This paper is a very abstract consideration of wars and what happens when they seem to end. The wars are mostly new (Kaldor 2013), because they are embedded in today’s very complex political economy, but they are here being considered within the bounds of very old and often neglected theoretical perspectives associated with Karl Marx and a few others such as Max Weber and Antonio Gramsci. The conference from which this paper emanates was devoted to the subject of ‘post-war development’ and thus the periods after these ‘new wars.’ However, the very nature of these wars – both inside and outside permeable borders, with as much to do with never-ending accumulation processes as ‘territory’, and in which non-state actors (perhaps uncivil society) outwit states and international organisations – militates against a clear cessation of violence. ‘Peace’ rarely lasts longer than ceremonies marking paper-thin treaties, and is only partially and precariously policed by United Nations troops whose hearts aren’t quite into it. These wars are fluid; indeterminate; neither and both ‘civil’ and inter- and/or super-national; intertwined in networks flowing in and out of poorly differentiated states, enterprises, and society in civil or uncivil forms. They are wrapped up in transcendental and transnational religions; clothed in the discourses of terrorists and freedom fighters who blend ‘greed’ with the ingratiating linguistics of ‘grievance’ (Berdal and Berman 2001) and fight in a world where the brutalised recipients of their avaricious justice see them as ‘sobels’ – as Sierra Leoneons labelled the young men who were soldiers by day and rebels by night (Feldman and Arrous 2013). They emerge from a structured violence born of the world’s intractable inequality amidst uneven growth and repression as emboldened citizens push democracy to its limits. All these latent lines of conflict are sharpened as aspirants to power try to forge boundaries within which they can monopolise force and gain a cutting edge in the political economies of the nascent forms of capitalism as they spread to all the earth’s corners and crevices.

This article asks ‘Can old, perhaps “classical” theories of primitive accumulation, nation-state formation and democratisation (Moore 2001, 2004a make any sense of the seemingly senseless?’ As even the world’s cherished image of magical miracles, kept alive for so long by Nelson Mandela’s forgiving smiles, verges on carnage in his wake and becomes what Karl von Holdt (2013) calls a ‘violent democracy,’ we must ask (again) if there are any short-cuts to the very long road to relative prosperity, peace, and political participation promised by the traditions of political economy and the social sciences that cast their nets wider than psychology (Pinker 2011). As we ask this, however, we must first go to the discourses of the longue durée of violence and its nemeses leading to stability

Thus, the ends (in both senses of the word, of course!) of wars are difficult to measure. It is hard to calculate the moment when conflict has ended and ‘development’ can begin or restart, precisely because both are part of an almost continuous socio-political transformation. There is not a time when a pure and peaceful ‘development’ finally takes place after the violence of wars has seemingly displaced progress, but the moments in which dramatic changes in the appearance of conflict occur are part of an ongoing course of class, ideological and political formation in the context of accumulation processes that sometimes ‘erupt’ into violence and wars. These moments of extreme violence are bound up integrally in the same processes that change societies as they produce wealth and distribute it in various ways, point towards ‘modernity,’ and generally melt everything solid into thin air on the way (Berman 2010, after the Communist Manifesto’s vivid evocation of the ‘everlasting uncertainty’ of the bourgeoisie’s world).

Yet the question, which will be addressed briefly at the end of this article, remains embedded with the perennial concern of social science: where does structure end and agency begin (or vice versa)? What difference does such a systemic and structural analysis mean for the practitioners of post-war development, be they in states, multilateral organisations, or parallel to them in the civil society and NGO nexus?

The Holy Trinity of Development and Conflict

What is the so-called holy trinity of capitalist modernity in most of what was once called, but for different reasons remains so still, the ‘third world’ (Moore 2004a)? It has been called ‘development, peace, and democracy’ (Rajagopal 2002: 142) but problematising it within its own liberal frame does not go far enough. How does the move away from poverty, penury and oppressive prosecution to prosperity, property and open political participation begin and where does it end? Does it have to go through the creative destruction of war? The seemingly teleological triumvirate starts with primitive accumulation, that long and brutal pathway from various forms of non-capitalist production and reproduction on which a capitalist class of some form or another emerges alongside its antagonist. The proletariat arises during this moment too: this is the relationship that constitutes capital. It is torn from its peasant mode of subsistence to its urban scramble, where it owns and can sell very little but its labour-power. Yet it also gains the collective ability to challenge capital for a better share of the profit its work allows. The working class cuts its share or fights for something more. The capitalists and their physical amenities grow, gaining and distributing their wealth as class struggle determines. As Marx (1867) said about the first era of primitive accumulation, much blood pours out of many pores during its history – but it is a far sight better than the dark and narrow tunnels of its feudal predecessors (1853).

Yet as neo-Marxists might say about capitalism in the developing world and its never-ending wars (Kaldor 2013: 3; Duffield 2007; Keen 2012) perhaps the endpoint of primitive accumulation – that is, when a more or less ‘pure’ capital-labour polarity exists – will never come. Its awkward articulations may be permanent and frozen rather than the first stages on the way to a cornucopian nirvana. As reflections on the permutations of developing world political economy have moved on since Foster-Carter’s presentation of the debate (1978), Hardt and Negri’s idea of ‘post-modern primitive accumulation’ (2000: 258) may suffice to describe this purgatory, although these prophets of a global left-project tend to flatten all the positions on the spectrum of developing world social relations in such modes as a ‘multitude’ (Moore 2004a: 96; 2003a). If there is a teleological tendency in what is too often seen as the inevitable ‘stages’ (Rostow 1956) so easily turned on their heads by their critics, it is a long and winding road with many wrong-turnings and dead ends.

The second element in the modernisation trio could be called ‘nation-state construction,’ except that in the contemporary era the notion of singularly cemented nations and coherent states is quaint. It could be altered to read something along the lines of ‘hegemonic formation’: the process by which emerging ruling classes construct political alliances and ideological consensus in the spaces over which they are gaining and/or maintaining power. Class and group coalitions are constructed out of this maelstrom, leading to new institutions of governance (most often not as ‘good’ as the apostles of ‘good governance’ would wish – Moore 2007b) and modes of ideological legitimation. They all contribute to what Robert Cox (1987) has called ‘state-society complexes’ containing contradictory and sometimes clashing blends of coercion and consent (Moore 2014a) over which historic blocs rule and unravel. Along with ‘normal’ soldiers and state-makers even ‘warlords’ modi operandi include identity politics and a type of hegemony exercised over their soldiers and beyond, adding a repertoire ranging from religion to opiates of another type to their weapons of war (Armstrong 2014: 10–12).

Moreover, these alliances and ideological concatenations extend far beyond the place of the ‘nation-state’ although power is centred there. Somewhere between the extremes of persuasion and punishment comes the politics of deal-making and longer term alliances with players ranging from international financial institutions and transnational corporations to protesting bands of the unemployed and traditional chiefs: from Charles Taylor and Firestone (Frontline 2014) to Robert Mugabe’s marauding chipangano bands (Chikwana 2013) and his collaborating chiefs (Moore 2013). In South Africa in April 2015, a Zulu ‘king’ instigated at least the third wave of xenophobia since 2008 in the so-called ‘rainbow nation’ (Nicholson 2015), thus indicating a poisonous mix of traditional modes of culture and ideology with ‘modern’ nation-state construction (Hart 2013). Along with all the organisations involved in tax collection – from road blocks to bribery to VAT and income tax – these are the sorts of activities carried out by states (Tilly 1990). So too are those of NGOs and the humanitarian agenda. Some refugee camps have lasted longer and offer more services to their inhabitants than UN-recognised states, and they host as many ideological contestations and political battles (Moore 2000; Hyndman 2000; Scott 1998; Malki 1995). Today, Weber’s idea that the state is the sole legitimate perpetrator of violence in a given space is idealistic as well as ideal. It may well remain a distant endpoint and – the teleology may never end. In the meantime would not ‘getting there’ include state-like functions extending from shooting to sharing? Where alliance-building politics are negotiated and when ‘identities’ are created and often manipulated through propaganda and more subtle poetry, is there not a form of hegemony in the offing? Are some sorts of ‘nation-state’ formation emerging, no matter how meandering and haltingly?

Finally (but not as an afterthought) there remains ‘democratisation,’ or more accurately (and normatively) ‘democratic deepening.’ This does not end with parliament and elections. In the midst of war (especially, for example, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo) there is not only coltan, but the cell-phones made – somewhere else – from them. Cyber-communication, an essential component of deepening and widening everyone’s participation in the decisions affecting their lives, has enlarged the possibility of global citizenry as well as local war-making. Of course there are no guarantees that communicating in cyberspace leads to hands-on power sharing for the multitudes. Yet neither are there in parliaments during the age of neo-liberal hegemony, when politicians actively discourage meaningful public life. New extra-parliamentary and state actors also enter the democratic scene, as it ranges from civil to ‘uncivil’ society. For example, often foreign-funded and motivated non-governmental (but very political) organisations come to the scene to help organise elections, observe them, and return to their home countries to watch themselves on the news. Cynicism aside, they do open democratic space a little – although the pace is slow and states lose nerve as often as not. The search for ‘order’ often returns when the magic of elections and etc. fails to work, especially if there is a security threat to boot (Brett 2014; Hinshwa and McGroarty 2014).

Gramsci was well aware of the globalisation of ideas and practices. As they float from the centre and become embedded in the periphery they create complicated hybrids: when ‘international relations intertwine with [the] internal relations of nation-states’ they create ‘new, unique, and historically concrete combinations.’ For example, when ‘a particular ideology’ – one could choose liberal democracy here, or socialism – ‘born in a highly developed country, is disseminated in less developed countries’ it impinges ‘upon the local interplay of combinations’ (1971: 182). Thus ‘one must … distinguish between historically organic ideologies … which are necessary to a given structure, and ideologies that are arbitrary, rationalistic, or “willed.”’ But even if they turn out to be completely inappropriate to the reality into which they have been imported, only creating ‘individual movements, polemics’ they can ‘function like an error which by contrasting with the truth, demonstrates it’ (1971: 367). In spite of this, they do create a certain semblance of civil society in the absence of the worker-capitalist relationship into which such organisations emerge in the centres of capitalism. Although often donor dependent they affect the political and ideological environment materially. In as much as the ideologies of ‘freedom,’ be they liberal or social democratic, emanating from the centres of capital accentuate already existing identities of liberty and equality, they create new worlds of deeper participation in the politics of everyday life – unless they are artificially supported by financial inducements alone and their proponents simply become co-opted intellectuals for whom property rights trump deeper democracy.

Thus modernity’s triad wends its way in a global system with hyper-capitalism at the centre and awkwardly articulated modes of production on the periphery (Moore 2001, 2004a; Hardt and Negri 2000). Perhaps the biggest difference between the ‘then’ of classical routes and the ‘now’ when all seems closer to crisis than resolution, can be best captured in a ‘mind experiment’ James Meek (2014) encourages his compatriots to play when reconsidering his country’s latest foray into Afghanistan. When considering military (or humanitarian, or democracy-exporting Blum 2013) interventions in developing countries that have not affected the centre greatly ‘it might be worth … working out at exactly which moment, in the many internecine conflicts that have affected the British Isles, our forebears would have most benefited from the arrival of 3500 troops and eight helicopters, and for which “side” those troops would have fought … or for whom it might have created private property and a plethora of political parties.’

Such an experiment will always remain mere contemplation: even if the wars that almost inevitably come with imperial pride and prejudice were to stop, the various modes of pre-capitalism around the world would be conquered by commerce. This is always more carefully considered than military escapades, profit being harder to waste than the bodies of those who are subalterns in more than one sense. As Meek argued in his analysis of the British mess in Afghanistan, his country was not defeated ‘because to be defeated, an army and its masters must understand the nature of the conflict they are fighting. Britain [and by extension the United States in Iraq too] never did understand, and now we would rather not think about it.’ The corporate counterparts to the militarists do not have to understand anything except making profit: that is all they have to think about (but of course many make profit out of war too). The consequences of their interventions, however, make every other sector of society think – especially those trying to mop up the messes when misunderstood modes of production are dismembered. Meanwhile the processes of primitive accumulation go their merry ways.

Thus a new sort of state emerges. New organisational forms evolve as (more or less developed) states go in and out of other (rather more undeveloped) states following the ebbs and flows of politicians’, missionaries’ and transnational business managers’ desires to create order and happiness abroad, often by force. They are constituted partly by what Alex de Waal has named the ‘humanitarian international’ (1999), made up of aid administrators and workers from multilateral agencies, states, and the huge NGO sector – and the academics who follow and/or consult on such phenomena. These ‘states’ are almost eternally embryonic. De Waal’s altruistic apparatus is only a small part. They are amalgams of what William Robinson (2010) calls the ‘transnational state,’ manned by Robert Cox’s (1987) ‘transnational managerial class’ along with Hardt and Negri’s (2000) humanitarian mendicants (for this paper’s purposes a part of the development industry’s intellectuals). David Priestland’s (2013) ‘sages’ too, who do much of the thinking behind which various combinations and alliances of the merchants and the military try to rule, are increasingly globalised, along with the plutocrats (Freeland 2013) who set the pace and the style. These are the people who bear what one of the United Nation’s many commissions has called ‘the responsibility to protect’ those whose states cannot, and thus to carry out ‘post-war development’ when conflict simmers down from the status of ‘war.’

Ironically, as these new semi-states materialise fitfully, the discourse of ‘neo-liberalism,’ which was creating a state-less imaginary, follows. This was a fantasy powerful in its own ideological terms only because of the breakdown of the post-World War II ‘golden age of capitalism,’ for which Keynesianism took the rap, the cracks in and fall of the Soviet style of ‘socialism in a few countries’, and the burgeoning phenomenon of footloose financial capital. All states were seen to harbour totalitarians in their loins, just as Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom had prophesised (Desai 1994). Innumerable new conflicts erupted in the periphery and semi-periphery of the newly configured world system amidst this fiction. They were hard to understand given the Eurocentric assumption during the Cold War that all the developing world wars that took place since Churchill noticed the Iron Curtain were attributable to the USA-USSR divide: it was hoped that a huge ‘peace dividend’ would flower from the Berlin Wall’s rubble. A concerted move to create liberal democracy everywhere was started. So too did a renewed wave of accumulation: it seemed that with the communist threat gone, unfettered capitalism could resume (Harvey 2003). Primitive accumulation Mark II (to count the many versions would actually be impossible) began.

The World Bank style of post-conflict analysis came to the fore at this time (Moore 2007a), following by a decade and a half the Berg Report initiating structural adjustment across most of the global south. With the right encouragement entrepreneurialism would arise from the shocks of war and pestilence. A few years later Naomi Klein (2007) would call this the ‘shock doctrine’. Mark Duffield (2007) charted the ‘radical’ humanitarian developmental agenda alongside it. His dystopia blends neo-liberal freedom for capital and its bearers with the bio-political control of everyone else – but with the sugar-coating of light liberal political liberties. Duffield’s anarchist tendencies make him unable to decide which is worse.

When ‘neo-liberalism’ transmogrified into ‘good governance’ (Moore 2007b) the sober truth that capitalism could be neither created nor maintained without a strong state was revealed: the state was back. Yet it was a lean one, meant mostly to create and maintain property rights and the freedoms supposedly inherent within them (compare to Hamilton 2014a & b). The ‘peace dividend’ would allow the implementation of some democratic elements – after all, the temptation for the untutored masses of the south to vote for totalitarian communists had been removed so the choices offered by multi-partyism could return (Moore 1996; Abrahamsen 2000). The flowering of this promise reached its apogee in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya (not, let it be noted, in Iraq although perhaps the lessons should have been learned) but this too has wilted. Post-Gaddafi Libya splinters (Pargeter 2015). Post-Mubarek Egypt securitises (Kandil 2014). And in Tunisia, the most successful North African follower of a democratic path, the footloose followers of a fanatical version of one of the world’s most venerable religions killing of twenty museum visitors as this article was in its last stage of revisions illustrated the global reach of a new caliphate-state birthing with more blood than most (Stephen, Shaheen and Tran 2015; Black 2015; Knights 2014).

Thus the post-Cold War democratic dream has darkened since 9/11. Overt authoritarianism has returned to the rhetoric and reality emanating from the centre (Hinshwa and McGroarty 2014; Stephens 2014; Hawkesley 2009). As Canada’s holdover from the Pearson era of global peace-making put it, ‘the Francis Fukuyama moment – when in 1989 Westerners were told that liberal democracy was the final form toward which all political striving was directed – now looks like a quaint artefact of a vanished unipolar moment’ (Ignatieff 2014).

Southern African cases

Perhaps Ignatieff’s words have been substantiated in Zimbabwe (Moore 2004b). This small southern African country has slipped in and out of war and low-intensity conflict for at least fifty years. It gains more words in the English-speaking metropolitan press than most African countries, either because of its president’s (Tony) Blair-baiting skills (Brown 2002) or due to around 1,500 very large white-owned farms being invaded and overtaken by state-allied ‘war veterans’ since 2000. This controversial ‘fast-track land reform’ programme, resulting in approximately 150,000 ‘new settlers’ on small plots and initiating a protracted period of class accumulation and differentiation (Scoones et al. 2010), could be called ‘primitive accumulation with a racial twist’ (Moore 2003b). The point for this article is that Zimbabwe’s rulers have never admitted to any major conflict since its attainment of majority rule in 1980 – let alone instigating any meaningful post-war truth, reconciliation, or justice commissions – after a liberation war lasting intermittently for a decade and a half. That war was noted as much for its internecine violence as for that between it and the minority regime (Saul 1979, Sithole 1979, Mtisi and Barnes, 2009), exemplifying the fact that states of war are about struggles among factions within an emerging ruling class along with much else. Has Zimbabwe been in a ‘post-war’ situation ever since 1980?

Almost immediately after it gained power, Zimbabwe’s ruling party executed up to 20,000 Ndebele people in the quest to quell a minor case of dissidence and to destroy its major opposition party (Sisulu 2007). When a new opposition that arose twenty years later threatened to win an election in early 2008, President Robert Mugabe’s military minions turned up the heat to such an extent that Morgan Tsvangirai, the leader of the Movement for Democratic Change, withdrew from a run-off campaign for the presidential election (Scarnecchia 2008). In the 2013 elections one reason for the ruling party’s victory was widespread fear of a repeat of the 2008 violence – anxiety reinforced with constant reminders during the campaign (Moore 2014b). Various election observer teams from across Africa assessed this very carefully marred July 2013 Zimbabwean election as ‘credible.’ The EU ambassador – representing the organisation that a few weeks before had declared it would leave judgement of electoral probity in the hands of its counterpart, the Southern African Development Community, and follow its lead – remarked that ‘free and fair’ had not been on the globally sanctioned list of electoral requirements for many years (Moore 2014b: 107). This seemed to mark the end of an era in which ‘the west’ promoted liberal democracy enthusiastically, if somewhat naïvely and clumsily. Zimbabwe’s is the sort of ‘below the radar’ violence at which some politicians and their military advisors have become very adept. It is becoming clear that in this global conjuncture, marked as it is by the threats of Al Qaeda, Boko Haram, Al Al Shabaab and similar organisations, the ‘west’ is more concerned with ‘security’ than the liberal shibboleths about free and fair elections that in any case clever and resilient politicians manipulate.

Just south of Zimbabwe, South Africa has a deeply entrenched culture of parliamentary democracy (even in the old days of apartheid liberal opposition parties were a much more visible part of the political landscape than in Rhodesia – the name of Zimbabwe before 1980 – where liberals all but disappeared after much more conservative politicians gained power in 1958) and a vibrant civil society. Thus it has little need of ‘democracy assistance’ from the centres of global capitalism – but gets lots anyway, due in part to its strategic geo-political position. Yet it could be argued that South Africa’s violence is more embedded than in Zimbabwe, where most of it comes from ‘above’ to repress political opposition (although some has manifested itself in the opposition’s internal politics). As Karl von Holdt puts it, South Africa’s very democracy amidst extreme inequality co-exists with its many ‘existing fault lines or fractures – such as those of ethnicity, insider/outsider status, nationality and gender – are activated and expanded. The result is multiple forms of violence – including subaltern forms such as protest violence, vigilantism and xenophobic attacks’ (2013: 591), in addition to horrifically high rape and murder rates that are not immediately connected to formal politics or accumulation strategies.

Von Holdt focuses on how the coercion from below in what he has labelled a ‘violent democracy’ articulates inextricably with intra-elite struggles contiguous with its class accumulation project:

Democracy may configure power relations in such a way that violent practices are integral to them [as] intra-elite violence … and the processes of elite formation that underlie [it are] intertwined with subaltern mobilisation and the emerging forms of politics through which elites mobilise and incorporate subalterns, including practices of clientelism and populism (2013: 590–2; Booysen forthcoming).

This tendency is common, to be sure, in societies that have undergone violent ruptures in a past that is hard to forget. It is also hard to avoid noticing that the much lauded ‘emerging markets’ in the semi-periphery of the global economy are part of this number, and the memories are long. In Brazil, for example, as the ‘wars against terror’ nearly half a century ago were documented in a 2014 truth commission report, one of its perpetrators claimed that he was just following the law, and that Brazil’s current head of state was ‘the terrorist that is the president of the country’ (Nolen 2014). These sentiments are not hard to re-mobilise as an ‘emerging market’ flails its way to BRICS status and beyond – while protests mount in the streets as progress slows (Anderson 2011; Watts 2015). If China or Russia ever form truth and reconciliation commissions, the ‘socialist’ form of primitive accumulation will be revealed (Dikötter 2010).

The case studies will proliferate, but they will not make much sense until new theories can be formulated. To the extent that ‘post-conflict’ discourse is related to the broader mode of development discourse – and that in turn is largely a ‘trickled down’ fusion of globally dominant theory and practice – one can argue that the parameters of post-conflict analysis and prescription have been left hanging in an empty orthodoxy. They need review and revision as the wars that spawn them develop anew. New looks at old political economy may assist.

Building New Analysis from the Old

What then could be the building blocks of a new mode of analysis, and perhaps the practice based on it? A return to the classical ways of investigating social reality may be in order. The first step has been taken in Christopher Cramer’s (2006) sober examination of the role of violence in socio-political restructuring. Cramer examines a history of violence in ‘third world’ societies and elsewhere. Somewhat in line with Duffield’s 2001 work, Cramer’s reminder that violence can be ‘productive’ forces us to face the fact that it cannot be wished away; indeed, that new forms of force must be crafted to channel these changes in societally progressive ways. One wonders if he was thinking of Burke (Mount 2014), if not Stalin (Shaw 2006). On the verge of the French Revolution Burke foresaw what Marx would label ‘Bonapartism.’ His perspective seems to make some sense of post-war situations in the most unevenly developed parts of the world:

…in the weakness of one kind of authority, and in the fluctuation of all, the officers of an army will remain for some time mutinous and full of faction, until some popular general, who understands the art of conciliating the soldiery, and who possesses the true spirit of command, shall draw the eyes of all men upon himself … the moment in which that event shall happen, the person who really commands the army is your master; the master … of your king, the master of your Assembly, the master of your whole republic (Burke in Mount 2014: 16).

Are the pundits who have declared the end of democracy in Africa thinking of a ‘popular general’ once again? Can a development dictator harness the chaos of a post-war environment and take it down the road of benevolent decency – and even largesse? Probably not, but for many this is a paradise as plausible and profound as Cramer’s dismissal of reconstruction efforts after war as a ‘post-conflict makeover fantasy’ is dystopian. But Cramer’s condemnation of liberal ideas that capitalist production processes are inherently peaceful cannot be denied. He simply reminds us that coercion has always been a part of productive accumulation processes (as well as many more non-productive ones). As this author has pointed out the process of primitive or primary accumulation – the creation of capitalism out of feudalism or other ‘traditional’ modes of production – has never been free of force, contrary to the Smithian myth, so the job of the state or global substitutes for it is to manage that force as a public good (Moore 2004a; Perelman 2000). If these states have a democratic mandate from below we are lucky, and that force will be channelled into more egalitarian realms than not. If not all that can be hoped for are its proxies: is ‘good governance’ á la the World Bank enough (Moore 2007b)? Or, on the other side of the fence, can the World Social Forum substitute for a well organised proletariat with force at the point of production? A positive answer on either proposition could only be carefully qualified at best.

Cramer and a number of colleagues at London’s School of Oriental and African Studies department of Development Studies have labelled themselves ‘melancholic optimists’. They may be following the path laid by Marx in his writings on the development of capitalism in Europe and in India. The notion of ‘primitive’ could be the result of a mistranslation, but ‘primitive’ and ‘primary’ actually make a good combination. The ‘primary’ idea indicates that the first and/or most fundamental moment of capitalism’s history is the separation of agrarian serfs from their usufructural or communal hold on the means of production. This produces their ‘freedom’ from lordly rule combined with the necessity to sell their labour to an emerging capitalist class to survive (in some cases this is after a century or two of small commodity production and property ownership until the yeomanry gets eaten by bigger fish in the capitalist seas): in other words the capital-labour relation emerges from and replaces the lord-serf system of domination. The notion of ‘primitive’ indicates the brutal coercion involved. Marx pulled no punches about the long and conflict laden processes involved in these transitions – be they in the ‘east’ or ‘west.’ He had no romantic sentiment for the superstitions and narrow visions of pre-capitalist material life, culture, and politics. He might have said, along with many secular liberals, against today’s post-modernists and identity theorists, that the stupefying opiates of religion and the dead weight of fealty to divinely inspired rule were not freely chosen by most of their participants, and nor could many of them choose to leave them, so they would not pass muster on any path through capitalism to something even more liberating. Nor had he about the brutality of primary or primitive accumulation: the well-worn line about capitalism emerging with blood and dirt oozing out of every pore was not coined for its poetic imagery alone. Nevertheless Marx definitely saw capitalism as a momentous advance in history, necessary if not sufficient for the utopia that has inspired many to try to get rid of their chains over the past century and a half.

Marx predicted an emerging Indian bourgeoisie. His impressionistic writings on India for the New York Daily Tribune (1853) actually prophesied its status today – but the process took a lot longer than most social scientists thought and is far from complete (indeed such processes are never finished). It could be that today’s inequality (Freeland 2013) and blends of modes of production and culture have produced conflictual vectors that would be out of Marx and Engels’ frame of reference, but it is likely that their theoretical model would soon make sense of it. The dynamic duo discussed the factor of time only cursorily. They saw that primitive accumulation had taken centuries to do its tasks in Europe – and took place with the rest of the world at its command – but hinted that the process might be accelerated in the ‘east’. They did not see the core of the capitalist world as ‘under-developing’ its periphery, as did the ‘neo-Marxist’ dependencia theories André Gunder Frank bowdlerised, exaggerated and popularised. Marx did not say it would take over 150 years for India to attain its present status, which is still very far from a liberal oasis of liberty and material or mental happiness for the vast majority of its people. As Perry Anderson (2012: 24–5) has punned, India is a ‘caste-iron democracy’ still subject to the ‘historic peculiarities of its system of social stratification’. Marx would probably be surprised how that socio-cultural and political reality could co-exit so long with a bourgeoning capitalism. The latter has not melted tradition into thin air. Whether or not the insurgent Maoists are carrying on his heritage today is an open question (Nolen 2009).

Marx may have foreseen capitalism in India but he did not predict Stalinists or Maoists applying his ideology to the task of what could be called ‘primitive socialist accumulation’ in Russia and China. Using – or misusing – an ideology dreamt up for a fully disenchanted working class embedded in a technologically sophisticated mode of production and conscious of its mandate to govern, Stalin, Mao and their ‘comrades’ performed the bourgeoisie’s modernising tasks. Their brutality matched the birth of capitalism but was magnified by its speed and the fact that they were state-led. What these state-society complexes have become after the deaths of well over one hundred million people through purges, persecution and poorly planned policies is difficult to theorise in a nutshell; but be they Putinesque oligarchies or Deng Xiaoping’s many striped cats, they are ‘developing’ and that process is congruent with both domestic and international conflict.

Wars have paralleled these processes and indeed the production of material goods for them has led to all sorts of industrialisation, often guided by states. In World War II Fascist Germany went to battle on the basis of huge military and commercial cartels (and in many ways the late-developing Germany’s military catch-up campaign accounted for the origins of World War I). In Great Britain much of the social democratic edifice that followed the war was built on its foundations – remember, whilst the soldiers were dying the rationing of food was leading to better and longer lives for civilians (Sen 1999). The American aircraft industry and other components of what Eisenhower labelled the military-industrial complex developed by leaps and bounds during World War II (Walker 2000). This complex could well be called state-capitalism (which is really socialism for newly developing capitalists, if the seemingly contradictory collision of these concepts can be fused).

So: development equals conflict and capitalism – what else is development when illusions of jumping stages have disappeared into the mists of the Cold War, African Socialism, third worldism and all the other post WWII utopias? More depressing is the smog left by the Post-Berlin Wall Fall of imposing (or accelerating) liberal democracy. Liberal imperialism has been made even more difficult by the ‘neo-liberalism’ that swept under the carpet the possibility of a state enabling freedom for anyone but the global and local permutations of capital (perhaps the worst consequence of the conflation of liberal politics and neo-liberal economics is the fact that many ‘radicals’ think there is no difference). Can we do more than go back to Marx’s historical sweep of the process in Europe and his blend of pessimism and optimism for India? This is the wait-and-see approach emphasising structures and processes, contemplation of which will make up the next few words of this paper. That considered, what would we respond when we are reminded that the (violent) process of moving from feudalism to capitalism in Europe took centuries? Who (what classes, admitting of course that they are only rarely united), taking a cold look at the clashes in the contemporary world, can and will act on that historical knowledge? With what institutions? This will make up the final part of the paper based on the second side of Marx’s dialectic of structure and agency: who can change things for the better? And how? First, though, more on how history has structured these possibilities.

Structure and Historical Process

Although he was uncertain of how many centuries it took capitalism in its centre to develop, Marx knew it took a lot of time. He asserts that ‘the capitalist era dates from the 16th century’ but by then the ‘the abolition of serfdom ha[d] long been effected.’ Serfdom, he wrote, disappeared by the end of the 14th century. In its wake came ‘free peasant proprietors, whatever was the feudal title under which their right of property was hidden.’ By the ‘last third of the 15th, and the first decade of the 16th century’ came the ‘prelude of the revolution that laid the foundation of the capitalist mode of production’ (this author’s emphasis, as are all the following italicised phrases). On the process went, with the ‘breaking up of the bands of feudal retainers’ and the ‘forcible driving of the peasantry from the land, to which [it] had the same right as the feudal lord himself, and by the usurpation of the common lands.’ The feudal wars (remember, the construction of the nation-state was concurrent with the revolution in relations and forces of production) that combined with the rise of the Flemish wool industry had ‘devoured’ the nobility, spelled the beginning of the end of the vassal and lord based mode of production. By the end of the 17th century ‘the different moments of primitive accumulation’ had distributed themselves … more or less in chronological order … over Spain, Portugal, Holland, France, and England.’ It was in the latter where the ‘systematical [sic] combination, embracing the colonies, the national debt, the modern mode of taxation, and the protectionist system’ merged, hastened by the power of the state and colonialism.’

The proletariat’s origins coincided with the accumulation of capital from the slave trade and the production via that form of labour, through the 18th century (Marx 1867: 433–36). The industrial revolution: another hundred years; and then the twentieth century when the world we know now consolidated. Following that, what? Perhaps Hardt and Negri’s (2000) informational mode of production, blended globally with a post-modern mélange of systems of social relations of production wherein Zambian peasants spend half their time in ‘traditional’ modes and another half harvesting peas to be jetted to London’s organic food-loving yuppies shopping at Sainsburys while the BRICS-style formations rush to climb the ladder. The financial transactions are centred in Wall Street and London’s City, carried out in a cyberspace built on computers designed by casually dressed young nerds in converted Silicon Valley and Bangalore, made partly of coltan mined in the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s war-zones, and assembled in Chinese factories reminiscent of Dickens’ Satanic Mills, or worse.

To be sure, this long process was speeded up in North America and the Antipodes, where disease and genocide wiped out the previous modes of production (Mann 2005), and in China and Russia under the nom de plume of ‘scientific socialism.’ Is there much reason to believe the story of cornucopian pleasure offered by the capitalist dream will be qualitatively shorter in the rest of the world than in history’s lessons? Indeed (China aside), it could take longer: the capitalist template was built on the form of global expansion reliant on slavery first and then colonialism. The contemporary developing world does not have this to rely on although markets and labour reserves are huge. But it is extraordinarily difficult for underdeveloped countries outside of BRICS and some of their smaller clones, to establish the factories of industrial capitalism – which create with them a proletariat that will unionise to raise wages and demand social goods – rather than a primary commodity exporting economy blended with a retailing mode in which informal street-sellers hawk ‘juice’ (cell-phone time) for telecommunications magnates the likes of Mexico’s Carlos Slim and Zimbabwe’s Strive Masiyiwa (Freeland 2013). They are not improved by their ruling classes’ tendencies towards crony capitalism and predatory states.

Yet Marx’s emphasis on the longue durée of primitive accumulation is belied by the revolutionary – and hasty – imagery of his prose. He begins his critique of the political economists who ignore the process of ‘previous’ accumulation by saying their approach is akin to the biblical Adam – not Adam Smith, as Perelman (2000) makes sure we know – biting the apple and thus committing the original sin condemning humanity to work rather than loiter in Eden. This action takes a second or two: in the eyes of many policy makers perhaps equivalent to signing land reform legislation or a peace treaty. Marx is nearly as impatient in his discussion of real rather than theological history, however. His encapsulation of British history (the ‘classic form’, he warns the reader, as opposed to ‘different aspects’ and ‘various phases’ all over the world) shows a fast-forward view. Just after he reflects on the two to three centuries – going back ‘not … very far’ to the 14th or 15th century – during which capitalism began ‘sporadically’ he jumps to proclaim that in the ‘history of primitive accumulation’ the ‘epoch making revolutions’ were those moments when a ‘mass of free proletarians’ was torn from its means of subsistence and ‘hurled’ as free and ‘unattached’ proletarians to the labour-market, all of which was ‘forcibly hastened’ by the royal powers. The ‘rapid’ rise of the price of wool gave the ‘direct impulse’ to the expulsions. Given that the old nobility had been ‘devoured’ – not masticated and digested slowly – in the wars, the new one, for whom money was the ‘power of all powers,’ speeded up the process of expulsion even more (Marx 1867: 436).

Thus Marx’s few pages on primitive accumulation present a mixed vision combining long historical and erratic processes with short and uni-directional revolutionary bursts, resulting in the mode of production with blood gushing from every gaping wound instead of just dripping from every pore. Similarly, his gestures to long-lasting mixed modes of production are over-ridden by clear binary dichotomies between ideas such as free/unfree, and private/social. Marx admitted that during the epoch of primitive accumulation there were myriad variations on the contrasting private and ‘social, collective’ (Marx 1867: 436) property ideals: there were ‘numberless shades’ corresponding to stages between the two extremes of property forms. Petty agricultural and manufacturing industry came with private ownership of (small) means of production. This led to the ‘development of social production and the free individuality of the labourer himself,’ but could co-exist with ‘slavery, serfdom and other states of dependence (Marx 1867: 436) for a long time (Foster-Carter [1978] takes off from this point). Yet Marx emphasised the yawning chasm separating the old modes of production from capitalism. Before capital can be created, ‘two very different kinds of commodity-possessors must come face to face and into contact’ (Marx 1867: 436) (note again the binary – the completely opposed poles). The owners of money and the means of production and subsistence must meet ‘the sellers of their own labour-power … free-labourers.’ The latter are ‘free’ in a classically contradictory meaning:

…in the double sense … neither they themselves form part and parcel of the means of production, as in the case of slaves, bondsman &c., nor do the means of production belong to them, as in the case of peasant-proprietors; they are, therefore free from, unencumbered by, any means of production of their own. With this polarisation of the market for commodities, the fundamental conditions of capitalist production are given (Marx 1867: 432).

Labourers must be completely separated from the means of production they possessed previously – to be precise, ‘the capitalist system presupposes the complete separation of the labourers from all property in the means by which they can realise their labour’ (Marx 1867: 432) – so that the ‘social means of subsistence and production’ are transformed ‘into capital’ and the ‘immediate producers’ who worked with these means formerly are now wage-labourers (Marx 1867: 432). The producer is divorced from the means of production. The carrier of labour must have ‘ceased to be attached to the soil and ceased to be the slave, serf or bondsman to another’ (Marx 1867: 433). The ex-peasants have been robbed of their land and with it have gone all the ‘guarantees of existence afforded by their old feudal arrangements.’ There will be no re-marriage until the next mode of production – one that will emerge with less pain than capitalism and most divorces because there will be many more people with an interest in going to the next stage (Marx 1867: 438). At the same time, as those on the nether side of divorces may attest, the peasants have been ‘emancipated’ from serfdom and the new workers have also escaped the ‘regime of the guilds’ and the ‘impediments of their labour regulations’ (Marx 1867: 438). They are also free of the authoritarian rule of their masters: liberal politics accompanies ‘free’ labour in a contradictory and conflictual relationship.

Thus we have an apparent collapse of historical time and an exaggerated binary of relations of production. If we took these exegeses from the primary texts on primitive accumulation as the condition for thinking about ‘third world’ development, the constraints would be debilitating: Naomi Klein (2007) might be surprised by this ‘shock doctrine.’ Very little empirical reality conforms directly to such theoretical constructs. However, they can be construed as ideal types around which changes in the social relations of agrarian production and property rights and variations in instances of waged labour can be ‘measured.’ Similarly, the lenses of primitive accumulation analysis can be focused on the vigorous reforms and violent revolutions that accompany and accelerate incremental and halting changes – leading to something akin to the ‘primitive socialist accumulation’ of Soviet and Chinese history. It bears remembering that Marx’s notes on India foresaw today’s ‘miracle.’ Their litany of criticism of British imperialism is complemented by the assertion that when the ‘Hindoos themselves shall have grown strong enough to throw off the English yoke altogether … we may safely expect to see, at a more or less remote period, the regeneration of that great and interesting country’ (Marx 1853). The new administrative class, a national army, the railways and telegraph system, the free press, and the end of ‘oriental despotism’ paved the way for today’s capitalist success – although Marx would not have been surprised by the dead weight of the past still in place and with them the many forms of violence accompanying this momentous transition.

Added to all the stresses and strains of the ‘economic’ transitions and class formations transpiring are the ‘super-structural’ ones of building state-like apparatuses and constructing legitimating ideologies from the muck of ages, the detritus of the present, and hopes for a future – almost any future. As struggles for hegemony along these lines ensue while new political classes emerge phoenix-like from the ashes, what Weber saw as the ‘Protestant’ hues of identity formation take on as many shades as the new shapes of unevenly articulated capitalism. A recipient of Boko Haram’s or ISIS modalities of ‘justice’ could attest well to this. So would the families of the people who died whilst the popular ‘prophet’ TB Joshua’s illegally approved Logos hotel-church collapsed around them. The Ugandan gays facing the righteous anger of the holier-than-they inspired by glowing and glowering American evangelists would probably feel the same way (Ashkenas, Watkins, and Tse 2014; International Crisis Group 2014; Allison 2014; Williams 2014; Armstrong 2014). The adrenalin of the propagators of the new religions accompanying capitalist development obviates the need for opiates. Their potent cocktails are more like amphetamines than relaxants.

The question is for those wishing to do more than study the many contradictions of capitalism’s slow and fitful emergence: how to advance its benefits and reduce its horrific side-effects? Perhaps – this being appropriate for the analysis of conflict and post-war development – reforms based on a clear-eyed view of the historical process of primitive accumulation and the public goods it necessitates (Moore 2004a) can smooth out the tensions of capitalist transitions. One of the worst of these is inequality: incredible wealth gains for those entering the realms of power and wealth and an immiserating entry into a world without assets for the billions of urbanising others (Davis 2006). One can chart the processes by which subaltern agrarian classes are dispossessed over time, be the violence through which they are transformed invisible or obvious. One can see, too, how the initial forms of capital arising from the mode of production-in-the-making are utilised by the new dominant classes, thus discerning the extent of their transformative powers. But what socio-political forces can reign in this extremely powerful force – without stopping it entirely? Marx’s dialectic between structural determinism and agency comes into play here. This is the famous contradiction between the ‘forces and relations of production’ – or the damned dialectic between determinism and volunteerism that has plagued all the ‘Marxists-in-Action’ in the underdeveloped world from Lenin to Mao (with Castro somewhere between?) to the leaders of the South African Communist Party.

If those in power push too hard – and have enough power – they could end up with a worse reality on their hands than those who would have been happy to see capital and the old modes accompanying it march to their own tunes (Russia and China versus India: which has been proved right over the past century of intense ‘modernisation’?). If they ‘talk left and walk right’ they end up partaking in corruption and repression whilst being outflanked by impatient forces. This is the conundrum of the ‘National Democratic Revolution’: it accepts that Marx and Engels did not give jumping stages much of a chance, thus allowing its disciples to wait for the bourgeoisie to build the forces of production that will allow the proletarians to ready for revolution.

This seems to be the case in South Africa, where the Communist Party is more concerned with keeping inside an alliance with the ruling party than with leading what it calls the ‘motive force’ (the working class) for their revolution. On the SACP’s watch, over thirty miners striking against a company in which South Africa’s current deputy president had a board director’s seat, were shot down by a vengeful police force (Moore 2012; Southall 2012; Von Holdt 2013; Friedman 2014; Cronin 2014). Meanwhile, those with less promethean aims than Marxist dinosaurs – liberal democrats plain and simple – are left in the dust now too, as the ‘strongmen’ return whilst the democratic exporting aspirations of the Bushes and Obamas both seem to have run their course

History’s post-war agents

Who can help meet the goals that set the agenda for this journal edition? If the peasants and workers are abandoned for a moment, one could see history as a struggle of what Priestland (2013) calls the ‘castes’ of intellectuals, capitalists, and soldiers. A few of them are included in, but most of them are jostling with, what Freeland (2013) calls the ‘plutocrats’ – the 0.1 per cent of the world who are ‘super-rich’ – only a few of whom will invest in the philanthropic endeavours of the Gates’s. Who among these social forces will be able to set the foundations for a new future out of war’s ashes? What local and global alliances of intellectuals, capitalists and military men and women are capable of the post-war tasks outlined by the Centre for Policy Analysis (CEPA) that was presented to all participants in the conference instigating this paper? This extremely comprehensive and ambitious list encompasses:

…developing new constitutional and political arrangements, rebuilding the economy and securing livelihoods, repairing the social fabric, restoring rule of law, strengthening civil society, and shaping mechanisms for reconciliation and transitional justice … [including] addressing questions of distributive justice, economic reconstruction, and sustainable and inclusive growth on the one hand, and ensuring political inclusion, democratic participation, social cohesion, and rule of law, on the other … [and building] on elements such as equality and non-discrimination, participation, empowerment, and accountability … complement[ing] more orthodox approaches to development and poverty reduction, looking not just at resources, but also at the capabilities, choices, security, and power needed for the enjoyment of an adequate standard of living as well as the full spectrum of civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights (CEPA 2014: 1; Nagaraj 2015).

Trying to reach these goals cannot allow a ‘one size fits all’ theoretical approach (class/caste struggle with ideologically predetermined victims and aggressors) but does involve a coherent analytical framework foregrounded by the ‘holy trinity’ to which this paper refers. In the immediate sense, borrowing from Priestland (2013), what was the configuration of classes/castes that preceded the war in question? How did they respond to and precipitate prevalent cleavages, for example religious, linguistic, ethnic, national, class, gender and generation? How did these change throughout the war – in the context of altered global and regional dynamics? How have they changed with the settlement? What new alliances have formed and how have their ideological and economic underpinnings altered? And finally, what is necessary (this is the ‘structural’ question: but agency conditions its interpretation) in the current context to create a new order along the lines any decent human being would want? The following list, compiled off the top of the head of this assuredly non-expert in conflict and post-conflict discourse, indicates a very broad continuum of war and post-war across a few countries. If one indicates just-under-the-radar conflict with (a), labels conflict situations with (b), and designates post-conflict zones with (c) one gets a very cursory impression of the magnitude of reconstruction tasks (and also becomes aware just how arbitrary such a taxonomy must be): what are the local and global caste/class alliances in each of these countries and how can they address CEPA’s issues? How does one go about interpreting such formations, and when that task is complete what ‘interventions’ can facilitate the construction of a liveable post-war state-society complex?

Afghanistan (B/C) Mali (B)
Burundi (C) Nepal (C)
Central African Republic (B) Nigeria (A/B)
Colombia (B/C) Rwanda (B/C)
Democratic Republic of the Congo (B/C) Sierra Leone (C)
Egypt (A/B) South Africa (A)
Iraq (B/C) Sri Lanka (C)
ISIS (B) Syria (B)
Liberia (C) Venezuela (A)
Libya (B/C) Zimbabwe (A)

Surrounding the above CEPA project – one of peace-loving, egalitarian and democratic people everywhere who are not afraid of states and the other bureaucratic structures of ‘intentional’ interventionist development – is the immanent (Cowan and Shenton 1996) process of capitalist development. This is made up of the accumulation and survival strategies of hard and soft, global and local, merchants with brutal soldiers and eclectic (perhaps fickle) sages (Priestland 2013). They are also interpellated (or ‘hailed’) by the sirens of nation, ethnicity, patriarchy and etc., as they have piled up over generations and arrive from all corners of the globe. If one could compose a ‘caste analysis’ of the countries above, perhaps one could then assess the possibilities and potential of the CEPA agenda against it and move forward with alacrity in some cases and cautious care in others: building up an hegemonic strategy for democracy and a decent mode of existence could then begin.

Of course, one has to engage in reflexive analysis too: those of us analysing and ‘humanitarianising’ are part of a global elite of sages composed of those working in states, international organisations and NGOs with our own accumulation and power strategies, nestled within a global structure of merchants and soldiers of varying hues – not to mention the classes Priestland and Freeland nearly forget, the workers, peasants and informals. It also bears thinking about the fact that before the invention of the ‘third world’ (Escobar 1995), wars were solved by a much different concurrence of social and state forces, although the Red Cross started in the Crimean War, Oxfam grew out of the post-World War II denouement, and the Marshall Plan gave some foreign aid planners food for thought (forgetting that in Europe the task was reconstructing capitalism to protect it from the Soviet enemy rather than constructing capitalism from scratch [Wood 1986]). It could well be that we are but an accoutrement for the hegemony of powers – both globally and in the ‘domestic’ state-society complexes in which we work – that either have no material or ideological interest in progressive post-war development at all or if (more positively) they do not have an idea of how to go about it. As David Chandler (2015) reminds us, this uncertainty is signalled by the ideology of resilience, which is an ‘empowering’ way of saying ‘deal with the exigencies of primitive accumulation, nation-state construction and hegemonic formation, and democratisation, on your own. Of course we will facilitate …’ In the meantime, when push comes to shove states will intervene when their perceptions of their interests demand. It would be difficult to say that American sanctions on Venezuelan officials were imposed as part of a campaign to bolster the ‘resilience’ of the subjects of the Bolivarian revolution – but not impossible (BBC 2015).

In the last instance, we must realise with Lawrence Hamilton (2014a, 2014b) that the agenda developed by CEPA and its associates all over the world is wrapped up in the sorts of freedom that comes only with power: the power for people to ‘get what [they] want and to act, or be as [they] would choose in the absence of either internal of external obstacles or both’; the power for people ‘to determine the government of [their] political association or community’; the ability for people to ‘develop and exercise [their] powers and capacities self-reflectively within and against existing norms, expectations and power relations; and the power for people to ‘determine [their] social and economic environment via meaningful control over [their] economic and political representatives.’ The reciprocal relationship between freedom and power is what will enable the realisation of the goals of post-war development. The wars came about because this relationship became too strained; the powers brought into being, destroyed, and then re-established by changing alliances within the merchant, sage and soldier trinity Priestland brings to the fore were unwrapped. It is doubtful if those in the humanitarian field are the key actors in that force-field, but post-war situations are fragile and critical as the ‘caste alliances’ form and re-form in their wake. In such situations humanitarians and development policy promoters must make critical choices based on clear analysis: what are the forces for changes with which they should ally and move in a direction where power and freedom have a positive synergy? These are not easy choices, but their making will probably move alliances for power and progress (the reference to John F Kennedy’s plans for Latin America is opportune) further than the rather technical, nearly apolitical – or as Hyndman (2015) makes clear vis a vis Sri Lanka’s war tourism, too militaristically celebratory – making up the new, post-war status quo. History will change.