The immense antiquity of man on the planet and the enormous periods traversed in his development from the lowest grades of human society to the first stages of ordered communism have only been understood within the last generation. Many hundreds of thousands of years are now accepted as the lowest estimate of the time that our ancestors occupied in attaining to existing civilisation, which itself is now seen to be only the beginning, not the end, of human progress in society. Consequently even the oldest forms of ancient governments, reaching back as in Babylon, in China, or Egypt, many thousands of years, are now recognised as comparatively quite modern. The period, which can only be faintly realised from the buildings, tools, weapons, decorations, mounds and refuse heaps that have been discovered, is far more important and much longer than the ages in which we can discover, from sculptures, inscriptions and hieroglyphics on monuments, and then from definite records, what were the institutions as well as the habits and customs, tools, machines, metals and general social arrangements of our less remote forbears.
The most remarkable thing is that since palaeolithic man spread all over the globe, probably from one centre, throughout the world, man has pursued the same course of social growth. It is not at all surprising, therefore, that we should find the same, or almost precisely similar, monuments on every continent and even in certain islands. These islands, though now divided from any mainland by thousands of miles of sea, were quite possibly connected with it at the time when these monuments were constructed by men in at least the higher stage of barbarism, who seem to have been replaced by a set of truculent and bloodthirsty savages. If the evolution of the theory of relationships is worldwide, then manifestly the forms of marriage out of which those relationships grew, and the communal systems accompanying them, were likewise worldwide. Yet these communal societies do not always take the same shape when they constitute the social arrangements of the same race. Local conditions modify the methods by which they supply their wants, and peoples of the like lineage may be simultaneously engaged in pastoral life, or in agriculture, or even in hunting and fishing, as their main means of gaining a livelihood, according to the climate and nature of the country where the different portions of the same tribe which had reached the like level of social status were settled. That, of course, is only to say that surroundings influence methods of production, just as methods of production adapt themselves in great part to surroundings. Consequently there arise variations in the social relations themselves, due not to changes in the power of the groups over Nature herself, but to the different character of the natural conditions – that must perforce be dealt with.
When, also, a certain stage of communistic barbarism, or even civilisation, has been attained, the same forms may be maintained for thousands of years, without any social upheaval or serious modification of social structure. This although changes and improvements may have been made in the methods of production. It is one of the most interesting features in the conditions of America, prior to the arrival of Columbus, that nowhere had the stage of civilisation, based upon the various categories of private property, been reached. Savage tribes had butchered and eaten peaceful barbarian peoples of a higher level of social evolution, and in turn the more highly organised communists conquered the man-eating communists who elsewhere had been the victors. But the original societies thus indulging in mutual antagonisms, whether brutal cannibals or more refined tribes under theocratic chiefdom, were all in the communal period. Moreover, the huge buildings scattered through North and South America show that the inhabitants of these various districts had attained to what is now called the megalithic age, similar relics of which are to be found in all parts of the world, thus showing once again that different branches of mankind everywhere passed, unconsciously and without any possibility, in the case of America at least of imitation, through identically the same evolution. Monuments caanot be mistaken for accidental natural phenomena.
Whatever may be the real history of the vast ruins of Tiahuanoco and their abandonment, the Peruvians, ruled by the Incas, furnish, unquestionably, the largest and most complete ixample of communistic arrangements, under the domination of hereditary theocratic chieftainship, known within the historic period. Mexico was quite as remarkable a nation as Peru. But there the ferocious Aztecs, with their widespread cannibalism and frightful religious orgies of bloodshed, though still cherishing many of the early and gentile communal forms, flowed no such scheme of organised labour as could be found in Peru. Therefore, as the widest application of theocratic or State communism, Peru is worthy of closer study from the socialist standpoint than has yet been given to it. We are dependent upon Garcilasso da Vega, himself an Inca through his mother, the monk Cieza and Prescott’s invaluable excerpts from the MS. records, which he read in the Spanish archives in Madrid, for all we know of Peruvian institutions, beyond what can be derived from tradition and the monuments. The general impression is that the Incas administered a mild and beneficent regime which had endured, at the outside, for four hundred years, from the founder of the dynasty, Manco Capac (who taught the people all the trades and arts and tillage they practised), through twelve successive Incas down to the Spanish invasion. Obviously, this is too absurdly short a time to account for the existence of such an elaborate and well-wrought social system as that which had its centre in Cuzco and extended over an immense area, embracing many climates and the most diverse soils. Manco Capac was, of course, merely the traditional heaven-born benefactor, the child of the Sun God, who, in reality, was represented by generations of human evolution extending over thousands of years. Peru showed a high grade of communal barbarism, with almost scientific knowledge of agriculture, which must have grown up from an immense antiquity. Moreover, the acquiescence of millions of Peruvians in the ordinances decreed for them and the confidence the original stock displayed in the sacred and beneficent character of the administration points to a very long persistence of Inca rule – a persistence immensely exceeding the short space of time accorded to it by Garcilasso da Vega and his authorities. However this may be, all Spanish accounts agree with Garcilasso and other almost contemporary writers as to the wonderfully successful organisation of the Inca State. All likewise concur in the view that there was no direct personal slavery, or man-ownership, of any kind, and that the mass of the people did not know what real poverty was. Below the level of the Incas of the blood royal, and the nobility who had special advantages, the general body of workers were free from all anxiety as to their sustenance and general well-being. This fact is certified by Cieza de Leon, who is regarded by all authorities as quite the most reliable Spanish writer on Peruvian institutions. He travelled several thousand miles through the country, examining closely into various departments of the production and distribution of food, the duties of the inhabitants and the methods of administration. He is frequently quoted by the Inca, Garcilasso da Vega, as thoroughly trustworthy. Nor has this ever been disputed. Allowing that Garcilasso himself is apt to exaggerate the good qualities and to overrate the character of the rule of his own relations, the following statements seem irrefragably established:–
1. All the inhabitants of Peru, male and female, young and old, below a certain grade, were called upon to serve in the various industries and on general public works. Their produce, whether agricultural or manufactured, was divided into three parts, one for the Inca and the Inca’s relations, one for the Sun temples and the priests, and one for themselves. But the proportion for the Incas and for the temples were largely stored, and could be and were drawn upon in times of scarcity.
Here, then, by universal admission, we have a society capable of the tillage and manuring of land to such a high degree of efficiency that its members were all well supplied with food of a kind adequate to fit them, not only for the most arduous works of peace, but for great vigour and endurance in war. The system of irrigation – regard being had to the mechanical means at their disposal and the natural difficulties to be surmounted – is looked upon with admiration by the ablest hydraulic engineers of our own time. Terraces upon terraces of cultivated land, watered by their ingenuity, rose one above the other to the snow level, in districts where modern peoples would scarcely attempt to grow any artificial crops. Evidence of Peruvian proficiency and success in this respect remains to this day. Of their strictly scientific system of manuring from various sources, also, there is no doubt whatever. What a high level of agricultural skill must they not have reached when they went off in their little miserable raft-like balsas – the Peruvians, unlike the Polynesians, had no canoes, large or small – in order to fetch as much of guano from the Chincha Islands and elsewhere as their petty vessels could carry! Their admitted preservation of the birds which gave them this valuable means of soil enrichment displays an amount of forethought and calculation which too often are lacking in civilised communities.
Their methods of cultivation seem, in fact, to have been well-nigh perfect, when we remember their inferior implements; and, where the soil and climate varied, they appear to have modified their methods of production to meet the changed conditions – showing an indispensable, but none the less remarkable capacity of dealing with natural phenomena in an empire which was thousands of miles in length. They possessed but one source of tame animal supply, the llamas, vicunas and alpacas, which belonged nominally to the Incas, and were tended by shepherds from the general community as part of the social service of themselves and their families. But the wool of the llamas was nevertheless as much at the disposal of the whole of this Peruvian society as that of the wild flocks feeding on the mountains, killed down once every four years, or as the fibres obtained by cultivation in the fields or from natural growths. The distribution of wool from the herds was just as carefully managed, since the clip was regularly shared for weaving into woollen cloth for the use of the people, as wrell as of the privileged minority. Their processes of weaving were themselves admirable. In other directions the Peruvians showed an amount of artistic culture which has not often been displayed by private property civilisation. Not only were the villagers well housed in proportion to their needs – overcrowding in town or country being apparently unknown, owing to the ease with which decent houses were erected, surrounded by adequate land for the tillage of their inhabitants – but stupendous buildings of great magnificence, decorated profusely with gold and furnished with superb golden vessels, were erected for the churches of the Sun God and the palaces of the Incas.
The ruins of these imposing structures remain to this day to confirm the statements of the Spanish conquerors. How such enormous blocks of stone were conveyed long distances from their quarries, were then rough-hewn, finished, set in place and, where necessary, clamped together with copper bands, remains still a cause of amazement. It seems certain, however, that, so far as the haulage of these huge blocks was concerned, they were moved over such vast distances by an enormous number of men, with the help of inclined planes and possibly wooden rollers. Speculation, in fact, on this point is set at rest by the well-authenticated tradition that, when one of these enormous stones was being hauled and pushed up to Cuzco the tackle broke, the stone descended the declivity up which it had been dragged, and some three thousand men lost their lives in consequence. But the setting and polishing of these masses of stone were as remarkable as their conveyance. So close did they fit into one another that, both being highly polished on the nearest face, a reciprocal action was set up between the blocks on either side which even to-day renders it impossible to insert the blade of a knife between them. Copper clamps were evidently only used when such complete contiguity could not be obtained.
Three points are worthy of note with respect to these stones and the abnormally spacious buildings of which they formed part. Though, first, tremendous human strength admirably organised must have been necessary to bring the stones to the place where they were used, there is nothing to show that the men thus employed were treated as slaves and driven to their work under the lash, as in the case of some vast European, African and Asiatic monuments. On the contrary, it is positively stated, and the Spaniards themselves seem to have believed it to be true, that the people who were employed on these and all other public works, architectural and agricultural, performed their duties with great cheerfulness, laughing and singing the whole time. There was no reason why they should do otherwise. Work itself under good conditions of existence, for obvious social advantage, need never be other than exhilarating. It is overwork and excessive strain, enforced for the benefit of others, which is intolerable. The Peruvians did not suffer from this under their theocratic communism.
Then, secondly, we may stand amazed here and in other parts of North and South America at the great knowledge of architecture and building which the creators of these vast structures must have possessed; and the innumerable experiments which they doubtless made, extending over long epochs of time, before they arrived at such surprising mastery over their materials, shaping them, getting them into place and the like. Here alone we arrive at a conception of what man attained to under communistic barbarism, which should serve to convince us finally that there is nothing whatever in the institution of communism, merely as communism, to prevent mankind, though possessed only of very inferior tools, from providing ample food, clothing and housing by the labour of the whole population from youth to age. This even when a large portion of their produce is deducted for the maintenance of non-productive classes, for warlike purposes, for the erection of great buildings, or the support and arming of relatively large armies. That the Peruvians had a big surplus in each good year of the necessaries of life is, indeed, clear enough, since such large numbers of men could be withdrawn from the working population for the creation of vast public works, destined for defence or display, whose construction occupied long periods. The fact that such structures were raised, as it appears, at the same time that important military expeditions were undertaken and carried out, enforces this contention.
These expeditions were elaborately prepared for by the Incas, as a portion of a deliberate policy of extension of their empire over tribes which had not reached the same status as the Peruvians themselves. Barracks were erected, ready for the housing of the soldiers along the roads by which it was intended to advance to the attack of the populations to be subdued. Moreover – which is very important from the economic standpoint – stores of grain and other necessaries were accumulated close at hand, to provide full sustenance for the soldiers on march and to prevent them from being a burden on the villages in the neighbourhood, cither by demanding supplies or by insisting upon accommodation. Thus the theocratic communism had developed into an Imperial communism in the course of centuries. The people who were subdued were neither slaughtered and eaten, nor enslaved. They were, so far as possible, adopted or absorbed into the community or empire of their conquerors, compelled to worship the Sun, and forced to abandon cannibalism and indulgence in unnatural vice. Historians favourable to the Incas, such as Garcilasso da Vega, all make out that these attacks upon savage tribes were entered upon from purely philanthropic motives, and that the extension of the empire was conducted on the most humane, as it certainly was on the best military, principles. But a less prejudiced survey inevitably suggests that the Peruvian soldiery were by no means so humane in their methods as these writers would have us believe; that the wholesale burning alive of men said to be addicted to unseemly vices, together with their wives, their children and their dwellings, might easily have arisen from the ordinary desire for military vengeance on those who had made a stout resistance, rather than from high moral indignation; and that the highborn and divine royal family, surrounded by a selfish nobility, were naturally inclined to bring into the fold vigorous savages who would furnish their proportion of the tribute to the privileged few. That, however, the Peruvian chieftains did incidentally put an end to cannibalism and abolish human sacrifice among the peoples they subdued, since they had long given up such sacrifices themselves, seems beyond question. Whether cannibalism could have been arbitrarily suppressed, unless simultaneously an equivalent or better diet had been offered, is extremely doubtful.
In at least one instance an attempt thus to soften the manners and customs of tribes attacked on the borders of the empire completely failed. The cannibals, vicious men and fetish-worshippers, having successfully resisted the arms of the Inca, were set down as shameless miscreants, unworthy to share in the blessings of Peruvian domination. When also the powerful tribe of Chancas, which had been recently subjugated, rose against those whom, in spite of their virtues and admirable organisation, they nevertheless regarded as their oppressors, and succeeded in driving the reigning Inca from his capital, the son of the fugitive potentate, who reorganised and led to victory the defeated Peruvian armies, displayed, in the course of his successful reconquest, qualities of heart and head which can scarcely be reconciled with scrupulous philanthropy. But when the Chancas were thoroughly beaten and subdued the dictates of true statesmanship prevailed; and the new Inca, having deposed his recreant father, permitted his defeated enemies, so it is alleged, to return to their enforced allegiance on the easy terms of sharing in the life of the Peruvian people. Systematic warfare, accompanied by far-seeing generosity to the people who surrendered, was the general policy of the Incas. Where they showed intolerance and cruelty was in dealing with treason in their own royal family or with risings among their own Peruvian chieftains. There they were truculent enough.
But these matters, or even the unspeakable ruthlessness of the Inca Atahualpa towards members of his own family, which did so much to help the Spaniards in their ruffianly sack of Peru, do not affect the social and economic conditions of Peruvian communism. They only show that, as against tribes at a lower stage of development, the Inca Empire of the Sun, under theocratic communism, was as thoroughly organised for war as it was for peace. Peace among the sun-worshipping communists inside; war against the fetish-worshippers outside. The former for economic and social advantage at home, the latter to increase Inca power and prosperity by absorption of other populations abroad.
This highly organised communistic realm had reached a point in its development which might easily have gone much farther. Mining for gold and copper was carried on assiduously and with great success, the workers in the mines, again, being supported by the tillers of the soil, while engaged in extracting metals from the veins. The time taken by the miners to obtain the metals they required scarcely reckoned in the matter. The value of the copper, like the value of the gold, was “a value in use,” not “a value in exchange.” To us the advantage of gold is that, if individuals, or a set of combined individuals, own enough of it they can virtually buy anything physical, moral or intellectual they desire. Gold which the Peruvians drew from their mines had no more significance in this way than copper; though, of course, they knew very well that the one metal cost much more labour to obtain and refine than the other. Their commerce had not arrived at the point where the precious metals dominated the market, or where exchange in any shape formed an important element in their everyday life. Yet that men should be able to mine for metals to be used for industrial purposes or decoration, while the gold was not at any time exchanged in order to acquire from without the necessaries of life, shows once more that the amount of food grown in the country, including the proportions allotted to the Incas, the priests, and the nobles, must have been ample for all requirements. That the gold should have been extracted and refined, and the copper smelted, proves likewise that the highest level of barbarism, as distinguished from savagery, had been reached.
But still more remarkable, from some points of view, were the Peruvian bridges. It is not too much to say that the iron suspension bridges which were considered such ingenious devices for nineteenth-century roads – Telford’s suspension bridge across the Menai Straits, for example – were virtually anticipated, in all their most important features, by the suspension bridges of osiers thrown by the Peruvians over some of the streams. It is true that, though the structure was provided with battens and stretched to the utmost limit, a descent to the centre and a rise to the other side could not be avoided. But so strong were these osier bridges that armies marched across them to their destination, and they lasted as long as the osiers, of which the chains were composed, remained sound.
Now in all this, as said, there was no direct personal slavery and, if we are to believe the records, no directly enforced toil. But the organisation for securing continuous production from the managers of ten families, in successive multiples of ten upwards through the whole social life, was as complete as can be imagined. Every detail of family life, monogamy being the rule, except for the Incas, was closely watched over and regulated. It was impossible for anybody from infancy onwards to escape from this all-pervading social system. Committees of inspection and methodical suppression from above supplemented the local management. The increase or decrease of numbers in a family was accompanied by proportional changes in the amount of land allotted for tillage, as well as in the size of the dwelling occupied. Although, therefore, we read in the laws that remain to us nothing about flogging, or fines, or torture of any kind for workers or managers or miners or shepherds or agriculturists, we do learn that the punishment of death was decreed not only for grave offences, but for the slightest breach of the numerous and minute regulations which pervaded the entire community. The bare fact of “idleness” incurred the death penalty for the offender. As idleness may be made to cover a very wide field of petty dereliction of duty, it is easy to see that all the toiling portion of the people might be made the victims of the most revolting tyranny. Probably these harsh enactments were rarely put into practice, and that indeed is generally assumed. But the frequent reference to the crime of sloth is practically a proof that, in the early days of the development of this remarkable society from a far rougher communist savagery, when food was less easily grown, the theocratic chieftains and their priests imposed draconian penalties on the rank and file of the nominally free tribesmen who hankered after a return to a less orderly and strenuous existence, even at the expense of greater uncertainty of a plentiful supply of food. That the later Incas also did not readily tolerate loafers and loungers in their realm may be taken as certain.
As a result of all this remarkable co-ordination, co-operation and regulation for the provision of adequate sustenance, clothing and housing for all, it was impossible for anyone in the various climates of Peru to suffer from scarcity. If crops failed and the ordinary supplies fell short, the wants of the people were fully supplied from the royal and priestly granaries maintained as reserves for that purpose. There was no anxiety at any period of life. Mother and baby, infants of tender age, men and women, the old, the blind, the maimed were all taken care of as a matter of course, and gave in return such reasonable social service as they could. That this service was not excessive is shown by the calculation, which is generally taken as perfectly sound, that two months of labour by the working members of the country sufficed to discharge all their dues to the sacred family of the Inca, numerous though it was, as well as to provide for the service of the temples. Thus it is fairly well established, from many points of view, that the Peruvians, by reason of their strict communal arrangements, and in spite of the theocratic despotism under which they lived, were relieved, by their own exertions, from all the racking cares which render life a long penal servitude for the majority of the wage-earners of civilisation. Work among the communal Peruvians was a joyous service, as narratives of the conquerors relate; it has long ceased to be such in the great industrial centres of private property. That Peruvian work was not toilsome is admitted by the most careful students of Peruvian economic and social records. The carking anxiety which pervades so many households, year in and year out, under civilisation was unknown. If life was not to the few a propitious gamble in which luck, or cunning, or unscrupulous financial capacity secured for the possessors of these advantages economic domination over their fellows, it was not for the many one perpetual strife against adverse conditions which they could not hope to overcome.
What, then, were the drawbacks to the Peruvian communism which counterbalanced the social security and confidence in the future that were common to all? In order to obtain the certitude of comfortable well-being the great mass of the population was compelled to devote itself to work upon lines imposed from above. There was practically no possibility of rising into a higher social status for those who were born into the humble ranks. The workers had no direct control over the arrangements made for their own welfare. Soldiers, drawn from the workers, were compelled to risk life and limb in wars which were no concern whatever of theirs. Lastly, they constituted part of a society in which no initiative was possible for them except with the consent of those above. All the disadvantages enumerated exist in a much more acute shape in the social systems of our day. But the absence of initiative for the entire community is the point upon which critics chiefly insist. This also is true of every civilised state from chattel slavery to wage slavery, especially in the latest stage of growth.
There is, however, nothing to show that the Inca communism of Peru was a stereotyped, unprogressive society. Nor is there any reason why it should have been so. Man, relieved from the harassing need of the daily provision of a doubtful supply of sustenance, has always been an inventive animal. How otherwise could human beings have mounted upwards to the tool-using and nature-controlling position in which even the lower communism was practised? That the bringing to perfection of each rough idea of improvement took a long time, possibly many successive generations, only affects the rate of progress. And we often forget that some of the most ingenious discoveries, inventions, machines and contrivances of fully developed capitalist civilisation took a long time before they were adapted to ordinary social use. Nay, in at least one instance, the hapless inventor was immolated by the conservative workers of his own epoch, who, naturally enough, as we can now admit, failed to discern how the mechanical cheapening of the output of their commodities could possibly benefit them or their progeny.
But there is more direct evidence than this abstract argument to prove that Peruvian communism was not stationary. Here tradition and actual experience come in to confirm the ideas of probable hypothesis. The great stone buildings to which reference has been made, both anterior to and during Inca supremacy, had obviously not existed from all time. They were thought of, experimented upon and carried out during the communist epoch. Here was a most remarkable instance of unconscious invention of worldwide application; and Peru was passing through the same experience that man in society traversed almost everywhere else. But the great osier suspension bridges seem to me to settle the question against those who maintain that this communism had no initiative. There was no necessity for their construction after the elaborate fashion described by the historians of Peru, with the two ends of the osier cables deeply embedded and anchored on either side of the ravine or river to be bridged, so long as the Peruvian communists remained within their original limits. So soon, however, as they began to expand their Inca empire beyond these borders, and encountered these obstacles to rapid progress, they gave up the laborious task of descending and climbing out of the canons, or crossing the rivers in their precarious balsas, or hitching these rafts on to a thick rope to be swept from one side to the other by the action of the current – itself an ingenious device for barbarism – and adopted the suspension bridges paved with battens, which became part and parcel of the great roads. We may contend, therefore, from what we can learn of all the circumstances, that the assumption that permanent arrest of all further development was an inevitable consequence of this elaborate communism is an assumption, and nothing more.
Without, therefore, in any way exaggerating the benefits derived by the people from the communism of the Incas, or minimising the harmful effects of irresponsible theocracy, and economic and social relations scrupulously regulated from above, it cannot be disputed that in this realm of the Incas of Peru we had a society where millions of human beings were in such a position that –
What the mass of Peruvians lacked, as parts of a huge machine extending for three thousand miles along the Pacific coast of South America, was that individual liberty to which we rightly attach so much importance. But this is nowhere attained under capitalism, and can never be achieved by mankind until they collectively and communally control those enormous powers of producing and distributing wealth unconsciously inherited from their predecessors and now used by the minority to dominate them. What the communist empire of Peru, however, shows more clearly than the small tribal organisation at any stage of its development is, that the provision of sufficient, not to say abundant, food, clothing, housing and leisure was an easy matter for a great collection of human beings whose powers to create and distribute wealth were infinitely inferior to our own.
Last updated on 7.7.2006