primitive communism

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Karl Marx (1818—1883) revolutionary and thinker


mode of production

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A term usually associated with Karl Marx, but most fully elaborated by Friedrich Engels (in The Origin of the Family, 1884), and referring to the collective right to basic resources, egalitarianism in social relationships, and absence of authoritarian rule and hierarchy that is supposed to have preceded stratification and exploitation in human history. Both Marx and Engels were heavily influenced by Lewis Henry Morgan's speculative evolutionary history, which described the ‘liberty, equality and fraternity of the ancient gentes’, and the ‘communism in living’ said to be evident in the village architecture of native Americans. Engels worked this notion into the evolutionary theory of historical materialism, arguing that the transition to subsequent modes of production involved the change from production for use to production for exchange, and transformation of communal family relations and equality between the sexes to individual families as economic units and female subordination. The thesis has been much debated in anthropology (see, for example, E. Leacock, ‘Marxism and Anthropology’, in B. Ollman and E. Vernoff (eds.), The Left Academy, 1981), where dispute centres on the nature of property rights, status, and authority among so-called primitive peoples.

Subjects: Sociology.

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