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HUMAN METABOLISM, NECESSITY AND FREEDOM (Marx, Capital, III, Penguin Classics, p. 959)

Surplus labour in some form must always remain, as labour beyond the extent of given needs. It is just that in the capitalist, as in the slave system, etc., it has an antagonistic form and its obverse side is pure idleness on the part of one section of society. A certain quantum of surplus labour is required as insurance against accidents and for the progressive extension of the reproduction process that is needed to keep pace with the development of needs and the progress of population. It is one of the civilizing aspects of capital that it extorts this surplus labour in a manner and in conditions that are more advantageous to social relations and to the creation of elements for a new and higher formation than was the case under the earlier forms of slavery; serfdom, etc.

Thus on the one hand it leads towards a stage at which compulsion and the monopolization of social development (with its material and intellectual advantages) by one section of society at the expense of another disappears ; on the other hand it creates the material means and the nucleus for relations that permit thissurplus labour to be combined, in a higher form of society, with a greater reduction of the overall time devoted to material labour. For, according to the development of labour productivity, surplus labour can be great when the total working day is short and relatively small when the total working day is long. If the necessary labour-time is 3 hours and surplus labour also 3 hours, the total working day is 6 hours and the rate' of surplus labour 100 per cent. If the necessary labour is 9 hours and the surplus labour 3 hours, the total working day is 12 hours and the rate of surplus labour only 33-}- per cent. It then depends on the productivity of labour how much use-value is produced in a given time, and also therefore in a given surplus labour-time. The real wealth of society and the possibility of a constant expansion of its reproduction process does not depend on the length of surplus labour but rather on its productivity and on the more or less plentiful conditions of production in which it is performed. The realm of freedom really begins only where labour determined by necessity and external expediency ends ; it lies by its very nature beyond the sphere of material production proper. Just as the savage must wrestle with nature to satisfy his needs, to maintain and reproduce his life,so must civilized man, and he must do so in all fo rms of society and under all possible modes of production. This realm of natural necessity expands with his development, because his needs do too; but the productive fo rces to sati sfy these expand at the same time. Freedom, in this sphere, can consist only in this, that socialized man, the associated producers, govern the human metabolism with nature in a rational way, bringing it under their collective control instead of being dominated by it as a blind power ; accomplishing it with the least expenditure of energy and in conditions most worthy and appropriate for their human nature. But this always remains a realm of necessity. The true realm of freedom, the development of human powers as an end in itself, begins beyond it, though it can only flourish with this realm of necessity as its basis. The reduction of the working day is the basic prerequisite.


Small-scale landownership presupposes that the overwhelming majority of the popUlation is agricultural and that isolated labour predominates over social; wealth and the development of reproduction, therefore, both in its material and its intellectual aspects, is ruled out under these circumstances, and with this also the conditions for a rational agriculture. On the other hand, large landed property reduces the agricultural population to an ever decreasing minimum and confronts it with an ever growing industrial population crammed together in large towns ; in this way it produces conditions that provoke an irreparable rift in the interdependent process of social metabolism, a metabolism prescribed by the natural laws of life itself. The result of this is a squandering of the vitality of the soil, which is' carried by trade far beyond the bounds of a single country. (Liebig.) If small-scale landownership creates a class of barbarians standing half outside society, combining all the crudity of primitive social forms with all the torments and misery of civilized countries, large landed property undermines labour-power in the final sphere to which its indigenous energy flees, and where it is stored up as a reserve fund for renewing the vital power of the nation, on the land itself. Large-scale industry and industrially pursued large-scale agriculture have the same effect. If they are originally distinguished by the fact that the former lays waste and ruins labour-power and thus the natural power of man, whereas the latter does the same to the natural power of the soil, they link up in the later course of development, since the industrial system applied to agriculture also enervates the workers there, while industry and trade for their part provide - agriculture with the means of exhausting the soil.


Quite conservative agricultural chemists, such as Johnston, for example, admit that private property places insuperable barriers on all sides to a genuinely rational agriculture. So too do writers who are professed defenders of the monopoly of private property in the earth, such as M. Charles Comte, * for instance, in a two-volume work which has the defence of private ownership as its special purpose. 'A people,' he says, • cannot attain the degree of wellbeing and power that their nature grants them unless each part of the land that sustains them receives the destiny that stands most in harmony with the general interest. In order to give their riches a substantial development, a single will, and above all an enlightened one, if possible, must take in hand the disposal of each individual piece of their territory, and make each portion contribute towards the prosperity of all others. But the existence of such a will . . . would be incompatible with the division of the land into private holdings . . . and with guaranteeing the ability ,of each proprietor to dispose of his wealth in an almost absolute manner ' [Traite de fa propriete, Vol. I, Paris, 1 834, p. 228]. Johnston, Comte, etc., in considering the contradiction between property and a rational agronomy, are simply thinking of the cultivation of the land of a single country as a whole. But the way that the cultivation of particular crops depends on fluctuations in market prices and the constant changes in cultivation with these price fluctuations - the, entire spirit of capitalist production, which is oriented towards the most immediate monetary profit - stands in contradiction to agriculture, which has to concern itself with the whole gamut of permanent conditions of life required ' by the chain of human ' generations. A striking example of this is provided by forests, which are managed in the common interest - and even then only to a limited extent - solely in those rare cases when they are not private property but are subject to state administration.