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

Xxxx Xxxxx Xxxxxx xxxxxxxx at xxxxxxxxxxx.xxx
Sat Oct 21 15:13:30 MDT 2000

Yoshie Furuhashi wrote:

> >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.

Post-modernists are bunch of apologists failing to come to terms with capitalism as
a social system of inequalities and imperialism. That is why they eliminate
historical actors from their theories-- the *exploited* and victimized.  Not all
post-modernists eliminate actors from history  though. You have to be very careful
on this.  Many post-modernists, including the post-marxism crowd of Laclau and
Mouffe, reinvent an abstract category of agency in the name of introducing
historical actors to Marxist theory as resisting beings. They do this by
_attacking_ (misreading) Marx on the grounds that Marx lacked a theory of agency.
They reduce Marx to a vulgar materialist piece of shit. Post-marxism is an attack
on Marx in the name of Marxism.

Regarding the passive voice of reading slavery as "being imposed" by capitalists is
NOT to disregard agency.  On the contrary, it means to take into consideration the
"coercive" process that gave impulse to the rise of slavery. Without  the slave
labor extracted from the colonies, British capitalism could not establish itself
nor it could develop an industrial basis necessary  for the development
capitalism..  If you take the opposite view of attributing agency to slavery, then
you end up facing a politically disturbing result and idealism (Genovese' premature
Gramscian analysis)--seeing slaves as consenting to their own situation. Slaves did
not choose to become slaves. They were forced.  Black people had no alternative of
*choosing* what they would do when they were chained into slavery by force and
exported from their homeland. They did not turn out to be slaves with the hope of
becoming a wage laborer.

> >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.

First, W is not a post-modernist. He has implicit criticisms of post-modernism for
being pseudo science and unscientific (meaning, lacking empirical and historical
generalizations). Also mind you that post-modernist attempt of *denying*
generalizations, continuities and discontinuities in social events in favor of more
contingent and particularistic analysis of history is in TOTAL contradiction with
the methodology of  world system theory whose aim is still to see the big picture--
long duree treds,  ups and downs, contractions and crisis in world economy, IN
SHORT, SOME INDETIFIABLE PATTERNS in  capitalism . World system theory is far more
empirical than pseudo sciences like post-modernism that reduces everything to
discourses and texts.  Your analogy fails, me thinks.


"The Structures of Knowledge, or How Many Ways May We Know?"

by Immanuel Wallerstein (iwaller at binghamton.edu)

"Where then does social science fit in this picture? In the nineteenth century, the
social sciences, faced with the "two cultures," internalized their struggle as a
Methodenstreit. There were those who leaned toward the humanities and utilized what
was called an idiographic epistemology. They emphasized the particularity of all
social phenomena, the limited utility of all generalizations, the need for
empathetic understanding. And there were those who leaned towards the natural
sciences and utilized what was called a nomothetic epistemology. They emphasized
the logical parallel between human processes and all other material processes. They
sought to join physics in the search for universal, simple laws that held across
time and space. Social science was like someone tied to two horses galloping in
opposite directions. Social science had no epistemological stance of its own and
was torn apart by the struggle between the two colossi of the natural sciences and
the humanitie"

With that said,  I don't agree with everything what Wallerstein says. However,
*Compared* to Brenner's thesis, I find his analysis about the origins of capitalism
more convincing then Brenner's exploration of the origins of capitalism in the
*specifics* of British society. This lets imperalism off the hook.  I wonder what
kind of Marxism emerges out of Brenner's analysis besides vulgar Eurocentrism. It
was Marx who drew attention to the "colonization" of  India as part of the
historical process of the development of capitalism--primitive accumulation-- in
Britain. How would textile manufacturing develop in Britain without the cotton
imported from India?

Second of all, if you bother to read W's The Modern World System II, you will see
that it is all about class struggles (including peasant struggles) in the core,
periphery and semi-periphery of the world system. In my view, people like Brenner
should read carefully before making  authoritative comments. For example, W points
out the *pauperization* of peasantry during the rise of urban industries and estate
manufacturing in Eastern Europe in the 17th century, a similar trend that Marx
talks about in the early stages of capitalist development in Britain( p.141). W
pays attention to all sorts of details of what peasants produced, for whom they
produced and what they gained in return. He says " We associate  gin with the  new
urban factories of England in the late 18th century, and whisky  with the uprooted
indigenous population of 19th century frontier areas. Similarly, it was vodka and
beer in Poland adn wine in Hungary for the pauperized peasantry of the 17th
century. The key institution was called  the propinatio the "invitation to drink"
which meant in fact the *monopoly*  of the seignior in production and sale of
alcoholic brevages. In the period from  1650 to 1750, the propinatio often became
the nobles' main source of income. "

> > 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.

Yoshie, racism is CENTRAL  to the development of capitalism as a world economy.
Racism lies at the institutional core of capitalism. The world system we are living
in is a racially stratified system. Plundering of third world people's resources,
labor, culture and histories have gained speed with capitalism and the
consolidation of European culture-- white racism and social darwinism. No
imperialism of pre-capitalist times assimilated people with such vigor and
scientific trick .  Of course, racism predated capitalism, but capitalism was also
built upon racism too, especially upon scientific racism (Social Darwinism,
Modernization theory). This is something that capitalist modernization had created
from the beginning of enlightenment. This is not a matter of whether chicken comes
from  an egg or an egg from a chicken. Modern black slavery was both a racist and
capitalistic institution central to the expansion of capitalist world economy.



Xxxx Xxxxx Xxxxxx
PhD Student
Department of Political Science
SUNY at Albany
Nelson A. Rockefeller College
135 Western Ave.; Milne 102
Albany, NY 12222

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