Monday, June 05, 2006

Capitalism Seen As Unfree In Its Infancy

A charactistic transaction under capitalism is the selling of labor power for money wages. How was this transaction perceived in capitalism's early days? Consider:
"[the commonwealth] consisteth only of freemen... Day labourers ... have no voice nor authority in our commonwealth, and no account is made of them but only to be ruled ... [those who] be hired for wages ... be called servants." -- Thomas Smith (1565)

"If the common people have no more freedom in England but only to live among their elder brothers and work for them for hire, what freedom have they in England more than we have in Turkey or France? ... The poor that have no land are left still in the straits of beggary, and they are shut out of all livelihood but what they shall pick out of sore bondage, by working for others as masters over them." -- G. Winstanley (1649)

"Rather than go with cap in hand and bended knee to gentlemen and farmers, begging and entreating to work with them for 8d. or 10d. a day, which doth give them an occasion to tyrannize over poor people (which are their fellow-creatures), if poor man would not go in such a slavish posture..." -- R. Coster (1649)

"[The relations of employer and wage labourer] approach much nearer to that of a planter and slave in our American colonies than might be expected in such a country as England." -- Josiah Tucker (1757)

"...the ingenuity and dexterity of [England's] working artists and manufacturers, which have heretofore given credit and reputation to British wares in general [whose skill was] owing to that freedom and liberty they enjoy to divert themselves in their own way... Were they obliged to toil the year round, the whole six days in the week, in a repetition of the same work, might it not blunt their ingenuity and render them stupid instead of alert and dexterous?" -- M. Postlethwayt (1774)

All quotes are secondhand from:
  • Christopher Hill (1967). "Pottage for Freeborn Englishmen: Attitudes to Wage Labour in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries," Socialism, Capitalism, & Economic Growth: Essays Presented to Maurice Dobb, Cambridge University Press.

No comments: