Most people will tell you that they think Feudalism was a horrible, oppressive system. On the flip side, Capitalism is viewed with the greatest admiration. There are many reasons for this, and none of them are too surprising.
First off, when the (classical) Liberal Revolutions were going on in Europe in the 1840s, there were three primary ideologies. Conservatives represented the views of the nobility, the clergy, and the monarchy. Liberals represented the growing merchant and industrial capitalist class. Socialists represented the interests of the people (though at this time it was primarily utopians, authoritarians, and a few anarchists). However, the Liberals were the winners of the era, so capitalism rose to previously unknown heights (except perhaps in Great Britain where it had been rising for at least a century and a half before). As with any dominant economic system, there are those benefiting from it that do not want to progress or regress, as they will lose power. Some of the early socialists actually wanted to recede into feudalism again, since it lacked many of the excesses of capitalism. However, is capitalism all that different from feudalism?
What is Feudalism?
OED=Oxford English Dictionary
OED: “the dominant social system in medieval Europe, in which the nobility held lands from the Crown in exchange for military service, and vassals were tenants of and protected by the nobles.”
What is Capitalism?
OED: “an economic and political system in which a country’s trade and industry are controlled by private owners for profit, rather than by the state.”
NOTE: There is such a thing as state capitalism, where the means of production are owned by the government. This is often what people think of when they consider socialism, but socialism has nothing to do with ownership by the state. It has everything to do with ownership by workers.
So first we must analyze Feudalism. Consider the Crown/Monarchy the national government, and the nobility to be owners, the serfs (vassals) were the workers. The workers worked land and got to keep a portion (let’s say 3/4ths) of their produce. The lord takes the other half. The crown gets soldiers in return for being part of the nation. Just think of that as a tax on the owner. So the serfs labor and the nobility get part of what they produce.
Now capitalism: there is an owner or group of owners and workers. The workers labor with machinery, their hands, and their brains to produce something. The owners take all of it, and then give the workers a wage in return. The wage is already there before selling the product (start-up capital). However, the value of the wage is not the same as the total value of the products. If it was, then the owners would have no reason to carry on in a capitalist system. The difference between the actual value and the wages the workers get is called Surplus Value.
In feudalism, the surplus value was the 1/4th that the serf had to give their lord. In capitalism, it can be considered how much the worker is giving the employer to work there (the surplus value). The difference is that workers under capitalism own nothing they produce. The exploitative processes are the same for both, so why are we not disgusted with both? The only reason that comes to mind is the possibility of rising in the hierarchy, whereas in feudalism it was a static, hereditary system. But if we are disgusted with the idea of feudal lords that demand part of what we produce, how much more can we tolerate a boss or owner saying same thing?