Socialism and the State: Part One
There is a long running debate on the left on the nature of the state, what it is, and how we should view it. All the way from Marx and Bakunin, to today, there are many debates on this topic. First things first, we should look at what the state is.
We need to look at the historical development of the state, and the nature of its existence. The capitalist state developed from the old feudal order. During the enlightenment era, revolutions changed the way people thought about the state, and about the individual. What many today may be unaware of, is the fact that the modern state is a relatively new construct. Before the enlightenment, people didn’t think of themselves as citizens of states, but as subjects under kings, as lords with land, or as serfs under lords, etc. They identified with their local area, and had no real notion of the nation state as a distinct and sovereign entity. With the rise of such volumes as Thomas Paine’s The Rights of Man among other writings and movements, came a movement that would throw off the old feudal order, and bring in the age of capitalism. The age of capitalism was brought in by the rise also of the bourgeoisie. The middle class, the merchants and the blacksmiths and small business people helped to drive the means of production out of the hands of the aristocracy, the kings, and the blue bloods, and into their own hands. This was a progressive movement compared to the feudal system. It was necessary that the means of production evolve beyond the primitive and oppressive system of feudalism.
The capitalist state was a result of the economic and political evolution of the means of production. Don’t be fooled though. While things had improved, they still had a long way to go. Capitalism would not stay the simple system it started out as for long. As the bourgeoisie gained more wealth and power, it began to concentrate in fewer hands. The vestiges of feudalism also still existed. As the industrial revolution began, those without land, or without the means of production, were left with no choice but to sell their labor to the capitalist class. The capitalist class kept expanding on this oppression of the proletariat, and class antagonisms grew as well. The modern state is a result of the antagonisms of the bourgeoisie against the working classes. It represents their interests, their goals and their government. It is designed to keep the masses in check, to make sure they stay in place, and perpetuate the capitalist system. In short, it is a by product of capitalism. Lenin wrote an extensive work on the subject of the state. In his brilliant The State and Revolution he lays out the ideas on the state, and the nature off its existence. In the first part of this famous work, Lenin talks about why the state is the result of class antagonisms. He lays out his theory on the state, and based his analysis on Engels’s work The Origin of the Family, Property and the State. He begins by quoting Engels.
“The state is, therefore, by no means a power forced on society from without; just as little is it ‘the reality of the ethical idea’, ‘the image and reality of reason’, as Hegel maintains. Rather, it is a product of society at a certain stage of development; it is the admission that this society has become entangled in an insoluble contradiction with itself, that it has split into irreconcilable antagonisms which it is powerless to dispel. But in order that these antagonisms, these classes with conflicting economic interests, might not consume themselves and society in fruitless struggle, it became necessary to have a power, seemingly standing above society, that would alleviate the conflict and keep it within the bounds of ‘order’; and this power, arisen out of society but placing itself above it, and alienating itself more and more from it, is the state.” (Pp.177-78, sixth edition)
The capitalist state is the result of irreconcilable class antagonisms, just as both Lenin and Engels realized. The current capitalist state does not represent us, the workers. It doesn’t represent our interests. It enslaves, it empower the capitalists. It is the forceful hand of the capitalist class, oppressing.
We know this. Both Engels and Lenin recognized these facts. The next question is how are we to use this information? What does this mean to the worker? And how will the state be abolished? Those questions I’m afraid will come in Part 2 of this series. Until then, keep in the class struggle. Fight for the emancipation of all peoples.