[OPE-L:7516] Reply to Rob Albritton by Gil Skillman

From: Rakesh Bhandari (rakeshb@stanford.edu)
Date: Thu Aug 15 2002 - 12:05:16 EDT

wrote this last week:


  I am  hoping Albritton will reply to you; still haven't figured out 
why you went after Albritton rather than Zmolek since the former 
seems to attach the same importance to putting out mfg as an early 
form of surplus value production that you do?! Albritton obviously 
does not think only fully commodified labor power can produce surplus 
value, so he seems to agree with one of your major theses. Hopefully 
this will all be clarified. Albritton does not  question the 
existence of agrarian capitalism only because of the low percentage 
of workers who were free wage workers. Nor does he deny that surplus 
value was produced in the English countryside.  He gives several 
reasons to qualify any claim of agrarian capitalism (now off the top 
of my head)--limited size of the market for agricultural produce, 
impetus for commercialization coming from London rather than being 
endogeneous to agrarian capitalism itself, several use value 
impediments to capital being used for maximal valorization, limited 
commoditization of inputs, patriarchal relations between tenants and 
servants in husbandry, several customary restrictions on truly 
capitalist landlord-tenant relation and tenant-servant in husbandry 
relation (also as a friend reminds me: copyholders, far from being 
without protection against arbitrary action in manorial courts, were 
actively protected in Chancery- with the earliest records in the 
early 16th century - & the common law courts in competition with 
chancery began to protect copyholders *from the middle of the 16th 
century*), etc.

You just didn't systematically criticize his grounds for skepticism 
(of course I would like to show that such impediments to true 
capitalist relations did not on the whole hold in the case of 
plantation slavery, e.g., slaves could be arbitrarily sold, rented 
out, shifted from one task to another). So I must disagree that your 
critique was carefully constructed. You also missed the strategic 
thrust of his argument. Which was not to deny that nascent or proto 
capitalist relations in the English countryside played an important 
role indeed in why capitalism developed first in England.

As for agrarian capitalism, there was a steadying of yields per acre 
in England between 1750-1840, according to Pomeranz, citing Clark. So 
while labor productivity may have risen as a result of the tenant's 
continued capitalist behavior, it does not seem that England would 
have been able to overcome the shortage of land intensive goods on 
which the development of industrial capitalism would founder in China 
and elsewhere. So it's not clear to me that agrarian capitalism 
opened the door to fully developed capitalism in the sense that once 
one it was achieved the emergence of fully developed capitalism was a 
fait accompli.  That is the sense one gets from Ellen Wood however. 
I don't think the theory of agrarian capitalism justifies the extreme 
rural Anglocentrism in the historiography of capitalism--the 
importance of the colonization of the Americas cannot be reduced to a 
single sentence!

At any rate, I think Albritton is pretty persuasive about how the 
putting out system had more of the dynamic which made industrial 
capital possible than agrarian capitalism, though again there was no 
guarantee of such a transition given the serious ecological 
constraints on growth. His focus is also in my opinion overly 
Anglocentric. You know for example the importance I put on the 
plantations.   Do note that you had very little to say however about 
this major part of his argument. Which was simply that putting out 
mfg was less a qualified kind of capitalism than agrarian capitalism. 
At any rate,  I have not been able to make sense of your one sided 
criticism of Albritton given your shared focus on the role of 
merchant capitalists in the appropriation of surplus value in early 

All the best, Rakesh

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