The State

The statePolitical turmoil is revealing the capitalist system's most intimate and secret inner workings. All the instruments that have been designed and perfected over centuries to impose and preserve the rule of a tiny minority of outrageously wealthy capitalists over the vast majority are being laid bare.

The main tool for achieving this is the state, which can be simply defined as “armed bodies of men” employed in the defence of the property relations of the ruling class. This includes both repressive bodies like the army and police, but also the courts and judiciary.

Revolution is back on the agenda on a world scale. We are witnessing the radicalisation of the class struggle and the first attempts by the youth and the working class to shake off oppressive rule. In this context, a correct understanding of the state is of vital importance. Millions of people are beginning to understand through their own experience that the capitalist state and its repressive forces stand in the way of any attempt to challenge the dominant position of the capitalists in society and transform it.

How did the state arise historically in the first place? Has it always existed? What is its function? What is the nature of bourgeois democracy and capitalist rule? Could the existing bourgeois state be used by the exploited to transform society and effect revolutionary change? Can political power for the working class be achieved merely through electoral means? Could the state be abolished or overthrown and what type of organisation should humanity strive for when capitalism is overthrown? What are the tasks for the working class and a socialist revolution in relation to the state, and how can it succeed?

Only an accurate study of Marxist theory can provide an answer to these questions.

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.

The family, private property, and the state – the basic institutions of capitalist society – are neither 'natural' nor everlasting. They are the product of specific economic and social conditions. Friedrich Engels traces the evolution of these institutions from the dawn of class society until capitalism. He shows how the oppression of women as a sex begins with the development of private property, and how the development of the modern working class creates the material basis to end that oppression.

"The anti-authoritarians demand that the political state be abolished at one stroke, even before the social conditions that gave birth to it have been destroyed. They demand that the first act of the social revolution shall be the abolition of authority. Have these gentlemen ever seen a revolution? A revolution is certainly the most authoritarian thing there is; it is the act whereby one part of the population imposes its will upon the other part by means of rifles, bayonets and cannon—authoritarian means, if such there be at all."