Lenin cites this concept from Marx early in “State and Revolution.” To me, it implies that socialist states can be reformed from within to achieve communism, whereas under capitalism revolution is necessary to build socialism. I do not understand this at all. What makes post-capitalist society special in this respect? Am I misinterpreting something?
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A state is a tool for class oppression.
In a bourgeois society, it is used by the bourgeoisie to oppress all other classes.
In a socialist society, it is used by the proletariat to oppress the bourgeoisie.
In a communist society, all classes other than the proletariat will be gone (only one class is equivalent to no classes), so a state cannot exist unless new classes emerge.
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excellent description, I applaud it
The sublation of the contradiction brings about the withering of the state, which loses its reason for existence.
As Lenin states in the first chapter of State and Revolution, the state exists to mediate the class antagonisms of society, in the interests of the ruling class of society. In a state where the dominant class is the proletariat, the state imposes itself in order to eliminate class antagonisms altogether, as this is the only way it can realise the interests of the class as a whole. Once class antagonisms are effectively abolished, there is no longer a need for a massive organisation whose role is to manage said antagonisms; when there are no outside enemies seeking to destroy you, there is no need for an enormously expensive standing army, for example.
We need first to understand that socialism is equal to the dictatorship of the proletariat, and that communism is equal to a classless society.
I think your question is why can communism can be achieved through “reformism” whereas socialism can’t. This has to do with dialectics and the qualitative change. It is also important to keep in mind that communism can’t be achieved only in one country, but it needs at the very least (from my point of view) to dominate most of the world in order to be achieved.
We’d need to understand that the thesis would be a quantity in motion, upon it acts a force which is also another quantity which produces a change in the previous quantity, this results in a new quantity, which also posses a new quality. The qualitative change is the synthesis of first quantity (thesis) over which a new quantity acts upon (antithesis). A sheet of paper minus a part is still a sheet of paper, but shred it to pieces and it stops being a sheet of paper, it becomes something else. In the case of class struggle this qualitative change can be understood as capitalism (thesis), which is the first form of a quantity in motion, revolution (antithesis), which is another quantity that applies a force that can produce a change, and dictatorship of the proletariat (synthesis), which is a new quantity with a new quality.
Reformism deals with the conditions of the current society and does not deal with the conditions that are to come. It deals with what is possible within the current society. It does not look at society from the perspective of what needs to change, it looks at society from the perspective of not changing anything and finding compromises.
Moreover, the same dialectical process occurs in order to achieve a classless society, the only difference is you are now keeping in mind the international proletariat instead of the proletariat of one country. One country with a dictatorship of the proletariat can’t produce a change on its own in the grand scheme of things, but multiple changes produce a new quantity which also contains in itself a new quantity, the abolition of class in general.
Note that thesis, antithesis and synthesis were never developed nor theorised by Hegel or Marx. Not only that, it oversimplifies dialectics into rigid structures.
AFAIK Hegel used other terms:
And while I generally agree with your take on rigid structures, I think it works better for a basic understanding of dialectics, it is worth noting also that for example the last step in a dialectical process can be the first step in another dialectical process.
Important to not mistake “state” for “institutions” apart from what other people have said.
When Lenin talks about the state, he is talking about the state as a tool for imposing class domination. For example, using the police to quell protests and so on. He does not mean things like social safety nets will be done away with and we will live in a libertarian dystopia after the withering away of the state. There will still be institutions that for example ensure that everyone has adequate access to hospitals, clinics, etc. to ensure that healthcare is provided.
Lenin also cites Engels in saying that production will still be organized:
In short, only the violent / repressive elements of the state wither away, because their root cause, economic classes, wither away. IE, there’s no point in having proletarian armies and proletarian police, when the capitalist class they’re made to repress doesn’t exist anymore.
Here’s a good summary for the OP.
Imo this is the best explanation I’ve seen
Capitalist state has to be dismantled because it’s the tool of oppression. Why would the ruling class relinquish it? Socialist state is supposed to be a transitory step on the way to communism where functions of the state apparatus are made more and more simplified through automation, everyone participates in it’s work at some point and it becomes habit. Something like that is in chapter 3.
Ultimately, I wouldn’t think too much about it. Lenin points out himself that Marx expected experience of revolutionaries to provide a clue as to what exactly will have to replace the dismantled capitalist state, let alone what the world revolution will look like. In fact, forget the “Marx expected” part. We have a method - diamat - and it postulates unity of cognition and practice.
Examples of early socialist experiments prove that:
a) local specifics are to be considered. There is a reason it’s called internationalism and not cosmopolitanism. You can’t come and tell muslims that they’re to forget all that hooplah and get in line, for example. Muhammad had a thing or two to say about running a state too and comrades in Islamic countries will have to work with that.
b) socialist sates will have to stick around for a while, because communism is planetary and imperialists won’t let those trying to build it be.
Then, I’d wager, a whole world of socialist states would have to keep up some of the state’s functions for a few generations to make sure no counter-revolutionary dickweed is going to fuck it all up.
Marxists view the state, as it exists now, primarily as a tool of class warfare. In feudalism, the monarchy used the state to oppress those below. In capitalism, capitalists use the state to oppress the working class. In socialism, the working class and capitalists do a switcheroo. The working class then oppresses the capitalist class.
At this moment, we cannot 100% perfectly envision communism and what it will entail; we can only give vague ideas and descriptions because we don’t have the material conditions necessary to properly envision a Communist world.
One of the few descriptions we have for communism is a classless society. This means that there won’t be a thing such as the working class of today, nor the capitalist class. Through the socialist era, the capitalist class will slowly diminish and become part of the working class. For there to be a concept of a working class, we need an exploiter, a capitalist. But in communism, there is no capitalist, so there can be no working class, because there’s no one to exploit him for his labour. Think of it like night and day, heat and cold, sadness and joy, victory and defeat; they all need their opposite in order to exist. Once their opposite is gone, they are too. In communism, there can be no working class, because there will be no capitalist class.
So then, if there’s no classes left, what is the use of the state? There’s no more need for a class war. The state, as we know it today, will wither away, and maybe become something else.
History is driven by class struggle, so I’m sure that someday there will be new classes, which will then seek to move on to a better system after communism, a system we cannot yet fathom. For now, we have to focus on getting to socialism and advancing to communism.