A Few Questions for Andre Gunder Frank

Thu, 5 Mar 98 13:22:37
Manjur Karim (mkarim@moses.culver.edu)

Dear Gunder,

I have a few questions for you, some of them may go a little beyond
the present article. Please don't take these questions as a challenge
to your position. I am just trying to learn something about these
very interesting turns in world system analyses.

a. In spite of your differences, both you and Wallerstein agree on
some level that the process of capital accumulation is the motor force
of history. In your work, is the category of capital accumulation
something that can be reduced to, or may be similar to the marxist
category of "mode of exchange"? I remember that one of the focal
points of the Marxist critics of your understanding of capitalism
during your early formulation of dependency was that you understood
capitalism in terms of mode of exchange, not in terms of production.
Is your understanding of accumulation an extention of your earlier
alleged preoccupation with exchange? Or is it a category that
transcends the dichotomy between production and exchange (athough it
does not have to be a dichotomy; as Wallerstein reminded his critics,
by refering to Marx, production and exchange are two moments of the
same dialectical whole). Is your understanding of accumulation
different from Marx's own understanding, for instance in Vol. 1 of

2. Although I am not nearly well versed in the recent debates, but I
see your attempts to understand the history of world system in terms
of 5,000 years, as opposed to Wallerestein's fascination with 500
years, with a certain degree of awe and appreciation. I am fascinated
with your thesis, based on archeological evidence, of the existence of
"capital formation and true price-setting markets in the ancient
economy." I really think that this is a groundbreaking idea. But
from my own historical knowldege from the part of the world that I am
from, (South Asia) I also know that something revolutionary happened
as a result of the hegemonic nexus that was established between my
part of the world with the British colonial economy. The
manifestations of that radicalituy can be seen in the making of the
modern wage earning working class, widespread circualtion of money and
a radical expansion (not creation, as opposed to the earlier
stagnationist, colonialist readings of Indian history) of the market,
a qualitatively different form of transnational out-flow of surplus
value and resources, radical change in the land tenure system etc.
etc. It seems to me that something very importnat, a major episodic
shift, happened in the last several hundred years as a result of the
British colonialism-led articulation with the world capitalist
econmoy. Now, I find that reading of history fairly compatible with
Wallerstein's reading of world capitalism. Even if we agree that
the history of the world system is significantly longer than what the
Braudelian/Wallerestian school allows for, is that view incompatible
with a concrete historical recognition of the radicality of modern
capitalism? In other words, can Frankian and Wallerestian/Braudelian
world system theories necessarly incompatible, or can they accomodate
each other on some level?

3. It must be my lack of understanding, but I am not clear why
you find it necessary to abandon (am I putting my words to your
mouth?) the concepts of "mode of production" and "capitalism"? Why
can't you include a theory of production in your framework of capital
accumulation? Why can't a meta history of a long duration of world
capital accumulation incorporate a notion of the episodic
transformative character of modern capitalism? I think, you have
showed a similar misgiving about the concept of "class." Now those of
us who do marxism from a self-conscious post-marxist vantage point in
the late twentieth century recognize the simplistic nature of the
rhetorical statemnt of "the history of all hitherto existing society
is the history of class struggle." Actually, my own view of
class is close to, though not the same as, the view of Laclau
(one of your major Latin American critics during your early phase of
dependency theory) and Mauffe. Class, while concrete, is also
discursively constituted. I think that social sciences will do
an enormous disservice to themselves by not recognizing the
processes through which class identities are continously
structures and destructured in different combinations with a
multiplicity of other identities. What would be your stand on it?
I am also specifically interested in the issue because of your and
Marta Fuentes's work on social movements.

4. Finally, you commented somewhere about the undesirability of the
Marx's political project. Are you refering to the utopian vision of
an alienation-free society? If so, I wonder why? Is your
understanding of the world history necessarily antithetical to a
reconstituted marxist histori-political agenda?

These are only a few questions, which will hopefully lead
to other points of debate in next few days. I look
forward to see your response.

Manjur Karim