Marx: State is Instrument Class Oppression – Now Proved by Tories

Marx pic

One of the fundamental doctrines of Marxism is that the state arose as a result of the class war, and its state structure and institutions are there to reflect and preserve the power of the ruling class. In the Middle Ages under feudalism, for example, the state represented and expressed the power of the feudal lords. With the development of capitalism and an industrial middle class, the state now serves to promote and preserve their power and interests. The Austrian Marxist, Karl Kautsky, described how this occurred, and the way competing social groups could sometimes achieve a balance of power within the state, in his 1912 remarks on the Paris Commune:

“…Because the state arose from the need to hold class antagonisms in check, but because it arose, at the same time, in the midst of the conflict of these classes, it is, as a rule, the state of the most powerful, economically dominant class, which, through the medium of the state, becomes also the politically dominant class, and thus acquires new means of holding down and exploiting the oppressed class…” The ancient and feudal states were organised for the exploitation of the slaves and serfs; likewise, “the modern representative state is an instrument of wage labour by capital. By way of exception, however, periods occur in which the warring classes balance each other so nearly that the state power as ostensible mediator acquires, for the moment, a certain degree of independence of both…” Such were the absolute monarchies of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the Bonapartism of the First and Second Empires in France, and the Bismarck regime in Germany.

(Cited in V.I. Lenin, The State and Revolution, in Lenin: Selected Works (Moscow: Progress Publishers 1968) 270).

Marx took over this doctrine from a French Revolutionary lawyer, Antoine Barnave. Barnave had been president of the French Revolutionary Assembly in 1790. A political moderate, it was guillotined three years later because of his connection to the French monarchy. Barnave

had asserted that the difference between classes was the result of economic inequalities, that the class which was in power at any epoch not only made laws for the whole of society in order to guarantee its own hold it property but also “directed its habits and created its prejudices,”, that society was constantly changing under the pressure of economic necessities, and that the rising and triumphant bourgeoisie which had dispolaced the feudal nobility would in turn produce a new aristocracy.
(Edmund Wilson, To the Finland Station (London: W.H. Allen 1960) 147).

Owen Jones in Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class, in the chapter ‘Class Warriors’ quotes some of the leading Tory politicians, who have made it explicit that they are defending the interests of the upper classes, against the poor and working class. He describes how, despite the rhetoric of class reconciliation and understanding for the marginalised spoken by the Tories when David Cameron was elected leader in 2005, Tory politicians in private will reveal attitudes that are almost completely the opposite.

But as soon as they are safely behind closed doors, away from the cameras, the cuddly PR-speak can abruptly disappear. I witnessed the mask slip myself, when in my final year as an undergraduate, an extremely prominent Tory politician from the moderate wing of the party had come to deliver an off-the-record speech to students. So that he could speak candidly, aspiring student journalists were barred from reporting on the speech and we were sworn to anonymity. It soon became clear why. As the logs crackled in the fireplace on a rainy Novemeber evening, the Tory grandee made a stunning confession.

‘What you have to realize about the Conservative Party,’ he said as though it was a trivial, throwaway comment, ‘is that it is a coalition of privileged interests. Its main purpose is to defend that privilege. And the way it wins elections is by giving just enough to just enough other people.’

Here was an analysis that could have dropped out the pages of Socialist Worker. A doyen of the Conservative Party had more or less confessed that it was the political arm of the rich and powerful. It was there to fight the corner of the people at the top. It was waging class war. (pp. 39-40).

Jones then goes on to provide a series of quotes from leading Tory politicians from the 19th century onwards to support this.

For example, when confronted with the 1831 Reform Bill that would have given one out of five adult males the vote, one Tory politico denounced it as ‘a revolution that will overturn all the natural influence of rank and property’. Lord Salisbury, the future prime minister, stated of it that ‘First class men will not canvas mobs, and mobs will not elect first class men.’

The Tory government of Salisbury and Arthur Balfour supported the 1901 Taff Value judgement, which made unions liable for company profits lost during strikes. Stanley Baldwin, who in due course became prime minister during the General Strike, later said of it ‘The Conservatives can’t talk of class war. They started it.’

When the 1926 General Strike was broken, the leading Tory Arthur Balfour exulted ‘The General Strike has taught the working class more in four days than years of talking could have done. (All the above quotes are on p. 41).

Maggie Thatcher

Margaret Thatcher: Regarded the working class as ‘idle, deceitful, inferior and bloody-minded’. Sums up her entire career in government.

Jones also expertly despatches the propaganda myth that Margaret Thatcher herself was somehow working class, and image that was used to gain popularity with part of the working class:

To understand Thatcherism’s attitude to working-class Britain, it is important to start by looking at Thatcher herself. Some of her warmest admirers have been at pains to portray her-wrongly-as a person of humble origins. As the staunchly Thatcherite Tory MP David Davis told me: ‘Margaret was always a bit more middle class than she made out.’ It is almost a cliché to describe her as a grocer’s daughter, but it was this that coloured her entire political outlook. Growing up in the Lincolnshire market town of Grantham, her father had instilled in her a deep commitment to what could be called lower-middle-class values: individual self-enrichment and enterprise, and an instinctive hostility to collective action. Her biographer, Hugo Young, noted that she had little if any contact with working-class people, let alone the trade union movement.

Her attitudes were undoubtedly cemented when in 1951 she married a wealthy businessman, Denis Thatcher, who believed that trade unions should be banned altogether. She surrounded herself with men from privileged backgrounds. In her first Cabinet, 88 per cent of ministers were former public school students, 71 per cent were company directors and 14 per cent were large landowners. No wonder, then, that one of her Cabinet ministers told a journalist just before the 1979 election: ‘She is still basically a Finchley lady … She regards the working class as idle, deceitful, inferior and bloody-minded’. (46-7). This last quote basically shows that with her contempt for them, it could be argued that many of the working class had a perfect right to celebrate her death, no matter how distasteful it may have been to everyone else.

Jones does also quote a number of other Tories today, who deny that the Tory party is determined to keep the poor and working class down. He notes that members of all the political parties feel they are doing something for the national good. Many Marxists have argued that the state does not automatically represent the interests of the ruling class, but can behave semi-independently. You could cite Tony Benn as an example of the latter. A member of the peerage, he resigned his seat in the House of Lords for a career was a brilliant and passionate Labour politician committed to improving the conditions of the working class, women and ethic minorities. Nevertheless, it is clear that the Tories, or at least of significant portion of them, have always regarded themselves as representing the interests of the ruling elite against the poor and working class.

140117democracy

David Cameron: Doing his best to demonstrate that under the Tories, the state really is the instrument of class oppression.

It is also abundantly confirmed by the composition and policies of the Coalition. Cameron, Osborne, Clegg and IDS are all aristos, and their policies are designed to keep the working class poor and powerless. They should be kicked out at the next election.

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