The transition to capitalism in Europe



Considerations on the commercial revolution and the agrarian revolution in the genesis of the modern world

The revolution in the sphere of production that gave rise to capitalism (which, as Adam Smith noted, was first and foremost a revolution in the division of labor, the basis, in turn, of the technical revolution with which it is customarily identified) was prepared by a revolution trade and an agrarian revolution, which developed over the centuries prior to the “Industrial Revolution”.

It was in Western Europe, from the twelfth century onwards, that the process that gave rise to a new social and economic system originated, oriented towards the accumulation of wealth based on the permanent growth of productive capacity as a condition of existence and reproduction. Capitalist production, as noted by its first analysts, is a production ad infinitum, in which the capitalist recovers the capital invested during the production cycles obtaining a profit, not hoarded, but reinvested in production. Before these processes became dominant, one could not speak of capitalism. Were there specific elements of European history that favored the emergence of capitalism primarily on that continent (or, better, subcontinent)? What were they?

We can find one of them in the Middle Ages, when population growth, capital accumulation in the hands of merchants and the opening of markets provided by maritime expansion stimulated production growth, demanding more goods and lower prices: “One of the first acts of the revolution trade took place in the Mediterranean, where Genova and Pisa took aggressive initiatives to promote maritime trade in the area, also involving other actors such as Barcelona, ​​Marseille and Palma de Mallorca.

Florentine participation in this trade is documented by communications with Messina in 1193 and with Genoa in 1213. The first motivation was probably the search for grain in the islands of southern Italy, to support a growing population, and also for rustic wool, also in these islands and in North Africa, to provide raw materials for the fledgling textile industry. They exported to these places any article that had a market, and pushed further eastwards.

At the end of the XNUMXth century, with solid foundations in the Neapolitan kingdom and close financial ties with the papacy, the Florentines (the Bardi, Peruzzi, Acciaiuoli and others) were present in all the major commercial centers. From the beginning, therefore, the commercial revolution was marked by a continuous development of the trade in the western Mediterranean area”.[I] Based on this, Karl Marx identified in the economic development of the Italian city-states, at the end of the thirteenth century, the initial elements of modern capitalism.[ii]

Monetary circulation in Europe began to develop in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, when cities and commerce grew: the social distinction, however, was still between “powerful and weak”, not between “rich and poor”.[iii] The economic changes of the Late Middle Ages gave rise to the emergence of a class of merchants and craftsmen who lived on the margins of the feudal unit, inhabiting an external region, the burg (from Latin bourgeois, “small fortress” or “settlement”; in the Latin-Germanic dialect, burgs had the meaning of fortified citadel).

Thanks to their activity, trade, currency, systematic pursuit of profit and primitive forms of wages developed; thus, early aspects of merchant capitalism flourished during the Late Middle Ages. The medieval bourgeoisie gradually implanted a new configuration in the economy, with its dynamic engine in the search for profit and the circulation of goods to be sold in different regions. Urban fairs, first seasonal, then permanent, increased the circulation of goods. The new commercial practice determined a new logic: the “economy” began to be based on amounts that determined the value of each commodity, calculating costs and profits to be converted into a certain monetary amount.

The burghers still bought the rights to their activities from the old feudal lords; then they began to demand them: “During the eleventh and twelfth centuries, hundreds of new cities, which organized themselves as communes, rose to prominence in Italy, Germany and Flanders. They demanded autonomy from the former feudal lords and conquered it. The bourgeoisie not only created new wealth through trade, it also subsidized the inventions of ingenious entrepreneurs in the fields of alchemy (the ancestor of modern chemistry), energy conversion, transportation, and metallurgy.

The use of iron became common even in the poor house. Everywhere windmills and watermills were built to convert the energy of natural forces into useful work. A new type of harness allowed horses to be used for the first time to pull carts and plows. In Bohemia, Sweden, and Cornwall, new mining techniques allowed deep shafts to be dug into richer deposits of iron, copper, tin, and lead. The new urban class became the employers of the surplus labor that the growing agricultural population produced, while farmers increased their efficiency thanks to new inventions. As a result, farm workers saw incomes rise as new wealth was created in cities.”[iv]

New social relations penetrated all areas of economic activity. To protect their interests, merchants organized themselves into associations, the guilds. Urban craftsmen, in turn, organized themselves into corporations, which defended them from competition and supervised the quality and price of products. In the larger cities, with a silk or wool industry, the masters hired day laborers who received payment for the work day; these day laborers were the distant ancestors of modern wage laborers. For them, the struggle for life was confused with the struggle for time: “For the medieval worker, the tower clock clearly distinguished his time from the boss's time”.[v]

The modern capitalist bourgeoisie, however, was not the product of the linear development of the commercial bourgeois class that emerged in the Middle Ages. On the contrary, the beginning of the capitalist era, as we shall see, coincided with the decline of the “sovereign cities” of the Middle Ages, the communes, a decline that preceded the rise of modern states: “Modern capitalism took its initial impetus from the English textile industry and it does not descend directly from the main medieval centres. Its foundations were laid in the rural domestic industry that had fled from traditional urban centers… The restrictions imposed by the guilds were reasons for the shift of the center of gravity from the city to the countryside”.[vi] The center of economic dynamics initially shifted from the agrarian feud to the city, to then return to the countryside, and only later to move back to the city.

From the XNUMXth century, Italian cities broke the maritime monopoly of the Arabs in the Mediterranean. The revival of international trade affected the economic relations of the European continent, causing the decline of feudalism and the tendency to organize the economy into broad units based on monetary and mercantile economics. A series of violent processes precipitated the formation of a new economy and a new society: “From the XNUMXth to the XNUMXth century, the West had emptied itself of precious metals, but gold and silver returned with the Crusades. Monetary means grew, gold coins began to circulate again. São Luís made it official in France; the duchy of Venice and the florin of Florence, gold coins, played a role only comparable in ancient history to the drachma in Athens”.[vii]

In this phase of transition to a monetary economy dominated by the city, “the supply of the urban market depended less on commerce than on that intimate union due to the territorial power that the lords established in the city maintained and the rural bases of bourgeois society, situated between the agglomeration city ​​and nearby villages. However, all [the products] that the traders exported over long distances did not come from the lands of the inhabitants of the city, nor from those of the lords whose fortunes they managed. They had to buy them from peasant producers. The volume of business grew steadily, while the men of the city became more and more specialized in their specific functions and gradually moved away from the land; it is also observed that the monetary instrument and the habit of trading were infiltrating the rural environment more and more deeply”.[viii]

The new configurations in the countryside/city relations did not consist in a return to the “lost urbanity” of Hellenic and Roman times, as some of his contemporaries thought (hence the term “Renaissance”): “Ancient and classical history is the history of cities, but cities based on land ownership and agriculture; Asiatic history is a kind of undifferentiated unity of town and country (the great city itself must be regarded as a princely encampment superimposed on the true economic structure); the Middle Ages (Germanic period) begins with the countryside as the setting of history, whose further development takes place through the opposition between city and countryside; Modern history consists in the urbanization of the countryside and not, as among the ancients, in the ruralization of the city”.[ix] The new, however, was still conceived with the categories of the past.

Cities began to be divided into parishes, with an administrative apparatus more complex than simple obedience to a boss or to the local bishop; Due to the numerous homonyms, the use of patronymic surnames (originated in trades or occupations, or in places of birth) became widespread. In this way, medieval fortress cities gradually transformed into city-states: “As cities grew, taxes fell on other forms of property, thus giving classes other than the barons [nobility] a direct interest in the affairs of State".[X]

It would be better to say “in public affairs”; the grouping of citizens prefigured the birth of an “open” State, arising from social sectors still excluded from political power, which began to possess economic and social power: “Cities acquired power and political autonomy as aggregates formed and kept continuously in action by the voluntary fusion of wills – and pooling of resources – of equally powerless equals”.[xi]

In the XNUMXth century, the rebirth/development of long-distance trade (implying customs contracts and regulations, adapting commercial law practices and the participation of lawyers hired by merchant groups) also fueled the rebirth of cities and their administrative independence: “ The great achievement of the bourgeoisie in this period consisted in wresting from the lords, in hundreds of separate localities, the recognition of a status independent of the feudal hierarchy. The urban movement began in the lowest strata of society and many of its members were farm servants. They demanded a single concession from the lord: a letter of autonomy, drawn up in accordance with local law, acknowledging that the status of bourgeois, burger, or bourgeois, and establishing that this status implied rights and duties. The internal life of cities was regulated by collegiate citizens, in accordance with charters of autonomy drawn up by jurists in the service of the bourgeois group”.[xii]

The “cities movement”, based on its growth, functional change, and the social emergence of its most wealthy and powerful inhabitants, began to gain awareness of its differentiated character and opposed to the existing social order: “An element aimed at preventing the resumption of The imperial power was represented by the Communes, born between the XNUMXth and XNUMXth centuries, through which the representatives of many cities established a 'sworn pact', constituting a body capable of exercising political and administrative functions, organizing the army, administering justice , the imposition of dues and fees, the issuance of currency and maintenance of roads and canals, and the indication of fairs and markets. Communal administrations flourished prevalently in central and northern Italy, in France, in Flanders, in Germany”:[xiii] the Communes had a growing economic and social and also political development (especially in Italy) capable of taking subjects (and therefore resources) from the emperor, kings and great lords, and ecclesiastical powers.

The new cities were part of economies in which mercantile production was beginning to gain ground, mostly supported, however, still on servile or corporate production relations. Even so, from the twelfth century onwards, economic and social elements made their appearance on the scene that would lead to the dissolution of feudalism: “Traders, who were initially often of foreign origin, began to come from peasant strata as well as from the nobility.

The younger sons of nobles, especially if they had worked as 'commercial assistants' to the great lords, began to dedicate themselves to commercial activities on their own. Merchants also emerged from artisanal environments; the development of the market, and its extension beyond the limits of the cities, gave rise to traders and hoarders from the artisanal sector. Merchants came from the most diverse social strata, high and low, a fact that put them outside the feudal hierarchy”. The development of commerce demanded the expansion of the market, not only in extension, but also in depth: “The merchants accumulated wealth by exploring all the productive sectors. They bought at the most convenient price and sold as expensive as they could. Unlike the first Middle Ages, they not only traded luxury goods, but also basic necessities, intended for mass consumption”.[xiv]

The urban and commercial renaissance thus gave rise to a new class, the bourgeoisie, which sought to realize its profit through exclusively commercial activities. Its development within the feudal economy imposed changes that were the foundation of its future political domination: “The bourgeois felt the need to ensure his defense without resorting to the traditional protection of the lord. Commerce does not develop without security. One of the first rights that the bourgeois claimed was the right to build walls and fortifications.

All cities bear a crown of walls on their coat of arms, a symbol of urban peace, guaranteed by a true coalition of its inhabitants; Their alliance, like that of the lord with his vassals, is based on an oath that implies the obligation to defend each other mutually, resorting to arms if necessary. Merchants also needed, in order to decide their disputes, courts that were more expeditious and more integrated into business life than ecclesiastical courts and feudal justices. It was from these different aspirations that the communal movement arose.[xv] In this process, the notion of citizenship (i.e. city rights and city members rights) that would be the legal basis of the constitutions of future modern nations.

For the new mode of production to take hold, it was also necessary for there to be a transformation in the self-sufficient character of feudal properties in Western Europe: land began to be leased and labor began to be remunerated with a salary. Money began to circulate and penetrate all economic relations: medieval man, before that, hardly knew its meaning. In a society dominated by Christianity, the Church improved indoctrinating the attitude that a Christian should have towards money, in view of the various biblical passages that condemned it.

The process was accelerated by the crisis of the fourteenth century, which strained the feudal system, forcing European societies to make new efforts to survive. In this crisis, several processes deteriorated the growth and prosperity that Europe had experienced since the beginning of the Late Middle Ages. Demographic collapse, political instability and religious upheavals have brought about profound changes in all areas. There were no new lands to be occupied, causing production not to grow; in the feudal system greater production meant annexing new lands.

With stagnant production and a larger population, famine spread across Europe. Destruction of forests and the environment has caused serious climate change, including severe rainfall. Famine-ravaged Europe was made more vulnerable to diseases such as the Black Death, the most devastating pandemic in recorded human history, resulting in the deaths of between 75 and 200 million people across Eurasia, peaking in Europe between the 1347 and 1351. To aggravate the situation there were constant wars, with emphasis on the “War of One Hundred Years”.[xvi] All this caused a huge demographic decline. As there were fewer people to work with, the nobles imposed a greater workload on the peasants, which led to growing popular revolts, for example in France in 1381.

The difficult overcoming of this crisis paved the way for the victory of capital, in all spheres of social life. In the two centuries following the “great crisis”, a series of economic and political transformations meant that, in England for example, in the fields of activity that would acquire importance in industrial capitalism – metalwork and weaving – there were already financial incentives for the rationalization of production and the elimination of corporate controls. The pastures for sheep replaced the land for crops, seeking to provide inputs for production intended for trade.

Furthermore, serfdom had changed profoundly. In England, peasants had become relatively free, working a small strip of land, in addition to having their traditional access to common lands, used indiscriminately by any member of the community since ancient times. Some laws tried to guarantee peasants a piece of land next to their hut, but the prevailing economic interest restrained the maintenance of a social class of autonomous peasants. The violent process of its expropriation constitutes the prehistory of bourgeois society. It was necessary to transform the peasants into producers and consumers of the industry that was emerging in the cities.

A new urban order was its consequence. In renewed, growing and extended cities, the tradition was established that serfs who managed to escape the manorial feud would acquire their freedom if they managed to survive, without being caught and returned to the lord, for a year and a day. At the same time, a series of factors (relative peace, suitable climate) favored the population increase. In Italy, in northern Europe, many children of serfs fled to urban communes (“the air in the city is free”, it was said). City merchants used to employ and protect them during their period of insecurity due to flight.

This was perhaps the most “combative” period of the future ruling class, because if it emerged pointing from the beginning to its economic domination, the socio-political hegemony of the bourgeoisie (understood as the ability to gather, to fight, a large number of people, prompting their adherence to a large company) was and continued to be very low, unlike the unifying capacity of warriors and priests, which is why the new class tended to act politically through external agents,[xvii] political/military or religious leaders. The “free” youths of the cities, on the other hand, started to work in exchange for a salary (monetary, as the merchants could not pay them in any other way) and used to move from one job to another: they simultaneously inaugurated the modern salaried work and labor turnover, two central features of industrial capitalism. This process was accelerated by the abundance of freed serfs after the European population was decimated by the Black Death.

The commercial renaissance simultaneously energized the money economy, the urban economy and the financial system. Until the XNUMXth century, silver coinage predominated in Europe, within the monetary system created by Charlemagne. Only with the growth of commercial activities did it gradually turn to gold coinage, with the introduction of the Florentine guilder and the Venetian duchy, which at the end of the XNUMXth century dominated commercial transactions throughout the European continent. In parallel with currency, credit institutions evolved, which in the feudal economy had practically disappeared, opposed by the Church.

Letters of credit had appeared in the tenth century, reaching great use in Italy two centuries later. Equity participation, in the form of limited partnerships, was the way used by nobles to associate with commercial companies, as a means of advancing money to merchants. From the twelfth century, the first bankers also appeared, replacing money changers as a source of credit. Instead of limiting themselves to lending money, Italian bankers began to accept deposits, discount securities and maintain correspondents in other markets.

“Until the 1407th century, these undertakings were mainly family-owned, even though there were already companies for the management of third-party funds. Only with the evolution of accounting, with the introduction of the double-entry method, in the mid-XNUMXth century, did the emergence of true companies become possible. The first banking company was the House of San Giorgio, founded in Genoa in XNUMX… The accumulation of money in the hands of wealthy merchant families and bankers led them to invest in land. The tradability of land was a deep blow to the feudal structure, where land was not a tradable property, but the basis of the power structure – it did not belong to the lord, both belonged to each other”.[xviii] The increasing monetarization of feudal obligations, and the emergence of a growing craft production for the market, considerably dynamized the urban economy. The functions of the city developed as a result of the circulation of goods between large urban markets. The era of cities began in Europe.

With the growth of labor productivity, the forms of appropriation of economic surplus also changed. The decline of feudalism, a system that tended towards the self-sufficiency of small economic units, was generally based on the fact that, with the development of the social division of labor and exchanges, the products of labor tended to be transformed into commodities. With the expropriation of the means of work (communal land, instruments) from the hands of the producers, their labor force tended to be transformed into a commodity. It was no longer necessary for the appropriation of surplus labor to take place through the direct compulsion of the worker. The nascent enterprises demanded workers without means of work, people “free” to work in exchange for a salary and to buy, with money, the goods produced by the companies.

For these conditions to appear, it was necessary, in the first place, the expropriation of the peasants, that is, the separation between them and the land where they worked, partly for themselves. The compulsory form of exploitation of labor was entering into crisis with the revival of trade, the development of cities, the increase in trade with the East, especially after the Crusades, and the consequent expansion of the monetary economy.

Commercial capital emerged within feudalism through the expansion of initially local markets. Long-distance trade with the East was a first phase of this expansion, in which Italy played a central role, where the city-states were characterized more by the development of their mercantile activities than by their industry. Modern capitalist enterprise took its first steps in fourteenth-century Italy. In 1494, Luca Pacioli, author of the Summa Mathematics, defined the double-entry accounting system (credit/debit) on which business accounting was developed.

In this context, modern bankers and money changers also emerged, whose earnings were related to money in circulation. Commerce set in motion new powers of production, provoking growth in production, exchanges and population concentration in cities. The productive intertwining of individuals (social division of labor) became greater, progressively disappearing relationships of personal dependence, and appearing in their place the reciprocal interdependence of producers, mediated by the exchange value of products. Exchanges were increasingly mediated by money, which began to subordinate production. Without it, nothing was bought and nothing was sold: “The autonomization of exchange value in money, disconnected from products, corresponds to the autonomization of commerce as a function disconnected from those who exchange”.[xx]

Potentially, the trader, taking advantage of market circumstances, commercial profit or even simple deceit, could seize, if successful, the production. The trade developed in some regions led to the accumulation of capital in the hands of large merchants, who invested their profits in manufactures. Capital forged in the circulation of goods gradually took over the productive sphere. In Italian and Northern European coastal cities first, in Spain and Portugal later; later in the Netherlands and England, there was a large accumulation of capital generated in trade. Firstly, the commercialization of spices from the East (cloths, pepper, cinnamon, cloves), then the American colonial production (precious metals, wood, paint, sugar, tobacco).

With the establishment of a regular flow of communication with America, the centers of European trade shifted to the Atlantic coast. Centers emerged to which most of the accumulated capital flowed, and peripheries where these capitals appreciated, without breaking the old economic relationships. Portugal's internal trade, for example, although it was a pioneer country in overseas expeditions, was still superior to the international trade in spices, and was basically based on direct exchanges, not through the intervention of money. Most peninsular producers continued for a long time consuming part of their production or, at most, exchanging goods in limited markets. Economic development was uneven, the scarce and unstructured internal market of some countries left them at the bottom of the trade race.

City handicrafts developed at the end of the Middle Ages with the commercial and urban renaissance. The productive activity was manual, with the use of some simple machines. The producer owned the means of production (tools, installations and raw materials) and knew the entire manufacturing process. Depending on the scale, groups of artisans could organize themselves and divide the stages of the process, but in most cases, a single artisan took care of the entire process, from obtaining the raw material to marketing the final product. These works were carried out in workshops in the homes of the artisans themselves, there was no specialization or division of labor.

Craft production was under the control of craft guilds; trade was under the control of guilds, corporations that brought together people who in cities or towns worked in the same branch or trade, which limited the development of production and trade. They had their own laws and regulations, which all members were expected to obey. These norms defined how things should be done with advantageous prices. Goods were subject to strict quality control. Guilds played an important role in the political and economic life of most cities: over time, conflicts arose over their influence on public affairs, when they prevented non-guild members from exercising their activity, from opening a business , and when they made technological innovation impossible.

This landscape has changed with greater commercial development. Thanks to the “commercial revolution”, there was a gradual shift from dispersed handicrafts to production in workshops, from these to manufactories and finally to mechanized production in the factory. With the progressive liberalization of industry and trade, enormous technological progress and a strong increase in productivity occurred in a short period of time. The market still commanded the pace of production, contrary to what would happen later, in industrialized countries, when production began to press for the creation of its own market. Increasingly strengthened, the new bourgeoisie began to invest in the countryside as well, acquiring large rural properties, while sectors of the nobility began to invest in commercial and even industrial activities.

Thus, the initial phase of the new mode of production took place in the second half of the XNUMXth century and the beginning of the XNUMXth century, mainly in England and the Netherlands. These became one crossroads maritime and commercial: with the sacking of the Belgian port of Anvers by the Spaniards, Amsterdam became the “shop of Europe”, with the first modern merchandise and stock exchanges. Capital began to dominate production in the form of a social relationship between capitalists and wage workers, or in the less developed form of the subordination of domestic artisans, who worked at home and with machines and raw materials provided by the capitalist (burden system, or putting-out system), which allowed the holder of capital to formally subordinate independent producers to his interests, being able to obtain productivity gains through the technical division of labor, and through the growing specialization of producers.

At the same time, the need to look for money to buy new products led the old feudal nobility to an unprecedented exploitation of the peasants under their “protection”. When that was not enough, it began to simply expropriate them, to convert itself into a producer of goods, either directly or by leasing the fields to the nouveau riche of the cities, the bourgeoisie. In England, the need to produce wool for export to the nascent and expansive manufactures of Flanders implied the transformation of feudal territories into sheep-raising fields, with the violent expulsion of hundreds of thousands of peasants.

To this was added the licensing of feudal armies, useless after having served in the Crusades and European wars. This gave rise to an enormous mass of the unemployed, chased away and dismantled by the new repressive bodies in the cities and by the new professional armies of the States, whose soldiers were the first massive contingent of the new relations of production, which would grow with the human masses liberated by the agrarian enclosures. and the professionalization of the armies.

The decomposition of feudalism thus released the elements for the emergence of capital as the dominant social relationship. Marx summed it up bluntly: “Those who emancipated themselves only became sellers of themselves after they had been robbed of all their means of production and deprived of all the guarantees that the old feudal institutions assured their existence. The history of the expropriation they suffered was inscribed in blood and fire in the annals of humanity. The industrial capitalists had to take away the dominance that the masters of the corporations and the lords themselves had over the sources of wealth.

The rise of the capitalist represents a victory against masters and lords, against corporations and manors. Man could now be freely exploited. The process that produced the wage-earner and the capitalist has its roots in the subjection of the worker. The expropriation of the rural producer, the peasant, who was thus deprived of his land, formed the basis of the entire process. By the end of the fourteenth century, serfdom had virtually disappeared from England.[xx]

Once this condition was met, the path for the others was paved. The peasants could develop, in parallel to their artisanal activities, agricultural activities that contributed to the reduction of the cost of reproduction of the workforce. The growth of a social group that depended entirely on its salary, reduced and miserable, provoked the first confrontations of this group with the capitalist industrial bourgeoisie. The revolt of those exploited by the new system of production, which manifested itself early on (especially in Italy), did not open up its own societal perspective, according to Marx, “not only because of the embryonic state of the proletariat itself, but also because of the absence of material conditions of its emancipation, which only appear as a product of the bourgeois epoch”.[xxx]

Manufacturing – a growing substitute for handicrafts –, in turn, resulted from the expansion of consumption, which led artisans to increase production, and merchants to dedicate themselves to industrial production as well. It also resulted from the increase in currency trading. With manufacturing, there was an increase in labor productivity, due to the technical division of production in the manufacturing establishment, where each worker performed a step in the manufacture of a single product. The expansion of the consumer market was directly related to the expansion of trade, both internally and towards the East or America.

Another feature was the emergence of direct interference by the capitalist in the production process, starting to buy raw materials and determine the pace of production. The process that created the capitalist system consisted of the process that transformed the social means of subsistence and production into capital, and converted direct producers into wage earners. This already happened, to a limited extent, in the Italian coastal cities, in Flanders and in England; in the fifteenth century, the benefits of the capitalist sector of the economy, however, still came mostly from trade and finance, not manufacturing or industry.

The genesis of the agrarian capitalist went through a metamorphosis that began with the serf, foreman and administrator, passing through the “free tenant” and the “sharecropper”, until concluding with the “tenant proper”, who already had his own capital, hired salaried workers and paid a rent, in cash or in kind, to the landowner. The genesis of the capitalist tenant developed in England from its primitive stage in the bailiff, still a serf, passing through his replacement during the second half of the XNUMXth century by the colonist. The settler soon became a partner, who also disappeared to make way for the tenant, who sought to expand his capital by employing wage laborers and handed over to the landlord a part of the surplus product, in money or in products, as ground rent.

The capitalist tenant thus emerged from the serf ranks of the Middle Ages. Maurice Dobb accentuated this aspect, when he stated that the embryos of capital were in the small mercantile production that still existed in agrarian-based feudalism, in the economy of small separate and relatively autonomous producers, submitted by extra economic mechanisms (mainly religious and military) to the feudal lords . As the peasants achieved emancipation from feudal exploitation, through peasant revolts and conditions that favored them (such as the plagues that made free labor scarce, and therefore more valued), they could keep for themselves plots larger amounts of their production, accumulate a small surplus, use their profits to improve cultivation, and accumulate some capital.[xxiii]

Some of these peasants became rich and began to use the labor of others to accumulate capital and, progressively, to pay their servile obligations to the feudal lords in cash, in the form of rent for the use of the lord's land. This is how capitalist tenant farmers (who leased land from the rural aristocracy and passed on a portion of their profits to them in the form of rent for their use) were consolidated, at the same time as the multiplication of salaried rural workers, who made up a power market. and also an expanding consumer market, accelerating the move to a general money economy.

The English sixteenth century marked the rise of the capitalist tenant farmer, who grew rich as quickly as the rural population became poor. The usurpation of pastures, long-term leases, inflation and continuous depreciation of precious metals (the “price revolution” of the XNUMXth century), the lowering of wages, the continuous rise in prices of agricultural products, and that had to be paid to landlord, fixed by the old monetary value, were the factors responsible for the emergence of the capitalist tenant class, which was strengthened by the increase in currency circulation.

Monetary inflation favored new economic and social relations: “In the XNUMXth century, gold and silver circulating in Europe increased as a result of the discovery in America of richer and easier to exploit mines. The value of gold and silver fell relative to other commodities. Workers continued to receive the same sum of money in metal as payment for their work force; the price of their labor in money remained stable, but their wages fell, as they received a smaller sum of goods in return for the same money.

This was one of the circumstances that favored the increase of capital and the rise of the bourgeoisie in the sixteenth century”.[xxiii] The currency became a field of dispute between competing economic sectors. In 1558, Thomas Gresham, financial agent to Queen Elizabeth I, wrote that "bad money drives out good", and noted that if two coins had identical legal value but different metal content, those with a higher density of noble metal would be treasured. , which would harm commercial circulation.

The new commercial bourgeoisie and the money changers and bankers were embryonic elements of the economic system based simultaneously on profit, on the accumulation of wealth, on the control of production systems and on the permanent expansion of business. At the same time, violent conflicts eliminated the communitarian elements of European rural life: “The implantation of the 'market society' emerged as a confrontation between classes, between those whose interests were expressed in the new political economy of the market and those who contested it, placing the right subsistence above the imperatives of profit”.[xxv]

The expropriation of the peasants from their means of subsistence brought about the ruin of rural domestic industry, giving rise to industry and with it the industrial capitalist. An internal market emerged due to the ruin of domestic industry, linked to rural production. Thus, with the process of dissociation of workers from their means of production, capitalism also guaranteed the existence of industry.

The “capitalist revolution”, which would obtain its definitive victory with the urban capitalist industry, thus had its origin in the countryside: “A general increase in agricultural [monetary] incomes represents an increase in the incomes of the majority of the population; technological change in agriculture affects most producers; a drop in the price of agricultural products tends to lower the cost of raw materials for non-agricultural sectors and of foodstuffs for wage earners in general”.[xxiv] The “agricultural revolution” accompanied by the growth of capitalist industry brought with it an increase in the exploitation of labor and a rise in the number of people excluded from property, providing the reserve of labor that modern industry needed for its existence and expansion.

In this way, the origin of the industrial capitalist was not restricted only to the masters of corporations, artisans and salaried workers who became capitalists through the expanded exploitation of wage labor: it also encompassed the rural capitalist and the merchant transformed into an industrial entrepreneur. The structuring center of the bourgeois pole of the new society in gestation constituted the genesis of the industrial capitalist.

The gradual and progressive transformation of masters, independent craftsmen, former serfs of the land, into capitalists, however, was too slow a method for capital accumulation. The methods used in this original accumulation skipped steps, driven by the comprehensive nature of the economic process. English merchants invested capital in other similar East India Companies, driven and protected by the state.

The first capitalists also helped transform land into an article of commerce: “The violence that seizes common lands, followed as a rule by the transformation of crops into pastures, begins at the end of the XNUMXth century and continues into the XNUMXth century. The progress of the eighteenth century consists in having made law the vehicle for the theft of land belonging to the people. Robbery takes the parliamentary form given to it by the laws relating to the enclosure of common lands, which are decrees of expropriation of the people”. Land ceased to be a natural condition for production and became a commodity.

In England, it took a parliamentary coup to turn common lands into private property: “The systematic theft of common lands, allied to the theft of Crown lands, contributed to increasing those great leases, called, in the eighteenth century, capital farms or commercial farms”. Workers were expelled from their lands and forced to look for jobs in cities. As Marx recalled: “In the nineteenth century, memory of the connection that existed between agriculture and common land was naturally lost. The last major process of expropriation of peasants is finally the so-called land clearing, which consists of sweeping away human beings. All English methods culminated in this cleansing.”

The land previously populated by workers was now pasture for sheep: “A human being is worth less than a sheepskin”, it was said at the time. The “cleansing of property” spread across Europe: “The theft of church property, the fraudulent alienation of state domains, the theft of common lands, and the transformation of feudal and clan property into modern private property, carried out with implacable terrorism, are among the idyllic methods of primitive accumulation”.[xxv] These methods incorporated land into capital and provided the city's industry with the necessary supply of propertyless proletarians. The formation process of the dispossessed classes, future industrial proletarians, was violent and compulsory, not at all “natural”.

The men who were expelled from the lands with the dissolution of feudal vassalages were not absorbed, in the same proportion and with the same speed, by industrial, domestic or commercial work. In this process and in the struggles between artisans and their guilds, some artisans became rich at the expense of others who lost their means of work. Those who “lost” were left with only their workforce and became proletarians, those who won managed to accumulate resources for new investments, and could also lose their businesses to other competitors.

In this violent social framework, in England in the XNUMXth century, production techniques evolved, wool production expanded and the nation prepared itself for the process that, two centuries later, would culminate in the Industrial Revolution. International trade induced the expansion of sheep farming and, with the expropriation of land, the lords expanded their creation on a large scale, which only needed a few people employed in the vast pastures of the large properties. Wool was used in manufactures, in the manufacture of fabrics and other textile products. With the growth of the wool market, the sheep herds also grew, initially limited by the royal authorities, which determined a maximum of two thousand heads per breeder.

With the expulsion of the serf-peasants, they went to the cities in search of work: the cities could not employ all the newly unemployed, who were thus driven to theft and begging. The laws of the “poor people” were then enacted, which appeared in England at the end of the XNUMXth century and during the XNUMXth century, and later in other countries. These laws were a direct consequence of the social transformations arising from the exploitation of the New World's natural resources and the opening of new consumer markets, which favored the expansion of trade and manufacturing industry.

The flourishing of Flemish wool manufacturing, and the consequent rise in prices, encouraged the transformation of crops into sheep pasture, creating the need to expel most peasants from their lands. The English rural population, expropriated and expelled from their lands, compelled to vagrancy, was framed in the discipline demanded by the new system of work through a legalized terrorism that used the whip, the red-hot iron and the torture. Many agricultural areas, formerly cultivated and which guaranteed the subsistence of countless peasant families, were fenced off and transformed into pastures. Unable to adapt to the rigid discipline of manufacturing or even urban life, many peasants became beggars; Laws and decrees followed to reduce this category of city dwellers.

The laws prohibited the existence of unemployed people, punishing them with severe penalties. Henry VIII established by law that “the sick and disabled old people are entitled to a license to beg, but healthy vagabonds will be flagellated and imprisoned” (the recidivists also had half of their ears cut off). The first English “poor law”, under the reign of Elizabeth I, prepared, under the pretext of compulsory poverty relief, the future “workhouses”, workhouses, where the poor were compulsorily placed at the disposal of the industrial capitalist.

Markets expanded, nationally and internationally, pushing a constant and accelerated increase in production. The structuring of a world market, however, did not happen suddenly. It represented a leap forward in relation to previous “commercial globalization” processes: the expansion of the Chinese Empire’s suzerainties in the Far East, the commercial expansion of Islamic civilization in the era of its splendor, the resumption of internal and, above all, external trade routes, of Christian Europe from the XNUMXth century onwards, which led numerous merchants (especially Italians) to establish permanent commercial connections with the centers of production of fine fabrics (silk) and spices from the East.

Illustrating the geographical scope of this process, Janet Abu-Lughod postulated the existence, between 1250 and 1350, of eight articulated economic circuits, in which trade and the division of labor configured self-sufficient developed economic systems.[xxviii] Of these eight circuits, six were located in areas dominated by Islam which was, at the time, along with imperial China, the most developed economic area (Europe was less industrially and economically developed, its commercial contacts with the rest of the world were not continuous) . With the advent of the Crusades and the formation of the first European States, as we saw above, the Arabs were being expelled from part of their domains, and European expansion began.

Why did the broad non-European economic circuits not give rise to a world market? Immanuel Wallerstein denied the character of “world economies” to the Arab-Islamic economic circuits of the XNUMXth and XNUMXth centuries, a category that, for this author, would only be achieved with the destruction of these circuits by European expansion. The largest economic circles, in that period, were in China, until economic stagnation, accompanied by recurrent hunger epidemics, was followed by destruction caused by external attacks, events that gradually prepared the ground for social changes in the Celeste Empire. In contrast to the Arab setback and Chinese stagnation, the expansion of European activities by radio was inscribed in internal economic reasons, in the logic that led to the gradual dissolution of manorial ties, the expansion of the radio of commerce and the impulse of mercantile production, reasons accompanied by scientific, technical and ideological renewal.

It is in this context that Europeans won the “[undeclared] race to America”. From the end of the XNUMXth century, European interoceanic voyages took place in the context of “the freedom of ideas about the Atlantic shared by cartographers, cosmographers and explorers of Latin Christendom during the XNUMXth century. Against this background, Columbus' project to cross the ocean seems intelligible and even predictable. The Atlantic space exerted a powerful attraction on the imaginations of Latin Christendom.

Cartographers seeded their representations of the ocean with speculative landmasses and, from 1424 onwards, left empty spaces to be filled with new discoveries. As interest in this space grew, so did the awareness of the possibility of exploring it. The first lasting European colonies were founded in the Canary Islands in 1402 and in the Azores in 1439. The pace of efforts accelerated in the second half of the century”.[xxviii] And they concluded, as is well known.

With the worldwide expansion of “Europe”, the increasing internationalization of the economy became a fact to be considered in government policies. The decrease in distances was accompanied by the specialization of countries and regions and the reorganization of local economies, caused by the opening of new markets, which caused some sectors of the economy to prosper and others to fail. In the XNUMXth century, the impact of the American overseas discoveries and the new route to the East on the European economy was verified.

In this transitional framework, Fritz Rörig even proposed the existence of a “worldwide medieval economy”, including in this phenomenon the intercontinental journeys made by medieval European merchants, from the XNUMXth century onwards.[xxix] For its external expansion, Europe took advantage of knowledge and maritime routes traced by the Chinese: the post-medieval European West created, based on these and other appropriations, a new society, based on an economic-social system in which mercantile relations took over the productive sphere , as did not happen in other societies in which internal and external trade had reached important dimensions, as well as scientific and technological development. In short, the roots of capitalism can be traced back to the revival of domestic trade, the rise of international trade, and the opening of lines of movement of goods to/from the East and, finally, to/from America.

As Earl J. Hamilton summarized: “Although there were other forces that contributed to the birth of modern capitalism, the phenomena associated with the discovery of America and the Cape route were the main factors in this development. Long distance voyages increased the size of ships and the technique of navigation. The expansion of the market facilitated the division of labor, and led to technical improvements. The introduction of new agricultural commodities from America and new agricultural and manufactured goods, especially oriental luxury goods, spurred industrial activity to obtain the counterpart to pay for them. Emigration to the colonies of the New World and to establishments in the East lessened the pressure of population on metropolitan soil and increased the surplus, the excess of production in relation to national subsistence, from which savings could be drawn. The opening up of distant markets and sources of raw materials was an important factor in the transfer of control of industry and commerce from guilds to capitalist entrepreneurs. The old union organization, incapable of dealing with the new problems of purchase, production and sale, began to disintegrate and finally gave way to the capitalist enterprise, a more efficient means of management”.[xxx]

The voyages of Christopher Columbus and Bartolomeu Dias were the culmination of this process and, above all, gave rise to another, of worldwide reach. The expedition of Fernando de Magalhães (1480–1521), a Portuguese navigator in the service of Spain, made the first trip around the globe, which began in 1519 and ended in 1521. , but also at the pace of the colonizing enterprise, whether it took the form of a commercial enclave, trading post or territorial occupation. As is known, in seeking an alternative route to China, the Europeans “discovered” a new continent, America, which they conquered and colonized, initially as a subsidiary function of their search for and penetration of the Chinese and Far Eastern markets. The first cartographies of the “new” continent were prepared to determine the most suitable crossing point for the Far East.

Intercontinental journeys formed a unity with the processes that, in Europe, accelerated social transformations; demographic increase, overcoming famines and plagues of the fourteenth century, resumption of wars in the second half of the fifteenth century: “This internal impulse was finally sustained, from the end of the fifteenth century, by an injection of external wealth due to maritime and colonial expansion . The circumnavigation of Africa, the discovery of the route to the Indies by Vasco da Gama, that of America by Columbus, and Magellan's voyage around the world, raised the scientific level and expanded the conception of the world in Europe. At the same time, and this was the true objective of the 'discoverers', the great trade in exotic products, slaves and precious metals, opened up again, extraordinarily expanded. A new era was opening up for mercantile capital, more fertile than that of the Mediterranean republics of the Middle Ages, because a world market was constituted, whose impulse affected the entire European productive system, at the same time that large States (no longer simple cities) , he was going to take advantage of it to constitute himself”.[xxxii]

Thus, from internal and external processes, European maritime expansion unified the planet geographically and economically. Immanuel Wallerstein proposed, as the basis of the origin of the “modern world system” in the European sixteenth century, a slight superiority of capital accumulation in the United Kingdom and France, due to circumstances inherent to the end of feudalism in these countries, which triggered a process of expansion economic-military, culminating in a global system of exchanges that, in the XNUMXth century, incorporated almost all territories on the planet.

The statement that it was a “Europeanization” of the world forgets that it was this process that created “Europe” in the modern sense: “Today, we imagine that Africa and Europe are two completely different continents, separated by an abyss of civilization. , but until very recently this distinction made no sense. For many centuries, goods and men moved more easily on water than on land, and trade and empire brought the peoples of the Mediterranean together.”[xxxi] Modern Europe emerged simultaneously from a split, a differentiation and a contraposition. Because it was not, in short, Europe that created the world mercantile expansion, but this expansion that created the modern concept of Europe; this expansion, on the other hand, was not purely commercial: “The construction of the modern world-system involved an expansion of Europe that was simultaneously military, political, economic and religious. Within this context, Christian missionaries spanned the globe, but were notably more successful in parts of the world that were not dominated by so-called world religions. The number of converts in largely Islamic countries, Buddhist, Hindu and Confucian-Taoist areas, were relatively few, and particularly few in Islamic areas”.[xxxii]

European expansion was based on the expansion of industrial production, which required a corresponding constant expansion of the market; it reached all regions of the planet, creating conditions for “the interweaving of all peoples in the network of the world market and, with it, the international character of the capitalist regime”.[xxxv] European expansion did not automatically create, on the other hand, its economic hegemony over the rest of the world. In China, still hegemonic in the Far East and resistant to European advances, in 1645 there was the conquest of power by the Manchu dynasty, which subjected the traditional peoples of Central China (the Manchus came from the northern region of China, Manchuria).

The maximum expansion of Chinese civilization was reached in the 600th century, when the vast interior regions of Mongolia, Sinkiang and Tibet were conquered. Subsequently, the “Middle Empire” (Chi'In) gradually lost its dominant position: the Chinese annual GDP per capita remained stable (1280 dollars) between 1700 and 500, while the European, in the same period, rose from 870 to XNUMX dollars.[xxxiv] At the beginning of the 96th century, however, the GDP of the Chinese economy was still the first in the world (74,25 billion “Geary Khamis dollars”), followed by that of India (15,6 billion) and, in third place, France ( XNUMX billion).[xxxiv]

Initially, its worldwide expansion had strong internal repercussions in Europe, accelerating economic and social transformations. One factor that increased the gains of capitalist tenants was the “price revolution” of the XNUMXth century, linked to the monetary expansion derived from the exploration of the New World, an inflationary phenomenon motivated by the influx of precious metals, following the colonization and conquest of America. As the economy was not yet prepared to adjust all incomes in line with inflation, those who sold their goods (salaried workers and capitalists) profited unequally; those who bought, lost (consumers in general, and in part the same wage earners and capitalists, only they gained much more and lost much less). Only those who lived on fixed incomes and only bought, were ruined (basically the aristocracy).

The State was forced to create other forms of revenue (sale of public debt securities, and the sale of offices and titles of nobility, which were previously monopolized by the nobility by birth). The enormous entry of precious metals of American origin into Europe constituted a major episode in its economic and social history: “It was this fact that triggered the price crisis of the XNUMXth century, and saved Europe from a new Middle Ages, allowing the reconstitution of its metallic stock”.[xxxviii] He unleashed much more than that, as he anticipated the “(in)human climate” of a new society, through “the astonishment of these men over a century that begins before 1500 and during which prices do not stop rising . They had the impression of living an unprecedented experience. The good old days when everything was given for nothing, was succeeded by the inhuman time of famines that never receded”,[xxxviii] for the poorest, and profits that did not stop increasing, for the nouveau riche.

The crisis caused by the “price revolution” (which quadrupled in Europe throughout the 1500th century) contributed, through inflation, to the ruin of countless artisans or small owners, creating new conditions likely to facilitate the transition to a new economic system. : the appearance of free workers, dispossessed of any property other than their labor power. The total amount of gold circulating in Europe between 1650 and 180 increased from 16 to 60 tons, and that of silver from XNUMX to XNUMX tons.[xxxix]

An important part diverted to import goods from the East, but another part fed the budget of the States that spent it on armies and fleets, borrowing from bankers and creating the fiscal deficit (public debt, which Marx called the “Creed of capital”) as rule, creating its chronic and historical dependence on financial capital. In western Europe, the average price of wheat quadrupled in the second half of the sixteenth century. Prices quadrupled in Spain in that century; in Italy, the price of wheat multiplied by 3,3; by 2,6 in England, and by 2,2 in France.[xl]

The inflation route followed the route of entry and transport of American precious metals in Europe: [xi] “The discovery and conquest set in motion an enormous flow of precious metal from America to Europe, and the result was a great rise in prices - an inflation occasioned by an increased supply of the best kind of money of good quality. Hardly anyone in Europe was so far removed from the influences of the market as not to feel some effect on his wages, on what he sold, or on any small object he wanted to buy. Price increases initially took place in Spain, where metals came in first; then, as they were carried by trade (or, perhaps to a lesser extent, by smuggling or conquest) to France, the Low Countries, and England, inflation followed.

In Andalusia, between 1500 and 1600, prices rose five times. In England, if we took the prices of the last half of the 100th century to be 250, that is, before the voyages of Columbus, the height of the last decade of the 1673th century would be 1682; eighty years later, that is, in the decade from 350 to 1680, they would be at XNUMX, three and a half times more than they had reached before Columbus, Cortez and Pizarro. After XNUMX they stabilized and remained so, as they had fallen much earlier in Spain. These prices, not the conquerors' reports, represented the news that America had been discovered, for the vast majority of Europeans.[xliii]

If the importance of the sixteenth-century price revolution is beyond dispute, its causes are not. Was the inflationary surge due to the increased circulation of precious metals, or did other factors also play a role? For Licher Van Bath, a general rise in prices would have preceded the arrival and flow of precious metals in Europe from the United States. The prices of agricultural products rose before that by more than manufactured goods and also by more than wages.[xiii]

The triggering factor of the “price revolution” would have been, for this author, the population explosion: the population increase would have led to an increase in demand for subsistence products and, consequently, to an increase in prices. With the growth of the population there was a greater supply of labor, which led to a depreciation of wages. There would also have been a strong stimulus to subsistence agricultural production, evidenced by the increase in the cultivated area, and also by the increase in agronomic knowledge.

The increase in prices was directly verified in urban commerce and in the growth of cities. For Pierre Vilar, for his part, the price revolution was not caused exclusively by the increase in the circulation of metals from America: since the mid-XNUMXth century, a tendency towards price increases was configured through demographic and agricultural expansion, technical advances in silver extraction in Europe, financial, monetary, commercial and, finally, political innovations. Van Bath's theory was proposed as an alternative to explaining the origin of capitalism by the original accumulation of capital, through social/state violence, basing the development of commercial exchange and capital accumulation as a "natural and spontaneous" tendency of human society to overcome the wild stage.[xiv] In any case, sixteenth-century inflation was a crucial turning point in the European economy.

The European crisis of the XNUMXth century, the agricultural crisis, the population stagnation, gave rise to the final decline of feudalism on the continent, the rise of commercial capital and proto-industrialization, which were the heralding symptoms of the economic dominance of a new mode of production.[xlv] The feudal lords already received the serfs' annual contributions in coin, a fixed rate per person. By doubling the amount of gold, with little change in production, prices doubled, halving the income of the feudal lords: “The economic crisis of the feudal nobility gave rise to a great transfer of wealth, the macroscopic example of which was the sale of manors. To worsen the economic condition of the aristocracy and increase the speculative gains of the commercial bourgeoisie, a very particular circumstance had arisen: the rapid increase in the mass of circulating capital, which followed the massive importation of precious metals, determining a broad phenomenon of price inflation that had a negative impact on feudal land values”.[xlv]

The general rise in prices produced a transfer of income from the feudal lords to the emerging commercial class, which did not fail to notice the political potential of the simultaneous popular rebellion against the lords, which already seemed the heralding sign of a new social regime: “At the beginning From the sixteenth century the established order seemed threatened in Europe. The old pressure from the nobility and the renewed pressure from some sovereigns who demanded more taxes and more soldiers weighed heavily on the popular strata, especially on the peasants. His malaise expressed itself in more and more frequent riots, almost one a year. These revolts were increasingly conscious and radical, often outlining demands for social reform. It doesn't matter that they claimed an illusory 'moral economy' that they supposed the lords had made vulnerable, or that they invoked divine law and that they made an egalitarian reading of the gospels, which gave a 'traditional' character to their discourse. Behind these arguments lay the hope of a new society in which men would be equal in rights, elected authorities, and religion would not be an instrument of social control in the hands of the clergy”.[xlv] In this very explicit way, a social revolution was under way, based on the rebellion in the countryside.

In economic terms, Paul Mantoux, especially,[xlviii] accentuated the role of commerce and cities in the rise of capitalism. The great urban markets arose from the routes traveled by merchants. The transition to continuous buying and selling began in European cities in the late XNUMXth century. This new commercial form was influenced by and also propitiated the development of railroads and steam navigation; the great obstacle that prevented the expansion of the mercantile economy was the lack of communication. The feeble and slow flow of commerce demanded to be confined and conducted through better defined channels. With the development of transport, occasional and non-permanent fairs and markets would become obsolete in Western Europe (Russian fairs retained their importance longer). Business methods have changed. Product exchanges gradually took the place of fairs, working daily and permanently. Purchases were made by samples: trade was more speculative.

There was the sale of bonds and terms or insurance transactions, whereby the producer guaranteed himself against any loss he might suffer through fluctuations in the price of raw materials. Insurance guaranteed the payment of a pre-established fine if the price fell; the buyer, in turn, guarantees coverage for the possibly altered value of the product he wanted to buy. There was a growing confidence in commercial commitments and in the honesty of business. The market was diversified, there was a greater quantity of supplies. With the modification of transport, the variety of products coming from different places was much greater.

Merchants began to dedicate themselves only to sales, specializing in certain sectors. Product exchanges used telegraphs or other new methods of communication to relate to other exchanges: this led to the creation of a single international price, whose fluctuation was notified to all markets. Commercial travelers used new modes of transportation to seek out buyers. The stores became more varied, they started to be managed by a specialized articles merchant: they became commercial companies. Initially small and specialized, they would later become large and multiple, with many branches.

The accelerated circulation of goods was a condition for the valorization of capital in industry and commerce. With the dissolution of the vassalages, the feudal system and the corporative organization in the city progressively collapsed: money capital from commerce was installed in the manufactures, taking advantage of the urban system and the corporative organization, seeking economies of scale through the centralization of productive resources. Marx summarized the process: “The transformation of individually dispersed means of production into socially concentrated means, from the minuscule ownership of the many to the gigantic ownership of the few; the expropriation of the great mass of the population, stripped of their lands, their means of subsistence and their instruments of work, that terrible and difficult expropriation, constituted the prehistory of capital”.[xlix] This process gained momentum thanks to the impetus it received from the absolutist State, first in England, where there was a gradual transformation of the role of the aristocracy in the seventeenth century, transforming itself more and more into a class engaged in commercial activities.

Commercial capital expanded internationally; it was also present in the black slave trade in Africa and in the commercial relations between the colonies and the metropolises. The slave trade and the thirst for precious metals provided great profits: it was a period of accelerated accumulation, based on high commodity prices, high profits and very low wages. The Europe-Africa-America triangular trade provided a great accumulation of money, which established the rather “liberal” bases for the later financing of properly industrial capitalism: “Conquest, plunder, extermination; this is the reality from which the influx of precious metals to Europe in the XNUMXth century comes from. Through the royal treasures of Spain and Portugal, the merchants' chests, the bankers' accounts, this gold was completely 'washed' when it reached the coffers of the financiers of Genoa, Antwerp or Amsterdam”.[l]

In these first great financial centers of Europe, especially in Amsterdam, the beginnings of capitalist accumulation were accompanied by crises of a new type. Initially, they were attributed to random phenomena, as was the case of the “tulip crisis”, the first recorded modern economic crisis, which took place between 1636 and 1637, caused by speculation about the increase in prices, and their subsequent collapse, in this way. exotic flower used in garden decoration and also in medicine.

It was the first “overproduction crisis” to be recorded in historical annals: merchants were crammed with tulip bulbs bought before the crash, and they went bankrupt, as the Dutch Court did not enforce the payment of these contracts. Smaller, similar versions of “tulipamania” also occurred in other parts of Europe. One of its effects was the sophistication of the financial system (through insurance contracts) and the creation of mechanisms such as the options market.[li] Thus, it was with North Sea Europe as the initial center, but in a worldwide process, that the conditions that made possible the birth of capitalism and its institutions were created in Western Europe. Its launch bases were social and political violence in Europe, and general violence, as we will see, in America and Africa – the crises of overaccumulation of goods, in turn, were the heralding sign of its painful birth.

*Osvaldo Coggiola He is a professor at the Department of History at USP. Author, among other books, of Marxist economic theory: an introduction (boitempo).



[I] Richard A. Goldthwaite. L'Economia della Firenze Rinascimentale. Bologna, Il Mulino, 2013.

[ii] Michel Kratke. Marx und die Weltgescichte. Zu den Studienmaterialien von Marx und Engels. Beiträge zur Marx-Engels-Forschung, Neue Folge 2014/15.

[iii] Jacques Le Goff. The Middle Ages and Money. Rio de Janeiro, Brazilian Civilization, 1993.

[iv] Charles Van Doren. A Brief History of Knowledge. Rio de Janeiro, House of the Word, 2012.

[v] David S. Landes. Prometheus Unchained. Technological change and industrial development in Western Europe from 1750 to the present day. Rio de Janeiro, New Frontier, 1994.

[vi] Rodney Hilton. op cit.

[vii] Albert Dauphin-Menier. History of the Bank. Paris, PUF, 1968.

[viii] Georges Duby. Warriors and Peasants. Initial development of the European economy (500-1200). Madrid, Siglo XXI, 1976.

[ix] Karl Marx. Pre-Capitalist Economic Formations. Rio de Janeiro, Peace and Land, 1991.

[X] AL Morton. The History of the English People. Rio de Janeiro, Brazilian Civilization, 1970.

[xi] Gianfranco Poggi. The Evolution of the Modern State. Rio de Janeiro, Zahar, 1981.

[xii] Michael E. Tigar and Madeleine R. Levy. Law and the Rise of Capitalism. Rio de Janeiro, Zahar, 1978.

[xiii] Ludovico Gatto. Il Medioevo. Roma, Newton & Compton, 1994.

[xiv] Jurgen Kuczynski. Brief History of the Economy. Mexico, Cartago, 1984.

[xv] Régine Pernoud. Les Origines de la Bourgeoisie. Paris, Presses Universitaires de France, 1947.

[xvi] This war was not a single, continuing conflict, but a series of conflicts fought between 1337 and 1453 by the Plantagenet, ruling house of England, against the House of Valois, rulers of France, and their (numerous) allies, over succession to the throne. French. Five generations of kings from rival dynasties fought for the throne of the greatest kingdom in Western Europe. The war marked both the height of medieval chivalry and its subsequent decline, and the development of strong "national identities". After the Norman conquest, the kings of England were vassals of the kings of France for their possessions on French soil. French kings strove over the centuries to reduce these possessions so that only Gascony was left to the English. The confiscation or threat of confiscation of this duchy was part of French policy to control the growth of English power, particularly when the English were at war with the Kingdom of Scotland, an ally of France (Cf. Michel Balard, Jean-Philippe Genet and Michel Rouche. Le Moyen Âge in Occident. Paris, Hachette, 2003).

[xvii] Luciano Pellicani. La Genesis del Capitalismo e le Origini della Modernità. Soveria Mennelli, Rubbettino, 2013.

[xviii] Francisco Magalhães Filho. Economic History. São Paulo, Literary Suggestions, sdp.

[xx] Karl Marx. The capital, Book I, vol. 1 (São Paulo, Nova Cultural, 1986 [1867]).

[xx] Karl Marx. The capital, Book I, vol. 1.

[xxx] Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. Communist Manifesto. São Paulo, City of Man, 1980 [1848].

[xxiii] Maurice Dobb. The Evolution of Capitalism. Rio de Janeiro, Guanabara, 1987 [1947].

[xxiii] Karl Marx. Salaried Work and Capital. Beijing, Ediciones en Lenguas Extranjeras, 1976.

[xxv] Ellen Meiskins Wood. The Origins of Capitalism. A longer view. London, Verse Books, 2002.

[xxiv] Phyllis Deane. The Industrial Revolution. Rio de Janeiro, Zahar, 1982.

[xxv] Karl Marx. The capital, Book I, vol. 1, as well as the preceding quotes.

[xxviii] Janet L. Abu-Lughod. Before European Hegemony. The world system 1250-1350. New York, Oxford University Press, 1989.

[xxviii] Felipe Fernandez-Armesto. Christopher Columbus. Barcelona, ​​Folio, 2004.

[xxix] Fritz Rorig. The Medieval Town. Batsford, University of California Press, 1967 [1932].

[xxx] Earl J. Hamilton. The Flowering of Capitalism. Madrid, Alianza Universidad, 1984.

[xxxii] Pierre Vilar. La transition du feodalisme au capitalisme. In: CERM (Centre d'Études et Recherches Marxistes). Sur le Féodalisme. Paris, Editions Sociales, 1971.

[xxxi] Nigel Cliff. Holy war. How Vasco da Gama's travels transformed the world. Sao Paulo, Globo, 2012.

[xxxii] Immanuel Wallerstein. Islam, the West, and the World. Lecture in series “Islam and World System,” Oxford Center for Islamic Studies, October 1998.

[xxxv] Karl Marx. The capital. Book I, Vol. 1, cit.

[xxxiv] Angus Madison. Chinese Economic Performance in the Long Run. Paris, OECD, 1998.

[xxxiv] The Geary-Khamis dollar is a fictitious unit of account, which has the same purchasing power in a given country as the US dollar in the United States at a given time.

[xxxviii] Pierre Chaunu. History of Latin America. São Paulo, European Book Diffusion, 1981.

[xxxviii] Fernand Braudel. The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World in the Age of Philip II. São Paulo, Edusp, 2016, vol. 1.

[xxxix] Earl J. Hamilton. The American Treasury and the Precious Revolution in Spain 1501-1650. Barcelona, ​​Criticism, 2000.

[xl] John H. Munro. Money, prices wages and profit inflation in Spain, the Southern Netherlands and England during the price revolution: 1520-1650. History and Economy vol. 4 nº 1, São Paulo, 1st half of 2008.

[xi] Fernand Braudel. The American treasury and the revolution I gave prezzi. In: Ciro Manca (ed.). Formazione e Transformazione dei Sistemi Economici in Europa dal Feudalesimo al Capitalismo. Padua, CEDAM, 1995.

[xliii] John K. Galbraith. Currency. Where did it come from, where did it go. São Paulo, Pioneer, 1977.

[xiii] H. Licher Van Bath. Agrarian History of Western Europe (500-1850). Lisbon, Presence, 1984.

[xiv] Murray N. Rothard. Down with primitivism: a thorough critique of Polanyi. Mises Daily, London, September 2004; WHB Court. A Concise Economic History of Britain. London, Cambridge University Press, 1954. According to Friedrich Hayek, the market would be a spontaneous tendency of societies to leave the tribal state

[xlv] Eric J. Hobsbawn. The general crisis of the European economy in the seventeenth century. In: Charles Parain et al. op cit.

[xlv] Giuliano Conte. From the Crisis of Feudalism to the Birth of Capitalism. Lisbon, Presence, 1979.

[xlv] Joseph Fontana. Europe in front of the Mirror. Bauru, Edusc, 2005.

[xlviii] Paul Mantoux. The Industrial Revolution in the XNUMXth Century. Sao Paulo, Hucitec, 1988.

[xlix] Karl Marx. The capital. Book I, Vol. 1.

[l] Michel Beaud. History of Capitalism. Paris, Seuil, 1981.

[li] Osvaldo Coggiola. In the XNUMXth century: the tulip crisis. Living History nº 62, São Paulo, November 2008.

See this link for all articles


  • Franz Kafka, libertarian spiritFranz Kafka, libertarian spirit 13/06/2024 By MICHAEL LÖWY: Notes on the occasion of the centenary of the death of the Czech writer
  • The society of dead historyclassroom similar to the one in usp history 16/06/2024 By ANTONIO SIMPLICIO DE ALMEIDA NETO: The subject of history was inserted into a generic area called Applied Human and Social Sciences and, finally, disappeared into the curricular drain
  • About artificial ignoranceEugenio Bucci 15/06/2024 By EUGÊNIO BUCCI: Today, ignorance is not an uninhabited house, devoid of ideas, but a building full of disjointed nonsense, a goo of heavy density that occupies every space
  • João Cândido and the Revolt of the Whipwhip revolt 23/06/2024 By PETRÔNIO DOMINGUES: In the current context, in which there is so much discussion about State reparations for the black population, the name of João Cândido cannot be forgotten
  • A look at the 2024 federal strikelula haddad 20/06/2024 By IAEL DE SOUZA: A few months into government, Lula's electoral fraud was proven, accompanied by his “faithful henchman”, the Minister of Finance, Fernando Haddad
  • The collapse of Zionismfree palestine 80 23/06/2024 By ILAN PAPPÉ: Whether people welcome the idea or fear it, Israel's collapse has become predictable. This possibility should inform the long-term conversation about the future of the region
  • Letter to the presidentSquid 59mk,g 18/06/2024 By FRANCISCO ALVES, JOÃO DOS REIS SILVA JÚNIOR & VALDEMAR SGUISSARDI: “We completely agree with Your Excellency. when he states and reaffirms that 'Education is an investment, not an expense'”
  • Return to the path of hopelate afternoon 21/06/2024 By JUAREZ GUIMARÃES & MARILANE TEIXEIRA: Five initiatives that can allow the Brazilian left and center-left to resume dialogue with the majority hope of Brazilians
  • Chico Buarque, 80 years oldchico 19/06/2024 By ROGÉRIO RUFINO DE OLIVEIRA: The class struggle, universal, is particularized in the refinement of constructive intention, in the tone of proletarian proparoxytones
  • Why are we on strike?statue 50g 20/06/2024 By SERGIO STOCO: We have reached a situation of shortage of federal educational institutions