Although many social scientists over the years have challenged Marx’s view on this matter, contemporary social science provides considerable evidence that Marx was basically correct. The vast majority of hunter-gatherers studied by modern anthropologists display a mode of resource ownership that can be adequately characterized by Marx’s notion of primitive communism. While much economic activity among hunter-gatherers is centered around the family, all individuals in such societies have equal access to those resources of nature that are necessary for their subsistence. No person in a hunter-gatherer band may be deprived by any other person or group of an equal opportunity to hunt game, collect plants, use a water hole, or camp on the land. Everyone thus owns these resources collectively (it is sometimes said that since everyone has an equal right to their use, no one owns them). In fact, some hunter-
gatherers do not even restrict the ownership of resources to their own local band; instead, they provide equal access to resources to all other individuals and groups who may have need for them (Woodburn, 1968). Even in those instances where resources may be “owned” privately by individual families, there are typically no restrictions on other families using these resources. Among the !Kung San, for instance, water holes are frequently said to be “owned” by individual families, but these families do not prevent other families from using them (Lee, 1968, 1972).
It is true that among hunter-gatherers items such as jewelry and art objects are owned privately, but this fact does not invalidate the claim that primitive communism is the principal ownership mode of hunting and gathering peoples. Jewelry and art objects are not part of the forces of production, as Marx called the vital resources necessary to economic production. Rather, they are items of what is more appropriately referred to