Capitalisms Last Frontier#15 Growing Diffusion & its Limits

We have traced the protohistory of political economy, looking at the origins of agriculture and settlement. We have a picture of villages with agricultural hinterlands, of agriculture requiring sedentism, for four reason, the need to sow, the need to reap, the need to defend crops as they grow, and fourthly and probably more importantly the need to grind grains and bake.

Of course with higher yields a potential for an agricultural surplus. This has two consequences, firstly enabling the expansion of population through expanding the calorific value that could be obtained from an area of land, and secondly the potential of an agricultural surplus if this was not taken up by expanded population. This surplus requires storage, thus reinforcing sedentism.

Humankind would would not expand its population in place to the extent it would overrun its food supply, as populations grew they expanded. As we found in the previous sections the greater numbers of agriculturalists, enjoying their food/energy efficiency advantage, created an advantage in numbers, if not health of individuals, over other hunter gatherers and proto- agriculturalists. These groups either had to retreat to the margins or innovate and defend their territory. In only a few thousand years agricultural sedentism would diffuse from the middle east across Eurasia, and during that period several other independent sources of agriculture grew up, such as in the Ethiopian highlands and in China.

But as these practices grew it would run up against margins of cultivation where local climate and soil made growing marginal or difficult. These edges included mountains, cold dry steppe and hot desert.

In these marginal lands humankind cannot utilise the plants that grow there, but animals can utilise them. Humankind cannot eat grass but goats and cattle can, and we can eat these animals and drink their milk. Such a survival strategy – pastoralism – or to be precise Nomadic Pastoralism – is much less energy efficient, can support lower populations per area of land, but it is the only viable survival strategy beyond the margin of cultivation.  So in these areas vegetarianism is not necessarily the most efficient energy strategy for humans, indeed vegetarians would starve.

How then did pastoralism begin. The Victorian concept was that it was a universal precursor to cultivation. This concept was held by Marx, and repeated by Engels in ‘The Origins of the Family, Private Property and The State’. We now know this to be untrue, as there early sites of cultivation have no records of goats or cattle domestication. This appears to be a later phenomenon.

Let us first consider the issue of animal domestication. Only 12 species of large animal have proven capable of domestication. One key factor leading favouring domestication in sedentary communities is the ability to live off food sources, such as grass or food waste, which humans cannot consume, otherwise domestic animals and humans would be competing in the same space for energy. (see  Diamond, Jared (1999). Guns, Germs, and Steel. New York: Norton Press which also lists other traits necessary for domestication).  The key domestications that led to food sources (unlike the earlier domestic of dogs which aided in hunting) were ,  goats, pigs, sheep, and cow, between 6-13,000BP, with cow domestication occurring last.  But domestication of goats and sheep appears to have occurred within hunter gatherer communities, as goats could travel within a nomadic group, hence creating a form of proto-pasoralism.  The wild boar, which became the domestic pig appears to have been first domesticated in the Tigris basin in a similar way to modern new guinea hunter gatherers. With pregnant females captured in the wild and piglets kept close to their tethered mothers.  With the growth of cereal crops more formal tending was needed to avoid competing from th esame food source.   (Ancestors for the pigs: pigs in prehistory Sarah M. Nelson, University of Pennsylvania. Museum Applied Science Center for Archaeology UPenn Museum of Archaeology, 1998).

Cattle domestication appears to have occurred from around 6-8,000 BP in several independent areas, with cattle descended from the now extinct Auroch.  It used to be thought that it was first domesticated as a beast of burden, but the archaeological evidence in the last 30 years seems to indicate that Cattle, like pigs, sheep and goats, were domesticated first as a source of meat, and that this domestication occurred first in sedentary cultivating communities.

Andrew Sherratt has developed his thesis of what he calls the the secondary products revolution, the realisation  animals also provided a number of other useful products other than meat and skin, such as manure, wool, meat and traction. This phase in agricultural development enabled humans to make use of the energy possibilities of their animals in new ways.  Sherratt even argues that  and permitted permanent intensive subsistence farming and crop production, and the opening up heavier soils for farming.  It certainly through ploughing allowed more intensive and externive cultivation, but it is going to far to suggest this triggered agriculture per-se.  (A. Sherratt, Plough and pastoralism: aspects of the secondary products revolution, in Pattern of the Past: Studies in honour of David Clarke, edited by I. Hodder, G. Isaac and N. Hammond (Cambridge University Press: Cambridge 1981), pp. 261–305.)

Deomestication made possible nomadic pastoralism.  During the younger dryas drying many of the farmers in the middle east were forced to leave, taking their domesticated animals with them, and distributing distribute these animals to the rest of Afroeurasia. This emigration was mainly on an east-west axis of similar climates, as crops usually have a narrow optimal climatic range outside of which they cannot grow.  Jared Diamond has postulated that this is why plant and animal domestication spread so quickly from the Fertile Crescent to the rest of Eurasia and North Africa.

As cultivators expanded they would have pushed against areas occupied by hunter-gatherers/proto-pastoralists some of whom with domesticated herds sheep and goats.  In marginal areas herding will have predominated over hunting and gathering.   Interaction with agriculturalists such as through trade/diffusion of innovation or the expansion of agriculturalists,  led to nomadic pastoralism.

To acquire enough forage, large distances have to be covered by herds, with larger hers requiring nomadism to avoid overexplotation of local grasses. This resulted in a higher labour requirement for animal tending and a divergence and specialism between sedentary cultivation and pastoralism  and specialization took place. Both developed alongside each other, with continuing interactions. (See Levy, T. E. (1983). Emergence of specialized pastoralism in the Levant. World Archaeology 15(1): 15-37. Hole, F. (1996). “The context of caprine domestication in the Zagros region'”. in The Origins and Spread of Agriculture and Pastoralism in Eurasia. D. R. Harris (ed.). London, University College of London: 263-281.)

Nomadism continued to exist  in symbiosis with such settled cultures trading animal products items not produced by the nomadic herders, with trade occurring across the margin of cultivation.  The margin of cultivation being the frontier between pastoral and agricultural ways of producing.

Capitalism’s Last Frontier#14 A Sedentary Life

Permanent human settlement (sedentism), lasting more than a season, requires local resources, both food and water, within easy walking distance of the settlement, available all year around.

The introduction of agriculture requires sedentism, but it is difficult to see how both could arise simultaneously. The intensification of gathering and gradual plant selection and intentional sowing requires some form of sedentism in the first instance.

Indeed we do find several such neolithic culture, notably the Natfian, which developed sedentism before agriculture and which shows the earliest clear evidence of permanent village settlement in the middle east. This culture existed in the Levant from around 13,500 to 10,500 BP. This culture had abundant natural resources and gathered wild grain. Although there villages show no evidence of storage there is some evidence for the deliberate cultivation of cereals, specifically rye from around 11,00BP. The Tell Abu Hureyra site, which is the site for earliest evidence of agriculture in the world. Another example is the Joam in Japan ( c. 13000 to 11000 BP with some evidence of rice cultivation late in this period).

There were of course villages before in the middle east but evidence from middens show that earlier villages were nomadic seasonal camps, showing evidence of trans-huminance amongst hunter gatherers. In a permanent settlement you need a site for rubbish close to but outside the settlement, a midden, to avoid a dangerous pile up of garbage, and the earliest we know we find in the Natafian culture.

There is even tantalisingly evidence of sedentism elsewhere in earlier interglacials, during the Upper Paleolithic in Moravia in Europe and on the Russian Plain already during the interval of c. 25000-17000 BC. We return then to the question of why in these periods agriculture did not develop? It would appear that the conditions in the middle east around 11,000 BP were ideal. Again we return to the issue of favourable local climatic conditions in the levant at the beginning of the Holcene.

Sedentism places a pressure on local resources, abundant local resources will lead to a rapid increase in population putting pressure on wild grains etc. This will have created pressure for more intense forms of growing, in due course leading to agriculture but only if conditions are favorable.

Ester Boserup’s Population Pressure view is that population growth is the major determining factor. Given rising population pressure, people invented agriculture life in order to feed themselves.

Today such a unicausal thesis is challenged. The discovery of multiple sites of sedentism before agriculture suggests that humankind lives in locations where population would have grown, but despite the pressures this caused this did not trigger agricultural innovation, as far as we know, until one such period in one region. This suggest that sedentary groups must have developed balanced equilibrium with the local environment. They live in a state of systemic balance where change is the exception rather than the rule. This keeps numbers below the carrying capacity of local food resources. “What will stimulate change in this static situation?”

The idea that agriculture developed as a conscious adaptation has also been challenged – the ‘paradigm of consciousness’ -by Davis Rindos. (The Origins of Agriculture: An Evolutionary Perspective David Rindos Academic Press 1984) . Evolutionary approaches, tracing the coeveolution of the development of plants and humans (as set out in the previous chapter) creates a systemic homeostasis which does not require conscious adaptation, rather gradual adaptation is a evolved response. However sudden change, such as climatic change, can force innovation, and those that don’t innovate will not survive.

Cuyler Smith & Philip Smith’s thesis accepts that population pressure was the causal factor for the emergence of domestication but climatically induced population growth around the beginning of the Holocene stimulated domestication then agriculture, initially in the sedentary zones of the Levant.

Lewis Binford and Kent Flannery extend this systemic approach by focussing on the relationship between population pressure, environment and subsistence strategies. There thesis is that population change forced migration into areas of less optimum food resources – the hilly flanks. This extension of, not yet fully a margin of cultivation but a margin of intensive gathering, into more marginal and less productive land. This overpopulation created systemic imbalance in areas where there were inadequate wild food resources for the expanded populations. The invention of agriculture occurred in these regions to recover systemic equilibrium at a different subsistence level.

This change may have been the brief onset of dryer conditions in the lower dryas, this would have meant that villages could maintain lower populations forcing migration.

A similar approach is found in the more recent work of Ofer Bar-Yosef and Anna Belfer-Cohen (JOURNAL OF WORLD PREHISTORY Volume 3, Number 4, 447-498, DOI: 10.1007/BF00975111). They trace groups who made changes in subsistence strategies, which, in the southern Levant, led to sedentism in base camps on edge (ecotone) of the Mediterranean woodland-parkland and the Irano-Turanian steppe.

The relatively cold and dry climate of the Lower Dryas of the eleventh millennium B.P. forced innovation to intensify cultivation. The early Holocene onset of wetter and warmer conditions favored the earliest Neolithic development of village life based on the cultivation of barley and legumes, and continued gathering of wild seeds and fruits and hunting.

Evidence suggest that nodamism continued in in a parallel fashion for several thousand years, until somewhat more sites turned to sedentism, and gradually agricultural sedentism.

Capitalism’s Last Frontier #13 Genesis of the Garden

Man the Cook

Alongside the development of plants was the evolution of cooking.

Richard Wrangham of Harvard University has persuasively argued that agriculture was only possible because of the development of cooking.  Cooking makes digestion easier and increases the energy recovered from food.  By freeing humans from having to spend half the day chewing tough raw food — as our primate relatives do — cooking allowed  humans to devote themselves to other activities.  The hypothesis is that cooking enabled increased hunting, which may have hastened extinction of big game.

He believes the advent of cooking permitted a new division of labor between men and women, although his explantions of patriarchy seem over-functionalist: Men entered into relationships to have someone to cook for them, initially enabling more time to be devoted to hunting. Women benefited from men’s protection, safeguarding their food from thieves. The humanity-defining notion that partners share what they find in the way of food. Cooking, he claims, made us human. “Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human

Plants and Humans Domesticate Each Other

As humankind developed technologies for intensification of gathering this set off co-evolutionary processes in plants.  For example humans selected grains whose stalks had failed to shatter and legumes which hadn’t exploded as these which were easiest to collect.  Even before cultivation by choosing and scattering these seeds humans caused a genetic change, from them on these plants could not survive without humans.  From the onset of intensive gathering mankind was driving evolution and not ebing driven by it.

Annual plants had evolved a variation in the rate of the germination of their seeds; this enabled them to survive harsh years.  Humans in sowing seeds in one season and then harvesting the first to sprout would lead to rapid evolution of early sprouting seeds and less variation in speed of germination.  The risk was then spread to humans of starvation in harsh years.

Humans would also of course select for other traits such as size, taste and digestibility.  Some crops such as olives were selected for their oil content, others such as hemp and cotton for their fibre’  Selection also removed poisonous qualities from plants such as cabbage and almonds.

Fruit and nut trees resisted domestication until around 5,000 BP because seed selected from desirable plants could not be relied upon to reproduce similarly desirable offspring. The discovery of propagation of cuttings overcame this problem in olives, figs, grapes and pomegranates. The development of grafting which originated in China enabled domestication of cherries, apples, pears, and plums.

Around places of human habitation a gradual genetic change and increased yield of many plants would have occurred.  Agriculture was not an overnight event, it would have evolved slowly, but quickened in periods where pressures lessened hunting and forced more intensive gathering.

Indeed bread, from the gathering of wild seed, is far older than agriculture, dating from the upper Paleolithic around 30,000 years ago.  However bread could not become a staple food until the invention of agriculture.  Consumption of cereal seed only increased toward the end of the Pleistocene, and humans did not develop storage pits and tools necessary for significant consumption of cereals until the Neolithic. Today, most humans receive two-thirds of their protein and calorie intake for cereal-derived foods like wheat, corn, rice, and barley. Bread was nutritious and light but required milling, preparation and baking, a fire and oven.  Increasing reliance on bread required a shift from camps and open campfires to houses, hearths and ovens.

Some groups could easily plant their seeds in open fields along river valleys, but others had forests blocking their farming land. In this context, humans used slash-and-burn agriculture to clear more land, and make it suitable for their plants and animals.

Over a period of several thousand years humankind became increasing reliant on agriculture and with the much greater yields from agriculture those tribes which had perfected new techniques would have enormous evolutionary advantages.  Efficient foraging also depended on mobility, while larger populations were more stationary and thus required a stable food source.  The population growth of those practising agriculture would lead to pulses of migration forcing back hunter-gatherers.

The evolutionary changes of plants constantly interact with evolutionary changes in animals in a process of co-evolution.  As flowering plants and insects evolved together so did domesticated plants and human society.

With greater yields a greater population could be supported and most importantly in good years a agricultural surplus could be generated and dry stored during winter.  Many gathered foods such as fruit are difficult to store for long periods and only with the fairly modern invention of pickling did this become possible.

High population densities leads to more intensification of farming, whereas increased hunting and gathering in one area can rapidly lead to depletion and extinction.

“Settled agriculturists can survive at higher population densities estimated to be ten to one hundred times greater than hunters-gatherers”

Domestication of Animals

The first animals to be domesticated were dogs (around 11,000 BP), probably as aids during hunting, especially chase and exhaustion hunting.

The  major domestic farm animals all come from europe sheep, goats and pigs were the first to be domesticated.Around 7000 BC cows were domesticated and began to be used in farm labour.

The Original Sin

Agriculture has been described as choosing “cheap calories at the cost of poor nutrition.”   Humans were greater in number but less healthy.  It was this force of numbers, and probably the development of larger raiding parties, the genesis of armies, that enabled the expansion of agriculturalists, and most likely set the conditions for the rise of warlords and later kings. Studies of various skeletal evidence indicate an increase in infectious diseases, malnutrition, and anaemia in early agricultural societies as compared to hunter-gatherers.

The proliferation of agriculture is a self-perpetuating. With rising population, agriculture is needed to produce greater amounts of food. As food production increases through agriculture, populations grow and the demand for food increases. Mankind has been in a race for over 11,000 years to increase food production more quickly than population, and so avoid mass starvation.

Capitalism’s Last Frontier #12 Triumph of the Planters

Prehistoric populations tended to grow rapidly to the carrying capacity set by the efficiency of the prevailing subsistence system for the climate and ecosystem.

In hunter gathering the amount of hunting that can be maintained is set by the surplus from gatering and the yield from hunting. As populations intensify big game is hunted to the level which cannot maintain hunting by big game specialists (Winterhalder and Lu).

This required a change in diet.  In part an increased consumption of small animals (Stiner et al) and an intensification of plant gathering which precedes agriculture proper

There was a dramatic increase in range of small topped and groundstone tools after 15,000 BP, reflecting the need to diversify hunting and gathering.   People only began to use the technologioes that underpinned agriculture only after 15,000 Bp (Bettinger 2000).  Many of the tools needed were similar, whether digging for tubers became the space and hoe, or cutting of crop became the synth.

Hunter gathering managed risk of yield variation, for example risk of a failed hunt, or of a storm disrupting gathering, through sharing. Human group living, the tribe or clan, indeed the family is a form of insurance against bad times.  The support of the group helped minimise risk of starvation for everyone.  Man did not emerge as a methodological individual but as a social animal.

The shift to agriculture involved an expanded strategy for coping with yield variation.  Multiple crops, a variety of fields, and development of alternative food sources, such as through contined but specialised hunting (such as fishing) and domestication of animals.

Although agriculture developed in the Near East in the early holocene about 9-11,000 BP. and then rapidly diffused to Western Asia, there were around 8-10 independent sources of agriculture, with China appearing to be an independent source about the same time.

The lead modern thesis is that climate change at the end of the last Glacial Age played a critical part.

The reduction in climate variability, increase in CO2 content of the atmosphere, and increases in rainfall rather abruptly changed the earth from a regime where agriculture was impossible everywhere to one where it was possible in many places. (Richerson, Boyd, & Bettinger 2001)

Population pressure theories (Cohen 1977) posit slowly accumulating global scale population pressure as responsible for origin of agriculture.

But as Richerson et al ask why not earlier, humans essentially modern 30, 000 years earlier.  Under their models Asia is filled up to its population carrying capacity from early agriculture in only 1,400 years.

The ending of the last ice age seems to provide an explanation, it could not have happened sooner.  What is more previous interglacials appear to have been short lived and highly variable, without several thousand years of steeled stable, warm, wet conditions encouraging increased plant gathering.

This sets out a potential, but what triggered the innovation?

With a human population living at low hunter gatherer densities and its food sources only able to sustain low population & pressure on population from declining hunting requiring increased plant gathering any improved method in plant intensification, either in terms of methods of proto-agriculture/intensified gathering or agriculture itself

The Buserup thesis states – any group that that can use land more effiiciently will, all things being equal, be able to evict a less efficient group.

‘An agricultural frontier will tend to expand at the expense of hunger gatherers as rising population densities on the farmer side of the frontier motivate pioneers to invest in acquiring land from less efficient users’

‘become richer through farming, or a dismal choice of flight, submission or military defence at long odds against a more numerous foe’. (Richerson, Boyd, & Bettinger 2001)

The ‘Africa pump’ allowed new wave of immigration out of africa by homo sapiens adapted to intensified huinting and gathering tactics in warmer latitudes.  A warming earth allowed their own frontier to extend northwards as reduction of steppe habitats drove megafauna south.  The result  extinction.  The extinction may have been most rapid in North America because man came from the north not south and so would have  required a greater proportion of meat in their diets and proportionately less on gathering/proto agriculture. The tools and techniques were more specialised for hunting.  But the success of the invasion of the Clovis people sealed their own fate as they destroyed their source of food so rapidly.

The rapid extinctions drove methane into the atmosphere and this increased warming, rapid feedback may have increased the rate of global warming and helped ensure that the non-glacial period was extended.  Man had helped create a climate window ensuring his rise to dominence.

Plant intensive communities as they became dominant could drive out hunter gatherers along an expanding margin of cultivation, as they could support much higher populations.  Individual hunter gatherers may have been better fed, but they were few.  Groups that had innovated because poor local conditions forced innovation or death at times of variabilty of food supply could then advance into better territory.

Robert Braidwoods Research, and modern geentic testing of wheats,  suggest that the slopes of the Zagros Mountains in South East Turkey were a key source of innovation spreading down to the dertile crescent (much wetter and fertile than it is today).

Around 11,000 years ago hunter gatherers were collecting wild seeds, probably the ancestors of Wheat and Barley, and were hunting the ancestors of sheep and goats, by 9000 BP they were settled in villages and were cultivating early varieties of Wheat and Barley. There is evidence from several part of the world of settlement prior to agriculture, but only where intensification of plant gathering made nomadic hunting and gathering unnecessary.

How then were seeds and animals brought into the domestic sphere.  The key is understanding the co-evolution of those plants and animals and humans.

Capitalism’s Last Frontier #11 Out of Eden

Until the Holocene all modern-humans were hunter gatherers.  Modern remaining  hunter-gatherer societies give us some insights but caution is needed.  They have been confined to the most inhospitable and inaccessible regions through competition with agriculturalists and few ‘pure’ hunter gatherer societies remain, most combining some forms of plant rearing and animal husbandry.

In these communities gathering, mainly by women, predominates over hunting, a some what hit and miss affair encouraging feasting when it succeeds.  Their diet is extremely diverse and thereby balanced, between 3,000 and 5,000 plants were gathered as food in North America.

In the  Pleistocene hostile climatic conditions, and in the early Plesistocene abundant maegafauna in temperate regions must have encouraged hunting.

Megafauna tend to have great longevity, slow population growth rates, low death rates, and no or few  natural predators capable of killing adults. This makes them vulnerable to  human over-exploitation.  In modern times there has been many mega-fauna extinctions as man has colonised islands.  But the hypothesis of the march of man causing extinctions is less clear in  Africa and Southern Asia.  The extinction pulse near the end of the Pleistocene was but one of a series of megafaunal extinction pulses that have occurred during the last 50,000 years, with Africa and southern Asia being largely spared.

These areas correspeonded to the areas where humans first evolved.   They may have been coevolution of the megafauna of Asia and Africa evolving with humans, and so learning to be wary of them, as well as a classic predator-prey interaction leading to man and prey keeping in balance.  Such a balance could be violently shifted by the invention of more specialised hunting tools in the middle stone age, but the survival of megafauna in Africa, and Southern Asia to a lesser degree suggests that the predator-prey balance remained, although man is highly adaptable in his food source he is not constrained by the predator-prey balance if their are multiple species to hunt.

The specialisation of hunting technologies appears to have been prompted by the spread of man across the earth requiring hunting tools adapted to local ecosystems, in these areas where magafauna was less accustomed to man  the wildlife was likley to be ecologically naive, especially on islands, and easy to hunt.

The hunting-overkill hypothesis, popularised by Jared Diamond and by Paul S Martin, is that that humans hunted megaherbavores to extinction. As a consequence, carnivores and scavengers that depended upon those animals became extinct from lack of prey.  Other argue that the increase in trees after the end of glaciation reduced habitate for maegafauana such as Mammoths, of course reduced habitat can reduce the range of animals making them vulnerable to hunting.

The close correlation in time between the appearance of humans in an area and extinction there provides  some backing. The megafaunal extinctions covered a vast period of time and highly variable climatic situations, suggesting that climate change alone could not have been the cause. the only common factor is the arrival of humans.  The scale of extinction in North America, appears to be closely  linked to the first colonisation by humans, 80% of the North American large mammal species disappeared within 1000 years of the arrival of humans in the Americas.  Bison were not survivors, they arrived from Eurasia only 240,000 years ago.

This rapid extinction in North America, and the subsequent loss of methane from the atmosphere, may have contributed to a rapid return to glacial conditions in the higher latitudes of the Northern Hemisphere between 12.9–11.5 years ago, an event known as the Younger Dryas and which led to the temporary advance of glaciation and the return to dryer conditions.

Work by David Nogues-Bravo and colleagues has used  mathematical modelling to separate the two hunting and climate change factors affecting the extinction of mammoths. The results show that the mammoth suffered a catastrophic loss of habitat, with the species 6,000 years ago relegated to 10% of the habitat available to it 42,000 years ago (when the glaciers were at their biggest). But things were much worse for the mammoth 126,000 years ago when globally high temperatures restricted its habitat even more than at 6,000 years ago. At both of these times, the climate-related habitat loss would have forced the species to the brink of extinction. However  6,000 years ago was that the mammoth also faced evolutionarily modern humans.

The advance of man into temperate climates and subsequent extinctions of the main source of prey had several adaptive effects.  Firstly it would have led to more competition for resources and an ever further advance and specialisation of hinting to find new sources of protean.  Secondly it would undoubtedly have restricted growth of human populations and probably led to the extinction of human sub-species most adapted for hunting of mega fauna – including Neanderthal man.  Thirdly it would have prompted alternative food strategies by humans, including domestication of animals and ultimately the development of agriculture.

Capitalism’s Last Frontier #10 The Blessing of the Rains

Ideas on the climate during the end of the last glacial age (the era between the Pleistocene the modern Holecene era the last 11,000 years) and have been central to different theories on the origins of agriculture.

In the last glacial age the earth was dry. During the Last Glacial Maximum the Sahara desert was much larger than today extending into areas today covered by tropical forests. The waxing and waning of the Sahara provides the basis of the ‘Sahara Pump‘ theory of how during harsh times it drove waves of emigration ‘Out of Africa’ including of course Man.

Vast stocks of the earth’s water was trapped in ice during glacial ages. Furthermore permafrost locked up much of the earths CO2 in terms of frozen vegetation and gases from the previous interglacial.  These two factors meant that the earth was not as lush a place as it is today.  Lack of rain and CO2, and sharp changes in climate over short time periods.  restricted the pattern of growth of vegetation, especially at the termperate fringes most conducive to easy habitation today.  Steppe tundra dominated latitudes away from the tropics, covering much larger areas than today.   Intense sunlight during summers and loess soils encouraged mosses, lichens, grasses, and low shrubs that fed mammoths, horses, bison, giant deer, aurochs and reindeer.  Such plants were less suited to the stomachs of humans who evolved to eat berries and meat on the savannah and forest edge.  So man was forced to hunt magafauna and gather what berries and edible plants they could at temperate latitudes.

As the ice retreated the earth became an increasingly lush, and wet planet with greater humidity and CO2. The earth quite literally became a greenhouse leading to increased potential for plant growth – we call these phases pluvial periods. During the Pleistocene, CO2 levels were less than 200 parts per million, this rose to above 250 ppm as the earth pulled out of the glacial age. This may have increased plant productivity by up to fifty percent

This scenario, derived from modern data from ice and ocean cores, is the precise opposite to the ‘Oasis Theory’ (V.G.Childe) of the origins of agriculture, of the post glacial period being dry with humans and animals forced into contact around retreating sources of water. It also challenges the ‘Tuber Theory’ that these conditions favoured annual plants which die off in the long dry season, leaving a dormant seed or tuber. These plants put more energy into producing seeds than into woody growth.

These ideas are more applicable to dry periods, starting around 3,900 BC, when the ‘Green Sahara’ subsided and deserts advanced. Climate change at this time may help explain the origins of civilisation, but not the origins of agriculture which best estimates show occurred during a pluvial period at the beginning of the Holcene.

We tend to discuss a ‘neolithic revolution’ – a transition from hunting and gathering to agriculture and settlement during the Neolithic (New Stone Age) period.  Whilst not disputing the revolutionary changes that occurred in this period the term ‘neolithic revolution’ can confuse the issues.  It is important to look at the relationship and different pressures and paces of the different but related transitions, from hunting and gathering to cultivation and domestication of animals, from nomadism to settlement.  The problem with the catch all phrase the ‘neolithic revolution’ is that it can easily lead to a caricature of before the revolution hunting and gathering after agriculture and settlement.

To such a sudden shift of all social relations and ways of subsistence one would have to ask why would people choose to undertake such a change, some have argued that it is by no means obvious that such a shift had obvious benefits – indeed Jared Diamond has called it ‘The Worst Mistake in the History of the Human Race’.  We are wrong if we assume that the change from hunter gathering to farming bought an improvement in the quality of the human life or in the humans themselves. Skeletal evidence reveals that hunter gatherers were in fact, taller, better nourished, suffered less disease and lived longer than farmers. The gathering of wild grains produces more calories of food for each calorie of energy invested than any form of agriculture. Settled agriculturists can survive at higher population densities estimated to be 10-100 times greater than hunter-gatherers.  So the question is what population pressures and pressures for resources led to higher population densities requiring agriculture.

The ‘worst mistake’ conceptualisation I believe is wrong but understanding why you need to unpick the separate strands, why for example there were a transition to pastoral nomadism, rather than settled agrarianism, in some areas, and what are the connections between the origins of agriculture and the origins of settlement?

The term ‘neolithic revolution’ (again a phrase from  Vere Gordon Childe in the 1920s) also confuses the key changes we believe began during the beginning of the  Holecene era  (which began at the end of the last glacial age around 11,700 years ago) from those that fully evolved during the Meolithic (Middle Stone Age 10,000 years ago, to around 6,000 years ago), and into the Neolithic that followed.  Rather than a single revolution there were a series of changes which helped trigger each other and came to fruition in the Neolithic.  By the Neolithic only one of the several sub-species of humans has survived.

Humans in many different areas of the earth took up farming in what is, set against the 500,000 year age span of modern humans, a very short time.  There may even have been independent discovery in some regions. This is the most compelling evidence that global climate change, and the resultant adaptations by vegetation, were the key trigger to the beginning of agriculture.

Peter Richerson, Robert Boyd, and Robert Bettinger. have advanced the thesis that agriculture was impossible during the pleistocene but mandatory during the Holocene “Was Agriculture Impossible during the Pleistocene but Mandatory during the Holocene?“. ( Richerson, Peter J.; et al. (2001) American Antiquity 66 (3): 387–411)) This hypothesis has been widely popularised in Ronald Wrigtht’s Book ‘A Short History of Progress‘.

I believe this thesis to be essentially correct but incomplete.  It needs to be underpinned it needs to be underpinned by a hard nosed understanding of pressure on resources and demographic and technological change, and in particular a parallel analysis of the origins of social control and political power.  In other words reconstructing political economy from the origins of human societies.

Capitalisms Last Frontier# 9 First Seeds

Archaeology is both a study of prehistory and of methods used in that quest which can apply to all periods.  Writing forces the break into history, but oral history provides the tales that lead us further back to the origins of social forms.

The ending of the last glacial age with the ebbing of ice only around 8-11,000 years ago provides the key break in pre-history, but what kind of break?  Before then most of Northern Europe was covered by ice and southern Europe was tundra.  For 100,000 years man lived on a frontier of ice.    Huge seasonal  melts and retreats would feed gaint rivers fed by lakes blocked against the ice.  One such river is believed to have carved the English Channel.

The awakening of areas such Yellowstone National Park in Spring, and the migration of Caribou in tundra in Spring gives us a clue to the patterns of migration that must have taken place along these rivers.  This Pleistocene environment was ideal for megafauna – then large mammals, which need very large areas to roam and feed, and it was ideal to for their following hunters man.  Humans had spread all over the ice free world in the late Pleistocene.

Early hunting, we now believe, was of the chase hunting form, as well see in Bushmen today, where animals were chased until they were exhausted.  This may explain the shift to bipedalism  and the loss of hair in warmer climates.  Hunting was combined with gathering as ancestral mans way of subsistence.  With the creation of tools came the first ways of production.

A tool is specialised to the creature being hunted and with the first tools came the first division of labour.  Indeed the first territorial division of labour as mankind specialised in hunting different animals, we believe in the Middle to Upper Paleolithic period, some 80,000 to 70,000 years ago.

We use the term behavioural modernity to describe the tool using, culture spreading, symbol using, man, a creative which developed language.  We know stone tools were first used, practically to skin hides.  But progress was slow for 10s of thousands of years.  We still argue whether there was a ‘great leap forward’ to use Jared Diamond’s phrase  in the late paleaolithic which led to language and the ability to shape more advanced tools and explain to fellow humans and the complex hunting tactics required of specialised tool use, other hold that it was one of continuity rather than a sudden break.

We are more sure today that it wasn’t a sudden evolutionary spark which triggered this.  Anatomically modern humans have been found to 160,000 years ago.  But even if it were population change and environmental pressures are most likely to have triggered evolution, whether biological or social.

The ability to use tools well in an early human tribe would have given them an advantage.  But a cursed one because the hunting of megafauna rapidly depopulates the hunted species.  We are aware of mass extinctions of large mammals throughout this period, continuing into the modern age with the extinction of Aurouc and the Irish Elk.

A highly successful group would have expanded in population but would have required a larger range, either a group would settle down into an equilibrium with its hunted prey, as in any predator prey model, or if pressures for food were strong it could use its knowledge of tools as a weapon of war to advance on its neighbours territory.  The social mixing would also have driven communication, as advances in  territory and distance encouraged the babel of language division.

Hunter-gathering was successful as long as a tribe could specialise its hunting to take advantage of a geographically specific form of protean whilst its long term success depended on not over-exploiting that resource.

Around 10,000 years ago, as the last glaciation was well in retreat, occurred a split from pre-history to proto-history – the age of agriculture, probably the greatest technological leap forward for mankind,  With hunting tools mankind was still just a more deadly ape, one that could kill better.  Agriculture was a technology of life.

In the next section Ill look at how this might have begun and what this tells us about the proto-history of political economy.

Capitalism Last Frontier #8 The Oriental Caricature

The social sciences grew up seeing history through the lens of classicism. In medieval times and the renaissance the classics offered a glimpse of lost civilisation which could be recovered – and of a dark other, the barbarian east, a despotism defeated and supplanted.

Without repeating Edward Said’s implicit assumption that in Orientalism (1978) that every word of European 18th-20th C writing on non-European civilisation was dripping with racism and Eurocentrism, we have learned to be much more circumspect about european theories about pre-capitalist and non-capitalist societies.

Those totemic theorists of history and society, Weber and Marx have been no less afflicted by their treatment of such societies viewed from lack of first hand experience of travel outside Europe and subsequent reliance on travellers tails and loaded histories.

The chapter on “precapitalist economic formations” in the Grundrisse (1857-1858) inserted the Asiatic mode of production into Marx’s theory of stages of social development.

This stage followed “primitive communism.” Marx overlapped the Asiatic mode of production with slavery and feudalism as two other, successive precapitalist ways of producing.

The concept of the Asiatic mode of production has been the most controversial of Marx’s historical modes, and subject of much discussion amongst both Marxian and non-Marxian scholars.

The concept centres on the thesis of highly dominant states ruling from central cities, with a monopoly of land ownership, controlling irrigation and ruling over peasant populations, living in autonomous village communities and with a limited aristocracy and limited private ownership of land.   The states dominance was enforced by powerful armed forces who extracted tribute in the form of agricultural surplus, but which otherwise left autonomous communes be.  Such civilisations were ossified lacking vitality and independent economic life, i.e. the presumed requirements for the emergence of industrial capitalism.

Much of the controversy is over whether it is sufficiently distinctive from Feudalism to be called a separate ‘mode’. Certainly there were societies very similar to European Feudalism, such as Japan, and China and India, have had clearly defined aristocracies, and private ownership of land, throughout much of their histories.  At different times outside Europe we have had phases of strong states and strong aristocratic warlords interceding, of dispersed extraction of agricultural surplus and of centralised extraction by by emperors and armies.

From todays perspective the concept of the Asiatic mode of production looks like a Victorian fancy, fitting a reality to a theory.  One problem is Marx’s dead to fill the archaic gap.  Pre-civilisation village communities and fuedalism, seen from a european perspective were fairly easy to categorise as modes of production, but what of in-between.  The archaeic gap was much harder and the classical world of Greece and Rome seemed different from the empires of the East.  We might categorise the term ‘Asiatic’ as attempting to fill that gap and the descriptions of its main driving features designed to explain how it differed from the the Classical world.

In the next section i’ll look at how central the prevlanence of slavery was in Marx’s conception of the Classical World.  Other explanations were needed to explain the extraction of a surplus in societies without large land owning aristocracies. A powerful State and associated army filled that gap.  But what explained the  prevalence of a powerful State, or its absence, or the prevalence or otherwise of slavery?

For the earliest civilisations some historians have sought to showw clear patters.  The  first civilizations in history, such as Mesopotamia, Ancient Egypt, Sri Lanka, , China and pre-Columbian Mexico and Peru, are believed to have been empires of massive systems of irrigation.Most such empires existed in regions that were or bordered semi-arid areas or, as in the case of imperial China had irrigation requires due to the needs of rice cultivation and the need to control annual flooding.

Max Weber referred to China and India’s “hydraulic-bureaucratic official-state” – his study based on sources on the Chinese Qing Dynasty, this being an 17th-20th century not ancient example, and certainty shaped by contact with mercantile capital and European empire.  Indeed for Marx too China served as the archetype of despotism, although his writings on China were confined almost exclusively to commentaries on British Foreign Policy of the 1850s and Chinas resistance to imperialism.

The German American historian Karl August Wittfogel (1896–1988), in Oriental Despotism (1957), developed a theory of Asiatic civilisations based in equal part on Weber and Marx.  In his theory a  developed “hydraulic civilization” maintains social  control through of controlling the supply of water. Despite the term ‘oriental despotism’ such hydraulic civilisations were neither all located in the Orient nor characteristic of all Oriental societies, Wittfogel’s reasoning was that irrigating land raises productivity, but also creates the tedium of settlement, bureaucracy, public works schemes and so forth.

Wittfogels attempted rejuvenation of the theory of an asiatic mode of production was in part a barely coded critique of Stalin. Stalin codified a rigid, mechanical succession of modes of production, with Soviet Russia as the highest state. Wittfogels held a less rigid view and showed the uncomfortable similarity between the Asiatic Mode of Production and the reality of Stalin’s Russia.   For Wittfogel the application of bureaucratic and dominant state forms could see history shift backwards.

Barry Hindess and Paul Hirst in Precapitalist Modes of Production (1975) insist that surplus labour in one form or another is a persistent feature, more a “necessary condition” of all societies. However the means by which it is produced and appropriated vary widely.  They rightly observe that Marxism was an attempt at a theory of Capitalism, not a theory of  all historical modes of production or of world social history.  They deny the teleology of one mode of production inevitably following another.  But there 400 page book is little more than a catalogue of Marxist categories and description of their weakness.  One must wonder what was the point of such an organising system in the first place.  Hindess and Hirst attempt to distinguish between these different forms.  For them a division of labour that posits a class of non-labourers is characterised by the existence of the political form of a state, the state cannot be presupposed, as a social relation it exists for a reason.

If then the formation of a powerful state is essential in creating pre-capitalist ways of producing, as we have found it was in the formation of property and the creation of landless wage labour, what is distinctively Marxist about this?  The means of social control seem determinate – the key anarchist theoretical concept – and not the means of production – the key Marxian concept.

The simplistic characatures of pre-capitalism derives from these  ‘Horrible Histories’ conceptions of ‘Modes of Production’.  The factors which are central and the directions of causations are legion, as are the counterexamples from the original ‘asiatic’ stereotype.

The most the great C13 medieval Persian, Afghan and Turkestan cities were most reliant on irrigation, but had complex and varied  complex systems of commodity production and large factories producing metalware, ceramics, carpets etc, with the mosque providing financial intermediation.

Without the shackles of prior categories of society we shall look at the origins of state, agriculture, water technologies and surplus.

Capitalisms Last Frontier #7 The Steppe Frontier – The Genesis of Empires

The concept of the Steppe Frontier has been introduced in a highly discussed work in 2009 by Ecologist Peter Turchin called ‘A Theory for the Formation of Large Empires’. His concept of the ‘Steppe Frontier’ has two fundamental presumptions.

First, there is a steep gradient in average rainfall. The well-watered side of the ecological frontier is inhabited by settled agriculturalists, while pastoral nomads occupy the arid zone. Second, pastoralist nomads have both the incentive and ability to take agricultural products away from farmers by force.

This ecological frontier is of course the global margin of cultivation between arid and pastoral regions. Turchin, as a Russian, uses the old term Steppe Frontier which holds the same importance in Russia as the term Western Frontier in America, it is clear from his context however that Turchin is really referring to a pastorial frontier, between pastoralism and semi-arid or arid regions of several biotypes.

The theory arises from the tendency for  large empires to arise at interfaces between settled and nomadic societies.

Turchin gives as an example the recurrent state formation in East Asia: China has been unified 14 time, and on all but one occasion the unification proceeded from North (and most frequently, Northwest) towards South. Simultaneously, a series of nomadic imperial confederations arose on the steppe side of the Inner Asian nomad/settled frontier. According to his analysus over 90% of megaempires arose within or next to the Old World’s arid belt, running from the Sahara desert to the Gobi desert.

The idea of the model is that the inequality  in military power between the mounted archers and the farmers puts farming communities under selective pressure to unite to better resist the predation from the steppe. In turn, the nomads are forced to unite to be able to overcome the defenses of the emerging agrarian states. The scale of empire on both sides of the steppe frontier mutually increase.

This theory is attractive for a number of reasons. It does not rely on preconceptions of ‘oriental’ civilisations, rather focussing on the mutual dynamics of changing societies at the edge of the margin of cultivation.  These preconceptions, with their assumptions of inherent ‘despotism’ and ‘backwardness’ have hindered several centuries of historical theorising about pre-capitalist civilisations – in particular conceptions of Hydralic States in Weber, Oriental Despotism in Marx and their unification in  Wittfogels conception of Hydralic Civilisation (a future section will deal with these ideas). It also might help explain the centrality of Mesopotamia, with arid frontiers on two sides.

Peter Turchin has helped launch a new field – derived from applying ideas from population dynamics to the dynamics of history.  The field is called cliodynamics.   A deliberate play, and deliberate threat, on the field of Clionomics, the application of otrthodox ideas of neo-classical economics to history.

The expansion of turf is doubly interesting in that it was the extension of older ideas of population and subsistence into explanations of society, pioneered by the likes of Cantillon, Mathus and Ricardo, which defined the sphere of political economy.  We are now seeing a new extension but built on new and more robust mathematical foundations.

As Turchin says on his website

Are there ‘laws of history’? We do not lack hypotheses to investigate – to take just one instance, more than two hundred explanations have been proposed for why the Roman Empire fell. But we still don’t know which of these hypotheses are plausible, and which should be rejected. More importantly, there is no consensus on what general mechanisms explain the collapse of historical empires. What is needed is a systematic application of the scientific method to history: verbal theories should be translated into mathematical models, precise predictions derived, and then rigorously tested on empirical material. In short, history needs to become an analytical, predictive science.

This is audacious as this the very ground on which materialist concepts of history, especially Marxian conceptions, call their own. But in utilising the tools of systems dynamics, unavailable in the 18th or 19th centuries causation can be seen as complex and multidirectional, with processes of positive and negative feedback, hysteresis homoeostasis and non-linear relationships.

This embrace of complexity is of especial relevance when considering the relationship between state power, violence, means of social control and economic gain. It avoids the problems of the marxian base-superstructure model, which as we saw in the last section has the fatal flaw of being unable to explain the rise of capitalism and persistence of pre-capitalist ways of producing. But importantly it does not lose the focus on the physical and environmental, on subsistence and flows of actual things. A focus often lost in the many post-everything models which focus on systems of power and ideas unachored in the threat of hunger or death.

The Cliodynamics approach is clearly an outgrowth of the World Systems approach of Immanueal Wallerstein and the French Annales School. The assumptions of multiple paths of evolutionary development, the focus on trans and international relations and interfaces, and the focus on long-term processes and geo-ecological regions as unit of analysis all come from these approachs. The world systems approach has however been hesitant to describe itself as a theory.The reason surely is its origins as an outgrowth from marxian ideas. A very heterodox approach to explain what was poorly explained and what could not be explained by Marx’s ideas.

If we have a hint of a better and more universal systemic approach towards political economy and historical change then we need to press such approaches into service in helping to answer the big unaswered questions of history, of why some societies have collapsed, or thrived, and what it tells us about the future of our own society.

Capitalisms Last Frontier #6 Accumulation by Dissposession

The term ‘primitive accumulation’ has become central to discussions on the origins of capitalism

“the accumulation of stock must, in the nature of things, be previous to the division of labour”
(Smith 1776, II.3, p. 277).

Marx translated Smith’s word, “previous,” as “ursprunglich” , and in the hands of Marx’s English translators, it became in turn,  “primitive.”

This conception Smith took from Steuart, but denuded of the process of dispossession and spatial reallocation of labour that he witnessed and advocated. For Smith it just happened, a relic from a mysterious past.

Division of labour alone of course happens even in insect societies. But elsewhere Smith ties it with the appropriation of land. In book I of Wealth of Nations

In that original state of things, which precedes both the appropriation of land and the accumulation of stock, the whole produce of labour belongs to the labourer. He has neither landlord nor master to share with him.
…But this original state of things, in which the labourer enjoyed the whole produce of his own labour, could not last beyond the first introduction of the appropriation of land and the accumulation of stock.

Smith does not have a historic explanation of the appropriation of land. It would appear he accepted a Humean rather than a Lockean theory of the origin of property, believing it deriving from prior conception of justice in that idealised prior state beloved of philosophers of the period, rather than as Locke believed it deriving from an original melding of man with land. Steuart’s actual physical acts of state enforced dispossession and starvation did not fit within this framework.

Smith, though a radical and egalitarian for his time, was keen to stress a future of peaceful trade and markets benefiting all humanity, and one that made unnecessary the previous mercantalist concept of wealth acquisition as conquest of booty and enforcement of monopoly. One where the State would play a back seat to the free market.

Therefore Steuart’s conception of state enforced capitalism was an embarressment. One Marx tellingly would call capitalism’s ‘original sin’

Marx held a variety of views on the process of primitive accumulation at different stages in his writings. In Grundisse he held a very hegelian concept of capitalism emerging from fudealism.

In CAPITAL his approach was more one of economic history, of how over a number of centuries, the capitalist economy emerges from the feudal economic system, and where workers are forced into wage slavery.

The different moments of primitive accumulation can be assigned in particular to Spain, Portugal, Holland, France and England, in more of less chronological order. These different moments are systematically combined together at the end of the seventeenth century in England.

In his later writings on Russia however Marx moves away from the unilinear approach of capital, denying in his 1877 letter to Mikhailovsky letter that he implied.

“a  historico-philosophical theory of the general course fatally imposed on all peoples, whatever the historical circumstances in which they find themselves placed.”

James White (1996) states that this Statement  “imposed retrospectively on CAPITAL an interpretation completely at variance with the spirit in which it was conceived.”  It is clear that some of the criticims of CAPITAL were getting to him.

Unpicking this approach for Marx the capitalist economy existed alongside feudal systems for centuries, before it became what Marx termed a ‘mode of production’. Unfortunately Marx did not give a concise definition of ‘mode of production – ‘in German: Produktionsweise, meaning ‘the way of producing,   and by implication what made a capitalist ‘way of producing’ distinctive from previous ways.  Being definitive about this is of central importance in describing economic change.

The question ‘what is capitalism’ is often posed in terms of the assumption that capitalism is total.  A mode of production dominant in the place to which the question is referred to.    But capitalism is one of many ways of producing that has existed alongside others for centuries, as it still does today.

We could explain capitalism as a system of means of production and social relations, as Marx does, that create mutually reinforcing subsystems that drive forward the accumulation of wealth and are driven by the profit motive.

But this approach is only useful where capitalism is the dominant way.  If certain social relations or means of production are missing then which ones are the most important, in what order did they need to be introduced, and how could they have been introduced from previous ways of producing when in those societies the profit motive wasn’t dominant and may even have been disapproved of?

The problem is twofold, we can describe a capitalist system, which might exist alongside other ways of producing, or we can describe a capitalist society where capitalist systems are dominant through the economy.  The term ‘mode of production’ can be used to describe one but not both or we are committing a category error.

The second problem is related, Marx may have considered he did not need to describe separate categories because of the Hegelian nature of his philosophy.  That one mode of production will emerge from the previous mode and supplant it.

But this approach is essentialist and teleological if it does not explain how one way of producing had advantages which led it to supplant another, and conversely had disadvantages which may have led it to be overshadowed or supplanted in the particular economic and social context of the time.

Rather than a Hegelain concept of political economy we need an evolutionary one.

The materialist concept of history of Marx contends as an evolutionary driver, but this has leverage only if materialistic social relations are dominant in society.  When it is economic, change from agents seeking greater material gain is self-reinforcing.  But when it is not then the introduction of such social relations can only be enforced by coercion, or by non-material means.

Again we have the bootstrap problem, Marxian analysis through a materialist conception of history can explain changes within a capitalist social system but not how capitalism itself arrived.  Marx was forced to look outside his base determines superstructure model, as ‘primitive accumulation’  implies that at its origins the social coercion and the state (superstructure in Marxian terms) determined economic relations.

Marx himself is not consistent in describing primitive accumulation, as Perelmen sets out in his magisterial ‘Origins of Capitalism’

the presentation in Capital still does suggest a temporal cleavage between the initial moment of primitive accumulation, when capitalists accumulated by virtue of direct force, and the era of capitalist accumulation, when capitalists accumulated surplus value in the market. This dichotomy might appeal to our common sense; however, it is itself rather a historical.

… at some times, Marx’s analysis of primitive accumulation sometimes seems to be a process that ceased with the establishment of capitalism. At other times, it seems to be more of an ongoing process.

Marx himself, referring to the institutions of Mexico, insisted that “[t]he nature of capital remains the same in its developed as in its undeveloped forms” (Marx 1976, p. 400n).

Thinkers since Marx, including those writing in a Marxian tradition, have moved away from the unilinear stages approach.

For example for Ernest Mandel primitive accumulation is part of the uneven and combined development of capitalism on a world scale. As expansion of markets, and expropriation of peasants is going on all the time, primitive accumulation is also a process which happens all the time. The focus is a global one rather than looking at a particular phase of European history.

David Harvey in his 2003 book, “The New Imperialism” builds on Mandels ideas and introduces the concept of accumulation by dispossession. A continuing process within the process of capital accumulation on a world scale. He links this to an approach we will look at in future chapters, the idea from Rosa Luxembourg that expansion of capitalism is necessary to resolve crises of overaccumulation. However we dont need such a concept to explain accumulation by dispossession, the availably of resources by seizure, rent free, is sufficient, the profit motive is sufficient.

Perelmen stresses how

the separation of people from their traditional means of production occurred over time as capital gradually required additional workers to join the labor force. Secondly, the process of primitive accumulation is a matter of degree…all out primitive accumulation would not be in the best interest of capital.

Perelmen also emphasises that the means of social control shift over time.

once capitalism had taken hold, capitalists learnt that purely market pressures were more effective in exploiting labor than the brutal act of primitive accumulation.

He quotes Marx on this point

The constant generation of a relative surplus population keeps the law of the supply and demand of labour, and therefore wages, within narrow limits which correspond to capital’s valorization requirements. The silent compulsion of economic relations sets the seal on the domination of the capitalist over the worker.

We need to examine all of these mechanisms of social control, silent and violent, and in all ways of production, not just capitalist, as they exist side by side and competing with each other.