Friday, September 4, 2009

No, European Capitalist Democracy Did Not Evolve Peacefully

No, European Capitalist Democracy Did Not Evolve Peacefully
By Philippa Winkler, PhD

Maya Chadda ‘s thesis is that European countries had ‘time’ to evolve a capitalist democracy over centuries, whereas India, Pakistan etc had to compress nation building, decolonization and the development of democratic institutions into a shorter time period (Chadda, Maya, Building Democracy in South Asia, India, Nepal, Pakistan, Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner Publishers 2000).
She paints a rosy picture describing how European countries had a peaceful transition to capitalist democracy (“democracy flowered subsequently…gradual unfolding of a market economy…”p 2). She contrasts this with the supposedly more violent South Asian sequence of development.
In fact, bloodshed , war and suffering have accompanied the 300 year old evolution of capitalist democracy in Europe.
1) In the UK, civil war between merchant interests and the aristocracy in the middle of the 17th century, ending with the beheading of Charles I.
2) Forcible relocation of masses of peasants to make way for cash crops, all over Europe beginning in the 18th century. In the UK, the Enclosure Acts legislated the relocation. Millions of peasants became internal refugees, escaped to the cities, and became the nucleus for the emerging factory laboring class.
3) Luddism in the UK in the 18th century (when peasants and artisans smashed machines that were depriving them of their livelihood).
4) The 1789 French Revolution, beheading of Louis XVI and family, in France’s transition from a feudal type monarchy to a Republic, followed by the Terror (remember the guillotine?). Other revolutions followed, to establish a democracy, in 1848, and an unsuccessful one to establish a form of socialism, in 1872 (the Paris Commune).
5) In the 19th Century, nationalist revolutions all over Europe for countries like Italy to free themselves from the yoke of Austro Hungary Empire and establish capitalist constitutional monarchies with parliaments.
6) Exploitation of labor, child labor, 12 hour work weeks, demonstrations, protests, met by extensive governmental repression etc., litter the landscape of the European road to industrialization from the 18th century.
7)7) Colonization of Asia was key to the creation of the European market economies. Gold, silver and other vital resources were plundered by the Europeans, resulting in huge losses of life and subsistence lifestyles in non European countries. One could argue that the USSR colonized Central Asia. So the development of European capitalism and Russian communism came at the expense of pre-capitalist countries. Today, many of these countries supply cheap labor forces while building a professional and business middle class.


  1. Thank you for pointing this out. Brilliantly useful. I recently learnt the genocide of women - the witch hunts - were connected to the enclosures of the commons. Widows and single women WITH LAND were favoured targets. Accuse them of being a witch, bring in the forces of the newly-professionalised lawyers and doctors, find the women guilty and hoopla - grab their land. And all this under the guise of the so-called Enlightenment. I am feeling rather anti-Enlightenment these days. It's not all it was cracked up to be...

    (and don't get me started about author Martin Amis saying Islam was less civilised because it did not have an enlightenment - the arrogance!)

  2. At the time of the witch hunts, European colonizers were also exterminating indigenous cultures. Maria Mies and Vandana Shiva (Ecofeminism) have pointed out that the same forces of oppression tried to exterminate the 'witches in Europe' for their wealth(as you point out) and the indigenous populations, to conquer their wealth. Lovely bunch! Very enlightened!