Brenner debate

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The Brenner debate was a major historical debate, characterised in 1985 by the historians Trevor Aston and C. H. E. Philpin as 'one of the most important historical debates of recent years'.[1] The debate tested the thesis of Robert Brenner's article "Agrarian Class Structure and Economic Development in Pre-Industrial Europe", published in the seventieth issue of the academic journal Past & Present,[2] and was given focus by a symposium in around 1977, several contributions to which appeared in the pagest of the same journal. Brenner's article and the discussions that followed it have a broad significance for understanding the origins of capitalism, and were foundational to the 'Political Marxism' movement.[3]

The debate has been seen as a successor to the 'Transition debate', conducted in the journal Science & Society in response to Maurice Dobb's 1946 Studies in the Development of Capitalism.[4] As with the Brenner Debate, these articles were subsequently collected and published as a book.[5]

Postan and Hatcher characterised the debate as attempting to determine whether Malthusian cyclic explanations of population and development or social class explanations governed demographic and economic change in Europe.[6] The debate confounded existing beliefs regarding class relations in the Economy of England in the Middle Ages and agricultural societies with serfdom in general, engaging twentieth-century historiography of the economics of feudalism in the West and the Soviet Union. It has remained influential in twenty-first century scholarship.[7][8]

Publication[edit]

Brenner's original article, and the symposium on it, led to a series of publications in Past & Present:

  • Brenner, Robert (1976). ‘Agrarian Class Structure and Economic Development in Pre-Industrial Europe,’ Past & Present, 70, February, pp. 30–75.
  • Postan, M. M. & John Hatcher (1978). ‘Population and Class Relations in Feudal Society,’ Past & Present, 78, February, pp. 24–37.
  • Croot, Patricia & David Parker (1978). ‘Agrarian Class Structure and the Development of Capitalism: France and England Compared,’ Past & Present, 78, February, pp. 37–47
  • Wunder, Heide (1978). ‘Peasant Organization and Class Conflict in Eastern and Western Germany,’ Past & Present, 78, February, pp. 48–55.
  • Le Roy Ladurie, Emmanuel (1978). ‘A Reply to Robert Brenner,’ Past & Present, 79, May, pp. 55–59
  • Bois, Guy (1978). ‘Against the Neo-Malthusian Orthodoxy,’ Past & Present, 79, May, pp. 60–69
  • Hilton, R. H. (1978). ‘A Crisis of Feudalism,’ Past & Present, 80, August, 3-19
  • Cooper, J. P. (1978). ‘In Search of Agrarian Capitalism,’ Past & Present, 80, August, pp. 20–65
  • Klíma, Arnošt (1979). ‘Agrarian Class Structure and Economic Development in Pre-Industrial Bohemia,’ Past & Present, 85, November, pp. 49–67
  • Brenner, Robert (1982). ‘The Agrarian Roots of European Capitalism,’ Past & Present, 97 November, pp. 16–113

These studies were republished with some additional material in The Brenner Debate: Agrarian Class Structure and Economic Development in Pre-Industrial Europe, ed. by Trevor Aston and C.H.E. Philpin, Past and Present Publications (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985), ISBN 0521268176, which was to be reprinted many times.

A related and parallel debate also took place in the pages of the New Left Review:

  • Brenner, Robert (1977). ‘The Origins of Capitalist Development: A Critique of Neo-Smithian Marxism‘, New Left Review, I/104, July–August pp. 25–92.
  • Sweezy, Paul (1978). ‘Comment on Brenner,’ New Left Review, I/108, March–April, pp. 94–5
  • Brenner, Robert (1978). ‘Reply to Sweezy,’ New Left Review, I/108, March–April, pp. 95–6
  • Fine, Ben (1978). ‘On the Origins of Capitalist Development,’ New Left Review, I/109, May–June, pp. 88–95

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Trevor Aston and C. H. E. Philpin, 'Preface', in The Brenner Debate: Agrarian Class Structure and Economic Development in Pre-Industrial Europe, ed. by Trevor Aston and C.H.E. Philpin, Past and Present Publications (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985), p. vii.
  2. ^ Agrarian Class Structure and Economic Development in Pre-Industrial Europe. Past and Present 70 (1976), pp. 30–74
  3. ^ Ellen Meikisins Wood, The Origin of Capitalism: A Longer View, 2nd edn (London: Verso, 2002), esp. pp. 50–64.
  4. ^ Chris Harman, 'The Rise of Capitalism', International Socialism Journal, 102 (Spring 2004).
  5. ^ The Transition from Feudalism to Capitalism, ed. by R. H. Hilton (London: Verso, 1976).
  6. ^ M. M. Postan, John Hatcher, "Population and Class relations in Feudal society" Past & Present 78 (1) 24–25
  7. ^ Peasants into Farmers? The Transformation of Rural Economy and Society in the Low Countries (Middle Ages- 19th Century) in Light of the Brenner Debate, ed. by Peter Hoppenbrouwers and Jan Luiten van Zanden, CORN Publication Series, 4 (Turnhout: Brepols, 2001), ISBN 250351006X.
  8. ^ Ellen Meikisins Wood, The Origin of Capitalism: A Longer View, 2nd ed. (London: Verso, 2002), esp. pp. 50–64.