The bourgeois classes. During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries business activity, stimulated by conquest and speculation, increased in quantity and intensity. Who were these commercial men who led the moneymaking cliques? Dixon and Eberhart assert: 65Next Page
The ranks of the bourgeoisie were fed from two sources. The abler nobility adopted the new business techniques and became functioning members of the new class while their less amenable brothers sank into bankruptcy or became members of the proletariat. But by far the larger number of recruits came from below rather than above. As trade grew and market opportunities increased, thousands of wage-paid employees acquired the basis of bourgeois power by means of thrift and saving.
Dixon and Eberhart overlook, here, the old and well-established commercial aristocracies described above. Furthermore, the thought that large numbers of the nobility became members of the proletariat "ignores the fact that noblemen had too much education and polish, too many connections, too many chances to "marry wealth," to allow themselves to drop into the laboring masses. Even the landed aristocrats in France who remained in agriculture and became slowly impoverished were still noblemen.
The other thought that thousands of wage-paid employees saves their pennies and "acquired the basis of bourgeois power" -- as the greater source of recruits for the capitalist classes -- is a common one, typical of the propaganda that under capitalism there is opportunity for all. In all this, where were the old masters? They were, as has been shown, unable to protect themselves after the democratic system got under way. How then, are the wage-paid employees, living in insecurity as has been shown, to "acquire the basis of bourgeois power"? Is this not another "schoolbook" fiction?
Similarly, Kimball Young's assertion, that "an enterprising artisan or master workman might by increasing his business gradually rise to wealth and shift from lower to high social status," fails to take note of the well-known facts (1) that no artisan could engage in independent enterprise unless he were a master, and (2) that no one master in the gild could increase his business gradually over others in the same gild.
Who, then, were the forebears of the eighteenth century capitalists? Certainly many were noblemen or descendants of the nobility and gentry, for commerce was the natural field of endeavor for fourth sons. And, following See, Carman, Knight, Ashley, and others, there was much evidence of social class continuity. Business men descended from commercial aristocracies. (In view of the need of the wage workers to exploit their children in order to meet the expenses of living, there is little room for belief in the theory that many of the bourgeoisie were recruited from the lowest order of society by the route of saved coppers!)
North summarizes the development of the capitalist entrepreneur in these words: 66
The first use of capital, as we know it, was in trade, and the first group to be pushed upward to power by it was the merchant . . . . The manufacturers, who from the seventeenth century on have shared with the traders the control of capital, sprang from the trading classes. The capital of the merchants became available for the marvelous expansion of industry . . . .
According to Knight, et al., 67 the cradle of modern capitalism was the trading town.
Carman sees the antecedants of the English captains of industry and commerce in the middle classes of earlier centuries. He states: 68
. . . small landholders, merchants, manufacturers, money lenders, and shop-keepers. This class, which even under the early Tudors began to displace the old feudal nobility in the councils of the state, increased greatly in wealth, numbers, and power during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries . . . . It was this class, as we shall presently see, which furnished most of the leaders and managers, nearly all the capital, and many of the pioneers for the founding of England's overseas domains.
See summarizes in these words: 69
Capitalism, in its commercial form at least, developed remarkably in the eighteenth century and began to exercise an influence upon industry. The class of merchants and factory directors became ever more important. In many cases they succeeded in getting "control" of rural industry, thus opening the way to great capitalist industry. In the urban trades of the textile industry . . . the master-merchants brought the master-workmen under their domination, making mere wage earners of them. Thus this essentially capitalist class of merchants became stronger and stronger . . . . This class was to be the parent of the great industrial magnates of the nineteenth century.
65. Dixon and Eberhart, op. cit., p. 330.
66. Cecil Clare North, Social Differentiation (Chapel Hill, 1926) pp. 221 - 222.
67. Knight, et al., op. cit., p. 339.
68. Carman, op. cit., p. 31.
69. See, op. cit., pp. 230 - 231; italics not in original.