Their attitude to the state was one of unremitting hostility. Far from wishing to expand its activities, they sought to do away with it. In 1844, Marx declared that the most useful thing the state could do for society was to commit suicide. The following year, he and Engels declared ‘...if the proletarians wish to assert themselves as individuals, they must overthrow the state.’
Marx celebrated the Paris Commune of 1871 on the grounds that it was ‘a Revolution against the State itself’. And in 1884, Engels looked forward to the day when the state would end its life ‘in the Museum of Antiquities, by the side of the spinning wheel and the bronze axe’
None of this is to deny that states can and do perform ‘useful functions’ for society. They do, in their fashion, preserve ‘law and order’, redistribute resources within society, provide valuable services from water supply and roads to hospitals. Even if banditry is every state’s real relation to society, it must, to survive, be more than a mere bandit: it must perform services to seem indispensable. But, always, states exact a price for their services: their own existence. We can find state power lurking behind the very phrases that deny it: ‘equality before the law’, for instance, places us all in a situation of equal powerlessness before the state. State services have multiplied within modern capitalist countries, often because workers have fought for them. But every one of them has two crucial features which diminishes its real value: first, they all involve subordination to the state (education, welfare, law); second, they involve the division and atomisation of the population (competition in schools, health and welfare services for individualised ‘patients’ and ‘clients’).
he fact that the state has been the mechanism through which workers have won significant concessions and improvements in their material and civil rights, is the real basis of the illusions of modern reformism. T