social conditions, everlasting uncertainty, and agitation distinguish thebourgeois epoch from all earlier ones. The bourgeoisie...draw all, eventhe most barbarian nations into civilization. The cheap prices of itscommodities are the heavy artillery with which it batters down allChinese walls...It compels all nations, on pain of extinction, to adopt thebourgeois mode of production; it compels them to introduce what it callscivilization into their midst, to become bourgeois themselves. In a word,
it creates a world after its own image
.’Many writers have quite properly pointed out that historicaldevelopments since the mid-nineteenth century have tended to belie this‘optimistic’, ‘progressist’ prognosis, in that the capitalist penetration of the ‘third world’ through trade and capital investment not only has failedto carry with it capitalist economic development, but has erected positivebarriers to such development. Yet the question remains, where did Marxerr? What was the theoretical basis for his incorrect expectations? Ascan be seen from the above quotation and many others from the sameperiod,
Marx was at first quite confident that capitalist economicexpansion, through trade and investment, would inevitably bring with itthe transformation of pre-capitalist social-productive relations—i.e. classrelations—and the establishment of capitalist social-productive relations,a
capitalist class structure
.It was clearly on the premise that capitalistexpansion would lead to the establishment of capitalist social relations of production on the ruins of the old modes, that he could predict world-wide economic development in a capitalist image.But, suppose capitalist expansion through trade and investment failed tobreak the old modes of production (a possibility which Marx laterenvisaged
); or actually tended to strengthen the old modes, or to erectother non-capitalist systems of social relations of production in place of the old modes? In this case, Marx’s prediction would fall to the ground.For whatever Marx thought about the origins of capitalist social-productive relations, he was quite clear that their establishment wasindispensable for the development of the productive forces, i.e. forcapitalist economic development. If expansion through trade andinvestment did not bring with it the transition to capitalist social-productive relations—manifested in the full emergence of labour poweras a commodity—there could be no capital accumulation on an extended
*I wish to thank Alice Amsden, Johanna Brenner, Temma Kaplan, Barbara Laslett,Richard Smith and Jon Wiener for reading this manuscript and offering criticisms andsuggestions. I am also grateful to Theda Skocpol for sending me, in advance of publication,her review essay on Immanuel Wallerstein’s
The Modern World System
,which was veryhelpful to me, especially on problems concerning the early modern European states.
See, for example: ‘England has to fulfil a double mission in India: one destructive, theother regenerating—the annihilation of old Asiatic society, and the laying of the materialfoundation of Western society in Asia.’ In ‘The Future Results of British Rule in India’, inKarl Marx,
Surveys From Exile
See, for example: ‘The obstacles presented by the internal solidity and organization of pre-capitalistic national modes of production to the corrosive influence of commerce arestrikingly illustrated in the intercourse of the English with India and China...Englishcommerce exerted a revolutionary influence on these communities and tore them apart, onlyin so far as the low prices of their goods served to destroy the spinning and weavingindustries, which were an ancient integrating element of this unity of industrial andagricultural production. And even so, this work of dissolution proceeds very gradually.And still more slowly in China, where it is not reinforced by direct political power.’
in three volumes, New York
, III, pp.