Manuel De Landa on Thu, 21 Nov 96 06:45 MET

[Date Prev] [Date Next] [Thread Prev] [Thread Next] [Date Index] [Thread Index]

nettime: more on barbrook/delanda debate.


In the interest of making the main ideas behind this debate a little
clearer (and the theoretical stakes explicit) I am sending a few notes to
NetTime. I begin with a few representative quotes from Braudel, since part
of what this debate is about is the importance of historical data. I do not
mean to imply a naive conception of historians giving us this "raw data"
than the we use to "test" our theories, but economics has always suffered
from a debilitating separation between theory and historical data. It is
true that the classical economists is (Smith, Ricardo,Marx) did take
history into account when they built their theories, but the historical
data-base available to them was much more limited than what we have today.
The point is that, if we, with Braudel, consider this larger data base, we
find out that the models these great writers gave us need to be repaired,
in some cases, drastically repaired. The key change, in my view, is that
economic dynamics have to be viewed as much more heterogenous than we
thought. In particular, instead of being such that a monolithic concept
such as "capitalist mode of production" can do justice to them, economic
dynamics need at least two terms: markets and anti-markets, with only the
latter being the type that we would identify with "capitalism". So, here
are the quotes. Braudel pictures the economy as composed of three levels,
the lowest that of the food producers and what he calls "material life"
(which need not concern us here); then comes the level of market life (that
is, of retail trade and small scale production) and then the level of the
anti-market (luxury items and money/credit trade, wholesale trade, large
scale production). Braudel then says:

"we should not be too quick to assume that capitalism embraces the whole of
western society, that it accounts for every stitch in the social
fabric...that our societies are organized from top to bottom in a
'capitalist system'. On the contrary, ...there is a dialectic still very
much alive between capitalism on one hand, and its antithesis, the
'non-capitalism' of the lower level on the other." And he adds that,
indeed, capitalism was carried upward and onward on the shoulders of small
shops and "the enormous creative powers of the market, of the lower storey
of exchange...[This] lowest level, not being paralysed by the size of its
plant or organization, is the one readiest to adapt; it is the seedbed of
inspiration, improvisation and even innovation, although its most brilliant
discoveries sooner or later fall into the hands of the holders of capital.
It was not the capitalists who brought about the first cotton revolution;
all the new ideas came from enterprising small businesses."

Fernand Braudel. The Perspective of the World.  p.630 and 631

Contemporary institutional economists support such a view. According to
Galbraith in the 1960's about 50% of the US economy was dominated by
anti-markets (what he calls the "planning system" to emphasize the
managerial, hierarchical nature of the corporations he's refering to, and
how little they have to do with supply/demand).

John Keneth Galbraith. The New Industrial State. (Houghton Mifflin, Boston

Braudel (and many other economic historians) emphasizes other forms of
heterogeneity, in particular, the coexistance and interactions between
different economic systems. In particular, the importance (as far as the
"modernist" program that seems to concern Richard so much) of the period
between the years 1000 and 1300. This is the most intense period of
European urbanization, not matched again until the Industrial Revolution,
and this, right in the middle of feudalism. Each one of those towns
constituted an "island" in which feudal restrictions could be relaxed or
even abolished. (The town as a whole did have to pay rent to the feudal
landlord, but not the individual citizens). While some of these towns,
particularly those playing the role of regional "capitals" (such  as
Florence, Paris etc) did impose their own regulations on market life which
made the latter not very self-regulating (as Richard correctly asserts
about guild-controlled prices), in other tows, typically maritime cities
serving as gateways to foreign markets (Venice, Genoa, and later, Lisbon,
Amsterdam, London) commerce and finance were detached from many traditional
constraints and became (according to Braudel) very "modern". Now, the point
is, again, to the need to keep in mind these heterogeneity ("modern"
commercial/finantial practices coexisting with feudal production and with
guild/state controlled urban economics, and all these in complex mixtures
varying across Europe. It is this complex past (which looks so different
that a neat, linear progression of modes of production) that I need our
theories of economics must do justice to. As important as 18th century
England is in economic history one cannot possibly reduce the entire
economic history of the world to a supposed transition between feudalism
and capitalism happening there after 1750. To end this brief excursion with
another quote, this one involving the actual date of birth of capitalism
(that is, not the "mode of production" but the start of the proliferation
of antimarket institutions in the population of European commercial

"I am therefore inclined to see the European world-economy as having taken
shape very early on; I do not share with Immanuel Wallerstein's fascination
with the sixteenth century...For Wallerstein, the European world-economy
was the matrix of capitalism. I do not dispute this point since to say
central zone or capitalism is to talk about the same reality. By the same
token, however, to argue that the world-economy built in the sixteenth
century on its European site was not the first to occupy this small but
extraordinary continent, amounts to saying that capitalism did not wait
until the sixteenth century to make its first appeareance. I am therefore
in agreement with the Marx who wrote (although he later went back on this)
that European capitalism -indeed he even says capitalist production- began
in thirteenth-century Italy. This debate is anything but academic".
ibid. p. 57

And finally, on the question of "progression of modes of production" (that
is, the idea that society forms a totality which moves through a series of
obligatory "stages") here's Braudel saying, no, capitalism could have
emerged anywhere (China, Islam, The caravans along the silk-route etc) if
(and this is a big IF) zones which were relatively autonomous from central
states had existed or been more extense. (i.e cities like Canton, or
Islamic Cordova). Almost as if capitalism were like a "phase", (as when one
speaks of the"liquid", or solid phases of matter) and not a "developmental

"I am tempted to agree with Deleuze and Guattari that 'after a fashion,
capitalism has been a spectre haunting every form of society' -capitalism,
that is, as I have defined it."  [i.e. as anti-markets].
ibid. p. 581

Manuel DeLanda

Manuel DeLanda

*  distributed via nettime-l : no commercial use without permission
*  <nettime> is a closed moderated mailinglist for net criticism,
*  collaborative text filtering and cultural politics of the nets
*  more info: and "info nettime" in the msg body
*  URL:  contact: