Origins of the Bourgeois State

Yoshie Furuhashi furuhashi.1 at SPAMosu.edu
Sun Oct 29 16:52:18 MST 2000


Hi Lou (Paulsen):

Now that Lou (Proyect) seems to feel OK about resuming the debate,
let me respond to you again:

>I shall now proceed to antagonize everyone by suggesting that this isn't
>necessarily the important question.  To me, the interesting question is the
>origin of the bourgeois STATE.  A while ago I read an interesting volume on
>the history of Italy which had a lot of interesting things to say about
>class struggle in northern Italian cities in the period from, say, 1200 to
>1500.  It seemed clear from what was being discussed that there were
>governments of independent cities during the 14th and 15th centuries which
>really have to be thought of as bourgeois governments.  They were bourgeois
>in the sense that they were based on the power of the merchants and the
>guilds, rather than on the feudal structure or on the rural landowning
>nobility.  They did things like banishing the noble families from the
>cities, and saying they couldn't serve on juries.  They were conducting a
>conscious post-revolutionary class struggle to suppress the nobility.  This,
>despite the fact that you didn't have industrial capitalism yet, much less
>anything like a capitalist economy in the countryside.

Right, and therefore, while someone like Machiavelli could lay the
foundations of modern republican thought, he could not find his
Prince to bring about social, economic, & political development on
the basis of the modern nation-state, in large part because their
economy was based upon the luxury trades & guild production (btw, Lou
[Paulsen], guilds _were_ part of the feudal structure!).

Coincidentally, on PEN-L as well, Ricardo Duchesne called attention
to the Italian city-states, so I posted the following in response:

*****   In 1415, the Portuguese took the fortress-town of Cueta from
the Moroccans, and shortly afterwards they embarked on some sixty
years of exploration of the Atlantic and Indian Ocean coasts of
Africa.  This led to the establishment of the first of a series of
European footholds on these coasts which were to bring sub-Saharan
Africa into closer relations with the rest of the world than ever
before in its history.  From there, by the end of the nineteenth
century, Europeans were to advance to conquer and control virtually
the whole continent....

Nevertheless, the actions of Europeans in Africa cannot be wholly
understood without some considerations of the reasons which brought
them to the continent.  Initially these derived from the situation in
the Mediterranean which had arisen after the rise of Islam.  The
establishment of Islamic civilization and power throughout the Near
East and northern Africa, and also in the southern peripheries of
Europe, provided southern Europeans at once a major challenge and
with new ideas and opportunities.  Their first major reaction to the
challenge, the Crusades, ultimately demonstrated that Europe was not
yet sufficiently strong...to advance with a counter-attack on the
heart of the Islamic world.  (And it is to be noted that Africa
played its part in the military and political defeat of the Europeans
through the mobilization of Egypt's resources by the Ayyubids and
Mamluks.)  However, the Crusades did open up new opportunities, which
Italian city-states were particularly quick to exploit, for southern
Europeans to enter into commercial relations and intellectual
dialogue with the major world civilization of the middle ages.

The Islamic civilization had made more of the intellectual heritage
of the ancient civilizations than Europeans had been able to do.  The
Muslim occupation of lands like Sicily and the Iberian peninsula
provided opportunities for Europeans to rediscover ancient Greek
philosophy and to partake of the subsequent advances in science and
mathematics made in the Islamic world.  Of particular importance in
relation to the subsequent European expansion was the widening of
geographical horizons brought by contacts with Islamic peoples, and
the acquisition of technologies which were to enable Europeans to
venture into this wider world....Islam reached as far afield as China
in the east and the Sudan in the South.  With the compass, the
astrolabe, and the astronomic knowledge and expertise of the Muslims,
it became possible to construct representations of this wider world
which were more accurate, positive and comprehensive than the
schematic _mappae mundi_ of the high middle ages.  Here in fact it
was southern Europeans, albeit men in close touch with the Islamic
world, who made the major syntheses from which further advance was
possible.  By the fourteenth century, cartographers, largely of
Jewish extraction, who were first based in Italian cities like Genoa,
Venice and Pisa, but who later were centred principally in the
Balearic island o Majorca, were drawing the charts, called
_portolani_, of the Mediterranean and Black Sea coasts, which are the
ancestors of all modern maritime charts.  It will be recalled that it
placed ancient Mali on a map (1339).  A later Majorcan atlas,
attributed to Abraham Cresques, drawn for Charles V of France c.
1375, depicts the western Sudan quite recognizably, with the major
cities of Niani, Timbuctu and Gao in the right relative positions....

That it was southern Europeans, rather than members of the Muslim
world, who so usefully capitalized on the skills and knowledge that
were available by the fourteenth century, may be explained by the
fact that by this time the initiative in trade and navigation in the
Mediterranean had passed to the Italian entrepreneurs and seamen
whose first major maritime ventures had been to transport the
Crusaders to the Levant.  Christian fleets regained control of the
Mediterranean, and the Italian city-states were soon establishing
resident commercial agents in the major ports of the Near East, Egypt
and North Africa.  A flourishing trade developed in which European
exports of timber, metalware and slaves were exchanged for the luxury
produce which Muslim merchants could provide and which Europeans
could increasingly afford -- spices, perfumes, drugs, silks and other
fine cloths, precious stones, sugar, ivory and gold.

Few of these commodities originated in the Near East or North Africa.
Most were brought there by merchants of the Muslim world from market
to market along trade routes which stretched back across the Sahara,
or down the Red Sea and Persian Gulf to India, southeastern Asia or
the east coast of Africa.  The amount of these goods available for
re-export to Europe was of necessity therefore relatively small, and
their prices tended to be high.....

...Whatever the resultant gain to European geographical knowledge of
north-eastern Africa, it must have been clear that, so long as the
Mamluks and the Venetians remained powerful and closely allied, there
was no opening for rival European merchants to the trade of either
Asia or Africa through the Levant and the Red Sea....[At the same
time] while it was not impossible for Europeans to reconnoitre the
Saharan trade or even that of the Sudan, it must have quickly become
obvious that neither the governments of North Africa nor the
established Muslim traders of the Maghrib and the Sahara would
willingly allow Europeans to compete in the trade with the Sudan
overland.  The Italian city-states possessed no military strength
sufficient to allow them to force a way into the trans-Saharan trade
against North African resistance; such power and skills as they
possessed were essentially maritime.  So, quite early on, some
Italians conceived the idea of trading with Africa and Asia by
sea....But, whatever the fate of the [Genoese merchant family]
Vivaldi venture [an expedition through the Strait of Gibraltar], the
Italians must soon have appreciated...that Mediterranean galleys were
not suitable vehicles with which to develop and maintain trade in the
great oceans....

...However, both things [ships and experiences for oceanic navigation
and commerce] were developing in the Iberian peninsula....[In] the
reconquest of the peninsula, the [Christian] Iberians had develped
not only considerable military strength, but also strong national
energies to the one end of the defeat and expulsion of the Moors.
Furthermore, on the maritime side, the Iberians living on the
Atlantic coasts had evolved types of ship capable of development for
long oceanic voyages.  Unlike the Mediterranean galleys, which were
designed primarily to be rowed by large numbers of oarsmen, and which
were consequently long, slender and low in water, and therefore
fragile, difficult to manoeuvre and easily floundered, the Iberian
vessels were designed to be sailed, and were broad, high and strong,
and -- once the lateen sail had been borrowed from the Muslims and
added to the traditional square rig -- suited to manoeuvring even in
high seas or coastal shallows....

In this situation, ambitious Italians, particularly perhaps Genoese,
began to seek employment for their capital and for their mercantile,
navigational and cartographic expertise in the west.  Genoese
admirals went to organize navies for Portugal, Castile and France;
the map-makers moved to Majorca; and Italian captains and
super-cargoes sailed on Portuguese, Castilian and Catalonian ships to
explore new commercial opportunities....

The Portuguese ports, looking south and west over the broad ocean,
were obvious bases from which to embark on the exploration of the
possibilities of maritime trade with Africa.  [Portugal had rid
itself of the Moors by the early thirteenth century; whereas Castile
had to wait until 1492 for the reconquest of its territory.]...

For rather more than a century, then, Portugal held an almost
unbroken monopoly of European relations with tropical Africa.  But
her government sought to exploit it only in selected areas and for
selected purposes.  Compared with Spain and France, sixteenth-century
Portugal was not a rich or powerful country, nor did she possess the
advantages which were subsequently to make the United Netherlands and
England into major commercial and maritime powers.  Her population
was small, no more than 1 1/2 millions, inadequate to develop all her
cultivable land [Yoshie: Still trapped in the Malthusian pattern!],
and she had very little in the way of minerals and industry....  (J.
D. Fage, _A History of Africa_, 3rd ed., NY: Routledge, 1995, p.
215-228)   *****

The rise of Italian merchants -- especially Venetians -- owed itself
to skillful appropriation of scientific advances made earlier in the
Islamic world (which in turn drew upon the Greek/Egyptian knowledge
passed down from ancient civilizations) and the luxury trade (control
of which they gradually wrested from the Muslim merchants, while
working symbiotically with them at the same time), _not_ the
emergence of capitalist class relations of production.  Hence their
eventual eclipse by Holland & Britain.

Nor did the Portuguese monopoly of the tropical African trade & vast
imperial interests stretching halfway round the globe from Brazil to
the Moluccas (which they found it very difficult to control: "A
Portuguese sailor, soldier and official setting out for India had
rather less than one chance in two of getting there alive" [Fage, p.
228]) do much in the way of laying the groundwork for subsequent
economic development (_agricultural improvement_ that allows more
people to devote themselves to _industrial development_).

Yoshie





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