DEBATE. Nodes and nothings. The suspended history of “marxitivism” in Mexican archaeology

Ignacio Rodríguez García *DEA-INAH. Seminario de Historia, Filosofía y Sociología de la Antropología Mexicana. (E-mail: Translation: Denisse Piñera Palacios.

History and how to reach it1

Use, abuse and re-use

In the past two decades, the work of writing history has constantly been subject to revision, both to its procedures and to its aims, and in these revisions have had an outstanding place the proposals and warnings on the risk of falling in the easy means of justifying a certain approach given the impossibility on the part of the historian of eluding his/her own cultural context of origin, as well as on the part of the obvious and methodological impossibility of assuming empathic attitudes.2 Therefore, the act of writing history will always have to be accompanied by an implicit or explicit caution on the part of the historian, caution that will have to be assumed by the reader as a responsibility of his/her own: the historian is responsible for what he/she writes, but the reader will always be the sole responsible of what he/she comes to believe.

Finley already noted3 the personal and social relationship between history and memory, in which the former acquires a status as a means to discriminate, from the events of the past, those that are important in the conformation of the individual as a person or of society as a collectivity. Under this scheme, history is then built to shelter the relevant past (relevant according to the interested entity), so that all history, by definition, highlights the group of facts that conveniently account for the current state of things. Therefore memory, individual or collective, finds in history the resources to justify developments and the projection of expectations, and very often imposes demands that exceed the mere narration of events or the long-winded concatenation of causes. Very often, he said, it is expected from history to support aims of hegemony, superiority, rights and exigencies. And in front of the poor answers obtained, memory demands the fulfillment of the aims: if history does not meet the demands, it must be (rein)forced, the necessary events must be invented for it. In this way, history and memory culminate their imbrications with the help of myths, that are created under the guidance of the obvious and obscure interests of a systematic of the past. Finley writes:

…the past has been studied in a didactic and moral way, as a sample of the sinful essence of men or as a guide for future political action; the past has developed the socio-psychological function of providing the community with cohesion and duty, of strengthening its moral tone and of underpinning patriotism; in fact the past can, and it has happened, be manipulated for romantic purposes. And many other. Each one of these interests requires a different kind of approach…4

History owes its malleability and its multivalence to myths; the peoples owe their place on Earth to myths of origin; the Jewish, Christian and Islamic religions owe their view to the same myth of an only god; the republic owes its existence to the myth of equality; the classes owe their existence to the myth of reward; romanticism owes its existence to the myth of justice; anthropology owes its reason to the myth of culture; historical materialism owes its existence to the myth of scientific socialism; postmodernism owes its existence to the myth of immeasurableness; exegesis owes its existence to the myth of historical objectivity. The naïf reader of history swallows it without noticing the myths, and also without dosing them; in this way, myths turn into foundations of systematic thought (here their strength), but also into burdens of critical thought.

I wonder, does archaeology owe its existence to the myth of a systematic of the past?, is the past without myths cognoscible?, or, as the deconstructivists would say, is the past a myth? The issue gets more complicated when we intend to write history, not the “real” past of archaeological societies anymore, but the own past of archaeology, when we intend to narrate its history. I agree with Huizinga, who notes:

In fact, the only thing History offers us is a certain idea of a certain past, an intelligible image of a fragment of the past. It is never the reconstruction or the reproduction of a given past. The past is never given. The only given thing is tradition.5

As it has been widely discussed at the Seminary of History, Philosophy and Sociology of Mexican Anthropology, the history of anthropology is the history of its traditions and currents; it is the history of the conditioners that subject and limit our way of considering our objects of study. The history of our role as anthropologists is the history of the traditions we assume and of the ones we reject. To this, we anthropologists also add the delicate role of reinforcing collective memory and of collaborating in the construction of national identity. I think it would be legitimate and productive to write the history of archaeology (at least of Mexican archaeology), under guidelines based on identifiable myths; a history like this would not be structured in sequences of characters (from Charnay to Manzanilla, for instance) or of projects (from the dynamite in the Pyramid of the Sun to the search for tlatoanis in Xala), but of traditions, myths and rites; a history like this could not only be used and abused like all the others, but it could also be re-used, it could be accommodated as a model to generate new traditions, to incorporate new myths.

Let us note, however, that in any of the foregoing styles of writing history, the normal thing is to go by the orthodoxy and to stick to the study and the processes that used to be (after all, history is achieved under the myth of the real), being little commendable to stop at the facts and processes that could have been, although their analysis offers attractive heuristic adaptations and hermeneutical alternatives. The foregoing is especially true for a discipline that is highly susceptible to political influences, such as Mexican archaeology, in which many extra-scientific considerations have changed during its academic performance. I will analyze later a history that has not yet been achieved.

An heterodox approach

The alternative scenes for dealing with data sets are a technique that has been used for a while in the discipline called economy, as a resource to prevent undesired situations or to look for certain levels of adaptability when said scenarios are developed and become optional. Specific mathematic techniques have been developed to analyze, among other things, situations of market balance, of logistic optimization, of decision-making under conditions of uncertainty and even tendencies of consumeristic behavior. As we can clearly see, the economic data sets are fully discreet and highly definable, condition prior to their analysis and management in hypothetic situations.

Due to its own nature, economy mainly tries to define future scenarios (near or mediate), and its revision of the past has the explicit objective of perfecting the mathematic techniques of analysis, generally through the introduction of new variables or the reconsideration of those already existing. In economy, the analysis of the past has never a deconstructivist intention -as to restating the sense and the objectives of the discipline or of its object of study-. In economy, mistaken hypotheses or inadequate techniques become myths, but always a posteriori.

This last condition is one of the differences between the developments of economy and, let us say, those of anthropology as one of the social sciences; in the latter, myths are established as such since the very construction of the objects of study, and the traditions that develop from them tend to obscure the very acknowledgment of the original myths. In anthropology and in archaeology, not only are myths a priori, but many times they are not even acknowledged. This is why it becomes little promising (if not politically dangerous) to undertake the historical analysis of our discipline starting from the identification of the myths of origin, because the location of said myths often refers to personalities that, when feeling identified, hurry up to refute the historian. As I have proved several times, the use of the myth as analysis category is an efficient resource to gain enemies.

This is why my objective in this essay is to visualize an alternative scenario that could have existed in Mexican archaeology (although I do not imply it could have been optional), due to the convergence of two supposedly incompatible traditions: Marxism and Neopositivism. Without displaying mathematic techniques, I ask for indulgency towards my idiosyncratic view of market balance, of logistic optimization, of decision-making under conditions of uncertainty and even tendencies of consumeristic behavior in our archaeology in a non-achieved scenario influenced by the “marxitivist tradition”. In order to do this it is necessary to transcend the canons received from history, and to fix in the mind of its main client -the reader-, that a “different kind of approach is necessary”. As Finley says:

Perhaps, in the considerably introspective activity currently performed by many historians (or performed around them), the time has come to add to the questions: what is history?, or: what is a historical explanation?, a third one: what is the effect of history? Or, to use a paraphrase: Cui bono?, who listens?, why not?6

The historical particularism of Mexican archaeology

Somewhere else7 I superficially analyzed how it is that Mexican archaeology anchored its academic development to the impressive diffusionist effort of the nineteenth century that characterized the consolidation, as disciplines, of anthropology and archaeology in the whole world. Mexico joined the worldwide current that made of archaeology a tool for the construction of nationalisms, a custom started by Denmark,8 and in the desire for this aim, the revolutionary intention changed little from the Porfirist one: if Don Porfirio wanted to impress the international intellectuality with the great Mexican pyramids, the revolutionary governments calmly put on the same level that architectural grandeur with the Prehispanic social grandeur. Once this equalization was established, it was almost natural for the State to appropriate the internalization and consolidation of said grandeur through the argument of national identity and the subsequent care of its sources: archaeological remains.

In Mexico, archaeology has always been a pioneer in the efforts to build the identity of the nation, and these efforts have imposed their dynamic. In this way, Mexican archaeology has been always oriented to supply data, monuments and arguments to allow the different governments to narrow the gap between the Prehispanic conditions of grandeur and the current ones of underdevelopment. This objective does not require at all the development of archaeology as a scientific discipline, it does not require from their practitioners to go deep in the abstractions of the theoretical developments or in the annoying alternatives of the different methodological proposals that, in this century, are common in other national archaeological traditions. What has been demanded from archaeology has been the production of holistic concepts to be used as nationalistic foundations, the production of concrete histories of specific sites and regions, the production of plain chronologies and epic interpretations. Even at the beginning of the XXI century, the dominant current in our archaeology, historical particularism, has been more than enough to comply with what the State expects from archaeology. It is not necessary to wait for this millennium to advance in order to analyze the bibliographic production of the archaeology of the XX century, and note the absolute theoretical-methodological disconnection among the different authors.

Nevertheless, not all is negative in our disciplinary history. Even if we have had to accept a predominantly monumentalist professional practice, a characterization of our field as a non-liberal one, and an often servile relation with the political class, it cannot be forgotten that on the other side we have had the creation of a legal structure of protection that has served as a model to other countries, the characterization of archaeology as anthropology (with its consequential humanistic charge), and an ideological use of the same which has made clear the distance between popular expectations and neoliberalistic aims in this time of globalization. It is also true that the ideological use of archaeology has not been so disproportionate as to reach the fortresses of fundamentalist reinforcement of Israelite archaeology or the cloudy arguments that do not distinguish between autonomy and independency, such as in Catalan archaeology and in that of the American and Canadian indigenous peoples (although we know that the struggle of various Mexican indigenous groups, in this sense, is about to start).

A certain cultural policy of the Mexican State

In the decade of the forties of the XX century, our country was already overcoming the stage of uprisings and riots that, at an almost monthly rhythm, came to characterize the precedent decades. The populist desire of Cárdenas’ six-year period, somehow imposed from above, finally acquired truly popular roots during the first years of the Second World War, because the ghost of fascism contrasted with all nationalistic ideals and with the emerging economy. In this environment, the State and society devoted themselves to amalgamate politics with the academic and artistic production: the Golden Era belongs not only to our cinema, but also to Muralism, symphonic music, dance, and of course, to archaeology. It is during the forties that archaeology embarks on the exploit to define the last of the great enigmas of the Prehispanic mosaic: the historical and archaeological definition of Tula, and it is also when the Mesoamerica concept is forged to provide academic support to the myth of “Ancient Mexico”, key point in the nationalistic rhetoric of the State.9

The Golden Era, although developed during the six-year term of Ávila Camacho, was conceived during Cárdenas’ populism and, since then, this style of governing has cyclically been present. López Mateos assumed for his government a populist character, nationalizing the electric industry and encouraging in the archaeological field the Teotihuacan Project 1962-1964, and the Museo Nacional de Antropología.10 A new appearance of populism took place two six-year periods later, during the administration of Echeverría Álvarez, during which archaeology was affected twice, in a direct and in an indirect way. The first time, it was manifested in the sad case of Cuauhtémoc’s remains, which I have analyzed somewhere else,11 whereas the second time, it was an unexpected consequence of the internationalistic aim of our president.

Let us remember that in 1970, Mexico was raised as leader of the Third World, because it had been the first one of these countries to host the Olympic Games, it encouraged the Movement of Non-Aligned Countries, and it efficiently wielded the Estrada Doctrine as foundation of its position in favor of the self-determination of the peoples. It was under this internationalistic attitude that Mexico was projected as one of the first countries that not only acknowledged the triumph at the election of socialist Salvador Allende in Chile, but that even hurried to congratulate him and invite him to visit us.

Pinochet’s military coup, on September 11, 1973, supposed a coup against the self-determination of the peoples by the part of the United States, and generated a praiseworthy attitude -even if once again populist- in our government: if Cárdenas had opened his arms to the republican Spanish refugees, Echeverría would open them to the Chilean prosecuted by Pinochet’s military board. In this way, after the coup, in the Mexican archaeological academy appears, with Echeverría’s blessing, professor Felipe Bate who, even if not exactly a political refugee, was not in the possibility to go back to his country, given his condition as a theoretician of Marxism (and to make things worse, an orthodox).

Marxism in Mexican archaeology

In this way, the early seventies find Mexican archaeology very effervescent, at least at the Escuela Nacional de Antropología e Historia and at certain circles within the INAH’S respective branches. This effervescence was the result of several combined factors: first, the immoderate diffusion of Marxism in the different Latin-American academies, in general, and particularly in the Mexican ones.12 Second, the resentment among the intellectuals due to the repressions from the part of the government against the popular movements of 1968 and 1971. Third, the admiration from the left-wing Mexican intellectuality towards the already long permanence of the Castro regime in Cuba, and towards Allende’s victory in the elections. This intellectuality had faith in the socialist way for Mexico (they only had to find out how). And fourth, the impact of the book La arqueología como ciencia social (Archaeology as a social science), from Luis Guillermo Lumbreras (published in 1974), was already felt in the archaeological academy. This work tried to amalgamate the Marxist postulates with the archaeological problematic.

These four aspects, especially the last one, could not pass unnoticed in Mexican archaeology, always self-characterized as nationalistic archaeology and, therefore, with a social commitment. In this way, Echeverría’s approval encouraged the support to the diffusion of Marxism not only among the archaeological army, but also within the very authorities of the INAH: the general director of the institute at that point, Guillermo Bonfil, gave all the facilities so that the high authorities of that time -José Luis Lorenzo and Eduardo Matos-, performed a conclave in October 1975 in Teotihuacan, where they gathered the most select representatives of Latin-American archaeological Marxism -including Lumbreras-, apart from other specialist related to archaeology. The institutional support was such, that the general report of the meeting was published within the same year! (such editorial efficiency has never again been seen in the INAH).

Towards a social archaeology (1975) is the title of that meeting’s report, and it is a manifesto that establishes the “Marxist reading that has to be performed on the archaeological remains”, effort of syncretism that we who were the first generation of Felipe Bate’s pupils that year used to practice since 1974, although now I think we did not do it very consciously. José Luis Lorenzo and Eduardo Matos, as coordinators of the meeting, and Joaquín García-Bárcena as one of the editors, wrote:

It was then that came to our hands the aforementioned work [Lumbreras’]… we had in our power a material in which the most complete body up to that date had been gathered on the theory in which we were acting, with different degrees of success.
In the book… the separation of Colonialist Anthropology is established, and Anthropology is placed within the field in which its existence is made comprehensible, real: the one of historical materialism.13

Therefore, in said manifesto the authors stated that they worked within the theory of historical materialism, and that it is this that makes archaeology comprehensible and real, nothing less. The foregoing has not stopped being strange, because I had not been able to find a single text from Lorenzo (of the 29 I have revised) where he applies the categories of historical materialism or those of the dialectical one, to archaeological analysis or interpretation. I do not know either of any such text from García-Bárcena. The case is different with Matos, who already since the Tula Project and in the Templo Mayor Project, always intended to place his analysis under the view of historical materialism. Nowadays, several years have elapsed since professor Matos abandoned the discourse of historical materialism, at least in his texts, which may be due to the recession of this theory around the world, or to the acknowledgement of the fact that there are other fields in which archaeology can also be real.

All in all, historical materialism, for those who were instructed with interest in that current since 1974, left a deep impact on the visualization of the archaeological practice of that time, although it did so from a great variety of qualities: from those who included a whole canonical chapter on the Marxist philosophy in their reports, to those who showed off its terms and concepts at the beginning of the introduction and at the end of the conclusions.14 To some of us, the fewest, historical materialism meant a possibility: not of attaining the socialist revolution from the trench of the excavation or from the parapet of the desk, but of performing our archaeological practice by visualizing our sites and materials as examples of study of a general substantive theory, and not as historical cases to document nationalism.

But historical materialism, at least Lumbreras’, presented certain problems to clarify how to proceed in a methodological way to bring together the theory and the material remains: how do I identify the mode of production in the little pot I excavated yesterday?

Neopositivism in Mexican archaeology

José Luis Lorenzo was an archaeologist who earned a deserved place in the development and systematization of the Mexican archaeological practice, not only because he formalized and structured his prehistoric research, but also due to his preoccupation to introduce the international tendencies into the Mexican academy. This preoccupation led him to translate Mortimer Wheeler’s work, Archaeology from the earth of 1954, and to prepare works destined to integrate into Mexican archaeology the knowledge and methods of the natural sciences, La Cuenca de México, consideraciones geológicas y arqueológicas (The Basin of Mexico, geological and archaeological considerations) of 1956, and Materiales para la arqueología de Teotihuacán (Materials for Teotihacan’s archaeology) of 1968, enterprises for which he based his work on the adequate knowledge of various languages and sciences. In the fifties and sixties, professor Lorenzo was the epitome of avant-garde knowledge in Mexican archaeology.

Of course Lorenzo was aware of the theoretical development of archaeology north of the Rio Grande, and I had the chance to listen to peculiar comments from him about the New Archaeology (which can be traced as a topic since 1962), which revealed his bibliographic introspection on the subject. But I know not of any text, published or in preparation, in which the professor intended to introduce the foundations of that American current to the Mexican archaeologist. Lorenzo lost his avant-garde position before a youth just graduated from the ENAH, professor Manuel Gándara, who also mastered English and was indeed qualified to understand the New Archaeology from the very sources: philosophy, epistemology and philosophy of science from Hempel, Popper, Lakatos and other philosophers generated in the logic positivism tradition and creators of its derivations.

I do not think that the loss of the avant-garde position as to the diffusion of the New Archaeology had prejudiced Lorenzo against it, however, his conviction of the fact that this current was “a Neocolonialist theory and practice” is known.15 In the introduction to Hacia una arqueología social (Towards a social archaeology) we can read:

Not a lesser part corresponded to the archaeology students, mostly the ones from those countries where they are trying to find an archaeology that shares the social problems, and who curiously thought they had achieved so through the so-called New Archaeology, at least in the procedures, while not in the ideas. This attempt to reconcile the antagonistic, the Neopositivism with the materialistic dialectical, generated the natural confusions.16

The identification of the New Archaeology as antagonistic to dialectical materialism soon became a dictum popularized as a common place at the left-wing ENAH and at the liberal INAH: “we must not read that reactionary Binford”. So Lorenzo became a pioneer of an anti- New Archaeology movement, although, as we have already said, this did not make him a pioneer of a pro-historical materialism movement in archaeology either; and if we add to this the exile he imposed over himself as teacher of the ENAH -renouncing with this to prepare generations of students with his ideas-, we can only conclude that the professor poorly moved the pieces of his reputation, brilliantly earned during the fifties and sixties. In the seventies, Lorenzo’s theoretical star was extinguished and it would never shine again, to the misfortune of our discipline.

In spite of the common places against the New Archaeology, the kindness of the severity preached by its methodological procedures called the attention of more than one student of my generation. Professor Gándara, just graduated at that time, as I have already said, aimed at the diffusion of the New Archaeology in lessons and texts, and we had the opportunity to get inside the obscure subjects of the argumentation systems, of the theoretical terms, of the observable referents, of the compare and contrast procedures and of the correspondence rules with him, and we started to get an idea of how to see “the mode of production in the little pot I excavated.” And those first stammers were acknowledged and endorsed no less than by one of the participants of the Teotihuacan meeting, Eduardo Matos, who considered we were reconciling “the antagonistic, the Neopositivism, with materialistic dialectical”, and who prefaced what I believe could be considered the first article that linked Marxism and Neopositivism, whose title is Proyecto Arqueológico Tepeapulco (Tepeapulco’s Archaeological Project), prepared in 1974-1975 and published in 1977, written by María Teresa García, Fernando López and myself. This curious tendency to link the “antagonistic” was derogatorily designed by Lorenzo as Marxitivism (personal communication from Jesús Mora), even if I do not think his scathing remark meant to identify only the three of us as Marxitivists. Lorenzo’s witty remark has given rise to the title of this essay.


So, my generation found itself at the confluence of several scenarios: first, the overwhelming predominance of Marxism in all the major degrees of the ENAH as the only true and “real” theory;17 second, the undeniable drive of the New Archaeology encouraging the establishment of precise methodological procedures as the only means to elevate the scientific status of the discipline; third, an ambivalent critical position of a very influential archaeologist who did not contribute to the development of the Marxist archaeology but who did disqualify the New Archaeology; fourth, a populist and pseudo-left-wing social and political environment that maintained in the national academic field the hope of a socialist way;18 and fifth, in spite of the aforementioned, the view of archaeology held by the Mexican State continued-since preceding six-year terms-: a discipline for ideological use and at the service of the presidential whims, as reaffirmed by the project on Cuauhtémoc’s tomb.

But we were young then, and daring, with the enthusiasm of youth we became at the same time substantively Marxists and methodologically neopositivists, thanks to the professorships of two absolutely dissimilar personalities at that time (today we would not believe that): Felipe Bate and Manuel Gándara, who in those years were totally different from one another, pathology that took us several years to solve through therapeutic sessions in a discussion group appropriately called Evenflo Group.

In the years that started since the beginning of López Portillo’s six-year term, the possibilities of academic development of Marxitivism noticeably diminished due to various reasons; to begin with, said six-year term did not correspond at all to the previous left-wing populism (and even less with the worsening of the cold war, which had in the American boycott to the Olympic Games of 1980 in Moscow one of its most notorious moments), and this had its effects on the INAH and the ENAH: the archaeological structure of the institute was radically rebuilt under the administration of Gastón García Cantú, in order to direct the efforts towards the archaeology of the states, whereas the school suffered an increase of the criticisms from the part of own and strange towards its trajectory and towards its doctrinal teaching conditions, increase that can be exemplified with the attacks published by Octavio Paz,19 future Nobel Prize in Literature. All the above, of course, was a domestic problem of the INAH and the ENAH, and there was no reason for it to modify the presidential view of archaeology: with the right given to him by the history of our discipline, López Portillo created two combined projects (the Templo Mayor Project and the Teotihuacan Archaeological Project 1980-1982), and almost had another whim: to cover up the Zócalo’s square in Mexico City with a gigantic Prehispanic motive made of little colored mosaics.

As to us, who were actors of Marxitivism, professors Bate and Gándara continued their approach until they consolidated the current known as Social Archaeology (with their own supporters), some of their students went to the province and others concentrated in the combined projects and in the definition and defense of the cultural heritage, task that was certainly more urgent and with more possibilities to influence the discipline -at least since it was directed to preserve our object of study-. Of course, people change together with conditions, and our professional development implied a critical attitude towards Marxism and towards Neopositivism. In the eighties, it was clear that Marxitivism had been put on hold because we had been influenced by the worldwide processes of revision, first of the very Neopositivism, and later of Marxism.

As to Neopositivism, the strong criticisms to the Vienna Circle and to its View Received from Theories, as it was named by Hilary Putnam,20 originated the development of alternative but always rational versions, by Hempel, Popper, Feyera-bend, Kuhn, Cohen and Lakatos, among others, same that from the forties to the sixties, were submitted to criticism by these same authors and by less representative ones, until in 1969 an important group of philosophers of science gathered in a symposium that with the title of The structure of scientific theories shaped the conceptual problems of the scientific procedure of science at that moment, and suggested work guidelines to solve them.21 As can be seen, the crisis of the versions subsequent to the Received View had its impact on the New Archaeology (which had primarily been based on Hempel), giving rise to innumerable archaeologies, nowadays called post-processal. New Archaeology was not one anymore, but several, and sometimes they were antagonistic to one another. As if this was not enough, to this internal crisis of Neopositivism was added the postmodern attack that has mixed up science (and its neopositivist essence) with the social evils of our era; in fact, it is difficult to make the public understand the amoral character of science, when they see in the development of technology the causes of neoliberal unemployment, of the accelerated ecological deterioration and of the brutal computerization of modern wars, whose clear exponent was the Gulf War in 1991. With all this, the postmodern attack, while irrational (“British irrationalist”, as Gándara calls it), is iniquitous to Neopositivism (that nowadays continues at the core of science),22 but certainly not to the social scientist, with his/her strong humanistic charge, including the critical Mexican archaeologist.

As to Marxism, the end of the eighties made evident the strident economic failure of communism, that brought the collapse of socialist governments. After more than twelve years of Gorbachov’s Glasnost the effect we can foresee is an almost total remission of Marxism, with its obvious consequences in the academic field. The effect in the Mexican anthropology and archaeology of such an embarrassing failure is so, that it has even affected the memories of colleague anthropologists that were in other times leaders of the Marxist theory, and that today do not want to remember those times and deny having ever being Marxists, perhaps due to the uneasiness of their past, perhaps because now they are colluded with power, maybe because it is not necessary to put it in their résumés, maybe because they are reappraising the true scope of the Marxism they once professed. Today, what might be called Marxism in Mexican archaeology is sheltered in Social Archaeology, but this current does not have a single significant project, and it seems to me that it is swamped with the scarce development of its operational definitions.

In this essay, I propose that the confluence of Neopositivism and Marxism in Mexican archaeology represented an intersection, a node, in the plot of its historical development (especially in one of its main scenarios, the ENAH). I also postulate that Marxitivism is not over, but that it is on hold and probably waiting for better development conditions. But it is clear to me that Marxitivism could derive in nothing, especially if the generations of archaeologists of this new millennium reject the necessity of a substantive historical theory and of a strict methodological performance. And this is not unreal, because a probable scenario for the next archaeology is that of serving to generate discourses for the appropriation of the past to be used by the indigenous communities, which have intensified the claim of their rights as a result of the neo-Zapatista rise. It does not seem impossible to me, not even improbable, that after some years the progressist archaeologists of the time will be immersed in a struggle to provide with arguments the always segregated indigenous minorities; this has already happened in various places worldwide,23 and one of its most astonishing effects is the resolution that allows the Inuits to exercise their sovereignty over one fifth of the Canadian territory since April first, 1999,24 resolution that had some support on academic archaeological arguments. As can be seen, for a Mexican archaeology that is preoccupied to invent for our indigenous peoples a right to administer the archaeological zones, it will not be necessary to try to elevate the scientific status of archaeology, and then Marxism and Neopositivism will turn pale before the triumph of hermeneutics.

Proposals for the development of Marxitivism

Nowadays, when we are no longer young and daring, I think that Marxitivism will be able to escape from this suspension I have mentioned, but in order to do this it will have to wait, in the case of Marxism, until deceptions are dissipated and strengths regrouped (because historical materialism has not lost its covering power); and in the case of Neopositivism, until new logics to reinforce the argumentation systems are consolidated (and also until the undercurrent of postmodernism is gone). But these modifications will not appear on their own, we need to work for them, and in this sense I briefly offer the following characterized points of analysis to be discussed:


1. In the anthropological field, we must remember before all that Marxism is basically an economic doctrine, and that it was forced not very happily to make of it anthropological material.25 Certainly, the humanist propositions of Marxism (such as the elimination of the capitalist exploitation of man) were attractive for an anthropology that was trying to emerge as an alternative to the colonialist anthropology of the XIX century, but the complex historical variety of the anthropological phenomenon was not caught by the simplicity of the formulas of value or by the limits of the models of economic-social formation, which would now impose the radical restructuring of said formulas and models.

2. In the Marxist field, it is necessary to say that Marxism, as a current, is formed by four elements: a theory of history (historical materialism), a philosophy (dialectical materialism), a political practice and a class consciousness. In the happy seventies, there were some who called themselves Marxists although they had never read Marx (not to say they did not know the categories of dialectics), but they did so because they attended all the protest marches; on the other hand, there were those who called themselves also Marxists because they mastered the different editions of the Gründrisse, but who never “lowered” themselves to awake the consciousness of workers. The loading imbrication of these four elements, especially the political practice, stopped and might well continue to stop the theoretical/academic development of historical materialism and its philosophy. It is time to acknowledge that we can be historical materialists without being necessarily Marxists (and with this, nevertheless, be able to make valuable contributions to Marxism as to political practice and class consciousness).

3. In the philosophical field, it is a priority to make clear that the three laws of dialectics are not laws in the strict, logical-philosophical sense, but at most heuristic principles of Marxism’s theoretical frame.26 The dogmatic postulation of said principles as “laws” is closer to an act of faith, proper to a secular creed, than to the scientific spirit of proposing contrastable representations of reality.

4. In the methodological field, it is necessary to perfect the generation process of operational definitions, because otherwise the archaeological materials will continue to be disconnected from the theory. The outstanding effort of Social Archaeology to develop the concept of “way of life” has left several problems of correspondence unsolved.

5. In the academic field, it should be clear by now that the political success of a doctrine does not guarantee the academic goodness of its theory,27 as was passionately believed in the seventies. The future adequacies of historical materialism to the different disciplines will certainly be more humble than they were during that time.

6. In the historical field, we must abandon the unilinear evolutionism that imposed the inexorable (universal) succession of modes of production, because these, in case they exist, do not follow any law, be it natural or social, but they only adjust to a tendency,28 this means that the postulation of modes of production can only be done as an existential proposition, which is far from reaching the status of a universal law logically speaking.29

7. In the economic field, we must finally admit that the distribution processes elevate the value of consumption goods, this means that commerce does add value to things.30 The stubbornness of Marxist regimes to diabolize commerce as a capitalist practice only generated resentment in the powerful bureaucratic class in charge of the distribution, because they could only see themselves as mere accessories to the producers. During the collapse of socialism, the first to put pressure were the bureaucrat administrators.

8. Finally, in the psychosocial field, the throwing down of the myth of equality cannot be postponed. Mottos such as “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs” are not characteristic of the human condition, as was discovered by the peoples of socialist regimes, perpetually lacking everyday comfort.


1. In the substantive field of the social theories, the methodological developments should not reject the establishment of political-ideological programs as heuristic principles (as long as we are clearly and explicitly conscious of this character), because only these programs could give some social sense to the explanations. The lack of visualization of this requirement in its first years caused the New Archaeology to tinge the shine of its methodological strictness with the shadow of its disappointing interpretations: the famous “Mickey Mouse” laws.

2. In the epistemological field, we must maintain the search for objectivity as a goal, but understanding it as intersubjectivity, as an agreement under a common perspective and language between those who make science, and always considering scientific knowledge as factual.

3. In the field of the philosophy of science, maybe we have already exhausted the traditional discussion to distinguish between the context of discovery and the context of justification, and I think that the introduction of diachronic-dialectical concepts such as those of compositional theories and evolutionary theories proposed by Shapere would be adequate.31 A compositional theory, while answering a scientific problem from the point of view of the constituting parts of a discipline (or field) and of the laws that rule the conduct of said parts, would focus on the problem in a way similar to that of the dialectical category of part, whole and system; the concept of system, in its turn, would simultaneously explain why a certain hypothesis is being posed and why it is accepted as contrastable. This is a point that has the obvious advantage of connecting the recently developed Neopositivism with dialectical materialism.

4. Finally, once we have admitted that the original objective of the neopositivist program (the scientific enunciation without metaphysical concepts) is unattainable, the next step is to accept that at least some metaphysical principle has to be introduced in the assessment of the knowledge obtained through a given discipline. As long as this knowledge becomes more subtle, theoretical and less directly perceptible,32 said metaphysical principle will have to be limited at its semantic level and determined with absolute rigidity at its syntactic level: there is no room for the postmodern individual hermeneutics and their private languages in the scientific activity, which is characterized for being strict (if not rigid) and collective.

Keeping it up

The review of Marxitivism in this essay has had as a fundamental premise the aspiration of elevating the scientific status of archaeology, first by distinguishing Marxitivism against the political-ideological background of our historical particularist archaeology, then by reviewing the conditions of its emergence and subsequent suspension, and finally by pointing out some problems of its constitutive elements. I am keeping it up: in order to reach this aspiration, the only way to do it is to adequately combine a substantive historical theory (which does not have to be historical materialism a fortiori) with a strict methodological performance (for which I still do not visualize a serious alternative to the Neopositivism of recent development), and from this combination generate research programs that are general and consented by the academics. I know that the remission of Marxism and the identification of Neopositivism with the “treacherous capitalist science” make a conversion to Marxitivism little attractive for the new generations, but I have faith in that the review of the one and the developers of the other will eventually make a comeback.

I also know that scientific archaeology is not the only possible archaeology, and that other archaeologies may be more attractive: the ideological archaeology at the service of the State will continue to be politically profitable; the archaeology at the service of private initiative will be highly advantageous economically; archaeology at the service of the claims for the appropriation of the past by the part of the indigenous peoples will undoubtedly be in vogue. None of these archaeologies will need to be scientific, especially the last one, because in order to be successful, it will only require a good literary style and a generous emotive charge. The only archaeology that needs to be scientific is the one that intends to apprehend reality through a rational and critical analysis and to generate the necessary knowledge for its transformation.

Finally, I also know that the ultimate decision on what type or archaeology to embrace is a problem of the sociology of our discipline. It is, in the end, a problem of collective consciousness.


Bunge, Mario, Seudociencia e ideología, México, Alianza Editorial, 1986.

Bricmont, Jean, “Science of chaos or chaos in science?”, in The flight for science and reason, Paul R. Gross, Norman Levitt and Martin W. Lewis (eds.), New York, Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 775, 1996, pp. 131-175.

Chomsky, Noam, Language and responsibility, New York, Pantheon, 1979.

Díaz, Hernán, “Alan Sokal y las preciosas ridículas”, in Prensa Obrera, num. 590, Buenos Aires, 1998.

Díaz-Andreu, Margarita, “Identidades y el derecho al pasado. Del nuevo al viejo mundo”, manuscript, 1998 (to be published in Catalan in the Cota Zero magazine, Barcelona).

Finley, M.L., Uso y abuso de la historia, Barcelona, Crítica Grijalbo, 1979.

Gándara, Manuel, Fernando López and Ignacio Rodríguez, “Arqueología y marxismo en México”, in Boletín de Antropología Americana, num. 11, Mexico, Instituto Panamericano de Geografía e Historia, 1985.

García García, María Teresa, Fernando López Aguilar e Ignacio Rodríguez García, “Proyecto Arqueológico Tepeapulco”, in Nueva Antropología, num. 6, Mexico, Nueva Antropología A.C., 1977.

Hempel, Carl G., La explicación científica, Barcelona, Ariel, 1979.

Huizinga, Johan, El concepto de la historia, Mexico, Fondo de Cultura Económica, 1992.

Hobsbawm, Eric, On history, London, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1997.

Laudan, Larry, Science and relativism, Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1990.

Lorenzo, José Luis (ed.), Materiales para la arqueología de Teotihuacan, Mexico, INAH, 1968.

____________, (coord.), Hacia una arqueología social. Reunión en Teotihuacan (octubre de 1975), Mexico, INAH, 1975.

Lorenzo, José Luis, Federico Mooser and E. White Sidney, La Cuenca de México. Consideraciones geológicas y arqueológicas, Mexico, Publicaciones num. 2, Prehistory Departament, INAH, 1956.

Lumbreras, Luis G., La arqueología como ciencia social, Mexico, Ediciones Librería Allende S.A., s.f.

Palerm, Ángel, “Teorías sobre la evolución de Mesoamérica”, in Nueva Antropología, num. 7, Mexico, Nueva Antropología A.C., 1977.

Parfit, Michael, “A dream called Nunavut”, in National Geographic Magazine, vol. 192, num. 3, septiembre de 1997, Washington, D.C., National Geographic Society.

Paz, Octavio, “Tres ensayos sobre antropología e historia”, in Vuelta, num. 122, Mexico, 1987.

Popper, Karl R., La miseria del historicalismo, Madrid, Taurus Ediciones, 1973.

Rodríguez, Ignacio, “Recursos ideológicos del Estado mexicano: el caso de la arqueología”, in La historia de la antropología en México. Fuentes y transmisión, in Mechthild Rutsch (comp.), Mexico, Universidad Iberoamericana/Plaza y Valdés/Instituto Nacional Indigenista, 1996.

____________, “Cronologías y periodificaciones, metáforas y justificaciones”, in Los ritmos de cambio en Teotihuacan: reflexiones y discusiones de su cronología, Mexico, INAH, 1998.

____________, “Mesoamérica: ese obscuro objeto del deseo”, in Dimensión Antropológica, year 7, vol. 19, Mexico, Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia, 2000.

Sokal, Alan D., “Transgressing the boundaries: towards a transformative hermeneutics of quantum gravity”, in Social Text, num. 46/47, Durham, Duke University Press, 1996, pp. 217-252.

Sørensen, Marie Louise Stig, “The fall of a nation, the birth of a subject: the national use of archaeology in nineteenth-century Denmark”, in Archaeology and nationalism in Europe, M. Díaz-Andreu y T. Champion (eds.), London, UCL Press, 1996.

Suppe, Frederick (ed.), The structure of scientific theories, Urbana, University of Illinois Press, 1979.

Vázquez, Luis, “El Leviatán arqueológico, antropología de una tradición científica en México”, Guadalajara, doctoral thesis, CIESAS Occidente/Universidad de Guadalajara, 1995.

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  1. A part of this work was presented as a lecture at the round table “La formación del antropólogo en México: una visión histórica para la recuperación de las fuentes documentales” (“The formation of the anthropologist in Mexico: a historical view for the recovering of documentary sources”), organized on September 3, 1998 by the Seminario de Historia, Filosofía y Sociología de la Antropología Mexicana, within the celebration of the LX Anniversary of the ENAH. []
  2. Carl G. Hempel, La explicación científica, 1979, pp. 166-167. []
  3. 3 M.I. Finley, Uso y abuso de la historia, 1979, chapter 1. []
  4. Ibidem, pp. 29-30. Italics are mine. []
  5. Johan Huizinga, El concepto de la historia, 1992. []
  6. M.L. Finley, op. cit., 1979, p. 89. Bold letters are mine. []
  7. Ignacio Rodríguez, “Cronologías y periodificaciones, metáforas y justificaciones”, in Los ritmos de cambio en Teotihuacan: reflexiones y discusiones de su cronología, 1998, pp. 28-29. []
  8. Marie Louise S. Sørensen, “The fall of a nation, the birth of a subject: the national use of archaeology in nineteenth-century Denmark”, in Archaeology and nationalism in Europe, 1996. []
  9. Luis Vázquez, “El Leviatán arqueológico, antropología de una tradición científica en México”, doctoral thesis, 1995; Ignacio Rodríguez, “Mesoamérica: ese obscuro objeto del deseo”, in Dimensión Antropológica, 2000. []
  10. Although, with all due respect to the cinema, little could be done before the American rock-and-roll wave. []
  11. Ignacio Rodríguez, “Recursos ideológicos del Estado Mexicano: el caso de la arqueología”, en Mechthild Rutsch (comp.), La historia de la antropología en México. Fuentes y transmisión, 1996. []
  12. Academies in which they got to talk about a Marxist social science, of a Marxist medicine, of a Marxist engineering, and even of a Marxist notarizing! []
  13. José Luis Lorenzo (coord.), Hacia una arqueología social. Reunión en Teotihuacan, 1975. Not all the anthropological academy has given so enthusiastic statements on the work of Lumbreras; for instance, a reader of the draft of this article affirms that “…what Lumbreras shows us [in that work] as to the method in archaeology is the most traditional and descriptive before all”. []
  14. A set of requirements to qualify the so-called “Marxist archaeology”, can be found in Gándara, López and Rodríguez, 1985. []
  15. José Luis Lorenzo (coord.), op. cit., 1975, pp. 5-6. []
  16. Ibidem, p. 5. Bold letters are mine. []
  17. The case was even more severe, if it could be, among social anthropologists and ethnologists, who considered themselves as true “instruments of change of the revolution to come”. The revolution has not yet arrived and the scarce changes have appeared without the intervention of any anthropologist. []
  18. Remember that the “Subcommander Marcos” was concocted during the seventies. []
  19. Octavio Paz, “Tres ensayos sobre antropología e historia”, in Vuelta, num. 122, 1987, p. 9. []
  20. Frederick Suppe (ed.), The structure of scientific theories, 1979, p. 3. []
  21. Idem. []
  22. The intellectual impostures of some postmodern thinkers were embarrassingly exposed at the amusing parody of their approaches written by Sokal (1996), where was evidenced the excessive use of unintelligible jargon and the very scarce preparation on scientific subjects of authors such as Derrida, Lacan, Aronowitz, Haraway, Deleuze, Guattari, Irigaray, Lyotard, Serres, Virilio and other deconstructivist “literary philosophers”. In the same demystification line of Sokal, Bricmont (1996) has shown that a Nobel medal in the curriculum vitae does not save “tough” scientists such as Prigogine, from falling into distortions induced by postmodern irrationalism. I attentively follow the recent postmodernist stammers in some fields of Mexican archaeology, and I suggest to those who wish to get a vaccine against irrationalism, the reading of Laudan (1990), Hobsbawm (1997) and Chomsky (1979) -the two latter closer to the anthropological interest-. Additionally, those who are radical Marxists will find Hernán Díaz’s text stimulating (1998). []
  23. Margarita Díaz-Andreu, “Identidades y el derecho al pasado. Del nuevo al viejo mundo”, 1998 (this text can be consulted and/or requested at M. Dí []
  24. Michael Parfit, “A dream called Nunavut”, in National Geographic Mgazine, vol. 192, num. 3, 1997. []
  25. Ángel Palerm, “Teorías sobre la evolución de Mesoamérica”, in Nueva Antropología, num. 7, 1977. []
  26. For a merciless criticism of one of the laws of dialectics (the “law of unity and contradiction of opposites”) according to the frame provided to him by ontology and epistemology, see Bunge, 1986, pp. 162-171. []
  27. Manuel Gándara et al., “Arqueología y marxismo en México”, in op. cit., 1985. []
  28. Karl R. Popper, La miseria del historicalismo, 1973, sección 27, pp. 129-130. []
  29. On the other hand, to admit that the tendencies cannot be explained by a single law or a single set of laws (op. cit., p. 132), before all imposes to the scientist as a first challenge to delimit the set of relations that explain them, instead of the nihilistic fatalism that implies the resignation to assume that all complex process (such as the modes of production -as to tendency-) is of random character, as would pretend the postmodern who assume (mistakenly) the Chaos Theory. []
  30. Mario Bunge, Seudociencia e ideología, 1986, p. 159. []
  31. Frederick Suppe (ed.), The structure of scientific theories, 1979, p. 713. []
  32. Ibidem, p. 726. []

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