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Re: Literature on Capitalism and Merchant Capital
by Louis Proyect
06 March 2002 18:42 UTC
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At 09:15 AM 3/6/2002 -0800, you wrote:
>I'd like to know more about the debate on the origins
>of capitalism and the role of merchant capital (if
>any)on the process. Will someone please suggest some
>informative pieces on the discussion.
>Perry Kyles
>Florida International University

I am assuming that this was meant for the list rather than me personally.

Robert Brenner, "Merchants and Revolutions: Commercial Change, Political
Conflict, and London's Overseas Traders, 1550-1653"

Maurice Dobb, "Studies in the Development of Capitalism" 

A.L. Morton, "People's History of England"

Ernest Mandel, "Marxist Economic Theory"

Karl Marx, Capital, v. 3

Christopher Hill, "The century of revolution, 1603-1714"

Speaking for myself, I think the term 'mercantile capital' is open to all
sorts of confusion. It has tended to serve as some kind of synonym for
early colonial capitalism in the writings of all the above authors. Marx
writes in V. 3 of Capital:

"Since merchant's capital is. penned in the sphere of circulation, and
since its function consists exclusively of promoting the exchange of
commodities, it requires no other conditions for its existence -- aside
from the undeveloped forms arising from direct barter -- outside those
necessary for the simple circulation of commodities and money. Or rather,
the latter is the condition of its existence. No matter what the basis on
which products are produced, which are thrown into circulation as
commodities -- whether the basis of the primitive community, of slave
production, of small peasant and petty bourgeois, or the capitalist basis,
the character of products as commodities is not altered, and as commodities
they must pass through the process of exchange and its attendant changes of
form. The extremes between which merchant's capital acts as mediator exist
for it as given, just as they are given for money and for its movements.
The only necessary thing is that these extremes should be on hand as
commodities, regardless of whether production is wholly a production of
commodities, or whether only the surplus of the independent producers'
immediate needs, satisfied by their own production, is thrown on the
market. Merchant's capital promotes only the movements of these extremes,
of these commodities, which are preconditions of its own existence."

The problem is that this might describe between Europe and China in the
14th century, it does not really address what was going on between Europe
and the New World 2 to 4 centuries later. There is a tendency to conflate
the two times and places because it is convenient. If the Aztec and the
Maya had been able to fend off the invaders and if trade had taken place on
a more less equal basis, then the term might have some meaning. In fact,
what took place in 15th-17th century Peru, Bolivia and New Spain was
primitive accumulation identical to that taking place in Europe, but with
an even more vicious logic. This is not "mercantile capitalism", it is

Louis Proyect
Marxism mailing list: http://www.marxmail.org

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