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  • Writer's pictureMichael Laxer

The State - V. I. Lenin

First published in 1929 in Pravda "The State" was the text of a lecture delivered in Sverdlov University in 1919. Here are some key points as excerpted from an English language translation in 1965:

- To understand the struggle that has been started against world capital, to understand the essence of the capitalist state, we must remember that when the capitalist state advanced against the feudal state it entered the fight under the slogan of liberty. The abolition of feudalism meant liberty for the representatives of the capitalist state and served their purpose, inasmuch as serfdom was breaking down and the peasants had acquired the opportunity of owning as their full property the land which they had purchased for compensation or in part by quit rent – this did not concern the state: it protected property no matter how it arose, because the state rested on private property. The peasants became private owners in all the modern civilized states. Even when the landlord surrendered part of his land to the peasant, the state protected private property, rewarding the landlord by compensation, sale for money. The state as it were declared that it would fully preserve private property, and it accorded it every support and protection. The state recognized the property rights of every merchant, industrialist and manufacturer. And this society, based on private property, on the power of capital, on the complete subjection of the propertyless workers and labouring masses of the peasantry, proclaimed that its rule was based on liberty. Combating feudalism, it proclaimed freedom of property and was particularly proud of the fact that the state had supposedly ceased to be a class state.

Yet the state continual to be a machine which helped the capitalists to hold the poor peasants and the working class in subjection. But in outward appearance it was free. It proclaimed universal suffrage, and declared through its champions, preachers, scholars and philosophers, that it was not a class state.

- Is the state in a capitalist country, in a democratic republic – especially one like Switzerland or America – in the freest democratic republics, an expression of the popular will, the sum total of the general decision of the people, the expression of the national will, and so forth; or is the state a machine that enables the capitalists of the given country to maintain their power over the working class and the peasantry? That is the fundamental question around which all political disputes all over the world now centre.

- The forms of domination of the state may vary: capital manifests its power in one way where one form exists and in another way where another form exists – but essentially the power is in the hands of capital, whether there are voting qualifications or not, or whether the republic is a democratic one or not – in fact the more democratic it is the cruder and more cynical is the rule of capitalism. One of the most democratic republics in the world is the United States of America, yet nowhere (and those who were there after 1905 probably know it) is the power of capital, the power of a handful of billionaires over the whole of society, so crude and so openly corrupt as in America. Once capital exists, it dominates the whole of society, and no democratic republic, no form of franchise can alter the essence of the matter.

The democratic republic and universal suffrage were an immense progressive advance on feudalism : they have enabled the proletariat to achieve its present unity and solidarity, to form those arm and disciplined ranks which are waging a systematic struggle against capital. There was nothing even approximately resembling this among the peasant serfs not to speak of the slaves. The slaves as we know revolted, rioted, started civil wars, but they could never create a class conscious majority and parties to lead the struggle, they could not clearly realize what they were aiming for and even in the most revolutionary moments of history they were always pawns in the hands of the ruling classes. The bourgeois republic, parliament, universal suffrage – all represent great progress from the standpoint of the world development of society. Humanity moved towards capitalism, and it was capitalism alone which, thanks to urban culture, enabled the oppressed proletarian class to learn to know itself and to create the world working-class movement, the millions of workers organized all over the world in parties – the Socialist parties which are consciously leading the struggle of the masses. Without parliamentarism, without an electoral system, this development of the working class would have been impossible. That is why all these things have acquired such great importance in the eyes of the broad mases of people. That is why a radical change seems to be so difficult. It is not only the conscious hypocrites, scientists and priests that uphold and defend the bourgeois lie that the state is free and that it is its mission to defend the interests of all; so also do a large number of people who sincerely adhere to the old prejudices and who cannot understand the transition from the old capitalist society to Socialism.

- Whatever guise a republic may assume, even the most democratic republic, if it is a bourgeois republic, if it retains private ownership of the land, mills and factories, and of private capital keeps the whole of society in wage slavery, that is, if it does not carry out what is proclaimed in the program of our Party and in the Soviet Constitution, then this state is a machine for the suppression of some people by others. And we shall place this machine in the hands of the class that is to overthrow the power of capital. We shall reject all the old prejudices about the state meaning universal equality – for that is a fraud: as long as there is exploitation there cannot be equality. The landlord cannot be the equal of the worker, or the hungry man the equal of the full man. The proletariat casts aside the machine which was called the state and before which people bowed in superstitious awe, believing the old tales that it means popular rule – the proletariat casts aside this machine and declares that it is a bourgeois lie. We have deprived the capitalist of this machine and have taken it over. With this machine, or bludgeon, we shall destroy all exploitation. And when the possibility of exploitation no longer exists anywhere in the world, when there are no longer owners of land and owners of factories, and when there is no longer a situation in which some gorge while others starve – only when the possibility of this no longer exists shall we consign this machine to the scrap heap.



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