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Capitalist Economic Relations






Capitalist Economic Relations




Fernando García Izquierdo









            In the past, whenever an economist wanted to praise the System, he (or she) would point out that since the beginning of capitalism there has been a constant increase in the production of commodities (or “merchandise”, as they sometimes say.)

“The characteristic that distinguishes the period of modern history,” wrote a celebrated professor years ago, meaning capitalism, “is the fact of economic growth.”  Undeniably capitalism, then, meant growth.  It no longer does.  It is a dead body that lingers on, rottenness turned into disintegrating matter, like withered leaves which should give way to a new life (paraphrasing the poet.).

Over the years, this now moribund system has shown certain advantages, but nowadays it only represents regression. The countries of the Free World (which is another way of referring to capitalism) are in recession.  In my opinion, they will never come out of it;  and I also think our leaders are aware of this: the fact that our system is in its death throes.

And yet since 2008, the year said to mark the start of the CRISIS, the powers-that-be have continually and decidedly pursued a policy of economic slowdown.  We no longer count in our communities (from Germany to Portugal and from Ireland to Greece) the number of the people living below the poverty line, and in one year´s time the number probably will have doubled.  The great men and women of our time do not seem to care and, most strange of all, there are not many among us who really try to understand what is happening, why and how this horror came about or why there is no hope of ever going back to the glorious years of capitalism. 

And here is another mystery: we are still thought by others to be a wealthy set of people; immigrants still arrive at our frontiers and ports of call.  They are perhaps deluded by the fact that the dominating classes amongst us are indeed very rich, richer than ever, and that is what is seen generally, and not only abroad. 

Indeed, the poor migrants who embark on their flimsy craft, hide in railway carriages and containers and arrive half dead at our Belle Europe, do not seem to notice that capitalism is simply garbage: as happened, by the way, after 1990, with the Russians and other eastern Europeans.     

            With the Africans it is more understandable, for it so happens we owe our “wealth” to the most savage spoliation of those people (of the entire planet, to be correct.)  The destruction and pillage of other civilizations, from the Aztecs  in the sixteenth century, to the Vietnamese in the middle of the last century (and  other people, besides, ever since), that is the cause of our grandeur.  Other  peoples are aware of this, and that is why they come, thinking perhaps that it is time  we should share “our riches”. 

Private wealth, the accumulation in a few hands of the riches of the earth is not due exclusively to capitalism, of course, but with our system there has been that compounded spoliation.  “Primitive accumulation,” to use Marxian terminology, a lot of gold in the banks of Western Europe and North America, plus the immense riches which the French call “our patrimoine”, that is, no doubt, the reason why we are lingering on so indecently, stopping progress all over our planet, and tears and blood.  And in our own countries, causing the masses to lose all the gains in their standard of living, health, education, culture and what we used to call human rights in general.

How can this be tolerated?  The other day, on the air, someone of importance was saying that there is no other choice but to follow “the course of action proposed by Finance.”  We Europeans are at present rich, and if things are temporarily bad, we must show solidarity, for we all are in the same boat. “One Nation”.  Our “rich” countries must get used to the idea that their citizens (say Swedes, Germans, etc.) are going to reduce their standards of living so that the Italians, the Spaniards et al may survive.  Already three months ago a middle-aged French lady (of importance too) was telling the children of Europe that kiddies in Niger are starving: why should a little white creature demand more than an African baby?  How equitable!  The director of our European Union bank is telling us nearly every day that we must consume less in order to pass all existing liquidity onto the banks, the banks (it should be noted) which had for decades engaged in criminality, purely and simply.  A famous Nobel prize winner did not write differently when he said that “to be sure” all the Spanish banks must be “bailed out.”

This is madness, I say, in order not to use the word banditry (which is possible.)  And the corollary is that we must get rid of Capitalism, and for this “clearance”, one of the first things to be done is that the people understand what is happening here, in our Europe, in the world.

Let us therefore begin by studying the History of Capitalism.


Industrial Revolution


            What is known as the Industrial Revolution originated in Great Britain, and more particularly in England.  Epochs in the history of society are not absolutely separated from each other by hard and fast lines of demarcation, and it does not happen in this revolution as with the French Revolution, in 1789, with a “Bastille Day”.

         Some say the industrial revolution started the moment the spinning jenny was invented at the end of the eighteenth century, others that it occured during the second decade of the nineteenth century.  The interesting thing however is to see how it came about.  It was caused, of course, by a multiplicity of causes: inventions, which suddenly became operative, in a country already rich and ready to advance and get richer.  Enough gold had been accumulated in the Bank of England (founded in 1688) for a long time.  But there were other circumstances that also contributed to make the industrial revolution.

            Geography had much to do with it.  The country does not have very pronounced geographical elevations which might have meant isolation.  Communication in consequence was easier than, say, in Spain.  The weather is usually fairly mild all over, with a rather substantial amount of rain all the year round; the land therefore is fertile.  Roads are more easily built and maintained than elsewhere, making commerce easier.  No point in the country is barred from access to the sea; and the coasts are full of natural harbours and coves.  There are, besides, many waterways inland and the building of canals was not difficult.  From olden times there had been plenty of forests, making it easy to build: housing for habitation and commmerce, craft for trade and war.

            For many historical reasons (the Norman invasion had much to do with this) an absolute monarchy, like the one that developed in France, for instance, did not materialise, and a strong aristocracy developed in consequence.  Aristocracy may be the worst of all systems (Montesquieu), but for the accumulation of capital in several hands and industrial progress, an aristocratic society is better than a monarchic one.  Anyhow, during the Middle Ages, the various royal pretenders massacred one another (and bathed the land in blood in the process.)  

            Then, because husbandry developed so successfully, the English farmer  found himself with greater quantity and quality of produce, generally, than the Continental one.  Agriculture produced quite often a surplus.  Handicrafts developed.  Spinning (a thing which had been done by women from time immemorial everywhere) became an art.  Wool was abundant, and also flax. 

With the relative prosperity of the English farmer, the female section of the family did less toiling in the fields. The spinning of the yarn and the knitting of wool, working with linen became usual.  In short the woman clothed the family, better than in any other European country.  The husband and sons, too, never remained idle: there were forests around the village (wood for fire,  furniture and footwear), a system of common property of the land in general had always existed.  In a word, the English peasants were fed, had furniture, clothing relatively better than in other parts of Europe, and, as time went by, the farmer had a surplus to sell, and get a coin or two for some extras. Commodities were exchanged.  The peasants began to enjoy some luxuries here and there. (Their standard of living, it should be noted, descended with the arrival of capitalism.)

            But the lord of the manor was watching and became thoughtful.  He sent  his bailiff to pay a visit to the farmhouse.  And the latter ended up making an agreement with the farmer (acting in the name of his wife) whereby the lord would supply the material and the farmer would periodically deliver the end product.  And, sending his bailiff around everywhere with the said identical purpose the lord became richer all the time.

            The farmer and the artisan, at this stage, are the owners of their means of labour, set in motion by themselves as independent workers.  That is to say, they own both the instruments of production and (at the beginning) the raw materials.  We cannot yet talk of capitalism.  It is a condition for capitalism that the labourer be first entirely dispossessed, so that he must sell not the product of his work, but his own labour-power, which is the only thing left to him.  The man who before was a peasant or an artisan or a farm-hand became a factory-worker and was transformed into an appendage to some machine. 


The Start of Capitalism


            It is with capitalism as with the industrial revolution: there is no absolute limit of separation from a previous epoch (feudalism, renaissance) and, as a matter of fact, other forms continued to exist, and exist still, side by side.  Even   slavery exists today in parts of the world. 

There are historians and economists who contend that capitalism has always existed, and they point out some details of the past here and there. They are  confusing, of course, the idea of accumulation of wealth with the capitalist fact.  Others contend that in specific places, like Venice, capitalism existed “before its time”, just because they see that the sort of international trade we know today was quite important there, and also banking, currency exchange, etc.  But banking had also developed in the Netherlands. Among other places.    Charles V came to Castille from the Low Lands accompanied inter alia by bankers, and so travelled other monarchs, most probably, right from the Middle Ages.  In a word, the sort of mercantilism carried out by Venice, Holland and other countries long ago had nothing to do with what we know as capitalism.  The system could not have started, anyhow, until the industrial revolution was already in full swing, and, as we have said, in England. 

It is said that it all began when, in 1735, Watt brought out his spinning machine.  The spinning-rod had existed since the most remote antiquity, but until the new inventions came out, one after another, yarn and cloth were made by hand (or by hand and foot.)  The making and usage of tools, the employment of outside power (wind, sea, rivers and other waterways) were known already, but the English of the late eighteenth and the early nineeteenth centuries taught the world how to tame, then use, steam-power, among other things. 

It is said that it was “cotton” that made the industrial revolution, and for that, the invention of the power-loom was essential.  It represented an advance from handicraft and simple manufacture.  Thousands of people were brought  together to work under one direction.  Cotton was not a native plant, but it was discovered that the weather in one part of England, Lancashire, was ideal for its use in manufacture.  By then, wool and linen already were used in manufacture in most parts of Britain.  Spinning and weaving were well known, in consequence.  And there were, as in our capitalistic times, what we might call entrepreneurs.  We know from nineteenth century English literature “little hardworking men were seen (coming from the north to the Midlands, carting their instruments and raw material, and that they sold their produce to rich ladies, etc..”  Making a lot of money by the way.  But to define them as capitalists (as it has been done) is absurd.  For capitalism, we have said, we need machines and we need factories (mills.)  I’ve read somewhere that there were 2,887 cotton mills in the United Kingdom towards the end of the eighteenth century.  For the introduction of the generalised use of machinery, necessary for capitalism, coal mining had to develop, and that also happened in England.  And the invention of steam-power. 

According to the text books, there was a cluster of about thirty-five cotton towns and thousands of mills in Lancashire by the middle of the nineteenth century.  This had never before been seen anywhere.  There was always the sound of the whirring machines all around, there were hundreds of thousands of men and women and children who tried to earn their living by attending to these machines.

            Dickens (who moved to Preston on several occasions) describes one of these towns in his novel “Hard Times”.  “The Fairy palaces burst into illumination before pale morning showed the monstrous serpents of smoke trailing themselves over Coketown.” And he goes on, in the same paragraph, passing on to describe the workers: “The clattering of clogs upon the pavements: a rapid ringing of bells; and all the melancholy-mad elephants, polished and oiled up for the day’s monotony, were at their heavy exercise again.”


The Capitalist Entanglement


            The way wise people explained economic production years ago (say, when I was a young man) was simple.  There was a man sometimes called entrepeneur.  He was smart.  He or his friends owned all the things that counted in life: the land, the plants, raw materials, the lot.  These men or their ancestors had accumulated enough wealth to be respected by the rest of the community as “our betters”.  They gave the rest of society work, that is employment, the opportunity of earning their living.  That is how production came about.

For all these reasons he, the smart one, was a leader in society (and continued to accumulate capital.  Formerly he was a nobleman, but it so happened that in the neighbouring country, across the Channel, something went wrong and many lost their heads.  That would not happen in England.  So the smart nobleman in the island became a prudent fellow.  But because he was immensely rich in any case (most things belonged to him,  not only the land) he became an entrepreneur, profiting from the inventions of his countrymen (most inventors were working on the spot) and exploiting all the other workers, who before had been farmhands.  It is to be noted that when the farm workers became factory workers their standard of living went down and all the family had to work in the factory. 

The entrepreneur (who became the beneficiary of a stream of inventions by the people) was, in addition, the beneficiary of all science and progress which had come down to us from the past.  He could exploit all because he was the owner of a thing called CAPITAL.  The Good Lord and the Invisible Hand of the Economy saw to that and made him prosper.

And this was what they taught at university not so long ago, which I now resume thus: the production of goods needs the conjunction of these three factors, land, capital and labour.  The three come together thanks to the entrepreneur (who is the owner of the capital and at times of the land.)  And we have thereby the miracle of production.  

But what they do not tell you is that Capital (the rich, the oligarchs, noblemen, landowners, etc.) benefits from said miracle, but labour only receives the crumbs.  And more important still (though many economists never mention this), it is only with labour that wealth is produced, surplus-value.  When Marx was living in London, and explained all this to all and sundry, nearly two hundred years ago, many people began to understand. The greatest ideological fight in history started then.  It is still going on.  The enemies of humankind attacked Marx, and Engels, and communism.  Have they won?  I do not know.  I see that the world is in a mess.  What is to be done?

“Marxism is a virus,” they have been telling us for decades, the enemies of mankind.  And since 1944  they have been spending millions, billions, trillions in anticommunist propaganda.

Better to believe in fairy tales they have been telling us even at  higher-education level.  Here is one:   “The landowner gets his rent.  The labourer has his  wages.  And the man who puts his money gets his benefit.”  Profits, of course.  That is how it should be, they say.  And it is also just he (the capitalist) should get the bigger chunk (“grandissimo”) because HE RISKS HIS CAPITAL.  We shall write later on about this “risk” and what his profits amount to.

And besides his profits as capitalist, he gets his wages too (which he calls his salary) as the manager of his works, administrator, head of “bureaux”.  No need to add that his income (now added to the profit) is immensely higher than the labourer’s income.  We find all this natural and just, legitimate.  For contrary to what happened in the preceding systems of society, slavery, feudalism, serfdom, anyone who goes into the process of production under capitalism (it is said) does so under his or her own free will.  All is legal.  We constantly hear in the mouth of the exploiter and of the paid sycophant that we live under the Rule of Law.  “The marvellous adventure of production” takes place in the Free World.  

            Coming back to the question of the surplus-value of which the worker is deprived, this deprivation is legal too under capitalism.  It has been known for centuries that capitalist production (production in a capitalist society) benefits a minority of exploiters.  Nobody ignores this.  The masses are subjected to exploitation, and this is done under the Law of the Land, we repeat.  That is to say, there is a work contract freely entered into by the parties, and there are thousands of other norms and things stipulated by the master, under the master’s law, which the parties must respect.

            Another thing.  With time it came to pass that it was not necessary for the capitalist to possess the capital to begin with.  He went out and bought the money, acquired it on “mortgage”, so to say.  For if I have said “bought” it is because economists and the experts on finance talk every day of “the price of money” as if they were dealing with another tangible commodity.  But what I wish to emphasise herein is that those concepts like interest, valuables, speculation and even banking which in “the market place” constitute a sort of religion, at times God’s very word, are inventions, just like the words of the military to send the poor devils to be killed in wars, “allons enfants de la patrie”, solidarity, fatherland, our backyard and so on.   A series of stories made up by those who own the land and everything else (“tenemos otra vez a España,” the fascists who won the War of Spain proclaimed when they had exterminated the “marxistas” as they called the people.)  They want to perpetuate their domination.


Law, Companies, Banks


One cannot hope to fully understand what imperialism (the ultimate phase of capitalism) is unless one knows something about law.  When the English began trading in the East Indies, they had already invented the “Joint Stock Company” (between 1601 and  1613.)  English Company Law has always been the most advanced.

British military imperialism came later. They conquered India, and not with the Cross and the Sword, as the Spaniards did elsewhere.  They knew how to twist and turn (tergiversar.).  And the Law was an indispensable tool for that.

The transformation of personal initiative into the collaboration of a set of entrepreneurs, and then the foundation of companies of limited responsibility, I think, was a stroke of genius.  With the British a relationship was born at once between the coloniser and the hirelings in the colonised countries.  Laws were created for the purpose, so that imperialism was at all times “legitimate”.    

However, the law also divides the people into antagonistic classses, leading to explotation of class by class. It is (as Rousseau wrote) an instrument of domination by which “the pauper is kept in his poverty and the rich man in the position he has usurped.”  This is applicable both in the colonies and in the mother country.   

One way to ensure the rich will always dominate the poor is with Company Law.  The invention of the company of limited responsibility, it can be easily imagined, is a great boon for the smart entrepreneur.  He acts his role: he exploits, makes himself rich not bothering about the workers and, if something goes wrong, he is not personally responsible.

With the banks the same principle applies.  They have always been necessary for the rich and powerful, the banks.  And they, too, get their profits and if all turns into a catastrophe the state (that is the people) pays.  Now we have suddenly discovered that the banks are empty, naked like the king in Andersen’s story.  The quintessence of our capitalism is suffering from a terminal illness.  They have been cheating us for decades, centuries, and they come begging for alms.

So much so that the greatest among the men and women of our generation are telling Rajoy and Monti and others that they must make their subjects starve because all the money we have (or can fabricate) is needed for refurbishing the banks.  But let us go back to studying history.


The Great War


            Perhaps the first war in history where all the capitalistic countries were  involved and where they nearly exterminated one another was the big European War which later was called the First World War.  I have said “all the capitalistic countries.”  Anyhow, one of the reasons for the war was undeniably the need to obtain RAW MATERIALS for industry.  And this is capitalism.

One of the countries that excelled in industry already at the end of the eighteenth century, was Germany.  But the Creator had forgotten about the Germans, who at the beginning were called Prussians, when He partitioned and allotted the world to the different colonizing powers.  This for them (the Germans) was intolerable.

            A conference was convened in which the German Reich was admitted at table with the then big colonial powers.  The “Berlin Conference” took place from November 1884 to February 1885.  There European powers met for the purpose of discussing the matter of colonialism.  They talked about Africa and divided the continent among themselves.  For the first time Germany had been  admitted as a partner and an ally among the great imperial powers.  Like when you cut a camembert cheese at table, the leaders of the capitalist world, standing around a table full of maps, divided the continent among themselves at the conference, apportioning this to France, this to the United Kingdom, this to newcome Germany and so on, not even bothering to consider established borders, natural barriers or peoples or nationalities.  They drew new frontiers, issued new prints of maps, and all the deciders went back home satisfied.

            Apparently satisfied.  For, in the German Reich, others were thoughtful.  Krupp, Siemens, etc. needed raw materials.  The German Junkers had always had chunks of land in the east of Europe, and when the Ottoman and the Austrian Empire ceased to be very important, German imperialism became prominent. They needed more raw materials. It was, precisely, in Jugoslavia that the spark was lit up.

            A terrible war ensued, dead, destruction never before seen or imagined.  It started in 1914 and ended in 1919, and even so its effects went on for many years thereafter; the German Reich was left completely destroyed and in a state of servitude, which naturally (it seems) brought fascism home.  German Industry fully adhered to fascism.  Unless it was the other way round, that fascism (or nazism, the same) was brought in by German Industry and the people adhered to it. 

            Anyhow, in 1917 the bolshevik revolution had triumphed in Russia, creating a new system of society, and that was enough to cause the rich to go mad in the West.  From then on, the rich were no longer happy, and this unhappiness set all the chancelleries in London, Paris, Washington, atremble.        

            There was, about this time, another very important factor in world history: with the end of the Great World, the United States of America had become a power of world importance, and American capitalism soon became number one in the whole world.  In all aspects the United States of America became very active: petrol, finance, industry, navigation, weapons…


The Roaring Twenties


            We have seen how Germany was left in ruins after the war, and when one is ruined and downtrodden there is only one thing one can do: to get drunk and be merry.  Berlin became a Cabaret and all Mittel Europa with Berlin, and then Western Europe and the United States.  In America they danced the Charleston and Hollywood produced films and though the well-advised Yanks knew that “the year of the lotus” was approaching, everyone in the country at large believed in capitalism.  The citizen wanted to know nothing but how to become a capitalist himself, smart and wealthy.  And many people did become suddenly rich.  White America, the Wasp civilization, New York Jews, it all became one.  Those whose ancestors had settled decades or centuries ago as well as the new arrivals, Irish, Italians, Russians, protestant, orthodox, catholic and hebrews.

            Individual capitalist corporations and cartels flourished.  Power and means and ways of multiplying money and power.  In a word, Capital accumulation!  Immigrants arrived in the country hoping to become millionaires overnight  There was the belief that you could  become rich gambling.  The stock-exchange!  A germ had been implanted in the brain even of the working man.  America was a Dreamland, “the Gates of Heaven”.

The catastrophe could have been foreseen if only people had thought.  But they all became shareholders.  Buying and selling.  The value of shares  went up every day.  A never ending dream.  It seems that there were ordinary people who sold the little they possessed, bought shares and became millionaires from one day to the other. The golden fleece, it was believed, would never be depleted.  On the contrary, every day it grew bigger.  Coming out of bed people only thought of getting to the Stock Exchange (or equivalent) and buying shares knowing that they would be twice richer at the end of the day.

            I remember to have heard, about thirty years ago, a famous English writer, Alistair Cooke, during one of his speeches about America, say:  “A celebrated economist (I think he said Keynes) was telling me the other day that, on arriving in New York during those crazy days, the taxi driver began questioning him, trying to get a hint from the great man, concerning the likelihood of the prices of these or those shares going up today.”  And the English journalist went on:  “The moment I heard workers asking that kind of question, I knew the collapse of the stock exchange was near.”

And it did collapse, as is well known, in 1929. In the thirties there was a  terrible Depression.  It was not F.D.Roosevelt and his “New Deal” that saved America from economic disaster, but WAR.

After 1936, “the concert of civilized nations” (including Italy, Germany, the United Kingdom, France and the United States were intent on destroying the Spanish republic. It was to lead to the commencement of World War II.  Industrialists, business men right and left had cause for rejoicing.



The Start of a New War


            Hitler had come to power in Germany in 1933, elected by the people, who accaimed him as their Führer.  Mussolini became the Italian Duce some years earlier.  The capitalists in the western countries had hoped at the beginning that the German Nazis would turn against the Soviet Union and would put an end to bolshevism.  This is confirmed by History.  It has always been obvious that, for the rich, fascism in all its manifestations is preferable to communism.  And that was the situation in the thirties and forties 

However, Stalin, the Soviet leader, signed a non-aggression pact with Germany’s Führer, and the German armies then were turned against the West. War was declared in September 1939.  And, until April 1940, not much happened.  “The Phoney War” is how historians have referred to this period.

The Germans had already occupied Poland, and still the capitalists hoped the quarrel could be patched.  Why?  How come?  Why did the “Western powers” for a solid seven-month period do practically nothing?  My personal opinion is that the “phoney war” took place because, as had already happened during the Spanish war (July 1936 and on) the western leaders hoped to accommodate themselves with Fascism.  I repeat this because it is essential for the student to comprehend this historical fact,  and to understand that even now, in the twenty-first century, we are feeling the effects of all this.

Marx and Engels foresaw all this.  The wealthy people in the countries of Europe, being afraid of the Spectre of Communism, which would not take long to appear, would join forces.  And the spectre did materialize, in the form of the bolshevik revolution.  And it came to haunt our rich and powerful after 1917. Since then our rich did all they could to exorcize that “spectre”, first by helping the White Russians rebellion, causing the Soviet Union to have a civil war until 1922.

Hitler was another hope. And that was why they acted (the Western Powers) the way they did during the Spanish war (1936-1939), inventing  NON INTERVENTION.

There were the concessions agreed to at Munich, the Royal visits to Hitler, the flight of Hess (Hitler’s favourite) to Scotland.  If only that “fabricated” madman would attack and destroy the Soviet Union.  And yet it was already a fact that the Nazis had attacked the West.  Let us wait and see, they still said to themselves.

But Hitler was really mad, and he entered into a pact of non-aggression with Stalin (which saved the Soviet Union, by the way.)  And only then did the war start in earnest.  Churchill became very loquacious, on the wireless.  Our civilization had to be saved!  Britain began to arm herself,  and did things very well, as the English are wont to do.  Their cousins on the other side of the Atlantic, seeing that they had little to lose and much perhaps to gain, also entered into the fray, but only after the Japanese attack of Pearl Harbour.

They all obtained the help, precisely, of that same Soviet Union everybody had wished to see obliterated from the face of our planet.  The Soviets entered decidedly in their Great Patriotic War against fascism and the world was saved.  The Second World War.

Nevertheless, just before that war was over the West, the Allies as they called themselves, betrayed their alliance with the East and, at a moment when the American president was near his death-bed, a sort of Solemn Mass of Finance was celebrated at a beach resort on the Atlantic side of the nation, of which the Soviet Union was specifically excluded.  In other words, a very important series of conferences, attended by the gotha of capitalism, civil and financial, took place at Bretton Woods in the spring of 1944, for the purpose of defending… capitalism.

Very many important decisions were taken at those conferences, but I shall only refer to one (of which not much has been spoken, considering the importance thereof) by which, as already implied, the highest elements of our society took steps which would change forever the course of history, i.e., to hand down, like on a silver platter, to the United States of America the faculty of printing at will for evermore THE UNIVERSAL MEASURE OF EXCHANGE AND TRADE.  The United States dollar became God.         

Now we can see in History the reasons for the present crisis, having all the time in mind that there is no effect without a cause.  The added problem now, in the twenty-first century, is that though the system has long been moribund, the dying beast in a paroxism of freedom has become a still more dangerous destroyer.  It threatens to destroy the earth completely, irremediably.  Let us at least try to SEE this, understanding what is happening, and why all this is happening.