Chapter 15: The Global Nineteenth Century C. Chase-Dunn and B. Lerro

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Chapter 15: The Global Nineteenth Century

*C. Chase-Dunn and B. Lerro Social Change: Globalization From the Stone Age to the Present.

Figure 16.1: Brooklyn Bridge: a wood engraving by Rudolph Rusicka,

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This chapter tells the story of the great wave of globalization in the nineteenth century. The rise and fall of British hegemony, the world revolution of 1848, the merger of the East Asian system into the Central System, and the rise of the United States are important parts of this story. The British hegemony was based on a second industrial revolution that began in England in the middle of the eighteenth century and spread to the other core and upwardly mobile semiperipheral areas. European interlopers surrounded China, and Japan leapt on to the global stage. The United States rose from the periphery to the core in the nineteenth century. And another world revolution emerged in the middle of the century. International trade and investment rose to a high peak in 1880 and the spread of the industrial revolution and the intensification of global markets allowed other core and semiperipheral states to challenge the economic and political hegemony of the United Kingdom. The British resisted the changing structure of economic power, and a new period of hegemonic rivalry emerged at the end of the nineteenth century.

The eighteenth century struggle between Britain and France for global hegemony ended in 1815 with Napoleon’s defeat. British forces tried to reconquer their lost colonies in North America in 1812. The new capitol building in Washington DC was burned to the ground, but U.S. forces held in New Orleans and at Fort McHenry in Baltimore Harbor. Frances Scott Key wrote the poem that would become the U.S. national anthem while watching British ships bombard Fort McHenry to no avail. The flag was still there. The story of the long rise of the United States is below, but first let us look at the British hegemony.

Modern hegemony is based upon a complicated combination of economic comparative advantage, military superiority and political consensus. It is both leadership and domination. British resolve had vanquished Napoleon and saved Europe from another marcher state conquest, but this did not completely resolve the issues that had been posed in the world revolution of 1789. Demands for democracy did not end with the defeat of Napoleon. The decolonized U.S. republic survived and the Haitian revolution created a new state run by former slaves in the Caribbean. The ideals of the French and American Revolutions had spread widely in Europe, the European colonies and the uncolonized regions.

British industrialization was going great guns and the industrial revolution was spreading to the European continent and to North America. The nature of business organization was evolving from the more corporate, centralized and formally regulated structures typified by the English East India Company to the decentralized, informally regulated and flexibly organized networks of firms that emerged in the late eighteenth and earlier nineteenth centuries in Britain (Barr 1999). In the English Midlands the new industrial cities of Manchester and Birmingham were using steam engines to power huge spinning and weaving machines to produce cotton cloth in large factories. The demand for labor to supply, tend and maintain the machines created and expanded a new class of urban industrial workers. Vast amounts of raw cotton were imported to feed the machines, and vast amounts of cloth for sails and apparel were produced. This product could be profitably sold both in the home market and abroad for a low price, and so the English manufacturers had a substantial comparative advantage with which to penetrate the home markets of other countries.

In this first phase of British hegemony economic comparative advantage was combined with both political conservatism and some selected progressive international policies that were substantially congruent with the economic interests of the British elites. Conservatism was revealed in the repression of Chartism, an early trade union movement, at home, and Britain’s strong support of the organization of the Concert of Europe in the international arena. The suppression of the Chartists was accomplished by outlawing unions (so-called “combinations”). The Concert of Europe was a formally organized supernational alliance of European governments the purpose of which was to prevent future French Revolutions and Napoleonic escapades by sustaining traditional elites and resisting demands for popular sovereignty. The Concert of Europe was also intended to reproduce the interstate system, and yet it was itself a supernational political organization. In this respect it was a precursor to the League of Nations and the United Nations of the twentieth century.

Two other British international policies that emerged in the wake of the Napoleonic Wars were suppression of the international slave trade and covert support for the decolonization of Spanish colonies in the Americas. Both of these policies were progressive efforts to occupy the moral high ground with respect to the European Enlightenment ideas of equality and national self-determination. Support for Latin American decolonization was an easy option because decolonized states were much more likely to become trade partners with the British and to be open to diplomatic influence. This had to be done covertly because Spain had been an important ally of the British in the struggle against Napoleon. The suppression of the international slave trade was more politically complicated. The British Navy went about intercepting slave ships traveling from Africa to the New World, effectively suppressing this booming business in coerced labor.

This unilateral British intervention into the international slave trade was opposed in Parliament by West Indian plantation owners, but their opposition was overcome, and the effective implementation of the policy of preventing further depredations on the peoples of Africa allowed the British government to regard itself as a leader in humane global governance and an upholder of Christian civilization (Hochschild1998). As a consequence the price of slaves in the New World went up to the benefit of those regions within countries that could grow slave children for sale (e.g. Virginia). The suppression of the slave trade and abolition of slaver in the British colonies in 1834 provided validation for Haiti and for the abolition movements in other colonies and states.

One of the most important consequences of industrialization was urbanization, a large increase in the percentage of the total population living in big cities. The nineteenth century saw an upward sweep in the growth of cities. Britain led this trend, which then spread across Europe and to the other industrializing regions of the world. Another consequence of the British hegemony was that London became the most populous city in the world, surpassing Constantinople (the capitol of Ottoman Empire) and Beijing (the capitol of Qing Dynasty) by 1825.

In the 1840s there arose in Britain a movement for international free trade that focused first on British tariffs (taxes on imports) on grain. The “Anti-Corn Law League” sought to abolish the Corn Law – a high tariff on imported grain (“corn”). This tariff protected British growers of wheat and barley against foreign competition and kept the price of bread artificially high. Thus the slogan of the Anti-Corn Law League was, “Down with infamous bread tax.”

This was a successful use of the economic theory Adam Smith, the father of modern economics, who published his famous book defending free trade, The Wealth of Nations, in 1776. Not only was the British Corn Law repealed, but the British government went on to campaign for international free trade in Europe and the Americas and this campaign was rather successful in convincing other governments to reduce tariffs and to adopt the Gold Standard in which their national currencies were valued in gold. The world economy was increasingly organized by world markets for money and commodities in the second half of the nineteenth century, and international trade as a proportion of all exchange peaked around 1880. This was the nineteenth century wave of economic globalization (O’Rourke and Williamson 2000).
At the middle of the nineteenth century London was the host of the Crystal Palace Exhibition, a huge ‘world’s fair” at which the high tech gizmos of all the countries who were seeking a place in the arena of technical competition displayed their products and inventions.

But already by the 1840s Britain was losing its comparative advantage in textile manufactures to competitors abroad. British capitalists had begun making money by exporting textile machinery rather than cloth. They also began building railroads abroad and sold the steel tracks, and the “rolling stock” (engines and cars). And soon would come the boom in the production of steam ships and their sale to buyers all over the world. This was the capital goods phase of British hegemony described by Eric Hobsbawm (1969) in his Industry and Empire. Railroads and steamships were lowering transportation costs across the world economy, and this expanded and intensified the markets for long-distance trade.

In the 1860s both England and France had to decide what to do about the “war for Southern Independence” in the United States. The war disrupted the export of cotton from the U.S. south, which created a “cotton famine” in the English Midlands. Despite entreaties from the Southern Confederacy for support based on the principle of self-determination, both the English and the French governments decided not to support the secession of the U.S. South. The English cotton textile manufacturers sought new sources of supply, and so cotton growing in Egypt was stimulated.

In the Crimean War (1854-1856), in which Russia tried to seize territory from the declining Ottoman Empire, the British allied with the Ottoman Empire to prevent the Russian advance. This is usually depicted as a crucial defeat for the Russian effort to keep its place among the “Great Powers” of Europe. But in Victorian England,1 despite the eventual defeat of Russia, it revealed that the British Navy had become moribund during the long period of relative peace since the Napoleonic Wars (Briggs 1964).

The Rise of Germany

The rising power of Prussia and the economic and political integration of Germany accelerated the emergence of German industrial prowess. Friedrich List, a German economist, had argued in favor of the “developmental state,” in which government would ally with industrial business interests in order to promote national industrialization. This model was executed successfully in Germany, and many other states tried to emulate it.

The story of the rise of Germany needs to be told in order to understand how the Great War (World War I) could have happened. The lands in which the German language was spoken were divided into the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the remnant of the Hapsburg Empire discussed in Chapter 15, and a large number of small independent states. The age of the Hanseatic capitalist city states had passed, though the long history of successful German merchant capitalism demonstrated a strong cultural capability for successful business entrepreneurship and craftsmanship. The question after the Napoleonic Wars was whether Hapsburg Austria would lead an emergent German nation, or whether some other center would lead. The notion of the sovereignty of nations that was part of the political heritage of the French revolution challenged the basic premise of the Austro-Hungarian Empire as well as the Ottoman Empire, because these were multicultural states held together by a small elite. A strong nationalist movement has emerged in Hungary during the World Revolution of 1848, but it had been suppressed by the Hapsburgs. Though they would have preferred to lead the new Germany, their main energies were spent trying to hold together the Empire. Prince Metternich of Austria had along with the British Lord Castlereigh, been the main architects of the Concert of Europe. But the British were enlightened conservative who saw that the nationalist movements would need to be accommodated, while the Austrians could not afford to compromise. This difference of approach became visible in the different policies toward the emerging national movement of integration in Italy. The British supported Italian unification, while Austria-Hungary opposed it.

A German customs union, the Zollverein, was organized to allow for free trade among the 38 independent principalities of the German Confederation in 1834 and a common external tariff border, and then the Prussians emerged victorious in the Franco-Prussian war with France. The Franco-Prussian war demonstrated that the Germans were a serious military power. It was the Prussian Junker elite of landed aristocrats with a strong military tradition that provided the core of the new German governing class that would lead the emergent nation. The idea of Germany as a nation of people who were related by blood and culture emerged in the nineteenth century and became the basis of the political unification of the principalities with Prussian leadership.

The Prussians supported the policy ideas of Frederick List and accommodated the emerging industrial capitalists. It was the success of German industrialization and railroad building that provided the economic power that was the mainstay of German military capability, but the aristocratic military culture of the Prussians was also a big advantage in crafting the geopolitical policies of a world player and social policies of enlightened conservatism. The German state responded to a strong and organized labor movement by developing nationalism and by extending public education to the working class. Some find it ironic that capitalist industrialization and modern nation-building was led by an elite with deep roots in the tributary mode of production, landed aristocrats. But from another point of view the German challenge to declining British hegemony had the look of an old strategy, the semiperipheral marcher state, and in that light the Prussians fit the bill perfectly. They were able to be nationalists without having to give up an existing empire while their co-nationals in Vienna tried in vain to maintain an empire.

German successes in industrialization created international “lateral pressure,” --the growing need for access to foreign markets and raw materials in a world that was already structured around British hegemony (Choucri and North 1975). In an attempt to accommodate this, the British participated in the Berlin Conference on Africa in 1884-1885, in which the European nations agreed on a division of Africa amongst themselves. The Germans were allocated Tanganyika, Southwest Africa (now Namibia) and the Kamerouns. This constituted an extension of the European system of colonial empires to Africa. Thus was Africa converted from a region of pure predation to a region of exploitation in which the imperial powers came to have an interest in the reproduction of the labor force and the development of the colonial economy. This was the further incorporation of the African land and the people into the Europe-centered world economy, and a transition from an external source of the “reserve army of labor” to an internal source of peripheral production (Wallerstein 1976; Rodney 1974).

As mentioned above, the Berlin Conference was partly an effort by the British to incorporate Germany into the club of European core states. But this effort was not enough. After agreeing to hold the conference in Berlin and granting Germany three colonies in Africa, the British attitude toward accommodating German expansionism hardened.

The victory of the north in the U.S. Civil War firmly set the U.S. on a path toward core status. While some in Britain continued to resent the upstart colonials, others saw opportunities for profitable investments and geopolitical partnership. The financial houses of New York and London became increasingly linked and upper class English gentlemen began increasingly to marry wealthy American wives, tightening the links between the English and American elites.

The process of economic development in England was anything but a smooth upward trend. Ten-year business cycles of boom and bust were a prominent a noted feature of the British economy, and larger forty to sixty year business cycles, later called Kondratieff Waves after the Russian economist who observed and theorized them, were noticeable in prices series that began in the 1790s (Goldstein 1988). The success of the Anti-Corn Law League at home encouraged free trade proselytizers to carry their message of economic liberalization abroad, and these ideas were also promoted by British legations in countries all over the world. In 1846 the U.S. federal government lowered tariffs and the governments of most European powers followed suit in the next two decades (Krasner 1976). Widespread adoption of the Gold Standard made national currencies tradable and encouraged international trade and foreign investment because an investor could be assured that holdings in a foreign currency could be converted into gold at a predictable rate. The British pound sterling (£) become the de facto currency of global trade. The great nineteenth century wave of economic globalization can be seen in Figure 16.2, which shows the ratio of international trade to the size of the whole world economy.

Figure 16.2 Waves of trade globalization. 1830-2010

There was an unusually large economic depression in 1873 and another big one in 1896. British hegemony in the world market for capital goods was in relative decline already by the 1870s as serious competition emerged abroad, especially in Germany and the United States. British capital was increasingly invested overseas and the last phase of British hegemony was based on centrality in the world of finance capital. The City of London (the financial district of London) was truly the global center of high finance. Banking, currency exchange, stock and bond markets and insurance were concentrated in London. This was quite similar to the global economic role that had been played by Amsterdam in the declining years of the Dutch hegemony. But, though London was the most important center, there was also a network of other world cities that included Paris, New York, Berlin and others. These competed with each other, but they also complemented one another with regard to regional specialization.

As British hegemony in manufacturing declined, jobs were exported. Many urban and rural workers in England could no longer find jobs, and so they emigrated to the Americas and to Australia and New Zealand. Irish victims of the potato famine crowded into the East End of London, adding to the casualization of labor and the expansion of the “informal sector” in construction and petty services (Jones 1971). This “peripheralization of the core” and growing inequalities in the urban economy was similar in many ways to that studied by Saskia Sassen (2001) during the more recent rise of global cities such as New York during the most recent wave of globalization in the last decades of the twentieth century. As with contemporary globalization, the nineteenth century wave saw growing inequalities within many of the countries that were involved in expanded international trade and investment (O’Rourke and Williamson 2000; Davis 2003).

One reason why trade globalization declined after 1880 (see Figure 16.2 above), is that many of the countries that had lowered tariffs and adopted the Gold Standard in the middle decades of the nineteenth century reversed these policies in later decades. The United States reasserted its policy of tariff protectionism during the Civil War and did not return to Free Trade until after World War II. In Germany Freidrich List advocated that the national state should support national industrialization by using monetary and tariff policies to helf found new industries. List advocated a strong national bank that would make credit available to strategically chosen industries. List’s ideas were taken up the by newly integrated German state under the Kaiser Wilhelm and were influential in many other countries that wanted to catch up with the British.

The Edwardian2 reign has been called the “Indian summer” of British hegemony, the last warm days before the winter of hegemonic rivalry and deglobalization. It has also been called the belle époque, the beautiful epoch, because life was good for those who could benefit from investments abroad. But the working class was again on the move in the union movement and in national politics. The English were the first to adopt free trade, and the last to abandon this policy. Joseph Chamberlain, the political leader from Manchester, increasingly focused attention on the Empire in the name of improving social conditions at home – so-called “social imperialism.” Cecil Rhodes expanded the British Empire in South Africa, but the Dutch colonists (Afrikaners) were not happy with the expansion of British control. The Afrikaners rebelled in the Boer Wars, and the British Army carried on a long and bloody struggle that finally succeeded in saving South Africa for the British Empire. For many students of modern hegemony the second Boer War represents an instance of “imperial overstretch” in which a hegemon that is losing it economic comparative advantages tries to maintain its global supremacy by using its remaining military superiority (e.g. Modelski 2005).

1848: Another World Revolution

Toward the middle of the nineteenth century another world revolution was brewing. This time the volatile mixture was composed of reactions to capitalist exploitation of workers (slaves, serfs and wage workers) resistance to rapidly expanding global markets and demands for national sovereignty, especially in the remaining multicultural tributary empires – Austria-Hungary and the Ottoman Empire. Steamships and railroads brought distant regions into the sway of world market forces. Food was now exported to lands that had the ability to pay, and this often caused local shortages and made prices rise. The workers movement in Europe recovered from its earlier repression, and states that sought to mobilize citizens for war increasingly extended citizenship rights that enabled workers to play a greater role in national politics. From the 1830s new religious sects emerged in regions that were exposed to rapid social changes (in technology, migration, and marketization). Migration and economic reorganization disrupted older forms of community, and many new movements emerged to reestablish or to build new collective identities. Identity politics is another feature of globalization that is not unique to the twentieth century.

It is called the world revolution of 1848 because that is when worker’s movements and demands for popular sovereignty came to a head in several European countries. But the mobilizations included both secular humanist demands for equality (following the tradition of the French Revolution and the Leftist branch of the European Enlightenment) and radical religious sects that produced new forms of community with creative new interpretations of older religious ideologies. In the United States several new Christian sects emerged during the middle decades of the nineteenth century. Both the prophets and the recruits were people whose lives had been disrupted by the powerful forces of rapid technological and economic change. These newly emergent forms of cooperation and community challenged traditional moral orders, established religions, and political structures. Not everyone had fared well in the rapid economic changes that occurred during the nineteenth century expansion of capitalism and people were needy for a reassertion of moral values and revitalized bases for generalized trust.

The new religious sects adopted many of the radical ideals and reforms of the European secular movements. Joseph Smith, the prophet of the Latter Day Saints (Mormons), embraced communal ownership of property, obviously inspired by utopian socialist ideas emanating from Europe (Stegner 2003). The Mormons, who eventually established a large colony in Utah with pretensions to becoming an independently sovereign state, devised, taught and published newspapers in a radically simplified script for representing the English language. Linguistic reforms of this kind were intended to facilitate mass literacy and they had been another prominent feature of the radical social movements in Europe.

Population pressures encouraged migration, and some of the lands to which people moved were environmentally marginal. In Northeastern Brazil the sertao region receives enough rainfall in unusually wet years to support rain-watered agriculture. Thousands of immigrants and landless people from other areas of Brazil moved out to this region during years of unusually greater rainfall associated with the El Nino/La Nina climate oscillation in the 19th century (Davis 2003:188-195). When the more usual low precipitation returned, the new crops failed and the pioneers faced starvation. Some left, but the others banded together into millenarian religious movements and established collectivistic communities that were seen as threatening by the newly-independent Brazilian state and the large land owners. The city of Canudos, established by the followers of Antonio Conselhiero as a refuge from drought, was conquered and decimated by the Brazilian federal army in 1897.

In China the cycle of peasant rebellions discussed in Chapter 15 continued, but the rebellions came to be influenced ideologically and economically by strengthening interactions with Europe and the Americas. The Taiping Rebellion (1851-1864) was a huge movement that was joined by millions of landless peasants and unemployed workers. As with the earlier White Lotus peasant rebellions, the Taiping started off as a peaceful religious cult that stressed class and gender equality and vegetarianism. The leader was Hong Xiuquan, a member of an ethnic minority from South China called the Hakka. Hong had tried four times to pass the literary exams that were required to become an official in the Qing state. He came to be influenced by Issachar Roberts, an American Baptist missionary from Tennessee, who held to a very millenarian interpretation of Christianity. Hong came to think of himself as Jesus’s younger brother. The Taipings turned to military action in order to expel the Manchus from China and to redistribute land to the poor. The Taipings recruited women as soldiers and proclaimed gender equality. They rejected private property and promoted a simplified language and mass literacy in order to overthrow the literary hierarchy of the Mandarins. The Taiping guerilla armies were formidable foes and it took decades and thirty million deaths for the Qing dynasty to crush the rebellion.

Was this connected to the world revolution of 1848? The Taiping Rebellion was certainly a continuation of the pattern of East Asian development described in Chapter 15 in which Chinese population growth enlarged the underclass, which then rebelled against that paternalistic neo-Confucianist political order using egalitarian and apocalyptic ideas. But the influence of Western millenarian ideas and the increasingly synchronous economic cycles linking China with the Central system in the nineteenth century constitute both ideological and structural links that justify considering the Taiping rebellion to have been part of the world revolution of 1848.

Coordinated global party formation from below began in the world revolution of 1848. The movement to abolish slavery in the U.S. was inspired by the example of the Haitian revolution and led by an ex-slave from the Caribbean named Denmark Vesey, a large group of slaves in Charleston, South Carolina plotted an uprising in 1822 that was discovered and crushed before the rebellion could emerge. Slaves that were able to escape to the free states played an important role, along with protestant ministers, in the development of the abolitionist movement in the U.S. In England and France abolitionist groups were emboldened by the suppression of the slave trade by the British Navy. The radical abolitionist John Brown moved from Massachusetts to Kansas in order to try to prevent that state from adopting slavery. Frederick Douglass, a slave shipwright from Maryland’s Eastern Shore, worked in a shipyard at Fell’s Point in Baltimore before he moved to Boston, where he was a leading publicist in the rapidly growing abolitionist movement. The New England publisher and campaigner William Lloyd Garrison was a synergist who saw the potential for fruitful alliances among the several movements that were challenging the powers that be in the world revolution of 1848. The trade union movement was growing and feminists were beginning to demand that women should be able to vote. Garrison traveled to the World Antislavery Conference in London in 1840 with an American delegation that included women from New England and from the South

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