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On the Question of the State

(January 1932)

From The Militant, Vol. V No. 4 (Whole No. 100), 23 January 1932, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

A comrade from Bethlehem writes to the Militant that Communists, sympathizers and Left wingers still inquire on the attitude of the Communists toward the question of the State. They further ask what is the position of the Left Communists. The comrade inquires: “Is the aim of the Communists, after a successful proletarian revolution, the establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat, to continue to build a State?”

In reply to the comrade, it can be stated that the views of the Communists relative to the State, or government, are definite and specific. The early and modern leaders of scientific socialism or communism have answered clearly all that is involved therein. The first to do so were Marx and Engels in their historic Communist Manifesto and in Engels’ Socialism – Utopian and Scientific, which comprises a section of his larger work, Landmarks of Scientific Socialism (Anti-Duehring).

Class Society and the State

The Communists see in the State an organ of domination of one class in society over another. Till the advent of power by the proletariat in the Soviet Union, the State had always been an instrument of power of a ruling and exploiting class over the mass of exploited people. This has been the situation, in all preceding class societies: slavery, feudalism and today capitalism. Modern capitalism in its stages of growth, and largely even yet, expresses itself through the parliamentary – allegedly through the methods of “universal” suffrage – form of government. But already, in its imperialist epoch and its decadence or decline on an international scale – it is resorting to another form of domination or dictatorship, that is, the Fascist dictatorship, which, among other things, shows more plainly the bankruptcy of the economy of capitalism today and compels it to resort to special repressive forms to maintain, somehow, capitalist domination.

The Communists understand that the State is but the outgrowth of the existing social and class relations which arise out of the conditions of production and distribution of the means of existence. This is so under the Soviets in the period of the proletarian dictatorship, even as in capitalist society itself. No Communist desires a State or repressive organ for its own sake. But unlike the Anarchists and Syndicalists, they know that the mere denial or negation of the State and its role, does not do away with it.

The Proletarian State

The proletarian State, the Soviet Union, too, is an apparatus of one class against another. The proletariat has succeeded the bourgeoisie as the ruling class, and, in alliance with the peasantry there, protects the interests of the useful producers and endeavors to eliminate all forms of exploitation and exploiters. Soviet rule is the highest form of democratic procedure yet developed. It is not a parliamentary form, after the manner of capitalism but, in the main an industrial form or the political expression of the masses.

The dictatorship of the proletariat, in Russia in the form of a Soviet Government – Workers’ Councils – represents the transition form between capitalist society and the final establishment of classless – hence governmentless – society, that is: Communism. The Soviet, state strives for the complete elimination of all forms of capitalism and capitalists petty or large. At the same time, as one of its outstanding achievements, the Soviet government assists in the establishment of the social and economic functions of the working masses. So long as classes in one form or another exist, a governmental apparatus or State will exist. Its final elimination or dissolution can only be the result of a long process in which the useful producers – workers of brain and muscle – finally establish all the necessary bases of social production and distribution, without any kind of exploiting factors or remnants, and thereby develop a condition wherein no form of governmental apparatus is required. In other words, to paraphrase Marx and Engels, the administration of men (government) is to be replaced by the administration of things, that is, the administration of the processes of production and distribution or the establishment of a social and industrial commonwealth in which political government, as we understand it now. becomes wholly unnecessary. Society will function through social and industrial forms. On this question Daniel De Leon, the American revolutionist, has made great contributions which have been attested to by Lenin.

Respecting the gradual elimination of the State, Engels has described the process as a withering away or vanishing of the State. Our readers can find voluminous material on this and kindred questions in Lenin’s brilliant work, the State and Revolution, Trotsky’s Terrorism and Communism, Marx’s Criticism of the Gotha Program and other works. The point of view of the Left Opposition is amply expressed therein.

The Soviet Government Today

There remains nevertheless the situation in the Soviet Union today. That Stalin and Stalinism have to a large degree converted the Soviet apparatus into a bureaucracy which less and less represents the basic historical interests of the proletariat, does not do away with the fundamental fact of the necessity for the proletariat to create a State, a Soviet government, for its own ends. Stalinism has abused the proletarian State, has made a mockery of proletarian democracy in the Communist party, in the Soviet government, in the unions, etc., but despite the terrible abuses, despite the usurpation of powers by the bureaucracy, – the Soviet government remains a WORKERS’ STATE. Despite all that happened, the Left Opposition has full faith in the regeneration of the Communist party of the Soviet Union and the Communist International. The vigilance and understanding of the worker-Communists and proletariat, led by the Left Opposition, we have reason to believe will yet remedy the situation with in the Communist movement in Russia and internationally.

The Viewpoint of the Opposition

In Problems of the Development of the U.S.S.R. – a draft of a thesis of the International Left Opposition on the Russian Question – comrade L.D. Trotsky has dealt concretely on the causes and cure of the situation existing in Russia and in the Comintern. We can think of nothing better to recommend to our Bethlehem comrade and to all other interested workers than a close study of this thesis.

It is there pointed out that the party, like all political institutions, is also a product of the productive relations of society. The bureaucracy that has developed in the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, in the Soviets, etc., is not an independent historical factor; it can only serve a class. The zig-zag course of Stalinism has nevertheless, because of pressure from the Left Opposition and the proletariat, developed on the basis of the dictatorship of the proletariat.

The fundamental danger of the bureaucracy, in addition to all the crimes against the Russian and international proletariat committed by Stalin and his faction, is that, “even if it can not itself become the foundation of state power, it can, with its policy, make it extremely easier for the power to be transferred from the hands of the class into the hands of another,” namely, the passing of Soviet power into the hands of the bourgeoisie. “The present-day Soviet apparatus is a bureaucratic, plebiscitarily distorted form of the dictatorship of the proletariat. At the same time, however, it is a potential instrument of Bonapartism.” But, the Left Opposition, points out, the proletariat and the worker-Communists will resist such a development to the limit, and “between the present function of the apparatus and its possible function, the blood of civil war would still have to flow”. The proletariat will indeed not lightly give up its power because of the crimes of Stalin and the bureaucracy.

In brief, comrade Trotsky proves, “The strength of the Soviet bureaucracy has unfolded on the basis of the abrupt decline in the political activity of the Soviet proletariat after a number of years of the highest exertion of forces, upon a series of defeats of the international revolution, upon the stabilization of capitalism and the strengthening of the international social democracy” Nevertheless, “the bourgeoisie could come to power in the U.S.S.R. in no other way than with the aid of a counter-revolutionary upheaval. The proletarian vanguard retains the possibility of putting the bureaucracy in its place, of subordinating it to its control, of insuring the correct policy and by means of decisive and bold reforms, of regenerating the party, the trade unions and the Soviets.”

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