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  • Print publication year: 2020
  • Online publication date: March 2020

7 - Self-Employment as Disguised Dispossession


One of the most startling features of capitalist development in India is that more than half the working population is engaged in non-wage employment. However, one can account this to the high share of employment in agricultural activities that had largely remained a site bearing marks of ‘pre-capitalist’ production relations. Nevertheless, self-employment and other precarious forms of non-wage employment assume a large share even in non-agriculture. This is quite peculiar since capitalism is largely characterised by an economic space in which not only produce is turned into commodities, but labour-power itself assumes the commodity form as wage labour. The worker works under the capitalist to whom the labour power belongs and the product of labour is appropriated by the capitalist net of wages. The problem is further complicated because wage employment, in the Marxian sense, is the only source of surplus-value that the labourer creates in the process of earning his/her living, precisely creating value beyond necessary labour time. The persistence of high share of non-wage employment in India and in other developing countries as well as a non-declining floor, if not a rising trend even in developed capitalism, is worrying at the conceptual level as well. Sometimes, the fact is attributed to cyclical fluctuations. That is, self-employment mushrooms in periods of economic downturn when employability of the economy declines and non-wage segment swells as a micro-level, counter-cyclical response. But this explanation is only partial because studies focus on a historical trend of declining influence of unemployment on self-employment.

How do we appreciate this apparent unity of producer with the means of production in the context of capitalism which is primarily defined as a system reproducing the alienation of the direct producer from the means of production? At a conceptual level one needs to comprehend the fact of rise in non-capital space within capitalism. It manifests articulation of various modes of production while capital relation assumes dominant position within the totality of social organisation. Neoliberalism is the paradigmatic mode of articulation in which capital relations intend to entangle and hegemonise every other mode of production by creating a market society. In fact, the withdrawal of the state in neoliberalism is never meant to be a state remaining passive.

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