Origins of the Bourgeois State

Yoshie Furuhashi furuhashi.1 at
Fri Oct 27 00:19:18 MDT 2000

Lou Paulsen wrote:

>(This does not exclude or conflict with slavery, btw, in my opinion.  I
>believe the idea that the "slave system" was a more primitive "stage" than
>"feudalism" is very difficult to defend on the basis of the historical
>record. Most actual societies which have relied on slave labor for a
>significant portion of production have been at the threshold of capitalism
>or even beyond the threshold, and I include ancient Athens and Rome in this
>calculation.  The precondition for large-scale slavery, in general terms, is
>the ability to wage aggression/wars of conquest over long distances, and
>this presupposes a high productive and technical capacity.)

A quite interesting post!  I'd like to say more about the emergence
of Italian republicanism in the age of Machiavelli later, but allow
me to make one comment on ancient slavery first of all.

Compare Athens and Sparta.  Surely you would have to say that Sparta,
by virtue of its state ownership of numerous slaves, tempts us less
to project our modern image of capitalism upon it than Athens, which
had decidedly fewer slaves than Sparta; developed a form of democracy
based upon small peasants, merchants, artisans, etc.; & developed &
relied upon commerce & trade much more extensively than Sparta to
finance its imperial expansion (timber for the vaunted Athenian
fleets _had_ to be imported, and so were grains) militarily &
demographically.  In Sparta, the majority of the population were
slaves, who engaged in manual agricultural work; therefore, Spartan
citizens placed a heavy emphasis upon the military discipline, since
they lived in fear of revolts of Helots; and the militarization of
Sparta, in turn, made it perhaps the least commercial city-state in
the ancient Greek world.  (In contrast, slaves in Athens were, as I
said, few in number; were privately owned; and mainly performed
skilled trades.)  That is why Plato admired Sparta for its
_anti-democratic & anti-commercial_ spirit (see Crito, the Laws, &
the Republic, especially).  (Commerce & trade were carried on in
Sparta by the class of Perioikoi who were neither slaves nor

*****   ...During their war against Persia, a spirit of unity and
brotherhood had arisen among those Greek cities opposed to the
Persians, a unity served by their common language, common customs and
common religious beliefs.  But federation among their cities was far
from their minds, and the spirit of unity among the Greeks proved
superficial as those of different cities drifted back to seeing
themselves as different from each other.

Unity between Athens and Sparta cracked as Sparta became fearful of
Athens.  Sparta was alarmed over Athenian insistence on rebuilding
fortifications that the Persians had destroyed, including protection
of its harbor at Piraeus, which to the Spartans indicated that Athens
aimed at an independent military strength.  Sparta was annoyed at
Athens taking command of naval operations at the straits to the Black
Sea, a place of greater interest to Athens because of the grain it
imported through those straits. And differences arose between Sparta
and Athens over the question of continuing their war against Persia.
The Athenians were interested in trade with the Greek cities still
ruled by Persia, and they wanted to continue the war in order to
liberate their fellow Greeks from Persian rule.  Sparta had no
interest in trading with those Greek cities, nor interest in
democracy.  _Moreover, the Spartans were concerned about the many men
they had already lost in battle, and they feared that their Helot
slaves might take advantage of this loss and and further military
losses and revolt.  So Sparta was ready to let Persia continue its
rule over other Greek cities_.

Sparta and its allies on the Peloponnesian peninsula withdrew from
the war, leaving Athens as the most influential among those cities
continuing the war. Athens created a new league of states -- a
voluntary association called the Delian League.  Member states agreed
to donate money, ships and crewmen to the war effort and to police
the Aegean Sea, and they sent representatives to assemblies where
league policies and goals were to be decided....   (emphasis mine,
<>)   *****

It appears that Sparta, an anti-commercial society _completely_
dependent upon the state-owned slaves' agricultural production, was
less interested in imperial expansion than Athens, which needed more
& more allies to expand its trading sphere.  Thucydides suggests that
this Athenian desire for trade & resulting imperial ambition were the
main causes of the Peloponnesian War.

In short, ancient slavery was quite unlike modern chattel slavery
under capitalism.


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