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HISTORICAL BACKGROUND TO BRITAIN
I. BRITAIN AT THE TURN OF THE CENTURY (LATE NINETEENTH - BARLY TWENTIETH CENTURY)
In the late Victorian period (188O-1901) capitalism entered its highest stage imperialism. British economy bad acquired a new basis. Instead of the old and now vanishing industrial Monopoly by which Britain had enjoyed the position of 'workshop of the world', there was a narrower but more complete colonial Monopoly.
The key feature of Imperialism is Monopoly. This was aseptically the case in the iron and steel industries, in shipping and ship Building, in soda new Industries like the Manufacture of chemicals, soap and margarine and in the case of the railways and banks. Thus, such firma as Armstrong Whitworth, Dorwan, Long and Co. and Vickers occupied a dominating position in the heavy industries. In the same way, private banks ware being absorbed into vast joint stock con-earns with hundreds of branches all over the country. Barclays Bank was founded in this way in 1896. The bir Five banks held one-quarter of all bank deposits at the beginning of the twentieth century, and over three-quarters by 1936. The movement towards monopoly was lass marked in the older export industries, especially textiles, and in coal mining except in South Wales. These industries remained relatively backward, with many small enterprises working with insufficient capital, out-of-date plant and methods which made it difficult for them to compete in mass production with the rival industries of Germany and the United States.
Almost as important a feature of Imperialism as monopoly, and one which in Britain came earlier, was the export of capital, in the form both of loans and investments. Britain's capital investments abroad had reached 1,000 million by 1880, jumped to 2,000 million by about 1900, and was almost 4,000 million by 1914. The export of capital was linked with territorial expansion. It that time the importance of capital exports was to increase, as the declining profits of home industry drove investors to look for more profitable places to develop. These pieces were found in colonies, or other undeveloped countries, which were soon seized as colonies, or dominated as semi-colonies.
Britain became to an ever-increasing extent a parasitic usurer
state and the interests of the bondholder* became the determining factor la its foreign politics. There was a relative decline of Industry, illustrated, for example, by the decrease in the proportion of the population employed in the basic industries from 25% in 1851 to 15% in 1901, with a corresponding increase in the proportion employed in distribution, commerce, domestic service and the luxury trades. Large scale unemployment became a regular feature. Another striking sign of decay was the growing frequency of cyclical crises. One such crisis occurred in 1902-4-, a second in 1908-9, while a third was developing rapidly in 1914 and was only cut short by the outbreak of war.
The concentration of capital meant not only an Increase in the size of enterprises but a vast increase in the number of purely passive shareholders. The typical capitalist was now no longer a factory owner running his own business and making a definite contribution of his own knowledge and energy to industry, but a shareholder drawing dividends and contributing nothing but his capital.
Another symptom of the parasitism of British capitalism in these years was the slow progress of British industry as compared with that of its principal rivals, Germany and the U.S.4. Although Britain was the birthplace of industrial capitalism, it boor found itself out-distanced.
The next Important feature of Imperialism was the division of the world among the imperialist powers. Between-1875 and 1900 the area, taken over by the imperialist states increased from 11% to 90% in Africa alone. But it was becoming clear now that the existing division of the world could not be permanent) it had been made on the basis of the relative strength of the European Powers far back in the Nineteenth Century and no longer corresponded to realities. This was true above all of the division a» between Britain and Germany. In the period before the War, it was around certain backward but not strictly colonial areas that Anglo-German rivalry centered. Such were the Balkans, South America, and the slowly decaying Turkish Empire. The redivision of the world could only be effected by war, and war on a gigantic scale since this was a question in which all of the treat Powers were deeply concerned.
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