Eric J. Hobsbawm (1917-2012)
The Age of Capital, 1848-1875
New York, Scribner, 1975. xv, 354 pages. History of civilization Series
To Marlene, Andrew and Julia
Though this book is intended to stand on its own, it happens to be the middle volume of a series of three, which will attempt to survey the history of the modern world from the French Revolution to the First World War, of which the first has long been available as The Age of Revolution, 1789-1848, and the last is still to be written. Consequently the book is likely to be read by some who know the earlier volume as well as by others who do not. To the former I apologize for including, here and there, material already familiar to them, in order to provide the necessary background for the latter. Similarly I have tried briefly, particularly in the Conclusion, to provide a few pointers to the future. I have naturally tried to keep material which duplicates The Age of Revolution to the minimum, and to make it tolerable by distributing it throughout the text. But the book can be read independently, so long as readers bear in mind that it deals not with a self-contained period which can be tidily separated from what went on before and came after. History is not like that.
At all events it ought to be comprehensible to any reader with a modicum of general education, for it is deliberately addressed to the non-expert. If historians are to justify the resources society devotes to their subject, modest though these are, they should not write exclusively for other historians. Still, an elementary acquaintance with European history will be an advantage. I suppose readers could, at a pinch, manage without any previous knowledge of the fall of the Bastille or the Napoleonic Wars, but such knowledge will help.
The period with which this book deals is comparatively short, but its geographical scope is wide. To write about the world from 1789 to 1848 in terms of Europe - indeed almost in terms of Britain and France - is not unrealistic. However, since the major theme of the quarter-century thereafter is the extension of the capitalist economy to the entire world, and hence the impossibility of any longer writing a purely European history, it would be absurd to write about it without paying substantial attention to other continents. Have I nevertheless written it in too Eurocentric a manner? Possibly. Inevitably a European historian not only knows much more about his own continent than about others, but cannot help seeing the global landscape which surrounds him from his particular vantagepoint. Inevitably an American historian, say, will see the same landscape somewhat differently. Nevertheless, in the mid-nineteenth century the history of the development of world capitalism was still centred in Europe. For instance, though the USA was already emerging as what was eventually to be the greatest industrial economy in the world, it was as yet somewhat marginal and self-contained. Nor, indeed, was it an unusually large society: in 1870 its population was not much larger than Britain's, about the same size as that of France, and a little less than that of what was about to be the German Empire.
My treatment is divided into three parts. The 1848 revolutions form a prelude to a section on the main developments of the period. These I discuss in both a continental and, where necessary, global perspective, rather than as a series of self-contained 'national' histories, though in the two chapters on the non-European world it would be both impracticable and absurd not to deal specifically with several important areas and countries, notably the USA and Japan, China and India. The chapters are divided by themes, rather than chronologically, though the main subperiods should be clearly discernible. These are the quiet but expansionist 1850s, the more turbulent 1860s, the boom and slump of the 1870s. The third part consists of a series of cross-sections through the economy, society and culture of the third quarter of the nineteenth century. My object has not been so much to summarise known facts, or even to show what happened and when, but rather to draw facts together into a general historical synthesis, to 'make sense of' the third quarter of the nineteenth century, and to trace the roots of the present world back to that period, insofar as it is reasonable to do so. But it is also to bring out the extraordinary character of a period which really has no parallel in history, and whose very uniqueness makes it strange and remote. Whether The Age of Capital succeeds in 'making sense' and bringing to life this period, must be left to readers to judge. Whether its interpretations are valid, especially when they disagree with more accepted ones, must be left to the discussion of my fellow-historians, who evidently do not all agree with me. I resist the temptation of the writer whose work has been widely and passionately reviewed, in terms ranging from enthusiasm to irritation, to take issue with the reviewers, though I have tried in this edition to eliminate several misprints and some plain mistakes to which some of them have drawn my attention, to straighten out a few syntactical confusions which have apparently led to misunderstanding, and to take account, at least in my formulations, of some criticisms which seem to me to be just. The text remains substantially as before.
Nevertheless, I should like to remove one misunderstanding which appears to exist, especially among reviewers whose natural sympathies are as much with bourgeois society as mine are evidently not. Since it is the duty of the historian to let the reader make allowances for his bias, I wrote (see Introduction p. 17): 'The author of this book cannot conceal a certain distaste, perhaps a certain contempt, for the age with which it deals, though one mitigated by admiration for its titanic material achievements and by the effort to understand even what he does not like.' This has been read by some as a declaration of intent to be unfair to the Victorian bourgeoisie and the age of its triumph. Since some people are evidently unable to read what is on the page, as distinct from what they think must be there, I would like to say clearly that this is not so. In fact, as at least one reviewer has correctly recognised, bourgeois triumph is not merely the organising principle of the present volume, but 'it is the bourgeoisie who receive much the most sympathetic treatment in the book'. For good or ill, it was their age, and I have tried to present it as such, even at the cost of- at least in this brief period - seeing other classes not so much in their own right, as. in relation to it.
I cannot claim to be expert on all but a tiny part of the immense subject matter of this book, and have had to rely almost entirely on second- or even third-hand information. But this is unavoidable. An enormous amount has already been written about the nineteenth century, and every year adds to the height and bulk of the mountain ranges which darken the historical sky. As the range of historical interests widens to include practically every aspect of life in which we of the late twentieth century take an interest, the quantity of information which must be absorbed is far too great for even the most erudite and encyclopedic scholar. Even where he or she is aware of it, it must often, in the context of a wide-ranging synthesis, be reduced to a paragraph or two, a line, a passing mention or a mere nuance of treatment, or omitted with regret. And one must necessarily rely, in an increasingly perfunctory manner, on the work of others.
Unfortunately this makes it impossible to follow the admirable convention by which scholars punctiliously acknowledge their sources, and especially their debts, so that nobody but the originators should claim as their own findings made freely available to all. In the first place, I doubt whether I could trace all the suggestions and ideas I have borrowed so freely back to their origin in some book or article, conversation or discussion. I can only ask those whose work I have looted, consciously or not, to forgive my discourtesy. In the second place, even the attempt to do so, would overload the book with an apparatus of learning quite unsuitable to it. However, there is a general guide to further reading, which includes some of the works I have found most useful and to which I would wish to acknowledge my debt.
References have been almost entirely confined to the sources of quotations, of statistics and other figures, and for some statements which are controversial or surprising. Most of the otherwise unacknowledged figures are taken from standard sources or from such invaluable compendia as Mulhall's Dictionary of Statistics. References to works of literature — e.g. Russian novels — are to titles only, since they exist in a variety of editions. The one consulted by the author may not be the one available to the reader. References to the works of Marx and Engels, who are major contemporary commentators in this period, are both to the familiar title of work or date of letter and to the volume and page of the existing standard edition (East Berlin 1956-71), cited as Werke. Place-names have been given in the English form where there is one (e.g. Munich), otherwise in the form generally used in publications at the time (e.g. Pressburg). This implies no nationalist prejudice one way or another. Where necessary, the current name is added in brackets (e.g. Laibach [ - Ljubljana]).
The late Sigurd Zienau and Francis Haskell were kind enough to read my chapters on the sciences and arts and to correct some of my errors. Charles Curwen answered questions on China. Nobody is responsible for mistakes or omissions except myself. W. R. Rodgers, Carmen Claudin and Maria Moisa helped me enormously as research assistants at various times. Andrew Hobsbawm and Julia Hobsbawm helped me to select the illustrations, as did Julia Brown. I am also deeply indebted to my editor, Susan Loden.
In the 1860s a new word entered the economic and political vocabulary of the world: 'capitalism'.* It therefore seems apposite to call the present volume The Age of Capital, a title which also reminds us that the major work of capitalism's most formidable critic, Karl Marx's Das Kapital (1867), was published in these years. For the global triumph of capitalism is the major theme of history in the decades after 1848. It was the triumph of a society which believed that economic growth rested on competitive private enterprise, on success in buying everything in the cheapest market (including labour) and selling in the dearest. An economy so based, and therefore resting naturally on the sound foundations of a bourgeoisie composed of those whom energy, merit and intelligence had raised to their position and kept there, would- it was believed- not only create a world of suitably distributed material plenty, but of ever-growing enlightenment, reason and human opportunity, an advance of the sciences and the arts, in brief a world of continuous and accelerating material and moral progress. The few remaining obstacles in the way of the untrammelled development of private enterprise would be swept away. The institutions of the world, or rather of those parts of the world not still debarred by the tyranny of tradition and superstition or by the unfortunate fact of not having white skins (preferably originating in the central and north-western parts of Europe), would gradually approximate to the international model of a territorially defined 'nation-state' with a constitution guaranteeing property and civil rights, elected representative assemblies and governments responsible to them, and, where suitable, a participation in politics of the common people within such limits as would guarantee the bourgeois social order and avoid the risk of its overthrow.
To trace the earlier development of this society is not the business of the present book. It is enough to remind ourselves that it had already achieved, as it were, its historical breakthrough on both the economic and politico-ideological fronts in the sixty years before 1848. The years from 1789 to 1848 (which I have discussed ih an earlier volume [The Age of Revolution, see the Preface, p. 9 above] to which readers will be referred back from time to time) were dominated by a dual revolution: the industrial transformation pioneered in, and largely confined to, Britain, and the political transformation associated with, and largely confined to, France. Both implied the triumph of a new society, but whether it was to be the society of triumphant liberal capitalism, of what a French historian has called 'the conquering bourgeois', still seemed more uncertain to contemporaries than it seems to us. Behind the bourgeois political ideologists stood the masses, ready to turn moderate liberal revolutions into social ones. Below and around the capitalist entrepreneurs the discontented and displaced 'labouring poor' stirred and surged. The 1830s and 1840s were an era of crisis, whose exact outcome only optimists cared to predict.
Still the dualism of the revolution of 1789 to 1848 gives the history of that period both unity and symmetry. It is in a sense easy to write and read about, because it appears to possess a clear theme and a clear shape, and its chronological limits are as clearly defined as we have any right to expect in human affairs. With the revolution of 1848, which forms the starting-point of this volume, the earlier symmetry broke down, the shape changed. Political revolution retreated, industrial revolution advanced. Eighteen forty-eight, the famous 'springtime of peoples', was the first and last European revolution in the (almost) literal sense, the momentary realisation of the dreams of the left, the nightmares of the right, the virtually simultaneous overthrow of old regimes over the bulk of continental Europe west of the Russian and Turkish empires, from Copenhagen to Palermo, from Brasov to Barcelona. It had been expected and predicted. It seemed to be the culmination and logical product of the era of dual revolution.
It failed, universally, rapidly and - though this was not realised for several years by the political refugees - definitively. Henceforth there was to be no general social revolution of the kind envisaged before 1848 in the 'advanced' countries of the world. The centre of gravity of such social revolutionary movements, and therefore of twentieth-century socialist and communist regimes, was to be in the marginal and backward regions, though in the period with which this book deals movements of this kind remained episodic, archaic and themselves 'underdeveloped'. The sudden, vast and apparently boundless expansion of the world capitalist economy provided political alternatives in the 'advanced' countries. The (British} industrial revolution had swallowed the (French) political revolution.
The history of our period is therefore lopsided. It is primarily that of the massive advance of the world economy of industrial capitalism, of the social order it represented, of the ideas and beliefs which seemed to legitimatise and ratify it: in reason, science, progress and liberalism. It is the era of the triumphant bourgeois, though the European bourgeoisie still hesitated to commit itself to public political rule. To this- and perhaps only to this - extent the age of revolution was not dead. The middle classes of Europe were frightened and remained frightened of the people: 'democracy' was still believed to be the certain and rapid prelude to 'socialism'. The men who officially presided over the affairs of the victorious bourgeois order in its moment of triumph were a deeply reactionary country nobleman from Prussia, an imitation emperor in France and a succession of aristocratic landowners in Britain. The fear of revolution was real, the basic insecurity it indicated, deep-seated. At the very end of our period the only example of revolution in an advanced country, an almost localised and short-lived insurrection in Paris, produced a greater bloodbath than anything in 1848 and a flurry of nervous diplomatic exchanges. Yet by this time the rulers of the advanced states of Europe, with more or less reluctance, were beginning to recognise not only that 'democracy', i.e. a parliamentary constitution based on a wide suffrage, was inevitable, but also that it would probably be a nuisance but politically harmless. This discovery had long since been made by the rulers of the United States.
The years from 1848 to the middle 1870s were therefore not a period which inspires readers who enjoy the spectacle of drama and heroics in the conventional sense. Its wars - and it saw considerably more warfare than the preceding thirty or the succeeding forty years- were either brief operations decided by technological and organisational superiority, like most European campaigns overseas and the rapid and decisive wars by means of which the German Empire was established between 1864 and 1871 ; or mismanaged massacres on which even the patriotism of the belligerent countries has refused to dwell with pleasure, such as the Cri mean War of 1854-6. The greatest of all the wars of this period, the American Civil War, was won in the last analysis by the weight of economic power and superior resources. The losing South had the better army and the better generals. The occasional examples of romantic and colourful heroism stood out, like Garibaldi in his flowing locks and red shirt, by their very rarity. Nor was there much drama in politics, where the criteria of success were to be defined by Waiter Bagehot as the possession of 'common opinions and uncommon abilities'. Napoleon m visibly found the cloak of his great uncle the first Napoleon uncomfortable to wear. Lincoln and Bismarck, whose public images have benefited by the cragginess of their faces and the beauty of their prose, were indeed great men, but their actual achievements were won by their gifts as politicians and diplomats, like those of Cavour in Italy, who entirely lacked what we now regard as their charisma.
The most obvious drama of this period was economic and technological: the iron pouring in millions of tons over the world, snaking in ribbons of railways across the continents, the submarine cables crossing the Atlantic, the construction of the Suez canal, the great cities like Chicago stamped out of the virgin soil of the American Midwest, the huge streams of migrants. It was the drama of European and North American power, with the world at its feet. But those who exploited this conquered world were, if we except the numerically small fringe of adventurers and pioneers, sober men in sober clothes, spreading respectability and a sentiment of racial superiority together with gasworks, railway lines and loans. It was the drama of progress, that key word of the age: massive, enlightened, sure of itself, self-satisfied but above all inevitable. Hardly any among the men of power and influence, at all events in the western world, any longer hoped to hold it up. Only a few thinkers and perhaps a somewhat greater number of intuitive critics predicted that its inevitable advance would produce a world very different from that towards which it appeared to lead: perhaps its very opposite. None of them - not even Marx who had envisaged social revolution in 1848 and for a decade thereafter - expected any immediate reversal. Even his expectations were, by the 1860s, for the long term.
The 'drama of progress' is a metaphor. But for two kinds of people it was a literal reality. For the millions of the poor, transported into a new world, often across frontiers and oceans, it meant a cataclysmic change of life. For the peoples of the world outside capitalism, who were now grasped and shaken by it, it meant the choice between a doomed resistance in terms of their ancient traditions and ways, and a traumatic process of seizing the weapons of the west and turning them against the conquerors: of understanding and manipulating 'progress' themselves. The world of the third quarter of the nineteenth century was one of victors and victims. Its drama was the predicament not of the former, but primarily of the latter.
The historian cannot be objective about the period which is his subject. In this he differs (to his intellectual advantage) from its most typical ideologists, who believed that the progress of technology, 'positive science' and society made it possible to view their present with the unanswerable impartiality of the natural scientist, whose methods they believed themselves (mistakenly) to understand. The author of this book cannot conceal a certain distaste, perhaps a certain contempt, for the age with which it deals, though one mitigated by admiration for its titanic material achievements and by the effort to understand even what he does not like. He does not share the nostalgic longing for the certainty, the self-confidence, of the mid-nineteenth century bourgeois world which tempts many who look back upon it from the crisis-ridden western world a century later. His sympathies lie with those to whom few listened a century ago. In any case both the certainty and the self-confidence were mistaken. The bourgeois triumph was brief and impermanent. At the very moment when it seemed complete, it proved to be not monolithic but full of fissures. In the early 1870s economic expansion and liberalism seemed irresistible. By the end of the decade they were so no longer.
This turning-point marks the end of the era with which this book deals. Unlike the 1848 revolution, which forms its starting-point, it is marked by no convenient and universal date. If any such date had to be chosen, it would be 1873, the Victorian equivalent of the Wall Street Crash of 1929. For then began what a contemporary observer called 'a most curious and in many respects unprecedented disturbance and depression of trade, commerce and industry' which contemporaries called the 'Great Depression', and which is usually dated 1873-96.
'Its most noteworthy peculiarity [wrote the same observer] has been its universality; affecting nations that have been involved in war as well as those which have maintained peace; those which have a stable currency … and those which have an unstable currency … ; those which live under a system of the free exchange of commodities and those whose exchanges are more or less restricted. It has been grievous in old communities like England and Germany, and equally so in Australia, South Africa and California which represent the new; it has been a calamity exceeding heavy to be borne alike by the inhabitants of sterile Newfoundland and Labrador, and of the sunny, fruitful sugar-islands of the East and West Indies ; and it has not enriched those at the centres of the world's exchanges, whose gains are ordinarily the greatest when business is most fluctuating and uncertain.' 2
So wrote an eminent North American in the same year in which, under the inspiration of Karl Marx, the Labour and Socialist International was founded. the Depression initiated a new era, and may therefore properly provide the concluding date for the old.
* Its origin may go back to before 1848, as suggested in The Age of Revolution (Introduction), but detailed research suggests that it hardly occurs before 1849 or comes into wider currency before the 1860s
1. See J. Dubois, Le Vocabulaire politique et social en France de 1869 à 1872 (Paris 1963).
2. D. A. Wells, Recent Economic Changes (New York 1889), p. 1.
- Part One: Revolutionary Prelude
1. 'The Springtime of Peoples'
- Part Two: Developments
2. The Great Boom
3. The W odd Unified
4. Conflicts and War
5. Building Nations
6. The Forces of Democracy
9. Changing Society
- Part Three: Results
10 The Land
11. Men Moving
12. City, Industry, the Working Class
13. The Bourgeois World
14. Science, Religion, Ideology
15. The Arts
Do what you like, destiny has the last word in human affairs. There's real tyranny for you. According to the principles of Progress, destiny should have been abolished long ago. Johann Nestroy, Viennese comic playwright, 1850 1
The era of liberal triumph began with a defeated revolution and ended in a prolonged depression. The first forms a more convenient signpost for marking the beginning or end of a historical period than the second, but history does not consult the convenience of historians, though some of them are not always aware of it. The requirements of drama might suggest concluding this book with a suitably spectacular event — the proclamation of German Unity and the Paris Commune in 1871 perhaps, or even the great stock-exchange crash of 1873- but the demands of drama and reality are, as so often, not the same. The path ends not with the view of a peak or a cataract, but of the less easily identifiable landscape of a watershed: some time between 1871 and 1879. If we have to put a date to it, let us choose one which symbolises ‘the middle 1870s’ without being associated with any event sufficiently outstanding to obtrude itself unnecessarily, say 1875.
The new era which follows the age of liberal triumph was to be very different. Economically it was to move away rapidly from unrestrained competitive private enterprise, government abstention from interference and what the Germans called Manchesterismus (the free trade orthodoxy of Victorian Britain), to large industrial corporations (cartels, trusts, monopolies), to very considerable government interference, to very different orthodoxies of policy, though not necessarily of economic theory. The age of individualism ended in 1870, complained the British lawyer A. V. Dicey, the age of ‘collectivism’ began; and though most of what he gloomily noted as the advances of ‘collectivism’ strike us as insignificant, he was in a sense right.
The capitalist economy changed in four significant ways.
In the first place, we now enter a new technological era, no longer determined by the inventions and methods of the first Industrial Revolution: an era of new sources of power (electricity and oil, turbines and the internal combustion engine), of new machinery based on new materials (steel, alloys, non-ferrous metals), of new science-based industries, such as the expanding organic chemical industry.
In the second place, we now increasingly enter the economy of the domestic consumer market, pioneered in the United States, fostered not only (and as yet, in Europe, modestly) by rising mass incomes, but above all by the sheer demographic growth of the developed countries. From 1870 to 1910 the population of Europe rose from 290 to 435 million, that of the United States from 38.5 to 92 million. In other words, we enter the period of mass production, including that of some consumer durables.
In the third place — and in some ways this was the most decisive development — a paradoxical reversal now took place. The era of liberal triumph had been that of a de facto British industrial monopoly internationally, within which (with some notable exceptions) profits were assured with little difficulty by the competition of small and medium-sized enterprises. The post-liberal era was one of international competition between rival national industrial economies — the British, the German, the North American; a competition sharpened by the difficulties which firms within each of these economies now discovered, during the period of depression, in making adequate profits. Competition thus led towards economic concentration, market control and manipulation. To quote an excellent historian:
Economic growth was now also economic struggle — struggle that served to separate the strong from the weak, to discourage some and to toughen others, to favour the new, hungry nations at the expense of the old. Optimism about a future of indefinite progress gave way to uncertainty and a sense of agony, in the classical meaning of the word. All of which strengthened and was in turn strengthened by sharpening political rivalries, the two forms of competition merging in that final surge of land hunger and that chase for ‘spheres of influence’ that have been called the New Imperialism 2.
The world entered the period of imperialism, in the broad sense of the word (which includes the changes in the structure of economic organisation, e.g. ‘monopoly-capitalism’) but also in the narrower sense of the word: a new integration of the ‘underdeveloped’ countries as dependencies into a world economy dominated by the ‘developed’ countries. Apart from the impulse of rivalry (which led powers to divide the globe into formal or informal reservations for their own businessmen), of markets and of capital exports, this was also due to the increased significance of raw materials not available in most of the developed countries themselves, for climatic and geological reasons. The new technological industries required such materials: oil, rubber, non-ferrous metals. By the end of the century Malaya was a known producer of tin, Russia, India and Chile in manganese, New Caledonia of nickel. The new consumer economy required rapidly growing quantities not only of materials also produced in the developed countries (e.g. grain and meat) but of those which could not be (e.g. tropical or sub-tropical beverages and fruit, or overseas vegetable oil for soap). The ‘banana republic’ became as much part of the capitalist world economy as the tin and rubber or the cocoa colony.
On a global scale this dichotomy between developed and (theoretically complementary) underdeveloped areas, though not in itself new, began to take a recognisably modern shape. The development of the new pattern of development/dependence was to continue with only brief interruptions until the slump of the 1930s, and forms the fourth major change in the world economy.
Politically the end of the liberal era meant literally what the words imply. In Britain the Whig/Liberals (in the broad sense of those who were not Tory/Conservatives) had been in office, with two brief exceptions, throughout the period from 1848 to 1874. In the last quarter of the century they were to be in office for no more than eight years. In Germany and Austria the Liberals ceased, in the 1870s, to be the main parliamentary base of governments, in so far as governments required such a base. They were undermined not only by the defeat of their ideology of free trade and cheap (i.e. relatively inactive) government, but by the democratisation of electoral politics (see chapter 6 above), which destroyed the illusion that their policy represented the masses. On the one hand, the depression added to the force of protectionist pressure by some industries and the national agrarian interests. The trend towards freer trade was reversed in Russia and Austria in 1874-5, in Spain in 1877, in Germany in 1879, and practically everywhere else except Britain — and even here free trade was under pressure from the 1880s. On the other, the demand from below for protection against the ‘capitalists’ by the ‘little men’, for social security, public measures against unemployment and a wage-minimum from the workers, became vocal and politically effective. The ‘better classes’, whether the ancient hierarchical nobility or the new bourgeoisie, could no longer speak for the ‘lower orders’ or, what is more to the point, rely on their uncompensated support.
A new, increasingly powerful and intrusive state and within it a new pattern of politics therefore developed, foreseen with gloom by anti-democratic thinkers. ‘The modern version of the Rights of Man’, thought the historian Jacob Burckhardt in 1870, ‘includes the right to work and subsistence. For men are no longer willing to leave the most vital matters to society, because they want the impossible and imagine that it can only be secured under compulsion of the state.’ 3. What troubled them was not only the allegedly utopian demand of the poor for the right to live decently, but the capacity of the poor to impose it. ‘The masses want their peace and their pay. If they get it from a republic or a monarchy, they will cling to either. If not, without much ado they will support the first constitution to promise them what they want. ’ 4. And the state, no longer controlled by the moral autonomy and legitimacy which tradition gave it or the belief that economic laws could not be broken, would become increasingly an all-powerful Leviathan in practice, though a mere tool for achieving the aims of the masses in theory.
By modern standards the increase in the role and functions of the state remained modest enough, though its expenditure (i.e. its activities) had increased almost everywhere in our period per capita, largely as a result of the sharp rise in the public debt (except in those strongholds of liberalism, peace and unsubsidised private enterprise, Britain, Holland, Belgium and Denmark) *. In any case social expenditure, except perhaps on education, remained fairly negligible. On the other hand, in politics three new tendencies emerged out of the confused tensions of the new era of economic depression, which almost everywheie became one of social agitation and discontent.
The first, and most apparently novel, was the emergence of independent working-class parties and movements, generally with a socialist (i.e. increasingly a Marxist) orientation, of which the German Social Democratic Party was both the pioneer and the most impressive example. Though the governments and middle classes of the time regarded them as the most dangerous, in fact they shared the values and assumptions of the rationalist enlightenment on which liberalism rested. The second tendency did not share this heritage, and was indeed flatly opposed to it. Demagogic anti-liberal and antisocialist parties emerged in the 1880s and 1890s, either from under the shadow of their formerly liberal affiliation — like the anti-semitic and pan-German nationalists who became the ancestors of Hitlerism — or under the wing of the hitherto politically inactive churches, like the ‘Christian-Social’ movement in Austria**. The third tendency was the emancipation of mass nationalist parties and movements from their former ideological identification with liberal-radicalism. Some movements for national autonomy or independence tended to shift, at least theoretically, towards socialism, especially when the working class played a significant role in their country; but it was a national rather than an international socialism (as among the so-called Czech People's Socialists or the Polish Socialist Party) and the national element tended to prevail over the socialist Others moved towards an ideology based on blood, soil, language, what was conceived to be the ethnic tradition and little else.
This did not disrupt the basic political pattern of the developed states which had emerged in the 1860s: a more or less gradual and reluctant approach to a democratic constitutionalism. Nevertheless the emergence of non-liberal mass politics, however theoretically acceptable, frightened governments. Before they learned to operate the new system, they were—notably during the ‘Great Depression’ sometimes inclined to relapse into panic or coercion. The Third Republic did not re-admit the survivors of the massacre among the Communards into politics until the early 1880s. Bismarck, who knew how to manage bourgeois liberals but neither a mass socialist party nor a mass Catholic party, made the Social Democrats illegal in 1879. Gladstone lapsed into coercion in Ireland. However this proved to be a temporary phase, rather than a permanent tendency. The framework of bourgeois politics (where it existed) was not stretched to breaking-point until well into the twentieth century.
Indeed, though our period subsides into the troubled time of the ‘Great Depression’, it would be misleading to paint too highly coloured a picture of it. Unlike the slump of the 1930s, the economic difficulties themselves were so complex and qualified that historians have even doubted whether the term ‘depression’ is justifiable as a description of the twenty years after this volume ends. They are wrong, but their doubts are enough to warn us against excessively dramatic treatment. Neither economically nor politically did the structure of the mid-nineteenth-century capitalist world collapse. It entered a new phase but, even in the form of a slowly modified economic and political liberalism, it had plenty of scope left. It was different in the dominated, the underdeveloped, the backward and poor countries,or those situated, like Russia, both in the world of the victors and the victims. There the ‘Great Depression’ opened an era of imminent revolution. But for a generation or two after 1875 the world of the triumphant bourgeoisie appeared to remain firm enough. Perhaps it was a little less self-confident than before, and its assertions of self-confidence therefore a little shriller, perhaps a little more worried about its future. Perhaps it became rather more puzzled by the breakdown of its old intellectual certainties, which (especially after the 1880s) thinkers, artists and scientists underlined with their ventures into new and troubling territories of the mind. But surely ‘progress’ still continued, inevitably, and in the form of bourgeois, capitalist and in a general sense liberal societies. The ‘Great Depression’ was only an interlude. Was there not economic growth, technical and scientific advance, improvement and peace? Would not the twentieth century be a more glorious, more successful version of the nineteenth?
We now know that it would not be.
*This increase in expenditure was much more marked in the developing countries overseas, which were in the process of building the infrastructure of their economies — the United States, Canada, Australia and Argentina—by means of capital imports.
**For various reasons, among which the self-sealing ultrareactionary position of the Vatican under Pius IX (1846-78) was perhaps the most important, the Catholic Church failed to use its enormous potential in mass politics effectively, except in a few western countries in which it was a minority and obliged to organise as a pressure group- as in the ‘Centre Party’ in Germany from the 1870s.
1. Johann Nestroy, Sie Sollen Ihn Nicht Haben (1850).
2. D. S. Landes, The Unbound Prometheus (Cambridge 1969), pp. 240-41.
3. Burckhardt, op. cit., p. 116.
4. Burckhardt, op. cit., p. 171.