The Factors of Race and Nation in Marxist Theory (2)
Stalin and the linguistics
11. The Stalinist theory that language is not a superstructure with respect to the economic base constitutes a false way of posing the problem that we need to solve, since the result that Stalin seeks to obtain lies elsewhere: at every step of the transition from one historical mode of production to the next we always find a change, both in the superstructure as well as the base or economic structure, a change in the power of the classes and of the position of the classes in society. But the national language does not follow the avatars of either the base or the superstructures since it does not belong to a class but to all the people in a particular country. Therefore, in order to save language and linguistics from the effects of the social revolution, we have to lead them (gradually, together with the national culture and the cult of the fatherland) along the banks of the turbulent river of history, outside of the terrain of the productive base as well as that of its political and ideological derivations.
According to Stalin (Marxism and Problems of Linguistics), over the last few years in Russia, "the old, capitalist base has been eliminated in Russia and a new, socialist base has been built. Correspondingly, the superstructure on the capitalist base has been eliminated and a new superstructure created corresponding to the socialist base…. But in spite of this the Russian language has remained basically what it was before the October Revolution".
The merit of these gentlemen (it is all the same whether this was written by Stalin, or whether it was written by Secretary X or by Department Y) is the fact that they have demonstrated a profound understanding of the art of simple, clear presentation, accessible to all, as has so often been said for the last hundred years in bourgeois cultural propaganda, and above all presented in a brazenly concrete manner. But this presentation that seems so direct and accessible is nothing but a con job, it is a complete relapse into the most vapid sort of bourgeois thinking.
The entire process is supposed to have taken place "correspondingly". How simple! Not only must we respond by pointing out that this process has not taken place, but also that even if it did, it would not have happened like that. In this formula that might have been drafted by a municipal clerk there is not a trace of dialectical materialism. The base influences the structure and has an active character? And in what sense does the derivative superstructure react in turn so that it is not totally malleable and passive? And with what cycles and in what order and at what historical velocity does the transformation and the process of substitution take place? Bah, these are Byzantine discourses! Enough of this moving the lever to the right and then to the left: Elimination! Creation! By God, out with the creator, out with the eliminator! This kind of materialism does not function without a demiurge, everything is converted into something that is conscious and voluntary, and there is no longer anything that is necessary and determined.
In any case, this argument can be shifted onto real ground: the economic base and the superstructure, by way of complex vicissitudes, had passed from being feudal under the Czar to being fully capitalist at the time of Stalin's death. Since the Russian language is basically the same, the language is not a part of the superstructure nor does it form part of the base.
It would appear that this entire polemic is directed against a school of linguistics that suddenly fell under suspicion, and that the leading figure of this school is the Soviet university professor, N. Y. Marr, with whose works we are not acquainted. Marr had said that language forms part of the superstructure. Listening to his accuser, we think that Marr is a good Marxist. His accuser says of him: "At one time, N. Y. Marr, seeing that his formula—‘language is a superstructure on the base'—encountered objections, decided to ‘reshape' it and announced that ‘language is an instrument of production.' Was N. Y. Marr right in including language in the category of instruments of production? No, he certainly was not." (Stalin, op. cit.).
And why was he mistaken? According to Stalin there is a certain analogy between language and the instruments of production, because the latter can also have a certain indifference with respect to classes. What Stalin means is that, for example, both the plow and the hoe can be used in the feudal, the bourgeois, and the socialist society. The difference, however, for which Marr was condemned (and Marx and Engels: labor, the production of tools in combination with language) is this: the instruments of production produce material goods, but language does not!
But the instruments of production do not produce material goods, either! The goods are produced by the man who uses the instruments of production! These instruments are employed by men in production. When a child first grabs the hoe by the blade, the father shouts at him: hold it by the handle. This cry, which is later transformed into a regular form of "instruction", is, like the hoe, employed in production.
Stalin's dull-witted conclusion reveals that the error is his: if language, as Stalin claims, were to produce material goods, then charlatans would be the richest people on earth! Yet is this not precisely the case? The worker works with his arms, the engineer with language: who earns more? It seems to us that we once recounted the story of that provincial landowner who, sitting in the shade and smoking his pipe, was constantly shouting, ‘swing that pick!' to the day-laborer he had hired, who was sweating and silently working. The landowner knew that even a brief let-up in the pace of the work would reduce his profits.
Dialectically, it seems to us that Marr had not mended his ways despite the spotlight that was directed on him: dialectically, because we are not familiar with him or his books. We have also said, for example, that poetry, from its very beginnings as a choral song for the transmission of memories, with a magical-mystical-technological character, the first means of transmitting the social patrimony, has the character of a means of production. That is why we included poetry among the superstructures of a particular epoch. The same is true of language. Language in general, and its organization into verses, are instruments of production. But a particular poem, a particular school of poetry, relative to a country or a century, because they are differentiated from the preceding and following poems and schools, form part of the ideological and artistic superstructure of a particular economic form, of a particular mode of production. Engels: the upper stage of barbarism "Begins with the smelting of iron ore, and passes into civilization with the invention of alphabetic writing and its use for literary records.… We find the upper stage of barbarism at its highest in the Homeric poems, particularly in the Iliad." Using this model we can also seek out other works and show that The Divine Comedy was the swan song of feudalism and that the tragedies of Shakespeare were the prologues to capitalism.
For the last Pontifex Maximus of Marxism the distinctive means of production of an epoch is forged iron but not alphabetic writing, because the latter does not produce material goods! But the human use of alphabetic writing was indispensable, among other things, for the capability to produce the specialty steels of modern metallurgy.
The same thing is true of language. It is a means of production in every epoch, but individual expression by means of language is part of the superstructure, as was the case with Dante Alighieri who did not write his poem in the Latin of the classics or the Church, but in the vulgar Italian, or as was the case of the language reform that marked the definitive abandonment of the old Saxon tongue and its replacement by modern literary German.
The same goes for the plow and the hoe. While it is true that any particular instrument of production can be found that spans two great social epochs separated by a class revolution, it is also true that the entire set of tools of any particular society "defines" it and "compels" it—due to the open conflict between the relations of production—to assume the new, rival form. In barbarism we find the potter's wheel and in capitalism the modern turntable with a reliable precision motor. And now and then a tool disappears in order to be converted, as in the classic case of the spinning wheel mentioned by Engels, into a museum piece.
Likewise with the plow and the hoe. The society of industrial capitalism cannot eliminate the small-scale, inefficient farming that requires the backbone of pithecanthropus, that was once so proudly erect, to be twisted and bent. But a communist organization with a complete industrial base will undoubtedly only engage in mechanized farming. And in this manner the language of the capitalists will be destroyed, and one will no longer hear those common formulas employed by the Stalinists who try to make us believe that they are marching forward together with that all-too-contradictory hodgepodge: morality, liberty, justice, popular rights, progressive, democratic, constitutional, constructive, productive, humanitarian, etc., which precisely comprise the apparatus thanks to which the most wealth ends up in the pockets of the loudmouths: a function that is identical with that of certain other, material, tools: the foreman's whistle, the policeman's handcuffs.
The Idealist Theory of National Language
12. To deny that human language in general has an origin and a function as a productive instrument, and that the superstructures of class societies include (even among those that are not immediately but gradually replaced) the local and contingent spoken and written language, is equivalent to a complete regression to idealist doctrines, and amounts to politically embracing the bourgeois postulate of the transition to a common language on the part of the literate people of diverse dialects and the erudite persons of an entire politically united country, a real linguistic revolution that heralded the advent of the capitalist epoch.
Since, according to the text that we are examining, language is not a superstructure of the economic base, nor is it a productive instrument, we have to ask: exactly how is it defined?
Let's see: "Language is a medium, an instrument with the help of which people communicate with one another, exchange thoughts and understand each other. Being directly connected with thinking, language registers and fixes in words, and in words combined into sentences, the results of the process of thinking and achievements of man's cognitive activity, and thus makes possible the exchange of thoughts in human society" (Stalin, op. cit.). This is therefore supposed to be the Marxist solution of the problem. We do not see how any orthodox traditional ideologist could object to this definition. It is clear that according to this definition humanity prospers by means of a labor of research elaborated in thought and formulated in ideas, passing from this individual phase to a collective one involving its application by way of the use of language, which allows the discoverer to pass on the results of his discovery to other men. And so the materialist development with which we are concerned here (in conformance with the usual quotations from our basic texts) is completely discarded: from action to the word, from the word to the idea, this being understood not as a process that is carried out by an individual, but by society; or more correctly: from social labor to language, from language to science, to collective thought. The function of thought in the individual is derivative and passive. Stalin's definition is thus pure idealism. The presumed exchange of thoughts is the projection of bourgeois commodity exchange into the realm of fantasy.
It is very strange that the accusation of idealism falls upon the disgraced Marr, who, by upholding the thesis of changes in language, apparently reached the point where he could predict a decline in the function of language, which would then give way to other forms. Marr is accused of having thus hypothesized that thought could be transmitted without language, and therefore of having become mired in the swamp of idealism. But in this swamp those who presume they are floating high above Marr are the most pitiful. Marr's thesis is depicted as in contradiction with this passage from Karl Marx: Language is "the immediate reality of thought…. Ideas do not exist divorced from language."
But is it not the case that this clear statement of the materialist thesis is totally denied by Stalin's definition mentioned above, according to which language is reduced to a means for the exchange of thoughts and ideas?
We shall reconstruct Marr's bold theory in our own way (we may do so thanks to the possession of a theory of the party that transcends generations and borders). Language is—and this is where Stalin stops—an instrument by means of which men communicate with each other. Does communication among men have nothing to do with production? This is what bourgeois economic theory maintains, according to which it appears that each person produces for himself and that he only encounters the other persons by way of the market, to see if he can cheat them. The correct Marxist expression would not be "language is a medium, an instrument with the help of which people communicate with one another, exchange thoughts and understand each other", but "language is a medium, an instrument with the help of which people communicate with one another and help each other produce". We therefore recognize that it is correct to consider language as a means of production. And as for that metaphysical "exchange thoughts and understand each other", six hundred thousand years have passed and it would appear we have all gone to the same school and we still do not understand it!
Language is thus a technological means of communication. It is the first such means. But is it the only one? Certainly not. Over the course of social evolution an increasingly more diverse series of such means has appeared, and Marr's speculation that other means might someday largely replace the spoken language is not so far-fetched. Marr is by no means saying that thought as an immaterial expression on the part of an individual subject will be transmitted to the other subjects without taking the natural form of language. Marr is evidently suggesting, with the formula that has been translated as a "process of thinking", that it will develop in forms that will be beyond language, not with reference to the metaphysical individual invention, but to the legacy of technological knowledge typical of a highly developed society. There is nothing eschatological or magical about this.
Let's take a look at a very simple example. The helmsman on a galley issued his orders "out loud". Just like the pilot of the sailing vessel and the skippers on the first steamships. "Full Steam Ahead … Full power … Back to half power …" The ships became much bigger and the captain shouted as loud as he could to issue orders to the boiler room, but this soon proved to be unsatisfactory, and after a period when voicepipes (a truly primitive invention) were used, a mechanical telephone with a crank was introduced, and later an electrical telephone, which connected the signaling quarters with the engineer. Finally, the instrument panel of a great airliner is full of displays and readouts that transmit all kinds of information from all parts of the plane. The spoken word is indeed being replaced, but by means that are just as material as it is, although obviously not as natural, just as modern tools are less natural than a cut-off piece of a branch used as a club.
We need not enumerate all the stages in this very long series. The spoken word, the written word, the press, the infinity of algorithms, of symbolic mathematics, which have now become international; which is what happens in all the fields of technology and general services which are regulated by conventions of open access for the transmission of precise information concerning meteorology, electronics, astronomy, etc. All electronic applications, radar and other such technologies, all types of signal receivers, are so many more new means of connection among men, which have been rendered necessary due to the complex systems of life and production, and which already in a hundred different ways bypass the word, grammar and syntax, whose immanence and eternity is defended by Stalin, who subjected Marr to such a formidable onslaught.
Is it possible that the capitalist system will cease to consider that the mode of conjugating the verb "to have", or the verb "to value", or of declining the possessive adjective and declaring that the personal pronoun must be the basis of any utterance, is eternal? Someday the use of the words "Your Honor" and "Your Lordship", just like the old "Thou", will make people laugh, just like the humble servant and the good business deals made by the travelling salesmen.
References and Distortions
13. In all Marxist analyses the thesis that the demand for a national language is a historical characteristic of all the anti-feudal revolutions is of fundamental importance, since this national language was necessary to unite and establish communication between all the compartments of the emerging national market, in order to facilitate the transfer from one part of the national territory to another of the proletarians that had been liberated from glebe serfdom, and in order to fight against the influence of traditional religious, scholastic, and cultural forms that relied in part on the use of Latin as a common language of the learned, and in part on the diversity of local dialects.
To justify his novel theory of extra-classist language—a theory that is truly novel in the Marxist sense—Stalin strives to overcome the contradiction, evidently invoked from various angles, with texts from Lafargue, Marx, Engels, and even … Stalin. The good example offered by Lafargue is dismissed in summary fashion. In an article entitled, "The French Language Before and After the Revolution", Lafargue discussed an unforeseen linguistic revolution that took place in France between 1789 and 1794. That is too short a period of time, Stalin says, and if a very small number of words disappeared from the language, they were replaced by new ones. But the words that disappeared were precisely those words that were most closely related to the relations of social life. Some were proscribed by laws passed by the Convention. There is a well-known counterrevolutionary anecdote: "What is your name, citizen?" "Marquise de Saint Roiné." "Il n'ya plus de marquis!" (There are no more Marquis!) "De Saint Roiné!" "Il n'y a plus de ‘de'!" (There are no more noble prefixes for names!) "Saint Roiné!" "Il n'y a plus de Saints!" "Roiné!" "Il n'y a plus de rois!" (There are no more kings [rois]!) "Je suis né!" (I was born!) shouted the unfortunate. Stalin was right: the verb form "né" has not changed.
In a text entitled "Saint Max", which we confess we have not read, Karl Marx said that the bourgeoisie have their own language, which "itself is a product of the bourgeoisie" and that this language is permeated with the style of commercialism and of buying and selling. In fact, the merchants of Amberes, during the depths of the Middle Ages, were able to understand the merchants of Florence, and this is one of the "glories" of the Italian language, the mother language of capital. Just as in music you see the words "andante", "allegro", "pianissimo", etc. everywhere, so too in every European marketplace one heard the words "firma", "sconto", "tratta", "riporto" and everywhere the pestilential jargon of commercial correspondence was assimilated, "in response to your request…". So what answer does Stalin provide for this indisputable quotation? He invites us to read another passage from the same text by Marx: "… in every modern developed language, partly as a result of the historical development of the language from pre-existing material, as in the Romance and Germanic languages, partly owing to the crossing and mixing of nations, as in the English language, and partly as a result of the concentration of the dialects within a single nation brought about by economic and political concentration, the spontaneously evolved speech has been turned into a national language." So? The linguistic superstructure is still subject to the same process as the state superstructure and the economic base. But just as the concentration of capital, the unification of national exchange, and political concentration in the capitalist state are not instantly realized in their final form, since they are historical results linked to bourgeois rule and its cycle, the transition from local dialects to a unitary language constitutes a phenomenon that also proceeds in accordance with all these factors. The market, the state and power are national insofar as they are bourgeois. Language becomes national insofar as it is the language of the bourgeoisie. Engels, who is always cited by Stalin, says, in The Condition of the Working Class in England: the English "working-class has gradually become a race wholly apart from the English bourgeoisie…. The workers speak other dialects, have other thoughts and ideals, other customs and moral principles, a different religion and other politics than those of the bourgeoisie."
The patch applied here is also threadbare: Engels does not admit, by saying this, that there are class languages, since he is talking about dialects, and dialect is a derivative of the national language. But have we not established that the national language is a synthesis of dialects (or the result of a struggle among dialects) and that this is a class process, linked to the victory of a particular class, the bourgeoisie?
Lenin must therefore be forgiven for having recognized the existence of two cultures in capitalism, one bourgeois and the other proletarian, and that the campaign in favor of a national culture in capitalism is a nationalist campaign. Emasculating Lafargue, that valiant fellow, might be easy, but to then go on and do the same to Marx, Engels and Lenin is a difficult task. The answer to all of this is that language is one thing and culture is another. But which comes first? For the idealist who acknowledges abstract thought, culture is before and above language, but for the materialist, for whom the word comes before the idea, culture can only be formed on the basis of language. The position of Marx and Lenin is therefore as follows: the bourgeoisie will never admit that its culture is a class culture, since it claims that it is the national culture of a particular people, and thus the overvaluation of the national language serves as a major obstacle that stands in the way of the formation of a proletarian and revolutionary class culture, or rather, theory.
The best part is where Stalin, in the manner of Filippo Argenti, engages in self-criticism. At the 16th Congress of the party he said that in the era of world socialism all the national languages would be combined into one. This formula seems to be very radical, and it is not easy to reconcile it with the other one offered some time later concerning the struggle between two languages that ends with the victory of one of them which absorbs the other without the latter leaving a trace. The author then attempts to exculpate himself by saying that his detractors had not understood the fact that it was a matter of two very different historical epochs: the struggle and the merging of languages takes place in the midst of the capitalist epoch, while the formation of the international language will take place in the fully socialist epoch. "To demand that these formulas should not be at variance with each other, that they should not exclude each other, is just as absurd as it would be to demand that the epoch of the domination of capitalism should not be at variance with the epoch of the domination of socialism, that socialism and capitalism should not exclude each other." This jewel leaves us stupefied. Have not all the propaganda efforts on the part of the Stalinists been devoted to maintaining that the rule of socialism in Russia not only does not exclude the existence of capitalism in the West, but in addition that the two forms can peacefully coexist?
Only one legitimate conclusion can be drawn from this whole shameful display. Russian power can coexist with the capitalist nations of the West because it, too, is a national power, with its national language that is fiercely defended in all its integrity, far removed from the future international language, just as its "culture" is far removed from the revolutionary theory of the world proletariat.
The same author, however, is forced at a certain point to recognize that the national formation of languages strictly reflects that of the national states and national markets. "Later, with the appearance of capitalism, the elimination of feudal division and the formation of national markets, nationalities developed into nations, and the languages of nationalities into national languages." This is well said. But then he stumbles and says that, "History shows that national languages are not class, but common languages, common to all the members of each nation and constituting the single language of that nation" (Stalin, op. cit.). History dictated this lesson when it relapsed into capitalism. Just as in Italy, where the nobles, the priests and the educated elites spoke Latin, and the people spoke Tuscan, in England the nobles spoke French and the people spoke English, so too in Russia the revolutionary struggle led to the following result: the aristocrats spoke French, the socialists spoke German and the peasants spoke what we shall not deign to call Russian, but rather a dozen languages and a hundred dialects. Had the movement continued in accordance with Lenin's revolutionary designs it would soon have had a language of its own: everyone would have spoken a garbled version of "international French". But Joseph Stalin did not understand any of this French, either: only Georgian and Russian. He was the man of the new situation, a situation in which one language drags ten others along with it and in order to do so employs the weapon of literary tradition; the new situation was that of an authentic ruthless nationalism, which, like all the others, followed the law of concentration with regard to language by declaring it to be an intangible cultural patrimony.
It is unusual—or perhaps not so unusual if this movement does not refuse to exploit the sympathies and the support of the foreign proletariat for Marxist traditions—that the text claims to support that decisive passage from Lenin: "Language is the most important means of human intercourse. Unity of language and its unimpeded development form one of the most important conditions for genuinely free and extensive commercial intercourse appropriate to modern capitalism, for a free and broad grouping of the population in all its separate classes." It is therefore quite clear that the postulate of national language is not immanent but historical: it is linked—usefully—to the appearance of developed capitalism.
It is clear, however, that everything changes and is turned upside down when capitalism falls, and with it commercial society and the division of society into classes. The national languages will perish along with these social institutions. The revolution that fights against them is alien to and an enemy of the demand for a national language, once capitalism has been defeated.
Personal and Economic Dependence
14. It constitutes a radical departure from historical materialism to limit it to the epochs during which directly commercial relations between possessors of not only products but also of productive instruments, including land, prevailed. For the theory is also applicable to the preceding epochs before the appearance of the distinction between private possessors due to the establishment of the foundations of the first hierarchies in the family and gender relations. This error, that consists in leaving to non-determinist explanations all that relates to generative and family phenomena, is altogether consonant with the restoration of the linguistic element of the class dynamic; it always involves toleration of the fact that decisive sectors of social life should be withdrawn from the domain of the laws of dialectical materialism.
In a text expressly intended to criticize the Marxist interpretation of history, and claiming that the latter is reduced (as unfortunately occurs with some unwary and inexperienced followers of the communist movement) to deducing the developments of the political history from the conflict between classes that participate in different ways in economic wealth and its distribution, it is taken for granted that there was a time when there was already a complete organization of the state type and the social contest was not between classes of rich patrician landowners, impoverished plebian peasants and artisans, and slaves, because it was based on the authority of the father of the family.
The author of this text (DeVinscher, Property and Family Power in Ancient Rome, Brussels, 1952) distinguishes two stages in the history of juridical systems: one, the most recent, responsible for the well-known civil law that the modern bourgeoisie has embraced as its own, providing for the free disposal of any object and "fee simple ownership", whether in real property in land or property in other goods, which we may call the "capitalist" stage, and another, much older stage in which the civil administration and its legal codes were very different, in that they largely prohibited instances of transfer and sale except in cases where they were strictly regulated on the basis of the family order, which was patriarchal. This was supposed to be a "feudal" stage, if we contrast this feudalism and capitalism in the ancient world with respect to the characteristic feature that they contained a social class that was lacking in the Medieval and Modern eras, that of the slaves. The latter were excluded from legal rights because they were considered to be things, rather than persons subject to law: within the circle of free men, the citizens, a constitution based on the family and on personal dependence preceded the later one that was based on the free alienation of goods, in which the seller and the buyer engaged with their mutual consent.
The author attempts to refute the "priority that historical materialism has clearly granted to the notions of patrimonial right in the development of institutions". This would be true if the base to which historical materialism refers were the pure economic phenomenon of property, to patrimony in the modern sense, and if, moreover, this base did not embrace the entire life of the species and group and all the discipline of its relations that had arisen from environmental difficulties, and above all the discipline of generation and family organization.
As everyone knows and as we shall see in Part 2, in the ancient communities or phratries there was neither private property nor institutions of class power. Labor and production had already appeared and this is the material base, which is much more extensive than the one that is narrowly understood as juridical and economic in Marxist terminology: we shall demonstrate that this base is bound up with the "production of the producers", that is, the generation of the members of the tribe that is carried out with strict adherence to absolute racial purity.
In this pure gens there is no other dependence or authority than that exercised by the healthy and vigorous adult member of the tribe over the young members who are trained and prepared for a simple and serene life in society. The first authority arose in connection with the first limitations imposed on sexual promiscuity, and this authority was the matriarchy, in which the mother is the leader of the community: but during this era there was not yet any division of the land or anything else. The basis of such a division was created by the patriarchy, which was at first polygamous and later monogamous: the male leader of the family is a real administrative and military leader who regulates the activity of the children and also of the prisoners and that of the conquered peoples who became slaves. We are on the threshold of the formation of a class state.
Once this point is reached it is possible to understand in broad outlines the old Roman legal status, which lasted a millennium (Justinian definitively erased its last traces), the mancipium. People and things were in the power of the pater familias: the wife or wives, the children, who are free, the slaves and their offspring, the cattle, the land and all the tools and provisions produced on it. All of these things were at first only alienable by way of a rare and difficult procedure called emancipatio, or if acquirable without payment, which form of conveyance was called mancipatio. This is the source of the famous distinction between res mancipii, inalienable things, and res nec mancipii, things that can be sold at will, which form part of the normal patrimonium, things that are susceptible to increase or decrease.
Thus, in the second stage, when there was no longer anything that was res mancipii, and everything was an article of unrestricted commerce (between parties who are not slaves), economic value came to prevail and it became obvious to everyone that struggles for political power were based on the interests of opposed social classes, according to the distribution of land and wealth; in the first stage, economic value and patrimonial right as a license for free acquisition were replaced by the personal imperium of the leader of the family, whose prevailing form of organization recognized the three categories of mancipium, manus and patria potestas, which were the pivots of the society of that epoch.
For the Marxist it is obviously an elementary error to assert that in the first stage of relations economic determinism does not apply. The mistake is based on the tautology that in the commercial order everything proceeds between "equals" and that personal dependence disappears to give way to the exchange between equivalents, in accordance with the famous law of value. But Marxism precisely proves that the unlimited and "Justinianian" commercial exchange of products and instruments led to a new and heavy yoke of personal dependence for the members of the exploited and working classes.
Thus, many people opt to take the easy way out whenever the question arises of a social relation that pertains to the family, since in their view such a relation is supposed be explained not by way of the productive economy but by so-called "emotional" factors, therefore completely falling prey to idealism. The system of relations based on generation and the family also arises in correspondence with the quest for a better way of life for the group in its physical environment and for its necessary productive labor, and this correspondence is found within the laws of materialism just as when it addresses the later stage of the separate exchanges between individual possessors of products.
But there can be no doubt that the Marxism that is unable to see this succumbs to the idealist resurrection, by admitting if even for only one second that in addition to the factors of economic interest that are crystallized in the possession of private patrimony and in the exchange of private goods (including among these exchangeable goods human labor power), there are also other factors that are foreign to the materialist dynamic, such as sex, family affection, love; and above all by falling victim to the insipid banality that these factors at certain moments supersede and radically transform the factor of the economic base by their superior forces.
Instead, it is only on the basis of the cornerstone of the efforts to assure the immediate life of the species, which inseparably combine the production of food and reproduction, subordinating if necessary individual self-preservation to that of the species, that the vast and exhaustive edifice of historical materialism is founded, which embraces all the manifestations of human activity including the latest, most complex and grandiose ones.
We shall conclude this part with Engels (The Origin of the Family…) again, in order to show the customary fidelity of our school, and its repugnance towards any kind of novelty. It is always the development of the productive instruments that is found at the basis of the transition from the patriarchal imperium to free private property. In the higher stage of barbarism, the social division of labor between artisans and farmers, and the difference between city and country, had already appeared…. War and slavery had already existed for quite some time:
"The distinction of rich and poor appears beside that of freemen and slaves—with the new division of labor, a new cleavage of society into classes. The inequalities of property among the individual heads of families break up the old communal household communities wherever they had still managed to survive, and with them the common cultivation of the soil by and for these communities. The cultivated land is allotted for use to single families, at first temporarily, later permanently. The transition to full private property is gradually accomplished, parallel with the transition of the pairing marriage into monogamy. The single family is becoming the economic unit of society."
Once again, the dialectic teaches how the individual family, that presumed fundamental social value so highly praised by fideists and enlightened bourgeoisie, which is linked to society based on private property, is also a transitory institution, and denies that it has any basis outside of its material determination—a basis that the fideists and bourgeoisie, on the other hand, assert must be sought in sex or love—and that the individual family will be destroyed after the victory of communism, now that its dynamic has already been studied and condemned by materialist theory.
1. A series of articles published first in Battaglia Comunista and later in Il Programma Comunista during the 1950s and 1960s. "Il Battilocchio nella storia", no. 7, April 3-17, and "Superuomo ammosciati", no. 8, April 17-30, 1953, on the function of the celebrity; "Fantasime carlailiane", no. 9, May 7-21, 1953, on the same question as it is reflected in the field of art. [For an English translation of "Il Battilocchio nella storia", see "The Guignol in History", available online at: http://libcom.org/library/guignol-history-amadeo-bordiga. American Translator's Note.]
2. The essay on Stalin and linguistics—which is discussed in part in the article, "Church and Faith, Individual and Reason, Class and Theory", Battaglia Comunista, no. 17, 1950—was preceded by the following note: "The digression is not inappropriate in this arrangement of the material utilized in the report, since it involves the analysis of the doctrine expounded by Stalin with regard to linguistics, all of which is based on the distinctions, employed in a hardly consistent manner, between base and superstructure.
THE MARXIST INTERPRETATION OF THE POLITICAL STRUGGLE AND OF THE IMPACT OF THE NATIONAL FACTOR IN THE HISTORIC MODES OF PRODUCTION
From Race to Nation
1. The transition from the ethnic group or "people" to the "nation" takes place in relation to the appearance of the political state, with its fundamental characteristics such as the exclusive territory and the organization of an armed force—and therefore after the end of primitive communism and the formation of social classes.
Setting aside all literary movements and all idealist influences, we refer to the category of race as a biological fact, and the category of nation as a geographical fact. However, the nation as a historically defined reality is one thing, and nationality is another, and by nationality we mean a group that derives from two factors, the racial and the political.
Race is a biological fact, since, in order to classify a particular animal according to its race, we do not ask ourselves where it was born, but who were its parents, and if both parents (something that is very rare in today's world) were of the same ethnic type, the individuals in question having been born to such parents would belong to that type, and are classified precisely as a race. Those lovely pigs, which have spread everywhere now, with a reddish color, known as Yorkshires, so named after the county in England where they were originally bred and rigorously selected, which—the Pope is right about this—can only be accomplished with beasts but not with humans, at least when the latter, including both sexes, are not confined as was the case with some types of slaves. The same is true of Breton cows, Danish dogs, Siamese cats, and so on; the geographic name only expresses a fact related to the location where these varieties were originally bred.
Similar things happen to people, too, and today, in the United States of America (apart from the blacks, since in some states of the union "miscegenation" is still outlawed) one may also behold a Primo Carnera, whose father and mother were Friulians, but who is an American citizen, and many Gennaro Espositos of Neapolitan blood, but extremely proud of having obtained "a carta e' citatino" [citizenship papers—in Neapolitan in the original—Note of the Spanish Translator].
The classification of men as members of a nation is carried out according to a purely geographical, rather than biological or ethnic, criterion, and depends on the place where they were born, generally speaking, except in those rare and complicated cases of people born onboard ships at sea and other similar instances.
But everywhere the difficult conundrum arises of nations that include more nationalities, that is, not just more races—which are gradually becoming biologically indistinguishable as pure types—but more groups that are distinguished by language and also by customs, habits, culture, etc.
If we can still define as a "people" the nomadic horde formed by the merger of tribes of a similar race that traversed whole continents in search of lands to provide for their needs, and often invaded the territories of other peoples who were geographically stable in order to pillage them or to settle in them, obviously, until this last event takes place, we have no right to apply to this horde the term "nation", which refers to a place of birth, which is unknown and a matter of indifference to those who form part of a human mass that, with its belongings and its wagons that constitute its main form of housing, forgets the topography of its itinerary.
The concept of a fixed abode for a human group implies that of the confines within which it limits its zone of residence and labor, and the mainstream historian often says that it implies protection within these confines against other groups, and therefore the established organization of guards and armies, a hierarchy, a power center. To the contrary, however, the origin of hierarchies, of power, of the state, is traceable to the increasing density of the human population, ultimately leading to territorial disputes, and this trend proceeds in relation to the internal processes of social groups, during the course of their development from the first forms of the clan and the tribe, from the moment when the cultivation of the soil and agricultural production have reached the point of technological development where farming is consistently practiced in seasonal cycles on the same fields.
The Emergence of the State
2. The premise of the origin of the state is the formation of social classes, and the latter is determined in all peoples with the division of the arable land among individuals and families and with the parallel phases of the division of social labor and functions, from which is derived a distinct position of the diverse elements with respect to general productive activity, defining distinct hierarchies with functions such as the primitive artisanate, military action, magic-religion (which is the first form of technical science and of the school), a position that is in turn separated from the immediate life of the gens and the primitive family.
Here we must not attempt to recapitulate the Marxist theory of the state in its entirety, but the latter is of the greatest interest for us with regard to the task of establishing the identity of the structures of the historical collectivities defined as the nation, structures which are much more complex than the banal view according to which each individual, taken in isolation, is united by way of a direct bond with the land in which he was born, the nation being the totality of personal molecules that are similar to one another—a concept that is not at all scientific and which is identified with the class ideology of the modern ruling bourgeoisie.
The theory of the state that does not define the latter as an organ of the people, of the nation or of society, but as an organ of the class power of a particular class, fundamental in Marx, was integrally restored by Lenin in the face of the systematic theoretical and political deterioration to which it had been subjected by the socialists of the Second International, and Lenin precisely based his restoration on the systematic explanation of the origin of state forms contained in the classic work by Engels on the origin of the family and of property, which has served as our guide to pre-history. During that era the ethnic element entered into play in a still pure and so to speak virgin condition, within the primitive community, in order to work, fraternally and congenially in the ancient and noble—in the concrete sense of the term—tribe and gens, an epoch that is spoken of by the myths of all peoples with their fabulous tales of a golden age of the first men who did not know crime or bloodshed.
From this brilliant work by Engels we shall once again grasp the thread that must lead us to the explanation of national struggles, and to the materialist conclusion that they do not comprise an immanent factor, but a historical product that exhibits certain beginnings and cycles, and which will conclude and disappear in the conditions that are now fully elaborated in the modern world; this view of ours is completely original and can by no means be identified with the refusal to consider, in the framework of our doctrine and especially in our action, which is inseparable from our doctrine (our doctrine, that is, the doctrine that accords with our worldwide and century-old movement, and not with one or many individual subjects), the extremely important process of nationality, and much less with the monumental historical blunder of declaring it to be something that has already been liquidated in its relations with the proletarian class struggle, in the contemporary international political structure.
The process, with respect to ancient Greece, and therefore to the highest historical form of the era of classical Mediterranean antiquity that ended with the fall of the Roman Empire, is synthesized by Engels as follows:
"Thus in the Greek constitution of the heroic age we see the old gentile order as still a living force. But we also see the beginnings of its disintegration: father-right, with transmission of the property to the children, by which accumulation of wealth within the family was favored and the family itself became a power as against the gens [compare this with the other quotation from the text that appears at the end of Part 1]; reaction of the inequality of wealth on the constitution by the formation of the first rudiments of hereditary nobility and monarchy; slavery, at first only of prisoners of war, but already preparing the way for the enslavement of fellow-members of the tribe and even of the gens; the old wars between tribe and tribe already degenerating into systematic pillage by land and sea for the acquisition of cattle, slaves and treasure, and becoming a regular source of wealth; in short, riches praised and respected as the highest good and the old gentile order misused to justify the violent seizure of riches…." [We once again note that this adjective, "gentile", must be understood to mean "belonging to the gens", and is not to be confused with the less ancient concept of the aristocracy as a class: in the gens, which did not know classes, everyone is of the same blood and therefore equal; we shall not adopt the term democracy, which is spurious and contingent, nor that of pancracy, because although the first part of the word denotes "all", the second part denotes "power", something that was unknown at the time: nor was it a pan-anarchy, because anarchy indicates a struggle by the individual against the state, and therefore between two transitory forms, and it is often the case that the latter form causes the wheel of history to roll forward. In the gens there was a simple communist order, but one that was limited to a racially pure group, an order that was therefore ethno-communist, while "our" communism, to which our historic program is oriented, is no longer ethnic or national, but is the communism of the species, made possible thanks to the cycles of property, power and the productive and commercial expansion that history has traversed….—Bordiga's note.]
The passage continues:
"Only one thing was wanting: an institution which not only secured the newly acquired riches of individuals against the communistic traditions of the gentile order, which not only sanctified the private property formerly so little valued, and declared this sanctification to be the highest purpose of all human society; but an institution which set the seal of general social recognition on each new method of acquiring property and thus amassing wealth at continually increasing speed; an institution which perpetuated, not only this growing cleavage of society into classes, but also the right of the possessing class to exploit the non-possessing, and the rule of the former over the latter.
"And this institution came. The state was invented."
And it was also Engels who defined the territorial criterion:
"In contrast to the old gentile organization, the state is distinguished firstly by the grouping of its members on a territorial basis. The old gentile bodies, formed and held together by ties of blood, had, as we have seen, become inadequate largely because they presupposed that the gentile members were bound to one particular locality, whereas this had long ago ceased to be the case. The territory was still there, but the people had become mobile. The territorial division was therefore taken as the starting point and the system introduced by which citizens exercised their public rights and duties where they took up residence, without regard to gens or tribe."
States without Nationality
3. In the ancient Asiatic-Oriental empires that had been politically consolidated prior to the Hellenistic empires, we observe complete forms of state power in relation to the concentration of enormous wealth in land and goods in the hands of nobles, satraps and sometimes theocrats, and the subjection of enormous masses of prisoners, slaves, serfs and pariahs of the land, but one cannot yet speak of a national form even though the characteristics of the state form are present: political territory and armed forces.
The obvious objection that may be made with reference to the Jewish People allows us an opportunity to contribute a useful clarification of the last passage from Engels quoted above.
It might seem that confusion could arise between the territory that in a less distant epoch defines the fully developed state form, and the bond of the members of the gens to a particular territory, a bond that was later broken even though the inviolable bond of blood itself survived.
A territory belonged to the gens, but not in the modern political sense, nor in a strictly productive economic sense, either. Engels meant to say that the gens is distinguished from the other gentes, besides by its name, by its territory of origin, not by the different successive territories of residence and common labor. The bond of the Iroquois Indian with his land of origin has been broken for centuries, not only from the moment when white civilization rounded up the few survivors in stupid reservations, but from the time when the various lineages had engaged in terrible warfare with one another, destroying each other but being very careful not to mix, even at the cost of traveling thousands of kilometers through immense forests (many of which were later reduced to deserts by capitalist technology, bourgeois philanthropy having used them to test atomic weapons).
The Jewish people were the first to possess a written history, but by the time it was written it was a history of class division, featuring landowners and dispossessed persons, rich people and servants, clearly having surpassed the stage of primitive communism, whose only memory is Eden, because already in the second generation we have Cain, the founder and inventor of class struggle. The Hebrews then had an organized state, very carefully organized, with precise hierarchies and strict constitutions. This people did not, however, become a nation, any more than their barbarian enemies the Assyrians, the Medes or the Egyptians did. And this in spite of the enormous difference between the racial purity of the Hebrews and the indifference of the satraps and Pharaohs with respect to the swarms of servants, slaves and sometimes functionaries and military commanders of other ethnic origins or colors who surrounded their thrones, and their harems of white, black and yellow women, all the fruit of military raids or the subjugation of free primitive tribes or of other states that previously existed in the heart of Asia or Africa.
The Hebrews, divided into twelve tribes, were not assimilated by other peoples, not even after they were defeated in war. The tribes and gentile organizations, now traditionally transformed into monogamous patriarchal families, did not lose the link of pure blood, the name of their countries of origin or their tedious genealogical traditions (note that despite the strict adherence to paternal descent, the Israelites fully tolerated conjugal unions with women of other races), not even after the great deportations, as in the legendary Babylonian and Egyptian captivities. The mythical bond with the promised land is a pre-national form, because even when the ethnic community that has been preserved in such a pure form returns to the country of its origin, to its ethnological cradle, it cannot politically organize in that country with any historical stability and the territory continues to be invaded by armies coming from other distant powers. The wars of the Bible are tribal struggles rather than wars of national liberation or of imperial conquest, and the territory remained the scene of historic clashes between peoples who aspired to hegemony in this strategic area of the ancient and modern world.
Nor were the Greeks of the Trojan War a nation, but rather a federation of small states that were territorially adjacent and contained ethnically diverse communities, in view of the different origins of Ionians and Dorians and the convergence on the Hellenic peninsula of very ancient migrations coming from all points of the compass. Even productive forms, state constitutions, customs, languages, and cultural traditions varied widely among the small allied military monarchies: so, too, in the historic wars against the Persians, Greek unity was only temporary, and subsequently gave way to bloody wars for predominance over the Peloponnese and all of Greece.
The Hellenic Nation and Culture
4. National factors are nonetheless evident in ancient Greece in the social organization of Athens, Sparta and other cities, and even more clearly in the Macedonian state that not only unified as a country but rapidly became the center of one of the first imperial conquests in the ancient world. The literature and the ideology of this first nationalism would not only be translated in the Roman world, but would also supply the script for the national intoxication of the modern bourgeoisie.
The Lacedaemonian state, just like the Athenian state (or the Theban state), was not just a complete state in the political sense with a precisely defined territory and its own juridical institutions, and with a central power from which civil and military hierarchies emanated, but attained the national form insofar as the social fabric—although preserving the division between rich and poor classes with respect to agricultural and artisanal production and the already highly developed domestic and foreign trade, and assuring the political power of the economically powerful strata—allowed for a legal and administrative framework that applied the same formal norms to all citizens, and among these norms was the equal participation in the votes of the popular deliberative and elective assemblies. This juridical superstructure substantially performed a function that is analogous to that which Marxism denounced in the bourgeois parliamentary democracies, but between these two historical modes of social organization there is a basic difference: today anyone can be a citizen, and it is recognized that the same law is valid for all; among the Greek city-states, the citizenry, which alone comprised the real nation, excluded the class of slaves, who were extremely numerous during certain periods, and were deprived by law of any political and civil rights.
Despite such features, and despite the class conflict between aristocrats and plebeians, between rich patricians and merchants on the one hand and simple workers on the other, who lived on charity, this social form was accompanied by several major advances both with regard to labor and technology and therefore in the applied sciences, and in pure science: in relation to participation in the productive processes on foundations of equality and liberty, despite class exploitation, language occupied a position of the first rank, and literature and art reached very high levels, establishing the national tradition that was utilized for the benefit of the leaders of society and the state to bind all the citizens to the fate of the nation, forcing them to serve in the military, and to make any other sacrifice or contribution in case of danger to the national entity and its essential structures.
Literature, historiography and poetry fully reflect the assertion of these values, making patriotism the main motor force of all social functions, exalting by every means the fraternity of all the citizens of the state, condemning the inevitable and frequent civil wars and intestine struggles, customarily presented as conspiracies against those who hold power, promoted by other groups or persons who wanted it for themselves, but which were actually nothing but the expressions of the conflicts of class interests and the discontent of the popular masses of the citizens who had been nourished on many illusions but were tormented by the low standard of living even during the periods of the greatest splendor of the "polis".
National solidarity is not, however, a pure illusion and mirage created by the privileged and the powerful, because in a determinate historical phase it is the real effect determined by economic interests and by the requirements of the material forces of production. The transition from primitive, localized farming in Greece—which despite its favorable climate is largely arid and rocky, and which could only feed a small, slightly developed population—to the most intense commercial navigation from one end of the Mediterranean to the other, which brought products from distant countries and disseminated those fabricated by the Greek artisans who practiced an increasingly more varied assortment of crafts that represented an authentic ancient type of industry, and which in particular allowed the inhabitants of the ports to undergo a major transformation in their ways of life, this transition, as we were saying, could not have taken place under a closed and despotic state form, like the great empires of the continent, but only under a democratic and open form, which not only supplied citizens and helots, but skilled craftsmen for building the numerous merchant ships, and the workers of the city, the armories and the administrative labor oversight bodies, which were necessary—although on a much-reduced scale compared to now—for this first form of capitalism that achieved such unforgettable splendor.
Whenever new forms of labor appear and become established—forms of labor which are, as always, subjected to exploitation, but which are no longer bound by localized immobility and the fossilization of age-old technologies of labor—they cause, during their ascendant phase, in the superstructure, a vast development of science, art and architecture, reflecting new ideological horizons opened up to societies that had previously been bound to closed and traditional doctrines. During the waning of feudalism the phenomenon of the Renaissance appeared, understood as a European event: many people think that the golden age of the Greek period is culturally unsurpassable, but this is nothing but literature. We may nonetheless point out that the "bridge" of "national humanity" that spans economic inequalities, by excluding the slaves, who were considered as semi-animals and not as human beings, was much more solid than the one that would be introduced in its historical edition fifteen or twenty centuries later, and which claims to have overcome the social abyss that divides the owners of capital from the disinherited proletariat.
Engels reminds us that at the high point of the splendor of Athens, the city contained only ninety thousand free citizens as opposed to three hundred sixty five thousand slaves—who not only worked the land but also supplied the workers for those industries we mentioned above—and fifty thousand "freedmen" (ex-slaves) and foreigners who did not enjoy the rights of citizenship.
It is quite plausible that this social structure provided the way of life of these ninety thousand elect with a qualitatively more advanced degree of "civilization" than the one that is granted to the modern "free" peoples of contemporary capitalism, despite the greater resources of the latter.
This does not, however, constitute a reason to participate in the ecstatic admiration expressed for the Greek preeminence in thought and in art, and not only because these great achievements were constructed on the blood and labor of a group of slaves that numbered more than twenty times the number of free men: the free citizens, before the time of Solon, were so intensively exploited by a landowning plutocracy that the terms of a mortgage could lead to the enslavement of a free citizen who was declared to be an insolvent debtor, so that the free citizenry, because it did not want to sink to the level of the scorned slave (the pride of the free Athenians reached such a degree that rather than become thugs they consented to allow the formation of a state police corps staffed by well-compensated slaves, in which a slave would be authorized to manumit free men), ultimately became an authentic Lumpenproletariat, a stratum of the depths of poverty, whose revolts against the oligarchs dissolved the glorious republic.
Engels made some comments that nicely encapsulate the Marxist position with respect to apologetics for the great historical civilizations. The Iroquois Indians were incapable of developing those forms that had been attained by the original Greek gens, which was totally in conformance with the gens studied in modern America by Morgan (similar forms are described today in the newspapers by explorers of the Andaman Islands in the Indian Ocean, an expedition carried out by Italians under the authority of the new Indian regime, among primitive groups that were until recently isolated from the rest of humanity). The Iroquois lacked a series of material conditions of production relating to geography and climate that were available to the Mediterranean peoples…. Within the restricted circle of their real economy, however, the Iroquois communists "did control their own production", which they determined and distributed in accordance with human need.
With the impulse that took Greek production towards its glorious differentiation, as represented by the Parthenon, the Venus of Phidias or the paintings of Zeuxis, as well as the Platonic abstractions that modern thought has yet to discard, the products of man that were beginning to be transformed into commodities circulated through monetized markets. Whether he was a free man or a slave according to the canons of the codes of Lycurgus or Solon, man began to be the slave of productive relations and to be dominated by his own product. The tremendous revolution that will free him from these chains, whose most formidable links were forged during the "golden" ages of history, is still nowhere in sight.
"The Iroquois were still very far from controlling nature, but within the limits imposed on them by natural forces they did control their own production (…) That was the immense advantage of barbarian production, which was lost with the coming of civilization; to reconquer it, but on the basis of the gigantic control of nature now achieved by man (…) will be the task of the next generations."
Here one beholds the heart of Marxism, and here one sees why the Marxist smiles when he sees some naive individual ecstatically admiring one stage or another of human evolution, attributing the highest honors in every domain to the work of sublime investigators, philosophers, artists and poets, without regard to class and party interests, as contemporary stupidity repeatedly says. We do not want to crown "civilization", but to knock it off its foundations.
The Roman Nation and Force
5. The factor of nationality reached its highest expression in ancient Rome during the era of the Republic, further developing the model offered by Greece for culture in the positive field of organization and law. On the basis of the Roman nation the empire was erected, which tended to be a single state organized throughout the entire known human world of the time, but was unable to resist the pressure imposed by the rapidly multiplying populations in distant and unknown lands that had themselves entered into the great cycle of productive development, which from the small gens had led the Mediterranean peoples to an immense empire, and which was in turn subject to pressure from the urgent material requirement of the vital spread of the species.
The national process in Italy was unlike the one that took place in Greece insofar as in Italy there were no little cities that were capitals of little states, with their own customs and a high degree of productive development that was largely shared equally by all of them, that were fighting for hegemony over the peninsula. In Italy, after the disappearance of the preceding civilizations which, although they had achieved advanced types of production and had indisputably developed certain state powers, cannot however be considered to be nations in the proper sense of the word, Rome became the exclusive center of a state organization with certain well defined juridical, political and military forms that rapidly absorbed the other communities and incorporated an ever-expanding territory, rapidly extending beyond the borders of Latium and reaching the Mediterranean and the Po. While the important productive forces of a zone of that enormous size were coordinated with those of Roman society, the social and state organization of Rome and its administrative and judicial systems were applied everywhere and in an increasingly uniform manner.
Although not as rapidly as in Greece, the agricultural productive base was integrated, with a complex division of labor, with artisanal production, commerce, maritime trade and manufacture: very soon, however, the military conquest of lands beyond the Ionian and Adriatic Seas made it possible for the cultural and technical organization that were features of Greek life and that of other peoples to be rapidly absorbed.
The social system was substantially the same, with the contribution of slave labor always playing a leading role. But the spread of mercantilism, more slow but more profound, caused the scale of differences to be more marked even within the society of free men: at the base of the social organization and of the laws themselves was the census that classified the Roman citizens according to their wealth.
The Roman citizen was obliged to perform military service, while weapons were absolutely forbidden to the slave and the freedman, right up to the last years of the empire. The legionary army is the real national army that Greece never possessed; Alexander the Great did not have such an army, either, despite his impetuous advance to India, where death finally halted the youthful commander, but this was actually the outermost limits allowed by the overwhelming superiority of the western state form with respect to the ones that existed among the various principalities of Asia. This so often assayed worldwide organization rapidly collapsed by being divided into smaller states, not because there was not another Alexander, but because state centralism was still in its infancy.
The Roman organization, besides being a state organization, was also a national one, both due to the direct participation of the citizenry in war and to the establishment in every occupied zone of a stable network of roads and fortifications, as well as the agricultural colonization that took place at the same time, with the granting of land to soldiers, and the immediate establishment of the Roman productive, economic and legal forms. Roman expansion was not just a raid aimed at seizing the putative treasures supposedly possessed by legendary peoples, but the systematic dissemination of a particular mode of production that was constantly spreading, crushing all armed resistance, but accepting the productive collaboration of the subject peoples.
It is no easy matter, however, to establish Rome's national boundaries, which varied with the passage of time, much less to attribute to it an ethnographic profile, since everyone knows that from the racial point of view prehistoric Italy, just like historic Italy, was never unified, nor could it ever have materially had any unity since it has been a crossroads from the north and the south, the east and the west, for a long succession of human groups since time immemorial. Even if we were to admit that the primitive Latins (after they abandoned Troy) constituted a single race, by the time they came to Latium their neighbors the Volscians, Samnites, Sabines, not to speak of the mysterious Etruscans, the Ligurians, etc., had been differentiated as separate peoples for a very long time.
The civis romanus with its laws and its proverbial national pride rapidly spread from the Urbe throughout all of Latium, organizing the Italic peoples by municipalities, to which, under the centralist state form, no autonomy could be conceded, preferring instead, a few centuries later, to call every free man who lived in them a Roman citizen, with all the inherent rights and duties.
The national reality is here brought to its most potent expression in the ancient world, accompanied by the greatest historical stability known up to the present time. Very far removed, therefore, from the ethnic community of blood, the members of this great community, the free citizens, divided into social classes extending from the great patrician latifundist with villas in every corner of the empire to the poor peasant and proletarian of the Urbe who survived hard times thanks to the distribution of grain by the state, were able to coexist due to a general economic system of production and exchange of goods and products, governed by the same inflexible legal code that the armed force of the state caused to be respected without exceptions throughout its immense territory.
The history of social struggles and civil wars within the Urbe is classic, but the disorders did not reduce the solidarity and the homogeneity of the magnificent edifice constructed for the purpose of administering all the productive resources of the most distant countries, filling these countries with enduring public works devoted to productive functions of every type: roads, aqueducts, baths, markets, forums, theaters, etc.
The Decline of Nationality
6. The decline and fall of the Roman Empire closed the period of ancient history when nationality and organization into national states were decisive factors in the development of the evolution of the productive forces.
National solidarity, which did not prevent periods of violent class struggles between free men of different social and economic status, had a clear economic base until, due to the masses of slaves, the development of the system of production that was common to the citizens of the nation provided a constant supply of new resources that raised the general standards of living, such as the replacement of simple pastoral lifestyles with fixed agriculture, the application of irrigated horticulture to large-scale systems, and the replacement of primitive semi-nomadic lifestyles by the division of the land and its subjection to buying and selling just like slaves and cattle. The agrarian and subsequently urban economy of the Romans originally emerged from the primitive collective economy of the local gentile institutions, which was replaced because it could not feed a population that was rapidly expanding, largely as a result, among other factors, of the good climate. Engels provides a brief but comprehensive explanation of these origins, showing that the laws of the ancient Romans were derived from their primitive gentile constitutions, and refuting the old theories Mommsen and other historians (see the final chapter of the preceding section where he refutes a recent author who denied that historical materialism is applicable to that period).
If the system of Roman law governing the sale of land and commerce in movable goods represented the "necessary" superstructure of a new productive economy with a greater output than primitive tribal communism, and if this fact explains its appearance, the economic facts that will explain the political and historical events of its decline are different. Because of the increase in wealth obtained by trading over an immense expanse and by exploiting slave labor, an extremely deep class divide emerged on the "national front", which had previously been so solidly united. The small farmers who had fought for the fatherland and assiduously colonized conquered lands were expropriated and dispossessed in ever increasing numbers, and the slaves who formed part of the wealth of the landowners (at a higher level than the flocks and herds) replaced them on their fertile fields, plunging them into ruin. The coexistence of free men and slaves was viable with a low-to-medium density of population, assuring the slaves of their material life and reproduction, and assuring the free men of the wide range of satisfactions offered by such flourishing eras; due to the reduction in the amount of colonizable land beyond the borders of Italy, however, and as a result of the new emigrant and demographically expanding peoples in motion on the other side of the borders, and with an increasing number of people who aspired to own their own parcel of land, an unavoidable crisis ensued in conjunction with a regression in the methods of cultivation. The latter degenerated to the point where neither animals nor slaves could be kept alive, and as disorganization spread it was the owners themselves who freed their slaves, who then went on to swell the masses of poor free men who were without work or land.
This magnificent construction relaxed its bonds between regions and could no longer intervene in local crises of subsistence. While shortages were exacerbated by the demographic factor, human groups were reduced to impoverished local economic circuits, narrow circuits that were no longer those of the ancient gentile constitutions, and whose situation could not be modified due to the profound changes that had taken place and the new relations between productive instruments, products and needs…. The nation that had become an empire had to be divided into tiny units, which no longer had the powerful connective fabric of the law, of the magistracy, of the armed forces, that emanated from a single center, and lost the common Latin language, the culture, the proud tradition…. The great, "natural", fundamental national and patriotic reality, which would be linked with the famous "human essence" was, to the great discomfiture of the idealists, preparing to allow itself to undergo a total historical eclipse that would last a thousand years.
"In earlier chapters we were standing at the cradle of ancient Greek and Roman civilization. Now we stand at its grave. Rome had driven the leveling plane of its world rule over all the countries of the Mediterranean basin, and that for centuries. Except when Greek offered resistance, all natural languages had been forced to yield to a debased Latin; there were no more national differences (…) all had become Romans. Roman administration and Roman law had everywhere broken up the old kinship groups, and with them the last vestige of local and national independence (…) The elements of new nations were present everywhere (…) But the strength was not there to fuse these elements into new nations…."
The barbarians were coming, with the freshness of their gentile structure, but they were not yet mature enough to create a state formation by founding real nations. The shadow of the feudal Middle Ages had appeared: and as Engels said, this too was a necessity inherent to the development of the productive forces.