'Primitive communalism' and 'primitive anarchy' are Western constructs about imaginary others. They are categories much more telling of Western evaluations and political desires than of the understandings and practice of peoples to whom they have been applied. From the ethnography on the tropical forest groups of South America, we see that for many of these peoples the choice between 'collectivism' and 'anarchy' is inappropriate: for them sociality is premised upon an assumption of personal autonomy, and thus 'unity' and 'freedom' are not opposed as valuations in their own political philosophies. However, in many analyses of so-called primitive or pre-capitalist economies and polities the reader has been given the either/or choice of 'the tribal' either as herd animal or as anarchist, intractable to social control.
There are strong political undertones to such classifications, and the application of them is often a means for making subtle and complicated judgements about the West, and what it should or should not be. Apparently straightforward labels become multi-layered, rich in evaluative connotations and chains of associations that can be difficult to unravel because they are part and parcel of specific understandings about what is natural or good in the world. Marx, for example, in his essay on pre-capitalist economic formations, makes the obvious factual generalization that capitalist society is marked by productive progress in a way that the pre-capitalist world is not. He then makes a leap that links productive progress, through the division of labour, with the growth of individualism. This conclusion leads him to expand his original distinction (societies involved in productive progress and those which are not) to include the contrast of individualism and communalism-and of maturity and immaturity. For Marx, productive progress and the individualism that grew with it entailed a maturity, an elaboration of the 'creative disposition' (albeit 'vulgar and mean' in its bourgeois manifestation), that the 'childlike world of the ancients' with its attachment to the communal form could not attain (1965 [1857-58]:84-5).
Since such labels as 'collectivity', 'communalism', 'individualism',
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Publication information: Book title: Socialism: Ideals, Ideologies, and Local Practice. Contributors: C. M. Hann - Editor. Publisher: Routledge. Place of publication: London. Publication year: 1993. Page number: 43.
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