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Society of Domination and Exploitation: Capitalism and State

category brazil/guyana/suriname/fguiana | anarchist movement | policy statement author Friday February 10, 2012 21:25author by Federação Anarquista do Rio de Janeiro - FARJ Report this post to the editors
Capitalism as a system has developed since the late Middle Ages and was established in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in Western Europe. It constituted itself as an economic, political and social system, basing itself on the relations between two antagonistic classes. On one hand, that which is called the “bourgeoisie” and which we will treat in this text as “capitalists”, holders of private ownership of the means of production, who contract workers by means of wage-labour. On the other, that which is called the “proletariat”, and which we will treat in this text as “workers” who, possessing nothing more than their labour power, have to sell it in exchange for a wage. As we emphasised earlier, the wage-labourer – classic object of analysis in the socialist theses of the nineteenth century – for us, constitutes today only one of the categories of the exploited classes.



The wealth of some is made with the misery of others.
Piotr Kropotkin

For those who are in power, the enemy is the people.
Pierre-Joseph Proudhon

Capitalism as a system has developed since the late Middle Ages and was established in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in Western Europe. It constituted itself as an economic, political and social system, basing itself on the relations between two antagonistic classes. On one hand, that which is called the “bourgeoisie” and which we will treat in this text as “capitalists”, holders of private ownership of the means of production, who contract workers by means of wage-labour. On the other, that which is called the “proletariat”, and which we will treat in this text as “workers” who, possessing nothing more than their labour power, have to sell it in exchange for a wage. As we emphasised earlier, the wage-labourer – classic object of analysis in the socialist theses of the nineteenth century – for us, constitutes today only one of the categories of the exploited classes.

The aim of the capitalists is the production of goods in order to obtain profits. “The [capitalist] enterprise is not concerned with the needs of society; its sole purpose is to increase the profits of the business-owner.” [27] By means of wage labour, the capitalists pay workers as little as possible and usurp from them all the surplus of their labour, which is called surplus value. This happens because, in order to increase their profits, the capitalists must have the lowest costs, or spend as little as possible. Selling their goods at the highest prices the market can pay, they remain with the difference between what they spend and what they earn – the profit. To contain costs, and thus increase profits, the capitalists have various recourses; among them to increase productivity and decrease the costs of production. There are several ways for this to be done, such as to impose a higher work rate on workers and reduce the wages paid to them.

This relationship between capitalists and workers generates social inequality, one of the great evils of the society in which we live. This has already been established by Proudhon, when he investigated the subject in the nineteenth century:

I affirmed then that all the causes of social inequality can be reduced to three: 1) the free appropriation of collective force, 2) inequality in trade; 3) the right to profit or fortune. And, as this triple way of usurping the goods of others is, essentially, the dominion of property, I denied the legitimacy of property and proclaimed its identity as theft [28].
For us private property, as Proudhon noted, is theft since, from wage-labour it gives to the capitalist the surplus of the workers’ labour. This property, “after stripping the worker by usury, kills them slowly by exhaustion” [29].

Besides being a system that creates and maintains social inequality, capitalism is based on domination and consequent exploitation. Domination exists when a person or a group of people use “the social force of others (the dominated), and consequently their time, in order to accomplish their objectives (of the dominator) – which are not the objectives of the subjugated agent” [30]. The capitalist system is characterised by the utilisation of the labour power of the worker for the enrichment of the capitalists, and is therefore a dominative and exploitative system since it “signifies the ability and right to live off the exploitation of alien labour, the right to exploit the labour of those who do not have property or capital and are therefore forced to sell their productive power to the lucky owners of both” [31].

This relationship between capital and labour playing out on the market is not the same for both sides since the capitalists go to the market in order to obtain profit, while the workers are made to do so out of a need to work, without which they run the risk of experiencing want and not having the minimum living conditions. It is an “encounter between an initiative for profit and the other from hunger, between the master and the slave” [32].

Besides this, unemployment causes that when the capitalists go to the market they encounter workers in abundance, as there is a greater supply of workers than their is a demand:

[...] the poor neighbourhoods of the city and the villages are full of wretches, whose children cry in front of empty plates. Thus, the factory is not even finished yet and the workers are already coming to ask for work. One hundred are required and a thousand present themselves [33].
Thus, to the capitalists it fits to impose working conditions. To the workers it fits to accept them, since “they are taken for fear of finding themselves replaced by others, to sell themselves at the lowest price. [...] Once they have found themselves in a state of poverty, the worker is forced to sell their labour for almost nothing, and by selling this product for almost nothing, sinks into an ever greater misery.” [34]

Being a complex system, capitalism combines several forms of production and social classes. Peasants, despite being part of a productive process that is pre-capitalist, are still subject to the competitive requirements of the capitalist market, which means the need for fundamental elements for production that are sold on the capitalist market. In competition, due to productive and technological difficulties, they are at a disadvantage in relation to the big agribusiness companies. There are also those peasants who sell their labour power, who we can consider rural workers of a traditional capitalist system. Peasants, as we have already seen, are also part of the group of exploited classes.

It is even said that capitalism should not be divided into two large classes – that of the capitalists and that of the workers – but, indeed, three; there being a third class, called the “managerial class”, responsible for the control of decisive aspects of capitalism and personalising another important aspect of capitalism, which is that of the hierarchical division of labour. Throughout the history of capitalism this class has been becoming increasingly part of the capitalist class, especially by the interests defended in the process of class struggle. Today, the figure of the traditional bourgeois, the proprietor, is becoming increasingly less common; the control of companies being performed by the managers and the owners increasingly being multinational groups or even shareholders that no one knows. Actually, in the large majority, the class of managers is part of the capitalist group, or what we might call the ruling class.

There are also other actors in the capitalist market, such as workers in the trade and service sectors, who distribute goods from the capitalist enterprises or perform work for them. Both sectors follow the logic of capitalism, to a greater or lesser extent, and also act within the competition of the market; very often using wage labour, sustaining the proprietors who enjoy the fruits of this unjust relationship between capital and labour and who have the intention of generating profit.

As a system that reproduces injustice capitalism separates manual and intellectual labour. This separation is the result of inheritance and also of education, since there is different education for the rich and the poor. Thus,

[...] as long as you have two or more levels of instruction for the different layers of society, you will necessarily have classes, meaning to say, political and economic privileges for a small number of fortunates, and slavery and misery for the majority [35].
Throughout its history capitalism has evolved, becoming involved in the political structures of European countries in the late nineteenth century, leading to imperialism and reaching its current phase of expansion, which can be called economic globalisation. According to the analysis of Subcomandante Marcos, of the Zapatista Army: “It is already not an imperialist power in the classic sense of the term, one that dominates the rest of the world, but a new extra-national power.” [36] In general terms, economic globalisation is characterised by an integration, on a global scale, of the processes of production, distribution and exchange. Production is carried out in several countries, goods are imported and exported in enormous quantities and over long distances.

Stimulated since the 1970s and 1980s, “globalisation” became widespread around the world, “basing itself, from the ideological, philosophical and theoretical point of view on the doctrine of neoliberalism” [37], which advocates the free market and minimal state. The basic idea is that capital procures locations with the best conditions for its reproduction. As production necessarily requires the labour power of the workers, there is a migration of the productive spheres of capitalist enterprises to countries whose “production cost” is lower, i.e. countries with weak labour/ environmental legislation, weak trade union organisation, high levels of unemployment etc. In sum, companies seek countries/ regions where exploitation can take place without state intervention, allowing them to pay what they want, such that they are not obliged to provide benefits to workers, that they (workers) can be dismissed whenever they (capitalists) wish and that there are always many more workers wanting to fill the vacancies, allowing for production costs to become increasingly less; precarious work is sought and encouraged. This system, if it on the one hand leaves unemployed in areas with optimal conditions, on the other allows for the blackmail that causes precarity to be accepted and threatens the organisation of workers who are increasingly more controlled and pushed to the periphery, as described by Chomsky:

The concepts of “efficiency” and “healthy economy”, favourites of the rich and privileged, have nothing to offer the growing sectors of the population that are not profitable and that are pushed into poverty and despair. If they cannot be confined to the slums, they will have to be controlled in any other way [38].
Neoliberalism – which stimulates the free flow of capital, but not the free movement of people nor the comparison of working conditions – calls into question the whole condition of “welfare” which was imposed on states during large mobilisations that marked the world in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Capitalism has been seeking new spaces, expanding itself both internally as well as externally, creating new capitalist enterprises through privatisation and fostering false needs by means such as advertising, which do not correspond to the real demands of society. “Neoliberal doctrines, independent of what you think of them, debilitate education and health, increase social inequality and reduce labour’s share in the distribution of income.” [39]

Contemporary capitalism is also responsible for the major ecological crisis devastating the world today. Motivated by the logic of profit, private enterprises are responsible for transferring the entire hierarchy of classes to the relationship between people and the environment. Pollution, deforestation, global warming, destruction of rare species and imbalances in the food chains are just some of the consequences of this relationship.

The hierarchies, classes, property systems and political institutions that emerged with social domination were transferred, conceptually, to the relationship between humanity and nature. This was also increasingly seen as a mere resource, an object, a raw material to be exploited as ruthlessly as slaves on a plantation [40].
Brazil, being well integrated into this globalised logic for reason of policies adopted by its past governments, shares the global consequences of this new phase of capitalism.


We consider the state the set of political powers of a nation, that takes shape by means of “political, legislative, judicial, military and financial institutions etc.” [41]; and, in this way, the state is broader than the government. The state, since its inception in antiquity, passing through the Egypt of the pharaohs and the military-slave state of Rome, has always been an instrument for perpetuating inequality and a liberty-exterminating element, whatever the existing mode of production. This dominating institution has, in the course of history, know periods of greater or lesser strength, requiring attention to specific time and place. The state as we observe it today (the modern state) has its origins in the sixteenth century.

In the Middle Ages, with the aim of destroying the civilisation of the cities, the modern barbarians ended up making into slaves all those who once organised themselves based on free initiative and free understanding. The whole of society was levelled based on submission to the landlord, declaring that the church and state were to be the only links between individuals, that only these institutions would have the right to defend commercial, industrial and artistic interests etc. The state was constituted by means of domination, to speak on behalf of society, since it was judged to be society itself.

The state has been characterised by a “double game” of promising the rich to protect them from the poor, and promising the poor to protect them from the rich. Gradually the towns, victims of authority that were dying bit-by-bit were given to the state, which also developed its role as conqueror, moving on to wage wars against other states, seeking to expand itself and conquer new territories. The effect of the state over the cities and urban regions was disastrous. The state’s role in the urban areas in the period of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries was;

to annihilate the independence of the cities, to rob the rich guilds [42] of the merchants and artists, to centralise external trade in their hands and ruin it, to seize the entire internal administration of the guilds and submit interior trade, as well as the manufacturing of all things, even in their most minute detail, to a cloud of functionaries, killing, in this way, industry and the arts; taking possession of the local militias and of the entire municipal administration; crushing, through taxes, the weak to the benefit of the rich, and ruining the countries with wars. [43]
After the Industrial Revolution arose the so-called “social question”, which obliged states to develop assistance plans in order to minimise the impacts of capital on labour. In the late nineteenth century arose, as an alternative to liberalism, a more interventionist conception of the state which, if on the one hand sought to create policies of “social welfare”, on the other implemented methods to contain the advancement of socialist initiatives, already quite strong at the time.

Today the state has two fundamental objectives: the first of them, ensuring the conditions for the production and reproduction of capitalism; and the second, to ensure its legitimacy and control. For this reason the state today is a strong supporting pillar of capitalism.

The state extrapolates the political ambit and functions as an economic agent of capitalism, working to prevent or minimise the role of its crises or of the falls in its profit rates. This can happen in several ways: by granting loans to central sectors of the economy, incentivising the development of sectors of the economy, scrapping debts, reformulating the system of import/ export, subsidising products, generating revenue through the sale of products from state-owned enterprises etc. Assistance plans also have an important role as they increase the purchasing power of sectors of the population, moving and heating the capitalist economy. Also, the state creates laws aimed at guaranteeing the long-term accumulation of the capitalists and ensuring that the capitalists’ thirst for profit does not put the system itself at risk.

In the course of the historical process it was noted that there is no way of sustaining a system based only on repression. The state, which sustained itself in this way for so many years, was gradually being modified, looking to guarantee the legitimacy of capitalism. A state that clearly defends the position of the capitalists could intensify class struggle and there is therefore nothing better, from the capitalists’ point of view, than to give it an aspect of neutrality. Giving it the appearance of an independent – or even autonomous – organism in relation to the ruling class or to capitalism itself. Aiming always to calm the class struggle the state developed measures in favour of the exploited classes, since with better living conditions there would be less chance of radicalism. On the other hand, organised workers movements were able to impose measure on the state that would bring them benefits, even at the expense of the capitalists.

As with representative democracy, measures that improve conditions for workers always function, for the state, as an ideological tool to pass off this idea of neutrality, independence and autonomy. However, it should serve as a lesson to show that as the state has an obligation to guarantee this legitimacy, there is often space for organised workers to impose measures in their favour. It being necessary, therefore

[...] to snatch from the government and capitalists all the improvements of the political and economic order such that they may make the conditions of struggle less difficult for us and increase the number of those who struggle consciously. It is necessary, therefore, to snatch them by means that prepare the way for the future and do not imply the recognition of the current order [44].
Nevertheless, one should bear in mind that the state, as a strong pillar of capitalism, seeks to sustain it and, if capitalism is a system of exploitation and domination, the state cannot do anything else but sustain the class relations that exist in its midst. In this way the state defends the capitalists to the detriment of the worker, who possessing only “their arms as wealth, has nothing to expect from the state; encountering in it but an organisation designed in order to impede their emancipation at whatever price” [45].

Any attempt to change the system carried out by the exploited classes is harshly repressed by the state. When ideology does not work, repression and control follow. As it has a monopoly on the use of violence in society, it always uses it to enforce the laws, and as laws were made in order that the privileges of capitalist society could be maintained, then repression and state control are always to sustain “order”. That is, to maintain the privileges of capitalism and keep the ruling class in domination. At the slightest sign of the exploited classes that signifies a threat, the state brutally represses; always aiming at the continuation of the system, which has violence as one of its central pillars.

Contrary to what the authoritarian socialists believed (and still believe), the state is not a neutral organism that can work at the service of the capitalists or of the workers. If anarchists have written so much about the state it is justifiably because the critique of capitalism was consensus between libertarians and authoritarians – the divergence was around the state. The authoritarians supported the capture of the state and the dictatorship of the proletariat as an intermediate stage – which was falsely called socialism – between capitalism and communism. This “socialism” is a form of governing of the majority by the minority, “having the effect of consolidating, directly and inevitably, the political and economic privileges of the governing minority and the economic and political slavery of the popular masses” [46]. We hold that

[...] no state, no matter how democratic their forms may be, not even the reddest political republic, popular only in the sense of the lie known under the name of representation of the people, is able to give to these what they need, that is, the free organisation of their own interests, from the bottom up, without any interference, guardianship or coercion from above, because every state, even the most republican and democratic, even pseudo-popular [...] is nothing else, in its essence, if not the governing of the masses from top to bottom with an intellectual, and therefore privileged minority saying it understands the true interests of the people, more than the people themselves [47].
The position of the libertarians, which we hold today, is that for the construction of socialism the state must be destroyed, together with capitalism, by means of the social revolution. This because “who says state necessarily says domination and, consequently, slavery; a state without slavery, declared or concealed, is inconceivable; this is why we are enemies of the state” [48]. The state thinks it understands the needs of the people better than the people themselves and supports a hierarchical form of management of society, constituting the means by which the class present in it exercises domination over the others; those that are not part of the state. Any state creates relations of domination, exploitation, violence, wars, massacres and torture under the pretext of protecting the “citizen”, as well as subjugating
the provinces and cities that comprise the state which, as natural groups, should enjoy full and complete autonomy. [These] will, on the contrary, be governed and administrated not by themselves, as befits the associated provinces and cities, but by central authority and as conquered populations [49].
In the same way as dictatorial socialism, representative democracy argues that it is possible to have change through the state. By delegating our right to do politics [50] to a class of politicians that enter the state in order to represent us we are giving a mandate, without any control, to someone that makes decisions for us: there is an inevitable division between the class that does politics and the classes that follow. At the outset, we can already affirm that representative democracy alienates politically, seeing as it separates the people from those who do politics on behalf of the people: councillors, deputies, senators, mayors, governors etc. The more that the politicians are responsible for politics, the less the people engage in politics and the more they remain alienated and distant from the making of decisions. This, obviously, condemns the people to a position of spectator and not that of “master of oneself”, directly responsible for solving their own problems. “The emancipation of the proletariat [...]” therefore being “impossible in any state that may exist, and that the first condition of this emancipation is the destruction of all states” [51].

“Politicians” represent the hierarchy and separation between leaders and led, within and outside of their own parties. To be elected political parties must obtain numerical relevance in the vote, and for this need to elect a significant number of candidates. Politicians are then treated as a commodity to be sold on the “electoral market”; in order to grow, parties do anything – divert money, abandon programmes, make alliances with anyone etc. “Politicians” do not do politics based on popular will, but make decisions that favour the party and its own interests, going on to increasingly like the taste of power. After all, politicians and parties want to retain their positions and powers, which becomes and end in itself. Discussion of the important issues of society, which is already limited – seeing as though parliament and the state itself are pillars of capitalism and, therefore, do not allow for its roots to be modified – is not even touched upon, is never a priority; representative democracy being conservative, limiting even the little progresses that could occur. For this reason we must not delegate politics to

people without any conviction, who turn coats between liberals and conservatives and are allowed to influence by promises, positions, flattery or panic – this small group of nonentities who, by giving or refusing their votes, decide all the questions of the country. It is they who make or shelve laws. It is they who support or drop the ministries and change the political direction [52].
This critique of the state is not linked to one or other form of state, but to all its forms. Therefore, any project of social transformation that points to the social revolution and libertarian socialism must have the end of capitalism as well as the state as an objective. Although we hold that the state is one of the strongest pillars of capitalism, we do not believe that with the end of capitalism the state would, necessarily, cease to exist.

Today we know that we should confuse ourselves neither with the context of the nineteenth century, which showed a divergence on the question of the state between socialists – and for this the great emphasis on writings on the subject – nor with the context of the Europe of that time. We know that the conditions in Brazil are specific and, if we can apply these critiques to the state today, we must know that our reality is particular and that the direction of the world economy has had profound influence over the form of state with which we live.

Finally, one thing is sure: capitalism and the state are, still today, the foundations of our society of domination and exploitation, constituting “for all the countries of the civilised world, a single universal problem” [53]. Therefore, our ideal is still “total and definitive emancipation [...] from economic exploitation and the yoke of the state” [54].


25. The means of production constitute the means of work and of the objects of labour. The means of labour are the instruments of production, such as machinery, equipment, tools, technology; facilities, such as buildings, warehouses, offices; the sources of energy used in production, which may be electric, hydraulic, nuclear, wind; and the means of transport. The objects of labour are the elements upon which human labour occurs, such as raw materials, vegetables and animals, the land, among others.

26. Proletariat: those who have nothing except their offspring, or, their children.

27. Piotr Kropotkin. "As Nossas Riquezas". In: A Conquista do Pão. Lisboa: Guimarães, 1975, p. 28.

28. Pierre-Joseph Proudhon. "2eme. Memoire sur la Proprieté". In: A Nova Sociedade. Porto: Rés Editorial, s/d, p. 35.

29. Idem. O que é a Propriedade? São Paulo: Martins Fontes, 1988, p. 159.

30. Fabio López López. Poder e Domínio: uma visão anarquista. Rio de Janeiro: Achiamé, 2001, p. 83.

31. Mikhail Bakunin. O Sistema Capitalista. São Paulo: Faísca, 2007, p. 4.

32. Ibid. p. 14.

33. Piotr Kropotkin. "A Expropriação". In: A Conquista do Pão, p. 62.

34. Mikhail Bakunin. O Sistema Capitalista, pp. 6-7.

35. Idem. A Instrução Integral. São Paulo: Imaginário, 2003, p. 69.

36. Subcomandante Marcos. "Entrevista a Ignácio Ramonet". In: Marcos: la dignidad rebelde. Chile: Aún Creemos en los Sueños SA, 2001, p. 26.

37. Ibid. p. 27.

38. Noam Chomsky. O Lucro ou as Pessoas. Rio de Janeiro: Bertrand Brasil, 2002, p. 136.

39. Ibid. p. 36.

40. Murray Bookchin. "Um Manifesto Ecológico: o poder de destruir, o poder de criar". In: Letra Livre 31. Rio de Janeiro: Achiamé, 2001, p. 8.

41. Errico Malatesta. A Anarquia. São Paulo: Imaginário, 2001, p. 15.

42. Corporate associations of artisans, merchants, artists that existed in the Middle Ages.

43. Piotr Kropotkin. O Estado e seu Papel Histórico. São Paulo: Imaginário, 2000, p. 64.

44. Errico Malatesta. "‘Idealismo’ e ‘Materialismo’". In: Anarquistas, Socialistas e Comunistas. São Paulo: Cortez, 1989, p. 141. Livro em processo de reedição pela editora Scherzo.

45. Piotr Kropotkin. "A Decomposição dos Estados". In: Palavras de um Revoltado. São Paulo: Imaginário, 2005, p. 30.

46. Mikhail Bakunin. Estatismo e Anarquia. São Paulo: Imaginário, 2003, p. 169.

47. Ibidem. p. 47.

48. Ibidem. p. 212.

49. Pierre-Joseph Proudhon. "Crítica às Constituições". In : Proudhon. São Paulo: Ática, 1986, p. 87.

50. The term “politics” used here, and which will be used many more times throughout this text, is understood as: “derived from the adjective originated from polis (Politik) which signifies all that which refers to the city, and consequently, what is urban, civil, public and even social and sociable”. Norberto Bobbio et al. Dicionário de Política. Brasília: Editora UNB, 1993, p. 954. Therefore, we do not understand politics as that performed by means of representative democracy. “To do politics”, in this case, means to effectively participate and decide on society’s issues and, especially, on that which affects us. We work with the idea that there is politics outside of the electoral sphere.

51. Mikhail Bakunin. Estatismo e Anarquia, p. 74.

52. Piotr Kropotkin. "O Governo Representativo". In: Palavras de um Revoltado, p. 154.

53. Mikhail Bakunin. Estatismo e Anarquia, p. 73.

54. Ibid.

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