H.M. Hyndman

The Evolution of Revolution

Chapter 1
Primitive Communism

All authorities are agreed that, throughout the early development of mankind, communism, without any private properly whatever in the means of creating wealth, prevailed as the social order. This can be traced from the nomadic hordes and “classes” of the Australian aborigines, the rude “bushmen” of Africa, the semi-animal tribes of Patagonia, through all the improving forms of savage life and barbarism, up to the glimmerings of civilisation. Very small and inefficient as were the tools and instruments and methods at the disposal of these simple tribes for the creation of wealth, they were handled by each and for the common good. Private ownership, in any shape which gave its possessor economic or social power over his fellows, was unknown. Food and other needs for human life were shared among the members of the tribe according to the wants of the individuals of the small community.

Nature necessarily appeared to our remote ancestors, types types of whom still survive for our inspection, and too often as playthings for our cruelty, wholly unintelligible and quite incapable of control by themselves. Yet they were able to obtain and use, under primitive, and of course still more under later, communism, natural products for the common advantage both from land and from water. Social production, or, in the earlier days, the procuring of what was wanted for the use of the tribe, and communal distribution among the tribal men, women and children of the group were the rule. Should scarcity result from difficulty in finding provender, or from any social mischance or natural upset, and one member consequently suffered, then all other members were similarly undergoing privation. If, on the other hand, there was plenty, each and all had their share to the full extent of their needs.

It was not an ideal society, that of our most ancient forbears, assuredly. Cannibalism, for example, revolting as it is to us, was nevertheless an advance upon the haphazard existence that preceded. Flesh was needed and man ate man. The great invention or discovery of fire, and therefore of cookery, accompanied or anticipated the man-eating desire to obtain human food for the tribal larder became one of the causes of war between contiguous tribes. But the supplies of food thus obtained, like the rest, where once whether killed or eaten at once, or kept alive as a reserve of meat to be used when required, were equally common stores devoured by the members of the tribe at great feasts. The horror of anthropophagy in nowise changed the communal character of the general consumption; nor, at that stage, does humanity see anything other than what is natural in applying to men the the same rules of dismemberment and absorption which we now exercise in regard to oxen, sheep or pigs, which were not then available.

Members of another horde or were considered fair game. It was wholly moral to divide up and eat the bodies of the dead or living enemies. This lust after flesh, gratified in such a manner, was, in fact, part of the social arrangement, and it naturally prejudices us against against the whole period when our forbears regarded one another, if born into a hostile tribe, as specially created for the subsistence of the conquerors in battle. So does the custom of burying alive the aged, still practiced in some regions, and the destruction of female children, which likewise obtains even among peoples who have arrived at a stage much nearer to civilisation.

As society progressed, first sea and river fishery, and later, in the course of countless centuries, cultivation of soil gave increasing sources of supply. Thus men’s means of subsistence gradually becacame less uncertain, and the habitations of the human race spread all over the globe. But everywhere, as is now clearly established, the same or similar forms of communal life prevailed, modified only by natural surroundings to which the little groups had to adapt themselves. All the combinations of mankind, therefore, of which we ourservelves form a part, and others which we see around us to-day, grew up out of the tribal institutions that had everything in common. Their unconscious and infinitely slow progress made way through the ages in every continent. There is nothing to show us that any portion of the human race failed to pass through this communal stage. On the contrary, all the evidence attainable proves that there was no exception to this rule.

A more conservative system of social life than communism can scarcely be imagined. It calls for a strong effort of the imagination to conceive how even the earlier communism of the horde developed into the later and better supplied communism of the gens, tribe and combination of tribes. But how, when once established, this later communism could have been broken up at all is still more difficult to understand. Almost every instinct and reason which could influence human beings appeared to favour the permanence of the existing social state, when once a certain level of assured well-being had been reached. The necessary work of the whole body, when the period had passed, was performed by the men the group as arranged by custom based upon mutual agreement, and all shared the the joint produce obtained by the assotiated labour of the whole of the members of the group.

In the lower stages of such a communism, before fisheries, agriculture and small handicrafts had come within the scope of tribal work, life was hard and sustenance precarious for both sexes. Since also the women performed the whole, or nearly, of the home duties, alike among the roving tribes of the hunters for subsistence and the more settled savages with a local, if temporary, habitat, they are assumed to have done far more than their share of the communal toil and to have been, throughout the earlier periods, little better than ill-used slaves to the men. But if we consider the relative share of the common hardships and the exceptional risks and long days of semi-starvation undertaken by the males of the tribe, in the time of shifting habitation and dependence provision of food by the chase, we shall see that no real inequality of sacrifice nor undue and cruel burdens were imposed upon the women.

The communal form of production and distribution, where each and all contributed of their joint toil for the general good, and consumed, in accordance with what they needed, from this common stock, appears, therefore, to have been an inevitable stage of human society which no race could avoid.

Among such splendid physical specimens of humanity as the North American Indians, the Maoris of New Zealand, the island tribes of Polynesia, the Zulus and Masai of Africa, the early Scandinavians and Germans, the Greek and Roman gentes, the powerful Tuiranian and Semitic tribes of Asia, as well as among the physically inferior peoples still to be found in the interiors of great continents and great islands, communal life was the only life which they could understand and carry on. It was the same among peoples such as the Peruvians, the village Indians and the Chinese, as among the most warlike, the Aztecs, the Semites and the Turcoman hordes.

Under these conditions of natural production for the social and personal use of each and all, and equitable sharing of the results of the general toil, there were no economic or social antagonisms whatever within the groups themselves. The interest of each individual merged itself, unconsciously but harmoniously, in the interest of the whole gens or tribe, and the general interest accepted by immemorable custom and tribal hereditary instinct. As the interest of the entire group was likewise the personal object of every individual of the group, it was impossible to separate the one from the other. The whole society hung together, and every expression of its existence and attitude, towards itself and external objects, was collective and social, not individual and anarchical. The children of the several parents were the children of the tribe, and were regarded as its most important possesion. Indifference to the general well-being of the youth was inconceivable, even among infanticide shortly after birth. Death was a trifling matter; deterioration was treachery to the tribe. Such wholesale neglect and degradation of child life as common in great civilised cities could not be possible in a savage community; the reason for this appalling contrast being that in one case human solidarity is a material ethical religion affecting and controlling all the members of the small but closely knit society; in the other case there is no such feeling of joint and several responsibility for all and especially for children. Hence ill-clothed, ill-nurtured infants are left to the chance care of poverty-stricken mothers, or the still more precarious tutelage of a degrading charity.

Ordered communism among savages: anarchical individualism among civilized people. That is the rule.

Thus each group or combination of gentes in the tribe, or later in the federation of tribes, sufficed for itself, and acted as a common brotherhood, whose social, sexual and economic arrangements for the communal existence were all on one plane. The powers of production were necessarily very small, to our notions. But these powers were under the complete control of those who jointly owned and applied them. There was, and there could be, no antagonism between man and machine, or between one class and another class, for classes in our sense did not exist during the real communal period. Within gene and tribe peace and good-will permanently reigned so long as communal equality prevailed; though when the chief, or war lord, developed into the irresponsible autocrat, and priests obtained influience, horrible excesses were committed within the tribes themselves, even while communism in distribution still existed, and before any accumulation of wealth in private hands had become possible. Comparatively trifling as were the means of creating and obtaining articles of necessity, they were sufficient at quite an early stage of development, when all belped and none idled, to provide a reasonable standard of comfort for the whole group, according to their ideas of well-being. Further, they learned by experience to make ready to some extent for periods of scarcity by isolating known sources of supply under tribal and religious ban against immediate use, or by hoarding such food as would keep in climate where this preservation was possible.

Yet these same groups, so peaeeful within themselves, were generally bitterly hostile to all other contiguous groups, even no actual dispute about territory nor any apparent pressure of need to obtain captives for eating. Such warfare, indeed, is still carried on where there would seem to be no present motive for conflict, and may therefore be taken as a survival from times when the causes for intertribal hostilities were manifold, just as cannibalism was practised as a religious rite long after the consmuption of human flesh ceased to be a common usage.

Those communal tribes have survived to our own day; they (24) still exist in greater or less completeness, and have largely contributed, owing to the careful and minute investigations of modern anthropologists and sociologists, to to our knowledge of the life, habits, customs and sexual relations of our own ancentral progenitors of the long past. The time has gone by when these fading representatives of the great and universal and age-old comnumal epoch were regarded either as relics of the golden age of mankind, or were pointed to as descendants of the primitive couple from Paradise. They are now recognised as, so to say, the living fossils of successive strata in the long annals of human evolution. From them we can learn by actual experience how high human beings in the communist stage of growth had risen above any other mammal, and how marvellous – in spite of all drawbacks – are the services which their own forbears of prehistoric periods rendered to the coming generations of our race.

Every one of the bed-rock inventions and discoveries of mankind, without which further progress would have been impossible, was made during this communal period. As we examine and reflect upon each advance in succession, and consider what initiative, what patience, what originality, what collective individual genius were required to begin and develop man’s early strivings to control, in some degree, that incomprehensible sphere of nature whose several actions seemed to him to be under the direct management of good and evil spirits – we can but feel unmeasured astonishment that rude, untutored savages should have achieved so much under such circumstances, even given an infinity of time in which to accomplish their progress. For the length of the period offers no explanation of the beginning of each revolutionary change in the method of production, nor nor of the results obtained when the change was made.

The material achievements of these primitive communists far transcend all that the genius of civilization deduced. Let us remember what difficulties they had to overcome; there were no precedents to guide, no triumphs to encourage, no proven fruitful method to employ. In each and every case, from the earliest attempt to the last victory over the resistancc of nature, doubt hung around the whole venture, handed on, we know not how, to and innumerable succession of generations. How long did it take naked nomads, with their chance protection of leaves and boughs, to invent the boomerang, to realize the use of sun-dried clay for the erection of dwellings in one region or bark for tents in another, or wigwams with pins or woven mats in a third? The invention and use of flint implements, with the amazing skill displayed in their handling for industrial purposes, were quite as noteworthy examples of the development of man, the tool-manipulating animal, as any automatic lathe of the twentieth century motived by steam or electricity. Think of the discovery of fire and its application to the social service of our race. Whether accidental or owing to some inconceivable hint of undetected possibility, what apparently endless toil for a problematic result when our remote ancestors undertook when they rubbed dry sticks together to the point of kindling and and then preserved the flame thus engendered with unremitting unremitting care! Tradition handed on the memory of this difficult beginning and renewal in the fires kept burning, under conditions whose sanctity we can scarcely comprehend, through the ages in the households, even when far easier methods had long displaced the rude endeavour of the more ancient tribesmen.

But the progress of agriculture is more remarkable still. Notwithstanding very ingenious conjectures, we are still quite at a loss to explain the earlier stages of tillage and expectant cultivation. We laugh as we read of how some South American Indians ate the seed given them by Jesuit missionaries to plant. But why should not they? They were still living in the accidental stage of human existence. The grain was an immediate boon to them. How many, many generations, what a vast array of centuries, lay between the uncalculating savage who laid hands upon what was eatable, no matter how he came by it, and devoured it forthwith, and the forethought of the communistic barbarian who had learnt to bury the seed in the confident assurance that months thereafter he should derive immense benefit from his self-restraint, prudence and scientific preparation of the soil with digging sticks. The immediate consumers of the seed, and the planters of the seed, content to await the operations of nature for a crop, seem to belong to different breeds of animals. Their forms of production were entirely different. Yet socially they were alike. Both were communists. If we were able to accurately trace this growth of human social power from fruit and nut gathering, tree-worm seeking, animal killing by boomerang – early Egyptians used the boomerang – to tillage and irrigation of the soil, we should go far to solve so much as can be solved of the problem of human progress. Yams, potatoes, maize, wheat, oats, taro, all the results of intelligent cultivation, put mankind on a communistic plane where sudden shortage of food became rare. However brutal the customs of the tribe might be, in some respect the necessaries of life were, in the main, safe.

So it was throughout. The invention of that wonderful contrivance, the bow and arrow, for hunting and war; the net, the spear and the flare for fishing; bark and fibres; the making and the baking of clay; the domestication of wild animals; the use of stencilplate for adorning bark fabrics and woven fibres; the smelting of metals; the discovery and development of the wheel – each and all of these inventions, simple and easy to us to-day, were indispensable steps to man’s command over nature, and are tributes to that spirit of progress under communism, coming to know not whence, which was the basis of the great works of industry art we now see around us. Harmonised collective intelligence devoted to the advance of the foundations of the whole of modern industrial society.

On river and sea the same. The boat, the paddle, the oar, the sail, the rudder, the outigger, all the small and great canoes, all had their origin under communism. Each in turn is a masterpiece of human ingenuity. The sail alone is a wonderful example of human inventiveness, used by our ancestors for locomotion by water ages ago. How long it may have taken to discover and apply the sail is of course unknown: what matters is that success was attained under the institution of gentile common ownership. It is so easy to underrate all these early achievements. Yet even to-day, in this era of precocity, with all the winds and waves of heredity and social instinct wafting us along, it would take a very clever lad, inheriting all these aptitudes, the growth of hundreds of thousands of years, to tell at once why his sailing boat, crossing with the wind blowing abeam, should go forward towards the other side of the pond instead of drifting helplessly to leeward, as, without a sail, it certainly would. Many a civilised man also who uses the tiller automatically would be puzzled to explain why the pressure of the water on a flat piece of wood immersed at the stern of his boat can turn the vessel in motion this way or that even if he has produced the same effect before by the use of a passle or an oar in a canoe. Yet savages and barbarians had aquired the knowledge and application of both these important improvements while still in the communistic state. Sailing and steering had few secrets for them. All this done at sea is really more remarkable than the progress in the production of food, the planting and production of food, the planting and improvement of trees, or even the irrigation works carried on by the same tribes on land.

To the civilized mind, moreover, absorbing, through custom, education and persistent usage, the idea that nothing can be done by intelligent adults in the way of invention except for individual advantage and private gain, it is still harder to realise that all the essential steps towards higher knowledge and culture were taken by unknown persons who never thought they had any right to private gain from the realisation and application of their ideas. No more did the tribe as a whole imagine that any personal ownership could exist in regard to the land which they jointly cultivated. From the nomad roaming over the forest and plain in search of nuts, fruits, tree slugs or easily captured game, to the well-behaved and polite savage or barbarian on the highroad to civilisation, common work, common property, common use of inventions, common distribution of products, natural or cultivated, was the custom; economic equality the invariable rule.

Last updated on 7.7.2006