Primitive communism, according to Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, is the original society of humanity. Marx and Engels were influenced by the work of the pioneering anthropologist Lewis H. Morgan. Morgan's work is now usually regarded as outdated, and there is no universally accepted description of the way of life of pre-historic humans. There are still many advocates of their theories, both Marxist and non-Marxist.
It has been suggested that the model of primitive communism may apply to some but not all early human societies.
Life for the earliest humans was difficult and precarious, marked by a constant struggle to obtain food. The theory of primitive communism suggests that everyone in prehistoric societies had to work, and that everyone shared in what was produced by hunting and gathering.
It is further theorized that there was no private property (other than articles of clothing and similar personal items) because society produced almost no surplus; everything that was produced was quickly consumed. The few things that existed — tools, housing — were held communally. All of this is conjecture, of course.
Domestication of animals and plants (that is, herding and agriculture) is often seen as the turning point from primitive communism to class society. The theory of primitive communism suggests that because society produced a surplus of food, there was the opportunity for private ownership and slavery, with the inequality that it entailed.
In addition, it is theorised, since food production no longer required everyone's full-time attention (assuming it had at one time), a portion of the population was freed up for other activities (assuming a portion was not already free in this regard), such as manufacturing, culture, philosophy, and science. This stratification is said to have led to the development of social classes.
According to Marxism, society will, if it lasts long enough, develop into communism. Like its hypothetical prehistoric ancestor, communism involves public ownership of the means of production, and its basic principle is (as Marx put it): "from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs." Communism differs from primitive communism in that production is highly advanced — advanced enough, said Marx, to meet the material needs and wants of practically everyone. According to Marxists, communism has not yet been implemented in any part of the world. According to this reasoning, State Communism is not communism at all.
It has been been argued that a few isolated peoples still have a primitive communist society. Debates about the nature of such societies tend to rest on whether or not communism is regarded as encompassing the whole life of a community or, alternately, specific activities within that commmunity can be defined as "communist". Most sources agree, however, that all primitive societies possess or possessed a degree of hierarchy and/or private property incompatible with the concept of primitive communism.
See also: primitivism