More of Frank/Landes

Mark Jones Jones_M at
Mon Jun 1 15:38:02 PDT 1998

Gunder Frank is haunted by Marx like the ghost of Hamlet's father. He keeps on interring him, and his new book ReORIENT is full of the sound of shovels:

<<Therefore, Marx's description of China as a "mummy preserved in a

hermetically sealed coffin ... vegetating in the teeth of time"

had absolutely no basis in fact. Nor did [Marx's] idea that a

supposed AMP reigned in India, Persia, Egypt or anywhere else.

That was no more than "Orientalism painted Red" as Tibebu (1990)

aptly remarked.>>

[excerpts posted by Frank to the Communist-Manifesto elist]

When did Marx write these words, which Frank has misquoted? They were written on 20 May 1853, in an article published by the New York Daily Tribune in June that year. The Taiping Rebellion was convulsing China.Marx describes not paralysis but a 'formidable revolution' which Marx says will cause 'the next uprising of the people of Europe'.

So Marx is hailing the tumultuous destruction of the Chinese ancien regime, and THIS is the 'mummy' broken open by the *Chinese* masses, their revolt being catalysed by British opium and gunships: "Before the British arms the authority of the Manchu dynsasty fell to pieces.'

The cataclysm would consume perhaps 50 million Chinese lives. Marx assumed that revolution in China would trigger economic crisis and political upheaval in Europe too: "It would be a curious spectacle, that of China sending disorder into the Western world while the Western powers, by English, French and American war-steamers, are conveying 'order' to Shanghai, Nanking...' ('Surveys from Exile',Penguin 1973, p.325-323)

Marx was clear about the forces that make the 'whole world economic structure and dynamic shape and differentiate its sectoral and regional parts East and West, North and South.' [Gunder Frank to CM-150 ?27/28 Jan 1998]. There is not an atom of eurocentrism even this journalistic piece. In any case it was written when Marx had yet to complete his theorisation of the world-system, while writing the Grundrisse (1857-59).

So Frank is attacking a straw-Marx:

<<Marx's contention that "in broad outline,

Asiatic, ancient, feudal, and modern bourgeois modes of

production may be designated as epochs marking progress in the

economic development of society" was pure ideological fiction and

had no basis in fact or science [quotations from Marx are from

Brook (1989:11,6)]. There never have been any such epochs, and

the very idea of unilinear transitions from one "mode of

production" to another, be they on a "societal" or a world-wide

basis, only divert attention from the real historical process,

which has been world-wide, but horizontally integrative and


This time Frank's quotation comes not from Marx's penny-a-line journalism but from the celebrated Preface to the 'Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy' (1859) where Marx also says all those other famous things:

<<The mode of production of material life conditions the

general process of social, political and intellectual life. It is not

the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but their

social existence that determines their consciousness. At a certain

stage of development, the material productive forces of society come

into conflict with the existing relations of production ...>>

<<changes in the economic foundation lead sooner or later to the

transformation of the whole immense superstructure...>>

<<No social order is ever destroyed before all the

productive forces for which it is sufficient have been developed, and

new superior relations of production never replace older ones before

the material conditions for their existence have matured within the

framework of the old society. Mankind thus inevitably sets itself

only such tasks as it is able to solve...>>

Etcetera. This at least is not journalism. But it is still not theory; it is just a popular outline. But Frank never engages with Marx's theoretical work -- he would find no support for his view that Marx was a stageist with a precocious sociology of class.

A 'broad outline' is just that: a simplification. Weigh this against the immense, painstaking labour Marx carried out in his major works, to determine with theoretical rigour, the evolution of social production.

Frank attacks 'stages' and 'modes of production' as if Marx logically/historically derived one from the other. But he did not. What he did do was develop a concept of 'forces and relations' of production, synthesizing legal and political forms, cultural instances, the construction of the social subject, the production of social classes, with the process of material production.

Now what is interesting is that Marx never ESSENTIALISED classes or epochs. He did not regard feudalism, the ancient, or the Asiatic modes of production as discrete historical phenomena sufficient unto themselves. Frank's reading of Marx's 'unilinear transitions from one "mode of production" to another', is a travesty.

As Frank does, Marx employed a variety of methods to derive both segmental and holistic analyses. In Capital III he discusses usury, credit, fictitious capital etc and analyses usury in ancient Rome, China and India as well as contemporary British capitalism. Usury in ancient Rome reached a bizarre extreme, ruining whole social classes and enslaving freemen. From the point of view of capitalist apologists, usury belongs to earlier, more oppressive worlds, its florid excesses not visible *especially* in the northern European variant of post-reformation capitalism.

Thus modern capitalism supposedly permits the free wage labourer to be a sovereign subject; and interest rates under capitalism are low. Whereas in the world of the usurer, everything is different: 'not content with squeezing the surplus-labour out of his victim, [the usurer] gradually acquires possession even of his very conditions of labour, land, house, etc.,and is continually engaged in thus exproptiating him.' (Cap III, Moscow 1974 p.395).

But the apologists have got it wrong when they point to capital's supposed emancipatory advantages, for they have again 'forgotten that, on the other hand, this complete expropriation of the labourer from his conditions of labour is not a result which the capitalist mode of production seeks to achieve, but rather the established condition for its point of departure.' [loc. cit.]. Usury is thus one of the foundation-stones of modern capitalism. Even in ancient Rome usury could never, except temporarily, unusually and partially, sequestrate the means of production from the producers.

Earlier [precapitalist] modes of production prefigure social forms which are only fully realised within capitalism itself. That's not all they do, of course. They may prefigure quite different alternatives and point in radically other directions. The telos of capital is retrospective as well as implicit; nevertheless (to put it another way) attributes of precapitalist social formations may entail capitalism *and be entailed by it* as a condition of their own realisation in history.

Like Frank, Marx is 'horizontally integrative and cyclical'. Marx does not devalue the worth of any precapitalist society or attribute, merely because it did not lead to capitalism. On the contrary, he was an anti-Landesian, applauding the instances of collectivism, solidarity and protocommunist zeitgeist as worthy just because they did *not* anticipate European capitalism. And in his comprehension of the many different ways in which the world functioned as a dynamic, holistic system, Marx included both trade ('the world market constitutes the world system') and cultural and political interactions, as we have seen.

When Frank adds (quoting Brook):

<<Alas, "the importance of Marx's analysis of Asia is ... that it

functioned as an integral part of the process through which he

constructed his theory of capitalism" (Brook 1989:6). "The

importance of Orientalism for the study of Marxism lies ... [in]

the notion that, in contrast to Western society, Islamic [and

other Oriental] civilization is static and locked within its

sacred customs, its formal moral code, and its religious law"

(Turner 1978:6). To that extent, Marx's entire "theory of

capitalism" was vitiated

It is clear that this judgment is erroneous and even meaningless. Marx saw anything but stasis in China, and was somewhat over-confident about European dependence on Chinese political outcomes, if anything. And in what sense was Marx's analysis of Asia 'integral to his theory of capitalism'? In no sense at all. Frank may consign me and Jim Blaut to a ghetto as much as he likes, but he still has not interred Marx.

Gunder Frank says:

<<If however, anyone contends that particular kind of

inter-class struggle between exploiters/oppressors and exploited/oppressed

is THE 'motor' force of history, then all history proves that to be

mistaken, for that has never been the case [show us even one case! you

cannot], especially from one 'mode of production' to another [ie slaves

did not abolish slavery, and serfs did not abolish feudalism].>>

This misreading of Marx seems almost impossible to overcome. One can only repeat that it is not so. Marx was not a follower of Talcott Parsons nor even of Anthony Giddens. He DID NOT think that 'the class of slaves' existed logically or historically prior to the mode[s] of production which utilised slavery. Therefore slavery was imbricated into a social totality which it both determined and which also formed its own conditions of existence.

What doomed ancient slavery was not Spartacist revolts but inter alia an inexorable decline in soil fertility and productivity, and the misappropriation of surplus, which in any case had few or no productive outlets *within the confines of slavery* any more than (it might be argued) modern capitalism can escape the impasse of surplus capital on one side and surplus population on the other, because the US-based global system is too constrained for a new long boom to break the logjam and soak up the surpluses.

This is the kind of class-based analysis Marx deployed; the idea that he presupposed the emergence of Gramscian consciousness of the slave class is risible.

Nevertheless slavery was finally destroyed in ancient Rome by the emergence of new protofeudal forms at the margins, such as the German comitates, which did engender a distinct self-awareness, one militantly hostile to slavery.

To say that 'all history' lacks evidence of a single subject class taking over is a big claim, anyway. I should like to see Gunder Frank argue that one out with Rousseau. Or better still, with Robespierre.

Again on modes of production adn accumulation-regimes, Frank says:

<<Without wanting to equate or compare myself with Marx, I on the

other hand wrote [with Barry Gills in Review 1992 and chapter 5 of our


'showed' or at least argued that the process of accumulation is WORLD

systemic, indeed the motor force of world history, since the day 1, and

of course primarily outside of Europe. Moreover, we argued that [showed

how?] that process of accumulation is itself driven by the motor force of

competition - between different interest groups that struggle with each

other [which is not the same as the 'traditional' Marxist 'class'struggle].>>

I am afraid this does not take us beyond a shallow sociology. Actually, one could not talk about 'accumulation' and focus on competition, as long as one was careful to tease out the logical and historical genesis of *forms* of competition, and did not merely essentialise the category. But one would then be forced to look again at modes of production, at the interplay of those who work and those who control, and at how this dyadic dynamic forces technological change and increases in labour-productivity.

Otherwise, apart from anything else, one has no answers to Landes, Jones et al when they essentialise innovation as an independent (transhistorical) variable.

Mark Jones

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