Preferred Citation: Resch, Robert Paul. Althusser and the Renewal of Marxist Social Theory. Berkeley:  University of California Press,  c1992 1992.

Chapter 2 Modes of Production and Historical Development

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.

Chapter 2 Modes of Production and Historical Development

Preferred Citation: Resch, Robert Paul. Althusser and the Renewal of Marxist Social Theory. Berkeley:  University of California Press,  c1992 1992.