Friday, 2 April 2021

The Economic Content of Narodism, Chapter 4 - Part 7

Struve makes the same mistake as the Narodniks. The landlord's did not just gift land to the peasants, they had to buy it at inflated prices. So, the fact that the peasant now owns all their output only changes the form of the exploitation of their labour. In place of the Labour Service they previously undertook on the landlord's land, they must now sell part of their output to obtain money to pay Money rent, to make the redemption payments, to pay interest to money-lenders and so on. As a consequence, the part of their output that constitutes the necessary product, or necessary labour may fall, or more correctly, the proportion representing surplus production may increase, and eat into that part available to them as necessary product. Moreover, they may find themselves dependent on the Buyers-Up, and merchant capitalists, who themselves extract unpaid labour from them. 

“Even if it were proven that generally speaking the renting of land improved the position of the “peasantry,” of what importance could that be when, to use the words of the author himself, the peasant poor have been ruined by renting land (216)—i.e., improvement for some meant worsening for others? Evidently in the peasant renting of land the old, feudal and the new, capitalist relationships intertwine; the author’s abstract reasoning, which takes no account of either the one or the other, confuses matters instead of helping to achieve clarity about these relationships.” (p 461) 

Struve adopts another aspect of the Narodnik theory, when he claims that what science calls overpopulation is termed, in Russia “land poverty”. Was it true that the allotment sizes were too small? Yes, but that is irrelevant in conditions where land was being bought, sold and rented. It does not matter if you are a rich peasant, if your allotment is too small to meet your needs, if you buy or rent additional land, thereby, not only meeting your own needs, but also producing commodities for an increasing market. If you are a poor peasant, it does not matter if you get a slightly larger allotment, to meet your direct needs, in an economy where commodity production is becoming dominant, and where you cannot compete in the market to obtain the money income you need to meet your expenditure. 

“Both the Narodnik arguments about land-poverty, and the Malthusian “laws” about population increase being correlated to the means of subsistence are at fault in their abstract “simplicity,” which ignores the given, specific social-economic relations.” (p 462) 

Struve's Malthusian argument that overpopulation in rural Russia was due to population growing faster than the means of subsistence, therefore, was not proved. Struve concludes that what existed was a condition of natural-economic overpopulation, complicated by commodity-economic factors. But, Lenin says, Russia was a society in transition, and so this could equally well be rephrased for any economic phenomena as being a commodity-economic phenomenon complicated by natural-economic factors. In the case of this phenomenon of overpopulation, it provides not the slightest explanation of it in the given conditions. 

“The author’s final conclusion against Mr. N. —on and his theory of capitalist over-population in Russia reads: “Our peasants produce insufficient food” (237).” (p 463) 

A similar thing, today, is found in the explanations of global hunger, but also, in Britain, in relation to the housing crisis. Hunger is not caused by insufficient food production, but by the inadequate incomes of those that go hungry. The housing crisis, in Britain, is not due to a shortage of supply – its actually 50% higher per capita than in the 1970's – but a shortage of supply at prices those who need houses can afford. Part of the reason for that is a stagnation in wages since the 1980's, but the main cause is the hyperinflation of asset prices, caused by money printing and speculation. Builders do not build more houses at prices those who need houses can afford, because they would make no profit, or at least much less than average profit. But, they can't make that profit at lower prices because of land prices. Land prices are high because a) low yields on assets causes the capitalised value of rents to rise, b) speculation in property pushes up existing prices so that the owners of land demand higher prices for use of their land.

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