Capitalism

The Industrial Revolution redefined capitalism as a system that is not just of economic order but also a social one. Since economic activity in 16th century was largely dominated by agricultural yields, the remarkable increase in agricultural productivity became a contributing factor to industrial capitalism. Based on the circumstances in 16th century English agrarianism, the traditional feudal system from the 9th to 15th century was remodelled in the rural society, resulting in a manorial system that consisted of a three-tier social structure. Farmers – no long known as peasants but tenants – worked for landowners who provided them a piece of land for farming activities and and as a form of social security, farmworkers contributed manual labour to the tenant farmers and landowners – aristocrats of nobility, gentry and yeomanry – tried to extract wealth from the lands through their tenants. A market in leases escalated among aristocrats and as landlords, they would offer only to those tenants who would pay the most. This, in turn, simulated tenants, in need for security, to improve their farming productivity to win leases in a competitive market. These turn of events escalated into successful tenant farmers becoming agrarian capitalists and the unsuccessful ones were compelled to become wage-labourers as farmworkers. In the Origin of Capitalism: A Longer View, Ellen Wood stated:    “It was not merchants or manufacturers who drove the process that propelled the early development of capitalism. The transformation of social property relations was firmly rooted in the countryside, and the transformation of England’s trade and industry was result more than cause of England’s transition to capitalism.” (Wood, 2002) Ellen Meiksins Wood (2002), The Origin of Capitalism: A Longer View (London: Verso, 2002), quoting p. 129.Although manorial system may have initiated capitalism, it did very little help in refining the system. There was little to zero technological advancement made by those working the land as their sole purpose was to produce for the landowners and thus will sustain their family. The manorial system stood to ensure that the manor and its surrounding community is self-sufficient. The agricultural production of the lands was not a commodity to be marketed. This lack of competitive pressure did not spark any appeal for change. Society was too comfortable in its structure to have innovations or joint collaborations.The shift in history for agrarian activities was made possible by the infamous ‘crisis of the fourteenth century’. The Great Famine – due to extreme weather conditions that resulted in low crop yield – and the Black Death caused serious depopulation. There was a sudden downturn in food production as the agricultural system could not provide sustenance for national demand. Manorial system subsided, bringing immediate freedom to tenant farmers to market their production and invest in new innovations. New fields of industry emerged and people started exploring their abilities. Merchant capitalism broke into a significant role in the lives of English townspeople, in which small-scale productions of textiles were created by women who weaved independently in private households. Wealthy intermediaries would outsource for materials to provide the weavers, travel a journey to market the finishing product and then return with a small profit to pay them with equivalent salary, with no regard to the type of quality they produced.A bigger progression in merchant capitalism was observed when people skewed away from traditional practise and started taking risks. Merchants in the Netherlands and in Britain had expanded upon the idea from the former trading system to create joint stock companies. These companies were able to invest in bigger trade dealings and grow international trade. By then, merchant capitalism was already a global phenomenon. Traders across the world were connected by a network that promoted the concept of import, export and entrepot. The economic system flourished by simply placing its focus on transporting goods from a market where they are of low economic value to a market where they are expensive. In the Discourse of the Common Weal of This Realm of England, Lamond’s statement showed encouragement towards the national approach to merchant capitalism. He stated:“We must always take heed that we buy no more from strangers than we sell them, for so should we impoverish ourselves and enrich them,” (Lamond, 1549). Furthermore, the Trade and Navigation Acts in the Parliament was supported and promoted by Queen Elizabeth and orders were released to her navy for the protection and promotion of shipping.The stages of development in capitalism continues, and in the 19th century, it evolved into industrial capitalism. In The Organisation of Labour, Louis Blanc, a French socialist and the first to use the term ‘capitalism’, defined it as the “appropriation of capital by some to the exclusion of the others”  (Blanc, 1848). Capitalism is closely associated with privatisation.  In 1760 to 1820, the privatisation of common lands, more widely known as the enclosure, was most significant. A series of Parliamentary Acts were released, ordering that the open fields and wastes were closed for common use. In rural areas where villagers depended upon farming activities, open fields were given with certain rights of access and divided among the population for cultivation. Unproductive areas like fens, marshes, rocky lands and moors were referred to as wastes and were collectively utilised for pasturing animals, harvesting meadow grass, fishing, collecting firewood and basic necessities to avoid impoverishment.Lands that were inhabited for generations were seized and consolidated under the basis of increasing agricultural productivity, but instead left citizens displaced. Compensations were offered but of lacking quality and basic needs such as access to water and wood. Enclosure induced wealthy landowners who were more politically superior to monopolise the proprietorship and control over fertile farmlands and mineral resources. The world of those who chose to enclose reduced the real definition of freedom, liberty and democracy in free market. Tenant farmers were dismissed from their homes, had their natural freedom and independence as labourers evicted and suddenly forced to work for a wage rather than a share. J.L. and Barbara Hammond in The Village Labourer 1760–1832(1911) said:“The enclosures created a new organization of classes. The peasant with rights and a status, with a share in the fortunes and government of his village, standing in rags, but standing on his feet, makes way for the labourer with no corporate rights to defend, no corporate power to invoke, no property to cherish, no ambition to pursue, bent beneath the fear of his masters, and the weight of a future without hope. No class in the world has so beaten and crouching a history.” (J.L. & Hammond, 1911)

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