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The Theory and Practice of communism a series of 13 lectures drawn from the 1967 Wisconsin Alumni seminar held at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. The speaker Michael B Petrovich is a professor of history at the University of Wisconsin the author of several books and articles. He is a specialist in Russian and Balkan history. In his last lecture Marxism as a theory of history part one professor Petrovitch pointed out that there are several names that can be given to Marx's theory of history economic determinism the materialistic conception of history and the economic interpretation of history. He then discussed at length the definition of historical materialism as described by Friedrich Engels notably that historical materialism is that view of the course of history which seeks the ultimate cause and the great moving power of all important historical events in the economic development of society. In the changes of modes of production and exchange in the consequent division of
society into distinct classes and in the struggles of these classes against one another. Noting that Mike's not only wanted to explain history but also to change it. Professor Petrovitch went on to discuss 15 points in Marx's book the critique of political economy that summarize Marxist theory of history in terms of the changes in the modes of production and exchange. Finally he ended with a broad definition of the term mode of production. Today in the second part of his discussion of Marxism as a theory of history professor Petrovich discusses the five periods into which Karl Marx divided all of history. Professor Petrovitch Karl Marx divide all of history into five great theory. For four periods of pre-history and then the life. Of real is free. In the beginning when one could start
talking about man as distinct from an animal. There was. A predicted communist primitive communism or communalism if you like. Communitarianism if you like. There are many words that can be given to this. I hesitate to use the word communism because it has such a specific ring in our ears these days. But if you think of it in its general sense this is a prehistoric stages in our definition of the word prehistoric stage of history. KARL MOORE This is the stage that Karl Marx refers to as Asiatic. Because in his own time the vestigial remains of it were largely in Asian countries. And to add to a large degree in Russia. The way of life typified by primitive communism is a
community of people usually based on kinship usually not always. Usually based on kinship in which people work together. Collectively they till the soil collectively they produce for themselves as an economic unit it is an individual production. But it's the large family produces for itself and then as large families proliferate and lose a feeling of kinship for each other's branches. Out of this comes the village. And so you go from a kinship principle to simply one to be economic communism but nevertheless what is there is the idea that all the people living in this unit act as though they were one family working collectively to maintain the livelihood of all of them an extended family farm and we find this still today in
certain communities say especially northern India in certain parts of China. And this is what the Russian agrarian commune is all about because the Russian agrarian commune was kept artificially. It kept going through political means and through the imposition of serfdom in Russia so in this way one can say Russia had an artificially backward social organisation based on the peasant commune. I say backward because of this commune even though it's called Asiatic by Karl Marx was typical of all of European society no less in England than in Russia and to this day many English villages bear a family name and most of the people in a village called Wellington are also called Wellington. We see that this came out of a family relationship originally. Now Karl Marx was not any great shakes at Anthropologie it was Friedrich Engels that life and Engels did far
more with explaining the Marxist view on primitive communism than Marx himself did. It will perhaps interest you as Americans that are angled favorites in all of this where the Algonquin Indians. Because he found in the collectivist organisation the Algonquin tribes the closest living model that he could conceive of what the most primitive human society was like in its economics with the whole tribe again and if not of kinship then a suitable kinship relationship working everything together with no particular sense of private property under primitive communism or an Algonquin tribe nobody says this is my land and it is not your land but rather the land belongs to everybody Heaven knows there's enough of it. At the height of the Indian population in the United States there was certainly a large and vast stretches of
land inhabited by anybody so land was simply there for the taking when you were here if indeed they wanted any land because the Indians were not farmers for the most part least the Great Plains Indians. And it took some time for them to become farming people. Those of the dead so that the primitive way of life is a collectivist way of life based originally on the family in which there is no sense of private property but only tribal. Property. Furthermore the mode of life the mode of production is so primitive that there is no need for any specialisation of labor here. If you'll forgive me I always bring up something that amuses my freshman no end. I'm an inveterate watcher of The Late Late shows on TV and the sillier the picture is the more I like it I don't have to think at all. And furthermore some of these pictures bring back memories of my childhood. The
Dorothy Lamour John Hall pictures that are especially apropos of this discussion. I think all of you are old enough to remember Dorothy Lamour and all those South Sea island pictures. They're all alike. The plot is absolutely the same. First there is this South Sea island which is a Garden of Eden a paradise on earth. I actually have reference to these religious phrases in my lecture on communism as a religion because this is Paradise Lost we're talking about in a deeply profoundly religious sense the Garden of Eden out of which man was effected. There is this nice South Sea island. The weather is such that people don't have to worry too much about clothing. Nature has provided lots of coconut trees and plants of all kind that you just pick and it's there for the taking and be utterly absurd for any thoughts. The Islander do put a fence around anything and say
this is mine it isn't yours and I'll crack you over the head if you date get the sense not their mode of life at all they ARE YOU SEE simply the the happy children of nature are of God. How does it go the happy savage of the 18th century rationalist This is why American Indians had such a great appeal for the European imagination because these were the children of nature living in natural light. And then comes wickedness in the form of a ship. On which the Western acquisitive hawk like a white man comes. He's out for pearls usually. And the first thing that this white man does is enslave all of these nice South Sea Islanders he can put chains on them and he forces I'll always pray I always see poor Dorothy Lamour being forced to go down deeper into the water than any human should to get these oysters and of course she becomes very ill and
all these terrible things happen. Now there's always a good guy John Hall. This is the Karl Marx the man of the intellect and of the good heart too who is above the vested interests of his economic system usually he's impressed on the ship. If you know the plots of the stories This man is usually drugged and brought on ship against his will. Like the hippies of today he doesn't want to be part of the scene and he's hurt by it at what he sees. And so he tries to come to the rescue of the South Sea Islanders. Well the rest of the plot you know pretty well. But in many ways in many ways this represents a tragedy in human history because I'm sure everybody recognizes that what the white man has brought to the South Sea Islands is not only progress but also syphilis and jails and army recruits and I don't know what else so it has not been a totally
fine picture. Primitive I mentioned the South Sea island again only because we have this this this picture this idea of a natural community living under natural law. Then what happens. What happens is that the modes of production change. That instead of everybody making his own pots one man learns a way of making POCs better than anybody else he discovers the potter's wheel and its uses. And so he's able to make pots much better and much more efficiently than everybody else and soon everybody else realizes instead of everybody making their Darnel pots that always crack and are never right. Let this man make all the parts for the village and they'll pay him by giving him food and clothing and whatever money hasn't been discovered yet you see. So you start getting pot makers Potters then you start getting you know the other. On inventions other ways of doing
things people discover glass how to make glass for example and are able to make certain things that no one else cared. And so there comes about a a a complex mode of production far more complex than before and the division of labor and given the new techniques of production men are able to make more than they need for themselves and so out of this comes the practical necessity of trade. And out of primitive communism you come into primitive capitalism. Commerce in which people start trading with one another and pretty soon for the sake of convenience they even discovered the usefulness of money of one kind or another or some form of symbol of exchange. But in primitive capitalism you also because of the more complicated mode of production. Also getting more complicated form of government. You have not only a
division of labor but you have now distinction among different kinds of people. Before everybody was pretty much like everybody else and everybody did all the same things. But now you have a division. And especially with the increase of population that comes about with the ability of man to provide a greater livelihood for more people you get forms of government to go way beyond the chief and the tribe. In fact you very soon get into something called kingship. And note that the early civilizations of man are based on monarchies which in turn are based on great river systems whether the Nile or Mesopotamia that is the Tigris and the Euphrates or whether it's the Yellow River in China wherever it is once even when even farming becomes more sophisticated than before when a lot of men are needed to dam up rivers and build banks and control the overflow rivers for agriculture. You
need a collective labor. Which in turn is placed under people who have the science who know when the rivers rise who know about the stars is an ancient Babylonian all the rest you get then a society based on rulers priests Warriors artisans and farmers. And. Out of it you also get a class distinction in which some men are free and other men are slaves. Primitive capitalism in the Marxian scheme is associated with the system of masters on the one hand and slaves on the other. Slaves taken in war or men who become slaves voluntarily that is they go bankrupt and the slaves are made to do certain kinds of work that nobody else does. Now primitive capitalism is the way of life that Marx associated with the ancient civilizations and especially Rome and Greece. And need we recall
that in the Athenian democracy that all of us owes so much to. There were far more slaves than there were free men. For one reason or another known to all of us I trust we get out of primitive capitalism based on largely commerce into the dark ages as many of our history books call it call it when commerce ceases Barbarian Invasions outside forces of all kinds. The old Mediterranean trade has come to an stop so that Western Europe is is divorced from whatever trait there is in the east and later the Eastern Roman Empire the Byzantine Empire Falls before other groups and so the trade is disrupted in Europe at least it is no longer commerce that sustains life but rather land farming agriculture. This is the basis of feudalism the feudal
period. So let me bring my own take from a primitive communism we came to the primitive capitalism of the ancient civilizations. But that in turn gets into feudalism and now instead of having the masters and slaves of Roman and Greek and Egyptian society we have land owning lords and serfs. A different social relationship based on a different emphasis in mode of production on land. But this cannot go on. This whole social relationship of feudalism because the new forces come into being and again what we are dealing with now is the age of discovery and exploration. The discovery of the New World the discovery of new techniques the discovery of gunpowder for all sorts of uses the discovery of mines with gold and
silver in them in the New World and in the old world of the printing press all of these things that are in any freshman textbook on history. Most of all a new age of commerce commerce revives especially after the crusades and so money begins to talk again. And we get a new class rising all over again. A middle class class of middle men who are neither service nor landowning Lords but something in between. This is the origin of the word middle. The middle class who are at first simply the men who trade the merchants then of course banking sophisticated modern banking is discovered first in northern Italy and then spreads elsewhere in European civilization. The Age of Discovery makes the shipowner very important. Also
companies are formed in order to send men out into the new world and the joint stock principle is discovered and all the people need money. They lend money they borrow money at interest all the rest of it. And so from feudalism you come into modern capitalism which tells of course in different stages in the earlier stages. It is the age of Commerce commercialism but it is also tied with the age of what the Italians call the Shans and will the new science and new techniques which in turn produce what we now call the industrial revolution. And so the Industrial Revolution is the second stage of the modern capitalism the age of commercialism being the first age then the industrial revolution. And now some people are calling the atomic age the third stage
of capitalism. And it's not likely that Marx ever thought we would get this far. But modern capitalism to outstrips itself through its own changes of modes of production this is why I brought up the problem of cybernetics and automation all the things that Karl Marx could hardly dream up. Those real van in Marx's they certainly dreamed of these things. But if Marx were alive today he would ask that he would perhaps be in a position to say well all right I was wrong about the timetable. But the principle is still the same whether you kept a list going to do when you go through all these new inventions and all of this you establish a system in which the old ways of life will be absurd in which you will have really the 2 hour day for labor so he's going to do it. If you can't use more than two hours of any man's time. What are you going to do with all these people.
Or if you take just a few men and go on working then eight hours what are you going to do with the men for whom you have no employment because you're using machines and so forth and so on so that the new the new techniques of production inevitably will raise the kinds of problems that require a response in the superstructure in new ways. The government our new laws are all the rest of it. Think of new laws that we have to worry about laws about atomic dumping in space. This is what the UN is worried about the international lawyers are worried about what laws can we have about who can go to the moon and do what. Shouldn't this be under some control. When you hardly think of Marx even worrying about such problems now Marxist prediction is that these problems are so great that capitalism will not be able to solve them. And still be capitalism. That's the point. Marx doesn't say that the men who are in
charge now are so dumb that they won't know what to do. What he's saying is that capitalism is so restrictive that it will not permit men to solve these problems. We'll seek solutions in the old ways but the old ways are no longer relevant to the new problems created by these difference in modes and differences in modes of production. Marx had it here while he had an optimistic view of history had a rather pessimistic view of man. Not on a personal basis but as Barbash and I have both said in the past here that he believed that man was so influenced by his modes of production that he believed that it was impossible for a capitalist to be a good capitalist. Capitalism was evil in itself. And so Marxist hope was not that the capitalist would reform but that the capitalist would get himself into a dead end by refusing to be flexible enough to to respond to the new situation. And so the only other force left and a force
produced by capitalism Labor would have to take over and labor by that time would be the vast majority. And that this vast majority of the proletariat would then break in to a modern communism which also has its stages.
The theory and practice of communism
Marxism as a Theory of History
Producing Organization
University of Wisconsin
WHA (Radio station : Madison, Wis.)
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University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
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For series info, see Item 3358. This prog.: Marxism as a Theory of History, part II.
Politics and Government
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Producing Organization: University of Wisconsin
Producing Organization: WHA (Radio station : Madison, Wis.)
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University of Maryland
Identifier: 68-18-7 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
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Chicago: “The theory and practice of communism; Marxism as a Theory of History,” 1968-04-01, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed February 24, 2024,
MLA: “The theory and practice of communism; Marxism as a Theory of History.” 1968-04-01. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. February 24, 2024. <>.
APA: The theory and practice of communism; Marxism as a Theory of History. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from