The first civilisations developed initially in the alluvial valleys of the Euphrates, Tigris, Indus, and the Nile some 5000 years ago. At this period henceforth certain riverside villages were transformed into small towns and cities. There arose new populations of an urban type that continued to diversify and contain specialised workers. These specialised men – craftsmen, merchants, priests officials and warrior leaders were supported by a surplus that was appropriated from the extra farmers produced over and above their domestic needs.
The first 2000 years of civilisation correspond with the period in archaeology known as the Bronze Age. A narrow, by comparison with the working population, circle of administrators and priests continued to appropriate the small surplus that was produced by subsistence agriculture that now employed irrigation methods. We now have forms of society divided into social classes with opposed interests – a class of exploited men and women, and a class of exploiters. At about 12oo BC the use of iron became the main method of production – concurrent with the invention of alphabets and writing. The use of coinage developed after 700 BC and thus abetted merchant dealings with surplus commodities. Roman and Greek economies in the period known as antiquity, as with other early civilisations, derived their surplus from the prevailing specialised agricultural techniques, and it was at this time that there began to occur the impoverishment and enslavement of peoples, producers and artisans.
During the stage of savagery, during the period of natural existence, men lived in equal relation to one another. In this context we must not assume the existence of a one time ‘Golden Age’ – these times were hard. But, these early men had within them the potential to develop their capacities further, they possessed abilities that gave them a distinct advantage over their fellow animals. Man’s development, however, brought its contradictions. These contradictions arose out of man’s further development of his potentialities, his further control over nature, and became the means whereby inequalities appeared in his social relations.
One monument to early man is his conversion of the vast ancient forests into arable land for cultivation – man not only made himself but, by the very nature of his own development stages he also made his own chains. Through his expansion of the means of production man introduced property – not only communal ownership, but other relationships based upon the private ownership of property that enable the appropriation of a surplus to take place. Through the institution of private property man introduced slavery and poverty into his social life. Once that man had established society, once he had instituted the unequal social relations derived from the appropriation of surplus value for profit, then every higher stage was consequently a higher stage of class society. Hence each new advance that was achieved by civilisation was therefore, in reality, a step forward in social inequality.
All societies that have existed in civilisation, and the particular social institutions each given society engendered, became altered into the opposite of their original aims. These social processes that are in conflict, are antagonistic and involved in a struggle, contain a contradiction. This contradiction is solved by the eventual transformation of one process into another, opposite process. The resolution of the struggle of opposites, the transformation of one extreme into its opposite, can be seen operating in social laws.
It was a historical necessity that tribal chiefs became their peoples masters, their oppressors. These oppressive chieftains then took the resulting inequality to its extreme point, to an extreme limit where the intense inequality changed into its opposite. Unequal relations became themselves the very cause of equal relations. Each and every society thus contains within itself the very processes that will replace it. However, we must not regard this social process as a mechanical push-pull or cyclical movement. The new equality is not the equality of primitive, communal savagery of prehistoric times – man does not return to the ‘idyllic’ natural existence of a mythical ‘golden age’ – but has passed into a new and higher equality. This is, in essence, the negation of the negation. Individuals may at times go round in circles, but social man in history can only go onwards and upwards.
We can conclude that societies, including ancient and modern civilisations, move in contradictions, and that these contradictions are the very germs of change into newer, more advanced stage of society. Hence class society constantly generates contradictions to which it can find no answers, it cannot solve its own riddle. The result is the leap from quantitatively accumulated processes of one lower stage of society into the newer quality of a higher stage of society.
Therefore, because of its inability to solve its contradictions the particular society has become the opposite, the extreme, of that which it originally intended. Poverty becomes an aspect of class civilisations, and as such is the extreme born of the existence of abundance. Obviously when the exploiting class appropriate surplus from these who created it, they have crated the opposite that will lead to their negation. In modern society these contradictions can be seen in evidence, they can also be plainly seen to be sharpening. Hence a contemporary duplicity of action with the development of extreme contradictions between the collective interest and the private, individual benefit. Within modern monopoly capitalism the struggle of these opposites is exemplified by the sharpening conflict between the individuals’ and the masses.
Essentially – human evolution cannot be regarded as a solely biological phenomenon. Human evolution can only correctly understood in terms of the evolution of skills. Man throughout his history and evolution has advanced progressively from lower levels to higher levels of technology. The material means of existence are the result of socially organised relations of production, and it in this that all human relations are rooted.