Inikori vs. Brenner

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Fri Sep 12 07:05:19 MDT 2003

Rakesh Bhandari wrote:
> estuary...Now if Brenner's agrarian class structure were the principal
> cause of the Industrial Revolution, clearly the leading regions would
> have been in the South of England. But, as we have seen, it was
> agriculturally backward Lancashire and Yorkshire that led the way, while
> East Anglia with its progressive agrarian class structure stagnated."
> p. 147-8 of Africans and the Industrial Revolution in England.
> Any comments on this important debate much appreciated.

Am working my way slowly through J.P. Cooper's "In Search of Agrarian
Capitalism" in the Aug. 1978 "Past and Present", a 45 page article that
was published posthumously. I stumbled across it in Jstor doing a
keyword search on yeomanry. It seems to be the definitive rebuttal to
the Brenner thesis, at least in terms of the scholarly minutiae surround
farm size, demographics, capital accumulation, etc.

Cooper places the Brenner thesis in the context of Physiocrat theory,
when English farming based on large capitalist holdings was viewed as
the key to growth.  For example, Quesnay thought that "large-scale
cultivation carried on by rich farmers" was the only way to ensure
increased production, while "small-scale cultivation" will produce a
"net product which is almost zero." Leaving aside the empirical evidence
of the USA or Australia, it is clear that Marx's remarks on Wakefield
reflected the influence of Physiocratic thought.

Thinkers such as Turgot and Quesnay saw societies as passing through
various stages on a kind of evolutionary ladder, even though they came
long before Darwin chronologically. It was a kind of incipient social
Darwinism, with hunting proceeding to pastoralism and then on to
agriculture. Slave labor is replaced by slavery, which is in turn
replaced by share-cropping. The final, most advanced stage, is leasehold
tenant farming like in Merrie Olde England. Unless you institutionalize
such a system, you will not enjoy economic growth. For proof of Great
Britain's superiority to France, Quesnay identified the use of horses in
the first instance, oxen in the second.

This kind of crude stagism, often understood as a "4 stage" theory of
history, was widely accepted in 17th and 18th century Europe. For the
whole story, I recommend Ronald L. Meek's "Social Science and the
Ignoble Savage" (Cambidge, 1976). (Meek might be known to many of you
for his book on the labor theory of value published by Monthly Review

The notion that large capitalist farms were more productive was accepted
by Marx, who saw an "agricultural revolution" in which enclosures,
rising prices and long leases created a class of capitalist farmers and
expropriated peasants who then entered the proletariat. This sort of
genuflection to British farming goes hand in hand with romanticization
of the yeomanry such as the kind found in the writings of James
Harrington and other 17th century British political economists. His
writings were a strong influence on Thomas Jefferson.

But as Cooper points out, there were was little evidence of large farms
in Scandinavia and most of Western Europe until 1950. At that time the
average holding was under 50 hectares (about 150 acres). By contrast,
the size of an average farm in Nebraska today is about 900 acres.

Leaving aside the merits of Physiocratic theory, there is a bunch of
data that Cooper reveals that cast doubt on whether or not British
farming was that much different from the rest of Europe. After I have
had a chance to absorb Cooper's article, I will have more to say on this.


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