Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Mon Oct 10 20:14:37 MDT 2005

rrubinelli wrote:
>Brenner does not argue  that capital could or could not, does or does
>not, exist in a closed system.  He centers his analysis on the origins
>of the determining capitalist social relation of production.  What
>exactly makes capital capital?   Marx is quite clear.  Wage-labor, the
>dispossessed, expelled labor constituted as a commodity for exchange, is
>what gives capital its existence, its vitality as capital.  Capital
>exists as congealed labor-power; aggrandized labor.

But slave labor is also constituted as a commodity for exchange.

Part of the problem is that Marx's Capital is almost exclusively taken up 
with the development of capitalism in England, where it achieved its purest 
form. In some ways, the USA is just an extension of what existed in 
England. So when Marx writes about the creation of variable capital, he 
uses England to illustrate his concepts, etc.

But he never wrote that much about what Brenner calls extra-economic 
coercion, a term that simply means markets. So in the absence of markets, 
such as was the case of the East India Company in India, the Jamaica sugar 
plantations, the mita/corvee system in Bolivia, etc., you get something 
that Wood categorizes as "precapitalist" property relations. This is not a 
very satisfactory analysis. You also get half-baked attempts to theorize 
all this in terms of "mercantile capitalism", which also seems 
unsatisfactory in many ways. Mercantile capitalism was really something 
that existed in the interstices of major trading entities that took 
advantage of relative price differentiation. Buying cheap and selling dear, 
so to speak. This category hardly begins to explain the forms of labor 
exploitation that took place in 17th century Bolivia, for example.

Part of the problem is that the Brennerites are simply not interested in 
writing about these marginal places, so in a way they confirm Blaut's 
accusation of Eurocentrism. It is simply astonishing that Brenner or Wood 
have never written more than a few paragraphs about Latin America.

The opposing side in the debate includes historians who have put together 
major studies of exactly these places, from Samir Amin to Immanuel 
Wallerstein to Andre G. Frank. When a Brennerite does try to apply this 
analysis to a 3rd world locale, the results are often ludicrous as in Colin 
Leys's work on Kenya, which contains the remarkable notion that the 
expansion of native-owned dry cleaning establishments was a sign that a 
kind of bourgeois revolution was taking place.

At the extreme end of the Brenner camp you get Bill Warren, about whom the 
less said is better.

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