Something Old…

Obsolete at Birth, Dead on Arrival

The Theory

1. Capital makes its contribution to human culture by repackaging its own mundane economic processes as the stuff of dreams. Accumulation creates the novel, conquest reappears as romance, and the market, the great realization of the extraction of value from socially necessary labor, dresses itself in flags and banners and dreams itself a nation.

Still, in its daily life, capital is a place and time of confusion,

deception, illusion, not dreams; a place of the here and now, the fast buck and no future. Objects, ideas, structures have meaning only to the extent that that they represent and extend the arena of exchange. Its place in history trumpeted by revolution, by a blood shed in common for the liberty of citizens, the nation emerges not as a common product of a people sharing a language, a territory, a color, but rather by those sharing a trade, a commerce, and a position in the world markets. The nation secures in the establishment of borders the universe of private property.

Economy is concentrated history; the organization and appropriation of

labor. All economic histories are histories of the changing relations

between city and countryside. The modern cities step forth as the permanent marketplace, the fixed formations for exchange, where every action, every deed, involves exchange for the articles necessary to sustain the prospects for tomorrow’s exchanges.

Exchange requires a medium to dissolve, absorb, measure and balance the

different articles of value, the different values of the articles. The

expansion and permanence of trade requires that all, clergy, noble,

commoner, submit their needs for the articles of value in the market to the need of the market-makers themselves, the merchants, for money.

Trade at its origins is never local, locality gains meaning only after the market develops to the point where it can convert distance to time. The permanent establishment of the trading place, the city, is the product of the itinerant essence of exchange, a displacement from immediacy in both territory and consumption, a transformation from landed property to property in motion. The emergence of the modern city, established in the separation of labor from land, separates production from use, ownership from blood,property from title and rank. At the same time, the enclosure and destruction of the common lands, separates property from collective, social, need.

A permanent, durable market, in its multiple and immediate transactions once established, provides in turn for the possibility, the necessity for the postponement, the delay of payment. In this, the conversion of time into delay, exchange into debt, the market realizes the positive authority of money in its negative form, not a realization, but a claim advanced regardless of realization. Debt attaches itself to the repositories of value and dissolves the attachments to any form, any mode outside the markets, outside exchange. Nothing exists that can’t be liquidated.

The historical significance of the French Revolution, its revolutionary

impact, isn’t established in the bourgeoisie’s loyalty or disloyalty to the poor, not in its declaration of rights, not in its speeches, its clubs, but in the actions of the Assembly, stripping property from the church, the aristocracy, turning that property into a value to be exchanged, to circulate in the markets– land turned to paper, the assignats, the paper a means to exchange the property, the value itself seemingly abstracted from any form of production, exchange existing solely for the satisfaction of accumulation.

There is no nation, no national question, separate and apart from this “land question.” The capitalization of land, its enclosure, expropriation,distribution, circulation provides the basis for the organization of labor as wage-labor and property as capital.

2. Profit extracted in production but realized in trade demands not only overthrow, conquest, liquidation, but also and equally, accommodation, alliance, reinforcement of the bonds common to private property. Capital’s existence as private property extinguishes the class’s ability to push forward, to reproduce its radical capitalization of agriculture. Faced with the “land question, the “nation” draws a blank. Free, that is to say detached, mobile, dispossessed, exchangeable, soil and labor are both and at once the promise of profit and the threat to private property. Preexisting

relations of landed property are absorbed and reconciled into the mechanisms for exchange.

The US Civil War represents the critical moment when capital is last capable of absorbing the land question within the national framework, within its call for “union.” This civil war is the final moment when the bourgeoisie’s organization of property can pretend to represent, embody, and ignore, the needs of all in its class specificity. The civil war is the last moment when capital can substitute the abstractions of “free labor” and “free soil” for the reality of the class struggle against the private appropriation of both soil and labor. No more acute and painful manifestation of this emerging

obsolescence exists than Sherman’s March to the Sea. His battalions of

foragers, called bummers, stripping the South of food and material, made the march to battle and the base for resupply one and the same, thus destroying the mode of production while confiscating the product itself. The future of slave holders’ rebellion was made evident by the Union Army in the proliferation of “Sherman’s Bow Ties,” lengths of rail stripped from Confederate railroad tracks, heated and twisted around tree trunks. And, at the same time, Sherman himself stands baffled, without comprehension, without program, for recruitment or organization of the thousands of displaced former slaves who followed his army, searching for some content to the word “emancipation.”

The content of the Civil War, emancipation itself, pushes itself forward with the adoption of the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments to the US Constitution and in the program of radical reconstruction. The amendments attempt to transform the Constitution from a compact among slave holders and radical reconstruction attempts to transform the union into a republic of small, free, property holders.

Radical reconstruction exists as part of the general expansion of the

capitalist footprint through the world markets, its confrontation with its own pre-configured landed property. It exists as part and parcel of the upsurge that sweeps through Spain, leading to the appointment of the liberal governor, de la Torre, for the Philippines; that abolishes, in name if not in kind, serfdom in Russia; that unleashes the Ten Year War, the first revolution, in Cuba; the overthrow and execution of Maximilien in Mexico; the upsurge of the Irish Rebellion (“No Priests in Politics” was one slogan).

The result is one and the same everywhere, if not all at once, in the world markets. The result is the reaction of capital against social

transformation, against the upheaval it pushes ahead and drags behind

itself. The result is enthronement of nation, trade, accommodation, against republic, emancipation, reconstruction. The needs of capital for free access to detached labor, runs up against the boundaries of its own making, private property. Emancipation and freedom have parted company. Emancipation clearly has become the emancipation and task of labor, while freedom is the preservation of the markets. Capital begins its long retreat. Emancipation passes from the mouth and pens of a Convention, a parliament, a Cortes, to the machete blades of Antonio Maceo’s Mambises, the bolos of the Katipunan, the bayonets of the Communards of Paris. Everywhere, if not all at once, capital calls for an end to the liberalization, the reform, the reconstruction, the commune, the revolution. Accommodation is the prophet. Restoration is the Moses. “Order!” its first and tenth commandment.

The nation as a vehicle for the advancement of relations between city and countryside has been eclipsed. The emancipation of land as value encounters the emancipation of labor from value. Capital abandons the former to prevent the latter. The “pre-national” colonial forms of landed property then become the living substance of advancing international capitalism. The abject poverty of the tenant farmer, the growing numbers of destitute migrant agricultural workers, the indenturing of the bulk of the population to the village, to agricultural production, are the negative measure of the progress and the development of capital.

Capital having no existence apart from its self-expansion, reproduces this impulse to a nation, to liberty, to this freedom of landed property, this detachment of labor, with every cycle, every unequal exchange in the world markets with its less developed partners, but it reproduces the impulse in its totality, in its failure, in its inadequacy, in its unreality. The whole history of capital is relived, but in fast forward. The impulse to reproduction, the expansion of capital necessarily demands access to labor, the reorganization of relations between city and countryside to free labor from its servitude to the land. The demands of private property throttle that impulse in its cradle. Behind the appearance of a struggle for “self-determination,” is the reality of the struggle between capital and

wage-labor for the social organization of production, for the overthrow or defense of private property. The nation, the dream of outposted capitalists, exists as a shared madness, the memory of something that never will be, the anticipation of something that never was.

The Practice– the Philippines

3. The Philippines were the death of Magellan. He had sighted the islands in 1521, landed, erected a cross and claimed them for Spain. After baptizing 800 Cebu warriors, Magellan joined the Cebus in a battle against the warriors of Lapu-Lapu. That was a mistake. Magellan was killed. Soon thereafter, the Cebus killed 27 Spaniards in a dispute over women. The Spanish decided to leave and continue their search for spices. That was no mistake.

Only one ship of the original five and 18 of the original 264 crew survived and returned to Spain. The one ship carried 26 tons of cloves (not from the Philippines) which sold for 41,000 ducats, a return of 105 percent on the original investment. That made the circumnavigation a financial success.

The islands were not formally established as a Spanish colony until 1565, with Manila its capital. Even then the colony was administered second hand from Mexico, and served as a warehouse and resupply point for the galleon trade between Canton and Acapulco.

Direct control of the islands rested with the monastic orders, Augustinians, Dominicans, Franciscans, Recollects, and Jesuits which converted the population to Catholicism and imposed religion, family, and landed property against the existing indigenous communal organization called the barangay.

The monastic orders ( designated the “friarocracy” by the Filipinos) founded parishes and estates throughout the colony. The Spanish used the existing distinctions in the barangay, chief, noble, freemen, to create the basis for a reorganization of landed property. After conversion to Catholicism, the chiefs and the nobles were converted into a landed oligarchy, called principales, through the destruction of the barangay and awarding of large,private estates.

The cities in the Philippines, as is the case with the major cities

throughout the colonial systems, functioned as administrative centers rather than the base for a developing home market. Thus, internally, demand for the capitalization of agriculture was suppressed.

The international expansion of capital in the early 19th century brought about the collapse of the galleon trade, and the independence of Mexico. Spain was forced to administer the islands directly. To pay for that administration, the Philippines were made free trading areas. British and US merchant fleets entered Manila. Philippine agriculture was transformed. But the organization of the property relations was not. The estates, organized as value in property rather than production, operated without the existence of a domestic market, had yielded only subsistence levels of agricultural products. The British and US traders wanted the commercial production of cash crops, tobacco, sugar, hemp, for the international markets.

In the countryside, the landed elite made the most of the transition, dispossessing tenant farmers, appropriating more land, concentrating more wealth. In the cities, trade produced those attendants to the demands of trade. Mestizos and Chinese mestizos advanced as merchants and professionals, brokering the exchanges between the advancing world market and the colonial organization of property. They were known as ilustrados.

The application of steam power to the merchant fleets and the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 had great impact on the Philippines. The foreign trade of the islands tripled between 1861 and 1870.

The expansion of international trade brought with itself growth of the

cities, greater demands for access to labor, and greater pressure upon the countryside, upon landed property to supply the domestic market with both detached labor and agricultural products, and export commodities. The island of Negros was settled and dedicated to the production of sugar. Internationally financed loans were arranged to facilitate the clearing, planting, and harvesting from vast tracts of land. Labor migration to Negros was encouraged, and finally, the application of steam power to sugar refining, transformed part of the landed oligarchy into sugar barons. Still, the preexisting organization of rural property was not transformed, it was extended.

The demands of international trade carried the mythic enlightenment of

Europe in its free exchanges with the islands. To the consternation of the friarocracy, the ilustrados found a voice in advancing proposals for secularization, reform, liberty of the press and assembly. The “national” flower did not bloom for long. Unable to attempt the reorganization of landed property, to articulate even a concept of relations between city and countryside, the ilustrados withdrew into silence and exile when Spain replaced the liberal governor with Rafael de Izquierdo who reimposed the dictatorship of the crucifix, the infallibility of the sword.

In 1872, after the Spanish crushed the desperate revolt of dockworkers in Cavite province, the ilustrados in exile formed the Propaganda Movement, designed to awaken the Spanish conscience to the plight of the Philippines. During the 1880s, Jose Rizal became its leading spokesman. The Propaganda Movement did not address the land question in its proposals. The Propaganda Movement never proposed a “national liberation” for the Philippines. In this, the ilustrados were the true and faithful offspring of the world markets.

Andres Bonifacio, an indio (native), organized the Katipunan in 1892. The Katipunan was a secret society dedicated to the overthrow of the Spanish rule. It’s ranks were filled by the rural landless and the urban poor. The Katipunan led the revolt against Spain in 1896.

Despite his nonviolence, his allegiance to Spain, and his opposition to the Katipunan, Rizal was executed by the Spanish governor at the start of the revolt.

The Katipunan were ill-trained, poorly armed, and defeated in battle with the Spanish troops. Except in Cavite province. There, the militancy of the workers joined with the Katipunan leadership of Emilio Aquinaldo and defeated the Spanish troops. Aquinaldo offered a program for independence from Spain, but that program did not speak of the dream of a Philippine nation founded on liberty and equality, but a Filipino Republic organized around the equitable distribution of land, the organization of the republic under the control of the poor for the benefit of all.

At the outset of the Spanish-American War, the commander of the US Pacific squadron, Dewey had sought out an alliance with Aquinaldo. However the close of the war saw the Spanish governor and Dewey agreeing on the timing and terms of a surrender designed to prevent the entrance of Aquinaldo’s insurgents into Manila.

So obstructed, the insurgent army retreated to the north of Manila to the city of Malolos where a constitution for the republic was written and approved by a revolutionary congress. On January 21, 1899, a government was organized, currency issued, a military established, and a comprehensive educational system through the university level was developed. The revolutionary government then turned to the land question. On February 4,1899, the United States began military operations against the Filipino revolution.

The resistance to the US was not limited to Luzon or the Tagalog speaking people. There was resistance in the Visayan Islands, Cebu, Bohol, and Mindanao. Only the sugar plantation island of Negros offered no resistance. Two hundred thousand civilians died by the end of the war. Aquinaldo was captured in 1901 and proclaimed his allegiance to the United States. Fighting continued for two more years.

4. With characteristic grandiosity, the US imagined itself a benevolent

force for the Philippines, a source of economic development and education for its new wards. The US would build railroads, improve the ports, lower tariffs, stimulate investment in mining, lumber, agriculture. The Taft Commission proposed selling the public lands (estimated at 93 percent of the total area) to US investors. However, US corporate agricultural producers of the big cash export crops, sugar, tobacco, and coconut oil fearing the competition, defeated the proposals. Limits were set at approximately 16 hectares for individual purchase, 1000 for corporations. With these restrictions, the pre-existing relations of landed property were preserved.

Tenant farming on the large landed estates was maintained and enforced

by….debt. Here debt, the debt of the cultivator, not the owner, solidified the archaic form of property. Children inherited the debts of the parents and were bound to the land for the life of the debt which exceeded their own life expectancies.

Between 1903 and 1935 (the year the Philippines became a commonwealth) areas under cultivation tripled, the number of farms fell by 25 percent, the number of absentee landlords doubled.

5. Marcos’ second decree after declaring martial law identified the entire archipelago as an area for land reform. The program that followed the decree was a failure. Only rice and corn land were covered, and only 20 percent of that. Sugar plantations were excluded. And it is the cultivation of sugar that requires and maintains the archaic form of landed property. Unlike rice and corn, cane is cultivated on large tracts, with the plantations relying on agricultural wage-labor rather than sharecropping.

From the opening of the islands to the world markets, through the 1970s, sugar was the most important cash-crop of the Philippines, accounting for 20 percent of exports through the 1960s. After OPEC 1, the price of sugar, like that of other “raw” commodities soared. Sugar prices then collapsed to 10 cents per pound. In 1985 the price reached 3 cents per pound.

Historically, sugar yields in the Philippines have been consistently low. The cultivation of large tracts of land with indentured, cheap labor, with exports guaranteed by its position in the US quota system, provided sufficient profit for the landowners. With the end of the US guarantees in 1974, the landowners attempted to increase yields through mechanization. The mechanization itself could only be accomplished by the assumption of debt to finance the purchases of machinery. The mechanization in turn, dramatically reduced the labor requirements and precipitated the massive migration of the rural population to Manila and the other major cities.

The debt coupled with the collapse in prices brought about the drastic drop in cultivation by nearly half between 1974 and 1988.

After Marcos left, leaving the shoes but taking the gold, Corazon Aquino campaigned for election on the basis of making land reform a reality.. Her Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program was to cover 80 percent of cultivated land. Details, however, were to be determined by the Congress were the landowners were in the majority.

The devil was truly in the details. The Congress produced a program that allowed for non-land transfer profit-sharing alternatives, and the

incorporation and distribution of equity equal in value to the land, minus the value of fixed assets required for cultivation. Here the French Revolution rises from its grave, upside down and backwards, issuing stock to preserve the existing capitalization of land, with Marie Antoinette declaring, “Let them farm paper.”

No government of the Philippines, with the exception of Aguinaldo’s

short-lived republic, has ever had an answer to the land question. No

national government of the Philippines will ever answer the land question, for the answer is the emancipation of labor from the production of exchange values in both city and countryside. Despite the “modernization” of the Philippine economy since 1986, almost forty percent of the work force is still committed to agricultural production. Despite the flood of the dispossessed into the cities, the growth of the service industries, the increased foreign trade, there is no and can never be a national recapitalization of agriculture. International capitalism has no need for this radical reconfiguration.

And because international capital has no need for this reconfiguration,

there can be no local solution, no national revolution, no revolutionary nationalism, no struggle that is a struggle for a self-determination of peoples. The need for the capitalization of land as a nation has been replaced by the need for the socialization of production internationally.

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