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 followsthe schematic progress of societies as envisioned by Marx (going fromcommunal agriculture, to feudalism, to capitalism and eventually tosocialism). This essay shall attempt to assess what the major factor(s) (or, inMarxist terminology, the prime mover) were that enabled the transitionof feudal Europe to capitalism. Various important issues, such as that ofthe fact that this so-called universal transition in the entirety of Europein itself is largely misleading, and others, shall be dealt with, bringing inimportant historical perspectives, and the debates that ensued fromthese perspectives.Property Relations Perspective vs. Exchange Relations Perspective Maurice Dobb’s Studies in the Development of Capitalismwas a workthat sparked off what has come to be known as the Dobb-Sweezydebate. Dobb, in his definition of serfdom, assesses it as being virtuallyidentical to ‘serfdom’: an obligation laid on the product by force andindependently of his own volition to fulfill certain economic demands ofan overland, whether these demands take the form of services or of duesto be paid in money or kind.According to Dobb, the following form the major characteristics offeudalism: (1) a low level of technique,; (2) production for theimmediate need of the household or village community; (3) compulsorylabour 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 tothe dependent population. This ‘classic’ form of feudalism was most thewestern European model.
This definition describes feudalism as an economic system in whichserfdom is the predominant relation of production, and in whichproduction 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 inthe purposes or methods of production. Therefore for Dobb, feudalism isa system of production for use.According to Dobb, the claim that the impact of commerce as an externalforce that finally overwhelms the stable internal economy is not asufficient argument. He finds that there is as much evidence that thegrowth of money economy per se led to an intensification of serfdom asthere is evidence that it was the cause of the feudal decline. One of theexamples he brings forth to support this is the “second serfdom” ofeastern Europe in which there was a revival of the old system associatedwith the growth of production for the market.