This is the version I sent to the editor of Nature, Society, and Thought in June of 1988. There are minor editorial changes in the version published as: "Anthropology for Marxists: Prehistoric Revolutions." Nature, Society, and Thought: A Journal of Dialectical Materialism 1(4):469-499 (1988). This is a revised version of a paper originally presented at the West Coast Marxist Scholars Conference held at the University of California, Berkeley, April 26-29, 1984. 






There is, of course, plenty of darkness around us now, just as there was between the two wars.  Those who wish to despair can find cause enough and more in our everyday life.  Marxism does not console anyone by playing down difficulties, or minimizing the material and moral darkness which surrounds us human beings today.  The difference is only - but in this "only" lies a whole world - that Marxism has a grasp of the main lines of human development and recognizes its laws.  Those who have arrived at such knowledge know, in spite of all temporary darkness, both whence we have come and where we are going.  And those who know this find the world changed in their eyes: they see purposeful development where formerly only a blind, senseless confusion surrounded them.  Where the philosophy of despair weeps for the collapse of a world and the destruction of culture, there Marxists watch the birth-pangs of a new world and assist in mitigating the pains of labor (Lukacs [1948] 1964, 2).


These profoundly true words of Georg Lukacs have particular relevance in the Age of Reagan.  It is only through the application of scientific socialism that humanity can emerge from our present darkness.  And it is only through an understanding of scientific socialism that we, as individuals, can impart to our personal lives a real sense of meaning to guide our action.   But this understanding can only be achieved and maintained through struggle.  Bourgeois forces of darkness are continually seeking to undermine our science, just as they are continually attempting to destroy emerging socialist societies in Central America and throughout the world.   Just as we must defend our revolutionary comrades, so we must defend our revolutionary science.   To do this, we must adopt a critical perspective and continually re-examine our knowledge in the light of the latest scientific achievements.

Anthropology provides crucial insights for such a re-examination.  Although other disciplines provide important analytical tools and data, they focus primarily on Euro-American bourgeois society and are thus both historically and culturally limited.  Anthropology alone provides the time depth and cross cultural perspective necessary to locate bourgeois civilization within the full sweep of the human experience on earth.

Marx and Engels used anthropological materials to enrich materialist conception of history in two ways (Bloch 1983, 10).  They used anthropology, first, to demonstrate that the materialist conception of history was universally valid, that all societies were constructed along the same general principles.  Second, they used anthropology to show that the particular institutions of bourgeois society, such as the state, private property, and the family, were not universal, but instead were historically limited responses to the particular material circumstances of the modern epoch.

This latter point is absolutely fundamental and underlies the entire Marxian enterprise.  Since the institutions of class and gender oppression in bourgeois society are products of human activity within a particular set of material conditions, they can be changed by human activity.  The struggle for socialism would be doomed to failure if class and gender oppression were inevitable concomitants of human nature, as, indeed, is often argued by bourgeois ideologues.  Thus, the cross-cultural data professionally controlled by anthropologists plays a crucial role in the ideological class struggle (and, it may be added, gender struggle).

In waging this class struggle, Marxists must utilize the latest developments in anthropological fact and theory.  This essay explores some of these developments and their relevance for historical materialism.


A century of further anthropological research has caused a re-evaluation of the work of Morgan and the other nineteenth century anthropologists regarded so highly by Marx and Engels.  The past century has seen spectacular discoveries in archaeology and human paleontology, more intensive collection and analysis of ethnographic data, and several interrelated areas of advance in anthropological theory which must be incorporated into a materialist understanding of the development of our species.[2]

The establishment of a professional anthropology in the twentieth century was accompanied by the rejection of the earlier evolutionary perspective in favor or a relativist one.  No longer were "primitive" cultures seen as stages through which Europeans had already passed, but rather, each culture was

seen as a separate and unique experiment in human possibility - as if each were a differently colored, separate piece in a mosaic of human diversity, to be studied, and valued, in its own right (Keesing 1981, 111-112).

There are three aspects to modern anthropological relativism: 1. the separation of race and culture and the non-importance of race; 2. linguistic relativism; and 3. cultural relativism.[3]

The separation of race and culture is fundamental to the relativist position, as it is to all modern social science.  In the modern view, the behavioral repertoire of any society is determined by what they learn, not any innate "racial" features.  This does not deny, of course, that humans have biological needs and drives, nor that, within any human population, there are individual differences in physical and mental abilities.  The modern formulation does deny that there are any significant differences between human groups (or "races") in terms of their physical, mental, or moral needs, abilities and capabilities.

The belief in racial equality was widespread among Enlightenment philosophers, and is also a key feature of the Marxian tradition.  But prior to modern anthropology, this was merely a philosophical belief, not a scientifically established principle.  This permitted the rise of racist ideology in the 19th century when most social thought assumed the superiority of the white race and the inferiority of colored races (Harris 1968; Drake 1980).  Under the leadership of Franz Boas, modern anthropology discredited this assumption and provided firm scientific evidence for the modern view that all human populations are equivalent in key human abilities to acquire, utilize, and develop cultural information.  There are thus neither "primitive races" nor superior or inferior "races."  In fact, many modern anthropologists have abandoned the race concept itself as not useful for understanding human physical variation (see Livingston 1962; Brace and Metress 1973; Littlefield et al 1982).

Another important principle of modern anthropology is linguistic relativism.  The intensive analysis of the languages of American Indians and other "primitive" peoples led to the recognition that all living languages are comparable in their phonetic and grammatical structure and in their ability to express whatever ideas are important to the people using the language (Lounsbury 1968).  In the words of Sapir,

Both simple and complex types of language of an indefinite number of varieties may be spoken at any desired level of cultural advance.  When it comes to linguistic form, Plato walks with the Macedonian swineherd, Confucius with the headhunting savage of Assam (Sapir 1921, 219).

There are, in other words, no "primitive" languages.  Languages without writing are not inferior to written languages, they merely lack this essentially derivative linguistic form.

The third element of the relativist position is cultural relativism itself.  Cultures must be understood and valued in their own terms and not as steps on some evolutionary "ladder."  The family system and religion of a foraging people, for example, must be understood in terms of the values and life-style of that people, and not simply as stages in the development of the family system and religion of the West.  The religious ideology of Australian aborigines, for example, is just as subtle and complex as that of Christianity or Zen Buddhism:

Australian Aborigines have incredibly subtle, philosophically challenging mystical cosmologies that posit a spiritual plane of existence that was prior to the world of sensory experience (in the "dreamtime") but now lies behind or parallel to it.  Mervyn Meggitt (personal communication) describes how the old Walbiri man who was his spiritual guide eventually told him that he, Meggitt, had reached his philosophical depth and could follow no further into the mysteries of the cosmos.  Perhaps no Westerner has ever fully penetrated these Aboriginal philosophical realms (Keesing 1981, 333).

The essence of anthropological relativism is a rejection of the naive evolutionism which sees non-Western peoples as inferior to, and simply representing stages in the development of, modern Western civilization.  Each culture has its own methods of dealing with the environment, with social relationships, and with the supernatural, has its own thought patterns and its own belief and values systems which are different than, but not inferior to, those of the West.  The West clearly has a more elaborate technological system than India or the Arunta of the Australian outback, but this was simply because the West valued technology.  The religious systems of India are far more elaborate than the pale monotheism of Christianity, and the Arunta have elaborated a marriage and kinship system which is truly mind-boggling in its complexity.  To say that the West is more advanced than India or the Arunta is simply to impose our Western values on these other cultures.  For the cultural relativist, all cultures are equally advanced and equally human.

It is unfortunate that the positive insights of cultural relativism were accompanied by anti-evolutionism, anti-materialism, and anti-socialism.  Cultural relativists tended to reject and even ridicule the idea that cultures had evolved.  They did not attempt to understand why particular cultures were patterned in different ways, why kinship was valued by the Arunta, religion by the Hindu, and technology by the West.  The humanistic concern with cultural differences was never applied to the Soviet Union.[4]

In spite of these shortcomings, anthropological relativism is an important perspective, the essence of which is not only fully compatible with the thought of Marx but also can best be understood in the framework of historical materialism.[5]


The past few decades have seen a resurgence of evolutionism and materialism in Anthropology led by people like V. Gordon Childe ([1936] 1951), Leslie White (1949, 1959), Julian Steward (1955), and Marvin Harris (1968, 1979, 1985).[6]

A materialist view of social evolution is diagramed in Figure 1.  The major elements of this view may be summarized as follows.

First, the transition from ape to human, what may be called the Human Revolution, began about 5,000,000 years ago.  By about 40,000 B.P. (Before Present), humanity reached its present level of physical and mental capabilities.  All living humans are thus equally human and equally far removed from our ape-like ancestor.  There are no living peoples representative of the lower or middle paleolithic stages of human evolution.  Thus, there are no primitive races or primitive peoples.

Second, although there has been no measurable change in our human genetic capabilities during the past 40,000 years, there have been dramatic changes in our culture, leading to dramatic changes in human life-styles and in the nature of human societies.  These changes may be conceptualized as a series of "revolutions:" the Neolithic Revolution (about 10,000 B.P.) which involved the development of plant and animal domestication and the emergence of a settled village-farming way of life; the Urban Revolution (about 5,000 B.P.) which involved the development of plow agriculture, systems of class rule, and cities; and the Industrial Revolution (about 1800 A.D.), which involved the development of machine production using the energy of fossil fuels and the emergence of a world capitalist system.

Third, living foraging peoples can be used to reconstruct the probable life-style of the upper paleolithic and mesolithic (from about 40,000 to about 10,000 years ago), but only with some reservations.  It must always be borne in mind that the foragers of the upper paleolithic occupied the choicest environments and had no contact with horticultural or industrial peoples, while living foragers and horticulturalists are usually linked into regional systems which include agriculturalists and state-level societies.  Consequently, their economic and social life frequently cannot be understood except in relation to these regional systems (for further discussion of this point, see Keesing 1981, 109-120).  Further, all peoples studied by ethnographers have been subject to decades or centuries of Western contact which has dramatically altered the material conditions of their lives.  In many cases this has led to the emergence of novel cultural complexes which must be understood as products of acculturation (or culture contact) rather than as survivals of our primitive past (see Leacock 1978; Ruyle 1973b, Keesing 1981; Wolf 1982).

The upper levels of Figure 1 deals with the kinds of societies that have emerged since the Industrial Revolution.  Although these are outside the scope of the present discussion, a brief explanation is in order.

As Marx demonstrated in his chapters on the primitive accumulation of capital, the Industrial Revolution was financed by the plunder of Latin America, Africa, and Asia.  Although it occured in Europe, the Industrial Revolution was thus a world-historical event which transformed the social structures not only of European nations but of the rest of the world as well.  The result was the emergence of not one but two kinds of modern society: Overdeveloping Capitalist Nations in Europe and North America, which, on the basis of their centuries-long exploitation of the Third World, have developed the kinds of bourgeois affluence and irrationality criticized by Marxists and non-Marxists alike; and Underdeveloping Capitalist Nations, characterized by poverty, illiteracy, and backwardness, resulting from their continuing exploitation by the Euro-American nations.[7]

The Overdeveloping Capitalist Nations and Underdeveloping Capitalist Nations are thus interdependent rather than independent and are locked into a single World Imperialist System.  Since 1917, as portions of the formerly colonial or semi-colonial world have broken free from imperialism, they have embarked on independent socioeconomic development under the leadership of Communist Parties associated with the Third International.  The result has been the emergence of Protosocialist Nations, a third type of modern society and harbingers of a new world system.  Irrespective of how one feels about the particular policies pursued by the leaderships of the Protosocialist Nations, from the standpoint of social taxonomy they are different from either the Overdeveloping or Underdeveloping forms of capitalism, and must therefore be seen as a third form of modern society.[8]

With this background, we may turn to the analysis of the revolutions of prehistory.


Since the time of Darwin, bourgeois science has generally accepted that we are evolved from ape-like ancestors.  The fossil evidence for human evolution, however, was almost entirely discovered in the twentieth century and really understood only within the last two or three decades.  This modern understanding, widely popularized through the bourgeois media, may be briefly summarized.[9]

Current scientific evidence indicates fairly clearly that humanity separated from our closest relatives, the chimpanzees, between five and ten million years ago.  The earliest hominids, the australopithecines, with ape-sized brains but essentially human bodies capable of bipedalism, appear in the fossil record about 4 million years ago. Stone tools appear by about two million years ago, followed by the appearance of larger brained hominids, known as Homo erectus.  From that time on, there is a clear progressive development of stone tools and increasing brain size, until the appearance of modern Homo sapiens about 40,000 years ago.  No significant genetic change in our human capabilities has occurred since, and all contemporary human populations are equally human.

Although bourgeois science is providing an increasingly clear picture of what happened in human evolution, bourgeois ideology is continuing to confuse the question of why it happened.  Orthodox explanations of human origins run along two lines.

The first stresses the role of mentalistic phenomena, such as reason, conceptual thought, language, and symbols, in separating man from beast (leaving open the question of where to place woman).  The second stresses the beast in man, and projects the institutions of capitalist patriarchy back to the very origins of our species, giving us theories of "Man, the Hunter," who is both a "killer ape" (Ardrey 1961) and a "family ape" tricked into exchanging meat for sex by the wily genes of women (Lovejoy 1981).

Considerations of space prevent any serious discussion of these views here.  Marxists should not have to be reminded, however, that the question of the origin of our species is as much a political as an academic issue.  Our views on the origin of humanity both reflect and reinforce our views on human nature and on such social questions as aggression, territoriality, war, private property, the family, and gender relations.  Marxists, accordingly, need to view the evidence on human origins from the perspective of historical materialism.

As human beings, we differ from our primate relatives in both our bodies and our heads.  Our bodies are unique in that we habitually walk on two legs, thereby freeing our hands.  A complex set of adaptations in our feet, legs, pelvic girdles, spines, and skulls are all related to our bipedalism.

We are also unique in our heads, in the size and complexity of our brains and in what we do with our brains, namely engage in symbolic thought and communication.  Although one may cite examples of behavior that may be called "symbolic" among some other species, especially chimps, such behavior is no more like human symbolizing than the hopping of kangaroos is like the flight of birds.  Only human beings engage in massive and continuous symbolic thought, to the extent that we may properly be said to live in a symbolic world of our own creation, just as birds continuously soar and live in the air (Fried 1967, 5-7,48; Langer 1942).

As intellectuals in bourgeois society, we naturally tend to believe that this mentalistic characteristic is the  distinctive feature of our species.  The problem with such a view, however, is that it provides no explanation of the transition from the thought processes of apes to the thought processes of human beings.  The solution to this problem lies in recognition of a third distinctive feature of our species, our dependence on social labor.[10]

All human beings are absolutely dependent upon the use values produced by social labor.  Our food, clothing, houses, and word processors are all produced by human labor, and, importantly, by other people's labor.  Even if, as Marx points out, human life is reduced to a mere stick, there is still the necessity of producing that stick.  It is this dependence on social labor that is the distinctive feature of our species, from which the others, our bipedalism and our mental capabilities, are derived.

The fossil record indicates clearly that our bodies became human before our heads.  The australopithecines were bipedal millions of years before there was any significant increase in brain size.  Bipedalism, however, didn't just happen.  Bipedalism involves major structural changes in the feet, legs, pelvic girdle, spine, and skull which are disadvantageous in terms of structural strength, speed of locomotion, and childbearing.  The only advantage of bipedalism sufficient to overcome its maladaptive qualities is that bipedalism frees the hands for labor activities.  Bourgeois anthropologists, of course, do not pose their explanations of bipedalism in quite these terms.  The explanations they do suggest, however, such as tool use and the transport and sharing of food, all involve aspects of the labor process (Kurland and Beckerman 1985).

The fully elaborated labor process, including use of tools and social relations of production (cooperation, sharing) occurs only among humans.  Approximations to the labor process that we see in other species, from the webs of spiders and hives of bees to the group hunting of social carnivores and the nest-building and tool-making of chimps, may be called protolabor.[11]

Our closest animal relatives, the chimps, exhibit several sorts of protolabor in their life processes: nest-building, tool-making, group hunting, and sharing of meat.  But, although the total life process of chimps appears to include all of the aspects of the fully elaborated human labor process, they are not all included in any single process among chimps.  Chimp tool-making is an individual activity; chimp hunting occurs without tools.  Further, and most importantly, protolabor among chimps is an incidental part of their total life process.  Chimps, like people, must eat, but most of their food comes from individual browsing.  Food obtained through protolabor accounts for only a small portion of their total caloric intake.  Consequently, the protolabor of chimps does not generate significant selective pressures on the gene pool of the chimp population.

Among humans, by contrast, the situation is quite different.  Nearly all the food eaten by humans, in even the simplest foraging societies, is produced by social labor and shared according to socially established rules.  This dependence on social production generates powerful selective pressures which have transformed our ape-like ancestors into human beings.

There are thus clear differences in the life processes of apes and humans.  Among apes, typically, there is direct, individual appropriation of naturally-occurring use values.  Apes simply browse, eating food where they find it.  All humans, by contrast, from the simplest foraging society to the most complex industrial civilization, consume use values which have been produced by social labor.  This difference is absolute.  All human societies are dependent upon a definite mode of production.  None of the non-human primates exhibit anything more than the most rudimentary productive processes.

The Human Revolution, then, was initiated when apes began to produce their means of subsistence.  This in turn produced Homo faber,  a small-brained human whose body was already adapted to social labor in a rudimentary foraging mode of production.[12]  The processes at work may be briefly summarized.

About ten million years ago, in Africa and probably throughout the Old World tropics, there were populations of apes similar to modern chimpanzees in their behavioral way of life.  These apes, like modern chimpanzees, were well adapted to a semi-terrestrial life on the forest floor characterized by a frugiverous diet, social life in troops of 10 to 20 individuals, dependence on trees for nesting, and a certain degree of tool use (nest making, use of sticks and stones for defense and other purposes).  About five million years ago, some of these ape populations moved out of the forest and onto the open plains, a shift which required changes in their behavioral way of life.  This shift from the forest floor to the open plains initiated the Human Revolution.  Life on the open plains required an increased degree of social cooperation and increased use of tools, in short, dependence on social production.

Dependence on social labor meant, first of all, that the hands must be free to serve as organs of labor rather than of locomotion.  Hence, selective pressures favored bipedalism: the human foot became a specialized organ of locomotion and the hand a specialized organ of labor.

The Human Revolution, then, was accomplished by apes who transformed their browsing existence into foraging, the earliest mode of production of our species, and thereby transformed themselves into the earliest humans, Homo faber.   As Homo faber  developed her forces of social production, so too did she evolve toward Homo sapiens.  The earliest instruments of production were crude sticks for digging and hunting and containers for carrying seeds and roots.  Stone tools appear about two million years ago with larger-brained humans, and fire somewhat later.  Increasingly complex stone tools are found with increasingly large-brained fossils.  Finally, with what Gilman (1984) calls the "Upper Paleolithic Revolution," modern Homo sapiens  appear with elaborate tool kits and fully human cultural complexes.  The archaeological and paleontological record thus provides clear evidence of the dialectical relationship between the developing forces of social production and increasing brain size.

Just as the labor energy expended by modern wage slaves becomes embodied in commodities, so the labor energy that Homo faber  expended in producing use values (meat, fruit, nuts, roots, etc.) became embodied in those use values.  And in consuming those use values, Homo faber  was consuming a definite amount of labor energy, her own and that of other members of the group who also participate in production.  The energy expended in production, and embodied in use values, thus flows from producer to consumer.  The ensemble of reciprocal energy flows in the Homo faber  commune, in which all members were equally both producers and consumers, thus formed the essential thermodynamic substratum of Homo faber  existence, just as it has for all subsequent human existence.[13]

We do not know when our human mental capabilities for language and religion first appeared, since they leave few traces in the archaeological and paleontological record.  It seems clear, however, that these mental abilities are also related to our human dependence on labor.  Dependence on social labor required a more powerful system of communication, and thereby favored the development of language.  First labor, and then alongside with it, language, created additional selective pressures favoring greater mental abilities and hence, larger brains.  These improved mental abilities in turn permitted the development of more powerful productive systems and more powerful communication systems which in turn demanded still greater mental abilities.  Finally, magico-religious belief systems emerged on the base developed by labor and language (Ruyle 1976).

Foraging is by no means a crude or parasitic way of life, as is sometimes supposed.  In fact, foraging requires extensive knowledge of the environment and natural process and demanding skills.  The abilities required to make and use bows and arrows are the same as those required to make and operate spaceships.  Further, foraging requires a high degree of cooperation and sharing between the men and women of society.  Our human abilities, both technological and social, were formed during millions of years of adaptation to the foraging mode of production which was technologically progressive for most of human existence.

By about 40,000 years ago, then, the Human Revolution was complete.  Our ancestors had made the transition from an ape way of life in the forest to a human mode of production, foraging.  Further transitions, the Neolithic, Urban, and Industrial Revolutions, have changed our modes of production and consequently our life-styles and the kinds of societies we live in, but they have not altered our basic human nature.

In concluding this discussion of the Human Revolution, certain points may be stressed.

First, the paleontological record confirms Marx and Engels' insight that people make themselves - the evolution of humanity was a process of self-creation through social production.  The labor theory here is in conformity with, confirms, and extends the basic postulate of historical materialism, that the mode of production in real life determines the consciousness of humans, rather than vice-versa.  Human consciousness itself was created by our dependence on social production.

Second, foraging formed the base for a primitive communist social order.  Bourgeois anthropology has come to acknowledge that our ancestors were apes but it refuses to consider that they were communists.  But communists they were, and it is important for us to bear in mind that not only our physical bodies, but our mental abilities and moral sensibilities were formed through millions of years of adaptation to a communist social order.

Third, all living humans are equally far removed from our ape-like ancestors and are equally human.  There are no "primitive" races, and no "primitive" languages, family patterns, or religions.  The technology of foraging peoples may be less powerful than ours, but it endured and served humanity well for millions of years, which is more than we can say for our system of industrial capitalism.  There are, indeed, those who would say that the invention of agriculture was humanity's "greatest mistake" (Diamond 1987).

Finally, just as the instruments of class oppression were absent from foraging society, so too was gender oppression undeveloped.  Instead, relations between the sexes were characterized by mutual interdependence and complementarity, with women controlling their own productive and reproductive abilities.[14]

Humanity, then, evolved under conditions of liberty, equality, and solidarity in the foraging commune.  These conditions were transformed into male chauvinism and oppression in the Neolithic and Urban Revolutions.


By about 15,000 years ago, foraging was no longer meeting the needs of humanity.  The precise reasons for this are not entirely clear, but the most plausible explanation lies in what Cohen calls the "food crisis of prehistory" (M. Cohen 1977).  Population growth throughout the paleolithic, Cohen argues, was slow but real, and humanity had expanded throughout the habitable earth, into the Americas and Australia as well as the Afro-Euro-Asiatic land mass.  The nomadic foraging of the paleolithic evolved into a more sedentary foraging of the mesolithic.  Flannery (1969, 1974) calls this the "Broad Spectrum Revolution" because humans began utilizing a broader range of environmental resources.  Human populations began more intensive utilization of local environments including maritime and riverine resources such as fish, marine mammals, and shellfish.  Such mesolithic foraging permitted larger populations which settled into mesolithic villages.  But although fishing and shellfishing temporarily solved the food crisis, population was still limited.  Fishing societies utilized a new food resource, but they did not control the reproduction of that resource.

Other populations began utilizing wild grains (in Southwest Asia and Mesoamerica) and yams and root plants (in Southeast Asia).  It was out of these new relationships between the human population and natural biota that the Neolithic Revolution emerged.[15]  Human populations began to control the reproduction of the wild foods upon which they depended, and through this process, the wild foods became domesticated.  A new mode of production emerged, horticulture, which was capable of almost unlimited expansion.

The horticultural mode of production was to have revolutionary consequences.  It did not, as far as well can tell, reduce human toil, for this was not particularly onerous under a foraging mode of production (Sahlins 1968).  Neither did it contribute to the biological well being of members of the human population, for there is no evidence to suggest that people were healthier or lived longer.  Nor is there any reason to believe that it increased human happiness or the fulfillment of the human potential, for foragers are as fully human as horticultural peoples.  The advantage of horticulture, rather, is that it permitted the primitive commune to harness more calories from a given area of land.  Although this solved the prehistoric food crisis, it led to population increase and new crises in the form of competition for land and wealth.

The revolutionary feature of the new horticultural mode of production was that it formed the base for a settled village-farming way of life which permitted the accumulation of wealth.  New wants and new technologies for satisfying these wants appeared - pottery, weaving, architecture - and the wealth associated with neolithic populations far exceeds that of foragers.

But the Neolithic Revolution did more than make human populations wealthier.  It radically transformed the conditions of life of humanity.  The possibility of accumulation stimulated what Marx called "the most violent, mean and malignant passions of the human breast, the Furies of private interest" ([1867] 1965, 10).  The passions for wealth, for power, for privilege, in a word, human greed, which found little scope for expression under the nomadic conditions of the foraging commune, found fertile soil in the settled conditions of horticultural society.  The Lenski and Lenski speak of an "ethical regression" associated with the transition to settled horticultural society:

it is one of the great ironies of evolution that progress in the technological and social organizational spheres is often linked with ethical regress.  The emergence of horticultural societies provides several striking examples.  Some of the most shocking, by the standards of modern industrial societies, are the increased head hunting, scalp taking, cannibalism, human sacrifice, and slavery, all of which are much more common in the technologically and organizationally progressive horticultural societies than in the more backward hunting and gathering societies.

Another development that can be regarded as ethical regression is the decline in the practice of sharing and the growing acceptance of economic and others kinds of inequality (Lenski and Lenski 1978, 176).

Although Lenski and Lenski and most bourgeois anthropologists attribute this increase in warfare to competition for land, it seems clear that the desire for plunder, women, and slaves were also important (Ruyle 1986).

Horticulture, then, created new conditions which led to the dissolution of the primitive commune.  It did not happen at once.  In some cases primitive communism persisted in horticultural society.  The Iroquois, usually considered the type example of primitive communism, were a horticultural people.  Nonetheless, in some cases at least, it did happen.  Some men developed techniques for exploiting the labor of others, and in this way began to break up the primitive commune and construct the earliest systems of class rule.

This unleashing of the "Furies of private interest" was the force that tore asunder the primitive commune and led to the emergence of the predatory ruling classes which have dominated human history.[16]  The liberty, equality, and solidarity of the primitive commune were transformed into the male chauvinism, oppression, and class struggles of civilization in the Urban Revolution.


Bourgeois anthropology sees the Urban Revolution as merely the emergence of a new kind of society, civilization, with distinctive cultural features: cities, centralized state organization, writing, full-time specialization in arts of crafts, and so on.  Underlying the Urban Revolution, however, was a structural transformation: the overthrow of the primitive commune and the establishment of patriarchy and class rule.  This transformation may be understood in thermodynamic terms.

As discussed above, humans are interdependent in a way that sets them off from all other primates and we may speak of a thermodynamic substratum underlying human society.  People pump energy into this substratum when they produce use values; they withdraw energy from it when they consume those use values.  It is possible to measure this energy, however rough and approximate such measurement may be.  If I spend four hours digging up, cleaning, and cooking yams, there are four hours of my labor energy embodied in those yams.  When I eat them, I am consuming, in addition to the caloric energy of the yams, four hours of labor energy.

If someone else eats the yams, they are consuming four hours of my labor energy, and we can speak of energy flowing from producer to consumer.  The energy flows between members of a population, between groups, and between classes, are an indispensable element of human social life.  In measuring and analyzing the social thermodynamics of a human population, we are analyzing "the real foundation, on which rises a legal and political superstructure and to which correspond definite forms of social consciousness" (Marx [1859] 1981, 3).

Viewed thermodynamically, human societies fall into two great categories.

On the one hand, there are thermodynamic systems, represented by the primitive communism of foragers and tribal horticulturists, in which 1. all members of the population participate, more or less equally, in production through the expenditure of their own labor energy for most if not all of their lives, and 2. all members of the population have more or less equal access to the social product and consume more or less equal amounts of labor energy through their lives.

On the other hand, there are thermodynamic systems, represented in incipient form by chiefdoms and in developed form by historic and contemporary civilizations, in which some members of the population 1. do not directly participate in production but nevertheless, 2. consume labor energy at a much higher rate than the remainder of the population.  Such systems are systems of class rule, and the labor energy consumed by the ruling class is the surplus.  The surplus comes from the direct producers who expend more energy in production than they consume.

The flow of energy from the direct producers to the ruling class occurs because members of the ruling class are expending energy into a mode of exploitation, an institutionalized system of instrumental techniques of exploitation, violence, and thought control whose purpose is to direct the flow of social energy to the ruling class.  This mode of exploitation is the "mode of production" of the ruling class.

A mode of exploitation has three sets of components (the analysis here is of precapitalist modes of exploitation; modern modes of exploitation require a somewhat different analysis).  First of all, there are exploitative techniques, the precise instrumentalities through which surplus is pumped out of the direct producers and into the ruling class: simple plunder, slavery, taxation, corvee, rent, managerial exploitation, and various forms of market exchange, including wage labor.  Second, there is the State, which monopolizes legitimate violence and is thereby able to physically coerce the exploited classes.  Third, there is the Church, which monopolizes access to the sacred and supernatural and is thereby able to control the minds of the subordinate population, keeping them obedient and docile by legitimizing the status quo and threatening supernatural sanctions for misbehavior.  The State and the Church, then, form twin agencies of oppression whose purpose is to support and legitimate the differentials of wealth and privilege resulting from ruling class exploitation.

These elements, or functions, of the mode of exploitation are combined in different ways by different ruling classes.  The State and the Church, for example, may be institutionalized separately, as in medieval Europe and Japan, or they may be combined into a single unitary institution, as in many bronze age civilizations.[17]

The mode of exploitation is the instrumentality through which a predator-prey relationship is established within the human species in which the stakes are human labor energy rather than the energy locked up in animal flesh.  The differentials of wealth, privilege, and prestige which characterized all historic civilizations are created by this predatory relationship between ruler and ruled.

Once this predatory relationship is established, the system of exploitation become larger and more complex, with a complex division of labor developing not only in the sphere of production (between agricultural workers and workers in the industrial arts, metallurgy, textiles, pottery, etc.) but also in the sphere of exploitation (warriors, priests, scribes, etc.).  The result is an elaboration of occupations and statuses among the different kinds of producers, exploiters, parasitic groups, and so on.  In addition to the ruling class itself, there are typically privileged retainer classes (officials, scribes, priests), various divisions within the producing class (between peasants and artisans and between rich and poor peasants, for example), and finally an underclass (composed of outcastes, outcasts, beggars, and thieves), which may not be directly exploited (since no surplus is extracted from them) but which nonetheless plays an important role the the overall system of exploitation.

The surface structure of developed class societies may thus be quite complex, and the fundamental class opposition between ruler and ruled is likely to be overlaid and concealed by a more diversified arrangement of classes attached to the flow of social energy in a variety of ways.  This complexity of surface structure, however, does not negate the underlying predatory relationship between rulers and ruled.

Two additional points need to be made.  The first is that exploitation necessarily generates resistance so that class rule is invariably accompanied by class struggle.  The history of civilization, as Marx correctly pointed out, is the history of class struggle.  Class struggle, together with the progressive development of the forces of social production, have been the motive forces of cultural evolution during the period of historic civilizations.

The second is that systems of class rule are invariably patriarchal.  The oppressive agencies of State and Church are typically staffed by men, and men are both the prime movers and primary beneficiaries of the system of exploitation.  Women, typically, are defined by their relationship to men, and their place in the system is determined by their relationship to their fathers, husbands, and sons.  Women are also typically reduced to an inferior position in class societies.  But just as class oppression breeds class struggle (the history of which was largely hidden before the birth of Marxism), so gender oppression breeds gender struggle (the history of which has been largely hidden until the emergence of feminism, see, e.g. Carroll 1976).

As class society develops, so does patriarchy.  Men and women develop different, complementary maximizing strategies within the overall system of inequality.

It was men, not women, that took advantage of the predatory opportunities opened up by the Neolithic Revolution.  Men were in a sense preadapted for this by their hunting specialization which involved weapons and traveling.  Women no doubt formed the earliest exploited group as the women of defeated groups were enslaved or taken as "wives" (Ruyle 1986).

As ambitious men developed the techniques of exploitation, they became capable of extracting more surplus than any one individual could consume.  The predatory, patriarchal male acquired wives and retainers to help him, in a Veblenesque manner, consume his surplus.  This, of course, gave him greater power over them.  Less ambitious men, or men not so well endowed for exploitation or less well placed by birth, either attached themselves to ruling males as a retainers or lived as exploited direct producers.

Ambitious women may attempt to pursue male predatory activities, and in rare cases may be successful.  More commonly, women support and encourage men in their predatory activities.  In this situation, women develop techniques of manipulation in an effort to achieve indirectly, through men, what is denied to them directly through patriarchy.  For the most part, however, women are reduced to supporting their men at whatever level they may be in the exploitative system.

Such were the origins of patriarchy and class rule.  They were brought into being by the same forces that presently maintain them: the self-interest of the male rulers.  Patriarchy and class rule began when some men discovered that they could pursue their interests at the expense of others.  The preconditions for this discovery was the transition to a settled way of life based on horticulture, but this was not its cause.  Its cause lies in the greed and avarice of men.

Developed class societies first appear in Mesopotamia by 3000 B.C., slightly later in Egypt and then in the Indus Valley and North China.  Still later, after about 1500 B.C., systems of class rule begin to develop independently in the New World.  The new ruling classes had cities built and developed writing to record their activities and we begin the period of human history.  Following McNeil (1965), the history of class society, or civilization, may be divided into three eras: an era of Middle Eastern dominance, down to about 500 B.C., when the civilizations of the Middle East were clearly the most advanced, but peripheral civilizations were developing in the mediterranean region, India, and China; an era of Eurasian Cultural Balance, from about 500 B.C. to 1500 A.D., when there was a rough balance between the civilizations of the Middle East, China, India, and Mediterranean Europe; and finally the rise of the West, after 1500 A.D., when the modern imperialist world system was constructed by the rising European bourgeoisie.  This modern imperialist system cut short the independent development of patriarchal class rule by Native American men in Mesoamerica and Peru.

The main line of cultural advance down to 1500 A.D., then, was in the agrarian civilizations of Asia, not Europe.  This point is worth stressing in view of the fact that Marx lumped these societies together under the rubric of the "Asiatic Mode of Production," and regarded them as static and unchanging.  In this, he was simply reflecting a common Nineteenth Century prejudice which has become outmoded with the growth of our understanding of Chinese, Indian, and Middle Eastern history.  Contemporary Marxists would be well advised to pay more attention to the actual history of Asiatic societies and less to trying to figure out what Marx really meant in his scattered remarks on the Asiatic Mode of Production (cf. Cameron 1985, 35-65).  The ethnocentrism of regarding the Roman Empire and feudal Europe as the center of human development during the precapitalist period may be seen by listing some of the achievements of Chinese civilization: paper and paper money, printing, civil service examinations and bureaucracy, the compass, and gunpowder.  Modern bourgeois civilization would be impossible without these contributions, just as it would be impossible without the Afro-Asian achievements of agriculture, writing, and decimal arithmetic.  For most of human history, Europe, not Asia, was a cultural backwater.


As Lukacs remarked in our opening quote, a scientific knowledge of whence we have come can help us guard against the philosophy of despair and guide our action in assisting the birth of a new world.  Anthropology has given us an increasingly clear picture of whence we have come.  We have seen that there were important revolutions in the prehistory of our species, revolutions that transformed the material conditions of life for our species.

We are now living through a revolution of similar importance.  The Industrial Revolution, led by the modern bourgeoisie, has created new forces of social production undreamt of even in Marx's time.  These new forces give us the power to banish the misery, hunger, and want that have been the lot for so many people throughout human history and with them, exploitation and oppression.  Yet the philosophy of despair tells us that this is impossible.  Exploitation, oppression, and misery, we are told, will continue to be the lot of men and women.

But Anthropology shows clearly that inequality, exploitation, oppression, and male chauvinism are not universal features of human social life, but instead are products of human action within a particular set of material conditions.

Today, material conditions are changed and we are now in a position where the struggle to eliminate both patriarchy and class rule shows every promise of success.  It must be recalled that the ruling classes have been perfecting their systems of exploitation and oppression for thousands of years.  We socialists have only had about a century to construct new systems to eliminate poverty and oppression.  There are no guarantees of success, but there are good reasons to believe that both evolution and revolution are on our side.  Objective appraisals of existing socialist nations have indicated that through revolution oppressed people can reduce inequality and improve their material and social well being, and that they can do so with an increase in democracy and political freedom (Cereseto 1982; Cereseto and Waitzkin 1986; Szymanski 1979, 1984).  In short, revolution is good for human beings, and the oppression, inequality, and alienation of class rule can be reduced and, in time, eliminated.  As Lewis Henry Morgan observed,

The time which has passed away since civilization began is but a fragment of the past duration of man's existence; and but a fragment of the ages yet to come.  The dissolution of society bids fair to become the termination of a career of which property is the end and aim; because such a career contains the elements of self-destruction.  Democracy in government, brotherhood in society, equality in rights and privileges, and universal education, foreshadow the next higher plane of society to which experience, intelligence, and knowledge are steadily tending.  It will be a revival, in a higher form, of the liberty, equality, and fraternity of the ancient gentes ([1877] 1963, 467).

 This higher plane of society, socialism, will not appear automatically.  Just as patriarchal systems of class rule were developed by the conscious activity of men, so the overthrow of class and gender oppression will be the result of the conscious activity of working class men and women.  By better understanding the prehistoric revolutions through which primitive communism was overthrown and patriarchal class rule was constructed, perhaps we can participate more fully in our present revolution, and assist in the construction of a new socialist system which will prevent the re-emergence of male chauvinism, exploitation, and oppression.



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[1]          This is a revised version of a paper presented at the West Coast Marxist Scholars Conference held at the University of California, Berkeley, April 26-29, 1984.  I would like to thank those who commented on earlier drafts.

[2]          A full assessment of the anthropological views of Marx and Engels is out of the question here; for critical evaluations of Engels' work, see Aaby 1977; Gough 1977; Harris 1968; Lane 1976; Leacock 1972; Ruyle 1986; Sacks 1976; Schein and Lopate 1972).  Good summaries of modern views on prehistory are widely available in both introductory Anthropology textbooks (particularly recommended are Harris 1985; Keesing 1981; Kottak 1982) and in texts on Prehistory (Fagan 1983; Wenke 1985).  Also useful is the introductory Sociology text by Lenski and Lenski (1978) which uses anthropological data extensively.  For a review of prehistory by a Marxist, see Smith (1976).  For Marxists, the best history of Anthropology is that of Harris (1968),  but also see Brew (1968) and Honigmann (1976).

The rethinking of Marxism must involve more than simply changing a few dates in prehistory.  The criticisms that Marxism is gender-blind, color-blind, and environmentally naive must be taken seriously.  The relationship between Marxism and feminism, for example, has been variously termed a "curious courtship" (Weinbaum 1978), an "unhappy marriage" (Hartmann 1981), and an "impossible marriage" (Burnham and Louie 1985).  For Third World critiques of Marxism, see Means (1980) and Karenga (1983).  For critiques from the standpoint of Liberation Theology, see McGovern (1980) and Miranda (1978).  Good summaries of the competing models within Marxism and of the feminist and Green critiques may be found in Barratt Brown (1985).  For an excellent modern statement of Marxism in light of modern data and critiques, while retaining a basically pro-Soviet orientation, see Cameron (1985).

[3]           The anthropological concept of culture is much broader than what most Marxists understand by the term.  For most American anthropologists (the British and French use the term more narrowly), culture is the central organizing concept of our discipline.  As defined by Tylor in 1871:

Culture or Civilization, taken in its wide ethnographic sense, is that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, custom, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society (Tylor 1871, 1).

For anthropologists, culture thus includes the mode of production as well as legal and political superstructures and forms of consciousness (as well as unconsciousness and subconsciousness).  Although this may seem unnecessarily and unworkably broad, the culture concept underscores the fact that all of these constitute learned, as opposed to genetically determined, behavior and that they form parts of a holistic system in which each part is related to all others.  For further discussion, see Kroeber and Kluckhohn (1952), White (1954), Harris (1964), and Worsley (1981).

[4]           For discussions of the anti-evolutionary and anti-materialist aspects of cultural relativism, see White (1949, 1959) and Harris (1968, 1979).  On socialism, I know of no textbooks nor any journal articles within anthropology that attempt to apply the perspective of cultural relativism to the Soviet Union.  Socialism is clearly a cultural construct (in the anthropological sense), however, and for a discipline that claims to study "the full range of cultures, past and present" (Keesing 1981, 4), this omission is curious.

The concept of cultural relativism has been a vital part of the anthropological critique of naive ideas about "primitive" and "backward" peoples which served to legitimate early forms of colonialism and imperialism.  It would seem that a central task of contemporary anthropology would be the criticism of equally naive ideas of communism as a totalitarian "Evil Empire" which serve to legitimate contemporary U.S. imperialism.  But when I suggest this to my colleagues (e.g., Ruyle 1977, 1983), I am treated with polite silence, as if I were insane.

[5]           Marxists, of course, are quite aware that human nature is always modified by definite historical circumstances, as in Marx's criticism of Bentham (Marx [1867] 1965, 609-610).  Where cultural relativism fails is in not inquiring into the reasons why the Arunta elaborated kinship and the Hindu religion.  To paraphrase Marx, the Arunta could not live on kinship nor the Hindu on religion.  On the contrary, it is the mode of production that explains why here kinship and there religion becomes the focus of social life (Marx [1867] 1965, 82).  Harris makes a similar point:

The central theme in Patterns of Culture  is simply that each culture "selects" or "chooses" from the infinite variety of behavioral possibilities a limited segment which sometimes conforms to a configuration and sometimes does not. . . .  One searches in vain through Patterns of Culture  for any explanation.  There is not even the saving grace of earlier diffusionistic "explanations" by which Apollonian patterns might be traced back to an originating tribe (the Greeks?).  All that we get by way of accounting for the cultural differences and similarities is the myth of the Digger Indians: "God gave to every people a cup, a cup of clay, and from this cup they drank their life. . . .  They all dipped in the water but their cups were different" (Harris 1968, 403, citing Benedict 1934).

For all its shortcomings in terms of scientific explanation, cultural relativism is an important methodological tool.  Before a cultural pattern can be scientifically explained, it must be adequate described and understood in its own terms.  Perhaps this principle could be useful in some of the sectarian debates between political lines within the working class movement.

[6]           The explanatory frameworks developed within anthropology by cultural materialists (e.g. Y. Cohen 1974; Harris 1979; Lenski and Lenski 1978; Ruyle 1973a) are as useful as much of the work by Marxists of a structural orientation (see Ruyle 1987).  Where the cultural materialists err, I believe, is in ignoring exploitation and the class struggle (see Ruyle 1975, 1987).

[7]           The concept of overdevelopment is an important one.  Too frequently, even Marxists err in regarding the "advanced" capitalist nations as the norm by which "primitive" and "backward" societies are judged, the sun around which they revolve.  We need, as Clastres suggests, a copernican revolution: "ethnology until now has let primitive cultures revolve around Western civilization in a centripetal motion, so to speak. . . .  It is time to change suns, time to move on" ([1974] 1977, 17).  The concept of overdevelopment provides a framework for the incorporation of the Green and Third World critiques into the corpus of historical materialism.

[8]           The concept of protosocialism is also important, in two ways.  First, it is important to distinguish between the socialist future envisioned by Marx and the working class movement prior to the 1920s and what some have termed "existing socialism".  Second, it is important to understand that, just as social change within the world capitalist system is multilineal rather than unilineal, so it is essential to understand that social change out of the world capitalism system into socialism will also be multilineal.  Revolutions in the Overdeveloping Capitalist Nations will follow a different path from that followed by revolutions in the Underdeveloping Capitalist Nations, simply because they will face markedly different material conditions.  For fuller discussion of the concept of protosocialism, see Ruyle (1988).

[9]           Perhaps the best source, which includes citations to the recent literature, is Poirier (1987), also useful are the works by Campbell (1982) and Wolpoff (1980).

[10]         This was recognized by Marx and Engels in The German Ideology  over a decade before Darwin published Origin of Species:

Men can be distinguished from animals by consciousness, by religion or anything else you like.  They themselves begin to distinguish themselves from animals as soon as they begin to produce their means of subsistence ([1846] 1939, 7).

Engels amplified this view in the light of the then-existing scientific evidence in his 1876 essay, "On the Part Played by Labor in the Transition from Ape to Man,"

First labor, after it and then with it, speech - these were the two most essential stimuli under the influence of which the brain of the ape gradually changed into that of man (Engels [1876] 1972, 255).

Although many of the details in Engels' essay need to be modified, the evidence accumulated during the past century, and especially since WWII, have confirmed the broad outlines of Engels' labor theory of human origins  (Ruyle 1976; Woolfson 1982).

[11]         To clarify this distinction, it is necessary to examine more closely the human labor process.  As Marx explains,

We pre-suppose labour in a form that stamps it as exclusively human.  A spider conducts operations that resemble those of a weaver, and a bee puts to shame many an architect in the construction of her cells.  But what distinguishes the worst architect from the best of bees is this, that the architect raises his structure in imagination before he erects it in reality.  At the end of every labour-process, we get a result that already existed in the imagination of the labourer at its commencement....  The elementary factors of the labour-process are 1, the personal activity of man, i.e., work itself, 2, the subject of that work, and 3, its instruments....  No sooner does labour undergo the least development, than it requires specially prepared instruments.  Thus in the oldest caves we find stone implements and weapons.  In the earliest period of human history domesticated animals, i.e., animals which have been bred for the purpose, and have undergone modifications by means of labour, play the chief part as instruments of labour along with specially prepared stones, wood, bones, and shells.  The use and fabrication of instruments of labour, although existing in the germ among certain species of animals, is specifically characteristic of the human labour-process, and Franklin therefore defines man as a tool-making animal.  Relics of bygone instruments of labour possess the same importance for the investigation of extinct economic forms of society, as do fossil bones for the determination of extinct species of animals.  It is not the articles made, but how they are made, and by what instruments, that enables us to distinguish different economic epochs (Marx [1867] 1965, 179-180).

Marx uses a mentalistic feature ("the architect raises his structure in the imagination") to distinguish between human production and that of bees or spiders.  A more modern formulation would stress that bee production is based on genetically-encoded information while human production is based on culturally-learned information.  This is significant because bees cannot produce anything other than that which their genes tell them to produce, while humans have, in the course of their evolutionary development, learned to produce a wide variety of increasingly complex use values.

Marx's mentalistic feature, however, does not serve to distinguish human production from the nest building or tool-making behavior of chimps, who also appear to exhibit foresight and imagination (Kohler [1916] 1926; Van-Lawick-Goodall 1971, 36-37; Poirier 1974, 335-337).  It is possible, however, to distinguish apes and humans in a purely materialist manner.  First, the human labor process is far more complex than anything seen among apes; and second, humans are completely dependent upon social production, while apes are not.  Let me examine each of these more closely.

In order to see more clearly the differences between the human labor process and the life processes of other creatures, we must elaborate on Marx's discussion.  The human labor process includes:

1.         the personal activity of human beings, i.e. work itself, or the expenditure of human energy;

2.         the subject of that work, which is transformed through human activity;

3.         the instruments of labor, or tools;

4.         the conception of what is to be produced, which is a cultural construct learned by humans as members of society;

5.         the social relations of production, including both cooperation in the productive process and sharing of the product according to established social conventions; and

6.         the separation, both spatial and temporal, of production and consumption.

 This fully elaborated labor process occurs only among humans, but numerous other species exhibit some, but not all, of these features.  Such approximations to the human labor process may be termed protolabor.  Protolabor is quite common in the animal world, from the nest of birds and stored nuts of squirrels to the group hunting of lions and hyenas and the tool using of chimpanzees.

[12]  Homo faber  here includes the various "species" of Australopithecus  (afarensis, africanus, robustus, and boisei) and pre-sapiens Homo (habilis  and erectus).  Paleoanthropologists do not agree on the taxonomy of early hominids (for discussion of the major contending views, see Boaz 1983; Skelton, McHenry, and Drawhorn 1986).  It is beyond the scope of this paper to enter into an extended discussion of bourgeois paleoanthropology.  It must be noted, however, that the entire terminological apparatus which paleoanthropologists use to discuss early hominids is outmoded and unscientific.  A further problem lies in the pecuniary politics of paleoanthropology.  Finding a new species is more prestigious than merely finding more bones of already named species, and prestige means research grants.  Thus Richard Leakey's latest find, KNM-WT 17000, has been heralded as overturning "all previous notions of the course of early hominid evolution....  No better argument can be made to support the time, trouble, and cost of field work than this new skull" (Shipman 1986,  89,93).  It is a remarkable find, but it does not overturn any of the discussion in the body of this paper.

A final consideration is that paleoanthropologists still wear class blinders (as well as gender blinders, see Slocum 1975) which prevents their understanding the importance of social labor.  As Engels pointed out, scientists continue to be influenced by

that idealistic world outlook which, especially since the fall of the world of antiquity, has dominated men's minds.  It still rules them to such a degree that even the most materialistic natural scientists of the Darwinian school are still unable to form any clear idea of the origin of man, because under this ideological influence they do not recognize the part that has been played by labor (Engels [1876] 1972, 259).

[13]  My use of the term thermodynamic may cause some raised eyebrows, particularly among physical scientists, as we are clearly not talking about the joules and calories of classical thermodynamics.  A number of scientists have attempted to apply the concepts of thermodynamics to living systems in general and human societies in particular (for reviews of such attempts, see Ruyle 1977a; White 1959), and my own usage is inspired by White's discussion of culture "as a thermodynamic system" (1959:38-40).  I have used both "ethnoenergetics" (Ruyle 1973b, 1977a) and "social thermodynamics" (Ruyle 1987) to refer to my efforts to generalize Marx's labor theory of value to non-capitalist societies.  I would be happy to consider more felicitious terminology for what I consider an important analytical tool and a useful addition to historical materialism.

[14]  Although the absence of class oppression among foragers is clear, the question of gender oppression is more complex.  Leacock has presented abundant ethnographic documentation for her egalitarian model of gender roles in foraging societies, and suggested that evidence to the contrary is best explained as due either to acculturation or viricentrism among ethnographers, or both (1972, 1975, 1977, 1978).  But others suggest that women are universally subordinate, in some degree, in all societies, including foraging societies (De Beauvoir [1949] 1972; Firestone 1971; Gough 1975; Harris 1977; Ortner 1974; Rosaldo 1974).  Even those who take this latter view, however, acknowledge that women's oppression is less among foragers than in class society.  Gough, for example, stresses that:

In general in hunting societies, however, women are less subordinated in certain crucial respects than they are in most, if not all, of the archaic states, or even in some capitalist nations.  These respects include men's ability to deny women their sexuality or force it upon them; to command or exploit their produce; to control or rob them of their children; to confine them physically and prevent their movement; to use them as objects in male transaction; to cramp their creativeness; or to withhold from them large segments of the society's knowledge and cultural attainments (1975, 69-70; also see Briffault 1931, 207-208; Fleur-Lobban 1979, 347).

To the best of my knowledge, no one has suggested that patriarchal institutions comparable to those of historic civilizations existed in foraging societies, although male chauvinism does characterize some village societies (such as the Yanomamo).  Rather, gender roles among foragers are characterized by free and equal access to strategic resources and the social product by "the complementarity and interdependence of male and female roles" (Caufield 1985, 97).

[15]  Although most archaeologists believe that plant domestication developed in the New World completely independently of the Old, a few criticize this view and present challenging arguments for diffusion from the Old World (see Carter 1977; Lathrap 1977).  Further, although it seems reasonable that horticulture arose from the gathering activities of women, there is little ethnographic or archaeological support for this view (Pryor 1986, 886-88).

[16]  There is a vein in Marxist thought that sees class relations as growing out of production and that would argue that my view here is sheer idealism (see Engels [1878] 1939, 197-201; Classen and Skalnik 1978, 7; Dunn 1971, 829; Krader 1975, 275; Khazanov 1978, 82-83,86).  Needless to say, I do not concur, and neither would Engels:

civilization achieved things of which gentile society was not even remotely capable.  But it achieved them by setting in motion the lowest instincts and passions in man and developing them at the expense of all his other abilities.  From its first day to this, sheer greed was the driving spirit of civilization; wealth and again wealth and once more wealth, wealth, not of society but of the single scurvy individual - here was its one and final aim.  If at the same time the progressive development of science and a repeated flowering of supreme art dropped into its lap, it was only because without them modern wealth could not have completely realized its achievements ([1884] 1972, 235-236).

There is, of course, a complex dialectic between the progressive development of the forces of social production and the exploitative relations that support the ruling class in every epoch of human history.  However much they may be intertwined, the relations of production must be kept analytically distinct from the mode of exploitation if we are to understand them scientifically, rather than apologetically (Ruyle 1975; for an evaluation of my views on this, see Moseley and Wallerstein 1978, 273-274).

[17]         This discussion of the functions of the State and Church is taken from White (1959) and refers primarily to precapitalist systems of class rule.  In capitalism, many of the thought-control functions of the Church have been taken over by the educational system and mass media.  Nevertheless, the Church continues to support the status quo (see Ruyle 1973b; 1975).  The central role of liberation theology in the Central American revolution, of course, should remind us to distinguish carefully between religion and the Church.  The former is an arena of class struggle; the latter an institution which attempts to control this class struggle for the benefit of the ruling class.