Duncan Hallas

A book you should read

Why the workers must organise
for power

(19 April 1969)

From Socialist Worker, No. 118, 19 April 1969), p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

State and Revolution
by V.I. Lenin

LENIN’S PAMPHLET is the best snort statement of the marxist theory of the state yet written. Like many of his writings, it is a polemic, a criticism of the ideas of turncoats who tried to hide their desertion by socialist sounding phrases.

Consequently State and Revolution is rather heavily loaded with quotations from Marx and Engels. This doesn’t make it very easy reading but it does have the advantage that practically everything the pioneers of scientific socialism had to say on the subject is reproduced in a compact form.

What is a state? It is ‘an organ of class rule, an organ for the oppression of one class by another (it creates “order”) which legalises and perpetuates this oppression by moderating the collision between the classes’.

The essential point is that the state is not a ‘natural’ or inevitable thing. Stateless societies have existed in the past and they will exist again in the future. The state is a specific product of the class struggle.

As Lenin puts it ‘the state is the product and manifestation of the irreconcilability of class antagonisms. The state arises when, where and to the extent that class antagonisms cannot be objectively reconciled. And conversely, the existence of the state proves that the class antagonisms are irreconcilable.’

Fundamental divide

The basic features of any state are a standing army and police force separated from society as a whole, a bureaucracy and the various ‘material appendages, prisons and coercive institutions of all kinds’.

Lenin, following Marx, denies the possibility of transferring the control of this repressive apparatus from the ruling minority to the mass of the workers. The destruction of the military and bureaucratic machine is essential to any real revolution. This is the fundamental divide that separates revolutionary socialists from reformists and centrists of all kinds.

Of course Lenin did not suppose that there was no difference between the various states that exist or that it was a matter of indifference to socialists whether civil liberties and representative institutions exist, on the contrary, he argues ‘democracy is of great importance for the working class in its struggle for freedom against the capitalists’.

It is something to be fought for and defended against reactionaries. But even the most ‘democratic’ state remains an instrument of class rule. Its elimination is a necessary step for the achievement of workers’ power.

How does the idea of a ‘Workers’ State’ fit into this? Against the anarchists, some of whom would accept much of what has been said so far. Marx and Lenin both argued that even though a state machine can be very quickly liquidated, coercion cannot disappear overnight.

Even the most popular revolution has to defend itself. And to the extent that coercion still exists, even coercion, by the vast majority; of a small minority, a state of sorts, ‘in the shape of the armed masses of the workers’ still exists.

Different definition

This is a workers’ state. It is essentially transitional.

‘The more democratic the “state” of the armed workers – which is no longer a state in the proper sense of the word – becomes the more rapidly does the state begin to wither away.’

Some years later Trotsky introduced a radically different definition of a workers’ state. For him the essential thing was the state ownership of the means of production. Even though the workers have lost all effective control over their work situation, even though the ‘bureaucratic and military apparatus’ has been recreated, a state originating in a proletarian revolution remains a workers’ state, though degenerated, as long as their is no return of the ownership of industry to private hands.

This view cannot be adequately discussed here and will be considered in a later article. Meanwhile it is to be noted that it constitutes a major revision of Marxist theory.

Of all Lenin’s writings State and Revolution has received the most hostile treatment from bourgeois and social democratic writers. This is not at all surprising. It goes to the heart of the matter.

The renegades Lenin attacked are long dead and largely forgotten but the message of the book is as alive and important today as it was in 1917. It is a book that every serious socialist must study./p>

Last updated on 14 January 2021