On the State Power of Capital – Part Two
The state first arises with the emergence of class societies. The historical fact that it emerged independently in different parts of the globe merely suffices to denote its universal character as a social formation. State power is necessitated as a result of the emergence of class antagonisms and therefore stands as the product of these social antagonisms regulating society and imposing its rule in the interests of the ruling class or caste of the age. The present forms of the state across the globe articulate the interests of the capital relation.
The forms of the state power have changed as a result of alterations and transformations in the social relations within which its existence is rooted. If we conceptualise the state as necessary to maintain class relations in the interests of the governing, ruling classes of the succeeding ages of the development of private property, then we can grasp the supersedence of this power with the negation and transcendence of class society, that is, with the abolition of private property itself. Historically, one form of the state is negated and another posited with changes in class social relations. However, the state as a historical formation is rendered unnecessary with the transcendence of class relations in general. In the present epoch, with the transcendence of the relations of bourgeois society and their replacement by communist relations. The state, essentially, originates as a social mechanism for enforcing and perpetuating the extraction of surplus labour, for the appropriation of this surplus by the ruling caste or class and, accordingly, for the continuation of this rule and ‘habituation’ of society as a whole to this rule.
In the epoch of capital, the fundamental material presupposition of and for the existence of the state power is to maintain the process of the exploitation of wage labour. To maintain the ‘social metabolism’ as one which is essentially based on the forced extraction of surplus value, as the historic form of surplus labour under the capital regime. The orientation of the state power of capital is, accordingly, to maintain the relationship between capital and wage labour in the interests of capital itself. It is not chimerically ‘socially neutral’ but an active formation which defends and furthers the interests of the capital relation against the producer class.
The ruling capitalist class is the collective ‘personification of capital’. The state power of capital is, therefore, ‘their state power’, protects ‘their interests’, political and economic, as the collective owners of capital in its different productive, commodity and money forms. It protects their ownership and control of the reproduction of the whole of the social metabolism. In these relations, the particular interests of a ruling class are projected and presented as the universal interest of society as a whole. This, of course, especially with the bourgeois media.
With the onset and unfolding of capital’s structural crisis, the urgency of a more sustainable form of social governance asserts itself as a necessity. A form of social governance which is beyond the state form itself becomes necessary and this necessity is increasingly asserted socially as capital’s structural crisis continues to unfold and deepen. This necessity is confronted by the historic endurance of the state down the ages as an ‘eternal formation’ so that in all aspects – economic, political and especially ideological – its transcendence is viewed as impossible : ‘There has always been the state’ assert the ideologues of capital ‘so it must always be so’. Only driving necessity erodes and sweeps away this faux eternalisation of the existence of state power. Historically, one state form passes into another but transhistorically the emergence and ‘time’ of the state form per se is transitory. The broad course of the historical dialectic maps a return from the altering forms of state to human society without the need for the state.
The state power, in its varying forms, has broken down and been dissolved or altered into new forms by virtue of changes and transformations in the material-social conditions which fed its existence in a given form. When all the conditions for the dissolution of a particular form of the state power are assembled (which implies the negation of conditions which were necessary for its existence), that state power begins to vanish and be replaced by a higher form (class societies) or no form at all (communism). The ‘breaks’ or ‘qualitative leaps’ in the character of state power take place within the ‘continuities’ of determinations inherited from the previous forms. All state powers are, transhistorically, coercive, oppressive, defend the interests of ruling castes or classes, etc. But the state power of capital in America is very clearly fed and supported by social-material conditions which differ from those which did so for the Roman Imperium in the second century in the age of the Antonine emperors under radically different historical conditions.
The state power of capital will always, under all conceivable conditions, try to maintain the rule of capital within the social metabolism regardless of the intensity and severity of crisis conditions. But as the structural crisis of the capital order deepens and intensifies, the conditions necessary for the coherent operation of this state power become progressively and increasingly weakened and atrophied. This means that its capacity or power of imposing this rule of capital must be undermined. This historic function of the state power of capital, indeed the very existence of this state power under worsening conditions of capital’s structural crisis, must come into the most profound antithesis with the needs of millions. This state power must be swept away if a new, sustainable form of social governance (self-governance and direction) is to be established which points beyond the existence and operation of the state per se. The intensifying structural crisis of capital can only be resolved by means of the progressive elimination of the capital relation from the social metabolism. This, necessarily, points towards the simultaneous transcendence of class relations and the state. The ‘long, painful’ historical development of the state-form comes to an end. Human beings are released from the bondage of class societies and its state formations and into the freedom of a different age. The state, according to Engels, is then put ‘into the museum of antiquities, by the side of the spinning-wheel and the bronze axe’ (Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State, Volume 26 Collected Works, p.272)
The structural crisis of capital predicted by Marx in Volume 3 of Capital and characterised by Istvan Meszaros in his life’s work now unfolds and deepens. This phase is a terminal phase for capital (capital’s ‘descending phase’ – Meszaros) where the contradictions of the capital relation sharpen and intensify globally and are no longer displaceable as in previous ‘cyclical crises’. This phase is, accordingly, not a contingent phase which can be displaced into a higher stage of development of the capital system by adopting previous economic and political measures such as Keynesianism or Fascist forms of rule.
The structural crisis of capital is simultaneously a crisis of the whole order based on the domination of capital in the social metabolism, including in politics and in the former methods of governance of capital in the ‘pre-structural’ age. Such a crisis, which implicates the very structure of the dominant social relation of a social formation, necessarily implies its resolution only beyond that formation and its dominating relationship of production and distribution. The alternative is the intensification of the ongoing destruction of nature and human beings which is, in truth, here and now, intrinsic to capital’s destructive reproduction. Beyond capital can mean the new socialist age or annihilation.
Capitalist society is based on the exploitation of wage labour in order to extract surplus value for the accumulation of capital and the distribution of a portion of the created surplus value to the owners of capital for their use and consumption. The ownership and control of capital by a ruling class means that both state power and media are effectively run and function as the media and state of this ruling capitalist class. They articulate and defend the class interests of the owners of capital who own and/or run the media and the state power. The system of political governance is rooted in these property relations and works to maintain them against all opposition. Accordingly, it is a fundamental role of the state power of capital to operate to maintain and perpetuate the social antagonism between capital and wage labour. In so doing, it simultaneously operates to perpetuate itself by maintaining and ‘cultivating’ the social ground of its own existence. The pre-eminent operative principle of this state power must, therefore, be to preserve the capital order in order to hold the ground of its own existence as the guardian of this order. It does not matter how fierce the opposition from its antagonist. It can, and will, only ‘give up the ghost’ when it is defeated and dissolved as a state power of capital. The enemy is the proletariat as the only possible historic antagonist of the capital system regardless of the different forms of social and political control from dictatorship to ‘democracy’.
In the age of globalising capital, the major state powers of capital must secure the social ground on which the capital relation operates. This means global domination, predatory wars and not simply rule in their particular ‘jurisdictions’. The predations and wars of these states across the globe merely reveal the ‘true face’ of their inherent nature as powers of capital, of an inherently exploitative and oppressive system. They reveal what they are capable of within their own ‘immediate jurisdictions’. If the state power of capital in America can sweep across and engage in mass destruction, murder and mayhem around the globe then it is quite easily and readily capable of subjecting the American people to the same methods of rule and oppression. Global domination by the leading state powers of capital is inconceivable without ‘stability’ in the ‘home base’ or ‘homeland’. If necessary, the same methods must be adopted and applied to maintain domination both ‘externally’ and ‘internally’. This is why under conditions of interstate war, the securing of the ‘home front’ is the most important presupposition for any future victory ‘abroad’. Without this security ‘behind the lines’, the whole capital system itself potentially comes under threat.
Bourgeois social relations cannot be transcended, completely left behind by humanity, without the ‘withering away’ of the state, including those forms necessarily and temporarily established as transitory structures in the ‘post-capitalist’ phase of development. This is not merely a question of ‘overthrowing the capitalist state’. The state itself, as a transhistorical formation, must be completely transcended in order for the destructive, structural crisis of the capital order – the final form of class society – to be fully resolved and the capital order consigned to the annals of history. To establish forms of governance in the social metabolism which move beyond the alienated forms intrinsic to the rule of previous state formations in human history. This is the fundamental task facing humanity in its struggle to negate state power as such. The state power of capital and the system which it articulates and represents stand or fall together.
The intensifying structural crisis of capital brings with it an increasing destruction of the natural conditions for human life on the planet and therefore for human life itself. Opposition to this on a growing scale must mean the deployment of the state for repression, including military measures against millions who are struggling, in opposition to capital, to establish a system of social reproduction which is viable and sustainable both socio-economically and ecologically.
Such a ‘viable and sustainable order’ can only be based on the ‘associated producers’ governing themselves based on the common ownership of the Earth, its resources and the social deployment and development of these resources in a viably reproductive and ecologically sustainable way. Such an order, in its unfolding evolution as a classless order, necessarily lies beyond the epoch of the existence of state power.