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Working Class at Large in Historical Capitalism: Global Southern Perspectives

Krista Lillemets

My dissertation proposes to explore and rethink critically the concept of labour, which is central to the 19th-century social science paradigm and continues organizing the social scientific knowledge production. I argue that the concept of labour, which is central to this paradigm, in which also the Marxist political economy is rooted, is limited to take into account the coerced (unfree) and unwaged labour in capitalist development, particularly the colonial and peripheral modes, such as, slavery, sharecropping, labour tenancy, and others, as well as more complex forms of wage-labour in the capitalist core. As labour arrangements of the past, they are seen as incompatible with capitalism, non-contemporaneous with free labour and antithetic with capital production. Partly, the limitations of incorporating peripheral realities in social theories have to do with the enduring asymmetry in the global knowledge (re)production. Hence, the aim of the dissertation is to contribute to the renewal of the Marxist political economy, by expanding the concept of labour, and for that, I recover the Brazilian historical social science (1942-2022), as an instance of peripheral knowledge. The revision of the critical Marxist political economy from the Global North demonstrates that this renewal towards a more global perspective, requires methodological and theoretical modifications in order to capture the trans-regionally interdependent labour forms and class formations. That includes upscaling the unit of analysis to the capitalist world-economy, considering labour appropriation based on expropriation as well as the heteronomous labour-power commodification integral to global capital accumulation. To decenter “free” wage labour as the norm of capitalism, I analyse wage-labour theoretically and historically in the core countries of capitalism from the viewpoint of coercion and subordination. The examination of the Brazilian theoretical-historical formulations identifies their contributions to the rethinking of such notions as property, expropriation, and labour-market from the viewpoint of modern colonial slavery in the context of the emerging and expanding capitalist world-economy in the 16th century. They permit to reconstitute the black African slavery in the South-Atlantic system as the form of totally expropriated, heteronomously commodified, violently open, and legally guaranteed value- and capital-producing unfree plantation labour. As such, it is indispensable to the development of wage-labour in the core areas of capitalism. Finally, the critical scrutiny of the new historiography demonstrates how colonial “slavery regimes” were transformed in Brazil under the 19th-century liberal capitalist world-economy into complex regional and sectoral mixes of enslaved, coercive, and semi-proletarian labour arrangements. All in all, the renewed Marxist political economy of labour implies considering that in capitalism, labour, free and unfree, waged, and unwaged, is subsumed under capital.

Keywords: Marxist political economy, Global Historical Sociology, peripheral knowledge production, political economy of free and unfree labour, expropriation, coercion, commodification, Brazil

Kontakt: krista_lillemets@yahoo.com

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