BARBARISM AND CIVILIZATION-FREDERICK ENGELS 1909

BARBARISM AND CIVILIZATION

Having observed the dissolution of the gentile order in the three concrete cases of the Greek, Roman, and German nations, we may now investigate in conclusion the general economic conditions that began by undermining the gentile organization of society during the upper stage of barbarism and ended by doing away with it entirely at the advent of civilization. Marx’s “Capital” will be as necessary for the successful completion of this task as Morgan’s “Ancient Society.”

A growth of the middle stage and a product of further development during the upper stage of savagery, the gens reached its prime, as near as we can judge from our sources of information, in the lower stage of barbarism. With this stage, then, we begin our investigation.

In our standard example, the American redskins of that time, we find the gentile constitution fully developed. A tribe had differentiated into several gentes, generally two. Through the increase of the population, these original gentes again divided into several daughter gentes, making the mother gens a phratry. The tribe itself split up into several tribes, in each of which we again meet a large number of representatives of the old gentes. In certain cases a federation united the related tribes. This simple organization fully sufficed for the social conditions out of which it had grown. It was nothing else than the innate, spontaneous expression of those conditions, and it was well calculated to smooth over all internal difficulties that could arise in this social organization. External difficulties were settled by war. Such a war could end in the annihilation of a tribe, but never in its subjugation. It is the grandeur and at the same time the limitation of the gentile order that it has no room either for masters or servants. There were as yet no distinctions between rights and duties. The question whether he had a right to take part in public affairs, to practice blood revenge or to demand atonement for injuries would have appeared as absurd to an Indian, as the question whether it was his duty to eat, sleep, and hunt. Nor could any division of a tribe or gens into different classes take place. This leads us to the investigation of the economic basis of those conditions.

The population was very small in numbers. It was collected only on the territory of the tribe. Next to this territory was the hunting ground surrounding it in a wide circle. A neutral forest formed the line of demarcation from other tribes. The division of labor was quite primitive. The work was simply divided between the two sexes. The men went to war, hunted, fished, provided the raw material for food and the tools necessary for these pursuits. The women cared for the house, and prepared food and clothing; they cooked, weaved and sewed. Each sex was master of its own field of activity; the men In the forest, the women in the house. Each sex also owned the tools made and used by it; the men were the owners of the weapons, of the hunting and fishing tackle, the women of the household goods and utensils. The household was communistic, comprising several, and often many, families.[1] Whatever was produced and used collectively, was regarded as common property: the house, the garden, the long boat. Here, and only here, then, do we find the “self-earned property” which jurists and economists have falsely attributed to civilized society, the last deceptive pretext of legality on which modern capitalist property is leaning.

But humanity did not everywhere remain in this stage. In Asia they found animals that could be tamed and propagated in captivity. The wild buffalo cow had to be hunted down; the tame cow gave birth to a calf once a year, and also furnished milk. Some of the most advanced tribes—Aryans, Semites, perhaps also Turanians—devoted themselves mainly to taming, and later to raising and tending, domestic animals. The segregation of cattle raising tribes from the rest of the barbarians constitutes the first great division of social labor. These stock raising tribes did not only produce more articles of food than the rest of the barbarians, but also different kinds of products. They were ahead of the others by having at their disposal not alone milk, milk products, and a greater abundance of meat, but also skins, wool, goat’s hair, and the spun and woven goods which the growing abundance of the raw material brought into common use. This for the first time made a regular exchange of products possible. In former stages, exchange could only take place occasionally, and an exceptional ability in manufacturing weapons and tools may have led to a transient division of labor. For example, unquestionable remains of workshops for stone implements of the neolithic period have been found in many places. The artists who developed their ability in those shops, most probably worked for the collectivity, as did the artisans of the Indian gentile order. At any rate, no other exchange than that within the tribe could exist in that stage, and even that was an exception. But after the segregation of the stock raising tribes we find all the conditions favorable to an exchange between groups of different tribes, and to a further development of this mode of trading into a fixed institution. Originally, tribe exchanged with tribe through the agency of their tribal heads. But when the herds drifted into the hands of private individuals, then the exchange between individuals prevailed more and more, until it became the established form. The principal article of exchange which the stock raising tribes offered to their neighbors was in the form of domestic animals. Cattle became the favorite commodity by which all other commodities were measured in exchange. In short, cattle assumed the functions of money and served in this capacity as early as that stage. With such necessity and rapidity was the demand for a money commodity developed at the very beginning of the exchange of commodities.

Horticulture, probably unknown to the Asiatic barbarians of the lower stage, arose not later than the middle stage of barbarism, as the forerunner of agriculture. The climate of the Turanian Highland does not admit of a nomadic life without a supply of stock feed for the long and hard winter. Hence the cultivation of meadows and grain was indispensable. The same is true of the steppes north of the Black Sea. Once grain had been grown for cattle, it soon became human food. The cultivated land belonged as yet to the tribe and was assigned first to the gens, which in its turn distributed it to the households, and finally to individuals; always for use only, not for possession. The users may have had certain claims to the land, but that was all.

Two of the industrial acquisitions of this stage are especially important. The first is the weaving loom, the second the melting of metal ore and the use of metals in manufacture. Copper, tin, and their alloy, bronze, were the most essential of them. Bronze furnished tools and weapons, but could not displace stone implements. Only iron could have done that, but the production of iron was as yet un- known. Gold and silver were already used for orna- ment and decoration, and must have been far more precious than copper and bronze.

The increase of production in all branches—stock raising, agriculture, domestic handicrafts—enabled human labor power to produce more than was necessary for its maintenance. It increased at the same time the amount of daily work that fell to the lot of every member of a gens, a household, or a single family. The addition of more labor power became desirable. It was furnished by war; the captured enemies were transformed into slaves. Under the given historical conditions, the first great division of social labor, by increasing the productivity of labor, adding to the wealth, and enlarging the field of productive activity, necessarily carried slavery in its wake. Out of the first great division of social labor arose the first great division of society into two classes: masters and servants, exploiters and exploited.

How and when the herds were transferred from the collective ownership of the tribe or gens to the proprietorship of the heads of the families, is not known to us. But it must have been practically accomplished in this stage. The herds and the other new objects of wealth brought about a revolution in the family. Procuring the means of existence had always been the man’s business. The tools of production were manufactured and owned by him. The herds were the new tools of production, and their taming and tending was his work. Hence he owned the cattle and the commodities and slaves obtained in exchange for them. All the surplus now resulting from production fell to the share of the man. The woman shared in its fruition, but she could not claim its ownership. The “savage” warrior and hunter had been content to occupy the second place in the house, to give precedence to the woman. The “gentler” shepherd, standing on his wealth, assumed the first place and forced the woman back into the second place. And she had no occasion to complain. The division of labor in the family had regulated the distribution of property between man and wife. This division of labor remained unchanged. Yet the former domestic relation was now reversed, simply because the division of labor outside of the family had been altered. The same cause that once had secured the supremacy in the house for women, viz., the confining of women’s activity to domestic labor, now assured the supremacy of the men in the households. The domestic labor of women was considered insignificant in comparison to men’s work for a living. The latter was everything, the former a negligible quantity. At this early stage we can already see that the emancipation of women and their equality with men are impossible and remain so, as long as women are excluded from social production and restricted to domestic labor. The emancipation of women becomes feasible only then when women are enabled to take part extensively in social production, and when domestic duties require their attention in a minor degree. This state of things was brought about by the modern great industries, which not only admit of women’s liberal participation in production, but actually call for it and, besides, endeavor to transform domestic work also into a public industry.

Man’s advent to practical supremacy in the household marked the removal of the last barrier to his universal supremacy. His unlimited rule was emphasized and endowed with continuity by the downfall of matriarchy, the introduction of patriarchy, and the gradual transition from the pairing family to the monogamic family. This made a breach in the old gentile order. The monogamic family became a power and lifted a threatening hand against the gens.

The next step brings us to the upper stage of barbarism, that period in which all nations of civilization go through their heroic era. It is the time of the iron sword, but also of the iron plow share and axe. The iron had become the servant of man. It is the last and most important of all raw products that play a revolutionary role in history; the last—if we except the potato.

Iron brought about agriculture on a larger scale and the clearing of extensive forest tracts for cultivation. It gave to the craftsman a tool of such hardness and sharpness that no stone, no other known metal, could withstand it. All this came about gradually. The first iron was often softer than bronze. Therefore stone implements disappeared very slowly. Not only in the Hildebrand Song, but also at Hastings in 1066, stone axes were still used in fighting. But progress was now irresistible, less interrupted and more rapid. The town, inclosing houses of stone or tiles within its turreted and crested stone walls, became the central seat of the tribe or federation of tribes. It showed an astounding progress of architecture, but also an increase of danger and of the demand for protection. Wealth increased rapidly, but it was the wealth of private individuals. Weaving, metal work and other more and more differentiating industries developed an increasing variety and display of art in production. Agriculture furnished not alone grain, peas, beans and fruit, but also oil and wine, the preparation of which had now been learned. Such a diversity of action could not be displayed by any single individual. The second great division of labor took place: handicrafts separatea from agriculture. The growing intensity of production and the increased productivity enhanced the value of human labor power. Slavery, which had been a rising and sporadic factor in the preceding stage, now became an essential part of the social system. The slaves ceased to be simple assistants. They were now driven in scores to the work in the fields and shops. The division of production into two great branches, agriculture and handicrafts, gave rise to production for exchange, the production of commodities. Trade arose at the same time, not only in the interior and on the tribal boundaries, but also in the form of maritime exchange. All this was as yet in a very undeveloped state. The precious metals gained preference as a universal money commodity, but still uncoined and exchanged merely by dead weight.

The distinction between rich and poor was added to that between free men and slaves. This and the new division or labor constitute a new division of society into classes. The differences in the amount of property belonging to the several family heads broke up the old communistic households one by one, wherever they might have been preserved thus far. This made an end to the collective cultivation of the soil for the account of the community. The cultivated land was assigned for use to the several families, first tor a limited time, later for once and all. The transition to full private property was accomplished gradually and simultaneously with the transition from, the pairing family to monogamy. The monogamous family began to be the economic unit of society.

The increase of population necessitated a closer consolidation against internal and external foes. The federation of related tribes became unavoidable. Their amalgamation, and thence the amalgamation of the separate tribal territories to one national territory, was the following step. The military leader—rex, basileus, thiudans—became an indispensable and standing official. The public meeting was introduced wherever it did not yet exist. The military leader, the council of chiefs, and the public meeting formed the organs of the military democracy that had grown out of the gentile constitution. Military democracy—for now war and organization for war were regular functions of social life. The wealth of the neighbors excited the greed of nations that began to regard the acquisition of wealth as one of the main purposes of their life. They were barbarians: robbing appeared to them easier and more honorable than producing. War, once simply a revenge for transgressions or a means for enlarging a territory that had become too narrow, was now waged for the sake of plunder alone and became a regular profession. Not in vain did threatening walls cast a rigid stare all around the new fortified towns: their yawning ditches were the tomb of the gentile constitution, and their turrets already reached up into civilization. The internal affairs underwent a similar change. The plundering wars increased the power of the military leader and of the subcommanders. The habitual election of the successors from the same family was gradually transformed into hereditary succession, first by sufferance, then by claim, and finally by usurpation. Thus the foundation of hereditary royalty and nobility was laid. In this manner the organs of the gentile constitution were gradually torn away from their roots in the nation, tribe, phratry and gens, and the whole gentile order reversed into its antithesis. The organization of tribes for the purpose of the free administration of affairs was turned into an organization for plundering and oppressing their neighbors. The organs of gentilism changed from servants of the public will to independent organs of rule oppressing their own people. This could not have happened, if the greed for wealth had not divided the gentiles into rich and poor; if the “difference of property in a gens had not changed the community of interest into antagonism of the gentiles” (Karl Marx); and if the extension of slavery had not begun by branding work for a living as slavish and more ignominious than plundering.

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We have now reached the threshold of civilization. This stage is inaugurated by a new progress in the division of labor. In the lower stage of barbarism production was carried on for use only; any acts of exchange were confined to single cases when a surplus was accidentally realized. In the middle stage of barbarism we find that the possession of cattle gave a regular surplus to the nomadic nations with sufficiently large herds. At the same time there was a division of labor between nomadic nations and backward nations without herds. The existence of two different stages of production side by side furnished the conditions necessary for a regular exchange. The upper stage of barbarism introduced a new division of labor between agriculture and handicrafts, resulting in the production of a continually increasing amount of commodities for the special purpose of exchange, so that exchange between individuals became a vital function of society. Civilization strengthened and intensified all the established divisions of labor, especially by rendering the contrast between city and country more pronounced. Either the town may have the economic control over the country, as during antiquity, or vice versa, as in the middle ages. A third division of labor was added by civilization: it created a class that did not take part in production, but occupied itself merely with the exchange of products—the merchants. All former attempts at class formation were exclusively concerned with production. They divided the producers into directors and directed, or into producers on a more or less extensive scale. But here a class appears for the first time that captures the control of production in general and subjugates the producers to its rule, without talking the least part in production. A class that makes itself the indispensable mediator between two producers and exploits them both under the pretext of saving them the trouble and risk of exchange, of extending the markets for their products to distant regions, and of thus becoming the most useful class in society; a class of parasites, genuine social ichneumons, that skim the cream off production at home and abroad as a reward for very insignificant services; that rapidly amass enormous wealth and gain social influence accordingly; that for this reason reap ever new honors and ever greater control of production during the period of civilization, until they at last bring to light a product of their own—periodical crises in industry.

At the stage of production under discussion, our young merchant class had no inkling as yet of the great future that was in store for them. But they continued to organize, to make themselves invaluable, and that was sufficient for the moment. At the same time metal coins came into use, and through them a new device for controlling the producers and their products. The commodity of commodities that was hiding all other commodities in its mysterious bosom had been discovered, a charm that could be transformed at will into any desirable or coveted thing. Whoever held it in his possession had the world of production at his command. And who had it above all others? The merchant. In his hands the cult of money was safe. He took care to make it plain that all commodities, and hence all producers, must prostrate themselves in adoration before money. He proved by practice that all other forms of wealth are reduced to thin wraiths before this personification of riches. Never again did the power of money show itself in such primordial brutality and violence as in its youthful days. After the sale of commodities for money came the borrowing of money, resulting in interest and usury. And no legislation of any later period stretches the debtor so mercilessly at the feet of the speculating creditor as the antique Grecian and Roman codes—both of them spontaneous products of habit, without any other than economic pressure.

The wealth in commodities and slaves was now further increased by large holdings in land. The titles of the individuals to the lots of land formerly assigned to them by the gens or tribe had become so well established, that these lots were now owned and inherited. What the individuals had most desired of late was the liberation from the claim of the gentiles to their lots, a claim which had become a veritable fetter for them. They were rid of this fetter—but soon after they were also rid of their lots. The full, free ownership of the soil implied not only the possibility of uncurtailed possession, but also of selling the soil. As long as the soil belonged to the gens, this was impossible. But when the new land owner shook off the chains of the priority claim of the gens and tribe, he also tore the bond that had so long tied him indissolubly to the soil. What that meant was impressed on him by the money invented simultaneously with the advent of private property in land. The soil could now become a commodity to be bought and sold. Hardly had private ownership of land been introduced, when the mortgage put in its appearance (see Athens). As hetaerism and prostitution clung to the heels of monogamy, so does from now on the mortgage to private ownership in land. You have clamored for free, full, saleable land. Well, then, there you have it—tu l’as voulu, Georges Dandin; it was your own wish, George Dandin.

Industrial expansion, money, usury, private land, and mortgage thus progressed with the concentration and centralization of wealth in the hands of a small class, accompanied by the increasing impoverishment of the masses and the increasing mass of paupers. The new aristocracy of wealth, so far as it did not coincide with the old tribal nobility, forced the latter permanently into the background (in Athens, in Rome, among the Germans). And this division of free men into classes according to their wealth was accompanied, especially in Greece, by an enormous increase in the number of slaves[2] whose forced labor formed the basis on which the whole superstructure of society was reared.

Let us now see what became of the gentile constitution through this revolution of society. Gentilism stood powerless in the face of the new elements that had grown without its assistance. It was dependent on the condition that the members of a gens, or of a tribe, should live together in the same territory and be its exclusive inhabitants. That had long ceased to be the case. Gentes and tribes were everywhere hopelessly intermingled, slaves, clients, and foreigners lived among citizens. The capacity for settling down permanently which had only been acquired near the end of the middle stage of barbarism, was time and again sidetracked by the necessity of changing the abode according to the dictates of commerce, different occupations and the transfer of land. The members of the gentile organizations could no longer meet for the purpose of taking care of their common interests. Only matters of little importance, such as religious festivals, were still observed in an indifferent way. Beside the wants and interests for the care of which the gentile organs were appointed and fitted, new wants and interests had arisen from the revolution of the conditions of existence and the resulting change in social classification. These new wants and interests were not only alien to the old gentile order, but thwarted it in every way. The interests of the craftsmen created by division of labor, and the special necessities of a town differing from those of the country, required new organs. But every one of these groups was composed of people from different gentes, phratries, and tribes; they included even strangers. Hence the new organs necessarily had to form outside of the gentile constitution. But by the side of it meant against it. And again, in every gentile organization the conflict of interests made itself felt and reached its climax by combining rich and poor, usurers and debtors, in the same gens and tribe. There was furthermore the mass of inhabitants who were strangers to the gentiles. These strangers could become very powerful, as in Rome, and they were too numerous to be gradually absorbed by the gentes and tribes. The gentiles confronted these masses as a compact body of privileged individuals. What had once been a natural democracy, had been transformed into an odious aristocracy. The gentile constitution had grown out of a society that did not know any internal contradictions, and it was only adapted to such a society. It had no coercive power except public opinion. But now a society had developed that by force of all its economic conditions of existence divided humanity into freemen and slaves, and exploiting rich and exploited poor. A society that not only could never reconcile these contradictions, but drove them ever more to a climax. Such a society could only exist by a continual open struggle of all classes against one another, or under the supremacy of a third power that under a pretense of standing above the struggling classes stifled their open conflict and permitted a class struggle only on the economic field, in a so-called “legal” form. Gentilism had ceased to live. It was crushed by the division of labor and by its result, the division of society into classes. It was replaced by the State.

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In preceding chapters we have shown by three concrete examples the three main forms in which the state was built up on the ruins of gentilism. Athens represented the simplest, the classic type: the state grew directly and mainly out of class divisions that developed within gentile society. In Rome the gentile organization became an exclusive aristocracy amid a numerous plebs of outsiders who had only duties, but no rights. The victory of the plebs burst the old gentile order asunder and erected on its remains the state which soon engulfed both gentile aristocracy and plebs. Finally, among the German conquerors of the Roman empire, the state grew as a direct result of the conquest of large foreign terriories which the gentile constitution was powerless to control. But this conquest did not necessitate either a serious fight with the former population or a more advanced division of labor. Conquerors and conquered were almost in the same stage of economic development, so that the economic basis of society remained undisturbed. Hence gentilism could preserve for many centuries an unchanged territorial character in the form of mark communes, and even rejuvenate itself in the nobility and patrician families of later years, or in the peasantry, as e. g. in Dithmarsia.[3]

The state, then, is by no means a power forced on society from outside; neither is it the “realization of the ethical idea,” “the image and the realization of reason,” as Hegel maintains. It is simply a product of society at a certain stage of evolution. It is the confession that this society has become hopelessly divided against itself, has entangled itself in irreconcilable contradictions which it is powerless to banish. In order that these contradictions, these classes with conflicting economic interests, may not annihilate themselves and society in a useless struggle, a power becomes necessary that stands apparently above society and has the function of keeping down the conflicts and maintaining “order.” And this, power, the outgrowth of society, but assuming supremacy over it and becoming more and more divorced from it, is the state.

The state differs from gentilism in that it first divides its members by territories. As we have seen, the old bonds of blood kinship uniting the gentile bodies had become inefficient, because they were dependent on the condition, now no longer a fact, that all gentiles should live on a certain territory. The territory was the same; but the human beings had changed. Hence the division by territories was chosen as the point of departure, and citizens had to exercise their rights and duties wherever they chose their abode without regard to gens and tribe. This organization of inhabitants by localities is a common feature of all states. It seems natural to us now. But we have seen what long and hard fighting was required before it could take, in Athens and Rome, the place of the old organization by blood kinship.

In the second place, the state created a public power of coërcion that did no longer coincide with the old self-organized and armed population. This special power of coërcion is necessary, because a self-organized army of the people has become impossible since the division of society into classes took place. For the slaves belonged also to society. The 90,000 citizens of Athens formed only a privileged class compared to the 365,000 slaves. The popular army of the Athenian democracy was an aristocratic public power designed to keep the slaves down. But we have seen that a police force became also necessary to maintain order among the citizens. This public power of coërcion exists in every state. It is not composed of armed men alone, but has also such objects as prisons and correction houses attached to it, that were unknown to gentilism. It may be very small, almost infinitesimal, in societies with feebly developed class antagonisms and in out of the way places, as was once the case in certain regions of the United States. But it increases in the same ratio in which the class antagonisms become more pronounced, and in which neighboring states become larger and more populous. A conspicuous example is modern Europe, where the class struggles and wars of conquest have nursed the public power to such a size that it threatens to swallow the whole society and the state itself.

In order to maintain this public power, contributions of the citizens become necessary—the taxes. These were absolutely unknown in gentile society. But today we get our full measure of them. As civilization makes further progress, these taxes are no longer sufficient to cover public expenses. The state makes drafts on the future, contracts loans, public debts. Old Europe can tell a story of them.

In possession of the public power and of the right of taxation, the officials in their capacity as state organs are now exalted above society. The free and voluntary respect that was accorded to the organs of gentilism does not satisfy them any more, even if they might have it. Representatives of a power that is divorced from society, they must enforce respect by exceptional laws that render them specially sacred and inviolable.[4] The lowest police employee of the civilized state has more “authority” than all the organs of gentilism combined. But the mightiest prince and the greatest statesman or general of civilization may look with envy on the spontaneous and undisputed esteem that was the privilege of the least gentile sachem. The one stands in the middle of society, the other is forced to assume a position outside and above it.

The state is the result of the desire to keep down class conflicts. But having arisen amid these conflicts, it is as a rule the state of the most powerful economic class that by force of its economic supremacy becomes also the ruling political class and thus acquires new means of subduing and exploiting the oppressed masses. The antique state was, therefore, the state of the slave owners for the purpose of holding the slaves in check. The feudal state was the organ of the nobility for the oppression of the serfs and dependent farmers. The modern representative state is the tool of the capitalist exploiters of wage labor. At certain periods it occurs exceptionally that the struggling classes balance each other so nearly that the public power gains a certain degree of independence by posing as the mediator between them. The absolute monarchy of the seventeenth and eighteenth century was in such a position, balancing the nobles and the burghers against one another. So was the Bonapartism of the first, and still more of the second, empire, playing the proletariat against the bourgeoisie and vice versa. The latest performance of this kind, in which ruler and ruled appear equally ridiculous, is the new German empire of Bismarckian make, in which capitalists and laborers are balanced against one another and equally cheated for the benefit of the degenerate Prussian cabbage junkers.[5]

In most of the historical states, the rights of the citizens are differentiated according to their wealth. This is a direct confirmation of the fact that the state is organized for the protection of the possessing against the non-possessing classes. The Athenian and Roman classification by incomes shows this. It is also seen in the medieval state of feudalism in which the political power depended on the quantity of real estate. It is again seen in the electoral qualifications of the modern representative state. The political recognition of the differences in wealth is by no means essential. On the contrary, it marks a low stage of state development. The highest form of the state, the democratic republic, knows officially nothing of property distinctions.[6] It is that form of the state which under modern conditions of society becomes more and more an unavoidable necessity. The last decisive struggle between proletariat and bourgeoisie can only be fought out under this state form.[7] In such a state, wealth exerts its power indirectly, but all the more safely. This is done partly in the form of direct corruption of officials, after the classical type of the United States, or in the form of an alliance between government and bankers which is established all the more easily when the public debt increases and when corporations concentrate in their hands not only the means of transportation, but also production itself, using the stock exchange as a center. The United States and the latest French republic are striking examples, and good old Switzerland has contributed its share to illustrate this point. That a democratic republic is not necessary for this fraternal bond between stock exchange and government is proved by England and last, not least, Germany, where it is doubtful whether Bismarck or Bleichroeder was more favored by the introduction of universal suffrage.[8] The possessing class rules directly through universal suffrage. For as long as the oppressed class, in this case the proletariat, is not ripe for its economic emancipation, just so long will its majority regard the existing order of society as the only one possible, and form the tail, the extreme left wing, of the capitalist class. But the more the proletariat matures toward its self-emancipation, the more does it constitute itself as a separate class and elect its own representatives in place of the capitalists. Universal suffrage is the gauge of the maturity of the working class. It can and will never be anything else but that in the modern state. But that is sufficient. On the day when the thermometer of universal suffrage reaches its boiling point among the laborers, they as well as the capitalists will know what to do.

The state, then, did not exist from all eternity. There have been societies without it, that had no idea of any state or public power. At a certain stage of economic development, which was of necessity accompanied by a division of society into classes, the state became the inevitable result of this division. We are now rapidly approaching a stage of evolution in production, in which the existence of classes has not only ceased to be a necessity, but becomes a positive fetter on production. Hence these classes must fall as inevitably as they once arose. The state must irrevocably fall with them. The society that is to reorganize production on the basis of a free and equal association of the producers, will transfer the machinery of state where it will then belong: into the

Museum of Antiquities by the side of the spinning wheel and the bronze ax.


Civilization is, as we have seen, that stage of society, in which the division of labor, the resulting exchange between individuals, and the production of commodities combining them, reach their highest development and revolutionize the whole society.

The production of all former stages of society was mainly collective, and consumption was carried on by direct division of products within more or less small communes. This collective production was confined within the narrowest limits. But it implied the control of production and of the products by the producers. They knew what became of their product: it did not leave their hands until it was consumed by them. As long as production moved on this basis, it could not grow beyond the control of the producers, and it could not create any strange ghostly forces against them. Under civilization, however, this is the inevitable rule.

Into the simple process of production, the division of labor was gradually interpolated. It undermined the communism of production and consumption, it made the appropriation of products by single individuals the prevailing rule, and thus introduced the exchange between individuals, in the manner mentioned above. Gradually, the production of commodities became the rule.

This mode of production for exchange, not for home consumption, necessarily passes the products on from hand to hand. The producer gives his product away in exchange. He does no longer know what becomes of it. With the advent of money and of the trader who steps in as a middleman between the producers, the process of exchange becomes still more complicated. The fate of the products becomes still more uncertain. The number of merchants is great and one does not know what the other is doing. The products now pass not only from hand to hand, but also from market to market. The producers have lost the control of the aggregate production in their sphere of life, and the merchants have not yet acquired this control. Products and production become the victims of chance. But chance is only one pole of an interrelation, the other pole of which is called necessity. In nature, where chance seems to reign also, we have long ago demonstrated the innate necessity and law that determines the course of chance on every line. But what is true of nature, holds also good of society. Whenever a social function or a series of social processes become too powerful for the control of man, whenever they grow beyond the grasp of man and seem to be left to mere chance, then the peculiar and innate laws of such processes shape the course of chance with increased elementary necessity. Such laws also control the vicissitudes of the production and exchange of commodities. For the individual producer and exchanger, these laws are strange, and often unknown, forces, the nature of which must be laboriously investigated and ascertained. These economic laws of production are modified by the different stages of this form of production. But generally speaking, the entire period of civilization is dominated by these laws. To this day, the product controls the producer. To this day, the aggregate production of society is managed, not on a uniform plan, but by blind laws, that rule with elementary force and find their final expression in the storms of periodical commercial crises.

We have seen that human labor power is enabled at a very early stage of production to produce considerably more than is needed to maintain the producer. We have found that this stage coincided in general with the first appearance of the division of labor and of exchange between individuals. Now, it was not long before the great truth was discovered that man may himself be a commodity, and that human labor power may be exchanged and exploited by transforming a man into a slave. Hardly had exchange between men been established, when men themselves were also exchanged. The active asset bcame a passive liability, whether man wanted it or not.

Slavery, which reaches its highest development in civilization, introduced the first great division of an exploited and an exploiting class into society. This division continued during the whole period of civilization. Slavery is the first form of exploitation, characteristic of the antique world. Then followed feudalism in the middle ages, and wage labor in recent times. These are the three great forms of servitude, characteristic of the three great epochs of civilization. Their invariable mark is either open or, in modern times, disguised slavery.

The stage of commodity production introducing civilization is marked economically by the introduction of (1) metal coins and, thus, of money as capital, of interest, and of usury; (2) merchants as middlemen between producers; (3) private property and mortgage; (4) slave labor as the prevailing form of production. The form of the family corresponding to civilization and becoming its pronounced custom is monogamy, the supremacy of man over woman, and the monogamous family as the economic unit of society. The aggregation of civilized society is the state, which throughout all typical periods is the state of the ruling class, and in all cases mainly a machine for controlling the oppressed and exploited class. Civilization is furthermore characterized on one side by the permanent introduction of the contrast between city and country as the basis of the entire division of social labor; on the other side by the introduction of the testament by which the property holder is enabled to dispose of his property beyond the hour of his death. This institution is a direct blow at the gentile constitution, and was unknown in Athens until the time of Solon. In Rome it was introduced very early, but we do not know when.[9] In Germany it was originated by the priests in order that the honest German might bequeath his property to the church without any interference.

With this fundamental constitution, civilization had accomplished things for which the old gentile society was no match whatever. But these exploits were accomplished by playing on the most sordid passions and instincts of man, and by developing them at the expense of all his other gifts. Barefaced covetousness was the moving spirit of civilization from its first dawn to the present day; wealth, and again wealth, and for the third time wealth; wealth, not of society, but of the puny individual, was its only and final aim. If nevertheless the advanced development of science, and at repeated times the highest flower of art, fell into its lap, this was only due to the fact that without them the highest emoluments of modern wealth would have been missing. Exploitation of one class by another being the basis of civilization, its whole development involves a continual contradiction. Every progress of production is at the same time a retrogression in the condition of the oppressed class, that is of the great majority. Every benefit for one class is necessarily an evil for the other, every new emancipation of one class a new oppression for the other. The most drastic proof of this is furnished by the introduction of machinery, the effects of which are well known to-day. And while there is hardly any distinction between rights and duties among barbarians, as we have seen, civilization makes the difference between these two plain even to the dullest mind. For now one class has nearly all the rights, the other class nearly all the duties.

But this is not admitted. What is good for the ruling class, is alleged to be good for the whole of society with which the ruling class identifies itself. The more civilization advances, the more it is found to cover with the cloak of charity the evils necessarily created by it, to excuse them or to deny their existence, in short to introduce a conventional hypocrisy that culminates in the declaration: The exploitation of the oppressed class is carried on by the exploiting class solely in the interest of the exploited class itself. And if the latter does not recognize this, but even becomes rebellious, it is simply the worst ingratitude to its benefactors, the exploiters.[10]

And now, in conclusion, let me add Morgan’s judgment of civilization (Ancient Society, page 552):

“Since the advent of civilization, the outgrowth of property has been so immense, its forms so diversified, its uses so expanding and its management so intelligent in the interest of its owners that it has become, on the part of the people, an unmanageable power. The human mind stands bewildered in the presence of its own creation. The time will come nevertheless, when human intelligence will rise to the mastery over property, and define the relations of the state to the property it protects, as well as the obligations and the limits of the rights of its owners. The interests of society are paramount to individual interests, and the two must be brought into just and harmonious relations. A mere property career is not the final destiny of mankind, if progress is to be the law of the future as it has been of the past. The time which has passed away since civilization began is but a fragment of the past duration of man’s existence; and but a fragment of the ages yet to come. The dissolution of society bids fair to become the termination of a career of which property is the end and aim, because such a career contains the elements of self-destruction. Democracy in government, brotherhood in society, equality in rights and privileges, and universal education, foreshadow the next higher plane of society to which experience, intelligence and knowledge are steadily tending. It will be a revival, in a higher form, of the liberty, equality and fraternity of the ancient gentes.”


  1.  Author’s note.

    Especially on the northwest coast of America; see Bancroft. Among the Haldahs of the Queen Charlotte Islands some households gather as many as 700 members under one roof. Among the Nootkas whole tribes lived under one roof.

  2.  Author’s note.

    The number of slaves in Athens was 365,000. In Corinth it was 460,000 at the most flourishing time, and 470,000 in Aegina; in both cases ten times the number of free citizens.

  3.  Author’s note.

    The first historian who had at least a vague conception of the nature of the gens was Niebuhr, thanks to his familiarity with the Dithmarsian families. The same source,however, is also responsible for his errors.

  4.  Translator’s note.

    The recent demand for a law declaring the person of the U. S. President sacred above all other representatives of the public power and making an assault on him an exceptional crime is a very good case in point.

  5.  Translator’s note.

    “Junker” is a contemptuous term for the land-owning nobility.

  6.  Translator’s note.

    In the United States, the poll tax is an indirect property qualification, as it strikes those who, through lack of employment, sickness or invalidity, are unable to spare the amount, however small, of this tax. Furthermore, the laws requiring a continuous residence in the precinct, the town, the county, and the State as a qualification for voters have the effect of disqualifying a great number of workingmen who are forced to change their abode according to their opportunities for employment. And the educational qualifications which especially the Southern States are rigidly enforcing tend to disfranchise the great mass of the negroes, who form the main body of the working class in those States.

  7.  Translator’s note.

    In Belgium, where the proletariat is now on the verge of gaining political supremacy, the battle cry is: “S. U. et R. P.” (Suffrage Universelle et Representation Proportionelle).

  8.  Translator’s note.

    Suffrage in Germany, though universal for men is by no means equal, but founded on property qualifications. InPrussia, e. g., a three class system of voting is in force which is best illustrated by the following figures: In 1898 there were 6,447,253 voters; 3.26 per cent belonged to the first class, 11.51 per cent to the second class, and 85.35 per cent to the third class. But the 947,218 voters of the first and second classes had twice as many votes as the five and a half millions of the third class.

  9.  Author’s note.

    Lassalle’s “System of Acquired Rights” argues in its second part mainly the proposition that the Roman testament is as old as Rome itself, and that there has never been in Roman history “a time without a testament.” According to him, the testament had its origin in pre-Roman times in the cult of the departed. Lassalle, as a convinced Hegelian of the old school, derives the provisions of the Roman law, not from the social condition of the Romans, but from the “speculative conception” of will, and thus arrives at this totally anti-historic conclusion. This is not to be wondered at in a book that draws from the same speculative conception the conclusion that the transfer of property was purely a side issue in Roman inheritance. Lassalle not only believed in the illusions of Roman jurists, especially of the earlier ones, but he outstripped their fancy.

  10.  Author’s note.

    I first intended to place the brilliant critique of civilization, scattered through the works of Fourier, by the side of Morgan’s and of my own. Unluckily I cannot spare the time. I only wish to remark that Fourier already considers monogamy and private property in land the main characteristics of civilization, and that he calls them a war of the rich against the poor. We also find with him the deep perception that the individual families (les families incoherentes) are the economic units of all faulty societies divided by opposing interests.


Source: The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State (1909)  by Friedrich Engels, translated by Ernest Untermann