MIA: Encyclopedia of Marxism: Glossary of Terms




The combination of stagnation (i.e. economic recession) and inflation. Iain MacLeod, the British Tory MP, coined the term in a speech to Parliament in 1965: ‘We now have the worst of both worlds - not just inflation on the one side or stagnation on the other. We have a sort of “stagflation” situation’.

In general, according to the normal course of the capitalist business cycle, an economy alternates between stagnation – falling prices, high unemployment, low levels of economic activity and growth – and inflation – rising prices, low unemployment and high wages, rapid economic growth and escalating levels of credit.

The term “stagflation” became widely used to describe the state of the world capitalist economy in the late-1960s and 70s with the collapse of the Bretton Woods arrangements in 1968-73. For example, in 1974 prices in the U.S. rose by more than 10 per cent while unemployment reached 9.2 percent. Every measure taken to reduce unemployment stoked up inflation without reducing unemployment, and every measure taken to reduce inflation failed to do anything except increase unemployment. The intractable crisis of stagflation led to the adoption of monetarist ideologies by Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher.

By the time that monetarism was abandoned in the early 1980s, high unemployment had become an institution in almost every country in the world.



A political theory that society must follow definitive stages of class society. Thus, it is essentially impossible for a feudal society to transition into a socialist society, in much the same way that a tribal society could not transition to a capitalist society.

The stagists particularly argued, in countries lacking the basic preconditions for capitalism (let alone socialism), that a large, organised and educated proletariat, a high level of urbanisation, industrialisation, concentration of capital, and a democratic political culture were necessary before Socialism could be achieved. They explained that the preconditions of socialism have to be secured by a development of the market, including private ownership in the means of production, and conversely that the passage to socialism cannot be secured by means of a dictatorship of the proletariat.

Some versions of "stagism" hold that the "intermediate stage" must include a bourgeois-democratic regime, and rules out the possibility of a dictatorship of the proletariat overseeing the development of the market and raising the cultural level, and postpones the seizure of power by the working class until the "normal" course of capitalist development has been completed. Other versions of "stagism" envisage a workers' government overseeing a stage of normal capitalist development.

"Stagism" is generally contrasted with the idea of the "growing over" of the bourgeois democratic revolution into a socialist revolution, a social process which can take place under a dictatorship of the proletariat, understood as the fullest development of participatory democracy, but suppressing large-scale capital accumulation if not entirely eliminating private ownership of the means of production.

The idea here is that although the seizure of power by the organised working class is a "sudden" or revolutionary event, the underlying social change is gradual, with the preconditions for socialism slowly developing and the working class gaining an ever firmer hold over social life, smoothly passing from a social-democratic "mixed economy" to a planned economy managed by the working class. According to this position, the "stagist" proposal to freely allow capital accumulation and the extension of the market (with or without a workers' government) would allow the bourgeoisie to grow, consolidate its power and crush the working class, eradicating the possibility of socialist revolution.

Stagism leads to the belief that reformism must be exhausted before revolution is possible.

Historical Development: In the Russian Revolution, the problem of stagism versus permanent revolution posed itself in the split between the Bolsheviks and Mensheviks. Everyone agreed that the coming revolution had to carry out the tasks of a bourgeois revolution (i.e., establish basic freedoms, overcome the legacy of feudalism and modernise society) but the Bolsheviks held that these tasks would be achieved only by a revolution led by the proletariat, while the Mensheviks held that the tasks of the bourgeois revolution could only be achieved with the bourgeoisie, and that even though the Russian proletariat was a strong class, political leadership had to be shared with the bourgeoisie. This was a form of stagism: first a bourgeois revolution, then later, a proletarian revolution.

In the immediate aftermath of World War Two, Stalin actually tried to restore right-wing and even reactionary governments in the countries occupied by the Red Army because of the conviction that a distinct stage of bourgeois development (People's Democracy) was needed before making a decisive move towards the elimination of capital. This perspective was never implemented however.

Later, in the series of national liberation movements that grew up after the second world war, "stagism" meant limiting these revolutions to the achievement of normal capitalist development, postponing nationalisation of the land and the building of a planned, non-market economy to a later, second stage. Support for stagism grew particularly in the 1970s as the nationalised economies in these countries failed to make the necessary development.



In contemporary parlance, the word “Stalinism” has come to embody a range of ideologies, specific political positions, forms of societal organization, and political tendencies. That makes getting at the core definition of “Stalinism” difficult, but not impossible.

First and foremost, Stalinism must be understood as the politics of a political stratum. Specifically, Stalinism is the politics of the bureaucracy that hovers over a workers' state. Its first manifestation was in the Soviet Union, where Stalinism arose when sections of the bureaucracy began to express their own interests against those of the working class, which had created the workers' state through revolution to serve its class interests.

Soviet Russia was an isolated workers' state, and its developmental problems were profound. The socialist movement–including the Bolshevik leaders in Russia–had never confronted such problems. Chief among these was that Russia was a backward, peasant-dominated country, the “weakest link in the capitalist chain,” and had to fight for its survival within an imperialist world. This challenge was compounded by the defeat of the revolution in Europe, particularly in Germany, and the isolation of the Soviet workers' state from the material aid that could have been provided by a stronger workers' state. But the pressures of imperialism were too great.

From a social point of view, then, Stalinism is the expression of these pressures of imperialism within the workers' state. The politics of Stalinism flow from these pressures.

The political tenets of Stalinism revolve around the theory of socialism in one country–developed by Stalin to counter the Bolshevik theory that the survival of the Russian Revolution depended on proletarian revolutions in Europe. In contradistinction, the Stalinist theory stipulates that a socialist society can be achieved within a single country.

In April 1924, in the first edition of his book Foundations of Leninism, Stalin had explicitly rejected the idea that socialism could be constructed in one country. He wrote: “Is it possible to attain the final victory of socialism in one country, without the combined efforts of the proletarians of several advanced countries? No, it is not. The efforts of one country are enough for the overthrow of the bourgeoisie. This is what the history of our revolution tells us. For the final victory of socialism, for the organization of socialist production, the efforts of one country, especially a peasant country like ours, are not enough. For this we must have the efforts of the proletariat of several advanced countries. Such, on the whole, are the characteristic features of the Leninist theory of the proletarian revolution.”

In August 1924, as Stalin was consolidating his power in the Soviet Union, a second edition of the same book was published. The text just quoted had been replaced with, in part, the following: “Having consolidated its power, and taking the lead of the peasantry, the proletariat of the victorious country can and must build a socialist society.” And by November 1926, Stalin had completely revised history, stating: “The party always took as its starting point the idea that the victory of socialism ... can be accomplished with the forces of a single country.”

Leon Trotsky, in The Third International After Lenin, called the Stalinist concept of “socialism one country” a “reactionary theory” and characterized its “basis” as one that“sums up to sophistic interpretations of several lines from Lenin on the one hand, and to a scholastic interpretation of the 'law of uneven development' on the other. By giving a correct interpretation of the historic law as well as of the quotations [from Lenin] in question,” Trotsky continued, “we arrive at a directly opposite conclusion, that is, the conclusion that was reached by Marx, Engels, Lenin, and all of us, including Stalin and Bukharin, up to 1925."

Stalinism had uprooted the very foundations of Marxism and Leninism.

From “socialism in one country” flow the two other main tenets of Stalinist politics. First is that the workers' movement–given the focus on building socialism in one country (i.e., the Soviet Union)–must adapt itself to whatever is in the best interests of that focus at any given moment. Hence we find the Stalinists engaged in “a series of contradictory zigzags” (Trotsky, The Revolution Betrayed), from confrontation with imperialism to détente and from seeming support for the working-class struggle to outright betrayal of the workers. In other words, Russia's own economic development comes first, above an international policy of revolution–which was the Bolshevik perspective. The second is the idea of revolution in “stages” –that the “national-democratic revolution” must be completed before the socialist revolution takes place. This, too, runs contrary to Marxism. But because of this theory and as the expression of imperialism within the workers' state–and, by extension, within the world workers' movement–we find the Stalinists assigning to the national bourgeoisie a revolutionary role.

The case of Indonesia in 1965 affords an ideal illustration of the bankruptcy and treachery of the “two-stage theory.” As class tensions mounted among the workers and the peasantry, and the masses began to rise up against the shaky regime of President Sukarno, the Stalinist leadership in Beijing told the Indonesian masses and their mass organization the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) to tie their fate to the national bourgeoisie. In October, as many as 1 million workers and peasants were slaughtered in a CIA-organized coup led by General Suharto, which swept aside the Sukarno, crushed the rising mass movements, and installed a brutal military dictatorship.

The “two-stage theory” has also propelled the Stalinists into “popular fronts” with so-called“progressive”elements of the bourgeois class to “advance” the first revolutionary stage. Examples include Stalinist support (through the Communist Party, USA) to President Roosevelt 1930s. And, taking this orientation to its logical conclusion, the Communist Party in the United States consistently supports Democratic Party candidates for office, including the presidency.

The theory of “socialism in one country” and the policies that flowed from it propelled a transformation of Soviet foreign policy under Stalin. The Bolshevik revolutionary strategy, based on support for the working classes of all countries and an effort through the Communist International to construct Communist Parties as revolutionary leaderships throughout the world, gave way to deal-making and maneuvers with bourgeois governments, colonial “democrats” like Chiang Kai-shek in China, and the trade union bureaucracies.

In his 1937 essay “Stalinism and Bolshevism,” Trotsky wrote: “The experience of Stalinism does not refute the teaching of Marxism but confirms it by inversion. The revolutionary doctrine which teaches the proletariat to orient itself correctly in situations and to profit actively by them, contains of course no automatic guarantee of victory. But victory is possible only through the application of this doctrine.” At best, one can say that the Stalinist orientation has not been one of orienting “correctly."

In terms of the organization of a state, Stalinist policies are quite clear: democratic rights threaten the position of the bureaucracy, and hence democracy is incompatible with Stalinism. In basic terms on a world scale, the forces of Stalinism have done everything in their power to prevent socialist revolution.

Submitted by Scott Cooper,
December, 2000

Further Reading: Stalinism Subject Archive


Standing Orders

Standing Orders is the set of rules for the conduct of formal meetings used in trade unions and other organisations.

Standing orders are generally formalised and attached to an organisation’s rules, but these rules are almost traditional in working class organisations and most experienced activists are familiar with them, and will abide by them even when there is no formal set of standing orders in operation. Standing orders vary from organisation to organisation mainly in the degree of formality. Social movements usually have informal standing orders which differ in some respects from those traditionally used in trade unions and left parties and usually apply some form of consensus decision making. The traditional formal meeting procedure uses majority voting for decision making.

The purpose of standing orders is to ensure that the conduct of a meeting is at all times subject to the will of a majority able to act on the basis of all available information, while preventing a small minority from significantly disrupting conduct of the meeting, irrespective of irreconcilable differences existing amongst the participants.

Some organisations appoint a Standing Orders Committee to determine the standing orders to apply at each of its meetings, and this Committee often sets the agenda given to the Chair and acts as a kind of dispute resolution committee in respect of how the meeting is run.

Below are the main concepts to be found in standing orders.


The Chair: person appointed to run the meeting. Social movements usually choose the chair, or “facilitator” at the start of the meeting. More formal organisations require that someone elected to a specific position chair a given meeting.

The Floor: everyone else participating in the meeting.

The Platform: others who may have a special role other than the chair.

The Gallery: people observing the meeting but not participating.

Observers: people attending without speaking or voting rights.

Agenda: the list of items planned for the meeting, agreed at the beginning or the meeting.

The Order of Debate: the sequence of issues to be discussed etc. There are a number of special items which may always appear at a certain point in the agenda, such as:

Minutes: the record of earlier meeting; Correspondence: letters received by the organisation; Apologies; Next Meeting (usually last item on the agenda). Discussion around the Minutes includes “Acceptance” and Corrections to and Passing the Minutes. Acceptance simply confirms that the Minutes have been produced, without any implication that they are true. The Minutes may then be corrected by formal debate and eventually passed as a true record of a previous meeting. Correspondence may be “Noted”.

Matters Arising: After the Minutes and Correspondence new matters may be introduced as “Matters Arising”. If you have not been able to get the issue you want on to the agenda of a meeting, then these items give you an opportunity to raise the matter very early in the meeting. If your motion is at the end of the Agenda, maybe under “Any Other Business”, this may be your only opportunity!

An Item of Business: begins when the Chair indicates the next item on the agenda; Alternatively, there may be a call for a Suspension of Standing Orders for example to hear a report. An item of business may be initiated by a formal report from an officer, possibly followed by questions.


At the completion of a report and questions, debate may begin; otherwise an item of business is usually a motion to be resolved and debate begins immediately. The order of debate is as follows:

The Mover and Seconder: Any motion must have a Mover. The Mover is the first person to speak on a motion, and gives reasons for voting for it. The Mover often has a larger time to speak. The Seconder is a person nominated to support the Mover. Sometimes a seconder can indicate after hearing the wording of the motion, other times the seconder is announced at the outset of debate. Generally a motion falls if there is not both a mover and a seconder present.

Debate begins by the Mover moving the motion, i.e., speaking to it, followed by the Seconder; the seconder may “reserve their right to speak” and choose to speak in the debate along with other speakers.

Formal debate then takes place with speakers gaining the Attention of the Chair and the Chair nominating who is to speak by turns. There may be restrictions on anyone speaking more than once, or sometimes someone who has not spoken is given priority over anyone who has already spoken; sometimes speakers for and against must speak alternately, sometimes two-by-two. “Speaking in Rounds” means that no-one who has already spoken may speak while there is someone wishes to speak who has not yet spoken. Some organisations also apply gender balance in choosing the speaking order. Otherwise, anyone wishing to speak must “gain the Attention of the Chair”, and be noted on the Order of Speakers. There is usually a time limit on all contributions. “To be Heard” means being given the right to speak by the meeting. This phrase is often used in reference to visitors or observers who do not normally have speaking rights. If Standing Orders do not specify a time limit on speakers, then the meeting is open to “filibuster”, i.e., speaking indefinitely to avoid any decision being made.

Closure of Debate

The debate may be closed by the Chair specifying the number of speakers to be accepted or by there not being a speaker for or a speaker against willing to speak, who has not spoken before.

The debate may be closed by a “Gag” motion. A gag is moved from the floor by someone calling out “That the matter be put”. Generally the Chair is obliged to immediately put this motion to the floor without discussion, and if the motion is passed, the debate is concluded (ie. the mover has right of reply etc.) and if the motion is lost debate continues.

At the conclusion of the debate, the Mover has a Right of Reply and sometimes the seconder has a right of reply as well, after which there can be no further discussion prior to voting.


Once debate has opened on a motion, the meeting may pass amendments and may amend amendments until a Substantive motion is put to the vote. Amendments may be used to refine and improve the motion so that it gains majority support from the meeting.

An Amendment is a motion put to delete specific text and/or insert other text. In a formal meeting, an amendment must be very specific, so that once passed the amended (or “substantive”) motion reads properly. Amendments are treated just like any other motion during the debate on a motion. Procedures for making amendments vary. Generally they may be proposed by any speaker in the course of debate, but some meetings will require amendments to be notified in advance.

An amendment which is deemed to be a “Negative Amendment” may be ruled Out of Order. A negative amendment is one which has the effect of turning the intention of the motion into its opposite, rather than “improving” it. If you want to move a negative amendment you will be required to speak against the motion, and Foreshadow a motion which can be considered if the motion before the meeting is defeated. If the motion passes however, a motion which has the effect of negating a motion just passed is a negative motion and is out of order.

A Hostile Amendment is one which the movers of the motion are opposing. A Friendly Amendment is one which the movers of the motion support. However, it is generally not possible for the movers of a motion to “Accept an Amendment”. Accepting an amendment means that once an amendment has been proposed in the course of the debate, the movers may indicate that they accept it and the motion before the floor is forthwith amended. However, the movers having the right to accept friendly amendments is open to abuse, since it replaces a motion on the agenda without the meeting having the right to vote on it. Any motion, including an amendment, becomes the “Property of the Meeting” as soon as it is moved. That is, it can only be dealt with by a majority vote of the meeting.

Some organisations will appoint a “Drafting Committee” which includes representatives of all of the conflicting groups, which meets before the start of the meeting and deals informally with the various proposals to be brought forward and sees that motions are put on the agenda which express all the various points of view, whether or not they have a significant level of support. This process allows the main meeting to swiftly express its views in votes for and against the various motions and amendments.

Some organisations will allow for restricted rights for moving, seconding, speaking to and replying to debate on amendments, but in general, the same rules apply as for any motion.

An Addendum is an amendment which adds on to the end of a motion without otherwise changing it. These are normally dealt with like any other amendment.

Amendments may be voted on one at a time as they arise, or sometimes, may be discussed in parallel, though this is unusual. In any case, amendments are always voted on and resolved before the “substantive motion” is voted on. Once passed, a motion cannot be amended. If the meeting wishes to amend a motion it has just passed, it must pass a supplementary motion.


Most decisions are made by voting on motions when the chair has closed the debate and the mover has exercised the Right of Rely. Normally this is done simply by calling for all those for and then all those against, and calling “Aye” or “No” or more commonly by raising hands, and the chair announcing the result. If a motion is passed overwhelmingly, the Chair may not bother to call for votes against and rule that the motion was Passed by Acclamation. This is often done with motions of appreciation and so forth. A Chair may also declare Consensus without moving to a vote. When a motion is Passed, it becomes a “Resolution”.

If the vote is close or if someone is particularly concerned to see exactly who has voted for and who has voted against, anyone can call for a Count. The Chair may overrule the call for a count, and if so there is the opportunity to Challenge the Chair (see below).

When the meeting decides to call for a count, “Scrutineers” are appointed, who may be non-voting officials or generally people well-known to the participants, but it is very rare for the appointment of scrutineers to be the subject of dispute. The Chair then calls For and Against while the Scrutineers count the votes and report them to the chair, who announces the result at the conclusion of the voting. Again, if the vote is close, anyone in the meeting may call for a “Recount”.

The Chair should also call for Abstentions, and these should be counted as well. On a simple majority of votes cast for and against, the Chair will declare a motion Passed (“Carried”) or Lost (“Defeated”).

In the event of a close or contentious vote, a “Card Vote” may be called for. This entails everyone in the meeting filing past and casting a vote on showing their membership card.

Sometimes the meeting may call for a “Division” which usually means all those For moving to one side of the room while all those Against move to the other – an action which graphically serves to highlight divisions within the meeting!

In some organisations, delegates are voting on behalf of branches or whole groups of people, and carry a number of votes according to the size of their constituency. In this case, the card vote involves showing credentials indicating the number of votes cast. This is called Block Voting. ["Block voting” is also used to refer to people voting consistently together on all motions irrespective of what is said in debate.]

Most organisations allow for Proxy Votes, that is, votes cast by someone not present in the meeting by a participant in the meeting acting on their behalf. There are always restrictions on proxy voting which depend on the organisation’s rules. Informal meetings would not allow proxy votes. Some organisations allow no more than one proxy vote per delegate; some demand that the proxy be given in writing before the start of the meeting; some organisations require the proxy to be mandated, i.e., to specify exactly how the vote is to be cast, but most proxy votes are exercised on the discretion of the person carrying the proxy.

Most organisations ensure that a “tied vote” is impossible. The usual means of doing this is to give the Chair a Casting Vote. The casting vote may be either in addition to or in lieu of the Chair having a vote. Communists usually allow the chair to vote in the normal way, but most organisations do not allow the Chair to vote except to break a tied vote.


Being Passed or Carried are not the only things that happen to motions. They may be Deferred or Lie on the Table. A motion to Defer usually nominates a time at which the motion will return to the floor, usually to do with the need for further information or to await the outcome of other votes. If the meeting votes that a motion should “Lie on the Table” this means that it is indefinitely deferred, and a new motion will be needed to bring it back to debate. This happens when the meeting does not want to be seen to vote against something, but at the same time a majority do not want to vote for it.

There may also be a motion of “Next Business” which may draw the debate to a close before a motion is formally put, thus avoiding both discussion and decision. “Next Business” however cannot be moved once a debate has opened. A “gag” motion is required to move to a vote first.

A meeting may choose to “Note” a point made by someone in the meeting, or very often, a matter brought to the meeting by means of Correspondence or a visiting speaker. This means that the item is recorded in the minutes, but no decision is made about it.

Points of Order and Points of Information

Generally speaking whoever “has the floor” has the right to speak without interruption. However there are two ways in which someone in the meeting may interrupt, by calling out “Point of Order” or “Point of Information”. The person making the point may then speak to the point, and the Chair will rule on a Point of Order and debate returns to whoever had the floor unless the Chair rules otherwise. If the Point is ruled Out of Order, the speaker is required to sit immediately, or the Chair may call for a vote on a Point of Order, asking for one speaker against after the person making the point has spoken and moving to vote on the point. Debate is not allowed on Points or Order or Information, though the Chair would be expected to explain their ruling. Again the right to Challenge the Chair is available if someone disagrees with how the Chair rules on a Point of Order.

A Point of Order may concern the relevance of the speaker to the motion, the speaker being over time or out of the order of debate, for example that an amendment is negative or the speaker is speaking For, not Against, and so on. It is very common for people to use the right to make a point of order to interrupt a speaker and make a point in the debate. To do this is Out of Order and opens the person doing so to the meeting taking action against them. Any motion may be ruled “Out of Order”, even motions formally accepted on the Agenda, if the motion conflicts with Standing Orders. To ask that a motion be ruled Out of Order, anyone in the meeting may call out “Point of Order” and ask the meeting to determine the order of business.

A Point of Information is generally used to respond to a question raised by the speaker. This device may also be used to make a point in debate, and if so would be Out of Order.

Suspension of Standing Order

A motion to suspend Standing Orders may be moved in the same way as a Point of Order. The most common reasons for suspending standing orders are (i) to allow an extension of the scheduled meeting time to complete business, (ii) to allow a visitor or observer to speak and take questions, (iii) to “Move into Committee”.

A meeting may “Move into Committee” for a specified period of time. This means that all the formalities of Standing Orders are waived, in order to facilitate arriving at a consensus and exchange information and views. This happens especially when new information arrives or in some way the meeting takes a course which was not anticipated and incorporated in the agenda of the meeting. During a period of time “in Committee” the meeting hopes to formulate motions that can then be brought forward for formal debate.

Challenging the chair

If a meeting has formal written Standing Orders, and the participants in the meeting understand standing orders, then there is very little room for interpretation by the Chair. How the Chair should deal with every proposal from anyone in the meeting is well defined. However, a Chairperson may be in error, or someone in the meeting may believe that their proposal has been wrongly dealt with. The capacity to Challenge the Chair is indispensable to the effective working of any meeting, since it allows the meeting decide any matter by majority vote however hostile or incompetent the Chair may be, provided only that there are at least five other people in the meeting willing to support a challenge to the Chair.

If you wish to challenge the chair you must stand up and state that you wish to challenge the Chair. If five other people then stand up, then the Challenge to the Chair must be dealt with. If not enough people are willing to take to their feet and support you, then you must sit down and accept the Chair’s ruling.

If six people are standing in support of a challenge to the Chair, then the Chairperson must leave the Chair and another person (usually the organisation’s Vice-President or some other such officer) takes the Chair. The Chairperson then explains their ruling, and the person making the Challenge explains their dissent, and a vote is taken without further debate to determine the matter, and the Chairperson returns to the Chair.

Motions of no confidence

A motion of “No confidence” may be moved in respect of any person, either attending the meeting or not. Motions of No Confidence have no effect, they simply indicate a consensus of sentiment. So, for example, passing a motion of no confidence in the Chair does not remove the Chair. The organisation will have rules determining who chairs a meeting, and Standing Orders will not generally give a meeting the power to determine things contrary to the rules of the organisation, only the course of business in the meeting. So, in general, a majority vote in a meeting may tell the Chair what to do, but not who they are, so to speak.

See also Mr. Chairman, by Wal Hannington.



The state is the institution of organised violence which is used by the ruling class of a country to maintain the conditions of its rule. Thus, it is only in a society which is divided between hostile social classes that the state exists:

“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, 1917, The State and Revolution]

Since the objective of socialism is the self-emancipation of the working class and the overthrow of capitalism, the first task of the proletariat is conquest of state power:

“the first step in the revolution by the working class is to raise the proletariat to the position of ruling class to win the battle of democracy. The proletariat will use its political supremacy to wrest, by degree, all capital from the bourgeoisie, to centralise all instruments of production in the hands of the state, i.e., of the proletariat organised as the ruling class; and to increase the total productive forces as rapidly as possible.” [Communist Manifesto, Chapter 2]

The machinery of violence that the bourgeoisie has selected, trained and appointed for the purpose of hoodwinking and crushing the workers can hardly be of much use to the working class however:

“the working class cannot simply lay hold of the ready-made state machinery, and wield it for its own purposes. ... The first decree of the Commune, therefore, was the suppression of the standing army, and the substitution for it of the armed people.” [Marx, Civil War in France]

While the conquest of state power is necessary to prevent the capitalists from restoring capitalism and to create the conditions for a genuinely free association of producers:

“Between capitalist and communist society there lies the period of the revolutionary transformation of the one into the other. Corresponding to this is also a political transition period in which the state can be nothing but the revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat.” [Critique of the Gotha Program, Chapter 4]

The workers’ state is however quite a different kind of thing as compared to the bourgeois state. The whole point is to do away with the exploitation of person by person and do away with class divisions, and do away, therefore, with any need for a state:

“When at last it becomes the real representative of the whole of society, it renders itself unnecessary. As soon as there is no longer any social class to be held in subjection; as soon as class rule, and the individual struggle for existence based upon our present anarchy in production, with the collisions and excesses arising from these, are removed, nothing more remains to be repressed, and a special repressive force, a state, is no longer necessary. The first act by virtue of which the state really constitutes itself the representative of the whole of society – the taking possession of the means of production in the name of society – this is, at the same time, its last independent act as a state. State interference in social relations becomes, in one domain after another, superfluous, and then dies out of itself; the government of persons is replaced by the administration of things, and by the conduct of processes of production. The state is not “abolished”. It withers away.” [Frederick Engels Anti-Dühring, Part III, Ch. 2]

Historical Development: In Tribal Society, the division of labour was organised generally around gender and age and family ties, and no special organisation of violence was required to enforce these relations. In tribal society, people produced only just enough to keep themselves and their community, and did not produce any surplus, so there was little room for exploitation.

Increases in the productivity of labour arising from the development of agriculture opened the possibility for slavery. With the influx of outsiders into the ancient cities, or as a result of conquests, large numbers of slaves were acquired. Slaves could be made to work and a surplus extracted form their labour, and this meant that for the first time, a special organisation of violence, a state, was necessary. Thus Slave Society created a state for the purpose of keeping the slaves in check; the slaves lay outside society and had no rights, and were counted as property in just the same way as the livestock.

“The increase of production in all branches – cattle-raising, agriculture, domestic handicrafts – gave human labour-power the capacity to produce a larger product than was necessary for its maintenance. At the same time it increased the daily amount of work to be done by each member of the gens, household community or single family. It was now desirable to bring in new labour forces. War provided them; prisoners of war were turned into slaves. With its increase of the productivity of labour, and therefore of wealth, and its extension of the field of production, the first great social division of labour was bound, in the general historical conditions prevailing, to bring slavery in its train. From the first great social division of labour arose the first great cleavage of society into two classes: masters and slaves, exploiters and exploited. [Origin of the Family, Chapter 9]

After the collapse of slave society, Feudal Society grew up in Europe, Asia and elsewhere. Here an organisation of violence was needed for defence against outsiders, in just the same way as the tribe had had to defend itself against invaders. However, this organisation for self-defence grew up on the basis of agriculture and a much more developed, class-based division of labour. Feudal society was characterised by an immensely developed class structure built around kinship relations.- Kings, Princes, Barons, Bishops, Monks, Yeomen and Serfs, each had their own, though by no means equal, rights and obligations, including property and well-defined rights of inheritance.

The important thing about feudal society is that the state did not appear to stand above society; feudal society was in a sense one big state, a hierarchy in which everyone had their place, both king and serf; the king and his yeomen were an integral part of the state. The relation of every person to the state was defined through kinship relations just as was their role in the social division of labour.

With the expansion of trade, a class of merchants, with ever increasing wealth, embryonic capital, accumulated outside the feudal system. The introduction of sheep and cattle grazing pushed millions of peasants off their land, to wander the countryside as paupers. Processes of this kind brought about a “bourgeois society” in the midst of feudal society as a realm of economic activity lying outside feudal right, unregulated by the ethics and traditional relations of feudal society, and laid the basis for the Industrial Revolution.

The vast network of kinship relations characteristic of feudal society was shattered; on the one side remained the family, which still survives in the residual nuclear family household of today; on the other, was the political pinnacle of feudal society, the kingly state. This state was successively weakened and undermined by the growth of bourgeois society.

The bourgeoisie had to break the power of the feudal state in order to develop trade and industry and to protect their own class interests, and the first bourgeois revolution was Oliver Cromwell’s English Revolution of 1640; later came the French Revolution of 1789. There was of course nothing democratic or peaceful about these revolutions, by means of which the conditions for capitalist accumulation were created.

Bourgeois theory of the State: The bourgeois theory of the state was developed by Thomas Hobbes, who saw the state as necessary to prevent society descending into “a war of all against all”. For John Locke, the role of the state was to preserve property and personal freedom. Jean-Jacques Rousseau held that the state was based on a social contract binding all members of a society, while Hegel saw the state as an expression of the Universal Will and opposed the idea of the state as a guardian of property, which he saw as the role of Civil Society. Hegel, in his Philosophy of Right, pointed out that the state expressed the conflicts in “civil society”, and its separation from the family and civil society was characteristic of the emergence of modern (i.e. bourgeois) society. For Hegel, the State was the “March of Reason in the World”.

In his Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right, the young Marx criticised Hegel’s conception as the “society of mutual reconciliation” and insisted that the conflict between labour and capital could not be reconciled and that the state was therefore necessarily an expression of the dominant forces within bourgeois society – capital.

So under capitalism, a special organisation of violence is required to maintain the conditions of legalised theft on which capitalism is based. This state must give the appearance of standing above the conflicts of bourgeois society.

“In possession of the public power and the right of taxation, the officials now present themselves as organs of society standing above society. The free, willing respect accorded to the organs of the gentile constitution is not enough for them, even if they could have it. Representatives of a power which estranges them from society, they have to be given prestige by means of special decrees, which invest them with a peculiar sanctity and inviolability. The lowest police officer of the civilised state has more “authority” than all the organs of gentile society put together; but the mightiest prince and the greatest statesman or general of civilisation might envy the humblest of the gentile chiefs the unforced and unquestioned respect accorded to him. For the one stands in the midst of society; the other is forced to pose as something outside and above it.” [Frederick Engels Origins of the Family, Private Property, and the State]

The state therefore develops into what appears to be genuinely an expression of the will of the whole people:

“political recognition of property differences is, however, by no means essential. On the contrary, it marks a low stage in the development of the state. The highest form of the state, the democratic republic, which in our modern social conditions becomes more and more an unavoidable necessity and is the form of state in which alone the last decisive battle between proletariat and bourgeoisie can be fought out – the democratic republic no longer officially recognises differences of property. Wealth here employs its power indirectly, but all the more surely. It does this in two ways: by plain corruption of officials, of which America is the classic example, and by an alliance between the government and the stock exchange, which is effected all the more easily the higher the state debt mounts and the more the joint-stock companies concentrate in their hands not only transport but also production itself, and themselves have their own center in the stock exchange. ... And lastly the possessing class rules directly by means of universal suffrage. As long as the oppressed class – in our case, therefore, the proletariat – is not yet ripe for its self-liberation, so long will it, in its majority, recognise the existing order of society as the only possible one and remain politically the tail of the capitalist class, its extreme left wing.” [Origins of the Family]

The meaning of the working class “winning the battle of democracy” [Communist Manifesto] is clear then. The working class must be ready for its self-liberation when it overthrows the capitalist state. Once the working class is ready and able to take the power, the parliamentary fašade with which the state has surrounded itself will be thrown aside, and workers will face the institution of organised violence which the state has always been from its beginning.

“On the day when the thermometer of universal suffrage shows boiling-point among the workers, they as well as the capitalists will know where they stand.” [Origins of the Family]

Postmodern theorists, on the other hand, minimise the significance of the State, generally holding that power has been so decentred by the complexity and freedom of postmodern capitalism that an authoritarian and repressive state is an impossibility. Instead they look to interpersonal relations as the mechanism for oppression (sexism for example, is not enforced so much by a patriarchal state and sexist laws, but by the interpersonal coercion of millions of women by millions of men). This conception is however an illusion possible only for people living in relatively privileged conditions in imperialist countries. The power of the state is obvious to workers having their picket lines busted by police, or Palestinians having their homes blown up by Israeli soldiers.

Marxists refer to this “bourgeois democracy”, in which people vote once every four or five years in huge geographical electorates to elect representatives to sit in a legislature which never has a chance of legislating socialism, as dictatorship of the bourgeoisie. Every one has equal rights, but everyone does not have equal power. Bourgeois democracy is a fašade masking class dictatorship.

“The ancient state was, above all, the state of the slave-owners for holding down the slaves, just as the feudal state was the organ of the nobility for holding down the peasant serfs and bondsmen, and the modern representative state is the instrument for exploiting wage-labour by capital.

“The state has not existed from all eternity. There have been societies which have managed without it, which had no notion of the state or state power. At a definite stage of economic development, which necessarily involved the cleavage of society into classes, the state became a necessity because of this cleavage. We are now rapidly approaching a stage in the development of production at which the existence of these classes has not only ceased to be a necessity, but becomes a positive hindrance to production. They will fall as inevitably as they once arose. The state inevitably falls with them. The society which organises production anew on the basis of free and equal association of the producers will put the whole state machinery where it will then belong – into the museum of antiquities, next to the spinning wheel and the bronze axe.” [Origins of the Family]

The State and Socialism: When Marx and Engels wrote the Communist Manifesto in 1848, they could only sketch the idea of how the working class could achieve public political power and abolish capital in the most general terms:

“The proletariat will use its political supremacy to wrest, by degree, all capital from the bourgeoisie, to centralise all instruments of production in the hands of the state, i.e., of the proletariat organised as the ruling class”.

When the Parisian workers actually took power in 1871, Marx could give this conception a more concrete form:

“Paris could resist only because, in consequence of the siege, it had got rid of the army, and replaced it by a National Guard, the bulk of which consisted of working men. This fact was now to be transformed into an institution. The first decree of the Commune, therefore, was the suppression of the standing army, and the substitution for it of the armed people.

“The Commune was formed of the municipal councillors, chosen by universal suffrage in the various wards of the town, responsible and revocable at short terms. The majority of its members were naturally working men, or acknowledged representatives of the working class. The Commune was to be a working, not a parliamentary body, executive and legislative at the same time. ... the public service had to be done at workman’s wage. ...

“The whole of the educational institutions were opened to the people gratuitously, and at the same time cleared of all interference of church and state. Thus, not only was education made accessible to all, but science itself freed from the fetters which class prejudice and governmental force had imposed upon it.

“The judicial functionaries were to be divested of that sham independence which had but served to mask their abject subserviency to all succeeding governments to which, in turn, they had taken, and broken, the oaths of allegiance. Like the rest of public servants, magistrates and judges were to be elective, responsible, and revocable.” [Civil War in France, Chapter 5]

Thus Marx saw that the revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat was to be in fact the most thoroughgoing proletarian democracy. Proletarian democracy differed from bourgeois democracy in a number of crucial ways: all positions of authority were elected, and all elected officials were subject to recall at any time, and were paid at the same level of wages as ordinary workers, and above all it was a participatory democracy, that is to say, those who were responsible for carrying out a particular task, at whatever level, were responsible for deciding how it should be done. Free education and free health care would create conditions for all to participate equally.

This thoroughgoing democracy constituted a dictatorship of the proletariat precisely because, stripped of their power to use their money to control parliament and forced to submit to majority vote, not just in elections every few years, but in the workplaces and schools, everywhere, under such conditions the rule of the majority would be not a farce but a reality. The small minority of wealthy capitalists would be prevented, against their will, from exercising the power of money, they would be denied the right that they enjoy under capitalism, to rule the roost.

The Paris Commune only lasted a few months before it was drowned in blood by the counter-revolution. Marx criticised the Commune for allowing the reactionaries to escape from Paris and organise the bloodbath, but the world would have to wait till 1917 before we would witness the next occasion when the working class would seize political power – in the Russian Revolution.

The Soviet State was confined within it’s own borders and cut off from trade with the rest of the world – blockaded, invaded and starved. Under these conditions, Stalinism grew up, and destroyed the revolution from within.

The Marxist idea of a state which – having no counter-revolutionary forces and capitalists to suppress, because the power of capital has been eradicated from the face of the Earth – slowly fades away, opening the way to communist society, has yet to be seen, but remains an ideal which inspires millions.

“Whilst the capitalist mode of production more and more completely transforms the great majority of the population into proletarians, it creates the power which, under penalty of its own destruction, is forced to accomplish this revolution. Whilst it forces on more and more the transformation of the vast means of production, already socialised, into state property, it shows itself the way to accomplishing this revolution. The proletariat seizes political power and turns the means of production in the first instance into state property. But, in doing this, it abolishes itself as proletariat, abolishes all class distinctions and class antagonisms, abolishes also the state as state.

“Society thus far, based upon class antagonisms, had need of the state, that is, of an organisation of the particular class, which was pro tempore [for the time being] the exploiting class, for the maintenance of its external conditions of production, and, therefore, especially, for the purpose of forcibly keeping the exploited classes in the condition of oppression corresponding with the given mode of production (slavery, serfdom, wage-labour). The state was the official representative of society as a whole; the gathering of it together into a visible embodiment. But it was this only in so far as it was the state of that class which itself represented, for the time being, society as a whole: in ancient times, the state of slave-owning citizens; in the Middle Ages, the feudal lords; in our own time, the bourgeoisie.” [Frederick Engels, Anti-Dühring, Part III, Ch. 2]

Further Reading: Communist Manifesto, Anti-Dühring, Origin of the Family, Private Property & the State, Lenin's The State and Revolution, Hegel's Philosophy of Right, Critique of the Gotha Program.


Stolypin's Agrarian Reform

The tsarist government issued a decree on November 9 (22), 1906 regulating the peasants' withdrawal from the village communes and the establishment of their proprietary rights on the allotment lands. Under this law (named after P. A. Stolypin, the then Chairman of the Council of Ministers) the peasant was free to withdraw from the village commune, take possession of his allotment on a proprietorship basis, or sell it. The village commune was obliged to give the peasant who withdrew from the commune an allotment of land in one place (an otrub, homestead).

The Stolypin reform is described and evaluated in a number of works by Lenin, notably in The Agrarian Programme of Social-Democracy in the First Russian Revolution, 1905-1907.



Structuralism is the method of investigation which aims at revealing the structure of a complex thing, abstracted from its phenomenal form, historical development and materiality. This allows attention to be focused on structural similarities between different phenomena irrespective of superficial differences and material content of the object. This method has been popular among sociologists.

Structuralism further denotes a whole trend in philosophy which was dominant from the end of World War II till the rise of post-structuralism in the 1960s. Structuralism had its origins in the linguistics of Ferdinand de Saussure (c. 1910) and was prefigured by the anthropology of Emile Durkheim at the turn of the century. This trend arose in response to the inadequacy of the exclusive focus, characteristic of the Second Positivism of Mach, on analysis of the data of perception and its rejection of any type of “metaphysics.” Saussure showed that the meaning of a word lay not in its phonic form but in its position within a structure of phonemes. Likewise, for Durkheim, various societies based themselves on mythologies the characters and events of which were relatively “arbitrary”, but clearly shared a common “structure”. Claude Lévi-Strauss is the most eminent exponent of structuralist sociology. The American version is Functionalism, developed by Talcott Parsons, which emphasises the dynamic equilibrium to the various processes within a complex.

Likewise, in economics it was seen that the values of the various econnomic parameters formed a structure much like that of a mechanical structure which could be manipulated by intervention. (John Maynard Keynes).

It was Louis Althusser who made an amalgam of structuralism and Marxism who would today be regarded as the foremost exponent of structuralism. For Althusser, individual human beings are utterly determined by social forces, from ideology which penetrates their minds from birth via the market, the media, the church, the family, etc.

The limitations of structuralism arise from its focus on form, albeit structural form, at the expense of content, and abstracting from materiality, and its deliberate blindness to the historical origins of a system. A dialectical view differs from Structuralism because for dialectics form and content bear a definite relation which analysis is bound to explore, whereas strucuralism regards form as indifferent. Materialism differs from structuralism by recognising the necessary interconnection between the multiplicity of interconnected structural forms within any complex and the need to study the development of structures in relation to underlying social developments.

Foucault's critique of structuralism in Archaeology of Knowledge, reflected the failure of structuralism to resolve the social contradictions manifested at the end of the post-war boom and the loss of confidence in “grand narratives” and is parallel to the emergence of finite mathematics and related technologies relative to analysis and notions of continuum. While drawing attention to the shortcomings of Structuralism Foucault's post-structuralism fails to resolve the very issues which lay at the basis of the earlier rise of structuralism and suffers from much the same short-comings as indicated above.

The word-play which makes points on the similarity of sound or spelling of words, even though the words have no other connection, is characteristic of Structuralism. So for example, for a structuralist feminist, the ‘man’ in ‘manual’ is evidence of sexist connotations in ‘manual work’ even though the ‘man’ derives from the Latin for hand, not the English word ‘man.’

The structuralist linguistics, both the ‘signifier’ and ‘signified’ are mental entities. Consequently, the way in which a word or meaning is connected to material activity (the focus of Marxist linguistics) is invisible.



Structure means the inner organisation of a system, constituting a unity of stable interrelations between the elements, as well as laws governing the interrelations. Many qualitatively different structures overlay each other and interact with each other in the existence of all things - chemical, economic, social, etc. The concept of structure emphasises the aspect of Form which is stable and abstracts from the Content or materiality of things and from the inner contradictions and dynamics of a system. But like all things, the structure, undergo changes and transform into other structures.

Structure is also often contrasted with Function, where interconnected processes rather than things are emphasised, and Structuralism.


Student Movement

The student movement is the myriad of movements led by students which, since the Second World War, have tended to be of a progressive character.

Students, i.e., the young intelligentsia, have been the source of countless political movements throughout modern times, and their role has by no means always been a progressive one. For example, during the British General Strike of 1926, the students were the main source of strike-breakers, and the Taliban, which ruled Afghanistan according to the Koran, began as a student movement. However, the student movement has generally played a leading role in promotion of bourgeois rights such as freedom of speech. Most national liberation movements were given their first impetus by the student movement, and autocracies have been the targets of student movements from Burma to Mexico. In Africa in particular (South Africa, Ethiopia), school students have played a revolutionary role. The relation between the workers movement and the student movement has varied from country to country and time to time, depending on the historical development of the relation between the bourgeois intelligentsia and the workers movement, the class composition of the student mass, the position of the local bourgeoisie in relation to imperialism and conflicts within the bourgeoisie and between the bourgeoisie and autocratic ruling cliques.

1968 marked a turning point in the relation between the workers’ movement and the student movement, in which the organised workers either attacked or betrayed the students: in France, the sell-out of the Communist Party-led General Strike for a small wage-rise; in Czechoslovakia, the suppression of the Prague Spring by Soviet Tanks; in Poland, the bashing of students at the Warsaw University by blue collar workers organised by the ruling Communist Party.

From the 1970s onwards, in the industrialised countries, tertiary education was no longer the preserve of the bourgeois intelligentsia, with masses of working class youth attending University as part of their vocational training. Thus, while student politics remains an important “melting pot” of radical politics, the student population is now much more diverse than in the past. Also, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of association, and so on, limitations upon which have been the traditional targets of student protest, are hardly an issue in the fragmented, laissez-faire post-modern society of today. Consequently, in the developed capitalist countries, the student protest movement has lost the edge that it had in the 1960s.

The Student Protest Movement of 1960s began in the US at University of California at Berkeley in the Fall of 1964 and reached a massive scale, world wide up till the early 1970s, after which it has declined, and has become a fairly marginal factor in political life in the developed capitalist countries.


Student Protest Movement

The Student Protest Movement of 1960s began in the US at University of California at Berkeley in the Fall of 1964. The students who initiated the movement had just returned from the “Freedom Summer” as supporters of the Civil Rights Movement, registering Black voters, and they turned the principles and methods they had learnt on the Freedom Rides to their own issues on campus. The target was the autocratic bureaucracy of the University administration, which ignored the educational needs of undergraduates, exploited the younger members of staff and defended the interests of a small academic elite; the protests took the form of a fight for Free Speech, with non-violent sit-ins in the administration building. It took days of violent police activity to empty the building and the spectacle of this police violence on TV polarised the population, for or against the students.

The Berkeley protests sparked sympathetic movements in literally hundreds of Universities across the United States and spread to countries from Japan to France to Poland.

Up till 1968, the object of student protests were mainly educational issues. Nanterre University in France for example, was located in a working class area and like many similar institutions across the world, it was underfunded and offering a second-class education for working class youth. When the Nanterre students entered the fight in 1968, it spread rapidly across France and the French student protest movement took on a particularly political character. The bloody repression of the students by police shocked France and brought on a political crisis when auto-workers responded to appeals by students to come to their aid. France came to the brink of a revolutionary confrontation, which was averted by a 10 per cent pay deal supported by the trade union leadership who sent the workers back to work.

From 1965 onwards, the student protest movement fed into the Peace Movement and the Anti-Vietnam War Movement. The nature of this movement varied from country to country, but in general it was a protest movement aimed at extering moral pressure on the government. Poland had a long history of close relations between the intelligentsia and the workers' movement, and the students and workers had fought side-by-side in the uprisings against Stalinism in 1956; in 1968 however, the Polish student movement mirrored the student movement in the West, with demands for political freedom, but the government was able to use the workers to crush the student protests.

From the 1970s, tertiary education became open to the masses rather than being the preserve of the young intelligentsia. At the same time, capital has learnt to rule more effectively through its own methods, rather than through political repression. Under these conditions, the student protest movement has become a fairly marginal factor in political life in the developed capitalist countries.