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POWER WITHOUT VIOLENCE: A LESSON FROM TRIBAL COMMUNISM *

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By Darko Suvin

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The Montréal Review, August 2013

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"Will Power" (oil on canvas, 2001) by Kennet Zenzele Chulu. Exibited at Trajan Auction House, Paris.

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1. The Prophecy Dance-Song of Lack and Need

As dawn arises in the Mbya tribe, one of the last remnants of the once large group of the Tupi-Guarani Amerindians, in the jungle of large trees inside what is now Paraguay, very often a pa'i, a prophet-singer, rises. He turns east, toward the sun, the messenger of the highest god Ñamandu, with a lamentation and exhortation. The Mbya have steadfastly refused missionary efforts, from the 18th Century Jesuits until today, to convert them to Christianity, and keep a community of faith as the obsessive guarantee of their tribe's unity, counteracting the shame and pain of their dwindling numbers and unhappiness. The prophet's dance-song speaks of the tribe's utterly sick Being, their tekoachy, in what the great anthropologist Clastres--from whose La société contre l'état, pp. 137-51 I take here all my data and many beautiful formulations--called “the sphere of distress to which the silence of the gods has abandoned them” (142). They live in the land of evil, ywy mba'é megua, a corrupt and rotten land, the realm of death; they speak of themselves as the Last Men. Yet they hope that they shall receive from the gods favourable signs for a road to their passage over the horrible sea and towards the Land without Evil, ywy mara eÿ. To their doubts and anxiety the evocation of their ancestors is opposed, to whom the gods did once speak, to whom it was given to reach the state of perfection, aguyje, and thus to pass over the metaphoric sea.

The fact that the sun again rises is proof that the supreme god consents to let them live on. But life “is not simply waking to the neutrality of things” (142). The Mbya live on earth as in a space of absence, of questioning for its reason and a way out of it. The pa'i proclaims this to be the absence of the beautiful original words, ñe'ë porä tenonde, of the divine language where is to be found the humans' salvation. Their inhabitation of the present land is a wearisome interval at the threshold of their true abode. Let then the gods speak, let them recognize the humans' efforts, their fasting, their dancing, their praying ! Thus arises the prayer-song-dance of their pa'i (I somewhat abbreviate Clastres's no doubt necessarily stylized French translation):

My father! Ñamandu! You cause me to arise again!

Equally you cause all the ritually adorned males to arise again,

And all the ritually adorned females to arise again,

And as to those not ritually adorned, you cause them too all to arise again.

See then: concerning those ritually adorned, concerning those not ritually adorned, concerning all of them, I ask.

 

And yet, concerning all of this, you do not pronounce the words:

neither for me nor for your children destined for the indestructible country, the eternal country which no pettiness mars.

You do not pronounce the words in which dwell the future rules of our force, the future rules of our fervour.

 

For, in truth,

I exist imperfectly.

My blood is of an imperfect nature,

my flesh is of an imperfect nature,

it is horrible, it is deprived of all excellence.

Things being thus,

in order that my blood of an imperfect nature

in order that my flesh of an imperfect nature

be jolted and reject far off their imperfection:

with bent knees, I bow down, */ looking for a valorous heart,

which is the force, which is the fervour.

And yet, here we are: you do not pronounce the words.

- - -

Nothing within the totality of things transmits a value to my heart.

Nothing points me toward the future rules of my existence.

 

And the sea, the baleful sea,

you didn't make me cross it, me.

It is because of this, in truth, it is because of this

that there remain only a few, my brothers,

that there remain only a few, my sisters.

- - -

You cause their words to arise,

you inspire their questioning,

you cause a huge lamentation to arise from all of them.

 

But see: I rise in my effort,

and yet you do not pronounce the words, no, truly, you do not pronounce the words.

 

Therefore, here is what I'm led to say,

O god Karai Ru Ete, O Karai Chy Ete:

those who were not in a small number,

those destined for the indestructible country, the eternal country which no pettiness mars,

all those, in truth, you caused to question, once upon a time, concerning the future rules of their existence.

And certainly they knew them in their perfection, once upon a time.

 

And if, concerning myself, my nature be delivered from its customary imperfection,

and the blood be delivered from its customary imperfection of yore:

then, certainly, this comes from my blood of an imperfect nature,

from my flesh of an imperfect nature,

being jolted and rejecting far off their imperfection.

 

It is because of this that you shall pronounce abundantly the words,

the words of a great soul,

for those whose face is not divided by any sign [i.e. who aren't Christianized].

You shall pronounce abundantly the words,

O god Karai Ru Ete, and you Karai Chy Ete,

for all those destined for the indestructible country, the eternal country which no pettiness mars.

Thou. You all!

*/ Clastres notes this describes movements of the ritual dance accompanying the song. The original text was registered June 1966 in Paraguay near the Brazilian border. All the “you”s are really “thou”, except the last one.

I am not competent to enter into any full exegesis of what Clastres rightly calls “this language of remarkable poetic richness” (141—anyway there is no video of the dance), except to note it proceeds by means of a repeated counterpoint between absence of existential value and request for salvation, which culminates in the latter's magical certainty. This is the poetry of a deeply wounded tribal communism: its gods have absconded 2/ but the song-dance wants to enact their return.. It proceeds from the anxious need for a fleshly salvation of the community, “concerning all of them,” to poetically incantatory oratory, pleading for their destiny.

In another place, Clastres speaks of a legend about their god Tupan. He made this imperfect world, but left the Guarani this counsel: “If one of these knowledges resides in your ears, you shall know my traces…. Only thus shall you find the term or destination which you have been pointed toward…. I am going far, far away, you won't see me. Therefore, my words, do not lose them.” (151) 3/ And in Clastres' final essay drawing together the theoretical fall-out from his work (to which I shall return), his “political anthropology” characterizes the virulent prophetic language of such Guarani prophets, “who in the 15th -16th centuries led thousands of Indians in mad migrations to find the gods' homeland,” as “eminently subversive, since it called upon the Indians… to abandon society as was, in order to reach the Land without Evil” (183). This politics, although by the 1960s in dire straits, was of the same family as what Thomas Münzer was telling the peasant rebels of Germany in heretically Christian terms. The Land without Evil itself, also called the House of Our Ancestress, is divine and across an imaginary river but one enters it in flesh; it transcends the unhappy existence but not the physical body. Life in it continues on the normal tribal pattern, but without the corruptions of poverty, sickness, injustice or aging. As I argued four decades ago, this land and life may not be within our empirical history but they are an alternative, as it were unhistorical and yet more perfect, history ( Metamorphoses ch. 3; see also there in note 40 further bibliography mentioning Eliade on the Guaranis, also medieval and Hellenic testimonies of Earthly Paradises reached in flesh).

2. The Titular Chief: Power without Command or Violence

In other essays, Clastres considers the much misjudged role of the tribal chiefs. He notes that within the huge number of South American tribes, except for the circum-Caribbean area, almost all such chiefdoms are without the authority to command. Robert H. Lowie has called them “titular chiefs” (I shall dispense with the adjective), and Clastres accepts his isolation of three essential properties which such a chieftain must in both Americas possess (26-31):

1. He is a peacemaker within the tribe, the moderating factor in internal disagreements;

2. He is a frequent and generous distributor of his own goods among the tribal members;

3. He is a first-rate orator.

This implies that he be a not too young male, successful enough as a hunter to command the respect of the tribe and to have sufficient goods for frequent distributions. Clastres adds as a fourth point that polygamy seems in those tribes most often restricted to chiefs, probably because it is of a piece with success and richness. (Polygamy for many members of the tribe is demographically impossible—unless the tribe has “evolved” some way toward the State, by having e.g. castes, slavery, and frequent warfare which supplies the women.) This “normal” chief is opposed to the war-chief, who must only possess warlike skills and has a quite large command power over the warrior band, which is however operative solely during the (usually brief) war, after which he reverts, like the Roman dictator, to a simple member of the tribe. This is why the passage to ”command chiefdom” can only be achieved by organizing frequent warfare and a band of armed retainers loyal to the chief rather than to the tribe (cf. 177-78). Indeed, the Mbya prophet of section 1 seems to have been part of a counter-tendency, begun four or five centuries ago, to the rise of such a violent chiefdom and the attendant creeping corruption and death of the egalitarian society as they knew it, which was then compounded by the hugely violent arrival of European colonizers (183-84). In this overwhelming decadence, the yearning for counter-action flowed into what Clastres felicitously identifies as “an intoxicated thought, an increasingly tense deepening of reflection on the unhappiness of the human condition” (184). 4/

But upon how the chieftain orates there hangs a most revealing tale.

As opposed to the prophet in the especially endangered situation of the Mbya, who is a peremptory intercessor between the tribe and its gods so that they may save it, in a normally functioning tribe the chief's orations are foreseeable and bland. They happen as a rule daily, at dawn or dusk. He talks in a strong voice while members of the tribe continue to go on about their businesses: nobody seems to pay attention to what he says. Clastres underlines: “The chief's speech is not meant to be listened to. ” Why? Because, although he talks at length, he repeats always the same, trite matter: a celebration of the traditional rules of tribal life, roughly reducible to: “Our ancestors were content while living as they lived. Let us follow their example, and we shall lead a peaceful life together.” (135)

But why should the chief's speech lack new information? Because chieftancy carries no power of commanding that anything be done by the tribe's members. There is either no need for novelty in this life, or if there might be, it comes about spontaneously, by individual trial and error, generalized in case of success. Tribal commun(al)ism had achieved what the Victorian communist William Morris so ardently longed for, “An Epoch of Rest.” The chief occupies the place of power without the authority of proposing or giving orders; and of course he has no means of enforcing anything he might wish: the tribe is not “policed.” Any such proposal would not only be disobeyed, it would speedily lead to his not being acknowledged any more. The chief is a kind of oiler of the existing tribal gears, which he can in no way change. “Primitive society refuses [enforceable] separate power, because it is itself the real locus of power. It naturally knows that violence is the essence of power. In this knowledge, the care to separate institution and power, chiefdom and commanding, is rooted.” (Clastres 136) The informationally empty speech is, at that point of human relationships, the opposite of violence.

As Clastres rightly says in a theoretical overview (and his terminology above should in places be rectified in consequence): “1. …Political power is universal, immanent to society—be that society determined by >blood ties< or by social classes—but it has two principal modalities: coercive and non-coercive power. 2. Coercive political power (or the model of command-obedience) is not the only true model of power, but simply a particular case, a concrete case of political power in certain cultures, as the >Western< one.” (20) Generally, “political power as coercion or as violence is characteristic of historical societies, that is, of societies that bear the springs of innovation, of change, of historicity” (22). In brief, “it is possible to think of politics without violence, it is impossible to think of society without politics: in other words, there is no society without power” (21). I subscribe fully to this position, and I shall in the rest of this essay attempt to discuss some of its meanings and implications.

3. Human Culture as Acknowledgement of and Defense against Raw Nature

And yet the chief participates as an important “operator” (oiler of gears or stabilizer) in the principal exchange circuits whereof is constituted the culture of what I shall further call tribal communism: exchange of women, of goods, of words (explicit traditional values and meanings). A further brilliant hypothesis explains his impotence as inextricably articulated with these cycles. Clastres founds it on the fact that this culture is the barrier between the tribe and the overwhelmingly powerful nature in which it operates. In my gloss, culture has unconsciously but imperatively brought about these three dimensions of circulation as the difference between humanity and animality. Non-human nature is no doubt the element within which the tribe lives and from which it draws the elements for its sustenance, but it is also to be kept at arm's length in order for humanity--a more than animal consciousness and exchange structure--to exist as such. The total refusal of command power or violence by some people against other people is strictly isomorphic, maybe even of a piece, with the refusal of “nature red in tooth and claw” as dominant norm rather than enabler:

This identity of refusal leads us to find in these societies an identity between the power [to command other people, DS] and nature: culture is a denial of both…. It is as if these societies erected their political sphere upon an intuition which would be their equivalent of a supreme rule: that is, that power is in its essence coercion…; that the nature of power is a furtive alibi of the power of nature…. Discovering the close kinship between power [to command] and nature as the double limit of the universe of culture, the Indian tribal societies have managed to invent a means to neutralize the virulence of political authority. (40)

A disclaimer: I believe a more precise terminology would be to say, with the insights of Clastres cited above, that power as such is constitutive of politics, that is, inescapable and neutral, and only command power, that is, coercion or violence, is clearly negative. That is why I have in key places added “command” to power, and elsewhere in the above paragraph the gentle reader ought to do it.

Nonetheless, the above is a quite key insight, extrapolatable (mutatis mutandis) over the whole range of what Marx has called the human metabolism with nature. In that wake, Clastres is precisely correct when he follows that, as the Amerindians deeply intuited and subtly guarded against, “the transcendent power hides a mortal threat for the group, that the principle of an exterior authority which creates its own legality is a contestation of culture itself” (40). That is why the exchange of women, of goods, and of words must break down in the chief. He has been put into the position where he owes all to the group, where he must ceaselessly respond to its demands for precise ways of handing over goods and words, and thus prove that his functioning does no harm. That is why the words cannot have an informational or innovating function. He must be loud in order to prove that his speech is soft, says Clastres; and he reads the chief's isolated polygamy as “being a way in which he is prisoner of the group as a whole.” Still, this tribal culture is “troubled by refusing a power that fascinates them: the chief's opulence is the group's daydream” (42).

In Polynesian contexts, the foundational opus of Malinowski has quite analogously established that the Trobriand islanders, as all tribal societies, control the means of their livelihood, which are in their direct “decentralized, local, and familial” (Sahlins, “Political” 408) possession, and are insofar masters of their own (economic) destiny. Whatever the basic group of producers does not consume is used to discharge kinship obligations and taboos. The chief is the political agent of organising pooling and redistribution of goods, and possesses prestige in direct proportion to how well he does this for general welfare. “Prestige, therefore, operates to overcome an inherent tendency to limit productivity in a system of production for use…” (idem 410). He is a manager who collects goods given to him by various households (for kin and religious reasons) and redistributes them to subsidize further production and all community activities: for example, he feeds and feasts assembled warriors, subsidises trading expeditions, and initiates various types of specialist production which he then further distributes: “A man who owns a thing is naturally expected to share it, to distribute it, to be its trustee and dispenser…. Thus the main symptom of the powerful is to be wealthy, and of wealth is to be generous.” (Malinowski, Argonauts 97, and cf. Coral passim). Therefore “in the long run, all of the wealth accumulated by [the chief] flows back to his subjects” (idem, Coral 1: 47). Commenting on this, Marshall Sahlins concludes: “The net economic effect of the chief's activity is to promote the general interest.” Furthermore, “Throughout Oceania, the general relation between wealth and power is the same…. redistribution is the foundation of political power.” In sum, “economic relations of coercion and exploitation and the corresponding social relations of dependence and mastery are not created in [this] system of production” (“Political” 405, 407, and 408). Clastres himself, at times prone to romanticising the fascination the “titular” chief exerts on the tribe, concludes elsewhere soberly that “he is vested by society with a certain number of tasks, and in this capacity can be seen as a sort of unpaid civil servant of society.” Though the chief is also exceptionally important for contacts with other tribes, he can never makes a decision on his own and impose it on his community (Archeology 89): “Primitive societies are thus… classless societies—no rich exploiters of the poor; societies not divided into the dominating and the dominated—no separate organ of power…. [They] do not have a State because they refuse it….” (ibidem 90-91).

A final theme which fits well here is tribal economics and work. For, the dozens or indeed hundreds of “archaic” societies have the effect of estranging—in Brecht's sense of seeing for the first time with increased understanding--the class societies and the very high price of “civilized” power, amongst us always coupled with violence. Walter Benjamin summed this up in the most enlightening formula: “every achievement of civilization is also an achievement of barbarism”; the term barbarism is here as suspect as would be “savagery,” maybe it should be “violent alienation.” Thus we could reformulate Benjamin's admirable terseness as, e.g.: “every achievement of civilization, however useful and admirable in some aspect, is extorted from the surplus labour of the powerless lower classes.” In anthropology, notes Clastres, archaic societies are defined as those without writing and with a “subsistence economy.” But the latter is again a highly dubious proposition, reposing as it does on the criterion that only extorted surplus labour is the norm of civilization: this is however not extrapolatable backwards. It also follows from this criterion that power can in class societies only be defined on the command-obedience model—that is, in the wake of Nietzsche and Weber's theorization of class practice and State power (which is the monopoly of legitimate use of violence). However, as we have seen in the innumerable tribes with “titular” chiefdoms, a symbolically and ceremonially unifying institution can and did exist, as it were, on the same level as or catalytically within the society, rather than above it.

But then, was the economy of tribal commun(al)ism truly a “subsistence” one, that is, perpetually on the brink of hunger and catastrophe? No doubt such cases could happen, mostly because of a natural catastrophe. But in what seems a solid majority of cases, the South American tribal societies “produced a food surplus often equal to the needed annual consumption: this production was therefore capable of satisfying the need two times over, or to feed double the existing population” (Clastres 13, and cf. 164-73; the same is true of Malinowski's Trobrianders). Neither is it correct to say that tribal commun(al)ism is incapable of producing a large surplus because it would be “technically inferior.” Clastres argues:

If by technique we mean the ensemble of proceedings which people use not at all to insure the absolute mastery over nature—a demented Cartesian project valid only for our society, the ecological consequences of which we are only now beginning to measure—but to insure a mastery of the natural environment adapted and related to their needs, then we can speak of no technical inferiority in the primitive societies: their capacity to satisfy their needs is at least equal to those of our proud industrial and technological society.… What surprises us in the Inuit or the Australian Aborigines is precisely the richness, imaginativeness, and acuteness of their technical activity…. On the contrary, we must recognize that the discovery of agriculture and of plant domestication happens almost simultaneously in the Americas and the Old World, [and] that the Amerindians do not at all lag behind in the art of selecting and differentiating multiple varieties of useful plants. (162-63)

In sum, as Sahlins has splendidly demonstrated, “[t] he world's most ‘primitive' people have few possessions, but they are not poor” (“Original“ 129, and see his Stone Age ). Subsequent wide-ranging research over all continents has confirmed that procuring food usually took in primitive communism ca. 15-25 hours per week. Clastres sarcastically remarks that ”by such accounting, it is rather the European 19th Century proletariat, illiterate and under-nourished, that ought to be called archaic” (14). Or today's new proletariat of migrant and precarious workers, educated to be semi-literate only?

Why should therefore people in the tribal societies work or produce more than they need? “It is always through violence that people work over and above their needs. Precisely this violence is absent from the primitive world, it is even the definition of their nature…. These are the first societies of leisure, the first societies of abundance, to adopt the just and joyful expression of Sahlins.” (Clastres 166)

It should however be underscored that work or more precisely labour “is not… a true category of tribal economics.” Rather, work is part and parcel of or embedded in kinship and community relationships (Sahlins, Tribesmen 80, and see what follows). “The term ‘economic life' would here have no obvious meaning,” as Polanyi gleefully noted in his splendid essay “Aristotle Discovers the Economy” (70).

3. What Follows From This

Clastres's approach has important theoretical fall-outs for a philosophy of history or of societal development. First of all, he focuses on what I would call, with Badiou, the communist invariant as found in tribal society, the refusal of inequality of power, when the latter means coercion or violence. This invariant, I would add, has at least two aspects, one fixed and one changing together with the rise of productivity in the widest sense (reposing on use-values and not on profit). The constant aspect is that “[a person] is not by work detached from his existence as a dutiful kinsman, citizen of the community, and an intelligent being capable of art and joy…. There is no ‘job,' no time and place where one spends most of one's time not being oneself.” (Sahlins, Tribesmen 80) The changing aspect within the invariant is that in tribal commun(al)ism “production, polity, and piety are not as yet separately organized” (ibidem 15). In class societies, however, a series of huge complications is introduced first by violent power, crystallised in the State, and second by demography, productivity after the Industrial Revolution, and the occupational or cultural specialisations. “Socialism” (as defined after the involution of the Russian Revolution) will then join anthropology in affirming “wisdom suggests we abandon the conventional analysis of culture into distinct economic, socio-political, and ideological spheres” (Sahlins, Tribesmen 15) and consider instead much more intimately entangled societal schemes; I deal with this in lengthy forthcoming discussions of “Tractate” and a book on ex-Yugoslavia. The final pragmatic failure of such “socialism” in an unfavourable context leaves this question to my mind entirely open, yet as different from tribal societies we can in my opinion scarcely escape certain functional separations into perhaps different categories.

Second, Clastres agrees with Marx and Engels that history shows us only two macro-types of societies, those with and without a State . On the one hand there is equality with leisure, albeit with a much smaller command over natural goods, on the other a greater abundance of goods but also a hierarchy with authoritative command and subjects of the ruling class who labour for it. When this fundamental typological division is crossed, all changes, “Time becomes History” (170). However, Clastres revalues Marx's insistence--much nuanced in his concrete historical essays--that the central motor of change in society is the development of productive forces, that is, “economical infrastructure.” For example, while Amerindian tribes may be hunter-gatherers (nomadic or settled) or sedentary agriculturists, their “political superstructure” remains the same, as identified above. To the contrary, the Meso-American imperial (State) societies had a very similar, though more intensive, agricultural “basis” as the commun(al)ist tribes. In sum, at least in tribal societies, he believes,

…the most important division of society, which institutes all other divisions including no doubt the division of labour, is the new vertical arrangement between basis and apex, the great political cut-off between those who detain violent power (force), be it military or religious, and those subject to the violent power. The political relationship of power precedes and institutes the economical relationship of exploitation. The alienation is political before it becomes economical, power comes before work, economy derives from politics, the coming about of the State determines the appearance of classes. (169)

I myself don't think either hypothesis about the birth of human alienation is sustainable as exclusive, nor that we would have to accept one and reject the other. First of all, Clastres wrote at the time that feminist theorization about the patriarchy was just arising, and it would have to be integrated into this discussion. As Bensaïd remarked, the development of productive forces toward surplus labour and the dissolution of the gens (clan) “create the preconditions for patriarchal dominations of women and progeny” (62). Thus, I would opt for a “not only but also” model, that is, for a multifactorial spread, where at various spacetimes the stress would be nearer to male politics (Clastres's violent power) or to economy (Marx's exploited labour) or to gender oppression (the feminists' patriarchy) as the decisive factor bringing about alienation. In tribal communism, I think Clastres is more believable; in mature capitalism, the intertwining gets much more complex and economy, no doubt buttressed by politics, gender and other oppression, is Destiny in everyday exploited labour or in wars for plundering the fruits of the same.

What Clastres--alongside the whole generation that has seen the World Wars, the rise of Fascism, and what came after--cannot share with Marx and Engels is the 19 th Century optimism of progress as a one-way forward movement, somehow magically guaranteed by history (say of the productive forces), which they fully participated in. Not only can a community such as the Mbya Guarani sink for entire centuries into cultural, power, and demographic devolution, but this holds for “many hunter-gatherer societies of South America [which represent,] according to Lévi-Strauss,…. vestiges of very advanced agricultural societies, who have been pushed back by other agricultural societies from the river banks toward the forest hinterland where they completely lost their ability to farm” (Godelier 91). The fate not only of the ex-USSR but also of the present-day USA and western Europe are macro-examples of such devolution and involution from revolutionary and expanding societies to stasis and decay.

Finally, Clastres remarks on the importance of a factor sharing cultural and natural properties: demography . He judges as very probable that tribal societies can function only when the number of their members is small, witness their great fragmentation. What does this say about the chances of a democratic communism in large societies of tens of millions of people? He doesn't follow up this problem, but obviously it is an important one. It is quite possible that the growth of population was the strong factor pushing toward division of labour and command power, that is, toward the State (cf. Bensaïd 39-41). 5/ Any non-alienated world would probably have to be several times less numerous than our demented growth, and for reasons pertaining not only to balance with nature (ecology) but also to balance within human groups (violence). In that case, with a full use of communication of technology—wireless internet and telephony, two-way TV, etc.—within a decentralized organization, we would have a chance of returning to the tribal power without violence.

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Darko Suvin is Professor Emeritus of McGill University and Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada. He has written thirteen books and hundreds of essays in the areas of utopian and science fiction, comparative literature, dramaturgy, theory of literature, theatre and cultural theory. He has also published three award-winning volumes of poetry.

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Notes

* This essay builds on preoccupations investigated in Suvin, “Terms” and then “A Tractate.” Behind it stands also Engels's pioneering Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State; it reposed on the insufficient data of his time but, if purged of the evolutionist teleology he sometimes favours, its horizon seems to me vindicated (by Clastres too). Where Clastres is cited by number in parenthesis, his book Société is meant; his other works are cited by first word of title + number. My thanks go to some critiques of Victor Wallis and to discussions with Lazar Atanaskovic.

2/ See the path-breaking investigation of this political and existential situation on the material of French 17th Century in Lucien Goldmann, whom I am happy to have known and used as a teacher.

3/ Tribal cognitive ideology is naturally animistic and polytheistic. In the earliest stage we know of, the numinous entities of tribal sacrality, who are defined by having both being and subjectivity or spirit, are not hierarchic but functionally diverse, in a world of qualitatively incommensurable subjects. I would say with Feuerbach and Marx that the projections a tribe made into the numinous sphere are strictly analogous to the productive relationships and forces within it. If we take Roman accounts of German tribes, we can follow this analogy in their customs of land ownership. Dumézil reads the evidence from Saxo and Caesar to the effect that the rise of worshipping single gods, as against the earlier heroic polytheism, signals the overthrow of yearly communist (he calls it “totalitarian” – so much for scientific objectivity) land redistribution (130–32). Finally, the abstract concept of gods eternally identical to themselves and only revealed in this or that place or time can only be sustained by cultic associations tending toward esoteric priesthood (see Weber, Economy 407ff.).

4/ In another essay ( « Myths and Rites of South American Indians, » Archeology 80-86), Clastres describes the remarkable karai prophets, itinerant orators to fascinated Amerindian crowds about the evil world they lived in--that is, the growth of inequality and State among the Tupi-Guarani in the emergence of chieftains using violence with power, which is exactly what the Mbya fled from, and what their quite different pa'i sings and dances about in Section 1; see also Clastres's Terre and Grand.

5/ Another factor Clastres ‘s posthumous series of essays does not delve into is war, surely an important factor in the rise of violent chiefs and class societies. His deriving of tribal war (in Archeology 161-62) from exogamy's need for capturing women does not seem very persuasive.

Works cited

Bensaïd, Daniel. La révolution et le pouvoir. Paris: Stock, 1986.

Clastres, Pierre. Archeology of Violence. Transl. J. Herman. New York : Semiotext(e), 1994, 53-86.

---. Le grand parler. Paris: Seuil, 1974.

---. La société contre l'état. Paris : Minuit, 2009 [orig. 1974].

---. La Terre sans Mal. Paris: Seuil, 1975.

Dumézil, Georges. Mitra-Varuna: An Essay on Two Indo-European Representations of Sovereignty. Transl. D. Coltman. New York : Zone Books, 1988.

Godelier, Maurice. Perspectives in Marxist Anthropology. Transl. R. Brain. Cambridge : Cambridge UP, 1977.

Goldmann, Lucien. Le dieu caché : étude sur la vision tragique dans les Pensées de Pascal et dans le théâtre de Racine. Paris: Gallimard, 19 55 [ The Hidden God. London : Routledge and K. Paul, 1964 ].

Malinowski, Bronislaw. Argonauts of the Western Pacific. London : Routledge and K. Paul, 1922.

---. Coral Gardens and their Magic , 2. Vols. New York : American Book, 1935.

Polanyi, Karl. Primitive, Archaic, and Modern Economies: The Essays of Karl Polányi.. Ed. G. Dalton. Garden City NY : Doubleday Anchor, 1968.

Sahlins, Marshall D. “The Original Affluent Soc iety” (1972). in www.eco-action.org/dt/affluent.html

---. “Political Power and the Economy in Primitive Society,” in Dole, Gertrude E., and Robert L. Carneiro eds., Essays in the Science of Culture . NY: Crowell, 1960, 390-415.

---. Stone Age Economics. New York : Routledge, 2004 [orig. 1974].

.---. Tribesmen. Englewood Cliffs NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1968.

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