5 From Feudalism to Capitalism: The Place of the City

ONE area where Marxism has dealt with the city is the transition from feudalism to capitalism. This discussion has been satisfactory only in part. Too much is compressed in the very idea of this epochal transformation. Marxism's conception of feudalism has been too narrow: it has treated some 500 years of history in terms of a single direction of change, and it has flattened the dimensions and varieties of transition. Further, Marxism's insistence on parallel treatment as modes of production for feudalism, which fused sovereignty and property, and for capitalism, which did not, is misplaced. And yet, even if Marxism's discussion of the transition has been flawed, it is here that we can find some of the most important attempts to make cities a constitutive part of a key historical and theoretical problem. In this chapter, I should like to broaden and shift the terms of this engagement of Marxism with the city. By so doing, it is possible to shed some light on the impact cities had on large-scale change in early modern Europe, and, in turn, on the ways cities as places were altered by the demise of feudalism.1

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1
This account is indebted to David Gordon's insistence that an earlier draft was unsatisfying in its approach to feudalism and in its failure to provide enough material to consider the relationship of cities and the creation of a post-feudal order; and to Charles Tilly who found its sketch of the feudal state and its relation to cities unsatisfactory for implicitly creating France and Britain as if they represented all of medieval Europe and for asserting, on the basis of this reduced scale, that medieval urban growth was even and stable. In revising this chapter with these criticisms in mind I have especially profited from the book Tilly has since published, Coercion, Capital, and European States, AD 990-1990. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1990, and from the suggestive portrayal of "'State and Class in European Feudalism'" by Herbert Gintis and Samuel Bowles in Charles Bright and Susan Harding (eds.), State-Making and Social Movements. Ann

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