First entry into a series of blogs where I address bad political arguments I have heard from others.

Beneficially for my mental health, or not, I have an enduring habit of getting into political arguments, a LOT. This means that I have heard all kinds of counter-arguments to my positions and that many of them have been extremely silly. Needless to say, I much prefer thorough interrogations of my positions with some meat on their bones to very silly syllogisms that, for one reason, or other, the person putting them forward is very confident about. So I decided I will dedicate some blog posts to these silly arguments that I have encountered and thus to explaining why they fail despite the confidence of their orators (which is more often than not very disproportional to the soundness of what they are saying). Today's silly nonsense will be centered around the historic debate between Marxists and Anarchists over whether to use some form of state apparatus to enact social change.

So there I am, arguing with a Marxist on the internet over this question. I point out, as I often do, that the state's real historical function has always been one of entrenching the systems of exploitation in place and thus the idea of using the state to snuff out those systems is a very old canard that many on the left just haven't been able to shake. The reply I get back ends up being "just because the state has always been that way doesn't mean it will always be". This is one of those befuddling strange remarks that leaves one a bit aghast and straining one's mental faculties to explain just how silly, irrelevant, and nonsensical it is.

On the surface the proposition seems valid. After all, change occurs in the world, so why can't the state change? Well the reason is actually very simple. Social systems only carry any useful analytical weight as concepts in two forms; as as yet unrealized social visions, or historically extent social realities. In other words we can either understand a social system as something which has not yet been implemented, but which stands conceptually as a vision for social change to be implemented, or as sustained mechanisms of social operation with historical lifespans and observed operating laws. The state is the latter, a historical social system.

The thing about historical social systems is that they can only meaningfully exist as they have in history. They come into being through historical processes and go out of being the same way. We can only define them by these processes. This is indeed the assumption of the socialist critique of capitalism, that capitalism as it historically exists is an exploitative system and thus can only be done away with, not retooled.

So while change occurs in the world, change can only bring into being and out of being, not reconfigure beyond historical recognition, historical social systems. So the state can only be a meaningful concept to describe social reality in so far as it describes a particular social mechanism with a specific limited lifespan and specific operating laws. This makes the appeal to the state possibly being different at some undefined point in the future irrelevant and absurd. The state as a social reality will only change, at least beyond very formal changes (monarchy versus republic), at the moment when it ceases to exist. Thus there will be no point in the future where the state will become "the dictatorship of the proletariat", or something else equally insufficiently defined, other than what it fundamentally is today.

One counter argument that we can anticipate is that society is a social reality that has changed very widely over time, i.e. social reality itself has changed. This is an irrelevant objection that misses the point. Social reality has not fundamentally changed. It has been and always will be, until the fabric of social reality itself disintegrates, manifested through historical social systems and institutions. It is only the social systems which have gone in and out of being, specifically, mind you, not reorienting themselves in such a way that they remain existent, but serve some different social purpose, but only in the way that they exist historically in a specific manner and die out afterword.


Civilizations and Modes of Production, Wallerstein
Historical Capitalism, Wallerstein

Posted By

May 27 2020 19:59


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