Spain: colonizer and colonized

Julio Huato juliohuato at
Fri Jul 4 10:11:29 MDT 2003

Nicholas Siemensma says:

>[Julio] forgets that commodities produced by slavery/forced labour and sold
>on a unified world market contain embodied surplus labour which can be
>valorised as capital and invested in production in the next cycle.

I don't forget it.  It is obvious.  John Paramo and Melvin P. make the same
point.  Forced labor-based production when plugged to capitalist production
is not the same as forced-labor production when plugged to something else.
But that doesn't convert forced labor into wage labor.

Here's the issue: Do we admit that, in the context of a capitalist-dominated
world market, being a slave or a semi-slave -- extra-economically compelled
to work -- is not the same as being a wage worker?

When two different modes of production interact, and one of them is in the
business of shaping the world to 'its image and likeness,' then the
difference is going to necessarily mutate into conflict and antagonism.
That conflict may not arise immediately, but it will arise.

The length of time for the process to unfold in a particular place may be
short or long.  That depends on a lot of historical circumstances.  I am not
saying that workers should not struggle until the process is completed.
That is stupid.  The reason why we study capitalism is because we want to
"shorten and lessen the birth-pangs" of communism.

But whether capitalism can be aborted before it advances any further or not,
we still need to understand its tendency.  What I say, and it is obvious, is
that what workers can do with what is available, in terms of their political
struggle and their economic advancement, will depend largely on how advanced
that process is.  What do you propose?  That workers make their plans and
take their actions oblivious to reality constraints and to the main thrust
of events?

>These "local" forms of labour are progressively absorbed by capital and
>form part of the overall accumulation process.

What do you mean by 'absorb'?  That those "local" forms of labor (we are
talking about forced labor) survive and keep plugged to the capitalist
sector?  Or that they are destroyed, dissolved, or replaced with wage labor?
  Very different scenarios.

>For the value of labour to be commensurated within production, for the
>value of labour to be known, there must indeed be free labour and
>already-existing capitalism.  Of course.

The value of labor?  Labor is the substance of value.  It's like talking
about the speed of time.  The former is one unit of labor time per unit of
labor time.  The latter is one second per second.

>Capitalism is the necessary self-expansion of value which requires
>valorisation in the production process, not some categorical conception of
>"free wage labour."

Valorization is the same thing as 'self-expansion of value' beyond the point
of merely reproducing the value of inputs.  SELF-expansion means that the
value expands because of what happens inside of the production process.  And
that is, in its general and more systematic form, hiring wage workers and
making them produce and turn out more value than the value of their labor

You speak as if the abstract categories of 'capitalist production' and 'free
wage labor' were hanging in the air, devoid of any objective content.  In
fact, this is the way most value in the world is actually produced.  Their
importance in terms of value and human lives involved can be measured with
relative precision.

Wherever in the world surplus value is produced (and that is where most
value in the world is produced), workers engage as legally free individuals
in market transactions to sell their labor power and to buy their
necessities, taking full responsibility for their own livelihood.  These
workers participate in labor markets.  When they are employed, they receive
a wage in cash, direct deposits, paycheck, calls on the company stock, etc.,
and they decide how to spend it.  Again, most value produced in the world is
produced by this kind of workers.  So, these abstractions are not empty of
historical content.

>Julio seems to be pushing a Brennerite line [...] why free wage labour is
>essential to capitalism, and why other societies such as former colonies
>using forced labour in extractive or primary commodity production, cannot
>be considered capitalist, even if they arose as part of the global
>circulation of capital and even if they were an essential mechanism of
>accumulation. This corresponds to a certain misreading of history shared by
>others, the logic of which seems to be that capitalism can only emerge
>where a free market in labour also exists, which depends on separating
>workers from means of production.

You misread me.  Capitalist production emerges in a messy way.  It emerges
in opposition to previous modes of production and, historically, the process
is complex.  But if you say that something 'emerges,' then you must have
some notion of what such thing 'is' when fully developed.  Otherwise how do
you recognize it is emerging or it has already emerged?  Now, in practice,
that thing may never develop fully.  That is for its concrete history to
decide.  But the issue here is how do you know what is developing and in
what direction if you don't have a clear notion of the fully developed

Marx had a sense of what fully developed capitalist production was.  That is
why he defined it and that is why his prognosis is so useful.  As it is
evident and all around us, that is the way things have actually evolved.
Marx thought of them as approximate tendencies, asserting themselves in a
rough-average and long-run sense.  Again, by far, the largest proportion of
the world value is produced this way.  And just as Marx foresaw it,
capitalist production has increased its weight in global production in the
last 100 or 200 or 500 years ago.

So, now, as Marxists who are trying to discern the direction in which the
world is rolling, what should we do?  Look at the main tendency (without, of
course, ignoring secondary factors that may counter the main tendency) or
pretend that the primary tendency doesn't operate?  Or should we pay heed to
the main tendency that has, until now, asserted itself?  What is your
approach to thinking strategically?

>Industrial capitalism arose in England because of relations moulded and
>shaped by Britain's participation in a total, already-existing
>world-system.  This spatial localisation does not disprove the influence of
>the specific geographies and civilisations of other regions in Eurasia,
>Africa and America.  Britain was imbricated within a world system
>consisting of all different kinds of precapitalist society, and the
>emergence of capitalism in England was the result of this fact. It is
>impossible to historically justify, either factually or theoretically or
>whatever people choose, the notion that capitalism emerged in England as a
>result of purely (or even largely) internal changes and developments.

Purely, yes, it would be impossible.  But, Eurasia, Africa, and America
"were imbricated within a world system" in which England (a country emerging
as capitalist) also took part.  How come capitalist production didn't emerge
in Eurasia, Africa, or America at the time?  Perhaps because trading with
England/Europe wasn't enough.  If the main reason why they didn't evolve
capitalist production was because they were plundered by the Europeans, how
come the productivity of European powers that grabbed more colonial land and
people (Spain and Portugal) lagged behind that of Holland, England -- even
France and Germany -- the latecomers to the colonial game?

If the main reason why they didn't evolve capitalist production was because
England/Europe robbed them, then we need to explain satisfactorily why
England/Europe could rob them as opposed to being robbed by them.  Perhaps
the reason is that England/Europe had a superior navy and military.  Why?
How could they build such navy?  Perhaps they had a production apparatus
that gave them an edge.  What give their productive apparatus such edge?  We
don't want to run in circles.

If our argument is that England/Europe evolved capitalist production mainly
because it robbed the rest of the world, that begs the same question: What
enabled England to rob the rest of the world as opposed to being robbed by

I discuss this tongue in cheek.  I claim no expertise in history.  People
with a better knowledge of history may decide how, in particular, capitalist
production emerged in England and Europe.  In what proportion it was theft,
in what proportion it was the edge of the capitalist mode of production, in
what proportion it was local, in what proportion it was aided by
extra-economic expropriation and appropriation.

The issue to me is, what is the main tendency of this historical process?
And, in today's capitalism, what is the main source of expansion of
capitalist production?  If the answer to this question was somewhat clear in
Marx's time, it should be even clearer today.

As we look forward, how should we think strategically about capitalist
development?  Is it all a based on forced labor and forceful expropriation
of producers and appropriation of someone else's wealth?

>There is simply no comparison between the Enclosure Movement on one hand,
>and on the other hand the extraction of value from the Americas, Asia and
>Africa, [...]

Who compared the dimensions of these events?

>Imperialism has always been the formative influence in the creation of
>world-systems and capitalism too is an imperialist world system.

Very 'formative' indeed.  But, again, to say that capitalism is an
imperialist system is to miss the point.

>Similarly - and to finally return to Julio's argument - capitalism has
>called the neocolonial, peripheral reserve army into existence, and cannot
>do without it. Julio thinks that peasants, slaves and unemployed people in
>places like southern Africa (maybe Patrick Bond can help me - Zimbabwe's
>unemployment is above 50% and SA's 30%, I think) are structurally and
>functionally not part of the global capital labour pool, and are instead
>suffering from incomplete capitalist development "primitive accumulation,
>colonialism, imperialism, prevarication of public wealth, not capitalist
>accumulation proper".

Non sequitur.  There is no basis for you to impute on me the belief that
people who live in "the neocolonial, peripheral" parts of the world,
"peasants, slaves and unemployed people in places like southern Africa are
structurally and functionally not part of the global capital labour pool."
They are indeed part of the global labor pool.  But it doesn't follow from
this that they are not suffering from incomplete capitalist development.
They are as well.

>This is obviously untrue, however: the harrowed and hunted of the
>neocolonial peripheries are part of the world's working class, imbricated
>into the capitalist world-system, [...]

Again, you are arguing against yourself, because I have never said such a

After citing me:

>This is undoubtedly true, though I'm not sure it means what Julio would
>like it to mean.

Right.  How could you be sure?

>It means that - as Jim Blaut emphasised - class struggle never occurred or
>can ever occur in isolation from everything else, like a pure strain of
>virus in a lab, but always has the attributes of its place and its time,
>and is always coloured by religious and ethnic forms or by struggles for
>emancipation against some specific type of hegemony, with its own
>specifically-internalised mental representations, mystifications and false
>consciousnesses.  This surely expresses the fundamental idea, shared by
>Marx and Lenin, that the world system is the determining last instance and
>sum total of all disparate class struggles, so that class struggle and all
>its forms and historical processes are always bound up in the rivalry
>between nations who can be simultaneously colonisers and the colonised, as
>the thread title suggests.

Who says that class struggles occur in isolation?  The reason why you need
labs to isolate 'pure' strains of a virus is because that's the most
economical way to understand a complex biological phenomenon.  In economics,
there are no labs with chemical reagents, but there's abstraction -- which
requires an effort to isolate 'pure' forms that in reality are not found in
isolation.  Refuse to abstract and you give up your chance to understand a
phenomenon.  No allusion to the 'world system' being the 'determining last
instance and sum total of' etc. won't clarify muddle thinking.  Any sum
total, any resultant force whose component vectors are not duly clarified in
the artificial laboratory of abstract thinking will be a mystical sum total.
  Any 'world system' whose interacting economic structures are not duly
grasped in their general characteristics and in their articulation is not an
organized concrete totality, but the opposite.

>As a result I don't see how Julio can then assert that "if workers are not
>free and voluntary wage workers, then that doesn't  qualify as capitalist

What do you imply?  That we don't need a sharp definition of capitalist
production?  That concrete history should be grasped directly in its
complexity, with no resource to abstraction? If abstraction is allowed,
obviously there are limit cases that you'll never find in a pure state in
history.  But does that deny their objective content and usefulness?  Try
going to another town by following a map at a 1:1 scale.

How do you understand the complex whole if you don't admit that it is a
combination of simpler parts?  The simple abstraction of capitalist
production corresponds very closely to the social characteristics of most
value production in the world.  So, what should we do with this abstraction?
  Should we discard it because it excludes forced labor?

>This elides all "concrete historical conditions" and "specific, localised
>phenomena" in favour of (only half-understood) abstract textbook

No.  It doesn't.  I deliberately said that I'd limit my participation to
aspects that -- in my opinion -- had been ignored.  I didn't say history was
irrelevant.  Just because you repeat the same charge over and over again
doesn't make it true.  Find the specific passage where I said that the only
and exclusive way to understand the emergence of capitalism or today's
capitalism is logic to the exclusion of history.  Find it.

>Finally, Julio keeps banging on about "the productive powers of
>capitalism", its "unprecedented dynamism" etc.  Julio continues to mistake
>the secular tendency to proletarianisation with an expanded capability to
>productively employ proletarians.

No way.  I am totally aware of the difference.  I have never said that the
development of capitalism is a harmonious process where producers from
dissolved or decadent modes of production find ready accommodation in modern
capitalist production.  You won't find a single word of mine stating this.
You read in what I write what you wish, not what I actually say.  Thank you
very much, but I like what I say better.

>The fact is that the total social product of the capitalist world system is
>valorised by a few hundred million waged proletarians, with 4 billion
>pauperised others just dying to hear a rather tired rehash of isolated
>tidbits from the Manifesto and German Ideology while deepening and
>insurmountable (occluded) immiseration hurls deprived pools of
>multimillioned masses into the megacities of the South and provokes
>contemporary tidal immigration to the North.

Another irrelevant piece.  Nick: I am not saying that direct producers in
the Third World should wait until capitalist production comes to save them.
They are making choices as we speak, painstakingly, sometimes with their
lives on the line, sometimes with their feet at great risk, with all the
human cost this entails.  I know of this, personally, much better than you
would want to know.  But what I question is the strategic approach that
follows from muddled views.

Simply, how do we evaluate the prospects of today's imperialism and of the
capitalist social formation?  I claim that Marx's sharp abstractions,
flexible but not to the point of being useless catch-all terms are
synthesized, condensed history.  They embody a vast amount of historical
interpretation and they don't need to be abandoned.  But how do we assess
the prospects of today's imperialism and capitalism?  By (1) believing that
imperialism and capitalism are identical or by (2) taking a fresher look at
history with serious consideration given to Marx's outline of the main
tendency of capitalist development?


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