The origins of capitalism

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19755209_4I spent part of the weekend reading The Captive Mind, a noteworthy book by Czeslaw Milosz. Milosz was a Polish emigre and wrote this book in 1953 - also a noteworthy year, since both Joseph Stalin and Klement Gottwald died in 1953. It's a quick read on the plight of eastern European intellectuals during and after the Second World War, and well worth the investment of time.

There was one passage that particularly struck me that seems to give a bit of insight into what we might call the origins of capitalism. In a chapter entitled "Man, This Enemy", Milosz had this to say about the petty bourgeoisie in the people's democracies:

The petty bourgeoisie, that is the small merchants and craftsmen, cannot be taken so lightly. They constitute a powerful force, one that is deeply rooted in the masses. Hardly is one clandestine workshop or store liquidated in one neighborhood than another springs up elsewhere. Restaurants hide behind a sliding wall of a private house; shoemakers and tailors work at home for their friends. In fact, everything that comes under the heading of speculation sprouts up again and again. And no wonder! State and municipal stores consistently lack even the barest essentials...      

All this creates a field for private services. A worker's wife goes to a nearby town, buys needles and thread, brings them back and sells them: the germ of capitalism. The worker himself of a free afternoon mends a broken bathroom pipe for a friend who has waited months for the state to send him a repair man. In return, he gets a little money, enough to buy himself a shirt: a rebirth of capitalism.


Ryan Hahn

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