Transition from Feudalism to Capitalism.doc - In the debate...

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In the debate on the Transition from Feudalism to Capitalism, discuss the varying stands on the Prime Mover. In Marxist historiography, and indeed in any study of medieval to pre- modern Europe, the most important topic of discussion has been the so- called transition of Europe from feudalism to capitalism. In Marxism, this is a particularly important point of argument and study as it follows the schematic progress of societies as envisioned by Marx (going from communal agriculture, to feudalism, to capitalism and eventually to socialism). This essay shall attempt to assess what the major factor(s) (or, in Marxist terminology, the prime mover ) were that enabled the transition of feudal Europe to capitalism. Various important issues, such as that of the fact that this so-called universal transition in the entirety of Europe in itself is largely misleading, and others, shall be dealt with, bringing in important historical perspectives, and the debates that ensued from these perspectives. Property Relations Perspective vs. Exchange Relations Perspective Maurice Dobb ’s Studies in the Development of Capitalism was a work that sparked off what has come to be known as the Dobb-Sweezy debate. Dobb, in his definition of serfdom, assesses it as being virtually identical to ‘serfdom’: an obligation laid on the product by force and independently of his own volition to fulfill certain economic demands of an overland, whether these demands take the form of services or of dues to be paid in money or kind. According to Dobb, the following form the major characteristics of feudalism: (1) a low level of technique,; (2) production for the immediate need of the household or village community; (3) compulsory labour on the lord’s estate or demesne ; (4) political decentralization; (5) conditional holding of land by lords on some kind of service-tenure; (6) possession by a lord of judicial or semi-judicial functions in relation to the dependent population. This ‘classic’ form of feudalism was most the western European model.
This definition describes feudalism as an economic system in which serfdom is the predominant relation of production, and in which production is organized in and around the manorial estate of the lord. This implies that markets are for the most part local and that long- distance trade while not necessarily absent, plays no determining role in the purposes or methods of production. Therefore for Dobb, feudalism is a system of production for use . According to Dobb, the claim that the impact of commerce as an external force that finally overwhelms the stable internal economy is not a sufficient argument. He finds that there is as much evidence that the growth of money economy per se led to an intensification of serfdom as there is evidence that it was the cause of the feudal decline. One of the examples he brings forth to support this is the “second serfdom” of eastern Europe in which there was a revival of the old system associated with the growth of production for the market.

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