from Capital Volume One
Part VIII: Primative Accumulation
The proletariat created by the breaking up of the bands of feudal retainers and by the forcible
expropriation of the people from the soil, this "free" proletariat could not possibly be absorbed
by the nascent manufactures as fast as it was thrown upon the world. On the other hand, these
men, suddenly dragged from their wanted mode of life, could not as suddenly adapt
themselves to the discipline of their new condition. They were turned en masse into beggars,
robbers, vagabonds, partly from inclination, in most cases from stress of circumstances.
Hence at the end of the 15th and during the whole of the 16th century, throughout Western
Europe a bloody legislation against vagabondage. The fathers of the present working-class
were chastised for their enforced transformation into vagabonds and paupers. Legislation
treated them as "voluntary" criminals, and assumed that it depended on their own good will to
go on working under the old conditions that no longer existed.
In England this legislation began under Henry VII.
Henry VIII. 1530: Beggars old and unable to work receive a beggar's licence. On the other
hand, whipping and imprisonment for sturdy vagabonds. They are to be tied to the cart-tail and
whipped until the blood streams from their bodies, then to swear an oath to go back to their
birthplace or to where they have lived the last three years and to "put themselves to labour."
What grim irony! In 27 Henry VIII. the former statute is repeated, but strengthened with new
clauses. For the second arrest for vagabondage the whipping is to be repeated and half the ear
sliced off; but for the third relapse the offender is to be executed as a hardened criminal and
enemy of the common weal.
Edward VI.: A statute of the first year of his reign, 1547, ordains that if anyone refuses to
work, he shall be condemned as a slave to the person who has denounced him as an idler. The
master shall feed his slave on bread and water, weak broth and such refuse meat as he thinks
fit. He has the right to force him to do any work, no matter how disgusting, with whip and
chains. If the slave is absent a fortnight, he is condemned to slavery for life and is to be
branded on forehead or back with the letter S; if he runs away thrice, he is to be executed as a
felon. The master can sell him, bequeath him, let him out on hire as a slave, just as any other
personal chattel or cattle. If the slaves attempt anything against the masters, they are also to be
executed. Justices of the peace, on information, are to hunt the rascals down. If it happens that
a vagabond has been idling about for three days, he is to be taken to his birthplace, branded
with a red-hot iron with the letter V on the breast and be set to work, in chains, in the streets or
at some other labour. If the vagabond gives a false birthplace, he is then to become the slave
for life of this place, of its inhabitants, or its corporation, and to be branded with an S. All
persons have the right to take away the children of the vagabonds and to keep them as
apprentices, the young men until the 24th year, the girls until the 20th. If they run away, they
are to become up to this age the slaves of their masters, who can put them in irons, whip them,
&c., if they like. Every master may put an iron ring round the neck, arms or legs of his slave,
by which to know him more easily and to be more certain of him.  The last part of this statute
provides, that certain poor people may be employed by a place or by persons, who are willing
to give them food and drink and to find them work. This kind of parish-slaves was kept up in
England until far into the 19th century under the name of "roundsmen."
Elizabeth, 1572: Unlicensed beggars above 14 years of age are to be severely flogged and
branded on the left ear unless some one will take them into service for two years; in case of a
repetition of the offence, if they are over 18, they are to be executed, unless some one will take
them into service for two years; but for the third offence they are to be executed without mercy
as felons. Similar statutes: 18 Elizabeth, c. 13, and another of 1597.
James 1: Any one wandering about and begging is declared a rogue and a vagabond. Justices
of the peace in petty sessions are authorised to have them publicly whipped and for the first
offence to imprison them for 6 months, for the second for 2 years. Whilst in prison they are to
be whipped as much and as often as the justices of the peace think fit.... Incorrigible and
dangerous rogues are to be branded with an R on the left shoulder and set to hard labour, and
if they are caught begging again, to be executed without mercy. These statutes, legally binding
until the beginning of the 18th century, were only repealed by 12 Ann, c. 23.
Similar laws in France, where by the middle of the 17th century a kingdom of vagabonds
(truands) was established in Paris. Even at the beginning of Louis XVI.'s reign (Ordinance of
July 13th, 1777) every man in good health from 16 to 60 years of age, if without means of
subsistence and not practising a trade, is to be sent to the galleys. Of the same nature are the
statute of Charles V. for the Netherlands (October, 1537), the first edict of the States and
Towns of Holland (March 10, 1614), the "Plakaat" of the United Provinces (June 26, 1649),
Thus were the agricultural people, first forcibly expropriated from the soil, driven from their
homes, turned into vagabonds, and then whipped, branded, tortured by laws grotesquely
terrible, into the discipline necessary for the wage system.
It is not enough that the conditions of labour are concentrated in a mass, in the shape of capital,
at the one pole of society, while at the other are grouped masses of men, who have nothing to
sell but their labour-power. Neither is it enough that they are compelled to sell it voluntarily.
The advance of capitalist production develops a working-class, which by education, tradition,
habit, looks upon the conditions of that mode of production as self-evident laws of nature.
The organisation of the capitalist process of production, once fully developed, breaks down
all resistance. The constant generation of a relative surplus-population keeps the law of supply
and demand of labour, and therefore keeps wages, in a rut that corresponds with the wants of
capital. The dull compulsion of economic relations completes the subjection of the labourer to
the capitalist. Direct force, outside economic conditions, is of course still used, but only
exceptionally. In the ordinary run of things, the labourer can be left to the "natural laws of
production," i.e., to his dependence on capital, a dependence springing from, and guaranteed
in perpetuity by, the conditions of production themselves. It is otherwise during the historic
genesis of capitalist production. The bourgeoisie, at its rise, wants and uses the power of the
state to "regulate" wages, i.e., to force them within the limits suitable for surplus-value
making, to lengthen the working-day and to keep the labourer himself in the normal degree of
dependence. This is an essential element of the so-called primitive accumulation.
The class of wage-labourers, which arose in the latter half of the 14th century, formed then
and in the following century only a very small part of the population, well protected in its
position by the independent peasant proprietary in the country and the guild-organisation in the
town. In country and town master and workmen stood close together socially. The
subordination of labour to capital was only formal ‹ i.e., the mode of production itself had
as yet no specific capitalistic character. Variable capital preponderated greatly over constant.
The demand for wage-labour grew therefore, rapidly with every accumulation of capital,
whilst the supply of wage-labour followed but slowly. A large part of the national product,
changed later into a fund of capitalist accumulation, then still entered into the
consumption-fund of the labourer.
Legislation on wage-labour, (from the first, aimed at the exploitation of the labourer and, as it
advanced, always equally hostile to him),  is started in England by the Statute of Labourers,
of Edward III., 1349. The ordinance of 1350 in France, issued in the name of King John,
corresponds with it. English and French legislation run parallel and are identical in purport. So
far as the labour-statutes aim at compulsory extension of the working-day, I do not return to
them, as this point was treated earlier (Chap. X., Section 5).
The Statute of Labourers was passed at the urgent instance of the House of Commons. A Tory
says naively: " Formerly the poor demanded such high wages as to threaten industry and
wealth. Next, their wages are so low as to threaten industry and wealth equally and perhaps
more, but in another way."  A tariff of wages was fixed by law for town and country, for
piece-work and day-work. The agricultural labourers were to hire themselves out by the year,
the town ones "in open market." It was forbidden, under pain of imprisonment, to pay higher
wages than those fixed by the statute, but the taking of higher wages was more severely
punished than the giving them. [So also in Sections 18 and 19 of the Statute of Apprentices of
Elizabeth, ten days' imprisonment is decreed for him that pays the higher wages, but
twenty-one days for him that receives them.] A statute of 1360 increased the penalties and
authorised the masters to extort labour at the legal rate of wages by corporal punishment. All
combinations, contracts, oaths, &c., by which masons and carpenters reciprocally bound
themselves, were declared null and void. Coalition of the labourers is treated as a heinous
crime from the 14th century to 1825, the year of the repeal of the laws against Trades' Unions.
The spirit of the Statute of Labourers of 1349 and of its offshoots, comes out clearly in the
fact, that indeed a maximum of wages is dictated by the State, but on no account a minimum.
In the 16th century, the condition of the labourers had, as we know, become much worse. The
money wage rose, but not in proportion to the depreciation of money and the corresponding
rise in the prices of commodities. Wages, therefore, in reality fell. Nevertheless, the laws for
keeping them down remained in force, together with the ear-clipping and branding of those
"whom no one was willing to take into service." By the Statute of Apprentices 5 Elizabeth, c.
3, the justices of the peace were empowered to fix certain wages and to modify them according
to the time of the year and the price of commodities. James I. extended these regulations of
labour also to weavers, spinners, and all possible categories of workers.  George II.
extended the laws against coalitions of labourers to manufacturers. In the manufacturing period
par excellence, the capitalist mode of production had become sufficiently strong to render
legal regulation of wages as impracticable as it was unnecessary; but the ruling classes were
unwilling in case of necessity to be without the weapons of the old arsenal. Still, 8 George II.
forbade a higher day's wage than 2s. 7 1/2d. for journeymen tailors in and around London,
except in cases of general mourning; still, 13 George III., c. 68, gave the regulation of the
wages of silk-weavers to the justices of the peace; still, in 1706, it required two judgments of
the higher courts to decide, whether the mandates of justices of the peace as to wages held
good also for non-agricultural labourers; still, in 1799, an act of Parliament ordered that the
wages of the Scotch miners should continue to be regulated by a statute of Elizabeth and two
Scotch acts of 1661 and 1671. How completely in the meantime circumstances had changed, is
proved by an occurrence unheard-of before in the English Lower House. In that place, where
for more than 400 years laws had been made for the maximum, beyond which wages
absolutely must not rise, Whitbread in 1796 proposed a legal minimum wage for agricultural
labourers. Pitt opposed this, but confessed that the "condition of the poor was cruel." Finally,
in 1813, the laws for the regulation of wages were repealed. They were an absurd anomaly,
since the capitalist regulated his factory by his private legislation, and could by the poor-rates
make up the wage of the agricultural labourer to the indispensable minimum. The provisions of
the labour statutes as to contracts between master and workman, as to giving notice and the
like, which only allow of a civil action against the contract-breaking master, but on the
contrary permit a criminal action against the contract-breaking workman, are to this hour
(1873) in full force. The barbarous laws against Trades' Unions fell in 1825 before the
threatening bearing of the proletariat. Despite this, they fell only in part. Certain beautiful
fragments of the old statute vanished only in 1859. Finally, the act of Parliament of June 29,
1871, made a pretence of removing the last traces of this class of legislation by legal
recognition of Trades Unions. But an act of Parliament of the same date (an act to amend the
criminal law relating to violence, threats, and molestation), re-established, in point of fact, the
former state of things in a new shape. By this Parliamentary escamotage the means which the
labourers could use in a strike or lock-out were withdrawn from the laws common to all
citizens, and placed under exceptional penal legislation, the interpretation of which fell to the
masters themselves in their capacity as justices of the peace. Two years earlier, the same
House of Commons and the same Mr. Gladstone in the well-known straightforward fashion
brought in a bill for the abolition of all exceptional penal legislation against the working-class.
But this was never allowed to go beyond the second reading, and the matter was thus
protracted until at last the "great Liberal party," by an alliance with the Tories, found courage
to turn against the very proletariat that had carried it into power. Not content with this
treachery, the "great Liberal party" allowed the English judges, ever complaisant in the service
of the ruling classes, to dig up again the earlier laws against "conspiracy," and to apply them to
coalitions of labourers. We see that only against its will and under the pressure of the masses
did the English Parliament give up the laws against Strikes and Trades' Unions, after it had
itself, for 500 years, held, with shameless egoism, the position of a permanent Trades' Union
of the capitalists against the labourers.
During the very first storms of the revolution, the French bourgeoisie dared to take away from
the workers the right of association but just acquired. By a decree of June 14, 1791, they
declared all coalition of the workers as "an attempt against liberty and the declaration of the
rights of man," punishable by a fine of 500 livres, together with deprivation of the rights of an
active citizen for one year.  This law which, by means of State compulsion, confined the
struggle between capital and labour within limits comfortable for capital, has outlived
revolutions and changes of dynasties. Even the Reign of Terror left it untouched. It was but
quite recently struck out of the Penal Code. Nothing is more characteristic than the pretext for
this bourgeois coup d'état. "Granting," says Chapelier, the reporter of the Select Committee
on this law, "that wages ought to be a little higher than they are, ... that they ought to be high
enough for him that receives them, to be free from that state of absolute dependence due to the
want of the necessaries of life, and which is almost that of slavery," yet the workers must not
be allowed to come to any understanding about their own interests, nor to act in common and
thereby lessen their "absolute dependence, which is almost that of slavery;" because, forsooth,
in doing this they injure "the freedom of their cidevant masters, the present entrepreneurs," and
because a coalition against the despotism of the quondam masters of the corporations is ‹
guess what! ‹ is a restoration of the corporations abolished by the French constitution. 
 The author of the "Essay on Trade, etc., 1770, says, "In the reign of Edward VI. indeed
the English seem to have set, in good earnest, about encouraging manufactures and employing
the poor. This we learn from a remarkable statute which runs thus: 'That all vagrants shall be
branded, &c...'" l. c., p. 5.
 Thomas More says in his "Utopia": "Therfore that on covetous and unsatiable cormaraunte
and very plage of his native contrey maye compasse aboute and inclose many thousand akers
of grounde together within one pale or hedge, the husbandman be thrust owte of their owne,
or els either by coneyne and fraude, or by violent oppression they be put besydes it, or by
wrongs and iniuries they be so weried that they be compelled to sell all: by one meanes,
therfore, or by other, either by hooke or crooke they muste needes departe awaye, poore,
selye, wretched soules, men, women, husbands, wiues, fatherlesse children, widowes,
wofull mothers with their yonge babes, and their whole households smal in substance, and
muche in numbre, as husbandrye requireth many handes. Awaye thei trudge, I say, owte of
their knowen accustomed houses, fyndynge no place to reste in. All their housholde stuffe,
which is very little woorthe, thoughe it might well abide the sale: yet beeynge sodainely thruste
owte, they be constrayned to sell it for a thing of nought. And when they haue wandered
abrode tyll that be spent, what cant they then els doe but steale, and then iustly pardy be
hanged, or els go about beggyng. And yet then also they be caste in prison as vagaboundes,
because they go aboute and worke not: whom no man wyl set a worke though thei neuer so
willyngly profre themselues therto."
Of these poor fugitives of whom Thomas More says that they were forced to thieve, "7,200
great and petty thieves were put to death," in the reign of Henry VIII. (Holinshed,
"Description of England," Vol. 1, p. 186.) In EIizabeth's time, "rogues were trussed up
apace, and that there was not one year commonly wherein three or four hundred were not
devoured and eaten up by the gallowes." (Strype's "Annals of the Reformation and
Establishment of Rcligion and other Various Occurrences in the Church of England during
Queen Elizabeth's Happy Reign." Second ed., 1725, Vol. 2.)
According to this same Strype, in Somersetshire, in one year, 40 persons were executed, 35
robbers burnt in the hand, 37 whipped, and 183 discharged as "incottigible vagabonds."
Nevertheless, he is of opinion that this large number of prisoners does not comprise even a
fifth of the actual criminals, thanks to the negligence of the justices and the foolish compassion
of the people; and the other counties of England were not better off in this respect than
Somersetshire, while some were even worse.
 "Whenever the legislature attempts
to regulate the differences between masters and their workmen, its counsellors
are always the masters," says A. Smith. "L'esprit des lois, c'est la propriété."
 "Sophisms of Free Trade." By a Barrister.
Lond., 1850, p. 206. He adds maliciously: "We were ready enough to interfere
for the employer, can nothing now be done for the employed?"
 From a clause of Statute 2 James I., c. 6, we see that certain cloth-makers took upon
themselves to dictate, in their capacity of justices of the peace, the official tariff of wages in
their own shops. In Germany, especially after the Thirty Years' War, statutes for keeping
down wages were general. "The want of servants and labourers was very troublesome to the
landed proprietors in the depopulated districts. All villagers were forbidden to let rooms to
single men and women; all the latter were to be reported to the authorities and cast into prison
if they were unwilling to become servants, even if they were employed at any other work,
such as sowing seeds for the peasants at a daily wage, or even buying and selling corn.
(Imperial privileges and sanctions for Silesia, I., 25.) For a whole century in the decrees of the
small German potentates a bitter cry goes up attain and again about the wicked and impertinent
rabble that will not reconcile itself to its hard lot, will not be content with the legal wage; the
individual landed proprietors are forbidden to pay more than the State had fixed by a tariff.
And yet the conditions of service were at times better after war than 100 years later; the farm
servants of Silesia had, in 1652, meat twice a week, whilst even in our century, districts are
known where they have it only three times a year. Further, wages after the war were higher
than in the following century." (G. Freytag.)
 Article I. of this law runs: "L'anéantissement
de toute esp&e de corporations du même état et profession
étant l'une des bases fondamentales de la constitution francaise,
ii est défendu de les rétablir de fait sous quelque prétexte
et sous quelque forme que ce soit." Article IV. declares, that if "des
citoyens attachés aux memes professions, arts et métiers
prenaient des délibérations, faisaient entre eux des conventions
tendantes i refuser de concert ou à n'accorder qu'à un prix
déterminé le secours de leur industrie ou de leurs travaux,
les dites délibérations et conventions... seront déclarées
inconstitutionnelles, attentatoires à la liberté et à
la declaration des droits de I'homme, &c."; felony, therefore, as in
the old labour-statutes. ("Révolutions de Paris," Paris, 1791, t.
III, p. 523.)
 Buchez et Roux: "Histoire Parlementaire,"
t. x., p. 195.