Were sugar plantations capitalist?

Carrol Cox cbcox at SPAMilstu.edu
Tue Oct 12 10:57:19 MDT 1999


> It's quite hard to know exactly what this debate is about,

The reason it is hard is because "it" should be plural, "debates,"
instead of singular, "the debate." As I've said before, the major
debate between Lou and me concerns what the debate is
between Lou and me. We disagree over what it is we disagree

For example, I agree with almost everything Lou has ever written
about capitalism and imperialism in the 18th, 19th, and 20th
centuries. Probably if we explored it a little bit, I would agree
with him on most that he has to say about the 16th and
17th centuries.

I disagree with him mostly on what I think is his false praise
of capitalism. The cluster of threads on Pen-L began with a
really stupid post from an overt enemy of marxism in which
he asked why China had "failed" to develop capitalism. The
implication of the question, of course, is that there is something
wrong with a people who so fail. I deny that the question is
a legitimate one, and claim that even asking the question is
racist and eurocentrist.

But instead of responding to that argument, both Lou Proyect
and Jim Blaut have a tendency to respond with another avalanche
of arguments (with which I of course agree) about how much
capitalism depends on imperialism. In other words, I ask a
question about the *origins* of capitalism, and they answer
with arguments about the *growth* or *development* of
capitalism. I agree with almost all of those arguments but
claim that they are totally irrelevant to the argument that I
am making.

My best attempt so far to state my concern was the post to
Pen-L copied below.

Subject: Priority = Superiority? NO!
   Date:  Sun, 03 Oct 1999 12:18:09 -0500
   From: Carrol Cox <cbcox at mail.ilstu.edu>
     To:    "pen-l at galaxy.csuchico.edu" <pen-l at galaxy.csuchico.edu>

The second sentence of Jim Blaut's "Robert Brenner in the Tunnel of
Time" contains the words, "the historical superiority (or priority)."
equation, *profoundly false*, of priority to superiority vitiates Jim's
arguments from their very foundation. If Jim and Lou actually believe
this -- believe that priority in developing X indicates some kind of
human superiority -- then there is simply no way to argue with them.
It is like arguing with creationists.

One can learn a tremendous amount about history from reading the
works of Jim Blaut, and I'm glad that his presence on these lists
is bringing attention to his work. But he is mistaken if he believes
that his history, so far as it is grounded in this equation, can really
tell us anything about the phenomenon of eurocentrism.

Now in ideology the equation might indeed hold, but ideology is
more effect than cause: i.e., the function ideology serves is that
of rationalizing an actual state of affairs. But because the victim
of ideology in effect believes that because blacks are poor they are
shiftless does not mean that the way to fight racism is to argue
that blacks are not poor. It is the hidden connection between
black poverty and racism that must be displayed. Similarly,
doubtless most people in capitalist society do implicitly believe
that priority equals superiority -- but it is as absurd to try
to attack that belief by denying priority as it would be to
attack racism by denying the fact of black poverty.

In other words, by accepting the equation of priority to
superiority, Jim, far from attacking eurocentrism is reinforcing
the basic premise of that ideology.


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