In front of us and against us: the State

As this issue of The Red Flag coincides with the federal election campaign, the “Our History” section features excerpts from an article on the nature of the state and of bourgeois parliamentarism that was published in September 1992 in the Socialisme Maintenant! newspaper. At that time, the “Action Socialiste” group—who published this newspaper—had already broken with the then-prevailing currents in the Canadian “far left”—mostly Trotskyists—who were supportive of participation in bourgeois elections.

As part of a process of appropriation of Maoism and of the advances made by the Chinese revolution, this discussion on the state eventually found its culmination in the Draft Programme adopted by the Organizing Committees of the PCR-RCP in 2000 and the “Boycott the Elections!” slogan that is part of the actual Party programme.

The editors
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The majority of people who are forced to live under capitalism—workers, their families at home or at school, pensioners, farmers and the poorest fishermen, employees in stores, restaurants and offices, injured or unemployed workers, welfare recipients—are facing problems and issues that involve in one way or another the State and its place in society.

Everyone has questions: Are the laws equally designed for the whole population? Are the taxes we pay justified? Are governments at the service of everyone? Do we really control those we elect? Are the MPs dedicated to the defense of common interests and public order? If so (or if not), what exactly is meant by common good and public order? Do we have a voice when it comes to determining what the government, the police, the army or the courts will do?

All these questions and similar ones we ask ourselves—be it after an unsuccessful strike, an increase of rent or the withholding of wages, after getting arrested, during an election, after a layoff or when the army succeeds in recruiting our kids—are, even if it’s not obvious at first glance, related to the state and to the various interests that exist among groups and social classes. They pertain, if only indirectly, to the legitimacy of the state.

Taking advantage of the political weakness of the working class and of the revolutionary movement following the collapse of the state capitalist regimes in the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, the bourgeoisie and its servile information-education apparatus are again promoting their idealistic conceptions of a (bourgeois) state which is the incarnation of law and of an absolute idealized democracy, trying to conceal any connection to the reality of class struggle.

In fact, the ruling class is hard at work keeping the working class in the dark and erasing any trace of 150 years of Marxist history. Relying on all the small or big victories they can win, the imperialist bourgeoisies is pursuing the following objectives: a) to bury Communism forever; b) to present a so-called “more positive model” made of a mish-mash of human rights and bourgeois democracy; and c) to perpetuate capitalist exploitation and its harshest consequences through adherence to bourgeois democracy.

In other words, the bourgeoisie, who enjoy the current period, presents the contradiction not as being between communism— a post-capitalist mode of production not yet realized—and capitalism itself, but democracy as a form of government. Since the late 1980s, thousands of academic scribes, journalists, essayists and politicians have been used by the capitalists to spread this illusion, tenaciously opposed by Marxists, that the state and the form it takes—namely “democracy”—is something intangible, universal, absolute, a stranger to selfish and class interests. […]

Marxism and the State

Karl Marx, who opposed the idealism of the champion philosopher of the rising bourgeoisie, Hegel, proposed a revolutionary conception of the State, which combines its knowledge (or understanding or awareness of what it is), conquest and destruction. This conception involves a profound unity between the nature of the state in a class society and the revolutionary tasks of the proletariat. It is by updating the first (the nature of the state) that Marx came to consider his contribution to the second (the revolutionary tasks and the proletarian dictatorship) as historically important.

In his well-known letter to Weydemeyer dated March 5, 1852 (after the revolutionary upsurge period of 1848-1851), Marx wrote: “Now as for myself, I do not claim to have discovered either the existence of classes in modern society or the struggle between them. Long before me, bourgeois historians had described the historical development of this struggle between the classes, as had bourgeois economists their economic anatomy. My own contribution was 1) to show that the existence of classes is merely bound up with certain historical phases in the development of production; 2) that the class struggle necessarily leads to the dictatorship of the proletariat; 3) that this dictatorship itself constitutes no more than a transition to the abolition of all classes and to a classless society.”

It follows that one cannot claim to be revolutionary if he or she arbitrarily divides the recognition of the class nature of the state under capitalism from the necessity of exercising proletarian dictatorship after the seizure of power. Many claim the first, but few the second. Yet, unless we keep one eye closed when the other is open, the principle of dictatorship of the proletariat is coming straight from the materialist analysis of the state.

Even today, many activists in the working class or the various social movements, who consider themselves anarchists or left libertarians, uphold the idea that the state has a class character (which is useful in anti-capitalist agitation), while refusing to support the proposal that the working class shall impose its dictatorship in the period of transition to communism. We could say that these people are one-half of revolutionaries.

Others are even more supportive of bourgeois analyses, like the revisionists of the old Communist parties that have renounced the proletarian dictatorship and the Marxist analysis of the state as having a class character, i.e. a bourgeois state under capitalism. […]

Advances in Marxist Understanding

Initially, when the Communist Manifesto was first published at the time of the revolutionary period of the years 1848-1851, the first Communists advocated that to actually erect itself as the ruling class, the working class had to conquer the State. The proletariat should organize itself as a ruling class and adopt a series of measures so that the state could exercise revolutionary leadership over society.

Then, as the revolution matured, the Marxist conception became more precise. With the Paris Commune in 1871, the Communist Manifesto has to be revised: the working class must not only conquer state power but destroy it! When coming to power, the working class inherits a state that it must break if it wants to establish its own.

Long after that and even now, many opportunist currents rejected this development of Marxism. They continue to advise the working class to fight to conquer state power while denying that we should destroy it. In doing so, they place themselves on the terrain of the bourgeoisie; by showing them as being ready to assume state management, they are assuring the ruling class that they will be loyal defenders and protectors of the bourgeois state.

The 1917 October Revolution and the theoretical (Lenin’s State and Revolution) and practical (the experience of the Soviets) synthesis it operated swept away, for a time, those betrayals of social democracy—on the question of the State as on many other issues. This synthesis can be summarized as follows:

  1. The state is the product of irreconcilable class contradictions. As Lenin pointed out: “The state arises where, when and insofar as class antagonism objectively cannot be reconciled. And, conversely, the existence of the state proves that the class antagonisms are irreconcilable.” All the currents in the working class who seek to prove the opposite—namely that the interests of the bourgeoisie and the proletariat are converging in the state—are alien to Marxism.
  2. The state is a tool for the domination and exploitation of the oppressed classes.
  3. It is characterized by the formation of a public force (special bodies of armed people) separated from the population; this public force was reinforced and took the form of a standing army, along with police, auxiliary security and justice system, as the social contradictions worsened.
  4. The state has created a body of officials and administrators placed over the society and responsible for ensuring the interests of the capitalists. With the democratic form of the bourgeois state, legislative and executive bodies also developed, separated from the people and hardly responsible to them: that is, the parliamentary system.
  5. The working class cannot simply conquer state power and make it work in its own interests.
  6. The bourgeois state must be broken, abolished and suppressed by the proletariat in the revolution: “What withers away after this revolution is the proletarian state or semi-state.”
  7. The proletariat in power must abolish the standing army and replace it with the whole people in arms.
  8. It must assure eligibility and revocability of officials and police.
  9. It should reward elected officials and civil servants with the equivalent of workers’ salary.
  10. It should simplify and generalize the administrative functions of the state to make them accessible to the broad masses.
  11. It must abolish parliamentarism and transform the elective and responsible body by merging legislative and executive powers.
  12. It must reorganize the country on the basis of a voluntary centralization of proletarian communes.
  13. The result of the destruction of the bourgeois state and its replacement by such measures is the dictatorship of the proletariat. As Marx wrote: “Between capitalist and communist society there lies the period of the revolutionary transformation of the one into the other. Corresponding to this is also a political transition period in which the state can be nothing but the revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat.”