Wallerstein & Post-Modernists (was Re: Wallerstein on slavery andcapitalism)

Yoshie Furuhashi furuhashi.1 at SPAMosu.edu
Sat Oct 21 11:44:16 MDT 2000


>Yoshie Furuhashi wrote:
> > >The only thing that Wallerstein offers above, by way of
> > >"explanation," is that coerced or semi-coerced wage labor or corvee
> > >labor was "needed," _so_ it was reintroduced in some parts (though
> > >not other parts) of Europe (note the passive voice in Wallerstein's
> > >theory), just as "the use of slave labor in large scale plantations
> > for almost the same reasons in the US."
>I wonder what your *explanation* of slavery is  though  besides your
>playing with
>words here. Who cares about the "passive voice" of the sentence above? Only
>post-modernists on LBO, I guess.

The passive voice makes the social _agents_ -- classes -- disappear,
in both the theoretical & empirical senses.  Post-modernists are very
fond of this disappearance of historical actors from theory.

Wallerstein's world systems theory is very close to post-modernism
(especially post-colonialist versions of it -- like Gayatri
Spivak's).  Hence his _After Liberalism_, etc.

>Let's get to the heart of the issue here.  Did
>slave labor exist in the United States or not? If so, what form and
>why?  Was it is
>benefiting the interests of capitalists  or not? Was slavery a capitalistic
>institution" or not (Yes it was. Plantations were larger scale enterprises
>producing cash crops for exports to the core, which in return
>benefited the pockets
>of slave owners). More importantly,  was the imposition of slavery
>in the South
>parallel to developments elsewhere in the core of the capitalist
>world system?  YES
>IT WAS. Even in the HEYDAY of industrial revolution (1760-1830),
>slavery did *not*
>disappear. British imperialism abandoned its strategy of exporting
>slave labor from
>*West Africa* due to increasing competition from other European
>capitalist powers
>for slave producers. What it  did  IN PLACE  was the encouragement of slavery
>"outside its own supply zones (such as the US South and Brazil" (W p. 216).

Slavery existed from near the beginning of colonial North America.  A
Dutch slave trader exchanged his cargo of Africans for food in 1619
in Jamestown.  Some historians argue that the status & treatment of
the first Africans in Virginia were close to those of "indentured
servants" brought from England, etc., and the institutionalization of
chattel slavery & use of slaves for the international market began
only from the mid- to late-seventeenth century in North American
colonies; some dispute this argument and say that _from the very
beginning_ the treatment of Africans was racist and they were already
slaves, _not at all different_ from slaves in subsequent history.

*****   ...By about 900 A.D., however, a regular slave-trade had
developed between the Niger River valley and the Muslims of Spain.
With Negroes brought from West Africa and Slavs from Russia, the
Spanish Muslim capital of Cordoba became one of the greatest
slave-markets in the world. With the decline of Muslim Spain, this
bulk of this trade shifted to East Africa. By this time, some peoples
of Africa had come to depend upon the slave trade, and Zanzibar had
become the great slave emporium. Wars between African tribes were not
fought to kill, but to take prisoners who could be exchanged with
Arab slave-traders for imported goods. It has been estimated that 25%
of the slaves taken out of Africa ended up in Muslim lands. Even more
important, this centuries-old trade had rooted the institution in the
African economy and had established the general pattern of that
<http://www.ukans.edu/kansas/medieval/100/sections/20SLAVE.HTM>   ****

However, the Arab slave trade led neither to the establishment of
capitalism in the homeland of Arab traders nor the emergence of
capitalist slavery ahead of time before Europeans got around to them.

*****   ... When the Portuguese began exploring the West African
coast and establishing the forts and trading posts that were
eventually taken over by the Dutch, they found that trade in spices,
gold, ivory, and other luxury goods was profitable, but that slaves
were the basis of trade and that they could have disposed of much
more of their trading goods if they accepted slaves in exchange.
Nevertheless, they did not develop this commerce, preferring to
concentrate on their original goal of gaining control of the market
in Eastern spices. Although the Spanish began entering into the slave
trade early in the sixteenth century, it was still a relatively
small-scale operation....

The above did not yet cause the beginning of capitalism either.

And in the beginning of the conquest of the so-called New World,
European colonialists tried either to enslave indigenous peoples or
depend on the steady supply of Europeans in indentured servitude or
both.  Only after these two tactics were proven insufficient (because
sometimes indigenous peoples escaped, sometimes Europeans
exterminated them [e.g., the Arawaks], and European servants, after
indenture was up, avoided getting re-indentured or enslaved) they
began to expand the enslavement of Africans _massively_.

In short, one can't posit _the existence of slave trade alone_ as a
causal mechanism of the emergence of capitalism & capitalist slavery;
what made a decisive difference was the _multifaceted class struggles
within Europe, Africa, & the New World_.  This is compatible with the
modified Brenner thesis that I offered (a synthesis of Robert
Brenner, Ellen Wood, Michael Perelman, Jim Blaut, Eric Williams,
etc.), but not with the automatism of Wallerstein's world systems

>W does not argue that the "growth of the market
>*automatically* brought about capitalism'.

Since Wallerstein has _no_ alternative explanation, one has to infer
that automatism is a hidden assumption of Wallerstein's theory.

>Essential feature of a capitalist word economy "is production
>for sale in a market in which the object is to realize the maximum
>profit.in such
>a system, production is constantly expanded as long as further production is
>profitable, and men constantly innovate new ways of producing things that will
>expand the profit margin. The neo-classical economists tried to
>argue that such
>production for the market was somehow the natural state of man. But
>the combined
>writings of the anthropologists and the Marxist left few in doubt
>that such a mode
>of production (these days called capitalism) was only one of several possible
>modes" (W, p15).

In Wallerstein's theory, there is _no_ plausible causal explanation
as to what gave rise to "a market in which the object is to realize
the maximum profit" & in which "production is constantly expanded as
long as further production is profitable, and men constantly innovate
new ways of producing things that will expand the profit margin."
What transformed the nature of trade from the carrying trade to the
capitalist trade?  What transformed the market from a marginal
existence in ancient societies to the all-powerful mechanism that
disciplines both capital & labor?  What gave rise to capitalism?  The
outcome of class struggles, not just the growth of the market or
trade, Brenner says.

>I did not think of terms of core and periphery only.  Cox said that
>" nations do not make profits, individuals do".  This, for example,
>implies that US
>does not make profit, but the US capitalist class or capitalists
>individually. One
>can not make such an idealistic separation. As an  AN IMPERIALIST
>NATION, US acts
>in the interests of its own ruling classes.  Business buys the
>state. The state acts
>as the political committee of the capitalist class in return.

The U.S. _government_ acts in the interest of its own ruling class,
yes, but _not_ in the interest of its own small farmers, working
class, etc.  The U.S.A. consists of more than the government & the
ruling class.  There are other Americans, who constitute the
_majority_ of this country, who do _not_ benefit from American
imperialism and in fact (often unbeknownst to them) suffer from it.


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