Monday, November 19

Putting Reparations on the Socialist Agenda

According to the International Monetary Fund(IMF), in 2006 the United States of America had a GDP of more than $13 trillion and thus ranking it as the largest national GDP in the world. GDP, or gross domestic product, is the value of all final goods and services from a nation in a given time period. Yet, this wealth is becoming gradually concentrated as yearly statistics show. According to State of Working America, in 2004, 12.7% of the population, 37 million persons, were considered poor. Not only is wealth in America unequally distributed, but poverty is as well also, with 30 percent of Blacks being poor, 20 percent of all Hispanics, but only 9 percent of Whites. How did America generate and continue to generate this vast amount of wealth and is there a connection between that process and it's disproportionate allocation?

Slavery and Primitive Accumulation of Capital

Primitive, or "original accumulation", refers to the initial process that led to a 'critical mass' of accumulation that enabled capital to be set in motion. It's a concept developed by Karl Marx to explain how the capitalist mode of production came into fruition. Marx says we must envision an accumulation of capital that was not a consequence of capitalist production but was the starting point of capitalist production. He called this "primitive accumulation of capital".

So what is this primitive or original/previous accumulation of capital? According to Marx it was the,

discovery of gold and silver in America, the extirpation, enslavement and entombment in mines of the indigenous population of that continent, the beginnings of the conquest and plunder of India, and the conversion of Africa into a preserve for the commercial hunting of blackskins, are all things which characterize the dawn of the era of capitalist production. These idyllic proceedings are the chief moments of primitive accumulation. [Marx 1977, p. 915]

Capitalist development was due to the brutal exploitation of Blacks and indigenous people as consumers and workers. African slaves were forced to perform free labor for almost 250 years. Karl Marx notes,

Direct slavery is just as much the pivot of bourgeois industry as machinery, credits, etc. Without slavery you have no cotton; without cotton you have no modern industry. It is slavery that has given the colonies their value; it is the colonies that have created world trade, and it is world trade that is the pre-condition of large-scale industry.
-The Poverty of Philosophy: A Reply to M. Proudhon’s Philosophy of Poverty, New York, International Publishers, n.d., pages 94-5.

This constant expropriation of surplus value, at a high rate of exploitation, was the driving force behind capitalist development, as well as the underdevelopment of Africa, Asia and Latin America. Where did the reproduction and growth needed for capital investment come from after the abolishment of slavery?

Abolition and Permanent Accumulation of Capital

After the abolishment of the slavery mode of production in the South, the United states still continued to generate wealth. Rosa Luxemburg proposes that the cause of this continual generation of wealth is due to what is called, permanent accumulation of capital. The difference between Marx and Luxemburg is that, for Marx, primitive accumulation is the starting point for capitalism proper, whereas for Luxemburg it is an ongoing process. Even after Black Americans were "freed", they still were subject to economic exploitation and political disenfranchisement. This was accomplished by the racist/capitalist state through, but not limited to, Black Codes, convict lease, peonage, Jim Crow laws as well as institutional racism. The rate of exploitation was higher for black workers than white workers, allowing capitalists to accrue higher profits from black workers than their white counter-parts. This discrepancy still occurs today, according to State of Workign America, "For every dollar of whites’ income, minorities receive only 56 cents. For every dollar of networth that whites control, minorities control only 27 cents."

A Call for Reparations

The National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America(NCOBRA) views reparations as a "process of repairing, healing and restoring a people injured because of their group identity and in violation of their fundamental human rights by governments or corporations. Those groups that have been injured have the right to obtain from the government or corporation responsible for the injuries that which they need to repair and heal themselves. In addition to being a demand for justice, it is a principle of international human rights law. As a remedy, it is similar to the remedy for damages in domestic law that holds a person responsible for injuries suffered by another when the infliction of the injury violates domestic law". Economist Larry Neal, estimates that unpaid net wages to blacks before emancipation amount to $1.4 trillion today. While, University of California at Berkeley calculated the gains of whites from labor market discrimination from 1929 to 1969 to total $1.6 trillion. In total, there are estimates that blacks are owed up to 10 trillion by the US government. Yet, through all of NCOBRA's legal routes and tribunals , blacks have yet to receive any compensation. Nor, is it for certain that the government ever will as history has shown in the promise of '40 acres and a mule'.

Revolution is the Solution

There is a direct correlation between the development of capitalism and the underdevelopment of Black America. The exploitation of blacks is the motor for the United States rapid accumulation of capital. The high rate of exploitation, combined with the expropriation of surplus value from black labor is not only the cause of America's vast amount of wealth, but also the reason why that wealth is disproportionately allocated. Therefore, it is in the best interest of the capitalist class to continue to accumulate profit through division of labor according to race. The legal route for reparations and the development of Black America is a dead end. The only solution is it's usage as a backbone of a political movement towards a socialist revolution.

In that sense, reparations for Africans and indigenous people must be included on the socialist agenda. The only way compensation and development will be achieved is through the destruction of the vary economic system and state apparatus that is the cause of the underdevelopment of Black America. One of the first tasks of a socialist society would not only to meet the basic needs of the people, but to develop historically oppressed communities. The socialist society will give preference to developing these areas not to recreate inequality, but to raise the standards of life for everyone in society. This task cannot be successfully done in a capitalist society, but only a post-revolutionary socialist one.


"Four hundred years the white man has had his foot-long knife in the black man's back - and now the white man starts to wiggle the knife out, maybe six inches! The black man's supposed to be grateful? Why, if the white man jerked the knife out, it's still going to leave a scar!"
-Malcolm X


Renegade Eye said...

This is a good compliment to this post. It deals with the major arguments against reparations.

blackstone said...

I know this is a rather lengthy post, but i thought it necessary in order to backtrack through history in order to argue the case for reparations and how it can be used to further a anarchist or socialist movement.

Guerrilla22 said...

I agree, blackstone. I recently was part of an in class debate on whether or not white skin privellege still exist in our society today. I argued on the basis of original accumulation.

The foundation of US,or rather anglo-american economic prosperity was built upon exploitation of slave and immigrant labor. this trend continues today, as US economic proserity is furthered through vehicles such as the WTO, GATT, NAFTA, ect.

Of course, Europe is just as guilty by years of colonial dominance and continued neo-colonial policies. No amount of reparations could possibly make up for these injustices, so to make some reparations would be the least those who have benefitted most from these exploitive policies could do.