From: Rakesh Bhandari (rakeshb@STANFORD.EDU)
Date: Mon Jun 09 2003 - 00:53:06 EDT
http://dsal.uchicago.edu/books/socialscientist/pager.html?issue=266-68&objectid=HN681.S597_266-68_017.gif Social Scientist. v 23, no. 266-68 (July-Sept 1995) p. 15. IRFAN HABIB Capitalism in History Excerpt There is little dispute that England annually obtained large revenues out of external sources: About the closing years of the eighteenth century, William Pitt put it at £ 17 million per annum. But there has been an air of inexplicable inconclusiveness in British scholarship when one comes to the links of the foreign income with the financing of the industrial revolution. Deane and Cole suspended judgement ('it is impossible to say, without detailed research').42 Among Marxist historians Dobb had nothing to say about it in his Studies in the Development of Capitalism and Sweezy, in fact, introduces a note of doubt when he says that 'Marx says very little about the actual methods by which these [external] accumulations found their way into industry'.43 Dobb had, however, claimed in his Studies that land-owners who had usurped lands by way of an earlier process of primary accumulation, now sold their landed assets to invest in industry.44 When taxed by Sweezy to identify the class which would buy it from them,45 Dobb, almost without design, stumbled on to the role of colonial plunder: >It seems an hypothesis worthy of investigation that in the >eighteenth century there was a great deal of selling of bonds and >real estates to such persons as retired East Indian 'nabobs' by men >who, then or subsequently, used the proceeds to invest in the >expanding industry and commerce of the time, so that the wealth >acquired from colonial loot fertilized the industrial revolution.46 In so far as colonial tribute comprised wage-goods (tea, tobacco, rum, calico) and raw-materials (silk, indigo), largely obtained 'free' at the level of national acounts, it enlarged industrial capital, by simply reducing costs. It is, therefore, difficult to understand why one should pore over 'the records of private companies and public institutions' to determine whether English capitalism obtained any sustenance from the massive colonial exploitation around the globe.47 The history of primary accumulation thus establishes beyond any doubt that capitalism could not have arisen in England without (a) destroying its peasantry, and (b) subjugating and exploiting external economies all over the world. The arrival of capitalism was not a natural internal process: Subjugation of other economies was crucial to the formation of industrial capital within it. In other words, colonialism, in its harshest forms, was not a mere attendant process to the rise of capitalism, it was one of its basic, inescapable premises. The 'snail's pace* of the growth of capitalism within the petty mode could, at last, now be changed into rapid growth 'hot-house fashion', showing that force, the basis alike of peasant-eviction and of colonialism, 'is itself an economic power'.48 End of excerpt ___________ If I understand the Brenner thesis correctly, Habib is begging the question. The land which was sold to East Indian nabobs was not valuable in itself; it had been made valuable by the rent which capitalist tenants were able to pay once that they had 'improved' the land under the compulsions of the new social relations. Habib himself recognizes this point: >The drive for rent led to the eighteenth century enclosures, since >large landowners found that capitalist farmers, using the methods of >new husbandry, could pay them higher rents. Yet Habib's point seems to be that without external plunder no one would have been able buy the land at its "value." Indeed his hypothesis raises the question of whether the East Indian nabobs and others paid more than the actual value of the land as they were choking from an excess of plunder. Habib also seems to believe that the attempt to increase rent through enclosures and forced evictions generally was in part a result of trying to keep up with the inflation engendered by the inflow of American silver, initially extracted by Amer-indians who suffered inferiority in military technology. I find the second half of the essay about imperialism much less interesting. there is no real clear theoretical formulation which would keep to the standards of the old debates between Hilferding, Bauer, Luxemburg and Grossmann. Habib himself seems to be a very interesting character; on the one hand, he makes favorable, albeit meaningless, references to Stalin and Mao; on the other hand, he dismisses as dogmatic their stagist theories of history. That he has been a central figure in Indian historiography is not in question. He is quoted across the political spectrum; in his notes on the relevance of the Asiatic Mode of Production to India, Perry Anderson relies almost entirely on Habib (though that must have rankled Ram Sharan Sharma). Ian Wright may find this piece interesting as well as Habib refers to a petty mode of commodity production not only in England but also China and India. SEE ALSO AMIYA KUMAR BAGCHI's review of Habib's Essays in Indian History: Towards a Marxist Perception, 1995, http://dsal.uchicago.edu/books/socialscientist/pager.html?issue=272-74&objectid=HN681.S597_272-74_091.gif Social Scientist. v 24, no. 272-74 (Jan-Mar 1996) p. 89. Bagchi ends the review by subjecting Habib's untenable views on the character of what was actually existing socialism to sharp critique.
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