Max Weber (1864-1920), General Economic History (Wirtschaftsgeschichte, 1923), translated by Frank H. Knight, 1927.



The idea of a primitive agrarian communism at the beginning of all economic evolution was first suggested by investigations into the ancient German economic organization, especially by Hanssen and von Maurer.2 These men originated the theory of the ancient German agrarian communism, which became the common property of scholarship. Analogies from other lands to the ancient German rural organization led finally to the theory of an agrarian communism as the uniform beginning of all economic development, the theory developed especially by E. de Laveleye. Such analogies came from Russia and from Asia, especially India. Recently, however, a strong tendency has set in to assume private property in land and a manorial type of development for the most ancient periods accessible to us, whether in Germany or in other economic systems.

If we consider first the German national agricultural organization as it presents itself to us in the eighteenth century, and go back from it to older conditions poorly and scantily illuminated by the sources, we must begin by restricting ourselves to regions originally settled by the Teutons. Thus we exclude, first, the previously Slavic region east of the Elbe and Saal; second, the region formerly Roman, that is, the Rhine region, Hessia, and South Germany generally south of a line drawn roughly from the Hessian boundary to the vicinity of Regensburg; and finally, the region originally settled by Celts, to the left of the Weser.

The land settlement in this originally German region had the village form, not that of the isolated farmstead. Connecting roads between the villages were originally quite absent as each village was economically independent and had no need of connections with its neighbors. Even later the roads were not laid out systematically but were broken by traffic according to need and disappeared from one year to the next until gradually in the course of centuries an obligation to maintain them was established, resting upon the individual holding of land. Thus the General Staff maps of this region today give the impression of an irregular network whose knots are the villages.

In the sketch, the first or innermost zone contains the dwelling lots, placed quite irregularly. Zone Two contains the fenced garden land (Wurt), in as many parts as there were originally dwelling lots in the village. Zone Three is the arable (see below), and Zone Four pasture ("Almende"). Each household has the right to herd an equal number of livestock on the pasture area, which, however, is not communal but appropriated in fixed shares. The same is true of the wood (Zone Five) which incidentally does not uniformly belong to the village; here also the rights to wood cutting, to bedding, mast, etc., are divided equally among the inhabitants of the village. House, dwelling lot, and the share of the individual in the garden land, arable (see below), pasture and forest, together constitute the hide (German Hufe, cognate with "have.")

The arable is divided into a number of parts called fields (Gewanne); these again are laid off in strips which are not always uniform in breadth and are often extremely narrow. Each peasant of the village possesses one such strip in each field, so that the shares in the arable are originally equal in extent. The basis of this division into fields is found in the effort to have the members of the community share equally in the various qualities of the land in different locations. The intermixed holdings which thus arose brought the further advantage that all the villagers were equally affected by catastrophes such as hailstorms, and the risks of the individual were reduced.

The division into strips, in contrast with the Roman custom, where squares predominate, is connected with the peculiarities of the German plow. The plow is universally, to begin with, a hoe-like instrument wielded by the hands or drawn by animals, which merely scratches the soil makes grooves in the surface. All peoples which did not get beyond this hoe-plow were compelled to plow the fields back and forth in order to loosen up the soil. The most suitable division of the surface for this purpose was the square, as we find it in Italy from Caesar's time on, and as the general staff maps of the Campagna and the outer boundary marks between the individual land holdings still show it. In contrast, the German plow consisted, as far as we can tell, of a knife which cut the earth vertically, a share which cut it horizontally, and finally, at the right, a moldboard which turned it over. This plow made the criss-cross plowing unnecessary, and for its use the division into long strips was most appropriate. The size of the separate strips was usually determined in this connection, by the amount which an ox could plow in a day without giving out -- hence the German names "Morgen" (English, "morning" but equivalent to acre) or "Tagwerk" (English, day's work). In the course of time these divisions underwent much confusion, since the plow, with its mold-board on the right, had a tendency to work over to the left. Hence the furrows became uneven, and since there were no balks, originally at least, between the separate strips, only boundary furrows being drawn, strips of land belonging to another were often plowed up. The original arrangement would be restored by "field juries" with the rod or later the so-called spring circle.

As there are no roads between the single allotments, tillage operations can only be carried on according to a common plan and at the same time for all. This was normally done according to the three field system, which is the most general though by no means the oldest type of husbandry in Germany. Its introduction must be set back at least to the eighth century, since it is assumed as a matter of course in a document of the Rhenish monastery of Lorsch of about the year 770.

The three-field husbandry means that in the first place the whole arable area is divided into three tracts, of which at any one time the first is sown to a winter grain and the second to a summer grain, while the third is left fallow and, at least in historical time, is manured. Each year the fields are changed in rotation, so that the one sown with winter grain is the next year put to summer grain and in the year following left fallow, and the others correspondingly. There is stall feeding of livestock in the winter, while in summer they run on the pasture. Under such a system of husbandry it was impossible for any individual to use methods different in any way from those of the rest of the community; he was bound to the group in all his acts. The reeve of the village determined when sowing and reaping were to be done, and ordered the parts of the arable which were sown with grain fenced off from the fallow land. As soon as harvest was over, the fences were torn down; anyone who had not harvested on the common harvest day must expect the cattle, which would be driven on to the stubble, to trample his grain.

The hide belonged to the individual and was hereditary.3 It could be of varying size and was different in nearly every village. Frequently, as a sort of norm, an extent of 40 acres was taken as the amount of land necessary to support a typical family. The part of the holding consisting of dwelling lot and garden land was subject to free individual use. The house sheltered a family in the narrow sense of parents and children, often including grown sons. The share in the arable was also individually appropriated, while the rest of the cleared land belonged to the community of hide-men or peasant holders (Hüfner), that is, of the members in full standing or freemen of the village. These included only those who held title to some share in each of the three fields of arable. One who had no land or did not have a share in every field did not count as a hide-man.

To a still larger group than the village belonged the common "mark" which included wood and waste land and is to be distinguished from the almend or pasture. This larger group was made up of several villages. The beginnings and original form of the mark association (Markgenossenschaft) are lost in obscurity. In any case it goes back before the political division of the land into districts by the Carolingians, and yet it is not identical with the hundred. Within the common mark there existed, joined in inheritance with a certain farm, a "head official" of the mark (Obermärkeramt), an office which had usually been pre-empted by the king or feudal lord, and in addition a "wood court," and an assembly of deputies of the hide-men of the villages belonging to the mark.

Originally there was in theory strict equality among the members in this economic organization. But such an equality broke down in consequence of differences in the number of children among whom the inheritance was divided and there arose alongside the hide-men half and quarter hide-men. Moreover, the hide-men were not the only inhabitants of the village. There were in addition other sections of the population. First, younger sons who did not succeed to holdings. These were allowed to go and settle on the outskirts of the holdings on still uncleared land and received the right of pasture, for a payment in both cases (Hufengeld, Weidegeld). The father could also give them, out of his garden allotment, land on which to build a house. From the outside came hand workers and other neighbors who stood without the organization of associated hide-men. Thus there arose a division between the peasants and another class of village dwellers, called in South Germany-hirelings or cottagers (Seldner, Häusler), and in the north "Brinksitzer" or "Kossäten." These latter belonged to the village only on the strength of their ownership of a house but had no share in the arable. However, they could acquire such a share if some peasant, with the consent of the village reeve or of the overlord (originally the clan) sold them a part of his share or if the village leased them a piece of the almend. Such parcels were called "rolling holdings" (walzende Äcker) ; they were not subject to the special obligations of the hide holding or to the jurisdiction of the manorial court, and were freely transferable. On the other hand their holders had no share in the rights of the hide-man. The number of these people of reduced legal status was not small; it happened that villages transformed up to half of their arable into such rolling holdings.

As a result the peasant population became divided into two strata as regards land ownership, the hide-men with their different subclasses on the one hand, and on the other those who stood outside the hide organization. But, there was also formed above the hide-men a special economic stratum who with their land holdings also stood outside the main village organization. In the beginning of the German agricultural system, as long as there was unclaimed land available, an individual could clear land and fence it; so long as he tilled it, this so-called "Bifang" was reserved to him; otherwise it reverted to the common mark. Acquisition of such "bifangs" presupposed considerable possessions in cattle and slaves and in consequence was ordinarily possible only for the king, princes, and overlords. In addition to this procedure, the king would grant land out of the possessions of marks, the supreme authority over which he had assumed for himself. But this granting took place under other conditions than the allotment of hide land. In this case the allotment affected forest area with definite boundaries, which had first to be rendered tillable, and was subject to more favorable legal relations by being free from the open field obligations. In measuring off these grants a definite area came into use called the royal hide, a rectangle of 40 or 50 hectares (1 hectare = 2½ acres, nearly).

The old German settlement form with the hide system spread out beyond the region between the Elbe and the Weser. Countries into which it made its way include, first, Scandinavia -- Norway as far as Bergen, Sweden up to the river Dalelf, the Danish Islands and Jutland; second, England, after the invasions of the Anglo-Saxons and Danes (the open field system); third, almost all northern France, and a large part of Belgium, as far as Brabant, while North-Belgium, Flanders and a part of Holland belonged to the realm of the Salic Franks with a different settlement form; fourth, in south Germany, the region between the Danube and Iller and Lech, including parts of Baden and Wurtemberg, as well as upper Bavaria or the region around Munich, especially the vicinity of Aibling. With German colonization, the old German form of settlement also spread over the Elbe eastward, though in a somewhat rationalized form, since the aim of making the country take up the largest number of settlers led to the establishment of "street villages" with favorable property institutions and with the greatest possible freedom of economic life. The house lots lay not in irregular groups but to the right and left along the village street, each one on its own allotment or hide, which allotments lay adjoining each other in long strips: but here also the divisions into fields and the compulsory common tillage were retained.

With the expansion of the German land settlement system beyond its original home, notable distinctions arose. This was especially true in Westphalia, which is divided by the river Weser into regions sharply distinct as regards the mode of settlement. At the river the Germanic settlement form stops suddenly and on the left begins the region of settlement in isolated farmsteads. There is no village or common (Almend), and mixed holdings occur only to a limited extent. The separate farms are cut out of the common mark which is originally uncultivated land. By clearing, new field areas are made which are allotted to the members of the community, called "Erbexen." Moreover, by the process of division other settlers were admitted to the mark, corresponding more or less to the "Kossäten" farther east -- craftsmen, small peasants and laborers who stand in the relation of renters to the erbexen, or are dependent upon them as wage workers. The Westphalian erbex or farmer is in possession of land to the extent on the average of 200 acres, a result of the mode of settlement, and is in a much more independent position than a peasant with intermixed holdings. The individual farmstead system dominates from the Weser to the Dutch coast and thus embraces the main territory of the Salic Franks.

In the southeast the German settlement region abuts on that of Alpine husbandry and on the territory of the South Slavs. The Alpine husbandry is based entirely on cattle raising and grazing, and the common pasture or almend is of predominant importance. All economic regulations are therefore derived from the necessity of "stooling" (Schatzung, Seyung), that is, the control of opportunity for sharing the utilization of the pasture by those entitled to it. Stooling involves division of the pasture into a number of "strikes" (Stösze), a strike being the amount of pasture necessary to support one head of stock through the year.

The economic unit of the South Slavs in Servia, in the Banat and also in Croatia, is in historical times not the village but the house community or zadruga, the age of which is a disputed point. The zadruga is an expanded family living under the leadership of a male head of the house and including all his descendants, often with married couples numbering up to forty or eighty persons, and carrying on economic life on a communistic basis. They do not indeed ordinarily live under a single roof, but in production and consumption they act as a single household using the "common kettle."

In the southwest the Germanic rural organization came in contact with the remains of the Roman method of distributing the land, in which we have the seigniorial estate in the midst of small dependent establishments of colons. In lower Bavaria, Baden, and Wurtemberg there came to be a considerable mixture of these two systems, and especially in the upland and hilly districts the Germanic system tends to disappear. There are mixed holdings but on the other hand it also happens that the cleared land of the village falls into unified sections in which the possessions of the individual lie in divisions without there being any effort at equality in sharing or any discoverable principle of division. The origin of this "hamlet distribution," as Meitzen calls it, is uncertain; it may have originated through the granting of land to unfree persons.

The origin of the specifically Germanic agricultural system is obscure. In the time of the Carolingians it is already present, but the division of the open field into equal strips is too systematic to be primitive. Meitzen has shown that it was preceded by another system, a division into so-called Lagemorgen ("locus acres"). The Lagemorgen designates that quantity of land, varying widely according to the quality of the soil, the "lie" of the field, distance from the dwelling lot, etc., around which a peasant could plow with a yoke of oxen in a forenoon. The Lagemorgen thus forms the basis of the open field or Gewann, which always shows this irregular form wherever the old division has survived, in contrast with the geometrical form given to it by later division into strips of equal size.

This view rejects the recent attempt of Rietschel to prove a military origin for the German land and tillage system. According to this theory, the system developed out of the organization into "hundreds." It holds that the hundred was at the same time a tactical unit and a political grouping of about a hundred hide-men, whose holdings must have been at least four times as large as the later community hide. The central figure of the organization would be available for military service, since they lived on an income derived from the labor of their serfs and could be spared from the community. Thus the hide (Hufe), like the later Anglo-Saxon hyde, was an ideal unit, suitable for carrying the burden of supporting a full-armed mounted warrior. Out of a hide organization of this sort, it is argued, grew the community hide by a process of rationalization, through the division of the holdings of the great hidemen into four, eight or ten parts. It is decidedly against this theory that the field divisions of the German hide organization did not originate by any rational process, but grew out of the Lagemorgen. On the other hand, there remains the difficulty that in northern France the hide organization arose only in the territory over which the Salic Franks extended their conquests, and not in the territory which belonged to them originally.

The original German settlement form no longer survives. Its disintegration began rather early, and not as a result of steps taken by the peasants, who were not in a position to make such changes, but through interference from above. The peasant very early fell into a position of dependence upon a political superior or feudal overlord; as a community hide-man (Volkshufner) he was weaker in an economic and military sense than the royal hide-man. After the establishment of permanent peace, the nobility took an increasing interest in economic affairs. It was the managerial activity of a portion of the nobility which destroyed the rural organization, especially in south Germany. The imperial abbey of Kempten, for example, began in the 16th century the so-called "enclosures" ("Vereinödungen") which were continued into the 18th century. The cleared land was redistributed and the peasant placed upon his compacted and enclosed farm (the so-called Einödhof) and as nearly as practicable in the center of it. In north Germany the state set aside the old distribution of land in the 19th century, in Prussia by the ruthless use of force. The "Gemeinheitsteilungsordnung" or Decree for the Division of Communities, of 1821, which was intended to force the transition to an exchange economy, was issued under the influence of liberal ideas opposed to mixed holdings, and the common mark, and pasture. The community with mixed holdings was set aside by compulsory unification and the common pasture or almend distributed. Thus the peasant was forced into an individualistic economic life. In south Germany the authorities were content with the so-called "purification" of the common field system. To begin with, a network of roads was laid out between the different field divisions. As a result there were many exchanges among individual holdings looking toward consolidation. The almend remained, but as winter feeding of stock was introduced, it was extensively transformed into arable, which served as a source of supplementary income for individual villagers or as provision for old age. In Baden especially, this development was characteristic. Here the aim towards secure provision for the population was persistently dominant and led to an especially dense settlement. Bounties on emigration even had to be granted, and finally in places the situation gave rise to attempts to separate old settlers and place those later admitted to rights of common in special almend communities within the village community.

Many students have seen in the German rural organization the echo of an original agrarian communism uniformly valid for all peoples, and have sought elsewhere for examples which would permit them as far as possible to reason back beyond the German system to stages no longer historically accessible. In this effort they have thought to find in the Scotch agricultural system down to the time of the battle of Culloden (1746) -- the "runridge system" -- a resemblance to the German system which would permit of inferences as to primitive stages. It is true that in Scotland the arable was divided into strips, and holdings intermingled; there was also the common pasture; thus far there is real resemblance to Germany. But these strips were re-distributed by lot annually or at definite times, so that a diluted village communism arose. All this was excluded in the German Lagemorgen, which lies at the basis of the oldest German field division accessible to us. Along with this arrangement, and frequently as a part of it, there arose in the Gaelic and Scotch regions the "cyvvar," the custom of communal plowing. Land which had been in grass for a considerable time was broken up with a heavy plow drawn by eight oxen. For this purpose the owner of the oxen and the owner of a heavy plow, generally the village smith, came together and plowed as a unit, with one to guide the plow and one to drive the oxen. The division of the crop took place either before the harvest or after a joint harvest.

The Scotch system of husbandry was distinguished from the German by the further fact that the zone of arable was divided into two sub-zones. Of these the inner was manured and tilled according to a three-field rotation, while the outer was divided into from five to seven parts, only one of which was put under the plow in any one year, while the remaining ones were in grass and served as pasture. The character of this "wild field grass" husbandry explains the development at the time, of plow associations, while inside the inner zone the individual Scotchman farmed on his own account like the German peasant.

The Scotch agricultural system is very recent and indicates a high development of tillage; for the original Celtic system, we must go to Ireland. Here agriculture was originally based entirely on cattle raising, due to the fact that, thanks to the climatic conditions, cattle could remain in the open throughout the year. The pasture land is allotted to the house community ("tate") the head of which ordinarily owns from 300 upward head of stock. About the year 600, agriculture declined in Ireland and the economic organization underwent a change. As before, however, the land was not permanently assigned, but for a lifetime at the longest. Redistributions were made by the chieftain (tanaist) down as late as the 11th century.

Since the oldest form of Celtic economy of which we know anything is exclusively connected with cattle raising, little conclusion can be drawn from it, or from the Scotch cyvvars, in regard to the primitive stages of Germanic husbandry. The typical German agricultural system, as known to us, must have originated in a period when the need for tillage and for stock raising were approximately equal. Perhaps it was just coming into being at Caesar's time, and apparently at Tacitus' time wild field grass husbandry predominated. However, it is difficult to work with the statements of either of these Roman writers, of whom Tacitus especially arouses suspicions by his rhetorical embellishment.

In sharp contrast with the German land system is that of the Russian mir (opschtschina). This dominated in Great Russia, but only in the inner political districts, while it was absent in the Ukraine and in White Russia. The village of the Russian mir is a street village, often of remarkable extent, including up to three or five thousand inhabitants. Garden and field lie behind the dwelling lot. Newly founded families settle at the end of the row of allotments. Besides the arable there is utilization of a common pasture. The arable is divided into fields and these again into strips. In contrast with the German land system these are not in Russia rigidly assigned to the single dwelling, but the allotment takes into account how many mouths or how much labor force a dwelling musters. According to the number of these, strips in proportion are assigned, and hence the assignment cannot be final but only temporary. The law contemplated a twelve year interval of redivision but in fact it usually took place oftener, every one, three, or six years. The right to the land (nadyel) pertained to the individual soul and related not to the house community but to the village. It was perpetual; even the factory worker whose forefathers had emigrated from the mir generations before might come back and assert the right. Conversely, no one could leave the community without its consent. The nadyel found expression in the right to a periodical redivision. However, the equality of all members of the village usually existed on paper only, as the majority required for a redistribution was almost never obtainable. In favor of redivision was every family which had increased in a large ratio; but there were other interests arrayed against them. The decision of the mir was only nominally democratic; in reality it was often capitalistically determined. In consequence of the need for provisions the single households were usually to a varying extent in debt to the village bourgeoisie or "kulaks," who held the mass of the propertyless in their power through money lending. According to whether they were interested in keeping their debtors poor or allowing them to acquire more land, they controlled the decision of the village when redivision was in question.

Concerning the economic workings of the mir there were two opinions down to the dissolution of the system in Russia. One view saw in it, as contrasted with an individualistic rural organization, the salvation of economic life. It regarded the right of each emigrant worker to return to the village and demand his portion as the solution of the social question. Holders of this view admitted that obstacles were opposed to progress in agricultural methods, and otherwise, but asserted that the right of the nadyel compelled the inclusion of everyone in an advance. Their opponents regarded the mir as a hindrance to progress unconditionally, and the strongest support of reactionary czaristic policies.

The threatening growth in power of the social revolutionaries at the beginning of the 20th century led to the destruction of the mir. In his agrarian reform legislation of 1906-07, Stolypin gave the peasants the right to withdraw from the mir under specified conditions and to demand that their portion be granted them free from liability to later re-apportionment. The share of a withdrawing member had to be in unified form, a single piece of land, so that, similar in principle to the enclosures of Allgau, the farmers were scattered, each individual being placed in the midst of his holding to carry on individually. Thus came to pass the result which Count Witte as minister had demanded, namely, the destruction of the mir. The liberal parties had never dared to go so far, or, like the Cadets, had believed in the possibility of reforming it. The immediate result of Stolypin's agrarian reform was to make the more well-to-do peasants, those in possession of considerable capital, and those who had relatively much land in proportion to the members of the family, withdraw from the mir, and the Russian peasantry was split into two halves. One half, a class of wealthy large farmers, withdrew and went over to a system of individual farms; the other, much more numerous, which was left behind, already possessed too little land and found itself robbed of the right of redistribution and hopelessly given over to the status of a rural proletariat. The second class hated the first as violators of the divine law of the mir; the latter was driven over to unconditional support of the existing regime, and if the World War had not intervened would have furnished a new support and "cudgel guard" for czarism.

Russian scholarship is divided in regard to the origin of the mir. According to the most generally accepted view, however, it was not a primitive institution but a product of the taxation system and of serfdom. Until 1907 the individual member of the mir not only held against the village his nadyel right, but the village reciprocally held an unquestionable claim to his labor power. Even when he had gone away with the permission of the headman of the village, and taken up an entirely different calling, the village could call him back at any time to impose upon him his share of the common burdens. These burdens arose especially in connection with the amortization of the indemnity for the release from serfdom and the purchase price of freedom from taxation. On good land the peasant would obtain a surplus above the share of these burdens falling to him; consequently the town laborer not infrequently found it to his interest to return unsolicited to the village, and the mir often paid, in such cases, an indemnity for relinquishment of the nadyel. But where taxes were too high and indicated a possibility of higher earnings elsewhere, the tax burden was increased for those who remained behind, since it was a joint obligation. In this case the mir would force its members to return and take up their life as peasants. Consequently, the solidarity limited the individual member's freedom of movement and amounted merely to a continuation through the mir of the serfdom which had been abolished; the peasant was no longer a serf of the lord but a serf of the mir.

Russian serfdom was unusually harsh. The peasants were subject to torture; an inspector every year joined pairs of marriageable age together and outfitted them with land. In relation to the overlord there were only traditional rights, no enforceable law; he could undo the arrangement at any time. In the period of serfdom the re-division was carried out, either, in the case of poor land, according to the number of workers in the individual peasant's household, or in the case of good land, according to the number of mouths. The obligation to the land dominated over the right to the land, while in the one case as in the other the community was held jointly for the payments to the overlord. At the same time the Russian manor exploited the peasants down to the present day to the extent that the overlords furnished almost nothing, but tilled the land with the capital and horses of the peasant. The land was either leased to the peasants or tilled under the direction of the lord's bailiff with forced labor by the peasants and their teams.

Joint liability to the overlord, and serfdom, have existed only since the 16th and 17th centuries. Out of them developed the custom of redividing the land. The custom of redivision did not arise in the Ukraine and those parts of Russia, especially in the west, which were not brought under Muscovite domination in the 16th and 17th centuries. Here the land was permanently assigned to the separate dwellings.

On the same principle of joint liability was based the economic system followed by the Dutch East India Company in their possessions. The company made the Desa or community jointly responsible for the dues of rice and tobacco. This joint liability led to the result that the community would finally compel the individual to remain in the village to help pay the taxes. With the abandonment of joint liability in the 19th century, the community with compulsory membership was also allowed to decline.

The economic system included two methods of rice culture, the dry culture (tegal) which was relatively unproductive, and wet culture (sawah) under which the field was surrounded with dykes and sub-divided within to control the running off of the water collected for the purpose. One who had established a sawah held an hereditary inalienable property right to it. The tegal land was subject to a nomadic husbandry similar to the wild field grass economy of the outer zone in the Scotch village community. The village cleared in common while the individual tilled and harvested singly. The cleared land was cropped from three to four years and then had to be put to grass while the village moved and broke up new land. The older conditions make it clear that only the ruthless and exploitative system of the Dutch East India Company brought about the system of redistribution.

The system introduced by the company gave place in the thirties of the last century to that of Kultur-stelsel. Under this system the individual had to cultivate one-fifth of his land for the benefit of the state, in which connection also the crop to be grown was prescribed. This system in turn disappeared in the course of the 19th century, giving place to a more rational mode of husbandry.

A similar system once obtained for a time in China,4 according to the reports of the Chinese classical writers. The arable land was divided into tracts of nine squares each, of which the outer squares were assigned to individual families, the inner ones being reserved for the emperor. The family received the land only for use; at the death of the head of the house, redivision was carried out. This system was of only passing significance and dominated only in the neighborhood of large rivers where rice culture by flooding was possible. In this case also, the communistic organization of agriculture was dictated by fiscal considerations and did not arise out of primitive conditions. The original Chinese economic organization is found instead in the clan economy still common in the Chinese villages, where the clan has its little ancestral temple and its school and carries on tillage and economic life in common.

The last example of a supposed communistic agricultural system is that of India. Two different forms of village organizations are met with. Common to the two is the common pasture and a garden area corresponding to the tract of arable on which in the German system wage laborers and cottagers lived. Here are settled craftsmen, temple priests, (which in contrast with the Brahmins play only a subordinate role), barbers, laundrymen, and all kinds of laborers belonging to the village -- the village "establishment." They hold on a "demiurgic" basis; that is, they are not paid for their work in detail but stand at the service of the community in return for a share in the land or in the harvest.5 The villages differ in regard to land ownership. In the ryotvari village the land ownership is individual and the tax burden likewise. At the head of the village is a reeve. The peasants have no share in the common mark, which belongs to the king (rajah). One who wishes to clear land must pay for the privilege.

Another type is represented by the village placed under a "joint body," a community of a number of privileged nobles, a village aristocracy of full free-holders or hidemen without an individual head. These farmers ("Erbexen") grant out the land and to them belongs the common mark; thus they stand between the true cultivators and the rajah. Within this category two classes of villages may be further distinguished: One is the pattidari village, where the land is definitively divided out and appropriated. On the death of the occupant his share goes to his descendants by blood and is redivided when it again passes by inheritance. The other is the bhayachara village. Here the land is distributed in accordance with the labor force or the rank of the individual holders. Finally, there are also villages in which an individual is in complete control as tax farmer and overlord. These are zamindari villages, and the pattidari villages also developed through the partition of feudal holdings. The special feature of Indian conditions is that a large number of rent collectors have intervened between the sovereign and the peasantry through the farming out and re-farming of the taxes. Frequently a chain of four or five rent receivers will have originated in this way. Within this group of rent receivers and large farmers a nominal communism has been evolved. Where several peasants carry on a communistic husbandry they divide the harvest, not the land, and the rent is apportioned among the owners entitled to share. Thus, this case of agrarian communism also traces its origin to fiscal considerations.

In Germany, again, students thought to find in the holdings called "Gehöferschaften" of the Moselle the remains of a primitive agrarian communism, until Lamprecht recognized their true character. Down to the present these holdings have consisted chiefly of woodland, but they formerly contained also meadow and arable which were divided out after the manner of common fields, periodically and by lot. This arrangement is not primitive, but arose out of seigniorial policies. Originally the Gehöferschaft was a manorial farm or estate which was tilled by the labor of small peasants, members of the mark community. But when the overlords became knights and were no longer in a position to direct operations personally, they found it more advantageous to enlist the self-interest of the peasants, and granted them the land on the terms of a fixed rent. Here again we meet with the principle of joint obligation. The mark organization either undertook a definitive division of the interests, or redistributed periodically by lot.

Not all of these examples serve to prove the thesis of Laveleye that at the beginning of the evolution agrarian communism existed in the sense of communistic husbandry, and not merely that of joint ownership of the soil -- two things which must be carefully distinguished. This is not the case since, in fact, husbandry was not originally communal. Here there is a sharp conflict in viewpoint. While the socialistic authors view property as a fall from grace into sin, the liberals carry it back wherever possible to the time of the putative ancestors of the population. In reality, nothing definite can be said in general terms about the economic life of primitive man. If we seek an answer in the relations of populations untouched by European influences, we find no unanimity but ever the sharpest contrasts.

In primitive agricultural life, the so-called hoe-culture predominates. Neither plow nor beasts of burden are used;6 the implement of tillage is a pointed stick, with which the man goes about over the land and makes holes in which the woman drops the seed. With this method, however, quite different forms of organization may be associated. Among the Guatoes in the interior of Brazil, individual economy is found with no reason for assuming the previous existence of any other organization. Every household is self-sufficient, without specialized division of labor among them, and with limited specialization among the members of the household, and also with limited exchange relations between tribes. The opposite extreme is the assembly of work in a large central dwelling, as in the long-house of the Iroquois. Here the women are herded together under the leadership of a head woman who apportions the work, and likewise the product, among the separate families. The man is warrior and hunter, and undertakes in addition the heavy tasks, clearing the land, building the house, and finally herding the cattle. The latter counted originally as an exalted occupation because the taming required strength and skill. Later, the esteem in which it is held is traditional and conventional. We find similar conditions in all parts of the earth, especially among negro tribes; everywhere among these the field work falls to the women.


1. General References. -- A. Meitzen, Siedelung und Agrarwesen der West- und Ostgermanen, der Kelten, Römer, Finnen und Slawen. 4 vols. Berlin, 1896; G. F. Knapp, "Siedelung und Agrarwesen nach A. Meitzen," in his Grundherrschaft und Rittergut, 101 ff. (Criticism of Meitzen); Max Weber, Article, "Agrargeschichte, Altertum," in the Handwörterbuch der Staatsurissenschaften, 3d ed., I, 52 ff. Jena, 1909.

2. See G. Hanssen, "Ansichten über das Agrarwesen der Vorzeit" in Neues staatsbürgerliches Magazin, vol. Ill (1835) and vol. VI (1837) -- reprinted in his Agrarhistorischen Abhandlungen, 2 vols., Leipsic, 1880-1884; also, G. von Maurer, Einleitung zur Mark- Hof- Dorf- und Stadtverfassung, Munich, 1854; E. de Laveleye, De la propriete et de ses formes primitives, Paris, 1874 (English translation, Primitive Property, London, 1878).

For orientation as to the origin and course of the controversy, see G. von Below, "Das kurze Leben einer vielgenannten Theorie," in the volume, Probleme der Wirtschaftsgeschichte, Tuebingen, 1920; also, Max Weber, "Der Streit um den Character der altgermanischen Sozialverfassung," in Jahrbb. f. National-ökonomie und Statistik, vol. LXXXIII (1904).

3. The hide organization has recently been the subject of a controversy closely connected with that regarding the theory of primitive communism. The older view saw in it a result and expression of the communal field system, but later writers contend for a manorial origin. Rübel, again, maintains that it was an institution originally peculiar to the Salian Franks and was spread over all Germany by the Frankish kingdom.

4. Cp. in general, Max Weber, Gesammelte Aufsatze zur Religionssoziologie, Tuebingen, 1920, I, 350, and references there cited.

5. But it is not these arrangements which explain the stability of Indian conditions, as Karl Marx affirmed, but rather the caste system, just as in China it is the clan economy.

6. The principal contrast in agrarian economy between Europe and specifically Asiatic regions goes back to the fact that neither the Chinese nor Javanese peoples knew the use of milk from animals, while on European soil milking is met with as far back as Homer. On the other hand, in India since the middle ages, cattle cannot be slaughtered, and even today the upper castes condemn the eating of meat. Hence milk animals and meat animals are both absent in Asia over wide areas.