cotton

Rakesh Bhandari rakeshb at stanford.edu
Tue Sep 16 03:14:21 MDT 2003


As I wind down my participation on this list, an open one which has
thankfully not required agreeement on the recent Cuban verdicts, the
record of Milosevic and the crimes of Henwood, let me add this note
about the importance of cotton in the New World two centuries ago,
not in Cancun recently.

	DMS asked about whether England could have met its cotton
needs through imports from Egypt and India. Note Kenneth Pomeranz's
response on pp.275-78 in The Great Divergence. These are in my
opinion absolutely crucial pages in his argument, and it is my
impression that Brenner and Isett's next reply will concentrate on
them (I can't find explicit, detailed commentary on said pages in
their first Pomeranz critique in Journal of Asian Studies, May 2002,
but it is long and detailed, and I may well have missed it). I am
looking very forward to how this argument is resolved. While both
Inikori and Pomeranz place the Atlantic trading system based on
slavery at the center of their respective explanations of the
emergence of industrial capitalism, the latter emphasizes that the
resource bounty that England enjoyed due to the the geographic,
ecological and institutional features of  New World agriculture
allowed England to overcome the land constraints on which its proto
industrialization would have otherwise crashed (as did proto
industrialization in Jiangnan). On the basis of a survey of the
evidence of cotton producing capacity and potential in the 18th and
19th centuries, Pomeranz doubts that Manchester would have been able
to find in (or induce from) Old World markets the quantity of cheap
cotton that it needed at the time it began its impetuous
industrialization. Even England's attempts in India and  (indirectly)
in Egypt to diversify its New World sources of cotton after
industrialization was well under way came up short (the role that the
colonization of India played in the English industrial revolution
however includes more than the supply of cotton, see Irfan Habib,
Essays in Indian History: Towards A Marxist Perception, pp. 259-366).

	Pomeranz argues that industrial development would have
probably not taken  off had it not been for slave-based, New World
agriculture (as well as English coal) relieving the land shortage
that industrialization would have otherwise exacerbated to the point
of Malthusian crisis. Brenner and Isett argue that Pomeranz has
underestimated the revolutionary accomplishments and capacity of
English agriculture.

	Did the veiled slavery of the English industrial proletariat
need for its pedestal slavery, pure and simple, in the New World?

Rakesh


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