THE RISE OF THE MODERN WEST

THE TRANSITION DEBATE
BY ANANYA

Roll number: 1245 Course: B.A. (H) History

as we can see. The first major explanation as to the factors leading to the decline of the feudal mode of production was given by Maurice Dobb. His view was supported and further elaborated by several scholars such as Rodney . This is commonly known as the ‘Transition Debate’. who either contributed to the debate or gave their own interpretations. This debate drew the attention of many scholars. Many scholars. ‘commoditized labour’ was the only source of the capitalist’s surplus value. like Dobb. Their chief interest remained in the study of capitalism. This academic controversy prevails not only between the Marxist and the nonMarxist scholars. Secondly. capitalism emerged from the mercantile class. Paul Sweezy contradicted this thesis.Essay on the debate between Maurice Dobb and Paul Sweezy on the reasons which led to the transition from feudalism to capitalism. The feud started with the publication of Dobb’s work ‘Studies in the Development of Capitalism’ after the end of the Second World War. Marx. both Marxist and non-Marxist. but also among the Marxist historians. was the ‘real revolutionary way’ which led to capitalism. base their theories on works of Karl Marx and Frederich Engels. lays stress on social relations of production. One was when producers became capitalists by accumulating capital and taking to trade. According to him. One of the most popular among all the viewpoints is the contradicting theories of Maurice Dobb and that of Paul Sweezy. Marx stated in his works two paths to capitalism. The second path. One of the most controversial debates in recent times is that on the question of what led to the decline of the feudal mode of production and the emergence of the capitalism that contributed to creation of the world as we know it today. according to Marx. However they wrote very briefly on the transition between feudalism and capitalism.

According to Takahashi.Hilton. Trade and money. The size of the demesne land of the . First. Boris Porchnev. he claims. Kohachiro Takahashi and many others. the system of production resting on serf-labour and second. serfdom was the existence form of labour of peasant and the landlord. he says that it an only be explained in relation to the rise of wage labour under the bourgeois method of production. feudalism was a system where status is associated with land tenure and where the producer is obliged to provide labour to the lord.. Dobb says that capitalism did not necessarily begin with the appearance of large scale trading and the appearance of the mercantile class. Dobb’s theory states that the system’s survival depended on the internal relationships in the feudal mode of production. In reply to the question as to what actually caused the disintegration of feudalism. Insufficiency of this mode of production to satisfy the demands of the ruling class led to the decay of feudalism. according to him. This development took place either when capitalist and wage earners’ relationship matured or in the developed form of subordination of domestic handicraft makers to capitalism through the so-called ‘putting-out system’. These.E. This system. He locates its beginning to the latter half of the 16th century and the early part of the 17th century when capitalism became increasingly included in production. Dobb calls feudalism a self-sufficient economy. who dates beginning of capitalism to the 12th century C. The beginning of the crisis is evident in the 14th and the 15th century which provoked the fall in feudal income. based on hired wage labour. constitute two different phases of transition. According to him. Dobb states two chief factors for transition from feudalism to capitalism. however were not totally absent but instead says that it just occupied a smaller place in the economy. Disagreeing with historian Henri Pirenne. Christopher Hill. was almost identical to serfdom.

Sweezy says that Dobb failed to explain the charge-resistant character of the Western feudalism or contemplate effects of trade on feudalism. The rise of exchange economy led to monetization of relations between the feudal lord and peasant. brought out the role of markets in the transition from feudalism to capitalism. He defined capitalism as a ‘system of production for profit through market exchange that depends on an internal trade-based division of labour’. member increased feudal rent to improve their positions and which in turn led to struggle for power and land control. transform into capitalism. The main factor. According to him. This contributed to the decay of feudalism. along with Immanuel Wallerstein. These factors led to the feudal crisis. Paul Sweezy was another scholar who contributed extensively to the Transition Debate. American and French Revolution. This economic misery led to mass immigrations among serfs. The definite victory of capitalism was reflected through Industrial. according to him.landlords began to shrink. Feudalism consisted of the tendency of the exploiting class to extract maximum rent from the labour which conflicted with the necessary means of social growth (that was as a result of contradictions among the exploiting class). was feudal rent. He. Therefore. The crisis involved most advanced section of bourgeois development within feudalism (as said by Hilton). Dobb says that the need for additional revenue placed increased pressure on the producers and gradually reached a point where it became unendurable. The response to this crisis varied in different parts of Europe. a ‘selfsufficient’ feudal mode of production cannot consist of simulating factors that could lead to long term growth or even for that matter. Rodney Hilton agrees with Dobb that growth and decline of feudalism is a result of internal factors. Sweezy’s work acted as a direct criticism to Dobb’s work. He further goes on to say that transition from feudalism to capitalism is an uneven process. He . Eric Hobsbawm supports Dobb’s thesis.

This. Dobb says that the system of production on which Sweezy is dependent focuses more on the sphere of exchange than with the relations of production and ignores the transition from coercive extraction of surplus labour by estate owners to the use of free. he agrees with Dobb that mass immigration of serfs was an important cause for the feudal crisis. capitalism emerged through forces such as trade and the international division of labour. This led to the breaking up of the present mode of production. Therefore. He also rejected Sweezy’s argument that there was a relationship between decline of feudalism and the ‘nearness of centers of trade’. hired labour. Dobb accepts that feudal economy was extremely stable and inert but it also had a tendency within to change. must have led to emergence of localized trading centers.also questions Dobb’s hypothesis on growth in the size of nobility. according to him. He also defends his definition of feudalism and maintains that feudalism and serfdom are similar to each other. The basic difference between Sweezy and Dobb is on the question of existence of trade and urban centers in the feudal system. The expansion of commerce provoked demands for new products and also opened up more opportunities for the population on the countryside. according to Sweezy. He gave instances of a ‘peddling system’. However. The very existence of an exchange value was a massive economic force to transform the attitude of the producers who turned to business. which are seen as external to feudalism. . He is of the opinion that there must have been a certain amount of trade as it is likely to be a necessity in the economy. This thesis is not only opposed by Dobb. Dobb reasserted that trade influenced the economy in such a way that it accentuated the internal conflict within the old system of production and the growth of towns was internal to feudal system. but also Takahashi and Hilton.

This argument is criticized by many scholars. the periphery (the most exploited). saying that the contradiction between feudalism and capitalism is not the same as the contradiction between ‘systems of production for use’ and ‘system of production for the market’ but between feudal land property (serfdom) and an industrial capital (wage-labour system). therefore. of transition from feudalism to capitalism are the change in the social form of existence of labour power consisting in the separation of the means of production from the direct producers. and the semi-periphery (exploited by the core and exploiter of the periphery). He too. according to Takahashi. is caused by the dynamics of expanding exchange relations. like Sweezy. Many say . John Martin believes that money rent coexisted with labour rents as far back as the 10th century in some parts of Europe. According to him. the main cause for the disintegration of feudalism is not only trade or market. acting outside the feudal mode of production. stresses on the changing character of market structure. The fundamental processes.Critics of Sweezy also raise a question on his view that the monetization of feudal relations signaled the dissolution of feudalism. England and Northern France. Therefore. however. Immaneul Wallerstein also contributes to this debate. Sweezy. the true core status was achieved by Netherlands. leading to the division of labour in the market centers. in his work ‘Origins of the Modern World System’ defines capitalism differently saying that it was a world system based on international division of labour and a universal market exchange relations. the decline of feudalism. Takahashi rejects Sweezy’s thesis. He divides capitalism into three main components – the core (the most developed region). Wallerstein. has based his work on Henri Pirenne’s theory that emphasized the importance of growth and trade in everyday commodities unlike the trade in luxury goods under feudalism. The patterns of rent forms varied enormously and did not follow a linear trend. according to both scholars. He dates the emergence of capitalism to the 16th century and calls Spain and Portugal as the first capitalist state who soon lost their core status and slipped into semi-peripheral status. Hence.

This helped the process of centralization and brought about a fundamental transformation in feudal property relationship.that he completely ignored the internal dynamics of a society. Frank and Ekholm. Wallerstein’s work has been supported by scholars like Janet Abu-Loghod. and Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie. Habakkuk. A non-Marxist explanation is based on the role of demographic factor in the decline of feudalism. Postan.J. there are many different interpretations on the causes of the transition from feudalism to capitalism. The juridical traditions played an important role in the transition. This view is led by scholars like H. according to him.M. Robert Brenner. All the above explanations assign different reasons for the decline of feudalism and have their strength as well as weaknesses in their arguments. M. he also believes that changes in social relations preceded the development of productive force in the emergence of capitalism. These scholars have different views over the concept of feudalism and capitalism and on the causes and nature . Another Marxist scholar. His main criticism is that his work undermines the extent to which trade and commercial expansion is compatible with feudalism. The primary element. This interpretation is termed as the Malthusian model or the ‘Demographic model’. As we can see. His explanation resembles that of Dobb’s but he considers the nature of classrelations to be of paramount importance in the transition towards capitalism. But he does not assign a simple evolutionary theory of change within feudalism based on class struggle based on feudal crisis. in the emergence of capitalism was the incorporation of Roman law into the feudal system. gave his own interpretation of the transition. Apart from the already discussed arguments. Like Dobb and Hilton. Andre Gunder. another significant viewpoint us that of Perry Anderson.

.of transition from one mode of production to another. No single theory can be attributed to the transition.