The themes and subject matter of this essay have since been addressed at greater length, with greater sophistication and analysis and within a wider framework, in Marxism and the State, which was written specifically to supersede this text in its entirety. The author still stands by this work and its central thesis, however, imperfect as it may be. — VKR
What is the state? It is, at its simplest, the collective mechanisms of class rule — it is the régime, ancien or otherwise: the highest, largest and most enveloping set of processes and organised power within a society. Those that live within its reach are forced — for the idea of a non-compulsory state is oxymoronic — to abide by its dictates; if they will not, they must either leave the state’s territories, surrender to its power and face whatever consequences result therefrom, or otherwise overthrow the state and institute their own.
A state’s legitimacy is a simple matter: it stands beyond legitimisation. The state, by its very existence, defines legitimacy and right. Liberal ideology has in the past mostly posited social contract theory (Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau), and more contemporaneously utilitarian justifications (Bentham, Mill, Popper), as to why the state exists — and indeed why it should exist. These, not without their own value and reasonability as they may be, both however fall short of that philosophy which is the culmination of all prior Western thought: Marxism.
Marx is clear in his understanding of the state: it is an instrument of class rule. “The executive of the modern state is but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie.” Those that control the means of production control the society, and those that control the society have the exclusive right to exercise the power of the state.
And thus Lenin wrote that “[t]he passing of state power from one class to another is the first, the principal, the basic sign of a revolution, both in the strictly scientific and in the practical political meaning of that term.” The bourgeoisie, in laying claim to and then cementing their power, waged war on the feudal state and, stripping the landed aristocracy of its monopoly on power through violent insurrection, seized power. In the Russian Empire of 1917, in quick secession, the February Revolution brought the bourgeois-democratic struggle to a victorious conclusion with the fall of the Tsarist régime and the rise of the provisional governments of Lvov and Kerensky, and then, in October, for the first time in history, the working class came to power with the Bolsheviks of V.I. Lenin at their head, enacting a workers’ régime to replace both the capitalist and feudal orders that had preceded them. In the span of a single year, the state had passed between three classes of Russian society. In the final days of 1992, the bourgeois counterrevolution would finally succeed in bringing down the proletarian state and resurrecting capitalist, bourgeois government.
Mao Zedong famously taught that “[p]olitical power grows out of the barrel of a gun.” Truly there is no more succinct and accurate description of politics — which is, at its core, the systematised control and regulation of violence — than this. Anything that suggests otherwise is an obfuscation; such obfuscations serve an agenda, and all but always one of the ruling class.
The bourgeois state and the proletarian state are entirely different beasts. “Revolutionary bourgeois ideology, prior to its struggle and final victory, presented its future post-feudal state not as a class state but as a peoples’ state based on the abolition of every inequality before the law,” yet all the facets of the capitalist state structure are, ultimately, “characteristic of a regime which conceals and protects the dictatorship of one class under an external cloak which is multi-class and multi-party.” The proletariat, constituting as it does the vast majority of the population in the developed nations of the world, has nothing to fear from naked truths.
The working class “openly asserts that its future state will be a class state, i.e. a tool wielded by one class as long as classes exist. The other classes will be excluded from the state and outlawed in fact as well as in principle.” Having taken power, the workers “will share it with no one.”
However, as evidenced by the eventual destruction of the Soviet workers’ state, “[a]ny social class whose power has been overthrown, even if it is by means of terror, survives for a long time within the texture of the social organism. Far from abandoning its hopes of revenge, it seeks to politically reorganise itself and to re-establish its domination either in a violent or disguised way. It has turned from a ruling class into a defeated and dominated one, but it has not instantly disappeared.”
“[T]he communist party will rule alone, and will never give up power without a physical struggle:” “[t]he dictatorship advocated by Marxism is necessary because it cannot be unanimously accepted and furthermore it will not have the naïveté to abdicate for lack of having a majority of votes, if such a thing were ascertainable. […] The revolution requires a dictatorship, because it would be ridiculous to subordinate the revolution to a 100 per cent acceptance or a 51 per cent majority,” and it is self-evident that “the class party can include in its ranks only a part of the class itself, never the whole nor even perhaps the majority of it.” In short, attempts to secure what liberalism understands as a democratic mandate is both futile and often all but impossible for the party and its revolution.
The class destined to vanquish class society itself has no need of the propaganda and sophistry of traditional class rule; we can, and should, state in no uncertain terms that the only rational expression of our political interests is a class dictatorship won and maintained by force of arms for the exclusive benefit of our economic class at the expense of the other’s. All previous ruling classes have done the same, simply opted not to admit it in the interest of their own self-preservation as the dominant class of the day. To deny the true state of affairs, however, is to do damage to our class rule. Only when ideas of ‘freedom of speech,’ ‘freedom of the press,’ etcetera — bourgeois ideas — become introduced, clouding the political reality behind a veil of fancy words and phrases, do the material interests of the mass of humanity begin to take second place to constructed narratives of ‘workers’ democracy’, ‘people’s democracy’ and inalienable, ‘natural’ rights. “If the word democracy means power of the majority, the democrats should stand on our class side. But this word both in its literal sense (‘power of the people’) as well as in the dirty use that is more and more being made of it, means ‘power belonging not to one but to all classes’. For this historical reason, just as we reject ‘bourgeois democracy’ and ‘democracy in general’, we must politically and theoretically exclude, as a contradiction in terms, ‘class democracy’ and ‘workers’ democracy’.”
“The proletarian state can only be ‘animated’ by a single party and it would be senseless to require that this party organise in its ranks a statistical majority and be supported by such a majority in ‘popular elections’ — that old bourgeois trap.” Counterrevolutionary elements and threats to the revolutionary state “will be a crisis to be liquidated in terms of relationships of force. There is no statistical contrivance which can ensure a satisfactory revolutionary solution; this will depend solely upon the degree of solidity and clarity reached by the revolutionary communist movement throughout the world.”
The proletarian state represents, for the first time in history, the material and thus socio-political interests of the vast majority of the people. From this simple fact an equally simple conclusion can be drawn: namely, that both when the working class is barred from power and when it holds it, it is only benefitted by a frank and open understanding of the thoroughly class- and violence-based nature of state power. In the former situation, the proletariat is aware that society is organised upon his exploitation and that he has no material interest whatsoever in the preservation of the status quo, while in the latter, he sees that he should not be afraid of ‘tyranny,’ that the bourgeoisie are justly and necessarily without power and rights, and that should they be granted them, they will use them to undermine and overthrow the régime and institute terror of a previously unprecedented scale and harshness. In short, the stripping away of the pretentions and illusions of the state represent, and reinforce, heightened class consciousness.
Bourgeois and proletarian states are likewise markedly different in another key manner, for “[a]fter the bourgeois political victory […] constitutional charters or declarations of principles were solemnly proclaimed in the different countries as a basis and foundation of the state. They were considered as being immutable in time, a definitive expression of the at last discovered immanent rules of social life.” Marxism sees such claims to be nothing less than false. “[T]he proletarian state is not presented as a stable and fixed realisation of a set of rules governing the social relationships inferred from an idealistic research into the nature of man and society. During its lifetime the working class state will continually evolve up to the point that it finally withers away: the nature of social organisation, of human association, will radically change according to the development of technology and the forces of production, and man’s nature will be equally subject to deep alterations always moving away more and more from the beast of burden and slave which he was.”
The bourgeoisie need, by the very facts of their position within the relations of production, the working class to exist in perpetuity — that is, the bourgeoisie require their state to survive the ravages of time and to be, in effect, eternal. If the state falls, the bourgeoisie falls, and vice versa — though it must be stressed that even if the bourgeois state should fall from grace, if a workers’ state is not instituted to fill the vacuum in power, a new — and inevitably fascist — capitalist state will rise to replace it; Marxism “excludes the possibility of achieving by means of a brief violent crisis a destruction of the state and a transformation of the traditional economic relationships which the state defended up to the last moment (the anarchist position).”
The proletariat, however, do not require the state — that is, class society — to persist into the mists of time: “[t]he society which organizes production anew on the basis of free and equal association of the producers will put the whole state machinery where it will then belong — into the museum of antiquities, next to the spinning wheel and the bronze ax.” Indeed, “the only possible political expression of the working class’ material interests is the end of class society itself,” that is, of a society that makes the state possible.
The state is a tool — a weapon, and no weapon has morals in and of itself. Only when the sword is taken up and brandished in anger does it become an instrument of war and not simply a sliver of metal. The state is much the same. The anarchic view of the state is one of an enemy of ‘the people’ (that most empty of terms), one that is inherently undesirable and wretched, whoever straddles it. Marxism is not so naïve, not so utopian: the state serves her masters, and serves them well; when the working class reigns, the state delivers its terror upon the counterrevolution and with it the socialist society can progress, in time, to a communist one. Without it, the working class movement is simply destroyed the instance the bourgeois reaction can organise itself anew.
Power is best manifested naked, and as proletarians, we have, unequivocally, a side on which to fall in the class struggle. As such, our political goals must include as a matter of necessity the seizure of state power. “The proletariat needs the state only temporarily. We do not after all differ with the anarchists on the question of the abolition of the state as the aim,” but “[w]e maintain that, to achieve this aim, we must temporarily make use of the instruments, resources, and methods of state power against the exploiters, just as the temporary dictatorship of the oppressed class is necessary for the abolition of classes.”
The lessons of the Paris Commune and of all revolutionary ventures throughout history is that the revolution that does not seize state power is thwarted. Never, in all human history, has this truth been countered. What’s more, the nature of the dictatorship of the proletariat is that it is exactly that: a dictatorship. All true communists know this to be so, and do not fear, but relish the opportunities that lie in controlling the state, not least the ability to enact a Terror of our own, as the bourgeoisie once did against their opponents. In matters of war and revolution, liberalism’s façades are quick to fall from the eyes of the class conscious worker.
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