SPECIAL ISSUE: COMMONS, CLASS STRUGGLE AND THE WORLD
Specter of the Commons
Karl Marx, Lewis Henry Morgan, and Nineteenth-Century European Stadialism
Although Karl Marx and Lewis Henry Morgan have often been treated homologously for their ideas of historical evolution and primitive communism, there are radical differences between the two. Marx’s stadial conception of history was carefully circumscribed to West European, particularly British, developments while Morgan posited a universally applicable theory that assumed North American Indians as culturally and economically backward in comparison to the summit of European civilization. Marx’s view of communism was also contingent on historical circumstances and changed throughout his lifetime, shifting at the end of his life toward a critical appreciation of the Native American commons on their own terms. Morgan, on the other hand, was more rigid in defining this ‘primitive communism’ as a particular stage in human history that was doomed to obsolescence, a view that became part of orthodox Marxist doctrine. These differences prod us to fundamentally rethink the history of Marxism and the distortions it has brought to Marx’s own ideas, as well as to rescue the latter from the condescension of the post-Communist-Marxist world.
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© borderlands ejournal 2012