Lenin: A Study on the Unity of his Thought. Georg Lukacs 1924

5. The State as Weapon

A period’s revolutionary essence is expressed most clearly when class and inter-party struggles no longer take place within the existing state order but begin to explode its barriers and point beyond them. On the one hand they appear as struggles for state power; on the other, the state itself is simultaneously forced to participate openly in them. There is not only a struggle against the state; the state itself is exposed as a weapon of class struggle, as one of the most important instruments for the maintenance of class rule.

This character of the state had always been recognized by Marx and Engels, who examined its relation to historical development and to proletarian revolution in all its aspects. They laid the theoretical foundations for a theory of the state in unmistakable terms within the framework of historical materialism. Logically enough it is precisely on this issue that opportunism deviates furthest from them. On all other issues it was possible to present (like Bernstein) the ‘revision’ of particular economic theories as if their basis were still – after all – consistent with the essence of Marx’s method, or (like Kautsky) to give the ‘orthodox’ consolidated economic theory a mechanistic and fatalistic slant. But the mere raising of those problems regarded by Marx and Engels as fundamental to their theory of the state involves in itself the recognition of the actuality of the proletarian revolution. The opportunism of all the leading currents in the Second International is illustrated most clearly by the fact that none of them dealt seriously with the problem of the state. On this decisive issue there is no difference between Kautsky and Bernstein. All, without exception, simply accepted the bourgeois state. If they did criticize it, they only did so to oppose merely isolated aspects and manifestations of it harmful to the proletariat. The state was regarded exclusively from the perspective of specific day-to-day issues; its character was never examined and evaluated from that of the proletariat as a whole. The revolutionary immaturity and confusion of the left wing of the Second International is also shown in its equal incapacity to clarify the problem of the state. It went, at times, as far as dealing with the problem of revolution, of fighting against the state, but it was unable concretely to formulate the problem of the state itself even at a purely theoretical level, let alone point out its concrete practical consequences in historical reality.

Here again Lenin was alone in regaining the theoretical heights of Marx’s conception – the clarity of the proletarian revolutionary attitude to the state. Had he done no more than this, his would have been a theoretical achievement of a high order. But, for him, this revival of Marx’s theory of the state was neither a philological rediscovery of the original teaching, nor a philosophical systematization of its genuine principles. As always with Lenin, it was the extension of theory into the concrete, its concretization in everyday practice. Lenin realized that the question of the state was now one of the struggling proletariat’s immediate tasks and represented it as such. In doing this he had already taken a step towards making it concrete (here we merely signify the importance of his even raising the question). Prior to him, the historical materialist theory of the state, brilliantly clear though it was, was only understood as a general theory – as an historical, economic or philosophical explanation of the state. Hence it was objectively possible for opportunists to obscure it. Marx and Engels derived the real evolution of the proletarian idea of the state from the concrete revolutionary events of their time (for instance, the Commune), and they were quick to point out those mistakes to which false theories of the state give rise in the course of the proletarian struggle

(see The Critique of the Gotha Programme). Yet even their immediate followers, the outstanding socialist leaders of the time, failed to understand the relationship between the problem of the state and their own daily activity. The theoretical genius of Marx and Engels was needed to articulate with the minor everyday struggles what was in this context actual in only a universal sense. The proletariat itself was obviously even less in a position to make the organic connection between this central problem and the apparently immediate problems of its own daily struggles. The problem of the state, therefore, came increasingly to be seen as merely related to ‘the final goal’ whose realization was to be left to the future.

Only with Lenin did this ‘future’ become present in the theoretical sense as well. But only if the problem of the state is recognized as immediate is it possible for the proletariat to achieve a correct approach to the capitalist state and no longer regard it as its unalterable natural environment and the only possible social order for its present existence. Only such an attitude to the bourgeois state gives the proletariat theoretical freedom towards it and makes its attitude towards it a purely tactical question. For instance, it is immediately apparent that both the tactics of legality at any price and those of a romantic illegality conceal an equal lack of theoretical freedom towards the bourgeois state, which is then not seen as a bourgeois instrument of class struggle to be reckoned with as a real power factor and only as such, respect for which must be reduced to a question of mere expediency.

But the Leninist analysis of the state as a weapon of class struggle renders the question still more concrete. Not only are the immediately practical (tactical or ideological) consequences of correct historical knowledge of the bourgeois state made explicit, but the outlines of the proletarian state appear concretely and organically related to the other methods of struggle adopted by the proletariat. The traditional division of labour within the working-class movement (party, trade union, co-operative) is now shown to be inadequate for the present revolutionary struggle of the proletariat. It is necessary to create organs which are able to include the whole proletariat, together with all those exploited under capitalism (peasants and soldiers) in one great mass and lead them into battle. These organs – Soviets – are, within bourgeois society, already essentially weapons of the proletariat organizing itself as a class. Once they exist revolution is on the agenda. For as Marx said: ‘The class organization of revolutionary elements presupposes the completion of all the forces of production which can ever develop in the womb of the old society.’

This organization of a whole class has to take up the struggle against the bourgeois state apparatus – whether it wants to or not. There is no choice: either the proletarian Soviets disorganize the bourgeois state apparatus, or the latter succeeds in corrupting the Soviets into a pseudo-existence and in thus destroying them. Either the bourgeoisie undertakes the counter-revolutionary suppression of the revolutionary mass movement and re-establishes ‘normal’ conditions of ‘order’, or the proletariat’s instrument of rule, its state apparatus – equally one of its struggle – emerges from the Soviets, the instrument of that struggle. Even in 1905, in their earliest and most undeveloped form, the workers’ Soviets display this character: they are an anti-government. Whereas other organs of the class struggle can make tactical adjustments even during the undisputed rule of the bourgeoisie – in other words, can function in a revolutionary way under such conditions – workers’ Soviets are in essential opposition to bourgeois state power as a competing dual government. So when Martov, for example, recognizes the Soviets as organs of struggle but denies their fitness to become a state apparatus, he expunges from his theory precisely the revolution itself – the real proletarian seizure of power. When, on the other hand, individual theoreticians on the extreme left see the workers’ Soviets as a permanent class organization and seek to replace party and trade union by them, they in turn reveal their lack of understanding of the difference between revolutionary and non-revolutionary situations, and their confusion as to the actual role of workers’ Soviets. For although the mere recognition of the concrete possibility of Soviets points beyond bourgeois society towards the proletarian revolution (the idea of workers’ Soviets must therefore be permanently propagated among the proletariat, which must always be prepared to make this revolution), their real existence – if it is not to be a farce – immediately involves a serious struggle for state power, in other words, civil war.

Workers’ Soviets as a state apparatus: that is the state as a weapon in the class struggle of the proletariat. Because the proletariat fights against bourgeois class rule and strives to create a classless society, the undialectical and therefore unhistorical and unrevolutionary analysis of opportunism concludes that the proletariat must fight against all class rule; in other words, its own form of domination should under no circumstances be an organ of class rule, of class oppression, Taken abstractly this basic viewpoint is Utopian, for proletarian rule could never become a reality in this way; taken concretely, however, and applied to the present, it exposes itself as an ideological capitulation to the bourgeoisie .From this standpoint the most developed bourgeois form of rule – democracy – appears at a minimum to be an early form of proletarian democracy. At a maximum, however, it appears to be the embodiment of this democracy itself in which it need only be ensured that the majority of the population is won for the ‘ideals’ of social democracy through peaceful agitation. From this it would follow that the transition from bourgeois to proletarian democracy is not necessarily revolutionary; revolution would be reserved merely for the transition from the backward forms of society to democracy. A revolutionary defense of democracy against social reaction would only be necessary in certain circumstances. (The fact that social democracy has nowhere offered serious resistance to fascist reaction and conducted a revolutionary defense of democracy provides a practical demonstration of the extent to which this mechanistic separation of the proletarian from the bourgeois revolution is wrong and counter-revolutionary.)

Such a standpoint not only eliminates revolution from historical development, represented by all manner of crude or subtle arguments as being an evolution into socialism, but conceals the bourgeois class character of democracy from the proletariat. The moment of deception lies in the undialectical concept of the majority. Because the representation of the interests of the overwhelming majority of the population is the essence of working-class rule, many workers suffer from the illusion that a purely formal democracy, in which the voice of every citizen is equally valid, is the most suitable instrument for expressing and representing the interests of society as a whole. But this fails to take into account the simple – simple! – detail that men are not just abstract individuals, abstract citizens or isolated atoms within the totality of the state, but are always concrete human beings who occupy specific positions within social production, whose social being (and mediated through it, whose thinking) is determined by this position. The pure democracy of bourgeois society excludes this mediation. It connects the naked and abstract individual directly with the totality of the state, which in this context appears equally abstract. This fundamentally formal character of pure democracy is alone enough to pulverize bourgeois society politically – which is not merely an advantage for the bourgeoisie but is precisely the decisive condition of its class rule.

For however much it rests in the last analysis on force, no class rule can, ultimately, maintain itself for long by force alone. ‘It is possible,’ as Talleyrand once said, ‘to do many things with a bayonet, but one cannot sit on one.’ Every minority rule is therefore socially organized both to concentrate the ruling class, equipping it for united and cohesive action, and simultaneously to split and disorganize the oppressed classes. Where the minority rule of the modern bourgeoisie is concerned, it must always be remembered that the great majority of the population belongs to neither of the two classes which play a decisive part in the class struggle, to neither the proletariat nor the bourgeoisie; and that in addition pure democracy is designed, in social and in class terms, to ensure the bourgeoisie domination over these intermediate strata. (Needless to say, the ideological disorganization of the proletariat is also part of this process. As can be seen most clearly in England and America, the older democracy is in a country and the purer its development, the greater is this ideological disorganization.) Political democracy of this kind is of course by no means enough to achieve this end by itself. It is, however, only the political culmination of a social system whose other elements include the ideological separation of economics and politics, the creation of a bureaucratic state apparatus which gives large sections of the petty bourgeoisie a material and moral interest in the stability of the state, a bourgeois party system, press, schools system, religion, etc. With a more or less conscious division of labour, all these further the aim of preventing the formation of an independent ideology among the oppressed classes of the population which would correspond to their own class interests; of binding the individual members of these classes as single individuals, as mere ‘citizens’, to an abstract state reigning over and above all classes; of disorganizing these classes as classes and pulverizing them into atoms easily manipulated by the bourgeoisie.

The recognition that Soviets (Soviets of workers, and of peasants and soldiers) represent proletarian state power, means the attempt by the proletariat as the leading revolutionary class to counteract this process of disorganization. It must first of all constitute itself as a class. But it must also mobilize those active elements in the intermediate classes which instinctively rebel against the rule of the bourgeoisie, thereby at the same time breaking the material and the ideological influence of the bourgeoisie over them. The more acute opportunists, Otto Bauer for example, have also recognized that the social meaning of the dictatorship of the proletariat, of the dictatorship of Soviets, lies largely in the radical seizure from the bourgeoisie of the possibility of ideological leadership of these classes – particularly the peasants -and in the conquest of this leadership by the proletariat in the transition period. The crushing of the bourgeoisie, the smashing of its state apparatus, the destruction of its press, etc., is a vital necessity for the proletarian revolution because the bourgeoisie by no means renounces its efforts to re-establish its economic and political dominance after its initial defeats in the struggle for state power, and for a long time still remains the more powerful class, even under the new conditions of class struggle which result.

With the help of the Soviet system constituting the state, the proletariat therefore conducts the same struggle against capitalist power which it earlier waged for state power. It must destroy the bourgeoisie economically, isolate it politically, and undermine and overthrow it ideologically. But at the same time it must lead to freedom all the other strata of society it has torn from bourgeois leadership. In other words, it is not enough for the proletariat to fight objectively for the interests of the other exploited strata. Its state must also serve to overcome by education the inertia and the fragmentation of these strata and to train them for active and independent participation in the life of the state. One of the noblest functions of the Soviet system is to bind together those moments of social life which capitalism fragments. Where this fragmentation lies merely in the consciousness of the oppressed classes, they must be made aware of the unity of these moments. The Soviet system, for example, always establishes the indivisible unity of economics and politics by relating the concrete existence of men – their immediate daily interests, etc. – to the essential questions of society as a whole. It also establishes unity in objective reality where bourgeois class interests created the ‘division of labour’; above all, the unity of the power ‘apparatus’ (army, police, government, the law, etc.) and ‘the people’. For the armed peasants and workers as embodiments of state power are simultaneously the products of the struggle of the Soviets and the precondition of their existence. Everywhere, the Soviet system does its utmost to relate human activity to general questions concerning the state, the economy, culture, etc., while fighting to ensure that the regulation of all such questions does not become the privilege of an exclusive bureaucratic group remote from social life as a whole. Because the Soviet system, the proletarian state, makes society aware of the real connections between all moments of social life (and later objectively unites those which are as yet objectively separate – town and country, for example, intellectual and manual labour, etc.), it is a decisive factor in the organization of the proletariat as a class. What existed in the proletariat only as a possibility in capitalist society now becomes a living reality: the proletariat’s real productive energy can only awaken after its seizure of power. But what is true of the proletariat is also true of the other oppressed strata in bourgeois society. They too can only develop in this context, though they continue to be led even in the new state. But whereas they were led under capitalism because of their inability to become conscious of their own socioeconomic destruction, exploitation and oppression, under the leadership of the proletariat they can, on the contrary, not only live according to their own interests, but also develop their hitherto hidden or crippled energies. They are led only in the sense that the limits and direction of their development are determined by the proletariat in its capacity as the leading class of the revolution.

Leadership over the non-proletarian intermediate strata in the proletarian state is therefore, materially, quite different from leadership over them in the bourgeois state. There is also an essential formal difference: the proletarian state is the first class state in history which acknowledges quite openly and un-hypocritically that it is a class state, a repressive apparatus, and an instrument of class struggle. This relentless honesty and lack of hypocrisy is what makes a real under standing between the proletariat and the other social strata possible in the first place. But above and beyond this, it is an extremely important means of self-education for the proletariat. For however essential it has become to awaken proletarian consciousness to the fact that the era of decisive revolutionary struggles has come – that the struggle for state power, for the leadership of society, has already broken out -it would be dangerous to allow this to become an inflexible and undialectical truth. It would consequently be highly dangerous if the proletariat, having liberated itself from the ideology of pacifist class struggle and having grasped the historical significance and indispensability of force, were now to believe that all problems of its rule could in all circumstances be settled by force. However, it would be even more dangerous if the proletariat were to imagine that, after it has seized state power, the class struggle ends or at least comes to a standstill. The proletariat must understand that the seizure of state power is only a phase of this struggle. After it the struggle only becomes more violent, and it would be quite wrong to maintain that the relationship of forces shifts immediately and decisively in the proletariat’s favour. Lenin never ceases to repeat that the bourgeoisie still remains the more powerful class even when the Soviet republic is established, even after the bourgeoisie’s own economic expropriation and political suppression. But the relationship of forces does shift in so far as the proletariat takes possession of a new powerful weapon of class struggle: the state. It is true that the value of this weapon – its ability to undermine, isolate, and destroy the bourgeoisie, to win over and educate the other social strata to cooperation in the workers’ and peasants’ state, and really to organize the proletariat itself to become the leading class – by no means follows automatically merely from the seizure of state power. Nor does the state inevitably develop as an instrument of struggle merely because power has been seized. The value of the state as a weapon for the proletariat depends on what the proletariat is capable of making of it.

The actuality of the revolution expresses itself in the actuality of the problem of the state for the proletariat. With this phase the question of socialism itself at once ceases to be merely an ultimate far-off goal and confronts the proletariat as an immediate task. This tangible proximity of the realization of socialism once again involves, however, a dialectical relationship; it would be fatal for the proletariat if it were to interpret this approach of socialism in a mechanistic and Utopian fashion, as its realization merely through the seizure of power (capitalist expropriation, socialization, etc.). Marx made an acute analysis of the transition from capitalism to socialism and pointed out the many bourgeois forms of structure which can only be abolished gradually, in the course of prolonged development. Lenin also draws the dividing-line against utopianism here as firmly as possible. ‘ ... Nor I think’, he said, ‘has any Communist denied that the term Socialist Soviet Republic implies the determination of Soviet power to achieve the transition to socialism, and not that the new economic system is recognized as a socialist order’. The actuality of the revolution, therefore, undoubtedly means that socialism is now an immediate task of the labour movement; but only in the sense that the establishment of its preconditions must now be fought for day by day and that some of the concrete measures of this daily struggle already constitute concrete advances towards the revolution’s fulfillment.

It is precisely at this point – in its criticism of the relationship between Soviets and socialism – that opportunism reveals that it has finally joined the bourgeoisie and become the class enemy of the proletariat. For on the one hand, it regards all the pseudo-concessions which a momentarily alarmed or disorganized bourgeoisie provisionally makes to the proletariat as real steps towards socialism (for instance, the long-defunct ‘Socialization Commissions’ set up in Germany and Austria in 1918-19). On the other hand, it mocks the Soviet republic for not immediately producing socialism, and for making a bourgeois revolution, proletarian in form and under proletarian leadership (accusations of ‘Russia as a peasants’ republic’, ‘reintroduction of capitalism’, and so on). In both cases, it becomes clear that for opportunists of all shades, the real enemy to be fought is precisely the proletarian revolution itself. This too is but the consistent extension of the opportunists attitude to the imperialist war. Similarly, it is only a consistent extension of his criticism of opportunism before and during the war, when Lenin treats its exponents in practice as enemies of the working class in the republic of Soviets.

For opportunism belongs to the bourgeoisie – the bourgeoisie whose intellectual and material media must be destroyed and whose whole structure must be disrupted by the dictatorship, so that it should not influence those social strata rendered unstable by their objective class situation. The very actuality of socialism makes this struggle considerably more violent than it was, for instance, at the time of the Bernstein debates. The state as a proletarian weapon in the struggle for socialism and for the suppression of the bourgeoisie is also its weapon for eradicating the opportunist threat to that class struggle of the proletariat which must be pursued with undiminished intensity in the dictatorship.