1.6 The epochal nature of the period we are entering

Karl Marx and Frederick Engels famously declared in the very first sentence of the Communist Manifesto (written in 1847 and first published in 1848) that "the history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles." They could not have been more mistaken, as Engels later acknowledged in a footnote to the 1888 edition, based on archeological and anthropological studies that were being published and made more widely available at that time.

Today, the deep history of our species is rapidly being documented by the combination of a variety of disciplines and tools of investigation, including paleontology, linguistics, biochemistry (notably DNA data), the development of new dating methods and the ability to use oral histories of the world's indigenous peoples in conjunction with the accumulating physical evidence. Accordingly, the history of our species, homo sapiens, is known to trace as far back as 200,000 years, and reliably to at least 160,000 years, with consistent evidence that human society has been characterized during nearly all of this history by a communal mode of production (mainly cooperative foraging).

Only beginning 5,000 to 10,000 years ago, in locations and at times characterized by a relative scarcity of resources and more advanced technology did class-divided societies emerge. Even then, wherever and whenever a combination of isolation and abundance permitted, societies based on communal foraging or communal farming continued to exist or to re-establish themselves. The war referred to by Marx and Engels was not only one between the exploiting and exploited classes but between class society and those who remain steadfast in the defense of their human rights. These internal and external antagonisms to class society and its defenders continue to this day.

Those readers interested in considering these matters in greater depth are encouraged to consult: Chris Harman (1994), Engels and the origins of human society, https://www.marxists.org/archive/harman/1994/xx/engels.htm (in which Harman fills some of the gap between Frederick Engels' account of the origins of human society and more contemporary research); Chris Harman (2008, Verso) A People's History of the World (which not only includes an Introduction and Part One: The rise of class societies which are particularly relevant and accessible on the issues of origins, but which is also a worthy addition to the library of anyone looking for an intelligible overview of world history addressed from a global, rather than the more usual Eurocentric perspective ); www.wikipedia.org (for its sections on Archeology, Deep history, Prehistory, Neanderthal extinction, Paleoanthropology, and Historical linguistics); Andrew Shryock and Daniel Lord Smail (Eds., 2011, U.California Press) Deep History: The Architecture of Past and Present (a work which brings together specialist contributions from the various lines of research that combine to address the mysteries of Deep History, among which we especially recommend Chapter 4, Energy and Ecosystems by Mary C. Stiner and Gillian Feeley-Harnik); and last but not least, Richard Borshay Lee (2004), Power and property in twenty-first century foragers: A critical examination, https://tspace.library.utoronto.ca/handle/1807/17943.

While comparisons are inevitable with past periods of revolutionary change in socio-economic system, the changes that are now emergent in the character of the struggle to address the problems created by capitalism mark the beginning of the end of the succession of socio-economic systems characterized by conflicting economic classes (whether slave, feudal or capitalist or some modification or combination of these). These changes already include experiments in horizontal and bottom-up democracy and collaborative forms of educational, scientific, communicative and economic activity, in all of which knowledge and imagination play a decisive role. The current epoch, if it witnesses the continuation of this process to its logical conclusion, will ultimately signify the rejoining of all of humanity with the long period of our species' development as a communal one, including continuity for some and restoration by most of the indigenous characteristics of communal decision-making, cooperation and sharing.

This change will restore to their former prominence communal non-market relationships among people and a stewardship relationship of people with nature. Accordingly, this change will necessarily include a period of restoration of the human rights of all the world's oppressed indigenous peoples and the unification of the vast majority of the world's people in opposition to an ever narrowing circle of political-economic elites. Also characteristic of this period is likely to be the growing social isolation of the court jesters and social parasites who endeavour to borrow some of the elite's economic and political power by voluntarily serving to maintain it.

Parenthetically, while not advancing quite the same argument as is being made here, the recognition that we are facing a millennial change was inspired by reading John Bellamy Foster, "The epochal crisis" Monthly Review 65(5):1-12 October 2013, which can be read online at: www.monthlyreview.org/2013/10/01/epochal-crisis.

But we need more than a modest change in our conceptualization of human history. Communal relationships turn out to be the historical norm. The relatively brief period of class-divided human history, usually told from the perspective of the exploiting classes, is the aberration, not the norm. In this recognition humanity can find the way out of its current existential crisis. Contemporary capitalism has indeed paved the way to its own demise by doing what is in its nature, concentrating economic and formal political power in the hands of an ever diminishing part of the global population. An alliance of those exploited as an economic class with those oppressed by the denial of their human rights, two overlapping categories, would include the overwhelming majority of humankind. At no time in history has the ruling elite been more vulnerable to moral and physical isolation from the rest of humanity. In this reality lies the key to achievement by the majority of a revolutionary transformation, returning humankind onto its communal journey.