V.I. LENIN ON THE STATE
Probably the most decisive political problem that revolutionaries (and out and out reformists, for that matter) have broken their teeth on over the past 150 years is the question of the class nature of the state. The number of good revolutionary opportunities that have been squandered because of illusions in the 'neutrality' of the capitalist state should make you cry. The following, taken from Workers Vanguard No. 893 25 May 2007, are excerpts from various works by V.I. Lenin who most definitely did not have any illusions in the capitalist state. The works cited below, obviously, should be read in their entirety. These are just samplers. Markin
From the Archives of Marxism
V.I. Lenin on the State
The question of the class nature of the state is a decisive dividing line between revolutionary Marxists and reformists. The understanding that the capitalist state—which at its core consists of the cops, military, prison system and courts—is the instrument for organized violence to ensure bourgeois rule over the proletariat, and that it must be smashed through socialist revolution, is elementary to Marxism. We reprint below key passages on the state from Bolshevik leader V.I. Lenin's The State and Revolution (1917)—written shortly before the October Revolution—and The Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky (1918) as well as the "Theses on Bourgeois Democracy and the Dictatorship of the Proletariat," drafted by Lenin and adopted by the founding congress of the Communist International in March 1919.
In these works, Lenin defends the Marxist understanding of the state against Social Democratic leaders, particularly Karl Kautsky, who obfuscated and falsified Marxism in the service of parliamentary reformism. Stripping bourgeois democracy of its class character—i.e., portraying the capitalist state as representing the interests of the classless "people"—inevitably leads to political support to the capitalist class and bourgeois nationalism. The German Social Democracy graphically demonstrated this when, except for a revolutionary minority, the party supported its "own" bourgeoisie during the interimperialist First World War of 1914-18.
In his writings on the state, Lenin draws upon key works, such as Friedrich Engels' The Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State (1884) and Marx's writings on the 1871 Paris Commune. After France under the regime of Napoleon III was defeated by Prussia in 1870, a right-wing government was formed, acquiring a "democratic" sanction through the electoral support of the mass of peasant petty proprietors then the majority of the populace. When that government sent the army into Paris to disarm the predominantly working-class National Guard, the proletarian forces drove out the army. This led to the formation of the Commune, which governed the city for nearly three months before the army crushed it, slaughtering over 20,000 people. Marx and Engels described the Commune as the first historical expression of the dictatorship of the proletariat.
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Engels elucidates the concept of the "power" which is called the state, a power which arose from society but places itself above it and alienates itself more and more from it. What does this power mainly consist of? It consists of special bodies of armed men having prisons, etc., at their command....
A standing army and police are the chief instruments of state power. But how can it be otherwise?...
Civilised society is split into antagonistic, and, moreover, irreconcilably antagonistic, classes, whose "self-acting" arming would lead to an armed struggle between them. A state arises, a special power is created, special bodies of armed men, and every revolution, by destroying the state apparatus, clearly shows us hew the ruling class strives to restore the special bodies of armed men which serve it, and how the oppressed class strives to create a new organisation of this kind* capable of serving the exploited instead of the exploiters,...
The state is a special organisation: it is an organisation of violence for the suppression of some class. What class must the proletariat suppress? Naturally, only the exploiting class, i.e., the bourgeoisie. The working people need the state only to suppress the resistance of the exploiters, and only the proletariat can direct this suppression, can carry it out. For the proletariat is the only class that is consistently revolutionary, the only class that can unite all the working and exploited people in the struggle against the bourgeoisie, in completely removing it....
The petty-bourgeois democrats, those sham socialists who replaced the class struggle by dreams of class harmony, even pictured the socialist transformation in a dreamy fashion—not as the overthrew of the rule of the exploiting class, but as the peaceful submission of the minority to the majority which has become aware of its aims. This petty-bourgeois Utopia, which is inseparable from the idea of the state being above classes, led in practice to the betrayal of the interests of the working classes, as was shown, for example, by the history of the French revolutions of 1848 and 1871, and by the experience of "socialist" participation in bourgeois Cabinets in Britain, France, Italy and other countries at the turn of the century....
The essence of Marx's theory of the state has been mastered only by those who realise that the dictatorship of a single class is necessary not only for every class society in general, not only for the proletariat which has overthrown the bourgeoisie, but also for the entire historical period which separates capitalism from "classless society," from communism, Bourgeois states are most varied in form, but their essence is the same; all these states, whatever their form, in the final analysis are inevitably the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie. The transition from capitalism to communism is certainly bound to yield a tremendous abundance and variety of political forms, but the essence will inevitably be the same: the dictatorship of the proletariat....
To decide once every few years which member of the ruling class is to repress and crush the people through parliament—this is the real essence of bourgeois parliamentarism, not only in parliamentary-constitutional monarchies, but also in the most democratic republics....
From this capitalist democracy—that is inevitably narrow and stealthily pushes aside the poor, and is therefore hypocritical and false through and through—forward development does not proceed simply, directly and smoothly, towards "greater and greater democracy," as the liberal professors and petty-bourgeois opportunists would have us believe. No, forward development, i.e., development towards communism, proceeds through the dictatorship of the proletariat, and cannot do otherwise, for the resistance of the capitalist exploiters cannot be broken by anyone else or in any other way.
And the dictatorship of the proletariat, i.e., the organisation of the vanguard of the oppressed as the ruling class for the purpose of suppressing the oppressors, cannot result merely in an expansion of democracy. Simultaneously with an immense expansion of democracy, which for the first time becomes democracy for the poor, democracy for the people, and not democracy for the money-bags, the dictatorship of the proletariat imposes a series of restrictions on the freedom of the oppressors, the exploiters, the capitalists.
—The State and Revolution
Marxists have always maintained that the more developed, the "purer" democracy is, the more naked, acute, and merciless the class struggle becomes, and the "purer" the capitalist oppression and bourgeois dictatorship. The Dreyfus case in republican France, the massacre of strikers by hired bands armed by the capitalists in the free and democratic American republic—these and thousands of similar facts illustrate the truth which the bourgeoisie is vainly seeking to conceal, namely, that actually terror and bourgeois dictatorship prevail in the most democratic of republics and are openly displayed every time the exploiters think the power of capital is being shaken.
The imperialist war of 1914-18 conclusively revealed even to backward workers the true nature of bourgeois democracy, even in the freest republics, as being a dictatorship of the bourgeoisie. Tens of millions were killed for the sake of enriching the German or the British group of millionaires and multimillionaires, and bourgeois military dictatorships were established in the freest republics.
—"Theses on Bourgeois Democracy and the Dictatorship of the Proletariat"
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The only "correction" Marx thought it necessary to make to the Communist Manifesto he made on the basis of the revolutionary experience of the Paris Communards.
The last preface to the new German edition of the Communist Manifesto, signed by both its authors, is dated June 24, 1872. In this preface the authors, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, say that the programme of the Communist Manifesto "has in some details become out-of-date," and they go on to say:
"...One thing especially was proved by the Commune, viz., that 'the working class cannot simply lay hold of the ready-made state machinery and wield it for its own purposes'..."
...Marx's idea is that the working class must break up, smash the "ready-made state machinery," and not confine itself merely to laying hold of it.
—The State and Revolution
"We," the revolutionary Marxists, never made speeches to the people that the Kautskyites of all nations love to make, cringing before the bourgeoisie, adapting themselves to the bourgeois parliamentary system, keeping silent about the bourgeois character of modern democracy and demanding only its extension, only that it be carried to its logical conclusion.
"We" said to the bourgeoisie: You, exploiters and hypocrites, talk about democracy, while at every step you erect thousands of barriers to prevent the oppressed people from taking part in politics. We take you at your word and, in the interests of these people, demand the extension of your bourgeois democracy in order to prepare the people for revolution for the purpose of overthrowing you, the exploiters. And if you exploiters attempt to offer resistance to our proletarian revolution we shall ruthlessly suppress you; we shall deprive you of all rights; more than that, we shall not give you any bread, for in our proletarian republic the exploiters will have no rights, they will be deprived of fire and water, for we are socialists in real earnest, and not in the Scheidemann or Kautsky fashion.
—The Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky
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Only the soviet organization of the state can really effect the immediate breakup and total destruction of the old, i.e., bourgeois, bureaucratic and judicial machinery, which has been, and has inevitably had to be, retained under capitalism even in the most democratic republics, and which is, in actual fact, the greatest obstacle to the practical implementation of democracy for the workers and the working people generally. The Paris Commune took the first epoch-making step along this path. The soviet system has taken the second.
—"Theses on Bourgeois Democracy and the Dictatorship of the Proletariat"