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The contradictions of capitalism, according to Castoriadis, applied to Cambodia

In a recent post I noted that the landlessness problem in Cambodia is at least partly a result of the penetration of the countryside by the formerly resisted tentacular manipulations of Capitalism. Capitalism’s ‘universal gearbox’ ((Galéano, Eduardo. The open veins of Latin America: five centuries of the pillage of a continent. . Translated by Cedric Belfrage. 25th anniversary edition ed. New York: Monthly Review Press, 1997 [1973].)) has harnessed the desires of farmers for the self-sufficiency that emerges from isolated agricultural smallholding, and yoked those desires to the depredations of mutant capitalism, which use the clearing of protected forests not only for the timber and gems, but also for the planting of plantations and eventually the building of factories. The factories built do not lift the level of Cambodian subsistence much more than the practice of agriculture, since there is no real domestic market, which means that the factories are merely the public face of Cambodia as a export-processing zone.

In a review of Cornelius Castoriadis’ (aka Paul Cardan) work in Solidarity, Maurice Brinton wrote that

The fundamental contradiction of capitalism still remains in the necessity for capitalism on the one hand to reduce workers to simple executors of tasks, and on the other, in the impossibility for it to continue to function if it succeeds in so doing Capitalism needs to achieve mutually incompatible objectives: the participation and the exclusion of the worker in production – as of all citizens in relation to politics. (( Brinton, Maurice. For workers’ power: selected writings of Maurice Brinton. Edited by David Goodaway. Oakland, CA: AK Press, 2004, 218))

This seems like a useful description of the process in current attempt in Cambodia, as elsewhere: to achieve action within the subject – a relationship of command or control – without compromising the subject’s basic autonomous processes that do the ‘magic’ that gets the goal done. In the wild capitalism that exists now this appears to be accomplished and reconciled in capitalism by the creation, a la Wallerstein of different spheres in the Modern World-System, or as I like to think of them, “Theaters of Capitalism” (in the military sense of ‘theater’). In Zones like Cambodia, the highest fraction of the ruling elite are controlled via their desires to consume and preserve their privilege, while the lower fractions, especially in the lower class itself, are controlled more by fundamental need and force. It is in the attempts to imagine forms of withdrawal which do not lead successfully to autonomy that the problem really becomes interesting. As I noted earlier, it is the desire for autonomy that drives smallholders to clear forest on behalf of plantation owners who own the land and allow the farmers to farm it as a means of preparing the earth, even going so far as to build them cheap homes.

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One thought on “The contradictions of capitalism, according to Castoriadis, applied to Cambodia

  1. Pingback: buddh•ism ad•junkt › What is land good for?

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