Lenin’s “The State and Revolution” – Opting Out

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If you’re new to all this and wondering why I would even bother reading something by a vicious dictator, even just for the fun of reading people I disagree with, it’s important to remember that at the time of publishing The State and Revolution, V.I. Lenin was a mere political theorist and activist. The ideas of this book and others were taken on as the natural progression from Karl Marx and Frederic Engels, whose Communist Manifesto was 60 years old in 1917, to form Marxism-Leninism. Amongst the pantheon of socialist and Marxist thought, ML’ism is to be seen as pure and honest to the ‘science’ of Marxism and required reading for anyone that wants to understand it.

The point of the book is to reiterate the Marx/Engels understanding of the state, what it is, what must occur when the inevitable revolution comes, and in what sense the state will ‘wither away.’ The format is via refuting a smattering of contemporaries who have arisen since Marx’s day, that he calls ‘opportunists.’ It’s not important to know their work to understand the crux of his argument, nor is it relevant for a libertarian.

The first premise a libertarian in the Oppenheimer/Chodorov/Nock tradition would find some agreement: the state is fundamentally an institution of coercive force, protecting the parasitic class against the productive class. This is in contradistinction to first the Hobbesian narrative of the state, that it is a keeper of the peace and maintains general order, and so too the naive ‘opportunist’ socialists who believe that the state can be reformed and steered towards the interests of the working class through democracy.

The state is, in fact, nothing more than an instrument of force that defends the powerful from the working class. The monied class, the bourgeoisie, need protecting due to the inevitable class conflict between them and the workers, the proletariat. In a theoretical society without the state, the workers would overthrow the capitalists and seize the means of productions. As it is, the continued exploitation of the working class by the capitalists exists only by the iron fist of the state.

The libertarian agreement comes in the nature of the state and the suppression of one class of people over another, and that the state cannot be reformed against its own nature as an instrument of exploitation. Hans-Herman Hoppe went as far as to say in his paper on class analysis:

“… the theses that constitute the hard core of the Marxist theory of history … are essentially correct.”

But,

“… these true theses are derived in Marxism from a false starting point.”

Namely the faulty understanding of exploitation on which the entire theory rests. To summarise: the idea that the capitalist employer necessarily shaves off a chunk of the productive value of the worker. The implication of this theory makes the target of the socialist’s ire the capitalists and employers per se, believing that employment itself is an exploitative system that can only be sustained by force.

Hoppe and other libertarians’ response is that the capitalist, in a free market, performs the important task of anticipating future demand and taking on the investment risk. This means that profit, far from being an un-earned surplus, is the premium paid to the capitalist for providing this ‘service’ that sustains the workers’ jobs in the first place.

This is probably not new stuff to most free-marketeers, but in this particular piece, Lenin corrects a common misconception: that even in a socialist system, the workers will receive the full product of their labor:

“Marx shows that from the whole of the social labor of society there must be deducted a reserve fund, a fund for the expansion of production, a fund for the replacement of the “wear and tear” of machinery, and so on. Then, from the means of consumption must be deducted a fund for administrative expenses, for schools, hospitals, old people’s homes, and so on.”

Lenin elaborates by drawing on the Paris Commune of 1871. Following the capture of Napoleon III and the collapse of the Second French Empire, a band of revolutionaries held and ruled Paris for two months. Marxists aren’t completely blind to experience, Lenin says, who can learn a lot by the problems the Paris communists, who were forced to surrender to the Prussians. It is no good to keep the machines of the state as they are once the revolution happens, as their very design is born of capitalist class interest.

Remember that in 1917, socialism is the intermediary stage between capitalism and communism, where the proletariat has seized the state apparatus from the bourgeoisie and is motivating it to correct the class antagonisms that gave rise to it in the first place. In this period, the state institutions are not abolished immediately.

This might explain 2019 communists’ insistence that communism hasn’t yet been tried and that all previous instances of nominal communism have been trapped in totalitarian socialism or even ‘state capitalism.’ It doesn’t occur to Lenin, or more bafflingly, modern communists, that the reason why authoritarianism always seems to happen might have something to do with their theory. The gaping hole in this book and Marxism generally is the exact mechanism whereby the state ‘withers away.’

According to Marxian theory, once the class relations are resolved, when the bourgeoisie has been absorbed into the proletariat, the class conflict that necessitated the state would no longer exist, and therefore the state would not, can not exist. The communists take it apriori that the fact that the state has indeed not withered away after socialist revolutions prove they could not have been proper socialist revolutions.

Alternatively, their entire understanding of why the state exists, whilst we can acknowledge that they have a good idea of what the state is, could, like Hoppe claims, be completely wrong.

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James Smith

Writer and film-maker from the United Kingdom. Digital nomad. Author of 'The Shy Guy's Guide to Travelling'.

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