Forwarded from Anthony (reply to E. George)

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Thu Apr 11 06:55:43 MDT 2002

Part 5. Reply to Ed George

The class struggle between aristocracy and bourgeoisie in Holland, England,
and France : 1500- 1800. Part 2. The bourgeoisie.

Ed wrote,

"But precisely because capitalist relations of (production and) trade
develop 'in the interstices of' feudal ones it would be perverse to
conceive of emergent capitalism as developing out of a process autonomous
to the feudal social structure.  In fact, capitalist relations emerge and
evolve out of feudal ones - in the instances of land and investment - and
happily co-exist with them in the instances of production and trade.  What
does not occur in any thorough-going sense at this stage is the
crystallization out of a distinct 'bourgeoisie' - defined fundamentally by
its economic activity - with interests distinct from those of an equally
clearly delimited feudal aristocracy; neither does there emerge a
capitalist economic structure fundamentally antagonistic to an
already-existing feudal one.  Rather, what it is evident is a single
economic structure - in which capitalist economic relations develop more or
less harmoniously alongside feudal ones - and a single economic elite with
combined and numerous economic interests and activities, both of which
obtain over a continental rather than a national scale."

Let's focus on this key phrase,

" What does not occur in any thorough-going sense at this stage is the
crystallization out of a distinct 'bourgeoisie' - defined fundamentally by
its economic activity - with interests distinct from those of an equally
clearly delimited feudal aristocracy..."

Since the 'stage we are talking about takes in three centuries, from the
beginning of the 16th to the end of the 18th, we have to be careful about
the kind of broad generalizations we make. However, I think the role that
the three great revolutions we are discussing played was as catalyst to the
'crystallization out of a distinct bourgeoisie - defined fundamentally by
its economic activity.'

The bourgeois's that were forming at the end of the feudal era were not
'capitalist classes' but heterogeneous urban social formations - the Third
Estate, minus the peasantry, but not necessarily minus the beggars, thieves
and urban workers.  This is the way Lefebvre defined them, but also the way
Marx and virtually all early 19th century writers used the term bourgeoisie.

But, let us, for the sake of conversation, talk about the bourgeoisie as
property owners who exploit the labor of others through wage labor. Let us
exclude for the moment the property owners who do not exploit labor other
than their own and their immediate family's,  and let us exclude those who
exploit other forms of labor (slave labor, indentured labor, etc.) And let
us exclude those who receive some form of feudal privilege (whether the
corvee labor of their feudal tenants, exemption from taxes, the right to
hold manorial court, etc.).

Now let's call this sector of the bourgeoisie the capitalist class. Clearly
no such thing existed in a pure form at the time of any of the revolutions
we are talking about: indentured labor - including guild apprenticeship -
was still common, many property owners who employed wage labor also
benefited from feudal privileges, feudal aristocrats, merchant capitalists,
and just plain pirates exploited chattel slaves.

Such a capitalist class as defined above could not exist under the
conditions existing in Europe and its colonies prior to the great bourgeois

This is why, they are called 'bourgeois' revolutions, and not called
'capitalist revolutions.'

First the Dutch, then the British, and then the French revolutions allowed
the capitalist class to 'crystallize out of' the bourgeoisie and the

The bourgeoisies of that epoch were not self conscious classes which
defined themselves the way you or I would.  The Dutch and British were lost
in religious ideology - the most fervent revolutionaries believed they were
fighting for God - and maybe God and country. But none of them thought they
were fighting for capitalism, not even democracy or a secular Republic.

The French bourgeoisie, thanks to the British revolution, had more advanced
ideas (Marx and Engels clearly make note of this). Whereas the Dutch and
the British were fighting for God and country, the French were fighting for
Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity.  They, the French, were fighting for a
Republic, and a lot of them were fighting for a secular republic. (Which is
why they tried to invent a secular religion and change the names of the
months, the holidays, etc.)

But still, they had not emblazoned on their banners the word Capitalism,
nor even the word 'property' (which was proposed, but not accepted, for the
US declaration of independence - 'the pursuit of happiness was substituted').

For a 'capitalist class' to 'crystallize' out of the bourgeoisie and
aristocracy of the epoch of bourgeois revolutions 1500-1800,  feudal
methods of exploitation had to be abolished, feudal privileges had to be
destroyed, and capitalist social relations - the exploitation of wage labor
and the extraction of capitalist money rents - left as the only means of
appropriation of the surplus of society by the ruling class.

This was the result - the unintended, not understood in advance - result of
the bourgeois revolutions in Europe.

The bourgeoisies of pre-capitalist Europe could not have been, and were
not, the self-conscious agents of history that Ed thinks 'The Marxist
Theory' postulates.

But the pre-Stalinists Marxist did not postulate that the bourgeoisies of
Europe were self-conscious agents of history. Not even the Stalinist fellow
travelers Lefebvre and Hill make such a claim.

But, the opinions of the historians aside, once the great bourgeois
revolutions occurred, there was no going back. The bourgeoisies and
pre-capitalist landed classes remaining in, and those  outside of,
Holland, England, and France, learned their lesson. They began to
self-consciously transform themselves into capitalists.

This is half of the explanation as to why there could never, after the
French revolution, be another bourgeois revolution. From that time on, the
feudal - and other pre-capitalist landed classes of the world - began to
learn their lessons. They had to become capitalists. They had to follow the
British model, or get their fucking heads cut off along the lines of the
French model.

More to come,

All the best, Anthony

Louis Proyect
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