Monday, 13 January 2020

Theories of Surplus Value, Part III, Addenda - Part 34

Under capitalism, also, there are usurers and usurious interest, as in previous modes of production. Its only necessary to consider the payday lenders, loan sharks, and credit and store card providers to see examples of such usury. The same thing can be applied to rent, particularly housing rent. But, Marx's point is that all of these forms of profit, interest and rent are not those characteristic of capitalism, as a mode of production, and determined by its laws of motion. 

Usurer's capital is typical in conditions prior to capitalist production. The independent producer is then placed in a position where, as during a period of crisis, they need to borrow to cover debts. In these precapitalist conditions, there are few money-lenders, and the supply of loanable money is restricted, so that usurers can charge very high rates of interest. Other laws forbid Christians in Europe from acting as money lenders, which is why this function is taken up by Jews and Lombards, providing a material basis for anti-Semitism. Similarly, today, large corporations can issue bonds with low yields, because QE by central banks has hyper-inflated bond and other asset prices. The corporations use the money from the bond issuance to buy back shares, which further inflates asset prices. Banks issue mortgages at relatively low interest rates, secured against property, because the same central bank practice means they expect property prices to rise, thereby guaranteeing their loans – an expectation that was initially found to be false in 2008, only to be reinforced as central banks stepped in to provide support for asset prices, and states stepped in to bail out the banks, and mortgages, and to reflate property prices – but this starves small and medium sized businesses of loans. Those small firms then frequently have to rely on much more expensive forms of credit. At best, they might obtain funding from peer to peer lenders at around 10% p.a. interest rates, at worst, they have to use their own credit cards, at rates of around 30% p.a. for financing. 

“This implies: first, that the producer still works independently with his own means of production, and that the means of production do not yet work with him (even if slaves form a part of these means of production, for in these circumstances slaves do not constitute a separate economic category any more than draught animals do; there is at best a physical difference between them, i.e., dumb instruments, and speaking and feeling instruments); secondly, that the means of production belong only nominally to the producer; in other words, that because of some incidental circumstances he is unable to reproduce them from the proceeds of the sale of his commodities. These forms of interest-bearing capital occur, consequently, in all social formations which include commodity and money circulation, whether slave labour, serf labour or free labour is predominant in them.” (p 487) 

Marx repeats, here, the point made in the Grundrisse that slave and serf labour does not create new value, or, thereby, surplus value. Only free labour creates new value and surplus value. The slave is merely an instrument of production, means of production, or constant capital. Like a pack animal or a machine, the slave only transfers their own value to output, via wear and tear and maintenance. Where there is free labour, the producer pays the money-lending capitalist interest, which is a direct transfer of their labour, in the same way that they would pay precapitalist rent. In the Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, Marx described how, after the revolution, the peasants were freed from their feudal lords, but, became debt slaves to the banks that provided them with mortgages to buy and improve their land. A similar thing happened after the emancipation of the serfs in Russia after 1861. 

“We have here the whole of capitalist production without its advantages, the development of the social forms of labour and of the productivity of labour to which they give rise. This form is very prevalent among peasant nations who already have to buy a portion of the necessaries of life and means of production as commodities (alongside whom, therefore, separate urban industries already exist) and who, in addition, have to pay taxes, rent, etc., in money.” (p 487-8) 

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