Mayans

Alex Trotter uburoi at panix.com
Wed Mar 29 11:22:40 MST 1995


I finally uncovered the article I was looking for that discusses the fall
of the Mayan civilization ("1,000 Years of Resistance," *Wildcat* No. 17,
Spring 1994). It says that, although much about the Meso-American
civilizations remains little known, most archaeologists have tended to
accept the view that the decisive reason for the collapse and abandonment
of the Olmec and Maya city-states was rebellion of the lower classes. The
article is not precisely as I remembered it (in my last post on this
subject I did overstate it somewhat); the civilization didn't fall literally
overnight, but the decline was swift enough. Written dates and monuments
came to an end between A.D. 790 and 890.
	The article also says that the previously held consensus among
archaeologists is now coming under attack because class struggle is no
longer in vogue in academia. It cites *A Forest of Kings* by Linda Schele
and David Freidel (Morrow, New York, 1990) as an example of the new trend in
Meso-American studies
that tries to portray the Mayan civilization as a unified "community"
rather than a class-riven society. The (multiple) explanations offered
for the collapse include dense population, malnutrition & sickness,
barbarian takeover of trade routes, ecological catastrophe, and (I think
this is the one Steve Keen mentioned) economic crisis. The authors of the
article object to these narratives because they all in one way or another
reduce the oppressed to passive objects of crisis. For them the mystery
is not why the civilization collapsed but why it took so long for the
peasants to wreck it. Their explanation seems rather like the Italian
autonomists' claim that capitalist crisis today is caused by the
resistance of the proletariat and not (or not so much) by objective
movements in the economy.
	Another interesting point brought up in the *Wildcat* article,
though it may be speculation, concerns a possible Chinese influence on (or
even origin of) the Maya culture! The source cited is *The Maya* by M.
Coe (Thames & Hudson, London, 1993).
	Anyway, my whole point in bringing up the case of the Mayans had
to do with the stages-of-production thread of discussion several weeks
ago; I was trying to show that the marxist schema of a necessary progression
in modes of production as a prerequisite for communism doesn't necessarily
hold. The revolt of the lower classes in Meso-America did not result in a
higher stage of civilization but in its abandonment, not in a higher mode
of production but in the virtual abandonment of production (some farming
was still done post collapse, but for the most part they returned to the
rain forest to gather and hunt).
	I seem to recall, from last summer, that there was at least one
actual anthropologist on the list. Are there any actual archaeologists
here, too? If so, it would be interesting to hear them chime in on this.

--AT



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