Pre-20th century history
A small group of farming or herding families living together on a jointly managed piece of land is one of the most common living arrangements in all of human history as this has co-existed and competed with more individualistic forms of ownership as well as state ownership since the beginnings of agriculture. Private ownership came to predominate in much of the Western world and is therefore better studied. The process by which Western Europe's communal land and other property became private is a fundamental question behind views of property, namely is it the legacy of historical injustices and crimes? Karl Marx believed that what he called primitive communism (joint ownership) was ended by exploitative means he called primitive accumulation. By contrast, libertarian thinkers say that by the homestead principle whoever is first to work on the land is the rightful owner.
During the Aztec rule of central Mexico, the country was divided into small territories called calpulli, which were units of local administration concerned with farming as well as education and religion. A calpulli consisted of a number of large extended families with a presumed common ancestor, themselves each composed of a number of nuclear families. Each calpulli owned the land and granted the individual families the right to farm parts of it. When the Spanish conquered Mexico they replaced this with a system of haciendas or estates granted by the Spanish crown to Spanish colonists, as well as the encomienda, a feudal-like right of overlordship colonists were given in particular villages, and the repartimiento or system of indigenous forced labor.
Following the Mexican Revolution, a new constitution in 1917 abolished any remnant of feudal-like rights hacienda owners had over common lands and offered the development of ejidos: communal farms formed on land purchased from the large estates by the Mexican government.
Iroquois and Huron of the North American Great Lakes region
Latter-day Iroquois longhouse housing several hundred people
The Huron had an essentially communal system of land ownership. The French Catholic missionary Gabriel Sagard described the fundamentals. The Huron had "as much land as they need[ed]." As a result, the Huron could give families their own land and still have a large amount of excess land owned communally. Any Huron was free to clear the land and farm on the basis of usufruct. He maintained possession of the land as long as he continued to actively cultivate and tend the fields. Once he abandoned the land, it reverted to communal ownership, and anyone could take it up for themselves. While the Huron did seem to have lands designated for the individual, the significance of this possession may be of little relevance; the placement of corn storage vessels in the longhouses, which contained multiple families in one kinship group, suggests the occupants of a given longhouse held all production in common.
The Iroquois had a similar communal system of land distribution. The tribe owned all lands but gave out tracts to the different clans for further distribution among households for cultivation. The land would be redistributed among the households every few years, and a clan could request a redistribution of tracts when the Clan Mothers' Council gathered. Those clans that abused their allocated land or otherwise did not take care of it would be warned and eventually punished by the Clan Mothers' Council by having the land redistributed to another clan. Land property was really only the concern of the women, since it was the women's job to cultivate food and not the men's.
The Clan Mothers' Council also reserved certain areas of land to be worked by the women of all the different clans. Food from such lands, called kěndiǔ"gwǎ'ge' hodi'yěn'tho, would be used at festivals and large council gatherings.
The obshchina (Russian: общи́на, IPA: [ɐpˈɕːinə], literally: "commune") or mir (Russian: мир, literally: "society" (one of the meanings)) or Selskoye obshestvo (Russian: сельское общество ("Rural community", official term in the 19th and 20th century) were peasant communities, as opposed to individual farmsteads, or khutors, in Imperial Russia. The term derives from the word о́бщий, obshchiy (common).
The vast majority of Russian peasants held their land in communal ownership within a mir community, which acted as a village government and a cooperative. Arable land was divided into sections based on soil quality and distance from the village. Each household had the right to claim one or more strips from each section depending on the number of adults in the household. The purpose of this allocation was not so much social (to each according to his needs) as it was practical (that each person pay his taxes). Strips were periodically re-allocated on the basis of a census, to ensure equitable share of the land. This was enforced by the state, which had an interest in the ability of households to pay their taxes.