Superare | Bursting Through the Shell of the State

The Mode of Production as Process.

Generally on the topic of capitalism, socialism, communism, lower stage, upper stage etc. I take the position of these modes of production as processes rather than as discrete objects. One process turns into another through a combination of continuity of some social relations and institutions which are transformed in the new order of things, and in the rupture of other social relations and institutions which are submerged in the former and then disappear in the new process, the new arrangement of things.

It is instructive that in the Critique of the Gotha Programme (chpt. 1) Marx speaks of the socialist society of producers (note that they are no longer called proletarians since class does not exist in socialism) as emerging out of capitalism with a concrete continuity.

“What we have to deal with here is a communist society, not as it has developed on its own foundations, but, on the contrary, just as it emerges from capitalist society; which is thus in every respect, economically, morally, and intellectually, still stamped with the birthmarks of the old society from whose womb it emerges.”

The Dictatorship of the Proletariat, which exists in capitalism serves to lead us to this socialist society. It is a process too, but not a mode of production itself since it serves to create that continuity between modes of production, to create these economic, moral and intellectual birthmarks that remain beyond the rupture of the umbilical cord.

What this means is that we must conceive of a DotP (as it exists or can exist in capitalism) as a counter-cyclical process to the trend of capitalism, and as a process of profound rupture. That is a DotP cannot administer capitalism but rather only administer against capitalism.

The Russian Experience

As a concrete example so you can understand me I would propose the system of War Communism in the RSFSR where as a result of the war, as a result of the Revolution and its necessity, the war economy of the DotP was forced to subsume the majority of the semi-capitalist commodity relations of the Russian Empire. This subsumption was a process itself that existed counter to existing capitalist trends.

“We conceived War Communism as the universal, so to say ‘normal’ form of the economic policy of the victorious proletariat and not as being related to the war, that is, conforming to a definite state of the civil war”. ~Bukharin The path to socialism in Russia. (p.145)

Even as the necessity of the revolution destroyed capitalist relations it was bringing into being the new socialist society. The confluence of War Communism and War Economy was not a lucky coincidence, but created firstly by the necessity of open struggle between the proletariat and bourgeoisie and secondly by the need for the DotP to create an overcoming, that is a continuity to socialism within the break from capitalism.

In the process of the Revolution the social relations to production were broken and then reconstructed anew, in a manner that should have led to a socialist society by all reckoning. The new USSR however, was not born from a developed capitalist state, but from the semi-feudal and majority peasant Russian Empire. Without the expected World Revolution,with the defeat of the Spartacists and of Soviet Hungary the USSR was forced to endure alone. Without the necessary industrialization and consequently without a strong proletarian base it could not overcome its own process of production.

In 1921 in The New Economic Policy And The Tasks Of The Political Education Departments Lenin acknowledged that War Communism was untenable at the current time in a “peasant country” and announced a retreat to state capitalism in the form of the NEP.

“That decision pointed to the necessity to take peasant farming into consideration, and it was based on a report which made allowance for the role of state capitalism in building socialism in a peasant country; a report which emphasised the importance of personal, individual, one-man responsibility; which emphasised the significance of that factor in the administration of the country as distinct from the political tasks of organising state power and from military tasks.”

So the DotP had stalled. The Bolsheviks now became administrators of capitalism, performing what amounted to a holding action until the NEP could sufficiently proletarianize the country, to be then dissolved. The NEP was dissolved eventually by collectivization, but the proletariat was not. The holding action continued, indefinitely, until 1990 when the USSR, torn apart by its own contradictions collapsed into a myriad of nations.

Despite the flaws of the USSR and the flaws of the October Revolution what this experience showed us is that the DotP should construct and then abolish itself not independently but as part of the very process of the Revolution, as part of the necessity of its existence.

The primary class contradiction, the epochal battle between the proletariat and bourgeoisie is resolved at the proletarian victory. There is no DotP to exist after the Revolution, because the very triumph of the proletariat changes their social relation to production — their abolition becomes a tautology, since the proletariat can only exist as a class mirrored by the bourgeoisie. The successful end of the Revolution should thus put us squarely into the society of producers, into socialism itself.

The DotP in the Context of the State

We cannot speak about the DotP without speaking of stateform. The very notion of class dictatorship can only occur within the context of a state, or at the very least within an organized military body which occupies some concrete spatial territory in a crude Weberian sense. This means that the DotP inevitably gets tied into the discussions of the stateform, especially with the discourse surrounding it in the broader socialist, Marxist, and anarchist movements.

While the mode of production is easy to view as a process rather than an object, especially in the context of world-history, the state cannot be easily accorded the same treatment. Arguably beginning from the first walled city, and continuing through many different modes of production, many different societies, states have remained universal and inescapable. The notion of a state: the stateform — has no process of becoming, just a monolithic existence that flows in and out of particular states, endlessly reproducing them.

The state, however, is understood to be without doubt a repressive mechanism. In the final accounting, at least according to Engels in Anti-Duhring (pt. 3, chpt. 2) the state is abolished (along with the proletariat):

“The proletariat seizes political power and turns the means of production in the first instance into state property. But, in doing this, it abolishes itself as proletariat, abolishes all class distinctions and class antagonisms, abolishes also the state as state.”

Here we have to take a pause and understand that abolition is hard to understand given the near perennial nature of the state and the relative obscurity of its processes. The way most people understand it, even Marxists, is by envisioning the ultimate fate of the state as its negation.

Negation of the State

This question is often asked even by liberals and new communists, and sadly left unanswered beyond vague scoffing. Having established proletarian ownership, the administration of production by a common plan, having ended the anarchy of production — how is it then possible to abolish the state which directs production and sets the norms for social ownership? This seemingly simple question cannot be responded to with a negation.

Let’s turn towards anarchists who do. For many anarchists there is no need to create a DotP to socialism because the process of the negation of the state is the revolution itself. Within this view the proletariat, (or some other revolutionary subject) has no need to constitute its institutions as state institutions because it is destroying the state.

Now they negate the existence of the state, and thus do not want to preserve the ability of the state to domesticate the anarchy of production. Whether we are talking about anarchist syndicates, or anarchist communes, or any other formation of autonomous worker self-management they, having abolished the state (and with it the DotP) are now unable to surpass the final hurdle, to turn the process of production into the abolition of enclosure (social ownership).

Some anarchists such as mutualists openly admit that their system retains this anarchy of production, with the market explicitly deciding outcomes between given autonomous social formations. In such a situation, money is either preserved as it existed in stateform or developed as a unit of account in autonomous exchanges. Now money is of course private property in the context of commodity production and serves as the basis of finance capital, debt in particular.

Other anarchists support the abolition of valueform but ignore the logistics of it altogether. It is one thing to ignore bourgeois right (that birth stamp of capitalism within socialism), but to believe that socialist society will arise with some kind of Mohist universal love free from our historical experience is just unsupported neither in historical materialism, nor with any kind of other dialectical method.

So essentially we get a breakdown at the level of exchange, which precipitates a return to capitalism while these anarchist social forms die in stillbirth. Having negated the state these social states cannot move past its significance, and do not usurp its functions.

Overcoming of the State

What we need to do instead (as socialists), is understand the usefulness of the state in the process of production and then seeing that, to sublate its key functions into new revolutionary institutions. Here the abolition of the state is entirely preserved, but through the key process of overcoming.

To understand the position of the state in the context of the political economy of capitalism we have to step back and look at the real sites of class struggles and antagonism. Take for example the trade union. Right now the trade union materializes at the antagonism of capital and labour. If the firm represents the subject of capitalism (or the hell of capitalism) under the anarchy of production, then the union represents the self-organization of labour (within the context of the labour market ). Both should be at odds, and they are. The union fights the firm for higher wages, the firm tries to disempower and destroy the union. In the final reckoning labour should seize capital and abolish it, because the labour belongs to the producers as their inherent human characteristic.

Thus unionform inherently should lead us towards the abolition of capital, and ofc capitalism as a result. But it does not. Why? Because both labour and capital are under the aegis of the state, with the anarchy of production and thus the seizure of power to producers tamed and arrested under this sovereignty.

Consider the early historical experience of the trade union before it secured victories to state reforms. Extreme violence. Terrorism. War. Just in the United States from the late 19th century to the early 1920s were filled with constant conflicts between the unions and the capitalist class represented by firms, security guards and strike breakers. These conflicts did not just come from industrial unions, even trade unions of the AFL despite their extreme classism and racism (being generally of the upper trades and unwilling to admit or even organize with more poorly paid workers, or with any black workers for that matter) engaged and supported violence against capitalist structures. The Los Angeles Times Bombing (1910) by the Iron Workers (a craft union part of the AFL at the time) was explicitly aimed at not just the capitalist class but against its hegemonic power through the media, and although the results of the bombing were the deaths of newspaper employees and the imprisonment of the bombers, it showed that even the most retrograde positions of the labour movement were capable of engaging in revolutionary violence. How they engaged in it is a different matter, with the attack amounting to no more than Narodnaya Volya or SR terrorism, and having as little impact in actually challenging capital.

A more extensive challenge to capitalism came from the West Virigina Coal Wars, a more concrete series of labour disputes over the 1910s and early 1920s between coal mining trade unions and capitalist firms in West Virginia. Just the Battle of Blair Mountain had thousands, tens of thousands of workers fighting against US army forces. This was not even close to a Revolution, since the workers did not levy political demands (a good criticism perhaps of the insufficiency of trade union consciousness), but on the basis of just their economic demands, on the basis of their social relation to production, on intuitive understanding of their ownership of their own labour, these workers were able to engage (and occasionally) win against capital. The position of the state going as far as to use chemical warfare against the miners in the Battle of Blair Mountain, was explicitly and uncompromisingly on the side of the bourgeoisie. Yet this didn’t stop the protests, strikes and in some cases armed combat. It was only when the state took an explicit step above labour and capital that it was able to control the union movement.

Limited reforms to improve the immediate state of the worker. Regulations on the excesses of the capitalist and on the violence of the firm. Positive things we could say, certainly no one wants to go back to before the five day workweek (despite precarious employment inching towards just that) but these concessions of the state on the part of capital mask it’s existing elevation above the dispute between capital and labour. A complex set of regulations towards both capital and labour underpins a set of measures by the state to standardize and control unions turning them into collaborators of existing (capitalist) stateform.

Now a quick aside on the choice of antagonism. The conflict between wage labour and capital is not the only antagonism that exists in the process of production. The redistribution of land away from landlords that occurred during the Chinese Civil War was an example of direct action taken by the tenants towards redress from rentier capital. So the conflict between capital and labour takes place in many different spheres of social life, including tenancy, reproductive labour, domestic labour, and the like.

A key thing that should be remembered is that all of these social relations and antagonisms are monitored and constrained by the state. Even as the mode of production changes, as class struggle sharpens the state is always there to step in, first to oppose labour and then to act as arbitrator. The negation of the state would just spawn forth another arbitrator as it would arise by the same mechanism, first from the direct coercion and attack by capital on labour, and then from it’s detachment to an arbitrator, once the power of labour is recognized and can be constrained.

But to return to our discussion on trade unions, the primary mode of attack that has to arise from the revolutionary unionform and wage labour is against the state, a bid to deconstruct and reconstruct state institutions as worker institutions, to turn them from managers of capital into managers of labour. As I explained about the mistakes of anarchy however, this reconstruction cannot take place with a negation, since the DotP cannot administer against capitalism if it cannot administer at all.

A Proposal for Overcoming

Now onto a slightly more specific proposal because critique to destroy is easy, but critique to replace is always hard. What’s more we cannot forget the overcoming of the state must still take place within the schema.

To me a revolutionary movement has to seize state power, not necessarily through the replacement of one state by another, but through the creation of a new stateform with the construction of its own worker institutions. In such a stateform the triumph over capital can only be achieved through a totalization of labour within a single managing schema, with the DotP serving to transfer the social relation of the proletariat to capital to the social relation of the producers to their own labour.

Reminded by Marx’s comment in the Critique of Gotha (chpt. 1) on the lower phase (as it emerges from capitalism).

“Here, obviously, the same principle prevails as that which regulates the exchange of commodities, as far as this is exchange of equal values. Content and form are changed, because under the altered circumstances no one can give anything except his labor, and because, on the other hand, nothing can pass to the ownership of individuals, except individual means of consumption.”

With no ownership, there cannot be enclosure and thus there cannot be capital. Without capital there cannot be capitalists. Of course this administration of labour does preserve a coercive factor even as the proletariat is abolished. An exchange of labour presupposes a coercion of society in order to obtain consumption. It cannot be a step beyond work itself. Certainly the very nature of an exchange of labour also presupposes a division of labour that continues in the lower phase. What it does not presuppose though, is the state.

The stateform having transformed from a manager of capital, a position it had perennially maintained since the beginning of human civilization, loses it’s eternal nature. The state now undertakes the function of management of labour, and here I speak of not just unionform but all forms of labour that exist within the society. Hence it’s totalization because wage labour does not encompass the whole of the social relations of the capitalist productive process. This is a profound change because now it forms a social relation between producers (that is people) and their labour (that which is under their control) and not a social relation to capital (consecrated objects). It is on this ground (or nomos) that the stateform can now be overcome.

To put it in a simpler term, the state becomes the unions and the unions become the state. Now that is still reductive and not completely since labour exists outside of wage labour, but it does show us how socialist society is initiated from the relation of the labour of producers to the stateform.

Unlike the uniformity and singularity of the stateform, labour by it’s very own internal divisions forms a multiplicity. There is labour as a unique social relation to production, but there are many forms of labour, almost innumerable in the process of production. So even as labour envelops the entirety of society, far beyond just wage labour professions or even the expanded categories that have been mentioned so far (after all the labour of grandparents in caring for child is confined within the context of a traditional family unit but is still a form of labour) it creates its own federations of production that act within the contradictions of labour.

And this multiplicity allows the administration of labour to extend far beyond its own stateform, because while the state exists in real space, labour exists as a bundle of social relations that go far beyond it. For in capitalist societies the administration of labour already exists within antagonistic forms, and the formation of these federations of production allow them to wage revolutionary war for the recuperation of its labour across the bounds of the state. Here the state becomes a mere formality, with the social relations of labour extending independently across trades, professions having overcome the rigidity and limitations of the state.

Thus the stateform is ripped apart by the centrifugal force of its own institutions (the labour associations) which seek to administer production (as federations of production) on a world scale. Rather than going against and thus negating the state, the reconstruction of the state and its dissolution happens as a natural process of the evolution of the antagonisms of labour into federations of production. The state is not destroyed but overcome even as it is totalized into a “world-state” no longer based on the sovereignty of it’s ownership of space and thus no longer tied to the social relations of capital.



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I write articles about socialism, theory, anti-theory, current events.