Production Principles and Production Revolutions

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* Article: Part I The Macrohistory Surveys Chapter 1 Production Revolutions and Periodization of History: A Comparative and Theoretic-Mathematical Approach. In: Macrohistory and Globalization.


"In this chapter we have chosen such an aspect that is liable to mathematical analysis and quite suitable for it. This is the temporal aspect of history."


Leonid Grinin:

"According to the theory that we propose, the historical process can be subdivided more effectively into four major stages or four formations of historical process. The transition from any of these formations into another is tantamount to the change of all the basic characteristics of the respective formation. However, in addition to this principle basis of periodization (that determines the number of singled out periods and their characteristics), we need an additional basis (see Rule 5 above), by means of which the chronology may be worked out in detail.

As such an additional basis we have proposed the production principle (e.g., Grinin 1995–1996, 2000, 2003a, 2007f, 2007k, 2009b) that describes the major qualitative stages of the development of the world productive forces.

We single out four production principles:

1. Hunter-Gatherer.

2. Craft-Agrarian.

3. Industrial.

4. Information-Scientific.

Though the qualitative transformations in some spheres of life are closely connected with changes in the other (and, thus, no factors can be considered as absolutely dominant), some spheres (with respect to their influence) can be considered as more significant; that is, changes within them are more likely to lead to changes in the other spheres than the other way round.

The production principle belongs to such spheres due to the following reasons:

1. Significant changes in the production basis lead to the production of more surplus and to the rapid growth of population. And both these processes lead to changes in all other spheres of life. Still the transition to new social relations, new religious forms etc. is not so directly connected with the demographic changes as are the transformations of the production principle.

2. Though a significant surplus can appear as a result of some other causes (natural abundance, successful trade or war), such exceptional conditions cannot be borrowed, whereas new productive forces can be borrowed and diffused, and thus, they appear in many societies.

3. Production technologies are applied by the whole society (and what is especially important, by the lower social strata), whereas culture, politics, law, and even religion are systems developed by their participants (usually the elites).

The change in production principles is connected with production revolutions.

The starting point of such revolutions can be regarded as a convenient and natural point from which the chronology of formation change can be established.

The production revolutions are the following:

1) the Agrarian Revolution (the ‘Neolithic Revolution’);

2) the Industrial Revolution;

3) the Information-Scientific Revolution.

The production revolutions as technological breakthroughs have been discussed for quite a long time. The Industrial Revolution became an object of extensive research already in the 19th century. The first ideas on the Neolithic (Agrarian) Revolution appeared in Gordon Childe's works in the 1920s and 1930s, and the theory of this revolution was developed by him in the 1940s and 1950s (Childe 1948, 1949, 1952).

In connection with the Information-Scientific Revolution which started in the 1950s the interest in the study of production revolutions significantly increased. However, the category ‘production revolution’ has not been sufficiently worked out and its contents are determined in a predominantly intuitive way.

Much has been written about each of the three production revolutions (see, e.g., Reed 1977; Harris and Hillman 1989; Cohen 1977; Rindos 1984; Smith 1976; Cowan and Watson 1992; Ingold 1980; Cauvin 2000; Knowles 1937; Dietz 1927; Henderson 1961; Phyllys 1965; Cipolla 1976a; Stearns 1993, 1998; Lieberman 1972; Mokyr 1985, 1993; More 2000; Bernal 1965; Philipson 1962; Benson and Lloyd 1983; Sylvester and Klotz 1983); however, there is a surprisingly small number of studies concerning these revolutions as recurrent phenomena, each representing an extremely important landmark in the history of humankind (e.g., Vasilyev 1977: 8; Cipolla 1976b: 7; Gellner 1983, 1988). Moreover, most of these studies are fragmentary and superficial.

On the other hand, we have developed a theory of production revolution (Grinin 1995–1996, 2000, 2003a, 2006a, 2007a, 2007b, 2007f, 2007k, 2009b) within the framework of the overall theory of a world historical process.

The Production Revolution can be defined as a radical turn in the world productive forces connected with the transition to the new principle of management not only in technologies but in the interrelations of society and nature. The difference of a production revolution from various technical overturns is that it touches not only some separate essential branches but the economy on the whole. And finally, the new trends of management become dominant. Such an overturn involves in the economical circulation some fundamentally new renewable or long inexhaustible resources, and these resources must be widespread enough within most territories; it rises labor productivity and/or land carrying capacity (the yield of useful product per unit of area) by orders of magnitude; this is also expressed in the creation of several orders greater volume of production and the demographic revolution (or the change of the demographic reproduction type). As a result, the most powerful impulse for qualitative reorganization of the whole social structure is generated.

Although the production revolution begins in one or a few places but as it signifies the turn of the world productive forces, it represents a long lasting process gradually involving more and more societies and territories.

As a result

a) the societies where it took place become progressive in the technological, economical, demographical, cultural and often military aspects;

b) the break with new production system is an exception while joining it becomes a rule.

Each production revolution has its own cycle. We can speak about two qualitative phases and a separating them phase of expansion of new production principle. The latter can be also regarded as a sort of a long period of distribution and diffusion of innovations.

Each phase of a production revolution represents a major breakthrough in production.

During the first phase the new production principle hotbeds are formed; those sectors that concentrate the principally new production elements grow in strength. Then the qualitatively new elements diffuse to more societies and territories.

In those places where the most promising production version has got formed and adequate social conditions have appeared the transition to the second phase of production revolution occurs, which marks the flourishing of the new production principle. Now underdeveloped societies catch up with the production revolution and become more actively engaged in it. Thus, we confront a certain rhythm of the interchange of qualitative and quantitative aspects.

A general scheme of two qualitative phases of production revolution within our theory looks as follows:

  • Agrarian Revolution:
    • the first phase – transition to primitive hoe agriculture and animal husbandry;
    • the second phase – transition to intensive agriculture (especially to irrigation or non-irrigation plough one).
  • Industrial Revolution:
    • the first phase starts in the 15th and 16th centuries with the vigorous development of seafaring and trade, mechanization on the basis of water engine, the deepening division of labor and other processes.
    • The second phase is the industrial breakthrough of the 18th century and the first third of the 19th century which is connected with the introduction of various machines and steam energy.
  • Information-Scientific Revolution:
    • the first phase began in the 1940s and 1950s with breakthroughs in automation, power engineering, production of synthetic materials, but especially in the development of electronic means of control, communication and information.
    • However, it appears possible to speak about its forthcoming second phase (see e.g., Marahov 1984: 314; Grinin 2003a) which may start within a few decades.

We believe that the production revolution can be regarded as an integral part (the first ‘half’) of the production principle.

Thus, the overall cycle of the production principle can be represented in two phases: first is the production revolution which is followed by second – the development of mature relations. Such an approach demonstrates in a rather explicit way the main ‘intrigue’ of the cyclical pattern of historical formations.

In their first half we observe mostly the radical production changes, whereas in the second half we deal with especially profound changes of political and social relations, public consciousness and other spheres. Within these periods, on the one hand, political-judicial and sociocultural relations catch up with more developed production forces, and, on the other hand, they create a new level, from which an impulse toward the formation of a new production principle starts.

However, a production principle cycle can be also represented in a classical three-phase fashion: formation, maturity, and decline. Yet, in some sense it appears more convenient to represent it in six phases, each pair of which demonstrates an additional rhythm of change of qualitative and quantitative characteristics.

Such a cycle looks as follows:

1. The first phase – ‘transitional’. It is connected with the beginning of the production revolution and the formation of a new production principle in one place, or a few places, however, in rather undeveloped and imperfect forms.

2. The second phase – ‘adolescence’ – is connected with a wider diffusion of new production forms, with the strengthening and vigorous expansion of the new production principle. A new formation (or World System) appears.

3. The third phase – ‘florescence’ – is connected with the second phase of the production revolution, as a result of which a basis for the mature forms of the production principle is developed.

4. The fourth phase – ‘maturity’ – is connected with the diffusion of new technologies to most regions and production branches. The production principle acquires its classical forms. It is in this phase when particularly important changes start in non-production spheres as it was mentioned above.

5. The fifth phase – ‘high maturity’ – leads to the intensification of production, the realization of its potential almost to the limit, after which crisis phenomena start to appear; that is, non-system (for the given production principle) elements begin to emerge.

6. The sixth phase – ‘preparatory’. Intensification grows, more and more non-system elements that prepare the formation of a new production principle emerge. However, they do not form a system yet. After this in some societies a transition to a new production principle can take place, and a new cycle begins."


Detailed Periodization

The first formations of historical process. The Hunter-Gatherer production principle

"Our periodization starts with the most important production revolution for the humankind; what is more, people themselves are, undoubtedly, part of the productive forces.

Due to the paucity of information on the first formation it appears reasonable to connect the phases of the hunter-gatherer production principle with the qualitative landmarks of human adaptation to nature and its acquisition. Indeed, during this period community size, tools, economic forms, lifestyles – that is, virtually everything – depended almost exclusively on the natural environment. If we correlate phases with major changes in environment, it appears possible to connect them with an absolute chronology on the panhuman scale. This appears especially justified, as according to the proposed theory some part of the natural environment (within a theoretical model) should be included in the productive forces, and the more they are included, the weaker is their technological component (see Grinin 2000, 2003a, 2006c, 2009b).

The first phase may be connected with the ‘Upper Paleolithic’ Revolution (about it see Mellars and Stringer 1989; Marks 1993; BarYosef 2002; Shea 2007) and the formation of social productive forces (however primitive they were at that time). Already for this period more than a hundred types of tools are known (Boriskovskij 1980: 180).

The second phase (approximately and very conventionally, 30,00023,000 [20,000] BP) led to the final overcoming of what may be called the residue contradiction of anthropogenesis: between biological and social regulators of human activities. This phase is connected with the wide diffusion of people, the settlement in new places, including peopling of Siberia (Doluhanov 1979: 108) and, possibly, the New World (Zubov 1963: 50; Sergeeva 1983), though the datings here are very scattered (Mochanov 1977: 254; Sergeeva 1983; Berezkin 2007a, 2007b).

The third phase lasted till 18,000 – 16,000 BP. This is the period of the maximum spread of glaciers (referred to as the glacial maximum). And though this was not the first glaciation, this time humans had a sufficient level of productive forces and sociality so that some groups managed to survive and even flourish under those severe conditions. Large changes took place with respect to variety and quantity of tools (Chubarov 1991: 94). This is precisely the time when there occurred a fast change of types of stone tools; for example, in France (Grigoriev 1969: 213), in the Levant (18,000 BP) microliths appeared (Doluhanov 1979: 93).

During this phase, as well as the subsequent fourth phase – c. 17,000–14,000 (18,000–15,000) BP – the level of adaptation to the changing natural environment significantly increased. In some places that avoided glaciation, intensive gathering appeared (Hall 1986: 201; Harlan 1986: 200).

The fifth phase – 14,000–11,000 (15,000–12,000) BP, that is the end of the Paleolithic and the beginning of the Mesolithic (Fainberg 1986: 130) – may be connected with the end of glaciation and climate warming (Yasamanov 1985: 202–204; Koronovskij, Yakushova 1991: 404–406). As a result of this warming and consequent change in the landscape the number of large mammals decreased. That is why the transition to individual hunting was observed (Markov 1979: 51; Childe 1949: 40). Technical means (bows, spear-throwers, traps, nets, harpoons, new types of axes etc.) were developed for the support of autonomous re- production of smaller groups and even individual families (Markov 1979: 51; Prido 1979: 69; Avdusin 1989: 47). Fishing in rivers and lakes was developed and acquired a major importance (Matjushin 1972).

The sixth phase (c. 12,000–10,000 BP) was also connected with continuing climatic warming, environmental changes culminating in the transition to the Holocene (see, e.g., Hotinskij 1989: 39, 43; Wymer 1982 [and archaeologically – to the Neolithic in connection with considerable progress in stone industries]). This period evidenced a large number of important innovations that, in general, opened the way to the new, craft-agrarian, production principle (see, e.g., Mellaart 1975). The point of peculiar interest are the harvest-gathering peoples who were a potentially more progressive development of the craft-agrarian branch. Such gathering can be very productive (see, e.g., Antonov 1982: 129; Shnirel'man 1989: 295–296; Lips 1956; Lamberg-Karlovsky, Sabloff 1979)."

The second formation of the historical process. The Craft-Agrarian production principle

"Whatever plants were cultivated, the independent invention of agriculture always took place in special natural environments (see, e.g., [Deopik 1977: 15] with respect to South-East Asia). Correspondingly, the development of cereal production could only take place in certain natural and climate environments (Gulyaev 1972: 50–51; Shnirel'man 1989: 273; Mellaart 1982: 128; Harris and Hillman 1989; Masson 1967: 12; Lamberg-Karlovsky, Sabloff 1979). It is supposed that the cultivation of cereals started somewhere in the Near East: in the hills of Palestine (Mellaart 1975, 1982), in the Upper Euphrates area (Alexeev 1984: 418; Hall 1986: 202), or Egypt (Harlan 1986: 200).

The beginning of the agricultural revolution is dated within the interval 12,000 to 9,000 BP, though in some cases the traces of the first cultivated plants or domesticated animals' bones are even of a more ancient age of 1415 thousand years ago. Thus, in a rather conventional way it appears possible to maintain that the first phase of the craft-agrarian production principle continued approximately within the interval from 10,500 to 7,500 BP (the 9th–6th millennia BCE). This period ends with the formation of the West Asian agricultural region, and on the whole one may speak about the formation of the World-System during this period, also including its first cities (about cities see Lamberg-Karlovsky, Sabloff 1979; Masson 1989).

The second phase can be conventionally dated to 8000–5000 BP (the 6th – mid-late 4th millennia BCE), that is up to the formation of a unified state in Egypt and the development of a sophisticated irrigation economy in this country. It includes the formation of new agricultural centers, diffusion of domesticated animals from West Asia to other regions. The husbandry of sheep, goats and the first draught animals is developed. The active interchange of achievements (domesticates and their varieties, technologies, etc.) is observed. During this period (starting from the 5th millennium BCE) the first copper artifacts and tools appeared in Egypt and Mesopotamia (and a bit later in Syria) (Tylecote 1976: 9). According to Childe the so-called urban revolution took place at that time (Childe 1952: ch. 7; see also Lamberg-Karlovsky, Sabloff 1979; Masson 1989; Oppenheim 1968; see also Adams 1981; Pollock 2001: 45; Bernbeck, Pollock 2005: 17).

During the third phase, 5000–3500 (5300–3700) BP, i.e. 30001500 BCE the agriculture emerges; animal husbandry, crafts and trade are differentiated into separate branches of economy. Though, according to our theory, crafts did not determine the development of agricultural revolution, it appears necessary to note that, according to Chubarov's data at the end of the second phase and the beginning of the third a very wide diffusion of major innovations (wheel, plough, pottery wheel, harness [yoke], bronze metallurgy, etc.) is observed (Chubarov 1991; see also about plough McNeill 1963: 24–25; Kramer 1965; on bronze metallurgy Tylecote 1976: 9). This was the period when the first states, and later empires, appeared in the Near East. Urbanization also went on reaching new regions. This period ends with a major economic, agrotechnical, and craft upsurge in Egypt at the beginning of the New Kingdom (Vinogradov 2000b).

The fourth phase (3500–2200 [3700–2500] BP, or 1500–200 BCE) is the period when systems of intensive (including non-irrigation plough) agricultures formed in many parts of the world. We observe an unprecedented flourishing of crafts, cities, trade, formation of new civilizations and other processes that indicate that the new production principle began to approach its maturity. This phase lasts till the formation of new gigantic world states from Rome in the West till China in the East, which later led to major changes in productive forces and other social spheres.

The fifth phase (the late 3rd century BCE – early 9th century CE) is the period of the most complete development of the productive forces of the craft-agrarian economy, the period of flourishing and disintegration of the ancient civilizations and formation of civilizations of a new type (Arab, European etc.).

The sixth phase (from the 9th century till the first third of the 15th century). At its beginning one can see important changes in the production and other spheres in the Arab-Islamic world and China; in particular, in the second half of the 1st century BC the wide international trade network from the East African Coast to South-East Asia and China developed in the Indian Ocean basin (Bentley 1996). Then we observe the beginning of urban and economic growth in Europe, which finally creates first centers of industry and preconditions for industrial revolution."


The third formation of the historical process. The Industrial production principle

"The first phase of the Industrial revolution (and, respectively, the first phase of the industrial production principle) may be dated to the period lasting from the second third of the 15th century to the late 16th century. This phase includes those types of activities that were both more open to innovation and capable of accumulating more surplus (trade [Mantu 1937: 61–62; Bernal 1965] and colonial activities [Baks 1986], which had become more and more interwoven since the 16th century) came to the forefront. Besides, at that time, primitive industries (but still industries) developed in certain fields. It is during that period when according to Wallerstein (1974, 1987) the capitalist world-economy was formed.

From the late 16th century to the first third of the 18th century there lasted the second phase (adolescence) of the new production principle, a period of growth and development of new sectors that had become dominant in some countries (the Netherlands and England).

The third phase of the industrial production principle began in the second third of the 18th century in England. It meant the beginning of the second phase of the industrial revolution that led to the development of the machine-based industries and the transition to steam energy. Supplanting handwork with machines took place in cotton textile production that developed in England (Mantu 1937: 184). Watt's steam engine started to be used in the 1760s and 1770s. A new powerful industry – machine production – had developed. The industrial breakthrough was more or less finalized in England in the 1830s. The successes of industrialization were evident in a number of countries by that time and it was also accompanied by significant demographic transformations (Armengaud 1976; Minghinton 1976: 85–89).

The fourth phase (from the 1830s to the late 19th century) is the period of the victory of machine production and its powerful diffusion. The fifth phase took place in the late 19th century − the early 20th century up to the world economic crisis of the late 1920s–1930s. During that period there occurred huge changes. The chemical industries experienced vigorous development, a breakthrough was observed in steel production, the extensive use of electricity (together with oil) gradually began to replace coal. Electrical engines changed both the factories and everyday life. Development of the internal combustion engines led to the wide diffusion of automobiles.

The sixth phase continued till the mid-20th century. A vigorous intensification of production and the introduction of scientific methods of its organization took place during this period. There was an unprecedented development of standardization and the enlargement of production units. Signs of the forthcoming information-scientific revolution became more and more evident.

The fourth formation of the historical process. The Information-Scientific production principle

"The production revolution that began in the 1940s and 1950s and continues up to the present is sometimes called the ‘scientific-technical’ revolution (e.g., Benson and Lloyd 1983). However, it would be more appropriate to call it the ‘information-scientific’ revolution, as it is connected with the transition to scientific methods of production and circulation management. Especially important changes took place in information technologies. In addition, this production revolution had a few other directions: in energy technologies, in synthetic materials production, automation, space exploration, and agriculture. However, its main results are still forthcoming. The information-scientific production principle (and the fourth formation in general) is only at its beginning; only its first phase has been finished and the second phase has just started. Hence, all the calculations of the forthcoming phases' lengths are highly hypothetical. These calculations are presented in Tables 1 and 2 (see below).

The first phase of the information-scientific production principle took place between the 1950s and mid-1990s, when a vigorous development of information technologies and the start of real economic globalization were observed. The second phase began in the mid-1990s in conjunction with the development and wide diffusion of user-friendly computers, communication technologies, cell phones and so on. It has been going on up to the present.

The third phase may begin approximately in the 2030s–2040s. It will mean the beginning of the second phase of the information-scientific revolution that in our view may become a ‘control system’ revolution, that is, the vast expansion of opportunities to purposefully influence and direct various natural and production processes (see Grinin 2000, 2003a, 2006a).

Judging by the recent scientific, biotechnological and medical inventions (in particular, within nanotechnologies), the second phase of this revolution may start with changing human biological nature. There is a great number of various suppositions concerning changes of that kind, they are dealt with by intellectuals in different fields starting from philosophers to fantasists (see e.g., Fukuyama 2002; Sterling 2005).

For the expected lengths of the fourth, fifth, and sixth phases of the information-scientific production principle see Table 1. In general, it may end by the end of this century, or by the beginning of the next one. There would be even no future shock that Toffler discovered for public in 1970 (Toffler 1970). This implies an immense acceleration of development that can be hardly compatible with the biopsychic human nature. Indeed, in view of the growing life expectancies all the immense changes (the 2040s to 2090s) will happen within the span of one generation that will appear in the 2010s. The significance of these changes will be no smaller (what is more, it is likely to be greater) than the significance of the ones that took place between 1830 and 1950 that included gigantic technological transformations, the transition from agricultural to industrial society, social catastrophes and world wars. However, these metamorphoses took place within 120 years, whereas the expected period of the forthcoming transformation is twice as short. And if they occur within a lifespan of one generation, it is not clear whether human physical and psychic abilities will be sufficient to stand this; what will be the cost of such a fast adaptation? Thus, we confront the following question: how could the gap between the development of productive forces and other spheres of life be compensated?"


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