Analysis of Wealth. IV. Accumulation

Capital is an accumulation of surplus-value. Whatever the original capital with which capi­talist production started may have been it has long since disappeared, consumed by the capi­talist class.

Likewise with the individual upstart. Even if we grant that by “his own exertions” he becomes possessed of a sum of money, this sum does not become capital until he uses it to exploit labour-power. As this process continues his capital comes to consist of accumulated surplus-value, while his original sum disappears in consumption.

Other things remaining the same the accumu­lation of capital implies an increase in the demand for labour-power ; for capital, in order to remain itself, must grow by the exploitation of ever more labour-power. This in itself gives rise to an increase in the rate of wages, since in the course of time the demand must tend to out­strip the supply as provided by normal increase in the labouring population.

Capital, however, is by no means satisfied with this state of affairs. It sees in the natural limits of population a limit to the rapidity of its own growth. Hence as we have shown in a former article, it exhibits a historical tendency to force on the productivity of social labour by specialisation of individual functions and by the introduction of machinery. Thus it wrings from a given quantity of labour-power a larger proportion of surplus-value. Therefore, along with the accumulation of capital goes an alteration in what Marx calls its technical composition. Its constant portion, i.e., that invested in the pas­sive factors of the labour process, increases at the expense of the variable element which pur­chases labour-power.

This enables production to be carried on on an ever-increasing scale without the demand for labour-power increasing sufficiently to cause a rise in its price. On the contrary it reduces the demand for labour-power to such a point as to cause a permanent over-supply of workers ; in other words, it creates an industrial reserve army—the unemployed.

The larger the scale on which an individual capitalist does business the more he is enabled to economise and reduce the number of his employees in proportion to work done. The cheaper, therefore, can he sell his commodities (since they embody less labour) and the keener becomes his competition against his rivals. They in turn are forced to economise and to and “extend the scale of their operations as rapidly as possible. In the long run the large capitals become larger while small ones get absorbed or wiped out ; for the market soon refuses to bear the increased weight of goods supplied by this acceleration of production. This centralisation of capital causes further economy and increases the industrial reserve army.

Thus in the process of accumulation we observe on the one hand a tendency to increase the productivity of labour and on the other hand a contraction of the market for its products, seeing that the growth of the unemployed lessens the demand for commodities, both on their part and on the part of those actually employed whose places they are ever ready to take.

These two forces act and re-act on each other to an increasing extent. The competition of the unemployed forces the actual workers to submit to the lowest wages and the maximum amount of work. This increases the accumulation of capital, which in turn intensifies competition among the capitalists for the market, causing further economies and more unemployed.

At one end of the social scale, then, we have the concentration of capital in fewer hands and consequent luxury and idleness ; at the other end, absence of all wealth other than than necessary to secure the workers’ continued existence in a state of overwork, coupled with a dead­weight of destitute wretches denied even that questionable privilege. This state of affairs arises inevitably from the very nature of capitalist production, and its special features are aggravated with every step in capitalist progress. Even the statistics compiled by capitalist authorities, governmental and otherwise, bear out this conclusion.

So far we have examined only the growth of capital. It remains for us to consider its origin and destiny. Assuming on the one hand a class with the means of production and on the other a class without these means it is easily seen that the former can exploit the latter to an ever-increasing degree.

The question arises, however, as to how this relationship was established. Orthodox econo­mists and other apologists for things as they are assure us that it is solely due to the virtues of the possessors and the vices of the proletariat. If by virtue we mean work, however, we have already seen that the accumulation of capital by no means bears out this fairy tale. At present and for centuries the workers with all their toil have been unable to accumulate. If the capital­ists saved money by work it was an extraordi­narily long time ago. We are forced, then, to turn to history for a solution of the problem.

The system of society immediately proceeding the present social system in the course of evolution we know as Feudalism. It consisted of a complex hierarchy of lords and vassals bound to each other by the duties of military support and obedience and the right of protec­tion. As a basis for this system was serfdom. The land was parcelled out among the lords and their subordinates, and while the latter culti­vated the land of their lords they had land of their own for their personal use. In the towns chartered freemen carried on handicrafts and commerce. Thus reciprocal obligations existed and were established by feudal law and custom. No man lacked the means of subsistence, or an occupation. The lords exploited their subordinates, but the latter possessed something tho modern wage slave lacks—security !

The decay of feudalism forms the starting-point of capitalist development. In England it was spread over the 14th, 15th, and 16th cen­turies. By degrees the peasants and handi­craftsmen freed themselves from servile duties and became independent producers, while in conjunction with the growth of trade and the production of commodities arose and flourished the merchant class, who sandwiched themselves parasitically between the producers on either side of the exchange and incidentally fleeced both whenever occasion offered.

The feudal nobility, exhausted, in numbers and resources, by friction among themselves, disbanded their retainers, who thenceforth become propertylcss men seeking employment for a living. Large estates passed into the hands of wealthy farmers and burghers, who did not hesitate to evict the tenants in order to convert one-time arable land into sheep pastures. The new nobility also confiscated common land for similar purposes spurred on by the increase in the price of wool. The spoliation of the Church during the Reformation aggravated this con­dition, and by the end of the 16th century a considerable labour-market had come into being, consisting of expropriated agriculturists, disbanded retainers, and forlorn monks.

The process went on in stages till the 19th century, when the last vestige of the old yeomanry disappeared. At first legislation from Henry VII. onward attempted to stem the tide of usurpation, but in the 18th century the law itself had become the instrument whereby the robbery of the people was effected. Private force was supplemented by the force of the State, which has remained to this day the agent of the plutocrats. From the first it penalised the disinherited for their misfortune : flogging and branding them was its most merciful means of dealing with them.

This, as Marx says, established the “discipline necessary to the wage-system,” and encouraged the new-born proletariat to submit to the low wages and long hours at first legally enforced by the State.

As the workers became habituated and resigned to their fate the severity of the penal legislation relaxed, only to be applied with all its original vigour again when the workers found in combination a means f parrying the onslaught of the masters.

If to-day Trade Unions and strikes are legal it is only because the capitalists have been able to circumvent the determination of the workers by counter organisation, increased economy, and the corruption of the unions themselves.

The labour-market once established, the genesis of the capitalist class followed as a matter of course. In agriculture the farmer, one­-time agent for the landowner, was transformed into an independent exploiter. Whereas the independent peasant had previously produced many of his own requirements, such as clothes, in addition to purely agricultural products, now, as a wage-worker for the capitalist farmer, he had to purchase these elsewhere. Hence arose a domestic market for capitalist industry in the towns. Merchants and money lenders were not slow to take advantage of this. Employing numbers of disinherited peasants, etc., they entered into competition with the independent handicraftsmen of the guilds, and owing to the larger scale of their operations and the division of labour in the workshops which they intro­duced, they were ultimately able to outstrip the guildsmen in the race. In the face of this com­petition the guilds went to pieces and added more exploitable material to the labour market. At the same time there arose the struggle between the capitalist nations of Europe for world domination. Spain, Portugal, Holland, France, and England followed one another in rapid succession in exploration and conquest in Africa, America, and Asia, plundering the natives of their wealth and converting them into slaves for export to plantation colonies. The plunder thus obtained by the agents of the “merchant adventurers” helped to form new capital in England and on the Continent for the exploitation of white slaves.

These are the methods, drawn very mildly, by which the modern “respectable” class rose to power. The depths of their historic depravity are in direct proportion to the “loftiness” of their professed ideals. Champions of Justice, Freedom, and Charity, their career is indelibly stained with robbery, slavery, and murder. Need it be added that it shows no signs of improving from the standpoint of the workers ?

To sum up, modern wealth or capital is a product of social labour, past and present, which has been and continues to be monopolised by a small class of individuals, which grows rela­tively smaller as the mass of disinherited producers increases. In its origin it destroyed the unity which existed between the producers and their products, including the means of pro­duction, thus reducing them to social outcasts, having no access to the means of life as provided by nature and society. This relationship it perpetuates and uses as a means of self-expansion at their expense.

Technically, however, it indicates economic progress. In the place of the isolated workers of the middle ages able to produce but a meagre variety of articles of wealth, we have to-day an international combination of producers using a highly complex organisation of machinery, means of transport and distribution capable of providing comfort and leisure for all.

What prevents this desirable consummation of industrial development ? The reader who has followed this analysis will readily see that it is the capitalist character of this social wealth, i.e., its private ownership, which alone stands in the way. The private property of the many workers has disappeared before the private ownership of a few idlers. To return to the former state is neither possible nor desirable. It is not our business to destroy the fruits of centuries of toiling agony, but rather to enter into possession of them ; and as the means of production become ever more concentrated and incapable of control save in the mass, the only alternative to private ownership by the few is common ownership.

This will reunite the producers with their means of production and simultaneously preserve technical progress, for it is this progress which forces on the revolution. It unites them in the productive process and reduces them all to the level of wage slaves for the maintenance of capital. Hence it breeds a community of interest and a common consciousness. Let us speed on the day when they will unite in one organisation with a common purpose. Let us rally them round the Socialist standard, annd establish Socialism, the cooperative commonwealth.

E. B.

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