Ellen Meiksins Wood versus Karl Marx

Louis Proyect lnp3 at SPAMpanix.com
Wed Nov 1 12:12:31 MST 2000

>3.  Why should we assume that India & all other nations would have
>naturally developed into capitalist modernity but for imperial
>conquest?  I think that the internal dynamic of Indian history might
>have led it into capitalism on its own, but, then again, it might not
>have; and to think that it might not have given rise to capitalism is
>*not* the same as to agree with Marx when he writes: "Indian society
>has no history at all, at least no known history.  What we call its
>history, is but history of the successive intruders who founded their
>empires on the passive basis of that unresisting and unchanging

Actually, a comparison with Japan is useful while we are on the topic of
geography. There was ZERO difference between China, Japan and India from a
class relations standpoint but Japan managed to fend off attacks from
outside colonial powers because of her island status and rather formidable
feudal military prowess.

Aware that Spanish and Portuguese colonialism in Asia had been made
possible by Catholic missionaries, the Tokugawa shoguns took masures to
expel them from the country. This was facilitated by three exclusion
decrees in the 1630s, which effected a complete ban on Christianity--God
bless the Japanese gentry! With these orders, the Tokugawa shogunate
officially adopted a policy of national isolation. From 1633 onward
Japanese subjects were forbidden to travel abroad or to return from
overseas, and foreign contact was limited to a few Chinese and Dutch
merchants still allowed to trade through the southern port of Nagasaki.

Because Japan was isolated from the predations of the west, the national
economy expanded rapidly from the 1680s to the early 1700s. The emphasis
placed on agricultural production by the Tokugawa shogunate encouraged
considerable growth in that economic sector. Perhaps if India had dug a
moat around her territory, or if China's Great Wall had been sufficient,
we'd be driving around in Indian or Chinese automobiles today.

When peasant revolts against the samurai aristocrats threatened to
undermine the whole system, against a backdrop of steady pressure from
western colonialism, a decision was made to launch the Meiji restoration.
This brought the entire society under the central rule of the Emperor who
carried out absolutist type capitalist modernization in collaboration with
the emerging bourgeoisie. Along with this went carefully controlled
commercial relations with the west, symbolized by Perry's trip to Japan. In
order to foster capitalist industrialization, the Japanese ruling class
intensified feudal relations in the countryside. Thus primitive
accumulation of Japanese capital followed a similar path to that followed
by Anglo-American imperialism: bonded 'noncapitalist' labor in the South
and the Caribbean promoted industrial capitalism.

For a definitive analysis of the origins of modern Japanese capitalism, I
recommend John Halliday's "Political History of Japanese Capitalism" which
is unfortunately out of print.

Louis Proyect
Marxism mailing list: http://www.marxmail.org

More information about the Marxism mailing list