Sunday, March 8, 2015

The capitalist state (1999)

From the June 1999 issue of the Socialist Standard
The state is based on minority rule. It was set up and exists in opposition to the majority and so can never be truly democratic.
The current state is owned and run by the kleptocratic class of capitalists, a tiny proportion of the population. Thus their state is predicated upon an opposition between the desire of the masses and the will of their clique. Their state is set up against the majority, because they can never be a majority. Their ideas, thinking, and tactics, are all those of a tiny minority. Could you ever imagine a counter-demonstration by capitalists: men in sharp pin-stripe suits converging on Trafalgar Square, chanting through loud-hailers "They say fight back, we say cut back! Tax the poor and make them pay!" It would never happen. It is not, and cannot ever be their way of making politics.
One of the ways in which the capitalists have managed to control the vast network of offices and bureaucracies that is the modern state has been through ensuring that most of the jobs are not up for democratic election. This has been managed through the power of appointment, and through the Public Appointments Unit (formerly Bureau), which was in fact secret until 1975. Before then, it had vetted and selected those "eligible" to serve as appointees of the state. This effectively meant that office-holders could be moulded to suit the requirements of the state and its masters. Cold War ideology strengthened this selection process, through using the threat of enemy "agents" as an internal control device (just as, on the other side, Stalin used "petit-bourgeois" and "Trotskyite" "traitors".) 
Unelected appointees
Nowadays, as a result of the Nolan Committee, the Public Appointments Unit publishes lists of appointees and selected details about them. A quick glance at the statistics suffices to show the scale of the operation. The Department of Social Security has 3,689 appointees listed by the PAU, the Department of Trade and Industry has 632, all of them placed upon committees or planning groups with significant powers over many people. Whether the appointments are paid or unpaid, they still carry a deal of responsibility, power and status with them, such that many wish to find themselves in such positions; thus not only can a government select the people that run the country. They can use this capacity to buy servility and toadying from such as want those posts.

The ultimate expression of this power of patronage and status, is the entire honours system, with the House of Lords at its apex, as was recently pointed out by those few MPs in parliament with a genuine commitment to democracy, when they proposed an Amendment to the Lord's Bill to have an elected second chamber. This debate is sure to show the real intents of the vast majority of power-seekers, when they vote to allow the government to retain the power of patronage to appoint people to the Lords. Tony Blair has already shown his zeal in using such powers of patronage, elevating Simon and Sainsbury so that he could have them in his government, and employing Lord Jenkins to conduct the commission into Proportional Representation. The existence of a non-elected second chamber means that only a minority of Parliament are elected; the ending of hereditary peerage appears to be more about ensuring that future governments can exercise power and patronage over the second chamber, rather than any genuine concern for democracy.
The way in which power is exercised through the executive's patronage, rather than through the democratic control of either parliament or the electorate, was brought out in an article in a recent issue of Private Eye (22 January), entitled "Return of the Whigs—or How the SDP (defunct) and Lib Dems (17 percent of the vote) got into Government". It featured a diagram, showing the relationships between several past and present members of the Lib Dems/SDP, (including Lord Jenkins) and how they all had privileged access to Whitehall, via Peter Mandelson, and a particularly powerful lobbying firm. This illustrates the direction of "the Blair Project", of using his Prime Minister's power of patronage to elevate people of like political opinions into positions of power, and side-line his reliance upon the elected party in Parliament. This tendency alone keeps power concentrated into the hands of a tiny few.
Elite selection
The campaigning leftwing journalist John Pilger has written about another feature of undemocratic practice in the existing state in his New Statesman column (16 October, 13 November, 27 November, 8 January). He discussed "The Successor Generation", a social networking group established by (among others) Rupert Murdoch, Sir James Goldsmith, Howard J. Pew (a right wing oil millionaire) and the Institute for Policy Research (founded by William Casey, a former head of the CIA). The aim of the group being (according to Ronald Reagan who presided over the 1983 launch at the Oval Office) "to have [Britain and America] work together on defence and security issues". Its foundation was due to the rising distrust of NATO in Britain among Labourite members, and its aim was to include the up and coming stars, the leaders of the future, among its "alumni".

Five members of Blair's original cabinet were alumni of the Successor Generation: George Robertson (now Defence Secretary, toadyingly supporting the Atlanticist line on attacks in Iraq and anywhere else that displeases America); Mo Mowlam (Northern Ireland Secretary, and Blair's Campaign manager for the Labour leadership contest); Peter Mandelson (formerly Blair's right hand man, and Minister for everything); Baroness Symons (Foreign Office Minister, up to her neck in the Sandline affair); Chris Smith (Culture Secretary) together with Jonathon Powell (Blair's Chief of Staff). All of these now powerful people were wined and dined by the Successor Generation, and made contacts there. It is not just politicians that are alumni, a number of BBC journalists, including Newsnight's Evan Davis, attend Successor Generation functions.
To highlight the Successor Generation is not to cry conspiracy theory, or allege corruption. Indeed, those that attend scoff at any idea that they may be being influenced by these little soirĂ©es. The point is, however, that it provides a framework, deliberately constructed, so that people who are going to be "the leaders of the future" (a highly undemocratic concept from the start) can network, form bonds and an identity, and get to know each other on a personal level, be friends. Evan Davies, to reject that any notion it is a sinister organisation, pointed out that British Airways back it and that this was a "respectable company". This is precisely the mind-set the organisation wishes to promote: that this is all just the harmless socialising provided by the rich and powerful, whose intent is benign. What once was accomplished solely through Eton and Oxbridge and other institutions of class privilege now has to be remade through private funding of millionaires—elite creation.
The involvement of William Casey with the Successor Generation hints at another form of elite control in the capitalist state, the secret agencies. The CIA currently has a budget of some $28 billion, a small fraction of which was able to be diverted to help the Successor Generation and like organisations in US client states. Likewise, the British secret services have long been a means of watching and controlling the political scene. MI5 agents have been implicated in the funding of fascist groups and Loyalist terrorists. Being secret, beyond accountability, and being powerful, they can form a state within a state, to unsubtly correct things when the usual systems of power run out of the elite's control.
Will of the majority
All of this goes to show how desperately the kleptocratic masters in this country try to keep mass involvement and democracy out, so that only the fig-leaf of parliamentary democracy exists to cover it over and give the state a semblance of democracy. It has been thus ever since the "Glorious Revolution" of 1688, and the institution of the Bank of England and the National Debt, which combined to exercise control over the state (a role now performed by the IMF). Where once in a feudal state the warrior class kept power through warlike duties, the capitalist class exercises power in their state through ownership of money. The working class, likewise, must exercise its power through its sole asset—its work, and its collectivity. The tiny elite collectively own the state through money, the working class must take control of the state through democracy.

The form of the capitalist state is inherently predicated upon minority rule, and to re-create such a state as part of the workers' revolution would be to re-create minority rule. The one-man rule and dictatorship of the Soviet Union was not what Marx understood by the phrase "dictatorship of the proletariat". For him this simply meant the dominance of the working class, the unequivocal, absoluteness of telling the capitalists "NO! that is no longer your factory!", "NO! Your money is now worthless!", an action that must be carried out by the will of the vast majority.
Since workers are only workers by dint of their positioned opposition to capital, and the masses only masses by dint of their opposition to an elite, the instant the working class performs that revolution, abolishes the minority state, abolishes capital, it abolishes itself as a class, and all classes along with it. Creating a new state upon the same lines as the capitalist state would only result in re-creating a ruling elite; which is precisely what happened in Russia. The working class is the agent of socialism not because of some objective superiority, or because of economic power, but because it is the class that undoes class—the negation of class and so of the state.
In a socialist world the whole population would be the state—so the state as such would cease to exist, replaced with the free, co-operative, democratic association of human beings. Hence the battle cry of socialists is "to convert the ballot box from a means of fraud into a means of liberation", and not to perpetuate the fraud of the democratic state in the name of a so-called "workers' state" ruling over the real individual lives of real members of the working class.
Pik Smeet