1st Edition

The Transition to Capitalism in Modern France Primitive Accumulation and Markets from the Old Regime to the post-WWII Era

By Xavier Lafrance, Stephen Miller Copyright 2024

    Historians, since the 1960s, argue that the French economy performed as well as did any economy in Europe during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries thanks to the opportunities for profit available on the market, especially the large consumer market in Paris. Whatever economic weaknesses existed did not stem from the social structure but from exogenous forces such as wars, the lack of natural resources or slow demographic growth.

    This book challenges the foregoing consensus by showing that the French economy performed poorly relative to its rivals because of noncapitalist social relations. Specifically, peasants and artisans controlled lands and workshops in autonomous communities and did not have to improve labor productivity to survive. Merchants and manufacturers cornered markets instead of being subject to the market’s competitive imperatives.

    Thus, distinctive features of capitalism—primitive accumulation (the dispossession of peasants and artisans) and the competitive obligation faced by merchants and manufacturers to reinvest profits in order to keep the profits—did not prevail until the state imposed them in a process lasting for a century after the 1850s. For this reason, it was not until the 1960s that France caught up to (and in some cases surpassed) its economic rivals.

    Introduction. 1. French Agriculture in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries: Growth without Development 2. Industrialization from the Old Regime to the Post-Revolutionary Era 3. The First Transition to Capitalism from the 1850s to the 1920s 4. The Agricultural Revolution of the Fifth Republic after the end of the 1950s 5. Slow Growth, Relapse and Rapid Capitalist Industrialization from the Interwar Period to the 1970s 6. Conclusion


    Xavier Lafrance, Professor of Political Science at UQAM (Université du Québec à Montréal), is the author of The Making of Capitalism in France (2019) and coeditor, with Charles Post, of Case Studies in the Origins of Capitalism (2018).

    Stephen Miller, Professor of History at UAB (University of Alabama at Birmingham), is author of State and Society in Eighteenth Century France (Revised updated edition, 2023), Feudalism, Venality and Revolution (2020) and, co-authored with Christopher Isett, The Social History of Agriculture (2017).