Pre-Marxist communism

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While Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels defined communism as a political movement, there were already similar ideas in the past which one could call communist experiments.[1] Marx himself saw primitive communism as the original hunter-gatherer state of humankind. Marx theorized that only after humanity was capable of producing surplus did private property develop.


An artist's rendering of a temporary wood house, based on evidence found at Terra Amata (in Nice, France) and dated to the Lower Paleolithic (c. 400,000 BP)

Karl Marx and other early communist theorists believed that hunter-gatherer societies as were found in the Paleolithic through to horticultural societies as found in the Chalcolithic were essentially egalitarian[2] and he, therefore, termed their ideology to be primitive communism.[3] Since Marx, sociologists and archaeologists have developed the idea of and research on primitive communism.[4][5]

Due to the strong evidence of an egalitarian society, lack of hierarchy and lack of economic inequality, historian Murray Bookchin has argued that Çatalhöyük was an early example of anarcho-communism, and so an example of primitive communism in a proto-city.[6]

Bronze age[edit]

It has been argued that the Indus Valley Civilisation is an example of a primitive communist society, due to its perceived lack of conflict and social hierarchies.[7] Others argue that such an assessment of the Indus Valley civilisation is not correct.[8][9]

Classical antiquity[edit]

The idea of a classless and stateless society based on communal ownership of property and wealth also stretches far back in Western thought long before The Communist Manifesto. There are scholars who have traced communist ideas back to ancient times, particularly in the work of Pythagoras and Plato.[10] Followers of Pythagoras, for instance, lived in one building and held their property in common because the philosopher taught the absolute equality of property with all worldly possessions being brought into a common store.[11]

It is argued that Plato's Republic described in great detail a communist-dominated society wherein power is delegated in the hands of intelligent philosopher or military guardian class and rejected the concept of family and private property.[12][13] In a social order divided into warrior-kings and the Homeric demos of craftsmen and peasants, Plato conceived an ideal Greek city-state without any form of capitalism and commercialism with business enterprise, political plurality, and working-class unrest considered as evils that must be abolished.[14] While Plato's vision cannot be considered a precursor of communist thinking, his utopian speculations that are shared by other utopian thinkers later on.[15]

An important feature that distinguishes Plato's ideal society in the Republic is that the ban on private property applies only to the superior classes (rulers and warriors), not to the general public.[16]

Religious communism (imperial to late antiquity)[edit]

Biblical scholars have argued that the mode of production seen in early Hebrew society was a communitarian domestic one that was akin to primitive communism.[17][18]

There are those who view that the early Christian Church, such as that one described in the Acts of the Apostles[19] (see Christian communism), was an early form of communism. The view is that communism was just Christianity in practice and Jesus Christ was himself a communist.[20] This link was highlighted in one of Marx's early writings which stated: "As Christ is the intermediary unto whom man unburdens all his divinity, all his religious bonds, so the state is the mediator unto which he transfers all his Godlessness, all his human liberty".[20] Furthermore, the Marxist ethos that aims for unity reflects the Christian universalist teaching that humankind is one and that there is only one god who does not discriminate among people.[21] Pre-Marxist communism was also present in the attempts to establish communistic societies such as those made by the ancient Jewish sects the Essenes[22][23][24] and by the Judean desert sect.[25]

Middle ages[edit]

Inside the urban centre Kuélap of the Chachapoya culture.


Peter Kropotkin argued that the elements of mutual aid and mutual defense expressed in the medieval commune and its guild system were the same sentiments of collective self-defense apparent in modern anarchism, communism and socialism.[26] The Peasants' Revolt in England has been an inspiration for "the medieval ideal of primitive communism", with the priest John Ball of the revolt being an inspirational figure to later revolutionaries.[27]

South America[edit]

The Chachapoya culture indicated an egalitarian non-hierarchical society through a lack of archaeological evidence and a lack of power expressing architecture that would be expected for societal leaders such as royalty or aristocracy.[28]

Early modern period[edit]


Woodcut from a Diggers document by William Everard

In the 16th century, English writer Sir Thomas More portrayed a society based on common ownership of property in his treatise Utopia, whose leaders administered it through the application of reason.[29]

Thomas Müntzer led a large Anabaptist communist movement during the German Peasants' War.[30][31][32] Engels' analysis of Thomas Müntzer work in and the wider German Peasants' War lead Marx and Engels to conclude that the communist revolution, when it occurred, would be led not by a peasant army but by an urban proletariat.[33]

Several groupings in the English Civil War supported this idea, but especially the Diggers, who espoused clear communistic yet agrarian ideals.[34][35][36] Oliver Cromwell and the Grandees' attitude to these groups was at best ambivalent and often hostile.[37] Criticism of the idea of private property continued into the Enlightenment era of the 18th century through such thinkers as the deeply religious Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Raised a Calvinist, Rousseau was influenced by the Jansenist movement within the Roman Catholic Church. The Jansenist movement originated from the most orthodox Roman Catholic bishops who tried to reform the Roman Catholic Church in the 17th century to stop secularization and Protestantism. One of the main Jansenist aims was democratizing to stop the aristocratic corruption at the top of the Church hierarchy.[38][page needed] Utopian socialist writers such as Robert Owen are also sometimes regarded as communists.

North America[edit]

Ely S. Parker, co-author of The League of the Ho-dé-no-sau-nee or Iroquois

Lewis Henry Morgan's descriptions of "communism in living" as practiced by the Haudenosaunee of North America, through research enabled by and coauthored with Ely S. Parker, were viewed as a form of pre-marxist communism.[39] Morgan's works were a primary inspiration for Marx and Engel's description of primitive communism,[40] and has led to some believing that early communist-like societies also existed outside of Europe, in Native American society and other pre-Colonized societies in the Western hemisphere. Though the belief of primitive communism as based on Morgan's work is flawed[41] due to Morgan's misunderstandings of Haudenosaunee society and his, since proven wrong, theory of social evolution.[42][43][44][45][46][47] This, and subsequent more accurate research, has led to the society of the Haudenosaunee to be of interest in communist and anarchist analysis.[48][47] Particularly aspects where land was not treated as a commodity,[49] communal ownership[50][51] and near non-existent rates of crime.[50][51][52]

Primitive communism meaning societies that practiced economic cooperation among the members of their community,[53] where almost every member of a community had their own contribution to society and land and natural resources would often be shared peacefully among the community. Some such communities in North America and South America still existed well into the 20th century. Historian Barry Pritzker lists the Acoma, Cochiti and Isleta Puebloans as living in socialist-like societies.[54] It is assumed modern egalitarianism seen in Pueblo communities stems from this historic socio-economic structure.[2] Graeber has also commented that the Inuit have practiced communism and fended off unjust hierarchy for "thousands of years".[55]

Age of Revolution[edit]

Louise Michel a communard who supported the 1878 Kanak insurrection whilst exiled from France.

Maximilien Robespierre and his Reign of Terror, aimed at exterminating the monarchy, nobility, clergy and conservatives, was admired among some anarchists, communists and socialists.[56] In his turn, Robespierre was a great admirer of Voltaire and Jean-Jacques Rousseau.[57]

Francois Babeuf has both been described as an anarchist, communist and a socialist by later scholars to describe his ideas.[58] The word "communism" was first used in English by Goodwyn Barmby in a conversation with those he described as the "disciples of Babeuf".[59] He has been called "The First Revolutionary Communist."[60]

The Shakers of the 18th century under Joseph Meacham developed and practiced their own form of communalism, as a sort of religious communism, where property had been made a "consecrated whole" in each Shaker community.[61]

The participants of the Taiping Rebellion, who founded the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom, are viewed by the Communist Party of China as proto-communists.[62] Marx referred to the communist tendencies in the Taiping Rebellion as "Chinese socialism".[63]

The Communards and the Paris Commune are often seen as proto-communists, and had significant influence on the ideas of Karl Marx, who described it as an example of the "dictatorship of the proletariat".[64]

Karl Marx and the contemporary age[edit]

Marx saw communism as the original state of mankind from which it rose through classical society and then feudalism to its current state of capitalism. He proposed that the next step in social evolution would be a return to communism.[65][66]

In its contemporary form, communism grew out of the workers' movement of 19th-century Europe.[67][68] As the Industrial Revolution advanced, socialist critics blamed capitalism for creating a class of poor, urban factory workers who toiled under harsh conditions and for widening the gulf between rich and poor.[66]

See also[edit]


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