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INDUSTRY AND BOURGEOISIE
Although Joseph Wright of Derby (1734–1797) began his career as a portrait painter, he is most famous for paintings which express his interest in science and technology. His participation in the Lunar Society, a group of enlightened industrialists and scientists whose meetings were held when there was sufficient moonlight for making one's way along dark country roads, inspired his interior scenes illuminated by moonlight or artificial light. The family setting of the "Experiment with the Air Pump (1768)," emphasizes the egalitarian attitude that scientific concepts and discoveries could be presented to those outside the laboratory such as women and children.
The tale grows with the telling. —Eric Kerridge
We are accustomed to organizing our knowledge around central concepts which take the form of elementary truisms. The rise of industry and the rise of the bourgeoisie or middle classes are two such concepts, bequeathed to us by nineteenth-century historiography and social science to explain the modern world. The dominant view has been that a qualitative historical change took place at the end of the eighteenth and the beginning of the nineteenth centuries. This was an age of revolutions when both the "first" industrial revolution in Great Britain and the "exemplary" bourgeois revolution in France occurred. No doubt there have been voices to challenge this consensus. And there has been incessant quibbling about the details. Nonetheless, the imagery of these two revolutions remains deeply anchored in both popular culture and scholarly thought. These concepts are in fact the lodestars by which we usually navigate the misty and turbulent waters of modern historical reality. Indeed, as I shall indicate, the two lodestars are but a single one.
The term "revolution" connotes for us sudden, dramatic, and extensive change. It emphasizes discontinuity. There is no doubt that this is the sense that most of those who use the concept of "industrial revolution" intend.' Coleman speaks of a "comparatively sudden and violent change which launched the industrialized society," and Landes of "a far more drastic break with the past than anything since the invention of the wheel." Hobsbawm similarly insists: "If the sudden, qualitative, and fundamental transformation, which happened in or about the 1780's, was not a revolution, then the word has no common-sense meaning."
Of what is this revolution supposed to consist? Toynbee (to whom we owe the classic analysis of the industrial revolution as such), writing in 1884, finds its "essence" in the "substitution of competition for medieval regulations." Hartwell, writing 80 years later, defines its "essential character" somewhat differently: "the sustained increase in the rate of growth of total and per capita output at a rate which was revolutionary compared with what went before."
The two emphases—freedom from "medieval" constraints (or social revolution) arid the rate of growth (or economic revolution)—are, to be sure, not incompatible. Indeed, the heart of the traditional argument has been that the former led to the latter. But in recent years it has been the rate of growth that has been the focus of attention, with one after another factor invoked to explain it. Xor is this surprising. The continued development of the capitalist world-economy has involved the unceasing ascension of the ideology of national economic development as the primordial collective task, the definition of such development in terms of national economic growth, and the corresponding virtual "axiom ... that the route to affluence lies by way of an industrial revolution."
The two "essential" elements—growth and freedom—remain too vague. Each must be translated into more specific concepts. Growth seems very closely linked conceptually to the "application of mechanical principles ... to manufacturing," what the French often call "machinisme," and the "revolution" of mechanization has usually been attributed to "a cluster of innovations in Schumpeter's sense of the term."
The analysis of mechanization places the development of the forces of production in the foreground. The increase of "freedom" (or social revolution) refers, on the other hand, primarily to the relations of production: who may produce what, who may work for whom, and on what terms. Two phenomena are central to this part of the discussion: the factory (locus of concentration of the machines) and the proletarian or wage laborer (employee of the factory). The modern factory is said to have "originated in England in the last third of the eighteenth century." For many authors, it is the factory, and all that it implies in terms of the organization of the work force, that is thought to be the crucial innovation in the organization of work, requiring a salaried work force. Hobsbawm insists that the industrial revolution "is not merely an acceleration of economic growth, but an acceleration of growth because of, and through, economic and social transformation." The transformation refers, above all, to the rise of an urban proletariat, itself the consequence of a "total transformation of the rural social structure."
Much of the discussion on the industrial revolution, however, assumes both the processes of mechanization and the process of "liberation"/ proletarianization and concentrates instead on the question: what made these processes occur "for the first time" in Great Britain, what made Britain "take off"? Take off is, in fact, an image which aptly reflects the basic model of the industrial revolution, however much Rostow's detailed hypotheses or periodization may have been the subject of sharp debate. To this question, a series of answers, which are not by any means mutually exclusive, have been given, although various authors have insisted on the centrality of a given factor (which other authors have in turn duly contested). Placing them in an order of chronological immediacy, and working backward, these are the factors of increased demand (which is said to make mechanization and proletarianization profitable), the availability of capital (which in turn makes the mechanization possible), demographic growth (which makes the proletarianization possible), an agricultural "revolution" (which makes the demographic growth possible), arid a preexisting development of land-tenure patterns (which makes the demographic growth possible). Furthest in the rear, and most difficult to pin down, is a presumed attitude of mind (which ensures that there will be entrepreneurs who will take advantage of all the many opportunities this revolutionary process offers at its many junctures, such that the cumulative effect is "revolutionary"). Obviously, this chronology of factors is a bit abstract, and various authors have argued a different sequence.
Demand, as the explanation of innovation, is an old theory ("necessity is the mother of invention") and Landes makes it central to his analysis: "It was in large measure the pressure of demand on the mode of production that called forth the new techniques in Britain." But which demand? There are two candidates: foreign trade and the home market. The argument for exports centers on the fact that their growth and acceleration were "markedly greater" than those of domestic industry in the second half of the eighteenth century." Against this, Eversley argues that, in the "key period" of 1770–1779, it is "incontrovertible" that the export sector declined but nonetheless there was "visible acceleration" in industrialization, which reinforces the thesis that "a large domestic market for mass-produced consumer goods" is central to industrialization. Hobsbawm suggests the inevitable compromise—both foreign trade and a large domestic market were necessary, plus "a third, and often neglected, factor: government."
There are those who doubt that demand rose significantly. They put their emphasis rather on "supply not demand related processes." For some, the question of the supply of capital has loomed large. Hamilton, in 1942, explained the "revolutionary" character of the industrial revolution by the "profit inflation" of the last half of the eighteenth century, resulting from the wage lag, the gap between the rise of prices and the rise of wages, an old standby which Hamilton had previously used to explain the economic expansion of the sixteenth century. Ashton found the heart of his explanation of the industrial revolution in "relatively cheap capital," coming from the fall in the rate of interest. A generation later, arid after reviewing the literature covering the theme of capital formation, Crouzet would take his stand on a more modest position: the "relative abundance" of capital was a "permissive factor," neither necessary nor inevitable, but one historically true of England in the eighteenth century.
But was fixed capital even important? There are a growing number of skeptical commentators who argue that "the capital needs of early industrialization were modest." In the face of these arguments, the proponents of capital's importance have retreated to surer, because less provable, ground. "It was the flow of capital ... more than the stock that counted in the last analysis." A variant on this theme is the suggestion that what mattered was not a change in the "relative size" of capital stock (that is, the size "relative to the national income") but the change in the "content of the capital stock," that is, the diversion of investment "from traditional to modern forms of capital accumulation." Emphasis on the flow of capital leads immediately to a concern with credit facilities. A standard view is that Great Britain differed from other countries precisely in the amount of credit facilities available to industry. This view, of course, assumes that capital investments were limited by frontiers. Lüthy, however, believes that, already in the mid-eighteenth century, western and central Europe constituted a "zone of exchange" characterized by "ease in banking transactions and the flow of capital" and speaks of the virtual absence of obstacles to this flow.
Another group of authors gives pride of place to demographic shifts. Population growth presumably provided both the demand for industrial products and the work force to produce them. Britain's "unprecedented growth of population" is said to be particularly remarkable because it was sustained, long term, and went along with a growth in output. Plumb adds the twist that the key element was the survival of more children of "middle and lower middle class" parents, for "without a rapidly expanding lower middle class with sufficient education and technical background, the Industrial Revolution would have been impossible."
There are, however, two questions to be posed: was there really a demographic revolution, and what in fact caused the rise of population (which, of course, then bears on whether it is cause or consequence of the economic changes)? The question of the reality of the demographic revolution is in turn two questions: were the changes "revolutionary" in relation to what went before and after, and was the pattern in England (or Great Britain) significantly different from that in France and elsewhere? Given a curve which is logarithmic, some authors see no reason to designate the late eighteenth-century segment as somehow singular. To be sure, the rate of population growth in the second half of the eighteenth century was greater than in the first half. But it has been argued that it is the first half which was exceptional, not the second. Tucker argues, for example, in the case of England, that "the growth of population over the eighteenth century as a whole was not very much more than an extrapolation of earlier long-run trends would have led us to expect." Morineau makes exactly the same point for France. The demographic growth at the end of the eighteenth century was not revolutionary but should be considered more modestly as "a renovation, a recuperation, a restoration." 37 And Milward and Saul reverse the argument entirely in France's favor. The French population pattern was the unusual one (because its birth rate went down before or simultaneously with the reduction of the death rate). "But in the circumstances of nineteenth-century development a more slowly growing population made increases in per capita incomes easier to achieve and thus gave the French advantages rather than disadvantages in marketing."
Even, however, if the population rise (uncontested) were not to be considered revolutionary, and even if it were not necessarily peculiar to England, the "core of the problem" remains whether the population growth was the result of the economic and social changes, or vice versa. "Did the Industrial Revolution create its own labor force?" as Habakkuk puts it. To answer this question, we have to look at the debate concerning whether it was a declining mortality rate or a rising fertility rate that accounts for the demographic increase. For the majority of analysts, there seems little doubt that the declining mortality rate is the principal explanation, for the very simple reason that "when both rates are high it is very much easier to increase the population by reducing the death-rate than by increasing the birthrate," and of course when both arc low the reverse is true.
Why then would the death rate decline? Since a death rate that is high is "chiefly attributable to a high incidence of infectious diseases," there are three logically possible explanations for a reduced death rate: improved medicine (immunization or therapy), increased resistance to infection (improvement in the environment), or decline in virulence of the bacteria and viruses. The last may be eliminated if there is reduced mortality from multiple diseases simultaneously (which there seems to have been), since it is not credible that all of them could be due to "fortuitous change in the character of the [disease-causing] organisms." This leaves us with the true debate: better medicine or a better socioeconomic environment. Better medicine has long been a favorite explanation. It still has its strong defenders, who give as the most plausible explanation of declining mortality rates "the introduction and use of inoculation against smallpox during the eighteenth century." This thesis has been subjected to a careful and convincing demonstration that the medical influence on the death rate was rather insignificant until the twentieth century and can scarcely therefore account for changes in the eighteenth. By deduction, this leaves us with the conclusion that it must be "an improvement in economic arid social conditions" that led to demographic expansion and not vice versa.
The role of fertility has received a major boost in the monumental population history of England by Wrigley and Schoneld. They see a rising fertility rate via the lowering of the percentage of non-marriers. This is tied to a model in which the increased availability of food is the key ingredient in a process that leads to the possibility of founding a household. Their data are over a very long period (1539–1873), in which they find that, except for a short interval (1640–1709), births, deaths, and marriages all increase but there are consistently more births than deaths. Thus they seem to be arguing a long-standing pattern of English demographic history. Yet they also wish to argue that somewhere between the early eighteenth century and the late nineteenth century England broke with the "preventive-check cycle" and the link between population size arid food prices.
In addition to the contradiction in the Wrigley and Schofield logic: (a long-standing pattern as explanatory versus a break in a pattern as explanatory), there is the further problem of reconciling their emphasis on increases in marriage rate (and/or lowering the marriage rate) as explanatory of economic "take-off" with the directly opposite argument by Hajrial. Hajnal has argued that there is a unique western European (note: not English alone) marriage pattern as of the first half of the eighteenth century which consists of a later marriage age and a high proportion of non-marriers. Hajnal finds that it is this pattern of lower fertility (lasting until the twentieth century) which serves economic development by "stimulating the diversion of resources to ends other than those of minimal subsistence."
One last demographic factor, less frequently discussed but probably of great importance, is the increase in population transfer from rural peripheral zones in Europe to urban and industrializing areas. But this is, of course, the result both of increased employment opportunity and improved transportation facilities.
Excerpted from The Modern World-System III by Immanuel Wallerstein. Copyright © 2011 The Regents of the University of California. Excerpted by permission of UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA PRESS.
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