What do you think of libcom's introduction to the state?

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Steven.
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Aug 27 2012 18:49
What do you think of libcom's introduction to the state?

We have just published a draft of our new introductory guide on the state here:
http://libcom.org/library/state-introduction

as with our other introductory guides, we would like to gather users' views, so we can improve the article.

So what does everyone think? Have we covered the most important issues? Have we missed anything out? Is it clear? Is there any better further reading we can suggest?

Please give us your thoughts so we can incorporate them!

Android
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Aug 27 2012 19:52

The text was good, covered all the main points. And in a basic and accessible way, which I am guessing was the intention.

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So what does everyone think? Have we covered the most important issues? Have we missed anything out? Is it clear? Is there any better further reading we can suggest?

I do not know if there is any unstated criteria for inclusion in 'further reading'. But I'd suggest The State Debate edited by Simon Clarke. And in particular his introduction was good if I recall correctly.

http://libcom.org/library/state-debate-simon-clarke

Bonefeld's The Recomposition of the British State During the 1980s addresses the decline of Keynesianism (welfare state etc) and the rise of Monetarism. It combines theory and history. If I remember right, his opening theoretical chapter places class struggle more central to capitalist development, then Clarke. I remember liking it when I read it for a uni essay on Thatcherism last year.

And this is also relevant:

http://libcom.org/library/against-state-1979

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Aug 27 2012 20:04

Just got done reading it. Awesome.

The only thing it might be worth elaborating on in the 'private property' section is the notion of "public" property and why we view it as state property and the implications thereof.

Similarly, a discussion of "public" employment might be pertinent: although one may be employed by the state, that doesn't change the social relationship that is capitalism. This is covered somewhat in the later criticisms of Bolshevism and workers' states, but I think elaboration in this earlier sections would be beneficial to well-intentioned liberals and reformists who have faith in social democracy.

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Aug 27 2012 20:06

Cheers android. Will check those links out.

What does everyone else think?

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klas batalo
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Aug 27 2012 20:15

Nice links Android.

Agreed with Chilli mainly for the newbs who might think public workers are worthy targets.

A few other things I am wondering is how left communists and marxists will take this.

I think they would say that they want to abolish the current state and create a new workers state, not seize the pre-existing state. Then from there depending on how libertarian of an analysis some might say that such a state is really a non- or semi- state. At best saying the dictatorship of the proletariat through the workers' councils is what such a state would look like, and that compared to the monstrous states that exist today wouldn't even compare. Some would also call this a council state. I've seen a better description of it as the "council organization."

My main thought is if something is so different why fashion it at all like or after the concept of the State?

But yeah I just figured worth bringing up since Libcom claims to seek inspiration from libertarian currents within Marxism as well as from anarchism.

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Aug 27 2012 20:25
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But the ability within a given area to make political and legal decisions – and to enforce them, with violence if necessary – is the basic characteristic of all states.

Perhaps clarify that it's geographical area, when I read it it was in such a context discussing areas of society where the state acts so it was confusing for a split second.

The "State welfare" section emphasises protest a bit much I'd say.

Quote:
We then end up spending the next 100 years hearing people go on about what a 'great reformer' so-and-so was, even though it was our protests which forced those reforms onto them.

Dunno if it can be re-phrased to explain that it's the working class exerting it's power that forces change.

It probably needs to be this long but it is to long to use as a reference during online discussions etc. Covers to much ground, would be useful with a more concise version. Perhaps there could be an intro/synopsis that mentions all the crucial bits and then gives context in a longer text further down? So same text just restructured a bit?

inflaminatus
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Aug 27 2012 20:34

Reposted by friend of mine, who is not registered here:

An interesting topic, but there are few parts I can´t agree with. The most debatable is this part: When as a class we are organised and militant, social reforms are passed. But as militancy is repressed or fades away, our gains are chipped
away at. Public services are cut and sold off bit-by-bit, welfare benefits are reduced, fees for services are introduced or increased and wages are cut. What about welfare state in Norway? I don´t have any feelings about social tensions needed for better conditions.

NannerNannerNan...
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Aug 27 2012 21:29

Oh god yes

Now when some right wing fuck starts flapping his gums about how extreme-right neoliberalism is "revolutionary" I can forward this instead of me screaming "THE ROLE OF THE STATE IS TO PROTECT CAPITAL" and him responding "well thats not what glenn beck told me you dirty communist".

My only issue with it is that it's WAY to brief. It doesn't delve into the history of the capitalist state (beginning with mercantilism and absolute monarchy) and it skims over a lot of details. If I were to link this to someone in its present form, they would just dismiss out of hand.

TL;DR
Make it more comprehensive and thorough is my suggestion.

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Aug 27 2012 21:31

Excellent introduction.

The only thing I'd suggest, echoing Sabotage really, is a more explicit suggestion of what non-state organisation might look like, and why not having a state doesn't mean complete localism and self-sufficiency.

It might seem obvious to some of us but one of the things I get a lot is people saying that any kind of organisation over a broad geographical area would be a state, even if by another name, and so being against states as a whole is stupid/incoherent.

orkhis
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Aug 27 2012 22:20
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Some states also provide many services which protect people from the worst effects of the economy. However, this has rarely, if ever, been the result of generosity from politicians but of pressure from below.

Maybe it's just me, but this reads unconvincingly.

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Aug 27 2012 22:21

Thanks for the comments everyone.

As I'm sure you appreciate, these introductory guides are quite tricky. Already we have people telling us it is too long and we should shorten it, and people saying it isn't detailed enough and we should extend it.

It's already at 2100 words (2300 including the further reading), and we wanted to try to keep these to 1200-1500.

That said, we are planning further guides where we hope to cover more issues, like talking about alternate organisational arrangements Alasdair.

That said, please keep any criticisms coming and we will try to take everything on board as much as possible

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Aug 27 2012 22:24
Alasdair wrote:
It might seem obvious to some of us but one of the things I get a lot is people saying that any kind of organisation over a broad geographical area would be a state, even if by another name, and so being against states as a whole is stupid/incoherent.

Exactly my thoughts when I read the paragraph on 'what is the state' - I'm kinda missing the typical features that Engels pointed out like class divisions and alienation of political power from those that have to live with the consequences, aka the working class. This is kinda implicit in the last sentence of that paragraph but I think it deserves more emphasis.

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Aug 27 2012 23:33
Quote:
The state: Its historical role - Peter Kropotkin - A classic anarchist test examining the state's role in society.

Text, surely?
I liked the article and have forwarded it to folk I've had discussions with on Facebook. smile Cheers.

manon
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Aug 28 2012 03:20

This is my first post here (I found this through the Exiled). I come from a Marxist background and would like to offer my critique.

It would also be helpful to point out that the current relationship between the state and capitalism has lead to a mass accumulation of capital by a select few. This mass accumulation is irreversible and eventually suck the working class dry. It will continue as long as the fundamental relationship between the state and capitalism remains the same.


Things cannot improve as long as the status-quo remains the same.
Perhaps we, the people, the working-class (or rather, the class that doesn't own anything), could do a better job of organizing things than the state?

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Aug 28 2012 03:23

just did a quick 'find on page' search and the article doesnt include the word 'class' or 'ruling' which seems like an oversight to me.

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Aug 28 2012 03:25

double post. again. sorry.

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Aug 28 2012 07:20

I thought it was a good introduction, not too long but abou to get there. Why not have libcom's own further reading texts and link to them from the body of the text? That way there could be extra reading easily accessible without swamping the reader.

ccfwo
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Aug 28 2012 08:31

We are living in a society in which the relationship between human beings for work and social production is fundamentally based on buying and selling of a commodity named labour force. Within this society, except the people in the middle layers which do not seriously determine the mode of production, human beings are either buyer or seller of labour force. The buyer of labour force is the capitalist and the seller is the worker. The capitalist society consists of these two main classes, the capitalist class or ‘bourgeoisie’, and the working class, or ‘proletariat’. The working class has nothing to live but its labour force, and selling this force as a commodity is its only way to survive. By selling his or her labour force, the worker becomes alienated to this force and loses any control over the work process, the labour product, the kind of product that needs to be produced and the distribution of the product. However, the relationship between the buyer and the seller of labour force is not merely an economic relationship; rather, it is a social relationship and will encompass all dimensions and aspects of the human social life. Indeed, this relationship brings forward the complete deprivation of the workers from any power, any freedom and any free intervention over the fate of their life and all issues that are related to their social being. The capitalist state is the organization to preserve this relationship in all its social dimensions : political, economic, cultural,etc.
The alternative to the capitalist state is the revolutionary workers' council, which is absent in your article.

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Aug 28 2012 09:16
Jason Status wrote:
just did a quick 'find on page' search and the article doesnt include the word 'class' or 'ruling' which seems like an oversight to me.

the article contains repeated mentions of "class". It doesn't say the exact words "ruling class" because personally I don't like that formulation, but it does use synonyms

jef costello wrote:
I thought it was a good introduction, not too long but abou to get there. Why not have libcom's own further reading texts and link to them from the body of the text? That way there could be extra reading easily accessible without swamping the reader.

Can I check what you mean here? Do you mean we should link to articles from the text itself? If so, we do have lots of hyperlinks in the text to explanatory articles/tags as we go along.

Railyon wrote:
Alasdair wrote:
It might seem obvious to some of us but one of the things I get a lot is people saying that any kind of organisation over a broad geographical area would be a state, even if by another name, and so being against states as a whole is stupid/incoherent.

Exactly my thoughts when I read the paragraph on 'what is the state' - I'm kinda missing the typical features that Engels pointed out like class divisions and alienation of political power from those that have to live with the consequences, aka the working class. This is kinda implicit in the last sentence of that paragraph but I think it deserves more emphasis.

can you explain more about what you mean here? Or even better, suggest a way we could reword a bit about text to incorporate what you think is missing?

Klaus
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Aug 28 2012 13:33

here are some comments on the first bits of the pieces (before I ran out of steam). I hope this is somewhat helpful. I suck at forum debates, so I hope my points are clear etc.

Quote:
What is the state? All states have the same basic functions in that they are an organisation of all the lawmaking and law enforcing institutions within a specific territory.

This answer seems circular to me. You answer the question of what a state is by the form in which it rules: lawmaking and enforcing law. To explain the state you refer to law which presupposes a notion of the state. Furthermore, by jumping to the form in which the state rules - law - you do not actually mention that it rules of land and people (you do that below, but it seems you identify law and domination).

I'd suggest that the first and and most basic determination of any state is that it subjugates people and rules over a territory: complete submission. Everything else depends on this determination. For example, the form in which it rules over its subjects - law - may change: in states of emergency the state does not rule by law but by decree, but this form clearly could not exist without the fact that the state asserts its authority.

Also, in determining the state as a state of law you restrict your attention to modern, capitalist, (democratic) states. I think it is good to discuss these specific states but your piece claims to engage with states as such.

One more small point: You ask the question what a state is but continue to talk about what functions it has. The state having a function for something else expresses a relation between the state and that something else. For that to be determined one must have determined what a state is already. What you then describe is then actually not a function but a determination of the form in which the state rules.

Quote:
So sometimes, a state will consist of a parliament with elected politicians, a separate court system and a police force and military to enforce their decisions. At other times, all these functions are rolled into each other, like in military dictatorships for example.

If the state's authority rests solely with a particular dictator one cannot call this rule a rule of law, it is not governance by principles but by whatever the dictator thinks is right. His/her thoughts might be informed by or take measure in the rule of law, but only because his/her act of will to do so. So in that sense this paragraph is a rectification of your previous paragraph.

Quote:
But the ability within a given area to make political and legal decisions – and to enforce them, with violence if necessary – is the basic characteristic of all states. Crucially, the state claims a monopoly on the legitimate use of violence, within its territory and without. As such, the state is above the people it governs and all those within its territory are subject to it.

I'd put this paragraph first as it correctly and clearly expresses the fundamental determination of the state. I would change two things though:

1) I would drop the "legitimate". The state does not content itself with claiming its violence is legitimate (it does claim that though, don't get me wrong) or with claiming a monopoly on legitimate violence only, but it claims the monopoly on violence and therewith declares any other violence illegitimate. In your phrasing it seems the qualifiers are the wrong way around: first violence is legitimate and then the state claims the monopoly on that violence, while the actual relationship is the other way around: it claims the monopoly on violence and all other violence illegitimate: "monopoly on the legitimate use of violence" is a doubling.

2) I would drop the qualification "within its territory and without". When dealing with claiming a monopoly on violence without, we are dealing with states confronting each other. However, in order to understand confrontations between states, we presuppose the state. So dealing with "without" in determining the state leads to a cycle.

Quote:
The primary need of a sound capitalist economy is the existence of a group of people able to work, to turn capitalists' money into more money: a working class. This requires the majority of the population to have been dispossessed from the land and means of survival, so that the only way they can survive is by selling their ability to work to those who can buy it.
Quote:
A second fundamental requirement is the concept of private property. While many had to be dispossessed to create a working class, the ownership of land, buildings and factories by a small minority of the population could only be maintained by a body of organised violence - a state. This is rarely mentioned by capitalism's advocates today, however in its early days it was openly acknowledged. As the liberal political economist Adam Smith wrote:

The order of these two fundamental requirements is the wrong way around. The guarantee of private property is essential for capital to exists, without private property no society based on exchange, no widespread commodity production, no money, no capital. Before the question how to turn money into more money can come up, exchange as the central mediation of production and therewith money must exist. Hence, private property comes logically before the working class. Put differently: the accumulation of private wealth presupposes the existence of wealth in private hands.

Secondly, you phrase private property as the means to prevent the poor from dispossessing the rich. However, private property is more general than this. It guarantees ownership against anyone - poor or rich. Capitalists are confronted with many incentives to deprive each other of their property, the whole economy is based on competition for social wealth and against one another. The act of exchange - not only between capitalists and workers, but also between two capitalists - presupposes a conflict of interest: I only give you what you need if you give me what I want (and vice versa). This is the most abstract social relation maintained by the state, and this relation is more general than keeping the poor out.

Quote:
This continues today, as laws deal primarily with protecting property rather than people. For example, it is not illegal for speculators to sit on food supplies, creating scarcity so prices go up while people starve to death, but it is illegal for starving people to steal food.

I'd suggest to drop the speculators and use a normal supermarket instead. The state protects the right of a supermarket to demand payment for their food. Their business is based on the fact that people need to eat and so they can make their customers pay money: they are exploiting other people's dependency on the means of subsistence (they have good reasons to do so but that is not the point here). This is the social relation the state maintains. It does not only start with speculation and attempts to create scarcity but is a lot more fundamental.

That's how far I got so far.

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Aug 28 2012 14:32
Steven. wrote:
jef costello wrote:
I thought it was a good introduction, not too long but abou to get there. Why not have libcom's own further reading texts and link to them from the body of the text? That way there could be extra reading easily accessible without swamping the reader.

Can I check what you mean here? Do you mean we should link to articles from the text itself? If so, we do have lots of hyperlinks in the text to explanatory articles/tags as we go along.

I didn't see the links, I think my laptop was in power saving mode smile Those types of links are exactly what I meant.

davidbroder
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Aug 28 2012 14:40

I think the explanation of what the Labour govt did post-1945 is more complicated than a ruling-class strategy to prevent revolution.

For a start, that Quintin Hogg quote is wheeled out all the time in such discussions, but... how important was he, really? What threat of revolution was there, in fact?

Even if the welfare state did serve to pacify/integrate potential forces of rebellion, its coming-about is much more complicated than a matter of warding off revolution - e.g. mediated through the hopes of social change aroused by the war, the fact Labour had not 'betrayed' its electorate as spectacularly as it later would (or e.g. the SPD earlier had)...

Really it is a coming together of liberal bourgeois plans like Beveridge etc., who saw some need for a fit, healthy, reasonably quiescent population to keep the economy running and growing, plus the partial, distorted yet real way in which Labour expressed/channelled pressure from its supporters for reforms.

inflaminatus
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Aug 28 2012 15:14

State is historically, only effective tax (in some form) collector. I don´t see this condition in the draft.

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Aug 28 2012 16:10
inflaminatus wrote:
State is historically, only effective tax (in some form) collector. I don´t see this condition in the draft.

I consider the Tithe to be a pre-state form of tax, so I don't quite know about that. I don't quite know whether taxes are fundamental to our understanding of the state anyhow, unless we consider it as a part of another context like the welfare state.

JustDumbLuck
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Aug 28 2012 16:24

An excellent article, of which I have only a couple of things to point out. The first one is the way I see it, there is no such thing as private property, only state granted exclusive use. After all, if you don't pay your property taxes, the state will take that property away, and can fine you for zoning violations, etc. Not sure how much of a distinction that is, but it seems to me to be significant. Then there is money, and the role of the state in it's creation and use. Maybe that is implicit in the text, but if so, I missed it.

inflaminatus
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Aug 28 2012 20:18

It not necessarily must be a cash tax - therefore I wrote "in some form".

But it is a significant attribute of "state" (or pre-state, if you want - i don´t now what exactly do you understand by the term state) from his formation to the present day.

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Aug 29 2012 00:52

Re: post 20 "legitimate"

I'd personally keep it in. Possibly tweak it to say say something along the lines of "Arguably the defining characteristic of the state is that it grants itself to be the sole legitimate arbiter of violence in society".

Also, I like the "arbiter" bit as it covers the role of the state, in say, allowing lynch mobs and the like.

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Aug 29 2012 14:45
Quote:
In a capitalist society, the success or failure of a state depends unsurprisingly on the success of capitalism within it.

Essentially, this means that within its territory profits are made so the economy can expand. The government can then take its share in taxation to fund its activities.

I was thinking about this bit here. I think it can make it seems like taxes are the main reason the state is intertwined with capital.

As you go into shortly after, "promoting...the growth of the economy is the key task of any state in capitalist society" and I think this is a more accurate analysis, with taxes being a secondary consideration. Perhaps tie it back into the notion that, to survive, capital needs expansion and accumulation. To do this it needs stability (role of the state in regulating capitalism, printing money and setting interest rates, settling disputes amongst capitalists, enforcing labor discipline, and ultimately providing force on the side of capital in labor disputes), so that capital needs a state to function. Therefore the state is part and parcel, an inherent and inseparable part of capitalism (and, indeed, any hierarchical economic system).

Also, y'all don't talk much about the role of the police as protectors of private property and agents of social control. Since most people--to one degree of another--still buy into the idea that police are actually there to perform their stated purpose of crime prevention and control, it seems like it'd be a topic worth covering. Again, worth noting that to some degree, the police do deal with crime, but that's secondary to their role in maintaining and protecting private property and, therefore, class society.

EDIT: In the interests of space, adding that section about the police might be better handled in it's own introduction and then linked from this article. Not to give y'all more work...

C-hwyl-dro
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Aug 31 2012 14:57
Quote:
State welfare

Some states also provide many services which protect people from the worst effects of the economy. However, this has rarely, if ever, been the result of generosity from politicians but of pressure from below.

State welfare is not necessarily because of working class "pressure". It can simply be capital functioning differently - "wages" reaching workers in a different manner (f.e the wage freeze that was happening when Britain's welfare state was fully formed).

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Aug 31 2012 19:06

As of today, Fri 31 Aug 2012, I wouldn't change a thing. The writing explains things very clearly and coherently. I am continually amazed how difficult it is to write things that will be understood by "normal" people, but I think this is about the best durn'd handling of Anarchism you'll find anywhere. It is very succinct--brief, in fact--considering the amount of ground you've managed to cover in so few words. Usually, works of this kind are spoiled by endless rants, radical jargon, or just the author's sheer passion for the subject matter, but I think practically any reasonable reader could read and understand this "draft."

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Sep 1 2012 11:14

I like the article. I see that you don't want it to be too long. Maybe you could do another article on how states interact, or how their respective ruling classes interact and how this affects the working class in each state. One of the state's major functions is projecting its economic power globally, and this has been intertwined with military might, imperialism, and the extension of capitalist imperatives globally. Cooperation between ruling classes in different nation states, or competition between them can lead either to "comprador" classes controlling their own population for the benefit of themselves and a foreign capitalist class, or wars respectively (or other outcomes). Powerful states can use the WTO, IMF, World Bank to their advantage to open up states for firesales of public assets and so on.

I know this is a huge topic, but even just thinking about what role the U.S. and other countries play in stifling or distorting uprisings in the middle east that are in part against austerity and about class struggle, made me wonder if an intro to the state could not use a companion piece about the interaction of states.