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Chapter 2 Modes of Production and Historical Development
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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.

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Chapter 2 Modes of Production and Historical Development
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