Historians Fox-Genovese (SUNY, Binghamton) and Genovese (SUNY, Rochester) have combined their scholarly and rhetorical...


FRUITS OF MERCHANT CAPITAL: Slavery and Bourgeois Property in the Rise and Expansion of Capitalism

Historians Fox-Genovese (SUNY, Binghamton) and Genovese (SUNY, Rochester) have combined their scholarly and rhetorical talents--she is the author of a study of French physiocrats; he, most recently, of Roil, Jordan, Roll on American slavery--in a collection of essays loosely grouped around a couple of themes. One is that merchant capital--finance and commerce--did not represent the dominant economic form in any of those historical stages that both Marxists and ""bourgeois"" historians are so fond of creating. Commerce, they say, can be at the service of many other economic forms, or mediate between contending economic forms. They maintain, for example, that slaveholders were not capitalists in the strict sense, since their power over unfree labor was exercised by force. Yet the goods they produced via slave labor were produced for a capitalist world market. Here, merchant capital mediated between pre-capitalist and capitalist sectors of the economy. Their view is thus more nuanced than that of Vogel and Engerman, whose Time on the Cross looked at slavery from the viewpoint of economic efficiency, measured qualitatively, and--in obeisance to bourgeois virtues--argued that slavery, though morally reprehensible, had a salutary effect on the social development of blacks. (One essay reviews the book; another, the flap it occasioned.) If you look at history with a capitalist model in mind, the authors stress, you'll miss the distinguishing features of individual periods in which different economic forms coexisted. Another target is social history, which Fox-Genovese and Genovese see as the projection of the private, individual interest of bourgeois historians onto history. So, in reviewing some recent studies of the French Revolution, they decry the move away from the old social history of Lefebvre and Soboul--that restored the role of the lower classes in the revolution--toward the new social history that, in focusing on long-term trends in social relations, tends to say that not very much changed. Their attitude is summed up in their ridicule of historian Francois Furet, who rediscovered the political character of the revolution only by interpreting it as ""theater."" The 13 essays that make up this collection are aimed at historians, or at least persons familiar with current trends and debates--but the polemical tone enhances rather than detracts from their interest, especially if you like feisty scholars.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1982


Page Count: -

Publisher: Oxford Univ. Press

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1982