H. M. Hyndman July 1905

State Socialists and Social-Democrats

Source: Justice, 15 July 1905 p. 4;
Transcribed: by Ken Montague.

A few days ago one of the oldest and most active members of the S.D.F. opened an interesting discussion at that home of interesting discussions, the Central Branch of our organisation, upon the question whether we should repudiate the designation of State Socialists. He was in favour of our not doing so. His reasons, briefly, were that we are constantly appealing to the State, as the organised force of the whole nation, to remedy evils engendered by our economic system. When we are calling upon the State to feed our children, to organise the labour of the unemployed, to provide better education for all, to distribute our letters and telegrams cheaply and effectively, to take control of our railroads, to set on foot a thorough scheme for the housing of the people, etc., it is a contradiction in terms to say we are not in favour of State action, and that therefore it weakens our position to disclaim being State Socialists. Furthermore, we run no risk by accepting that designation. For what, after all, is the State? The State is the representative of the whole people, as distinguished from the various sections into which it is divided. It holds the balance between any conflicting interests; or, if it does not, this is its proper duty, and we ought not to assume it will decline to accept and fulfil this great trust. We have to look to the State as a collectivity to restrain tendencies to anarchy and to organise the forces of the nation for the increasing advantage of all. This idea of the State has been accepted by many great men in ancient and modern times, and the Greeks more particularly understood the function of the State as the ordering power of the entire people. The State, in fact, is what we choose to make it, and there is no inherent antagonism between the State and democracy. Therefore, Social Democrats need not be squeamish about being called State Socialists. Such was the argument.

Now it is worth while to deal seriously with points of this sort when they are raised. Socialism is no cut-and-dried collection of dogmas, which are to be taken without investigation. If each successive generation of Socialists considers itself bound to argue out over again all the bed-rock principles of their creed, so much the better. The process will, as we believe, give them only a firmer grip of their entire soundness. And this of State Socialism and State Socialists is not a mere question of words. Much lies behind it, both in the abstract and in the concrete, in theory and in practice.

To begin with practice. No Social-Democrat who works for the attainment of our “stepping stones” through the State, regards those palliatives of existing capitalist anarchy as anything more than temporary ameliorations of unendurable conditions. The State is used for this purpose, not because we admire or even tolerate the State, but because, with all its innumerable drawbacks, it is the only machinery available for such partial improvement. We have no illusions whatever in the matter. We know and have frequently pointed out that if we realised them all as set forth above, they would, except in so far as they helped forward the breakdown of the whole capitalist system, and therefore the State, merely furnish forth better wage-slaves and better organisation for the profit-takers. That is indisputable. State departments maintain competition wage-earning and the whole of the forms of wage-slavery. Even if State employees are well-paid, and are assured of continuous employment, they are still only privileged menials, so long as they are unable conjointly with their fellows to control the entire management of the industrial community. State control of this sort may be better or it may be worse than private control, but brings with it no complete change from competition to co-operation such as we are striving for.

Moreover, there is an ever-present danger of fostering Caesurism and crystallising a bureaucracy, and the admission that we Democratic Socialists can be in any sense State-Socialists cannot fail greatly to increase this danger. Words still count largely in the formation of ideas. If we, as Social-Democrats, do not force into men’s minds the truth that we are working and fighting for a complete social revolution, which shall abolish the present State and establish a Society in its place, we mislead our readers and hearers, and induce them to think we, too, are merely tinkerers with present forms of social development. That in itself is a great practical drawback to our allowing it to be thought for a moment that we are in any sense State-Socialists, or men and women who look to the State as a definite entity through which, without entire transformation, we can achieve our ultimate ends. The State means to the infinite majority of people a government dependent nominally upon the people, but imposing its authority from above. But that is precisely what we are endeavouring to overturn. To permit ourselves to be called State-Socialists without demur is to convey a false impression to the public mind. And all false impressions cause confusion and delay, and hamper the cause to which we have devoted ourselves.

So much for the practical and the concrete. Now for the abstract and the theoretical. We English, as a people, are terribly behindhand in all that relates to abstract thought or theoretical investigation. Yet it is impossible in many cases to arrive at the truth by direct concrete illustration that has no theoretical basis. Now the State, or the Civitas, as opposed to the Community, or the Societas, has always been based upon property and class interest and privilege, as opposed to kinship and common enjoyment and social equality. State rule always has meant class rule, and has involved a whole series of class antagonisms, at present in course of simplification into one great and final antagonism. The ordering of a State is through departments dominated by bureaucrats, who therefore dominate the people. The arrangement of a Society or Co-operative Commonwealth is by a series of citizens dominated by the community, who act as functions of the society, not as controllers of the society. Private property in the powers of producing and distributing wealth having been abrogated, the State, in any intelligible sense, ceases to exist. It is no longer, that is to say, a State constituted to restrain and “hold the balance” between conflicting interests; but a co-operative Social-Democracy, instituted to produce and distribute, and to increase the general health, wealth, and enjoyment by common consent for the advantage of all. There is then no State to handle and control, as the trusts virtually handle and control it in the nominal democracy of America, or as the aristocracy and plutocracy virtually handle and control it in the nominal democracy of the United Kingdom.

During the transition period, no doubt, we shall try, as we are trying to-day, to use the State against both landlords and capitalists; but we shall do so with the deliberate intention of putting an end to the State, just as we shall abolish Capital, altogether. Consequently, we are no more State-Socialists than we are Capital-Socialists. We recognise that the State and Capital are inevitable stages in social evolution, which will endure a longer or a shorter time as circumstances or experience may determine. But both will have to go. So I, for one, refuse to let myself be called a State-Socialist when I am doing my best to sweep away the State.