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

Yoshie Furuhashi furuhashi.1 at
Sun Oct 22 17:51:08 MDT 2000

Charles Brown wrote:

> >>> furuhashi.1 at 10/22/00 12:53PM >>>
>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.
>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:

*****   ...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)   *****

To caution against the uncritical inversion of the modernization
theory is _not_ the same as arguing against national liberation
movements.  By the time Brenner wrote this article, many movements
for political independence were already over, though with some
important exceptions such as Zimbabwe; by then the urgent problem had
morphed from national liberation in the political sense to national
development in the social & economic senses: how to advance
working-class struggles within newly independent states on the
periphery within the context of imperialism.  Brenner's emphasis on
the necessity to analyze specific class structures & class struggles
in concrete is an heir to the tradition of José Carlos Mariátegui
(recall his analysis of the Indigenous Question, for instance); his
warning against the _uncritical_ support for the national bourgeoisie
& bourgeois nationalist politicians inherits Frantz Fanon's
(tragically) prescient thought on "The Pitfalls of National
Consciousness" in _The Wretched of the Earth_.  You may also remember
Aijaz Ahmad's criticism of the 'Third-Worldism' of Edward Said &
post-colonialist critics (to whom, as I said to Mine, Wallerstein
stands very close) in _In Theory_.

Robert Brenner is a Marxist, while Frank & Wallerstein aren't
(perhaps Wallerstein never was).

Synthesize Brenner & Eric Williams, and forget Frank & Wallerstein.


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