From Rousseau to Marx
The State is employed to suppress workers and the people, letting them starve if no longer useful. State machinery is: government, police, army. Successful revolution changes all, and installs new power. What does dictatorship of proletariat mean?
From Rousseau to Marx
Fernando García Izquierdo
Human society and the State. In the matter of social relations and what is known as the social compact, I will be trying to show in these pages, first, how the State has always stood in open antagonism to the working class, and, secondly, why the working class cannot take hold of the ready-made state machinery and wield it for its own purpose. According to historians, the State first appeared as a form of governance four or five thousand years ago, either in Egypt, Mesopotamia or China. Whatever the place where it first appeared and the number of years since, it is important to note that the State has always proved to be an instrument of domination and that, when this form of governance emerged, humans had been treading the earth for a million years or more in some sort of classless society. There is, therefore, nothing inherent in the State that makes it indispensable. In Europe, it was Solon who, by destroying the ancient organisation of society, constituted the first State, in the city of Athens. That was about eight hundred years ago.
A community of Interests. Some philosophers in the eighteenth century began to wonder why the existence of the State implied the division of humans into classes, the rich and the poor. They contended that humans in society should be seeking ‘l’ntérêt général’. That is why (they said) they came together to form a compact. Quite right, the will of all must count: ‘The general interest’.
What happened, then, seeing that the interest of a few always prevails? Did the peope voluntarily choose tyranny, is that the General Will? Among these thinkers there was one who reached the conclusion that the compact, ‘ne sert qu’à maintenir le pauvre dans sa misère et le riche dans son usurpation.’ (i.e. The State with its laws always keeps the poor in their poverty and the rich in the position they have usurped from the people. And this philosopher, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, saw in the accumulation of wealth the greatest evil of all. ‘I could prove that, if we have a few rich and powerful men at the pinnacle of fortune and grandeur,’ he said in one of his essays, ‘while the crowd grovels in want and obscurity, it is because the former prize what they enjoy only insofar as others are destitute of it; and because, without changing their condition, they would cease to be happy the moment the people ceased to be wretched.’ There is something diabolic, it must be agreed, in a wealthy man ‘who seeks to make the masses wretched, simply for his own pleasure.’ Anyhow, the fact is that the ‘rich and powerful men’, who exploit the poor, ‘would cease to be happy the moment’ they could exploit them no more. That is a fact. And I would say that, as a matter of principle, they do not waste their time wondering whether the people they exploit are wretched or not. They leave these matters of morality to their priests, who (like the pope) invite their rich parishioners to chant a prayer asking the Almighty to care for the suffering masses. As for themselves (the rich), it is their profits they care about.’ Full stop. Let me note that I use above the expression ‘worker’ for want of a better word, knowing that at the moment of this writing one half of the exploited class, having been made redundant by the ‘activist’ capitalists, no longer work.
The State machinery. In the State, the usurpers of power own and control the state machinery. That is to say (translating this notion into ordinary, expressive language), they dispose of an army, a navy and other forces, including, besides, a parliament, the courts, the civil guard, the police and all kinds of paramilitary groups, as well as the church and all the religious doctrines whose function it is to keep the people dormant.
I know some of my readers will cry: How come! the church? and, aren’t the parliament and the judiciary supposed to be independent? Well, they are not. The idea of the Three (independent) Powers came from the Baron de Montesquieu, who visited England and did not understand anything about the ‘marvellous’ English constitution, where the Sovereign had ‘the veto’, the House followed the executive naturally, and Justice was never the same for the rich and the poor.
Now, when we hear our politicians and similar stooges say that ‘they will impose and implement (upon the rebellious elements of the nation) the Force of the Law’, we see that they intend to use the state-machinery, all of it, to impose their will upon the workers, for which purpose it (said state-machinery) is contrived, including the courts, despite all appearance.
You don’t need to be a great thinker to see and understand that by the establishment or maintenance of what they call ‘Law and Order’, they mean the ‘Law’ that keeps the workers down, and the ‘Order’ imposed by the Tyrant, the dominant class which tries to hide its real face under the façade of ‘Democracy’. Tyranny with a coat of Liberty, that’s what it is.
About the Church, which I have also included among ‘the instruments’ used by the rich and powerful for their own purpose, you only need to study history to know that the rich have always used religion to make the people be ‘everywhere in chains.’
Until Rationalism entered the scene, a few centuries ago, the belief was that, as the world was created by God, it must remain as it is, tel queI, immutable. God is always right, He makes no mistakes. In consequence, all the injustice we see around us, all this wickedness, the repression of the suffering masses, the colonisation of other peoples and their lands, those terrible wars of conquest and many many other crimes… all that madness in which our society is immersed, is quite alright, for it has been ordained from Above that it should be so. Power, which is always in the hands of a minority, must continue in their hands, the elite. They have been chosen by God to command: Ordeno y Mando.
And the paid sycophants still go further, in their speeches and their writings; they contend that, as those ‘men in the pinnacle of fortune and power’, have been placed where they are by God, they must be the best: superior human beings, endowed with more brain-power and so on and so forth. The working people, as a class, are to remain in chains forever, because they are uncouth, don’t you see?, they lack the knowledge, intelligence and other qualities besides. Yes, my dear reader, Religion means all that, and it continues to create war wherever it sets foot on, the division among humans, superior and inferior, etc.
So what did Enlightenment mean? Very few ever dared to challenge the theories and actual dogmas in which our ancestors were immersed until at least the second part of the eighteenth century. It was in part because science began to prove that this theological doctrine of the ‘Creation of the World by God’ was a pure invention, that thinking human beings began asking themselves real questions (I am here particularly referring to the creation of the State) about our ancestors of primeval times. Anthropology, however, was not well advanced, and our philosophers of the eighteenth century had all read and followed the religious Scriptures; so that the conclusion had to be that Man was created by God, who left him roaming the earth. The philosophers, then, began to think that Man, in the beginning, was a solitary being, in the jungles and deserts of the world. Until one day Men, with their women, children and cattle, came together, signed a so-called Social Contract and the State was constituted. Miraculously, then, Man passed from the State of Nature (sometimes described as ‘savagery’) to the State of Society (sometimes said to be ‘civilisation’.)
We have said Men. We should have said Humans (homo sapiens), already endowed with the quality of Reason, and that reason also meant freedom, the one necessarily going with the other. After a long period of solitary roaming, Man had constituted a family (they said), and it was then that the wish to constitute a ‘community’ was born. And ultimately, humans who lived freely in the state of nature became subdued. What happened when they entered the state of civil society that in the end made them slaves?
Rousseau started his main philosophical work precisely with this question. ‘Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains. How did this change come about?’ Elsewhere he had said: ‘It is a noble and beautiful spectacle to see man raising himself, so to speak, from nothing by his own exertions; dissipating, by the light of reason, all the thick clouds in which he was by nature enveloped; mounting above himself; soaring in thought even to celestial regions; like the sun, encompassing with giant strides the vast extent of the universe; and, what is still grander and more wonderful, going back into himself, there to study man and get to know his own nature, his duties and his end.’
And when he came to write his book ‘Du Contrat Social’, he knew that a large proportion of the members of the community were simply slaves. He contends that, prior to the constitution of the State, they were free. When they decided to come together to form some sort of ‘civil society’, thinking of taking a step forward, dissipating all the thick clouds in which humans were by nature enveloped, as he says, they created instead a form of society which was not led by ‘the general will’, as envisaged, but by a few usurpers, what had happened?
This is, to me, the most important question consequent to (the supposed) formation of the State by ‘a social contract’.
‘Each of us puts his person and all his power in common under the supreme direction of the general will, and, in our corporate capacity, we receive each member as an indivisible part of the whole. At once, in place of the individual personality of each contracting party, this act of association creates a moral and collective body’.
It is a great and honest idea. Symbolically, it represents the birth of Democracy following the General Will. We wish that the State had respected this democratic idea and had been a mode of governance where the ‘compact’ had become a ‘community of interests’, not a way for the few to exploit the masses.
‘How did this change come about?’ is the first question Rousseau asks himself in his book. ‘I do not know,’ he answers. ‘What can make it legitimate? That question I think I can answer.’ He can’t, because there is nothing that can legitimise an act of usurpation and murder.
Accepting for moment the idea of a ‘Social Contract’, what happened from the passage of ‘savagery’ to ‘civilisation’, in truth, was that humans lost their freedom with the constitution of the State. There were some writers (Thomas Hobbes) who said that men in the state of nature were so ferocious, living in ‘a condition of war of every one against everyone,’ that for the purpose of ‘preserving his life against his enemies, right is laid aside’. In other words, men joined to constitute a State, voluntarily handing their liberty to a Prince.
The purpose of all this writing was, of course, to justify tyranny. Paid officials began to write their rubbish, of course. The State was an act of voluntary surrender of the masses to an elite, they contended. I have used the word ‘Prince’, but I mean a ‘dominating few’. Hobbes himself uses expression ‘to some certain person, or persons’.
There were many psycophants writing the same sort of rubbish. Rousseau referred to them indirectly when he wrote : ‘la vérité ne mène point à la fortune, et le peuple ne donne ni ambassades, ni chaires, ni pensions.’ (Writing the truth you will not get rich, nor obtain the job of ambassador, or a university chair or a big pension.)
But is Liberty surrendered voluntarily?
When the State was formed (these philosophers write), all the members of the community decided to become subjected to a ‘Prince’. To soften the pill, these writers say that the people acted so in exchange for protection. Man in primeval times, it was contended, were ever fearful of the uncontrollable forces of a hostile nature, impenetrable jungles, terrible deserts, that horrible thunder, and the lightning, expression of the fury of the gods, the unreachable peaks of the mountains, famines from time to time, and many other natural calamities; of what not the least the attacks from equally ferocious human groups. All that deserved careful consideration, all induced primitive men to submit to a leader; the Greeks called him basileus. And the ‘basilei’ have continued to this day to suppress the people.
It is funny that the capitalists (since 1944) have little by little, year after year made our workers slaves because (as when the Leviathan was threatening in Hobbes’ time, the Pentagon and retinue were protecting them… you see! from communism.
The family the most ancient society?
But let us go to the moment when the invention of the State enslaved the majority of the members of the ‘social compact’. That is to say, the question of how isolated men, roaming the earth in the state of nature, decided to constitute ‘civil society’. It was sex, apparently, that made primitive Man to form a community, and that first desire, automatically, first made Man enter ‘the state of society’.
‘The most ancient of all societies, and the only one that is natural,’ Rousseau writes, ‘is the family: and even so the children remain attached to the father only so long as they need him for their preservation’.
This conception (shared by most thinkers of the time) that a pater-familias was the first ‘founder’ of society, and that several families coming together formed clans, and the clans afterwards grew into tribes, follows entirely the ‘teachings’ of the Scriptures. But these teachings are wrong.
Mankind would have to wait another hundred years to get to know better. It is the materialistic interpretation of history which gives the answer to the question of the origin of the family and the State, and, more to the point of private property and the exploitation of human by human.
The horde, not the family, is the origin of society.
Society did not start by means of a Social Contract signed by Solitary Men deciding henceforth to live together. The horde is the highest social group observable among animals. It is because our remote ancestors (the hominids) descended from a race of primates, essentially gregarious, that homo sapiens made its appearance upon the earth.
‘The individual’s inadequate power of defence was compensated and replaced by the united strength and joint effort of the horde,’ writes Frederich Engels in one of his essays.
The idea that men (homo sapiens) came together to sign a so-called social and thus society was born is absurd. The ancestors of homo sapiens already lived in a state of society, and it is because of this that they developed the art of communication, language, and collaboration, division of labour, etc., all the qualities without which Humanity cannot exist.
In relation with the important question of how Power came to be in the hands of a few, to the prejudice of all the other members of the group, Engels shows that the desire of men to accumulate wealth had a lot to do with the submission of the many to the few, which is the essence of the State. To prove his point, he goes back to the horde and shows that the origin of private property runs a parallel course with the origin of the Monogamous Family. When our ancestors moved about in hordes, promiscuity was the order of the day. The children were the children of the horde. Paternity was unknown. Motherhood was the important thing. Woman was the link that kept the community united. The status of Woman then was not at all inferior to that of Man, as it is today.
It happened in the course of time (thousands of years must have passed) that the so-called pairing family was formed. Preference of the moment must have led to the ‘loving pair’ and, for once, the man got to know his offspring. In the hordes there was no private property to speak of. Some tools and weapons must have been cherished by ‘the possesors’, even when the horde was essentially nomadic, but this was all. (Reading the tragedies of Ancient Greece, when warriors and semi-gods fought for the possession of valuable bronze weapons, we can see this, and what was the condition of our ancestors, in the period of the passage from savagery to civilisation.)
The birth of ‘private property’, was in a way due to the desire (of men) to perpetuate possession, when paternity became known with the start of the pairing-family. And on the side, it happened then that Woman became for ever the slave of Man… jealousy, fear of being betrayed and not being sure of the paternity of the heir, placed all women in chains. Monogamy was sanctified, so to say, and the obligation for the women ‘to be faithful’, too. But for the men there was no such obligation. Forever more men practiced extra-marital sex whenever and wherever it suited them. To consolidate ‘the victory of private property,’ Engels writes, ‘over original, naturally developed, common ownership’, the re-organisation of society was needed, and ‘l’homme partout est dans les fers’.
‘An essential feature of the State, is the constitution of ‘a public power’ distinct from the mass of the people,’ writes Engels. And the defence of private property was the catalyst.
In time the concept of private property would be made sacred by encyclics and civil-codes alike. Thus, in normal times, to defend the rich, the State will now use the Law instead of Force. ‘The exploiting class exploits the oppressed in its own interest; and if the exploited class fails to comply, and even becomes rebellious, it thereby shows the basest ingratitude to its benefactors, the exploiters.’ (Engels writes.) Whereupon, the State intervenes, to teach the workers a lesson.
Division into classes under the State.
‘The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggle,’ write jointly Karl Marx and Frederich Engels in the ‘Manifesto of the Communist Party’, written in 1847-1848. The social organisation existing previous to recorded history was then all but unknown. Engels, later on in life, said that the words ‘all hitherto existing society’ above quoted referred to the history of the State, a social form instituted with the passage from the state of nature to ‘civil society’. And he added that in prehistoric times there was primitive communism. No class struggle.
At the time Marx and Engels wrote the Manifesto, there were revolutions in Hungary and many other States of central Europe. They all failed, the state machinery, in each country, crushed them. ‘The dictatorship of the bourgeoisie’, was what the mentioned writers and militants in the class struggle said, in their meetings. ‘The formation of the proletariat into a class, the overthrow of the bourgeoisie’s supremacy and the conquest of power by the proletary’ were the necessary steps to overthrow Tyranny, they said. The State, in all its manifestations, was the enemy which keeps the workers down and the rich in the position they have usurped. (Marx lived in France at that time, having been chased out of Germany by the police; he met Engels in Paris, in an international workingmen’s meeting.)
How capitalism led one nation to the top.
‘The English constitute a nation of shopkeepers’, said Marx, one century after Adam Smith. England and the English had basked for decades in the shining glory of mercatilism, leading to imperialism. With a perfect empirical brain, Smith turned what he saw as he moved among the upper classes of the empire, into God’s very word. Wherever he turned his eyes he saw the Glory of the System. Economics, capitalist production, banking and financing, he only saw wealth, and he was enchanted. He knew that that wealth had its origin in the work of the people, but he failed to reach the right conclusion. It was the product of the work of the English. That yes, and very proud to know it. Good that Britannia Ruled the Waves, and sailors and soldiers had to be proud of their country conquering the world (nothing was said of the devastation of entire lands, for the benefit of the robbers that met every morning in the stock-echange and banks of the City, and in the evenings in the mansions of the rich for their grandiose soirées.)
From incipient capitalism to Marxian thought.
Adam Smith, writing in Britain at the beginning of the capitalistic era, in the name and on behalf of the English upper-classes, who ‘possessed’ the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and almost the entire planet, could not have produced a book with a purpose other than justifying the domination by the rich, and the exploitation by the same of the workers of the kingdom and the world.
The world he contemplated from his armchair, which was a world in which the greed of a few (mainly from European countries) had led them, strong as they were, to subdue the workers everywhere. His task, therefore, was to explain in his book that such injustice was justified. It constitutes progress.
He tells us, quite enthusiatically, that the use of machines constitutes ‘an easier method of performing’ and makes our society richer. Here we can but agree with him, specially when he explains that ‘a great part of the machines made use of, in those manufactures in which labour is most subdivided, were originally the invention of common workmen.’
He seems to have discovered that ‘the quantity of science having increased which enables to exchange a great quantity of the produce of labour in the market place, the organisation of labour is needed, each time at a higher level’.
This organisation, of course, is the capitalist mode of production, which deprives the workers, more and more, of their rights. All this is natural for Smith.
And when one would have expected to learn something about the distribution of the product of labour among all the members of society, not a word do we find in Adam Smith. Who cared in imperial Britain if all the produce of labour and capital, working together, went to the capitalists, the enterpreneurs? Of Society being constituted for the purpose of assuring the satisfaction of the needs of all the members, not a word either. Not a word about the general will, or public interest, etc. The majority of members are exploited (Smith must have seen that, as Dickens and other wise men and women saw a few years later, when capitalism was in the pinnacle of its glory) but he wrote not the slightest commentary.) While a minority benefits from the product of social labour, the worker gets nothing, unless he fights for it.
He tells us that others live worse, in Africa, for instance. ‘The accomodation of a European prince,’ says Adam Smith, ‘does not always so much exceed that of an industrious and frugal peasant, as the accomodation exceeds in the case of many an African king, the absolute master of the lives and liberties of ten thousand naked savages.’
In other words, we must rejoice that Englishmen, being exploited at home, are not so thoroughly exploited as are the workers of African countries by their rulers. Because of this the English workers must thank God that, though exploited, they are not so exploited as others. They (the Africans) are savages, we are free, free Englishmen, the greatest thing a mortal can be.
Englishmen who at once were engaged if the wonderful adventure of imperialism, as soldiers and sailors. English people who are henceforth to benefit (specially the rich) for centuries from the unlimited exploitation of those ‘savages’ thoughout the world.
The first imperialists to come out of Europe came from the Iberian Peninsula. They went to America seaching for gold, and carried with them into the New World the cross and the sword. The English imperialists were far more clever. They found and obtained gold, too. But, more importantly, they would secure the raw materials for their industries.
And Adam Smith, who served the rich people who fed him, foreseeing this imperial future, told the English and the other inhabitants of the British Isles, who would soon see their standard of living going down and down: Oh, rejoice, for you belong to the greatest race of all!
Wealth-accumulation proceeded at an increased pace.
Under capitalism the rich become richer, the poor poorer. Adam Smith had the time to see this. The workers were continually exploited, expropriated. The common good of which Rousseau spoke, in an earlier era, doesn’t interest him. Nobody, until Marx thoroughly studied and demolished his capitalist doctrine, dared criticise Adam Smith.
The usurpers must be expropriated.
The aim, according to Marx, must be to place the present state of society upside down; for that a revolution is necessary: the formerly exploited people must hold power.
‘The magnates of capital,’ he goes on. ‘who usurp and monopolise all advantages in the process of production, causing misery, oppression, slavery, degradation, exploitation of the workers are pulled down and a new era has started. ‘In the first place, we have the expropriation of the masses of the people by a few usurpers; in the latter we have the expropriation of a few usurpers by the mass of the people.’
According, then, to Marx and Engels, the struggle between capital and labour is unavoidable, the dictatorship of capital must disappear before humanity can really move forward: ‘it must be made to disappear through revolution and a new form of society must be born.’
Accumulation of capital in a few hands is one of the greatest evils in the present state of society. ‘The first task the working class must undertake is to take power. And at the same time, he encourages the workers not to abandon the day-to-day struggle, studying specifically the different situations. ‘These few hints’ Marx writes, ‘will suffice to show that the very development of modern industry must progressively turn the scale in favour of the capitalist against the working man, and that consequently the general tendency of capitalistic production is not to raise but to sink the average standard of wages, or to push the value of labour more or less to a minimum limit. Such being the tendency of things in this system, is this saying (he asks) that the working class ought to renounce their resistence against the encroachment of capital and abandon their attempts at making the best of the occasional chances for their temporary improvement? If they did, they would be degraded to one level mass of broken wretches past salvation.’ (And he concludes:) ‘I think I have shown that their struggles for the standard of wages are incidents inseparable from the whole wages system, that in 99 cases out of 100 their efforts at raising wages are only efforts at maintaining the given value of labour, and that the necessity of debating their price with the capitalist is inherent in their condition of having to sell themselves as commodities. By cowardly giving way in their every day conflict with capital, they will certainly disqualify themselves for the iniciating of any larger movement.’
But above all capitalism must be pulled down, by force if necessary ‘At the same time the working class’ he writes, ‘ought not to forget that they are fighting with the effects, but not with the causes of those effects. They ought to understand that, with the miseries it imposes upon them, the present system simultaneously engenders the material conditions and the social forms necessary for the economical reconstruction of society.’ The State, in its present form must disappear.
Dictatorship of the proletariat.
To understand all this, one must understand what was the State from the beginning of human history; this is why I started with Rousseau and with the state of nature, humans in primeval times. With the triumph of the communist revolution the struggle for a classless society has to continue.
‘The political movement of the working class (Marks writes to a friend and fellow-fighter), ‘has as its ultimate object, of course, the conquest of political power. Between capitalist and communist society lies the period of the revolutionary transformation of the one into the other. Corresponding to this is also a political transition period in which the State can be nothing but the revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat.’
I would be hard put to explain what Dictatorship of the Proletariat may mean, or how it is brought into practice. Simply, I don’t know.
What I do know, and very well, is all that refers to the States where I have lived all my life, under the Dictatorship of Capital. But I am not going to enter in the matter of how this dictator (capital) acts, commits its crimes (there are many) and what kind of miracles it performs. For all that is beyond the subject of the present article and, besides, I have already written quite a bit about it.
But I want to add something else, about capitalism, which I have recently learned for a fact (history is recording it already); though, to tell the truth, I long suspected this.
During these last few months, we all have learned, thanks to Edward Snowden and other equally courageous men and women, that the Number One Leader of Capitalism (or Free World, however the reader prefers), is not only causing wars and destruction everywhere, but… it has been keeping for years (and is still at it) full control over nearly everyone of its own citizens and is extending said control to all of us, humans on this poor earth of ours, ‘entreprenant une investigation planétaire’ as a journalist said on the French radio the other day.
Keeping control, then, of everyone of us? Yes, name, surname, address, phone numbers, properties, bank accounts, movements, personal likes and desires, relations with other people, travels, writings, calls, habits, medicines, drugs, every single personal detail, physical appearance and defects, a whole list of friends and relatives, what you read and what you listen to, even your profoundest thoughts… all is there. Big Brother singing the Mikado ‘I’ve got’em on the list, I’ve got’em on the list.’
Is this not a gross, satanic Dictatorship?