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Дополнение - Циклы аграрных империй

С.В.Цирель


Чтобы прояснить свою позицию по существу данного вопроса, в дополнение к вчерашнему
краткому ответу я привожу (пока неопубликованный) текст своего доклада на культурологической
конференции (Москва, июнь 2004 г.). Прошу прощения за неподобающий для данной дискуссии
язык.

Historical processes are characterized by a great variability. Guided irreversible
processes, on the one hand, and cyclic recurrent processes, on the other, are of
special interest. A summary idea of the humanity history from its very beginning
shows that guided processes are predominant. But if we study the history of particular
countries and periods it appears that the cyclic processes are, in fact, more important.

A good example of cyclic processes is given by the cycles of traditional agrarian
countries. Especially good are those examples of agrarian empires with a centralized
redistributive economy. We mean, first of all, China, Egypt and the Ottoman Empire.
The history of China shows than many cycles were rather alike in their durability.
So it is possible to speak not only about cyclic, but even about periodic processes.
An idealized cycle is made of several stages: rapid empire growth, its stable existence,
gradual degradation and precarious existence which culminates in a crisis. The state
disintegrates and mutinies, internal wars, hunger etc. occur and the population decreases.
After that the state revives and the cycle repeat themselves. The durability of the
cycle is, on the average, from 1 to 3 centuries.

Probability, that was first described by Ibn Khaldun. Among the most important factors
he cited the moral degradation of the authorities and national solidarity. Modern
historians pay special attention to the population growth and demographic cycle,
agrarian overpopulation, rapid growth of elite number and their inner conflicts,
financed disbalance, separatist tendencies etc.

In my opinion, nearly all of the above mechanisms are manifestations of a more general
mechanism. The main reason for this cycle is the combination of rigid forms of rule
and similar kind of ideology together with the non-existence of effective feedback.
Problems and contradictions accumulate, but the rule rigidity makes it impossible
to change anything and suppresses the arising discontent. The abyss between the rigid
rule and changing reality grows with time. The wider the abyss the stronger the degradation
of the state and its authorities. At last the ability of the regime to cope with
these problems proves inadequate, and the state crashes.

It is interesting to compare this cycle with the political and economic cycles in
modern democratic countries. In democratic countries there is effective feedback,
which makes the state more resilient. This leads to manifold good and bad points
of the democratic rule, but these we do not discuss. In the light of the present
paper, it is important that the resilience leads to shorter cycles. The average durability
of the essential political and economic cycles amounts to about 5 or 10 years. It
is to note that the scope of changes that take place during these cycles is smaller
than what takes place during the cycle in agrarian empires. The state does not crash,
but the economic situation and the leading party become different. Longer economic
and political cycles in modern countries, as a rule, are less pronounced than shorter
ones. It goes about to Kondratieff waves, the Kuznets infrastructural investment
cycle and thirty-year long Schlesinger political cycles.

It goes by itself that traditional agrarian empires also possess some mechanisms
of feed-back and contradiction attenuation. However, these do not belong to the system
focus.

The more important among them are as follows.

First, local authorities and secret agent reports, petitions and complaints of the
inhabitants.

Second, but very important mechanism is corruption. Corruption allows for the formal
functioning of existing laws in a changed situation. However, it results in finance
disbalance and general degradation of the authorities.

Third, in China and in Ottoman Empire social mobility played an important role. It
attenuated the protests of the population and was beneficial to changes in the system.

That is not a complete list. However, all the feed-back mechanisms are less effective
than the mechanism of regular elections.

The majority of real cycles were essentially different from the presented ideal structure.
In reality, cycles lengthened because of

- reforms effected by rulers-reformers;

- massive ploughing of virgin lands;

- military successes and conquests;

- technical innovations etc.

On the contrary, ecological problems, military defeats, bad harvests and ineffective
rules together with unsuccessful reforms etc. shorten the cycles. For instance in
Russia early in seventeen century the combination of the rupture of the dynasty and
horribly low harvests lead to a prolonged crisis.

The upper limit of the cycle durability depends on that of the demographic cycle
durability, that is the overpopulation of the whole country. But, as a rule, the
crisis occurs earlier, damaging the demographic cycle. The termination of demographic
waves coincides generally with the political crises. However, during one demographic
wave two or even three political cycles may occur.

At the same time, in a few cases, even overpopulation fails to bring forth an immediate
crash. For instance, the crisis in China early in the twentieth century occurred
when the population was three or four times that during earlier crises. Changes in
agrarian technologies slowed the crisis advent.

The durability and intensity of inner wars which follow the crash, are determined,
first of all, by social-demographic factors. It goes about people who have lost their
lands, homes, livelihood and social standing. It is very important what part of them
can handle arms and are inclined to fighting. Traditions play an important part.
For instance, India before Moslem occupation did not know massive people revolts.

However, after the crisis the regeneration, as a rule, take a short time. By contrast,
the rigidity of the government and ideology, the ability of the elite to impose its
will and predilections prove beneficial for the country regeneration. Also after
unstable periods, the calls to restore ancient laws become tempting.

The problem of causes which determine just that durability of cycles, is very interesting.
It is possible that at the bottom lie some psychological phenomena. Yet, established
psychological laws do not explain why the time before the crash amounts to about
five or ten generations. Explanations based upon the theory of demographic cycles
are more developed. However, within the framework of that theory it is necessary
that the rate of the population decrease during those crises were rather closely
matched. This hypothesis does not cover the variety of crisis patterns known in history.
True, in most cases it is very hard to check it because the data of population numbers
during unstable times are rough. On the whole, the problem of the kind of cycle life
remains open.

This mechanism functioned until the population activities and tastes were determined
by tradition. Modernization essentially changes the cycle course and its very character.

On the one hand we have:

- demographic boom is followed by overpopulation;

- new technology in agriculture leads to “surplus” people;

- new ideological tendencies undermine the authorities legitimacy etc.

This is the reason why counties which have chosen the path of modernization quickly
reach the stage preceding the crisis.

On the other hand we have:

- after a demographic boom the population growth slows down rapidly;

- new sectors of economics suck in the available manpower;

- authorities adapting themselves to the new situation become less rigid;

- new basis of legitimacy appear.

Consequently, contrary to earlier times, the emergence of the critical stage is not
obligatory. Many countries, in the period of modernization, totter on the brink of
crisis for a long time.

It is possible to work out three main courses of the situation development. Namely,

1. Successful modernization under which the very mechanism of the cycle disappears.
The main example - countries of South-Eastern Asia.

2. Unsuccessful modernization, negative tendencies suppress positive ones. The main
example - African countries south of the Sahara. Many of them have even overstepped
the critical stage. The overpopulation has reached a gigantic figure, whereas the
authorities are horrible inefficient. If their very existence it is due to the help
from abroad.

3. The third course is crisis and transition to accelerated modernization or, from
another point of view, to accelerated demodernization. It goes about the creation
of totalitarian states which realize traditional absolute rule by means of the twentieth
century. The most obvious example is the Soviet Union.

It is interesting to consider the creation and the disintegration of the Soviet Union
as a cycle of an agrarian empire.

The very crisis of the nineteen seventeen 1917 can be interpreted as the end of an
agrarian empire cycle. First, the authorities were helpless in the face of the changing
situation. Second, the prestige of the ruling dynasty and the influence of the state
religion were on the ebb. Third, the main problems were land and agrarian overpopulation.
And, what is most important - the Soviet State was very mush alike to traditional
Eastern despotic state. The historians and the economists point out its likeness
to some earlier despotic states, for instance, the Empire of the Inca and China of
Shi Huangdi. Of course, other interpretation of the Russian revolution are also possible.

The disintegration of the USSR also demonstrates some features of the cycle end -
collapse of the redistribution economy, corruption, loss of the authorities legitimacy
and others. However, condition to which the authorities were unable to adapt differed
from those in the traditional cycle. During the period of the Soviet State a massive
transition from husbandry to industry and from village to town has taken place. It
resulted in the change of the consumption type - namely, from the desire to posses
the conventional minimum of commodities to the aspiration for the most modern and
the best. The centralized government and redistribution economy have become ineffective.
So, the final outcome of the contemporary crisis cannot result in the traditional
form of power resurrection.


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