A detailed and concise analysis of what the state is and how it operates
The state is merely a mental abstraction, since it has no substance of itself. However, it is treated as a self-subsistent form, as a holistic entity, and thus it´s seen as a primordial target by many anarchists, libertarians and autonomists. In this way, in praxis, in addition to leave it absolutely intact by attacking windmills, they end up trying submitting the struggle to spectacular goals, i.e. holistic, mythological, strategic, activist, militant goals, hence reproducing in their everyday relations the very thing they want to fight.
Indeed, in everyday concrete praxis, the state is nothing more than a conglomerate of enterprises (prisons, police, court, military, state companies etc.) for which, like all other enterprises, the proletarians - those deprived of all means of live - alienate their capacities to act and to think in exchange for wages, producing and cumulatively reproducing the deprivation of their conditions of existence: the private property, for which the more they work, more they transform the world into a private, hostile and inhuman power - the capital.
DELIVERY OF TWO SERVICES
The only specificity of this conglomerate of enterprises termed "State" is that it is financed by the ruling class in exchange for the provision of two services that are indispensable for it as a class for itself:
(1) The service of managing the "common" infrastructure necessary for the accumulation of capital in a given territory (financing the construction of roads, ports, power plants etc; "law" to make sure that the competition between the proprietaries do not exceed the unity of their interests as a class; housing, education and health care for at least to make the commodity labor power in that territory apt to be purchased profitably for them, and so on) in order to not go bankrupt and to try to stay ahead in the global commercial and military competition for accumulation.
(2) But above all the service of suppressing the class struggle, i.e., precluding the self-constitution of the proletariat as a world-historical class, a class for itself. In order to prevent that, instead of continuing alienating its potentialities to the money owners (private or state businessmen), they simply come to impose the free expression and satisfaction of human capabilities and needs - suppressing the private property of the conditions of existence of their life, abolishing the enterprise and the work, the commodity and the police, the boundaries and the social hierarchy by a free association of individuals worldwide. Thus, the enterprises so-called "State" has the supreme service of avoiding the emergence of communism: averting that the conditions of existence of the population, the means of live and production interconnected on a global scale, come to be as such the free material expression of human needs and capacities as ends worth by itself - and never again as reward or punishment objects. Since private property is abolished, these means are no longer available as objects of blackmail and threats, and this eliminate the very condition for any class society to exist.
OWNER CLASS AND "ANARCHO"-CAPITALISM
If the simple repressive force were enough to suppress the proletariat as a class, there would never have been any reason for the ruling class to seek to conceal that these enterprises are enterprises, which, like all others, are fruits of wage slavery; nothing would prevent her from admitting honestly that all this is already the macabre "anarcho-capitalism" (in which we could include everything that in practice is any state, including that of the former USSR): private militias, mercenary companies, cartels, enterprises competing for the accumulation of capital, for the radical monopoly that is precisely private property - the deprivation of the human species from its own conditions of existence that force it to pay for simply existing, making it submit "voluntarily" to the command of the owners of these conditions in exchange for money, wages.
But it turns out that repression alone is unproductive. It obstructs and destroys the very source of capital, since if it were able to directly attack the proletariat, it eliminates the abundance of those who are forced to sell themselves as commodities. In other words, it eliminates the abundance that, the greater, the greater the gratuitous, surplus value which capital can extract to reproduce the scarcity extensively and intensively, i.e., the privation (private property) that imposes on the proletarians to compete with each other to sell and obey the owner class.
Moreover, if the state - consisting of enterprises that provide to the owner class (composed of elements in eternal competition with each other) the service of establishing it as ruling class against the proletariat - if the state directly attacks the proletariat, it creates the side effect of recognizing it openly as an antagonistic class: if this occurs, capitalist society has no chance of surviving.
Therefore, it is impossible for the owner class to continue existing for a single instant if it did not attribute to this conglomerate of enterprises a spectacular "aura" distinct from all other private properties, gangs and militias. The ruling class then finds herself obliged to present this chaotic jumble of enterprises as a neutral, firm, public, common, fair, balanced bastion, as a sacred and rational canon before which proprietors and proletarians do not exist, but only citizens, all of them belonging to a single universal class: middle class. It is a fable and a parody of classless society, diverting the dissatisfaction of the proletariat from everyday material life - the only one concrete and universal - to the illusory sphere of politics.
If the proletarians engage in this illusory community, politics, they will accept that every possible and imaginable solution to their dissatisfaction will be the eternal affirmation of private property, of wage slavery, which is, as we have seen, the concrete substance of the state, identical to that of every enterprise.
The ruling class, in the eternal competition of its component parts, also, of course, competes fiercely for those properties which have been circumscribed with this aura called "State". In this way, two symmetrical halves, "left" and "right", group their numerous factions and gangs, commonly known as parties, competing for providing the service of diverting the dissatisfaction against wage slavery and channeling it for the reproduction of this same slavery. This service is rewarded, of course, with the maximum possible profit extracted from state private property that fall under his command. 1
For the same compelling reason (to suppress any possibility of self-constitution of the proletariat as autonomous class), also within every enterprise, the owner class is forced to try to mask the totalitarianism and militarism inherent in every enterprise, inherent in every wage slavery, and he tries incessantly to give his companies an aura of justice, equality and objectivity, the same grotesque parody of classless society. Thus, the constitutive method of domination of every gang (that is, of every ruling class), which consists in blackmailing the subordinates in order to make them attack themselves and sacrificing themselves in exchange for prizes and promotions given by the chiefs, and to make them pointing to each other to the chief in terror in the face of the ceaseless threat of dismissal or imprisonment, this method is presented as a neutral, objective, firm, balanced and just system called "meritocracy."
Even the market, the fierce competition for radical monopoly that is private property itself - the incessant war for the deprivation of humanity from their means of life to force it to obey the owners in exchange for the wages -, even to that hell the ruling class seeks to attribute the aura of objective, egalitarian, natural and just, sure and ultimate criterion of truth, of good and evil, ruled even by a theocratic spell - the “invisible hand”.
We can see that the service of suppression of class struggle, then, consists in systematically attempting to make the proletariat engage in heart and soul in the inter-capitalist competition, attacking itself to defend a faction of the ruling class against others: “left” versus “right”, “marketist” against “statists”, “my country” versus “other countries”, “my ethnicity”, “my gender”, “my race”, “my culture”, against other “ethnicities”, “genres”, “races” and “cultures” so-called "oppressors" or “imperialists” and so on. As a house of mirrors, the spectacular auras multiply into thousands of stereotypes that consecrate the reification of each individual into a prefabricated identity in the system of wage slavery - the system that deprives each individual of its active, productive conditions to transforming, materially producing and developing itself freely beyond all stereotypes. 2
LAW AND CRIME
Finally, the state - this jumble of gangs in constant war with each other - would never be able to attribute to itself this spectacular superior aura if it did not excrete, underground and frantically, an ever renewed mass that embodies its absolute anti-aura, so terrifying and threatening that it always justifies the acceptance as legitimate by the "citizens" of the maximum violence of the private militias that compose the state itself. Indeed, "criminality", though inseparable from private property, is only systematically formed as a cohesive and sustained force - organized and distinct, in short, literally specialized companies, called "organized crime" - in the interior of very specific private properties such as the prisons and the police, which are enterprises specialized in this educational service, also specialized in hosting its central offices, from where they issue the commands and the coordination of the supply of its commodities throughout the entire society, and whose clients are, of course, those who have plenty of money, that is, the state or particular businessmen.
It should be noted here that, unlike conspiracy theories, the owner class is anything but an omnipotent and omniscient group able to dominate the whole of society by foreseeing the effects of everything it commands. On the contrary, the ruling class is first of all a jumble of personifications of capital in an eternal war of all against all for more properties (not for mere "ambition" or "wickedness", but because, if they abandon the war, they risk falling into hell, becoming proletarians), always doomed to keep their own knowledge and projects secret from each other. Thus, it is very likely that it was not "consciously" that the ruling class, by inventing (in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries) the police and the penitentiary, created with them the career of "professional criminal" and its valuable market. However, once this new type of business has been firmly established, this new type of service, the "professional criminal" is an indispensable organic subterranean component of that conglomerate of enterprises whose service, as we have seen, is to constitute owners as a class for themselves against the proletariat.
The reason for this is that, once the business of professional crime has been consolidated, in the face of the minimum irruption of autonomy of the proletariat, the proprietary class has readily available a mercenary army to mobilize without having to worry minimally in maintaining any aura of legality and rationality, destroying, vandalizing and demoralizing to create, in the points of irruption, a situation of violence whose solution, according to her, is solely to surrender to the police and the owner class. It is worth noting that once caught by the police and placed in a penitentiary, which is the enterprise that forms and maintains organized crime, a proletarian can hardly get rid of being recruited in this mercenary army. 3 Not to mention when professional crime provides the service (dispatched from its central offices: police and prisons) for permanent outsourcing of policing, threatening and recruiting any proletarian who seems less "meek". Such is the situation that has become permanent in the Brazilian favelas since the 1980s - the only way found by the power to destroy the autonomous movements that had begun to develop in these places since the 1970s. 4
In fact, the very idea of "law" (and therefore "rule of law") is misleading, because in addition to presupposing the relation between crime and sanction, a relation that is in itself arbitrary - a pure exchange of apples for oranges -, it is impossible for the law (which is a codification that gives an aura of rationality, non-exceptionality, impartiality and non-arbitrariness to the arbitrary relation between crime and sanction) to go around by itself to apply sanctions. The law can only be effective if applied by a force that is not the law, which is therefore literally outlaw, out of law, above the law: the police, the military, the boss, or, as is increasingly common today, by machines, algorithms, and drones. Therefore, law enforcement is inherently unlawful, illegal, arbitrary, implying in itself the underground of crime inseparable from the business to which we refer in the previous paragraphs. 5
THE ATIVIST PITFALL
Now that we have seen the illusion that the state has its own substance completely vanish, let us analyze activism in its relation to the state:
- Political activism: seeks "politicization", the most advanced stage of the alienation of the proletariat. Because it leads him, in order to "compensate for injustices", to strive endlessly ("to work," as they say) for defending the infinite addition of excrescences of wage slavery (as indeed so are the private properties referred to by the abstraction "State", including the so-called "socialist"), excrescences that are expected to correct other "more evil" excrescences of wage slavery and so on in an interminable superposition. For example, raising the taxation on capitalists to make a "welfare state" in favor of workers - as if the tax taken from the capitalists was not itself part of the surplus value, the gratis labor, which employers blackmail and threaten the workers to do; or the statization of the entrepreneurs (called "socialism"), as Leninism preaches - as if a mere juridical transference of private property and capital into the hands of the territorial conglomerate of enterprises called “State” could make a difference. In short, political activism wants the proletariat to militate, to strive harder, to sacrifice itself, i.e. , that he agrees to work in addition to what he is already forced to work for the owner class, in order to strive eternally to compensate politically with more dictatorship of capital the evils of that same dictatorship of capital. Whereas, in order to get rid of these “evils”, it suffices simply that the proletariat, lazily, materialistically, non-militantly, go to abolishes it, through the happy and simple gesture of abolishing work, overcoming the strike with free production (and gratuitous consumption) open to and for the human species to associate freely according to their desires, needs and capacities. Beginning as a microscopic spark, the experience of communism will be so overwhelmingly passionate that it will spread in the world in less than a week. The proletariat everywhere thus abolish the private property of the world-interconnected conditions of existence (means of production, transportation, supply chains, etc. of all continents), and he subjects them to the power of freely associated individuals, suppressing class society. Political activism does not even suspect that the fear of social revolution has always been the only motive for the owner class to strive to "improve" and "humanize" the society of exploitation.
- Anti-political activism: does not consider itself reformist because it declares itself radically against the state. However, as he believes that the state has a substance of its own, also seeks the "politicization", but in a reverse sense as "anti-politicization". This activism does not notice that the substance of the state is the division of labor itself, that is, the relation of private property to private property, the market as such, and everything that results from it, as we have analyzed throughout this text. Therefore, he wants the proletariat to militate, to strive harder, to sacrifice himself, in order to fight a windmill, a spectacular ghost. More than that, it proposes as a strategy against the State that enterprises be self-managed by their own workers. It does not even suspect that enterprises as such can only generate the dictatorship of capital and are themselves, as division of labor, the substance of the state itself, necessarily condemned to fulfill, together, all its functions. And that regardless of whether you change the name, from state to, for example, anarchy. Moreover, in asserting militancy and strategy against the state, these groups reproduce the reified social relations in daily life, which consist of treating others as means to a “greater end”; they even exalt and reward those who "self-sacrifice" and punish and denigrate the "lazy," as any gang, enterprise, party, state, etc do. Whereas, on the contrary, a libertarian - that is, communist - society can by definition only emerge from the moment when the proletarians reject every “greater end”, every militancy, every work, the entire system of rewards and punishments, by overcoming the strike by free production (as we explained in the previous paragraph), when they begin to associate themselves simply for what they are passionately attracted to do, for that which is valid in itself, precisely because they have freed themselves from the imprisonment of comparison, competition, and equivalence (i.e. free from mercantile exchange and hierarchy) that the existence of property private imposed. 6
ADDENDUM: A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE STATE
The State as such has no history, because, as a mental abstraction, it has no substance of its own which could, from itself, establish any self-coherent development over time. Abstractions are creations of concrete human beings. Consequently, the modifications of the State will only make sense when we analyze the history of human beings in their relations and in their activities of transformation of material circumstances, in which they transform themselves along with these social relations, while inventing their own ideas. 7
The very idea of a "State" as a separate and distinct entity that hover above and in essential contrast to a "civil society" is a novelty in history that emerged only in the eighteenth century, precisely with capitalist society (we have already analyzed in detail in this text the necessity of this "distinction"). Previously, the word "state" simply meant "state of affairs," that is, the "status quo" of a stable and well-established caste system (i.e., where the lower castes, the servants and the slaves, are obedient to the point of not worrying those above). For example, as late as in France immediately before the French Revolution, “State” (in French: état) was what the castes were called: “First State” (clergy), “Second State” (nobility of the sword and nobility of the robe) and “Third State” (peasants, artisans, bourgeois ...).
Thus, "State" was the name for the social hierarchy itself, the name for the hierarchical arrangement of what we now call “civil society”. Of course, the dominant castes organized themselves with weapons against the lower castes, that is, they were directly the governments themselves, making assemblies, parliaments, coronating kings, emperors, or even making a democracy of slave owners, as in Greece. However, like today's corporate boards, they saw no need to present their power as something that contrasted with “civil society”, for the servants and slaves were servants and slaves precisely because they were already trapped in personal ties of blackmail and menace to the masters, who did not need such imaginary subtleties.
At that time, industrial capital (which depends on the generalization of wage labor, only possible after the separation of the former slaves and servants from all way of life, which means that in order to survive they must sell themselves in the labor market to have money to buy) did not yet exist, but only commercial capital - fleets of heavily armed ships that pirated each other, pile up villages or buy cheap from one place to sell the most expensive possible in another. These fleets were known as “companies”.
Commercial capital, for centuries, millennia, has always been marginal, merely trading among the various pre-capitalist societies. It had as clients the masters of slaves and servants, nobles, kings, priests, etc., who bought luxurious goods to use them in a pre-capitalist way, through gifts, parties, costly and unproductive expenditure, in order to reproduce the ties of kinship and dependence which constituted their own social relations of dominant caste, while at the same time affirming, by “beneficence”, the bonds of personal domination, of infinite moral debt of their subordinates. As we said, this “symbiosis” lasted for millennia.
This began to change about 550 years ago, when commercial capitalists began massing their capitals to finance powerful absolutist monarchies in return for the service of securing their monopoly of trade routes in the competition with other commercial capitalists. It was the time when firearms appeared in Europe. This explains why, in an unending arms race to this day, the various monarchies have become increasingly dependent on the financing of these capitalists to arm themselves more and more, and the capitalists, in turn, depended more and more on absolutist monarchies to monopolize ever more trade routes. The search for new trade routes to be monopolized, and the increase of power of each absolutist monarchy, led to the colonization of the Americas, Asia and Africa. In short, it was the commercial capitalists who, by financing absolutist monarchies, made what was the mere internal hierarchical organization of the feudal lordly castes come to appear and be treated as a separate entity from “civil society”, as an “neutral” entity that hover above the various castes. 8
But when, in the second half of the eighteenth century, industrial capital finally emerged in England, spreading throughout Europe and world, the capitalists realized from the beginning that they could no longer exist for a long time in symbiosis with pre-capitalist societies, because they needed a large and cheap labor force that can only be found by separating peasants and artisans from their means of life and production (note: it was because of their non-separation from their means of life that the feudal lords and masters of the guilds asserted their ruling class power, treating them as servants, servants of the glebe). They then had to combat and suppress pre-capitalist institutions which, with their infinite rules, rituals, and barriers, were a hindrance to the generalized exchange of commodities that gave rise to the accumulation of capital. Hence, the last remnants of the monarchy as a government of the feudal lordly castes were overthrown, and it became directly the armed conglomerate of enterprises which is itself the government of the capitalist class. Where the monarchy refused to change, and remained faithful to the feudal lords, it was replaced by the republic. Thus, emerges the “nation-state” or “modern state”, already dealt with in detail in this text.
humanaesfera, October 2016
[This text was translated into English by humanaesfera from the original version in portuguese (Propriedade privada, substância do Estado)]
- 1On Organisation - Jacques Camatte & Gianni Collu.
- 2The Society of the Spectacle – Guy Debord. O crepúsculo das personificações, Fredy Perlman.
- 3“The appeal to fear, ceaselessly renewed by crime novels, by the press, by films, the appeal to the fear of the delinquent, the whole apparently glorifying but in fact fear-inducing mythology, this mythology constructed around the figure of the delinquent and the crime boss has naturalized the presence of the police in the midst of the population, a police which is itself a rather recent invention, appearing at first in France at the end of the 18th century and copied everywhere. This group of criminals, once constituted and professionalized, serves many ends, including as spies and informers in tasks of surveillance as well as for carrying out illegalities that are profitable for the class in power, such as illegal traffics that the bourgeoisie prefer to delegate. So you see that crime and its professionalization has been the instrument for a good deal of economic and political gains. And it is precisely the prison which has been the instrument whereby the criminal is labelled, professionalized, recruited, circumscribed by that status and has thus become the target of an indefinite surveillance.” (Alternatives to the Prison Dissemination or Decline of Social Control? - lecture given by Michel Foucault on 15 March 1976 at the University of Montreal)
“In fact, we quickly noticed that, far from reforming them [the delinquents], the prison only constituted them in a metier: one in which delinquency is the only mode of existence. We noticed that this delinquency, closed on itself, controlled, infiltrated, could become a precious economic and political instrument in society: this is one of the great characteristics of the organization of delinquency in our society, through the penal system and prison. Delinquency has become a social body foreign to the social body; perfectly homogeneous, watched, recorded by the police, penetrated by informers and "hard fingers", was used immediately for two purposes. Economic: to extract profit from sexual pleasure, to organize prostitution in the nineteenth century and, finally, to transform delinquency into a fiscal agent of sexuality. Political: was with the troops of shock recruited between the evildoers that Napoleon III organized, and was first, the infiltrations in the labor movements.” (Sur le sellette – Foucault interview with Jean-Louis Ezine 1975)
“But we must understand the term delinquency. It is not the delinquent as a kind of psychological and social mutant, which would be the object of penal repression. By delinquency one must understand the criminal-delinquent double system. The penal institution, with the prison at its center, manufactures a category of individuals who enter in a circuit along with it: the prison does not correct; it calls incessantly the same people; little by little, it constitutes a marginalized population, used to put pressure on the “irregularities” or “illegalisms” that can not be tolerated. And it puts this pressure on illegalisms through delinquency in three ways: carrying little by little the irregularity or illegalism to the infraction, thanks to a set of exclusion and parapenais sanctions (mechanism that can be called: “indiscipline leads to the guillotine”); integrating the delinquents into their own instruments of surveillance of illegalism (recruitment of provocateurs, indicators, policemen, mechanism that can be called: “every thief can become Vidocq”); channeling delinquents's infractions to the populations that need to be controlled (principle: “a poor person is always easier to rob than a rich person”).” (Course summary of Punitive Society, 1972-1973 – Foucault)
- 4We reproduce below a note from the text “Against strategy” (humanaesfera): “As opposed to the staging of the "strategic opposition," the only way to suppress the repressive force of the status quo is by an emergency so rapid and widespread of the autonomous proletariat (hence of communism) that the ruling class not even find where start repressing, so that their repressive watchdogs will no longer see any point in continuing obedience, ceasing to be watchdogs, turning their weapons against the generals and distributing weapons to the population, for the simple reason they start to be uncontainably and irrepressibly attracted, like the rest of the exploited, to the enthralling emergence of generalized luxurious communism, the worldwide human community.”
- 5“First, a few words about the law: Despite what you may have learned in civics class, the law is not the framework in which society operates. The law is a product of the way society operates, but it doesn’t tell you how things really work. The law is also not a framework for the way that society should operate, even though some people hold out that hope.
The law is really just one tool among others, in the hands of those who are empowered to use it, to affect the course of events. Corporations are empowered to use this tool because they can hire expensive lawyers. Politicians, prosecutors and the police are also empowered to use the law.
Now, specifically about cops and the law. The law has many more provisions than they actually use, so their enforcement is always selective. That means that they are always profiling what part of the population to target and choosing which kinds of behavior they want to change. It also means that cops have a permanent opportunity for corruption. If they have discretion over who gets picked up for a crime, they can demand a reward for not picking somebody up.
Another way to see the gap between the law and what cops do is to examine the common idea that punishment begins after conviction in a court. The thing is, anybody who’s dealt with the cops will tell you that punishment begins the moment they lay hands on you. They can arrest you and put you in jail without ever filing charges. That’s punishment, and they know it. That’s not to mention the physical abuse you might get, or the ways they can mess with you even if they don’t arrest you.
So the cops order people around every day without a court order, and they punish people every day without a court judgment. Obviously, then, some of the key social functions of the police are not written into the law. They’re part of police culture that cops learn from each other with encouragement and direction from their commanders.
This brings us back to a theme that I started with at the very beginning. The law deals with crimes, and individuals are charged with crimes. But the police were really invented to deal with what workers and the poor had become in their collective expressions: Cops deal with crowds, neighborhoods, targeted parts of the population—all collective entities.
They may use the law as they do this, but their broad directives come to them as policy from their commanders or from their own instincts as experienced cops. The policy directives frequently have a collective nature—say, to gain control of an unruly neighborhood. They decide to do that, and then they figure out what laws to use.” (Origins of the police - David Whitehouse)
- 6Cf. from humanaesfera:
- Against strategy
- Ação direta VERSUS trabalho de base
- Autonomia,"classe média" e auto-abolição do proletariado
- Autonomia e cotidiano - Espinosa e o imperativo de Kant: "Tratar os outros e a si mesmo como fins, jamais como meios"
- 7Cf. The German Ideology, Marx e Engels; Theses on Feuerbach, Marx.
- 8It is noteworthy that the distinction “economy” / “politics” is also a modern invention. For example, in the “Economy” entry in the Encyclopaedia of 1755 (entry written by Jean-Jacques Rousseau), there was only the sense of “administration”, either of a government or of a family father on his property, never the sense of “productive base of society”. It only came to be seen thus with the domination of capital over society, the dictatorship of production for sake of production, which is wage labor. In these circumstances, the products of human activity seem to humans not as products of their associated activity, but as if they were related to each other by themselves, as an independent, autonomous force, as if they were produced, moved and distributed themselves by a alien and mysterious logic (“price system”, “supply and demand”, “invisible hand”, "creative destruction" etc). Economy is the very fetishism of the commodity.