Social Scientist. v 4, no. 42 (Jan 1976) p. 66.


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Inside Primitive Societies

LEWIS H MORGAN, ANCIENT SOCIETY, The World Publishing Co, Meridian Books, Cleveland and New York 1963.

THIS IS the nth review of a remarkable book written in .the nineteenth century.1 In its incisive analysis of primitive societies and its elaborate theory of primitive history, it still stands out as a rare example of scholarship. Though not answering all the questions relating to primitive society and history, it certainly raises a few ideas of paramount importance. At the same time, in the present situation of a poor development of Marxist concepts and methods for the study of primitive society, this book provides one of the best possible introductions to the Marxist analysis in social anthropology, especially of tribal communities.

As we all know, historical materialism holds that the productive forces at the disposal of a society in a given epoch are its determining factors. And, on the basis of the nature of the productive forces, the ideas and institutions are built while those in turn play an active role in the development of material life.2 The peculiarity of the instruments of production is that they are cqpstantly changing due to the epoch's social productive activity and the needs of human society and thereby hold the key to the revolutionary changes in the structure of any society.

For Morgan, history is a process of which man is the subject. ^The events of human progress embody themselves, independently of particular men, in a material record, which is crystallized in institutions, usages and customs, and preserved in inventions and discoveries".8 The material record, to him, is "the arts of subsistence35, which are not simple cultural traits, Jmt form the basis for defining epochs by setting limits, within which social life and organization unfold in a given historical period.4 For instance, he said that the requirements of subsistence determine the extent of family groups.8 In the same way, he explained the density of population, migration, emergence of city and the "political society^9.



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