Political turmoil is revealing the capitalist system’s most intimate and secret inner workings. All the instruments that have been designed and perfected over centuries to impose and preserve the rule of a tiny minority of outrageously wealthy capitalists over the vast majority are being laid bare.
The main tool for achieving this is the state, which can be simply defined as “armed bodies of men” employed in the defence of the property relations of the ruling class. This includes both repressive bodies like the army and police, but also the courts and judiciary.
Revolution is back on the agenda on a world scale. We are witnessing the radicalisation of the class struggle and the first attempts by the youth and the working class to shake off oppressive rule. In this context, a correct understanding of the state is of vital importance. Millions of people are beginning to understand through their own experience that the capitalist state and its repressive forces stand in the way of any attempt to challenge the dominant position of the capitalists in society and transform it.
How did the state arise historically in the first place? Has it always existed? What is its function? What is the nature of bourgeois democracy and capitalist rule? Could the existing bourgeois state be used by the exploited to transform society and effect revolutionary change? Can political power for the working class be achieved merely through electoral means? Could the state be abolished or overthrown and what type of organisation should humanity strive for when capitalism is overthrown? What are the tasks for the working class and a socialist revolution in relation to the state, and how can it succeed?
Only an accurate study of Marxist theory can provide an answer to these questions.
Learn the basics
Standing between the working class and the socialist transformation of society is a colossal state machine. Where did it come from? What purpose does it serve? Can it be reformed?
“The state is a machine for the oppression of one class by another, a machine for holding in obedience to one class other, subordinated classes.”
Alan Woods discusses the invaluable theoretical lessons contained within Lenin's seminal pamphlet, The State and Revolution.
The European Union throws up a number of questions for Marxists, not just in terms of our perspectives for the class struggle in Europe, but also theoretical questions on the nature of the EU and the attitude of Marxists to the idea of European integration.
Marxism sets out from the idea that "force is the midwife of every old society pregnant with a new one," that the state consists of armed bodies of men, and that it is an instrument of the ruling class.
This document from 1949 draws upon a wealth of material from the great teachers of Marxism to describe the character of the 'transitional' state between capitalism and socialism.
“In no civilized capitalist country does “democracy in general” exist; all that exists is bourgeois democracy.”
“The Commune shows us the heroism of the working masses, and their talent to sacrifice themselves in the name of the future, but at the same time it shows us the incapacity of the masses to choose their path, thus permitting the enemy to regain its breath.”
Written in the summer of 1917, in the heat of the Russian Revolution, Lenin’s State and Revolution is a key work of Marxism. Here, Lenin explains that the state is in the final analysis “groups of armed men”: the army and the police, in defence of the ruling class.
The family, private property, and the state – the basic institutions of capitalist society – are neither 'natural' nor everlasting. They are the product of specific economic and social conditions.
Written by Karl Marx as an address to the General Council of the International, with the aim of distributing to workers of all countries a clear understanding of the character and world-wide significance of the heroic struggle of the Communards and their historical experience to learn from.
“The great significance of Marx's explanation is, that here too, he consistently applies materialist dialectics, the theory of development, and regards communism as something which develops out of capitalism.” (Lenin)
Audio & video
In this talk, Ben Gliniecki discusses the history of the capitalist state and the police, and why a workers’ state would offer a clear socialist alternative to the repression and violence seen under capitalism.
Marie Frederiksen of the Danish Marxists discusses the scandals and corruption that is enveloping the bourgeois state at this time of deep capitalist crisis.
Daniel Morley discusses the idea of workers' democracy, contrasting this with the formal democracy that we have under capitalism, and explaining the ways in which the working class can take control of the wider economy.
Adam Booth provides a Marxist analysis of the state, contrasting it against the reformist and anarchist analyses, examines the role of the state today at a time of capitalist crisis, and discusses how society and the state can be transformed in a revolutionary manner.