Thursday, October 17, 2019

Primitive communism is mostly a myth

As schoolkids in the communist 1980s, we were taught that the human society has evolved from the primitive communism to slavery, feudalism, capitalism and its later stage, imperialism, to socialism – which we were just enjoying – before we would arrive at communism. To avoid misunderstandings, our countries were officially "socialist" countries while "communism" was the money-free nutty utopia where you may "do whatever you like to do and take whatever you want". ;-) The last stage hasn't worked too well so far although, especially in recent years, many brainwashed people want to restore this sickly fantasy about the future.

But I want to focus on the first stage, the primitive communism. The meme was coined by Marx and greatly elaborated upon by Friedrich Engels, the Thunberg-like spoiled brat from a wealthy family who decided to rebrand a stinky lazy homeless vagabond Karl Marx as an intellectual. In the German original, the regime was called Urkommunismus – it is the same Ur as in Pilsner Urquell (The Primordial Source [of Golden Transparent Beer] from Pilsen) – and for some reasons, we use a very different term
prvobytně pospolná společnost
in Czech which sounds contrived, self-explanatory, a bit poetic, and non-ideological. It roughly translates as the "primordially-settled together-ish society". I would like to know the details but I guess that the first translator of Marx's and Engels' rants to Czech decided it was a great idea to replace the ideological word revolving around "communism" with a non-ideological one. It may speed up the propagation of the meme in the anti-ideological Czech nation, he may have believed. Well, it has worked for me.

There were numerous wrong and distorted things that we were taught during communism – for example, almost explicitly, we were sometimes told that all of Czechoslovakia was liberated by the Red Army in 1945. After some unavoidable schoolkids' protests (it was sometimes me but there were others!), the teacher would admit that Pilsen was liberated by the U.S. army but we often learned the defense from the Plan B that the Americans just wanted to bomb the soon-to-be socialist economy in April 1945 and it wasn't really helpful.

Well, while communist propaganda, I decided that it was true to quite some extent, too.

Rather generally, I think that many of the "unusual" memes spread in the communist education had some valid core. Many others were just wrong and well-informed kids like your humble correspondent simply knew why they were wrong. But lots of "insights" have been affected by ideology and it may be rather hard to separate the ideological indoctrination from the truth – even when you regain the freedom.

So partly because of the non-ideological name for the primitive communism, I never really understood that this classification of the history is a Marxist construct. OK, was the primitive communism right?

In a fresh article (hat tip: at, Allen Gindler argues that
Paleolithic People Were Not Primitive Communists.
You know, they were primitive, they owned almost nothing, so it also means that they owned almost nothing privately. (Private ownership is one aspect of capitalism but it is not the only one.) However, the previous sentence refers to the absolute amount of ownership; whether we call a system "a version of communism" should depend on the relative or intense quantities such as the percentage of the assets that is owned privately, right?

And Gindler argues that the percentage of the personal, private ownership was high. They had primitive tools but those were privately owned. A paleolithic man has taken a rock or a branch from the commons, reshaped it a little bit – added a value – and it became his tool. He could still use the tool to help others but the credit went to him.

Also, Gindler convincingly argues that the societies couldn't simply embrace the naive mindless "shared ownership" so that everyone could take anything from the collective food reserves etc. Instead, he claims that the seemingly shared assets were a manifestation of lending, borrowing, and insurance. People gave something to others in their tribe – when they had a surplus – because they couldn't use it well, it had a lower value for them, and they wanted to be repaid the debt when they are in trouble.

I think he is right. It's not just a speculation about the past. It may be argued by following the mathematics of "dynamical mechanisms" that the tribes that would adopt the mindless communism would simply be superseded or defeated by others. Communism hurts the society at every stage. Primitive people could have fought for stupid rocks and uncultivated bushes but these fights were real and important for them. A well-working composite entity – such as a tribe – always needs some feedbacks, self-regulation, and internal competition.

It needs to suppress the freeloaders, otherwise the freeloaders take over (we are seeing that decay in the Western society today, too).

According to the Marxists, the primitive communist society – from the old times when humans were completing the evolution to homo sapiens and a bit later – didn't have anything from the following:
family, division of labor, classes, people's control over other people, added value, and ideology.
Is any of these statements true? These are "chicken or egg"-style questions. In the "chicken or egg" case, the real resolution is that the primitive stages of evolution had so primitive chickens that they never differed from an egg too much. The whole individual evolution of an egg to a pretty, non-spherical, and somewhat clever chicken is something that only evolved after a long enough time.

This lesson generally means that the correct answer to many "chicken or egg"-style questions is "zero over zero", indeterminate forms. When people owned literally nothing, the percentage of the private ownership could be "zero over zero". Except that I argued that however small their assets could look to us, they were still important for them – and highly distinguishable from zero. So the percentage of the private ownership wasn't an indeterminate form at all. And lots of the ownership was private.

I think that a similar conclusion applies to the "percentage of situations in which some debt is demanded to be repaid". So the transfer between the people wasn't a mindless donation in most cases. I can't prove it too rigorously but I am convinced that the tribes with the mindless donation system would face a huge disadvantage – much like the communist bloc faced against the capitalist bloc in the Cold War.

Were there families? Well, men and women surely had sex, otherwise the people wouldn't have survived from that society up to 2019. Did they have some preferred stable partners? I tend to think that the answer is Yes. It's rather complicated to invent a new partner, re-learn how to deal with her, and stuff like that. On top of that, men have had stronger upper muscles – by 100% or so – than women for a very long time. So I find it obvious that there has always been some tendency of men to treat women as their assets.

We were witnessing a decreasing role of this paradigm in recent centuries. I find it more likely that this downward trend has been occurring since the beginning. Equivalently, at the very beginning, the society was (even) more patriarchal than later. Also, it's rather unnecessary to keep many women. I tend to think that they had 1 partner in most cases. What was primitive was that this rule wasn't clearly written down anywhere and it wasn't systematically enforced.

Now, the division of labor and classes. We may measure some diversity in the "kind of labor" which seems like a dimensionless but extensive quantity. I am pretty sure that this has gone up with time, indeed. The division of labor should become even more profound in the future if the human society keeps on evolving – and it's a change towards the better. Equivalently, the very early society had a minimal division of labor.

But there has always been some division. For example, the birth is usually performed by women, like breastfeeding. At least during that time, other jobs have to be done mostly by men. But even beyond sexes, there had to be some division from the beginning. Note that the human society's differentiation repeats what was happening at the level of cells before. A multicellular organism is nothing else than a society of cells that have increasingly divided the labor. But the cells carry the same DNA. The more advanced a multicellular organism is, the more diverse the roles of various cells become. Exactly the same comment applies to the human societies.

So I would agree that there was very little division of labor – and very hard to see "classes" except some alpha-males and similar members probably existed in all tribes. However, from the beginning, there was always a tendency to create the division of labor and therefore classes – because these changes are good for the whole. That's why I think that it was always meaningless to imagine that the "zero division of labor" or "non-existent classes" is something that should last in the long term. Instead, this "value zero" is just some limit that hypotheticaly existed in the distant past but it was almost instantly violated.

Lots of division of labor – and also other asymmetric relationships between the members of the groups – had to exist early on. At the beginning, many disputes were being resolved by brute force, I guess – it's a part of the progress that we resolve things differently, e.g. by argumentation – and because people don't have the same strength, they just couldn't have the same power within the communities and outside the communities, either. Saying that their power would be the same would really be a denial of Darwin's science – which is incidentally a very strange position for a "pro-science" Marxist to take.

The added value existed whenever the people did something clever, e.g. when they produced a useful tool out of a rock. I think that the Marxists mean something more special by the "added value", like an actual profit or interest from a loan (which they consider bad) but I don't think that there's any good way to distinguish. When you create a useful tool out of a worthless rock, the usage of the tool will bring you benefits that should be called a profit. They didn't translate them to Czech crowns yet – because they didn't have fiat money – but it was still a profit. Similarly, one can get benefits or "generalized profit" by employing other members of the tribe in some way.

These comments of mine are more general for the discussion of the primitive conditions – something that exists even in fundamental physics and quantum gravity: the seeds of all the mechanisms are there from the beginning, they're just not being quantified in the easily readable ways and through the standardized quantities that we know from the advanced world (e.g. the account balance).

The statement that "there was no added value in the paleolithic society" seems like some ludicrous propaganda to me. There's no way how the added value could have been sharply absent. Anything useful that was done by any human being represented an "added value". The actual purpose of the statement that "the added value didn't exist" is to claim – ludicrously – that the added value as quantified in capitalism is a bad thing relatively to the Paleolithic garden of eden. It's a good thing and the Paleolithic world was no paradise.

Finally, there was no ideology in the paleolithic society, we were being told. Is it true? Well, it's surely true to some extent. If you define the ideology as some connected network of well-defined ideological ideas, then this network was again and obviously very primitive and small. However, as with the division of labor, this was just a limiting statement. There was always some potential of humans to invent ideas and build them – including ideologies. It's nonsensical to imagine the "lack of ideology" as some long-term state of the society. People would have to be brain-dead or inhuman to lack the potential to build and connect ideas that could be later called science or ideology or something else.

Just like in the case of "added value", the real purpose of the statement "there was no ideology" was to say that "all ideologies [except for Marxism] are bad". They're not universally bad. Ideologies are good things that humans invent to organize their ideas and experiences about classes of problems. Marxism and Neomarxism happen to be two such ideologies – and these two happen to belong among the šittiest ideologies.

So I think that my broader point, like Gindler's, is that the paleolithic society was intrinsically "capitalist" just like all the later stages. It just had more primitive (and more ad hoc) types of the "capital" and methods how it was protected and how the rules were enforced. These days, the private ownership is respected. But in many cases, the society has to do quite some work to remember who owns what. You need to pay the employees of the land registries, for example. These expenses may become particularly questionable in the case of intellectual property – copyrights, trademarks, patents. The primitive society clearly had a much smaller percentage of the people who were employed e.g. as patent clerks. That's also why it has apparently produced a small number of theories of relativity than the 20th century has. ;-)

So the enforcement wasn't too systematic, brute force ultimately decided in many cases and could overrule some complex patterns of credit and gratitude. But the underlying potential and drive to produce more well-defined structures, classes, division of labor, financial products, ideologies, scientific theories, and derivatives was always there!

Needless to say, this discussion is analogous to one we had with a Polish reader – whether the black market in communist countries was a real free market. My answer is Yes. One may give both answers by adjusting the definitions of the concepts. But I still think that the conceptually correct definition implies that the basic free market mechanisms could never be suppressed – neither in the "primitive communist" society nor in the 20th century communist regimes – as long as the people are at least a bit rational and care about their well-being. At some basic level, even puppies live as members of a capitalist society or ecosystem – they're just somewhat dumber in some respects.

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