Capital as a Social Relation
This chapter explores the unique character of capitalist social relations in relation to the radical social transformation from feudalism to capitalism at the end of the Middle Ages. Too often, the specific character of feudal class relations and the feudal mode of production are misunderstood, especially by Marxists. This generally coincides with a failure to recognize that the form of feudal society introduced into England after the Norman Conquest had a distinctive legal and political foundation, different from Continental feudalism. It was in the specific context of English feudalism that the social relation of capital came into existence through the unique historical process of enclosure, known nowhere else. This specific development of abstract private property rights to control absolutely the use of the means of production—which occurred in agriculture, not urban manufactures—was the basis for the development of capitalist social relations of production in England. This historical process, described by Marx in Capital as “so-called primitive accumulation”, was the key to replacing the characteristically feudal open-field system of production, extensively regulated in every regard, with a system of production that increasingly came to be regulated solely through the market imperatives of competition and innovation in production.