Forms of Unfree Labor: Primitive Accumulation, History or Prehistory of Capitalism?

William Clark, Slaves Fell the Ripe Sug­ar, 1823.

The per­sis­tence of numer­ous and recur­ring excep­tions to free wage-labor in the con­tem­po­rary world leads us to ask about the sta­tus of these “excep­tions”: are they anachro­nis­tic ves­tiges of a feu­dal past or “tra­di­tion­al soci­eties,” or are they a mode of the “nor­mal” func­tion­ing of a cap­i­tal­ism that is oth­er­wise firm­ly a part of moder­ni­ty?1 Can we speak of mod­ern slav­ery? If we are deal­ing with unfree forms of labor, how can they sub­sist in a sys­tem where “free labor” is dom­i­nant? Is prim­i­tive accu­mu­la­tion the pre­his­to­ry of cap­i­tal­ism and thus not part of its prop­er his­to­ry, or is it indeed an inte­gral part of “his­tor­i­cal cap­i­tal­ism”? It will be not­ed in pass­ing that in the lat­ter case, it is not suf­fi­cient to revert to the word “slav­ery” with­out inter­ro­gat­ing its sta­tus: is it a com­plete descrip­tion with explana­to­ry aims, a rig­or­ous­ly con­struct­ed metaphor, or a much vaguer approx­i­ma­tion?

An ini­tial solu­tion con­sists in trac­ing the ensem­ble (or a part) of these forms back to the his­to­ry of pre-cap­i­tal­ism: a con­ve­nient solu­tion, as it brings in exoge­nous, extra-eco­nom­ic fac­tors rang­ing from soci­o­log­i­cal indi­ca­tors to the “agen­tial pref­er­ences” so dear to the neo­clas­si­cal econ­o­mists, but above all force. It has the advan­tage of acknowl­edg­ing het­ero­gene­ity, but is less sat­is­fac­to­ry in terms of log­ic, leav­ing more free space of analy­sis and expla­na­tion.

A sec­ond response also falls under the cat­e­go­ry of a val­ue judge­ment, in being anoth­er argu­ment for the idea that the most bru­tal kinds of exploita­tion per­sist in all set­tings and all peri­ods. With regards to exploita­tion, there is “noth­ing new under the sun.” On the oth­er hand, if this solu­tion pro­vides the anthro­pol­o­gist with a cer­tain moral com­fort – thus invest­ed in tak­ing a crit­i­cal dis­tance from the­o­ries of human progress through forms of labor and the econ­o­my – it pos­sess­es a num­ber of intrin­sic dif­fi­cul­ties. In order to be cred­i­ble, the argu­ment for the per­sis­tence of slav­ery should avoid the metaphor­i­cal use of the term “slave,” which would quick­ly deval­ue its sci­en­tif­ic worth: slav­ery needs to be demon­strat­ed, and to do this slav­ery must be ana­lyzed in its coex­is­tence with free labor, as we will see.

A the­o­ry of forms of unfree labor requires a the­o­ry of wage-labor. The excep­tion must be under­stood through its dis­tance from a norm, and as a result it proves nec­es­sary to pro­duce a the­o­ry of how the two forms inter­act with each oth­er, in both direc­tions.

We pro­pose to show two things: on the one hand, it shall be argued that so-called “prim­i­tive” accu­mu­la­tion of cap­i­tal takes place in a con­tin­u­ous, or ongo­ing [con­tin­uée] man­ner; on the oth­er hand, in order to accu­rate­ly iden­ti­fy the con­tem­po­rary role of forms of unfree labor, it is nec­es­sary to take the same approach as found in my pre­vi­ous work on the con­sti­tu­tion of his­tor­i­cal wage-labor.2 That is, to think today, at one and the same time, the com­ple­men­tary coex­is­tence of forms of free labor and unfree labor. This means revis­it­ing the his­to­ry of his­tor­i­cal cap­i­tal­ism, includ­ing its most con­tem­po­rary form, in light of the rise of its “clas­si­cal” ten­den­cy towards author­i­tar­i­an forms of extrac­tive activ­i­ty. But this also means seek­ing out the rea­son for this per­ma­nent rein­tro­duc­tion of the worst forms of exploita­tion, beyond the empha­sis – ulti­mate­ly tau­to­log­i­cal – on the amoral­i­ty or amoral­ism of cap­i­tal­ism. We can­not under­stand the fero­cious­ness of plan­ta­tion-based mer­can­tile cap­i­tal­ism in the periph­ery with­out tak­ing into account the no less extreme dif­fi­cul­ties of the pro­le­tar­i­an­iza­tion and putting to work of the “poor” [les pau­vres] in the cen­ter. This dou­ble move­ment is indeed valu­able for a clear under­stand­ing of the emer­gence, the tra­jec­to­ry, and dis­ap­pear­ance of forms of labor that are com­pat­i­ble or incom­pat­i­ble on the same insti­tu­tion­al lev­el or the same mar­ket.

Our point of depar­ture will be the “scan­dal” of cur­rent forms of unfree labor, in order to move on to those forms of mod­ern slav­ery and serf­dom that are solid­ly anchored in the rise of cap­i­tal­ism. These “anom­alies” raise both the ques­tion of “prim­i­tive accu­mu­la­tion” and that of the rec­i­p­ro­cal and com­ple­men­tary char­ac­ter of sys­tems of unfree and free wage-labor.

Forms of Unfree Dependent Labor: The Contemporary Scandal

Con­tem­po­rary glob­al­iza­tion appears to fun­da­men­tal­ly be a rel­a­tive (some­times absolute) reduc­tion in the num­ber of work­ers and wage-earn­ers [salariés] in the fullest sense of the term (in not rec­og­niz­ing inde­pen­dent or autonomous labor­ers as wage-earn­ers, whom legal schol­ar Alain Supi­ot calls “para-depen­dents”).3 At the same time, we are wit­ness­ing in the Glob­al South the incor­po­ra­tion of a con­sid­er­able part of the active peas­ant pop­u­la­tion into wage-labor; Chi­nese and Indi­an peas­antries make up the pri­ma­ry, but not exclu­sive, part of this move­ment of the total growth of the work­ing pop­u­la­tion. Such a move­ment seems to fol­low the descrip­tion of the birth of Euro­pean indus­tri­al cap­i­tal­ism in Man­ches­ter: an intense rur­al exo­dus, a clus­ter­ing of the pop­u­la­tion in the metrop­o­les, an increas­ing reduc­tion of the pop­u­la­tion active in the pri­ma­ry unwaged sec­tor, accom­pa­nied by a very high rate of growth. In short, a Ros­tow-like take-off, mark­ing the irre­versible tran­si­tion from a “tra­di­tion­al” soci­ety to a mod­ern soci­ety (with the emer­gence of the indi­vid­ual con­sumer and “max­i­miz­er” dear to micro­eco­nom­ics).4 When viewed from the air, São Paulo, the north zone of Rio de Janeiro, Mex­i­co, the Pearl Riv­er Delta in the hin­ter­land of Hong Kong, all illus­trate this glob­al “Man­ches­ter­i­za­tion.” If we include the infor­mal sec­tor, which pro­vides ser­vices that the pub­lic sec­tor does not, then the mas­sive African metrop­o­lis­es of Cairo, Lagos, Johan­nes­burg, and Dakar enter into this descrip­tive frame­work.

This reas­sur­ing tableau of the evo­lu­tion of human labor (reas­sur­ing since it ought to lead to devel­op­ment) needs to be tem­pered by sev­er­al less uplift­ing facts, oft-neglect­ed in polite indif­fer­ence by inter­na­tion­al orga­ni­za­tions and non-gov­ern­men­tal orga­ni­za­tions (NGOs). The lat­ter stress that the ver­tig­i­nous rise in social inequal­i­ty is due not only to a lack of jobs [emplois] in the macro­eco­nom­ic sense of the term, but to the lack of jobs with the guar­an­tees pro­vid­ed by the Inter­na­tion­al Labour Orga­ni­za­tion (ILO), work­ing in close coop­er­a­tion on these issues with the Unit­ed Nations (UN).

In the gen­er­al prin­ci­ples con­tained in its found­ing char­ter (the 1944 Dec­la­ra­tion of Philadel­phia), the ILO goes a long way, since it states in Point I:

(a) labour is not a com­mod­i­ty; (b) free­dom of expres­sion and of asso­ci­a­tion are essen­tial to sus­tained progress; (c) pover­ty any­where con­sti­tutes a dan­ger to pros­per­i­ty every­where; (d) the war against want requires to be car­ried on with unre­lent­ing vigour with­in each nation, and by con­tin­u­ous and con­cert­ed inter­na­tion­al effort.

The ILO’s pro­gram was very broad and artic­u­lat­ed through a Key­ne­sian and Bev­eridgean con­cep­tion of full employ­ment.5 More than a half-cen­tu­ry lat­er, in its “Dec­la­ra­tion on Fun­da­men­tal Prin­ci­ples and Rights at Work and its Fol­low-up,” the ILO insist­ed more mod­est­ly on four points:

(a) free­dom of asso­ci­a­tion and the effec­tive recog­ni­tion of the right to col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing; (b) the elim­i­na­tion of all forms of forced or com­pul­so­ry labour; (c) the effec­tive abo­li­tion of child labour; and (d) the elim­i­na­tion of dis­crim­i­na­tion in respect of employ­ment and occu­pa­tion.

It is per­haps sur­pris­ing that slav­ery in gen­er­al or sex slav­ery (traf­fick­ing of women) in par­tic­u­lar does not fig­ure promi­nent­ly among the ILO’s “rec­om­men­da­tions.” In fact, after the abo­li­tion of slav­ery in Mau­ri­ta­nia, slav­ery no longer had any legal­ly sanc­tioned sta­tus, except in ves­ti­gial forms. On the oth­er hand, the ILO con­sid­ers the pro­hi­bi­tion of slav­ery and human traf­fick­ing as falling under the 1948 Uni­ver­sal Dec­la­ra­tion of Human Rights (thus the traf­fic in per­sons is main­ly for forced sex­u­al activ­i­ty). The lap­idary (and para­dox­i­cal, if we think about its impli­ca­tions with regards to con­tem­po­rary glob­al­iza­tion) first arti­cle – “labour is not a com­mod­i­ty” – aims to address this ques­tion in a pre­lim­i­nary fash­ion. This pre­cau­tion had to be explic­it­ly for­mu­lat­ed as much by the French Con­sti­tu­tion of 1791 as by the great clas­si­cal lib­er­al econ­o­mist John Stu­art Mill a half-cen­tu­ry lat­er, as well as in the debates around “rental con­tracts,” a tran­si­tion­al form toward free labor in slave economies.6

This no longer appears to be an issue when the rela­tion of waged employ­ment finds itself qual­i­fied by jurists as a rela­tion­ship of sub­or­di­na­tion between a clear­ly defined employ­er and an employ­ee. This rela­tion­ship of sub­or­di­na­tion defines, in turn, a ser­vice, its lim­its, its con­di­tions, its spe­cif­ic peri­od of time, and the social rights that are applic­a­ble. Labor bar­gain­ing is estab­lished as a crime. The glob­al­iza­tion of the labor mar­ket, which tends to reduce work to a com­mod­i­ty, and the ren­der­ing of sta­ble, pro­tect­ed work pre­car­i­ous, nat­u­ral­ly pos­es prob­lems for inter­na­tion­al labor stan­dards that are care­ful to avoid sit­u­a­tions of forced labor. We touch upon here an inher­ent dif­fi­cul­ty to the ques­tion of con­straint. There is a real dif­fer­ence between juridi­cal con­straint, such as forced labor (colo­nial corvée labor in Africa, for exam­ple), and eco­nom­ic con­straint, which push­es the pro­le­tar­i­an­ized peas­ant, with­out juridi­cal oblig­a­tion, to work as a depen­dent wage-labor­er in the plan­ta­tion econ­o­my, as an expa­tri­ate “cadet” in Europe – a rather hyp­o­crit­i­cal dif­fer­ence. The only way to resolve the ques­tion is ulti­mate­ly found in Beveridge’s con­cep­tion of “full employ­ment.”7 For the inven­tor of the wel­fare state, the cri­te­ri­on for full employ­ment is not set­ting the pop­u­la­tion to work through eco­nom­ic con­straint (which brings back a type of labor very close to legal­ly forced labor) but the fact that the jobs held are “qual­i­ty” jobs. The qual­i­ty of these jobs is ver­i­fied if an unem­ployed per­son is will­ing to move in order to obtain one. For Bev­eridge, the best guar­an­tee this labor is not forced and is attrac­tive geo­graph­i­cal­ly is that it can become the object of a col­lec­tive con­tract. The free­dom to cre­ate unions and the right of asso­ci­a­tion for work­ers are thus the con­di­tions for unforced forms of employ­ment.

The ques­tion of human traf­fick­ing in con­nec­tion with the sex trade might also appear to be a sig­nif­i­cant over­sight in the ILO’s pro­grams. Although it is not pos­si­ble to pre­cise­ly ana­lyze its extent, pros­ti­tu­tion rep­re­sents one of the prin­ci­pal sources of rev­enue for orga­nized crime. While per­sons who make a liv­ing in the sex trade sell­ing their own body have begun to claim, through­out the world, to be rec­og­nized as “work­ers” in one of the most impor­tant ser­vices world­wide (the tourist indus­try and ser­vices) and to ben­e­fit from the same rights as work­ers in oth­er sec­tors of eco­nom­ic activ­i­ty, inter­na­tion­al orga­ni­za­tions have been very reluc­tant to take this step. There have been some devel­op­ments, but they depend in large part on the demands that are being raised. Inter­na­tion­al orga­ni­za­tions have approached sex­u­al tourism under the aus­pices of the sex­u­al abuse of minors and vio­lence against per­sons.

The ques­tion of force in the case of adult pros­ti­tu­tion is on the oth­er hand quite ambiva­lent. Cer­tain nation­al laws tar­get pimp­ing, that is, the real employ­ers of pros­ti­tutes, as well as the orga­nized crime which sup­ports the traf­fic of this par­tic­u­lar line of work; but it is often dif­fi­cult to prove phys­i­cal force. The prin­ci­ple of hav­ing “con­trol over one’s own body,” although impor­tant for women’s lib­er­a­tion in mat­ters of con­tra­cep­tion, lim­its efforts towards leg­isla­tive action, and can prove that the road to hell is “paved with good inten­tions.” And while casu­al pros­ti­tu­tion, tied to poor liv­ing con­di­tions or pover­ty and often in the after­math of civ­il war, is an activ­i­ty neces­si­tat­ed by the need to sur­vive, it does not fall under “forced labor.”

It would thus take a tri­al, too easy in our under­stand­ing, to denounce the blindspots of inter­na­tion­al orga­ni­za­tions on the issue of slav­ery in the strict sense of the term or on the issue of sex­u­al slav­ery. Espe­cial­ly as con­cerns labor and health issues, these orga­ni­za­tions can only act with the full con­sent of mem­bers states and pro­vide rec­om­men­da­tions, not rules that would apply direct­ly in a supra­na­tion­al fash­ion. An extreme­ly pow­er­ful con­sen­sus of pub­lic opin­ion, under the aus­pices of crimes against human­i­ty, was required in order to apply coer­cive mea­sures to states, through the cre­ation – and not with­out resis­tance from Unit­ed States – of an inter­na­tion­al penal tri­bunal capa­ble of indict­ing the lead­ers of sov­er­eign states. The legal restric­tions against sex tourism were accept­ed by states because of the pres­sure exert­ed by NGOs.

As an alter­na­tive, it seems more per­ti­nent to bring out oth­er lim­its of the ILO’s def­i­n­i­tion of free labor that are exhibit­ing a grow­ing impor­tance today.

The first lim­it is con­cep­tu­al and method­olog­i­cal. Although cer­tain prin­ci­ples affirmed in the Dec­la­ra­tion of Philadel­phia (the right to a basic income, child wel­fare, and mater­ni­ty pro­tec­tion: in short, “basic needs”) large­ly go beyond the sphere of depen­dent wage-labor, ques­tions of domes­tic labor, sex­u­al ser­vices, and child­care are not tak­en into account as con­strain­ing fac­tors on activ­i­ty.8 How­ev­er, this ele­ment is increas­ing­ly under­stood by fem­i­nist schol­ar­ship as being respon­si­ble for the per­sis­tence of employ­ment dis­crim­i­na­tion, wage dis­crim­i­na­tion, and pro­fes­sion­al dis­crim­i­na­tion in the more devel­oped coun­tries. It is plau­si­ble to sup­pose that this also plays an impor­tant role in devel­op­ing coun­tries.

The sec­ond lim­it con­cerns the ILO’s almost exclu­sive focus on depen­dent wage-labor, which ends up leav­ing to the side forms of “autonomous, inde­pen­dent, or semi-depen­dent labor,” as much in the North as in the South. An impor­tant aspect of forced or con­fined labor in these forms involves – and in con­tra­dic­tion with the prin­ci­ples of the ILO – for­mal­ly inde­pen­dent actors who exploit them­selves, that is, they must give up the ben­e­fits which today come with wage-labor rec­og­nized as such. A sig­nif­i­cant pro­por­tion of live-in care­givers in agri­cul­ture, ser­vices, and micro-enter­pris­es are man­aged by these “inde­pen­dents.” it should be borne in mind that the range of sit­u­a­tions tak­en into account by defined ILO stan­dards is far from com­plete.

That being said, by focus­ing only on aspects of unfree labor men­tioned in the 1998 ILO dec­la­ra­tion, the empha­sis is restrict­ed to the wide­spread per­sis­tence of forms of domes­tic servi­tude, sex­u­al abuse, and the recruit­ment of minors in coun­tries par­tic­u­lar­ly dev­as­tat­ed by civ­il wars and eth­nic killings (par­tic­u­lar­ly Sudan). Sup­pos­ed­ly free labor to repay debts, which is very exten­sive through­out the Indi­an sub­con­ti­nent (a good 50 mil­lion peo­ple), should be includ­ed. In the lat­ter case, the per­son remains for­mal­ly free: they sign con­tracts of employ­ment for the amount of time nec­es­sary to pay back the debt, but find them­selves to be sub­ject­ed to essen­tial­ly a corvée, in the Medieval and not metaphor­i­cal sense of the term, since this oblig­a­tion to work for the cred­i­tor is a sub­sti­tute penal­ty for the debtor hav­ing default­ed on pay­ment the penal offense would entail impris­on­ment, and thus the depri­va­tion of lib­er­ty. The can­cel­la­tion of debt dur­ing Indi­an decol­o­niza­tion in 1947, and sub­se­quent recur­ring exper­i­ments, have served no pur­pose, as debt mech­a­nisms are rein­stalled. Authors includ­ing Charles Gib­son and A.J. Bauer have argued, apro­pos of the enganche sys­tem (a form of labor in which one was “hooked” to a debt con­trac­tor), that indi­vid­u­als chose to enter these rela­tions of sub­jec­tion, since they offered social pro­tec­tion and secu­ri­ty, or a social and cul­tur­al envi­ron­ment, which free mar­ket rela­tions could not do to the same degree.9

Ger­mane to this direct­ly forced labor is the issue of child labor; which, accord­ing to some esti­mates, affects 246 mil­lion chil­dren around the globe.10 As for restric­tive [con­traig­nant] con­tract labor not involv­ing forms of per­son­al slav­ery, because the indi­vid­ual and/or their depen­dents (infants, spous­es) remained con­fined to less val­ued social tasks under the effect of an insti­tu­tion­al or social dis­crim­i­na­tion (the buraku­min in Japan, the Dal­its in India, the Copts in Egypt) or work and res­i­den­cy reg­u­la­tions (for­eign migrants in coun­tries with migrant labor, as opposed to pop­u­la­tion migra­tions), it com­pris­es a sub­stan­tial per­cent­age of the glob­al work­force: it suf­fices to think about how the cur­rent pros­per­i­ty in coastal Chi­na depends on a sys­tem of inter­nal pass­ports, which deprives access to social rights (social secu­ri­ty, school­ing, hous­ing, retire­ment) for those in the rur­al vil­lages (even if they are in the process of being total­ly under­mined) who migrate to the cities unau­tho­rized.11 As in the USSR of old, Chi­na has its “undoc­u­ment­ed” [sans-papiers]. They num­ber over 100 mil­lion, a con­sid­er­able order of mag­ni­tude (recall that the active pop­u­la­tion of France is 23 mil­lion). It’s also impos­si­ble to ignore the work of migrants deemed to be in “irreg­u­lar sit­u­a­tions,” accord­ing to the ter­mi­nol­o­gy of the states where they reside, while the Inter­na­tion­al Labour Office (the per­ma­nent sec­re­tari­at of the ILO) class­es con­tract work of for­eign labor­ers as irreg­u­lar because it over­rides the prin­ci­ple of the right to work.12 Of the 140 mil­lion inter­na­tion­al migrants in the world, a good 50 mil­lion find them­selves in sit­u­a­tions of legal sub­or­di­na­tion on the labor mar­ket. For­eign work­ers in the Unit­ed States who do not pos­sess green cards or J-1 per­mits, and who par­tic­i­pate in pro­grams of tem­po­rary sea­son­al work, obvi­ous­ly should also be placed under this rubric.

Final­ly, if we account for the work of women who are com­pelled to do dif­fer­ent types of work (inde­pen­dent­ly of domes­tic labor) through tra­di­tion­al social struc­tures (and of which the waged or paid por­tion only com­pris­es a small part), we can esti­mate that around 500 mil­lion peo­ple in the world are work­ing on behalf of oth­ers (depen­dent labor) but do not per­form free wage-labor, abstract­ing from, or leav­ing to the side, the domes­tic labor of women.

It does not appear that sit­u­a­tion will improve any time soon – a mat­ter for con­cern. The so-called coun­tries of immi­grants (specif­i­cal­ly Aus­tralia and the Unit­ed States) are severe­ly restrict­ing or tight­en­ing their leg­is­la­tion, which have start­ed to resem­ble the poli­cies of Euro­pean coun­tries; while in Africa, Asia, Cen­tral and Latin Amer­i­ca, all the way to the arch­i­pel­a­gos in Ocea­nia where there is a sig­nif­i­cant degree of per­me­abil­i­ty across bor­ders, states are in the process of strength­en­ing man­i­fes­ta­tions of “nation­al” sov­er­eign­ty and trans­pos­ing them onto the labor mar­ket under the effects of for­eign and civ­il wars. We might recall the bru­tal expul­sions of immi­grant work­ers from Libya and Nige­ria. Recent­ly, in Côte d’Ivoire, pop­u­la­tions that have set­tled and been active in the coun­try for sev­er­al decades have come to be bru­tal­ly regard­ed as for­eign­ers or unde­sir­ables, and pro­hib­it­ed from both paid and inde­pen­dent activ­i­ties. This ele­ment has added to the “clas­si­cal” migra­to­ry pres­sure feed­ing real, bare-hand­ed attempts to cross the many elec­tric bar­ri­ers across fortress Europe, whether they are on the offi­cial bor­der or dis­placed even fur­ther to neigh­bor­ing coun­tries, or to can­di­dates for entry into the Euro­pean Union or some priv­i­leged part­ner.13

De fac­to slav­ery, peon­age, con­tract work in order to pay off a debt incurred to cross bor­ders which are more and more cost­ly to broach, work whose geo­graph­ic, social, and pro­fes­sion­al mobil­i­ty is ham­pered, bri­dled by many, broad­ly insti­tu­tion­al, mech­a­nisms which form a large part of state inter­ven­tions – such is the full tableau of the glob­al labor mar­ket, which does not resem­ble a lin­ear absorp­tion of a reserve or a rur­al work­force into canon­i­cal wage-labor [le salari­at canon­ique].14 At this lev­el, there is no dif­fer­ence between the “undoc­u­ment­ed” across the entire world: the poli­cies of sev­er­al legal sys­tems are semi-inter­change­able in their mech­a­nisms and appli­ca­tions from one side of the plan­et to the oth­er.

In this sense, the depen­dent laborer’s strug­gle to win the basic lib­er­ty to freely sell their mere capac­i­ty to work to the high­est bid­der, as a wage-earn­er ben­e­fit­ing from the “nor­mal” right to work with­out being sub­ject­ed to the “spe­cial regime” reserved for for­eign­ers, still has many days ahead of it. The free­dom of res­i­dence is rec­og­nized in only a small num­ber of coun­tries that have gen­er­al­ly been found­ed through Euro­pean col­o­niza­tion, even if the Helsin­ki Accords (1977) para­dox­i­cal­ly rec­og­nized the right to emi­grate. Para­dox­i­cal­ly, because the cor­re­spond­ing right to immi­grate is the sub­ject of one fraught inter­na­tion­al con­ven­tion, the 1951 Geneva Con­ven­tion Relat­ing to the Sta­tus of Refugees, and only pro­vides for an oblig­a­tion to take in or admit those who can prove they have been per­se­cut­ed.

This dis­mal sit­u­a­tion is not an acci­dent of his­to­ry, nor a recent incon­gruity. If we turn to the imme­di­ate past, or even fur­ther back, we are forced to make the same con­clu­sion. The sys­tem of engagés and white inden­tured ser­vants in the first Euro­pean colonies in the New World, then the Asian coolies or “con­tract labor­ers in the Atlantic and Pacif­ic economies, labor­ers in the ‘colo­nial corvée’ in Africa, these are the real, direct ances­tors of the migrants under con­tract in West­ern Europe.”15

But it is clear­ly the mod­ern sys­tem of slav­ery and serf­dom that con­sti­tutes the most com­plete exam­ple of unfree depen­dent labor.

The Scandal of Slavery and Modern Forms of Serfdom

Fol­low­ing the works of Eric Williams, Andre Gun­der Frank, Eugene Gen­ovese, Manuel Moreno Frag­i­nals, Immanuel Waller­stein, Sid­ney Mintz, and Jacob Goren­der on the one hand, and those of Robert William Fogel and Stan­ley Enger­man and Dou­glass C. North and Robert Paul Thomas, on the oth­er, we now rec­og­nize the cen­tral role of the plan­ta­tion econ­o­my in the rise of mod­ern cap­i­tal­ism, which pre­sup­pos­es the birth of the abso­lutist mod­ern state and mer­can­tilist man­u­fac­tur­ing in the 17th cen­tu­ry just as much as the great Eng­lish “fac­to­ry” at the tran­si­tion from the 18th to 19th cen­turies.16 But what is less empha­sized is the extra­or­di­nary per­sis­tence of slav­ery and serf­dom with­in “lib­er­al” cap­i­tal­ism all through­out the 19th cen­tu­ry.17 If we adopt the restric­tive def­i­n­i­tion of cap­i­tal­ism, as only real­ly emerg­ing in the years between 1750–1780 (the Indus­tri­al Rev­o­lu­tion and Par­lia­men­tary “enclo­sures”), then in the two and a half cen­turies of cap­i­tal­ism (1750–2000), we have to account for the 90 to 140 years of the per­sis­tence of slav­ery and serf­dom as glob­al and dis­tinct legal sys­tems in the cen­tral links of the world-econ­o­my. It was only abol­ished in 1836 for the Unit­ed King­dom and its empire, 1848 for France, but 1861 for Rus­sia, 1865 for the Unit­ed States, 1888 for Brazil and 1889 for Cuba, and 1907 for Zanz­ibar, one of the old­est sites of the Mid­dle East­ern, then Por­tuguese, slave trade. For a sur­vival of the pre-cap­i­tal­ist past (feu­dal­ism, or Ori­en­tal despo­tism, or tra­di­tion­al soci­ety accord­ing to the ter­mi­nol­o­gy), this is a very large remain­der to explain. Who­ev­er seeks to out­line the dynam­ics of cap­i­tal­ism between 1917 and 1991 can­not abstract from com­mu­nist social­ism; mutatis mutan­dis, the enclave of slav­ery holds equal weight for lib­er­al cap­i­tal­ism from 1780 to 1890.

The prof­its accu­mu­lat­ed via the plan­ta­tion econ­o­my pri­or to the Indus­tri­al Rev­o­lu­tion and the for­ma­tion of a wage-labor force [salari­at] impru­dent­ly attached to it are no longer sin­gu­lar issues. Nor is the mer­chants’ and head planters’ train­ing in the method of mak­ing “a large num­ber of men work under one roof” – Marx’s def­i­n­i­tion of man­u­fac­ture – through “brigades” enlist­ing women and chil­dren.

Cof­fee, sug­ar, indi­go, tea, oil, min­er­als, mahogany, and ebony were pro­duced through­out the lib­er­al indus­tri­al age by unfree labor. We can fac­tor in coolie labor, defined as a qua­si-slav­ery, and which from 1820 to 1924 was used to start Cal­i­forn­ian agri­cul­ture, the extrac­tion of gold, and mar­itime trans­port. How­ev­er, migrant pop­u­la­tions that were trans­formed into for­eign­ers by the apartheid sys­tem, and found in the com­pounds of South Africa, have extract­ed gold and dia­monds for half the plan­et.

To cap this demon­stra­tion, let us turn to the social­ist world, pre­sent­ed as an alter­na­tive to lib­er­al cap­i­tal­ism begin­ning in 1917. Its rapid indus­tri­al­iza­tion fea­tures the exact same dual aspects: on the one hand, wage-earn­ers ben­e­fit­ing from cer­tain advan­tages (guar­an­teed employ­ment, the indi­rect wage), and thus a form of wage-labor with its lim­i­ta­tions or con­straints par­tial­ly ame­lio­rat­ed; and on the oth­er hand, tens of mil­lions of forced work­ers in labor camps, which were slow exter­mi­na­tion camps but also real pub­lic works enter­pris­es, mines.

These two sin­is­ter exam­ples of the per­sis­tence of forms of unfree labor in the recent present and the mul­ti-faceted past of cap­i­tal­ist moder­ni­ty requires us to reex­am­ine the ques­tion of prim­i­tive accu­mu­la­tion.

Primitive Accumulation Revisited

In the very short chap­ter devot­ed to the gen­e­sis of cap­i­tal­ist rela­tions (“The Secret of Prim­i­tive Accu­mu­la­tion”) in the first vol­ume of Cap­i­tal, Marx writes:

But the accu­mu­la­tion of cap­i­tal pre­sup­pos­es sur­plus-val­ue; sur­plus-val­ue pre­sup­pos­es cap­i­tal­ist pro­duc­tion; cap­i­tal­ist pro­duc­tion pre­sup­pos­es the avail­abil­i­ty of con­sid­er­able mass­es of cap­i­tal and labour-pow­er in the hands of com­mod­i­ty pro­duc­ers. The whole move­ment, there­fore, seems to turn around in a nev­er-end­ing cir­cle, which we can only get out of by assum­ing a prim­i­tive accu­mu­la­tion (the “pre­vi­ous accu­mu­la­tion” of Adam Smith) which pre­cedes cap­i­tal­ist accu­mu­la­tion; an accu­mu­la­tion which is not the result of the cap­i­tal­ist mode of pro­duc­tion but its point of depar­ture.18

Marx res­olute­ly dis­cards the false expla­na­tion of ini­tial wealth, Quesnay’s avance prim­i­tive, which made it pos­si­ble to mod­est­ly cloak its ori­gins, or indeed to impute it to a series of plun­ders of all types (from the pil­lage of Aztec and Incan rich­es, to the geno­cide of indige­nous peo­ple) that are exter­nal to cap­i­tal­ism. Capitalism’s func­tion­ing would thus not be con­t­a­m­i­nat­ed by this ghast­ly fac­tor, as an econ­o­my that claims to be neu­tral or uncon­cerned with what it calls the “for­ma­tion of agen­tial pref­er­ence.”

Under cap­i­tal­ism prop­er, “the silent com­pul­sion of eco­nom­ic rela­tions sets the seal on the dom­i­na­tion of the cap­i­tal­ist over the work­er.” Polit­i­cal vio­lence pro­vides, then, the ini­tial dri­ve with­out which the his­tor­i­cal devel­op­ment of cap­i­tal­ism would nev­er have been set in motion, but it becomes invis­i­ble (Marx­ists) or super­flu­ous (neo-clas­si­cal econ­o­mists). Marx rejects the expla­na­tion that begins with mon­ey, because a pile of gold or cash only becomes cap­i­tal when it con­fronts, as part of the means of pro­duc­tion (that is, the con­di­tion of labor), labor stripped of the means of pro­duc­tion, which becomes the con­di­tion of cap­i­tal (with the poten­tial for sur­plus-val­ue). Oth­er­wise, this mon­ey ends up as rent or income, but not cap­i­tal. This is the class rela­tion (of two antag­o­nis­tic class­es) that trans­forms mon­ey into cap­i­tal.

Yet the prob­lem of the ori­gins of cap­i­tal­ism still remains, and on two lev­els. First there is the prob­lem of ori­gins or, if one prefers, the odor of the mon­ey that must be there in order to become cap­i­tal. In the encounter between the pro­le­tar­i­an and the mon­ey-own­er, where does the latter’s mon­ey come from? Of course, mon­ey does not have an odor or smell. The prof­its from the slave trade and the inter­ests paid to the traders from Nantes, Bor­deaux, Le Havre, or Liv­er­pool by the almost-always indebt­ed planters, as Eric Williams has shown, would con­sti­tute the start­ing cap­i­tal, with­out which it would have been impos­si­ble to trans­form the Eng­lish poor into the pro­le­tari­at in the Mid­lands fac­to­ries. With this, the sur­plus extract­ed from the sweat and blood of slaves, like the sug­ar they pro­duced, is indis­pens­able to pro­le­tar­i­an­iza­tion.19 The ori­gin of cap­i­tal­ism is as trou­bled as the foun­da­tion of dynas­ties in Shakespeare’s tragedies – a his­to­ry full of vio­lence and fury: “In actu­al his­to­ry, it is a noto­ri­ous fact that con­quest, enslave­ment, rob­bery, mur­der, in short, force, play the great­est part.”20 Cap­i­tal­ism is not Robin­son Cru­soe on his island, mirac­u­lous­ly receiv­ing all the tools nec­es­sary for his “civ­i­lized” sur­vival. A con­sid­er­able amount of wealth is required to put the poor to work, whether it is the merchant’s mon­ey or, more like­ly, the mon­ey accu­mu­lat­ed by the mod­ern state in pro­tect­ing its fleets from pirates in the Caribbean, which finances the gar­risons. Hence the ques­tion that tor­ments the ori­gins of cap­i­tal­ism with the Indus­tri­al Rev­o­lu­tion: was there not a mech­a­nism for explain­ing ini­tial wealth, mer­chant cap­i­tal­ism for exam­ple? In this case, we are already in cap­i­tal­ism, before hav­ing entered it. The oth­er solu­tion is to pre­sup­pose a form of pro­duc­tion that is no longer feu­dal but not yet cap­i­tal­ism: sim­ple com­mod­i­ty pro­duc­tion. What is incon­ve­nient about this last solu­tion is that it would nev­er accu­mu­late a suf­fi­cient amount of mon­ey [écus] pri­or to cap­i­tal.

Let’s leave this dif­fi­cul­ty to the side for a moment. Any found­ing of city or regime depends on an ini­tial vio­lence, which the dis­course of legit­i­ma­cy seeks to hide. But when Marx looks to under­stand prim­i­tive accu­mu­la­tion, he search­es for a “his­tor­i­cal­ly deter­mined” rea­son for the intrin­sic log­ic of the sys­tem. He then advances the fol­low­ing expla­na­tion: for the cap­i­tal­ist rela­tion to be estab­lished, there must be vio­lence, because the val­oriza­tion of mon­ey and its trans­for­ma­tion into cap­i­tal func­tions all the bet­ter if the sep­a­ra­tion is deep­ened, and thus the pro­le­tari­at appears in all its dimen­sions. And this log­ic is not Hegelian in the slight­est; noth­ing engen­ders itself with­out pain.

Prim­i­tive accu­mu­la­tion is doubt­less the accu­mu­la­tion of the pro­le­tari­at. But we have only dis­placed the dif­fi­cul­ty. For the prim­i­tive accu­mu­la­tion of the pro­le­tari­at pos­es a fur­ther prob­lem. In say­ing that this is not an easy process for cap­i­tal­ism, and that it must deploy the entire pow­er of the state – for exam­ple, the Eng­lish army chas­ing off the Irish ten­ants dur­ing the “enclo­sures,” leads us to a new dif­fi­cul­ty: does pro­le­tar­i­an­iza­tion hap­pen once and for all? In this case, after an ini­tial dose of vio­lence intend­ed to pro­le­tar­i­an­ize the land­hold­ing peas­ants and expel them, move them by force, cap­i­tal­ism would return to soft­er, more eco­nom­ic meth­ods which hide this ini­tial coup de force.

But let’s pro­pose anoth­er hypoth­e­sis, at least as plau­si­ble as the first, pre­sup­pos­ing that pro­le­tar­i­an­iza­tion must – just as cap­i­tal must start from mon­ey which is not cap­i­tal – start from real­i­ty. This real­i­ty cov­ers the free poor in the cen­ter of the world-econ­o­my and the slaves or serfs in the periph­ery who are not part of the pro­le­tari­at or work­ing class; let’s put forth the hypoth­e­sis that this pro­le­tar­i­an­iza­tion, as a depri­va­tion of lib­er­ty, must be repro­duced on an expand­ed scale, then vio­lence is no longer nec­es­sary once, but it is nec­es­sary to guar­an­tee the main­tain cap­i­tal­ism in a con­tin­u­ous fash­ion. And prim­i­tive accu­mu­la­tion becomes the con­tin­u­ous accu­mu­la­tion of the process of ongo­ing pro­le­tar­i­an­iza­tion. It is a mat­ter of con­tin­u­ous cre­ation, to use Descartes’s lan­guage.

The text of chap­ter 26, “The Secret of Prim­i­tive Accu­mu­la­tion,” seems to point in the same direc­tion we are indi­cat­ing:

The cap­i­tal-rela­tion pre­sup­pos­es a com­plete sep­a­ra­tion between the work­ers and the own­er­ship of the con­di­tions for the real­iza­tion of their labour. As soon as cap­i­tal­ist pro­duc­tion stands on its own feet, it not only main­tains this sep­a­ra­tion, but repro­duces it on a con­stant­ly extend­ing scale. The process, there­fore, which cre­ates the cap­i­tal-rela­tion can be noth­ing oth­er than the process which divorces the work­er from the own­er­ship of the con­di­tions of his own labour; it is a process which oper­ates two trans­for­ma­tions, where­by the social means of sub­sis­tence and pro­duc­tion are turned into cap­i­tal, and the imme­di­ate pro­duc­ers are turned into wage-labour­ers. So-called prim­i­tive accu­mu­la­tion, there­fore, is noth­ing else than the his­tor­i­cal process of divorc­ing the pro­duc­er from the means of pro­duc­tion. It appears as “prim­i­tive” because it forms the pre-his­to­ry of cap­i­tal, and of the mode of pro­duc­tion cor­re­spond­ing to cap­i­tal.21

Marx cer­tain­ly pro­vides us with a mod­el of this paci­fi­ca­tion of the cap­i­tal­ist rela­tion, or more exact­ly, this reduc­tion in forms of exoge­nous vio­lence to the sole func­tion­ing of eco­nom­ic mech­a­nisms, when he ana­lyzes the pas­sage from absolute sur­plus-val­ue to rel­a­tive sur­plus-val­ue. This paci­fi­ca­tion takes on a spe­cif­ic role under cap­i­tal­ism: it assures a reg­u­lar sup­ply of labor-pow­er, whose sav­age and unlim­it­ed exploita­tion threat­ens repro­duc­tion. The gen­er­al inter­est of cap­i­tal­ism, usu­al­ly cor­rect­ly inter­pret­ed by the state (includ­ing the lib­er­al state), thus pre­vails over the inter­ests of indi­vid­ual cap­i­tal­ists. But the con­sid­er­a­tion of this need to secure the repro­duc­tion of the work­ing class comes at a cost: a slow but steady rise of the trans­fer costs in the wage-earner’s income. Can we say that the vio­lence of prim­i­tive accu­mu­la­tion is blunt­ed because of the mech­a­nism of the glob­al­iza­tion and social­iza­tion of exploita­tion? The prob­lem or trou­ble for our pur­pos­es is that the pas­sage from absolute sur­plus-val­ue to rel­a­tive sur­plus-val­ue is pro­duced with­in the ful­ly deployed cap­i­tal­ist rela­tion. Cap­i­tal­ism is already entire­ly present, ful­ly equipped – the pro­le­tari­at too – since the pas­sage to rel­a­tive sur­plus-val­ue works or oper­ates in step with the work­ing class’s strug­gle over the lim­it­ing the length of the work­ing day.

If we stick to the tau­to­log­i­cal def­i­n­i­tion of the cap­i­tal­ist mode of pro­duc­tion and sur­plus-val­ue, which holds that only the pres­ence of free wage-labor makes it pos­si­ble to talk about the cap­i­tal­ist mode of pro­duc­tion and sur­plus-val­ue, we have a cap­i­tal­ist mode of pro­duc­tion that is able to be rec­og­nized, iso­lat­ed, and dat­ed in space and time in the same way as Parmenides’s argu­ment for the uni­voc­i­ty of the One, but just as unus­able and immo­bile as the lat­ter. His­tor­i­cal prim­i­tive accu­mu­la­tion becomes the pre­his­to­ry of cap­i­tal­ism. It is not part of its inter­nal his­to­ry. It is not part of the class strug­gle (this exclu­sion will have a sig­nif­i­cant impact on the way in which the work­ers’ move­ment in the core con­sid­ered the strug­gles of the poor [pau­vres] and mod­ern slaves).

There is noth­ing to see in mod­ern slav­ery and forms of serf­dom beyond non-cap­i­tal­ist modes of pro­duc­tion (feu­dal­ism, Ori­en­tal despo­tism, prim­i­tive com­mu­nism). Cap­i­tal­ism indeed has ori­gins, but its begin­nings hold an air of mys­tery, like the Hegelian pas­sage from quan­ti­ty to qual­i­ty, or some kind of anti-Hegelian and Althusser­ian overde­ter­mi­na­tion. This expla­na­tion of cap­i­tal­ism appears weak when it is a ques­tion of dis­cov­er­ing the real mech­a­nisms of the his­tor­i­cal gen­e­sis of the sys­tem of cap­i­tal­ist pro­duc­tion. New dif­fi­cul­ties are gen­er­at­ed when it is a ques­tion of explain­ing the coex­is­tence of forms of unfree depen­dent labor all through­out the expan­sion of cap­i­tal­ism across the globe. And yet we still impute the force and sta­mi­na of slav­ery in the sug­ar­cane fields of Cuba, the cof­fee plan­ta­tions of Brazil, and the cot­ton fields of the Unit­ed States between 1790 and 1860 to the rem­nants of feu­dal­ism and trans­for­ma­tions of the world mar­ket (a very high demand result­ing from indus­tri­al and wage trans­for­ma­tions in the core of the sys­tem); but do we resort to the same expla­na­tion for debt slav­ery in con­tem­po­rary agri­cul­ture in Peru or India?22

Dale Tomich, on the basis of his study of the trans­for­ma­tions in slav­ery after 1791 (the Hait­ian Rev­o­lu­tion) in Mar­tinique and then Cuba, accu­rate­ly pos­es the under­ly­ing the­o­ret­i­cal prob­lem.23 Start­ing from the impor­tant con­tro­ver­sy pit­ting Robert Bren­ner against Immanuel Waller­stein, he focus­es on the impasse ortho­dox Marx­ism encoun­ters in its response to the ques­tion of the nature of slav­ery with­in accu­mu­la­tion, which only repeats the vicious cycle Marx sought to escape.24 He clear­ly takes Wallerstein’s side in his glob­al and sys­tem­at­ic approach, whose cen­tral argu­ment seems to hold to the prin­ci­ple that, through the cir­cu­la­tion of mon­ey and com­mod­i­ty flows, and through the world mar­ket, the core of the cap­i­tal­ist sys­tem comes to extract sur­plus-val­ue, includ­ing forms of unfree depen­dent labor, with­out the pri­or estab­lish­ment of the canon­i­cal wage rela­tion. This is what we have tried to show, on our part, in our work on slav­ery and the gen­e­sis of wage-labor. The cre­ation of the incred­i­bly com­plex insti­tu­tion­al form of the fixed-length labor con­tract and wage-labor is not a for­mal pre­con­di­tion for the extrac­tion of sur­plus-val­ue, but the his­tor­i­cal prod­uct of a strug­gle by depen­dent labor to win its free­dom, and thus a social inven­tion.25

Nev­er­the­less, Tomich cor­rect­ly empha­sizes that Wallerstein’s ini­tial impulse can lead to an “economism” and a “struc­tural­ism” detri­men­tal to a care­ful empir­i­cal analy­sis of the ter­rain. The con­flict­ual dimen­sion and the insti­tu­tion­al out­come – always spe­cif­ic – of the con­fig­u­ra­tions of the prim­i­tive accu­mu­la­tion of the work­ing class are at risk of dis­solv­ing into a reduc­tive and homo­ge­neous per­spec­tive. Isn’t it nec­es­sary to pose as a guid­ing method­olog­i­cal prin­ci­ple for his­tor­i­cal and eco­nom­ic research that what took place in the “enclave of slav­ery,” or more broad­ly in sys­tems depen­dent upon par­tic­u­lar or “anom­alous” forms of labor, as well as their evo­lu­tions, is not inde­pen­dent of: (a) inter­nal forces (what we can call the gov­er­nance of a sys­tem of slav­ery); (b) the inter­nal dynamism of the sys­tem of free labor which is coex­is­tent either at the glob­al lev­el or in the same ter­ri­to­ry; (c) the inter­ac­tive effects pro­duced between the two sys­tems?

We have tried to show, for exam­ple, that the pro­gres­sive enslave­ment of black peo­ple in Vir­ginia and oth­er North Amer­i­can colonies between 1620 and 1690 is insep­a­ra­ble from the extreme penury of the work­force in the plan­ta­tions due to the escape from and rup­ture with the con­tract labor of whites (inden­tured ser­vants) and blacks; that the sys­tem of con­tract­ing the work­force from the metrop­o­les result­ed in a pol­i­cy of dif­fer­en­tial treat­ment between two types of labor; that the flight of slaves who sought to regain their free­dom, specif­i­cal­ly by demo­graph­ic breach [brèche démo­graphique] (sex­u­al rela­tion­ships and inter­ra­cial mar­riages), led to the estab­lish­ment of seg­re­ga­tion. This seg­re­ga­tion devel­oped into actu­al apartheid (in Haiti, in North Amer­i­ca, in South Africa at dif­fer­ent moments) when the pro­por­tion of the black enslaved pop­u­la­tion arriv­ing from Africa became over­whelm­ing.26

In the case of con­tem­po­rary inter­na­tion­al labor migra­tion – like slav­ery, like coolie labor – the most pro­duc­tive method­olog­i­cal hypoth­e­sis is not that which con­sid­ers the dif­fer­ent forms of depen­dent labor (free/unfree, semi-free or bri­dled) as direct­ly sub­sti­tutable, but which locates how they are com­ple­men­tary.27 More broad­ly, it’s obvi­ous­ly nec­es­sary to think, at one and the same time, the fail­ure to fix and put to work a pro­le­tari­at at the core of the world-econ­o­my – this prob­lem thus takes the form of the ques­tion of the poor – and the daz­zling growth of the plan­ta­tion econ­o­my. Colo­nial slav­ery and serf­dom in West­ern Europe does not con­sti­tute the prim­i­tive accu­mu­la­tion of the pro­le­tari­at (which already exists) but the work­ing class.

We shall try to illus­trate this method of treat­ing the juridi­cal het­ero­gene­ity of depen­dent labor by return­ing now to Marx’s descrip­tion of con­tin­u­ous and expand­ed accu­mu­la­tion of the pro­le­tari­at.

Proletarianization and Dependent Labor: A Complex, Nonlinear Process

On close exam­i­na­tion, this rela­tion which trans­forms depen­dent labor into a con­di­tion of cap­i­tal pre­sup­pos­es a triple sep­a­ra­tion (Tre­nung): 1) the sep­a­ra­tion of the indi­vid­ual or pro­duc­tive unit from the means of pro­duc­tion. This fea­ture is gen­er­al­ly held as a char­ac­ter­is­tic of “pro­le­tar­i­an­iza­tion,” and con­forms to the def­i­n­i­tion of the pau­vre giv­en by Jean-Pierre Camus, the bish­op of Besançon, in his Traité de la pau­vreté evan­gelique (1634): “He alone is tru­ly poor who has no oth­er means of liv­ing oth­er than his labour or indus­try, whether mind or body.”28 Since the 17th cen­tu­ry, to be poor is to have no oth­er means of liv­ing oth­er than intel­lec­tu­al or phys­i­cal fac­ul­ties. The def­i­n­i­tion­al pre­ci­sion of this pas­sage is admirable, as it also includes the pro­le­tari­at under intel­lec­tu­al labor, and does not fall back into the oppo­si­tion between men­tal and man­u­al labor. But there is anoth­er sep­a­ra­tion that plays a deter­mi­nant role in the pro­le­tar­i­an­iza­tion: the sep­a­ra­tion of the indi­vid­ual or unit of pro­duc­tion (fam­i­ly, com­mu­ni­ty) from the prod­uct, which large­ly gov­erns access to the mar­ket. This access breaks down into the right to sell the prod­uct of one’s labor on the mar­ket; or indeed into the sim­ple tol­er­ance and final­ly out­right ban on sell­ing the prod­uct. The very notion of the prod­uct of labor depends on this pos­si­bil­i­ty. When the indi­vid­ual or group is denied the right and prac­ti­cal pos­si­bil­i­ty to access the mar­ket where it can sell their activ­i­ty or the prod­uct of this activ­i­ty, they see the mar­gins of free­dom reduced. Regimes of slav­ery, serf­dom, peas­ant pro­duc­tion, and com­bined wage-labor (with anoth­er activ­i­ty) are atten­u­at­ed when this right is obtained, whether de jure or de fac­to. This is not a mat­ter of prop­er­ty rights over a good or ser­vice, but the right to trade freely. One of the most his­tor­i­cal­ly com­mon meth­ods of lim­it­ing the indi­vid­ual to sell his or her­self as a mere depen­dent labor­er (free or not) is to for­bid them from engag­ing in any oth­er forms of com­merce. This is why every dimin­ished regime of depen­dent labor includes the right to land, mon­ey-hold­ing, and the free­dom to trade. Sim­ple com­mod­i­ty pro­duc­tion is high­ly depen­dent upon it.

We now come to the third form of sep­a­ra­tion observ­able in pro­le­tar­i­an­iza­tion: the sep­a­ra­tion of the men­tal or phys­i­cal activ­i­ty from the per­son of which it is the bear­er or sup­port (Träger, says Marx). This is what allows wage-labor to appear to be the hir­ing of ser­vices or capac­i­ties, as not the pur­chase of a per­son as in slav­ery or servi­tude (the lat­ter two being described in the Code du tra­vail as ille­gal sub­con­tract­ing [délit de marchandage]).

Each of these con­di­tions is open to vari­a­tion, how­ev­er. The sep­a­ra­tion of the work­er from the means of pro­duc­tion might con­cern the earth, hous­ing, tools, or machines. A squat­ter who makes de fac­to use of a dwelling, whether it be the “allot­ment slave” [l’esclave man­sé] (with rel­a­tive auton­o­my and could own small plots of land), the Eng­lish cot­tager, the maroon in the Antilles, the fave­la­do in the mid­dle of the city, is not in the same con­di­tion of pro­le­tar­i­an­iza­tion as Jean-Pierre Camus’s pau­vre in the 17th cen­tu­ry, the home­less [le sans domi­cile fixe], or the wage-earn­ing ten­ant.29

The sep­a­ra­tion from the mar­ket might be for­mal (the slave under the harsh­est regime of slav­ery who nei­ther has the right to hold mon­ey, nor goods of any kind, nor prod­ucts cul­ti­vat­ed or pro­duced by him). The slaves or peas­ants in social­ist regimes who can cul­ti­vate their own land and/or sell and trade their prod­uct on a mar­ket are less con­strained than those who can­not. The wage-earn­er in a high­ly devel­oped cap­i­tal­ist econ­o­my will be in a very dif­fer­ent sit­u­a­tion accord­ing to whether the co-prod­uct of his activ­i­ty (co-prod­uct because it most often involves a joint pro­duc­tion with an extreme­ly com­plex machin­ery; if he were alone, he would not pro­duce any­thing direct­ly sell­able on a mar­ket or requires a go-between which can be in his hands, at his dis­pos­al, or rather in the hands of the employ­er. This ques­tion is quite tricky in the case of the putting out sys­tem, where the mer­chant is a posi­tion of strength vis-a-vis the man­u­fac­tur­er, not because he direct­ly con­trols the labor process, but because he is in a monop­sony posi­tion.

To add to the com­plex­i­ty, we can note that the third clause, that of the sep­a­ra­tion between labor-pow­er and the per­son (only the first being the object of the purchase/sale trans­ac­tion) is not the nec­es­sary and suf­fi­cient con­di­tion for the com­mod­i­fi­ca­tion of labor. Put oth­er­wise: in order for there to be a labor mar­ket, it is not essen­tial for the bear­er of the activ­i­ty to be free in both de jure and de fac­to terms. There exists a mar­ket of unfree, even semi-free labor (inden­tured ser­vants, tem­po­rary slaves). The exis­tence of such a mar­ket can be con­firmed by empir­i­cal facts, on the one hand (com­mer­cial reg­is­ters), and laws of func­tion­ing that even W. Stan­ley Jevons would not have dis­avowed, on the oth­er: specif­i­cal­ly, through the for­ma­tion of the sup­ply and demand of this par­tic­u­lar com­mod­i­ty, in a sep­a­rate fash­ion, through their con­fronta­tion, through the mech­a­nism of price vari­a­tion cor­rel­a­tive to a vari­a­tion of avail­able quan­ti­ties, and even of very sophis­ti­cat­ed over­all val­u­a­tion mech­a­nisms. We might even say that the labor mar­ket for slaves, inden­tured ser­vants, in short, forms of unfree labor (work­ers under peon­age, or work­ers tied to their employ­ers through debt bondage) resem­bles more what econ­o­mists and mer­chants have his­tor­i­cal­ly called a mar­ket than the very para­dox­i­cal mar­ket of free wage-labor. The exis­tence of a free labor mar­ket does not nec­es­sar­i­ly imply that what is bought and sold there is free.30 This is a method­olog­i­cal­ly fun­da­men­tal dis­tinc­tion when we exam­ine the forms the labor mar­ket takes today. The fact that the lat­ter present flu­id and adjus­tive char­ac­ter­is­tics makes it dif­fi­cult for us to infer from them a pro­gres­sive ten­den­cy in work­ers’ free­dom.

The speci­fici­ty of the labor-pow­er com­mod­i­ty, which Marx so bril­liant­ly ana­lyzed, is the inde­ter­mi­nate char­ac­ter of its lat­er use-val­ue once the ini­tial exchange is con­clud­ed, because it is with­in the pow­er of the labor­er to vary its imple­men­ta­tion via machin­ery. But this also applies to the slave, as well as all the forms of unfree depen­dent labor, once the mas­ter imple­ments a labor process in which the depen­dent labor­er com­pris­es a part of the con­di­tions of work.

Pro­le­tar­i­an­iza­tion, de-pro­le­tar­i­an­iza­tion, and re-pro­le­tar­i­an­iza­tion thus appear as the first, ongo­ing chal­lenges in the class strug­gle. The juridi­cal form of the money/labor trans­ac­tion is not an emp­ty form which would lay the frame­work for a wage-earner’s strug­gle over quan­ti­ties and prices. The wage-earner’s strug­gle over prices and quan­ti­ties is only one aspect of what is at stake. The mar­ket of rights and free­doms is doubt­less more impor­tant in its con­se­quences on the social costs of the func­tion­ing of cap­i­tal­ism. Robert Cas­tel and Clau­dine Haroche have retraced the gen­e­sis of the move­ment of de-pro­le­tar­i­an­iza­tion and par­tial decom­mod­i­fi­ca­tion of the wage rela­tion in the mar­ket order, when repub­li­can the­o­rists of reform estab­lished the work­er as pos­sess­ing social rights in order to strug­gle against a pro­le­tar­i­an­iza­tion whose rev­o­lu­tion­ary and desta­bi­liz­ing effects they mea­sured.31

A fourth cat­e­go­ry should be added to the degrees of “rad­i­cal” pro­le­tar­i­an­iza­tion: the dis­pos­ses­sion of polit­i­cal, civ­il, and per­son­al rights. We have set up the inven­to­ry of rights which are paths towards free­dom in both slav­ery and oth­er forms of his­tor­i­cal serf­dom.32

But does not the seg­men­ta­tion of the con­tem­po­rary mar­ket dis­play an equal com­plex­i­ty in the reg­u­la­tion of inter­na­tion­al migrants through dif­fer­ent regimes of work cards, trav­el visas, and employ­ment access?

Through a gen­er­al grid that can serve as an inven­to­ry for the degrees of free­dom of depen­dent labor, it is easy to see that this four­fold order of con­di­tions, often reduced too quick­ly to the pri­va­tion of the means of pro­duc­tion, opens onto a num­ber of sig­nif­i­cant con­di­tions. The table below pro­vides a good illus­tra­tion of this by restrict­ing the col­umn of rights to only the per­son­al free­dom of the depen­dent labor­er.33

Table: The Four Dimen­sions of Pro­le­tar­i­an­iza­tion

Cat­e­go­ry of Depen­dent Labor Sep­a­ra­tion from the Means of Pro­duc­tion Sep­a­ra­tion of the Prod­uct from the Mar­ket Sep­a­ra­tion of Labor-Pow­er from the Per­son Free­dom of the Bear­er [Träger] of Labor-Pow­er
Unfree Sim­ple Com­mod­i­ty Pro­duc­er No No No No
Free Sim­ple Com­mod­i­ty Pro­duc­er No No No Yes
Full Serf­dom No Yes No No
Atten­u­at­ed Serf­dom No Yes No Yes
Mod­ern Slav­ery No Yes Yes No
Enfran­chised, Squat­ter No Yes Yes Yes
Atten­u­at­ed Slav­ery Yes No No No
Squat­ter Yes No No Yes
Unfree Indebt­ed Arti­san Yes No Yes No
Free Indebt­ed Arti­san Yes No Yes Yes
Unfree Wage-Earn­er Yes Yes Yes No
Free Wage-Earn­er Yes Yes Yes Yes

The last sec­tion of this table might sug­gest that free wage-labor is the cul­mi­na­tion of a process of pro­le­tar­i­an­iza­tion car­ried through to its end. Stripped of all the instru­ments of labor, deprived of all direct access to mar­ket of pro­duc­ers except for that of their own labor-pow­er, split between their capac­i­ty to work and sta­tus as a per­son free to sell them­selves to the high­est offer, the wage-earn­er would be capitalism’s final word. This con­clu­sion would be mis­tak­en. Those who make the argu­ment for “lim­it­ed pro­le­tar­i­an­iza­tion” [pro­lé­tari­sa­tion restreinte], in line with our empir­i­cal obser­va­tions on the hybrid and impure sit­u­a­tions of pro­le­tar­i­an­iza­tion, have inferred that cap­i­tal­ism retreats before the con­se­quences of a gen­er­al­ized expan­sion of wage-labor [salari­sa­tion]. Pro­le­tar­i­an­iza­tion can nev­er come to an end, and this trait would be an indi­ca­tor of under­de­vel­op­ment. For our part, we tend rather to fol­low Sid­ney Mintz’s approach to the “peas­ant breach” by under­stand­ing the ensem­ble of forms of depen­dent labor.34 The path towards free­dom con­stant­ly runs counter to the log­ic of cap­i­tal­ist pro­le­tar­i­an­iza­tion and often charts a tra­jec­to­ry that devi­ates from the expect­ed tra­jec­to­ry of a “pure” pro­le­tar­i­an­iza­tion.35 This con­tra­dic­to­ry pro­le­tar­i­an­iza­tion is large­ly con­sol­i­dat­ed, at the cen­ter of the cap­i­tal­ist world-econ­o­my, through the con­struc­tion of a wage-earn­er who becomes the “own­er” of social rights, while access to cer­tain goods (hous­ing, pat­ri­mo­ny, human cap­i­tal) lim­its the clas­si­cal modes of man­ag­ing wage-labor and the mid­dle class­es. The pre­cariza­tion of the labor mar­ket (espe­cial­ly the attacks on the canon­i­cal mod­el of the indef­i­nite employ­ment con­tract) and the involve­ment of a sig­nif­i­cant per­cent­age of house­holds in a pat­ri­mo­ni­al gov­er­nance of the finan­cial assets of the econ­o­my reflect an attempt to com­bat this trans­for­ma­tion.36

Along with depen­dent labor, forms of unfree labor are part of the over­all eco­nom­ic pic­ture of the ensem­ble of cap­i­tal­ist rela­tions.

– Trans­lat­ed by Patrick King

This text was orig­i­nal­ly pub­lished as “Formes de tra­vail non libre: “Accu­mu­la­tion prim­i­tive. préhis­toire ou his­toire con­tin­uée du cap­i­tal­isme?” Cahiers d’Études Africaines 45, no. 179/180 (2005): 1069–1092.


  1. The author wish­es to thank the stu­dents in his sem­i­nar “Prim­i­tive Accu­mu­la­tion Revis­it­ed?” giv­en in the Soci­ol­o­gy Depart­ment at SUNY-Bing­ham­ton, as well as his col­league Dale Tomich for the fruit­ful exchanges they have had on the sub­ject. 

  2. To under­stand his­tor­i­cal wage-labor in the same way that Immanuel Waller­stein under­stands his­tor­i­cal cap­i­tal­ism, for exam­ple, is to con­sid­er that insti­tu­tions real­ly mat­ter, includ­ing and above all their effect on the econ­o­my. Wage-labor has been con­struct­ed: it evolves, it rep­re­sents a bor­der­line and per­ma­nent site of con­fronta­tion between the micro and macro-social. A new prac­tice root­ed in a moment of mas­sive move­ments of flight [com­porte­ments de fuite] could be incor­po­rat­ed in the fol­low­ing peri­od in con­sti­tu­tion­al forms of labor, thus becom­ing the arma­ture for cod­i­fy­ing soci­etal debate and pub­lic expres­sion. 

  3. See Alain Supi­ot, Au-delà de l’emploi: trans­for­ma­tions du tra­vail et devenir du droit du tra­vail en Europe (Paris: Flam­mar­i­on, 1999). 

  4. W.W. Ros­tow, The Stages of Eco­nom­ic Growth: A Non-Com­mu­nist Man­i­festo (Cam­bridge: Cam­bridge Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 1960). 

  5. Point III presents the goals the char­ter hopes to achieve: (a) full employ­ment and the rais­ing of stan­dards of liv­ing; (b) the employ­ment of work­ers in the occu­pa­tions in which they can have the sat­is­fac­tion of giv­ing the fullest mea­sure of their skill and attain­ments and make their great­est con­tri­bu­tion to the com­mon well-being; (c) the pro­vi­sion as a means to the attain­ment of this end and under ade­quate guar­an­tees for all con­cerned, of facil­i­ties for train­ing and the trans­fer of labor, includ­ing migra­tion for employ­ment and set­tle­ment (d) poli­cies in regard to wages and earn­ings, hours and oth­er con­di­tions of work cal­cu­lat­ed to ensure a just share of the fruits of progress to all, and a min­i­mum liv­ing wage to all employed and in need of such pro­tec­tion; (e) the effec­tive recog­ni­tion of the right of col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing, the coop­er­a­tion of man­age­ment and labor in the con­tin­u­ous improve­ment of pro­duc­tive effi­cien­cy, and the col­lab­o­ra­tion of work­ers and employ­ers in the prepa­ra­tion and appli­ca­tion of social and eco­nom­ic mea­sures; (f) the exten­sion of social secu­ri­ty mea­sures to pro­vide a basic income to all in need of such pro­tec­tion and com­pre­hen­sive med­ical care; (g) ade­quate pro­tec­tion for the life and health of work­ers in all occu­pa­tions; (h) pro­vi­sion for child wel­fare and mater­ni­ty pro­tec­tion; (i) the pro­vi­sion of ade­quate nutri­tion, hous­ing and facil­i­ties for recre­ation and cul­ture; (j) the assur­ance of equal­i­ty of edu­ca­tion­al and voca­tion­al oppor­tu­ni­ty. 

  6. Yann Mouli­er Boutang, De l’esclavage au salari­at. Économie his­torique du salari­at bridé (Paris: Press­es Uni­ver­si­taires de France, 1998), 486–94. 

  7. William Bev­eridge, Full Employ­ment in a Free Soci­ety (Lon­don: Rout­ledge, 2015 [1944]). 

  8. These pro­gram­mat­ic aims of the Dec­la­ra­tion include: “(f) the exten­sion of social secu­ri­ty mea­sures to pro­vide a basic income to all in need of such pro­tec­tion and com­pre­hen­sive med­ical care; (g) ade­quate pro­tec­tion for the life and health of work­ers in all occu­pa­tions; (h) pro­vi­sion for child wel­fare and mater­ni­ty pro­tec­tion; (i) the pro­vi­sion of ade­quate nutri­tion, hous­ing and facil­i­ties for recre­ation and cul­ture; (j) the assur­ance of equal­i­ty of edu­ca­tion­al and voca­tion­al oppor­tu­ni­ty.” 

  9. Charles Gib­son, The Aztecs under Span­ish Rule: A His­to­ry of the Indi­ans of the Val­ley of Mex­i­co, 1519–1810 (Stan­ford, Stan­ford Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 1964); A.J. Bauer, “Rur­al Work­ers in Span­ish Amer­i­ca. Prob­lems of Peon­age and Oppres­sion,” His­pan­ic Amer­i­can His­tor­i­cal Review 59, no. 1 (Feb­ru­ary 1979): 34–63. For a cri­tique of this argu­ment of eco­nom­ic or cul­tur­al empow­er­ment through serf­dom, based on a study of Peru and North­east and North­west India, see Tom Brass, Towards a Com­par­a­tive Polit­i­cal Econ­o­my of Unfree Labour: Case Stud­ies and Debates (London/Portland: Frank Cass, 1999), 182–83, 188–89. Translator’s Note: I take the term enganche from Michael Mon­teon, “The Enganche in the Chilean Nitrate Sec­tor, 1880-1930,” Latin Amer­i­can Per­spec­tives 6, no. 3 (Sum­mer 1979): 66–79. 

  10. Accord­ing to a 2001 Inter­na­tion­al Labor Bureau report, among chil­dren ages 5 to 17, one of every six – 246 mil­lion – are required to work. More con­cern­ing still, one of every eight – 179 mil­lion – chil­dren are sub­ject­ed to the worst forms of labor, those which put their phys­i­cal or men­tal health, or their moral­i­ty, in dan­ger. And more than 8 mil­lion chil­dren are fac­ing sit­u­a­tions of enslave­ment. 

  11. Yann Mouli­er Boutang and Demetrios Papademetri­ou, “Typolo­gie, évo­lu­tion et per­for­mances des prin­ci­paux sys­tèmes migra­toires,” in Migra­tion et développe­ment: un nou­veau parte­nar­i­at pour la coopéra­tion (Paris: OCDE, 1994), 21–41. 

  12. Jean-Pierre Gar­son, Yann Mouli­er Boutang, and Rox­ane Sil­ber­man, Économie poli­tique des migra­tions clan­des­tines de main-d’œuvre: Com­para­isons inter­na­tionales et exem­ple fran­cais (Paris: Pub­lisud, 1986). 

  13. See the dossier on this sub­ject in Mul­ti­tudes 19 (Win­ter 2004). 

  14. By canon­i­cal wage-labor, we mean the inde­ter­mi­nate employ­ment con­tract estab­lished between an employ­er in accor­dance with their legal oblig­a­tions, and a per­son free to break said con­tract for a bet­ter pro­tect­ed or bet­ter pay­ing form of employ­ment. 

  15. For a bal­anced inven­to­ry of this forms of unfree labor, see Robert Miles, Cap­i­tal­ism and Unfree Labour: Anom­aly or Neces­si­ty? (London/New York: Tavi­s­tock Pub­li­ca­tions, 1987); Brass, Towards a Com­par­a­tive Polit­i­cal Econ­o­my of Unfree Labour; Mouli­er Boutang, De l’esclavage au salari­at; and more recent­ly, Dale W. Tomich, Through the Prism of Slav­ery: Labor, Cap­i­tal, and World Econ­o­my (Lan­tham, MD: Row­man & Lit­tle­field Pub­lish­ers, 2004). Yves Benot’s work, although it shares with these oth­er stud­ies the idea of a uni­ty of the sides of cap­i­tal­ism (its lumi­nous side of the lib­er­a­tion of work in free wage-labor, and its somber side, per­pet­u­at­ing the most bru­tal forms of dom­i­na­tion) is a bit dif­fer­ent, since it empha­sizes the con­ti­nu­ities of cap­i­tal­ism. See Yves Benot, La Moder­nité de l’esclavage (Paris: La Décou­verte, 2004). 

  16. Eric Williams, Cap­i­tal­ism and Slav­ery (Chapel Hill: Uni­ver­si­ty of North Car­oli­na Press, 2007 [1944]); Andre Gun­der Frank, Cap­i­tal­ism and Under­de­vel­op­ment in Latin Amer­i­ca (New York: Month­ly Review Press, 1967); Eugene Gen­ovese, The Polit­i­cal Econ­o­my of Slav­ery (New York: Pan­theon Books, 1971) Manuel Moreno Frag­i­nals, The Sug­armill: The Socioe­co­nom­ic Com­plex of Sug­ar in Cuba, 1760–1860, trad. Cedric Bel­frage, (New York, Month­ly Review Press, 1976); Immanuel Waller­stein, The Cap­i­tal­ist World-Econ­o­my (New York, Cam­bridge Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 1979); Waller­stein, The Mod­ern World-Sys­tem II: Mer­can­til­ism and the Con­sol­i­da­tion of the Euro­pean World-Econ­o­my, 1650–1750 (Berke­ley: Uni­ver­si­ty of Cal­i­for­nia Press, 2011 [1984]); Jacob Goren­der, O escrav­is­mo colo­nial (Sao Paulo: Edi­to­ra Ati­ca, 1992); Sid­ney Mintz, Sweet­ness and Pow­er. The Place of Sug­ar in Mod­ern His­to­ry (New York: Viking/Penguin, 1985); Dou­glass C. North and Robert P. Thomas, The Rise of the West­ern World: A New Eco­nom­ic His­to­ry (Cam­bridge: Cam­bridge Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 1999); Robert William Fogel and Stan­ley L. Enger­man, The Eco­nom­ics of Amer­i­can Negro Slav­ery, vol. 1 (Lon­don: Wild­wood House, 1974). 

  17. The last great clas­si­cal polit­i­cal econ­o­mist, John Stu­art Mill, was aware of this; his long voy­age in the West Indies led him to clear­ly for­mu­late the neces­si­ty of per­son­al lib­er­ty and the pro­hi­bi­tion of any kind of the sell­ing of human beings Mean­while, one finds almost a roy­al indif­fer­ence in Smith, Ricar­do, Malthus and even…Marx on the ques­tion of slav­ery. We might ask whether Marx did not see in slav­ery, as he did on the ques­tion of castes, a sur­vival which devel­op­ment would rec­ti­fy. We can also note that Mill, at the end of his life, after hav­ing the sat­is­fac­tion of see­ing the abo­li­tion of Russ­ian serf­dom and the abo­li­tion of slav­ery in the Unit­ed States, under­took anoth­er strug­gle, that of polit­i­cal equal­i­ty for women. 

  18. Karl Marx, Cap­i­tal, trans. David Fern­bach, vol. 1 (Lon­don: Pen­guin, 1992), 873. 

  19. Mintz, Sweet­ness and Pow­er

  20. Marx, Cap­i­tal, vol. 1, 874. 

  21. Ibid., 874–75. 

  22. See Brass, Towards a Com­par­a­tive Polit­i­cal Econ­o­my of Unfree Labour

  23. Dale Tomich, Slav­ery in the Cir­cuit of Sug­ar: Mar­tinique and the World Econ­o­my, 1830–1848) (Bal­ti­more: Johns Hop­kins Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 1990); see also his Through the Prism of Slav­ery, espe­cial­ly 32–46 and 75–94. 

  24. Robert Bren­ner, “The Ori­gins of Cap­i­tal­ist Devel­op­ment: A Cri­tique of Neo-Smithi­an Marx­ism,” New Left Review I, no. 104 (1977): 25–92; Immanuel Waller­stein, The Cap­i­tal­ist World-Econ­o­my (Cam­bridge: Cam­bridge Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 1995); Waller­stein, The Mod­ern World-Sys­tem II: Mer­can­til­ism and the Con­sol­i­da­tion of the Euro­pean World-Econ­o­my, 1650–1750

  25. Mouli­er Boutang, De l’esclavage au salari­at

  26. Ibid., chap­ter 19, which is a his­tor­i­cal analy­sis of the con­trol of the South African labor mar­ket; On Cuba, see Yann Mouli­er Boutang “Le fonc­tion­nement de l’économie de plan­ta­tion esclavagiste à Cuba (1790–1868),” Revue Tiers-Monde 43, no. 171 (2002): 555–77; on Haiti, see Yann Mouli­er Boutang, “La fin de l’esclavage: Haïti et les mod­èles de tran­si­tion abo­li­tion­nistes,” in Yves Benot and Mar­cel Dorigny, eds., Rétab­lisse­ment de l’esclavage dans les colonies français­es, aux orig­ines d’Haïti (Paris: Maison­neuve et Larose, 2003), 201–19. 

  27. See, for exam­ple, the rela­tion­ship between the nation­al workforce/immigrant work­force invest­ed with a lim­it­ed free­dom, and the undoc­u­ment­ed immi­grant work­force whose mobil­i­ty is imped­ed on prin­ci­ple, which allows for the dis­cre­tionary man­age­ment of the needs of the work­force in the pro­duc­tive sec­tors with chron­ic short­ages. Cf. Gar­son, Mouli­er Boutang, and Sil­ber­man, Économie poli­tique des migra­tions clan­des­tines de main-d’oeuvre

  28. Mouli­er Boutang, De l’esclavage au salari­at, 274ff. 

  29. TN: Claude Meil­las­soux pro­vides a dis­cus­sion of the dif­fer­ing modes of exploita­tion deter­min­ing the con­di­tions of repro­duc­tion (espe­cial­ly in rela­tion to prop­er­ty) amongst slaves, in The Anthro­pol­o­gy of Slav­ery: The Womb of Iron and Gold, trans. Alide Das­nois (Chica­go: Uni­ver­si­ty of Chica­go Press, 1991), 116-129. 

  30. Brass, Towards a Com­par­a­tive Polit­i­cal Econ­o­my of Unfree Labour, 148. 

  31. Robert Cas­tel and Clau­dine Haroche, Propriété privée, propriété sociale, propriété de soi: entre­tiens sur la con­struc­tion de l’individu mod­erne (Paris: Fayard, 2001). 

  32. Mouli­er Boutang, De l’esclavage au salari­at, 680–83. 

  33. We have tried to com­pile a much more detailed syn­op­tic table as an annex to De l’esclavage au salari­at, 693–702. Hence we have iden­ti­fied new forms of sub­or­di­na­tion of depen­dent labor; canon­i­cal wage-labor rep­re­sents only one kind. 

  34. Sid­ney W. Mintz, Caribbean Trans­for­ma­tions (Chica­go: Aldine Press, 1974). TN: The peas­ant breach refers to the his­tor­i­cal tran­si­tion when peas­ants began to gain access to prop­er­ty and to the mar­ket. 

  35. In a pre­vi­ous arti­cle, I have tried to under­line the main char­ac­ter­is­tics of this con­tra­dic­to­ry pro­le­tar­i­an­iza­tion, but not through the “will” of cap­i­tal­ism but through forms of resis­tance to it. See Yann Mouli­er Boutang, “Between the Hatred of All Walls and the Walls of Hate, the Minori­tar­i­an Diag­o­nal of Minori­ties,” in Meaghan Mor­ris and Brett de Bary, eds., “Race,” Pan­ic, and the Mem­o­ry of Migra­tion. Traces: A Multi­na­tion­al Jour­nal of Cul­tur­al The­o­ry and Trans­la­tion, 2 (Hong Kong: Hong Kong Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 2001), 104–29, espe­cial­ly 118. 

  36. While 9% of French house­holds have a part of their wealth on the stock mar­ket, that pro­por­tion ris­es to 40% for U.S. house­holds. 

Author of the article

is a French economist. He is the author of De l'esclavage au salariat: Économie historique du salariat bridé and Cognitive Capitalism. He is on the editorial board of the journal Multitudes.