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Chapter 2 Modes of Production and Historical Development
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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.

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