Bulletin N° 749









April 27, 2017

Grenoble, France

Dear Colleagues and Friends of CEIMSA,


Re-creating contexts and seeking new perspectives appear to be an essential human need today, in this period of madness that has descended upon us.

For example, the UC-Berkeley campus was recently rocked with violence, as fascists attacked protesters at a pro-Trump rally :


Shane Bauer on the Berkeley Clashes & How Trump Has Emboldened the Far Right & White Nationalists”


(see parts 1&2)


or when  . . .

Blues musician, Daryl Davis seeks to humanize people within the association for dehumanization :



“Meet the Black Blues Musician Who Befriended the KKK”




Meanwhile, the earth continues to spin on its axis at a speed of 1,600 kilometers an hour - producing twenty-four-hour days; and to rotate around the sun at an average speed of 110,000 kilometers an hour - producing a year of four seasons with each complete revolution- spring, summer, fall, and winter; while our solar system continues to migrate we know not where, nor how fast, how far, nor for how long ….


I have just completed Fernand Braudel’s two-thousand-page trilogy, Capitalism and Civilization (1972-1979), which is an achievement in itself. The rhythm of his writing is quick; the moments of discovery, deeply thought-provoking; and the hundreds of sections in this book are unforgettable, with their colorful descriptions, contrasting nuances, containing theoretical coherence. The reading was a long and pleasurable experience, but what light does this historian cast on the present state of capitalism and civilization? What new questions and what new insights do we find in these volumes? This trilogy was certainly not written as an exercise in belles letters. What of importance do we take away with us after turning the last pages of the last volume of this monumental study?


One notable characteristic is the intellectual honesty of the author, who is not simply spinning spurious theories, but rather is inductively drawing general understandings from his careful readings of a considerable number of historical sources, then testing them deductively for verification. This at times takes the reader on long detours away from conventional deductive thinking. We repeatedly find ourselves in the presence of breath-taking panoramas, instead of reading the standard glib rationalizations of less accomplished historians working from more limited source materials. Never far from his sources and always keeping an open mind, Braudel attempts to convince us of nothing. His approach is to let the significance of historic events speak for themselves: what precedes and what follows is often of keen interest; we come to understand that a linear logic of cause-and-effect is not always useful, as we begin to see the new patterns which emerge from his descriptions of the histoire de longue durée.


If we take the ‘periodic' histories of oppression and resistance written by Howard Zinn, for example, who describes episodes from the cycles of capitalist development in America - beginning in colonial times and continuting till the present - and place them beside Braudel’s ‘secular’ histoire de longue durée with its descriptions of the expanding universe of capitalist growth, we discover the dynamics of a dialectic at work, one movement entirely contained with another movement, but at the same time asserting mutual influences, the nature of cyclical change within the migratory movement of capitalist growth, as it moves its entire series of phases further and further into unchartered space.


This is not metaphysical speculation, simply supporting arguments with a phantom logic from extrapolation, but instead a meticulous examination of records that suggest a pattern of development based on material relationships which are henceforth recognizable.


Past, present, future –what is the motor force that pushes socio-economic development, as we experience it? Commercial capitalism, Industrial capitalism, Financial capitalism –these are the familiar terms used to describe this evolution, but Braudel is not satisfied with this orthodoxy; he also seeks an understanding by looking carefully at the material realities which lie behind these terms and beyond the cycles of production-distribution-accumulation-investment, in search of historical evidence for movements in human societies that unpredictably influence the velocity of social change –direction and speed. He claims to have found something significant that not yet appears on the radar screen, but nevertheless is vital to our self-understanding, as a species :


   The economic fluctuations of varying length which seem to succeed one another like waves rolling in from the sea, are a rule in world history, a rule which has reached down the ages to us and will carry on operating. Like a repeated rhythm –Charles Morazé uses the term ‘dynamic structures’ –these movements are as if pre-ordained. Focusing on this kind of movement takes us inevitably to the heart of the problems we have been looking at, but by particular paths, namely those of the history of prices, the interpretations of which has been one of the major problems of historiography over the last forty or fifty years. In this field, British historians are by no means overshadowed, indeed they were the first and some of the best collectors of price series. But they do not look at the short-term climate (la conjuncture) in the same way as other (notably French) historians.


   To oversimplify a complex issue, I would say that British historians do not regard the conjuncture as an exogeneous force –as the French school does, its point of view having been more or less explicitly formulated by Ernest Labrousse, Pierre Villar, René Baehrel and Jean Meuvret. For these writers, and for me, the conjuncture determines the processes which accompany it, it exerts an influence on human existence. For our British colleagues, the conjuncture of a given country is determined by national events or processes. For example, French historians see the stagnation and fall of prices between 1778 and 1791 as being explained by the international intercycle (short-term cycle) identified by Labrousse; British historians see them as the result of the war with the American colonies (1776-83) and its conjuncture. I am myself too aware of the mutual benefits of both perspectives not to accept that both views may be valid, and that the explanation ought to take both into account. But depending whether one or the other is preferred, responsibilities, or perhaps I should say efficient causes, might change position and nature.


   T.S. Ashton and those who agree with him are clearly right when they list the series of factors which may influence short-term change. Top of the list comes war. No one will disagree with that. More precisely, fluctuations arose from swings between war and peace (the Seven Year’s War, 1756-63, the American War of Independence, 1775-83, The French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, 1793-1802, 1803-15). The there are the fluctuation in the rural economy (which remained Britain’s major economic sector, it must be remembered , until about the 1830s): the harvest might be god, average, or poor and bad years (1710, 1725, 1773, 1767, 1792-3, 1795-6, 1799-1800) always marked the start of the so-called ancient régime crises which affected the whole economic life. Even in the nineteenth century the increasingly frequent and massive calls made on foreign wheat had repercussions on the British economy, if only because payment had to be made quickly (and in cash say the correspondents) to ensure the rapid arrival of sacks of grain or barrels of flour.


   Another influence on fluctuations in the English economy was the trade cycle, the set of upward and downward swings which had their effects on the general situation. And there was also the money supply, gold and silver coinage on the one hand and notes of every provenance on the other. The London Stock Exchange (which was always ‘sensitive’, and to which fear was a more frequent visitor than optimism) was a curious seismograph which not only registered all the movements around it but also had the diabolical power of itself triggering off earthquakes : as it did in 1825-6n 1837 and 1847. Every ten years or so, as had already been the case towards the end of the eighteenth century, the summits of economic life would be shaken by a credit crisis, while at the same time traditional ancient régime type crises were still possible.


   Such are the conclusions of our British colleagues. As for French historians, rightly or wrongly they see the conjunction as a reality in its own right, although it is far from easy to explain in its own right. We agree with Léon Dupriez and Wilhelm Abel that the prices form some sort of totality. Dupriez has even spoken of a prices structure. Prices, according to this view, are related to each other and if they go up and down together it is because their particular variations are combined. Above all, this is not a ‘vibration’ confined to one economy, however important that country may be. Britain did not create her own price levels, nor the fluctuations in her trade, nor even her own money supply; the other economies in the world –the whole world- all contributed and all economies moved almost in unison. This is what we as historians found most striking when we first began work in this field: for some indication of the surprising results, see René Bachrel’s very revealing and persuasive work.


   The climate which raised, halted or lowered prices in England was not a climate obeying a time-scale peculiar to England, but one governed by ‘world time’. It may very well be the case that this ‘world time’ was in part dictated by Britain, or even that London was its essential epicenter –but the rest of the world helped to shape and determine a movement which was by no means the private property of the British Isles. The consequences are obvious. The ‘sounding-board’ for prices was the entire world-economy of which Britain was the core. So the economic movement affecting Britain was contained within the same economic climate –which does not mean to say that their experience as identical. When describing a conjunctural crisis in the economy, I have on the contrary stressed that it does not and cannot have the same impact on the strong and the weak (for instance on Italy and Holland in the seventeenth century); consequently that it is the occasion of a redistribution of functions and of international economic relations, usually ending up by making the strong stronger and the weak weaker. This is why I do not agree with the argument used by Peter Mathias to deny the role played between 1873 and 1896, by the downward curve of a Kondratieff cycle and its responsibility for the ‘Great Depression’ which affected England during these years. While growth rates in both Germany and America also fell during the same period, he argues, it is clear that the situation was very different in Germany, the United States and Britain, and that the British Isles fell back in relative terms, losing their share in the world economy. That is perfectly true: what would become evident to the world in 1929 was casting its shadow before. But the fact remains that growth slowed down simultaneously in Germany, the United States, Britain and indeed in France. And it is the way the graphs all dip together, whatever the actual price level in each country, which is the surprising but undeniable thing about the crisis.(pp.609-611) 

. . . .


   From the middle of the nineteenth century, which broke the rhythm of growth established during the ancient régime, the world apparently embarked upon a new age: the secular trend was characterized by a simultaneous rise in population, prices, G.N.P., and wages, interrupted by only short cyclical depressions as if ‘sustained growth’ was here to stay.


   But only 120 years have passed between 1850 and 1970. Have the long crises of the secular trend gone forever with the coming of Modern Times? It is difficult to answer because the truth is that the secret of these secular movements, the key even to their simple correlations is still unknown to us; consequently we lack a substantial element in historical explanation. As a result many historians, and not the least among them, find it easy to be ironic about these historical cycles which can be observed and noted but not explained. Do they really exist? Is it really possible to believe that human history obeys all-commanding rhythms which ordinary logic cannot explain? I am inclined to answer yes, even though the phenomenon is as puzzling as the climatic cycles, whose existence we are forced to admit, since the evidence stares us in the face, although the experts can still only suggest hypotheses about their origin. I do believe in these tidal movements which seem to govern the physical and economic history of the world, even if the favourable or unfavourable indicators which trigger them off, and which are the product of so many relationships, remain a mystery. I believe In them so firmly that since the beginning of our present difficulties, in 1972-4, I have often asked myself: is this the downward slope of a Kondratieff cycle? Or are we indeed embarking upon a much longer slide, a reversal of the secular trend? If so, are not the day-to-day remedies proposed to meet the crisis completely illusory? For the reversal of the secular trend is the structural crisis which could only be resolved by thorough-going structural demolition and reconstruction.(pp.609-618)


By way of conclusion, Braudel reunites elements of his discoveries which can be tested by anyone facing reality in the 21st Century.


What I have done in this book –and it was not so very difficult though it did raise a number of problems- was to introduce the word capitalism with its various meanings and ambiguities, into the broad arena of early modern world history.   . . .


   Capitalism, as I have understood it, has proved throughout this book to be a good barometer. Taking it as a guide has meant being able to tackle in a direct and useful way the basic problems and realities: the long-term (la longue durée); divisions of economic life; world-economies; secular trends and other fluctuations; the complex and complicating tangles of social hierarchies, not to say the class struggle; the ever-present yet varying role played by dominant minorities; even the series of industrial revolutions.  . . .


  At the end of such a lengthy undertaking, I feel rather the need to throw open the doors and windows, to give the house a good airing, even to go outside it.

Having constructed as I went along my conceptual framework which ought to be applicable to more than the pre-industrial modern period (otherwise it can hardly claim to belong to history in the deepest sense) I should rather like to launch it on the waters and in the setting of another period. And while we are at it, why not take the present day as the period? Why not, that is, take the realities we have ourselves seen and felt? This would take us out of the magic world of retrospective history and into the living landscape which needs no reconstruction, but lies before us in all its richness and confusion.


  There is nothing illogical about this: is it not the secret aim and underlying motive of history to seek to explain the present? And today, now that it is in touch with the various social sciences, is history not also becoming a science of a kind, imperfect and approximate as they are, but ready to ask questions as much as to answer them, to be a measure of the present as well as of the past?   . . .


I do not believe that the present contradicts the past; on the contrary, it helps to illuminate it and vice versa There is no shortage of analogies. . . . .

[T]oday’s world is one which contains both continuity and discontinuity, and this contradiction will always remain on the horizon of the problems I shall be considering in the following order: [1]capitalism as a long-term structure; [2]capitalism as part of the social complex; [3]whether capitalism is in a fit condition to survive or not (thou if it were to disappear, would all the inequality in our societies vanish overnight? I rather doubt it); and finally [4]capitalism as distinct from the market economy, which is for me the essential message of this long quest.(pp.619-620)


Capitalism as a long-term structure.

… the chief privilege of capitalism, today as in the past, remains the agility to choose –a privilege resulting at once from its dominant social position, from the weight of its capital resources, its borrowing capacity, its communications network, and, no less, from the links which create between the members of a powerful minority –however divided it may be by competition- a series of unwritten rules and personal contacts.


Its capacity to adapt, its versatility and consistent strength do not of course shield capitalism from every risk. In major crises, numbers of capitalists go under, but there are always others who survive or take their place. Creative responses are indeed often made outside capitalist circles, since innovations has more than once come from below. But such solutions almost automatically find their way to the owners of capital and the end result is a revitalized capitalism often even stronger than before, more energetic and efficient than the old. (pp.622-623)


Capitalism and the social context.

The worst error of all is to suppose that capitalism is simply an ‘economic system’, whereas in fact it lives off the social order, standing almost on a footing with the state, whether as adversary or accomplice: it is and always has been a massive force, filling the horizon. Capitalism also benefits from all the support that culture provides for the solidity of the social edifice, for culture –thought unequally distributed and shot through with contradictory currents- does in the end contribute the best of itself to propping up the existing order. And lastly capitalism can count on the dominant classes who, when they defend it, are defending themselves.


Of the various social hierarchies –the hierarchies of wealth, of state power or of culture, that opposes yet support each other- which is the most important? The answer . . . may depend on the time, the place and who is speaking.   . . .


The relations between capitalism and culture are even more ambiguous because they contain a contradiction: culture is both support and challenge, guard dog and rebel. It is true that a challenge will often wear itself out after its most violent explosions. The protests in Luther’s Germany against the monopolies of big firms line the Fuggers and Welsers, in the end came to nothing. Almost invariably, culture becomes a mainstay of the existing order and capitalism derives not a little of its security from it.   . . .


But time passes; ten or fifteen years are nothing in the slow-moving history of society, but a long interval in the lifetime of an individual. Those active in 1968 have been reabsorbed into a long-suffering society whose patience gives it prodigious powers of resistance and recuperation. Inertia is the feature it lacks the least. So the cultural revolution may not have been a failure –but one would have to think very hard before pronouncing it an outright success. In any case have there ever been any outright successes in cultural matters? The Renaissance and the Reformation were both outstanding and long-lived cultural revolutions, coming one after the other. It was already an explosive enterprise to have reintroduced Greece and Rome to Christian civilization, to tear apart the seamless robe of the Church was even more earth-shaking. Yet in the end the dust settled, everything was absorbed into the existing order and the wounds healed. The Renaissance ended with Machiavelli’s Prince and the Counter-Reformation. The Reformation loosed upon the world a new dominant Europe, supremely capitalist; in Germany it produced a crew of petty princelings –not a happy result. And did Luther not betray the rebel in the Peasant War of 1525?(pp.623-626)


Can capitalism survive?

I may be wrong, but I do not have the impression that capitalism is likely to collapse of its own accord, in some form of ‘endogenous’ deterioration; for any collapse to take place, there would have to be some external impact of great violence; and a credible alternative would have to be available. The colossal weight of a whole society and the powers of resistance of an alert ruling minority are not likely to be easily overthrown by ideological speeches and programs or by momentary electoral success.

. . .


No one will deny that the present crisis, dating from the early 1970s, is a threat to capitalism. It is far more serious than that of 1929 and even large firms will probably be swallowed up in it. But capitalism as a system has every chance of surviving. Economically speaking (I do not say ideologically) it might even emerge strengthened from the trial. 

. . .


So I think it can be assumed that even faced with a new Third World, capitalism will, for some time to come, be able to reorganize its means of domination or devise new ones, using yet again the formidable strength of acquired position and the weight of the past.(pp.626-628)


Capitalism and the market economy.

Today, just as in the eighteenth century, there is quite a sizeable lower floor, a sort of bargain basement, below the other two stories [i.e. the ‘molar’ capitalist system which crushes anything in its way, and the ‘molecular’ market place activity of buying and selling]; some economists estimate it at about 30 to 40% of economic activity in the industrialized counties. This surprisingly large figure, for which estimates have only recently appeared, is made up of all the activities (we might call this, for the sake of continuity, ‘atomistic’ activities] outside the market and state controls –fraud, barter of goods and services, moonlighting, housework –that domestic economy which St. Thomas Aquinas regarded as the economia pura . . . .  It is still possible then to use the three-tier model whose relevance to the past has already been discussed. It can still be applied to the present. And our statistics which do not fid room anywhere for the ‘basement’ of the economy, give us only an incomplete picture.


   This is enough to make one think again before assuming that our societies are organized from top to bottom in a ‘capitalist system’. On the contrary, putting it briefly, there is a dialectic still very much alive between capitalism on the one hand, and its antithesis, the ‘non-capitalism’ of the lower level on the other. It is sometimes said that big business tolerates small firms, although if it really tried to it could sweep them aside. How generous! In much the same way, Stendhal thought that in Renaissance Italy, a cruel world if ever there was one, the big cities let the small towns survive out of the goodness of their heats. I have argued (and I think I am right) that the big cities would not have been able to survive without the smaller ones at their service. As for the big companies of today, Galbraith argues that they only respect small businesses because the latter, being on such a small scale, have much higher unit production costs, which makes it possible for market prices to be fixed at levels providing handsome profits for the larger firms –as if the big companies, if they were left alone in the field, could not perfectly well fix prices and profits at any level they like! The truth is that they need the smaller firms, first and foremost to carry out the humble tasks indispensable to any society, but which capitalism does not care to handle. Secondly, like the eighteenth-century manufactories which frequently drew on family workshops in the surrounding districts, the big firms farm out certain tasks to bus-contractors, who deliver finished or semi-finished goods.   . . .   Then too there is a need for retailers and middlemen. Al these chains of sub-contractors may be directly- dependent on capitalism but they are in themselves merely another branch of small business.


Indeed it seems that if the conflict between capitalism and the layer beneath were a strictly economic one –which it is not- both sides would have an interest in peaceful coexistence –the conclusion reached by a recent conference of economists. But government policies may intervene. Since the last war, several European countries have consciously adopted policies designed to eliminate small business on the New York pattern: they are seen as a hangover from the past and a sign of economic backwardness. The state itself creates monopolies –to take just one example, Electricité de France (the nationalized French electricity company) is today being accused of being a state within a state, holding up the development of alternative forms of energy. And it is the biggest private firms which receive state aid and subsidy, whereas banks are supposed to restrict credit to small firms -which amounts to condemning them to vegetate or vanish.


   There could be no more dangerous policy. This is to repeat in another form the fundamental error committed by the socialist countries. Read what Lenin wrote: ‘Small-scale commercial production is, every moment of every day, giving birth spontaneously to capitalism and the bourgeoisie …. Wherever there is small business and freedom of trade, capitalism appears’. He is even supposed to have said: ‘capitalism begins in the village market-place’. His conclusion was that in order to get rid of capitalism, its very roots that is, individual production and freedom of trade had to be dug out. Are Lenin’s remarks not in fact a homage to the enormous creative powers of the market, of the lower storey of exchange, of the self-employed artisan and even to individual resourcefulness – creative powers which provide the economy not only with the rich foundation but with something to fall back on in times of crisis, war, or serious economic collapse requiring structural change? The lowest level, not being paralyzed by the size of its plant or organization, is the one readiest to adapt; it is the seedbed of inspiration, improvisation and even innovation, although its most brilliant discoveries sooner or later fall into the hands of the holders of capital. It was not the capitalists who brought about the first cotton revolution; all the new ideas came from enterprising small businesses. Are things so very different today? One of the leading representatives of French capital said to me the other day: ‘It is never the inventors who make a fortune’; they have to hand over to someone else. But they have the ideas in the first place! A recent report from M.I.T. points out that over the last fifteen years more than half the jobs created in the United States have been in small firms employing less than 50 workers.


Finally, if we are prepared to make an unequivocal distinction between the market economy and capitalism, might this offer us a way of avoiding that ‘all or nothing’ which politicians are constantly putting to us, as if it were impossible to retain the market economy without giving the monopolies a free hand, or impossible to get rid of monopolies without nationalizing everything in sight? The program proposed by the ‘Prague spring’ –socialism at the top, but freedom and ‘spontaneity’ at the base- was put forward as a double solution to a double and unsatisfactory reality. But what kind of socialism will be able to maintain the freedom and mobility of the individual enterprise? As long as the solutions put forward amount to replacing the monopoly of capital with the monopoly of the state, compounding the faults of the former with those of the latter, it is hardly surprising that the classic left-wing solutions do not arouse great electoral enthusiasm. If people set about looking for them, seriously and honestly, economic solutions could be found which would extend the area of the market and would put at its disposal the economic advantages so far kept to itself by one dominant group in society. but the problem does not essentially lie there; it is social in nature. Just as a country at the center of the world-economy can hardly be expected to give up its privileges at international level, how can one hope that the dominant groups who combine capital and state power, and who are assured of international support, will agree to play the game and hand over to someone else?(pp.630-632)


The 17 items below offer CEIMSA readers descriptive material of the present which can be used to test Fernand Braudel’s theses. These essays might help us answer questions such as: What are the structural limits of this crushing 'molar' phenomenon called ‘capitalism’? How does the social complex in which it is embedded sustain it and protect its growth? What is the present state of health of capitalism, and what social-economic configurations lurk in the shadows, standing ready to replace it? Here he, also, raises a question first formulated by Karl Polanyi in The Great Transformation (1944): What effect does capitalism (a level of construction on the premier étage) have on the rez-de-chaussée market economies, and can the latter survive capitalism? But Braudel goes further and suggests another dimension of capitalist growth that is constructed on top of the market economy; this 'molecular' activity, operating beneath the radar, is at the level of the sous-sols, a multi-dimensional and productive social intercourse which is going on out of the sight and mind of the large corporate management who nevertheless depend on its existence. This suggests the new discovery of an essential player in the history of civilization and capitalism, and the essays below raise this strategic question: What role have CULTURAL activities played in economic bevavior over, not centuries, according to Braudel, but over the millenniums? (See CEIMSA Bulletin N° 573 & N° 572 for a related discussion of culture and economics in David Graeber’s book, Debt, the First 5000 Years.)


Francis Feeley


Professor emeritus of American Studies

University Grenoble-Alpes

Director of Research

University of Paris-Nanterre

Center for the Advanced Study of American Institutions and Social Movements

The University of California-San Diego





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The United States of... False Flags



by Finian Cunningham


The United States government is the world leader in purveying false flags and propaganda stunts. Or, more generally, downright, systematic lies.

To justify the outrageous violation of international law, wars and aggression.