Proyect v Woods

Mark Jones jones118 at
Thu May 17 04:24:47 MDT 2001

Carrol Cox wrote:

> It's pointless to argue about it in the context of this list, but Ellen
> Woods is without doubt the most important marxist theorist writing in
> English today.

Dunno if it's more pointful to argue it anywhere else either, because the question
is not whether Wood is an 'important' Marxist but whether she's any kind of marxist
at all. I've just read Wood's attempted hatchet-job on Blaut, and it is tendentious
and self-serving; she simply parodies Blaut's notions of the distinction between
primitive accumulation and full-fledged capitalist accumulation, and is thus able to
walk around a whole school of anti-eurocentric thought without the bother of
actually addressing it or even appearing to have read it much, and heave a sigh of
relief: the "wealth amassed from colonial exploitation ... was not a necessary
precondition of the origin of capitalism."  So that's all cleared up then. A huge
debate, several major schools of thought, and by far the most productive and useful
marxist writing about the history and dynamics of capitalism to have taken place in
recent years, is binned.

Louis Proyect and I both got to know Blaut at the same time, and Lou's friendship
with him was much smoother than mine at least at first. But Jim Blaut persevered and
we corresponded and awful lot both on and off various lists and the role, and
consequences, and the *forms of* primitive accumulation was a constant topic.
Another topic was that of revolutionary organisation and the the question of
organisation and the role and contribution of Lenin. In other words, for Blaut, as
no doubt for most of us here, historical scholarship worked if and only if it was
clearly, immediately and purposefully linked up to the tasks, goals and the
rethinking of revolutionary proletarian politics, and above all, of Leninism.

We did in our cortrespondence tangentially discuss Brenner and his epigones like
Wood, but their own Eurocentric notions always seemed so poorly argued that debating
them was singularly fruitless: much better to debate the World-System people, like
Pomeranz, Goldstone and Gunder Frank (esp. the book ReOrient). Now that Blaut, with
his careful, painstaking scholarship, is out the of the way, there has been a return
to these debates by these people who  always ignored them at the time: I do not
recall, for instance, a single input by either Woods or Brenner into the fierce and
prolonged debates (a) about Landes/Frank or (b( about Pomeranze (which Duchesne is
IMO quite usefully discussing on pen-l just now.) The Landes-Frank debate would have
been the ideal moment for Brenner to weight in, one would have thought, and it is
hard to avoid the conclusion that he could not do so only because he would have been
politically exposed -- it would surely have entailed taking the David Landes-Eric
Jones-Joel Mokyr "Europe-First" side in the debate: in other words, Brenner would
have been fatally trapped into the rightwing discourse and mental terrain of the
paleo-conservatives of industrial-revolution history. He wouldn't do that, would he?
And neither would Wood take such a risk, even tho she is allegedly 'the most
important Marxist theorist'. Brenner was happier discussing his own grand
theoretical synthesis on Lbo-talk. Hmmm.


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