A Textbook issued by the Economics Institute of the Academy of Sciences of the U.S.S.R



The Rise of Human Society

The rise of man belongs to the present, the Quaternary period of the earth's history, which science reckons as a little less than a million years. In various regions of Europe, Asia and Africa distinguished by their warm and moist climates there dwelt a highly developed species of anthropoid ape. As a result of a very long development, which included a number of transitional stages, from these remote ancestors there originated man.

The emergence of man was one of the greatest turning points in the development of nature. This turning point took place when man's ancestors began to make implements of labour. The fundamental difference between man" and animal starts only with the making of implements, though they be the very simplest. It is well known that apes often use a stick or stone to knock fruit from a tree or to defend themselves from attack. But not a single animal has ever made even the most primitive implement. The conditions of their daily lives drove man's ancestors to make implements. Experience taught them that sharpened stones could be used for defence against attack or for hunting animals. Man's ancestors began to make stone implements, striking one stone against another. In this way a start was made in the making of implements. With the making of implements labour begins.

Thanks to labour the fore-paws of the anthropoid ape were converted into the hands of man. Remains of the ape-man-a transitional stage from ape to man-found by archaeologists afford evidence of this. The ape-man's brain was much smaller than the human brain, but his hand was already comparatively little different from that of man. It follows that the hand is not only an organ of labour, but also its product.

As hands became freed for acts of labour, man's ancestors acquired an ever more upright gait. Once the hands were occupied with labour the final transition to an upright gait took place, and this played a very important part in making man.

Man's ancestors lived in hordes, or herds; the first men also lived in herds. But between men there arose a link which did not, and could not, exist in the animal world: the link through labour. Men made implements jointly and jointly they applied them. Consequently, the rise of man was also the rise of human society, the transition from the zoological to the social condition.

Men's common labour led to the rise and development of articulate speech. Language is the means, the implement by which men communicate with one another, exchange opinions and achieve mutual understanding.

The exchange of thoughts is a constant and vital necessity, since without it the common activities of men in their struggle with the forces of nature, and the very existence of social production, are impossible.

Labour and articulate speech had a decisive influence in perfecting man's organism, in the development of his brain. The development of language is closely linked with the development of thought. In the process of labour man's circle of perceptions and conceptions was widened, his sensory organs were perfected. Man's labour activities became conscious acts as distinct from the instinctive activities of animals.

Thus, labour is "the prime basic condition for all human existence, and this to such an extent that, in a sense, we have to say that labour created man himself". (Engels, "The Part Played by Labour in the Transition from Ape to Man", Man: and Engels, Selected Works, 1950, English edition, vol. II, p. 74.) Thanks to labour, human society arose and began to develop.

Conditions of Material Life.
The Development of the Implements of Labour

In primitive times man was extremely dependent on his natural surroundings; he was completely weighed down by the difficulties of existence, by the difficulties of his struggle with nature. The process of mastering the elemental forces of nature went on extremely slowly, since the implements of labour were extremely primitive. Man's first implements were roughly chipped stones and sticks. They were like artificial extensions of his bodily organs: the stone, of his fist, the stick, of his outstretched arm.

Men lived in groups whose numbers did not exceed a few dozen persons: a greater single number could not have provided food for themselves. When groups met clashes sometimes took place between them. Many groups perished from hunger or became the prey of wild animals. In these conditions labour in common was for men the only possible form of labour and an absolute necessity.

For a long time primitive man lived mainly by means of food gathering and hunting, both carried out collectively with the help of the simplest implements. What was jointly obtained was jointly consumed. Cannibalism occurred among primitive men as a consequence of the precariousness of the food supply. In the course of many thousands of years, as though groping their way, by means of an extremely slow accumulation of experience, men learned to make the simplest implements suitable for striking, cutting, digging and the other very simple activities which then almost exhausted the whole sphere of production.

The discovery of fire was a great victory for primitive man in his struggle with nature. At first men learned to make use of fire which had arisen naturally. They saw lightning set fire to a tree, observed forest fires and the eruptions of volcanoes. The fire which had been obtained by chance was long and carefully preserved. Only after many thousands of years did man learn the secret of making fire. With more advanced production of implements men observed that fire came from friction and learned to make it.

The discovery of fire and its application gave men dominion over specific natural forces. Primitive man had finally broken away from the animal world: the long epoch of his becoming human had been completed. Thanks to the discovery of fire the conditions of material life for man changed fundamentally. First, fire could be used to prepare food, as a result of which the number of edible objects available to man was increased: it became possible to eat fish, meat, starchy roots, tubers and so on prepared with the help of fire. Secondly, fire began to play an important part in making the implements of production. Thirdly, it "also afforded protection against cold, thanks to which it became possible for men to spread over the greater part of the world. Fourthly, fire afforded a defence against wild beasts.

For a long time hunting remained the most important source of the means of existence. It provided men with skins for clothes, bones with which to make implements, and meat which influenced the further development of the human organism and primarily the development of the brain.

As his physical and mental development progressed man became able to perfect his implements. A stick with a sharpened end served for hunting. Then he began to fix sharpened stones to the stick. Stone-tipped spears, stone axes, scrapers and knives, harpoons and fish-hooks appeared. These implements made possible the hunting of large animals and the development of fishing.

Stone remained the chief material for implement-making for a very long time. The epoch when stone implements predominated, which lasted for hundreds of thousands of years, is called the Stone Age. Only later did man learn to make implements of metal; at first of native metal, in the first instance copper (but copper, being a soft metal, was not widely used to make implements), later of bronze (an alloy of copper and tin), and finally of iron. Thus, after the Stone Age the Bronze Age followed, and after that the Iron Age.

The earliest traces of the smelting of copper in Hither Asia date from the fifth to fourth millennia B.C. In Southern and Central Europe the smelting of copper arose in approximately the third to second millennia B.C. The oldest traces of bronze in Mesopotamia date from the fourth millennium B.C.

The earliest traces of the smelting of iron have been discovered in Egypt and Mesopotamia; they date from before 2000 B.C. In Western Europe the Iron Age began about 1000 B.C.

The invention of the bow and arrow, with the appearance of which hunting began to provide more of the necessities of life, was an important landmark on the road to improving the implements of labour. The development of hunting led to the origin of primitive cattle-breeding. Hunters began to domesticate animals. The dog was domesticated earlier than other animals, and later goats, cattle, pigs and horses.

The origin of primitive agriculture was a further great stride in the development of society's productive forces. While gathering fruits and roots of plants, primitive men began to notice that grains which were dropped on the ground sprouted. Thousands of times this remained uncomprehended, but sooner or later the connection of these phenomena was established in primitive man's mind, and he began to cultivate plants. Thus agriculture arose.

For a long time it remained extremely primitive. The earth was broken up by hand, at first with a simple stick, then with a stick with a hooked end, a hoe. In the river valleys the seeds were scattered on the mud which had been brought down by the river floods. The domestication of animals made possible the use of cattle for draught purposes. Later, when men learned to smelt metal, and metal implements appeared, their application made agricultural labour more productive. Tillage acquired a firmer basis. Primitive tribes began to adopt a settled mode of life.

The Production Relations of Primitive Society.
Natural Division of Labour

Production relations are determined by the character and condition of the productive forces. In primitive communal society the basis of production relations is communal property in the means of production. Communal property corresponds to the character of the productive forces in this period. The implements of labour. in primitive society were so crude that they prevented primitive man from struggling with the forces of nature and wild animals singlehanded. "This primitive type collective or co-operative production", Marx wrote, "was, of course, the result of the weakness of the individual and not of the socialisation of the means of production." ("Rough drafts of Marx's Letter to Vera Zasulich", Marx and Engels, Works, Russian edition, vol. XXVII, p. 681.) Hence came the necessity for collective labour, for common property in land and other means of production as well as in the products of labour. Primitive men had no conception of private ownership of the means of production. Only certain implements of production, those which were also implements of defence against wild animals, were their private property, used by separate members of the commune.

Primitive man's labour created no overplus beyond what was essential for life, that is no surplus product. In such conditions there could be no classes or exploitation of man by man in primitive society. Social property extended only to small communities which were more or less isolated from one another. As Lenin put it, the social character of production here embraced only the members of one community.

The labour activity of men in primitive society was based on simple cooperation. Simple co-operation is the simultaneous application of more or less considerable labour force to perform work of the same kind. Even simple cooperation gave primitive men the possibility of performing tasks which would have been unthinkable for a single man (for example, in hunting large animals).

In the extremely low level of development of productive forces which then existed the meagre food was divided equally. There could be no other division, since the products of labour scarcely sufficed to satisfy the most essential needs: if one member of a primitive community received more than the share which was equal for all, then someone else would be doomed to starvation and death. Thus, equal distribution of the products of common labour was inevitable.

The custom of equal division was deeply rooted among primitive peoples. It has been observed by travellers living among tribes at a low level of social development. More than a hundred years ago the great naturalist Darwin made a voyage round the world. Describing the life of tribes on Tierra del Fuego he relates the following incident: The Tierra del Fuegans were given a piece of canvas; they tore the canvas into completely equal parts so that each one should have an equal share.

The basic economic law of primitive communal society consisted in the securing of the vitally necessary means of existence with the help of primitive implements of production, on the basis of communal. ownership of the means of production, by means of common labour and the equal distribution of the products.

As the implements of production are developed, division of labour arises. Its simplest form was the natural division of labour, i.e., division of labour dependent on sex and age, between men and women, between adults, children and old people.

The famous Russian traveller Miklukho-Maklai, who in the second half of the nineteenth century studied the life of the New Guinea Papuans, thus describes the collective process of labour in tillage. Several men stand in a row and. thrust sharpened sticks deep into the soil and then, with one heave, raise a great lump of earth. The women follow after them crawling on their knees. In their hands they have sticks with which they break up the soil raised by the men. Children of various ages go behind the women, rubbing the soil out with their hands. After the soil has been crumbled the women, using little sticks, make depressions m the soil and bury seeds or plant roots in them. Labour here is collective in character and at the same time there exists division of labour by sex and age.

As productive forces developed, the natural division of labour gradually became stable and consolidated. The specialisation of men in the sphere of hunting, of women in the sphere of gathering vegetable food and housekeeping, led to a certain increase in the productivity of labour.

Clan Society. The Matriarchal Clan.
The Patriarchal Clan

While the process of man's separation from the animal world was taking place people lived in herds or hordes as their immediate ancestors had done. Subsequently, in connection with the rise of primitive economy and the growth of population, the clan organisation of society gradually came into existence.

In those times only people in kinship relation with one another could unite for common labour. Primitive implements of production limited the possibility of collective labour within the narrow framework of a group of people linked by kinship and life together. Primitive man was usually hostile to anyone who was not tied to him by kinship and life together. The clan was a group at first consisting of a few dozen persons in all and linked by the bond of blood relationship. Every such group existed separately from other such groups. With the passage of time the clan's numbers increased, reaching several hundred persons. The habit of common existence developed the benefits of common labour more and more compelled men to stay together.

Morgan, a student of the life of primitive peoples described the clan structure which was still preserved among the Iroquois Indians in the middle of the last century. Hunting, fishing, the gathering of fruits of the earth and tillage were the basic occupations of the Iroquois: Labour was divided between men and women. Hunting and fishing, the making of weapons and implements of labour clearance of the soil, the building of huts and fortifications were the men's duties. The women carried out the basic field work gathered the harvest and stored it, cooked, made clothing and earthenware and gathered wild fruit, berries, nuts and tubers. The land was the clan's common property. The heavier work -cutting down trees, clearance of the land for arable, large hunting expeditions- was carried out in common. The Iroquois lived in socalled "great houses" accommodating twenty families and more. Such a group had common stores where their stock of provisions was kept. The woman at the head of the group divided the food among the separate families. In time of warfare the clan chose itself a war chief who had no material benefits; with the end of warfare his power ceased.

At the first stage of clan society[1] woman had the leading position and this followed from the material conditions of men's life at that period. Hunting with the help of the most primitive implements, which was the men's business, could not completely secure the community's livelihood; its results were more or less fortuitous. In such conditions even the embryonic forms of agriculture and cattle-breeding (the domestication of animals) were of great economic significance. They were a more reliable and constant source of livelihood than hunting. But tillage of the soil and cattle-breeding, so long as they were carried on by primitive methods, were predominantly the occupation of the women who remained near the domestic hearth while the men were hunting. Throughout a lengthy period woman played the dominant part in the clan community. Kinship was reckoned in the maternal line. This was the maternal or matriarchal clan (matriarchy).

In the course of further development of the productive forces when nomadic breeding of cattle (pastoral economy) and a more developed agriculture (corngrowing), which were the men's concern, began to playa decisive part in the life of the primitive community, the matriarchal ‘clan was replaced by the paternal or patriarchal clan (patriarchy). The dominant position passed to the man. He put himself at the head of the clan community. Kinship began to be reckoned in the paternal line. The patriarchal clan existed in the last period of primitive communal society.

The absence of private property, of a class division of society and of the exploitation of man by man precluded the possibility of the State appearing.

In primitive society... there were yet no signs of the existence of the State. We find the predominance of custom, authority, respect, the power enjoyed by the elders of the tribe; we find this power sometimes accorded to women... but nowhere do we find a special category of people who are set apart to rule others and who, in the interests and with the purpose of rule, systematically and permanently command a certain apparatus of coercion, an apparatus of violence ..." (Lenin, "The State", a lecture delivered at the Sverdlov University, July 11, 1919, Selected Works, Twelve-volume English edition, vol. XI, p. 643.)

The Rise if Social Division if Labour and Exchange

With the advance to cattle-breeding and agriculture there arose the social division of labour, that is, the division of labour under which at first different communities, and then individual members of communities as well, began to engage in differing forms of productive activity. The separation of the pastoral tribes was the first great social division of labour.

The pastoral tribes engaged in breeding cattle achieved substantial successes. They learned to care for the cattle in such a way that they received more meat, wool and milk. This first big social division of labour already led to what was for that age a noticeable rise in the productivity of labour.

For a long time in the primitive community there was no basis for exchange; the whole product was obtained and consumed in common. Exchange first originated and developed between clan communities, and for a long time was fortuitous.

With the appearance of the first great social division of labour the situation changed. Among the pastoral tribes there appeared a certain surplus of cattle, milk products, meat, hides and wool. At the same time they experienced a need for products of the soil. In their turn the tribes engaged in agriculture achieved as time went on considerable successes in the output of agricultural produce. Tillers of the soil and breeders of cattle required products which they could not produce within their own economy. All this led to the development of exchange. Other forms of productive activity also developed side by side with tillage of the soil and cattle-breeding. Even in the period of stone implements men learned to make vessels from clay. Later, hand weaving appeared. Finally, with the discovery of iron smelting it became possible to make metal implements of labour (the wooden plough with iron share, the iron axe) and weapons (iron swords). It became ever more difficult to combine these forms of labour with tillage of the soil or pastoral labour. In the communities men engaged in handicraft gradually separated out. The handiwork of the craftsmen -blacksmiths, weapon-makers, potters and so on- began more and more frequently to be offered for exchange. The field of exchange considerably widened.

The Rise of Private Property and Classes.
The Breakdown of Primitive Communal Society

Primitive communal society came to full flower under matriarchy. The patriarchal clan already concealed in itself the seeds of the breakdown of the primitive communal structure. The production relations of primitive communal society up to a certain period corresponded to the level of development of the productive forces. In the last stage of patriarchy, however, with the appearance of new, more improved implements of production (the Iron Age), the production relations of primitive society ceased to correspond to the new productive forces. The narrow framework of communal property and the equal distribution of the products of labour began to act as a brake on the development of new productive forces.

Formerly it had been possible to work a field only by the joint labour of dozens of men. In such conditions common labour was a necessity. With the development of the implements of production and the growth of the productivity of labour one family was now in a position to work a plot of land and secure for itself the essential means of existence. Thus the perfecting of implements of production made possible the advance to an individual economy, which was more productive in those historical conditions. Joint labour and a communal economy became less and less necessary. While common labour demanded common property in the means of production, individual labour demanded private property.

The origin of private property is inseparably linked with the social division of labour and the development of exchange. At first exchange was carried out by the heads of the clan communities-by the elders or patriarchs. They took part in barter deals as representatives of the communities. What they exchanged was the property of the community. But as social division of labour developed further, and exchanges expanded, the clan chiefs gradually began to treat communal property as their own.

At first the chief item of exchange was cattle. Pastoral communities had large flocks of sheep and goats and herds of cattle. The elders and patriarchs, who already held great power in society, became accustomed to dispose of these herds as their own property. Their right in fact to dispose of the herds was also recognised by the other members of the community. Thus first of all cattle, and then gradually all the implements of production, became private property. Common property in land was preserved longest of all.

The development of the productive forces and the appearance of private property led to the breakdown of the clan. The clan fell apart into large patriarchal families. Then, within the large patriarchal family, individual family units began to separate out, converting the implements of production, utensils and cattle into their own private property. The ties of clan became weakened with the growth of private property. The village community began to occupy the place of the clan community. The village, or neighbourhood, community as distinct from the clan consisted of people not necessarily bound by kinship. House, household goods, cattle, all were in the private ownership of individual families. On the other hand, woods, meadows, water and other natural amenities, and also for a definite period the ploughland, were communal property. At first the ploughland was periodically re-divided between the members of the community, but later it began to pass into private hands.

The rise of private property and exchange was the beginning of a great turning-point in the whole structure of primitive society. The development of private property and property distinctions led to the result that within the communities different interests arose among different groups. In these conditions the individuals who in the community held the offices of elders, military leaders and priests used their position to enrich themselves. They acquired a considerable share of the communal property. The bearers of these social offices became more and more distinct from the mass of members of the community, forming a clan aristocracy and more and more frequently passing on their power to their heirs. Aristocratic families became at the same time the richest families. The mass of the members of the community gradually fell into one form or another of economic dependence on the rich and aristocratic upper stratum.

With the growth of productive forces, man"s labour applied to cattle-breeding and agriculture began to yield greater means of subsistence than were essential to maintain man"s life. The possibility arose of appropriating surplus labour and the surplus product, that is, the surplus of labour and product above what was needed to maintain the worker himself and his family. In these conditions it became advantageous not to kill men taken prisoner, as had formerly been done, but to make them work, converting them into slaves. The slaves were seized by the more aristocratic and richer families. In its turn slave labour led to a further growth of inequality, since the households using slaves grew rich quickly. In conditions of the growth of property inequality the rich began to convert into slaves not only prisoners but also their own impoverished and indebted fellow-tribesmen. Thus the first class division of society arose, the division into slave-owners and slaves. There appeared the exploitation of man by man, that is, the uncompensated appropriation by some of the products of the labour of others.

The relations of production prevailing in primitive communal society broke down, perished and made way for new relations of production, suited to the character of new productive forces.

Common labour gave way to individual labour, social property to private property" clan society to class society. The whole history of mankind from this period onwards, right up to the building of socialist society, became the history of class struggle.

Bourgeois ideologists represent matters as if private property had existed for ever. History refutes such inventions and convincingly bears witness to the fact that all people passed through the stage of primitive communal society based on communal property, and knowing no private property.

Social Conceptions of the Primitive Epoch

Primitive man, weighed down by need and the difficulties of his struggle for existence, at first did not distinguish himself from his natural surroundings. For a long time he had no really coherent conceptions either of himself or of the natural conditions of his existence.

Only gradually did very limited and crude conceptions of himself and of the conditions surrounding his life begin to take shape in the mind of primitive man. There could not be the slightest trace of religious views which, as the defenders of religion assert were allegedly inherent in the human consciousness from the very outset. Only later did primitive man -not being in a position to understand and explain the phenomena of nature and social life around him- in his conceptions begin to people the world around him with supernatural beings, spirits and magical powers. He attributed spiritual existence to the forces of nature. This was the socalled animism (from the Latin anima-the spirit, soul). Primitive myths and primitive religion were born of these dim conceptions in men of their own nature and that around them. In them the primitive equality of the social structure was reproduced. Primitive man not knowing class division and property inequality in real life introduced no corresponding subordination in his imaginary world of spirits. He divided the spirits into his own and others" friendly and hostile. Division of the spirits into higher and lower appeared only when the primitive community was breaking down.

Primitive man felt himself an inseparable part of the clan. He could not imagine himself outside the clan. A reflection of this in ideology was the cult of the ancestral progenitors of the clan. It is characteristic that in the course of the development of language "I" and "my" arise much later than other words. The power of the clan over the individual was exceedingly strong. The breakdown of the primitive community was accompanied by the origin and spread of conceptions associated with private property. This was clearly reflected in myths and religious conceptions. When private property relations began to be established, and property inequality appeared, among many tribes there arose the custom of imposing a religious prohibition -"taboo"- on goods appropriated by the leaders or rich families (the inhabitants of the Pacific Islands used the word "taboo" for everything that was prohibited or taken out of common use). With the breakdown of the primitive community and the rise of private property, the power of religious prohibition began to be used to reinforce the new economic relations and property inequality which had come into existence.


(1) Thanks to labour, men emerged from the animal world and human society arose. The distinctive feature of human labour is the making of implements of production.

(2) The productive forces of primitive society were on an exceedingly low level, the implements of production were extremely primitive. This necessitated collective labour, social property in the means of production and equal distribution. In the primitive community there was no property inequality or private property in the means of production; there were no classes or exploitation of man by man. Social ownership of the means of production was confined within a narrow framework; it was the property of small communities more or less isolated from one another.

(3) "The basic economic law of the primitive community consists in the securing of man"s vitally necessary means of subsistence with the help of primitive implements of production, on the basis of communal property in the means of production, by means of common labour and the equal distribution of the products.

(4) Working together, men for a long time performed uniform labour. The gradual improvement of implements of production promoted the rise of a natural division of labour, depending on sex and age. Further perfecting of the implements of production and the mode of obtaining the means of life, the development of cattle-breeding and. agriculture led to the appearance of the social division of labour and exchange, of private property and property inequality, to the division of society into classes and to the exploitation of man by man. Thus the growing forces of production entered into contradiction with the relations of production, as a. result of which primitive communal society gave way to another type of relations of production-the slave-owning system.


1.This is the same as that society which Engels, in his Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State, following Lewis H. Morgan: calls, "gentile' society. The Latin "gens" meant the same as the Gaelic "clan". Editor, English edition.