Skip to Content

Life Before and After Capitalism

There were at least 200 people packed in a lecture theatre at last year's Anarchist Book Fair on 27  October to listen to anthropologists Chris Knight and David Graeber discuss 'Life Without Capitalism'.

Knight's anthropological work is inspired by a statement by Engels in The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State that ‘the overthrow of mother-right was the world-historic defeat of the female sex’ and that this led to the end of primitive communism and the rise of class society and patriarchy.

Knight opened by stressing that we need to break out of the fictitious bubble of ideology which contains capitalism, bourgeois society, and the nuclear family. He argued that we should look to the primitive communism of hunter-gatherer societies. He referred to the Hadza people in Tanzania and the Mbendjele pygmies in the Congo who lived in egalitarian systems of social relationships and also mentioned that the Mbendjele people experiment with ‘pendulum of power’ relationships which swing between women rule and male rule.

Knight spoke of ‘the human revolution’ that took place 100,000 years ago at the dawn of human society when there was a huge social, sexual and political revolution that brought about the primitive communist society of the hunter-gatherers. Knight believes this ‘human revolution’ can occur again.

Knight later discussed ‘Lunate’: the importance of the Moon in hunter-gatherer society, the menstrual cycle of 29.5 days, women's power in the primitive communism of hunter-gather society, and the need for horizontal decision-making and organisation in society, and the desirability of ’pendulum of power’ relationships in a future anarchist communist society.

He concluded that we need to empower ourselves to take power, to slow time, manage the playful in the revolutionary process, build on the work achieved by the Occupy Movement, and that we need to set a future date for global insurrection, for example 2017, the anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution.

David Graeber spoke of more recent history than Knight. He spoke of the Neolithic period of 5,000 years ago and the origin of money in violence, terror, the state, it arising out of a legal system to remedy violence, and as payment to standing armies (see August Socialist Standard on Graeber's book Debt: The First 5,000 Years).

Graeber also spoke about the early cities in Mesopotamia which he said were obsessed with equality, the paradox of commercial activity taking place in an equalitarian society, and that inequality was a reaction against standardisation. He referred to the rise of slavery, the enslavement of women, and the equivalences of the monetary system based on female fertility.

Graeber observed that the emergence of the state coincides with the appearance of beer. He is an Anarchist and was active in the Occupy Movement. He is also the author of the 2011 book Debt: The First 5,000 Years while Knight is author of the 1991 book Blood Relations: Menstruation and the Origins of Culture.