The uncritical statement that the cities offered the peasant and serf "a chance to escape" from onerous obligations needs careful scrutiny. In a way, this whole chapter may be considered a denial of that thought. It will be demonstrated with materials assembled, for example, that the historians, with their documentary evidence, are not convinced that the era was one of "opportunity." They are more convinced that it was, in its early decades at least, an age of less for the masses and of more for the upper classes.Next Page
North, a sociologist whose knowledge of historical details is evident, and whose conclusions are therefore in line with those of the historians, puts little stock in the theory of social mobility in this era. His emphasis upon social class continuity here is to be contrasted with Sorokin's emphasis upon "most intensive vertical mobility." North quotes Bucher to this effect: 7 As one observes, each step taken by medieval division of labor in industry was conditioned by the possession of wealth. It the same with trade. The trading classes of Middle Ages is derived from the class of urban landowners, who had become . . . possessors of movable capital. It is from this class of stock-holders and tradesmen that the current manufacturing class has sprung since the seventeenth century.
Gretton is of the opinion that the middle class was rising during this period, but that "the lower classes -- the workmen, artisans, and laborers -- were securely enchained." 8 Fahlbeck takes the contrary view, stating: "Freedom and equality are the great characteristics of the open class society, just as bondage and difference (Verschiedenheit) are for feudal society." 9
Opinion divided as to the facts of social class in the new age of industrial capitalism. One confronts in the literature not only differences of opinion with regard to the significance of the new era for the lower classes, with regard to opportunity, but also with regard to the facts themselves.
Statistical evidence of vertical mobility in the cotton industry in England was presented to show that as high as 84 per cent of the managing directors of the factories had started their employment as operatives or at equally low pay. This material was gathered by two researchers and presented at a meeting of the Royal Statistical Society. To their report they add: 10
It is beyond question that in the early days of the factory system, the movement of workpeople, against gravity, so to speak, was common. Indeed, trade depressions were actually attributed to the ease with which workpeople, indifferently supplied with capital, could thrust themselves into the ranks of employers.
These are hard statistical facts (and strongly worded opinions) about mobility in the industrial field. Sorokin includes these data in his book on social mobility at their face value. Mombert, as will be pointed out under that section of this dissertation given over to statistical studies, immediately recognized that something was amiss here and consequently discounted them. The statistical error was a very simple one, and anyone who reads the appended minutes of this discussion by the members of the Royal Society will find it pointed out by one of those present. The questionnaire upon which the figures were based did not specify whether these directors who rose from the ranks began as bona fide workers or as "operatives" who were learning their fathers' or friends' business by starting at the bottom -- much as young financiers frequently learn the practical set up of an office by working as messenger boys, and so forth, for six months or a year.
As for the unique theory about depressions caused by the entrance of so many workpeople into business, the statisticians gave no documentation, and in all the economic and general histories surveyed by this researcher no such thought was brought forward. In fact, the historians paint a different picture of the early factory system, as will be shown.
Other cold statistics have been gathered to indicate enormous swings up and down. According to Roscher, out of eighty-five firms in Stettin in 1739, in 1859 all had disappeared. 11 Engel took for granted that in the whole of France eighty per cent of the employers were formerly workers. 12
7. Cecil Clare North, Social Differentiation (Chapel Hill, 1926) p. 224.
8. R. H. Gretton, The English Middle Class (London, 1917) p. 158.
9. Fahlbeck, op. cit., p. 227; translation ours.
10. S. J. Chapman and F. J. Marquis, "The Recruiting of the Employing Classes from the Ranks of the Wage-earners in the Cotton Industry," in the Journal of the Royal Statistical Society, vol. LXXV, (February, 1912) p. 299.
11. As reviewed in: Robert Rene Kuczynski, Der Zug nach der Stadt (Stuttgart, 1897) p. 96.