On the Thread of Time – Continuing on the Agrarian Question

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Surplus labour and classes

First of all, we must insist on the reasons why Marx attributes great importance to the physiocrat system, even if it has been supplanted by the comparatively more modern school of classical economics, which was born in the first industrial nation, England, and which, the first, necessarily, gave precedence to industrial production over agricultural production.

We would also point out that, since we do not write in these “Fili” a “systematic” account of Marxist doctrine, and since we have committed ourselves to devoting a series of them to the agrarian question (and also to the problems raised by many comrades), we must refer to other writings and assume that we now are familiar with the general theory of value and surplus value, as well as its source; the result is that we will only make occasional remarks and that we will sometimes use clearer formulations that can be found by browsing through a disparate set of Marxist texts. However, we will be interested here in following this theory among the first Capital economists such as Smith, Ricardo, etc., insofar as they carried out fundamental research on agrarian rent.

For the same reason, we will move beyond the limits of rural production when, as is the case with the scope of the physiocratic school, Marx’s criticism will provide us with very useful opportunities to shed light on the very foundations of the doctrine of communism.

The first, but not the only, aspect of the great innovation brought by the physiocrats to economics is that they have demonstrated the existence of surplus value, even if they have only done so in the agricultural sector, by specifying for the first time the difference between what the wage worker receives and what his labour creates as a surplus of product and thus of value. This second quantity was, as a general rule, much higher than the first, and the difference, which is allocated to other social elements, constitutes overproduction, surplus labour, surplus or surplus value.

Physiocrats discovered this surplus value in a restrictive way in the relationship between physical and material products, namely in their use to satisfy human needs, and therefore their theory is only a theory of use value and not of exchange value, as it was the case for English classical economists, sung by the capitalism movement: it was easier to discover the phenomenon in question in the agricultural sphere where the worker consumes the same foodstuffs as he produces, and because it can be seen immediately that he consumes wheat, vegetables, fruit, etc., in much smaller quantities than it contributes to the company’s production.

But the second very important aspect of the system, and of the famous “Tableau” in which Quesnay summarised it, is that, for the first time, the report is not only established for the contribution of an individual employee to his farmer and landowner, but is studied at the national level as a relationship between the social classes in which, according to this theory, the nation (the economic society) is divided., in much smaller quantities than it contributes to the company’s production.

But the second very important aspect of the system, and of the famous “Tableau” in which Quesnay summarised it, is that, for the first time, the relationship is not only established for the contribution of an individual employee to his farmer and landowner, but is studied at the national level as a relationship between the social classes in which, according to this theory, the nation (economic society) is divided. And therefore, we have here, in an embryonic way, the theory of social classes. There is no longer wage, profit or rent, but rather social masses, and therefore surplus value is socially calculated; and if it is referred to a given economic act, it concerns us only as a social average and not as an occasional and individual share.

Quesnay is therefore below Marx, but he is far beyond the most famous university professor of economics of 1954, whose battle-horse, for all, is the following theorem: from a scientific point of view, it is impossible to establish laws, diagrams, theories and tables for typical economic societies.

Power and wealth

Since then, economics has become the theory of social surplus labour and ceased to be a vague and literary explanation of wealth and its movements, causes and effects because there are rich and poor people… And so Marx composes (in the fourth volume of Capital) not, as Croce would have said, the History of Economography, but the history of the theories of surplus labour.

Without going too far back, Hobbes, a philosopher and economist who died in 1689, a century before Quesnay, answered the question on wealth with a clear definition: wealth is synonymous with power. Blanqui, representative of authoritarianism in the revolution, just as old Hobbes was in conservation, will say: he who has iron has bread! And the genius, although still confused, Adam Smith, in order to defend his great intuition that the value of any commodity (wealth in capitalist society means accumulation of commodities) is measured by the amount of labour time it contains, namely the amount of labour time necessary to produce it, comments: this (Hobbes’ definition) does not mean (he should have said no longer means) that anyone with a large fortune, whether by their labour or by heritage, necessarily needs political, civilian or military authority… He has only the power to dispose of all the labour and products of labour in the market.

Wealth therefore consists in having the labour of others at one’s disposal. That it may have been created by the owner’s own labour, this is the naive hypothesis put forward by the propagandists of the bourgeois mercantile economy, which cannot even be proposed to professional fasters.

When Marx refutes Ricardo, who is much more advanced than Smith, he explains that it is a question of social labour: indeed, the expression labour of others, as opposed to that of labour performed by oneself, which would be attributed to everyone through the fabulous “natural law”, is already a somewhat ingenious expression. When Ricardo talks about “my” labour, he points out “but even my labour is social labour”. This simple and profound formula brings us back to what we have repeated so many times: the formula of the communist demand is not: to each one the fruit of his labour, but: to society all the social labour. Consequently, the individual will be deprived not only of “power” over the labour of other men, but also of personal power over his own, that is, over the share of “surplus labour” that he will then still be required to give to society. The more it progresses, the more it will rely on social surplus labour, and the less it will rely on “necessary labour”, i.e. labour purchased and paid for, with its imperative obligations of time and place of work, masked in the form of free contractual choice, a “provision of services”.

But in the period before the formation of the general market, which is above all the labour power market, the distinction between wealth and power was more tangible. The dependence was not yet social, from class to class, but personal. In slavery, the entire body of the worker was part of the wealth of his owner, and this ensured that the latter possessed the owner’s surplus labour: since he was provided with what kept him alive, for example food, all the product of his arms, in consumer goods or services, belonged by right to his owner.

In feudal serfdom, it is no longer the entire person of the slave who belongs to his owner, but a large part of the working time of the serf, or the product of this labour, is due to his lord, and, in addition, the serf is strictly linked to his place of work. It is therefore still a personal dependence, and the wealth of the feudatory always depends on a power relationship: armed bodies and legal forces which, in the event of rebellion, take the serf back to the fief, just as they took the slave back to his master’s house.

In this situation, the division of society into classes and the unequal distribution of wealth were evident, since the act of power over the class was obvious. The genius of the physiocrats was to establish, even if it was assumed that all workers had been liberated, that there was still a mass of surplus labour being transferred, that this transfer was no longer from the serf to the master, considered as individuals, but that it was from class to class; they justified this by considering that the income of agricultural entrepreneurs was distributed in a balanced way, and they highlighted that the landowners’ income came, in a parasitic way, from surplus labour.

The mistake they made, by not seeing in the factory the same relationship between surplus labour and profit, is largely compensated by the grandiose result they achieved: economic dynamics is no longer linked to the individual element but to the social class as a whole.

Use of models

So far, we have only mentioned the figures in the “Tableau” in passing. We will now present, in its general lines, the “balance sheet” of each class: this will allow us to understand where the defects lie in Smith and Ricardo’s theory of surplus value; following the traces of Marx’s criticism.

The “Tableau” describes a typical society, abstractly imagined, and thus assimilated to a schema. Marx’s task was to give a standard schema of modern industrial capitalist society, but he did not finish it, because of his early death, and it was badly completed by the self-appointed movement and school as a result of well-known historical reasons of deviation and fallacious revisionism.

The differences between this scheme and Quesnay’s are substantial: Quesnay considers that this typical scheme is the one that characterises post-feudal society, the wage labour society, and consequently, the class antagonism between proletarians and entrepreneurs is entirely beyond his control. As for the ruling class, it replaces the aristocracy of the old regime with a class of bourgeois landowners, neglecting that of entrepreneurial capitalists, and even that of trade and finance capitalists. In addition, Quesnay constructs his schema as the “project of the best possible society” and as the plan for the stable society of the future, based on personal “freedom”. Marx, for his part, constructs his schema as that of the capitalist society that exists historically after the feudal era, of the fully developed type, and not as that of a mechanism that would run uniformly, at its “cruise” speed, because his objective is precisely to show that this system is unstable and historically transient, and that its mechanics do not lead to what physics defines as a dynamic “balance” but to an unequivocal imbalance, to serial crises and to the final explosion. It is for polemical purposes, as we have always argued, that it does not consider the actual capitalist society, that is to say, impure, of the different countries and stages of development – of which it provides, when necessary, particular, magnificent and reliable descriptions – but a hypothetical society in which everything would be wage production and mercantile distribution, a society that the bourgeoisie and their science boast as being in perfect and eternal balance, once all the residues of pre-capitalist forms have disappeared.

And, indeed, this is what the capitalist economists of the classical school affirm; but then, the official science, frightened by the powers they had evoked, withdrew into the field of descriptive statistics of recording phenomena, and refused the schemas, stating that they were only pure and vain doctrinal exercises against which an ever rebelling multiple and capricious reality is being made. It therefore refused any schematisation, not only in the manner of Quesnay, which has an apologetic value and corresponds in economics to the plans of utopian sociologists, but even more so that of Marx, which is not static but dynamic, which is not apologetic but revolutionary.

In the meantime, Quesnay has had the merit of declaring it possible to build a scientific model, despite the immense richness and mutability of the data on the living economy; in this, he anticipated, no more and no less, Marx’s historical materialism, affirming that modern criticism of old spiritualist schools, conducted in France on the level of natural and physical science, in Germany on the level of the sciences of thought, boldly launched in England on the level of those of society, during the golden age of the industrial revolution, could perfectly be proposed and developed in this field until it was scientifically founded; but this task went beyond that of bourgeois philosophy, and was reserved for the dialectical materialism of a new and revolutionary class: the proletariat.

Summary of the Quesnay tableau

The “Tableau” does not consider the movement of products and money within classes, but only from one class to another, on the scale of the entire society, which was, for the author, the French society of the time (1759).

For him, there are three classes. Class P, or owner class, which also includes the sovereign and the tithe holders, i.e. the beneficiaries of the tithe, which has now become a cash annuity. Class F, or productive class, which includes not only the capitalists who rent the land (the Farmers) but also all the agricultural workers they employ. Class S, or sterile class, which includes manufacturers and factory workers.

As is well known, Smith and Ricardo, as well as Marx, will also use a three-class scheme: landowners, capitalists and wage labourers.

In both cases, the classes of small peasants and artisans are excluded from the schema, insofar as they constitute closed islands, not involved in the general circulation of products and value. But Smith and Ricardo will be less profound than Quesnay when it comes to distinguishing, in the accounting of the bourgeois enterprise, between constant capital, which is advanced at the beginning of the cycle but is found intact, i. e. not increased, at the end of the cycle, and the effectively circulating capital, which has the property of returning increased at the end of one cycle and therefore at the beginning of the next.

It is true that Smith and Ricardo understood that, in each productive cycle, the capitalist advances raw materials and workers’ wages, and thus becomes the owner of the product, and that, between its value and the value that has been advanced, there is a difference that constitutes the surplus value; they also claimed that all the surplus value was surplus labour, i.e. it resulted from the fact that the wages paid to workers covered only part of the value they had added by their work, but they related it to the value of the whole product obtained. On the contrary, it should only be related to the sole value of the variable capital, the wage capital, since constant capital is only an advance that is fully recovered. As a result, they confused the concepts of surplus value and profit (see the “Dialogue with Stalin“) and obtained a too low surplus value rate.

Quesnay, on the other hand, proceeds differently. Let’s take the F-class, the productive class. At harvest time, it assumes that Farmers, who hold the entire harvest in their deposits, have five billion. But, as capitalists, they also have their working capital, in the form of two billion dollars. Thanks to these funds, they pay the P class of owners their total rent, supposed to be precisely two billion. They then put the product on the market, but before that they pay two of the five billion agricultural products to their workers, a payment that takes place within class F through market or monetary transactions that are not highlighted (to simplify, we speak as if the movements were made only once a year and as if everyone kept what they had received: The study and presentation are less obscure for agriculture, where the cycle has a strict annual periodicity – although Quesnay remained undecipherable until Marx, the picture of industrial production and traffic would be even more indecipherable with its superimpositions and phase shifts of cycles of very varied lengths).

There are still three billion commodities left. The owners of the P class buy one billion, and the F class recovers one of the two billion that constituted its initial availability.

It recovers the second billion by selling food products to class S, the industrial class; it then has one billion products left that Quesnay presumes are not food products but raw materials to be processed (raw cotton, wool, leather, etc.). This last billion is also sold to the S class, which will introduce it into the production process the following year. So far, F has collected one billion more than those it has paid as a rent: it would be, in the broad sense, its profit: it employs it to acquire from class S for one billion manufactured products, either for its own consumption, or for the reconstitution of used tools and installations (it should be remembered that farmers’ personal consumption of foodstuffs is already included in the two billion products retained within the productive class and not put into circulation).

The assessment of the F class is therefore complete for one year.

In cash: initial balance of two billion. Inputs: one billion from owners, two billion from class S, including one for foodstuffs, and one for raw materials: a total of three billion. Outflows: $2 billion paid to owners as rent, $1 billion to class S for total manufactured goods $3 billion. At the end, we have two plus three minus three: we find the two billion of the initial operating capital.

In products: five billion in stores. Outputs: two billion provided to members of the productive agricultural class (wages and remuneration in kind), one billion sold to owners, two billion sold to the sterile class, including one of foodstuffs and another of raw materials: total five billion: balance.

Let us stop for a moment to observe that the billion used to buy different utility goods in the sterile class represents the return on the fixed capital (and not that of the cash, or working capital) of farmers, which is constituted by machines, tools, livestock, etc., and that Quesnay estimates at ten billion: it is therefore remunerated by an interest rate of 10%.

Now let’s take a look at the simplest owner class for you, and the most pleasant… for them. It receives $2 billion in class F money. It spends $1 billion to buy food for it and another to buy manufactured objects from the industrial class. Balance.

If we also assume an interest rate of 10% here, the owners’ assets would therefore amount to twenty billion, with an income of two billion. In reality, in the system under consideration, only the class of owners pays taxes. Of the two billion in rent, two sevenths go to the State, one seventh to the Church’s tithes, and only four sevenths constitute the net rent; the value of land assets is therefore not twenty billion, but eleven and a half.

It remains to assess the sterile class. This class, in reality manufacturers, has a working capital of two billion, which, at the end or beginning of the cycle, is transformed into manufactured objects. It sells one billion manufactured articles to owners, and another billion to class F, thus collecting two billion in money. With one, it buys food from farmers for its workers and contractors, and with the other, raw materials for processing for the following year. Its financial position is in balance, with no losses or profits. This class does have working capital but no net income: and therefore, for Quesnay, the land is worth eleven and a half billion, the capital of the agricultural enterprise has a patrimonial value of ten billion, and the manufacturing industry in working order (i.e. there is no intention of liquidating it by stopping production) is worth zero.

Quesnay puts it all in a somewhat obscure way. Marx made a sketch of it and presented it in Chapter XIV of Section A of “Theories” in a rather difficult synthesis. Engels re-explains the scheme more clearly in Chapter X of the 2nd Section of the “Anti-Dühring”. We pride ourselves on having been less intellectual and more down-to-earth than Engels. Also, if you have not understood, you will have to wait for the arrival of an interpreter even dumber than the author of these lines.

Quesnay wasn’t an idiot

We will now proceed to the next exercise: reread the previous reports in Marx’s language.

And then, reread them in the language (pass us the expression) of university professors.

For Smith and Ricardo, the value of the product can be broken down into three elements: wages, rent, and profit, whether the product is agricultural or manufacturing. In that respect, they are right in relation to Quesnay. But they are below Marx, who establishes that the value of the product is divided into four parts: constant capital, variable capital, rent and profit. Constant capital, which is gradually replenished until the end of the cycle, is therefore not income, i.e. an economic entry, for any class. Variable capital is that part of the amount derived from the product that is used to pay workers’ wages, the rent goes to landowners and the profit to capitalists. The latter can be divided in various ways between corporate profit and interest on financial capital.

Let’s now look at the balance sheet of the Fermier de Quesnay (and do not hesitate to write, with the general agreement, in class “F”[1] the one who has the naivety to believe that these pages will be read to the end). Constant capital: it is reduced to a small part of the one billion manufactured objects that it buys in the sterile class and which are used to renew tools and machines, among others. Variable capital: it consists almost entirely of the two billion goods produced that are intended for the consumption of the productive class. Surplus value: two billion, plus most of the one billion manufactured objects and a small part of the two billion foodstuffs consumed in the rural class, add up to three billion. Distribution of this surplus value: rent, two billion, which goes to the owners; profit for entrepreneurs and interest on corporate capital, both of which go to the farmers themselves, one billion. Total annual production: five billion.

The owner’s balance sheet: he consumes his two billion annual income by buying food and manufactured goods.

Industrialist’s balance sheet: constant capital of one billion (raw materials purchased from F), variable capital of one billion (foodstuffs purchased from F), capital gain of zero, total annual production value of two billion. In fact, of the one billion spent on food for workers, a part is allocated to manufacturers, and it should be included in the surplus value, but at that time the industrialist was considered an intellectual worker and an organiser (remember how recent authors characterise corporate profit), and Quesnay defines this part as the remuneration given to the elite elements of the sterile class; the latter receive, like the workers, exactly what they consume and therefore, in industry, the mass of profit and the mass of surplus value are equal to zero, and the rates of both are also zero.

In agriculture, on the other hand, what we see is the following: an income which, if we do not count taxes and tithes, is worth two-fifths of the gross product (in other words, we could say that these two-fifths correspond to a “rent rate” of 40%) – a profit and interest worth one fifth of the gross product (profit rate of one fifth or 20%) – their sum, or surplus, reaches three fifths of the gross product. Since constant capital is negligible (in agriculture, no raw materials are processed), the capital gain rate is three times higher (value of wage capital), or about 150%.

Thus, in the “Tableau”, we find the theory of surplus labour in an embryonic form. If land workers consume only two by producing five, and if their working day is ten hours, the paid work is four hours and the extra work is six hours.

What about the modern ones?

Now let’s see how a modern economics professor reads the “Tableau”.

National land ownership is worth $11.5 billion. The annual revenue amounts to 5 billion. The gross rent of the owners is 2 billion, and the net rent of one billion and 150 million, with a rate of 10%.

The capital invested in agriculture (the asset value of capitalist agricultural enterprises) is $10 billion. Net profit was close to 1 billion with a rate of 10%. Agricultural products are sold with a 10% margin on the cost of production, including the rent royalty.

The capital invested in the industry is $2 billion, it reproduces but it does not give a profit. The market prices of manufactured products are such that there is no margin on their cost of production.

The required working capital is 2 billion. The national income is 7 billion (2 of land rent, 1 of business profit, 2 of agricultural wages, 2 of industrial wages). The national wealth amounts to 23.5 billion.

While all this highlights the inadequacies of the “Tableau”, which is based on a poorly developed capitalism, with excessively high income rates and very low wages, it does not prevent this from making obvious for the first time the enormous difference that exists between the capitalist accounting method and the Marxist method of calculation. For the most modern professor, who is actually more backward and feudalist than Quesnay, Capital is an asset to which a property right is attached. For us, Capital is a mass of goods produced for final or productive consumption, it is a mass of living social labour condemned to the labour of companies. The university socialist is the one who merely invokes the expropriation of property rights; the revolutionary socialist is the one who wants to suppress Capital, by tearing the character of commodities from both work instruments and consumer goods, by freeing living social labour from the tyranny of the company.

That is why Ricardo was talking nonsense, forgetting, as usual misunderstanding, that the surplus value should only be related to the wage capital, which represents a part of the value of the product, and not to all the capital, including the constant capital (and even less to the asset value of the production company), in the passages that Marx puts between quotation marks: “Wages and profits always increase or decrease in the opposite direction to each other”; or “If wages increase, it is only at the expense of profit, and vice versa” (“Theories”, Vol III, 1, 3).

The error of reducing, for the greater glory of Production and Enterprise, the antagonism between two eras and two fiercely enemy worlds to a struggle to death between employer profit and workers’ wages, is a hallmark of the banal caricature of the class revolution called trade unionism, from Proudhon to Lassalle, from the poor old Rigola now departed to the Ordinovists.

But this is not the time to develop here all the cases examined by Marx in order to refute the Ricardian formula.

Methods of the science of economics

The ordinary professor does not conceive that national circulation and national income can be calculated as relations between “classes”. He argues that the business-to-business movement from “homo economicus” to “homo economicus” and national income should be considered as the sum of all citizens’ personal income. It thus leads the uninformed reader of newspapers and magazines astray in the maze of inputs that become outputs, then returns to inputs, expenses, income, deferrals, creditors, debtors and swindlers, so that, in the end, only one law triumphs, that of equivalence of values in billions of microscopic transactions, and that the supreme philosophy of economic research is that moral rights and official religion are safe when one sings the song: who has given, has given, has given! Who has had, has had, has had, has had!

Political economy is the science par excellence where we can see that the much-vaunted modern culture is going through an era of uninterrupted decline. Another science that is just as characteristic of this observation is urban planning, which has been taking giant steps backwards since the time of Romulus. Cities founded by modern urban planners are increasingly repulsive because of the complete absence of any sensible notion of technique, economy and social history. Let us not believe that the so-called “exact” sciences are an exception to this rule. For example, the science of construction, entirely based on mathematics and mechanics, is the most venal and corrupt, and it is not a question of adding nuclear physics to this science, which in a few years will have difficulty recruiting, another field where the formidable interests of wealth and power make everything play out with bevelled cards.

In defence of his atomistic and anti-deterministic method, which cuts everything into small pieces and makes no commitment to anything, the economics professor began to mock the efforts that his science had to make at a time when the social situation gave it a powerful impetus, claiming that the attempts to establish explanatory diagrams of the social machine, conceived as a grand and simple system and not merely a clockwork mechanism, were only pure exercises on the part of partisans and agitators. But Quesnay, despite the excessive simplifications that led him to bring together agricultural workers and capitalist farmers, because they opposed them to the economic symbiosis of industrialists and factory workers, was brilliant when, starting from the terrible impasse in the circulation of money, in which the only phenomenon that could be understood from the outset was stealing the wallet from the inside pocket of his jacket, he established his network scheme: Cancelled circulation within each of the three classes, incomplete circulation when only two classes are in play (for example, Owners buy manufactured items in the Sterile Class), complete when all three are in play for example, money that goes from Farmers to Owners, Owners to the Sterile Class, and again from the Sterile Class to Farmers.

The professor, or the great bureaucrat, tells us: today, we have before us a much larger number of categories, and, in each qualitative category, of quantitative situations, so that it is impossible for us to accept these simplistic presentations. The data must be processed according to modern statistical theories, using the resources of Cybernetics and electronic computers. While these natural and artificial brain trusts are developing the rolled up data, you must be careful, not only on this or that tram line, but at every step: watch your pockets!

And yet the Quesnay schematic was only driven by the conditions of the environment in which he lived, which were perfectly clear and readable, and not by any partisan spirit: we said that his ideology was still aristocratic and autocratic, and that he did not realise that it was the expression of a new era, not only of capitalist land ownership as opposed to feudal land ownership, but even of the later forms of industrial capitalism from which, without realising it, he discovered and wrote the laws. Is this not how all science has proceeded through these patterns that seem to be held on crutches, and that are not born in crazy-ass brains, but are dictated almost unconsciously to those who write when highly seismic situations present themselves in history? Didn’t Christopher Columbus discover the unknown West by supporting “winning the East”? Galileo wrote in the greatest secrecy: “altissimum planetam tergeminum observavi”, that is, “I saw (with a primitive eyeglass) the planet Saturn composed of three closely joined stars”; one large in the middle and two small ones on the sides. And indeed, with a greater magnification, Herschell observed that it was the famous ring that surrounds the planet in an approximately spherical shape like all the others, and that Galileo had “taken the cup”. But isn’t this cup worth more than all the cups of coffee you can have with your pay at the end of the month?

Well, we could add a hundred other examples to those just mentioned to show that the conquests of theory proceeds in waves and those that are fundamental correspond to certain critical periods. All modern information on particle physics comes from the development of schemas and models of the atom, which not only roughly describe it in order to make it accessible to our senses and the degree of development of our brain, but which do not at all guarantee that the many types of particles discovered, and in a certain sense verified, actually exist in the form of microscopic points, and that they are not anything else, for example waves, energy, etc., things that are described in mathematical formulas confirmed by practical experimental controls, yet which are not accessible to our senses or even to our understanding.

The schematic model will one day appear crude and banal like Galileo’s little drawing of Saturn, but, in the meantime, atomic energy will have been released, to the glory of another science that has shamefully degenerated for thousands of years: military art.

It is therefore perfectly lawful to work on the “unreal” model of modern capitalist society and the schematic indicating the way and method by which it should die.

If we have to throw out the schema, we will only do it “after”.

Class politics (For the good taste)

The specific criticism of the physiocrats therefore offered Marxism, the modern doctrine of the proletariat (already present in the Quesnay model, since agricultural workers, on whose labour all the creation of social wealth is based, is undeniable, one can not deny it is pure proletarian), even if only in an embryonic form, some essential elements. We have studied the first element, namely the creation of the theory of surplus labour, and the second, namely the division of society into classes and the analysis of economic movements from class to class, and no longer from individual to individual, from business to business. But there is yet another that confirms that Marx’s interest in this system was not based on an exercise in scholarship but was in response to a revolutionary demand.

There is, in physiocratic theory, an element that is totally absent from the theory of classical capitalist economics, although it has had the merit of having defined the existence of surplus value in the production of any commodity, whether it is an agricultural product or a manufactured product. By highlighting economic movements as class-to-class transactions, the physiocrats never tried to explain ground rent by reducing its character as the extortion of labour by one class from another; classical economists, on the other hand, discovered the surplus value in industry, but, by obeying the individualistic scheme of their economy, they affirm that the worker’s wage pays exactly his working time, according to the law of trade equivalence, they constantly advance “justifications” for corporate profit and describe it as the remuneration of the capitalists’ contribution to national wealth.

In other words, classical economics justifies the relationship between the capitalist and the proletarian as being, in the wage system, fair and free; it therefore considers as oppressive only previous relationships based on servile dependence, and finally, for it, the legal environment of personal freedom is the definitive condition for a balanced and flourishing economy. The French physiocrats, on the other hand, by emphasising that the surplus value comes precisely from the historical transformation of the serf of the glebe into a free worker, and the liberation of the land from hereditary infeudation, which makes property convertible into money, and vice versa, lay the foundations for a social criticism of liberal and democratic institutions, which Marxism will develop into the basis for the politics of the wage class.

Marxism could not do without building its theory of class antagonism in liberal society on the data provided by the bourgeois classical economy based on industry, since it had clearly stated the laws of the process of mechanisation of production, which resulted in the formation of the immense army of industrial workers. This army, being in the same relationship with the manufacturing class as agricultural workers with capitalist farmers, would have brought immense additional forces to the new class struggle by occupying, in the “Tableau”, a place of such importance that it would embrace everything.

But the point of arrival of Marxism is that the liberal revolution does not have the meaning it claims to have in political ideology and that it does not lead to an irrevocable conquest of new rights for all citizens, rights that would be above their economic position; on the other hand, it does have a meaning in the rise to power of a new ruling class, whose robes of ideology in the enlightenment constitute only a disguise. Admittedly, this is not contained in physiocratic doctrine, and it could not have been historically, but this doctrine is not as resolutely opposed to it as English economic liberalism, which states: if each social molecule enjoys the full faculty of its economic choices, the whole system must function without hindrance or tremors. In the diagram of the “Tableau”, on the contrary, it is highlighted that the privileged class, the landowners’ class, which is the only one that pays taxes, maintains the State’s machine, and if it does so, it is because the State intervenes to defend the intangibility of its monopoly on land. The Ricardian school, on the other hand, tries to hide the monopoly of Capital and the essence of the class machine that serves it, that of the democratic state.

Starting from the schematisation of the “agrarian capitalist” society, we have reached the very heart of the problem of proletarian political strategy.

During the period from Quesnay to Marx, the proletariat could not fail to fight in the bourgeois revolutions, which are not only intended to defeat the power of the feudal machine, but which also pave the way for the liberation of the productive forces that results from the abolition of serfdom and obligations on the land, and, moreover, to the other liberation that results from the concentration in ever more important units of manufacturing and urban work.

In this participation of the emerging proletariat in the liberal and national insurrections, which express the formation of the new market economy and which establish the traditional closed islands of a territorial unit, there is a condition from which there can be no derogation: the unceasing demolition, by doctrine and agitation, of democratic illusions in politics and economics. This Marxist conception of revolutionary strategy represents a fundamental position of principle. As long as it is eager to follow the armed victories of the liberal revolutions, the Marxist movement must not cease to fight thoroughly against rationalist and democratic ideologies and to mock the much vaunted conquests of the freedom of the individual and of the people.

This powerful dual position, whose two dialectical aspects do not conflict but complement each other in an irrefutable way, is fully confirmed by Marx’s reference to this doctrine of political economy which, in the midst of an ideological fervour devoted to the proclamation of human and civil rights, is dedicated to declaring that the essential structure of the historical social movement is the circulation of material values, of products and of labour, between both the two great classes of society at that time.

And this reference is still very important, even today, precisely for the understanding of the most recent years and for that of the next, because false dialecticians, false Marxists, false revolutionaries, who are yapping that the time has now returned when it is necessary to give the bourgeois cycle’s development a new impetus with weapons in hand, as it was in the 19th century, they drown in the mud of the most outrageous apologia for bourgeois ideology and plead for the demands, of human rights and popular postulates in the most vile democratic jargon, when already, two centuries before, it was possible to overcome with certainty all these disgusting old things and to recognise the vociferous traits of the only protagonists in the living history of the world, the classes.

Source: “Il Programma Comunista” No. 2, 1954.

[1] The “F” class here is not the farmers’ class but the “fessi”, the idiots’ class.

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