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.

Last year, constitutional crises arose in Britain, the USA, Spain, Poland, and Brazil. Such crises present big problems for the ruling class because the state, and the constitutional laws that surround it, are deliberately mystified. Parliamentary democracy and the Rule of Law are treated as immutable ideas woven into the fabric of the universe. So when crises develop over the structure of the bourgeois state itself, this risks dispelling its aura of mystery and power.

In this talk at a 2017 day school on the Russian Revolution, Daniel Morley of the Socialist Appeal editorial board discusses the question of revolutionary insurrection, examining how Marxists approach the question of the seizure of power.

I have been asked by my Swedish comrades to write a brief preface to Lenin’s State and Revolution – a task which I readily agreed to, given the enormous importance of this work for the worldwide struggle for socialism. Strangely enough, the question of the state, despite its colossal significance, is something that does not normally occupy the attention of even the most advanced workers.

In this recording from the Revolution 2016 weekend school, Daniel Morley of the Socialist Appeal editorial board discusses the idea of workers' democracy, contrasting this with the formal democracy that we have under capitalism, and explaining the ways in which the working class can take control of the wider economy.

This work by Alan Woods, provides a comprehensive explanation of the Marxist method of analysing history. This first part establishes the scientific basis of historical materialism. The ultimate cause of all social change is to be found, not in the human brain, but in changes in the mode of production.

On 15th June 1215, King John I of England signed a document known as the Great Charter (Magna Carta in Latin). This document was the product of a civil war that had been raging between John and his nobles. The document contained a number of concessions by John, through which he agreed to limit his power as king in return for the loyalty of his subjects.

One of the great classics of Marxism is the book by Frederick Engels entitled 'The Origins of the Family, Private Property and the State'. Engels applies the method of historical materialism to this earliest period of pre-history to uncover the past. Rob Sewell, editor of Socialist Appeal, gives an introduction to the book and explains how class society came into existence.

The ideas of Marx have never been more relevant than they are today. This is reflected in the thirst for Marxist theory at the present time. In this article, Alan Woods deals with the main ideas of Karl Marx and their relevance to the crisis we're passing through today.

In Italy under Mussolini, formally speaking, there were “trade unions”. However, they were state-run unions, i.e. instruments of the state. One therefore should not confuse these “unions” with genuine trade unions. Yet, in spite of this, Communists worked successfully inside them.

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)