Were sugar plantations capitalist?

James Farmelant farmelantj at SPAMjuno.com
Tue Oct 12 14:52:19 MDT 1999

On Tue, 12 Oct 1999 15:47:34 -0400 Louis Proyect <lnp3 at panix.com> writes:
>>I seriously suspect that you are pulling our leg. You have again
>>tried to equate Brenner and Cohen by some form of free association,
>>while you must know that Brenner and Cohen are as sharply
>>opposed as it is possible for two self-labelled marxists to be.
>No, I am not pulling anybody's leg. Cohen and Brenner are both
>Marxists. The main difference between them is that Brenner upholds the
>Labor Theory of Value, while Cohen denies it. Furthermore, although
>has criticized Cohen for technological determinism, Alan Carling
>AM'er) has written an NLR article claiming that the two actually have

Alan Carling wrote several years ago a couple of pieces in
*Science & Society* which attempted to develop a selectionist
interpretation of historical materialism and which then attempted
to use this interpreatation of historical materialism in order to
fashion a kind of synthesis of the Sweezy-Wallerstein and
the Dobb-Brenner positions on the transition from feudalism to
capitalism.  In Carling's version of historical materialism,
different modes of production are seen as existing in competition
both with one another and with nature.  The system that can
foster the development of the forces of production at best at
a given historical moment is the one likely to prevail in the
struggle for survival between rival regimes of production.
In this scheme, class struggle figures into it because it is
class struggles that generate new variations in the social
relations of production, upon which social selection can
operate.  Carling's version of historical materialism is
obviously closely patterned after Darwin's theory of
evolution through natural selection.

Carling applies this conception of historical materialism
to the understanding of the transition from feudalism
to capitalism.  He follows Brenner in emphasizing the
importance of the class struggle between feudal
landlords and peasants and he follows Brenner in
seeing feudalism as a system that was characterized
by a demographic boom-bust cycle.  For Carling the
class struggle beteen peasants and lords was the
motor by which new relations of production were
generated.  These struggles had three types of
possible outcomes.  Either the lords would win out
as happened in Poland and Russia, thereby guranteeing
the survival of serfdom and other aspects of feudalism
well into the modern era, the peasants would win out
as happened in France which resulted in an
 agriculture of small peasant proprietors which
failed to revolutionize the forces of production
or such struggles could end in a kind of standoff
in which sefdom was abolished and the peasants
became formally free but which led to the
development of a capitalist agriculture as
happened in England.  In Carling's view it just
so happened that this particular set of social
relations of productions was the sort that could
foster the development of the productive forces
far beyond what feudalism could do.  For Carling
this conception synthesizes the insights of Dobb
and Brenner with the "Smithianism" of Sweezy and

Carling also addresses the issue of why capitalism
developed in the West and not in the East.  In his
view, which again followa Brenner, feudalism by
virtue of its political and economic decentralization
was peculiarly hospitable to the evolution of new
social relations of production within its midst
in a way that was not characteriatic of Asiatic
societies especially China where there was
sttrong centralized political control and bureacratic
domination.  I am sure that Jim Blaut would most
strongly dissent from this view.

> I plan to get my hands on this article and discuss it
>briefly in
>my final installment on Brenner. Right now, from what I've seen of
>Cohen and Brenner, there ARE strong affinities. Both have a pronounced
>tendency toward "stagism". In Cohen's case, it is stated upfront.

I would be inerested in finding more about Brenner's political
background and its relations to his positions on issues like
"stagism."  Cohen in any case came by his "stagism" rather
naturally since his family background was Stalinist.  His mother
was a member of the Communist Party of Canada, his father
who was less overtly political, was a member of a Jewish fraternal
organization that was closely aligned with the Party.  His mother
dropped out of the Party around 1956 when the Party collapsed
into chaos following Khruschev's famous de-Stalinization speech.

Cohen in his *Karl Marx's Theory of History* rather explicitly
followed Plekhanov (and presumably Kautsky as well) in his
interpretation of Marx's materialist conception of history.
His "stagism" there was directly derived from these Second
International theorists.

> My
>webpage has an article on this if anybody's interested. With Brenner
>get much of the same thing with respect to the problem of transition.
>seems incapable of understanding what Trotsky referred to as "combined
>uneven development".

Which of course respresents a break with the understandings of
historical materialism prevalent within the Second International
(and for that matter the Third International).

Jim F.

> I am not sure you have ever read Trotsky, Carrol,
>I would refer you to "Results and Prospects" which is at the fine
>Xxxzx Xyyxyz supports. (www.marxists.org). If you read Carlos
>wonderfully perceptive posts on these questions, you will note that he
>the problematic in that context.
>Louis Proyect
>(The Marxism mailing list: http://www.panix.com/~lnp3/marxism.html)

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