[Marxism] on the Lincoln debate - my two cents worth

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Sun Dec 2 15:21:26 MST 2012

On 12/2/12 5:14 PM, Graham Milner wrote:
> I don't believe that many historians would
> hold that France was 'feudal' before 1789 (if that is what is implied by
> the claim that there was no 'capitalism' in that country before the
> Revolution). Doesn't such a position deny Marx's and Engels' own view of
> the genesis and evolution of capitalism through its various phases?
> Mercantile capitalism was clearly well established in France centuries
> before the Great Revolution broke out in 1789.   What about Louis IV and
> Colbert, his economics minister?   What about Dupleix and the French
> East India Company in the Indian subcontinent?

Well, they don't use the term "feudal". Instead they use 
"precapitalist", which is what I would call a weasel-deal.

> If by 'capitalism', the writers you mention mean industrial capitalism,
> that might fit.   But industrialism is one phase of capitalist
> development.

Clearly 16th century Britain had no "industrial capitalism" but what the 
Brennerites are all about is the profit-seeking logic that is a 
precondition for industrial capitalism. In other words, gold stolen from 
Peru is less important than large tenant farms.

Here is how they put it:

The material foundation on which this emerging national economy rested 
was English agriculture, which was unique in several ways. The English 
ruling class was distinctive in two major and related respects: on the 
one hand, as part of an increasingly centralized state, in alliance with 
a centralizing monarchy, they did not possess to the same degree as 
their Continental counterparts the more or less autonomous 
“extra-economic” powers on which other ruling classes could rely to 
extract surplus labor from direct producers. On the other hand, land in 
England had for a long time been unusually concentrated, with big 
landlords holding an unusually large proportion of land. This 
concentrated landownership meant that English landlords were able to use 
their property in new and distinctive ways. What they lacked in 
“extra-economic” powers of surplus extraction they more than made up for 
by their increasing “economic” powers.

This distinctive combination had significant consequences. On the one 
hand, the concentration of English landholding meant that an unusually 
large proportion of land was worked not by peasant-proprietors but by 
tenants (the word “farmer,” incidentally, literally means “tenant”—a 
usage suggested by phrases familiar today, such as “farming out”). This 
was true even before the waves of dispossession, especially in the 
sixteenth and eighteenth centuries, conventionally associated with 
“enclosure” (about which more in a moment), in contrast, for example, to 
France, where a larger proportion of land remained, and long continued 
to remain, in the hands of peasants.

full: http://monthlyreview.org/1998/07/01/the-agrarian-origins-of-capitalism

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