Saturday, April 18, 2009

John Taylor of Caroline, Marxist

Yikes! I've heard Old Republican John Taylor of Caroline called many things, but I've never seen him characterized as a proto-Marxist . . . until now. Charles Sellers draws the unlikely comparison:
As Karl Marx would analyze capitalist exploitation of European industrial labor, the Virginian explained capitalist exploitation of American agricultural labor. Both men cherished human labor as the source of economic value. "Labour is in fact the great fund for human subsistence," said the Virginian; "-- a surplus of this subsistence is wealth." Labor's "degree of safety" was for him the "barometer of good government."

Also like Marx, the Virginian thought labor "the object which tyranny invariably attacks." The American Revolution had no sooner guaranteed the republic's labor against the ancient extortions of European aristocracies and priesthoods, he argued, then a new and even more oppressive "aristocracy of paper and patronage" arose. Taylor calculated that "this legal faction of capitalists" was extorting 40 percent of the proceeds of agricultural labor. [Me: Shades of George McDuffie's Forty-Bale theory!] Writing just as wage labor galvanized capitalist exploitation, he anticipated Marx in sensing that capital "will, in the case of mechanics, soon appropriate the whole of their labor to its use, beyond a bare subsistence."

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