The History of the Culture of War
3. The internal culture of war and economies based on exploitation of workers and of the environment 5,000 years of increasing monopolization of the culture of war by the state

The History of the Culture of War

What is culture and how does it evolve?

Warfare in prehistory and its usefulness

The culture of war in prehistory

Data from prehistory before the Neolithic

Enemy images: culture or biology

War and the culture of war at the dawn of history

--Ancient Mesopotamia

--Ancient Egypt

--Ancient China

--Ancient Greece and Rome

--Ancient Crete

--Ancient Indus civilizations

--Ancient Hebrew civilization

--Ancient Central American civilization

Warfare and the origin of the State

Religion and the origin of the State

A summary of the culture of war at the dawn of history

The internal culture of war: a taboo topic

The evolution of the culture of war over the past 5,000 years: its increasing monopolization by the state

--1.Armies and armaments

--2.External conquest and exploitation: Colonialism and Neocolonialism

--3.The internal culture of war and economies based on exploitation of workers and the environment

--4.Prisons and penal systems

--5.The military-industrial complex

--6.The drugs-for-guns trade

--7.Authoritarian control

--8.Control of information

--9.Identification of an "enemy"

--10.Education for the culture of war

--11.Male domination

--12.Religion and the culture of war

--13.The arts and the culture of war



Summary of the history of the culture of war


If there is one overall trend that has been steady and certain over recent centuries it is the increasing gap between the rich and the poor, both within and between countries. No matter what language you wish to use, whether it be the language of Marx and Engels in the Communist Manifesto, or the theories of Nobel Prize winning economists from the heart of the capitalist class, it is clear that this is the result of exploitation of workers by capitalists. Over time the state has always played a central role; in the words of Engels (1884): "The ancient state was, above all, the state of the slave-owners for holding down the slaves, just as the feudal state was the organ of the nobility for holding down the peasant serfs and bondsmen, and the modern representative state is the instrument for exploiting wage-labor by capital." At each stage of this history, exploitation has been enforced by the internal culture of war.

During the first centuries of the American colonies and the new republic of the United States, internal intervention was used to prevent slaves from rebelling in the South This is described in my 1995 article in the Journal of Peace Research, Internal Military Interventions in the United States:

"The South was an armed camp for the purpose of enforcing slavery prior to the Civil War. In his survey of American Negro slave revolts, Aptheker (1943) found records of about 250 revolts and conspiracies, but said that this was no doubt an underestimate. Most of the revolts were suppressed by state militia, for which records are not readily available. In addition to suppressing revolts, the military enforced a state of martial law. According to Mahon (1983) in his History of the Militia and the National Guard, before the U.S. Revolution, 'the primary mission of the slave states' militia increasingly became the slave patrol' (p. 22) and after the revolution, 'the slave states continued to require militiamen to do patrol duty to discourage slave insurrections' (p. 54).

The militarization of Southern cities was described by F. L. Olmstead in the late 1850s, as quoted by Aptheker (1943, p. 69):

'...police machinery such as you never find in towns under free government: citadels, sentries, passports, grapeshotted cannon, and daily public whippings. ..more than half of the inhabitants of this town were subject to arrest, imprisonment and barbarous punishment if found in the streets without a passport after the evening 'gunfire'. Similar precautions and similar customs may be discovered in every large town in the South. ..a military - organization which is invested with more arbitrary and cruel power than any police in Europe.'"

Although slavery was abolished in most countries by the end of the 19th Century, its place was taken by the exploitation of industrial and agricultural wage workers. At this point the internal culture of war was transformed to prevent and suppress workers' strikes, revolts and revolutions, as described in my article on internal military interventions:

"The strike wave of 1877 transformed internal military intervention in the USA into industrial warfare. It began with a railroad strike in West Virginia, which spread throughout the industrial states. Before it was over, 45,000 militia had been called into action, along with 2,000 federal troops on active duty and practically the entire U.S. Army on alert (Riker, 1957, pp. 47-48). To realize the scope of this mobilization, one needs to know that according to Riker there were only 47,000 militia used during the entire Civil War, and the size of the entire U.S. Army around 1877 was 25,000 (p. 41). From 1877 to 1900, the U.S. Army was used extensively in labor disputes and a shared interest developed between the officer corps and U.S. industrialists (Cooper, 1980).

The 1877 intervention gave birth to the modern National Guard. This point is agreed upon by the principal histories of the Guard (Derthick, 1965; Mahon, 1983; and Riker, 1957). As Riker documents in detail, not only did all of the states establish their National Guard at that time, but also the appropriations of the new Guard were almost perfectly correlated with the number of strikers in that state. He concludes that 'in short it is reasonable to infer that the primary motive for the revival of the militia was a felt need for an industrial police' (p. 55)."

In recent years there has been a convergence of neo-colonialism and the capitalist exploitation of industrial and agricultural wage workers. Industrial enterprises in the North have largely re-located into countries of the South, decreasing the industrial class struggle within the North and re-locating it to the South.

The use of the military for internal control has changed but not diminished in recent centuries. As mentioned above it has been used especially in the United States (and presumably other capitalist countries although data are not available) for the control of industrial workers. It has also been used for the prevention and suppression of revolutionary movements; for example, the development and frequent deployment of the CRS in France, an internal military force developed after the student rebellion of 1968 which threatened at the time to be joined by a workers' revolution as well. On the other side, newly established revolutionary governments also used the military to prevent counter-revolution, and to establish a chain of command throughout the country to replace previous mechanism of capitalism or feudalism. In the newly revolutionary China, the power base of the Communist Party and the government has been the Red Army. In the early days of the Soviet Union, Trotsky proposed that industrial production be organized primarily on the basis of military forced labor camps, and later Stalin brought this to pass. Ironically, when the Soviet Empire finally crashed in 1989 the military stayed in its barracks and did not intervene.

In the United States there were 18 interventions and 12,000 troops per year, on average, during the period 1886-1990 against striking workers, urban riots, etc. This is detailed in my 1995 article mentioned above on Internal Military Interventions in the United States. Systematic data for other countries or for the U.S. in the years since 1990 do not seem to be available.

Continued on next page

To take part in a discussion about this page, click below on the Culture of Peace Dialogues:

discussion board

World Peace through the Town Hall


1) The difference between "peace" and "culture of peace" and a brief history of the culture of war

2) The role of the individual in culture of war and culture of peace

3) Why the nstate cannot create a culture of peace

4) The important role of civil society in creating a culture of peace

--Peace and disarmament movements

--Ecology movement

--Movements for human rights

--Democracy movements

--Women's movement

--International understanding, tolerance and solidarity

--Movements for free flow of information

--The strengths and weaknesses of civil society

5) The basic and essential role of local government in culture of peace

--Sustainable development

--Human rights

--Democratic participation

--Women's equality


--Transparency and the free flow of information

--Education for a culture of peace

--Security and public safety

--Some ongoing initiatives

6) Assessing progress toward a culture of peace at the local level

--Culture of peace measurement at the level of the state

7) Going global: networking of city culture of peace commissions

8) The future transition of the United Nations from control by states to popular control through local governmental representatives

9) What would a culture of peace be like?