Concepts of the nature of the modern state range from a view of its function as an agent for providing an amenable work force for capitalist exploitation, to a function to mediate a balance between several competing social and economic interests. Most socialists would say that in its present form, the modern state acts, in the balance of interests, on the side of capital.
Some see the state as deflecting the capitalist-socialist conflict by mobilising the population for external inter-imperialist competition and neo-colonial conquest. Some view the state as a vehicle for racism and neo-fascist nationalism. The neo-liberal social democrats seek to close down the political debate by equating the state with the economic system, by identifying capitalism and the market with freedom and democracy.
These concepts condition the view of the socialist parties as to their action regarding the state. The classical Marxists, the revolutionary socialists and the anarchists see the state simply as an agent of capital which must be ‘smashed’, ‘overthrown’, or ‘captured’, either by the leadership of a political vanguard, or by the mass conversion of the working class.
The evolutionary socialists believe that neither of the above scenarios is likely and that the state must be transformed democratically and gradually from what is now principally an agent of capitalism to become an agent of the ‘the people’.
Some socialists believe that the nation state can/will be replaced by devolved democratic units at local level and international democratic institutions at global level.
Whatever view we take of the role of the state, it is clear that in a capitalist economy the state must, at times, if not all the time, operate in the interests of capital, and must therefore generally intervene, in the conflicting interests of capital and labour, on the side of capital. The logic of this is that socialist groups must inevitably find themselves from time to time (for the classical Marxist it is most of the time) in conflict with the state.
The traditional willingness of socialists to challenge the injustices of the state has not yet been transferred widely to co-operation between the many single-issue groups now engaged in direct action. Similarly, many direct activists do not recognise the wider political significance of their actions. It could be that with the advent of the UK’s new Human Rights Act this issue will come to have a greater focus, with socialists and activists becoming increasingly prepared to engage in joint actions against the state where they involve issues expressed as human rights.
© Lusion 2005