Engels on Junkers capitalism

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Fri Aug 8 12:44:09 MDT 2003

Stumbled across T.J. Byres "Capitalism from Above and Capitalism from 
Below" today, a 492 page tome dealing with agrarian questions, the 
transition to capitalism, etc. Rakesh tells me that Byres is sympathetic to 
Brenner, but the book is jammed with counter-indicative data--especially 
around the "Prussian path" to capitalism. When I first encountered the 
Brenner thesis, I questioned the "free labor" paradigm right off the bat 
since what little reading I had done about the origins of capitalism in 
Germany and Japan left little doubt that semi-feudal social relations were 
key to capital accumulation.

This is the aim of Byres's book, to compare agrarian capitalism in Great 
Britain, Germany and the USA. I have already paid some attention to the 
first two societies (and Africa) in various articles I have written on the 
Brenner thesis, but have never considered the USA.

In browsing through Byres, I came across a real eye-opening reference. 
Obviously most people are familiar with Marx's exhaustive treatment of the 
development of capitalist property relations in the English countryside. 
When you combine this with Maurice Dobbs's groundbreaking work which 
elaborates on Marx's research, you can lose sight of what Engels wrote 
about such matters, especially since it has a sketchy quality.

However, when you look at "The Peasant Question in France and Germany" you 
will discover that Engels characterized the Prussian Junkers as a 
capitalist class despite the fact that farm laborers on their estates lived 
in "semi-serfdom". When you read Engels, keep the Southern plantation 
owners in mind since you are dealing with identical class formations:


Only the big landed estates present a perfectly simple case. Here, we are 
dealing with undisguised capitalist production and no scruples of any sort 
need restrain us. Here, we are confronted by rural proletarians in masses 
and our task is clear. As soon as out Party is in possession of political 
power, it has simply to expropriate the big landed proprietors, just like 
the manufacturers in industry. Whether this expropriation is to be 
compensated for or not will, to a great extent, depend not upon us but the 
circumstances under which we obtain power, and particularly upon the 
attitude adopted by these gentry, the big landowners, themselves. We by no 
means consider compensation as impermissible in any event; Marx told me 
(and how many times!) that, in his opinion, we would get off cheapest if we 
could buy out the whole lot of them. But, this does not concern us here. 
The big estates, thus restored to the community, are to be turned over by 
us to the rural workers who are already cultivating them and are to be 
organized into co-operatives. They are to be assigned to them for their use 
and benefit under the control of the community. Nothing can as yet be 
stated as to the terms of their tenure. At any rate, the transformation of 
the capitalist enterprise into a social enterprise is here fully prepared 
for and can be carried into execution overnight, precisely as in Mr. 
Krupp's or Mr. von Stumm's factory. And the example of these agricultural 
co-operatives would convince also the last of the still resistant 
small-holding peasants, and surely also many big peasants, of the 
advantages of co-operative, large-scale production.

Thus, we can open up prospects here before the rural proletarians as 
splendid as those facing the industrial workers, and it can be only a 
question of time, and of only a very short time, before we win over to our 
side the rural workers of Prussia east of the Elbe. But once we have the 
East-Elbe rural workers, a different wind will blow at once all over 
Germany. The actual semi-servitude of the East-Elbe rural workers is the 
main basis of the domination of Prussian Junkerdom and thus of Prussia's 
specific overlordship in Germany. It is the Junkers east of the Elbe who 
have created and preserved the specifically Prussian character of the 
bureaucracy as well as of the body of army officers — the Junkers, who are 
being reduced more and more to ruin by their indebtedness, impoverishment, 
and parasitism, at state and private cost and for that very reason cling 
the more desperately to the dominion which they exercise; the Junkers, 
whose haughtiness, bigotry, and arrogance, have brought the German Reich of 
the Prussian nation [3] within the country into such hatred — even when 
every allowance is made for the fact that at present this Reich is 
inevitable as the sole form in which national unity can now be attained — 
and abroad so little respect despite its brilliant victories. The power of 
these Junkers is grounded on the fact that within the compact territory of 
the seven old Prussian provinces — that is, approximately one-third of the 
entire territory of the Reich — they have at their disposal the landed 
property, which here brings with it both social and political power. And 
not only the landed property but, through their beet-sugar refineries and 
liquor distilleries, also the most important industries of this area. 
Neither the big landowners of the rest of Germany nor the big 
industrialists are in a similarly favorable positions. Neither of them have 
a compact kingdom at their disposal. Both are scattered over a wide stretch 
of territory and complete among themselves and with other social elements 
and compete among themselves and with other social elements surrounding 
them for economic and political predominance. But, the economic foundation 
of this domination of the Prussian Junkers is steadily deteriorating. Here, 
too, indebtedness and impoverishment are spreading irresistibly, despite 
all state assistance (and since Frederick II, this item is included in 
every regular Junker budget). Only the actual semi-serfdom sanctioned by 
law and custom and the resulting possibility of the unlimited exploitation 
of the rural workers, still barely keep the drowning Junkers above water. 
Sow the seed of Social-Democracy among these workers, give them the courage 
and cohesion to insist upon their rights, and the glory of the Junkers will 
be put to an end. The great reactionary power, which to Germany represents 
the same barbarous, predatory element as Russian tsardom does to the whole 
of Europe, will collapse like a pricked bubble. The "picked regiments" of 
the Prussian army will become Social-Democratic, which will result in a 
shift of power that is pregnant with an entire upheaval. But, for this 
reason, it is of vastly greater importance to win the rural proletariat 
east of the Elbe than the small peasants of Western Germany, or yet the 
middle peasants of Southern Germany. It is here, in East-Elbe Prussia, that 
the decisive battle of our cause will have to be fought and for this very 
reason both government and Junkerdom will do their utmost to prevent our 
gaining access here. And should, as we are threatened, new violent measures 
be resorted to to impede the spread of our Party, their primary purpose 
will be to protect the East-Elbe rural proletariat from our propaganda. 
It's all the same to us. We shall win it nevertheless.

full: http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1894/peasant-question/ch02.htm

Louis Proyect, Marxism mailing list: http://www.marxmail.org

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