The State and Revolution

The question of the state acquiring particular importance due to WWI accelerating & intensifying the process of transformation of monopoly capitalism into state-monopoly capitalism.
The ‘leaders of socialism’ serving the interests of ‘their’ national bourgeoisie.
WWI an imperialist war with the ‘Great Powers’ fighting for the ‘booty’ that comes from the exploitation of the weak nations.
Explaining to the masses what they need to do to free themselves from capitalism.
Class Society & the State
The state as a product of the irreconcilability of class contradictions
Bourgeoisie & opportunists (social-chauvinists) in the working class ‘doctoring’ Marxism.
To re-establish what Marx said on the state.
Engel’s book ‘The Origin of the Family, Private Property & the State’ (1884):
“[The state] 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 opposites which it is powerless to conjure away. But in order that these opposites, classes with conflicting economic interests, might not consume themselves & society in fruitless struggle, it became necessary to have a power seemingly standing above society that would moderate the conflict & keep it within the bounds of ‘order’; & this power, arisen out of society but placing itself above it, & alienating itself more & more from it, is the state”
The important point that the state is a product & manifestation of the irreconcilability of class contradictions.
Not an organ for reconciling the classes, rather an organ of class rule.
It is the oppression of one class by another: the capitalist class oppressing the workers.
The Kautskyites forget that this means liberation is not possible without violent revolution & the destruction of the state.
Special bodies of armed men, prisons, etc.
A standing army & police are the chief instruments of force of the state power.
The growth of imperialism & the whole globe being divided up among the ‘Great Powers’.
The state as an instrument for the exploitation of the oppressed class
Taxes & state loans are needed to fund the state.
Democracy is a better political shell for capitalism.
Universal suffrage is an instrument of capitalist rule.
“The state has not existed for all eternity. There have been societies that did without it, that had no idea of the state & state power. At a certain stage of economic development, which was necessarily bound up with the split of society into classes, the state became a necessity owing to this split. We are now rapidly approaching a stage in the development of production at which the existence of these classes not only will have ceased to be a necessity, but will become a positive hindrance to production. They will fall as inevitably as they arose at an earlier stage. Along with them the state will inevitably fall. Society, which will reorganise production on the basis of free & equal association of producers, will put the whole machinery of state where it will belong: into the museum of antiquities, by the side of the spinning-wheel & the bronze axe.”
The ‘withering away’ of the state & violent revolution
“The proletariat seizes state power & to begin with transforms the means of production into state property. But it thus puts an end to itself as proletariat, it thus puts an end to all class differences & class antagonisms, & thus also to the state as state…the taking possession of the means of production in the name of society is at the same time its last independent act as a state…The government of persons is replaced by the administration of things & the direction of the processes of production. The state is not ‘abolished’, it withers away.” Engels, Anti-Duhring
This is distinct from the anarchist demand to ‘abolish’ the state.
Engels is also attacking the concept of a ‘free people’s state’ (a slogan of the SDP in the 1870’s).
It is the bourgeois state that is ended, & the proletarian state that ‘withers away’.
The ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ is the ‘special repressive force’ of the proletarian state.
The political form the proletarian state takes is the ‘most complete democracy’
“We are in favour of a democratic republic as the best form of the state for the proletariat under capitalism; but we have no right to forget that wage slavery is the lot of the people even in the most democratic bourgeois republic. Furthermore…every state is not ‘free’ & not a ‘people’s state’.” P.24
“The supersession of the bourgeois state by the proletarian state is impossible without a violent revolution.” P.27
The Experience of 1848-51
The eve of the revolution
“The working class, in the course of its development, will substitute for the old bourgeois society an association which will exclude classes & their antagonism, & there will be no more political power properly so-called, since political power is precisely the official expression of class antagonism in bourgeois society” Marx, The Poverty of Philosophy
“…the first step in the revolution by the working class, is to raise the proletariat to the position of ruling class, to win the battle of democracy. The proletariat will use its political supremacy to wrest, by degrees, all capital from the bourgeoisie, to centralise all instruments of production in the hands of the state, i.e. of the proletariat organised as the ruling class; & to increase the total of productive forces as rapidly as possible.” Marx & Engels, The Communist Manifesto
Marxism educates the vanguard which is capable of leading the whole people to socialism
Does the proletarian state need to demolish the existing state first?
The revolution summed up
Marx argues in The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte that previous revolutions only perfected the state machine when it must be smashed.
Lenin argues the two institutions that most characterise bourgeois society are the bureaucracy & the standing army.
And that the proletariat should not seek to improve the state machinery but to demolish it.
The Paris Commune shows what will be put in its place.
The presentation of the question by Marx in 1852
“And now as to myself, no credit is due to me for discovering the existence of classes in modern society, nor yet the struggle between them. Long before me bourgeois historians had described the historical developments of this struggle of the classes, & bourgeois economists the economic anatomy of the classes. What I did that was new was to prove: (1) that the existence of classes is only bound up with particular 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 only constitutes the transition to the abolition of all classes & to a classless society.” Letter Marx wrote in 1852
“Only he is a Marxist who extends the recognition of the class struggle to the recognition of the dictatorship of the proletariat.” P.42
The importance of class struggle in the transition from capitalism to communism.
The Experience of the Paris Commune
Wherein lay the heroism of the communards’ attempt?
Marx waned the workers of Paris in Autumn 1870 that any attempt to overthrow the government would be folly, but when the uprising started in March 1871 he supported it.
“One thing especially was proved by the Commune, viz., that the working class cannot simply lay hold of the ready-made state machinery, & wield it for its own purposes.” Marx & Engels, Communist Manifesto, revised edition 1872
“…I declare that the next attempt of the French Revolution will be no longer, as before, to transfer the bureaucratic-military machine from one hand to another, but to smash it, & this is the preliminary condition for every real people’s revolution on the Continent. And this is what our heroic Party comrades in Paris are attempting.” Letter form Marx in April 1871
In 1871 England was without a militarist clique &, to a considerable degree, without a bureaucracy. So it was possible, at the time, for England to have a revolution without destroying the ‘ready-made’ state. P.47
Marx talks of “people’s” revolution because in 1871 the proletariat were not the majority in any single country on the Continent.
By what is the smashed state machine to be replaced?
“the proletariat organised as the ruling class” the by “winning of the battle of democracy”. The Communist Manifesto
“The Commune was formed of the municipal councillors, chosen by universal suffrage in the various wards of the town, responsible & revocable at short terms. The majority of its members were naturally working men, or acknowledged representatives of the working class…Instead of continuing to be the agent of the central government, the police was at once stripped of its political attributes, & turned into the responsible & at all times revocable agent of the Commune. So were the officials of all the other branches of the Administration. From the members of the Commune downwards, the public service had to be done at workmen’s wages…
“Having once got rid of the standing army & the police, the physical force elements of the old government, the Commune was anxious to break the spiritual force of repression, the ‘parson-power’…
“…magistrates & judges were to be elective, responsible, & revocable.”
Marx, The Civil War in France, 1871
Abolition of parliamentarianism
“The Commune was to be a working, not a parliamentary, body, executive & legislative at the same time.” Marx, The Civil war in France
“Marx knew how to break with anarchism ruthlessly for its inability to make use even of the ‘pigsty’ of bourgeois parliamentarism…”
“The way out of parliamentarism is not, of course, the abolition of representative institutions & the electoral principle, but the conversion of the representative institutions from talking shops into ‘working’ bodies.”
“We cannot imagine democracy, even proletarian democracy, without representative institutions, but we must imagine democracy without parliamentarism…”
“There can be no thought of abolishing the bureaucracy at once, everywhere & completely. That is utopia. But to smash the old bureaucratic machine at once & to begin immediately to construct a new one that will make possible the gradual abolition of all bureaucracy – this is not utopia, this is the experience of the Commune, this is the direct & immediate task of the revolutionary proletariat.”
“We are not utopians, we do not indulge in ‘dreams’ of dispensing at once with all administration, with all subordination. These anarchist dreams, based upon a lack of understanding of the tasks of the proletariat dictatorship, are totally alien to Marxism, & in fact, serve only to postpone the socialist revolution until people are different. No, we want the socialist revolution with people as they are now, with people who cannot dispense with subordination, control & ‘foremen & bookkeepers’.”
“The subordination must be to the armed vanguard of all the exploited & working people, i.e. to the proletariat.”
“…the gradual ‘withering away’ of all bureaucracy…”
“At present the postal service is a business organised on the lines of a state-capitalist monopoly…the mechanism of social management is here already to hand. We have but to overthrow the capitalists…& we shall have a splendidly equipped mechanism…To organise the whole national economy on the lines of the postal service…all officials shall receive salaries no higher than ‘workmen’s wages’…this is our immediate aim.”
Organisation of the Unity of the Nation
“The Communes were to elect the ‘National Delegation’ in Paris.”
“The unity of the nation was not to be broken, but, on the contrary, to be organised by the Communal Constitution…”
“Marx disagreed both with Proudhon & with Bakunin precisely on the question of federalism (not to mention the dictatorship of the proletariat). Federalism as a principle follows logically from the petty-bourgeois views of anarchism. Marx was a centralist.”
Destruction of the Parasite – The State
“[The Commune] was essentially a working-class government, the produce of the struggle of the producing against the appropriating class, the political form at last discovered under which to work out the economic emancipation of labour” Marx, The Civil war in France
“The Commune is the first attempt of a proletarian revolution to smash the bourgeois state machine; & it is the political form ‘at last discovered’. By which the smashed state machine can & must be replaced.”
Explanations By Engels
The housing question
“…expropriation of the present owners by quartering in their houses homeless workers or workers overcrowded in their present homes.” Engels, The Housing Question, 1872
Controversy with the anarchists
The proletariat needs the state only temporarily.
“Would the Paris Commune have lasted more than a day if it had not used the authority of the armed people against the bourgeoisie?” Engels
Engels asks, should not the Commune have made more use of the revolutionary power of the state, that is, of the proletariat armed & organised as the ruling class?
Letter to Bebel
“…the state is only a transitional institution which is used in the struggle, in the revolution, in order to hold down one’s adversaries by force, it is pure nonsense to talk of a free people’s state…as soon as it becomes possible to speak of freedom the state as such ceases to exist.”
Engels argues in replacing the word state with community &/or commune.
Criticism of the draft of the Erfurt Programme
Engels admits that in republican or very free countries “one can conceive of a peaceful development towards socialism”
The democratic republic is the nearest approach to the dictatorship of the proletariat.
In Britain Engels recognised that the establishment of a federal republic would be a ‘step forward’.
The 1891 preface to Marx’s the civil war in France
“…the workers emerged with arms from every revolution…therefore, the disarming of the workers was the first commandment for the bourgeois, who were at the helm of the state. Hence, after every revolution won by the workers, a new struggle, ending with the defeat of the workers.” Engels
“Against [the] transformation of the state & organs of the state from servants of society into masters of society…the Commune made use of two infallible means. In the first place, it filled all posts…by election on the basis of universal suffrage of all concerned, subject to the right of recall at any time by the same electors. And in the second place, all officials, high or low, were paid only the wages received by other workers…In this way an effective barrier to place-hunting & careerism…” Engels
In order to put an end to the state, the functions of the government services must be converted into simple operations of control & accounting that are within the capacity & ability of the vast majority of the population.
Fully consistent democracy is impossible under capitalism, & under socialism all democracy withers away.
Engels on the overcoming of democracy
Abolition of the state means also the abolition of democracy, that the withering away of the state means the withering away of democracy.
Democracy is a state which recognises the subordination of the minority to the majority, i.e. an organisation for the systematic use of violence by one class against another, by one section of the population against another.
We set ourselves the ultimate aim of doing away with the state, i.e. all organised & systematic violence, all violence against people in general…in striving for socialism we are convinced that it will develop into communism &, hence, that the need for violence against people in general, for the subordination of one person to another, will vanish altogether since people will become accustomed to observing the elementary conditions of social life without violence & without subordination.
The Economic Basis of the Withering Away of the State
Presentation of the question by Marx
‘withering away’ would be a lengthy process.
[Communism] develops historically out of capitalism
Marx ridicules talk of a ‘people’s state’
There must undoubtedly be a special stage, or special phase, of transition from capitalism to communism.
The transition from capitalism to communism
“Between capitalist & communist society lies the period of revolutionary transformation of the one into the other. There corresponds to this also a political transition period in which the state can be nothing but the revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat.” Marx, Critique of the Gotha Programme, 1875
“to raise the proletariat to the position of the ruling class” & “to win the battle of democracy”. The Communist Manifesto
[in a capitalist society] democracy is always hemmed in by the narrow limits set by capitalist exploitation, & consequently remains, in essence, a democracy for the minority, only for the propertied classes, only for the rich. Freedom in capitalist society always remains about the same as it was in the ancient Greek republics: freedom for the slave-owners. Owing to the condition of capitalist exploitation the modern wage slaves are so crushed by want & poverty that ‘they cannot be bothered with democracy’, ‘they cannot be bothered with politics’; in the ordinary, peaceful course of events the majority of the population is debarred from participation in public & political life.
One million members of the German SDP – out of 15 million wage-workers! 3 million organised in trade unions – out of 15 million!
Democracy for an insignificant minority, democracy for the rich – that is the democracy of capitalist society.
Marx grasped this essence of capitalist democracy splendidly, when, in analysing the experience of the Commune, he said that the oppressed are allowed once every few years to decide which particular representatives of the oppressing class shall represent & repress them in parliament!
The dictatorship of the proletariat, i.e. the organisation of the vanguard of the oppressed as the ruling class for the purpose of suppressing the oppressors, cannot result merely in an expansion of democracy. Alongside an immense expansion of democracy, which for the first time becomes democracy for the people, & not democracy for the moneybags, the dictatorship of the proletariat brings about a series of restrictions on the freedom of the oppressors, the exploiters, the capitalists. We must suppress them in order to free humanity from wage slavery, their resistence must be crushed by force; it is clear that where there is suppression, where there is violence, there is no freedom & no democracy.
Engels: the proletariat uses the state “not in the interests of freedom but in order to hold down its adversaries, & as soon as it becomes possible to speak of freedom the state as such ceases to exist.”
Only in communist society, when the resistance of the capitalists has already been completely crushed, when the capitalists have disappeared, when there are no classes…only then the state ‘ceases to exist’ & it ‘becomes possible to speak of freedom’. Only then will a really complete democracy become possible & be achieved, a democracy without any exceptions. And only then will democracy wither away, owing to the simple fact that, freed from capitalist slavery, from the untold horrors, savagery, absurdities & infamies of capitalist exploitation, people gradually become accustomed to observing the elementary rules of community life that have been known for centuries & repeated for thousands of years in all copybook maxims; they will become accustomed to observing them without force, without coercion, without subordination, without the special apparatus of coercion which is called the state.
…in a capitalist society we have a democracy that is curtailed, wretched, false, a democracy only for the rich, for the minority. The dictatorship of the proletariat, the period of transition to communism, will for the first time create democracy for the people, for the majority, along with the necessary suppression of the minority – the exploiters. Communism alone is capable of giving really complete democracy, & the more complete it is the more quickly will it become unnecessary & wither away of itself.
…the suppression of the minority of exploiters by the majority of the wage slaves of yesterday is comparatively so easy, simple & natural task that it will entail far less bloodshed than the suppression of the rising of slaves, serfs or wage-labourers, & it will cost mankind far less.
We are not utopians, & do not in the least deny the possibility & inevitability of excesses by individual persons, or the need to suppress such excesses…it will be done by the armed people itself.
The first phase of communist society
“What we have to deal with here is a communist society, not as it has developed on its own foundations, but, on the contrary, just as it emerges from capitalist society; which is thus in every respect, economically, morally & intellectually, still stamped with the birthmarks of the old society from whose womb it emerges.” Marx, Critique of the Gotha Programme, 1875
The means of production have already ceased to be the private property of individuals. The means of production belong to the whole of society. Every member of society, performing a certain part of the socially-necessary work, receives a certificate from society to the effect that he has done such & such an amount of work. And with this certificate he receives from the public store of articles of consumption a corresponding quantity of products. After a deduction is made of the amount of labour which goes into the public fund, every worker, therefore receives from society as much as he has given to it.
…differences, & unjust differences, in wealth will remain, but the exploitation of man by man will have become impossible…
“…these defects are inevitable in the first phase of communist society as it is when it has just emerged after prolonged birth pangs from capitalist society. Right can never be higher than the economic structure of society & its cultural development conditioned thereby.” Marx, Critique of the Gotha Programme, 1875
The first phase of communism (commonly called socialism)
The socialist principle, “He who does not work, neither shall he eat.”
The higher phase of communist society
“In a higher phase of communist society, after the enslaving subordination of the individual to the division of labour, & with it also the antithesis between mental & physical labour, has vanished; after labour has become not only a means of life but itself life’s prime want; after the productive forces have also increased with the all-round development of the individual, & all the springs of co-operative wealth flow more abundantly – only then can the narrow horizon of bourgeois right be crossed in its entirety & society inscribe on its banners: From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs!” Marx, Critique of the Gotha Programme, 1875
…labour becomes so productive that they will voluntarily work according to their ability.
Each will take freely ‘according to his needs’.
All citizens are transformed into hired employees of the state, which consists in the armed workers. All citizens become employees & workers of a single nationwide state ‘syndicate’. The whole issue is that they should work equally, do their assigned share of work, & get paid equally paid.
The whole of society will have become a single office & a single factory, with equality of labour & equality of pay.
The Vulgarisation of Marxism by the Opportunists
Plekhanov’s controversy with the anarchists
Plekhanov wrote Anarchism & Socialism in 1894 failed to deal with the question of the state
Kautsky’s controversy with opportunists
Kautsky wrote Berstein & the Social-Democratic Programme
A gulf separates Marx & Kautsky as regards their attitudes towards the proletarian party’s task of preparing the working class for revolution.
Kautsky also wrote The Social Revolution
He admits the possibility of conquering power without destroying the state machine.
Kautsky’s ideas do not go beyond the bounds of bourgeois parliamentarism
(1) Not only election, but also recall at any time;
(2) Pay not exceeding that of a workman;
(3) Immediate introduction of control & supervision by all…so that therefore, nobody may be able to become a ‘bureaucrat’
Kautsky forgets Marx’s words that “The Commune was to be a working, not parliamentary, body, executive & legislative at the same time.”
Kautsky’s pamphlet The Road to Power
Kautsky’s controversy with Pannekoek
Pannekoek, “The struggle of the proletariat is not merely a struggle against the bourgeoisie for state power, but a struggle against state power…The content of this revolution is the destruction & dissolution of the instruments of power of the state by the instruments of power of the proletariat…The struggle will cease only when, as a result of it, the state organisation is entirely destroyed. The organisation of the majority will then have demonstrated its superiority by destroying the organisation of the ruling minority.”
Kautsky completely abandoned the Marxist position & went over wholly to opportunism.
The distinction between the Marxists & the anarchists is this:
1. The former, aiming at the complete destruction of the state, recognise that this aim can only be achieved after classes have been abolished by the socialist revolution, as a result of the establishment of socialism, which leads to the withering away of the state; the latter want to destroy the state completely overnight, failing to understand the conditions under which the state can be destroyed
2. The former recognise that after the proletariat has conquered political power it must utterly demolish the old state machine & substitute for it a new one consisting of an organisation of armed workers, after the type of the Commune; the latter, while insisting on the demolition of the state machine, have absolutely no clear idea of what the proletariat will put in its place & how it will use its revolutionary power; the anarchists even reject the utilisation of state power by the revolutionary proletariat, they reject its revolutionary dictatorship
3. The former demand that use be made of the present-day state in preparing the proletariat for revolution; the anarchists reject this.
In this controversy, it is not Kautsky but Pannekoek who represents Marxism.
Under capitalism democracy is restricted, cramped, curtailed, mutilated by the conditions of wage slavery, & the poverty & misery of the masses. This & this alone is the reason why the functionaries of our political organisations & trade unions are corrupted by the conditions of capitalism & betray a tendency to become bureaucrats, i.e. privileged persons divorced from the masses & standing above the masses.
It was precisely the example of the Commune that Marx used to show that under socialism functionaries will cease to be ‘bureaucrats’.
Under socialism much of the ‘primitive’ democracy will inevitably be revived since, the mass of the population will rise to take an independent part, not only in voting & elections, but also in the everyday administration. Under socialism all will govern in turn & will soon become accustomed to no one governing.
The Commune was able in the space of a few weeks to start building a new, proletarian state machine…
…socialism will shorten the working day, will raise the masses to a new life, will create such conditions for the majority of the population as will enable everybody, without exception, to perform ‘state functions’, & this will lead to the complete withering away of every kind of state in general.
…the armed proletariat itself shall become the government.
…for the overthrow of the bourgeoisie, for the destruction of bourgeois parliamentarianism, for a democratic republic of the Commune type, or a republic of Soviet Workers’ & Soldiers’ Deputies, for the revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat.
…the Second International has completely sunk into opportunism.
…imperialist rivalry, have turned into military monsters which are exterminating millions of people in order to settle the issue as to whether England or Germany – this or that finance capital – is to rule the world.

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