Deville - The People's Marx (1893)

Chapter XXVI: The Secret of Primitive Accumulation

I: Divorce of the producer from the means of production. —Explanation of the historical process which has superseded the feudal regime by the capitalist regime.
II: Brute force succeeded by the exploiting process as a subjugating agency.
III: Establishment of the home market for industrial capital.

I.—Divorce of the Producer from the Means of Production.

We have seen how money becomes capital, how capital becomes the source of surplus-value, and surplus-value the source of more capital. But capitalist accumulation supposes the prior existence of surplus-Value, and surplus-value implies the existence of the capitalist mode of production which in its turn implies the previous accumulation of considerable masses of capital in the hands of producers of commodities. This whole movement, therefore, seems to turn in a vicious circle, from which there is no escape save the assumption of a primitive accumulation serving as the starting-point of capitalist production instead of being a result of it. What is the genesis of this primitive accumulation?

According to actual history, conquest, enslavement, armed robbery, and the reign of brute force have always been the dominant factors. On the contrary, according to those pious frauds—the text-books of political economy—the entire course of economic industry has been a continuous idyl. There have never been any means of enrichment but labor and integrity. In truth, the methods of primitive accumulation are anything but suitable subjects for an idyl. The thieving confiscation of the property of churches and charitable institutions, the fraudulent alienation of the domains of the State, the pillage of the communal lands, and the transformation, under the sway of terrorism, of feudal property into modern private property—these and such as these are the idyllic sources of primitive accumulation.

If, in the relation between the capitalist and the wage- worker, the former plays the role of master and the latter the role of servant, this is in consequence of a contract by which not only the laborer is placed at the disposal, and, therefore, under the orders, of the capitalist, but by which also he renounces all property-rights in his own product. Why does the wage-worker make this bargain? Because he owns only his own personal labor-power, labor in the potential state, while all the external conditions requisite for the materialization of this potentiality, the materials and tools necessary for the productive performance of labor, the command over the means of subsistence indispensable to life, are all in the power of the other contracting party.

The basis of the capitalist system is, therefore, the absolute divorce of the producer from the means of production. Before this system could be established, therefore, the means of production must, to some extent at; least, have been forcibly wrested from the producers, who employed them to realize their own labor-power, and must have been appropriated by producers of commodities who employed them to speculate in the labor of others. The historical process which divorced labor from its external conditions, from the means of production,—that is, primitive accumulation in a nut shell.

Explanation of the Historical Process Which Has Superseded the Feudal Regime by the Capitalist Regime.

The economic structure of capitalism has evolved from the economic structure of feudalism. The dissolution of the one set free the, constituent elements of the other.

Before the laborer, the immediate producer, could dispose of his own person, he must first have ceased to be attached to the soil or to the person of another. Further, he could not become the free vendor of labor, taking his commodity, labor-power, wherever he could find a market for it, until he escaped from the regime of the guilds, with their privileges, their wardens, their rules of apprenticeship, etc. Hence, the historical movement which transforms the producers into wage-workers appears as their emancipation from serfdom and the regime of the guilds. On the other hand, these men thus emancipated became sellers of themselves, only because they were obliged to, in order to live, only because they had been robbed of all their means of production, and of all the guarantees of existence afforded by the former order of things. The history of their expropriation is not open to dispute, it is written in the history of humanity in indelible letters of fire and blood.

On their side, the industrial capitalists, these new potentates, had not only to displace the handicraft guild-masters, but also the feudal nobles who held possession of the sources of wealth. Their accession to power appears, from this point of view, as the result of a victorious struggle against lordly power with its revolting privileges, and against the regime of the guilds with the trammels that it placed upon the free development of production and the free exploitation of man by man. The forward movement consisted in changing the form of servitude. Feudal exploitation has been transformed into capitalist exploitation.

II.—Brute Force Succeeded by the Exploiting Process as a Subjugating Agency.

That the material conditions of labor under the form of capital confronted on the market men with nothing to sell save their labor-power, was not enough. That the latter were compelled by force to sell themselves "voluntarily" was not enough.

The nascent bourgeoisie—and here we have an essential factor in primitive accumulation—could, not get along without the constant intervention of the State to prolong the working-day (Chapter X), to "regulate" wages, i.e., to lower them to an agreeable level, to keep the laborer in the desired degree of subjection, forcing him under the yoke of the wage-system by grotesquely severe laws, directed, in the West of Europe toward the end of the fifteenth century and during the sixteenth, against the homeless proletariat, against the forefathers of the present working-class punished for having been transformed, in most cases by forcible expropriation, into vagabonds and paupers.

We do not forget that, in the beginning of the French Revolution, the bourgeoisie dared to rob the working-class of the right of association which the latter had just won. By a law of the 14th of June, 1791, every agreement between laborers for the defense of their common interests was declared a "crime against liberty and in violation of the Declaration of the Rights of Man," and punishable by fine and deprivation of the rights of citizenship.

With the progress of capitalist production there is formed a larger and larger class of laborers who, owing to education and transmitted habits, submit to the exigencies of the economic regime just as instinctively as they do to the changes of the seasons. So soon as this mode of production has reached a certain stage of development, its mechanism breaks down all resistance; the constant presence of a relative surplus-population keeps the law of supply and demand of labor, and therefore wages, within limits in harmony with the requirements of capital; and the unyielding pressure of the economic conditions completes the despotism of the capitalist over the laborer. Sometimes, even yet constraint is resorted to, brute force is employed, but this is only an exception. In the ordinary course of events the laborer can be abandoned to the action of the "natural laws" of society,—i.e., to his condition of dependence upon capital begotten, guaranteed and perpetuated by the very mechanism of production.

III.—Establishment of the Home Market for Industrial Capital.

The repeated expropriation of the tillers of the soil, aided by the barbarous laws against vagabonds, supplied the town industries with a host of proletarians and helped destroy the old domestic industry. We must pause an instant and examine this factor in primitive accumulation.

Formerly the peasant family first made or fashioned, and then directly consumed, at least in great part, foodstuffs and raw materials—fruits of their own labor. From simple use-values these raw materials have become commodities and are sold to manufactories, and the objects which were, thanks to these materials, made in the country itself, are transformed into articles of manufacture which find their market in the country. From that time, the domestic industries of the peasants disappeared. This disappearance alone can give the home market of a country the extent and stability demanded by the requirements of capitalist production.

But the manufacturing period, properly so-called, did not succeed in carrying this revolution through in thorough and radical fashion. If it did, indeed, destroy domestic industries in certain branches of industry and in particular localities, it created them elsewhere. It gave rise to the formation of a class of small peasant-artisans, for whom the tilling of the soil has become an accessory calling, and whose principal occupation is industrial labor, the products of which they sell to manufacturers either directly or through the medium of merchants. Modern mechanical industry definitively and absolutely divorces agriculture from rural domestic industry whose roots—spinning and weaving by hand—it tears up.

The necessary development of the collective powers of labor and the transformation of routine production on a small scale into scientific, socially organized production date from the era of this definitive divorce. As it is mechanical industry which completes this separation, it is also to it that capital is, in the first instance, indebted for the complete conquest of the home market of a country.