Proletarianisation, Agency and Changing Rural Livelihoods: Forced Labour and Resistance in Colonial Mozambique

In current analytical approaches to rural poverty in Southern Africa, the more we see the term ‘livelihoods’, the less we see the concept ‘proletarianization’. This displacement is partly a response to warranted criticism of teleological and functionalist tendencies in some Marxist work on proletarianization, but it also reflects a troubling retreat from history, politics and class analysis in current livelihoods frameworks. This paper attempts to detach the concepts of livelihoods and agency from the micro-economic language of possessive individualism and strategic gaming and to reclaim them for a Marxist terrain of class struggle. It shows that the multiplicity and variation in rural livelihoods in Mozambique today are the outcome of a historical process of proletarianization grounded in violent and repressive regimes of forced labour during the colonial period. Forced labour – and resistance to it – shaped the ways in which labour and agricultural commodity markets worked and developed. Qualitative shifts in the organization of rural livelihoods resulted from processes of commoditization that made proletarianization, although contingent, also irreversible. The struggles of Mozambicans against forced labour and forced cropping enmeshed them in a world where both means of production and labour-power were commodities to be bought and sold. If we become so absorbed in documenting the complexity of multiple livelihoods and individual creativity that we can no longer see broad patterns of class struggle in historical change, then the concept of livelihoods is an ideological mask rather than a useful analytical tool. Notes, ref., sum. (Journal abstract)

Title: Proletarianisation, Agency and Changing Rural Livelihoods: Forced Labour and Resistance in Colonial Mozambique
Author: O’Laughlin, Bridget
Year: 2002
Periodical: Journal of Southern African Studies
Volume: 28
Issue: 3
Period: September
Pages: 511-530
Language: English
Geographic term: Mozambique
External link: https://www.jstor.org/stable/823429
Abstract: In current analytical approaches to rural poverty in Southern Africa, the more we see the term ‘livelihoods’, the less we see the concept ‘proletarianization’. This displacement is partly a response to warranted criticism of teleological and functionalist tendencies in some Marxist work on proletarianization, but it also reflects a troubling retreat from history, politics and class analysis in current livelihoods frameworks. This paper attempts to detach the concepts of livelihoods and agency from the micro-economic language of possessive individualism and strategic gaming and to reclaim them for a Marxist terrain of class struggle. It shows that the multiplicity and variation in rural livelihoods in Mozambique today are the outcome of a historical process of proletarianization grounded in violent and repressive regimes of forced labour during the colonial period. Forced labour – and resistance to it – shaped the ways in which labour and agricultural commodity markets worked and developed. Qualitative shifts in the organization of rural livelihoods resulted from processes of commoditization that made proletarianization, although contingent, also irreversible. The struggles of Mozambicans against forced labour and forced cropping enmeshed them in a world where both means of production and labour-power were commodities to be bought and sold. If we become so absorbed in documenting the complexity of multiple livelihoods and individual creativity that we can no longer see broad patterns of class struggle in historical change, then the concept of livelihoods is an ideological mask rather than a useful analytical tool. Notes, ref., sum. (Journal abstract)