[VIDEO] Blood and gold: the Spanish conquest of the Americas

In the Spanish State, 12 October is celebrated as the ‘National Day of Spain’, commemorating the ‘discovery’ of the Americas by Christopher Columbus in 1492. But what is there to celebrate? The Spanish conquistadors, driven by an appetite for gold, subjected countless people to bloody subjugation, extinguishing entire civilisations in just a few years. This session from our International Marxist University this summer tells the real story of the conquest of the Americas.

Below, we have included a full transcript of the main speech, followed by the following discussion and sum up. 

Note: this video has been edited to remove the translation breaks.

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Transcript: speaker, Jorge Martin

The Spanish conquest of the Americas took place over 500 years ago. And therefore, one would think that this is just a purely historical event which can be analysed from a certain distance. But this is not the case. 

Just a few months ago, the Peruvian Nobel Prize winner Vargas Llosa, who is, in my opinion, a very good writer and, also, an extremely reactionary political figure, said the following: “America was a Tower of Babel of many languages.” He was talking before the Spanish conquest. He added, “And as a result, the Indians killed each other. The Spaniards came to solve that.” This is the total sum of wisdom from this Nobel Prize winner.

But this is not just an isolated case. The whole of the official Spanish historiography about the conquest talks of ‘a meeting of civilisations’, talks about the Spanish conquistadores bringing culture to the ‘savage’ natives, talks about the Spanish conquistadores ‘peacefully’ evangelising the Indians into the Christian faith. Furthermore, we are told, this task was carried out by a small band of courageous men, against all odds. 

To be frank, comrades, this is all rubbish from start to finish. In fact, the Spanish conquest of the Americas was not a ‘meeting of civilisations’, but a bloody affair in which the conquistadors used the most brutal methods of terror to impose their will. It was not driven by the interest of bringing culture, but rather it was driven by the thirst for gold, the search for the loot, and led to the wholesale destruction of Indigenous cultures, which had flourished before the conquest and, in some cases, reached very high levels of development.

So, in order to understand, we need to adopt a materialist approach to this historical event. In the course of this discussion, we will try to answer the following questions. What were the different cultures and peoples which existed in the American continent before the Spanish conquest? What was Spain, from a social, economic and political point of view, in the 15th and 16th centuries? What was the driving force behind the conquest of the Americas? And which were the consequences?

America

If we start with the situation of America prior to the Spanish conquest, we need to discuss which were the different peoples which existed at the time. We have to say that the answer is that there were a very large amount of different peoples, which were at very different stages of development. A number of them were hunter gatherer societies, at a very primitive level of development. There were also a whole number of societies that had mastered agriculture and become sedentary. 

Amongst these, for instance, were the Tainos, who lived in the Caribbean islands. And in reality, you can say that the Tainos lived in what we Marxists describe as primitive communism. There was no private property. An Italian geographer, Pietro Martire, described them in the following way:

"It is proven that amongst them the land belongs to everybody, just as does the sun, or the water. They know no difference between meum and tuum (the Latin words for ‘mine’ and ‘yours’), that source of all evils,” he says. “It is indeed a golden age. Neither ditches, nor hedges, nor walls to enclose their domains; they live in gardens open to all, without laws and without judges; their conduct is naturally equitable, and whoever injures his neighbour is considered a criminal and an outlaw." 

That doesn’t sound like a bad idea, as to how to organise society. It was really striking for the conquistadors and the people that came along with them, to see this type of society and how it was organised. And then, they proceeded to destroy them.

But there were also a number of peoples in the Americas which had developed more complex societies. Societies with a more developed division of labour, with social stratification and hierarchy, in which they already had a state structure. As we know, agriculture and urban societies emerged independently in different parts of the world, and amongst them, there were at least two sites for the independent development of agriculture and urban societies in the American continent. One of them was in the north of what today is Peru, with a civilization which is known as Norte Chico. The other one was in Mesoamerica, with the Olmecs.

In fact, if you look at this from the point of view of historical materialism, what is striking is the way in which very similar processes took place independently from each other, in different parts of the world. And this was also the case in the American continent, which after its initial wave of population, and there’s a lot of discussion about when that took place (there’s different datings and by recent discoveries, it’s been thrown back, the time at which Americas were populated initially), but what is clear is that human groups in the American continent were largely cut off from contact with any other human groups in other parts of the world.  And they developed autonomously. What I’m trying to say is that it’s very striking, it’s very interesting, to see that they, in fact, developed more or less along the same lines as other human societies in other parts of the world, with which they were not in contact.

Amongst the peoples who had developed a more complex type of society were the Chibcha, in what is today Colombia. They had a developed social structure and they were very good at working with gold for ornamental purposes. But perhaps one of the greatest civilizations in the American continent were the Mayans. They developed in Central America. But by the time of the Spanish Conquest, this civilization had already gone beyond its peak for reasons that we don’t fully understand yet. The Mayans, independently of anyone else, had developed a complex system of writing. They had a very advanced system of astronomical observations. And they had a calendar, a very complicated calendar, based on three different accounts, which was more precise than the calendars that were used in Europe at the same time.

Then there were the Mexicas, also known as the Aztecs, in what today is Mexico, and the Incas in South America. And these were the two main civilizations the Spanish conquistadors encountered when they arrived in the continent. Both the Inca and the Mexica societies had a number of points in common. Their mode of production, the way they produced goods and sustenance, was very similar. This mode of production was based at the bottom, on the common ownership of the land by the community. 

This common ownership of the land was known as the ayllu amongst the Incas. The ayllu was the name of the land that was in common, and the group of people that worked and lived on that land. Amongst the Mexicas, it was known as calpulli. Above this local community rose a state structure, and the state extracted surplus from the community in the form of tribute. This tribute was used to carry out public works which were useful for the local community, but which required an amount of labour that no single one of these communities could have carried out on their own. These public works were, for instance, irrigation works: the building of canals, aqueducts, the control of the flow of water in lakes, and so on. Also, the building of roads system, which allowed for the change of goods between the different local communities. 

In some cases, the state was also responsible for the storage of food, which allowed them to withstand periods of crop failure, and so on. This was particularly important amongst the Incas because their society was built on the shores of the Pacific Ocean, which is affected by regularly occurring meteorological phenomena, which provokes crop failure, periods of drought, and so on. So, you see that the tribute the communities paid to the state was useful for the communities, but also there was another side to this because, of course, part of the tribute was also used by the priest caste and the ruling caste at the top of the state for luxury consumption, and for the building of religious and monumental works. Some of them were really very striking and probably played a role in establishing an ideology, the domination of that ruling caste, over the people.

This mode of production had many similarities with what Marx and Engels called the Asiatic Mode of Production. However, I think we must be careful in using this category. Marx always had a serious scientific approach to the study of social phenomena. He spent decades in the reading room at the British library, not far from here, analysing in detail the capitalist mode of production. That he considered his main life’s work. He never fully analysed the Asiatic Mode of Production, and he referred to it only in passing in a couple of places as a hypothesis, which he never fully developed. At the time when Marx was writing, the knowledge that existed of, say for instance, Indian society, was very basic. And the knowledge that existed about societies in Peru, and ancient societies in Peru and Mexico, was even less.

But there are a number of things that we can say without any doubt. These two societies were complex and developed. They had a state structure but they were not feudal societies in any way. Under feudalism, the individual peasant pays tribute to the individual lord, and the individual lord is the owner of the land. These societies were also not based on slavery, where the individual slave owner is the owner of many slaves, and these many slaves work the land of his ownership. In these societies, instead, the main production unit was the agricultural-based commune. There was no private property of the land and the commune paid tribute, not to an individual lord, but to the state as a whole. I won’t be able to give a full detailed analysis of each one of these civilizations, but let’s look for a minute to the Inca.

The Inca civilization was known as the Tawantinsuyu, which meant ‘the four corners’, and rose up in the 13th century. It was based, or was built on, the bases of previous societies which existed in the same region, particularly the Tihuanako and the Wari. From 1438, that is, approximately 100 years or so before contact with the Spanish conquistadors, the Incas started a very impressive territorial expansion, the Inca Pachacuti. At its peak, this empire, or civilization, reached 3,000 square km. It was going from, what is today, Colombia, all the way down to Chile and Argentina, and it was going from the edge of the Amazonian jungle, all the way to the Pacific Coast. At its peak, it had about 12 million inhabitants, approximately. It’s difficult to get precise figures, obviously. Some historians have argued that this was the largest empire at the time, the one that had the largest extension of land from one end to another.

As you can see, the geographic conditions were very peculiar and they shaped the way they developed their economy. So, this is a civilization that was based on the Andean mountains, very high peaks. These very high peaks are very close to the Pacific Coast, which is extremely dry. For instance, one of the driest places on Earth is the Atacama Desert. The humid winds that were coming from the Amazonian jungle would heat these very high mountains, and release the water on the other side. Therefore, they developed very complex forms of agriculture, which was based on terracing along the side of these very high Andean mountains, in order to create cultivation land. They developed very complex irrigation systems, which captured the water from the snow in the Andean peaks, and distributed it in the lowland valleys. They also used fertilisers, including guano, for instance, which became a major export product later on. They developed genetic engineering, which allowed them to develop an enormous variety of strands of different plants that they were using, particularly the potatoes, which were adapted to being grown in different levels of altitude, different degrees of sand cover, and temperature. They also very skillfully used the many different ecosystems that their society was based on, and changing products between one and the other. They had also developed different methods for preserving the food all year round. For instance, freezing the potatoes; drying the meat by a process called charqui, which the word ‘jerk’ meat comes from.

They had also domesticated the llama and the alpaca, which were the only two large animals that existed in the region. They used them both for meat and for wool, and also for transportation. These animals were very well adapted for mountain roads and passages, but the mount you could load on these animals was not so big. And because of the nature of mountain roads, you couldn’t attach a cart to the animal. And because of the very narrow terraces where the agriculture was developed, you couldn’t use these animals for traction for agriculture.

They also had very impressive monumental architecture, and also an elaborate system of roads that covered the whole empire. They worked gold and silver for ornamental purposes with a very high level of skill. They had advanced pottery and they were very skilled in cloth making, which greatly impressed the Spanish conquistadors.

The ayllus, the agrarian community, paid tribute in labour and in kind. The labour tribute was called a mita and every ayllu had to provide a certain number of people, for a certain number of months, to work for the state. While they were away, the rest of the community tended to the parcel of the communal land, and provided them with food and sustenance. The Inca society was characterised by a very strict organisation of labour and division of society. Everything was accounted for. This was shown in the fact that although they did not develop a proper writing system, they had a system for recording the tributes, for recording the number of people in each ayllus, for recording everything, which was called the quipus, and was based on strings, in which a number of knots system of knots were made. This is a unique system which has, to this day, not been fully deciphered. 

The Mexica on the other hand, which are also known as the Aztecs, and their society is sometimes called the Aztec empire… I’m not going to go into this discussion, it’s quite complicated, and I can’t say I fully understand it myself. But basically, these were the people that had migrated from the north, down to the central Valley of Mexico, there were already several peoples which had settled there. When they arrived in the central Valley of Mexico, this was already populated by other societies that had taken up most of the available land. In 1325, the Mexicas built their capital, Tenochtitlan, in the middle of Lake Texcoco, by recovering land from it; by building platforms on which they built their city. Like the Incas, the Mexicas built on previous developments of other societies that had existed in the region. In this case, for instance, the Teotihuacan and the Olmec civilizations. 

Because they were hemmed in by all these other peoples that had established themselves before, the Mexicas were a warrior people and progressively, over a period of time, they managed to subjugate their neighbours and establish their own civilization as the dominant one. By 1427, they established a three-city alliance together with Texcoco and Tlacopan. This three-city alliance reached the peak of its development in 1519, the peak of its geographic expansion. 1519, the year in which Cortes landed in the Yucatan Peninsula. In fact, by this time, what had originally been an alliance of three cities on equal footing was already completely dominated by Tenochtitlan, the capital of the Mexicas. 

The Mexicas based their agriculture on the chinampa, which were floating platforms on the lake, which had been built by piling up soil on the freshwater lake. These were extremely fertile, giving up to seven different crops a year. In order to maintain this system, they created a system of dykes, ditches and causeways, which regulated the level of the water in the lakes, and also ensured the clear separation between freshwater and saltwater, which existed in some of the lakes. These highly productive chinampas allowed for the rapid expansion of Tenochtitlan. Although there is a huge discrepancy between different historians regarding the population of Tenochtitlan at its peak, by 1519 this was a huge city which had between 80,000 and 300,000 inhabitants. This was clearly larger than any city in Spain and could only be compared to the largest European cities of the time, like Paris, which had about 225,000, or Naples, which had 125,000.

The agriculture of the Mexicas was based on maize, sweet potato, cotton, chilli peppers, pumpkins, beans, and they also had domesticated the turkey. Unlike the Incas, which had an economy completely dominated by the state, the Mexicas had developed a system of long distance commerce, which was carried out by a dedicated class of traders, the pochtecas. The territorial expansion of the Mexica Empire was very fast and was based on the imposing of tribute on the subjugated peoples. Some of these, if they had been defeated in battle, had rulers imposed by the Mexica. But others were allowed to keep their own rulers as long as they paid tribute.

It has to be mentioned that the American civilisations faced a number of constraints. The main one was the lack of large domesticable animals which could be used for transportation or traction in agriculture. For instance, the Mexicas had discovered the wheel, and they had many toys with wheels, but the wheel was not used for transportation because there were no animals amongst the Mexicas that could carry those carts. While both societies had very advanced and intricate, ornamental metallurgy, neither of them had developed iron smelting and bronze was very sparsely used. In fact, by the time the Spanish conquistadors arrived, both societies, the Incas and Mexicas, seemed to reach the peak of their development and they were riddled by internal contradictions, and the discontent of the most recently conquered peoples that were subjected to tribute.

Spain

So, what was Spain in the 15th and 16th centuries? Spain was the product of the general development of feudalism in Europe, but also had certain peculiar characteristics, or features.

The 14th century had seen a period of crisis in feudalism across Europe. Changes in weather, bad crops, the development of epidemics. This led to generalised discontent and peasant revolts across in the 14th and 15th centuries. This conflict was resolved with the emergence of absolutist monarchies. These absolute monarchies were balancing, in a Bonapartist way, between the power of the cities and the power of the noble men. Spain was a clear example of this under Charles I, 5th of Germany. 

At the same time of this crisis of feudalism, we see the beginning of the emergence of a bourgeois class, mainly represented by merchant capitalism. This was also the case in Spain. Catalonia, which is part of the Crown of Aragon, dominated trade in the Mediterranean. Spain exported large amounts of wool to Flanders. 

The unification of Spain had been carried out as a result of a centuries long struggle against Muslim rulers in the south, which was only completed in 1492 with the conquest of Granada. This period of constant warfare, which lasted for centuries, created a large section of the population which were like travelling knights that were at the service of the king and being paid in the loot of what they could conquer. These impoverished lower-level noblemen, which were accustomed to fighting, became the backbone of the Spanish conquest of America. It’s also important to realise that this war against the Moorish Kingdoms in the south had been conducted under the official banner of Christendom, which played a key role in the ideology of the Spanish conquest of the Americas. 

But we need to ask ourselves, what was the motivation for Columbus' voyage, which made contact, for the first time, with the Caribbean Islands? What he was looking for was a route towards China and India, a route for commerce, through the West to the East. This was because the direct land route had been blocked by the fall of Constantinople in 1453. So, whatever the official reasons or justifications were afterwards, the whole enterprise was motivated by commercial interest. The voyages themselves were funded by commercial capitalists. Above all, they were searching for gold.

Here's a quote from Engels that explains this process in a brilliant way:

“How deeply the foundations of feudality had been weakened and its structure corroded by money around the end of the fifteenth century, is strikingly evident in the lust for gold which possessed Western Europe at this time. It was gold that the Portuguese sought on the African coast, in India and the whole Far East; gold was the magic word which lured the Spaniards over the ocean to America; gold was the first thing the whites asked for when they set foot on a newly discovered coast.”

 And Engels then explains, what’s the meaning of this:

“But this compulsion to embark on distant adventures in search of gold, however feudal were the forms which it took at first, was nonetheless basically incompatible with feudalism, the foundation of which was agriculture and the conquests of which were directed at the acquisition of land. To this it must be added that shipping was definitely a bourgeois business…”

So, what Engels is trying to say is that the form the conquest took was feudal, but the content was, in reality, capitalist. In this case, merchant capitalist. Also, we have to say that the conquest of America was only made possible by a whole series of technological developments which existed at the time, which had very little to do with Spain itself. Amongst these were the astrolabe, which allowed for astronomical observations at sea; the compass; gun powder, which made possible early primitive firearms, like cannons and arquebuses. It was also made possible by the development of sea-going boats. Mainly, the caravel, and then later on the noa, which was much bigger. 

The caravel was a relatively small but highly manoeuvrable boat which had been developed in the fight against pirates in the Mediterranean and had been used first by the Portuguese in the early exploration and exploitation of Africa and some of the Atlantic islands. Very importantly, the caravels were able to sail windward, that is, against the wind. Also, the Portuguese sailors and explorers had also perfected the knowledge of Oceanic currents, which made possible the crossing of the Atlantic.

Of course, all of this knowledge concentrated in the Spanish crown, and the Spaniards also added the steel sword, which they had perfected over centuries of warfare.

Spain therefore, at the time of the conquest, was highly contradictory. It was a feudal country, a reactionary monarchy, which was to be the main force of the counter-reformation in Europe, dominated by Catholic obscurantism and the institution of the Inquisition. But, at the same time, it was a nation that was propelled into this Atlantic voyage of discovery by the powerful impulse of merchant capitalism. 

Conquest

The conquest itself was a brutal, bloody affair, which started with the enslavement of the local population of the Taino “Indians” of the Caribbean Islands, by extremely brutal methods. The Tainos resisted and rebelled, but they were massacred. If anyone wants to know the details, you can read the description that Bartolomé de las Casas makes in his text, A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies. He was a Spanish priest, who participated in the conquest and then became a defender of the rights of the Indian populations. The Spanish conquistadors used terror as a weapon to dominate these populations, by cutting off people’s noses, ears, hands, and other limbs; burning them at the stake; using specially trained mastiff dogs to set them on the local population. If you want to call this a “meeting of civilizations”, go ahead. But it was not. 

The intolerable conditions which the Taíno Indians were subjected to in the mines led to a massive amount of deaths and the practical extermination of the population in this whole region. Many of the Taino Indians committed suicide, or had deliberate miscarriages. They did not want to live in this way. 

The massive extermination of the local population in the Caribbean had two effects. One was the introduction of slavery, because they needed labour power to work in the plantations and in the mines. The other was the push towards looting other territories, in the North, towards the West and the South.

This is what led to the conquest of Mexico. The question has been posed by historians and official ideologists, how was it possible for a small number of Spaniards (400 at the beginning that went with Cortes, and 1,100 at the peak of the campaign) to conquer and subjugate the Mexicas, which was a highly developed civilisation skilled at warfare? And this, furthermore, how was this accomplished in a relatively short campaign, between February, 1519 and ended in August, 1521?

The key factor here was that it wasn’t really 400 Spanish conquistadors that carried out this feat, but that the Spaniards, led by Cortés, were very skilled in using the internal contradictions which already existed in the Mexica empire. At every single step, they met one people, for instance, the Totonacas right at the beginning, they promised them help in freeing themselves from tribute to the Mexicas. But at the same time, Cortes was telling the Mexicas ambassadors that Cortes was on the Mexicas side. In this way, they managed to get local allies to fight the big battles together with them. For instance, when Cortes defeated the Tlaxcaltecas in a couple of battles, he did so together with hundreds of Totonac fighters.

But this still leaves one question to answer. Why would any of these local peoples choose to ally themselves with this small number of foreign people that had just arrived? First of all, the Spaniards used the element of surprise. The local peoples had never seen horses or dogs, nevermind being used in warfare. They had never experienced firearms, which the Spaniards had, although in small numbers. The Spanish steel swords and lances also gave them an advantage. This was particularly the case because of the different fighting techniques, the different ways in which the different peoples make war. The different peoples the Spaniards met in what is today Mexico, their form of warfare was mainly hand to hand combat by individual warriors, with the aim of taking prisoners, which would then be sacrificed. But the aim of the Spaniards was completely different. They didn’t want to take prisoners. They wanted to kill as many as possible in order to instill terror and win the battle. This was better done from atop a horse with a long steel sword, or a lance.

Even so, the superiority in weaponry, or warfare, doesn’t explain the full story because some of the Spanish weaponry was not very appropriate for the conditions in America. Gunpowder would get wet in the humid conditions, it was also in short supply. The arquebus was a very cumbersome, early form of firearm – it had to be reloaded every single time and could only fire once every one minute, or two minutes. The Spaniards only had a handful of cannons and a short supply of cannonballs. Even the steel armour plates that the Spaniards used at the beginning were not adequate for the very hot climate of the Americas that they encountered. In fact, very quickly, the Spaniards replaced the steel armour for the local version of armour, which was different layers of cotton woven together. 

So in reality, this factor, the technological superiority, had to be combined with other factors. On its own, it wouldn’t explain the results. The other factor is precisely this - the alliances with local peoples who were already at odds with the Mexicas. Therefore, the internal contradictions of the Mexica empire played a key role in all of this. 

In order to solidify these alliances, Cortes used methods of terror. For instance, the massacre of Cholula early on in the campaign. At this time, Cortes had allied himself with Tlaxcaltecas, and he carried out the brutal massacre in Cholula, in which thousands died in a massacre that lasted two days. This helped solidify the alliance with the Tlaxcaltecas, and also sent a very clear message to Mexicas of what the Spaniards were capable of doing. 

The question of the quality of the leadership also enters into the equation. Cortes was a cunning, skilled politician and a maneuverer, who was very powerfully driven by the thirst for the loot. While Moctezuma, on the other hand, seems to have been indecisive at crucial moments of the campaign. This indecisiveness probably reflects the internal contradictions which already existed in the Mexica society.

Finally, it’s important to mention the role of disease in the Spanish conquest. The Spaniards brought a whole series of infectious diseases which were unknown in America, including smallpox and measles. Because they were unknown in America, the mortality rate of these epidemics was very high – 80 percent or 90 percent, perhaps. This was to play a crucial role, for instance in the conquest of Peru. 

When the Spaniards arrived in 1532, led by Pizarro, an illiterate, particularly brutal conquistador, with forces that only numbered 180, the epidemic had already arrived prior to the arrival of the conquistadors. And thousands were dying from a previously unknown disease, for which there was no cure. This had a powerful psychological impact, as you can imagine. 

Furthermore, when Pizarro arrived, this was in the middle of a civil war over the succession of Huayna Capac, an Incan ruler. And the two sons of Huayna Capac, Huascar and Atahualpa, were fighting in this civil war, dividing the whole empire into two warring camps. Pizarro was again skillful in using blood, in using treachery, terror, bloodletting, in order to impose his will and capture Atahualpa, who won the civil war against his brother. In the massacre of Cajamarca, he massacred 8,000 who had come with Atahualpa, unarmed, into the town square and, as a result, captured Atahualpa. 

And this is another important point, the fact that these were hierarchical societies, both the Incas and the Mexicas, meant that once the Spaniards had captured the main leader, it was easier to control the whole structure. Ironically, there were other societies which were at a lower level of development, where there was no developed society, no state, no such developed hierarchy. These other societies were able to fight and resist the Spanish conquistadors for much longer by using methods of guerilla struggle. For instance, the Chichimecas in Mexico and the Mapuches in Chile, which resisted for decades.

However, this is not to say there was no resistance in other places. The Incas resisted very much. There was an early rebellion led by Manco Inca and Tupac Amaru, which re-established the Inca state based in Vilcabamba, and laid siege to the Spaniards. It took them decades to defeat them, up until 1572.

Consequences

What were the consequences of the Conquest? First of all, a massive destruction of indigenous peoples and their cultures. The population of the Caribbean islands was practically completely exterminated. The population of the Aztec empire, which, at its peak, was probably 20 million, in less than 70 years had collapsed to 2 million, through a combination of overwork, massacres, and the impact of disease. 

The Spaniards systematically destroyed the temples of these cultures. Beautiful works of art, which were made of silver or gold, were melted down to be taken as loot. Perhaps one of the worst crimes of the Spanish conquistadors, from a cultural point of view, was the destruction of the Maya Codices – beautiful books containing their history and literature.

Hundreds of thousands died from hard labour in the silver and gold mines across the Spanish empire. This also led to the massive development of the slave trade. Millions of Black people were captured in Africa and transported in inhuman conditions to be worked to death in the sugar cane and tobacco plantations. 

There’s quite a lot of other things that I wanted to say, but my time’s coming to an end. But there’s two important consequences of the Spanish conquest that should at least be mentioned, and can be developed in the discussion.

One, the Spanish conquest, the looting of the Americas, was a key component part of the process of primitive accumulation of capital. This is very well explained by Marx. 

But the second one is that, ironically, this did not benefit Spain in the long term. Yes, at the beginning, Charles V was able to fund his wars in Europe and his empire with the loot, and the gold, from America. But at the same time, this meant that he was not obliged to make any concessions to the nascent bourgeoisie, to the nascent merchant capitalist class. It killed the potential development of capitalism in Spain before it had properly started. Therefore, it sealed the backwardness of Spain for centuries to come, benefitting, on the other hand, those nations that had carried out bourgeois revolutions and were more amenable to use this massive amount of money for the development of capitalism.

Our main task is to try to understand this process from the point of view of historical materialism, to brush to one side the political, and ideological, justifications and embellishment that the Spanish ruling class makes of this historic episode. And also, to understand that the way in which the Spanish conquest took place had the impact of also sealing the backwardness of Latin America for many centuries to come. 

This is a vast subject, there are many more things I could have said. But I hope that this introduction has wetted the comrades’ appetite to learn more about it. Thank you very much. 

Ubaldo, Mexico

Thank you, Jorge, for the great introduction. 

Marx said in his prologue to Critique of Critical Economy: “When societies reach a certain stage of development in the productive forces, they enter a contradiction with the existing relations of production.” He further adds, “These are bases for revolution. No social formation disappears before the productive forces that fit within it, and new, or higher, relations of production never appear before the material conditions have outgrown its previous society.”

These two phrases are fundamental for the understanding of societies that have existed, including pre-Hispanic societies. Before the arrival of the Spanish to what is now known as the American continent, there was a variety of societies that moved at different paces of development. For instance, there were matriarchal gatherer tribes and, on the other hand, there were big cities, like the Mexica or Inca, which were ruled by a very hard theocracy with the families that ruled the cities in a dynastical way.

Each of these communities had their own form of being run. The smallest would raise their hands to vote in an assembly, and the land was controlled by the community, Calpulli. In the larger towns, there were ruling castes, senior families of warriors and clergy. The possession of the land was communal but it was administered by the state. 

Marx said that these societies, with an Asiatic mode of production, developed very slowly. And within this, you can find advances that were different between them, and they were huge. The case of Tenochtitlan is emblematic. The town was founded in 1324, and it started being subjected to other cities. It was used as the assassin for the region. 200 years later, it was the most important city of this major region. Production was based on production of the land and the exploitation of the Chinampas, through which labour was tribute. But the strength of this society didn’t come from there. It was the development of the productive forces and the strength of the political, and military, alliances – the triple alliance, which was led by the Aztecs.

The formation of these cities is through the aggregation of small towns that are subjected to tribute. The town turned into the centre of political and economical accumulation, where almost 700,000 people lived. 

The triple alliance dominated 400 towns, which started in the middle of Mexico to what is now Nicaragua. To maintain this dominion, it was needed to have an army and, also, stronger bureaucrats, and more resources. While the political power was growing, it was still dependent on tributes. The town was only capable of producing 25 percent of its consumption, and the rest, 75 percent, would come from tributes. Which led to a huge contradiction – the impossibility of developing the productive forces and the necessity of the military apparatus, and a larger bureaucracy, which, sooner or later, would manifest in a violent way. 

Tributes were a huge weight on the smaller towns, and the smaller sectors of society in Tenochtitlan. This started to strengthen the rivalry and hatred among towns. It was hatred towards the Aztecs. Those that respected their political structure were allowed to continue. Others were directly influenced by the Aztecs. 

This hatred was then used by the Spanish during the conquest. Needless to say, the slow development of the productive forces started to wither the social relationships among themselves, but this was worsened by the conquest. It couldn’t see the contradictions go forward because of the invasion. There were other forces of production up and coming, but they weren’t strong enough to present themselves as the true alternative to the Asiatic mode of production. There were few slaves that served noble families and there was private land among the nobles, but it wasn’t very dominant. 

Tribute wasn’t based just on products; it was also based on labour. There was also a large market, where over 50,000 people would come together to exchange their products, but it wasn’t dominant enough. Some products were used as currency, but money was not permanently circulating. 

To speculate what could’ve happened if the Spanish hadn’t arrived is foolish, but we can be certain that society would’ve entered this contradiction, and it would’ve extended to the possibilities of another society, like slave society, or the feudal system. There was also the possibility of an explosion, where societies could’ve torn themselves apart, through civil wars, like it had happened before, in South Tlālōcān.

So, I repeat, what the conquest did was just to redirect all these contradictions. But these contradictions were also used by the Spanish to further their invasion into Latin American soil. 

Lastly, these societies were not idyllic, as postmodernists try to paint them. They were societies based on exploitation through tribute. They had a philosophy that was interesting and valuable, but it was heavy with contradictions. We can’t study them with romanticism, but we must analyse them with their multiple contradictions. 

Today, in Latin American, we have the ‘de-colonize’ train of thought, that pushes that society was idyllic before the arrival of the Spanish. They portray everything as peaceful through rose-tinted glasses that deny the exploitation of the time. But this is false. Not only, like Jorge said, was this false, but there was early rivalry among the towns in the American continent that caused these contradictions to go forward.

That’s all, thank you.

Carlos

The Spanish conquest, and particularly the fall of Tenochtitlan, was an inflection in history. The Mexicas, which are commonly referred as the Aztecs, were the most powerful culture in Mesoamerica. When they were conquered, it also assured domain over the cultures that were formerly ruled by them. This was added to the pacts that were arranged with the peoples that allied with the Spaniards, giving them an enormous power. 

An inflection point is a fundamental change in the situation, that means, a sudden turn. The process of the conquest began even before the fall of Tenochtitlan, and after it, it went down a long road. But this happenstance meant a fundamental change. The consequences of this could transform the world. This process could push the development of commerce to limits not seen before.  It gave an important push to capitalism. The motivation of the conquistadors was the thirst for gold. The search for wealth. Wealth was found, but in the beginning, this was not profitable enough to pay for the expeditions. 

Other people were conquered, such as the Mayans, that were no longer in their prime. The Purépechas were another Mesoamerican empire that, like the Zapotecs, had not been conquered by the Mexicas. They didn’t ally with the Spaniards to fight against the Mexicas. The first ones to reach an agreement with the Spaniards so that they could exchange dominion, so that the Indian rulers were respected. The contradictions amongst the conquistadors could’ve finished this alliance. Nuño Beltrán de Guzmán managed the Purépechas ruler to be killed. In this way, he dismantled this culture. Nuño Beltrán de Guzmán oppressed the Purépechas and was even more bloodthirsty than Cortes.

There were some developed societies, as well as some backwards ones. In the area known as El Bajío, as well as in the north of America, there were nomadic and semi-nomadic cultures. The Mexicas would call them in a contemptuous way as ‘those who eat ducks’. The conquistadors were assisting control of a new region called New Galicia. In the face of the dominion of the conquistadors, some Indigenous rebellions would arise. Between 1532 and 1541, the war of Mixtón erupted. This was the greatest rebellion of the time, that put the dominion of the Crown of Castille in the region at stake. 

The Caxcan could not be brought down easily. These people paid no tribute, nor did they work for the Crown of Castille. They were also hostile towards the conquistadors and they defended their territories, arms in hand. They had rights and customs that would astonish the Iberians. 

The conquistadors advanced their dominion and explored new territories. First, they were looking for better lands for cattle raising. Also, because one of the tasks given by the crown was to evangelise the locals. But then, rich silver mines were discovered. 

There was a priest army. At times, the priests would contain the excesses by the conquistadors. Some priests could even sympathise with utopian socialist ideas, Bartolomé de las Casas. But the church was, above all, a backwards institution. Its role was to extend imperial dominion. Their function was to finally submit and rule the Indigenous people under the new regime.

When the conquistadors found out about the silver mines, to dominate the Chichimeca area became a prime necessity. The area where the mines were laid had to be dominated, as well as the transport of these commodities, to be assured. The  Chichimeca war goes through many phases. At first, defensive ones, and after that, to exterminate them. The conquest of the Chichimecas lasted for a century. 

In the areas where more developed cultures were found, the conquistadors adopted the old tributary manners. In encomienda, these were created. These were regions where rulers had the function to protect the population and evangelise them. In exchange, they got tribute and they could loot the wealth. It was very different in the areas where the less developed people were found, and where the silver mines were found. 

First, some of the natives were submitted to slavery to work in the mines. The forced work, adding to the devastation of the population by the pandemics, forced the search for more hands for work. In this way, slaves coming from Africa were reached to compliment the Indigenous slavery. The technical development made it more profitable to have free workers subjected to brutal exploitation. In the first moment, the mine workers were paid salaries, but there were also African slaves in the mines. It is interesting to consider that, in the area where this development was laid, el Bajío, was the centre of a future rebellion during the Independence Revolution in Mexico. A mass insurrection happened there in 1810. 

It is believed that between 1503 and 1600, it arrived to Spain about 153,500 kilograms of gold, and about 7.4 million kilograms of silver. On the other side of the world, commerce was developing. America was reached while looking for new routes for commerce, reaching the Indies and gold. Commerce was limited by a lack of means of exchange. America gave silver that could push forward world commerce. The Spanish empire was, in many ways, mediaeval. It imposed a semi-feudal society in America. It was setting down the basis for the destruction of feudalism, despite its character.

Submission through blood and brutality against Indigenous people brought huge looting. It was the basis for the ordinary accumulation of capital.

Casper, Swiss Section

I want to start my intervention with a question. What is a mode of production? The starting point of our analysis of any society should always be the real, empirical organisation of human beings and how they produce their means of subsistence. And out of this fact, we extract the essence and we generalise a mode of production. 

In each stage of human development, we need to find what Marx calls the specific kind of production which dominates over the rest. For example, in feudalism, the essence is the exploitation of surplus product from the peasants who work the land, land which belongs to a class of feudal lords, and the main means of production is the land. 

But after you have understood the essence of the feudal mode of production, you still don’t understand how it was born and how, in the end, it gives rise to new class relations and the new mode of production. And it is true that there was very little development for the first 500 years or more, but then there was development in the late Middle Ages. And capitalist relations started to form in a 400-year process inside the feudal system. 

For example, the growing commerce led to the production of the market, which we call commodity production. This in turn revolutionised agriculture, the productivity of land rose and this permitted the development of bigger cities and a higher division of work. What is essential here is that feudalism did permit the development of the productive forces until these forces outlived the feudal relations of production, and the new class emerged that could replace these relations. 

So, in Latin America, it’s correct to call the Mexica society, based on the Asiatic mode of production. But that is still an abstraction that does not explain anything by itself, but it helps in analysing this society because we need to find the essence that explains the limits of the development of such a society. What was, as Marx calls it, the hidden basis of the entire social edifice? 

The Aztec society was an agricultural society. Land was also the main means of production. But as Jorge explained, it was commonly owned and commonly worked on by local communities called calpulli, who also elected their own leaders by themselves. Because there was no private property of the land, there were no classes in the strict sense. But what existed was exploitation of a surplus product through taxation by a state, who taxed these autonomous communes.

The most developed people, the Mexicas, stood at the top of the hierarchy. And they developed the state to exploit other peoples. This led to the development of big cities and city-states with a huge state hierarchy and apparatus. In this state, the ruling families were not elected but it was a hereditary ruling caste.

With the rise of these societies, the division of work increased. There were artisans, for example, but they were employed by the ruling caste. They didn’t sell on the market. But there existed, also, merchants, and even instances of slavery. So, we see how new relations developed, new techniques developed. 

As Marx said, “At a certain stage of development, the material productive forces of society come into conflict with the existing relations of production.” But in the case of the Mexicas, no new class developed that could impose new relations of production. Why not?

What was the basis of this society that one specific kind of production, which predominates? It was the exploitation of the land in communal production. And this remained the key economic activity, which had to sustain these huge cities. In this main activity, there was no development of the means of production, or practically none. This defined the sharp limits of the possibility of development from undeveloped contradictions this society developed.

This explains why the Mexicas needed to subdue even more communities. At the high point, they taxed more than 400 communities. As Waldo explained, this increased the hatred of these communities against the Mexicas. This level of hatred equaled the rising contradictions, was just an expression of the rising contradictions. Which is essential to understand how the Spaniards were victorious against Tenochtitlan. 

So, as I said, to call the mode of production of the Mexicas, part of an Asiatic mode of production, does not by itself explain why they lost against the invaders. But it is an essential tool in the arsenal of Marxist analysis, to find out how these societies work. But we shouldn’t apply it in a static manner. It’s the same with feudalism – if you apply it in a static manner, you can’t see why capitalism developed. We need to see these societies in a dynamic way to see how the contradictions inside these societies developed over time. 

As Waldo said, if they had lived 1,000 years more, who knows what would’ve happened? But they did not, and Marxism permits us to understand why they did not. By understanding the limits and the contradictions in this specific case of the Asiatic mode of production, we can understand how it was possible for a pack of 500 invaders to conquer a culture at its high point, with an army of 200,000 soldiers. 

David Ray, Spanish Section

In the last year, the Spanish regime, the right and some of the left, has been resuscitating the old argument that the conquest and enslavement of America was a work of civilization. And that, in any case, it was better than what the British Empire did to Native Americans. The Spanish Marxists have the duty to combat this false propaganda of self-righteousness. In reality, the conquest had double effects. It was a decisive time to give impulse to the birthing of capitalism in Europe. But it had terrible effects on the locals in America and for Spanish society itself. 

Concretely, it conducted the young Spanish nation into a process of degeneration, decline, backwardness, from which it hasn’t been able to recover 500 years later. We have to start from the embryonic capital of manufacturers in Castille, which is what we now know as most of Spain, which was crushed. It was crushed by what was called the Revolt of the Comuneros in 1521. In its essence, it was a civil war between the manufacturers of the cities of Castille, and the ranchers that exported wool to the Netherlands and England, and had the support of the nobles and the crown. 

The precious metals were channelled from Spain to the European economic circuit in two different ways. Mainly, they were used to pay the loans to German and Genovese banks that were financing the wars between dynasties of the Spanish monarchy in Europe and the Mediterranean, and to pay for the imports of manufactured goods in Europe. The Spanish monarchy had the right to appropriate 20 percent of the precious metals that were extracted, even though the real numbers surpassed that of 30 percent. Many times, they appropriated the silver and gold of commoners, and everything was used in their adventurous wars. 

While the annual income of Charles V oscillated between 2 million ducados, one ducado equals 167 euros. He accumulated debt for 39 million ducado on personal loans. The military campaign of 1537 over Province in France consumed the income for the crown for three years. For instance, to maintain the Mediterranean fleet during the times of Philip II, needed 2.5 million ducados every year. And the price of the army for the Netherlands, between 1571 and 1577, cost 11.7 million ducado. Today, this would be 1,950 million euros. 

When silver and gold were not enough, the budgets for the different kingdoms that composed the Spanish crown would be sacked. Outrageous taxes would be put upon the peasants, which would lead them to hunger. Spanish society was left barren between the 15th and 16th century. Public works were neglected, same with infrastructure and roads, which led to the backwardness and isolation among the regions and provinces. And other means through which gold and silver were channelled to America from Spain, was with the import of products manufactured for America and for its own Spain. 

This was prepared from the weak development of Castille, as we have previously explained. Another disruptive effect was inflation, which was also called the rebellion of crisis, which reached 400 percent throughout the 16th in Spain, the worst country in Europe. This jeopardised internal production and finished the destruction of weak productive forces. Many people don’t know that Spain has the largest registration for bankruptcies and public debt than any other country in the world, being 14. Seven of which took place during the main years of the American conquest, so, between the 16th and 17th century, curiously the time when Spain was seeing the most income. While the debt that was left behind by Charles V was 17.5 million ducados, this would reach 100 million in 1601. With Philip IV, between 1621 and 1627, the Genovese appropriated 76 percent of the precious metals that reached Spain in order to seal the debts. This was the Spain of impoverished gentlemen, of the Inquisition of the stakes, and general decadence.

Marx described this process in Spain as a slow putrefaction with no glory. The Spanish bourgeoisie could never revert the situation because of its backwardness and fusion with the old feudal regime. This is what’s called Black Spain, that allows the monarchy, the military, the police, the judges and the church and rich oligarchs. But the luminous forces of the Spanish nation are stronger than ever. It’s only the working class that has the means to finish this legacy of backwardness and insecurity. They have tried so many times with enormous heroism, sacrifice and martyrs, and they will keep trying. There’s no doubt about that.

Our brothers and sisters of the towns in America claim that Spain has to repay the debt after centuries of looting and genocide. The rotten and reactionary Spanish oligarchy has shown that they’re not going to do it, but the Spanish working class will do it. We have written down the cheque and we will give it back – not with gold, not with silver, but through socialist revolution that will shine brighter and stronger than all the precious metals in the world together, that will light the path for liberation of the oppressed and exploited, in America and the rest of the world.

Nicolas, Belgian section

Before dealing with the general uprising led by Tupac Amaru in 1780 in the territory of present-day Peru, I will give some background information. The aim of the Spaniards in the Americas was to strike precious metals, such as gold and silver, by the means of mita. The mita was the force of labour that allowed the colonial power to place one in every seven Indigenous people to work in the private sector – mines, textile workshops and farms. 

Problem is, that there was a demographic drop of approximately 80 percent in the territory of the Inca empire, as the result of colonisation, just like Jorge said. In the 18th century, the population was composed by 60 percent of Indigenous peasants. This means that most of the population worked in farming, in autonomous settlements. To become richer, the merchants in Lima needed to increase the labour force in order to extract and export more gold. 

In the second half of the 18th century, they implemented reforms that would exert economic coercion so that the Indigenous peasants would have to sell their surplus products, or sell their labour power in the mines, textile workshops and farms. These reforms were the payment of the tribute in cash and the force of distribution of goods to the Indigenous population. The Indigenous people were forced to accept and pay for the commodities brought by the colonial officials. The increase in the labour force allowed exports and imports to quadruple between 1740 and 1780. These reforms became mechanisms for the plundering of the provinces in favour of the mercantile bourgeoisie of Lima and Spanish crown. 

The discontent of the Indigenous people spread to other layers of society, such as the curacas, who were administrators of communities in the former Inca society. The colonial authorities used the curacas as intermediaries between themselves and the exploited Indigenous masses. They were an Indigenous elite with a lifestyle comparable to that of the rural bourgeoisie. In 1770, the last reform of the distribution threatened the possessions of the curacas. If peasants were not solvent in some instances, the official who made the distribution could cash in on the curacas’ property. 

Jose Gabriel Condorcanqui, who took the name of Tupac Amaru II during the rebellion in 1780, was a curaca in the province of Cusco. Cusco was one of the regions most impoverished by the distribution of commodities due to the low productivity of its farmlands. In the school of curacas of Cusco, Tupac Amaru became familiar with the work of the Inca Garcilaso de la Vega, a utopian, embellished interpretation of the Inca empire. This work constituted the element of ideological unity between the curacas and the peasant Indigenous people. The impoverishment of the province, affecting first the Indigenous peasants, and making even the curacas more precarious, was the material basis of the alliance between the Indigenous peasants and this moment. 

The rebellion led by Tupac Amaru shook the Spanish crown and the Lima bourgeoisie. After being held prisoner in 1781, he was dismembered and his entire family was executed, except for his youngest son. The insurrection was totally defeated in 1783. 

The general uprising had an impact on all of the colonies and was a symbol of all oppressed peoples in the Americas. The revolution of 1780 raised the peasant Indigenous issues and was the first attempt to solve them. Even if Tupac Amaru and the Indigenous peasants had triumphed and implemented the political program of returning to the Incan empire, the basic problem of the Indigenous national issue would not have been solved. As the Peruvian Marxist José Carlos Mariátegui says on this issue: “The solution is not the creation of an Indigenous bourgeois state, that would have all the internal and external contradictions that characterised the bourgeois state.” 

As we can see in the present day, it’s not enough to create a plurinational state, as those in Ecuador and Bolivia. To solve the Indigenous issue, the program of revolutionary socialism is needed. Finishing with a quote from Mariategui: “The Latin American revolution will be nothing more and nothing less than a face of a world revolution. I will be simply and purely a socialist revolution.”

Adriana, Mexican section

At the arrival of the Spaniards to Mesoamerica, which is the territory now in half of Mexico and Central America, many diverse cultures had already developed. Among the most relevant, we find the Teotihuacan culture, which developed in the Valley of Mexico; the Mayans that were located in South Mexico and part of Central America; and the Mexicas. 

In 1521, there lived 11 million people, a population that Mexico reached again afterwards in the year 1910. At the core of Mexica culture, in the city of Mexico Tenochtitlan, inhabited about 300,000 people. At the time, in the main European cities, lived about 100,000 people. But how are we to understand, under the perspective of historical materialism, the Mesoamerican societies and, in particular, the most developed one, the Mexica?

The material conditions of the area didn’t allow the development of an economy based on cattle raising. Also, in Mesoamerica, there were no draft animals, and they didn’t know applications for such inventions as the wheel, nor technologies that could allow for the steel foundry and its diverse applications. 

Amongst the Mexicas, the land ownership belonged to the community, which is called the calpulli. This was the basic economic, military, educational and administrative unit. It also belonged to the state. It was put at the disposal of its members for collective exploitation, but it could not be inherited, nor could it be sold. The farming was brought through chinampas, which were artificial land plots created above the lake, above which Tenochtitlan was built. They also created irrigation canals, dams and rain deposits. 

The Mayans also exploited the land in a collective fashion. With the difference that they established a centralised exploitation process. Those who would work the land, worked collectively in order to subsist and to pay a tribute for the leader of the community, the calpuleh.

Also, in the lower layers of society, there were the tamemes, carriers of all sorts of commodities. Some as slaves or tlacotin, who were paying some sort of debt or had been judged for some sort of crime. But slave labour was not fundamental in the economic structure. Private property existed as an exception for some of the rulers, for outstanding warriors in relevant battle, and the ones that were possessed by the priesthood. But this land was not to be inherited. 

The nobility had special schools for their education, special tribunals to be judged, and military occupations. There were also important merchants, or pochtecas, that served as the spies for the state. The state was centralised and controlled by this privileged caste, which glorified war with the end to submit other people, and get tribute for them. This was made true and special manager, or pochtecatlatoque, in this conquered zone. Tribute was a percentage of what was produced by the villages and it was given to be administered and transported by nobility. It was given to the nobility of Mexico Tenochtitlan. Through tribute, big construction works were paid for, as well as military campaigns. 

This practice was documented in the Mendoza Codex, in which, through drawings and codes, was portrayed the conquest of many people on behalf of the Mexicas, and the tributes that were paid to them. This submission structure in the Mexican empire made it easy for the Spaniard conquistadors. 

There is a peculiarity in Mesoamerican civilizations. If you are to define a social class as huge groups, that are different from one another because of the place they have in social production, for the relation to the productive means, and for the role in the social organisation of labour, nobility, priests and merchants, and military high ranks in Mesoamerican civilizations were not the owners of the land, except for some exceptions in which would again come to the hands of the state. So, they are more accurately defined as a military and priest caste. Marx defined this mode of production as Asiatic in his writings about the pre-capitalist economic formations, which are contained in his notebooks, such as the fundamental elements for the critique of political economics, and those in which he analyses British dominance over India. 

As we can see, this was not an egalitarian society. It is not to be idealised, like some Latin Americanists do. Nonetheless, we recognise it was on this economic basis that Mesoamerican cultures rose. Even though they didn’t reach a completely rational world view, the privileged casted, freed from hand labour, developed important advancements in the study of the movement of stars, and a right conception of time as a consequence of this. Mayans came to know the number zero, as much as its significance and essence. Even though their thought was still impregnated with myths and magical conceptions, they also had many great writers and poets. 

Only by studying historical materialism, we’ll come to comprehend the depths of Mesoamerica, and, which came to be its greatest civilization, the Mexicas. And to understand the expression that was portrayed in one of their poems, “As long as the world remains, there will be no end for the fame and glory of Mexico Tenochtitlan.”

Sum-up (Jorge)

I thought that was a very interesting discussion dealing with different aspects. The question of the Asiatic mode of production, which was dealt with by several of the comrades, was approached from a correct point of view. That is, historical materialism is not a series of abstract categories that you can pick and choose from, and then superimpose onto real living conditions, but rather, it’s the opposite. In order to understand a given society, or a given socio-economic formation, you have to analyse its internal functioning, its internal laws, and on the basis of this detailed study, try to draw out its main general features. Once you’ve done that, then abstract general categories can be useful in order to classify each economic system, whether it’s a type of feudalism, or it’s a type of slave society, or similar to the Asiatic mode of production. 

I think the intervention by David Ray was also very interesting, about the impact of the conquest of America in determining the backwardness of Spain. And, also, in demolishing the myths, which are still relevant today, which are part of the ideology of the ruling class in Spain. 

Also, Nicolas’ intervention was very interesting, because he brought out the real economic and social basis of the uprising by Tupac Amaru at the end of the 18th century. There’s another interesting aspect of this, which is the way in which the Spanish conquistadors used some of the structures of the previous society for their own benefit. For instance, how the mita, the labour tribute under the Incas, was used to provide labour under the Spanish conquistadors for the silver mines in Potosi. But while the form was the same, the content of it changed a lot. It was no longer a form of tribute by the community to the state, it was more similar to a form of enslavement. Tens of thousands of Indigenous people died in the mines in Potosi because of the extreme exploitation of the working conditions there. 

Also, that intervention brought out another aspect, which is how the Spanish conquest of the Americas was not a one-sided process. There was enormous resistance, there were rebellions throughout the period. Another aspect of this which has not been mentioned is the creation of freed slave societies, the Maroons in different parts of Latin America. 

At the end of the today, perhaps the most important aspect of the Spanish conquest of the Americas, is precisely the creation of the world market, which gave rise to capitalism. The Spaniards, after conquering America, continued and colonised the Philippines, creating an enormous current of trade between China, America and Europe. And of course, the role that the conquest of America played in the primitive accumulation of capital, which some comrades have mentioned. 

I would like to give the last word to Marx, who describes the process in the following way. He said in Capital, “The discovery of gold and silver in America, the extirpation, enslavement and entombment in mines of the aboriginal population, the beginning of the conquest and looting of the East Indies, the turning of Africa into a warren for the commercial hunting of black skins, signal the rosy dawn of era of capitalist production. These idyllic proceedings,” and he is being ironic, of course, “are the chief momenta of primitive accumulation.” And in conclusion, he said, “Capital comes into the world dripping from head to foot, from every pore, with blood and death.”

Capitalism, nevertheless, played an enormously progressive role, from the point of view of the development of the productive forces. But this is no longer the case. It is our task today to put an end to this rotten, violent and evil system, which increasingly condemns millions to poverty, starvation, and a life of exploitation, which is not worthy of the name, and open the way for the socialist transformation of society. Which will release the pent-up productive forces, which can no longer fit in this rotten system. Thank you.

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