Friday, December 29, 2017

Burawoy, Michael. 1984. “The Hidden Abode of Underdevelopment: Labor Process and the State in Zambia.”

Burawoy, Michael. 1984. “The Hidden Abode of Underdevelopment: Labor Process and the State in Zambia.” In Politics and Society and The Politics of Production.

Burawoy begins by explaining his premise: He is writing about what he calls the political apparatuses of industry. By this, he is referring to the ways in which the state regulates the relations between labor and capital (generally intervening on the side of capital). For example, they "enforce compulsory arbitration, outlaw strikes, detain leaders, monitor union organization, [and] impose wage freezes" (p. 124). He states that theories of underdevelopment neglect to consider this. So, that's what he's going to do.

He begins with a lit review, noting that early theories of underdevelopment blamed nations in the Global South for their own poverty due to "inappropriate values, the force of tradition, or the scarcity of capital" (p. 124). Dependency theorists like Andre Gunder Frank reacted against this, blaming colonizing nations for "plundering" their colonies (p. 124).

I must admit that I skipped the rest of the lit review because Burawoy writes about articles I have not read and it was simply too much effort to figure out what he meant by it. But he comes to the point on p. 127-128 that since the labor process is left out of these theories, then so are the struggles over the labor process, what he calls the "politics of production."

After reviewing all of the things that are not the point, Burawoy gets to the point: "I am developing here a notion of the state that focuses on the relationship between production politics and global politics.... We examine closely the functions of the colonial and postcolonial states as they are reflected in the relations between the apparatuses of the state and those of the economy, of industry, or of agriculture..." (p. 129). He names two forms of primitive accumulation the colonial state was after. First, get "direct producers" into the labor force so they work for wages for someone else (industrial capital). Second, merchant capital extracts the surplus from precapitalist production (farming, crafts, etc) and exports it. "Thus, the colonial state was not concerned with production per se but rather with orchestrating relations among modes of production leading to the capitalist mode" (p. 129-130).

Once everything is in place for capitalism, the purpose of the colonial state "disappears" (p. 130). At this point, a new form of the state takes over, marked by the granting of "formal political independence" which he calls a "symbol" of the transition (p. 130).

Burawoy then goes into a long explanation of Marxist theory. The question seems to be - what happens to precapitalist modes of production when capitalism comes along? Burawoy says that they don't go away, they are just "recreated and restructured in accordance with the needs of the dominant capitalist mode of production" (p. 132). The postcolonial state is concerned with the regulation of expanded reproduction, not primitive accumulation.

When primitive accumulation gives way to expanded reproduction, "alternative institutions," and not the colonial state, "take over its regulation" (p. 136). Even if the state has not declared independence yet, the colonial state drops out of the equation, at this point.

Writing of the operation of a Zambian mine under colonialism, Burawoy says, "I call this form of production politics colonial despotism. It is despotic because force prevails over consent. It is colonial because one racial group dominates through political, legal, and economic rights denied to the other" (p. 142).

Burawoy describes various phases in the Zambian mines. Initially, labor is recruited and workers are controlled in a "company state" using a compound system. All of the workers live in a company compound and their lives are controlled by the company both inside and outside of work. Mostly, the colonial state and the company state leave each other alone. In fact, they are working at cross purposes. The colonial state depends on migrant labor, whereas the mine is attempting to proletarianize a stable labor force. Burawoy explains that by proletarianization, he means cutting all ties to rural life. The company state uses force and coercion to control labor.

I find his description of what happened over time in the mine easy to understand, but the point he is making from it more difficult to draw out. He describes how, with independence, the mines go through a process of Zambianization, in which (in theory) senior positions formerly held by whites are given to Zambians. In reality, when this occurred, it occurred quickly and somewhat badly. Whites in senior positions were told to select and train Zambian replacements quickly. They often did not pick very qualified people, and they also did not teach them how to do the entire job. Instead, as the Zambians were given the whites' old jobs, new, even more senior jobs were given to the whites. Many of the responsibilities of the old jobs now held by Zambians were given to the whites in new positions, and the senior jobs Zambians now held were given smaller responsibilities. One mechanism by which whites kept power was by not sufficiently training Zambians nor selecting Zambians with proper qualifications to do the jobs, making it impossible for those Zambians to truly gain power. Burawoy says, "The devaluation of supervisory authority lay in the very process of Zambianization" (p. 150).

The use of force and coercion of colonial despotism went away, and the new Zambianized structure was weaker than the previous company state. Africans were now in unions, but the bureaucratic structure was rearranged so that centers of power were now higher up in the mine's organization, making it harder for unions to find leverage to have their demands met, and requiring them to use more drastic measures, like strikes. Buroway concludes that colonial despotism gave way to a weaker and more bureaucratic administrative apparatus for the mine. Workers gained more control (p. 152).

When faced with a strike, the postcolonial state tried to reassert the bygone colonial mode of production (by claiming that the workers were better disciplined before under the colonial production relations instead of recognizing that workers past were working under a more coercive regime - p. 157). He further concludes that the postcolonial state responded by aligning with the interests of capital more than the colonial state did (p. 158).

That all makes sense, but I don't see how it proves his point that by definition, a colonial state is engaged in primitive accumulation whereas a postcolonial state focuses on expanded reproduction. Nor do I see how he is proving his point that this is a universal phenomenon in all colonies and not just Zambia. Or even not just in British colonies in Africa, or in British colonies in general, since Great Britain tended to use similar methods of governing their colonies, and the colonial state in Zambia was therefore not entirely unique.

He states that "The distinctive function of the colonial state is to organize primitive accumulation so as to maximize the transfer of surplus to the metropolis" (p. 160-161). He continues, saying, "Merchant capital requires the colonized populations to produce for the market (for example, cocoa farmers in Ghana), whereas industrial capital requires proletarianization (for example, Southern Africa). The revenues of the colonial state emerge from and thereby reproduce the forms of primitive accumulation. The economic base of the colonial state is as weak as the surpluses it helps to generate - are inaccessible to it. It is a limited state that cannot afford the costs of extensive infrastructure and urbanization. And so there is a separation of powers between the company state and the colonial state" (p. 161).

Perhaps this is where his argument lies, that by definition, the colonial state is engaged in primitive accumulation, but expanded reproductive is inaccessible to it because it's busy transferring all of its surplus back to the metropolis (the colonizing power) and not keeping any at home with which to urbanize or build the infrastructure needed for expanded reproduction. He adds that the colonial state basically works itself out of a job when "capitalist relations of production become self-reproducing" (p. 161). It is at that moment that a new state, the postcolonial state, arises to serve the new needs of expanded reproduction.

Under the new form of organization, surpluses now transfer back to the metropolis via economic mechanisms instead of political ones (p. 162). With the company state now weaker - and I suppose this is where his analysis from above becomes relevant - the postcolonial state must insert itself into the equation or else the workers themselves will gain more control.

In Burawoy's words, "Under the colonial order the development of primitive accumulation led to the insulation of production apparatuses from state apparatuses and, as a consequence, the separation of industrial struggles from political struggles. Under the constraints of late development, expanded accumulation of capital led to the interpenetration of production apparatuses and state apparatuses and the rapid transformation of industrial struggles into political struggles against the state" (p. 163).

Toward the end, Burawoy points to the one obvious scholar who did connect the production process to colonization: Wallerstein. He finds that Wallerstein's analysis does not explain "how the various structures (labor process, production apparatuses, and state apparatuses) come into being and change over time" (p. 164). Then he gets in a good insult: "Synchronic functionalist teleology is no substitute for diachronic causal analysis" (p. 164). The causal mechanism, says Burawoy, is class struggle.

All in all, while I think I can regurgitate Burawoy's ideas in a simple form on my prelim exam, I don't fully understand what he's saying here, nor am I convinced he's right.

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