Forwarded from Anthony (Brenner)
lnp3 at SPAMpanix.com
Sun Nov 5 06:10:45 MST 2000
I am posting from a friend's email address, because I am having trouble
with Yahoo. This address is strictly private.
But, please post the following.
I think the post from Yoshie (following my contribution) with a long quote
from Brenner regarding "Puritan Imperialism" was the single most valuable
contribution to come out of this list from the "Brenner debate". I think
that quote is a good starting point for a discussion of several important
aspects of Marxist theory.
Pre-Capitalist Imperialism and Rent
Pre-capitalist imperialism was concerned with expropriating surplus product
(not always or necessarily in the form of "surplus value"), just like
capitalist imperialism - but through different methods of expropriation.
Plunder, i.e. large scale robbery, was one way. Wholesale kidnappings to
force people into slavery was another. Another was tribute - payments from
one state entity to another for the privilege of not being plundered.
Another, and probably the most important in the formation of the
"capitalist system", was the expropriation of land, and therefore the
expropriation of the rents of those lands. All of these pre-capitalist
methods of expropriation have been around for thousands of years.
All of these "precapitalist" forms of imperialism continue to exist- they
did not disappear when Lenin wrote his famous pamphlet about capitalist
imperialism. In fact real, existing imperialism, continues to mix the older
methods of imperialist expropriations with the newer ones.
Some Marxists like to talk about "articulated modes of production" - which
despite the windy wording makes sense to me - but I think we also have to
see the "capitalist system" as including not just "modes of production" but
forms of expropriation - like plunder - and like rent - which do not define
modes of production - which in fact are "exogenous" to the mode of
production - but are intrinsic to different *systems*. Both were intrinsic
to the late feudal system, and to capitalism. Neither are necessary for
either the capitalist mode of production or the "feudal" mode of production
(if such a thing can be said to have existed) as abstractions, but both
were historically vital parts of those "systems".
If we are to understand "pre-capitalist" imperialism - and modern
capitalist imperialism, we need to understand rent.
A. What is Rent?
Rent is payment for the use of land or other property. Probably most of
us on this list pay rent to some parasite landlord.
Rent can be divided into Money Rent - payment of money for rent, rent paid
"in kind"(i.e. with goods or products, but not money), or rent paid with
"service", i.e. labor. All three kinds of rent in continue to exist today,
but the latter two have diminished in importance, and the former type has
Rent can be looked at another way, as a method by which landowners (or
other property owners) expropriate a portion of surplus product (not always
or necessarily in the form of surplus value) from those who rent their
property - and ultimately from those who produce the surplus product.
Rent is very interesting - a part of the surplus workers produce can be
paid to workers by their employers, and then paid by the workers to
landowners in the form of rent for their apartment, house, or even a piece
of land. Or a part of the surplus product appropriated directly by the
worker's employer - i.e. some capitalist, can be paid by the capitalist to
the landowner (or other property owner.)
The transformation of rent in kind, and 'labor' rent into money rent, has
occurred all over the world, as production for sale has replaced production
for use. This was a key aspect of the bourgeois revolution in Europe.
Historically that transformation began before the social upheavals that are
the bourgeois revolutions proper, and continued long after those upheavals
Marx spent a lot of time trying to figure out rent - mostly following David
Ricardo. He divided rent into "differential" and "absolute" rent. A lot of
Marxists - including me - find that rent causes some serious problems when
it comes to Marx's theory of value. However, we can set these issues aside
B. British Imperialism in the 16th and Seventeenth Centuries
British Imperialism under Queen Elizabeth I was essentially government
sanctioned piracy against the Spanish empire. Sir Francis Drake, Sir John
Hawkins and others plundered Spain's treasure ships and ports for God, for
Queen, for fun, and for profit.
Success at piracy led the British to conquest, success at conquest led them
into the slave trade (although Hawkins and Drake actually got started by
trying to horn in on the slave trade to the America's.)- but slavery is
also a subject for later.
Along with large scale robbery, the British crown - and the merchant
adventurers grouped around it, spent a lot of time and money looking for
gold - either gold they could mine, or gold belonging to as yet unknown -
fabulously wealthy, civilizations. Which they could rob, conquer, trade
with, etc. (why be picky as to your methods as long as you get the gold?)
Unfortunately for them, the only such civilizations were already known -
and conquered by Spain -i.e. the Aztecs and Incas, or too strong for the
British to think about it - yet - e.g. India and China. (Martin Frobisher
managed to set up a fabulously unsuccessful iron phyrates mine on some
little frozen island, but that was about it in the striking gold department.)
Puritan's, Pirates, etc.
As we all know after the Virgin Queen's time on the throne, tumultuous and
historic things happened on those merry old islands that led willy-nilly to
capitalism's historic triumph and later to Margaret Thatcher and Ronald
For the details of those tumultuous times, please refer to Brenner,
Hobsbawm et. al. I especially like a book called "God's Englishmen" by a
guy called Christopher someone.
As things seed and sawed back and forth - those being sawed split for
greener pastures. Jamestown, Plymouth, and various Caribbean outposts
having been established by corporate (mercantile in those days)
get-rich-out-west types, the Puritan version of the Spartacists, and
assorted pirates (respectively) - greener pastures seemed to be in America.
When things were bad for the Puritans - in the 1630's - tens of thousand
swelled the church rolls in Massachussets. And when things got bad for the
Royalists, in the 1640's and 50's, population swelled in Virginia.
Enemies at home, they united in the new world. What united them?
The expropriation of land - and the acquisition of rent.
What is amazing, not really, is that the land hunger of the landless, could
be united with the greed and power madness of the rich. Something for every
white English son-of-a-bitch. A piece of land stolen from some dying or
dead tribe of Indians. Already dying because of the disease that spread
ahead of the Europeans.
And no one had to pay rent to the old aristocrat who owned the land.
Capitalist tenant farming - the kind Marx spent so much time analyzing,
barely raised its head in the New World. Instead slave plantations and
small family farms - neither paying rent, became the rule.
But that does not mean rent did not exist - rent in America was simply kept
by the new lords of the land, rather than shared with a class that never
existed in the newly conquered lands.
This was the innovation that made British imperialism different than
Spanish, Portuguese, and French Imperialism - and even from Dutch imperialism.
Unlike in the Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, and French colonies - rents were
not held tightly in the hands of Crown and Royal patent holders - but could
be expropriated by almost any white colonist with a gun and some luck.
Northern Ireland, was just a large scale experiment in the early stages of
this "rent" imperialism.
Its greatest examples however, are the United States, Canada, Australia,
New Zealand, South Africa, and Israel.
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