[A-List] Engels on "transition"
cbrown at michiganlegal.org
Tue Apr 24 21:21:15 MDT 2007
Engels on "transition"
* To: PEN-L at xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx <mailto:PEN-L at DOMAIN.HIDDEN>
* Subject: Engels on "transition"
* From: Louis Proyect <lnp3 at xxxxxxxxx <mailto:lnp3 at DOMAIN.HIDDEN> >
* Date: Mon, 23 Apr 2007 19:31:32 -0400
In chapter one of Andre Gunder Frank's "World Accumulation 1492-1789", I
stumbled across this quote from Engels's "Peasant Wars in Germany":
To what extent feudalism was already undermined and inwardly torn by money
in the late fifteenth century, is mirrored strikingly in the thirst for gold
that reigned at the time in Western Europe. The Portuguese sought gold along
the African coast, in India, and in the entire Far East; gold was the magic
word that drove the Spanish across the Atlantic Ocean to America; gold was
the first thing the white man asked about when he set foot on newly
discovered soil. And this craving for distant voyages and adventures in
quest of gold, however much it materialized at first in feudal and
semi-feudal forms, was at root already incompatible with feudalism, whose
groundwork rested upon agriculture, and whose conquests were essentially
directed at acquiring land. Moreover, seafaring was a distinctly bourgeois
occupation, which has left its anti-feudal imprint also upon all the modern
In the 15th century feudalism was thus in complete decay throughout Western
Europe. Towns with anti-feudal interests, with their own laws and an armed
burgherdom, had wedged themselves into feudal regions everywhere, and had
made the feudal lords dependent upon them partly socially, through money,
and here and there even politically. Even in such localities where
particularly favourable conditions had contributed to the progress of
agriculture, the old feudal bonds had begun to slacken under the effect of
money; only in newly conquered lands, such as Germany's possessions east of
the Elbe, or in otherwise backward areas remote from the trade routes, the
nobility thrived on as of old. Everywhere-in town and village-there were
more and more people who above all demanded a stop to the perpetual and
senseless wars, to the lordly feuds that perpetuated domestic war even when
an alien foe was in the land, and to that state of uninterrupted, senseless
devastation 'that had lasted throughout the Middle Ages. Still too weak to
assert their will, these elements found strong support on the topmost rung
of the entire feudal system-royal power itself. And that is where the study
of social conditions leads us to conditions of state, and where we pass from
economical spheres to politics.
When I went to the Marxism Internet Archives, I could not find this quote in
"Peasant Wars in Germany". It turned out to be not a part of this work, but
an untitled manuscript that the Moscow publishers included as an appendix to
the 1956 edition. They did give it the title "Decay of Feudalism and the
Rise of National States".
I just scanned it in and put it up at: http://www.marxmail.org/engels.htm
The MIA comrades are invited to add it to their archives.
I will have more to say on this in the weeks to come, as I return once again
to the "transition" debate, but it should be obvious that Engels's take on
the transition from capitalism to feudalism is starkly opposed to Brenner's.
More information about the A-List