Pre-Capitalist Modes of Production

Pre-Capitalist Modes of Production. In this Article we shall deal briefly with the origin, development and collapse of the primitive-communist, slave-owning and feudal modes of production.

1. Primitive-Communal Mode of Production:-

Life on earth began approximately 900 million years ago, while the first men emerged less than a million years ago. Here is how science explains the appearance of man on earth. A highly developed strain of apes dwelled wherever the climate was warm in various parts of Europe, Asia and Africa. In the course of a very long period of development man originated from these apes. The basic distinction of man from animal appeared when man began to manufacture tools of labour, at first very primitive ones.

With the manufacture of tools of labour there appeared human labour. Due to his labour the fore limbs of the ape gradually transformed into the arms of the man. As the arms and hands were freed for labour operations, man’s distant ancestors acquired an ever more upright gait. Once the simple tools of labour were manufactured, the need arose among primitive men to communicate with one another in labour, in the use of the tools of labour.

Articulate speech appeared. Labour and articulate speech exercised a determinate influence on the development of the brain. Consequently, it was labour that created man himself, and human society owes its origin and its development to labour.

The first socio-economic formation was the primitive communal system, which covered a period of many hundred years. It marked the rise of human society. At first men were in a semi-savage state, powerless against the forces of nature. They gathered nuts, wild fruits and berries, roots of plants, etc., living primarily on a vegetable diet.

Man’s first instruments were roughly chipped stones and sticks. Later, by slowly accumulating experience, people learnt to make the simplest tools for striking, cutting and digging.

The discovery of fire was of great importance for primitive people in the struggle with nature. Fire enabled them to bring variety into their diet. The invention of the bow and arrow was a new landmark on the road to improving the instruments of labour, to developing the productive forces of primitive society. So people began to hunt after wild beasts, the flesh of which formed an addition to their former food. The development of hunting led to primitive cattle-breeding. Hunters began to domesticate animals.

The rise of agriculture was a further great stride in the development of the productive forces. For a long time it remained extremely primitive. The use of cattle for drought purposes made agricultural labour more productive, and tillage acquired a firm basis. Primitive people began to adopt a settled mode of life.

In primitive society the relations of production were determined by the state of the productive forces. The basis of production relations was communal ownership of the primitive instruments of labour and of the means of production. Collective ownership corresponded to the level of development of the productive forces. The instruments of labour were so crude that primitive man was unable single-handed to struggle against the forces of nature and wild beasts. The people had to live together in communes and jointly conduct their economy (hunting, fishing and preparing food).

Side by side with the communal ownership of the means of production there was personal property. This took the form of the instruments of labour possessed by the individual members of the commune, who used them for defense against wild beasts.

In primitive society labour productivity was very low and yielded no surplus beyond the bare necessities of life. Labour was based on simple co-operation, many people doing identical work. There was no exploitation of man by man and the meagre supply of food was equally distributed among the members of the commune.

While man was still emerging from the animal world, people lived in herds. Subsequently, with the rise of joint economy the clan organization of society gradually came into existence, where only kinsmen could unite for common labour. At first the clan was a group consisting of not more than a few dozen kinsmen, but with the passage of time it reached several hundred. As the instruments of labour developed, a natural division of labour arose within the clan: between men and women, between adults, children and old people. The men began to occupy themselves mainly with hunting, while the women collected vegetable foods, and this led to a certain increase in labour productivity.

In the first stage of clan society the dominant role belonged to the woman. She collected vegetable food and kept the home. The clan was maternal or matriarchal. Subsequently, when cattle-breeding and tilling became the work of the men, matriarchy was replaced by patriarchy and the dominant role in the clan shifted to the male.

With the advance of cattle-breeding and agriculture there arose a social division of labour, where one section of society began to concentrate on agriculture and the other on livestock raising. The separation of animal husbandry from agriculture was the first major social division of labour in history.

This led to higher productivity. The primitive communes then found that they had too much of some products and not enough of others, The pastoral tribes and those engaged in tilling the soil began to exchange products. As time went on people learned to smelt metals~copper and tin (iron extraction was mastered later), and to make bronze instruments of labour, weapons and utensils; the invention of the hand-loom meant the production of textiles and clothing.

Consequently, some members of the commune began to concentrate entirely on their own particular craft, and the articles they made were increasingly exchanged for others.

With the growth of the productive forces, man’s labour productivity and his power over nature increased considerably, and he was able to satisfy his requirements more fully. But the new productive forces of society could no longer develop smoothly within the narrow framework of the existing relations of production. The restricted nature of communal ownership and equal distribution of the products of labour began to retard the development of the productive forces.

Joint labour became no longer essential and the need arose for individual labour. Whereas joint labour required collective ownership of the means of production, individual labour demanded private ownership. Private ownership of the means of production emerged, and with it inequality of property among the people both between the clans and also within the clan. There were now rich people and poor people.

With the further expansion of the productive forces, man began to produce more than was required for his own subsistence. In these conditions it became possible to use more workmen. They were obtained through warfare: captured prisoners became slaves. At first slavery was on patriarchal (domestic) lines, but later it became the basis of a new social system. Slave labour led to further inequality; households that used slaves grew rich quickly. In connection with the growing inequality in property, the rich began to enslave not only prisoners, but also any of their own fellow-tribesmen who had become impoverished or fallen into debt. There followed the first division of society into classes, the division into slave-owners and slaves. This was the beginning of the exploitation of man by man. From this period onward, up to the building of socialism, the whole history of mankind has been one of class struggle.

Growing inequality among people led to the establishment of the state as the organ for the suppression of the exploited class by that of the exploiters. Thus slavery grew up on the ruins of the primitive-communal mode of production.

2. The Slave Mode of Production:-

Slavery is the first, crudest and open form of exploitation in history. It has existed among almost all peoples.

The transition from primitive society to slavery was made possible by the further growth of the productive forces, the development of a social division of labour and exchange.

In primitive society stone implements of labour predominated, while in the epoch of slave society, after iron smelting was discovered, implements made of iron became prevalent. Iron tools broadened the framework of human labour. For instance, it became possible, using the iron axe, to clear the land of trees and undergrowth ready for ploughing; the wooden plough with an iron share could cultivate comparatively large plots of land. Agriculture began to supply people not only with bread and vegetables, but with wine and vegetable oils. The making of metal tools led to the appearance of a special group of workmen-handicrafts men, whose occupation became increasingly independent. Handicrafts became separated from agriculture. This was the second major social division of labour.

With the division of production into two basic branches, exchange of the products of labour developed. As exchange became a regular phenomenon, money made its appearance. Money became the universal commodity by which the value of all other commodities was measured and which served as an intermediary during commodity exchange. The growing division of labour and exchange gave rise to people who made a business of buying and selling commodities the merchants. The emergence of the merchants was the third major social division of labour. Taking advantage of the remoteness of the small producers from the markets, the merchants purchased their commodities at low prices and sold them to the consumers at higher prices.

The development of handicrafts and exchange led to the formation of towns. At first the town was hardly distinguishable from the village, but gradually the handicrafts and trade became concentrated in towns. This was the beginning of the separation of town from country.

The expansion of the productive forces and further social division of labour and exchange intensified property

inequality. Draught cattle, instruments of production and money accumulated in the hands of the rich. The poor, however,. became more impoverished and were more frequently compelled to turn to the rich for loans. Thus usury arose with its relations of debtor and creditor. The class struggles of the ancient world took the form chiefly of a contest between debtors and creditors, which in Rome ended in the ruin of the plebeian debtors. They were replaced by slaves.  A large-scale slave-owning economy made its appearance. The rich slave-owners acquired hundreds and even thousands. of slaves. They seized huge plots of land, forming vast estates with tremendous numbers of slaves working on them. In ancient Rome they were called latifundia.

The relations of production in slave society were based on the fact that the slave-owners possessed both the means of production (land, instruments of labour, etc.) and the people engaged in production, the slaves. The slave was regarded as a chattel, he was completely and solely at the disposal of his owner. The slave was known as the speaking tool. In the eyes of the slave-owners, the slave differed from the axe or ox only in the faculty of speech. In other respects he was as much the property of his master as the domestic animals, house, land and instruments of labour.

The exploitation of slaves assumed extremely cruel forms. They were treated much worse than cattle. They were driven to work with whips and were harshly punished or even killed for the slightest negligence. The owner was not held responsible for the killing of a slave. He appropriated the entire product of his labour. The slave was given just sufficient means of subsistence to save him from death by starvation and keep him working for the slave-owner.

On the basis of slave labour the ancient world achieved considerable improvement in economy and culture. Many branches of knowledge mathematics, astronomy, mechanics, architecture became considerably developed. The slaveowning mode of production, however, was a brake on the road of human progress, in spite of all it had accomplished as compared with the primitive-communal system.

The slave-owning mode of production contained deep and insuperable contradictions which led to its destruction. Above all the slave-owning form of exploitation constantly destroyed society’s basic productive force, namely, the slaves. The slaves frequently revolted against the harsh forms of exploitation. An uninterrupted influx of slaves was a condition of existence for slave-owning economy. Slaves were obtained through successful warfare against other states. The peasants and craftsmen were the backbone of the war machine, it was they who served as soldiers and yet bore the main burden of taxes essential for conducting wars. But as a result of the competition of large-scale production based on cheap slave labour, the peasants and craftsmen became ruined. This sapped the economic, political and military strength of the slave-owning states. Victories gave way to defeats. The source of the uninterrupted supply of cheap slaves dried up. All this brought about a general decline in production.

Universal impoverishment; decline of commerce, handicrafts, the arts, and of the population; decay of the towns; retrogression of agriculture to a lower state-this was the final result of Roman world supremacy.

When it first began, the slave mode of production contributed to the growth of the productive forces. But its further development, as we have seen, caused the destruction of the productive forces. The relations of production based on slave labour acted as a brake on the development of society’s productive forces. The labour of slaves, who were in no way interested in the results of production, had outlived itself. The historical necessity arose for the replacement of slave owning production relations by others, which would change the position of society’s main productive force-the slaves.

With the decline of the big latifundia based on slave labour, small households became more profitable. Thus, the numbers of freed slaves increased, and at the same time large estates became split up into small plots cultivated by colony. A colonus was no longer a slave; he was a tiller of the soil who, having been granted the use of a plot of land for life, was obliged to pay a sum of money or produce for it. He was not a free tenant; he was bound to his plot and could not leave it; he could be sold together with his plot. The coloni were the predecessors of the medieval serfs.

Thus, within the old slave system, the new feudal mode of production began to take shape.

As slave-owning economy developed, the class struggle of the enslaved masses against their oppressors became intensified. This struggle flared up as revolts of the slaves against the slave-owners. The ranks of the slaves were joined by free peasants and craftsmen who also were exploited by large landowners and the slave-owning state of the numerous uprisings of the slaves, that led by Spartacus (74-71 B.C.) was particularly significant. The blows from inside became more and more involved with the blows from outside, and this finally brought about the collapse of the slave system.

3. The Feudal Mode of Production:-

The feudal system has existed, with particular features of one kind or another, in almost all countries. The epoch of feudalism covers a long period. In China the feudal system existed for more than two thousand years. In the West-European countries feudalism spread over a number of centuries, from the fall of the Roman Empire (5th century) to the bourgeois revolutions in England (17th century) and in France (18th century). In Russia it lasted from the 9th century to the abolition of serfdom in 1861.

The production relations of feudal society were based on the private landed property of the feudal lords and their incomplete property rights over the serf. He was not a slave; he had his own holding. Besides the property of the feudal lords there was also the property of the peasants and craftsmen, namely, the instruments of production they owned and their private holdings, Small peasant economy and production by small independent craftsmen were based on personal labour, All production was primarily in kind, i.e. the products were mainly for consumption by the households, and not for exchange,

Large-scale feudal landed property was the basis for the exploitation of the peasants by the landlords. The feudal lord’s own demesne occupied part of the land. He allotted the other part on extortionate conditions for use by the peasants. The peasant holding was the means by which the landlord secured his labour force. With hereditary possession of his holding, the peasant was obliged to work for the landlord, either to till his soil, using his own implements and stock (labour-rent, or corvee), or else to give the feudal lord part of his product in kind (quit rent paid in produce) or to pay both kinds of ground-rent. This system of economy not only led to the unconcealed form of exploitation, but also inevitably made the peasant personally dependent on the landlord. The feudal lord could not kill a peasant, but he could sell him.

The serf’s working time was divided into necessary and surplus time. During the necessary time, the peasant created the product necessary for his own existence and that of his family. During the surplus time he created the surplus product which was appropriated by the feudal lord in the form of ground-rent (labour-rent, rent in kind and money rent). The exploitation of the peasants by the feudal lords in the form of ground-rent has been the main feature of feudalism among all peoples.

The towns, inhabited mainly by craftsmen and traders, were subject to the authority of the feudal lord on whose land the town was built. Townsmen fought for their freedom and often won their independence.

The growth of towns and the development of trade greatly influenced the feudal countryside. The economy of the feudal lords was drawn increasingly into market circulation. In order to buy luxuries the lords needed money. In this connection they began to transfer the peasants from labour-rent and rent in kind to money-rent. Feudal exploitation was further intensified with the transfer to money-rent, and the struggle between the feudal lords and the peasants became still more acute.

4. The Disintegration and Collapse of Feudalism. The Birth of Capitalist Relations Within the Feudal System:-

Under feudalism the productive forces reached a higher level than those under the slave system. Production technique in agriculture was improved; the iron plough and other iron instruments of labour were used more extensively. New branches of field cultivation arose; viticulture, wine-making and market-gardening developed considerably. There were improvements in livestock husbandry and its ancillary branches—butter and cheese production. Meadows and pastures were extended and improved.

Gradually the instruments of labour of the craftsmen and the methods of processing raw materials were improved. Crafts became specialized. In the course of time there appeared new crafts those of the armorer, nail-maker, knife maker, locksmith, shoemaker, saddle-maker and others. There were improvements in the smelting and processing of iron. The first blast-furnaces appeared in the 15th century. The great geographical discoveries date back to this period.

But the feudal system, in which new productive forces had already developed, acted as a brake on their further development; the productive forces clashed with the narrow framework of feudal production relations. The peasantry, under the yoke of feudal exploitation, was in no position to increase the output of agricultural produce, since the productivity of serf labour was exceedingly low. In town the increasing labour productivity of the craftsmen encountered obstacles set up by guild statutes and rules. All this required the abolition of the old relations of production and indicated the need to establish new relations free from the fetters of feudalism. Capitalist relations of production began to appear within the feudal system.

Further, simple commodity production, i.e., the production of articles for exchange, which was based on private ownership of the means of production and personal labour, gradually expanded. Commodity producers found themselves engaged in a fierce competitive struggle, which led to the division into rich and poor in both town and country. With the expansion of the market, the more or less big commodity producer would ever more frequently hire poverty-stricken peasants or craftsmen to work for him.

Capitalism developed also in another way. Merchant capital, as represented by the merchants, began directly to control production by the peasants and craftsmen. Merchant capital had first appeared as an intermediary in the exchange of the commodities of the small producers. Later merchants began the systematic buying up of commodities from the small producers, supplying them with raw materials and advancing money to them. In this way the small producers became economically dependent on the merchant. The next step taken by merchant capital was to bring together the scattered craftsmen under one roof, in a workshop, where they proceeded to work as wage-workers. Thus merchant capital became transformed into industrial capital and the merchant into the industrial capitalist.

Capitalism was also growing up in the countryside. With the development of commodity production the power of money increased. The peasants began to pay the feudal lords in money instead of in kind. The development of money relations gave an impetus to the differentiation of the peasantry into the rural bourgeoisie and the impoverished peasants.

Thus, capitalist production came into existence within the feudal system both in town and country. The abolition of feudalism became a historic necessity.

The entire history of feudalism was one of bitter class struggle between the peasants and the feudal lords; the struggle became especially acute towards the end of this epoch. Peasant revolts shook the foundations of the feudal system and led to its final collapse. The bourgeoisie headed the anti-feudal struggle and used the revolts of the serfs against the feudal lords in order to seize power and become the ruling class.