origins of industrial capitalism

From: Rakesh Bhandari (rakeshb@STANFORD.EDU)
Date: Tue Sep 16 2003 - 19:19:51 EDT

Here are some notes and citations on the scholarly controversy over
the origins of the Industrial Revolution. Was agrarian capitalism an
almost sufficient condition for the emergence of industrial
capitalism? Did the former provide the released labor, the dependence
on market goods and rising incomes on which the Industrial Revolution
depended? How exactly productive was English agrarian capitalism?
What role did the Atlantic trading system based in slavery play in
the Industrial Revolution?  The works of Robert Brenner, Joseph
Inikori and Kenneth Pomeranz are highlighted.




Could England have met its cotton needs through imports from Egypt and India?

Note Kenneth Pomeranz's response on pp.275-78 in The Great
Divergence. These are in my opinion absolutely crucial pages in his
argument, and it is my impression that Brenner and Isett's next reply
will concentrate on them (I can't find explicit, detailed commentary
on said pages in their first Pomeranz critique in Journal of Asian
Studies, May 2002, but it is long and detailed, and I may well have
missed it). I am looking very forward to how this argument is
resolved. While both Inikori and Pomeranz place the Atlantic trading
system based on slavery at the center of their respective
explanations of the emergence of industrial capitalism, the latter
emphasizes that the resource bounty that England enjoyed due to the
the geographic, ecological and institutional features of  New World
agriculture allowed England to overcome the land constraints on which
its proto industrialization would have otherwise crashed (as did
proto industrialization in Jiangnan). On the basis of a survey of the
evidence of cotton producing capacity and potential in the 18th and
19th centuries, Pomeranz doubts that Manchester would have been able
to find in (or induce from) Old World markets the quantity of cheap
cotton that it needed at the time it began its impetuous
industrialization. Even England's attempts in India and  (indirectly)
in Egypt to diversify its  sources of cotton after industrialization
was well under way came up short (the role that the colonization of
India played in the English industrial revolution however includes
more than the supply of cotton, see Irfan Habib, Essays in Indian
History: Towards A Marxist Perception, pp. 259-366).

        Pomeranz argues that industrial development would have
probably not taken  off had it not been for slave-based, New World
agriculture (as well as English coal) relieving the land shortage
that industrialization would have otherwise exacerbated to the point
of Malthusian crisis. Brenner and Isett argue that Pomeranz has
underestimated the revolutionary accomplishments and capacity of
English agriculture.

        Did the veiled slavery of the English industrial proletariat
need for its pedestal slavery, pure and simple, in the New World?


Brenner would argue that since the Dutch and the French also had
access to New World cotton, New World cotton cannot explain why
England industrialized first.  Since Inikori's explanation for
England's priority in the Industrial Revolution is based not on
England's access to cotton per se but England's domination of trade--
imports to, as well as exports and reexports of tropical products
from, the "plummest" territories in the Americas--Inikori does in
fact provide an explanation for why England industrialized first not
only in North West Europe but in the world as a whole. So in terms of
Inikori's theory: if the English had focused on Egypt or India until
the end of the 18th century and ceded dominance over American trade
to either the Dutch or the French, either of these continental powers
may have industrialized first.  Pomeranz would however argue (I
believe) that  the ecological and institutional features of New World
agriculture allowed all of Northwest Europe to break through land
constraints that had  frustrated the expansion of proto
industrialization in Europe and elsewhere (and in Jiangnan in
particular) and that England's industrial priority which did not last
long at all within Europe can be explained by the disruptions of war
on the continent. The "Englishness" of the Industrial Revolution
seems less important to Pomeranz.


"Robert Brenner dismissed the importance of overseas trade in the
Industrial Revolution and argued that the class structure produced by
the development of capitalist agriiculture in England in the 15th and
16th centuries was the principal cause. The main weakness of this Brenner's presentation of class struggle as the main
determinant of development without showing hte factors in the
historical process that produced the classes and over times changes
in their relative strengths and weaknesses, as well as over time
changes in the way the members of the classes perceived their self
interests. To show that agrarian class structure was not a sufficient
condition for WEuropean development, critics point to the similarity
between England's agrarian structure and those of renaissance Italy
and 17th c Holland, countries where the agrarian class structures in
question developed much earlier than England without producing an
industrial revolution...
[Moreover]...regional studies by the main authorities all show
unambiguously that much of the agrarian development in England
between 1086 and 1660 was limited to counties in the South of
England, that is, counties lying to the south of a line drawn from
The Wash to the Severn estuary...Now if Brenner's agrarian class
structure were the principal cause of the Industrial Revolution,
clearly the leading regions would have been in the South of England.
But, as we have seen, it was agriculturally backward Lancashire and
Yorkshire that led the way, while East Anglia with its progressive
agrarian class structure stagnated."
p. 147-8 of Africans and the Industrial Revolution in England.


I am wondering whether Lancashire, Yorshire, etc were dependent not
on net immigration or markets but food imports from the south of
England? Brenner argues that agricultural transformation and growth
of agricultural productivity allowed the economy to support an ever
greater proportion of the labor force outside of agriculture (more
than 60% of the population off the land by end of 18th century as
well as a tripling of population before imports become necessary).
Brenner would argue (as I know from personal correspondence) that the
specialization of south and east England in arable was part and
parcel of the capitalist transformation of the national regional
division of labor in which the north and west came to concentrate on
arable husbandry, sheep, cattle, etc also on a highly capitalist
basis. If so, industry develops in the north because labor is freed
up as a result of the low labor requirements of the pastoral
agriculture in which the North came to specialize.  Later the higher
rate of profit in industry over pastoral agriculture gives industry
the dynamism to suck in more labor as well as support a natural
increase in population. As always, Brenner has strong defenses.


1.There is doubt that rents  were as competitively determined as Wood
and Brenner argue.  Robert Allen has raised many criticisms of the
theory of agrarian capitalism; can't remember whether Ellen Wood
speaks to them.

2. Inikori is not emphasizing the profits from slave trading. The
growth of cloth exports from Yorkshire for example seems to have
derived in large part from American demand, itself of course the
result of its own commodity exports tied in one way or another to
slavery. Are you arguing that the profits or rents from agararian
capitalism were invested in industry? I think there is much less
evidence for that than the much maligned Williams thesis, by the way.

3. Brenner/Wood are emphasizing changes in land tenure and agrarian
capitalist behavior which were for the most part regionally specific,
concentrated (as I understand it) in the south of England. Inikori's
challenge which may or may not prove successful is that
Brenner/Wood's agrarian capitalism  cannot have underpinned the
Industrial Revolution given England's regional fragmentation.  As
Inikori has emphasized to me in private correspondence,
"inter-regional specialization was not an important phenomenon in
England's industrialization before the railway age well into the 19th
century. There is no evidence of large export of foodstuffs from the
southern counties to Lancashire and Yorkshire in the 18th century,
just as there is no evidence of large export of manufactures from the
latter to the former in exchange. Even the provisions carried by the
Liverpool slave ships were largely from Lancashire and neighboring
counties (such as Cheshire) and occasionally from Ireland. The
evidence is clear enough that there was no integrated national
economy in England before the railway age." This argument is
developed esp on pp. 81-88 of his book. Inikori also argues that
industrialization in the north of England did not depend on labourers
dispossessed or released by agrarian capitalism in the south--these
dispossessed rural laborers seem to have often languished in
uemployment. Indeed Inikori emphasizes that most of the industrial
workforce was supplied through a natural increase in population
stimulated by the dynamics of industry itself. That is, the workforce
does not seem to have even come from the arable pasture which did not
have high labor requirements.  I think Robert Allen supports Inikori


Inikori's answer emphasizes that changes in demographic behavior
arising from growing employment opportunities in the non agricultural
sector, especially commerce and industry, were principally
responsbile for sustained population growth. This means that
expanding oversas exports by creating more employment  contributed to
the growth of population and the expansion of the domestic market. So
population growth  in the main export producing and rapidly
industrializing regions of the north of England--Lancashire and
Yorkshire was the fastest in the whole country. In this way, the fast
growing regions largely created their own labor force through natural
increase and did not depend in a significant way on net immigation
from others regions in England. So if rapidly industrializing regions
of the North of England did not depend in a significant way on the
other other regions for their labor and for the sale of their
products, then the home demand argument based on agricultural
prosperity and population growth seems weakened. From Inikori, p. 145.
Yet throughout his counterargument Inikori does not really speak to
the spectacular fact that agricultural imports are not necessary
until after 1820 or 1830 despite a level of population out of
agriculture that few economies reached until the 20th century if
even then. Brenner's theory focuses on this astounding performance.
And we can see a lot of downplaying of it or shifting attention away
from it by Inikori and Pomeranz, however important their many other
criticisms may be. This debate seems to me far from settled. Brenner
would also deny that Inikori's implicit contention that there had not
been a transformation of agriculture on a capitalist basis in the
Midlands and northwest.
There is also the question of why the spectacular Dutch developments
in the early modern period fizzled out even though her agricultural
sector showed dynamism as a result of changes in the social property

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