Sunday, December 13, 2009

The origins of the state

This notion of a "workers' state" continues to bother me (though my apprehensions may be misplaced). As I understand it, the state originated with Babylon, Sumeria, Lydia, and Assyria. The idea was to expropriate agricultural surplus from peasant communities and use it to feed standing armies, which could then be used to invade other peasant communities (a "virtuous circle" of military expansion). The expropriation was carried out (if memory serves) through the introduction of coinage -- i.e., a monetary economy -- which allowed for taxation and caused, inter alia, the instant impoverishment of the peasantry. Anyone in the neighborhood not organised along state lines quickly got invaded by these proto-states and incorporated into these structures. Thus, the state itself was born as a military entity, and organised to channel resources from peasants to armies, rulers, a priesthood, and an aristocracy. In passing, it goes without saying that the state has been in the hands of different oligarchies at different times -- military rulers (like Sargon, Sennacherib and Nebuchadnezzar in ancient times) or the modern capitalist bourgeoisie that we're lumbered with today. But regardless of the era and regardless of the nature of the ruling oligarchy, it has always served as an instrument of armed might, coercion and extortion. Whether it can ever be anything else -- such as a "workers' state" -- is what I'm wondering about.

3 comments:

Red Frog said...

Nice encapulation of the orgin of the state. A workers' state is an oppressive apparatus against the overthrown bourgeoisie. The whole point then is to avoid another bureaucracy taking over, and to avoid the comeback of the capitalists. Because one leads to the other.

The scientific name, as Zizek points out once again, is the 'dictatorship of the proletariat.' Since this phrase reeks of oppression, and the historical usage by the Stalinists, it is gingerly mentioned.

This state has to wither away and disaapear into actual socialism - which is a stateless society, and then to communism, the highest stage of that stateless society.

The real problem, of course, is that any state can also be used against the wrong people. Can you go directly to a stateless society? I think this is not possible, given the bloody experience of capitalist intentions. I wish it were so.

The Arthurian said...

There's no changing human nature. Maybe with a set of rules -- a religion -- it would be possible to create a long-lasting 'ideal' society. But even religions change, and come to serve one group at the expense of others.

If the rules are established by a state, and then the state withers away, we revert to a human nature free-for-all, and we're back to re-creating Babylon.

But anyway, happy new year.

動感 said...
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