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Ellen Meiksins Wood

Abstract

One fundamental assumption seems to underlie – explicitly or implicitly – every critique of Brenner I have seen: that there can be no such thing as a Marxist theory of competition, the ‘horizontal’ relation among many capitals, that does not presuppose the ‘vertical’ class relation between capital and living labour. To start (if not also to end) with the relation between capital and living labour is the only way to establish one's Marxist credentials (establishing those credentials does, by the way, seem to be the critical, even the sole, issue for those who engage Brenner's argument on that plane, without considering the empirical or explanatory power of his argument). In support of that assumption, more than one critic has invoked Marx's comment that competition does not produce or explain capitalist laws of motion but merely executes them, as their visible manifestation in the external movements of individual capitals. Predictably, too, some critics have gleefully turned against Brenner the charge he has famously levelled against other Marxists: that his focus on competition and the market makes him a ‘neo-Smithian’.

Ellen Meiksins Wood

Abstract

Ellen Wood replies here to the symposium on her book, Empire of Capital, by laying out her views on the specificity of capitalism and capitalist imperialism, the relation between global capital and territorial states, the problematic concepts of 'globalisation' and 'financialisation', and how our understanding of capitalism affects our conceptions of oppositional struggle.

Ellen Meiksins Wood

Abstract

Since historians first began explaining the emergence of capitalism, there has scarcely existed an explanation that did not begin by assuming the very thing that needed to be explained. Almost without exception, accounts of the origin of capitalism have been fundamentally circular: they have assumed the prior existence of capitalism in order to explain its coming into being. My intention here is to sketch a kind of potted history of these question — begging explanations and to consider their implications. I shall start with what has been called the ‘commercialisation model’, which has its origins in classical political economy and Enlightenment conceptions of progress. This model is arguably still the dominant one, even among its harshest critics, including both the demographic explanations that claim to have displaced the commercialisation model, and also most Marxist accounts, from the transition debate which started in the ‘50s until today. But there does now exist an important alternative account, and I shall end by considering that too.

Ellen Meiksins Wood

Series:

Ellen Meiksins Wood

Edited by Larry Patriquin

Ellen Meiksins Wood is a leading contemporary political theorist who has elaborated an innovative approach to the history of political thought, the ‘social history of political theory’. She has been described as the founder, together with the historian Robert Brenner, of ‘Political Marxism’, a distinct version of historical materialism which has inspired a research program that spans a number of academic disciplines. Organized thematically, this Reader brings together selections from Wood’s groundbreaking scholarship, published over three decades, providing an overview of her original interpretations of capitalism, precapitalist societies, the state, political theory, democracy, citizenship, liberalism, civil society, the Enlightenment, globalization, imperialism, and socialism.