previous chapter
Chapter 2 Modes of Production and Historical Development
next chapter

Chapter 2
Modes of Production and Historical Development

1. The Concept of a Mode of Production

Structural Marxism develops the principle of economic determination by means of the concept of a mode of production, the latter serving as both the principle of "articulation" of a given conjuncture, that is, the structure that determines the interrelationships between the various instances within a social formation, and as the principle of "periodization," that is, the concept on which the historical succession of conjunctures is organized. "Marx's construction of the central concept of the mode of production," Etienne Balibar insists, "has the function of an epistemological break with respect to the whole tradition of the philosophy of history. . . . The concept of the mode of production and the concepts immediately related to it thus appear as the first abstract concepts whose validity is not as such limited to a given period or type of society, but one on which, on the contrary, the concrete knowledge of this period and type depends" (Althusser and Balibar 1970, 201). In his important contribution to Reading Capital , "The Basic Concepts of Historical Materialism," Balibar elaborates on Marx's central insight, that "it is always the direct relationship of the owners of the conditions of production to the direct producers . . . which reveals the innermost secret, the hidden basis of the entire social structure" (Marx, quoted in Althusser and Balibar 1970, 221).

Balibar's goal, and the goal of the various anthropologists, historians, and sociologists whose work we will take up in this chapter, is a


concept of a mode of production applicable to different degrees of generality and levels of abstraction—from social formations "in general" (in the sense that all social formations contain a determinant economic structure), through societies dominated by distinct modes of production (lineage, "Asiatic," simple property, slave, feudal, capitalist, and so on), to historically specific conjunctures (France in 1789, England during the Industrial Revolution, and so on). The problem is not primarily one of classification; Structural Marxists are uninterested in developing a finite number of pigeonholes into which empirical descriptions of all known societies may be forced, nor are they interested in arranging modes of production into an evolutionary series of historical stages mechanically following one after the other in accordance with some ultimate goal or originary essence. The problem addressed by the concept of a mode of production is one of producing knowledge rather than classifying data. One looks at societies from the standpoint of a mode of production and from a certain level of abstraction, but this is not to say that additional specificity, that is, knowledge at a more historically determinate level, is produced deductively or reductively from general concepts. In relation to the potential dangers of deduction and reduction, it must be emphasized that the elaboration of distinct modes of production is an open-ended, heuristic process. Against the opinions of most of its critics, I would argue that Structural Marxism is especially sensitive to the tension, within scientific discourse, between the "proliferation" of descriptive accounts of historically determinate modes of production and the "reduction" of historically determinate modes of production to a restricted number of general forms.[1]

Etienne Balibar: The Forces and Relations of Production

Taking Marx's discussion of the social form of production in volume 2 of Capital as his point of departure, Balibar defines a mode of production, at its highest level of generality, simply as a manner of producing a socially useful product. All modes of production, he maintains, are constituted by certain functional elements which are formally invariant but which in fact exist only in their "combination," that is, in their historically specific content and interrelationship. These invariant functional elements are (1) the laborer or direct producer, that is, labor power; (2) the means of production, that is, the object and the means


of labor; (3) the nonlaborer who appropriates surplus labor, that is, the social product (see Althusser and Balibar 1970, 212).

These three elements are always structured as a double relation along two axes or "connections" whose specific combination constitutes, for Balibar, the historical uniqueness of a mode of production: (1) A relation of real appropriation designates the structure of the labor process, that is, the relation of the laborer to the means of production by which the transformation of nature is undertaken. This relation constitutes the "technical division of labor" or the forces of production . (2) A property relation designates the mode of appropriation of the social product. This relation, the "social division of labor" or relations of production , implies the intervention of an individual or a collectivity, who, by the exercise of economic ownership, controls access to the means of production and the reproduction of the productive forces. Thus, within a given mode, it is the relations of production that are dominant. (See Althusser and Balibar 1970, 212-13.)

Unlike Marx's concept of the capitalist mode of production, Balibar's more general concept presupposes neither nonlaborers beyond infants, the elderly, and the infirm nor the existence of surplus labor beyond that minimum surplus necessary to reproduce the means of subsistence. The same individual can be both laborer and owner, the property relation may have a greater or lesser impact on the labor process, and the ownership function may be institutionally united or separate from the labor process. Moreover, the function of economic ownership should not be identified with any particular form of social control over labor and the means of production, no more than Balibar's use of the term property relation should be associated with any particular form of individual or collective ownership. It is also important to note that the terms property and ownership apply strictly to the realm of economic relations and should not be confused with juridical forms ("laws of property"), which are not, strictly speaking, expressions of production relations but rather of political and ideological relations not necessarily economic in nature. Property relations can take extremely varied forms, but all property relations imply social control over access to the means of production and the distribution of the social product. The necessary existence of a property relation therefore implies the possibility of economic classes and exploitation, although the universality of classes and exploitation remains controversial. For example, in so-called primitive societies operating at a subsistence level within an economy structured by kinship, the existence of exploitation in any form


(by men over women, by elders over juniors), much less class exploitation, is hotly contested even within the camp of Structural Marxist anthropology.

In the case of lineage-based societies, one must distinguish irregular appropriations of the social product such as raiding, which are merely forms of extortion external to a social formation, from institutionalized appropriation, which internally organizes the production of material existence within a social formation. Only the latter may be termed a mode of production in the strict sense. One must also distinguish a cooperative division of labor characterized by reciprocal exchanges of labor or product determined by necessity or utility, from an exploitive division of labor wherein labor power and economic surplus are appropriated by certain social classes without corresponding obligations or limitations. Of course this distinction is often difficult to specify in practice, not least because dominant classes always develop an ideological justification for their power and privileges couched in terms of historical necessity, social utility, or both. Balibar's formulation is particularly useful because it focuses analytical attention on the structural nexus of class exploitation, namely, access to the means of production and distribution of the social product, rather than on the ideological structures through which social subjects explain, justify, resist, and adapt to the forces and relations of production. If and when unequal distribution of the social product within a social formation serves to reproduce the conditions of that unequal distribution, then we are in the presence of class struggle and exploitation. It is sufficient—indeed, necessary—to speak of exploitation whenever direct producers are unable to determine either the volume or the appropriation of their own surplus labor.

According to Balibar, the forces and relations of production exist only in their "unity" as "simultaneous yet distinct" relations among laborers, the means of production, and nonlaborers. Not only is each of these elements related to the others, but it is also related to them in two different dimensions: "This double function is an index of what I shall call the double nature of the division of labor in production (the 'technical' division of labor and the 'social' division of labor); at the same time, it is an index of the interdependence or intersection of these two divisions . . . the fact that the two connections . . . both belong to a single 'Verbindung ' . . . to the structure of a single mode of production" (Althusser and Balibar 1970, 214). By emphasizing the unity of the forces and relations of production, Balibar neatly resolves a longstanding Marxist debate as to whether technological development or class struggle is the motive force of history. For Balibar, such a debate


turns on a misleading identification of the productive forces with technological determinism and the property relation with class struggle.[2] In actuality, because technological development never exists apart from class struggle, nor class struggle apart from a specific level and organization of technology, any attempt to separate them is meaningless.[3] Only between rival modes of production (that is, rival unities of forces and relations) is the level of technological development decisive.

While Balibar insists that the relations of production are dominant within a given mode of production (because the ownership function controls the reproduction of the productive forces), this relation of dominance is neither reducible to a voluntaristic concept of class struggle nor open to criticism for having ignored the level of technological development. The dominance of the property relation implies the dominance of the class exercising the ownership function, but this is not to say that the dominant class can do anything it wishes nor that its dominance results from ownership alone. For Balibar, it is not a question of the "primacy" of the relations or the forces, in the sense of relations being somehow in advance of the forces; rather, it is a question of class struggle within both the forces and the relations. The class struggle is determined by the unity of a mode of production: the level of economic development defines the universe of class interests and powers, but economic development is nothing but the manifestation of the interests and powers of social classes. The primary contradiction between the forces and relations of production does not turn on the "primacy" of one or the other—economism or voluntarism—but rather on the antagonistic class interests and powers produced by both. Ultimately, class struggles within a given mode of production as well as those between classes of rival modes are settled in favor of the class most capable of developing the productive forces at a given time.

In both capitalist and non-capitalist societies the combination of economic ownership (relations of production) and a labor process (forces of production) specifies the determinant economic function or instance of the social formation. Defining a mode of production in this way differentiates the general functional term economic from historically specific economic terms such as market economies, private property, and so on, which have been frequently employed with the unfortunate result of reading capitalist characteristics into other modes of production.[4] The Structural Marxist concept of a mode of production attempts to reveal the historical specificity of economic determination within different social formations, not to eliminate or distort it. The economic instance in feudal society, for example, is determinant in the last in-


stance even though the relations of property and the labor processes constituting the feudal mode of production are defined by neither market values nor private property (even where market mechanisms and private property exist). The subordination (subsumption in Balibar's terminology) of the social and technical divisions of labor to market mechanisms and private property is the characteristic feature of a capitalist mode of production, not a universal or necessary form of economic determination in all social formations. Economic ownership and the labor processes may reside in different social structures and institutional apparatuses, and within these structures and apparatuses they may coexist with a variety of non-economic functions. As we have seen, this is the basis of Althusser's distinction between the concepts of dominance and determination: the term structure in dominance always denotes the structure exercising the function of economic ownership (whether or not this structure is the site of actual production), whereas the term determination in the last instance always denotes the primacy of the economic function, that is, the deep structure of the mode of production (whether or not the structures that exercise the functions of ownership and production are primarily political or ideological).

Balibar argues that the juxtaposition of three elements and two relations gives a high degree of theoretical precision to the concept of a mode of production: "By varying the combination of these elements according to the two connections which are part of the structure of every mode of production, we can reconstitute the various modes of production, i.e., we can set out the 'presuppositions' for the theoretical knowledge of them, which are quite simply the concepts of the conditions of their historical existence. . . . The final result would be a comparative table of the forms of different modes of production which all combine the same 'factors' " (Althusser and Balibar 1970, 216). However, Balibar also insists that the "invariant formal characteristics" of his general concept not be mistaken for a denial of the historically specific character of every concrete mode of production. Balibar is especially concerned that the development of concepts be appropriate to distinct determinate levels of generality and specificity and not restricted to any single level. He cites approvingly Marx's observation that the general concept of the capitalist mode of production, which deals with properties common to every capitalist system, "does not prevent the same economic basis—the same form from the standpoint of its main conditions—due to innumerable different empirical circumstances, natural environment, racial relations, external historical influ-


ences, etc. from showing infinite variations and gradations in appearance, which can be ascertained only by analysis of the empirically given circumstances " (Marx, quoted in Althusser and Balibar 1970, 256).

In defending the need for concepts pitched at different levels of generality as well as the validity of such concepts, Balibar rejects the extremes of empiricist nominalism and essential forms. Denial of the historical specificity of its constituent elements, Balibar maintains, would reduce the concept of a mode of production to a Structuralist "combinatory" (combinatoire ) as opposed to a Structural Marxist "combination." For Balibar, the former term refers to the tendency of many Structuralist theorists to itemize elements of a social system as a formal pattern of relations and arbitrarily occupied places that appear and reappear throughout "history" in such a way that, while the places of the elements and their relations may change, their nature remains constant, indifferent to the effect of changes within the structure as a whole. As a result, by means of a combinatory, it is possible to bypass the historically specific elements and proceed directly to an a priori knowledge of all possible articulations of the structure. A combination, by contrast, insists on the fact that the nature of the elements themselves is altered by their historically specific structure. With a combination, Balibar insists, "we do not find the same concrete elements when we move from one variant to the next. Nor is their particularity defined by mere place, but rather as an effect of the structure, differing every time; i.e., an effect of the combination which constitutes the mode of production" (Althusser and Balibar 1970, 241).

Balibar's contrast between the Structural Marxist concept of combination and the Structuralist combinatory is not entirely satisfactory.[5] Although certain Structuralists, Lévi-Strauss for example, may be justly criticized for imposing a combinatory consisting of ahistorical elements on each and every social formation, many others are willing to concede, even to insist on, the fact that individual elements derive their character from the system within which they exist: this is, after all, a fundamental property of the linguistic sign according to Saussure and a basic axiom of semiology. Balibar's combinatory/combination opposition therefore misses the central weakness of Structuralism, which is not its inability to see the individual element as determined by the structure of the whole but rather the fact that it has no theory of the transformation of the structure, no concept of contradiction, and no concept of dominance and subordination. For Structuralism, it is certainly conceivable for elements to be seen in interaction with each other, but this interac-


tion, like that of functionalist sociology, is static; the system adjusts but it never changes, its movement circumscribed by invariable relationships or at least relationships whose variation cannot be theoretically accounted for by the structure itself.

The weakness of Balibar's attempt to distinguish the Structural Marxist concept of a combination from a Structuralist combinatory stems from the fact that his own analysis of the problems of periodization and articulation is deeply flawed by a rationalist and essentialist attempt to theorize both problems in terms of the Structuralist opposition of synchrony and diachrony instead of the Structural Marxist concept of contradiction. Therefore, before moving on to the important positive advances realized by Balibar's concept of a mode of production and the subsequent deployment of this concept by anthropologists and historians, it is useful to examine carefully Balibar's attempt to work out the implications of the Althusserian problematic with respect to the problem of historical process. Readers less patient with theoretical detours may wish to skip the next two sections.

Reproduction and the Problem of Periodization

For Structural Marxism, modes of production are the principles of variation by which the unbroken continuity of real history is analytically differentiated into periods or, more accurately, into a discontinuous succession of structures. Because variation, not continuity, defines change, our understanding of historical transformation is always differential, derived from a comparison of different unevenly developed conjunctures, not from the reconstruction of the evolutionary trajectory of an homogeneous essence. In the language of differential history, there is always a gap or dislocation between different conjunctures, as, for example, between the social formations of France in 1788 and 1815. We attempt to explain the gap between France in 1788 and 1815 by means of successive analyses of intermediate conjunctures—1789, 1792, 1795, 1799, and so on—and each successive conjuncture in terms of its own structural integrity. At the same time, we are also impelled by the dialectic of differential analysis to construct concepts of structural integrity across different conjunctures—for instance, the concept of the French Revolution as the period 1788 to 1815, which in turn exists in a differential relation to other periods, the ancien régime, the Restoration, and so on. Knowledge of historical transformation, for Structural


Marxism at any rate, is always a matter of an irreducible tension between the discontinuity of a succession of structures on the one hand and the structural integrity between two conjunctures on the other. Social formations, we must not forget, are unevenly developed structures; therefore, our knowledge of their development can never be reduced to the evolution or realization of an expressive totality. However, they are also structured wholes, and therefore their emergence and dissolution cannot be explained simply by constructing genealogies of their individual elements.

In Reading Capital , Balibar makes a bold initial attempt to elaborate this differential approach to historical development, without, unfortunately, managing to avoid certain pitfalls (whose notoriety has, unfortunately, precluded critical recognition of the nature of his project). Taking as his example Marx's analysis of the "primitive accumulation of capital," Balibar notes that there is a "different world" at the origin of capital where "knowledge of the laws of the development of capitalism is useless . . . because this is a completely different process, not subject to the same conditions" (Althusser and Balibar 1970, 278). The study of primitive accumulation

takes as its guiding thread precisely the elements which were distinguished by the analysis of the capitalist structure: these elements are grouped together here under the heading of the "radical separation of the laborer from the means of production." The analysis is therefore retrospective, not insofar as it projects backwards the capitalist structure itself, presupposing precisely what had to be explained, but insofar as it depends on knowledge of the result of the movement. On this condition it escapes empiricism, the listing of the events which merely precede the development of capitalism: it escapes vulgar description by starting from the connections essential to a structure, but this structure is the "current" [capitalist] structure. . . . The analysis of primitive accumulation is therefore, strictly speaking, merely the genealogy of the elements which constitute the structure of the capitalist mode of production . . . . For this reason, the analysis of primitive accumulation is a fragmentary analysis: the genealogy is not traced on the basis of a global result, but distributively element by element. (Althusser and Balibar 1970, 279)

"In Marx's analyses," Balibar notes, "we are never dealing with anything other than the combination itself and its forms. . . . [T]he subject of development is nothing but what is defined by the succession of the forms of organization of labor and the displacements that it achieves" (Althusser and Balibar 1970, 247). Thus analysis of primitive accumulation does not and cannot coincide with the history of the previous


mode of production as known from its structure, but it does present us with the question of this structure, its tendencies and contradictions, which is precisely the question of a gap or displacement between two successive structured wholes or combinations. We cannot bridge the gap by means of the continuity of an evolution, because such a transition is thinkable only at the level of elements, not the level of structures. For Balibar, we can think a true history only on the basis of the mutual dependence of elements with respect to a structure, that is, as a structured combination, but similar elements inscribed within different social-historical combinations will be differentiated precisely by these distinct structural causalities. One important consequence of this theoretical impasse is the rejection of any evolutionary necessity linking the concepts of different modes of production—that the final triumph of capitalism, for example, is pre-ordained by the concept of feudalism. In opposition to such forms of deductive necessity, Balibar asserts the "relative independence of the formation of the different elements of the capitalist structure, and the diversity of the historical roads to this formation"—in other words, the fact that "the elements combined by the capitalist structure have different and independent origins" (Althusser and Balibar 1970, 280).

Unfortunately, Balibar's insights into the differential nature of our concepts of historical development are presented in terms of a Structuralist opposition between synchrony and diachrony, an opposition that ultimately makes it impossible to preserve the primacy of uneven development (contradiction) within the framework of structural causality. Balibar is driven by the logic of the synchrony/diachrony distinction toward an essentialism of the concept of a mode of production; he progressively transforms contradictions within a mode of production (the uneven development of the forces and relations of production) into "tendencies" of a mode of production conceptualized as a unified, evenly developed synchronic system. This essentialism collapses the relative autonomy of the elements into a monolithic and homogeneous totality. It is accompanied by a tendency toward philosophical rationalism with respect to the articulation of the elements; Balibar progressively eliminates the gaps between different levels of analysis (the whole and each of the elements) in order to derive the specific effectivity of each element from the totality viewed as a logical universal, the absolute ground of all contingent attributes.

Balibar's problems begin with his attempt to develop a scientific concept of periodization based on the concept of reproduction . His central


concern is to avoid the pitfalls of "simple" history, which has always conceptualized historical process and periodization within a problematic of continuity and linear time. For Balibar, it is not a question of finding the "right breaks" or "best periods," those artificial (but not arbitrary) cuts into linear time that traditionally emphasize either the primacy of the historical event (a "single criterion of brevity") or distinctions between the "long term" and the "short term" (a distinction based on the "insertion of the latter into the movement of the former"); it is rather a question of finding a "principle of variation" that will constitute history as a comparative science of discontinuous combinations determined by modes of production. Balibar finds this principle of variation in Marx's analysis of the extended reproduction of capital: "reproduction appears to be the general form of permanence of the general conditions of production, which in the last analysis englobe the whole social structure" (Althusser and Balibar 1970, 259). Balibar interprets Marx's method as one of englobing the isolated and seemingly contradictory activities within a capitalist mode of production within a synchronic system capable of reproducing its own conditions of existence: "To move from the isolated act, from the immediate production process, to the repetition , to the ensemble of social capital, to the result of the production process, is to install oneself in a fictive contemporaneity of all the movements, or, to put it more accurately . . . in a fictive planar space , in which all the movements have been suppressed, in which all the moments of the production process appear in projection side by side with their connections of dependence" (Althusser and Balibar 1970, 264). Reproduction is thus the synchronic essence of articulation circumscribing all the contradictions of capitalist circulation: "In a single movement reproduction replaces and transforms the things, but retains the relations indefinitely. . . . The relations . . . comprehend the hitherto disjoined 'moments' (production, circulation, distribution, consumption) in a necessary and complete unity" (Althusser and Balibar 1970, 268-69).

Balibar's intentions are legitimate enough. He wants only to define the criteria by which to distinguish "successive" combinations, and he argues, with considerable justification, that this definition should be done by differentiating between different principles of structural integrity or modes of production. However, by attempting to conceptualize structural integrity in terms of reproduction, Balibar lapses into a form of essentialist thinking fundamentally at odds with Althusser's concept of structural causality. Structural causality conceives the structural in-


tegrity of the complex whole in terms of its elements, or, more precisely, in terms of the place and function assigned to each element by its conditions of existence, the complex whole. Thus there is a certain tendency to reproduce the structural integrity of the complex whole since each element bears within itself the trace of its conditions of existence. However, there is a countervailing tendency—contradiction or uneven development—stemming from the relative autonomy each element possesses by virtue of its independent nature and structural integrity, which cannot be reduced to the place and function assigned to it by the complex whole.

There is, in short, an irreducible tension between the reproduction of the existing complex whole, a tendency imprinted in the structured interrelationships of the elements, and the production of new relations inherent in their relative autonomy and uneven development. For Althusser, history is a necessarily limited and incomplete science. Structural causality provides knowledge of the relation of forces at a given conjuncture, but it can have no concept of the necessity of any particular outcome. Possessing no teleology, structural causality cannot grasp change as an essence or the essence of change. Change can be grasped only comparatively, in terms of greater and lesser degrees of discontinuity between two conjunctures. Balibar, of course, is not unaware of all of this. Indeed, he attempts to develop a non-teleological approach to the problem of periodization with his concepts of correspondence and non-correspondence between the forces and relations of production. However, as we shall see, he makes a fatal mistake by inscribing these relations within a false either/or of synchrony (reproduction) versus diachrony (production). Predictably, once the distinction between synchrony and diachrony is introduced, it raises the pseudo-problem of their reconciliation, and it is this pseudo-problem that sends Balibar down the slippery slope of rationalism and essentialism.

Balibar begins by defining periodization as a "non-linear diachrony" that "replaces historical continuity with a discontinuity, a succession of temporarily invariant states of structure" (Althusser and Balibar 1970, 204). Balibar attempts to explain what a "temporarily invariant" structure might be by introducing the concept of a "transitional mode of production," taking as his example handicraft or labor-intensive manufacture. Balibar argues that manufacture, as a transitional structure between feudal and capitalist modes of production, cannot be understood under categories of either feudal or capitalist modes of production, that it is itself "a completely different mode of production" (Al-


thusser and Balibar 1970, 278). This must be so, he contends, since the period of transition between feudalism and capitalism cannot very well be conceived as a hiatus within which a social formation ceases to exist as a structured whole. Because all social formations must be structured, this transitional period must be conceived as a mode of production in its own right. To account for the difference between a "synchronic" mode of production, such as feudalism or capitalism, and a "diachronic" or transitional mode of production, such as manufacture, Balibar next introduces the concepts of "correspondence" and "non-correspondence" between the relations of production and the forces of production. When in correspondence, the forces and relations of production are in a relationship of "reciprocal limitation" such that the social formation reproduces both relations essentially unchanged. In the case of non-correspondence, by contrast, the reproduction of the relations of production induces a progressive transformation of the productive forces and, eventually, a displacement of the instances within the social formation.

Setting aside Balibar's claim regarding the primacy of the relations of production (a problem to which I will return later), the concepts of correspondence and non-correspondence appear to be expressions of uneven development within the mode of production itself. The problem, however, is that Balibar can never really integrate uneven development into his notion of a transitional mode of production because he has already committed himself to conceptualizing modes of production in synchronic terms of reproduction. Assuming for the moment that Balibar might be able to distinguish clearly between synchronic modes of production and diachronic transitional modes of production, it is still necessary to explain the shift from correspondence to non-correspondence. Barry Hindess and Paul Hirst, whose argument I am following here, point out the impossibility of reconciling the synchronic "eternity" of Balibar's idea of structural determination (the functioning of the structure to reproduce the conditions of its existence) with its diachronic "finitude" (the production of the dissolution of these conditions as structural effects): "any theory of transition from one mode of production to another requires a concept of correlative movement from non-transition to transition, from eternity to finitude. It is precisely this movement that is unthinkable in Balibar's problematic" (Hindess and Hirst 1975, 274-75).

Given that a shift to a transitional mode of production has somehow taken place, it is immediately subjected to inexorable synchronic ten-


dencies because of Balibar's insistence that any mode of production, including a transitional one, is a unified system reproducing its own conditions of existence and therefore incapable of internal dissolution: "the transition from one mode of production to another . . . cannot consist of the transformation of the structure by its functioning itself, i.e., of any transition of quantity into quality" (Althusser and Balibar 1970, 274). By positing the transitional period as a distinct social formation with a distinct mode of production, Balibar has emptied non-correspondence of its antagonistic quality until it has become its opposite, a static process of reproduction devoid of internal contradiction and transformation: "what we have recognized as distinct in essence [the transitional mode of production] shall not become a single process [a stage in the evolution of the succeeding mode of production]. . . . [T]he concept of transition (from one mode of production to another) can never be the transition of the concept (to one other-than-itself by internal differentiation)" (Althusser and Balibar 1970, 274).

Balibar has completely abandoned differential history for philosophical rationalism—a problematic wherein uneven development cannot exist except as an illusion of "inadequate" knowledge. Grasped "adequately," that is, from the standpoint of the now thoroughly essentialist totality of a mode of production, contradictions are simply "tendencies," internal temporalities and rhythms of a synchronic structure. For Balibar, "the development of the structure according to a tendency, i.e., a law which does not only (mechanically) include the production of effects, but also the production of effects according to a specific rhythm, therefore means that the definition of the specific internal temporality of the structure is part of the analysis of the structure itself. . . . It is now clear what is 'contradictory' about tendency. . . . Marx defines the terms between which there is a contradiction as the contradictory effects of a single cause " (Althusser and Balibar 1970, 288). Contradiction is simply the "unity of two contradictory terms" grounded in the "nature of the structure . . . as a law of production of the effects themselves" (Althusser and Balibar 1970, 289). Such a definition implies the subordination of contradiction to structure: "there is only a contradiction between the effects, the cause (the structure) is not divided against itself, it cannot be analyzed in antagonistic terms. Contradiction is therefore not original, but derivative" (Althusser and Balibar 1970, 290). Because the cause that produces the contradiction is not itself contradictory, the result of the contradiction is always a certain equilibrium: "contradiction has a status analogous to that of competition in


the movement of the structure: it determines neither its tendency nor its limits, rather it is a local, derivative phenomenon, whose effects are pre-determined in the structure itself. . . . [T]he only result of the contradiction, which is completely immanent to the economic structure, does not tend toward the supersession of the contradiction, but to the perpetuation of its conditions" (Althusser and Balibar 1970, 290-91).

Balibar's obsession with reproduction results in a systematic expansion of synchrony at the expense of diachrony. If contradictions within a mode of production are a function of synchronic processes, they cannot appear as determinations in the separate field of diachronic process. Therefore, in order to break this "correspondence," another structure is needed, one whose delimitation is "absolutely absent" from the existing mode of production. The movement implied by the term non-correspondence must be sought elsewhere, in the "system of interventions . . . of one practice in another" whose result "is to transform and fix the limits of the mode of production" (Althusser and Balibar 1970, 306). This move simply throws the entire problem onto the level of the social formation, where dislocations between different practices and modes of production become, in their turn, mere tendencies of this higher synchronic structure. In the end Balibar embraces this outcome, as if the problem of diachrony had never actually existed in the first place: "the problems of diachrony . . . must be thought within the problematic of a theoretical 'synchrony': the problems of the transition and of the forms of transition from one mode of production to another are problems of a more general synchrony than that of the mode of production itself, englobing several systems and their relations" (Althusser and Balibar 1970, 307).

Balibar's attempt to reconcile synchrony and diachrony by means of philosophical rationalism finally ends in a crude essentialist caricature of Spinoza's substance. Indeed, Balibar's analysis is a most graphic example of what Althusser calls "theoreticism." Balibar has since criticized the Spinozist conception of tendency he put forward in Reading Capital :

Behind the argument there is an old philosophical representation, and it is no accident that throughout this work I was guided approximately by certain reminiscences of Spinozist formulae. There is the idea that identity with itself, persistence (including in the form of the persistences of relations implied in a cyclical process), needs no explanation since it explains itself by itself , needs no cause (or production) since it is its own cause . Only "change" as "real" change, i.e., abolition-transformation of the essence,


could need a cause and an explanation. Let me say that this is a survival of the "principle of inertia," of substance and the ontology argument. (Balibar 1973, 65)

But if the problem of reconciling synchrony and diachrony produced a rationalist and essentialist response, it was the initial deployment of the Structuralist opposition of synchrony and diachrony that created the problem in the first place. The final triumph of synchrony—the common ground of both Spinoza and Structuralism—resulted from an essentialist attempt to privilege the reproduction of the whole over the uneven development of the elements. Structural causality—which views the complex whole as an "absent cause" manifested only as the simultaneous effectivities of its elements, and each element as possessing a nature and effectivity that cannot be deduced from the place and function assigned to it by the complex whole—cannot permit such an essentialist reduction. Althusser acknowledges the mistake in Essays in Self-Criticism , where he insists on a much more rigorous distinction between Structural Marxism and Structuralism than the one put forward in Reading Capital : "Marxism is not a structuralism, not because it affirms the primacy of the process over the structure (although formally this is not false) but because it affirms the primacy of contradiction over the process" (Althusser 1976, 130).

Furthermore, Structural Marxism rejects the identity of concepts and things and therefore the rationalist notion that social structures are of the same nature and obey the same logic as the concepts by which we have knowledge of them. Social contradictions, therefore, are not a function of the differential dislocations and epistemological limits within scientific discourse; rather, social contradictions are the concept of something objectively real and outside discourse, namely, the social practices of human beings who have become class subjects by virtue of the class and class-biased structures that constitute their habitus. The primacy of the mode of production within the field of social structures is manifested as the primacy of class struggle within the field of social practices, yet neither the result of economic determination nor the outcome of class struggle is guaranteed by the concept of their origin. Balibar makes this realist position clear in Cinq études du matérialisme historique :[6]

There is only a real historical dialectic with the transformation of the concrete social formation, a process which implies the real interdependence of the different social practices (by giving them the form of being internally overdetermined by the processes of transformation of each social practice).


However, social formations are not simply the "concrete" place (or the milieu) in which an abstract, general dialectic realizes itself. Rather social formations are themselves transformed and are self-transforming because they themselves consist of the history of class struggle. This point is decisive. (Balibar 1974, 229)

Hindess and Hirst and the "Post-Althusserian" Negation of History

If Balibar may be said to have taken the concept of a mode of production in an essentialist and rationalist direction, British sociologists Barry Hindess and Paul Hirst have used Balibar's error as a pretext for pushing Structural Marxism beyond rationalism into a realm of "discourse" where no correspondence between concepts and reality, no matter how attenuated, can be (or need be) maintained, and beyond essentialism to an absolute rejection of all concepts of structural determination. In successive elaborations of their position, beginning with Pre-Capitalist Modes of Production (1975), followed by the auto-critique Mode of Production and Social Formation (1977), and culminating in a weighty two-volume work (coauthored with Antony Cutler and Athar Hussain), Marx's Capital and Capitalism Today (1977, 1978), Hindess and Hirst have come to defend a self-styled "post-Althusserian" post-Marxism based on the absolute autonomy of discourse from all material processes and historical conditions and a radical "anti-epistemology" that rejects any claim as to the reality of objects. Hindess and Hirst take an extreme anti-realist and anti-materialist philosophical position. They argue that all forms of realism are ultimately either empiricist or rationalist and, furthermore, always tautological. Hindess and Hirst proceed to reject not only the project of any epistemological guarantee for scientific discourse, a position taken by Althusser himself, but also Althusser's materialist thesis of the primacy of the real over thought about the real, a position that defends realism while acknowledging the fact that it can never be proven (or disproven) apodictically. For Hindess and Hirst, the failure of epistemology implies nothing less than the collapse of realism and materialism: "There is no question here of whether objects of discourse exist independently of the discourses which specify them. Objects of discourse do not exist at all in that sense: they are constituted in and through the discourse which refers to them" (Cutler, Hindess, Hirst, and Hussain 1977, 216-17).

According to Hindess and Hirst, Althusser's project for a differential


history is problematic because, after all is said and done, it remains a history—that is, a discourse premised on the existence of an intransitive world that circumscribes the play of discourse:

Althusser fails to break with the notion of history at the very moment of splitting from it. . . . Althusser does not say that there is no real object "history," that the notion of a real concrete history is an illusion. . . . [Although] he differentiates the thought object from the real object . . . the distinction of the objects [continues to pose] the question of the mode of their correspondence, for both are held to exist, the concrete existing prior to and independently of thought, and thought being the form in which the concrete is known. . . . The continued and uncriticized existence of the real object allows a shadow "history" to emerge parallel to the theoretical history, a shadow which reproduces the outlines of the history which Althusser has criticized. The very notion of a real object, history, the object theory appropriates, is an index of this reprise. (Hindess and Hirst 1975, 318)

Althusser insists on the distinction of the theoretical from the real object and rejects any philosophical guarantee of their correspondence, yet he does admit the necessity of historical facts (while denying their self-evident nature) and the legitimacy of historical determination as a theoretical problem (while maintaining that history has no subject or goal). These positions, scandalous as they are to many historians, do not go far enough for Hindess and Hirst, who categorically "reject the notion of history as a coherent and worthwhile object of study" in favor of a hermetic, strictly internal analysis of the logical preconditions and consequences of concepts and conceptual discourse (Hindess and Hirst 1975, 321). In their view, the acceptance of historical facts, however qualified, condemns history to empiricism since such facts introduce into the theoretical object determinations that are, properly speaking, epiphenomena. "Far from working on the past , the ostensible object of history, historical knowledge works on a body of texts . . . this or that body of representations with the status of a record. . . . The writing of history is the production of texts which interpret these texts" (Hindess and Hirst 1975, 311).

The existence of historical facts makes history a "potentially infinite text" in contrast to what Hindess and Hirst call the "analysis of the current situation," which may be "rigorously conceptualized" on the basis of "the conditions of existence of present social relations" (Hindess and Hirst 1975, 312). The idea that the current conjuncture can be more rigorously conceptualized than the past (that it is somehow really there) would seem to be untenable within the terms of their own


anti-epistemology, and Hindess and Hirst never present any explicit arguments in defense of the epistemologically privileged status of the contemporary over the historical. At bottom the logic of their position is political, not theoretical. In Pre-Capitalist Modes of Production , Hindess and Hirst reject Balibar's rationalism in favor of what Gregory Elliott (1986) has accurately, if polemically, described as "Maoist theoreticism."[7] Balibar's concept of a mode of production (an articulated combination of relations and forces of production requiring the securing and reproduction of certain conditions of existence) is still acceptable, and following the lines of Balibar's own self-criticism, Hindess and Hirst insist that class struggle is the agency by which the conditions of existence of a mode of production are altered. However, moving well beyond Althusser and Balibar's vague but still historical conception of class struggle, Hindess and Hirst are completely unwilling to discuss the class struggle except as a free-floating and autonomous force—a "class voluntarism of the Cultural Revolution variety," to quote Elliott again. The epistemological rejection of history is thus a necessary step in the "liberation" of political practice from all structural and historical determination. The pursuit of political voluntarism dictates first an equation of history and teleology—"there can be no history without a philosophy of history" (Hindess and Hirst 1975, 311)—and second an escape from history by the expulsion of causality from the discursive analysis of social relations: "Causal doctrines are not necessary for specific discursive analysis. Dispensing with them also dispenses with debates and problems created solely by their presence" (Cutler, Hindess, Hirst, and Hussain 1977, 131).

What takes the place of history for Hindess and Hirst then is politics or, more precisely, political intentionality , which confers on the current situation whatever meaning it has. "The current situation must not be conceived as an object given in the real social reality at a given moment in time. . . . [T]he current situation does not exist independently of the political practice which constitutes it as an object" (Hindess and Hirst 1975, 322). Political practice dictates the choice of concepts, and their elaboration requires only the adumbration of their logical conditions of existence and the working out of their internal effects; both processes are completely independent of any consideration of the objective reality of these conditions of existence (which are theoretically emptied of any causal effectivity) or any correspondence between the logical deduction of such effects and any empirical reality. Strictly speaking, theoretical discourse entails nothing more than "the construction of problems for


analysis and solutions to them by means of concepts. Concepts are deployed in ordered successions to produce these effects. This order is the order created by the practice of theoretical work itself: it is guaranteed by no necessary 'logic' or 'dialectic' nor by any necessary mechanism of correspondence with the real itself" (Hindess and Hirst 1977, 7).

Within the terms of such a radical separation of discursive practice from reality and such an uncompromising rejection of the theoretical legitimacy of causality, there is obviously no place for a social formation in the Althusserian sense of the term, that is, an unevenly developed structured whole. Hindess and Hirst move rapidly from the antirealist voluntarism of Pre-Capitalist Modes of Production to a systematic rejection of any theoretical expression of structural interrelationships in Mode of Production and Social Formation and Marx's Capital and Capitalism Today . In the latter works, the concept of social structure is ruthlessly simplified by dissolving the Structural Marxist concept of relative autonomy into an infinity of absolute autonomies. There can no longer be, as there is for Structural Marxism, distinct theoretical levels ranging from the concepts of distinct structured elements to the complex whole of a "structure of structures" because, according to Hindess and Hirst, there is "no necessary form in which these concepts must be articulated into the concept of the essential structure of a social formation" (Cutler, Hindess, Hirst, and Hussain 1977, 229). While the conditions of existence of specific relations—for example, economic relations—may be logically deduced, the other social relations and practices that provide these conditions of existence cannot: "the form in which the conditions of existence of determinate relations of production are secured cannot be conceived either as empirically given to theory or as derivable in principle from the relations of production whose conditions of existence they secure" (Hindess and Hirst 1977, 25-26).

Balibar's concept of a mode of production, his concepts of correspondence and non-correspondence of the forces and relations of production, and indeed the very idea of forces and relations of production themselves are all finally dismissed by Hindess and Hirst as aberrations that follow from insisting that the conditions of existence of a mode of production be derived from its effects. This latter view, they argue, is conditioned in turn by the belief that a rational, unified concept of a social whole is necessary in order to account for the historical "fact" of transformation. For Hindess and Hirst, by contrast, "once the conception of social formation as a determinate unity of being, existence corresponding to its concept, is abandoned, then the problems of empirical


contingency on the one hand and of determination in the last instance on the other must vanish" (Hindess and Hirst 1977, 48). Hindess and Hirst reverse the terms of Balibar's rationalist essentialism, not in order to acknowledge irreducible discontinuities between concepts pitched at the level of the complex whole (the social formation) and those pitched at the level of the relatively autonomous elements (the economic, political, and ideological instances), but in order to eliminate the complexity of the social formation altogether and reduce it to "a single structure of social relations" (Hindess and Hirst 1977, 5).

Hindess and Hirst propose a concept of the social formation "conceived as a determinate form of economic class relations, their conditions of existence and the forms in which these conditions are secured" (Hindess and Hirst 1977, 50). They arrive at this concept by rejecting Balibar's distinction between the forces and relations and collapsing the former into the latter. Since the concept of a mode of production is now identical to that of the relations of production, it is superfluous and can be eliminated.

If relations of production are conceived as involving the social distribution of means-conditions of production between classes, that is, the distribution of possession of and separation from the means of production among different social categories of economic agents, then the specification of determinate relations of production necessarily involves an explicit or implicit reference to determinate means and processes of production, that is to determinate "forces of production." The "forces of production" provide certain of the conditions of existence of the relations of production in question. The specification of determinate "forces of production" must therefore be included in the specification of the forms in which the conditions of existence of a determinate set of relations of production are secured. Thus, if mode of production is not conceived in rationalist form as a necessary combination of distinct objects, then the concept "mode of production" is entirely redundant. (Hindess and Hirst 1977, 54-56)

All that remains of Balibar's concept of a mode of production is the concept of economic forms and their conditions of existence. Anything more than this, Hindess and Hirst contend, introduces the specter of "rationalist" causality:

Either the articulation of relations and forces of production is conceived in terms of the connection between social relations and the forms in which their conditions of existence are realized or it must be conceived in terms of some kind of necessity in which the character of one object of discourse, the "relations" or the "forces," is deducible from the concept of the other. The first alternative means there is no reason to posit "modes of production" as distinctive objects of analysis . . . while the second leads directly to the quagmire of rationalized conceptualizations. (Hindess and Hirst 1977, 55)


Hindess and Hirst's "new" conception of a social formation is actually nothing more than the concept of the social whole from the perspective of one of its instances, the economy, a nominalist move that suppresses the effectivities of the social whole and the non-economic practices. Hindess and Hirst are, in effect, privileging economic relations, but there is no reason for this privilege or any reason why it could not or should not be extended to any of the other practices (yielding commensurately different definitions of social formation). Having eliminated any objective reality outside discourse (including Althusser's materialist thesis) and all concepts of determination inside discourse (differential yet interrelated levels of analysis), Hindess and Hirst can produce no defense of the discursive primacy of the economy; any attempt to do so would simply restore the complexity of structural causality. Hindess and Hirst acknowledge a certain "discursive" effectivity: the specification of economic relations "involves the explicit or implicit reference to the effects of other social relations and of social practices other than economic production" (Hindess and Hirst 1977, 25), and the conditions of existence of those relations gives "certain abstract and general conditions which must be satisfied by political, legal, and cultural forms" (Cutler, Hindess, Hirst, and Hussain 1977, 127). However, in the face of their rejection of any concept of the articulation of the instances, it is difficult to see what difference this qualification makes.

Their nominalist reversal of Balibar's essentialist concept of a mode of production forces Hindess and Hirst to eliminate uneven development just as surely as Balibar does, but with even more regressive implications. If Balibar's rationalism hungers to eliminate contradiction in order to achieve unified and certain knowledge (the old rationalist desire to be God by participating in his logic), Hindess and Hirst simply reject knowledge altogether. The curse of the finite as opposed to the infinite intelligence—the distinction between concepts and things, the irreducible dislocations and aporias within discourse, and so on—is taken by Hindess and Hirst as a pretext for reducing theory to a cognitive epiphenomenon of political will: if Man cannot become God through knowledge, he can become a little God by subjugating knowledge to practice. In place of a scientific justification for the primacy of economic relations, Hindess and Hirst substitute the pragmatic justification of politics. "Problems created by politics . . . constitute the objects of theorisation and problematisation in Marxist discourse. . . . The political objectives of a socialist transformation of economic class relations pose the problem of the relations of production and their po-


litical and cultural conditions of existence as primary objects of theorisation" (Cutler, Hindess, Hirst, and Hussain 1977, 230). Once again we are witness to an underlying equivalence between the nominalism of the concept and the voluntarism of the will that is the essence of Hindess and Hirst's post-Althusserian post-Marxism. Ultimately class voluntarism lurks behind the false either/or of "essentialism or nominalism" by which Hindess and Hirst eliminate first the concept of the forces of production and then the concept of a mode of production itself from Marxist theory. These concepts must be eliminated not because they are theoretically superfluous (as Hindess and Hirst maintain) but because their existence constitutes a limitation, if only within theory, on political practice, a (theoretical) denial of the power of the political will over its (objectively real) conditions of existence.

Hindess and Hirst fuse the most abstract theoreticism with the most uncompromising political voluntarism. Political "calculation" (as they call it) is no longer a function of historical knowledge or indeed any knowledge at all except in the pragmatist sense of an explicitly formulated political interest. The complexity of a historically determinate social formation and the material relations of determination and subordination that create the space of the political subject are vitiated by a concept of the political class struggle as a free-floating process: "There are no 'socialist' issues and areas of struggle per se , assigned as 'socialist' by class interest and experience. Socialism is a political ideology. The basis for support for socialist politics is whatever issues and struggles from which it can be made" (Cutler, Hindess, Hirst, and Hussain 1978, 258-59). Political calculation creates the concept of the present situation and a concept of the future to be realized; political action destroys the former and calls into being the latter. By reducing politics to will to power unencumbered by knowledge, and social theory to a nominalism of concepts unencumbered by reality, Hindess and Hirst have moved not only "beyond" Althusser but "beyond" Marxism as well. Unable to provide either a compelling critique or a theoretically interesting alternative to structural causality and the concept of a mode of production, their particular current of post-Marxism flows smoothly into the larger stream of postmodernism.

Balibar and Wolpe: Articulation as a Concept of Transformation

In the course of his discussion of the labor process within the manufacturing mode of production (Althusser and Balibar 1970, 233-43), Bali-


bar provides a suggestive, if flawed, discussion of the "articulation," or structured interrelationship, between the forces of production (the relation of "real appropriation" that constitutes the labor process) and the relations of production (the property relation that determines access to the means of production and distribution of the social product). Balibar argues that the development of capitalism (and the dissolution of feudalism) involves two processes: first a shift in dominance within the social formation from feudal to capitalist relations of production, a movement Balibar calls the "formal subsumption" of labor to capital, and second a transformation of the labor process from the "unity" of handicraft production (in which there is a unity between human labor power and the means of labor insofar as tools are adapted to the individual laborer) to the "unity" of machine production (in which the unity is between the means of labor and the object of labor, and human labor power is forced to adapt to machines), what he calls the "real subsumption" of labor to capital. For Balibar, "manufacture," as an independent mode of production, marks an intermediate stage between feudal handicraft and capitalist machine production, a labor process in which the increasing division of labor and the de-skilling of labor are dissolving handicraft methods and creating the preconditions for machine processes. Balibar contends that the dominance of capitalist property relations over the labor process accounts for this transformation and that such a development is not possible until labor is separated not only from economic ownership of the means of production but from effective control over the labor process as well. The inalienable rights of the peasant community to the land and the artisan community to a trade are finally overthrown by alienable private property, at which point control of the labor process passes to economic owners who ruthlessly restructure, to use the contemporary euphemism, the labor process in the interest of capital accumulation.

Balibar's analysis nicely illustrates the strengths of his concept of the "double articulation" of labor, means of production, and ownership into forces and relations of production. First, it introduces power into the labor process, thereby vitiating "technicism," the idea that the labor process is neutral or that the development of productivity is independent of class struggle. If relations of property are exploitive, Balibar insists, the labor process cannot be simply a matter of technical cooperation. Second, because Balibar is dealing with structured relationships, that is, the social forces acting on human agents and not the human agents themselves, he avoids the false problem of classifying


individuals: Can a capitalist have an aristocratic title? Can a holder of seigneurial rights be a member of the bourgeoisie? Such questions are obfuscatory; they tend to obscure precisely what is decisive for explaining the nature of class struggle and historical transformation, namely, the forces and relations of production.

There is, however, an obvious weakness in Balibar's argument. As stated, it implies that capitalist relations of production spring into existence ex nihilo and then, alone, without the support of any capitalist forces of production, proceed to "dominate" feudal relations of production and to "subsume" feudal labor processes. How is it possible, given the double relation that Balibar insists defines every mode of production, for capitalist relations of production to come into existence without corresponding capitalist forces of production? The answer, of course, is that they cannot and did not. Balibar has simply telescoped the dissolution of feudalism and the development of capitalism by factoring out the coexistence and interrelationship of both a capitalist and a feudal mode of production. Balibar is not unaware of the difficulty; indeed, he even points out this alternative solution in the "very schematic suggestions" at the end of his long essay. Ultimately Balibar admits that an adequate conception of relations of correspondence and non-correspondence within a social formation "is only ever possible by a double reference to the structure of two modes of production" (Althusser and Balibar 1970, 307). Periods of transition (such as the age of manufacture) are determined by the "coexistence of several modes of production," and therefore they are "never one mode of production." Instead, their "unity is the coexistence and hierarchy of two modes of production. . . . Thus it seems that the dislocation between the connections and the instances in transition periods merely reflects the coexistence of two (or more) modes of production in a single 'simultaneity,' and the dominance of one of them over the other " (Althusser and Balibar 1970, 307).

Balibar thus introduces a new and powerful way of thinking about historical transformation in terms of the uneven development and shifting relations of domination and subordination between two (or more) modes of production. The fact that he envelops his concept of an articulation of modes of production in an essentialist-rationalist framework does not diminish his achievement. To realize the explanatory potential of the concept of articulation, however, it is necessary to eliminate its essentialist and rationalist connotations, in particular Balibar's notion that the structure of such an articulation is simply "a more general


synchrony englobing several systems and their relations" (Althusser and Balibar 1970, 307). What Balibar calls a manufacturing mode of production must be redefined as a capitalist mode of production within a social formation characterized by an articulation of feudalism and capitalism. The transition from feudalism to capitalism must be conceptualized in terms of a double, not a unitary, process—the dissolution of feudalism as well as the development of capitalism. Viewing the transformation in terms of an articulation of two modes of production eliminates the need for an essentialist concept of feudalism that bears within it the necessary development of capitalism. At the same time, the concept of articulation facilitates—within the framework of the uneven development and contradictions of feudalism itself—the possibility of the emergence of capitalism as well as the conditions of existence for its development from a subordinate to a dominant position. Obversely, articulation provides a concept of capitalism that neither assumes feudalism as its necessary precondition nor precludes the possibility of conceptualizing a feudal-capitalist articulation within which feudalism might occupy first a dominant and then a subordinate position.

The articulation of multiple modes of production suppresses neither the individual effectivities of each individual mode nor their structured interrelationship as an economic system, the economic instance of the social formation. To speak of articulation is to speak of uneven development, of the primacy of contradiction over reproduction, and of the dissolution of one mode of production and the development of another, but not in such a way that the internal logic of one process becomes, by some mysterious process of transubstantiation, the internal logic of the other. For each individual mode of production we may distinguish between phases of development (wherein the forces and relations are in a state of what Balibar calls "correspondence" such that the subsumption of the forces to the relations contributes to the reproduction of the existing relations of production) and phases of dissolution (wherein changes in productivity, technology, or the organization of production make the reproduction of existing property relations increasingly difficult—what Balibar calls "non-correspondence"). Because it is precisely the contradictions of their uneven development that are being reproduced, the reproduction of the forces and relations of production is a process neither of simple repetition nor of linear perpetuation. It is rather a process, on the one hand, of accumulating and creating contradictions ("condensation" in Althusser's terminology) and, on the other hand, of adapting, with increasing difficulty, to the ongoing conse-


quences of uneven development ("displacement" for Althusser). Eventually the non-correspondence between the forces and relations of production may become so great that their structured relationships are dissolved, frequently by means of violence (what Althusser calls a "revolutionary rupture"), and relations of ownership and labor are transformed, that is, reorganized on the basis of a new mode of production. This process, open-ended but not unbounded, constitutes what we might call the internal logic of a mode of production.

Of course, articulation implies more than the simultaneous existence of otherwise isolated modes of production. It also implies their structured interrelationship and the dominance of one over the other. The dominant mode is dominant precisely insofar as it forces the subordinate mode to adapt, within the limits of the latter's own structures, to the requirements of the development and reproduction of the dominant mode. The effects of dominance and subordination are undoubtedly felt within both modes of production—within the dominant mode as "super-appropriation" and dominance for owners and relative prosperity for producers and within the subordinate mode as dependency for owners and "super-exploitation" for producers. Thus articulation constitutes something like an external logic of the articulated modes of production. Articulation materially alters the respective conditions of existence of each mode, thereby influencing the internal rhythms of their respective development and dissolution, decisively in the case of the subordinate mode, which may or may not be allowed to expand, and more or less significantly in the case of the dominant mode.

Harold Wolpe, a British anthropologist and historian of South Africa, has considerably clarified the concepts of articulation and dominance by means of a distinction drawn between "restricted" and "extended" concepts of a mode of production (Wolpe 1980). A restricted concept, Wolpe argues, pertains to the specification of possible relations between agents and the means of production within individual economic enterprises or production units. Such a conceptualization is "restricted" in the sense that it says nothing about the "laws of motion" of the mode of production, that is, how economic enterprises are related to each other and the processes by which the forces and relations of production are reproduced. The concept of the laws of motion or reproductive mechanisms, when added to the restricted concept of the forces and relations, yields an "extended" concept of a mode of production. Wolpe goes on to define the articulation of two modes of production in terms of a dominant mode defined "extensively" (forces and


relations plus the structures necessary for their reproduction) and articulated with a subordinate mode defined "restrictively" (in terms simply of the forces and relations of production). Thus, for Wolpe, the unity of a social formation is ultimately constituted by the laws of motion or mechanisms of reproduction of the dominant mode of production. Economic enterprises organized according to a subordinate mode depend on the dominant mode for their own reproduction. The dominant mode therefore becomes essential to the subordinate mode, and this relation of dependency constitutes the essence of domination.

Despite his mechanistic reference to the "laws of motion" of a mode of production, Wolpe has significantly extended and enriched Balibar's concept of articulation. To make Wolpe's concepts compatible with structural causality it is necessary only to understand the terms laws of motion and reproductive mechanisms as referring to the place and function assigned to the instances by the complex whole; to understand the distinction Wolpe draws between restricted and extended concepts of a mode of production as referring to, respectively, the economic function and the existing relations of domination and subordination through which the primacy of the economic function is manifested in the political and ideological instances; and finally, to understand the dominance of one mode of production over another within an articulation as the primacy of its function manifested in the political and ideological instances to the exclusion of the subordinate economic function.

Wolpe's framework adds significantly to the explanatory potential of the concept of articulation with regard to the problem of the transition from feudalism to capitalism (as we shall see, it helps clarify the problem of imperialism as well). It makes it possible to conceptualize the development of capitalism within a social formation in which the laws of motion of a feudal mode of production are dominant, but in which the laws of motion of a capitalist mode might displace feudal laws of motion without thereby destroying the feudal character of a particular economic enterprise. There is no necessary connection, Wolpe explains, between the reproduction of the relations and forces of a subordinate mode, at the level of the enterprise, and the self-generating reproduction of the laws of motion of that subordinate mode, nor do the laws of motion of a dominant mode preclude the reproduction of relations and forces of a subordinate mode. However, the laws of motion of a dominant mode are not without their effect on all the enterprises of the social formation regardless of their particular organization. The effect will vary with the nature of the enterprise: under the laws of motion of


a dominant capitalist mode of production, capitalist enterprises will be conditioned by the processes of the formation of the average rate of profit and its effects on capitalist calculation; for enterprises organized according to feudal forces and relations, however, the laws of motion of capitalism will affect a host of conditions (the level of feudal profit, organization of the labor process, amount of rent, and so on) but not necessarily the feudal forces and relations of production themselves or the forms of economic calculation based on them.

2. The Concept of a Lineage Mode of Production

During the early sixties, primarily because of the efforts of Claude Meillassoux and Maurice Godelier, Marxist anthropology in France began to extricate itself from the Stalinist dogma of the unilinear "five stages" of history and develop a formidable challenge to Structuralism, British functionalism, and other approaches to cultural and economic anthropology.[8] Particularly noteworthy in terms of our present discussion were two works by Meillassoux: "The Economy in Agricultural Self-Sustaining Societies: A Preliminary Analysis," a 1960 essay (English translation, 1978) that interpreted kinship relations and the power of elders in terms of relations of production (communal subsistence agriculture) and reproduction (the control of women by elders by means of special "elite" goods used solely for the exchange of women, not for subsistence); and Anthropologie économique des Gouro de Côte d'Ivoire , a detailed monograph on the Guro of the Ivory Coast published in 1964, which provided a thorough description of the means and social organization of production and reproduction of a lineage-based, subsistence agricultural society and its transformation first by trade and then by the colonial system.[9] The independent but overlapping work of Althusser and Godelier in the early sixties created a rigorous theoretical structure for the more descriptive and empirical studies of Meillassoux. From 1965 onward, a number of young anthropologists influenced by Althusser, most notably Emmanuel Terray and Pierre-Philippe Rey, began to apply the Structural Marxist concept of a mode of production to Meillassoux's work in order to create a framework for their own field research, and Meillassoux's subsequent development has been significantly influenced by their efforts. Taken together, the efforts of Meillassoux, Terray, and Rey have made a distinctively Structural Marxist contribution to the study of subsistence societies.

There can be no question of a comprehensive discussion of Structural


Marxist anthropology here. In the following three sections, I will take up only a few key problems and concepts most pertinent to the applicability of the concept of a mode of production to subsistence social formations organized by kinship. For purposes of exposition, I begin with the early work of Terray, which emphasizes the primacy of labor process and the forces of production; next I discuss Rey's assertion of the primacy of class struggle and the relations of production; and finally I turn to Meillassoux's later work, which, in my opinion, restores a proper balance between the forces and relations of production while simultaneously moving from a restricted to an extended concept of primitive modes of production.

Terray: The Primacy of the Labor Process

In Marxism and "Primitive" Societies , published in 1969 (English translation, 1972), Emmanuel Terray attempts to clarify the structural relationships of Guro society as described by Meillassoux. While fully acknowledging the importance of Meillassoux's work, Terray contends that Meillassoux's "general description" of the economic system of kinship or lineage communities is incomplete and too general. Meillassoux describes "self-sustaining" societies in terms of "cultivation of the soil, self-subsistence, the use of very short-term production techniques, and of human energy as the main source of power" (Meillassoux, quoted in Terray 1972, 97). For Terray, such a general concept, while in some ways adequate, suffers because it offers no "principle of variation" or structural characteristic whose historical specification would render the broad range of different kinship societies both comparable and comprehensible. To accomplish this latter task, Terray argues, it is necessary to recognize the existence of multiple modes of production within primitive social formations and to conceptualize the nature of their articulation and the social relations that "realize" or "represent" them. The key to the discovery of the dominant factor or factors in primitive societies is the study of their various "instruments of labor" from which hypotheses regarding the nature of their mode or modes of production might be derived. "It would then be possible," Terray concludes, "to analyze the concrete social formations . . . and to begin to reconstruct the relations of production of which these structures are one realization" (Terray 1972, 104).

Terray proceeds to reinterpret Meillassoux's findings by means of a detailed "inventory" of various economic activities described by the


latter (hunting, crop cultivation, animal husbandry, food gathering, and handicrafts) in order to ascertain the various functional-technical relations or "modes of cooperation" operative within each activity. These activities are then classified into two general forms of cooperation, "complex cooperation" (defined by use of a collective work implement—for instance, the net) and "simple cooperation" (teams of individuals, including the "production community" itself, performing identical or analogous labor). There are also solitary activities, such as hunting with a bow. From these labor processes Terray deduces two modes of production: a "tribal-village system" and a "lineage system." The former "realizes" relations of complex cooperation in the collective hunt and is characterized by voluntary cooperation, the availability of the means of production (nets and territory) to all, an egalitarian power structure (rotation of leadership of the hunt), equal distribution of the product after the hunt, and the dependence of non-producers (children and elders) on the producers. The lineage system, "realized" primarily in extended cooperation in agriculture, is characterized by the control of the means of production (the exercise of use rights in cultivated land, control over livestock, appropriation of necessary knowledge) and distribution of the social product by elders of the lineage.

While he insists on the articulation of both modes of production, Terray does not specify any relation of dominance and subordination between them; rather, he speaks of their mutual interrelationship or "cross-dominance." In a later self-criticism, Terray acknowledges that the tribal-village system would have been better understood as subordinate to the dominant lineage system. The elders of the lineage, having recourse to ritual, are able to "isolate hunting from other sectors of activity and thus neutralize its effects" and "control hunting, to the extent of making the hunting net a sacred object, a symbol of lineage continuity and thus under their control and surveillance" (Terray 1979, 32).[10] The tribal-village system, Rey admits, is therefore marginal, and the reproduction of the lineage mode of production determines the limited place of the tribal-village system in hunting and in war.

For Terray, as for Meillassoux, the kinship system of the Guro is economically determined by production insofar as the former adapts to the exigencies of the latter (biological families being modified into social families to keep production units intact). Terray, however, is concerned to avoid the idea that kinship is derived directly from the economy as well as the opposite notion that it is independent of the modes of production:


I am not saying . . . that kinship relations are class relations, . . . I am saying that both are the complex result of the interplay of the economic, juridico-political, and ideological phases of the mode of production. . . . [A]nalysis . . . should distinguish:

—An economic aspect or level in which all the following are "realized": the division of the labor force . . . into kinship groups . . . corresponding to . . . production units; the division of the means of production between these units; the organization of consumption units; the structures of direction and control of production.

—A juridico-political level in which the following are "realized": the determination of the personal status of individuals; the regulations governing property and inheritance; relations of authority and their effects on the formation of those organizations . . . which ensure the smooth running of social life in general.

—An ideological aspect or level in which the ideological conditions for the functioning of the system are "realized." (Terray 1972, 144-45)

Terray relies here on a vulgar pluralist interpretation of the concept of overdetermination to avoid both economism and politicism: "concrete kinship relations must be seen as the product of a three-fold causality [economic, juridico-political, ideological] operating upon a given substratum [Meillassoux's "genealogical base"], as the combined effect upon it of the action of the three phases of the mode of production" (Terray 1972, 143). While Terray is correct to defer determination in the present to the matrix effect of the previously existing determinations of the complex whole, his explanation is inadequate to the extent that he fails to acknowledge a hierarchy among determining effectivities in either the past or the present. Terray also rejects Godelier's claim that kinship may function as a relation of production seemingly unaware of the theoretical advantages of Godelier's distinction between the function of economic ownership and the apparently non-economic character of the institution that exercises it. Godelier's framework, as we have seen, allows us to formulate a hierarchy of determinations within the framework of overdetermination. Terray's use of the term overdetermination, by contrast, cannot move beyond the unhelpful truism that everything causes everything else. Terray's methodology, admirable both for its insistence on the specificity of concrete labor processes and for its demonstration of the relevance of Marxist concepts to lineage-based, agrarian societies, cannot fully escape the charge that it has analytically separated the forces and relations of production at the expense of a satisfactory account of their articulation as a mode of production.

Terray considers the control over the means of production and the distribution of the social product exercised by elders to be cooperative


rather than exploitive. The relations of production, or property ownership, are interpreted as egalitarian, with elders having little or no power beyond the necessary administrative task of coordinating production and distribution. According to Terray, power is "vested" in the elder as a "representative of the productive community." Similarly, Terray interprets the elder's control over elite goods—goods such as gold, loincloths, ivory, and guns, which serve as a medium of exchange for nubile women—in terms of functional-cooperative responsibility rather than exploitive power. Finally, Terray views the elder's control over the distribution of women as functionally subordinated to their control over production: because elders control production, it logically follows that they would be granted control over reproduction as well. These positions place Terray at considerable variance with Meillassoux, who grants elders real power and locates it in their determinant place in reproduction rather than production. According to Meillassoux, the low level of productivity and the overwhelming importance of human energy in self-sustaining agriculture mean that human beings and the physical reproduction of the production unit are the axis of the entire production process. Control of the economy by the elders is objectively real, Meillassoux insists, but it operates indirectly, through control of the producer rather than the means of production, and is achieved via control over eligible women rather than over the producers themselves. While Meillassoux refrains from labelling the elders' power over women exploitive, he does view this power as the fundamental contradiction within "self-sustaining" societies and the source from which class relations might eventually develop. Terray concedes that elders possess a limited amount of power—they can delay the moment when the junior can have a wife and enter the lineage system—but because they cannot refuse it altogether, and because juniors eventually achieve independence, Terray insists that the elders' control over women is ultimately cooperative.

Rey: The Primacy of Class Struggle

Pierre-Philippe Rey (1971; 1975) rejects what he calls the "technicism" of Marxism and "Primitive" Societies , that is, Terray's reflectionist interpretation of relations within the primitive economy and his emphasis on the reciprocal nature of life-cycle relations in both economic production and the circulation of women. According to Rey, Terray's methodology masks the existence of power within lineage-based societies;


power is rendered invisible because Terray privileges relations of cooperation (the technical division of labor) over relations of exploitation (the social division of labor). Because of his emphasis on relations of cooperation, Terray's concepts of tribal-village and lineage modes of production are static rather than dynamic in outlook and unable to specify the contradictions within primitive societies or the internal logic of their development. On the basis of his own fieldwork in the Republic of the Congo, Rey strongly asserts the primacy of the relations over the forces of production within a lineage mode of production and the exploitive, rather than reciprocal, nature of the relationship between elders and juniors.

Rey agrees with Meillassoux that elders control the means of production by controlling the means of reproduction (and in the case of Rey's particular social formation, slaves), but unlike Meillassoux, Rey insists that this power constitutes class power. For Rey, elders form a ruling class not simply because they control surplus production without providing any corresponding productive labor but also because they use that surplus, or at least a large proportion of it, to insure their appropriation of future surpluses. This condition, Rey argues, can only be understood as exploitation: "Exploitation exists when the use of the surplus product by a group (or an aggregate) which has not contributed the corresponding surplus of labor reproduces the conditions of a new extortion of surplus labor from the producers" (Dupré and Rey 1980, 149). Elders, as a class extending across the exchange networks of several lineages, control the destiny of all juniors, as a class, by controlling the timing of their access to wives and, among the peoples studied by Rey, by imposing a constant threat of slavery should juniors violate existing social rules (transgressions by juniors must be "redeemed" in elite goods controlled by elders, who can always refuse to advance them and thereby reduce the transgressing junior to slavery).

Terray (1979) has come to accept Rey's position on the class nature of lineage modes of production, contending, however, that women and juniors are classes "in themselves" not classes "for themselves." Terray argues that the "naturalness" of the exploitation of women and juniors (strengthened by its apparent derivation from life cycles and biological distinctions), the low level of exploitation in "self-sustaining" societies (which produce so little surplus), and the strength of the "vertical" solidarity of a lineage (vis-à-vis other lineages) over the "horizontal" solidarity of class positions (within a lineage) all combine to prevent either women or juniors from ever acting as a class. Meillassoux (1981), by


contrast, continues to reject Rey's designation of the powers of men over women and elders over juniors as class power because these powers are based on stages of the life cycle, not on distinctions of social status. Older women and widows, Meillassoux points out, acquire a status more like a male, while juniors will become elders themselves with the passage of time. According to Meillassoux, the elder-junior relationship is better understood as a patron-client relationship of domination between individuals rather than as a class relationship of exploitation between groups of individuals.

To Meillassoux's objections, Rey simply responds that the question of class exploitation turns on structures and not persons—on the institutional existence of economic exploitation and not on the basis of such exploitation in age, gender, or status. Rey also emphasizes that the forms of exploitation in question are based on factors that extend beyond the life cycle: few men and no women will become elders, while an initial delay in obtaining a wife constitutes a permanent, not a temporary, limitation of future status. The fact that he defines exploitation in terms of its structured existence and not in terms of particular agents, genders, or phases of the life cycle would seem to give Rey the best of the argument. If all men and women of a certain age became elders and if the existing body of elders was unable to control "succession" by controlling the future status of juniors, Meillassoux would perhaps have a stronger case, but then, of course, Rey's definition of exploitation would no longer apply.

Rey also strongly asserts the primacy of the relations of production over the forces of production or, as he puts it, the primacy of "relations of exploitation" over "relations of cooperation." He insists, against Terray's initial view of relations of cooperation as both dominant and neutral, that "relations of production are social relations of production. As such they include both relations between the direct producers and their exploiters and the relations between the direct producers themselves: on the one hand relations of exploitation and on the other relations of cooperation. . . . Within the relations of production, the relations of exploitation determine the relations of cooperation because . . . class struggle does not only involve the struggle of the exploited against exploitation [but] also involves the struggle against relations of cooperation which are themselves dominated by the relations of exploitation" (Rey 1979, 42). Rey goes on to distinguish the "labor process" from the "valorization process": "the process of production is . . . the unity of the labor process and the valorization process, in other words,


the unity of the labor process and the creation of surplus value. The creation of surplus value, or the valorization process, determines the labor process" (Rey 1979, 43).

While Rey is correct to assert the primacy of the relations over the forces of production, his defense of this position is unacceptable from the perspective of Balibar's mode of production analysis. As we have seen, Balibar maintains that the forces and relations of production are a unity—a double connection (a property relation and a labor process) of the same three elements (laborer, non-laborer, and the means of production)—that defines the class struggle (class interests and powers). Rey, however, isolates the relations of production (laborers and owners) from the forces (laborers and other laborers) and then identifies the relations with class struggle (relations of exploitation) and the forces with mere technical organization (relations of cooperation). By refusing to recognize class struggle as constituted by both the forces and the relations of production, Rey slips back into a false opposition of economism and class struggle and transforms Balibar's concept of the primacy of the relations of production into a voluntarist assertion of the primacy of class struggle. Rey empties the forces of production of all significance, reifies class struggle, and lapses into a teleological voluntarism wherein class struggle is always somehow in advance of the productive forces. "Since the labor process itself . . . is the bearer of relations of production . . . to which they are adapted, as are all the relations of cooperation," Rey explains, "the labor process . . . cannot . . . be in advance of the relations of production. . . . Within a given mode of production the labor process and the productive forces are always slower to evolve than relations of exploitation, in other words than the class struggle" (Rey 1979, 43-44).

For Rey, the dominance of relations of exploitation over relations of cooperation is purely external. Because the relations of production have no structural significance for the labor process, the class struggle is reduced to a voluntaristic struggle for liberty. By contrast, Balibar defines exploitation as the internal effect of the unity of the forces and relations of production and the subsumption of the labor process to the reproduction of the relations. For Balibar, the dominance of the property relation is embedded in the very structure of the forces of production and the class struggle is inseparable from the uneven development of both the forces and relations and their relative correspondence or non-correspondence (the extent to which developing productivity facilitates or undermines the reproduction of the existing property relation). To


imply, as Rey does, that class struggle is independent of the productive forces, or worse, that it is always in advance of it, makes no sense at all. The object of revolutionary class struggle is not to liberate existing relations of cooperation from the tyranny of relations of exploitation; its object is to transform them both, that is, to transform the mode of production itself.

Meillassoux: Toward an Extended Concept of Lineage Modes of Production

In addition to their disagreements over the presence or absence of exploitation in lineage-based modes of production, Terray and Rey differ as to the source of the elders' control over eligible women. Terray, at least in Marxism and "Primitive" Societies , argues that elders' control over eligible women stems from their role as coordinators of production and distribution: because they are representatives of the lineages within the economy, elders are entrusted with responsibility for the distribution of wives and allowed to monopolize elite goods. Rey, by contrast, maintains that it is because elders have control over the circulation of women that they are able to exercise control over direct producers and extract economic tribute from them in the form of elite goods. Terray appears to be defending a form of "economism" in which economic control determines political control (although such control is understood to be non-exploitive), while Rey appears to take a more "politicist" position asserting the primacy of political control over economic control (and that such control is, in fact, exploitive). The entire opposition, however, stems from a mistaken assumption, shared by both Terray and Rey, that the concept of a mode of production is restricted to its labor processes and property relations, thereby excluding those political and ideological relations that provide for their reproduction. Omitting the structures of reproduction from the concept of a mode of production leads only to confusion regarding the nature of economic determination and class struggle. The correct approach, which we have already defended at the theoretical level, is to develop an extended concept of a lineage mode of production.

Claude Meillassoux achieves something very close to such a concept in his 1975 book, Maidens, Meal, and Money (English translation, 1981). Where Terray and Rey separate the economic-productive and political-reproductive powers of the elders in order to initiate a misleading debate over the primacy of one or the other, Meillassoux steers


the discussion onto the more fruitful ground of their interrelationship. For Meillassoux, as for Engels, "the determining factor in history is, in the last analysis, the production and the reproduction of the immediate essentials of life" (Engels, quoted in Meillassoux 1981, xi; my italics). Although he does not use the term, Meillassoux develops what amounts to an extended concept of a "domestic" mode of production composed of (1) the forces and relations of production: a labor process of "self-sustaining" agricultural "productive cells" whose collective "ownership" of land and tools is organized by patrimonial relations of kinship; and (2) a "domestic community" of productive cells organized, under the political control of the elders of each cell, into an exchange network involving elite goods and nubile women, a system established for and maintained by "the ordered manipulation of the living means of reproduction, that is: women" (Meillassoux 1981, xiii).

The restricted concept of such lineage-based societies, the forces and relations of production proper to "self-sustaining" agriculture, defines the given historical level of economic development. But precisely because of the low level of productivity, almost exclusively dependent on the unaided strength of the human individual, the number of people in each productive cell is always lower than the minimum required to ensure endogamous reproduction. Therefore, the problem of providing for sufficient availability and exchange of nubile women between individual production cells assumes paramount economic significance, according to Meillassoux. The relationship between labor process and property relations in the domestic mode of production is thus determined by the low level of productivity but dominated by the importance of reproducing human labor power. In the context of low productivity, Meillassoux concludes, the "clustering of [production] cells and the alliances between them depend less on requirements of production and exchange than on the imperatives of reproduction. . . . If there is a mode of production it is here, in this gathering of productive units, organized for reproduction" (Meillassoux 1981, 14).

Every mode of production, Meillassoux maintains, has its own "laws of population" not to be considered apart from the forces and relations of production. The growth of population is governed by constraints other than the fertility of women. Meillassoux distinguishes between two "primitive" modes of production: hunter-gatherer bands and agricultural communities. For hunter-gatherer bands, land is the "subject" of labor, and productive activity consists of taking from the soil what is naturally there. Relations of production and distribution


are more or less continuous but require little permanent or integrated social activity. Society is constituted and reconstituted around the free movement of adults between bands, and the positions of individuals within the band are voluntary, unstable, and reversible, what Meillassoux calls relations of "adhesion." The low level of investment and short duration of productive activity mean that social relations tend to be defined in terms of present participation in the common activities of production and consumption. As a result, kinship relations are not very significant, and terms such as brothers, sisters , and fathers refer to men of the same age, all nubile women, and men who can no longer hunt—not to lineage or kinship. Mating is loosely organized, but there is little concern for "filiation," the elaboration of social "relations of dependence" following from marriage and children.

In agricultural communities, by contrast, land is the "object," not the "subject," of labor. Labor must be invested in the soil in a continuous chain of successive tasks that keeps the producers together throughout the agricultural cycle and requires, among other things, sufficient surplus to support producers until the harvest. In contrast to hunter-gatherer bands, agricultural communities are characterized by relations of "filiation" rather than adhesion, a difference Meillassoux explains in terms of their radically different ways of exploiting the land. Agriculture encourages the formation of permanent and indefinitely renewed social ties and the circulation of goods between generations, whereas the solidarity created by agriculture arouses concerns linked to the physical and structural reproduction of the group. Meillassoux contrasts two possibilities for satisfying the new reproductive requirements: "gynostatic" societies, in which women stay with their communities and men come to join and procreate, and "gyneco-mobile" societies, in which women are exchanged between allied communities. In the former, the reproduction of the group rests entirely on the reproductive capacities of the women born within the group; in the latter, reproduction depends on the political capacities of the communities to negotiate an adequate number of women at all times. Meillassoux points out that gynostatic and gyneco-mobile relations tend to be mutually exclusive, the former associated with matriliny (a woman's brother having authority over children) and the latter with patriliny (a woman's husband having this control).

Meillassoux advances the hypothesis that the distinction between matriliny and patriliny corresponds to the relation of dominance that obtains between hunter-gatherer and agricultural modes of production


within societies characterized by an articulation of both. Agricultural production requires the continuous presence of producers but relatively few people; thus with the development of agriculture, the household acquires a social and functional existence. However, where hunting-gathering dominates agriculture, households remain small and gather through the mediation of the hunters of each household. These societies are relatively unstable, but their instability is between households, not independent individuals. Matrimonial relations tend to be gynostatic but require occasional abduction and warfare. Abduction, Meillassoux adds, "encapsulates all the elements of the enterprise of inferiorisation of women and anticipates all the others" (Meillassoux 1981, 29). It involves, paradoxically, a dependence on men as fighters not simply because of their superiority as fighters but also because of their inferiority as reproducers: men are more expendable. War is also, of course, the means by which adult men affirm and reproduce their superiority over women. Political activity, however, continues to lack cohesion, and continuous coercive authority does not extend beyond the household.

When agriculture is dominant—that is, when a sufficient agricultural surplus exists to support the community during the entire year with only limited need for supplementary hunting and gathering—one tends to find a corresponding difference within the sphere of reproduction and political authority. Agriculture is dominant, Meillassoux contends, not only because it receives most of the producer's energy but also because it determines the general social organization to which other economic, social, and political activities are subordinate. Other activities (war, hunting, and so on) predominate only as long as they last and then only within their own field of action. Men are needed in the fields, and therefore there is pressure toward non-violent marriage regulation. Relations between communities are more conciliatory and less predatory. Marriage relations tend toward patriliny and gyneco-mobility because adjustments to demographic and productive needs are more difficult under matrilineal-gynostatic systems. Thanks to the mobility of women, the group's reproductive capacity no longer depends on the number of women born within the group but on the political capacity of the leaders to negotiate them into the group.

With the existence of agriculture and patriliny there develops a stable and continuous lineage-based system of political authority of male elders over male juniors and of men over women. Meillassoux argues that because constraints on productivity are constant over time, reproduction acquires a dominant position within the social formation.


Gradually, political authority comes to dominate economic authority as the agrarian tendency to gerontocracy—stemming from the indebtedness of younger generations to those who came before—merges with the expansion of patriliny and the elders' control over women. Women are doubly exploited by these developments: it is through women that elders maintain authority over juniors, but it is also through women that juniors emancipate themselves. Pubescent women are exploited in both their production (which is turned over to the husband) and their reproduction (progeny are always controlled by men). Meillassoux not only provides a provocative explanation of the origins of patriarchy but also successfully links social reproduction and political authority to the forces and relations of production on which they rest. From his analysis of a lineage mode of production, Meillassoux shows that "controls over social reproduction are variable, they depend upon built-in political capacities of the society, on the strengthening civil power [the state]"; he also shows how the control over social reproduction "is based on the relations of production it seeks to maintain" (Meillassoux 1981, 33).

Despite the formidable obstacles to economic development in lineage-based societies, it would be a mistake to see them as without internal contradictions. For both Meillassoux and Rey, the general contradiction of a lineage mode of production is expressed in the tension between economic development and population growth on the one hand and the accumulation of power in the hands of lineage elders on the other. Leaving aside their differences over the class nature of the control exercised by the elders, there is general agreement between Meiltassoux and Rey regarding the significance of the contradiction between the expansion of the elders' power and the development of the domestic community to the point that it is sufficiently large and prosperous to reproduce itself from within. New technologies, crops, relations of cooperation, and so on not only improve the economic and demographic situation of lineage societies but also introduce a threat to the elders' power if the functional utility of that power in production or reproduction is brought into question. Rey (1979) gives a firsthand account of how elders among the Gagam attempt to control innovation (such as the introduction of yam and pea cultivation) and subordinate it to the existing social division of labor (in the production of millet, which is controlled by elders) while juniors or women struggle to preserve and expand the cultivation of such crops and bypass the intervention of the elders.

Meillassoux advances the hypothesis that increased production and


population growth create the potential for an internal dissolution of a lineage mode of production and the emergence of "seigneural" lineages possessing "real" class power over "dependent" lineages: that is, "the dominance of entire, organically constituted communities which endow all their members , irrespective of age or sex, with prerogatives and privileges over all the members of the dominated communities" (Meillassoux 1981, 81). Meillassoux acknowledges that we have no historical example of the evolution from a subsistence-kinship society to a tributary, feudal, or slave mode of production. He recognizes that the possibility of internal development is limited by the small surplus produced in kinship societies, and he admits that the known cases of transformation of lineage societies have been the result of articulations established by conquest, migration, or trade between lineage modes of production and other modes. However, Meillassoux contends that it is at least plausible that a domestic community might develop to the point that the power of the elders over women and juniors is threatened, in which case it is also plausible that such authority might be successfully maintained by coercion and thus gradually transformed into hereditary authority of one distinct branch of an elder's lineage organized by primogeniture. Segmentation of the community, the traditional means of resolving the contradiction between demographic expansion and politically enforced endogamy, might produce a similar outcome, Meillassoux suggests, if the centralized control of the original elder's lineage is not segmented also.

Such a hypothesis regarding the transformation of a lineage mode of production presupposes considerable "primitive accumulation" of wealth and power into the hands of the elder and his clients. Without conceding the class character of this accumulation, Meillassoux speculates that it might originate in the circulation of elite goods (goods exchanged for women) and in the elder's control over the production and possession of such goods. Elite goods should not, of course, have any exchange value outside of the circulation of women, but the entry of material and durable goods into marriage transactions—objects that continue to exist after women are "consumed" and that may be accumulated independently of any "woman standard"—introduces another contradiction within the system and the potential for change. Bridewealth is at least physically capable of entering into other exchange circuits besides that of marriage. If elite goods become the means to free oneself from other obligations, that is, if they come to acquire some degree of general exchange value, the possibility for domination by pro-


ducers or "owners" of such goods over non-producers and non-owners exists. Class domination, Meillassoux concludes, might result from monopoly control over the production and circulation of bridewealth goods by one lineage, the accumulation of exchange value and power in the hands of this lineage, and its subsequent use of force to strengthen its control over marriages and women and to protect itself against the possibility that its particular form of bridewealth "currency" might be "bypassed" by a new medium of exchange.

Imperialism as an Articulation of Capitalist and Lineage Modes of Production

An extended concept of a lineage mode of production provides a viable, historical materialist explanation of "self-sustaining" agrarian social formations organized by kinship that are often considered beyond the purview of Marxist analysis. In this section I will demonstrate that the concept of an articulation of two modes of production, defined extensively and restrictively in terms of dominance and subordination, provides an equally useful explanation of the transformation of lineage societies by capitalism. I will confine my discussion to the analysis of imperialism in Africa advanced by Rey and Meillassoux. Rey is of particular interest in this regard because of his comparative analysis of the transition to capitalism in West-Central Africa (from the era of the slave trade to the post-World War II era) and in Western Europe (the original transition from feudalism to capitalism from the sixteenth to the eighteenth century). Rey's argument, put forward in the massive monograph Colonialisme, néo-colonialisme et transition au capitalisme (1971) and the more speculative essay Les alliances de classes (1973), turns first on the structural differences between exploitation and exchange in feudal and lineage modes of production and the possible articulations of each of these modes with capitalism and second on the relations of dominance and subordination that obtain at a given conjuncture—specifically, the relative degree of development and thus the relative power of capitalism.[11]

In contrast to Rey's work, Meillassoux's reflections on the articulation of capitalism and pre-capitalist modes of production pertain more to the contemporary global economy and to debates over the nature of "underdevelopment" in the Third World. In contrast to "dependency theory," which conceptualizes capitalist imperialism in terms of impersonal market relations between unevenly developed but nevertheless


capitalist sectors (metropole and periphery) of a global economy, Meillassoux views the global economy as a structured whole composed of distinct yet integrated modes of production dominated by capitalism. According to Meillassoux, the domination of capitalism results not from unequal exchange mechanisms stemming from differences in regional productivity (although these become increasingly significant as pre-capitalist modes of production are eliminated from the periphery) but from specific modes of domination and "super-exploitation" that can be fully understood only when the indigenous pre-capitalist mode of production as well as the complex structure of its articulation with capitalism are clearly identified.[12]

Rey's argument may be briefly summarized. He contends that lineage modes of production, in contrast to feudal societies, are based on indirect rather than direct exploitation. For Rey, the primacy of marriage or elite goods in lineage societies—the fact that the class power of the elders is maintained by exchange mechanisms one degree removed from the forces and relations of production—creates a fundamental obstacle for capitalism as the latter attempts to integrate lineage societies (and the labor power and materials they supply) into its global system of commodity exchange. Lineage elders have relatively little interest in expanding the production of subsistence goods, Rey points out, and relatively weak mechanisms for accomplishing such expansion should they desire to do so. However, Rey argues that when capitalism (1) desires a greater degree of productivity than the lineage mode of production can or will provide and (2) attains the technological capacity to impose its will on the lineage mode, then capitalist relations will be "implanted," usually by violence, and forcibly articulated with the indigenous pre-capitalist mode of production in such a way as to destroy the autonomy of the latter and subordinate its reproduction to the reproduction of capital.

In Colonialisme, néo-colonialisme et transition au capitalisme , Rey charts the course of the articulation of capitalist and lineage modes of production in the Congo-Brazzaville region (now the Republic of the Congo). According to Rey, the exchange of slaves for manufactured goods characteristic of the pre-colonial period actually reinforced the lineage mode of production since it operated through the elders' traditional control over the double circulation of juniors (as slaves) and women (as brides). Chains of exchange between chiefs produced a flow of slaves from the interior to the coast and a counterflow of European "elite goods" from the coast to the interior. At the coastal end of the


chain, population and wealth became concentrated, while at the interior end, social formations lacking sufficient lineage organization and military power to become part of the chain of exchange became its victims and suffered steady depopulation and immiseration. All along the chain, chiefs and their lineages accumulated women and European goods and passed along "superfluous" males toward the coastal kingdoms of Ngoyo, Kakongo, and Loango, which controlled the three major slave ports. This type of exchange between "mercantile capitalism" (which I call "feudal commerce" for reasons made clear later in this chapter) and a lineage mode of production is characteristic of what Rey calls the "trade era" of imperialism. The case at hand did not really involve an articulation at all, he argues, since both modes of production remained largely autonomous: exchange took place within the framework of normal circulation for each mode, and the relations of production and reproduction were not structurally modified in either case. The total volume of exchange, however, was limited by the fact that lineage societies exchange only to satisfy the elders' needs for elite goods.

As the needs of capitalism increase (along with its power to impose its will), relations of "reciprocal exchange" between autonomous modes of production become increasingly unacceptable from the capitalist point of view. According to Rey, in West Africa the lineage mode of production supplied slaves efficiently enough, but when the European capitalists began to desire other products, such as gum, palm oil, india rubber, groundnuts, and so on, and to desire them in ever greater quantities, an impasse quickly developed. From the point of view of the elders, demands for economic rather than elite goods meant a significant increase in productivity, which in turn not only threatened to provoke crises of lineage segmentation and territorial control but also constituted a potential threat to their erstwhile monopoly over European-made goods. If not rigorously controlled, such economic "development" threatened to undermine the class power of the elders and the integrity of the lineage system itself. In addition, Rey notes the significance of the European processing plants that began to proliferate along the West African coast during the 1890s and break up the great kingdoms that had monopolized the three slave trading ports. The extension of European power dissolved these kingdoms into competing lineages with different chiefs "protecting" different plants (and their supply routes to the interior) while raiding those plants (and supply routes) protected by rival chiefs. The tension between the multiplication of trading ports and the needs of each for security from raiding,


coupled with the disappointing quantities of raw materials finding their way to the coastal plants from the interior, produced a change in strategy on the part of the Europeans and inaugurated what Rey calls the "colonial era" of the early decades of the twentieth century.

Unlike the trade era that preceded it or the "neo-colonial" era that succeeded it, the colonial period was characterized by coercion rather than exchange. Colonialism, according to Rey, is a political-military despotism designed to "implant" capitalist relations of production by force—building the necessary infrastructure, establishing plantations as well as market production by the indigenous population, creating a labor market for capitalist enterprises, and destroying the autonomy of the lineage mode of production. The military power and economic resources of a developed capitalist state standing behind the local coercive apparatus is required, Rey argues, to create and maintain a hierarchy of chiefs who will control land and collect taxes under the orders of a European commandant, conscript the initial labor force required to build roads and railroads and work the plantations, reorganize land distribution and property rights to appropriate land for the plantations and weaken the "self-sustaining" power of communal agriculture, and introduce money taxes and monetize bridewealth in order to compel wage labor and market production. Rey demonstrates how these policies were pursued with relentless brutality in the Congo-Brazzaville region from 1912 into the early 1920s (when military conquest was achieved), culminating with the hecatomb associated with the construction of the Congo-Ocean railway from 1925 to 1934.

The colonial period was necessary for capitalism, Rey maintains, even though it was initially unprofitable. It was the only way to "civilize" lineage-based societies, that is, to "implant" capitalism on foreign soil and establish conditions necessary for its autonomous development and reproduction—conditions that the lineage mode of production, unlike European feudalism, did not provide. After 1934 and down to the present day, in a stage that Rey calls neo-colonialism, the "free" sale of labor power and the growing sale of commodities became self-generating. As a result of the massive application of force during the colonial period, the "unity" of producers and consumers in a relatively self-sufficient subsistence economy was finally broken. Workers and products no longer have to be obtained for capitalism by force; conscripted workers who initially had money forced on them became wage earners and commodity buyers, while the men and women who remained in the villages became sellers of provisions supplying the new


labor force. Colonial despotism was relaxed to the extent that capitalism began to function according to its own laws, and the separation of the economy and the state characteristic of capitalism began to take place. By the fifties, Rey concludes, the economy of Congo-Brazzaville had been "restructured." Lineage modes of production continued to exist, but their reproduction had been subordinated to the needs of foreign-owned industry. Whatever integrity remained in the lineage forces and relations of production was preserved in order to subsidize the cost of labor power for capital and to support the "surplus" population for which capitalism as yet had no use.

The persistence of "tribalist" politics and lineage modes of production remains a "technical" obstacle to the internal economic development (the production of more use values for the local population) of the Republic of the Congo, as Rey notes at the end of Colonialisme , but one completely explicable in terms of the logic of exchange values within the global capitalist system: global capitalism is concerned primarily with the extraction of surplus value from the Congo and not with its economic development. In Maidens, Meal, and Money , Meillassoux extends Rey's analysis and argues that contemporary capitalism actually attempts to preserve lineage and other domestic modes of production in the Third World (as well as their attenuated survival in the form of the nuclear family in the First World) in order to insure a cheap supply of labor. From the "tribal reserve" system in South Africa, to migrant labor forces in the United States and Western Europe, to the unpaid labor of wage-earning parents everywhere, capitalism always seeks to exclude the cost of "indirect" wages (the cost of reproducing the worker) from the wage contract, thereby restricting it to "direct" wages paid to the worker on the basis of hours worked. Workers, however, fiercely resist this tendency, and in the First World they have some ability to do so. Despite the fact that indirect wages in the First World are heavily biased in favor of capital (they are paid for by taxes—forced savings on the part of wage earners—as well as by indirect wages from capital and are payable to workers only through the labor-regulating state), they remain unpalatable to capitalists. In addition, Meillassoux maintains that indirect wages tend to increase as the long-term logic of capitalist development breaks down the family's economic structure and forces family members out of the home and onto the labor market in order to preserve their household's standard of living. This process raises the cost of reproducing labor power and thus wages, since goods and services associated with the reproduction of labor power, previ-


ously provided by the family cheaply or for free, must now be purchased.

For these reasons, Meillassoux contends that capital is impelled by its own logic to search for cheaper labor outside the capitalist metropole: capital does not simply "react" to conditions of "unequal exchange" but seeks to create and maintain such conditions; therefore, the existence of these conditions can be understood only in terms of a globalized class struggle. For Meillassoux, the articulation of capitalism with modes of production based on subsistence agriculture and lineage relations of production means that capital pays little or nothing for the reproduction of the Third World worker. The absence of indirect wages in the Third World constitutes "super-exploitation" of labor power, a windfall labor "rent" for the capitalist equal to the difference between the cost of wage labor in the First World and the cost of Third World labor subsidized by subsistence production (less costs of political compulsion, salaries to pre-capitalist elites, costs of feeding and housing labor transported over long distances for extended periods, and costs necessary to cover the losses to the subsistence mode where the loss of manpower threatens its very existence). According to Meillassoux, the capitalist benefits from super-exploitation as long as the worker remains connected to the domestic economy, and this connection is preserved by the creation of a "double labor market" consisting of an "integrated" working class, reproduced within the capitalist mode of production and receiving indirect wages, and a "migrant" working class, which only partially reproduces itself within the capitalist sector and which receives wages so low that no integrated worker could afford to work for them. Finally, political mechanisms providing for the rotating movement of migrant labor plus discriminatory legal codes and ideological systems (racism) serve to restrict migrant access to other economic opportunities and keep the migrant worker from establishing communal ties and acquiring basic human rights.

The problem for capital, Meillassoux points out, is that the reproduction of the lineage mode of production is continually undermined under such conditions of articulation. The introduction of money into the domestic economy and the unequal productivity of the two modes of production serve as incentives for workers to emigrate. The wages brought back to the domestic mode of production are insufficient to compensate for the losses sustained by the accelerated drain of manpower, losses that can be made up only by purchases from the capitalist sector or the "largess" of the capitalists themselves. The grim outcome


of this process of dissolution of the lineage mode of production is "absolute proletarianization," a situation depicted by Meillassoux as a form of barbarism comparable to the Nazi concentration camps, which provided virtually free labor for I. G. Farben, Krupp, Thyssen, and other large (and still respectable) capitalist enterprises. Arbeit macht frei .

3. Feudalism and the Transition to Capitalism

European feudalism is the only mode of production known to have spontaneously produced capitalism and to have promoted the expansion of capitalist forces and relations of production. It is therefore not at all surprising to find that feudal social formations and the transition from feudalism to capitalism have generated a vast historical literature that cannot be reviewed here.[13] I will only outline, in a schematic fashion, how the Structural Marxist concept of a mode of production has contributed to our understanding of these phenomena. For purposes of logical organization and economy of exposition, I will present a synthetic interpretation constructed on the basis of certain themes introduced by Rey and developed, with more or less continuity, by European historians Guy Bois, Peter Kriedte, and Perry Anderson. The reader should bear in mind that in contrast to the preceding discussion of lineage modes of production, my purpose in the following pages is more synthetic than critical. I will make no attempt to review theoretical controversies or to follow the chronological development of concepts and theoretical positions. A comprehensive review would not only be prohibitively long but would also be repetitive, given the fact that differing concepts and opposing positions so closely parallel those we have already encountered. Having introduced and defended my own position, I will now simply apply it by means of a selective exposition of the theoretical frameworks to which we may now turn.

Rey: The "Class Alliance" Between Seigneurs and Capitalists

In Les alliances de classes (1973), Rey conceptualizes the transition from feudalism to capitalism in terms of the articulation of the two modes.[14] According to Rey, the central characteristic of the articulation of feudalism and capitalism in early modern Europe is "the reproduction on an extended scale of the fundamental [feudal] relation of pro-


duction, ground rent, which creates the conditions for the development of the capitalist mode of production" (Rey 1973, 55). Taking as his point of departure Marx's analysis of differential and absolute rent (in volume 3 of Capital ), Rey argues that ground rent is something of an anomaly in capitalist societies both because land itself is not created by human labor power and because ground rent accrues not to the appropriators of surplus value, that is, capitalists, but rather to "parasitic" landlords, who in fact appropriate it from the total fund of surplus value accumulated within the capitalist sector. According to Rey, Marx was correct to insist (1) that all differential rent, the windfall income falling to owners of the most productive land as less productive land was brought under cultivation, should accrue to the capitalist farmer such that the differential rent on the least fertile land would be zero and (2) that the existence of "absolute" rent, that is, the difference between the market price for land and the cost of production on the least fertile soil, could exist only because of the monopolistic activity of private landlords who withdraw land from the market until it can be utilized for a surplus. However, Rey maintains that Marx, like Ricardo before him, failed to appreciate the fact that land ownership is not a "natural" market phenomenon but rather an artificial one: ground rent precedes capitalist relations and is in fact inconsistent with the logic of capitalist relations of production, which are otherwise based on commodity production. As a result of this failure, Rey concludes, Marx failed to grasp the concept of the articulation of feudal and capitalist modes of production and the real developmental mechanisms of the transition from feudalism to capitalism.

For Rey, the central process of the transition from feudalism to capitalism, namely, the conversion of feudal rents and obligations to money rents, was based on feudal property relations external to capitalism. However, this feudal relation was nonetheless vital for the emerging capitalist mode of production since it was this still-feudal form of coercion that permitted the expropriation of peasants from their holdings, the development of market production, and the supply of labor required by an urban capitalist sector as yet unable to expand under its own power. What was created by the birth of urban capitalist manufacturing, according to Rey, was a structural "class alliance" between landed feudal elites and urban capitalists—an articulation of two modes of production that differed significantly from the feudal relationship of simple exchange between town (merchant and artisan guilds) and countryside (the manorial economy). Following Marx, Rey, like


Balibar, calls this initial phase or stage of articulation between capitalism and feudalism the "manufacturing stage." In the manufacturing stage, capitalist relations of production had come into existence in the towns but remained subordinated to the feudal mode of production and the still dominant agricultural sector. Because capitalist manufacture did not yet possess the means to displace the existing agricultural labor force without feudal domination, feudal property relations remained historically necessary conditions for the continued development of capitalist production. As the feudal lords began to monetize peasant obligations in order to purchase manufactured goods and weapons, production for the market was encouraged and inefficient peasants began to lose their land, which the lords then leased to larger, more efficient, and market-oriented farmers. The larger the numbers of peasants expropriated, the greater the labor force available in the cities and the lower the wages it was paid. The greater the urban labor force, the greater the demand for agricultural products and the higher the rent that accrued to the feudal landlord.

In other words, Rey argues that during the initial stage of the articulation of feudalism and capitalism the economic interests of the feudal and capitalist elites roughly coincided. "The transitional phase appears as the phase of a double necessity: a necessity of capitalist development for landed proprietors, since it is this development that assures the development of their rents; a necessity to maintain landed property ownership (under a new form, specific to the transition to capitalism) for capitalists since only this ensures the provision of labor power on the one hand and commodities (of agricultural origin) on the other" (Rey 1973, 56). It was precisely the possibility of this type of class alliance, which does not exist within lineage modes of production, that allowed feudalism, but not lineage-based social formations, to evolve "peacefully" into capitalism. For Rey, capitalism emerges and develops within feudalism without the need of violence or a bourgeois revolution: what emerges is the bourgeoisie, and with the growth of this class, the possibility of political and ideological contradictions from which a bourgeois revolution might ensue. With or without a bourgeois revolution, however, capitalist relations of production increasingly undermined their feudal counterparts until the crucial point was reached at which the landed classes accepted, willingly or unwillingly, the existence of private property, market rents, and wage labor.

In the second phase of the articulation of feudalism and capitalism, the "industrial stage," relations of domination shifted decisively in fa-


vor of capitalism. During the industrial stage, rural artisanal production was rapidly destroyed by capitalist competition, and the remaining landed peasantry came to rely more and more on commodity exchange in order to acquire the means of production and consumption. However, large landowners, or "notables," still occupied a distinct and relatively privileged class position during this stage; whether their ascribed status was aristocratic or bourgeois is relatively unimportant since property rights were by this time de facto, if not de jure, capitalist. The notables and their latifundia exercised considerable power over the rural countryside, power that remained essential to the expanded reproduction of capital as long as subsistence agriculture continued to exist and as long as a "return to the land" remained an attractive alternative for the urban working class. Large-scale land ownership, in other words, continued to guarantee the ongoing processes of urbanization and industrialization by excluding the lower classes from the land, while the dominance of capitalist relations in the countryside accelerated the process of expropriating small holders. Capitalism henceforth dominated the countryside, to be sure, but land had not yet been reduced to the status of one factor of production among others. It was only in the third and final stage, which Rey calls "agrarian capitalism," that the last vestiges of feudalism disappeared altogether. At this stage of development (Rey cites the example of the United States), farming is simply one of several forms of capitalist enterprise and land ownership no longer brings with it any distinctive political or ideological power. Once capitalism has penetrated the countryside completely, subsistence agriculture no longer exists as an attractive or even a viable option for the lower classes.

Rey's outline of the transformation of feudal Europe to capitalism can be accepted only as the bare beginnings of a comprehensive interpretation. His framework, let us not forget, is intended as an explanation of the difference between the relatively peaceful evolution of capitalism within feudal Europe and its relatively violent, imperialist implantation in the lineage mode of production of West-Central Africa. While most useful as a point of departure for a comparative analysis of capitalist imperialism, particularly because of its pioneering efforts in explaining this phenomenon in terms of the articulation of distinct modes of production, Rey's work has severe limitations. His account provides no analysis of the feudal mode of production and feudal exchange comparable to his concept of lineage-based modes; indeed, he fails to discriminate at all between feudal commerce and manufacture


and their corresponding capitalist forms. Furthermore, he provides no discussion of the feudal origins of urban capitalism and no discussion of the complexity and variation of feudal-capitalist articulations in different social formations. Any persuasive Structural Marxist account of the transformation from feudalism to capitalism will have to specify not only the internal dynamic and contradictions of European feudalism but also the effects of uneven and combined development within feudal Europe itself. Rey's account gives inordinate emphasis to property relations, as well as the seemingly uncontested power of the dominant classes, while paying surprisingly little attention to structured relations of political power—either within the "class alliance" of seigneurial and capitalist elites or between the ruling and exploited classes—and no attention to the varying economic and political options available to different social classes located in different regions of the European "global" economy. To pursue these important questions, it is necessary to turn to the more detailed analyses of Bois, Kriedte, and Anderson.

Bois: The Structure of European Feudalism

Guy Bois's exhaustive study of the Norman "heartland" of feudalism during the great crisis of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, The Crisis of Feudalism (1976; English translation, 1984), combines a detailed macro-economic analysis of long-term movements of population, prices and wages, and production with a careful micro-analysis of lords and peasants as economic subjects.[15] His work is useful here primarily for its discussion of the rhythms of growth, stagnation, and contraction inherent in the feudal mode of production and for its elaboration of the long-term consequences of the general contradiction between the feudal forces and relations of production, namely, the contradiction between the basic production unit, the "small-scale" peasant family holding, and the seigneurial levy to which this holding was subjected because of the "large-scale" sovereignty of the lord of the manor.

According to Bois, the feudal economy must be recognized as a rational system, but rational in its own specific, non-capitalist sense. Peasants were oriented toward the preservation of their holdings, ensuring the continuation of their land and subsistence for their families; lords were concerned, above all else, with the maintenance of their caste status. Feudal societies were never autarchic, but only a small percentage of the harvest was commercialized and the market sector was completely subordinate to the natural economy. Neither lords nor peasants


were oriented toward the ideas of increasing productivity or profit-directed investment; rather, both were concerned, albeit in antagonistic ways, with reproducing the existing economic situation. Bois also emphasizes the primacy of petty production within the feudal mode of production, the overwhelming predominance of the peasant family plot over the manor that emerged with the iron plow during the great expansion of the eleventh to the thirteenth centuries. For Bois, the plow team worked by the "skilled laborers" of the village, husbandmen who owned a plow and a team to pull it, constituted the most efficient unit of production and accounted for virtually all production on the manor, including the cultivation of the lord's demesne, which was little more than an agglomeration of such units. The feudal labor process also required considerable "unskilled labor," but this labor was provided by smallholders who assisted the husbandmen (as wage laborers) and cultivated their own small subsistence plots with spades. While units larger than those defined by the plow team were viable only under rare conditions, the plow team unit rendered serfdom less and less necessary. Lords began to abandon serfdom and appropriated an increasing share of their surplus in kind or in the form of money dues. Technological improvement was slow, and economic growth in the feudal mode of production was overwhelmingly extensive in character; population increases and increases in cultivatable land were the determining factors of expansion.

Although small-scale production was the axis of the system, Bois rejects the notion that the forces of production can be understood independently of the relations of production, the seigneurial levy to which peasant holdings were subjected. However, Bois insists that given the nature of the feudal forces of production—peasant possession of their own plots and plows and peasant control over the actual process of production—the long-term tendency of the feudal levy was constant decline. The resistance of peasants to surplus labor on the demesne and their struggle to devote labor to the family plot and to keep as much as possible of the product of that labor are inherent characteristics of the class struggle under feudalism. The development of the peasant community as the coordinating center of peasant family plots—and as bulwarks against outside intervention by feudal lords—eroded seigneurial power, especially where aristocratic political organization was weak. The constant struggles of the petty producers over time, aided by the lord's own ideology of perpetual tenures and service, were successful in eroding feudal levies and having them converted to fixed "customary"


amounts, often in the form of written charters modeled on those of the towns.

The only countervailing tendencies to the decline in the rate of customary feudal levies were reactive and extra-economic actions on the part of the lords: (1) the introduction of new forms of levy (banalités , such as fees for use of the lord's mill, oven, wine press, and so on) to augment declining forms; (2) recourse to the battlefield in an attempt to redistribute incomes by war (new lands, ransoms, and booty obtained by pillaging the countryside); or (3) a "political rearrangement of exploitation" (ultimately a strengthening of the central state, what Bois calls "centralized feudalism"—in the case of Normandy, the growth of absolutism and royal taxation, which found its way back into aristocratic coffers through civil and military service). However, given the dynamics of the feudal mode of production, Bois maintains that none of these seigneurial reactions could succeed in the long term. To comprehend Bois's argument regarding the "law of the declining rate of the feudal levy," we must therefore situate it within his discussion of the cyclical logic of feudal development.

Bois's achievement is to have successfully integrated neo-Malthusian demographic analysis into a mode of production analysis of feudalism. He demonstrates, by means of painstaking empirical research that can only be summarized here, the existence of alternating phases of expansion, stagnation, and contraction, each regulated by the unique characteristics of the feudal forces and relations of production. Phases of expansion began when a preceding phase of decline had "bottomed out": when the increasing rate of peasant productivity (caused by the withdrawal of a declining peasant population to the best, most fertile land and increases in pasture, animal husbandry, fertilizer, and so on) finally exceeded the rate of the feudal levy (which had "peaked out" after a cycle of warfare and political reorganization). Extensive economic growth developed as population began to increase once again (after the shocks of war, disease, and famine characteristic of the phase of decline were absorbed). As new lands were brought back into cultivation, total production increased. However, these increases in land, population, and production were accompanied by a decline in productivity (caused by diminishing returns on newer, less fertile lands, declines in pasturage, stock breeding, fertilizer, and so forth). Thus, Bois argues, during phases of feudal expansion the rate of the feudal levy declined with the declining rate of productivity. Peasant productivity constituted an absolute limit on the feudal levy because, in the context


of the feudal land market, only subsistence peasants wanted land, and because they could not pay more than they produced, the rate of the levy had to follow the decline in their productivity. Without a declining rate of levy, Bois concludes, continued long-term demographic and economic expansion in the face of falling productivity would have been incomprehensible.

A falling rate of productivity, however, meant rising agricultural prices relative to urban prices for manufactured goods. This price scissors was favorable to the market sector of the rural economy—the lord's demesne and the husbandmen's plots—but also meant falling wages and growing pauperization for smallholders. Economic conditions during expansionary phases favored the feudal accumulation of land, that is, the expansion of the demesne and the leasing of more land by husbandmen (and increasing use of wage labor by both lords and husbandmen), which further contributed to the morselization of the smallholders' plots (a process already set in motion with population growth). The expansion of the husbandmen's holdings and the immiseration of wage-earning smallholders promote social differentiation within the peasant community as well as providing at least the potential for a growing commercial sector in the countryside. The economic position of the lords was further augmented by the fact that during waves of expansion the total volume of the feudal levy increased as the volume of income generated from the creation of new tenures offset the declining rate of the feudal levy.

Feudal expansion, however, created the conditions for its own reversal. A brief period of stagnation, or "stagflation," ensued wherein population pressure continued to build and prices remained high, but total production leveled off and even declined as all cultivatable land was occupied and declining productivity accelerated. When the volume of the feudal levy showed signs of decreasing, that is, when no new land was available to counteract the declining rate of levy, the seigneurial class then had to attempt to increase the rate of the levy in order to offset its declining economic position. This political action, Bois maintains, was responsible for "turning the page" on the cycle of expansion-stagflation and initiating a phase of contraction. Of course, some lords might have attempted to revolutionize production rather than turn the feudal screws on the peasantry, but this was a possible (or increasingly unavoidable) option only for seigneurial landlords under certain historical conditions, namely, as we shall see, when the feudal economy was articulated with a capitalist mode of production developed to the point where feudal relations of production were no longer viable.


Feudal contraction, Bois contends, was not simply the mirror image of expansion, because unlike the latter, it tended to escalate until it became a violent, all-encompassing "crisis of society." Demographic limits prepared the ground for famine and disease, but attempts by lords to increase the rate of the feudal levy intensified the demographic crisis and pushed the peasantry beyond the limit of endurance. The result was a succession of catastrophes—famines resulting from the pressure of population on the harvest, the ravages of disease resulting from the malnutrition of the population, peasant rebellions against increasing seigneurial levies, wars by lords attempting to recoup their fortunes at the expense of other lords. Further increases in taxation to pay for wars, coupled with the devastating effects of the carnage on the countryside, precipitated a free-falling downward spiral of the feudal economy. These catastrophes might have been separated by periods of partial recovery, but Bois insists on their underlying continuity and cumulative nature: feudalism systematically produced the three scourges of famine, disease, and war; these were not external intrusions into the feudal system but inherent tendencies of the feudal mode of production.

Population decline is a key to recovery, of course, but Bois differs from the neo-Malthusian school in accentuating the primacy of the mode of production within which population growth and decline is inscribed. For Bois, as for Meillassoux, each mode of production has its own particular demographic laws, and within a feudal mode of production, demographic collapse, in and of itself, does not reverse the social crisis any more than population growth alone may be said to have caused it. Population movements can be understood, Bois maintains, only within the unique context of a feudal mode of production and its complementary tendential socio-economic laws: the law of the downward trend in the rate of the feudal levy (linked to the contradiction between seigneurial appropriation of the land and surplus and the individual character of peasant cultivation) and the law of declining productivity (linked to small-scale production and constant technology, allowing only extensive growth).

The outcome of famine, disease, and the ravages of the remorseless cycle of war-taxation-war was a fall in population and a contraction of the arable land under cultivation. This contraction, however, meant rising productivity (withdrawal to the best lands, increases in pasture, stockbreeding, fertilizer, and so on) and therefore a downward trend in agricultural prices and a relative increase in industrial wages. This price scissors meant rising real wages and therefore worked against the commercialized sector of the agrarian economy, the lords and husbandmen,


while raising the standard of living for smallholders (once the economic and military storms had passed). The total volume of the feudal levy, however, declined as the decline in the volume of holdings and the competition of lords for scarce tenants overwhelmed whatever increases in the feudal levy the lords may have attained by extra-economic means. Thus, although cumulative, the process of decline found a self-regulating limiting mechanism in the evolution of productivity: decline was halted when productivity reached the point where the peasant holding was able to support seigneurial charges and begin to carry out expanded reproduction. Thus the socio-economic conditions for another phase of expansion were assembled.

From the end of the expansion of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, through the crisis of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, and into the onset of expansion in the sixteenth century, Bois demonstrates, seigneurial incomes scarcely ceased to decline. As we have seen, the key to this decline was the effective possession and control of the means of production by the peasantry and its corollary, the extra-economic nature of seigneurial power. During periods of expansion, the lords could not counteract the effects of falling peasant productivity on the rate of the levy, while at the moment of saturation their attempts to raise the levy or create new obligations simply exacerbated the problems of the peasantry and precipitated a crisis whose ultimate outcome, declining population, further undermined seigneurial revenues. Warfare was worse than counterproductive, yet the other, ultimately inescapable alternative, political reorganization, did nothing to alter the forces of production or improve agricultural productivity and furthermore created a powerful rival to seigneurial authority. Absolutism certainly created a more efficient mechanism for extracting the surplus from the countryside, but it did so by undermining the basic feudal relation of production, the private sovereignty of the lord of the manor. Political reorganization of the seigneurial class into estates or parliaments, as in Poland or England, reinforced traditional seigneurial rights and powers, but because such political institutions no more altered the mode of production than absolutism did, their success in reversing the long-term decline in feudal levies could be only temporary. Centralized feudalism, insofar as it succeeded in squeezing fiscal blood from peasant stones, necessarily succeeded in lowering the ceiling of economic expansion. If such policies had been completely successful, a situation difficult to conceive in the context of a feudal mode of production, they would have contracted the feudal economy to a static state of unrelieved pov-


erty with no surplus whatsoever. Since, as we know, this was not the outcome of European feudalism, the question to be answered is simply why not.

The real index of the change within feudalism, Bois maintains, was not the political reorganization of the seigneurial class but the penetration of capitalism into the feudal sector. Rent and profit became inextricably mixed by the sixteenth century: new economic patterns began to take root as the diminution of feudal rents and the expansion of money taxes weakened seigneurial authority and strengthened peasant independence. Lords were no longer interested in keeping peasants to the letter of their tenures but rather in expropriating them; the urban bourgeoisie began to penetrate the land market; social differentiation between husbandmen and cottagers within the peasant community increased as successful peasants accumulated at the expense of smallholders. In the sixteenth century these tendencies were not yet dominant, Bois admits, but the trend of their cumulative development was unmistakable. Each wave of feudal expansion, he notes, moved lords and husbandmen to accumulate and commercialize. Each wave was broken by feudal obstacles to accumulation (the productivity of the family unit and plow team, the ideology of self-sufficiency rather than profitability, the rural solidarity of the peasant community, and so forth) and an ebb of decline took over. But because the feudal levy declined over time and seigneurial authority weakened with each crisis, each wave of accumulation broke further (in the twelfth, thirteenth, sixteenth, and eighteenth centuries) since the thrust of previous accumulations broke down feudal resistance to later waves. As long as the principal impulses behind each wave of expansion remained feudal, that is, as long as the feudal mode of production remained dominant, the process of accumulation remained discontinuous. However, the role of commercial capitalist impulses grew with the monetization of the rural countryside, the pauperization of smallholders, and the decline of the feudal levy in relation to the market value of land. When commercial rents exceeded declining seigneurial charges, the main barrier of feudal relations of production to capitalist expansion was irreversibly broken. By the sixteenth century, feudal development had reached the point where landlord interests and behavior were beginning to approximate the pattern described by Rey.

Bois's time period and his focus on Normandy obviously preclude an exploration of the uneven and combined development of the global feudal economy and the regional differentiation that became increas-


ingly evident as the sixteenth century progressed. His interest in the dynamics of the forces and relations of production in the countryside, the overwhelmingly dominant sector of the feudal economy, leads Bois away from important questions regarding the role of urbanization, regional trade, and the development of rural manufacturing within the structure of the feudal mode of production. Although he notes the emergence of proto-industrialization, international trade, and a commercial land market by the sixteenth century, urban developments and the "birth of capitalism" remain largely beyond his chosen limits. In order to situate the place of the town within the feudal mode of production and locate the origins of capitalist relations of production and their articulated development within the logic of feudal dissolution, we must look to Kriedte and Anderson for assistance. Finally, Bois's focus on the primacy of the productive forces leads to a certain lack of interest in political developments and state building. Bois certainly recognizes political centralization as an almost lawlike tendency of feudal development, but his analysis breaks off with absolutism merely "on the horizon." We need to explore the concept of the absolutist state as "centralized feudalism" in more depth as well as its specific effectivity within the context of the transition to capitalism. Perry Anderson admirably addresses these deficiencies and provides us with another essential component of our general synthesis.

Kriedte: Capitalism and the Dissolution of Feudalism

Peter Kriedte's Peasants, Landlords, and Merchant Capitalists (1983) is a wide-ranging survey of the transition from feudalism to capitalism in Europe from 1500 to 1800. It is of particular value here because Kriedte attempts to explain the transition in terms of Bois's conception of feudal accumulation in agriculture supplemented by an analysis of commerce and manufacturing centered around his own concept of "proto-industrialization." Taking up the process of feudal development approximately where Bois had left it, Kriedte examines the expansion of the sixteenth, the crisis of the seventeenth, and the last feudal up-swing of the eighteenth centuries and demonstrates the continued predominance of feudal agriculture as well as the weakening of feudal relations of production caused by feudal accumulation in both urban and rural sectors—processes that not only created an expanding interregional and international feudal economy and centralized feudal states


but also established the conditions of existence for the birth and growth of capitalist relations of production. Before proceeding with this argument, however, it is necessary to specify the place of manufacture and commerce within the feudal mode of production; that is, we must review Kriedte's position with respect to the classic controversy over the primacy of towns or countryside in the transition from feudalism to capitalism.[16]

Kriedte begins by emphasizing the fact that the feudal countryside, while relatively self-sufficient, was by no means autarchic. Beginning with the agrarian expansion of the twelfth century, towns emerged and proliferated, serving as sites of artisanal manufacture and merchant commerce for the surrounding countryside. The origins of urban communities varied with time and place—some emerging as a result of growing population in the countryside, others as merchant entrepôts along trade routes—but all were feudal, not capitalist, entities. European feudalism developed a significant division of labor between town and country as well as considerable regional specialization in trade and manufacture, but urban environments arose from feudal needs and were themselves feudal in structure. Initially under control of the landed classes who desired a guaranteed supply of low-priced manufactured goods and the revenues accruing to local market monopolies, towns gradually emancipated themselves through feudal alliances and conflicts or by alliances with other towns or, not infrequently, through civil wars. Early towns were based on simple handicraft production and distribution controlled by artisan and trading guilds. The function of feudal towns was to produce for the countryside; there was little inequality between artisan manufacturers and merchants, who were initially peddlers traveling between town and manor.

However, the logic of feudal development favored the merchant, not the artisan, since it was the merchant class that developed and controlled economic exchanges between feudal producers and consumers. Trade in luxury goods catering to the landed elites (who concentrated the purchasing power of the countryside into their own hands) provided the initial source of money accumulation for merchants, an income further augmented by the extension of trade, which created markets both for local production and for local consumption of raw materials; this trade in its turn encouraged additional regional economic specialization and productivity. The logic of money accumulation, however, remained bound by its feudal function of facilitating exchange between lords, peasants, and artisans. Merchants catered to


aristocratic needs and generally had little control over production, which was either foreign to Europe or under the control of petty producers—artisan guilds and peasant cultivators. Thus while feudalism contained a dynamic, profit-oriented commercial class, the logic of profit accumulation turned on control over markets rather than production.

Feudal merchants, Kriedte maintains, were like feudal landlords; they were not so much producers of wealth as they were appropriators of it. Production was in the hands of an organized artisan labor force, which controlled the means of production much as their peasant counterparts did in the countryside, and like the latter, artisans were relatively uninterested in expanding productivity or profits. Craft guilds were monopolies constructed to eliminate competition, fix prices, and keep production behind demand so that all production could be sold. Guilds reacted very little to market incentives, using their monopoly organization to take advantage of peasants in good times and to minimize losses and spread them evenly when times were bad. Merchants, by contrast, were eager to accumulate money and increase the volume of trade, but they, too, remained deeply molded by the feudal relations on which they ultimately depended: their activities were based on their own guild monopolies and corporate charters, while their profits ultimately derived from the surpluses extracted by the seigneurial class. Kriedte, following an admittedly strong Marxist and Weberian tradition, refers to feudal merchants as "commercial capitalists." This terminology seems to me overly teleological in its Marxist form and ahistorical in its Weberian counterpart. While the genesis of capitalism out of feudalism is of obvious significance, it is not explained by simply defining the latter as the embryo of the former. Capitalism is not eternal; neither the accumulation of money nor commercial exchange is necessarily capitalist. Where the profit-accumulating class does not control the means of production, and where there are free markets in neither land nor labor, it is difficult to see the relevance of the term "capitalist." For these reasons, I have avoided the term "merchant capitalism," substituting "feudal commerce," a more appropriate term that nonetheless preserves the gist of Kriedte's argument regarding the significance of urban trade and manufacturing within the feudal mode of production.

Like feudal agriculture, feudal manufacturing and commerce were organized around extra-economic powers and privileges. Merchant guilds were parasitic precisely to the extent that they were legally em-


powered to restrict markets as well as establish them. Merchants amassed enormous fortunes by exploiting price differentials—buying cheap and selling dear—but they were also able to maintain, reproduce, and even increase these differentials by using their wealth and monopoly powers to reinforce the separation of petty producers from their raw materials and consumers, and thus their dependence on the merchant class itself. Merchant wealth rapidly translated into political control by an urban "patriciate" able to counter their lack of control over the process of production by politically shifting the terms of trade in their favor. Urban monopoly power permitted merchants to exclude foreign competitors, colonize the surrounding countryside (by means of tariffs, tolls, and other commercial regulations designed to canalize local trade), and reduce the independence of local producers (by controlling first their access to markets and raw materials, then, after their incomes were sufficiently reduced, their access to credit and working capital). Merchant control over markets worked to keep the prices of things they bought low and the prices of things they sold high. Artisan guilds, like the peasant community, fiercely resisted their subordination, but unlike the peasantry, they lacked sufficient control over the means of production to counteract merchant wealth and organization in the long run. In contrast to the declining rate of the feudal levy in the countryside, urban development demonstrated a steady increase in the merchant "levy" on petty producers ("exploitation through trade" or the differential rent accruing to merchant monopolies).

Merchant wealth meant not only an increasing subordination of craft guilds to their merchant counterparts but also a growing interaction of bourgeois and aristocratic accumulation (the wealthy merchants became tax farmers, revenue collectors, and administrators as well as bankers for the landed classes and the Church). Merchant accumulation translated into royal and aristocratic loans, which in turn produced increased monopoly prerogatives, aristocratic marriages, and the acquisition of seigneurial land holdings for the commercial bourgeoisie. The rise of mercantile fortunes, Kriedte concludes, was not necessarily revolutionary for the feudal mode of production. The life-style and status of the aristocracy remained the "sun" for the highest ranks of the merchant class, which was more prone to the temptations of "feudalization," buying seigneurial property, acquiring aristocratic titles, and so on, than to the hazardous and as yet relatively unprofitable task of pushing beyond commercial and financial activities toward the development of capitalist manufacturing. Despite the constant pressure ex-


erted on the incomes of petty producers by merchant oligarchies, production itself remained largely in artisan hands.

Kriedte acknowledges that the dynamics of craft production and merchant commerce within the feudal mode of production tended to follow the movements of the overwhelmingly dominant agricultural sector. Price movements of manufactured goods undulate with those of basic foodstuffs, but vacillations are less marked since manufactured goods are less subject to diminishing returns and because the demand for manufactured goods is more elastic than the demand for food. The dependence of feudal towns on the agrarian countryside was determined by the relatively low purchasing power of the countryside and the relatively high price of food. However, Kriedte points out, increasing interregional trade during the economic upswing of the sixteenth century concentrated and redistributed European purchasing power to add almost unlimited foreign markets to hitherto limited local demand. Increases in market demand via foreign purchasing power were accompanied by the emergence of global prices and increasing price competition between rival networks of entrepôts and regional producers (each a feudal commercial empire with its own "urban colonial" territories, intra-urban economic organization, and European-wide system of political alliances). Kriedte argues that this sixteenth-century conjuncture of market demand and price competition, coupled with the availability of cheap labor power of smallholders in the countryside, constituted the preconditions for the birth of capitalist relations of production. By the sixteenth century, merchants, like some enclosing landlords, began to shift from speculative gains based on price differentials toward the profits to be made by reducing the costs of production. Merchants, facing both increasing demand and increasing competition, were no longer prepared to accept the production monopoly of the guilds, and in order to evade the relatively high cost of guild labor, they began to move production from the cities to the countryside. This movement toward rural manufacturing, or as Kriedte calls it, "proto-industrialization," constituted the revolutionary breakthrough from feudal to capitalist relations of production.

Thus the birth of capitalism was a result of the confluence of feudal tendencies toward both rural and urban accumulation. The growth of trade, as we have seen, accelerated the dissolution of seigneurial authority and the differentiation of the peasant community. Urban markets were essential to the development of the yeomanry and gentry classes and acted as spurs to the development of both intensive agricul-


ture (monoculture, crop rotation, animal husbandry, and so on) and the expropriation of smallholders. This same growth of trade also promoted class differentiation within the urban environment. First, as we have seen, the growing wealth of a merchant patriciate came to dominate the craft guilds and the surrounding countryside by methods that resembled the extra-economic powers of the seigneurial class. Second, the expansion of trade increased differentiation within the ranks of the producing classes as well. As cyclical expansion and contraction of the local economy gave way to interregional market competition, merchant domination, and, increasingly, competition from village proto-industry, the boundary between masters and "dependent" workers—journeymen and servants—became clearer and less easily crossed. Over the course of time, master craftsmen were able to shut out journeymen from advancing to independent status by adding a variety of expensive and time-consuming "stages" to the process of apprenticeship, stages from which the master's own sons were exempt, however.

Master status became increasingly hereditary from the sixteenth century, and the opportunity for the accumulation of wealth increased accordingly. Parvenu wealth from the producing classes, however, corresponded to the pauperization of growing numbers of journeymen forced to work either for masters as wage laborers without hope of advancement or for themselves in back alleys and garrets in order to escape the regulations and surveillance of the craft guilds. "New men" from the artisan class, employing wage labor, accumulated wealth and power until their wealth was measured in relation to their capital and no longer in relation to their own labor. If they became exceptionally wealthy, these capitalist entrepreneurs sometimes bought their way into a merchant guild, and some even became so powerful as to establish one for themselves, but in the main their access to wealth and power was significantly impeded by the privileges of the merchant oligarchies. Monopoly privileges remained enormously profitable in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, of course, but they were also a source of increasing tensions within the ranks of the capitalist classes. Despite such antagonisms, however, smaller, provincial parvenu capitalists, as much as their larger, more established rivals, benefited from an increasing control of capital over production.

Proto-industrialization, the outcome of the decision of merchants to take charge of production, marks for Kriedte the originary moment of the articulation of feudal and capitalist relations of production posited by Rey. Cottage industries converted peasant villages into proto-


industrial villages that covered Europe by the eighteenth century. In such villages petty producers specialized in activities broken down by the greatest practicable division of labor and worked with materials and often even tools provided by merchant-manufacturers who, in contemporary parlance, "employed" or "maintained" them. Not surprisingly, textile manufacturing, next to food the most basic industry for feudal consumers, was the vanguard of the new capitalist production techniques, but capitalist relations of production in mining and other industries were also increasingly evident from the sixteenth century. Although it did not mark the beginnings of this process (we see it as early as the thirteenth century in northern Italy and the Netherlands), the sixteenth century crossed the threshold wherein rural capitalist manufacture became an essential component of the European economy. Although merchant capital continued to dominate the global economy until the nineteenth century (mercantilism being nothing more than urban colonization of the feudal countryside writ large), and despite the fact that capitalist production remained generally less profitable, and thus less attractive, than commercial and financial activities (hence the failure of the Italian and Dutch capitalist experiments), the sixteenth century inaugurated a symbiotic interrelationship between feudal and capitalist relations of production. Henceforth, Kriedte maintains, proto-industrial capitalism would "urbanize the countryside" (Marx), converting smallholders to market producers and consumers and expanding the domestic market for food and other commodities. The expanding market for food encouraged agrarian commercialization and specialization, which in turn created a non-feudal land market and rising market rents, which in turn accelerated the process of agrarian accumulation and peasant differentiation, which in turn increased the labor force of smallholders for rural capitalists. Like the yeoman peasant, the artisan-capitalist multiplied with rising prices and falling wages in the sixteenth century. Finally, the differential cost of labor between the unorganized cottager and the urban guild worker inexorably destroyed the remaining vestiges of feudal relations of production in the cities. The feudal right of workers to a trade was finally destroyed.

It is neither possible nor necessary to review Kriedte's excellent analysis of the sixteenth-century expansion, the seventeenth-century crisis, and the last feudal expansion of the eighteenth century. Suffice it to say that while feudalism continued to predominate, it was being progressively undermined by its own internal dynamic and by the expansion of capitalist relations of production until, by the end of the eighteenth


century, a decisive switch toward the dominance of capitalism was beginning to take place. By 1800, at least in the commercial heartland of Europe, proto-industrialization had become a barrier to the further development of capitalist production. Although rural manufacturing had significantly increased the dependency of the petty producers on the merchant-manufacturer, proto-industrialization was still only a halfway house between independent and wage labor. Whenever cottage households met their subsistence requirements, Kriedte explains, they tended to stop working. During the expansion of the late eighteenth century, the pressure of internal and external demand and the capitalist's desire to increase output ran up against the cottager's desire to curtail production during a boom (since higher prices meant that subsistence requirements could be satisfied in less time with less labor). In addition, Kriedte notes, coordination of elaborate networks of cottage production was becoming increasingly difficult for merchant capitalists. Cottage industry allowed the merchant-manufacturer greater control over the division of labor and created a more efficient, because more integrated, labor process, but beyond a certain point it became impossible to control and supervise producers effectively.

The way out, Kriedte concludes, was greater centralization and greater mechanization, the creation of a new labor process, new work discipline, and a new degree of power over labor for capital. The English cotton industry, facing almost unlimited demand, was the first to tackle this problem, producing the factory system and inaugurating the dominance of the capitalist mode of production—what Rey calls a shift from the manufacturing to the industrial stage of the articulation of feudalism and capitalism. By the end of the eighteenth century, agriculture was still the most important creator of wealth in Europe, but it occupied only 35 percent of the labor force in Britain (65 percent in Prussia, 90 percent in Russia). British industrialization became a factor that accelerated the capitalist revolution in the mode of production on the Continent after 1800. The upswing of the eighteenth century ended with an economic crisis, but it was a crisis of a new type. In the nineteenth century, grain prices began to fall not because population declined, but because too much was being produced; proto-industry lapsed into agonies not because of the disappearance of markets but because of competition from factory production. If the special political power of the landed classes, noted by Rey, was not eliminated during the course of the nineteenth century, it was progressively and dramatically weakened by the transformation of the centralized feudal states of


Europe into parliamentary capitalist regimes that accompanied the subordination of the feudal mode of production.

Anderson: The Absolutist State and the Feudal Mode of Production

Passages from Antiquity to Feudalism (1974a) and Lineages of the Absolutist State (1974) by Perry Anderson are encyclopedic works, encompassing the slave mode of production of the Greeks and Romans, the emergence of feudalism, the crisis of the feudal mode of production from the fourteenth to the seventeenth century, and the political and social consequences of the crisis for the different regions and kingdoms of Europe. What interests us here is the core of Anderson's broad synthesis—the internal dynamic of the feudal mode of production, the articulation of feudalism and capitalism, and the uneven and combined development of feudal Europe. Anderson adopts an extended rather than a restricted concept of feudalism. Whereas Bois and Kriedte focus on a more restricted view of the forces and relations of production, Anderson concentrates on the theoretically undeveloped political structures that assured the reproduction of the feudal forces and relations of production. In Passages from Antiquity to Feudalism , Anderson adumbrates the key characteristics of the political instance within feudal societies: the "private sovereignty" of the lord of the manor, the progressive integration of political and economic relations as one moved down the feudal pyramids, and the multiple, divided, or "parcelized" sovereignties that proliferated as one moved away from the eminent domain of the prince. Parcelized sovereignties meant divided and overlapping systems of jurisdiction that were a source not only of potential peasant resistance and village independence but also of the relative autonomy of medieval towns. These sovereignties also implied relative weakness at the top of the feudal pyramids since feudal princes were obliged to live on their own feudal resources with little direct political control over the population as a whole.

Parcelized sovereignty is the key to what Anderson calls "the feudal dynamic." The dynamism of feudal social formations stemmed from the contradictory articulation of an overwhelmingly dominant natural economy (always including, however, a small commercialized sector controlled by nobles) with an urban economy dominated by patrician oligarchs, guilds, and monopolies (but also characterized by commodity production and monetary exchange). Further contradictions emerged from the existence of myriad systems of justice (royal, sei-


gneurial, religious) and property tenures (ranging from serfdom to free-holdings) within the feudal mode of production. Within these parcelized sovereignties the never-ending class struggle between lords and peasants was fought, shaped by differing historical conditions of existence, the uneven development of the state via intra-feudal rivalries (between lords, princes, towns, and the Church), and the varying regional levels of economic development (both with respect to the articulation of feudalism and capitalism specific to a particular place and time and the increasing integration of regional economies within feudal Europe as a whole). Anderson insists on the historical specificity of feudal social formations, the different paths to feudalism, and the variations of concrete feudal societies, and his analysis exemplifies the necessity and utility of distinct and discrete levels of historical analysis.

In Passages from Antiquity to Feudalism , Anderson emphasizes the significance of urban development for the differing outcomes of the fourteenth-century crisis of feudalism (overpopulation, famine, plague, seigneurial attempts to shift their economic losses onto the peasantry, peasant rebellions and resistance to these efforts, and finally the endemic warfare between noble factions, each attempting to recoup their fortunes by booty and ransom at the expense of the other). Baldly stated, Anderson argues that serfdom disappeared in Western Europe because urbanization, structurally sheltered by the parcelization of feudal sovereignty, proceeded to the point that it could decisively alter the outcome of the class struggle in the rural sector. The towns were not only the locations of the greatest agricultural commercialization and the place where lords were under the greatest pressure to realize their incomes in money form; they were also, Anderson points out, the places where a flight from serfdom was a permanent possibility for discontented peasants. In Western Europe, the seigneurial class was unable to maintain serfdom, although the nature of the transformation of the countryside varied with economic and political structures. In England and Castile, seigneurial political power permitted enclosures and wool production as an alternative to seigneurial levies; in France and southwestern Germany, where peasant organization and noble rivalries had most eroded seigneurial authority, lords resorted to outright sale of emancipation and the security of peasant tenures (subject to certain seigneurial prerogatives) was assured; in northern Italy, the supremacy of the communes eliminated serfdom two or three generations ahead of France or England, and the region developed the first large-scale forms of commercial farming as well as short-term leases and sharecropping.

The great feudal depression of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries


was not a homogeneous phenomenon; it had different effects in different areas. However, Anderson posits a basic general division between the crisis in Western Europe, brought on by the classic mechanisms of expansion beyond the structural limits of the feudal mode of production, and the crisis in Eastern Europe, where the feudal system was nowhere near the boundaries of possible expansion. The crisis in Eastern Europe developed after and as a result of its Western counterpart. It initially involved agrarian depression: the collapse of grain prices in the West dried up the emerging grain trade between East and West, and the demographic migration that had stimulated Eastern European development during the preceding century came to an abrupt halt. The delayed onslaught of plague added to the agrarian and demographic crises. Face with a shortage of peasants and economic losses, the lords of Eastern Europe responded, predictably, by imposing new social controls and greater levies on the peasants (which were, predictably, resisted by the peasants in a series of massive rebellions) and by engaging in civil wars.

The crucial difference between the manorial reactions in Eastern and Western Europe, according to Anderson, is the fact that there were fewer and weaker urban centers east of the Elbe. This fundamental weakness of the towns allowed the seigneurial class to succeed in their manorial reaction and slowly subjugate the towns, destroy peasant rights, and systematically reduce tenants to serfs. The historic defeat of the towns, Anderson concludes, cleared the way for the imposition of serfdom in Eastern Europe in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, precisely the reverse of the situation in Western Europe. The degradation of the peasantry, whose village organization was relatively weaker and who the lacked the urban escape valve of Western peasants, paralleled the spread of export agriculture directed toward Western markets in Eastern Europe. Eastern lords had the advantage of vast land reserves coupled with a lack of opportunities in less labor-intensive forms of agriculture such as wool production. Cereal production on large manorial estates was the obvious economic course of action, but this course restricted not only the development of greater agricultural productivity but also the growth and autonomy of towns as well. In Eastern Europe, the dissolution of serfdom had to await the employment of new, more intensive methods of cultivation by the aristocratic estates in the later eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries—methods that required more and more efficient labor than the feudal mode of production could supply and therefore made agrarian "revolution from


above" a practicable strategy, first in Prussia, then in the Austrian Empire, and finally in Russia.

In Lineages of the Absolutist State , Anderson turns to the political consequences of these economic transformations, the absolutist state, which he defines as a feudal state. Although in Western Europe absolutist states mediated between the interests of the seigneurial and the entrepreneurial classes, it would be a mistake, according to Anderson, to designate them as bourgeois states. They represented, first and foremost, "a redeployed and recharged" apparatus of feudal domination, designed to clamp the peasant masses back into their traditional social position—despite and against the gains they had won by the widespread commutation of dues. In short, Anderson concludes, the absolutist state was "never an arbiter between the aristocracy and the bourgeoisie, still less an instrument of the nascent bourgeoisie against the aristocracy: it was the new political carapace of a threatened nobility" (P. Anderson 1974, 18). The absolutist state was simply the political reorganization of feudal domination and exploitation determined by the crisis of seigneurial revenues and the spread of commodity production and exchange. To be sure, Anderson admits, the shaking down of feudal pyramids into national monarchies was a violent process that left residues of resentment between magnates and monarchs. The development of the absolutist state paralleled and accelerated the dissolution of seigneurial authority by concentrating previously parcelized sovereignties at the top, Weber's famous monopolization of the means of violence, but conversely, the absolutist state invested noble status and landed property with new guarantees. As sovereignty became more "public," property became more "private," but aristocracies remained the dominant and privileged class. The absolutist state not only guaranteed their continued predominance in the countryside (by guaranteeing their titles to the land and their remaining seigneurial rights and prerogatives) but also created new sources of aristocratic income through military and administrative service to the crown. These incomes, of course, were ultimately derived from taxing the non-noble classes, and therefore constituted a centralized alternative to the localized, seigneurial levy that it supplemented and ultimately replaced.

If the structure of absolutist states was fundamentally determined by developments within the feudal mode of production—namely, the dissolution of serfdom and the political reorganization of aristocratic power—it was "secondarily overdetermined by the rise of an urban bourgeoisie which after a series of technical and commercial advances


was now developing into pre-industrial manufactures on a considerable scale" (P. Anderson 1974, 23). The unequal power and rank of the landed aristocracies and the urban bourgeoisie shaped the spread of Roman law in Renaissance Europe. Roman law, with its emphasis on sovereignty from above and absolute and unconditional private property from below, was encouraged by absolutist states and by the urban bourgeoisie at the expense of parcelized sovereignty and conditional property characteristic of classic feudalism. Absolutist states were promoters of law, but they were feudal war machines as well, reflecting the fact that in the feudal mode of production war was a rational and rapid way for the ruling class to acquire territory and thereby expand its surplus extraction. Absolutist states were thus characterized by contradictory elements of modernity and archaism, formal rationality coupled with a warrior ethos, which stemmed from the particular conditions of the feudal-capitalist articulation.

On the one hand, the development of a state bureaucracy and centralized taxation system facilitated rationalized administration, in contrast to the jumble of conflicting jurisdictions characteristic of parcelized sovereignty; on the other hand, it created "a monetarized caricature of a fief" by means of venality, the sale of offices that conferred privileged status on bourgeois buyers. This system, of course, created some tensions between old and new aristocrats, but it also had the effect of integrating the bourgeoisie into the state apparatus and ensuring their "subordinate assimilation" into a feudal polity wherein the nobility constituted the summit of the social hierarchy. Finally, mercantilism, the dominant economic philosophy of absolutism, reflected a contradictory adaptation of a feudal ruling class to an integrated market within the context of predatory power. According to Anderson, mercantilism not only represented a modern notion of state interest in productivity and intervention in the economy toward this end but also emphasized the feudal idea of economic expansion by conquest and military appropriation of rival economies. The interlocking ideas of wealth and war developed from the feudal mentality of extensive growth in the context of a zero-sum model of world trade. However, this feudal policy was felicitous for the commercial and manufacturing bourgeoisie as well. The bourgeoisie provided the ships, the implements of war, and a considerable portion of the finances for predatory absolutism, and in return absolutism granted considerable upward mobility to the bourgeoisie and, perhaps more important, considerable autonomy for capitalist forces and relations of production.


The emergence of centralized feudalism played an important but contradictory role in the transition from feudalism to capitalism. Mirroring the complexities of the articulation of feudal and capitalist relations of production that it attempted to reproduce, the absolutist state was increasingly caught between two antagonistic tasks: on the one hand, providing for the economic well-being and ideological hegemony of the aristocracy; on the other hand, increasing the economic power and productivity of the kingdom as a whole. Its growing relative autonomy increased the discrepancy between its own fiscal-administrative functions and its attempts to reproduce feudal relations of production and aristocratic hegemony. As we have seen, royal taxation constituted a superior method of extorting the agrarian surplus, but the result was not only a further weakening of the seigneurial levy in the face of royal competition but also a lowering of the ceiling of subsistence for the peasant community as a whole. The monopoly of violence exercised by the state not only eroded the military power of the aristocracy but also constituted the means by which new economic rules and market unification were created, developments without which the expansion of capitalism would have been considerably slower. The insatiable demands of the absolutist state for loans, mercantilism and trading monopolies, powerful administrative positions, and the lucrative business of tax farming—all these factors facilitated the spectacular rise of bourgeois commercial-financial empires, while the increasing development of commercialization and capitalist manufacturing created social structures that became increasingly difficult to integrate into a feudal system. The contradiction between ascriptive and earned status, so long papered over by means of the royal bureaucracy, became increasingly intolerable. Parcelized sovereignty, embodied in the private sovereignties of manorial lords and urban patriciates, acted as a brake to the centralizing power of the absolutist state, but also transmuted itself into new demands for "liberty" and "freedom" from all feudal privileges and prerogatives.

Anderson's concept of the absolutist state, presented schematically here, is by no means insensitive to the historical specificity of each particular example. He emphasizes, in particular, the later, more reactive, and more militaristic and authoritarian character of absolutism east of the Elbe, a function of military pressure from the West but also a result of the relative underdevelopment of Eastern Europe, which was characterized by a more powerful and feudal aristocracy and a smaller and weaker urban bourgeoisie than was the case in Western Europe. Unfor-


tunately, we cannot follow Anderson's specific analyses of the differences between and within Western and Eastern European absolutisms but must rest content with noting that these differences reflected the uneven and combined development of Europe. They were thus variations, not repudiations, of the general conceptual framework elaborated here.

Summing Up

My discussion of Bois, Kriedte, and Anderson has yielded an interpretation of the transition from feudalism to capitalism considerably more substantive than Rey's initial conceptualization of the articulation of feudalism and capitalism. Nevertheless, certain of Rey's basic insights have been preserved, corrected, and developed. The pivotal role attributed by Rey to the forces and relations of production in determining the character of economic exploitation, accumulation, and exchange has been verified by Bois's analysis of feudalism. Rey's insistence on the importance of the articulation of rural and urban exploitation for an accurate understanding of "primitive" accumulation has been validated by Kriedte, who also provides a compelling explanation of the origin of capitalist relations of production and a substantive discussion of the workings of the articulation of feudalism and capitalism barely outlined by Rey. Rey's notion of a "class alliance" between seigneurial and bourgeois elites has been considerably qualified by Kriedte and Anderson into a more nuanced account of the uneven development of the articulation of feudalism and capitalism and the contradictory nature of centralized feudalism. There is no denying, however, the general thrust of Rey's argument regarding the symbiotic nature of agrarian and urban relations of exploitation, no matter how much his application of the terms "feudalism" and "capitalism" to these relations requires correction. The beneficiaries of the transition to capitalism were the aristocratic and bourgeois elites, who "nationalized" their interests by means of the absolutist state and who "capitalized" on their prerogatives over the countryside and the towns by converting them to private property. The costs of the transition were borne by the exploited classes, the peasants and artisans unable to make it as yeoman farmers and capitalist entrepreneurs. The communal organization and resistance of peasants and artisans were the obverse of the class power of lords and merchants and their efforts to restructure the feudal economy; the transformation of peasants into cottagers and journeymen


into wage laborers constituted the feudal conditions of existence for the emergence and development of capitalism.

Having said this, I would like to caution the reader that the foregoing discussions of lineage and feudal modes of production do not presume to be definitive resolutions of the problems they address; even less are they intended to disparage the vast literatures on lineage-based and feudal societies by overstating the originality of some of the conclusions reached by means of mode of production analysis. I am not competent to make such summary judgments, nor do I believe it is necessary to advance such grand claims in order to substantiate the theoretical value and explanatory power of the concept of a mode of production. The works we have reviewed have shown, convincingly in my opinion, that Structural Marxism has produced powerful concepts of social formations traditionally viewed as impervious to Marxist analysis.

Nor can it be said that the Marxist concepts deployed here—class struggle, mode of production, and forces and relations of production—have resulted in the simplistic reflectionism with which they are so often identified. It is perhaps necessary to state explicitly that I have not attempted to insist that all feudal or lineage modes of production are identical; that empirical analysis is unimportant to a scientific understanding of social formations; that class struggle is merely a matter of identifying individuals in terms of their economic relations so as to mechanically "read off" their actions and personalities; nor, finally, that non-economic structures and relations lack their own specific complexity and effectivity. I have simply argued that all human societies are most comprehensible as modes of production; that empirical analysis of social formations is best approached in terms of the constraints and capacities of structures (in the last instance, the structures of the forces and relations of production); that all power, personal or institutional, is ultimately determined by the existing modes of production (their articulation, contradictions, and reproduction and their complex effect on the creation of each and every social subject); and finally, that although different and discontinuous levels of analysis exist because of both the complexity of social structures and the limits to our understanding, there is no reason to reject the idea of a science of society.


previous chapter
Chapter 2 Modes of Production and Historical Development
next chapter