How Should Marxists Characterize Chattel Slave Labor? (was Re:Continuing with the Brenner debate)

Yoshie Furuhashi furuhashi.1 at
Sat Oct 28 13:49:49 MDT 2000

Hi Lou:

>Yoshie insists that the Brenner thesis allows the possibility of the
>slave trade being a key element of the formation of the capitalist
>system, while my reading of Brenner and Woods convinces me that the
>slave trade-in their view-was NONCAPITALIST.

I believe that the Marxist terminology has a *lacuna* here.  Neither
capitalist, pre-capitalist, nor non-capitalist properly describes
chattel slave labor under capitalism.

However, that many Marxists have used the term feudal or neo-feudal
or pre-capitalist or non-capitalist to describe a particular type of
labor or social relation under capitalism as the dominant mode of
production does *not* necessarily make them take the same execrable
position on slavery as Eugene Genovese does.  In fact, to emphasize
that black slave labor in the American South, indigenous peoples'
labor in Latin America, etc. were not quite "proletarian" in the
fullest sense of the term & in fact encumbered by what Mariategui
(for the lack of a better term) calls "feudal" elements of oppression
is not the same as to think of such labor as if it were _outside_ of
capitalism.  Allow me to reuse my own post, since I hate to type the
quotes all over again:

+++++   From: Yoshie Furuhashi
Subject: Brenner, C. L. R. James, & José Carlos Mariátegui (was Re:
Brenner Redux)
Date: Mon, 23 Oct 2000 19:24:08 -0700

Hi Lou:

>  >In other words, do your questions (e.g., "Is X capitalist or
>  >pre-capitalist?") fit the social formations that you seek to analyze?
>  >Should the choices _only_ be "capitalist or pre-capitalist"?  Why?
>  >Isn't that a residue of "stagism"?  :)  Do your questions help us
>  >learn from concrete reality or excuse us from doing so?  Do they
>  >enlighten us politically?
>  >
>  >Yoshie
>I don't want to make you uncomfortable but I am trying to pin you down.
>Everybody else who has been involved in these debates for the past
>half-century has no problem recognizing that Laclau, Brenner and Genovese
>argue that there WAS capitalism in Great Britain and precapitalism in
>places like the Deep South and Bolivia in the 18th century.

If only you, Jim Blaut, Andy Austin, etc. could move toward the
position held by C. L. R. James, at least....  :)

*****   Negro slavery was more or less patriarchal _so long as
consumption was directed to immediate local needs_.  But in
proportion as the export of cotton became of interest to the United
States, patriarchal slavery was, in the words of Marx, 'drawn into
the whirlpool of an international market dominated by the
capitalistic mode of production.'  The structure of production
relations was thereby altered.  By 1860 there were over 2,000
plantations each with over a hundred slaves.  Division of labor
increased.  Slaves began to perform skilled labor, were hired out for
wages.  _Slave production took on more and more the character of
social labor_.  The slave revolts that began in 1800 were therefore
_of an entirely different character from those of the seventeenth and
eighteenth century_.   (emphasis mine, C. L. R. James, Ch. 14
"Stalinism and Negro History," _C. L. R. James and Revolutionary
Marxism_, eds. Scott McLemee & Paul Le Blanc, Atlantic Highlands, NJ:
Humanities Press, 1994, p. 190).   *****

James' analysis zeroes in on the dialectical process of social
evolution & class struggles -- the development that would have
escaped his attention had he thought that slavery was _always
already_ capitalist from its very beginning in the so-called New
World.  James' isn't the only helpful answer, but it is a good point
of departure for further scholarly investigation, and far better than
dependency theory/world systems theory/post-colonialism.

>I have no idea why you would be such a big fan of Brenner and have trouble
>answering yes or no.

Brenner, like most Marxist historians, thinks dialectically (e.g.,
neither the modernization theory nor the dependency theory), without
following the law of the excluded middle.

>And, yes, as a matter of fact I reject these kinds of
>"stagist" categories myself.

In that case, your questions would cease to make sense.

BTW, I thought you liked Mariátegui....

*****   In Latin American bourgeois intellectual speculation, the
race question serves, among other things, to disguise or evade the
continent's real problems.  Marxist criticism has the unavoidable
obligation of establishing it in real terms, ridding it of all
sophistic or pedantic equivocation.  Economically, socially, and
politically, the race question, like the land question, is
fundamentally that of _liquidating feudalism_....What we call the
indigenous problem is the _feudal exploitation_ of the native peoples
by the large agrarian landholders.  The Indian, in 90 percent of
cases, is _not a proletarian, but a serf_.  Capitalism, as an
economic and political system in Latin America, is showing itself
_unable to build an economy free of feudal encumbrances_....In
agriculture, the establishment of the wage system and the adoption of
the machine do not remove the _feudal character of large
landholding_.  They simply perfect the system of exploitation of the
land and of the peasant masses.   (emphasis mine, José Carlos
Mariátegui, "The Indigenous Question," _The Heroic and Creative
Meaning of Socialism_, ed. & trans. Michael Pearlman, NJ: Humanities
Press, 1996, p. 94-96)   *****

It turns out that Brenner is in agreement with Mariátegui.

*****   In sum, the growing connection of Poland with the world
market -- the growing impact of trade -- did, in accord with Marx's
generalization, 'facilitate the production of surplus destined for
exchange in order to increase the enjoyments, or wealth of the
producers (here meant are owners of the products)'.  On the other
hand, as Marx also theorized, growing production for exchange was
'incapable by itself of promoting and explaining the transition from
one mode to another'.  It was this two sided 'dynamic', under the
pressure of trade, which constituted at the broadest level the
'structure of underdevelopment' in early modern Poland and elsewhere:
the growth of surplus extraction in response to the market, without
the transformation of the mode of production which was required to
make possible the development of the productive forces so as to
increase the productivity of labour.  This determines, at the most
general level, the intensified use -- indeed 'using up' -- of labour
power, as well as natural resources, but without an offsetting
acceleration of the social productive forces which could make for a
correspondingly (or more greatly) increased productiveness of labour
power and increasingly effective use of natural resources.
Specifically then, the class structure of serfdom in Poland
determined underdevelopment by stifling the productivity of the
direct peasant producers, thereby undercutting the home market for
means of production and means of subsistence, and at the same time
determining that what market there was would be largely in luxuries.
To the degree, therefore, that Poland was 'incorporated' within the
world market, its economy was increasingly strangled; to the degree
to which trade (later) declined, the Polish economy stagnated.
However, neither of these trends was determined by the rise of trade
and the world market, but fundamentally by a class structure of
serfdom which precluded the emergence of an 'internal' dynamic of
development, while ensuring that any commercially induced dynamic
from 'outside' would ultimately lead to retrogression.  (Robert
Brenner, "The Origins of Capitalist Development: a Critique of
Neo-Smithian Marxism," _New Left Review_ 104, July-August 1977 p. 71)

As I said, Brenner is, unbeknownst to all, an heir to Mariátegui,
Frantz Fanon, etc.; therefore, his analysis makes a case for
revolutionary national development on the periphery _better_ than
dependency/world systems theorists' can -- with one modification.  As
Brenner correctly puts "internal" & "external" between quotation
marks, one must emphasize that the heartland of the empires (before
or after the formal independence of nations on the periphery) -- with
armed forces, "covert" actions, election contributions, propaganda,
etc. -- has and will try to shape the class structures on the
periphery to perpetuate the development of underdevelopment.

>Myself I am not feeling so ecumenical nor charming
>nowadays. Must be something I ate.

Dyspeptic?  Lo siento.

Yoshie   +++++

Both Brenner and Mariategui are saying, in effect, that without the
revolutionary transformation of class structures at home, ending what
Mariategui calls "feudal" encumbrances, it is *not* possible to
facilitate social and economic development in nations on the
periphery.  Further, both of them are saying that capitalism and the
incorporation into the world market not only do not automatically
bring economic "progress" & social "modernization" in peripheral
nations but in fact may exercise regressive influences.  (I believe
Nestor is with me here, though I shall not speak for himself.)


P.S.  As for my own thought, I reject the descriptions of chattel
slave labor as "purely capitalist," "purely pre-capitalist," "purely
non-capitalist," "purely feudal," etc.  We do not, however, have a
better term to capture the essence of chattel slavery under
capitalism.  If anything, I think of it as a "transitional" form of
sorts, just as the putting-out system of early industrial capitalism
(production in the countryside, investment from the town) was
"transitional," though the term "transitional" too is misleading in a
Hegelian fashion, implying that it _will_ pass with the "progress" of
history; as Brenner & Mariategui remind us, it may not, and it may in
fact regress.

P.P.S.  I'm cc'ing this to Jim Devine & Mat Forstater, since they are
not here to participate in the continuing debate.  I hope you'll lift
the ban on cross-postings between PEN-L and this list, for it
discourages us from fully developing the debate with all the voices'

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