How the State Arose

When Marxists speak of the state it is not in the sense that many in the U.S. are accustomed to; it is not in reference to, for instance, the state of New York, Ohio or California. What is meant is the repressive apparatus of the government.

Some may even confuse the government with the state, but the state is wielded by the government — which is part of the superstructure of capitalist or bourgeois society.

The superstructure of capitalist society is born of the objective conditions of a society, based on profit derived from exploitation and from the social relations of such society.
The state, simply, as the repressive apparatus of the government — the courts, the prisons, the police, and the military — stands to maintain the social relations as they are, to protect the owning and possessing few from the exploited and oppressed masses.

Has the state always existed? This question can partly be answered by posing another: Have there always been classes?

Examining history through the science of materialism is required to see the basis for the need of the state.

Human beings have existed on the Earth for hundreds of thousands of years, but the organization of human societies un- der the rule of the state is only maybe 6,000 years or so.
If one were to measure history by a yardstick, then the period of history where the state has existed would account for less than an inch.

For hundreds of thousands of years human beings lived in societies that had no state — no cops, no jails, no armies. Disputes were handled through social mediation and pressure.
What conditions then produced the state? How did the state arise from the older stateless societies?

The state first came into existence around 4,000 BCE. Before that, societies existed communally, sharing as necessary because of scarcity. As production capability began to change, a surplus beyond what was necessary to survive from one day to the next was produced.

The surplus was hoarded and made the private property of a few, while the majority had no property. From this came the split of humanity into classes: the propertied and those who possessed no property.

An apparatus, the state, grew from antagonisms between the propertied and the non-propertied. The state existed then, in its earlier forms, as it does now — as specially trained and armed people who protect the interests of the few owners of wealth from the great majority who are impoverished.

It is from these early conditions that ancient slave society emerged, where human beings became property of the wealthy.

The Roman Empire was a slave society. More than 50 percent of the society was enslaved. To maintain this reality, the Romans needed a vast army of thousands of soldiers whose primary tasks were to protect the status quo, put down slave rebellions and conquer more territory.

While the Roman Empire collapsed, it was eventually replaced by another form of the state. In the feudal state, serfs toiled on land owned by feudal lords. Wealth was derived from serfs paying the great majority of what they produced to the feudal lords, keeping only a meager portion with which they could barely sustain themselves and their families. The armies of feudal society were kept and paid by the lords, who used them to suppress the serfs.

The capitalist class arose in opposition to the landed aristocracy. This early capitalist class was composed of merchants and shopkeepers eager to produce more wealth through commerce and trade. In bloody civil wars, in one country after the other, they overthrew the old ruling powers to set up a state to serve their needs where the old state formation could not.

The capitalist states that arose in Europe and later in the U.S. used vast armies to subdue the people of Asia, Africa and the Americas in order to exploit them and their natural resources. Most people around the world had lived in societies with earlier formations of the state or where there existed no state at all, such as many of the peoples of North America and the Caribbean.

The imperialist nations of Europe and the U.S. have developed the state to huge proportions, building vast armies with enormous budgets and high-tech weaponry that can destroy whole cities.

The state and its reason for existence is more apparent as more and more oppressed and exploited people in the U.S. and around the world fight back against the conditions imposed upon them.

What is Marxism all about?

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