[OPE-L:7111] pedantry?

From: Rakesh Bhandari (rakeshb@stanford.edu)
Date: Fri May 03 2002 - 10:58:26 EDT

I personally don't think it's pedantry (and certainly a honest 
reading of Marx) that motivates people (Paul B excepted) to deny that 
slaves can produce surplus value even as their alienated human labor 
was objectified in what were commodities from the start.

  There are other reasons why some would like to keep an apartheid 
division between the putatively true, early  capitalism of free wage, 
surplus value producing capitalism of the English countryside and the 
racial slave system of putatively only surplus product production.

  A proletariat which imagines itself to have been purely  European, 
English or parochial from the start can concentrate on its own 
interests and struggle secondarily with the task of assimilating at 
its own pace putatively new immigrant members as castoffs from old 
modes of production (slavery, the colonial mode of peasant 
production) instead of defending the interests of the real 
international, multi racial working class from the start. We are 
seeing the consequences of this mythical European history playing 
itself out at present. In the UK, in France, in the Netherlands, in 
Denmark, in Sweden, in Italy.

That is,  myths as to the origins of capitalism serve the interest of 
narrow priviliged sections of the working class; and sanction 
timidity and half hearted opposition to social imperialist politics; 
and discourage analysis of the capitalist system in terms of a world, 
i.e., non national,  system.

Jairus, Robert Albritton and others may think that errors of 
formalism and empiricism are behind the refusal to understand the 
proletarian, value positing nature of the labor carried out by non 
free wage workers in the putting out system and on the modern 
plantations and in the old colonies--and they are certainly 
correct--but I think the problem also has its roots in the 
construction of nationalist myths of the origin of capitalism and 
historic scope of capitalism.

That is, I think racial and national identity often compromise 
Marxists' own commitments (there is of course a long history of how 
class, caste and national populist ideology compromises the 
commitments of Indian Marxists).

But even if one thinks dubious politics is what motivates me to 
debate these questions--and I am not saying that what I take to be 
Jerry's errors in particular are motivated by more than the 
overformalism which Jairus long ago critiqued (Capital and Class 
Autumn 1977)--it does not follow that my arguments are vitiated by 
the politics which have motivated them.

At all points in this debate, I have tried to keep focus on the 
arguments about variable capital, about the meaning of value, about 
historical specificity  as arguments about such, not politics.


France's Nonwhites See Bias in Far Rightist's Strength

April 30, 2002


MONTFERMEIL, France, April 26 - It is hard to miss the
bitterness in Kader Tadjer's voice when he talks about the
vote that qualified the far-rightist Jean-Marie Le Pen to
face President Jacques Chirac in the final round of
France's presidential elections.

In Mr. Tadjer's mind, there is no doubt that Mr. Le Pen's
success is a measure of hardening French attitudes toward
people of African origin like himself, people he believes
have not always been given a fair chance in France.

"Whatever it looks like here," Mr. Tadjer said, staring out
his office window at the graffiti-scarred high rises where
he grew up, "there are nice people in these buildings.
There are people who have jobs, who try to get housing
elsewhere. They have always paid their rent. But no one
will take them because they have the wrong names."

Here on the outskirts of Paris, in this bleak housing
complex improbably called Les Bosquets, or The Copses, Mr.
Le Pen's success has only increased the sense of
helplessness and injustice that many residents feel. Most
trace their roots, if not their birthplaces, to former
French colonies in Africa and the West Indies. They feel
keenly that the vote for Mr. Le Pen was a vote against

The unemployment rate in Les Bosquets is about 50 percent.
The soccer field is a concrete patch with a broken-down
fence. There is no movie theater or pool or skating rink or
anything else that might distract youngsters from getting
into trouble. Even this country's lauded mass transit
system falls short: The closest commuter train to Paris is
a 20-minute bus ride away.

Supporters of Mr. Le Pen talk of immigrants who will not
work and who rely on costly welfare benefits. In Les
Bosquets, people find that image hard to bear. They are
well aware of the gangs, the drug dealers and the petty
delinquency endemic in their neighborhood. But they also
believe that racism in France is a persistent fact of life
- one that has markedly narrowed the choices for many of

And Mr. Le Pen's name on the runoff ballot this Sunday -
despite the many times he has been sanctioned for
anti-immigrant remarks - is only further proof of that

"The attitude toward places like this," said Mr. Tadjer, a
youth counselor here whose father came to France from
Algeria more than 30 years ago, "is that `They are a like a
zoo. The people here get a few peanuts. And a visit once in
a while.' Now they are saying they want to do even less."

The resentment of Mr. Le Pen's success is especially strong
among immigrants - a term used very loosely here to
describe even second- or third-generation French citizens.
Even though people here understand, like everyone else in
France, that the growing anti-immigrant sentiment is aimed
at anyone from a nonwhite background, many believe that
France owes them a debt: They or their parents or
grandparents were brought to this country to offset labor
shortages, or came after fighting for France in various
wars. The country, they argue, got rich colonizing their
countries of origin, and yet the French feel no obligation.

Siby Sidaty came from Mali in 1968. Then, he said, all he
needed to do to get a job cleaning the streets of Paris was
give his name and address at City Hall. Over the years, he
has worked as a security guard, as a taxi driver and most
recently in a meat-packing plant that closed down. He does
not have French citizenship. But at 60, he cannot imagine
going back to Mali.

The Le Pen vote makes him anxious about the future. "It is
a real danger," he said. "Of course, it is a real danger."

Although he sees a certain tolerance in French society, it
does not, he says, extend to Africans. He notes that French
law has been adapted to accommodate homosexual unions, but
is not at all accepting of polygamy, which is sometimes
practiced by Muslims.

And he thinks the French should consider the conditions
they have provided for the millions of Africans who have
arrived here over the years.

"Look around you," Mr. Sidaty said with a sigh. "Is this
the fault of the immigrants? Those who would vote for Le
Pen need to ask themselves that question and recognize that
they brought us here and stuffed us in this place like

"There are people who are disgusted by the things that
happen here," he added. "They look and say, `What savages.'
But would they want to live here?"

Mr. Sidaty and others express the hope that the vote might
be a signal to the young people in Les Bosquets that it is
time to organize and vote. He knows that in the first
round, many did not bother. He knows, too, that some would
rather sell drugs and steal than take poorly paying jobs.

Before the first round of the race, there was little talk
about the growing tensions between people of color - mostly
Muslims, who make up 10 to 15 percent of the population -
and the rest of France's 60 million citizens.

But when pressed, few people deny those tensions. A Harris
poll released in March 2000 found that only 29 percent of
those surveyed declared themselves "not racist." More than
6 in 10 said there were too many people of "foreign origin"
in France, and they were specific about it: 63 percent said
there were too many Arabs, and 38 percent said there were
too many blacks.

The young people in Les Bosquets say everyone here has a
story about being discriminated against. Cisse Coulibaly,
19, and her sister Hawa, 18, who are both temporary
clerical workers, say they know the odds are stacked
against them when they apply for a job.

"It's just like that," Hawa said. "There are all sorts of
stories. People here have tested it. They have sent in
their application and been rejected and then changed their
names and, with the same rÈsumÈ, the non-African name gets
a call."

Still, the extent of Mr. Le Pen's success shocked them.
Both regretted that they had not come home from vacationing
with relatives in time to vote. But neither really believes
that Mr. Le Pen can win in the second round.

"This country cannot do without immigrants," Cisse said.
"Who would do all the work?"

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