Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Marx’s Capital, Volume 1, Chapter 29: A Critical Summary

Chapter 29 of volume 1 of Capital is called “Genesis of the Capitalist Farmer” and argues that the true capitalist class in England emerged with the tenant capitalist farmers.

Marx explains the process:
“ … whence came the [sc. English] capitalists originally? For the expropriation of the agricultural population creates, directly, none by great landed proprietors. As far, however, as concerns the genesis of the farmer, we can, so to say, put our hand on it, because it is a slow process evolving through many centuries. The serfs, as well as the free small proprietors, held land under very different tenures, and were therefore emancipated under very different economic conditions. In England the first form of the farmer is the bailiff, himself a serf. His position is similar to that of the old Roman villicus, only in a more limited sphere of action. During the second half of the 14th century he is replaced by a farmer, whom the landlord provides with seed, cattle and implements. His condition is not very different from that of the peasant. Only he exploits more wage-labour. Soon he becomes a metayer, a half-farmer. He advances one part of the agricultural stock, the landlord the other. The two divide the total product in proportions determined by contract. This form quickly disappears in England, to give place to the farmer proper, who makes his own capital breed by employing wage-labourers, and pays a part of the surplus product, in money or in kind, to the landlord as rent. So long, during the 15th century, as the independent peasant and the farm-labourer working for himself as well as for wages, enriched themselves by their own labour, the circumstances of the farmer, and his field of production, were equally mediocre. The agricultural revolution which commenced in the last third of the 15th century, and continued during almost the whole of the 16th (excepting, however, its last decade), enriched him just as speedily as it impoverished the mass of the agricultural people.

The usurpation of the common lands allowed him to augment greatly his stock of cattle, almost without cost, whilst they yielded him a richer supply of manure for the tillage of the soil. To this, was added in the 16th century, a very important element. At that time the contracts for farms ran for a long time, often for 99 years. The progressive fall in the value of the precious metals, and therefore of money, brought the farmers golden fruit. Apart from all the other circumstances discussed above, it lowered wages. A portion of the latter was now added to the profits of the farm. The continuous rise in the price of corn, wool, meat, in a word of all agricultural produce, swelled the money capital of the farmer without any action on his part, whilst the rent he paid, (being calculated on the old value of money) diminished in reality. Thus they grew rich at the expense both of their labourers and their landlords. No wonder therefore, that England, at the end of the 16th century, had a class of capitalist farmers, rich, considering the circumstances of the time.” (Marx 1906: 814–816).
So this process, and the process described in Chapter 27, tended to destroy more and more free peasants and yeomanry, and created three great classes in the country-side as follows:
(1) the landlords (who were rentiers);

(2) the tenant farmers who were capitalists (and paying ground rent to their landlords), and

(3) the wage labourers.
The tenant-farmer capitalists emerged from the bailiffs or more successful peasants (Brewer 1984: 81).

Because of the price inflation of the 16th century, the real income of the tenant-farmer capitalists rose, so that they became a rich and more powerful class.

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.

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