Primitive Communism, Feudalism, the Fencing of the Commons and the Genesis of Capital

A far rightwing commenter disagrees that there existed primitive communism in the past, as theorized by Marx. Instead, he opines that primitive man lived, absurdly, in some condition called “the free market.”

You could say primitive man was communal but NOT communist. There is no such thing as voluntary Socialism/Capitalism. Such are contradiction in terms, Robert. If work within a group are completely voluntary, then it is by definition a free market. If they were forced to work together, then it was some sort of authoritarian-ruled collective. Either way your argument is bunk.

Needless to say this fellow’s definition of free market (capitalism as per Adam Smith) is quite unlike any other I’ve ever heard.

Read Marx.

Many primitive tribes lived under primitive communism. There was no free market among primitive tribes, there was no market period, there was no capitalism, there was no exploitation other than maybe of slaves, there were no wages, people lived in communes, hunted, collected, farmed, etc. for the common good. Food was divided amongst all members. No one hired anyone to do anything, paid them, marked up their labor, and sold it or products based on it for profit. Hence, no capitalism, no free market.

In the Middle Ages, there were many artisans, but they were more or less free agents akin to the self-employed. Shoemakers, tailors, chimney-sweeps, etc.

Much of the rest of society was under feudalism. Before the fencing of the Commons in England that was necessary for capitalism, most were primitive artisans or small landholders. Small parcels were farmed and some livestock was held. In the meantime, households made a few items here and there for sale.

There was no labor force for the plants that the capitalists wished to build. They were building the plants and no one was coming to work in them. Since people were happy to work their small parcels and do a little household industry on the side, no one wanted to give that up to become a wage slave in some Godawful capitalist firm.

In order to create a proletariat, the Commons was fenced off, and the small landholders were driven off the land into teeming towns where they crowded, starving and in rags, a new army of proletarian workers for the capitalists. There were long debates about this in the English Parliament about the necessity of throwing all of the small householders off their land and depriving them of their livelihoods in order to create a captive workforce who needed to sell their labor to capitalists or starve.

This process has actually been repeated over and over in the modern era and continues to this day in places like India, El Salvador, Paraguay, Brazil, Honduras, Mexico, Peru, Philippines and Colombia where the poor are continuously being thrown off their small parcels so their lands can be seized by large landowners, and the poor farmers are hence proletarianized and turned into landless peasants.

There are even suggestions that this occurred in the early days of the US. So many Americans were becoming small landowners in the West that this raised serious problems for the creation of a captive proletariat. Hence much of the land was grabbed by the state and turned over to the railroads in an attempt to deprive small landowners of land and force them to sell their labor or starve.

Read Marx, “The Genesis of Capital.”

Capitalism is a new thing, mostly since about 1400 or so.


Marx, Karl. 1978. Genesis of Capital. Moscow: Progress Publishers.
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6 thoughts on “Primitive Communism, Feudalism, the Fencing of the Commons and the Genesis of Capital”

  1. First off Robert: let me explain to you what you are engaging in: worship of the primitive. However you Robert, just like Marx, only have a few examples of primitive man in which to explore your hypothesis–namely, the existing primitive tribes of the world.

    To claim that such “communism” which is either free-market communal participation or serfdom is “natural” is absurd. This is a classic Rousseauian argument employed by leftists.

    First of all, existing primitive tribes are PRECISELY those that’s didn’t progress. To claim this is “natural” to human beings is to go against all intellectual understanding of reality! We progressed and didn’t remain in communal tribes!

    You further continue my argument that Communism/Socialism is a bad thing by explaining that what occurred in primitive tribes was not free-market labor. Ok Robert. What is the opposite of free labor? It is unfree labor, i.e. it is serfdom. The man who is not allowed to be a free laborer is a serf. In fact, in extolling the process (supposedly typical of the primitive tribe according to you) of working without pay, you are precisely promoting that system of slavery. For what is unpaid, unfree labor, but slave labor?

    Robert you stated that the primitive tribes did not do things for wages and all that was hunted and collected was distributed amongst the tribe. Another way of defining this is “redistribution” which is, of course, this same principle of exploitation. It is the “redistribution,” coerced by the tribe, from the producers to the parasitic class favored by the tribal chiefs.

    They didn’t do things for profit? What is so wrong with personal gain? What is so bad about gain, which you, Robert, virtually always assume to be a bad word?

    The principle of the free market is voluntary exchange for MUTUAL BENEFIT. This mutual benefit constitutes gain! The free market is, in fact, that interpersonal relationship which does insure mutual benefit by all relating parties. Why do you find this so obnoxious? Why, at every point, do you seem to prefer only an inter-personal relation where only one party gains? For if only one party gains it follows that the other party loses; in short, it follows that for you Robert, the ideal relationship between people is not mutual gain, but exploitation: the gain of one at the expense of another. Is this the “moral,” “social” relationship for which we are supposed to abandon market-economy and civilization itself? Why is it that every socialist hates and condemns the exchange relationship—the supposedly “calculating,” “inhuman,” relationship where both parties gain?

    The only intelligible way of defining society is as: the array of voluntary interpersonal relations. And preeminent amongst such voluntary interrelations is the free market! In short, the market, and the interrelations arising from the market, IS SOCIETY, or at least the largest principles of it.

    SO WHY DO WE CALL FREE-MARKET NATURAL? Because time after time, given the choice, man chooses the free-market over the alternatives.

  2. Finally, a word on your “fencing of the commons”: This is nonsense; not only did the enclosure movement enclose the “commons” and NOT PEOPLE, and by the great increase in agricultural productivity provide the capital and means in resources and income for the industrial revolution, but also the enclosures did not drive people off the land. The surplus population in the rural areas was a consequence of population growth; it was this increase in rural population that drove these desperate people into the cities to look for work.

    Capitalism gave the excess outcasts of the rural areas the place for them to seek employment and a market: the cities! This brought these people who were a result of overpopulation to reach an even higher standard of living they could have achieved in the fields. Capitalism was responsible for all of this!

    So Robert, if in effect you are asking us to scrap the market and return to a communal or even tribal society, you are asking us to abandon the luxuries of civilization and return to the subsistence level of the primitive tribe; that means you are also asking for the liquidation and eradication of the vast bulk of the world’s population, because if a tribal system will “work,” even on the least subsistence level, it will work only for a small, tiny minority of the population; the rest of us will starve EN MASSE. The fact noted above, of the small numbers of the primitive tribe, takes on, then, a new and more terrible significance.

  3. Probably not to read Marx since he was not an anthropologist and was a 19th century writer and as such a somewhat dubious source regarding anything at all whatsoever about the primitive societies of on which he was so keen to opine.

    But anthropologists do tend to say that foragers of the marginal kind with no resources to hoard tend to be very equalitarian while foragers with plentiful resources tend to be rather proprietarian and hierarchical, though there are of course limits to this. This is a very interesting article – – that will tell you something about foragers. It’s interesting that the only human societies that aren’t somewhat proprietarian and are in fact egalitarian are those who have almost no material culture and no growth.


    My understanding is that your talk about the commons is exactly backwards. The Commons was fenced off to increase productivity on that land (and yes, gain profits for the owners) and because of arguments that resources would be wasted when put to common use, not in order to create an army of labourers. A skilled, underemployed workforce was a byproduct that was soon put to work, not an goal.

    Communism always seems to get caught up on this idea that Capitalists are colluding in some Elder Protocols-esque cabals to create the masses that labour in factories and create reserve armies of the unemployed, but doesn’t ever seem to have evidence against the simpler explanation that technological progress, capitalist competition and a desire for profit simply creates them and they are then employed/exploited as opportunities present themselves. Is there evidence that Capitalists collude in a “class interested” based fashion like this, rather than that they are opportunistic and loosely coordinated and are willing to sell one another out for personal growth in their wealth?

  4. I agree that some of Marx’s views on primitive peoples and earlier periods of history seem ill informed or Utopian. I haven’t read up on the fencing off of the commons for a while, so I can’t argue about any of that, but I’ve noticed there’s been some interesting ‘revisionist’ work in this field – some woman won a prize recently for work which showed that the assumption that communally-owned property like the commons would be neglected was not based on sound evidence. I’m sure you know who I mean – it’s on the tip of my tongue, but I’m too tired to look it up just now. Discuss. Good night.

  5. this is for ROBERT TAYLOR you are either an ignorant or stupid man,forgive me for such a direct and damming diagnosis,but,either u simply do not see the glaring contradictions in your arguments which are dripping in a child like arrogance and stubbornness ,desperately void of a significant level of consideration so much so they instantly makes me wounder have u ever heard of the phrase “think before u speak”! I sincerley hope that u were not trying in anyway to hide your biast stance which is best made clear by the continual increase throughout your argument to define it as one of socialism v capitalism or of the free market which are of course different things! you say “we” who ever that may be, progressed without remaining in comunial tribes, i think ull find “you” progressed by conquoring expliotating savaging ravaging destroying and exterminating any group which wished to attempt a culture based on mutual effort hard work toils and spoils responsibility and reward shared EQUALLY! when u share u have no need to take! also professor diamond has an extreamly strong theory has to why primative
    tribes failed to progress called guns germs and steal its main argument is there location and the geography of that region! the fact they are located in north or south america two continents just to use one of diamonds examples which had no animals capable of assisting plowing this obviously a huge influence on food production which does not need to emphasised will have an effect on any societies development not a politic ideology! which will develop much after natural resource means of production etc have had an influence on the society, the tribes didnt know if they were part a” commune” or of the free market which is one of the most misleading terms ever invented , under the illusion of “free” its clearly created to perpetuate an oligarchy and later monopolies and has the interest of the few not the many at its core its entirely based on scarcity while socialism takes the indivisual on in a purly humanistic sense health food shelter water a certain standard living for all ,equal !! irrespective of their monetary worth or value! really alot of your argument truly paints a poor picture of as you a human being on a ethical morale basis and surely calls into question your value system, so im getting tired now and actually have a throat infection and the more i read over your half arsed attempted to construct an argument and the arrogant way u poorly talk down to the writer of the original piece which by the way you missed the core”point” of in your rage and flush of pride stand to arms defend capitalism!! so with that said im going to take the the rst of your “argument” apart bit by bit!
    he is engaging in worship of the primitive , no he is merely pointing out a different system used for along time and along time before capitalism. certainly while the ” west” was instituting fuedalism one of the more popular well hapilly remembered economic systems in our history im afraid not. this bring me nicely to your next blip your “free labour” you seem to be unawre of the ambiguity of words and phrases especially
    free labor and free market! yes on the surface in the most basic naked literal form the meaning of the words are clear and sound like they represent something that is ” obviously”of an extreamly positive nature those this is the exact reason terms were coined and demmed worthy of use within the economic domain, now as u make the “unpaid labor” in these triibes is correct in the wording surly you can see that the only real difference is that these tribes saw now need to create the monetary bartering system which seems alittle pointless dont you think? when they have instilled the values within the society to help die niegbhour ,all for on and one for all fairness equality all this without the need for external monetary incentive surly a much more attracticive organic im going to say it so get ready NATURAL concept and closer inligned to the laws of nature. yes redistribution but equally on merit of there exsistance a member of the tribe clan help them they are on of us simple.u talk about the possibility of this working on a micro scale and failing on a larger in those time humans still lived in scarcity especially and obviously yes as the big the society got the more the strain on resoures but now in the 21st century we have the technologology to easily create an abundance
    a surplus and also the tech to distribute it! you say starve en masse well thank god lady luck shone on u and placed u in the region and time u are
    because more people die from famine malnurisment drought war/genocide under this system than ever before, ill finish with this , u threw slavlery around abit in your piece the socialist tribes worked to provide for themselves!!! a meykong sweat shop worker in the the pearl river dealta probably a former pestent fleeing the failing agricultural areas prob because of heavily subsidised multi nationals corps or i can sum that up in fleeing starvation ,or maybe just skip to fleeing death what you think? so some one like this how many choices must they have before they see a viable option?? how many options are they shown before one is worthy of their true want of pursuit?? u think its free labor free labor!!!!!!!!!!!! like the old song goes ONE MORE FOR DREAMER!!

    ps if your photo is your actual age prehaps i should have more respect when talking to my elders, then again im not an ageist ,,,////

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