The colonial State and revolution

Mural depicting indigenous women pushing soldiers away to keep them out of Xoyep after the Acteal Massacre.

By: Raúl Zibechi

A century has passed since Lenin would write one of the most important pieces of critical thought: The State and Revolution. The work was written in between the two revolutions of 1917, the one in February that ended czarism, and the one in October that brought the Soviets to power. It deals with the reconstruction of the thinking of Marx and Engels about the State, which was being diminished due to the hegemonic tendencies in the lefts of that time.

The principal ideas that emerge from the text are basically two. The State is “an organ of domination of one class,” and therefore it’s not appropriate to speak of a free or popular State. The revolution must destroy the bourgeois State and replace it with a proletarian State that, strictly speaking, is no longer a true State, since it has “demolished” the bureaucratic-military apparatus (bureaucracy and the regular army) and substituted elected and revocable public officials and the armament of the people, respectively.

This not-a-true-State begins a slow process of “extinction,” a question that Lenin picks up from Marx and updates. In a polemic with the anarchists, the Marxists maintained that the State such as we know it cannot be disappeared or extinguished; it can only be destroyed. But the non-State that substitutes for it, which no longer even has a permanent army or bureaucracy, can certainly start to disappear as an organ of power-over, in the measure that classes also tend to disappear.

The Paris Commune was in those years the favorite example. According to Lenin, in the commune “the organ of repression is the majority of the population and not a minority, as was always the case under slavery, servitude and salaried slavery.”

See the emphasis of those revolutionaries on destroying the heart of the state apparatus. We remember that Marx, in his account about the commune, maintained that: “the working class cannot simply take possession of the existing state apparatus and put it in motion for its own purposes.”

So far, this has been a very brief reconstruction of critical thought about the State. Going forward, we must consider that we’re talking about reflections on the European states, in the world’s most developed countries that were, at the same time, imperial nations.

In Latin America the construction of the nation-states was very different. We are faced with states that were created against and above the Indian, Black and Mestizo majorities, as organs of class repression (just like in Europe), but also and overlapping, as organs of the domination of one race over others. In sum, they were not only created to ensure the exploitation and extraction of surplus value, but also to consolidate race as the crux of domination.

In the better part of Latin American countries, the administrators of the nation-State (the civilian bureaucracies as well as the military) are white people that violently dispossess and oppress the Indian, Black and Mestizo majorities. This double axis, both classist and racist, of the states born with independence not only modify the analysis of Marx and Lenin, but rather puts them in a distinct position: state domination can only be exercised through race and class violence.

If they considered the State as a “parasite” adhered to society’s body, in Latin America it’s not only a parasite (a figure that transmits exploitation), but also a killing machine, as five centuries of history demonstrate, machinery that has unified the interests of a class that is, at the same time, economically and racially dominant.

Having reached this point, I would like to make some current considerations.

The first one is that the world’s reality changed in the previous century, but those changes have not modified the role of the State. Moreover, we can say that we live under a regime where the states are at the service of the Fourth World War against the peoples. In other words, the states wage war on the peoples; we are not faced with a deviation but rather a reality of a structural character.

The second is that, trying to destroy the state apparatus one can argue (with reason) that the popular sectors don’t have enough strength to do it, at least in the immense majority of the countries. Therefore, a good part of revolutions are the daughters of war, the time at which the states collapse and become extremely weak, as is happening in Syria. At those times, experiences emerge like that of the Kurds in Rojava.

Not having sufficient strength does not mean to say that it would be good to occupy the state apparatus without destroying its nuclei of civilian and military power. All the progressive governments (past, current and those that will come) have no other policy towards the armies than to keep them as they are, untouchable, because they don’t even dream of entering into conflict with them.

The problem is that these bureaucracies (but especially the military) cannot be transformed from inside or in a gradual way. It’s customary to say that the armed forces are subordinate to the civilian power. It’s not true; they have their own interests and command, even in the most “democratic” countries. In Uruguay, to give an example, the military has impeded as of now that the truth be known about the disappeared and about torture. The current president, Tabaré Vázquez, as well as the former president, José Mujica, subordinated themselves to the military.

It’s not very serious to seek arriving in the government without a clear policy towards the civilian and military bureaucracies. Most of the time, the electoral lefts elude the question, and hide their heads like an ostrich. Then they make a show of unlimited pragmatism.

Then, what do we do when there isn’t any strength to overthrow them?

The Kurds and the Zapatistas, also the Mapuche and the Nasa, opted for a different path: arming themselves as peoples, sometimes with firearms and at other times with symbolic arms like the staffs of command. It’s not a question of military technique, but rather of a willingness of spirit.


Originally Published in Spanish by La Jornada

Friday, June 23, 2017

Re-Published with English interpretation by the Chiapas Support Committee





2 Comments on “The colonial State and revolution

  1. Good and important essay, also loved the piece by lopez y Rivas. Sent from my iPhone


  2. Pingback: Solidarity and Analysis | Blog of Zapatista Support Group Wellington, Aotearoa/New Zealand

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