H.M. Hyndman

The Evolution of Revolution

Chapter 4
The Beginnings of Private Property

With exchange, however, another new element was introduced into tribal life; and, impossible as it is to trace the early influence of this purely material and economic factor in the growth of human society, it appears almost certain that here, following upon the greater command by man of the power to produce wealth for use, we have the cause which the other great changes extending over centuries. The rudimentary forms of exchange are curious enough. No serious attempt, as far as I know, has been made to tabulate them. They appear at first as a sort of “permissive grab”, mutually exercised by the chiefs of the tribes. A chief, elected or hereditary, visiting the chief of another friendly tribe, sees some article, useful or decorative or lethal, which he needs for the purpose of his tribe, or, possibly, for his personal gratification. This he asks for as a gift. The gift is by custom never refused. At a later date the donor exercises in turn his right to commandeer, in all good tribal fellowship, something which, in like manner, strikes his fancy, or is suggested to him as a desirable gift to ask for by his fellow-tribesmen. As their wealth grows and varieties of produce increase, frequently the barter follows. There is, nevertheless, no money, nor any means of valuing the respective products which each desires to obtain on some terms from the other for the common advantage of the two tribes. Pure barter of this kind entails a vast deal of haggling, but not necessarily any personal accumulation of wealth. This, however, follows, probably in the first instance in the hands of the chiefs who conduct tribal exchange. One of the earliest forms of this private property consists of the slaves whom the superior prowess of the elective chief in leadership or courage has been instrumental in capturing for the tribe in war. Here would commence the new element of absolute ownership in favour of the man, the hero in war and outside organiser of victory, as against the woman, the agent of peace and the mistress of the household. A revolution in gentilism indeed!

However this may be, it is practically certain that in the higher stage of barbarism, coincident in the Eastern Hemisphere with the development of cattle production, the growth of flocks and herds and the discovery of iron, which slowly, very slowly, replaced both stone and bronze for the supply of tools and weapons of tribes or chiefs in war and in peace became wealthy owners of private property, notably of slaves. This property gave, first to the tribe, and afterwards to the individual who possessed it, the means of enjoying much better fare than could be attained before, thus strengthening the men for war. But what was still more important, the slaves furnished a constantly increasing surplus of such for exchange. The positions of the possessor, then, in this way as private property more and more asserted itself against communal ownership. Inheritance of this property became a serious matter.

The rights of the gens and the agnates on the female side could not permanently hold their own against the closer ties of kindred, as they began to exist between a father and his children. In the group family and the loosly paired family women held household, descent being reckoned through the woman and not through the man, with succession regulated in the same sense. But the strictly monogamous family, fortified by increase of wealth and private property in such wealth, transformed and revolutionised the entire gentile system. The gens itself did not alter its own constitution, except that the male section assumed, in the house-hold as well as in external affairs, the dominant position. Equality ceased in the family. Equality ceased in the tribe. Democracy and permanent public control could not continue where equality of condition and wealth had ceased to be. With the recognition of the supremacy of man in the household, and inheritance through him to his children, the old order completely changed in regard to the status of woman. She, in the course of time, either by bargain or capture, left her own gens, and went, a strange woman, into the strange gens of her husband, whose order became her order, and his totems and deities her totems and deities.

The economic advance under gentilism, by way of enslavement, exchange and the institution of private property on a relatively large scale, was thus instrumental in leading up to civilisation as we know it. A stupendous social revolution indeed! The greatest, as already said, yet known in the history of the human race. Here begins the crucial differentiation of the tribe and the gentile unity of each for all and all for each into the conflicting interests within the same so-called community, which later produced that social and economic anarchy of competition, antagonism of classes and oppression of the majority, alike of women and of men, that we recognise as modern civilisation.

In order to thread our way out of the maze of these unconscious developments we must rise to a sufficient height above the many obstacles that the investigator encounters on the level ground, and thus discover the clue which leads to an intelligent appreciation of all the surroundings. Even so, there is as yet no possibility of verification at the critical point. Nowhere can we say with confidence: “Here gentile society ceased; here private property became dominant; at this juncture sexual relations were completely modified, and man became master thenceforth of private property of the tribe and of all that the tribal arrangements betokened.” The progress of the family and its accompanying economic growth was continuous, regardless alike of the anterior ideas of the mass of the members of the tribe and its slaves, when enslavement of captives became the rule.

The stage of advance which gave the clearest evidence of the new tendency was the pastoral period in Asia and on the European frontier already referred to. Some have gone so far as to assume that this was the first great division – namely, the division of the cattle-breeding and the pasturing tribes from the others on the same level of barbarism who continued to devote themselves to the old methods of production of food. It was much easier and more advantageous to capture, tame and breed animals than to hunt them down and kill them. Tame animals increased of themselves, with little superintendence, where sufficient pasture already existed and the climate was favourable.

Whole tribes of various men devoted themselves to this systematic development of flocks and herds. Tribal slaves helped them to extend the field of their production in every sense. They produced more and better food by this method of depasturing herds than the other tribesmen. Not only so, but they became possessors of very different products from those formerly at their disposal. All the necessaries for a higher standard of life were growing up around them. They produced abundantly what they wanted for themselves and a considerable surplus which increased as time went on. Everything that cattle, sheep and goats could supply the more of these tribes had in great quantity, in addition to all the meat they required, and more. Skins, wool, woven goods, milk, cheese and the like they could now exchange for such articles as they desired, without the slightest risk of bar shortage or hardship for themselves; therefore barter, which was formerly fitful, gradually became systematic. First through elected tribal chiefs and then through heads of house-holds who developed into owners of the flocks and herds with slaves as part of the private property at their disposal. From this point to the accumulation of wealth in individual hands was no longer a step. So habitual did barter become that a token of exchange was necessary, and slaves as well as cattle themselves became forms of money.

Yet the tribal and gentile relations survived. Though their original basis of tribal communism and sexual relationship was transformed, the ancient democratic usages still persisted, and the continuation of gentes who formed the historic settlements and cities of Europe and Asia closely resembled in their early institutions the tribes which had reached the same development in the New World. Though the more rigid conclusions have been modified in some details, it is now generally admitted that Morgan’s explanation of the growth and co-ordination of the gentile institutions in Greece, Rome, Germany and Europe as a whole is correct; that the change from the matriarchal to the patriarchal family within the gens occured in similar fashion in all countries; that slavery and the settlement of strangers within the limit of the purely gentile communities for trade and protection still further shook the basis of the old gentile system; that the gentile families for a long period assumed and were accorded a position of superiority over the other chance settlers; and that the property ensured by the abandonment of the purely pastoral and the acceptance of agricultural life, with a common rallying point, finished the overthrow of the exclusively communal and blood-relation period of human progress.

To all appearance, this first great social revolution from communal to individual property and from matriarchal to patriarchal control over the household, the reckoning of descent and inheritance of personal property occurred in the course of ages, without any resort to force, or any opposition within the gentes themselves. The change was not only slow but unconscious. Neither the individual nor the collectivity understood what was going on, nor the effect that would be produced. Private property in wealth, which had been inconceivable to the gentile in savagery and barbarism, became now a part of the common social life of the ancient aggregations of city population arose in the same way. Nor, up to the period of the further growth property, which dominated the entire society and forced on a still more crucial change of organisation, was there any marked difference between the settlements in the Old World and the New, or in the scattered island communities. Athens, Babylon, Nineveh, Corinth, Antioch, Rome, Jerusalem, Selencia, Ctesiphon, Tyre, Sidon, Carthage, Byzantium, the cities on the Mediterranean were all built up on gentile origins similar to those which led to the establishment of Mexico and the Inca capital of Peru. The latter centres never attained to the next stage of human culture; but the accounts of Spanish and native writers show clearly how far they had advanced on the road towards civilisation before invasions destroyed their natural evolution.

The gathering together of the gentes in fortified camps and permanent settlements simply strengthened and extended the tendency towards the federation and coalescence of friendly tribes, already bound together by blood ties and treaties. Though they had not as yet entirely thrown aside their gentile methods, they took with them to their common central home their private property in personal goods, their male predominance in the household and the tribe, their developing system of the exchange of their surplus produce, and above all their slaves, agricultural and domestic, which were together destined inevitably to carry to completion the fateful revolution conditioned by property and class antagonism which thenceforward constituted the history of the race. With the invention and habitual use of money in any form, whether dowries or cattle, leather or iron, accumulation of movable property in private hands was strengthened, and common ownership, except of land, gradually disappeared. The gentile tribes who founded settlement or city became the aristocracy, the patricians, the rulers of the growing community. But unity and brotherhood no longer existed within the gentes themselves. There was an ever-growing rivalry for personal wealth and public domination. By degrees there gathered around the original settlers a large body of slaves and an increasing number of incomers from the outside, who resided in the city as freemen, in order to obtain greater security for their persons and property and better opportunities for carrying their tillage, manufacture and family life. The wars against neighbouring settlements became now purely wars of plunder. Their object was to seize the wealth and the women of the adjacent community, above all to obtain more and more slaves, for cultivation and exchange, the latter becoming the chief motive, as the process of agriculture and production improved.

Yet the revolution was still incomplete. Ancient communism, ancient gentile customs, gentile relationships, gentile methods of election to public offices, gentile traditions and control generally maintained their ground. The age-old forms of democratic gentile organisation survived into the new period, to which they could not be conveniently adapted. So little were the inhabitants accustomed to restraint from above that a condition not far removed from anarchy threatened. In order to avert this menace to the prosperity of the incipient city, the first institution, distinctly anti-gentile, yet recognised as essential to ensure peaceful progress, appears to have been the establishment of organised police. But policemen were even less popular then than they are now. Settlers who had been brought up in the old ideas of liberty, equality and fraternity as practised among the tribes felt it would be a degradation to themselves to take up such repressive duties, however necessary these functionaries had become. The conservatives of the time clung to the watchwords of the French Revolution; the progressives were all for a police. The police, therefore, was set on foot. Still so deep-rooted was the opposition to the force on the part of freemen, whether gentiles by birth or settlers who had come in severed from any gentile connection, that in most of the great cities of antiquity all the rank and file of this new body consisted of slaves. Protection of property was regarded as a menial occupation. About the same period prostitution, the inevitable complement of strict monogamy, made its appearance. Civilisation had manifestly begun.

Last updated on 27.7.2006