Printer-friendly version

The discussion going on now about the resolution concerning the state after the victory of the proletarian revolution must not be seen as some sort of speculation on an abstract theme. The theoretical work of a political group is different from that of a bourgeois centre for scientific research. The latter is composed of specialists who study this or that discipline by placing themselves “outside it”. Their “objectivity” resides in their professed “neutrality”. Research is a professional business. Their scientific scruples are of a professional nature to the extent that their activities are connected to their earnings. The theoretical elaboration of a revolutionary group involved in the class struggle is quite different. It is not “neutral”, its research is frankly partisan. This does not however mean that it has no objectivity. On the contrary, the objectivity of a revolutionary group is based on an understanding of living reality which makes it better able to wage its struggle.

The theoretical work of the workers' movement is derived from the historical struggle of the working class, and it is never really finished because each new experience brings new lessons which allow and demand a readjustment of theory; precisions which will sharpen the theoretical weapons of the class and make them more effective in the struggles to come.

The question of the state is very important to the theoretical work of the workers' movement, for three reasons:

  1. The working class had already reached a certain level of development when society entered into a period of social convulsions and bourgeois revolutions. The problem of political power, of the state, was at the centre of these revolutions in which the workers played an active part allied with the bourgeoisie. Nevertheless, they already showed that a class existed with distinct interests that were opposed to those of the bourgeoisie (the Diggers in England, the Enragés and the Égaux (the Equals) in France, the Communist League and the Workers' Association in 1848 in Germany).
  2. Under capitalism, the state has reached the highest point of its historical function. Thus right from its birth and throughout its development, the workers' movement has been forced to confront the state and to deal with the more general problem of its nature and the reason for its existence.
  3. Because of this, the problem of the organisation of society and of the state was to become crucial for the working class as soon as as it saw the possibility for its emancipation and the advent of a new society.

The Equals put forward the need to struggle for the conquest of the state. This response was still very general and somewhat ambiguous, but it had the merit of clearly posing the necessity for armed revolutionary struggle. With the Utopians, there was a new approach to the problem: the affirmation that the state would be eliminated in a socialist society in which the government of men would be replaced by the administration of things.

As the bourgeois revolution drew near in Germany in the early 1840s, the debate on the state came up again and this allowed the young Marx and his friends, already moving towards communism, to make an implacable critique of Hegel's idealist conceptions which held that the state was the incarnation of the Idea. Although their critique was still enveloped in philosophical terminology, they pointed out that the state like all social, political, or ideological superstructures was only the reflection of the real, material, profane world in which men lived. In the last analysis, the mode of production – the economy – was the basis of the whole social edifice. They showed that the state was a historical product arising from the dislocation of the old primitive community and the division of society into antagonistic classes. They also showed that the state was intimately linked to the reigning mode of production and the classes which represented it, and that it had gone through modifications by adapting itself to changes in the mode of production. They drew out the universal characteristics of this institution in all class societies: the tendency for it to separate itself from, and raise itself above, society, thus creating a conflict be-tween the state and civil society. They pointed out its tendency to create a particular, parasitical, social organism – the bureaucracy.

The events of the bourgeois revolutions of 1848 provided an exceptionally rich treasury of experiences and lessons which allowed the Communist League to denounce and make a definite break with opportunist currents like that of Louis Blanc who believed that it was possible to participate in bourgeois governments. In the light of these experiences, the League also completely changed its policy towards the party of bourgeois democracy in Germany. The feebleness of the democratic bourgeoisie, which in Germany seemed incapable of carrying out its own revolution, as well as the coup d'etat of Louis Bonaparte, allowed revolutionaries to be more precise about the relationship between the state and the economically dominant classes in society. At the same time, marxists categorically condemned policies like those of Lassalle, who envisaged the possibility of the working class gaining the support of “arbitrating” states – Bonapartist or Bismarckian – in its struggle against the bourgeoisie. The Paris Commune was an experience of the highest importance and its lessons served as a basis for marxist revolutionaries to decisively clarify their theory of the state. Its main lesson was that, contrary to the hitherto dominant idea about the “conquest” of the state by the working class, the latter could not conquer the state or use it, but had to destroy it. This new conception was an immense step forward in revolutionary thought, finally doing away with the false idea of conquering the state which had been introduced by the followers of Babeuf, continued by the Blanquists, and which the marxists themselves had held to for decades. Against the anarchists and their chatter about anti-authoritarianism, the Commune showed the falsity of the federalist conception of socialism, and was a triumph for the idea of the necessary unity and centralisation of the new society. Finally, the Commune showed the inevitability of the  appearance of the institution of the state, an institution which Engels referred to as an evil inherited from societies of the past, an evil whose worst sides the proletariat would have to lop off.

Following this rich experience, the passionate debates on the lessons of the Commune and the work of Morgan, caused Marx and, in particular, Engels to begin further theoretical research into the problem of the state, into its shrouded origins and development throughout history, and its relation with society and with the ruling and the exploited classes (The Origins of the Family, Anti-Dühring, The Peasant War in Germany, and various Prefaces and letters). The draft of the Gotha Programme provided Marx, once again and for the last time, with the opportunity to return to the subject. He pointed out, among other things, the inevitability of a more or less long period of transition between capitalism and communism, with all its attendant problems: the management of the economy, production and distribution, the dictatorship of the proletariat, and the state. Although in these theoretical works we can find an extremely clear understanding about the historical function of the state, its links and identification with exploiting classes, its absolutely antagonistic position towards the proletariat, a grasp of the problem of the state in the period of transition only appears in certain important, but mainly negative, indications necessarily limited by the lack of living practice.

It was the first part of this understanding which constituted the definitive acquisition of marxist theory defended by the Left of the IInd International against the repeated attacks of opportunism – the Millerand’s acceptance of ministerial rank, the revisionism of Bernstein, the reformism of the trade unions and the final treason of Social Democracy with the war and the revolution of 1917.

With the outbreak of the revolution, and Social Democracy's sordid distortion of the revolutionary marxist position on the state (ie that it must be destroyed from top to bottom because even in its most democratic form, it is the instrument for the class dictatorship of the bourgeoisie), the restoration of Marx and Engels' thought on the state was felt to be an urgent necessity by all revolutionaries. This task was taken up by Lenin, whose, book State and Revolution based itself on the texts of Marx and Engels and was a remarkable restatement of their ideas on what should be the proletariat's attitude towards the capitalist state machine. With Lenin's State and Revolution, ambiguity was no longer possible, or tolerable, on the question of the relationship between the proletariat and the bourgeois state. This henceforward marked a class frontier between revolutionaries and counter-revolutionaries. Lenin's book is essentially concerned with this concrete, practical, immediate need of the revolution – as its title indicates – and was not a general study of the state, its origins and historical evolution. If he touched on these problems, it was only in passing and only if this helped him illustrate his main thesis – ie that the capitalist state is nothing but the class dictatorship of capital which the proletariat has to destroy. And this was the great and lasting merit of Lenin's book.

On the eve of the insurrection, Lenin was compelled to pose the problem of the state after the revolution. At this level, he had very little to add to the generalities already put forward by Marx and Engels after the Commune. He highlighted the main measures for limiting the worst aspects of the state: the election and revocability of functionaries, equal remuneration, etc. But the more Lenin tried to take his thought forward, the more his formulations became vague and even contradictory. We know that Lenin didn't finish his book. Not only because of the lack of time, but for much deeper reasons. As he said in the postscript he wrote to State and Revolution on November 30th, 1917; "It is better and more useful to go through 'the experience of the revolution' than to write about it".

The experience was not long in coming, and in light of it, how tragically naive those pages which Lenin dedicated to describing the functioning of the semi-state and its idyllic relationship with the proletariat and society in general seem today. While the notion of the dictatorship of the proletariat seems clear, the various definitions of the state after the revolution, which is sometimes identified with the dictatorship of the proletariat, seem ambiguous and contradictory: Commune-state, workers' state, state of the majority, people's state, workers' and peasants' state, etc... Reducing the state, as Lenin did, to an expression of armed force doesn't deal with the whole problem and all its complexity. The least that can be said is that this is a way of ignoring the enormous complexity of the problem of the state and the diversity of its functions. And what can we say about this incredible simplification of the state apparatus, which Lenin introduced when he wrote that even the meanest cook could run it! All his ideas present the period of transition in general, and the problem of the state in particular, almost like a social harmony containing no great difficulties. All these ideas were to vanish like smoke in the face of harsh reality. This is how Lenin, deprived of his naive visions, described the reality of the functioning of the state, five years later:

"The fault lies in our own state apparatus. We have inherited the old state machine and this is our misfortune. The state apparatus often works against us…

Later he writes:

"In fact, it happens very often that here at the summit where we have the power of the state, the apparatus functions better rather than worse, whereas at the bottom things often go against what we want. At the summit of the power structure we have, we do not know exactly how many, but at least a few thousand, and at the most tens of thousands, of our own people. But at the base of the hierarchy, hundreds of thousands of former functionaries that we have inherited from the Tsar and bourgeois society are working, partly consciously, partly unconsciously, against us"[1]

This is still obviously not the core of the problem of the state, but even at this level we can ask what happened to the simple cooks Lenin counted on in 1917 to run the state? What happened? Did Russia run out of cooks?

The differences between the beguiling predictions of State and Revolution and the post-revolutionary reality could only grow clearer each day, and this showed up the immaturity of revolutionary thought on the state in the period of transition as it had existed on the eve of October. Lenin talked about the state in anguished terms:

Our state apparatus is to a considerable extent a survival of the past and has undergone hardly any serious change. It has only been slightly touched up on the surface, but in all other respects it is a most typical relic of our old state machine.[2]

The whole reality of soviet power after October, the growing conflict between the working masses and the state, gave the lie to the idyllic thesis of State and Revolution, and showed that not only had the problem of the state in the period of transition not been resolved, it hadn't even been posed in the correct terms. The debate on the unions showed just how much the problem of the state and its relation to the class had been distorted, when a proposition was put forward – seriously advanced and debated in a Congress of a Communist Party – to militarise the working class. Lenin's redefinition of the state as a “workers' and peasants' state with bureaucratic deformations”, which he put forward against the idea of militarising the class in the name of the "workers' state", came closer to reality, but it was more of a reaction than a real analysis of the state in the period of transition. The situation rapidly developed and we can see now that the counter-revolution took place not against the state, but through the state, through the strengthening of the state against the working class.

The mystification represented by the idea of the workers' state and its defence was to play as important a role as anti-fascism in mobilising the workers of the world to fight in the second imperialist war. This reality forced the Left Communists to return to the heart of the problem of the state, its nature and its function in the proletarian revolution.

We have tried to point out the long road travelled by revolutionaries in their search to understand the theoretical basis of the state in general, and the state of the transition period in particular. It was an extremely difficult and arduous road, and its contours have only become clear slowly, in the course of the journey itself. Our intention here was not to provide a detailed chronological history, but simply to demonstrate its complexity, its incompleteness, and the dangers involved in it. We say this in opposition to those comrades who, out of a fear of novelties, believe they can remain on the solid ground of “orthodox marxism” by sticking to the letter of texts written by Marx, Engels and Lenin, rather than to the spirit behind their approach. In doing so, such comrades take up their incomplete thoughts rather than following their example of elaborating the revolutionary theory of the class in the light of new experience. And though the whole tragic experience of the revolution and the counter-revolution calls into question the notion of the “proletarian” state, these comrades, in order to remain faithful to the dead letter of orthodoxy, prefer not to see the dangers of the state, to minimise them to the point of erasing them and even making an apology for the state itself.

In their concept of the proletarian state, the comrades are simply making a virtue out of necessity. Forgetting Engels' warnings about the state being an evil inherited by the proletariat from the past, they sing praises to the state and find all kind of virtues in it. Their enthusiasm for these newly discovered virtues is so great that it applies not only to the “proletarian” state, but to the state “in general”, to all states which at a given moment were “agents of progress”. We will have to turn from the state in the period of transition to the state in general, to the state in the past, its nature and its functions. We are forced to go down this path.

Let us say straight away that, with all the necessary reservations, there is certainly a continuity between the state in general and the state in the period of transition, not in the virtues that the comrades think they have discovered, but in what Engels referred to as an “inheritance”, as a continuity of an evil. Having said this, these comrades' thesis can be summed up as follows:

  1. the state is simply the power of coercion and repression of a class, of which it is the prolongation;
  2. as such, it follows the evolution of this class; progressive when the class is progressive; repressive when the class is repressive;
  3. however, it sometimes happens that the state precedes the class and is to some extent the precursor which prepares the way for the new progressive class.

As is often the case, the error is not in what is said, but in what is not said. A half-truth can indicate an error as much as a complete lie. This is the case with proposition (a) regarding the definition of the state. When asked: "Is the state a power of coercion and repression?", all revolutionaries, marxist and even non-marxist, would answer "yes" without hesitation. But is the state only that? Any serious marxist would answer "no". Coercion and repression are certainly part of the essence of the state, but not the whole essence. What applies to private property can be applied to the state. The development of private property was a fundamental precondition for arriving at capitalism, and has been so mixed up with it that the habits of language have led to a complete identification between the two, as if they were synonymous. For a long time this did not involve any major inconvenience. But it was enough for private property to tend to give way to the formation of an impersonal, anonymous capital for some people, those stuck in a literal orthodoxy, to interpret this as a tendency towards the disappearance of capitalism. It's the same with the coercive force of the state. Against democrats of all hues, we have so emphasized that the state can't be separated from coercion that some of us have forgotten that coercion can exist and has existed without the state, and have made violence and coercion the only aspect of the state. It's a bit like the obtuse bourgeoisie Marx attacked so sarcastically in the Communist Manifesto, who, after hearing that the communists were for the community of goods, concluded that the communists wanted the community of women. Certain marxists after hearing that the proletariat will necessarily use violence, conclude that the proletariat will “build” a state, and mix up (to the point of making an identification between) the proletariat, its class dictatorship, and the existence and function of the state.

At first sight, it's rather surprising that M. and S. have gone to so much trouble to prove to us that the state is neither outside, nor above, society and that it doesn't precede the existence of classes. These are banalities. What windmills are our Don Quixotes attacking here? Who among us has ever held the position they are attacking? Underlying all this is the idea that the state is simply the prolongation of a class: each class creates its state like God creating man ex nihilo in his own image. And why, after all, shouldn't the proletariat also create a state for itself? And thus we have the proof of the identity between the proletariat and the state in the period of transition. To support his argument, S. takes us back to the origins of the state where he juggles with the state and the class, like the Sophists did with the dilemma of the chicken and the egg. He takes us back to gentile society and there strolls about with such nonchalance that he might as well be promenading in the Place de la Concorde. For M. and S., history has no secrets. Just like a sheet of music, the notes of history are neatly arranged in the right order. Their vision is more or less as follows: in gentile society there was no state although a certain hierarchical division of functions was already present. And this gave rise to a development which ended in the formation of classes. The slave-holding class, the most powerful of these classes, got together and decided to set up a state to keep the slaves in line. Things happened in a similar way with the feudal and the capitalist state. It's clear, simple, no more complicated than that.

Marx and Engels were also familiar with the Place de la Concorde, but they explored history with a bit more care. Let's recall Engels' classic definition of the state in his Origins of the Family:

The state is a product of society at a certain stage of development; it is the admission that this society has become entangled in an insoluble contradiction with itself, that it is cleft into irreconcilable antagonisms which it is powerless to dispel. But in order that these antagonisms; classes with conflicting economic interests, might not consume themselves and society in sterile struggle, a power seemingly standing above society became necessary for the purpose of moderating the conflict, of keeping it within the bounds of “order”; and this power; arisen out of society, but placing itself above it, and increasingly alienating itself from it, is the state.[3]

We can see how broad Engels' way of looking at the development of the state was. We're a long way from the following type of schematic simplification:

(society) => (Class) => (Ruling Class) => (State)

in which the state is merely a grandson or even great-grandson of society.

For Engels, the state is directly "the product of society at a certain stage of development", when "this society has become entangled in an insoluble contradiction with itself". No society can survive and maintain itself in such a situation; it would lead to its ruin if it allowed the classes to “consume” each other and society as a whole. In order to avoid such a social catastrophe, society has to find a solution: not a solution in the sense of a conscious, concerted act, but as a need imposed on it, not coming from the outside but from the inside, from the very entrails of society. It's not a question of conciliation, of mediation between the antagonistic interests which divide society. It's a question of providing a social framework, a social “order”, necessary to maintain – or as Engels put it – moderate conflicts within the limits of this order. The accredited guardian of this “order” – in the broadest sense of the word all the administrative, political, juridical, ideological and artistic superstructures secreted by society out of its own needs – is the state. When we study the origins of the state, how it emerged out of gentile society, the question isn't to ask whether it precedes the formation of classes. The point is to avoid making a mechanistic link between class and state, not because classes didn't precede the state, but because this is a narrow, incomplete, simplified way of formulating the problem, which leaves out the whole complexity of historical reality. We don't want to give a talk on ethnography, but we must recall the main characteristics of gentile society: it was fundamentally a natural society: on the one hand it was dominated externally by nature, by natural forces such as the climate, vegetation, and game; on the other hand, it was constituted and organised internally on the basis of natural ties – blood ties. These natural elements underlay its internal unity and cohesion. Its life and economic activity were directed towards immediate consumption – gathering, hunting and fishing. Little or no division of labour existed, even though a division of functions began to appear in its higher stages:

  • no private property;
  • a necessary community of goods;
  • a long, slow process of the development of the productive forces – the discovery of domestication and stock-breeding, the development of agriculture;
  • the development of the division of labour, of exchange, of hoarding, of accumulation, of wealth leading to private property;
  • wars of pillage, the need for defence, public works;
  • the end of the matriarchal family – the domination of women by men;
  • demographic development;
  • the possibility of using labour power to produce a surplus;
  • and thus slavery;
  • the formation of castes and of divergent and antagonistic interests.

This whole evolution could no longer be contained in the framework of gentile society and led to the dislocation of the community. This dislocation was simultaneously, and dialectically, the liberation of man from his total dependence on nature, since he could now produce what he needed to survive, and – with the end of the old cohesion – the loss of man's unity, the beginning of the new era of the alienation of man by social forces that he himself had created.

The loss of its former cohesion and unity and the conflicts between antagonistic interests now constituted into classes, left a vacuum which society, like nature, could only abhor. It became an imperious necessity for society to reconstitute cohesion and unity on a new basis in the midst of all these convulsions. This new basis was no longer grounded on blood ties, but on territorial demarcations; it involved the recognition and submission to new economic structures – exploitation, classes. And finally, the whole was encapsulated in a social superstructure, a power based on its own material force, on an armed force henceforward separated from society, in a word, the state.

As we can see, this vision is both broader and deeper and takes in much more of the complexity of the problem than the simple statement that "the state is the prolongation of the class", even though the first contains the latter. We can, of course, find such a terse definition of the state in marxist literature, but in order to understand it, we must always situate it in its context and take all the circumstances into account to see what such a definition is trying to prove and against what adversary it's being used. To say, for example, that "the glass is half-full" is a static, dead assertion and it gives us no sense of movement, of the direction taken by this movement, and what we can expect from it. On the other hand, if we say "the glass is still half-full or already half-full; already half-empty or still half-empty", we can immediately and clearly see the movement, the intentions and concerns of the speaker – what he is trying to show us – and the extent to which he has succeeded in doing so. It's not a question of reading words and copying them down. It's a question of knowing how to read, because a word in itself can be used to say the opposite of what the author intended to say. To remain faithful to the idea of the text one is citing, one has to know how to interpret it and to put the whole thing into its proper context.

If we're going to refer to State and Revolution for example, we have to understand what Lenin was trying to say, and whether he succeeded in saying it or not.

Lenin didn't attempt to give Kautsky a lesson on the origins of the state. He assumed, quite rightly, that the latter was as familiar with the subject as he was. What Lenin was trying to do was to show that Kautsky was a renegade from his class, a renegade outside marxism, who was deforming the whole essence of marxism. And Lenin succeeded masterfully in doing this. Against Kautsky's conceptions, Lenin only wanted to show one thing: that the state was directly linked to the exploiting classes in order to hold down the exploited classes. Like a bulldog, Lenin grabbed hold of Kautsky on this one point and didn't let go of him. Other aspects of the problem he only discussed in passing. That's why in the present discussion it's senseless to refer to the anti-Kautsky Lenin.

What are M. and S. trying to show us? That the state in the period of transition is “proletarian”, or as they would put it, that the state is a “prolongation” of the proletariat? And in order to prove this, they take us on a tour of gentile society (with Bilan as our guide). We are taken on this tour just like tourists are taken round Paris: "Here is Notre Dame, built in… On your right is the Sainte Chapelle where Marie Antoinette stayed before her execution…, on your left is the Place de Concorde…". S. teaches us how gentile society gave rise to a class, the slave-masters, and this class gave rise to an institution called the state which had the function of keeping the slaves down by force. That's the lot. The whole historical drama that mankind has lived through: the destruction of the “natural world”, the beginning of the era of social alienation and all that this brought with it – classes, exploitation, struggles and revolutions, the state – of this S. says very little. The whole thing is presented as a storm in a teacup, when in fact we are dealing with the transition in human history from the primitive thesis to the antithesis which negated it, and which has lasted for thousands of years, until the conditions have been developed for this in turn to be negated by the synthesis, the re-constitution of the human community.

Before responding to the question of how this historical drama is to be resolved, we must first of all say that the bearer of the “solution” is not the one who poses the problem. In the social sphere, at the level of great historical changes, it's generally the other way round. And now, we can see with Engels, the answer to the problem posed:

As the state arose from the need to hold class antagonisms in check, but as it arose at the same time in the midst of the conflict of these classes, it is, as a rule, the state of the most powerful, economically dominant class, which, through the medium of the state, becomes also the politically dominant class, and thus acquires new means of holding down and exploiting the oppressed class.

A few passing remarks: first, a class is an economic definition and it is a marxist postulate that only economically dominant classes can become politically dominant. This only works in one direction. This has to be said against Burnham and Socialisme ou Barbarie which both claimed that the state bureaucracy could become an economically dominant class, thus creating a new “bureaucratic society”. Secondly, the passage from the economic domination of a class to its political domination is a law throughout the period of class society. This period goes from the end of gentile society to the end of capitalism. This law doesn't apply to the proletariat because its revolution opens up a new era in human history, which will not have any room for economic domination. It's thus a profound theoretical error to talk, as certain texts do, about “the proletariat also becoming economically dominant”. Dominating the economy and being economically dominant are two distinct things. An economically dominant class can only be a class which exploits and oppresses the dominated class. This is an absolute logical contradiction. in relation to the proletariat. Thirdly, this same theoretical error leads to an amalgam that says it is irrelevant, whether a class derives its power and domination from political or economic sources. As we have seen, the laws which regulate the pre-socialist era, and the “laws” of socialism, are not identical, but fundamentally different. In the pre-socialist era, laws derive only from an economic source, whereas in the period of transition the proletariat cannot have any economic source to its rule. It is meaningless to try to apply the laws of one era to another.

To go back to our subject and the text quoted previously, we can see that Engels makes a distinction between the source of the problem (society) and the bearer of the solution (the economically dominant class), but we will return to this later. It's worth saying that after carefully posing the problem and before giving an answer, Engels used these five words: "it is, as a rule", a formulation which has a restrictive application (elsewhere in the same quotation, Engels uses the term "in general" which has the same restrictive meaning).

Why such restriction? Because the general laws and concrete conditions in which it is applied are not necessarily identical – in reality they only come together rarely (without being a scientist, I think it's possible to find the same thing in all scientific disciplines). We are a long way from the simplification which holds that the state always corresponds to the economically dominant class and is its exact image. Like all ideological, political, juridical and other superstructures, the state also generally “lags behind” the changing reality of the infrastructure. According to their links with the infrastructure and other circumstantial factors, superstructures take a more or less long time to decompose, before vanishing completely. Superstructures certainly play a great role in society, but essentially a negative and conservative one by their very nature. They represent the past, dead time which weighs so heavily on living man.

As for the state, its conservative role is particularly strong, because this role is closely linked to supporting and defending classes which have lost their dominant position, but still have an extremely strong economic position in society. We can see some modes of production surviving for a long time and even reappearing in certain historical circumstances favourable to them and the classes which represent them. An example: slavery had long disappeared in Europe, yet countries such as England which had already gone beyond feudalism and were fully developed capitalisms, became the champions of slavery. Liverpool became a flourishing centre of the slave trade between Africa and America.

Slavery went on until the first decade of the second half of the nineteenth century, by which time even backward Tsarist Russia had abolished serfdom. If such backward movements are possible even at the level of the infrastructure, why should we be surprised at what happens at the superstructural level of the state? The whole of history shows that the state is always behind the development of the social base, never in advance of it. We don't want to give a history lesson. Other comrades can take up this theme and give more examples; it's enough to recall the lengthy and predominant influence of the landowners over the state in England, even though the industrial bourgeoisie had been the economically dominant class for a long time. It's enough to recall that the German bourgeoisie endured the political domination of the Prussian Junkers and the Bismarckian state until 1918. Counter-examples can be reduced to the Absolute Monarchy, or to Peter the Great, and are simply ridiculous.

Why is it the economically dominant classes which "as a rule" bring the "solution"? The answer is contained in the question itself. Let's quote Engels again:

The state was the official representative of society as a whole, its summation in a visible corporation; but it was this only in so far as it was the state of that class which itself, in its epoch, represented society as a whole.[4]

It's time to conclude, although many things have been left unsaid. We will have the opportunity to go back to these points. I simply wanted to respond to the question posed about the origin of the state and make a few adjacent remarks.

To sum up:

  1. The state is the sign that society is divided into antagonistic, irreconcilable interests. It is the product of society. It is the false unity of a broken community and the condition for the survival of society. The state is an institution which incarnates and materialises non-unity and tends to maintain and to conserve the life of society in this framework. Maintaining this framework becomes the raison d'etre, the social function of this institution; and this institution will last as long as society is divided, whatever class dominates the economic structure of society.
  2. At different stages, as modes of production and the classes connected to them dominate society, these classes tend to regroup together and dominate the superstructures, and in particular the political superstructure – the state. Seen at this level, the state appears as the instrument of exploiting classes in general.[5]
  3. To carry out this function in the midst of the class struggle, and with the aim of holding down the exploited class, the state relies on a material force, armed power, which it monopolises, and partially on economic power. It thus acquires its own force and tends to elevate itself above society, to dominate it.

This leads to a growing opposition between the state and civil society. The state gets stronger at a time when the general historic era of class society is reaching its end. This also applies to the decline of each class society within this era (the Absolute Monarchy, etc).

State capitalism is the high point of the historical existence of the state: it is a political and economic power unified in a totalitarian manner. It is the domination and absorption of civil society.


The proletarian revolution signifies the necessity to do away with class divisions. It's the beginning of the end of the institution which personifies this kind of society: the state.

All previous revolutions merely perfected and strengthened the state machine. The proletarian revolution will go in a different direction – not towards identification with the state, but towards a greater and greater distinction from it, towards its active, accelerated “withering away”.

This is the essence of the draft resolution presented to the IInd Congress of the ICC.

Marc Chirik, Révolution Internationale / France, June 1977


[1]Lenin, Report to the IVth Congress  of the Communist International, November 1922

[2]Lenin, “How We Should Reorganise  the Workers' and Peasants' Inspection”, January 1923.

[3]Engels, The Origins of the Family…

[4]Engels, Anti-Dühring

[5]Just as prices don't translate the value of each commodity taken in isolation, but the value of commodities as a whole, so the state only expresses imperfectly and impartially each different, economically dominant class, but fully expresses the whole historic period of class society.