Transition from Feudalism to Capitalism essay

To be able to comprehensively understand Marx’s theory of the transition from feudalist mode of production to capitalist mode of production, it is important that one should examine and analyze his and Engels’ thesis on class contradiction and modes of production. These two considerations are central to their theory of the happening of the transition. As will be shown later in this essay, the transition from feudalism to capitalism will be effectively understood by using the concepts of class contradiction in relation to the modes of production.

Without going directly to the concepts of feudalism and capitalism, a characterization of the terms class contradiction and modes of production must first be endeavored. To Marx, the history of all existing society is the history of class struggle. Class struggle is a competition between two classes, one dominant and the other subservient. Marx posited that in every epoch there are two classes in society opposing each other starting from masters and slaves, patrician and plebian, lord and serf, guild master and journeyman, down to the bourgeoisie and the working class.

Based on his concept of class struggle, Marx added that one class subjugated the other because their interests were always diametrically conflicting. The second concept, mode of production, is defined as the fusion of the forces of production and relations of production. The first includes human labor, tools, equipments, buildings and desire. The second consists of relations of: power and control, people and the purpose of their work and the social classes.

Marx and Engels projected feudalism as having evolved from tribal ownership, and the ancient form of communal State ownership created by the union of tribes into one either by consensual agreement or as a result of tribal warfare. They proceeded to describe feudalism as, “Like tribal and communal ownership, it is based again on a community; but the directly producing class standing over against it is not, as in the case of the ancient community, the slaves, but the enserfed small peasantry.

” (Marx and Engels, 1846:72) They further established that, “Thus the chief form of property during the feudal epoch consisted on the one hand of landed property with serf labour chained to it, and on the other of the labour of the individual with small capital commanding the labour of journeymen. ” (http://www. marxists. org/archive/marx/works/1845/german-ideology/ch01a. htm#a2) These accounts of feudalism described the social situation in a feudal social order.

What defines feudalism was that the supremacy of the dominant class (the Aristocracy) based on land control, gives rise to a class society based upon the utilization of the peasants who farm these lands, typically under serfdom. The landowners enforce their property rights as a certain kind of resource. The serfs who are bounded to the land submit their labor, usually in exchange of protection. With this in mind, it can be said that feudalism is a social classification in itself. It is the interrelation between the class of land-owners on the one hand, and the class of landless farmer-serf on the other.

Feudalism sits properly on Marx and Engels’ theses of class contradiction and modes of production as determinants of social structure. According to Marx, “the discovery of America, the rounding of the Cape, opened up fresh ground for the rising bourgeoisie. The East-Indian and Chinese markets, the colonisation of America, trade with the colonies, the increase in the means of exchange and in commodities generally, gave to commerce, to navigation, to industry, an impulse never before known, and thereby, to the revolutionary element in the tottering feudal society, a rapid development.

” The events mentioned by Marx shows the cause for the eventual expansion of trade that led feudal societies to amass capital, which in turn paved the way for the creation of a new society centered on commodities and profit. In such society, the serfs were transformed into paid laborers called the proletariat while the feudal landowner was now a business man called bourgeois. In capital societies, the larger but lower working class called proletariat sells, as commodity, their labor to capital in order to earn a living.

The small but upper class bourgeois or capital buys the commodity (labor) in order to make another commodity to be traded for profit. As in the feudal system, in this newly identified social order called the Capitalist Society, there is class struggle and a renewed mode of production. How then did these concepts affect the transition from feudalism to capitalism? As presented by Marx and Engels, capitalism grew from feudalism. In their work, they posited that, “the feudal system of industry, in which industrial production was monopolized by closed guilds, now no longer suffices for the growing wants of the new markets.

The manufacturing system took its place. The guild-masters were pushed aside by the manufacturing middle class; division of labor between the different corporate guilds vanished in the face of division of labor in each single workshop. ” (http://www. marxist. com/150years/manifesto1. html) The transition however was not abrupt. The change was gradual and progressive. The transition from feudalist mode of production to a capitalist one was brought about by the growing demands for new wares which cannot be handled by the slow and oftentimes inactive feudal mode of production.

The increase in demand for new commodities led to the increase in commerce, which in turn led to the creation of new markets. The craft productions of guilds were not able to cope with the rising demand for manufactured goods. The feudal mode of production was too slow to meet the demands of the market, so new forms or systems of manufacturing developed. The development of capitalism was not only witnessed in the manufacturing business. The same was also true in agriculture. As capitalist mode of manufacturing progressed, demands in the agricultural goods also increased.

To cope with such demands, innovative ways of agricultural production such as, use of horse drawn and later on mechanized tools, exercise of crop rotation and division of farm labor. Farming was done in substantially large farm lots, hence individual parcel were joined together and the serfs cultivating them were converted as paid laborers in the farm. (http://ih52. stier. net/notes/marx/feudalism. htm) Like organisms, societies evolve. When feudalist societies advanced, cities were created and developed into centers of trade.

For Marx and Engels, the evolution of society is determined by a variety of factors that can be understood and analyzed well using the concepts of class contradiction and modes of production. The transformation of societies from one form to another is a result of the progress and increasing development in modes of production. As presented by Marx and Engels, in every form of society, there are almost always contradictions among the classes. In a feudal society, there is a struggle between the landowner and the serf, while in a capitalist society it is between labor and capital.


Exploitation and History. The William King Server. Retrieved September 17, 2007, from http://william-king. www. drexel. edu/top/prin/txt/marx/marx5. html Marx, Karl. The german Ideology (1845). Retrieved September 17, 2007 from http://www. marxists. org/archive/marx/works/1845/german-ideology/ch01a. htm#a2 Stier, Marc. IH 52. Retrieved September 17, 2007 from http://ih52. stier. net/notes/marx/feudalism. htm Modules on Marx. Purdue University College of Liberal Arts Website. Retrieved September 17, 2007 from http://www. cla. purdue. edu/English/theory/marxism/modules/ marxstages. html