The previous post on primitive communism was attacked by rightwing capitalist ideologues who insisted that primitive man did not live under primitive communism at all.
Peter Tobin responds:
These folks are profoundly wrong and apparently have read nothing, never mind bothering to find out what Marx and Engels actually said. Their knowledge appears to be derived from the first twenty minutes of Kubrick’s 2001.
Engels, rather than Marx, is pre-dominant in this area as the term arises in his seminal work Origins of the Family, Private Property and State. The key work that inspired them work was the American Morgan’s groundbreaking Ancient Society.
What Morgan does, in a serious materialist way, is to trace human progress from, what he terms, savagery to civilization. What Engels takes from this is that there are identifiable stages in human social evolution. So the primitive stage is sub-divided into lower, middle and upper stages. In the lower stage there were no classes, and state and economic relationships were broadly egalitarian. Hence there was a collective right to basic resources, and the question of a superior authority (kings, priests or elders) did not arise.
Morgan himself speculated on the “liberty, equality and fraternity of the ancient gentes.” He even finds contemporary evidence in the layout of the Native American village, which he calls “communism in living.”
At this time family groups were consanguine, and Engels refers to these family groups as the “original communistic common household” which lasted to the late middle stage of barbarism. There was even group marriage and incest, which existed in Polynesia and lasted until quite recently (to the horror of Christian missionaries). He does not hold this that stage up for emulation, instead, “communism” is used a technical terms to denote the “sharing” of sex with a related group.
This stage gave way to new household communities (Hausgemeinden), which Morgan calls the punaluan family, which prohibits sex between brothers and sisters and children and parents, but allows it between cousins. But this is not the bourgeois form of the family where one man possesses and dominates one women, as women were common wives and men were common husbands.
Far from extolling the former, Engels make the point that as it withered, the human stock grew stronger and better by outbreeding as opposed to inbreeding.
The other important factor that must be considered is the emergence of man as a hunter of animals and hence an omnivore. His brain grew bigger and his teeth smaller. What is salient here is the behavioral changes took place, especially in the process of socialization. In order to hunt effectively man had to organize communally and develop stratagems for success.
Consider, by contrast, the earlier hominids, such as the australopithecines, who were herbivores and consequently had larger teeth and smaller brains – a trait shared by many vegetarian animals today.
You can all these forms, “communist,” “socialist,” “communal” or whatever nomenclature denotes shared activity, because this phenomena is self-evident.
These stages gave way as man settled down and took up agriculture. Private property and the growth of surplus and authority became prevalent, although residual forms of the earlier stages continued.
For example, Grote, in his History of Greece, defining the characteristics of the emerging Greek tribes, found evidence of: common religious ceremonies, common burial, common rights of inheritance, common obligation to help the tribe in times of struggle, and the common ownership of property, while at the same time he noted the growth of authority figures, kings, priests, lawgivers and even treasurers.
- Engels, Frederick. 2001 (1884). Origins of the Family, Private Property and State. Honolulu, HA: University Press of the Pacific.
Grote, George. 2000 (1846-1856). The History of Greece: From the Time of Solon to 403 B. C. London: Routledge.
Morgan, Lewis H. 1887. Ancient Society, or Researches in the Lines of Human Progress from Savagery Through Barbarism to Civilization. London: MacMillan & Company.