BOGOTÁ D.C. 2007





BOGOTA D.C. 2007




SUMMARY (page 5) INTRODUCTION (page 10) 1 ECONOMIC ORGANIZATION OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE (page 11) 1.1 ECONOMIC BASIS FROM THE PERSPECTIVE OF HISTORICAL MATERIALISM (page 11) 1.1.1 What does “mode of production” mean? 1.1.2 The slave mode of production. 1.2 ECONOMIC BASIS OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE (page 16) 1.2.1. The slave mode of production in the Roman Empire 1.2.2 Economic contradictions in the Roman Empire. 2. THE FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE (page 23) 2.1 THE COURSE OF HISTORY AND ITS DEFINING ELEMENTS (page 23) 2.2 CLASS STRUGGLE IN THE END OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE (page 27) 2.2.1 Classes in the fall of the Roman Empire and their roles. 2.2.2 Ideas concerning the role of barbarians in the fall of the Roman Empire. 3. CONCLUSIONS (page 30) BIBLIOGRAPHY (page 34)



The reasons behind this monograph are basically two, the first and foremost is intellectual curiosity, the proposed question combines two subjects which I consider fascinating, Marxism and history, these are in fact the areas of knowledge I find most interesting. When thinking about mixing them, being Marxism essentially a tool for the analysis of society, it was unavoidable to consider actually using it. The question that was originally planned was harder and richer in terms of up-to-date conclusions, an analysis on the fall of the USSR; however it turned to be too complex, presenting a challenge that for practical reasons such as time and personal obligations was necessary to leave on stand-by. The reasons for the complexity of the question seemed to be that the USSR chapter in history is still not finished, the subject is still too recent to ask for the writings and investigations on it to be unbiased, and looking for a similar but much earlier phenomenon became the obvious choice. On remembering the common reasons used to explain the fall of the Roman Empire studying that period of time turned interesting because its distance with the present day guarantees plenty of unbiased and generous sources of information. Among the reasons commonly argued it is almost funny to find so-called “institutional crisis”, “loss of civic virtue” or similar ideas that deep down are empty statements, the same words are often applied to the Colombian situation, leading only to an idealist and superficial analysis that mixes causes and effects. A chance to improve some of existing knowledge on the Roman Empire while learning and experimenting with theoretical elements useful on analyzing both ancient and modern societies became evident. The subject was effective enough on preventing the main risk, a writing made without any creativity or innovation, a mechanical copy-paste. This work is meant to be a small laboratory made to test the knowledge so far obtained and to play with it.


The latter is precisely the second motivation, beyond the usual academic requirement, this monograph is an opportunity to challenge the social or political theories defended, truly more with faith than rationality sometimes. The elaboration of this work comes in a decisive moment when life choices are supposed to me made, taking that into account, intellectual coherence is a necessary tool to leave a mark. The objectives of this work can be classified as follows: General Objective: Explaining the fall of the Roman Empire from the perspective of historical materialism Specific Objectives: 1. Investigating the characteristics, conditions and development of the economic organizations of the roman society surrounding its decline. 2. Establishing the role the economic classes represented on that historical conjunction. 3. Explain the fall of the Roman Empire as a natural consequence of the class struggle in the middle of the roman society, caused by the usage and development of the slave mode of production and productive forces. The monograph is developed around a phenomenon and a concept, which is the tool to understand the phenomenon, the fall of the Roman Empire, the concept is, of course, historical materialism, the first task is to accurately define both of them. There is neither a defined date, nor even a single event than marks undoubtedly the fall of the Roman Empire, it is even said it simply did not happen, that the empire transformed instead of falling. We will begin by saying that in a strict sense it did fell because there is no Roman Empire on modern day maps, obviously a civilization as big as that does not disappear without a trace, in fact it leaves a permanent mark on history. However roman legacy is not the subject of discussion, it is the empire itself, the political institution and the corresponding social organization. If the question is when this institution is over, the


answer is rather simple, we cannot name a precise date and it is not important to do so, because what went on is an entire disintegration process with complete stages. What we can do is to state that basically with the separation of the western empire from the eastern, and the subsequent barbarian invasion, the enormous political institution we are talking about met an ending. What has been said so far is not to be confused, the barbarian invasions deep down are not the cause of the decline, they mark something, of course, but they were not the first invasions the Romans faced. Why were the barbarians successful this time? They managed to depose an emperor, sack roman cities, and take control of every form of power in society. Were not the Romans capable of repelling them? Why did series of events coincided in that specific historical moment leading to the result we all know and why precisely that result? We have already established the place of the events, the Western Roman Empire (the roman possessions west from the Slavic countries) We now need to move between the IV and the V century, that is the historical conjunction we are going to study, mainly its economic condition and we will understand why when we define historical materialism as follows. To avoid unnecessarily extending, the concept will not be demonstrated, that has already been masterfully done by better and wiser authors, Marx, Engels and many more Marxists intellectuals and philosophers. We can instead read a simple definition extracted from Wikipedia:

“Historical materialism starts from the view that in order to exist human

beings collectively work on nature to produce the means to life. Not all human beings, however, do the same work; there is a division of labor in which people not only do different jobs, but some people live from the work of others by


Wikipedia. Historical Materialism, March 2007


owning the means of production. How this is done depends on the type of society. In European societies, for instance, four kinds of society have emerged (modes of production): primitive communism or tribal society (a prehistoric stage), slave mode of production or ancient society, feudal mode of production or medieval society and capitalism. Ancient society was based on a dominant class of slaveholders (not only owning the means of production but also de labor force) and the slaves themselves; feudalism on the lords and the vassals; capitalism was organized on the basis of capitalists who own the jeans of production, distribution and exchange (such as factories, mines, shops and banks) and a working class that lives through the sale of their labor force to the bourgeoisie in exchange of money. Historical materialism can be considered based on the following principles: 1. The basis of human society how humans work on nature to produce their means of subsistence. 2. There is a division of labor into social classes (relations of production) based on property ownership where some people live from the labor of others. 3. The system of class division is dependent on the mode of production. 4. Society moves from stage to stage when the dominant class is displaced by a new emerging class” To achieve a deeper idea we are checking one of the writings we mentioned when introducing the concept, this is the one of the few direct comments that Marx made on the materialist conception of history or historical materialism.



“In the social production of their existence, men inevitably enter into definite

relations, which are independent of their will, namely relations of production appropriate to a given stage in the development of their material forces of production. The totality of these relations of production constitutes the economic structure of society, the real foundation, on which arises a legal and political superstructure and to which correspond definite forms of social consciousness. The mode of production of material life conditions the general process of social, political and intellectual life. It is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but their social existence that determines their consciousness.” With the fall of the Roman Empire the slave mode of production was over, never again a social order based on the private ownership of human beings would prosper; in exchange the feudal mode of production had to be adopted. As we will understand, this economic change is a consequence of the usage and development of the mode of production we mentioned and the improvements on productive forces (among them, scientific and technical development). We shall also understand how does the fall of the Roman Empire is ultimately determined by the economic change. To conclude the summary, it is worth adding the main conclusion is the explanation developed through the contents. As secondary conclusions we can state in the first place that in the present day it is still valid to apply historical materialism as an analysis tool, in second place the need to improve what has been said con Marxist theory about revolutionary subject and class struggle, finally the concrete way in which the economic basis determines the superstructure of society.


MARX, Karl. Prólogo a la Contribución a la crítica de la economía política. Marxists Internet Archive. Online Edition at March 2001



In the year 476 the roman emperor, Romulus Augustus was deposed from his throne by Odoacer, chief of the Germanic Herules tribe, it marks one of the turning points in the decline of the glorious Roman Empire after about five centuries, 359 years after reaching its top extension, the civilized world. How could the Germanic hordes; peoples with a primitive social structure, almost nomadic, without alphabet, without any technical developments worth mentioning and many other lacks; destroy the political entity that ruled the civilized world? The answer is what this monograph aims to find. The tool resides on the theory of historical materialism, a basic principle that guarantees rationality and scientific principles in the analysis to a certain extent. Obviously the goal in the monograph is not to be an extensive and dense treaty, inaccessible, not discussable, this work keeps simplicity and functionality on solving the initial problem, the priorities are far from being complexity or esthetic, on the contrary simplicity keeping veracity. In replacement some style conventions have been sacrificed in order to keep a friendly, familiar tone. Explanations and demonstrations not strictly necessary that have already been developed with insurmountable precision and reason are not included and the reader is suggested to check the books quoted on the work for them. Finally care has been taken in avoiding speculative and arguable statements; anyway, as in every human making, speculation and mistake frenetically hide in places where not even the most careful of authors is able to find them. The best response to this monograph is consequently the opposition to everything discussable and the pointing of any statement than cannot be proved neither true nor false




1.1.1 ¿What does “mode of production” mean? As already said, this monograph’s starting point is the theory of historical materialism; logically we will begin by studying the economic frame in which the roman society stands. The reason behind the importance of the economic frame is that, as Marx analyzed history, it became evident that “The mode of production of material life conditions the general process of social, political and intellectual life.”3 Consequentially, the “mode of production” determines the social and political processes, the analysis of the mode applied in the Roman Empire must explain a social and political process such as it decline and fall. The mode of production applied there is named the slave mode of production; its characteristics will be described later, so far we will begin defining what a “mode of production” is. The mode of production in a society is often conceived at first as the “relations of production” that make part of it, in other words, the relationships people usually get involved in aiming to produce the goods they need for their subsistence, and thereby the subsistence of their society. To conclude the mode of production is defined by its corresponding relations of production.




The ways people could relate to produce are infinite, however the fields historical analysis tends to be interested in are the relations named, for explanation purposes, as labor and property relations; who works for who, why, and what do they own. Those are all questions that define relations of production in a society. The importance of those two kinds of relations resides on them being precisely the kind that has more influence on production. Concerning property relations, what is owned by whom, it is not the possession on consumer goods we are interested in; clothing, food and everyday needs. We are not interested on them because they are in turn produced by another kind of goods. The “means of production” as their name points out, are the origin of consumer goods. The means of production during the roman times were mainly farms, mines and crops, in other words, land. The roman people dressed, fed and fought with what land gave them. The conclusion is that the important part of property relations is the distribution of property on the means of production, and in the Roman Empire, the distribution of property on land. On labor relations it is worth saying that to enable the means of production to actually produce something, labor is required, whether through man directly or through machines and animals; the labor required is named “labor force”, given roman development labor force was almost completely human. The important part of labor relations is knowing who ends up owning the production, the natural thing is working for oneself, nobody will ever work for others unnecessarily if, by doing so, time to work for the own life is lost. However, more often than not, when an individual works, he or she only manages to keep part of what was produced, the reasons behind that often portray the social organization. Aside from knowing who works and how, the important subject of study on these relations is how much of his or her work is kept and why. Analyzing what has been said, it becomes evident the composition of both the labor force and the means of production varies and may be considered an indicator on the degree of technical and scientific development in a society. It also ends up conditioning the form relations of production adopt, these elements together, labor force and means of production, are named “productive forces”.


1.1.2 The slave mode of production. The definition on the concept of “mode of production” has been achieved by explaining the concepts and elements that shape it, it is now time to study the shape those elements adopt specifically in the case of the slave mode of production, that way the shape of the slave mode itself will be established. The concept of “slave mode of production” is abstract and it is not only applied in the roman society, but in all the slave societies, it has already been defined with accuracy and a materialist vision in terms of the elements and concepts we mentioned, a transcription of one of those definitions follows, written by Kuusinen, a Finnish communist, politician, philosopher and poet.

”The basis of relations of production on this regime is private property of the

slaveholder not only on the means of production, but also on the labor force itself, on the slaves. This property of the lord over the slaves and everything they produce is imposed by the level of development of productive forces in the time, a level of development high enough to enable the exploitation of the workers. Simultaneously however, it was low enough as to make the exploitation of the workers, taking part of their production, possible only by reduced their consumption to the minimum, leaving them only the strictly necessary to prevent starvation to death. That could only be done by stripping the exploited from every kina of rights and reducing them to the conditions of speaking tools, and using on them the most ferocious of coactive measures. The change on relations of production revolutionized the remaining spheres in the life of society.


KUUSINEN, Otto. Principios de Materialismo Histórico. Ediciones Suramérica. Bogotá. 1962


The relations of cooperation and solidarity, characteristic of the primitive communities, were left aside in favor of the relations of domination on one part of society over the others, relations of exploitation, oppression and irreducible hostility. Society divided onto hostile classes: slaveholders and slaves.” Kuusinen then speaks about the moral decay that corresponded to the time of transition between tribal societies and slavery. Quoting Engels; then he describes the conformation of the State as a consequence of the need of repression over the recently formed and ferociously exploited class of the slaves, consequentially again raising a juridical organization and a specific ideology of the slave society, of uses such as the reject of physical works as something low, and ideas of difference and inequality among men. All of the former are ideas derived from historical materialism, all interesting and capable of a profound impact on the understanding of modern society, in spite of that, we are not interested right now on those ideas. Kuusinen will also write about the process of development characteristic of the slave mode of production that does explain the process the Roman Empire lived to see.

“(…) and, in spite of that all, the slavery regime meant a great step forward in

the evolution of humanity. The division of labor goes on, with the separation between agriculture and urban production, and inside them. Labor division also meant in turn specialization of instruments and tools and a new cumulus of experience. In agriculture next to the cereal crops, new crops develop. Tools (…) are invented. The muscular force of men is complemented on a large scale by animals. The work of true masses of slaves allows the construction of dams and irrigation systems, of roads and ships, of aqueducts and great urban edifications. And when a part of the members of society remains free of direct participation on production (thanks to the exploitation of slaves) conditions develop for the scientific and artistic progress.




Nevertheless a time comes in which the possibilities of progress the slave mode of production provided run out; its relations of production become an obstacle that stops the development of productive forces. The lords managing the way they managed the slaves, who demanded little attention, did not show interest on the improvement of labor instruments. The bigger abundance was, the less complex and expensive instruments could be trusted to the slave, because the slave could not have the slightest interest on the results of his or her work. The needs of development of productive forces increasingly demanded the suppression of the old relations of production. That could only be accomplished by a social revolution, whose motor could only be the classes and segments of society that suffered the oppression of the slave regime and therefore were interested in its suppression. Those peoples were slaves and the poorer among the free population. As the contradictions deepen on the old mode of production, the class struggle acquires more virulence. Its specific shapes are varied, from the plain sabotage of the labor instruments, to the popular riots in which tens of thousands of men take part. On the last stage, the slave regime falls under the joint strikes of the insurrection of the working classes and the raids of the neighboring barbarian tribes, the state weakened by internal contradictions and war proved not capable of facing the increasing attacks. A new institution replaces slavery, feudalism” There are things to be said concerning the last paragraph, further on we will return on the subject, however Kuusinen words are good enough in explaining the abstract concept of “slave mode of production”. We are now studying the usage of this mode of production specifically on roman society.



1.2.1 The slave mode of production in the Roman Empire. The roman economy was basically made by two economic classes, the patricians, the dominant class, owners of the means of production and slaves. The patricians had the juridical property as well as the effective profit over the means of production, the labor force and the goods and services produced by them. The patrician class accumulated huge rural properties named latifundia, the smallest ones being around 120 hectares, reaching up to 80.000 hectares, on average the latifundia were around 1.200 hectares. On the other hand, slaves, as a patrician property, were not subjects of rights and were forced to work receiving in exchange insignificant proportions of their production, not enough to survive in most of the cases. Thousands of joint slaves could work simultaneously in the same latifundium. Patricians were the traditional roman citizens, nobles, senators, politicians, military or government officials etc. The state and the church, as institutions, would eventually own an important portion of the roman land. The free peasants, owners of their own land, were basically war veterans, average roman farmers and people that had been granted land, this class, along with the slaves, would be the seed of the feudal serfs. Additionally, near the end of the empire, when its decline had begun, land started being granted to barbarian groups, the roman government aimed to increase population and maintain the exploited land. The joint property of these groups together was still a small fraction of the patrician land. Towards the fall of the empire the gap was increasingly bigger.


Slaves were usually war prisoners or foreigners specifically captured to gather slaves, another important fraction was made by impoverished Romans who were sometimes forced to sell their children and eventually got themselves enslaved by force as a payment for their debts. The latter was a frequent practice on slave shortage times, mostly when the empire could not afford to overexpand, especially around its rise and also its decline. Even though it was illegal during several stages of roman history, enslavement of impoverished Romans was always practiced. As the end of the Roman Empire got close, they achieved a juridical status different from the slaves, we will return on this fact ahead as it is symptomatic of the decline. Life expectancy for Romans was low, of course it was much lower for the slaves, Rome was always short of manpower and labor force, in other words, slaves. Roman economy was mainly agrarian, consequentially, latifundia were the basic cell of roman economy, even though in the beginning an important portion was that of the peasantry land, it never managed to be the majority, and gradually integrated to latifundia as a consequence of the slave mode of production itself, we will talk about this further on. Manufacture was formed by artisan production on the first place, this was enough to satisfy local needs; during roman times it would have been very uncommon to find goods that were not locally produced, frequently the tools of an average farmer were produced by a well-known local artisan. Besides artisan production only uniforms and weapons were produced at a large scale for the imperial army. Manufacture was a small area of roman economy, commerce was in consequence small too, both had no significant impact on roman economy as to be worthy of being taken into account. On the degree of development of productive forces we can say that even though a wide variety of techniques and instruments were known, and there was enough understanding to use animals on the crops, only the most basic means were used, a slave and the primitive tools he or she strictly needed. The deficient use of available means deepened instead of diminishing as time went by, we will understand why further on.


What has been said obviously changed and evolved as time went by, originally roman society ran on a tribal economy. Towards the end of the empire various feudal economic institutions, even though they ran against roman traditional ways, had to be adopted. The elements that created the need of change, the contradictions of the slave mode of production, will now be described 1.2.2 Economic contradictions in the Roman Empire. The roman economy presented several problems, caused by its own structure, problems that would deepen gradually as the economic model developed. We will begin by pointing out the most evident one, on which most of the others originate; the slave mode of production is based on the over exploitation of slaves, giving almost nothing in exchange, as a result we have an average worker with an extremely low life expectancy. This implies the constant need of gathering more slaves; as the main source is war, a need for constant expansion is created The Roman Empire did expand in a surprising way, it managed to control almost the entire Europe, North Africa and an important part of the Middle East, conquering many nations on the process, imposing the roman social structure and enslaving important portions of the conquered populations. The expansion phase of the slave mode of production gave birth to roman glory and raised it; this glorious image that we preserve in the present day would be over in reality as time went by. Constant expansion does not only require a great army, it also requires great physical an administrative infrastructure, causing great government expenses. Taxes were the main source of income for the government; as the expenses increase, citizens are increasingly taxed. That creates bigger loads of work for slaves, who then have shorter lives. Taxing also creates a difficult situation for peasantry, for whom the options are starvation or enslavement, even though they are a source of slaves, they cannot supply the needs of the empire. The long-term effect is a decrease in population.


The prosperity phase ended around the II century a.d., on that matter historian Norman J.G. Pounds says:

“During the mid II century of our era, the roman empire reached its highest

peak of power and prosperity. Admired by its contemporaries and heightened for the posterity (…) In that period the seeds of the decline of Rome were already planted, skirmishes on the borders of the empire extended (…) The army had to be strengthened and the taxes to maintain it (…) A harsh and usually unfair taxing sunk the peasantry and widened the gap between the poor and the rich. The rich increased their properties, while the descendants of the old free peasantry turned, as time went by, into coloni tied to the land of their lords” “Productivity of the land was low (…) in most of Italy a profit of 4 to 1 was common (…) in the hard years profits could be much lower (…) As a last resort the farmer would sell his property to pay taxes and lived on someone else’s land as a tenant (…) when the situation of the slaves started improving, the coloni’s worsened and the difference between them minimized” “The mortality rate was high and the average life expectancy very short (…) the part of the roman population of whom we are informed (…) is certainly composed by the ones who were wealthy enough as to leave a trace of their life. The average age of an adult at the moment of death was between 30 and 35 years. It is thought there was high child mortality and the life expectancy at birth could not be much more than 20 years”


POUNDS, Norman. Historia Económica de Europa Medieval. Editorial Crítica. Barcelona 1981


With the decrease on population several consequences appear, economy turns less productive and keeping a solid state with enough military power gets harder, that causes an increase on the attacks made by the peoples threatened by the expansion necessary to sustain the empire. Attacks cause even a further decrease on population and crop destruction, besides forcing an even bigger military expending; the decrease in crops and population hardens the gathering of income. The economic problems also generate an inner social pressure that the government must face with an even bigger spending.

“Given the situation, the emperors (…) resorted more frequently to monetary

manipulation (…) the coinage of an increasing number of money, without a matching increase in productivity (…) led to an unavoidable increase in prices (…) the inflationist tendency was too strong…” “The tax burden contributed to a reduction on the number of free peasants, thereby increasing the wealth in the hands of the senatorial class. This class, as we have seen, was used to avoid (…) their taxes” “The tax on land that fell mainly on the small landowner was the main source of government income. The invasion to Rome by its enemies, the destruction caused by civil war, the unpredictable weather and the uncertainty of the crop threatened the well being of the farmer. He could always be conscripted to help on the defense of the empire and the big landowner was always willing to take possession over the farmer’s land given the case his debts forced him to sell it. Who would be surprised if the people exposed to that kind of unfairness in the name of a civilized government, gladly accepted the rough justice of a gothic chieftain?” “And what resistance, we could ask ourselves, did the lower classes opposed to the oppression they suffered? It was hard to oppose to a system in which the



armed forces and the tribunals were on the patrician side. In spite of that, insurrections were produced. There were violent riots among the peasants of North Africa during the IV century (…) In the Gaul, since the ending of the III century, the were revolts (…) fueled by the dissatisfaction of the peasantry (…) The revolts extended to Spain, and, in an intermittent way, they went on through the entire IV century” Besides all of the above, the slave mode of production carries as a consequence a significant scientific advance because of the population it frees from the load of maintaining itself, that way the dominant class may focus on intellectual development. However the system itself drowns the technical development for several reasons; the despise for physical labor and technical details characteristic of the dominant class is an obstacle to development on this area; the situation of the slaves makes the use of innovations difficult, economical difficulties turn animal labor and related tools very unprofitable.

“From a technical standpoint roman agriculture was conservative. The

institution of slavery may have been an inhibiting factor of innovation (…) Most likely the educated people would not be interested in the daily activities on their lands. The kind of education they received predetermined them to ignore technical matters (…) In most of the Mediterranean region land seems to have been worked on even or odd years. This was caused, of course, by a lack of fertilizers (…) The plough (…) had not changed on the essentials since Hesiodus description around 800 a.d. It just scratched the soil’s surface, could not turn it or penetrate it (…) animal breeding was unimportant (…) dry periods burned the herbs, the shortage on grasslands and the lacks of certain kinds of crops limited shepherding. A single cow was as far as an average farmer could get.”




The conclusion is that the economic model stopped the progress of productive forces, it led the society of that time into the feudal regime, the relations of production end up forcing an economic failure and the technical potential to maintain a society with different relations is ready. Conditions like low population, isolation, big quantities of abandoned land and political fractioning constitute requirements the new organization must take into account. Feudalism turns to be the solution to all those problems, the potential of productive forces by that time allows the survival of isolated communities with a reduced quantity of human labor, in a way that allows every individual to work bigger extensions. The use of land is maximized and peasants end up tied to it by the feudal contract; small, independent and self-sufficient realms are erected. The feudal mode of production opens up its path.

“The colonists were (…) adscripti glebae (tied to their land, they had to work it

and could not abandon it) and their descendants that inherited the tenement also inherited their limitations in movement (…) for most the new state of things was permanently and progressively oppressive. (…) What difference can you see – would say emperor Justinian on the IV century –between slaves and adscripticii, when both depend on the will of their master, who can submit an slave with his peculium and alienate an adscripticius with land? Society moved straight towards the medieval serfdom system” The Western Roman Empire ended and middle age began with the Germanic invasions of the V century. Emperor Romulus Augustus was deposed on the year 476 and along with it and entire era ended.






We have already seen how the roman mode of production built the need of change in the system, because a crisis emerged out of its own contradictions, the economic crisis that was literally starving the roman people was gradually solved by introducing new relations of production. The development of the productive forces made the introduction of these new relations possible because human labor was no longer required at the same level, the creation of self-sufficient communities was made possible without the need of imposing extreme poverty and exploitation to anybody. The latter is undoubtedly true, but when we study the concrete historical phenomenon some questions arise. Roman society by itself was already beginning to organize economically with some feudal institutions. Why was this change sudden? Why did and empire had to collapse shortly after if the economy seemed to be spontaneously organizing without having too much opposition? These questions become disturbing and make us think twice on the relation of the economic process with the fall of the Roman Empire when we analyze what follows:

“The fall of the roman empire, when considered from a political perspective,

meant the end of the succession of emperors who had governed it from Rome, Milan or Ravenna. The provinces of the empire were transformed into




kingdoms governed by barbarian chieftains and dominated by non-roman elite. However this transition had no match on the economic field.” “The end of the imperial regime was followed by a radical change in economy (…) however, during the V century many economic changes were produced by the ones who invaded the Roman Empire” We can simply answer that the economic change was already on progress, however the legal and political superstructure of the roman empire remained the same, the institutions, the governing class, the role it fulfilled, the values and ways, remained alike what was born on the insides of the slave society, and what, as consequence, was not useful nor contributing to the reproduction of the feudal system, had to be destroyed too. (And it is worth adding that social changes do not happen gradually, the are not quantitative but qualitative and suddenly changing instead; that happens because society moves through processes of dialectical change as Hegel would propose and Marx and other Marxists would later prove, evidence is on the process we are analyzing, however whether society changes dialectically or not is not the subject of this monograph and may be consulted on magnificent works made by people with an accuracy vastly superior than mine) You could also ask in response, then why were the latifundia and the institution of slavery important parts of society in spite of their obsolescence? Why were the slaves still legally property of their masters and consequentially, as in other matters, the coactive apparatus of the state still protected the patricians, repressed rebellions and kept trying to preserve the old order? Why was change only slow, subtle, if the economic conditions were demanding the change of the old economic ordering? Why did not society change once and for all if it was convenient for the majority of the people? Because the institutional shell, the regime, the legal and political superstructure, or whatever name you want for it; was preventing the change that would eventually reach a


stage in which it would have to break with everything against what was convenient for society (and was not for the patricians, as we will analyze ahead) and that is how the old imperial regime met an ending. An agreement between the classes could have been achieved, however, in the moments of historical change the question is who will be on top and who on the bottom of the new society in gestation period. The patricians, who were supported by the old political regime, naturally would not leave the grip of society loose, just for charity. The slaves and the peasants, future feudal serfs, would not have wanted the dictatorship of the patricians, which had oppressed them and their ancestors and had failed to provide them with acceptable standards of living they could have achieved on their own, to prevail. These goals could hardly be reconciled, this is called class struggle, and it is evident that this struggle was the motor of the people in destroying the imperial regime. We will be having a detailed analysis of the role of each class on the fall of the empire. This does not mean we have concluded historical materialism to be false. What Marxist theory says on historical process matters is that the economy determines at a last stage the basic answer to the when, where and why of the historical phenomena. Nevertheless it also says history is a product of human action. How does it agree on both of these statements? Let us see a comment from Engels:

“Men make their own history, whatever its outcome may be, in that each

person follows his own consciously desired end, and it is precisely the resultant of these many wills operating in different directions, and of their manifold effects upon the outer world, that constitutes history (…) On the other hand, the further question arises: What driving forces in turn stand behind these motives? What are the historical forces which transform themselves into these motives in the brains of the actors?”

ENGELS, Friedrich. Ludwig Feuerbach y el fin de la filosofía clásica alemana. Marxists Internet Archive. Online Edition at February 2007


And Marx adds: 12“It is not the consciousness of men (what we believe we need or we want) that determines their existence, but their social existence (we identify it with the economic class) that determines their consciousness.” Why is the social existence the class? The question is deeply interesting, however as in many others, it has already been answered and proved on main Marxists works, we will answer with a simple comment from Engels again: 13“… thoughts are not the same in a palace or in a cabin” Finally, to organize what has been said so far, we shall see the opinion of Georges Politzer, Hungarian Marxist, psychologist and philosopher:

“We see at the last stage that the moving forces of history are presented in the

following chain: a) History is human made. b) The action that makes history is determined by will. c) This will is a manifestation of ideas.. d) These ideas are a reflection of the social conditions of living. e) These social conditions are produced by classes and their struggle. f) Classes are a product of the economic conditions.”

12 13

Karl Marx, Op. Cit. Friedrich Engels, Op. Cit. 14 POLITZER, Georges. Cursos de Filosofía. Editores Mexicanos Unidos. 1998


2.2.1 Classes in the fall of the Roman Empire and their roles. We have defined why the empire fell, but we are still missing how for a complete explanation. We have also seen that the direct means of historical change are human actions, and, that the will behind those actions is determined by the economic classes; we are now analyzing the role they fulfilled and the situation where they ended up. Let us begin by patricians, whose role could only be reactionary, against change and progress. As holders of the power of the state and the property of the means of production, they were entitled to be on the loosing side when society moved on; the superstructure would favor them until the last emperor fell and the imperial regime was dissolved. However as the end got close, pushed by local unhappiness and the obsolescence of slavery, patricians would moderate their attitude towards the slaves; several were freed and exploitation was softened. Of course, those measures were not enough because, as we have seen, the problem was not lying on will or desire as it was a structural economic problem. Patricians were replaced as the dominant class by feudal aristocracy, mostly integrated by the leaders of the invading barbarians; patricians were, as a class, the first victim of barbarian invasions. Plebs were basically who, not being slaves, were not traditional roman citizens; in the beginning they were the basis of roman economy, being free peasants with their own lands, the fed themselves and generated enough surplus for maintaining the superstructure of the initial small roman regime and its relatively small dominant class. The roman expansion and the application of the slave mode of production placed them on the inferior side as the society deepened the application of the economic model, since it was implanted plebs started abandoning their traditional place and, as we have seen, the ones who did not become slaves or starved adopted the status of coloni, similar to feudal serfdom.


The plebeian situation was not significantly different than of the slaves; the played a progressive role favorable to change as they participated, along with slaves, in the revolts that preceded the fall of the regime, we cannot know for sure but they likely received their conquerors with open arms. The sack of cities would not make barbarians very popular, however plebs were mostly rural inhabitants, they would greet their invaders anxious of having someone leading society before it fell on anarchy, anxious of having their means of subsistence granted by being made serfs of new feudal lords. Plebs began and ended as simple people. Concerning slaves, the situation is rather obvious, they were, as a class, born because of the slave mode of production; they were always on the inferior layer of society, they were the class directly exploited by the economic model; their role could only be progressive, and they exerted pressure with some degree of success over the regime, with revolts, as the improvement of their situation towards the end shows. Due to the distance these events have from the present day, it is hard to know how significant and effective the pressure they exerted was, we cannot accurately state if it actually weakened the regime or if it would have been capable of finally destroying it. Truth is the slave activity was not the fundamental factor; Odoacer, the man who deposed the last western emperor, Romulus Augustus, was not slave but barbarian, this leaves us several questions.

2.2.2 Ideas concerning the role of barbarians in the fall of the Roman Empire. On practice barbarians were the ones who made the final strike on the imperial regime. Being slaves the oppressed class, according to theory they should have been the ones who stroke the system to erect themselves as a dominant class, however it is not how it happened, we can state several answers to this problem. First we must not forget that theory is abstract by definition, and, as the degree of abstraction is higher, theory is more solid and


coherent by itself, but more distant from reality, we must also remember theory is still not a perfect tool in the analysis of society, there is room for improvement. We have two ways of conceiving barbarians; the first one, as part of an independent socialeconomic formation, a different micro system that took advantage of the fall of the roman empire to establish a dominant mode of production that was, on practice, already being applied by them, it was reasonable for them to fight for making their mode of production the dominant one. We must, of course, take into account that the fall of the empire was not a phenomenon isolated from the world context, when judging on isolation, things should happen the way theory says, truth is the roman empire was not isolated from the world, and, even though it was the last fortress of the slave mode of production, it was not the first of feudalism. It makes sense to think other nations would take advantage of the decomposing roman regime to impose the feudal mode without much resistance and with advantages for the one who would assume the task. In other words, being the conditions given for the fall of the Roman Empire, barbarians made themselves supported by the oppressed classes on struggle and took things one step ahead. We can also take barbarians as another economic class, that, even though was not inside the roman economic system on a strict sense, was on a wider perspective as barbarians were the “class” from which slaves were gathered, on that sense they were the basis of the economic system. We could even dare to imagine the slaves not as a class, but, given the oppression of the system, as tools only, understanding barbarians as the class actually alienated, it would be natural for them to be, taking support on the progressive sectors, who shook the domination the patricians had in a sense imposed over them, and to consequently take the role of dominant class on the new feudal society.



The main conclusion of this monograph is, obviously, the answer to the initial question, the explanation given from the historical materialism standpoint to the fall of the Roman Empire, the answer is developed through the entire body of the monograph, but we can shortly summarize as follows: We will begin from the tribal society. The development of productive forces gradually made the production of surplus possible, the appropriation of this surplus freed a layer of population from the need to work, the primitive community thus dissolved, however, as it was not a society made of hostile classes, there were no relations of exploitation, nor a state that protected the obsolete relations of production. The slave mode of production was then born without any conflict or revolution. The slave mode of production, as its name point out, is based on the exploitation of slaves, it carries the need of constant expansion through war, and the roman empire indeed conquered the civilized world; however, a time came in which the conditions prevented further expansion and the contradictions inherent to the slave mode of production flourished, the necessity of changing the economic model consequently appeared. The development of productive forces was given in spite of slavery; the deficient part was its application. Productive forces made a more efficient economic model possible and it became necessary to break with the old regime. The change was set to happen as the need, the possibility and the agents were at order. The superstructure matching the slave society became obsolete, the classes oppressed by it start rebelling and weakening the system, it finally falls, no longer existing an institution preventing the birth of new relations of production, they are then fully established and a new matching superstructure emerges. The Roman Empire falls and feudalism is born.


Other conclusions can be extracted from the work. By analyzing the observations concerning the barbarian role, we can draw a small theory that may be applied to the modern world. We have seen that the class (if we take it that way) that fulfilled the revolutionary role were the barbarians, with some “oddities” as not being exactly inside the roman economic system, not being the class directly exploited, but, in spite of that, suffering part of the alienation or oppression produced by the system. The latter could mean that the revolutionary subject may not be the class directly exploited, sometimes this class does not seem to have enough strength to overthrow the system, in this case, being the conditions given for the destruction of an obsolete regime weakened by its contradictions, maybe the classes only secondary exploited by the system are the ones to take the revolutionary role. What does this mean in the present-day society? Maybe the revolutionary role does not belong to the proletarians of developed states, as the practice seems to show. To whom does it belong then? Does it belong to the proletarians of peripheral countries? Maybe it belongs to the remnants of past modes of production, such as the peasantry of undeveloped countries? Or it belongs to the classes that are being subtly displaced to the inferior layers of society as globalization marches on, like national bourgeoisies or middle classes? Are them all revolutionary subjects? So far we cannot provide an answer; the discussion on the revolutionary subject is one of the most important on modern Marxism. Various theories are disputed, orthodox Marxism still aims to the standard proletarian; several neomarxists like Hardt or Negri speak about a concept called “multitude”; there are those who revive ideas from the old dissidences of Marxism, like the concept of “student intelligence” from Marcuse, member of the Frankfurt School. There are as many as possible answers or questions. We have seen the slave society in the Roman Empire was on decomposition from the century I to the IV century a.d. Feudalism was born in Europe around the IV century and extinguished about a millennium later. Social-economic formations seem to take centuries


in order to be established, develop, decompose, and disappear or change. If capitalism is to fall as Marx predicted the process must take several centuries. We argue that there are in fact no reasons to believe it will not fall; we have concluded that historical materialism successfully explains the roman fall dating more than a millennia ago. As Marx and Engels’ works are read it is also noticeable that they accurately explain the XIX century English society or happenings such as the First World War. Intuitively we may state that if historical materialism explains deeply different conjunctions; Europe a thousand and a half years ago, and Europe a century and a half ago Our proximity with the past centuries may prevent us from seeing them from an objective perspective, but the intellectual effort has to be made, the theory must be improved along with the practice to produce better, more specific, and more truthful analysis, with the aim on the future, both short-term and long-term. The prize will be a better understanding of history and society, and, as consequence, the factors that determine the destiny both assigned to, and built by, our species, our peoples, our nations, our cities, the people surrounding us, and finally, ourselves. There are many fields of development for the human being on a collective an individual level, on any intellectual or emotional or physical matter or whatever; but, if things are about understanding society, about judging the future of USA, of preaching on the economy of Asiatic countries, or criticizing the moral values of the Colombian youth, or comprehending the critical conscience of Chilean or French students, or grasping the causes of the transport strikes that periodically paralyze Bogota; it is evident the proposed way is the best one. Besides the latter, as a student of eleventh grade, the conclusion is the consciousness on the ability to develop works with a complexity and magnitude, that, even though small compared with a real work, are unreachable for an individual without receiving the years of education that constitute the tools for the making of this monograph, which is, in a sense,


an evidence, a consequence and an achievement of what has been learnt through these years.



BORÍZOV, ZHAMIN, MAKAROVA. Diccionario de Economía Política. 1965 ENGELS, Friedrich. Ludwig Feuerbach y el fin de la filosofía clásica alemana. 1886 HARNECKER, Marta. Conceptos Elementales de Materialismo Histórico. 1969 KUUSINEN, Otto. Principios de Materialismo Histórico. 1962 MARX, Karl. Contribución a la crítica de la economía política. 1859 ________, Precapitalist Economic Formations, 1858 MARXISTS INTERNET ARCHIVE. Glossary of Terms: Slave Society, NIKITIN. Economía Política. 1959 POLITZER, Georges. Principios Elementales de Filosofía. 1949 ________. Principios Fundamentales de Filosofía. 1985 POUNDS, Norman. Historia Económica de Europa Medieval. 1981 WIKIPEDIA. Modo de Producción,ón ________. Modo de Producción Esclavista,ón_esclavista ________. Imperio Romano, ________. Historical Materialism, ________. Decadencia del Imperio Romano,


________. Relations of Production,


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