Liberation Circle Summaries from Week 1 of D.A.T.T. Freedom School 2015 Summer Session:
The Storify for this topic’s tweet chat can be found HERE.
Summary of “Black Marxism” by Cedric J. Robinson – Chapter 1: Racial Capitalism – The Nonobjective Character of Capitalist Development
We see in the Cedric J. Robinson text (Chapter 1) that the development of capitalism was one that is not so separate from feudal Europe. The shift to more capitalist modes of production versus feudal modes of production was ushered in with the new bourgeoisie during the 11th century. They included merchants as well as serfs escaping their lordes. Through their consistent travel they found ways to maintain freedom from land. Into the 12th & 13th centuries we see more and more forms of capitalist modes of production, including the clothing business in Flanders. In essence, Europe first colonized herself, leading to dangerous consequences. As the bourgeoisie began to grow and expand their trade relations they also changed their relation to the land – e.g. in Italy & Italian colonies in the Mediterranean they began clearing out land (rapid deforestation that changed spring & fall flood seasons) for urban development, as they changed the ecology, there were environmental & health consequences. As trade centers developed & serfs rose in resistance against lordes, the bourgeoisie offered the “freedom from the land” just to re-enslave people through wage labor. Urban industry thus helped move people away from feudal modes of production. These industries created the bourgeoisie.
During this time (13th into the beginning of the 15th centuries) European slaves mainly served in domestic capacities but in some European nations slaves served in domestic capacities, worked on sugar plantations, and in the mines. This is seen as the basis upon which the larger Transatlantic Slave trade was built:
This variety of uses to which slaves were put illustrates clearly the degree to which medieval colonial slavery served as a model for Atlantic colonial slavery. Slave manpower had been employed in the Italian colonies in the Mediterranean for all the kinds of work it would be burdened with in the Atlantic colonies. The only important change was that the white victims of slavery were replaced by a much greater number of African Negroes, captured in raids or bought by traders. – “Black Marxism” by Cedric J. Robinson (Chapter 1, p.16)
The periodic famines, peasant & artisan rebellions, wars, and the Black Death intervened feudalism being completely replaced by capitalism during the 14th & 15th centuries production fell, populations in urban areas were cut in half in comparison to their populations in the 13th century, & long distance trade drastically declined.
The modern bourgeois where we see history books referring to as the rising middle class bourgeoisie who rose from the ashes of the devastating events during the 14th & 15th centuries managed to rise by taking advantages of the changing tides during those times. They expanded their mercantile trade beyond the Mediterranean into the Scania areas of the Atlantic. Hence, expanding trade to the south & west of the European peninsula for the purposes of merchant voyages & colonization. The bourgeois also managed to begin expanding bureaucratic state structures that politically protected their investments, directed market investments, & influenced what investments were encouraged & discouraged. By the 16th century the bourgeoisie the bureaucratic state expanded into administrative, regulatory, & extractive concerns. Here is where we see banks, loans, & monopolies become vital forms of state construction. Not only did the bourgeoisie of the 16th century expand with regards to economic & political power & regulation but also with regards to what Robinson calls the “monopoly of force” via employing mercenaries to control the masses.
Its important to keep in mind that the Roman Catholic Church’s Papal decree that created the conditions that birthed the Transatlantic Slave Trade was issued in 1455 by Pope Nicholas V & authorized Portugal to “attack, subjugate, and reduce to perpetual slavery all enemies of Christ along the West coast of Africa” (Fatal Invention by Dorothy Roberts, 2001, p. 6). The mechanisms of colonialism & capitalism were already happening in Europe & expanding with Columbus arriving to the Americas in 1492 & the Spanish Conquistadors arriving in Latin America in 1519.
The rise of modern nationalism did not come until the 19th century.
As a civilization of free and equal beings, Europe was as much a fiction in the nineteenth century (and later) as its very unity had been during the Merovingian and Carolingian eras. Both the church and the more powerful nobilities of the Holy Roman Empire and its predecessor had been the source of the illusion in those earlier periods. From the twelfth century forward, it was the bourgeoisie and the administrators of state power who initiated and nurtured myths of egalitarianism while seizing every occasion to divide peoples for the purpose of their domination. The carnage of wars and revolutions precipitated by the bourgeoisies of Europe to sanctify their masques was enormous. – “Black Marxism” by Cedric J. Robinson (Chapter 1, p.26)
It was here that the ideologies to perpetuate the exploitation required to perpetuate capitalism came to flourish. Eventually we start seeing ideology to explain any form of problem of capitalism away. This is where the Scientific Revolution fits in, the church is replaced as the ideological force of society. The mystical powers and desires of God were replaced with reductionist, empirical, & positivist measurements & objectivity. The scientific revolution is began in the 16th century, along with the expanding powers of the bureaucratic state in Europe and its colonies. This where we race is constructed as the major justification for domination, this was justified through essentialism (AKA naturalism, biological determinism, reductionism).
The development of bourgeois society has generated both a serious contradiction and a mode for coping with it. The contradiction is between the ideology of freedom and equality and the actual social dynamic that generates powerlessness and inequality. The mode of coping with that contradiction is a reductionist natural science that develops simple models of social or biological causation, providing fundamentally flawed explanations of social reality.
The contradiction appears in varied contexts: inequalities between social classes, races, the sexes, the appearance of social deviance. In each case a variant of reductionist, biological determinist theory has been constructed to deal in deal with a specific issue. Once the mode of explanation is set – “there’s a gene for it” – the program of research and theory follows for the entire range of individual and social phenomena from autism to the “zero-sum society”. – “Not in Our Genes” by Richard Lewontin, Steven Rose, & Leon Kamin (Chapter 4, pp. 80-81)
Hence, along with the rise of the bourgeois came the rise of the bureaucratic state & the ideologies to justify every social, political, economic, & scientific endeavor they would employ in order to make the maximum profit.
– This summary was written by Shay Ture (@Pundit_Academic)
Summary of Marx’s “Capital Volume 1”:
“The wealth of societies in which the capitalist mode of production prevails appears as an ‘immense collection of commodities’; the individual commodity appears as its elementary form. Our investigation therefore begins with the analysis of the commodity.”
– Capital, Vol. I, p. 125
Marx reasons that if two commodities exchange somewhat stably at some ratio, say x commodity A= y commodity B, then there must be some thing that they have in common in terms of they are equal. Aristotle could not understand what that thing was, and there the problem stood for two millenia.
But seventy five years before Marx, Adam Smith had already suggested that if in an hunter and gathering society, it could be observed that five beavers were being exchanged for one deer, it must be that it takes five times as long as long to hunt a deer as a single beaver. Say beaver hunters could get a deer with just three beavers or just three hours of labor, though it took five hours of hunting to capture a deer, on average. Then the deer hunters would stop hunting deer. They would just hunt beavers and exchange them for deer, rather than hunt deer themselves.
Ultimately everyone would be hunting beaver, and no one would hunt deer unless he could get a fair deal or the full value of a deer, which would be five beavers. So Adam Smith had already reasoned that exchange ratios would tend to become stable in terms of underlying labor time value at least in a “primitive” society. Marx thought that this was a rough approximation of what happened in and through exchange even in an industrial society.
It might seem like things are being exchanged but ultimately it is time, that abstract and palpable feature of our lives, that is being exchanged—your time for my time. Like Smith, Marx sees through things to time, through commodity objects to labor processes. Things are just frozen or, as he puts it, congealed bits of time expended in labor processes.
Look at things around you right now. Most of the objects were purchased as commodities, but before they emerged as commodities, they were brought into being through labor processes that took time. Often we forget that, and take the commodity object as a free-standing object. This is part of what Marx means by commodity fetishism.
Marx is also interested in why Adam Smith could solve the problem of what made commodities equal in exchange when the towering intellect Aristotle threw in the towel. Here Marx offers a sociology of discovery, i.e. a historical theory of the conditions in which it becomes possible to even think solutions to problems. Peoples in certain times and cultures may not even be able to think solutions to problems. Marx thought that because Aristotle lived in a slave society he could not understand that it was the equality of labor time that made the objects equal in exchange. Say the beavers were hunted by slaves, and the deer by freemen. Well if in exchange they were in fact being equated in terms of labor time, this would imply that the labor time of the slave was being counted the same as the labor of freemen. Aristotle could not see that this is what could be happening because it was impossible for him to entertain the idea that slaves could in any way be equal to freemen. Our modes of thinking and our sense of what is possible intellectually and practically are historically conditioned and limited. We are our children of our age.
So two exchanged objects are equal in terms of the thing that they have in common, the labor time required to procure them. This is roughly the labor theory of value. It is also important to note that while the exchanged objects are equal in value, they are dis-similar in terms of their use values. That is, they meet different needs. The beavers may be used for hats, the deer for meat. So commodities have exchange values (a deer exchanges for five beavers) and a use value (deer meat meets nutritional needs if you are not a vegetarian like me!)
The basic condition for an exchange to happen is that the commodities exchanged have to be different in their use values (if beavers had the same use value as deer, I would not exchange for them) but equal in their value (or otherwise I would not make the trade as long as I was not too desperate).
So you exchange to get the use value that you want but the exchange is conducted in terms of equal value.
Marx accepts this reasoning insofar it applies to objects produced as commodities by industrial labor processes. And this is where he begins his analysis.
*******Thanks to Rakesh Bhandari*******
– This summary was written by Daniel Gonzalez
Summary of “The Half Has Never Been Told” by Edward Baptiste – Chapter 1 – The Feet (1783-1810)
In this chapter Baptiste discusses the many journeys made by colonialists after the Revolutionary War in attempts to expand into the West and take more land from Native Americans. During this time many narratives of freedom were popular BUT colonialists realized that they couldn’t make a profit without slaves. The contradiction was even acknowledged by Governor Thomas Jefferson at the time. This chapter reveals how politicians and legislators were envisioning expansion into the new states in the West as along with their grappling with the contradictions of slavery & freedom. While the legislative organization that attempted to rise after the American Revolution in 1783 tried to get control over every state, it resulted in 13 different states with 13 different trade policies, currencies, & court systems. In 1787 delegates from the 13 states assembled in Philadelphia to attempt to build a stronger Federal Government (for the purpose of consolidating power to coerce the states, control the currency, and tax). By the end of the summer the US Constitution was created, “a plan for welding 13 states into one federal nation” (Baptiste 2014, 37). In one of the discussions during their creation of the constitution included the representation of slaves in the House, which resulted in the 3/5ths compromise.
The Three-Fifths Compromise affected not only the House, but also the presidency, since each state’s number of electoral votes was to be determined by adding two (for its senators) to its number of representatives in the House. One result was the South’s dominance of the presidency over the next seventy years. Four of the first five presidents would be Virginia slaveholders. Eight of the first dozen owned people. – (Baptiste 2014, 37)
Baptiste discusses the legislative decisions made about whether or not slave trade would continue. But politicians realized that the expansion of plantations could replace the lost trade relationships with England. So the South expanded slavery with the MAAFA & internal trade while the NE mad profits via transporting the commodities made through the growth of slavery.
In the 1790s we see continued colonial expansion of European settlers into the West. In attempts to get control of ‘unstable territories’ in the West, slave owners sent slaves & staff out to their land in the west (Baptiste makes specific reference to men moving their slaves from Pennsylvania to Kentucky). The traveling caused problems with whites who organized “negro clubs” to free enslaved people, this wasn’t fixed until the passing of the first comprehensive fugitive slave act in 1793. & it was during the 1790s that the cotton gin was created & slave owners began planting cotton in the Georgia-Carolina interior. This was also used as a means to sell acres of land in the south and the wealth generating capacity for slavery expanded (e.g. in the Yazoo (Alabama & Mississippi) where they claimed soil was so fertile it rived classical Greece. Enslaved Africans in Virginia & Maryland came to know of the “Georgia Man”, when one knew that they were sold to a Georgia Man, there was no coming back. No Black person came back from Georgia, so the chances of escape were even less. Its in this chapter that Baptiste reveals how slave labor was the engine behind the expansion of the colonial US, the growth & stabilization of its current federal government, and capitalist markets.
Summary of “The Half Has Never Been Told” by Edward Baptiste – Chapter 2: Heads (1791-1815)
In 1787, the Constitutional Convention had allowed the trade to go on. In the twenty years since, citizens of the new nation had dragged 100,000 more people from the African coast. Always, some fought. They clung to the doorposts of the dungeons and barracoons. They threw themselves in chained groups over the gunwales of the boats to drown together in the surf. They grabbed at the clubs the sailors used to beat them down onto the slave deck. They rushed the barricade when the crew let them out for exercise. Ten percent of Atlantic slave-trade voyages experienced major rebellions. But resistance almost always failed. Sailors fired grapeshot cannon into surging masses of desperate men and women in the midships. The scuppers ran with blood. The sharks ate. – Baptiste, 2014, Chapter 2, p. 67
In the early 1800s we see that the nationalism had begun and European colonialists went from being colonials to citizens thanks to the unification of the states under one federal government. Owner’s property rights drove decisions with regards to the lives of enslaved Africans that arrived in the US. Slavery became the endlessly expanding economy.
This meant that there was no numerical limit to the number of enslavers, or to the number of investors who would want to chase enslavement’s rewards. Only conscience, or the inability of the world’s investment markets to deploy enough savings, could impede the transfer of capital to slavery’s new frontiers. Baptiste, 2014, Chapter 2, p. 69
This is where many individuals were able to make the largest profits and gain access to wealth: slave trade. Baptiste points out that while many did point out that the slave trade needed to stop, it never did because making profits was more important than the lives of enslaved Africans & their descendants.
– This summary was written by Shay Ture (@Pundit_Academic)
Summary of Kwame Nkrumah’s “Neo-Colonialism, the Last Stage of Imperialism” (1965):
After deconstructing Neo-Colonialism, the Last Stage of Imperialism (1965, Nkrumah) through the lens of predatory capitalism (which we soon find is tautological in description), a common thread of disposability runs front and center through the reading.
Nkrumah introduces the concept of disposability on page 2 when he paints the foundations of an imperial satellite run remotely through “the imposition of a banking system” and prescribed “manufactured products to the exclusion of competing products” stateside.
Nkrumah cites South Vietnam and Algeria (my homeland) as prime examples of economically homogenized enclaves—stratified towards American market interests. An underpinning of the neo-colonial caste system is one, which has been ossified by capitalistic markets and thus rendered susceptible to competing markets of similar capitalistic inflection—virtually manifesting as an economic hot potato –among Western nations.
This paradigm is underscored by transference of economic dominion from the French to the Americans, under the auspice of voluntary and “free” market populism. The outgrowth of this illusive extortion is subsumed by co-dependency upon the transacting nation. While the transactional nature of this relationship involves two sovereign nations, the unilateral grip of America and its ability to manipulate markets, similar to those in central America through proxies like NAFTA and CAFTA demonstrate the tight purse strings tethered to “the trappings of international sovereignty” (p. 1).
Extrapolating Nkrumah’s framework for contemporary power relations in the field of publicly sanctioned education, one finds the “over-determination” of racialized economics that undercut the politics of student possibility in the form of agency. As the social contract of determination, fostered in the Horatio Alger crucible of “equalization” continues unfulfilled—it becomes largely evident that the same politics of economic co-dependency and disposability ring true. Under the reign of neocolonialism, political mechanisms extend far beyond those deprived of legal rights in the juvenile justice system—encompassing a much broader range of individual and groups subject to the “social process of exclusion” (p. 4). The homogenizing logic of neocolonial curriculum, centering Career Technical Education (as I’ve seen superimposed in our neighborhood schools of Oakland and San Francisco) emanates as an arrangement tantamount to Academic Imperialism. This curriculum of career-preparation (commonly referred to as CTE), disassociates the classroom experience from the sum of the accumulated experiences of black and brown students, and socially homogenizes opportunities post-graduation, effectively erasing cultural literacy –necessary to transmit a critical lens of history devoid of white jingoistic spin.
Education, as a technocracy is constituted by the relations between different enclaves of students. These students are bound by capitalistic structural forces and material conditions of colonialism—informed by a range of metrics that reinforce this co-dependent paradigm: From zero-tolerance discipline, to mass industrial testing. Foucault (1972) stated that “every education system is a political means of maintain or modifying the appropriation of discourse” that quells the legitimacy of organized resistance. In education, this seemingly neutral position crystallizes a market of Common Core logic that is normalized for cisgendered white patriarchy—thereby shaping the contours of our academic bell curves, mimicking the dominating castes of our larger macro-markets (e.g., hedge funders that subsidize textbook conglomerates). This mixed economy parallels that of “non-alignment” (p. 3), which Nkrumah explains is the economic nexus—congesting education as well as international trade into “consortiums”– when common interests centralize the wielding of political control.
– This summary was written by Arash Daneshzadeh (@A_Daneshzadeh)
How does modern economics constantly make excuses for capitalism?
The main theory that underlies capitalism is neoclassical economics. However since the 1900s labor movement the thinly armored Keynesian economists have arrived on the scene as a more “conscious capitalism”. However both theories are rooted in completely discounting the unfair treatment and commodification of labor itself. It doesn’t even factor the patterns of the firm or state towards labor. By default it is biased to allow them to be factored in most economic formulas as an objective arm or just a means of intervention for balance.
Some terms and people to be wary of when trying to understand our current economic state of affairs:
Keynes “Phillip’s Curve”
Was formulated to “prove” that low unemployment correlates with high inflation. Sparking the sentiment that higher wages means that the cost of “everything” will go up. He tried to suggest that the state “create aggregate demand” to offset this. Essentially invest in resources that create jobs as an example. This curve fell apart in the 70’s due to unemployment being at highs while inflation was also high.
Milton Friedman and Edmund Phelps
Post Keynesian economists were pushing for more government intervention with fair wages and investment but major push back came with these two economists. The created the ultimate bullshit [sorry that’s what it is] that is “Natural rate of unemployment”. This is the “accepted rate of unemployment”
they created and went on to also conspire that union wages are what really hurts the economy due to these wages being above the demand/supply curve. “Costing” the state and the firm and forcing inflation. They also were able to “prove” that unemployment wasn’t real. So instead of factoring it in their economic models [like Keynes], they decided to state that it “doesn’t exist” and that the unemployed are people who “don’t want to work”. They went on to win a Nobel Peace Prize for this.
Friedman was a major advisor to President Reagan, and he is a direct link to the Reaganomics we know of today.
– This summary was written by Alexis Hancock (@nappy_techie)
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