The debate is centered on the Sweezy criticism of Dobb’s account of how the feudalism economic system evolution to capitalism. Sweezy’s criticism began with the sidelining of Dobb’s definition of the feudalism process according to Sweeyz in Hilton (2006; 33) criticized Dobb definition of feudalism as being virtually identical with serfdom instead of indentifying a system of production he further criticized that serfdom can exist in systems which are not clearly feudal. Sweezy says this definition is inadequate and that it may apply to Western European feudalism but shouldn't be generalized beyond that, as he accuses Dobb of doing.
In debate on the transition Sweezy according to Hilton (1976; 36) elaborates that Dobb on the theory of the decline of feudalism concentrated on the impact of commerce which was acting as an external force and developing outside the system that it finally overwhelms the transition from the old order to the new that finds the dominant causal sequences within the sphere of exchange between the manorial economy and the outside world. Dobb found out that the growth of money economy led to the intensification of serfdom as there is evidence that it was the cause of the feudal decline he also reasons that if the only factor at work in the Western Europe was the rise of trade eventually its intensification resulted in the disintegration of feudalism.
Paul Sweezy act in response to this by saying that Dobb most show that the feudal ruling class’s growing need for revenue and the flight of serfs from the land can both be explained in terms of forces operating inside the feudal system Hilton (1976:37). Sweezy continue to say that with regards to lords need for revenue put forward by Dobb is not clearly propounded. He says the size of the parasitic class tended to expand as a result of natural growth of noble families, sub infeudation and the multiplication of retainers of whom all has to be supported from the surplus labour of the serf population Hilton (1976:38). Sweezy also argued that once we look outside the feudal system we will find ample reason for the growing extravagance of the feudal ruling class; he said that the rapid expansion of trade from the eleventh century onward brought an ever increasing quantity and variety of goods within their reach.
Sweezy examined Dobb’s theory as that according to Hilton (1976; 36) that the essential cause of the breakdown of feudalism was over-exploitation of the labour force as the serfs deserted the lord’s estates in large numbers. Sweezy criticized this point by propounding that the serfs could not desert the manors no matter how exacting their masters might become unless if they had somewhere to go he argued that the federal society generated a surplus of vagrant population which constituted the dregs of society which is made up of those whom there were no room for manors and this is hardly inconsiderable that the serfs would deliberately abandon their holdings to descend to the bottom of the social ladder.
Sweezy argued that he found Dobb theory of decline of feudalism unsatisfactory on several counts. He goes on to say that Dobb does not say the root cause of the decline of feudalism which was the growth of trade, and that Dobb deals with the area less importantly Hilton (1976: 41). Furthermore Sweezy according to Hilton (1976:40) pays little attain to the fights of the serfs in the 12th and 13th century and he agrees with Dobb that in did the growth of the towns acted as a magnet to the oppressed rural population but he disagrees with Dobb of not mentioning that the burgers themselves in need of additional labour force and more soldiers enhanced their military strength in an effort to facilitate the escape of the serfs from the jurisdiction of their masters. Sweezy criticized Dobb that the oppression as an important factor in the predisposing the serfs to flight could not alone led to an emigration of large proportions.
Sweezy also raises the point that serfdom ended in England in the 1500s, but feudalism didn't end until 1644-1645 - so how can Dobb explain that and how does he characterize that period in between. They disagree about how to characterize the period of the 1500's and 1600's in Western Europe, during the transition from feudalism to capitalism. Sweezy calls that period pre-capitalist commodity production. Dobb defines it as feudalism in an advanced state of dissolution.
The transition from Feudalism to capitalism must the analyzed within the different views the different scholars have propounded. It is essential to take into consideration the arguments put forward by Sweezy on Dobb theory on the transition form feudalism to capitalism as this gives a clear understanding on the dynamics of the transition from feudalism to capitalism.
Dobb M 1963. Studies in the development of capitalism. Rout ledge paperback .London: United Kingdom
Hilton, R. (1976). The Transition from Feudalism to Capitalism. NLB. London