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New Left Review I/226, November-December 1997

Carlos Astarita

Asymmetrical Trade in the Feudal System and in the Early Transition to Capitalism

Historical research has analyzed unequal exchange using two fundamental models: the ‘circulationist’ model, espoused by Wallerstein and Braudel, attributes development and under-development to the transfer of value from peripheral to central areas through unequivalent exchange. The endogenous model, by contrast, denies the influence of commerce in capitalist evolution. [1] Fernand Braudel, Civilization and Capitalism, 15th-18th Centuries, Vol. ii: Wheels of Commerce, trans. Sian Reynolds, London 1992; Immanuel Wallerstein, The Modern World System, Vol. i: Capitalist Agriculture and the Origins of the European World Economy, London 1981; Robert Brenner, ‘The Origins of Capitalist Development: A Critique of Neo-Smithian Marxism’, nlr 104, July-August 1977, pp. 25-92; Ernesto Laclau, ‘Feudalism and Capitalism in Latin America’, nlr 67, May-June 1971, pp. 19-38. In the present article, taking a limited region, Castile, I will analyze commerce in feudalism and during the early transition to capitalism, particularly commodity value, and the relation between exchange and socio-economic reproduction. The goal is to redefine the character of asymmetric exchange, if only in a condensed form. [2] The reader will recognize the debt to Karl Marx. For an extensive theoretical and empirical development of this analysis, see my Desarrollo desigual en los orígenes del capitalismo, Buenos Aires 1992.

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