Communalism | Definition, Features, Pros & Cons

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Communalism – Definition, Features & Examples


Communalism Definition

Communalism is a political system in which there is a joint or communal ownership of the means of production (land, labour and capital) and equal distribution of the products of labour.

It is the oldest form of government and human organisations. From the very beginning, man has lived in a small communities. This is with the belief that the security of each human being will be guaranteed by the security of all.

The family head acted as the leaders of the communal society, but with the expansion of the community, the responsibility of administering the people steadily fall into the hands of a small group, and from this small beginning developed the ideal of politics.

In modern Nigeria, the small Aiyetoro Community in Ondo State used to practice this system of government.

Features of Communalism

The main features of communalism may be summarised as follows:

  • Communalism was the dominant political system in Africa before the 15th century.
  • Under communalism, one’s position in the society was defined in terms of blood relations (family and kinship). This is unlike the situation in a modern society where progress depends largely on ability of merit.
  • Man was his brother’s keeper in a communal society. Perhaps, man had to adopt this philosophy of life in order to survive in the very hostile and harsh-environment of the time.
  • The communal society was mainly an agrarian society.
  • Goods and service were jointly produced and they were distributed on equal basis.
  • The goods and services produced were normally sufficient for the need of the society.
  • There was joint ownership of property.
  • Communal projects such as markets, and roads were equally executed by all adult citizens.
  • Religion was very important in the life of the people and there was a near blind submission to religion and customs.
  • As there was little or no exploitation of man by man, the need for the state did not arise.
  • Decisions affecting the whole community were ordinarily taken together at simple meetings presided over by the elders. Thus, democracy, as government of the people by the people and for the people, had meaning in a communal society.

Communalism in Modern Times

Some African leaders in the past exaggeratedly referred to the Communal society as the ‘authentic African society‘ which we must go back to in order to develop.

The introduction of Ujaama, a form of African socialism in Tanzania by the late president Julius Nyerere after the country’s independent in 1964, was a product of such dreams to return to the original African society.

Ujaama itself was not a success but the stable political order and discipline in the Tanzanian state today attested to the fact that the programme was not a complete failure.

Communalism has also sometimes being canvassed especially in the immediate post-independence era as the model of social organisation that Nigeria should adopt.

Interest in communalism was probably encouraged by the incompetence of the Nigeria state. Individualism in the negative sense of unbridled selfishness has brought untold hardship and lawlessness to the Nigerian society.

In Nigeria, a single individual in public office can unshamedly appropriate the whole wealth of the community to himself, as in the case of a former top lawmaker who allegedly stole more than Forty Billion Naira (#40,000,000,000) belonging to the Nigeria National Assembly.

Communalism, however, does not allow people to realise their full potential. As the restricted nature of the system began to retard development (for example, the need for individual labour and private ownership of property was not recognised under communalism), its collapse was only a matter of time. It collapsed and gave way to the slave.

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