Recently I've wanted to explore the original transition from primitive communism to the first class-based societies (human community --> human society) to get to the origin and content of bureaucracy. The recent threads on the evolution of humanity and the content of science seemed like a good place to do that, aside from the distance of millions of years separating the evolutionary history at the origin of man vs his social transformations leading to the very first bureaucracy, the first division of labor and the first manifestation of political power-- hence a new thread.
I'm very eager to hear any thoughts on the transition from primitive communism, such as on the relative importance of tangible evidence in how we interpret what happened in that historic window.
Below is a very brief, rough sketch drawn primarily from Frazer's work The Golden Bough I've been working on to try and crystallize a description of the origin of bureaucracy:
Marx characterized labor as, “a process in which both man and nature participate, and in which man of his own accord starts, regulates, and controls the material reactions between himself and nature. He opposes himself to nature as one of her own forces, setting in motion arms and legs, head and hands, the natural forces of his body, in order to appropriate nature’s productions in a form adapted to his own wants” (Capital vol. I). Frazer characterized the ideology of the earliest communities of man as based on magic: “While religious systems differ not only in different countries, but in the same country in different ages, the system of sympathetic magic remains everywhere and at all times substantially alike in its principles and practice” (The Golden Bough). For Frazer, a universal ‘age of magic’ preceded the ‘age of religion’ and presents a social equivalent to the material and equally universal ‘age of stone’ through which humanity in all of its diversity (geographic, ethnic, etc.) has passed. The basis of the ‘age of magic’, sympathetic magic, was primitive (communist) man’s interpretation of the natural world and his experiences of it to produce natural phenomena at will through his own conscious interaction with nature—through his labor. In this interpretation the forces of the sensuous world are at work within (and thus subject to the will of) individuals, who may, if they cultivate the desired external-natural manifestation in the precise fashion, produce this effect at will: such as causing the sun to rise and fall every day, to compel the clouds to produce rain, etc. When the natural world does produce the effect desired, be it the sun’s rise, rain or anything else (which will eventually happen), he interprets and connects these phenomenon with his actions to bring about his desired result: “Men mistook the order of their ideas for the order of nature, and hence imagined that the control which they have, or seem to have, over their thoughts, permitted them to exercise a corresponding control over things.” Within this conception of humanity during primitive communism, the power to alter the course of nature, of life itself and everything in it, are housed within each individual; and yet, inevitably, members of the community begin to question the efficacy of magic. When the desired results are not manifested after the ‘correct’ action(s) are undertaken, repeatedly and over time, a minority of the human community begins to doubt the power of man to affect nature and natural phenomenon through his conscious action and his own power. If rain does not come, if childbirth is difficult, if a plague spreads in spite of his conscious mediation, man loses his agency to control the world around him as he seemingly did before. Frazer places the transition from magic to religion with this realization, and the transference of man’s former power to control nature through conscious action to the existence of supernatural beings which could (and were) controlling nature and natural phenomenon. This is both the origin of religion and the generation of class society, the origin of bureaucracy as an irrepressible process and the birth of the first rudimentary modes of production. Frazer’s description of this moment contains an implicit application of historical materialism:
“Social progress, as we know, consists mainly in a successive differentiation of functions, or, in simpler language, a division of labor. The work which in primitive society is done by all alike and by all equally ill, or nearly so, is gradually distributed among different classes and executed more and more perfectly. . . Now magicians or medicine-men appear to constitute the oldest artificial or professional class in the evolution of society”
From a human community in which all are equally endowed with the innate abilities to command nature and natural phenomenon, to one in which there are especially gifted and powerful magicians, to one in which man is no longer the tyrant of nature but the victim of nature’s tyranny, subjected to the whims of human-like supernatural beings. The vanguard of the magicians, those seen as the most powerful and gifted by and among the community, mediate between man and the supernatural beings and represent humanity to the supernatural beings, to influence them to produce beneficial natural phenomena. This is the first division of labor known to man, creating the first class-based society. Ancient Egypt’s monarchy is the purest example of the results of this division of labor in the expropriation of the human community as the organization of a society, a mode of production and associated political power (social administration). A variety of human-like gods are responsible for the creation of the natural world and each specialize in particular natural forces and phenomena. One member of the community is designated as a god-king who is worshipped as interpreted by the class of priests and thus endowed with legitimacy to rule human society as the sole owner of all land, animals, vegetation, people and the breadth and depth of the sensuous world—the pharaoh thus forms an organic link in human-form with the supernatural beings which control the processes, forces and phenomena of nature on which man is dependent for his continued subsistence and existence. In exchange for this legitimacy, the pharaoh-state combines religious with political power—the god-king and his priests produce the cycles of the sun and moon, the seasons, the rain, the harvests, and in return may call upon the people for compulsory, directed labor (irrigation, construction, etc.). Yet there is a rupture, for example at a stage in the evolution of the ancient Roman monarchy:
“. . . the fighting kings of Rome, tired of parading as Jupiter and of observing all the elaborate ritual, all the tedious restrictions which the character of godhead entailed on them, were glad to relegate these pious mummeries to a substitute, in whose hands they left the crosier at home while they went forth to wield the sharp Roman sword abroad. This would explain why the tradition of the later kings, from Tullus Hostilius onwards, exhibit so few traces of sacred or priestly functions adhering to their office.”
This separation of political from religious power, formerly united in the person of the divine king, represents a further or greater stage, evolution, in the division of labor in class-based society and a sign of the emerging class differentiations within slave-centered economies.
Bureaucracy then comes from man’s original alienation, man’s original estrangement, from his power to command nature according to his conscious action through the practice of magic. This function is transferred to the powerful magicians, the vanguard of the magicians, who create religious creeds and rituals as a new theory and practice of life, nature and human community-as-society. This new organization of community as society is a representation: the power to command nature is temporally bestowed on supernatural beings that may only be influenced by the best of the magicians, soon to be the priests of ancient society who alone interpret and command religious creeds. Productive activity, human labor, is then organized around the social relationship of the priest to the non-priest, the latter dependent on the former for subsistence and existence. Frazer sees the original political organization of humanity as deriving from this first social class, the powerful magicians and medicine-men turned priests, from whom ancient monarchs with a claim to divinity in all of its diverse manifestations around the world was first derived—the first ruling-class in history.