What is agrarian capitalism

Capitalism and alternatives

Jürgen Kocka

To person

Dr. phil., Dr. h.c. mult .; Historian; Professor em. at the Free University of Berlin and at the Berlin Science Center for Social Research. [email protected]

It is not a matter of course to speak of "capitalism". Many distrust his analytical power because he has often been used critically, polemically or disparagingly - ideologically charged, in public controversies, in political struggle. Or one mistrusts it because it encompasses too much, is difficult to define and is often not defined at all. Isn't it better to speak of a "market economy"? On the other hand, after the end of the Cold War, which was also a war over key concepts, the term "capitalism" has increasingly returned to scientific and general usage. The international financial and debt crisis since 2008 has also contributed to this. The term is still in use in many countries in the context of a critique of capitalism, i.e. with a critical or polemical coloring. Fundamental debates are being held about the tense relationship between capitalism and democracy and about capitalism as the cause of exorbitant inequality and the cause of the impending climate catastrophe, most recently by Pope Francis. But capitalism is often spoken of in a value-neutral, descriptive-analytical way, or even with an emphatic-positive assessment, at least in English. "Conscious capitalism. Liberating the heroic spirit of business" is the title of the book by John Mackey, a successful finance manager, which was recently published in the Harvard Business Review Press.

To the conceptual history

The term is a product of the second half of the 19th century. The terms "capital" and "capitalist" are older, but the noun "capitalism" has only gradually gained acceptance since 1850, as a term of criticism, and since the 1860s also as a sociological analysis term, at least in French, German and English. Louis Blanc, the French socialist, wrote of capitalism in 1850 as "the appropriation of capital by the one, to the exclusion of the other". Wilhelm Liebknecht, the German socialist, spoke in 1872 of the "Moloch of capitalism" that was up to mischief on the "battlefields of industry". But as early as 1870, Albert Schäffle, a liberal-conservative professor of economics, published his book "Capitalism and Socialism", in which he coolly and distanced capitalism as a "single national and international production organism, under the direction of an 'enterprising' operator, for the highest corporate profit concurring capitalists "defined. At first, Marx and Engels rarely used the noun "capitalism" and later only incidentally, but they wrote extensively about the capitalist mode of production and thus helped to shape the meaning of the noun. Important social and economic scientists soon started using the term: above all Werner Sombart and Max Weber in German, Thorstein Veblen, John Maynard Keynes and Joseph Schumpeter in English. By the First World War, it had established itself, multifaceted and controversial, as a concept of criticism and analysis at the same time.

Individualized property rights, markets and commodification, investment, credit, profit and accumulation, the contrast between capital and labor, inequality, factory industry and industrialization - these were the most important features that defined the term in different combinations. In polemics and analysis, the concept of capitalism was a concept of difference. It was used to emphasize certain elements of the present at that time and to illuminate them mostly critically, in contrast to earlier, pre-capitalist conditions, which were often stylized nostalgically, but also in contrast to an imagined better future, at that time especially the future of socialism. To this day, the term lives from the idea that there must also be alternatives to capitalism, as difficult as it is at present to realistically imagine them. To this day it is used both for analysis and for criticism of what bothers some and fascinates others, but does not have to damage understanding. [1]

Authors like Sombart, Weber, and Schumpeter knew, of course, that the reality of capitalism was much older than its concept. They wrote about that Merchant capitalism in long-distance and wholesale trade, which flourished in Europe since the High Middle Ages and was even older in Arabia or China. The Financial capitalism was well known to them, through which the great banking houses of the late Middle Ages and early modern times not only financed extensive commercial operations, but also the financial needs of the contemporary rulers. In doing so, they put the secular and spiritual rulers in a position to satisfy their needs for representation, to wage their wars and sometimes also to modernize their countries. The formation of European states would not have been possible without the capitalism of the Medici, Fuggers or Barings. The Plantation capitalism was not unknown. It had been established in America, Asia and Africa in the course of the European colonization of the world since the 16th century and had led to an immense expansion of the trade in slaves and their use for capitalist purposes. However, this probably cruelest chapter in the history of global capitalism has only become a major research topic in the last few years. The Agrarian capitalism did not go unnoticed, which in England had led to the amalgamation of large estates in the hands of noble and bourgeois owners since the 16th century, while the landlords of East Central and Eastern Europe sold their grain on international markets according to capitalist principles, but their workers still as serfs, in bondage or as Taking advantage of servants. Finally, the story of the Publishing researched in which publisher-merchants in ever larger parts of Europe, mostly rural homeworkers, who with their families in the traditional way spun, weaved and operated other trades, in supra-local and supraregional markets. It was and is clear: capitalism did not and does not just exist since industrialization. [2]

Nevertheless: Most of the contemporaries who discussed capitalism analytically or polemically in the late 19th and early 20th centuries relied primarily on the illustrative material of the Industrial capitalismwhich spread in England in the late 18th century, in Europe and North America in the 19th century, and finally in Japan, before it also spread to other parts of the world in the 20th century. With mechanical engineering and factories, with new energies and new raw materials, with steamships and railways, with telegraphs and telephones, industrialization changed the world as early as the 19th century. Not only did it lead to an unprecedented increase in productivity, to gradually accelerating economic growth and, in Germany since the 1860s, to a slow rise in the standard of living of the population at large. Rather, capitalism also changed in it.

Contractual wage labor has now become a mass phenomenon. Labor relations became capitalist, that is, dependent on fluctuating labor markets, subjected to stricter calculations and the subject of direct supervision by employers and managers. The class antagonism between capital and labor peculiar to capitalism thus became evident, as a struggle for domination and distribution, which could be experienced and criticized. With the factories, mines and new transport systems, the accumulation of fixed capital reached a level never before. Large companies emerged, company mergers took place. As a result, the need for precise profitability control grew, and the modern company became the central location. Technical and organizational innovation became the norm. Schumpeter described "creative destruction" as the core of the capitalist economy: constant innovation, which also leads to the devaluation and destruction of the old and not only makes friends for the system. And Marx observed: "The constant upheaval in production, the uninterrupted upheaval of social conditions, the eternal insecurity and movement distinguish the bourgeois era from all others." There were winners and losers, the income was distributed very unevenly, experiences of progress and relegation mixed. All of this contributed to the unpopularity of the new economic system for many, especially in the large, recurring crises such as 1873 (and even more later, for example 1929 and 2008). With industrialization, capitalism became industrial capitalism and thus a mass acting power. [3]