E. Wood's defence of Brenner

Xxxx Xxxxx Xxxxxx xxxxxxxx at xxxxxxxxxxx.xxx
Thu Oct 26 13:53:44 MDT 2000


The Brenner piece posted below (Agrarian class structures in
pre-industrial England_) does not even mention slavery (once), let alone
_class struggles or  _class formations_ in the periphery. So I still
wonder how it relates to the discussion at stake here. There is even no
mentioning of Marx's analysis of colonialism in India. Imperialism is
analytically absent in his work. Brenner is Smith at his best here, not


> *****   In England, _as throughout most of western Europe_, the
> peasantry were able by the mid-fifteenth century, through flight and
> resistance, definitively to break feudal controls over their mobility
> and to win full freedom.  Indeed, peasant tenants at this time were
> striving hard for full and essentially freehold control over their
> customary tenements, and were not far from achieving it.  The
> elimination of unfreedom meant the end of labour services and of
> arbitrary tallages.  Moreover, rent _per se_ (_redditus_) was fixed
> by custom, and subject to declining long-term value in the face of
> inflation.  There were in the long run, however, two major strategies
> available to the landlord to prevent the loss of the land to peasant
> freehold.
> In the first place, the demographic collapse of the late fourteenth
> and fifteenth centuries left vacant many former customary peasant
> holdings.  It appears often to have been possible for the landlords
> simply to appropriate these and add them to their demesnes.  In this
> way a great deal of land was simply removed from the "customary
> sector" and added to the "leasehold sector", thus thwarting in
> advance a possible evolution towards freehold, and substantially
> reducing the area of land which potentially could be subjected to
> essentially peasant proprietorship....
> In the second place, one crucial loophole often remained open to
> those landlords who sought to undermine the freehold-tending claims
> of the customary tenants who still remained on their lands and clung
> to their holdings.  They could insist on the right to charge fines at
> will whenever peasant land was conveyed -- that is, in sales or on
> inheritance.  Indeed, in the end entry fines often appear to have
> provided the landlords with the lever they needed to dispose of
> customary peasant tenants, for in the long run fines could be
> substituted for competitive commercial rents.
> The landlords' claim to the right to raise fines was _not_, at the
> start however, an open-and-shut question, _nor did it go
> uncontested_.  Throughout the fifteenth century there were widespread
> and apparently quite successful refusals by peasants to pay fines.
> And this sort of resistance continued into the sixteenth century when
> an increasing labour/land ratio should, ostensibly, have induced the
> peasant to accept a deteriorating condition and to pay a higher rent
> [if we believed neo-Malthusians].  Ultimately, the peasants took to
> open revolt to enforce their claims.  As is well known, _the first
> half of the sixteenth century was in England a period of major
> agrarian risings which threatened the entire social order_.  And a
> major theme of the most serious of these -- especially the revolt in
> the north in the mid-1530s and Kett's rebellion in 1549 -- was the
> security of peasant tenure, in particular the question of arbitrary
> fines.
> _If successful, the peasant revolts of the sixteenth century, as one
> historian has put it, might have "clipped the wings of rural
> capitalism"_.  But they did not succeed.  Indeed, by the end of the
> seventeenth century, English landlords controlled an overwhelming
> proportion of the cultivable land -- perhaps 70-75 per cent -- and
> capitalist class relations were developing as nowhere else, with
> momentous consequences for economic development.  In my view, it was
> the emergence of the "classic" landlord/capitalist
> tenant/wage-labourer structure which made possible the transformation
> of agricultural production in England, and this, in turn, was the key
> to England's uniquely successful overall economic development....
> The continuing strength of the French peasant community and French
> peasant proprietorship even at the end of the seventeenth century is
> shown by the fact that some 45-50 per cent of the cultivated land was
> still in peasant possession, often scattered throughout the open
> fields.  In England, by contrast, the owner-occupiers at this time
> held no more than 25-30 per cent of the land.    (emphasis mine,
> footnotes omitted, Robert Brenner, "Agrarian Class Structure and
> Economic Development in Pre-Industrial Europe," _The Brenner Debate:
> Agrarian Class Structure and Economic Development in Pre-Industrial
> Europe_, Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1987, pp. 46-49, 61)   *****


Xxxx Xxxxx Xxxxxx
PhD Student
Department of Political Science
SUNY at Albany
Nelson A. Rockefeller College
135 Western Ave.; Milne 102
Albany, NY 12222

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