20 July 2009

Basics? What is that?

Today's posting includes the link to the final part of Karl Marx's Capital, Volume 1 (see the links below and the big “Intro” below that). Click here for the full clickable list of downloads from our CU 24-part divided version of Capital Volume 1, once called the “Ghost” course because it was “running in the background”, but currently our “backbone”.

Part 24 of this division is our last part, and it may as well be kept as such, but for the purpose of today’s CU post and the following two, it is clear that each of the three included chapters merits a separate intro at this time, together with a critical attitude towards the book and perhaps towards David Harvey’s lectures, too, as well as agreement with Harvey elsewhere. So the intro to Chapter 31 alone is below, and the intros to 32 and 33 will follow. But first there is some more business about “basics” to be dealt with.

Basics according to the British YCL

Last week, we were asked by Cde Alroy Taai for a course for ‘first time users’. To assist with this request we will soon start using a CU course called “Basic Communism”. It is not a re-write or a new attempt to explain the basics of communism. It is made up of short, more-or-less “classic” texts. You are invited to judge for yourself whether this, our long-established CU method, is the best or not.

Yesterday, we saw that the CCS is going to rely heavily on the lectures of David Harvey when they do their two series of seminars in Durban later this year. That is a very different approach to the CU’s. We have tended to believe in live interaction, and that videos are part of the “banking” theory of education.

Yet another response has come from Ben Stevenson, a comrade who has visited South Africa in the past as a representative of the British Young Communist League. Ben wrote:

“Dom, the YCL’s Back 2 Basics series is now up on the YCL website. We find the series very useful as it serves as an introduction to theoretical concepts for younger comrades. Feel free to make use of it if you can. Cheers. Ben”

The British YCL produced this material themselves. It begins with “Materialism” (an approach that David Harvey does not approve of, by the way, and the CU has in the past tended to agree with Harvey about the meaninglessness, or worse, of “dialectical materialism”). Within a few lines from the beginning it mentions Ludwig Feuerbach, Frederick Engels and Lenin's “Criticism and Empirio-Criticism”. This is the British YCL's idea of “basics”! Whether Cde Alroy Taai would regard it as a useful “first time user's” course, is an open question that we must hope he will answer.

You must make up your own minds about this. There are many available roads to travel. Everybody has his own idea of what “basics” means. The CU likes to use the original classic texts, and it will continue to do so. Soon we will go to the basics of pedagogy with a chapter from Paulo Freire's classic “Pedagogy of the Oppressed”. Pedagogy is the theory and practice of teaching and learning. This discussion continues.

Click on these links:

CU Backbone posting (with intro below):

1867, Marx, Capital, Volume 1, 31, 32 and 33, Industrial Capitalism, Colonialism (8265 words)

Intro to Chapter 31 of Karl Marx's Capital, Volume 1 (Intros to 32 and 33 will follow)

In Chapter 31 Marx states in direct terms that the origin of the industrial (not farming) capitalist is in colonialism. The question that will be raised here is whether Marx backs up this statement, or not. This post is going to quote at some length from this chapter, (in italics) and then make some critical observations:

“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.”

“Of the Christian colonial system, W. Howitt, a man who makes a speciality of Christianity, says: "The barbarities and desperate outrages of the so-called Christian race, throughout every region of the world, and upon every people they have been able to subdue, are not to be paralleled by those of any other race, however fierce, however untaught, and however reckless of mercy and of shame, in any age of the earth." [4] The history of the colonial administration of Holland — and Holland was the head capitalistic nation of the 17th century — "is one of the most extraordinary relations of treachery, bribery, massacre, and meanness" [5] Nothing is more characteristic than their system of stealing men, to get slaves for Java. The men stealers were trained for this purpose. The thief, the interpreter, and the seller, were the chief agents in this trade, native princes the chief sellers. The young people stolen, were thrown into the secret dungeons of Celebes, until they were ready for sending to the slave-ships. An official report says: "This one town of Macassar, e.g., is full of secret prisons, one more horrible than the other, crammed with unfortunates, victims of greed and tyranny fettered in chains, forcibly torn from their families." To secure Malacca, the Dutch corrupted the Portuguese governor. He let them into the town in 1641. They hurried at once to his house and assassinated him, to "abstain" from the payment of £21,875, the price of his treason. Wherever they set foot, devastation and depopulation followed. Banjuwangi, a province of Java, in 1750 numbered over 80,000 inhabitants, in 1811 only 18,000. Sweet commerce!”

[yet] “...by 1648, the people of Holland were more over-worked, poorer and more brutally oppressed than those of all the rest of Europe put together.”

“To-day industrial supremacy implies commercial supremacy. In the period of manufacture properly so called, it is, on the other hand, the commercial supremacy that gives industrial predominance. Hence the preponderant rôle that the colonial system plays at that time. It was "the strange God" who perched himself on the altar cheek by jowl with the old Gods of Europe, and one fine day with a shove and a kick chucked them all of a heap. It proclaimed surplus-value making as the sole end and aim of humanity.”

This last describes in a single sentence, the state of affairs that Marx's book was written to expose. Marx did succeed in exposing “capital” as “surplus-value making”. But I would invite you (without condemning Marx, because he wrote elsewhere about colonialism), to consider whether in Capital Volume 1 he did describe colonialism adequately, or demonstrate its part in what he chose to call Primitive Accumulation?

In my opinion Marx did not deal with Primitive Accumulation fully. Nor did he explain the term adequately. Marx does not really establish that capitalism required a ready pile of resources. What he establishes is how the requisite class forces were brought into being, in Western Europe, in the revolutions that overthrew feudalism there.

It is a mistake to think that a capitalist business requires “capital” in advance, if by “capital” is meant money in the bank, or land, buildings, equipment et cetera. It does require such things, but they do not make it a capitalist business as opposed to any other kind of project. What makes a business work as capitalism is a dual relationship. The first part of it is the relationship between the worker and the capitalist. The second part is the relationship of the capitalist with his market. I these two relationships do not exist, or are faulty, then a capitalist business will not survive. But if they do exist, then the other means will probably be found without too much difficulty.

Marx shows clearly how the proletariat arose, historically, in the countries of Western Europe in the 16th century. He shows how the bourgeois class arrives on the scene. He shows how all the social building blocks including proletariat and market, are assembled, but not the money. That is fine, because capital is not money, it is a relation. Marx says so, directly, in Chapter 33, and it is true. So the accumulation necessary for capitalism is not treasure, but is an accumulation of relationships.

What Marx does not do in Capital is to make a strong distinction between slavery and capitalism. He describes slavery candidly, even angrily, and without flinching from the horror of it. But he never discusses slavery in a comparative way, as distinct from surplus-value-extracting bourgeois-and-proletarian capitalism. Yet (bourgeois) slavery also started in the 16th century, or slightly before, and it ran on as a transcontinental Atlantic system for the next three hundred years, in parallel with the early development of capitalism proper, until Marx’s time, such that the last end of bourgeois slavery was the cataclysm of the American Civil War, that was happening while Marx was writing Capital, and yet it does not feature in the book at all!

In other works, Marx acknowledged the revolutionary status of the American Civil War, but not here, in Capital. He does acknowledge, in passing, the triangular Atlantic, and the far Eastern, trade based on slavery, but not its distinctness from capitalism proper, or the lethal historic antagonism between these two competing bourgeois systems. Marx does not acknowledge that the international sinews of global commerce were laid down and strengthened by the slavery system, as much as, or more than, by proper capitalism. He does not directly recognise or stress that the bourgeoisie did not invent only one system of productive relations, but at least three, namely the guild system, the modern bourgeois slave system, and capitalism itself. These distinctions have become important to us, because they bear on our understanding of the history of colonialism, as well as on recent attempts to create new bases for the survival of the bourgeois class, such as fascism and militaristic monopoly-capitalist Imperialism, which, we may think, differ substantially from normative capitalism based on simple extraction of surplus-value at the point of production.

So my conclusion is that while Marx established the fact, and the immediate consequences, of surplus-value conclusively, he did not, in Capital, describe colonialism or slavery adequately as systems. And while it may be true that the accumulation of treasure that slave-plantation colonialism caused to happen in England and the Netherlands in particular, did prepare the ground for industrial capitalism as Marx states that it did (see above), yet Marx does not really demonstrate how that was so. These thoughts about colonialism will be further developed in the two subsequent posts.


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