SOCY 151: Foundations of Modern Social Theory

Lecture 12

 - Marx's Theory of History


We consider closely Marx’s Grundrisse, written between The German Ideology and Das Kapital. In the Grundrisse, Marx revisits and revises his theory of historical change. Previously, he argued that history is characterized by a uni-linear increase in the division of labor. He also argued that class struggle caused revolutionary transitions from one mode of production to the next–slavery to feudalism to capitalism–and that Communism will be the last stage in social evolution. In the Grundrisse, Marx develops a theory of historical change focused on property relations. In addition, he depicts a more complex, multi-linear development of history. The facet of Marx which he exhibits in the Grundrisse tends not to be the one that is widely remembered, but understanding the nuances he presents there is crucial to fully understand his idea of history and historical change and the role of property in capitalism and Communism.

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Foundations of Modern Social Theory

SOCY 151 - Lecture 12 - Marx's Theory of History

Chapter 1. The Many Facets of Karl Marx [00:00:00]

Professor Iván Szelényi: Good morning. Marx is cited that once he said, “I am not a Marxist.” And I think there is a lot of truth to it. The reason why I carry on and on and on with Marx, in this course, because my experience is that many of us do have very simplistic stereotypes, in our mind, who Karl Marx was and what his theory is all about. Well he was a creative scholar, a vibrant mind, who was ready to change his mind when confronted with new arguments or confronted with new evidence. And there were many, many facets, many faces of Karl Marx.

We have seen some of those. Right? We have seen Marx, starting as a Hegelian idealist, being obsessed with the idea of alienation, disappointed with Hegel’s fluffy idea of alienation, bringing it closer to home, bringing it more down to earth, making probably some reductionist mistake in the process, then abandoning it and turning into a materialist somewhat hesitantly and reluctantly. When he starts his turn towards historical materialism in “The Theses on Feuerbach,” he says: “The point is to change the world. Truth is a practical question.”

Within six months, in The German Ideology, he is a positivist social scientist. Right? The point where we start with our real individual and our real actual social circumstances. He offers testable hypotheses, to put it this way, in modern social science language. And in some ways he remains a positivist social scientist, in his major works.

So he was changing his mind, and indeed he was less doctrinaire than usually Marxists are. And easy to be less doctrinaire–right?–if you are one of the persons who created the doctrine. Today we will be talking about one important component of Marx’s theory, his theory of history. And this is also contradictory, full with tensions and contradictions. But it is a formidable body of propositions; absolutely formidable. There is actually not a single theorist I can recall who, like Karl Marx, not only has a very specific set of ideas in what stages human evolution, from the very elementary societies to the most complex one evolved. There are many who offer typologies like this. We have seen in Montesquieu, we have seen in Adam Smith; there were many who did that. But what is unique about Marx, that he has a genuine theory of history. He has a very powerful argument what is the exact causal mechanism which leads the transition from one form of society to another one; what drives historical evolution.

Marx is genuinely the Darwin of social scientists, in this respect. What Darwin could do with The Evolution of Species, Marx was capable to do in the theory of history. It’s a genuine theory. Right? A theory, when you have an idea what are really the causal mechanisms, what links cause to an effect. And Marx has such a theory.

We will see when we will be discussing Weber, whom I admire a great deal, that Weber really does not have such a theory. And as far I can, nobody else does. Well the only downside of Marx’s theory of history is that history proved him to be wrong. Well theories are not necessarily to be supported by the facts. Theories are there, you know, to have a tight enough proposition and to be tested. But what exactly the theory is will vary in Marx’s own writings, and there are some versions of this theory which fit better the empirical reality than the original one, and the one which became kind of carved into stone in the literature on Marx. And this is why I do a little comparison between The German Ideology–we touched upon The German Ideology already–and another manuscript that he also left incomplete and unfinished. He was working on it in 1857 and ‘58, and was never properly translated, the title into English.

We always refer it to Grundrisse, the ‘eh’ at the end, the sounds. Right? English speakers like to call it “Grundriss”. No, it is Grundrisse. And Grundrisse means a sketch, an outline. And that’s what it is. One-thousand pages, handwritten pages, written in a big hurry between ‘57 and ‘58. Like the earlier attempts to write a big book, The Paris Manuscript and The German Ideology, when Marx approaches the end of his title he argued, theory–he said, “My goodness gracious, I got it all wrong. I have to start it all over again.” And he will start all over again, just in ten years’ time, and he will write Das Kapital.

Did he get it wrong in the Grundrisse? That’s what I will try to pose today. And I was merciful enough that I did not ask you to read too much from the Grundrisse. What you read has been published as a separate little book, under the title Pre-Capitalist Economic Formations. And this is probably the most accessible text in the whole one-thousand pages. It was put together and translated by the wonderful British social historian, Eric Hobsbawm. Fortunately he’s still with us. He’s ninety-one-years-old, and thanks God he’s strong; and he’s still traveling, if you pay him business class. But we could get him to this class if Yale would be willing to pay business class ticket, but Yale would not do it. Anyway, he’s sharp, good, and he was the major social historian of the twentieth century in Britain–not a trivial matter because the best social history was in Britain in the twentieth century. Anyway, he translated it, and you read his translation. Was it difficult? Yes. But try the rest of the Grundrisse, and then you will see how easy this text is.

Chapter 2. Grundrisse: Major Themes [00:08:31]

Okay, and the point what I’m trying to make today is to show what a fundamental shift there is in Marx’s thinking from The German Ideology to the Grundrisse. So we will start with the initial formulation in the Grundrisse, how he’s beginning to conceive what historical evolution is. And this is something we did cover, so I can rush through of it very quickly. Right? The idea is–what he introduces for the first time in The German Ideology, 1845–is the concept of the mode of production. And you already have seen this citation. Right? “Man can distinguish from animals by consciousness, by religion, or anything you like. They, themselves begin to distinguish themselves from animals as soon as they begin to produce, as soon as they’re beginning to change the world to fit their human needs.” That is the fundamental insight. And you may dismiss it but, you know, that’s clearly a very serious proposition. Right? That if you look at history over time, you will become very interested how these people survived. What did they eat? How did they produce what they did eat? What kind of housing did they live in? How they did build their housing? Right? How they did move around? Did they invent the wheel, or did they already know the wheel? Right? These are the questions you will be asking when you are studying a society. Did they–could they lit a fire or they couldn’t? Right? So you were interested in this stuff. How did they kill the deer? Right? What kind of weapons they had. What kind of instruments they used when they planted their plants. Right? These are obvious questions to ask, and he said, “That’s it, that’s what we want to see.”

And he said, “This mode of production must be considered not simply as reproduction.” Right? And I think this is a very powerful argument, what he makes it here. Right? This is a definite mode of life. Right? When I’m suggesting mode of production, I’m not narrowly focusing on the economy. I am basically talking about differences in ways of life. And differences in ways of life, as he elsewhere puts it, well first you have to drink and eat and find shelter. And once you are not hungry any longer, and you are not wet when it is raining, then you start thinking. Right? But first you have to fill your stomach–right?–and make sure that you are safe from the rainfall. That’s a reasonable argument.

Well there are some very important key differences, as we proceed from The German Ideology to the Grundrisse. Well in The German Ideology there’s one important difference. History is driven by increasing division of labor. And I pointed to this in the earlier lecture. Here he draws directly on Adam Smith. He basically takes it over from Adam Smith. That’s what Adam Smith did. In the Grundrisse, on the other hand, he sees a movement, a gradual movement over history, towards private ownership; that’s what drives the story. “A gradual separation of the laboring subject and the objective conditions of the worker.” That’s how he describes now human history. And doing so–separation of laboring subject and the objective conditions of labor–enables him in the Grundrisse to bring back the notion of alienation. He already seemed to have forgotten and put it on the shelf. Then he will forget it again. But for this piece of work, the idea of alienation re-interpreted as the making of private ownership and the separation of worker and the objective conditions of work is very crucial, very important.

There is another big difference. In The German Ideology, Marx has a unilinear view of history; a very deterministic, uni-linear view of history. And this is what will come back in later Marx, and that dominate Marxists of various kinds. Uni-linear means–right?–that all societies start at the same starting point: tribal society. They all progress through slavery, feudalism, capitalism, with the assumption that they all will end up in communism. But this is a kind of uni-linear stage. Every society will have to go through of these stages, and there is necessity that one moves from an earlier stage to a later stage. And as I said, he will show the causal mechanism how it is happening.

The Grundrisse is different. This is a messy description of human history, a multi-linear trajectory; and I will show you what his multi-linear trajectory is. The beauty of shifting from this uni-linear trajectory to the multi-linear trajectory is that, though Marx messes completely the logic of argument up, but he produces a theoretical proposition what you can see fits already in his time, the historical development, very well, and would argue by extension–now I will extend his argument–it even fits better later historical evolution.

Chapter 3. Centrality of Division of Labor in The German Ideology [00:14:47]

Okay, let’s return now to The German Ideology briefly, and the centrality of division of labor in this work. Well, Marx described–right?–a mode of production between the dialectical interaction between what he saw, he called forces of production–and forces of production means basically the technology, raw materials, the labor power–and eventually he invents a term, the relations of production. But he identifies this with property relations in the later work. But he tends to use the word ‘intercourse’ or ‘division of labor’ in The German Ideology.

Now dialectical interaction. What on earth this word means? I think I also mentioned once that Marx, in a letter to Engels, once wrote: “You know, when I don’t understand something, then I say it is dialectical.” So the idea of dialectics was not much clearer to Karl Marx than it is to you. Right? But dialectics basically meant–right?–an interactive relationship. You know, in today’s social science language we would say–right?–that there is the causal arrow going in both ways. Right? It’s not simply that relations of production determine relations of production. Certain relations of production can block the development of forces of production, and when they change, the new relations of production can unleash the development of the forces of production. So that is the dialectics–right?–that the causal arrow, there is not simple determination pointing from one to the other, but there is a feedback loop. Right? That would be, I think, the modern social science language, to put this one.

As I said, in the initial formulation, he really thinks this is the division of labor, rather than property relationships. And I think we have seen it, he will–this comes straight out of Adam Smith, what you have read. Right? The relations of different nations among themselves depends to which each has developed these productive forces, the division of labor and its internal intercourse. So that’s exactly–right?–what Adam Smith said. Hunting/gathering societies, grazing societies, agricultural societies, commercial societies, they all correspond to different levels of division of labor. And that’s what Marx initially tries to do in The German Ideology. And he deals with the question of the property relations, but he said, “Look, property relations also change, but these changing property relations are simply the outcomes of the increased division of labor.” So it’s basically determined by the division of labor. “If I understand the level of division of labor, I will understand property relationships as well.” That sounds actually quite reasonable. And these sections of The German Ideology, by the way, were rediscovered by Marxists in the 1950s, especially Marxists who were living in the Soviet Empire.

There was a formidable social scientist in Poland; his name is Ossowski. And Ossowski, in 1957, re-read The German Ideology. And until then, you know, what was carved into stone, that, you know, Marxist theory suggests that this is property relations which explain everything. And that was the project–right?–of communism. You eliminate private ownership and everything will be fine. Right? No private ownership, things will be rosy. Right? There will be equality among people–right?–and dynamic economic growth. Now the Soviets eliminated private ownership. Was it an egalitarian society? No it wasn’t. Was it a dynamic society? No it wasn’t. Now Ossowski was re-reading The German Ideology and said, “Well you did not read your Marx right. Marx doesn’t say it is property relations which is crucial, but division of labor. So, of course, the division of labor exists in a Communist society, just not the appropriate division of labor, and that creates inequalities.” Anyway, that was a very interesting debate. Ossowski had a very great reception in western social science circles. Okay, anyway so this is the initial idea–right?–in The German Ideology.

Chapter 4. Modes of Production: Tribalism, Slavery, Feudalism and Capitalism [00:20:31]

And then he proceeds, as again we have seen it. I’ll rush through of it. He describes various modes of production this way. Right? There is the tribal society–very primitive means of production: hunting, fishing, gathering. Division of labor is very elementary. And he uses this sexist term: “This is only a natural division of labor between men and women. Women gather and men hunts, because the men are strong and, as you know, the women are weak.” Right? And therefore this is a “natural division of labor.” Well probably he can be forgiven; I mean, he wrote this in 1845.

And then he moves on to slavery. He said, “Well now the forces of production are beginning to develop. In a tribal society people just had enough capacity to gather, hunt, and fish enough food to survive, and therefore everybody had to go out gathering, hunting, and fishing. But now we have new technologies, which are more productive, and therefore it becomes possible that some people say, ‘Well I am not going out hunting. I will get slaves, and slaves will do the work for me. They will be able to produce what is necessary for their survival. I’ll give them only as much that they do not die from hunger. I eat the rest, and drink the rest, and then I’ll just sit at home and I am writing philosophy.’” So ancient philosophy is born. Right? You’re Plato, sitting at home, and thinking, and you are writing drama and poetry, and you create art, because the slaves are working the fields, producing a surplus that can be appropriated from them.

Division of labor increases as technology increased. Well as a result, some change in property relationships. Right? Now this is not a communal relationship, we are not members of the same community, but a pretty oppressive relationship between slave and slave owner. And he goes on. And then comes feudalism, and what happens with feudalism? Well what is the problem with the slaves? The problem with the slaves, that they have absolutely no interest in producing. They were simply physically coursed to produce. Therefore they can be pretty negligent in operating the means of instrument. You have to supervise them. You beat them–right?–to make them work. Right? You keep killing them, you know, if they disobey. There’s struggle; you know, you have to conduct wars all the time–right?–to get new slaves. Therefore as technology develops, you need a labor force which is more motivated to work harder. So slaves are being replaced by serfs, by peasants.

And what is the big change? The big change is that now the peasants will get a plot they can cultivate themselves. They actually have to work only for two or three days on the large estate of the feudal lord, and the rest of the time they can stay at home, cultivate their land. They can build a house. They can have their family. They can marry, and their children will belong to them, rather than to the lord. Right? A big change. Right? In classical states of slavery, the children–there are no marriage, no home. Right? Slaves lives in barracks. Right? The institution of family does not exist. I mean, you know, slavery in the south of the United States was not quite classical slavery, in Greece and Rome or in Egypt, but had some similarities. Right? Slave owners certainly had claim on the children of slaves, and in many instances marriage was really–not really an existing institution, even in nineteenth century U.S. Now the serfs are very different. They have their family, they have their home. They do not have a title of the land and the home, but they have possession of the land and the home. And therefore they have an interest. If they don’t work hard on those two days, on the land of the landlords, they are kicked off their land. Right? So therefore they will have to pay more attention. That’s the idea.

But then he looks at–you know, compares–the Dark Middle Ages in Europe–right?–the peaks of feudalism with Rome and Greece and Athens. And he said, “Did the division of labor increase?” He said, “No they, the division of labor decreased.” I mean antiquity, that was discovered in the Renaissance, was far superior to the Middle Ages. The big cities, like Rome, were abandoned. Many of you were in Rome. Even now you see ruins. Right? The glorious Rome–right?–was left as a grazing land for the sheep. Right? Those lands–you know, they could bring water into your homes. Right? The Greeks. They had high levels of technologies. They had highly developed industries. This was all forgotten in the Middle Ages. Right? So what is the Middle Ages? Some people said this was a step backward historically. Right? Inquisition, the Dark Middle Ages, the decay of the cities; it’s a step backward. Well Marx doesn’t know what to do with it. Right? And as I said– pointed out, he abandons the manuscript here. He said, “Well the theory doesn’t work. I cannot explain this all with increasing division of labor.”

Then, of course, would be– the fourth mode should be capitalism. And as he’s beginning to develop the form of capitalism, he’s beginning to develop now the notion of relations of production. Really feudalism is superior–this idea comes up in The German Ideology–superior to the Middle Ages [correction: antiquity] because it had more developed relations of production, more developed property relations. It was a further step towards private ownership. It was a further step because now the laborer had possessions of the land, what they cultivated.

Well and here it comes, the classical Marxist view, what he will change in the Grundrisse, about historical change. And this is, I think, a provocative, important statement; that he said, “If I’m looking at a mode of production, we can characterize them by the correspondence of the forces and relations of production. A certain level of forces of production require a certain type of relations of production, a certain type of relationship between individuals.” This is, in Marx, what a hundred years later in social sciences were called structuralism. This is a typical structuralist statement. Right? That you have correspondences of the different elements of the system you are analyzing–a correspondence of the forces and the relations of production.

And then he goes further. And now we will begin to see how he develops the causal mechanism of change. He says, “There is the development of forces of production.” To use the term of contemporary Marxist Eric Olin Wright, is “sticky down.” Sticky down means that the forces of production can only become more complex. You don’t forget–actually it’s not true, but that’s the theory–you don’t forget more advanced technologies. Technology is always advancing. But the growing, evolving technology eventually gets into conflict with the relations of production, between the property relationships and social relationships in society. They become outdated. So outdated because, as I pointed out, the slaves were not sufficiently attentive to technology, and the serfs were more attentive but not sufficiently attentive. The serfs were not– did not have such high incentives to work very hard with complex technologies than you guys will be when you will be in a job. Right? Because you will be highly paid and highly skilled. You will have fringe benefits, and you don’t want to be fired. Right? And you will put your skills to use, and therefore you will be able to use very–with great care, that the computers you use are not being damaged, as you are using them. Right? So therefore you have to become a wage laborer to have these very high incentives to work very hard, and to be very careful with the instruments what you are using.

And then he says therefore what happens that eventually these outmoded social relationships become in a conflict with the forces of production, and we want to have more. We want to have development. Right? And therefore at one point there will become a tension between the outmoded, outlived, old relations of production and the need to create new spaces for the development of forces of production. And this is the revolutionary movement [correction: moment], as Marx defines it. This is the time when the revolution will come because this is when we will rise against the old social relationships and replace them with new social relationships–right?–which will create new space for further growth after development of forces of production.

Again, you know, just to make clear, a way one of the misunderstood ideas of Marx: Marx never said that capitalism is not effective. On the contrary, Marx said capitalism was the most productive system in human history. He said, “In the last hundred years of capitalism we achieved more progress than in the whole human history.” Or what Marx said–he wrongly said so, he proved to be false–that it will never– not will go on forever. At one point capitalism, like any other previous modes of production, will get in conflict with its relations of production, and that’s when the revolution will have to come. Right? And so far we know that Marx proved to be wrong. He underestimated the extraordinary capacity of capitalism to adapt to major challenges. Right? We just have seen it in the last eighteen months. Right? Well, you know, capitalists was grumbling, “All right.” You know, just think about the Lehman Brothers. Right? Think back in March. Well, you know, this was very shaky. Did it work? It looks like it probably does. Right? It learned how to recover. Anyway, Marx’s point was capitalism was really a big revolution, and unleashed the development of forces of production.

Chapter 5. New Contributions in Grundrisse [00:33:33]

Now move onto the Grundrisse, and what are the major contributions, ten years later. Well first of all now the evolution of modes of production is described to be changes in property relations. This is basically where The German Ideology ends. He started at the wrong point, division of labor, and now property relations is a central idea. And private ownership is now defined in a new way. He said, “What is private ownership? When the subjective– laboring subject–is completely separated from the objective conditions of labor.” Right? You can see this is a big step forward from The Paris Manuscript–right?–where the essence of alienation was commodity relationships. Now it is not commodity relationships. He captures the essence–right?–of alienation in the nature of private ownership. And we will talk about what that exactly means.

The transition, therefore, to capitalism, is a separation of workers and the conditions of labor. And Marx puts it very powerfully. This is an idea which then comes back and haunts us all the time. This is an idea we will be able to read in Max Weber as well. The big progress, what is happening, that the worker becomes free, in a double sense of the term. That is what capitalism is producing, in contrast to traditional or feudal society. He became free. I was slave and now there is a civil war and it is declared ‘no more slavery’. I am legally free. But, Marx said, yes, capitalism produced legal freedom and legal equality, but it also kicks you off the land, forces you go to the city, and forces you to sell your labor.

So you are also freed from your possessions. Right? So you don’t have the means of [correction: substance] what a farmer had. To some extent even a slave had some. But certainly the peasants did have that means of subsistence. Now capitalism requires that people do not have the means of subsistence–that you have to go to the supermarket to buy your egg. Right? The system would not work very well if in your backyard you could grow everything what you need. Right? The incentive for you to work will be substantially reduced. Fortunately we cannot grow our vegetables what we need. And we have to drive to get to work when–we have to drive to get anywhere, and we have to buy gasoline. And we are also therefore forced to sell our labor force. This means–right?–free in the dual sense of the term. Right? Legally free, and freed from the means of subsistence. Right? The notion of freedom, of course, said with some irony.

Okay, and then the fourth proposition, multi-linearity. Right? There are various ways societies can take from a tribal society. And he writes about antiquity. He invents the notion of the Asiatic mode, what he never used before, or labor. He’s talking about the Slavic form, and the Germanic form. And rather than talking about modes of production, Marx, in the Grundrisse, is writing about social formations, or economic formations. A very interesting change. It’s not just a change of terms, it’s a very important change in the theory.

Okay, just very briefly about the evolution of the modes of production and changing property relations. Well he said, “In old pre-capitalist formations, well there is an appropriation of natural conditions of labor, of the earth as an original instrument of labor, and the individual simply regards the objective conditions as his own. There is no separation really of the objective conditions and the laborer.” Slavery is the clearest example. Right? The Greeks said, “The slave is a working animal.” Right? The slave was treated as an object–was not really seen as a subject. The slave did not have the rights of an individual subject. There were no individual liberties for the subject. I mean, it varied from slavery to slavery–right?–in antiquity. Right? That was the idea.

Well the serfs, a little step further away. Right? They actually do not have ownership, but have possession of the means of production. They are not treated as legally free individuals and subjects. Think about the right to the first night. Right? The feudal lord had the right to spend the first night with the bride in the case of a wedding. You have seen the opera, Mozart, The Marriage of Figaro. Right? You remember what the story is. Figaro is deeply in love with Susanna, and wants to marry her, and he is scared that the landlord wants to live with the right of the first night. He does not want the lord to spend the first night with his bride. Okay? That’s the story. Right? An important eighteenth-century story. Anyway, so he’s not quite a subject. The worker, free worker, is a subject.

All right, let me just move on to private ownership. He said under capitalism the work, the object, are completely separated from the worker. And here is–right?–the idea that we have this double separation. Right? We are separated from the means of our existence, but we are also legally free. And more citations of this kind. It’s also very important–right?–that the transition to market economy happens by pushing people off the land and forcing them into the cities to become laborers who will depend only on the wage what they earn on the labor market.

Chapter 6. Multiple Trajectories in Grundrisse [00:40:50]

And now comes–a few more minutes–an intriguing idea, these multiple trajectories he described. Right? So the initial idea was a uni-linear trajectory. And let me just do it this way. That this was the idea. <> Tribal society leads to slave society. That leads to feudal society, and that leads to capitalism. Right? And dialectics. Right? Relations, forces of production. This drives the process. Right? It happens through breaks. Right? These are revolutions, which lead from one to the next, when these dialectal interactions leads for people to throw up the old system.

Now we have a very different view presented here. He describes–right?–the various forms, with different individual forms of ownership, and points out that in fact the uniqueness of what he called the Germanic form, Germanic tribal form, that it became individual possession. This is indeed, as far as even now we know from historiography, a unique feature of Germanic tribes that they allocated the land by lottery, before each season, to individual families, and then families cultivated the land. They did not have individual property rights in the land, but they had individual possession allocated. That was–the common land was divided up by individuals or individual families. And that is the unique feature of this. And here it is, and I hope you see it quite well: the multi-trajectory development, what he describes in the Grundrisse.

Well, he said, “It’s not true that tribalism all led to antiquity of slave societies.” He spent, you know, from eight in the morning until ten in the evening, was sitting in the British library and reading like crazy. And he said, “Well something wrong. When I am looking at Asia, there is no universalized slavery. Well there are slaves in China but, you know, they are kind of family slaves. There are no great plantations which are cultivated by slaves, like in Egypt or Ancient Rome.” He excessively generalized about Rome, Greece, and Egypt the whole notion of slave mode of production. This is unique antiquity. “But when I’m looking at Asia–and in fact I’m looking at Pre-Columbian America–right?–there is no universalized slavery.” So he uses the term Asiatic form. He did not know much about Pre-Columbian Americas. He knew a little more about India and China–did not know much. He knew as much as usually people could in the 1850s–was reading heavily. But he understood that this was a different form. Right?

And the uniqueness of the Asiatic form, as he puts it, was these were hydraulic societies. They were big empires, all organized around irrigation and flood protection works. And in order to have these irrigation and flood protection works, you needed big empires. And what the big emperors in China did, that they left the village communes alone, as long as they did deliver those taxes from which the imperial power was able to build flood protection and irrigation networks. Right? So the village commune was left alone as a commune itself, and was not transformed into serfs or slaves. China never really had a classical case of feudalism; feudalism the way how we know it from England or France–right?–or Spain, it never existed in China. Therefore it was the Asiatic form. Right? A centralized imperial bureaucracy, and the hydraulic economy, driven by water problems.

And then he said, “Well there was the Germanic form.” And I briefly talked about the Germanic form–right?–where you had family possession. And he said, “Well, where does feudalism come from?” The original theories said, you know, transition from one mode of production to the next happens because of internal class struggle. Right? The theories should predict that feudalism fell because the serfs had enough. They went uprising, hanged the slave owners, and created a new society. Well Marx said, “I was a jerk. This is not how it worked. Look at how Rome fell. It was invaded by the Germanic tribes.” And what is interesting, these Germanic tribe actually had much less advanced military technology and technology generally. But they had a superior social relationship system. They had a more developed idea of private ownership than Rome had. So, in fact, the Roman Empire fell because it was invaded by the Germanic tribes, and they transformed the Roman Empire into a feudal society; they transformed slaves into serfs.

And there is also the Slavic form. Well there is the Russian obshchina. Well it’s a kind of feudalism, but the feudal lord actually treats the obshchina, the village commune, as a unit. Again, it is not the central authority in Russia who collects the rents, but the feudal lord; but leaves to a large extent the village commune to operate in a communal way. And therefore he said, “Therefore I was wrong. It was not the internal class struggle which led to the evolution. Very often this is an external force which leads to a change into another mode of production”–right?–“into another social formation.” And therefore he said, “Well, shall I say that the Asiatic form necessarily will have to go through feudalism before it can be capitalism? No way.

China is in a way already have some signs to move towards capitalism, without creating feudalism.” But he did not know that a gentleman called Mao Zedong come a little later, and he said, “And do we have to become capitalists first?” And Mao Zedong said, “But we hate capitalism. Why don’t we create communism straight out of the Asiatic form?” And that’s what he was trying to do. And therefore, you know, he had the–this is sort of my addition, this arrow; of course, it did not exist in Marx–right?–from the Asiatic form to communism. But that’s what Mao Zedong did. Did it work? No. Well one say probably it did. The only point is that Communism is not at the end, Communism is before capitalism. Right? I think Mao Zedong successfully converted Asiatic form into Communism, in order then to move Communism into capitalism. That’s what Marx did not quite consider, but will be completely consistent with the type of analysis he offers–right?–in the Grundrisse.

And finally about the Slavic form, and I am out of time. The same argument. He gets a letter from a Russian anarchist, Vera Zasulich. And Vera Zasulich was a great admirer of Marx, but she was a kind of populist anarchist left-winger. And she said, “But Mr. Marx, do you really want us to destroy this wonderful Russian obshchina village commune, where we live so intimately together as brothers and sisters, to create this hated capitalism? Why can’t we move straight into Communism? This is a Communistic form.” And Marx kind of nodded. “Well”, he said- he responded, “it’s an interesting idea.” And this is exactly what Vladimir Illyich Lenin and Stalin did. They converted the Russian obshchina into what they called kolkhoz; collective enterprise. All what happened, similar to the Mao story, it turned out not to be the road to the most advanced form of society, but a kind of side-road towards capitalism. And the question, what remains to be discussed, whether this side road was necessary, and whether this was the most effective way to move to capitalism, and what came out as capitalism from it is really the best possible capitalism at all? But that’s for another course. If you take Varieties of Capitalism, we’ll talk more about that. Thank you.

[end of transcript]

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