Graphic Witness: Hugo Gellert
Graphic Witness home page

Hugo Gellert: Karl Marx' 'Capital' in Lithographs

Origin of the industrial capitalist [4/5]

PRIMARY ACCUMULATION: Origin of the industrial capitalist

The Bank of England began by lending its money to the government at 8%. At the same time it was empowered by parliament to coin money out of this identical capital, by lending it again to the public in the form of banknotes. It was allowed to use these notes for discounting bills, making advances on commodities, and buying the precious metals. Ere long this credit money of its own manufacture became the medium in which the Bank of England made loans to the State and paid, on behalf of the State, the interest on the national debt. Nor was it enough that it should thus give with one hand in order to take back with the other, and taking more than it had given.

In addition, while thus receiving, it remained the everlasting creditor of the nation, down to the uttermost farthing. By degrees it inevitably became the keeper of all the gold and silver of the country, and the center of gravity of all the commercial credit. At about the date when the English people gave up the practice of burning witches, they began to hang the forgers of banknotes. . . .

Concurrently with the appearance of various national debts, there arose an international credit system which often served to hide one of the sources of primary accumulation in this nation or in that. Thus the villanies of the Venetian system of spoilation were a hidden source of the capital wealth of Holland, inasmuch as decaying Venice lent large sums of money to the Dutch. There were similar relations between Holland and England. As early as the beginning of the eighteenth century, the manufactures of Holland had been greatly outstripped by her chief competitor, and she had ceased to be a leading commercial and industrial nation. From 1701 to 1776, therefore, one of the main lines of Dutch business was the lending out of enormous amounts of capital, especially to England, the great rival. The same thing is going on to-day in the relations between England and the United States.

A great deal of capital which makes its appearance in the United States without any birth certificate was yesterday in England the capitalized blood of children.

Since the national debt is buttressed by the public revenue, which must provide whatever sums are needed for the annual payment of interest, etc., the modern system of taxation is a necessary supplement to the system of national loans. The loans enable the government to defray extraordinary expenditures without, for the moment, imposing fresh burdens on the taxpayers; but in the end, higher taxes have to be paid in return for this advantage. On the other hand, the increase in taxation due to the accumulation of the debts that are contracted one after another, makes it necessary for the government to have recourse again and again to fresh loans in order to defray new extraordinary expenses.

The modern fiscal system, whose pivot is formed by taxes on the necessaries of life (of course making these dearer), therefore bears within itself the germs of an automatic progression. Excessive taxation is now not so much an incident as a principle. In Holland, where this system was first inaugurated, the noted patriot De Witt extolled it in his Maxims as the best system for making the wage earner submissive, frugal, diligent, and--overburdened with labor. Here, however, we are not so much concerned with the disastrous influence which excessive taxation has upon the position of the wage earner, as upon the way in which it leads to the forcible expropriation of peasants, handicraftsmen, in a word, all the members of the lower middle class. . . .

The expropriative efficacy of excessive taxation is intensified by the protective system, an integral part thereof.

The protective system was an artifice for the making of factory owners, for the expropriation of independent workers, for the capitalization of the national means of production and the national means of subsistence, for forcibly shortening the transition from the medieval to the modern system of production. The various States of Europe scrambled for the patent of this discovery. As soon as they had entered the service of the makers of surplus value, they were not content to fleece their own people, indirectly by protective tariffs, directly by premiums upon export, and the like. In dependent neighboring countries, industry was forcibly uprooted, as for example, happened to the woolen manufacture of Ireland under English rule. . . .