Theory of Force


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Private property by no means makes its appearance in history as the result of robbery or force. On the contrary. It already existed, though limited to certain objects, in the ancient primitive communities of all civilised peoples. It developed into the form of commodities within these communities, at first through barter with foreigners. The more the products of the community assumed the commodity form, that is, the less they were produced for their producers’ own use and the more for the purpose of exchange, and the more the original spontaneously evolved division of labour was superseded by exchange also within the community, the more did inequality develop in the property owned by the individual members of the community, the more deeply was the ancient common ownership of the land undermined, and the more rapidly did the commune develop towards its dissolution and transformation into a village of smallholding peasants. For thousands of years Oriental despotism and the changing rule of conquering nomad peoples were unable to injure these old communities; the gradual destruction of their primitive home industry by the competition of products of large-scale industry brought these communities nearer and nearer to dissolution. Force was as little involved in this process as in the dividing up, still taking place now, of the land held in common by the village communities [Gegoferschaften] on the Mosel and in the Hochwald; the peasants simply find it to their advantage that the private ownership of land should take the place of common ownership. Even the formation of a primitive aristocracy, as in the case of the Celts, the Germans and the Indian Punjab, took place on the basis of common ownership of the land, and at first was not based in any way on force, but on voluntariness and custom. Wherever private property evolved it was the result of altered relations of production and exchange, in the interest of increased production and in furtherance of intercourse — hence as a result of economic causes. Force plays no part in this at all. Indeed, it is clear that the institution of private property must already be in existence for a robber to be able to appropriate another person’s property, and that therefore force may be able to change the possession of, but cannot create, private property as such.

 Nor can we use either force or property founded on force in explanation of the “subjugation of man to make him do servile work” in its most modern form — wage-labour. We have already mentioned the role played in the dissolution of the ancient communities, that is, in the direct or indirect general spread of private property, by the transformation of the products of labour into commodities, their production not for consumption by those who produced them, but for exchange. Now in Capital, Marx proved with absolute clarity — and Herr Dühring carefully avoids even the slightest reference to this — that at a certain stage of development, the production of commodities becomes transformed into capitalist production, and that at this stage “the laws of appropriation or of private property, laws that are based on the production and circulation of commodities, become by their own inner and inexorable dialectic changed into their opposite. The exchange of equivalents, the original operation with which we started, has now become turned round in such a way that there is only an apparent exchange. This is owing to the fact, first, that the capital which is exchanged for labour-power is itself but a portion of the product of others’ labour appropriated without an equivalent; and, secondly, that this capital must not only be replaced by its producer, but replaced together with an added surplus… At first property seemed to us to be based on a man’s own labour… Now, however” (at the end of Marx’s analysis) “property turns out to be the right, on the part of the capitalist, to appropriate the unpaid labour of others, and to be the impossibility, on the part of the labourer, of appropriating his own product. The separation of property from labour has become the necessary consequence of a law that apparently originated in their identity.” In other words, even if we exclude all possibility of robbery, force and fraud, even if we assume that all private property was originally based on the owner’s own labour, and that throughout the whole subsequent process there was only exchange of equal values for equal values, the progressive development of production and exchange nevertheless brings us of necessity to the present capitalist mode of production, to the monopolisation of the means of production and the means of subsistence in the hands of the one, numerically small, class, to the degradation into propertyless proletarians of the other class, constituting the immense majority, to the periodic alternation of speculative production booms and commercial crises and to the whole of the present anarchy of production. The whole process can be explained by purely economic causes; at no point whatever are robbery, force, the state or political interference of any kind necessary. “Property founded on force” {D. C. 4} proves here also to be nothing but the phrase of a braggart intended to cover up his lack of understanding of the real course of things.

 This course of things, expressed historically, is the history of the development of the bourgeoisie. If “political conditions are the decisive cause of the economic situation” {D. K. G. 230-31}, then the modern bourgeoisie cannot have developed in struggle with feudalism, but must be the latter’s voluntarily begotten pet child. Everyone knows that what took place was the opposite. Originally an oppressed estate liable to pay dues to the ruling feudal nobility, recruited from all manner of serfs and villains, the burghers conquered one position after another in their continuous struggle with the nobility, and finally, in the most highly developed countries, took power in its stead; in France, by directly overthrowing the nobility; in England, by making it more and more bourgeois and incorporating it as their own ornamental head. And how did they accomplish this? Simply through a change in the “economic situation”, which sooner or later, voluntarily or as the outcome of combat, was followed by a change in the political conditions. The struggle of the bourgeoisie against the feudal nobility is the struggle of town against country, industry against landed property, money economy against natural economy; and the decisive weapon of the bourgeoisie in this struggle was its means of economic power, constantly increasing through the development of industry, first handicraft, and then, at a later stage, progressing to manufacture, and through the expansion of commerce. During the whole of this struggle political force was on the side of the nobility, except for a period when the Crown played the bourgeoisie against the nobility, in order to keep one estate in check by means of the other [71]; but from the moment when the bourgeoisie, still politically powerless, began to grow dangerous owing to its increasing economic power, the Crown resumed its alliance with the nobility, and by so doing called forth the bourgeois revolution, first in England and then in France. The “political conditions” in France had remained unaltered, while the “economic situation” had outgrown them. Judged by his political status the nobleman was everything, the burgher nothing; but judged by his social position the burgher now formed the most important class in the state, while the nobleman had been shorn of all his social functions and was now only drawing payment, in the revenues that came to him, for these functions which had disappeared. Nor was that all. Bourgeois production in its entirety was still hemmed in by the feudal political forms of the Middle Ages, which this production — not only manufacture, but even handicraft industry — had long outgrown; it had remained hemmed in by all the thousandfold guild privileges and local and provincial customs barriers which had become mere irritants and fetters on production. The bourgeois revolution put an end to this. Not, however, by adjusting the economic situation to suit the political conditions, in accordance with Herr Dühring’s precept — this was precisely what the nobles and the Crown had been vainly trying to do for years — but by doing the opposite, by casting aside the old mouldering political rubbish and creating political conditions in which the new “economic situation” could exist and develop. And in this political and legal atmosphere which was suited to its needs it developed brilliantly, so brilliantly that the bourgeoisie has already come close to occupying the position held by the nobility in 1789: it is becoming more and more not only socially superfluous, but a social hindrance; it is more and more becoming separated from productive activity, and, like the nobility in the past, becoming more and more a class merely drawing revenues; and it has accomplished this revolution in its own position and the creation of a new class, the proletariat, without any hocus-pocus of force whatever, in a purely economic way. Even more: it did not in any way will this result of its own actions land activities — on the contrary, this result established itself with irresistible force, against the will and contrary to the intentions of the bourgeoisie; its own productive forces have grown beyond its control, and, as if necessitated by a law of nature, are driving the whole of bourgeois society towards ruin, or revolution. And if the bourgeois now make their appeal to force in order to save the collapsing “economic situation” from the final crash, this only shows that they are labouring under the same delusion as Herr Dühring: the delusion that “political conditions are the decisive cause of the economic situation”; this only shows that they imagine, just as Herr Dühring does, that by making use of “the primary”, “the direct political force”, they can remodel those “facts of the second order” {D. Ph. 538}, the economic situation and its inevitable development; and that therefore the economic consequences of the steam-engine and the modern machinery driven by it, of world trade and the banking and credit developments of the present day, can be blown out of existence by them with Krupp guns and Mauser rifles. 
Frederick Engles
Anti-Dühring; Part II: Political Economy

Theory of Force