[PEN-L:11221] Re: Capitalist development

Charles Brown CharlesB at SPAMCNCL.ci.detroit.mi.us
Sat Sep 18 17:13:22 MDT 1999






Barkley writes:
>Blaut argues that it was the fact that the Atlantic is narrower than the
Pacific that accounted for the crucial ability of the Western Europeans to
get to the Americas to do the exploiting before the Chinese (some Asians
having already gotten there earlier but who lacked sufficient immunity or
technology to resist a later invasion from either Europe or East Asia).

>Of course this does not answer the crucial question as to why the Chinese
did not go around the Cape of Good Hope in the 1400s while the Portuguese
did in 1497 with Vasco da Gama.  Thus we had the Portuguese in Goa and
Macau rather than the Chinese in Cadiz and Lisbon.<

In a book I read many many years ago, EAST AND WEST, by the
ultrareactionary C. Northcote Parkinson (he of "Parkinson's Law" fame),
argued that the Chinese didn't continue sailing around the Cape of Good
Hope because they lacked what he saw as superior Western organization
techniques.

My thoughts are that the Chinese empire was more interested in ruling and
protecting what they had already (an area occupied mostly by Han Chinese)
rather than extending their Imperial rule in a radical way. (New
territories would have been hard to integrate into the Empire if they were
significantly distant from Beijing.) International exploring was a function
of imperial _policy_, as opposed to the "Western" business of
political-economic competition encouraging radical expansionism at the
expense of the rest of the world.

The historical accident of the Pacific being wider than the Atlantic of
course explains a lot (including the nature of the Chinese empire and the
way in which Western European countries related to each other). In line
with counterfactual thinking, we should go back in a time machine to either
narrow the Pacific or widen the Atlantic and see if it changes the course
of history.

In a separate message, Barkley writes: >One can make a serious argument
that a nascent form of capitalism was in existence in Northern Italy (and
in Flanders not long thereafter) from the 1200s on. Even Marx recognized
this, labeling it "merchant capitalism."  T-balance sheet accounting dates
from this period from Pisa and Florence and the first urban public bonds
also, which many identify with the origins of modern banking.  Also, the
first industrial strike by a propertyless urban proletariat occurred in a
textile mill in Douai, Flanders (now northern France) in the late 1200s.<

I don't know enough about this history, but it's important to emphasize
that for Marx merchant capital is not a nascent form of capitalism as much
as an incomplete form of capitalism. Under merchant capitalism, the ability
to get an M' (revenue) that's large than the M (the initial investment) is
dependent on noncapitalist producers creating a surplus-product. Because
noncapitalist modes of production are less able to produce a
surplus-product without driving down the living standards of the direct
producers below subsistence, this limits the growth of merchant capital. It
ends up mostly a matter of buying low in one place and selling high
somewhere else.

Double-entry bookkeeping, bonds, and banks are part of money-dealing
capital or interest-bearing capital. It faces similar limits. Unless a
surplus is produced, interest cannot be paid. It's true the state can tax
people to pay the interest (one of the oldest forms of surplus-extraction,
by the way), but there are clear limits to this in a precapitalist society.

Merchant capital and interest-bearing capital become the more complete form
of capital_ism_ when a proletariat is created, as with the enclosure
movement in England. I understand that this process was very limited in
Flanders, being hamstrung by traditional "feudal" relations, absolutistic
restrictions, and guilds (all of which interacted which each other hand and
are thus hard to separate). There might be some kind of threshold below
which there isn't enough of a proletariat to allow capitalism's development.


>>> Jim Devine <jdevine at popmail.lmu.edu> 09/17/99 04:42PM >>>
Charles writes: >Do you think that if all this [capitalist development] had
occurred except none of the Europeans ever left the land mass of Europe,
capitalism would have developed in Europe  ?<

((((((((((
Jim:
It's really hard -- if not impossible -- to tell.

((((((((

Charles: This is a rather blatant couterfactual.

((((((((((


Jim
 In world history, as far
as I know, all other areas that had attained some sort sociopolitical edge
vis-a-vis their neighbors took advantage of that edge to expand and
exploit. The Arabs spread out of what is now Saudi Arabia. The Aztecs
conquered their neighbors. The Romans spread out of Italy, etc. So the
slight military advantage of the Europeans in 1492 meant that the option of
_not_ expanding was extremely unlikely to be taken. So the possibility of
Europe not expanding seems extremely unreal.

((((((((((

Charles: Yes. I am trying to get at the theme of this thread which is on the
uniqueness of Europe: why did it and nowhere else develop capitalism. So, your other
examples are , of course, accurate, but the analogy would be, did those other empire's
"accumulations of surpluses" depend in significant or necessary part on the expansions
you describe... hold on, I am not asking you to answer that last question ( unless you
want to).

Anyway, I see below that we agree ( I think) on the point at dispute regarding some
significant role in the primitive accumulation of European capitalism for the surplus
value extracted from its colonies and slave plantations.

((((((((((


Jim:
If Europe had not expanded (perhaps because someone built a huge wall
around that fraction of the Eurasian land-mass or widened the Atlantic
Ocean), maybe the existing social relations ("feudalism") would have not
have been shaken up, so that the rise of capitalism would have been
aborted. But the demographic collapse of the mid-14th century (the Bubonic
Plague, etc.) would still have shaken up those social relations, perhaps
encouraging capitalism's rise. (In fact, the inability to expand would have
likely made the demographic collapse worse.) Or maybe the
political-economic chaos of Western Europe was such that eventually
capitalism would have arise. But who knows?

I actually don't care if one blames _all_ of Europe's rise on exploitation
of the rest of the world or if one blames it _all_ on Europe's internal
dynamic. (I don't agree with either extreme, however. Not only is it more
likely (based on historical experience) that _both_ domination of the
periphery and the internal dynamic were important, but since these two
forces interacted with each other in a dialectical way, it's hard to
separate them out.)
(((((((

Charles: I agree with this completely. But my original question above was meant to get
at that the domination of the periphery was a necessary cause or condition for the
capitalist takeoff in Europe. The internal dynamic was a necessary cause or condition
too. Neither by themselves was sufficient.

Your reply to Barkley ( I copy at the bottom here) is instructive and makes sense to
me as well as seemingly applies Marx's concepts in a creative way. You seem to be
arguing that it is the lack of discovery of extracting surplus value from free
laborers IN PRODUCTION that was the difference between the other semi- or borderline
capitalist forms and the one that took off. This would be precisely why Marx
emphasized that surplus is made in production and not circulation ( or as you mention,
in money lending). That is theoretically quite tight.

(((((((((((

Jim
If one blames all of E's rise on exploitation, then in some ways it's a
critique of the periphery that allowed itself to be conquered and
exploited. If, on the other hand, one blames it all on capitalism's (or
Europe's) internal dynamic, it's quite a critique of capitalism and/or
Europe, considering what that dynamic did to the rest of the world.

I don't think the blame game should guide historical understanding.

(((((((((((((

Charles: This might sound like blame, but what about ( besides the discovery of free
labor above) a sort of negative Weberian factor ? unprecedented cutthroat ruthlessness
and use of force against the conquered peoples ?  Not to blame , but just as a real,
material political and economic element ? As has been pointed out, the Chinese for
example backed away from the use of the gunpowder that they had discovered.

So, two unique elements, somewhat opposites: free labor internally, and unprecedented
use of force externally, both necessary , but neither sufficient alone.

Charles Brown


Jim Devine jdevine at lmumail.lmu.edu & http://clawww.lmu.edu/~JDevine
Barkley writes:
>Blaut argues that it was the fact that the Atlantic is narrower than the
Pacific that accounted for the crucial ability of the Western Europeans to
get to the Americas to do the exploiting before the Chinese (some Asians
having already gotten there earlier but who lacked sufficient immunity or
technology to resist a later invasion from either Europe or East Asia).

>Of course this does not answer the crucial question as to why the Chinese
did not go around the Cape of Good Hope in the 1400s while the Portuguese
did in 1497 with Vasco da Gama.  Thus we had the Portuguese in Goa and
Macau rather than the Chinese in Cadiz and Lisbon.<

In a book I read many many years ago, EAST AND WEST, by the
ultrareactionary C. Northcote Parkinson (he of "Parkinson's Law" fame),
argued that the Chinese didn't continue sailing around the Cape of Good
Hope because they lacked what he saw as superior Western organization
techniques.

My thoughts are that the Chinese empire was more interested in ruling and
protecting what they had already (an area occupied mostly by Han Chinese)
rather than extending their Imperial rule in a radical way. (New
territories would have been hard to integrate into the Empire if they were
significantly distant from Beijing.) International exploring was a function
of imperial _policy_, as opposed to the "Western" business of
political-economic competition encouraging radical expansionism at the
expense of the rest of the world.

The historical accident of the Pacific being wider than the Atlantic of
course explains a lot (including the nature of the Chinese empire and the
way in which Western European countries related to each other). In line
with counterfactual thinking, we should go back in a time machine to either
narrow the Pacific or widen the Atlantic and see if it changes the course
of history.

In a separate message, Barkley writes: >One can make a serious argument
that a nascent form of capitalism was in existence in Northern Italy (and
in Flanders not long thereafter) from the 1200s on. Even Marx recognized
this, labeling it "merchant capitalism."  T-balance sheet accounting dates
from this period from Pisa and Florence and the first urban public bonds
also, which many identify with the origins of modern banking.  Also, the
first industrial strike by a propertyless urban proletariat occurred in a
textile mill in Douai, Flanders (now northern France) in the late 1200s.<

I don't know enough about this history, but it's important to emphasize
that for Marx merchant capital is not a nascent form of capitalism as much
as an incomplete form of capitalism. Under merchant capitalism, the ability
to get an M' (revenue) that's large than the M (the initial investment) is
dependent on noncapitalist producers creating a surplus-product. Because
noncapitalist modes of production are less able to produce a
surplus-product without driving down the living standards of the direct
producers below subsistence, this limits the growth of merchant capital. It
ends up mostly a matter of buying low in one place and selling high
somewhere else.

Double-entry bookkeeping, bonds, and banks are part of money-dealing
capital or interest-bearing capital. It faces similar limits. Unless a
surplus is produced, interest cannot be paid. It's true the state can tax
people to pay the interest (one of the oldest forms of surplus-extraction,
by the way), but there are clear limits to this in a precapitalist society.

Merchant capital and interest-bearing capital become the more complete form
of capital_ism_ when a proletariat is created, as with the enclosure
movement in England. I understand that this process was very limited in
Flanders, being hamstrung by traditional "feudal" relations, absolutistic
restrictions, and guilds (all of which interacted which each other hand and
are thus hard to separate). There might be some kind of threshold below
which there isn't enough of a proletariat to allow capitalism's development.










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