Baburam Bhatarrai: New Revolutionary State (Part 1)

Recently in my work I have been encountering a lot of misunderstanding of the Nepal Maoist strategy.  Several posts have discussed this, but I thought I should post the entirity of this semenal document by Baburam Bhatarrai, current Finance Minister and co-leader of the revolution.

This article appeared in the issue 9 of "The Worker" (February 2004), the CPN’s (Maoist) theoretical journal. It outlines the their basic stances on theoretical issues involving the creation of a new Socialist state in Nepal.

The Question of Building a New Type of State
by Baburam Bhattarai

"The basic question of every revolution is that of state power. Unless this question is understood there can be no intelligent participation in the revolution, not to speak of guidance of the revolution."

- V.I. Lenin, (1917b: 34)

The question of state power has now become the central question for the New Democratic revolution in Nepal, which is marching forward to capturing central state power after building revolutionary base areas and local power in the vast rural areas. The question has assumed significance and may be discussed primarily from two angles. Firstly, in the universal context; and secondly, in the concrete national context. Firstly in the universal or general sense, the proletarian (i.e. New Democratic or Socialist) state power is of a ‘new type’ as compared to all the state powers of minority exploiter classes in history. Further-more, after the downfall of all People’s Democratic or Socialist state powers including those in Russia, China and others in the past, the proletarian state powers arising in a new setting in the 21st century have to be of a further newer type. Secondly, in the concrete semi-feudal and semi-colonial national context of Nepal, where even the old bourgeois revolution and state has not been accomplished, the prospective proletarian state would naturally be, and have to be, of a ‘new’ type. Hence, we would first make a general review of the historical experiences on the question of state and strive to analyse the fundamental characteristics of a new type of state.

1. Historical Background

A. International Context

The question of state power has been the central question in every major ideological political struggle in the international communist movement. Struggles against the anarchists during Marx-Engel’s time, struggles against the revisionists during Lenin’s time and struggles against the revisionists and dogmato-revisionists during Mao’s and our own time are principally centred on the question of state power. It would thus be useful to make a brief historical review of the Marxist-Leninist-Maoist or proletarian view against the anarchist, revisionist and dogmato-revisionist views, which may also be called petty-bourgeois, bourgeois and bureaucratic bourgeois views on the state and lay the foundation for a new type of state.

As per the historical facts available so far and their historic-materialist interpretations, origin of the state followed the division of classes in society as a means of dictatorship of one class over the others. Hence the state has been the centre of class struggle in every historical stage starting with the primitive state-communal formation through the slave and feudal societies to the modern capitalist society, and every victorious class has further sharpened and strengthened this weapon of the state according to its class interest. The state, which was initially born as ‘servant’ of the society, gradually separated itself from the society and took the form of ‘master’ of the society. By the time the state reached the ‘highest’ and ‘ultimate’ stage of the bourgeois republic it became terrible parasitic machinery over the society armed with a huge bureaucracy and standing army. However, according to the law of dialectics that requires everything that is born to meet with its death, the state is also inevitably destined to die someday.

The latest development of the social productive forces to a very high level has made this both possible and essential. This is the fundamental principal of Marxism on the origin, development and end of the state.

Among the founders of Marxism, Marx through his works, principally, "Class Struggle in France" (1850), "Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaprte" (1852), "Civil War in France" (1871), "Critique of the Gotha programme" (1875), etc, and Engels through his works, particularly. "Anti-Duhring" (1878), "The Origin of Family, Private Property and State" (1884), etc. laid the foundation of the scientific conception of the state.

However, the issue of utmost dispute and debate in the international communist movement and the one deserving maximum attention while building a new type of state, is the question of elimination of the old type of state in its highest and ultimate stage in the form of a bourgeois republic and construction of new type of transitional state in its place. Marx and Engels had to wage the main ideological struggle on this question while fighting against the anarchist trend particularly led by Sterner, Prudhon, and Bakunin. While the anarchists idealistically talked of immediate destruction of all types of state and opposed building an alternate state of any kind, Marx and Engels viewed the state objectively and put forward the concept of building a new type of transitional state in lieu of the bourgeois state, whose essence would be the dictatorship of the proletariat.

Elucidating the fundamental difference between the Marxist and the anarchist views on the state, Engels has said:

"While the great mass of the Social-Democratic workers hold our view that state power is nothing more than the organisation which the ruling classes-landowners and capitalists-have provided for themselves in order to protect their social privileges, Bakunin maintains that it is the state which has created capital, that the capitalist has his capital only by the grace of the state. As, therefore, the state is the chief evil, it is above all the state, which must be done away with and then capitalism will go to blazes of itself. We, on the contrary, say: Do away with capital, the concentration of all means of production in the hands of the few, and the state will fall of itself. The difference is an essential one: Without a previous social revolution the abolition of the state is nonsense; the abolition of the capital is precisely the social revolution and involves a change in the whole mode of production." (Marx and Engels 1985:425)

Thus it was well established that the state is not an abstract concept created by somebody’s subjective wishes but a concrete object developed and demolished by the objective necessity of society.

Engels had further expounded that after the displacement of the state of the minority exploiter classes by the social revolution of the conscious masses the majority exploited classes should establish a ‘transitional’ state to apply dictatorship over the defeated exploiter classes and to move towards a classless society, and such a state would be "no longer a state in the proper sense of the word". (Marx-Engels-Lenin 1984:120) Marx and Engels had time and again highlighted the Paris Commune of 1871 as the best example of such a transitional proletarian state.

After the experience of the Paris Commune Marx had all the more emphatically proclaimed that the form of the state needed for a long transitional period from capitalism to communism would be nothing but the dictatorship of the proletariat, which is expressed thus:

"Between capitalist and communist society lies the period of the revolutionary transformation of the one into the other. Corresponding to this is also a political transition period in which the state can nothing but the revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat." (Marx1975: 26)

The Paris Commune which was created through direct election and participation by the workers of Paris, which was directly defended by the armed masses after dissolution of the standing army and which was equipped with all the executive and legislature powers was upheld as the most shining example of the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ by Engels till the end of his life. This is amply reflected in the following assertion of Engels on the twentieth anniversary of the Paris Commune on March 18, 1891:

"Of late, the Social-Democratic philistine has once more been filled with wholesome terror at the words: Dictatorship of the Proletariat. Well and good, gentleman, do you want to know what this dictatorship looks like? Look at the Paris Commune. That was the dictatorship of the Proletariat." (Marx and Engels 1985:189)

The founders of Marxism had visualized the dictatorship of the proletariat in the form of a new type of state ending all states in history, not as a permanent object separated from and lording over the society but as a temporary product that would wither away by itself in course of time. This is well articulated in this initial formulation by Marx himself:

"And now as to myself, no credit is due to me for discovering the existence of classes in modern society or the struggle between them. Long before me bourgeois historians had described the historical development of this class struggle and bourgeois economist the economic anatomy of the classes. What I did that was new was to prove: 1) that the existence of classes is only bound up with particular historical phases in the development of production, 2) that the class struggle necessarily leads to the dictatorship of the proletariat, 3) that this dictatorship itself only constitutes the transition to the abolition of all classes and to a classless society." (Marx and Engels 1977:528)

The expression "this dictatorship itself only constitutes the transition to… a classless society" clearly asserts that the new type of state in the form of dictatorship of the proletariat is not a state ‘in the proper sense of the word’ and is a means to do away with all the classes and state.

How the new type of proletarian state (or the dictatorship of the proletariat) gradually withers away and ultimately dies out as a state is further expressed by Engels as follows:

"When at last it becomes the real representative of the whole of society, it renders itself unnecessary. As soon as there is no longer any social class to be held in subjection; as soon as class rule, and the individual struggle for existence based upon our present anarchy in production, with the collision and excesses arising from these, are removed, nothing more remains to be repressed and a special repressive force, a state, is no longer necessary. The first act by virtue of which the state really constitutes itself the representative of the whole of society- the taking possession of the means of production in the name of society- this is, at the same time, its last independent act as a state. State interference in social relations becomes, in one domain after another, superfluous, and then dies out of itself: the government of persons is replaced by the administration of things, and by the conduct of processes of production. The state is not "abolished". It dies out." (Engels 1880:147)

This long quotation is by itself so crystal clear and sharp that it needs no additional explanation. However, as the great Paris Commune in existence only for seventy-two days was the only example of a new type of proletarian state in the form of dictatorship of the proletariat during the life time of Marx and Engels, there was no possibility of any practicing of withering away of the state as visualized by the founders of Marxism.

After the death of Marx and Engels, their worthy successor Lenin made additional contributions to the question of state power, both theoretically and practically. Theoretically, his "State and Revolution" (1917) laid a new foundation for the Marxist knowledge and science on the question of state power, and his other works including "Can the Bolsheviks Retain State Power?" (1917), "The Immediate Tasks of the Soviet Government" (1918), "Economics and Politics in the Era of the Dictatorship of the Proletariat" (1919), etc. elucidated the Soviet system as a new type of state. Lenin practically played a pioneering role in building a new type of socialist state by accomplishing the historic October Socialist Revolution and by defending and developing the dictatorship of the proletariat in the form of Soviet system against internal and external attacks for seven years.

The concept of a new type of proletarian state put forward by Lenin on the eve of the October Revolution was like this:

"The proletariat… if it wants to uphold the gains of present revolution and proceed further, to win peace, bread and freedom, must "smash", to use Marx’s expression, this "ready-made" state machine and substitute a new one for it by merging the police force, the army and the bureaucracy with the entire armed people. Following the path indicated by the experience of the Paris Commune of 1871 and the Russian Revolution of 1905, the proletariat must organize and arm all the poor, exploited sections of the population in order that they themselves should take the organs of state power directly into their own hands, in order that they themselves should constitute these organs of state power". (Lenin 1917a: 326)

The question of ‘smashing’ the old state and merging of the army and bureaucracy with ‘the entire armed people’, and that of ‘organizing and arming’ the masses and taking the organs of new state power ‘directly’ into their own hands by the masses, is definitely the most significant aspect of the concept of new type of state advanced by Lenin. This was sought to be implemented in the new state built in the form of ‘Soviets of workers, soldiers and peasants’ after the October Revolution.

Similarly, Lenin had envisaged to build a new type of state devoid of a ‘standing army’ and an ‘officialdom placed above the people’, and vowed thus:

"…I advocate not the usual parliamentary bourgeois state, but a state without a standing army, without a police opposed to the people, without an officialdom placed above the people." (Lenin 1917c: 49)

However, Kautsky and other Right revisionists of the Second International had sought to discard the very class concept of the state and the dictatorship of the proletariat and to spread the illusion of bourgeois parliamentarism in the form of so-called "pure democracy" within the proletarian movement, against which Lenin had launched a severe polemics. In his famous work "The Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky" (1918), Lenin had amply clarified that in a class divided society ‘democracy’, too, would have a class character and bourgeois democracy and constituent assembly were mere concrete forms of bourgeois state.

While replying to the critics of the Soviet system, Lenin had enumerated the specificities of the Soviet democracy thus:

"In Russia … the bureaucratic machine has been completely smashed, razed to the ground; the old judges have all been sent packing, the bourgeois parliament has been dispersed-and far more accessible representation has been given to the workers and peasants; their Soviets have replaced the bureaucrats, and their Soviets have been authorized to elect the judges. This fact alone is enough for all the oppressed classes to recognize that Soviet power, i.e., the present form of the dictatorship of the proletariat, is a million times more democratic than the most democratic bourgeois republic." (Lenin 1918:33-34)

Thus, an extensive network of local to central Soviets of workers, peasants, soldiers and other revolutionary classes developed in the model of the Paris Commune was the practical expression of the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ and a new type of socialist state after the October revolution. When there arose a contradiction between the bourgeois representative organ, the constituent assembly, and the socialist representative organ, the Soviet, immediately after the revolution, the constituent assembly was dissolved as a historically retrograde organ, and the forward-looking Soviet democracy was institutionalized. Even when a vicious imperialist aggression and internal civic war ensued in the immediate aftermath of the revolution, the congress and meetings of the elected Soviets were held in short and regular intervals and all-important decisions of the state were taken through the Soviets. However, when the civil war got stretched and a ‘New Economic Policy’ (NEP) with features of state-capitalism was introduce to tide over the problems of the economic construction after the end of the civil war, there was gradual erosion in the dynamism and liveliness of the initial Soviet system. The higher-level executive committees started getting more active and powerful at the cost of the Soviet Congress and local organs. The organs of the state, Party and army (which was getting transformed into a standing army from the initial ‘Red Guards’) were getting intertwined inseparably. A bureaucratic apparatus in the old Czarist mould, cut-off from and placed over the people, started rising up gradually. Similar other bureaucratic deviations were cropping up menacingly in the new Soviet state system. As Lenin was a rare genius of revolutionary firmness and dynamism and a past master in applying revolutionary science in the concrete time and place, he made concerted efforts till the end to curb the rising bureaucratic tendencies in the Soviet state system and to ensure the initiative, supervision and participation of the revolutionary masses in the new state power through ‘Worker’s and Peasants Inspection’, ‘non-Party Worker’s and Peasant’s Conferences’, etc.

A glimpse of the problem of bureaucracy in the Soviet state and the Party can be had from the following comment by Lenin towards the end of his life in 1923:

"Let us hope that our new Worker’s and Peasants’ Inspection will abandon what the French call pruderies, which we may call ridiculous primness, or ridiculous swank, and which plays entirely into the hands of our Soviet and Party bureaucracy. Let it be said in parentheses that we have bureaucrats in our Party offices as well as in Soviet offices." (Lenin 1923:419)

(to be continued)


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