[Marxism] Miskitos and Primitive Communism

Christopher Carrico ccarrico at temple.edu
Sun Jul 4 06:14:58 MDT 2004

It is essays like Lou's on the Miskito that inspired me to 
subscribe to Marxmail in the first place.  

I don't know as much about the Miskito situation as others 
on the list, but here is a piece of something I am working 
on that tries to articulate the inspiration for a similar 
position regarding Guyana.  The local histories are 
different, but one similarity is that the socialist PPP and 
the nominally socialist PNC did not understand indigenous 
issues, and Amerindians mostly mobilized around the pro-
colonial United Force during the late colonial years...  

*    *    *   

	For the great majority of humanity’s (homo sapiens) 
200,000 odd years of existence on this earth, exploitation, 
in an economic sense, did not exist.  Alienation of the 
products of labor from direct producers emerged only with 
the appearance of classes and states, which arose only in 
the last 6500 years, and only, at first, in a few parts of 
the world.  For many areas, the significance of states is 
much more recent.  In the Guianas, for instance, states came 
to play a dominant role in local history only with the 
formation of colonial states during the seventeenth and 
eighteenth centuries.  Variants of a pre-state, communal 
mode of production, or primitive communism, were the rule in 
the Guianas from their earliest occupation (11,000 BP by the 
more conservative estimates) until the destruction of the 
pre-state polities by the agents of European colonialism.  

	Most likely, Old World diseases reached the Guianas 
during the sixteenth century, in the wake of Orellana’s 
ravaging of the Amazon and Bello’s of the Orinoco, but the 
decisive moment came as Dutch, English, French, and 
Portuguese merchants and planters dispossessed Amerindians 
from much of the Guiana coastal plains in order to establish 
a system of plantation slavery.  

 	Until the time of the defeat of the ancient 
Amerindian polities of the Guianas, Amerindians were not (as 
is still the dominant view, irregardless of what appears to 
be the case in anthropology) “undeveloped” cultures waiting 
for the liberating swords of European progress to sever them 
from the bonds of primordial attachment.  Rather, 
Amerindians had developed sophisticated, productive and 
stable long-term solutions to the problems of meeting human 
needs in complex society, and had done so predominantly in a 
way that was more equitable and just than state-based 

	As such, Amerindian society should not be viewed, 
using evolutionary models, as a stage to be transcended by 
more progressive “civilization.”  Rather, the communal mode 
of production that these societies manifested teaches us 
that a better world existed in the past, and therefore can 
serve as an example to help us imagine a better world in the 
future.  The durability of these socieities (and of the 
spirit of these societies that is kept alive through kinship 
even in the capitalist metropole)suggests, in the face of 
seemingly impossible odds, that it is the state, and not the 
primitive, that is destined for the dustbin of history.   
	My inspiration for this perspective comes from the 
radical tradition in North American anthropology, 
exemplified by the foundational work of people like Eleanor 
Leacock, Stanley Diamond, and Richard Lee.  Their work 
harkens back to Marx and Engels, and to Rousseau before 
them.  Diamond (1969) argues of Marx and Engels, 
that “Primitive cultures were for them the ground of all 
future historical movement.  Moreover, Marx indicated that 
they served as the paradigm for the idea of socialism.” 

	When I came to Guyana, animated by the ideas and 
values described above, I did not find exactly what I had 
imagined.  At every step of the way, there were 
contradictions that I had not foreseen.  I came to Guyana 
excited about the work of the Amerindian People’s 
Association, but I left Guyana critical of the APA’s 
shortcomings.  Its greatest flaw is its entrapment in an 
internationalist liberal human right paradigm, which has led 
it to pursue a narrowly legalistic strategy, and to only to 
seek liberal international alliances rather than class 
alliances at the national level.  I was also quite 
enthusiastic about the Guyana Action Party, particularly 
because of its alliance with the WPA.  This combination of 
an indigenous party with a committed, anti-racist socialist 
party seemed particularly promising to me, until I saw, 
firsthand, how the contradictions of the two parties negated 
its possibilities.  I learned that the Guyana Action Party 
was neither particularly indigenous, nor committed to 
socialism, and that the WPA had consistently failed to 
achieve any kind of popular support after the death of its 
great grass-roots organizer, Walter Rodney. 

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