space of a few days three events have occurred which are significant for the
people of the countries concerned. They
are the replacement of Tony Abbott as Australian Prime Minister, the election
of Jeremy Corbyn as Opposition leader in the UK, and the latest Greek
are not events from the battlefields of revolutionary struggle but events of an
entirely parliamentary nature.
will they lead to revolutionary struggle if the illusions that underline them
heart of these illusions is a failure to grasp the distinction between
parliamentary struggles under the conditions of the dictatorship of the
bourgeoisie and the existence of the entire apparatus of the state as the
instrument through which bourgeois dictatorship is maintained and exercised.
capitalist state is the instrument for the suppression of classes below the
capitalist class, the instrument through which capitalist class rule is
maintained and reinforced. The socialist
state is the instrument for the suppression of classes that formerly exploited
the working class, the instrument through which the workers elevate themselves
to the position of the class that rules socialist society and preserves its
states, whether they be of the slave-owners, the feudal lords, the capitalists
or the working class have certain essential components in common.
include bodies of armed enforcers, a more or less consistent and generally
known set of rules or laws to be enforced, institutions for the punishment of
those who rebel against the state, trained ideologues who explain and justify
and rationalise the given mode of production.
In different countries and at different times, but associated
particularly with the rise of the original middle class, the bourgeoisie,
representative bodies arose to challenge and then to work with or replace the
absolute authority of monarchs and emperors.
We collectively call these bodies parliaments.
modern bourgeois rights of universal suffrage and secret ballot, and the
principle that the elected leaders are supreme over the armed forces, the
courts and the jails, were won by struggles of the people. When they are challenged or under attack from
the capitalists and their reactionary bodies, it is correct that they are
defended. Their exercise, however, is
not the be all and end all of the elevation of the working class to the
dominant position in society, nor of the change from the capitalist mode of
production to the socialist.
fact, the economic, social, political, military, cultural and ideological ties
between the members of the capitalist class, politicians who choose to work for
the capitalists within the parliamentary process, and the senior members of the
police, the armed forces, the judiciary and other state institutions will
invariably make a peaceful transition from capitalism to socialism an
impossibility. This is independent of
the desire of the working class and its allies for the avoidance of jail or
bloodshed. It is unavoidably the case that
the bourgeoisie will never willingly surrender the means of production and
hence the basis for its viability as a privileged class, to the workers.
see a general rejoicing in the demise of Tony Abbott but also a preoccupation
with what this will mean for the Labor Party as if, in some fundamental way,
the interests of Australian workers can be permanently enhanced, protected and
enshrined through the exercise of the ballot. It reflects an illusion that
Labor (or the Greens or some miraculous rise of a populist coalition of
candidates) can ever move the people’s agenda in a direction that will not
ultimately bring it into conflict, not with another parliamentary party, but
with the state as the ultimate obstacle to fundamental social change.
this sort of social democratic or reformist illusion permeates the ranks of
those associated with the British Labour Party who are currently exhilarating
in the vote that presented that party’s leadership to the “old-time socialist”,
Jeremy Corbyn (above). Of course it is important
not to write off the significance of Corbyn’s ascendancy. It reflects a genuine desire on the part of
many in Britain to bring to an end the embrace of reactionary neo-liberalism
personified by Blair and Brown. It
reflects a genuine desire on the part of many in Britain to see the reactionary
neo-liberalism of David Cameron’s Conservatives replaced by a caring Labour
government committed to social justice and a “fair” sharing of wealth.
genuine sentiments, worthy as they are, reflect a double illusion: the first,
that a party of capitalism and imperialism such as British Labour will enact
any measures that fundamentally change the nature of capitalism; and the second
that, if indeed British Labour under Corbyn did
enact such measures, that the coercive apparatus of the British bourgeois
dictatorship would not be used to discipline the government into “playing by
the rules”, and failing that, to dismiss it and restore to office a trusted
such a warning has already been issued by sections of the bourgeoisie, and
Corbyn is still in Opposition! Business and financial interests will find no
ethical objections to cultivating reactionary sections of the armed
forces. Indeed the latter have already
indicated that if Corbyn, in government, tried to scrap Trident, pull out of
Nato or announce “any plans to emasculate and shrink the size of the armed
forces…(then) people would use whatever means possible, fair or foul to prevent
that” (The Independent, Sept 21, 2015).
prospect of the UK under a Colonels’ dictatorship seems far-fetched, then let
us remember what happened in the birthplace of democracy, Greece, during the
years of the Junta, from 1966 to 1974.
The military seized power on behalf of the US imperialists and their
Greek bourgeois collaborators. Working
class activists and democrats were arrested, imprisoned, tortured and killed.
Civil rights ceased to exist and Communists singled out for special repression.
recent years have seen the rise of a coalition of left-wing parties and
organisations, SYRIZA, which has had electoral success of a sort in opposing
austerity measures demanded by the European finance capitalists. Some Communist organisations participated in
SYRIZA, some refused to participate.
Probably in the early days of SYRIZA there were opportunities for
Communists to work in this coalition and strengthen its anti-imperialist base;
those opportunities were obliterated by Prime Minister Tsipras’s referendum on
the austerity measures and subsequent calling of the September snap election,
correctly described by former Finance Minister Varoufakis as a “legitimation of
certainly a weakness of SYRIZA that it led the masses down a parliamentary path
that, had it retained its original anti-austerity and anti-imperialist focus,
would have led it into conflict with the descendants of the Colonels of the
former Junta. All attention seems to
have been focussed on parliamentary manoeuvres; little attention seems to have
been paid to questions of the role of the state and of the loyalties of its
central components. In concentrating
very largely on economic matters, SYRIZA left in place all the structures that
bound its armed forces to NATO and the US imperialists. There is no doubt how they would have acted
had push ever really come to shove.
most interesting and informative studies of the nature and role of the
bourgeois state are the several histories of France written by Marx in the
early 1850s. In The Class Struggles in France 1848 to 1850 Marx approvingly quoted
the “bold slogan of the revolutionary struggle: Overthrow the bourgeoisie! Dictatorship of the working class!” In the same work, he drew the conclusion
that “Socialism is the declaration of the
permanence of the revolution, the
class dictatorship of the proletariat…”
he disputed certain claims about the significance of class struggle as a
“Marxist” concept when those concepts were not linked to an understanding of
the class nature of the state. Writing
to Joseph Weydemeyer, he said “No credit is due to me for discovering the existence of classes
in modern society, nor yet the struggle between them. Long before me, bourgeois
historians had described the historical development of this struggle between
the classes, as had bourgeois economists their economic anatomy. My own
contribution was (1) to show that the existence of classes is merely bound up
with certain historical phases in the development of production; (2) that the
class struggle necessarily leads to the dictatorship of the proletariat; [and]
(3) that this dictatorship, itself, constitutes no more than a transition to
the abolition of all classes and to a classless society.”
years later, writing of the experience of the Paris Commune, he drew further
conclusions about the transition to socialism, saying that “the working class
cannot simply lay hold of the ready-made state-machinery and wield it for their
own purpose. The political instrument of their enslavement cannot serve as the
political instrument of their emancipation.”
He described the government that emanated from bourgeois parliaments as
a “huge governmental parasite, entoiling the social body like a boa constrictor
in the ubiquitous meshes of its bureaucracy, police, standing army, clergy and
around the same time, in a speech on the seventh anniversary of the
International, he said: “In destroying the existing conditions of oppression by
transferring all the means of labour to the productive labourer, and thereby
compelling every able-bodied individual to work for a living, the only base for
class rule and oppression would be removed. But before such a change can be
consummated, a dictatorship of the proletariat is necessary, and its first
premise is an army of the proletariat.”
correct, scientific conclusions on the nature of the state, and on the
necessity of a proletarian state to create and maintain the conditions for the
survival of socialism originated with Marx and his great collaborator Engels,
and have been central to the works of their pupils in Lenin, Stalin and Mao
were central to the writings of the founding Chairperson of the CPA (M-L), E.F.
(Ted) Hill. Those writings have a
particular resonance for Australian revolutionaries, locating the Marxist
theory of the state and revolution in an Australian context.
three events discussed above reflect the instability of contemporary
parliamentary politics in the era of imperialism’s uneven development.
this instability, illusions about the state persist, illusions which prevent
the advanced, leading elements of the workers from raising the ideological and
political level of middle and backward elements.
task remains for politically advanced workers to take the lead in developing an
independent working class agenda, an agenda that is not merely different in
content to that of the reformists and social democrats, but different in the
methods is requires for its realisation.