Submitted by International Review on
During the period of transition the division of society into classes with antagonistic interests will give rise to a state. Such a state will have the task of guaranteeing the advances of this transitional society both against any external or internal attempt to restore the power of the old exploiting classes and maintaining the cohesion of society against any disintegration of the social fabric resulting from conflicts between the non-exploiting classes which still subsist.
The state of the period of transition has a certain number of differences from previous states:
-- for the first time in history, it is not a state in the service of an exploiting minority for the oppression of the majority, but is on the contrary a state in the service of the majority of the exploited and non-exploiting classes and strata against the old ruling minority.
-- it is not the emanation of a stable society and relations of production, but on the contrary of a society whose permanent characteristic is a constant transformation on a greater scale than anything else in history.
-- it cannot identify itself with any economically dominant class because there is no such class in the society of the period of transition.
-- in contrast to states in past societies, the transitional state does not have a monopoly of arms
For all these reasons Marxists have talked about a “semi-state” when referring to the organ that will arise in the transition period.
On the other hand, this state still retains a number of the characteristics of past states.
In particular, it will still be the guardian of the status quo, the task of which will be to codify, legalize and sanction an already existing economic order, to give it a legal force which has to be acknowledged by every member of society.
In the period of transition, the state will tend to conserve the existing state of affairs. Because of this, the state remains a fundamentally conservative organ that will tend:
-- not to favor social transformation but to act against it
-- to maintain the conditions on which its own life depends: the division of society into classes
-- to detach itself from society, to impose itself on society, to perpetuate its own existence and to develop its own prerogatives
-- to bind its existence to the coercion and violence which it will of necessity use during the period of transition, and to try to maintain and reinforce this method of regulating social relations
-- to be a fertile soil for the formation of a bureaucracy, providing a rallying point for elements coming from the old classes and offices which have been destroyed by the revolution.
This is why from the beginning Marxists have always considered the state of the period of transition to be a “scourge”, a “necessary evil”, whose “worst sides” the proletariat will have to “lop off as much as possible” (Engels). For all these reasons, and in contrast to what has happened in the past, the revolutionary class cannot identify itself with the state in the period of transition.
To begin with, the proletariat is not an economically dominant class, either in capitalist society or the transitional society. During the transition period it will possess neither an economy nor any property, not even collectively; it will struggle for the abolition of economy and property. Secondly, the proletariat, the communist class, the subject which transforms the economic and social conditions of the transitional society, will necessarily come up against an organ whose task is to perpetuate these conditions. This is why one cannot talk about a “socialist state”, a “workers’ state” or a “proletarian state” during the period of transition.
This antagonism between the proletariat and the state manifests itself both on the immediate and the historic level.
On the immediate level, the proletariat will have to oppose the encroachments and the pressure of a state which is the manifestation of a society divided into antagonistic classes. On the historic level, the necessary disappearance of the state in communist society, which is a perspective which Marxism always defended, will not be the result of the state’s own dynamic, but the fruit of the pressure mounted on it by the proletariat in its own movement forward, which will progressively deprive it of all its attributes as the progress towards a classless society unfolds. For these reasons, while the proletariat will have to use the state during the transition period, it must retain a complete independence from it. In this sense the dictatorship of the proletariat cannot be confused with the state. Between the two there is a constant relation of force which the proletariat will have to maintain in its favor: the dictatorship of the proletariat is exerted by the working class itself through its own independent armed unitary organs: the workers’ councils. The workers’ councils will participate in the territorial soviets (in which the whole non-exploiting population is represented and from which the state structure will emanate) without confusing themselves with them, in order to ensure its class hegemony over all the structures of the society of the transitional period.