Other formats

    TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

Nation Making, a story of New Zealand

Chapter XLII. — Communism

page 378

Chapter XLII.

Maori Communism a Survival from Aryan times.—Lycurgan Communism.—Developed the Physical.—Destroyed the Intellectual and Emotional.—Made Woman manly, and Man brutal.—Destroyed the Home.—Communism of Plato and Sir Thomas More.—Communism of the Maories.—Community of Lands.—Hospitality.—Community of Good-will.—The other side.—Degradation of Women.—Idleness, Dirt, and Disease.—Community of Goods in early Christian times.—Modern Communism.—Destroys Individualism.—Overthrows Institutions.—Abolishes Private Property.—Reduces all men to Same Level.—'Divide again.'—A Breakwater of Sand.—Diversity not Uniformity Nature's Law.—New Forces.—Education and Political Power.—Indirect Measures.—Transfer of Taxation.—Combination and Co-operation.—National Insurance.—The Beyond.

The great questions of the inequalities of life, the unequal distribution of wealth, the relations between Capital and Labour are all questions which Socialists assert can be settled by the adoption of Communist principles. It may therefore be useful to enquire into the operation of a very ancient form of Communism existing amongst the Maories.

The Communism of the Maories is of interest because it is probably a survival of very ancient times, page 379a relic indeed possibly of Aryan times. If so, it presents a picture of the Communism current, ages before Lycurgus imposed Communism upon Sparta nine centuries B.C.

But in relation to the diffusion of communistic theories in our own day, it is of greater interest. Its long continuance amongst the Maories shows that Communism may prolong its existence under favouring conditions. These conditions existed amongst the Maories in the form of a limited tribal population, and an unlimited supply of land held in common, and in the despotic power of the Chiefs and Priests.

They do not exist in any form of civilization with which we are acquainted. They are to be found in savage life alone.

The Lycurgan Communism was only possible in a barbarous age, in a society where individualism did not exist, and where personal freedom was unknown. Even then it existed only under the despotism of the Ephors, and the serfdom of the Helots.

Lycurgus abolished money; compelled all citizens to eat at a common table; made idleness and successful thieving virtues; made labour and commerce degrading; converted the relations between man and wife very much into those existing in a prize herd of cattle; used every effort to develope the physical, and to destroy the intellectual, emotional and spiritual in man; created a community of athletes fitted for soldiers, prize-fighters, and gladiators; destroyed the 'home,' with its self-denials, its sanctities and its page 380domestic affections; made woman manly, and man brutal. In this destruction of the 'home,' which his whole system secured, Lycurgus struck a blow at one of the noblest influences which has aided man in his upward struggle; destroyed one of the chief foundations of all true civilization; and rendered real progress to a higher and a nobler life impossible.

When Greece yielded to the spiritual impulses of art, learning and freedom in the sixth century B.C. Sparta rapidly fell into the rear. Her institutions and her power decayed under the influence of Lycurgan Communism.

The philosophic dreams of Communism in Plato's 'Republic,' and in Sir Thomas More's 'Utopia' are still dreams. Wherever attempts have been made to bring them into realities, failures without exception have resulted.

Let me now describe the Communism of the Maories. Their language, their implements, their religion and their habits and mode of life are all evidences of their descent from a very remote ancestry, which, owing to their ignorance of the art of writing, and the necessary use of tradition, together with their long isolation present to us many of the conditions of life, probably existing amongst our own ancestors in prehistoric times.

In this view, a sketch of the practice of Com-page 381munismby the Maories may not be devoid of interest.

Amongst them land was undoubtedly held in common. Each family cultivated a piece of ground for a few years, which (having no other value than that arising from its products) after exhaustion, was abandoned for an unexhausted piece. This cultivation gave a right of occupancy at any future time, but conferred no absolute ownership as we understand it.

The Rangitira (Chief, literally 'ray from heaven') had no rights of ownership of lands, but he held the Mana (influence, authority) over them, a 'Lord of the Manor,' as it were.

Though the products of each piece of ground were the property of the man or family who had won them by their toil they were available to supply the wants of the 'community' or tribe by reason of a community of goods for the entertainment of strangers and visitors, all of whom in old time, were made welcome and hospitably treated, as if they thought a man, though a stranger, were of more value than the food he consumed.

I have known this community of good-will to be manifested at the earlier Land Courts held for settling claims to lands, where the Maories of the district would hospitably entertain and provide the opposing tribe with food, just as if the plaintiffs in a great lawsuit in London or Edinburgh, were to provide food for a hundred of the defendants' witnesses.

page 382

These are some of the good points about Maori Communism. Let us see the other side.

In the old times when fern root was the chief article of food, every member of the tribe had to work in digging, roasting and preparing it, not for a brief period, but during the greater part of the year. But after the introduction of the pig and potato, the chief part of the work was done by the women, who at all times, had carried water from the stream in calabashes, and borne burdens of firewood from the neighbouring forest. The old women who survive are bent and worn with excessive labour, and present miserable spectacles of the hard lot of women under Communism.

Like the Spartans under Lycurgan Communism, the young Maories frequently carried off their brides by force. There was no community of wives, though the younger women were common to a large extent. The abandonment of the infirm and aged was a common practice, and can only be regarded as a result of Communism.

Communism amongst the Maories in the old ferneating days was deprived of some of its worst evils, for then, all had to work steadily for most of the year, in digging and roasting fern root, and beating it into meal for their daily food.

The struggle for existence made Communism amongst the Maories possible and continuous without the aid of a servile class as in Sparta, for though captives were made in war, most of them were killed and eaten as occasion required. But directly food became page 383more abundant and life more easy indolence developed and industry languished.

When the Maori lived on fern root, he acted on Abernethy's famous prescription for his indolent and luxurious patient,

'Live on sixpence a day and earn it.'

In addition to this daily toil, every man was a warrior, liable to be summoned at any moment to defend his home, or to attack a neighbouring tribe.

But when the pig and potato provided food for a year by a few weeks' work, then, life became easier, and steady industry, being no longer a necessity, ceased to be a virtue. The steady energy of the old fern-fed Maori vanished, and his strength diminished. He became an impulsive creature, good for a 'spurt,' but incapable of long sustained effort.

'Ah,' said an old Chief the other day, 'when the Maories ate fern root, we were strong. We could dig, run, fight and never be weary. But now, that we live on pigs and potatoes, we are like bags of water. When we went to catch sharks we lived on fern root and never got sea-sick. Now,' said he, ' if we go to sea, we are as miserable as the Europeans.'

The old habit of industry nevertheless lingered long amongst portions of the tribe, but gradually diminished, because the lazy man was fed from the common stock. The chief inducement to the idle 'loafers' to work, was to obtain a gun or a blanket, these articles being objects of keen desire, and more or less personal property.

page 384

Nothing else that a Maori possessed could be said to be really his own; the idle therefore, lived on the industrious, with the usual result—a total absence of thrift and of social progress.

Idleness, dirt and disease were the natural consequences of their communist system. Let anyone visit a Maori Kainga (village) to-day, and he will see everywhere, abundant evidences of the ruin effected by communism when deprived of the despotic control of the Chiefs and Priests, and of the necessity for constant work.

Modern Communists quote the community of goods in Apostolic Christian times as a reason for the adoption of their principles now. This however was no more than a liberal help to the poor and distressed amongst them, by those who had money or possessions. Instead of being a warrant for a 'community of goods,' it was rather an evidence of the obligation laid upon Christians in every age, to manifest actively, consideration and good-will to others.

In our times, Communists advocate a very different system. They seek to destroy individualism; to distribute wealth equally; to overthrow all institutions; to abolish private property; and to reduce all men to the same level, without showing us how thrift and industry are to be encouraged, how laziness and extravagance will be prevented or punished, unless on the lines laid down by a Communist when asked to define the system, page 385'We propose to divide the wealth of the world, and make all men equal,' said he.

'But,' it was rejoined, 'the industrious and careful, in twelve months would have improved their position, whilst the idle and extravagant would have wasted their portion. What then would you do?'

'Do,' replied he, 'we should divide again.'

The proposal to make all men equal is a dangerous and futile dream. It is like making a breakwater of sand to confine the ocean waves. It proceeds upon the assumption, that all men are naturally equal. Just as much, it might be said that all the trees in a forest are alike, whereas we know there is infinite diversity. They are all trees, it is true, but every tree differs from its fellow in size, form, use or beauty. So with man in mind or muscle, in mental or physical powers. No two men are exactly alike. Nor will they ever become so, under any treatment, any more than a thistle can be transformed into an oak, or an elm be made into a cabbage.

Diversity, and not uniformity, is the law under which Nature works. The Procrustean bed of Communism may try, like the mythic fool of old, to make all men equal in length or in any other way, but like his iron method, it will fail.

Communism, at its best, proposes to make of man little more than a stagnant entity—placid indeed, but powerless. It gives him for a motto, 'To be,' not 'To do.' The community does everything, the man, nothing, therefore the 'individual' having nothing to do, does nothing, and is nothing. So far as page 386originality or progressive movement is concerned, man becomes an automaton, moving only as he is moved by a force other than his own.

Communism is simply arrested developement. Under its influence the noblest powers would suffer atrophy; 'excelsior' would be a meaningless term; and evolution from a lower to a higher type of man could have no operation in the stagnant, unwholesome and unnatural atmosphere of Communism. This dream, like many other pretty dreams—sleeping or waking—can never be realized. Like the visions of the night, the day dream of Communism has never survived the attacks of civilization; never removed the barriers which the exigencies of common life in every age have raised against its progress.

The dead, stagnant level of Communism is in direct opposition to the ceaseless movement, the continuous action and reaction paramount throughout Nature's wide dominions of matter and mind.

Great as the tyranny of Capital, or the inequality of conditions may be, and many as are the hardships created by them, it is not by Communism in its ordinary Socialistic sense, that these obstacles to happiness and progress can be removed.

That which is impossible for Communism to accomplish, is within the scope of a community of interest and a reciprocity of duty to partially secure. This latter, and nobler factor may yet be far off, but it will grow out of the former—if baser—element.

Society rests on the 'individual,' the unit—of page 387infinite variety indeed, like the stones in a vast and enduring building—small and great, rough and smooth, a strong foundation there, a column here, a capital, or a pediment in their fitting places, so must all the varied atoms of human life find their places, and be fitly joined together before the temple of Humanity can appear in its destined strength and splendour.

For nearly 3,000 years Communism has been the dream of philosophers and Nation Makers. In the sense of all men becoming equal, it is still a dream, as far from realization as ever.

But though, in our times the distribution of wealth is perhaps more unequal than in any previous age, some new forces are coming into operation, which will remedy some of the existing inequalities, and at least prevent the rich from becoming richer, and the poor poorer.

These two forces are,
  • 1. The general diffusion of education amongst the common people.
  • 2. The great extension of their political power.

Whilst the first of these has opened the eyes of the common people to the hardships of their condition, the last, as soon as they fully realize their power, will enable them, in some measure, to provide a remedy.

The latter power will not be applied to secure a general division of lands, or to obtain an equal distribution of wealth. It will rather take the direction page 388of partially securing both these objects by indirect measures; namely, by transferring the burden of taxation from the shoulders of the common people to wealth and land; by reducing the hours of toil; by increasing wages; by taxing profits; by a resort to the combination and co-operation of labour; and possibly, by the resort to a system of national insurance.

But beyond all these, and what we need even more than these, is the diminution of selfishness; a greater community of interest; a larger reciprocity of duty; an increase of consideration for others; and above all, a community of good-will between all classes.

These appear to me to be the principles of a true Communism, of the Communism taught by Jesus. They have been greatly disregarded by his professed followers. Their adoption now, would dissipate the gloom hanging over mankind. The loving commands of the Lord of Good-will have been but very partially obeyed. The evolution from the old-time heathen developement of good-will has been slow. Nevertheless, looking at the innate selfishness of Humanity, the Nineteenth century has reached a higher tide mark than any of its predecessors, and amidst all the selfishness of our times, the pendulum of a community of good-will, bids fair to swing with a greater force and gives promise of a brighter day.