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For Marx, Weber and many others it has been evident that capitalism is a
peculiar social formation. Its birthplace was in western Europe. Within
this region there was a particular area which was precocious in its
development, where the new social formation emerged in its purest and
earliest form. Marx noted that in the early dissolution of the preceding
medieval' property system 'England[was] in this respect the model
country for the other continental countries' (Marx, 1973: 277). It was, as
Brenner puts it 'classically in England' that we have 'the rise of the three-
tiered relation of land lord/ capitalist tenant/ free wage labour, around
which Marx developed much of his theory of capitalist development in
Capital' (1977: 75). For Max Weber also, England was 'the home ofcapitalism' (1961: 251); it was in England above all that the Puritan
outlook 'stood at the cradle of the modem economic man' (1970: 174).
Since England was the cradle and nursery of capitalism, it is not
surprising that later writers have concentrated on that country. For
instance, Polanyi takes England's history as the central example of the
'Great Transformation' (1944). It is notunreasonable to suppose that if
we could explain why capitalism emerged and developed in England, and
specifically what differentiated it from other parts of Europe and allowed
this growth, we would have moved some way towards understanding the
'European miracle'.
     We may look at some of the more outstanding attempts to solve this
problem. Marx's treatment of the causes for the emergence ofcapitalism
is intriguing but ultimately unsatisfying. He skilfully shows how the
transition may have occurred, and a few of the preconditions. But he
totally avoids giving any solution to the questions of why then and why
there. He analyses the central features of the supposed transition; the
creation of a 'free' labour force through the destruction of a dependent
peasantry isthe central one. This was linked to the expansion of market
forces, money, production for exchange rather than for immediate
consumption. Thus growing trade and commerce is seen as one of the
major propelling forces: 'the circulation of commodities is the starting-
point of capital.... The modem history of capital dates from the creation
in the sixteenth century of a world-embracing commerceand a world-
embracing market' (1954: vol. 1, 145). But long-distance trade had been
present for centuries and had centred on the Mediterranean. Why
should trade suddenly have had this shattering effect, and why should its
prime target be north-western Europe? Unsatisfied with the analyses in
Capital with its mystic theories of internal contradictions which were
bound to lead to inevitabledissolution of the previous social formation,
we may look to his other writings.
    In Grundrisse Marx outlines various combustible elements that would
explode into capitalism. There is money and more specifically 'mercantile
and usurious wealth'. But money, urban craft activity and towns had been
present in many civilizations. Why in western Europe did they alone lead
to the growth ofcapitalism? Marx does provide some further hints. One
central foundation for capitalism was the pre-existence of a rural social
structure which allowed the peasantry to be 'set free'. In other words
there was something particularly fragile in the pre-existing relations of
production. The substratum of feudalism, arising from its origins in the
'Germanic system' was particularly vulnerable tothe new urban craft
development and accumulation of wealth. The crucial feature of the
Germanic system was its form of property. In the Ancient and Asiatic
civilizations, there was no individual, private, property. But in Germanic
society something new and odd emerged. In this period no land
remained in the possession of the community or group. People had
moved half-way, according to Marx,...
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