File spoon-archives/marxism-international.archive/marxism-international_1997/marxism-international.9710, message 64


Date: Sun, 5 Oct 1997 20:45:27 -0400
Subject: Re: M-I: brenner pt. 2



On Sun, 5 Oct 1997 17:50:28 -0400 james m blaut
<70671.2032-AT-CompuServe.COM> writes:
>                            PART II.
>[...]

>     We come now to what is probably Brenner's
>strangest proposition. His theory is self-consciously
>Marxist, and self-consciously grounded in class
>struggle. In Marxist theory, class struggle tends to
>produce advances in cultural evolution because, putting
>the matter simply, the exploiters lose. For Brenner,
>the ruling class was defeated to the extent that
>peasants secured their freedom from serfdom. But this
>did not bring about the collapse of feudalism as a mode
>of production. That occurred (in England) roughly one
>hundred years later, according to Brenner, and it
>occurred because the ruling class won the class
>struggle. Brenner argues that, if the peasants had
>really won in the 14th century, the result would have
>been, not rural capitalism, but a society of
>freeholding peasant proprietors. Because peasant
>proprietors (in Brenner's thinking) are not innovative,
>are satisfied to have a bucolic existence on their
>subsistence holdings, this form of society would not
>have gone through a transformation to capitalism.
>Brenner now points to France and makes one of his
>limited (and invalid) comparisons. In France, he says
>(inaccurately), the peasants won definitively, so
>freeholding peasants really came to dominate the
>society, established cozy links with the crown against
>the landlords, and as a result managed to maintain
>
>their position.15 This explains why capitalism did not
>arise in France. In England, on the other hand, the
>peasants lost. They secured the ending of serfdom but
>they did not succeed in winning full proprietorship of
>their land: they remained tenants of the same landlords
>(Brenner, 1985a: 48-49, 61; 1985b: 307-311). As a
>result, says Brenner, there appeared a sub-class of
>peasants who parlayed tenancy into capitalist
>agriculture. They negotiated rents with the landlords,
>rented larger and larger holdings, hired labor, and so
>became capitalist farmers, paying a portion of their
>profits to the landlords just as modern small
>businesses pay rent to the owners of their factories
>and offices. For Brenner, this was the real cookpot of
>capitalism.16 So the fact that English peasants lost
>their class struggle is the crucial explanation for the
>ending of feudalism and the rising of capitalism. This
>turns the class-struggle theory on its head.
>
>
I haven't looked at Brenner for quite some time but nevertheless I
think Jim Blaut mischaracterizes Brenner's argument a bit.  My
understanding
of Brenner was that he saw the class struggle between peasants and
landlords as having three possible outcomes: (1) victory by the peasants
which resulted in the replacement of feudal relations by new relations
characterized by independent peasant proprietors - with France being
the paradigmatic example of this outcome.  As Jim correctly points out
under this outcome there would not be a transition to capitalism.
(2) outright victory by the landlords.  Under this outcome there would 
again be no transition to capitalism but instead a renewal of feudal
relations of production especially of serdom.  The paradigmatic examples
 of this for Brenner were Poland and Russia where feudalism persisted
into the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.(3) neither the landlords nor
peasants scored
an outright victory.  This outcome provides the conditions for the
development of agrarian capitalism.  This is because serfdom was
abolished
but the peasants did not take ownership of the land as had happenned in
France.  Instead the now free peasantry became stratified into tenant
farmers
and landless laborers.  The tenant farmers found that it was expedient to
employ and thus exploit the new stratum of free but landless laborers. 
Thus
the beginning of capitalist relations of production in agriculture.  Jim
B's
characterization of Brenner gives the impression that he is collapsing 
outcome (3) into outcome (2) in which case Brenner could then be truly
said to have stood class struggle theory on its head. 

			James F.


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