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View Diary: Anti-Capitalist Meetup: One Economy under God (60 comments)

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  •  Jumping in w/both feet . . . (1+ / 0-)
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    NY brit expat

    Re "feudalism", what I invariably see in these discussions is a lack of understanding of the PROTECTIONS feudalism actually held for the worker/serfs.

    First of all, by no means all of the poor in feudal times were serfs.  Poor cottagers and smallholding free men owning acreages of 1-5 acres (insufficient to feed a family) were common.  These people were analogous to today's workers, in that they lacked sufficient capital resources to survive without selling either their labor or products produced without access to adequate real capital.

    Second, "serfs" had evolved OUT of slaves held by Roman aristocracy, and there was actually a long development of gradually increasing rights and protections culminating eventually in legal emancipation.  According to when you investigate, European serfs could be anything from near-slaves to serfs-in-name-only.  At the least, they always had the legal right to accumulate personal wealth and purchase their freedom with it, thereby providing a means to escape perpetual servitude to a hated master.

    Third, serfdom was attached to the land, or capital property, not to the individual lord.  If the property changed hands, all serfs went with it.  There was little difference from a corporation purchasing a smaller company.  All the workers go along with the plant.

    Fourth, while running away was technically illegal, it was practically impossible to prevent.  Serfs regularly eloped from their estates, found jobs in chartered towns or taverns, and were officially free if they managed to elude recapture for a year and a day.  Practically, again, few lords had the motivation or the wherewithal to chase down a single reluctant worker unless he took valuable property with him.  Policing over distances greater than about three days' travel (60 miles or so) was virtually unknown.  Identity documents didn't exist except for some church birth records and introductions for diplomats and government officials.

    Finally, worker protections were gradually built up over the course of the medieval era from simple prohibitions on random killing in the course of baronial warfare to a statutory plethora of holy days, reciprocal gifts, and socially mandatory givebacks.  We talk about getting the crumbs from the corporate table; in the medieval era the aristocrats were religiously required to send the leftovers from every meal out to the poor waiting at the gate to receive them.  For every tax, there was a reciprocal largesse demanded of the owner.  And while the owner had more privileges and lived much better than his serfs, the localism of feudal life created a situation where he could not easily survive without the willing cooperation of his workforce.  When harvest time came around, he could hire a few extra bodies from the nearest towns, but for the most part, he had to depend on his own people.  If they refused to work, or even delivered slow and surly obedience, his income for the entire year would plummet.

    Anyway, my fundamental gripe is that yes, "free-trade" capitalism is nothing like feudalism.  It's worse.  In the feudal system, the wealthy and privileged had responsibilities enforced both by the Church and by the realities of limited population and poor transport that made them dependent on a defined pool of workers.  Capitalists have no such restraints.

    •  exactly and thanks! (0+ / 0-)

      the historical points that you make really help. Thank you for this!

      "Hegel noticed somewhere that all great world history facts and people so to speak twice occur. He forgot to add: the one time as tragedy, the other time as farce" Karl Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte .

      by NY brit expat on Tue Nov 13, 2012 at 01:49:16 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

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