Continuing with the Brenner debate

Yoshie Furuhashi furuhashi.1 at
Sat Oct 28 12:41:41 MDT 2000

Hi Lou:

>When I first met Ellen Meiksins Wood 5 years ago at a Monthly Review
>reception, I told her that I was a big fan. In fact I said that she
>and Perry Anderson were my two favorite Marxist writers (I have
>since learned to my bitter disillusionment that people like this go
>to the bathroom just like you and me.) Upon hearing this, she made a
>sour face and said, "Perry and I actually hate each other." My guess
>is that differences over the Brenner thesis accounted for the
>acrimony. 5 years later she was removed from the editorial board of
>MR for reasons clearly understood to revolve around rival
>interpretations of the Brenner thesis. In this rarefied intellectual
>milieu, the Brenner thesis has been as much of a split issue as
>"socialism in one country" has been in others.
>Jim is too ill right now to participate in debates, but what he has
>said makes it doubtful that a serious debate can be held on the
>Brenner thesis with Yoshie and her co-thinkers. He says that either
>they have not read his criticisms, and if they have, they have
>willfully misstated his arguments. That has been exactly my reaction
>to Yoshie's intervention. She continuously papers over differences
>to be all things to all people. By announcing that she will
>synthesize Jim Blaut and Robert Brenner, she might as well state
>that she is synthesizing Stalin and Trotsky, or Genovese and Herbert
>That being said, if there is to be a synthesis of any sort, it is
>necessary to CLEARLY define THESIS and ANTITHESIS. In debates on
>PEN-L, it has been impossible to even come to terms about what
>Brenner and Woods are saying. Yoshie insists that the Brenner thesis
>allows the possibility of the slave trade being a key element of the
>formation of the capitalist system, while my reading of Brenner and
>Woods convinces me that the slave trade-in their view-was
>NONCAPITALIST. Ricardo Duchesne, a PEN-L professor who has
>specialized in these issues (he reviewed Andre Gunder Frank's
>"ReOrient" for Science and Society), has been providing a running
>commentary on Woods' book. He insists that the book is OPPOSED to
>the idea that the slave trade was CAPITALIST. I should mention that
>Duchesne has fought with Blaut over these questions in cyberspace
>time and again. He is quite honest about the reasons he supports
>Brenner against Blaut. Ricardo is a Weberian opposed to historical
>materialism. He finds sustenance for his arguments in the Brenner
>Richard Fidler lines up with Yoshie in this debate. The only trouble
>is that lining up with Yoshie is not necessarily the same thing as
>lining up with Brenner. She has done everything possible to paper
>over the differences and make Brenner some kind of Mariateguist.
>This can only be done by quoting Mariategui out of context. I have
>seen Jim Heartfield do the same thing in order to show that he was
>some kind of LM patron saint. In Mariategui's writings, you can
>always find some kind of Marxist boiler plate that is consistent
>with generalities found in the Communist Manifesto. The same thing
>is true of Stalin and Enver Hoxha for that matter. What Mariategui
>is really about is using Incan ayllus as a launching pad for
>proletarian revolutions. He is also a proponent of class-based
>proletarian revolutions as opposed to APRISTA multiclass alliances.
>Now if Yoshie wanted to have a serious discussion about Mariategui
>and Peruvian politics, we could have had that discussion. Instead
>her reference to Mariategui was of the same character as everything
>else in this debate: shameless namedropping of the kind that takes
>place at cocktail parties.

I'm afraid that you have forgotten the crucial part of dialectics:
thesis, antithesis, and _synthesis_.  The unity of opposites,
negation of negation.  BTW, dialectics without synthesis is very
_post-modern_ -- dialectics at a standstill, to appropriate Walter
Benjamin's words.

I do _not_ encourage anyone on any list to "line up" with Robert
Brenner or Ellen Wood or Eric Williams or Jim Blaut or anyone else
for that matter & accept their views lock, stock, & barrel.  I'm
advancing _my own synthesis_, which I urge everyone to adopt, in the
interest of defending _the essence of historical materialism_ against
empiricism of the Annales School, world systems theory,
post-modernism, post-colonialism, new historicism, neo-Malthusianism,
etc.  :)

Getting stuck with aporias & antinomies is unlike you & in fact
should be beneath you, Lou.  I've told the same to Doug Henwood in my
criticism of his fondness for "ambivalence."  You and Doug, on this
un-dialectical tendency, resemble each other; perhaps this is just
another confirmation of the unity of opposites.  :)  As Xxxx Xxxxx
Doylan kindly posted an essay by Lenin against revisionism, I'll make
use of his words here:

*****   Date: Thu, 26 Oct 2000 23:23:23 -0400
From: Xxxx Xxxxx Xxxxxx <xxxxxxxx at>
To: marxism at
Subject: Marxism and Revisionism

V. I. Lenin

...Pre-Marxist socialism has been defeated. It is continuing the
struggle, no longer on its own independent ground, but on the general
ground of Marxism, as revisionism.  Let us, then, examine the
ideological content of revisionism.

In the sphere of philosophy revisionism followed in the wake of
bourgeois professorial "science".  The professors went "back to Kant"
-- and revisionism dragged along after the neo-Kantians.  The
professors repeated the platitudes that priests have uttered a
thousand times against philosophical materialism -- and the
revisionists, smiling indulgently, mumbled (word for word after the
latest Handbuch) that materialism had been "refuted" long ago.  The
professors treated Hegel as a "dead dog", and while themselves
preaching idealism, only an idealism a thousand times more petty and
banal than Hegel's, contemptuously shrugged their shoulders at
dialectics -- and the revisionists floundered after them into the
swamp of philosophical vulgarisation of science, replacing "artful"
(and revolutionary) dialectics by "simple" (and tranquil)

...Passing to political economy, it must be noted first of all that
in this sphere the "amendments" of the revisionists were much more
comprehensive and circumstantial; attempts were made to influence the
public by  "new data on economic development".  It was said that
concentration and the ousting of small-scale production by
large-scale production do not occur in agriculture at all, while they
proceed very slowly in commerce and industry....

...The fight against the revisionists on these questions resulted in
as fruitful a revival of the theoretical thought in international
socialism as did Engels' controversy with of the revision Dühring
twenty years earlier.  The arguments of the revisionists were
analysed with the help of facts was proved that the revisionists were
systematically painting a rose-coloured picture of modern small-scale
production.  The technical and commercial superiority of large-scale
production over small-scale production not only in industry, but also
in agriculture, is proved by irrefutable facts....

...As to the theory of value, it need only be said that apart from
the vaguest of hints and sighs, a la Bohm-Bawerk, the revisionists
have contributed absolutely nothing, and have therefore left no
traces whatever on the development of scientific thought....

...In the sphere of politics, revisionism did really try to revise
the foundation of Marxism, namely, the doctrine of the class

...It cannot be disputed that these arguments of the revisionists
amounted to a fairly well-balanced system of views, namely, the old
and well-known liberal-bourgeois views....   *****

It seems that you have been unable to understand what I am doing, but
I am an unlikely Leninist fighting against _revisionism that asks us
to discard the theoretical baby with the empirical bathwater_.  I am
advising you not to get reduced to the choice between neo-Kantian

Avoid both sectarianism and opportunism, as well.

toward the theoretical Finland Station, :)


P.S.  BTW, your reference to my alleged "name-dropping" a la
"cocktail-party" conversations is nonsense.  I have been seriously
engaged in not only scholarship but political activism, as well as I
can manage, in a very conservative small town (Columbus, Ohio) which,
unlike New York, is inhospitable to both left-wing politics &
scholarship (not to mention "cocktail parties"!).

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