MIA: Reference Archives: Peter Kropotkin

Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution



I –

M.C. PIEPERS has published in Natuurkunding Tijdschrift voor Neederlandsch Indië, 1891, Deel L. p. 198 (analyzed in Naturwissenschaftliche Rundschau, 1891, vol. vi. p. 573), interesting researches into the mass-flights of butterflies which occur in Dutch East India, seemingly under the influence of great draughts occasioned by the west monsoon. Such mass-flights usually take place in the first months after the beginning of the monsoon, and it is usually individuals of both sexes of Catopsilia (Callidryas) crocale, Cr., which join in it, but occasionally the swarms consist of individuals belonging to three different species of the genus Euphoea. Copulation seems also to be the purpose of such flights. That these flights are not the result of concerted action but rather a consequence of imitation, or of a desire of following all others, is, of course, quite possible.

Bates saw, on the Amazon, the yellow and the orange Callidryas "assembling in densely packed masses, sometimes two or three yards in circumference, their wings all held in an upright position, so that the beach looked as though variegated with beds of crocuses." Their migrating columns, crossing the river from north to south, "were uninterrupted, from an early hour in the morning till sunset" (Naturalist on the Amazon, p. 131).

Dragon-flies, in their long migrations across the Pampas, come together in countless numbers, and their immense swarms contain individuals belonging to different species (Hudson, Naturalist on the La Plata, pp. 130 seq.).

The grasshoppers (Zoniopoda tarsata) are also eminently gregarious (Hudson, l.c. p. 125).


Pierre Huber's Les fourmis indigènes (Genève, 1810), of which a cheap edition was issued in 1861 by Cherbuliez, in the Bibliothèque Genevoise, and of which translations ought to be circulated in cheap editions in every language, is not only the best work on the subject, but also a model of really scientific research. Darwin was quite right in describing Pierre Huber as an even greater naturalist than his father. This book ought to be read by every young naturalist, not only for the facts it contains but as a lesson in the methods of research. The rearing of ants in artificial glass nests, and the test experiments made by subsequent explorers, including Lubbock, will all be found in Huber's admirable little work. Readers of the books of Forel and Lubbock are, of course, aware that both the Swiss professor and the British writer began their work in a critical mood, with the intention of disproving Huber's assertions concerning the admirable mutual-aid instincts of the ants; but that after a careful investigation they could only confirm them. However, it is unfortunately characteristic of human nature gladly to believe any affirmation concerning men being able to change at will the action of the forces of Nature, but to refuse to admit well-proved scientific facts tending to reduce the distance between man and his animal brothers.

Mr. Sutherland (Origin and Growth of Moral Instinct) evidently began his book with the intention of proving that all moral feelings have originated from parental care and familial love, which both appeared only in warm-blooded animals; consequently he tries to minimize the importance of sympathy and co-operation among ants. He quotes Büchner's book, Mind in Animals, and knows Lubbock's experiments. As to the works of Huber and Forel, he dismisses them in the following sentence; "but they [Büchner's instances of sympathy among ants] are all, or mostly all, marred by a certain air of sentimentalism... which renders them better suited for school books than for cautious works of science, and the same is to be remarked [italics are mine] of some of Huber's and Forel's best-known anecdotes" (vol. i. p. 298).

Mr. Sutherland does not specify which "anecdotes" he means, but it seems to me that he could never have had the opportunity of perusing the works of Huber and Forel. Naturalists who know these works find no "anecdotes" in them.

The recent work of Professor Gottfried Adlerz on the ants in Sweden (Myrmecologiska Studier: Svenska Myror och des Lefnadsförhallanden, in Bihan till Svenska A kademiens Handlingar, Bd. xi. No. 18, 1886) may be mentioned in this place. It hardly need be said that all the observations of Huber and Forel concerning the mutual-aid life of ants, including the one concerning the sharing of food, felt to be so striking by those who previously had paid no attention to the subject, are fully confirmed by the Swedish professor (pp. 136-137).

Professor G. Adlerz gives also very interesting experiments to prove what Huber had already observed; namely, that ants from two different nests do not always attack each other. He has made one of his experiments with the ant, Tapinoma erraticum. Another was made with the common Rufa ant. Taking a whole nest in a sack, he emptied it at a distance of six feet from another nest. There was no battle, but the ants of the second nest began to carry the pupae of the former. As a rule, when Professor Adlerz brought together workers with their pupae, both taken from different nests, there was no battle; but if the workers were without their pupae, a battle ensued (pp. 185-186).

He also completes Forel's and MacCook's observations about the "nations" of ants, composed of many nests, and, taking his own estimates, which brought him to take an average of 300,000 Formica exsecta ants in each nest, he concludes that such "nations" may reach scores and even hundreds of millions of inhabitants.

Maeterlinck's admirably written book on bees, although it contains no new observations, would be very useful, if it were less marred with metaphysical "words."


Audubon's Journals (Audubon and his Journals, New York, 1898), especially those relating to his life on the coasts of Labrador and the St. Lawrence river in the thirties, contain excellent descriptions of the nesting associations of aquatic birds. Speaking of "The Rock," one of the Magdalene or Amherst Islands, he wrote: – "At eleven I could distinguish its top plainly from the deck, and thought it covered with snow to the depth of several feet; this appearance existed on every portion of the flat, projecting shelves. "But it was not snow: it was gannets, all calmly seated on their eggs or newly-hatched brood-their heads all turned windwards, almost touching each other, and in regular lines. The air above, for a hundred yards and for some distance round the rock, "was filled with gannets on the wing, as if a heavy fall of snow was directly above us." Kittiwake gulls and foolish guillemots bred on the same rock (Journals, vol. i. pp. 360-363).

In sight of Anticosti Island, the sea "was literally covered with foolish guillemots and with razorbilled auks (Alca torva)." Further on, the air was filled with velvet ducks. On the rocks of the Gulf, the herring gulls, the terns (great, Arctic, and probably Foster's), the Tringa pusilla, the sea-gulls, the auks, the Scoter ducks, the wild geese (Anser canadensis), the red-breasted merganser, the cormorants, etc., were all breeding. The sea-gulls were extremely abundant there; "they are for ever harassing every other bird, sucking their eggs and devouring their young;" "they take here the place of eagles and hawks."

On the Missouri, above Saint Louis, Audubon saw, in 1843, vultures and eagles nesting in colonies. Thus he mentioned "long lines of elevated shore, surmounted by stupendous rocks of limestone, with many curious holes in them, where we saw vultures and eagles enter towards dusk" – that is, Turkey buzzards (Cathartes aura) and bald eagles (Haliaëtus leucocephalus), E. Couës remarks in a footnote (vol. i. p. 458).

One of the best breeding-grounds along the British shores are the Farne Islands, and one will find in Charles Dixon's work, Among the Birds in Northern Shires, a lively description of these grounds, where scores of thousands of gulls, terns, eider-ducks, cormorants, ringed plovers, oyster-catchers, guillemots, and puffins come together every year. "On approaching some of the islands the first impression is that this gull (the lesser black-backed gull) monopolizes the whole of the ground, as it occurs in such vast abundance. The air seems full of them, the ground and bare rocks are crowded; and as our boat finally grates against the rough beach and we eagerly jump ashore all becomes noisy excitement – a perfect babel of protesting cries that is persistently kept up until we leave the place" (p. 219).


That the sociability of animals was greater when they were less hunted by man, is confirmed by many facts showing that those animals who now live isolated in countries inhabited by man continue to live in herds in uninhabited regions. Thus on the waterless plateau deserts of Northern Thibet Prjevalsky found bears living in societies. He mentions numerous "herds of yaks, khulans, antelopes, and even bears." The latter, he says, feed upon the extremely numerous small rodents, and are so numerous that, "as the natives assured me, they have found a hundred or a hundred and fifty of them asleep in the same cave" (Yearly Report of the Russian Geographical Society for 1885, p. 11; Russian). Hares (Lepus Lehmani) live in large societies in the Transcaspian territory (N. Zarudnyi, Recherches zoologiques dans la contrée Transcaspienne, in Bull. Soc. Natur. Moscou, 1889, 4). The small Californian foxes, who, according to E.S. Holden, live round the Lick observatory "on a mixed diet of Manzanita berries and astronomers' chickens" (Nature, Nov. 5, 1891), seem also to be very sociable.

Some very interesting instances of the love of society among animals have lately been given by Mr. C.J. Cornish (Animals at Work and Play, London, 1896). All animals, he truly remarks, hate solitude. He gives also an amusing instance of the habit of the prairie dogs of keeping sentries. It is so great that they always keep a sentinel on duty, even at the London Zoological Garden, and in the Paris Jardin d'Acclimatation (p. 46).

Professor Kessler was quite right in pointing out that the young broods of birds, keeping together in autumn, contribute to the development of feelings of sociability. Mr. Cornish (Animals at Work and Play) has given several examples of the plays of young mammals, such as, for instance, lambs playing at "follow my leader," or at "I'm the king of the castle," and their love of steeplechases; also the fawns playing a kind of "cross-touch," the touch being given by the nose. Altogether we have, moreover, the excellent work by Karl Gross, The Play of Animals.


Hudson, in his Naturalist on the La Plata (Chapter III), has a very interesting account of a sudden increase of a species of mice and of the consequences of that sudden "wave of life." "In the summer of 1872-73," he writes, "we had plenty of sunshine, with frequent showers, so that the hot months brought no dearth of wild flowers, as in most years." The season was very favourable for mice, and "these prolific little creatures were soon so abundant that the dogs and the cats subsisted almost exclusively on them. Foxes, weasels and opossums fared sumptuously; even the insectivorous armadillo took to mice-hunting." The fowls became quite rapacious, "while the sulphur tyrant-birds (Pitangus) and the Guira cuckoos preyed on nothing but mice." In the autumn, countless numbers of storks and of short-eared owls made their appearance, coming also to assist at the general feast. Next came a winter of continued drought; the dry grass was eaten, or turned to dust; and the mice, deprived of cover and food, began to die out. The cats sneaked back to the houses; the short-eared owls – a wandering species – left; while the little burrowing owls became so reduced as scarcely to be able to fly, "and hung about the houses all day long on the look-out for some stray morsel of food. "Incredible numbers of sheep and cattle perished the same winter, during a month of cold that followed the drought. As to the mice, Hudson makes the remark that "scarcely a hard-pressed remnant remains after the great reaction, to continue the species."

This illustration has an additional interest in its showing how, on flat plains and plateaus, the sudden increase of a species immediately attracts enemies from other parts of the plains, and how species unprotected by their social organization must necessarily succumb before them.

Another excellent illustration in point is given by the same author from the Argentine Republic. The coypù (Myiopotamus coypù) is there a very common rodent – a rat in shape, but as large as an otter. It is aquatic in its habits and very sociable. "Of an evening," Hudson writes, "they are all out swimming and playing in the water, conversing together in strange tunes, which sound like the moans and cries of wounded and suffering men. The coypù, which has a fine fur under the long coarse hair, was largely exported to Europe; but some sixty years ago the Dictator Rosas issued a decree prohibiting the hunting of this animal. The result was that the animals increased and multiplied exceedingly, and, abandoning their aquatic habits, they became terrestrial and migratory, and swarmed everywhere in search of food. Suddenly a mysterious malady fell on them, from which they quickly perished, and became almost extinct" (p. 12).

Extermination by man on the one side, and contagious diseases on the other side, are thus the main checks which keep the species down – not competition for the means of existence, which may not exist at all.

Facts, proving that regions enjoying a far more congenial climate than Siberia are equally underpopulated, could be produced in numbers. But in Bates' well-known work we find the same remark concerning even the shores of the Amazon river.

"There is, in fact," Bates wrote, "a great variety of mammals, birds and reptiles, but they are widely scattered and all excessively shy of man. The region is so extensive and uniform in the forest-clothing of its surface, that it is only at long intervals that animals are seen in abundance, where some particular spot is found which is more attractive than the others" (Naturalist on the Amazon, 6th ed., p. 31).

This fact is the more striking as the Brazilian fauna, which is poor in mammals, is not poor at all in birds, and the Brazilian forests afford ample food for birds, as may be seen from a quotation, already given on a previous page, about birds' societies. And yet, the forests of Brazil, like those of Asia and Africa, are not overpopulated, but rather under-populated. The same is true concerning the pampas of South America, about which W.H. Hudson remarks that it is really astonishing that only one small ruminant should be found on this immense grassy area, so admirably suited to herbivorous quadrupeds. Millions of sheep, cattle and horses, introduced by man, graze now, as is known, upon a portion of these prairies. Land-birds on the pampas are also few in species and in numbers.


Numerous examples of such adaptations can be found in the works of all field-naturalists. One of them, very interesting, may be given in the hairy armadillo, of which W.H. Hudson says, that "it has struck a line for itself, and consequently. thrives, while its congeners are fast disappearing. Its food is most varied. It preys on all kinds of insects, discovering worms and larvae several inches beneath the surface. It is fond of eggs and fledglings; it feeds on carrion as readily as a vulture; and, failing animal food, it subsists on vegetable diet-clover, and even grains of maize. Therefore, when other animals are starving, the hairy armadillo is always fat and vigorous" (Naturalist on the La Plata, p. 71).

The adaptivity of the lapwing makes it a species of which the range of extension is very wide. In England, it "makes itself at home on arable land as readily as in wilder areas." Ch. Dixon says in his Birds of Northern Shires (p. 67), "Variety of food is still more the rule with the birds of prey." Thus, for instance, we learn from the same author (pp. 60, 65), "that the hen harrier of the British moors feeds not only on small birds, but also on moles and mice, and on frogs, lizards and insects, while most of the smaller falcons subsist largely on insects."

The very suggestive chapter which W.H. Hudson gives to the family of the South American treecreepers, or woodhewers, is another excellent illustration of the ways in which large portions of the animal population avoid competition, while at the same time they succeed in becoming very numerous in a given region, without being possessed of any of the weapons usually considered as essential in the struggle for existence. The above family covers an immense range, from South Mexico to Patagonia, and no fewer than 290 species, referable to about 46 genera, are already known from this family, the most striking feature of which is the great diversity of habits of its members. Not only the different genera and the different species possess habits peculiarly their own, but even the same species is often found to differ in its manner of life in different localities. "Some species of Xenops and Magarornis, like woodpeckers, climb vertically on tree-trunks in search of insect prey, but also, like tits, explore the smaller twigs and foliage at the extremity of the branches; so that the whole tree, from the root to its topmost foliage, is hunted over by them. The Sclerurus, although an inhabitant of the darkest forest, and provided with sharply-curved claws, never seeks its food on trees, but exclusively on the ground, among the decaying fallen leaves; but, strangely enough, when alarmed, it flies to the trunk of the nearest tree, to which it clings in a vertical position, and, remaining silent and motionless, escapes observation by means of its dark protective colour." And so on. In their nesting habits they also vary immensely. Thus, in one single genus, three species build an oven-shaped clay-nest, a fourth builds a nest of sticks in the trees, and a fifth burrows in the side of a bank, like a kingfisher.

Now, this extremely large family, of which Hudson says that "every portion of the South American continent is occupied by them; for there is really no climate, and no kind of soil or vegetation, which does not possess its appropriate species, belongs" – to use his own words – "to the most defenceless of birds." Like the ducks which were mentioned by Syevertsoff (see in the text), they display no powerful beak or claws; "they are timid, unresisting creatures, without strength or weapons; their movements are less quick and vigorous than those of other kinds, and their flight is exceedingly feeble." But they possess – both Hudson and Asara observe – "the social disposition in an eminent degree," although "the social habit is kept down in them by the conditions of a life which makes solitude necessary." They cannot make those large breeding associations which we see in the sea-birds, because they live on the tree-insects, and they must carefully explore separately every tree – which they do in a most business-like way; but they continually call each other in the woods, "conversing with one another over long distances;" and they associate in those "wandering bands" which are well known from Bates' picturesque description, while Hudson was led to believe "that everywhere in South America the Dendrocolaptidae are the first in combining to act in concert, and that the birds of other families follow their march and associate with them, knowing from experience that a rich harvest may be reaped." It hardly need be added that Hudson pays them also a high compliment concerning their intelligence. Sociability and intelligence always go hand in hand.


At the time when I wrote the chapter inserted in the text, a certain accord seemed to have been established amongst anthropologists concerning the relatively late appearance, in the institutions of men, of the patriarchal family, such as we know it among the Hebrews, or in Imperial Rome. However, works have been published since, in which the ideas promulgated by Bachofen and MacLennan, systematized especially by Morgan, and further developed and confirmed by Post, Maxim Kovalevsky, and Lubbock, were contested – the most important of such works being by the Danish Professor, C.N. Starcke (Primitive Family, 1889), and by the Helsingfors Professor, Edward Westermarck (The History of Human Marriage, 1891; 2nd ed. 1894). The same has happened with this question of primitive marriage institutions as it happened with the question of the primitive land-ownership institutions. When the ideas of Maurer and Nasse on the village community, developed by quite a school of gifted explorers, and those of all modern anthropologists upon the primitively communistic constitution of the clan had nearly won general acceptance – they called forth the appearance of such works as those of Fustel de Coulanges in France, the Oxford Professor Seebohm in England, and several others, in which an attempt was made – with more brilliancy than real depth of investigation – to undermine these ideas and to cast a doubt upon the conclusions arrived at by modern research (see Prof. Vinogradov's Preface to his remarkable work, Villainage in England). Similarly, when the ideas about the non-existence of the family at the early tribal stage of mankind began to be accepted by most anthropologists and students of ancient law, they necessarily called forth such works as those of Starcke and Westermarck, in which man was represented, in accordance with the Hebrew tradition, as having started with the family, evidently patriarchal, and never having passed through the stages described by MacLennan, Bachofen, or Morgan. These works, of which the brilliantly-written History of Human Marriage has especially been widely read, have undoubtedly produced a certain effect: those who have not had the opportunity of reading the bulky volumes related to the controversy became hesitating; while some anthropologists, well acquainted with the matter, like the French Professor Durkheim, took a conciliatory, but somewhat undefined attitude.

For the special purpose of a work on Mutual Aid, this controversy may be irrelevant. The fact that men have lived in tribes from the earliest stages of mankind, is not contested, even by those who feel shocked at the idea that man may have passed through a stage when the family as we understand it did not exist. The subject, however, has its own interest and deserves to be mentioned, although it must be remarked that a volume would be required to do it full justice.

When we labour to lift the veil that conceals from us ancient institutions, and especially such institutions as have prevailed at the first appearance of beings of the human type, we are bound – in the necessary absence of direct testimony – to accomplish a most painstaking work of tracing backwards every institution, carefully noting even its faintest traces in habits, customs, traditions, songs, folk-lore, and so on; and then, combining the separate results of each of these separate studies, to mentally reconstitute the society which would answer to the co-existence of all these institutions. One can consequently understand what a formidable array of facts, and what a vast number of minute studies of particular points is required to come to any safe conclusion. This is exactly what one finds in the monumental work of Bachofen and his followers, but fails to find in the works of the other school. The mass of facts ransacked by Prof. Westermarck is undoubtedly great enough, and his work is certainly very valuable as a criticism; but it hardly will induce those who know the works of Bachofen, Morgan, MacLennan, Post, Kovalevsky, etc., in the originals, and are acquainted with the village-community school, to change their opinions and accept the patriarchal family theory.

Thus the arguments borrowed by Westermarck from the familiar habits of the primates have not, I dare say, the value which he attributes to them. Our knowledge about the family relations amongst the sociable species of monkeys of our own days is extremely uncertain, while the two unsociable species of orang-outan and gorilla must be ruled out of discussion, both being evidently, as I have indicated in the text, decaying species. Still less do we know about the relations which existed between males and females amongst the primates towards the end of the Tertiary period. The species which lived then are probably all extinct, and we have not the slightest idea as to which of them was the ancestral form which Man sprung from. All we can say with any approach to probability is, that various family and tribe relations must have existed in the different ape species, which were extremely numerous at that time; and that great changes must have taken place since in the habits of the primates, similarly to the changes that took place, even within the last two centuries, in the habits of many other mammal species.

The discussion must consequently be limited entirely to human institutions; and in the minute discussion of each separate trace of each early institution, in connection with all that we know about every other institution of the same people or the same tribe, lies the main force of the argument of the school which maintains that the patriarchal family is an institution of a relatively late origin.

There is, in fact, quite a cycle of institutions amongst primitive men, which become fully comprehensible if we accept the ideas of Bachofen and Morgan, but are utterly incomprehensible otherwise. Such are: the communistic life of the clan, so long as it was not split up into separate paternal families; the life in long houses, and in classes occupying separate long houses according to the age and stage of initiation of the youth (M. Maclay, H. Schurz); the restrictions to personal accumulation of property of which several illustrations are given above, in the text; the fact that women taken from another tribe belonged to the whole tribe before becoming private property; and many similar institutions analyzed by Lubbock. This wide cycle of institutions, which fell into decay and finally disappeared in the village-community phase of human development, stand in perfect accord with the "tribal marriage" theory; but they are mostly left unnoticed by the followers of the patriarchal family school. This is certainly not the proper way of discussing the problem. Primitive men have not several superposed or juxtaposed institutions as we have now. They have but one institution, the clan, which embodies all the mutual relations of the members of the clan. Marriage-relations and possession-relations are clan-relations. And the last that we might expect from the defenders of the patriarchal family theory would be to show us how the just mentioned cycle of institutions (which disappear later on) could have existed in an agglomeration of men living under a system contradictory of such institutions – the system of separate families governed by the pater familias.

Again, one cannot recognize scientific value in the way in which certain serious difficulties are set aside by the promoters of the patriarchal family theory. Thus, Morgan has proved by a considerable amount of evidence that a strictly-kept "classificatory group system" exists with many primitive tribes, and that all the individuals of the same category address each other as if they were brothers and sisters, while the individuals of a younger category will address their mothers' sisters as mothers, and so on. To say that this must be a simple façon de parler – a way of expressing respect to age – is certainly an easy method of getting rid of the difficulty of explaining, why this special mode of expressing respect, and not some other, has prevailed among so many peoples of different origin, so as to survive with many of them up to the present day? One may surely admit that ma and pa are the syllables which are easiest to pronounce for a baby, but the question is – Why this part of "baby language" is used by full-grown people, and is applied to a certain strictly-defined category of persons? Why, with so many tribes in which the mother and her sisters are called ma, the father is designated by tiatia (similar to diadia – uncle), dad, da or pa? Why the appellation of mother given to maternal aunts is supplanted later on by a separate name? And so on. But when we learn that with many savages the mother's sister takes as responsible a part in bringing up a child as the mother itself, and that, if death takes away a beloved child, the other "mother" (the mother's sister) will sacrifice herself to accompany the child in its journey into the other world – we surely see in these names something much more profound than a mere façon de parler, or a way of testifying respect. The more so when we learn of the existence of quite a cycle of survivals (Lubbock, Kovalevsky, Post have fully discussed them), all pointing in the same direction. Of course it may be said that kinship is reckoned on the maternal side "because the child remains more with its mother," or we may explain the fact that a man's children by several wives of different tribes belong to their mothers' clans in consequence of the savages' ignorance of physiology;" but these are not arguments even approximately adequate to the seriousness of the questions involved – especially when it is known that the obligation of bearing the mother's name implies belonging to the mother's clan in all respects: that is, involves a right to all the belongings of the maternal clan, as well as the right of being protected by it, never to be assailed by any one of it, and the duty of revenging offences on its behalf.

Even if we were to admit for a moment the satisfactory nature of such explanations, we should soon find out that a separate explanation has to be given for each category of such facts – and they are very numerous. To mention but a few of them, there is: the division of clans into classes, at a time when there is no division as regards property or social condition; exogamy and all the consequent customs enumerated by Lubbock; the blood covenant and a series of similar customs intended to testify the unity of descent; the appearance of family gods subsequent to the existence of clan gods; the exchange of wives which exists not only with Eskimos in times of calamity, but is also widely spread among many other tribes of a quite different origin; the looseness of nuptial ties the lower we descend in civilization; the compound marriages – several men marrying one wife who belongs to them in turns; the abolition of the marriage restrictions during festivals, or on each fifth, sixth, etc., day; the cohabitation of families in "long houses"; the obligation of rearing the orphan falling, even at a late period, upon the maternal uncle; the considerable number of transitory forms showing the gradual passage from maternal descent to paternal descent; the limitation of the number of children by the clan – not by the family – and the abolition of this harsh clause in times of plenty; family restrictions coming after the clan restrictions; the sacrifice of the old relatives to the tribe; the tribal lex talionis and many other habits and customs which become a "family matter" only when we find the family, in the modern sense of the word, finally constituted; the nuptial and pre-nuptial ceremonies of which striking illustrations may be found in the work of Sir John Lubbock, and of several modern Russian explorers; the absence of marriage solemnities where the line of descent is matriarchal, and the appearance of such solemnities with tribes following the paternal line of descent – all these and many others(1*) showing that, as Durckheim remarks, marriage proper "is only tolerated and prevented by antagonist forces;" the destruction at the death of the individual of what belonged to him personally; and finally, all the formidable array of survivals,(2*) myths (Bachofen and his many followers), folk-lore, etc., all telling in the same direction.

Of course, all this does not prove that there was a period when woman was regarded as superior to man, or was the "head" of the clan; this is a quite distinct matter, and my personal opinion is that no such period has ever existed; nor does it prove that there was a time when no tribal restrictions to the union of sexes existed – this would have been absolutely contrary to all known evidence. But when all the facts lately brought to light are considered in their mutual dependency, it is impossible not to recognize that if isolated couples, with their children, have possibly existed even in the primitive clan, these incipient families were tolerated exceptions only, not the institution of the time.


1. See Marriage Customs in many Lands, by H.N. Hutchinson, London, 1897.

2. Many new and interesting forms of these have been collected by Wilhelm Rudeck, Geschichte der öffentlichen Sittlichkeit in Deutschland, analyzed by Durckheim in Annuaire Sociologique, ii. 312.


In a remarkable work, The Religious Systems of China, published in 1892-97 by J. M. de Groot at Leyden, we find the confirmation of this idea. There was in China (as elsewhere) a time when all personal belongings of a dead person were destroyed on his tomb – his mobiliary goods, his chattels, his slaves, and even friends and vassals, and of course his widow. It required a strong reaction against this custom on behalf of the moralists to put an end to it. With the gipsies in England the custom of destroying all chattels on the grave has survived up to the present day. All the personal property of the gipsy queen who died a few years ago was destroyed on her grave. Several newspapers mentioned it at that time.


A number of valuable works on the South Slavonian Zadruga, or "compound family," compared to other forms of family organization, have been published since the above was written; namely, by Ernest Miler (Jahrbuch der Internationaler Vereinung für vergleichende Rechtswissenschaft und Volkswirthschaftslehre, 1897), and I.E. Geszow's Zadruga in Bulgaria, and Zadruga-Ownership and Work in Bulgaria (both in Bulgarian). I must also mention the well-known study of Bogisic (De la forme dite 'inokosna' de la famille rurale chez les Serbes et les Croates, Paris, 1884), which has been omitted in the text.


The origin of the guilds has been the subject of many controversies. There is not the slightest doubt that craft-guilds, or "colleges" of artisans, existed in ancient Rome. It appears, indeed, from a passage in Plutarch that Numa legislated about them. "He divided the people," we are told, "into trades... ordering them to have brotherhoods, festivals, and meetings, and indicating the worship they had to accomplish before the gods, according to the dignity of each trade." It is almost certain, however, that it was not the Roman king who invented, or instituted, the trade-colleges – they had already existed in ancient Greece; in all probability, he simply submitted them to royal legislation, just as Philippe le Bel, fifteen centuries later, submitted the trades of France, much to their detriment, to royal supervision and legislation. One of the successors of Numa, Servius Tullius, also is said to have issued some legislation concerning the colleges.(1*)

Consequently, it was quite natural that historians should ask themselves whether the guilds which took such a development in the twelfth, and even the tenth and the eleventh centuries, were not revivals of the old Roman "colleges" – the more so as the latter, as seen from the above quotation, quite corresponded to the medieval guild.(2*) It is known, indeed, that corporations of the Roman type existed in Southern Gaul down to the fifth century. Besides, an inscription found during some excavations in Paris shows that a corporation of Lutetia nautae existed under Tiberius; and in the chart given to the Paris "water-merchants" in 1170, their rights are spoken of as existing ab antiquo (same author, p. 51). There would have been, therefore, nothing extraordinary, had corporations been maintained in early medieval France after the barbarian invasions.

However, even if as much must be granted, there is no reason to maintain that the Dutch corporations, the Norman guilds, the Russian artéls, the Georgian amkari, and so on, necessarily have had also a Roman, or even a Byzantine origin. Of course, the intercourse between the Normans and the capital of the East-Roman Empire was very active, and the Slavonians (as has been proved by Russian historians, and especially by Rambaud) took a lively part in that intercourse. So, the Normans and the Russians may have imported the Roman organization of trade-corporations into their respective lands. But when we see that the artél was the very essence of the every-day life of all the Russians, as early as the tenth century, and that this artél, although no sort of legislation has ever regulated its life till modern times, has the very same features as the Roman college and the Western guild, we are still more inclined to consider the eastern guild as having an even more ancient origin than the Roman college. Romans knew well, indeed, that their sodalitia and collegia were "what the Greeks called hetairiai" (Martin-Saint-Léon, p. 2), and from what we know of the history of the East, we may conclude, with little probability of being mistaken, that the great nations of the East, as well as Egypt, also have had the same guild organization. The essential features of this organization remain the same wherever we may find them. It is a union of men carrying on the same profession or trade. This union, like the primitive clan, has its own gods and its own worship, always containing some mysteries, specific to each separate union; it considers all its members as brothers and sisters – possibly (at its beginnings) with all the consequences which such a relationship implied in the gens, or, at least, with ceremonies that indicated or symbolized the clan relations between brother and sister; and finally, all the obligations of mutual support which existed in the clan, exist in this union; namely, the exclusion of the very possibility of a murder within the brotherhood, the clan responsibility before justice, and the obligation, in case of a minor dispute, of bringing the matter before the judges, or rather the arbiters, of the guild brotherhood. The guild – one may say – is thus modelled upon the clan.

Consequently, the same remarks which are made in the text concerning the origin of the village community, apply, I am inclined to think, equally to the guild, the artél, and the craft- or neighbour-brotherhood. When the bonds which formerly connected men in their clans were loosened in consequence of migrations, the appearance of the paternal family, and a growing diversity of occupations – a new territorial bond was worked out by mankind in the shape of the village community; and another bond – an occupation bond – was worked out in an imaginary brotherhood – the imaginary clan, which was represented: between two men, or a few men, by the "mixture-of-blood brotherhood" (the Slavonian pobratimstvo), and between a greater number of men of different origin, i.e. originated from different clans, inhabiting the same village or town (or even different villages or towns) – the phratry, the hetairiai, the amkari, the artél, the guild.(3*)

As to the idea and the form of such an organization, its elements were already indicated from the savage period downwards. We know indeed that in the clans of all savages there are separate secret organizations of warriors, of witches, of young men, etc. – craft mysteries, in which knowledge concerning hunting or warfare is transmitted; in a word, "clubs," as Miklukho-Maclay described them. These "mysteries" were, in all probability, the prototypes of the future guilds.(4*)

With regard to the above-mentioned work by E. Martin-Saint-Léon, let me add that it contains very valuable information concerning the organization of the trades in Paris – as it appears from the Livre des métiers of Boileau – and a good summary of information relative to the Communes of different parts of France, with all bibliographical indications. It must, however, be remembered that Paris was a "Royal city" (like Moscow, or Westminster), and that consequently the free medieval-city institutions have never attained there the development which they have attained in free cities. Far from representing "the picture of a typical corporation," the corporations of Paris, "born and developed under the direct tutorship of royalty," for this very same cause (which the author considers a cause of superiority , while it was a cause of inferiority – he himself fully shows in different parts of his work how the interference of the imperial power in Rome, and of the royal power in France, destroyed and paralyzed the life of the craft-guilds) could never attain the wonderful growth and influence upon all the life of the city which they did attain in North-Eastern France, at Lyons, Montpellier, Nimes, etc., or in the free cities of Italy, Flanders, Germany, and so on.


1. A Servio Tullio populus romanus relatus in censum, digestus in classes, curiis atque collegiis distributus (E. Martin-Saint Léon, Histoire des corporations de métiers depuis leurs origines jusqu'à leur suppression en 1791, etc., Paris, 1897.

2. The Roman sodalitia, so far as we may judge (same author, p. 9), corresponded to the Kabyle çofs.

3. It is striking to see how distinctly this very idea is expressed in the well-known passage of Plutarch concerning Numa's legislation of the trade-colleges: – "And through this," Plutarch wrote, "he was the first to banish from the city this spirit which led people to say: 'I am a Sabine,' or 'I am a Roman,' or 'I am a subject of Tatius,' and another: 'I am a subject of Romulus'" – to exclude, in other words, the idea of different descent.

4. The work of H. Schurtz, devoted to the "age-classes" and the secret men's unions during the barbarian stases of civilization (Altersklassen und Männerverbände: eine Darstellung der Grundformen der Gesellschaft, Berlin, 1902), which reaches me while I am reading the proofs of these pages, contains numbers of facts in support of the above hypothesis concerning the origin of guilds. The art of building a large communal house, so as not to offend the spirits of the fallen trees; the art of forging metals, so as to conciliate the hostile spirits; the secrets of hunting and of the ceremonies and mask-dances which render it successful; the art of teaching savage arts to boys; the secret ways of warding off the witchcraft of enemies and, consequently, the art of warfare; the making of boats, of nets for fishing, of traps for animals, and of snares for birds, and finally the women's arts of weaving and dyeing – all these were in olden times as many "artifices" and "crafts," which required secrecy for being effective. Consequently, they were transmitted from the earliest times, in secret societies, or "mysteries," to those only who had undergone a painful initiation. H. Schurtz shows now that savage life is honeycombed with secret societies and "clubs" (of warriors, of hunters), which have as ancient an origin as the marriage "classes" in the clans, and contain already all the elements of the future guild: secrecy, independence from the family and sometimes the clan, common worship of special gods, common meals, jurisdiction within the society and brotherhood. The forge and the boat-house are, in fact, usual dependencies of the men's clubs; and the "long houses" or "palavers" are built by special craftsmen who know how to conjure the spirits of the fallen trees.


In a work on the medieval city (Markt und Stadt in ihrem rechtlichen Verhältnis, Leipzig, 1896), Rietschel has developed the idea that the origin of the German medieval communes must be sought in the market. The local market, placed under the protection of a bishop, a monastery or a prince, gathered round it a population of tradesmen and artisans, but no agricultural population. The sections into which the towns were usually divided, radiating from the market-place and peopled each with artisans of special trades, are a proof of that: they formed usually the Old Town, while the New Town used to be a rural village belonging to the prince or the king. The two were governed by different laws.

It is certainly true that the market has played an important part in the early development of all medieval cities, contributing to increase the wealth of the citizens, and giving them ideas of independence; but, as has been remarked by Carl Hegel – the well-known author of a very good general work on German medieval cities (Die Entstehung des deutschen Städtewesens, Leipzig, 1898), the town-law is not a market-law, and Hegel's conclusion is (in further support to the views taken in this book) that the medieval city has had a double origin. There were in it "two populations placed by the side of each other: one rural, and the other purely urban;" the rural population, which formerly lived under the organization of the Almende, or village community, was incorporated in the city.

With regard to the Merchant Guilds, the work of Herman van den Linden (Les Gildes marchandes dans les Pays-Bas au Moyen Age, Gand, 1896, in Recueil de travaux publiés par la Faculté de Philosophie et Lettres) deserves a special mention. The author follows the gradual development of their political force and the authority which they gradually acquired upon the industrial population, especially on the drapers, and describes the league concluded by the artisans to oppose their growing power. The idea, which is developed in this book, concerning the appearance of the merchant guild at a later period which mostly corresponded to a period of decline of the city liberties, seems thus to find confirmation in H. van den Linden's researches.


The Report of the Agricultural Commission of Netherlands contains many illustrations relative to this subject, and my friend, M. Cornelissen, was kind enough to pick out for me the corresponding passages from these bulky volumes (Uitkomsten van het Onderzoek naar den Toestand van den Landbouw in Nederland, 2 vols. 1890).

The habit of having one thrashing-machine, which makes the round of many farms, hiring it in turn, is very widely spread, as it is by this time in nearly every other country. But one finds here and there a commune which keeps one thrashing-machine for the community (vol. I. xviii. p. 31).

The farmers who have not the necessary numbers of horses for the plough borrow the horses from their neighbours. The habit of keeping one communal ox, or one communal stallion, is very common.

When the village has to raise the ground (in the low districts) in order to build a communal school, or for one of the peasants in order to build a new house, a bede is usually convoked. The same is done for those farmers who have to move. The bede is altogether a widely-spread custom, and no one, rich or poor, will fail to come with his horse and cart.

The renting in common, by several agricultural labourers, of a meadow, for keeping their cows, is found in several parts of the land; it is also frequent that the farmer, who has plough and horses, ploughs the land for his hired labourers (vol. I. xxii. p. 18, etc.).

As to the farmers' unions for buying seed, exporting vegetables to England and so on, they become universal. The same is seen in Belgium. In 1896, seven years after peasants' guilds had been started, first in the Flemish part of the country, and four years only after they were introduced in the Walloon portion of Belgium, there were already 207 such guilds, with a membership of 10,000 (Annuaire de la Science Agronomique, vol. I. (2), 1896, pp. 148 and 149).