The Brenner thesis, Spain and Ireland

Yoshie Furuhashi furuhashi.1 at
Mon Nov 6 15:15:32 MST 2000

Lou wrote:

>About a month ago, a new discussion broke out on these leftist mailing
>lists, sparked initially by discussion of Eugene Genovese's writings on
>slavery. Genovese had been grouped with Brenner and Ernesto Laclau in the
>1970s as thinkers who put forward rather strict guidelines as to what
>constitutes capitalism. They rejected the notion that slavery or debt
>peonage, the primary forms of class exploitation in the New World, had
>anything to do with capitalism. It appeared that despite Marx's admonitions
>to Vera Zasulich about the dangers of using the British experience as some
>kind of template for understanding the development of capitalism along
>universal lines, they had done exactly that. Indeed, despite Bill Warren
>and Tony Smith, the pure form of capitalism seemed to be a chimera when it
>came to most of the third world. Even after making a brief appearance in
>places like South Korea, the old patterns of 'dependency' soon returned.

Why do you group Robert Brenner together with Eugene Genovese, Ernest
Laclau, Bill Warren, etc.?  (I wondered about the same grouping in
your earlier posts on Brenner.)  Finding some useful insights in
Brenner's works does _not_ at all mean agreeing with Genovese,
Laclau, Warren, etc.  Nor do I think that there is evidence that
Brenner has much in common with them besides shared Marxist lingo.
For instance, you don't find Brenner arguing that slavery in the
American South was characterized by "paternalism" as Genovese does.

You still repeat that Brenner thinks that "slavery or debt peonage,
the primary forms of class exploitation in the New World, had
anything to do with capitalism," but this proposition is unsupported
by evidence.  In fact, I find it difficult why you can come to this
conclusion at all.

>This leads us to a key question which I find practically ignored in Brenner
>and Woods. Namely, does the growth of agrarian capitalism ensure a happy,
>upward path toward the industrial revolution and well-fed wage workers?

Since neither Wood nor Brenner says that "the growth of agrarian
capitalism ensure a happy, upward path toward the industrial
revolution and well-fed wage workers," I submit that this question is
moot (it exists only in your imagination).  Their arguments only say
that class struggles (not the Malthusian pattern, growth of commerce,
etc.) are the key in _explaining_ when & where capitalist social
relations with its dynamic of M-C-M' emerged.  That capitalist social
relations emerged at the point X in a place X does _not_ at all mean
that, once emergent, they will go on a "a happy, upward path toward
the industrial revolution and well-fed wage workers" _without_
turning Ireland into the breadbasket of England; expanding the slave
trade & developing the triangular trade & New-World slavery; relying
upon indentured servitude, workhouses, convict labor, etc.; and so
forth.  What emerges (generally speaking, including the development
of a fetus) can be beaten back before it fully develops, _if_
unsupported by what is necessary for its growth; in the case of
capitalism in particular, the emergence of capitalist social
relations in the countryside _would_ have come to _nothing_ but for
chattel slavery, the triangular trade, colonial exploitation of
natural resources & manpower, etc.  That is why, for instance, Ellen
Wood can cite Eric Williams approvingly.  Their arguments do _not_
contradict each other.


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