Selected Works | Hou Shudong: On Three Feudal Concepts

2020-06-22 | By Historian | Filed in: World.

The word “feudalism” has polysemy. The academic history of this concept is composed of the history of the occurrence and development of the three major theories of narrow feudalism, broad feudalism and Marxist feudal concepts. The narrow concept of feudalism originated from the 16th century jurists’ research on the medieval “feudal law” in Western Europe, specifically referring to the vassal system and the vassal system. The concept of feudalism in a broad sense is the product of the Enlightenment in the 18th century. It was formed from the criticism of the Enlightenment thinkers on the medieval society, thus this concept represents the whole medieval society. The concept of feudalism in Marxism originates from Marx’s research on the social form of pre-capitalism. Feudalism has the meaning of mode of production and represents a stage in the evolution of social form. The three feudal concepts all have their own academic functions. They provide different angles and levels for understanding the pre-capitalist society. There is no need to deny other meanings of the word with the original meaning of “feudalism”.

Key words: narrow feudalism; Feudalism in a broad sense; Marxist Concept of Feudalism

Maybe it’s becauseThe meaning of the word “feudalism” has been varied. After the 1960s, not many western scholars have paid close attention to this word. In his preface to the 1989 edition of Mark Bloch’s English translation of Feudal Society, T.S.Brown said: “In the past 25 years, historians’ strong interest in the word ‘feudalism’ has abruptly subsided,” and “to a considerable extent, only Marxists and historians studying the history of late Middle Ages and Eastern Europe use this word”. He also mentioned in a note that the entry in the 1987 International Record of Medieval Studies stated that “only ten of the bibliographic indexes of books issued from January to June 1986 used the word ‘feudalism’ in their titles, and most of them were published in Eastern Europe”.


EnterIn the 1970s, western scholars’ reflection and criticism on the concept of feudalism attracted attention. In 1974, E.A.R. Brown published a long article entitled “Arbitrary Construction”. The article believed that the concept of feudalism was the arbitrary construction of modern scholars, which distorted the reality of Western Europe to a great extent. Inspired by Brown, S.Reynolds published his monograph “Fencers and Fencers: Re-interpretation of Medieval Evidence” in 1994, criticizing feudal concepts, especially the so-called strict feudal concepts, and challenging hundreds of years of western academic tradition. This book caused a heated discussion.


The word “feudalism” is inherent in China, but feudalism as a theory was introduced with the spread of western learning, especially Marxism in China. After the founding of the People’s Republic of China, Chinese scholars generally regarded feudalism as a historical stage between slavery society and capitalist society. In the 1980s, Chinese scholars discussed the Asian mode of production and the five modes of production, including the concept of feudalism. Since the 1990s, more and more scholars have begun to pay attention to the discussion of “feudalism”. Professor Mark Yao is a representative scholar who studies feudalism in the field of Chinese historiography. He has been discussing this topic for more than 20 years and has published many works, fully expounding his understanding of feudalism. In the past two years, with the publication of Bloch’s Chinese translation of Feudal Society, the discussion of feudal concepts and other issues by Chinese scholars seems to have become a “hot spot” in the academic circle.


Judging from the discussions between Chinese and foreign scholars,The issue of “feudalism” or “feudalism” seems to be first of all a conceptual issue, including whether the narrow concept of feudalism represents the reality of the Middle Ages in Western Europe, whether the broad concept of feudalism can be established, and whether the word “feudalism” in Chinese can be used to translate the western language “feudal” or “feudalism”. As far as Marxism is concerned, it also involves the difference and connection between Marx’s feudal concept and the Marxist feudal concept after Marx. Today, Chinese and foreign scholars define the concept of feudalism in a variety of ways. They are different. As a result, the concept of feudalism, which has long been widely used in Chinese and foreign academic circles and is well known to ordinary people, has become a problem.


It should be noted that,The issue of “feudalism” or “feudalism” is not only a conceptual issue, but also reflects the significant differences in the understanding of the social structure and development path between China and the West in the pre-capitalist era. However, since the concept of feudalism has polysemy, it is also necessary to sort out the academic history of the concept of feudalism in order to obtain a clearer understanding of the evolution of the concept and the polysemy it contains. In fact, this academic history is also the history of the occurrence and development of the three concepts of narrow feudalism, broad feudalism and Marxist feudalism. It can be said that some basic definitions given by Chinese and foreign scholars to the concept of feudalism can be incorporated into one of the three concepts.


First, the narrow concept of feudalism


The concept of feudalism in a narrow sense originated fromIn the 16th century, a group of French jurists studied Libri Feudorum, a medieval legal document in Western Europe, which was compiled in Lombard from the 12th to the early 13th century. It is from the study of feudal laws that the concepts of vassal system and vassal system came into being. They constitute the core of the narrow concept of feudalism. At this time, there is no word “feudalism”. In the history of modern western historiography, the main representative who holds the concept of narrow feudalism is Belgian scholar F.L.Ganshof. His famous work Feudalism is a monograph on narrow feudalism. Gonschoff’s definition of feudalism is: “` Feudalism ‘can be regarded as a set of systems that create and stipulate the obligation of one free man (vassal) to obey and serve another free man (vassal), mainly military service, and the obligation of the vassal to protect and support his vassal.” That is to say, the basic content of this feudalism is composed of two major elements, one is the personal aspect, that is, the vassal system, and the other is the property aspect, that is, the vassal system or fief system. Therefore, Gonschoff also pointed out that feudalism in a narrow sense “means a system of vassal system and vassal system”. Reynolds also called this feudalism the “feudo-vasslic” system. The so-called vassal system is a system in which one person surrenders to another and undertakes service for him. The so-called earthen system is a system in which the monarch grants the earthen or fief (usually a piece of land) to the vassal and allows him to occupy it for life. At first, the two systems existed independently. Later, the two systems were closely combined and integrated, forming two aspects of the feudal system. Gonschoff stressed that this narrow sense of “feudalism” is only a set of systems in the legal sense and is also the original meaning of the word “feudalism”.


In his book Feudalism, Gonschoff discussed the origin of feudalism in Western Europe, feudalism in Carolingian Dynasty andFeudalism in the 10th and 13th centuries. Based on Gonschoff’s research, feudalism in Western Europe has the following important characteristics: First, feudalism is only a system between free people. During the Carolingian Dynasty, the conclusion of the relationship between the monarch and the vassal gradually had a formal ceremony, that is, the vassal had to perform the courtesy of submission and loyalty to the vassal. These acts brought about personal attachment and legal ties between the monarch and the vassal. Although historical documents often use words reminiscent of slavery when describing the duties of vassals to monarchs, However, no matter how authoritative the monarch is over the vassal, and no matter the vassal’s origin and actual situation, how, the vassal “is still a free person in the eyes of the law, thus enjoying the most basic privilege of freedom, that is, the privilege of being tried in a public court”. Therefore, this kind of feudalism is another kind of attachment system different from that of peasants attached to lords, and it is a system that has nothing to do with attachment to peasants.


Secondly, feudalism is theoretically regarded as a contract freely concluded between free people. Although it is often the case that many people are forced to become vassals of someone for various reasons,“The contract of vassal system is theoretically regarded as a contract freely concluded by both parties”. Once a contract is concluded, it cannot be unilaterally abolished under normal circumstances. Both sides have rights and obligations to each other. The main obligation of the vassal is to serve the vassal, especially the military service. The main right of the vassal is to legally occupy the fief or other livelihood provided by the vassal due to military service. Legally, fiefdoms are possessed for life and cannot be hereditary, but the hereditary fiefdoms in fact have already begun and become increasingly obvious. Hereditary fiefdoms are commonly known as sealing soil. Fieftains or enclosures are generally composed of real estate, but they can also be various public powers, etc. The main obligation of the monarch is to provide livelihood for the vassals, usually granting fiefs. The main right of the monarch is to legally demand and enjoy the service of the vassal by providing fiefs or other livelihood to the vassal. The rights and obligations of the monarch and the vassal are one with each other and are valid for life.

Third, feudalism has always been a system characterized by personal attachment in theory. Feudalism includes two major elements, namely, personal factors and property factors. Although the historical development trend is that the property factor in feudalism is increasingly important, in theory, the personal factor has always been more important than the property factor. During the Molovin Dynasty, the two major elements of feudalism appeared, but they were independent of each other. The relationship between monarch and vassal was usually not accompanied by the enfeoffment of fiefs, and the combination of the two was extremely rare. There is also no evidence that the king or palace granted fiefdoms to his vassals.“But what is certain is that in the second half of the 8th century and throughout the 9th century, the practice of granting fiefs to vassals became increasingly common.” During this period, the vassal system and the fief system have been legally combined. This combination has brought several important changes to feudal relations. First, the monarch has increasingly lost the right to dispose of the land divided out as fiefdoms. Second, fiefs are increasingly hereditary in fact. Third, in order to obtain more fiefs, the vassals tried their best to make the vassal system pluralistic or multiple. Fourth, the close combination of personal factors and property factors in feudal relations makes “the obligations of the vassals and the importance of the fiefdoms held by the vassals are linked to each other. The value of the fiefdoms is the measure to measure the corresponding service and is almost the condition to provide the corresponding service”. These changes show that the weight of property factors in feudalism has become heavier and heavier with the passage of time. However, from a legal point of view, whether it was Carolingian era, when feudalism was in a critical stage of development, or the 10th-13th century, when feudalism was in a typical stage of development, the vassal system, that is, the personal element in feudalism, was always the most prominent feature of feudalism. This is because only the vassals are expected to get fiefdoms. No matter in time or logic, the vassals system precedes the fiefdoms system. Moreover, not all the vassals held fiefdoms, and there were vassals who did not hold fiefdoms in the Middle Ages in Western Europe.


Gonschoff does not think that his feudalism is unique to Western Europe. In his view, Japan, Arabia, Turkey and Russia all have some systems similar to Western Europe’s feudalism. He also saw that feudalism in Western Europe was not a uniform system. He believes that all kinds of rules that embody feudal relations are basically local customs, so feudalism among various countries and regions obviously has various differences, thus having different historical functions and influences. However, he also pointed out that while recognizing the particularity of the feudal laws of different countries, it is also necessary to see that the feudal laws of various countries contain common factors applicable to the whole of Western Europe. Obviously, Gonschoff believes that feudalism in Western Europe still contains some basic commonness, thus this system has become a legal and historical model shared by Western European countries.


This narrow concept of feudalism has exerted a wide and far-reaching influence in western academic circles. For a long time, most western scholars have accepted and used this narrow concept of feudalism. It can be said that the vassal systemEnclosure system has always been a basic legal and political framework for western scholars to understand the medieval society in Western Europe. However, Reynolds and others challenged this academic tradition. She totally denied the function of the narrow feudal concept and pointed out that the vassal system and the vassal system were subjective constructions of scholars since the 16th century. These concepts not only did not help to understand the history of the Middle Ages, but even distorted the historical facts. In her view, “the concept of feudalism in the Marxist sense is a much more important theme than the narrow concept of feudalism, which refers to the internal relations of the aristocratic class, because the Marxist concept of feudalism not only includes the relationship between aristocrats and peasants, but also considers the economic structure of the whole society and the reasons for economic and social changes. At present, the study of this broader subject seems to be hindered by the inheritance of the narrower concept that the feudal and vassal systems are the central and strict systems of medieval European society. “


Reynolds, through the investigation of relevant documents, believed that Western EuropeBefore the 12th century, there was no feudal system in the sense of vassal system and vassal system. It was only after the 12th century that the phenomena represented by the narrow concept of feudalism appeared in Western European society. Reynolds’ point of view caused a discussion on the concept of feudalism in the West. If we completely deny the function of the narrow concept of feudalism, there is still a lack of sufficient evidence, but if we continue to regard the vassal system and the vassal system as the main framework for understanding the medieval society in Western Europe, it is obviously a big problem. No matter whether or to what extent people accept Reynolds and others’ views, the narrow concept of feudalism really needs to be treated with caution after being criticized by some scholars represented by her in terms of logic and demonstration. As M.M.Postan said, the narrow feudal concept “focuses on military service, so it cannot provide an answer to the basic principles of medieval society or any society. As long as it only pays attention to the principle of contract, it cannot see the potential social reality. Moreover, even within the narrow scope of legal and contractual issues, it cannot take into account the time lag between changes in legal forms and changing social needs. “


Second, the concept of feudalism in a broad sense


Feudalism in a broad sense refers to a social type or form. MarkBloch is the most famous representative of western scholars in the 20th century who holds the concept of feudalism in a broad sense. In fact, taking “feudal society” or “feudal system” as a synonym for the Middle Ages, or using the word “feudal” to indicate an era or a social state, is a usage that appeared in the 18th century, and the word “feudalism” officially came into being in this era. Reynolds pointed out: “Since historical research began to study the Law of Enclosure to a large extent, it naturally led historians to define the whole Middle Ages as feudal. Feudal government and feudal society have obviously become by-products of feudal laws. …… The French Revolution brought a complete set of views regarding feudalism as a historical stage in the past to a broader public sphere, and strengthened the following tendency, which attributed the most unreasonable and oppressive system in the old system… to the Middle Ages. The progressive concept holds that such oppressive systems must be remnants of the old age. ” In this way, “feudalism”, which used to be used only in the legal sense, began to be used to indicate a social state or historical stage in the 18th century. Bloch discovered through quite extensive research that the first person in France to use the concept of broad feudalism was Comte de Boulainvilliers. His “Parliamentary Historical Documents” used “feudal government” and “feudalism” in the sense that “feudalism” refers to a social state. However, it was Montesquieu who made the feudal concept of this meaning widely spread. His “feudal law” obviously represented a special historical stage.


Bloch’s “Feudal Society” is a representative work that embodies his broad view of feudalism. In his book, he regards feudalism as a kind of social type, social structure and social organization, and tries to analyze this kind of“The structure of social organization and the principles that unite it are analyzed and explained”. Since it represents a social type, the content of feudalism is naturally comprehensive. Bloch said: “Attach to farmers; The extensive use of tenancy territories (i.e. Fiefdoms) with service instead of salaries-salaries are impossible to implement; The superior position of a full-time warrior rank; The obedience-protection relationship that connects people with each other (this relationship takes a specific form called dependency relationship within the samurai class); The division of power that will inevitably lead to chaos; In all these relationships, other forms of organization, namely, the survival of the family and the state (in the second stage of feudal society, the state will gain the power to revive)-these seem to be the basic characteristics of European feudalism “. This is a comprehensive perspective provided by Bloch. From this point of view, feudalism is no longer just a legal relationship between free people, but a social type composed of all aspects of social relations and characteristics.


The concept of feudalism in the broad sense contained the concept of feudalism in the narrow sense, and at the same time expanded the content of the latter, especially bringing peasants into the obedience between people in the Middle Ages.-The category of protective relations regards the existence of a large number of dependent peasants as a basic feature of feudalism in Western Europe. Bloch clearly pointed out: “The ` people ‘attached to others are not only found in the upper class society characterized by military loyalty”. It can be said that the biggest difference between the concept of broad feudalism and the concept of narrow feudalism is here. Critics who question the narrow concept of feudalism once asked, to what extent can a system that only includes the aristocratic class determine the whole society? Bloch clearly recognized this problem long ago. As one of the founders of the Annals School, Bloch actively advocated the overall view of history and attached great importance to the history of economy and society and the history of ideas and mentality. In his view, economy, society, politics, concepts and mentality together constitute a specific social type or social structure in the Middle Ages of Western Europe. In other words, some characteristics of this specific social type will be manifested in various fields of social life. Bloch’s thinking is clearly reflected in the chapter arrangement of Feudal Society. In turn, various aspects of the Middle Ages in Western Europe are analyzed (relatively speaking, the economic content is still relatively small), which constitutes the main structure of the book. In the author’s view, this is also the social structure of the Middle Ages in Western Europe.


So, it was what who combined all aspects of the Middle Ages into an organic whole and made it a social structure with internal connections.? Bloch believed that feudalism was “a social organization marked by special human relations”. This “special human relationship” is the personal attachment relationship, that is, one person’s subordination to another, which is a main line in Bloch’s feudal view. He once pointed out: “In the vocabulary of feudalism, no word can be used in a wider range and in a wider meaning than the word ‘person’ subordinate to others”. Bloch jumped out of the framework of the vassal system and noticed that the so-called “subordination of one person to another” was not limited to the aristocratic class. People’s social classes are different, so the legal nature of personal attachment is different, but the existence of attachment is common. “This principle of interpersonal relationship permeates the whole social life”, and its manifestations are various, and sometimes there are various transitional forms.


Bloch not only clearly understood the kind of attachment relationship represented by the narrow concept of feudalism, but also took the ties of vassal system as the most important attachment relationship. Bloch also knew that the history of the attachment relationship of the lower social class was much older than that of the vassal system, and it still existed for a long time after the extinction of the vassal system. Then why did he regard the attachment relationship of the lower social class and the vassal system as the content of feudalism together?? In Bloch’s thought, feudalism, as a social type or social structure, is not a platter of random combination of various factors, but an organic composition. “Feudalism, as a social organization marked by special human relations, is not only manifested in the generation of new systems, but also distributes its own colors to what it has accepted from the past and to the next era just like spreading colors through prisms.” Therefore, some important features of medieval society, which did not belong to the category of vassal system + vassal system, became an organic part of feudal society because they were dyed with the color of social prism of vassal system + vassal system. Not only should the relationship between the dependency relationship of the lower social strata and the narrow feudal system be viewed as such, but also the relationship between the state, family and other social organizations and the narrow feudal system should be viewed as such.


Based on the above analysis, the connotation of Bloch’s broad concept of feudalism can be completely expressed as follows: Feudalism is a kind of social type, social structure and social organization marked by personal attachment with the ties of vassal system as the main line.


Bloch’s “Feudal Society” has won widespread praise, but it has also been criticized. The main criticism of his broad concept of feudalism, It is believed that this concept has made an etymological mistake, because it confuses feudal system with different meanings (the original meaning only involves the relationship between free people or nobles) with lords system (involves the relationship between lords and peasants), but Brown and Postan defended Bloch. In fact, the relationship between the concept of broad feudalism and the concept of narrow feudalism is more related than different. Although the former pays more attention to the lower social strata and economic and social contents than the latter, the legal relationship between people is still a basic starting point of this broad feudal view.


Scholars who oppose Bloch from the perspective of semantics do not see that Bloch’s method uses feudalism as a help to analyze problems.“Symbols” and “labels” rather than deliberately pursuing the so-called semantic accuracy. He admitted that the word feudalism “is an inappropriate choice even when it seems that there are sufficient reasons to adopt it……. In the current usage,” feudalism “and” feudal society “cover a complex set of concepts”. Sometimes people will give very different and almost opposite interpretations to the word feudalism. However, he also pointed out: “The existence of this word itself shows that people have instinctively admitted the unique nature of this stage represented by this word.” Therefore, if historians only regard feudalism as “a label recognized in modern usage to indicate what he still needs to explain, then he need not have any worries. This is just like a physicist who can ignore the Greek point of view and insist on calling what he takes time to split” atoms “. These words do give people a lot of inspiration on how to view the concept of feudalism.


Third, the feudal concept of Marxism


One of the fundamental characteristics of the Marxist concept of feudalism is that feudalism is first understood as a form of ownership, a mode of production and a social form. Today, the feudal concept adopted by the Marxist academic circle is generally different from the narrow sense and the broad sense. The former mainly originates from Marx, but it should be pointed out that compared with the narrow feudal concept of non-Marxism, the feudal concept described by Marx is already broad, and this theory has an important influence on western Marxists. The concept of Marxist feudalism in a broad sense mainly originates from Lenin. Lenin’s theory has a direct impact on Marxist scholars in the former Soviet Union and Chinese Marxism scholars.


Marx regarded feudalism as a form of ownership, namely“Hierarchical ownership” is “regarded as a mode of production based on confrontation” and an era of evolution of “economic social form”. The concept of feudalism has become a symbol referring specifically to the medieval society in Western Europe since the 18th century. While using this symbol, Marx used the method of historical materialism to endow this symbol with the significance of ownership, mode of production and social form, emphasizing the medieval land hierarchy and class confrontation between serfs and lords. In this way, Marx’s feudal concept has become an important part of Marxist social form theory.


In Marx’s works, the specific meaning of the feudal concept is fief system.+ Serfdom. Fief system means the establishment of land ownership by aristocrats (lords) with hierarchical structure, serfdom means that aristocrats have the power to control farmers. Therefore, the essential characteristics of feudal system are the aristocracy of land possession and serf labor bound by this land ownership. It is precisely based on the aristocratic nature of land occupation that Marx pointed out: “Japan has a purely feudal land occupation organization”, while Indian land during the Mughal Empire “is not aristocratic, that is to say, land is not forbidden to be sold to civilians”. Marx pointed out when analyzing the characteristics of serfdom: “Direct laborers are still necessary in the production of his own means of subsistence.”


The means of production and working conditions ofIn all forms of ` owner ‘, the property relationship must be manifested simultaneously as a direct ruling and subordinate relationship, so the direct producer appears as a person who is not free. ” In this way, personal attachment will inevitably occur. On the one hand, serfs bear labor for the lords, on the other hand, they directly obey the lords’ private sovereignty. It is also based on this, In response to Kovalevski’s reference to Mughal India, The granting of the military field makes the free man dependent, Their possession has also changed from possession of autonomous land to feudal possession. Marx said, This “only makes sense to Muslims who have received the second or third types of military fields (the purpose of which is to pay Muslim officers with a fixed income as a reward-leader). For Hindus, it is meaningful at most to the extent that they do not pay taxes in kind or money to the state treasury, but to those who are granted rights by the state treasury. The land tax did not turn their property into feudal property, just as the land tax in France did not turn French real estate into feudal real estate “. Marx also pointed out: “Since there are ` fief system ‘, ` public office contract system’ (the latter is not feudal at all, Rome is proof) and shade system in India, Kovalevski thinks this is feudalism in the sense of Western Europe. If nothing else, Kovalevski forgot serfdom, which does not exist in India and is a basic factor “.


While Marx endowed the feudal concept with the meaning of mode of production, he sometimes followed it.The traditional legal and political significance of the word “feudalism”. For example, Marx once made the following assertions: “Feudal system was the political form of production and communication in the Middle Ages.” ; “England and Naples obtained the most perfect form of feudal organization after being conquered by the Normans”; “According to Indian law, the power of the ruler cannot be distributed among various schools of thought. As a result, one of the main sources of European feudalism was blocked”; An important difference between India and Western European feudalism during the Mughal Empire is that “there is no hereditary judicial power in the Mughal Empire, especially in civil law”. Obviously, the “feudalism” in these judgments is of legal and political significance. From this, we can also understand why Marx usually combines feudalism (feudal system) with autocratic monarchy (autocratic system) instead of words such as “feudal autocracy” and regards autocratic monarchy as the opposite of feudal system to a certain extent. For example, Marx pointed out that the centralized state machine created in Europe’s “era of autocratic monarchy” is “a weapon in the struggle of the emerging modern society to get rid of the shackles of feudal system”. The autocratic monarchy and feudal system here are naturally opposite. Reynolds praised Marx for his profound knowledge, and at the same time believed that Marx’s understanding of the medieval society in Western Europe was still subject to the legal-political framework through which all western scholars understood the medieval society since the 16th century, that is, the system of fief and vassal. However, if we do not stick to some words, we can still see that Marx’s logical starting point is essentially different from the narrow and broad concepts of feudalism in the western tradition. He actually uses feudalism as a representative of a mode of production. That is to say, to Marx, the words “feudalism” or “feudalism” that already have legal, political and social meanings begin to have specific economic meanings, and this meaning is basic.


To grasp Marx’s feudal concept, it is important to fully understand his discussion on serfdom or personal attachment. Marx really attached great importance to the phenomenon of serfdom in the Middle Ages in Western Europe, believing that the Middle Ages“The social relations of material production and the life fields based on this production are all characterized by personal attachment.” And said that this personal attachment “has a decisive reaction to production.” Personal attachment is a kind of legal and political relationship, which belongs to the category of superstructure in Marx’s theory. From Marx’s discussion on feudalism, we can really see that Marx emphasizes the reaction of superstructure.


Anderson (Anderson) exerted Marx’s relevant thoughts. He believes that according to Marx’s theory on the former capitalist social form, “the ‘superstructure’ will inevitably participate in the element structure of the mode of production in the former capitalist social form” [14] (P433), thus super-economic coercion becomes the essential feature of the former capitalist mode of production. Super-economic coercion is indeed an important feature of pre-capitalist social relations, but taking this feature as the “factor structure” of production mode confuses the difference between economic foundation and superstructure in theoretical understanding. Marx insisted on the “function” of economic foundation and the “reaction” of superstructure. He believed that although some non-economic factors could lead to the disintegration of communes and the occurrence of personal attachment, the most important factor was economic factor, namely “small land labor”, which was the basis for the accumulation of movable property such as serfs. So how do you understand Marx’s various discussions on personal attachment? Marx once pointed out: “Even the most abstract categories are applicable to all times precisely because of their abstraction, but as far as this abstract stipulation itself is concerned, it is also the product of historical conditions, and only for and within these conditions can it have full applicability”. In the pre-capitalist era, the reaction of superstructure such as law and political relations to the economic foundation cannot, of course, be compared with the reaction of superstructure to the economic foundation since the capitalist era. Small-scale production in the pre-capitalist era cannot make direct producers independent, so the reaction of superstructure to economic foundation in this era is bound to be greater than that in the capitalist era. Marx even believed that the medieval personal attachment relationship had a “decisive reaction” to production. Even so, what Marx is talking about here is still the “reaction” of personal attachment to economy, which shows that Marx does not logically confuse superstructure with economic foundation.


Marx regards serfdom in Western Europe as a typical example of feudal relations, but this does not seem to be absolute. Marx in LouisHeng Morgan pointed out in the summary of his book “Ancient Society” that serfdom “was related to labor in the field from the very beginning”. In the “Draft Reply of Wei Yi Chasulic”, he also took “small land labor” as the basis for the disintegration of communes and the accumulation of movable property such as serfs. The factors of “field labor” and “small land labor” obviously cannot be understood only in the scope of Western Europe. Engels said in a letter to Marx on December 22, 1882: “As for the history of serfdom, according to businessmen, we have ` reached an agreement ‘. There is no doubt that serfdom and dependency are not some unique medieval feudal form. We can see it everywhere, or almost everywhere, where the conquerors forced the local residents to cultivate the land for them. “This also seems to be Marx’s view.


The concept of feudalism in Lenin’s works certainly represents a mode of production and social form, but there is no historical model of fief system and serfdom in Western Europe. The meaning and scope of feudalism have been significantly expanded in Lenin’s works. Summing up Lenin’s use of the concept of feudalism, we can see that the core meaning of this concept in his works is the exploitation of land rent by large land ownership and large land owners to small farmers.


For example, he regards feudalism as“The land tenure system and privilege of serf owners-landlords” refers to “the remnants of the medieval and semi-corvee exploitation system of large landowners against small farmers” as “the remnants of feudal system”. At the same time, Lenin often used expressions such as “feudal autocratic system” and “feudal autocratic forces”.


Based on these understandings, Lenin called the mode of production of Russian serfdom, namely“Feudal mode of production”, he affirmed that China’s oppression and exploitation system at that time was “feudal system”. “The dominance of agricultural lifestyle and natural economy is the foundation of the feudal system. In one way or another, the Chinese peasants are bound to the land, which is the root of their feudal exploitation. The political representative of this exploitation is the feudal lord, the feudal lord with the emperor as the head of the whole system, the whole and individual feudalism”. Lenin also put forward in the first draft of the Outline on Ethnic and Colonial Issues: “Special assistance must be given to the peasant movements in backward countries that oppose landlords, the system of large land occupation, and various feudal phenomena or remnants of feudalism.” This shows that Lenin summed up the social systems of oppressing peasants in the eastern countries in the pre-capitalist era, which were mainly characterized by land rent exploitation, as feudal systems. Lenin’s broad feudal theory directly affected Marxist scholars in the 20th century, especially those in the former Soviet Union and China. For them, Lenin’s theory has become an important logical premise for understanding feudal system or feudal society. Some scholars also criticized Marxism’s broad feudal theory and advocated returning to Marx’s feudal concept, of which Anderson was the representative [14] (P431-433). The problem here is actually how’s view of the relationship between Marxist and Lenin’s feudal concepts, and Anderson especially emphasized the differences between them. In fact, there is no substantial difference between Marx’s and Lenin’s feudal concepts. Marx first discussed feudalism as a mode of production, and defined the core meaning of this mode of production as large land ownership and the slavery and exploitation of farmers by large land owners. Lenin’s concept of feudalism embodies Marx’s basic ideas. Of course, Marx’s exposition of feudalism does have more influence on western academic tradition than Lenin’s. However, Marx first gave the word feudalism a specific meaning of economic relations, so in terms of his ideological logic and theoretical essence, his feudal theory has been essentially different from the western academic tradition.


The three feudal concepts described above in this article basically represent the main meaning of feudalism used by modern Chinese and foreign scholars. Looking back on the academic history of the concept of feudalism, we can see that the word feudalism has already had polysemy, many of which are far away from it.The original meaning of the word “feudalism” even contradicts it. Some scholars have suggested that the use of the word “feudalism” should follow its original meaning. In fact, in the academic history of China and foreign countries, it is not uncommon for a word to have polysemy, old words to have new meanings, words to change with meaning, and established conventions. Since the word feudalism has polysemy, there is no need to use the original meaning of the word “feudalism” to exclude other meanings. The three feudal concepts have their own functions in academic research. The narrow concept of feudalism represents the legal system applicable to the aristocracy in the medieval countries of Western Europe. Bloch’s broad feudalism theory provides a comprehensive and overall perspective for understanding medieval society. The Marxist concept of feudalism provides a broader vision for understanding the pre-capitalist social form. It inspires people to understand the essence of the pre-capitalist mode of production from the perspective of large land ownership and the opposition between lords, landlords and farmers.


Journal of Beijing Normal University (Social Science Edition) No.6, 2008

This article is reprinted from Public Number: Research on Historical Theory

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