Part 2

Submitted by Alias Recluse on January 2, 2014

Part 2


From Race to Nation


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


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


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


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


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


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.

The Social Structures of the German Barbarians


The peoples who brought an end to the Roman Empire with their waves of invasions also originally possessed a gentile and matriarchal organization, and a communist system of cultivation of the land. When they first came into contact with Rome, they were between the middle and the higher stage of barbarism, and were beginning to make the transition from a nomadic to a sedentary lifestyle. Their military organization was beginning to give way to the formation of a class of military chiefs who elected the king and who were accumulating vast wealth, seizing the land from the free peasants, who were previously all members of the gens and the tribe, and thus free and of equal status. The state also began to emerge among these peoples, and the foundations were gradually laid that would lead many centuries later to the modern rebirth of the nation.

The information available concerning the German peoples located throughout Europe north of the Danube and east of the Rhine depicted them as having a system of agricultural production governed in common by families, gentes and marks, followed by a type of occupation of the land characterized by its periodic redistribution with the lands that were not totally held in common being set aside as fallow land for later cultivation. During this period, crafts and industry were completely primitive: there was no commerce and no money circulated, except for Roman coins in the border zones of the empire, along with a certain quantity of imported manufactured goods.

All of these peoples were nomadic during the time of Marius, who repelled the hordes of Cimbrians and Teutons from the Italian peninsula, which they were attempting to occupy be crossing the Po; many of them were still nomadic during the time of Caesar, who observed them on the left bank of the Rhine, and they are only described as sedentary in the time of Tacitus, one hundred fifty years later. They had evidently undergone a complicated process related above all to their rapid population growth, but we lack primary historical documentation for this period: at the time of the fall of the Empire there were six million of them, according to Engels, in an area that is now home to about one hundred fifty million people.

The class distinctions between the military chiefs who possessed land and power and the mass of peasant-soldiers (since there were no slaves and therefore the only people who did not bear arms or were exempt from the obligations of warfare were those who worked the land) led to the formation of authentic states, as they occupied a fixed territory and chose a stable king or emperor, even for life but not yet hereditary in the context of a dynasty. Once this point was reached the gentile order had already been overthrown, since the tradition of the popular assembly of the community is completely altered in favor of the assembly of chiefs or noble electors, which constituted the foundation of an openly class-based power.

This process was undoubtedly accelerated by the conquest of the territories of the declining Roman Empire, in which the invading peoples settled. Rather than its reorganization, their revolutionary task was the destruction of the corrupt Roman Empire; as Engels said, they liberated the subjects of Rome from their parasitic state, whose socio-economic foundations collapsed, and the invaders obtained in exchange at least two-thirds of the imperial territory.

The new organization of agricultural production in these lands, in view of the relatively small numbers of the occupying forces and their tradition of communist labor, left vast tracts unassigned, not only of forests and pastures, but also cultivated lands, and the German forms of law either prevailed over the Roman forms, or the two forms existed side by side. This made possible a fixed territorial administration of these nomadic peoples, and Germanic states arose that for four or five centuries ruled the old Roman provinces and Italy itself. The most important of these states was that of the Franks, which served as a defensive rampart against the occupation of Europe by the Moors, despite yielding some territory to pressure from the Normans, and thus enabled populations to remain in the territories they occupied, forming a complex ethnic mixture of Germans, Romans and, in the kingdom of the Franks, the indigenous Celts. These Germanic states were not nations, however, due to this recent crowding together of heterogeneous ethic types, traditions, languages and institutions: but they were states because they finally had stable borders and a unified military force.

“And, further, however unproductive these four centuries appear [the 5th, 6th, 7th and 8th centuries A.D.], one great product they did leave: the modern nationalities, the new forms and structures through which west European humanity was to make coming history [the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries]. The Germans had, in fact, given Europe new life, and therefore the break-up of the states in the Germanic period ended, not in subjugation by the Norsemen and Saracens, but in the further development of the system of benefices and protection into feudalism….”

Before we conclude this part of our text with the description of the features of the medieval constitution, in which the “national” factor is substantially excluded, we want to point out that in the classic Marxist doctrine not only is the organization of the ancient barbarian and nomadic gentile constitutions into states considered to be a historically positive development, which benefited the peoples of the Mediterranean peninsulas for more than one thousand years, but so is the development of the national character of these states, their development in the direction of nationality, that is, towards a community that is circumscribed not just by certain racial characteristics, but also by the language and traditions and customs of all the inhabitants of an extensive and stable geographic territory. While the historical idealist sees in nationality a general fact that is always and everywhere present wherever there is civil life, the Marxists attribute it to particular cycles. We have recounted the history of the first historical cycle, and it was that of the great national democracies “superimposed” on the masses of slaves, but with free men divided into social classes. We shall discuss the second cycle in Part 3, that of the democracies of free men, now without human slaves. In this second historical cycle the reality of the nation accompanies a new class division: that of capitalism. The nation and its material influence are perfected in capitalism and bourgeois democracy, but not before, since the formation of nation states will be indispensable so that the passage to modern capitalism in the various geographic areas may be accomplished.

Feudal Society as Non-national Organization


The economic relations that define the feudal order explain how the feudal type of production led to the origin of a specific corresponding historical form of the political state, but one lacking a national character.

To explain how the encounter between two such heterogeneous types of production—the agrarian community of the barbarian peoples and the regime of private landed property of the Romans—led to the feudal system that is in turn based on agrarian production, and to emphasize the Marxist conclusion that the states of classical antiquity, above all in their best periods, had a national character, which would be lacking in the medieval order, it is necessary to recall the most noteworthy characteristics of their respective relations of property and production.

In the barbarian order, until slavery appeared, the farmer was a free member of the community, but the land was not subdivided in individual parcels nor was any part of it set aside for individual consumption, nor were agricultural products regulated, harvested and consumed in accordance with individual control.

In the classical order of antiquity, the agricultural worker was essentially the slave, and slavery prevailed not just in agriculture but also in the already highly developed and differentiated sector that produced manufactured goods, which is why it is correct to state that the Greco-Roman world had an authentic industrialism and in a certain sense a real capitalism: capital, instead of being constituted by the land and the instruments of production was formed above all by living men, while today, for example, in an enterprise the land, the machines and the draft animals are capital. This ancient capitalism did not have generalized wage labor as a corresponding term, since it was rare for a free man to work for a wage.

Because the slaves, however, who constituted the fundamental labor force of society (perhaps at first they were the common property of all the free men), were goods that could be owned, their distribution was unequal and this resulted in the division of the category of free men into two classes: citizens who owned slaves, and citizens without slaves, without property in men. It seems that even the wise Socrates himself aspired, in his impoverished status as a philosopher, to buy at least one slave boy.

The citizen without slaves was therefore incapable of living on the labor of others, and so he had to work. He did not work like a slave, of course, but like a free man, that is, without taking orders from a master. And for this reason he had to participate in the regime of landed private property. The free worker is a landowning peasant who disposes of his piece of land according to his wishes, obtaining products with the labor of his own two arms. Other free men who were not rich and who did not own slaves engaged in free craft labor or the liberal professions (which were not conceded, at least as an intellectual activity, to slaves).

When this cycle is complete all the arable land is reduced to an allodial good. The allod is private property in the land, with full rights to sell it or to buy other land. This means that the new land that was conquered by Rome was immediately divided among the victorious (Roman) soldiers who became colonists. For allodial rights to be freely exercised, however, it is necessary for circulating money to exist with which various products can be purchased, including the slaves normally associated with the possession of land.

The few goods that were not distributed in the ancient regime by way of parcelized individual ownership and remained in the hands of the state or of local administrative entities comprised, as opposed to allodial goods, the public domain. The fact that the private allodium predominated over the public domain required the existence of a circulating medium, and therefore of a general market to which all the free citizens of the entire territory could have access: this condition was completely fulfilled in Greece and Rome. The type of production of classical antiquity therefore presented, for the first time, unlike the system of production under barbarism with its restricted circles of labor-consumption, a domestic national market (and also the beginnings of an international market). The territorial state is a national state not only when its power reaches the whole territory by way of armed force (as was also true of the Egyptians, Assyrians, and later of the Salian Franks and the Burgundians, etc.), but also when the trade in the products of its labor and of goods extends throughout its entire territory and between the most distant points of that territory. In the juridical superstructure this is expressed by the exercise of the same rights on the part of the citizenry in all parts of the state. Only then is the state a nation. In the framework of historical materialism, a nation is therefore an organized community in a territory in which a unified domestic market has been formed. Corresponding to this historical result is a parallel degree of community of blood, and even more of language (you cannot do business without speaking!), of habits and customs….

The classical economic environment gave birth to the phenomenon of accumulation, as also takes place in modern capitalism: we then find those who have many slaves and those who have none, those who have a lot of land and those who hardly have enough to till with their bare hands. This concentration led to destructive results and transformed slave labor into an economically counterproductive factor as the land was relentlessly being divided into smaller and smaller parcels. In this context and with these relations in mind Pliny wrote that “latifundia Italiam perdidere” [“the latifundia are the ruination of Italy”—Note of the Spanish Translator], and in the superstructure of morality the enslavement of man became an infamy…. Contemporary compilers of agrarian laws actually went so far, with regard to aspects of technological and social development, to identify slavery with the odium of capitalist exploitation of agricultural labor. But let us return to our examination of Medieval agricultural labor.

With the collapse of the Roman agrarian economy that had become technologically retrograde and unproductive, the general fabric of commerce by which movable wealth circulated throughout the entire empire also collapsed, and the range of all types of needs of the population that could be satisfied also contracted. The barbarians, however, arrived with a tradition of not being such big consumers, and for them, after the brief hiatus of the dissipation of the loot they obtained in the cities, which went into decline at this time, the real wealth that they had conquered was the land. But they were too late, since the social division of labor was already too highly advanced for all the land seized from the Roman landowners and latifundists to be worked in common, or managed as part of the public domain of the new powers. What emerged was a mixed type of allodial and public domain lands. Part of the land was appropriated for the common use of the communities (civic customs that have survived to this day), and another part was definitively divided in an allodial form, which was completely precarious in the period when new waves of conquerors were constantly arriving, and another part was shared out by way of periodic redistributions (even today this institution of re-allotment of the land has survived in cadastral legislation, in Austria, for example).

The free peasants who took possession of the much desired and fertile Mediterranean lands would rapidly obtain greater yields than the gangs of slaves. And in this context the productive forces of so many previously unused arms and of the rich terrain scorned by the wealthy Romans underwent a powerful resurgence. Because of the collapse of the Roman administrative network with its communications and means of transport, however, trade collapsed as well, regressing into a type of local production characterized by the direct local consumption of the product.

This economy without commerce characterized the Middle Ages, whose states possessed legal systems and territorial armies, but did not have united territorial markets: as a result, they were not nations.

If the members of the old gentile institutions had already lost their social equality during the course of the migrations and conquests, they would soon also lose, together with the semi-common and semi-allodial control of the occupied lands, their liberty and their autonomy as well. The process entailing the concentration of territorial property into the hands of military chiefs, functionaries, favorites of the king’s court, and religious bodies had commenced.

The slaves of antiquity were replaced by a new class of serfs, who did all the manual labor themselves, above all, the robbery and extortion of the free laborers. Farming land that was divided into many parcels presupposed a stable order, which in the Roman state was guaranteed by its judges and its soldiers, but which now was lacking not only because new armed peoples frequently came to the fertile lands, but also because struggles broke out between the lords and chieftains of a single ineffectively centralized power.

The free peasant needed security more than freedom, since security was the basic element of the Roman juridical order, which was now rehabilitated and held up as a model. By surrendering his freedom he found security, or at least a better chance of cultivating the land for himself and not for other predatory elements, who deprived him of his tools and equipment along with his entire harvest.

This form was known as commendation (and not recommendation as some texts call it), which is basically nothing but an agreement between the peasant farmer and the armed and warlike lord. The feudal lord guaranteed stability in the territory where the labor was performed, and the peasant handed over to him part of his crop or else part of his labor time. But the security of not being expelled from the land he farmed was transformed into the obligation not to leave it. He was no longer a slave, who could be sold, but he was not a free peasant, either: he was the serf of the glebe.

The Bases of the Modern Revolution

The defense waged by Engels on behalf of this form as opposed to latifundist slavery is completely Marxist. The new form allows, for example in the France of the semi-savage Celts, an enormous development of productivity and an enormous increase in the stable population, so that the periodic famines (the consequence of the abolition of trade between regions and provinces) and the Crusades (an attempt to reopen the trade routes of antiquity) did not reduce this population two centuries later.

Thus, the revolution that accompanied the fall of the Roman Empire at the hands of the barbarian migrations served the further development of the social productive forces.

The destruction of general commerce and of the markets that once embraced the furthest reaches of nation and empire condemned the newly-fertilized and colonized Europe to a very long period of molecular economic life, its populations dispersed and reduced to tiny islands, a Europe that still was the home of stable peoples who gradually became culturally and technologically more advanced, an advance that corresponded with the organization of the countries that were consistently occupied by humans, although the class that at that time formed the vast majority of the population, the class of the serfs bound to the glebe, was excluded from any social advancement.

As Fourier had so felicitously intuited, however, while the slaves of antiquity had not engaged in any real victorious liberation struggles, for the European peoples the basis of a distant but formidable revolutionary uprising against the ruling classes and institutions of the feudal epoch had been prepared.

While the modern urban proletariat was making its appearance in history, the national demand was the main cause of this immense revolution, and was conducive to the liberation of the modern citizen from the chains of his servitude by situating him at the level of the ancient citizen. If the modern bourgeois revolution literally uses and abuses the echo of the Greco-Roman glories—“qui nous délivrera des Grecs et des Romains?”—it is nevertheless true that it was a revolutionary ferment with a gigantic force.

The national revolution and its demand are not ours, nor do they mean the conquest of an irrevocable and eternal benefit for man. But Marxism observes it with interest, and even with admiration and passion, and when it arose in history, in decisive moments and locations, it participated in this struggle on its side.

It is necessary to study the degree of development of the cycles, identifying the crucial places and moments. If one thousand years have transpired between the development of the primitive Mediterranean peoples and those of continental Europe, the termination of the modern national cycle in the West could be said to have been accomplished, but from the revolutionary point of view, the cycle of the peoples of other races remains open and will continue to remain open for a long period, with its own different cycles and continents. And this is above all why it is so important to shed light, in a Marxist and revolutionary sense, upon the role of the national factor.