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Like previous forms of class society, feudalism in its development produced the germs of a new society in the towns.
Roman towns had been much bigger and more impressive than the towns of the feudal middle ages, but they did not have the same possibilities for development. Roman cities started out as collections of landlords with an attendant trade in luxuries, and as administrative centres which fleeced the surrounding countryside. Medieval cities, on the other hand, were centres of trade and handicrafts.
As productivity developed, trade necessarily grew. Artisans, who had been attached to aristocratic households and monasteries in the dark ages, gathered together to trade with the rural areas in goods that could be produced quicker and therefore cheaper, or could only be produced by skilled specialists.
Whether these towns were originally established by the embryo of a new commercial class or by progressive feudal lords to exploit the new needs, they represented a new principle. Unlike the universal relations of dominance and subservience of feudalism, they were free associations of trading people, producing what one representative of the feudal lords called that "new and detestable name", the commune.
Within the towns production and trade was organised in guilds, divided on craft lines. These attempted to regulate production, price and quality.
After the Black Death (the terrible plague that spread across Europe in the fourteenth century) had bypassed Poland, the guilds decided to thank the Lord by celebrating more holy days. What they were actually doing, of course, was sharing out the work because of the reduction in custom.
The guilds began as bands of equals but, as towns grew in size due to the constant influx of refugee serfs looking for a better life, guild masters were able to make it more difficult for journeymen to join their ranks.
At the same time, merchant guilds were able to exploit their position over the artisan guilds to become an urban elite. Most towns were dominated by a tiny oligarchy, until a series of revolts by poor craftsmen to gain some say in the running of the council took place at the end of the middle ages.
Because of this natural differentiation produced anew by commodity production, the oligarchy in time regained their former status. At the same time all the towns were engaged in battles for a charter of liberties from the landlord class.
As the productivity of labour grew, so did trade, and production for the market, commodity production, and a money economy. Increasingly, grain crops were produced for sale to feed the towns. A stratum of peasants grew rich at their fellows' expense, and aspired to become land-owning farmers producing for a market.
In England, though, it was mainly the feudal lords who took the initiative in reorienting production towards the market. Wool production became more important, and the lords would strive to grab the common lands and expropriate the peasantry.
Serfdom had largely died out in England by the end of the fourteenth century, but bondage to the soil was replaced by short-term leases and an increasing stream of poor peasants being pushed out altogether and forced into vagabondage (roaming the land in search of a living).
By the seventeenth century, it was reckoned that up to quarter of the population was without any means of livelihood other than begging. Progress, as ever, was achieved at the expense of the common people.