"The history of man is a history of class struggle." the opening line of the Communist Manifesto written by Marx and Engels in 1848, by which they also meant that the prehistory of man is without class struggle. I say "is" in the present tense because "history", in this context, is not a period of time but a level of technology. The anthropological definition of a "civilization" is a culture that has developed written language. In order for a people to reach that stage it must necessarily be sedentary and agricultural, i.e., it is to have domesticated plants and animals. It is only then that they can record their history - in the modern Western understanding of that phrase.

It is a solid fact of anthropology - and thus, of political economics - that the prehistory of man, that is, the level of technology and production that does not enable the development of written language, was, in fact, without class struggle. Preagricultural society is without exception egalitarian, without hierarchy, private property or formal authority. The most conservative anthropologist would not deny that fact. They might say that subsequent civilization with its invariable succession of slave society to feudalism and eventually capitalism represent an improvement or some sort of evolutionary advance but none would ever deny that ALL people come from a culture of communal participatory democracy of, at least, their distant ancestors.

I've heard people bandy around different theories as to why social, political and economic structures change when agriculture and written language are developed. I've heard it was tomatoes in the diet, I've heard that written language wires the brain malevolently and I heard other provocative theories. I, however, think it's nothing nearly so esoteric. I think, quite simply, that when people domesticate plants and animals, from there it's a short step to domesticating other people. When a people first discovers and engages in the practices of agriculture and patrimony there are always a few clever opportunists among them who think it would be a sharp idea to apply the principle of domestication not only to plants and animals but to other people as well and thus begin various kinds of slavery, the subjugation of women, and that sort of thing. Thus the contemporary rightist (and leftist but the leftists don't pretend they don't, they are, in fact, calling out the rightists on their designs) ideology bifurcates society into two main categories or classes, that of the owners of businesses and that of those who work for someone else (namely, those owners of business), capital and labor, as it were. These are clearly categories of relative value of human beings in the rightist ideology with labor as the not fully human, beasts of burden, if you will. When they talk about freedom the rightists clearly are not thinking of workers. Freedom is a basic right and value but only for them. Their naturally deserved, God given freedoms include the freedom to enslave plants and animals as well as people of the other category, people who are not owners of business - or labor. Labor, the rightists believe, like women, (until relatively recently) other racial groups and other species of life were put on earth for their use and exploitation - as the patriarchal religions of civilization would have it. When those of a rightist persuasion talk about human rights in other parts of the world they are talking almost exclusively of private property rights. Thus, for purpose of their PR, Cuba is a greater human rights abuser than Guatemala for expropriating property - and flipping U.S. rightists the bird while doing it. That Guatemala, a U.S. rightist backed regime, is still committing a literal genocide against its people as it has been for 60 years doesn't affect that. It also doesn't matter if the private property rights they are so willing to defend to the last drop of your blood (and which many don't accept as basic human rights) violate other, greater, true human rights of those not of their ownership category.
Thus, know your enemy. It's not the foreign peoples, like the Arabs, for example. They've been under the Western business owners' boots for a long time and are only trying to be free. It's not Latin American immigrants. Their prospects in their own countries were ruined by the free trade agreements and they're only here trying to make it. It's not other racial groups, they're not different from us below the surface (did you know that you're more likely to have a friend or to marry someone in the U.S. who is of another racial group than someone of the Business Ownership Category - if you are not of that same category?)
Your enemy is the business owners (not the small time owners so much although they often get taken with the idea of ownership and sacrifice all other values to that purpose hoping to be big owners). There are nice people among the big owners as well but that's in spite of, not because of, their big ownership. Ownership has its set of vested interests - and every station in life has but those of ownership require dispensing with ethics (and if you don't believe me enroll in business school and see how they start by telling you to be "flexible with ethics". Then take an industrial engineering course - believe me, it's not what you think.) It's all too rare a person who sees beyond their own vested interests.
So don't believe the hype, they'll say anything to get what they want. "To Serve Humanity" is, in fact, their cook book and they wanna have you for lunch.


nimblecivet 6 years 16 weeks ago

That's quite a string of unsubtantiated assertions. I doubt many people will accept them at face value, especially without references, even here at this board.

Unfortunately you did not articulate a vision here as to what a succesfull overthrow of the ruling class or transformation of class-based society will bring. Since you don't make an argument about that which shows how you believe your view of anthropology and history are relevant I'm not sure its worth it to debate your points. Could you name at least one group of people you believe represents the pre-civilization (as you define it) existence? Otherwise your insistence that the entire anthropological community has adopted the views you say they have seems to me to be more of a political sophistry than a genuine attempt to communicate valid ideas and a shared understanding.

Mark Saulys's picture
Mark Saulys 6 years 15 weeks ago

Do you always comment on things you are completely ignorant of and accuse those who aren't of misleading you? I suggest you look the matter up, study it and then comment and we can discuss. I'm not gonna argue with you if you stay in your position of ignorance. It would be a waste of time.

nimblecivet 6 years 15 weeks ago
Quote Wikipedia:

Most 19th-century and some 20th-century approaches aimed to provide models for the evolution of humankind as a single entity. However, most 20th-century approaches, such as multilineal evolution, focused on changes specific to individual societies. Moreover, they rejected directional change (i.e. orthogenetic, teleological or progressive change). Most archaeologists work within the framework of multilineal evolution. ...

Slavery, agriculture, and language- including written language- all existed prior to the advent of what historians refer to as "civilization", that is the societies of Egypt and Babylon and so forth. The formation of class structures has its origin in the heirarchical tendencies of human societies as demonstrated "custom" referred to here:

Quote Robert Gilman:

Early Agricultural Societies Farming made the human relationship to the land more concentrated. Tilling the land, making permanent settlements, etc., all meant a greater direct investment in a particular place. Yet this did not lead immediately to our present ideas of ownership. As best as is known, early farming communities continued to experience an intimate spiritual connection to the land, and they often held land in common under the control of a village council. This pattern has remained in many peasant communities throughout the world.

It was not so much farming directly, but the larger-than- tribal societies that could be based on farming that led to major changes in attitudes towards the land. Many of the first civilizations were centered around a supposedly godlike king, and it was a natural extension to go from the tribal idea that “the land belongs to the gods” to the idea that all of the kingdom belongs to the god-king. Since the god-king was supposed to personify the whole community, this was still a form of community ownership, but now personalized. Privileges of use and control of various types were distributed to the ruling elite on the basis of custom and politics.

Gilman's essay is about the advent of private property. At any rate, there seems to be this need among many to describe a certain process that must have occured which explains how things are now. While these conversations about what we know and how much we have to exptrapolate are interesting and useful, it is fallacious to assume that one must base one's political or social agenda on a simple notion such as that discussed by others on this board, namely http://www.thomhartmann.com/forum/2013/02/austrian-economist-bob-murphy-... .

Money and debt assuredly were both common in some form long before either became formalized and standardized. Same with slavery and class. The fact that the world is coming under a single hegemony does not imply the need for a single, linear account of this process from origin to end.

Quote Wikipedia:

Harris' earliest work began in the Boasian tradition of descriptive anthropological fieldwork, but his fieldwork experiences in Mozambique in the late 1950s caused him to shift his focus from ideological features of culture, toward behavioral aspects. His 1968 history of anthropological thought, The Rise of Anthropological Theory critically examined hundreds of years of social thought with the intent of constructing a viable nomothetic understanding of human culture that Harris came to call cultural materialism.[1] Cultural materialism incorporated and refined Marx's categories of superstructure and base; Harris modified and amplified such core Marxist concepts as means of production and exploitation, but Harris rejected two key aspects of Marxist thought: the dialectic, which Harris attributed to an intellectual vogue of Marx’s time; and, unity of theory and practice, which Harris regarded as an inappropriate and damaging stance for social scientists. Harris’ inclusion of demographic dynamics as determinant factors in sociocultural evolution also contrasted with Marx’s rejection of population as a causal element.

You'd probably get more out of a conversation with .ren though.


Mark Saulys's picture
Mark Saulys 6 years 15 weeks ago

Gilman speculates differently as to how it changed but none of that contradicts that preagricutural society was without private property or hierarchy. Your own assertion that slavery, agriculture and written language existed prior to the advent of what historians refer to as "civilization" is tautological and unsubstantiated. "The formation of class structures has its origin in the heirarchical tendencies of human societies as demonstrated 'custom'" is also unsubstantiated speculation on your part. Gilman doesn't say how the customs came about, how quickly or gradually or that it is a tendency "natural to man" and certainly doesn't say anything about preagricultural society.

The historians definition of civilization is irrelevant. The anthropological definition is what matters and that is a culture that develops written language - which is necessarily a sedentary agricultural society.

I never claimed all anthropologists agree with every aspect of Marxist theory, rather, Marx was observing the same phenomenon as other social scientists and drawing similar conclusions and sometimes would borrow (and steal) from other scientists' work, nevertheless his political theories were scientifically informed and scientifically based.

Mark Saulys's picture
Mark Saulys 6 years 15 weeks ago

You can just observe Native Americans. The Lakota or Oglala or other preagricultural groups had no private property or hierarchy. At the other end the civilizations of Incas, Aztecs, Mayas were slave societies approaching feudalism in their structure. In between you had Hopi, Navajo, Iriquois that were agricultural and beginning to change.

Mark Saulys's picture
Mark Saulys 6 years 15 weeks ago

None of what you put forth contradicts what I laid out in any but a speculative way.

Mark Saulys's picture
Mark Saulys 6 years 15 weeks ago

Content repeated, therefore deleted

nimblecivet 6 years 15 weeks ago

"Egalitarian" is a modern concept and should not be applied as an anthropological category.

Prehistoric peoples were historic because they contributed to the development of human culture.

Mark Saulys's picture
Mark Saulys 6 years 15 weeks ago

Wordsmithing. You know what we mean. To study or discuss anything we have to agree and what terms mean. If you say people who do not record their history are, in fact, "historic" (and some might controvert that point on a little more solid ground saying that those peoples do, in fact, have oral history although even that definition would not be relevant to what we are talking about) then we would simply have to find a new term for "prehistoric" and continue the conversation just as before.

Egalitarian is a universal concept unquestioned as the natural way of life in preagricultural societies. It may not acquire a name in those cultures until there is something to contrast it to, i.e., until agriculture is developed and stratification begins to take form or until contact is made between a preagricultural society and civilization - then it's "no, no keshagesh"). Almost all terms used in anthropology are modern terms because the phenomenon is being studied by "modern" anthropologists of a "modern" society, i.e., it is a "modern" society trying to make sense of and understand a technologically primitive society.

Actually the term "modern" is what doesn't belong in anthropology.

nimblecivet 5 years 47 weeks ago

Well, you might be right about the "egalitarian" thing from some of the reading I came across. The whole subject of pre-history and peoples outside western history until contact is a fuzzy notion to me anyway. I know I read somewhere that there are instances of when tirbal heirarchies mean that certain foods are reserved for certain members of the tribe. The native american tribe called the "Delaware" by Europeans took slaves in conflict (if "war" is not the right word) but adopted them into their families. The women had a lot of authority in these things. At any rate, there's still issues there though as far as philosophical accuracy. People tend to create myths and hypotheticals and treat them as historical fact. So the relevance of the idea of "egalitarian" I think is only understood properly in relation to the question of material mode of life. There are some people who genuinely believe we need to dismantle the technological form of society and I am beginning to see that as correct. I just don't know if it can come about in time for it to be the immediate answer to the most important ecological questions.


Yanomami shaman and spokesman Davi Kopenawa, who has been called the ‘Dalai Lama of the Rainforest’, will be making a rare visit to the USA this spring.

He will give a series of enlightening talks in California, including one at the Presidio Trust in San Francisco.

Roland369 5 years 47 weeks ago

If Texas has its way, schoolbooks will have a truncated version of history for future generations to be brainwashed with. Bad history or stuff that reflects badly upon the state will be minimized, while the glory of the state will be exalted. Sound familiar?

The Christian Right already has museums that show dinosaurs and man coexisting together 6000 to 12000 years ago.

The history books are generally written by the victors of war, and what the looser writes gets very little attention.

If you intellectualize too much, you turn of the rank and file reader. Try to post links to your sources, or foot notes. The intelligencia or intellectuals were blamed for the Russian Revolution, and to a certain extent they were. However, it took the conversion of intellectual ideas into terms that the average farm worker or factory worker could understand, that swelled their ranks.

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