More on Bourgeois Revolution (Part 3) By Way of a Reply to Anthony and Richard

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Sun Apr 7 11:01:12 MDT 2002


On Sun, 7 Apr 2002 12:24:30 -0400, Jim Farmelant wrote:
>How would Ed relate his analysis of the French
>Revolution and how it retarded subsequent
>capitalist economic development to Robert
>Brenner's analysis of the origins of capitalism?

Actually, I had prepared the following before reading Jim's query. It
may not answer it adequately, but there is definitely a connection
between revisionist understandings of the French revolution and the
Brenner thesis but not a unilateral one. For example, Ellen Meiksins
Wood defends Comninel but is a fervent supporter of the Brenner
thesis. I agree with Comninel but oppose the Brenner thesis just as
fervently.

Written earlier:

I would like to connect some dots that are implied in Ed George's
post on the bourgeois revolution. It would appear to me that despite
the affiliation of various New Left Review editors with the
Trotskyist movement in the 1960s, there is strong evidence that
English CP (I hesitate to use the word Stalinist) historiography had
just as much influence. In a battle in these rarefied ranks between
the theory of permanent revolution, which denied any revolutionary
capacity to the capitalist class, and Hobsbawm-style stagism, which
elevated the bourgeoisie to a status belied by the record, it is
entirely possible that the latter sort of view might eventual prevail
as the hothouse atmosphere of the 1960s cooled off. Wit the year of
the heroic guerrilla a distant memory, a conservative mood set in.
Instead of voluntaristic Guevarist or Maoist struggles against a
thoroughly reactionary bourgeoisie, the NLR intelligentsia might urge
caution until the relationships of production sufficiently mature.

I strongly believe that the Brenner thesis reflects this mood. As
Brenner openly admits, his biggest intellectual influence was CP'er
Maurice Dobb, whose debate with Paul Sweezy in the mid 1950s pitted a
number of "stagists" (Hobsbawm, Hill, etc.) against the MR monopoly
capital current. Although the MR had not become identified with
dependency theory at this point, there is little doubt that this
original debate would shape those that followed.

When NLR editor Robert Brenner declared that he was taking up where
Dobb had left off, it was difficult to see how anything he was
writing could have any kind of relationship to the sort of crude
stagism found in certain CP historiography, especially since he
tended to write not a single word about colonial struggles which
seemed to hardly interest him.

However, in the ensuing battle over the Brenner thesis, which was
used as a cudgel against A.G. Frank dependency theory, the
application often overlapped with CP stagism, albeit in fancy new
clothing. For example, the British economist Bill Warren, who
belonged to a tiny Stalinist sect (in this case, the word does fit),
became required reading for many who had taken the Brenner thesis
oath.

Just to take one example, Colin Leys urges us in "The Rise and Fall
of Development Theory" to see a "good side" to capitalism in the
"third world":

"If dependency is a new utopianism, a new 'philosophy of poverty'
based on a preoccupation with the 'bad side' of periphery capitalism,
does periphery capitalism have a 'good side' that has been neglected?
This is the essential argument of one of the earliest and most
consistent critics of dependency Bill Warren. In his posthumous book,
Imperialism, Pioneer of Capitalism, he developed the argument he had
first advanced in 1973, that the post-war development of the Third
World was actually a case of successful capitalist development - more
rapid than in the industrialized countries, either historically or in
the same post-war period; that the benefits of this capitalist growth
were not restricted to the richest minority; that unemployment did
not on the whole increase; that 'marginalization' is only a
pejorative word for the process of increasing integration of new
segments of the population into capitalist relations of production;
that, in short, periphery capitalism performed its historic task of
rapidly developing the productive capacity of the Third World."

To confirm this observation, Leys offers the following:

"It is true that the levels of income achieved were very modest by
world standards. But it is necessary for Western observers to
calibrate their observations of Africa carefully. Although life
expectancy at birth in sub-Saharan Africa in 1979 was only about
forty-seven years, compared with seventy-four years in the
industrialized countries, it was none the less eight years higher
than in 1960, an increase of more than 20%. Literacy registered an
even bigger advance, from about 5% to about 25% of the total adult
population over the same period. Millions of Africans remained in
abject poverty, but the poverty of many millions was less abject than
it had been twenty years before."

In "The Rise and Fall of Development Theory", one cannot find any
strategic thinking about socialism. It is mainly a rather pedantic
mustering of data such as the above, which tries to prove that Africa
needs more capitalism, rather than less. Once capitalism has become
generalized and once a class-conscious proletariat has emerged, then
the struggle for socialism can ensue on strong foundations. There is
a word for this: Kautskyism.

--
Louis Proyect, lnp3 at panix.com on 04/07/2002

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