How the West Came to Rule: The Geopolitical Origins of Capitalism
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Mainstream historical accounts of the development of capitalism describe a process which is fundamentally European - a system that was born in the mills and factories of England or under the guillotines of the French Revolution. In this groundbreaking book, a very different story is told. How the West Came to Rule offers a unique interdisciplinary and international historical account of the origins of capitalism. It argues that contrary to the dominant wisdom, capitalism’s origins should not be understood as a development confined to the geographically and culturally sealed borders of Europe, but the outcome of a wider array of global processes in which non-European societies played a decisive role. Through an outline of the uneven histories of Mongolian expansion, New World discoveries, Ottoman-Habsburg rivalry, the development of the Asian colonies and bourgeois revolutions, Alexander Anievas and Kerem Nisancioglu provide an account of how these diverse events and processes came together to produce capitalism.
limited to the plantation alone; as we discuss in Chapter 7, the Dutch VOC also sought to intervene into and control production in the Indonesian spice trades as a means to establish a monopoly of supply and squeeze out its competitors.311 A similar process can be found at work in the British East India Company’s attempts to establish control over the textile producers of the northern Coromandel region in India.312 In short, merchants could function as ‘agents’ in the transition to capitalism
coerced labour that characterize actually existing capitalist social relations and labour regimes’.123 For example, Marx conceived of ‘extra-economic’ forms of exploitation in North American and Caribbean slavery as at least partially capitalist, because of their place in a wider set of international economic relations dominated by capitalism.124 The expansion of slavery in the colonies and free wage-labour in the imperial metropole were two sides of the same coin (see also Chapters 5 and 7).
such an idealised view is an integral part of the myth of Europe as an exceptional, pristine and autonomous entity that happened to be especially well suited to the endogenous transition to, and subsequent spread of, capitalism.203 Insofar as ‘the West is constituted as an imperial fetish, the imagined home of history’s victors’ and ‘the embodiment of their power’,204 many of the processes of developmental differentiation that created hierarchical imbalances between colonisers and colonised are
origins of capitalism. We take up this task in the sections that follow. In the first section, we examine the impact of the Mongolian Empire on the socio-economic and political development of Europe, demonstrating how it facilitated cross-cultural flows of commerce, trade, technologies, ideas and more, while also spurring significant technological innovations. The second section goes on to examine the unintended destructive yet regenerative consequences of the Mongol Empire’s ‘unification of the
but are instead ‘co-constitutive of the movement itself, then … we cannot adequately explain modern world development through a narrative that starts with the rise of capitalism, nation and class within England or Europe’.4 Recognising the decisive importance of the transformative interactions between Europe and the Americas further problematises the rigid epistemological separation between ‘West’ and ‘East’ or Global North and South, while going beyond the assumption of ontological singularity