reply to DMS on Post

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Mon Sep 8 15:51:11 MDT 2003

>Uneven and combined development does not only mean that the
>backward forms feed the advanced, but also those "archaic"
>relations get sustained by the network of exchange. The dominant
>mode, capitalism as described by Marx with the means of
>production organized as private property and labor organized as
>wage-labor, absorbs and sustains those relations exactly because
>of the limitation of property.  But it cannot sustain them

I am glad that you put archaic in quotes. When 300 years ago British
gentlemen of great wealth, who were by all accounts in the vanguard of
capitalism, reached back into 3rd century Rome in order to reintroduce a
form of exploitation into places like Jamaica or Virginia that had been
superseded historically by feudalism itself, one has to conclude that
something else is going on than a Michael J. Fox trip back into the future.

>Regarding Post, his article begins by pointing to the pivotal
>role of slavery.  He then goes on to examine the contradictions
>in the system of production itself.  That sounds like a
>Marxist approach to me, one worthy of examination and analysis
>on  its own terms, particularly since the surrounding issues
>are the causes and meaning of the US Civil War.

Actually, Post's ideas are banal. The idea of slavery being retrograde and
wasteful go back to the 19th century. Read Frederic Olmsted's journals from
his trip through the South and you'll find all that stuff about wasted
soil, indolence, unproductive slaves, etc.

>Regarding Brenner, besides his writings on the current economic
>\situation, I've read The Brenner Debate.  I don't regard the criticism of
>Brenner's position that he ignores the impact
>and import of the colonial system and slave production very relevant,
>since he is writing, in the main, about a period of time prior to those

Jim Blaut:

Brenner's theory is an attempt to explain why capitalism arose and why
economic modernization began - - all in medieval Europe. Nowhere in the
three long essays does he so much as mention medieval Africa and Asia. So,
before we consider the theory itself we should place it in its geographical
perspective. Brenner is a pure tunnel-historian: the only facts worthy of
mention in explaining the medieval rise of Europe and capitalism and the
further progress of capitalism and economic development in the sixteenth
century are European facts...

Brenner, like some other Marxists, holds to a very mystical conception of
capitalism. Capitalism is conceived to be an entity, an essential thing.
When it arrives, it does so complete and entire, as though it were a god
descending from Olympus to govern human affairs. So one does not really
think of a "transition" to capitalism: there comes a kind of mystical
moment when it arrives and takes over. The capitalism that (according to
Brenner) appeared in rural England in the late 15th century is the same
essential capitalism that governs England today. Its essence is the same.
Over time, it develops in various ways -- for instance equipping itself
with manufacturing industry -- but it remains the same entity. And it
retains the same essential properties, some of which are quite mystical.
Capitalism brings with it instantaneous rationality. Suddenly technological
inventiveness and innovativeness appear; they were not really present
during the feudal age, says Brenner. Suddenly working people are "free,"
that is, they begin to make economically rational decisions in a free labor
market. Suddenly society (English society) acquires an "economy". And more.
This mystical notion of capitalism substitutes for an empirical theory
about the transition: The merely empirical facts may suggest a long, slow,
transition, with many complex and contradictory happenings, including some
regressions toward classic feudalism -- no matter. At one mystical
historical moment (or year, or handful of decades) capitalism appears and
transforms rural England.


Louis Proyect, Marxism mailing list:

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