Brenner Redux (was Re: Russell R. Menard on Eric Williams)

Yoshie Furuhashi furuhashi.1 at
Sat Oct 21 07:59:18 MDT 2000

Lou quotes Robin Blackburn:

> >I can't claim any familiarity with the details of this debate. It is worth
> >being aware of an analytical possibility, however. It is altogether possible
> >that the slave trade could be central to English industrialization --
> >regardless of whether the profits from that trade were central or
>not. A core
> >point is that *nations* do not make profits or accrue losses -- individuals,
> >firms, groups, etc. do. Hence the total returns of X to a *nation* are not
> >necessarily relevant to the question of the importance of X.
>You really should make the effort to delve into the literature for the
>simple reason that you always intervene in this dispute on email lists at
>every opportunity. I would start with Robin Blackburn's 2 volume book on
>slavery and the British Empire.
>Robin Blackburn, "The Making of New World Slavery":
>A tradition of British Marxist historiography — culminating in Eric
>Hobsbawm’s Industry and Empire (1964) and Christopher Hill’s From
>Reformation to Industrial Revolution (1968) — has argued that British
>colonial expansion did indeed furnish crucial economic space for British
>capitalist development. Writers in this tradition had no difficulty finding
>seventeenth- and eighteenth-century statesmen and political economists who
>urged colonial development on the grounds that it would boost the national
>economy. The evidence of official statistics seemed to confirm the picture,
>but a traditional view of this sort was bound to furnish the target for a
>wave of revisionism. Approaches inspired by a variety of economic models —
>classical, neoclassical and Marxist — came to reject the thesis that there
>was a ‘primitive’ contribution to Britain’s industrialization; in some
>quarters the problematic of a ‘primitive’ accumulation was itself deemed
>primitive in conception. After all, Britain’s internal market had grown
>rapidly in the seventeenth century, and was probably growing as fast as
>foreign trade in the eighteenth.
>Historians as different in their approach as Charles Kindleberger, a
>neoclassical economic historian, Paul Bairoch, a neo-Physiocrat member of
>the Annales school, and Robert Brenner, a Marxist, all challenged the view
>that colonies or commerce made any decisive contribution to Britain’s
>capitalist industrialization.

Robert Brenner says in "The Origin of Capitalist Development: a
Critique of Neo-Smithian Marxism," _New Left Review_ (July-August

*****   I shall argue here that the _method_ of an entire line of
writers in the Marxist tradition has led them to displace class
relations from the centre of their analyses of economic development
and underdevelopment.  It has been their intention to negate the
optimistic model of economic advance derived from Adam Smith, whereby
the development of trade and the division of labour unfailingly bring
about economic development.  Because they have failed, however, to
discard the underlying individualistic-mechanist presuppositions of
this model, they have ended up by erecting an alternative theory of
capitalist development which is, in its central aspects, the mirror
image of the 'progressist' thesis they wish to surpass.  Thus, very
much like those they criticize, they conceive of (changing) class
relations as emerging more or less directly from the (changing)
requirements for the generation of surplus and development of
production, under the pressures and opportunities engendered by a
growing world market.  Only, whereas their opponents tend to see such
market-determined processes as setting off, automatically, a dynamic
of economic development, they see them as enforcing the rise of
economic backwardness.  As a result, they fail to take into account
either the way in which class structures, once established, will in
fact determine the course of economic development or underdevelopment
over an entire epoch, or the way in which these class structures
themselves emerge: as the outcome of class struggles whose results
are incomprehensible in terms merely of market forces.  In
consequently, they move too quickly from the proposition that
capitalism is bound up with, and supportive of, continuing
underdevelopment in large parts of the world, to the conclusion not
only that the rise of underdevelopment is inherent in the extension
of the world division of labour through capitalist expansion, but
also that the 'development of underdevelopment' is an indispensable
condition for capitalist development itself.   (p. 27)   *****

Keep in mind that, for Brenner, the _origin_ and _development_ of
capitalism are _not_ the _same_:

*****   Smith's fundamental problem is not, as is often assumed, his
attribution of trade to a 'natural propensity in human nature to
truck, and barter, and exchange'.  Smith was, in fact, at pains to
provide specific historical examples of 'the original establishment
of trade routes and trading connections.  Once established, these
connections of exchange set in motion, so to speak, the model of
development, via the division of labour -- so that for Smith both the
origins and developmental pattern of capitalist production are rooted
in the _same process_.  But as I shall try to show, the rise of trade
is not at the _origin_ of a dynamic of development because trade
cannot determine the transformation of class relations of production.
Indeed, precisely because it does not do so, the historical problem
of the origins of capitalist economic development in Europe comes
down to that of the process of 'self-transformation' of class
relations from serfdom to free wage labour -- that is, of course, the
class struggles by which this transformation took place.   (p. 38)

What we need to explain is _what_ changed trade (which had always
existed even before capitalism) into the _capitalist_ trade with
_capitalist competition & market discipline_, which Wallerstein, etc.
fail to do.

What Brenner says in this article and other works is not that neither
colonies nor commerce made any decisive contribution to Britain's
_industrialization_ as Blackburn says he does (by industrialization
Blackburn must mean the "Industrial Revolution" of the textbook
image, while Brenner's industrialization is a broader concept);
Brenner's thesis should be read that the _origin_ of capitalism
_cannot_ be explained simply as an _automatic_ result of the growth
of the _market or trade_, colonial or otherwise.  It's _not_
automatic, is the key point here.  _Class struggles & their outcomes_
made _capitalist social relations_ emerge.  While Brenner
unfortunately focuses on class struggles internal to each given
social formation through comparative analysis, one can _modify_ the
Brenner thesis in such a way that we can better account for the
emergence of core and periphery than Blackburn, Wallerstein, Andre
Gunder Frank, etc. do.  One needs only to see that the what Thomas
More, etc. (and later Marx) described with regard to the English
countryside had its dialectical twin in the _emergence of capitalist
slavery_ (which was _unlike_ ancient & feudal slavery & serfdom);
both are the results of domestic & international _class struggles_
and set the _process of proletarianization_ in motion.  This is my
synthesis of Brenner, Michael Perelman, Jim Blaut, Eric Williams, etc.


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