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Brief History of the Productive Forces

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I. The Stone Age

  1. Epochs in the history of mankind are made by the technology used to create the main tools of production. For example: the stone age, the bronze age, the iron age. Hence, creation of a new technology signifies a new epoch in the history of human species. 
  2. Chimp2
    The earliest material culture is that of the Stone Age. Stone was the basic material for tools. In the picture we see a monkey who tries to split open a nut by placing it on a stone and hitting it with another stone. Gradually, the stone tools become more sophisticated, acquiring the form which we know from museums, such as something resembling a modern ax or a pocket knife. This style of tool-making developed in Africa over 1.5 million years ago, spread to Europe and Asia, and lasted around 1 million years, i.e. more than any other form of technology. For more detail, see "Stone Age tools "
  3. It is at this time that human beings conquer the use of fire, which sharply differentiates them from animals. Before human being learned how to make fire, they probably learned how to preserve it, e.g. as the American Indians described in the novels of F. Cooper.
  4. Cave art2
    During the late Stone Age art starts to appear. In some caves, we see images of animals and humans.
  5. At this time people worshipped the forces of nature, e.g. the sun and the moon. Shamans, sorcerers, wizards were the key religious figures. There is a large distance separating a shaman, with his drum and incantations, from a monkey trying to crack a nut with a stone.
  6. People did not lead a settled lifestyle, but wandered after the prey they were hunting. They were "hunters and gatherers", but, most important for us, they were "wanderers" ("nomads"). Our future is that of wanderers as well, but on higher material basis, on the basis created by information revolution and nanotechnology.
  7. Jomon2
    Hunting, fishing and gathering were gradually replaced by livestock farming and agriculture. These forms of productive activities have led to settled lifestyle. Alongside agriculture, pot making appeared (on the picture: pottery from Japan's "jomon" people, who thrived from 10,000 to 300 B.C.). 
  8. People start building more or less permanent dwellings, which replace temporary or semi-temporary dwellings, as for example the wigwam of the Indians. Sometimes, the dwellings are built in the middle of a lake, to protect them from attacks. Sometimes, they are surrounded by walls, first made of wooden stakes. Sometimes, earthen walls are made, on top of which there may be wooden stakes. To protect themselves from sudden attack, people build their dwellings on top of hills. Often, the sites are situated near rivers, for reasons of transportation and water source. One such example is Kiev, originally situated on top of hills coming down to river Dnieper. The first written symbol used to represent a city was "a circle containing networks of lines that indicate transportation and communication systems" (Encarta).
  9. The wheel was invented around 3500 B.C. Let's notice that it is continually re-invented, as modern wheel of a car in no way resembles the solid stone wheel of the barbarians. It is not the form itself that is re-invented, but the material from which it is made, plus a number of "extras".
  10. Land was the common property of the entire tribe. People lived in common houses, for example the long wigwams of the North American Indians.
  11. What we've covered so far was the appearance of objective basis of knowledge. As for the subjective aspect of knowledge, i.e. the human being: it seems that there is a certain sequence in the forms of knowledge appear. The most primitive one appears to be an instinct, present in all animals. After "instinct", we get primitive survival skills, such as those necessary to keep up the fire. Then, language develops out primitive survival needs. Almost simultaneously, art appears. Art serves needs of material and spiritual life, as scenes reflecting hunt represent. Superstitions also serve the needs of material life, such as warding off sicknesses. Religion appears as a set of rules systematizing superstitions. Religion first makes its full appearance in the slave-holding society. 

II. The Bronze and Iron Age

  1. Bronze weapons2
    The Bronze age, for the most advanced nations, started around 3000 B.C. The first metals were gold and copper nuggets.
     Bronze is an alloy made of copper and other metals, e.g. tin. On the right, we see weapons from the Bronze Age in Europe, which lasted from around 2200 to 700 B.C. For example, the warriors of Troy (XI century B.C.) fought with bronze weapons, while warriors in Pericles' time (V century B.C.) used iron weapons.
  2. Agriculture Egypt2
    The Bronze Age was a "brief" transition period leading to the Iron Age. The first ones to learn how to make iron tools were Assyrians in Mesopotamia (ancestors of modern Iraqis) and Egyptians. This was around 1700 B.C. The main occupation of the epoch was agriculture. The relief (on the right) shows harvesting, livestock tending and hunting in ancient Egypt.
  3. Social classes, first in the form of castes, start to appear. In Plato's "Republic" we see 3 castes: the rulers, the warriors, and the artisans. In addition to the three castes, the classes of slaves and slaveholders appeared. The members of the castes were all citizens of the city-state, while the slaves were not. The slaves were the conquered people, who were continually oppressed, even systematically hunted down, like the Helots in ancient Sparta. 
  4. Roman slaves2
    The class of slaves can be divided up into 2 sub-classes: those who worked the fields and the mines, and those who worked in the houses of their masters ("house slaves"). To the first category belonged the gladiators, who were the most oppressed slaves, as they were trained to kill each other. Spartacus, in 70 B.C. led the revolt of the slaves against the Roman Empire. Meanwhile, "house slaves" were treated rather mildly. In the photograph of a mural from ancient Rome we see slave hairdressers and a wealthy Roman matron.  Similarly today, the class of workers in imperialist countries act as "domestic slaves". 
  5. Slave society was "a natural household economy", i.e. all things were produced in the household. One Roman author writes: "Don't think that he is buying anything, but all is produced in his house". Interaction of people through the market, at first, was relatively rare. As something extraordinary, Plutarch writes: "Pericles has organized the management of his household in a way which appeared to him most comfortable and rational. I.e. he sold the entire annual harvest, and then bought on the market everything necessary, and thus regulated his budget as a whole, and his annual expenditure".
  6. All the people in the household were considered as domestic slaves of "pater familia" who has had complete power over their life and death. 
  7. In the slave society, such relatively complex tools as the water mill were invented. Such tools make the work of the slaves unnecessary, and even counterproductive, as they require a careful attention to their operation and maintenance. 
  8. Picture writing, e.g. as practiced by American Indians on pieces of leather, develops into "hieroglyphs", as in ancient Egypt and China. 
  9. Ancient Egyptians have known about a lightening conductor. They have also invented geometry and astronomy to conduct their irrigation and to build pyramids. As they didn't have general formulas, Egyptians taught finding solutions to geometry problems through providing concrete examples.
  10. Mummypans
    The Egyptians at this time believed in "migrations of souls", and hence their custom of embalming the bodies of the dead. This custom was preserved until 700 A.D. Migration of souls has found a close parallel in the belief of "reincarnation of souls", believed by ancient Indians and many "progressive intellectuals" today.
  11. The slave-owning society can be divided into 3 stages: 1) the early one, e.g. Assyrians and Egyptians; 2) the middle one, e.g. the ancient Greece; 3) the later one, e.g. the Roman empire. There are reasons to think that treatment of slaves and relationships among people were different at each of these three stages.

Next: Brief History of the Productive Forces Continued

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