A reading list for Anthony

Richard Fidler rfidler at SPAMcyberus.ca
Fri Nov 24 20:36:14 MST 2000

Lou Pr.:

>>Of course, [Brenner's essay] is consistent with Marx's method, as is Maurice
Dobb's. It is a very useful contribution to scholarship around the origins of
agrarian capitalism and helps to flesh out chapter 29 of V. 1 of Capital, titled
"The Genesis of the Capitalist Farmer." The problem is that it also tries to
subsume chapter 31, which is titled "The Genesis of the Industrial Capitalist".
However, when you turn to Marx, there is nothing in this chapter about enclosure
acts, etc. The genesis is in colonialism and slavery. Period. For useful
scholarship to flesh out chapter 31, I recommend Robin Blackburn's "The Making
of New World Slavery" which proves beyond a shadow of a doubt and to a moral
certainty that without slavery there would have been insufficient capital to
launch the industrial revolution and modern capitalism. England came to rule the
world not because of enclosures, but plunder and slavery.<<

Ah, but before chapters 29 and 31, there is chapter 26:

Marx, Capital, Vol. 1, chapter 26, "The Secret of Primitive Accumulation", p.
874 (Vintage edition):

"The process, therefore, which creates the capital-relation can be nothing other
than the process which divorces the worker from the ownership of the conditions
of his own labour; it is a process which operates two transformations, whereby
the social means of subsistence and production are turned into capital, and the
immediate producers are turned into wage-labourers. So-called primitive
accumulation, therefore, is nothing else than the historical process of
divorcing the producer from the means of production. It appears as 'primitive'
because it forms the pre-history of capital, and of the mode of production
corresponding to capital.

"The economic structure of capitalist society has grown out of the economic
structure of feudal society. The dissolution of the latter set free the elements
of the former.

"The immediate producer, the worker, could dispose of his own person only after
he had ceased to be bound to the soil, and ceased to be the slave or serf of
another person. To become a free seller of labour-power, who carries his
commodity wherever he can find a market for it, he must further have escaped
from the regime of the guilds, their rules for apprentices and journeymen, and
their restrictive labour regulations.. Hence the historical movement which
changes the producers into wage-labourers appears, on the one hand, as their
emancipation from serfdom and from the fetters of the guilds, and it is this
aspect of the movement which alone exists for our bourgeois historians. But, on
the other hand, these newly freed men became sellers of themselves only after
they had been robbed of all their own means of production, and all the
guarantees of existence afforded by the old feudal arrangements. And this
history, the history of their expropriation, is written in the annals of mankind
in letters of blood and fire.

"The industrial capitalists, these new potentates, had on their part not only to
displace the guild masters of handicrafts, but also the feudal lords, who were
in possession of the sources of wealth. In this respect, the rise of the
industrial capitalists appears as the fruit of a victorious struggle both
against feudal power and its disgusting prerogatives, and against the guilds,
and the fetters by which the latter restricted the free development of
production and the free exploitation of man by man. The knights of industry,
however, only succeeded in supplanting the knights of the sword by making use of
events in which they had played no part whatsoever. They rose by means as base
as those once used by the Roman freedman to make himself the master of his

"The starting-point of the development that gave rise both to the wage-labourer
and to the capitalist was the enslavement of the worker. The advance made
consisted in a change in the form of this servitude, in the transformation of
feudal exploitation into capitalist exploitation. To understand the course taken
by this change, we do not need to go back very far at all. Although we come
across the first sporadic traces of capitalist production as early as the
fourteenth or fifteenth centuries in certain towns of the Mediterranean, the
capitalist era dates from the sixteenth century. Wherever it appears, the
abolition of serfdom has long since been completed, and the most brilliant
achievement of the Middle Ages, the existence of independent city-states, has
already been on the wane for a considerable length of time.

"In the history of primitive accumulation, all revolutions are epoch-making that
act as levers for the capitalist class in the course of its formation; but this
is true above all for those moments when great masses of men are suddenly and
forcibly torn from their means of subsistence, and hurled onto the labour market
as free, unprotected and rightless proletarians. The expropriation of the
agricultural producer, of the peasant, from the soil is the basis of the whole
process. The history of this expropriation assumes different aspects in
different countries, and runs through its various phases in different orders of
succession, and at different historical epochs. Only in England, which we
therefore take as our example, has it the classic form."

And Brenner, "The Origins of Capitalist Development: a Critique of Neo-Smithian
Marxism (NLR 104), pp. 66-67:

"In the final analysis, however, the whole discussion of unequal exchange
leading to the transfer of surplus must be assigned a subordinate place in
relationship to the question of the rise of development and underdevelopment.
The argument that unequal exchange and the transfer of surplus are central is
largely derived from the notion, widespread among Marxists, that a `primitive
accumulation of capital' was largely responsible for the uniquely successful
development experienced by certain areas within the Western European core from
the sixteenth century, as well as for the onset of underdevelopment in the
periphery. But those who argue in this way miss the point. The notion of a
`previous accumulation of capital' was originally Adam Smith's. Marx raised the
notion in order to criticize it and transform it fundamentally, so as to get
beyond the circular conceptions of economic development with which it was
inevitably connected. As Marx posed the problem, `the accumulation of capital
presupposes surplus-value; surplus-value presupposes capitalist production;
capitalist production presupposes the availability of considerable masses of
capital and labour-power in the hands of commodity producers. The whole
movement, therefore, seems to turn around in a never-ending circle, which we can
only get out of by assuming a primitive accumulation (the `previous
accumulation' of Adam Smith) which precedes capitalist accumulation; an
accumulation which is not the result of the capitalist mode of production but
its point of departure.' [Capital, I, p. 873]

"Marx's intent, therefore, was not merely to criticize the `just so story' by
which Smith himself explained so-called previous accumulation, but to reject
Smith's whole notion as fundamentally misconceived. No amount of accumulated
money or wealth can explain the accumulation of capital, for this requires
certain historically-developed social-productive relations. As Marx puts it,
`There can therefore be nothing more ridiculous than to conceive this _original
formation_ of capital as if capital had stockpiled and created the _objective
conditions of production_ -- necessaries, raw materials, instruments -- and then
offered them to the worker, who was _bare_ of these possessions.' (Marx's
emphasis). [Grundrisse, pp. 508-9] At the same time, `In themselves, money and
commodities are no more capital than the means of production and subsistence
are. They need to be transformed into capital . . . So-called primitive
accumulation therefore, is nothing else than the historical process of divorcing
the producer from the means of production.' [Capital, I, pp. 874-5]"

There has been a misconception among some participants in this Brenner debate
that Brenner is discussing the process of development of industrial capital, or
some phase in the development of capital after the 15th century. In fact, his
focus as a historian is on the earlier period, before 1492 and before the
colonial expansion in America, the genesis of the capitalist farmer. That is
why, for example, I find the polemics by Jim Blaut over Brenner's alleged
Eurocentrism so far of the mark. Equally unconvincing have been the jeremiads of
Lou and others against Brenner for allegedly ignoring the impact of colonial
plunder on the development of industrial capitalism in England and elsewhere.
These things are simply beyond the scope of Brenner's studies.

What is your basis for saying, Lou, that Brenner "tries to subsume chapter 31"
of Capital?

Richard Fidler
rfidler at cyberus.ca

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