State and Revolution

Review

 

Rating: 5/5

Time to read: several hours

Level: Intermediate

One of Lenin’s most famous works, State and Revolution explores the role of the state according to Marxism and how it evolves through various political-economic systems. I highly recommend this book for anyone who wants to learn more about what the state is, how it operates, and what form it takes under capitalism, socialism, and communism.

This book is fairly short, and, although it might be a bit difficult to read at first, you will likely get used to it as you read more. The content is very impressive and profound–although it was written 100 years ago (exactly, down to the month of this post), State and Revolution still remains uncannily relevant today, and many of the statements in the book could have been written in 2017 instead of 1917. This book is also an excellent resource in showing the theoretical and practical shortcomings of democratic socialism and Anarchism. This text will continue to remain relevant so long as we are on the path from capitalism onward to socialism and eventually to communism.

I rated this book 5/5 for its deep and insightful explanations of the state and the various forms it will take. This book is well worth your time to read.


Glossary

 

Bourgeoisie: the owners of the means of production and the ruling (oppressing) class under capitalism

Dictatorship of the bourgeoisie: a class dictatorship of the bourgeoisie, meaning that the bourgeoisie rules over all other classes and holds complete power

Dictatorship of the proletariat: a class dictatorship of the proletariat, meaning that the workers rule over all other classes and hold complete power

Proletariat: the oppressed property-less (property refers to means of production) workers under capitalism who operate the means of production and produce commodities

State: the tool of the ruling class to maintain their authority and legitimacy over all other classes


Overview

 

According to Marxism, the state is a tool of domination and repression used by the ruling class to maintain its dominance over the oppressed classes. The state has clearly taken many different forms over the centuries since its origin, as it has been used to maintain the dominance of various economic forms. However, regardless of who the ruling class is, be it the proletariat or the bourgeoisie, the state will always serve this same ultimate function as a means of oppression and domination.

From this definition, we can say that the state under capitalism serves the bourgeoisie and is used to oppress the proletariat–the bloody and violent oppression of the majority by the minority. This is very evident upon looking at the laws and the methods of enforcement of these laws in capitalist countries. In every capitalist country, the laws are geared towards maintaining the power of the bourgeoisie over the proletariat. Granted, some laws are more apparent in reaching this aim than others; however, be it a minimum wage law or a law that cuts taxes for large corporations, they both ultimately serve the interests of the ruling class–the minimum wage law serving as a concession to the proletariat in the hopes of temporarily appeasing workers and staving off revolt, and the tax cuts helping the ruling class by allowing them to concentrate more wealth in their hands and thus increase their power at the expense of the proletariat.

The bourgeois state also takes on various forms, such as bourgeois democracy, fascism, or monarchy. But as mentioned before, regardless of which form the state takes under capitalism–or under any system at that–it still achieves the same goal. Thus, regardless of the form of government under capitalism, the rule of the bourgeoisie is referred to as the “dictatorship of the bourgeoisie,” as the bourgeoisie is the ruling class and carries out the autocratic repression of the workers. The democracy and liberties afforded under bourgeois democratic republics ultimately serve the interests of the bourgeoisie in maintaining their power. Every few years, they’ll put on a show about which member of the ruling class will oppress the proletariat next, and, after all of this, pretend as though it is the proletariat who chose them! These false illusions of an open and democratic society serve the bourgeoisie by making their rule seem legitimate and therefore incontestable, branding anyone who threatens their rule as “undemocratic.” Fascism, on the other hand, is still bourgeois rule–just without the false illusions of freedom and liberty propagated by liberalism.

So, because the purpose of the bourgeois state is to oppress the majority by the minority, the only way to end it is through violent proletarian revolution–only through the uprising of the vast majority of the population to take power by any means necessary can the old be thrown out and be replaced by the new progressive socialist force. The proletariat must crush the bourgeois state machinery and reconstruct the state anew, this time to serve the interests of the majority and suppress the minority.

The state under socialism takes on a radically different form. Yet, the purpose still applies–this time, however, the state is used by the workers to suppress their former masters. For this reason, the proletarian state is referred to as the “dictatorship of the proletariat,” in which the workers violently repress the old ruling class through the newly seized and constructed state apparatus. With the proletariat in power and the old bourgeoisie silenced and repressed, the workers are free to build towards a future that meets their needs as opposed to the needs of the wealthy. Thus, the dictatorship of the proletariat is the most democratic period, in which the state is used to regulate the dominance of the will of the majority over the minority. However, the proletarian state must also be highly centralized. The path to communism is long, and the goal of the proletarian government is to ensure that the workers have the best possible conditions. Only through a highly centralized state can the country develop at the fastest possible rate (as is proven by the Soviet Union, the People’s Republic of China, and the various other socialist states that have transformed from a backwards rural country to a highly industrialized one within a relatively short time period), with the democratically controlled government allocating and distributing resources and planning the economy to meet the people’s needs. Thus, the new proletarian state must be constructed accordingly, with a dialectical combination of democracy and centralism in every institution.

Overtime, as socialism continues to advance, the need for a state will gradually decrease. As everyone learns the skills necessary to lead and carry out production, there will no longer be a need for a higher authority to make these decisions. Additionally, as socialism progresses, the distinctions between various classes disappear as jobs begin to incorporate even amounts of both mental and physical labor. This is opposed to the capitalist division, in which the higher-paid and more prestigious jobs rely solely on mental labor, while the working-class jobs are almost entirely physical labor.

So as class distinctions disappear, so does the state. This is because the state is used as a tool to maintain the dominance of one class over another, and if there are no classes to suppress, then there is no need for a state. Thus, as socialism nears communism, the state begins to wither away until its complete disappearance. For this reason, communism is the period in which there are no classes, and therefore no state.

The Marxist notion of the state is opposed to that of the Anarchists’. While both Marxists and Anarchists call for the ultimate destruction of the state, Anarchists support the idea of “abolishing the state,” which they argue comes immediately after the revolution that overthrows the bourgeoisie. Instead, Marxists argue that the state cannot simply disappear overnight, and instead should be used until it is no longer necessary. For example, an organized force must be in place to deal with external invasion or internal bourgeois counterrevolution (both of which happened in the Soviet Union). Anarchists have no way of dealing with this. Or, Anarchists have no thorough way of transitioning people from the individualistic and tyrannical society of capitalism to an open and collective society. In Marxism, the period of socialism serves this end–it quickly develops the country and politicizes the masses of the people, transitioning from the highly restrictive and miserable conditions of capitalism to the free and open society guaranteed by communism. Finally, with a highly centralized and democratic state under socialism, the social conditions and standard of living of the people are able to quickly accelerate.


Notes

 

What is the State?

  • The state arose from the need of one class to maintain and regulate its domination over other classes, serving as a narrow framework that society must operate by (8)
  • The state is the product and manifestation of irreconcilable class antagonisms (8)
    • The existence of the state proves that classes are irreconcilable, since the state began as and is used as a tool to subjugate one class by another (8)
    • The state only exists where there are class antagonisms and thus class struggle (8)
  • The state is an organ of class domination and oppression, created for the purpose of maintaining an “order” that legalizes and justifies this oppression (9)
  • Every state is a repressive force of one class by another, and for this reason, no state can either be free or a “people’s state” (i.e. there will always be some people repressed) (18)
    • “Where there is suppression there is also violence, there is no liberty, no democracy.” (73)
    • In the hands of the bourgeoisie, the minority exploit and oppress the majority, while in the hands of the proletariat, the majority suppress the minority (17)
    • While the state exists, there is no freedom for everyone. The purpose of the state is to maintain the dominance of one class over another through violent suppression, and therefore freedom cannot exist for some in society so long as the state exists (79)
  • “Justice can never rise superior to the economic conditions of society and the cultural development conditioned by them.” (Marx) (77)
  • Rights are meaningless without an apparatus enforcing the rights (82)

The State under Capitalism

  • Capitalism is the suppression of the majority by the minority; socialism is the suppression of the minority by the majority; and communism is no suppression and therefore no state (74)
  • “Freedom in capitalist society always remains just about the same as it was in the ancient Greek republics: freedom for the slave-owners.” (72)
  • “To decide once every few years which member of the ruling class is to repress and oppress the people through parliament–this is the real essence of bourgeois parliamentarism” (40)
  • Equal right–or any other “right”–is a bourgeois right in that it applies the same condition to all people, who are inherently unequal in condition. Thus, treating everyone equally is ultimately a violation of equality, due to the natural difference among humans (76)
    • For this reason, rights, instead of being equal, should be unequal (77)
  • Progress does not march onward towards greater and greater democracy; instead, progress marches towards communism, and any deviation from this is not in fact progress as there is no other way to fully smash the capitalist system (73)
  • The bourgeois state does not wither away, and is instead crushed by the proletariat via socialist revolution. Only under socialism does the state slowly wither away (17)

The State under Socialism

  • Since the state is a tool of the ruling class which stands above society, violent revolution and the destruction of this state apparatus is necessary for the liberation of the working class (9)
    • The replacement of the bourgeois state with the proletarian state is only possible through violent revolution, while the abolition of the proletarian state can only be achieved by its gradual withering away (20)
  • The proletariat cannot simply take hold of the bourgeois state machinery following the revolution–they must smash this “ready-made machinery” and instead erect new structures which suit the needs of the proletariat, of the majority of society (33)
  • The first task of the revolution is for the proletariat to raise itself to the ruling class and establish democracy (21)
    • The governing body of a state should be a “working, not parliamentary body, executive and legislative at the same time.” (39)
    • The destruction of parliamentarism will come about with the democratization of the entire national economy and state officials (44)
  • The functions of the state have become so simplified that every literate person will be able to conduct them, and carry them out for “workingmen’s wages,” which will strip the position of any privilege it held under capitalism (38)
    • All state officials will be democratically elected, subject to recall at any time, and paid minimum wage (38)
  • In order to prevent the transformation of the government into a bureaucracy under socialism, it is necessary to take several preventative measures:
    • Open elections as well as instant recall if the elected official is not doing their job
    • Payment no higher than the ordinary worker
    • Ability for everyone to do the tasks at hand, and therefore everyone has the ability to be part of the government (92)
  • Under socialism, all will take part in the everyday management of affairs and will take turns managing, soon becoming accustomed to the idea of having no managers at all since everyone will have the skill of doing so (98)
  • All citizens under socialism will become the armed employees and workers of the state, organized into collectives that best suit the interests of the people (83)
  • The proletariat needs state power both for centralization and violence, to both guide the proletariat and crush any resistance by the bourgeoisie (28)
    • The proletariat need the state in order to crush its former oppressors, not for “freedom;” when freedom for everyone begins to exist in a society, then the state will no longer exist as it ceases to have a function (73)
    • When the minority is in power and suppresses the majority (i.e. under capitalism), then highly sophisticated and advanced machinery is necessary for this large-scale exploitation. However, when the state is in the hands of the majority, almost no special apparatus of suppression is necessary–only a simply organized force of workers may be necessary (75)
  • The old survives in the new; this can be seen in the doctrine of socialist society, in that some bourgeois rights and systems still exist (such as the existence of the state and wage labor), although will ultimately be destroyed as society advances further on and moves past its necessity (82)
  • Once the proletariat take hold of the state, the state will begin to wither away–since the majority will for the first time be suppressing the minority, a “special force” for this suppression will gradually fall out of need (37)

The State under Communism

  • Overtime there will no longer be any need for the state, as people will become used to carrying out necessary functions of government and living collectively without any systems of exploitation as opposed to antagonistically in exploitative relationships (74)
    • People are all readily accustomed to the rules of life in common; if there is no exploitation and no reason for protest or revolt, then there will be no reason for there to be any suppression (74)
  • The state becomes unnecessary when it becomes representative of society as a whole (i.e. there are no classes to dominate) (16)
    • Only communism is capable of giving a complete democracy, and the more complete it is, the more unnecessary it becomes. If everyone is actively involved in the maintenance and well-being of society, then there will no longer be any need of an apparatus (the state) to enforce such a system (74)
      • “With the diffusion of democracy among such an overwhelming majority of the population, the need for special machinery of suppression will begin to disappear” (75)
        • Thus, the destruction of the state also means the destruction of democracy–it will no longer be necessary to regulate when it has become the norm (68)
      • Democracy is not just the principle of the subordination of the minority to the majority–it is the state enforcing this subordination through the use of violence by one class against another (68)
  • Only communism renders the state unnecessary, as there is no class to suppress (75)
    • Of course there may be individuals who must be suppressed from time to time, but this can be done through the people themselves–an entire state structure for the suppression of a few individuals from time to time will by no means be necessary (75)
    • Additionally, the material root of such actions that would require suppression is related to exploitation and the antagonistic division of classes, and, with this abolished, the material incentive for such detrimental actions would disappear (75)
  • The state withers away so long as there are no class distinctions and therefore no classes to suppress (78)
    • No classes means no difference between the members of society in their relation to production (73)
  • Marx applies materialist dialectics–the process of evolution–to communism as something that evolves out of capitalism (81)
    • Communism and societal transformation should be treated the same way in which a biologist would consider the evolution of a new biological species given its origin and the direction it had changed. This simply means that the transition of capitalism to socialism to communism is the natural evolution of the systems given the path that it has followed in the past (70)
    • Socialists do not “promise” that the highest phase of communism will come about–it is inevitable; just as the evolution of one thing from another will doubtlessly occur, so too will the development of socialism and eventually communism doubtlessly arise from the ashes of capitalist society (80)
  • The state will be able to wither away completely when it is realized throughout society, “to each according to his ability, to each according to his need.” (79)

Marxism vs. Anarchism

  • The principle of federalism arises from the petty-bourgeois views of Anarchism (46)
  • Centralism can differ in form (and thus not all types of centralism are inherently bad, as Anarchists believe)–under socialism, there is democratic, proletarian centralism, while under capitalism, there exists bourgeois, military, bureaucratic centralism (46)
    • Democratically centralized republics have historically given more local and provincial freedom than federal republics (62)
  • The state will only remain for a period of time–there is no disagreement between communists and Anarchists on the destruction of the state as an aim (52)
    • However, it is not necessary to “abolish” the state–its institutions will cease to function overtime as it becomes more and more superfluous (56)
    • Marxists want the eventual destruction of the state through the period of socialism; Anarchists want to abolish the state immediately after the revolution (65)
    • Marxists want to substitute the bourgeois state for a proletarian state in order to aid in the development of society until the state is no longer necessary; Anarchists have no clear plan of what will proceed after the abolition of the state (65)
    • In order to destroy the state, it is necessary to convert the functions of the government to simple tasks which the vast majority of the people are capable of doing (65)
  • Anarchists place all types of states in the same category, while Marxists discern between different types of states
    • States under a bourgeois democratic republic or under a monarchy are still oppressive; however, the wider, freer, and more open form of class struggle allowed under a bourgeois democratic republic is much more advantageous for the proletariat in its fight to abolish all classes (65)
      • Marxists wish to use the modern state as a tool for preparing for revolution; Anarchists reject this (94-95)

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