The Brenner Debate

The Dobb-Sweezy debate is often considered an intra-Marxist debate insofar as the questions and issues that were posed during it were mostly of interest to those already convinced of, or working within the Marxist theoretical tradition of historiography. The discussion charted below, “the Brenner Debate,” discusses many of the same issues, and its eponymous exponent Robert Brenner, argues indeed from a Marxist informed theoretical position. Nonetheless, the central issues in this debate were much more wide-ranging owing in part to the focus of the debate on long-term economic development in Europe. This pulled historians from various traditions into discussing the inherent orthodoxy of ‘the demographic approach’ for this problem. It is the strength of Brenner’s position, and its significance for historically informed theory that provided the groundwork for ‘Political Marxism’ (what was originally an epithet coined by Guy Bois in the contribution below, and later reclaimed in a positive sense by Ellen Meiksins Wood (1981)).

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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

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The materials listed above have also been reprinted in the volume The Brenner Debate: Agrarian Class Structure and Economic Development in Pre-Industrial Europe (1985), edited by TH Aston and CHE Philpin.

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Concomitant with the above debate, Brenner published a further seminal article in New Left Review, criticizing Sweezy’s position in the earlier transition debate, and pointing out similar  intellectual problems in Dependency and World Systems Theory.

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