[Marxism] Class and mode of production in Colonial Hispanic America

Nestor Gorojovsky nestorgoro at fibertel.com.ar
Sun Jul 4 10:16:45 MDT 2004

Series:  The class character and the dominant mode of production in 
Colonial Hispanic America.

(1) Introductory remarks

History is, as every Marxist is aware, the science of human evolution 
as seen from within the human kind itself.  This implies that any 
particular great perspective of the past is inextrincably linked with 
the conditions of existence of some meaningful social group or class 
in the present.  They support and inform class perspectives in class 
struggle, cast a strong light on what these perspectives are, or 
(most usually) both.

There is hardly a single "concrete proof" in History that is not 
informed by the points of view of the observer. The inextrincable 
unity of the observer and that which is observed may be a novelty toy 
for the natural sciences, and Quantum physics is still an amazing 
playground.  But in social, historic and thus philosophic sciences, 
this concrete expression of the dialectical character of reality has 
long been discovered, understood, and explained.

Thus, great historical debates, in the end, have heavy links with the 
struggles of the present.  This is why I find it important to 
understand today, at the time of the Bolivarian revolution and the 
tendency of the Atlantic South American seabord to slowly abandon the 
neoliberal era, to bring to debate this issue, once again, and almost 
surely not for the last time:  social forces behind deeply ingrained 
ideas give these ideas a strength that the concrete results of 
academic debate would never be able to instill.  

Since the early/mid 1960s, the Marxist camp has been waging a long 
debate on whether Colonial Hispanic America (CHA) was "feudal" or 
"capitalist".  Up to then, the general agreement had been that, at 
the very least, the dominant mode of production in CHA was 
substantially different, even antagonistic in some formulations, with 
those productive relations which prevailed at the same time in 
Northwestern Europe and particularly in England and the Netherlands.

The debate started when a very influential group of Marxist and semi-
Marxist academics not only criticized this conception as being wrong, 
but also hinted (or openly stated) that failure to understand this 
had had no other consequence than --the impotence of Marxists in what 
had been CHA to lead succesful revolutions in the 20th Century!

According to these academics, the mode of production in CHA had been 
capitalist, as oppossed to "feudal", ever since the Spanish first 
settled in the Western Hemisphere.  Notorious "non capitalist" traits 
such as peasant serfdom, slavery, weak or non-existent independent 
craftsman classes in the cities, etc.,  did not express the main 
evolutionary forces of the social structure under scrutiny, but 
rather deviations -either minor or large- from the general trend.  

This school has consequently made great efforts to demonstrate that 
already during the 17th. Century (the 18th Century is more complex, 
we shall return to this on later postings), and even during the late 
16th, CHA was traversing a "normal" (if, at most, "delayed") 
transition from feudalism to capitalism that could not be 
distinguished from the transitions that were taking place in England 
and Holland.  From this perspective, the "abnormal" institutions must 
be considered relics from the past that in the end could be 
assimilated to similar institutions still prevailing in the NW 
European benchmark by the same times, and which were to be ironed 
away by equivalent processes taking place in both areas.

This debate has been quite obviously known as the "debate on the 
modes of production in Latin America"[1].  It was far from having an 
arid academic interest, as it was stated from the very beginning by 
those who launched it.  This is one of their great merits, and we 
shall not diminish it by any means.

On the series of postings that I will begin to send under this 
subject, I will try to 

(a) tackle some of the basic conceptual issues involved,

(b) expose tha main practical/political conclusions to which each 
position leads (and was consciously understood to lead or support), 

(c) answer the usually forgotten question of why is it that the 
debate began where and when it did. On this part of my exposition I 
will dwell on some unknown (but most meaningful) precedents.  These 
precedents, the historic, social and political meaning of which will 
be clear by the time when we get to them, have the great merit of 
showing the full connection between concept and practice.

True, these precedents had a coarseness and rudeness that made them 
highly unpalatable for academic taste, but this is precisely why we 
shall endeavour to show them in their full meaning:  as the poet 
said, child announces the man as dawn announces the day.  The first, 
clear and practical exercise in political practice which produced 
this idea will be a good final comment to the idea itself.  

Absence of subsequent gloss will thus expose the hidden, earth laden, 
root of the glazy flowers, as well as what consequences did this 
particular plant have on the only ground where, in the end, social 
theory passes a test (or not):  present action in view of a project 
for the future.


[1] There is a tendency to assimilate anything that happened in the 
Portuguese colonies to what happened in the Spanish colonies;  this 
is not a wrong approach as a very general rule and in principle, but 
since my knowledge of things Brazilian is more shallow than my 
knowledge of things Hispanic American, I will stick to the "CHA" 

Néstor Miguel Gorojovsky
nestorgoro at fibertel.com.ar

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ 
"Sí, una sola debe ser la patria de los sudamericanos".
Simón Bolívar al gobierno secesionista y disgregador de 
Buenos Aires, 1822
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