The first topic that we dealt with in our history course was the immense transformation that was taking place in the late medieval age. This period is generally referred to by Marxist historians as “the transition from feudalism to capitalism”. At first, I was confused – I mean, how is that possible? Only then did I know what Marx had done to history, and how his followers have blindly accepted it. According to Marx, history consists of a class struggle between the haves and the have-nots. For him, and other Marxists, feudalism and capitalism are political and social systems, with their roots in economic systems. To see the absurdity of their claims, let us go back to history and see what feudalism was.
After the Roman Empire crumbled, Europe was divided among a lot of Germanic tribes and clans. Each of these clans wanted to dominate the others and establish an empire that would invoke the glory of Rome and give them high enough prestige to continue their dominance. Slowly, through successive generations, these clans had started uniting in order to form loose confederations. In 800, Charlemagne united most of the land which is now France, Germany and Italy to form the Holy Roman Empire. Facing trouble from the Arabs in the south from modern-day Spain, Magyars from the east, and the Vikings from the Scandinavian Peninsula in the north, he distributed land to his most loyal warriors, so that they would govern these provinces for him, and mobilize troops quickly when the need arises. These lords re-distributed their lands to their own loyal warriors, thus creating another layer of lesser lords. In this way, a hierarchy was created, with small barons owning a village owing allegiance to the counts who owned small provinces to the dukes and princes who owned large territories to the Emperor himself. This hierarchy made mobilization of troops in order to defend the empire very easy.
This setup was so successful that it became almost standard practice all over Europe. But, this wasn’t an official system (or an “ism”) yet. It was just a bundle of practices which were found to be pragmatic in dealing with the existing problems. It was a very neat arrangement, and soon, laws were established to determine lord-vassal relationships. Thus, we see that feudalism (as it later came to be known as) was not an ‘economic’ system at all. It was a political system established to deal with political situations. The economy under this system was the same as it was before it was established. Europe was still an agricultural continent, and most of the population comprised of the peasantry.
Yet, to these Marxists, feudalism is an ‘economic’ system, and all other socio-political aspects of it were to support the economic sphere. And capitalism, though it is an economic system, has been given a socio-political aspect, and has been converted into an ideology. But that is not the case in history. Capitalism, or rather the free-enterprise system, can exist under any political system – democracy, monarchy, dictatorship and it even existed under the Bolshevik regime of Lenin!
In the end, what I took away was that the Marxists find it hard to look at history without building ideologies out of everything and regarding these ideologies as representing different classes which fought against each other. In portraying the high Middle Ages to be a transition from feudalism (a political system) to capitalism (an economic system), they just purely show their ignorance in the understanding of history.