In this chapter I shall outline Marxist explanations of the transition from feudalism to capitalism. I will not go into everything that has been said; I shall concentrate on those accounts which are most relevant to the themes of this book. I shall begin by summarising Marx's own account of the transition from feudalism to capitalism, moving on to more recent Marxist views: the 'external' exchange relations perspective, and the 'internal' property relations perspective. My exposition will also include some criticisms of those positions. At the conclusion of the chapter I shall raise some feminist questions about those debates, and outline how I will look at property and patriarchy in Anglo-Saxon society and in the shift from feudalism to capitalism.
For Marx 1 the basis of capitalism is an exploitative social relation between a property-owning capitalist class and a propertyless class of 'free' wage labourers. He saw this social relation as more fundamental than the profit motive, the extension of the market or the existence of wage labour. By 'free' wage labour Marx meant labour which was 'free' to sell its labour power as a commodity. In contrast to the serf or slave who is 'owned', the 'free' wage labourer can enter into contracts to sell his or her labour power. The labourer is also 'free' of the means of production or subsistence. Basically the worker is propertyless, and therefore forced to sell labour power to capital.
Marx sees the creation of 'free' wage labour as a violent process. He identifies two processes involved in this. The first was the emancipation of the serfs by the end of the fourteenth century