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Chapter 2 Modes of Production and Historical Development
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3. Feudalism and the Transition to Capitalism

European feudalism is the only mode of production known to have spontaneously produced capitalism and to have promoted the expansion of capitalist forces and relations of production. It is therefore not at all surprising to find that feudal social formations and the transition from feudalism to capitalism have generated a vast historical literature that cannot be reviewed here.[13] I will only outline, in a schematic fashion, how the Structural Marxist concept of a mode of production has contributed to our understanding of these phenomena. For purposes of logical organization and economy of exposition, I will present a synthetic interpretation constructed on the basis of certain themes introduced by Rey and developed, with more or less continuity, by European historians Guy Bois, Peter Kriedte, and Perry Anderson. The reader should bear in mind that in contrast to the preceding discussion of lineage modes of production, my purpose in the following pages is more synthetic than critical. I will make no attempt to review theoretical controversies or to follow the chronological development of concepts and theoretical positions. A comprehensive review would not only be prohibitively long but would also be repetitive, given the fact that differing concepts and opposing positions so closely parallel those we have already encountered. Having introduced and defended my own position, I will now simply apply it by means of a selective exposition of the theoretical frameworks to which we may now turn.

Rey: The "Class Alliance" Between Seigneurs and Capitalists

In Les alliances de classes (1973), Rey conceptualizes the transition from feudalism to capitalism in terms of the articulation of the two modes.[14] According to Rey, the central characteristic of the articulation of feudalism and capitalism in early modern Europe is "the reproduction on an extended scale of the fundamental [feudal] relation of pro-


duction, ground rent, which creates the conditions for the development of the capitalist mode of production" (Rey 1973, 55). Taking as his point of departure Marx's analysis of differential and absolute rent (in volume 3 of Capital ), Rey argues that ground rent is something of an anomaly in capitalist societies both because land itself is not created by human labor power and because ground rent accrues not to the appropriators of surplus value, that is, capitalists, but rather to "parasitic" landlords, who in fact appropriate it from the total fund of surplus value accumulated within the capitalist sector. According to Rey, Marx was correct to insist (1) that all differential rent, the windfall income falling to owners of the most productive land as less productive land was brought under cultivation, should accrue to the capitalist farmer such that the differential rent on the least fertile land would be zero and (2) that the existence of "absolute" rent, that is, the difference between the market price for land and the cost of production on the least fertile soil, could exist only because of the monopolistic activity of private landlords who withdraw land from the market until it can be utilized for a surplus. However, Rey maintains that Marx, like Ricardo before him, failed to appreciate the fact that land ownership is not a "natural" market phenomenon but rather an artificial one: ground rent precedes capitalist relations and is in fact inconsistent with the logic of capitalist relations of production, which are otherwise based on commodity production. As a result of this failure, Rey concludes, Marx failed to grasp the concept of the articulation of feudal and capitalist modes of production and the real developmental mechanisms of the transition from feudalism to capitalism.

For Rey, the central process of the transition from feudalism to capitalism, namely, the conversion of feudal rents and obligations to money rents, was based on feudal property relations external to capitalism. However, this feudal relation was nonetheless vital for the emerging capitalist mode of production since it was this still-feudal form of coercion that permitted the expropriation of peasants from their holdings, the development of market production, and the supply of labor required by an urban capitalist sector as yet unable to expand under its own power. What was created by the birth of urban capitalist manufacturing, according to Rey, was a structural "class alliance" between landed feudal elites and urban capitalists—an articulation of two modes of production that differed significantly from the feudal relationship of simple exchange between town (merchant and artisan guilds) and countryside (the manorial economy). Following Marx, Rey, like


Balibar, calls this initial phase or stage of articulation between capitalism and feudalism the "manufacturing stage." In the manufacturing stage, capitalist relations of production had come into existence in the towns but remained subordinated to the feudal mode of production and the still dominant agricultural sector. Because capitalist manufacture did not yet possess the means to displace the existing agricultural labor force without feudal domination, feudal property relations remained historically necessary conditions for the continued development of capitalist production. As the feudal lords began to monetize peasant obligations in order to purchase manufactured goods and weapons, production for the market was encouraged and inefficient peasants began to lose their land, which the lords then leased to larger, more efficient, and market-oriented farmers. The larger the numbers of peasants expropriated, the greater the labor force available in the cities and the lower the wages it was paid. The greater the urban labor force, the greater the demand for agricultural products and the higher the rent that accrued to the feudal landlord.

In other words, Rey argues that during the initial stage of the articulation of feudalism and capitalism the economic interests of the feudal and capitalist elites roughly coincided. "The transitional phase appears as the phase of a double necessity: a necessity of capitalist development for landed proprietors, since it is this development that assures the development of their rents; a necessity to maintain landed property ownership (under a new form, specific to the transition to capitalism) for capitalists since only this ensures the provision of labor power on the one hand and commodities (of agricultural origin) on the other" (Rey 1973, 56). It was precisely the possibility of this type of class alliance, which does not exist within lineage modes of production, that allowed feudalism, but not lineage-based social formations, to evolve "peacefully" into capitalism. For Rey, capitalism emerges and develops within feudalism without the need of violence or a bourgeois revolution: what emerges is the bourgeoisie, and with the growth of this class, the possibility of political and ideological contradictions from which a bourgeois revolution might ensue. With or without a bourgeois revolution, however, capitalist relations of production increasingly undermined their feudal counterparts until the crucial point was reached at which the landed classes accepted, willingly or unwillingly, the existence of private property, market rents, and wage labor.

In the second phase of the articulation of feudalism and capitalism, the "industrial stage," relations of domination shifted decisively in fa-


vor of capitalism. During the industrial stage, rural artisanal production was rapidly destroyed by capitalist competition, and the remaining landed peasantry came to rely more and more on commodity exchange in order to acquire the means of production and consumption. However, large landowners, or "notables," still occupied a distinct and relatively privileged class position during this stage; whether their ascribed status was aristocratic or bourgeois is relatively unimportant since property rights were by this time de facto, if not de jure, capitalist. The notables and their latifundia exercised considerable power over the rural countryside, power that remained essential to the expanded reproduction of capital as long as subsistence agriculture continued to exist and as long as a "return to the land" remained an attractive alternative for the urban working class. Large-scale land ownership, in other words, continued to guarantee the ongoing processes of urbanization and industrialization by excluding the lower classes from the land, while the dominance of capitalist relations in the countryside accelerated the process of expropriating small holders. Capitalism henceforth dominated the countryside, to be sure, but land had not yet been reduced to the status of one factor of production among others. It was only in the third and final stage, which Rey calls "agrarian capitalism," that the last vestiges of feudalism disappeared altogether. At this stage of development (Rey cites the example of the United States), farming is simply one of several forms of capitalist enterprise and land ownership no longer brings with it any distinctive political or ideological power. Once capitalism has penetrated the countryside completely, subsistence agriculture no longer exists as an attractive or even a viable option for the lower classes.

Rey's outline of the transformation of feudal Europe to capitalism can be accepted only as the bare beginnings of a comprehensive interpretation. His framework, let us not forget, is intended as an explanation of the difference between the relatively peaceful evolution of capitalism within feudal Europe and its relatively violent, imperialist implantation in the lineage mode of production of West-Central Africa. While most useful as a point of departure for a comparative analysis of capitalist imperialism, particularly because of its pioneering efforts in explaining this phenomenon in terms of the articulation of distinct modes of production, Rey's work has severe limitations. His account provides no analysis of the feudal mode of production and feudal exchange comparable to his concept of lineage-based modes; indeed, he fails to discriminate at all between feudal commerce and manufacture


and their corresponding capitalist forms. Furthermore, he provides no discussion of the feudal origins of urban capitalism and no discussion of the complexity and variation of feudal-capitalist articulations in different social formations. Any persuasive Structural Marxist account of the transformation from feudalism to capitalism will have to specify not only the internal dynamic and contradictions of European feudalism but also the effects of uneven and combined development within feudal Europe itself. Rey's account gives inordinate emphasis to property relations, as well as the seemingly uncontested power of the dominant classes, while paying surprisingly little attention to structured relations of political power—either within the "class alliance" of seigneurial and capitalist elites or between the ruling and exploited classes—and no attention to the varying economic and political options available to different social classes located in different regions of the European "global" economy. To pursue these important questions, it is necessary to turn to the more detailed analyses of Bois, Kriedte, and Anderson.

Bois: The Structure of European Feudalism

Guy Bois's exhaustive study of the Norman "heartland" of feudalism during the great crisis of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, The Crisis of Feudalism (1976; English translation, 1984), combines a detailed macro-economic analysis of long-term movements of population, prices and wages, and production with a careful micro-analysis of lords and peasants as economic subjects.[15] His work is useful here primarily for its discussion of the rhythms of growth, stagnation, and contraction inherent in the feudal mode of production and for its elaboration of the long-term consequences of the general contradiction between the feudal forces and relations of production, namely, the contradiction between the basic production unit, the "small-scale" peasant family holding, and the seigneurial levy to which this holding was subjected because of the "large-scale" sovereignty of the lord of the manor.

According to Bois, the feudal economy must be recognized as a rational system, but rational in its own specific, non-capitalist sense. Peasants were oriented toward the preservation of their holdings, ensuring the continuation of their land and subsistence for their families; lords were concerned, above all else, with the maintenance of their caste status. Feudal societies were never autarchic, but only a small percentage of the harvest was commercialized and the market sector was completely subordinate to the natural economy. Neither lords nor peasants


were oriented toward the ideas of increasing productivity or profit-directed investment; rather, both were concerned, albeit in antagonistic ways, with reproducing the existing economic situation. Bois also emphasizes the primacy of petty production within the feudal mode of production, the overwhelming predominance of the peasant family plot over the manor that emerged with the iron plow during the great expansion of the eleventh to the thirteenth centuries. For Bois, the plow team worked by the "skilled laborers" of the village, husbandmen who owned a plow and a team to pull it, constituted the most efficient unit of production and accounted for virtually all production on the manor, including the cultivation of the lord's demesne, which was little more than an agglomeration of such units. The feudal labor process also required considerable "unskilled labor," but this labor was provided by smallholders who assisted the husbandmen (as wage laborers) and cultivated their own small subsistence plots with spades. While units larger than those defined by the plow team were viable only under rare conditions, the plow team unit rendered serfdom less and less necessary. Lords began to abandon serfdom and appropriated an increasing share of their surplus in kind or in the form of money dues. Technological improvement was slow, and economic growth in the feudal mode of production was overwhelmingly extensive in character; population increases and increases in cultivatable land were the determining factors of expansion.

Although small-scale production was the axis of the system, Bois rejects the notion that the forces of production can be understood independently of the relations of production, the seigneurial levy to which peasant holdings were subjected. However, Bois insists that given the nature of the feudal forces of production—peasant possession of their own plots and plows and peasant control over the actual process of production—the long-term tendency of the feudal levy was constant decline. The resistance of peasants to surplus labor on the demesne and their struggle to devote labor to the family plot and to keep as much as possible of the product of that labor are inherent characteristics of the class struggle under feudalism. The development of the peasant community as the coordinating center of peasant family plots—and as bulwarks against outside intervention by feudal lords—eroded seigneurial power, especially where aristocratic political organization was weak. The constant struggles of the petty producers over time, aided by the lord's own ideology of perpetual tenures and service, were successful in eroding feudal levies and having them converted to fixed "customary"


amounts, often in the form of written charters modeled on those of the towns.

The only countervailing tendencies to the decline in the rate of customary feudal levies were reactive and extra-economic actions on the part of the lords: (1) the introduction of new forms of levy (banalités , such as fees for use of the lord's mill, oven, wine press, and so on) to augment declining forms; (2) recourse to the battlefield in an attempt to redistribute incomes by war (new lands, ransoms, and booty obtained by pillaging the countryside); or (3) a "political rearrangement of exploitation" (ultimately a strengthening of the central state, what Bois calls "centralized feudalism"—in the case of Normandy, the growth of absolutism and royal taxation, which found its way back into aristocratic coffers through civil and military service). However, given the dynamics of the feudal mode of production, Bois maintains that none of these seigneurial reactions could succeed in the long term. To comprehend Bois's argument regarding the "law of the declining rate of the feudal levy," we must therefore situate it within his discussion of the cyclical logic of feudal development.

Bois's achievement is to have successfully integrated neo-Malthusian demographic analysis into a mode of production analysis of feudalism. He demonstrates, by means of painstaking empirical research that can only be summarized here, the existence of alternating phases of expansion, stagnation, and contraction, each regulated by the unique characteristics of the feudal forces and relations of production. Phases of expansion began when a preceding phase of decline had "bottomed out": when the increasing rate of peasant productivity (caused by the withdrawal of a declining peasant population to the best, most fertile land and increases in pasture, animal husbandry, fertilizer, and so on) finally exceeded the rate of the feudal levy (which had "peaked out" after a cycle of warfare and political reorganization). Extensive economic growth developed as population began to increase once again (after the shocks of war, disease, and famine characteristic of the phase of decline were absorbed). As new lands were brought back into cultivation, total production increased. However, these increases in land, population, and production were accompanied by a decline in productivity (caused by diminishing returns on newer, less fertile lands, declines in pasturage, stock breeding, fertilizer, and so forth). Thus, Bois argues, during phases of feudal expansion the rate of the feudal levy declined with the declining rate of productivity. Peasant productivity constituted an absolute limit on the feudal levy because, in the context


of the feudal land market, only subsistence peasants wanted land, and because they could not pay more than they produced, the rate of the levy had to follow the decline in their productivity. Without a declining rate of levy, Bois concludes, continued long-term demographic and economic expansion in the face of falling productivity would have been incomprehensible.

A falling rate of productivity, however, meant rising agricultural prices relative to urban prices for manufactured goods. This price scissors was favorable to the market sector of the rural economy—the lord's demesne and the husbandmen's plots—but also meant falling wages and growing pauperization for smallholders. Economic conditions during expansionary phases favored the feudal accumulation of land, that is, the expansion of the demesne and the leasing of more land by husbandmen (and increasing use of wage labor by both lords and husbandmen), which further contributed to the morselization of the smallholders' plots (a process already set in motion with population growth). The expansion of the husbandmen's holdings and the immiseration of wage-earning smallholders promote social differentiation within the peasant community as well as providing at least the potential for a growing commercial sector in the countryside. The economic position of the lords was further augmented by the fact that during waves of expansion the total volume of the feudal levy increased as the volume of income generated from the creation of new tenures offset the declining rate of the feudal levy.

Feudal expansion, however, created the conditions for its own reversal. A brief period of stagnation, or "stagflation," ensued wherein population pressure continued to build and prices remained high, but total production leveled off and even declined as all cultivatable land was occupied and declining productivity accelerated. When the volume of the feudal levy showed signs of decreasing, that is, when no new land was available to counteract the declining rate of levy, the seigneurial class then had to attempt to increase the rate of the levy in order to offset its declining economic position. This political action, Bois maintains, was responsible for "turning the page" on the cycle of expansion-stagflation and initiating a phase of contraction. Of course, some lords might have attempted to revolutionize production rather than turn the feudal screws on the peasantry, but this was a possible (or increasingly unavoidable) option only for seigneurial landlords under certain historical conditions, namely, as we shall see, when the feudal economy was articulated with a capitalist mode of production developed to the point where feudal relations of production were no longer viable.


Feudal contraction, Bois contends, was not simply the mirror image of expansion, because unlike the latter, it tended to escalate until it became a violent, all-encompassing "crisis of society." Demographic limits prepared the ground for famine and disease, but attempts by lords to increase the rate of the feudal levy intensified the demographic crisis and pushed the peasantry beyond the limit of endurance. The result was a succession of catastrophes—famines resulting from the pressure of population on the harvest, the ravages of disease resulting from the malnutrition of the population, peasant rebellions against increasing seigneurial levies, wars by lords attempting to recoup their fortunes at the expense of other lords. Further increases in taxation to pay for wars, coupled with the devastating effects of the carnage on the countryside, precipitated a free-falling downward spiral of the feudal economy. These catastrophes might have been separated by periods of partial recovery, but Bois insists on their underlying continuity and cumulative nature: feudalism systematically produced the three scourges of famine, disease, and war; these were not external intrusions into the feudal system but inherent tendencies of the feudal mode of production.

Population decline is a key to recovery, of course, but Bois differs from the neo-Malthusian school in accentuating the primacy of the mode of production within which population growth and decline is inscribed. For Bois, as for Meillassoux, each mode of production has its own particular demographic laws, and within a feudal mode of production, demographic collapse, in and of itself, does not reverse the social crisis any more than population growth alone may be said to have caused it. Population movements can be understood, Bois maintains, only within the unique context of a feudal mode of production and its complementary tendential socio-economic laws: the law of the downward trend in the rate of the feudal levy (linked to the contradiction between seigneurial appropriation of the land and surplus and the individual character of peasant cultivation) and the law of declining productivity (linked to small-scale production and constant technology, allowing only extensive growth).

The outcome of famine, disease, and the ravages of the remorseless cycle of war-taxation-war was a fall in population and a contraction of the arable land under cultivation. This contraction, however, meant rising productivity (withdrawal to the best lands, increases in pasture, stockbreeding, fertilizer, and so on) and therefore a downward trend in agricultural prices and a relative increase in industrial wages. This price scissors meant rising real wages and therefore worked against the commercialized sector of the agrarian economy, the lords and husbandmen,


while raising the standard of living for smallholders (once the economic and military storms had passed). The total volume of the feudal levy, however, declined as the decline in the volume of holdings and the competition of lords for scarce tenants overwhelmed whatever increases in the feudal levy the lords may have attained by extra-economic means. Thus, although cumulative, the process of decline found a self-regulating limiting mechanism in the evolution of productivity: decline was halted when productivity reached the point where the peasant holding was able to support seigneurial charges and begin to carry out expanded reproduction. Thus the socio-economic conditions for another phase of expansion were assembled.

From the end of the expansion of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, through the crisis of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, and into the onset of expansion in the sixteenth century, Bois demonstrates, seigneurial incomes scarcely ceased to decline. As we have seen, the key to this decline was the effective possession and control of the means of production by the peasantry and its corollary, the extra-economic nature of seigneurial power. During periods of expansion, the lords could not counteract the effects of falling peasant productivity on the rate of the levy, while at the moment of saturation their attempts to raise the levy or create new obligations simply exacerbated the problems of the peasantry and precipitated a crisis whose ultimate outcome, declining population, further undermined seigneurial revenues. Warfare was worse than counterproductive, yet the other, ultimately inescapable alternative, political reorganization, did nothing to alter the forces of production or improve agricultural productivity and furthermore created a powerful rival to seigneurial authority. Absolutism certainly created a more efficient mechanism for extracting the surplus from the countryside, but it did so by undermining the basic feudal relation of production, the private sovereignty of the lord of the manor. Political reorganization of the seigneurial class into estates or parliaments, as in Poland or England, reinforced traditional seigneurial rights and powers, but because such political institutions no more altered the mode of production than absolutism did, their success in reversing the long-term decline in feudal levies could be only temporary. Centralized feudalism, insofar as it succeeded in squeezing fiscal blood from peasant stones, necessarily succeeded in lowering the ceiling of economic expansion. If such policies had been completely successful, a situation difficult to conceive in the context of a feudal mode of production, they would have contracted the feudal economy to a static state of unrelieved pov-


erty with no surplus whatsoever. Since, as we know, this was not the outcome of European feudalism, the question to be answered is simply why not.

The real index of the change within feudalism, Bois maintains, was not the political reorganization of the seigneurial class but the penetration of capitalism into the feudal sector. Rent and profit became inextricably mixed by the sixteenth century: new economic patterns began to take root as the diminution of feudal rents and the expansion of money taxes weakened seigneurial authority and strengthened peasant independence. Lords were no longer interested in keeping peasants to the letter of their tenures but rather in expropriating them; the urban bourgeoisie began to penetrate the land market; social differentiation between husbandmen and cottagers within the peasant community increased as successful peasants accumulated at the expense of smallholders. In the sixteenth century these tendencies were not yet dominant, Bois admits, but the trend of their cumulative development was unmistakable. Each wave of feudal expansion, he notes, moved lords and husbandmen to accumulate and commercialize. Each wave was broken by feudal obstacles to accumulation (the productivity of the family unit and plow team, the ideology of self-sufficiency rather than profitability, the rural solidarity of the peasant community, and so forth) and an ebb of decline took over. But because the feudal levy declined over time and seigneurial authority weakened with each crisis, each wave of accumulation broke further (in the twelfth, thirteenth, sixteenth, and eighteenth centuries) since the thrust of previous accumulations broke down feudal resistance to later waves. As long as the principal impulses behind each wave of expansion remained feudal, that is, as long as the feudal mode of production remained dominant, the process of accumulation remained discontinuous. However, the role of commercial capitalist impulses grew with the monetization of the rural countryside, the pauperization of smallholders, and the decline of the feudal levy in relation to the market value of land. When commercial rents exceeded declining seigneurial charges, the main barrier of feudal relations of production to capitalist expansion was irreversibly broken. By the sixteenth century, feudal development had reached the point where landlord interests and behavior were beginning to approximate the pattern described by Rey.

Bois's time period and his focus on Normandy obviously preclude an exploration of the uneven and combined development of the global feudal economy and the regional differentiation that became increas-


ingly evident as the sixteenth century progressed. His interest in the dynamics of the forces and relations of production in the countryside, the overwhelmingly dominant sector of the feudal economy, leads Bois away from important questions regarding the role of urbanization, regional trade, and the development of rural manufacturing within the structure of the feudal mode of production. Although he notes the emergence of proto-industrialization, international trade, and a commercial land market by the sixteenth century, urban developments and the "birth of capitalism" remain largely beyond his chosen limits. In order to situate the place of the town within the feudal mode of production and locate the origins of capitalist relations of production and their articulated development within the logic of feudal dissolution, we must look to Kriedte and Anderson for assistance. Finally, Bois's focus on the primacy of the productive forces leads to a certain lack of interest in political developments and state building. Bois certainly recognizes political centralization as an almost lawlike tendency of feudal development, but his analysis breaks off with absolutism merely "on the horizon." We need to explore the concept of the absolutist state as "centralized feudalism" in more depth as well as its specific effectivity within the context of the transition to capitalism. Perry Anderson admirably addresses these deficiencies and provides us with another essential component of our general synthesis.

Kriedte: Capitalism and the Dissolution of Feudalism

Peter Kriedte's Peasants, Landlords, and Merchant Capitalists (1983) is a wide-ranging survey of the transition from feudalism to capitalism in Europe from 1500 to 1800. It is of particular value here because Kriedte attempts to explain the transition in terms of Bois's conception of feudal accumulation in agriculture supplemented by an analysis of commerce and manufacturing centered around his own concept of "proto-industrialization." Taking up the process of feudal development approximately where Bois had left it, Kriedte examines the expansion of the sixteenth, the crisis of the seventeenth, and the last feudal up-swing of the eighteenth centuries and demonstrates the continued predominance of feudal agriculture as well as the weakening of feudal relations of production caused by feudal accumulation in both urban and rural sectors—processes that not only created an expanding interregional and international feudal economy and centralized feudal states


but also established the conditions of existence for the birth and growth of capitalist relations of production. Before proceeding with this argument, however, it is necessary to specify the place of manufacture and commerce within the feudal mode of production; that is, we must review Kriedte's position with respect to the classic controversy over the primacy of towns or countryside in the transition from feudalism to capitalism.[16]

Kriedte begins by emphasizing the fact that the feudal countryside, while relatively self-sufficient, was by no means autarchic. Beginning with the agrarian expansion of the twelfth century, towns emerged and proliferated, serving as sites of artisanal manufacture and merchant commerce for the surrounding countryside. The origins of urban communities varied with time and place—some emerging as a result of growing population in the countryside, others as merchant entrepôts along trade routes—but all were feudal, not capitalist, entities. European feudalism developed a significant division of labor between town and country as well as considerable regional specialization in trade and manufacture, but urban environments arose from feudal needs and were themselves feudal in structure. Initially under control of the landed classes who desired a guaranteed supply of low-priced manufactured goods and the revenues accruing to local market monopolies, towns gradually emancipated themselves through feudal alliances and conflicts or by alliances with other towns or, not infrequently, through civil wars. Early towns were based on simple handicraft production and distribution controlled by artisan and trading guilds. The function of feudal towns was to produce for the countryside; there was little inequality between artisan manufacturers and merchants, who were initially peddlers traveling between town and manor.

However, the logic of feudal development favored the merchant, not the artisan, since it was the merchant class that developed and controlled economic exchanges between feudal producers and consumers. Trade in luxury goods catering to the landed elites (who concentrated the purchasing power of the countryside into their own hands) provided the initial source of money accumulation for merchants, an income further augmented by the extension of trade, which created markets both for local production and for local consumption of raw materials; this trade in its turn encouraged additional regional economic specialization and productivity. The logic of money accumulation, however, remained bound by its feudal function of facilitating exchange between lords, peasants, and artisans. Merchants catered to


aristocratic needs and generally had little control over production, which was either foreign to Europe or under the control of petty producers—artisan guilds and peasant cultivators. Thus while feudalism contained a dynamic, profit-oriented commercial class, the logic of profit accumulation turned on control over markets rather than production.

Feudal merchants, Kriedte maintains, were like feudal landlords; they were not so much producers of wealth as they were appropriators of it. Production was in the hands of an organized artisan labor force, which controlled the means of production much as their peasant counterparts did in the countryside, and like the latter, artisans were relatively uninterested in expanding productivity or profits. Craft guilds were monopolies constructed to eliminate competition, fix prices, and keep production behind demand so that all production could be sold. Guilds reacted very little to market incentives, using their monopoly organization to take advantage of peasants in good times and to minimize losses and spread them evenly when times were bad. Merchants, by contrast, were eager to accumulate money and increase the volume of trade, but they, too, remained deeply molded by the feudal relations on which they ultimately depended: their activities were based on their own guild monopolies and corporate charters, while their profits ultimately derived from the surpluses extracted by the seigneurial class. Kriedte, following an admittedly strong Marxist and Weberian tradition, refers to feudal merchants as "commercial capitalists." This terminology seems to me overly teleological in its Marxist form and ahistorical in its Weberian counterpart. While the genesis of capitalism out of feudalism is of obvious significance, it is not explained by simply defining the latter as the embryo of the former. Capitalism is not eternal; neither the accumulation of money nor commercial exchange is necessarily capitalist. Where the profit-accumulating class does not control the means of production, and where there are free markets in neither land nor labor, it is difficult to see the relevance of the term "capitalist." For these reasons, I have avoided the term "merchant capitalism," substituting "feudal commerce," a more appropriate term that nonetheless preserves the gist of Kriedte's argument regarding the significance of urban trade and manufacturing within the feudal mode of production.

Like feudal agriculture, feudal manufacturing and commerce were organized around extra-economic powers and privileges. Merchant guilds were parasitic precisely to the extent that they were legally em-


powered to restrict markets as well as establish them. Merchants amassed enormous fortunes by exploiting price differentials—buying cheap and selling dear—but they were also able to maintain, reproduce, and even increase these differentials by using their wealth and monopoly powers to reinforce the separation of petty producers from their raw materials and consumers, and thus their dependence on the merchant class itself. Merchant wealth rapidly translated into political control by an urban "patriciate" able to counter their lack of control over the process of production by politically shifting the terms of trade in their favor. Urban monopoly power permitted merchants to exclude foreign competitors, colonize the surrounding countryside (by means of tariffs, tolls, and other commercial regulations designed to canalize local trade), and reduce the independence of local producers (by controlling first their access to markets and raw materials, then, after their incomes were sufficiently reduced, their access to credit and working capital). Merchant control over markets worked to keep the prices of things they bought low and the prices of things they sold high. Artisan guilds, like the peasant community, fiercely resisted their subordination, but unlike the peasantry, they lacked sufficient control over the means of production to counteract merchant wealth and organization in the long run. In contrast to the declining rate of the feudal levy in the countryside, urban development demonstrated a steady increase in the merchant "levy" on petty producers ("exploitation through trade" or the differential rent accruing to merchant monopolies).

Merchant wealth meant not only an increasing subordination of craft guilds to their merchant counterparts but also a growing interaction of bourgeois and aristocratic accumulation (the wealthy merchants became tax farmers, revenue collectors, and administrators as well as bankers for the landed classes and the Church). Merchant accumulation translated into royal and aristocratic loans, which in turn produced increased monopoly prerogatives, aristocratic marriages, and the acquisition of seigneurial land holdings for the commercial bourgeoisie. The rise of mercantile fortunes, Kriedte concludes, was not necessarily revolutionary for the feudal mode of production. The life-style and status of the aristocracy remained the "sun" for the highest ranks of the merchant class, which was more prone to the temptations of "feudalization," buying seigneurial property, acquiring aristocratic titles, and so on, than to the hazardous and as yet relatively unprofitable task of pushing beyond commercial and financial activities toward the development of capitalist manufacturing. Despite the constant pressure ex-


erted on the incomes of petty producers by merchant oligarchies, production itself remained largely in artisan hands.

Kriedte acknowledges that the dynamics of craft production and merchant commerce within the feudal mode of production tended to follow the movements of the overwhelmingly dominant agricultural sector. Price movements of manufactured goods undulate with those of basic foodstuffs, but vacillations are less marked since manufactured goods are less subject to diminishing returns and because the demand for manufactured goods is more elastic than the demand for food. The dependence of feudal towns on the agrarian countryside was determined by the relatively low purchasing power of the countryside and the relatively high price of food. However, Kriedte points out, increasing interregional trade during the economic upswing of the sixteenth century concentrated and redistributed European purchasing power to add almost unlimited foreign markets to hitherto limited local demand. Increases in market demand via foreign purchasing power were accompanied by the emergence of global prices and increasing price competition between rival networks of entrepôts and regional producers (each a feudal commercial empire with its own "urban colonial" territories, intra-urban economic organization, and European-wide system of political alliances). Kriedte argues that this sixteenth-century conjuncture of market demand and price competition, coupled with the availability of cheap labor power of smallholders in the countryside, constituted the preconditions for the birth of capitalist relations of production. By the sixteenth century, merchants, like some enclosing landlords, began to shift from speculative gains based on price differentials toward the profits to be made by reducing the costs of production. Merchants, facing both increasing demand and increasing competition, were no longer prepared to accept the production monopoly of the guilds, and in order to evade the relatively high cost of guild labor, they began to move production from the cities to the countryside. This movement toward rural manufacturing, or as Kriedte calls it, "proto-industrialization," constituted the revolutionary breakthrough from feudal to capitalist relations of production.

Thus the birth of capitalism was a result of the confluence of feudal tendencies toward both rural and urban accumulation. The growth of trade, as we have seen, accelerated the dissolution of seigneurial authority and the differentiation of the peasant community. Urban markets were essential to the development of the yeomanry and gentry classes and acted as spurs to the development of both intensive agricul-


ture (monoculture, crop rotation, animal husbandry, and so on) and the expropriation of smallholders. This same growth of trade also promoted class differentiation within the urban environment. First, as we have seen, the growing wealth of a merchant patriciate came to dominate the craft guilds and the surrounding countryside by methods that resembled the extra-economic powers of the seigneurial class. Second, the expansion of trade increased differentiation within the ranks of the producing classes as well. As cyclical expansion and contraction of the local economy gave way to interregional market competition, merchant domination, and, increasingly, competition from village proto-industry, the boundary between masters and "dependent" workers—journeymen and servants—became clearer and less easily crossed. Over the course of time, master craftsmen were able to shut out journeymen from advancing to independent status by adding a variety of expensive and time-consuming "stages" to the process of apprenticeship, stages from which the master's own sons were exempt, however.

Master status became increasingly hereditary from the sixteenth century, and the opportunity for the accumulation of wealth increased accordingly. Parvenu wealth from the producing classes, however, corresponded to the pauperization of growing numbers of journeymen forced to work either for masters as wage laborers without hope of advancement or for themselves in back alleys and garrets in order to escape the regulations and surveillance of the craft guilds. "New men" from the artisan class, employing wage labor, accumulated wealth and power until their wealth was measured in relation to their capital and no longer in relation to their own labor. If they became exceptionally wealthy, these capitalist entrepreneurs sometimes bought their way into a merchant guild, and some even became so powerful as to establish one for themselves, but in the main their access to wealth and power was significantly impeded by the privileges of the merchant oligarchies. Monopoly privileges remained enormously profitable in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, of course, but they were also a source of increasing tensions within the ranks of the capitalist classes. Despite such antagonisms, however, smaller, provincial parvenu capitalists, as much as their larger, more established rivals, benefited from an increasing control of capital over production.

Proto-industrialization, the outcome of the decision of merchants to take charge of production, marks for Kriedte the originary moment of the articulation of feudal and capitalist relations of production posited by Rey. Cottage industries converted peasant villages into proto-


industrial villages that covered Europe by the eighteenth century. In such villages petty producers specialized in activities broken down by the greatest practicable division of labor and worked with materials and often even tools provided by merchant-manufacturers who, in contemporary parlance, "employed" or "maintained" them. Not surprisingly, textile manufacturing, next to food the most basic industry for feudal consumers, was the vanguard of the new capitalist production techniques, but capitalist relations of production in mining and other industries were also increasingly evident from the sixteenth century. Although it did not mark the beginnings of this process (we see it as early as the thirteenth century in northern Italy and the Netherlands), the sixteenth century crossed the threshold wherein rural capitalist manufacture became an essential component of the European economy. Although merchant capital continued to dominate the global economy until the nineteenth century (mercantilism being nothing more than urban colonization of the feudal countryside writ large), and despite the fact that capitalist production remained generally less profitable, and thus less attractive, than commercial and financial activities (hence the failure of the Italian and Dutch capitalist experiments), the sixteenth century inaugurated a symbiotic interrelationship between feudal and capitalist relations of production. Henceforth, Kriedte maintains, proto-industrial capitalism would "urbanize the countryside" (Marx), converting smallholders to market producers and consumers and expanding the domestic market for food and other commodities. The expanding market for food encouraged agrarian commercialization and specialization, which in turn created a non-feudal land market and rising market rents, which in turn accelerated the process of agrarian accumulation and peasant differentiation, which in turn increased the labor force of smallholders for rural capitalists. Like the yeoman peasant, the artisan-capitalist multiplied with rising prices and falling wages in the sixteenth century. Finally, the differential cost of labor between the unorganized cottager and the urban guild worker inexorably destroyed the remaining vestiges of feudal relations of production in the cities. The feudal right of workers to a trade was finally destroyed.

It is neither possible nor necessary to review Kriedte's excellent analysis of the sixteenth-century expansion, the seventeenth-century crisis, and the last feudal expansion of the eighteenth century. Suffice it to say that while feudalism continued to predominate, it was being progressively undermined by its own internal dynamic and by the expansion of capitalist relations of production until, by the end of the eighteenth


century, a decisive switch toward the dominance of capitalism was beginning to take place. By 1800, at least in the commercial heartland of Europe, proto-industrialization had become a barrier to the further development of capitalist production. Although rural manufacturing had significantly increased the dependency of the petty producers on the merchant-manufacturer, proto-industrialization was still only a halfway house between independent and wage labor. Whenever cottage households met their subsistence requirements, Kriedte explains, they tended to stop working. During the expansion of the late eighteenth century, the pressure of internal and external demand and the capitalist's desire to increase output ran up against the cottager's desire to curtail production during a boom (since higher prices meant that subsistence requirements could be satisfied in less time with less labor). In addition, Kriedte notes, coordination of elaborate networks of cottage production was becoming increasingly difficult for merchant capitalists. Cottage industry allowed the merchant-manufacturer greater control over the division of labor and created a more efficient, because more integrated, labor process, but beyond a certain point it became impossible to control and supervise producers effectively.

The way out, Kriedte concludes, was greater centralization and greater mechanization, the creation of a new labor process, new work discipline, and a new degree of power over labor for capital. The English cotton industry, facing almost unlimited demand, was the first to tackle this problem, producing the factory system and inaugurating the dominance of the capitalist mode of production—what Rey calls a shift from the manufacturing to the industrial stage of the articulation of feudalism and capitalism. By the end of the eighteenth century, agriculture was still the most important creator of wealth in Europe, but it occupied only 35 percent of the labor force in Britain (65 percent in Prussia, 90 percent in Russia). British industrialization became a factor that accelerated the capitalist revolution in the mode of production on the Continent after 1800. The upswing of the eighteenth century ended with an economic crisis, but it was a crisis of a new type. In the nineteenth century, grain prices began to fall not because population declined, but because too much was being produced; proto-industry lapsed into agonies not because of the disappearance of markets but because of competition from factory production. If the special political power of the landed classes, noted by Rey, was not eliminated during the course of the nineteenth century, it was progressively and dramatically weakened by the transformation of the centralized feudal states of


Europe into parliamentary capitalist regimes that accompanied the subordination of the feudal mode of production.

Anderson: The Absolutist State and the Feudal Mode of Production

Passages from Antiquity to Feudalism (1974a) and Lineages of the Absolutist State (1974) by Perry Anderson are encyclopedic works, encompassing the slave mode of production of the Greeks and Romans, the emergence of feudalism, the crisis of the feudal mode of production from the fourteenth to the seventeenth century, and the political and social consequences of the crisis for the different regions and kingdoms of Europe. What interests us here is the core of Anderson's broad synthesis—the internal dynamic of the feudal mode of production, the articulation of feudalism and capitalism, and the uneven and combined development of feudal Europe. Anderson adopts an extended rather than a restricted concept of feudalism. Whereas Bois and Kriedte focus on a more restricted view of the forces and relations of production, Anderson concentrates on the theoretically undeveloped political structures that assured the reproduction of the feudal forces and relations of production. In Passages from Antiquity to Feudalism , Anderson adumbrates the key characteristics of the political instance within feudal societies: the "private sovereignty" of the lord of the manor, the progressive integration of political and economic relations as one moved down the feudal pyramids, and the multiple, divided, or "parcelized" sovereignties that proliferated as one moved away from the eminent domain of the prince. Parcelized sovereignties meant divided and overlapping systems of jurisdiction that were a source not only of potential peasant resistance and village independence but also of the relative autonomy of medieval towns. These sovereignties also implied relative weakness at the top of the feudal pyramids since feudal princes were obliged to live on their own feudal resources with little direct political control over the population as a whole.

Parcelized sovereignty is the key to what Anderson calls "the feudal dynamic." The dynamism of feudal social formations stemmed from the contradictory articulation of an overwhelmingly dominant natural economy (always including, however, a small commercialized sector controlled by nobles) with an urban economy dominated by patrician oligarchs, guilds, and monopolies (but also characterized by commodity production and monetary exchange). Further contradictions emerged from the existence of myriad systems of justice (royal, sei-


gneurial, religious) and property tenures (ranging from serfdom to free-holdings) within the feudal mode of production. Within these parcelized sovereignties the never-ending class struggle between lords and peasants was fought, shaped by differing historical conditions of existence, the uneven development of the state via intra-feudal rivalries (between lords, princes, towns, and the Church), and the varying regional levels of economic development (both with respect to the articulation of feudalism and capitalism specific to a particular place and time and the increasing integration of regional economies within feudal Europe as a whole). Anderson insists on the historical specificity of feudal social formations, the different paths to feudalism, and the variations of concrete feudal societies, and his analysis exemplifies the necessity and utility of distinct and discrete levels of historical analysis.

In Passages from Antiquity to Feudalism , Anderson emphasizes the significance of urban development for the differing outcomes of the fourteenth-century crisis of feudalism (overpopulation, famine, plague, seigneurial attempts to shift their economic losses onto the peasantry, peasant rebellions and resistance to these efforts, and finally the endemic warfare between noble factions, each attempting to recoup their fortunes by booty and ransom at the expense of the other). Baldly stated, Anderson argues that serfdom disappeared in Western Europe because urbanization, structurally sheltered by the parcelization of feudal sovereignty, proceeded to the point that it could decisively alter the outcome of the class struggle in the rural sector. The towns were not only the locations of the greatest agricultural commercialization and the place where lords were under the greatest pressure to realize their incomes in money form; they were also, Anderson points out, the places where a flight from serfdom was a permanent possibility for discontented peasants. In Western Europe, the seigneurial class was unable to maintain serfdom, although the nature of the transformation of the countryside varied with economic and political structures. In England and Castile, seigneurial political power permitted enclosures and wool production as an alternative to seigneurial levies; in France and southwestern Germany, where peasant organization and noble rivalries had most eroded seigneurial authority, lords resorted to outright sale of emancipation and the security of peasant tenures (subject to certain seigneurial prerogatives) was assured; in northern Italy, the supremacy of the communes eliminated serfdom two or three generations ahead of France or England, and the region developed the first large-scale forms of commercial farming as well as short-term leases and sharecropping.

The great feudal depression of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries


was not a homogeneous phenomenon; it had different effects in different areas. However, Anderson posits a basic general division between the crisis in Western Europe, brought on by the classic mechanisms of expansion beyond the structural limits of the feudal mode of production, and the crisis in Eastern Europe, where the feudal system was nowhere near the boundaries of possible expansion. The crisis in Eastern Europe developed after and as a result of its Western counterpart. It initially involved agrarian depression: the collapse of grain prices in the West dried up the emerging grain trade between East and West, and the demographic migration that had stimulated Eastern European development during the preceding century came to an abrupt halt. The delayed onslaught of plague added to the agrarian and demographic crises. Face with a shortage of peasants and economic losses, the lords of Eastern Europe responded, predictably, by imposing new social controls and greater levies on the peasants (which were, predictably, resisted by the peasants in a series of massive rebellions) and by engaging in civil wars.

The crucial difference between the manorial reactions in Eastern and Western Europe, according to Anderson, is the fact that there were fewer and weaker urban centers east of the Elbe. This fundamental weakness of the towns allowed the seigneurial class to succeed in their manorial reaction and slowly subjugate the towns, destroy peasant rights, and systematically reduce tenants to serfs. The historic defeat of the towns, Anderson concludes, cleared the way for the imposition of serfdom in Eastern Europe in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, precisely the reverse of the situation in Western Europe. The degradation of the peasantry, whose village organization was relatively weaker and who the lacked the urban escape valve of Western peasants, paralleled the spread of export agriculture directed toward Western markets in Eastern Europe. Eastern lords had the advantage of vast land reserves coupled with a lack of opportunities in less labor-intensive forms of agriculture such as wool production. Cereal production on large manorial estates was the obvious economic course of action, but this course restricted not only the development of greater agricultural productivity but also the growth and autonomy of towns as well. In Eastern Europe, the dissolution of serfdom had to await the employment of new, more intensive methods of cultivation by the aristocratic estates in the later eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries—methods that required more and more efficient labor than the feudal mode of production could supply and therefore made agrarian "revolution from


above" a practicable strategy, first in Prussia, then in the Austrian Empire, and finally in Russia.

In Lineages of the Absolutist State , Anderson turns to the political consequences of these economic transformations, the absolutist state, which he defines as a feudal state. Although in Western Europe absolutist states mediated between the interests of the seigneurial and the entrepreneurial classes, it would be a mistake, according to Anderson, to designate them as bourgeois states. They represented, first and foremost, "a redeployed and recharged" apparatus of feudal domination, designed to clamp the peasant masses back into their traditional social position—despite and against the gains they had won by the widespread commutation of dues. In short, Anderson concludes, the absolutist state was "never an arbiter between the aristocracy and the bourgeoisie, still less an instrument of the nascent bourgeoisie against the aristocracy: it was the new political carapace of a threatened nobility" (P. Anderson 1974, 18). The absolutist state was simply the political reorganization of feudal domination and exploitation determined by the crisis of seigneurial revenues and the spread of commodity production and exchange. To be sure, Anderson admits, the shaking down of feudal pyramids into national monarchies was a violent process that left residues of resentment between magnates and monarchs. The development of the absolutist state paralleled and accelerated the dissolution of seigneurial authority by concentrating previously parcelized sovereignties at the top, Weber's famous monopolization of the means of violence, but conversely, the absolutist state invested noble status and landed property with new guarantees. As sovereignty became more "public," property became more "private," but aristocracies remained the dominant and privileged class. The absolutist state not only guaranteed their continued predominance in the countryside (by guaranteeing their titles to the land and their remaining seigneurial rights and prerogatives) but also created new sources of aristocratic income through military and administrative service to the crown. These incomes, of course, were ultimately derived from taxing the non-noble classes, and therefore constituted a centralized alternative to the localized, seigneurial levy that it supplemented and ultimately replaced.

If the structure of absolutist states was fundamentally determined by developments within the feudal mode of production—namely, the dissolution of serfdom and the political reorganization of aristocratic power—it was "secondarily overdetermined by the rise of an urban bourgeoisie which after a series of technical and commercial advances


was now developing into pre-industrial manufactures on a considerable scale" (P. Anderson 1974, 23). The unequal power and rank of the landed aristocracies and the urban bourgeoisie shaped the spread of Roman law in Renaissance Europe. Roman law, with its emphasis on sovereignty from above and absolute and unconditional private property from below, was encouraged by absolutist states and by the urban bourgeoisie at the expense of parcelized sovereignty and conditional property characteristic of classic feudalism. Absolutist states were promoters of law, but they were feudal war machines as well, reflecting the fact that in the feudal mode of production war was a rational and rapid way for the ruling class to acquire territory and thereby expand its surplus extraction. Absolutist states were thus characterized by contradictory elements of modernity and archaism, formal rationality coupled with a warrior ethos, which stemmed from the particular conditions of the feudal-capitalist articulation.

On the one hand, the development of a state bureaucracy and centralized taxation system facilitated rationalized administration, in contrast to the jumble of conflicting jurisdictions characteristic of parcelized sovereignty; on the other hand, it created "a monetarized caricature of a fief" by means of venality, the sale of offices that conferred privileged status on bourgeois buyers. This system, of course, created some tensions between old and new aristocrats, but it also had the effect of integrating the bourgeoisie into the state apparatus and ensuring their "subordinate assimilation" into a feudal polity wherein the nobility constituted the summit of the social hierarchy. Finally, mercantilism, the dominant economic philosophy of absolutism, reflected a contradictory adaptation of a feudal ruling class to an integrated market within the context of predatory power. According to Anderson, mercantilism not only represented a modern notion of state interest in productivity and intervention in the economy toward this end but also emphasized the feudal idea of economic expansion by conquest and military appropriation of rival economies. The interlocking ideas of wealth and war developed from the feudal mentality of extensive growth in the context of a zero-sum model of world trade. However, this feudal policy was felicitous for the commercial and manufacturing bourgeoisie as well. The bourgeoisie provided the ships, the implements of war, and a considerable portion of the finances for predatory absolutism, and in return absolutism granted considerable upward mobility to the bourgeoisie and, perhaps more important, considerable autonomy for capitalist forces and relations of production.


The emergence of centralized feudalism played an important but contradictory role in the transition from feudalism to capitalism. Mirroring the complexities of the articulation of feudal and capitalist relations of production that it attempted to reproduce, the absolutist state was increasingly caught between two antagonistic tasks: on the one hand, providing for the economic well-being and ideological hegemony of the aristocracy; on the other hand, increasing the economic power and productivity of the kingdom as a whole. Its growing relative autonomy increased the discrepancy between its own fiscal-administrative functions and its attempts to reproduce feudal relations of production and aristocratic hegemony. As we have seen, royal taxation constituted a superior method of extorting the agrarian surplus, but the result was not only a further weakening of the seigneurial levy in the face of royal competition but also a lowering of the ceiling of subsistence for the peasant community as a whole. The monopoly of violence exercised by the state not only eroded the military power of the aristocracy but also constituted the means by which new economic rules and market unification were created, developments without which the expansion of capitalism would have been considerably slower. The insatiable demands of the absolutist state for loans, mercantilism and trading monopolies, powerful administrative positions, and the lucrative business of tax farming—all these factors facilitated the spectacular rise of bourgeois commercial-financial empires, while the increasing development of commercialization and capitalist manufacturing created social structures that became increasingly difficult to integrate into a feudal system. The contradiction between ascriptive and earned status, so long papered over by means of the royal bureaucracy, became increasingly intolerable. Parcelized sovereignty, embodied in the private sovereignties of manorial lords and urban patriciates, acted as a brake to the centralizing power of the absolutist state, but also transmuted itself into new demands for "liberty" and "freedom" from all feudal privileges and prerogatives.

Anderson's concept of the absolutist state, presented schematically here, is by no means insensitive to the historical specificity of each particular example. He emphasizes, in particular, the later, more reactive, and more militaristic and authoritarian character of absolutism east of the Elbe, a function of military pressure from the West but also a result of the relative underdevelopment of Eastern Europe, which was characterized by a more powerful and feudal aristocracy and a smaller and weaker urban bourgeoisie than was the case in Western Europe. Unfor-


tunately, we cannot follow Anderson's specific analyses of the differences between and within Western and Eastern European absolutisms but must rest content with noting that these differences reflected the uneven and combined development of Europe. They were thus variations, not repudiations, of the general conceptual framework elaborated here.

Summing Up

My discussion of Bois, Kriedte, and Anderson has yielded an interpretation of the transition from feudalism to capitalism considerably more substantive than Rey's initial conceptualization of the articulation of feudalism and capitalism. Nevertheless, certain of Rey's basic insights have been preserved, corrected, and developed. The pivotal role attributed by Rey to the forces and relations of production in determining the character of economic exploitation, accumulation, and exchange has been verified by Bois's analysis of feudalism. Rey's insistence on the importance of the articulation of rural and urban exploitation for an accurate understanding of "primitive" accumulation has been validated by Kriedte, who also provides a compelling explanation of the origin of capitalist relations of production and a substantive discussion of the workings of the articulation of feudalism and capitalism barely outlined by Rey. Rey's notion of a "class alliance" between seigneurial and bourgeois elites has been considerably qualified by Kriedte and Anderson into a more nuanced account of the uneven development of the articulation of feudalism and capitalism and the contradictory nature of centralized feudalism. There is no denying, however, the general thrust of Rey's argument regarding the symbiotic nature of agrarian and urban relations of exploitation, no matter how much his application of the terms "feudalism" and "capitalism" to these relations requires correction. The beneficiaries of the transition to capitalism were the aristocratic and bourgeois elites, who "nationalized" their interests by means of the absolutist state and who "capitalized" on their prerogatives over the countryside and the towns by converting them to private property. The costs of the transition were borne by the exploited classes, the peasants and artisans unable to make it as yeoman farmers and capitalist entrepreneurs. The communal organization and resistance of peasants and artisans were the obverse of the class power of lords and merchants and their efforts to restructure the feudal economy; the transformation of peasants into cottagers and journeymen


into wage laborers constituted the feudal conditions of existence for the emergence and development of capitalism.

Having said this, I would like to caution the reader that the foregoing discussions of lineage and feudal modes of production do not presume to be definitive resolutions of the problems they address; even less are they intended to disparage the vast literatures on lineage-based and feudal societies by overstating the originality of some of the conclusions reached by means of mode of production analysis. I am not competent to make such summary judgments, nor do I believe it is necessary to advance such grand claims in order to substantiate the theoretical value and explanatory power of the concept of a mode of production. The works we have reviewed have shown, convincingly in my opinion, that Structural Marxism has produced powerful concepts of social formations traditionally viewed as impervious to Marxist analysis.

Nor can it be said that the Marxist concepts deployed here—class struggle, mode of production, and forces and relations of production—have resulted in the simplistic reflectionism with which they are so often identified. It is perhaps necessary to state explicitly that I have not attempted to insist that all feudal or lineage modes of production are identical; that empirical analysis is unimportant to a scientific understanding of social formations; that class struggle is merely a matter of identifying individuals in terms of their economic relations so as to mechanically "read off" their actions and personalities; nor, finally, that non-economic structures and relations lack their own specific complexity and effectivity. I have simply argued that all human societies are most comprehensible as modes of production; that empirical analysis of social formations is best approached in terms of the constraints and capacities of structures (in the last instance, the structures of the forces and relations of production); that all power, personal or institutional, is ultimately determined by the existing modes of production (their articulation, contradictions, and reproduction and their complex effect on the creation of each and every social subject); and finally, that although different and discontinuous levels of analysis exist because of both the complexity of social structures and the limits to our understanding, there is no reason to reject the idea of a science of society.


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