Wednesday, December 29, 2004

History and Class, 3


At the end of two decades of civil war disguised as anti-imperialist war, Venezuela had lost 1/3 of its population and almost all of its cocoa economy.

The dis-integrative configuration of the property relations between city and countryside were reproduced in the disintegration of Bolivar's vision of a regional, and continental, republic. In 1829, Paez led Venezuela out of Bolivar's Gran Colombia and into 130 years of government by caudillo, condemning the great liberator himself to the death sentence of exile.

Unable to introduce, impose, organize a fundamental change in the relations of production, the criollo elite opted for substitutes. Coffee substituted for cocoa. The caudillos, bumpkin Bonapartes with private armies, were given the proxy for the exercise of power; maintaining in that exercise order, property, and poverty, with occasional improvements of infrastructure.

Coffee production in Venezuela differed greatly from that of cocoa. First and foremost, production took place on smaller units, utilizing seasonal labor, share-cropping, wage workers. Without the yearly expense of supporting slave labor and with favorable prices, smaller farmers were able to increase their portion of the profits from coffee production. The plantation/slave economy withered.

However, without a developed infrastructure for transportation and communication, the necessary seasonal labor-power could only be obtained if the labor itself were tied to the land through subsistence agriculture. Capital again reproduced itself half-formed, or rather half-deformed, from the material of its own origin. Without the reciprocating demand, the historical need, for access to "free," detached, useless labor in the urban areas, the existence of capitalist relations between land and labor in the countryside could neither create nor satisfy a domestic market; could neither undo nor prevent further concentrations of the land in large, and unproductive, estates; could not reproduce that critical circuit in capitalist expansion where labor is appropriated through its expulsion from production, where labor power provides expanding value through its own relative and progressive diminution.

This "failure" of "development" was not at all the result of "surplus transfers" from the "periphery" to the "metropolis," not at all the result of the extraction of mineral resources, nor the result of the looting of indigenous cultures, nor the inevitable outcome of an economy for export. This was not an underdevelopment forced upon an emerging capitalism by European and North American competitors.

The criollo elite, at its best, dreamed of being a poor substitute for the industrial bourgeoisie. However, without the will, the power, the connection to production to revolutionize relations between land and labor, it was only at its worst, when immiserating almost all of the society, that the elite became truly bourgeois.

S. Artesian

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