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Colonialism And The Rise Of Capitalism

12/29/2008 Colonialism and the Rise of Capitalism Colonialism and the Rise of Capitalism Hamza Alavi It is quite extra-ordinary to see how, over 45 years ago, leading ‘Western’ Marxists managed to get through an entire debate on ‘The Transition From Feudalism to Capitalism’ (Hilton, 1976) without once mentioning the colonial context of the rise of British industrial capitalism. As we shall try to demonstrate, the imperial nexus played a crucial role in it. Capitalism was a global phenomenon fr




  Colonialism and the Rise of Capitalism Hamza Alavi It is quite extra-ordinary to see how, over 45 years ago, leading ‘Western’ Marxists managed to get throughan entire debate on ‘The Transition From Feudalism to Capitalism’ (Hilton, 1976) without once mentioningthe colonial context of the rise of British industrial capitalism. As we shall try to demonstrate, the imperialnexus played a crucial role in it. Capitalism was a global phenomenon from the outset, not only by way of trade but also by way of extraction of resources from the colonies that underpinned capital accumulation in themetropolis. So it continues today. That blind spot in Marxist historiography, which fails to locate the colonialrelationship at the centre of capitalist development in the metropolis is also responsible for a missing dimensionin Marxist political practice. The fate of the working class in the advanced capitalist countries is, more thanever, linked inextricably with that of the working people of the so-called Third World. But Western labourmovements have done little to integrate their struggles with those of the workers of the Third World.Colin Barker’s review article in the inaugural issue of   Historical Materialism (1997), despite its brillianceand comprehensiveness, is not free from that general oversight. Barker writes with clarity and what he has tosay stands very well on its own ground regardless of the merits or otherwise of Ellen Wood’s books that hehas reviewed. One would endorse most of what Barker has to say, subject to this one caveat about theabsence of the colonial dimension in his comprehensive statement. Wood’s own contribution to the inauguralissue of   Historical Materialism is  , by contrast,   very disappointing. I will take her article, however, as a usefulpoint of departure for a discussion of issues that need to be raised. Much of the problem with Wood’s article,it must be said, stems from her methodological decision to take the concept of ‘the market’ as the organisingfocus of her discussion, even when she criticises others for the way in which they have used it. As againstthem, she argues that ‘the capitalist market (does not) represent an opportunity ¼ (but rather) an imperative’. But nowhere does she explain what she means by the ‘ imperative of the market’.The market is, of course, an essential component of the mechanism of capitalism. But, except in pseudo-Marxist works, such as those of Immanuel Wallerstein (1974), the market does not define the structure of capitalism. What is specific and central to the capitalist mode of production (in agricultural capitalism as wellas industrial) is the separation of the producer from the means of production .   As Marx himself put it, ‘Thisseparation of labour from the conditions of labour is the precondition of capitalist production.’ (Marx,1969:78)Wood is led away from that key definition in Marx’s thinking. Instead she mistakenly posits the existence of ‘two different narratives’ in Marx. The first of these she attributes to the German Ideology and TheCommunist Manifesto. In that ‘conventional model’, (as she puts it), history is a succession of stages in thedivision of labour, with a transhistorical (sic) process of technological progress and the leading roleassigned to burgher classes who seem to bring about capitalism just by being liberated from feudal chains’.This rendering of Marx’s ideas is unrecognisable. (Wood, 1997: 10; emphasis added). The second ‘narrative’in Marx, she writes, is to be found in the Grundrisse and Capital. That, she writes, ‘has more to do withchanging property relations’. We can take this notion of ‘changing property relations’ as a euphemism (thatobscures rather than clarifies) for the separation of the producer from the means of production. Further on‘ ’ 12/29/2008Colonialism and the Rise of CapitalismE:/…/Colonialism%20and%20the%20…1/16  Wood writes: ‘What Marx is trying to explain is the accumulation of  wealth ’ (ibid:13) Wood must know thatthere is a fundamental conceptual difference between the idea of accumulation of ‘wealth’ (which couldinclude such ‘wealth’ as palaces or jewels etc. which are unproductive) and that of the ‘accumulation of capital’ that provides a basis of ever rising circuits of production. Accumulation of capital refers to theconversion of surplus value into productive capital, which sets in train a process of reproduction on aprogressively increasing scale. It was the accumulation of capital that Marx’s work was all about. One shouldnot have to point out such elementary distinctions to someone whose work has been celebrated so generouslyin  Historical Materialism. Nor can we say that Marx has two different ‘narratives’, as Wood puts it, namely in his early and later works.That is an old misconception going back to the 1960s when ‘Early Marx’ was ‘discovered’. Marx is quiteconsistent in his analysis of capitalism. As in his later works, his statements in the  Manifesto too speak of theseparation of the producer from the means of production, that creates two antagonistic classes namely freelabour and the capitalist owner of the means of production. With the rise of capitalism, he points out, societyas a whole is split into two great classes directly facing each other: the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. It is nodifferent in Marx’s other early work that Wood mentions, namely The German Ideology. There also hepoints out that ‘The bourgeoisie itself ¼ finally absorbs all earlier possessing classes (while it develops themajority of the earlier non-possessing classes, and a part of the earlier possessing class, into a new class, theproletariat). (Marx, 1960:48) These early works set out the same ideas that were developed as a centraltheme in Marx’s later works. Whatever Althusserian Marxism, or in this case Wood, might have to say, thereis no epistemological break between the early and later Marx on this fundamental issue. There is a consistencyin the development of this idea.In searching, with Wood, for a ‘cause’ of the srcin of capitalism, we run the risk of a positivist conception of ‘causes’ of social change. It would be far more profitable to look at the historical process of the rise of capitalism and the structural transformations that are inextricably linked with it. We can distinguish severalstrands of that wide-ranging historical process. As far as the impact of capital on agriculture is concerned,Wood fastens on only one of several aspects of capitalism and agriculture. She focuses on the work of RobertBrenner, where he looks at the development of capitalist farming, employing free labour and investment of capital. It is by no means clear that Brenner himself takes that development as the sole aspect of changes inagriculture, as Wood seems to present the case. Against that heavy focus on agriculture we need also toremind ourselves that it is in the rise of industrial capitalism that we find the main engine of capitalistdevelopment.Changes in agriculture complemented that. These were of three kinds, of which the above-mentioned is one.In the context of the rise of industrial capitalism, in Britain and elsewhere, Marx himself emphasised rathermore another aspect of change in agriculture. That was the enclosure movement that Wood brushes aside,carried away by her criticism of Anderson. Given the greater relative profitability of wool production at thetime, peasants were thrown off the land which was converted to grazing to raise sheep. Enclosures broughtabout large-scale eviction of the peasantry from the land. That generated a vast reserve army of labour, thedispossessed farm workers. Thereby they became available for employment as industrial labourers in therapid expansion of capitalist industrial production. The enclosure movement was therefore particularlysignificant because of its role in making available a large reserve army of labour. 12/29/2008Colonialism and the Rise of CapitalismE:/…/Colonialism%20and%20the%20…2/16  We may at this point also take note of a third aspect of the impact of capital on peasant production, thathappens to be little known in the English speaking world. It is the subsumption of small peasant productionunder capital without the separation of the producer from the means of production, which was a dominantfeature of the continental rural landscape. That was analysed by Kautsky in his work ‘The AgrarianQuestion’. (Kautsky,1988). It is a very important work, which was highly praised by Lenin whereas itsreactionary author, Kautsky himself, disowned it not long after its publication. (cf. ‘The Introduction’ to theEnglish translation of Kautsky’s ‘The Agrarian Question’, Kautsky, 1988)  Modes of Production The concept of mode of production is central to Marxist analysis. But Marx does not offer a concise andprecise definition of it. It is embedded in the analysis that he offers in Capital and he leaves it to us to extractit. In recent years several Marxists have dealt with the concept. We do not have the space here to review andcomment on them. I will instead outline below the concepts of feudal and capitalist modes of production, aswe might derive them from Marx’s Capital and, additionally, propose a concept of a Colonial Mode of Production that, I would suggest, is needed to capture the structural specificity of colonial capitalism. (Alavi:1981). A mode of production, it must be emphasised, is determined simultaneously at several levels, as acomplex unity. There is all too often a tendency to reduce the complex and dialectical unity of the concept of mode of production to a narrow definition of ‘relations of production’ that focuses on particular  forms of relationships between the labouring direct producer, and the class that exploits his/her labour power. Theconcept of mode of production entails determinations as follows:FMPCMPCol. MPUnfree Labour, rendered notnecessarily in the form of labour services but taking avariety of possible forms.Free Labour, (1) ‘free’ frompossession of means of production and also (2) juridically free, to sell labourpower to the capitalist- as in CMP -Extra-economic coercion inthe extraction of the surplusExtraction of surplus valuethrough the economicprocess of ‘free’ sale of labour power- as in CMP -Fusion of economic andpolitical power at the point of production, in a localisedstructure of power. (The caseof the ‘Absolutist State’ isdiscussed below).Formal separation of economic and political powerand the emergence of abourgeois state and its laws.The creation of a colonialstate, as instrument of metropolitan capital.Mainly self-sufficient village/ manorial economyGeneralised CommodityProduction, with balancedCircuit of lopsidedGeneralised Commodity 12/29/2008Colonialism and the Rise of CapitalismE:/…/Colonialism%20and%20the%20…3/16  supplemented by simplecommodity circulation andpetty commodity production;portion of the surplus goesinto trade. Feudalism iscompatible with globalcommerce. But there is noGeneralised CommodityProduction and labour itself isnot yet a commodity.production of capital goods(Dept. I) and consumergoods (Dept II), the twosectors bearing a relationshipas discussed by Marx inCapital Vol. II. Labourpower itself is a commodity,freely traded in the labourmarket.Production is completed viametropolis with production of raw materials etc. for export;manufactured goods,including capital goods beingmainly imported. Nodevelopment of Dept I, goods production).Simple Reproduction – thesurplus is mainly consumedby the exploiting classes, sothat the economy basicallyreproduces itself at theexisting technological levelExtended Reproduction of capital, with the surpluscontributing to capitalaccumulation and risingproductivity.Extended Reproduction of Capital is realised via themetropolis, colonialexploitation contributing tocapital accumulation in themetropolis.In the debate on ‘The Transition from Feudalism to Capitalism’, referred to above, we see a general failure tograsp the concept of ‘Mode of Production’ as a complex unity of determinations at the various levels asshown above. The debate began with Sweezy’s review of Dobb’s ‘Studies in the Development of Capitalism’(Dobb, 1954). Dobb defines feudalism, but partially, as the ‘obligation laid on the producer by force andindependently of his own volition, to fulfil certain economic demands of the overlord’. (Dobb, 1954: 35). Hethereby emphasises the first three of our structural conditions as set out above. Sweezy, on the other hand,writes that under feudalism ‘markets are, for the most part local and that long distance trade, while notnecessarily absent, plays no determining role in the purposes and methods of production. The crucial featureof feudalism is that it entails  production for use.’ (Sweezy in Hill, 1971:35—emphasis in the srcinal). ThusSweezy emphasises, again one-sidedly and in a distorted way, the fourth structural condition of the feudalmode of production as we have outlined it above.Under feudalism the direct producer (the peasant) is left with a bare subsistence share of commodities whichhe consumes. But some of the surplus extracted by the landlord finds its way to the market, to raise money topurchase a variety of (luxury) goods and services that he needs. Feudalism is therefore associated with aconsiderable amount of trade, contrary to the arguments of Wallerstein, and others who equate trade withcapitalism. A telling argument against them is the rise of the so-called ‘Second Serfdom’ in Poland andEastern Europe that was triggered off precisely by the rise of the Baltic grain trade that made it profitable forlandlords to bring about legal enserfment of the peasantry in the course of the late 15 th and early 16 th centuries. Poland became the granary of Europe but on the economic foundations of feudalism. Capitalism and Trade History does not come in neat bundles nor is it the case that a new mode of production eliminates the old oneinstantly as it appears on the scene. Typically, a new mode of production already begins to develop within a 12/29/2008Colonialism and the Rise of CapitalismE:/…/Colonialism%20and%20the%20…4/16