Hobsbawm's Theory on the General Crisis of the 17th Century

2393 Words Mar 28th, 2006 10 Pages
Hobsbawm's Theory on the General Crisis of the 17th century

It is generally accepted by historians that there was a ‘crisis' that blanketed all of Europe during the 17th century. A myriad of revolts, uprisings and economic contractions occurred almost simultaneously and had a profound impact on the socio-economics of the entire continent. The topic for discussion in this paper is the effects that this ‘crisis' had on Europe and its developments. In particular, the focus will be on Marxist historian Eric Hobsbawm, and his theory that the 17th century crisis was the catalyst for the transition from feudal society to capitalism in England and ultimately the genesis of the industrial revolution. Hobsbawm argues that it was the crisis of the
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However even if it is a given that there was an inadequate concentration of capital in prior to the 17th century to establish capitalism, Hobsbawm still fails to demonstrate how the crisis affected to use of capital, a topic which will be discussed later in this paper.

Hobsbawm argues that there was no division of labor under feudal society to enable mass production leading to capitalistic profits. However Lublinskaya shows that there was a concentration of disperse manufactures in Germany, Spain and especially France who had already established large scale manufacturing using division of labor since the early 16th century. So it can hardly be said that this necessary criteria for capitalism was missing in, or originated by the 17th century . Hobsbawm also makes the claim that the continue exploitation of the peasantry under feudalism reduced their capacity as a cash consumers . This hindered demand for mass produced goods and thus providing companies with little incentive to become active in more revolutionary capital enterprises. However Lublinskaya points out that the continual exploitation of the peasantry eventually forces them to resort to the sale of their labor power making them a cash consumer. This feudal system of exploitation did not ultimately reduced demand but stimulated it .

Another critic of Hobsbawm's theory was historian, H.R. Trevor Roper. In his paper, General Crisis of the Seventeenth Century, he attacks