Summing up and vice versa, OR, things that make you go hmm..

Charles Brown cbrown at
Wed Jul 16 13:20:53 MDT 2003

From: "dms"

Struck by what I think is a significant change in my own position throughout
the course of the extensive discussions on the origins of capitalism and the
US Civil War, I went back and looked at the postings:

My participation in the discussions started with the role of the colonies in
the formation of "early" "initial capitalism." And at that point the
"classicist" in me, and others, argued a  position I still hold that the
mere extraction of wealth is not sufficient explanation, not the
primogenitor, of the social relationship of capital.

CB: Although I didn't participate in this thread here this time, I have been
in some donnybrooks on this subject on PEN-L and here, the Brenner thesis ,
Ellen Wood and the gang.

The primitive accumulation is sort of like the chicken and egg issue. There
had to be some types of non-fully capitalist accumulation of wealth that
bootstrapped its way to fully capitalist accumulation of wealth. The phrase
Marx uses that I quoted fifty times when we had big fights was that the
African slave trade, the slavery of Indians etc. were the "chief momenta" of
primitive accumulation" , let me see, let me find the passage...

The discovery of gold and silver in America, the extirpation, enslavement
and entombment in mines of the aboriginal population, the beginning of the
conquest and looting of the East Indies, the turning of Africa into a warren
for the commercial hunting of black-skins, signalised the rosy dawn of the
era of capitalist production. These idyllic proceedings are the chief
momenta of primitive accumulation. On their heels treads the commercial war
of the European nations, with the globe for a theatre. It begins with the
revolt of the Netherlands from Spain, assumes giant dimensions in England's
Anti-Jacobin War, and is still going on in the opium wars against China, &c.

The different momenta of primitive accumulation distribute themselves now,
more or less in chronological order, particularly over Spain, Portugal,
Holland, France, and England. In England at the end of the 17th century,
they arrive at a systematical combination, embracing the colonies, the
national debt, the modern mode of taxation, and the protectionist system.
These methods depend in part on brute force, e.g., the colonial system. But,
they all employ the power of the State, the concentrated and organised force
of society, to hasten, hot-house fashion, the process of transformation of
the feudal mode of production into the capitalist mode, and to shorten the
transition. Force is the midwife of every old society pregnant with a new
one. It is itself an economic power.

Capital Vol. 1, Chapter 31 "Genesis of the Industrial Capitalist "

As the discussion moves through the history, traces in its own way the
ambiguities of capital, we get to the impact of the US Civil War, the
conflict between the means and relations of production, and the position,
which I still hold,  that the US Civil War was about development of
productive forces where capital had come into conflict with an integral
component of its own social relations.
CB: I very much agree. This is dialectical, and internal contradiction in
original capitalism - between slave and free labor regimes - and the U.S.
Civil War is one of the main points of its resolution.


And then, comrade MP, with whom I've had strenuous, to put it mildly, almost
throw down disagreements,  unleashes a lightning bolt that illuminates the
whole area and when he states simply and directly-- slavery in the US in the
19th century was NOT primitive or initial accumulation but capitalist
reproduction-- and in so doing he locates the once and future regressiveness
of capital not only or simply in its inability to accomplish the "democratic
tasks" of the bourgeois revolution, but in capital's own reproduction, where
the reproduction and maintenance of "archaic forms" of landed property is
essential to the dominance of private property in its advanced forms, a
maintenance and support, by the way which is continuously disrupted by
capital's own demands for access to detached "free" labor.


CB: Yes, if I follow , in the old debates on this I came up with the

capitalist mode = free labor + oppressed labor.

or free labor x oppressed labor

Even after the end of slavery, capitalism constantly reproduces oppressed
labor forms which are in some sense less than free. There is a passage in
Marx toward the end of volume one on this too."... grows the mass of misery,
oppression, slavery, degradation, exploitation"

 As soon as this process of transformation has sufficiently decomposed the
old society from top to bottom, as soon as the laborers are turned into
proletarians, their means of labor into capital, as soon as the capitalist
mode of production stands on its own feet, then the further socialization of
labor and further transformation of the land and other means of production
into socially exploited and, therefore, common means of production, as well
as the further expropriation of private proprietors, takes a new form. That
which is now to be expropriated is no longer the laborer working for
himself, but the capitalist exploiting many laborers. This expropriation is
accomplished by the action of the immanent laws of capitalistic production
itself, by the centralization of capital. One capitalist always kills many.
Hand in hand with this centralization, or this expropriation of many
capitalists by few, develop, on an ever-extending scale, the co-operative
form of the labor-process, the conscious technical application of science,
the methodical cultivation of the soil, the transformation of the
instruments of labor into instruments of labor only usable in common, the
economizing of all means of production by their use as means of production
of combined, socialized labor, the entanglement of all peoples in the net of
the world-market, and with this, the international character of the
capitalistic regime. Along with the constantly diminishing number of the
magnates of capital, who usurp and monopolize all advantages of this process
of transformation, grows the mass of misery, oppression, slavery,
degradation, exploitation; but with this too grows the revolt of the
working-class, a class always increasing in numbers, and disciplined,
united, organized by the very mechanism of the process of capitalist
production itself. The monopoly of capital becomes a fetter upon the mode of
production, which has sprung up and flourished along with, and under it.
Centralization of the means of production and socialization of labor at last
reach a point where they become incompatible with their capitalist
integument. Thus integument is burst asunder. The knell of capitalist
private property sounds. The expropriators are expropriated.


Oppressed labor forms ( "slavery") in some way less than "free" labor are
always developing as a tendency in capitalism, even if not slavery in the
technical sense - racially and nationally oppressed labor, women laborers,
migrant laborers, etc. are all specially oppressed forms that capitalism
can't help but reproduce, against its own inherent tendency and need for
wage-laborers. Capitalism always cheats against its own best self, the
wage-labor form.

Charles B


I think we can draw many important assessments about "national struggles,"
"self-determination," and "imperialism" based on MP's direct evaluation.

This transformation in the role and analysis of slavery is the thing that
makes me go hmmm..., at first.

I point this out because, while consistency is the virtue of the
small-minded and none of us here are small minded, what appears as
inconsistency has to be linked to real history or the result will be always
and only be confusion.

 This transformation in the role and analysis of slavery is the thing that
makes me go hmmm.....hmmm....good.


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