Saturday, April 23, 2016

Aspects of State Power (1966)

Editorial from the February 1966 issue of the Socialist Standard

“The State is the people" is a popular misconception that lives on. It is still widely held that the State embodies the whole community. The illusion is fostered that it is “our” country, “our” government, “our” balance of payment crisis.

In fact the country is owned by a privileged minority. Exports are their problem. Inevitably the government administers their interests through control of the state machine.

The State is the armed forces, the police, the judiciary, the prisons. These exist to defend and maintain private property. The State also administers the Post Office, schools, hospitals, railways, etc.

Over the past hundred years government has grown enormously. Today it is accepted that the government will be directly concerned in every aspect of social and economic life. At the same time its power is more centralised.

This is not to say that the government can exercise its power in an arbitrary way. On the contrary government today must he tuned in with public opinion. Never before has the success of a politician been so dependent on his saying the right thing at the right time. Election programmes are largely the product of advertising men. This is partly why the manifestos of Labour and Tory parties hardly differ. In practice government policies bear little relation to electoral promises.

The Labour Party sees the state machine as an instrument of social progress provided they control it. The illusion of nationalisation as an egalitarian system of ownership and distribution is now obvious by bitter experience. Under Labour as well as Tory governments state controlled industry is run in the interests of the capitalist class.

Nationally the State protects the interests of capitalism, and in doing so frequently has to over-ride sectional capitalist interests.

Two aspects of state administration which concern most people are education and health. The State cannot provide a proper education system because it is primarily concerned to train workers. Capitalist society creates more ill health than doctors and nurses can cope with. What the State provides is limited by the economics of a society that is concerned more for profits than for people.

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