Saturday, February 27, 2021

The Workers and the State (1946)

From the February 1946 issue of the Socialist Standard

The world’s workers have been conscripted, categorised, rationed and regimented by the power of the State, ruthlessly should they live in dictatorship countries, by their “consent” in the democracies. In spite of this the Socialist view that the State is “the executive committee of the ruling class” is contested by many. Let us therefore take a swift survey of the evidence of history.

The Social institution called the State had its genesis in the advent of private property, and its beginning took place after thousands of years in man’s history, during which he had no concept of private property as such. From these misty eons of time we find that man, and the word includes woman, in the unequal fights against the forces of nature, banded together in tribes or clans in which all implements and provisions were the common property of the whole community, and no trace has been found by philologists of the words mine and thine in use during this immense period of primitive communism.

The tribes practised complete economic and social equality, there being therefore no classes, no law or state, only the observance of the tribal rites and customs; everyone took part in the common tasks of the day and had an equal voice in the election of officers. An injury to one was an injury to all in this democracy where the social relation was that of kinship, and the greatest punishment, banishment to the world of terrors outside the tribe.

Writers on this period of man’s development (Engels' “Origin of the Family”) describe how the “means of production” evolved and changed man from the savage hunting the animals for food armed only with crude weapons, to that of barbarian who now domesticated the animals and became a pastoralist, the period which ushers in the dawn of civilisation, and private property.

So close was man always to the edge of famine that the need for moving to new hunting grounds inevitably brought him into conflict with other occupants and during these forays captives were taken and killed; sometimes they were eaten. Man later learned that the captives could provide many meals if put to attend the pastures and cattle he had acquired.

So the enslavement of man by man aided by the increasing knowledge of agriculture begun the private ownership of the means of life.

This new method of production gave rise to wealthy families and poor families and in place of the communal family group there came the inferiority of woman as the mere “help meet” of her lord and master, for only through him could their issue inherit the family property, now protected by the law and force of the State.

The age-old tribal communism had been broken down by the needs and institutions that were set up and given the sanctity of authority by the class which owned and controlled land, cattle, money and slaves. The city states which eventually arose in the congenial Mediterranean area were based on this class ownership and were the scene of the violent class-struggles which fill the history books, and it is a sobering thought that the philosophy, architecture, and oratory of Rome and Athens were only made possible by the labours of a slave class whose toil gave the owners the comfort and leisure to pursue those studies.

The republic of Rome was organised on a military basis and had a constitution drawn up which divided the population into six classes, each class holding votes according to its property strength, whilst for defence each vote in the legislature carried the duty of providing a centurion or officer over a hundred men drawn from the populace It is a commentary on modern war that the poorest of the proletariat, having no property, were not asked to defend their “way of life”; they being classified as mere breeders by the Roman state.

Thus the possessing class held political power during the time of Rome battling against its Italian tribal neighbours and later as the centre of an empire holding the greater part of Europe and Africa in its grip. The slave system ate into the heart of the Roman state and brought ruin and decadence in its train; the slave taken in war. or made so by debt, was considered a chattel that had no legal right to properly, to marry or enter into a contract. Slaves often provided a Roman holiday as gladiators trained to fight each other in the arena, a training which served them in good stead in one of the several Servile Wars that broke out. Spartacus, joined by the gladiators' school, roused the slaves, trained them and inflicted defeats on the Roman army for four years, the revolt being finally crushed and its supporters brutally burnt or crucified in thousands by the victors.

Reform in the late days of the Empire allowed the slave to buy his freedom, or as a serf to farm a plot of the broken up estates, for work had become a degradation in the eyes of the Romans, and by now the large landowners had ruined the small owners by estates run entirely by slaves brought from the imperial wars by a paid proletarian army. Rome became filled with discharged soldiery, freed men and proletarians, demanding bread and land from a ruling class replete with the plunder and tribute of the wars and colonies. No the state gave them doles, circuses, and more wars. Furthermore, the state declared the “public ownership" of the slave's religion, Christianity, long persecuted for hinting that the slave was as good as his owner—in heaven. Yet nothing could allay the rot of such a slave economy, and Rome offered little resistance when beset by the Teutonic hordes from outside.

The fall of Rome's military power saw the splitting up of Europe into many principalities and kingdoms which owed their existence to the usurping of the tribe and clan system by the warrior and land owning class, assisted now by the spiritual inheritor of Rome's power, the Roman Church, headed by the Pope. This epoch called Feudalism was one of chronic warfare over land in which the remnants of communal society were stamped out by the lauded chiefs, and where the Church as an arbiter became a great land-owning and political force used in bemusing and enforcing class rule on the enslaved class, the serfs. The theory of the state was one of service, and pyramidic in structure; the. king holding all land in his realm and granting its ownership to his subjects under bis protection, they swearing loyalty to him and his law while providing him with arms and soldiery according to their status. The serfs farmed their lord's land not as the uneconomical slaves of Rome but with the added interest of raising their own keep on strips of land granted them by the lord of the manor. Revolts, but more the need of the state for money, later gave the serfs the liberty to rent small plots, notably in England, as peasants.

Meanwhile another class was growing, that of the merchants and manufacturers, who resented the king’s power to tax and squander money on wars whilst they had no voice in the council of barons and king, and thus arose in England the Parliament of Commoners which the king summoned as he thought fit, generally for money, or as a lever in his quarrels with the barons. The townsmen or burghers grew more insistent against the church and king as the latter were fettering their ever-growing commerce by state restrictions and the ban on usury. This clash of interests found expression in religion, and Protestantism was adopted by the merchant class from the anti-Pope doctrines of Luther of Germany. Tactically they backed Henry VIII in his quarrel with the Pope over the breaking of his marriage vows, sacred to the feudal church, a schism whereby the crown “requisitioned” the church lands and wealth, thus severing its power.

The class struggle of the rising capitalist class went on through the reigns, and finally culminated in a civil war in which the Parliamentarians recruiting the yeomanry and townsmen ended absolute monarchy by defeating the Royalists and beheading their king, Charles I, in Whitehall.

With the state in the hands of the capitalist class we enter the era of industrial capitalism, where abroad the capitalists grab colonies and roam the world for markets and raw materials, while at home their allies the capitalist landlords drive the peasants off the land and into the towns where, as "free'’ men, they enter the factories to a new slavery, wage-dom, a revolution still pursued with variations in India and Russia to-day. The new mode of production, the hiring of labour power to operate power-driven machinery, places the whole wage class in subjection to the owners by virtue of the monopoly of the means of production in their hands. Furthermore, over and above the total wage bill it leaves in their possession enormous surpluses of commodities which they must trade abroad, therefore the state increases and jealously guards the spheres of influence and foreign markets for this overplus, for out of its sale comes the new capital to repeat the process of profit making. Should an actual threat by rivals arise the state invokes its power over propaganda, arms the wage workers and with many patriotic slogans urges them to annihilate the enemy of the national interests. These wars, local at first, have increasingly involved all in misery and destruction while with the advance of science the technique of war is revolutionised by new equipment and weapons.

To-day the state, with two world wars to its credit, becomes more authoritarian by the needs of modern total war, and must even in the "peace” retain in its hands the power to regiment workers and direct industry in readiness for a possible world war 3. Hence the long view of some capitalists in favouring nationalisation plans so beloved by the "left.”

We have made a case for the class and military nature of the state. Yet is it possible to end the state and the exploitation of man by man ?

The wars and poverty of capitalism are an unnecessary contradiction which grown-up mankind should not now tolerate, in view of the titanic output of wealth possible if society was freed from profit and class rule.

Socialists advocate the democratic social ownership of all means of wealth production, a return in fact to man's earlier practice, but on a mach higher plane, his forays for example were caused by hunger, not by surpluses.

The owning class is not fitted mentally to accomplish this great social change, it must be the work of the majority the now enfranchised workers, and they must not waste precious time reforming their masters' system but grasp the need for ending it before capitalism hurls us all into another conflagration which will leave surviving mankind the inheritor of mere dust and rabble.
Frank Dawe

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