There was a time in the 1920s when the days of capitalism appeared so numbered that discussion among socialists centered in many instances on the question of whether to participate in bourgeois parliamentary elections. In one particular instance George Lukacs who advocated a boycott on the grounds that capitalism and its institutions were on their last legs and that the proletariatshould be giving them a final push instead of making them work, was admonished by Lenin who argued that capitalism may have become historically obsolete, but not yet politically obsolete everywhere.
It is an irony of history that today the triumph of the same mode of production appears complete, with the collapse of the Soviet Union, with the reabsorption of Eastern Europe under the hegemony of a Germany-led EC, and with whatever remains of socialism forced to make such compromises that its socialist character seems blurred at first sight. But is the triumph really complete, as the hosannas sung at the victory celebrations suggest or is this yet another evanescent phenomenon? The socialist answer to this cannot be based merely on faith; it has to be based on a reading of history, upon the modus operandi of the system, upon its potentialities and characteristics. And we are glad that in the current number of Social Scientist we carry two pieces by two eminent scholars of history belonging to different generations but sharing the sociz^st perspective, who address themselves, each in his own way, to this question.
Professor Irfan Habib's paper, though it takes off from the old Science and Society debate between Dobb and Sweezy on the transition from feudalism to capitalism, constitutes an extremely original contribution to understanding capitalism. The idea that capitalism arises from the contradictions of the feudal mode and can do so in all societies if these contradictions are allowed to work themselves out undisturbed, is contested by him. Like Sweezy he takes the period between the decline of serfdom (with which he strictly identifies feudalism) and the emergence of capitalism as being characterised by a 'petty mode of production' but attaches a crucial role to primitive accumulation of capital in both its aspects, viz. the dispossession of the peasantry as well as colonial exploitation, in the genesis of capitalism. It follows then that not all countries could, even in principle, peacefully develop capitalism from the contradictions of their feudal modes.