Lise Vogel & Robert Brenner (was Re: Brenner, C. L. R. James, & José Carlos Mariátegui )

Yoshie Furuhashi furuhashi.1 at
Wed Oct 25 15:49:07 MDT 2000


>Labor power is a commodity under capitalism, but labor power is not "produced"
>in the same way that other commodities are.

Exactly, and in this crucial sense, the reproduction of capitalism
depends upon un-waged labor.  Have you read Lise Vogel's "Domestic
Labor Revisited," _Science & Society_ 64.2 (Summer 2000), pp.
151-170?  She suggests that we re-conceptualize "necessary labor to
incorporate the processes of reproduction of labor power," so as to
highlight the veiled component of "necessary labor": "the unwaged
work that contributes to the daily and long-term renewal of bearers
of the commodity labor power and of the working class as a whole"
(161).  Why has this component of "necessary labor" been veiled?
Because as "in no other mode of production, daily maintenance and
generational replacement tasks are spatially, temporally, and
institutionally isolated from the sphere of production," Vogel says

Re-conceptualizing "necessary labor" in this fashion allows us to
analyze how "capitalists as a class are caught between a number of
conflicting pressures, including: their long-term need for a labor
force, their short-term demands for different categories of workers
and consumers, their profit requirements, and their desire to
maintain hegemony over a divided working class....[T]hese
contradictory pressures generate tendencies, of course, not
preordained inevitabilities.  Such tendencies do not necessarily
produce outcomes favorable to dominant classes, as functionalist
interpretations would have it" (163).

The dialectical development of capitalism & modern slavery may be
analyzed in light of "conflicting pressures" -- for instance,
contradiction between short-term desire to increase absolute surplus
and long-term need to revolutionize the means of production, to
increase the productivity of labor power, & to develop by extracting
relative surplus value.

>Enslaved labor and the slave[ry] trade were central in the rise and
>development of the only capitalism that history has known.  Any way
>you cut it,
>it wasn't peripheral, it wasn't an aberration, it wasn't insulated, it was a
>central and essential part of the capitalist mode of production.  I have no
>problem with Jim's distinction (from Hindess and Hirst or whomever) between
>social formation and mode of production. I don't have a problem with
>the notion
>of articulation of modes of production. But the articulation of capitalist and
>other modes of production is more relevant to what was happening in the
>colonies, for example, where the capitalist mode and domestic, Germanic,
>African, and other modes were in articulation.

Yes, but that slavery became _historically essential_ to the
development of capitalism was _not_ a _preordained_ outcome.  It was
_not_ inevitable.  It was a _contingent_ outcome of _class struggles
in Europe, Africa, & the so-called New World_:

*****   Having got rid of the small farmers, how was it possible for
the merchants and planters to establish the plantation system for the
production of sugar?  The obvious answer: by buying slaves.  Yet this
only pushes the question back a step.  Why were slaves available to
be used?  Before they could be bought, the slaves had to be
'produced'; more precisely, they had to appear on the market 'as
commodities'.  But this poses large questions, namely of the
formation of class systems of 'production' and appropriation of
slaves in Africa (or elsewhere).  The point here is _not_ to enter
into the debate concerning the degree to which the formation of such
a structure marked the emergence of a new mode of production, or
merely the adaptation and intensification of an already existing one.
It is to argue that _its existence should in no way be assumed_; that
_the needs of capitalism, or capitalists, are not in themselves
enough to explain it_ [Yoshie: Note the importance of _opposition to
functionalism_ that both Vogel & Brenner highlight].  This is
especially because class formation, or the intensification of
exploitation, is generally an _outcome_ of class conflict, and this
outcome itself needs to be accounted for.[100]

The Case of Colonial Virginia

The relevance of this question is clarified by the very great
difficulty, if not impossibility, of enslaving the European settlers
themselves in the colonial context.  In Virginia, for example, the
demand for tobacco from England and Europe set in train a demand by
planters and merchants for increased output for export, and a
consequently increasing pressure on the direct producers to increase
their output.  In this case, the direct producers for the planters
and merchants were for the most part indentured servants, subject to
work for their masters for a specified number of years before gaining
their freedom.  In this situation, the way to ensure and increase
output was for the planters to intensify their servants' labour,
extend their terms of service, and close off their access to land by
engrossing it themselves.  These processes were indeed set in motion.
Yet actually to accomplish them required increasing class
exploitation and oppression and, in return, class conflict.  From the
1660s, the Virginia colony was wracked by class conflict, by a
succession of conspiracies and revolts, set off by the resistance of
servants and ex-servants to the oppression of the planters, and
culminating in 1676 in Bacon's rebellion -- the greatest social
conflict in the pre-revolutionary history of North America.[101]  In
fact, the planters were in the long run unsuccessful in either
seriously depressing the condition of European servants or preventing
them from getting land.  The existence of a massive class of small
tobacco farmers is a characteristic feature of Virginia's
eighteenth-century social and political structure.[102]  Had the
planters, therefore, depended upon the labour of the European
colonists, it might have been impossible to construct plantations --
due to the results of class struggles _in the South_.  Of course, as
it turned out, plantations did, in the long run, come to dominate
Southern society -- but this was on the basis of slavery.  Had it not
been for the outcome of processes of class formation and class
conflict _in Africa_, the development of Southern society, indeed
society throughout the Western hemisphere, might have been very
different.  Capitalism, _in itself_, cannot account for it.

[100]  See Walter Rodney, 'African Slavery and Other Forms of Social
Oppression on the Upper Guinea Coast in the Context of the Atlantic
Slave Trade', _Journal of African History_, VIII (1966), p. 434; A.
G. Hopkins, _An Economic History of West Africa_, New York 1973, pp.
104, 106.  Both of these authors naturally see the development and/or
intensification of slavery as responsive to the world market, but
they do not adequately explain the specific character of the
processes of class formation and class conflict which made this
response possible.

[101]  Edmund S. Morgan, _American Slavery, American Freedom: The
Ordeal of Colonial Virginia_.  New York 1975, pp. 215-70 and passim;
T. H. Breen, "A Changing Labor Force and Race Relations in Virginia
1660-1710', _Journal of Social History_, Fall 1973, pp. 3-25;
Theodore Allen, '"They Would Have Destroyed Me": Slavery and the
Origins of Racism,' _Radical America_, May-June 1975, pp. 41-64.

[102]  See, e.g., Aubrey Land, "Economic Behavior in a Planting
Society', _Journal of Southern History_, November 1967, pp. 473-5 and
passim; Aubrey Land, "The Tobacco Staple and the Planter's Problems:
Technology, Labor, and Crops', _Agricultural History_, January 1969,
pp. 69-81.

(emphasis mine, Robert Brenner, "The Origins of Capitalist
Development: a Critique of Neo-Smithian Marxism," _New Left Review_
104 (July-August 1977), pp. 88-89)   *****


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