Globalising the History of Capital: Ways Forward

In: Historical Materialism

Abstract

Anievas and Nişancıoğlu’s attempt to shift the terms of the debate about early modern capitalism by a major widening of its perspectives is a welcome move. Accepting this, the paper suggests that their argument can be more forcefully made if the theoretical residues of earlier traditions of Marxist historical explanation are purged from the way they expound that argument. The most ambivalent of these relates to their continued use of the idea of a ‘coexistence of modes of production’. This permeates the confused way they present Atlantic slavery. A second, comparable source of confusion concerns their description of the relationship between merchant capital and the absolutist state. The alliance between the modern state and mercantile capital is radically misrecognised thanks to an uncritical espousal of Anderson’s view of absolutism. The paper suggests that Anievas and Nişancıoğlu might have written a stronger book had they reconceptualised the economic history of capitalism by allowing for a whole epoch dominated by powerful groups of merchant capitalists. In conclusion, I argue (pace Marx) that the commercial capital of the later middle ages/early modern period was the first form in which production began to be subordinated to capital.

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