‘The article below was complete several weeks before the outbreak of the War. It was intended for our number which was to have greeted the planned Congress of the International. Like so much else this Congress has been brought to nothing by the events of the last days. Yet although purely theoretical in nature, the article has not lost its relevance to the practice which it sought to help explain. We publish the article, with the omission of passages which related to the International Congress and the addition of some considerations on the war.’
Editorial Note Die Neite Zeit, September 11th, 1914.
We have seen that the undisturbed advance of the process of production presupposes that the different branches of production all produce in the correct proportion. Yet it is also evident that within the capitalist mode of production there is a constant drive towards the violation of this proportion, because within a specific zone the capitalist mode of production tends to develop much more quickly in the industrial than in the agricultural sector. On the one hand, this is an important reason for the periodic crises which constantly grip the industrial sector, and which thereby restore the correct proportion between the different branches of production. On the other hand, the growing ability of capitalist industry to expand constantly increases the pressure to extend the agricultural zone that provides industry not only with foodstuffs and raw materials, but also with customers. Since the importance of the agrarian zones to industry is a dual one, the disproportion between industry and agriculture may also be expressed in two ways. Firstly, the outlets for industrial products in the agrarian
These two phenomena may seem mutually exclusive, but in fact they are closely inter-related insofar as they derive from the disproportion between industrial and agricultural production, and not from other causes such as fluctuations in gold output or changes in the power situation of producers vis-`-vis consumers through cartels, commercial policies or fiscal policies. One of the two phenomena, dearth or overproduction, may easily pass over into the other, because they both derive from the disproportion in question. An increase in prices always forshadows the beginning of a crisis, although this emerges as overproduction and brings with it a price collapse.
On the other hand, the constant drive of the industrialized capitalist countries to extend the agricultural zones involved in trade relations with them, takes the most varied forms. Given that this drive is one of the very conditions of the existence of capitalism, it is still far from proven that any one of these forms is an indispensable necessity for the capitalist mode of production.
One particular form of this tendency is imperialism. Another form preceded it: free trade. Half a century ago, free trade was seen as the last word of capitalism, just as imperialism is today. Free trade came to dominate because of the superiority of England’s capitalist industry. Great Britsin’ s aim was that she should become the workshop of the world, and hence that the world should become an agrarian zone which would buy England’s industrial products and provide her with foodstuffs and raw materials in exchange. Free trade was the most important means whereby this agricultural zone could be expanded continuously in accordance with the needs of English industry, and all sides were supposed to profit therefrom. In fact, the landowners of the countries which exported their products to England were as inveterate free-traders as England’s industrialists.
But this sweet dream of international harmony quickly came to an end. As a rule, industrial zones overmaster and dominate agrarian zones. This was true earlier of the city vis-`-vis the countryside, and it is now true of the industrial State vis-`-vis an agrarian State. A State which remains agrarian decays politically and usually economically, too, and loses its autonomy in both respects. Hence efforts to maintain or win national independence or autonomy necessarily generate within the overall cycle of international capitalist circulation the struggle for an autonomous heavy industry, which must under present conditions be a capitalist one. The development of outlets for foreign industrial products in the agrarian State itself creates a series of preconditions for this. It destroys the internal pre-capitalist industry, thereby releasing a large quantity of labour power which is at the disposal of capital as wage labour. These workers emigrate to other States with growing industry