What an amazing surprise that the theoretical innovation that I thought I had introduced, by interpreting the relational grammar of Alan Page Fiske as a history of dominations of modes of allocating resources, has been done by another much deeper scholar and philosopher, i.e. the Japanese scholar Kojin Karatani.

In the preface to his major book, “The Structure of World History: From Modes of Production to Modes of Exchange.”, published by Duke University Press in 2014, he makes the exact same argument I made in P2P and Human Evolution in 2005-6. He similarly distinguishes, using a different terminology, the gift economy reciprocity (called Equality Matching by Alan Page Fiske), characteristic of clan societies, from the pure gift of pooling (called Communal Shareholding by Fiske), which is characteristic of nomadic society. And it is all grounded in a large body of evidence of anthropological research and findings. Karatani similarly hypothizes an emerging “Mode D” of exchange, which is again based on pooling, AND, this is a illumination for me, on renewed nomadism. Think about it, the major and principal effect of internet technology is to massively enable and allow nomadism! In those conditions, the author shows, contributory pooling as an exchange mechanism ‘naturally’ emerges as a necessity.

I am majorly excited to read this important book and if you have any interest in the theoretical and historical grounding of the P2P transition, then it is strongly recommended for you as well!

Karatani Kojin, from the Preface:

“This book is an attempt to rethink the history of social formations from the perspective of modes of exchange. Until now, in Marxism this has been taken up from the perspective of modes of production— from, that is, the perspective of who owns the means of production. Modes of production have been regarded as the “economic base,” while the political, religious, and cultural have been considered the ideological superstructure. In the way it splits the economic from the political, this view is grounded in capitalist society.

Accordingly, the view runs into difficulties in trying to explain pre-capitalist societies: in Asiatic or feudal societies, to say nothing of the clan societies that preceded these, there is no split between political control and economic control. Moreover, even in the case of contemporary capitalist societies, viewing the state and nation as simply ideological superstructures has led to difficulties, because the state and nation function as active agents on their own. Marxists believed that ideological superstructures such as the state or nation would naturally wither away when the capitalist economy was abolished, but reality betrayed their expectation, and they were tripped up in their attempts to deal with the state and nation.

As a result, Marxists began to stress the relative autonomy of the ideological superstructure. In concrete terms, this meant supplementing the theory of economic determinism with knowledge derived from such fields as psychoanalysis, sociology, and political science. This, however, resulted in a tendency to underestimate the importance of the economic base. Many social scientists and historians rejected economic determinism and asserted the autonomy of other dimensions. Even as it led to increased disciplinary specialization, this stance became increasingly widespread and accepted as legitimate. But it resulted in the loss of any totalizing, systematic perspective for comprehending the structures in which politics, religion, philosophy, and other dimensions are interrelated, as well as the abandonment of any attempt to find a way to supersede existing conditions.

In this book, I turn anew to the dimension of the economic. But I define the economic not in terms of modes of production but rather in terms of modes of exchange.

Four Modes of Exchange

There are four types of mode of exchange:

* mode A, which consists of the reciprocity of the gift ;

* mode B, which consists of ruling and protection;

* mode C, which consists of commodity exchange; and

* mode D, which transcends the other three.

These four types coexist in all social formations. Th ey differ only on which of the modes is dominant. For example, in capitalist society mode of exchange C is dominant. In Capital, Marx considered the capitalist economy not only in terms of modes of production but also in terms of commodity exchange — he theorized how the ideological superstructure could be produced from mode of exchange C. Particularly in volume 3 of Capital, he took on the task of explicating how a capitalist economy is above all a system of credit and therefore always harbors the possibility of crisis.

But Marx paid only scant attention to the problems of precapitalist societies.

It would be foolish to criticize him on this though. Our time and energy would be better spent in explaining how ideological superstructures are produced through modes of exchange A and B, in the same way that Marx did for mode of exchange C. That is what I have attempted in this book. One other question I take up is how a society in which mode of exchange A is dominant emerged in the first place.

Since Marcel Mauss, it has been generally accepted that mode of exchange A (the reciprocity of the gift ) is the dominant principle governing archaic societies. But this principle did not exist in the band societies of nomadic hunter-gatherers that had existed since the earliest times. In these societies, it was not possible to stockpile goods, and so they were pooled, distributed equally. This was a pure gift , one that did not require a reciprocal countergift. In addition, the power of the group to regulate individual members was weak, and marriage ties were not permanent. In sum, it was a society characterized by an equality that derived from the free mobility of its individual members. Clan society, grounded in the principle of reciprocity, arose only after nomadic bands took up fixed settlement. Fixed settlement made possible an increased population; it also gave rise to conflict with outsiders.

Moreover, because it made the accumulation of wealth possible, it inevitably led to disparities in wealth and power. Clan society contained this danger by imposing the obligations of gift – countergift . Of course, this was not something that clan society intentionally planned. Mode of exchange A appeared in the form of a compulsion, as Freud’s “return of the repressed.”

This, however, led to a shortcoming for clan society: its members were equal but they were no longer free (that is, freely mobile). In other words, the constraints binding individuals to the collective were strengthened.

Accordingly, the distinction between the stage of nomadic peoples and that of fixed settlement is crucial. As is well-known, Marx hypothesized a “primitive communism” existing in ancient times and saw the emergence of a future communist society as that primitive communism’s restoration after the advancement of capitalism. Today this stance is widely rejected as a quasi-religious historical viewpoint. Moreover, if we rely on anthropological studies of currently existing primitive societies, we are forced to reject this idea of primitive communism. We cannot, however, dismiss the idea simply because it cannot be found empirically — nor should we. But Marxists have largely ducked this question.

The problem here is, first of all, that Marx and Engels located their model of primitive communism in Lewis H. Morgan’s version of clan society. In my view, they should have looked not to clan society but to the nomadic societies that preceded it. Why did Marx and Engels overlook the difference between nomadic and clan societies? This was closely related to their viewing the history of social formations in terms of mode of production. In other words, when seen from the perspective of their shared ownership of the means of production, there is no difference between nomadic and clan societies.

When we view them in terms of modes of exchange, however, we see a decisive dif erence — the difference, for example, between the pure gift and the gift based on reciprocity.

Second, when seen from the perspective of modes of exchange, we are able to understand why communism is not simply a matter of economic development nor of utopianism, but why it should be considered instead the return of primitive communism. Of course, what returns is not the communism of clan society but that of nomadic society. I call this mode of exchange D. It marks the return of repressed mode of exchange A at the stages where modes of exchange B and C are dominant. It is important to note, though, that clan society and its governing principle mode of exchange A themselves already constitute the return of the repressed: in fixed settlement society, they represented attempts to preserve the equality that existed under nomadism. Naturally, this did not arrive as the result of people’s desire or intention: it came as a compulsory duty that offered no choice.

Mode of exchange D is not simply the restoration of mode A — it is not, that is, the restoration of community. Mode of exchange D, as the restoration of A in a higher dimension, is in fact only possible with the negation of A.

D is, in sum, the restoration of nomadic society. Yet this too does not appear as the result of human desire or intention, but rather emerges as a duty issued by God or heaven or as a regulative idea. In concrete terms, D arrives in the form of universal religion, which negates religions grounded in magic or reciprocity.

But there is no need for mode of exchange D to take religious form. T ere are cases where mode of exchange D appeared without religious trappings — in, for example, Ionia from the seventh to the sixth centuries BCE, or Iceland from the tenth through the twelfth centuries CE, or the eastern part of North America in the eighteenth century. What these share in common is that all were poleis formed by colonialists: covenant communities established by persons who had become independent from their original states or communities. In them, if land became scarce, rather than perform wage labor on another person’s land, people would move to another town. For this reason, disparities in landed property did not arise. Because people were nomadic (free), they were equal. In Ionia, this was called isonomia.

This meant not simply formal political equality but actual economic equality.

Of course, these communities were all short-lived: they ended when they reached the limits of the space available for colonization. These examples show that communism depends less on shared ownership of the means of production than on the return of nomadism.

But in actuality, all around the world socialist movements that aimed to bring about mode of exchange D were generally carried out under the guise of universal religions. In the latter half of the nineteenth century, socialism became “scientific” and lost its religious hue. But the key question here is not whether socialism is religious; it is whether socialism intends mode of exchange D. Socialism in the twentieth century was only able to realize societies dominated by modes of exchange B and C, and as a result it lost its appeal. But so long as modes of exchange B and C remain dominant, the drive to transcend them will never disappear. In some form or another, mode of exchange D will emerge. Whether or not this takes religious form is unimportant. This drive is fundamentally rooted in that which has been repressed from nomadic society. It has persisted throughout world history, and will not disappear in the future— even if we are unable to predict the form in which it will appear.”

1 Comment The history of modes of exchange points towards the emergence of a P2P mode of exchange

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