Evolution économique et mouvements paysans en Belgique à la fin du 18e siècle.

Economic Evolution And Peasant Movements In Belgium At The End Of The 18Th Century: Taking the demographic evolution as a key variable it can be said that from 1740 onward the rate of increase of the population was higher than in the previous part of the century. Two major differences in the demographic evolution can be observed .- first of all the rate of increase is higher for Flanders than for Wallony; secondly the less fertile areas experience a higher rate of increase than the more fertile and hence, more agricultural areas. Because of the limited possibilities offered by the agriculture in the less fertile areas and because of the higher rate of demographic increase, these areas have experienced a high degree of rural industrialization. This rural industry, linen industry in Flanders and iron industry in Wallony, was characterized by high production costs that adversely affected the competitiveness of the goods. In order to maintain a certain competitiveness, attempts were made to lower the production costs which was done at the expense of the wage component. This became very acute from 1780 onward. At the same time the emergence of the urban industries rendered the position of the rural cottage industry even more precarious. These changes also caused increased impoverishment of the rural masses, but more particular of the segment of the population active in the rural industry. At the same time the economic position of the peasantry, comprising the segment of the rural population active in agriculture improved if not in absolute terms at least in a relative way. Together with improved economic and social position, the peasants tried to reinforce their political position which caused them to clash with the nobility in an attempt to eliminate the last remnants of the feudal power on which the political power of the nobility rested. Given the fact now that the feudal system was stronger in Wallony than in Flanders we can make the following basic distinction between the peasant movements in the two parts of the country. In Flanders the rural industrial masses start to rebel against the local wealthy and middle class peasants who can count on the support of the nobility. For Wallony however, the indications are that the agitations were mainly the work of peasants against the burden of the feudal system.