HISTORY - The Capitalist Revolution

 The capitalist revolution – why crises recur

 The bourgeoisie, historically, has played a most revolutionary part … Constant revolutionising of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones.

                        Marx and Engels, The Communist Manifesto 1848.

 The capitalist revolution – a draft outline.

‘The Capitalist Revolution’ was the revolution in the nature of capital. The study sets out to distinguish capitals as accumulations of wealth in other modes of production from capital-within-capitalism where it must expand to survive.

 Defining ‘capital’ within capitalism

Utter muddle prevails inside Historical Enterprises Inc. about slavery, feudalism and capitalism. Few professionals make any attempt to delineate, still less define chattel-slaves, serfs, bonded labourers, involuntary labour (eg convict) or wage-slaves. Should scholars be cornered into providing an explanation for the genesis of capitalism, they either make one element represent the whole, or toss wage-labour, credit, factories and steam-engines into the pot after the manner of the witches in Macbeth:

Surge in trade, divided skill,

Navvy’s spade, exchange of bill,

Engine’s steam, and low piece-rate

Goldsmith’s loan and factory gate

For a mode of powerful trouble.

Like a hell-broth boil and bubble.

Attempts by many a soi-disant Marxist are almost as gestural as those from bourgeois ideologues.

Here are a few of the markers needed to clear a line of sight towards the revolution in capital, how it is produced as it produces commodities. The preliminary task is to toss out ‘industrial revolution’ as bourgeois propaganda designed to deflect attention from the capitalist revolution. That shift will also knock over technological determinism in favour of the social relations of production – class struggle:

      -          usurers’ or merchants’ capitals were not early forms of capitalism;
-          agriculture is and was an industry and its improvement was the driver;
-          agrarian revolution(s) at home and abroad;
-          construction, mining, transport, of fisheries/whaling are all ‘industrial’;
-          not industrialisation but processing;
-          more manu-facture than machino-facture;
-          domestic system survived but organised centrally before factories;
-          re-think industrialisation in terms of concentration of resources eg enclosure;
-          centralising of ownership;
-          revolutions in credit and chemistry as potent as machinery – impact on turnover times;
-          almost no steam engines driving other machines before 1820s – instead renewable sources in water, wind, and animals including humans.

Now to illustrate the approach through the strand of chattel-slavery. Here, we find:

- No unilinear march from primitive communism past slavery to feudalism onto capitalism before striking out onto socialism and communism;
- Not a transition from feudalism to capitalism - any contrast is with serfdom;
- by 1400, feudalism had disappeared from England;
- 1500s Absolute monarchs imposing full-blown serfdom across Eastern Europe, lasting till the 1860s;
- by the late 1700s, emerging capitalism cohabited with primitive communism (eg in Australia), with a remnant serfdom in Scottish coal mines, and with
- all three modes flourishing under the fist of the East India Company.

Instead of disputing how the world got from feudalism to capitalism, the task for historical materialists is to track the accelerating expansion of capitals across the Eighteenth century through slavery to capitalism, and its nineteenth-century advance on the back of un-free labour.

To do this, we need to distinguish four of the ways in which slavery contributed to the genesis of money capital.

First, from the trade in slaves, the profits made on their sale and the impetus given to the broader economy through the building and equipping of the ships;  

secondly, from the triangular trade around the Atlantic that was built on servicing that truck in human beings – processing in Britain of trade goods for Africa and for the plantations;

thirdly, profits out of the plantations that the slaves worked;

fourthly, profits out of the processing of their produce in Europe: sugar, tobacco and cotton.

All the profits made from the human-flesh market could never have generated sufficient money-capitals to lift the British economy out of the sediment of its previous modes into capitalism. Equally, it is true that without that trade in human beings, the other three sources of wealth via the slave system could not have existed. Their connections are how chattel slavery became the foundation for wage-slavery.


Length: 60,000 words

In twenty or fewer chapters, 2,500 words each in 8-9 pages.

No footnotes in the book, but an on-line version loaded down with them.

One or two article-length references to each chapter at the back.

No illustrations.

J H Plumb’s Pelican History of England: Eighteenth Century is model for presentation in terms of the weight of material and lightness of touch.


Stop every 50 years to carry the recurrence of crises of abundance forward to present through short sections, no more than 1000 words based around prominent economists:

1767: Is capitalism possible? Open with a concocted letter to Turgot from James Steuart outlining his Principles of Political Economy;

1817:  Malthus and Ricardo debate possibility of a general glut in exchange of letters;

1867: Marx on crises as the driving force in capital expansion as an address to International Working Men’s Association;

1917: Lenin on monopolising capitals, war as a form of crisis (aka imperialism) in notebooks;

1967: Joan Robinson on monetary crises and end of Bretton Woods;

2017: bring in Smith in a state of amazement at the changes since Wealth of Nations, that is, that capitalism was possible after all.

Bring in the other writers from these slices as a panel at the Edinburgh Writers’ Festival as a mix of quotations or confected statements.

This final segment could run to 2,000 words

 Chapter headings, preliminary list

Part One   -   Social capital

Accumulate! Accumulate!

Rate of return, or size of surplus?

Centralising and concentration

Socialised capital leading to

 Social capital

Part two  -  ‘Free’ labour

 ‘free’ labour

 Division of labour

 Social labour

 Slavery : trade itself; triangular trade; processing of produce  

 New systems of slavery: bonded

             Part three – Time

 Credit, both retail and wholesale, for turnovers

 Transport - ships, canals, roads, railroads


 Part four   The state

 London – capital of the world


War  : fiscal-naval state.

 Part five  -  Ideas

 The Law  - partnership, joint-stock, limited liability

 ‘The Counting House’   book keeping as the ‘spirit’ of capitalism

 Literacy and numeracy

 Protestant ethic: opulence blocks accumulation

See also Marxism

See also Crisis See also Political Economy

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