Two Cents

Michael Hoover hoov at
Wed Nov 1 18:18:37 MST 2000

Recent list "discussion/debate" recalls 1970s acrimony between advocates &
opponents of A. G. Frank's emphasis on system of exchange rather than
class domination as designated principal oppressor of mal-developed
areas.  AGF's dependency variant (neither liberals nor marxists
constructed a unified theory) was followed by I. Wallerstein's attempt to
turn Frank's thesis into grand narrative history of Renaissance to
present.  Perhaps most importantly, French historian Arghiri Emmanuel
proposed that essence of capitalist domination in mal-developed areas is
"unequal exchange" in international trade.

Emmanuel's neo-Ricardianism did not view capitalism as historically unique
mode of production and it treated production as technical process.  AE's
failure to consider concept of mode of production led certain marxists
(David Harvey, Gary Howe, Bill Warren, John Weeks, among others)
who had never accepted dependency concept on grounds that it addresses
conditions between nations rather than classes and that it emphasizes
exchange rather than production to elevate their criticism of theory that
was gaining adherents.

Tone of other marxists who had adopted position that dependency theorists
offered corrective to those whose concern with effects of capitalist
expansion on Europe left them inattentive to its impact on periphery also
began to change.  Then-marxist E. Laclau complained that focus on market
meant that international exchange displaced class struggle as primary
determinant of historical change.  Michael Barrat Brown, for example,
excoriated Emmanuel, for advancing notion that workers in rich countries
exploit workers of poor countries via mechanism by which goods produced by
advanced labor-saving technology in developed countries are exchanged for
raw materials produced with labor-intensive technology in underdeveloped

Marxist criticisms of dependency theory eventually included: 1) ignores
class conflict; 2) is undialectical; 3) is circular in identifying victims
of dependency by their poverty and then pointing to poverty as proof of
victimization; 4) is pessimistic in locating origins of underdevelopment
in embryonic capitalist word economy of 16th century, implying that once
process was set in motion it was unstoppable juggernaut (akin to Calvinist
scenario interpreting all subsequent events as more or less predetermined
results of diabolical first cause); 5) ignores Marx's emphasis on
progressive function of capitalism in energizing "forces of
production" throughout world.

Most vehement critic was probably Warren who argued that development paths
pursued by various nations depended on outcome of conflict between
antagonistic classes in particular nations, that dependency without
poverty exists, that industrialization is no certain road to equal
station, and that previous failure to industrialize is not barrier to
future industrialization

Brenner's contribution (if that's what it was) was to call dependency
concept neo-Smithian, claiming it to be mirror image of classical liberal
account of developed propounded by A. Smith.  According to RB, Smith
preached doctrine that "invisible hand" of capitalist competition would
produce indefinite increase of wealth among nations while dependency
theorists propose that "invisible hand" of unequal exchange relations
holds peasant masses in perpetual state of backwardness.  In contrast,
Brenner held that pre-capitalist social relations of production are not
primarily eliminated through exchange.  Thus, capitalism develops
primarily as consequence of emergence of new class relations.

RB's work on transition to capitalism in Western Europe (or England, to be
more precise) indicates how pre-capitalist mode of production was
impediment to capitalist expansion in withholding wage labor from
capitalist sector as well as how prior modes of production had own class
structures and state formations providing elements of resistance to
capitalist development.  He focuses on capital as motive force in
expanding production pursues extraction/ realization of surplus value
through organization of production/circulation processes.  But Brenner's
rejecting idea that logic of capital accumulation includes spatial
differentiation led to capitalist warfare & partition of territory
being nowhere found in his analysis.  One consequence: Brenner ignores
both concept of surplus capital seeking outlets and role of political
state in that activity.

In very important sense, Brenner is not marxist but Schumpeterist (would
JS's 1950 death not be far enough in past to make RB's 1970s writings
neo-Schumpeterian?): "Imperialism is thus atavistic in character.  It
falls into that large group of surviving features from earlier ages that
play an important part in every concrete social situation.  In other
words, it is an element that stems from the living conditions, not of the
present, but of the past - or put in terms of the economic interpretation
of history, from past rather than present relations of production." (Joseph
Schumpeter _Imperialism and Social Classes_, p65)

What remained at end of 1970s "non-debate" were two approaches that
existed at beginning: one explaining inequality in levels of development
among countries primarily in sphere of circulation emphasizing
appropriation of surplus of one country by another country, second placing
cause of inequality in sphere of production as a relationship between
classes produced on world scale.  Both sides were woefully undialectical
(too common characteristic of marxists in my experience).  History is not
either/or, either external relations or internal relations.  (Yoshie
recently reposted message I sent to list some time ago on this
matter.  Apologies if I just repeat myself here.)

Relations between societies influence in ways that shape social structures.
More specifically, class relations inherent to capitalism created world
system of unequal nations.  While these relations may have been initially
imposed and enforced by more powerful external forces, they became
institutionalized, facilitating peripheral subjection to center.  Most
important factor in process is existence of comprador classes in periphery
who perform in service of international capital (Theotonio Dos Santos and
then-leftist F. H. Cardoso referred to this but neither grounded analysis
in capitalist relations).

Each country has unique conditions - history, culture, resources,
politics.  As James Petras has argued, differences between peripheral
countries can largely be explained as result of differing pre-capitalist
modes of production coming under imperialist control at particular periods
of world capitalist expansion.  Therefore, "models" are suspect because
they cannot simply be transferred from one country to another and because
they inhibit rather than stiumulate finding solutions to specific

Listers interested in attempt (by me) to apply class relations-
imperialism thesis associated with Petras & Colin Henfrey and synthesize
production/circulation approaches: "The Dependency Dilemma: Four
Alternative Development Strategies," _Southeastern Council on Latin
American Studies Annals_, vol. XVII, March 1986, pp. 46-61.

Michael Hoover

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