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Capital Crimes: On Everyday Capitalism

The middle-class liberal theory only sees one side of the historical process, the peaceful competitiona nd exchange of goods..The other side of capital accumulation is the open violence, fraud, oppression and plundering.. The history of capital is marked by capital crimes..
CAPITAL CRIMES

On Everyday Capitalism

By Arno Klonne

[This text is an abridged introduction to the new book "Kapital-Verbrechen. Der Kriminalgeschichte des Kapitalismus" by Werner Biermann and Arno Klonne published in: SoZ (Sozialistische Zeitung), March 21, 2005 and translated from the German on the World Wide Web,  http://www.linksnet.de/artikel.php?id=1580.]


In a sentence reminiscent of Karl Marx, Rosa Luxemburg said the "historical career of capital" came "into the world full of blood and pain" and gradually gained acceptance in the world." The middle class-liberal theory only sees one side of the historical process, the "peaceful competition" and exchange of goods on the market and the equal right of property. The other side of capital accumulation is the "open violence, fraud, oppression and plundering." "Tracing the strict laws of the economic process" requires effort amid "this jumble of political acts of violence and tests of strength" of the colonial campaigns and wars. The violent criminal side of the history of capitalism according to Rosa Luxemburg appears where the capitalist mode of the economy destroys non-capitalist forms of production, expands its own sphere of power and when rival capital groups redistribute the worldwide spheres of interest.

This book does not aim at systematically summarizing the past and present capitalist world, the imperialism of the modern age. Older and recent studies are discussed. The theme of our book is not fascism as the extreme manifestation of criminal state policy where capitalist interests, racism and the belligerent quest for world power unite.

Instead this book describes the "very normal" criminality in the history of realizing capitalist conditions and industrial goods production from Europe's overseas expansion to the present, from the robbery of America's precious metals, piracy, the slave trade and the sugar plantations in the Caribbean or the destruction of India cotton producers as a prerequisite for the English textile industry, "modernization" of capitalism through assembly-line work to the intrigues around oil, the propellant of the modern economy, to the modern weapons industry.

The different facets in the criminal customs of capital are shown in examples. The analysis focuses on the desired objects of the capitalist economy: precious metals, sugar, cotton, oil, automobiles and military hardware. An historical sketch identifies the different developmental stages of capitalism. Thus the plundering of America's silver and gold treasures characterizes the phase of original accumulation with its very brutal campaigns against "non-Europeans" and "non-Christians." The history of sugar production is an example for the introduction of plantation economies, a novel method of commodity production efficient in capital's perspective and designed exclusively for export. The model of economic dependence between Europe as the center and the non-European world as the periphery formed at that time.

The plantation economies hearkened back to slave labor for which people in Africa were recruited. Both human commodities and colonial agricultural products were managed by trading capital that reached the height of its worldwide effect in the 17th and 18th centuries. Cotton could be seen as the raw material of the industrial revolution. Without it, the industrial course would probably have developed differently. The exclusion of India's textile imports from the English market created the prerequisites for a domestic industry. Import substitution, as this process is described in the economic literature, is recommended today to all aspiring countries as a tried and tested method for successful industrialization. However import substitution assumes political power. Oil is the propellant of the modern economy that began with the so-called Fordism. Assembly-line manufacture lowered production costs considerably so that higher wages were possible enabling workers to acquire the goods they produced, so-called durable consumer goods like automobiles. Mass production and consumption changed social and political scenarios in modern industrial societies and reinterpreted businesses to employers and workers to employees. Modern capitalism as a worldwide system cannot manage without military tools despite all the free enterprise propagandists. Weapons production is indispensable and very profitable for this system. A high degree of crime is common in all these examples. The history of capital is marked by capital crimes - not only as misdeeds of individuals but in the sense of "organized" criminality that has no regard for the human right of existence. Thus there is no reason for the complacency of a "system winner" in the world-historical process.

Thomas Dunning, an English shoemaker who organized the protests of his trade colleagues against the introduction of industrial manufacturing methods in northwest England around 1840 summed up his experiences as follows: "Capital has a horror of the absence of profit or very little profit. Capital is bold with its profit, 10% and it goes anywhere, 20% it becomes buoyant, 50% positively daredevil, for 100% it stamps its foot on all human laws and for 300% there is no crime not risked even at the threat of the gallows."

Striving for maximum profits seduces risky actions that may not always be illegal but includes brutalities as long as profit is happy. The history of capitalism provides massive evidence for this statement... Here is a brief chronological excerpt:

The penetration of an economic form with money relations was possible for a merchant class that reproduced itself economically through money capital. Robbery and plundering were common. Merchant capital appropriated farmers' profits. Merchant capital acted on a large scale on international platforms and participated as a financier in the crusades that can be seen as violent predatory attacks.

The mercantilist epoch of capitalism was marked by trade campaigns. The state participated in monopoly enterprises alongside private investors. The state supported these enterprises in commercial and military ways. The colonization of present-day Indonesia by the Dutch VOC (United East India campaign, headquarters in Amsterdam) is one example. The local producers were compelled through sheer force to hand over their products to trading companies at conditions dictated by them. To prevent a dramatic drop in prices, the Dutch traders did not hesitate to close production sites, cut down seasoning shrubs and thus took away the population's basis of existence.

Triangular trade: The transfer of feudal conditions in the new colonies from Spain to America did not prove to be future-friendly. The recruiting of workers through coercion was limited demographically. Trade with people as a commodity took its place. The use of slaves implied a re-orientation of economic strategies since purchasing human workers required investments gained through commercialization. Agricultural production had to be oriented to complete commercialization. A branch of luxury trade was offered that could be produced in moderate climatic zones unlike conventional spices: sugar. What is today a low-price everyday good was a product purchased by the gram in the late Middle Ages and in the early modern age. The plantation economy of sugar cane has a long tradition. This economy was practiced for centuries in the Far East. The islands of the Caribbean largely depopulated thanks to Spanish colonial policy offered an ideal new terrain. A new economic cycle took form here. Trading capital procured slaves in West Africa, shipped human commodities to the Caribbean and loaded the ships for the way back to Europe with sugar that was marketed from several centers like Liverpool and Bordeaux. Trading capital accumulated in businesses with the local slave-suppliers in Africa, in their sale in the Caribbean and finally in the marketing of sugar. The monopoly position guaranteed by the state was crucial for the business success.

The penetration of industry in pre-capitalist areas was accompanied by violence toward the local producers. The highland clearances in Scotland at the beginning of the 19th century were examples of social barbarism in the triumphant advance of industrial capitalism. The rapid rise of the English textile industry made new demands on the supply of employees. The preferred food was mutton. The additional need could not be covered from the traditional pastures. At the same time technical innovations encouraged the textile production of wool that was produced more inexpensively than by the European competition. For a long time the Scottish highlands offered fallow arable land. The transformation of property into pastureland was economically lucrative for the landowners. The tenant only had to be forced to leave the land. These tenants had no legal possibilities against expulsion since there were no written contracts. In 1765 the clearances began in Glengarry. The highlands were "cleared" in the next fifty years with the active help of the military. The British public did not take great note of these processes. Instead the national press celebrated the economic progress.

Up to the 60s of the 19th century, the railroad construction in the non-European world (e.g. North America and Russia) mainly served the expansion of the commodity economy. The rail systems built in Asia and Africa served imperialist goals almost exclusively, i.e. economic monopolization and political subjugation of the hinterlands like Russia, East Asia and central Asia railroad projects.

One basic rule of the capitalist economic mode is using human labor as a means for creating profit. The working relation severed from personal bonds makes the worker into a production factor in a process where money is transformed into multiplied money through goods production. Multiplied money represents the profit after deducting all costs. The height of the profit rate, that is the profit in relation to invested capital, is dependant on the conditions in production. This creates the pressure to lower wages and increase productivity. The asocial character of the capitalist mode of production is clear. Its humane face as in the era of the welfare state can only be the result of social conflicts.

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