Çağlar Keyder, The Definition of a Peripheral Economy: Turkey, 1923-1929 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981).

Gavin Kitching, Class and Economic Change in Kenya (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1980.

Çağlar Keyder and Gavin Kitching aptly demonstrate that Marxist scholarship on capitalist transformation, under the euphemism of “economic development,” still flourishes. Meticulously researched, detailed case analyses such as these present a clear, socially responsible and ultimately deadly challenge to the bourgeois pseudo-scholarship that has dominated Western social science for 100 years. In no other realm of economic theory have radicals and Marxists had as much success and growing influence as they do in the field of “development” today. Both books are scholarly, and not intended for the lay reader, but they provide insightful overviews and theoretical assessments enriched with voluminous empirical detail.

Keyder’s project is limited in scope, addressing only the period 1923-1929. He deliberately breaks no new theoretical ground, but uses his case study to provide confirmation of the Immanuel Wallerstein/Samir Amin construct of the world capitalist system. His central themes are that “political independence in itself did not imply an ‘independent’ path of economic development” in Turkey, and that “dependence consisted of a set of hierarchical relations within the world economy and rather than stagnation it engendered a particular kind of growth.”

Keyder sees the process of “peripheral incorporation” he describes here as a necessary part of the expanded reproduction of capital in the core (industrialized) countries: the success of the capitalist system depends on its continued growth both within the core and through the absorption and restructuring of the periphery. It is essentially the push from the core that drives the engine of “economic development” in the Third World. The causal sequence is key in this analysis: first the growth of the international market system fostered the penetration by capitalism and the integration of the Turkish economy into the world economy, and then production relations within Turkey changed to accommodate this imposition. The “peripheral formation” came thus to be defined by the world economy, its “internal dynamic…no longer sufficient to account for its structure.”

In this analysis, merchant capital and money capital play a pivotal role. While native Turkish traders and usurers remain always subordinate to the hierarchy dominated by international traders and financiers, they are able to mediate the core capitalist and peripheral pre-capitalist structures. They serve to transmit the requirements of the world system to the periphery. These forms of capital dominate productive capital in the periphery in the early stages of integration and induce changes in technology, social relations of production and institutions in both agriculture and industry. Keyder frames the evidence on commercialization in agriculture (cotton and wheat) and on the real growth in aggregate output in industry (carpets) as essentially a response to the demands of world trade and the local credit facilities that lubricate that trade.

In Keyder’s view, these patterns were a continuation of those established in the nineteenth century, interrupted by the Young Turk period and World War I that ended the empire. In the 1930s, the Great Depression in the core led to a “meltdown” of the international trade and credit mechanisms, and the Turkish economy was turned inward upon itself. Involuntarily cut off from world trade, it began a more autarkic development, responding instead to government policies established by a relatively autonomous state apparatus. After the Depression and World War II, though, the core-periphery relationship described here again came to predominate in Turkey.

One responds to this fascinating and useful book on two levels. The rich supply of evidence is carefully documented and skillfully woven into an argument about which the author clearly has no doubt. Capitalism is a world system and continues to expand into new areas with every growth wave. No country in the Third World has escaped its influence.

Several important questions, however, go unasked in the analytical framework adopted by the author. Keyder sees the relationship between core capitalism and the periphery as perfectly unidirectional. Haven’t different Third World formations resisted and accommodated capitalism in their own manner and effected changes in it? Crises are as normal and as necessary to capitalism as is accumulation, and these crisis may occasionally devolve out of core-periphery dynamics. Keyder considers no dynamics internal to Turkish society. Are there no differences among social forces within Turkey, no contradictions to fuel social change and interact with external pressures, no contradictions between Turkish and foreign capital? Were production relations utterly stagnant before foreign trade and credit stimuli forced them to change? Finally, to what extent is the state “relatively autonomous” in the periphery, and to what extent does it represent a particular configuration of class forces?

Gavin Kitching’s work on Kenya is a monumental attempt to deal precisely with these types of questions. It covers a much longer time span (1905-1970) and taps a vaster array of empirical data. Kitching’s first goal is to portray the evolution of Kenyan society from the pre-colonial to the postcolonial eras through a description of the economic mechanisms producing stratification and exploitation. The key theme here is that colonialism altered production relations and the ways in which labor time is allocated and the product of labor distributed. His second goal is to contribute to Marxist theory of colonial and post-colonial transformation. The key theme here is that the class structure that resulted by 1970 was dominated by a petty bourgeoisie, quite unlike the ruling bourgeoisies of the core capitalist countries.

Kitching begins his analysis with a description of pre-colonial social relations of production. He then shows how colonialism forced the freeing up of labor time for more surplus production through the curtailing of “leisurer” activities such as hunting and ceremonies, through taxation, and through the use of technological change to intensify labor.

There follows a rich description of a vastly changing agricultural and pastoral system. New crops, animals and techniques are developed. The use of money as a medium of exchange is universalized. Labor is shifted to new occupations and new sources of income. The situation of women changes, not generally for the better. The colonial state attempts to deal, not always successfully, with these changes and the crises that beset the system. Kitching, like Keyder, sees the market (in goods, labor and credit) as the strong stimulus to “development.” It is clear that change and growth, not stagnation, was the rule among African agriculturalists. But Kitching portrays the winding and uneven course of this “development” as conditioned by the interaction of the forces of capitalist colonialism with the pre- or non-capitalist indigenous society. The successful resistance by Africans to the adoption of inedible cotton as a cash crop is one example; the shifting relations among livestock, money and bride wealth is another.

In chapters on trade, business, and the creation and differentiation of a wage labor force, Kitching provides ample evidence that” development’’ is braided from a set of complementary processes which must all take place simultaneously. For example, agriculturalists will be unwilling to shift entirely out of subsistence production and into specialized cash cropping until they feel sure that they will earn sufficient money income to buy their other necessities. But that requires a market demand large enough to purchase all the cash crops supplied. Such a large-scale market demand only appears when a wage labor force is itself employed in non-agricultural production.

Kitching demonstrates that the long-term trend in the evolution of Kenyan society in the twentieth century, both under colonialism and since independence, has been toward increased stratification and economic differentiation, and the emergence of the capitalist form of exploitation (the appropriation of a surplus product produced by wage labor). In concentrating landholdings and pushing more small producers off the land, the “agrarian revolution” of the post-independence period only furthered this tendency.

The central mechanism faciliating this trend has been differential access to off-farm income, including employment in the state apparatus. This income is used by the higher-income groups to expand landholdings, set up trading and artisanal enterprises, and establish lending houses. It is through provision of off-farm employment and access to income that the state (colonial and post-colonial) plays a key role in Kenyan society. The state both represents and helps to reproduce these privileged strata.

Kitching’s central theoretical point is that access to off-farm income, and thus the ability at one end of the spectrum to accumulate and invest wealth, is through provision of some labor or other service. At the other end of the spectrum, the poor who rely on wage labor almost always also do non-wage work to supplement their meager incomes (such as peasant gardening or petty trading in the “informal sector”). There is no clear distinction here between a class of non-working accumulators and a class of non-accumulating workers, in Kitching’s view. There is thus no real bourgeoisie or proletariat. Rather, the privileged strata, composed of state bureaucrats, employer-farmers, merchants, bankers, importer-exporters, employer-artisans and industrialists, are a petty bourgeoisie. Everyone else is somewhere below them, ranked by the same criteria along a finely graded continuum of power, wealth, income, education and contacts. Exploitation takes place on an individual basis, not by one class of another.

Kitching argues that this trend will not lead to a full-fledged capitalist/wage labor system because of the constraints imposed by the world capitalist system. The whole socioeconomic apparatus in Kenya relies on the state’s revenue and expenditure patterns, which in turn rely on successful exports (such as coffee) to the world market. But the success of exports depends on the state of world market demand and prices for them and the ability of Kenyan producers to raise productivity in order to compete. Again we run into the crisis-prone character of a market system: the world market for commodities such as coffee fluctuates widely, and increased productivity requires an investment fund which, in Kenya, ultimately comes from incomes tied to state revenues!

One possible escape route from this maze, within the framework of capitalism, is massive public investment and industrialization. That requires a different role for the state, and poses a threat to the established system of stratification and distribution of income. The imperative logic of “state capitalism” stares us in the face here; the only way the Kenyan petty bourgeoisie can save its system is to opt for a larger public presence in the economy and to give up some of its material privileges in the meantime. This option might be forced by circumstances, particularly if powerful popular forces were also pushing for a more socialized economy. This is the course that Turkey took under Atatürk in the 1930s and 1940s.

The second option is to throw the Kenyan economy wide open to foreign capital. In this case, the petty bourgeoisie would retain its income privileges but lose its social autonomy. It would also risk intense social and political conflict with other strata, given the history of the Mau Mau rebellion against colonialism.

What is intriguing in Kitching’s examination of these options is that the state is not relatively autonomous here; rather it is an integral part of an ongoing socioeconomic evolution. The role of foreign capital is filtered through the dynamics of the Kenyan system and does not dominate them absolutely. The future of Kenya is a function of the internal contradictions among Kenyan social forces, intersecting with, but not determined by, international forces. Kitching’s method of analysis might serve as a useful model for a fuller understanding of Turkey and other Middle East countries such as Egypt and Iraq that have tried to steer a course between state capitalism and an “open door” to foreign capital.

How to cite this article:

Karen Pfeifer "Discrete Forms of the Petty Bourgeoisie," Middle East Report 117 (September 1983).
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