The Inca Legacy

Pachacuti, The Ninth Inca Emperor
The history of Peru is the history of small independent tribes, the Chavin, the Nazca, the Moche, the Chimu. All these cultures faded into and out of one another over a period of three thousand years buried under the heel of Inca domination. The Peruvians are obviously proud of their Incan ancestors. But a cursory reading of Incan history isn’t all that pretty. Historians have spoken of Incan Communism. Well, I suppose so if you happen to be strongly anti-Communist. But the Incans were one of the purest and most highly organized fascist governments ever to come down the pike of history. The government was king and vice-versa. The interests of everyone were subservient to the king who, of course, was the son of the sun. Here is what Prescott in his “Conquest of Peru” has to say about Inca government:

“[the Peruvian monarchy] watched with unweaned solicitude over its subjects, provided for their physical necessities, was mindful of their morals, and showed, throughout, the affectionate concern of a parent for his children, it yet regarded them only as children, who were never to emerge from the state of pupilage, to act or to think for themselves, but whose whole duty was comprehended in the obligation of implicit obedience.

Such was the humiliating condition of the people under the Incas.”

The Incas emerged at about 100AD from the Sacred Valley, the valley of Cuzco. Over the next 1400 years they soaked up small tribes like paper towels after a milk spill; sometimes by diplomacy, sometimes by force of arms. Hugh Thomas in his book The Golden Empire (Random House, NY, 2010, p. 219) writes:

About a.d.1200 the third mythical Inca--the ruler was so-called--carried the tribe’s authority beyond Lake Titicaca, with expeditions to the eastern forests as well as to the Pacific and beyond La Paz to what is now Bolivia. Nazca and Arequipa came into Inca control in the early 15th century, and in the next hundred years, the seventh Inca, who took as an additional name that of the god Viracocha, defeated and absorbed the till then powerful Chanca at the battle of Xaquixaguana, a turning point in the history of the country. Then Pachacuti, “the best all-round genius produced by the native races of America” in the words of the archeologist Sir Clements Markham, established in the early fifteenth century what seems to have deserved the name of empire, comprising much of the coastal plain and an important part of the Andes...Pachacuti was the Ch’in emperor of the New World. His son Tupac Yupanqui added much of Ecuador to the Inca empire in the second half of the fifteenth century and conquered half of Chile.

This is what the genius of Pachacuti gave rise to. The society was ordered in such a way that the majority of the manufactured wealth, mainly from mining and from agriculture went to the king and his class. Within the Incan ruling class were a group of bureaucrats whose job it was to inspect storehouses built and maintained by local tribes throughout the empire for the benefit of the king’s armies marching further and further in a tsunami of conquest. A portion of the goods was set aside for the king. This in no way distinguished Incan rulers from their European counterparts. When the conquistadores came to South America and wreaked their special brand of havoc on the people and its structures, they, too, were required to put aside what was known as the “king’s share.”

Below the bureaucrats were the soldiers and below them the villagers, farmers and, of course, the stone workers who built the magnificent cities of the Incas. Each class was required to contribute to the royal coffers. A complicated system of highways connected the various parts of the Incan empire and the bureaucrats were constantly traveling these roads to make sure the engine was producing for the monarch and his military.

There was a certain benevolence attached to the reign that separates it from most fascist governments and is probably the reason for the appellation “Incan communism.” As long as everyone did his job, no one was allowed to go under. The empire would restore destroyed houses, take care of the lame, the infirm and the elderly. It provided a number of services that essentially meant that if you kept your nose clean, we’ll take care of you. One thing was ostentatious in its absence. No one, but no one ever advanced. Whatever class you were born into, you died out of. The system was one big welfare state for everyone with the lion’s share of the welfare at the top but with enough set aside for the needs of the population so that no one was starving, without shelter or jobless.

The great similarity between the Inca Empire and the U.S., of course, is the migration of wealth to the top. History teaches us that, no matter what the form of government, far more often than not, that's where the wealth ends up.