We started off the New Year learning about Inca society before and after the Spanish came. The way the professor, Dr. Rachel O’Toole, described Inca self-sustaining society made me think of the ideals of socialism (I must admit that I have been a socialist sympathizer since I was 12 years old). In this post I am going to describe Inca society as if they were socialist.

The two aspects of Inca society that made me draw a connection to socialism is their labor system, m’ita, and how the king, the Inca, wanted to be seen by his subjects.

The m’ita was a mandatory labor system in which people would work for the government for a certain amount of time and in return the government gave them all necessities (food, clothes, medicine). And when the person was done serving their m’ita, they could go home and continue doing their regular occupation. According to socialist writers, Leo Huberman and Paul Sweezy, socialist idealists believe in distributing according to the quantity and quality of work performed. Likewise, Garcilaso de la Vega in his Royal Commentaries of the Incas said that the overseers “saw to it that all the men attended to their business and were never by any means idle.” Both the Incas and Socialists believe that in order to receive any sort of benefit, one must be a good worker.


De la Vega writes:

“It was the duty of all of them to see that their village as a whole and each inhabitant in particular never lacked anything that was needful, and if there was want of anything to report it immediately to the governors, the curacas, and the ruler himself so that steps could be taken to supply it. This they did with wonderful care, especially the Inca, who earnestly desired that his people should not look upon him as a king, but rather as the head of a family and a diligent guardian.”

Huberman and Sweezy describe the ultimate ideal that workers in a socialist society will “work because they want to, both out of a sense of responsibility to society and because work satisfies a felt need in their own lives.” In Inca society, this is what the Inca (king) hoped to inspire in his people. He wanted to make sure that they felt good about working for his government by making sure he supplied all their needs. The leader worked for the good of his people and vice versa.

Socialist writer Pieter Lawrence speaks in terms of community and ending class conflict as the ideal of a socialist society. The Incas started this way (small and equal) and then became an empire.

As the Inca expanded their territory, they left behind officials that would implement the m’ita. From their expansion, a hierarchy started in the new empire. Their status was shown in their clothing. The more intricate the designs, the more people they had working for them to make those designs. Their clothes were a sign of power. I do not know how heavily the hierarchy was felt by the working class or how they felt about m’ita and the Inca, the way my professor explained it seemed like Inca society was exemplary, the way socialism also sounds.

What is dangerous about having a hierarchy is that it follows or is accompanied by expansion and dictatorship.  An expanded territory will require more people to manage it, giving rise to hierarchy, and then one person will want to have absolute power, the definition of a dictator, and then usually the dictator wants to expand his own influence into other territories and other people, creating an empire. The Inca were like the Romans in that they let their conquered peoples keep their cultural identity in order to prevent rebellions. If they resisted, the Inca would relocate the entire community to another area of the empire.

Huberman and Sweezy say that socialist believe “the march to socialism can be made step by step within the framework of the democratic forms of the capitalist state.” This is how the Incas tried to remain even when expanding, keeping the m’ita and the Inca-as-guardian belief. Lawrence says “in a socialist society, communities would be free to set up their goals and then organise their resources of labour, materials and technology to achieve them in a straightforward way.” This is how the different regions of the Inca empire were handled, by being aware of which regions were best for producing what, keeping records and a census to know how much people were in each region, how much they can produce, and how much they need.

Growth and Extent of Incan Empire


Further Information

Inca Government and Economy

The American conservative view of socialism: The Federalist (Ekins and Pullmann)

The American socialist view of socialism: Monthly Review (Huberman and Sweezy)

The Socialist Party of Great Britain:  Pieter Lawrence


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