Deville - The People's Marx (1893)

Chapter XXIX: The Modern Theory of Colonization

The necessity of the conditions that we have recognised as indispensable to capitalist exploitation clearly appears in the colonies. —Confessions of political economy.

The Necessity of the Conditions That We Have Recognized as Indispensable to Capitalist Exploitation, Clearly Appears in the Colonies.

For bourgeois political economy it is not a question of knowing whether such or such a fact is true, but of whether its acceptance and promulgation as truth will help or hurt capital. It strives, therefore, to keep up a very convenient confusion between two wholly distinct kinds of private property :—private property based on personal labor, and capitalist property based on the labor of others—forgetting, by design, that the latter grows only on the tomb of the former.

Among us, in western Europe, primitive accumulation, i.e., the expropriation of the laborers, is, in part, accomplished. Either the capitalist regime has gained possession of the entire field of national production, or, where economic conditions are less advanced, it at least indirectly affects the social forms which persist beside it, though they are gradually decaying together with the antiquated mode of production to which they belong. In the colonies, i.e., in true colonies with a virgin soil colonized by free immigrants, it is altogether different.

There, the capitalist mode of production and appropriation comes in conflict, everywhere, with that form of property which is the fruit of the owner's personal labor, and with the producer who, disposing freely of the means of production, enriches himself instead of enriching the capitalist. The opposition between these two modes of appropriation, which political economy denies among us in Europe, is there verified by the facts, by the struggle waged between them.

The economist, when colonial affairs are under discussion, enters upon the path of confession, and proves that the development of the collective powers of labor, of cooperation, of the manufacturing division of labor, and the extensive use of machinery, etc., are impossible, unless some way can be discovered to provide colonial industry with laborers who, having been robbed of the means of labor, will be obliged to sell themselves, and obliged to accept the conditions of sale indispensable to capitalist production,—unless, in a word, some way can be found to manufacture wage-workers.

He discovers that capital is not a thing, but a social relation between persons, a relation which is established through the medium of things. A negro is a negro; it is only under certain conditions that he becomes a slave. A certain machine, for example, is a machine for spinning cotton; it is only under certain defined conditions that it becomes capital. Apart from these conditions it is no more capital than gold per se is money; capital is a social relation of production.

The economist discovers also that the possession of money, means of subsistence, machines, and other means of production, does not make a man a capitalist, unless there is forthcoming his complemental correlative, the wage-laborer—another man forced to sell himself "voluntarily." Means of production and subsistence become capital only when they are used as means of exploiting and dominating labor.

The essential characteristic of every free colony is that every colonist can appropriate a portion of the soil to serve him as his individual means of production, without preventing the colonists who arrive later on from doing the same thing. Where all men are free and where every one can obtain at his pleasure a piece of land, laborers are difficult to get, and when gotten, very dear. When the laborer can accumulate for himself, and this he can do as long as he is the owner of his own means of production, capitalist accumulation and appropriation are impossible. Their indispensable pre-requisite—a wage-working-class—is wanting.

The supreme beauty of capitalist production consists not only in this—that it constantly reproduces the wage-worker as a wage-worker, but in this—that it creates a class of superfluous wage-workers. In this way it keeps the law of supply and demand of labor in the right rut, the oscillations of the market-price of labor are kept within limits, the most favorable possible to capitalist exploitation, the indispensable subjection of the laborer to the capitalist is guaranteed, and finally this relation of absolute dependence which, in Europe, the lying economist disguises by solemnly adorning it with the euphemistic title of a "free contract" between two equally independent commodity owners—the one parting with the commodity, capital, and the other with the commodity, labor—is perpetuated. In the atmosphere of the colonies this enticing error of the economists can not live. As the wage-worker of to-day becomes the independent artisan or farmer of to-morrow, the supply of labor is neither regular nor adequate. This continuous transformation of wage-workers into free producers, working for themselves and not for capital, enriching themselves instead of enriching that superior being, the capitalist has, in practice, a demoralizing (?) and deplorable (?) effect on the labor-market and, therefore, on the rate of wages.

Confessions of Political Economy.

Under these circumstances not only does the degree of exploitation remain outrageously low, but the wage-worker also loses, with his actual dependence on the capitalist, all deferential feelings toward the capitalist. Therefore the economist, Merivale, declares that "in colonies this dependence must be created by artificial means."

Moreover, M. de Molinari, a fanatical free-trader, writes: "In the colonies where slavery has been abolished and this forced labor has not been replaced by an equivalent quantity of free labor, may be found the counterpart of what takes place every day under our eyes. There the common laborers exploit in their turn the employers of labor, by demanding from them wages out of all proportion to their legitimate share in the product."

Ah! But what becomes of the sacred law of supply and demand? If, in Europe, the employer cuts down the laborer's legitimate share, why should not the laborer, over yonder in the colonies where circumstances happen to be favorable instead of disastrous to him, cut down the share of the employer? Or is it possible that this poor law of supply and demand, which functions so automatically in Europe, requires a little aid from the police, in the colonies?

The secret discovered in the new world by the political economy of the old world, and naively betrayed in its lugubrations on the colonies, is that the capitalist mode of production and accumulation, and, therefore, capitalist private property, presuppose the annihilation of private property based on personal labor; in other words that its basis is the expropriation of the laborer, since the indispensable, subjugated and disciplined wage-workers are to be had, only when the laborers can no longer work for themselves, only, therefore, when they are no longer in possession of the means of production.