A word of explanation

David Welch david.welch at SPAMst-edmund-hall.oxford.ac.uk
Wed Oct 25 09:29:20 MDT 2000

On Wed, 25 Oct 2000, Louis Proyect wrote:

> Since most subscribers on the Marxism list--as far as I can tell--are not
> the types to read New Left Review let alone scholarly journals (I do except
> Jared Israel, who is an editor of the New England Journal of Philological
> Hermeneutics when he is not working on Emperor's Clothes), I should try to
> put this discussion about the depopulation of Castile into some kind of
> context. After all, the Brenner Thesis and the controversy it provoked is
> largely the stuff of history departments and academic conferences.
> Robert Brenner believed that capitalism was born in rural England in the
> 16th century. Unlike any other country in the world, Merrie Old England
> happened upon a more efficient and productive system of food production up
> to that point: private property. The feudal aristocracy had sacrificed
> political power to the central state apparatus but gained economic power
> which they utilized to squeeze tenant farmers. When tenants are forced to
> come up with rent, they must innovate. In all the rest of the world, there
> was a resistance to innovation especially in the sleepy, superstitious
> Orient where they worshipped Holy Cows rather than perfecting agronomic
> techniques like the plucky and resourceful British, the inventors of cow
> manure and scarecrows. This is the main explanation for the British Empire.
> By happenstance the invention of private property in the countryside
> created the impetus for the industrial revolution, indoor plumbing and the
> poetry of Rudyard Kipling.
> One of the signs that capitalism was at work in England and nowhere else
> was the explosive growth of London. Once you get your act together in the
> countryside, there is no need to have as many field hands or
> self-sustaining farmers. You give them a bus ticket and they come to London
> where they become part of the burgeoning work force. This most impressive
> use of personnel was only possible in rational, efficient England.
> Everywhere else in Europe there was inefficient use of land as the
> aristocracy held sway, particularly in Catholic countries it seems. In
> these countries the Barons did not bother to explore agronomic techniques
> because they were not under economic pressure to make a profit. They were
> like civil servants, especially like the people who work at the Motor
> Vehicle Bureau. Because everybody was out in the countryside wasting time
> and resources, the cities of France and Spain remained teeny-weeny. Well,
> anyhow, that's the story. But perhaps there's another explanation, like a
> plague that wipes out 90 percent of the population in the towns of Castile.
So the Brenner thesis is that there were some features of 16th Britain
that allowed a faster takeoff of capitalism? Just a request for some
clarification as I wasn't quite what in Louis's post was sarcasm and what
was explanation.

More information about the Marxism mailing list