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archive: Stages of history versus relative transformations and transitions

October 7th, 2017 · No Comments

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marx’s_theory_of_history

The classic stages of history in marxism are
primitive communism
slave society
feudalism
capitalism
socialism
communism

But will this analysis really work?

slave society is to follow primitive communism, but slavery is not clearly a very early stage of society. It is more like a pathology of civilizations and a primitve form of a later stage, capitalism, and the extreme form of system with a pathological labor theory of value.
feudalism is hard to define but its ‘medieval’ source as a term was more a stage of the decline from the state in the dark ages. It was a stage after the world of organized Rome…
capitalism isn’t really a stage because it is present from the dawn of the neolithic or before (the paleolithic trade in obsidian), shows up in essence in all forms of commercial interaction, and is clearly present in periods that are well-documented, e.g. ancient greece, where the forms of finance are already coming to the fore. And this is merely a better documented case: the forms seen in early Greece must have seen many permutations throughout antiquity.
Trade relations over large distances with bullock carts, for example….

The perspective of the ‘macro effect’ in WHEE works better because it is more fluid and refers to transitions, not to stages. These transitions refer to something more like shoveling coal into a furnace (cycles of a locomotive) appear to be an aspect of a dynamic of cyclical action. The cycles of the locomotive have no correlation with the outer terrain through which it travels. Whatever the case, it is actually more useful to clock stages in terms of transitions rather than social definitions.
The core of civilization begins in the Neolithic: family, tribe/aggregates, villages, town, cities, states…But this is another stages list: transitions act on whatever they find in place and produce relative transformations of what it finds to a greater complexification, e.g.with appearance of agriculture we see villages, then towns, then cities states. These depictions are not intrinsic but descriptive and contain the real advance factors: innovations in the realm of ideas, from technical inventions to religions in the crucible developing culture…
The macro effect can only find three phases of transitions, but suspect six or seven starting in the Neolithic.

We start in the phase of the first states: Egypt, Sumer, around 3000BCE, then the Axial phase, around 600BCE, then the modern period around 1800 AD. These dates cap a period of transition of several centuries, and show a remarkable correlation of seminal innovations. The nice thing about relative transformations is that we can begin anywhere, and can proceed even if we don’t have a complete early history.
So instead of phases we have a purely abstract definitionless set of transitions which show definite advances in civilization but not in the sequence of stages as above.
One problem with feudalism is that its medieval form shows decline from a higher phase or ‘stage’ in the period of the great flowering of the Axial Age. It can thus hardly be a stage. Feudalism precedes modern capitalism only via the empirical facts of the case of European history.

The modern transition seems to be the stage of capitalism coming to pass, but a closer look shows that its development, although severely characteristic of the early modern, was peripheral to the much more complicated broader innovations of general culture in science, philosophy, religion, art, literature, and much else. We can’t ascribe these to economic determination or to a stage of history. They are relative transformations of genres that existed all along.
We do seem to see ‘a’ birth of capitalism at the end of the modern transition around the time of the industrial revolution, and this may be part of that transition, but it is not a new stage of history to be called capitalist. Capitalism immediately in synchronous initiation spawns its counterpoint socialism/communism as projects for a new future. Thus modernity is not the stage of capitalism, and socialism/communism as ideas appear at the same time as capitalism. Socialism/communism can’t really be stages because they begin to influence capitalism immediately and we see socialist tendencies and a russian revolution in tandem with capitalism.
Still, the issue of communism makes its point: a terminal endstate of communism in an era of postcapitalism would constitute a pretty good version of some sort of stage, after never seeing any up to that time, only transitions of relative transformations.But the achievement of communism might itself be a start subject to new transformations…

We see that the outcome of modernity is a transformation of the early modern transition and capitalism comes to the fore very late at the end of the modern transition. The sudden appearance of socialism/communism thus are entirely appropriate terms for new ‘relative transformations to be applied to modernity in context of (or kidnapped by) capitalism.
democracy, socialism, communism and ‘revolution’ itself are thus clear typical innovations of the early modern. The may have existed before, and would thus be relative transformations.

(Roots of a tree show absolute beginnings: tree rings show (annual) relative beginnings or transformations.)

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