[OPE-L:2696] Marx's *Capital*: Europe and Russia

From: Gerald Levy (glevy@pratt.edu)
Date: Mon Apr 03 2000 - 18:45:15 EDT

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Is there the beginning of a possible merger between some of the themes
in the "slaves and value" thread and the thread on Sieber? Perhaps.

Patrick wrote in [OPE-L:2695]:
> I [don't?, JL) accept the "rigid sequence of modes of
> production" argument either. I think it's a useful brief historical
> description of Europe, but not necessarily the rest of the world.

In Marx's research on Russia, especially as it relates to peasant
communes, and his communication with Russian revolutionaries, one can
observe somewhat of a shift away from the sequence of modes of production
as presented in the "Preface" to _A Contribution to the Critique of
Political Economy_.

Thus, in Marx's reply to Zasulich (March 4, 1881), he wrote:

         "In analysing the genesis of capitalist production, I said:

              At the heart of the capitalist system is a complete
              separation of the producer from the means of production
              ... *the expropriation of the agricultural producer* is the
              basis of the whole process. Only in England has it been
              accomplished in a radical manner. ... *But all the other
              countries of Western Europe* are following the same
              course. (*Capital*, French ed, p. 315.)

             The 'historical inevitability' of this course is therefore
          *expressly* restricted to *the countries of Western Europe*.
          The reason for this restriction is indicated in Ch. XXXII:
          '*Private property*, founded upon personal labour ... is
          supplanted by *capitalist private property*, which rests on
          exploitation of others, on wage-labour' (*loc. cit., p. 340).

            In the Western case, then, *one form of private property is
          transformed into another form of private property*. In the case
          of the Russian peasants, however, *their communal property*
          would have to be *transformed into private property*.

            The analysis in *Capital* therefore provides no reasons either
          for or against the vitality of the Russian Commune. But the
          special study have made of it, including a search for original
          source-material, has convinced me that the commune is the
          fulcrum for social regeneration in Russia. But in order that it
          might function as such, the harmful influences assailing it on
          all sides must first be eliminated, and it must then be assured
          the normal conditions for spontaneous development". (From
          Shanin ed. _Late Marx and the Russian Road_, p. 124).

(It might be interesting to have a discussion comparing the Russian
peasant communes of the late 19th century to the autonomous zone created
in Chiapas by peasant-revolutionaries, don't you think?)

In his "Letter to the Editorial Board of Otechestvennye Zapiski", Marx

         "The chapter on primitive accumulation claims no more than to
         trace the path by which, in Western Europe, the capitalist
         economic order emerged from the womb of the feudal economic
         order" (Ibid, p. 135)

Later in the letter , Marx reproaches a critic who:

        "absolutely insists on transforming my historical sketch of the
         genesis of capitalism in Western Europe into a
         historico-philosophical theory of the general course fatally
         imposed on all peoples, whatever the historical circumstances
         in which they find themselves placed, in order to arrive
         ultimately at this economic formation which assures the greatest
         expansion of the productive forces of social labour, as well as
         the most complete development of man. But I beg his pardon.
         This is to do me both too much honour and too much disrespect"
         (Ibid, p. 136)

Again there is the warning against generalizing what we might call the
"European experience" and an emphasis on *contingency* in the change from
one social formation to another. Thus, he goes on to give an example of
what happened in Roman history and how it ended not with wage-labour
but with slavery for the "Roman proletarians". Comparing this situation to
that of 'poor whites' in the southern US, Marx notes: "Thus events of
striking similarity, taking place in different historical context, led to
totally disparate results (capitalism in US; slave mode of production in
Rome, JL). By studying each of these developments separately, and then
comparing them, one may easily discover the key to this phenomenon. But
success will never come with the master-key of a
general-historico-philosophical theory, whose supreme virtue consists in
being supra-historical". (Ibid)

Yet another revealing late work by Marx, co-authored with Engels, is the
"Preface to the Second Russian Edition" of the _Manifesto of the Communist
Party". M&E concluded that as follows:

         "If the Russian revolution becomes the signal for proletarian
          revolution in the West, so that the two complement each other,
          then Russia's peasant communal land-ownership may serve as the
          point of departure for a communist development".

That was written on January 21, 1882. It says something rather
significant about the relationship of the possible Russian revolution, and
the peasant commune system there, to the possibilities for spreading the
international revolutionary process. It also goes against the grain for
those who have insisted that the revolutionary movement must develop first
in the advanced capitalist nations. It would seem, in conclusion, that
Marx was far less rigid in his perspective on historical transitions than
many, if not most, of the Marxists since.

In solidarity, Jerry

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