[Marxism] Class and mode of production in Colonial Hispanic America [2nd note]

Nestor Gorojovsky nestorgoro at fibertel.com.ar
Sat Jul 17 09:39:05 MDT 2004

While I was drafting the series of e-mails on the mode of production 
in CHA I regretted not to have some materials by Mark Jones handy.  

Thanks to Louis Pr.'s decision to open easy public access to Mark's 
main contributions, I thought it more adequate to rewrite the series, 
by including those quotations I needed so much.

So that my second installment will consist of a reasoned reading of 
some very insightful paragraphs of Mark's PEN-L contribution "RE: Re: 
Progress (was No agrarian revo?), 17 June 2001", which can be reached 
at http://csf.colorado.edu/mail/pen-l/2001II/msg03633.html.  This 
introductory e-mail will prove most important for what remains of the 
series, because it will act as a powerful torch, by guiding our 
descent into the depths of Upper Andean mines without losing contact 
with the reality outside.

According to Mark Jones, when 'Marx said the slave is sold only once, 
but the worker sells himself anew each day, he pointed to the 
fundamental difference between capitalism and precapitalism, which 
makes capital a self-expanding accumulation process, where 
precapitalism never is.

A society of self-expanding accumulation can never be based on 
slavery [...] because the equilibrium point of the slave economy is 
determined not by an average rate of profit but by the average rent 
of a slave. This average rent determines the market value of the 
average slave in comparison with other rent-producing assets (land 
etc). It is rent (time-discounted) which determines slave market 
clearing-prices. This prevents proprietors from accumulating since 
productivity increases will be reflected in increased market-values 
of slaves. This makes slaves themselves a principal store of value 
and predisposes the system to the centralisation of wealth and power 
among slave-owning elites and to renewed territorial aggrandisement 
and to warfare and plunder as the principal mechanism of wealth 
increase. Thus it is true that capitalism requires the existence of 
free labour in order to valorise.'

This extensive quotation highlights the kernel of the question about 
the "mode of production in CHA".  Mark goes on like this: 

"With respect to slavery as an adjunct within an over-determining
capitalist mode of production, however, it is clear that goods 
produced by slaves and sold on a unified world market, contain 
embodied surplus labour which can be valorised as capital. [...]
Some labour processes remain outside the global circuits of capital 
and are local or national in character. [Traditional Junker-type] 
Polish estate labour [...] Domestic outwork performed by women [...] 
Slave-labour in US cotton plantations or American silver mines [*Side 
note by N.G.* Though the essential labor process in these mines was 
precapitalist, as M. J. properly states, it is not unimportant to 
remark that it was  _not_ a form of _slavery_ (more, later on).  
Though the adequate definition has little weight on Mark's argument, 
it is far from academic hair splitting when it comes to understanding 
CHA and even --current events in Bolivia! *End of side note, back to 
M.J..*]. The value of this labour is nonetheless progressively 
absorbed by capital, and forms part of the overall accumulation 
process. Even subsistence labour for self-consumed products which 
never enter the market, can serve to create [...] part of the reserve 
army of labour available for capitalist exploitation. [...] 
Subsistence non-cash-crop farmers may produce commodities which later 
enter exchange, [...] even though no capitalist labour process is 
involved [...T]he flow of such commodities from the peripheries to 
the centre forms part of the process of unequal exchange between the 
neocolonies and the  metropoles."

These statements made (which should have been trivial, were it not 
for the long history of barbarisation of Marxist thought during the 
20th Century), Mark goes on to boldly -and correctly- remind us that 
"the existence of a proletariat is a necessary but not sufficient 
condition for the emergence of capitalism, which ALSO 
requires/entails the appearance not just of long-distance trade and 
of such instruments, essential to trade, as discount-bills and 
commodity markets capable of establishing clearing-prices."

What else is involved?  Something _most important_, and in a sense 
the core issue at stake.  Particularly meaningful, to our own ends, 
is what follows: "Only if production *must* expand for it to continue 
at all, can we say capitalism truly exists i.e. where it is no longer 
true that surplus can be absorbed other than by [some proportion] 
being reinvested in new production; surplus value must be reinvested 
in production for valorisation, broadly-speaking, to take place at 
all (obviously I am abstracting from such questions as luxury-goods 

Please note: not only a proletariat and trade, but a particular kind 
of ruling class, in a particular material (thus, social) setting,  
can be accurately branded "capitalist".  Not _every_ trading class is 
capitalist, not even _every_ trading class relying on a "free" 
proletariat!  All other situations are properly branded by Mark as 
"parasitic" :

"The essentially parasitic quality of plantation slavery, in world-
system terms, is a function of this failure to valorise the product 
directly"  True, he focuses on the example of cotton-fueled slavery, 
but the comment is valid to every precapitalist mode of production: 
"when labour is ENSLAVED OR SUBJECT TO FEUDAL DURESS, its value 
cannot be determined by the market *even if the entire product is 
realised by sale as commodities*"  [My stress, N.G.].

The assorted array of _precapitalist_ local modes of production 
(slavery was but one of many; assortment should not be a surprise for 
people who believe that only capitalism tends to universalize itself) 
lacks that essential feature that makes capitalism both possible and 
necessary: that social accumulation be a _requisite_ for individual 
accumulation.  Moreover, this feature makes it possible that these 
systems, ruled by rents and not by profits, be viewed as "parasitic" 
even by the bourgeois, not only "in world system terms" as Mark has 

For instance -and in order to slowly beginning to hover downwards 
towards Latin America from the heavenly regions of generalized 
economic theory- local national-bourgeois critics of Latin American 
reality would heartily agree with Mark, and this because these 
production systems tax the _overall_ process in such a way that not 
only the system does not require social accumulation for individual 
accumulation to take place: in fact, they make social accumulation 
impossible in the long run.  And please note that this taxation is 
not restricted to the actual waste of money or excedent (conspicuous 
consumption, etc.), but -we shall expand on this on later e-mails- to 
the whole social structure of production.

And this, because (back again to Mark's excellent article), "the 
price of the average slave will, over time -- and other things being 
equal -- reflect not the slave's value (i.e., the amount of labour 
embodied in the slave, or the costs of producing another slave with 
the same  strength, skills etc.) but the capitalised rent the slave 
represents, i.e., the slave's discounted rate of return. This is why 
slaveholders actually form a rentier class, and are not capitalists, 
and this is so even in the case of complex estate production systems 
employing extensive machinery, a detailed division of labour etc. The 
purchaser of slaves buys from the slave-seller not so much human 
beings but a predictable quantity of rent income."

And the same thing can be said of the exploiter of servile labor in 
the mines of the High Peru: "a rentier class, not capitalists", in 
the sense that their very existence as a class ran against any 
attempt at developing capitalism (incidentally, this is why the "Plan 
de Operaciones" of the Buenos Aires Revolutionary Junta of 1810, 
written by Mariano Moreno, could include _immediate expropriation of 
the mines in the High Peru and their transfer to State ownership_: 
the 1810 revolutionaries were far from socialists, and the President 
of that Junta, Cornelio Saavedra was himself a wealthy High Peruvian 
tradesman;  but they were decided to impose a "capitalist" path to 
the development of the former Vice-Royalty of the River Plate).

This distinction between "rentiers" and "capitalists", which I 
personally prefer to rewrite as a distinction between "rentiers" and 
"bougeois", since rents may entail most mechanisms of "capitalism" 
(and this is one of the sources of the debate on whether CHA was 
"capitalist" or "feudal"), is one of the most important contributions 
of Marxism to the understanding of human history.  It constitutes one 
of the mainstays of Lenin's analysis on the development of capitalism 
in Russia, and it should have been one of the mainstays in Latin 
American Marxism, had it not become, almost from its very beginning - 
and perhaps even in some, not the best, passages of those Marxists 
who were most painfully aware that this danger had to be avoided 
(such as the great Mariátegui himself)- a colonial variety of 

Since this colonial Marxism considered (and considers, where it still 
can express itself with some coherence) Latin America just to be 
"another capitalist country", it was important for it to show that 
CHA was already capitalist, and thus there was no struggle at sight 
against a local rentier class that would force Marxists to think in 
terms different from the abstract bourgeoisie-proletariat schema that 
came to our shores canned into Eurocentric Marxism together with 
other industrial products.  

"Without free labour ("wage labour, i.e., capital": Marx) capital 
accumulation cannot be a self-sustaining, autonomous dynamic", Mark 
cleverly reminds.  Thus, if our basic enemy is today's capitalist 
(i.e. bourgeois), then we must show that CHA enjoyed a "self-
sustaining, autonomous dynamic" from the very beginning.

Thus, CHA must be "capitalist" so that I can light-heartedly consider 
the local national movement my main enemy.  Somehow or other, at 
least in the largest and most evolved countries in what was CHA, we 
can see something much resembling "civil society, abstract rights, 
personal sovereignty, independence of society from state, etc.", -if 
not an actually existing version of all those.  Since all of them 
entail (and condition of existence for) free labor, reasoned our 
colonial Marxist, then we live in a "capitalist" country and our 
enemy is, just like in Europe, the "bourgeois".  

What bourgeois?  _Every_ bourgeois, of course.  "National bourgeois" 
projects are simply Fata Morganae designed to deviate our 
proletarians from their tasks.  The local bourgeoisie is 
indistinguishable from the imperialist bourgeoisie.  In fact, it is 
the main enemy because it is the local representative of the world 
capitalist system!

Tracing back these traits to the conditions prevailing in the 
Colonial age is, as we shall see on further postings, both a factual 
mistake _and_ a political necessity when one wants to equate 
"national bourgeoisie" and "imperialist bourgeoisie" in order to 
target with "Marxist" missiles any "bourgeois" attempt of a Latin 
American government, political movement or intellectual who fights 
against imperialism without _at the same time_ defending a socialist 
outlook (and even against those socialists who, like yours truly, 
believe that the single way out for Latin America is the constitution 
of a broad National Front against imperialism and its local agents).

On further postings of this series we shall begin to step into more 
solid ground, when we make the history of this current of thought, 
its political implications, and the plausibility of its theses.

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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