Forwarded from Nestor (reply to Mark)

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Thu Jun 21 10:08:55 MDT 2001


> Was there a world system that encompassed the entire world -- as
> opposed to states, empires, & networks of trade relations -- before
> the rise of capitalism?


I tend to agree with the idea so sternly defended by Jim Blaut that the
only advantage of Europe at the time of the "discovery" of America was
locational preference. Although I tend to qualify the idea somehow in the
sense that Europe _had_ a peculiarity (namely, its backwardness and the
widespread fragility of the European tributary mode known as feudalism,
its, in Samir Amin´s words, "peripheric" character), I would rather not
debate this issue now, the core notion being IMHO the fact that plunder of
the "New" World gave Europeans a particular advantage over the East which
shaped the concrete way in which capitalism appeared, a way that cannot be
explained without this historic event.

But this definite "yes" by Mark brings in another kind of question: was
long haul trade before the rise of capitalism of the same quality it
acquired _after_ its rise? Was there a world market, where both ends of the
commercial lines, knew the costs of production of goods in the other side?
Amin makes a strong case in support of the idea that without this
prerequisite long haul commerce is just that, not a structural part of a
world system. This is an important point to assess, because the existence
of a "world system" _does_ depend on the kind of long distance trade that
took place. If this trade implies goods where the costs of production are
obscure to the purchaser, then it is confined mainly to luxury or monopoly
goods (silk, pepper). This is a "system", but not a "structure" where the
law of value operates as an immanent driving force. If it implies a network
where the law of value, in absence of deliberate legal action (taken in
knowledge of its existence), works unimpeded, then we do have a _system_ in
the Marxist sense, a system that establishes a link between producers that
operates _out of the sight_ of the producer and the trader, a system where
there is an _objective value_ and where prices don´t depend only on the
wits and cunning of the overseas tradesman. 

Néstor M. Gorojovsky

Louis Proyect
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