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Class Struggle Under Feudalism
Whereas the class struggle between patricians and plebians was political, concerned with access to state power, the feudal class stuggle was mainly waged on the economic plane.
A constant, unremitting struggle took place between landlords and peasants. Occasionally this spilt over into revolutionary strife. The Peasants, Revolt of 1381 was the most notable such occasion in England.
After the Black Death, the peasants were in a strong position because of the shortage of labour. The landlords attempted to recoup their losses by enforcing traditional obligations all the harder. This produced a social explosion.
It is significant that the vanguard of the revolutionary peasantry was in the commercial crop areas of the southeast. The development of trade expanded communications and had the effect of binding people together over large areas. Though the revolt was unsuccessful in its immediate objectives, it had the effect of rolling back the predatory ambitions of the feudal lords.
The revolt failed at bottom because the peasantry were a scattered class divided against themselves. King Richard II urged them to "go back to their haymaking", and he hit them on their weak point. It was impossible to maintain the peasantry in a permanent state of mobilisation. Production had developed to a point where only a minority of the population could be maintained as fighting men, while the majority had to work on the land.
This point is illustrated by the Italian peasant revolt, led by Fra Dolcino at a similar time. Though dressed up in religious ideas, the advanced sections of the peasantry developed primitive communist aspirations.
Fra Dolcino and his followers retreated to the Italian Alps. They had to eat and they had to defend themselves. The beginnings of the split in their ranks between frighters and toilers produced demoralisation and defeat.
In this example we can see how the institutions of feudalism corresponded to the then existing state of the productive forces. The miseries of the past have been a necessary travail for mankind.