Woman's role in the emergence of human culture

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Why write about primitive communism today? The sudden plunge into catastrophic economic crisis and the development of struggles around the world are raising new problems for the working class, dark clouds are gathering over capitalism’s future, and all the while the hope of a better world seems unable to break through. Is this really the time to study our species’ social history in the period from its emergence some 200,000 years ago to the beginning of the Neolithic (about 10,000 years ago)?1 For ourselves, we are convinced that the question is every bit as important for communists today as it was for Marx and Engels in the 19th century, both in general for its scientific interest and as an element in our understanding of humanity and its history, and for our understanding of the perspective and possibility of a future communist society able to replace moribund capitalism.

This is why we can only welcome the publication in 2009 of a book titled Le communisme primitif n’est plus ce qu’il était (“Primitive communism is not what it was”) by Christophe Darmangeat; and indeed it is even more encouraging that the book is already in its second edition, which clearly indicates a public interest in the subject.2 This article will try, through a critical review, to return to the problems posed by the question of the first human societies; we will profit from the opportunity to explore the ideas put forward some twenty years ago by Chris Knight,3 in his book Blood Relations.4

Before we get into the meat of the subject, one thing should be clear: the question of primitive communism, and of humanity’s “species being”, are scientific questions, not political ones. In this sense, it is out of the question for a political organisation to adopt a “position” on human nature, for example. We are convinced that a communist organisation should stimulate debate and a thirst for scientific knowledge amongst its militants, and more generally in the working class, but the aim here is to encourage the development of a materialist and scientific view of the world, based on an awareness of modern scientific theory, at least as far as this is possible for non-scientists, as most of us are. The ideas presented cannot therefore be considered the “positions” of the ICC: they are the responsibility of the author alone.5

Why is the question of our origins important?

Why then is the question of the origin of our species, and of the first human societies, an important one for communists? The terms of the problem have changed considerably since the 19th century when Marx and Engels discovered with enthusiasm the work of the American anthropologist Lewis Morgan. In 1884, when Engels published The origins of the family, private property, and the state, science had barely escaped the clutches of an epoch where the estimates of the age of the planet, or of human society, were based on Bishop Ussher’s biblical calculations.6 As Engels wrote in his 1891 preface: “Before the beginning of the ’sixties, one cannot speak of a history of the family. In this field, the science of history was still completely under the influence of the five books of Moses. The patriarchal form of the family, which was there described in greater detail than anywhere else, was not only assumed without question to be the oldest form, but it was also identified – minus its polygamy – with the bourgeois family of today, so that the family had really experienced no historical development at all”.7 The same was true of notions of property, and the bourgeoisie could still object to the working class’ communist programme that “private property” was intrinsic to human society itself. The idea of the existence of a social condition of primitive communism was so unknown that in 1847 the Communist Manifesto could open with the words “The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles.” (a declaration that Engels thought it necessary to correct with a note in 1884).

Morgan’s book Ancient Society greatly helped in dismantling the ahistorical view of a human society eternally based on private property, even though his contribution was often hidden or passed over in silence by official anthropology, especially in Britain. As Engels notes, again in his Preface: “Morgan filled the measure to overflowing by not merely criticizing civilization, the society of commodity production, the basic form of present-day society, in a manner reminiscent of Fourier, but also by speaking of a future transformation of this society in words which Karl Marx might have used.

Today, in 2012, the situation is very different. A succession of discoveries have pushed man’s origins further and further back in time, so that today we know not only that private property is not society’s eternal foundation, but on the contrary that it is a relatively recent invention, since agriculture and so private property and the division of society into classes only date back some 10,000 years. Certainly, as Alain Testart has shown in his work Les chasseurs-cueilleurs ou l'origine des inégalités, the formation of wealth and classes did not take place overnight; a long period must have elapsed before the emergence of fully fledged agriculture, during which the development of storage techniques encouraged the emergence of an unequal distribution of accumulated wealth. Nonetheless, it is clear today that by far the longest period of human history is not that of class struggle, but of a society without classes: a society that we are justified in calling primitive communism.

The objection to the idea of a communist society that we hear most today is no longer that it violates the eternal principles of private property, but that it is supposedly contrary to “human nature”. “You can’t change human nature”, we are told, and by that is meant the supposedly violent, competitive and egocentric nature of man. Capitalist order is thus no longer eternal, but merely the logical and inevitable result of unchanging nature. Nor is this argument limited to right-wing ideologues. Humanist scientists, following as they believe the same logic of a genetically determined human nature, reach similar conclusions. The New York Review of Books (a left leaning intellectual journal) gives us an example of this reasoning in its October 2011 edition: “Humans compete for resources, living space, mates, social status, and almost everything else. Each living human is at the apex of a lineage of successful competitors that extends back to the origin of life. We are nothing if not fine-tuned competitors. The compulsion to compete enters into nearly everything we do, whether we recognize it or not. And the best competitors among us are often the best rewarded. One needs to look no further than Wall Street for a flagrant example [...] The human predicament of overpopulation and overexploitation of resources is fundamentally driven by the primordial impulses that drove our ancestors to achieve above-average reproductive success.8

This argument appears unanswerable at first sight: one hardly need look far to find endless examples of cupidity, violence, cruelty and egoism in today’s society, and in history. But does it follow that these defects are determined – as we would say today – genetically? Nothing could be more uncertain. If we can risk an analogy, a tree growing on a windswept cliff will grow twisted and stunted. Yet this is not wholly inscribed in its genes: under better conditions the tree would grow straight and tall.

Could we say the same of human beings?

It is a truism that features often enough in our articles, to say that the world proletariat’s resistance to capitalism’s crisis does not correspond to the violence of the attacks to which it is subjected. Communist revolution has perhaps never seemed so necessary, and yet at the same time so difficult. One of the reasons for this is certainly – in our view – because the workers not only lack confidence in their own strength but in the very possibility of communism. “It’s a nice idea”, people say to us, “but you know, human nature...”.

To regain its self-confidence, the proletariat must not only confront the immediate problems of the struggle; it must also confront the greater historical problems posed by its potential revolutionary confrontation with the ruling class. Amongst these problems there is precisely that of “human nature”, and this problem can only be investigated in the spirit of science. we have no interest in “proving” that man is “good”. We hope to arrive at a better understanding of precisely what man is, in order to integrate this knowledge into communist political project. The communist goal does not depend on man’s “natural goodness”: the need for communism is set in the given of capitalist society as the only solution to the social logjam which will undoubtedly lead us to a catastrophic future if capitalism does not give way before a communist revolution.

Scientific method

Before continuing, we want to turn aside briefly to consider the question of scientific method, especially as it applies to the study of human history and behaviour. A passage at the beginning of Knight’s book seems to us to pose the problem of anthropology’s place among the sciences very well: “More than any other field of knowledge, anthropology taken as a whole spans the chasm which has traditionally divided the natural from the human sciences. Potentially if not always in practice, it therefore occupies a central position among the sciences as a whole. The crucial threads which – if joined – might bind the natural sciences to the humanities would have to run through anthropology more than through any other field. It is here that the ends join – here that the study of nature ends and that of culture begins. At which point on the scale of evolution did biological principles cease to predominate while other, more complex, principles began prevailing in their place? Where exactly is the dividing line between animal and human social life? Is the distinction here one of kind, or merely one of degree? And, in the light of this question, is it really possible to study human phenomena scientifically – with the same detached objectivity as an astronomer can show towards galaxies or a physicist towards subatomic particles?

If this area of relationships between the sciences seems to many to be confused, it is only in part because of the real difficulties involved. Science may be rooted at one end in objective reality, but at the other end it is rooted in society and ourselves. It is for ultimately social and ideological reasons that modern science, fragmented and distorted under immense yet largely unacknowledged political pressures, has stumbled upon its greatest problem and its greatest theoretical challenge – to incorporate the humanities and the natural sciences into a single unified science on the basis of an understanding of humanity’s evolution and place within the rest of the universe.9

The question of the “dividing line” between the animal world, whose behaviour is determined above all by its genetic heritage, and the human world where behaviour depends to a far greater extent both on genes and on our cultural evolution, does indeed seem to us crucial to an understanding of “human nature”. Other primates are capable of learning, and up to a point of inventing and transmitting new behaviour, but this does not mean that they possess a “culture” in the human sense. These learned behaviours remain “marginal to the maintenance of social-structural continuity”.10 What made it possible for culture to gain the upper hand, in a “creative explosion”,11 is the development of communication amongst human groups, the development of symbolic culture based on language and ritual. Knight indeed makes the comparison between symbolic culture and language, which allowed human beings to communicate and so transmit ideas, and therefore culture, universally, and science, which is also founded on a common symbolism based on a planet-wide accord between all scientists, and potentially at least between all human beings. The practice of science is inseparable from debate, and the ability of each to verify the conclusions at which science arrives: it is therefore the sworn enemy of any form of esotericism which lives through secret knowledge, closed to non initiates.

Because it is a universal form of knowledge, and because since the industrial revolution it has been a productive force in its own right dependent on the associated labour, in both time and space, of scientists,12 science is internationalist by nature, and in this sense the proletariat and science are natural allies.13 This absolutely does not mean that there can be such a thing as “proletarian science”. In his article on “Marxism and science”, Knight quotes these words of Engels: “.... the more ruthlessly and disinterestedly science proceeds, the more it finds itself in harmony with the interests of the workers.14 Knight continues: “Science, as humanity's only universal, international, species-unifying form of knowledge, had to come first. If it had to be rooted in the interests of the working class, this was only in the sense that all science has to be rooted in the interests of the human species as a whole, the international working class embodying these interests in the modern epoch just as the requirements of production have always embodied these interests in previous periods.”.

There are two other aspects of scientific thought, highlighted in Carlo Rovelli’s book on the Greek philosopher Anaximander of Miletos,15 which we want to take up here because they seem to us fundamental: respect for one’s predecessors, and doubt.

Rovelli shows that Anaximander’s attitude towards his master Thales broke with the attitudes that characterised his epoch: either a total rejection in order to establish oneself as the new master, or a slavish devotion to the words of the “master” whose thought is maintained in a state of mummification. The scientific attitude on the contrary, consists in basing ourselves on the work of the “masters” who have gone before, while at the same time criticising their mistakes and trying to take knowledge further. This the attitude we find in Knight’s book with regard to Lévi-Strauss, and in Darmangeat with regard to Morgan.

Doubt is fundamental to science, the very opposite of religion which always seeks certainty and consolation in the invariance of eternally established truth. As Rovelli says, “Science offers the best answers precisely because it does not consider its answers to be absolute truths; this is why it is always able to learn, and to take in new ideas”.16 This is especially true of anthropology and paleo-anthropology, whose data is often scattered and uncertain, and whose best theories can be upended overnight by new discoveries.

Is it even possible to have a scientific vision of history? Karl Popper,17 who is a reference for most scientists, thought not. He considered history as a “unique event” which is therefore non-reproducible, and since the verification of a scientific hypothesis depends on reproducible experiment, historical theory cannot be considered scientific. For the same reasons, Popper rejected the theory of evolution as non-scientific, and yet it is obvious today that the scientific method has proved itself capable of laying bare the fundamental mechanisms of the evolutionary process to the point where humanity can now manipulate evolution through genetic engineering. Without going as far as Popper, it is nonetheless clear that to apply the scientific method to the study of history, to the point we can make predictions about its evolution, is an extremely hazardous exercise. On the one hand human history – like meteorology for example – incorporates an incalculable number of independent variables, on the other, and above all, because – as Marx said – “men make their own history”; history is therefore determined by laws, but also by the ability or otherwise of human beings to base their acts on conscious thought and on the knowledge of these laws. Historical evolution is always subject to constraints: at any given moment, certain developments are possible, others are not. But the manner in which a given situation will evolve is also determined by men’s ability to become conscious of these constraints and to act on the basis of this awareness.

It is thus particularly bold on Knight’s part to accept the full rigour of the scientific method and to subject his theory to experimental test. Obviously, it is impossible to “reproduce” history experimentally. Knight therefore makes predictions on the basis of his hypotheses (in 1991, the date when Blood Relations was published) as to future archaeological discoveries: in particular, that the earliest traces of human symbolic culture would reveal an extensive use of red ochre. In 2006, 15 years later, it would seem that these predictions have been confirmed by the discoveries in the Blombos caves (South Africa) of the first known vestiges of human culture;18 these include engraved red ochre, pierced sea-shells apparently used for body decoration, and even the world’s first paint-pot, all of which fits into the evolutionary model that Knight proposes (to which we will return later). Obviously, this is not a “proof” of his theory, but it seems to us undeniable that it strengthens the hypothesis.

This scientific method is very different from that followed by Darmangeat who remains, or so it seems to us, restricted to the inductivist method which brings together known facts to try to extract from these some common factors. This method is not without value in scientific historical study: after all, any theory must conform to known reality. But Darmangeat seems to be very reticent about any attempt to go further and this seems to us an empirical rather than a scientific approach: science does not advance through induction from observed fact, but through hypothesis, which must certainly be in conformity with observation but must also propose an approach (experimental if possible), which would make it possible to go further towards new discoveries and new observations. String theory in quantum mechanics gives us a striking example of this method: although it is in accord, as far as possible, with observed fact, it cannot today be verified experimentally, since the particles (or “strings”) whose existence it postulates are too small to be measured with existing technology. String theory thus remains a speculative hypothesis – but without this kind of bold speculation, science would be unable to advance.

Another problem with the inductivist method is that it must, inevitably, pre-select its observations from the immensity of known reality. This is how Darmangeat proceeds, when he bases himself solely on ethnographic observation and leaves aside any consideration of the role of evolution and genetics – which seems to us an impossibility in a work which aims to lay bare “the origin of the oppression of women” (as Darmangeat’s book is sub-titled).

Morgan, Engels, and the scientific method

After these very modest considerations on the question of methodology, let us now return to Darmangeat’s book, which is this article’s starting-point.

The book is divided into two parts: the first examines the work of the American anthropologist Lewis Morgan on which Engels based his Origins of the family, private property and the state, while the second takes up Engels’ question as to the origins of the oppression of women. In this second part, Darmangeat concentrates on attacking the idea that there once existed a primitive communism based on matriarchy.

The first part seems to us especially interesting,19 and we can only agree wholeheartedly with Darmangeat when he rounds on a supposedly “marxist” position which raises the work of Morgan (and a fortiori Engels) to the status of untouchable religious texts. Nothing could be further from the scientific spirit of marxism. While we should expect marxists to have a historical view of the emergence and development of materialist social theory, and so to take account of previous theories, it is absolutely obvious that we cannot take 19th century texts as the last word, and ignore the immense accumulation of ethnographic knowledge since then. Certainly, it is necessary to maintain a critical view in this respect: Darmangeat, like Knight, rightly insists on the fact that the struggle against Morgan’s theories was far from being waged on the basis of “pure”, “disinterested” science. When Morgan’s contemporary and later adversaries pointed out his mistakes, or when they highlighted discoveries that did not fit his theory, their aim was not in general neutral. By attacking Morgan, they attacked the evolutionary view of human society, and tried to re-establish bourgeois society’s patriarchal family and private property as the “eternal” categories of all human society, past present and future. This was perfectly explicit for Malinowski, one of the early 20th century’s greatest ethnographers, who said in a 1931 radio interview: “I believe that the most disruptive element in the modern revolutionary tendencies is the idea that parenthood can be made collective. If once we come to the point of doing away with the individual family as the pivotal element of our society, we should be faced with a social catastrophe compared with which the political upheaval of the French revolution and the economic changes of Bolshevism are insignificant. The question, therefore, as to whether group motherhood is an institution which ever existed, whether it is an arrangement which is compatible with human nature and social order, is of considerable practical interest”.18 We are a long way, here, from scientific objectivity...

Let us move on to Darmangeat’s critique of Morgan. This is of great interest in our view, if only because it begins with a fairly detailed summary of Morgan’s theories, making them readily accessible for the non expert reader. We especially appreciate the table which aligns the different stages of social evolution used by Morgan and the anthropology of his epoch (“savagery”, “barbarism”, etc.) and those in use today (Palaeolithic, Neolithic, etc.), which makes it easier to place oneself in historical time, and the explanatory diagrams of different kinship systems. The whole section abounds in clear, didactic explanations.

The foundation of Morgan’s theory is to bring together the type of family, kinship systems, and technical development, in a series of evolutionary steps which lead from “the state of savagery” (the first stage of human social evolution, which corresponds to the Palaeolithic), to “barbarism” (the Neolithic and the age of metals), and finally to civilisation. This evolution is supposedly determined by technical development, and the apparent contradictions that Morgan noted among many peoples (the Iroquois in particular) between the systems of family and kinship, represented for him the intermediary stages between a more primitive and a more advanced economy and technology. Sadly for the theory, when we look more closely this turns out not to be the case. To take only one of Darmangeat’s many examples, according to Morgan the “punaluan” kinship system is supposed to represent one of the most primitive technical and social stages, and yet it is to be found in Hawaii, in a society which contains wealth, social inequality, an aristocratic social stratum, and which is on the point of evolving into a full-blown state and class society. Family and kinship systems are thus determined by social needs, but not in a straight line from the most primitive to the most modern.

Does this mean that the marxist view of social evolution should be thrown into the bin? Not in the least, says Darmangeat. However, we need to dissociate what Morgan, and Marx and Engels after him, tried to bring together: the evolution of technology (and therefore of productivity) and family systems. “... Although modes of production are all qualitatively different, they all possess a common quantity, productivity, which makes it possible to order them in a rising series, which moreover roughly corresponds to their chronological order [...] [For the family] there is no common quantity which could be used to establish a rising series of different forms”.20 It is obvious that the economy is the determining factor “in the last instance”, to use Engels term: if there were no economy (ie the reproduction of everything necessary to human life), then there would be no social life either. But this “last instance” leaves a great deal of space for other influences, be they geographical, historical, cultural, or other. Ideas, culture – in its broadest sense – are also determining factors in society. At the end of his life, Engels himself regretted that the pressing need, for Marx and himself, to set historical materialism on a sure footing, and to fight for its defence, left them too little time to analyse other historically determining factors.21

The critique of anthropology

In the second part of his book, Darmangeat puts forward his own thoughts. We find here two basic themes, so to speak: on the one hand a historical critique of anthropological theory on the position of women in primitive societies, on the other we have the exposition of his own conclusions on the subject. This historical critique is focused on the evolution of what, for Darmangeat, is the marxist – or at least marxist-influenced – vision of primitive communism from the standpoint of women’s place in primitive society, and is a vigorous denunciation of “feminist” attempts to defend the idea of a primeval matriarchy in the first human societies.

This choice is not unreasonable, nonetheless in our view it is not always a happy one, leading the author to ignore some marxist theoreticians who belong in such a study, and to include others who have no business there at all. To take just a few examples, Darmangeat criticises Alexandra Kollontai22 over several pages, yet says almost nothing about Rosa Luxemburg. Now, whatever Kollontai’s role in the Russian revolution and in the resistance to its degeneration (she played a leading role in the “Workers’ Opposition”), Kollontai never played a great part in the development of marxist theory, and still less in that of anthropology. Luxemburg on the other hand, was not only a leading marxist theoretician, she was also the author of an Introduction to political economy, which devotes an important part to the question of primitive communism, on the basis of the most up to date research of the day. The only justification for this imbalance is that Kollontai played an important part, first in the socialist movement, then in early Soviet Russia, in the struggle for women’s rights, whereas Luxemburg never took a close interest in feminism. Two other marxist authors who have written on the theme of primitive communism are not even mentioned: Karl Kautsky (Ethics and the materialist conception of history) and Anton Pannekoek (Anthropogenesis).

Amongst the unfortunate “inclusions” we find, for example, Evelyn Reed: this member of the American Socialist Workers’ Party (a Trotskyist organisation which gave its “critical” support to participation in World War II), is included for having written in 1975 Feminism and anthropology, a work which enjoyed a certain success in left-wing circles at the time. But as Darmangeat says, the book was almost completely ignored by anthropologists largely because of the poverty of its arguments, which were pointed out even by sympathetic critics.

We find the same absences amongst the anthropologists: Claude Lévi-Strauss, one of the most important figures in 20th century anthropology and whose theory of the passage from nature to culture is founded on the idea of the exchange of women between men, only gets a walk-on part, while Bronislaw Malinowski does not appear at all.

Perhaps the most surprising absence is that of Chris Knight. Darmangeat’s book is focused especially on the situation of women in primitive communist societies, and on the critique of theories which belong to a certain marxist, or marxist-influenced tradition. In 1991, the British anthropologist Chris Knight, who considers his work to lie explicitly within the marxist tradition, published a work – Blood Relations – which deals with precisely the issue that concerns Darmangeat. One would expect that Darmangeat would pay it the closest attention, all the more so since he himself recognises the work’s “great erudition”. Yet nothing of the sort is to be found in Darmangeat’s book, quite the reverse. He devotes barely a page (p321) to Knight’s thesis, where he tells us that it “reiterates the serious methodological errors of Reed and Briffault (Knight says nothing about the former, but quotes the latter abundantly)”, which could leave the francophone reader with no access to a book available only in English, with the impression that Knight does no more than follow behind people who Darmangeat has already demonstrated are not to be taken seriously.23 Yet a mere glance at Knight’s bibliography is enough to show that while he does indeed cite Briffault, he gives a good deal more space to Marx, Engels, Lévi-Strauss, Marshall Sahlins... and many more. And if one takes the trouble to consult his references to Briffault, one finds immediately that Knight considers the latter’s work (published in 1927), whatever its merits, to be “outdated in its sources and methodology24

In short, our feeling is that Darmangeat leaves us rather “sitting on the fence”: we end up with a critical narrative which is neither a real critique of the positions defended by marxists, nor a real critique of anthropological theory, and this sometimes gives us the impression of witnessing Don Quixote’s joust with the windmills. This choice of structure seems to us to obscure more than anything else, an argument which in other respects is of considerable interest.

Jens (to be continued)

1. A social history which, for some human populations, has continued to the present day.

2. Editions Smolny, Toulouse, 2009. We became aware of the publication of the second edition of Darmangeat’s book (Smolny, Toulouse, 2012) just as this article was about to go to press, and we obviously wondered whether we would have to rewrite this review. After reading through the second edition, it seems to us that we can leave this article essentially in its original state. The author himself points out in a new preface that he has not “modified the text’s essential ideas, nor the arguments on which it is based”, and our reading of this new edition confirms this. We have therefore limited ourselves to elaborating some arguments on the basis of the 2nd edition. Unless otherwise noted, the quotes and page references are taken from the first edition.

3. Chris Knight is an English anthropologist and member of the “Radical Anthropology Group”. He has taken part in the debates on science at the 19th ICC Congress, and we have published his article on “Marxism and Science” on our web site (https://en.internationalism.org/icconline/2011/07/marxism-and-science-chris-knight)

4. Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 1991.

5. That said, the author is deeply indebted to the discussions within the organisation, without which it would certainly have been impossible to develop these ideas.

6. Bishop Ussher was a prolific 17th scholar who calculated the age of the Earth on the basis of biblical genealogies: he gave a date for the planet’s creation in 4004 BC.

9 Knight, op.cit. p.56-7

10. Ibid, p11. We can draw an analogy here with commodity production and capitalist society. Commodity production and trade have existed since the dawn of civilisation, and perhaps even before, but they become determining factors only in capitalism.

11. Ibid, p.12

12. See our article "Reading notes on science and marxism", https://en.internationalism.org/icconline/201203/4739/reading-notes-science-and-marxism

13. This is true of science as it is of other productive forces under capitalism: “The bourgeoisie, during its rule of scarce one hundred years, has created more massive and more colossal productive forces than have all preceding generations together. Subjection of Nature’s forces to man, machinery, application of chemistry to industry and agriculture, steam-navigation, railways, electric telegraphs, clearing of whole continents for cultivation, canalisation of rivers, whole populations conjured out of the ground — what earlier century had even a presentiment that such productive forces slumbered in the lap of social labour?[...] The productive forces at the disposal of society no longer tend to further the development of the conditions of bourgeois property; on the contrary, they have become too powerful for these conditions, by which they are fettered, and so soon as they overcome these fetters, they bring disorder into the whole of bourgeois society, endanger the existence of bourgeois property” (Marx and Engels, Communist Manifesto, Part I “Bourgeois and Proletarians”).

14. Engels, “Ludwig Feuerbach and the end of classical German philosophy”. In K Marx and F Engels, On Religion. Moscow 1957, p. 266.

15. The first scientist : Anaximander and his legacy, Westholme Publishing, 2011

16. Our translation from the French, cited in an article published on our French site.

17. Karl Popper (1902-1994) was born in Vienna, Austria. He became one of the 20th century’s most influential philosophers of science, and an unavoidable reference for any scientist interested in questions of methodology. He insists in particular on the idea of “refutability”, which states that any hypothesis, if it is to be considered scientific, must be able to propose experiments which would allow it to be refuted: should such experiments be impossible, then a hypothesis could not claim to be scientific. On this basis, Popper held that marxism, psychoanalysis, and – at least at first – Darwinism, could not claim to be scientific disciplines.

18. See the work of the Stellenbosch conference published in The cradle of language, OUP, 2009, and the article published in the November 2011 issue of La Recherche (www.larecherche.fr/content/recherche/article?id=30891).

19. Ironically, in the second edition Darmangeat has moved the book’s first part to an Appendix, apparently for fear of discouraging the non-specialist reader with its “aridity”, to use the author’s own term.

20. p136 of the first edition. The translation from the French is ours’ throughout.

21. “Marx and I are ourselves partly to blame for the fact that the younger people sometimes lay more stress on the economic side than is due to it. We had to emphasise the main principle vis-à-vis our adversaries, who denied it, and we had not always the time, the place or the opportunity to give their due to the other elements involved in the interaction. But when it came to presenting a section of history, that is, to making a practical application, it was a different matter and there no error was permissible. Unfortunately, however, it happens only too often that people think they have fully understood a new theory and can apply it without more ado from the moment they have assimilated its main principles, and even those not always correctly. And I cannot exempt many of the more recent "Marxists" from this reproach, for the most amazing rubbish has been produced in this quarter, too...” (Engels, letter to J Bloch, 21st September 1890: https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1890/letters/90_09_21.htm)

22. In the second edition, Kollontai even has her own sub-section.

23. The critique of Knight’s work is no more extensive in the second edition, with the exception of a reference to a critical review by Joan M Gero, a feminist anthropologist and author of Engendering archaeology. This review seems to us somewhat superficial and politically partisan. Here is a typical example: “What Knight puts forward as an ‘engendered’ perspective on the origins of culture is a paranoid and distorting view of  “female solidarity,” featuring (all) women as sexually exploiting and manipulating (all) men. Male-female relations are characterized forever and everywhere as between victims and manipulators; exploitative women are assumed always to have wanted to trap men by one means or another, and indeed their conspiring to do so serves as the very basis of our species’ development. Readers may similarly be offended by the assumption that men have always been promiscuous and that only good sex, coyly metered out by calculating women, can keep them at home and interested in their offspring. Not only is the scenario unlikely and undemonstrated, repugnant to feminists and non-feminists alike, but the sociobiological reasoning dismisses all the nuanced versions of social construction of gender relations, ideologies, and activities that have become so central and fascinating in gender studies today”. In short, we are invited to reject a scientific thesis not because it is wrong – Gero has nothing to say about this and takes no trouble to demonstrate it – but because it is “repugnant” to certain feminists.

24 Darmangeat, op.cit, p. 328.



General and theoretical questions: 



Primitive communism