Primitive communism

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Primitive communism was the economic system that was present before the first use of agriculture and the later formation of civilization, when class society began. Labor in primitive societies was based on simple cooperation and classes did not exist. Primitive societies were originally organized into matriarchal clans.

In primitive communist societies, people lived in groups of up to a few dozen and all labor was communal. Groups hunted and gathered their food, which they consumed together. They also made clothes out of animal skin and tools out of bones. Many people died from hunger or wild animals, and cannibalism also existed in this period.[1]

Means of production

The means of production were very simple and therefore developed very slowly. The first tools used by humans were chipped stones and sticks. Eventually, they learned how to create fire, which they used to cook food, develop more tools, and protect themselves from wild animals. Fire also offered protection from the cold, helping humanity spread across the world.

As these tools were socially relevant for the survival of the whole group, and were also relatively easy to make, there was no reason to attach ownership to any of those tools. As such, they belonged to the whole group or tribe, and anyone could freely use them. Thus the material basis for communism existed, as the means of production were held in common, hence the term of primitive communism.

Even if this type of society was primitive, it was very likely that labour was already divided (as Marx notes in the first chapter of Poverty of Philosophy), i.e. specialized. Some people were responsible for making tools, and others would use them to hunt or forage for plants. Thus a socially beneficial loop was created and everyone in a tribe would directly benefit from the labor of their peers. This further made the need for private property irrelevant: if anyone decided that the product of their hunt belonged to them and them only, they would likely find themselves ostracized from the group or unable to get any "gifts" from the tribe, such as foraged food or tools to hunt with.

As humanity progressed, people began combining wood and sharpened stone to make stronger tools used for hunting large animals and fishing. For hundreds of thousands of years, stone was the main material used in tools, but copper, bronze, and iron later replaced it.

The bow and arrow made hunting much more efficient and led to the development of cattle breeding. Hunters began to domesticate animals, starting with the dog and then goats, cattle, pigs, and horses. They also learned that seeds could be used to grow plants, marking the beginning of agriculture. People initially tilled the ground by hand, then with sticks, and finally with hoes. As cattle and metal tools were introduced to agriculture, making it more productive, tribes created permanent homes.[1]

Rise of class society

The development of agriculture was a major turning point in the history of human civilization. Along with it, humans also learned to make more durable earthen or clay ware with which to preserve grain and other foods. Being able to store food gave rise to two things. Firstly, higher population levels could be sustained. Secondly, these stocks and storages were the first type of private property. Therefore, a number of people who did not need to toil the earth were needed to perform more intellectual labour, such as keeping count of grain stocks and managing them (Harman, How Marxism Works). This naturally gave rise to an administrative class who later became kings and nobles.

Patriarchy replaced the traditional matriarchal clans. Individual families began to farm their own plots of land. Chiefs of clans or tribes began to treat communal property as their own property when dealing with outside groups. This process began with the privatization of cattle and later spread to tools. The beginning of private property broke clans apart into large patriarchal families that divided the original communal property. Elders, priests, and military leaders enriched themselves and formed a ruling class while passing their power to their descendants. Instead of killing prisoners, as had happened previously, wealthy families enslaved them. Slaveholding households became richer, which increased inequality and allowed them to acquire more slaves.[1]

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Economics Institute of the Academy of Sciences of the U.S.S.R (1954). Political Economy: 'The Primitive Communal Mode of Production'. [PDF] London: Lawrence & Wishart. [MIA]