Primitive communism

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Primitive communism, also known as band society, is the first stage of social existence in human development, characterized by common ownership of whatever little property there is, with hunting and gathering being the main productive force. Primitive communism existed for 99.8% of human existence[1] and continues to exist today in a few isolated instances.

Primitive communism is often conflated with tribal society. The latter is usually characterized by pastoralism and the maintenance of neolithic gardens, a limited form of agriculture. These are often invoked as supposed proof of human nature being unequal and warring by people who wrongly believe that tribal society is synonymous with band society.

Social structure[edit]

Bands in primitive communism have a loose organization. The social structure is generally egalitarian with informal leadership sometimes developing. Band societies do not have written law or coercive bodies, and their customs are almost always transmitted orally. They generally lacked writing systems, with formal social institutions being few or nonexistent.


Warfare is rare in primitive communism, and where it did exist it was usually as a result of civilized, pastoral, or tribal intrusion. In primitive communism, taboos are often lacking and spiritual beliefs are widespread, although organized religion is scarce. 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 people in agricultural societies, despite their mode of production enabling a lower carrying capacity than successive stages of human society. With this, primitive communism was characterized by high child mortality rates, of around one-half, which didn't begin to substantially decrease until the onset of the Industrial Age.

Origins of egalitarianism[edit]

Non-human primates tend to have a hierarchical social organization. Alpha males establish themselves as such and usurp the majority of crucial resources under conditions of general scarcity. There is some variation in the degree of hierarchy per species of primate, with bonobos for one 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 organization 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: the production of surplus allowed a nonlaboring class to rise, and labor was territorially bound, meaning that slaves could be overseen. Thus arose what Marx refers to as the ancient mode of production, or slave society.

In modern times[edit]

Modern examples of primitive communist societies include that of the Hadza people of northern Tanzania as well as the Sentinelese people of North Sentinel Island in the Bay of Bengal.


  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

Further reading[edit]