Provided below some essential links on the nature of the state and its role in society. The state is the expression of the rule of one class over another. Under capitalism, the state is the instrument of the rule of big business over the working class and oppressed.
The Civil War in France by Karl Marx
The State by Lenin
The Dictatorship of the proletariat and socialist democracy Fourth International, 1985
supplement: Study Guide published by Freedom Socialist Party
Adaptation of US Socialist Workers Party study guide from 1966
Questions for Chapter 1
1. According to Engels, the State arises because of “irreconcilable class antagonisms.” The function of the State is to “moderate” these antagonisms. Lenin then adds that conflicts are moderated by enforcing the rule of the oppressor, not by reconciling class interests.
If moderation simply amounts to enforcing class rule, why is it necessary to have an intermediary like the state? Why can’t the ruling class enforce its rule directly? What is the meaning of “moderation” in this context?
2. Are the only “irreconcilable class antagonisms” in society those between the oppressing class and the oppressed class?
3. Give examples of state “moderation” in American history.
4. How does it follow that because the state arises out of class society, places itself above it, increasingly alienating itself from it (Engels), a violent revolution is necessary and also the destruction of the state apparatus (Lenin)?
5. Why does Lenin make “special bodies of armed men, prisons,” etc. distinguishing characteristics of the state? Isn’t it true that in modern society there is an increasing “complexity of social life” and “differentiation of functions” ? Wouldn’t this imply modifications of a “self acting armed population” under socialism? Wouldn’t there be a need for prisons under socialism?
6. What does Engels mean when he says that under conditions of modern capitalism the public power “threatens to devour the whole of society and even the state”?
7. If the state generally represents the rule of the “economically dominant class,” then in what sense does it place itself “above society”?
8. If Bonapartism represents two contending classes balancing each other, does this mean that a Bonapartist state has no class character? If not, how can the class character be determined?
9. Why is a democratic republic with universal suffrage the best method of bourgeois rule? Best from whose point of view?
10. What is wrong with the conception of a “free people’s state”? Under what circumstances would its use be permissible? How about the conception of a socialist state?
11. Define: State, Society, Government, Regime.
12. Contrast the opportunist, anarchist, and revolutionary attitudes to the state.
Questions for Chapter 2
1. What are the general tasks of the bourgeois revolution? Were these tasks completed by the French Revolution of 1789? By the American Revolution of 1776? Why or why not?
2. What was the class character of the French state before the 1848 revolution? How aboutGermany? The United States?
3. What was the class character of France and Germany after 1848?
4. Which classes were contending for power in 1848? What was the nature of the revolution? Was it a social or political revolution?
5. Compare conditions in 1848 and 1789. What are the differences?
6. What were the tactics of Marx and Engels in 1848? After 1848? (in Europe)
7. Would it be accurate to describe Marx’s policy in 1848 as a Popular Front policy? How about his policy during the American Civil War?
8. In retrospect, would you say it was an incorrect or a correct policy? Explain.
9. Was a proletarian revolution possible in 1848? Was the bourgeoisie a progressive class? Was capitalism a progressive system?
10. What conclusions did Marx draw from the 1848 experience about the role of the working class in any future revolutions? The role of the petty bourgeois democrats? The tasks of revolution in regard to the state apparatus? Why?
Questions for Chapter 3
1. In what sense was the Paris Commune “forced upon the workers?”
2. Lenin calls attention to Marx’s addition to the Communist Manifesto after the Paris Commune. Did his discovery that “the working class cannot simply lay hold of the ready made state machinery and wield it for its own purposes” come from the Commune?
3. Marx excepted England and America from those nations whose state machinery would have to be smashed. Lenin seems to agree, given the conditions in 1871. Could British and American workers have used existing state machinery in 1871?
4. How does the “peoples’ revolution” discussed by Lenin relate to the “proletarian revolution?” Will there be a “peoples revolution” in the United States?
5. What “positive steps” did the Commune take in regard to: The standing army? Representative government? Wages of government officials?
6. Lenin describes the Commune as the form of proletarian state. How did this form apply to Russia and Cuba? What has been done about the points in Question # 5?
7. What is the difference between a “working” and a “Parliamentary” body?
8. Does the discussion of “federalism” versus “centralism” have any relevance today?
Questions for Chapter 4
1. Lenin seems to rule out private ownership of homes in a workers’ state. Has such ownership been eliminated in present workers’ states, such as Russia and Cuba?
2. Do Marxists favor the “abolition of the state?” How does the Marxist attitude differ from that of anarchists?
3. What is the Marxist attitude toward religion? In a workers’ state? Within the party? Under communism?
4. Explain what Lenin means when he declares that communism will “abolish democracy?”
Questions for Chapter 5
1. What will the relation between “democracy” and “dictatorship” be in a workers’ state? What will be done about freedom of speech, the press, etc.?
2. Explain “equal rights are unjust.”
3. What will the American workers’ state do with the petty bourgeoisie? What will be done about wages? Does the labor law of value still apply in a workers’ state? Will there be surplus value?
4. Explain: “It follows that under communism there remains for a time not only bourgeois right, but even the bourgeois state – without the bourgeoisie.”
5. Will the division of labor between mental and physical labor be broken under communism? What is the difference between socialism and communism? Is there a difference between socialism, workers’ state, dictatorship of the proletariat? How about a “workers’ and farmers’ government?”
6. Lenin says that ordinary workers can administer a workers’ state. Will there no longer be a need for technically trained people? What will be done with the former capitalists?
Questions for Chapter 6
1. Identify: Plekhanov, Bakunin, Kautsky, Bernstein, Blanqui, Pannekoek, Luxemburg, Radek