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Incorporation of the Ottoman Empire into the Capitalist World-Economy, 1750-1839

Barbara Reeves-Ellington

Economic Factors
Sudden increase in volume of trade

Citing data provided by Bruce McGowan, Wallerstein and Kasaba claimed that exports of cotton increased approximately two-fold between 1750 and 1789. However, except for France, the majority of the exports were headed not for the capitalist core but instead for Austria, Switzerland, Saxony, Prussia, and Italy. According to Fikret Adanir, Balkan cotton was not of the quality of American and Indian cotton, which England preferred. Moreover, geographic regions in the empire were clearly experiencing different trade patterns. The largest export increases were recorded from the ports of Smyrna and Salonica in the Balkans, but were partially offset by reductions from Syria and Constantinople.

Additional evidence supplied by John Lampe suggests that contribution of Ottoman trade to French and especially British commercial profit and capital formulation was minuscule during the eighteenth century. While cotton exports to France and England doubled between the late seventeenth and late eighteenth centuries, exports of semi-processed goods to northwest Europe also increased. As regards trade imbalance, only Constantinople ran an import surplus. Both Lampe and McGowan argued that the empire as a whole, and the Balkans in particular, continued to record an export surplus throughout the period. Thus, increased export of raw materials was not associated with enforced importation of finished goods. Moreover, increased foreign trade has to be put into perspective. According to Sevket Pamuk, in the early 1820s, foreign trade represented only about two to three percent of overall volume of production in the empire.

Shift in exports to raw materials

A shift in exports from luxury goods to raw materials is a factor of incorporation into the world-economy. Wallerstein and Kasaba noted that during the second half of the eighteenth century, "a considerable fraction of the Ottoman exports started to be comprised of commercial crops, especially cotton, maize, and tobacco." They provided no hard evidence to support this claim.

What was occurring was not a shift from trade in luxury goods to export of raw materials but rather a shift in the type of raw materials being exported. According to McGowan, Ottoman trade in raw materials was far more heterogeneous. Founded on wheat and silk in the sixteenth century, at the height of Ottoman power, it grew to include cattle, wool, mohair, hides, and finally cotton and tobacco. By the late seventeenth century Ottoman raw exports were three to four times the value of raw grain exports from Baltic trade. Moreover, although cotton, maize, and tobacco began to be exported in large quantities during the late eighteenth century, cotton in particular had long been cultivated in Anatolia and the Balkans and had been one of the principle exports of the empire since the fifteenth century.

Based on this evidence, Ottoman trade with the core was not limited to luxury goods before the eighteenth century. Moreover, trade was arranged at Ottoman convenience for surplus produce after provisioning of the capital and other large cities, and, according to McGowan, trade treaties in this period could be cancelled unilaterally by the Ottomans. Thus, the empire was hardly "hooked" into incorporation before this time.

Expansion of çiftliks associated with second serfdom

Wallerstein and his co-authors claimed that the increase in cotton exports was associated with the expansion of land use known as çiftliks (translated by them as "plantations"), which, they stated, entailed enserfment of peasants. They argued that, "although small peasant property was not completely destroyed, usury mediated the accumulation of capital in the hands of powerful landlords.

In contrast to the notion of enserfed peasants on plantations, several scholars, including Lampe, McGowan, and Sevket Pamuk, have argued that agriculture throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries remained on a small-scale basis. Using the arguments of Bulgarian scholars, Lampe noted that "we can only call this çiftlik regime 'feudal,' with 'semi-capitalist' features in some regions, and not virtually capitalist as suggested by Wallerstein." He contended that the dates of origin, size, and nature of the çiftliks suggest "an internal Ottoman dynamic more fiscal than commercial, more military than civilian in character."

As to date of origin, çiftliks developed chiefly along the Black Sea Coast and in Macedonia early in the seventeenth century and had reached their full extent by 1700. They were hereditary land possessions claimed by the heirs of cavalrymen (sipahi) who had been granted use of land during their lifetime in exchange for military duty. The Ottoman state was eventually obliged to acknowledge the hereditary nature of these lands given the contraction of the empire, the absence of newly conquered lands, and the need for taxes.

The çiftliks covered no more than twenty percent of cultivated land and engaged no more than ten percent of the population. Most holdings were small and few yielded a large marketable surplus. Their normal size was 15 to 30 acres. They were farmed on a seasonable basis by peasants who paid a semiannual rent. Inalcik has described several different types of çiftlik: some were rented by peasants; others operated on a wage-labor system. He also noted that çiftliks were not given over to monoculture (cotton). Some encompassed vineyards and orchards, and many of the larger çiftliks were converted to cattle ranches or dairy farms. Thus, they were hardly plantations and did not entail serfdom.

Decline of manufacturing sector

Wallerstein and Kasaba claimed that Ottoman manufacturing declined in the nineteenth century as a direct result of the decline of the guilds and the stipulations of the Anglo-Turkish Commercial Convention of 1838. The guild argument went as follows. As early as the seventeenth century, people left rural areas to avoid war and natural disaster, migrating in large numbers to big cities. Unemployment became a serious problem, the domestic market contracted sharply, and integrity of the Ottoman guilds became vulnerable. As a result, the Ottoman state lost control of production and the guilds were left vulnerable to competition from European commodities. The absence of industrial protection "forced Ottoman provinces to become suppliers of raw materials for Europe and buyers of European manufactured goods."

Leaving aside the issue that there were no large cities in the Balkans in the early nineteenth century (let alone the seventeenth), and that movement was chiefly from the lowlands to the hills because of brigandage (kurdzhalistvo), an issue to which I will return, the suggestion that European commodities flooded the market and made for a trade imbalance has been refuted by John Lampe.

What Wallerstein and Kasaba failed to mention when they describe guild vulnerability is that the Ottoman state intentionally took steps to produce that vulnerability. According to Donald Quataert, the guilds practiced protectionism, and the best organized advocates of protectionism were the Janissaries, who were slaughtered in Istanbul in 1826 on the order of the sultan. Quataert has suggested that the guilds stifled commercial competition within the Ottoman Empire thanks to their protection by the Janissaries. After the Janissaries were murdered, the guilds could no longer restrict trade, and the state could promote free trade. Michael Pailaret has termed the event a "well executed bloodbath," and Stavrianos described it as a "holocaust," in which 6,000 Janissaries were killed and 18,000 exiled. It is hard to understand why Wallerstein ignored the event.

As to the Anglo-Turkish Commercial Convention of 1838, Quataert argued that it was part of the Tanzimat, that is, an integral part of the Ottoman reform movement. Its signing confirmed a trend well under way in the Ottoman Empire and was not due to pressure from European diplomats. Wallerstein and Kasaba fell into the trap of Eurocentrism describing the Tanzimat period as one of resistance. According to them, the reform decree of 1839 "marked the end of the resistance on the part of the Ottoman bureaucracy to incorporation." Several western scholars, relying on western sources, have claimed that reform was forced on the empire; whereas scholars who have used Ottoman, western, and regional (for example, Balkan) sources have shown that the movement for reform was the result of complex interactions involving internal and external pressure. The impetus for reform, however, dated from the late eighteenth century and came from within. Quataert has joined a small but growing number of historians who criticize the Eurocentric view.

More important, Quataert has challenged the view that Ottoman manufacturing declined in the first half of the eighteenth century. This view is founded on urban-based, guild-organized production but ignores rural industry, household manufacturing, and workshops. Rural manufacturing was not observed by the European travelers whose accounts of urban manufacturing decline form the basis of Wallerstein's and Kasaba's arguments. Moreover, Quataert insisted that it was internal demand, not Western economies, that drove Ottoman production and trade: the quantity and value of domestic trade surpassed international Ottoman commerce throughout the period 1800 to 1914. Pailaret made the same point, claiming that the boom in rural manufacturing in the second quarter of the nineteenth century served chiefly the domestic market.

Pailaret suggested that urban, guild-controlled, fine-textile industries declined principally in Anatolia. In contrast, a veritable industrial renaissance occurred in the Ottoman Balkan lands. Although the woolen manufacturing in Salonica had been declining since the seventeenth century, the town experienced a boom in silk reeling and the manufacture of cotton towels and carpets. Small towns in the foothills of mountainous areas expanded into industrial centers for the manufacture of woolen cloth, cotton towels, and carpets.

Both Quataert and Pailaret suggested that the combination of Ottoman institutional change and local entrepreneurship in the second quarter of the nineteenth century contributed to impressive cultural and economic advances in the Ottoman Empire, which fail to speak to peripheralization and immiseration. Their work contradicts Wallerstein and Kasaba's claim that "in the long run, the effects of incorporation of the Ottoman Empire into the world-economy proved to be catastrophic for manufacturing in the Ottoman realms as a whole."

Political Factors
Questions on Wallerstein's Analysis

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Last Updated: 8/12/16