The State

The state"Marxism sets out from the idea that 'force is the midwife of every old society pregnant with a new one,' that the state consists ultimately of armed bodies of men, that it is an instrument of the ruling class for the oppression of other classes." — From Marxism and the StateLike money, the state is something we are all very familiar with and take for granted, but its real essence tends to elude us. The ideologists of capitalism have tried, in various ways, to justify the capitalist state as supremely rational; a neutral arbiter for society, and the embodiment of justice. For Marxists, the state is not at all neutral, nor just. It is certainly anything but rational. We must strip the vale of mysticism away and reveal the state’s real basis. To do that, we have to treat the state historically - taking in its origins, rise, and eventual fall.

The state has not always existed. It is inseparable from class society. Ultimately, it is the instrument for the ruling class to oppress and hold down the masses, guaranteeing the status quo and the sanctity of property. Although the modern state performs many other functions, these are secondary to its real basis - the protection of a set of property relations. To do this, it needs “armed bodies of men” and a monopoly on the use of violence. To establish socialism, it will not be possible for the working class to use the state as it currently exists - that is, with the same network of judges, heads of police and army etc.

When the 1929 Crash broke out it affected the Italian economy dramatically. Italy had just been through a serious monetary crisis, from which it had not yet recovered when the world crisis broke out. In this situation the capitalists desperately turned to the State for help.

The classical view of how capitalism develops is that within feudal society a class emerges made up of merchants, bankers, early industrialists, i.e. the bourgeoisie, and that for this class to be able to develop its full potential a bourgeois revolution is required to break the limits imposed by the landed feudal aristocracy. That is how things developed, more or less, in countries like France and England, but not in Japan.

Hear Fred Weston speaking to a recent meeting of Socialist Appeal in Edinburgh on the current Iranian Revolution. He also connects the movement against the Iranian regime with an analysis on the question of the state in a capitalist society.

The question of the State in capitalist society is of key importance for Marxists. We do not see it as an impartial arbiter standing above society. The fundamental essence of every state, with its “armed bodies of men”, police, courts and other trappings is that it serves the interests of one class in society, in the case of capitalism, the capitalist class.

The question of the state is the most fundamental question for all revolutions and has therefore occupied a central position in Marxist theory. The state is a special repressive force standing above society and increasingly alienating itself from it. However, on this keyquestion Heinz Dieterich manages to display utter confusion, and this is not accidental.

Jorge Martin talks on Lenin's The State and Revolution,which he completed just before the October revolution in order to arm the Bolsheviks ideologically for the tasks of state power. Lenin explains the historic necessity for the emergence of the state as a tool of class rule, and that the state grows as economic differentiation in society grows, requiring the supression of the oppressed majority by the priviledged minority.

This recording was made at the Socialist Appeal (Britain) day school in June, where comrades gathered to discuss the Marxist theory of the State and the Revolutionary Tactics of the Bolshevik Party in 1917. In this session Rob Lyon explains the origins of the state as a means of expropriating the surplus wealth produced by a particular class, and the development of the different forms of the state and class society throughout history. 

There is a view fashionable in the media that the world is being taken over by huge multinational corporations, accountable to no one. This allows the argument against globalisation to be depoliticised, reducing it to single issues of "ethical trading" and "codes of conduct", and inviting its co-option. Above all, it misses the point that state power in the west is accelerating. (We are republishing this article with the permission of John Pilger, August 20, 2001)

Standing between the working class and the socialist transformation of society is a colossal state machine. Where did it come from? What purpose does it serve? can it be reformed, or must it be done away with altogether? What should replace it, indeed should it be replaced at all? In the first place what is "it"?

The coup in Algiers by General Massu paved the way in France for the rise of General de Gaulle to power without shooting a bullet. Ted Grant exposed the role of the Socialist and Communist leaders who appealed to the capitalist state to take action against the insurgents instead of mobilising and arming the workers, and tail-ended Pfimlin to "defend the democratic institutions", thus politically disarming the French workers in the face of the shameful capitulation of Pfimlin to the Generals.

In 1978, a radical faction of the Afghan Communist Party seized power in a military coup. The 'Saur Revolution' carried out a whole series of progressive measures. The government passed decrees abolishing the selling of brides and giving equality to women. It announced a land reform and the cancellation of farmers’ debts. These measures met with the ferocious opposition of the powerful land owners and moneylenders. This article by Ted Grant, published in 1978, contains an analysis of the revolution, as well as the phenomena of colonial revolutions and proletarian bonapartism more generally.

In this important pamphlet of May 1958, Ted Grant analysed the Bonapartist character of De Gaulle's regime in the light of previous historical events. De Gaulle's bid for power was successful not because of his strength, but because of the treacherous policies of the Communist and Socialist Party leaders. De Gaulle's victory was an expression of the crisis of French capitalism and would inevitably open up revolutionary events and an explosion of the class struggle. While most of the Stalinist, reformist and sectarian left had written off the French workers as a revolutionary class before May 1968, Ted Grant's prediction confirmed the correctness of Marxist analysis.

In this important pamphlet of May 1958 that we publish now in its entirety, Ted Grant analysed the Bonapartist character of De Gaulle's regime in the light of previous historical events. De Gaulle's bid for power was successful not because of his strength, but because of the treacherous policies of the Communist and Socialist Party leaders. De Gaulle's victory was an expression of the crisis of French capitalism and would inevitably open up revolutionary events and an explosion of the class struggle. While most of the Stalinist, reformist and sectarian left had written off the French workers as a revolutionary class before May 1968, Ted Grant's prediction confirmed the correctness of

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In 1946 one of the main stooges of Stalin, Aleksandrov, delivered an official speech during the Lenin memorial meeting in Moscow announcing a revision of Marx and Lenin's theory of the state. Ted Grant highlighted the importance of this open breach with Marxism showing that it sought a theoretical justification for the persistence of the rule by the bureaucracy in the Soviet Union.

Written in the summer of 1917, in the heat of the Russian Revolution, Lenin’s State and Revolution is a key work of Marxism. Here, Lenin explains that, stripped of all non-essentials, the state is in the final analysis “groups of armed men”: the army and the police, in defence of the ruling class.