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

Yoshie Furuhashi furuhashi.1 at
Sun Oct 22 23:22:41 MDT 2000

Hi Jim B.:

> >CB: Yes. Jim Blaut seems to think that Brenner was polemicizing
> >against emphasis on national liberation movements at the time.
>No.  Robert Brenner was _not_ siding with the political adversaries
>of Frank, Wallerstein, etc. against national liberation movements.
>Brenner was trying, as one Marxist comrade to another, to send a
>specific warning, while dialectically criticizing _both_ the
>modernization theory and dependency theory:
>Yoshie et al:
>On p. 92 of Brenner's NLR article he flatly states that to accept the
>Wallerstain-Sweezy-Frank "neo-Smithian" view  is to support
>essentially meaningless Third World struggles. Alsosee p.29 and elsewhere.

Well, I've already quoted a lot from Brenner, but here goes again:

*****   ...Yet, the failure of Frank and the whole tradition of which
he is a part -- including Sweezy and Wallerstein among others -- to
transcend the economic determinist framework of their adversaries,
rather than merely turn it upside down, opens the way in turn for the
adoption of similarly ill-founded political perspectives.  Where the
old orthodoxy claimed that the bourgeoisie must oppose the
neo-feudalists, Frank said the neo-feudalists were capitalists. Where
the old orthodoxy saw development as depending on bourgeois
penetration, Frank argued that capitalist development in the core
depended upon the development of underdevelopment in the periphery.
At every point, therefore, Frank -- and his co-thinkers such as
Wallerstein -- followed their adversaries in locating the sources of
both development and underdevelopment in an abstract process of
capitalist expansion; and like them _failed to specify the
particular, historically developed class structures through which
these processes actually worked themselves out and through which
their fundamental character was actually determined_....Hence, they
did not see the degree to which patterns of development or
underdevelopment for an entire epoch might hinge upon the outcome of
specific processes of class formation, of class struggle.  The
consequence is that _Frank's analysis can be used to support
political conclusions he would certainly himself oppose_.

Thus so long as incorporation into the world market/world division of
labour is seen automatically to breed underdevelopment, the logical
antidote to capitalist underdevelopment is not socialism, but
autarky.  So long as capitalism develops merely through squeezing dry
the 'third world', the primary opponents must be core versus
periphery, the cities versus the countryside -- not the international
proletariat, in alliance with the oppressed people of all countries,
versus the bourgeoisie.  In fact, the danger here is double-edged: on
the one hand, _a new opening to the 'national bourgeoisie'_ [Yoshie:
Think Dengism here, for instance]; on the other hand, _a false
strategy for anti-capitalist revolution_....   (emphasis mine, "The
Origins of Capitalist Development: a Critique of Neo-Smithian
Marxism," _New Left Review_ 104, July-August 1977, p. 91)   *****

Now, this is a very subtle & nuanced criticism of one school of
Marxists by another.  Allow me to go on a little further:

*****   ...Until recently, of course, the class interests behind
'industrialization via import substitution' have not, as a rule, been
strong enough to force the class structural shifts that would open
the way to profitable investment in development.  However, with
contracting profit opportunities in the advanced industrial countries
and the consequent drive for new markets and cheap labour power,
potentially available in the underdeveloped world, such interests may
now receive significant strength from unexpected quarters.  Should a
dynamic of 'development' be set in motion as a consequence -- and
that is far from certain -- it could hardly be expected to bring much
improvement to the working population of the underdeveloped areas,
for its very _raison d'etre_ would be low wages and a politically
repressed labour force.  But this would in no way rule out its being
accomplished under a banner of anti-dependency, national development
and anti-imperialism....   (pp. 91-92)   *****

May I mention Dengism here again?  Or Fernando Henrique Cardoso (see,
for instance, <>)?
Brenner's was a prescient warning against the trend that he could not
have fully foreseen: erstwhile leftists sadly transforming themselves
& making accommodations to neoliberalism, sometimes under a banner of
anti-dependency, national development, and anti-imperialism.  The
capitalist-roaders in the Chinese Communist Party whom Henry has
criticized fit Brenner's critique avant la lettre.

>But I suggest that folks read the long scholarly articles from PAST AND
>PRESENT, reprinted in the volume THE BRENNER DEBATE, to really understand
>the political roots of Brenner's theeory. How can you write 200 pages
>explaining ther origins and rise of capitalism without so much as
>mentioning the world outside of Europe for times before c.1650? Also you'll
>see the Malthusianism, and, yes, Smithianism, Weberianbism...

That's a lot of isms!  Anyway, I think we can safely say that
Brenner's theory suffers from what you have called the "tunnel
history," and we must correct this problem, but the "tunnel history"
ain't the same as Malthusianism, Smithianism, Weberianism,
Eurocentrism, etc.


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