Rosa Luxemburg
The Accumulation of Capital

Section Three
The Historical Conditions of Accumulation

Chapter 29
The Struggle Against Peasant Economy

An important final phase in the campaign against natural economy is to separate industry from agriculture, to eradicate rural industries altogether from peasant economy. Handicraft in its historical beginnings was a subsidiary occupation, a mere appendage to agriculture in civilised and settled societies. In medieval Europe it became gradually independent of the corvée farm and agriculture, it developed into specialised occupations, i.e. production of commodities by urban guilds. In industrial districts, production had progressed from home craft by way of primitive manufacture to the capitalist factory of the staple industries, but in the rural areas, under peasant economy, home crafts persisted as an intrinsic part of agriculture. Every hour that could be spared from cultivating the soil was devoted to handicrafts which, as an auxiliary domestic industry, played an important part in providing for personal needs.(1)

It is a recurrent phenomenon in the development of capitalist production that one branch of industry after the other is singled out, isolated from agriculture and concentrated in factories for mass production. The textile industry provides the textbook example, but the same thing has happened, though less obviously, in the case of other rural industries. Capital must get the peasants to buy its commodities and will therefore begin by restricting peasant economy to a single sphere – that of agriculture – which will not immediately and, under European conditions of ownership, only with great, difficulty submit to capitalist domination.(2) To all outward appearance, this process is quite peaceful. It is scarcely noticeable and seemingly caused by purely economic factors. There can be no doubt that mass production in the factories is technically superior to primitive peasant industry, owing to a higher degree of specialisation, scientific analysis and management of the productive process, improved machinery, and access to international resources of raw materials. In reality, however, the process of separating agriculture and industry is determined by factors such as oppressive taxation, war, or squandering and monopolisation of the nation’s land, and thus belongs to the spheres of political power and criminal law no, less than with economics.

Nowhere has this process been brought to such perfection as n the United States. In the wake of the railways, financed by European and in particular British capital, the American farmer crossed the Union from East to West and in his progress over vast areas killed off the Red Indians with fire-arms and bloodhounds, liquor and venereal disease, pushing the survivors to the West, in order to appropriate the land they had ‘vacated’, to clear it and bring it under the plough. The American farmer, the ‘backwoodsman’ of the good old times before the War of Secession, was very different indeed from his modern counterpart. There was hardly anything he could not do, and he led a practically self-sufficient life on his isolated farm.

In the beginning of the nineties, one of the leaders of the Farmers’ Alliance, Senator Peffer, wrote as follows:

‘The American farmer of to-day is altogether a different sort of man from his ancestor of fifty or a hundred years ago. A great many men and women now living remember when farmers were largely manufacturers; that is to say, they made a great many implements for their own use. Every farmer had an assortment of tools with which he made wooden implements, as, forks and rakes, handles for his hoes and ploughs, spokes for his wagon, and various other implements made wholly out of wood. Then the farmer produced flax and hemp and wool and cotton. These fibres were prepared upon the farm; they were spun into yarn, woven into cloth, made into garments, and worn at home. Every farm had upon it a little shop for wood and iron work, and in the dwelling were cards and looms; carpets were woven, bed-clothing of different sorts was prepared; upon every farm geese were kept, their feathers used for supplying the home demand with beds and pillows, the surplus being disposed of at the nearest market town. During the winter season wheat and flour and corn meal were carried in large wagons drawn by teams of six to eight horses a hundred or two hundred miles to market, and traded for farm supplies for the next year – groceries and dry goods. Besides this, mechanics were scattered among the farmers. The farm wagon was in process of building a year or two; the material was found near the shop; the character of the timber to be used was stated in the contract; it had to be procured in a certain season and kept in the drying process a length of time specified, so that when the material was brought together in proper form and the wagon made, both parties to the contract knew where every stick of it came from, and how long it had been in seasoning. During winter time the neighbourhood carpenter prepared sashes and blinds and doors and moulding and cornices for the next season’s building. When the frosts of autumn came the shoemaker repaired to the dwellings of the farmers and there, in a corner set apart to him, he made up shoes for the family during the winter. All these things were done among the farmers, and a large part of the expense was paid with products of the farm. When winter approached, the butchering season was at hand; meat for family use during the next year was prepared and preserved in the smoke house. The orchards supplied fruit for cider, for apple butter, and for preserves of different kinds, amply sufficient to supply the wants of the family during the year, with some to spare. Wheat was threshed, a little at a time, just enough to supply the needs of the family for ready money, and not enough to make it necessary to waste one stalk of straw. Everything was saved and put to use. One of the results of that sort of economy was that comparatively a very small amount of money was required to conduct the business of farming. A hundred dollars average probably was as much as the largest farmers of that day needed in the way of cash to meet the demands of their farm work, paying for hired help, repairs of tools, and all other incidental expenses.’(3)

This Arcadian life was to come to a sudden end after the War of Secession. The war had burdened the Union with an enormous National Debt, amounting to £1,200,000, and in consequence the taxes were considerably increased. On the other hand, a feverish development of modern traffic and industry, machine-building in particular, was encouraged by the imposition of higher protective tariffs. The railway companies were endowed with public lands on an imposing scale, in order to promote railroad construction and farm-settlements: in 1867 alone, they were given more than 192,500,000 acres, and so the permanent way grew at an unprecedented rate: In 1860 it amounted to less than 31,000 miles, in 1870 it had grown to more than 53,000 miles and in 1880 to more than 93,000 miles. (During the same period – 1870–1880 – the permanent way in Europe had grown from 80,000 miles to 100,000 miles.) The railways and speculations in land made for mass emigration from Europe to the United States, and more than 4½ million people immigrated in the twenty-three years from 1869 to 1892. In this way, the Union gradually became emancipated from European, and in particular from British industry; factories we set up in the States and home industries developed for the production of textiles, iron, steel and machinery. The process of revolutionary transformation was most rapid in agriculture. The emancipation of the slaves had compelled the Southern planters to introduce the steam plough shortly after the Civil War, and new farms had sprung up in the West in the wake of the railways, which from the very beginning employed the most modern machinery and technique.

‘The improvements are rapidly revolutionising the agriculture of the West, and reducing to the lowest minimum ever attained, the proportion of manual labour employed in its operations ... Coincident with this application of mechanics to agriculture, systematic and enlarged business aptitudes have also sought alliance with this noble art. Farms of thousands of acres have been managed with greater skill, a more economical adaptation of means to ends, and with a larger margin of real profit than many others of 80 acres.’(4)

During this time, direct and indirect taxation had increased enormously. On June 30, 1864, during the Civil War, a new finance bill was passed which is the basis of the present system of taxation, and which raised taxes on consumption and income to a staggering degree. This heavy war levy served as a pretext for a real orgy of protective tariffs in order to offset the tax on home production by customs duties.(5) Messrs. Morrill, Stevens and the other gentlemen who advanced the war as a lever for enforcing their protectionist programme, initiated the practice of wielding the implement of a customs policy quite openly and cynically to further private profiteering interests of all descriptions. Any home producer who appeared before the legislative assembly with a request for any kind of special tariff to fill his own pocket saw his demands readily granted, and the tariff rates were made as high as any interested party might wish.

‘The war’, writes the American Taussig, ‘had in many ways a bracing and ennobling influence on our national life; but its immediate effect on business affairs, and on all legislation affecting moneyed interests, was demoralising. The line between public duty and private interests was often lost sight of by legislators. Great fortunes were made by changes in legislation urged and brought about by those who were benefited by them, and the country has seen with sorrow that the honour and honesty of public men did not remain undefiled.’(6)

This customs bill which completely revolutionised the country’s economic life, and remained in force unchanged for twenty years, was literally pushed through Congress in three days, and through the Senate in two, without criticism, without debate, without any opposition whatever.(7) Down to the present day it forms the basis of US customs legislation.

This shift in US fiscal policy ushered in an era of the most brazen parliamentary log-rolling and of undisguised and unrestrained corruption of elections, of the legislature and the press to satisfy the greed of Big Business. ‘Enrichissez-vous’ became the catchword of public life after the ‘noble war’ to liberate mankind from the ‘blot of slavery’. On the stock exchange, the Yankee negro-liberator sought his fortunes in orgies of speculation; in Congress, he endowed himself with public lands, enriched himself by customs and taxes, by monopolies, fraudulent share and theft of public funds. Industry prospered. Gone were the times when the small or medium farmer required hardly any money, when he could thresh and turn into cash his wheat reserves as the need arose. Now he was chronically in need of money, a lot of money, to pay his taxes. Soon he was forced to sell all his produce and to buy his requirements from the manufacturers in the form of ready-made goods. As Peffer puts it:

‘Coming from that time to the present, we find that everything nearly has been changed. All over the West particularly the farmer threshes his wheat all at one time, he disposes of it all at one time, and in a great many instances the straw is wasted. He sells his hogs, and buys bacon and pork; he sells his cattle, and buys fresh beef and canned beef or, domed beef; as the case may be; he sells his fruit, and buys it back in cans. If he raises flax at all, instead of putting it into yarn and making gowns for his children, as he did fifty years or more ago, he threshes his flax, sells the seed, and burns the straw. Not more than one farmer in fifty now keeps sheep at all; he relies upon the large sheep farmer for the wool, which is put into cloth or clothing ready for his use. Instead of hating clothing made up on the farm in his own house or by a neighbour woman or country tailor a mile away, he either purchases his clothing ready made at the nearest town, or he buys the cloth and has a city tailor make it up for him. Instead of making implements which he uses about the farm – forks, rakes, etc. – he goes to town to purchase even a handle for his axe or his mallet; he purchases twine and rope and all sorts of needed material made of fibres; he buys his cloth and his clothing; he buys his canned fruit and preserved fruit; he buys hams and shoulders and mess pork and mess beef; indeed, he buys nearly everything now that he produced at one time himself, and these things all cost money. Besides all this, and what seems stranger than anything else, whereas in the earlier time the American home was a free home, unencumbered, not one case in a thousand where a home was mortgaged to secure the payment of borrowed money, and whereas but a small amount of money was then needed for actual use in conducting the business of farming, there was always enough of it among the farmers to supply the demand. Now, when at least ten times as much is needed, there is little or none to be obtained, nearly half the farms are mortgaged for as much as they are worth, and interest rates are exorbitant. As to the cause of such wonderful changes ... the manufacturer came with his woollen mill, his carding mill, his broom factory, his rope factory, his wooden-ware factory, his cotton factory, his pork-packing establishment, his canning factory and fruit preserving houses; the little shop on the farm has given place to the large shop in town; the wagon-maker’s shop in the neighbourhood has given way to the large establishment in the city where ... a hundred or two hundred wagons are made in a week; the shoemaker’s shop has given way to large establishments in the cities where most of the work is done by machines.’(8)

Finally, the agricultural labour of the farmer himself has become machine work:

‘He ploughs and sows and reaps with machines. A machine cuts his wheat and puts it in a sheaf; and steam drives his threshers. He may read the morning paper while he ploughs and sit under an awning while he reaps.’(9)

Sering estimated in the middle eighties that the necessary cash ‘for a very modest beginning’ of the smallest farm in the North West is £240 to £280.(10)

This revolution of American agriculture after the ‘Great War’ was not the end. It was only the beginning of the whirlpool in which the farmer was caught. His history brings us automatically to the second phase of the development of capitalist accumulation of which it is an excellent illustration. – Natural economy, the production for personal needs and the close connection between industry and agriculture must be ousted and a simple commodity economy substituted for them. Capitalism needs the medium of commodity production for its development, as a market for its surplus value. But as soon as simple commodity production has superseded natural economy, capital must turn against it. No sooner has capital called it to life, than the two must compete for means of production, labour power, and markets. The first aim of capitalism is to isolate the producer, to sever the community ties which protect him, and the next task is to take the means of production away from the small manufacturer.

In the American Union, as we have seen, the ‘Great War’ inaugurated an era of large-scale seizure of public lands by monopolist capitalist companies and individual speculators. Feverish railroad building and ever more speculation in railway shares led to a mad gamble in land, where individual soldiers of fortune and companies netted immense fortunes and even entire counties. In addition a veritable swarm of agents lured the vast flow of emigrants from Europe to the USA by blatant and unscrupulous advertising, deceptions and pretences of every description. These immigrants first settled in the Eastern States along the Atlantic seaboard, and, with the growth of industry in these states, agriculture was driven westward. The ‘wheat centre’ which had been near Columbus, Ohio, in 1850, in the course of the subsequent fifty years shifted to a position 99 miles further North and 680 miles further West. Whereas in 1850 51.4 per cent of the total wheat crop had been supplied by the Eastern States, in 1880 they produced only 13.6 per cent, 71.7 per cent being supplied by the Northern Central and 9 per cent by the Western States.

In 1825, the Congress of the Union under Monroe had decided to transplant the Red Indians from the East to the West of the Mississippi. The redskins put up a desperate resistance; but all who survived the slaughter of forty Red Indian campaigns were swept away like so much rubbish and driven like cattle to the West to be folded in reservations like so many sheep. The Red Indian had been forced to make room for the farmer – and now the farmer in his turn was driven beyond the Mississippi to make way for capital.

Following the railway tracks, the American farmer moved West and North-West into the land of promise which the great land speculators’ agents had painted for him in glowing colours. Yet the most fertile and most favourably situated lands were retained by the companies who farmed them extensively on completely capitalistic lines. All around the farmer who had been exiled into the wilderness, a dangerous competitor and deadly enemy sprang up – the ‘bonanza farms’, the great capitalist agricultural concerns which neither the Old World nor the New had known before. Here surplus value was produced with the application of all the resources known to modern science and technology.

‘As the foremost representative of financial agriculture we may consider Oliver Dalrymple, whose name is to-day known on both sides of the Atlantic. Since 1874 he has simultaneously managed a line of steamers on the Red River and six farms owned by a company of financiers and comprising some 75,000 acres. Each one is divided into departments of 2,000 acres, and every department is again subdivided into three sections of 667 acres which are run by foremen and gang leaders. Barracks to shelter 50 men and stable as many horses and mules, are built on each section, and similarly kitchens, machine sheds and workshops for blacksmiths and locksmiths. Each section is completely equipped with 20 pairs of horses, 8 double ploughs, 12 horse-drawn drill-ploughs, 12 steel-toothed harrows, 12 cutters and binders, 2 threshers and 16 wagons. Everything is done to ensure that the machines and the living labour (men, horses and mules) are in good condition and able to do the greatest possible amount of work. There is a telephone line connecting all sections and the central management.

‘The six farms of 75,000 acres are cultivated by an army of 600 workers, organised on military lines. During the harvest, the management hires another 500 to 600 auxiliary workers, assigning them to the various sections. After the work is completed in the fall, the workers are dismissed with the exception of the foreman and 10 men per section. In some farms in Dakota and Minnesota, horses and mules do not spend the winter at the place of work. As soon as the stubble has been ploughed in, they are driven in teams of a hundred or two hundred pairs 900 miles to the South, to return only the following spring.

‘Mechanics on horseback follow the ploughing, sowing and harvesting machines when they are at work. If anything goes wrong, they gallop to the machine in question, repair it and get it moving again without delay. The harvested corn is carried to the threshing machines which work day and night without interruption. They are stoked with bundles of straw fed into the stoke hold through pipes of sheet-iron. The corn is threshed, winnowed, weighed and filled into sacks by machinery, then it is put into railway trucks which run alongside the farm, and goes to Duluth or Buffalo. Every year, Dalrymple increases his land under seed by 5,800 acres. In 1880 it amounted to 25,000 acres.’(11)

In the late seventies, there were already individual capitalists and companies who owned 35,000–45,000 acres of wheat land. Since the time of Lafargue’s writing, extensive capitalist agriculture in America has made great strides in technique and the employment of machinery.(9)

The American farmer could not successfully compete with such capitalist enterprises. At a time when the general revolution in the conditions of finance, production and transport compelled him to give up production for personal needs and to produce exclusively for the market, the great spreading of agriculture caused a heavy fall in the prices of agricultural products. And at the precise moment when farming became dependent on the market, the agricultural market of the Union was suddenly turned from a local one into a world market, and became a prey to the wild speculations of a few capitalist mammoth concerns.

In 1879, a notable year for the history of agricultural conditions in Europe as well as in America, there began the mass export of wheat from the USA to Europe.(13)

Big Business was of course the only one to profit from this expanding market. The small farmer was crushed by the competition of an increasing number of extensive farms and became the prey of speculators who bought up his corn to exert pressure on the world market. Helpless in the face of the immense capitalist powers, the farmer got into debt – a phenomenon typical for a declining peasant economy. In 1890, Secretary Rusk of the US Department of Agriculture sent out a circular letter with reference to the desperate position of the farmers, saying:

‘The burden of mortgages upon farms, homes, and land, is unquestionably discouraging in the extreme, and while in some cases no doubt this load may have been too readily assumed, still in the majority of cases the mortgage has been the result of necessity ... These mortgages ... drawing high rates of interest ... have to-day, in the face of continued depression of the prices of staple products, become very irksome, and in many cases threaten the farmer with loss of home and land. It is a question of grave difficulty to all those who seek to remedy the ills from which our farmers are suffering. At present prices the farmer finds that it takes more of his products to get a dollar wherewith to buy back the dollar which he borrowed than it did when he borrowed it. The interest accumulates, while the payment of the principal seems utterly hopeless, and the very depression which we are discussing makes the renewal of the mortgage most difficult.’(14)

According to the census of May 29, 1891, 25 million farms were deep in debt; two-thirds of them were managed by the owners whose obligations amounted to nearly £440,000.

‘The situation is this: farmers are passing through the “valley and shadow of death”; farming as a business is profitless; values of farm products have fallen 50 per cent since the great war, and farm values have depreciated 25 to 50 per cent during the last ten years; farmers are overwhelmed with debts secured by mortgages on their homes, unable in many instances to pay even the interest as it falls due, and unable to renew the loans because securities are weakening by reason of the general depression; many farmers are losing their homes under this dreadful blight, and the mortgage mill still grinds. We are in the hands of a merciless power; the people’s homes are at stake.’(15)

Encumbered with debts and close to ruin, the farmer had no option but to supplement his earnings by working for a wage, or else to abandon his farm altogether. Provided it had not yet fallen into the clutches of his creditors like so many thousands of farms, he could shake from off his feet the dust of the ‘land of promise’ that had become an inferno for him. In the middle eighties, abandoned and decaying farms could be seen everywhere. In 1887, Sering wrote:

‘If the farmer cannot pay his debts to date, the interest he has to pay is increased to 12, 15 or even 20 per cent. He is pressed by the banker, the machine salesman and the grocer who rob him of the fruits of his hard work ... He can either remain on the farm as a tenant or move further West, to try his fortunes elsewhere. Nowhere in North America have I found so many indebted, disappointed and depressed farmers as in the wheat regions of the North Western prairies. I have not spoken to a single farmer in Dakota who would not have been prepared to sell his farm.’(16)

‘The Commissioner of Agriculture of Vermont in 1889 reported a wide-spread desertion of farm-lands of that state. He wrote: “... there appears to be no doubt about there being in this state large tracts of tillable unoccupied lands, which can be bought at a price approximating the price of Western lands, situated near school and church, and not far from railroad facilities. The Commissioner has not visited all of the counties in the State where these lands are reported, but he has visited enough to satisfy him that, while much of the unoccupied and formerly cultivated land is now practically worthless for cultivation, yet very much of it can be made to yield a liberal reward to intelligent labour.”’(17)

The Commissioner of the State of New Hampshire issued a pamphlet in 1890, devoting 67 pages to the description of farms for sale at the lowest figures. He describes 1442 farms with tenantable buildings, abandoned only recently. The same has happened in other districts. Thousands of acres once raising corn and wheat are left unfilled and run to brush and wood.

In order to resettle the deserted land, speculators engaged in advertising campaigns and attracted crowds of new immigrants – new victims who were to suffer their predecessors’ fate even more speedily.

A private letter says:

‘In the neighbourhood of railroads and markets, there remains no common land. It is all in the hands of the speculators. A settler takes over vacant land and counts for a farmer; but the management of his farm hardly assures his livelihood, and he cannot possibly compete with the big farmer. He tills as much of his land as the law compels him to do, but to make a comfortable living, he must look for additional, sources of income outside agriculture. In Oregon, for instance, I have met a settler who owned 160 acres for five years, but every summer, until the end of July, he worked twelve hours a day for a dollar a day at road-making. This man, of course, also counts as one of the five million farmers in the 1890 census. Again, in the County of Eldorado, I saw many farmers who cultivated their land only to feed their cattle and themselves. There would have been no profit in producing for the market, and their chief income derives from gold-digging, the felling and selling of timber, etc. These people are prosperous, but it is not agriculture which makes them so. Two years ago, we worked in Long Cañon, Eldorado County, living in a cabin on an allotment. The owner of this allotment came home only once a year for a couple of days, and worked the rest of the time on the railway in Sacramento. Some years ago, a small part of the allotment was cultivated, to comply with the law, but now it is left completely untilled. A few acres are fenced off with wire, and there is a log cabin and a shed. But during the last years all this stands empty; a neighbour has the key and he made us free of the hut. In the course of our journey, we saw many deserted allotments, where attempts at farming had been made. Three years ago I was offered a farm with dwelling house for a hundred dollars, but in a short time the unoccupied house collapsed under the snow. In Oregon, we saw many derelict farms with small dwelling houses and vegetable gardens. One we visited was beautifully made: a sturdy block house, fashioned by a master-builder, and some equipment; but the farmer had abandoned it all. You were welcome to take it all without charge.’(18)

Where could the ruined American farmer turn? He set out on a pilgrimage to follow the wheat centre and the railways. The former had shifted in the main to Canada, the Saskatchewan and the Mackenzie River where wheat can still thrive on the 62nd parallel. A number of American farmers followed – and after some time in Canada, they suffered the old fate.(19) During recent years, Canada has entered the world market as a wheat-exporting country, but her agriculture is dominated to an even greater extent by big capital than elsewhere.(20)

In Canada, public lands were lavished upon private capitalist companies on an even more monstrous scale than in the United States. Under the Charter of the Canadian Pacific Railway Company with its grant of land, private capital perpetrated an unprecedented act of robbing the public. Not only that the company was guaranteed a twenty years’ monopoly of railway building, not only that it got a building site of about 713 miles free of charge, not only that it got a 100 years’ state guarantee of the 3 per cent interest on the share capital of £m. 20 – to crown it all, the company was given the choice of 25 million acres out of the most fertile and favourably situated lands, not necessarily in the immediate vicinity of the permanent way, as a free gift. All future settlers on this vast area were thus at the mercy of railway capital from the very outset. The railway company, in its turn, immediately proceeded to sell off 5 million acres for ready cash to the North-West Land Company, an association of British capitalists under the chairmanship of the Duke of Manchester. The second group of capitalists which was liberally endowed with public lands was the Hudson Bay Company, which was given a title to no less than one-twentieth of all the lands between Lake Winnipeg, the US. border, the Rocky Mountains, and Northern Saskatchewan, for renouncing their privileges in the North-West. Between them, these two capitalist groups had gained possession of five-ninths of all the land that could be settled. A considerable part of the other lands was assigned by the State to 26 capitalist ‘colonising companies’.(21) Thus the Canadian farmer was practically everywhere ensnared by capital and capitalist speculation. And still mass immigration continued – not only from Europe, but also from the United States!

These are the characteristics of capitalist domination on an international scale. Having evicted the peasant from his soil, it drives him from England to the East of the United States, and from there to the West, and on the ruins of the Red Indians’ economy it transforms him back into a small commodity producer. Then, when he is ruined once more, he is driven from the West to the North. With the railways in the van, and ruin in the rear – capital leads the way, its passage is marked with universal destruction. The great fall of prices in the nineties is again succeeded by higher prices for agricultural products, but this is of no more avail to the small American farmer than to the European peasant.

Yet the numbers of farmers are constantly swelling. In the last decade of the nineteenth century they had grown from 4,600,000 to 5,700,000, and the following ten years still saw an absolute increase. The aggregate value of farms had during the same period risen from £150,240,000 to £330,360,000.(22) We might have expected the general increase in the price of farm produce to have helped the farmer to come into his own. But that is not so; we see that the growing numbers of tenant farmers outstrip the increase in the farming population as a whole. In 1880, the proportion of tenant farmers amounted to 25.5 per cent of the total number of farmers in the Union, in 1890 it was 28.4 per cent, in 1900 35.3 per cent, and in 1910 37.2 per cent.

Though prices for farm produce were rising, the tenant farmer was more and more rapidly stepping into the shoes of the independent farmer. And although much more than one-third of all farmers in the Union are now tenant farmers, their social status in the United States is that of the agricultural labourer in Europe. Constantly fluctuating, they are indeed wage-slaves of capital; they work very hard to create wealth for capital, getting nothing in return but a miserable and precarious existence.

In quite a different historical setting, in South Africa, the same process shows up even more clearly the ‘peaceful methods’ by which capital competes with the small commodity producer.

In the Cape Colony and the Boer Republics, pure peasant economy prevailed until the sixties of the last century. For a long time the Boers had led the life of animal-tending nomads; they had killed off or driven out the Hottentots and Kaffirs with a will in order to deprive them of their most valuable pastures. In the eighteenth century they were given invaluable assistance by the plague, imported by ships of the East India Company, which frequently did away with entire Hottentot tribes whose lands then fell to the Dutch immigrants. When the Boers spread further East, they came in conflict with the Bantu tribes and initiated the long period of the terrible Kaffir wars. These god fearing Dutchmen regarded themselves as the Chosen People and took no small pride in their old-fashioned Puritan morals and their intimate knowledge of the Old Testament; yet, not content with robbing the natives of their land, they built their peasant economy like parasites on the backs of the Negroes, compelling them to do slave-labour for them and corrupting and enervating them deliberately and systematically. Liquor played such an important part in this process, that the prohibition of spirits in the Cape Colony could not be carried through by the English government because of Puritan opposition. There were no railways until 1859, and Boer economy in general and on the whole remained patriarchal and based on natural economy until the sixties. But their patriarchal attitude did not deter the Boers from extreme brutality and harshness. It is well known that Livingstone complained much more about the Boers than about the Kaffirs. The Boers considered the Negroes an object, destined by God and Nature to slave for them, and as such an indispensable foundation of their peasant economy. So much so that their answer to the abolition of slavery in the English colonies in 1836 was the ‘Great Trek’, although there the owners had been compensated with £3,000,000. By way of the Orange River and Vaal, the Boers emigrated from the Cape Colony, and in the process they drove the Matabele to the North, across the Limpopo, setting them against the Makalakas just as the American farmer had driven the Red Indian West before him under the impact of capitalist economy, so the Boer drove the Negro to the North. The ‘Free Republics’ between the Orange River and the Limpopo thus were created as a protest against the designs of the English bourgeoisie on the sacred right of slavery. The tiny peasant republics were in constant guerilla warfare against the Bantu Negroes And it was on the backs of the Negroes that the battle between the Boers and the English government, which went on for decades, was fought. The Negro question, i.e. the emancipation of the Negroes, ostensibly aimed at by the English bourgeoisie, served as a pretext for the conflict between England and the republics. In fact, peasant economy and great capitalist colonial policy were here competing for the Hottentots and Kaffirs, that is to say for their land and their labour power. Both competitors had precisely the same aim: to subject, expel or destroy the coloured peoples, to appropriate their land and press them into service by the abolition of their social organisations. Only their methods of exploitation were fundamentally different. While the Boers stood for out-dated slavery on a petty scale, on which their patriarchal peasant economy was founded, the British bourgeoisie represented modern large-scale capitalist exploitation of the land and the natives. The Constitution of the Transvaal (South African) Republic declared with crude prejudice: ‘The People shall not permit any equality of coloured persons with white inhabitants, neither in the Church nor in the State.’ (23)

In the Orange Free State and in the Transvaal no Negro was allowed to own land, to travel without papers or to walk abroad after sunset. Bryce tells us of a case where a farmer, an Englishman as it happened in the Eastern Cape Colony had flogged his Kaffir slave to death. When he was acquitted in open court, his neighbours escorted him home to the strains of music. The white man frequently maltreated his free native labourers after they had done their work – to such an extent that they would take to flight, thus saving the master their wages.

The British government employed precisely the opposite tactics. For a long time it appeared as protector of the natives; flattering the chieftains in particular, it supported their authority and tried to make them claim a right of disposal over their land. Wherever it was possible, it gave them ownership of tribal land, according to well-tried methods, although this flew in the face of tradition and of the actual social organisation of the Negroes. All tribes in fact held their land communally, and even the most cruel and despotic rulers such as the Matabele Chieftain Lobengula merely had the right as well as the duty to allot every family a piece of land which they could only retain so long as they cultivated it. The ultimate purpose of the British government was clear: long in advance it was preparing for land robbery on a grand scale, using the native chieftains themselves as tools. But in the beginning it was content with the ‘pacification’ of the Negroes by extensive military actions. Up to 1879 were fought 9 bloody Kaffir wars to break the resistance of the Bantus.

British capital revealed its real intentions only after two important events had taken place: the discovery of the Kimberley diamond fields in 1869–70, and the discovery of the gold mines in the Transvaal in 1882–5, which initiated a new epoch in the history of South Africa. Then the British South Africa Company, that is to say Cecil Rhodes, went into action. Public opinion in England rapidly swung over, and the greed for the treasures of South Africa urged the British government on to drastic measures. South Africa was suddenly flooded with immigrants who had hitherto only appeared in small numbers – immigration having been deflected to the United States. But with the discovery of the diamond and gold fields, the numbers of white people in the South African colonies grew by leaps and bounds: between 1885 and 1895, 100,000 British had immigrated into Witwatersrand alone. The modest peasant economy was forthwith pushed into the background – the mines, and thus the mining capital, coming to the fore. The policy of the British government veered round abruptly. Great Britain had recognised the Boer Republics by the Sand River Agreement and the Treaty of Bloemfontein in the fifties. Now her political might advanced upon the tiny republic from every side, occupying all neighbouring districts and cutting off all possibility of expansion. At the same time the Negroes, no longer protected favourites, were sacrificed. British capital was steadily forging ahead. In 1868, Britain took over the rule of Basutoland – only, of course, because the natives had ‘repeatedly implored’ her to do so.(24) In 1871, the Witwatersrand diamond fields, or West Griqualand, were seized from the Orange Free State and turned into a Crown Colony. In 1879, Zululand was subjected, later to become part of the Natal Colony; in 1885 followed the subjection of Bechuanaland, to be joined to the Cape Colony. In 1888 Britain took over Matabele and Mashonaland, and in 1889 the British South Africa Company was given a Charter for both these districts, again, of course, only to oblige the natives and at their request.(25) Between 1884 and 1887, Britain annexed St. Lucia Bay and the entire East Coast as far as the Portuguese possessions. In 1894, she subjected Tongaland. With their last strength, the Matabele and Mashona fought one more desperate battle, but the Company, with Rhodes at the head, first liquidated the rising in blood and at once proceeded to the well tried measure for civilising and pacifying the natives: two large railways were built in the rebellious district.

The Boer Republics were feeling increasingly uncomfortable in this sudden stranglehold, and their internal affairs as well were becoming completely disorganised. The overwhelming influx of immigrants and the rising tides of the frenzied new capitalist economy now threatened to burst the barriers of the small peasant states. There was indeed a blatant conflict between agricultural and political peasant economy on the one hand, and the demands and requirements of the accumulation of capital on the other. In all respects, the republics were quite unable to cope with these new problems. The constant danger from the Kaffirs, no doubt regarded favourably by the British, the unwieldy, primitive administration, the gradual corruption of the volksraad in which the great capitalists got their way by bribery, lack of a police force to keep the undisciplined crowds of adventurers in some semblance of order, the absence of labour legislation for regulating and securing the exploitation of the Negroes in the mines, lack of water supplies and transport to provide for the colony of 100,000 immigrants that had suddenly sprung up, high protective tariffs which increased the cost of labour for the capitalists, and high freights for coal – all these factors combined towards the sudden and stunning bankruptcy of the peasant republics.

They tried, obstinately and unimaginatively, to defend themselves against the sudden eruption of capitalism which engulfed them, with an incredibly crude measure, such as only a stubborn and hide-bound peasant brain could have devised: they denied all civic rights to the uitlanders who outnumbered them by far and who stood for capital, power, and the trend of the time. In those critical times it was an ill-omened trick. The mismanagement of the peasant republics caused a considerable reduction of dividends, on no account to be put up with. Mining capital had come to the end of its tether. The British South Africa Company built railroads, put down the Kaffirs, organised revolts of the uitlanders and finally provoked the Boer War. The bell had tolled for peasant economy. In the United States, the economic revolution had begun with a war, in South Africa war put the period to this chapter. Yet in both instances, the outcome was the same: capital triumphed over the small peasant economy which had in its turn come into being on the ruins of natural economy, represented by the natives’ primitive organisations. The domination of capital was a foregone conclusion, and it was just as hopeless for the Boer Republics to resist as it had been for the American farmer. Capital officially took over the reins in the new South African Union which replaced the small peasant republics by a great modern state, as envisaged by Cecil Rhodes’ imperialist programme. The new conflict between capital and labour had superseded the old one between British and Dutch. One million white exploiters of both nations sealed their touching fraternal alliance within the Union with the civil and political disfranchisement of five million coloured workers. Not only the Negroes of the Boer Republics came away empty handed, but the natives of the Cape Colony, whom the British government had at one time granted political equality, were also deprived of some of their rights. And this noble work, culminating under the imperialist policy of the Conservatives in open oppression, was actually to be finished by the Liberal Party itself, amid frenzied applause from the liberal cretins of Europe who with sentimental pride took as proof of the still continuing creative vigour and greatness of English liberalism the fact that Britain had granted complete self-government and freedom to a handful of whites in South Africa.

The ruin of independent craftsmanship by capitalist competition, no less painful for being soft-pedalled, deserves by rights a chapter to itself. The most sinister part of such a chapter would be out-work under capitalism; – but we need not dwell on these phenomena here.

The general result of the struggle between capitalism and simple commodity production is this: after substituting commodity economy for natural economy, capital takes the place of simple commodity economy. Non-capitalist organisations provide a fertile soil for capitalism; more strictly: capital feeds on the ruins of such organisations, and, although this non-capitalist milieu is indispensable for accumulation, the latter proceeds, at the cost of this medium nevertheless, by eating it up. Historically, the accumulation of capital is a kind of metabolism between capitalist economy and those pre-capitalist methods of production without which it cannot go on and which, in this light, it corrodes and assimilates. Thus capital cannot accumulate without the aid of non-capitalist organisations, nor, on the other hand, can it tolerate their continued existence side by side with itself. Only the continuous and progressive disintegration of non-capitalist organisations makes accumulation of capital possible.

The premises which are postulated in Marx’s diagram of accumulation accordingly represent no more than the historical tendency of the movement of accumulation and its logical conclusion. The accumulative process endeavours everywhere to substitute simple commodity economy for natural economy. Its ultimate aim, that is to say, is to establish the exclusive and universal domination of capitalist production in all countries and for all branches of industry.

Yet this argument does not lead anywhere. As soon as this final result is achieved – in theory, of course, because it can never actually happen – accumulation must come to a stop. The realisation and capitalisation of surplus value become impossible to accomplish. Just as soon as reality begins to correspond to Marx’s diagram of enlarged reproduction, the end of accumulation is in sight, it has reached its limits, and capitalist production is in extremis. For capital, the standstill of accumulation means that the development of the productive forces is arrested, and the collapse of capitalism follows inevitably, as an objective historical necessity. This is the reason for the contradictory behaviour of capitalism in the final stage of its historical career: imperialism.

Marx’s diagram of enlarged reproduction thus does not conform to the conditions of an accumulation in actual progress. Progressive accumulation cannot be reduced to static interrelations and interdependence between the two great departments of social production (the departments of producer and consumer goods), as the diagram would have it. Accumulation is more than an internal relationship between the branches of capitalist economy; it is primarily a relationship between capital and a non-capitalist environment, where the two great departments of production sometimes perform the accumulative process on their own, independently of each other, but even then at every step the movements overlap and intersect. From this we get most complicated relations, divergences in the speed and direction of accumulation for the two departments, different relations with non-capitalist modes of production as regards both material elements and elements of value, which we cannot possibly lay down in rigid formula. Marx’s diagram of accumulation is only the theoretical reflection of the precise moment when the domination of capital has reached its limits, and thus it is no less a fiction than his diagram of simple reproduction, which gives the theoretical formulation for the point of departure of capitalist accumulation. The precise definition of capitalist accumulation and its laws lies somewhere in between these two fictions.

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(1) Until recently, in China the domestic industries were widely practised even by the bourgeoisie and in such large and ancient towns as Ningpo with its 300,000 inhabitants.

‘Only a generation ago, the family’s shoes, hats, shirts, etc., were made by the women themselves. At that time, it was practically unheard-of for a young woman to buy from a merchant what she could have made with the labour of her own hands’ (Dr. Nyok-Ching Tsur, Forms of Industry in the Town of Ningpo (Die gewerblichen Betriebsformen der Stadt Ningpo), Tübingen 1909, p.51).

(2) Admittedly, this relation is reversed in the last stages of the history of peasant economy when capitalist production has made its full impact. Once the small peasants are ruined, the entire work of farming frequently devolves on the women, old people and children, while the men are made to work for their living for capitalist entrepreneurs in the domestic industries or at wage-slaves in the factories. A typical instance is the small peasant in Württemberg.

(3) W.A. Peffer, The Farmer’s Side. His Troubles and Their Remedy (New York 1891), Part ii, How We Got Here, chap.i, Changed Conditions of the Farmer, pp.56-7. Cf. also A.M. Simmons, The American Farmer (2nd edition, Chicago 1906), pp.74ff.

(4) Report of the USA Commissioner of Agriculture for the year 1867 (Washington 1868). Quoted by Lafargue: Getreidebau und Getreidehandel in den Vereinigten Staaten in Die Neue Zeit (1885), p.344. This essay on grain cultivation and the grain trade in the USA was first published in a Russian periodical in 1883.

(5) ‘The three Revenue Acts of June 30, 1864, practically formed one measure, and that probably the greatest measure of taxation which the world has seen ... The Internal Revenue Act was arranged, as Mr. David A. Wells has said, on the principle of the Irishman at Donnybrook Fair: “whenever you see a head, hit it, whenever you see a commodity, tax it”’ (F.W. Taussig, The Tariff History of the United States, New York-London 1888, pp.163-4).

(6) Ibid., pp.166-7.

(7) ‘The necessity of the situation, the critical state of the country, the urgent need of revenue, may have justified this haste, which, it is safe to say, is unexampled in the history of civilised countries’ (Taussig, op. cit., p.168).

(8) Pevfer, op. cit., pp.58ff.

(9) Ibid., p.6.

(10) Agricultural Competition in North America (Die landwirtschaftliche Konkurrenz Nordamerikas), Leipzig 1887, p.431.

(11) Lafargue, op. cit., p.345.

(12) The Thirteenth Annual Report of the Commissioner of Labour (Washington 1899) tables the advantages of machinery methods over hand methods so far achieved as follows:

table data

(13) Wheat exports from the Union to Europe:

table data

(14) Peffer, op. cit., part i, Where We Are, chap.ii, Progress of Agriculture, pp.30-1.

(15) Ibid., p.4.

(16) Sering, op. cit., p.433.

(17) Peffer, op. cit., p.34f.

(18) Quoted by Nikolayon, op. cit., p.224.

(19) 49,199 people immigrated to Canada in 1902. In 1912, the number of immigrants was more than 400,000 – 138,000 of them British, and 134,000 American. According to a report from Montreal, the influx of American farmers continued into the spring of the present year [1912].

(20) ‘Travelling in the West of Canada, I have visited only one farm of less than a thousand acres. According to the census of the Dominion of Canada, in 1881, when the census was taken, no more than 9,077 farmers occupied 2,384,337 acres of land between them; accordingly, the share of an individual (farmer) amounted to no less than 2,047 acres – in no state of the Union is the average anywhere near that’ (Sering, op. cit., p.376). In the early eighties, farming on a large scale was admittedly not very widely spread in Canada. But already in 1887, Sering describes the ‘Bell Farm’, owned by a limited company, which comprised no fewer than 56,700 acres, and was obviously modelled on the pattern of the Dalrymple farm. In the eighties, Sering, who regarded the prospects of Canadian competition with some scepticism, put the ‘fertile belt’ of Western Canada at three-fifths of the entire acreage of Germany, and estimated that actually only 38,400,000 acres of this were arable land, and no more than 55,000,000 acres at best were prospective wheat land (Sering, op. cit., pp.337-8). The Manitoba Free Press in June 1912, worked out that in summer, 1912, 11,200,000 acres were sown with spring wheat in Canada, as against 19,200,000 acres under spring wheat in the United States. (Cf. Berliner Tageblatt, Handelszeitung, No.305, June 18, 1912.)

(21) Sering, op. cit., pp.361ff.

(22) Ernst Schultze, Das Wirtschaftsleben der Vereinigten Staaten, Jahrb f. Gesetzg., Verw. u. Volkswirtschaft 1912, no.27, p.1724.

(23) Article 9.

(24) ‘Moshesh, the great Basuto leader, to whose courage and statesmanship the Basutos owed their very existence as a people, was still alive at the time, but constant war with the Boers of the Orange Free State had brought him and his followers to the last stage of distress. Two thousand Basuto warriors had been killed, cattle had been carried off, native homes had been broken up and crops destroyed. The tribe was reduced to the position of starving refugees, and nothing could save them but the protection of the British government which they had repeatedly implored’ (C.P. Lucas, A Historical Geography of the British Colonies, part ii, vol.iv (Geography of South and East Africa), Oxford 1904, p.39).

(25) ‘The Eastern section of the territory is Mashonaland where, with the permission of King Lobengula, who claimed it, the British South Africa Company first established themselves’ (ibid., p.72).

Last updated on: 12.12.2008