The Sociology of Exploitation, a prologue
Comandante Pablo Contreras (Pablo González Casanova)
⏳ 16 minutes
The Sociology of Exploitation (1969), by Comandante Pablo Contreras
THIS BOOK CONTAINS some essays to study different forms of exploitation perpetrated by some people against others. The order in which they are published is precisely the opposite of the order in which they were written (first and second parts). A reader eager to follow the process of investigation will have to read the last essay first, and so on until she reaches the first; a reader who doubts about the possibilities of a scientific investigation of exploitation, trained or prone by some circumstance to empiricism and the operationalization of scientific concepts, should begin with the first.
The book is written primarily for students from Latin America, and from those countries that have adopted the false empiricist rigor so closely associated with the predominant social sciences in the United States today. It is also written for those who are stuck in the slogans and pompous words of orthodox and dogmatic Marxism, renouncing the great traditions that Marxism itself has of high-level scientific research, always complementing and accompanying militant research. These essays have some more distant antecedents, which constitute the leitmotiv of the research: the interplay of the different forms of exploitation of human by human, of classes and colonialism.
The essay on "Internal colonialism" – published years ago – has been slightly corrected. The essay on "The development of capitalism in colonial countries" is the final version of an old draft of 1959, intended for a book that remained unpublished, written when the Third World still existed.
From this last essay we set out on a simultaneous exploration and attempt to go deeper into problems whose solutions seemed to us too ambiguous and forced. At the same time we tried to master and expropriate some basic techniques of empiricist research, which proved to be particularly useful when we saw how set theory itself, with mathematical formulas that were too elementary to be precise in some historical problems, in the manner an intelligence separate from our own and that ours would never have been able to specify. In this we saw the usefulness and alienation that mathematics can have for the researcher, and we foresaw the need for new generations of researchers to have an even deeper preparation in history and mathematics, with the certainty that the latter are nothing more than a symbolic instrument so useful and significant that only historical and political knowledge can demonstrate its meaning.
IN REREADING THIS TEXT,
for a new edition, I experienced several temptations that lack of time prevented me from implementing before. My first impulse was to remove the list of mathematical formulas that appeared at the beginning of the edition and that served more to intimidate Marxists than to remove from empiricists the argument that critical thinking is incapable of specifying its theses with mathematical models.
I have taken care of that – with benevolent sympathy from the editors – so that in this new edition, the intimidating list of mathematical equations no longer appears at the beginning or at the end. What I did not manage to do was to prepare an expanded text that would include, along with the sociology of exploitation, the sociology of liberation.
I hope that my purpose does not remain a project, for such an outcome will make it possible to read and understand the original text more thoroughly. Let me explain. The Sociology of Exploitation is not an eclectic text.
Its main theoretical and methodological purpose is to contextualize Marx's famous formula s/v in a set integrated by several significant subsets in order to understand its behavior, and the advantageous or disadvantageous way in which the relation of exploitation works for the owners of the means of production, and for the workers.
The Sociology of Exploitation also seeks to show how the owners, or capitalists, who dominate the system have a greater margin of freedom than at first sight they appear to have, when the transfers of surplus they acquire – plunder – from colonial or subjugated regions to imperialist and metropolitan ones are not contemplated.
Here, the original attack of the book was against Marxist determinists, who were already announcing the fall and death of the system, as if it were not going to "react". It was also against the "dependentistas", advocates of dependency theory, who did not take into account in their arguments the law of value – and the necessary systemic exploitation that accompanies colonialism and economic dependence – and the law of value’s enormous importance it holds as a tool to fully explain what is happening in the periphery and the core of the world.
The contextualization of s/v in the different subsets of what would later be known as the "capitalist world-system" appeared linked to the alterations produced in it by different "factors" such as technology and social stratification.
Marx had already managed to incorporate them, and his successors specified their importance to a great extent. The appearance of sub-categories – such as "labor aristocracies" or "white-collar workers" – did not, however, capture the structural importance they had in the construction of a world-dialectic obstructed by the "bosses" and the "powerful". This would only become visible later and with much resistance and difficulty.
Technology and productivity, stratification and vertical and horizontal social mobility were rather a reserve of knowledge of the conservative sociology of the system, which with "underdevelopment" wanted to explain the meaning of modernity and history, leaving capitalism as an implicit or explicit "constant". The contradictions that the new social formations entailed and the inevitable crisis of the capitalist system, without the advent of socialism being the necessary way out, were the subject of important studies by researchers of critical Marxist thought, some of them very close to the texts considered orthodox.
But neither they, nor Marx himself and other classics that accompanied and succeeded him, were able to link the analysis of s/v with the obstructed dialectic and its varied behaviors in the spaces of the world. The mathematics necessary to do so did not exist in his time. Marx's formula s/v already posed a complex relationship in several senses. It was an interactive relation, which was not only understood by registering the different factors and actors that altered its numerator or denominator, that is, its original dynamics and dialectics. It also changed according to different periods in time, and according to different peripheral and colonial regions – which, in the absence of historical experiences and appropriate instruments of analysis, classical Marxism could not include.
If the development of the natural sciences would be inconceivable without Newton's limitations, it is also inconceivable that of the social sciences of exploitation without Marx's boundaries. Capitalism, as a historical system with distinguished behaviors in space and time, took center stage only with the development of neocolonialism, which began in the 19th century itself and reached its maximum expression in the 20th century. The complexity of interactions with multiple variables and actors, whose relationships are changed by those between the subsets of the system, would be analyzed and considered in depth by later critical, reformist and revolutionary thought.
In analyses of considerable depth and accuracy, the new critical and militant thinkers showed little interest in problems that the mathematics of their time did not help to pinpoint.
Those who used them, in general, relegated them to an academic field in which the shift from qualitative to quantitative analysis of exploitation locked them into an academic world that was viewed with little sympathy and even distrust.
Using the new mathematics of complex systematics to think and act, rather than to calculate, seems today to be a necessary task in the analysis of exploitation and liberation.
It will allow us to discard meaningless debates and discussions, and to consider forgotten factors and actors without which it is impossible to understand the history, decadence and death of capitalism, and the possible creation of an alternative system.
The Sociology of Exploitation was edited and republished at a time when critical thought tended to hypertrophy the category of Power as the origin of all evils, at the expense of exploitation and class struggle, terms and concepts also stigmatized by the rising neoconservative thought.
Official Marxism could not respond to this strange coincidence of critical and neoconservative thinkers. The arbitrary and corrupted power of State-communism had made a dogma of lies regarding the actual existence of socialism, which was less and less socialism, and on the historical eve of returning to capitalism. Widespread corruption and primitive accumulation, at the expense of the State itself, had dissolved the famous socialist morality. The Marxist-Leninist language had become meaningless, and without power of persuasion, reflection and orientation of the struggles.
In the informal USSR, not only had the face of capitalism been emerging more and more, but also that of the old empire of the Tsar, which was remaking its internal colonies into its "nationalities", far removed from those first years after the October Revolution, when Soviet Russia was liberating and supporting them in their identity and economic, social and cultural development. Since the sixties of the 20th century, the USSR lived an accelerated process in which the loss of moral and intellectual consciousness made arbitrariness, dogmatism and totalitarianism the art of thinking, speaking and acting. The fall of the USSR seemed to confirm Lord Acton's statement that "power corrupts, and the more power the more it corrupts".
In that historical and intellectual environment, to fight against any power and against any manifestation of power in politics and daily life, in schools, hospitals, asylums, became the main and excluding objective to such an extent that it became impossible to think that apart from preventing totalitarianism in socialism with democracy, it was necessary to remember that to the problems of the domination of some classes by others were attached those of pauperization, marginalization and exclusion of the dominated classes. Bringing up these circumstances was unwelcome, or were heard with a contemptuous and respectful benevolence, and rather half-heartedly.
The Sociology of Exploitation attracted very little critical thought. Some of its categories were the object of harsh rejection by the most diverse currents of critical and dogmatic thought. There was little that could be done to get out of the hegemonic thinking of bureaucrats and neo-Marxist or dependency thinkers, and of the empiricists and structural functionalists who viewed them with sympathy, as a current with which one could have a word and which used their language.
The fact that in the Sociology of Exploitation the same deployment of these mathematical weapons appeared to go beyond dependentismo towards the law of value and to go beyond the dialectical epistemology which demanded to maintain the textual purity of the class struggle provoked an understandable misunderstanding.
In spite of this, in several Latin American schools something was done, more with the aim of legitimization in the face of the onslaught exerted by empiricism and structural-functionalism, or as a sign of respect for academic freedoms and their values – as in the case of Joseph Kahl – than as part of a research program that took into account the approaches of the book. Thanks to the professors of these schools, the book was reprinted once and reprinted more than ten times.
Curiously, there was one exception to the more or less general attitude. It was in the case of "internal colonialism", a category that was used in various parts of the world to do field research on the subject. But even the category of "internal colonialism" was subject to serious distortions by those who, believing to embrace it, promoted abstract categories and identities such as "indianidad".
Only years later, "internal colonialism" would be indirectly practiced in a struggle for the autonomy of indigenous peoples and cultures, which does not neglect either class struggle or the resistance against imperialism, but brings them from the wayside along the journey, reuniting their independent struggles with the foundational target: the capitalist mode of production.
The validity of the objective of contextualizing s/v seems unquestionably relevant today, not only because we see the rebirth of approaches that defensively projects ways to change the world without having the sufficient political leverage or evaluation, which in itself is so aberrant that it would seem a thought doomed to total oblivion, were it not for the fact that with more sophisticated arguments, there are very strong currents right now that postulate the same disarming aberrations!
The enrichment of mathematics with set theory and the modeling of complex, self-regulating, adaptive and creative systems makes it possible today to make use of its instruments with a specific objective: to control the analysis of the obstructed dialectic, to prevent anything significant from escaping either from the obfuscations and their brakes or from the dialectic and its disconnections.
Mathematics is thus useful to determine what is possible and impossible in a historical system such as capitalism rather than to link the qualitative and the quantitative, to check whether the analysis includes all the significant actors and variables and to think in terms of sets and subsets that alter the relations between them and within them. The possibilities and impossibilities in a system and its parts reveal absences of missing relationships that need to be included for comprehension and action. They also uncover leftover and inconsistent presences, which are made more precise with historical and political, theoretical and practical understanding, with the narrative and dialogue of shared and inherited experiences of struggles. The logic of dynamic and dialectical models forces to consider and specify neglected knowledge that seriously affect generalizations and explanations. Two fundamental examples serve to clarify the problem: one is the need to fight against the mediations of capitalism and, in addition, for the mediations of the alternative system, and the other corresponds to the need to consider an alternative that builds the universal protagonist united-in-diversity.
The construction of this protagonist from the exploited, the marginalized, the excluded, the trans-terrestrial implies that its members must respect and make others respect the most different ideologies, religions, cultures, civilizations, as well as the autonomies articulated in human groups, with their various identities and concepts of dignity and shame, all on the basis that they share and live the philosophy of universal respect that so many religious and secular humanisms have wanted to express, and that they take a firm unifying and comprehensive position in the struggle against a system that is driven by the maximization of wealth and profit, and also by a sense of domination and accumulation that, coming from a history of dispossession, has a strong sense of domination and accumulation, violent invasions and occupations, recurring to these when the accumulation expanded by production enters into a crisis of overproduction or underconsumption, and when the fall of the rate of profits does not cause the system to collapse by itself, as it becomes particularly aggressive and predatory, first against the poor and the weak, and then against its own members and supporting forces.
It then attacks the organized and white-collar workers, from whom it takes away previous rights, benefits and public and social services, and then attacks the rich and powerful groups in the center of a dominant bloc or in different blocs competing for control of markets, resources and strategic positions, in a struggle that today threatens the fate of the world, according to the most renowned experts.
To put an end to this system, and to create or build the foundations of an alternative one in which the values of autonomy, liberation and socialism take advantage of all the previous experiences of defeats and triumphs, is an essential task for the survival of the human species. As small as it may seem, the contribution of rigor in political and mathematical studies on the system and its alternatives, it is unquestionable that to its persuasive capacity it adds a precision that is necessary to achieve, and in his research Marx himself gave the first example.
It is true that mathematical formalizations at times seem to lead nowhere politically. But even when they are tedious to read, they help to specify the unequal character of exploitation and of the mediations of both class and liberation struggles. If nobody is going to be interested in applying them to the calculation of the rate of exploitation, nor is this possible without the mediation of money and the always approximate and underestimated calculation of the transfers of surplus, in any case it does contribute to confirm that exploitation subsists in the midst of all the entrepreneurial, institutional and regional, formal and informal variations.
They also help to clarify why the contradictions of capitalism occur as foreseen on the first page of the "Communist Manifesto" and not on the last. Recall that in the second paragraph of the first chapter it is stated that "the struggle of the oppressors and the oppressed... leads at every stage to the revolutionary transformation of every social regime or (underlined by us) to the extermination of both belligerent classes".
On the other hand, at the end of the last paragraph of the same chapter it is stated that "the death of the bourgeoisie and the triumph of the proletariat are equally inevitable". If the first affirmation corresponds more to the scientific argumentation of Marx and Engels based on their concept of the "contradictory relations" of class, the second proposition not only obeys the needs of a mobilizing proclamation that can effectively increase its probabilities of realization if it strengthens the will of the collective to whom it is addressed.
But it is also based on the concept of the natural sciences that at that time gave enormous weight to Newtonian mechanical determinism, a conception that intermittently appears in Marx and Engels alongside their great discovery of dialectical and interacting relations, which would be confirmed by the sciences for its complexity and non-linear generalizations.
With this in mind, the collapse of capitalism and also of those who benefit from this system of domination and accumulation will not automatically occur. Neither will inevitably occur the extermination of both belligerent classes, but rather in their form of oppression and exploitation. It is perfectly possible that the extermination of commodity-labor and capitalist exploitation only corresponds to the end of a social regime that opens another stage to a new regime of exploiters-exploited: to a cyber-slave, cyber-feudal and cyber-colonial mode of domination and accumulation. Of course that would occur after a colossal mega-genocide and eco-destruction, in the remote event that they can be controlled by the new Anglo-nazis who have taken the lead in this insane global conquest. In all seriousness, what is also possible is the triumph of the proletarians, of the colonized, of the excluded and the deregulated and unbridled citizens, together in struggle for the articulating regime of autonomy, liberation and socialism.
A proper analysis of the relations of exploitation can lead to a more precise analysis of the relations of liberation. For that, it will be necessary to go beyond the actors and factors of mediation at the service of the present mode of accumulation, into actors and creators of mediation for an alternative world and alternative mode to that of domination and accumulation.
To the essential struggle for the social restructuring of property will be added the inseparable struggle for the power of community, national, citizen, worker, and labor decision-making, as well as the pedagogical-moral, political problem of organizations of peoples, citizens and workers that are existentially committed to the fate of the excluded and the oppressed. The multitudinous organization of those who are determined to fight to the end will constitute a pressure group that, according to their circumstances, will and shall decide which are the routes to follow. In this field, science, consciousness and movement will have the words and the decisions of what is foreseen and what is uncertain.
I do not want to close this prologue without thanking Atilio Boron and his collaborators for their interest in the reprinting of this old book. My thanks also to Professor Miguel Ramírez Braulio, engineer Alethia Patricia Estrella Ruiz, Dr. Alejandro Álvarez Martínez, and student Raúl Romero Gallardo for having collaborated in the electronic edition of the text.
Mexico, April 2006.