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Structure of Colonial Formations

Author(s): Hamza Alavi


Source: Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 16, No. 10/12, Annual Number (Mar., 1981),
pp. 475-477+479+481+483+485-486
Published by: Economic and Political Weekly
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/4369616
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Structure of Colonial Fornations
Hamza Alavi

The debate on mode of production in Indianc agriculture, while raisinzg basic issues, fa-iled to focus
on the social structures and patterns of clcass formations and class alignments. There was also a failure
to evaluate alternative class formations and class alignments in Indian rural society and their politicall
implications.
This paper argues that classical Marxist analysis of the development of capitalism in Europe cannot
explain the development of capitalismn in colonial social formations. The 'peripheral capitalismn' in these
countries differs structurally from 'metropolitan cazpitalism' as appropriation of surplus value and
accumulation of capital takes place in the metropolis. Hence, where some form of a bourgeoiIs revolution
has been accomplished in some of these colonial formations by the intervention of metropolitan capit-alism
and where, consequently, one finds 'three fundamental classes', they are all located in the same mode of
produiction and do not stand in irreconcilable contradiction to each other.

THE debate of the 197Gs on the mode ed. the development of capitalism in of large investments in farm mechanisa-
of production in Indian agriculture agriculture as well as in industrv. TFhere tion.

concerns basic issues that have was an irreconcilable contradiction WNe need also to take up another
barely surfaced in the debate itself.' tetween the dominant feudal mode of set of issues in this context. That is
There are. on the one hand, conceptual production and the rising forces of the question of subsumption of peasant
and theoretical. questions about the capitalism. That contradiction defined production under capital. The decisive
way in which we might analyse social for him the sta,e of bourgeois-demo- criterion of the capitalist mode of pro-
structures and patterns of class for- cratic revolution in Russia that, in duction is the separation of the pro-
mation and class alignments. On the .urn, would inaugurate the stage of ducer from the means of production. In
other hand, these questions implicate the
proletarian revolution. Fhat conception first stage of the bourgeois revolu-
also political corollaries that may be has been extended mechanistically, to tion in England, the stage that Marx
drawn from alternative evaluations of countries such as India, without con- conceptualised as that of 'formal sub-
class formation and class alignments in sideration of the historical and sumption of labour under capital', how-
Indian rural societv, and, by that structural differences between the two ever, petty commodity production pre-
token, in the State and society in India cases. Just as Lenin found the deve- dominated; but it was subsumed under
taken as a whole. The issues in the lopment of capitalism in Russian capital. But with the onward march
debate, therefore, do not concern agriculture, we now discover the of capitalism and its centralising tend-
agriculture and rural society alone. development of capitalism in Indian ency, petty commodity production -tvas
They involve questions also about the agriculture, as a new and recent rapidly dissolving, giving way to large
dynamics of devel.opment of Indian phenomenon, without taking into capitalist enterprises. Given the pros-
society as a whole, and its class align- consideration the structural elfccts of pects of its disseiution, realistically
ments and contradictions, as an the colonial tr ansformation itself on grounded in the actual experience of
example of peripheral capitalist deve- Indian society and the conseouences of capitalist development as it was taking
lopment in general. that tran4formaltion oni the structure place, the problem of the subsumption
There was a pervasive belief in cf social relations of production that of petty commodity production under
classical Marxism that despite the were brought into being thereby and capital was not a major theoretical
destructive and exploitative character the consequences of those changes for issue and it has received scant attention.
of colonial capitalism, it would, never- oui analysis of the contemporary Indian As far as the peasantry is concerned,
theless, fulfil a regenerative riole for scciety and its development. Ly pro- Lenin too predicted (in his early work)
colonised societies, breaking down the ceeding in that manner the fact is a polarisation of the rural population
old pre-capitalist social order, gene- ignored that unlike India, Russia was into a rural bourgeoisie, the kulaks,
rating new social forces, and setting in not a colonised social formation, and and the rural proletariat, and therefore
motion the dynamics (and the contra- that propositions formulated in the the problem of subsumption of peasant
dictions) of capitalist accumulation Russian case cannot be simply t.rans- production under capital also went by
and development in the colony. Marx'sposed to the Indian, or any similar default. In later years Lenin recognis-
comments on 'The Future Results of case, without an explicit examination ed and emphasised the problem of the
British Rule in India' are well known. of the structural changes brought 'middle peasant' as a major problem in
That optimistic perspective was carried about under the impact Af colonial the context of post-revolutionary deve-
forward in Lenin's vision of the capital. In the context of the present lopments. But by that time he did not
'countries of the East', where too, as debate we need to consider specifically elaborate his statements about such
in Russia itself, the bourgeois-demo- how -social relations of production in issues theoretically, as he had done in
cratic revolution was on the agenda. Indian society were altered in the his earlier years. Given the fact that
The main tradition of Marxist thouht course of the colonial transformation, we can no longer work on the assump-
about development of countries such and whether in that light we can tion of a rapid disappearance of the
as India is grounded in Lenin's in- meaningfully speak of 'feudalism' in peasantry with the development of
fluential writings on the development Tndian agriculture which only now is capitalism, and given its size and
c,f capitalism in Russia. believed to be giving way to capitalist weight in our contemporary societies
In the Russian case, Lenin recganis- social relations of production, by virtue w-e must confront the theoretical pro-

475

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Annual Number March 1981 ECONOMIC AND POLITICAL WEEKLY
blem that is posed in this context. portion of wage labourers, a fact that pulsion; (2) the economic surplus is
In recent years these isstues have did not fit easily with her definition privately appropriated by someone
preoccupied contemporary Marxists of the rural society of the time as other than the direct producer; (3) pro-
especially those who are concerned 'feudal'. To be fair, these initial perty in the means of production
with countries such as some in Africa characterisations were, in the course of
remains in the hands of the direct
which are predominantly small nxasant the debate, elaborated and clarified. {In
producer. In the capitalist mode of
societies (althouigh kulak farming is particular, it was pointed out by vari- production the economic surplus is also
developing in them too). The main- ous participants that the critical condi- subject to private appropriaticn but,
stream of ideas that has developed on tion for the capitalist mode was the as distinct from feudalism', ownership
the subject tends to view those Deasant existence not merely of 'wage labour' of the means of production is severed
societies as still pre-capitalist, 'conserv- but of 'free labour'. But it was not from ownership of labour power; it is
ed' by capital, rather than transformed then explained why the labour of thethat [which] permits the translation of
by it - a notion that militates against sharecroppers was not in fact 'free labour power into a commodity, and
the idea of an irrecqncilable contradic- labour', and if it was not free labour, with this the birth of the wage rela-
tion between capital arid pre-capitalist how and in what way was it 'unfree'. tion" (loc cit). We shall see in the
modes of production that is fundamen- At least one participant, Ashok Rudra, light of a definition that we can derive
tal to a historical materialist concep- decided to cut the Gordian knot by from Marx's treatment of the capitalist
tion of social development. The abandoning altogether the notion of mode of production in Capital that
developments are seen rather in func- mode of production. He decided in- Laclau's definition, while spccifying
tionalist and voluntarist terms whereby stead to work with the concepts of some levels of determination of the
there is a 'conservation-dissolution' (a relations of production', which he felt respective modes of production, is,
self contradictory conception?) of the was sufficient for his purposes. This however, incomplete; and it can lend
pre-capitalist inodes by capital which begs question about the way in which itself to an empiricist interpretation of
'subordinates' them in order to make social relations of production are the notion of 'relations of production'
them subserve its own purposes. Such understood, and structural determina- as a relationship betveen two indivi-
a conception begs large questions which tions that underlie 'class relations'. duals, obscuring the structural matrix
we need to examine. Our present in which individuals are located. To
The difficulty stems in no small
object is to consider these questions in proceed further it may be best to
measure from the fact that Marx does
the light of the structural specificity of outline the structural conditions of the
not provide a concise and precise defini-
colonial social formations. We wiJl feudal and capitalist modes of oroduc-
tion of the concept 'mode of produc-
proceed to do so by examining basic tion. The concepts as they emerge
tion', although he alludes to it in his
concepts that we employ in this analy-
writings. In our attempt to clarify that from an analysis of the argument in
sis and then go on to consider the
concept, the only reliable methodologi- Capital can be set out as in Table;
nature of the colonial transformation and I have further indicated the points
cal procedure that seems to be open
and its structural implications. at which the structure of peripheral
is to start with the recognition that
capitalism can be distinguished from
although Marx did not offer a definition
BASIC CONCEPTS: MODES OF that of metropolitan capitalism.
of the concept the whole of his monu-
PRODUCTION
mental work, Capital, is devoted pre- The structural conditions that we
Much of the debate in this area has cisely to a rigorous analysis of the have identified above constitute a com-
been vitiated by misunderstandings capitalist mode of production. We can plex unity; they are interdependent.
about some basic concepts. In the therefore derive the concept from In conceptualising economic or politi-
debate on the mode of production in Marx's analysis in Capital. cal 'instances' or 'sub-systems' in
Indian agriculture participants have It may be convenient to begin withsociety, they are all too often thought
often proceeded as if there were zlear- an examination of the way in which ot either as empirically separable enti-
ly agreed definitions of concepts -o .Laclau deals with the concept in his ties or, in a structuralist conception,
that there has been little attempt to well known critique of Frank.2 "We each a separate structure having deter-
define them systematicallv. In general therefore designate as a mode of pro- minate relationships with the other
the notion of social relations cf pro- duction the logically and mutually co- structures. This can be quite mislead-
duction has been understood as a ordinated articulation of: (1) a deter- ing. The econonic 'instance', for
bilateral relationship, thus ignoring the mninate type of ownership of means ofexample, cannot be thought of without
question of the structural bases of such production; (2) a determinate form of its basis in particular forms of property
relationships. Sharecropping has been appropriation of the economic surplus; and the latter in turn entails particular
understood to signify a 'feudal' rela- (3) a determinate degree of develop- structures of power and ideologies that
tionship and wage labour as 'capitalist'. ment of the division of labour; (4) a sustain them. There is therefore a
Indeed, the initial problem confronted determinate level of development of simultaneous detcrmination of the
by Utsa Patnaik arose preciseiy because productive forces."3 In specifying the whole structure and none of the in-
she relied on such concepts. To prove feudal and the capitalist modcs of pro- stances, that we identify analytically,
that there has been, in recent years, a duction, which Laclau proceeds to do, actually exist prior to, or independently
decisive movement towards capitalism he limits himself only to the first two of the others.
in Indian agriculture, her problem, of these four conditions. "The feudal To avoid some possible sources of
paradoxically, was to prove that what mode of production is one in which confusion, it is equally essential to re-
went before was in fact 'feudal'; it was the productive process operates accord- cognise that the concepts of 'social for-
a problem because she had to explain ing to the following pattern: (1) the eco- mation' and 'mode of production' are
the structural basis of the existence, in nomic surplus is produced by a labour each concepts of a quite different order.
the earlier period, of a very large pro- force subject to extra-economic com- A mode of production defines the struc-

4-i 6

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ECONOMIC AND POLITICAL WEEKLY Annual Number March 1981

TABLE: S1RUCTURAL CONDITONS OF VARIoUs MoDs OF PRODUCON in the case of peripheral capitalism it
must include, relationships that extend
Feudal Mode of Production Capitalist Mode of Peripheral beyond the confines of the particular
(FMIP) Production Capitalism social formation. In the case of colo-
(CMP) nised societies the external nexus is
(1) Unfree labour; direct 'Free' labour: (1) free of As in CMP not at the level of trade alone (and trade
producer in possession of fe lal obligations (2) of peripheral social formations itself
mneans of production (land di ossessed -- separa- expresses a relationshin of subordina-
etc) tiokn of the producer from
tion to imperialism that shapes its pat-
means of production.
tern). Rather the crucial link is through
(2) Extra-economic compul- Economic 'coercion' of As in CMP
the domination of the economies of the
Sion for extraction of the dispossessed producer.
surplus. peripheral social formations by metro-
politan capital that has a 'structural
(3) Localised structure of Separation of eco.nomic Specific presence' in them. Their structures
power; the fusion of eco- (class) power from politi- colonial
nomic and political power cal (state) power; creation structure cannot be understood without taking
at the point of production of bourgeois state and into account their link with imperial-
- a necessary condition bourgeois law. ism. Their structures transcend their
of coercive extraction of societal boundaries.
the surplus.

(4) Self-sufficient localised Generalised commodity Specific STRUCTURAL DIFFERENCES


economy supplemented production (produiction colonial
The main structural difference bet-
by simple circulation of primarily for sale; labour struicture
commodities. power itself a commodity). ween capitalism in colonial societies
and in non-colonised societies will be
(5) Simple reproduction Extended reproduction of
found in the last two conditions th.at I
where surplus is largely capital and rise in orga- Specific
consumed. nic comnposition of ca- colonial have listed above, namely, (a) general-
pital. structure ised commodity production, and (b)
extended reproduction of capital. In
the case of the first of these, the mnajor
ture of social relations of production; of productiono. It could be arguLed
impact of colonial capital on pre-capita-
it is an analytical concept. The con- that condition 3 that is made explicit
list societies, in the course of their
cept of 'social formation'. on the other in our formulation, namely the localisa-
transformation into peripheral capitalist
hand, is a descriptive term. It denotas tion of the structure of power in FMP societies, was to break down their local
an actual andl specific societal entity, as against the separation of economic
self-sufficiency and to generate in them
with all its particularities, products of and political power, and the creation of
production intendied for sale, both
past developments and structuration a bourgeois state, bourgeois law and
locally and in international markets. By
and restructuration, results of accident juiridical equality in CMP, on which
the same token, it drew these societies
and design and all historical legacies capitalist property is based, is implied in
into the ambit of colonial trade, as
of the past and potentialities for the the Laclau formiiulatioin. But that still
markets for metropolitan production.
future. As such it refers to a parti- leaves us with the crucial conditions
This is generalised commodity produc-
c-ilar, geographically bounded and his- of generalised commodity producti on tion - but generalised comm- oditI-y
torically given societal entitv with and extended reproduction of capital,
production with specific characteristics
given resources and given forms of eco- that distinguish CMP from FMP, which
that distinguishcs it from that in metro-
nomic and political organisation and are not to be founrd either in Laclau's
politan societies. This differcnce con-
cultural features. Social and economic for-mulation or in others that are current
stitutes one of the elements of the
relations exist not merely within social These conditions are central to Marx's
structural specificity of peripheral
formations but also between them, analysis of the two modes of prod uc-
capitalism In non-colonised metro-
such as the relationships estanlished by tion and the difference in the respec-
politan countries genieralised commo-
colonial capital. As a concept of struc- tive dynamics of their development. It
dity prod\uction was an 'integrated' pro-
ture of relationships, the concept of is also precisely in these two respects
cess of developmenit, in induistry as well
'mode of production' does not and in that we find that the structure of peri-
as in agriculture and, especially, in the
the case of peripheral social formations, pheral capitalism is different from that
case of the fornmer, the production of
indeed cannot, exclude such relation- of metropolitan capitalism.
capital goods as well as consumers'
ships. It is a common misconception to goods. That was not the case in peri-
We can now consider what is mis- think of 'modes of production' as if pheral capitalism, which broulght about
sing in Laclau's definition of modes of the concept denotes elements within a disarticulated form of generalised
production. They cover cnly the first social formations. This confusion is commodity production, as contrasted
two of the structural conditions that understandable for the concept has with the integrated form in metropoli-
we have derived from a reading of been used in analvses oL non-colonised tan capitalism. It must be emphasised
Capital, namely (a) in the feudal mode social formations (such as that of Rus- that by this distinction we dc not mean
the unfree labour and extra-economic sia) in their transition from feudalism autarchic development. The point is
compulsion in the extraction of surplus to capitalism, where both have been about the character of production in
from direct producers wvho possess the regarded as structures that are inter- different branches of metropolitan eco-
.means of production: and (b) in the nal to the social formation. But, as nomies and those of peripheral capita-
.,pitalist mode, free labour anda separa-
concept of structure it is not a list societies that makes the latter
t)n of the producer from the means bounded entity. It may include, and dependent on its links with the metro-

477

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ECONOMIC AND POLITICAL WEEKLY Anmual Number March 1981

politan economies. The circuit of gene- two conditions we arrive at a static fic features of the latter that result at
ralised commodity production in peri- conception of structure, whereas the the end of that process of transfor-
pheral capitalist societies is not inter- project of historical materialism ainms at mation. In looking at the process of
nally complete, as in the case of metro- illuminating underlying processes and change itself we can identify broadly
politan capitalism. For them that dynamics of change. In the one-sided two kinds of processes each of which
circuit is completed only by virtue of polemic against Gunder Frank his raises particular theoretical issues
their links with the metropolitan eco- critics lose sight of the fact that it is that we must try to clarify. One is
nomy, by production for exports and only with capitalism that the produc- the case where the pre-capitalist
as markets for colonial imports. The tion of commodities becomes the direct society in question is a highly strati-
structural condition of generalised com- and immediate objective of all pro-duc- fied 'feudal' society such as that of
rmodity production in peripheral capital- tion; and that generalised commodity medieval India or Latifundia in Latin
isml is satisfied only by virtue of the production (which concept includes the America, with large landowning mag-
link with the metropolis. transformation of labour power itself nates. I will state my arguments here
The same can be said about the nro- into a commodity) is a necessary con- w-ith brief illustrative references tc
cess of extended reproduction of capi- dition and consequence of capitalist the Indian case which I have examined
tal. In the metropolitan economies, development. Likewise, the condition more fully elsewhere.` But the analy'sis
surplus value that is generated con- of 'simple reproduction' under pre- can be extended to other such cases.
tributes to capital accumulation in capitalist modes of production and 'ex- The other type of case is tbaL of sub-
them. On the other hand, the extrac- tended reproduction of Capital' in CMP sumption under capital of pre-capitalist
tion of surplus value from peripheral differentiate the latter's capacity for societies of smnall peasants that
capitalist societies by metropolitan -rowth of forces of production, as com- predominate in many African coiun-
capital results in corresponding accu- pared with the relative stagnation of tries but are not absent in India or
mulation of capital and rise in organic pre-capitalist societies. Latin America, by any means.

composition of capital not in the eco- Evidence about the form of village
TRAN-srITox TO PERIPHERAL
nomy that generates the surplus value organisation in medieval India is
but in the metropolitan economv tha. CAPITALISM
conflicting and Ino doubt there were
appropriates it. Here again, the struc- When capitalism begins to emerge considerable regional differences. In
tural condition that determines the in a social formation or, as in the case northern India a hierarchy of zamin-
(peripheral) capitalist structure is com- ot societies that weit subordinated to dars within the framework of the
pleted only by virtue of the link of colonial capital, penetrates it from 'absolutist state' of the Moghuls lived
the peripheral capitalist society with outside, there is a period during which off the surplus extracted from unfree
the metropolis. In the light of the two modes of production exist peasants. The term zamindar refers to
the distinct ways in which these side by side, in mutual contradiction, lords of varying rank and power. Nurul
two crucial conditions are fLulfilled in which is resolved by the ultimate Hasan offers a simplified classification
the two cases, we would suggest that triumph of capitalist mode of produc- of zamindars in the Moghul empire
while recognlising both as capitalist, for tion, by virtue of the transformation into three broad categories: (1) auto-
they both fulfil the conditions of CMP; of the pre-capitalist modes and the nomous chieftains; (2) 'intermediary'
as I have shown, the structure of peri- subsumption of the processes of pIo- zamindars; and (3) 'primary' zamin-
pheral capitalism and the dynamics of duction (and reproduction) that exist- aars, the last being the village
its development are, by virtue of these ed in that sphere under capital. That zamindar.5 It is this last category that
differences, quite distinct from those of is a historical process whose course i;: of crucial interest for us.
metropolitani capitalism. and duration is determined by the The zamindar at the village level
Finally, we might consider t-he con- particular characteristics and condi- was the kiingpin of the whole system.
sequences of leaving out the two struc- tions of existence of the pre-capitalist It was he who, in the first instance,
tural conditions that we have identified, mode and the manner of the impact directly controlled the peasant and his
which are usually ignored in concep- of capital. lt is not, however, a pro- labour and forcibly extracted the sur-
tualising mocles of production, on the cess that unfolds purely at the eco- plus from him. "The zamindars en-
basis of which we have been able to niomic level. In the class struiggle joyed the right to restraini the tenan
make a distinction between the struc- that accompanies that process of from leaving their lands and to com-
ture of peripheral capitalisnm and that transformation, force plays a part and, pel them to cultivate all arable land
of metropolitan capitalism. One of especially in the case of the subordi- held by them."6 As Irfan -Hn'abib also
nation of peripheral social f-ormations,
thiese I have referred to above; namely, points out, the zamindars had the
the danger of an empiricist reading of the colonial State plays a crucial role. right to bring fugitive peasants back
the conceot of 'social rel2tions of pro- Here we are concerned not with the by force. These are all characteristics
ducticn' as relations between two sets variety of ways in which that process of the feudal mode of production.
of individuals or classes, independently has unfolded in different parts of the Here was a localised structure of
of the overall matrix in whiclh they are wcrld but with the common charac- power, exercised directlv over the
located. This can happen when using te ristics of the structure of peripherai peasant, the foundation on which
categories such as ownership or non- capitalism that eventually takes shape stood the elaborate hierarchy of power
ownership of property, free or coerced as a result. of the Moghul empire, a pattern not
labour, or simple categories such as jin the schema of the structtural dissimilar to that of the absolutist
wage labour as contrasted with share- characteristics of the feudal and the state in Europe. Likewise, nroduction
cropping or labour services. Another capitalist modes of production and was localised, for the village society
consequence of no small importance is those of peripheral capitalism sketched was self-sufficient, with its own inter-
that without the specification of these oUt above, I have indicated the speci- nal division of labour. Land revenue

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ECONOiMIC AND POLITICAL WEEKLY Annual Number March 1981

was paid in cash and for that purpose colonial state. Economic compulsion as the change in social relations of
the peasant cultivated cash crops that was substituted for direct political production, discussed above, has been
sustained a flourishing, and parasitical, compulsion to draw a surplus from ignored. Nevertheless, there is a dif-
urban society. But this was by no 'free' labour. The first three of the ference between the two situations that
means a case of 'generalised commo- five structural conditions of the capi- needs to be clarified theoretically. The
dity production'. rhe surpltus drawn talist mode of production were realised difference is best understood in the
off in the form of land revenue was by that restructuring of the social light of a distinction that Marx made
largely consumed; a case of 'simple relations of production. between 'formal subsumption of labour
reproduction' rather than 'extended The process of development of a under capital' and 'real subsumption
reproduction of capital'. peripheral capitalist economy was a of labour under capital'.8 He writes
loryger one. Indian cotton and silk that formal subsumption of labour
Colonial conquest not only displac-
textile industries (based on domestic under capital 'is the general form of
ed the crumbling power of the Moghul
production) as well as other industries cvery capitalist process of production',
empire and set up the colonial state.
were destroyed. With the development for it refers essentially to the restruc-
It also transformed the structure of
of railways and a general improvement turation of social relations of produc-
power at the local level, concomitantly
in the means of transport and com- tion under capital. The 'formal sub-
with the creation of 'bourgeois landed
munication, Indian agriculture was sumption of labour under capital' does
pr operty' whereby land becamne the
progressively turned towards the pro- not by itself imply a funDdamental
property of the zamindar, dispossessing
ductioon of crops for the metropolitan modification in the real nature of the
the cultivator. Whereas before the
markets, especially cotton, jute and labour process, the actual process of
change, the peasant sharecropper was
unfree and the surplus was extracted
indigo; some crops such as tea were production. On the contrary, capital
produced on colonial plantations. subsumes the labour process as it
from him by the zamindar by virtue
Elsewhere, peasants prodtuced food finds it, that is to say, it takes over an
of the jurisdiction and coercive force
crops as cash crops, not only to feed existing labour process. By contrast,
that he directly exercised over him,
the towns that were bases for colonial with the 'real subsumption of labour
now it was to be on a new basis. The
trade but also peasants in other areas under capital' the labour process is
'petty sovereignties' of the zamindars
who had turned to the p)roduction of (continually) transformed, concomitant-
were abolished under the new colonial
export crops. Thus the old pattern of ly with rise in Organic composition of
dispensation that separated political
localised production wvas broken and capital, the consequence of extended
power, now vested in the colonial
production of commodities for an r eproduction of capital. The formal
state, from the economic power of the
international market as well as an ex- subsumption of labour under capital
zamindars. The latter who were land-
panding domestic market was taken (the change in social relations of pro-
lords were now landowners. On the
in hand. Likewise, with the progressive ciuction) is "the premise and precondi-
surface, their relationships with their
destruction of local manufacturing tion of its real subsumption.. And
sharecroppers do not appear to he very
production, a market was established real subsumption begins only when
different from what they were before.
for imnports from the metropolis. There capital sums of a certain nmagnitude
An empiricist reading of history could
was a movement therefore to generalis- have directly taken over control of
easily lead one to suppose that this
ed commodity production. But, as *vas production". The formal subsurmption
was unchanged. But the basis of that
said earlier, this was a form of -,ene- .of labour under capital refers fo the
relationship was fundamentally altered.
ralised commodity production that transformation of the social relations
The peasant was now legally free to
was specific to peripheral capitzlism, of production whereas real subsump-
leave his zamindar. But being dispos-
the circuit of commoditv circulation tion, to the "deepening ef capital",
sessed, he could have no access to the
heing completed via the link with the which follows in the wake of extend-
means of his livelihood without turni-
mnetropolis, through exports and im- ed reproduction of capital and capital
ing to the landowner for whom he now
ports. The surplus extracted by colonial accumulation, with the process of
worked out of economic compulsion,
capital, likewise, created a form of capitaiist development.
'freely'. The peasant was now trapped,
as a seller of labour power, by his dis- extended reproduction of capital which This pair of concepts illuminate, as
possession. From now on his demand was generated in the colony but ac- MIarx describes them, two ohases in
was to be that for security of tenure cumulated in the metropolis. Thus all the historical developrrent of capi-
five conditions that we have stated
rather than freedom to leave the lord. talism in England, with the bourgeois
We can therefore conclude that as a were realised, but in a form that is revolution in the 17th century, and
consequence of a series of changes specific to the structuire of peripheral that which followed after the indus-
implemented by the colonial State in capitalism. trial revolution of the late 18th cen-
the decades after the conquest of tury. If the logic of those who
THE INDIAN DEBATE associate the development of capitalism
India, social relations of production in
Indian agriculture were transformed. In the debates about development in Indian agriculture with large
The pre-colonial feudal structure was of cacitalism in Indian agriculture to scale investments in farm mechanisa-
dissolved, the peasants were separated which we refer the various protagonists tion were to be extended to the
from their means of production and have regarded sharecropping for historical example of England, it would
livelihood, land, which now became landowners, on the basis of largely be the latter moment, namely that of
bourgeois landed property in the hands unchanged techniques, to be 'feudal'. the industrial revolution of the late
of landowners who ceased to be land- Capitalism in agriculture is identified l8th century, which would have to be
lords, their localised structures of in that view with large scale invest- the moment of the bourgeois revolu-
power having been dissolved and in- ments in farm mechanisation in recent tion, and not the 17th century as was
corporated into the structure of the decades. This is mnisconceived in so far the case; and we would have recognis-

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ECONOMIC AND POLITICAL WEEKLY Annual Number March 1981

ed only one of the two stages of that economy and capitalist production will colonial capital. The formula of
development. As in England, in India prevail. These types are the rural conrservation-dissolution has passed
too, we can see two phases of capitalist bourgeoisie (chiefly petty bourgeoisie) common currency especially amcngst
transformation; first a formal subsump- and the rural proletariat.9 Much those who are mainly concerned with
tion of labour under capital and, more later, esDeciallv in post-revolutionar7 predominantly peasant societies, whose
recently, a marked movement towards Russia, Lenin recognised instead, subsumption under capital has pre-
real subsumption. and indeed emphasised, the very sented a new and unresolved problem
While the argument has been large weight of the so-called for Marxist theory (for which capitalist
presented here with reference to 'middle oeasants' in Russian society relations of productiop- are premised
India, a case of direct colonial rule, it which showed few signs of disappear- on the separation of the producer from
can be extended to other peripheral ing as a consequence of a sharp polari- the means of production). Meillassoux
capitalist societies wiere parallel sation between the ruiral bourgeoisie represents such a view when, referring
developments can be identified. In and the rural proletariat that he had to labour migration between what he
Latin America, for etample, where anticipated two decades earlier. He characterises as the 'capitalist sector' of
initially pre-canitalist colonial empires now spoke instead of "the more com- the colonised society and the 'rural
were established b/ the Iberian plicated problem [which] has come to one', he writes: "Because oA this pro-
powers, a movemrrent towards formal the fore - our attitude towards the cess of absorption [of migrant labourl
-subsumption of labotr under capital middle peasants"W0 (emphasis in the within the capitalist economy, the agri.
can be recognised -ollowing indepen- original). But having recognised the cultural communities maintained as
dence in the 19th century, at the same problem, Lenin did not proceed to reserves of cheap labour, are being
time as these councries came increas- elaborate on the theoretical issues that both undermined and Derpetuated at
ingly under the (indirect, economic) underlay his fresh perspectives on the the same time" (emphasis added).';'
domination of Bri:ish imperialism. The peasant question. It was left to suc- This formula obscures the underlying
newly independent States, under in- ceeding generations of Marxists to theoretical problenm that I have referred
dlirect colonial dJmination, soon be,gan take up. to, rather than help towards its clarifi-
to undertake measures that dissolved An influential line of thought that
cation. We can profitably return to
pre-capitalist social relations, and has emierged amongst contemporary Lenin for insights into the problem.
established iastitutional structures In his earlier analysis of the manner
Marxists is that which views the persis-
necessary for peripheral capitalism. tence of peasant production in colon- in which the rise of capitalism was
New classes emerged. The pace and ised societies as a case of 'conserva- causing 'disintegration of the peasantry'
the manner of peripheral capitalist Lenin did identify two aspects of the
tion-dissolution' of pre-capitalist modes
transformatifn has varied in accord- process which provide leads into the
of production by colonial capital which,
ance wit local specificities and itself, is sometimes viewed as an problem and illuminate contemporary
conditions But the end result, struc- external entity rather than integral processes too that are in being in peri-
turally, has been the same, both for structural component of the colonised pheral capitalist societies. He recog-
countrie, that have experienced direct society. Thus Bettelheim writes: nised, first, the effects of the impact
colonia7 rule and those that have ex- "Inside social formations in which of capitalism in breaking down the
perien(ed indirect colonialism. capitalist mode of production is not self-sufficiency of the peasant economy
Tht second major problem concern- directly predo-minant, that is social and dIrawing them increasingly into
ing. he restructuration of pre-capitalist formations that are capitalist social the circuit of generalised commodity
Soceties, in the course of their transi- formations because they are subordi- production generated by the capitalist
tikn to peripheral capitalism, is that of nated to the capitalist mode of produc- economy and, secondly, on the increas-
Kjxbsumption of peasant production tion through the world marKet (but in ing migration of peasants who, as a
inder capital. This is a problem that which other modes of production pre- consequence of disintegration -f the
has not been confronted explicitly by dominate), the main tendency is not peasant economy, had to look for out-
classical Marxism, which has visualised to dissolution of thc non-capitalist side employment to supplement the
dissolution of petty commodity pro- mode of production but to their bankrupt farm economy and to sub-
duction as a consequence of the cen- conservationi-dissolution. The predomi- sidise the livelihood of those depended
tralising tendency of capitalist produc- nance of this tendency is doubtless on it.

tion; although even in the urban and connected with a group of determining Amongst contemporary writers, Bern-
manufacturing economies of advanced factors producpd by the 'external' stein has fruitfully explored theoretical
capitalist countries such forms of domination of capitalism..."." The issues concerning the impact of capital
production continue, subsumed under relationship that is expressed here by on the peasantry, entailing 'The Des-
capital. With regard to the peasantry Bettelheitn is that which Mark visua- truction of Natural Economy' and the
the issue is of far greater significance. lises in the case of the global expan- 'Process of Commoditisation'.11 He
Lenin reiterated the classical view sion of pre-colonial merchants' capital.12
underlines two problems, namely (1)
when, writing at the turn cf the cen- It is quite indefensible in the case of that of "investigating the relations o'
tury about the disintegration of the penetration and domination of coloni.,- simple commodity producers (the
Russian peasantry, he wrote: "The ed economies under imperialism, and peasantry) with various forms of capi-
old peasantry is not only differentiat- the introduction in them, consequently, tal in varying concrete conditions" and
ing; it is being completely dissolved, both of new social relations of produc- (2) "the internal differentiation of
it is ceasing to exist, it is being ousted tion, in the form of colonial enterprises simple commodity producers (towards
by absolutely new types cf rural in- in plantations, mining and colonial capitalist farmers and wage workers)"
habitants - the types that are the basis manufactures, and also the subsump- Bernstein adds: "We have bhen -it pains
of a society in which commodity tion of peasant production under to emphasise that the latter 'classic

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ECONOMIC AND POLITICAL WEEKLY Annual Number March 1981

model' is a special case of the first set subsumption under colonial capital. a phenomenon known to rural
of relations and not its sole or necessary is that whereas previously they were sociology as the 'agriculturalisation'
form of development" (emphasis able to realise the conditions of their of the peasant. Commenting on simi-
added). One would agree with his reproduction, they were no longe.r lar processes in Europe, Kautsky, in
conclusion that "peasants have to be able to do so after their transforma- his celebrated work, "The Agrarian
located in their relations with capital tion by coloniial capital, except on the Question", noted: "In this way the pea-
and the state, in other words, within basis of the new structural condi- sant was finally forced to become
capitalist relations of production tions of the colonial capitalist econo- what today we understand by peasant
mediated through forms of household my: as sellers of labour power, or of - a pure agriculturist."116 The com-
production which are a site of a commodities in which their power is bined effects of State action in put-
struggle for effective possession and embodied, and also as markets for ting an end to traditional forms of

control between the producers and colonial production. Their new modes access to land (making land 'bour-

capital/state (emphasis added). Em-


of functioning are fundamentally dif- ,geois landed property', a term that
pirically, the processes of subsumption ferent from their previous, pre-capi- Marx used in the context of Britain),
talist modes. They can no longer imposition of fiscal burdens and the
of the peasantry under capital are
examined with clarity by Cliffe,15 reproduce themselves except within destruction of peasant manufacturing,

although he operatc s within the analyti- the integument of capital, under both creating a new need for the
cal framework of 'articulation' of modes which they are subsumed. The peasant to carni cash, were all cleci-
of production, the 'pre-capitalist' with
Banttustans in South Africa, for exam- sive in putting an end to the ability
the (colonial) capitalist modc. One
ple, are an integral part of the South of the pre-capitalist modes of produc-
might argue that his data and analysis
African capitalist economy, structually tion to reproduce themselves. The
involved in the process of capitalist peasant was now firmly located in the
point strongly, nevertheless, in the
production, as reproducers of labour structure of peripheral capitalism; the
d.irection of the argument that, in the
power. They are new creations and peasant economy and society were no
aftermath of the impact of colonial
not simply survivals of a pre-capitalist longer pre-capitalist. To describe
capital and the transformation that
past that are 'conserved' as such, to them as such, albeit as 'conserved-
follows, the peasant economies have
subserve capitalism. Rather, it is dissolved', obscures questions about the
ceased to be 'pre-capitalist'. While
precisely by virtue of the dissolution manner of transformation of these
some old forms may persist, their
of their pre-capitalist basis that they societies aind their future dynamics of
underlying structural basis is trans-
fulfil such a role, having little alter- development.
formed.
native but to serve as reservoirs of If the peasantry continues to exist
cheap labour power for the enterprises (though in its radically restructured
CONDrrIONS OF REPRODUCIION
that draw on them for that purpose.
form under peripheral capitalism) un-
The concept of a mode of production That is a mark of the specific structure like the urban petty commodity pro-
includes not only structural conditions of peripheral capitalism, and the loca- ducer who tends to disappear more
of production specific to it but also tion in them of peasant economies. rapidly (though not entirely), the
conditions of its reproduction. ln the
The destruction of conditions of re- reasons are to be found in the nature
analysis of the capitalist modce of pro-
production of pre-capitalist societies is of the peasant economy itself, rather
duction the conditions of 'necessary
achieved by peripheral capitalism in a than in a voluntarist conception of
labour time' that determine limits to
variety of ways, including, especially, the intentions and purposes ot
the degree of exploitation of labour,
State action designed specifically for that capitalism. This is too large a subiect
in order to ensure the reproduction of to discuss in the present context.17
purpose. One of these is the imposi-
labour power and, likewise, the con-
tion of taxes, for wlhich the peasant is But one or two points need to be
cepts of 'constant capital' and 'extend-
forced to realise a cash income and made. Firstly, the crucial factor that
ed reproduction of capital', that relate therefore to engage himself, in one distinguishes the two cases concerns
to coniditions which ensure reproduc- form or another, in activities that the difference in the way in which
tion of capital, are conditions of re- relate to the working of peripheral each category secures a basic mnini-
production of the capitalist mode of caoitalism. A critical factor consists mum of subsistence. In the case of
production, which include also the of State imposed changes in conditions the urban petty commodity produicer,
existence an(i functioning of the of access to land. Pre-capitalist his commodities must be sold on the
capitalist state and ancillary institu- societies have procedures that regulate market before he can buy commodi-
tions of the capitalist social order. The access to land and productive resources ties that he needs for his subsistence.
existence (and conception) of such so that new families are set up as In the case of the peasant his food
conditions of reproduction of a mode of viable economic units as well as social and shelter are secured up to a point
production does not by any mneans ones. Under peripheral capitalism- without havina to valorise his produc-
imply that in specifying them we at all and the authoritv of its state, such tion through the malrket; except for
suggest that they implicate a notion of procedures are modified and abolished taxes, rents and such dues, he can
perpetuation of that mode of produc- so that the previous procedures of re- postpone cash requirements by put-
ticn. The same must be said of pre- production of the peasant community ting of consumption of commodities
capitalist modes of production which, no longer obtain. Land that can be for which he must depend upon out-
as such, can exist only so long as the designated as 'unappropriated' is side sources. Therefore he has a
conditions of their reproduction are brought under state control depriv- much greater degree of resilience.
realised. ing local communities of traditionall, Secondly, in so far as the pauperisa-
The decisive feature of the trans- established access to such lands. tion of the peasantry under peripheraL
formation of ore-capitalist peasant There is also, concomitantly, a capitalism forces his kinsfolk to mig-
societies, as a conseouence of their rate for outside
destrucetion of peasant manufacturing -- jobs, the money so

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Ann'tal Number March 1981 ECONOMIC AND POLITICAL WEEKLY

earned helps the bankrupt farm eco- predominate in some countries, but see Chapter 16, 'Relative and Ab-
noiny to survive the ravages of capi- are by no means absent from the solute Surplus Value'.
talism for a longer time. Thirdly, in 9 V I Lenin, "Development of C'api-
others, our analysis suggests a shift
talism in Russia", p 174.
agriculture itself, the rise of large- of perspective, locating them within 10 V I Lenin, "Report on Work in
scale farming depends upon a prior the structure of peripheral capitalism the Countryside' for the 8th Con-
disposession of the peasant whose in terms of which the dynamics of gress of the RCP(B), March 1919.
lands may be taken over by agribusi- their development may, more profit- 11 Charles Bettelheim, 'Theoretical
Comments' in Appendix I to Argiri
ness. Given the resilience of the poor ably, be viewed.
Emmanuel, "Unequal Exchange"
peasant to survive on his bit of land, London, 1972, pp 297-8.
supplemented possibly by outside em- Notes 12 Karl Marx "Capital", Vol I1,
ployment, this is necessarily a slow Moscow, 1971. pp 321-37.
1 For a list of contributions to the 1 2 Claude Meillassotix, 'From Repro-
and difficult process for capital to debate see, Hamza Alavi, 'India duction to Produc-tion', Economy
take over from the peasant. More- and the Colonial Mode of Pro- and Society, Vol I, No 1, February
over, large-scale agriculture must duction', EPW, Special Number, 1972, p 103.
have a conitiguouLs block of land. August 1975. 14 Henry Bernstein, 'Notes on Capi-
That again imnposes special conditions 2 Ernesto Laclau, 'Feudalism and tal aind Peasantry', Review of
that are not easy to fulfil. This can Capitalism in Latin America', Afr icant Political Economy, No 10,
New Left Review, No 67, May- Sept-Dec, 1977.
be seen in the marked contrast with 15 Lionel Cliffe, 'Rural Class Forma-
June 1971.
the tendency towards a rapid concen- tioin in East Africa', Jourtnal of
3 Ibitd, p 33. Peasantt Studies, Vol 4, No 2,
tration of industrial production. The
4 See Hamza Alavi, 'India: Transi- January 1977.
rise of large-scale industry is not
tion from Feudalism to Colonial 16 Karl Kautsky, Die Agrarirage;
predicated on the prior destruction of Capitalism', joumnal of Contempo- 'Summary of Selected Parts', trans-
urban petty commodity producers. On rary Asia, Vol 10, No 4, 1980. lated by j Banajee, Economy and
the contrary, it rises independently of 5 Irfax Habib, "The Agrarian System Society, Vol 5, No 1, F'ebruary
thenm and having done so, turns on of Moghul India", London, 1963; 1976, p 4.
and Nurul Hasan, 'The Position of 17 See Teodor Shanin, 'Defining Pea-
them the powerful thrust of its
Zamindars in the Moghul Empire', sants: Conceptualisations and
competitive power, putting them out Deconceptualisations - Old and
Itndian. Economic and Social His-
of business, on to the labour market. torU Review, Vol 1, No 4, 1964. New in a Marxist Debate', Peasant
The peasant by contrast is able to 6 Hasan, op cit. Stutdies, Vol 8, No 4, (Fall, 1979);
7 For an account, see, Hamza Alavi, Eric Wolf, "Peasants", (Engle-
survive a little longer because of the
op cit. wood Cliffs, 1966, Boguslaw
logic of his own economic situation. Galeski, "Basic Concepts in Rural
8 Karl Marx, "Capital", Vol I,
But this is not because capital 'wills London, 1976; pp 1019 ff; also Sociology", Manchester. 1972.
it so. On the contrary, the forces of
canitalism tend towards his pauperisa-
tion. The peasant may not disappear
World Trade in 1980
overnight. But the conditions of his
existence are being progressively THIE growth in the volumne of world cent in 1979 to about 1 per cent in
undermined. T hat is an aspect of the 1980, primarily as a result of develop-
trade sloweld markedly in 1980, owing
dyynamics of peripheral capitalist largely to a decline in the movement of ments in manufactturing and petroleum
development. petroleum, according to a first asses- production. The increase in world
Large questions about class forma- ment of international trade during the maniufacturing outiput was down from 5
tion and class alignments as well as year prepared by the General Agree- per cent in 1979 to about 1 per
the dynamics of development of ment on Tariffs and Trade (GATT). cenit in 1980, owing to a slight
peripheral capitalist societies follow ab)solute decline in manufacturing out-
While on a year-to-year basis trade
from this analysis. One broad con- put of the industrial countries, where
voluime still increased 1 per cent in
output had increased by 5 per cent in
clusion that can be stated is that the 1980, this compared with an increase
'bourgeois revolution' in these socie-
1979. World production of petroleum,
of 6 per cent in 1979. The pronounced which had risen by 4 per cent in 1979,
ties was accoinplished by metropolitan slowing down of the growth in the
czapitalism, and these societies are declined by 4 per cent in 1980, with
volutme of world trade in 1980 re- production in the oil exporting develop-
already on the road of capitalist deve- filected largely the mnovement of petro-
lopment. But it is capitalist develop- ing countries declining by 12 per cent.
leuim, which, after an increase of 3.5 Elsewhere, petroleum production in-
nment of a specific character that per cent in 1979, declined by about 10
distingliishes it from that in metro- creased by 3.5 per cent, only slightly
per cent in 1980. Moreover, growth in less than in 1979.
politan societies -- one that does not the volume of world trade in manufac-
allow forces of production in these The value of total exports by the oil
tutres slowed down from 5.5 per cent exporting developing countries rose by
societies to grow rapidly as in clas-
in 1979 to 3 per cent in 1980. As for more than 40 per cent in 1980, reach-
sical capitalism. Furthermore in cases
agricultural exports, preliminary GATT ing nearly $ 300 billion, as a strong
that are analogous to the Indian case
indications suggest that the growth in increase in the price of petroleum far
where we find three 'fundamental'
the volume of world exports also de- outweighed a decline in the volume of
classes, they are all located in the
celerated - to about 4 per cent, com- exports. The oil exporting develop-
same mode of production and they
pared with 7 per cent in 1979. Exclud- ing countries' share in world crude
do not stand in irreconcilable contra-
ing petroleum, the volume of world oil production declined further in
diction vis-a-vis each other. Their
trade expanded by 4 per cent in 1980. 1980 reaching 44 per cent, com-
common ground provides them with
a basis of mutual class alliances. With The growth in world production (ex- pared with 47 per cent in 1979 and
regard to peasant societies which cluding services) declined from 4 per 53 per cent in 1973.

ARS

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