Integration into world markets+centralized feudalism: (Re: Ataturk and Bismarck (was:Re: Questions for Xxxx (was: When to support nationalism?))

Xxxx Xxxxx Xxxxxx xxxxxxxx at
Thu Feb 1 00:10:54 MST 2001

> >Are you saying there have been pre-dominantly pre-capitalist modes of
> >production in the non-Turkish areas. Or are you saying that those areas were
> >the primary source of income for the ruling classes of the Ottoman Empire.

Some commercial capitalism existed in the urban centers of  the Ottoman empire
carried out by minorities such as Jews, Armenians and Greeks. In  rural areas,
there was a "state owned land structure"---sort of centralized feudalism
mediated by landowners. Unlike classical feudalism, landowners couild not
technically own lands. Lands belonged to the state. Land was not a *mulk*

1. External Factors

The external factors which are responsible for Ottoman decay may be studied
under two headings: the pattern of commercial relations between the eastern
Mediterranean and western Europe which was established during the period of the
Crusaders and the economic changes which occurred after the discovery of the New

The two factors noted above merged into one mechanism which laid the groundwork
for the economic decline of the Empire: the Imtiyazat or the Capitulations. As
students of Ottoman history are aware, these economic, commercial and legal
privileges given to foreigners eventually undermined the Empire economically and

caused its final collapse.

 First of all the successors of the Crusaders, who formed small states in the
eastern Mediterranean area, had already been granted some privileges such as tax
exemptions and the right to form their own courts long before the area fell
under Ottoman rule. Thus, when the Ottomans conquered the eastern
Mediterranean, they also recognized such special relations in commercial
treaties. Actually, since the Crusaders were of west European origin, even their
family ties were useful to help them obtain letters of credit and the like.[]
They also contributed greatly to the collapse of the Byzantine economy which
they  by-passed to trade directly with western Europe.[] Looking at the other
side of the problem, the existence of such trading groups within the Empire,
which had very special relations with western
Europe and special legal privileges, cannot be the sole reason for the later
decline of the Empire. On the contrary, in a sound and strong economy, these
traders might even become the agents for further economic development.

At this point one should recall the results of the exploration of  America. Such
a discovery, symbolizing the establishment of new trade routes, marked a turning
point in the economic  history of the Ottoman Empire. Subsequently, a major
inflation was caused by the import of gold and silver into Europe from the New
World. At about the same time, a shift took place in the  traditional trade
routes because the Portuguese had circumnavigated Africa. These events all
helped the Ottoman
economy to become dependent on that of western Europe.[] Inflation first
affected Europe, causing the “leak” of raw materials, especially grain, from the
tightly-controlled Ottoman economy, and then inflation crept towards the East,
causing financial bankruptcy in the Empire. The role of the “privileged”
minorities in such turmoil is not hard to imagine: economic dependency on the
West and exploitation by foreigners reached its peak after the sixteenth

For later developments, Issawi’s world are quite illumination: “The history of
the last century and a half of the Ottoman Empire was largely shaped by two
forces: the national liberation movement of the non-Turkish peoples and the
steady encroachment of the Great Powers.”[]

2. Internal Factors

It has always been very easy to blame external factors for the decline of the
Empire. But such an analysis may mislead us, as the internal factors are also
quite important. Regarding the decline of the Ottomans, one should take the
inflexible state structure into account. The whole Ottoman political system was
designed to eliminate rivals to central power, the Sultan-Caliph. As Mardin has
stated, “with no feudalism, no hereditary princes and an institution staffed
with slaves as an executive organ, the
Ottoman Empire, superficially examined, seems to approximate the optimum
equilibrium of an ‘Oriental Despotism’ under which there are ideally only two
‘social sets’: the ruler and his executive servants on one hand and the ruled on
the other.”[]

A penetrating observer will quickly realize that a structure, designed to
suppress any kind of change, was set up to “keep each man in his appropriate
social position,” for the sake of  “social peace and order of the state.”[]

 In this context, Gibb and Bowen stated that “The keynote of Ottoman
administration was conservatism, and all the institutions of government were
directed to the maintenance of  the status quo.”[]

Actually the picture of the Ottoman structure traced above defines an ‘ideal
type.’ Thus the social, economic and political  reality was different from that
of the ‘ideal structure.’ The weakness of the Empire lay in an inflexible
system, corrupted
through social, economic and political changes brought about by technological
and economic innovations from the ‘outside world.’

Among the results of such a stagnant structure which precipitated the final
collapse of the Empire, were the deterioration of the state-owned land system,
the disability of
the feudal “intermediary classes” which could not evolve  themselves into
“middle classes,” the continuous adulteration of the Ottoman currency, the
weakening military and the eventual loss of territories especially after the
“nationalistic” movements that started in the Balkans.[]


Xxxx Xxxxx Xxxxxx
Ph.D Student
Department of Political Science
SUNY at Albany
Nelson A. Rockefeller College
135 Western Ave.; Milne 102
Albany, NY 12222

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