Ernest Mandel and the Brenner thesis

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Thu Nov 6 07:21:29 MST 2003

Dear Jan-Willem Stutje,

I stumbled across your announcement for a conference titled "Theory as 
History: Ernest Mandel's historical analysis of world capitalism" on 
Jerry Levy's OPE-L, a listserv made up primarily of Marxist professors.

This conference appears to recruit Ernest Mandel to the Brenner-Wood 
camp on a rather specious reading of his "Marxist Economic Theory". You 

 >>Mandel pointed out in several different publications that primitive 
accumulation and the existence of a substantial agricultural surplus 
product were necessary but insufficient conditions for the transition to 
a capitalist society. The quantity of money capital accumulated in 
Moghul India for instance was probably no less than in Europe during the 
same period. Yet it was in Europe, not in India, that capitalism made 
its breakthrough. Mandel explained this 'Europe first' pattern as a 
result of a different relationship of forces between the state and the 
bourgeoisie. The stronger the bourgeoisie was, the more continuous 
capitalist accumulation could be. 'In the last analysis the uneven 
development of capital in East and West results from the dissimilarity 
of the two regions' agricultures, from two different relationships 
between land, water and the masses of people, which led in the East to a 
greater centralization of the social surplus product thanks to an 
agriculture based on irrigation and led in the West to a dual economy 
and a greater decentralization of the social surplus product.' This 
position is controversial, as can be seen from the ongoing debate about 
the role that the colonies played in the industrialization of Europe 
(e.g. O´Brien 1982; Wallerstein 1983; O´Brien and Prados de la Escosura 
1998) as well as in the so-called Brenner Debate.<<

You must have a read a different Ernest Mandel than the one I am 
familiar with. He wrote in "Marxist Economic Theory":

 >>In the decisive formative period of the capitalist mode of production,
extending from the sixteenth to the end of the eighteenth century, the
creation of the world market was of crucial importance. Its main
results for the primitive accumulation of capital in Western Europe
have been examined above. But all through this period of the birth of
capitalism the two forms of surplus-value appeared at each step. On
one hand, it was the outcome of the surplus labour of the wage workers
hired by the capitalists; on the other, it was the outcome of vales
stolen, plundered, seized by tricks, pressure or violence from the
overseas peoples with whom the western world had made contact. From
the conquest and pillage of Mexico and Peru by the Spaniards the
sacking of Indonesia by the Portuguese and the Dutch and the ferocious
exploitation of India by the British, the history of the sixteenth and
eighteenth centuries is an unbroken chain of deeds of brigandage which
were so many acts of international concentration of vaIues and capital
in Western Europe, the enrichment of which was for, in the literal
sense of the word, by the impoverishment of plundered areas.

It can be stated unhesitatingly that the contribution made by this
capital was decisive for the accumulation of the commercial capital
and money capital which, between 1500 and 1750, created the conditions
which proved propitious for the industrial revolution. It is difficult
to calculate the total amount involved, but if one takes into account
only the most substantial contributions these add up to a staggering

Hamilton estimates at over 500 million gold pesos the total amount
gold and silver exported from Latin America between 1503 and 1660.
According to Colenbrander, the total value of the dividends,
officials' remittances and cargoes of spices taken out of Indonesia by
the Dutch East India Company amounted to 600 million gold forms for
the period 1650-1780. On the basis of the calculations made by Father
Rinchon, we know that profits from the slave trade amounted in
eighteenth-century France to nearly half a billion livres tournois
(without including the profit arising from the work done by the
slaves, which came to several billion livres).' The profits obtained
from the labour of the negroes in the British West Indies amounted to
£200 to £300 million.<<

If this has anything to do with Robert Brenner and Ellen Meiksins Wood, 
I will fly over to Amsterdam for your conference and eat a plateful of 
cockroaches in full view of all the professors there.


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