Humphrys, Elizabeth: Birth of Australia

Humphrys, Elizabeth

The birth of Australia: non-capitalist social relations in a capitalist mode of production?Journal of Political Economy, 70, Summer 2012-13, pp. 110-17

This article argues that, despite the early Australian colonies encompassing the extensive use of unfree convict labour and a virtual absence of wage-labour, the “English relations of production” (definitively capitalist relations) were present from the start. That is, the colonies were, during the first few decades after 1788, part of the British capitalist mode of production. The colonies were not pre-capitalist because they were largely a gaol and penal state, as some have argued, but were capitalist because that goal served an important social purpose for British capitalism. Further, this article argues that the failure of the colonies to trade within the world market is not itself sufficient to argue that another mode of production, non-capitalist or pre-capitalist, was in place. In these circumstances the imperial and colonial states instituted new social relations that, as a result of class formation and struggle at the global and local level, became more fully capitalist over time.

The article is part of a special number of this journal on recent research on Marxist political economy, which includes other articles on Australian economic development. The author is a PhD student in political economy at the University of Sydney.

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