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Chapter 2 Modes of Production and Historical Development
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Imperialism as an Articulation of Capitalist and Lineage Modes of Production

An extended concept of a lineage mode of production provides a viable, historical materialist explanation of "self-sustaining" agrarian social formations organized by kinship that are often considered beyond the purview of Marxist analysis. In this section I will demonstrate that the concept of an articulation of two modes of production, defined extensively and restrictively in terms of dominance and subordination, provides an equally useful explanation of the transformation of lineage societies by capitalism. I will confine my discussion to the analysis of imperialism in Africa advanced by Rey and Meillassoux. Rey is of particular interest in this regard because of his comparative analysis of the transition to capitalism in West-Central Africa (from the era of the slave trade to the post-World War II era) and in Western Europe (the original transition from feudalism to capitalism from the sixteenth to the eighteenth century). Rey's argument, put forward in the massive monograph Colonialisme, néo-colonialisme et transition au capitalisme (1971) and the more speculative essay Les alliances de classes (1973), turns first on the structural differences between exploitation and exchange in feudal and lineage modes of production and the possible articulations of each of these modes with capitalism and second on the relations of dominance and subordination that obtain at a given conjuncture—specifically, the relative degree of development and thus the relative power of capitalism.[11]

In contrast to Rey's work, Meillassoux's reflections on the articulation of capitalism and pre-capitalist modes of production pertain more to the contemporary global economy and to debates over the nature of "underdevelopment" in the Third World. In contrast to "dependency theory," which conceptualizes capitalist imperialism in terms of impersonal market relations between unevenly developed but nevertheless


capitalist sectors (metropole and periphery) of a global economy, Meillassoux views the global economy as a structured whole composed of distinct yet integrated modes of production dominated by capitalism. According to Meillassoux, the domination of capitalism results not from unequal exchange mechanisms stemming from differences in regional productivity (although these become increasingly significant as pre-capitalist modes of production are eliminated from the periphery) but from specific modes of domination and "super-exploitation" that can be fully understood only when the indigenous pre-capitalist mode of production as well as the complex structure of its articulation with capitalism are clearly identified.[12]

Rey's argument may be briefly summarized. He contends that lineage modes of production, in contrast to feudal societies, are based on indirect rather than direct exploitation. For Rey, the primacy of marriage or elite goods in lineage societies—the fact that the class power of the elders is maintained by exchange mechanisms one degree removed from the forces and relations of production—creates a fundamental obstacle for capitalism as the latter attempts to integrate lineage societies (and the labor power and materials they supply) into its global system of commodity exchange. Lineage elders have relatively little interest in expanding the production of subsistence goods, Rey points out, and relatively weak mechanisms for accomplishing such expansion should they desire to do so. However, Rey argues that when capitalism (1) desires a greater degree of productivity than the lineage mode of production can or will provide and (2) attains the technological capacity to impose its will on the lineage mode, then capitalist relations will be "implanted," usually by violence, and forcibly articulated with the indigenous pre-capitalist mode of production in such a way as to destroy the autonomy of the latter and subordinate its reproduction to the reproduction of capital.

In Colonialisme, néo-colonialisme et transition au capitalisme , Rey charts the course of the articulation of capitalist and lineage modes of production in the Congo-Brazzaville region (now the Republic of the Congo). According to Rey, the exchange of slaves for manufactured goods characteristic of the pre-colonial period actually reinforced the lineage mode of production since it operated through the elders' traditional control over the double circulation of juniors (as slaves) and women (as brides). Chains of exchange between chiefs produced a flow of slaves from the interior to the coast and a counterflow of European "elite goods" from the coast to the interior. At the coastal end of the


chain, population and wealth became concentrated, while at the interior end, social formations lacking sufficient lineage organization and military power to become part of the chain of exchange became its victims and suffered steady depopulation and immiseration. All along the chain, chiefs and their lineages accumulated women and European goods and passed along "superfluous" males toward the coastal kingdoms of Ngoyo, Kakongo, and Loango, which controlled the three major slave ports. This type of exchange between "mercantile capitalism" (which I call "feudal commerce" for reasons made clear later in this chapter) and a lineage mode of production is characteristic of what Rey calls the "trade era" of imperialism. The case at hand did not really involve an articulation at all, he argues, since both modes of production remained largely autonomous: exchange took place within the framework of normal circulation for each mode, and the relations of production and reproduction were not structurally modified in either case. The total volume of exchange, however, was limited by the fact that lineage societies exchange only to satisfy the elders' needs for elite goods.

As the needs of capitalism increase (along with its power to impose its will), relations of "reciprocal exchange" between autonomous modes of production become increasingly unacceptable from the capitalist point of view. According to Rey, in West Africa the lineage mode of production supplied slaves efficiently enough, but when the European capitalists began to desire other products, such as gum, palm oil, india rubber, groundnuts, and so on, and to desire them in ever greater quantities, an impasse quickly developed. From the point of view of the elders, demands for economic rather than elite goods meant a significant increase in productivity, which in turn not only threatened to provoke crises of lineage segmentation and territorial control but also constituted a potential threat to their erstwhile monopoly over European-made goods. If not rigorously controlled, such economic "development" threatened to undermine the class power of the elders and the integrity of the lineage system itself. In addition, Rey notes the significance of the European processing plants that began to proliferate along the West African coast during the 1890s and break up the great kingdoms that had monopolized the three slave trading ports. The extension of European power dissolved these kingdoms into competing lineages with different chiefs "protecting" different plants (and their supply routes to the interior) while raiding those plants (and supply routes) protected by rival chiefs. The tension between the multiplication of trading ports and the needs of each for security from raiding,


coupled with the disappointing quantities of raw materials finding their way to the coastal plants from the interior, produced a change in strategy on the part of the Europeans and inaugurated what Rey calls the "colonial era" of the early decades of the twentieth century.

Unlike the trade era that preceded it or the "neo-colonial" era that succeeded it, the colonial period was characterized by coercion rather than exchange. Colonialism, according to Rey, is a political-military despotism designed to "implant" capitalist relations of production by force—building the necessary infrastructure, establishing plantations as well as market production by the indigenous population, creating a labor market for capitalist enterprises, and destroying the autonomy of the lineage mode of production. The military power and economic resources of a developed capitalist state standing behind the local coercive apparatus is required, Rey argues, to create and maintain a hierarchy of chiefs who will control land and collect taxes under the orders of a European commandant, conscript the initial labor force required to build roads and railroads and work the plantations, reorganize land distribution and property rights to appropriate land for the plantations and weaken the "self-sustaining" power of communal agriculture, and introduce money taxes and monetize bridewealth in order to compel wage labor and market production. Rey demonstrates how these policies were pursued with relentless brutality in the Congo-Brazzaville region from 1912 into the early 1920s (when military conquest was achieved), culminating with the hecatomb associated with the construction of the Congo-Ocean railway from 1925 to 1934.

The colonial period was necessary for capitalism, Rey maintains, even though it was initially unprofitable. It was the only way to "civilize" lineage-based societies, that is, to "implant" capitalism on foreign soil and establish conditions necessary for its autonomous development and reproduction—conditions that the lineage mode of production, unlike European feudalism, did not provide. After 1934 and down to the present day, in a stage that Rey calls neo-colonialism, the "free" sale of labor power and the growing sale of commodities became self-generating. As a result of the massive application of force during the colonial period, the "unity" of producers and consumers in a relatively self-sufficient subsistence economy was finally broken. Workers and products no longer have to be obtained for capitalism by force; conscripted workers who initially had money forced on them became wage earners and commodity buyers, while the men and women who remained in the villages became sellers of provisions supplying the new


labor force. Colonial despotism was relaxed to the extent that capitalism began to function according to its own laws, and the separation of the economy and the state characteristic of capitalism began to take place. By the fifties, Rey concludes, the economy of Congo-Brazzaville had been "restructured." Lineage modes of production continued to exist, but their reproduction had been subordinated to the needs of foreign-owned industry. Whatever integrity remained in the lineage forces and relations of production was preserved in order to subsidize the cost of labor power for capital and to support the "surplus" population for which capitalism as yet had no use.

The persistence of "tribalist" politics and lineage modes of production remains a "technical" obstacle to the internal economic development (the production of more use values for the local population) of the Republic of the Congo, as Rey notes at the end of Colonialisme , but one completely explicable in terms of the logic of exchange values within the global capitalist system: global capitalism is concerned primarily with the extraction of surplus value from the Congo and not with its economic development. In Maidens, Meal, and Money , Meillassoux extends Rey's analysis and argues that contemporary capitalism actually attempts to preserve lineage and other domestic modes of production in the Third World (as well as their attenuated survival in the form of the nuclear family in the First World) in order to insure a cheap supply of labor. From the "tribal reserve" system in South Africa, to migrant labor forces in the United States and Western Europe, to the unpaid labor of wage-earning parents everywhere, capitalism always seeks to exclude the cost of "indirect" wages (the cost of reproducing the worker) from the wage contract, thereby restricting it to "direct" wages paid to the worker on the basis of hours worked. Workers, however, fiercely resist this tendency, and in the First World they have some ability to do so. Despite the fact that indirect wages in the First World are heavily biased in favor of capital (they are paid for by taxes—forced savings on the part of wage earners—as well as by indirect wages from capital and are payable to workers only through the labor-regulating state), they remain unpalatable to capitalists. In addition, Meillassoux maintains that indirect wages tend to increase as the long-term logic of capitalist development breaks down the family's economic structure and forces family members out of the home and onto the labor market in order to preserve their household's standard of living. This process raises the cost of reproducing labor power and thus wages, since goods and services associated with the reproduction of labor power, previ-


ously provided by the family cheaply or for free, must now be purchased.

For these reasons, Meillassoux contends that capital is impelled by its own logic to search for cheaper labor outside the capitalist metropole: capital does not simply "react" to conditions of "unequal exchange" but seeks to create and maintain such conditions; therefore, the existence of these conditions can be understood only in terms of a globalized class struggle. For Meillassoux, the articulation of capitalism with modes of production based on subsistence agriculture and lineage relations of production means that capital pays little or nothing for the reproduction of the Third World worker. The absence of indirect wages in the Third World constitutes "super-exploitation" of labor power, a windfall labor "rent" for the capitalist equal to the difference between the cost of wage labor in the First World and the cost of Third World labor subsidized by subsistence production (less costs of political compulsion, salaries to pre-capitalist elites, costs of feeding and housing labor transported over long distances for extended periods, and costs necessary to cover the losses to the subsistence mode where the loss of manpower threatens its very existence). According to Meillassoux, the capitalist benefits from super-exploitation as long as the worker remains connected to the domestic economy, and this connection is preserved by the creation of a "double labor market" consisting of an "integrated" working class, reproduced within the capitalist mode of production and receiving indirect wages, and a "migrant" working class, which only partially reproduces itself within the capitalist sector and which receives wages so low that no integrated worker could afford to work for them. Finally, political mechanisms providing for the rotating movement of migrant labor plus discriminatory legal codes and ideological systems (racism) serve to restrict migrant access to other economic opportunities and keep the migrant worker from establishing communal ties and acquiring basic human rights.

The problem for capital, Meillassoux points out, is that the reproduction of the lineage mode of production is continually undermined under such conditions of articulation. The introduction of money into the domestic economy and the unequal productivity of the two modes of production serve as incentives for workers to emigrate. The wages brought back to the domestic mode of production are insufficient to compensate for the losses sustained by the accelerated drain of manpower, losses that can be made up only by purchases from the capitalist sector or the "largess" of the capitalists themselves. The grim outcome


of this process of dissolution of the lineage mode of production is "absolute proletarianization," a situation depicted by Meillassoux as a form of barbarism comparable to the Nazi concentration camps, which provided virtually free labor for I. G. Farben, Krupp, Thyssen, and other large (and still respectable) capitalist enterprises. Arbeit macht frei .

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