Tuesday, 13 February 2018

The Rural Idiocy of Sacks of Potatoes.

Whether one likes it or not, Marx and Engels didn’t think much of rural life.

This is an early example (1848):
“The bourgeoisie has subjected the country to the rule of the towns. It has created enormous cities, has greatly increased the urban population as compared with the rural, and has thus rescued a considerable part of the population from the idiocy of rural life.”
Now, let’s pause. Those guys used the word “rescued”. It’s there. You can see it: I emphasised it.

Time to use our noodles. Marx and Engels used the word rescue and we know that to rescue something is to save that something from a danger or a difficult situation. Right?

I never thought we’ll need to discuss this, but it seems we Marxists must think seriously about that. So, before jumping at my throat, hear me out first. Trust me, I haven’t lost my mind … yet.

Ready or not, here goes. Can we safely conclude from that that, according to Marx and Engels, the bourgeoisie did the rural population a favour: it allowed them to move to the big smoke? And them hillbillies, of course, were happy or at least happier than they were before: they no longer were idiots (from the Greek idios "own, private")?

Can we conclude that?

Or, think of it this way: according to Marx and Engels, with his brand new proletarian rank insignia attached to his shoulder mark, the formerly humble hillbilly, standing at ah-ten-SHUN! salutes the capitalist with barely dissimulated pride (woo hoo!).

Breath deeply and count to ten before answering.


I don't know about you, but I most emphatically don’t think so. But, believe it or not, that may be how some Marxists think. (UPDATE: In case you've been wondering who that peculiar Marxist was who thinks primitive accumulation made people happy)

I'll tell you why I don’t think so. Because to accomplish that “promotion” it took the bourgeoisie, according to Marx (and probably to Engels, too):
“[T]he expropriation of the great mass of the people from the soil, from the means of subsistence, and from the means of labour, this fearful and painful expropriation of the mass of the people forms the prelude to the history of capital. It comprises a series of forcible methods, of which we have passed in review only those that have been epoch-making as methods of the primitive accumulation of capital. The expropriation of the immediate producers was accomplished with merciless Vandalism, and under the stimulus of passions the most infamous, the most sordid, the pettiest, the most meanly odious.”
I never thought I’d have to explain that, but Marx and Engels called that Primitive Accumulation: the forced mass transformation of peasants into proletarians.

It wasn't a happy experience then and it's never been one since, least of all for the former hillbillies and I’d bet given the choice many would have chosen their rural idiocy, thank you very much. But they weren't given a choice. Marx and Engels knew that, even if some Marxists forgot all about it.


But, but, but … didn’t they -- the newly “promoted” proletarians, that is -- gain anything from that?

Why, yes. Yes, they did. But it wasn’t “happiness” of some sort that Marx and Engels had in mind. It was another thing much more important. What they gained was breaking free from isolation, getting in touch, establishing relations with others in the same circumstances. They became a class, the proletariat; no longer were they like potatoes in a sack:
“The small-holding peasants form an enormous mass whose members live in similar conditions but without entering into manifold relations with each other. Their mode of production isolates them from one another instead of bringing them into mutual intercourse.”
That’s a slightly later example (1852).

Makes sense now, comrades?


  1. Except that Marx in Capital also sets out why it also was that the natural mode of production of the peasant bred actual "idiocy", because its constant routine that continued in the same nature defined constraints day after day, month after month, year after year meant that the peasant producer had no requirement to think, whereas the proletarian, even a machine minder is faced with the continual revolutionising of the method of production, and thereby forced to deal with constantly changing circumstances that forces them to think and to adapt.

    What you are presenting is the old Sismondist moral or reactioanry socialism as described by Marx and Engels. Like the feudal aristocrats that criticised the condition of the working class in the industrial towns, you miss out the bit about the even worse oppression of the producers under feudalism, and the even worse conditions that existed for the peasants and agricultural labourers, than existed for the industrial workers. You miss out the bit also mentioned by Marx and Engels that answers your speculation, where they say,

    "In this way arose feudal Socialism: half lamentation, half lampoon; half an echo of the past, half menace of the future; at times, by its bitter, witty and incisive criticism, striking the bourgeoisie to the very heart’s core; but always ludicrous in its effect, through total incapacity to comprehend the march of modern history.
    The aristocracy, in order to rally the people to them, waved the proletarian alms-bag in front for a banner. But the people, so often as it joined them, saw on their hindquarters the old feudal coats of arms, and deserted with loud and irreverent laughter."

    And millions of young people in China, Africa and Asia are today not leaving their families behind in the countryside working their family plots, as a consequence of force, but because they are able to obtain a much higher standard of living in the towns and cities, as well as having access to all of the aspects of modern life and culture.

    Engels in Anti-Duhring set out what is wrong with your "Force Theory of History", as opposed to Marx and Engels' theory. They explain that the main cause of the expropriation of peasant property was economic. Small scale peasant production could not compete with capitalist production. Peasant producers falling into debt had to submit to capital via the Putting Out System, then to the introduction of handicraft production within the manufactory, and so on.

    1. Okay Boffy, two can play that game.

      I didn't delete your comment above and I won't delete it either. That was my mistake, I learned from it. Your new and last comment shall remain here forever as a testament to you.

      I exercised patience, Boffy. As a courtesy to a fellow Marxist, however impertinent, I tried to keep my cool. It was to no avail: you insist on making things personal, yes?

      Initially, in your opinion, I was a Stalinist and a social aristocrat. I was censoring you, you claimed. Now I am a moral or aristocratic socialist.

      Then you wail like a child because you don't know why your comments were deleted. Well, it's there now for all to see.


      Very well, it's no me who is going for moral and reactionary socialism, Boffy, it's you who are falling into capitalist apologetics. You.

      It's you who wants to bullshit us into believing that globalisation will make us happy. And it's you who now perverts the words of Marx and Engels to try and support that. You.

      This is reality, Boffy: http://aussiemagpie.blogspot.com/2015/03/apples-broken-promises.html

      Those people were not high in happiness for working for Foxconn: they looked groggy because they were exhausted. They didn't jump to their deaths because they were too happy.

      There were those, however, who were happy with that. Steve Jobs and ... you.


      Now, I won't waste my time with you anymore. This exchange is over. You are banned from posting here.