[OPE-L:7667] Re: class monopolies and class differentiation

From: Gil Skillman (gskillman@mail.wesleyan.edu)
Date: Sun Sep 15 2002 - 16:39:23 EDT

At 08:36 AM 9/14/2002 -0400, you wrote:
>Re Gil's [7655]:
> > But there's a second way to interpret the term "monopoly," and I think
> > it's
> > consistent with Marx's usage of the term in various places  in Volume III,
> > as a *class* monopoly over given means of production--meaning that
> > ownership of these means is not general but restricted to a particular
> > class, who thereby enjoy the power to command positive rents, *even in the
> > absence of any collusion, or conscious efforts to restrict quantities and
> > thus raise prices above what would otherwise obtain.*
>At the point of analysis in which absolute rent is introduced there is a
>presumption of a three class system of wage-labourers, capitalists and
>landowners ("the three great classes in modern society").   There is
>the *assumption* made that the capitalist class is the sole (monopoly)
>owner of capital and landowners are the sole  (monopoly) owners of land.
>It is in this sense that these classes could be said to have a class
>Even if this assumption is made within the context of the discussion of
>the role of  gold in a money commodity system re the  transformation
>problem,  it  is an assumption which *must* be modified to explain
>capitalist dynamics.   The presumption of a class monopoly on ownership
>(and control) of the means of production and land is misleading for
>several reasons:
>a)  To explain long-term tendencial and historical processes such as
>proletarianization and class polarization, it must be recognized that
>capitalists do not (nor have they ever had) a class monopoly on the
>ownership and control of means of production.  What that assumption
>obscures is the important historical reality of "intermediate classes"
>of petty-producers (e.g. small businesses) between the capitalist class
>on one side and the working class on the other.  So long as this
>not-capitalist  strata exists which owns and controls means of production,
>they  have the capacity to survive without becoming wage-workers.
>Similarly, there  are peasants (and family farmers) who own land (and
>means of production) but who are not part of the landowning class (or
>the capitalist class).  This must be recognized if we are to model a
>dynamic process in which rather than the working class becoming
>enlarged over time only by entrants from former landowners and
>capitalists, but by increasingly former  members of these other layers
>from  the so-called "middle classes" (used in  this sense not to refer to
>income but to strata which exist "in the middle"  between the two/three
>major classes).  This is required to reasonably describe the processes
>of the centralization and concentration of capital which  accompany
>the accumulation of capital.  I should also note that a dynamic Marxian
>model should also include the industrial reserve army.

Agreeing with the above characterization, which I do by and large, does not 
at all alter my point, which is that the existence of absolute rent need 
not imply conscious collusion among landlords.

>b) putting aside trivial cases (like producer cooperatives), there are
>significant  ways in which the class monopoly assumption under capitalism
>doesn't hold :
>i)  rather than landowners and capitalists existing as two completely
>distinct classes,  we must recognize that capitalists as a class in many
>social formations  *are* large landowners.   Indeed, this is a historical
>trend.  A current way in  which one can observe this trend is by
>examining the extent to which large  industrial corporations and
>agro-business have become integrated (through  e.g. mergers and
>acquisitions.)  Indeed, this  is a consequence of the mobility  of money
>capital and efforts by capitalists to obtain the highest possible
>rate of profit (or RRI if you prefer) which is the underlying mechanism
>behind the formation of a general rate of profit and POP.  (In addition,
>this is also a manifestation of another characteristic of modern
>corporations: increased diversification).
>ii) while land may be _primarily_ owned by the landowning class,
>they do not have a monopoly on that ownership.  Putting aside the
>extent to which capitalists have become landowners (see above) and the
>extent to which the state is a major landowner (which is very important
>in many contemporary social formations), there are also strata who
>_also_ own land, such as landowning peasants and small-family farmers.
>Even where landowners still have monopoly _power_, a  class monopoly
>would not exist in the sense that they have _sole_ ownership and control
>of land.

And by exactly the same token, even if landowners enjoy the existence of 
absolute rent, it need not be the case that *all* land is owned by some 
small, circumscribed group of people.  But it must be the case that there 
is *some* significant class asymmetry in the ownership of land, or their 
would be nobody to charge the rent to!

>These points are important to recognize for political comprehension as
>well:  to e.g. treat small business owners as if they were just a
>sub-division of the capitalist class or poor peasants as if they were simply
>a sub-division  of the landowning class would confuse possible class
>allies with class  enemies.

Agreed, but this doesn't at all affect my point.  The existence of absolute 
rent need not presuppose conscious price-setting power on the part of any 

>Note also that the existence of these "strata" (for lack of a better term --
>I avoid the use of the "petty-bourgeoisie") is not merely a question related
>to contingency.  Rather, to explain the dynamic process of capital
>accumulation, they must be brought into the picture (see above) and the
>assumption of class monopolies on ownership of capital and land must be

Yes, if the question at hand requires this additional complexity.  The 
question I was addressing does not.

>Do you (and others) agree?

Subject to the caveats noted above, yes.


>In solidarity, Jerry

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