California & the Fictions of Capital

By George L. Henderson | Go to book overview
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Nature and Fictitious Capital

The Circulation of Money Capital

Capitalism and Nature: The Agrarian Nexus

There is seemingly no lack of evidence for the agrarian turn of post-Gold Rush capitalism. It is writ in the state's changing occupational structure--hence, the precipitous decline in the number of miners and preponderant increase in the number of farmers in the 1870s. It is woven in the fabric of industrial growth-- thus, four of the top five industries by the turn of the twentieth century were processors of farm products like sugar beets, beef, grains, fruits, and vegetables ( Cleland and Hardy 1929). And it is embedded in the social and spatial division of labor--as discussed in the previous chapter, a widening production matrix joined together an assortment of commodities validated through complex chains of inputs and outputs: the production of boilers that fueled machine shops and metal works, which in turn furnished product for plows and threshers, which in turn allowed more labor-efficient grain production, which stoked the growth of mills that filled the hulls of ships, and so on.

But as suggestive as these observations are, they actually do not tell us much about how capital enters the farm, about what might make farming capitalistic, nor about how farm production, as an economy centered on natural processes, recursively shapes the ways in which it is shaped by capital. It is the purpose of this chapter to broach this problem theoretically and historically.

As simple as the question may seem--"How ought capitalism in agriculture to be recognized?"--the answer is rife with complexity. There are two axes of concern. Along the first, what counts is whether farm production is organized in a capitalistic manner. Here, the issue is the employment of wage labor in on-farm production versus the persistence of forms of non-wage labor, or some combination of waged and non-waged labor. The sticking points are whether farming is capitalistic as soon as farm products are grown for exchange in the market, by

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