that all cannot be in the middle. Superior and inferior parts are in the nature of things absolutely necessary; and […] “ (naturally there can be no mean without extremes) “strikingly beneficial. If no man could hope to rise, or fear to fall in society; if industry did not bring with it its reward, and indolence its punishment; we could not expect to see that animated activity in bettering our condition, which now forms the master-spring of public prosperity” ([Malthus, Principles of Population, p. 303,] Prévost, p. 112).” (p 62) 

Yet, its precisely the indolence of the landed aristocracy, the clergy and state bureaucracy that Malthus seeks to glorify as playing a fundamental role in ensuring the progress of society, as a result of these parasitic layers engaging that passion for consumption without themselves contributing to production. 

“Thus there must be lower classes in order that the upper ones may fear to fall and there must be upper classes in order that the lower ones may hope to rise. In order that indolence may carry its own punishments the worker must be poor and the rentier and the landlord, so beloved of Malthus, must be rich.” (p 62) 

It comes down to the idea that workers must be given the illusion that one day they can exploit other workers and become rich themselves. In more recent decades, when that illusion has become ever more apparently a delusion, and when self-employment has become synonymous with overwork, precarity and poverty for workers unable to obtain permanent employment, the illusion has instead been transferred into the prospect of becoming rich via the lottery, becoming a celebrity, by house price inflation, or even by compensation claims! 

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