Chapter 3 “The Coercive Apparatus of the State"
Point 1.) Carrillo approves of the following quote from the French Communist Party philosopher Louis Althusser “So far as we know, no class can maintain state power in a lasting form without exercising at the same time its hegemony over and within the state ideological apparatuses.” [p.49]
We will see below how Carrillo thinks the CP can flip these apparatuses from the bourgeois state to the support for socialism. A problem that never occurred to Carrillo when he wrote his book, and one we will not discuss, is how. without having a bourgeoisie, the Eastern European socialist states and the Soviet Union had the state apparatuses under their hegemonic control flipped over to capitalism.
Point 2.) The Soviet Union and the Russian Revolution were responses to the horrors inflicted by World War I. The Eastern European Socialist states were born out of the rubble of World War II (the defeat of the NAZIs). Wars were also the background for North Korea and China (defeat of Japanese imperialism) and Vietnam and Laos (defeat of Japanese, French, and American imperialism). This does not seem possible with respect to the developed capitalist world today as a road to socialism. A major world war today would involve nuclear weapons and the potential destruction of all the parties involved. Different roads are needed.
“They have to be roads in which democratic mass action is combined with action by the representative democratic institutions; that is to say, by the use in the service of socialism of the representative democratic instruments which today basically serve capitalism.” [p.51]
Eurocommunism has, of course, failed to capture the capitalist state institutions anywhere and establish a socialist state. Nevertheless , in the developed capitalist world this is still the subtext of most all the CPs, including those which claim to reject Eurocommunism. We will now look at how Carrillo thinks we can flip the apparatuses of state monopoly capitalism to serve socialism.
CAN WE DEMOCRATICALLY CAPTURE THE STATE APPARATUS?
Fifty years ago Carrillo detected the beginnings of a movement in the masses that would allow for the democratic takeover of the state apparatus. Social democrats were getting elected, the Dutch troops in NATO were being unionized, and the French uprising in1968 raised the consciousness of the masses and opened the way for a socialist road to transform the capitalist state by flipping some of the capitalist state apparatuses. Centered in Paris in May 1968 seven weeks of nationwide protests convulsed France. President de Gaulle fled to West Germany, the government was paralyzed, the police refused to intervene when the students and workers marched through Paris. 50,00 marchers were expected, 500,000 turned up. The French Communists turned out in support of demands for radical change, the army was put on alert as revolutionary ideas did not penetrate the officer corps but the troops were of the same age as the students and young workers. The Communists were thought to be about to seize government buildings and a revolution would break out: de Gaulle broadcast to the nation that a new election would be held for the National Assembly —violence should be avoided. The Communists believed in a peaceful democratic revolution and agreed to de Gaulle’s plans— the workers returned to their factories, the revolt was over.
Point 3.) “This is a process which is only beginning, is therefore only incipient, and could still be diverted and manipulated by the ruling classes. It is an open question that has not been solved. It is a possible road for proceeding to the democratisation of the state apparatuses as the first step towards its transformation and conversion into one capable of serving a democratic and socialist society.” [p.54]
Half a century has passed and no uprising such as 1968 Paris has occurred in any of the developed capitalist countries. The ruling capitalist class is as strong and powerful as ever. Perhaps Carrillo’s question about capturing the capitalist state’s apparatuses by peaceful democratic means is no longer open and has been solved.
DEMOCRATISATION OF THE STATE APPARATUS
To go down this road to socialism we will have to change our attitudes about the state apparatuses. Heretofore Marxists have seen the different arms of the state as hostile class forces, especially the police and the military, but also the prison system, education system, churches, etc. They were all tools of the class enemy that must be fought, overcome, and replaced with new proletarian versions. Instead of treating them as hostile enemies the revolution must try to democratize them and win them over to the proletarian world view. Workers in these sectors also have problems and are abused by the ruling class even as they are mobilized against the interests of the people. We must work with them, recognize their special problems, and win them over to the revolution. Instead of defunding the police we should advocate redirection of the funds towards better training and working with the people and demand the police not be used to break up strikes or to harass working people, immigrants, etc. We will find allies within these organizations and must struggle to flip them from subservience to the ruling class to a pro people democratic front with them. The Police Benevolent Society and Black Lives Matter marching together! Eurocommunists have their tasks cut out for them.
Point 4.) “It is a difficult change to make [“the man in blue is a friend to me and you” and not “a gun toting racist pig”- tr]. But it must be made, starting from the principle that in a democratic socialist society it will still be necessary to have functionaries who are specialists in the pursuit of crime, and in safeguarding the security of the population.” [p. 57]
Point 5.) “The army is, without doubt, the most important of the coercive instruments of the state.” [p. 57]
Carrillo discusses the role of the army throughout history as a force used to protect the ruling classes, the nobility and later the new bourgeois class after it came to power. Through two world wars it was associated with national defense (or aggression) and people thought of their army as primarily a national army defending them from foreign attacks. Most Americans still feel that way, I think, about the US Army ( the armed forces in general) and so did most Europeans after WWII. But something has changed, at least in Europe, and that is the development of an international force by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, I.e., NATO. NATO was created to deter a Soviet Attack. There was never a Soviet attack. The Soviets created the Warsaw Pact to deter NATO. The Warsaw Pact was also used to prevent any of its members from deviating too far from Soviet policies. In Carrillo’s day these two military blocks faced off in Europe. NATO was actually an international armed force run by the Americans. Most Europeans, he said, no longer looked on ”their” national army in primarily nationalistic terms. This gives the revolutionaries an opportunity to win over the NATO officers to a peaceful socialist transition as they now have an international outlook rather than a narrow national one. The implication for Spain was that the Spanish army would not intervene to defend a ruling class that lost an election to the revolutionary forces. This would also be the case in other NATO countries.
But this view of Carrillo’s is contradicted by Point 6.) “In the last resort [NATO] remains above all an instrument of American political, economic and military control over Europe.” [p.60]
The Americans would use NATO to intervene in any European country so unwise as to elect a communist government. What has happened in the 50 years since Carrillo wrote about NATO? The Soviet Union collapsed, the Warsaw Pact dissolved, communist Russia became capitalist Russia and NATO expanded and gobbled up the former Warsaw Pact states and pushed itself to the Russian border (having told the Russians they would not do that if they disbanded the Warsaw Pact). Point 6 remains valid and is the real source of the military strife going on in Ukraine at the time of this writing. The rest of the discussion on flipping the military is, while interesting, basically out of date as it is predicated on the ideals of peaceful coexistence with the Soviet Union and a new world order based on this. This is, for Carrillo, still very iffy as the balance of power keeping the peace is also resting on nuclear weapons. This remains true today and the US is fostering international tensions over Russia, Korea, and China, as well as several countries in Latin America and with Cuba. NATO interventions at the behest of the US in the Balkans, Eastern Europe, Libya, Afghanistan and Iraq have been lugubrious.
NATO remains the main enemy of the peace and socialist movements. The question today is, if CPs take ministerial roles in countries who are members of NATO are they undermining Marxism-Leninism and becoming revisionist in the Menshevik sense and/or the Bernstein/Kautsky sense? The same question applies to the US with regard to de facto support for the Democrats in an uncritical manner and with the notion of not making vanguard demands that might upset the Center which supports the racist imperialist practices of the Democratic Party. These are crucial questions of principle which Marxist-Leninists must continually debate and reassess as the revolutionary struggle progresses.
There are a few more pages in this chapter on Carrillo’s views on how to win over the Army to tolerate a peaceful socialist electoral victory, they are based on the ideas that in the near future European countries will be uniting for mutual defense in a world which has brought about general disarmament — not the world we actually live in which has increased military spending and armaments. Nevertheless, the question still remains, is a peaceful transition possible as long as the Army is controlled by the ruling class? How would the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol have turned out if the Joint Chiefs of Staff in the Pentagon had been Trump supporters? Fortunately, the ruling class is fairly united in not supporting Trump at this time and even had the Democratic Party supporting Trump Republicans against “moderate” Republicans in the primaries, confident that Trump Republicans could not beat Democrats in the general election. We shall soon see if this was a good tactic or not.
Finally, in order to build a democratic coalition to lead to a socialist election victory the CPs practicing Eurocommunism (that is only the CPs in advanced developed capitalist states) must abandon out of date old Communist outlooks.
Point 7.) The struggle for a democratic state “presupposes the renunciation of the idea, in its traditional form, of a worker’s and peasants’s State.” [p. 76] This turns out to be a gratuitous point anyway as no advanced capitalist State has a peasantry. This point is a lead into the real point Carrillo wants to make.
Point 8.) “This [democratic] conception of the State also means giving up the ideas of a State apparatus that is a party apparatus, a State apparatus controlled by a party apparatus ; it is a question of creating a State apparatus which at every moment faithfully obeys the people’s elected representatives and which cannot be manipulated against the will of the people. [p.76]
This is a can of worms best left unopened. We are giving up Lenin for Rousseau. The will of the people is the general will in a socialist state it is simple (let socialism be constructed) but in Carrillo’s democratic state with CP does not have the leading role but is at best only primer inter pares and there will be a particular will associated with each and every other democratic party in the state including non-proletarian parties representing petty bourgeois interests even after the grand bourgeoisie has been eliminated. Carrillo’s subtext here is that the whole of Marxist theory must be dumped because it holds that the working class controls the state by means of the working class party, the Communists, the creators of all wealth (except that of nature) and surplus value by which all live. This is the exploited class on which all others live and when it takes power there is no lower class under it which it exploits, exploitation ends and there is no need for parties anymore (political parties are representative of different classes). There is no sense for the socialists to democratically take over the State of the ruling class just to maintain it. The CP has to play the central and leading role in the revolution and the State because, while all the other parties are expressions of their particular wills, the proletarians are the bearers of the general will — the will to end exploitation and suffering, the will to socialism.
Carrillo ends his chapter on a realistic note as he knows the ruling class is unlikely to roll over and play dead after it loses an election to the socialists. Faced with a victory by Carrillo’s new political grouping of forces the victory may not “be won solely through political action and democratic government measures; it can happen that at a given moment it may be necessary to reduce by force resistance by force; that is to say that the qualitative transformation of this apparatus may not be entirely peaceful and a democratic government may find it self confronted by an attempted coup.” [p.76] So, the barricades are back. Our last point will be:
Point 9.) Go ahead and take on the opposition, but keep your powder dry.
Next up Chapter Four: “The Model of Democratic Socialism”
Thomas Riggins is a retired philosophy teacher (NYU, The New School of Social Research, among others) who received a PhD from the CUNY Graduate Center (1983). He has been active in the civil rights and peace movements since the 1960s when he was chairman of the Young People's Socialist League at Florida State University and also worked for CORE in voter registration in north Florida (Leon County). He has written for many online publications such as People's World and Political Affairs where he was an associate editor. He also served on the board of the Bertrand Russell Society and was president of the Corliss Lamont chapter in New York City of the American Humanist Association. He is the author of Reading the Classical Texts of Marxism.