On the State Power of Capital
The tribal communities of prehistory lived without any alien state power directing their lives. The social cohesion, solidarity and interests of the community as a whole were maintained by its communal activity and control which produced its material needs and served in its struggle to survive the impact of its natural conditions of life or in its battles with other tribes or peoples e.g. during disputes, war, etc. These forms of social control existed in order to facilitate the survival and propagation of a community as a whole; to defend the material interests of the whole community against any natural or human encroachments that threatened its welfare.
The proposition that forms of social control predated class societies may seem to be without any social logic. For, after all, were not the earliest human societies without private ownership in land, and based on an egalitarian association and a common access to the fruits of nature and human labour? These early societies – without class structure and class relations – have often been conceptualised as being without forms of social control. However, the primeval character of the humanity-nature relationship at this early stage of development necessitated social consensus amongst people. This ‘consensus’ had to be arrived at and agreed by the group as a whole in order for it to survive and manage its affairs. Intrinsic to this consensus were forms of social control which furthered the social cohesion of communities in their daily struggle to survive. Consensus was arrived at by means of the popular democracy of these communities. It is only later, in class societies, that social control becomes institutionalised in the form of the state which embodies and maintains the interests of a ruling class in opposition to those of the subjugated class or classes.
The rise of private property – reflected in the rise of class societies – transforms the nature of social control from actually representing the general popular interest in tribal society to only appearing to do so in class societies. The actuality of class rule in the latter societies means that the forms of social control must, inevitably and ultimately, represent and serve the interests of the ruling class. The need for state power and control over society only arises at that point in human history where the communes of prehistory begin to socially dichotomise, to fragment and split up, into opposed classes. This commences as a determinate historical process when the productivity of labour arrives at that point where a surplus product over and above the immediate needs of the community has been produced.
This production of a surplus is necessarily accompanied by the division of labour into manual and mental forms and becomes manifest in the rise of an elected, and then later hereditary, priesthood out of the egalitarian relations of the commune. The origination of hereditary priesthoods is the first historical symptom that the ancient communal relations have started to break up and the transition to the new forms of class society with their state structures has commenced. These state structures arise, are established and develop historically on the basis of definite social relations (slave, feudal, bourgeois, etc) and are reproduced and perpetuated as the highest political embodiment of the interests of the ruling class of the epoch.
In the epoch of capital, the state power not only defends and justifies the continuing hegemony of the ruling capitalist class. In so doing, it performs a trick of history, by asserting itself as the representative of ‘society’ in general. In defending the interests of its class, it defends and legitimises its own existence as the ‘general social interest’. This phenomenological presentation serves to conceal the class character of the state power itself. All state power is the direct political articulation of the interests of the ruling class of the day. The state power is the political power of the ruling class. The important role and power of ideology is intrinsic to this process of class domination. And, in this respect, the state power of capital itself ideologically presents itself as the highest representation of the abstract ‘general social interest’ which serves to disguise the true articulation of class interest.
Accordingly, the state power of capital, whilst appearing to represent the ‘general interest’, in essence really functions to guard the particular interests of the class of the owners of big capital. This state form of class rule is presented as a social ‘consensus’ which dresses itself in the ‘rule of law’. This, in turn, serves to mask the reality of class rule in a veil of legalistic and ideological forms. These ideological aspects are of central importance which facilitate the capitalist class to legitimise its reign over society. Today, this is especially the case through its mass media which is owned and controlled by this ruling capitalist class and its servants in the state power. The reality of class rule is presented as a social consensus.
Through its ownership and control of the means of production and the state power, the capitalist class controls the social process of the production and realisation of the material means of life. Its mass media plays an indispensable role in this whole process of social control. This ownership and control of the whole social metabolism by capital becomes, with social development, institutionalised in the form of the state. This state of affairs becomes backed up by systems and forms of ideology, serving to maintain the grip of the ruling class on the whole social metabolic process.
An apparent consensus attempts to hide the real class nature of social relations thus enabling the ruling class to legitimise its reign. Ideology arises and is developed historically and specifically for this purpose. The emergence and development of an ideology corresponds to and expresses the material appropriation of the means of production by a given class i.e. the struggle of a caste or class for social power and hegemony based on its ownership and/or control of the means of production. The evolution of class society through its different phases of development modifies the forms of social control and their ideological expression so that they correspond to and represent the interests of a class in the ascendant or in power.
All societies with class or caste hierarchies throughout human history have always created state structures in one form or another to maintain the social interests of the ruling class or caste. The ruling class or caste of the day, and its state power, have owned and/or controlled the means of life and, in so doing, have been able to determine the survival or extinction of individuals or whole peoples. This has always been supported by ideology. ‘The ruling ideas of the day are those of the ruling class’ (Marx)
In class societies, control is exerted and reinforced by the ruling class through its ideological dominance and state institutions which are its ideology and institutions. Thus, in the historical development of the class struggle, opposed ideological positions function as representations and social expressions of contending class interests. They become a means of maintaining or abolishing the rule of a given class, of fighting out the class struggle to a standstill or towards the abolition of the reign of the old ruling class and its replacement with the new. Contrarily, in the communal relations of pre-class societies, ideology served as a medium within and through which the social integrity and solidarity of the commune was maintained in opposition to the encroachments of other peoples (e.g. tribal land use, rights, etc) and in the commune’s struggle to survive against the hostile forces of nature. In class societies, ideology (including morality) serves an indispensable role and function in the class struggle.
The state power of capital exists to maintain the rule of capital in the reproduction of the whole social metabolism. Its own existence as a power is conditional on the maintenance of this form of social reproduction which, as Istvan Meszaros writes, is becoming increasingly more destructive of nature and humanity as its endogenous ‘structural crisis’ unfolds and intensifies. The state power of capital functions politically and militarily to ‘maintain order’. This is the primary, ‘default’ role of the police and armed forces : for ‘internal control and repression’ and not for ‘external and foreign wars’ which is the usual myth and deceit peddled by the ideologues of capital and its media mouthpieces and chatterboxes. The state power of capital does not simply ‘administer’ the rule of one class over another through its government bureaucracies but actually maintains class rule by means of threat, violence, deceit and coercion.
A vital role of the state power of capital is to maintain the proletariat in a state of economic dependency on capital. In this respect, it supplements the direct, socio-economic role of capital itself within the working and turnover of the social metabolism. This involves, necessarily, coercion and oppression which impacts the lives of people at the personal level. The psychological internalisation and assimilation of the exploitative, compulsory, coercive, oppressive character of bourgeois social relations denotes the control of man over man, class over class and its state power over the whole of society. In the transitional phase from bourgeois to classless society, the producers democratically organise the regulation and control of society over itself. It becomes self-regulating. In the epoch of capital, the state power and its agencies confront the producers as alien social structures ruling over it on behalf of capital itself. State power, in one form or another, is always implicit or actual threat. State power is always violence waiting to happen (or actually happening) against those who threaten the social relations which constitute the basis of its own existence as a state power. This applied no less in second century Rome under the Antonine emperors as it does today in the age of globalising capital under the various state powers of capital. These state powers trade in fear, fear of loss, fear of humiliation, fear of death, etc. And all this must have psychological impacts at the personal and interpersonal levels such as anxieties, depression, social withdrawal and isolation, etc, and what the psychiatrists refer to as ‘mental illness’ and ‘personality disorders’. But all this ‘psychology’ is a social psychology which reflects, and articulates on a personal level, the exploitative, coercive and oppressive character of social relations in the epoch of capital and the dependence of people on this socio-economic relation.
If the individual tries to resist this relation as an isolated individual, s/he is countered with established or innovated mechanisms of control. For example, in the workplace, on the street in ‘public space’, in the ‘benefits (welfare) culture’, etc. You fight back simply as a solitary individual and capital and its state power disciplines you. You are threatened (as if by an armed gangster or mobster against his unarmed victim) because the realisation of your immediate needs are conditional on you working within and accepting the economic and social parameters and criteria laid down by the capital system. A system and regime of coerced subservience to capital pertains and maintains you in a state of dependent subsistence. Intimidation and fear is intrinsic to such a regime which uses them as a means of controlling people. It cannot survive without them.
However, such mechanisms of rule and control can only be employed, and are only effective, within definite social parameters, that is, only under definite socio-historical conditions which actually permit their effective operation and imposition. Beyond a certain point of social development, the needs of people can only be realised on the condition of the destruction of those social relations which are maintained and perpetuated by such forms of social control and state power. The conflict here between the needs and interests of opposed classes (capital and labour) is therefore expressed here, in particular, in the form of the dynamic conflict between the imposition of and resistance to systems and mechanisms of social control by the state power of capital.
In the classless ages which lie beyond capital and all state power, the comprehensive needs of human beings become socially and unconditionally guaranteed. The forms and systems of exploitative social control of previous class societies become unnecessary and disappear. Consequentially, those forms of human behaviour and corresponding ‘psychologies’ which are the outcome of the exploitative relations of bourgeois society must also die away. Those psychological forms that are necessarily associated with these relations begin to lose their grip on the mind and vanish. The social exploitation of man by man disappears. Accordingly, those compulsory characteristics of interpersonal relationships which grow out of the various forms of exploitation in bourgeois society must perish with its social relations.
The exploitative forms of social control and coercion, which are a necessary feature of class societies in general and of capitalist society in particular, find their highest expression in the form of the state power which always embodies a definite class nature according to the historical conditions of its actual origination and development. The state – in whatever form – always represents the interests of a ruling caste or class. It is the product of the developing antagonisms of the given class society. With the dissolution of bourgeois society in the transition to higher human communal relations, the state begins to wither away.
The state power only becomes necessary with the differentiation of society into opposed classes with the dissolution of the communal relations of prehistory. It becomes socially ‘unnecessary’ with the dissolution of the final form of class society and gradually ‘withers away’ since there are no class interests to defend subsequently in the resulting and succeeding eras of classless societies. The character of social relations no longer gives rise to or necessitates the existence of the state. When the state has vanished from the human landscape, notions of freedom must vanish with it. A truly free human being can have no concept of freedom. Such concepts are the products of the social relations of class societies with their enslaved classes and peoples, oppressions, conflicts, state powers, etc. Thus, a truly free human being has no awareness of being free just as communist humanity will not categorise itself as ‘communist’.
In the course of this mighty historic transition beyond the epoch of capital and its state powers, the forms of human consciousness corresponding to this period of transition will continue to reflect a disappearing connection to and with bourgeois society (specifically with the alienation within this dying society). This will show that society – in this revolutionary transition phase – has not completely disentangled itself from the legacies of bourgeois society. So long as the historical umbilical cord connecting people to the social legacies of this form of class society – and the human memory of them – has not been completely severed, then human society has not re-founded and re-developed itself as an association of free human beings. In the course of this necessary transition, the legacies of the relations of bourgeois society would continue to exert their influence, connecting humanity (at least psychologically) to the forms of social antagonism of the past. Accordingly, under these conditions, the thinking, feeling, behaviour and interpersonal relationships of people would continue to be conditioned, however tenuously, by the legacies of the exploitative relations of the class society of the past.
The state power of capital, and not the broad mass of the people, rules and makes all the important decisions regarding social development. Humanity will not survive if this state of affairs continues. These state powers are leading society down an increasingly destructive path towards more death, barbarism and annihilation. Humanity must find a way out of this impasse in a transition to a new order which eclipses the epoch of capital and replaces it with a sustainable system of production based on meeting human needs rather than private profit. A transformation of the whole ‘social metabolism’ is required in order to create the new society beyond capital. Political and military changes alone will be inadequate to go beyond the epoch of capital and its state powers.
Very deep and profound ‘social metabolic’ changes and transformations will be required in order to progress beyond capital and its state powers. Movement beyond one is not separable from movement beyond the other and vice versa. The historical precedence of the formation of the necessary forms of revolutionary agency asserts itself here. The decision-making processes must be transferred to ‘social bodies’ of the proletariat in the course of challenging and dismantling the state powers of the capital order. From the very ‘metabolic bases’ of society to its highest ‘superstructural forms’, the proletariat must reorganise the whole of production and society on a new socialist and sustainable foundation. Progression to the elimination (‘withering away’) of the state power is an intrinsic part of this mighty historic process of transition.
The path to human freedom is opened up by means of the negation of the global domination of capital, of the negation of the reproduction of capital dominating the whole of the planet’s social metabolism and ecosystems. The character of this overthrow – whether it is peaceful, violent, etc – stems inevitably and directly from the degree to which capital and its state power offers resistance to the struggle for human emancipation from its rule. By peaceful means if possible. By war if necessary.