[OPE-L:7515] Fwd: Albritton on Brenner debate

From: Rakesh Bhandari (rakeshb@stanford.edu)
Date: Thu Aug 15 2002 - 11:46:38 EDT

Dear Gil and Rakesh,
	I have enormous demands on my time right now and therefore can not
carry on a full debate on the matters that you have raised. I am afraid
that this short response will have to end the debate from my side--at
least for the time being.

1) I initially wrote the critique of Brenner more than ten years ago. I
cannot find a copy of the journal and do not have time to go to the
library to make a copy for purposes of looking at the context of the
quotations that Gil takes from the article. I would point out, however,
that in critiquing someone, you are to an extent constrained by their
framework and that my main purpose in writing the article was to
challenge what I saw as an overly reified conception of 'agrarian
capitalism.' While I do think that embryonic capitalist relations in
British agriculture were important to the development of capitalism
first in that country, I also think that many other factors played
important roles, factors that tend to be pushed into the background if
we too single-mindedly focus on class relations in the agricultural
sector. Moreover, class relations in the agricultural sector evolved
enormously over the period that  Brenner labels 'agrarian capitalism',
and I find that his use of the concept leads him to read back into
history more fully developed class relations than actually existed.

2) Were Gil more familiar with my work, he might still be critical, but
he would have to make different criticisms from the ones that he does
make. For example, he would see that my use of Marx's theory of the laws
of motion of capitalism is not concerned with quantitatively weighting
variables for purposes of determining rigid boundaries between the
capitalist and non capitalist. Indeed, in general I find the fetishizing
of boundary problems to be a waste of time, and it is for this reason
that I was never very excited by the so-called 'modes of production

3) Consider for a moment the institution of 'servants-in-husbandry.' In
what ways is this institution like the capitalist wage form and in what
ways not? For example, is the extreme personal dependency, paternalism,
and deference embedded in such relations that which makes them more
similar or dissimilar from the capitalist wage form? Such judgments
depend on our understanding of the capitalist wage form. Indeed, I think
that in any historical context we will find the more capitalist mixed in
with the less, the capitalist mixed in with the non-capitalist, and the
economic mixed in with the political and ideological. If this is the
case, we need ways to think the articulation of these differences, and
one of the great strenghts of marxian social science is that we have a
theory of capital's necessary inner connections that can guide us in
this thought.

4) For me, the fact that some tenant farmers used some wage labour in
1700 is not sufficient empirical evidence to establish so strong a
systemic concept as Brenner's 'agrarian capitalism.' It would be like
claiming that because some producers hired some wage labourers in
Ancient Athens, the Athenian economy was capitalist (I am exaggerating
here to make a point).

5) I suspect that the most important single factor underlying our
disagreements is how we understand and utilize Marx's theory of the laws
of motion of capitalism. This, of course, opens out on to very large and
complex questions such as how are the laws of motion interrelated and
how can we best use them to understand history? In the corpus of my
writings  one can find fairly clear answers to this sort of question,
answers that of course evolve and develop with my own research efforts.

I hope these brief comments are of some help.

All The Best,
Rob Albritton

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