Sunday, 6 August 2017

Theories of Surplus Value, Part I, Chapter 7 - Part 8

[4.] Locke


Locke is important because he is the ideologist par excellence of the revolutionary bourgeoisie. His Second Treatise on Government, marks the point at which the bourgeois ideas come to dominate society and the state.

For Locke, it is labour which creates value, and surplus value “surplus-value is nothing but another person’s labour, surplus-labour, which land and capital—the conditions of labour—enable their owners to appropriate.” (p 345)

Moreover, natural law determines the quantity of the conditions of labour that anyone should own. As with Hobbes, God or Nature provides one source of wealth (use value) for free, but it is only labour that can transform the vast majority of these free gifts, and it is thereby responsible for their value.

““Though the earth, and all inferior creatures, be common to all men, yet every man has a property in his own person: this nobody has any right to but himself. The labour of his body, and the work of his hands, we may say, are properly his. Whatsoever then he removes out of the state that nature hath provided, and left it in, he hath mixed his labour with, and joined to it something that is his own, and thereby makes it his property”(Of [Civil] Government, Book II, Chapter V;Works, 7th edit., 1768, Vol. II, p. 229).” (p 365)

This provides a basis for what is common property belonging to all being transformed into private property, but what then is its limit according to natural law? What prevents any individual simply appropriating any amount of common property, and then transforming it into private property?

A fairly obvious limit is that no matter how much more able one individual is, compared to another; no matter how conscientious any particular individual might be, simple physical laws restrict how much labour they can perform in a day, how much land they can cultivate etc.

But, Locke goes beyond this limit.

““The same law of nature, that does by this means give us property, does also bound that property too… As much as any one can make use of to any advantage of life before it spoils, so much he may by his labour fix a property in: whatever is beyond this, is more than his share, and belongs to others” (l.c.).” (p 365-6) 

The revolutionary context of this for the bourgeoisie, especially as so many of them, at the time, were capitalist farmers, can be seen, given the vast landed estates of the feudal aristocracy. It is reflected in the demand, common to all bourgeois revolutions for a redistribution of the land.

““The measure of property nature has well set by the extent of men’s labour, and the conveniences of life: no man’s labour could subdue, or appropriate all; nor could his enjoyment consume more than a small part; so that it was impossible for any man, this way, to intrench upon the right of another, or acquire to himself a property, to the prejudice of his neighbour. … This measure did confine every man’s possession to a very moderate proportion, and such as he might appropriate to himself, without injury to any body, in the first ages of the world… And the same measure may be allowed still without prejudice to any body, as full as the world seems” (pp. 231-32).” (p 366) 

However, the limit that only so much means of production should be owned as to enable production of goods to an extent they do not perish, is extended by the possibility of exchange, because then perishable commodities can be exchanged for gold and silver, which does not perish.

““He might heap as much of these durable things as he pleased; the exceeding of the bounds of his just property” limit of his personal labour> “not lying in the largeness of his possession, but the perishing of any thing uselessly in it. And thus came in the use of money, some lasting thing that men might keep without spoiling, and that by mutual consent men would take in exchange for the truly useful, but perishable supports of life” (p. 236).” (p 366-7)

And so the potential for a justification of capital accumulation is provided. Whilst production is essentially a production of agricultural products, the limit imposed by this natural law on capital accumulation is obvious. Excess production, by any individual, rots. They have an excess of means of labour. Even if they exchange the surplus for gold, it cannot act as capital. It can only be hoarded, as done by the miser, because it can only be exchanged for other perishable commodities, often the same as those produced in excess. The only time money can be used then is when the range of manufactured goods is extended, and also to buy commodities not for consumption, but to be used as means of production – capital.

Locke makes the same equation between rent on land and interest on money that was made by Petty. He argues that one man owns more land than they can cultivate by their own labour, and so acquires a tenant who cultivates the land, whilst paying a rent to the landowner. In the same way, a man who has more money than they can currently use, obtains a tenant for the money, and obtains a rent on the money in the form of interest. Both arise from an inequality of distribution of these means of labour.

“In this passage Locke has in part the polemical interest of showing landed property that its rent is in no way different from usury. Both “transfer that Profit, that was the Reward of one Man’s Labour, into another Man’s Pocket” through the unequal distribution of the conditions of production. 

Locke’s view is all the more important because it was the classical expression of bourgeois society’s ideas of right as against feudal society, and moreover his philosophy served as the basis for all the ideas of the whole of subsequent English political economy.” (p 367)

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