WHAT is the state?
In one of his political dissertations, Lenin uses a passage from Friedrich Engel’s The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State to answer this question.
Engels says: “The state is, therefore, by no means a power forced on society from without; just as little is it ‘the reality of the ethical idea’, ‘the image and reality of reason’, as Hegel maintains. Rather, it 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 has split into irreconcilable antagonisms which it is powerless to dispel. But in order that these antagonisms, these clashes with conflicting economic interests, might not consume themselves and society in fruitless struggle, it became necessary to have a power, seemingly standing above society, that would alleviate the conflict and keep it within the bounds of ‘order’; and this power, arisen out of society but placing itself above it, and alienating itself more and more from it, is the state.”
One aspect stands out in Engels’ definition: that the state is separate not only from either the workers or capitalists but also from society itself. The state is an entity in itself, a power that can be welded not by a class but only by those highly select elements of a class, thereby forming a very exclusive ruling clique. For instance, during the Marcos martial law era, the Marcos cronies, and during the Cory presidency, the Kamaganak, Inc. With the present Duterte dispensation, it seems everything is still up for grabs either by the oligarchs or by a cacophony of leftists.
In seeking their emancipation from oppression and exploitation, Filipino workers have consistently allowed themselves to be enslaved by history’s iconization of their predecessors in the world proletarian struggle although these icons had all ended in failure: the Paris Commune and the Soviet system achieved by the 1917 Bolshevik revolution but crumbled in the 1991 perestroika. There is an urgent need for workers to reinvent now the concept of class liberation. Workers must break free of the notion that such a liberation can be had only through the establishment first of the dictatorship of the proletariat which then will set the final stage for the withering away of the state, the ultimate transition to communism. By orthodox Marxism, once the working class takes over political power, the state becomes a representation of the entire society. Whereupon follows a series of qualitative changes in which the state, being just an instrument of class oppression, is rendered inutile in a society of self-governing humanity. Hence in circumstances where there are no more classes to oppress, of what use is there still for the state? This is the rationale for Lenin’s splendid rhetoric: “The state is not abolished. It withers away.”
It seems ironic that for the 73 years of its existence, the Soviet Union did not achieve that withering away of the state. The perestroika political reform movement associated with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in 1991 signaled the return of bourgeois democratic society in Russia, hence the failure of the Soviet proletariat to achieve Marx’s mandate of communism.
As expected, last Monday’s Labor Day celebration turned out to be another rehash of past May Days. It validated my earlier lament about Filipino workers having barked up the wrong tree in their aspiration for final liberation from oppression and exploitation. Capitalism is not their enemy; it is the history that teaches them to persevere in forcibly wresting political power when they would be better off just recognizing that such power inheres in the economic power they already wield. History is the fertile ground for the revolutionary romance of Marx, Engels and Lenin and their disciples to live on and on, ceaselessly blinding Filipino workers ideologically to the fact that changes in the economic base of society give rise to corresponding changes in the superstructure so that what at one point are evil doctrines become qualitatively good, and vice versa.
In Das Kapital, Marx himself recognizes that at a certain point in the development of society, capitalism had a revolutionary character; it represented a rise in social production, from the backward feudal mode of production to modern industry. In that context, the bourgeoisie was a revolutionary class. But in the Communist Manifesto, Marx condemns capitalism as a fetter to social development and the bourgeoisie as a reactionary class. On what basis does Marx condemn capitalism as retarding society’s progress? On the basis of dialectical and historical materialism which views social development as the product of a predestined process in history whereby changes in the mode of production result in corresponding changes in the relations of production. These relations of production are clarified as being private ownership of the means of production but social character of the producers of commodities or the laborers. Such relations essentially make the workers and the capitalist antagonistic to each other, the antagonism breaking out inevitably in a violent clash.
The workers are thus justified in wresting political power by which to expropriate the fruits of their labor, thereby setting straight the inequity–the unequal relations–of the capitalist system where the workers do not own the wealth they produce while the non-working capitalist owns everything. Correcting this inequity is, to put it simply, what socialism is all about. Marx’s genius consists in successfully preaching to workers this thought as truth, prompting them to launch revolutionary actions for seizure of political power. Applying logic to a well-organized correlation of actual events in history, capitalism is depicted as a restraint to the establishment of socialism, presented as another historical destiny, the calvary on which the cross of working class salvation would be planted. The Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 did effect an internationally popular view that socialism, indeed, was the dominant trend in the world. But then came perestroika and, in the USSR at least, socialism took a nosedive.