A Comment on Alex Callinicos in Origins of Capitalism discussion

Just a quick bibliographical note on Alex Callinicos’s contribution in the debate between Chris Harman and Robert Brenner:

Alex said, ‘I think there are problems with Chris’s position, which is that he now has an undifferentiated notion of a pre-capitalist mode of production. He does not distinguish between what I would call tributary relations of production, in which peasants are exploited by a ruling class that organises itself through the state, as opposed to what we find crystallising in Europe around the year 1000 where exploitation is by a class of feudal lords.’ And he used Irfan Habib to back up his tributory argument.

Irfan Habib’s book is a classic but I think there are very few people who would accept his account of the Jagadir crisis now (at least without a lot of revision). Even at the time people in the same school of Marxist Mughal studies as Irfan (Satish Chandra for example) argued about this, and the argument about Irfan’s theory of Mughal crisis was never uncontroversial (that is mongst Marxists).

You don’t have to go all the way with the new revisionists (people like Muzzafer Alam whose big book is an alternative account of the Mughal crisis) who argue that the crisis was caused by large scale economic growth in the regions, and consequently the growth of resistance by the feudal intermediaries within the system (Alam’s account in his edited collection published by Oxford in India is definately worth reading though) to find Alex’s rather loose reference to a book which was published in (I think) 1967, rather disconcerting in terms of the controversy that still rages about these issues….We know much more about European feudalism today then we did that long ago. Absolutely the same is true of studies of the Mughals and related social formations

Its amazing that many people don’t realise that even at the height of the Mughal Empire there were several rival Islamic states on the sub-continent (who took different sides in the wider world of Islam…controversies which were clearly related to other forms of ideological and social competition) as well as other non-Muslim states to the south.

Also worth a look is the dutch military historian Kolff and his book on the military labour markets of the Mughal Empire. Again this idea of an absence of intemediaries or ‘autonomous spaces’ is looking more and more implausible historically.