How capitalism destroys Indigenous life

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By Val Reynoso

Capitalism is a system in which the means of production are privatized and held by corporations and other powerful groups of people, is founded on the idea of the free market (laissez-faire), privatized personal gain and is reliant on imperialism to exist.

The Taino of Hispaniola were among the first to feel the wrath of Spanish imperialism and exploitation for the construction of the white supremacist empire founded on stolen commodities from the Taino and their forced labor along with the enslavement of Africans who were forced to the region.

Capitalism, imperialism and colonialism resulted in the development of capitalism itself as a system, the shift from precolonial communism to capitalism, the mass genocide of the Taino people, the exploitation of Taino resources for the socio-economic gain of European imperialist nations, the establishment of white supremacist racial hierarchies on the island, and the shift from precolonial matriarchy to capitalist patriarchy.

Primitive communism is a Marxist term referring to precolonial societies in which the inhabitants lived communally through hunting and gathering, there was no private property, no currency, no state, no class system, and people lived with and for the rest of their communities.

In “The Traffic in Women: Notes on the Political Economy of Sex,” Gayle Rubin states that in The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State, Friedrich Engels discusses the existence of matriarchal, primitive communist societies particularly in non-Western regions; “Friedrich Engels’ The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State documents the existence of matriarchal societies for thousands of years. Thoroughly researching what he calls ‘primitive communist societies,’ Engels shows that for the bulk of the human timeline, women were in positions of power in the family and community.”

Primitive communism upheld matriarchy and woman dominance in sociopolitical aspects of the respective society. Moreover, an essential instance of primitive communism was the Taino society of Quisqueya/Ayiti, also known as Hispaniola, which is the contemporary Dominican Republic and Haiti.

Furthermore, the Taino did not use currency—a crucial aspect of communism—and one of the most notable characteristics of their society was the prevalence of social solidarity, particularly among clan members, and the social structure perpetuated tribal unity. Ties between clans, groups and tribes strengthened as families grew and marriages increased-all due in part to the matrilineal order.

In regards to Taino political organization, they all spoke a common language and shared a common religion and there were intertribal marriages between caciques of at least two of the five confederate Taino tribes. The five confederate Taino tribes on Hispaniola were led by caciques Guarionex, Caonabo, Behechio, Goacanagarix, and Cayoa.

The flatlands and over seventy leagues in the center of the island were controlled by Guarionex meanwhile Behechio governed the western region. Former Carib cacique Caonabo governed the kingdom in the mountains and he also married Behechio’s sister Anacaona. According to historian Frank Moya Pons in his book The Dominican Republic: A National History, Caciques were the heads of the government and their assistants were called nitainos—who were the noblemen within Taino social structure.

Nitainos were usually the closest maternal relatives of the caciques or notable clan chiefs who formed the vital link between the caciques and the people. Cacique power was exercised through assistance by nitaino chiefs from confederate tribes who would then legitimize the cacique and their decision.

A servant class called the naborias served the caciques and nitaino class and their existence helped explain testimonies of early chroniclers who stated that all land was communally owned through primitive communism. The naborias were dedicated to supporting the caciques and their families and permitted the majority of the population to share goods and services publicly as opposed to working for wages in order to support the caciques.

Prior to European invasion, Hispaniola had a relatively low density in population and a favorable person-to-land ratio, which enabled the Taino to obtain abundant food from their environment with ease; however, forced labor at the hands of the colonizers, along with exposure to European diseases, abortions and mass suicides with the purpose of escaping slavery, resulted in a rapid decline of the population to near extinction.

With European invasion came a counterrevolution to Taino primitive communism—which came in the form of the birth of capitalism, the enforcement of private property, the development and incorporation of chattel slavery, and the construction of a white supremacist empire fueled by colonialism and stolen Taino and African goods; Eric Wolf makes this case in Europe and the People Without History.

This world-economy, originating in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries, constitutes a global market, characterized by a global division of labor. The search for profit guides both production in general and specialization in production.

Profits are generated by primary producers, whom Wallerstein calls proletarians, no matter how their labor is mobilized. Those profits are appropriated through legal sanctions by capitalists, whom Wallerstein classifies as bourgeois, no matter what the source of their capital. The free and cheap forced labor of Taino people and enslaved Africans are what were used to fuel the private means of production of capitalism, through which the Spanish bourgeois colonialists would appropriate the profits of the oppressed nationalities’ labor as well as forcefully import their goods such as gold to Spain—which is also evidence of how capitalism and imperialism go hand in hand, capitalism is an empire rooted in white supremacy, patriarchy, chattel slavery and genocide of Black and brown people.

Val Reynoso is a Politics and Human Rights undergrad, journalist and Marxist-Leninist activist.

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