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(en) France, Alternative Libertaire AL #286 - Read: Birh, "The First Age of Capitalism (1415-1763)" (fr, it, pt)[machine translation]

Date Wed, 10 Oct 2018 09:36:07 +0300

After twelve years of research, Alain Bihr publishes L'Expansion européenne , the first volume of a trilogy on the development of capitalism. ---- How is capitalism possible ? This question is not rhetorical. Capitalism is defined by a process of capital accumulation that requires two conditions: on the one hand, there must be a mass of poor proletarians - even poor, depending on the case - having no choice but to sell their labor power . On the other hand, there must be a minority with economic capital guaranteed by a coercive power (a state) that allows these proletarians to work. The problem posed by Marx is that it constitutes a logical circle: to accumulate capital, one must already have some ... How did this " primitive accumulation of capital" occur even before capitalism ?

The great innovation of Marx was to show that this was a violent extortion and not a peaceful accumulation by simple hoarders. It was first necessary to impoverish masses to enrich capitalists. The different stages of this process are known: the enclosures (the expropriation of the peasants from their lands, then the rural exodus transforming former peasants from the countryside into proletarians of the cities) ; the various laws confirming the disappearance of the " commons " (the young Marx, then a journalist, had studied a law prohibiting the collection of wood) ; the appearance of the manufactures (and their break with the old cooperations in the work) ; the domination of the industrial capitalist mode of production at European and then world level.

Conquest and expropriation
Alain Bihr's book, which goes back to the history of this " primitive accumulation ", shows how the development of industry required, beforehand, the submission of part of the world to the great European states. Capitalist economics and nation-state development went hand in hand, and were imposed on the world.

How ? This is the question that the book tries to answer, analyzing all the forms that this expansion has taken, from the less brutal (trade) to the more violent (colonization). What resistance did the other companies have ? To understand it, it is necessary to study the way in which " the attack " occurred (development of the ports and the maritime trade, the national armies etc.), but also the social conditions of the " defense " of the companies. Abyssal work of magnitude.

In The Prehistory of Capital (2006), Alain Bihr examined the conditions for the formation of the emergence of capitalist relations of production within feudalism. He concluded then that " feudalism, as it was formed in Europe at the end of the first millennium and in the Japanese archipelago in the course of the first half of the second millennium, is the most favorable, at the limit the only favorable, to the formation of this report of production " . But feudalism alone was not a sufficient condition. It also took " globalization ". Not the one fantasized as a natural extension of the exchanges between human beings on the Earth and condition of a perpetual peace between the States, but the violent globalization of the conquest and the expropriation, the one which was nourished of the blood and tears, in the mud of battles.

Bernard Gougeon (South-Educ 81)

Alain Bihr, The First Age of Capitalism (1415-1763). Volume 1: The European Expansion , Syllepse / Page 2, 2018, 700 pages, 30 euros.

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