Monday, January 2, 2012

Romney, Paul, Engels, Lenin and the State

“Governments are increasingly plundering the private sector to raise cash,” George Melloan writes in the Wall Street Journal last weekend.  Edward Crane, president of the right wing Cato institute assails government and its profligate spending habits in an op ed piece in the same issue in defense of Ron Paul, the Libertarian Republican candidate for president.  “The true tax on the American people”, Crane writes, paraphrasing Milton Friedman, “is the level of spending, the resources taken from the private sector and employed in the public sector”.

Mitt Romney, like Paul, a candidate for the lucrative job of being in the driver’s seat in Washington is another one that hates the state apparatus that denies us our freedom to become, well, the Mitt Romney’s and Warren Buffets of this world.  Romney offers us a new world, an “opportunity society” as opposed to the “entitlement society” that Obama favors.

Romney with a net worth of about $250 million is the son of a former auto executive
who became governor of Michigan. We know what role auto executives were playing in
1948 when it came to the lives of working people in this country. “Those in government
control the resources and make the rules,” Romney says, “And while the rest of us stand still, they make sure that their friends get ahead. Romney will “take a very different path” he tells the WSJ.  He will be different and use the government only to create opportunities for all of us to become Warren Buffets or, if we don’t want to work as hard as Warren Buffet does, perhaps like Mitt, only a quarter billionaire.   “The rest of us”?  Is it no wonder most Americans are disgusted with politics having to listen to such nonsense?

Like all of them, Romney wants to allow the private sector to do its job of caring and protecting us and as president will make sure government doesn’t get in the way.  He’ll allow older Americans to get that Medicare chain from around their necks and buy private health coverage from his friends (tears fill my eyes as I think of the freedom this man wants us to have as we grow older. What self sacrifice.) But Mitt, like all of the  politicians in the two Wall Street parties ensures us that a government provided safety net will remain for those “in need”.  The issue is, “how broadly are we defining ‘in need ?’” Mitt tells the Journal. I am confident Mitt and his friends at Bain Capital and other financial firms are the best sources to determine what we need and what we don’t.

To the untrained eye one might think all these people, Melloan, Paul, Romney, Obama have some serious disagreements when it comes to our interests. They do have disagreements for sure.  Paul attacks Obama on a number of individual rights issues like Obama claiming the right to kill citizens on American soil if they are suspected of being terrorists or connected to the nebulous al Qaeda.   But on the main issue, that workers have to pay for their crisis, they march in lockstep. Obama, (the socialist the right-winger’s call him, a label that wouldn’t stick outside of the US) is a major supporter of privatizing education and charter schools not to mention destroying the US postal service, an extremely efficient public service.  The plan is to eliminate hundred’s of thousands of jobs, close four thousand or so post offices mainly in rural areas and inner cities and hand the business over to UPS and Federal Express.  This sort of government interference is OK though.

Throughout the US, the politicians of the two Wall Street Parties, Democrat and Republican, are savaging workers’ rights and living standards. They differ only on how workers and the middle class should pay.  They differ only on how their state, the government that exists to defend their interests, should function, how the state should intervene in maintaining an economic system that is based on exploitation and violence and the extraction of surplus value from those whose productive Labor creates it.

This does not mean that we don’t engage the political representatives of the capitalist class, the Romneys and George Melloans and Barack Obamas in a political struggle to wrest from their state some concessions.  One of the weaknesses of the Occupy Movement is not just a failure to engage in political struggle but a rejection of it.  Direct action alone cannot bring victory.  This is why the building of a mass workers’ political party that could challenge the monopoly, or dictatorship that the two capitalist parties have over US political life is a crucial step along the road to a genuine democratic socialist system.  A political party is the consciousness of a class.  It gives us a place to fight.  Unlike a Union which defends or should defend wages and working conditions, the purpose of a political party is to govern. It deals with legislation, trade, the environment and international relations----it transforms mass consciousness.

But without a clear understanding of the role of the state in society and how the modern state arose, this political activity can be a trap also. One of the most important issues for me as I began to understand the world around me was coming to understand the role of the state (or government as most workers would refer to it) in society. I had never really given it much thought; it was just there. I had a general understanding that the Labor Party was a party for people like me and the Tory party for them but never went much beyond that, to the actual nature of the state apparatus itself. It was being introduced to the ideas of Marx and Engels that explained this.  Engels described this entity we call the “state” in plain words:
“The state is, therefore, by no means a power forced on society from without; just as little is it 'the reality of the ethical idea', 'the image and reality of reason', as Hegel maintains. Rather, it is a product of society at a certain stage of development; it is the admission that this society has become entangled in an insoluble contradiction with itself, that it has split into irreconcilable antagonisms which it is powerless to dispel. But in order that these antagonisms, these classes with conflicting economic interests, might not consume themselves and society in fruitless struggle, it became necessary to have a power, seemingly standing above society, that would alleviate the conflict and keep it within the bounds of 'order'; and this power, arisen out of society but placing itself above it, and alienating itself more and more from it, is the state."

We have to remember at all times that a government and all its institutions is generally, almost at all times, a government that represents the ruling classes of society.  Greece was a democracy, but it was a slave owner’s democracy.  The feudal state defended the class interests of the aristocracy and their economic system that was primarily agricultural, self-sustaining and where the ownership of land was power.

Our state is what in political terms is described as a “Bourgeois Democratic” state.  It is a government of capitalists for capitalists and will defend their interests which are antagonistic to those of working people. As Engels explained: “The ancient and feudal states were organs for the exploitation of the slaves and serfs; likewise, “the modern representative state is an instrument of exploitation of wage-labor by capital. “

Understanding this we can engage in this political struggle with capital with a clear understanding of its limits.  One we understand the true nature of the state as opposed to simply voting at the ballot box every 2 or 4 years, we realize through political struggle that their state cannot serve our interests and the need for an international revolutionary leadership and political structure becomes obvious. Not a clandestine, separate group of individuals isolated from the working class movement but borne out of it and in it.

I would like to think that some of those who argue against political activity on the basis of the struggle for reforms are correct in their view that the mass of the working class will be drawn directly to revolutionary conclusions, to the understanding that capitalism cannot be made friendly but has to be overthrown and replaced by an economic system based on the production of human needs not profit.  Unfortunately, we can’t wish for what we want and get it; in the real world things work differently. 

When the working class moves in to struggle and as this movement begins to grow it will inevitably take organizational political expression and this will be in the form of a mass workers’ party that will seek to transform society for the better.  In the course of this struggle the illusion in the ability to reform the system as opposed to replacing it will be shattered.  The time frame depends on a number of things including the role that revolutionary socialists play---but this is an objective fact we have to deal with.

*For working people interested in this subject Engel’s The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State is a good start.  For new readers the usual difficulty with terms and ideas we are not familiar with exists but the general ideas on the state are easy to grasp. 

** Also Lenin’s State and Revolution is essential reading.

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