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Critiquing Liberal Capitalist Democracy

Sushila Ramaswamy

By William M. Paul
Phoneme, New Delhi, 2012, pp. 188, Rs. 145.00


The notion of the state is central to political theorizing but ironically in Marxism. Both with the originators and its latter exponents, its account is sketchy. Hegel, who was the starting point for Marx for all his major concerns, worked out the details of a modern state by his distinction between the realm of state and the realm of civil society but Marx’s account is sketchy and reticent in working out the details of the modern state. In Marx’s writings, the future Communist society would be classless and stateless or true democracy. Engels, drawing extensively from Morgan’s work, Ancient Society, traced the rise of the modern state, a distinct institution that was territorial in character, with public power derived from the people. Progressive division of labour and the institution of private property gave the state its distinct territorial character moving it away from kinship. He traced this process from ancient times. Having relied heavily on Morgan’s work it neglected the systems in Asia and Africa and had a pronounced euro-centric bias.   An attempt to develop a theory of the state within the Marxist tradition is that of Lenin’s State and Revolution published in 1917. Written on the eve of the October Revolution, in the summer of 1916 over the nature of socialist transformation, it is considered one of the most authoritative texts written on the nature of the proletarian state and socialist democracy. Its origins lay in the debate between Bukharin and Lenin. Contrary to Bukharin who reiterated the anarchist ideal of the withering away of the state, Lenin, reiterating Kautsky, argued that the proletariat must capture the state structure and create a rudimentary edifice of a socialist state but unlike Kautsky who wanted to do so by parliamentary means, Lenin, following the spirit of the French Revolution, proposed revolutionary seizure of power. However, in comparison to Hegel, even Lenin failed to work out the details of a socialist state. Most of his arguments were a reiteration of Marx on the subject written over a period of time from 1852 to 1875 and in several tracts. But for many Marxist commentators, like Chang (1965) and Miliband (1977), it is in Lenin’s tract that a detailed elaboration of the concept of dictatorship of the proletariat and the theory of the state can be found within the Marxist tradition. It is for this reason that Colletti (1969) considers the tract as Lenin’s ...

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