There's a lot of criticism of historical materialism applied to prior modes of production; either for being determinist, for periodizing history in that fashion, and a big one is that it is a positivist reading of history (not to mention specific criticism's of descriptions of ancient modes of production like slave society of Rome/Greece and the controversial 'Asiatic mode of production'/oriental despotism).
From Jacques Camatte's "Capital & Community":
The importance of the definition of capital as value in process
"To develop the concept of capital it is necessary to begin not with labour but with value, and, precisely, exchange-value already developed in the movement of circulation. It is just as impossible to make the transition directly from labour to capital as it is to go from the different human races directly to the banker, or from nature to the steam engine." (Grundrisse p. 259)
The appearance of capital thus presupposes a long historical development, in the course of which we can see exchange-value progressively approaching autonomy.
Through evaluating the works by Marx not published and translated until the mid-20th century, Camatte gives a very thought provoking series of analysis. The above is the first part of the second chapter of the book.
The definition he gives of capitalism is 'social inertia', a fitting term- and the analysis of the 'lost' Chapter 6 of Capital and the Grundrisse orients these texts with the rest of Marx's work.
Does the change in modes of production, how their period of decadence becomes a transition to a new mode of production, depend on the observations quoted above? Rather than a positivist reading (that history is linear, on a path of civilization and progress), which is polemicized and debated against endlessly in history and in recent times, it suggests that the underlying economic history of humanity has been one of autonomizing the wealth creation process, its separation from the choices of human participants and a social relation that expands and develops itself; something capital accomplishes in the transition from formal to real domination (a process long considered finished in the mid 19th century, but argued by recent communists as either ongoing or happening later).
Is this a suitable refutation of positivism and critiques of positivism in Marxism (or at least the groundwork for it)?