Forwarded from Anthony (primitive accumulation, etc.)

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Mon Sep 15 17:46:06 MDT 2003

DMS wrote:
>Marx was dead certain
>about what he was analyzing and what the essence of that analysis was--
>capital as a social relation of production where the means of production,
>organized as private property, engage and exchange, labor-power existing as
>wage labor, in order to aggrandize the surplus labor time and realize the
>surplus value in the universe of exchange with all commodities.  The essence
>of capital is a precise social relation of production between classes, and
>it is that relationship, that exchange that determines the development an
>contraction of the system, the cyclical and structural transformations; that
>absorbs, integrates, and disrupts the products of other modes of
>expropriation; and that creates its own negation, both in economic
>self-conflict, and in the class driven forward toward the overthrow of both
>private property and wage-labor.

Of course. But Marx was utterly consumed with the task of understanding the
key industrial societies of Western Europe where a proletariat would be the
key agency in overthrowing the capitalist system. The whole point of
Capital is to describe the historical evolution of societies like Great
Britain where categories like variable surplus value served to describe the
living reality of class relations at the point of production.

But what does this have to do with, for example, coffee plantations?
Anybody who has been to Nicaragua has seen with their own eyes what this
entails. Workers go up into the hills and pick coffee beans by hand and put
them into bags on their back. I just got back from Starbucks about an hour
or two ago and noticed a sign near the cash register that said that coffee
is the second most widely traded commodity in the world next to oil.

Marx was not omniscient. He really never got to the heart of how class
relations were constructed in the South. For example, we know today that
the Asiatic Mode of Production is based on completely false understandings
of China, India, etc. He never really studied Latin America in any kind of
depth. Furthermore, Africa had not yet become a center of intense
colonialist rivalry when he was working through his definitions of the
capital accumulation cycle.

We do know this, however. When Marx began to correspond with the Russian
populists in the late 1870s, he began to move away from the sort of
"stagist" conceptions found in Capital, the Communist Manifesto and Origins
of the Family, Private Property and the State or at least those imparted to
them by dogmatic Marxists.

Teodor Shanin, "Late Marx and the Russian Road":

The strength of Capital lay in its systematic, comprehensive, critical,
historically sophisticated and empirically substantiated presentation of
the way a newly created type of economy - the contemporary capitalist
economy of Great Britain - had worked on a societal level. Of paramount
significance has been the more general use this model offered for other
societies in which capitalism has been in manifest and rapid ascent ever
since. Its limitations as well as its points of strength are 'children of
their time' - the times of the breakthrough and rush forward of the
'Industrial Revolution', the rise and increasing application of science and
the spread of the French Revolution's political philosophies of evolution
and progress. Central to it was evolutionism - the intellectual arch-model
of those times, as prominent in the works of Darwin as in the philosophy of
Spencer, in Comte's positivism and in the socialism of Fourier and Saint
Simon. Evolutionism is, essentially, a combined solution to the problems of
heterogeneity and change. The diversity of forms, physical, biological and
social, is ordered and explained by the assumption of a structurally
necessary development through stages which the scientific method is to
uncover. Diversity of stages explains the essential diversity of forms. The
strength of that explanation lay in the acceptance of change as a necessary
part of reality. Its main weakness was the optimistic and unilinear
determinism usually built into it: the progress through stages meant also
the universal and necessary ascent to a world more agreeable to the human
or even to the 'absolute spirit' or God himself. The materialist
epistemology of Capital, the dialectical acceptance of structural
contradictions and of possible temporary retrogressions within capitalism,
the objection to teleology, did not jettison the kernel of evolutionism.
'The country that is more developed industrially' was still destined 'only
[to] show, to the less developed, the image of its own future'. Indeed it
was a matter of'natural laws working themselves out with iron necessity'.

Yet Marx's mind was evidently far from happy with the unilinear
simplicities of the evolutionist scheme. The richness of the evidence he
studied militated against it and so did his own dialectical training and
preferred epistemology. Also, the reason why it was the north-west corner
of Europe that bred the first edition of the capitalist mode of production
was still to be discovered.

Louis Proyect, Marxism mailing list:

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