08 June 2010

Class Society and the State


Class Society and the State

V I Lenin wrote "The State and Revolution" between the February 1917 bourgeois-democratic revolution in Russia, and the October 1917 proletarian revolution. The latter dramatically interrupted his writing, leaving the work unfinished. [Picture: Lenin in 1917]

SACP Deputy General Secretary Jeremy Cronin has remarked that South Africa is in some ways stuck “between February and October”, meaning to compare our SA situation during the 16 years since 1994 with the eight months in 1917 between the two Russian revolutions.

It therefore seems worthwhile to run all six chapters of “The State and Revolution” as a course, set or series of the Communist University, now. In length, they are well suited to the purpose. It is even possible that this kind of treatment, and this way of collective study, was exactly what Lenin had in mind when he wrote the work. He referred to it as a “pamphlet”, which would tend to mean a text for mass agitational propaganda.

The urgency of Lenin’s revolutionary purpose is apparent from the first paragraph (of Chapter 1, download linked below), as is the priority he gives to the understanding of The State as a product of, and integral to, the exploitative class-divided social system that the Bolsheviks were determined to overthrow, and therefore a matter of the highest revolutionary importance.

Hence the first words are a definition and a challenge to those who would think otherwise: “The State: a Product of the Irreconcilability of Class Antagonisms”

In the first paragraph Lenin refers to the embracing of “Marxism” by the respectable bourgeoisie, and their pleasure at the amenability of “the labour unions which are so splendidly organized for the purpose of waging a predatory war!”

The great war that was raging at the time was not merely an incidental background to the Russian Revolutions of 1917. Like the lethal global neo-liberalism of recent times, the “First World War” (the Imperialist War) had seduced the major part of the social-democratic organisations that claimed to represent the working class. The structures of the working class had turned against the working class, and the crux of the matter was the question, then as now, of The State. Lenin is unequivocal:

“The state is a product and a manifestation of the irreconcilability of class antagonisms. The state arises where, when and insofar as class antagonism objectively cannot be reconciled. And, conversely, the existence of the state proves that the class antagonisms are irreconcilable.”

Lenin proceeds to write that the overthrow of the bourgeois state has to be direct and forcible, whereas the withering-away of the proletarian state can only be the indirect consequence of the progressive disappearance of class antagonism during the transitional period called socialism.

"The State and Revolution" goes to the very heart of the revolutionary theory of class struggle, sharpens all contradictions, and draws clear lessons - lessons that are still relevant today, and especially for South Africa.