Capitalism, Mobility and Class Formation in the Early Modern German City

TitleCapitalism, Mobility and Class Formation in the Early Modern German City
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication1975
AuthorsFriedrichs, CR
JournalPast & Present
ISBN Number0031-2746
Keywordsarticle, Capitalism, Capitalism/Capitalist/Capitalistic, City/Cities, Class/Classes (see also Social class), early modern German city, economic dependence development, Formation/Formations, German/Germany/Germans, Kleinburgertum emergence, Mobility, mobility vs class formation, self-perceived social boundaries

One of the most important developments in German history of the early modern era was the emergence of the Kleinburgertum. A model is suggested to explain the process by which this group emerged. The society of a German city in the middle ages was normally divided into only 2 basic groups: citizens (Burger) & noncitizens. The citizens, although they comprised many different levels of wealth, all shared political & economic privileges & opportunities for which set them apart as a group from members of the noncitizen stratum. The growth of entrepreneurial capitalism, however, created a situation in which some citizens, predominantly artisans, became economically dependent on wealthier citizens, generally merchants who commanded considerable amounts of capital. This status of economic dependency diminished their opportunities for upward mobility. As that happened they ceased to identify their interests with those of the citizenry as a whole & began to perceive themselves as members of a separate class, the Kleinburgertum, which was socially & economically distinct both from the capitalist bourgeoise & from the propertyless proletariat of the German city. This is illustrated with data from the German city of Nordlingen in the 17th century. From the tax records of that city it is evident that opportunities for upward mobility began to decline in the 17th century, during exactly the period when entrepreneurial capitalism took firm root in the textile industry of Nordlingen. A bitter conflict which took place in the 1690's between the weavers of Nordlingen & the entrepreneurs upon whom they had become dependent illustrates the degree to which the traditional social cohesiveness among the citizens of a German city had given way to a consciousness of class differences by the end of the ancien regime. 2 Tables.