Feudal Mode of Production – Concept, origin and social classes

We explain what the feudal mode of production is, how it arose, its social classes and other characteristics. In addition, the beginning of capitalism.

mode of production feudad medieval middle ages feudalism
The feudal mode of production was the agricultural mode of the Middle Ages.

What is the feudal mode of production?

In Marxist terminology, it is known as a feudal mode of production (or in simple terms: feudalism), the socio-economic organization that governed medieval society in the West and other regions of the world.

In these societies, political power was decentralized and it was exercised independently by the feudal lords: the aristocracy or nobility who transmitted power by blood, and who owned the arable land.

According to the theorizations of Karl Marx, feudalism historically predates the capitalist mode of production. It consisted of a economic dynamics of submission and exploitation of the peasantry by the aristocracy and the landowners.

However, the landowners were also in a submissive relationship with a higher political power, which was the crown, which allowed the aristocrats political autonomy in their feudal territories, in exchange for loyalty in the military sphere.

Characteristics of the feudal mode of production

The feudal mode of production was essentially a model of agricultural exploitation. It was supported by a peasant mass in charge of the production of goods and governed by a feudal lord: a landowner who imposed his particular order on them, exercising both political and legal power, although the Church (the clergy) also intervened in the latter. .

The peasants or serfs paid their respective feudal lords a majority portion of what was produced with his work, in exchange for military security, order and jurisprudence. In addition, they obtained permission to inhabit tiny portions of land where their families settled.

In this relationship of exploitation of the peasantry by the aristocracy, however, there were no slavery laws, although the living conditions of the former could on many occasions resemble it. Instead, vassalage relations were established, which politically linked the peasant with the fiefdom he inhabited.

The fiefdoms were the minimum productive unit system (hence its name: feudal). They were divided territorially into:

  • Stately or Sunday reservations. Its production was intended to pay tribute to the feudal lord.
  • Meek. In them the peasantry carried out the production of their own goods and thus their subsistence was guaranteed.

There was no type of currency or unified economic system in this model. On the other hand, cities were underdeveloped compared to the countryside.

Rise of feudalism

The emergence of the feudal model is explained by the state of disorder and fragmentation of Europe after the fall of the Roman Empire in the 5th century, such a state of upheaval and dissolution of the established powers allowed the decentralization of political power and the emergence of separate kingdoms.

Each of these kingdoms was in turn divided into fiefdoms run by the nobility: dukes, barons, and other titles of nobility. However, all of them were morally and legally subject to the Catholic Church, in charge of maintaining social order through the indoctrination of the masses.

In addition, the Church provided spiritual legitimacy to the crown, as kings, elected from the aristocratic warrior and landowning caste, considered themselves placed on the throne by God. This era was lavish in warsTherefore, the peasantry willingly accepted to belong to a fiefdom in exchange for order and protection, even if it were despotic.

Social classes of feudalism

mode of production feudad medieval middle ages feudalism social class noble clergy peasants
Society was severely divided between peasants, nobles, and the clergy.

The feudal system was practically immovable in terms of social class, that is, the flow between peasants and noble aristocrats. The former were poor and in charge of agricultural work, and the latter were the owners of the land.

These two social classes were widely differentiated throughout their lives and could cross their destinations on few occasions, one of them being war, the main obligation of the nobles and a secondary obligation of their vassals. A third social class was constituted by the clergy. The Catholic Church guaranteed their subsistence but prevented them from accumulating properties of any kind.

As a general rule, the status of noble or peasant was maintained throughout life, since the nobility was transmitted by blood (hence the term “blue blood” or “patrician blood”). The limited ones avenues of social advancement were heroism in war, membership in the clergy, and marriage with people of noble ancestry or surname.

Towards the end of the feudal model a new social class appeared, the bourgeoisie, composed of free men with business and capital, although not with noble titles. As this class grew and established itself as the new ruling class, feudalism was drawing to a close.

End of feudal mode of production

The feudal model of production in Western Europe came to an end around the 15th century, in the midst of the Bourgeois Revolutions, a period of profound social and political changes that responded to the emergence of a new social class: the bourgeoisie.

Of commoner origin but business owners, tradesmen or holders of capital, the bourgeoisie were gradually displacing the aristocracy, whose land ownership ceased to be a guarantee of power, as nations arose and with them the presence of a common currency in the community.

In this time of change the Church lost its firm grip on medieval culture as it religion was displaced by the cult of reason and to thought. New scientific knowledge, new forms of goods production and accumulation were achieved.

These and other innovations were the fruit of revolutionary agricultural and industrial techniques, and of the profound cultural change that occurred during the Renaissance. The definitive end of feudalism came with the abolition of the absolutist monarchy during the 18th century. The French Revolution (1789) was an important milestone in that regard.

Emergence of the capitalist system

mode of production feudad medieval middle ages feudalism bourgeoisie
The bourgeoisie was the class that made cities and capitalism grow.

The accumulation of assets and political influences allowed the bourgeoisie to gain access, commercially, to noble titles initially, but later to lands, political favors. Thus, it emerged as the new ruling class.

The power of the bourgeoisie did not reside as before in blood, but in capital, that is, in the amount of money that could accumulate and exchange for goods and services. The ruined aristocracy, on the other hand, found itself increasingly isolated in its rural areas.

On the contrary, the revolution was brewing in the cities, where urban life became much more important. This would bring with it a new system: capitalism, in which feudal peasants became laborers, and the field was displaced by the factory.