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The Anarcho-Leninist Debate on the State
Part 1 Ben Seattle October 5, 2002

Without the goal of a state machine
controlled by the working class
we might as well proclaim
that bourgeois rule will last
until the stars refuse to shine

Why is this question at the center of the struggle
to create a revolutionary movement
that is more than hot air?

As I write these words US imperialism is busily making preparations to unleash another savage war against the Arab peoples of the Middle East.

Saddam Hussein (a former puppet of the U.S.) has thumbed his nose at his former masters and has aspirations to be a small-time imperialist (ie: to dominate the other nations of the region and to achieve a regional hegemony that would allow him to drive a better bargain with US imperialism and the other imperialist powers of the world). But US imperialism now has a military strength equal to or exceeding the rest of the world combined. US imperialism intends to use this strength in order to more thoroughly dominate the strategic oil-rich Middle East and to prepare for future confrontations with other rising powers such as China.

In the aftermath of this brutal war, US imperialism (and its various imperialist and would-be imperialist allies) may even "redraw the map" of the region: reconfigure the political and economic boundaries that were created in the 1920's by the European colonial powers in the aftermath of the first world war. There has been much talk in the press about "going South" after the conquest of Iraq: replacing the reactionary Saudi regime with a something less troublesome and more obedient. Or there could be a turn to the East: there are still scores to settle with the reactionary clerical regime that came to power in Iran following the popular 1979 revolution against the hated Shah (another reactionary US puppet in the region--who came to power when the CIA overthrew the elected Iranian nationalist Mossadeq in 1953).

An anti-war movement is slowly developing in the US (where I live) and around the world. Activists seek to mobilize public opinion against this latest imperialist war. We have seen this before and we will see it again. The TV news and the major newspapers (being the mouthpieces of the ruling bourgeoisie) fill the airwaves with nonsense and hysteria and the anti-war movement (small and struggling for orientation) fights to make itself heard (and to even exist as a social force uncorrupted by and independent of the left-wing of the Democratic Party--which specializes in "helping" the oppositional movements by gutting them of their independence and militancy and leaving them demoralized and impotent).

The root of the problem is that the bourgeoisie control society. The bourgeoisie control every significant institution in society. The bourgeoisie control the major (and minor) political parties. The bourgeoisie control the major (and minor) news media. The bourgeoisie control damn near every talking head will see and hear on the TV, radio, newspaper or even internet (unless you're an activist and you access the alternative channels such as Indymedia--and even then the bourgeoisie exerts far greater influence over the thinking and political concepts of fellow activists--and even activists such as yourself, dear reader, than you are likely aware).

The bourgeoisie exerts its political and ideological influence in many ways--including being able to control the ideas that we are able to think about. The primary idea that the bourgeoisie prevents us from thinking about--is the idea that a world without bourgeois rule is possible, practical and achievable--and must be the central aim around which we organize all other progressive struggles.

Instead we are conditioned to accept bourgeois rule as inevitable--like gravity or like the air we breathe. In a similar way the ancient Greeks and Romans taught that slavery was a permanent and inevitable part of life. Who, in the ancient world, could conceive of life without slavery? It was unthinkable. And those who did think of life without slavery, like the slaves who rose in revolt against the slaveowners--had their guts opened up with a 22 inch sword (if they were lucky) or were left to a slow and excruciating death at the hands of ingenious methods of mass torture, such as crucifixion.

But the bourgeoisie today has little need for the painful death of crucifixion: the bourgeoisie conditions us to accept the permanence of bourgeois rule by waging an ingenious war of ideas.

And this is why it is necessary that we understand that the fundamental weapon of working class rule, after the bourgeoisie are overthrown, will be the state. This is part of the war of ideas that we must wage--to defeat the war of ideas waged against us. We will be unable to think about (and communicate to others) the concept of a world without bourgeois rule--if we cannot do so in a way that is realistic--if we cannot grasp that the victorious working class will need to make use of a machine as a shield to defend itself against the former bourgeoisie and the forces of capital during the lengthy transition to a classless society based on a self-organizing moneyless economy.

Activists will not sacrifice their precious time to promote the concept of a world without bourgeois rule--unless the concept is solid and realistic--unless the concept does not fall apart at the slightest challenge. The bourgeoisie (and their many apologists and flunkies) love to challenge and smash up conceptions of an alternative to bourgeois rule. They love it when these conceptions are composed of daydreams or religious sectarian hot air. The bourgeois apologists can then smash up the flimsy daydreams and proclaim that bourgeois rule will be with us until the last star has ceased to shine.

But the concept of a world without bourgeois rule belongs at the center of all of our activity. This concept belongs even at the center of every worthwhile struggle for worthwhile reforms. But before this concept can take its place at the center of our activity, at the center of every worthwhile reform struggle, at the center of the progressive movement--this concept must be based on material reality, it must be something more than sterile daydreams; it must be something more than religious sectarian hot air; it must be something more than garbage.

If another world is possible
why can't we describe it?

The anti-globalization movement has popularized the excellent slogan "another world is possible". But our entire culture (all the mass media outlets and all institutions) argue otherwise. If we want to oppose this massive bourgeois propaganda--then we need to be able to realistically describe (at least in general terms) the principles that will guide this other world. Unfortunately, neither the anarchist movement nor the self-described marxist organizations have made significant progress on this decisive theoretical task. Therefor serious activists must do so today. And key to this question is our concept of a state.

Why will the working class need a state?

The working class will need a machine to suppress the resistance of the bourgeoisie and capital during the period of transition to a classless society based on a self-organizing moneyless economy. This machine will consist of a system of organized activity by workers. This machine has a scientific name. The scientific name for this machine is the state.

In many other essays I have ridiculed the religious conceptions of a workers' state held by many self-described marxist organizations (see my comments on "Cargo Cult Leninism" in tomorrow's installment). But today I take on the equally-mistaken view of many anarchists--who hold that the victorious working class will have no need of a machine to defend itself against the remnants of the bourgeoisie and the forces of capital. This is naive in the extreme.

It seems likely to me that within anarchist circles there are essentially two different kinds of conceptions concerning how a non-capitalist economy will emerge.

1. And then a miracle occurs ...

The first conception is that after some kind of mass uprising or revolution--the victorious masses will figure out how to rearrange or restructure all the oppressive methods of doing things that have characterized capitalist society. Old methods of thinking and organization will be essentially wiped out overnite--and replaced by more enlightened attitudes and methods.

2. the emergence of an alternative economy

The second conception is sometimes referred to as a "shadow economy" or "dual power" [-1-] and sometimes goes by other names. According to this view alternative economic institutions can develop, essentially unnoticed, in the shadow of the large corporations that make up the bulk of the capitalist economy. I think the analogy here is to the way that, for millions of years, mammals developed in the shadows of the dinosaurs. At a certain point these alternative economic entities will supposedly somehow emerge as the dominant model of economic activity.

Hence the anarchist position of why the working class will not need a state usually boils down to either:

(1) at a certain time everything miraculously changes and millions of people will learn, overnight, how to organize themselves, their work and the smooth and seamless functioning of a classless society without reliance on capitalist methods --or--

(2) alternative methods will successfully evolve under bourgeois rule

Let's consider the bankruptcy of each view.

1. You can't cheat the learning curve

There are innumerable decisions to be made in creating the goods and services used in a modern economy. New ways of making these decisions (ie: other than relying on the money and the market) will take time to evolve. New "relations of production" (ie: the relationships between people who work together to create stuff) will have to evolve also as groups of people experiment and gain practical experience learning what works and what doesn't.

Millions of people will _not_ be able to learn new ways of doing things overnight (for example: 1. deciding what kinds of goods and services to create, 2. deciding what kind of compensation, if any, workers will get for their labor or 3. electing their leads and supervisors or managers at work--or, to take this further, learning to supervise or manage themselves without a division of labor in which some people have the exclusive role of supervisor and others of the supervised).

On the contrary, there will be learning curve. It will take a considerable period of time (in years or decades) for millions of people to learn methods of running an economy without money (and so long as a money economy {or an economy based on the exchange of one commodity for another} exists the laws of commodity production will tend to assert themselves and the need to raise the productivity of labor in the context of these laws--will exert constant and considerable pressure for the creation of a new ruling class).

There will need to be a state during the period of transition--or you end up with an economic and social meltdown: grocery stores and gas stations will not function and the infrastructure of daily life breaks down. Once this happens then the bulk of the population will decide that the bourgeoisie did a better job of running things and will restore the bourgeoisie to power. End of story.

2. "Co-op consciousness" leads nowhere

The evolution of an alternative economy under conditions of bourgeois rule is also a dead-end idea that goes nowhere.

I sometimes refer to this trend of thought as "co-op consciousness" because in the 1960's the idea was near-universal that such entities as co-ops would usher in a new way of thinking and doing things. A friend of mine, for example, once donated his afternoon to building a bookshelf for a local food co-op here in Seattle. The food co-op has since gone on to become very successful--although not in terms of its original founding vision. The food co-op certainly sells a lot of food. But the decisions are now made by well-paid corporate executives and the low-paid workers have no say in how things are run and in general are treated like shit.

And this always seems to happen. If you throw a rock in the air it will eventually come down again because of the law of gravity. No matter how hard you try--you cannot throw a rock fast enough that it can escape the law of gravity. Similarly any kind of co-op that you build will, if it is part of the money economy, fall victim to the laws of commodity production. The laws of commodity production can no more be escaped than the law of gravity.

However the anarchist nonsense about a "shadow economy" or "dual power" developing alongside a capitalist economy and eventually overwhelming it contains one essential, fundamental truth. The self-organizing moneyless economy will evolve out of numerous economic experiments in the midst of an economy running, to a large extent, along capitalist lines (ie: money will be used to make economic decisions). But here is what the anarchists do not want to see:

This development of alternative methods
of organizing economic activity,
(this process of experimentation and evolution)
can _only_ successfully take place
under conditions of a proletarian state.

This process of evolution cannot take place under conditions of bourgeois rule--because these projects will either simply be absorbed by the capitalist economy--or will be fought every step of the way (and eventually crushed) by the bourgeoisie. The exceptions to this are few and tend to prove the rule [-2-]. What advocates of this path can not (or do not want to) see is that the bourgeoisie is a conscious class that is capable of taking action against anything that threatens their profits.

I am in favor of the lengthy period of experimentation and evolution that will discover new methods of organizing economic activity that do not rely on capitalist methods. However I assert that this evolution will take place ten thousand times more rapidly under conditions of working class rule.

Who will control the mass media?

One example I can give of the distinction between bourgeois and proletarian rule concerns the control of the mass media. Under bourgeois rule the mass media is controlled in one way or another by the corporations. Under working class rule the mass media will be controlled by the masses.

How would this be enforced?

The separation of speech and property

In various essays [-3-] I have discribed how, under this principle, the first amendment right to free speech only applies to speech that is made by people, not by corporations. Speech (and media products in general) that are the product of paid labor will be subject to regulation and restriction by the workers' state. Under this principle anyone (including bourgeois apologists) would have the right to say what they wanted--but would not be able to use paid labor to amplify their voice. Such a principle will allow the workers' state to eliminate bourgeois control of the mass media without developing the machinery of suppression that would pose a danger to the rights of workers to criticise incompetence, hypocrisy and corruption within their own workers' state.

Under this principle the rich and their corporations would not be able to buy public opinion, as they do at present. (Question: under working class rule will corporations and the rich still exist? Answer: Yes, for a period of time. For a considerable period corporations would likely still exist under working class rule because it will take time to learn how to create an economy that does not rely on money, capital, prices, wages and so forth. Similarly, for a period of time, there will still be many who are relatively wealthy and privileged in relation to others and who will attempt to use their wealth, privilege, knowledge and connections to restore bourgeois rule). Under working class rule the population of a country like the U.S. would not be kept in ignorance by the mass media but would, for the first time, really learn about the various other nations and peoples of the world (as opposed to the present where "war is god's way of teaching Americans geography").

I assert (to use this example) that the competition between capitalist/corporate methods and the experimental/alternative methods will go far better for us when the bourgeoisie is unable to control the mass media and dominate the thinking of the masses.

My first question for Daniel

Daniel and I have agreed to answer the questions posed by one another. So here is my first question for him:

Since you have rejected the concept that the evolution of alternatives to capitalist economic methods will take place under the protection of a state that is controlled by the working class--you appear to be left with the two alternatives I have outlined (and refuted) above:

(1) Everything miraculously changes overnite after the overthrow of bourgeois rule

(2) This evolution can and should take place under bourgeois rule

Which of these alternatives do you support? And how to you reply to the refutation I have given it?


The real reason for the stink about the state

Notes for part 1

[-1-] "Dual Power" The phrase "dual power" has been used by Brian Dominick and by Lenin in two extremely distinct ways:

(a) This phrase is currently being popularized by Brian (an anarchist theoretician, activist, medic and web site developer: see his forums at ) to represent the idea of alternative political and economic institutions developing within the context of bourgeois rule. I criticized an early version of Brian's work and received a response from him. The exchange can be seen on the public archives of the pof-200 list:     Brian's essay     Ben's criticsm     Brian replies     Ben     Wombat

A more current version of Brian's work can be found at:     Grassroots Revolutionary Strategy

(b) Lenin made this phrase famous by using it in a non-reformist way to describe a rare situation of genuine dual power that existed in Russia between February and July 1917.

[-2-] successful alternatives under bourgeois rule There are example of alternatives to the normal capitalist methods of organizing activity that have proven highly successful. One example of this is the Linux computer operating system. Another well-known example (within a different sphere) is the self-help group which helps recovering alcoholics stay sober: Alcoholics Anonymous. It is highly noteworthy that both of these alternatives have escaped the laws of commodity production because they do not create commodities (ie: goods or services that are created for the purpose of sale or exchange). Instead these alternatives are part of the gift economy (ie: everything they create is given away for free).

But exceptions such as these prove the rule. Alternative projects that create goods or services for sale (or for exchange with other commodities) are subject to the laws of commodity production.

[-3-] The principle of separation of speech and property Here is the key section from my essay at

Individuals, I have concluded, will have the "free speech" right to say anything they damn well please--to organize groups to promote their views and, in particular, to criticize and mobilize popular opposition against what they consider to be incompetence, hypocrisy and corruption of government officials or government policy. Individuals as well as organizations will also have the right to promote views that are wrong, unhealthy, harmful or reactionary. But corporations and people with money and resources (which will continue to exist for a considerable period) will not be allowed to buy position or influence within the sphere of media.

Commercial media (ie: media created by hired labor or commercial resources) will be subject to control. The creation and promotion of slick campaigns, prepared by armies of paid media workers, that saturate the airwaves and magazine covers to promote or advertise unhealthy or obnoxious food, politics, attitudes or worldviews--will be effectively opposed and shut down by the masses and their state. The bourgeois ideologues will be:

1. Cut down to size by the principle of separation of speech and property (ie: they will not be allowed to use hired labor or commercial resources to amplify their voice) and then

2. Drowned out by the combined anger, determination and class consciousness reflected in the innumerable voices of the masses.

mass-based information war

On the other hand, free media (ie: media created by unpaid, volunteer labor) will be neither controlled nor regulated by the workers' state. On the contrary, the self-expression of the masses, and their myriad independent organizations, will be given the maximum possible support and encouragement, technical and otherwise, from a workers' revolutionary state that will have no need for thought police--but on the contrary will rely on mass-based information war--and will open the floodgates for the maximum release of mass revolutionary initiative and energy.