THE STATE: WHAT AND WHO DETERMINES THE SUPERSTRUCTURE?

DEFINITION OF TERMS

(a)      Economic Base– forces of production (human labor, raw materials extracted from nature plus the human made plant and equipment) plus relations of production (who works and owns).

(b)     Mode of Production– the human relation to nature, our economic activity, is a foundation or basis for human society. Therefore, mode of production is sometimes called the “economic base.” It also includes not only the relations of humans to nature, but also the relations of humans to other humans in the work process.

(c)      Superstructure – composed of the political institution (executive, legislative, judiciary, court, prisons, police, army) and the ideological institution (family, churches, schools, mass media, cultural institutions).

(d)     Relations of Production – composed of the owning class (slave-owners, feudal lords, capitalists) and the working class (slaves, serfs, modern employees/workers).

(e)      Forces of Production – composed of technology (techniques of production), labor force (human beings in labor force) and means of production (natural resources, equipment and factories).

IN ORDER TO SURVIVE ECONOMICALLY AND PHYSICALLY, HUMAN SOCIETY MUST EXIST FIRST

In order for man to make history, religion, family (or both political and ideological institutions), to procreate and to do other things, man society must exist and live first. In short, human society begins their human activity by eating first so that they may exist, live, and make history and other things. Therefore, it all begins in the economic base. Now let us examine the human relations in more detail. The human relations of production are most crucial element to grasp. Except in a primitive classless society, these relations describe the interconnections of classes of humans in the production process. Note that the labor power of the working class is a productive force, but the relationship of the working class to capitalist employers is at the same time part of the human relations of production. The productive relations may be summed-up in the answer of two questions: (a) which class does the work of society? The serfs did all manual labor in slavery by the slaves; in feudalism by tenants, and in capitalism by the workers (b) which class owns the means of production and the product?

The means of production and final product are both owned in primitive societies by the entire people (primitive type of communism), in slavery by the slave-owners, in feudalism by the nobles/feudal lords, and in capitalism by the capitalists. Of course, in slavery, the slave-owner also owns the slave. In feudalism, the serf is not owned directly, but is bound to the land owned by the feudal lords. Most serfs also own some instruments of production and have the right to work on the lord’s land for some days (often 200 or more) per year. The worker in capitalism is not bound to one job, but is free to look for a job anywhere, free to take a job at any wage, and free to be fired. On the other side, the slave-owners, feudal lords, and capitalists, each constitutes dominant classes that control those subordinate classes that do the work. The dominant class owns or controls the means of productions and owns the final product of the productive process.

WHAT IS THE RELATIONSHIP OF THE ECONOMIC BASE TO THE SUPERSTRUCTURE?

(a)      Psychological Determinism – many early 19th century theorists believed that human society is determined by ideas, whether the ideas of God, the ideas of great men, the ideas expressed by eternal “human nature,” or the ideas that reflect innate from modern sociology. Such view never emphasizes the relation of our ideas and behavior to the economic base of the society in which we live.

(b)     Cultural Determinism – another theory argues that society is primarily determined by the values shared by the majority of people. Thus, American society is seen to have a capitalist economic organization because the majority of Americans are said to believe in buying and selling for profit, the ability of each person to freely negotiate a salary on the job, and for employers, to be able to fire workers at will. In other words, Americans are said to believe in the principles of capitalism. The problem with this approach is that the origin of these values is often not examined.

(c)      Sociological Materialism –a sociological materialist explains ideas in terms of the social environment that produced them. It is not a question of rejecting the importance of ideas, culture or psychological feelings, but of explaining where they come from and how they affect society. The guiding thread of radical, materialist sociology is the relationships of ideas, and behavior to the socio-economic base of society. Marxist does not deny the historical role of the ideas and institutions (family, religion, schools, mass media) in the superstructure. It emphasizes how these affect the economic base. It always explains, however, that ideas do not arise from or in a vacuum, but within a particular social environment on a particular economic base or mode of production. In Slave-owning society, it was the slave-owners who has the capacity to control the political and ideological structures simply because they possessed economic power, in feudalism, it was the feudal lords that has the capacity to control and influence political and ideological structures because they have the economic power. Anthropologists scientifically proven that “once private ownership (of land or capital) has become established, property owners (slave-owners, feudal lords, capitalists) use their economic, and hence political, power to pass laws that favor property owners” (Anthropology, 5th edition by Carol Ember and Melvin Ember, p.256).

In capitalism, the capitalists are in control or has great influence in the political and ideological structures or in the over all superstructures. Hence they in the position and control of laws, ideas, ideologies, beliefs and culture and therefore must serve their “class interest.” Any propose law, idea or ideology contrary to the “class interest” of the ruling class will never be allowed by the elite and therefore they will do all means using both the political and ideological structures to suppress or for the preservation of their class dominance both in political and ideological spheres.

Ideological structures uses “persuasion” such as the spread of its values, beliefs, and myths through education, mass media, religion, family and other ideological apparatus. The more society accepts the ideology of the dominant class, the less pressure is necessary. Every society tries to work as much possible through “persuasion” rather than “force.” Then there’s “peace and stability” for the ruling elite, that is, acceptance of the status quo. However, when the contradiction become intolerable between the “class interest of the oppressed- exploited classes vs. the ruling-elite class, and the level of awareness of the subordinate class rises, mere persuasion becomes ineffective. The state then uses the political structure and their agents to maintain control, passing tougher laws, making more use of police, prisons and the army-in short, force. When the situation is firmly under control, the state returns to the practice of persuasion. Again, it all begins with the economic base and its relations of production.

With therefore the abolition of private ownership of the means of production, the political and ideological structures will also change its functions and directions. It will not anymore be used as an instrument of domination against one class simply because there is change in the economic base-relations. Socialism as the alternative structure of, for and by the working class will eventually abolish social classes; therefore, political and ideological structure will also “abolish its class character.”

HOW CLASS RELATIONS AFFECT SOCIAL AND POLITICAL INSTITUTIONS?

In the medieval period, the dominant view was that all governments and god divinely ordains laws as interpreted and propagated by his prophet (the current prophet being whoever was Pope). The 18th century Rationalist thinkers of then very revolutionary bourgeois class attacked this view and all other supernatural explanations. The Rationalists believed that governments and laws are rationally devised by a great man (a king or president) or by a whole group of great men sitting in a legislature. Some went further to say that laws reflect (or should) the rational decisions of all the people taken together based on their shared values. In a similar way, some modern political sociologists assert that laws and government emerge out of the competition of opposing ideas and movements and represent the prevailing values. But if institutions reflect prevailing views- then and institutions are used to reinforce the prevailing views-then we must ask from where these views arise, how they come to prevail, and why they are eventually replaced by new views. The point is that government and legal systems do not evolve by themselves, nor do judges, lawyers, and legislators operate in a nonpartisan vacuum above social realities. Rather, lawyers and legislators operate, live and act within a particular social and economic environment; they always represent the interests of one class or another, sometimes consciously and sometimes unconsciously. In this perspective, it is the socio-economic variables that determine the character of the legal system, according to the needs and requirements of the most powerful economic class or classes. Changes in government and legal institutions are thus determine by changes in (a) ideology, (b) class relations, and (c) productive forces (Sociology by Howard Sherman and James Wood, pp.302-303).

HOW IDEAS AND INSTITUTIONS AFFECT CLASS RELATIONS?

We have seen how the interests and power of different classes have enormous impact on the character and operation of institutions and, indirectly, on which ideas dominate society. At the same time, these dominant ideas and institutions strongly affect class relationships. For example, one principle of the prevailing legal system in feudal England was called “primogeniture.” This law made the entire feudal estate goes only to the eldest son of the feudal lord and no one else. It arose from the interest of the ruling class in keeping each feudal estate in one piece, with no division among large numbers of children. In turn, it did preserve the large feudal estates and hence preserved the power of the feudal lords as a class.

When the British and French revolutions put the capitalist class in power, it was in their interest to be able to buy and sell anything, from products to land to sex. Consequently, the laws on primogeniture and possession were changed. Capitalism introduced the ideology of the sacred right of private property ownership. The laws were changed so that anything, including land could be bought and sold without restrictions, and could be divided among children in any way the owner desired. Such laws of private ownership, enforced by the police and the courts, do play an important role in support of the class relations of capitalism (Sociology by Sherman and Wood, pp.305, 306).

HOW CLASS RELATIONS AFFECT PRODUCTIVE FORCES?

The humans, class relations of production are decisive in determining how fast or slow the productive forces may develop. For example, it has been observed that there was little technical innovation of any kind in the ancient Roman Empire. Why did technology stagnate among the Romans? The mystery is easy to solve when we remember that Rome was building on the economic relations of slavery. Slaves have little or no interest in productive innovations because they receive none of the greater production. On the other hand, the slave owners consider that manual work is only for slaves, so they come to have disdain for the whole work process. Since they pay so little attention to the technical side of production, and seldom use any tools themselves, the slave owners also seldom make any technical innovations.

Under capitalism, the forces of production are rapidly expanded in the interests of the capitalists. However, the demand for goods is limited because capitalists try to hold worker’’ wages as far as possible. Therefore, there are crises of “overproduction” and depression, in which there are too many goods for the money available to consumers. In every depression, the development of the forces of production is drastically curtailed, the amount of capital equipment declines as machinery depreciates and is not replaced, research money is reduced and innovations postponed, and workers’ skills are no longer upgraded, as millions are unemployed. The basic unequal relation between capitalist and worker thus has impact on these forces of production (Sociology by Sherman and Wood, pp. 306,307).

HOW PRODUCTIVE FORCES AFFECT CLASS RELATIONS?

The relations of production between groups of human beings-which have been class relations in most societies of the 2,000 years are the most vital link in social analysis from Marxist viewpoint.  Analysis must begin here because relations of production condition the character of all institutions and human activities and purposes. It is the relations in the economic base that directly affects human institutions and thought. For example, under capitalist substitution of atomic power for coal power would not directly change ideology. Thus, more use of atomic power might increase size and concentration of ownership, thus creating more monopolies by big business. The greater economic power of big business would in turn affect the political structure and ideological structure or ideology of our society (Sociology by Sherman and Wood, p.307).

WHAT IS THE CLASS INTEREST OF DIFFERENT SOCIAL CLASSES IN SOCIETY?

In primitive communal societies, there was no “class interest” simply because there was no social classes, therefore, no exploitation (Philippine History- A Past Revisited, vol. 1 by Prof. Renato Constantino, pp.31, 32.38,39,350). However, with birth of Slavery, people were divided for the first time into social classes: the slave-owners vs. the slaves. The “class interest” of the slave-owners is to preserve their control and ownership over slaves, the means of production and their production. The opposing “class interest” of the slaves is for them to free from slavery. In feudalism, the “class interest” of the feudal lords, nobles and kings are directed towards the extraction of more wealth from land rent, usury and private ownership of the land while the opposing “class interest” of the peasants is towards the liberation from land rent, usury and for them to own a piece of land they till.

With the birth of capitalism, the “class interest” of the capitalists is towards the accumulation of profit out of the surplus value produce by the working class and the continuous private ownership of the means of production. The opposing “class interest” of the working class is towards the abolition of private ownership of the means of production and for the socialization of both labor and capital. Since all wealth including money, factories and machines are by product of human labor, therefore, the means of production must be socialized and labor must be socialized. The Bible made it clear that in the New Heavens and the New Earth, they that build houses dwells in them, those who planted eat their fruits. No longer will they build houses and others live in them or plant and others eat (Isa. 65:21-23), in short, socialism. Such “class interest” produces “class conflict or class struggle” simply because of the presence of social classes. In primitive communal societies there was no class struggle simply because there was no social classes. History therefore tells us that there exists a “continuous class contradiction” between the “class interests” of the rich vs. the poor.

Even King Solomon made mention of this kind of class conflict: “The rich rule over THE poor, and THE borrower is the slave of THE lender” (Prov. 22:7). Furthermore, “The WEALTH of the RICH is their fortified city, and POVERTY is the ruin of the POOR” (Prov. 10:5). Social classes beget social discrimination (Prov. 14:20).

“HUMAN NATURE” VERSUS CLASS RELATIONS

It is one of the oldest social myths that social relations are determined by “human nature.” Aristotle wrote: “It is thus clear that there are by nature free men and slaves, and that servitude is agreeable and just for the latter… Equally, the relation of the male and the female is by nature such that one is better and the other inferior, one dominates and the other is dominated” (Aristotle, Politics, 1255 and 1255b).

This view is incorrect and must be refuted before any real social science is possible.

In the first place, the physical nature of humans- our level of physical evolution- changes much too slowly to explain social evolution. Societies change in a hundred or a thousand years; significant changes in human physical make-up, including our brain capacity, take at least a hundred thousand years (See, for example, V. Godon Childe, Social Evolution –London: Watts and Co., 1951).

In the second place, our psychological characteristics and behavior- what is usually meant by human nature- often change because of socio-economic changes. Humans are each born into a functioning society, and are shaped psychologically largely by that society-though; of course, we are born with a certain physical brain capacity. Once our ideas are shaped, they certainly play an important role in future social environment. Thus, modern human “nature” is very different from that of the ancient Egyptian, even though there has been no perceptible evolution in our physical and mental capacities.

Children in each society are conditioned by their social environment, as shown dramatically by many graphic books of Margaret Mead about New Guinea and Samoa. In the United States, when a child born in the slums has been orphaned and brought up from birth in an affluent family, the child shows all the cultural habits and aptitudes of the affluent. Even the geographical location of a society changes that society’s of human nature:

“In desert societies- including the American Southwest- water is so precious that it is money. People connive, fight, and die over it; governments cover it; marriages are even made and broken over it. If one were to talk to a person who has known only that desert and tell him that in the city there are public water fountains and that children are even sometimes allowed to turn on the fire hydrants in the summer and to frolic in the water, he would be sure one were crazy. For he knows, with an existential certitude, that it is human nature to fight over water” (Michael Harrington, Socialism, New York: Saturday Review Press, 1970, p.373).

The notion that there is an eternal human nature, that it cannot be changed, and that it shapes society, is largely supported by a variety of myths. Why do these myths have so much life to them? The answer is that they play an important functional role as an ideology helping to support the status quo. “: If it is ‘human nature’ that determines the historical process, and if this ‘human nature’ is unalterable, then all attempts to achieve a radical transformation of the human character and of the foundations of the social order are necessarily doomed to failure”(Paul Baran, Marxism and Psychoanalysis, New York: monthly Review, 1960, p.6). Radicals reject all such pessimistic assumptions.

THE CLASS CHARACTER OF LAW AFFECTING THE POOR

It has long been argued that the law is not neutral instrument, but rather that it is oriented in favor of those groups or classes in society having the power to bend the legal order to their advantage (F. Engels, The Origin of the family, Private Property and the state; K. Renner, The Institutions of private Law and Their Social Institutions). The contention is that today as in the past the law primarily serves to protect and enhance the rights and interests of property holders and those in positions of wealth and authority. Three types of bias are considered: (1) favored parties; (2) dual law- de jure denial of equal protection; (3) de facto denial of equal protection.

Favored Parties- The law frequently favors certain parties or roles in a relationship, and the poor are less likely than the rich to be found in these roles. Thus, substantive and procedural law benefits and protects landlords over tenants, and lenders over borrowers (G. Katona, Survey of Consumer Finances 43, 53-54; D. Caplovits, op. cit. supra note 2, at 111). Let us examine these two examples of favored party bias in the law.

Landlord-Tenant. The common law has generally promoted the interest of the landlord against the tenants; this has had a special impact on poor tenants living in slums. According to traditional legal doctrine the tenant’s obligation to pay rent is independent of his lessor’s covenants to repair and maintain the premises (See J. Levi, supra note 8 at 1; N. BeBlanc, “Why Tenants Need lawyers,” paper presented at the conference on the Extension of legal Services to the poor, Washington, D.C., Nov. 12, 1964, 11-12; E. Richey, supra note 10. at 341-42; Note, supra note 8, at 844, 845; J. Fossum, rent Withholding, 53 Calif. L. Rev. 304, 313). Thus, unless there are statutes to the contrary, the tenant cannot withhold rent as a means of compelling landlord compliance with health and safety codes or contractual obligations. This posture of the common law has particularly relevance to the poor because they often live in vermin-infested substandard housing where landlords perpetually fail to provide needed services and repairs.

It has been observed that tax law benefits the slum landlord to the detriment of the tenant. Julian Levi contends that, “If the tenement is old and in bad condition, allowable depreciation under the Internal Revenue Code will be high; while poor condition and deterioration will be recognized by the real estate tax assessor as the occasion for reducing appraised values” (J. Levi, supra note 8, at 3, 5/ A. Sporn, Some Contributions of the Income tax Law to the Growth and Prevalence of Slums, 59 COLUM. L. REV. 1026)

Procedural law as well as substantive law may be biased in favor of the landlord. For example, New York requires a violation of record before tenants can invoke certain defenses against landlords who have failed to provide essential services (N. LeBlanc, supra note 18, at 10-11). This requirement may subvert the rights of tenants because of the difficulties involved in establishing an official record of violation (E. Richey, supra note 10, at 340, 341, 345).

Borrower-Lender. In the consumer, area favored-party bias is perhaps most clearly seen in the creditor-debtor relationship. With respect to laws governing interest rates it has been observed that “such interest ceiling as legislatures impose on retail installment credit and small loans… are seat at the behest of credit extenders and without study” (G. Brunn, “Legal Aspects of the Rights of creditors and debtors,” p. 8- paper presented at a seminar on research needs in Consumer Economics, Sept. 11, 1964, Univ. of Calif., Berkeley). Further, the contention is that “few states have any real penalties for usury” (C. Neal, The Known and Unknown in Consumer Credit, p. 8), that generally the sanctions are too mild to discourage illegal lenders (W. Mors, Small Loan Laws 1-2 Cleveland, Bureau of Business research, Western reserve Univ., 1961). Usury laws may also be rendered ineffective by exemption provisions. According to Brunn such provisions in the California constitution exempt almost everyone professionally in the business of lending money. Moreover, creditors can obtain special state permits or licenses, which allow them to charge more than the basic usury rate. Neal argues that most lenders today have such permits. “Banks, credit unions, loan companies, finance companies, and even retailers, now can charge more than the simple interest rate defined as ‘tops’ under state usury code” (C. Neal, supra note 31, at 9).

There are many other loopholes favoring the creditor. For example, credit extended by a seller is not generally subject to the provisions of interest and usury statutes, the theory being that the vendor is not engaged in lending money but in selling goods. The credit charge is supposedly not interest. It merely represents the difference between the cash price and the installment price.

DUAL LAW- DE JURE DENIAL OF EQUAL PROTECTION- A second kind of bias is seen in the development of separate and unequal systems of law for the poor and racial minorities. As a result, many lower class whites and Negros are in effect relegated to a position of second-class citizenship. Such persons are denied de jure the protections and benefits, which the law provides for middle and upper class whites. To the extent that de jure discrimination arises from or is supported by a “state action,” it may of course be challenged under the Fourteenth Amendment.

According to tenBroek there are two separate systems of family law, one for the poor and one for the poor and one for those in comfortable circumstances. The rules differ with respect to property and support relations of husband and wife, creation and termination of the marital relationship and responsibility for the support of relatives. His contention is that the family law of the rich is “civil family law,” created, developed and administered by the courts-not designed in either substantive provision or judicial administration to meet the needs of the poor. The family law of the poor is public law, administered largely through state and local non-judicial agencies, and more concerned with minimizing the costs of relief than maximizing the rights and interests of recipients (J. tenBroek, supra note 38, at 257-313). Tenbroek asks whether a dual system of family law is less unequal than school racial segregation, generating among recipients a feeling of inferiority that may affect the hearts and minds of the poor in ways unlikely ever to be undone.

The dual law argument applies to welfare law in general. In considering many types of welfare programs (e.g. public assistance, unemployment insurance, public housing), Reich contends that the government has one set of rules for dispensing benefits to the poor and another for dispensing largess to the rich (e.g., licenses, subsidies, contracts) he argues that entitlement to government largess is less likely to be protected as a right when the recipient is poor (C. Reich, Individual Rights, supra note 13 at 1245), and concludes that this constitutes a denial of equal protection under the federal constitution.

DE FACTO BIAS- A third type of bias in the law may be termed de facto bias. On paper the law treats rich and poor alike, but in fact the correlates of poverty make equality impossible. Ehrlich suggests that de jure equality may actually accentuate de facto inequality. He argues that “the more the rich and the poor are dealt with according to the same legal propositions, the more the advantage of the rich is increased (E. Ehrlich, Fundamental principles of the Sociology of law 238, 1936).

De facto bias is pervasive because so9 many correlates of poverty such as indigency, ignorance or insecurity can serve as barriers to justice. In essence, it is bias by default. It represents a failure of the law to take into account the differential capacity of rich and poor to realize the protections and benefits, which the law provides.

A number of illustrations of de facto bias can be given. In each case, a law that is impartial on its face with respect to social class is biased in its effects. New York’s highly restrictive divorce laws are presumably applicable to all classes in society. In practice, however, they are more likely to prevent the poor than the rich from legally terminating their marriages, because poor people lack the resources to obtain out-of-state divorces.    Laws, which specify the conditions under which legally enforceable bargains may be made, are often biased against the poor. George Brunn maintains that while an inequality of bargaining power underlies all transactions of buying and borrowing, the poor are especially disadvantaged. They lack the information, training, experience and economic resources to bargain on equal terms with sellers and lenders (George Brunn, “The Consumer Speaks to the Research Experts,” Sept. 10, 1964). Thus the common law, which embodies the laissez faire rule of the market place-let the buyer beware- is biased against the poor because they find it especially difficult to beware of abuses in the market place.

Can the proletariat use bourgeois democracy and the bourgeois state to achieve a peaceful transition to socialism?

The working class must smash the old state machinery, and in its place create a new state to impose its own class rule—the dictatorship of the proletariat—to suppress and expropriate the capitalist exploiters.

In the Communist Manifesto, drafted just before the revolutionary upheavals in 1848, Marx and Engels made clear that the proletariat would have to erect its own state as “the first step in the revolution by the working class” (Manifesto of the Communist Party, December 1847-January 1848). They went on, “The proletariat will use its political supremacy to wrest, by degrees, all capital from the bourgeoisie, to centralise all instruments of production in the hands of the State, i.e., of the proletariat organised as the ruling class; and to increase the total of productive forces as rapidly as possible.” As Lenin notes in The State and Revolution, the question of how the bourgeois state was to be replaced by the proletarian state is not addressed in the Manifesto; nor, correspondingly, is the question of a parliamentary road to socialism—universal suffrage barely existed.

By early 1852, Marx had come to the understanding that “in its struggle against the revolution, the parliamentary republic found itself compelled to strengthen, along with the repressive measures, the resources and centralisation of governmental power. All revolutions perfected this machine instead of breaking it” (The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, 1852). But it was above all the experience of the Paris Commune of 1871 that led Marx and Engels to conclude that “the working class cannot simply lay hold of the ready-made State machinery, and wield it for its own purposes” (The Civil War in France, 1871). Marx noted in this work that the “State power assumed more and more the character of the national power of capital over labour, of a public force organized for social enslavement, of an engine of class despotism.” The first decree of the Commune, therefore, was the suppression of the standing army, and the substitution for it of the armed people. The Commune, which replaced the bourgeois state power, “was to be a working, not a parliamentary, body, executive and legislative at the same time”

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: