Dependency Theory (Stuart)

Julio Huato juliohuato at hotmail.com
Thu May 31 15:23:35 MDT 2001


Stuart Lawrence:

>As to slavery, serfdom, yeoman farm, wage labor, it's pointless to talk
>about
>these relations of production without reference to the demographic,
>geographic,
>and political factors that led to their predominance in various regions.

Indeed, geography, demographics, and politics are historically intertwined
with the relations of production.  Certain relations of production do not
emerge in a geographic, demographic, or political vacuum.

But, in a sense, capitalist production is generalized commodity production.
Historically, the production of commodities has emerged spontaneously under
very heterogeneous geographic and demographic conditions.  Not necessarily
at once, but in separate areas of the world.  So, it is very likely
(although I'm not historian) that commodity production evolved in different
geographic areas of the world independently, endogenously.  The diversity of
economic arrangements is certainly dazzling, but the commonolaties are not
to be denied.  For instance, pre-Hispanic civilizations in Mesoamerica were
commodity producers.  The specific mode of production of these commodities
was based in very heterogeneous forms of extra-economically coerced labor,
but commodity production and exchange was expanding.

Now, for a society of commodity producers to turn into a society with
predominant capitalist production, 'all' it takes si to (1) have a highly
developed market for commodities, (2) severe the link between the material
conditions of production and the direct producers, and (3) evolve a labor
market where workers can bid for jobs driven mainly by economic compulsion.
This took place in Europe under specific geographic, demographic and
political conditions, and it crystalized into a specific social formation
with a well defined historical profile.  But it is exclussively European?

It may or may not be useful to speculate on whether, without the European
influence, natural production in Latin America would have anyway evolved
into commodity producers or if the commodity producers that already existed
and were dominant in pre-Hispanic societies in Latin America would have
evolved into capitalist societies.  But the fact is that the Europeans
irrupted in America.  It happened already.

Under entirely different geographic, demographic, and political
circumstances, conditions (1)-(3) have also evolved (and continue to evolve)
in Latin America.  In the region, part of these circumstances have been
atrociously negative.  For instance, the history of plunder, genocide, and
abuse by European colonizers had a profound negative effect.  But to the
extent that (1)-(3) have evolved locally, however peculiar the historical
circumstances in which these conditions have evolved, it is legitimate to
talk about wage labor and capitalist production in Marx's sense.  This is
so, even if Marx was under the immediate impression of completely different
historical conditions.  And to that same extent, the laws of motion he
uncovered work for Latin America.  If Marx actually pinned down these laws
of motion (as I believe he did), then they should work.

>Slavery
>in America was the chosen response of colonizers to the shortage of labor
>and
>the tendency of semi-free and free laborers to flee to the readily
>available
>frontier lands, much as the serfdom imposed in Eastern Europe was. We all
>agree,
>I think, that capitalism's reliance on economic coercion rather than
>repressive
>forms of bondage to provide a labor force as a distinguishing
>characteristic
>from feudal and other relations of production, but at the same time we know
>that
>these specifically capitalist relations of production arose in England in
>response to opportunities and pressures that differed from those in other
>parts
>of Europe or in European colonies.

Yes, but -- as I said -- that doesn't exclude that essentially the same
relations of production arise in response to different opportunities and
pressures.  Of course, we can argue that if they arise in response to
different circumstances then they cannot be essentially 'the same', but this
would make any theory of history worthless.  If you allow me to reduce it ad
absurdum, we could even deny that capitalist production is essentially 'the
same' in London and Manchester because it arose in each town under different
pressures and opportunities.

>I am not willing to accept an analysis of relations of production other
>than
>wage-labor, within a world-system dominated by capitalism, as either
>contradictory to or inherent in that system without considering the factors
>that
>favored or hindered wage-labor as a predominant mode of production. As
>Louis and
>Mine have pointed out this is a topic for analysis informed by research,
>not
>speculative abstraction.

I'm afraid this is a way to deny the need for the logical analysis of
capitalism in Latin America under the guise that the historical conditions
in the region are so peculiar that the only way to grasp them is by
contemplating them in their singularity.  Historical research and logical
analysis should not be made mutually exclusive.

Moreover, I am convinced that the strategic failure of Latin American
Marxism has come from missing the logical boat, from believing that the
historical peculiarities of Latin America and capitalist underdevelopment
were so hardwired that the tendencies of capitalist production were
unrealizable in this region.  The characterization of the social formations
in Latin America has been faulty first and foremost because of our inability
to follow the logic, more than it has been from our inability to look at the
historical specs.

>Among the factors to consider in every instance are the
>repressive capacity of the state and of proprietors, the availability of
>alternatives to participation in the labor regime, and the abundance or
>scarcity
>of laborers. One way to think of the problem is to ask, how would the
>rulers in
>a given case conceive of the perfect system of class rule, then factor in
>the
>constraints on such a system. Rather than letting the existence of specific
>relations of production categorize the state of social development, this
>kind of
>analysis should focus attention on the reality of class struggle and the
>balance
>of forces between producer and exploiter.

If I understand you correctly, one shouldn't use the abstract template of
the capitalist relations of production as presented in Capital when we look
at a concrete social formation.  Instead, we should start by examining the
concrete historical conditions (e.g., the repressive capacity of the state
and of proprietors, the availability of alternatives to participation in the
labor regime, the abundance or scarcity of laborers, etc.) and infer from it
'the perfect system of class rule'.

One problem with this approach is that it is based implicitly on the
assumption that the repressive capacity of the state, the scarcity or
abundance of workers, etc. are permanent features of this social formation
and not historically contingent.  Because if they are not somewhat
permanent, what sense does it make to infer a 'perfect system of class rule'
from them.  If they are contingent, it means that the 'perfect system of
class rule' is bound to be fluid and change as they change.  If we're
looking for more permanent structures, this necessarily lead us to deeper
abstractions.

Frankly, as I look at the social reality of Mexico today, and as I ponder
its history, I find that the dominant mode of production is capitalist.  And
by this, I mean that the same animal whose anatomy Marx examined in Capital.
  The same inherent tendencies: large scale commodity production, a large
sector of free wage workers, a labor market, a tendency of capitalist
producers to revolutionize their technical conditions of production,
competition among capitals, concentration and centralization of capitals,
etc.  However abstract, this is a fair theoretical representation of the
main tendencies that drive the Mexican social formation nowadays.

To the extent that Marx's logical reasoning is valid, they apply to the
dominant mode of production in Mexico and by extension to the Mexican social
formation.  The changing historical conditions you mention (geography,
demographics, politics, etc.) will refract and complicate the story (and the
political implications of such refractions and complications are to be
weighed).  But then the challenge will be to understand how and where it
refracts it and complicates it, and draw the conclusions.

Theoretically, as historically, there's no point in starting from scratch.
We cannot pretend that Capital doesn't exist.  If its logic is faulty, then
let's criticize it and perfect it.  If current historical evidence, duly
examined, leads us to conclude that the true universal features of
capitalist production are not those Marx pointed out, then let's pinpoint
the true ones.  But let's not abandon theoretical analysis for the chimera
of historicism.
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