Independent self-producing peasants in England were gradually driven off the land and into the cities to become an urban proletariat (Marx 1990: 908):
“With the setting free of a part of the agricultural population, therefore, their former means of nourishment were also set free. They were now transformed into material elements of variable capital. The peasant, expropriated and cast adrift, must buy their value in the form of wages, from his new master, the industrial capitalist. That which holds good of the means of subsistence holds with the raw materials of industry dependent upon home agriculture. They were transformed into an element of constant capital.” (Marx 1906: 817–818).So the new factories came to produce what was once produced by “many small independent producers” (Marx 1906: 818).
The broad historical process was as follows:
“The expropriation and eviction of a part of the agricultural population not only set free for industrial capital, the labourers, their means of subsistence, and material for labour; it also created the home market.During the earlier “period of manufacture,” which for Marx was the period from the mid-16th to the late 18th centuries (Brewer 1984: 51), the transformation was only slow and incomplete (Marx 1990: 911).
In fact, the events that transformed the small peasants into wage-labourers, and their means of subsistence and of labour into material elements of capital, created, at the same time, a home-market for the latter. Formerly, the peasant family produced the means of subsistence and the raw materials, which they themselves, for the most part, consumed. These raw materials and means of subsistence have now become commodities; the large farmer sells them, he finds his market in manufactures. Yarn, linen, coarse woollen stuffs—things whose raw materials had been within the reach of every peasant family, had been spun and woven by it for its own use—were now transformed into articles of manufacture, to which the country districts at once served for markets. The many scattered customers, whom stray artizans until now had found in the numerous small producers working on their own account, concentrate themselves now into one great market provided for by industrial capital. Thus, hand in hand with the expropriation of the self-supporting peasants, with their separation from their means of production, goes the destruction of rural domestic industry, the process of separation between manufacture and agriculture. And only the destruction of rural domestic industry can give the internal market of a country that extension and consistence which the capitalist mode of production requires.” (Marx 1906: 819–820).
It was large-scale industry which completed the process:
“Modern Industry alone, and finally, supplies, in machinery, the lasting basis of capitalistic agriculture, expropriates radically the enormous majority of the agricultural population, and completes the separation between agriculture and rural domestic industry, whose roots—spinning and weaving—it tears up. It therefore also, for the first time, conquers for industrial capital the entire home market.” (Marx 1906: 821).So the creation of a large, property-less proletariat was a precondition for the development of capitalism (Brewer 1984: 81).
The destruction of the independent self-producing peasants turned them into workers who therefore needed to sell their labour-power as a commodity. At the same time, agricultural raw materials became commodities for capitalist production, and the food supply was now increasingly produced as capitalist commodities too, and the old household production was destroyed. Goods like textiles were now produced in a capitalist mode of production as well. A further important result of the whole process was the growth of domestic demand for commodities, which Marx calls the “home market” (Harvey 2010: 297).
As a minor point of interest, Marx mentions in a footnote the protectionist views of Henry Charles Carey against free-trade:
“But now comes Carey, and cries out upon England, surely not with unreason, that it is trying to turn every other country into a mere agricultural nation, whose manufacturer is to be England.” (Marx 1906: 821, n. 2).BIBLIOGRAPHY
Brewer, Anthony. 1984. A Guide to Marx’s Capital. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
Harvey, David. 2010. A Companion to Marx’s Capital. Verso, London and New York.
Marx, Karl. 1906. Capital. A Critique of Political Economy (vol. 1; rev. trans. by Ernest Untermann from 4th German edn.). The Modern Library, New York.
Marx, Karl. 1990. Capital. A Critique of Political Economy. Volume One (trans. Ben Fowkes). Penguin Books, London.