Deville - The People's Marx (1893)

Chapter XXVIII: Historical Tendency of Capitalist Accumulation.

Private property based on personal labor superseded by capitalist property. —The transformation of capitalist ownership into social ownership.

Private Property Based on Personal Labor Superseded by Capitalist Property.

We have now seen that the primitive accumulation of capital, its historical formation, is essentially the expropriation of the immediate producer, the desuetude of property based on the personal labor of its possessor.

Private property, as the antithesis of collective property, exists only where the instruments and other external requisites for labor belong to individuals. But the specific character of private property depends upon whether these individuals are laborers or non-laborers.

The private property of the laborer in his means of production is a feature of petty agricultural or manufacturing industry, and petty industry is a school for the development of the manual dexterity, the artistic skill and the free individuality of the laborer. It is true, this mode of production is met with under slavery, serfdom and other forms of dependence. But it flourishes, it displays its full energy, it assumes its developed and classical form, only where the laborer is the free owner of the means of labor that he himself makes use of—the peasant of the soil that he tills, the handicraftsman of the tool that he handles with artistic skill.

This industrial regime of independent petty producers, working on their own account, implies the subdivision of the land and the broad distribution of the other means of production. As it excludes their concentration, it also excludes co-operation on a large scale, the division of labor in shop or field, machinery, the scientific conquest of Nature by man, the free development of the social powers of labor, and the conscious and intelligent co-ordination and correlation of the activities of all the members of a society. It is compatible only with a primitive and undeveloped state of production and of society. To perpetuate it, if that were possible, would be, as Pecquer well said, "to decree universal mediocrity."

But, when it reaches a certain stage, it begets the material agents of its own dissolution. From that moment, forces and passions which it restrains begin to stir in the bosom of society. It is an obstacle to development. It must be, it is annihilated. The process of its elimination transforming the individually owned and widely dispersed means of production into socially concentrated means of production converting the Lilliputian property of the many into the Brobdingnagian property of the few; this tragic, frightful expropriation of the laboring population heralds the birth of capital. This general movement includes a whole series of violent processes only the more important of which we passed in review in the course of our investigation into the methods of primitive accumulation.

The expropriation of the immediate producers was carried out with a pitiless cynicism inspired by the most infamous motives, the most sordid passions—all the more odious on account of their pettiness. Private property based on personal labor, that form of property which welds, as it were, the isolated and autonomous laborer to the external conditions of his labor, is superseded by capitalist private property based on exploitation of the labor of others—on the wage-system.

The Transformation of Capitalist Ownership into Social Ownership.

As soon as this process of transformation has decomposed the old society from top to bottom; as soon as the producers are changed into proletarians and their means of labor into capital; as soon as, in short, the capitalist regime is firmly established on its own economic foundation, then the further socialization of labor as well as the progressive transformation of the land and other means of production into socially exploited instrumentalities used in common, in a word, the further elimination of private properties, take on a new form. He who is now to be expropriated is no longer the independent laborer, but the capitalist, the commander of an army or of a squad of laborers.

This expropriation is accomplished by the action of the laws of capitalist production itself, laws which bring about the concentration of capitals. With the progress of centralization—the expropriation of many capitalists by a few—there are developed, on a constantly increasing scale, the application of scientific technology, the thorough and methodical exploitation of the land, the transformation of tools into machines that are effective only when used in common and the consequent economy in the use of the means of production and the economic intercourse of all peoples on the world-market which prints upon the capitalist regime its international character.

Proportionate to the decrease in the number of capitalist potentates who usurp and monopolize all the advantages of this period of social evolution, is the growth of misery, oppression slavery, degradation, and exploitation, but also of the resistance of the working-class constantly growing and better and better disciplined, united and organized by the very mechanism of capitalist production. The monopoly of capital becomes a fetter upon the mode of production which has grown and flourished with it and thanks to it. The socialization of labor and the centralization of the means of production reach a point when they can no longer be held within their capitalist envelope. This envelope is burst asunder. The knell of capitalist property is tolled. The expropriators are about to be, in their turn, expropriated.

Capitalist appropriation is in harmony with the capitalist mode of production but it constitutes the first negation of private property based on the independent and individual labor of the owner. But capitalist production begets its own negation with the same inevitableness that characterizes the operation of the laws of Nature. It tends to re-establish not the private property of the laborer, but his proprietorship based on the progress realized by the capitalist period, on co-operation and the possession in common of all the means of production including land. As modern industry develops, the capitalist bourgeoisie produce, above all else, their own grave diggers. Their elimination and the triumph of the proletariat are alike inevitable.

It naturally required more time, effort, and trouble to transform scattered, petty, private property, based on individual labor, into capitalist property, than will be required for the transformation of capitalist property, which, in fact, already rests on a collective mode of production, into social property.

In the former case it was a question of the expropriation of the masses by a few usurpers in the latter case it is a question of the expropriation of a few usurpers by the masses.