This is Chapter Three of my book Lenin For Today.
Chapter 3: The State - and Revolution Today
The State and Revolution is the most famous and important of all Lenin’s many works. Its importance to Lenin can be judged by when it was written – in August and September of 1917, while he was in hiding, at the time of the Kornilov Coup, and on the eve of the insurrection: a time when it can be imagined he had rather a lot to do and a lot on his mind. It is also clear from what he said about it himself in a note to his close associate Kamenev at a moment when he had good cause to fear for his life in July 1917:
Entre nous: if they do me in, I ask you to publish my notebook: “Marxism on the State ” (it got left behind in
Stockholm). It’s bound in a blue cover. It
contains a collection of all the quotations from Marx and Engels, likewise from
Kautsky against Pannekoek. There are a number of remarks and notes, and
formulations. I think it could be published after a week’s work. I believe it
to be important, because not only Plekhanov but also Kautsky have bungled
things. The condition: all this is absolutely entre
The objective historical importance of The State and Revolution is also clear. It was the theoretical foundation of the central slogan of the Revolution, ‘All power to the Soviets’, and thus of the Revolution itself. And here it must be remembered that the idea of soviet power was not only the central aspiration of the Russian working class in 1917 but also the key element in its appeal to the international working class. From
Berlin and Turin
to Limerick, workers who aimed to follow in ’s footsteps formed or tried
to form ‘Soviets’ i.e. workers’ councils. Russia
The State and Revolution drew the sharpest and clearest theoretical dividing line between reformist and revolutionary socialism, and between the Marxism of the Second and of the Third International, between Social Democracy and Communism. That split had already occurred over the question of the First World War, of course, but it was The State and Revolution that completed the break and, as it were, hammered it home, especially for the period when the war was over and revolution was on the agenda across
Europe. Was the goal of the working class movement to win
a parliamentary majority for a socialist party so that it could take control of
the state and thus transform society in a socialist direction, as the German
Social Democratic Party, the British Labour Party and the parties of the Second
International argued? Or was it, as the parties of the Third or Communist
International maintained, to prepare and organise for a working class uprising
which would destroy the existing state apparatus, including its parliament, and
replace it with a ‘soviet’ state, a state based on workers’ councils? The State
and Revolution was the fundamental text of this historic fork in
the road. And it continued to be regarded as an authoritative, almost sacred
text of the international Communist movement long after that movement had
abandoned its central positions in practice. Some idea of the work’s ongoing prestige can
be gleaned from the fact that such leading political theorists of the time as
Lucio Colletti and Ralph Miliband both devoted substantial and largely
approving essays to it in the early seventies.
However it is not The State and Revolution’s historic significance that is my main interest here. Rather my concern is with its contemporary relevance. Are its main theses (still) valid and can and should they be regarded as a guide to action now and in the immediate future? In order to answer this question it is first necessary to set out a summary of Lenin’s argument.
He begins with the assertion that the state is not an eternal institution but the product of the division of society into classes. He quotes from Engels’ The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State:
[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 has split into irreconcilable antagonisms which it is powerless to dispel. But in order that these antagonisms, these classes with conflicting economic interests, might not consume themselves ans society in fruitless struggle, it became necessary to have a power, seemingly standing above society … and alienating itself more and more from it …the state 
This, says Lenin, ‘expresses with perfect clarity the basic idea of Marxism with regard to the historical role and meaning of the state’ which he stresses is that the state is ‘a product and a manifestation of the irreconcilability of class antagonisms’. Lenin then contrasts this with ‘bourgeois and particularly petty bourgeois ideologists’ who have “corrected” Marx ‘to make it appear that the state is an organ for the reconciliation of classes’ whereas ,‘According to Marx, the state is an organ of class rule, an organ for the oppression of one class by another’. He elaborates on this point, again referencing Engels, by stressing that the essence of the state consists of ‘special bodies of armed men having prisons etc at their command’.
From this Lenin draws the obvious conclusion that the modern state is a capitalist state, serving the interests of the capitalist class. This conclusion had, of course, already been drawn repeatedly by Marx and Engels including in The Communist Manifesto. ‘The executive of the modern state is but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie.’ But Lenin drives it home. He stresses that Marx’s dictum applies even to the most democratic republic with full universal suffrage.
[T]he omnipotence of “wealth” is more certain in a democratic republic... A democratic republic is the best possible political shell for capitalism, and, therefore, once capital has gained possession of this very best shell …it establishes its power so securely, so firmly, that no change of persons, institutions or parties in the bourgeois-democratic republic can shake it.
Universal suffrage is also, says Lenin, an instrument of bourgeois rule, ‘a means to decide once very few years which member of the ruling class is to repress and crush the people’ in contrast to ‘the false notion that universal suffrage “in the present-day state" is really capable of revealing the will of the majority of the working people and of securing its realization.’ And he emphatically concludes that, ‘Bourgeois states are most varied in form, but their essence is the same: all these states, whatever their form, in the final analysis are inevitably the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie.[Emphasis in original]’
So far Lenin has been summarising, albeit in markedly more vehement language, the ‘orthodox’ Marxist position on the state. By orthodox I mean not just the actual views of Marx and Engels but what was considered orthodox by the leading parties and leading Marxists of the Second International, that is by German Social Democracy, Karl Kautsky, George Plekhanov and the like. (‘It is not denied [by the Kautskyites-JM] that the state is an organ of class rule or that class antagonisms are irreconcilable’). But at this point Lenin makes a decisive move beyond ‘the orthodoxy’, that is the orthodoxy of the Second International.
He bases himself on Marx and Engels’ observation in their 1872 Preface to The Communist Manifesto that ‘One thing especially was proved by the Commune, viz. that “the working class cannot simply lay hold of the ready-made state machinery and wield it for its own purposes”’.  He then notes that this comment has generally (by the Marxists of the Second International) been interpreted to mean that Marx is emphasising ‘the idea of slow development’ but
As a matter of fact the exact opposite is the case. Marx’s idea is that the working class must break up, smash the ‘ready-made state machinery’ and not confine itself to laying hold of it.
Lenin backs up his interpretation with quotations from the 18th Brumaire of Louis Napoleon and Marx’s 1871 ‘Letter to Kugelman’.
It is this idea – the impossibility of ‘taking over’ the existing state machinery by the working class and the absolute necessity of destroying it – which is the central, the key, idea in The State and Revolution and its decisive innovation. True, this idea is already present in Marx and Engels, as Lenin insists and demonstrates, but it is in a sentence here and a sentence there. It is Lenin who ‘discovers’ this point which had hitherto been lost or ignored, grasps its significance and gives it such emphasis as to make it unavoidable and unignorable. The phrases, ‘the destruction of the apparatus of state power’, ‘abolishing the bourgeois state’, ‘destroying the state machine’, ‘smashing the state’ are repeated again and again and driven home with a force that is both characteristic of Lenin’s writing and almost unique to it.
The significance of this point is that it contradicts the entire previously dominant strategy of the international socialist movement. That strategy, exemplified in the practice of the SPD but also pursued, albeit with national variations, by all the major socialist parties of Europe, was to win governmental power through the accumulation of votes and then use that governmental power to take control of the existing state apparatus (a process often described as ‘the conquest of state power’) which in turn was to be used to transform society.
The question of ‘smashing the state’ is obviously linked to the question of violent revolution, which Lenin also advocates – it is hard to see how the state machine can be ‘smashed’ without any physical and extra-legal confrontation, especially as ‘special bodies of armed men’ constitute the essence of the state – but is nevertheless not identical to it and, in fact, more important. On the one hand, as October 1917 showed, it may be possible to destroy the existing state apparatus (by winning over the rank-and-file of the armed forces etc) with relatively little violence. On the other hand it is possible to have a violent revolution, an armed struggle, which preserves and ‘takes over’ the existing state apparatus (albeit the outcome of this operation will be some form of capitalism – perhaps state capitalism – not workers’ power or socialism).
Taking over the state machine, either by parliamentary or military means, is a strategy in which leaders at the top, whether they are MPs or guerrilla leaders (Alexis Tsipras or Fidel Castro) play the active and predominant part while the mass of the working class are reduced to a supporting role. In contrast ‘smashing the state’ puts a premium on initiative and mass action from below. It is necessary, through force of numbers, to drive the police off the streets and seize police stations; to go to the barracks and win over the soldiers, to form local committees which control areas, to commandeer buses and trains and such like. All of this requires a risen working class acting in its workplaces and neighbourhoods.
This becomes particularly clear when we examine the next question addressed by Lenin which follows directly from dismantling the capitalist state: namely, ‘What is to Replace the Smashed State Machine?’
As Lenin points out Marx had already given a ‘general’ answer to this question in The Communist Manifesto, namely, ‘the proletariat organised as the ruling class… winning the battle of democracy’. But because Marx ‘did not indulge in utopias’ a concrete answer as to ‘the specific forms this organisation would assume’ had to wait for ‘the experience of the mass movement’. This was provided by the Paris Commune.
Using Marx’s analysis of the Commune in The Civil War in France, Lenin identifies a number of key features of the new state that will supplant the old capitalist state. They are: ‘suppression of the standing army, and its replacement by the armed people…The police…turned into the responsible and at all times revocable instrument of the Commune’;  the Commune to be formed of ‘municipal councillors, chosen by universal suffrage in the various wards of Paris, responsible and revocable at any time’: the same recallability to apply to ‘the officials of all other branches of the administration’; ‘the privileges and representation allowances of the high dignitaries of state’ to be abolished and ‘From the Commune downwards, public service to be done at workmen’s wages’.
Commenting on these measures, Lenin writes:
The Commune, therefore, appears to have replaced the smashed state machine “only” by fuller democracy: abolition of the standing army; all officials to be elected and subject to recall. But as a matter of fact this “only” signifies a gigantic replacement of certain institutions by other institutions of a fundamentally different type. This is exactly a case of "quantity being transformed into quality": democracy, introduced as fully and consistently as is at all conceivable, is transformed from bourgeois into proletarian democracy; from the state (= a special force for the suppression of a particular class) into something which is no longer the state proper.
Against anarchism, Lenin insists that a state, the dictatorship of the proletariat, is still necessary ‘to suppress the bourgeoisie and crush their resistance’ and argues that one of the reasons for the Commune’s defeat ‘was that it did not do this with sufficient determination’ But because this new State represents the interests of the majority against the minority (of exploiters) and because it will increasingly involve that majority in its day-to-day work it will already be starting to wither away. Lenin strongly emphasises the anti-bureaucratic character of the new state. He accepts that:
Abolishing the bureaucracy at once, everywhere and completely, is out of the question. It is a utopia. But [he maintains] to smash the old bureaucratic machine at once and to begin immediately to construct a new one that will make possible the gradual abolition of all bureaucracy--this is not a utopia, it is the experience of the Commune, the direct and immediate task of the revolutionary proletariat.
It is this semi-state which, Lenin says (again following Marx and Engels), will wither away completely with the achievement of ‘complete communism’ by which he means a society without class divisions or class struggle and based on the principle (taken from Marx’s Critique of the Gotha Programme) of ‘From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs!’.
We set ourselves the ultimate aim of abolishing the state, i.e., all organized and systematic violence, all use of violence against people in general. We do not expect the advent of a system of society in which the principle of subordination of the minority to the majority will not be observed. In striving for socialism, however, we are convinced that it will develop into communism and, therefore, that the need for violence against people in general, for the subordination of one man to another, and of one section of the population to another, will vanish altogether since people will become accustomed to observing the elementary conditions of social life without violence and without subordination.
This is far from being all that is contained in this remarkable book* but it is, I hope, a fair summary of its central argument, an argument which is, at least in its own terms, rigorously consistent. There is, however, an important omission in The State and Revolution and it is one that Lenin himself draws attention to, viz. the experience of the Russian Revolution itself. The reason for this omission is that Lenin was planning a chapter on it but was unable to write it because he was ‘“interrupted” by a political crisis – the eve of the October Revolution of 1917’. As a consequence there are only a couple of passing references to what would probably have been central to that chapter – the role of the Soviets or Workers’ Councils. Actually the passing remarks themselves point to that centrality. Thus:
the bourgeois ideologists …substitute arguing and talk about the distant future for the vital and burning question of present-day politics, namely, the expropriation of the capitalists, the conversion of all citizens into workers and other employees of one huge “syndicate”--the whole state--and the complete subordination of the entire work of this syndicate to a genuinely democratic state, the state of the Soviets of Workers' and Soldiers' Deputies. [emphasis in original]
…the entire class-conscious proletariat will be with us in the fight—not to “shift the balance of forces", but to overthrow the bourgeoisie, to destroy bourgeois parliamentarism, for a democratic republic after the type of the Commune, or a
and Soldiers’ Deputies, for the revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat. republic
Moreover, as we have seen, the question of Soviet power lay at the heart of all Lenin’s theory and practice in 1917. It is therefore useful to note how certain features of the Russian Soviets added significantly to and developed beyond the experience provided by the Commune and reasonable to consider these features as an aspect of Lenin’s theory of the state.
First, we should note that whereas the Commune was established only after the insurrection and the assumption of power by the working class (at least in
the Soviets, both in 1905 and 1917, made their appearance before the conquest
of power (though after the uprising that overthrew the Tsar). The Soviets
emerged not in the first instance as a new state but as an expression of, and
means of coordinating, the revolutionary struggle, which was also the embryo of a new state. This created a
period of dual power in which the undermining and ‘smashing’ of the bourgeois
state was greatly facilitated by the possibility of winning the workers,
soldiers and sailors over to accepting the authority of the Soviets as ‘their’
government. It also created the possibility of first popularising the idea of
Soviet power internationally and then agitating for and actually establishing
soviets or similar organisations in revolutionary and pre-revolutionary
situations in other countries prior
to the insurrection. Paris
Second, whereas the Commune was based on elections in municipal wards, that is on geographical constituencies, the Soviets were based on the election of delegates from workplaces and soldiers’ and sailors’ units. This difference reflected economic development. In
in 1871 industrial
production was generally small scale and the working class was predominantly
located in small workshops. In Petrograd and Paris Moscow,
despite the overall backwardness of , there were numerous
factories some of which, like the Putilov works, were among the largest in the
world. It also reflected the huge role in the revolution played by the soldiers
and sailors of the vast conscript army, itself the product of the industrial
scale mobilisation for total war. Russia
But this shift from areas to workplaces and barracks as the main unit of representation constituted a major advance in working class democracy. It meant that the election of a deputy could be the outcome of a collective discussion and debate rather than of individualised, atomised, voting*. It also made exercising the right of recall enormously easier and more effective. Because in a ‘parliamentary’ constituency the electors are not a collective and do not assemble or meet on a regular basis it is very difficult to recall a representative but with workplace elections the electors are a collective and can recall their delegate by simply holding a workplace meeting. This is not just a question of dealing with deputies who ‘sell out’; it also makes it possible for the Soviet to reflect shifts in the views of the workers. This is very important in the midst of a revolution when, precisely because the masses are involved in daily struggle, the consciousness of the working class is changing very rapidly. And clearly workplace based election reinforces the class character of the democracy, of the new state.
Lenin, in his 1918 polemic with Kautsky, put it this way:
The Soviets are the direct organisation of the working and exploited people themselves, which helps them to organise and administer their own state in every possible way. And in this it is the vanguard of the working and exploited people, the urban proletariat, that enjoys the advantage of being best united by the large enterprises; it is easier for it than for all others to elect and exercise control over those elected. The Soviet form of organisation automatically helps to unite all the working and exploited people around their vanguard, the proletariat. The old bourgeois apparatus—the bureaucracy, the privileges of wealth, of bourgeois education, of social connections, etc. (these real privileges are the more varied the more highly bourgeois democracy is developed)—all this disappears under the Soviet form of organisation.... Indirect elections to non-local Soviets make it easier to hold congresses of Soviets, they make the entire apparatus less costly, more flexible, more accessible to the workers and peasants at a time when life is seething and it is necessary to be able very quickly to recall one’s local deputy or to delegate him to a general congress of Soviets.
And even when in 1920 he is arguing in favour of participating in bourgeois parliaments Lenin still insists:
…only workers’ Soviets, not parliament, can be the instrument enabling the proletariat to achieve its aims; those who have failed to understand this are, of course, out-and-out reactionaries, even if they are most highly educated people, most experienced politicians, most sincere socialists, most erudite Marxists, and most honest citizens and fathers of families. 
So, with this addition, we can turn to our central question: is the argument of The State and Revolution valid today? Can it and should it serve as a guide to action for 21st century workers and socialists?
Arguments against Lenin’s theory
The question of the state, its nature, role and legitimacy, has been at the centre of political philosophy and political theory from at least Hobbes’ Leviathan in the 17th century, if not Plato’s Republic, and has continued to be so up to the present including in major recent academic debates. A comprehensive survey of this debate is obviously beyond what is possible in this work. Instead I’m going to focus on six positions, each of which constitutes an explicit or implicit critique of, and alternative to, the Leninist theory of the state and each of which has a certain resonance and currency in society today and in contemporary movements for social change. The positions are: 1) that universal suffrage gives democracy;2) the pluralist theory of power; 3) Foucault’s theory of power; 4) the autonomist/ anarchist critique; 5) the ‘Gramscian’ critique; 6) Poulantzas’ critique. I will then consider the positive relevance of Lenin’s view in relation to recent and future struggles.
By far the most important argument against the Leninist (and Marxist) theory of the state is that the existence of universal suffrage (along with parliamentary government and ‘free and fair’ elections) is democracy and ensures that the state apparatus – police, armed forces, judiciary, civil servants etc – is politically neutral and serves the people.
This is not an academic theory – it is seldom put in theoretical form and very hard to defend as such or support with empirical evidence – but it is something much more powerful than that. It is the absolutely dominant position supported by the entire European and North American political establishment and most of the global establishment as well, and accepted as more or less self evidently true by almost all the media, along with most of the education system or systems. Crucially, and this is very important for the maintenance of consensus in this matter, it is also accepted by the majority of the main ‘opposition’ parties and movements. To be specific it is accepted by most of the social democratic parties and trade unions – at least their leaderships.
As a result this view becomes the taken-for-granted assumption, the ‘common sense’, on which almost all political discourse is based and within which it is framed. More than that it takes on, and is actively given, a normative character. To dissent from it is not merely to hold a different or even a mistaken view, it is to be an opponent of democracy as such and anti-patriotic, disreputable to say the least and quite possibly ‘evil’. One consequence of this is that many political figures on the left who personally and privately do not believe in the class neutrality of the state and its institutions, nevertheless feel obliged – for fear of the scandal or loss of public sympathy – to speak publicly as if they do.
To see how this works, imagine if in the British House of Commons a leading left-wing politician, probably a member of the Labour Party, maybe even its leader, were respond to comments from the Tory front bench about sending ‘our boys’ to the Middle East to serve their country, by saying, ‘I do not accept that the armed forces are “our boys” or serve the British people; they are an instrument of the British capitalist class being deployed abroad in the interests of imperialism and at home to hold down the working class’. The response would, of course, be ferocious and the ferocity would not at all be confined to the Tories but would be expressed with equal rage by numerous Labour MPs and by virtually the entire mass media. It would be the same if analogous comments were made about the police (say after a riot or confrontation with a demonstration or a police killing) or about judges if they ruled against workers in an industrial dispute. And I give a British example but it would be the same in all countries.
However, the fact that a theory or view is widely imposed and widely accepted* obviously does not make it valid and in this case the claim that universal suffrage and parliamentary government delivers real democracy, i.e. governments or states that represent the interests or wishes of the majority, will not withstand critical examination.
In the first place, no election taking place in a capitalist society is fought on a level playing field. By their very nature political parties that represent the interests of the rich and the corporations, together with the upper middle classes, have enormously more money and resources at their disposal than do parties which rely mainly on the support of the working class and the poor. This makes
* I do not want to exaggerate the extent to which this view is actually accepted at the base of society. In fact it is clear that large numbers of working class people reject the ‘official’ view of the political structure and believe that ‘they (the politicians and ‘high-ups’) are all the same’ and ‘all in it for themselves’ and see the police as their enemy etc. Then there is another layer of people who half believe these things and half accept the official narrative.
a big difference in election campaigns. An election campaign involves the production and organisation on a large scale of leaflets, posters, billboard adverts, newspaper and TV advertising, public meetings across the country etc. – all of which costs money. It is true that a workers’ party, a party of ‘the people’, will have more volunteers, more ‘foot-soldiers,’ than a party of the rich but apart from rare and very exceptional circumstances the resources of the bourgeois parties will far outweigh those of the workers’ parties or the left. And the more important and the larger the scale of the election the more this disparity between the resources of the corporations and the ‘ordinary’ people makes itself felt: the American Presidential election being an extreme case, in that it is close to impossible to mount a credible national campaign without major corporate sponsorship. The only significant counterweight to this huge imbalance is the funding of many Labour and social democratic parties by the trade unions but obviously this is not, and cannot be enough to achieve parity.*
* Moreover this funding comes with a price. In practice the political use of trade union money and resources, which far exceed that of any other tendency in the working class movement, is heavily influenced by the trade union bureaucracies and is deployed, by and large, to prevent social democratic parties moving too far to the left.
Also elections take place in the context of and under the influence of a mass media that is heavily biased against the left and socialism. This is inevitably the case because a) most of the media is owned and controlled by big business and run as a business; b) even when the media is state owned, as in the BBC, it is still controlled from above by people committed to the status quo; c) the media operates on the basis of concepts of ‘objectivity’ which take capitalist social relations for granted and regard ‘the middle ground’ as somewhere between George Bush and Hilary Clinton or David Cameron and Tony Blair, and ‘news values’ which systematically combine the political agenda of the government/state with celebrity culture ‘infotainment’. Moreover this media bias is only one (important) aspect of wider capitalist hegemony which operates both globally and in every nation state, through a multitude of institutions including the education system and most of the various churches. In 1845, in The German Ideology, Marx and Engels wrote:
The ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas, i.e. the class which is the ruling material force of society, is at the same time its ruling intellectual force. The class which has the means of material production at its disposal, has control at the same time over the means of mental production, so that thereby, generally speaking, the ideas of those who lack the means of mental production are subject to it. 
Having won a general election and having formed a government such a would-be anti-capitalist party finds itself in the position of being in office but not in power.
First and foremost such a government is not in control of the national economy. The bulk of industrial and financial capital which between them dominate the economic life of the country will be, insofar as it is, or is perceived to be, an anti-capitalist government, in the hands people hostile to it. Secondly it is not at all, not even nominally, in control of the global economy on which it is likely to be heavily dependent and with which it is likely to be deeply enmeshed. This will almost certainly include a considerable number of multinational corporations with substantial investment in the country and in many cases will involve all sorts of specific ties, obligations, debts etc to institutions such as the IMF, the World Bank, or the European Central Bank. Our would-be anti-capitalist government would also face the hostility of numerous, and very powerful, foreign governments who would be working in concert with the aforementioned corporations, banks, and international institutions.
Between them these forces have the ability to make life extremely difficult for any government that wishes to act against their interests. They can, for example, go on investment strike or simply lower their level of investment; they can close down operations and relocate to countries they feel are more ‘business friendly’. Both of these course of action can be presented as simple ‘business’ decisions rather political interventions but both can have the effect of seriously damaging the economy and increasing the level of unemployment. They can also provoke a run on the banks or speculation against the national currency. Moreover, they can do these things secure in the knowledge that the bulk of the media will blame the left government for the economic hardship which ensues.
So what resources will our elected radical government have at its disposal to deal with this very hostile environment? It will, of course, have ‘moral’ and legal authority. Where ‘the public’ or ‘ordinary people’ are concerned that moral authority may be, probably will be, very high but it is not the opposition of ordinary people that we are talking about; the problem is opposition and, indeed, sabotage by bankers and corporations and it seems highly unlikely that the government’s democratic or moral authority will cut any ice whatsoever with such people. In 2015 the Greek Syriza government, generally perceived as radical and left wing at the time, received a dramatic democratic endorsement from the Greek people with a 60% ‘OXI’ (NO) vote in the referendum on the Troika’s austerity memorandum. Did Mario Draghi and the European Central Bank bat an eyelid? Of course not. They simply piled on the pressure – pressure which, sadly, swiftly broke Syriza’s resistance. No senior banker or corporate CEO worth his or her immense salary would do otherwise.
So what of the government’s legal authority? Constitutionally such a government would have the power, provided it commanded a majority in parliament, to pass laws that would be legally binding on companies and financial institutions operating on its territory. But how would it be able to administer and enforce such laws? Insofar as it operated as a ‘normal’ i.e. constitutional government it would run the country and enforce the laws passed by parliament by means of the existing state apparatuses. It would use the existing government departments, with their established teams of civil servants, and it would, if necessary, deploy the existing courts, police and – as a last resort – the military to secure compliance. In theory these apparatuses would be constitutionally obliged to follow the orders of the democratically elected government, but would they do so in practice?
To answer this question we shall consider three things: a) the nature and composition of the state apparatuses; b) the nature of the challenge being posed by the government; c) the historical experience of the state’s relationship to left governments.
The first thing to note is that state apparatuses, with very few exceptions, are hierarchical organisations. The democratic elective principle applies, as a rule, only to parliaments (and local councils). The armed forces, police, judiciary, prisons, civil service etc. are based on appointment, discipline and subordination. Unless there is mutiny in the ranks their behaviour is determined by those who run them.
The next thing to note is that those who head these institutions are highly paid. They are not highly paid compared to CEOs in the private sector, still less compared to major capitalists but they are paid far, far, above the average wage. In the
an army general earns
about $180,000 a year plus considerable perks; a police chief in a major city
earns over $190,000 and Federal judges
$220 - 250,000. In United States Britain
a Brigadier earns over £100.000 and
General Sir Peter Hall, Head of the Army, receives £180,000 plus a flat in Central London. General Sir David Richards, Chief of
Defence Staff, gets £256,000 a year with an apartment in Kensington
(a royal palace and official residence of the Duke and Duchess of ). Police chiefs in Cambridge range from over £280,000
for the Metropolitan Police Commissioner to about £170,000 for an average Chief
Constable. British judges average
between £200,000 and £250,000 a year. In 2010 The Guardian reported that Prime
Minister David Cameron had published data about the salaries of top civil
The data lists the names of some 170 senior civil servants who earn over £150,000, more than the prime minister. Top of the list is John Fingleton, the chief executive of the Office of Fair Trading, who earns up to £279,999 a year. Other high earners include David Nicholson, the chief executive of the NHS, who earns between £255,000 and £259,999 and Joe Harley, IT director general and chief information officer for the Department for Work and Pensions. The Ministry of Defence has the largest number of high earners, with no less than 28 of its civil servants making the list, along with 21 from the Cabinet Office.
These facts are hardly surprising. Rather it would be astonishing if they were otherwise in any stratified society. Nevertheless they are worth reflecting on because they have important political implications. It is one of the most basic facts of political life, observable in voting behaviour across the world that high earners tend to be ‘right wing’ or ‘conservative’ in their views. Moreover, these state officials are overwhelmingly drawn from very privileged backgrounds. This is true internationally but the British case is particularly illustrative because of the role of private i.e. fee paying education. As Owen Jones has noted:
Only 7% in
are privately educated, and
yet this section of society makes up 71% of senior judges, 62% of the senior
armed forces and 55% of permanent secretaries. It is quite something when the
"cabinet of millionaires" is one of the less unrepresentative pillars
of power, with 36% hailing from private schools. http://www.theguardian.com/society/2014/aug/28/british-society-elitism-privileged-owen-jones Britain
Obviously the incomes, the background, the education will all shape the outlook and behaviour of those who run the apparatuses of the state. But there is more involved than these standard ‘sociological’ influences. The state machine of every capitalist society consists of a set of institutions that has been shaped historically over a lengthy period of time (in the case of
more than four hundred
years) to serve the interests of that capitalist society and its dominant
class. In the course of that history it has developed a tradition, an ideology
and an ethos which fits this purpose; which, for example, identifies being
‘politically neutral’ with being ‘above politics’ [ like the monarchy] and with
the need to defend ‘the country’ regardless of, and, if necessary, against the
‘irresponsible’ and ‘here to day, gone tomorrow’ politicians. And given the
already noted hierarchical character of these institutions it would be more or
less impossible for anyone who did not share this ideology and ethos, who was
not ‘responsible’ and ‘reliable’, to be appointed to senior positions. In other words everything we know about the
nature of senior figures in the state suggests that they certainly could not be
relied on simply to do the bidding of a left or radical government or to defend
that government if it found itself in conflict with major national and
international capitalist interests. Britain
This is where we have to consider the nature and degree of challenge represented by our putative elected ‘left’ government. Obviously this can challenge can exist at many points on a spectrum but broadly I would suggest there are four possible ‘scenarios’.
First, the government offers only a very mild challenge to the system and the ruling class. It makes clear that it has no intention of trying to ‘overthrow’ or ‘fundamentally transform’ capitalism and that it completely accepts the established structures and rules of the existing state. All it aspires to is to run capitalism in a way that somewhat more humane and more favourable to the lower orders. Second, the government does not attempt to end capitalism, even gradually, but is nonetheless committed to a policy or set of policies which the capitalist class considers seriously against its interests (e.g. outright opposition to austerity, or large scale disarmament and opposition to NATO membership). Third, behind or under the auspices of the government a mass movement is developing which the capitalist class fears and which it believes is in the process of getting out of control, i.e. moving in a revolutionary direction. Fourth, the elected left government really does want to bring about an end to capitalism and a transition to socialism and sets about introducing anti- capitalist measures.
In terms of historical experience the first scenario – very little real challenge – is, by far, predominant. This is the norm for the large majority of social democratic and labour governments in Britain, France, Germany, Spain, Italy, Greece, Scandinavia and elsewhere (which is precisely why they are now frequently thought of as ‘mainstream’ rather than ‘left’ and certainly not ‘radical left’). In these cases the government may come under pressure from the state apparatuses, sometimes very strong pressure, behind the scenes. But this pressure is often acceded to and publicly the appearance of business as usual i.e. of the state as the politically neutral servant of the government is maintained. At the opposite end of the spectrum, the scenario of a determined challenge to the very existence of capitalism by an elected left government is not just rare but as far as I can see historically non- existent. I am speaking here of deeds not words, of course, but there is simply no example of a radical left government embarking on a serious legislative assault on the foundations of capitalism. How the state would respond to such a development must therefore remain a matter of speculation rather than hard fact but we can get a pretty good idea from how it has responded to the second and third scenarios of which we do have historical examples.
One such example is the Curragh Mutiny in
in 1914. Strictly speaking
this occurred before the introduction of full universal suffrage (in 1918 and
1928) and was directed at a Liberal, not a Left, government. Nevertheless it is
a revealing episode. The Liberal Government, led by Prime Minister Herbert
Asquith, was in favour of granting Ireland Home Rule. The Ulster Unionists were
vehemently opposed and created the paramilitary Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) to
resist. With Home Rule due to become law
in 1914 the British Cabinet discussed military action against the Ulster
Volunteers. Faced with this prospect the officers of the British Army stationed
at the Curragh, after consultation with senior officers in Ireland , rebelled. Technically, they avoided
the offence of mutiny by collectively resigning their commissions. Within three
days the government capitulated and accepted there could be no action against
the Volunteers. In the event Home Rule was shelved because of the outbreak of
the First World War but the Curragh incident had a lasting effect on British
policy and paved the way for the partition of London in 1921. It was a graphic
illustration of the willingness of a key component of the state machine to act
against the declared will of a ‘democratically’ elected parliament and
Two even more telling examples are provided by
in 1936 and
in 1973. The Spanish Popular Front government
took office on 16 February 1936, as a result of its general election victory. The Popular Front comprised two liberal
(bourgeois) Republican parties, the Spanish Socialist Party (a far left Social
Democratic party), the Spanish Communist Party, a section of the
anarcho-syndicalist CNT and the formerly Trotskyist and avowedly revolutionary
Marxist, POUM. In itself this government had no plans to challenge or abolish
capitalism in Chile
but it came to power on the basis of six years of intense class struggle which
included the overthrow of the Spanish monarchy in 1931 and the uprising of the
Asturian miners in 1934. To the Spanish ruling class this was unacceptable and
it reacted in July 1936 by backing a Fascist coup led by four generals
including General Francisco Franco. The coup was mounted from within the
Spanish state apparatus using the army. It succeeded in about half of Spain Spain, while in the other half it was resisted
by mass workers action from below with the workers effectively taking power in and elsewhere.
The country was thus split in two and the Spanish Civil War began. After three
years of intense and bitter fighting the Fascist forces, armed and assisted by
Hitler and Mussolini, were triumphant. After their victory they exacted a
terrible revenge slaughtering up to 200,000 of their Loyalist opponents. Barcelona
The Chilean working class responded to this with mass resistance in the form of major strikes and demonstrations and the organization of cordones (industrial coordinating networks) which were embryonic workers’ councils, combined with demands that the pace of change should be speeded up. At the same time, the right increased their mobilization against the movement and the government and began preparations for a coup. Allende temporized. 1973 saw two unsuccessful coup attempts but Allende still did not break with the military, or arm the workers. On 11 September the infamous General Pinochet, whom Allende had made Commander-in-Chief of the Chilean Army on 23 August, staged a successful coup (with the backing of the
claimed the lives of Allende himself and 30,000 Chileans, establishing a brutal
military dictatorship that ruled for seventeen years. Chile
From the point of view of this discussion what is significant is that in both these cases the coups were led and executed by the military, i.e. from within the existing state apparatus that showed itself quite willing to overrule the results of universal suffrage when it deemed this necessary ‘in the interests of the nation’.
In view of this history, the recent threat of mutiny against a Jeremy Corbyn led Labour Government by an anonymous serving general is a serious warning.
A senior serving general has reportedly warned that a Jeremy Corbyn government could face "a mutiny" from the Army if it tried to downgrade them. The unnamed general said members of the armed forces would begin directly and publicly challenging the labour leader if he tried to scrap Trident, pull out of Nato or announce “any plans to emasculate and shrink the size of the armed forces.”… “The Army just wouldn’t stand for it. The general staff would not allow a prime minister to jeopardise the security of this country and I think people would use whatever means possible, fair or foul to prevent that. You can’t put a maverick in charge of a country’s security. There would be mass resignations at all levels and you would face the very real prospect of an event which would effectively be a mutiny.”
We are told that this ‘anonymous’ general had served in
(obviously the press, who were used to give wide publicity to this ‘leak’, knew
his identity) and the prediction of ‘mass resignations…which would effectively
be a mutiny’ directly evokes the tactic used in the Curragh a century ago. Northern Ireland
For all these reasons – the influence of money and resources on the electoral process, the ideological hegemony of the bourgeoisie, the hierarchical, privileged and conservative character of the state apparatuses, and the clear historical experience – we can see that Lenin’s (already quoted) description of the idea, ‘that universal suffrage “in the present-day state" is really capable of revealing the will of the majority of the working people and of securing its realization’ as a ‘false notion’still holds true today.
What is also clear is that the advent of universal suffrage has not changed or prevented the systematic use of the state machine – especially the police, courts, special agencies and, sometimes, the army – to harass and repress the working class and other oppressed people. This is very much the daily experience of working people from the
Paris banlieues to the ghettos or the estates of
Clondalkin and Balleyfermot* and of strikers, demonstrators and protestors in
every country. And even when it is not in anyway theorized or politically
articulated this experience produces a quite different attitude to the police
(especially) and other state representatives in working class communities where
they tend to be instinctively distrusted or even hated, as compared to the
attitude in middle class communities and above where they are more often seen
as protectors and allies. US
* Clondalkin and Balleyfermot are working class communities in
Moreover, this everyday antagonism also regularly escalates, primarily at the behest of the ruling class, into atrocities, outrages, killing and even massacres. Historically speaking the examples of this are far too numerous to list; nevertheless here are a few examples that spring immediately to mind and all of which occurred in ‘democracies’ with universal suffrage: the slaughter of the Asturian miners in 1934 (5000 killed); the behaviour of the CRS towards French students in May 1968; the Chicago police riot in 1968; Bloody Sunday in Derry in 1972; the role of the British police in the Miners Strike of 1984-85; the behaviour of the Italian police in Genoa in 2001; the Marikana miners massacre in South Africa in 2012; the killing on a daily basis of unarmed Black people by US police in contemporary America.
The last two examples are particularly telling because they follow on the heels of ‘democratic’ and anti-racist victories – the defeat of Apartheid in South Africa and the election of Barack Obama as the first Black US President - which, if democracy lived up to its name and the forces of the state were really subordinate to the electoral process, would have made such events unthinkable.
In sum, the class nature of the state in capitalist society is not changed in any fundamental way by the advent of universal suffrage.
The Foucault critique
If the argument about universal suffrage is the dominant argument against the Leninist view of the state in mainstream political discourse a different argument has been particularly influential in the academic world in recent decades and has also found a resonance in various forms of left practice: This is the theory of and approach to power derived from the work of Michel Foucault. It could also be called the Foucault- Nietzsche- anarchist critique because it has its philosophical roots in Nietzsche and because in terms of its influence on political practice it has often been associated with anarchist or autonomist currents.
It is, for a number of reasons, not easy to deal with this critique within the framework of this study. Foucault never presented his position ‘systematically’ and certainly not in any set piece critique of Lenin. Rather it emerges as an inference from a number of his historical studies of the clinic, the prison etc., with the anti-Leninist conclusions being drawn mainly by other hands. As for its Nietzschean roots, they are largely implicit rather than explicit and since they constitute a profound challenge not just to the Leninist theory of the state but to Marxism and even socialism as a whole, they call for a much more wide ranging debate than is possible here.* Finally, when it comes to anarchist/autonomist practice (or grassroots reformist practice) it is obvious that Foucault is only one influence among many, ranging from Bakunin and Kropotkin to John Holloway and Hardt and Negri). Nevertheless the argument is important and needs to be addressed.
· Foucault differs sharply from Nietzsche in terms of his political sympathies which were radical and on the side of the oppressed rather than aristocratic and elitist. Nevertheless there is a real link in terms of Nietzsche’s theory of ‘the will to power’ which provides a foundation for Foucault’s insistence on the primacy and ubiquity of power struggles and their independence from economics.
For Nietzsche the will to power was the driving force of all human behaviour and history, if not of the universe.
My idea is that every specific body strives to become master over all space and to extend its force (its will to power) and to thrust back all that resists its extension. wBut it continually encounters similar efforts on the part of other bodies and ends by comig to an arrangement (“union”) with those of them that are sufficiently related to it; thus they then conspire together for power. And the process goes on …[Nietzsche, The Will to Power s. 636]
[Anything which] is a living and not a dying body … will have to be an incarnate will to power, it will strive to grow, spread, seize, become predominant – not from any morality or immorality but because it is living and because life simply is will to power. [Nitetzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, s.259]
Three short observations on this perspective: a) as it stands in Nietzsche it is simply an assertion, unsupported and untested by any evidence; b) if it is true it rules out possibility of human, or proletarian, liberation, offering the prospect only of an endless series of struggles in which oppressor and oppressed from time to time switch places; c) within the theory there is no reason to side with the oppressed, indeed it would seem more logical to side with the oppressor as Nietzsche generally did.
The essence of the Foucault based critique is that, contrary to Lenin [Lenin as he is often, but wrongly, understood – JM], power is not concentrated in the state or state machine but is everywhere in society; in the school, the office, the prison, the hospital etc. Power is not a ‘thing’ which can be seized or smashed; it is a social relation embodied in ‘dividing practices… examples are the mad and the sane, the sick and the healthy, the criminals and the "good boys.’ What is needed, therefore, is:
a new economy of power relations, a way which is more empirical, more directly related to our present situation, and which implies more relations between theory and practice. It consists of taking the forms of resistance against different forms of power as a starting point. To use another metaphor, it consists of using this resistance as a chemical catalyst so as to bring to light power relations, locate their position, and find out their point of application and the methods used. Rather than analyzing power from the point of view of its internal rationality, it consists of analyzing power relations through the antagonism of strategies. For example, to find out what our society means by sanity, perhaps we should investigate what is happening in the field of insanity. And what we mean by legality in the field of illegality. And, in order to understand what power relations are about, perhaps we should investigate the forms of resistance and attempts made to dissociate these relations. As a starting point, let us take a series of oppositions which have developed over the last few years: opposition to the power of men over women, of parents over children, of psychiatry over the mentally ill, of medicine over the population, of administration over the ways people live.
This theoretical approach, this methodology, implies, despite Foucault’s refusal of the role of ‘leader’ or ‘strategist’, a definite practical strategy, ‘Every power relationship implies, at least in potentia, a strategy of struggle.’ And the strategy is precisely to focus on the ‘series of oppositions’ listed above, more or less as ends in themselves.
The aim of these struggles is the power effects as such. For example, the medical profession is not criticized primarily because it is a profit-making concern but because it exercises an uncontrolled power over people's bodies, their health, and their life and death…
To sum up, the main objective of these struggles is to attack not so much "such or such" an institution of power, or group, or elite, or class but rather a technique, a form of power
Out of these various struggles it is hoped that the episteme (dominant system of ‘power-knowledge’) of the age will be fundamentally transformed.
In responding to Foucault it should be stated clearly that his historical studies yield numerous insights of value to socialists and revolutionaries (for example on the question of mental illness). What I want to contest is not the value of his researches but the counterposition of his analysis of power to that Marx and Lenin and the idea that the strategy deriving from this constitutes a viable alternative to the Leninist strategy of smashing the capitalist state.
The first thing to say is that the Foucault based critique seems to rest on a misreading or misunderstanding of Marx and Lenin on the state. Neither Marx nor Lenin viewed the state or the state machine as a ‘thing’ or ‘instrument’, like a gun or a motor car, as opposed to a relation between people. The fact that Lenin stresses the impossibility of ‘taking over the state’ and the need to smash it shows this because ‘things’ or instruments like guns and motor cars clearly can and will be taken over by the working class and wielded for their own purposes. The Leninist strategy for smashing the state also shows it because it is a strategy of dismantling the core of the state apparatus, its ‘armed bodies of men’, by creating a class split in the army, turning the rank-and – file against the offices and winning them over to the revolution. Moreover, the aim is to replace the capitalist state apparatus with a new state apparatus characterised by radically different power relations between people – democratic election, recallability, workers’ pay etc.
Secondly neither Lenin nor Marx thought that state power was the only or even main form of power in society. On the contrary the essence of their theory was that state power, for all its relative autonomy, was ultimately an expression of class power the basis which lay in control of the means and process of production. Consequently the observation that there are power relations in, for example, every workplace (and hospitals, clinics, schools, offices and prisons are all workplaces) is hardly news to Lenin or any serious Marxist. The real difference between Foucault and Lenin/Marx here is that Foucault sees, for example, the power of medical consultants not just as relatively autonomous but as completely separate from the capitalist economy and the capitalist state*.And on this Foucault is surely wrong: that is there is a clear and demonstrable connection (both in terms of personnel and function) between the power position and behaviour of, to name but a few, hospital directors and consultants, prison governors, head teachers, office managers and university principals, and the class power and requirements of the bourgeoisie.
- See the statement above,’ …the medical profession is not criticized primarily because it is a profit-making concern but because it exercises an uncontrolled power over people's bodies, their health, and their life and death.’
Moreover, recognition of the existence of power in a multitude of locations and institutions does not make all these centres of power equal in degree or importance. Clearly the power of a school teacher over her pupils or a doctor in relation to her patients is real but it is in no way comparable to the power of the state machine, especially – and this is the key strategic point – when it comes to dealing with a mass working class movement. It was not a cabal of doctors and psychiatrists who crushed the Paris Commune, handed power to Hitler, broke the
miners’ strike and defeated the Spanish Revolution, overthrew Allende’s Popular
Unity Government, shot down unarmed protestors in Derry and broke the million
strong movement in Tiananmen Square. It was,
respectively, the French, German, Spanish, Chilean, British and Chinese state
forces. The reason for Lenin’s intense focus on the state in The State and Revolution was because
after three years of world war and in the midst of a revolution the question of
the state had become the main question of the day as he, himself, spelt out in
the Preface to that work.
The question of the state is now acquiring particular importance both in theory and in practical politics...The world proletarian revolution is clearly maturing. The question of its relation to the state is acquiring practical importance.
The question of the relation of the socialist proletarian revolution to the state, therefore, is acquiring not only practical political importance, but also the significance of a most urgent problem of the day, the problem of explaining to the masses what they will have to do before long to free themselves from capitalist tyranny.
In terms of its practical and strategic implications Foucault’s theory of power points towards and seems to fit with both identity- based politics (feminist, LGBT, black, disability etc) and local community campaigns. In such contexts it can supply these campaigns with a wider ’revolutionary’ or ‘anarchist’ gloss while at the same time dovetailing with a kind of do-it-yourself reformism. Where it fits much less well is with national trade union struggles, national and international anti-war movements, the global question of climate change, and above all any kind of mass revolutionary situation in all of which the issue of government/state power is unavoidably central. In practice, therefore, the role of a Foucault –influenced strategy is most likely to be be that of adjunct or subordinate element within an overarching reformism.
Anarchist and Autonomist Critiques
Ever since Bakunin clashed with Marx in the First International in the mid -19th century anarchists and critiqued Marxists as authoritarian and ‘statist’ and there is no Marxist to whom these objections have been so vigorously made as Lenin. The essence of the anarchist position has been and remains opposition to all forms of government and state on principle. As Bakunin put it:
With the cry of peace for the workers, liberty for all the oppressed and death to rulers, exploiters and guardians of all kinds, we seek to destroy all states and all churches along with all their institutions and laws, religious, political, juridical, financial, police, university, economic and social, so that the millions of deceived, enslaved, tormented and exploited human beings, liberated from all their directors and benefactors, official and officious, collective and individual may breathe at last with complete freedom (M Bakunin, The Programme of the InternationalBrotherhood,1869, http://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/bakunin/works/1869/program.htm).
And “We do not accept, even for the purposes of a revolutionary transition, national conventions, constituent assemblies, provisional governments, or so-called revolutionary dictatorships.” Thus anarchists vehemently rejected Lenin’s insistence on the need for a new workers’ state, the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’, to replace the capitalist state.
There are philosophical affinities between the classical anarchist identification of power as such as the root of all evil and the Nietzsche/Foucault view referred to above with the difference that anarchists place a minus sign where Nietzsche places a plus. But where Lenin’s theory of the state and questions of revolutionary strategy are concerned the central issue is this: is it possible for the working class and revolutionaries, not in relation to the classless society of the future, but in the midst of and immediate aftermath of revolution to renounce all use of state power or would this be a recipe for defeat?
The fundamental problem with the anarchist position is that the class struggle, which has formed the material basis for the existence of states for at least 5000 years, does not cease in the face of a successful workers’ uprising in in one city or one country. On the contrary, as the history of all revolutions shows, it continues with great intensity as the international capitalist class attempts to roll back and undermine the revolution. How can these attempts be resisted and the construction of a socialist economy be embarked upon without the aid of a state apparatus i.e. special bodies of armed men and women [militia/ red guards/prisons/ courts of justice etc] and without state ownership and administration of key industries and services [transport, health, education, welfare etc]?
There are numerous anarchist critiques of Leninist and Bolshevik authoritarianism but very few anarchist attempts to answer these basic and simple questions. One example is by Alexander Berkman, who was in
between 1919-21, in his primer What is
Communist Anarchism? which concludes with a chapter on ‘Defense of the
Berkman argues that the revolution must be defended ‘by armed force… if necessary’ but:
…the social revolution must be Anarchistic in method as in aim. Revolutionary defense must be in consonance with this spirit. Self-defense excludes all acts of coercion, of persecution or revenge. It is concerned only with repelling attack and depriving the enemy of the opportunity to invade you.
How would foreign invasion be resisted?
By the strength of the revolution. In what does that strength consist? First and foremost in the support of the people, in the devotion of the industrial and agricultural masses… Let them believe in the revolution and they will defend it to the death…
The armed workers and peasants are the only effective defense of the revolution… By means of their unions and syndicates they must always be on guard against counter-revolutionary attack. The worker in factory and mill, in mine and field, is the soldier of the revolution. He is at his bench or plough or on the battlefield according to need.
Berkman repeats this idea again and again. ‘Understand well that the only really effective defense of the revolution lies in the attitude of the people … the strength of the revolution is organic not mechanistic…Let the people feel that it is indeed their own cause which is at stake and the last man of them will fight like a lion in its behalf’. These noble sentiments are, of course, at some level true but as an argument against the need for a workers’ state they are seriously unconvincing. The first paragraph quoted contains a distinction between self-defense and ‘coercion’ which is unsustainable in a revolution or civil war. Any revolution, if it is to be successful, must engage in a degree of coercion both in the act of insurrection itself and in the transition period that follows it.
In general Berkman’s argument resembles that of naïve and idealistic would be revolutionaries who say. ‘If everyone in the country went on strike the government would be forced to give in, so its obvious we call a general strike tomorrow’. Of course if every worker is a ‘soldier of the revolution …at his bench or plough or on the battlefield according to need’ then there would indeed be no problem. Unfortunately the experience of every struggle, every strike and every revolution is that the consciousness and commitment of the working class and, more broadly, of ‘the people’ develops unevenly. If no workers ever scabbed on strikes there would be no need for picket lines. If no workers ever served in the police or army or fought for the counter revolution there would be no need for barricades or workers’ militia and if all the revolutionary workers simply arrived ‘on the battlefield according to need’ without a party or state to organise this then revolution would be a very easy and simple matter.
Berkman shows some awareness of the problem when he writes, ‘The military defense of the revolution may demand a supreme command, coordination of activities, discipline and obedience of orders’. But he doesn’t think this through or realise that this precisely implies the need for a state apparatus; rather he falls back, again, on vague formulae about these [the supreme command, obedience to orders,etc] proceeding ‘from the devotion of the workers and peasants’.
An interesting parallel with Alexander Berkman is provided by the Organisational Platform of the Libertarian Communists, the founding document of so-called Platform Anarchism written by Nestor Makhno and others, on the basis of the actual experience of the Russian Revolution. The social revolution, they say:
which threatens the privileges and the very existence of the non-working classes of society, will inevitably provoke a desperate resistance on behalf of these classes, which will take the form of a fierce civil war… As in all wars, the civil war cannot be waged by the labourers with success unless they apply the two fundamental principles of all military action: unity in the plan of operations and unity of common command...
Thus, in view of the necessities imposed by military strategy and also the strategy of the counter-revolution the armed forces of the revolution should inevitably be based on a general revolutionary army with a common command and plan of operations [my emphasis].
Here, too, on the basis of the Russian experience, ie the experience of a real revolution, anarchists have conceded the essence of the Marxist argument for a workers’ state. They deny this saying they reject ‘the principle of authority … and the state’ but their denial is in vain. Like it or not, a revolutionary workers’ army “with a common command” implies a state, just as it implies a certain amount of “authority”. No amount of word play will get round this.
If post-revolution civil war poses this question most sharply it is nevertheless the case that the same arguments apply to post-revolution running of the economy. Certainly if the whole ‘community’ or ‘all the people’ or even all of the workers and lower middle classes of the nation (or the world) were completely united and equal in their consciousness and devotion to the libertarian socialist/ anarchist cause there would be no call for a state. Indeed full communism could be established immediately. But in reality this is not going to be the case and operating even something as basic as the railways will require that, as well as being run under workers’ control, it is ‘owned’ by a national authority – the workers’ state The only alternative would be that each enterprise (each railway station or section of track?) would be owned by its workforce, but this would invite disunity and competition between enterprises and clearly be a recipe for disaster.
Another variant of the anarchist critique – one associated with autonomist currents, such as that around Toni Negri – was presented by John Holloway in his 2002 book Change the World Without Taking Power. Basing himself in part on the experience of the Zapatistas in Mexico and partly on tendencies in the post-Seattle anti-capitalist movement, Holloway argued that focusing on the state has been the fundamental weakness of the socialist movement, reformist and revolutionary alike who ‘despite all their differences, both aim at the winning of state power’. The whole idea of capturing state power was wrong because state apparatuses are integrally tied to authoritarian capitalist social relations and so ‘capturing’ them would result in replicating the oppression the movement was trying to overcome.
The orthodox Marxist tradition, most clearly the Leninist tradition, conceives of revolution instrumentally, as a means to an end. The problem with this approach is that it subordinates the infinite richness of struggle, which is important precisely because it is a struggle for infinite richness, to the single aim of taking power. In doing so, it inevitably reproduces power-over (the subordination of the struggles to the Struggle) and ensures continuity rather than the rupture that is sought. Instrumentalism means engaging with capital on capital’s own terms, accepting that our own world can come into being only after the revolution. But capital’s terms are not simply a given, they are an active process of separating. It is absurd, for example, to think that the struggle against the separating of doing can lie through the state, since the very existence of the state as a form of social relations is an active separating of doing. To struggle through the state is to become involved in the active process of defeating yourself. 
Instead of focussing on the state Holloway proposes developing non-capitalist social relations in the here and now in ‘autonomous’ spaces, such as the Zapatista liberated zone in Chiapas in southern Mexico. The Occupy movement, as it developed in the
US and elsewhere in 2011, came long
after Holloway’s book but there are obvious parallels in terms of the strategy
pursued – the establishment, albeit in city centre squares as opposed to the
remote jungle, of autonomous spaces.
As a theoretical critique of Leninism Holloway’s work suffers from a major defect in that in assimilating Leninism to Social Democracy and reformism on the basis that they all aim at capturing the state he fails to even register the crucial distinction, absolutely central, as we have seen, to The State and Revolution, that the capitalist state is not to be taken over or ‘captured’ but smashed. Consequently Holloway’s argument that Lenin and Leninists do not recognise how embedded the state is in capitalist social relations misses its mark.
Occupying spaces, whether in
Chiapas or Tahrir Square, Puerto Del Sol or Wall St, can play an important
role in the revolutionary struggle but posing it as an alternative to the struggle for state power (i.e. the struggle to
smash the capitalist state and establish a workers’ state) is a false strategy.
These occupations are or can be hugely inspirational but what they do not do is
establish any sort of control over society’s main productive forces or
accumulations of wealth and thus, in themselves, they are not able to transform
economic and social relations of production. Moreover, even if such a strategy
aims at avoiding confronting or trying to defeat the state this does not mean
that the state will ignore or tolerate the ‘occupiers’. Of course, it may do so
for a while, especially if it judges it best to allow the movement to run out
of steam. But, sooner or later, if it is not ‘smashed’, the state will use its
bodies of armed men to reclaim the ‘autonomous spaces’, as it did with the
Occupy movement and with Tahrir
Gramsci versus Lenin?
Incarcerated by Mussolini, the great Italian Marxist, Antonio Gramsci, embarked on an analysis of the causes of the defeat, in the period 1919-22, of the Italian Revolution and of the revolution in Europe, compared to its success in
Gramsci had played an important role in this revolution as acknowledged
intellectual leader of the workers of Turin
and of the workers’ councils movement and he emerged in 1921 as a founder of
the Italian Communist Party (PCI). His reflections were many sided. They
included a philosophical critique of the
passive fatalistic and economic determinist Marxism of the Second International
and of the Italian Socialist Party in particular (which, he believed
underpinned its disastrous failure to act at decisive moments in the struggle)
and of what he saw as the mechanical materialism of Bukharin’s book on
historical materialism, along with a rejection of the rigid ultra-leftism of
the early PCI leader, Amadeo Bordiga, who saw little difference between fascism
and bourgeois democracy, and numerous observations and insights into the
dynamics of Italian history. He also made the following observation about the
difference between the social structure of Russia and of the West.
Russia the State everything, civil
society was primordial and gelatinous; in the West, there was a proper relation
between State and civil society, and when the State trembled a sturdy structure
of civil society was at once revealed. The State was only an outer ditch,
behind which there stood a powerful system of fortresses and earthworks.
This difference necessitated, Gramsci argued, a strategic shift from emphasis on what he called ‘the war of manoeuvre’ to emphasis on ‘the war of position’. This was a military analogy referring to the change in the First World War from armies moving across country to engage in set piece battles to long drawn out trench warfare. What exactly this meant in terms of political strategy what never systematically explained by Gramsci and remains highly debateable, but scattered comments suggest: a) that it implied a rejection of the idea that (after 1921) an immediate insurrectionary offensive or conquest of power was on the cards; b) that the balance of party work between propaganda and agitation needed to alter in the direction of propaganda so as to create a substantial layer of organic worker intellectuals; c) that to ‘become the leading and ruling class’ the proletariat must create ‘a system of class alliances which enables it mobilise the majority of the working population against capitalism and the bourgeois state’; d) that it implied a long drawn out war of attrition or ‘reciprocal siege’ demanding ‘immense sacrifices’ and therefore requiring an ‘unprecedented concentration of hegemony’.
The concept of hegemony, cited here, is by no means exclusive or original to Gramsci, but it is, of course, particularly associated with him. It’s precise meaning or interpretation is part of the debate we are about to embark on but for the moment let’s say simply that it means leadership or dominance and especially ideological or moral leadership – in relation to class struggle the ability of a ruling class (or a revolutionary would-be ruling class) to win widespread acceptance of its rule/leadership as legitimate or inevitable.
What makes it necessary to consider these Gramscian themes here is that over the last forty or fifty years they have been repeatedly made the point of departure for an analysis of the state and a political strategy that has been explicitly anti- Leninist in that it has rejected any notion of insurrection or (violent) revolution, any goal of ‘smashing the state’, in favour of a perspective which puts far more emphasis on the role of ideological hegemony than it does on force in securing capitalist rule, and replaces the notion of any decisive confrontation with the state with a strategy of gradual transformation of the state and society by means of a ‘long march through the institutions’ of civil society.
The two main arenas within which this allegedly Gramscian perspective, which I shall call Gramscism, was developed were the left of academia, where Gramsci was immensely popular not to say ‘hegemonic’, and, in terms of practical politics, the European Communist Parties or Eurocommunism as it came to be known. In
an important role was played by the CPGB’s theoretical journal Marxism Today whose most important
intellectual figures were Eric Hobsbawm and Stuart Hall
and on the continent by the Italian Communist Party (PCI) and the Spanish
Communist Party under the leadership of Enrico Berlinguer and Santiago Carillo,
respectively. In all these cases Gramscian terminology was adopted within a
political framework and perspective which was already, and had been for many
years, explicitly reformist, in the sense of being committed to a peaceful
parliamentary road to socialism. Moreover, it was generally employed to
legitimate, even within that reformist framework, a significant shift towards
the political centre, including the PCI’s ‘historic compromise’ with Christian
Democracy and Marxism Today’s
advocacy of ‘New Times’ and a deal between the Labour Party and the Social
An idea of the distance travelled from classical Leninism in the name of Gramsci is indicated in this claim by Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe
From the Leninist concept of class alliances to the Gramscian concept of ‘intellectual and moral’ leadership, there is an increasing extension of hegemonic tasks, to the extent that for Gramsci social agents are not classes but ‘collective wills’… There is, then, an internal movement of Marxist thought from extreme essentialist forms— those of Plekhanov, for example—to Gramsci’s conception of social practices as hegemonic and articulatory, which virtually places us in the field, explored in contemporary thought, of ‘language games’ and the ‘logic of the signifier’.
Historically and theoretically this whole attempt to enlist Gramsci’s undoubted insights for anti-Leninist and reformist purposes has been subject to severe and, indeed compelling, criticism by amongst others Chris Harman, Ernest Mandel and Peter Thomas. What follows is a brief summary of the case against Gramscism.
Gramscism rests, first and foremost, on a radical distortion and misuse of the historical Gramsci. Gramsci was a thorough going revolutionary who split from the Italian Socialist Party to found the PCI in 1921 on an explicitly Leninist basis. In the Lyons Theses of 1926, Gramsci’s last major work before his imprisonment, he unequivocally reaffirmed his Leninism, writing:
The transformation of the communist parties …into Bolshevik parties can be considered the fundamental task of the Communist International.
There is no possibility of a revolution in
Italy which is not a socialist
revolution .. the only class which can accomplish a real, deep social
transformation is the working class.
Its [the PCI’s] fundamental task… to place before the proletariat and its allies the problem of insurrection against the bourgeois state and of the struggle for proletarian dictatorship…
The Communist Party links every immediate demand to a revolutionary objective; makes use of every partial struggle to teach the masses the need for general action and for insurrection…
The whole Gramscist appropriation of Gramsci is therefore predicated on the notion that he abandoned this revolutionary and insurrectionist perspective while in prison. No biographical evidence has ever been presented to prove or even seriously support such a notion. Rather Gramscism has rested on exploiting the ambiguous and, often opaque, formulations to be found in the Prison Notebooks, disregarding the known fact that Gramsci adopted this ‘Aesopian’ language in order to deceive the prison authorities. But even here what Gramsci actually writes contradicts the reformist interpretation put on it.
Gramsci writes of the war of manoeuvre and the war of position but they are both forms of [class] war. He writes that, ‘the supremacy of a social group manifests itself in two ways, as “domination” and as “intellectual and moral leadership”.’ In the analysis of the ‘relation of forces’ in a particular conjuncture he identifies three ‘moments or levels’:
1. A relation of forces which is closely linked to the structure independent of human will… the level of development of the material forces of production [which] provides a basis for the emergence of the various social classes…2…the relation of political forces; in other words… the degree of homogeneity, self-awareness and organisation attained by the various social classes. ..3…the relation of military forces which from time to time is directly decisive.
And he says ‘Historical development continually oscillates between the first and the third moment, with the mediation of the second’  He calls for a ‘dual perspective’ involving ‘force and consent, authority and hegemony, violence and civilisation’.
In the face of this repeated emphasis on the combination, i.e. dialectical interaction, of force and consent, domination and moral leadership, economic structure, politics and military force, the Gramscists have one-sidedly abstracted and emphasised ‘hegemony’ or ideological leadership in such a way as to minimise or disappear altogether the role of both economic struggle (strikes etc.) and revolutionary insurrection to smash the state and thus counterpose Gramsci to Lenin.
Equally erroneous has been their tendency to treat pre-Gramscian Marxism – the Marxism of Marx and Engels, Lenin, Luxemburg and Trotsky - as if it was generally characterised by crude mechanical economism and emphasis on physical force with little or no awareness of the role of ideology; as if, in other words The German Ideology, The Eighteenth Brumaire and Engels late letters on historical materialism had not been written and as if Lenin, Luxemburg and Trotsky had not read them and not written their own non- economistic texts such as What is to be Done? and The History of the Russian Revolution, ** [NOTE : Unfortunately this developed as an academic orthodoxy via lecturers who taught and students who received Marxism via Althusser and Gramsci (and commentaries on same); particularly in the 80s it was common to meet both students and lecturers who had read Althusser and (some) Gramsci but not read the Marxist classics.] and as if the concept of hegemony had not been in common usage in the Bolshevik Party. By contrast Gramsci himself more than once referred to Lenin as the originator and developer of the concept of hegemony.
Instead of Gramsci’s insights and observations on the question of hegemony constituting an alternative to, or critique, of Lenin’s theory of the state and revolution, as the proponents of Gramscism have suggested, it is clear that Gramsci himself saw them as a supplement or addition to Leninism – a development of Leninism on the basis of Leninism itself. This is evidenced not only by Gramsci’s invariably favourable references to Lenin as the ‘last great theoretician’ and so on but also quite explicitly in the statement ‘the greatest modern theoretician of the philosophy of praxis…constructed the doctrine of hegemony as a complement to the theory of the State-as-force.’
But leaving aside these textual and historical debates about Gramsci’s relation to Lenin what is abundantly clear is that the contemporary capitalist class, maintains its rule/dominance/hegemony by a complex combination of ideological consent and physical force both of which rest upon and also reinforce its economic power. Take for example two basic ideas which are essential to bourgeois hegemony, respect for (capitalist) property and respect for the (capitalist) law. Both these ideas are systematically promulgated by the education system, the media, the church and many other institutions and, in normal times, are widely accepted by most – though not all – working class people. But they are both continuously backed up by force; by the police, courts, prisons etc. How long would respect for property and the law survive if this were not so, if it were possible to defy the law with impunity? Conversely it is also evident that capitalist rule which rested on pure force alone with no ideological consent would be incredibly vulnerable.
In reality the balance between force and consent is continually shifting. Most of the time, and especially in periods of relative social peace, the element of consent is to the fore with force remaining in the background. But this does not mean that force has lost its importance because as consent starts to breakdown the use of force can increase and then predominate.
Consequently a strategy, such as that proposed by the Gramscists, which focuses entirely on the struggle for ideological hegemony and ignores the question of force, of the need to smash the capitalist state, is in reality a reversion to pre-Leninist reformism and deeply irresponsible. It is akin to marching one’s army into battle with no plan of action for should the enemy actually open fire.
A further question which has to be considered in relation to Gramsci’s ideas is the extent to which it is possible to be build socialist counter hegemony within and under capitalism, i.e. before the conquest of political power. I will return to this important strategic question in Chapter 4/5/6/??
Carrillo, Poulantzas and Eurocommunism
The last alternative to Lenin’s theory of the state that I shall address is that of the Spanish Communist Party leader Santiago Carrillo and the Greek- French theorist, Nicos Poulantzas who between them most clearly developed the Eurocommunist position on the state. What makes them particularly relevant today is their influence on Syriza in
Whereas the ‘Gramscist’ project involved a serious misrepresentation of Gramsci, Carrillo, in his landmark 1977 work Eurocommunism and the State, made no secret of his departure ‘from some of Lenin’s theses’ which ‘are out of date’. At the start of the book Carrillo speaks of ‘the revolutionary movement’ and ‘the revolutionary process’ and insists that ‘the State apparatus as a whole continues to be the instrument of the ruling class… This is a Marxist truth’. But as the book develops he progressively strips away and discards all the revolutionary conclusions that Lenin (and Marx) drew from this ‘truth’.
Carrillo takes as his point of departure Louis Althusser’s famous essay on ‘Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses’ (along with the kind of interpretation of Gramsci already discussed) and argues that:
The strategy of revolutions of today, in the developed capitalist countries, must be oriented to turning these ideological apparatuses round, to transform them and utilise them- if not wholly then partly – against the State power of monopoly capitalism. (Italics in original)
He then insists that ‘modern experience has shown that this is possible’ and discusses in turn each of Althusser’s ideological state apparatuses (the church, the education system, the family, the law, politics, the media) claiming that in each there are observable signs of change and division (this was in 1976) which make their progressive transformation possible. As evidence he sights the emergence of modernising and radical forces within the Catholic Church, the fact that ‘ Today the universities and educational centres… frequently become centres of opposition to capitalist society’, the crisis and transformation of the traditional family and so on.
These accounts are followed by the claim, directly citing Althusser, that:
So far as we know, no class can maintain state power in a lasting form without exercising at the same time its hegemony over and within the State ideological apparatuses.
Consequently, he maintains, this ‘capture’ of the ideological state apparatuses will open the way to winning over the coercive apparatuses of the state and he holds out a vision of a modernised democratic army acting as ‘an intellectual educator of men skilled in protecting out territory from outside attack’ rather than as an instrument of class rule. This does away with the need for insurrection and ‘the dictatorship of the proletariat’ (workers’ power and a workers’ state) in favour of a ‘democratic’ i.e. parliamentary, and gradual road to socialism.
Nicos Poulantzas’ State, Power, Socialism was published in 1978, a year after Carrillo’s work. It begins with a critique of the proposition that Carrillo had called ‘a Marxist truth’ namely that the state is an ‘instrument of the ruling class’. Poulantzas states that, ‘There is certainly no general theory of the state to be found in the Marxist classics’ and rejects the ‘purely instrumental conception of the State’ which he also calls ‘the traditional mechanistic-economist conception’ which he describes as ‘bequeathed by Stalinist dogmatism’. Rather than seeing the state as an ‘instrument’ he defines it as ‘the specific material condensation of a relation of class forces among classes and class fractions’.
However this formulation, which at first appears more ‘sophisticated’ and ‘advanced’ than that of Carrillo (or Lenin), is deployed by Poulantzas to arrive at very much the same conclusions as Carrillo. The conception of the state as a condensation of class forces develops into the proposition that ‘The establishment of the State’s policy must be seen a the result of class contradictions inscribed in the very structure of the State,’ and the notion of ‘contradictory relations enmeshed within the State’, so that the state must also be grasped as ‘a strategic field and process of intersecting power networks’. This, in turn, leads to the notion that ‘the struggle of the dominated classes’ is present ‘within the State’ and that ‘popular struggles traverse the State from top to bottom’.
As a result, Poulantzas argues, the possibility exists that on the basis of a shift in the balance of class forces and major popular struggles it will be possible to ‘transform’ the state rather than smashing it. He writes of ‘a long stage during which the masses will act to conquer and transform the state apparatuses’  and that;
For state power to be taken, a mass struggle must have unfolded in such a way as to modify the relationship of forces within the state apparatuses, themselves the strategic site of political struggle.
Moreover, this strategy is directly counter posed to the Leninist strategy of dual power leading to the replacement of the old state machine by soviet power.
For a dual power-type of strategy, however, the decisive shift in the relationship of forces takes place not within the State but between State and the masses outside. In the democratic road to socialism, the long process of taking power essentially consists in the spreading, development, reinforcement, coordination and direction of those diffuse centres of resistance which the masses always possess within the state networks, in such a way that they become the real centres of power on the strategic terrain of the State.
In response to these Eurocommunist perspectives the first thing to note is that nothing remotely approaching Carrillo’s projected left hegemonic transformation of any of the ‘ideological state apparatuses’ has occurred in the forty years since they were advanced. Moreover, this cannot be attributed simply to unfavourable developments in the course of the struggle and the balance of political forces, for nothing approaching the establishment of left hegemony has EVER occurred in these apparatuses under capitalism.
The unfortunate fact is that while such institutions as the education system or the mass media are subject to influence from below by popular struggles and are, indeed, quite adept and partially reflecting and absorbing such incursions there are, in all capitalist countries, powerful structural factors which prevent their radical transformation or take over.
Yes, certain radical teachers and professors will make progress and become influential and it may even be the case that certain faculties or university departments a whole may go ‘Marxist’ or left-wing or whatever, especially in times of mass struggle and revolt, such as the late sixties, but the commanding heights of the education system both at school and university level and in the administrative bureaucracy of the state will remain firmly out of reach. Yes, the bourgeois press will allow individual radical journalists a certain voice, the likes of John Pilger, Paul Foot and Eamonn McCann, and from time radical film makers like Ken Loach or Michael Moore or, in times past, Jean Luc Godard and Roberto Rossellini, or lefty comedians like Bill Hicks and Mark Steel will be permitted a niche presence but the media as a whole – the multinational corporations that dominate the world news and entertainment market and the state broadcasting companies dominant in individual countries –cannot possibly be captured or transformed by the left while capital and the capitalist state remain in place.
If this is true of the ideological apparatuses, it is even more clearly true of the coercive state apparatuses and it is precisely these that have to be transformed if the Carrillo/Poulantzas strategy for transition to socialism is to be realised. Here it is only necessary to move from Poulantzas’ highly ‘sophisticated’ theoretical abstractions to examining just a few actually existing coercive state institutions to see that this is a fantasy. Is it going to be possible, gradually or otherwise, to establish left hegemony in the CRS (the French riot police), the racist and murderous US Police departments or the Golden Dawn voting Greek Police or the London Met? How? And what about the secret forces of the deep state – MI5 and MI6 or the French General Directorates for External and Internal Security or the FBI and the CIA?
And then there is the question of the most important of all the institutions of the state, the army or perhaps we should say the armed forces as a whole, which is repository of decisive physical force in society. It is certainly true that the armed forces are not immune to popular pressure and that mass popular struggles will, as Poulantzas argues, have their effects, ‘within’ them. Indeed the fact that, in contrast to the secret services and even more than the police, the armed forces are ‘mass’ organisations whose rank-and-file are drawn overwhelmingly from the working class, makes them the most susceptible of all state institutions to such ‘contamination’. But, precisely for this reason, the armed forces are anything but democratic; on contrary they are founded and constructed entirely on the principle of authority, discipline and following orders, orders issued by a high command which, as we have already shown, is completely tied to the ruling class and completely unsusceptible to left influence.
Consequently, in so far as the rank-and-file of the armed forces do start to be affected by popular struggles and to adopt radical ideas, they immediately face the problem, if they want to act on those ideas, of the orders they are receiving from their officers. To defy those orders is to engage in mutiny, a crime which has always been and remains, subject to severe punishment and which, by its nature, threatens to ‘break up’ or smash the state in true Leninist style. Short of this revolutionary action from below the generals, admirals and airforce commanders will retain the ability to use the military to suppress popular dissent and to obstruct radical change.
Clearly the only way in which it might be possible even to attempt to transform the character of such institutions would be through the election of a ‘left government’ which would then pursue a policy appointing its supporters to the head of such institutions. In other words the Eurocommunist strategy, for all its Marxist language, resolves itself in practice into a revived version of the old parliamentary road to socialism pursued, with no success, by the left wing of social democracy.
One of the most serious weaknesses in the schema of both Carrillo and Poulantzas is that not only do they underestimate these structural limitations to the transformability of the state apparatuses, they also more or less ignore the fact that their avowed enemy, the existing ruling class, will actively resist. Faced with a genuinely left government whose aim, as Carrillo and Poulantzas insist, is not to administer capitalism á la mainstream social democracy but to gradually transform it into socialism, there is zero chance that the ruling class will passively await its demise. On the contrary they will use all the many means at their disposal to prevent such an out come and that will include forcing on the left government and the popular movement precisely the decisive physical confrontation the Eurocommunist strategy is designed to avoid. Given the imminent prospect of losing everything it has held dear for centuries, everything it believes in and identifies with the very basis of civilisation, why would the ruling class permit this to happen without provoking a real show down?
Finally, it is a feature of both Carrillo’s and Poulantzas’ criticism of Leninism (and Marx) that they essentially accept and endorse the democratic claims and credentials of the Western parliamentary system. Carrillo is explicit:
As regards the political system established in
Western Europe, based on
representative political institutions – parliament, political and philosophical
pluralism, the theory of the separation of powers, decentralization, human
rights etc.- that system is in essentials valid and it will be still more
effective with a socialist, and not a capitalist, economic foundation.
This is a position which I have to say is to the right of views that can be heard on any street corner or in any pub in the working class districts of Dublin since the crash of 2008, the bank bailout and the Troika- led imposition of austerity.
Poulantzas is less effusive and refers frequently (though vaguely) to the need for ‘a sweeping transformation of the state apparatus’ but he, like Carrillo, speaks of his strategy as ‘the democratic road to socialism’ and writes:
What is involved, through all the various transformations, is a real permanence and continuity of the institutions of representative democracy – not as unfortunate relics of the past to be tolerated as long as necessary, but as an essential condition of democratic socialism.
Moreover, he argues that Lenin’s insistence on the replacement of bourgeois parliamentarism by the ‘direct democracy’ of the soviets was what prepared the ground for Stalinism.
Was it not this very line (sweeping substitution of rank-and-file democracy for representative democracy) which principally accounted for what happened in Lenin’s lifetime in the Soviet Union, and which gave rise to the centralising and statist Lenin whose posterity is well enough known.
In this way the positions of both Carrillo and Poulantzas are less advanced than and to the right of the instinctive revolt not only of the Irish working class in recent years but also of the Spanish masses in the Indignados movement of 2011 with its slogans of ‘They don’t represent us!’ and ‘Real democracy now!’ and of the general spirit of the American and international Occupy movement.
The Struggle Today and Tomorrow
So far I have argued that the core propositions of Lenin’s The State and Revolution withstand all the many and varied critiques to which they have been subject. But any text written a hundred years ago is subject to the seemingly common sense objection that, ‘Surely it must be out of date now’. Actually ideas don’t work like that. Pythagoras formulated his theorem more than 2500 years ago; it still happens to be valid. Copernicus published his theory that the earth circles the sun, rather than the reverse, in 1543. We can fairly safely assume that when the five hundredth anniversary of this comes round it will still be the case. But of course the opposite is not true either, namely that all ideas that were once considered the case remain so. Copernicus also believed that the Sun was the centre of the universe; this was an advance on thinking the earth was the centre but we now know it not to be so. In other words these questions have to be judged on their merits and, as Marx pointed out in the Second Thesis on Feuerbach, the ultimate test is human practice.
For this reason I want to conclude this chapter by examining the relevance of the Leninist theory of the state to some major contemporary struggles. I shall begin with the largest and most powerful revolutionary struggle of the 21st century so far – the Egyptian Revolution of 2011.
The Egyptian Revolution began, on the 25 January, with a more or less spontaneous uprising. Of course the event had been called by various left and democratic organisations but they thought they were calling a protest demonstration not an uprising. The starting point of the uprising was expressed in its main slogans ‘Down! Down! Hosni Mubarak’ and ‘The people want to bring down the regime!’. But bringing down Mubarak and his regime involved confronting the Egyptian state or more precisely – and as we shall see the distinction is important – one section or one arm of the state: the police.
Mubarak’s police were already widely hated by the population because of their daily interactions with the public, their systematic bullying, brutality and worse i.e. torture. When they attempted to drive the mass demonstration of 25 January off the streets the people fought back and their ranks were swelled by hundreds of thousands more who poured out of the working class districts to join the revolt. Within days, 28 January was decisive, the police were defeated: it was they not the demonstrators who were driven off the streets, and this occurred not only in
across Egypt, especially in
the key cities of Suez and Alexandria. In the famous Battle of the Camel on 2 February ‘the
people’ also defeated the regime’s attempt to mobilize against them a
counter-revolutionary army of thugs and criminal elements (baltagiya). The mass
occupation of Tahrir Square
was maintained. Then, as Mubarak clung to power, the Revolution on the streets
started to spread to the workplaces in a mass strike wave. This decided matters
and Mubarak resigned on 11 February.
Power now passed into the hands of the military in the form of SCAF, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces. Significantly the army had not been deployed against the people in the eighteen days in which the Revolution was at its height. This enabled the propaganda claim that ‘The army and the people are one hand’ to have a certain popular resonance and this was compounded by the fact that ever since the days of Nasser in the fifties and sixties the notion of the Egyptian army as a progressive force had considerable currency with sections of the Egyptian left – with Nasserites of course but also with various left nationalists, Stalinists and Communists.
The assumption of power by SCAF by no means halted the development of the Egyptian Revolution and mass demonstrations continued, including with confrontations with the military police, but illusions in the neutrality and ‘patriotism’ of the army, i.e. the core of the state, clearly slowed its momentum.
When the Presidential elections were held in May/June 2012, Mohammed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood very narrowly led in the 1st round with 25% versus 24% for Ahmed Shafiq who was clearly the candidate of the military and of counter-revolution, with the Nasserist leader, Hamdeen Sabahi, who was supported by much of the left, in third place with 21%. In the 2nd round Morsi defeated by Shafiq by 51.7% to 48.3%. In other words more than a year into the revolution the candidate of the army could still command a mass vote.
This became even more important a year later. The Morsi government was a disaster for both the Egyptian people and for the Muslim Brotherhood itself. It did its very best to block any continuation of the Revolution, to demobilise protests on the streets and to collaborate with the military but it satisfied nobody as the society spiralled into crisis. A huge popular revolt against the government swelled up spearheaded by a group called Tamarod (Rebellion). Tamarod presented itself as a progressive pro- revolution grassroots organisation, but it subsequently emerged that they always had links with the military.
On 30 June 2013 monster anti-Muslim Brotherhood Government demonstrations took to the streets in
Maybe as many as 14 million mobilised and the next day a million people
occupied Tahrir Square.
Two days later the military, led by General Al-Sisi, moved to arrest Morsi and other leaders and
to depose the government. This was met with acclaim by many on the streets. The
Brotherhood responded by insisting on the legitimacy of Morsi and his government
and establishing two permanent protest sit-ins. On the 14 August after six
weeks of ongoing protest the Al-Sisi
regime crushed these sit-ins by military force with revolutionary
military coup was now firmly established and sealed in blood. It remains in
There has been widespread debate in
Egypt and internationally about
these events with debate focusing on what should have been, and should be, the
attitude of the left to the Muslim Brotherhood. The Egyptian Revolutionary
Socialists, for example, have been subject to much criticism for a) voting for
Morsi against Shafiq in the second round in 2012 and b) for defending the
Brotherhood against the repression they have been suffering since the coup.
This debate has mainly been about the nature of Islamism and of the Muslim
Brotherhood in particular but the point I want to make here is that it should
also have been about the nature of the state.
In reality hostility to the Muslim Brotherhood, which was coloured by a good deal of Islamophobia, allowed many on the left to gloss over and turn a blind eye to the class nature and deeply reactionary character of the Egyptian state apparatus. In these circumstances a wider grasp of the Leninist theory of the state, which was held by the Revolutionary Socialists but by almost no other tendency on the Egyptian left, would have been of immense practical use. It would have made it much more possible to turn the anti-Morsi mobilisation in a progressive and revolutionary direction and much more difficult for Al-Sisi to hegemonise that mobilisation.
The same issue resurfaced in relation to the attempted military coup in
on 15 July 2016. Obviously history did not repeat itself in that the Turkish
masses, overwhelmingly the Turkish working class, took to the streets to
confront the tanks and prevent the coup. However, as in Egypt, it was clear that a
substantial section of what is called ‘the nationalist left’ were either
entirely passive in their response to the coup or partially sympathetic to it
on the grounds that the military might be a lesser evil than the ‘fascist’
Islamist Government of Erdogan and the AKP.
That the notion of the capitalist state and its military as in someway progressive or the ally of the working class has purchase on the left has a number of roots (it has always been central to Social Democracy and Labourism) but in many parts of the world, including Turkey and Egypt, it is due above all to the abandonment of Leninism, first in practice and then in words, by the official international Communist movement.
which has been the other decisive arena of struggle in the last few years, the
question of the state has again been of great importance. The election of the
Syriza government in January 2015 raised and focussed the hopes of the left
across Europe but, as the first electoral victory of a party with a
Eurocommunist pedigree, it also promised to put to the test the Poulantzian
strategy of ‘transforming’ the capitalist state.
It seemed likely to be a severe test because of the notoriously reactionary and
semi-fascist character of the Greek state apparatus that had ruled Greece as a
military dictatorship in 1967 – 74 and whose police force were rumoured to vote
50% for the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn.
In the event the test did not materialize for the simple reason that Syriza
made no attempt to transform the Greek state (or to undermine or seriously
modify Greek capitalism); instead, from the outset its leader Alexis Tsipras
sought to placate and reassure the state apparatus, and the Greek ruling class
as a whole, by appointing three ‘safe’ right wingers – Nikos Kotzias, Panos
Kammenos, and Yiannis Panousis – to the Ministries of Foreign Affairs, Defence and
Citizan Protection (the police) respectively.
The most surprising, shocking even, of the appointments was that of Panos Kammenos, leader of the right wing and racist ANEL party. The claim was that this was necessary to establish a coalition with ANEL which in turn was essential to enable Syriza to form a government, it being two seats short of an overall majority. In reality this was neither a constitutional nor a political necessity – Syriza would have been in a very strong position to rule as a minority government, challenging the other parties to bring them down and precipitate an election (which Syriza would almost certainly have won). The assessment of the Financial Times is much more accurate: ‘Syriza’s partnership with Mr Kammenos and his nationalist party is considered vital to maintaining the loyalty of the armed forces to a government led by former Communists’.
But if an all out confrontation between the Greek deep state and the Syriza government did not materialize because of Syriza’s instant appeasement of the priorities of that state and its early abandonment of any kind of serious anti-capitalist strategy, such a confrontation nevertheless did take place with the supra- national ‘institutions’ of the European Union and international capitalism, the so-called ‘Troika’ of the European Central Bank, the EU Commission and the IMF.
Syriza came to power on the basis of its Thessaloniki Programme which pledged to end austerity by renegotiating the terms of Greece’s crippling international debt and implementing a ‘National Reconstruction Plan’ to confront Greece’s immediate ‘humanitarian crisis’ and ‘reverse the social and economic disintegration, to reconstruct the economy and exit from the crisis’.
We demand immediate parliamentary elections and a strong negotiation mandate with the goal to:
· Write-off the greater part of public debt’s nominal value so that it becomes sustainable in the context of European Debt Conference. It happened for
in 1953. It can also happen
for the South of Europe and Germany . Greece
· Include a ‘growth clause’ in the repayment of the remaining part so that it is growth-financed and not budget-financed.
· Include a significant grace period (moratorium) in debt servicing to save funds for growth.
At the same time the Syriza committed itself to remaining within the EU and the Eurozone. These radical anti-austerity aims were to be realized through negotiations with their ‘European partners’. Alexis Tsipras, Yannis Varufakis and other Syriza ministers consistently referred to the EU and its leaders as their ‘partners’.
It is a feature of the political culture of the European left (outside of its ‘Leninist/Trotskyist’ components) that it frequently combines hostility to its own national establishment and their political representatives – the likes of Merkel, Cameron, Blair, Sarkosy, Rajoy, Samaras etc. - and the police chiefs and generals of its own state, with a rose –tinted view of the representatives of those same establishments and states when they gather together internationally. As a result there is a widespread notion that the European Union and the United Nations are in some way progressive institutions embodying ‘left values’ such as international cooperation and internationalism. In what can broadly be called the peace movement it is common to find resolute opponents of almost all war, such as the late Tony Benn, who are equally resolute proponents of the UN. Moreover, this attitude seems to persist despite an abundance of evidence and experience to show that in all important matters the UN is nothing but an instrument of, and cover for, the interests of the major (imperialist) powers. As Perry Anderson has written:
The UN is a political entity without any independent will. If we set aside its specialized agencies, most of which perform useful practical services of one sort or another, the core of the institution–that is, the General Assembly and Security Council–is a legitimating, not a policy-making, apparatus. Decisions reached by the organization are in essence embellishments of the relationships of power operative at any given time.
Thus one often hears that Tony Blair’s offence in 2003 was to embark on the invasion of
without a second resolution from the UN as if sanctification by the UN would
have made that invasion legitimate. At bottom this is the transfer of the
reformist perspective on the existing state as an instrument to be harnessed
for the transformation of society into the international arena. Obviously there
are no quotations from Lenin about the EU or the UN but we do know that he and
the Communist International in his day regularly referred to the Iraq League of Nations as a ‘thieves kitchen’ and ‘league of
imperialist bandits’. Bukharin and Preobrazhensky in their ABC of Communism, which was a kind of Leninist revolutionary
It is pure fable to say that the
of Nations has been founded to promote the cause of peace. In
actual fact it has a twofold aim: the ruthless exploitation of the proletariat
throughout the world, of all colonies and of the colonial slaves; and the
crushing of the incipient world revolution.
When Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis came to negotiate face to face with German Finance Minister, Wolfgang Schauble and the Troika Eurocrats he found their behaviour much more closely resembled that of imperialist bandits than that of partners. In an interview with the New Statesman, Varoufakis recorded how he was confronted with:
The complete lack of any democratic scruples, on behalf of the supposed defenders of
democracy…To have very powerful figures look at you in the eye and say “You’re
right in what you’re saying, but we’re going to crunch you anyway.”
[T]here was point blank refusal to engage in economic arguments. Point blank. … You put forward an argument that you’ve really worked on – to make sure it’s logically coherent – and you’re just faced with blank stares. It is as if you haven’t spoken. What you say is independent of what they say. You might as well have sung the Swedish national anthem – you’d have got the same reply.
The reason the Eurocrats were not interested in Varoufakis’ economic arguments was simple: the ‘negotiation’ was not about the best economic policy for Greece and they were not ‘partners’ of the Greek people; they were representatives of European capital and they had decided in advance that Syriza had to be forced to submit, publicly and humiliatingly, to draconian austerity in order to deter radical experiments or debt defiance anywhere else. And of course we know that despite the backing of a massive OXI (No!) vote by the Greek people a few days earlier Syriza government on July 8 2015 did just – publicly submitted.
In short the whole episode was an object lesson in the simple truth that these institutions of the ruling class – the European Commission, the ECB, the IMF etc – cannot be ‘taken over’ or ‘harnessed’ or used to implement anti-capitalist policies or even policies that seriously conflict with the interests of the capitalist class. And had Syriza chosen the road of defiance and confrontation there can be little doubt that the Greek state machine would have operated as an ally of the EU institutions against the Syriza government and against the working people of
. In those circumstances
merely to end austerity, never mind achieve the transition to socialism, would
have needed the revolutionary mobilization of the Greek working class to defeat
and dismantle the authoritarian and reactionary Greek state apparatus. Greece
Finally there is the struggle unfolding as this book is being written around Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the British Labour Party. When Corbyn was first elected leader in September 2015 David Cameron responded immediately saying, ‘The Labour Party is now a threat to national security’. This was a double-edged barb. On the one hand it challenged Corbyn to state, and prove,his loyalty to the British state and its main institutions (armed forces, police, security services, monarchy etc) and was accompanied by concerted media attacks him over symbolic issues like singing the national anthem and kissing the Queen’s hand clearly designed to cast doubt on this loyalty. On the other hand it was a message to the British state and its military and security services to say that with Corbyn it was no longer business as usual. Within days an ‘unnamed’ senior serving general had issued a warning in The Sunday Times of a possible ‘mutiny’ against a Corbyn government
The Army just wouldn’t stand for it. The general staff would not allow a prime minister to jeopardise the security of this country and I think people would use whatever means possible, fair or foul to prevent that. You can’t put a maverick in charge of a country’s security.
“There would be mass resignations at all levels and you would face the very real prospect of an event which would effectively be a mutiny.”
Since this episode the lead role in the assault on Corbyn has passed to the Labour Party Blairites and the majority of MPs in the Parliamentary Labour Party who have done their best to force him to resign and to oust him by means of a leadership challenge by Owen Smith. This has spectacularly failed with Corbyn being reelected on 24 September 2016 with a resounding 65%. Doubtless Corbyn’s right wing Labour opponents – the Hilary Benns, Angela Eagles, Alasdair Campbells and so on – who are far more loyal to the British state and ruling class than they are to the Labour Party, will do all in their power to ensure that objection that Corbyn is unelectable becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. But should a Corbyn led Labour Party, despite their best efforts and despite the media, nevertheless follow in the footsteps of Syriza and be elected the question of the British State apparatus would become centre stage.
It seems abundantly clear that far from collaborating or acquiescing in Corbyn’s efforts at social transformation that state apparatus, together with the power of British and international capital (and the EU and the US government etc. etc.) will move to block, frustrate and undermine him at every turn, even to the point, if necessary, of unseating by force.
What these examples all demonstrate is that the analysis outlined a century ago in The State and Revolution that the existing state is an organ of class rule by the capitalist class and that it cannot be ‘taken over’ by the working class but must be smashed and replaced by a new state based on workers’ councils, retains all its relevance today. Indeed the more the level of struggle rises and intensifies the more important and central this analysis becomes.
The Assault on Corbyn 18 september 2015
The assault on Jeremy Corbyn by the establishment and their media is clearly a coordinated attempt to destroy him. It is to be hoped that people will see through it and it will backfire.
Many of the attacks will be gutter journalism at its worst and many will be easy for the left to rebut with sarcasm and humour on social media. But the ruling class are not fools; they have long experience and a killer instinct in these matters. We on the left need to understand what they are doing.
The issues of will Corbyn sing the national anthem or wear a red poppy or kiss the Queen’s hand may seem trivial but they chime with Cameron’s tweet that Labour’s new leader is a ‘threat to national security’. What the ruling class are saying to Corbyn is ‘Are you loyal to the
?’ And they are daring
him to say he is not and demanding that he prove he is. British
But if he IS loyal to British state lots of things go along with this. Not just the monarchy and innumerable ceremonies ( which are not there just for decoration but as important symbols of loyalty and subordination) but also ‘support for our boys’ in war, ‘defence of the realm’ via the armed forces – including MI5, MI6 etc, support for ‘our’ police and ‘our’ justice system, backing ‘British’ business and so on.
A number of things make this difficult for Corbyn. First, the issue will not go away. Even if the current feeding frenzy fades, it will always be there in the background to resurface in new tabloid headlines in the future. Second, he will be surrounded by Ministers, MPs, trade union leaders and ‘advisers’ telling him he HAS to go along with this stuff to be ‘electable’ and they are likely to back their advice with threats of resignation etc., because many of them really are loyal to the British state – a lot more loyal to it than they are to Corbyn or the Labour Party come to that.
Then there is the deeper problem that this is probably an issue which Jeremy Corbyn has not thought through himself. Certainly this is the case with the Labour Left historically and with left reformists generally (and internationally). Their whole project, their whole strategy, is based on the idea of USING the existing state to transform society. It is on this basis that they achieve their popularity, saying to working people ‘Support us and we will form a government that will run the country more in your interests’. They don’t say to working class people you should rise up, overthrow the existing state and create your own state. They say vote for us.
History shows that this is a question on which the Labour Party has repeatedly fallen down, ranging from support for the First World War, to the Attlee government’s manufacture of
Britain first nuclear bombs and backing for the side in the
Cold War. Michael Foot (a lifelong member of CND) was repeatedly crucified on this
issue – and I don’t mean his ‘donkey jacket’ at the Cenotaph, I mean nuclear
weapons. As Labour leader he was never able to give a clear answer to the
question, ‘Will a Labour government get rid of US ’s nuclear deterrent?’ and
as a consequence was reduced to incoherence. Britain
Of course it is possible that Corbyn could come out fighting and say I reject any allegiance to the Royal Family, the Armed Forces and the State as a whole – they are instruments for holding down and oppressing the working class. But this seems unlikely. And if he does try to prove his loyalty to the British state he is likely to be trapped in an endless series of damaging concessions which will gradually eviscerate a lot of his radicalism.
I know this is a grim scenario when everyone on our side is rightly delighted with Corbyn’s stunning victory which has undoubtedly opened up a huge space for political debate and given an impetus to struggle from below. But the historical experience on which it is based is also grim. And if Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party prove me wrong it will be wonderful.
 Obviously this was only possible because he had already done the preparatory work in 1916 and early 1917. See V.I.Lenin, Marxism on the State,
 CW Vol.36 p.454 https://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1917/jul/07d.htm
 ‘Under the banner of Workers’ Soviets, under the banner of revolutionary struggle for power and the dictatorship of the proletariat, under the banner of the Third International – Workers of the World Unite!’. Closing words of Leon Trotsky, Manifesto of the First CongressoftheCommunistInternational, https://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/1924/ffyci-1/ch01.htm
 With the adoption of the Popular Front strategy in 1934 and the parliamentary road to socialism in western Europe in 1951.
 L.Colletti, ‘Lenin’s State and Revolution,’ in From Rousseau to Lenin,
New York 1972.
R.Miliband, Lenin’s ‘The State and Revolution ‘(1970) in Class Power and State Power,
 F.Engels, The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State, cited in Lenin, The State and Revolution, Moscow, 1977, p.10.
 As above, p.10.
 As above, p.11.
 As above, p.13
 As above, p.17
 As above, p.46.
 As above, p.17.
 As above p.36.
 As above, p.12.
 As above, p.38
 As above p.38
 As above p.30 and p.38.
 As above, p.41.
 As above p.42.
 As above p.42.
 As above, p.42-3.
 As above p.43.
 As above p.48.
 As above p.79
 As above p.114.
 As above p.93
 As above p. 112
 Lenin, The Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky, https://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1918/prrk/democracy.htm
 Lenin, Left-Wing Communism – An Infantile Disorder, https://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1920/lwc/ch09.htm
 This compresses into one paragraph the analysis presented in John Molyneux, Will the Revolution Be Televised? A Marxist Analysis of the Media, London 2011.
 Lenin, The State and Revolution, as above, p.17.
 Lenin, The State and Revolution, as above p.7-8
 M Bakunin, The Programme of the International Brotherhood, 1869, http://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/bakunin/works/1869/program.htm
 Alexander Berkman, What is Communist Anarchism?
 As above, p.291
 Organisational Platform of the Libertarian Communists written in 1926 by Nestor Makhno, Piotr Arshinov and other Russian anarchists of the Dielo Trouda (Workers’ Cause) (http://www.nestormakhno.info/english/platform/general.htm)
 J.Holloway, Change the World Without Taking Power, (2002), http://web.archive.org/web/20110701110507/http://libcom.org/library/chapter-11-revolution
 A. Gramsci, Selections from the Prison Notebooks,
 As above pp.238-9.
 See above p. 235
 See above p.240.
 A.Gramsci ,’The Southern Question’ in The Modern Prince and Other Writings,
york 1972, pp.30-31.
 A. Gramsci, Selections from the Prison Notebooks,
 The term was widely used by Lenin and by the Bolsheviks in the context of struggling for working class hegemony in the democratic revolution and also had long standing ordinary bourgeois usage as in ‘Napoleon established his established hegemony over much of
 See for example Stuart Hall, ‘Gramsci and Us’, Marxism Today, June 1987, http://www.hegemonics.co.uk/docs/Gramsci-and-us.pdf
Santiago Carillo, Eurocommunism
and the State, London
 Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe, ‘Post-Marxism without Apologies’, New Left Review I/166, November-December 1987
 See Chris Harman,, ‘Gramsci versus Eurocommunism’, parts 1 and 2, in International Socialism Journal 98 (May 1977) and 99 (June 1977)., Ernest Mandel, From Stalinism to Eurocommunism,
London 1978, especially
pp.201-220., Peter Thomas The Gramscian
Moment, Haymarket, 2010.
 A. Gramsci, Selections from Political Writings, 1921-26,
 Gramsci, As above p. 343.
 As above, p.357
 As above, p.369.
 A.Gramsci, Selections from the Prison Notebooks,
London, 1982. p.57..
 As above pp.180-83
 As above, p.183
 As above, pp.169-70.
 As above p.357
 A. Gramsci, Further Selections from the Prison Notebooks,
1995, p.507. ‘The majority of
commentators, anxious to stress the decisive contribution made by Gramsci, or
more subtly, to oppose Gramsci to Lenin, end up by underestimating the place of
hegemony in Lenin’s work and remaining almost completely silent on the Third
International.” (C. Buci-Glucksmann, Gramsci and The State, London 1980 p174) London
 S.Carrillo, Eurocommunism and the State,
London 1977, p.10.
 As above, p.12-13.
 S.Carrillo, as above, p22-3.
 As above, p.34.
 Althusser quoted by Carrillo, as above, p. 49.
 As above, p.68.
 Nicos Poulantzas, State, Power, Socialism, London 2000, p.20. Poulantzas, Althusser and their like are fond of such dismissive statements (‘There is no Marxist theory of … ideology, politics, religion etc., etc, ‘) What it means is less clear. Does it mean there is no specific book on the subject? Well there is Engels’ Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State. Or does it mean that there is no general theory embedded in Marx and Engels’ writings as a whole? But Lenin’s The State and Revolution would seem to demonstrate precisely that there is such a theory. Maybe it is just a fancy (pompous?) way of saying he doesn’t agree with the theory that exists.
 As above pp.12 and 15.
 As above p.130.
 As above p.129.
 As above, pp132-3. Italics in original.
 As above, p.136.
 As above p.141.
 As above p.254
 As above p.258
 As above p.258. It is worth noting that here Poulantzas explicitly distances himself from Gramsci writing , ‘It is not therefore a question of a straight choice between frontal war of movement and war of position, because,in Gramsci’s use of the term, the latter always comprises encirclement of a fortress state’. (p.258).
 The likes of Murdoch’s News International, Time Warner, Disney and so on.
 See John Molyneux, Will the Revolution be Televised? London 2011.
 Carrillo, as above, p.105.
 Poulantzas, as above, p.261.
 As above p.252.
 ‘The question whether objective truth can be attributed to human thinking is not a question of theory but is a practical question. Man must prove the truth — i.e. the reality and power, the this-sidedness of his thinking in practice. The dispute over the reality or non-reality of thinking that is isolated from practice is a purely scholastic question.’
 This question was the subject of much debate at the time and it is quite useful to revisit what was said in those days. The author took part in a debate with Syriza supporter, Professor Helena Sheehan, in
on ‘Syriza and Socialist Strategy’ in March 2015. It can be seen here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v6xMwkKF6WA
 For a good account of the genesis and peculiarities of the Greek state see Kevin Ovenden, Syriza: Inside the labyrinth, London 2015, Ch.6, Face to face with the
. Deep State
 For the political record and character of these Ministers see Kevin Ovenden, as above, pp. 118-130.
 Financial Times, 5 April, 2015, cited in Kevin Ovenden, as above, p. 130.
 Syriza:The Thessaloniki Programme, http://www.syriza.gr/article/SYRIZA---THE-THESSALONIKI-PROGRAMME.html#.V9vRWVUrLIU
 As above.
 N.Bukharin and E.Preobrazhensky, The ABC of Communism,
1969, p.180. Trotsky in The Revolution
Betrayed records how the Soviet Union’s attitude to the League
of Nations changed under Stalin. See L.Trotsky, The Revolution Betrayed, London
 http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/british-army-could-stage-mutiny-under-corbyn-says-senior-serving-general-10509742.html. It was also reported that this ‘unnamed’ general had served in
during ‘the Trouble’ and was disgusted at Corbyn’s refusal to condemn the IRA.
Those who know something of Irish history will recognise in the general’s statement
a threat to repeat the tactic used by the British army in the Curragh Mutiny of
1914 which prepared the way for the partition of Ireland.