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

Yoshie Furuhashi furuhashi.1 at
Sun Oct 22 11:07:32 MDT 2000


>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 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.
>CB: Yes, agree. The international class struggles, what Brenner
>calls "trade", were just as important as the domestic class
>struggles in the origin and development of capitalism inside Europe.
>The domestic class struggles were not more important than the
>international class struggles, as Brenner evidently claims.
>Finally, Brenner's emphasis on class struggles as cause obviously is
>an effort to claim "the Marxist" approach to this issue. But Marx
>himself, who knew all about the importance of class struggle as
>cause, and was not a Neo-Smithian Marxist :>),  has the opposite
>theory of Brenner, directly disagrees with Brenner in the Chapter of
>_Capital_ vol. 1 entitled "The Genesis of the Industrial
>Capitalist".  It is clear that for Marx the slavery and colonialism
>of merchantilist "trade" constituted class struggles just as much as
>the class struggles in Europe, and that the former were necessary
>causes, "explanations", of the origin of capitalism, in providing
>the main initial push to the primitive accumulation of capital, and
>continued to provide surpluses for accumulation by European
>capitalists as capitalism developed.

Remember that Robert Brenner was writing not just scholarly articles
but _political tracts_ against neo-Malthusians, world systems theory,
etc. -- hence his polemical _emphasis_ on class struggles in the
English countryside, Poland, etc.  The point is to synthesize the
partial truths of Brenner (& Co.) & Eric Williams (& Co.), which I
think constitutes a properly knowing return to Marx.  One or the
other alone won't do.

In fact, Brenner, properly read, is a friend of your thesis on the
revolution (recall your debate with Andy Austin, etc. on Lou's list),
against the empiricist inability to grasp the meanings of revolutions
_& counter-revolutions_ (within empiricist discourse, "The feudalist
mode of production just sort of slipped away smoothly without any
revolution," as you noted on Lou's list).  Empiricism is an enemy of
historical materialism.

Admire Brenner (and Ellen Wood, Aijaz Ahmad, etc.) but scorn Laclau,
Genovese, Fogel & Engerman, etc.; treasure Eric Williams (and C. L.
R. James, Jim Blaut, Samir Amin, etc.) but forget Wallerstein, Andre
Gunder Frank, Fernand Braudel, etc.  No one scholar can be wholly
correct, is what dialectics teaches us; at the same time, we should
avoid empiricism, whose chief error is *inability to see the forest
for the trees*.

(And keep Alan Carling's "Analytical Marxism and Historical
Materialism: The Debate on Social Evolution," _Science & Society_,
47.1, Spring 1993, pp. 31-65 in the _back_ [not the foreground] of
your mind, when you are not writing a political tract; in the
production of political tracts, however, _err_ on the side of
Brenner/Williams -- political Marxism's emphasis on class struggles.)


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