The Political Leadership in Non-Capitalist Societies

One of the most exciting spheres of the scientific research is the political, social and economic life of primitive societies. The point here is that they are alternative to the Western capitalist states that for a long time were considered to be at the supreme stage of social development. With the appearance of new theoretical approaches (such as anarchism) and increase of the valuable data concerning the typical primitive societies, their interpretation has changed. In fact, Morris claims that there had been two approaches to primitive societies since the Enlightenment when Rousseau and Hobbes offered two polar points of view. Thus, according to Morris, when Rousseau interpreted the primitive people as “noble savages”, Hobbes considered that the “war against all” was the main characteristic of any primitive society; in such a way, Rousseau criticized and Hobbes propagated the liberal and capitalist values of their epoch.

Today, diversity in all dimensions is a very important worldview pattern that helps to understand this issue. Thus, it is important to understand the specifics of primitive societies through their similarities and differences in order to achieve a realistic result based on both Hobbes’ and Rousseau’s extremities. Morris claims that it is possible to divide all non-capitalist societies into four categories according to the differences in their political organization: these are bands, tribes, chiefdoms and states. The first one is too close to the political organization of the Western states while the first three forms may provide some new information due to their specifics. The point of the current essay is the comparison of political leadership in the San Bushmen, Yanomamo and Hindu rural societies that represent respectively a band, tribe and chiefdom. Through the comparison, it becomes clear that the economic development affects the complexity of the social structure, the political leaders’ alienation from their society and increase of their authority.

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As stated above, the San Bushmen hunters and gatherers of the Kalahari (also called “the !Kung”), Amazonian tribe called the Yanomamo and the Hindu village were organized according to so-called jajmani system and represent three types of four non-capitalist forms of societies. It is important to explain the difference between bands, tribes and chiefdoms as the dimensions of the same non-capitalist world and way of life. A difficult point in discussing the issues concerning the leaders of non-capitalist societies is some kind of the Western scientific chauvinism that helps the Western researchers to evaluate all forms of social and political organizations through the prism of their correspondence with those of the West. Morris claims that “power is intrinsic to any social group”, and its governmental formal realization are not crucial. He suggests dividing all societies into those with centralized political power and those with the lack of its centralization. The main territorial unit of the latter is the social community that includes local people united by economic, social and other ties into a single relatively stable group.

In such a way, non-capitalist societies also have a political organization of social life, but they realize it in a different way than the Western societies do. The difference between bands, tribes and chiefdoms depends on the complexity of social relationships in each separate case as well as the economic productivity that is interrelated with them. It is clear that the complexity of economic demands facilitates the increase of social forms of transformation and development. Each complex economic system tends to have centralized forms of social and political organization; that is why the capitalist societies elaborated governmental forms of organization, in which case typical non-capitalist societies remain without the centralized political power as Morris stated. Thus, a band is a society without any political centralization, while a tribe is more centralized than a band, but its members are relatively equal, and lastly, chiefdom grounds on the political institution of a chief who has a strong socially ensured power.

As for the societies compared in the essay, the Bushmen are hunters and gatherers, thus, their society is to a great extent egalitarian. Through the classification mentioned, it becomes clear that the Bushmen have a band-type political organization because their economy is very primitive and requires no centralization. In fact, the main reason for this is the difficulties connected with a productive economic development that appear because of the Kalahari’s climatic specifics. The Amazonians of the Yanomamo tribes live in better climatic conditions; that is why their economic potential is higher. Due to this fact, they have elaborated a form of tribe that presupposes the existence of a headman who embodies some power. In contrast, the Hindu system of jajmani is a social organization in the form of chiefdom partly because of much greater economic development (agricultural techniques, for example) in comparison with the Yanomamo and especially the Bushmen . It is important that the political organizations of the Bushmen, Yanomamo and Hindu villagers are not in any respect “worse” than that of the Western states. They are just “different”. Besides, it is clear that economically capitalist societies are much more effective than non-capitalist ones, and in this aspect, the governmental forms of political organization have a preferred position over their non-centralized counterparts.

The characteristics described presuppose the differences between the leaders of each society compared. Thus, the Bushmen have no stable institution of political leadership. As hunters and gatherers, all the Bushmen are equal in both political and economic spheres. As Woodburn claims, “the !Kung notion of “ownership” is clearly a broad one and seems to stand for an association with, involvement in and identification with the area rather than narrow possession of it.” This statement is equally right for the sphere of political power realization because the concepts of economic ownership and political leadership are very closely interrelated. Thus, Gowdy describes the leaders of the Bushmen as temporarily chosen people that accept such a vague status in order to have the collective power to achieve some well-defined goal (such as hunting or performing other important functions, which influence the lives of people). After the goal is achieved, the situational leader has no authority anymore and becomes equal to other members of the band. It is important for such a situational leader to have no exclusive rights concerning the results of hunting or gathering, and in such a way, there is no economic differentiation because all people always remain both economically and socially equal. Another important point is that the only one reason to make someone a leader is his or her personal qualities that would ensure success in some definite task. That is why there is no way to inherit the leader’s status. Furthermore, a person cannot even save his or her leader’s status for some period that is longer than needed for achieving the goal. Such well-defined specialization of each Bushmen’s situational leader is the best social mechanism to ensure the permanent social and economic equality. In such a way, even with the presence of some leaders, the Bushmen society remains egalitarian.

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In contrast, the Yanomamo tribe is to some extent more economically prosperous than that of the Bushmen. According to Chagnon, “much of their daily life revolves around gardening, hunting, collecting wild foods and firewood.” Such a restricted way of life provides no essential production that could enhance the social development, but it is very effective in comparison with the Bushmen’s economy that only satisfies everyday needs and nothing else. The people from the Yanomamo tribe live in small villages separated from each other by wild Amazonian forests. Some general principles of the Yanomamo’s social life are “kinship relationships, descent from ancestors, marriage exchanges between kinship/descent groups, and the transient charisma of distinguished headmen”. The principles mentioned presuppose the specifics of their understanding in terms of the political leadership. Each village has its headman, a person who fulfills two general functions: the social order ensuring and the representation of the village’s interests in relation to other villages. Such headmen’s power is grounded on kinship exclusively for different reasons. The most important one is the number of a headman’s relatives. According to the Yanomamo’s social order, all relatives have to support the head of their kin, which is why the head of the most powerful and numerous kin always has a group of loyal followers that ensure his power (the Yanomamo’s society is a patriarchal one). Chagnon indicates that the power of each separate headman depends only on a particular person’s qualities. Chagnon mentions that “they can, by their personal wit, wisdom, and charisma, become autocrats, but most of them are largely “greaters” among equals.” It is important for headmen to perform the same functions in the sphere of the goods production as other people in their villages. It is clear that the reason for such situation is their inability to become wealthier than others because of the low effectiveness of their economic system. In such a way, the Yanomamo’s tribal leaders have more privileges than their counterparts in the band-like Bushmen’s society, but their power also has great limitations because most of the Yanomamo’s headmen remain equal to other people and only perform some administrative and representative functions.

The political realization of the Hindu villagers’ social system is much more complicated and sophisticated than previous two. The economy of these people grounds on agrarian production that leads to product extension and corresponding social transformations. The political form of these societies is chiefdom based on a sophisticated varna system called jajmani. The main idea of this system is the differentiation of the entire society into two groups of people: those from the higher class (The Twice-Born) and those from the lower one. Those from the lower class people are called “purjans” while their masters are known as “jajmans”. As Gould claims, “a purjan is to his jajman as a son to his father.” Such analogous relationships allow understanding some specific features of the system in general. Firstly, the comparison of the jajmani system with family relationships indicates that there is no legitimate way to choose or change both jajman and purjan because neither a father can choose a son nor son can choose a father. In fact, this is the main point of varna system according to which the birth totally presupposes the social status of a person. In such a way, all people in such Hindu rural society are considered to be in some kind of a filial relationship with their chief. The power of a chief is unlimited as long as he acts according to the rules of jajmani system; in the same way, this system is the only reason for his political power. It is clear that agrarian work requires a centralized society in order to achieve the goals stated. In such a way, the development of the production means affect the sophistication of the social structure and the centralization of political power embodied by a chief. The family of such a person receives product extensions and in such a way, the economic differentiation exists along with the social and political inequalities that imply the development of a society in general.

Based on the characteristics of each society, it becomes clear that the differences between the leaders of bands, tribes and chiefdoms depend on the economic development of each society. Referring to the contradiction of Hobbes’ and Rousseau’s points of views on the state of nature allows understanding that each position is partly right. The political equality exists because of economic poverty when the structured and well-organized society is the instrument of effective economic policy’s realization. The correlation between poverty and equality is clear. At the same time, the point here is related more to the specialization than the social inequality. It is possible to understand the difference between the Bushmen, Yanomamo and Hindu rural people based on the degree of workers’ specialization. Through such a prism, the institute of centralized political power appears to be a result of all people’s specialization. Thus, the Hundu chief within the jajmani system performs the function of a military and political administrator and nothing else, while the Yanomamo headman combines his social obligations with his personal everyday work, and the Bushmen situational leader is totally equal to other Bushmen. The alienation of a political leader from the society is a part of the process connected with the economic and social development.

In such a way, the comparison of different political forms peculiar for non-capitalist societies allow understanding the direct interrelation between the economic and political development. Without a notion of “ownership”, the Bushmen have no institution of personal political power. The Yanomamo tribes whose economy has no product extension have elaborated the concept of a headman who regulates certain relationships within the society and remains equal to others. The Hindu agrarians produced the sophisticated jajmani varna system in order to centralize the society according to the new economic purposes. Thus, the increase of personal political power appears to be another side of the elaboration of new production means that results in both work specialization and economic inequality. In such a way, the political centralization is a reasonable response to new economic challenges.