The discussion of the nature of feudalism and capitalism that was operational in Latin American and Caribbean throughout the colonial era is, according to Steve Stern, a popular and a perpetual topic in the said continent. However, Stern seems to be rather analytical of Immanuel Wallerstein’s exaggerated account of the role of “world system” in briefing the historical courses of Latin America(Stern, 1988, p 1).He was doubtful of Wallerstein’s theoretical construction of capitalist world-economy unraveling the complications of feudalism. Stern’s approach stands equidistant between the dismissal of the function of the world system and that of Wallersteins. Stern challenges Wallerstein’s paradigm being disproportionate to the experiential facts by advancing his “critical test” (Wallerstein, 1988, p 873) formula to invalidate Wallerstein’s thesis and forwards his own model befitting two concrete circumstances of silver mining and sugar plantation.
Wallerstein implied by world-economy, characteristic of Europe and germinating in the dawn of the sixteenth century, as a distinct social order and certainly as an adjunct of the modern world-system. This global economic realm is liberated off its political accessories and political restrictions. The world-economy is a conglomerate bound by economic affiliations, cultural attachments and political articulations, “It is a world-economy because the basic linkage between the parts of the system is economic” (Wallerstein, 2011, p 15).
The new world-economy has succeeded to retain its economic purity simultaneously shunning its political extravagance by dint of the strategies of capitalist expansion aided by technological revolution and ensured by scientific innovations, “the techniques of modern capitalism and the technology of modern science…enabled this world-economy to thrive….without the emergence of a unified political structure” (Wallerstein, 2011, p 16)
Stern studied the labor relations (mita) on Potosi mines in three successive stages. Stage 1 elaborates the stipulations associated with work and the expertise which were predominantly determined and governed by Indians, described as encomienda. Stage 2 records a further reinforcement of mita contractual obligations of labor relations and conditions. Stage 3 observed deterioration in labor availability and discipline. During this period, the Indians put up an organized movement to alter the labor category into sharecropping workers. The Modern World-System is faced with a changing scenario where maintenance and management of manpower demand higher expenses since skilled labor cannot directly be obtained. The mine proprietors acknowledged a share of their products to the volunteer laborers due to the fall in the value of silver worldwide, as Modern World-System argues, as a part of their strategy to alleviate the menace associated with the formation and accrual of funds, “a mode of risk- minimization” (Wallerstein, 1988, p 873). According to Stern, the mine entrepreneurs revitalized the glorious prospect of silver mining by fiercely augmenting the work load upon the mitayo laborers.
Wallerstein maintained that workers’ opposition to unbridled exploitation has been a persistent feature of capitalism-dominated New World Economy. The mine owners opted to enforce compulsion to restrain workers’ unrest and to deal with reducing labor accessibility, probably generated by increasing tolls of death due to plagues.
The usage of the concept of commodity frontier by Jason Moore encompasses Wallerstein’s world system application of commodity chain, which is briefly an integrated apparatus of the involved toil and making methodologies being condensed into a manufactured output. The world system orientation comprehends the diverse modes and contours of capitalist advancement in diverse social contexts.
The intensity of capitalist expansion is regulated by the correlation and interdependence of global economic patterns and provincial bionetwork prototypes. Several commodity frontiers, for example sugar plantation, require a number of fundamental ingredients that are not readily accessible at the manufacturing site. The reason, the capitalist production machinery gets bifurcated into favorable raw materials reachable places, thus distributing and disbursing the locales and burden of work schedules apiece. Some vital commodity frontiers, like sugar, silver and tobacco, need highly intensive manual labor force and basic raw materials supplying. These prerequisites rely heavily on the region’s natural resources meaning an unremitting and recurrent consumption and voluminous encroaching on the environmental assets.
The escalation of free enterprise and the rise and fall of private ownership directly and inevitably lead to environmental degradation. Some of the dire consequences of capitalist enlargement are the ecological imbalance and biological threats created by the contamination of natural elements like air, water, soil and forest reserves.
“Ecological exhaustion at the point of production was complemented by an environmentally destructive multiplier effect” (Moore, 413).
Sugar plantation in Madeira exacted a good deal of forest clearing. Extensive deforestation was in slow progress, so woods were put to fire causing wildlife annihilation, and as Madeira experienced scanty precipitation, vast irrigation projects had to be undertaken. Madeira became the chief sugar producing site in the fifteenth century. However, soil degradation caused a replacement in the sugar producing units to Brazil in the sixteenth century and in the succeeding century to Caribbean islands.
During the second half of the sixteenth century, America or the New World became the pivotal locale of sugar industry. It is no wonder that torrential rainfall with no immediate dearth of extensive irrigation works made sugar commerce a highly lucrative venture in the New World.
The financial outcomes of sugar industry incorporated over exploitation of land and manpower. The proprietors were most often bankrupt due to heavy investments in the distilling processes and infrastructure installations. Manufacture of sugar fell short of demands. As a result, fertile soils were invaded anew to set up sugar plants meaning thereby an additional marketing of manpower and inputs and donations. “American planters were yoked to an ‘international debt peonage’ reminiscent of early modern Eastern Europe” (Wallerstein, 1979:41). “Financiers, not planters were the primary beneficiaries of sugar frontier complex” (Moore, 2000, p 419).
The forest reserves served as the backbone of sugar industry in the New World. Forest felling was a necessary part of sugar plantation. The factory sheds needed spatial coverage and woods served as the fuel to carry out the distillation processes. Sugar cultivation thus swallowed extensive forest areas. Feral hogs, monkeys, turtles became extinct (Moor, 2000, p 421).
There is no denying the fact as to the serious impact of silver extraction on the ecological well-being. This section will consider and review the environmental devastation as a result of mining trade. The onset of capitalism begun with mining enterprises. The repositioning of silver excavation marked the beginning of New World Economy from Europe to Potosi during 1540’s. Sugar and silver were the primary commodity frontiers that globalized the rapid diversification of mining business. The monetary gains and wealth accumulation were given utmost importance at the expense of ecological hazards. Between 1460 and 1530, the silver quarry ventures recorded a giant multiplication of output recovery.
The powerful rationale presented by the opponents of mining projects is centered around the issue of the atmospheric pollution. This is established by the soil attrition, forest denuding and animals and aquatic organism destruction. The end results of silver extraction were accompanied with toxic lead outbursts thus contaminating the rivers and watercourses. Its consequences on the workers’ physiology were equally fatal.
The New World-Economy in the modern era is the embodiment of a globalized and enlightened economic order. The present picture assures of a mixed blessing of promising economic gains and international financial crisis because of its global connections and networks, affecting every corner of its dominion universally.
Moore, J. W. (2000). Sugar and the expansion of the early modern world-economy: Commodity frontiers, ecological transformation, and industrialization. Review (Fernand Brailed Center), 23(3) 409-433.
Moore, J. W. (2007). Silver, ecology, and the origins of the modern world, 1450–1640. In McNeil, J. R., Martinez-Alier, J., & Hornborg, A. (Eds.), Rethinking Environmental History: World-System History and Global Environmental Change, (123-42). New York: AltaMira Press.
Stern, S. J. (1988). Feudalism, capitalism, and the world-system in the perspective of Latin America and the Caribbean. The American Historical Review, 93(4), 829-872.
Wallerstein, I. (1988). Feudalism, capitalism, and the world-system in the perspective of Latin America and the Caribbean: Comments on Stern’s critical tests. The American Historical Review, 93(4), 873-885.
Wallerstein, I. (2011). The Modern World-System I: Capitalist Agriculture and the Origins of the European World-Economy in the Sixteenth Century, With a New Prologue (Vol. 1). University of California Pr.