Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Stephen K. Land - Kett's Rebellion: The Norfolk Rising of 1549

This is a good introductory book to the history and context of Kett's Rebellion, the large agrarian uprising that shook East Anglia in 1549. The author does well to contextualise the rebellion, locating it in widespread rural discontent, linked to the changes of the Reformation, but most importantly economic problems in the countryside.

Land argues that unlike the Prayerbook uprising that takes place almost simultaneously in Devon and Cornwall, "religious doctrine was not a factor" in Norfolk. Instead, he suggests that the problem was "the gradual transition which was taking place between the manorial system of local economy, in which each village was a self-sustaining agricultural unit... to a capitalist economy."

I'm not convinced by this. Not least because it suggests that the motive for rebellion was something that was to come, rather than the day to day reality of rural life. Land goes on to suggest that the uprising was inherently conservative, seeking not to displace the existing hierarchy, nor challenge the duke of Somerset, Lord Protector for the young Edward VI. However I think it's fairer to argue that what was taking place was an attempt by a section of the rural population to assert greater control over their lives, and their villages, in the face of a changing world. The 29 articles that they wrote from their camp at Mousehold Heath outside Norwich, clearly are attempts to blunt the powers of the gentry, strengthen the hand of the smaller landowners and poorest and protect traditional and common rights. To see this as simply conservative is to fail to understand that social change always takes place in the context of already existing situations, which understandably those participating want to protect if they feel they are losing rights or wealth.

This disagreement aside, Stephen K. Land's book is an excellent introduction to the rebellion. It has a detailed account of Kett's assaults on Norwich and the reason for his eventual defeat. It also rightly argues that Somerset's fall in the aftermath of the rebellion was not a direct result of the uprising, but the opportunity for those who disagreed with his agrarian policies (which might be roughly described as reformist) to do away with someone who was perceived as encouraging rebellion.

The Robert Kett that stands out from this work is less the precursor to those who fought for "rights" and "freedoms" and instead a powerful defender of the interests of those around him. Sadly Tudor society had no space for those who became an alternative source of power to the gentry and the aristocracy, no matter how much they claimed to be acting in the interests of the king and his realm. The judicial murder of Kett, his brother and other leading figures, together with the deaths of hundreds of rebels outside Norwich is the result of the Tudor state reasserting its rule. Lang's book is a good introduction, but readers will benefit from reading other works around the subject to see how more recent academics have framed the uprising differently.

Related Reviews

Wood - Riot, Rebellion and Popular Politics in Early Modern England
Caraman - The Western Rising of 1549

Cornwall - Revolt of the Peasantry 1549

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

John Tully - Crooked Deals and Broken Treaties

This short book is an excellent example of how large scale historical changes can be examined through the microcosm a relatively small geographical area. White settlers profoundly transformed the areas they arrived in. Before their arrival, these areas had been the domain of various Native American tribes who had used the land in radically different ways to the Europeans. The destruction and displacement of those tribes is a key part of Tully's story. As part of doing this the Europeans completely transformed the whole landscape.

One early traveller to the region, James Smith, who was a prisoner of one of the local tribes remembered seeing "black-oak, walnut, hickory, cherry, black-ash, white-ash, water-ash, buckeye, black-locust, honey-locust,sugar-tree, elm and white-oak... [and] 'large quantities of wild apple, plum and re-and black haw trees'".

This plethora of trees, was matched by a huge variety of other flora and fauna. But a century ago, the transformation had taken place, as one quoted account puts it, the
universal forest has been so far destroyed that only broken patches remain... These are now much exposed to the sun, winds and forests, that they have lost much of their verdant and luxuriant appearance. - The same exposure to the elements has... dissipated the rich native soil; and the beautiful investments of shrubs and herbaceous plants has been destroyed by repeated browsing and cropping of domestic animals.
Those who have read William Cronon's masterful account of the changes that took place in New England with European colonisation will see many parallels. In Changes in the Land, Cronon showed that ecological changes could not be separated from the way that the Native people were also destroyed. So it was in the Cuyahoga Valley - here, as Tully shows, the desire to farm land along the lines of European agriculture meant the destruction of huge areas of woodland and the destruction of animals (such as the great rattlesnake hunts which have driven some species to near extinction).

Alongside this was the systematic defrauding, exclusion and massacre of the Native people. What was also destroyed was a way of life completely different to that of the Europeans. These were people who, in the words of Henry Lewis Morgan about the Iroquois people, "practiced communism in living". The Delaware people who lived in this part of Ohio, were egalitarian, and inclusive: "every adult male and female member had a voice upon all questions". These communities were not Utopian - conflict certainly existed between some tribes - and Tully does not pretend otherwise. But their lives were completely different from those of the Europeans who came from a society obsessed with wealth creation. By contrast the Delawares, for instance, saw the whites as
Ungrateful, insatiable people, who though the Indians had given them as much land as was necessary to raise provisions for themselves and their families, and pasture for their cattle, wanted to still have more, and at last would not be contented with less than the whole country.
For European style society to triumph required the settlers to take control of the land. But they also had to destroy the Native Americans and their way of life. The "great slaughter" of animals by the settlers was matched by the destruction of the peoples who had lived their for thousands of years. In this, they faced resistance, in part because of the temporary alliance between the British and some Native American tribes. But mostly because the Native American people refused to meekly die.

It took the defeat of the British in North America for the area described by Tully to be completely opened up to European settlement. In fact, as Tully explains, one of the reasons for the revolt was that the British authorities had been preventing the "settlers' dispossession of the land and liberty of the Native American peoples". For Tully, the idea that the American Revolutionary War was just about liberty is one of the great historical myths as it helped to end the freedom of the indigenous peoples. While the British certainly didn't have a brilliant record in their treatment of the Native American population, they had helped restrict the destruction of the tribes in this region. The victory of the Revolution opened up the land and the whites moved swiftly to occupy it. As Tully explains,
Back east in the nation's capital George Washington and Thomas Jefferson advocated a softer approach. America's Manifest Destiny was to spread westward, but the Indians should be assimilated into the nation's social and economic life by accepting European doctrines of landownership and learning European methods of farming the land.
Washington and Jefferson may have hoped that this is what would happen. But they must have know that the reality would be forced eviction, fraud, violence and massacre. The details of the violence in Tully's account are deliberately shocking, as the author is writing in part to demand recognition of what took place and to recognise that, in his words, "justice demands the redress of the accumulated wrongs".

Exactly how this should happen, is as Tully points out "complex" and part of the point of his book is to teach a new generation of people of the need for justice. It is an admirable contribution, which deserves a wider readership than the Cuyahoga Valley population that it is clearly aimed at. For this reason a few maps would have been helpful. But this is a minor critique of an important book that everyone interested in history of the United States and the transformation that took place with the arrival of Europeans should read.

Related Reviews

Tully - Silvertown
Cronon - Changes in the Land
Cronon - Nature's Metropolis
McMillan & Yellowhorn - First Peoples in Canada
Leacock - Myths of Male Dominance
Fagan - The First North Americans

Monday, December 28, 2015

Bruce Chatwin - In Patagonia

Bruce Chatwin's In Patagonia completely revived the market for travel books. Becoming the bible for thousands of South American backpackers inspired by his pithy and amusing accounts. Framed by the story of his attempts to obtain a replacement of his Grandmother's lost piece of brontosaurus skin, Chatwin travels back and forth across the countries of Patagonia describing the people he meets and their links with famous historical events.

Frankly though, I found the book tiresome. Chatwin has undeniable writing talent. But his emphasis seems to be on the eccentric, and particularly eccentric European immigrants. As such his account is largely devoid of stories reflecting the mass of the population but rather an obscure (and relatively dull) section of those who'd recently come to the continent.

That's not to say that this isn't interesting. The Welsh community of Chubut is fascinating, as are Chatwin's retelling of the Butch Cassidy stories and his extensive account of his Grandmother's cousin Charley Milward, the adventurous sailor who originally found the fossil remains, is also entertaining. But what about the indigenous population (who are only here as a backdrop to tales of other people). What about those who did the farming, or worked in the huge cities?

In Patagonia failed to give me any picture of what the place and its people were really like, beyond a few interesting characters, and as a result I found myself very disappointed.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Michael Andrew Žmolek - Rethinking the Industrial Revolution: Five Centuries of Transition from Agrarian to Industrial Capitalism in England

There is something about a book of this scope that almost defies reviewing. How can a reviewer do justice to a work which spans in enormous detail five centuries of history with a thorough discussion of historical work about the period?

It should be said at the outset that Žmolek's book is a superb read and is a remarkable piece of scholarship. He has a unparallelled grasp of the material, both in terms of the historical record and his understanding of contemporary analyses of the subject under discussion. This book will undoubtedly be debated and studied for many years. Disagreements there may be, but this is a fine work which packs an enormous amount into its 900 pages. For instance, Žmolek summary of the importance of the English Civil War in the transition to capitalism is one of the best I've read.

The question of the origin of capitalism is not merely of academic interest. The dynamics of the transition from feudal society to a capitalist one have much to teach us about the process of historical change. But they also shaped today's society. Žmolek's central point though, is that the process was not an inevitable one - "industrial capitalism did not arrive unopposed" [347] he writes. Nonetheless the process that led to the eventual development of industrial capitalism had deep roots. Žmolek notes that "Marx sought to explain how capitalism developed out of the action of feudal society itself". [19]

That this occurred at all is, Žmolek points out, surprising:
the amazing thing about capitalism, an economic system which promotes the regulation of production according to the dictate of the market ahead of all other forms of regulation, is that it developed out of feudalism, an economic system in which production was intensively regulated according to extra-economic rules and norms. [28]
For the transition to take place required a "protracted" class struggle. This conflict, "between direct producers and surplus appropriators both acting as economic agents seeking to reproduce themselves as they were, but culminating in the unintended consequence of general market dependence and new economic imperatives." [40]

Here we see one of Žmolek's central themes. The processes of change that took place, both in the transition from feudalism to an agrarian capitalism, and in the development of industrial capitalism, saw different classes in society battling for their own interests. In some cases, such as the struggle of the English peasantry against the loss of their lands and rights, this was a defense of what they already had. But their lordly opponents ended up in a position where they were renting access to land and were becoming "subject to new market pressures in the form of competition for leases as well as price competition". Thus the process of conflict itself was resolving a contradiction between the two classes, but generating new conflicts and contradictions in wider society.

Žmolek has to challenge those who argue there were alternate reasons for the development of capitalism and its industrial variant. In particular, he tackles the teleological argument that the development of industrialisation occurred because of the development of technology itself. In some of his most detailed chapters, Žmolek lists numerous inventions and the process of technological development to show that this was neither inevitable, nor unique to England. He shows, for instance, how various parts of the world were far ahead of Europe in scientific and technological terms but this did not lead to the development of capitalism in Asia or the Middle East.

Instead Žmolek argues that the key reason for the development of industrial capitalism was the existence and expansion of "agrarian capitalism". Between 1700 and 1750 Britain became a world power, it was able to do this because of the growth of agrarian capitalism. This was already "steering the economy in the direction of a broader capitalism" [165] by the time technologies such as steam engines, and blast furnaces arrived. One example will suffice, by 1780, English agriculture needed between two and three hundred thousands tons of iron annually to manufacture farm implements. [167] But this was not the only cause and Žmolek argues against some theorists who simply see agriculture as stimulating industrial advance.

Here he marshals all sorts of factors, such as the importance of exports, the role of taxation and improvements to agriculture itself to show how the development of industrial capitalism was a much more complicated process. Central to this was the systematic destruction of the old rural order, enclosures, clearances and the breaking of common rights together with the growth of urban areas. The artisan and the peasant were both "resisting the transformation of a labour process regulated by custom into abstract labour regulated by the market alone". [605] Workers had to be forced to accept the new way of doing things and this cleared the way for untrammelled capitalist logic and once the industrial revolution began, it fed upon itself:
the emergence of a new and capitalist economic logic in Britain, where competition uniquely compelled employers to seek ways to cut costs through innovation, provided the economic context in which the systematic application of technology to production made sense in a way that it simply did not and never had in non-capitalist societies. [813]
For Žmolek the industrial revolution was the way that capitalism was able to place manufacturing under the control of capital. But this was not an automatic process. Žmolek again points out how workers in early factories fought to retain old "customary" rights and traditions, and how this often led to brutal confrontations before labour was subordinated to capital. For much of the book, Žmolek shows how this victory was won, and the many ways that workers tried to resist the changes. He also puts an interesting argument that the workhouse was much more than simply a method of disciplining the poor, but was also the "first experiment" in organising labour in concentrated groups.

So the Industrial Revolution takes place because agrarian capitalism initiates a series of processes that lead to large scale class confrontation. It is, Žmolek concludes, thus "untenable to view capitalism as an economic system that resulted from the 'natural' evolution of European society and economy out of feudalism, fulfilling the latent potentialities of pre-capitalist commerce and industry" [839]/ But because capitalism could only come about by "suppressing" those who fought against its imposition, the process "might have resulted in have resulted in an entirely different social order". Whether or not the reader quite agrees with that particular conclusion, one thing that Žmolek proves with his important book is that capitalism is neither natural, nor inevitable. Which of course begs the question of how we replace it with system based on a more rational organisation of society.

Related Reviews

Malm - Fossil Capital
Hill - The Century of Revolution
Perry - Marxism and History
Thompson - Making of English Working Class

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Andreas Malm - Fossil Capital: The Rise of Steam Power and the Roots of Global Warming

I read Andreas Malm's Fossil Capital while travelling to and from Paris to participate in counter-conferences and protests at the time of the UN COP21 climate talks. It proved to be a prescient choice of reading material for a conference that produced lots of promises but was short on agreement of what to actually do to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Malm's book could almost be a manual on why it is that capitalism, the fossil fuel economy whose evolution he describes, is so unable to reduce its addiction to coal, oil and gas. It is a brilliant Marxist critique of capitalism and the origins of the fossil fuel economy and should be read by every activist.

Malm begins by asking precisely this question. How is it that we  have ended up in a situation where "vested interests" can prevent action on global warming? He argues that we must re-examine the Industrial Revolution in order to understand precisely how it ended up "welding growth to fossil fuels". Much of the book then is a detailed study of the way that the Industrial Revolution took place and why the switch to fossil fuels took place. Malm argues that this means understanding power in both its senses, the power that was required to make engines work, and the power that was needed to make the workers operate those engines, or use the energy they produced.

The first power system of the Industrial Revolution was flowing water. The rivers that turned the water-wheels were sources of energy that ran huge factories. But water as an energy source has many limitations; there are limited places where mills could be built, sites which were often far from urban areas and lacked labour, and water itself is prone to change - rivers freeze, dry up, or flood - all of which can stop a mill. But despite these limitations, when the steam engine was invented, the switch to coal was not automatic, primarily because of cost. As one boss explained to a British government Factory Inquiry of 1833, "the constant supply of water is much cheaper to turn an engine with than the supply of coal".

In fact the transition to coal often took place for more complex reasons. As Malm summarises:
The transition from water to steam in the British cotton industry did not occur because water was scarce, more expensive or less technologically potent - to the contrary, steam gained supremacy in spite of water being abundant, cheaper and at least as powerful, even and efficient.
What Malm shows is that the switch to fossil fuels takes place because fossil fuels allowed capitalists to exploit workers more efficiently, at the same time as over-coming problems associated with capitalist competition. Despite the limitations of steam power (water wheels could convert 85 percent of water's energy into machine motion, compared to steam's two to four percent efficiency at the point when the transition to a fossil fuel economy got going) it became the fuel of choice, eclipsing the water fueled mills within a few years.

One example of why the transition became necessary was that for the industry to continue using water power, it required co-operation between capitalists that went against the very ethos of capitalism. In a brilliant chapter, Malm explains how engineers planned great schemes to improve and share water efficiently between mills. This required the building of enormous reservoirs, sluice gates and channels that would allow each capitalist to have water for their needs, without starving each other. But these bands of warring brothers soon fell out on who should pay for the investment. Coal, and steam engines, while costing more from a fuel point of view, required less investment and innovation. They also kept the spirit of competition alive. As Malm concludes,
Reservoirs entangled investors in too much of a scientific - and thus also cooperative - endeavour; with steam, they would not need to actively engage with the science, only receive it from others and switch it on in their private sphere. In this sense, the engine won over the wheel because it was the less advanced productive force.
But this was not the only reason steam came to be adopted. What it also offered was "a ticket to the town". Steam meant that factories could be built almost anywhere the owner wanted. No longer where mills limited to the banks of rivers, but now they could be located in the midst of urban areas where workers disciplined (to a greater or lesser extent) in factory work could be easily hired. No longer would the factory owner have to build homes, churches and schools in remote valleys. Instead the slums of Manchester, Birmingham and Glasgow would be the location for the mills. A writer explained, again in 1833:
The work that is done by the aid of a stream of water is generally as cheap as that which is done by steam, and sometimes much cheaper. But the invention of the steam-engine has relieved us from the necessity of building factories in inconvenient situation merely for the sake of a waterfall. It has allowed them to be placed in the centre of a population trained to industrious habits.
The ruling class dressed this up as benefiting the whole of society. Wealth, even in 1833, was supposed to trickle down, but in reality this was about profits. It had taken generations, Malm argues, to train rural workers, and still they refused to accept the discipline of the mill. In the cities, the manufacturers hoped they would find a more acquiescent workforce. This proved not to be the case, and Malm documents the struggles of workers to protect their jobs (often against the introduction of machinery) and to improve their conditions.

Interestingly what finally killed the water-mills were the Factory Acts of 1847 and 1850. These reduced the amount of hours, and which hours, workers could work. In doing so, they meant that water mills, which had such variable sources of power were doomed in competition with those running on steam power. Water power was the "crutch" that capitalism needed initially, but was then discarded.

By the 1870s, coal use was soaring becoming "decoupled" from population growth and taking on a life of its own. Coal was now no longer simply associated with heating homes but part of "self sustaining economic growth". The Industrial Revolution in Britain, Malm argues, was the original source of the fossil fuel economy. As early as 1850 Britain was far ahead of any other country, or region, in the production of greenhouse gases: "If global warming has a historical homeland, there can indeed be no doubt about its identity".

Malm puts the case well for why Britain developed as a fossil fuel economy. All other nations that followed had to do some in the context of Britain's development. While Malm doesn't use the phrase, this is a classic example of "combined and uneven-development". Industrial development in other countries didn't need to follow Britain's path, they could use the latest in technology and industrial practices.

The post-2000 emissions explosion is yet another example of this. Centered on China, this is an example, Malm argues. of capitalism searching around in an attempt to maximise profits. Low wages, looser controls on pollution and so on have made the capitalists move away from the developed world and locate their factories (and associated emissions) in China and countries like India.

Malm argues that emissions increases are now central to the logic of capital:
What is certain in Marx, however - an iron law of accumulation, impossible to bend or stem - is that the material volumes grow, that the technical composition rises even if the organic does not: and from an ecological perspective, this is what matters. Given that capitalist machinery has been based on the stock since the early nineteenth century, and given that increased productivity will therefore mean that each hour of labour wields a greater amount of appropriated stock, there seems to be a low of a rising fossil composition of capital. The struggle to minimise the share of human labour in relation to machinery and other matter... causes a rise in the fossil composition, which, operating over the span of capitalist history, translates into a law of a rising concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere.
The vested interests have no intention of changing their behaviour. While there are profits to be made, coal and oil will be extracted from the ground. The machinery to do so has to make a return and that means production might continue for a very long time. Malm gives one example if an oil platform built in 1982 whose one million tonnes of concrete represents an enormous investment that will see a return only after many decades of use. He quotes David Harvey, "When capitalists purchase fixed capital, they are obliged to use it until its value... is fully retrieved". But from inside the environmental crisis of climate change, this obligation will doom the entire planet.

In this context, sticking plasters over the wound makes little difference. Even installing renewable energy doesn't replace fossil fuels on a like for like basis. Malm quotes a study that demonstrates for every one percent increase in renewable energy, fossil fuel generated power only decreases by 0.1 percent. The logic of capitalism is to simply expand. What needs to be done is to "pull the plug" on fossil fuels - the shutting down of the fossil fuel industry; the closure of coal mines and oil fields. It is an inherently revolutionary perspective that cannot wait till after some future revolution, but needs to be initiated today.

I've focused in this review on the intensely stimulating core of Malm's book. I do have some disagreements with his arguments, but I don't feel that these are a major distraction from his main argument. In particular I don't think that he is right to dismiss the notion of the Anthropocene as he does. Malm argues that the key problem in terms of global warming is capitalism. In this he is correct, but nevertheless I think the Anthropocene concept can be a useful one, not least because capitalism is a creation of humans. In part this is because it helps to locate the problem for activists and scientists not yet won to an anti-capitalist perspective.

My second disagreement lies with how envisage a challenge to Fossil Capital taking place. Malm argues that globalisation has enfeebled the working class. He celebrates the struggles of workers that challenged capital in the past, with an excellent discussion, for instance, of the 1842 General Strike, but concludes today that only "humans" have the "hypothetical ability" to save us from environmental disaster. But what are humans? Does that include the bosses in the oil industry, or the coal barons and the politicians in their pocket?

Despite its defeats and its weaknesses the global working class today still has enormous potential to pull the plug on the fossil fuel industry. It is men and women who dig coal, build cars, load trains and aircraft and run electricity plants. They are real individuals with enormous power. It is workers like these, and all the others throughout the economy, who remain the only force in society that can bring about fundamental change precisely because they are central to capitalist production. Malm's book expertly proves that there is no one else in society who will save us from environmental disaster - the task for all of us is to build  movements that can both challenge Fossil Capital, and destroy it.

Related Reviews

Heinberg - Snake Oil: How Fracking's False Promise of Plenty Imperils our Future
Marriott and Minio-Paluello - The Oil Road
Nikiforuk - Tar Sands: Dirty Oil and the Future of a Continent
Foster - Marx's Ecology

Wednesday, December 09, 2015

C.V. Wedgwood - The Thirty Years War

The Thirty Years War ran from 1618 to 1648. It was a barbaric time of famine, plague, pillage, rape and endless violence. Millions of people died, were displaced and suffered. The population of Germany, according to Wedgwood's history, declined by seven million.

This is a detailed history of a period that relatively few in the English speaking world will know much about. C.V. Wedgwood's style is easy, yet the material is complicated and readers searching for an introduction to the Thirty Years War might want to begin elsewhere. The conflict involved a vast number of different states, dragging in a bewildering variety of princes and generals, some of whom last barely a few pages before they die on the battlefield. Wedgwood does her best to keep control of the different strands of the history, and while I lost track on occasion, her narrative does the material justice.

While the War is often described as a religious war, it was much more than this. Its intensity and its length were linked to the very nature of society in Germany at the time. Hundreds of competing principalities each had a complex web of allies and obligations which meant that once war began it became impossible to prevent it spreading. It is one reason that peace negotiations went on for years before treaties became even possible.

But religion is key, and the desire by the Catholic Church and its affiliated rulers to role back the changes of the Reformation combined with wider ambitions to create a dangerous situation. As Wedgwood notes
Barely a century had passed since the Reformation, and the Catholic Church cherished the far from illusory hope of re-uniting Christendom. The attempt failed. No single cause can explain that failure, yet one stands out above all others. The fortune of the Church became fatally interwoven with that of the House of Austria, and the territorial jealousy evoked by that dynasty reacted upon the Catholic Church by dividing those who should have been her defenders.
Because land was still the dominant source of wealth in the feudal states, the acquisition of more land was a key way that lords could become richer. Germany, with its enormous number of competing states, and hostile interests further afield was a powder keg ready to explode:
The Spanish King wanted the Rhine so that his troops and money could be easily transported from north Italy to the Netherlands. The King of France, and the Dutch... wanted allies on the Rhine to stop this. The Kings of Sweden and Denmark each sought allies against the other on the Baltic coast, against the King of Poland or against the Dutch. The Pope attempted to form a Catholic party in Germany opposed to the Hapsburg Emperor, the Duke of Savoy intrigued to be elected to the imperial throne. 
 Wedgwood explains that even larger states could be fatally divided when even in "a single province as many as half a dozen smaller states might arise".  There were, she says, over three hundred potentially conflicting authorities in Germany.

When war came it was brutal. Armies in the Thirty Years War were mass professional affairs, with huge trains of civilians following them. But the soldiers were rarely loyal to a cause or a leader, only to their banners and their pay. Defeated troops regularly switched sides, and Catholic armies were made up of Protestants and vice-versa. Even national armies, with the exception of the Swedish invasion, where frequently made up of men from many different countries, fighting for money and loot rather than a larger cause. Wedgwood even notes at least one case when a Catholic army mutinied because the men were instructed to partake in the Catholic Mass.

As the war dragged on, crops failed, were destroyed or dug up and peasants and their families joined the armies as the only chance of survival. When peace came, hundreds of thousands of armed men remained in the field, posing significant problems for the authorities.

Peace came in spite of those at the top, rather than because of. Wedgwood notes that "ruling powers.... asked for peace always in a general sense: when it came to practical action they were always prepared to fight for a little longer in order to gain their own particular end- and make a more lasting peace". Such is the logic of feudalism.

But peace did come, and Wedgwood notes that the war had major social and economic impacts on Germany. Much like the aftermath of the Black Death in England in 1381, the loss of millions of peasants led to a rise in wages and a decline in prices, but in the long term Wedgwood does conclude that "social hierarchy emerged from the war as rigid as before". But the peace was "ineffectual" in solving the wider contradictions of European feudalism. Wedgwood laments that the enormous suffering of the mass of the population during the Thirty Years War was only replaced by further suffering as "religious wars" gave way to "nationalist wars". There is some truth to this. The defeat of Austria, Wedgwood argues, opened up the space for Germany to become a European power. But much wider social and political changes needed to take place before a modern Europe became finalised.

C.V. Wedgwood's book is an excellent historical work for this period. It is, on occasion, a difficult one to follow, but it does repay study. In places scholars might find source material superseded by later research, but this does not diminish the scale of Wedgwood's achievement in telling the history of a deeply catastrophic period of history.

Related Reviews

Wedgwood - The King's War 1641-1647
Wedgwood - The Trial of Charles I
Parker - Global Crisis: War, Climate Change & Catastrophe in the 17th Century