Re: (OPE-L) Re: On the Marxist theory of history

From: Rakesh Bhandari (rakeshb@STANFORD.EDU)
Date: Fri May 16 2003 - 11:44:16 EDT

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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