H.M. Hyndman

The Evolution of Revolution

Chapter 3
The Decay of the Gentile System

So complete in itself, so fully adapted to meet the fraternal and gregarious instincts of humanity, was this gentile economic communism that we may well feel surprise that its manifest advantages, within its own limits, did not enable the institutions thus collectively created to evolve even higher powers of such astounding discoveries and inventions being already made and used. As we survey this development in Greece, in Rome, in Germany, in Slavonia, in Mesopotamia and Eastern Asia, it would not appear to be beyond such able races, Aryan, Semitic and Turanian, to carry this organisation onwards to the full fruition of their achievements, breaking down the tribal antagonisms by federations, with communism and gentilism still maintained. Having reached so high a level in comfort and general prosperity compared with their savage and lower barbarian forbears, it would seem feasible, or at least not more difficult than the course eventually followed, that mankind might have proceeded continuously on the same lines. and thus avoided the troubles and disasters to the race which resulted, in the course of ages, from what actually took place.

The change from the practically universal gentilism and communism that occurred at different periods in different parts of the world, and is not wholly completed yet, is the greatest social revolution known in human history. Its full purport and influence has not perhaps even now been fully appreciated, because the steps of this crucial transformation are exceedingly difficult to trace with accuracy and because the tribes who underwent the entire overthrow of their economic, sexual and social system were wholly ignorant of the causes or the consequences of what they themselves were unconsciously doing.

To a gentile tribesman private property in land, means of creating wealth, food, large houses or canoes, was not only non-existant, but inconceivable. The domination of man over woman, the supremacy of the father in the monogamous family and the regulation of all affairs on the foundation of locality and possession could no more have been anticipated by such a brother or sister of the gens than a slave or a serf foreseen the organisation of a capitalist trust. He would have declared, if such a possibility of the realisation of the unknown and the inconceivable could have been brought home to his mind, that a society of that kind would have been anarchical, immoral and disgusting to such a degree that life would not be worth living for the great majority of those who composed it – in which hypothetical judgment the gentile discrimination would not have been so very far wrong.

What renders the break-up of the gentile and communist forms, with their conservative yet progressive institutions extending over such vast periods, the more difficult of comprehension is that, in the higher stage of barbarism approaching to the confines of civilisation, considerable tribal wealth had already been accumulated. There was not only comfort but luxury, as they would deem it, in many of the tribes, before the stage of private property and the acceptance of male superiority was reached. The probability of “hard times”, due to natural causes, such as tempest, drought, earthquakes or floods, had been largely provided against by storage of food and the taboo of natural supplies. Thus economic security and well-being were ensured within, while thorough physical training and habitual use of arms by the gentile males gave a reasonable safeguard against attack from without. Nor were these people devoid of culture or destitute of art. When, therefore, all allowance is made for the hideous cruelty of the animal man towards his own species at all periods of his existence, there seemed no special reason for a crucial modification of those arrangements which were adequate for the needs of the people who lived happily under them at the time, with every prospect of improvement in coming generations.

There seems no doubt, however, that this very same increase of the common wealth, due to the greater power of man over nature, was directly and indirectly the cause of the overthrow of the most long-lived and the most harmonious social system under which our race has ever existed. Gentile relations and common ownership of all important property sufficed for gentes, phratries, tribes and even for “nations” or confederations of tribes. They could not be adequate for those wider, still less for those worldwide, connections of humanity which, for some inscrutable reason, became inevitable in the evolution of mankind all over the earth. Yet the first effect of the discovery that human beings could, by their socially organised labour, produce more than their keep, had, at least in one direction, a softening influence.

Cannibalism commonly existed where food, especially animal food, was scarce. When, however, the tribal warriors were better fed, and especially when they had arrived at the point where a moderate provision of meat or of cereals was available, cannibalism gradually lost its chief attraction. Human beings were then able to furnish by their labour all that was necessary for their nourishment and something more. That “something” was the direct economic inducement to clemency. To torture and kill, to feed and eat enemies was then direct economic inducement of good material for productive work. Far better keep them as slaves to the tribe and devour them by degrees in the shape of their product, less their keep, for the benefit of the entire gentile community. This view gradually prevailed. Cannibalism slowly died out, and its memory was only retained by the high ceremonial of religious human sacrifice, at which time the flesh of the victims was still cooked and solemnly consumed. [1]

Thus tribal enslavement of captives was a distinct advance in human conduct towards defeated and captured enemies. But the slaves of the tribe were outside the whole gentile community, under whose control they lived. Whether the victims were cannibals or vegetarians to start with made no difference to the lot of the prisoners. They had no rights; they could have no rights. The gentile system recognised no inferiority within the gens. Consequently the slaves remained in a state of permanent subjugation, as human machines, to be used for any purpose the tribe, its chiefs and priests decree. This advance itself was almost certainly due to an economic cause – namely, to the fact that it had become worth while for the tribe to keep captives alive in order to labour as slaves. Therefore it was discovered that this was distinctly moral: the enslavement of captives received such high ethical approval as was then obtainable. Lastly, this new custom of saving the lives of the vanquished went a step further and religion blessed and sanctified that which ordained and ethics justified. This rule of human progress will be found reasserting itself frequently at every stage of human development, whether the actual advance was at this time favourable to the general well-being of humanity or the reverse. Nobody could truthfully deny that the substitution of tribal slavery for tribal slaughter, killing by torture and cannibalism, was an amelioration of brutal savagery. Nevertheless, viewing the results produced throughout the ages, it may be questioned whether the institution of slavery was not in the end more cruel than the horrible customs it displaced. Economic and social progress, however, takes no account of the martyrdom of man in its inevitable course, nor has it any sense whatever of morality or religion.

In the early days of tribal and patriarchal slavery which followed upon gentile and communal society of blood-relationship, equality and democracy, the treatment of slaves seems to have been relatively good and even kindly. Though forming no part of the tribe or gens, and thus status or individual or collective influence, there is nothing to show, from the tribal slavery which remains in different parts of the world, that slaves were subjected to cruelty for the tribes when this fate, instead of torture and death, befelled them. They received food, clothing and housing before their defeat and capture; they were free to intermarry among themselves according to their own rights and customs; their labour was little harder than it had been for them as free tribespeople, though the product belonged to their masters instead of to themselves. Under favorable conditions, the tribes which possessed slaves were better provided with the necessaries of life than those who did not, and the warriors of the conquering tribe were left more free to attend to the business they were before. The slaves, that is to say, did much of the work of production. But, exchange being yet in its infancy, and private property on any considerable scale unknown, there was no such thing as the accumulation of wealth for the purpose of getting more wealth for the tribe and its chief, elective or hereditary. Nor were there any elaborate domestic services to be performed, failure in which brought down merciless flogging or even death upon the slave culprit at a later stage.

There was plenty of everyday brutality and cruelty in connection of great buildings or tribal work. It was part of savage or barbarian ceremonial. But little of the cold, calculating torture which was inflicted later, at the caprice of a slave-owner, or in order to screw more labour out of the slaves, was to be found under these tribal conditions. The slaves themselves, in spite of all their social degradation, still formed part of the tribe. So it was when private property had become the chief social institution, when man was completely dominant inside as well as outside the household, and descent had begun to be reckoned through the father instead of the mother, inheritence followed the same line. At this period, also, slavery was comparatively mild. Thus when the nomadic period of flocks and herds had been reached, and patriarchal authority with individual ownership was the rule, the slaves of the polygamous family formed part of this great family. The personal relations existing between the owner-in-chief, his sons, and other relations and the slaves who belonged to them were not of harsh character. This, although during that period when exchange first became important, and the accumulation of wealth as wealth, not only in flocks and herds, but in articles of luxury, and even in gold and silver, began. In like manner the earlier agricultural slavery which arose as tillage slowly supplemented the breeding and pasturing of cattle, sheep, goats, pigs, etc., was still unaccompanied by extreme severity in any of the countries where these stages of development were successively attained. The free peasant owner, whether European or Asiatic, worked on the land with his free family, or in company with his slaves, and all evidence goes to show that under these circumstances likewise the slaves were in close relation with the freeholder and his household and were generally well treated rather than the reverse.

How long this transition period lasted, from gentile communism to fully developed private property as the guiding institution of social life, accompanied by domestic and field slavery, we do not know. Doubtless many hundreds and even thousands of years. However long the development may have taken, it was very short in comparison with the endless ages covered by the gentile and communist system. Yet we have stone inscriptions which conclusively prove that highly organised communities with private property, monogamy and all the basic institutions which gave rise to the promulgation of the commandments were in existence and flourished thousands of years before Moses brought down his copy of injunctions from Mount Sinai.

It is indeed only quite recently that the stupendous epochs of time necessary to account for and explain man’s growth have been understood and appreciated. Though the immensely greater portion of these ages of these uprisings from ape-like forms and casual subsistence to the human being with some command over nature, prior to the coming of civilisation, was occupied by gentile and communistic societies, still the comparatively short periods embraced by the early and later civilisation founded upon private property and the various forms of slavery cannot be estimated by less than many tens of thousands of years. The discovery that the ruins of great cities in the valley of the Euphrates and Tigris are built upon many layers of other great cities previously existing on the same spot has alone vastly extended our conception of the space of time required to bring our ideas of the length of the successive stages of human life on the planet into accordance with the truth. There are no breaks or wide gaps in the history of the race. The divisions of the stone age, the bronze age, the iron age, of the communal age, the slave age, the serf age, these and other attempts at broad and easy systematisation of the lives of our remote ancestors lead to error if used as more than very rough approximations to what really occurred. Each stage of progress faded slowly and almost imperceptibly into the next and the next and the next. As mankind advanced all the different layers of successive development served to be going on at one and the same time. This, indeed, though not so markedly, is the case throughout the world to-day.

Tribal slavery, then, the enslavement of captives to the tribe, where all captives were the slaves of all gentiles, was the first step towards the breaking up of the complete social arrangements founded upon the gens and blood-relationship. It introduced into the tribal and communist harmony an incompatible and insoluble element which was from the first at variance with the democratic methods that formerly prevailed. The economic effect on the tribe need not have been disruptive. The increase of comfort for the gentile members of the tribe, assuming that slaves produced more than they were able to consume, would not have upset the whole system nor have rendered the continuance of gentile communism impossible. There could have been no accumulation of wealth for the purpose of piling up surplus beyond any actual needs of the tribe. Even if the chiefs by degree desired an exceptional share or more elaborate surroundings than the ordinary members of the tribe, this would not necessarily have modified the gentile and economic forms. For as yet there was no systematic exchange between individual owners. Nor was there much personal wealth worth inheriting. Each tribe sufficed for itself, produced for itself, distributed for itself, conquered or was defeated for itself, and finally held slaves for itself.



1. In the matter of habitual anthropophagy, also, it has been found, even in modern times, that the pig is a far more effective propagandist than the missionary. Pig, in fact, replaces man as food. A higher conception of human utility and a more genial conduct of appetite is based upon pork. In some regions also the cannibal is spoken of, among tribes who have abandoned the practice, as a person addicted to the consumption of “long pig.”

Last updated on 27.7.2006