A predominant form of economic production and exchange, with its associated social organisation, has existed in every historical era. Ever since archaic tribal society (with its attendant common ownership of land) disintegrated, the history of humanity has been a history of class struggles and has been applicable to all written history.
The communal ownership of land has been found to have existed in ancient Russia, as well as being the basis of the Teutonic tribes who consisted of the Angles, Saxons, and Germans. Such communal village settlements have been found to be the general form of ancient society from Asia to Europe. The internal structure of earlier communal societies were illustrated in their common forms by the discovery of the true and essential character of the gens and its connection with the tribe. This was the essential nature of Lewis Henry Morgan’s (1818-1881) book ‘Ancient Society’. Society began its differentiation into distinct and eventually antagonistic classes with the dissolution of these primitive communities.
It is a common mistake to assume that Africa was the only continent where communal forms of society have existed. This is not in fact the case because we now know, due to archaeological researches, that a conspicuous similarity existed between those African societies and other communities from Europe to Asia to the Americas. The individual societies may exhibit variations in actual size or structure, especially in consideration of cultural ways that include religions, languages or tribal organisation. For all the essential similarity was a common economic foundation in the form of the common ownership of land.
These different types of tribal society based upon the common ownership of property were outlined by Marx. Each of these communal societies possessed their own characteristic features, and were designated the ‘asiatic’. the ‘classical’, and ‘Germanic’ forms. The first type called the ‘asiatic’ mode was also known as the ‘oriental’ or ‘slavonic’ type. The foundation of the ‘asiatic’ mode was tribal or common property, upon the basis of which surplus was produced. However, this surplus was not common property because it was appropriated by a class who played no productive role in the creation of the surplus. This elite within the society, functioned as rulers in the form of priests, kings and princes.
The second type of ancient tribal society delineated by Marx was the ‘classical’ or ancient form seen in Classical Greece and Rome. This type of society is the city state and as such has become an important social and economic centre. At this point is witnessed the development of inter-community conflict, Men no longer occupy land just for communal production, they also protect and safeguard that occupation by force. War as a means of obtaining further land now becomes a primary consideration in the affairs of the society.
The third form was the ‘Germanic’ mode of production. Unlike the ‘classical’ mode, production was centred on the land, and the community was also, rather than within a city. With such a society the class that ministered was not separated from the actual process of production. This is true of the early stages of the ‘Germanic’ community but eventually the elite class became more distinct. The community comprised a local organisation of hamlets and villages which farmed the related area of land. When the Saxons invaded southern Britain and forced the westward migration of the Celtic tribes they engaged in war. However, the Saxons were in truth agriculturalists and upon cessation of hostile activities returned to their farming life. Yet, within their communities, there existed the seed that eventually grew into feudal relations, despite the eventual imposition of European feudalism following the Norman invasion.
We now know that the ‘asiatic’ mode was not typical in Africa, because it occurred in a generalised form throughout the world, being a stage through which all human groups have passed. The ‘asiatic’ mode of production consisted only of the means of production that had its foundations in the rural society that excluded private ownership and included communal land ownership. Men exploited men by various means which depended upon each particular community’s history – but always the community functioned as the intermediary. In other words this general ancient production mode and relational superstructure had variants that were ‘asiatic’, ‘African’ or ‘European’ and so forth.
These ‘geographical modes are forms of a general, universal process that existed at some stage in the development of all societies. Features of the so-called ‘Germanic’ mode of production have also been found amongst the ancient tribes of Wales and Ireland. In common with the Celtic tribes they replaced the Anglo-Saxon invaders of Britain shared much in common with regard to economy. Early property relations made their initial appearance in the form of human communities that were typified by types of family. The study of ancient tribal society shows that the family as a community expanded into a larger family – the tribe. The amalgamation of clans and separate lineages permitted further tribal formation. Within these tribes, clans or lineages there is no private ownership of land. The individual within a society practising collective ownership may only use the land, but they may not lay claim to ownership.