29 April 2014

Origin of Family, Property and State

State and Revolution, Part 3

Origin of Family, Property and State

Today we feature Chapter 9, the chapter called “Barbarism and Civilisation”, of Frederick Engels’ book “The Origin of the Family, Private Property and The State”. The Chapter is attached, and linked below as a download.

If you find them difficult, don’t worry too much about the first three paragraphs of this chapter. They partly refer to previous chapters. The remainder of Chapter 9 is self-contained.

“The Origin of the Family, Private Property and The State” is a classic of the first rank, both within the field of Marxism, and more widely.

Lenin relied on it, and referred to it often for the illumination that it gives to the revolutionary question of The State and to the necessity of the withering away of the State.

But this work of Engels’ is also foundational in Archaeology and Paleoanthropology (i.e. the study of the pre-history of human society), just as Engels’ “The Condition of the Working Class in England” was foundational to the study of the formation of cities - Urbanism (also called Urban Studies or Town Planning). Engels, who never formally went to a university, is one of the towering historic founders of scholarly disciplines.

Morgan and Marx

Marx had already worked on source material for this project, including on Henry Morgan’s 1877 book called “Ancient Society”.  Engels found Marx’s working papers after Marx’s death in 1883 and immediately set to work to prepare a book from them for publication.

The particular contribution of “The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State” is that it shows the common, interdependent origin of private property and the State, plus the fall of the women into the oppressive condition which they still continue to suffer, and also the institutions of money, writing and law.

The simultaneous revolutionary break in all of these things marks the end of pre-history and the beginning of history, which as Marx and Engels had noted in the Communist Manifesto, was from that point onwards “a history of class struggles”.

The transition from prehistoric communism into class society took place a long time ago in some parts of the world, and much more recently in other parts. In Egypt and Iraq (Mesopotamia) it may have happened more than five thousand years ago. In most other parts of the world the transition was quite recent.

Communism, a necessity for women

The simultaneous nature of the triple catastrophe (property, state and downfall of women) may mean that the remedy for all three will likewise have to be simultaneous. The urgent abolition or “withering away” of the State is for that reason a woman’s issue, and the socialist project is a woman’s project, because they are all part of the same complex of oppressions. Communism is a necessity for women.

The reversal of the downfall of the women can only be achieved by the abolition of property and the State. Likewise, the abolition of property and the State cannot be achieved without the conscious restoration of women to their proper place in human society. All three goals have to be achieved together. The three goals are actually the same goal, and the name of it is communism.

Image: Another way of explaining the origins of human society: Adam, Eve, and the Apple (The Fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil), by Tamara de Lempicka. The middle image is a representation of a “money tree” from the Internet. The other image is from the front of Thomas Hobbes’ “Leviathan”, which revealed the State in the mid-seventeenth century.

·        The above is to introduce the original reading-text: Origin of Family, Property and State, Chapter 9, 1884, Engels.

20 April 2014

The State

State and Revolution, Part 2

Lenin, shortly after the Revolution

The State

This part of our course on “The State and Revolution” comprises Lenin’s lecture, “The State” (download linked below). This lecture was given in July, 1919, two years after the writing of “The State and Revolution”, and less than two years after the Great October 1917 revolution. It can help us to revise quickly the main considerations of the State and what that thing really is, as a partial preparation for study of the earlier work, which ranges much wider.

In “Bourgeois and Proletarians”, the first section of the Communist Manifesto, Karl Marx wrote:

“The executive of the modern state is but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie.”

In other words: The modern State is the executive committee of the ruling bourgeois class, of which there is not, and cannot be, any other such ruling executive committee or totalising authority.

The State manifests itself in many ways. Not only is it Legislature, Executive and Judiciary, but it also includes the “Special Bodies of Armed Men” (police, intelligence and military), the “sovereign document” of the Constitution, the State Owned Enterprises, and “Delivery” departments like Education, Health, Public Works; and others.

Concerning the state, in his speech to the COSATU Central Committee on 28 July 2011, SACP General Secretary Dr Blade Nzimande said:

“There is a distinction but very close relationship between ‘government’ and the ‘state’. Government represents the highest most concentration of the power of the state, but government does not constitute the entirety of the state. The state is made up of its executive arm (Cabinet and the bureaucracy), the legislature(s) and the judiciary, as well as other organs of state. As to who the executive arm of the state and the composition of parliament is largely determined through electoral means, but the totality of the character and nature of the state is not principally determined by elections, but instead by the balance of class forces in broader society. It is therefore possible, as I will illustrate later in the speech, that a particular party can win elections, but at the same time its views and interests not be the dominant ones in the state. In 1994 we inherited an apartheid state apparatus, that we have not smashed entirely, and key components of the apartheid state still reflects itself in the bureaucracy, the judiciary and in various other areas of the state, not least the ideological orientation of the state organs.”

As communists we hold fast to the concept of the State as the instrument of class power that enforces and perpetuates bourgeois class dictatorship in our country. We do not believe that the State is neutral, or above class struggle. The State is the principal instrument of class struggle on behalf of the ruling bourgeois class.

We intend that there should as soon as possible be no class division and therefore that the State as we know it would become redundant and give way to social self-management, or in other words, to communism – true freedom.

Yet the term “State” is nowadays used in other, less strict senses, and we as political people who must communicate with others, do also use the word in other senses than the above. For example, we sometimes use the phrase “Developmental State”, which even if we ourselves would qualify its meaning, is nevertheless widely understood as meaning a State that is equally beneficial to all classes (i.e. is a “win-win”, or classless, or neutral state).

We are fortunate to have the lecture that Lenin [pictured] gave to students in Moscow in 1919 on this topic, wherein Lenin asks:

“what is the state, how did it arise and fundamentally what attitude to the state should be displayed by the party of the working class, which is fighting for the complete overthrow of capitalism - the Communist Party?”

Lenin referred his audience to Engels’ Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State”. This book of Engels’ sweeps through the whole human story and explains the fall of the women, as well as class struggle and the state. We will take it as our next part, and then, for the fuller treatment from Lenin, there is the extraordinary work that he produced between the two Russian revolutions of February and October, 1917: “The State and Revolution”, Chapter 1 of which will be our fourth part.

·       The above is to introduce the original reading-text: Lecture on The State, 1919, Lenin.

08 April 2014

Permanent Revolution

State and Revolution, Part 1a

 1848 in Germany

Permanent Revolution

In the thick of revolution great questions are suddenly thrust forward demanding decisive responses, in circumstances where the revolutionary forces - the Subject of History - are hardly coherent and may still be largely clandestine, and therefore invisible. In 1917 the revolution managed to articulate itself, as we will see during this course on “The State and Revolution”, to a considerable extent by reference to previous revolutionary experiences. One such passage of history began in 1848 and involved Karl Marx, who, like Lenin, applied himself to making clear the necessities of the moment, the line of march to be followed, and the allies to be taken.

Karl Marx’s March 1850 Address to the Central Committee of the Communist League begins by describing the working proletariat as the “only decisively revolutionary class”, and ends with a battle-cry for the workers: “The Permanent Revolution!”

In the Address, Marx is advocating all possible means of achieving revolutionary change which, if not theoretically irreversible, would nevertheless in practice not be reversed.

“The workers' party must go into battle with the maximum degree of organization, unity and independence, so that it is not exploited and taken in tow by the bourgeoisie,” said Marx, with the events of the previous two years in mind, when the bourgeois allies of the working class had treacherously sold the workers out as soon as they could secure favourable terms for themselves from the reactionary feudal powers.

Marx then very frankly reviews the competing self-interests of the contending classes and fractions of the bourgeoisie.

“There is no doubt that during the further course of the revolution in Germany, the petty-bourgeois democrats will for the moment acquire a predominant influence. The question is, therefore, what is to be the attitude of the proletariat, and in particular of the League towards them,” declared Marx.

“As in the past, so in the coming struggle also, the petty bourgeoisie, to a man, will hesitate as long as possible and remain fearful, irresolute and inactive; but when victory is certain it will claim it for itself and will call upon the workers to behave in an orderly fashion, to return to work and to prevent so-called excesses, and it will exclude the proletariat from the fruits of victory,” warned Marx.

The working class must “be independently organized and centralized in clubs,” and “it is the task of the genuinely revolutionary party… to carry through the strictest centralization,” wrote Marx. Reading this section, it becomes clear that Marx was convinced that the building of the democratic republic and the building of the nation had to be one and the same set of actions.

The working-class tactics in alliance with the bourgeois democrats should be to “force the democrats to make inroads into as many areas of the existing social order as possible,” and constantly to “drive the proposals of the democrats to their logical extreme”.

The workers must always look ahead to the next act of the revolutionary drama. They will:

“contribute most to their final victory by informing themselves of their own class interests, by taking up their independent political position as soon as possible, and by not allowing themselves to be misled by the hypocritical phrases of the democratic petty bourgeoisie into doubting for one minute the necessity of an independently organized party of the proletariat.”

·        The above is to introduce the original reading-text: Address to the Central Committee of the Communist League, Karl Marx, 1850.

07 April 2014

The April Theses

State and Revolution, Part 1

 Lenin arrives at the Finland Station in April, 1917

The April Theses

This is the first part of our ten-part course on Lenin’s 1917 work “The State and Revolution”. The book has only six chapters, which we will take one at a time from part 4 to part 9 of the course. In the first three parts we will try to furnish some of the prior political context. In part 10 we will pose the question of where Lenin’s unfinished work would need to be taken, if it were to be extended in light of the new knowledge that we now have, nearly a century after Lenin’s Bolshevik Revolution.

The year of 1917 in Russia was actually a year of two revolutions, and another revolution had gone before, in 1905. The 1905 revolution had seen the formation of the parliament (the Duma) and also the organs of Russian popular power, the Soviets. Both the Duma and the Soviets still existed in 1917.

The “Great War”, or “First World War”, of 1914-1918 was still going on, involving tens of millions of armed men in unparalleled slaughter. It was an inter-Imperialist war. Russia was fighting Germany. The Bolsheviks (under Lenin’s leadership from exile in Switzerland) had refused to take part in this inter-Imperialist war in any way, and instead denounced it and opposed it.

The February 1917 revolution established something resembling a bourgeois-democratic republic based on the Duma. Lenin returned to Russia from Switzerland by train in April, just over a month later. All kinds of questions remained to be resolved. The question of war and peace was the most urgent. The nature of the revolution was still to be decided. In between April and October, and among other things, Lenin pronounced the “April Theses”, and wrote “The State and Revolution”. We will begin with the first of these two.

The April Theses is a classic document, not because it is polished (it is rough), but because of its impact at a moment of history. It was given by Lenin verbally. The written version (download linked below) was prepared very shortly afterwards.

Lenin arrived in Petrograd (also called St Petersburg, and Leningrad) barely a month after the February, 1917 revolution which had overthrown the Tsar and installed the bourgeois republican government. This bourgeois government had the intention of continuing the disastrous intra-Imperialist war in which Russia was involved. 

At the same time, faraway South Africa was also involved in the same war.

It was among those South Africans who opposed the 1914-18 Imperialist war that the need for our communist party was first seriously raised. The Communist Party of South Africa was formed by admission to the Communist International in 1921. That Communist International had been called for by Lenin in this document, the April Theses, in Thesis 10:

“We must take the initiative in creating a revolutionary International, an International against the social-chauvinists and against the ‘Centre’,” it says. 

The Third International (also called Communist International or Comintern) was duly established in 1919.

The “social-chauvinists” of different individual countries (e.g. Germany, Britain, France and Italy as well as Russia) had supported the Imperialist war against each other, while the Russian Bolsheviks and the German Spartacists had opposed the war and had supported proletarian internationalism. The term “revolutionary defencism” was a code for the further continuation of the Russian war policy, which Lenin clearly opposes in Thesis 1.

The “April Theses” are short and do not therefore need a long introduction, but one can usefully highlight the following:

Thesis 2 says: “The specific feature of the present situation in Russia is that the country is passing from the first stage of the revolution — which, owing to the insufficient class-consciousness and organisation of the proletariat, placed power in the hands of the bourgeoisie — …

“This peculiar situation demands of us an ability to adapt ourselves to the special conditions of Party work among unprecedentedly large masses of proletarians who have just awakened to political life.”

There are echoes of this situation in South Africa today.

Thesis 4 says: “As long as we are in the minority we carry on the work of criticising and exposing errors and at the same time we preach the necessity of transferring the entire state power to the Soviets of Workers' Deputies, so that the people may overcome their mistakes by experience.”

This led to the slogan “All Power to the Soviets”, and Thesis 5 then says “to return to a parliamentary republic from the Soviets of Workers' Deputies would be a retrograde step.”

Thesis 8 says: “It is not our immediate task to "introduce" socialism, but only to bring social production and the distribution of products at once under the control of the Soviets of Workers' Deputies.” In other words, the bourgeois dictatorship was to be replaced at once by a dictatorship over the bourgeoisie.

Thesis 9 proposes to change the Party’s name from “Social Democrat” (RSDLP) to “Communist Party.”

So much of this did come to pass, as we know, that it is difficult to imagine that Lenin’s support for these demands, among the leadership and even among the strictly Bolshevik leadership, was quite small.

But Lenin knew how the base of the Party was constructed and how it was reproducing itself. Hence he was able to be bold. He knew that the Bolshevik cadre force as a whole, and potentially the entire working masses of Russia, were behind his proposals, or soon would be. And so it came to pass.

The above is to introduce the original reading-text: The April Theses, 1917, Lenin.

02 April 2014

Lenin’s The State and Revolution

State and Revolution, Part 0

Lenin’s The State and Revolution

Short General Introduction

The State and Revolution is a book of Lenin’s that was written in the months between the February and October Russian Revolutions of 1917.

“The State and Revolution” is an uncompromising description of The State and of how it can be revolutionised, written as a revisit to and critique, of the writings of Marx and Engels on the one hand, and of those of various reformist, opportunist and anarchist characters on the other hand, all the way up to Karl Kautsky.

Kautsky had been the leading renegade among the German Social Democrats of the 2nd International, at the outbreak in 1914 of the war that was still going on in 1917, and which only came to an armistice, in the West, in the following year. Kautsky continued to be a renegade until his death in 1938.

The State and Revolution is well worth studying in its entirety of six chapters. In form, it is ideal for the Freirean method of pedagogy through study circles. Each of the six chapters is of a suitable length for reading and discussion by a group that meets weekly. This Communist University course also includes parts of some of the documents mentioned by Lenin in the book, with other relevant and related material, and is thereby extended to our standard course-length of ten parts.

One problem that appears in relation to the State is whether, or to what extent, the State can be treated as benign, or developmental? In the SACP we do not repudiate Lenin, yet we still praise state ownership and state “delivery”. How are these things reconciled?

If the State is benign, then why would we want it to wither away?

But if the state is but “a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie” [Marx/Engels, Communist Manifesto], and “an Instrument for the Exploitation of the Oppressed Class” [Lenin, State & Revolution] then how can it at the same time be beneficial?

We will reflect on these matters, among others, as we go through the work.

Lenin realised that the eventual transition to communism had to be secured in the process of the transition to socialism. He realised that there would be a moment of danger when it would be possible that the worker’s state could redevelop the characteristics of the bourgeois state.

This is what happened in the Soviet Union under Stalin, and the eventual consequence was the collapse and break-up of the Soviet Union into a scattering of bourgeois states. The revolution was not permanent, after all. The undead bourgeois state re-grew itself like a “Terminator”.

The next post will open the discussion of Lenin’s The State and Revolution with Lenin’s return to Petrograd in April 1917, and his declaration, at the Finland Station, of the “April Theses”.

·        To download the full State and Revolution course in PDF files, please click here