The State and the Revolution
Member of the leadership of the International Workers’ League IWL
The power of the state is a fundamental issue in every revolution.
The fundamental discussion hinging round this issue in the early XX century was between Lenin and Kautsky and reflected two contrary concepts.
Kautsky, reflecting the reformist positions, said, “…the task of a general strike can never be the destruction of the power of the state but merely to force the government to yield to a determined point or to substitute an administration that is hostile to the workers movement by another one that is more willing to grant the fulfilment of the demands. Accordingly, the aim of our struggle will continue to be the same as up to now: win power by gaining a majority in parliament and make the parliament the master of the administration”.
As far as the reformists were concerned, the “conquest” of power meant achieving the majority in the parliament, which stood for distorting Marxism, who stood for the destruction of the bourgeois state machinery – whether under the cloak of Bonapartist dictatorship or of democratic republic.
“We need a state, but not like the one that the bourgeoisie needs, with its bodies of power – under the shape of police, army, bureaucracy (a body of officials) – unconnected to the people and acting against the people. All the bourgeois revolutions limited themselves to perfecting this State machinery, transferring this machinery from the hand of one party to the hands of another party… what the proletariat must do, to put it the way Marx did, demolish this “ready made” State Machine and substitute it by another one, merging the police, the army and bureaucracy with all the people in arms. Following the path traced by the experience of the 1971 Paris Communes and the1905 Russian Revolution, proletariat must arm and organize all the poor and exploited elements of the population in order that they themselves might take the organisms of the power of the state and that they themselves mould the institutions of this power”1 (All the italic in this quotation and in all the other quotations are Lenin’s)
The Marxist theory of State (“Committee for administrating the common business of all the bourgeois class”) is the only one that has any correspondence with reality. The reformist “grandfathers” (Kautsky and Co.), the reformist “fathers” (Lula, Evo Morales and Co.) and the reformist” children (USec and Co.) believe that it is enough to add a pinch of socialism, a “radical democracy”, of self-organisation and of “unlimited democracy” and there will have a brand new socialism, vigorously conquered without leaving the office of the members of parliament, without taking off the white gloves. But real life does not happen to work this way and bourgeois democracy, as a regime, can only be useful to ensure the domination of private property. That is why, when reformist reach power, they invariably try to “administrate the whole lot of bourgeois business”. This happened a 100 years ago and is happening now. Lula is the “democratic” instrument of the antidemocratic and imperial will that rules the world. The “Trotskyist” USec is an accomplice to the imperialist attack on the Brazilian revolution.
Even if imperialism increasingly resorts to violence, Bonapartism and wars, they do so as a last resort, when control over the country or region is at stake. Until that time, they attempt to perfect a network working frantically in four areas. First: using “democracy” and parliamentarianism, the facade of formal equality which deceives people into believing that they are governing because they are the chosen representatives to the government. Second: the corruption of the rearguard with the remnants from the colonial exploitation (workers’ aristocracy and middle class in imperialist countries). Third: the corruption of workers’ and peasants’ leaders in poor countries using trade unions, NGOs and a long list of etceteras. Fourth: if no other form has ensured bourgeois domination, then the coalition of workers and bourgeoisie and popular fronts advance centre-stage (an example of this today is Lula) and are bourgeois administrations. What is used directly in such cases is the face of a workers’ movement leader to create the illusion of a “government of the poor”.
When this penultimate resource fails to secure imperial domination, in march the military boots of a Pinochet-type police dictatorship and the mask of the “democracy” bursts into the flames of a Bonapartist hell. In the end, when it is too late, the bourgeois state becomes a military dictatorship in order to defend the dictatorship of the capital.
Social democracy has been debasing Marxist theory of State, but part of the left (including Stalinists and Trotskyists) has been exposing bourgeois “democracy” as a form of a state that is hostile to the proletariat. Unfortunately, there are many Trotskyists who are now changing their minds about his appraisal of the bourgeois state. Let us have a look at a USec document:
“The issue of assessing what the role of the National State is today… ever since the beginning, the State has been a political institutional framework, often artificial, inadequate and not very viable and today it is more so. It does happen that the supranational institutional framework has not been created anywhere and so National State, and that therefore National State must go on ensuring a series of necessary social and political and even economic functions. Be that as it may, faced with the wreckage of neoliberal internationalisation, National State may turn out to be the haven or, at least, the promoter of neo-protectionist policies.” Text on world situation of the USec, point 12, paragraphs 3 and 4.
This is a concealed defence of the bourgeois state and that represents a breach with Marxist tradition as far as this topic is concerned. The capitalist state is still essentially what the Communist Manifesto describes it as “a committee of armed men to defend the interest of the interest of the ruling class” and not a “haven”. The continuity of the militarisation of the European Union (and each one of its states) bears witness to this fact. This is a very serious mistake, but perfectly natural for anybody who begins to cross the class barrier. The same can be said of the defence the USec makes of the UNO as “a possible progressive supranational institution”.
A similar type of proposal was one defended by Hugo Haase, one of the most outstanding German social democratic leaders who, in an article for the periodical The International of 4th May 1919 boasts that he proposed a resolution on the problem of the colonies which said that “the League of the Nations, organised at the application of the II international, has the task, until socialism is reached, of governing the colonies, in the first place in benefit of the aborigines and then of all the nations grouped in the League of Nations…”2 In this case the USec have been following the worst examples of the II International when they spread illusions about the UNO (today’s League of Nations) as a feasible space for a progressive supranational institution, even supporting the occupation of countries determined by the UNO.
Workers’ struggles must stand apart from that illusion. To believe in illusions and stand apart from the truth will result in defeat for any revolution. The truth is that bourgeoisie, by means of its press, its men, its “doctors” and its agents inside our movement attempts to camouflage, confuse, and deviate revolutionary struggle so as to create an illusion of democratic “institutions” i.e. parliament, elections, or a Constituent Assembly. Revolutionary processes taking place today and others that are to come must tackle this problem. The core of the problem is who holds the power of the State.
1 Lenin, C. W. 31, page 44
2 Quoted by Lenin, C.W. tome 38 page 422