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American Feudalism

Author(s): Ruggiero Romano and Stanley J. Stein

Source: The Hispanic American Historical Review, Vol. 64, No. 1 (Feb., 1984), pp. 121-134
Published by: Duke University Press
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Hispanic An wrican Historical Review
64(l), 1984, 121-134
Copyright ?) 1984 by Duke University Press

American Feudalism


IKE most historical debates, feudalism versus capitalism

in Latin America began in the 196os as a political issue.
Tactical decisions of the left depended upon whether
Latin America was ready for socialism or had yet to move from a feudal to
a capitalist stage. Ruggiero Romano, in one of his essays in Cuestiones de
historia economica latino-amnericana (1966), argued that the colonial
economy of the eighteenth century was a "natural economy" traditionally
associated with feudalism. In America Latina: eFeudalisrno o capitalismo?
(1973), Andre Gunder Frank and Rodolfo Puiggros presented diametri-
cally opposed views, the latter insisting on the feudal nature of the colo-
nial centuries, the former on their predominantly capitalist features. In
the same publication, Ernest Laclau tried to clarify the issues. This de-
bate has, if anything, been revived by the recent work of the Polish medi-
evalist Witold Kula.
Since Romano was one of the earlier proponents of one view of the
issue, the editor invited him to offer his current views. They are pre-
sented in a translation from the French.
Stanley J. Stein

B EFORE going to the heart of the subject, I would like to

examine certain general aspects of feudalism. To this
end, I will refer to some personal experiences. I began
as a European historian. Only later in my career did I become aware of
the problems of Ibero-American history. For a long time, I was a "week-
end Americanist"; and it was fifteen years before I completely dropped
European history.
My first historical work treated an "extremist" (I am unable to be more
precise), named Vincenzo Russo, from the Neapolitan Republic of 1799.l

Translationof this article was made possible by a grant from the Conference on Latin Ameri-
can History of the American Historical Association.
i. See Ruggiero Romano, "Vincenzo Russo e gli estremisti della republica napoletana
del 1799," in Atti dell'Academia de Scienze Morali e Politiche della societa Nazionale de Sci-
enze, Lettere edArti in Napoli (Naples), 64 (1952), 3-4; also republished in Romano, Napoli:
Dal viceregno al regno (Turin, 1976), pp. 265-317.

My work on Russo forced me into the study of feudalism. Russo had said
that while it may have been all very well to have eliminated juridical
feudalism, that did not resolve the problem of economic feudalism, which
still survived. The Neapolitan Republic of 1799-in spite of the presence
of French armed forces-was extremely short-lived, being destroyed by
Bourbon armies. The Bourbon armies, however, were nothing more than
masses of peasants, infuriated with the good bourgeois republicans who
had pretended to offer them liberty, equality, and fraternity. Polemics (or
discussions) about the fundamental reasons for the collapse of the re-
public were prolonged and resulted in the appearance of some of the most
extraordinarybooks I have ever read. One, Saggio storico sulla rivoluzi-
one napolentana del 1799,2 by Vincenzo Cuoco, contains an analysis of the
collapse-based on a distinction that certain of today's would-be revolu-
tionaries would do well to consider. Cuoco maintained that the Neapoli-
tan revolution was "passive"rather than "active."The passivity of the rev-
olution hinged not only on the fact that republicanism had been forced on
the people by a foreign army, but also on the fact that the republican rev-
olutionary program did not take into consideration the necessities of the
conquered. This lack of adaptation to local circumstances brought the
problem of feudalism to light again.
All that is by way of pointing out that by the time I was twenty years
old, I found myself face-to-face with the problem of feudalism-even
though I was studying late eighteenth-century Europe.
Subsequently I switched to Venetian history-concentrating on the
problem of naval construction. Was Venice a feudal city in the sixteenth
century? Of course not. But if we go from the lagoon to terra firma (not to
speak of Candia or Cyprus), can we really be expected to believe that
Venice's victory over the CambrianLeague was due solely to its extraordi-
nary military (and financial) efforts? No. It was something more. The no-
bles of terra firma-feudal lords-allied themselves with imperial forces
and the French. The peasants, on the other hand, fought to the cries of
"Marco!Marco!"-in the hope, which was not to be realized, of achieving
freedom. Once again, we find a series of contradictions in which feudal-
ism still appears.
Next, I studied eighteenth-century Marseilles. Certainly there was no
feudalism there. But while treating commerce and the price of wheat, I
was obliged to go into the countryside. Again I discovered feudalism.
Next I worked on Livorno, in collaboration with E Braudel. To be sure,
there was no trace of feudalism in Livorno. There was an abundance of it
in Tuscany.
2. Vincenzo Cuoco, Saggio storico sulla rivoluzione napolentana del 1799 (Milan, i8oi;
German ed., 1805; French ed., 1807).

But I gained my true and direct knowledge of feudalism when I be-

came interested in the long-term crises of the fourteenth and seventeenth
centuries throughout Europe. Here, of course, the problem became
more complicated since the transition from feudalism to capitalism was
appearing, at least in certain regions.
Thus, when I had to write a comprehensive essay on the Italian econ-
omy from the fifth century to the present, I did not hesitate to speak of a
"blocco feodale" lasting fifteen centuries. The expression was perhaps ex-
aggerated, but even today I defend and use it. Why? To answer this ques-
tion is tantamount to defining what I mean by feudalism.
I confess that its constitutional and institutional aspects are of little
interest to me (even if, in the Italian, German, French, and Polish con-
text, I find feudal institutions at least-I say again, at least-until the
end of the eighteenth century).
What interests me most is the economic. What is feudalism, then, in
this sense? I do not believe it is possible to give a direct and affirmative
definition. This is to say that it seems to me impossible (except for the
period of the High Middle Ages) to say: "feudalism is this, that, and the
other." I believe, on the contrary,that a feudal economy can much better
be defined by what it is not. And it is not: (a) a purely (or essentially) mon-
etary economy; (b) an economy with an internal market of any great size;
(c) an economy with freedom of entrance to and exit from the labor mar-
ket; (d) an economy with liberty of access to and withdrawal from the
goods market.
If I were to sum up these four limitations, I would say-this time affir-
matively-that a feudal economy is essentially a natural economy. By es-
sentially, I mean that, for the most part, it exists in a system of natural
exchange, both in the goods market and in the labor market. And this is
not contradicted by the fact that international trade takes place. It is
enough to have a minimal knowledge of the economic history of the High
Middle Ages to know that feudalism is not incompatible with long-range
trade relations.3 And it is hardly necessary to mention that long-distance
commerce dates from the age of copper.4
These considerations permit a much broader judgment to be made.
For a long time, experts-from Sombart to Pirenne to Sapori (to name
only three amongst the hundreds)-had too exclusive an interest in inter-
national commerce and in its basic instrument, money. If merchandise
and money circulate, all is well. If they do not, then we are in feudal dark-
3. Andr6 Gunder Frank completely lacks this "minimal knowledge." I would refer the
reader to my essay, "Sous-d6veloppement culturel: A propos d'Andr6 Gunder Frank,"
Cahiers Vilfredo Pareto (Geneva), 24 (1971), 271-279.
4. Stuart Piggott, Ancient Europe fromiithe Beginnings of Agriculture to Classical An-
tiquity (London, 1965).

ness. But it was forgotten (and, especially in the American context, it is

still forgotten today) that a city like Venice or a trade center like Novgorod
does not have the strength to give a capitalistic character to an entire eco-
nomic region-and, in any case, it would be a matter of a mercantile or
usurious capitalism.
In short, the basic problem remains one of production and means of
production, whereas the problem of distribution is certainly a secondary
phenomenon, or perhaps even an epiphenomenon.
I do not want to dismiss lightly the very important research of Hu-
guette and Pierre Chaunu, or the equally important research of Antonio
Garcia-Baquero GonzaIlez,6 but I insist on the fact that the value of the
pulque consumed by the Mexican populace clearly exceeded the value of
this so closely studied commerce. In like fashion, the value of wheat con-
sumed in Florence during the prosperous year of 1300 was greater than
that of the loo,ooo pieces of cloth produced that year (an absolute record,
as Villani tells US).7 In fact, Mexican pulque and Florentine wheat were,
to a great extent, objects of barter or of home consumption and not ex-
changed for money in a free market.

After these general considerations, let us examine the problem at

hand in more detail. In what sense is it possible to speak about feudalism
in the American context? And, especially, where and how can it be found?
I believe that a useful point of departure would be the characteristics of
land ownership.
Initially we think above all of the mercedes de tierra in the Hispano-
American world and sesmarias in the Luso-American world.8 What is
meant by these terms? Concessions of more or less large areas of land to
persons who have particularly distinguished themselves in the conquest
of America. But the conquista never ends: it continues even today.9 This
land was without value, however, as long as labor was not available. So
there appeared on the scene encomiendas de indios'0 and slavery. Slavery

5. Huguette and Pierre Chaun-u, Seville et 1'Atlantique, 1504-1650, 8 vols. (Paris,

1955-57), Partie statistique.
6. A. Garcia-Baquero Gonzalez, Cddiz y el Atldntico (1717-1778), 2 vols. (Seville,
7. Giovanni Villani, Cronica, 2 vols. (Trieste, 1857-58), I: 420.
8. Of the extensive bibliography, see A. Tanodi, M. Fajardo, and M. Davila, Libro de
mercedes de tierras de C6rdoba de 1573 a z6oo (C6rdoba, Arg., 1958); C. Freire A. Foni-
seca, "Sesmarias no Brasil," in Dicionario de Hist6ria de Portugal (ni.p., ni.d.). See also the
impressive work by C. Freire A. Fonseca, "Econornianatural e colonizagao do Brasil: Es-
tudios das doaJcoesde sesmarias de Pernambuco, 1534- 1843" (M.A. thesis, Unliv.of Rio de
Janeiro, 1974).
9. See, for example, Alfred M6traux, L'ile de Pdques (Paris, 1965), pp. 65-68.
10. A classic work is Silvio Zavala, La encomniendaitndiana(Mexico City, 1973), 2d ed.

was a clear concept. Encomiendas were a matter of grants of workers en-

trusted (encomendados) to a conquistador, who had the obligation to civi-
lize them (i.e., to take care of their evangelization). The encomnendados,
in turn, had to provide obligatory labor."
Mercedes and encomiendas already seem to have sufficiently "feudal"
traits to characterize the sixteenth-century economy. I know quite well
that it will be pointed out (as it already has been) that the classical feudal
grant of land and men was always accompanied by the obligation on the
part of the feudatory to offer a whole range of services (especially in times
of war). In the American world, however, these obligations did not ap-
pear. But one fact is forgotten: the American world was free of conflict. In
fact, where a chronic state of war existed (as in southern Chile, for exam-
ple) 12 the grants of encomienda took into consideration military services.
To be sure, the mercedes de tierra, without totally disappearing,'3
were to lose their importance in the course of the sixteenth century. The
encomiendas de indios, also, would see their economic importance dimin-
ish. It is necessary, then, to attempt to understand the means of acquiring
land and securing manpower. As for land: illicit occupation, in most di-
verse and most subtle forms, was the rule. The numerous attempts on the
part of the Spanish state to instill order into this process, or to restore it,
always failed. We know quite well that the composiciones de tierras never
came to an end.'4 And the occupation of land-even if disguised in a thou-
sand ways, would continue to our time. 1
As far as labor went, the situation did not change much. I repeat: the
encomiendas would certainly lose their strength (in differing ways, ac-
cording to the region), but other institutions would persist: the mita, for
And brand new forms would also appear: peonaje, yanaconazgo, in-
quilinaje. But what were these "new" forms of "free" labor (as they have
been too facilely defined)?
The inquilino and the yanacona are people who, in return for the use
of a piece of land, gave three, four, or five days of work per week to the

ii. Another classic work is Jos6 Antonio Saco, Historia de la esclavitud de la raza af-
ricana en el nuevo mundo y en especial en los paises hispano amnericanos(vols. 4 and 5 of his
Historia de la esclavitud desde los tiempos mnasremotos) (Havana, 1938).
12. In Julian Guti6rrez Altamirano'senicomiendadecree dated June 3, 1566, the obliga-
tion "tener armas y caballo y servir a Su Majestad eni la guerra" is clearly stated; found in
Jos6 Toribio Medina, Colecci6n de documentos ineditos para la historia de Chile, 2d ser., 6
vols. (Santiago, Chile, 1956-63), I: 64.
13. See n. 9 supra.
14. German Colmenares, Cali: Terratenientes, mineros y comerciantes (Cali, 1975),
PP. 43-49.
15. Ricardo Donoso an-dFanor Velasco, La propiedad austral (Sanitiago,Chile, 1970).

Peones: these, of course, were nominally free workers paid in cash.

But to stop at the name is the last thing a historian can or should do. In
fact peones were not free: once having entered into the work cycle under
a lord, they seldom escaped. The system that created their dependence
was simple: indebtedness. The lord (who might be an encomendero, the
owner of a mine, a monastery, a priest, a member of the military) paid
wages in advance: the peon was obliged to buy (or more accurately, to
acquire) cloth, foodstuffs, and alcohol from the lord. Indebtedness was
chronic and was transferred from father to son.'6
Allow me a small digression. Medievalists are well acquainted with
the polemic between W Sombart and A. Sapori on the subject of double-
entry bookkeeping. Without this technique, said Sombart, there is no
capitalism. And Sapori-great archival researcher-found this type of ac-
counting existed in the thirteenth century: so, capitalism already existed
in the thirteenth century. With all due respect to these two great histo-
rians (although I always preferred Werner Sombart), double-entry book-
keeping in itself does not mean a great deal. What matters is what it
Coming back to the American problem, it is easy to observe that there
existed in Brazil in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries double-
entry bookkeeping, which recorded nothing more than slaves. 17
Likewise, there was double-entry bookkeeping in the seventeenth,
eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries in which sums the peones owed
were entered on the credit side! 18 And this was perfectly normal (in the
American context): in the thinking of a Peruvian hacendado, for example,
the sum of the peons' debts was capital: the capital consisting of a work-
force tied to the land. A ridiculous and even paradoxical example is avail-
able. When the Jesuits had to leave Peru, a Jesuit father played a dirty
trick: he destroyed the obraje that he administered. There was no need of
fires or explosions. He had only to excuse the workers their debts. Once
clear of debt, the workers departed, and the obraje became valueless. 19
There was an enormous capacity for inventing new systems of tying
the work force to the land in America, in compulsivas [forced] conditions:
dobla y redobla in the mines, 20 forced labor in transportation or public
i6. Ruggiero Romano, "Sens et limites de 1''industrie' miniere en Am6rique espaginole
du xvi' au xviii' siecle, Journal de la Societe des Americanistes (Paris), 59 (1970), 132.
17. E.g., that of Engenho Sergipe do Conde, which can be seen in the beautiful edition
published by the Instituto do Aculcare de Alcool, Documenitospara a hist6ria de aclcar.
Vol. II. Engenho Sergipe do Conde, Livro de Contas (1622-1653) (Rio de Jaileiro, 1956).
See also my preface to the Italian edition of Celso Furtado, La formazionteecowiollica del
Brasile (Turin, 1970).
i8. Pablo Macera, Mapas coloniales de haciendas cuzquentas(Liimia,1968), p. cx.
19. Ibid., p. cxi.
20. See Benjamin Vicufia MacKenna, El libro de la plata (Santiago, Chile, 1882),
pp. 118-119.

works (roads in particular),2'pongueaje.22Disregarding the large cities

and ports, let us turn toward the countryside and the mines, where we
shall see that the reality of the work world was indeed as I have tried to
depict here: in the America of yesterday and-in certain regions-of to-
day.23 Enormous masses of men had no access to or exit from the labor or
goods market.
Another point arises. I have said that the American economy was not a
monetary economy. Is this a paradox?Much less than one might think at
first sight. Thousands of documents, chronicles, histories, and reports
bear witness to this phenomenon.
There was a lack of currency; but that was not the most serious prob-
lem. This lack was asymmetrical, that is, there was not a homogeneous
lack of currency. There were gold coins; rather fewer silver coins of large
unit value; still fewer silver coins of small value. There was absolutely no
silver coinage of small value (the cuartillos) or copper coinage.
Now, in the pre-nineteenth-century world, there was no single mone-
tary circulating system, but rather several of them: at least as many as
there were strata of coinage (large gold coins, large silver coins, small sil-
ver coins, small copper coins). This is the principal lesson to be drawn
from an extraordinary article by the late Jean Meuvret.24 There are,
therefore, at least three types of monetary circulation: (a) circulation of
gold currency and large silver currency (limited to capital accumulation
and large economic enterprises); (b) circulation of silver currency of me-
dium value (for the everyday transactions of the "bourgeoisie");(c) circu-
lation of silver and copper currency of smaller denomination (for daily use
and "popular"needs).
In fact, however, it was precisely the latter that is absolutely nonexis-
tent in Spanish and Portuguese America: the mass of the American popu-
lation was excluded from the money economy.25 What was the solution to

21. Charles Gibson, The Aztecs under Spanish Rule: A History of the Inidiaons of thte
Valley of AMexico,1519-1810 (Stanford, 1964), pp. 231, 354, 384.
22. See Jose Maria Arguedas, El sueiio del pongo-Cuenta qutechua (Liimia,1965).
There is another edition of this work, published in Santiago, Chile, in 1970, with a record.
The reading is done by Jose Maria Arguedas, who had an uniforgettablevoice.
23. See the very important (and little known) anonymouislywritten, BureauiInternia-
tional du Travail, Les populations aborigenes: Conditions cle vie et de travail des poptulations
autochtones des pays independants (Geneva, 1953), esp. pp. 221-296, 329-444. Tllere is
also a Spanish-language edition.
24. Jean Meuvret, "Circulation monetaire et utilisation 6conomiquiede la moinnaiedans
la France du xvie et du xviiVsiecle," Etudes d'histoire inoderne et contemizporoiine (Paris), 1
(1947), 15-28; also republished in Jean Meuvret, Etudes d'histoire economique: Recueil
d'articles (Paris, 1971).
25. There has been little work on this topic and there is no comprehensive book about
the problem. Still, I would like to mention the importanitworks of Antonio Garcia, "El sala-
riado natural y el salariado capitalista en la historia de Am6rica,"AnutericaIndigena (Mexico
City) 8:4 (1948), 249-287; C. Garz6n-Maceda, Economiiiadel Tucundon:Ecotoimia natural y

this problem? With "currencies"of wood, leather, copper, lead, and soap,
"issued" by private individuals.26For example: if I had gone to buy a loaf
of bread worth one cuartillo in eighteenth-century Santiago de Chile, I
would have had to pay with a half-real coin, because the cuartillo was not
struck until 1792 and then in absolutely insufficient quantities. The
baker would then have given me a cuartillo's worth of bread and a token
that he had issued himself. This token, however, had no exchange value
outside the bakery. I would therefore have to use it to buy bread at that
bakery. 27

That was the least problem, however. The most important thing de-
rives from the fact that barter was the essential means of economic life in
the countryside. And let us not forget that the countryside was the es-
sence of economic life, and not only in America, at least until the nine-
teenth century.28
All this seems to me clearly confirmed for the entire colonial period:
let us say between the early sixteenth century and 1830.
What of the period after 1830? The problem becomes more interest-
ing at this point, because it offers the possibility of studying a concept
that-although it has often been touched on by historians and econo-
mists-has never been the object of precise analysis: I refer to the prob-
lem of transition.29Of course, I am acquainted with the innumerable
studies that have told us, with erudition and intelligence, about the birth
of capitalism. I refer to works from Pirenne to Braudel; from Sapori to
Luzzatto; from Tawney to Dobb; from Sombart to Strieder-not to men-
tion the new and innovative work of Wallerstein. I must confess that, with
the partial exception of Dobb, I am not overly convinced. And I am not
convinced for a very simple reason: all these authors, while writing about
capitalism, speak of a birth, but never indicate the parents of the child.
Let us leave aside the fact that the proposed chronologies (thirteenth, six-
teenth, and eighteenth centuries) are not convincing. It could be said that
the medievalists are for the thirteenth century, specialists of the sixteenth

econontia monetaria. Rentas eclesidsticas (C6rdoba, 1965); C. Castro, "Economie monetaire

et economie naturelle au Mexique dans la deuxieme moitie du xviii' siecle" (Paper, L'Ecole
Pratique des Hautes Etudes, Vle Section); E. Tandeter, "El papel de la moneda macuquina
en la circulaci6n monetaria rioplatense," Cuadernos de Nutmi7isrndtica (Buenos Aires) 4:14
(1975), 1-11.
26. See Ruggiero Romano, Una economniacolonial: Chile en el siglo xviii (Buenos Aires,
1965), p. 36 and bibliography.
27. On social and economic problems posed by tbe tokens, see M. Segall, "Biografia
social de la ficha salario," Mapocho (Santiago), 2:2 (1964), 97-131.
28. See, for example, R. E. Burchard, "Coca y trueque de alimentos" in G. Alberti and
E. Mayer, eds., Reciprocidad e intercambio en los Andes peritanos (Lima, 1974), pp. 209-
29. See M. Godelier, "Trasizion-e,"Enciclopedia Einatndi(Turin, 1981), forthcoming.

century are for the sixteenth century, and modernists for the eighteenth
century. How long will it be before specialists of prehistory will speak to
us about the birth of capitalism in Neolithic times? For it must be recog-
nized that this capitalism that is constantly being born is not very convinc-
ing. What I find absolutely unconvincing, however, is the following fact:
the capitalism that these authors and all the others tell us about is born as
if by magic and we never find out to what degree the preceding feudal-
ism contributed-by some dialectic process to this "birth."In brief, we
do not observe the transition from one to the other. Of course, we have
recourse to something that might be understood as an indication of the
transition process: "precapitalism."I said: "something." In fact, I cannot
find a closer definition for this famous "precapitalism,"because it is nei-
ther a concept nor a category. It is only a word, "something"that does not
have great explanatoryvalue. I think it would be amusing to call this capi-
talism, whose birth everyone is so eager to locate, "postfeudalism."This
would be entertaining, but would not have any great meaning either.
With "words,"a problem may be dodged, but not resolved. And there is
something more: in the same way that specialists of European economic
history have concentrated their attention essentially on knowledge of cit-
ies, on the activities of the great ports, and on international trade, the
Americanists have overconcentrated their attention on urban history, the
history of mines, ports, and currencies (all of these seen in an extrinsic
fashion). And it is obvious that these types of studies automaticallylead to
the identification of riches and capital. But does capital imply capitalism?
The transition seems too abrupt. The feudal lords of the High Middle
Ages also had capital; the hacendados as well. The problem is that of the
nature of the capital: trade, banking, usurious, landed, or industrial. It is
only through exact definition of this renowned capital that capitalism itself
can be detected, in the sense we give the word today.
Furthermore, I am firmly convinced that it is impossible to speak
for any particular economic space of "capitalism"(or even "feudalism"),
without being precise as to what part of the economic space in question is
invested with this capitalism and/or feudalism. In other words, if in a
given economic space, (international) commercial life is designated as
mercantile capitalism and productive life is accounted feudal, why should
we define this space as a whole as "capitalist"?To proceed in this way is to
forget that the urban centers represent in demographic terms one-
or two-tenths of the whole population and that their activity represents
only a minimal part of all the transactions (of every type, from monetary
exchange to barter pure and simple) that take place at the production
level. And even more, this means forgetting that the value of great min-
ing and/or merchant transactions represent only a very small part of the

value of all the goods produced under feudal conditions-in an eco-

nomic space.
Of course, the problem has been resolved by saying that these urban
centers constitute "poles of development." But this pernicious category-
pernicious on account of the ravages that it has wreaked (nearly every-
where in the world: how numerous are cathedrals in the desert that have
been created by these poles of development!)-has never explained any-
thing. I remember I was told for years that I was wrong to speak of feudal-
ism in the Italy of the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries,
because there were cities like Venice, Genoa, Florence, Lucca, Livorno,
and Ancona that constituted "poles of development." If this theory had
the least basis, there ought to be some coincidence between an economic
atlas of medieval Europe and one of Europe today: Venice, Genoa,
Bruges, Florence, Seville, and Provins should be dominant centers of the
productive and commercial life of the old continent. These are, however,
dead cities.

Several times I have alluded to problems of European history. If I

have proceeded in this way, I had no intent of creating a comparative his-
tory (in which I do not believe), nor to present a sort of general theory of
feudalism that would embrace both European and American situations.
Quite the contrary: if I have often spoken of Europe, I have done so in
order to reach what seems to me to be the central problem of this article.
In Hispano-Portuguese America, we find "feudalism," but it is not the
same "feudalism" as in Europe. The measures with which one must judge
these two phenomena (similar, but not identical) must be different. What
had to be achieved in the American context is what already had been par-
tially achieved in the European context: a differential geography in space
and in time.
Certain differences between the two feudalisms are obvious: a) First
of all, the Spanish lord who settled in America and who became a feuda-
tario there inherited-at least in the countries having a strong state-
controlled structure (Aztec and Inca) a part of the preexisting insti-
tutions: the mita, for example. But it is clear that he distorted them in
comparison to what they had been in their earlier context. A similar prob-
lem existed in Europe during the High Middle Ages with the relation be-
tween the ancient Roman institutions and the young barbarian "laws."
b) Next, European feudalism passed through at least two phases. The
first-that of classic feudalism-is characterized by the fact that in Eu-
rope there was, at that time, an unlimited supply of land. Later, this same
feudalism had to face up to a limited supply of land. On that point, I be-
lieve that England's being the first to eliminate (or at least limit) feudalism
can be explained precisely by the fact that England was the first country

in Europe that had to come to terms with the problem of a lack of land,
which led to radical changes in its social and economic structures.
American "feudalism,"however, never experienced an unlimited sup-
ply of land.30 Its great problem was that of resolving the dilemma of there
being men without land and land without men, which was exactly the
problem posed by the end of the Roman Empire and the origins of
feudalism .31
c) This late American feudalism also had to contend with the external
"imposition" of capitalism. In other words, the development (or transi-
tion) of European feudalism was not influenced by external phenomena.
There was an endogenous development; only in the nineteenth century
was English capitalism able to influence developments in Italy, Spain,
Portugal, the Balkans, and Eastern Europe.
In brief, the two feudalisms (European and American) existed, but dif-
fered. Should this be surprising? Personally,I do not find it any more sur-
prising than the fact that a price, a salary, or a pension in London, Paris,
or Florence in the thirteenth century were not the same as a price, a sal-
ary, or a pension in these same cities in the eighteenth century or today.
One would have to be totally devoid of sociological, economic, and histor-
ical knowledge to be "surprised"by these differences. The price of wheat
in an economic space in which only io percent of the grains consumed
pass through the market is one thing, but the price in the same space, if
6o percent of the wheat consumed passes through the market, is another.
The same is true of wages. It is not the wage of a laborer or a mason
that matters, but rather the total wages paid in a given economic space. It
is obvious that if this total is less than the sum of the value obtained
through the agency of different types of forced (compulsivo)labor, the sig-
nificance of this wage is quite different from that of the wage that we may
find in an economy in which the total value of labor receives an equivalent
in cash.
To turn to another sector-consider the price of land. In the Ameri-
can context, we find land that has no price because it has no value. What
has "value" is not the land, but the building, the plants, the irrigation
works, the tools, and-especially-the mass of workers who are tied to it.32
If we do not keep these realities and differences constantly before us,

30. See my "Acerca de la 'oferta ilimitada' de tierras: A prop6sito de Am6rica central y

meridional" in Alberto Flores Galindo and 0. Plaza, eds., Haciendas y plantaciones en el
Per6 (Lima, 1975), pp. 1 -7.
31. See L. Cracco Raggini, "Uomini senizaterra e terra senizauomini nell'Italia ailtica,"
Quaderniidi Sociologia Rurale (Rome), 3 (1963), 279-291; and P. Jones, Economia e societa
nell'Italia medievale (Turin, 1980), esp. pp. 249-273.
32. See a splendid manuscript in the Biblioteca Nacional (Lima), no. C3782, that treats
the region of Paucartambo (unidated,but probably 171 '). In it a hacendado complains about
finding himself once again "sin jente y aperos, pues son los que dan balor a las posesiones."

there is no point in speaking in the American context of either capital-

ism or feudalism in the sense that we give these words in the European
context. And on this subject I would like to point out as clearly as possi-
ble, that to use feudalism and capitalism in the American context in the
Marxian sense of the word is a waste of time. I hope my Marxist friends
will not take offense. I would only like to say to them that I do not under-
stand why they so fervently wish to extrapolate the Marxian lesson to con-
tinents such as Africa, Asia, and America about which Marx knew
nothing or very little (and the little he did know derived from colonial
experiences of the nineteenth century). I firmly believe that Karl Marx
was one of the most extraordinary thinkers in the history of mankind and I
find his explanatory schema a prodigious aid in understanding thirty cen-
turies of the history of the Mediterranean basin and much of Europe. But
why transform the Capital of Karl Marx into a sort of City of God of Saint
Augustine; why, in short, make it "Catholic" and universal?
Let us speak, then, of feudalism in America. And if we absolutely
must look for authorities, let us address ourselves rather to the great Eu-
ropean thinkers of the eighteenth century. 33My proposition is less para-
doxical than it seems.

I know quite well that I will be criticized for reducing American

feudalism to four elements: (a) an economy without (or with an insuffi-
cient) monetary base; (b) an economy without (or with insufficient) free-
dom of access to or withdrawal from the [labor] market; (c) the same in
the case of the commodity market; (d) an economy not supported by a
large and dependable interior market.
It may be noted that even from an orthodox Marxist point of view
(leaving aside the aberrations of certain alleged Marxists) characteristics
of this sort lead to the definition of a feudal economy. But this-as I have
already said is hardly of any interest to me. What is more important in
my view in examining the economy and society of America is to mea-
sure to what degree a colonial economy existed.
It may well be objected34 that the natural economy does not constitute
a "theoretical explanation." I do not doubt it. Since I have no ambition to
be a "theorist" or a "methodologist," I find no problem in that. It is my
belief, although it is a commonplace one, that the degree of intensity of a
natural economy in a given economic space constitutes an excellent ther-

33. See F. \Venturi, "TraScozia e Russia,' Poccml/Ru,ssia, 1 (1981), i .p.

34. As has donie Ciro F. S. Cardoso.

mometer for measuring the degree of the existence of feudalism. The

thermometer is certainly not an instrument of great theoretical precision,
but it is certainly useful (at any rate, more useful than wild, so-called
"theoretical" imaginings). More important are the objections that might
come from a Marc Bloch3 or a Fernand Braudel.3i
As for Marc Bloch, I must say that I have always been on the side of
A. Dopsch,37 for the following reasons.
First, Marc Bloch has always concentrated his attention and his exam-
ples on the cities, the great abbeys, the great feudal areas. He never tells
us, however, what is happening in the economic space as a whole.
He never poses the question of different social levels in the circulation
of different denominations of coin. A sequin or a denier-for him-are
currency." But in fact, we now know that it was not so.
Finally, he in no way takes into account the fact that in the medieval
monetary system (and this is true until the French Revolution) there ex-
isted a currency of account and a system of internal exchange. And the
definitions38 and conclusions39 of F. Braudel do not seem any more con-
vincing to me. For I have the feeling that several problems are purely and
simply being evaded. Why are these worlds "apparently" distant? What is
drawing them together? And why "economic symbiosis"? Can we indeed
speak of symbiosis? For my part, I would speak rather of extremely vio-
lent collisions. Is there truly symbiosis between Florence and the Floren-
tine contado? Or between Spain and America? Between these two worlds
there existed enormous differences of voltage. To seek to find some pos-
sibility of symbiosis would be rather as if a houseowner were to try to steal
current for his house (at 220 volts) from a high tension cable.
Of course, contacts between the two worlds (monetary and natural) ex-
ist. The result of these contacts is the crushing victory of the first over the
After posing these problems of natural economy, one can once again
try to reach a conclusion. It seems to me, therefore, that the problem is
not whether the equation: natural economy = feudalism, is legitimate.
Rather, as it is noted in the American context, we witness the fact that
natural economy-at the level of production constitutes the terrain

35. Marc Bloch, Econtomiiie-uattireot econotnie-argent: UniiPsentdo-dilenuniiie,

2 vols.
tParis, 1973), II, 868-877.
36. A. Dopscli, Natt raltwirtsclaft lincdGeldtwirtschaftitn(le- Veltgeschichte (Vienna,
37. F Bratidel, Capitalisino e civiltei niiateriale(Tnlriin,1977).
38. Ibid., p. 339.
39. Ibid., P. 377-378.

upon which flourish forms of social and economic organization that can
be defined as feudal (with the reservations and limitations that I have
brought out above).40

40. The books and articles cited in the pieceding notes do not constitute, and cannot
constitute, a complete bibliography. An entire group of names is missing (from F. Chevalier
to A. Jara, from Herbert Klein to D. A. Brading, from H. Bonilla to M. Burga, and so many
others). I would not want the reader to be left with the idea that there is nothing more to
read on this subject.