It is common knowledge (or should be) that ‘capitalism’ routinely ‘kills’ as part of its division of labour, but many people remain blissfully unaware that the feudal system of the Middle Ages was also just as bloody, and that killing the ordinary was fuel for its system of ‘caste’ distinction, just as wars in the modern era support, renew and redefine the ‘classes’ of predatory capitalism. As a means to prevent other lords (or motivated individuals) from raising armies and disputing his rule, Henry VIII abolished the feudal practice of the aristocracy retaining ‘men at arms’. Prior to this time, fathers would teach their sons martial arts whilst eating food, wearing clothes and living on land provided by their feudal lords. In return, and without question, these men would risk their lives fighting for their lord in any battle, for any reason (with minimum medical facilities, if any). By abolishing this feudal practice, Henry VIII automatically made hundreds of thousands of British men unemployed and homeless, as well as making their families destitute. Henry VIII’s answer was that these men should find individual employment at a time when British society had not yet developed its modern capitalism, and it was not yet understood what modern commerce truly was or entailed. This led to tens of thousands of beggars throughout England all existing in a terrible state of deprivation. Many of these British men were Veterans of some of the greatest battles this country has ever fought, or the sons or grandsons of men who had fought at places such as Agincourt, Towton or Bosworth Moor… This did not bother Henry VIII, who authorised the execution (by hanging) of around 72,000 of these form ‘men at arms’ – now termed ‘vagabonds’. The sight of their hanging bodies was used as a warning to anyone who tried to resist the development of capitalism in England. Most bourgeois historians quietly ‘omit’ this chapter in Henry VIII’s bloody excesses, but instead focus only on the upper class individuals he had put to death. Karl Marx begs to differ, as do I… ACW 21.9.2019
The following is extracted from ‘The Marx-Engels Reader’, (Second Edition) Edited by Robert C Tucker, (1978), Norton, Pages 179-181 – The German Ideology – Part I: Feuerbach. Opposition of the Materialist and Idealist Outlook – B. The Real Basis of Ideology – Intercourse and Productive Forces. (For reasons unknown, the first paragraph of this quote is not included in the version of this ‘The German Ideology’ text found at http://www.Marxists.org)
In the Middle Ages the citizensin each town were compelled to unite against the landed nobility to save their skins. The extension of trade, the establishment of communiction, led the separate towns to get to know other towns, which asserted the same interests in the struggle with the same antagonist. Out of the many local corporations of burghers there arose only gradually the burgher class. the conditions of life of the individual burghers became, on account of their contradiction to the existing relationships and of the mode of labour determined by these, conditions which were common to them all and independent of each individual. The burghers had created the conditions insofar as they had torn themselves free from feudal ties, and were created by them isofar as they were determined by their antagonism to the feudal system which they found in existence. When the individual towns began to enter into associations, these common conditions developed into class conditions. The same conditions, the same contradicton, the same interests necessarily called forth on the whole similar customs everywhere. The bourgeoisie itself, with its conditions, develops only gradually, splits according to the division of labour into various fractions and finally absorbs all propertied classes it finds in existence. (while it develops the majority of the earlier propertyless and a part of the hitherto ptopertied classes into a new class, the proletariat) in the measure to which all property found in existence is transformed into industrial or commercial capital. The separate individuals form a class only insofar as they have to carry on a common battle against another class, otherwise they are on hostile terms with each other as competitors. On the other hand, the class in its turn achieves an independent existence over against the individuals, so that the latter fid their conditions of existence predestined, and hence have their position in life and their personal development assigned to them by their class, become subsumed under it. This is the same phenomenon as the subjection of the separate individuals to the division of labour and can only be removed by the abolition of private property and of labour itself. We have already indicated several times how this subsuming of individuals under the class brings with it their subjection to all kinds of ideas, etc.
It depends purely on the extension of commerce whether the productive forces achieved in a locality, especially inventions, are lost for later development or not. As long as there exists no commerce transcending the immediate neighbourhood, every invention must be made separately in each locality, and mere chances such as irruptions of barbaric peoples, even ordinary wars, are sufficient to cause a country with advanced productive forces and needs to have to start right over again from the beginning. In primitive history every invention had to be made daily anew and in each locality independently. How little highly developed productive forces are safe from complete destruction, given even a relatively very extensive commerce, is proved by the Phoenicians, whose inventions were for the most part lost for a long time to come through the ousting of this nation from commerce, its conquest by Alexander and its consequent decline. Likewise, for instance, glass-painting in the Middle Ages. Only when commerce has become world commerce and has as its basis large-scale industry, when all nations are drawn into the competitive struggle, is the permanence of the acquired productive forces assured.
The immediate consequence of the division of labour between the various towns was the rise of manufactures, branches of production which had outgrown the guild-system. Manufactures first flourished, in Italy and later in Flanders, under the historical premise of commerce with foreign nations. In other countries, England and France for example, manufactures were at first confined to the home market. Besides the premises already mentioned manufactures depend on an already advanced concentration of population, particularly in the countryside, and of capital, which began to accumulate in the hands of individuals, partly in the guilds in spite of the guild regulations, partly among the merchants.
That labour which from the first presupposed a machine, even of the crudest sort, soon showed itself the most capable of development. Weaving, earlier carried on in the country by the peasants as a secondary occupation to procure their clothing, was the first labour to receive an impetus and a further development through the extension of commerce. Weaving was the first and remained the principal manufacture. The rising demand for clothing materials, consequent on the growth of population, the growing accumulation and mobilisation of natural capital through accelerated circulation, the demand for luxuries called forth by the latter and favoured generally by the gradual extension of commerce, gave weaving a quantitative and qualitative stimulus, which wrenched it out of the form of production hitherto existing. Alongside the peasants weaving for their own use, who continued, and still continue, with this sort of work, there emerged a new class of weavers in the towns, whose fabrics were destined for the whole home market and usually for foreign markets too.
Weaving, an occupation demanding in most cases little skill and soon splitting up into countless branches, by its whole nature resisted the trammels of the guild. Weaving was, therefore, carried on mostly in villages and market-centres without guild organisation, which gradually became towns, and indeed the most flourishing towns in each land.
With guild-free manufacture, property relations also quickly changed. The first advance beyond naturally derived estate capital was provided by the rise of merchants whose capital was from the beginning movable, capital in the modern sense as far as one can speak of it, given the circumstances of those times. The second advance came with manufacture, which again made mobile a mass of natural capital, and altogether increased the mass of movable capital as against that of natural capital.
At the same time, manufacture became a refuge of the peasants from the guilds which excluded them or paid them badly, just as earlier the guild-towns had [served] as a refuge for the peasants from [the oppressive landed nobility].
Simultaneously with the beginning of manufactures there was a period of vagabondage caused by the abolition of the feudal bodies of retainers, the disbanding of the swollen armies which had flocked to serve the kings against their vassals, the improvement of agriculture, and the transformation of great strips of tillage into pasture land. From this alone it is clear how this vagabondage is strictly connected with the disintegration of the feudal system. As early as the thirteenth century we find isolated epochs of this kind, but only at the end of the fifteenth and beginning of the sixteenth does this vagabondage make a general and permanent appearance. These vagabonds, who were so numerous that, for instance, Henry VIII of England had 72,000 of them hanged, were only prevailed upon to work with the greatest difficulty and through the most extreme necessity, and then only after long resistance. The rapid rise of manufactures, particularly in England, absorbed them gradually.
With the advent of manufactures, the various nations entered into a competitive relationship, the struggle for trade, which was fought out in wars, protective duties and prohibitions, whereas earlier the nations, insofar as they were connected at all, had carried on an inoffensive exchange with each other. Trade had from now on a political significance.