- Capitalism and Alternatives -

Marx, meet the Inca...

Posted by: Frenchy on November 15, 1999 at 10:31:58:

This is from the same author I referenced earlier;

(2) The empire of the Inca. This great empire, numbering several million inhabitants and covering the territory from present-day Chile to Ecuador, was conquered by Spain in the sixteenth century. The conquerors have left detailed descriptions which give an excellent picture of the life which they could see or learn about from the natives. The descriptions depict the nature of the social system there so clearly that even in modern histories of this state, the headings very often use the term "socialist."
The Inca state did not know private ownership of the means of production. Most of its inhabitants hardly owned a thing. Money was unknown. Trade played no perceptible role in the economy.
The basis of the economy, the land, belonged theoretically to the head of state, the Inca. That is, it was state property and the inhabitants only had the use of it. (Note; this may be of interests amongst the georgeists...)Members of the governing class, the Incas, owned some land only in the sense that they received the income from it. The cultivation of these lands was done by the peasants as a form of service to the state and was supervised by state officials.
The peasant received for his use a plot of specified size and additional strips as his family grew. When the peasant died, all the land reverted to the state. There were two other large categories of land: that owned directly by the state, and that owned by the temples. All the land was worked by detachments of peasants commanded and supervised by officials. Even the moment to begin work was indicated by a signal, which consisted of an official blowing a horn from a tower specially constructed for this purpose.
Peasants also worked as craftsman. They received raw materials from state officials and handed their products back to them.Peasants were also builders, and for this purpose they were organized into great work brigades of up to twenty thousand men. Finally, the peasants were liable for military service.
The whole life of the population was regulated by the state. For the Inca governing class there existed only one field of activity, service in the military or civilian bureaucracy, for which they were trained in closed state schools. The deatails of their personal life were controlled by the state. For instance, an official of a given rank could have a prescribed number of wives and concubines, a set amount of gold and silver vessels, and so on.
But the life of the peasant was, of course, much more regimented. All his activties were prescribed for each period of his life: between the ages of nine and sixteen he was to be a shepard, from sixteen to twenty he had to serve in an Inca's house, and so on down to old age. Peasant girls could be sent by the officials to the Inca's houses as servants or concubines, and they supplied the material for the mass human sacrifices. Peasant marriges were arranged by an official once a year according to the lists he prepared in advance.
The peasants diet, the size of their huts and their utensils were all laid down. Special inspectors traveled about the country to ensure that the peasants observed all these prohibitions and kept working.
The peasant received his clothing, a cape, from state stores, and in each province the cape was of a specified color and could not be dyed or altered. These measures, and the fact that each province prescribed a distinctive hairstyle, facilitated surveillance of the population. Peasants were forbidden to leave their village without permission of the authorities. The bridges and town boundaries were guarded by checkpoints.
This whole system was supported by a schedule of punishments elaborated with striking thoroughness. Almost always they amounted to the death penalty, which was executed in an extraordinary variety of ways. The condemnded were thrown into ravines, stoned, hung by the hair or the feet, thrown into a cave with poisonous snakes. Sometimes, in addition to this, they were tortured before being killed, and afterward the body was not allowed to be buried: instead, the bones were made into flutes and skins used for drums.
These two examples cannot be ignored as isolated paradoxes. One could quote many others. A hundred and fifty years after the Spanish conquest of the Incas, for example, the Jesuits constructed in a remote part of Paraguay a society on analogous principles. Private ownership of hte land did not exist, tehre was neither trade nor money, and the life of the Indians was just as stricyly controlled by the authorities.
The Old Kingdom of Egypt was close to the Mesopotamian states both in time and because of its system. The Pharoh was considered the owner of all the land and gave it only for temporary use. The peasants were regarded as one of the products of the land and were always transferred with it. They had obligations of state service: digging canals, building pyramids, hauling barges, quarrying and transporting stones. I the state-owned enterprises craftsmen and workers received tools and raw materials from the king's stores and gave their product back to them. The bureaucracy of scribes who managed these tasks is compared by Gordon Childe with the "commisars of Soviet Russia". He writes, "Thus about three thousand years before Christ an economic revolution not only secured for the Egyptian craftsman his means of subsistence and his raw material, but also created the conditions for literacy and learning and gave birth to the State. But the social and economic organization created in Egypt by Menes and his successors as revolutionaries was centralized and totalitarian" (What Happened in History).
One could cite other examples of societies whose life was to a significant degree based on socialist principles. But the ones we have already indicated show sufficiently clearly that the emergence of socialist states is not the privilege of any specific era or continent. It seems that this was the form in which the state arose: "the world's first socialist states" were the world's first states of any kind.
If we turn to socialist doctrine, we see a similar picture herre too. These teachings did not arise either in the twentieth century or the nineteenth; they are more than two thousand years old. Their history can be divided into three periods.

To be continued...

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