Primitive communism

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Primitive communism (mainstream: band society) is the first stage of social existence in human development. Primitive communism existed for 99.8% of human existence [1] and continues to exist today in some isolated instances.

Primitive communism, or band society, is often conflated with tribal society or groups. The latter usually practice pastoralism and maintain neolithic gardens (limited agriculture). These are often invoked as proof of the unequal and warring human nature by people wrongly believing tribal society is synonymous with band society.

Social structure[edit]

Bands in primitive communism have a loose organisation. The social structure is generally egalitarian with sometimes informal leadership developing. Band society did not have written law or coercive bodies. Bands' customs are almost always transmitted orally. They generally lacked writing systems. Formal social institutions are few or non-existent.


Warfare was rare in primitive communism, and where it did exist it was usually as a result of civilised or pastoral or tribal intrusion.

Hunter-gatherers generally lack taboos.

Hunter-gatherers may have spiritual beliefs but organised religion did not exist.

John Gowdy writes, "Assumptions about human behaviour that members of market societies believe to be universal, that humans are naturally competitive and acquisitive, and that social stratification is natural, do not apply to many hunter-gatherer peoples."[2]

Scarcity and health conditions[edit]

Hunter-gatherers tended to have good health and less food insecurity than agricultural societies.

Origins of egalitarianism[edit]

Non-human primates tend to have a hierarchical social organization. Alpha males establish themselves as such and usurps the majority of crucial resources under conditions of general scarcity. There is some variation in the degree of hierarchy per species of primate, Bonobos being comparatively egalitarian. The social systems of primates are also influenced by three factors: distribution of resources, group size, and predation.[3] It is argued that the 'alpha male' in human social organisation was overthrown by the formation of alliances by weaker males through social interaction enabled by languages.[4]


The Neolithic or agricultural revolution caused the demise of primitive communism. Neolithic gardens permitted the production of surpluses and therefore social inequality. Neolithic gardens transformed band society into chiefdoms and tribal societies. Marxists argue that scarcity of resources caused individuals to exclude others from these resources, leading to class formation. Agriculture also enabled slavery for two reasons: producing surpluses allowed a structurally unlabouring class; and labour was territorially bound meaning slaves could be overseen. Thus arose the Ancient mode of production

Contemporary hunter-gatherers[edit]

Hadza people

Sentinelese people


  1. Carneiro, Robert L. (1978). "Political Expansion as an Expression of the Principle of Competitive Exclusion". In Cohen, Ronald & Service, Elman R. Origins of the State: The Anthropology of Political Evolution. Philadelphia: Institute for the Study of Human Issues. p. 219.
  2. Gowdy, John (2006). "Hunter-Gatherers and the Mythology of the Market". In Lee, Richard B. & Daly, Richard H. The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Hunters and Gatherers. New York: Cambridge University Press. p. 391. ISBN 0-521-60919-4.
  3. Pough, F. W., Janis, C. M. & Heiser, J. B. (2005) [1979]. "Primate Societies". Vertebrate Life (7th ed.). Pearson. pp. 621–623. ISBN 0-13-127836-3.
  4. Egalitarian revolution in the Pleistocene? accessed 9 December