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by Immanuel Wallerstein
06 March 2002 14:08 UTC
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paragraph five of the quoted book says there was a sudden influx of cotton 
into Europe.....I ask WHY the "sudden influx" etc????fascinating. would 
appreciate your response.bw

At 23:15 05/03/02, Louis Proyect wrote:
>(The ongoing debates about the origins of capitalism have grappled
>with the importance of New World silver and gold, with Brenner thesis
>supporters minimizing its importance and scholars like A. Frank on
>the opposite side. The last excerpt from Jack Weatherford's "Indian
>Givers" I posted here, titled "New World Silver and the rise of
>capitalism" weighed in on the world systems side of the debate.
>Continuing with Weatherford's book, I found some information that I
>never considered before, namely how New World cotton might have been
>an even greater contributor to the social forces of production
>associated with the industrial revolution than either silver or gold.
>What follows is from chapter 3 of his book, "The American Indian Path
>to Industrialization".)
>Around the time the potato arrived in Europe, a cornucopia of other
>New World crops and products also poured in. The potato freed the
>mills but gave them nothing new to process. Into this vacuum poured
>one of the inedible American products-cotton. Some Old World types of
>cotton had been grown in India and the Near East for centuries, but
>only very small quantities of it ever reached Europe. This cotton was
>not only expensive, but weak and difficult to weave because of its
>short strands. Asiatic cottons, Gossypium herbaceum and G. arboreum,
>had a strand length of only about half an inch, but American upland
>cotton, G. hirsutum, usually grew to a full inch or more. Meanwhile,
>G. barbodense, the tropical American cotton that became best known as
>Sea Island cotton (from the plantations that grew it on the coast of
>South Carolina and Georgia), could grow to two and a half inches. In
>Europe the short strands of the Old World cotton served primarily for
>padding jerkins under the coats of mail worn in battle. In time the
>uses of cotton expanded to the making of fustian, which was a coarse
>material built on a warp of stronger flax and a woof of Old World
>cotton. Not until American cotton arrived in England, however, did
>the phrase "cotton cloth" appear in English; the Oxford English
>Dictionary's earliest date for it is 1552.
>The long-strand cotton of the American Indians so surpassed in
>quality the puny cotton of the Old World that the Spaniards mistook
>American Indian cloth for silk and interpreted its abundance as yet
>further proof that these new lands lay close to China. For thousands
>of years before the European conquest of America the Indians had been
>using this carefully developed cotton to weave some of the finest
>textiles in the world. Many remnants of these early cloths survive to
>the present day, their colors and designs intact, after several
>thousand years in the desert burials of Peru, Bolivia, and Chile.
>Traditionally, Europeans wore wools supplemented by leather. They
>wove everything, from their underwear to their hats, from wool. Only
>the very rich could afford luxury fabrics such as silk or linen. But
>the quantity of wool was determined by the number of sheep, and this
>was determined by the amount of grazing space. Using only sheep to
>produce cloth ensures a slow and inefficient system that consumes a
>large parcel of land to clothe each person and limits the amount of
>clothing available.
>As long as Europe depended primarily on wool for clothing, peasants
>could spin it and weave it with simple home technology. The
>bottleneck in cloth manufacture was the amount of wool that the land
>was capable of producing, not the ability of the weavers to make
>cloth. Since the number of sheep determined the amount of wool for
>weaving, peasants lacked incentives to develop machines or more
>efficient ways to make clothing.
>This situation changed with the massive influx of cotton from
>America. Suddenly, the peasants and the weavers had more fiber than
>they could weave. They lacked the labor to process so much fiber.
>Europe desperately needed more energy than it had in human and animal
>power, and the most readily available source for creating new energy
>lay in the waterwheels already in place throughout the continent.
>Thus were born the first textile factories.
>Cotton production far surpassed the production of wool and other
>fibers, but several steps in the manufacture of cloth slowed the
>process. After the cotton bolls were picked from the plant, the seeds
>had to be removed to free the cotton. This work proceeded at a slow
>and laborious pace, requiring more time than the actual picking of
>the cotton. Thus the slaves picking cotton spent more time picking
>cotton seed out of the bolls than picking the cotton from the plant.
>This problem was solved, however, when Eli Whitney (1765-1825) of
>Westborough, Massachusetts, invented a mechanical gin to do this task
>in 1793. The invention of this twenty-eight-year-old teacher allowed
>one worker to separate up to fifty pounds of cotton per day.
>This one contraption did not produce the whole revolution in
>production. The change depended on nearly simultaneous developments
>that increased the rate at which thread could be spun from the cotton
>and the rate at which the thread could be woven into cloth. Together,
>the mechanization of ginning, spinning, and weaving the cotton
>launched the industrial revolution.
>American cotton output increased from only three thousand bales in
>1790, just before the invention of the cotton gin and the
>mechanization of the spinning and weaving process, to 4.5 million
>bales in 1860, on the eve of the American Civil War. In the decades
>just before that war, cotton alone accounted for the major part of
>exports from the United States, and it went primarily to the textile
>mills of England. This demand for so much cotton greatly increased
>the demand for appropriate land and thus pushed the southern planters
>out of the Carolinas and Georgia and all the way across to Texas
>within a few short years. In the process the United States
>annihilated or scattered the Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek, and Cherokee
>nations as well as most of the Seminole and some smaller nations.
>After the invention of the cotton gin, manufactured cotton cloth
>became an item that even common people could afford. Until that time
>it had been a luxury fabric for the rich; the common people continued
>to wear homespun wool. Soon cotton textiles spread so widely and the
>technology for making them became so refined that the Europeans were
>selling them around the world in another escalation of the capitalist
>enterprise. By 1800, cotton accounted for one-fourth of Britain's
>annual exports. By 1850 this had risen to over half of all her annual
>exports, and British factories produced cotton cloth in such
>abundance that the price fell to only a quarter of what it had been
>in 1800.
>Louis Proyect, lnp3@panix.com on 03/05/2002
>Marxism list: http://www.marxmail.org

PLEASE REPLY to e-mail address below:

Prof. Immanuel Wallerstein
Netherlands Institute of Advanced Study
Meijboomlaan 1
2242-PR Wassenaar

Tel: (31-70) 512.27.00
Fax: (31-70) 511.71.62
E:   wallerstein@nias.knaw.nl

(Jan.-March 2002)

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