Anomaly or necessity: Capitalism and unfree labour

Miles, Robert (1986) Anomaly or necessity: Capitalism and unfree labour. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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The thesis is concerned with three issues which are argued to be interrelated, First, and centrally, it is concerned with the theoretical and historical problem of the interrelationship between capitalism and unfree labour, a problem which is shown to be common to both the Marxist and Weberian theoretical traditions, The essence of the problem is that if capitalism is defined by reference to the form in which labour power is retained and exploited (i. e. free, wage labour), then it is necessary to explain the historical fact (and amomaly) that forms of unfree labour have been reproduced side by side with the spread of free, wage labour, and to conceptualise the character of those relations of production, Second, it is concerned with the political economy of migration and seeks to demonstrate that the development of capitalism on a world scale is inseparable from international migration, Third, it is concerned with the process of racialisation and its articulation with production relations, In Part 1, I identify the parameters of the theoretical problem within the Marxist tradition, I show that Marx's conception of the essential, defining features of the capitalist mode of production includes the existence of wage labour, that is, the circulation of labour power as a commodity within a market, From that conception, I derive and develop a distinction between free and unfree labour, I then demonstrate that Marx's own historical analysis of the transition from feudalism to capitalism is limited in a number of respects, although I derive from that analysis two theoretical concepts which are subsequently used for analytical purposes in Part 3, The essence of the weakness is Marx's failure to analyse and explain the continuity and reproduction of forms of unfree labour in parallel with the expansion on a world scale of the capitalist mode of production and therefore with free, wage labour, I conclude Part I with a critical analysis of the work of a number of writers, particularly that of Wallerstein, who claim adherence to the Marxist tradition and who offer a conception of capitalism which rejects Marx's claim that the relations of production constitute the central, although not the sole, defining feature of any mode of production, That theoretical perspective is shown to be capable of conceptualising and explaining the parallel existence of free and unfree relations of production but to exhibit a number of theoretical and historical problems which thereby leave the original problem unresolved, Having identified the essential features of the capitalist mode of production, Part 2 offers a historical analysis of the formation and reproduction of unfree relations of production in different historical periods and spatial locations, spanning the period from the mid-seventeenth to the twentieth century, during which the capitalist mode of production came to predominate in western Europe, Thus, I analyse the use of forms of unfree labour in the British Caribbean from the early seventeenth to the late nineteenth centuries, Australia from the late eighteenth to the early twentieth centuries, South Africa from the mid-seventeenth to the third decade of the twentieth century, and western Europe between 1945 and the late 1970s, The historical analysis emphasises the interrelation between the expansion of the world economic system and large-scale migrations initiated by the demand for labour power, These four case studies are then the object of theoretical analysis in Part 3, The different instances of unfree labour are defined theoretically and compared, I show how the state and racism have been constitutive elements in their formation and reproduction, from which I conclude that they may be defined as relations of production, Then, using the concepts of primitive accumulation, commodification of labour power and articulation of modes of production, I offer an explanation for the maintenance and reproduction of unfree relations of production alongside the expansion of the capitalist mode of production, That explanation retains Marx's conception of capitalism as a mode of production, claims that the expansion of the capitalist mode of production is subject to a dialectic between material circumstances and human agency, and argues that the continuity of unfree relations of production is an anomalous necessity insofar as they expose the historical limits to the development of the capitalist mode of production, and hence, the development of free, wage labour.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Colleges/Schools: College of Social Sciences
Supervisor's Name: Supervisor, not known
Date of Award: 1986
Depositing User: Mrs Marie Cairney
Unique ID: glathesis:1986-74368
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 30 Aug 2019 15:50
Last Modified: 06 Jul 2022 09:53
Thesis DOI: 10.5525/gla.thesis.74368

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