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Posted June 6, 2007
Brilliant study of the long 19th century
In this outstanding book, Professor Bayly studies the world crises of 1776-1820 and 1848-65, and the great acceleration of 1890-1914, when imperial rivalries, industrialisation and urbanisation really took off. He allows, ¿Lenin¿s view that what we are calling here the great acceleration after 1890 was rooted in the uneven development of capitalism at a global level still has something to recommend it.¿ He accepts that empires were based on the drive for profits: ¿Classic Marxist and liberal theories of economic change have emphasised the rationality of expanding capitalism. On this theory, the aim of Western expansion was to seize resources and subordinate labour. This is true in great measure.¿ He shows how empires benefited the ruling classes of the imperial powers by exploiting the labour power of the world¿s workers and peasants. ¿The argument that European growth helped hold down living standards elsewhere works well for many areas of the incipient poor colonized `south¿ which became raw material exporters to the rich `north¿. This is clear if one examines the figures for the distribution of profits from some of the great nineteenth-century cash crops, such as raw cotton, hides, jute, cocoa, and palm oil. In all these cases, it was the overseas shippers, insurers, carriers and vendors in Europe and North America who took the vast proportion of `value added¿ to a quantity of produce in world trade. Local African, Asian, or South American merchants, let alone the peasant-producers, got only a very small percentage of the profits. On the other side, developing economies were forced to buy in at high cost the machinery for processing these agricultural raw materials. Thus the terms of trade were very much to the disadvantage of the `south¿ throughout the nineteenth-century, and actually deteriorated as more relatively poor areas became producers of basic export crops.¿ Ruling classes gained, by impoverishing the masses. ¿Indeed, it can be suggested that the stasis in Europe was in part the product of the annexation to itself of a huge extra-European hinterland which could only be governed by force and conservatism. At the beginning of the nineteenth-century, empire-builders had argued that their brutal conquest paved the way for the rise of civilisation, trade, and humane government in erstwhile barbarous states. Asia and Africa would be transformed by Christianity, utilitarian government, the doctrine of the rights of man, and perhaps by American freedoms. The situation in 1900 hardly seemed to bear out these predictions. The urban population throughout the British and French empires in Asia and North Africa remained stubbornly stuck at about 10 percent of the total, barely changed from the precolonial figure, and standards of living may even have fallen over the previous century. Anecdotal evidence collected by the first generation of Asian and African nationalists asserted that many once-prosperous bodies of peasants and artisans were actually worse off and more dependent on magnates than they had been in 1800.¿ He concludes, ¿intensified rivalry between the great, technologically armed European powers was a critical reason for the great leap forward of European empires after 1870. ¿ The `great acceleration¿ ¿ the dramatic speeding up of global social, intellectual, and economic change after about 1890 ¿ set loose a series of conflicts across the world which quite suddenly, and not necessarily predictably, became unmanageable in 1913-14. This was undoubtedly a European Great War. Yet it was also a world war and, in particular, a worldwide confrontation between Britain and Germany. As many contemporaries acknowledged, this was a war which had its roots in Mesopotamia and Algeria, Tanganyika and the Caucasus, as well as on the Franco-German and German-Russian frontiers. In one sense, Lenin was right when he argued that the First World War was an `imperialist war¿. Economic, political, and cultural rivalriesWas this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.