The Permanent Revolution debate is a useless, phony debate
dmschanoes at earthlink.net
Tue Jul 8 09:48:55 MDT 2003
I have always held that the theory of permanent revolution places the
national question exactly where it belongs-- in the background as an archaic
holdover, an echo so to speak, of past no longer possible, eclipsed by the
real terms of capital in the present. And so to fuel the fires...
Obsolete at Birth, Dead on Arrival
1. Capital makes its contribution to human culture by repackaging its own
mundane economic processes as the stuff of dreams. Accumulation creates the
novel, conquest reappears as romance, and the market, the great realization
of the extraction of value from socially necessary labor, dresses itself in
flags and banners and dreams itself a nation.
Still, in its daily life, capital is a place and time of confusion,
deception, illusion, not dreams; a place of the here and now, the fast buck
and no future. Objects, ideas, structures have meaning only to the extent
that that they represent and extend the arena of exchange. Its place in
history trumpeted by revolution, by a blood shed in common for the liberty
of citizens, the nation emerges not as a common product of a people sharing
a language, a territory, a color, but rather by those sharing a trade, a
commerce, and a position in the world markets. The nation secures in the
establishment of borders the universe of private property.
Economy is concentrated history; the organization and appropriation of
labor. All economic histories are histories of the changing relations
between city and countryside. The modern cities step forth as the permanent
marketplace, the fixed formations for exchange, where every action, every
deed, involves exchange for the articles necessary to sustain the prospects
for tomorrow's exchanges.
Exchange requires a medium to dissolve, absorb, measure and balance the
different articles of value, the different values of the articles. The
expansion and permanence of trade requires that all, clergy, noble,
commoner, submit their needs for the articles of value in the market to the
need of the market-makers themselves, the merchants, for money.
Trade at its origins is never local, locality gains meaning only after the
market develops to the point where it can convert distance to time. The
permanent establishment of the trading place, the city, is the product of
the itinerant essence of exchange, a displacement from immediacy in both
territory and consumption, a transformation from landed property to property
in motion. The emergence of the modern city, established in the separation
of labor from land, separates production from use, ownership from blood,
property from title and rank. At the same time, the enclosure and
destruction of the common lands, separates property from collective, social,
A permanent, durable market, in its multiple and immediate transactions once
established, provides in turn for the possibility, the necessity for the
postponement, the delay of payment. In this, the conversion of time into
delay, exchange into debt, the market realizes the positive authority of
money in its negative form, not a realization, but a claim advanced
regardless of realization. Debt attaches itself to the repositories of value
and dissolves the attachments to any form, any mode outside the markets,
outside exchange. Nothing exists that can't be liquidated.
The historical significance of the French Revolution, its revolutionary
impact, isn't established in the bourgeoisie's loyalty or disloyalty to the
poor, not in its declaration of rights, not in its speeches, its clubs, but
in the actions of the Assembly, stripping property from the church, the
aristocracy, turning that property into a value to be exchanged, to
circulate in the markets-- land turned to paper, the assignats, the paper a
means to exchange the property, the value itself seemingly abstracted from
any form of production, exchange existing solely for the satisfaction of
There is no nation, no national question, separate and apart from this "land
question." The capitalization of land, its enclosure, expropriation,
distribution, circulation provides the basis for the organization of labor
as wage-labor and property as capital.
2. Profit extracted in production but realized in trade demands not only
overthrow, conquest, liquidation, but also and equally, accommodation,
alliance, reinforcement of the bonds common to private property. Capital's
existence as private property extinguishes the class's ability to push
forward, to reproduce its radical capitalization of agriculture. Faced with
the "land question, the "nation" draws a blank. Free, that is to say
detached, mobile, dispossessed, exchangeable, soil and labor are both and at
once the promise of profit and the threat to private property. Preexisting
relations of landed property are absorbed and reconciled into the mechanisms
The US Civil War represents the critical moment when capital is last capable
of absorbing the land question within the national framework, within its
call for "union." This civil war is the final moment when the bourgeoisie's
organization of property can pretend to represent, embody, and ignore, the
needs of all in its class specificity. The civil war is the last moment when
capital can substitute the abstractions of "free labor" and "free soil" for
the reality of the class struggle against the private appropriation of both
soil and labor. No more acute and painful manifestation of this emerging
obsolescence exists than Sherman's March to the Sea. His battalions of
foragers, called bummers, stripping the South of food and material, made the
march to battle and the base for resupply one and the same, thus destroying
the mode of production while confiscating the product itself. The future of
slave holders' rebellion was made evident by the Union Army in the
proliferation of "Sherman's Bow Ties," lengths of rail stripped from
Confederate railroad tracks, heated and twisted around tree trunks. And, at
the same time, Sherman himself stands baffled, without comprehension,
without program, for recruitment or organization of the thousands of
displaced former slaves who followed his army, searching for some content to
the word "emancipation."
The content of the Civil War, emancipation itself, pushes itself forward
with the adoption of the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments to the US
Constitution and in the program of radical reconstruction. The amendments
attempt to transform the Constitution from a compact among slave holders and
radical reconstruction attempts to transform the union into a republic of
small, free, property holders.
Radical reconstruction exists as part of the general expansion of the
capitalist footprint through the world markets, its confrontation with its
own pre-configured landed property. It exists as part and parcel of the
upsurge that sweeps through Spain, leading to the appointment of the liberal
governor, de la Torre, for the Philippines; that abolishes, in name if not
in kind, serfdom in Russia; that unleashes the Ten Year War, the first
revolution, in Cuba; the overthrow and execution of Maximilien in Mexico;
the upsurge of the Irish Rebellion ("No Priests in Politics" was one
The result is one and the same everywhere, if not all at once, in the world
markets. The result is the reaction of capital against social
transformation, against the upheaval it pushes ahead and drags behind
itself. The result is enthronement of nation, trade, accommodation, against
republic, emancipation, reconstruction. The needs of capital for free access
to detached labor, runs up against the boundaries of its own making, private
property. Emancipation and freedom have parted company. Emancipation clearly
has become the emancipation and task of labor, while freedom is the
preservation of the markets. Capital begins its long retreat. Emancipation
passes from the mouths and pens of a Convention, a parliament, a Cortes, to
the machete blades of Antonio Maceo's Mambises, the bolos of the Katipunan,
the bayonets of the Communards of Paris. Everywhere, if not all at once,
capital calls for an end to the liberalization, the reform, the
reconstruction, the commune, the revolution. Accommodation is the prophet.
Restoration is the Moses. "Order!" its first and tenth commandment.
The nation as a vehicle for the advancement of relations between city and
countryside has been eclipsed. The emancipation of land as value encounters
the emancipation of labor from value. Capital abandons the former to prevent
the latter. The "pre-national" colonial forms of landed property then become
the living substance of advancing international capitalism. The abject
poverty of the tenant farmer, the growing numbers of destitute migrant
agricultural workers, the indenturing of the bulk of the population to the
village, to agricultural production, are the negative measure of the
progress and the development of capital.
Capital having no existence apart from its self-expansion, reproduces this
impulse to a nation, to liberty, to this freedom of landed property, this
detachment of labor, with every cycle, every unequal exchange in the world
markets with its less developed partners, but it reproduces the impulse in
its totality, in its failure, in its inadequacy, in its unreality. The whole
history of capital is relived, but in fast forward. The impulse to
reproduction, the expansion of capital necessarily demands access to labor,
the reorganization of relations between city and countryside to free labor
from its servitude to the land. The demands of private property throttle
that impulse in its cradle. Behind the appearance of a struggle for
"self-determination," is the reality of the struggle between capital and
wage-labor for the social organization of production, for the overthrow or
defense of private property. The nation, the dream of outposted capitalists,
exists as a shared madness, the memory of something that never will be, the
anticipation of something that never was.
The Practice-- the Philippines
3. The Philippines were the death of Magellan. He had sighted the islands in
1521, landed, erected a cross and claimed them for Spain. After baptizing
800 Cebu warriors, Magellan joined the Cebus in a battle against the
warriors of Lapu-Lapu. That was a mistake. Magellan was killed. Soon
thereafter, the Cebus killed 27 Spaniards in a dispute over women. The
Spanish decided to leave and continue their search for spices. That was no
Only one ship of the original five and 18 of the original 264 crew survived
and returned to Spain. The one ship carried 26 tons of cloves (not from the
Philippines) which sold for 41,000 ducats, a return of 105 percent on the
original investment. That made the circumnavigation a financial success.
The islands were not formally established as a Spanish colony until 1565,
with Manila its capital. Even then the colony was administered second hand
from Mexico, and served as a warehouse and resupply point for the galleon
trade between Canton and Acapulco.
Direct control of the islands rested with the monastic orders, Augustinians,
Dominicans, Franciscans, Recollects, and Jesuits which converted the
population to Catholicism and imposed religion, family, and landed property
against the existing indigenous communal organization called the barangay.
The monastic orders ( designated the "friarocracy" by the Filipinos) founded
parishes and estates throughout the colony. The Spanish used the existing
distinctions in the barangay, chief, noble, freemen, to create the basis for
a reorganization of landed property. After conversion to Catholicism, the
chiefs and the nobles were converted into a landed oligarchy, called
principales, through the destruction of the barangay and awarding of large,
The cities in the Philippines, as is the case with the major cities
throughout the colonial systems, functioned as administrative centers rather
than the base for a developing home market. Thus, internally, demand for the
capitalization of agriculture was suppressed.
The international expansion of capital in the early 19th century brought
about the collapse of the galleon trade, and the independence of Mexico.
Spain was forced to administer the islands directly. To pay for that
administration, the Philippines were made free trading areas. British and US
merchant fleets entered Manila. Philippine agriculture was transformed. But
the organization of the property relations was not. The estates, organized
as value in property rather than production, operated without the existence
of a domestic market, had yielded only subsistence levels of agricultural
products. The British and US traders wanted the commercial production of
cash crops, tobacco, sugar, hemp, for the international markets. In the
countryside, the landed elite made the most of the transition, dispossessing
tenant farmers, appropriating more land, concentrating more wealth. In the
cities, trade produced those attendants to the demands of trade. Mestizos
and Chinese mestizos advanced as merchants and professionals, brokering the
exchanges between the advancing world market and the colonial organization
of property. They were known as ilustrados.
The application of steam power to the merchant fleets and the opening of the
Suez Canal in 1869 had great impact on the Philippines. The foreign trade of
the islands tripled between 1861 and 1870.
The expansion of international trade brought with itself growth of the
cities, greater demands for access to labor, and greater pressure upon the
countryside, upon landed property to supply the domestic market with both
detached labor and agricultural products, and export commodities. The island
of Negros was settled and dedicated to the production of sugar.
Internationally financed loans were arranged to facilitate the clearing,
planting, and harvesting from vast tracts of land. Labor migration to Negros
was encouraged, and finally, the application of steam power to sugar
refining, transformed part of the landed oligarchy into sugar barons. Still,
the preexisting organization of rural property was not transformed, it was
The demands of international trade carried the mythic enlightenment of
Europe in its free exchanges with the islands. To the consternation of the
friarocracy, the ilustrados found a voice in advancing proposals for
secularization, reform, liberty of the press and assembly. The "national"
flower did not bloom for long. Unable to attempt the reorganization of
landed property, to articulate even a concept of relations between city and
countryside, the ilustrados withdrew into silence and exile when Spain
replaced the liberal governor with Rafael de Izquierdo who reimposed the
dictatorship of the crucifix, the infallibility of the sword.
In 1872, after the Spanish crushed the desperate revolt of dockworkers in
Cavite province, the ilustrados in exile formed the Propaganda Movement,
designed to awaken the Spanish conscience to the plight of the Philippines.
During the 1880s, Jose Rizal became its leading spokesman. The Propaganda
Movement did not address the land question in its proposals. The Propaganda
Movement never proposed a "national liberation" for the Philippines. In
this, the ilustrados were the true and faithful offspring of the world
Andres Bonifacio, an indio (native), organized the Katipunan in 1892. The
Katipunan was a secret society dedicated to the overthrow of the Spanish
rule. It's ranks were filled by the rural landless and the urban poor. The
Katipunan led the revolt against Spain in 1896.
Despite his nonviolence, his allegiance to Spain, and his opposition to the
Katipunan, Rizal was executed by the Spanish governor at the start of the
The Katipunan were ill-trained, poorly armed, and defeated in battle with
the Spanish troops. Except in Cavite province. There, the militancy of the
workers joined with the Katipunan leadership of Emilio Aquinaldo and
defeated the Spanish troops. Aquinaldo offered a program for independence
from Spain, but that program did not speak of the dream of a Philippine
nation founded on liberty and equality, but a Filipino Republic organized
around the equitable distribution of land, the organization of the republic
under the control of the poor for the benefit of all.
At the outset of the Spanish-American War, the commander of the US Pacific
squadron, Dewey had sought out an alliance with Aquinaldo. However the close
of the war saw the Spanish governor and Dewey agreeing on the timing and
terms of a surrender designed to prevent the entrance of Aquinaldo's
insurgents into Manila.
So obstructed, the insurgent army retreated to the north of Manila to the
city of Malolos where a constitution for the republic was written and
approved by a revolutionary congress. On January 21, 1899, a government was
organized, currency issued, a military established, and a comprehensive
educational system through the university level was developed. The
revolutionary government then turned to the land question. On February 4,
1899, the United States began military operations against the Filipino
The resistance to the US was not limited to Luzon or the Tagalog speaking
people. There was resistance in the Visayan Islands, Cebu, Bohol, and
Mindanao. Only the sugar plantation island of Negros offered no resistance.
Two hundred thousand civilians died by the end of the war. Aquinaldo was
captured in 1901 and proclaimed his allegiance to the United States.
Fighting continued for two more years.
4. With characteristic grandiosity, the US imagined itself a benevolent
force for the Philippines, a source of economic development and education
for its new wards. The US would build railroads, improve the ports, lower
tariffs, stimulate investment in mining, lumber, agriculture. The Taft
Commission proposed selling the public lands (estimated at 93 percent of the
total area) to US investors. However, US corporate agricultural producers of
the big cash export crops, sugar, tobacco, and coconut oil fearing the
competition, defeated the proposals. Limits were set at approximately 16
hectares for individual purchase, 1000 for corporations. With these
restrictions, the pre-existing relations of landed property were preserved.
Tenant farming on the large landed estates was maintained and enforced
by....debt. Here debt, the debt of the cultivator, not the owner, solidified
the archaic form of property. Children inherited the debts of the parents
and were bound to the land for the life of the debt which exceeded their own
Between 1903 and 1935 (the year the Philippines became a commonwealth) areas
under cultivation tripled, the number of farms fell by 25 percent, the
number of absentee landlords doubled.
5. Marcos' second decree after declaring martial law identified the entire
archipelago as an area for land reform. The program that followed the decree
was a failure. Only rice and corn land were covered, and only 20 percent of
that. Sugar plantations were excluded. And it is the cultivation of sugar
that requires and maintains the archaic form of landed property. Unlike rice
and corn, cane is cultivated on large tracts, with the plantations relying
on agricultural wage-labor rather than sharecropping.
>From the opening of the islands to the world markets, through the 1970s,
sugar was the most important cash-crop of the Philippines, accounting for 20
percent of exports through the 1960s. After OPEC 1, the price of sugar, like
that of other "raw" commodities soared. Sugar prices then collapsed to 10
cents per pound. In 1985 the price reached 3 cents per pound.
Historically, sugar yields in the Philippines have been consistently low.
The cultivation of large tracts of land with indentured, cheap labor, with
exports guaranteed by its position in the US quota system, provided
sufficient profit for the landowners. With the end of the US guarantees in
1974, the landowners attempted to increase yields through mechanization. The
mechanization itself could only be accomplished by the assumption of debt to
finance the purchases of machinery. The mechanization in turn, dramatically
reduced the labor requirements and precipitated the massive migration of the
rural population to Manila and the other major cities.
The debt coupled with the collapse in prices brought about the drastic drop
in cultivation by nearly half between 1974 and 1988.
After Marcos left, leaving the shoes but taking the gold, Corazon Aquino
campaigned for election on the basis of making land reform a reality.. Her
Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program was to cover 80 percent of cultivated
land. Details, however, were to be determined by the Congress were the
landowners were in the majority.
The devil was truly in the details. The Congress produced a program that
allowed for non-land transfer profit-sharing alternatives, and the
incorporation and distribution of equity equal in value to the land, minus
the value of fixed assets required for cultivation. Here the French
Revolution rises from its grave, upside down and backwards, issuing stock to
preserve the existing capitalization of land, with Marie Antoinette
declaring, "Let them farm paper."
No government of the Philippines, with the exception of Aguinaldo's
short-lived republic, has ever had an answer to the land question. No
national government of the Philippines will ever answer the land question,
for the answer is the emancipation of labor from the production of exchange
values in both city and countryside. Despite the "modernization" of the
Philippine economy since 1986, almost forty percent of the work force is
still committed to agricultural production. Despite the flood of the
dispossessed into the cities, the growth of the service industries, the
increased foreign trade, there is no and can never be a national
recapitalization of agriculture. International capitalism has no need for
this radical reconfiguration.
And because international capital has no need for this reconfiguration,
there can be no local solution, no national revolution, no revolutionary
nationalism, no struggle that is a struggle for a self-determination of
peoples. The need for the capitalization of land as a nation has been
replaced by the need for the socialization of production internationally.
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