Mercantile capital and the livelihood of residents of the Hudson Bay Basin : a Marxist interpretation

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Rothney, Russell George
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North American studies of economically underprivileged groups often implicitly assume that poverty and social distress are irregularities which need not exist under capitalism. Accordingly, economic disadvantage commonly is explained in terms of (real or imagined) cultural peculiarities and commercial or government mismanagement. Emphasis on supposed cultural barriers to economic advance is particularly heavy with regard to destitute Indians and Metis in Canada. In reference to the "Indian problem" perspective this point is elaborated in Chapter I and illustrated more fully in Appendix A. In contrast to the abovenmentioned approach, this study starts with the hypothesis that persistent cases of sharp economic inequality reflect the overall logic of the prevailing economic system. Marxist methodology is used because it complements this supposition. With the hope of minimizing conceptual haziness, a number of central Marxist analytical categories are explored in abstract in Chapter II and in appendicies B and C. An attempt is made to link the historically general concept of surplus produce to the idea of economic development and underdevelopment, via the notion of economic class conflict. In terms of capitalist economy, the idea of surplus produce may be expressed as surplus value. This facilitates comparison of economic production in capitalist economies with that of earlier or more recent systems. Moreover, the category "surplus value" directs attention squarely onto the social relations causing commercial gain. This follows from its definition as an excess of net output over requirements for maintenance of commodity producers. In contrast, the (narrower) term "profit" is an accounting category which says nothing about social-economic organization. Similarly, Marx's concept of capital is used because it is based on historically distinctive, social-economic features...