“We state” (Does the end of labor mean the end of the state?)

by Jehu

1. Is v= 0 a formula for the end of the state as well?

What is the impact of the end of the capitalist mode of production on the state itself. That is, what happens to the state when v = 0? How does the abolition of labor relate to the abolition of the state? What about other forms of social domination like sexism and racism? Do these disappear simply because v = 0?

we stateV, of course, is the notation used in labor theory to denote the employment of living human labor in the production of material wealth. When v = 0, the employment of living labor in the production of material wealth has ceased. In the extreme scenario (although this might not be necessarily true), production is now carried on entirely by machines. With living labor no longer involved in the production of material wealth, value and surplus value are no longer being produced and the capitalist mode of production collapses.

The argument Marxists have made for years, and for which they have been criticized, is that with the abolition of labor in the production of material wealth the state itself disappears. The argument is extended to other forms of social domination like male and white supremacy often on basis of the argument that these are no more than expressions of the general domination of labor by capital.

It goes without saying that few people today are convinced by this somewhat sanguine opinion. In the first place, the subordination of women already had a long history before the rise of capitalist exploitation. Moreover, male supremacy and subordination of women permeates the relations within each of the two great classes in society. Women entering the workforce for the first time often have as much to fear from the behavior of their co-workers as they do their bosses. Labor is often gendered by sector, pay, hours, etc. Outside the workplace, rape and abuse of women is rife in society, as any glance at the evening news will confirm. Even personal relations and the sphere of reproduction are so structured by male domination as to make the idea it can ever be abolished appear naive.

What argument can be made that the state, sexism, racism and a host of other forms of social domination will disappear just because wage labor is gone?

2. Simplifying the problem

It seems to me that no one has actually ever taken the time to describe how the abolition of labor also abolishes any form of domination. Clearly, woman and black people have no cause for confidence that the psychology of individuals is somehow revolutionized simply by the emergence of communist social relations. But, even among communists the idea the communism ends all forms of social domination is directly challenged. For example, both Moishe Postone and Robert Kurz — the two most important Marxist thinkers in my lifetime — were questioned about this and neither thought the end of wage slavery ended domination. Neither could imagine a situation where the collapse of capitalism would bring an end to the state. They both described some hellish Mad Max scenario where the state enforced its continued domination by brutal force. There would be some state of society that wasn’t capitalism yet was not communism. This scenario is usually described in terms of images of slums filled with the surplus population of humanity, enclosed with razor wire, sentries, dogs and helicopters.

Thus labor theory appears to make a big assertion that even forms of social domination that existed for millennia before capitalism, must come to an end when it collapses. Nobody — and I mean nobody — puts much stock in this assertion.

How would you even test an argument like this? How could you prove or disprove it? Labor theory professes to be a scientific theory of socialism, so a statement like this must be subject to proof. We know we can’t simply set a group of people down in a artificially constructed communist community to see how they behave under those conditions. If we could, we would probably take some of the biggest racists and misogynists in society and put them there immediately, (the televangelist Pat Roberts comes to mind). At the same time it is impossible to disentangle forms of social domination like racism from wage slavery to see if has a life of its own.

One possible theoretical solution exists is to simplify the problem: We can assume racism and sexism are forms of political domination, expressed as white supremacy or male supremacy. Using this simplifying assumption, we are then left only to explain how the state itself is affected by the abolition of labor.

Whether racism and sexism can be thought of simply as specific attributes of the state is, of course, open to question. However, I would suggest that arguing they are significantly broadens both the definition of racism and sexism and the definition of what we mean by the state.

Racism and sexism, rather than being thought of as merely individual prejudices and practices, become systemic political expressions of actual existing relations between members of society. At the same time, the state once treated as a white supremacists state or a male supremacist state ceases to be conflated with the immediate machinery of state and becomes a pervasive category expressed also in the behaviors of individuals: I am a statist in exactly the same way I am a racist or a sexist. Since the state is the ideal representative of existing society, racism and sexism are modes of appearance of this ideal representative of capitalist society. The state is a white supremacist state because white supremacy is a pervasive fact of society. White supremacy is pervasive in society and the state, which is the ideal representative of society, is a white supremacist state. An idealized perfectly democratic state of a racist society will be itself the ideal racist state. It cannot possibly be non-racist, since this would imply it is not the ideal representative of society. Insofar as the present state seeks to maintain existing relations, it seeks to maintain white supremacy. To be sure, this does not imply the state is identical with racist behavior of individuals. The state represents white supremacy, not white supremacists. It is no more a contradiction that a white supremacist state severely represses particular white supremacist groups and individuals than it is for a capitalist state to repress particular capitalists.

3. The state as the praxis of class society

This is all a first pass, but I think it can successfully stand to allow me to fold racism, sexism and the state into one category. At the same time, it avoids dismissing the unique problems of racism and sexism. Instead, our conception of the state as something hovering above society is replaced and becomes pervasive in the behavior of individuals:

“We state”

Which is to say the state becomes praxis of society. The state ceases to be simply a thing and becomes the pervasive activities of the society for which it is the ideal representative. Moreover, as the activity of society evolves, this is expressed in the evolution of the state, which is no more than this activity.

The question then becomes, “Why do we ‘state’?” Since the state is nothing more than our activity, why does our activity take the form of a state? The state is not some thing out there hovering over society that does shit we don’t like, such as imposing taxes, driving down the purchasing power of wages, killing people or making war. Moreover, as we can see with racism and sexism, the state is not in first place the product of our activity, but our activity.

Can we produce real evidence for this in the empirical data? Can we prove we ‘state’? I think this can be shown at least with the pervasive racism of American society and its ideal expression in state laws. Enough data is in the public domain to demonstrate conclusively that the racist American state is a direct expression of a racist society. One then has to look at society itself for an explanation for the state.

This is the first argument of historical materialism: the state is to be explained by society, not the other way around. Once we collapse the categories of racism, sexism and the state into a single category, it then becomes necessary to explain society; to explain why the activity of society is ideally expressed in the state, white supremacy and male supremacy. This does not require any discussion of capitalist relations at all, since all three existed before capitalism. Historical materialism does not argue capitalism invented the state, racism or sexism. Thus these things, like commodity production, must have their specific histories prior to capitalism having nothing to do with capitalism.

4. The generic state versus the capitalist state

Here is where I think most Marxists get it wrong: They make the argument that the state is an instrument of domination of one class over another. There is nothing wrong with the statement as it stands, but as it stands it is an ahistorical statement. In all epochs of human civilization, the state has been an instrument of domination of one class over another. In slave-owning society, the state was an instrument of domination over slaves; in feudal society the state was the instrument of domination of the peasants; in capitalist society, the state is the instrument of domination over the proletariat.

From this point of view the state is eternal and only the faces of the dominated change. It is precisely in relation to the state as an instrument of domination of one class over another that the state appears eternal. And from this point of view it becomes completely impossible to explain how it is ever done away with. As some radical activists argue, someone has always tried to dominate society and someone will always try to dominate society. But what is historically specific about the capitalist state? Is it domination of one class over another? Of course not. This is the aspect of the capitalist state that it shares with all preceding states; this is what makes it a generic state.

I think this is where Althusser veered into left field in the opening pages of his discussion. He wanted to reduce the capitalist state to its generic coercive functions and thus lost sight of the specificities of the capitalist state. He then tries to explain society by the additional ideological functions of the state. In his argument, as I understand it, the state shapes society, rather than being society’s own activity. However, the capitalist state is capitalist as such because it is constituted as the state by capitalist society itself.

5. The capitalist state without a capitalist class

To put this another way, even if we assumed the most free and fair democratic processes possibly imagined, with an overwhelming proletarian majority that acted according to its empirically perceived interests, this would still produce a capitalist state. It would produce a capitalist state for the same reason that the buying and selling of labor power produces capital. No other mechanism is required to produce a capitalist state except universal franchise and the buying and selling of labor power. The practical domination of capital over labor would itself alone be sufficient to produce a state that is the ideal representative of this domination. There is no reason to appeal to Althusser’s ideological functions of the state to explain the specific features of the capitalist state than there is need to appeal to it to explain capital itself.

Yet, even if we could explain the present state solely by existing production relations, it does not follow that the state disappears once those relations disappear. The generic function of the state is not the same as its specific historical constitution. It may be true that the capitalist state disappears along with capital, but demonstrating that the generic state disappears requires further discussion. This is the question of whether v = 0 does not simply imply the end of the capitalist state as such, but the end of the generic state with it.

I don’t know if this makes sense, but I would suggest the capitalist state is the last possible form of the state precisely because it can be constituted solely by the free choice of the dominated class, i.e., the proletariat. The capitalist state is the first form of the generic state that does not require an exploiting class; the proletariat can itself constitute a capitalist state even in a society where there are no private capitalist firms nor any actual capitalists at all.

This is what makes the defunct Soviet state appear so puzzling and difficult to analyze. One of the specific features of capitalist society described by Marx is that the capitalists are actually unnecessary for its operation. Already by the 1880s, Marx and Engels asserted the capitalist — the personification of capitalist relations of production in the capitalist mode of production — had been rendered superfluous to capital itself.

6. The defect of all existing critiques of politics

The observation made by Marx and Engels did not simply have implications for the relations of production, but also for the state founded on those relations. Contrary to people who today ascribe every evil thing done to the working class to the Koch Brothers or some other agent have it wrong. The state does not function like it is presented in the typical narrative where capitalists bribe politicians with campaign donations. Yes, there is bribery, but the argument the capitalist state depends on bribery to maintain itself as the ideal representative of capitalist society falls apart once you realize the state own the currency and can produce as much of this worthless scrip as it pleases.

How are you going to bribe the state when the state owns the very currency you are bribing it with? To give an example, the estimate of the total excess capital held by Apple is approximately $170 billion; the federal government spends this fantastic sum about every two weeks or so. In truth, no capitalist could bribe the fascist state even if he poured his entire fortune into the attempt and that of his ten best billionaire friends. Moreover, since the state itself owns money, its aim could not possibly be money.

Thus, if Marx is correct, a capitalist state did not require a capitalist class. It would simply function as the capitalist itself. And this is precisely what Engels predicts in Socialism, Utopian and Scientific. Without a capitalist class, but nevertheless still constituted by society, the state is constituted by the activity of the other class, i.e., by proletariat itself.

To be continued