"Feudalism", Ancient Rome and pre-capitalist formations

Chris, London 100423.2040 at compuserve.com
Mon Jun 3 00:51:49 MDT 1996


it has been difficult to do justice to your post under
this title, because of its wide range of subjects and the flak
flying round the list, which I allowed myself to get involved in.

I agree with or sympathise with many of your points. Although lengthy,
I found the run-through from 500-1500 interesting. Nice to be reminded
of Pirenne: I recall his analysis of how desperately short silver was,
and how gold had vanished. I am not sure how much centrality I would
give the continuation of Roman Law (you're not Scottish are you? -
would this explain your air of pleasant intelligent superiority :)? )
- but I will think about it.

I found your remarks compatible with my interests in complexity theory.

The purpose of such a correspondence society as this, is not to
find political or cultural soul mates but to clarify important points.
So, not in a spirit of hostility, let me take up the biggest challenges,
the easier one first -

>>Give us some examples of what you have previously received as 'orthodox
Marxist thinking' please. And when you say: 'a world that has turned out to
be more complex than originally imagined', please specify the
oversimplifying imaginer.<<

Here I was echoing my previous allusion to the undialectical nature of
marxist thinking in the thirties. That is why I said it was interesting
that at that time both Trotsky and Mao were insisting on the importance
of dialectics. (Just so we don't start a flame war, I happen to think
Mao's formulations were simplifications too.)

2) (more difficult)
So, 'social democratic reforms in capitalist societies admit a variety of
combinations of socialist, cooperative and communistic forms'! Who needs
revolution? Chris, why do you think the social democratic reforms have
proved to be hollow and transitory?

I was leaping from the discussion about the Asiatic Mode of Production,
to current debates, by way of noting that Marx and Engels had
explored societies where commodity production existed but capitalism
did not. The current debates that have influenced me have been as diverse
as Paul Cockshott, and Rethinking Marxism on analysis of the former
Soviet Union, as well as the endless Trotskyist or semi-Trotskyist
arguments about whether that country was socialist, a deformed workers state,
state capitalist, social imperialist. I have concluded it was all of these.
ie that various forms of ownership and control over the means of production
can co-exist in a society producing commodities. I also conclude
that social democratic reforms of the sort that are now being
dismantled in Sweden did have a value, even if they were compatible
with capitalism. You are presumably not such a pure revolutionary
as to be neutral on the changes in Sweden?

Your second sentence - well marxist orthodoxy is that revolution is
probable, but not compulsory. Whether there is a revolution depends
in part on whether the capitalists are united enough to resist.
I would also say the fall of the Soviet Union is a mixed complement
to you Trotksyists. On the one hand it strengthens your arguments about
the unviability of "socialism in one country", and shifts the agenda on
to a world scale. On the other hand if the agenda is on a world scale
do we not have to be arguing for global *reforms*. 1/3 of the world's
workforce is either unemployed or underemployed, just to take one

The nettle I think you are not grasping Hugh, from what I can see of
your other contributions, is that commodity production is going to be
around for at least another century. How do we accept that, and
analyse what is going on, and make inroads at the same time into
capitalism in the sense of the private ownership and control of the
means of production?

This theme may perhaps be better dealt with under the "Centrally
Planned Economy" threadline.


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