Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

May 30, 2013

Post gets pasted

Filed under: slavery,transition debate — louisproyect @ 2:44 pm

Charles A. Post

Science and Society, April 2013
The American Path of Bourgeois Development Revisited
by Daniel Gaido

(From the Haymarket author’s page: “Gaido is a researcher at the National Research Council (Conicet) in Argentina. He is the author of The Formative Period of American Capitalism and is currently working on a book on the history of German social democracy.”)


“The American Road to Capitalism” is an attempt to apply to the United Sates Robert Brenner’s model of the transition from feudalism to capitalism in England. According to Brenner, English landlords gave birth to capitalism in the countryside by turning their peasants into tenants in the early 16th century. Since in the United States there was no class of feudal landlords to act as prime movers of an “agrarian” capitalist development, Post makes the merchant-turned-land speculator the demiurge of American capitalism, asserting, against all historical evidence, that this class was able to “impose a social monopoly on land” shortly after the American revolution. The rest of Post’s theses on the American revolution, Southern plantation slavery, the Civil War and reconstruction are just elaborations of this fundamentally mistaken interpretation.

What the historical record shows is that the two American bourgeois revolutions — a notion that Brenner, Post and their fellow “political Marxists” reject — actually facilitated access to the land at nominal prices for white settlers. This widespread landownership amounted to a form of land nationalization that created favorable conditions for capitalist development through the abolition of ground rent, which constitutes a precapitalist barrier to the development of the productive forces under capitalism. This, and the absence of an absolutist state bureaucracy, in turn fostered the generalization of commodity production in the countryside, creating a wide home market for the development of industry in the North, which eventually dominated the Union in the aftermath of the Civil War. That is what Lenin showed in his analysis of the American path of bourgeois development,” which remains the foundation of any materialist approach to American history. Due to the weakness of Marxism in the United States, progress in this field has consisted mostly in setting the “American path of bourgeois development” in its peculiar settler colonialist — i.e., white supremacist — context, but the peculiarities of American capitalist development, their impact on class struggles and, through them, the ways in which those peculiarities shaped American political history largely remain to be explored.


  1. That is a very interesting book indeed.

    Comment by matthewrusso9Matt — June 4, 2013 @ 11:05 pm

  2. Pasted??? Gaido’s review basically amounts to him saying “Post is wrong” without actually demonstrating it, or refuting any of his main arguments. Anyone can say “No, it didn’t happen like that. Here’s how it happened.” But in the absence of anything to back it up, its just letters on a page.

    The claim that land was “facilitated at nominal prices for white settlers” not only has been refuted in the literature, but is also refuted by simple common sense. The fact that by the 1860s the government had to pass a law in order to give land away free of charge shows that up to that time most land was NOT free, otherwise there would have been little need for the homestead act.

    As for the “generalization of commodity production in the countryside”, Gaido can’t actually explain what gave rise to that. There is a general consensus that the earliest colonists were subsistence based, and had limited engagement in commodity production. Somehow that changes by the 19th century, with the development of market-oriented production. What led to this important change? Gaido doesn’t have an explanation, and his only response to Post’s explanation is “No, it didn’t happen that way.”

    Comment by Betty — June 19, 2014 @ 2:04 pm

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