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197


THE GREAT TRANSFORMATION

the political and economic origins of our time

KARL POLANYI

PART ONE

The International System

1

THE HUNDRED YEARS' PEACE

nineteenth century civilization has collapsed. This book is con­cerned with the political and economic origins of this event, as well as with the great transformation which it ushered in.

Nineteenth century civilization rested on four institutions. The first was the balance-of-power system which for a century prevented the occurrence of any long and devastating war between the Great Powers. The second was the international gold standard which symbolized a unique organization of world economy. The third was the self-regu­lating market which produced an unheard-of material welfare. The fourth was the liberal state. Classified in one way, two of these insti­tutions were economic, two political. Classified in another way, two of them were national, two international. Between them they deter­mined the characteristic outlines of the history of our civilization.

Of these institutions the gold standard proved crucial; its fall was the proximate cause of the catastrophe. By the time it failed most of the other institutions had been sacrificed in a vain effort to save it.

But the fount and matrix of the system was the self-regulating market. It was this innovation which gave rise to a specific civilization. The gold standard was merely an attempt to extend the domestic market system to the international field; the balance-of-power system was a superstructure erected upon and, partly, worked through the gold standard; the liberal state was itself a creation of the self-regulating market. The key to the institutional system of the nineteenth century lay in the laws governing market economy.

Our thesis is that the idea of a self-adjusting market implied a stark Utopia. Such an institution could not exist for any length of time with­out annihilating the human and natural substance of society; it would have physically destroyed man and transformed his surroundings into a wilderness. Inevitably, society took measures to protect itself, but whatever measures it took impaired the self-regulation of the market, disorganized industrial life, and thus endangered society in yet another

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way. It was this dilemma which forced the development of the market system into a definite groove and finally disrupted the social organi­zation based upon it.

Such an explanation of one of the deepest crises in man’s history just appears all too simple. Nothing could seem more inept than the attempt to reduce a civilization, its substance and ethos, to a hard and last number of institutions; to select one of them as fundamental and proceed to argue the inevitable self-destruction of civilization on account of some technical quality of its economic organization. Civil­izations, like life itself) spring from the interaction of a great number of independent factors which are not, as a rule, reducible to circum­scribed institutions. To trace the institutional mechanism of the downfall of a civilization may well appear as a hopeless endeavor.

Yet it is this we are undertaking. In doing so we are consciously adjusting our aim to the extreme singularity of the subject matter. For the civilization of the nineteenth century was unique precisely in that it centered on a definite institutional mechanism.

No explanation can satisfy which does not account for the sudden­ness of the cataclysm. As if the forces of change had been pent up for & century, a torrent of events is pouring down on mankind. A social transformation of planetary range is being topped by wars of an un­precedented type in which a score of states crashed, and the contours of new empires are emerging out of a sea of blood. But this fact of demoniac violence is merely superimposed on a swift, silent current of change which swallows up the past often without so much as a ripple on the surface! A reasoned analysis of the catastrophe must account both for the tempestuous action and the quiet dissolution.

Ours is not a historical work; what we are searching for is not a convincing sequence of outstanding events, but an explanation of their trend in terms of human institutions. We shall feel free to dwell on scenes of the past with the sole object of throwing light on matters of the present; we shall make detailed analyses of critical periods and almost completely disregard the connecting stretches of time; we shall encroach upon the field of several disciplines in the pursuit of this single aim.

First we shall deal with the collapse of the international system. We shall try to show that the balance-of-power system could not ensure peace once the world economy on which it rested had failed. This accounts for the abruptness with which the break occurred, the incon­ceivable rapidity of the dissolution.

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But if the breakdown of our civilization was timed by the failure of world economy, it was certainly not caused by it. Its origins lay more than a hundred years back in that social and technological up­heaval from which the idea of a self-regulating market sprang in Western Europe. The end of this venture has come in our time; it closes a distinct stage in the history of industrial civilization.

In the final part of the book we shall deal with the mechanism which governed social and national change in our time. Broadly, we believe that the present condition of man is to be defined in terms of the institutional origins of the crisis.

The nineteenth century produced a phenomenon unheard of in the annals of Western civilization, namely, a hundred years' peace—1815-1914. Apart from the Crimean War—a more or less colonial event— England, France, Prussia, Austria, Italy, and Russia were engaged in war among each other for altogether only eighteen months. A com­putation of comparable figures for the two preceding centuries gives an average of sixty to seventy years of major wars in each. But even the fiercest of nineteenth century conflagrations, the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71, ended after less than a year's duration with the defeated nation being able to pay over an unprecedented sum as an indemnity without any disturbance of the currencies concerned.

This triumph of a pragmatic pacifism was certainly not the result of an absence of grave causes for conflict. Almost continuous shifts in the internal and external conditions of powerful nations and great empires accompanied this irenic pageant. During the first part of the century civil wars, revolutionary and anti-revolutionary interventions were the order of the day. In Spain a hundred thousand troops under the Due d'Angouleme stormed Cadiz; in Hungary the Magyar revo­lution threatened to defeat the Emperor himself in pitched battle and was ultimately suppressed only by a Russian army fighting on Hun­garian soil. Armed interventions in the Germanies, in Belgium, Poland, Switzerland, Denmark, and Venice marked the omnipresence of the Holy Alliance. During the second half of the century the dynamics of progress was released; the Ottoman, Egyptian, and the Sheriffian empires broke up or were dismembered; China was forced by invading armies to open her door to the foreigner and in one gigantic haul the continent of Africa was partitioned. Simultaneously, two powers rose to world importance: the United States and Russia. National unity was achieved by Germany and Italy; Belgium, Greece. Roumania,

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Bulgaria, Serbia, and Hungary assumed, or reassumed, their places as sovereign states on the map of Europe. An almost incessant series of open wars accompanied the march of industrial civilization into the domains of outworn cultures or primitive peoples. Russia's military conquests in Central Asia, England's numberless Indian and African wars, France's exploits in Egypt, Algiers, Tunis, Syria, Madagascar, Indo-China, and Siam raised issues between the Powers which, as a rule, only force can arbitrate. Yet every single one of these conflicts was localized, and numberless other occasions for violent change were either met by joint action or smothered into compromise by the Great Powers. Regardless of how the methods changed, the result was the same. While in the first part of the century constitutionalism was banned and the Holy Alliance suppressed freedom in the name of peace, during the other half—and again in the name of peace—con­stitutions were foisted upon turbulent despots by business-minded bankers. Thus under varying forms and ever-shifting ideologies— sometimes in the name of progress and liberty, sometimes by the author­ity of the throne and the altar, sometimes by grace of the stock exchange and the checkbook, sometimes by corruption and bribery, sometimes by moral argument and enlightened appeal, sometimes by the broadside and the bayonet—one and the same result was attained: peace was preserved.

This almost miraculous performance was due to the working of the balance of power, which here produced a result which is normally foreign to it. By its nature that balance effects an entirely different result, namely, the survival of the power units involved; in fact, it merely postulates that three or more units capable of exerting power will always behave in such a way as to combine the power of the weaker units against any increase in power of the strongest. In the realm of universal history balance of power was concerned with states whose independence it served to maintain. But it attained this end only by continuous war between changing partners. The practice of the ancient Greek or the Northern Italian city-states was such an instance; wars between shifting groups of combatants maintained the independence of those states over long stretches of time. The action of the same prin­ciple safeguarded for over two hundred years the sovereignty of the states forming Europe at the time of the Treaty of Mimster and West­phalia (1648). When, seventy-five years later, in the Treaty of Utrecht, the signatories declared their formal adherence to this prin­ciple, they thereby embodied it in a system, and thus established mutual

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guarantees of survival for the strong and the weak alike through the medium of war. The fact that in the nineteenth century the same mechanism resulted in peace rather than war is a problem to challenge the historian.

The entirely new factor, we submit, was the emergence of an acute peace interest. Traditionally, such an interest was regarded as outside the scope of the state system. Peace with its corollaries of crafts and arts ranked among the mere adornments of life. The Church might pray for peace as for a bountiful harvest, but in the realm of state action it would nevertheless advocate armed intervention; governments subor­dinated peace to security and sovereignty, that is, to intents that could not be achieved otherwise than by recourse to the ultimate means. Few things were regarded as more detrimental to a community than the existence of an organized peace interest in its midst. As late as the second half of the eighteenth century, J. J. Rousseau arraigned trades people for their lack of patriotism because they were suspected of pre­ferring peace to liberty.

After 1815 the change is sudden and complete. The backwash of the French Revolution reinforced the rising tide of the Industrial Revolution in establishing peaceful business as a universal interest. Mettemich proclaimed that what the people of Europe wanted was not liberty but peace. Gentz called patriots the new barbarians. Church and throne started out on the denationalization of Europe. Their argu­ments found support both in the ferocity of the recent popular forms of warfare and in the tremendously enhanced value of peace under the nascent economies.

The bearers of the new "peace interest" were, as usual, those who chiefly benefited by it, namely, that cartel of dynasts and feudalists whose patrimonial positions were threatened by the revolutionary wave of patriotism that was sweeping the Continent. Thus, for approxi­mately a third of a century the Holy Alliance provided the coercive force and the ideological impetus for an active peace policy; its armies were roaming up and down Europe putting down minorities and repressing majorities. From 1846 to about 1871—"one of the most confused and crowded quarter centuries of European history"1—peace was less safely established, the ebbing strength of reaction meeting the growing strength of industrialism. In the quarter century following the Franco-Prussian War we find the revived peace interest represented by that new powerful entity, the Concert of Europe.

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Interests, however, like intents, necessarily remain platonic unless they are translated into politics by the means of some social instrumen­tality. Superficially, such a vehicle of realization was lacking; both the Holy Alliance and the Concert of Europe were, ultimately, mere group­ings of independent sovereign states, and thus subject to the balance of power and its mechanism of war. How then was peace maintained?

True, any balance-of-power system will tend to prevent such wars as spring from one nation's failure to foresee the realignment of powers, which will result from its attempt to alter the status quo. Famous instances were Bismarck's calling off of the press campaign against France, in 1875, on Russian and British intervention (Austria's aid to France was taken for granted). This time the Concert of Europe worked against Germany who found herself isolated. In 1877-78 Germany was unable to prevent a Russo-Turkish War, but succeeded in localizing it by backing up England's jealousy of a Russian move towards the Dardanelles; Germany and England supported Turkey against Russia—thus saving the peace. At the Congress of Berlin a long-term plan for the liquidation of the European possessions of the Ottoman Empire was launched; this resulted in averting wars between the Great Powers in spite of all subsequent changes in the status quo, as the parties concerned could be practically certain in advance of the forces they would have to meet in battle. Peace in these instances was a welcome by-product of the balance-of-power system.

Also, wars were sometimes avoided by deliberately removing their causes, if the fate of small powers only was involved. Small nations were checked and prevented from disturbing the status quo in any way, which might precipitate war. The Dutch invasion of Belgium in 1831 eventually led to the neutralization of that country. In 1855 Norway was neutralized. In 1867 Luxembourg was sold by Holland to France; Germany protested and Luxembourg was neutralized. In 1856 the integrity of the Ottoman Empire was declared essential to the equilib­rium of Europe, and the Concert of Europe endeavored to maintain that empire; after 1878, when its disintegration was deemed essential to that equilibrium, its dismemberment was provided for in a similarly orderly manner, though in both cases the decision meant life and death to several small peoples. Between 1852 and 1863 Denmark, between 1851 and 1856 the Germanies threatened to disturb the balance; each time the small states were forced by the Great Powers to conform. In these instances, the liberty of action offered to them by the system was used by the Powers to achieve a joint interest—which happened to be peace.

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But it is a far cry from the occasional averting of wars either by a timely clarification of the power situation or by the coercing of small states to the massive fact of the Hundred Years' Peace. International disequilibrium may occur for innumerable reasons—from a dynastic love affair to the silting of an estuary, from a theological controversy to a technological invention. The mere growth of wealth and population, or, eventually, their decrease, is bound to set political forces in motion; and the external balance will invariably reflect the internal. Even an organized balance-of-power system can ensure peace without the per­manent threat of war only if it is able to act upon these internal factors directly and prevent imbalance in statu nascendi. Once the imbalance has gathered momentum only force can set it right. It is a common­place that to insure peace one must eliminate the causes of war; but it is not generally realized that to do so the flow of life must be controlled at its source.

The Holy Alliance contrived to achieve this with the help of instru­ments peculiar to it. The kings and aristocracies of Europe formed an international of kinship; and the Roman Church provided them with a voluntary civil service ranging from the highest to the lowest rung of the social ladder in Southern and Central Europe. The hierarchies of blood and grace were fused into an instrument of locally effective rule, which needed only to be supplemented by force to ensure conti­nental peace.

But the Concert of Europe, which succeeded it, lacked the feudal «s well as the clerical tentacles; it amounted at the best to a loose federa­tion not comparable in coherence to Metternich-'s masterpiece. Only on rare occasions could a meeting of the Powers be called, and their jealousies allowed a wide latitude to intrigue, crosscurrents, and diplo­matic sabotage; joint military action became rare. And yet what the Holy Alliance, with its complete unity of thought and purpose, could achieve in Europe only with the help of frequent armed interventions was here accomplished on a world scale by the shadowy entity called the Concert of Europe with the help of a very much less frequent and oppressive use of force. For an explanation of this amazing feat, we must seek for some undisclosed powerful social instrumentality at work in the new setting, which could play the role of dynasties and episcopades under the old and make the peace interest effective. This anonymous factor was haute finance.

No all-around inquiry into the nature of international banking in die nineteenth century has yet been undertaken; this mysterious institu-

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tion has hardly emerged from the chiaroscuro of politico-economic mythology.2 Some contended that it was merely the tool of govern­ments; others, that the governments were the instruments of its un­quenchable thirst for gain; some, that it was the solver of international discord; others, that it was the vehicle of an effeminate cosmopolitanism sapping the strength of virile nations. None was quite mistaken. Haute finance, an institution sui generis, peculiar to the last third of the nine­teenth and the first third of the twentieth century, functioned as the main link between the political and the economic organization of the world in this period. It supplied the instruments for an international peace system, which was worked with the help of the Powers, but which the. Powers themselves could neither have established nor main­tained. While the Concert of Europe acted only at intervals, haute finance functioned as a permanent agency of the most elastic kind. Independent of single governments, even of the most powerful, it was in touch with all; independent of the central banks, even of the Bank of England, it was closely connected with them. There was intimate con­tact between finance and diplomacy; neither would consider any long-range plan, whether peaceful or warlike, without making sure of the other's good will. Yet the secret of the successful maintenance of gen­eral peace lay undoubtedly in the position, organization, and techniques of international finance.

Both the personnel and the motives of this singular body invested it with a status the roots of which were securely grounded in the private sphere of strictly business interest. The Rothschilds were subject to no one government; as a family they embodied the abstract principle of internationalism; their loyalty was to a firm, the credit of which had become the only supranational link between political government and industrial effort in a swiftly growing world economy. In the last resort, their independence sprang from the needs of the time which demanded a sovereign agent commanding the confidence of national statesmen and of the international investor alike; it was to this vital need that the metaphysical extraterritoriality of a Jewish bankers' dynasty domiciled in the capitals of Europe provided an almost perfect solution. They were anything but pacifists; they had made their fortune in the financ­ing of wars; they were impervious to moral consideration; they had no objection to any number of minor, short, or localized wars. But their business would be impaired if a general war between the Great Powers

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should interfere with the monetary foundations of the system. By the logic of facts it fell to them to maintain the requisites of general peace in the midst of the revolutionary transformation to which the peoples of the planet were subject.

Organizationally, haute finance was the nucleus of one of the most complex institutions the history of man has produced. Transitory though it was, it compared in catholicity, in the profusion of forms and instruments, only with the whole of human pursuits in industry and trade of which it became in some sort the mirror and counterpart. Besides the international center, haute finance proper, there were some half dozen national centers hiving around their banks of issue and stock exchanges. Also, international banking was not restricted to the financ­ing of governments, their adventures in war and peace; it comprised foreign investment in industry, public utilities, and banks, as well as long-term loans to public and private corporations abroad. National finance again was a microcosm. England alone counted half a hun­dred different types of banks; France's and Germany's banking organi­zation, too, was specific; and in each of these countries the practices of the Treasury and its relations to private finance varied in the most striking, and, often, as to detail, most subtle way. The money market dealt with a multitude of commercial bills, overseas acceptances, pure financial bills, as well as call money and other stockbrokers' facilities. The pattern was checkered by an infinite variety of national groups and personalities, each with its peculiar type of prestige and standing, authority and loyalty, its assets of money and contact, of patronage and social aura.

Haute finance was not designed as an instrument of peace; this function fell to it by accident, as historians would say, while the soci­ologist might prefer to call it the law of availability. The motive of haute finance was gain; to attain it, it was necessary to keep in with the governments whose end was power and conquest. We may safely neglect at this stage the distinction between political and economic power, between economic and political purposes on the part of the governments; in effect, it was the characteristic of the nation-states in this period that such a distinction had but little reality, for whatever their aims, the governments strove to achieve them through the use and increase of national power. The organization and personnel of haute finance, on the other hand, was international, yet not, therefore, alto­gether independent of national organization. For haute finance as an activating center of bankers' participation in syndicates and consortia,

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investment groups, foreign loans, financial controls, or other transac­tions of an ambitious scope, was bound to seek the co-operation of national banking, national capital, national finance. Though national finance, as a rule, was less subservient to government than national industry, it was still sufficiently so to make international finance eager to keep in touch with the governments themselves. Yet to the degree to which—in virtue of its position and personnel, its private fortune and affiliations—it was actually independent of any single government, it was able to serve a new interest, which had no specific organ of its own, for the service of which no other institution happened to be available, and which was nevertheless of vital importance to the community: namely, peace. Not peace at all cost, not even peace at the price of any ingredient of independence, sovereignty, vested glory, or future aspira­tions of the powers concerned, but nevertheless peace, if it was possible to attain it without such sacrifice.

Not otherwise. Power had precedence over profit. However closely their realms interpenetrated, ultimately it was war that laid down the law to business. Since 1870 France and Germany, for example, were enemies. This did not exclude noncommittal transactions between them. Occasional banking syndicates were formed for transitory pur­poses ; there was private participation by German investment banks in enterprises over the border, which did not appear in the balance sheets; in the short-term loan market there was a discounting of bills of ex­change and a granting of short-term loans on collateral and commercial papers on the part of French banks; there was direct investment as in the case of the marriage of iron and coke, or of Thyssen's plant in Normandy, but such investments were restricted to definite areas in France and were under a permanent fire of criticism from both the nationalists and the socialists; direct investment was more frequent in the colonies, as exemplified by Germany's tenacious efforts to secure high-grade ore in Algeria, or by the involved story of participations in Morocco. Yet it remains a stern fact that at no time after 1870 was the official though tacit ban on German securities at the Bourse of Paris lifted. France simply "chose not to risk having the force of loaned capital"3 turned upon herself. Austria also was suspect; in the Moroccan crisis of 1905-06 the ban was extended to Hungary. Financial circles in Paris pleaded for the admission of Hungarian securities, but industrial circles supported the government in its staunch opposition to any concession to a possible military antagonist. Politico-diplomatic

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rivalry continued unabated. Any move that might increase the pre­sumptive enemy's potential was vetoed by the governments. Superficially, it more than once appeared as if the conflict had been quashed, but the inside circles were aware that it had been merely shifted to points even more deeply hidden under the amicable surface.

Or take Germany's Eastern ambitions. Here also politics and finance intermingled, yet politics was supreme. After a quarter of a century of perilous bickering, Germany and England signed a compre­hensive agreement on the Baghdad railway, in June, 1914 —too late to prevent the Great War, it was often said. Others argued that, on the contrary, the signing of the agreement proved conclusively that the war between England and Germany was not caused by a clash of economic expansionism. Neither view is borne out by the facts. The agreement actually left the main issue undecided. The German railway line was still not to be carried on beyond Basra without the consent of the British government, and the economic zones of the treaty were bound to lead to a head-on collision at a future time. Meanwhile, the Powers would continue to prepare for The Day, which was even nearer than they reckoned.4

International finance had to cope with the conflicting ambitions and intrigues of the great and small powers; its plans were thwarted by diplomatic maneuvers, its long-term investments jeopardized, its con­structive efforts hampered by political sabotage and backstairs obstruc­tion. The national banking organizations without which it was helpless often acted as the accomplices of their respective governments, and no plan was safe which did not carve out in advance the booty of each participant. However, power finance just as often was not the victim, but the beneficiary of Dollar diplomacy which provided the steel ribs to the velvet glove of finance. For business success involved the ruthless use of force against weaker countries, wholesale bribing of backward ad­ministrations, and the use of all the underhand means of gaining ends familiar to the colonial and semicolonial jungle. And yet by functional determination it fell to haute finance to avert general wars. The vast majority of the holders of government securities, as well as other in­vestors and traders, were bound to be the first losers in such wars, especially if the currencies were affected. The influence that haute finance exerted on the Powers was consistently favorable to European peace. And this influence was effective to the degree to which the gov­ernments themselves depended upon its co-operation in more than one

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direction. Consequently, there was never a time when the peace in­terest was unrepresented in the councils of the Concert of Europe. If we add to this the growing peace interest inside every nation where the investment habit had taken root, we shall begin to see why the awful innovation of an armed peace of dozens of practically mobilized states could hover over Europe from 1871 to 1914 without bursting forth in a shattering conflagration.

Finance—this was one of its channels of influence—acted as a powerful moderator in the councils and policies of a number of smaller sovereign states. Loans, and the renewal of loans, hinged upon credit, and credit upon good behavior. Since, under constitutional govern­ment (unconstitutional ones were severely frowned upon), behavior is reflected in the budget and the external value of the currency cannot be detached from the appreciation of the budget, debtor governments were well advised to watch their exchanges carefully and to avoid policies which might reflect upon the soundness of the budgetary posi­tion. This useful maxim became a cogent rule of conduct once a coun­try had adopted the gold standard, which limited permissible fluctua­tions to a minimum. Gold standard and constitutionalism were the instruments which made the voice of the City of London heard in many smaller countries which had adopted these symbols of adherence to the new international order. The Pax Britannica held its sway sometimes by the ominous poise of heavy ship's cannon, but more frequently it prevailed by the timely pull of a thread in the international monetary network.

The influence of haute finance was ensured also through its unoffi­cial administration of the finances of vast semicolonial regions of the world, including the decaying empires of Islam in the highly inflam­mable zone of the Near East and North Africa. It was here that the day's work of financiers touched upon the subtle factors underlying internal order, and provided a de facto administration for those troubled regions where peace was most vulnerable. That is how the numerous prerequisites of long-term capital investments in these areas could often be secured in the face of almost insuperable obstacles. The epic of the building of railways in the Balkans, in Anatolia, Syria, Per­sia, Egypt, Morocco, and China is a story of endurance and of breath­taking turns reminiscent of a similar feat on the North American Con­tinent. The chief danger, however, which stalked the capitalists of Europe was not technological or financial failure, but war—not a war between small countries C which could be easily isolated) nor war upon

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a small country by a Great Power (a frequent and often convenient occurrence), but a general war between the Great Powers themselves. Europe was not an empty continent, but the home of teeming millions of ancient and new peoples; every new railroad had to thread its way across boundaries of varying solidity, some of which might be fatally weakened, others vitally reinforced, by the contact. Only the iron grip of finance on the prostrate governments of backward regions could avert catastrophe. When Turkey defaulted on its financial obligations in 18751 military conflagrations immediately broke out, lasting from 1876 to 1878 when the Treaty of Berlin was signed. For thirty-six years thereafter peace was maintained. That astounding peace was imple­mented by the Decree of Muharrem of 1881, which set up the Dette Ottomane in Constantinople. The representatives of haute finance were charged with the administration of the bulk of Turkish finance. In numerous cases they engineered compromises between the Powers; in others, they prevented Turkey from creating difficulties on her own; in others again, they acted simply as the political agents of the Powers; in all, they served the money interests of the creditors, and, if at all pos­sible, of the capitalists who tried to make profits in that country. This task was greatly complicated by the fact that the Debt Commission was not a body representative of the private creditors, but an organ of Europe's public law on which haute finance was only unofficially repre­sented. But it was precisely in this amphibious capacity that it was able to bridge the gap between the political and the economic organization of the age.

Trade had become linked with peace. In the past the organization of trade had been military and warlike; it was an adjunct of the pirate, the rover, the armed caravan, the hunter and trapper, the sword-bear­ing merchant, the armed burgesses of the towns, the adventurers and explorers, the planters and conquistadores, the manhunters and slave traders, the colonial armies of the chartered companies. Now all this was forgotten. Trade was now dependent upon an international monetary system which could not function in a general war. It de­manded peace, and the Great Powers were striving to maintain it. But the balance-of-power system, as we have seen, could not by itself ensure peace. This was done by international finance, the very existence of which embodied the principle of the new dependence of trade upon peace.

We have become too much accustomed to think of the spread of capitalism as a process which is anything but peaceful, and of finance

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capital as the chief instigator of innumerable colonial crimes and ex­pansionist aggressions. Its intimate affiliation with heavy industries made Lenin assert that finance capital was responsible for imperialism, notably for the struggle for spheres of influence, concessions, extrater­ritorial rights, and the innumerable forms in which the Western Powers got a stranglehold on backward regions, in order to invest in railways, public utilities, ports, and other permanent establishments on which their heavy industries made profits. Actually, business and finance were responsible for many colonial wars, but also for the fact that a general conflagration was avoided. Their affiliations with heavy industry, though really close only in Germany, accounted for both. Finance capi­tal as the roof organization of heavy industry was affiliated with the various branches of industry in too many ways to allow one group to determine its policy. For every one interest that was furthered by war, there were a dozen that would be adversely affected. International capital, of course, was bound to be the loser in case of war; but even national finance could gain only exceptionally, though frequently enough to account for dozens of colonial wars, as long as they remained isolated. Every war, almost, was organized by financiers; but peace also was organized by them.

The precise nature of this strictly pragmatic system, which guarded with extreme rigor against a general war while providing for peaceful business amidst an endless sequence of minor ones, is best demonstrated by the changes it brought about in international law. While nationalism and industry distinctly tended to make wars more ferocious and total, effective safeguards were erected for the continuance of peaceful busi­ness in wartime. Frederick the Great is on record for having "by re­prisal" refused, in 1752, to honor the Silesian loan due to British sub­jects.5 "No attempt of this sort has been made since," says Hershey. "The wars of the French Revolution furnish us with the last important examples of the confiscation of the private property of enemy subjects found in belligerent territory upon the outbreak of hostilities." After the outbreak of the Crimean War enemy merchantmen were allowed to leave port, a practice which was adhered to by Prussia, France, Rus­sia, Turkey, Spain, Japan, and the United States during the fifty fol­lowing years. Since the beginning of that war a very large indulgence in commerce between belligerents was allowed. Thus, in the Spanish-American War, neutral vessels, laden with American-owned cargoes

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other than contraband of war, cleared for Spanish ports. The view that eighteenth century wars were in all respects less destructive than nineteenth century ones is a prejudice. In respect to the status of enemy aliens, the service of loans held by enemy citizens, enemy property, or the right of enemy merchantmen to leave port, the nineteenth cen­tury showed a decisive turn in favor of measures to safeguard the eco­nomic system in wartime. Only the twentieth century reversed this trend.

Thus the new organization of economic life provided the back­ground of the Hundred Years' Peace. In the first period, the nascent middle classes were mainly a revolutionary force endangering peace as witnessed in the Napoleonic upheaval; it was against this new factor of national disturbance that the Holy Alliance organized its reactionary peace. In the second period, the new economy was victorious. The middle classes were now themselves the bearers of a peace interest, much more powerful than that of their reactionary predecessors had been, and nurtured by the national-international character of the new econ­omy. But in both instances the peace interest became effective only because it was able to make the balance-of-power system serve its cause by providing that system with social organs capable of dealing directly with the internal forces active in the area of peace. Under the Holy Alliance these organs were feudalism and the thrones, supported by the spiritual and material power of the Church; under the Concert of Europe they were international finance and the national banking sys­tems allied to it. There is no need to overdo the distinction. During the Thirty Years' Peace, 1816-46, Great Britain was already pressing for peace and business, nor did the Holy Alliance disdain the help of the Rothschilds. Under the Concert of Europe, again, international finance had often to rely on its dynastic and aristocratic affiliations. But such facts merely tend to strengthen our argument that in every case peace was maintained not simply through the chancelleries of the Great Powers but with the help of concrete organized agencies acting in the service of general interests. In other words, only on the background of the new economy could the balance-of-power system make general conflagrations avoidable. But the achievement of the Concert of Europe was incomparably greater than that of the Holy Alliance; for the latter maintained peace in a limited region in an unchanging Continent, while the former succeeded in the same task on a world scale while social and economic progress was revolutionizing the map of the globe. This great political feat was the result of the emergence of a specific

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entity, haute finance, which was the given link between the political and the economic organization of international life.

It must be clear by this time that the peace organization rested upon economic organization. Yet the two were of very different consistency. Only in the widest sense of the term was it possible to speak of a polit­ical peace organization of the world, for the Concert of Europe was essentially not a system of peace but merely of independent sovereign­ties protected by the mechanism of war. The contrary is true of the economic organization of the world. Unless we defer to the uncritical practice of restricting the term "organization" to centrally directed bodies acting through functionaries of their own, we must concede that nothing could be more definite than the universally accepted principles upon which this organization rested and nothing more concrete than its factual elements. Budgets and armaments, foreign trade and raw material supplies, national independence and sovereignty were now the functions of currency and credit. By the fourth quarter of the nine­teenth century, world commodity prices were the central reality in the lives of millions of Continental peasants; the repercussions of the Lon­don money market were daily noted by businessmen all over the world; and governments discussed plans for the future in light of the situation on the world capital markets. Only a madman would have doubted that the international economic system was the axis of the material existence of the race. Because this system needed peace in order to function, the balance of power was made to serve it. Take this eco­nomic system away and the peace interest would disappear from poli­tics. Apart from it, there was neither sufficient cause for such an inter­est, nor a possibility of safeguarding it, in so far as it existed. The suc­cess of the Concert of Europe sprang from the needs of the new interna­tional organization of economy, and would inevitably end with its dissolution.

The era of Bismarck (1861-90) saw the Concert of Europe at its best. In two decades immediately following Germany's rise to the status of a Great Power, she was the chief beneficiary of the peace interest. She had forced her way into the front ranks at the cost of Austria and France; it was to her advantage to maintain the status quo and to pre­vent a war which could be only a war of revenge against herself. Bis­marck deliberately fostered the notion of peace as a common venture of the Powers, and avoided commitments which might force Germany out of the position of a peace power. He opposed expansionist ambitions in the Balkans or overseas; he used the free trade weapon consistently against Austria, and even against France; he thwarted Russia's and

[18]

Austria's Balkan ambitions with the help of the balance-of-power game, thus keeping in with potential allies and averting situations which might involve Germany in war. The scheming aggressor of 1863-70 turned into the honest broker of 1878, and the deprecator of colonial adventures. He consciously took the lead in what he felt to be the peaceful trend of the time in order to serve Germany's national interests.

However, by the end of the seventies the free trade episode (1846-79) was at an end; the actual use of the gold standard by Germany marked the beginnings of an era of protectionism and colonial expan­sion.6 Germany was now reinforcing her position by making a hard and fast alliance with Austria-Hungary and Italy; not much later Bismarck lost control of Reich policy. From then onward Great Britain was the leader of the peace interest in a Europe which still remained a group of independent sovereign states and thus subject to the balance of power. In the nineties haute finance was at its peak and peace seemed more secure than ever. British and French interests differed in Africa; the British and the Russians were competing with one another in Asia; the Concert, though limpingly, continued to function; in spite of the Triple Alliance, there were still more than two independent powers to watch one another jealously. Not for long. In 1904, Britain made a sweeping deal with France over Morocco and Egypt; a couple of years later she compromised with Russia over Persia, and the counter alliance was formed. The Concert of Europe, that loose federation of independent powers, was finally replaced by two hostile power group­ings ; the balance of power as a system had now come to an end. With only two competing power groups left its mechanism ceased to function. There was no longer a third group which would unite with one of the other two to thwart whichever one sought to increase its power. About the same time the symptoms of the dissolution of the existing forms of world economy—colonial rivalry and competition for exotic markets— became acute. The ability of haute finance to avert the spread of wars was diminishing rapidly. For another seven years peace dragged on but it was only a question of time before the dissolution of nineteenth cen­tury economic organization would bring the Hundred Years' Peace to a close.

In the light of this recognition the true nature of the highly artificial economic organization on which peace rested becomes of utmost sig­nificance to the historian.



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