Twilight of Primitive Communism and The First Bureaucracy

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mhou
Twilight of Primitive Communism and The First Bureaucracy
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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.  

LBird
Does Marx agree with Frazer?

mhou wrote:

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).

[my bold]

It's important here, mhou, to realise that Marx argues that politics precedes 'class society', because only a social group can determine its 'own accord' and its 'own wants'.

These 'accords and wants' are not simply biological, but are also cultural. That is the nature of any society.

Thus, before 'social classes', there was 'politics', and it was a politics carried out on a different social basis to a 'class divided society', usually based on 'kin' (small families, extended kin, tribes - whatever one wishes to call 'pre-class' social groupings).

Marx locates this 'politics' within the interaction between 'humans and nature', so it both precedes and will post-date 'class society'. Politics won't go away after the revolution.

mhou wrote:

 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.  

[my bold]

So, given Marx's position about 'politics', we can see that Frazer is incorrect to locate 'the original political organisation of humanity' with the emergence of the 'first social class'.

For Marx, 'politics' is related to the human condition, of social production, of labour, which Marx claims is an eternal relationship for humans with nature, and is not an emergent factor with 'class', which will disappear after 'class' is overcome.

mhou
Lbird-- I'll admit that much

Lbird-- I'll admit that much of this is likely due to my rough treatment of the subject matter, Frazer does not go to any lengths to outline the politics of ancient humanity directly (aside from brief statements scattered throughout the book). Most of the text involves using examples from around the world to validate that the practice of magic was as universal as the age of stone and the conditions for its transformation into religion simultaneously created the conditions for the original class differentiation of humanity. It appears to me that Marx's definition of labor is consistent with what appears to have been the ideology of primitive communist humanity-- there are no representations and the only mediation between man and man and man and nature (nature and man?) is labor via the practice of magic in which all are inherently equal (and economic exploitation does not yet exist).

*Edit: and in this environment it appears that the practice of magic is just as integral to individual and communal subsistence as much as labor which directly contributes to this like building a fire or foraging etc. There is no separation between the two

 

LBird
The 'magic' of politics, or the 'politics' of magic

mhou wrote:

Lbird-- I'll admit that much of this is likely due to my rough treatment of the subject matter, Frazer does not go to any lengths to outline the politics of ancient humanity directly (aside from brief statements scattered throughout the book).

No problem, mhou, about 'rough' outlines! After all, it's a discussion board, and we all take necessary short-cuts.

I just wanted to make the point that 'politics' does not emerge with classes - politics exist in all human societies, and if Frazer claims otherwise (which perhaps he doesn't - you can detail this), then he's wrong.

mhou wrote:

Most of the text involves using examples from around the world to validate that the practice of magic was as universal as the age of stone and the conditions for its transformation into religion simultaneously created the conditions for the original class differentiation of humanity. It appears to me that Marx's definition of labor is consistent with what appears to have been the ideology of primitive communist humanity-- there are no representations and the only mediation between man and man and man and nature (nature and man?) is labor via the practice of magic in which all are inherently equal (and economic exploitation does not yet exist).

*Edit: and in this environment it appears that the practice of magic is just as integral to individual and communal subsistence as much as labor which directly contributes to this like building a fire or foraging etc. There is no separation between the two

[my bold]

My main comment on your comments here, mhou, is that you should use the phrase "the theory and practice of magic". That is the correct Marxist formulation. For Marx, as your earlier quote from Capital shows, 'theory' always precedes 'practice'.

The notion of 'theoryless' practice is a bourgeois formulation, which was brought in to help reduce (ie. hide) all human activity to biological and thus individual, personal activity/practice, and to thus avoid the issue of the social context of that 'biological individual'. Of course, all 'theory' is a social product, as is its following 'practice', and if one employs the phrase 'the practice of magic', this not only contradicts Marx's usage, but helps hide the cultural/social context of 'magic', and can make it look like just 'individuals' were 'doing magic practice' (especially 'special' individuals, like priests).

Magic is a social practice, and thus is always preceded by theoretical considerations too, and these ideologies must be located within social production.

If one only mentions 'practice', then it soon develops into 'pragmatism' or 'instrumentalism', and Marx's insights are lost.

'Magic' is a political and social theory and practice.

mhou
Unity of Theory and Practice

LBird wrote:

Magic is a social practice, and thus is always preceded by theoretical considerations too, and these ideologies must be located within social production.

I think the basic core of this problem is that for the human community in primitive communism, the absence of a division of labor, the absence of class differentiation and the absence of representation implies a functional unity of 'theory and practice'. Labor is the only mediation of man and nature, magic is then both the 'theory' and the 'practice' of life as one. These absences (division of labor, classes, etc.) imply that there are no specialists at this stage in the evolution of humanity, all are equally endowed with the same agency.

These observations, I think, are the terms of scientific communism as well-- labor returns to being the sole mediation between man and nature. 

LBird
'Social theory and practice' means 'SOCIAL theory and practice'

mhou wrote:

LBird wrote:

Magic is a social practice, and thus is always preceded by theoretical considerations too, and these ideologies must be located within social production.

I think the basic core of this problem is that for the human community in primitive communism, the absence of a division of labor, the absence of class differentiation and the absence of representation implies a functional unity of 'theory and practice'. Labor is the only mediation of man and nature, magic is then both the 'theory' and the 'practice' of life as one. These absences (division of labor, classes, etc.) imply that there are no specialists at this stage in the evolution of humanity, all are equally endowed with the same agency.

These observations, I think, are the terms of scientific communism as well-- labor returns to being the sole mediation between man and nature. 

I think that your phrase "a functional unity of 'theory and practice'. Labor is the only mediation of man and nature, magic is then both the 'theory' and the 'practice' of life as one" needs unpicking, mhou.

According to Marx, 'theory and practice' is a unity, in the sense that it is a unified process - 'theory' alone leads to 'idealism', whereas 'practice' alone leads to 'materialism'. Marx took from both idealism and materialism, and rejected from both idealism and materialism.

But it is clear, according to the quote from his Capital that you gave earlier, that 'theory' precedes 'practice' - humans erect their 'objects' in their minds prior to erecting them in practice. This is Marx's unified method.

Also, 'labour' is Marx's rewording of 'social theory and practice', of 'human conscious activity' - 'labour' is not simply 'practice'.

So, it seems incorrect to regard 'theory and practice' as somehow the same or interchangeable - that 'theory' is 'practice', or 'practice' is 'theory', or some other playing with words.

Since 'social theory and practice' is an ever-present for humans, it existed prior to class societies. And unless all members of a society have the same political input into the construction of 'theory', then it is entirely possible that 'specialists' can exist in pre-class societies. Not "all are equally endowed with the same agency". In kinship groups, elders clearly have more 'agency' (let's call a spade a spade: more 'power', this is 'politics') than younger members of the group.

That is, 'elders' are 'specialists', who are the ones with the power to formulate 'social theory' (or, 'culture'), which is then put into 'practice'.

As I said, earlier, politics exists in all human societies, and the main difference within our Communism will be that it will be democratic, so that any 'specialists' will be elected, and their 'theories' will be accepted or rejected as the electors see fit, based upon the electors' interests and purposes, as they are put into social practice.

'Labor as the sole mediation between humans and nature' means 'social theory and practice democratically creating our organic nature'.

This is a long way from the bourgeois notion of individuals being able to 'practice' untheoretically, and thus unsocially, without culture, outside of politics.

Marx's works are about social production, not unmediated biological practice.

LBird
'Magic' as a social creation

Which leads us to the question 'whose magic?'

Was the social theory and practice of 'magic' a democratically-produced cultural artifact, or was 'magic' a social product of a social group of 'specialists', who had their own interests and purposes, and that 'magic' is a form of elite power, to help ensure that those without power are subject to the wishes of those who created 'magic'?

Or is 'magic' a biological product, that just emerges naturally, like 'vision' or 'touch'? That is, does 'magic' have no social content, is it not related to social production?

Can 'magic' exist prior to the emergence of classes? Is 'magic' actually a precursor to class ideologies? Did 'magic' pave the way for a more obviously exploitative society, by creating a society containing 'unquestionable specialists?

Does the 'non-class magician' foreshadow the 'class priest'?

Is 'religion' just well-developed, organised 'magic'?

Alf
starting with Marx

I think Frazer's thoughts about magic and religion are still of interest, and I will try to come back to them, but I think the starting point for understanding the passing of primitive communism surely has to be Marx's view that we need to look first at changes in the social relations, and not simply at the ideological changes that accompany them (even if the latter are not merely a passive reflection of the former). In our most recent series on decadence, there is an article looking at ascent and decline in socities prior to capitalism. This is the section dealing with the decline of primitive communism. 

https://en.internationalism.org/ir/2008/135/ascent-and-decline-of-societies

 

The succession of modes of production

Primitive communism to class society

When Marx provides a "broad outline" of the principal modes of production which have succeeded each other in history, it is by no means meant to be exhaustive. To begin with it only mentions "antagonistic" social forms, i.e the main forms of class society, and does not mention the various forms of non-exploiting society which preceded them. Furthermore, the study of pre-capitalist social forms in Marx's day was in its infancy, so that it was simply not possible to provide an inclusive list of all hitherto existing societies. Indeed, even in the state of present-day historical knowledge, this task remains extremely difficult to complete. In the long period between the dissolution of the original primitive communist social relations, which had their clearest shape among the nomadic hunters of the palaeolithic, and the fully formed class societies which make up the historical civilisations, there were numerous intermediate and transitional forms, as well as forms that simply ended in a historical dead-end, but our knowledge of them remains very limited.

The non-inclusion of primitive communist and pre-class societies in the Preface does not at all mean that Marx did not consider it important to study them, on the contrary. From the very beginning, the founders of the historical materialist method recognised that human history begins not with private property, but with communal property: "The first form of ownership is tribal [Stammeigentum] ownership. It corresponds to the undeveloped stage of production, at which a people lives by hunting and fishing, by the rearing of beasts or, in the highest stage, agriculture. In the latter case it presupposes a great mass of uncultivated stretches of land. The division of labour is at this stage still very elementary and is confined to a further extension of the natural division of labour existing in the family (The German Ideology, written in 1847).

When these insights were confirmed by later research - notably the work of Lewis Henry Morgan on the tribes of North America - Marx was extremely enthusiastic, and indeed spent a large part of his later years delving into the problem of primitive social relations, specifically in relation to the questions posed to him by the revolutionary movement in Russia (see the chapter ‘Past and future communism' in our book Communism is not a nice idea but a material necessity). For Marx, Engels and also Rosa Luxemburg, who wrote extensively about this in her Introduction to Political Economy (1907), the discovery that the original forms of human relations were based not on egoism and competition but on solidarity and cooperation, and that centuries and even millennia after the advent of class society there was still a profound and persistent attachment to communal social forms, particularly among the oppressed and exploited classes, was for them a ringing confirmation of the communist outlook and a powerful weapon against the mystifications of the bourgeoisie, for whom the lust for power and property are inherent in human nature.

In Engels' Origins of the Family Private Property and the State, in Marx's Ethnographic Notebooks and Luxemburg's Introduction to Political Economy there is thus a profound respect for the courage, morality and artistic creativity of the "savage" and "barbarian" peoples. But there is no idealisation of these societies. The communism practised in the earliest forms of human society was not engendered by the idea of equality, but out of necessity. It was the only possible form of social organisation in conditions where man's productive capacities had not yet given rise to a sufficient social surplus to support a privileged elite, a ruling class.

Primitive communist relations in all probability emerged with the development of mankind, a species whose capacity to transform his environment to satisfy his material needs marked him off as distinct from all other inhabitants of the animal kingdom. They allowed human beings to become the dominant species on the planet. But if we can generalise from what we know of the most archaic form of primitive communism, found among the Aborigines of Australia, the forms of appropriation of the social product, being entirely collective, also held back the development of individual productivity, with the result that the productive forces remained virtually unchanged for millennia. In any case, changing material and environmental conditions, such as the increase in population, at some point made the extreme collectivism of the first forms of human society increasingly untenable, an obstacle to the development of techniques of production (such as pastoralism and agriculture) that could feed larger populations or populations now living in changed social and environmental conditions..

As Marx notes "the history of the decline of primitive communities has yet to be written. All we have so far are some rather meagre outlines...(but) the causes of their decline stem from economic facts which prevented them from passing a certain stage of development" (First draft of letter to Vera Zasulich, 1881). The passing of primitive communism and the rise of class divisions does not escape the general rules outlined in the Preface: the relations that human beings created to satisfy their needs become increasingly unable to fulfil their original function, and are therefore plunged into a fundamental crisis, with the result that the communities they sustain either disappear altogether or replace the old relations with new ones better able to develop the productivity of human labour. We have already seen that Engels insisted that, at a certain historical moment, "The power of this primitive community had to be broken, and it was broken".Why? Because "Man was bounded by his tribe, both in relation to strangers from outside the tribe and to himself; the tribe, the gens, and their institutions were sacred and inviolable, a higher power established by nature, to which the individual subjected himself unconditionally in feeling, thought, and action. However impressive the people of this epoch appear to us, they are completely undifferentiated from one another; as Marx says, they are still attached to the navel string of the primitive community".

In the light of anthropological evidence we may well contest Engels' affirmation that the people of tribal societies are so entirely lacking in individuality. But the insight behind this passage remains valid: that in number of key moments and key regions, the old communal methods and relations proved became a fetter on development, and, however contradictory it may seem, the gradual rise of individual property, class exploitation, and a new phase in man's self-alienation, all became "factors of development".

LBird
Social relations contain consciousness

Alf wrote:
... I think the starting point for understanding the passing of primitive communism surely has to be Marx's view that we need to look first at changes in the social relations, and not simply at the ideological changes that accompany them (even if the latter are not merely a passive reflection of the former).

It's important to realise that, for Marx, 'social relations' are 'production relations' which also produce 'ideologies'.

This does not mean, however, that 'matter' produces 'consciousness' - that was Engels' mistaken reading of Marx.

Marx means that the 'social theory and practice of production' also produces a 'social theory and practice of ideology'.

Note: 'consciousness' is present at both 'levels', both 'production' and 'ideology' - this is not a theory of 'material' producing 'consciousness'.

As Marx says, in his usual very unclear way, which didn't help Engels:

Marx wrote:
It is not consciousness of men that determines their being, but, on the contrary, their social being that determines their consciousness.
[my bold]

https://www.marxists.org/archive/fromm/works/1961/man/ch03.htm

'Social being' is not simply 'material': by its nature, it's as much 'theory' as 'practice'.

So, 'ideologies' are produced by social production, not a 'material production' understood as 'matter'.

Marx perhaps more helpfully could have written 'conscious being' determines their 'ideology', but then that's Marx, and why Communists are still arguing 130 years after his death.

So, as Alf says, we need to look first at 'social relations' - which also include 'ideas', the 'theory' which always precedes social practice, for any society, pre-, class, or post-.

baboon
I think that that's the

I think that that's the correct framework posed by Alf above. Just in passing I'd say that I think that theory and practice in earlier societies tended towards being unified.

 

In relation to the quote above, I think that primitive communist social relations existed beyond hunter-gatherers and into the sedentary barbarian society roughly around the Neolithic. Marx himself talks about tribal ownership still existing in animal husbandry and agriculture They would have been part of the "intermediate and transitional forms" mentioned above, but they also expressed some strong communistic tendencies. But they couldn't get beyond the present stage of development; like the tribe and its limitations, the gentes became too restricted, too complicated and unable to rise to the challenge of the development of cultivation proper and thus a massive increase in the productive forces.

In many cases the lines of the gentes and growing patriarchy were absorbed in a ruling class. It wasn't a one-time event. The latest estimates, I think, are that agriculture appeared in 11 different places in the world independent of each other. This gave rise to class societies and states that were as different as the Harappan, the Mycean and the Incas, amongst others. The development of a ruling class and the state in all of them, paternal or bloody, confirms the importance of social relations in the transition to class society from primitive communism.

mhou
Thanks for posting that Alf,

Thanks for posting that Alf, it's very helpful, particularly this:

Quote:
In any case, changing material and environmental conditions, such as the increase in population, at some point made the extreme collectivism of the first forms of human society increasingly untenable, an obstacle to the development of techniques of production (such as pastoralism and agriculture) that could feed larger populations or populations now living in changed social and environmental conditions..

I've been working from the assumption that primitive communism continued to exist into the late stone age (as noted by baboon) and the first settled communities, and at this point the objective failure of sympathetic magic in this new environment (droughts or floods, pests, plagues, poor harvests, etc.) is what allowed for the kind of social transformation noted by Frazer to the original emergence of class differentiation (which heralds the rudimentary and diverse forms of slavery). It's difficult to imagine and cleanly delineate the transformation from classless to class-divided, human community to human society. I'll have to come back to production and ideology after giving that more thought

slothjabber
Competing primitive communisms?

I'd agree with the general line that the first sedentary societies were probably 'primitive communist' societies.

It is possible that the first encounters between agriculturalists and hunter-gaterers were between two forms of primitive communism, only that one group (probably the agriculturalists?) or possibly both, were 'communists' only in the 'in-group'.

 

I think this may be what Marx was getting at with the section The German Ideology that Alf quotes above:

"The first form of ownership is tribal [Stammeigentum] ownership. It corresponds to the undeveloped stage of production, at which a people lives by hunting and fishing, by the rearing of beasts or, in the highest stage, agriculture. In the latter case it presupposes a great mass of uncultivated stretches of land. The division of labour is at this stage still very elementary and is confined to a further extension of the natural division of labour existing in the family".

If for example one sedentary group started domesticating cattle and planting grain, and simultaneously organising to protect this new 'property' (from the elements, or scavengers/predators) they could still be doing this as an egalitarian society and sharing the social product while involving the whole group in decision-making - but perhaps only in their 'in-group'.

If they later came into contact with hunter-gaterers who came across the agriculturalists (perhaps wondering why the migration of food-animals had been disrupted and finding cattle behind fences, or trying to bring/follow herds through now-closed valleys), a 'class system' of a sort has been created. Though the two groups might previously have had nothing to do with each other, one group now has 'property' (land with crops, animals) and another group has no access to this property (they can't access the abnimals, or bring 'their' animals through the land).

Attempts by (in-group?) egalitarian hunter-gatherers to access the 'property' of (in-group?) egalitarian agriculturalists would almost certainly be seen as the earliest 'theft' (by out-group members taking the in-group members' 'property). Potentially, 'other humans' become de-humanised, as human-shaped scavenging beasts.

The story of Cain and Abel is an agriculturalist murdering a herdsman at the beginning of human society. Perhaps Frazer has somthing to say about this conflict?

mhou
The story of Cain and Abel is

The story of Cain and Abel is unfortunately absent from the text, even in the portions that were removed at the time of publication due to its controversy (of lumping in the myths of Christianity with stories of German tree worshippers and the like). There is however an interesting note on this hunter-gatherer/ agriculturalist divide:

“Hunting and pastoral tribes as well as agricultural peoples, have been in the habit of killing and eating the beings whom they worship. . .” (Chapter 23, Killing the Divine Animal)

Even though he traces the durable power magic has had over time and in changing societies, I haven’t been able to find a similar ideological break as he recounts with the emergence of religion as existing between the nomadic vs settled, hunter-gatherer vs agriculturalist peoples. This suggests that from an ideological perspective, the practice of magic remains mediated solely by labor rather than by a representation (division of labor, class differentiation) whether talking about hunter-gatherers or early settled agriculturalists—although it does appear that the material conditions which generated the original class differentiation are unique to settled, agricultural subsistence (re: indigenous Australians, of whom Frazer says ‘every one is a magician, yet none is a priest’ ...in 1890).

At the moment I’m not sure if the concept of ownership in any meaningful sense existed at that point (even common ownership) for the same reason for the reluctance to use the word ‘political’ to describe this state of being (for its need for social administration, which given the commonly held understanding of the theory and practice of life, was completely absent because of every individual’s inherent capacity to shape nature to their will etc.). There’s an interesting bit on the ancient Roman monarchy: that of the first 8 Roman kings, none were succeeded to the throne by their sons, 3 were succeeded by their son-in-laws who were foreigners, 1 was descended from a former king by his mother (leading to the conclusion that the Roman monarchy ran through the maternal line originally). Frazer explains the importance of rituals of exogamy, leaving one’s clan to marry someone from another clan, and ‘beena marriage’, a man who leaves his clan and marries into another where he, from then on, lives with and among his new wife’s clan. The implication being that these practices were inherited by the ancient Roman monarchy from earlier traditions linked to the age of magic, suggesting that even among the original ties of kinship, tribes and clans, humanity was not insular and self-secluded. 

baboon
One and the same

I think that hunter-gatherers and agriculturalists were probably one and the same and not opposing forcces that confronted each other.

slothjabber
Different modes of production

Hunter-gathers (whether settled or not), nomadic pastoralists and settled agriculturalists have different production strategies that preclude them being 'one and the same'. They may (or may not) have spoken the same language and worshiped the same gods, but they cannot simultaneously have 'stayed here to harvest what we planted' and 'moved over there to follow the herds'. They cannot simultaneoulsy have 'fenced off this area to prevent the animals escaping' and 'left this area open to allow the herds to migrate'.

 

Fencing off land is not the same as not fencing off land. Moving is not the same as staying still. Preventing others from accessing 'your' property (whether land, crops or animals) is not the same as treating the earth as a common treasury.

 

It is the differing material conditions of their existence that are the roots of the conflict. The adoption of some modes of production precludes other modes of production, and when different groups have different survival strategies that can't all be sustained in a given area, then conflict looks very likely. Whether or not they may have had shared cultural norms, the roots of the conflict are to be found in a clash of material conditions.

 

LBird
What is the root? 'material' or 'production'?

slothjabber wrote:

It is the differing material conditions of their existence that are the roots of the conflict. The adoption of some modes of production precludes other modes of production, and when different groups have different survival strategies that can't all be sustained in a given area, then conflict looks very likely. Whether or not they may have had shared cultural norms, the roots of the conflict are to be found in a clash of material conditions.

[my bold]

I agree with the overall thrust of your post, sj, but I think it's better to phrase it as:

'the roots of the conflict are to be found in a clash of ' the relations of production.

The same 'material conditions' (fields, animals, crops, etc.) can be employed completely differently for different purposes by different socieities with different social relations.

In any historical account, great stress must be placed upon human activity, and specific socio-productive choices.

No 'field' or 'beast' determines how it is used by humans. 'Adoption' is a choice.

baboon
Too glib

It was far too glib and simplistic to say that they were one and the same people.

We are looking at the change from hunter-gathering to agriculture, i.e., from one method of production to the other and, ultimately, class society and it's clear that it involves a whole period of transition from one to the other. It is not a case that hunter-gatherers simply opposed the development of agriculture because they had already developed their own forms of it. In 1910, the botanist Lilian Gibbs discovered in the forests of Borneo great swathes of curated forests, access facilitated to ratten and fibres for basketry and medicinal plants. Australian hunter-gatherers replanted some of the yams that they pulled up and there's similar evidence of HG society in Africa.  It's not agriculture as we know it but these ancient forms of cultivation go back many thousands of years before agriculture. People like to talk about the hunter part of hunter-gatherers but the gatherer part was, at least, equally important.

This "proto-farming" has now been found on every continent, in eleven separate areas from South America to China,  contradicting the idea of "a sudden revolution" spread from a centre.

Similarly, there is evidence for animal husbandry among hunter-gatherers thousands of years before cultivation and animal raising proper. The heights achieved by cultivation, i.e., intentional preparation of fields, sowing, harvesting, seeding, storing, resulted in fundamental cultural and technological changes that owed a good part of their existence on hunter-gatherer practice. HG wasn't a passive observer looking at this looming process of agriculture, HG was part of it.

Equating agriculture with settlement seems to be simplistic particuarly given that settlement was generalising twenty thousand years ago. And I think that the idea of hunter-gatherers being constantly mobile in following herds is overblown and doesn't really make sense - far better to wait at the right spots or even have fixed sites for short-stay accomodation and butchery. But far better to live close by. Some of the settled tribes along the US coast hardly turned to agriculture at all.

There's plenty of evidence that sendentism appeared long before agriculture (there's also evidence that the symbols and belief system of peoples changed before the appearance of agriculture) and a whole period of at least ten thousand years existed between the Upper Palaeolithic hunter-gatherers and farming communities of the Neolithic. No doubt that there were clashes between the two and no doubt, particularly as we move closer to class society, there were clashes between farming communities over land rights and such which gave rise to political entities with themselves giving rise to the state.

Agriculture, I think that we now understand, wasn't a "good idea" in order to feed people, spreading out from one centre and replacing existing hunter-gatherers. I think that it is more complex than that in its unfolding. But there's no doubt about the result.

 

mhou
Quote:It was far too glib and

Quote:
It was far too glib and simplistic to say that they were one and the same people.
--baboon

I'm not sure it was simplistic, for the same reason I agree with slothjabber-- if what matters are the social and production relations, if multiple means of early human subsistence can be considered primitive communism based on their shared absence of the rudimentary elements of class and state, maybe they can be considered functionally the same to an extent? 

Quote:
They may (or may not) have spoken the same language and worshiped the same gods, but they cannot simultaneously have 'stayed here to harvest what we planted' and 'moved over there to follow the herds'.
--slothjabber

This is what makes looking at it from the ideological side very interesting. If the entire concept of god in any meaningful sense (divine humans, gods as arbiters of nature, separate gods in all animate/inanimate objects and observable/unobservable phenomena, etc.) is the ideological expression of class society, the absence of god or pre-god may be just as effective a marker for primitive communism

Is agriculture the material prerequisite for the transition to class society?

Quote:
In any historical account, great stress must be placed upon human activity, and specific socio-productive choices.
--lbird

What do you make of the ideological expressions of transitional changes in such human activity?

baboon
Temple building

I've argued above for the complexity of the period of transition from full-blown hunter-gatherers of the Upper Palaeolithic to the established agriculture and beginnings of class society coming out of the Neolithic. I don't think that, in the main, hunter-gatherers "followed the herds" as nomads but were rather settled communities. Following the herds, with the whole kit and caboodle, would have been extremely wasteful of time and energy and it would have been far better to plot up in convenient and sustainable positions and wait for the herds to come to you. There's no doubt that even as late as 10 to 13 thousand years there were massive movements of peoples; across Siberia and into the Americas for example. But these movements were accompanied by settlements all along the way and, in my opinion, it was settlement, sedentism that was at the heart of the Neolithic "revolution" of which agriculture was a serendipitous by-product.

Further evidence of the complexity of the changes in the means of production arising from sedentism is the way that functioning pottery (usable vessels) are being dated back to hunter-gatherer societies. Again, the idea that these peoples were "nomads" gives no room for the development of pottery but this is clearly wrong. Such vessels have been dated back twenty-thousand years to hunter-gatherers in Jiangxi China, eighteen-thousand years ago in Yuchanyan, China, where in both places the population were partly consuming small amounts of poor quality wild rice. The stability that usable vessels indicate must point to the increasing sophistication of the potential production and consumption of food and shelter. These are hunter-gatherers in China but there are similar evidences of pottery in H-G elsewhere: seventeen-thousand years ago in other areas of Asia and seventeen-thousand years ago in Croatia, Europe.

But there is one area that dramatically contradicts the idea of mobile hunter-gatherers v settled agriculturalists and that is the developments in society that took place around south-eastern Turkey and, later, Jordan. The former is the host to the temple of Gobekli Tepe which was built about twelve thousand years ago, thousands of years before the megalithic structures of Europe, including Stonehenge. This is not in the script. Well before agriculture hunter-gatherers are supposed to be mobile and are not supposed to be building temples and decorating them with symbolic and intricate stone artwork - but they weren't and they did. Not just one temple, but many, not just in this area but elsewhere in the region: Nevali Cori, 'Ain Shazal, Cayonu, developing into the "city" of Catalhoyuk in Jericho.

Some of these temples range from ten to thirty metres in diameter, enclosing T-shaped pillars 3 to 6 metres high weighing up to twenty tonnes, with some estimates higher. It would have taken a team of hundreds to construct these stone structures with many more involved in the planning and back up. These hunter-gatherers would have known all about working with stone and its properties but, nevertheless, this is architecture of a different level, strongly implying a different level of consciousness and developments in the means of production. The builders of Gobekli Tepe weren't at all agriculturalists and were eating large quantities of foraged wild Karacadag grain. It is entirely possible that through its carriage and dispersement this grain was domesticated raising the distinct possibility that the temple and its religious significance came first and agriculture followed on. An inversion of what's previously been proposed. There is also no indication of any domesticated animals on any of these sites.

There doesn't seem to be much doubt that these temples were ritual centres. At Gobekli Tepe ("Pot-bellied mountain") there are large stone pillars inside the temple that carry fine carvings of animals, birds, reptiles with some half-human, half-animal figures with some of the pillars themselves representing anthropomorphic figures. A little later at Catalhoyuk, there are figures of "goddesses", dancing scenes (including a shaman with a drum) and hunting scenes, along with signs that refer back to the cave art of the Upper Palaeolithic. There is also the attempt to "sink" these buildings in, what I think, is some attempt to replicate the caves of the "old religion".

But these belief systems are something completely new, unseen, and unprecedented. They are not belief systems based on agriculture - that doesn't come into existence for another six or seven millennia and that poses a problem for marxists. How can an ideology, a superstructure exist before the economic base comes into existence? It can't. So the ideology of a new and profound belief system can only be an expression of another profound step in the productive base and I believe that this profound step was settlement allied to deeper degrees of cooperative labour. You don't need agriculture for this when you have temple building. Certainly, H-G needed cooperation and this basically would have been a matter of life and death. But the cooperation involved in temple building is on another level of consciousness, involving many more with a conscious aim. There may have been an "elite" but what's for sure, just like the images on the UP caves, the depictions on these stones, their placements and their designs would have been shared by the whole community. Myth and cosmology were harmonized and cohered in an architecture that if it wasn't on the scale of the Classical Greek, was equal to it in its expression. Agriculture followed this development in the way that settlement (and the more stable the settlement the better) has the potential for the more or less fortuitous development of agriculture built into it.

But this is a new, previously unseen, belief system, that possibly indicates a conscious advance or a new elite but above this it is the expression that myth and cosmology were harmonized with architecture at a level never seen before.

The transition is much more complex than "revolutionary" agriculturalists pushing out the backward hunter-gatherers.  
 

slothjabber
Some agreement - but...

baboon, I'm not just positing (nomadic) hunter-gathers and (settled) agriculturalists: I absolutely agree that there were also setled hunter-gatherers (I remember doing an undergrad essay arguing that Star Carr, a famous Mesolithic site in Yorkshire, was probably inhabited all year round); and the existence of nomadic pastoralists shows that 'agriculture' (at least one aspect of it, the domestication of livestock) doesn't have to be accompanied by sedentism. So along with settled 'farmers' and nomadic 'hunter-gatherers', there are also settled hunter-gatherers and nomadic farmers. And yes the changes take millennia to play out.

 

I even agree with LBird that 'a clash of relations of production' is a better way to put what I was trying to get across. I must  be in a very good mood today.

 

The point is that these different life-ways are not all compatible with each other. Settled farmers do not like nomadic pastoralists bringing extra animals into 'their' territory; nomadic pastoralists do not like settled farmers blocking 'their' migration routes; hunter-gatherers do not like farmers blocking the routes of migratory animals that are 'their' food. Each group may be communist or egalitarian in itself, but not function in such a way in relation to another group because the modes of production the employ are not compatible.

 

Sadly, I think we may have to consider the idea that class society arose as a result of the clash of incompatible 'communisms'.

mhou
baboon-- Thanks for that, I'm

baboon-- Thanks for that, I'm still trying to digest it. This is the part that sticks out to me the most:

"How can an ideology, a superstructure exist before the economic base comes into existence? It can't. So the ideology of a new and profound belief system can only be an expression of another profound step in the productive base and I believe that this profound step was settlement allied to deeper degrees of cooperative labour."

I think this helps clarify my equivocation on this subject, particularly because some evidence seems to point to the idea that the original 'fall' from communism took place in the opposite manner to which communism will be produced in the future or specifically that the ideological changes preceded the economic changes at the origin of class society (that is basically what I read into The Golden Bough). 

Edit: slothjabber--Lbird's comment about 'adoption' makes me wonder if 'imitation' is a way of viewing different primitive modes of subsistence existing at the same time and in contact with one another rather than 'conflict' in the traditional sense, or both.

LBird
'relations of production' IS the key concept

slothjabber wrote:

I even agree with LBird that 'a clash of relations of production' is a better way to put what I was trying to get across. I must  be in a very good mood today.

Thanks for your generous and comradely agreement, sj!

LBird
Fundamental questions of Marxism

mhou wrote:

baboon-- Thanks for that, I'm still trying to digest it. This is the part that sticks out to me the most:

"How can an ideology, a superstructure exist before the economic base comes into existence? It can't. So the ideology of a new and profound belief system can only be an expression of another profound step in the productive base and I believe that this profound step was settlement allied to deeper degrees of cooperative labour."

I think this helps clarify my equivocation on this subject, particularly because some evidence seems to point to the idea that the original 'fall' from communism took place in the opposite manner to which communism will be produced in the future or specifically that the ideological changes preceded the economic changes at the origin of class society (that is basically what I read into The Golden Bough). 

Edit: slothjabber--Lbird's comment about 'adoption' makes me wonder if 'imitation' is a way of viewing different primitive modes of subsistence existing at the same time and in contact with one another rather than 'conflict' in the traditional sense, or both.

[my bold]

This issue, of 'which comes first - base or superstructure?' is a fundamental issue to be clarified for Marxists.

baboon's claim that it requires an 'base' prior to 'superstructure' (the classical ideology of supposed 'Marxism' - in fact, Engels' misunderstanding) cannot be correct.

'Base' and 'superstructure' exist together - the metaphor is a (poor) way of analysing a social structure, not a 'sequential process'.

A 'base' is simply the 'theory and practice' of socio-economic production.

A 'superstructure' is simply the 'theory and practice' of political production.

Marx's insight was that the way we produce our livelihood affects the way we view our wider world.

But that doesn't mean that we can't 'go against' our 'base', and re-conceptualise our 'superstructure' - in fact, challenging the 'base' is an essential part of any social change.

On a wider level, the 'base/superstructure' metaphor is used to claim that 'practice' ('doing things') precedes 'theory' (understanding our 'doings'). This is also incorrect.

Marx argued for 'theory and practice', in that order. Social practice is always preceded by social theory, even if the 'theory' is unconscious to the 'practitioner' (that is, the 'theory' is that of a ruling class, and the 'doer' is unaware of the origin of their own 'theory').

Since there is always 'theory' in societies, at both levels of 'base' and 'superstructure', these 'theories' can impact upon each other - the 'base' is not a 'theoryless' unit which can escape critical theory from the 'superstructure'.

That's why we can have conflicting 'theories', not least from contending classes, within a society.

This is why 'ideological changes can precede economic changes', as mhou posits.

MH
base and superstructure

baboon wrote:

How can an ideology, a superstructure exist before the economic base comes into existence? It can't … the ideology of a new and profound belief system can only be an expression of another profound step in the productive base.

Is there a more fruitful way of posing this?

It’s true that, for Marxism, “the economic movement is by far the strongest, the most original, and the most decisive” force in historical change (Engels). But it also emphasises that change only takes place through a complex process of interactions, in which the relationship between ‘base’ and ‘superstructure’ is not given or static, and can only be determined by empirical research into a historically specific society.  

In reality then, there is an ever-shifting, inter-connected relationship between the two, which surely doesn’t preclude the superstructure influencing/changing/helping to determine the base at certain moments in certain societies? Also we shouldn't forget that the consciousness of human beings - ideology - is as much a material reality as a change in the physical means of subsistence. 

LBird
Relations between base and s-structure are social, not material

MH wrote:

In reality then, there is an ever-shifting, inter-connected relationship between the two, which surely doesn’t preclude the superstructure influencing/changing/helping to determine the base at certain moments in certain societies? Also we shouldn't forget that the consciousness of human beings - ideology - is as much a material reality as a change in the physical means of subsistence. 

It's this (to me, correct) view that 'consciousness is as much material/physical' as it is 'ideal', that leads me to the formulation of 'idealism-materialism', when discussing Marx's views, as opposed to Engels' reversion to 'materialism'.

It's madness not to argue that superstructure affects the base, and vice versa, just as the ideal affects the material, and vice versa.

Engels' claim, that 'in the final analysis' the 'economic' is 'determinant', is pure idealistic nonsense.

Humans are the 'determiners', and their determinations are affected by their social production - this is all a long way from 'matter' determining 'consciousness' (or 'base' determining 'superstructure').

Social relations of production affect the consciousness of societies (Marx's 'modes of production'), and this isn't 'materialism', but 'idealism-materialism', Marx's key insight that social theory and practice during our production affects our conscious views.

It's 'production', not 'material', that is central to understanding Marx, and 'production' is 'ideal-material'.

Demogorgon
Base & Superstructure

Some of these issues were discussed on this thread. Quoting myself from #103:

Quote:
It also devalues the role that ideas play in pushing forward history. Cultural products aren't simply a mechanical expression of the ruling class, even if they dominate it; culture also expresses the fractures and contradictions in the ruling ideology. In that sense, culture reflects the contradictions in the economic foundation of society. But, for Marx, the cultural arena, the arena of consciousness is not simply a reflection of the economic or the material, but is a conscious appropriation of it. It is here that the intellectual battles of the class struggle are fought, often long before those struggles are fought on the economic terrain: "In studying such transformations it is always necessary to distinguish between the material transformation of the economic conditions of production, which can be determined with the precision of natural science, and the legal, political, religious, artistic or philosophic – in short, ideological forms in which men become conscious of this conflict and fight it out"."

It is, of course, a common myth that Engels had a mechanical view of the interplay between material base and ideology. Engels demolishes both the crude interpretation that "Marxists" had made of this issue, as well as some self-critque: "Otherwise there is only one other point lacking, which, however, Marx and I always failed to stress enough in our writings and in regard to which we are all equally guilty. That is to say, we all laid, and were bound to lay, the main emphasis, in the first place, on the derivation of political, juridical and other ideological notions, and of actions arising through the medium of these notions, from basic economic facts. But in so doing we neglected the formal side — the ways and means by which these notions, etc., come about — for the sake of the content. This has given our adversaries a welcome opportunity for misunderstandings, of which Paul Barth is a striking example."

Basically, Engels is saying that, in their confrontation with idealism, he and Marx first had to destroy the conception that ideas were the driving force in society. This, of course, they did but in doing so they sometimes neglected the role that ideas actually play in influencing the form that history takes, even if the fundamental driver remains economic.

Ideas emerge from economic and material bases, true. But they can also prefigure future modes of production because they also come to grips with the contradictions that exist in those relationships. We can envisage communism long before it comes into reality because a conscious awareness of the contradictions in capitalism point us in that direction (in particular, the nature of the proletariat both as it exists within capitalism, but also the potential inherent in this being).

It's only once a proper understanding of the origin of ideas is reached that their role and importance in the progress of history can be properly understood. This is what Marx and Engels attempted to do when they embraced materialism and rejected idealism, even while they maintained the necessity of the active role of ideas that they inherited from the latter.

Demogorgon
More Engels

Incidentally, I forgot to mention, that MH's quote from Engels is from this letter. Here, Engels is discussion the processes by which factors that are not immediately based in production but have their own laws of motion, even though their origin is in production: "In the last instance production is the decisive factor. But when the trade in products becomes independent of production itself, it follows a movement of its own, which, while it is governed as a whole by production, still in particular cases and within this general dependence follows particular laws contained in the nature of this new factor; this movement has phases of its own and in its turn reacts on the movement of production."

Beginning with trade, Engels goes on to examine the same conception with regard to other "superstructural" phenomena such as the state and law: "The reflection of economic relations as legal principles is necessarily also a topsy turvy one: it happens without the person who is acting being conscious of it; the jurist imagines he is operating with a priori principles, whereas they are really only economic reflexes; so everything is upside down. And it seems to me obvious that this inversion, which, so long as it remains unrecognised, forms what we call ideological conception, reacts in its turn upon the economic basis and may, within certain limits, modify it."

Both letters are well worth the read as an excellent summary of the Marxist method here.

LBird
Social, not material; human, not divine

Demogorgon wrote:

Basically, Engels is saying that, in their confrontation with idealism, he and Marx first had to destroy the conception that ideas were the driving force in society. This, of course, they did but in doing so they sometimes neglected the role that ideas actually play in influencing the form that history takes, even if the fundamental driver remains economic.

[my bold]

Marx (and often Engels, but he was confused) argued that, not ideas, but social production, was 'the driving force in society'.

And by 'economic', they did not mean 'material/matter', but social production.

So, the 'theory and practice' of production is the 'fundamental driving force', not 'ideas' and not 'matter'.

Demo wrote:
Ideas emerge from economic and material bases, true.

No! Not 'true'!

'Ideas' emerge from social production.

That's why you can (correctly) go on to state:

Demo wrote:
But they can also prefigure future modes of production because they also come to grips with the contradictions that exist in those relationships. We can envisage communism long before it comes into reality because a conscious awareness of the contradictions in capitalism point us in that direction (in particular, the nature of the proletariat both as it exists within capitalism, but also the potential inherent in this being).

It's only once a proper understanding of the origin of ideas is reached that their role and importance in the progress of history can be properly understood.

Yes, 'the origin of ideas' is in social production.

Demo wrote:
This is what Marx and Engels attempted to do when they embraced materialism and rejected idealism,...

No! Marx embraced parts of both idealism and materialism, and rejected parts of both idealism  and materialism. This is why you can (correctly) go on to state:

Demo wrote:
...even while they maintained the necessity of the active role of ideas that they inherited from the latter.

'The active role of ideas' comes from our social production, where our ideas (social theory) are put into active production (social practice). We either agree with our product (and its formative ideas) or we disagree with our product (by new, critical ideas, about its formative ideas).

Your own extended quote, Demo, is pretty accurate - but it's nothing to do with Engels' 'materialism'.

Marx is talking about 'theory and practice', social production, not 'matter' (which is what 'material' is translated as by Engels). By 'material', Marx means 'social/human', as opposed to 'ideal' meaning 'divine'.

Marx regards humans as the 'divine creators' of their own unified world (social and natural), what he terms 'organic nature'.

LBird
Engels was confused

Demogorgon wrote:

Incidentally, I forgot to mention, that MH's quote from Engels is from this letter. ....

Both letters are well worth the read as an excellent summary of the Marxist method here.

[my bold]

Engels' letters are contradictory.

In places, he agrees with Marx, but in others he doesn't.

We can swap quotes, if you like.

Because of this, Engels is not an 'excellent summary' of Marx's method.

The 'Marxist' method is a fabrication of later 2nd International thinkers, confused by Engels' misunderstandings (Kautsky, Plekhanov, Lenin, etc.).

If any classical 'Marxist' thinker is worth reading today, it's Bogdanov (in parts, anyway).

baboon
I think that Engels was clear

I think that Engels was clear on the driving force of social production and he wrote a book about it, "Origin of the family, private property and the state". It's a work that Marx had no fundamental disagreement with.

There are useful clarifications above on the question of the relationships of economic base (social production) and the various superstructures. I agree that there's no mechanical relation but rather a fluid interaction with elements of the different superstructures affecting each other as well influences on the base. It's true that Marx and Engels were lacking in this area of ideology (though they went much further than most) but their priorites were elsewhere. And they recognised this as Demo shows above. Another quote from Engels in this respect from his letter to Borguis, 'Selected Correspondence, pp. 442-3': “Political, legal, philosophical, religious, literary, artistic, etc., development is based on economic development. But all these react upon one another and also upon the economic basis. It is not that the economic situation is cause and solely active, whereas everything else is only passive effect. On the contrary, interaction takes place on the basis of economic necessity, which ultimately always exerts itself”.
This must underline the complexity of the transition of H-G society to agriculture and civilisation and class society.

In these circumstances I don't think that it's difficult to understand why, given the weight of evidence, that in western Asia hunter-gatherers built temples from which came agriculture as a fortuitous outcome (though not entirely because agriculture also had its downsides). The workers, scores of them, would have needed to eat regularly on or around the site, and for this a large collection of wild grain would have been required. Some of this collection would have found its way back into the ground, came up as plants and this would have been noticed. It would have become obvious to these people, that were already well-versed in the world of flora, that growing your own food was relatively easy and very rewarding. It wouldn't surprise me that in the other ten regions of the globe where agriculture developed independently if it was a similar story. Agriculture wasn't a Good Idea to feed everyone - it came about through greater collectivisation.

Prior to the Neolithic, what's called the Natufian of around eleven thousand years ago,  people on the Euphrates lived in mud huts and ate wild eikorn wheat and rye. This settlement was abandoned for about a thousand years and when people returned to it they were growing domesticated emmer wheat, rye and barley.  The later barbarian tribes were, amongst other things, agriculturalists and it was eventually their own communistic gentes, converted to the paternal line and private property that laid the basis for a ruling class and the state

LBird
Engels' letters - well worth a read

baboon wrote:

Another quote from Engels in this respect from his letter to Borguis,

Engels, Selected Correspondence, pp. 442-3, wrote:
Political, legal, philosophical, religious, literary, artistic, etc., development is based on economic development. But all these react upon one another and also upon the economic basis. It is not that the economic situation is cause and solely active, whereas everything else is only passive effect. On the contrary, interaction takes place on the basis of economic necessity, which ultimately always exerts itself.

[my bold]

I'm glad you chose that letter, baboon, because it's precisely the one that I would've chosen to illustrate my argument.

The letter itself is contradictory.

Either 'economic necessity' is the 'basis', or it isn't.

But Engels says both, in this very letter.

Ask any worker to read an explain this, and they can't. It says 'based' and 'not based', and this confusion is also apparent in others of Engels' letters (written after Marx had died, so no-one could ask Marx himself to arbitrate). 'Necessity' in one area implies 'passivity' in others.

Furthermore, Engels' notions of 'ultimately' and 'finality' (the latter used in another of his letters) play no part whatsoever in Marx's thought, and the dangerous political effects of these notions have been commented upon since at least Labriola in 1896.

When workers are confronted with the 'Ultimate', their own ability to deny the 'Ultimate' is removed.

And there is always an 'expert elite' minority there (thank god, says Lenin) to explain to workers just what the 'Ultimate' is, and why they must obey 'it' and why they can't change 'it.'

Notions of 'ultimate' and 'finality' produce a division in society, that Marx's warns against, into a minority of active 'educators' (who 'know' the 'ultimate') and a majority of passive 'educated' (who can't vote upon the 'ultimate').

The only 'ultimate' that the proletariat can recognise is their own democratic power, which has the power to change their world.

This all puts our social production at the heart of our considerations, and not 'matter' or 'external forces', which are regarded as beyond our collective control. Only we can determine what we think that we can't do (at any given time), and that is always up for revision, later. The recognition of the limits of our present social production is not a recognition of the 'ultimate', but the recognition of a social process, which we can change.

'Ultimate' and 'finality' deny the possibility of 'change'. Engels didn't understand that.

MH
social relations and the means of subsistence

Alf wrote:

... I think the starting point for understanding the passing of primitive communism surely has to be Marx's view that we need to look first at changes in the social relations, and not simply at the ideological changes that accompany them (even if the latter are not merely a passive reflection of the former).

I think in a way we've been exploring in more depth exactly what we might mean by recognising that ideological changes are not merely a passive reflection of changes in ‘social relations’ – but also clarifying that ‘social relations’, which are founded on ensuring the physical means of subsistence, also contain an active, conscious, ideological component.

When he first sets out his materialist method, Marx states quite clearly that its “first premise” is “the existence of living human individuals and the way in which they produce their means of subsistence” (The German Ideology).

But he also recognises that for conscious human beings this is not simply a matter of reproducing their physical existence: the “means of subsistence” is also “a definite form of expressing their life, a definite mode of life on their part.” This “mode of life” is another way of describing ‘culture’, ‘religion’ or ‘ideology’, which have their own material reality.

At the same time, for Marx, this mode of life is ultimately determined by the way in which human beings reproduce their physical existence, because, after all, the first premise of human history is the existence of living human individuals...

 

 

Demogorgon
The Demogorgon Letter Linking Service

The letter baboon quotes can be found here.

I do find the correspondence of this period fascinating as it shows how quickly the Marxist view was vulgarised. Engels has to explain over and over again the very basics of the Marxist method. By this time, of course, the bourgeois assault against Hegel had done its work and the dialectic (which Marx and Engels largely took for granted) was lost to most people.

From Engel's letter to Schmidt again: "If therefore Barth supposes that we deny any and every reaction of the political, etc., reflexes of the economic movement upon the movement itself, he is simply tilting at windmills. He has only got to look at Marx's Eighteenth Brumaire, which deals almost exclusively with the particular part played by political struggles and events; of course, within their general dependence upon economic conditions. Or Capital, the section on the working day, for instance, where legislation, which is surely a political act, has such a trenchant effect. Or the section on the history of the bourgeoisie. (Chapter XXIV.) Or why do we fight for the political dictatorship of the proletariat if political power is economically impotent? Force (that is state power) is also an economic power.

....

What these gentlemen all lack is dialectic. They never see anything but here cause and there effect. That this is a hollow abstraction, that such metaphysical polar opposites only exist in the real world during crises, while the whole vast process proceeds in the form of interaction (though of very unequal forces, the economic movement being by far the strongest, most elemental and most decisive) and that here everything is relative and nothing is absolute – this they never begin to see. Hegel has never existed for them."

As we can see, at the end, Engels points out the most basic element of the dialectic: that cause and effect are not mutually exclusive, but condition each other which is the crux of the interaction between so-called base and superstructure. In other words, a particular phenomenon can be both cause and effect, depending on where you start the analysis (this point about starting perspective is a very important element of the analysis of the capital circuit in Vol II of Capital). This explains why Marxism rejects mechanical materialism, which reduces thought to a mere effect of matter and misses the fact that thought can change matter (and therefore has elements of causality), even though it originates from it (and is thus an effect).

I'll leave it to others to show how this all applies to the discussion about primitive communism, I'm woefully undereducated in this area and have very little intelligent to say.

LBird
'Matter' or 'resistance'?

Demogorgon wrote:

The letter baboon quotes can be found here.

I do find the correspondence of this period fascinating as it shows how quickly the Marxist view was vulgarised. Engels has to explain over and over again the very basics of the Marxist method. ....

This explains why Marxism rejects mechanical materialism, which reduces thought to a mere effect of matter and misses the fact that thought can change matter (and therefore has elements of causality), even though it originates from it (and is thus an effect).

I'll leave it to others to show how this all applies to the discussion about primitive communism, I'm woefully undereducated in this area and have very little intelligent to say.

This is the problem, Demo.

Engels doesn't explain the very basics of the Marxist method, but mystifies it, as do you, even when you try genuinely to be clear.

You argue above that 'thought' ... 'originates from it', and the context shows that, by 'it', you mean 'matter'.

This is Engels' notion, not Marx's.

Marx argues that humans create, and thus can change, their organic world. What humans actively labour upon is not 'matter', but 'inorganic nature'.

'Inorganic nature' is a philosophical category, upon which consciousness works, and changes, and produces 'organic nature'.

Engels, like most people, knew next to nothing about philosophical categories, or what 'inorganic nature' actually meant.

Engels decided, in the pursuit of clarity, to rename 'inorganic nature' as 'matter', because, during his life, the central category that had been socially produced by bourgeois physics was 'matter'. Thus, for Engels, the use of the term 'matter' was a way of bringing Marx's works into line with the latest science of their times.

Unfortunately, Engels thus put a philosophical category of Marx's into a physical category of the bourgeoisie's. And by doing so, completely changed the meaning that Marx had given this category.

For Marx, 'inorganic nature' was an ingredient into social labour, which resulted in a social product, that of 'organic nature'.

In philosophical terms, 'inorganic nature' is nothing when it is not an ingredient. 'Inorganic nature' can not be examined/described/discovered outside of its relationship to human conscious activity.

It has nothing to do whatsoever with 'matter', as a 'substance' which 'exists outside of consciousness', which is 'the real world', or 'the absolute', or 'Eternal Truth'.

So, 'thought' does not 'originate from matter'.

That belief is a part of Engels' 'materialism', and is nothing to do with Marx's ideas of 'social production'.

For Marx, 'thought' is a part of conscious activity, in its production of its world. 'Thought' cannot be understood outside of this social activity. Whatever 'inorganic nature' is, it is nothing to us, outside of our social production. Our world originates in our activity, and is a product of our social theory and practice. We are our own creators.

As an aside, the best other explanation that I've come across is Bogdanov's, where he emphasises the relationship between 'resistance' and 'activity'. There is no 'resistance' where there is no 'activity', and there is no 'activity' where there is no 'resistance'.

Or, as I put it, 'ingredient' has no 'existence' outside of its 'ingredientness' into our social labour.

I hope that all this helps, because there are some very difficult concepts involved, and in my opinion it's the task of Communists to help explain in terms understandable to all, what Marx was trying to say.

And in my opinion, Engels did not help, but only hindered this process.

baboon
Taking up from Demo's post, I

Taking up from Demo's post, I think that the hunter-gatherer temples of Gobleki Tepe and elsewhere are examples set in stone of some of the relationships between base and superstructure, relationships that have been laid out in their complexity above. They incorporate the belief system (a new, complex expression with the continuity of myth as an intermediatary) and their concrete (stone) nature express the means of production (the refinement of the tools needed to build them) and the collectivisation and cooperation of the labour involved. I've said above that I think similar developments would have appeared in the ten other regions of the independent expression of agriculture and I would think that any close examination of the belief systems involved in these regions would reveal further similarities after allowing for cultural specifics.

L. Bird, Mhou started this thread in order to investigate the transition from primitive communism to class society. Are you going to address this question or just keep plugging the same old Marx/Engels line that you do on every thread?

LBird
Critical theory is always a problem for 'experts'

baboon wrote:

L. Bird, Mhou started this thread in order to investigate the transition from primitive communism to class society. Are you going to address this question or just keep plugging the same old Marx/Engels line that you do on every thread?

It's not my fault, baboon, that you don't follow Marx's method of 'theory and practice'.

You wish to follow the non-Marxist method of 'practice' (and 'bugger the theory'), and you do so by ignoring the entirely relevant discussion so far about 'theory' when it comes to mhou's investigations.

If you're not interested in Marx's ideas, or just incapable of having a comradely discussion, then just ignore my posts, and leave it to the other comrades to discuss these vital issues.

You're a typical 'scientific academic', who wishes to get stuck into 'practical matters' (just like bourgeois economists do in 'economics') and pretends not to have a 'theory' which informs your 'practice'.

So, baboon, just when are you going to tell us your ideology regarding mhou's investigations? Where did you get your concepts, periodisations, 'facts', from?

The fact that you don't think that 'theory' is as important as 'practice' shows how far removed your method is from Marx's. Perhaps you don't care about this, which is your right - but some Communists do consider that the ideologies that play a great part in anthropology and history should be openly discussed, explained and criticised, prior to just ploughing on unhindered, with unexamined notions.

If you want to take part in a thread about 'primitive communism and the emergence of class society', baboon, it's helpful if we all know just what you mean by 'primitive communism', 'class', and the process of its 'emergence'.

And... you've actually mentioned 'base and superstructure' in your post, without any attempt whatsoever to discuss their meaning.

You're not a fan of critical discussion, are you, baboon? Perhaps you just want to impress us all with your personal erudition, while we stand back in silent awe, at an 'expert'?

Just like in the bourgeois education system, eh?

And you haven't answered my points about your incorrect quoting of Engels as proponent of Marxist method. The letter you quoted is contradictory nonsense - how can't you see that?

LBird
Theoretical stages?

It seems clear that there wasn't a simple jump from 'primitive communism' to 'class society', so I'll suggest a more complex set of stages.

1. egalitarian;

2. big men;

3. chiefdom;

xxxxxxxxxxxxx

4. class;

5. state.

Some of this is suggested by Michael Mann's book The Sources of Social Power, and one point that he emphasises is that there is no 'necessary' advance from 1-5. He sees the stages 1-3 being constantly up and down, prior to the emergence of stage 4. So, he would imagine that the stages could progress:

1,2,1,2,1,2,3,2,3,2,1,2,1,2,3, etc. That is, the stages both advance and regress for millenia.

He sees the emergence of stage 4 to be a special 'jump', taken by perhaps only half a dozen societies, and he puts this down to some stage 3 being caught in a 'social cage'. By this, he means that the social production has become 'fixed' to a particular locality, usually a flood plain, which has helped to increase production of food to a level where the population has increased so much that the option of leaving the area is not longer possible. This 'fixity' to a river delta is the circumstance that allows the emergence of stage 4, a class society.

Does anyone have another schema to suggest? Should we pad this one out with more detail, and discuss it further? Where do the contents of the posts by baboon, for example, fit into this particular model? Or does baboon have a different schema of development in mind?

baboon
There are plenty of articles

There are plenty of articles on the ICC website, which you must capable of finding L. Bird, that deal profoundly with the theoretical differences between Marx and Engels; one for example being "1883-95, Social Democracy Advances the Communist Cause". There are a few others that raise criticisms but do so in a framework that sees both in the revolutionary movement. You could pick any of these and start a thread L. Bird and that would be extremely useful. You could but you won't because rather than dealing with the real issues you want to talk about the definitions of part sentences and individual words and to do that your best place to "discuss" is by picking apart what comrades say on everybody else's threads.

A couple of weeks ago, in the Independent I think, there was a short article from Carlo Rovelli which used the example of Socrates mind experiment in order to demonstrate how little we all really know. To summarize it; it involves some men born into a deep, narrow pit who can only see the shadows of other men above and can only hear the echo's of their voices. They imagine that the shadows are real and that the voices come from the shadows.  There's more to it than that but it's true that in the face of a potential communist society we are very ignorant indeed and it's easy to imagine that such a society will gives us unknown and endless fields of freedom of thought. But Rovelli is a scientist and uses science to attempt to overcome this ignorance (in one or two areas) and we are not bound slaves living in the bottom of a pit since birth but conscious beings with an understanding of the history of our class.

 

 

Alf
comradely tone...

LBird, I think it's entirely unnnecessary to accuse baboon of acting like a bourgeois expert when he is clearly trying to contribute the fruits of his own research into a collective discussion. I note that in your last post you did try to contribute to the main focus of the thread, i.e. the transition from primitive communism, rather than repeating what you have said many times before about why Engels misunderstood Marx. I can only encourage you to continue in that direction. 

LBird
The 'social', not the 'material'

Alf wrote:

LBird, I think it's entirely unnnecessary to accuse baboon of acting like a bourgeois expert when he is clearly trying to contribute the fruits of his own research into a collective discussion. I note that in your last post you did try to contribute to the main focus of the thread, i.e. the transition from primitive communism, rather than repeating what you have said many times before about why Engels misunderstood Marx. I can only encourage you to continue in that direction. 

Look, Alf, I'm trying to discuss what the thread's supposed to be about. But if other comrades keep raising issues about 'base/superstructure', Engels' nonsensical letters, and 'materialist' approaches, what is any Communist who has looked into those issues supposed to do?

Unless it is openly stated that 'base/superstructure' as a model confuses more than it illuminates, that Engels didn't have a clue about Marx or method, and that Marx was not a 'materialist', but an 'idealist-materialist' (social theory and practice), then other comrades will continue to unthinkingly repeat that nonsense, in regard to the issues of this thread.

As for baboon, with his refusal to engage with criticism of his use of Engels' letters as methodological support for his own views, and with his ignoring of giving a clear explanation of his ideological model, and with his posting of disconnected detail which seems to have no overarching link, I can see all those traits in standard bourgeois academia. Academics hate being asked to openly reveal their political ideologies, because of their pretence of 'objectivity', which is as much nonsense in anthropology as it is in physics.

So, Alf, if you can get baboon et al to discuss the 'outline' that I proposed (they can reject, modify, expand, or replace it entirely), we can get on with a critical discussion, rather than just read a disjointed account of stones and bones.

That's the 'direction' we need to continue in.

But... if I read any more mention by you or others about Engels, materialism, base/superstructure, etc., you can't blame me for challenging that non-Marxist stuff.

Let's stick to social relationships (especially exploitative ones) and social production (of both ideas and artifacts) when discussing 'primitive communism' and the emergence of 'class society'.

mhou
A brief thought on temple

A brief thought on temple construction: the temple itself (and the whole social process which led to the impulse to build it) is a representation. If Frazer's characterization of the life of primitive man is accurate, there is no social function for a temple given that this function is, up to a certain historic point, characteristic of every individual human in the theory and practice of life, the unity of ideological-productive activity, of thought and subsistence, contained in sympathetic magic. The temple concretizes this representation of what was universal in man. The question of settlement instead of HG vs agriculture, and as Lbird put it

"1. egalitarian;

2. big men;

3. chiefdom"

suggests that the break begins in the first division of labor, when there were socially recognized 'powerful magicians/medicine-men', which brings to mind that old moniker "first among equals". If agriculture isn't necessarily the productive regime underlying this original differentiation, what was? I'm terribly ignorant on both the history and significance of pottery and other more or less significant markers of material progress

LBird
From collection to production

It seems that the essential 'production' change from stages 1 to 2, was from food collection to food production.

Because there was now a small surplus, there had to be a social way of redistributing that surplus amongst the producers, and that became the role of the 'big man' (or, as you alluded, 'primus inter pares', the 'first amongst equals'). Whether this social role was also one of 'magician', I don't know.

But this 'big man' society is prior to one of 'temple construction', which seems to be a feature of stage 3, 'chiefdom'.

One more thing mhou... given the earlier discussion, I'd prefer you to refer to "...other more or less significant markers of ideal-material progress".

baboon
Slothjabber's point

Sloth, I agree with your point above about nomadic pastoralists and transhumance as mobile elements of the economy in the transitional period. But in my opinion - and I think that there's plenty of evidence for it - nomadic pastoralism came after sedentism. It did so across the globe because there is no evidence of domesticated animals (except dogs) in the first settled communities in about a dozen regions of the world. Just as an aside Sloth, did we have a discussion along these lines previously? I seem to remember you saying that you had come across Colin Renfrew whose book, "Prehistory, the making of the human mind" is excellent and all the evidence and analysis in this ten-year old book has been confirmed by recent findings (as has the general lines of marxist theory on prehistory). Renfrew above talks about the symbiotic relationship between settled and nomadic pastoralists, a relationship that would have been beneficial to both.

 

I think that we can say that sedentism started in a big way about twelve thousand years ago in west Asia with relatively sophisticated living accomodation, a new belief system that is shaping and motivating material advances (the superstructure affecting the infrastructure) , permanent installations such as a hearth, large facilities (quern stones, grinders and ovens (a necessary precursor to metallurgy). It didn't spread from here outwards (as Gordon Childes thought) but appeared independently in Japan and China just over 10 thousand years ago (probably a lot earlier), then in Europe, the Iranian Plateau, North America, Mexico, Peru and Chile - all independent expressions. What's striking here is that in all these places, even with cultural specifics, there are many profound similarities in the myths of cosmology and the ancestors. The dwelling itself became a "temple" to cosmological thought.

 

In all cases there is evidence of communual buildings possibly for feasting and ritual and probably, for both. The house, the dwelling, from Jericho to Chile becomes a major advance for cosmological thought and again affects the base as it brings a new structure for social life. Belief systems take on a longer-term significance having a greater effect on the group and its activity.

 

It is not correct to call it a "Neolithic revolution" nor an "Agricultural revolution" because in every case above farming followed the new sedentism, sometimes thousands of years later. It would be more accurate to call it a "Sedentary revolution". From agriculture proper comes inheritance, property, greater differentiation and class, civilisation and the state.