Ellen Wood & Eric Williams (was Re: Continuing with the Brennerdebate)

Yoshie Furuhashi furuhashi.1 at SPAMosu.edu
Sun Oct 29 03:37:05 MST 2000

>Jim Farmelant:
>I think that Yoshie has already made an effort to thrash out such a
>synthesis.  Such a synthesis will of course have to be thrashed out
>through argument and debate but that is the way dialectics works.
>LP: Really? She has completely ignored my 10,000 word analysis of
>Brenner, and has ignored Blaut's critique as well. When Marx,
>Luxemburg, Lenin or Trotsky debated their opponents, it was
>unheard of for them to pretend that something Bakunin, Bernstein,
>Kautsky or Burnham wrote did not exist. This kind of willful
>denial of what other people take the trouble to write seems
>to effectively amount to running away from a debate.

Lou, I submit that it is you who have set up straw men & women to
knock down, instead of accurately reproducing & then criticizing the
arguments of those whom you take to be your opponents.  While Ellen
Wood/Robert Brenner's & Eric Williams' works are complementary, your
argument in these threads does not seem compatible with either:

Ellen Wood writes:

*****   _British imperialism also, of course, contributed to the
development of the world's first industrial capitalism_.  But while
industrialization did feed on the resources of empire, it is
important to keep in mind that the logic of imperialism did not bring
about industrial capitalism _by itself_.  Imperial power in other
European states did not produce the same effects, and on the eve of
the Industrial Revolution, the domestic market was still more
important in the British economy than was international trade.
Agrarian capitalism was the root of British economic development.

Marxist historians have persuasively demonstrated, against many
arguments to the contrary, that _the greatest crime of European
empire, slavery, made a major contribution to the development of
industrial capitalism_.[6]  But here, too, we have to keep in mind
that Britain was not alone in exploiting colonial slavery and that
elsewhere it had different effects.  Other major European powers --
France, Spain, Portugal -- amassed great wealth from slavery and from
the trade in addictive goods like tobacco which...fueled the trade in
living human beings.[7]  But, again, only in Britain was that wealth
converted into industrial capital -- and here again the difference
lies in _the new capitalist dynamic which had already transformed the
logic of the British economy, setting in train the imperatives of
competitive production, capital accumulation, and self-sustaining

[6]  The Marxist classics on this subject are the works of Eric
Williams, _Capitalism and Slavery_ (New York: Russell and Russell,
1961) and C. L. R. James, _The Black Jacobins_ (New York: Vintage,
1989).  The most recent major contribution to this debate is Robin
Blackburn's _The Making of New World Slavery_ (London: Verso, 1997).

[7]  Blackburn makes this argument.

(emphasis mine, Ellen Wood, _The Origin of Capitalism_, NY: Monthly
Review Press, 1999, p. 101)   *****

Eric Williams, being a classical Marxist, does _not_ make an argument
that slavery & the slave trade were the primary causes of _the
emergence of capitalist social relations_.  Williams' argument, in
brief, is as follows:

*****   1.  _The decisive forces in the period of history we have
discussed are the developing economic forces_.

These economic changes are gradual, imperceptible, but they have an
irresistible cumulative effect.  Men, pursuing their interests, are
rarely aware of the ultimate results of their activity.  _The
commercial capitalism of the eighteenth century_ developed the wealth
of Europe by means of _slavery and monopoly_.  But in so doing it
helped to create _the industrial capitalism of the nineteenth
century, which turned around and destroyed the power of commercial
capitalism, slavery, and all its works_.  Without a grasp of these
economic changes the history of the period is meaningless.  (emphasis
mine, Eric Williams, _Capitalism & Slavery_, Chapel Hill: U. of North
Carolina P, 1994 [1944], p. 210)   *****

More specifically, Williams characterizes profits from the direct &
triangular colonial trades as "one of the main streams of that
accumulation of capital in England which financed the Industrial

*****   According to Adam Smith, the discovery of America and the
Cape route to India are "the two greatest and most important events
recorded in the history of mankind."  The importance of the discovery
of America lay _not in the precious metals but in the new and
inexhaustible market it afforded for European commodities_.  One of
its principal effects was to "raise the mercantile system to a degree
of splendour and glory which it could never otherwise have attained
to."  It gave rise to an enormous increase in world trade.  The
seventeenth and eighteenth centuries were centuries of trade, as the
nineteenth century was the century of production.  For Britain that
trade was primarily the triangular trade.  In 1718 William Wood said
that the slave trade was "the spring and parent whence the others
flow."  A few years later, Postlethwayt described the slave trade as
"the first principle and foundation of all the rest, the mainspring
of the machine which sets every wheel in motion."

In this triangular trade England -- France and Colonial America
equally -- supplied the exports and the ships; Africa the human
merchandise; the plantations the colonial raw materials.  The slave
ship sailed from the home country with a cargo of manufactured goods.
These were exchanged at a profit on the coast of Africa for Negroes,
who were traded on the plantations, at another profit, in exchange
for a cargo of colonial produce to be taken back to the home country.
As the volume of trade increased, the triangular trade was
supplemented, but never supplanted, by a direct trade between home
country and the West Indies, exchanging home manufactures directly
for colonial produce.

_The triangular trade thereby gave a triple stimulus to British
industry.  The Negroes were purchased with British manufactures;
transported to the plantations, they produced sugar, cotton, indigo,
molasses and other tropical products, the processing of which created
new industries in England; while the maintenance of the Negroes and
their owners on the plantations provided another market for British
industry, New England agriculture and the Newfoundland Fisheries_. By
1750 there was hardly a trading or a manufacturing town in England
which was not in some way connected with the triangular or direct
colonial trade.  The profits obtained provided _one of the main
streams of that accumulation of capital in England which financed the
Industrial Revolution_.

(emphasis mine, footnotes omitted, Eric Williams, _Capitalism &
Slavery_, Chapel Hill: U. of North Carolina P, 1994 [1944], pp. 51-2)

Wood & Brenner discuss how _social relations_ became gradually
transformed in England (through enclosure, etc.), creating "the new
capitalist dynamic..., setting in train the imperatives of
competitive production, capital accumulation, and self-sustaining
growth"; Williams analyzes slavery & the triangular trade as
providing "one of the main streams of that accumulation of capital in
England which _financed the Industrial Revolution_."  (Unlike Lou,
Williams _never_ argues that slavery & the slave trade helped to
_cause capitalism_.)  Therefore, their works are complementary,
rather than contradictory, as I have always argued.


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