É salutar para a nossa própria auto-estima ler, de vez em quando, sobre as fantasias absurdas elaboradas por pessoas com fama de estudiosos, e cujas obras continuam a ser recomendadas nas faculdades anglo-americanas, e não só. Uma dessas figuras é Karl Polanyi (não confundir com o irmão, o admirável Michael Polanyi). Karl converteu-se cedo ao marxismo e dedicou a vida académica à pregar as virtudes do planeamento económico. A obsessão subiu-lhe à cabeça e transformou um homem inteligente num fantasista sem escrúpulos. Reproduz-se no Portolani Special um texto do antropólogo heterodoxo, Roger Sandall, tirado do seu livro The Culture Cult, e também publicado no seu site do mesmo nome: http://www.culturecult.com/farce/dahomy.htm
From "What Karl Polanyi found in
(By kind permission of Roger Sandall)
The role of state officials
The famous economist Karl Polanyi believed in the need for strong, centralized, state-managed economies. He promoted this in much of his writing, and toward the end of his life made a remarkable discovery-that the arrangements to be found in ancient, blood-stained, slave-trading, war-making West African Dahomey (now
Right from the start he assumes that in 18th-century Dahomey economic activity only takes place because it is "implemented by state officials", all the way from the king at the top down to the subsistence farmers planting their crops. It is a fact of common observation that interference by the state in the decision-making of small farmers about what to plant and when has time and again produced disasters. In
According to Polanyi the reason is not what you'd expect-that its rulers had the good sense to leave the farmers alone. Instead it was because the king and his ministers were telling them what to do. "The King of Dahomey enforces cultivation over all his dominions", he quotes approvingly from a 19th-century source, while "the permanent administration of agricultural affairs was in the hands of the 'Minister of Agriculture', the Tokpo". Beneath him were other administrative assistants, and "it was the duty of the agricultural officials to insure a balanced production of crops and adjust resources to requirements. If there was overproduction or underproduction of any crop, the farmers were ordered to shift from one crop to another."
No-one knows how far
Of hoes, Amazons, and IBM
Could a peasant who wanted a hoe just sit down and make one? No way. "Twelve forges throughout the country were designated to make hoes; and production of hoes was limited to these forges, each of which was under the watchful eye of an official charged with supervising production." Polanyi sees nothing wrong in the king having some 4,000 women attached to the court, 2,000 of them wives and the rest a regiment of female soldiers known in the literature as the "Amazons". That "people of rank engrossed the major part of the women" was not a worry, since other women were appointed by the king to provide sexual services to the public at large. Plainly, no detail of public welfare was overlooked. Security was attended to by a system of state spies.
But how were numerical records kept of all the taxes paid, the numbers of livestock, the men available for the annual war, of births and deaths and marriages? Here we come to Polanyi's remarkable claim that
Because there was no way of indicating percentages of a total, each tally in the census-of women, of men, of male and female births during the year, of male and female children below the age of thirteen, of male and female deaths from natural causes during the year, of deaths in war, of the number of captives taken, and finally the number of slaves available for sale (a secondary matter compared to the number of captive "heads" or prisoners for sacrifice to the ancestral gods)-was conveyed independently in separate bags of pebbles.
As one tries to visualise the lines of porters toiling uphill under the blazing African sun, day after day and week after week to the capital city, with their burdensome raffia bags slung from their shoulders, and the innumerable pebbles they must contain . . . it is impossible not to become suspicious. Perhaps Herskovits did too. The arithmetic itself seems odd. And where are the earlier reports corroborating the account Herskovits obtained in the 1930s? There are none. To his credit Herskovits admits to finding "the system of bureaucratic control" he describes as "bordering on the fantastic". And when one considers all the complications it is not surprising to find it has been described by another authority on
Cut the "almost". It was indeed entirely incredible. About the kindest thing that can be said about Karl Polanyi's credulity is that only someone of the type set before us in Peter Drucker's biographical note, with "a naive belief in the cunning, cleverness, and foresight of our rulers", filled with that sacred hate of the market system so admired by his wife, convinced of the impending downfall of modern capitalism, and simple-minded enough to see pebble-counting with raffia bags as analogous to the achievements of IBM-only someone like this could have possibly fallen for it in the first place.
But let us try and be sympathetic. Consider the ageing scholar's situation in
When Karl Polanyi moved west from
In one place he casually mentions that after a military victory 4,000 captives were sacrificed to
In the 18th century thousands of slaves and prisoners were killed each year in
That only naked force could break this culture is presented as its vindication. As much might be said of Hitler's
Ibid, pp 38-39
W. J. Argyle, The Fon of