debating the Brenner thesis on PEN-L

Charles Brown CharlesB at
Mon May 28 09:07:43 MDT 2001

>>> lnp3 at 05/28/01 09:22AM >>>
[Over on PEN-L, an economics professor and old friend of Robert Brenner
named Jim Devine has been attempting to answer me. This consists mainly of
sterile quotations from Marx and idle conjecture about Latin American
history and economics. The other opponent is Yoshie Furuhashi who is
content to challenge me with questions like "How do you explain the rise of
colonialism and imperialism?" I have a feeling that reading too much
Brenner and Wood rots the brain.]


CB: I would explain the rise of colonialism ( including in Ireland) and imperialism as identical and integral with the rise of wage-labor / capital in England and Europe. They are different facets of the same thing,  internally related , in Ollman's sense.


Jim Devine:
>Merchant capital = buying & selling consumer and producer goods on the
>market, M-C-M. As Marx argues, it's impossible (for a system of merchant
>capital as a whole) to extort surplus-labor -- and produce a
>surplus-product -- simply through buying and selling such goods.[*]


CB: They weren't just mildly buying and selling in Africa, America and Asia. This "trade" included  slave trade. Marx says " the turning of Africa into a warren for the commercial hunting of black-skins." Slave trade depended upon force. They were using force - an economic power in itself, a capitalist economic power - to extract surplus value.

"Force is the midwife of every old society pregnant with a new one. It is itself an economic power" Here Marx is referring to the use of force by the very merchant capital that Jim Devine thinks can't extract surplus wealth. Marx is saying that merchant capital used brute force in its colonial system to extract surplus wealth from the colonial laborers from Asia, America and Africa in hastening the transition from feudalism to capitalism in Europe.

"The different momenta of primitive accumulation distribute themselves now, more or less in chronological order, particularly over Spain, Portugal, Holland, France, and England. In England at the end of the 17th century, they arrive at a systematical combination, embracing the colonies, the national debt, the modern mode of taxation, and the protectionist system. These methods depend in part on brute force, e.g., the colonial system. But, they all employ the power of the State, the concentrated and organised force of society, to hasten, hot-house fashion, the process of transformation of the feudal mode of production into the capitalist mode, and to shorten the transition. Force is the midwife of every old society pregnant with a new one. It is itself an economic power"

More information about the Marxism mailing list