In 1917, after three years of world war, Lenin identified the nature and function of the state. He declared that a partnership exists between the state and the dominant ruling class with the former charged with serving the interests of the latter. In other words, the state is not neutral in the struggle between the working class and the capitalist class but serves the ruling class to maintain its power. Therefore, he concluded, the state could not be reformed but had to be vanquished and replaced by working class state power.
What comprises the state in Britain today? We have the police, armed forces, judiciary, prisons, parliament and its parties, intelligence services, senior civil service, border control, the church and the monarchy all serving to maintain the power of finance capitalism. And that’s not to mention the European Commission and Parliament, Council of Europe, the European Court and judiciary and the coming EU Armed Forces representing a new dimension of the state serving finance capitalism across the EU.
However, as long as the state can maintain the consent of the working class, the issue of class power remains unresolved. In Britain today, workers are reluctant to engage with the implications of acting independently, and so by default give consent to the “democratic” capitalist state that maintains the power of finance capitalism. The temptation of reform give the appearance of consent remains powerful, with changes to Britain’s voting system being the latest “radical” inducement.
But where consent is weakest is with the EU elements of the state and that is precisely why British politicians refused to allow us a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty, which was all about entrenching the EU state. 100 years after Lenin wrote The State and Revolution, the nature of the state has changed and strengthened, but not its underlying function. The EU represents an extension of the state, another layer even more remote from workers.
So when finance capitalism needs a pool of cheap labour to undermine workers here, the state on its behalf can encourage mass immigration. To suppress trade unions, it can bring in anti-union laws and use its police. To determine what our children know of our class history, it can try to fix the curriculum. To determine what we are told in the news, it can seek to manipulate the media. And to tell us to behave ourselves and not become “aggressive atheists”, it can bring on the Pope.
It follows that participating in capitalist “democracy” changes nothing. Our class has to change its thinking, finding the energy and courage to withdraw that consent from the state in order to challenge it and establish working class power.