The colonization of the Americas under debate

Image: Andrea Ch.


It is a gross error to propose capitalist colonization of America, since the 15th century, without capitalist production, industrial bourgeoisie, salaried workers, free labor market and with a very low level of development of material productive forces.

In 2011, I was excited about the publication of Revolution and genocide: The evil example of Paraguayan independence and its destruction, promising to analyze Paraguayan social formation and the great South American conflict from a Marxist perspective. The author, Ronald L. Núñez, a young Paraguayan sociologist, dedicated the book to the International Workers' League-Fourth International, to which he belonged, founded by the Argentine activist Nahuel Moreno (1924-1987). [NÚÑEZ, 2011] I explain my curiosity. In 2008, with a Marxist bias, I began a vast research project on the War of the Triple Alliance (1864-1870), completed in 2018. During my investigation, I frequently visited the country, its libraries and archives and met excellent Paraguayan historians.

The disappointment was great. Revolution and genocide It was an essay written for the 2011 celebration of the II Centenary of the Independence of Paraguay, based on a limited and hurried bibliographical review. References to Trotsky abounded and classics on the subject were scarce. Marxist-revolutionaries such as the Argentines Enrique Rivera and Milcíades Peña, central references in that discussion, were not even mentioned. [RIVERA, 2007; PEÑA, 1975]. The fantasies of Paraguayan patriotic historiography about the splendor and advancement of Paraguay since Independence were repeated: accelerated and pioneering metallurgical and textile industrialization; construction of bridges, roads, ships, lighting and urban paving, etc.

The limited development of productive forces in an agrarian-peasant country was ignored, as pertinently recalled by the aforementioned Enrique Rivera. A country with an “almost completely planned economy” and an “autonomous” and “clearly progressive” Paraguayan “bourgeoisie” was proposed. She would have led the country, associated with Solano López and his father, towards “industrial capitalism”, until that progressive process was interrupted by the “English monopoly bourgeoisie”. Following the national-patriotic vulgate and the Paraguayan Stalinist ideologues, the protagonism of the peasants was ignored – chacareros –, with its eyes focused on a non-existent “national bourgeoisie”, in the absence of any proletariat and industrial nucleus proper [MAESTRI, 2015]. In review, I discussed the historiographical lapses and bourgeois chauvinism proposed as a Marxist-revolutionary reading by Ronald Núñez – “Paraguay: Revolution and genocide: the misuse of history” [MAESTRI, 2012].

Ten years later

The launch of The War against Paraguay under debate, by that author, my curiosity was awakened again, this time about the evolution of the now mature author and doctor in history from USP. The title betrays the content a little. This is not a unitary text, but consolidated articles, published in the journal Living Marxism, from LIT-QI, an organization to which Sundermann also belongs, which publishes the books of Ronald León Núñez (now RLN). [NÚÑEZ, 2021.] The book has six chapters. The first addresses a referential theme for Marxist historiography – “The character of European colonization [of the Americas]”. A debate that, in recent times, faded with the victory of the global counter-revolutionary tide of the 1990s, marked by the destruction of the USSR. However, we have valuable studies on this controversy.

As that first chapter, addressing an issue of strong interest, had full autonomy in relation to the theme of the book in question, I undertook a commentary on it, which I published a first version, in 2022, in the GPOSSHE Online Notebooks. I now return to that article, in an expanded and final version. [MAESTRI, 2022.] I would like to point out that my old companion and friend Valerio Arcary, leader of the PSOL Resistance trend, who has always been a Moreno supporter, has just published on the website the earth is round, on February 10, 2024, uncritical defense of Nahuel Moreno's reading of Colonization, along the same lines as Ronald León Núñez.

As in 2011, in The character of European colonization, we are faced with equal misunderstandings of Marxism, poor bibliography, many citations and references to Marx, Engels and Trotsky and few on the topic addressed. In the text, the silence towards authors referential to the topic is once again deafening. The big surprise was that the objective of the article was not to advance the discussion about the character of the colonization of the Americas, but to recover in extremis of theses, by Nahuel Moreno, in the font Hugo Miguel Bressano Capacete, from 1948, in “Four theses on Spanish and Portuguese colonization in America”. Moreno is a great reference for the political organizations belonging to the International Workers League – Fourth International (LIT-QI), founded by him, with emphasis on Brazil, the PSTU and the countless ruptures it experienced. To undertake his project, Ronald León Núñez practically regresses to the stage of discussion in 1960-1970, in a strange historical-sociological analysis vintage.

A false debate: feudal past versus capitalist past

 Since the 1930s, the communist movement has been tied to the Stalinist block. Starting with the Moscow Trials (1936-38), multitudes of Bolsheviks were eliminated during the bureaucracy's assault on political power in the USSR. [BROUÉ, 1964.] The Marxist readings of the parties of the Third International became mere exegeses of the instructions dictated in Moscow, which they followed practically without discussion. In colonial, semi-colonial and backward capitalist countries, workers had to submit to the “national bourgeoisies”, “industrialists”, “progressives” and “anti-imperialists” – “revolution in stages” – to overcome the proposed semi-feudal and feudal survivals with the construction of solid capitalist economies.

Only in a “second stage” would there be a fight for socialism. With this orientation, uninterested in the world revolution, the USSR bureaucracy sought impossible collaboration with international capital. [FRANK,1979.] In Latin America, this collaborationism facilitated the hegemony of populism and national-developmentalism over workers – Varguism, Peronism, Aprismo, etc.

After the Revolution of 1905, León Trotsky and Aleksandr Parvus argued that, in backward countries, the fragility-pusillanimity of the Russian bourgeoisie had left it in the hands of the workers to carry out democratic tasks, associated with socialist ones – “permanent revolution”. In the April Theses, VI Lenin embraced this orientation and the need for an immediate assault on power, after just three months of bourgeois democracy in the former Tsarist Empire. [TROTSKY, 1963; ZVETEREMICH, 1988; LENIN, 1917.]

Initially, opposition to Stalinist collaborationism was limited to small anarchist, Marxist and above all Marxist-revolutionary [Trotskyist] organizations. The latter, harshly persecuted by the bourgeoisie and Stalinism. [ABRAMO & KAREPOVS,1984; LEOL, 2003; FRANK, 1973.] After the II World War, decimated, the Fourth International experienced a process of dispersion-confusion caused by the adverse context and difficulty in inserting itself into the real workers' movement. What would generate the Pabloite, Posadist, Mandelist, Lambertist, Morenista slippages, etc. [DESPALIN, 1980; 159; CRAIPEAU, 1977; MARIE, 1981; MAITAN, 2006 FRANK, 1973.]

In Latin America, with the weakening of Stalinism (1956, denunciation of Stalin's crimes, etc.) and the growth of industrialization and the proletariat in Latin America, especially in Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Bolivia, Venezuela and Mexico, essays were strengthened defending the socialist program and criticizing the “revolution in stages”, by left-wing intellectuals and small revolutionary political organizations.

The characterization of colonization was a prominent field of this political-ideological confrontation. Muscovite communism defended the feudal or semi-feudal character of ancient Latin American social formations and, in the 20th century, their survival. It was necessary to advance according to the “revolution in stages”: first, under the direction of the “national-industrialist bourgeoisie” and, only then, to fight for socialism, as we have seen. The past and the present were adjusted to collaborationist policies. [PRESTES, 2015: 155.]

Lenin and Trotsky

More commonly, the criticism of etapism did not take up Trotsky and Lenin's proposals to associate bourgeois-democratic and socialist tasks, under the direction of the workers. On the contrary, it embarked, in the opposite direction, on the same methodological path as reformism, also retouching history, this time, in favor of the socialist program. Roughly speaking, he proposed the “capitalist character” of the Americas since the landing of the conquerors. Likewise with a sociological reading and few references and knowledge of history. The controversy was due to the Stalinist proposal of the need for all social formations to pass through the five stages (modes of production) proposed by Marx and Engels in the analysis of the social, political and economic evolution-revolution of civilizations in the European space – primitive communism, slavery, feudalism, capitalism, socialism.

Explicitly or implicitly, both interpretations respected that mechanistic, supra-historical and universalizing proposal. The defense of the feudal past proposed overcoming the capitalist phase, to jump to the socialist stage. The thesis of capitalist origin has almost always advocated moving to the next stage, the direct fight for socialism, without delay and on all sides, since the Americas had not known any other form of production than capitalism.

In Brazil, among others, pecebista intellectuals such as Astrogildo Pereira (1890-1965) defended feudal-stageism; Octávio Brandão (1896-1980); Passo Guimarães (1908-1993); Nélson Werneck Sodré (1911-1999). Some of the main champions of capitalism have always been the Argentine sociologist Sérgio Bagú (1911-2002); the German-American André Gunter Frank (1929-2005); Brazilians Ruy Mauro Marini (1932-1997) and Caio Prado Júnior (1907-1990). The latter proposed a capitalist orientation-character of colonization and, however, denied the validity of the socialist program. Argentine revolutionary Marxists such as Luis Vitale (1923-2010), based in Chile, and Milcíades Peña (1933-1955) and Nahuel Moreno (1924-1987), embraced this vision, in more or less refined forms. [MAESTRI, 2019.]

The reading of the capitalist past was essentially based on the mercantile orientation and search for profit of the colonizers, since they set foot on American beaches. Characteristics that are foreign to feudalism and that would, therefore, be typical of capitalism. This thesis was embraced, however, by authors who did not claim Marxism. In 1937, in a pioneering way, in Economic history of Brazil, the brilliant bourgeois economist Robert C. Simonsen (1889-1948), had denied the “feudal aspect of the [Portuguese-Brazilian] system of grantees”, due to the “capitalist orientation of colonization that sought profit”. He was based on Max Weber, who had proposed commercial capital and capitalism in Antiquity [SIMONSEN, 1977; WEBER, 1982].

Multiple Production Modes

The semi-Talmudic character of the debate over the location of American formations regarding the five necessary stages was also due to the factual and epistemological backwardness of Marxist social sciences. Only with the weakening of Stalinist hegemony over the social sciences did the discussion about the multiple evolutionary lines and the different modes of production known to humanity advance, in addition to those highlighted by Marx-Engels for European evolution. As a result, research into African, Asian and American formations advanced. The legitimization of the “Asian mode of production”, outlined by the founders of Marxism, gave rise to this debate [SOFRI, 1978; PETIT, 1986].

In 1960 the Center d'études et de recherches marxistes, founded by the French Communist Party, embraced that discussion [CERM, 1974]. In Latin America, important academic contributions had little impact on Marxist praxis, not only due to the political situation on the continent – ​​not only did Brazil live under a dictatorial regime (1964-1985) [ASSADOURIAN, 1973]. In general, Marxist parties, on the left and right, maintained their positions around the discussion of the five necessary Stalinist steps.

Milcíades Peña wrote, at a very young age, a magnificent critical history of Argentine social formation, recently published in a single volume – he committed suicide, in 1955, at the age of 32, due to chronic depression [PEÑA, 2012]. He embraced the thesis of “capitalism since forever”, as he died before the resumption of the Marxist debate. In the cited text, “Four theses on Spanish and Portuguese colonization in America”, from 1948, without Peña's wealth and without a real factual investigation, far from the Marxist method, Moreno generalized and radicalized that thesis for all eras and for the three Americas. “Spanish, Portuguese, English, French and Dutch colonization in America was essentially capitalist. "

Moreno lived until 1986, without correcting that assessment, proud, without reason, of having been one of “the first, if not the first”, to deny feudal colonization and defend capitalist colonization [RLN, 2021: 34]. Peña's production, in its limits and great qualities, continues to be essential reading, not only for the study of Argentine social formation. Currently, Moreno's readings and proposals on American colonization are supported almost only by militants and dogmatic intellectuals from the LIT-QI, an international group created by him, as we have seen, and by groups detached from it.

Undeniably capitalist

Nahuel Moreno adapts historical reality to his political proposals. In the "Four theses”, explains the colonial crisis, not because of the delay, but because of the “important capitalist development that occurred in the Spanish Empire at the end of the 20th century”. If there was such a Spanish capitalist explosion, no one saw or heard it. This thesis embraced by RLN which, in its text, presents quotes from Milcíades Peña, León Trotsky and Karl Marx, who point in the opposite direction, pointing out that, due to the Spanish feudal-mercantile backwardness and its bourgeoisie, Spain was unable to promote, until the 29th century, its substantial industrialization. [RLN, 33-XNUMX.]

With regard to the political discussion, between socialist and capitalist programs, in the 1950th century, it was arbitrary, for Marxist epistemology, and doubly unnecessary, to retreat the capitalist characterization to the colonial and post-colonial period. Since the 1905s, when the “feudalism x capitalism” controversy was established, the main Latin American formations had known, in an indisputable way, dominant capitalist socioeconomic organizations, even though dependent pre-capitalist relations existed within them. Therefore, that discussion was irrelevant, as far as the main nations were concerned, for defining the character of the Latin American revolution, and disregarded the proposals of Trotsky, in 1917, and Lenin, in XNUMX.

It was an irony of history that Moscow and collaborationist intellectuals, incorrectly proposing feudal relations-survival for Latin America, rightly pointed out the unfounded defense of capitalist colonization of American colonies by Iberian nations with a feudal-mercantilist formation. . In 1963, in Four centuries of latifundia, Passos Guimarães remembered. “The apologetic content of this erroneous conception is perceived, as it admits that the colonial system, instead of transporting the regressive elements of the dominant country to the conquered territory […] would select the new factors determining social evolution and use them to found […] society of a more advanced type than the metropolitan ones.” [GUIMARÃES, 2005: 36]. Which he was right about.

Intentions do not define a man

Moreno had proposed that the intentions of colonization would be “capitalists […]: organize production and discoveries to make prodigious gains and to place goods on the world market.” [RLN, 2021:35]. From the beginning, he defined colonization and Iberian social formations as capitalist by mercantile objectives and orientations. And not, according to the Marxist method, from the development of material productive forces and, above all, their dominant social relations of production. To do so, this would require solid knowledge of the Marxist method and a detailed study of the social formations of large colonial areas in order to characterize them.

Supported by Marxist political economy, Passos Guimarães also rightly challenged this deduction, recalling that the orientation and production for sale were “peculiar, in increasing proportions, to the entire long history of the mercantile economy […]”. And if we had as parameters the “phenomena inherent to circulation”, we would have to accept the “equality between all social systems that Humanity has experienced”, since the end of “primitive life”. [GUIMARÃES, 2005: 41.]

In a text from 1971, “Feudalism and capitalism in Latin America”, the Argentine Ernesto Laclau (1935-2014) carried out an equally devastating critique of the “capitalist since forever” thesis, however, also maintaining the defense of feudalism in regions of Latin America. Like Passos Guimarães and Ernest Mandel, he recalled that world trade preceded embryonic capitalist production, timidly appearing in the beginnings of civilization. [MANDEL, 1962: 36, vol.1; LACLAU, 1973: 23-49.]

Proto-mercantile and mercantile systems practiced the circulation and exchange of goods, through trade [currency] and barter [exchange], without necessarily modifying, in general, the modes of production of the societies that produced, on the one hand, and On the other hand, they purchased the objects offered for exchange-sale. For decades, Brazilians exchanged American goods [brazilwood, skins, animals, etc.] for European goods [iron axes, wedges, knives, etc.], without essentially changing their village economies. [MAESTRI, 2013; MARCHANT, 1980.] Only the production-export of industrial goods disorganized the pre-capitalist communities with which it was related.

Capitalism hanging on the brush

It was nonsense to propose capitalist colonization of America, since the 1973th century, without capitalist production, without industrial bourgeoisie, without salaried workers, without a free labor market, with a very low level of development of material productive forces. The attempt to overcome this paradox motivated different adjectives from Marxist categories that insisted on not accommodating fanciful definitions. For Peña, in Latin America, the colonial class producing for the international market knew a “colonial capitalism” [PEÑA, 87: XNUMX: we highlight].

Moreno literally invented a “Mediterranean capitalism”, semi-feudal and non-manufacturing. “Mediterranean capitalism, impregnated with aristocratic and feudal forms, has a commercial, usurious, local and international character in opposition to northwestern Europe, which has a manufacturer and national.” [MORENO 1948.] Violating history, the Argentine defined the Iberian feudal and mercantilist classes as capitalist. With an industrial and a non-industrial capitalism, it made the history of the genesis of European capitalism unintelligible. [HOBSBAWM, 1976.]

Not finding a “colonial bourgeoisie” equivalent to or close to the European one, fantasy was once again used, always with commerce as the definer of the capitalist character of colonial and post-colonial societies. In Plata, the native commercial oligarchy was identified as the colonial Prometheus – “commercial bourgeoisie”. For the past, the collaborationist proposal of a progressive “bourgeoisie” advanced in the present was embraced.

In Brazil, Florestan Fernandes defined the “progressive” nucleus of slave-owning farmers from the “west of São Paulo” as promoting the end of slavery, the beginning of industrialization and the “native human” agent of the bourgeois revolution. For these proposals, the engine of history would be found in the dominant classes or some of their fractions, and not in the exploited. [|FERNANDES, 1981.] In praise of the ruling class, Moreno generalized the existence of a progressive “land-based bourgeoisie” throughout Latin America, prior to and precursor to the genesis of the manufacturing and factory bourgeoisie. “[…] this capitalist production originated from the beginning of the colonization of an autochthonous capitalist class, independent of merchants and bureaucracy, land-owning bourgeoisie.” A “much more progressive bourgeois class than the comprar commercial bourgeoisie”. [MORENO, 1948.]

Fantasy exceeded itself in the production of substitutes for the manufacturing and industrial proletariat, essential to capitalist production, in a colonial and post-colonial world that exploited commissioned and administered Indians; hooked gauchos; natives and enslaved Africans, etc. In a dualist proposal, capitalist production was defined, in the sphere of circulation, dominant and inductive, supported by enslaved, semi-servile and servile labor, in the sphere of production, dominated and determined. The revolutionary inversion of Marxism was literally reversed, which based the civilizational dynamics on the material-productive world, previously proposed as governed by the world of ideas.

Make marmalade with oranges

Moreno overcomes this insoluble contradiction with hybridism sui generis"This is how colonizers, in order to exploit America capitalistically, are forced to resort to non-capitalist production relations: slavery or semi-slavery of indigenous people.” And he continues, without blushing: “Production and discoveries for capitalist objectives; slave or semi-slave relationships [sic]; Feudal forms and terminology (just like Mediterranean capitalism) are the three pillars on which the colonization of America was based” [MORENO, 1948; RLN, 35].

O contradiction in terminis of capitalism producing with pre-capitalist relations of production was commonly supported by Marx's reference to colonial slave exploitation, which peremptorily denied what it was intended to affirm. “In the second class of colonies, plantations, which are from the very moment commercial speculations were created, production centers for the world market, there is a capitalist production regime, but only in a formal way, because the slavery of black people excludes free wage employment, which It is the base on which capitalist production rests.” [MARX, 1973: 331, T. II] He just didn't understand those who didn't want to.

We will not dwell on the historical-methodological inaccuracies that supported the proposal for a feudal order in the past and its remnants in the present. In Brazil, for example, sesmeiro farmers, alleged feudal lords, held allodial possession of the land – they could sell it, donate it, rent it, etc. And there were no plots servile, but homogeneous exploitation of large estates oriented towards the world market and, very secondarily, regional. And there were no servants in this part of the New World, but, above all, enslaved workers. Defenders of these interpretations also delved into hybridism. For Passos Guimarães, in Brazil, the absence of servants on the land forced a regression “to [classic] slavery […]” [GUIMARÃES, 2005: 36]. Therefore, in one case, the enslaved supported capitalist production and, in the other, feudal production. Thus, it was deduced from presumed superstructural relations, a singular feudal production without servants on the land, without servile plots, oriented towards commodification.

On the one hand, Moscow intellectuals invented the dominance of colonial feudalism since the Discovery, without serfs, to challenge the struggle for socialism. On the other, to promote it, a fanciful “colonial capitalism” was proposed, without workers. In both cases, the objective material productive forces, the relations of production, the dominant and dominated modes of production, the basis of social formations, were ignored. However, an important doubt always remains. Wouldn't the thesis of capitalism, since the 16th century, even fanciful, have contributed to the struggle for socialism, already in the 20th century, especially in industrialized nations? It seems not to us. In the best of cases, the defenders of this aspect would be the “well-intentioned” who pave the “road to hell”, according to Marx.

The capitalist definition of the original American formations assumed only quantitative and never qualitative historical evolution, from the 1980th century to the XNUMXth century, in essentially homogeneous social spaces. That true philosophy of history denied the “evolutionary dynamism of real historical societies”. [COQUERY-VIDROVITCH, XNUMX.] It jumped on the necessary accurate interpretation of American societies, for their easier revolutionary transformation. The historical-social evolutions and revolutions that had occurred were ignored, since capitalism had always denied the singularity of the genesis of the proletariat and of the capitalist formations consolidated in the XNUMXth century in the most developed regions of America.

Colonial slavery: a hasty deconstruction essay

In the aforementioned context of the 1960s, space was opened for the scientific legitimization of the “Asian mode of production” and for the investigation of the multiple modes and forms of production known by non-European societies, with emphasis on pre-colonial Black Africa — domestic, lineage, tax modes of production, etc. [MEILLASSOUX, 1995, 1977, 1975; LOVEJOU, 1983; MIERS & KOTYTOFF, 1983; MILLER, 1995; VANSINA, 1980]. For different reasons, the same investigation into pre-colonial and colonial American formations — Mayan, Inca, entrust, colonial slavery etc. [ASSADOURIAN, 1973; SORIANO, 1981; MURRA, 1980]. This essentially Marxist discussion experienced a general backlash with the historic victory of the liberal-capitalist counter-revolution in the late 1980s, as proposed.

In Brazil, the awareness of the slave-owning nature of Luso-Brazilian and Brazilian society, from 1530 to 1888, led to overcoming the feudalism-capitalism impasse. This reality that stands out today was obliterated by multiple political-ideological obstacles, as we have seen. A group of scholars, especially Marxists, contributed to the slow maturation of awareness of Brazil's slavery past and the centrality of enslaved workers. In this process, two works by Gilberto Freyre, from 1933 and 1935, stood out, proposing a pseudo-patriarchal Brazilian slavery, with a strongly conservative bias. [FREYRE, 1969, 1996].

The germinal readings of Benjamin Péret, a French Trotskyist, militant of the Revolutionary Communist League, in 1956, and of Clóvis Moura, a militant of the PCB and, later, of the PCdoB, in 1959, recorded the centrality of enslaved workers in Brazil in the pre- 1888 [MOURA, 1959; PÉRET, 2002]. Among many others, the works of: J. Stanley, from 1961; by Manuel Correia de Andrade, from 1965; by Emília Viotti da Costa, from 1966; José Alípio Goulart, from 1971; by Décio Freitas, from 1973; by Suely Robles Reis de Queiroz, 1977, etc. [COSTA, 1982; GOULART, 1971, 1972; FREITAS, 1973; STANLEY, 1961; ROBLES, 1977].

The colonial slave character of Brazil's ancient social formation was clearly defined by Ciro Flamarión Cardoso, in 1971, and, above all, by Jacob Gorender, in 1978, in a systematic way. The book was of great importance in this reading, Political economy of colonial slavery, from 1961, by Eugene Genovese (1930-2012), then an American Marxist historian, a fundamental contribution to the consolidation of the Marxist vision of the multiplicity of modes of production [CARDOSO, in: ASSADOURIAN, 1973; GORENDER, 1985; GENOVESE, 1976].

Copernican revolution

A communist activist since his youth, Jacob Gorender had broken with the PCB and participated in the founding of the PCBR in 1968. An erudite thinker and profound knowledge of Marxism, dissatisfied with the analyzes of the Brazilian past and the break with reformism-Stalinism in which he had participated without a real political-methodological criticism, he undertook structural investigation of Brazilian social formation, from the second half of the 1960s. In 1978, he concluded and published, still under the dictatorship, a dense thesis, of enormous academic repercussion – Colonial slavery. It surprised left-wing activists, who in general did not even understand the reason and relevance of the theme and the work that they rarely read. Gorender's thesis boosted the discussion about modes of production in Brazil. In 1981, the collective work “Modes of production and Brazilian reality” was published. [LAPA, 1981]

colonial slavery carried out what I defined as the “Copernican revolution”, denying and overcoming, based on a refined Marxist interpretation, supported by detailed historical analysis and categorical-systematic criticism, the feudalism-capitalism impasse. His critique of the political economy of colonial slavery placed “enslaved people and enslavers” as the central contradiction of the social organization of pre-1888 Brazil and the enslaved worker as its demiurge. The thesis established the basis for a structural interpretation of Brazilian social formation, with the aim of revolutionizing it [MAESTRI, 2005].

 In defense of Moreno's now outdated proposals from 1948, RLN rehearses, in a few pages of the first part of the work in question, a caricature of a challenge to the proposal for a “colonial slave mode of production”. In them, he records a lack of knowledge about the ancient social formation of Brazil and allows the suspicion that something has been read. colonial slavery, read little and poorly. It is noted that, in the role of executioner of “colonial slavery” and its author, RLN cites, in 2021, the first edition of that thesis, of 1979, ignoring the fourth, of 1985, expanded by 10%, easily accessible as it is available on the internet [GORENDER, 1985].

Particular and universal

RLN proposes that Jacob Gorender, when defending the need that the “production relations of the colonial economy need to be studied from the inside out”, that is, from the concrete — means of production, production relations, mode of production, formation social—, “oversized” the endogenous character of slave society, “losing sight of the totality”, universalizing “particularity” [GORENDER, 2016: 154]. For RLN, in Gorender's reading, the “internal economic structure”, “would have achieved such arbitrary autonomy” that it had generated the proposal of an “original mode of production”, a mode of production “completely new". [RLN, 2011: 61, 63]. Which scandalizes the ill-armed critic.

Em colonial slavery, Jacob Gorender explains that, in Brazil, on the Caribbean islands, etc., the confrontation of two diverse social formations, the Iberian feudal-mercantilist, dominant, with the autochthonous, dominated one, did not produce a transposition of the first or a simple amalgamation between both. But, on the contrary, it had given way to a singular reality — a way of producing “new” characteristics, “previously unknown in human history”. Hence the proposal for a “historically new mode of production” [GORENDER, 2016: 84-5]. That confrontation would, therefore, have generated an overcoming, a synthesis.

RLN confuses the “new”, proposed by Gorender, with “completely new”, proposed by him, which the author of colonial slavery never defended. “It is false to present 'colonial slavery' as a completely new mode of production” – proposes the Paraguayan sociologist, throwing his analytical spear at the windmill that he mistakes for Gorender's giant interpretative stumble [RLN: 2019, 190].

When reading the Bahian Marxist, the hasty critic also skipped the explanation of the existence of “plurimodal” tendency laws, specific to more than one mode of production, and “monomodal”, specific to one. The “colonial slave production” mode had great identities with those in force in Greco-Roman societies, as it was “slavery”. But it also had substantial diversities, or “specific laws” trends, which determined that it was a “historically new” mode of production, dependent on the colonial market – hence its adjective “colonial” [GORENDER, 2016: 85].

Slavery, patriarchal, petty-mercantile, colonial

In classical Greek slavery, “patriarchal slavery” dominated, organized around the oikos, production unit of a few hectares, with one, two or three captives, commanded by the patriarch (oikeu)who worked alongside the captive and his family. This entire small population, from the patriarch to the most wretched slave, applied themselves to the various tasks of the small farm – herding, agriculture, fishing, crafts, etc. The production in oikos it was oriented in a dominant way towards family consumption, with the undistinguished sphere of production for sale being subordinate. The limit on family consumption tended to regulate the exploitation of captives. There was no reason to produce more than what could be consumed. This form of production was then the basis of post-archaic Roman society [GARLAN, 1995; ANDREAU & DESCAT, 2009].

In the two centuries before and after our era, in Rome, what I defined as a “small-mercantile slave mode of production” was imposed, materialized in the villa rustica, a few dozen captives and ten to two hundred hectares. In it, the father families He was an owner, generally absentee, as he lived in an urban environment, but he had a residence on the property, which he visited to check its progress. At rustic villa, subsistence production was dominated by intensive mercantile production, a leap in quality compared to Greco-Roman patriarchal slavery. Due to its essentially mercantile meaning, the rustic villa it was located on the outskirts of urban centers, on high-traffic roads, close to water and maritime communication routes, in order to be able to transport its production to consumer markets [MAESTRI, 1986; CARANDINI & SETTIS, 1979].

vocal instrument

Economic calculation dominated the life of this form of hegemonic slave production, with an abundance of agronomic literature produced guiding its owners to better manage them, in search of the greatest possible monetary profit [COLUMELLA, 1977; CATONE, 2015]. The Roman order, based primarily on rustic villa gave rise to the constitution of the revolutionary Roman commercial law, private law, based on the full domain of private property. And, under the rule of the slave order, it was required that the direct producer be identified with a work instrument, like any other, despite its singular character.

The captive was defined vocal instrument, or tool that speaks, next to semi-vocal instrument, domestic animals and, finally, the instrumentum mutum, the inanimate tool. In relation to patriarchal slavery, there was greater depersonalization of workers in the small-mercantile slave mode of production. They were subjected to a greater pace of work, which tended to be limited, however, by the relative narrowness of the market, transportation difficulties, the type of dominant products, among other factors.

The average living conditions of enslaved workers in rustic villa they were tough, but never comparable to the captives working on American colonial slave plantations. In Greek comedies, where captives are regular characters, landowners angry with their urban servants often threatened to send them to the countryside if they repeated their evil deeds [MALOWIST, 1991: 46]. We hope that the fact that Roman rural small-mercantile units, for more than a millennium and a half, were managed seeking monetary profit does not lead the RLN to define them as capitalist farms, run by businessmen in toga speaking Latin and exploiting captives!

Large homogeneous properties

Already in the second century of our era, the structure of land ownership, an essential determination of Roman class society, came into contradiction with the main form of exploitation of social work. The growing tendency towards the concentration of small portions of rustic village in large homogeneous properties it posed the problem of the possible need to overcome-metamorphosis of small-mercantile slave production into commercial production. Which never happened, due to multiple historical obstacles.

The main commercial products of the time, of seasonal production, were not adapted to large-scale slave farming – wheat farming, wine growing, olive farming, etc. The large production of the main agricultural products to be commodified was subject to competition from small subsistence properties, which removed a huge part of the population from an already narrow consumer market. Means of land and river-sea transport remained deficient. Advances in agricultural techniques had opened the deep lands below the Alps to production. Experiences with large teams of factory workers had led to serious servile insurrections, especially in Sicily [UTCENKO, 1982]. The pressure from servile workers for better conditions of existence was enormous.

The crisis of the small-mercantile slave mode of production gave way, especially through the colonato, to new revolutionary forms of production, embodied in feudal organization and production. Enslaved producers worked poorly, unwillingly, and had to be closely monitored. The “quality” of slave labor tended to inhibit the refinement of techniques and productive instruments. Essential technological knowledge, already widespread in the late Roman Empire, found no social and productive use, being used mainly in the art of war [BREEZE, 2019]. Slave production, which had guaranteed centuries of development for the Roman world, entered a deep crisis, in search of a solution to its contradictions [CICCOTTI, 1977; DOCKÉS, 1979].

Through the settlement

Feudal relations of production allowed this impasse to be resolved. The level of development of material productive forces achieved in the late Empire made a significant leap in the productivity of human work possible, as long as the social relations of production were revolutionized. By giving part of their land to small tenants who paid, initially, a monetary income, then a percentage of the agricultural products they produced, the landowners saved the control expenses essential to slave production. In turn, the tenant was interested in production. Everything he produced, in addition to the income owed to the owner, rightfully belonged to him. This small peasant, reproducing himself biologically, reproduced the labor force that, in slavery, had to be acquired by the owner.

In the large Roman estates of the Lower Empire, forms of slavery and partial forms of exploitation of work and property coexisted for a long time. The silent or open pressure from direct enslaved producers in favor of this transit constituted an essential factor in the transition from classic slave production to settlement and feudal production. The superiority of the latter must have been imposed with extreme gradualism and slowness, a phenomenon proven by the fact that the feudal worker was known, in the various Romanized regions of Europe, by appellations derived from the category commonly used in the Roman world to designate the enslaved – serve, servant, servant etc. [VEGETTI, 1977].

Slavery disappeared from Europe as the dominant form of production, replaced by superior forms of production and exploitation. Even where captives were introduced, generally from abroad, over the years, they tended to be assimilated into the dominant dependent peasant forms of production [HEERS, 1987]. Slavery resurfaced, in a powerful form, assuming a new large-mercantile status, only in the context of American colonization, in new historical conditions, especially regarding markets and production and nautical techniques. Hence the proposal for “colonial slavery” to be a form of production with, on the one hand, identities with the slave organizations of the past, and, on the other, with strong differences with them. A mercantile or colonial slave mode of production, new in history.

Colonial slavery – historically new form of production

 During colonial slavery, large commercial production dominated, on properties covering thousands of hectares, worked by tens-hundreds of captives. It was made possible by advances in machinery and means of transport and, above all, by the vast international market, in continuous expansion, phenomena unknown in Antiquity. Under mercantile production aimed at a market in continuous expansion, with an inexhaustible source of enslaved workers, the average living conditions of the enslaved degraded over the almost two millennia in which it existed, becoming strongly exacerbated in colonial slavery, from the 19th century onwards. XVI especially.

The narrowness of the Mediterranean market was one of the factors that made it impossible for small-scale slavery to achieve large commercial production. Due to all this, and under the pressure of the expanding market, “colonial slavery” was a “historically new” mode of production, without being “totally new”, as just proposed.

The international market was an external phenomenon that created the conditions for the emergence of colonial slavery: “Colonial slavery only made possible a narrow internal market […]. [in the colonies.] But this problem was solved beforehand, as its solution constituted one of the premises for the creation of colonial plantation. The production of the latter would be sold on the already existing and expanding foreign market, with a growing demand for tropical foods – the European market.” [GORENDER, 2016: 202]. The international market, as a whole, was thus a presupposition of colonial slavery, a dynamic and determining American singularity, in terms of the character of production that was consolidated in the New World.

Capitalism belonged to the future

Jacob Gorender was clear. The “mercantilist intention”, that is, the search for profit, did not dispute that “colonization, in this case, Lusitanian, gave rise, in the New World, to unique forms and modes of production, with the dominance of colonial slaveholding, based on the exploitation of workers enslaved by slave-owning controllers of the means of production.” [GORENDER, 2016: 202.] This global market created the demand that drove the formation-consolidation of colonial slave production. In fact, slave production fed the markets, let's say, feudal and capitalist, in Europe, and domestic economy markets, as in Africa.

 RLN builds a sociological model of colonization without concern for historical reality. In 1415, the conquest of Ceuta was the landmark of the beginning of the Portuguese mercantile exploration of Africa, Asia and, after the aforementioned discovery, the Americas. In 1444, the first captives from the west African coast were distributed in the Algarve. [ZURARA, 1973: 51.] When sugar slavery began on the island of Madeira and when it was established on the Brazilian coast, from 1530, capitalist hegemony still belonged to the future. The bourgeois revolution in England started in 1640, preceded only by the Netherlands. [HILL, 1983.] American slave production was not prompted by capitalist production, nor was it organized to sustain it, as visions with a clear teleological meaning propose.

RLN reverses historical events by proposing that the “internal structure of American colonial economies cannot be explained outside” the “process of capitalist expansion”. He argues that mercantilism and colonial slavery were born and subordinated “always in favor of capitalist accumulation”. Much of the initial Iberian mercantile accumulation remained hoarded or was used up in unproductive expenditure. In a way, American rents frustrated rather than boosted capitalist development in Portugal and Spain.

The increasing capture and feeding of “original accumulation” of capital by the riches extracted from the extra-European world took place in the course of history. When citing Marx, RLN does not pay attention to what he proposes. “It was slavery that made the colonies more valuable; it was the colonies that created universal trade; It is universal commerce that is the precondition of great industry.” [RLN, 65]

In other words, without universal trade, there would be no “large industry”. Which does not mean that it was built to support large industry! It was built due to the voracity and endogenous impulse of mercantilism. It is the “internal structure of colonial economies” that precedes the dominance of capitalism, which cannot be explained without its prehistory, the primitive accumulation of capital, not produced by capitalist production. In history, the order of factors changes the product.

Capitalist teleology

 RLN is forced to recognize that the predominant “form of production” in Brazil “was slavery”. [RLN, 2021: 63.] Which is already an “advance” But also little informed about colonial slavery, he uses his imagination to propose that it would have been “highly profitable”. [RLN, 2021: 65, 64.] No, on the contrary. The level of development of material forces in slavery was low and rustic, which always had the heavy and rudimentary hoe as its main instrument of work. Which explains why factory producers were necessarily transformed into human waste while still alive in this form of commercial production.

All you need is a tour of Madrid, Lisbon, Paris, London, etc. to understand where most of the surplus work produced by captives in Brazil ended up. In fact, if slavery had been “highly profitable”, it would have been in danger of continuing to this day! Despite the [rhetorical] recognition of predominant slave production in Brazil, RLN questions Jacob Gorender for stating that “colonial slavery” or its “remnants” “should be overcome to pave the way for industrial capitalism” [RLN, 2021: 64].

The author proposes that the Bahian Marxist attributes “immeasurable magnitude” to the abolition of slavery and argues that it was the “only social revolution” known to date in the history of Brazil. And embracing views outside of history about the meaning of the Abolitionist Revolution, he adds that seeing 1888 as a “social revolution” would underestimate its “limits”, from the “point of view of the formerly enslaved”, a thesis defended by slavers and by Gilberto Freyre among others! [RLN, 2021: 66]. And this statement was made without having sought to know the opinion of the “thirteenth of May”, emancipated in 1888! [MAESTRI, 1988].

Slavery, as a form of production, centrally determined the dynamics of Brazil's social organization from 1530 to 1888. There was no region not touched and shaped by it, to varying degrees. We were the American nation that imported the largest number of captives, with the longest slavery, which produced the greatest diversity of products with captive labor. The struggle for abolition strongly determined Brazil's political life, especially from 1850 to 1888. In 1888, the Abolitionist Revolution, although late, dealt the final blow to dominant production for more than three centuries, giving way to diverse production relations supported in the free worker [MAESTRI, 2015; CONRAD, 1975]. If RNL had read the chapter “The Abolitionist Revolution”, in the book Slavery rehabilitated, by Jacob Gorender, would deprive us of the explanations that follow. [GORENDER, 2016: 153-208.]

Gorender speaks of a revolutionary transition, similar to that between classical slavery and small-mercantile slavery and, from the latter, to feudal production and, finally, between feudalism and capitalism. All these intermodal transitions have known their own unique dynamics, on the one hand, and common and universal ones, on the other. In all of them, the direct producers achieved, more or less, achievements pursued, even unconsciously. Achievements and advances limited by historical time. O Hello of feudalism lived, in general, a very hard life, but superior to the Hello of Roman slavery.

The revolutionary achievements obtained during Abolition could have been broader if the abolitionist movement had a greater social base of support and cohesive national support. However, the class of enslaved workers, the main agent of this transformation, had been in strong regression for decades; Brazil was then a pre-national country; the Republic radicalized federalism, etc. It is an illusion and demagogy to propose that the captives could have obtained, in 1888, achievements that, to this day, a large part of the exploited do not know about – compensation, education, health, housing, etc. Only in the context of the capitalist advancement of material productive forces, that is, in the context of privately appropriated material abundance, can socialism begin to overcome the exploitation of man by man, largely supplying the basic needs of the population.

Capitalists arrived in caravels

RLN cannot recognize the revolutionary meaning of overcoming slavery in Brazil in 1888, as this would impugn its attempt to rescue Moreno's 1948 proposal for capitalist production since the so-called Discovery. This thesis nullifies any need and possibility of overcoming the social organization of production, which has always been capitalist, as proposed. And this defense is the main objective of his text on “The character of European colonization [of the Americas]”. For him, there would be, at the end of the day, no essential differences between the pre- and post-1888 world. Before, it would be capitalism with slaves, after, capitalism without slaves.

Gorender's RLN reading continues downhill. And he does not indicate, regrettably, where Gorender would have cherished “politically the idea of ​​a progressive role for the abolitionist sector of the Brazilian bourgeoisie”; proposed “alleged revolutionary role of a sector of the dominant class in the process of formal abolition [sic] of slavery”; stated that the “slave struggle was not the determining factor” in 1888. We prefer not to qualify such statements and wait for RLN to point out where precisely the Bahian Marxist would have proposed such nonsense.

However, if a faction of the industrial-manufacturing bourgeoisie supported abolitionism, it did have a “progressive role”, albeit an insignificant one, considering its small weight before 1888. In the end, everything that advanced the end of Slavery, then the main social contradiction, was progressive. How progressive the English abolitionists were, such as Thomas Clarkson, who fought against trafficking and, later, against slavery. And England's action to put an end, with the threat of cannons, to the transatlantic slave trade, in 1850. [MAESTRI, 2022:130-41.] And even if the Devil had lifted a finger for Abolition, he would have contributed, without knowing it, to advance our story.

RLN proposes that Gorender defends the revolutionary role of a sector of the ruling class in the “formal abolition (sic) of slavery”. It would also be enough to have read the annex to colonial slavery, “The farmers of western São Paulo”, to accompany the author's peremptory challenge to the various proposals that the abolition of slavery was born from any sector of the slave classes. And Gorender never saw, in Abolition, a “formal” leap between before and after. Nor did the “thirteenth of May”, as those freed after those successes, come to be called.

abolitionist revolution

 Jacob Gorender never bothered to broadly and systematically approach the historiography of Abolition, as his objective was to produce a critique of the colonial slave mode of production, and not to write a history of the Brazilian slave social formation. And, even more so, the role of enslaved workers in the end of slavery, addressed by him in Slavery rehabilitated, had already been exhaustively chronicled by the American historian Robert Conrad, in Last years of slavery in Brazil, a study defined by Gorender as “remarkable for its richness and solidity”. [GORENDER, 2016: 602.]

Robert Conrad detailed the final destruction of slavery by enslaved workers, mainly from São Paulo, but also from Rio de Janeiro, supported by radical abolitionism, during the great desertion of slave farms, at the end of 1887. A proposal that had been outlined in the 1950s, by Clóvis Moura, an intellectual Marxist also close to Jacob Gorender. It is regrettable that Ronald L. Núñez did not consult these two reference works, like so many others. [CONRAD, 1975; PIÑEIRO, 2002.]

Ronald L. Núñez ends his adventure through historiographical seas never before seen and navigated by him, proposing that Jacob Gorender's reading would be a … “variant of Stalinist stageism”. Less evil than God loves the poor in spirit. If Brazil had only known slavery, as Ronald L. Núñez accepts, without much firmness, and not a “colonial slave” mode of production, “historically new”, as Gorender argues, Brazilian social formation would have fit perfectly into the second of five Stalinist stages and its evolution towards feudalism should proceed!

* Mario Maestri is a historian. Author, among other books, of Sons of Ham, sons of the dog. The enslaved worker in Brazilian historiography (FCM Editora).


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