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Meiksins Wood, E. (1991). The pristine culture of capitalism: An historical essay on old regimes and modern states. Londres: Verso Books. 
Added by: Dominique Meeùs (2016-02-21 17:13:45)   Last edited by: Dominique Meeùs (2016-05-31 19:34:22)
Resource type: Book
Languages: English
BibTeX citation key: MeiksinsWood1991
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Categories: Économie, Histoire
Keywords: Angleterre, capitalisme, féodalisme, féodalité
Creators: Meiksins Wood
Publisher: Verso Books (Londres)
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Librairie    The Book Depository, Londres
Added by: Dominique Meeùs  
Date d’achat    lundi 25 janvier 2016
Added by: Dominique Meeùs  
p.41   Yet there is more to the debate than this. Dobb and Hilton certainly depart from the commercialization model by situating the ‘prime mover’ in the countryside instead of in the town, and by focusing on class struggle between appropriators and producers instead of on the expansion of trade. But one critical assumption stays the same : capitalism emerges when the fetters of feudalism are removed. Capitalism is somehow already present in the interstices of feudalism, just waiting there to be released.   Added by: Dominique Meeùs
Keywords:   capitalisme féodalité commerce transition au capitalisme transition debate
pp.52-54   …, like Dobb and Hilton, Brenner looked for a dynamic internal to feudalism. But here is the major difference between his approach and theirs : what he was explicitly looking for was an internal dynamic that did not presuppose an already existent capitalist logic.

Class struggle figures prominently in his argument, as it did in Dobb’s and Hilton’s, but with Brenner it is not a question of liberating an impulse toward capitalism. Instead, it is a matter of lords and peasants, in certain specific conditions peculiar to England, involuntarily setting in train a capitalist dynamic while acting, in class conflict with each other, to reproduce themselves as they were. The unintended consequence was a situation in which producers were subjected to market imperatives. So Brenner really did depart from the old model and its tendency to assume the very thing that needs to be explained.

Brenner’s explanation has to do with the very specific conditions of English property relations, and he emphasizes not just the specificity of Europe in relation to other cases but the differences among various states in Europe. In other words, the distinctive conditions that, for example, Michael Mann attributes to Europe in general in the Middle Ages are, for Brenner, not enough to explain the development of capitalism, or the specificity of the process of self-sustaining economic growth that emerged in England. In fact, his argument makes it clear that the dissolution of feudalism had more than one outcome in Europe — in particular, capitalism in England and absolutism in France, an absolutism that was not, as it was for Perry Anderson, simply a transitional phase in a more or less unilinear path toward capitalism.

In England, an exceptionally large proportion of land was owned by landlords and worked by tenants whose conditions of tenure increasingly took the form of economic leases, with rents not fixed by law or custom but responsive to market conditions. It could even be said that there existed a market in leases. The conditions of tenure were such that growing numbers of tenants were subjected to market imperatives — not the opportunity to produce for the market and to grow from petty producers into capitalists but the need to specialize for the market and to produce competitively — simply in order to guarantee access to the means of subsistence and to the land itself. This was in contrast to peasants, who, because they remained in direct possession of their means of subsistence, were shielded from competition and the compulsions of the market, even if they engaged in market exchange.

At the same time, landlords in England were also in a special position. Although they controlled a uniquely large proportion of the best land, they did not enjoy — and did not really need — the kinds of extra-economic powers on which, say, the French aristocracy depended for much of its wealth. The English ruling class was distinctive in its growing dependence on the productivity of tenants, rather than on exerting coercive power to squeeze more surplus out of them.

In other words, English property relations had what Brenner calls their own distinctive ‘rules for reproduction’. Both direct producers and landlords came to depend on the market in historically unprecedented ways just to secure the conditions of their own self-reproduction. These rules produced their own distinctive laws of motion. The result was to set in train a new historical dynamic: an unprecented rupture with old Malthusian cycles, a process of self-sustaining development, new competitive pressures that had their own effects on the need to increase productivity, reconfiguring and further concentrating landholding, and so on. This new dynamic is agrarian capitalism (which will be discussed in greater detail in Part II), and it was specific to England.

Although Brenner was clearly influenced by Dobb and Hilton, the diEerence between his argument and theirs should by now be clear. The operative principle in his argument is compulsion or imperative, not opportunity. If, for example, the petty commodity producer or yeoman farmer plays a major role here, it is not as the agent of an opportunity but as the subject of an imperative. Yeomen were typically the very kind of capitalist tenants who were subject to competitive pressures, and even owner-occupiers would be subject to those pressures once the competitive productivity of agrarian capitalism set the terms of economic survival. Both landlords and tenants came to depend on success in the market, as the former relied on the profits of the latter for their rents. Both had an interest in agricultural ‘improvement’, the enhancement of productivity by means of innovative land use and techniques, which often implied, among other things, enclosure — not to mention the increasing exploitation of wage labour.

In a sense, Brenner also answered Sweezy’s question about the ‘really revolutionary way’. The capitalist tenant in England was not just a petty producer who had grown into a capitalist. His specific relation to the means of production, the conditions in which he had access to land itself, in a sense made him a capitalist fiom the start — that is, he became a capitalist not just because he had grown to some appropriate size or level of prosperity, not even just because his relative wealth allowed him to employ wage labour (non-capitalist farmers even in the ancient world were known to employ wage labour), but because his relations to the means of his own self-reproduction from the outset subjected him, together with any wage labourers he may have employed, to market imperatives. 

  Added by: Dominique Meeùs
Keywords:   Angleterre Brenner capitalisme Dobb féodalisme féodalité Hilton Sweezy transition au capitalisme transition debate
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