Sunday, May 2, 2010
Widsom From Lenin: "The State and Revolution"
In September of 1917, just before seizing power and putting the very contents of the text more or less into practice, Vladimir Lenin composed a book entitled The State and Revolution. The book was the summing up, explanation, and defense of positions that the Bolsheviks had held for a long time, which differentiated them from the various “Social-Democratic” Parties of the world.
The Distortions of Marxism
Lenin opens the text, speaking of how so many revolutionaries are hated and attacked by the capitalists during their lives, but suddenly, after they are dead their image is altered to make them “safe” for the capitalists.
When Lenin makes this point, the modern reader can only think of Martin Luther King, who was hunted, demonized, and repressed by the FBI while alive. King was hated by the capitalist class, especially when he began to speak in support of a “the right to a job”, and denounced the war in Vietnam. At one point he proclaimed “there is something wrong with capitalism” and that “America must move toward a democratic socialism.”
However, King, after his death is rebranded in U.S. history classes to be a capitalist, religious fanatic, blind patriot, and self-help economic libertarian. The man who the establishment hated, repressed, and openly called its enemy now has his own national holiday and is considered a national icon, his radical beliefs left out of the popularized capitalist narrative about King as some kind of pacifistic defender of bourgeois law.
The same, Lenin notes, was done with Karl Marx.
While in his life, Karl Marx had been demonized as a dangerous radical, in the years following his death, Europe became dominated by various “Social-Democratic” parties, led by figures such as Bernstein and Kautsky who used Karl Marx’s image to promote their own brand of liberalism, populism, and reformism, very different from the revolutionary ideas of Karl Marx, the man who composed the Communist Manifesto and laid out the first declaration of Scientific Socialist principles, applying them to the class struggle.
Whom does the Government Serve?
The biggest distortion of Marxism, trumpeted by the various Social-Democrats of the world was a delusional concept that governments, when “universal suffrage” exists, are “neutral entities.” Because both the capitalists and the workers can vote, the government is basically up for grabs between the two groups. This revisionist theory argues that the working class can be mobilized to vote in its own interests and make the state serve them.
“Revolution” in terms of the establishment of a “worker’s state” is essentially no longer necessary, according to the leaders of the “Socialist International”, the large group of these parties throughout the world.
Lenin vehemently disagreed with such claims.
Lenin maintained that even if the state did grant universal suffrage, and workers were able to vote, the government would remain a tool of the capitalists. He listed a number of reasons that universal suffrage, despite being a political advance in many cases, does not change the class nature of the state.
He spoke first of “direct corruption of public officials”, and that bribery would always be a tool the capitalists would use, as they control the vast amounts of wealth, and can use to out-vote workers in economic means.
Lenin also spoke of how in capitalism there is “an alliance of parliament and the stock exchange”, and that the government’s income and stability depends on the ability of the rich to make profits, even if they are not directly bought off.
Lenin also spoke of how the working classes, who labor long hours often to the point of exhaustion simply “do not have time for politics,” and politics by default becomes the hobby of the leisure classes who have the energy and ability to debate political issues.
Lenin also spoke of the capitalist control of press, which is able to dominate the information on which workers base their vote, as well as the educational system, which controls the very outlook workers are given toward world events.
If all of these economic situations exist, even if “universal suffrage” becomes reality, the capitalist class still maintains control of the government, and is able to exercise its own “dictatorship” over the other classes.
What is “The State?”
All of these ideas show, that Karl Marx was right in arguing that “the state is a machinery of repression of one class by another.” Lenin showed that “the state” is defined really by one thing, that being “bodies of armed men” who have “the monopoly of armed force.”
Government has the right to execute people, however vigilantism or homicide by others is a crime. The government has the right to maintain an army, stockpile weapons, and use such things to repress people in jails, prisons, etc. Other entities do not have such things.
Lenin argued that the existence of the “special bodies of armed men” came into being with the dawn of private property. The jobs of the state, not just according to Lenin, but according to Locke and countless others, is to defend the private property of those who own it, and make sure they keep it.
As a result, when control of resources and industry went from the hands of the monarchs and feudal lords to the hands of the mercantile capitalists, it required bloody revolutions, new constitutions, as the previously existing states, established to defend the feudal classes, needed to be removed, overthrown, smashed, or whatnot, in order to create a new state that served the interests of capitalists.
The state had was then re-forged in the interests of the capitalists. Note that the one of the first governmental bodies in the United States was the “House of Burgesses” in Virginia. “Burgess” is an English version of the French word “bourgeoisie” that specifically refers to owners of means of production.
The entities that eventually became the United States government, whether they be committees of correspondence or continental congresses, were nothing more than coalitions of plantation owners, industrialists, agrarians, and others who owned means of production, and sought to replace the colonial feudal order with themselves.
The Model of a Socialist State
So, Lenin argued, that the goal of Socialist revolutionaries should be the overthrow and “smashing” of the capitalist statement, and replacement of it with a new “worker’s state” designed to serve the working class.
Lenin argued that this new state would be truly “democratic” because it would be run by the majority of the people.
The new state would be a “dictatorship of the proletariat”, because just as in capitalism, the capitalist class controls and dictates the actions of the state, in socialism the state would be dictated to by the working class majority. Just as the capitalist defended the capitalists property from being taken from them, the new state would defend the workers new property, that being the major means of production and commanding heights of the economy, from being re-conquered by the old ruling class.
The new socialist state would be based in popular control of industries and other “commanding heights” of the economy. The industries, banking, transportation, communication, media, and other items formerly controlled by the capitalist class would be held in the hands of the working class through a method of “expropriation.”
This “expropriation” is no more “theft” than the breaking up feudal estates or medieval commons in the transition from feudalism to capitalism was.
Lenin laid out how popular militias of workers would become the new police force. Lenin writes of how a revolutionary party, trained in the theory of Marxism, would direct society, training the people to think scientifically and work as the leaders of this new society, while mobilizing popular campaigns to suppress counter-revolutionary violence against the new social order and governmental system.
Lenin also spoke of how eventually the socialist state itself would dissolve, as the era of “socialism” passed and “communism”, a society where material abundance and technological efficiency eliminated the need for classes at all, and no state would be needed to defend private property at all.
“Communism” would be achieved when no classes existed in the world any longer, and so it is no longer necessary for “bodies of armed men” to protect the property of one class from another.
Criticism of Fellow Revolutionists
Lenin criticized the Paris Commune of 1871, the popular revolt of French Workers which was brutally put down. He blamed some of the Commune’s failures on the fact instead attempting to build a new “workers state” the Paris Commune had simply taken over the Parisian state that already existed.
This previously existing Parisian government was designed to serve capitalism, not the rule of the working class, and as a result, was ineffective in its ability to repress the counter-revolutionary efforts of the capitalists.
Lenin also engages in a polemic with the various Anarchists who argue that no state is necessary for the repression of counter-revolutionary violence. Lenin makes it clear the ruling classes shall not simply vanish when the state is seized by workers, but it will continue to exist, seeking to restore its previously existing power.
Thus, the new state will be needed to put down and repress such activities. The Anarchist argument is that creating a new state will allow the bureaucrats within this state to become themselves a “ruling class.”
Contrarily, Lenin makes clear that the root of capitalist power is not “authority” but their control over their “private property” in the economy. Lenin maintains that if popular control of the economy remains in existence, the state will likewise remain a state of the people.
The Lasting Impact of “The State and Revolution”
Lenin’s work was ground-breaking, and remains one of the most important texts of political theory in world history. Governments based on Lenin’s teachings once controlled 2/3 of the planet. Still today, the governments of China, Cuba, Democratic Korea, Vietnam, and Laos all state explicitly in their constitutions that the ideas of Lenin are the basis for the government itself.
Furthermore, in Zimbabwe, Venezuela, Bolivia, and Belarus, the heads of state openly proclaim themselves to be “Marxist-Leninists” who base their government policies on the ideas Lenin laid out in this 1917 text.
This begs that question as to why this book is not incorporated into the basic education of anyone studying “comparative politics” or “political science.” The book is one of the most influential books regarding public administration. The ideas about what a state is, the activities a state engages in, and the very nature of the state itself presented in this text have been widely embraced throughout the world.
The Recent Decline of “Social-Democracy”
Those who Lenin polemicized against, interestingly enough, seem to have largely abandoned their ideas. The various political parties of the “Socialist International” or “Second International” seem to have officially made clear that they no longer desire to achieve a traditionally defined socialism at all.
In 1995, Tony Blair’s “New Labour” faction seized control of the British Labour Party, and made it overwhelmingly clear that they no longer sought to establish worker’s control of the economy. Rather, they sought some kind of post-modern socialism defined as “working together” and “cooperation.”
Similar beliefs and policies have been adopted by the French Socialist Party, the Italian Democratic Party of the Left, the Spanish Socialist Workers Party, German Social-Democratic Party, and nearly every other party descended from the “social-democrats” who believed in a classless state.
It seems the social-democrats who once only believed in a classless state, have embraced the concept of a classless society at large, by denying that within the capitalist system two classes contend with each other for power.
Now, as capitalism dies leaving a “high tech dark ages” of low-wages, unemployment, racism, war, and emptiness in its wake, it seems that those who maintain that a socialist world is in fact possible, are overwhelmingly going to be forced to recognize the concepts laid out by Lenin, seeing that the governments of the capitalist world are themselves “private property”, not of “we the people” but of the same ruthless class that holds control of the economy, and lets the world sink into oblivion and darkness while scouring the dust for the last few bits of profit.