Wednesday, March 09, 2011
Marcel Mazoyer & Laurence Roudart - A History of World Agriculture from the Neolithic Age to the Current Crisis
However, for the vast majority of human history and indeed for most of the undeveloped world, this is not the case. Most people were involved in the production of food, and in most historical societies, almost all of the work that took place within a community was related to food production.
Mazoyer and Roudart's work is an examination of the history of agriculture - from the earliest hunter-gatherers who would have nurtured and protected plants, to the slash and burn cultivation that replaced them, through the various permanent "post-forest agrarian" cultures that saw the growth and strengthen of class society, to feudal and eventually capitalist agriculture. It is a monumental book, both readable and interesting as well as in depth and well researched.
But this book is also part polemic. The authors are trying to explain why it is, despite technical innovation and cheaper materials, the "difference in productivity between the least efficient agriculture in the world, practiced exclusively with manual implements ... and the best-equipped and most efficient agriculture has increased dramatically. The gap has widened from 1 to 10 in the interwar period to 1 to 2000 at the end of the twentieth century".
But these are minor criticisms of a tremendously important book. This solid investigation into the basis for human societies throughout the last 20,000 years is ammunition for those of us who believe a genuine materialist history of humans is possible. By examining in such detail different cultures and societies, we can put together an understanding of human development, and failure which will help us understand the enormous challenges for the future.