1920s >> 1927 >> no-277-september-1927

Who invented capitalism?

A Questioner Answered.


“To speak of a Capitalist ‘System’ implies that at some date in history there was a DELIBERATE plan laid down—on paper —for the formation of that system. A plan, in which those who had would continue to own that wealth, while those who had no wealth should continue in that position.

“Who were the people who laid down this plan, and at what date and place was it done? What is the name of the document, and is it to be seen or obtained?”



It seems to me that the author of this question is trying to be funny. If so, then I would recommend him, before making such facetious remarks, to glance at a dictionary and find out the meaning of the commonly used word he is writing about.

A “system” is, any assemblage of things forming a regular and connected whole. The name given to such a system depends upon outstanding features of the things under consideration. For instance, we find the immediate heavenly bodies acting upon each other according to a certain order, forming a connected whole, the first of which is the sun—we call this order the solar system. We look into society at different periods and find different social forms, each as a connected whole having as outstanding features certain economic arrangements. At one time it is the exaction of dues in place of military service by the owners of land—the feudal dues of the feudal system ; at another time it is the ownership of the wealth produced by virtue of the investment of capital—as in the capitalist system.

Particular social systems are not necessarily laid down beforehand, one grows out of another owing to the development of a new form (or a latent form) in the older system. When the new form grows to such proportions that its further development is seriously hampered by the system suited to the older form, then a revolution takes place and the old system is swept away, giving place to the new. Within the feudal system, production for sale was originally a relatively minor economic form, but owing to various agencies, among them the discoveries that opened up a world market, production for sale brought into its circle of influence practically the whole of society in given countries, and those engaged in this sphere found they were constantly coming up against the laws and arrangements of feudalism. First in England and then in France, a successful effort was made to destroy the old shackling forms and remodel society according to arrangements suited to the new. Social philosophers in England and in France, prior to the revolutions, laid down very definitely “deliberate” plans “on paper” of what the new order should be like, and if “Curious” is sufficiently interested to read some of those plans, he could do worse than read ” Political Thought in England from Locke to Bentham,” by Harold J. Laski, in the Home University Series.


(Socialist Standard, September 1927)

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