The tendency amongst communists to revise Marx’s state theory has been somewhat noticeable, to the point where many of these distortions have their own distortions, like a never-ending pile of antique kaleidoscopes. This can be seen in the idealistic analyses of historical formations such as the USSR, which reduce the formation of the Soviet state, for instance, to an idea, imputed by misguided revolutionaries into the natural course of the revolution, and hence are able to elucidate away the issues of the Russian Revolution as a result of the ‘use of the state’. These tendencies that locate the source of counter-revolutionary manifestations (in particular, Stalinism) in the ‘mistakes’ of the past struggle, whether conscious of it or not, tend towards either a moral objection to the dictatorship of the proletariat or its flagrant misrepresentation. This introduction is not aimed at the bourgeois advocates of state socialism, who we have no interest in engaging with, but at those who we consider to be in our same tradition and camp, despite being wrong on this issue. The purpose here is to begin an elaboration as to our understanding of the position of Marx and Engels and those who disagree with them.
The foundation of the state is its separation from real life; it rests upon antagonistic conditions, on the contradiction between mystified generality, the ‘general interest,’ and organically antithetical forms of life, with their conflicting private interests. As Marx says, the state always exists to reflect alienated general interest, a false universality,
‘’The contradiction between the vocation and the good intentions of the administration on the one hand and the means and powers at its disposal on the other cannot be eliminated by the state, except by abolishing itself; for the state is based on this contradiction. It is based on the contradiction between public and private life, between universal and particular interests.’’ (1)
This is the necessary form of illusion that the dominance of a particular class takes for societies in which the individual remains isolated from the community, societies that remain subordinated to the contradiction of interests, of classes. As far as class exists, the supremacy of the dominant class is represented through the abstract totality that is the state. The state exists as long as human emancipation is still an incomplete program. Indeed, due to the fact that the state conceives of itself as the emblem of social unity, in practice, it is based on the illusion of itself representing the social interest, of its actions being governed by the same, and hence cannot look past this to recognize its own basis in the particular, economic interests of a society, or to recognize that, whatever its actions may be, its very existence is a manifestation of the same cause as the aforementioned social problems. It does not acknowledge that it is built on contradictions and that these contradictions form its very conditions of existence, thus portraying itself as a complete community whilst locating the causes of problems as external to itself, Marx put it, in his 1844 text, Critical Notes on the Article: ‘’The King of Prussia and Social Reform. By a Prussian’’,
‘’In so far as the state acknowledges the existence of social grievances, it locates their origins either in the laws of nature over which no human agency has control, or in private life, which is independent of the state, or else in malfunctions of the administration which is dependent on it. Thus England finds poverty to be based on the law of nature according to which the population must always outgrow the available means of subsistence. From another point of view, it explains pauperism as the consequence of the bad will of the poor, just as the King of Prussia explains it in terms of the unchristian feelings of the rich and the Convention explains it in terms of the counter-revolutionary and suspect attitudes of the proprietors. Hence England punishes the poor, the Kings of Prussia exhorts the rich and the Convention beheads the proprietors.’’ (2)
‘Civil society’ (in Marx’s terms, referring to the bourgeois analytical perspective of society, ‘in which in which every individual is a totality of needs and only exists for the other person, as the other exists for him, insofar as each becomes a means for the other’) represents itself externally and relatively as the nation, as the division of capital,
‘’Civil society embraces the whole material intercourse of individuals within a definite stage of the development of productive forces. It embraces the whole commercial and industrial life of a given stage and, insofar, transcends the State and the nation, though, on the other hand again, it must assert itself in its foreign relations as nationality, and inwardly must organise itself as State.’’ (3)
The nation reflects the same illusory interest, sovereignty and universality as the democratic state. The interests of the state, nation, democracy and the ‘people’ are opposed to the interests of the proletariat. The abolition of capital and its resulting national divisions will be affected by the proletarian state and the gradual disillusion of all national boundaries and political distinctions of nationality. In reflecting the interests of the proletariat as an international class, the proletarian state will neglect the interests of nationality as a form entirely reflective of the class interest of the bourgeoisie. To equate the interests of the proletariat with general interest is ultimately fallacious. In capitalist society, with its division into particular classes and class interests, there can be no true general interest, while, as far the state is concerned, the ‘general interest’ will always be that of the bourgeoisie.
The highest and most ideal state form in bourgeois society is the democratic republic, also the highest level of contradictory mystification,
‘’And yet the democratic republic always remains the last form of bourgeois domination, that in which it is broken to pieces.” (4)
The capitalist sense of political freedom is predicated on the existence of humans as abstract individuals, participating at will in the political community. It is based on man’s lack of social determination, rather than on his participation within society. One cannot confuse the real human community or the gemeinwesen, i.e. communist society, with democracy. The individual freedom ensured by the bourgeois democratic state is nothing other than the complete subjugation of the individual’s freedom, of their humanity to capital. Democracy only lives to mask the despotic expropriation of labour-power and life from those suffering the proletarian condition.
All forms of democratism seek to change the form of illusion without challenging the content, to which the form is representative of,
‘’Wherever there are political parties each party will attribute every defect of society to the fact that its rival is at the helm of the state instead of itself. Even the radical and revolutionary politicians look for the causes of evil not in the nature of the state but in a specific form of the state which they would like to replace with another form of the state.’’ (5)
Even sworn enemies within the bourgeois political paradigm can find common ground in their unrelenting espousal of democracy and in their united opposition to those tendencies of capital that have historically found the need to shed any form of democratic illusion for the sake of survival. The rejection of the current state of affairs as non or anti-democratic, arguing to replace this with whatever form of ‘true’ democracy, be it ‘direct’, ‘popular’, ‘peoples democracy’ or even under the confused notion of ‘proletarian democracy’ are points of analysis completely separated from ours, they all serve as apologia for the bourgeois state. Democracy in its state form ceases to exist with the abolition of the basis of political and economic atomization, the abolition of state and capital.
The analysis of the state inevitably leads into the historical debate over the democratic principle and its place in proletarian revolution. Democracy certainly cannot be upheld as a principle within the existence of proletarian power either, as the program must be maintained regardless of what proportion of the class supports it. If it is only a minority of the class that is actually acting as a class for itself then it is only this minority that can be supported by the communists.
‘’Just as the disastrous isolation from this nature is disproportionately more far-reaching, unbearable, terrible and contradictory than the isolation from the political community, so too the transcending of this isolation and even a partial reaction, a rebellion against it, is so much greater, just as the man is greater than the citizen and human life than political life. Hence, however limited an industrial revolt may be, it contains within itself a universal soul: and however universal a political revolt may be, its colossal form conceals a narrow split.’’ (6)
The democratic mechanism may well present itself as a form to which the organisation of communism may adapt, for form is never a matter of principle but one of practicality. As noted by Bordiga, ‘’Our critique of such a method must be much more severe when it is applied to the whole of society as it is today, or to given nations, than when it is introduced into much more restricted organisations, such as trade unions and parties’’ (7). The democratic form of organisation in the most simple sense, can carry either revolutionary or counter-revolutionary contents: ‘’Further, it must not be forgotten that the logical form of bourgeois domination is precisely the democratic republic, which has only become too dangerous owing to the development already attained by the proletariat, but which, as France and America show, is still possible as purely bourgeois rule’’ (8). The proletarian dictatorship may encompass the democratic forms purely within the organisational constraints of the proletarians if the conditions demand that this be so. ‘Proletarian Democracy’ however, cannot be upheld to any universal applicability, as the principle of democracy cannot be upheld against the principles of communism. Our principles can either be proletarian or democratic, they cannot be both. The proletarian state and dictatorship are matters fundamentally regarding content rather than form. Whilst the form of course must be necessarily derived from the content, these ephemeral forms of appearance and modes of organisation will not be universal and will embrace different mechanisms as dictated by the conditions that they must be applied to.
In contrast, bourgeois democracy is the more explicit class interest of the proletarian state, the importance of which is lost in the vast array of dismal theories proclaiming this or that competing national regime to be of ‘proletarian’ content. Against all reformist and democratic falsifications of Marxism, the fundamental principles of communism maintain that capital necessary leads to the insurrection of the working class and their establishment of political power in the state under the dictatorship of the proletariat:
‘’We have seen: a social revolution possesses a total point of view because – even if it is confined to only one factory district – it represents a protest by man against a dehumanized life, because it proceeds from the point of view of the particular, real individual, because the community against whose separation from himself the individual is reacting, is the true community of man, human nature. In contrast, the political soul of revolution consists in the tendency of the classes with no political power to put an end to their isolation from the state and from power. Its point of view is that of the state, of an abstract totality which exists only through its separation from real life and which is unthinkable in the absence of an organized antithesis between the universal idea and the individual existence of man. In accordance with the limited and contradictory nature of the political soul a revolution inspired by it organizes a dominant group within society at the cost of society.’’ (9)
From the bourgeois perspective, the class movement is fundamentally anti-democratic in the sense that it is a struggle against political freedom and equality, eradicating the democracy of the bourgeois state and implementing their own dictatorship which will deny the bourgeoisie any political power,
‘’Democracy is a contradiction in terms, a lie and indeed sheer hypocrisy […] In my opinion, this applies to all forms of government. Political freedom is a farce and the worst possible slavery; such a fictitious freedom is the worst enslavement. So is political equality: this is why democracy must be torn to pieces as well as any other form of government.’’ (10)
The proletarian state cannot be abolished in the sense of a definitive act, as this would mean the immediate replacement of illusory general interest with a general interest that is genuinely reflective of materiality, the interest of the human community. The state ‘’is inconceivable without the organized contradiction between the universal – idea of man and the individual existence of man’’ (11), thus it is also inconceivable for the state to cease existing whilst society is still divided by economic interests. In a sense, the disappearance of the state is akin to a flower withering when, say, water is taken away from it, but the difference is that while the flower always undergoes periods without water, and only with their prolongation and over a gradual period of time withers away, the state has an existence contingent upon that of social alienation.
The process of the death of the state is marked by the movement from the indirect affirmation of social labour through the social relation of value to the production of and for the sake of use-value, the transition from an enforced and illusory general interest to the collective interest of the social individual. As far as the remnants of the social relations of capital still exist, even in withered forms with an ensured demise, so too does the proletariat, even if the interest of the class (and thus the existence of the state) becomes less visible, less clear by the day.
The dictatorship of the proletariat is a highest stage of class struggle, and thus can only exist within capitalist society. It does not constitute a ‘socialist state’, or a third mode of production separate from capitalism and communism:
‘’Between capitalist and communist society there lies the period of the revolutionary transformation of the one into the other.’’ (12)
This is because:
‘’The existence of classes is only bound up with the particular, historical phases in the development of production, that the class struggle necessarily leads to the dictatorship of the proletariat, that this dictatorship itself only constitutes the transition to the abolition of all classes and to a classless society.’’ (13)
The process of the abolition of value and thus all social forms corresponding to this economic base is a task that defines the transition from capital to community, the class existing as far as this task is incomplete, even in its late stages. The class character of the proletariat is not diminished via the seizure of political power through the medium of the state exhibiting the class’s dictatorship. The equation of class with specific formal relationships to the means of production is incomprehension of the real nature of the class historically. The class defines itself through its antagonistic relations to opposing classes and thus their role and existence as a class is not negated by their gains made through the war of social classes. The proletarian class is no more abolished by its establishment of state power than it is by the expropriation of a factory by its workers. The understanding of the abolition of capitalism as an instantaneous act reflects a definition of the state as a merely formal organ or mechanism to be used at will in society, or as a moral abstraction. The state represents the alienation of man from the community, and thus exists as so long as the community does not. The act of this abolition, the phase of the onslaught of capitalist social relations and the repression of all facets of society seeking to re-establish the dying order can only be guided through the agent of the state, for the nonexistence of the state can mean nothing other than the victory of the community of social individuals, which, needless to say, has not yet been achieved while it is still being implemented.
The existence of the proletarian state is not a matter of arbitrary wills, it is not an option for communism to choose from. The dictatorship of the proletariat’s state is not an ideological construct; it is not simply a matter of communist consciousness. The proletarian state of the future will almost definitely not be consciously reflected as a (class) dictatorship at first or even necessarily as a state by its enactors. The movement that is a naturally immanent part of the current mode of production is the struggle for political power for the destruction of political power, seizure of the state for the destruction of the state, class dictatorship for the abolition of class. The proletariat will only achieve its final victory when its existence ceases, along with any remnants of the state.
(1) http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/wo … /08/07.htm Critical Notes on the Article: ‘’The King of Prussia and Social Reform. By a Prussian’’, Karl Marx, Vorwarts!, No. 63, August 7 1844.
(3) http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/wo … /ch01b.htm The German Ideology.
(4) (Engels, letter to Bernstein, March 14, 1884)
(5) Ibid. 2
(6) Ibid. 2
(7) http://www.marxists.org/archive/bordiga … nciple.htm The Democratic Principle by Amadeo Bordiga 1922.
(8) Ibid. 4
(9) Ibid. 2
(10) Engels, “Progress of Social Reform on the Continent,” The New Moral World, 4-11-1843
(11) Ibid. 2
(12) http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/wo … a/ch04.htm Critique of the Gotha Programme.
(13) http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/wo … _05-ab.htm Marx to J. Weydemeyer in New York.