Articles contenant le tag Marxism

THE RELENTLESS REVOLUTION: A HISTORY OF CAPITALISM

Joyce Appleby
Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc.

the-relentless-revolutionArguing that capitalism is a cultural—rather than purely economic—phenomenon, Appleby (Liberalism and Republicanism in the Historical Imagination) traces its trajectory through European, American, and Asian successes and setbacks, its unhappy experiments in colonization, the world wars, and into contemporary India and China.

She narrates the rise of capitalism as a process of accretion, starting with Dutch agricultural innovations that were adopted and improved upon by the British. This set England on the path to controlling famine and, ultimately, freed capital and labor for trade.

Appleby turns Marxism on its head as she proposes that the new social relations introduced in England as a result of converting common land into freeholds were the consequence, not the cause, of the transformation in English farming.

If this sounds like breathless global time travel, it is still a laudable effort at demonstrating that there was nothing inevitable about the rise of capitalism.

Both scholarly and accessible, this book unpacks a complex web of seemingly unrelated events; its dazzling achievements are tarnished only by multiple misnomers: there is no city called Calico in India (there’s a Calicut) and no language called Hindu (it’s Hindi). (Jan.)

Historian Appleby traces capitalism (a system based on individual investments in the production of marketable goods) from early industrialization to the present global economy. She explores the benchmarks in capitalism’s ascent, looking at how this system transformed politics while churning up practices, thoughts, values and ideals that had long prevailed within the cocoon of custom. It changed the way people thought and planned, and the author shows how different societies respond to its challenges up to the twenty-first century and the world recession of 2008–09.

She explains that the 2008 financial crisis was caused by the era of deregulation from the late 1970s to 1999, while vast sums of money circulated through global markets and the growth in financial assets outpaced real economic activity. Appleby concludes that since capitalism is a set of practices and institutions that permits billions of people to pursue their interests in the marketplace, it is highly likely that panics and bubbles will occur again. This is an excellent book. –Mary Whaley

In this stimulating history, Appleby insists that, far from being inevitable, the advent of capitalism was “a startling departure from the norms that had prevailed for four thousand years,” and required a radical reconception of human nature.

Her early chapters, which trace the peculiar factors that caused capitalism to flourish in eighteenth-century England first, rather than in another of the world’s merchant behemoths, are the strongest. Appleby excels at stripping away revisionist layers to give the reader the perspective of past actors. As for the present, she recommends globalized capitalism as a remedy for easing poverty, but warns that mathematical models often ignore the messiness of social relations. Capitalism, she argues, “is as much a cultural as an economic system,” dependent on turbulence and risk, yet, once established, “poised to crush any opposition to its expansion.”

Politics and technology fill many pages, yet Appleby insists that capitalism is above all a matter of culture.  (I might almost say “mentalité” although the Annales school remains outside the author’s ken.) For this reason, she chooses Max Weber over both Adam Smith and Karl Marx as the prophet of Capitalism.  She situates the decisive mental turn that produced capitalism in the political upheavals that swept England between 1640 and the Glorious Revolution.

Having previously written on English economic thought in this period, she argues that England emerged from the time of troubles with at least some share of power in the hands of people who viewed economic activity as legitimate and not as demeaning or morally suspect.  Furthermore, economic calculation and forward-thinking action had become relatively pervasive on the part of producers and even of consumers.  Institutions favorable to economic development grew out of the changed attitudes, while progress in agriculture and the expansion of commerce played important supporting roles as necessary conditions for sustained expansion.

With the industrial revolution underway, the new spirit of inquiry having hatched scientific discoveries as well as the familiar “wave of gadgets,” the rest was a matter of diffusion and imitation and of leapfrogging in later waves of technological change.  Most attention in the next phase centers on the U.S. and secondarily on Germany.  In the later nineteenth century, the subject of imperialism gets a good airing.  As with slave-worked plantation agriculture earlier, Appleby tries hard to bring the Western land grab in Africa and elsewhere under the umbrella of capitalism, but to this reader less than convincingly.

In fact, nineteenth century imperialism, like the wars of the first half of the twentieth century, owes more to militant nationalism, in my view, than to capitalism.  The chapter title, “rulers as capitalists,” is clever but does not add greatly to the force of the argument.  This is not to deny that the colonial powers strove to turn a profit from their ventures, but that falls short of making profit the dominant motive for the last great expansion overseas.

Appleby manages to devote fully a hundred pages to the period since the end of fast postwar growth, say from 1973 on.  All the expected bases are touched, from the emerging economies of Asia to the explosion in information technology and the recent (current?) financial crisis.  While many crisp set pieces here (as elsewhere) enliven the account, Appleby has little new to add, and I would have wished that the space had been devoted to more detailed and nuanced treatment of the earlier material, some of which flew by like the near landscape from a high-speed European train.  A botched reference to J. de Vries’ industrious revolution, a single dismissive reference to D. Landes and none to F. Braudel, and almost nothing on pre-factory industry seems to me to leave out too much.   There is also, in my view, too great an emphasis on nation states as units of analysis, and too little on the role of cities and regions.

REVIEW:
‘THE RELENTLESS REVOLUTION’ BY JOYCE APPLEBY
for Chicago Tribune :

“In ‘The Relentless Revolution’ Professor Joyce Appleby, a past president of the American Historical Association, offers a sweeping new history of capitalism, from its origins in the trading empires of the late Middle Ages all the way through to the Great Crisis of 2008.Appleby’s capitalism, in the spirit of Schumpeter, is defined by change, by “creative destruction,” driven by private initiative rather than state power. She locates its origins, preeminently, in 18th century England, where command of the seas meshed with the first application of industrial energy sources to large machines. In this, she seems to agree with Karl Marx, who in the Communist Manifesto wrote:
“The bourgeoisie…has created more massive and more colossal productive forces than have all preceding generations together. Subjection of Nature’s forces to man, machinery, application of chemistry to industry and agriculture, steam-navigation, railways, electric telegraphs, clearing of whole continents for cultivation, canalisation of rivers, whole populations conjured out of the ground…”The difference is that Marx was a critic and Appleby, frankly, is a booster. Here is her take on the late 18th century potter Josiah Wedgwood who “approached pottery making like a scientist, an artist, and a taskmaster”:“Wedgwood took the mixed bag of humanity on his payroll and shaped it into a modern workforce. He used bells and clocks to instill punctuality. Exact record keeping enabled him to identify and fine refractory employees. … He had no tolerance for the easy work habits of his father’s generation, but he did take care of his workers’ material needs, paying high wages, looking after their health…Their health? In Capital, Marx visits the same scene in the full flush of 19th century industrialization. Here he quotes an official inquiry, from 1863: “The potters, as a class…are stunted in growth, ill-shaped, and frequently ill-formed in the chest; they become prematurely old, and …certainly short-lived; they are phlegmatic and bloodless, and exhibit their debility of constitution by obstinate attacks of dyspepsia, and disorders of the liver and kidneys, and by rheumatism. But in all diseases they are especially prone to chest-disease, to pneumonia, phthisis, bronchitis and asthma. One form … is known as potter’s asthma, or potter’s consumption.”Why doesn’t Appleby talk about this? Marx was no gadfly, and he had the facts. Whether progress in the industrial art of bone china was worth the cost in human bones can be debated – up to a point. But a text which glamorizes the Staffordshire pottery sheds without even noting — let alone disputing — the evidence so famously brought against them in Capital is, properly, to be suspected of cleaning things up. On American slavery, Appleby does confront what she calls the “ugly face” of capitalism, “made uglier by the facile justifications that Europeans offered for using men until they literally dropped dead.” Fair enough. But then … was American slavery really “capitalism?” The classical political economists – Adam Smith and David Ricardo – didn’t think so. The main class conflict in their world was between factory men and landlords; to them slaveholders were a feudal throwback. Even Josiah Wedgwood was an abolitionist — yet he and his successors did not scruple at using “free” workers “until they literally dropped dead.” But Appleby needs slavery as capitalism, for comparison’s sake. The comparison helps her to argue that industrial capitalism was relatively “benign.”Consistently uncritical, Appleby passes over the Great Crash of 1929 and even the Great Depression with banalities. Of the crash, she states inaccurately that the “experts do agree” that it “didn’t trigger the Depression.” Actually, they don’t. Of the Depression, its causes are “hidden” and they “elude experts.” (John Maynard Keynes would not agree with that.) Of the New Deal, she states that the “National Industrial Recovery Act ran afoul of one of the strongest and most distinctive American values, the commitment to freedom over social planning.” In fact, the NIRA was highly popular, especially among businesses desperate to keep their prices up. They displayed the Blue Eagle with enthusiasm, until the Supreme Court shot it down.It would have been better – more manageable, more clear — to end the history of capitalism in 1930. For Keynesianism, the Wagner Act, Social Security, the alphabet agencies and the WWII mobilization gave us economic recovery in new forms, in which the private sector was – once again — reshaped by the state. The modern economy – regulated and guided by public policy, for better or worse – is capitalist in name only. Appleby’s attempt to discuss today’s United States – let alone China – as though they are capitalist in the same sense as in Wedgwood’s day serves mainly to empty the word of meaning.This brings us, finally, to the Great Crisis of 2008. Here Appleby’s treatment of some details isn’t bad — for instance she recognizes that financial deregulation was disastrous. But we do not get what we deserve, after reading so far: thoughtful closure on a grand theme. Instead, there is a certain jaded, seen-it-all-before quality to the prose. After all, isn’t capitalism all about change, and what is the crisis, if not just another round of change? Move along, nothing to see here.There is something about this book that doesn’t gel, and I think the problem is, the author never quite decided what argument to make. As a result, ‘The Relentless Revolution’ is, well, dull. In the late 1800s, the emerging discipline of economics was riven by conflict between a “Historical School” and the torchbearers of what would become modern economic theory, eventually rendered in mathematics. The Historicists favored factual narrative, and Joyce Appleby’s work represents an extreme expression of their view. Still, pure narrative needs theory to give it theme. Appleby is rightly wary of facile models – however fancy their math – that fail to come to grips with technological and social change. But to shovel bits and pieces of everything into the kitchen sink — labeling it all “change” and occasionally repeating the title phrase, “relentless revolution” – is no solution either.’The Relentless Revolution’ by Joyce Appleby
WW. Norton, 494 pagesJames K. Galbraith is the author of ‘The Predator State’ and most recently of a new foreword to ‘The Great Crash, 1929′ by John Kenneth Galbraith. He teaches at the LBJ School of Public Affairs, The University of Texas at Austin.”
http://featuresblogs.chicagotribune.com/printers-row/2010/01/review-relentless-revolution-appleby.html

Politics and technology fill many pages, yet Appleby insists that capitalism is above all a matter of culture.  (I might almost say “mentalité” although the Annales school remains outside the author’s ken.) For this reason, she chooses Max Weber over both Adam Smith and Karl Marx as the prophet of Capitalism.  She situates the decisive mental turn that produced capitalism in the political upheavals that swept England between 1640 and the Glorious Revolution.  Having previously written on English economic thought in this period, she argues that England emerged from the time of troubles with at least some share of power in the hands of people who viewed economic activity as legitimate and not as demeaning or morally suspect.  Furthermore, economic calculation and forward-thinking action had become relatively pervasive on the part of producers and even of consumers.  Institutions favorable to economic development grew out of the changed attitudes, while progress in agriculture and the expansion of commerce played important supporting roles as necessary conditions for sustained expansion.
With the industrial revolution underway, the new spirit of inquiry having hatched scientific discoveries as well as the familiar “wave of gadgets,” the rest was a matter of diffusion and imitation and of leapfrogging in later waves of technological change.  Most attention in the next phase centers on the U.S. and secondarily on Germany.  In the later nineteenth century, the subject of imperialism gets a good airing.  As with slave-worked plantation agriculture earlier, Appleby tries hard to bring the Western land grab in Africa and elsewhere under the umbrella of capitalism, but to this reader less than convincingly.  In fact, nineteenth century imperialism, like the wars of the first half of the twentieth century, owes more to militant nationalism, in my view, than to capitalism.  The chapter title, “rulers as capitalists,” is clever but does not add greatly to the force of the argument.  This is not to deny that the colonial powers strove to turn a profit from their ventures, but that falls short of making profit the dominant motive for the last great expansion overseas.
Appleby manages to devote fully a hundred pages to the period since the end of fast postwar growth, say from 1973 on.  All the expected bases are touched, from the emerging economies of Asia to the explosion in information technology and the recent (current?) financial crisis.  While many crisp set pieces here (as elsewhere) enliven the account, Appleby has little new to add, and I would have wished that the space had been devoted to more detailed and nuanced treatment of the earlier material, some of which flew by like the near landscape from a high-speed European train.  A botched reference to J. de Vries’ industrious revolution, a single dismissive reference to D. Landes and none to F. Braudel, and almost nothing on pre-factory industry seems to me to leave out too much.   There is also, in my view, too great an emphasis on nation states as units of analysis, and too little on the role of cities and regions.
Perhaps I am underestimating the appeal this book might have for, say, a history undergraduate or a general reader looking for a survey and preferring a literate narrative to an account filled with tables and graphs (there are none).  But for the economic historian, despite pithy accounts of particular episodes, the stress on the overly familiar and the inability to engage closely with the hard questions causes the book to fall a bit short.

Paul Hohenberg, Professor Emeritus of Economics at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, is past president of the Economic History Association.  The book he co-wrote with Lynn Hollen Lees, The Making of Urban Europe, 1000-1994 (Harvard University Press, 1995), recently appeared in a Chinese edition.

Pages: 494 p.
Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; First Edition; First Printing edition (January 4, 2010)
Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.5 x 1.5 inches
ISBN-10: 0393068943
ISBN-13: 978-0393068948

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