Monday, June 1, 2009

What is Capital-ism to Me?

Folks lets attempt to go back to some basics lest we forget. Here is a modest attempt at that. Any system emerge within a certain context. Capitalism as a system did not emerge in a vacuum. Two differing classical accounts of its origin are still in contention and each appeal to an ideological position.

Marx Weber, who is somehow credited for turning Karl Marx upside down, gave an account that asserts that it is the Spirit of Capitalism or what he called the Protestant Ethic that caused a class of capitalist, and thus capitalism, to emerge in the Euro-American setting. In simple terms that particular Ethic or Spirit simply meant a strong attitude toward saving and entrepreneurship which, he claimed, characterised those so-called pioneers of capitalism. In other words, 'they were simply very hard working and thrifty that is why they generated capital and sustained their then emerging capitalist system.'

Karl Marx, in a sarcastic Biblical tone said, and I paraphrase, that in the beginning 'men' were created equal with equal access to resources but some men were cleverer hence they started accumulating those resources whilst other men were foolish hence they wasted those resources until the only thing they were left with that could sustain them was their labour that they would sell to others. This resulted into a system were some people could use the capital they 'had' to exploit the labour of those who didn't have capital to make profit. Capital-ization of Labour-ers became the means to Profit-eering.

Somehow they were right those who said Weber turned Marx upside down because after the so-called triump of capitalism in the early 1990s it became a lot more easier to use that classical argument that it is all about hardwork and saving that make capitalism work for anyone. But the history of capitalism especially in the colonial African setting was primarily tied with that of exploitation of labour and extraction of capital. The political ideology that was said to drive it i.e. liberalism and the philosophical discourse that was said to sustain it i.e. modernity were applied discriminately to Africa. Surely there are some Africans who became capitalist but Africa as a whole did not get it's societies transformed into capitalist societies in the 'modern' sense of the term.

Interestingly, in an attempt to give a historical account of 'The emergence of African Capitalism', John Illife (1983) notes that in the early colonial period foreign capitalism, that is, the capitalism of the then European colonialists, swamped a part of 19th Century Africa's commerce, which could be considered capitalist as far as entrepreneurship is concerned, and shifted the continent's growth-points to agriculture. It is this swamping, I am convinced, which is the action that led to the African reaction, nay, resistance to international capitalism. It was not simply a reaction to an ideal pure capitalism that operates as if it is in a vacuum. Rather, it was a resistance to a system that was primarily imperial given that it was premised on the mobility of capital which, as Marx aptly asserted using a slightly different phraseology, allowed it to cross the air and sea in search of profit and more profit. But we all know that capital is just a thing that is moved by a being. It is this being that those African who were opposed to the late capitalism of the likes of Karl Peters' Dutch East African Company saw as first and foremost an Imperialist. The Mkwawas and the Abushiris didn't see this being as primarily a capitalist who is simply navigating their land in search of business/trade for profit. They saw him as a Conquistador - the Imperialist who intruded to profiteer from them.

It is this decolonization 'hangover', rather than the socialism one, that we Anti-Capitalist (read Anti-Imperialist) African intellectuals carried over after independence as we attempted to find a 'forward-looking' approach toward African Development. Some thought the leftist way was the best approach to do so. Others, like Mwalimu Nyerere, opted and attempted to come with a third way yet they were accused and are still accused for taking the leftist way simply because they rejected 'rightism'. Some of us believe that the way forward is to pick where the quest for a third way lost its way - in the case of Tanzania I believe we lost it somewhere between the publication of Mwalimu Nyerere's (1966) 'Freedom and Unity' which solidly articulated his preliminary thoughts on - and a call for us to think - a new way and the forceful phase of villagization when he became more pragmatically dogmatic. To me that 'picking of a baton' is what I consider the way forward for a Forwardist. Forward from what? From exactly what we are told we are reacting to!


Ed June 8, 2009 at 8:08 AM  

I think the idea of Max or Weber has no room in the world that we're living today. Ujamaa was good on paper and imposible on implimentation. I argue as economist and researcher that you can not split the wealth among the people equally.

Capitalism is based on hardworking and saving. It the system which bring prosperty among the people, and reward the hardworking and punish the failure. There is no fair system, so likewise when it come to capitalism.

Socialism/ujamaa doesn't support entrepreneur which is the core of any economic developmen.

Show me one coutry were socialism/ujamaa/forwardist/any human being model has worked for even 3 decades in a roll. Capitalism is "God given model", it work it self during hard time by reducing spending and explore during good time by increase saving which is equal to investment. Economics 101.

Mwalim knew the Ujamaa was failure soon after he tried to impliment it. You can not reward people equal and expect any hardworking. It's against the nature, and hence impossible.

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