A capitalist society is biased upon the exploitation of labor. A small minority owns everything; the working masses own nothing. The capitalists command. The workers obey. The capitalist exploit. The workers are exploited. The very essence of capitalist society is found in this merciless and ever-increasing exploitation.
Capitalist production is a practical instrument for the extraction of surplus value.
Why has this instrument been able to continue in operation so long? For what reason do the workers tolerate such a state of affairs?
This question is by no means easy to answer at first sight. Speaking generally there are two reasons for it: in the first place, because the capitalist class is well organized and powerful; secondly, because the bourgeoisie frequently controls the brains of the working class.
The most trustworthy means at the disposal of the bourgeoisie for this purpose is its organization as the State. In all capitalist countries the State is merely a union of the master class. Let us consider any country you like: Britain, the United States, France, or Japan. Everywhere we find that the ministers, high officials, members of parliament, are either capitalists, landowners, factory owners, and financial magnates, or else the faithful and well-paid servants of these–lawyers, bank managers, professors, army officers, archbishops, and bishops, who serve the capitalists, not from fear but from conviction.
The union of all these individuals belonging to the bourgeoisie, a union which embraces the entire country and holds everything in its grasp, is known as the State. This organization of the bourgeoisie has two leading aims. The first and most important of these is to suppress disorders and insurrections on the part of the workers, to ensure the undisturbed extraction of surplus value from the working class, to increase the strength of the capitalist means of production. The second aim is to strive against other organizations of the same kind (that is to say, against other bourgeois States), to compete with them for a larger share in surplus value. Thus, the capitalist State is a union of the master class, formed to safeguard exploitation. The interests of capital and nothing but the interests of capital–here we have the guiding star towards which are directed all the activities of this robber band.
Against such a view of the bourgeois State, the following considerations might be adduced.
You say that the State is exclusively run in the interests of capital. Consider this point, however. In all capitalist countries there is a factory legislation forbidding or restricting child labor, limiting the working day, and so on. In Germany, for example, in the days of William II, there prevailed a fairly good system of State insurance for the workers. In England, the typically bourgeois minister Lloyd George introduced the Insurance Act and the Old-Age Pensions Act. In all bourgeois lands, there are hospitals, dispensaries, and sanatoriums for the workers; railways are constructed, and by these all can travel, rich and poor alike; waterworks are instituted for the supply of the towns, and so on. Such things are for the public service. This implies, the State is not run solely in the interest of capital, but is concerned likewise with the interests of the workers. The State actually punishes factory owners who infringe factory legislation.
These arguments are fallacious, for the following reasons. It is perfectly true that the bourgeois authority occasionally passes laws and regulations useful to the working class. They are, however passed in the interest of the bourgeoisie. Let us take as an example the railways. The workers travel by them, and for this reason they are useful to the workers. But they are not built for the sake of the workers. Merchants and factory owners need railways for the carriage of their wares, for the transport of troops, for the conveyance of workers, etc. Capital needs railways, and builds them in its own interest. They are useful to the workers too, but that is not why the capitalist State constructs them. Again, let us take the cleaning of the towns, or urban sanitation as it is called, and let us consider the hospitals. In these cases the bourgeoisie is concerned about the working-class districts as well as about the others. It is true that, in comparison with the bourgeois quarters in the center of the town, we find, in the working-class suburbs, dirt, the abomination of desolation, disease, etc. Nevertheless, the bourgeoisie does do something. Why? Because illness and epidemics sometimes spread all through the town, and if such a thing should happen the bourgeoisie, too, would suffer. In this matter, therefore, the bourgeois State and its urban instruments are simply pursuing bourgeois interests.
Here is another example. During the nineteenth century, the French workers learned form the bourgeoisie the practice of birth control. By artificial means they arranged either to have no children at all or no more than two children. The poverty of the workers was so great that to rear a larger family was difficult or almost impossible. As a result of this practice, the population of France remained nearly stationary. The French bourgeoisie began to be short of soldiers. A clamor was raised: ‘The nation is perishing! The Germans are increasing more rapidly than we are! They will have more soldiers!’ It may be remarked in passing that year by year those who were called up for military service proved less and less fit; they were shorter, had a smaller chest measurement, were more weakly. And now, behold, the bourgeoisie grew ‘free-handed’; it began to insist upon improved conditions for the working class, in order that the workers might rear more children. Undoubtedly, if you kill the hen, you will not get any more eggs.
In all these cases, the bourgeoisie has certainly taken steps useful to the workers; but it has done so solely in its own interests. In many instances, however, measures useful to the workers have been inaugurated by the bourgeois State owing to the pressure of the working class. Nearly all the factory laws were secured in such a manner, in consequence of threats on the part of the workers. In England, the first legal limitation of the working day (to 10 hours) was brought about by working-class pressure. In Russia, the tsarist government passed the first factory laws owing to its alarm on account of disorders and strikes among the workers. In these matters the State, which consists of the enemies of the working class, the State, which is an economic organization, reckons up its own interests, saying: ‘It is better to yield a certain amount today than to yield twice as much tomorrow; and it is better to yield than to risk one’s skin.’ The factory owner who yields to the demands of his workers on strike and concedes them an extra halfpenny, does not cease to be a factory owner; nor does the bourgeois State in any way lose its bourgeois characteristics when it makes some small concession owing to working-class pressure.
The capitalist State is not only the largest and most powerful among bourgeois organizations; it is at the same time the most complex of these organizations, for it has a very large number of subdivisions, and tentacles issue from these in every direction. The primary aim of all this is to protect, to consolidate, and to expand the exploitation of the working class. Against the working class, the State can employ measures of two different kinds, brute force and spiritual subjugation. These constitute the most important instruments of the capitalist State.
Among the organs of brute force, must first be enumerated the army and the police, the prisons and the law-courts. Next must be mentioned accessory organs, such as spies, provocative agents, organized strikebreakers, hired assassins, etc.
The army of the capitalist State is organized in a peculiar fashion. At the head is the offers’ corps, the group of ‘epaulet wearers’. They are drawn from the ranks of the landed gentry, from those of the wealthier bourgeoisie, and in part form those of the intelligentsia (professional classes). These are the bitterest enemies of the proletariat. From childhood they have been brought up in special schools (in Russia in cadet corps and in junker schools) where they have been taught how to knock the men about, and how ‘to maintain the honor of the uniform’, this meaning to keep the rankers in absolute subjection and to make mere pawns of them. The most distinguished members of the nobility and the wealthier bourgeoisie, if they enter the military or naval profession, become generals or admirals, person of high rank, wearing orders and ribbons.
Nor are the officers ever drawn from among the poor. They have the mass of common soldiers entirely in their hands. These latter are so completely under the influence of their environment that they never ask what they are fighting for, but simply keep their ears cocked for orders. Such an army is primarily intended to hold the workers in check.
In addition to the regular army, the capitalist State has an army of picked ruffians, and of specially trained troops, peculiarly adapted for the struggle with the workers. These institutions (the police, for instance) have, indeed, the function of combating theft and of ‘protection the person and property of citizens’; but at the same time the police are maintained for the arrest, prosecution, and punishment, of discontented workers. In Russia, the police have been the most trustworthy protectors of the landlords and the tsar. Especially brutal, in all capitalist countries, have been the members of the secret police and of the corps of gedarmes–in Russia the secret police force or ‘political police’ was known as the ohrana (protection). Large numbers of detectives, provocative agents, spies, strikebreakers, etc., work in cooperation with the official police.
Interesting, in this connection, are the methods of the American secret police. They are in league with a vast number of private and semi-official ‘detective bureau’. The notorious adventures of Nat Pinkerton were really a campaign against the workers. The detectives palmed off bombs on the workers’ leaders, incited them to kill the capitalists, and so forth. Such ‘detectives’ likewise recruit vast numbers of strikebreakers (known in the United States as ‘scabs’), and troops of armed ruffians who murder strikers when opportunity arises. There is no villainy too black for these assassins, who are employed by the ‘democratic’ State of the American capitalists!
The administration of justice in the bourgeois State is a means of self-defense for the bourgeois class. Above all, it is employed to settle with those who infringe the rights of capitalist property or interfere with the capitalist system. Bourgeois justice sent Liebknecht to prison, but acquitted Liebknecht’s murderer. The State prison service settles accounts quite as effectively as does the executioner of the bourgeois State. Its shafts are directed, not against the rich, but against the poor.
Such are the institutions of the capitalist State, institutions which effect the direct and brutal oppression of the working class.
Among the means of spiritual subjugation at the disposal of the capitalist State three deserve especial mention: the State school; the State church; and the State, or State-supported, press.
The bourgeoisie is well aware that it cannot control the working masses by the use of force alone. It is necessary that the workers’ brains should be completely enmeshed as if in a spider’s web. The bourgeois State looks upon the workers as working cattle; these beasts must labor, but they must not bite. Consequently, they must not merely be whipped or shot when they attempt to bite, but they must be trained and tamed, just as wild beasts in a menagerie are trained by beast-tamers. Similarly, the capitalist State maintains specialists to stupefy and subdue the proletariat; it maintains bourgeois teachers and professors, the clergy, bourgeois authors and journalists. In the State schools these specialist teach children from their earliest years to obey capital and to despise and hate ‘rebels’. The children’s heads are stuffed with fables about the revolution and the revolutionary movement. Emperors, kings, and industrial magnates are glorified. In the churches, the priests, who are salaried by the State, preach that all authority comes from God. Day after day, the bourgeois newspapers trumpet these lies, whilst working-class papers are in most cases suppressed by the capitalist State. Under such conditions, is it easy for the workers to extract themselves from the quagmire? A German imperialist bandit wrote: ‘We do not only need the soldiers’ legs, but also their brains and their hearts.’ The bourgeois State, in like manner, aims at educating the workers so that they may resemble domestic animals who will work like horses, and eat humble pie.
In this manner the capitalist system ensures its own development. The machine of exploitation does its work.Surplus value is continually extracted form the working class. The capitalist State stands on guard, and takes good care that there shall be no uprising of the wage slaves.
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*excerpt: The ABC of Communism (Bukharin and Preobrazhensky)