N Gumilev, Otkrytie Khazarii, Moscow, 1966

In document The question of the Asiatic mode of production : towards a new Marxist historiography (Page 156-164)

2 account the changing geographical background to human history.

L. N Gumilev, Otkrytie Khazarii, Moscow, 1966

account the changing geographical background to human history.

The overthrow of the Stalinist conception of the geographical environ­ ment as an unchanging external factor with minimal influence on the

internal development of human society is demonstrated most clearly in one of the latest Soviet textbooks on historical materialism. In this we

find that:

Geographical environment is historical for it is changing ever since the appearance of man, both under the impact of natural terrestrial or cosmic causes and also as a result of the transforming activity of men ...

It follows from the above that geographical environ­ ment today is not some sort of 'pure* nature, nor the result of the operation of natural laws alone. The present geographical environment is also a result of preceding human activity, of the colossal labour effort of the earlier generations. Consequently it is the result of the interaction of natural and social laws.

The text-book not only echoes Marx's description of how the sphere of 'humanised' nature expands to include the whole earth, but claims that:

man's flight into outer space ushered in the transformation of his natural surroundings from terrestrial into inter­ planetary environment.4

L.N. Gumilev, Otkrytie Khazarii, Moscow, 1966. 2

E.g., L.N. Gumilev, 'Mesto istoricheskoi geografii v vostokovednykh, issledovaniiakh', Narody Azii i Afriki, 1970, No. 1, pp. 85-94.

3

G. Glezerman and G. Kursanov, Historical Materialism, tr. D. Fidlon, Moscow, Progress, 1968, pp. 52-53. (The English is their translator's.) 4

The way in which the new emphasis on geographical environment has been interwoven with the revival of interest in the concept of the Asiatic mode of production, and with the attempts to break free of Stalin's

five-stage schema of social development, will be discussed at greater length in subsequent chapters. Here we confine ourselves to mentioning one tentative proposal for the classification of pre-industrial societies that emerged in a discussion on the Asiatic formation at the Institute of the Peoples of Asia (May, 1965). The Soviet historian, L.A. Sedov, suggested that pre-industrial societies might be grouped into three main types: those based on agriculture without artificial irrigation; those based on agriculture with artificial irrigation; and those based on herding. These different productive bases gave rise to different socio­ economic structures, which developed according to their own characteristic laws. Thus (large-scale) irrigation agriculture gave rise to a society dominated by a bureaucratic elite, while herding gave rise to a society dominated by a military aristocracy. Sedov's taxonomy here owes much

2

to Wittfogel, and the determining role of the geographical environment is clearly in evidence.

Thus (the newly-revived) emphasis within Soviet historiography on the importance of geographical factors is once more linked, as it has been

See L.A. Sedov, '0 sotsial'no-ekonomicheskikh tipakh razvitiia', in G.F. Kim, V.N. Nikiforov et a l . ed., Obshchee i osobennoe v istoricheskom razvitii stran Vostoko, Moscow, Izd. 'Nauka', 1966, pp. 48-55.

2

Cf. the later Wittfogel's classification of pre-industrial societies into (a) stratified pastoral societies; (b) hydraulic societies; (c) helotage-based, free peasant-based or slave-based non-feudal societies;

(d) feudal societies. (K.A. Wittfogel, Oriental Despotismf New Haven, Columbia U.P., 1957, p. 419.) Stratified pastoral societies have been notoriously difficult to fit into the five-stage unilinear schema. As we shall see in Chapter Five, as soon as an alternative mode of production

(the Asiatic) was discovered, attempts were made to apply it to the

nomadic pastoral societies. However, the Asiatic concept was designed for bureaucratic agricultural societies, and is inapplicable to pastoral

societies, which perhaps can best be viewed as Sedov has done, as yet another alternative mode of production determined by local circumstances. At least one passage from Marx could be adduced as authority for this

in the past in Marxist historiography, with a tendency to view pre­ industrial society in terms of a plurality of modes of production, rather than in terms of a logical sequence of stages.'*'

* * * * *

point of view: 'Among the nomadic pastoral peoples, the commune is

indeed constantly united; the travelling society, the caravan, the horde, and the forms of supremacy and subordination develop out of the conditions of this mode of life.' (Marx, Grundrisse, p. 491.)

Soviet historiography has finally been discovering in the Grundrisse the view that Asiatic society, slavery and serfdom are simply the

consequences of different 'distortions' [izvrashchenii] of the primitive community, determined by particular geographical and historical circum­

stances. (See Iu. A. Kizilov,'Predposylki perekhoda vostochnogo slavianstva k feodalizmu', Voprosy Istorii, 1969, No. 3, pp. 94-104.)

A NOTE ON THE POPULATION FACTOR Y e t a n o t h e r f a c t o r , n o t d i r e c t l y r e l e v a n t t o o u r t h e m e , was m e n t i o n e d b y Marx i n t h e G r u n d r i s s e , i n a s s o c i a t i o n w i t h t h e r o l e o f g e o g r a p h i c a l f a c t o r s i n s o c i a l d e v e l o p m e n t - i . e . t h e f a c t o r o f p o p u l a t i o n p r e s s u r e . The i m p a c t o f d e m o g r a p h i c f a c t o r s on d e v e l o p m e n t i n p r i m i t i v e s o c i e t y i s v e r y much l i n k e d t o more p u r e l y g e o g r a p h i c a l f a c t o r s , i n t h a t i t i s i n t h e c o n t e x t o f ?jn e n v i r o n m e n t a l l y c i r c u m s c r i b e d a r e a o f u s a b l e l a n d t h a t p o p u l a t i o n i n c r e a s e b e c o m e s s i g n i f i c a n t . D e s p i t e S t a l i n ' s a t t a c k on t h e c o n c e p t o f p o p u l a t i o n p r e s s u r e a s a d e t e r m i n i n g f a c t o r ' 1' ( l i n k e d w i t h h i s a t t a c k - on t h e c o n c e p t o f g e o ­ g r a p h i c a l d e t e r m i n i s m ) , i t i s c l e a r f r o m t h e G r u n d r i s s e t h a t Marx b e l i e v e d t h a t p o p u l a t i o n p r e s s u r e c o u l d o p e r a t e a s an i n d e p e n d e n t v a r i a b l e i n e c o n o m i c a n d s o c i a l d e v e l o p m e n t , a t l e a s t i n t h a t e a r l y s t a g e o f human h i s t o r y w h e r e n a t u r a l r a t h e r t h a n h i s t o r i c a l l y - p r o d u c e d f a c t o r s w e r e t h e m a j o r d e t e r m i n a n t s o f d e v e l o p m e n t . Marx w r o t e t h a t : F o r e x a m p l e , w h e r e e a c h o f t h e i n d i v i d u a l s i s s u p p o s e d t o p o s s e s s a g i v e n n u m b er o f a c r e s o f l a n d , t h e a d v a n c e o f p o p u l a t i o n i s a l r e a d y u n d e r w ay. I f t h i s i s t o b e c o r r e c t e d , t h e n c o l o n i z a t i o n , a n d t h a t i n t u r n r e q u i r e s w a r s o f c o n q u e s t . W ith t h a t , s l a v e s e t c . . . . Thus t h e p r e s e r v a t i o n o f t h e o l d com m unity i n c l u d e s t h e d e s t r u c t ­ i o n o f t h e c o n d i t i o n s on w h i c h i t r e s t s , t u r n s i n t o i t s o p p o s i t e . I f i t w e r e t h o u g h t t h a t p r o d u c t i v i t y on t h e same l a n d c o u l d b e i n c r e a s e d b y d e v e l o p i n g t h e f o r c e s o f p r o d u c t i o n , e t c . . . . , t h e n t h e new o r d e r w o u ld i n c l u d e c o m b i n a t i o n s o f l a b o u r , a l a r g e p a r t o f t h e d a y s p e n t i n a g r i c u l t u r e e t c . , a n d t h e r e b y a g a i n s u s p e n d t h e o l d e c o n o m i c c o n d i t i o n s o f t h e c o m m u n ity . The c o n c e p t o f p o p u l a t i o n i n c r e a s e a s an i n d e p e n d e n t v a r i a b l e i n e c o n o m i c d e v e l o p m e n t ( i . e . t h e c o n c e p t h e r e p r e f i g u r e d b y Marx) h a s b e e n e m p l o y e d i n much r e c e n t work on t h e e v o l u t i o n o f p r i m i t i v e s o c i e t i e s . I n t e r e s t i n t h i s c o n c e p t b y a n t h r o p o l o g i s t s was r e a w a k e n e d w i t h t h e p u b l i c a t i o n o f E s t e r B o s e r u p ' s i n f l u e n t i a l b o o k T h e C o n d i t i o n s o f A g r i c u l t u r a l G ro w th i n 1 9 6 5 . B o s e r u p ' s b a s i c a r g u m e n t was t h a t b e c a u s e S t a l i n , D i a l e c t i c a l a n d H i s t o r i c a l M a t e r i a l i s m , N. Y . , I n t e r n a t i o n a l P u b l i s h e r s , 1 9 7 2 , p p . 2 6 - 2 7 . M arx, G r u n d r i s s e , p p . 4 9 3 - 4 9 4 . 2

t h e i n t e n s i f i c a t i o n o f a g r i c u l t u r a l p r a c t i c e s ( fr o m h u n t i n g a n d g a t h e r i n g t h r o u g h s l a s h - a n d - b u m a g r i c u l t u r e e v e n t u a l l y t o m u l t i c r o p p i n g ) i n v o l v e s an e v e r l o w e r r e t u r n p e r u n i t o f l a b o u r i n p u t , s u c h i n t e n s i f i c a t i o n d o e s n o t t a k e p l a c e e x c e p t u n d e r t h e p r e s s u r e o f p o p u l a t i o n i n c r e a s e an d c o r r e s p o n d i n g l a n d s h o r t a g e . I f o n e c a n a s su m e t h a t t h e w o r k i n g d ay o f h u n t e r s a n d g a t h e r e r s a v e r a g e d a b o u t f o u r o r f i v e h o u r s ,'* ' a n d t h a t o f l o n g f a l l o w s l a s h - a n d - b u m c u l t i v a t o r s n o t much more ( i n t h e b u s y s e a s o n 2 p e r h a p s f o u r h o u r s f o r men a n d s i x h o u r s f o r women) , r e s i s t a n c e t o i n t e n s i f i c a t i o n o f a g r i c u l t u r a l p r a c t i c e f o l l o w s a s a n a t u r a l c o r o l l a r y . One m i g h t a r g u e t h a t e v e n g i v e n t h e r e s i s t a n c e t o i n t e n s i f i c a t i o n , t e c h n i c a l i n n o v a t i o n s m i g h t b e i n t r o d u c e d t o l o w e r t h e l a b o u r i n p u t w i t h

In document The question of the Asiatic mode of production : towards a new Marxist historiography (Page 156-164)