Tuesday, May 03, 2022

Class-free Cities

 Marx and Engels thought that some time before the dawn of recorded history there took place several closely interrelated transitions that transformed human life – from wandering bands of hunters and gatherers to settled farming and cities, from ‘mother-right’ to the patriarchal family, from classless and stateless ‘primitive communism’ to the first class societies and states. This was a reasonable theory given the evidence available at the disposal of 19th century thinkers.

Thanks mainly to archaeology, vastly more evidence is now available. In a controversial new book, anthropologist David Graeber and archaeologist David Wengrow argue that much of the new evidence is at odds with the theory we have inherited from Marx and Engels (The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity, 2021). 

Thus, there was no ‘agricultural revolution’ in the sense of a rapid once-and-for-all shift from hunting and gathering to farming. In many areas agriculture disappeared again not long after its first appearance, firmly establishing itself only much later. Many communities combined pre-agricultural activities with farming for long periods.

Construction of large settlements often preceded the emergence of agriculture. For instance, the city of Çayönü in present-day Turkey, to which I devoted a previous post, began around 8,800 BCE as a settlement of hunters and gatherers. Seeds indicate the start of farming around 8,000 BCE. Sheep rearing followed around 7,300 BCE.  

Nor was city life always associated with a class system or a coercive state. The earliest city layouts give no indication of either phenomenon. The circular patterns of habitation at ancient mega-sites in Ukraine suggest an absence of status distinctions among the inhabitants. A more recent example was the city republic of Tlaxcala in pre-Conquest Mexico.

Most strikingly, a few of the cities where class divisions did arise underwent a sudden reversion to egalitarian cohabitation – that is, a social revolution. This is what seems to have happened in Çayönü around 7,200 BCE. The largest and most luxurious structure, presumably the palace, was burned down. So was the temple. Daggers stained with animal and human blood that were found at the site mutely testify to the sacrificial rituals conducted there. 

Similar changes occurred in the Chinese city of Taosi around 2,000 BCE, some 300 years after its founding. The palace was destroyed. Residential areas for commoners spread over almost the entire site, while commoners’ graves appeared in what had been a cemetery reserved for the elite.  

Another revolution took place around 300 BCE in the Mexican city of Teotihuacan. The Temple of the Feathered Serpent, where as at Çayönü human beings had been sacrificed, was vandalized and set on fire. Pyramid building came to a halt, replaced by a program to erect high-quality stone housing for the entire population. None of the artwork found at the site portrays figures of authority.

The discovery of previously unknown classless societies can only hearten socialists. We can now point to more examples of the ability of human beings to live together in equality – examples taken from various periods and regions.  

For further discussion of the book by Graeber and Wengrow, see The Socialist Standard, May 2022

Stephen Shenfield

1 comment:

Eric said...

"The Dawn of Everything" is a biased disingenuous account of human history (www.persuasion.community/p/a-flawed-history-of-humanity ) that spreads fake hope (the authors of "The Dawn" claim human history has not "progressed" in stages, or linearly, and must not end in inequality and hierarchy as with our current system... so there's hope for us now that it could get different/better again). As a result of this fake hope porn it has been widely praised. It conveniently serves the profoundly sick industrialized world of fakes and criminals. The book's dishonest fake grandiose title shows already that this work is a FOR-PROFIT, instead a FOR-TRUTH, endeavor geared at the (ignorant gullible) masses.

Fact is human history has "progressed" by and large in linear stages, especially since the dawn of agriculture (www.focaalblog.com/2021/12/22/chris-knight-wrong-about-almost-everything ). The book's alleged major "fundamental" insight is "the ultimate, hidden truth of the world is that it is something that we make, and could just as easily make differently" (the first part of that statement is hardly a great insight because a perceptive child can recognize that) YET fails to answer why we do NOT make it differently than it is now if we, supposedly can make it "EASILY" different, why we've been "stuck" in this destructive system for a very long time. THAT is really where "the ultimate, hidden truth" is buried and the answer is... it is because of the enduring hegemony of “The 2 Married Pink Elephants In The Historical Room” (www.rolf-hefti.com/covid-19-coronavirus.html ) which the fake hope-giving authors of "The Dawn" entirely ignore naturally (no one can write a legitimate human history without understanding the nature of humans)

A good example that one of the authors, Graeber, has no real idea what world we've been living in and about the nature of humans is his last brief article on Covid where his ignorance shines bright already at the title of his article, “After the Pandemic, We Can’t Go Back to Sleep.” Apparently he doesn't know that most people WANT to be asleep, and that they've been wanting that for thousands of years (and that's not the only ignorant notion in the title). Yet he (and his partner) is the sort of person who thinks he can teach you something authentically truthful about human history and whom you should be trusting along those terms. Ridiculous!

"The Dawn" is just another fantasy, or ideology, cloaked in a hue of cherry-picked "science," served lucratively to the gullible ignorant underclasses who crave myths and fairy tales.

"The evil, fake book of anthropology, “The Dawn of Everything,” ... just so happened to be the most marketed anthropology book ever. Hmmmmm." --- Unknown