From: Rakesh Bhandari (rakeshb@STANFORD.EDU)
Date: Fri May 16 2003 - 11:44:16 EDT
Jerry, thanks for attempting to work through my some reading notes on the Marxist theory of history. Here are some of the implicit questions: (1) What kind of totality is the capitalist mode of production? What are its parts and how are they related? Is the degree of integration greater in capitalism than in other totalities? Is there some sense in which the capitalist mode of production is uniquely a totality or uniquely not a totality (as Rosa Luxemburg argued)? Do parts acquire properties by being parts of this particular whole? To what extent can the parts be heterogeneous? (2) Why the bifircation in traditional historical materialism such that while the external environment has adapted Asiatic society to itself and the history of the Asiatic Mode of Production to have thus ceased, European society is understood dialectically, i.e., not only to have been adapted to its environment but also to have changed its own environment and itself in and through internal contradictions? That is, what are the bases for the idea that Asia had had an essentially natural history while Europe and Europe alone has had an open social history? What drove European thinkers to the idea that Asiatics all suffered from such a unforgiving arid environment that their adaptation thereto would give scope to any group of them to make history? (3) How can we be sure that capitalism issues out of the unique contradictions of European or English feudalism if our real appreciation of the contradictory natures of diverse Asian histories is elided by the myth of stagnant oriental despotic societies all presided over by the same kind of hyper-dominant, hypertrophic state? Once we open ourselves to the real histories of Asiatic societies, what diverse kinds of historical dynamics do we find? (4) Does it follow from the fact that capitalism developed first in Europe or England in particular that whatever were the differentia specifica of the European or English tributary mode of production had to have been the important causal factors in the development of capitalism? This seems to me a non sequitar (5) After all, what role did factors external to European or English feudalism play in the birth of capitalism? Do Marxists suffer from the dogma that the most important factors in social change have to be internal contradictions in the immediatly preceding mode of production? For example, how was the colonization of the Americas new and distinct in part because of the "biological advantage" which Europeans had over the indigeneous people? Did the conquest play a necessary, if not sufficient, role? Or again: What role did the conquest of the Americas and the formation of slave-based and forcibly complementary colonies play in Europe resolving sooner, decisively and differentially contradictions which may have not been unique to European feudalism? How did the conquest of the Americas influence the specific way in which those contradictions were resolved? Could something other than capitalism have emerged from those contradictions if not for geographical good luck (which includes according to Pomeranz well placed coal deposits in England)? Or an altogether different kind of capitalism? If geographical good luck should be considered an external factor, should we also consider the recovery of Western antiquity in the Renaissance (see Perry Anderson) an external factor which had a decisive influence on how the internal contradictions of feudalism were resolved in Europe? To the extent that human action does simply follow from immediately previous moment but occurs in and through (Bergsonian) duration, then what role did the recovery of hitherto virtual past of the Western antiquity play in the way that the contradictions of European feudalism which was not (as Samir Amin has argued) very advanced in world historic terms in terms of technology, commodity circulation and monetization were resolved? (5) To what extent is the Marxist theory of history teleological?
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