The Passing Show column from the February 1963 issue of the Socialist Standard
Some years ago five men, missionaries of a small Christian sect, went to try and convert to their own beliefs the Auca people, a small tribe living in a remote part of Ecuador. Since the white man has consistently destroyed the Indian way of life and taken the Indians' land from them throughout South America, it was perhaps not surprising that a rumour spread that these five strangers were cannibals, who had come to kill and eat the Aucas; the Aucas, as a result, killed them all.
Elisabeth Elliot, the widow of one of the men, was also a missionary among the Quichua Indian, and after her husband's death she became acquainted with two Auca women. Later. very bravely, she went with these women and with her own young daughter to live with the Auca tribe for a year. She has now written a book about her experiences. The Savage My Kinsman (Hodder and Stougbton, 37s. 6d.).
She was, she says, "immediately impressed with the Aucas' dignity and simplicity." They were ".. an exceptionally robust tribe. I found no diseases among them except one or two uncertain cases of malaria, and the common cold. There were none of the 'children's diseases' of civilization: mumps, measles, chicken-pox, whooping-cough, scarlet fever. I treated some infected sores, but the Indians had a remarkable resistance to these and seemed to recover equally well without treatment of any kind." The women grow crops of manioc and plantain, and the men spend most of the day hunting; with the animals and fish they catch they support "their wives, sisters, in-laws, and any widows who happen to be living with them or next door." The Aucas, moreover, "had no use for money or anything else which might have served as a trade item."
The Auca has his own ideas of behaviour, says the author:
. . . he shares his one small monkey with the widow next door. Be does not greet a friend or bid him good-bye, but he entertains without charge any guest who happens to drop in, even if he is a Quichua Indian whom he has never seen before. He does not wear clothing, but he has a strict code of modesty and is totally free from preoccupation with the human body, and all the absurd inhibitions this involves.
The Aucas, being so few in number, are a close-knit group, but there is no central authority of any kind. Every man is his own boss. The only social unit is the family, although there seems to be no marriage ceremony as such.
The firm belief of civilized man, in fact, that all savages have a "chief" who is a kind of dictator (a misconception based on a misunderstanding of the role of the war-leader who emerges when tribes fight each other) was as usual found to be false.
The author tells us more about the Aucas' social customs (and she cannot have been prejudiced in their favour):
During my entire visit, I never saw the slightest friction between a husband and wife. Only rarely did I hear an Auca criticize another behind his back . . . Malicious gossip was rare among the savages. In fact, many of our civilized sins were conspicuous by their absence. I noticed almost no vanity or personal pride, no covetousness or avarice. Intoxication was unknown. The men were not lazy, or selfish with the spoils of their hunting.
In short, I had to face the fact that socially I had nothing whatever to offer the Aucas.
It is, incidentally, interesting to record the author's conclusion that "the Auca has, so far as I know, no form of religion. He knows nothing of prayer, sacrifice, worship or placating evil spirits, although he believes in their existence." So much for another cherished belief of civilized man, that all savages are caught in an implacable web of religious beliefs and observances. Apparently if anyone is caught in the web, it is civilized man.
The Aucas are still clearly living in a society of primitive Communism, or something very close to it, right into this modern era. We were all living in this kind of society up to perhaps five or, at the most, seven thousand years ago, and in some parts of the world even now private property has not yet been able to impose itself. Man has been on this earth 500 thousand years (the latest theories would extend this time to something like one and three-quarter million years) and throughout that time he has lived in a primitive Communist society—up to this very moment in remote areas: even in the most 'civilized' parts of the world the length of time man has suffered under private property systems is a mere fleabite compared to the vast ages that went before.
And still we are told that Socialism or Communism, a system of common ownership or of no ownership at all, is somehow 'against human nature'! If anything is against 'human nature,' (whatever that may be), it is clearly private property.
A NEW SOCIETY
No one, of course, wants to return to primitive Communism, even if that were possible. The Aucas, for example, sometimes become involved in warfare, and lose men killed in fighting. (Although civilized men, who are now openly planning to destroy each other's cities, perhaps have not much ground to criticize them on that score.) But Socialists do want to go forward to a new society; in which all the good points of primitive Communism (the absence of 'civilized sins,' the comradeship and cooperation, the abolition of 'central authorities"—in short, the much greater happiness and contentment) can be combined with the material comforts which Capitalism has produced. And nothing prevents us going forward to that society except that the mass of the working class have never realized that it is possible.