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Rodney Hilton, Marxism and the transition from feudalism to capitalism

Epstein, Stephan R. (2006) Rodney Hilton, Marxism and the transition from feudalism to capitalism. Working papers on the nature of evidence: how well do 'facts' travel? (15/06). Department of Economic History, London School of Economics and Political Science, London, UK.

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An eminent medievalist and one of the most influential of the small band of Marxist historians working in the UK before 1968, Rodney Hilton’s work on the development of the English feudal system into industrial capitalism was, despite its renown, ultimately mistaken. The problems with Hilton’s account were largely inherited from Maurice Dobb, whose interpretation of Marxist theory led him to exaggerate the role of class struggle to the exclusion of other factors. These assumptions about the importance of class struggle in the transition from feudalism to capitalism were carried over from Dobb’s early work to the work of Hilton and the Marxist historians who followed him. Dobb’s account was predicated upon the inevitable failure of feudalism – an assumption that failed to explain the preceding five-hundred years of success and expansion. This paper looks at how Dobb’s revised understanding of the role of markets in socialist economies subsequently filtered through to Hilton’s reassessment of markets under feudalism, identifies the flaws in the analysis Dobb offered, and traces how these assumptions were carried through to the work of Hilton, before finally offering an alternate diagnosis of the “feudal crises” of the Marxist canon in terms of technical innovation.”

Item Type: Monograph (Working Paper)
Official URL:
Additional Information: © 2006 The Author
Divisions: Economic History
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HC Economic History and Conditions
H Social Sciences > HX Socialism. Communism. Anarchism
D History General and Old World > D History (General) > D111 Medieval History
D History General and Old World > D History (General) > D204 Modern History
D History General and Old World > DA Great Britain
Date Deposited: 05 Feb 2009 10:55
Last Modified: 16 May 2024 11:39
Projects: Large-Scale Technological Change
Funders:, Economic and Social Research Council

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