Labour and Petty Production


  • Barbara Harriss-White

  • I would like to thank Shapan Adnan, Kaveri Gill, M. Ali Jan, Renana Jhabvala, George Kunnath, Colin Leys and the Development and Change reviewers for their comments on the first draft. The usual disclaimers apply.


One of many fracture zones in the right-less workforce is between wage labour, disguised wage labour (DWL) and petty commodity production (PCP) — between the formal and real subsumption of labour to capital. When the polar classes of capitalism leave much lying between them under conditions of generalized commodity production and circulation, where expansion is driven by multiplication of tiny units of production and trade rather than, or as well as, accumulation, what is to be done? In response to Saumyajit Bhattacharya's charge (in this issue) that the discourse used to explore PCP can support the de-legitimation of labour politics, this essay examines the definitions of, evidence for, and interpretation of DWL and PCP in the Indian case. It then addresses the theoretical and practical importance of PCP, its persistence, problems of its legal status and its politics.