Were sugar plantations capitalist?

James Farmelant farmelantj at SPAMjuno.com
Tue Oct 12 18:18:56 MDT 1999

On Tue, 12 Oct 1999 18:22:32 -0400 "Charles Brown"
<CharlesB at CNCL.ci.detroit.mi.us> writes:
>>>> James Farmelant <farmelantj at juno.com> 10/12/99 04:52PM >>>
>On Tue, 12 Oct 1999 15:47:34 -0400 Louis Proyect <lnp3 at panix.com>
>>>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
>>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
>Charles: It always seems to me that "Analytical Marxists" are
>consciously anti-dialectical. Otherwise I don't see why they add the
>modifier "analytical" to Marxist. It is as if they think Marx was not
>analytical or rigorous. Marxism is already  analytical.

I would be hesiatant about asserting that as a blanket statement.
Cohen would I think say that he recognizes the validity of the
historical dialectic.  In his interpretation of historical materialism,
history is seen as being driven by a forces-relations dialectic and
a base-superstructure dialectic.  To that extent his thought is
dialectical.  On the other hand, Cohen clearly rejects diamat.
In his book *Self-ownership, Freedom, and Equality* he says
that growing up he had learned about diamat but came to
reject it when he was pursuing graduate studies in philosophy
at Oxford in favor of the analytical philosophy that was taught
there (Cohen studied under Gilbert Ryle, author of *The Concept
of Mind*, a leading figure in British philosophy under whom
generations of anglophone philosophers did their dissertations,
people ranging from A.J. Ayer to Daniel Dennett).

I am not sure what role if any dialectics would play in the Marxisms
of other AMs like Jon Elster. Their work seems to be avowedly
antidialectical. On the other hand, Justin Schwartz
said there were some AM's (including himself) who were
more sympathetic to Hegelianism.  Analytical philosophy which
began at the beginning of this centrury as a more or less overtly
anti-Hegelian movement has itself over the years come to
accomodate certain types of Hegelian ideas and themes
as in the Duhemian holism of W.V. Quine or the evolutionism
of Karl Popper's later thought.  One leading analytical philosopher
Wilfrid Sellars was an admirer of Engels.

>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.
>Charles: This seems alright, except it seems already implicit in Marx
>and Engels that they estimated that the capitalist mode had or would
>win out in this competition.  I take Marx and Engels to say this
>without the connotation that capitalism is morally superior, but
>materially dominant of the other modes. Also, it seemed to be clear to
>Marx and Engels that capitalism was able to incorporate a prior mode,
>slavery, within capitalism.

Well, Carling would agree that capitalism's victory over feudalism
was inevitable over the long term but he seems to leave room
in his scheme for contingency in terms of where and when
this victory would occur.  As I recall, he formulated his argument
on this in probabilistic terms.

>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.
>Charles: Although Marx and Engels are known as anti-Malthusian
>specifically, in _The German Ideology_ they refer to population growth
>as a regular cause of in the composite of factors that cause history
>to role.
>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
>Charles: Somehow Carling seems like Marx. Are all of these people
>claiming to discover something new and important not in Marx ?

I think they are all claiming to be elucidating ideas that were
already stated in or implicit in Marx's writings.  Marx after
all over the years approached some of these issues from
different angles, sometimes emphasizing one set of factors,
other times emphasizing other factors.

>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.
>Charles: not to offend Jim B. but it seems that Marx did not
>necessarily consider "despotism" as as pejorative as the connotation
>today. It could in fact just mean more centralized and thereby more
>stable. For example, Marx proudly claimed to have discovered the
>dictatorship of the proletariat. And Marx and Engels were for a
>non-federal and more centralized system for socialism. So,
>centralism-despotism-dictatorship did not necessarily mean a slight of
>the Chinese system;. And finally , Trotsky's combined and uneven
>development (Lenin's too, I think) may contain the law of evolutionary
>potential or last shall be first concept. Thus, Europe''s
>decentralization especially in England had the most potential to
>change because it was the least stable.

That sounds about right, both Brenner and Carling seem to regard
feudalism as having been a more unstable system than
Asiatic society, hence more susceptible to social transformation.

>> 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
>>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.
>Charles: I am not sure the Canadian CP is stagist. Dialectics is
>emphasized in most pro-Moscow parties. Kautsky is criticized a la
>Lenin by Third International derived parties. "Stages" are understood
>dialectically, a la Engels' _The Dialectics of Nature_.  Combined and
>uneven development is a party phrase.

Cohen early on abandoned the diamat of the communist parties
but a strong case could be made that stagisms in one form or
another were prevalent in the pro-Moscow parties.  It is certainly
true that Lenin had criticized Kautsky (and Plekanov) in asserting
the existence of combined and uneven development but in
practice the Stalinist parties often tended to argue for the
necessity of underdeveloped countries of undergoing periods
of capitalist development before they could hope to move on to
socialism.  Stalinists especially during the Popular Front period
often drew distinctions between "progressive" and "reactionary"
sectors of the bourgeoisie.  Political alliances were often sought
with the former against the latter.  In Latin American for instance
this sometimes had some rather odd results.  In Nicaragua, the
Communists for a number of years backed the Somozas on such
grounds while the Cuban Communists backed Batista for some

>> 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
>>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).
>Charles: Don't think so. "Combined and uneven development" is termed a
>central Leninist concept within Third Internationalists formations and

But their political practice was often more in line with the
ideas of the Second International.

Jim F.

Get the Internet just the way you want it.
Free software, free e-mail, and free Internet access for a month!
Try Juno Web: http://dl.www.juno.com/dynoget/tagj.

More information about the Marxism mailing list