Put this in wrapper
• Daniel replies to Ben Seattle's Parts
1. Me, my motivations, and my basic argument:
Since this debate between myself and Ben has become "public" to the level that it obviously has, I feel that I should say a few things about myself and my motivations for participating to "the audience", before moving on to the main issues at hand. Firstly, my name is Daniel. About 18 or so months ago (when I was. a Leninist), I launched an e-list called Anarcho-Marxist Rapprochement where I wrote under the moniker "smoochiboochies" (a mistakenly translated quote from a series of bad hollywood movies.). You can still find this e-list, with very little activity, at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/anarcho-marxist/. For a few weeks after I set it up, I would check up on what was going on and find nothing. Then one night I discovered, to my surprise, that the list had somehow picked up 40 or so members, and the beginnings of some kind of debate. Of course, most (if not all) people involved - certainly myself anyway - did not know that the desired 'rapprochement' had in fact already been achieved, to the greatest degree possible between anarchists and (non-statist) marxists, in the form of the Situationist International in Paris, May 1968; and that this organisation was itself the culmination of a long history of struggle between various Trotskyist, council-communist, anarcho-syndicalist and numerous other groupings beginning well before 1917.
I began this e-list for a number of reasons. For one, I was becoming increasingly dissatisfied with the politics of the Leninist sect I was in at the time, and was looking to find out more about "the other side". Also, I knew full well that the stated aim of all communists is the achievement of a stateless, classless society - the same aim as that of the anarchists. All differences between them then, had to be questions of means, rather than ends. The Leninist thinks it is appropriate to use a state to achieve this end; the anarchist does not. How much more complex could it be than that?
A great deal more complex, as I was to find out! In the most productive exchanges that took place on that list in its first few months, the dominant points of antagonism seemed to revolve not around the question of the state - that difference seemed to be taken as something of a given - but rather around issues like, for example, the relevance of forming groups for cooperative production and mutual aid; whether communist/anarchist society will involve exchange in the form of barter; whether or not such a society would employ and develop the forms of technology and production used in contemporary capitalism; and most importantly (in my view), whether or not actions which are direct but which challenge property or authority itself, rather than particular institutions - e.g. stuff like squatting, adbusting, hacking corporate websites, stealing from department stores, etc. - ought to be seen as political. This of course led straight to that controversial straw man called "lifestylism".
As the debates raged on, one major difference became increasingly noticeable between the two sides; a difference that can be summed up by the single word, happiness. It was starting to become glaringly apparent that whilst happiness is the *core* of what anarchists are about, it represents something of very little consequence to those "Marxists" whose primary concern is the "preservation" of revolutionary gains, the equilibration of wealth, "organising" this or that group of people, etc; and who have yet managed to overlook, or forget, the sole reason why large numbers of us engage in such struggles in the first place: these "Marxists" had apparently forgotten the brutal, material misery of working class existence; and thus could no longer see that our desire for happiness is the essence of our struggle, and hence the essence of communism. They were lost in an endless sea of juridical contingency plans for the protection of "the Revolution". For the Leninists who took part in these exchanges, it is perhaps wrong to argue that happiness was not a general concern for them; but I was beginning to see that the entire logic of the Leninist approach is centred not around how the many can liberate themselves, but on how they can best expropriate their (current!) oppressors. Or rather, it was not seen by these Leninists that the latter entails the former. Liberation - whether it be in the form of something so subjective as a pure feeling, or something one can see as an objective social reality - is for the Leninist something you can't talk too much about without the being accused of "pedagoguery" or "infantilism". Liberation is something that can never exist in the here and now - it is always something we have to wait until tomorrow to experience. Tommorrow we will have communism; tomorrow we will have more liberation than you have ever dared to imagine. Communism - liberation - is for the Leninist some future historical stage that humans can reach if they employ tactics a, b and c - if they have "the right politics". But as for today, we cannot do away with authority; we cannot do away with "experts"; we need repression, we need a state. The logic of expropriation and repression, the need to secure all gains on paper, overshadows the immediate pleasure of the uprising. The end must be "concrete"; we must have something tangible to show for ourselves, so that someone can hold up Proudhon's philosophical scrap of paper and proclaim: "This decree is the eternal guarantee of everything we have struggled for! It enshrines reforms a, b and c. Here is the beginnings of our happiness: now we must struggle ever forward, toward reform z!" (after which, of course, the state "withers away"). It is that dirty (but powerful) piece of paper that brings the "counter-revolution" to life; because it ends the uprising; it takes the power away from the communards, and restores it to the empire.
To put it as succinctly as I can, it became clear to me through these debates that the question of communism, still the fundamental question of our age (as it was for Marx and his predecessors), revolves fundamentally around how we can achieve *happiness*. The Leninist believes that happiness - liberation - is some purely subjective feeling, corresponding to no social reality, and can therefore be compromised in the desperate struggle to secure and protect the gains of the proletarian upsurge. The only measure of happiness, for the Leninist, is the level of material equilibration of wealth. Liberation is something that is directly opposed to expropriation - this is something that came up over and over again when Ben and I were going through the difficult process of arriving at a debate question we could both agree upon. Ben could not understand how I could equate liberation of oneself with expropriation of one's masters; he asked that we use the term "suppress", rather than expropriate. Liberation is seen as something above and beyond the class struggle - not something essential to it, as anarchists would argue. The Leninist cannot understand that to liberate oneself, one must expropriate one's masters; and that one cannot expropriate one's masters without also liberating oneself. There cannot be one without the other.
This gaping difference in outlook continues to result in gaping tactical differences between anarchists and Leninists. In nearly every endeavour where anarchists aim not only to affect social change, but also to enjoy themselves; and in every project where anarchists organise their actions so as to anticipate the nature of community in communist/anarchist society, the Leninists can only laugh. It is all just infantile spontaneist crap: nothing (or at least nothing important) can be achieved without the watchful, guaranteeing gaze of the "proletarian state" apparatus.
The differences between anarchists and Leninists then, are immense; so immense, in fact, as to be incommensurable. That is why the Bolsheviks shot and imprisoned anarchists (and councilists) after 1917. Anarchism is certainly not incommensurable with "Marxism"; the "rapprochement" that I sought between anarchists and Marxists was in fact reached a very long time ago. But between anarchists and Leninists, there can be no rapprochement: and that alone is the reason why I am participating in this public debate.
I first suggested the possibility of a debate to Ben several months ago. I did not imagine at that time that it would become a public debate of such a scale. I have not been a principled anarchist for very long, and wanted to engage the only Leninist I have ever argued with online who did not strike me as being a complete fool. Indeed, when I was a Leninist, I admired and respected Ben's ideas for a very long time - they are not those of a conventional Leninist (that is why his friends in the "Communist Voice Organization" accuse him of being an anarchist). I come into this debate with the full knowledge that I might well be wrong; there might have been some crucial element of Lenin's "wisdom" that somehow eluded me. When I was Leninist, I did as Leninists do, and read a lot of Lenin; searching desperately for some sign, some quote that I could show to people as proof that Lenin was indeed interested in socialism from below. I never found it, and I looked very fucking hard for it. If Ben can pass this gem of wisdom on to me, whether in the form of a quote from Lenin or as an original argument of his own, I will be forever grateful to him. My only reason for wanting to have this debate was (and is) so that I could consign Leninism to the dustbin of my past with some certitude; so I could tell myself that I had engaged Ben, and that he (hopefully) couldn't tell me anything I hadn't heard or read before on his own website; and move on.
It was Ben who suggested an organised public debate, and who has largely assumed the task of promoting it at a public level through his website at http://struggle.net/alds/. I quite naively accepted this challenge of an organised public debate, not realising (or realising only too late) that Ben has quite significantly more to gain politically from it than I do - after all, it is not me who has anything to gain from exposing that vast multitude of Leninist youth to anarchist ideas! It has been said that there is little point in engaging in "rational" debate with Leninists; that a Leninist is a statist like any other statist, and that rather than debating them we should be trying to exclude them from our associations. I agree wholeheartedly with this, as should any other libertarian who has seen the effect a Leninist presence tends to have on affinity-group based organisations. But it is too late for me to back out now; and I wouldn't want to anyway. One of the many differences between a Leninist and a Nazi is that Nazis don't try to recruit people by operating at the very lowest and most militant levels of the class struggle - fascists tend to get the middle-class vote. As anarchists, we face an organised Leninist presence in virtually everything we do. Often they want to work with us, to participate in our organisations, until it is no longer politically expedient for them to do so. Nazis want to shoot us now; Leninists want to shoot us after they begin their reconstruction of capitalism. They will present arguments and have positions that we disagree with. Sometimes these positions will sound quite realistic; they will make a lot of "sense" to those inexperienced with their brand of politics, and in these situations we actually do need to make *rational* arguments to counter such positions. For example, if a Leninist at a spokescouncil meeting demands a show of hands, it isn't necessarily clear to everyone why this is damaging to affinity-group based organisations. It is precisely so that we can prevent authoritarians from taking over our organisations, that it is so very important that we fully understand their ideas, outlooks and tactics, and be able to thoughtfully engage those ideas on a theoretical level. Without such an engagement, we will not be able to expose them - or more relevantly, their theory - in the full light of its corrosive and deadening effect on working class organisation.
It is for this reason that I see this debate as a front in what Ben has called "mass-based information war" - a metaphor for the ideological aspect of the class struggle. It is a front that Ben himself has put a great deal of effort into opening up, and a front that Leninists stand to reap far greater benefits from than anarchists, should they win out - let alone win unopposed. This itself has recently become another important reason I have for bothering with this debate. I have trouble justifying why this debate should be conducted on such a public level, since my only personal interest in it is not in promoting myself, my ideas, or even the substance of the debate itself; but only in subjecting my ideas to criticism and developing/absorbing new ideas, so that I might become a better activist in my own undertakings in the "real world". It is after all people, not their ideas, that make history - and if this debate is going to have any positive effect on 'history' at all, it will be because of the reformulated ideas its participants can take from it into the real "ring" of the class struggle that is our everyday existence; and will have little to do with the number of "spectators" who may (or may not) briefly have their attention drawn to it.
2. Ben's Questions:
Ben has asked me to answer three basic questions.
a.) In his first post Ben asks:
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?
Do these two options seem a little narrow to anyone else? Particularly given the fact that we actually agreed on the following debate question:
In the period immediately following a successful mass uprising against the bourgeoisie, should the form (or forms) of organization adopted by the proletariat to secure its ultimate liberation be understood to be a state?
Doesn't this question explicitly state that there is a period of 'transition' between the occurrence of a "successful mass uprising against the bourgeoisie", and the "ultimate liberation" of the proletariat? Doesn't it further state that during this period of transition, the proletariat will set up one or many forms of organisation through which it will liberate itself? Ben seems to think that because I don't believe that these forms of organisation will have any resemblance to a state, this means that I rule out this so-called "transitional stage" altogether. I do not. I do not believe that communism will be miraculously achieved the day after the overthrow of the bourgeoisie; and nor do I believe that communism will be achieved under any kind of "dual power" schema whereby the infrastructure of the classless society is set up right under the nose of the bourgeoisie. And yet...
• Everything does miraculously change overnight after the overthrow of bourgeois rule:So basically, my answer is both and neither. I feel that I've weaselled my way out of this question more than adequately, but if you really do want me to choose between these two positions I would identify more closely to the second one. The evolution toward classless society can and should take place under bourgeois rule; in fact, nothing you or I can say (or do) will stop it. Why? Because it is one half of the class struggle! Rather than "advising" workers to delay all economic experimentation until after this nurturing and protecting state of yours gives them a nice little bottle of resources to suckle upon, we should instead be emphasising the historical and continuing role of shadow economies in the struggles of all those who are oppressed. No, shadow economies cannot in themselves "overwhelm" capitalism; but they are an integral part of the struggle to *overthrow* it, and are only 'in the shadows' insofar as they are part of that struggle.
The conditions of the class struggle do in fact miraculously change overnight immediately after the bourgeoisie has been overthrown - that is why we all try so hard to make it happen. The difference between anarchists and Leninists here is that for the Leninist, it's all over after midnight; the decisive task has been achieved, and now its a question keeping it that way and moving on. For the anarchist on the other hand, overthrowing the state is only the beginning. The bourgeoisie no longer has a stable base of institutions through which it can ideologically manipulate the social body, regulate the circuit of capital, increase the rate of exploitation, etc. - though it will still attempt to do these things. The state is not simply the means by which the bourgeoisie maintains its rule over the proletariat: it is also the means by which the bourgeoisie organises itself as a class. Overthrowing the state simply means that the (domestic) bourgeoisie no longer has this ability to openly organise itself as such (i.e. as the ruling class); not that bourgeois production relations have been decisively eradicated.
When this group of institutions called the state is overthrown, a space is opened up in which people can begin to seize, in common, all the means of production from which they have until that point been legally and physically marginalised. Whatever clandestine infrastructure the class might have had before this time will need to have been geared toward the overthrow of these institutions. After this overthrow, these associations will need to serve the completely different purpose of spreading and accelerating this seizure of bourgeois property - a seizure that may well take the form of luddite or "cannibalistic" uses of bourgeois technologies (e.g. the people of Bougainville using parts from an abandoned copper mine to make a car run from matured coconut extract) - because its entirely up to the people who carry it out to decide *how* they will carry it out. Needless to say, our associations will need to undergo radical structural changes if they are not to be disregarded altogether after the state has been overthrown. Indeed, their primary aim must be to prevent the (re)construction of a "new" state, and their primary means of doing this must be this process of community-based seizure (or communalisation) described above. Clearly then, these associations cannot achieve communism overnight; rather, their struggle continues according to different parameters, with new and different dangers, and takes on a more open, joyful and accelerated, rather than clandestine and secretive, persona. In a word, the uprising continues. until it is finished.
• This evolution can and should take place under bourgeois rule:
While I reject the schema of "dual power" and its rhetoric of an "emergent" alternative mode of production, nevertheless I find Ben's advice of delaying all experimentation in alternative economic methods until after the overthrow of the bourgeoisie to be not just over-zealous, but - as I shall explain - objectively impossible. But first, let me ask Ben the following (rhetorical) question: why should the same argument you used in your section on "co-op consciousness" not also apply to trade unions? Surely trade unions are subject to exactly the same economic constraints, and exhibit exactly the same tendency to "sell out" over time? In fact, this probably is an inexorable consequence of the law of value, as you say. But does it follow from this that trade unions are in fact "a dead-end idea", and that it is pointless to even bother forming one? Surely not. "Ah," I hear you say. "There are many practical reasons for forming a trade union; but the only motives for forming a mutual aid organisation are utopian ones."
There are certainly many lessons to be learned from the cooperative and mutualist experiments conducted in the 19th (and 20th) Centuries; but I feel that rejecting them altogether is an over-reaction. The fact is Ben that, quite apart from being the most basic heritage of the socialist tradition, shadow economies exist all around us whether you like it or not. Furthermore, the distinguishing feature of these economies is not whether or not they are collectively owned, involve exchange, etc. (although these factors are probably of determinant importance in what I'm about to say); but rather the degree to which they are actively engaged in popular struggles. This for me is the only yardstick by which we can determine whether an 'alternative' economy is in fact a shadow economy. There are many instances of strikes among rural workers for example, where in order to survive the strike the workers have had to develop their own clandestine means of producing and distributing food and water among one another over prolonged periods of time. And, in many revolutionary situations, workers have been known to seize control of factories they are locked out of, and begin running these places for themselves. They have also (in the case of the Russian factory committee movement) attempted to form such organisations at the national level.
There are two things we can say about these kinds of events. One is that, while utopian ideals always have a certain presence in any outbreak of working-class militancy, it is mainly the force of objective circumstances that leads working people to form, of their own accord, such autonomous (i.e. financially and legally non-existent) economic units. The other is that it is surely wrong to see these kinds of events as purely "spontaneous"; they must rather be seen as manifestations of an already existing shadow economy, which is itself an essential and absolutely necessary component of the existing class struggle up until (and beyond) that point; it cannot be delayed or postponed until Ben finds it more fruitful. Class struggle is not just the reactive folding of arms, throwing of rocks, or shooting of oppressors; it is also a proactive struggle to find new ways of living.
b.) In his third post, Ben asks:
What kind of a scenario can you advance for how humanity can arrive at a classless society with no state (no armed bodies of men, no central authority to push anyone around) that does not involve a transition period during which the working class creates it own state machine to maintain basic economic stability and suppress the resistance of the bourgeoisie?
I feel that I went some way to answering this question in my reply to the previous question - in particular the part under the heading "Everything does miraculously change overnight after the overthrow of bourgeois rule", where I elaborated what I called a process of communalisation whereby people begin to seize, in common, all the means of production from which they are separated; and where people can use these seized means of production in whatever fashion they choose. This is the basic process (it is too unspecific to be called a scenario) that I imagine in the period immediately following the overthrow of bourgeois rule; a period corresponding to what Marx called the "dictatorship of the proletariat". It is diametrically opposed to any process which either consciously maintains the pre-existing circuit of capital (as Ben's model state does), or erects a new infrastructure to sustain this circuit (as happened in Russia, China, ...).
There are however, certain things which really need to be said in regard to this question. The first thing is that what "communism" will be like, or how we are likely to achieve it, are not questions that anyone without a really good crystal ball can ever hope to answer. According to Ben, the most powerful idea of the present epoch is that "a world without bourgeois rule is possible, practical and achievable". The task of proving this idea to be true is paramount then, because apparently, once we have proven this simple idea to "the masses", and the masses grasp it, we will "unleash the full potential of the anti-war movement, and all other progressive movements".
Now whilst agreeing with Ben that flawed theory certainly can, and does, have a debilitating effect on virtually all popular struggles, it needs to be said that theory is not the principle reason for the paralysis of the working class; such a thesis would be pure idealism. What holds back the political struggles of our day is not simply a theoretical void, but the atomisation of workers (which is to say, their non-existence as a class), and also the increased powers of physical and emotional coercion that are now possessed by the modern state. "It is not the subject who fools himself, but reality which fools the subject" says Marx somewhere in Capital vII; in other words, the working class is not in itself blind or 'averse' to theory, but has to be physically and emotionally disciplined by the state in order to be prevented from collectively grasping such ideas. Living revolutionary theory therefore only emerges in and through the class struggle itself: not outside or beyond it, in some theoretically transcendent realm where a tiny vanguard of self-proclaimed 'theorists' conjure it out of the occult. To "prove" socialism was precisely the project of the Saint-Simonians; and furthermore, it was for exactly this reason that Marx labelled them "utopian socialists". Marx's great insight was in recognising that socialism cannot be abstractly "proved", but that its potential realisation lies solely in the concrete conditions in which workers find themselves:
"Communism is not for us a state of affairs which is to be established, an ideal to which reality [will] have to adjust itself. We call communism the real movement which abolishes the present state of things."
• Karl Marx, The German Ideology
Now for the really 'shocking' bit. A communist society - i.e. a society in which the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all - is neither historically inevitable nor historically probable. Marx was not a fatalist, and nor was his doctrine of history; the "dialectic of history" was his way of explaining that history is not simply a random assemblage of events, but a class history with its own human, but non-deterministic, teleology. "Communism" is therefore not something that 'theory' can shed light upon, by (for example) prescribing a finite series of steps, or a scenario, for achieving it. In fact to speak of "communism" as anything other than the real movement which abolishes the present state of things, is as far as I can tell essentially messianic; and as far as I can tell, it was in this messianic sense that Marx spoke of 'communism' in his Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844. There is nothing wrong with having a vision of what future society might be like, and there is certainly nothing wrong with fighting for that vision. But we must see that there is no force of fate on our side that is going to get us there - there is no guaranteed "path". If anything, the history of revolutionary movements in the 20th Century shows us the ease with which popular movements can be recuperated into capitalist politics, even well after the "revolution". People launch their own autonomous projects toward socialism; such projects often accelerate into mass movements which affect real social change. But how easily such projects can be thrown off the rails, even when their goal is very much in sight.
How will we even know when we have ever reached this "goal"? The simple answer is, we won't. The "communism" described by Marx in his Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts was messianic precisely because it was not any objectively given state of affairs that they could describe. All we ourselves can know is when we are being exploited, and that we want to organise and continuously re-organise our lives so that we are no longer being exploited. That is all that I think we can say about "communism", and that is why it is so important not to delay in the slightest this real movement which abolishes the present state of things.
c.) Most importantly, in his second post Ben asks:
Why should it be true that the state must necessarily be the rule of the minority over the majority?
3. And now, its time for one of us to address the question
which was (to reiterate)...
In the period immediately following a successful mass uprising against the bourgeoisie, should the form (or forms) of organization adopted by the proletariat to secure its ultimate liberation be understood to be a state?
No doubt Ben finds my basic premise (that Leninism can be characterised as a fundamentally *unhappy* doctrine, being concerned as it is with suppression rather than liberation) esoteric, baseless, idealist, pedagogic, infantile, etc. He will point out (perhaps rightly - though it seems quite a powerful argument in itself to me) that if this were the only conclusion I'd arrived at through the arguments conducted on the Anarcho-Marxist list, I would have very thin grounds indeed for breaking with Leninism. For all my talk about happiness and liberation, I have said very little about what kinds of measures it will be necessary for the newly-autonomous working class to take in order to preserve and expand its class autonomy and class power in the period immediately following a successful mass uprising against the bourgeoisie. Ben might well say that liberation is all well and good, but when it comes to the crunch, 'someone' - a 'democratically accountable' someone (of course.) - has to make the 'hard decisions' that are 'necessary' to preserve what autonomy the class has 'concretely' achieved up until that point. The proletarian state, he will say, must be careful that these measures make as few inroads against the autonomy and sovereignty of the working class as is 'absolutely necessary'. He will really hammer home that 'absolutely necessary' part. In fact, he will probably argue - under the very important proviso of what he will call "ideal circumstances" or "Modern Conditions" - that it has "become" possible for a proletarian state to "suppress" the remnants of the bourgeoisie without suppressing the political life of the proletariat in the slightest. There will be a few minor 'bumps' at the beginning whereby the proletarian state is 'forced' to take certain more or less restrictive measures against autonomous proletarian organisations, in order to "suppress" the bulk of the remaining bourgeois forces - but once these bumps have been carefully smoothed over, using only those measures against proletarian autonomy that are 'absolutely necessary', it will be possible for this workers' state to carry out its economic experiments and gradually progress toward "communism". And only in this way, furthermore.
But this proviso of "ideal circumstances" is worth directing some attention to. For if it were true under all possible conditions that a "proletarian state" could 'suppress' the bourgeoisie without interfering at all with the political life of the proletarian class, then Ben would have to abandon all those cherished Leninist positions regarding the practical necessity of certain actions carried out by the Bolsheviks between 1917-21 - particularly in its response to the Kronstadt uprising. But Russia, Ben may well argue, was a 'worst case scenario' where economic and geopolitical conditions deteriorated to the point where the strictest and harshest measures 'had to be taken' in order to prevent what ended up happening anyway, as the direct consequence of these measures: the restoration of the bourgeoisie as an organised class. He will argue - just as the Bolshevik right wing did so very effectively in its day - that if these measures had not been carried out, the proletariat would have faced what it ended up facing anyway, as the direct consequence of these measures: mass executions, mass reprisals against the entire body of the working class for attempting to exercise the political autonomy it had fought so hard to gain. In the circumstances of a revolution in a developed capitalist state such as Australia or the USA, Ben will assert, such measures should not be necessary. But as I have said, this is assuming things go relatively smoothly. And assumption, as they say, is the mother of all fuck-ups. If things do not go as smoothly as Ben has planned, the Leninists will boldly claim that they are not prepared to cede "the revolution" to the bourgeoisie on a silver platter, when - at the cost of only a few "minor sacrifices" - it could be "successfully defended". This is in fact the most basic Leninist position on why anarchist organisation "can't win" - anarchists aren't prepared to make such sacrifices, such "tough decisions".
What we are talking about here then, is whether such measures can in fact "win"; or whether these measures themselves are the beginning of a restoration that is, before then, far from inevitable. Ben may say that a proletarian state could, under ideal circumstances, theoretically "suppress" the bourgeoisie without interfering with the independent political life of the proletariat. He may also say that, under modern conditions, the degree to which it will be necessary dent the autonomy of the working class will be negligible, if necessary at all. But nevertheless, if this state did not have either the institutional/organisational power, or the political/ideological will, to implement such "measures", this "state machine" would not actually be a state machine at all. Which is precisely why...
a.) The state cannot take "any form imaginable"
In early debates conducted on the Anarcho-Marxist list, Ben and myself argued that, since both Marx and Lenin defined the state as "a machine for the suppression of one class by another", this functionalist definition left the question of what forms states can take as an open question. We therefore concluded that a workers' state could take "any form imaginable", so long as it suppressed the remnants of the bourgeoisie and thereby served the class interests of the proletariat. Whether it was centralised or decentralised, or whether or not it involved the political activity of large numbers of working people, were questions we thought to be of no relevance to this definition of the state; we thought that the form taken by the state could totally be abstracted from the function it performed. One of my first steps away from Leninism was in recognising that one could not abstract function from form so easily as Marx's classical definition purported to do: the function a given entity performs is integrally related to the form it takes. It became apparent to me that this a priori functional definition was inherently loaded with a statist political agenda - since there are many good historical reasons to infer that the state is the means by which a small section of society maintains control over a larger section of society (as Lenin himself says in his lecture on The State, at Sverdlov University, 1919)
Now, it seems rather obvious to me that if the state could take any form imaginable, the debate we are having now - not too mention the arguments that took place between Marx and Bakunin - would be largely irrelevant, or semantic at best. But the debate between Marx and Bakunin was not just a question of semantics. If the state could take any form imaginable, then Bakunin could have just said to Marx (or vice versa) "lets just call my federation of communes a state, and be done with it". The fact is that Marx quarrelled with Bakunin because he believed that Bakunin's model could not secure the class rule of the proletariat because it was not a state - not the other way round.
b.) "Emergency Measures"
If Ben still wants to believe that the workers state can take any form imaginable so long as it defends the "interests of the working class", then this is for specifically political reasons. In particular, Ben may say that a communist society may resemble Bakunin's federation of communes; and that, if the 'trip' isn't too 'bumpy', then the proletarian state will resemble this federation virtually straight away (i.e. within, say, 10 years). Forgetting the fact that this purely functionalist approach leaves us no way of knowing when the state has, in fact, "withered away", it is specifically so that there exists a set of institutions which can take repressive measures against a whole population, that Ben will still want us to believe that the state can take any form imaginable. So that he can assert that the workers' state might need to take this repressive form temporarily; and then develop into more libertarian forms.
This goes back to the question of "pure democracy" vs. "pure repression" (which Ben discusses at http://leninism.org/pof/pof8.asp), where Ben follows Lenin in arguing that, immediately after a successful uprising against the bourgeoisie, it is "absurd" to propose that there will be no need for the class to employ repression in the months/years following the overthrow of the previous state. There is an inherent circularity here though - for on the one hand, the "workers' state" itself is taken as the only concrete proof that "workers' power" exists at all; but on the other hand, this state can take any series of 'absolutely necessary' emergency measures that it wishes in order to defend this power. It is simply taken as a given that since "political power is in the hands of the working class", everything will be ok.
But "political power" is only in the hands of the working class to the extent that it retains the class autonomy to express that power through whatever associations it has developed during the period of insurgency. Take away the autonomy of those associations for even a single instant and the class basis of that that state (i.e. what balance of class forces there was in favour of the working class) skews back in favour of the (re)developing bourgeoisie. Even the potential to implement such emergency measures is the potential to take away the autonomy of associations of working people. "Emergency measures", and the centralised infrastructure of repression that is required to implement them, are the counter-revolution. They suppress the struggle for liberation in the belief that they are consolidating that struggle, when the only thing they do consolidate is the renewed class rule of the bourgeoisie. In order to truly consolidate its class power, the proletariat must use the political space opened up by the overthrow of the state to expand its struggle into a direct refusal of all relations of boredom, exploitation, authority; in a word, against all property relations upheld by the state. The only thing that can get in the way of this struggle is the will to submit that is inculcated by the proponents of states.
4. My Question for Ben:
To conclude, this whole reply is a question to Ben - make of it what you will. I have not had as much time to go into detail in these latter sections as I would like, since my "deadline" has arrived. I intend to develop these arguments in more detail in following "rounds".