The State, Friend and Foe

Photograph by Nathaniel St. Clair

Being on Medicaid a few years ago, as I “transitioned” between jobs, saved me.

At the time, the stress of looking for new work, of applying for a doctorate, of maintaining a “budget” so I could occasionally leave the house and grab dinner with friends at places that didn’t have menus smeared with marinara sauce or honey mustard, was contributing to my asthma. For a while, my asthma had been under control but I was feeling also sluggish and not working out as much as I needed to. Consequently, there were nights when I’d be gripping my teeth, gasping for air, feeling as if my chest was caving in.

Medicaid made it possible for me to go see a doctor for basically nothing and to receive a new prescription for inhalers, something I otherwise would’ve been unable to. When at the doctor’s office, all around me were other downwardly mobile millennials, senior citizens and people who also looked worn out by the magic of the “free market”, where getting what one needs has to be attached to a price-tag. Medicaid was a brief reprieve from that unyielding world, a world that pretty much exists everywhere else, immediately when one’s doctor visit is over.

“There are always short-term things that people need from the State,” said Clyde Barrow, the chair of the political science department at The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley and author of Critical Theories of the State, a synthesis of Marxist theories about the relationship between government, private enterprise, and the rest of society.[1]

When I think of the State, I do think about programs like Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security, and unemployment programs, which my dad depended on in the mid-1990s, the era of “triangulation”, when Democrats had the brilliant idea of competing with Republicans over who can be the cruelest to poor people. Still, even as government assistance programs were being gutted, there were remnants of it, able to sustain people like my dad, at least for a few months before the next opportunity miraculously appears.

Still, when I also imagine the “State”, I can’t help but be reminded of the times my dad and I have also been stopped by law enforcement, smirking, or my mom being “randomly” taken away by a TSA agent for extras screening at the airport. My mom would return to us, muttering the whole time in Bengali about how every single security person surrounding us were a bunch of “dogs” and donkeys, as my dad and I forced smiles for everyone, my heart beating against my chest.

According to Barrow, the State is not a one-dimensional or unitary entity. It consists of multiple institutions that dominate and shape our lives, sometimes in a positive direction, and in other instances, not so much. The State, especially in the modern U.S. context, is a site of contestation between government institutions seeking some semblance of “stability”, business groups intent on extracting as much profit as possible, and other parts of civil society, from labor unions to homeowners’ associations to Tucker Carlson and Fox News.

The State is not a static force. It is a conglomeration of institutions and interests, some of which can be wielded against the other as well, including by socialists.

“You need to know where the locus of power is in the State, because it’s not always in the same place,” Barrow expressed, “It’s huge, it’s vast, it’s sprawling. Sometimes, it’s inchoate and not terribly organized. You need to identify where the fractures, the weakness, the inroads you can make to split and splinter it.”

Marxists have been some of the more prominent and most thorough investigators of the State, what it is, how it functions. For most Marxists, like Lenin, studying the State was crucial in learning how to take it over against their enemies’ best laid plans not to. Basically, to examine the State is to gain a better grasp of what socialists can do to win power over the State, which includes the capitalists who more or less, use the modern iteration of the State as their own vehicle for their vapid and destructive interests.

Ralph Miliband and Nicos Poulantzas are two of the most influential Marxist theorists about the State, with both of them debating each other on the matter in the 1970s, as Marxists are aught to do.

Miliband’s theories of the State had much to do with him debunking notions of “pluralism” that had infected (and still do) much of political science. According to the pluralist idea of governance in modern capitalist nations like the U.S., the shaping of government policy is open to a wide range of interests, from business to labor.

Robert Dahl, one of the main promoters of pluralism (although he’d follow in the proud tradition of liberals taking an extra decade or two to finally catch up with what Marxists have been saying all along and abandon the idea), was correct in demystifying policymaking as more nuanced than conspiratorial. Policymaking is a bit more than rich people sending their lackeys to drop off envelopes of money on every legislators’ desks, or promising them a new yacht they’ll never really use, doing so over fancy dinners, like in the movies.

Instead, policymaking has been open to interest-groups who can find sympathetic lawmakers to work with in Congress, especially at the national level. That is how lobbying government works, with progressives seeking out progressive lawmakers and companies like Amazon targeting “moderate” ones for their own policy ends.

“Interest groups often work in such close collaboration with friendly government officials that the most accurate depiction of their relationship is that of members of a team,” Frank Baumgartner and Beth Leech write in Lobbying and Policy Change, “The advocacy organizations and the officials work together rather than in opposition.”

Lobbying groups provide their congressional allies with research, extra staff, and talking-points for the debates ahead, and media appearances to sway the public.

“Fortunately for legislators, lobbyists are specialists. They analyze, synthesize, and summarize in a politically user-friendly form, information to promote the policy goals that their group and the legislator share,” Richard Hall and Alan Deardorff conclude in “Lobbying as Legislative Subsidy”, an influential study on congressional lobbying in the current era.

Still, just because there is some opportunity for non-business groups to have some say on some legislation, so long as they find the right ally to speak for them, none of this would suggest that the political system we have isn’t skewed in favor of some over others. The pluralist model, as Miliband noted decades prior to Dahl and other liberals firmly ensconced in their own self-fulling myths about American republicanism, is more so an ideal than reality. In actuality, there is a bizzarro world funhouse mirror type of pluralism that does exist, whereby different wings of the capitalist classes are pitted against each other, while others, especially progressives are there to pick which force to side with.

There are “moderate” elements of the business world that differ sharply on particular policies when compared to their more extreme cousins, such as supporting the Affordable Care Act or aspects of the Build Back Better legislation advocated by the Biden administration. Regardless of such differences, it is much easier for capitalists to gather the resources one would need to lobby government effectively. It is the capitalists, whether Amazon or Koch Industries, who can draw on an army of lawyers to obscure their dastardly plans in neoliberal lingo, who can fund a nearly inexhaustible bench of lobbyists and think tank “experts” to “strategize” with their favorite legislators almost on a daily schedule.

“Businesses predominate in the lobbying disclosure forms, whether we look at simple numbers of registrations or whether we weight these activities by numbers of reports, numbers of issues mentioned, or levels of spending” Baumgartner and Leech concluded in their article “Interest Niches and Policy Bandwagons”.

Lee Drutman, another liberal political scientist who has spent years researching our lobbying system, has also identified its growing divide and imbalances.

Meanwhile, the types of organized interests who we might expect to provide a countervailing force to business — labor unions, groups representing diffuse public like consumers or taxpayers — spend $1 for every $34 businesses spend on lobbying, by my count. Of the 100 organizations that spend the most on lobbying annually, consistently 95 represent business. In interviewing 60 corporate lobbyists for my book The Business of America is Lobbying, I asked them to identify the leading opposition on an issue on which they were currently working. Not a single lobbyist volunteered a union or a “public interest” group.

Most importantly, there are issues that most capitalists, regardless of the intensity of their ideological loyalty to the concept of the “free market” or what industry they’re in, will unite on. Such issues include raising taxes on corporations, removing obstacles for employees to form unions, and government regulations that compel companies from not doing things that benefit their bottom-line at the expense of everyone else, like dumping toxic waste in random rivers or lakes. Basically, issues that are clearly unimportant and don’t affect anyone.

“This ‘elite pluralism’ does not, however, prevent the separate elites in capitalist society from constituting a dominant economic class possessed of a high degree of cohesion and solidarity, common interests and common purposes which far transcend their specific differences and disagreements,” Miliband expressed in his classic State in Capitalist Society.

However, the “locus” of State power, as Barrow said, cannot be limited to what takes place at the governmental level.

Expanding upon Miliband, Poulantzas pointed to the fact that government power is but one aspect of overall State power. Sometimes, government policy can be overshadowed by dynamics beyond its institutions and bureaucracy.

In an essay challenging Miliband on some his theories on the State, Poulantzas wrote,

Here is the thesis I would like to propose: the system of the state is composed of several apparatuses or institutions of which certain have a principally repressive role, in the strong sense, and others a principally ideological role. The former constitute the repressive apparatus of the state, that is to say the state apparatus in the classical Marxist sense of the term (government, army, police, tribunals and administration). The latter constitute the ideological apparatuses of the state, such as the Church, the political parties, the unions (with the exception, of course, of the revolutionary party or trade union organizations), the schools, the mass media (newspapers, radio, television), and, from a certain point of view, the family.

One of the major elements of the State are its leading capitalists and how they choose to behave, regardless of which party holds power in Congress. Indeed, in countries like ours, the capitalists exert an inordinate amount of power over the rest of society.

It is, after all, the vaunted “private sector” that provide a large number of jobs, which secures investment, and delivers services that a significant number of people rely on. “The State needs capital to be reasonably healthy,” said Doug Henwood, a political economist whose work focuses on economic policy and financialization. During the pandemic, many people had to rely on companies like Amazon to gain access to basic things, like toilet paper, without being exposed to the virus. Businesses shut down or laid off staff to cut costs, leading to many suddenly unable to pay their rent, or able to pay for food and medicine.

Government did step in, albeit sporadically. Benefits were extended, and paychecks were sent through the mail. Every other Friday, I’d be refreshing my bank account and so did many of my friends and my parents too, who would oftentimes call me and ask me if I’d receive my government check yet.

There remains millions of people in the U.S. who are still employed by the government and therefore, are far more secure than their counterparts in the private sector. Many have been people of color, who have not exactly fared well at the hands of the “free market” where apparently people have been free to be racist and discriminatory. This is exemplified during the Jim Crow era, both in the north and south and west and everywhere across the U.S., where private owners would either shut out, or pay far less employees who were black or non-white. To the libertarian who oftentimes is raised with “help” and on huge plots of land, like Goldwater had been, the unfreedom that racism creates for people is rarely considered since it is the “entrepreneur” who must be supported praised. Much like we still do with Elon Musk and Bezos, among other demigods shooting spaceships at their free time.

Fortunately, the government has provided that floor for many, especially during the pandemic. Nearly 30 percent of the United Postal Service is African American. Others work as teachers, as social workers, as people manning the DMV. I have immediate family, after years suffering excruciating hours of being demeaned working at supermarkets and at warehouses, who are now receiving better pay, better labor protections, and better benefits and job security working for the government.

Nonetheless, millions of Americans are susceptible to the whims of private business. My father, an engineer, has been working at mainly private firms for all his life since coming to the states. When the companies he’s worked for need to lay off employees to “save money” in the short term, they’ve done so, leaving my dad behind. When the companies he’s worked want longer hours, or take on more projects for them to do, my dad and others have little choice but to follow through and spend weekends too, hunched over blueprints, while I chuckle at the term “water closet”.

As a white-collar worker, my dad has been able to save some, and the firms he works in are minority-owned and receive government contracts, but overall, the situation can feel maddening and frustrating to witness.

And this situation wouldn’t necessarily change immediately after socialists or progressives win elections or enter government. If Bernie Sanders won the presidency, major financial institutions and companies would use this leverage they have to beat back reforms that seem dangerous to them. They would withhold investment, shut down factories, lay off workers like they already do during recessions, and cause “chaos” and disorder, compelling people who otherwise would support a socialist agenda to rethink their position. In some sense, the rest of society is treated like being in a hostage situation, whereby the companies, the “responsible” stewards of our wellbeing, are threatening all of us with more harm and trauma if we don’t relent on raising taxes by one percentage point.

This is what happened in countries like Chile after they elected Salvador Allende, a socialist. Soon after, companies started to divest, or fund right-wing trade unions to foment disruption. In France, when the socialist Francois Mitterrand won his election to become prime minister, rushing in with a bold socialist agenda, the capitalists immediately started funneling investment into the rest of Europe. Worried about the disruption this sudden flight of key investment would cause long-term for the country and on his chances to win re-election, Mitterrand stripped away anything that had a whiff of social democracy from his policies, and instead, worked with major businesses to prioritize their interests.

“It’s a mode of discipline on what the State can do,” Henwood added.

Over the past four decades, government has ceded more power and influence into the private sector. Instead of lessening the dependency people have on private businesses, the government has contracted out the responsibility of providing critical resources to the private sector to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars. Instead of government providing healthcare, we have insurance companies filling that role, turning a profit while denying people universal care. Instead of universal housing, we have property developers and local landlords raising rents, dumping random charges onto peoples’ expenses. We have people working themselves sick to maintain an apartment that has mold festering on the ceiling.

Government welfare was drastically altered n the mid-1990s, with Bill Clinton at the helm, getting his dick sucked while he told others how to live. Welfare ultimately became workfare under Clinton and his “moderate” friends in his party and among the nihilists of the GOP, where people had to now work to receive government aid, which meant working for less than minimum wage at McDonalds, serving burnt or soggy fries to other people also desperate, wandering through a late night shift with some grease in their bellies.

Greg Albo teaches political economy at York University and has explored how the outsized role businesses play in our lives has been accepted by many in government and by ordinary people. How so many of us have naturalized the need for society to depend on the so-called “expertise” and efficiency available in the private sector.

“Most States have added some mechanisms, some apparatus at the top that gives particular access to capitalist classes, an advisory body, a strategy body,” Albo explained.

Whether during Trump’s reign of bullying and bullishness, or now, under Biden’s sleepwalking approach to policymaking, whenever there is a major policy to discuss, businesses are brought in as equal partners. The Biden administration has been quite excited to inform the media that they’ve sat in with so and so major company, and such and such executive from some corporate behemoth, as a means of generating “sound” policy ideas, including on Covid-19.

Run government like a business is a common refrain that still holds too much sway in our mainstream public policy discourse, whether echoed by some CNN anchor who likes to think a Nazi and a protestor are the same in the sense of destructiveness, or by some right-wing Democrat or Republican. Regardless of partisan affiliation, both echo the sentiment about how budgets need to be run like people handle their personal budgets at the kitchen table. Of course, as we all know, there’s also a need for each of us to make space between buying eggs and paying the internet bill for also purchasing our own army to protect us. Usually, it’s sound advice to hire between five to ten goons for every apartment.

Beyond government and businesses, there are also other elements of the State that play a critical role in undergirding State power, or in affecting it in some way. There are also religious institutions of course, civic institutions like clubs and other associations. There is the media and schools. There are labor unions defending elements of government, and groups like the Proud Boys, allied with their bros in the police, violently suppressing left-wing protest.

Major elements within the State, whether government or private enterprise, are capable in cultivating constituencies for themselves. Hence, you have segments of the working class, especially those among the “middle class”, having been afforded more access to loans and other resources, who are willing to defend the “free market” and American ingenuity against the scourge of socialism.

You have evangelical churches, beneficiaries of tax policy, who have become the cheerleaders of the nuclear “family” and of American tradition, battling against government regulation and Critical Race Theory like rabid dogs.

“You’re entering a terrain of the State as being the body that sets the terms of private property, that defends private property, sanctions those who disrupt or contest private property,” Albo explained, “That’s the terrain you’re in for social struggle. The terms of what is private property, what is legitimate private property is sites of struggle. It is a terrain you struggle over. The more you struggle over, the more you have to rupture the existing institutions the limit of how they’re penetrated by capitalist norms.”

The struggle for State power, as Lenin observed generations ago in the throes of crisis and extreme repression, is a multi-faceted one. Also, as Lenin and Miliband and later, Poulantzas learned, the State always open to opportunity for socialists and progressive forces to develop power and someday, overtake it so long as we’re willing to be tethered to reality. So long as we do not simply disregard the State as one singular oppressive blob, aping conservative rhetoric, and thinking revolution is our only answer, we have a chance at winning what we need, short-term and longer-term.

As much as the U.S. government relies on the economic “health” that capitalists can provide, for the sake of its own legitimacy, it also retains interests that don’t perfectly align with what major companies, including Amazon. The easiest example is the fact that congresspeople, despite some of their attempts at restricting liberal democracy to a handful of right-wing thugs and white supremacists, depend on some level of constituency support. Thus, congressmembers will always be balancing between what works for their best donors as well as what works for them, which includes voting on spending and infrastructure bills that people need. Of course, such bills can be watered down, as we’ve seen with the Build Back Better legislation, but the fact that these policies are still being discussed is reliant on the fact that people are hurting and congress has to respond to get re-elected.

Government is also run by long-time bureaucrats whose agenda can directly conflict with major businesses. The EPA, the IRS, the Labor Department, and the U.S. Justice Department are motivated by reasons that can run counter to what companies like Amazon and Walmart would prefer, such as regulating toxic waste to promoting labor safety. When progressives head such departments, like they once did during the New Deal and the Great Society, steps are taken that can skew in favor of the interests of working people, such as making sure water is safe to drink, and creating government programs that provide people jobs.

Government bureaucrats, despite the years of neoliberal decay, still maintain services and programs that people need, that corporations would like to see completely eviscerated instead. Maintaining such programs is a function of government bureaucrats who also depend on these programs to exist for their own jobs, but are also products of people inside government who recognize that if these programs were to completely disappear, there would be chaos and frustration spilling into the streets.

Julia Hoffe and Hunter Blair at the Economic Policy Institute state,

[…]government assistance programs are directly responsible for keeping tens of millions of people out of poverty. Social Security is, by far, the most powerful anti-poverty program in the United States. In 2018, it was responsible for keeping 27.3 million people, or 8.4% of all people in America, above the SPM poverty threshold. Refundable tax credits, such as the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Tax Credit, kept 7.9 million people, or 2.4% of people in America, above the SPM poverty threshold. Smaller (but still vital) programs, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP (commonly known as “food stamps”) and Supplemental Security Income each prevented about 3 million people from falling into poverty.

It was government action that distributed vaccines and other resources that people desperately needed.

This is something that my mom brings up now every time we watch the news together and “discuss”, until she switches over to watch the Yankees instead, still grumbling over some Republican representing some extremist company line.

“How else are people suppose to get what they need,” she told me during one of my recent visits after taking a second Covid-19 test for free. I was at the dining room table, watching Aaron Judge at the plate, swinging, while my dad was also at the table, biting into a chicken leg dripping in a thick sauce my mom concocted. My dad had just gotten back from another quick trip into Manhattan to check on a construction site and after driving well over an hour, he was to return to the main office a half-hour away, right outside Rutgers.

“Dogs, goons, a bunch of bitches,” she muttered, listing every obscenity known to man, until the commercials splashed across screen. She slowly lifted her legs, wincing and set them back on the carpet. “Did you get the booster?” she said, staring directly at me.

“He told us he did,” my dad interjected without lifting his head.

“Did you?”

I nodded.

“Such haramajaras (assholes), these Trump bastards,” she continued, adding, just as the Yankees returned, “Thank god for Biden, for getting us the vaccine.”

I’ve heard similar comments from friends and family, more clear in their view of how big a role big government can play in their lives. A crises like this can be helpful in also exposing how much businesses still need government, from providing security for their prized property rights, to being the ones who can generate policy that benefits major businesses, even when the businesses themselves don’t seem to recognize common sense, such as the need for roads and bridges to be reconstructed, or for people not to be completely thrown off any type of financial support.

The capitalists themselves have rarely been as godlike as we can have a tendency to believe. The capitalists, driven by the need to make more money, are oftentimes irrational. Think businesses refusing to raise wages so employees would be more willing to return. Think various companies opposing bills like the Build Back Better plan, or choosing to compete against one another, generating animosity.

Think a line of Dunkins and Wawas built across the street from a row of Starbucks and 7-11s.

“The [government’s] function is to keep these guys from eating each other,” Henwood said. Since the rise of neoliberalism, companies have been more wedded to shorter-term interests, such as appeasing stockholders, than they are to reinvesting in their companies or in training their workers for the future ahead. Thus, against their best interests, they are more likely to shift factories around the globe, and to cut down on wages, to basically have us descend further into crises that hurts everyone.

As Henwood explains in much more detail in “Take Me To Your Leader: The Rot Of The American Ruling Class”, it was Nixon and his coterie, including the Treasury secretary, who encouraged businesses to organize themselves into “non partisan” lobbying groups. To basically coordinate resources and cease feuding over critical issues.

Companies continue to lean on critical legislators, such as Senator Charles Schumer, who I interned for, unpaid of course a few years ago. I still remember Senator Schumer, the defender of democracy and the “resistance” under Trump, receiving calls from the CEO of Google, which he would take behind closed doors at the office.

“But Mr. Schumer, a member of the Banking and Finance Committees, repeatedly took other steps to protect industry players from government oversight and tougher rules, a review of his record shows,” write Eric Lipton and Raymond Hernandez, “Over the years, he has also helped save financial institutions billions of dollars in higher taxes or fees.”

Government, therefore, is a bastion of power that socialists and progressive forces need. In countries like Venezuela and Bolivia, countries where the consequences of “failure” by the Left are far more severe, it was the takeover of government institutions that provided more opportunity for socialists to develop power against the other elements of the State. Through government, socialists in both countries could provide what people needed in the short-term, such as extra resources, which is always critical. How can one develop a revolution if everyone is too busy barely surviving, their political aspirations weakened by immediate needs? How can one develop a socialist future if the people who must fight for it can’t think past their next paycheck?

Furthermore, PSUV party in Venezuela, as well as Movement for Socialism developed policies that helped develop a constituency that would be better prepared to fight against the right-wing and committed to the grueling struggle for socialism.

In Venezuela, for instance, the government realized it could create laws that would be make much easier for working people to form communes, or to be at least legally recognized and receive resources to expand. Over time, as George Ciccariello-Maher writes in Building the Commune: Radical Democracy in Venezuela, the communes have become the spine of the Chavista movement, even after Chavez’s death.

The building blocks for this new socialist democracy were the communal councils, established in a 2006 law. These councils—directly democratic and participatory institutions for local governance—quickly numbered in the thousands as neighbors began to come together weekly to debate and discuss how to govern themselves.

By the time the right-wing mounted its attack on Bolivia’s burgeoning social democracy, coordinated with major business interests, there was a constituency that had also been developed. This constituency had been expanded through MAS providing people what they needed, which is what drew many more to depend on MAS and to view it as a party worth defending.

“We sure can win city councils, mayor offices,” Barrow said, “We can win schools committees, and we can build a base of experienced political leaders and we can capture pieces of the state. There are pieces of the State that are within our grasp, where we can improve peoples’ lives and build from there.”

The reality is there will be a counterattack and capitalist flight when socialists, even when weak-kneed social democrats manage to win critical seats in congress and burrowing into the bureaucracy. The capitalists will wage class war, no matter how bloody and damaging, even to themselves With some elements of government in our grasp, we can finally find ways to alleviate the blowback. Steps can be finally taken that can protect segments of the working class, like dismantling institutions like Immigration and Customs Enforcement Executive or bolstering the resources of OSHA. Executive actions can be developed to create jobs programs, to create new bureaucracies providing government housing and healthcare. Literally, as we’ve seen in the pandemic, money can be printed, paychecks can be mailed to everyone who needs them.

“I will never forget it,” my mom exclaimed when I asked her about the paychecks and about the vaccines, and everything in-between.

Politics, as Gramsci noted, is warfare. Those who win are those who can marshal their forces against others. Over the pandemic, there have been people shifting their views on issues like government’s role in our lives. Big government appears to be trending positively more so than before.

Government programs can inspire and develop loyalty and help progressive forces to receive resources they need to confront the reactionary elements and defeat them, as they’re attempting in countries like Venezuela and Bolivia.

“Tell your baba not to go to work,” my mom said, “Tell him to stay.”

My dad rolled his eyes. “Yes, I’ll just stay and ignore every contract we have,” he said.

“Aren’t others annoyed at having to go into work?” I said.

“Tell him to stay.”

“Why don’t you talk to other people at work?”

He lifted his head. “I’m not trying to cause a problem,” he said.

“That’s not what I’m saying. This isn’t fair.”

“What’s talking to people going to do? Nothing is going to change.”

“That’s not true…”

“Nothing is going to change. There’s no point.”

“What about the testing? The vaccines? The paychecks?” my mom said.

“I know, and I voted for Biden and he’s doing what he can.”

“That’s not true either,” I interjected, but my dad had already returned to finishing his meal, and soon after, washed up, kissed me on the head and left for work. He would return much later that evening, eyelids drooping, dragging his feet.

The world that my mom and dad are implicated in is a world in which they’re for the most part left to fend for themselves. It is a world in which the State, as a whole, has been increasingly working in favor of those elements that are regressive and profit-obsessed. Elements that take advantage of peoples’ vulnerability and desperation, especially in times of crises like we’re in now.

But the State contains within it the seeds for a new type of society, a society in which people don’t have to advocate for themselves. A society in which the person isn’t the one solely responsible for their own well-being, compelled to spend hours on the phone with the health insurance company, spending days calling their landlord to make sure the water is clean.

Government is that seed that promises a new way of living. A new way of being whereby resources are provided, where people no longer depend on themselves or even on their neighbors for basic needs, like food and medicine.

For people to be free, a government will be necessary to not only shift power away from the regressive elements in the State currently, but to also, develop and sustain a new society where people feel secure and emboldened. It would be naïve to imagine a free society as one in which the government and therefore, the State is completely dissolved, and everyone has to once more become their own “bureaucrat”, voting on how often the lights at the nearest traffic light need to checked on.

“Most people want things to work, want to pay their bills and live their lives in some security and not vote in everything that comes up,” Henwood stated.

Realistically, for people to be free, an entity must exist to help coordinate resources that everyone needs, such as healthcare and housing. An entity must also exist to train those who can be its stewards, such as teachers, doctors, social workers, engineers, and whomever needs to be one to make sure that the traffic lights do work, and buses aren’t smashing into each other.

In countries like Cuba, the government has invested in critical resources that everyone needs and certainly, cannot be expected to operate and organize on their own, like a universal healthcare system. Even in the U.S., the pandemic has proven how government can play a role in alleviating people’s stress and level of vulnerability. Paychecks and freely available vaccines, subsidized by government, has been significant and not something that private industry nor private persons would be able or willing to coordinate and manage.

Through government, the State can transform itself into what people have needed all along. Of course, as Lenin warned, one must think through how to develop a government that provides what people need without also creating an army of government bureaucrats who may feel superior to, or lead lives that are different from the rest of the society. There’s also the concerns surrounding labor and how government should manage labor in ways that still meet social needs, such as producing food and technology, while also, not behaving in ways that are authoritarian and overzealous.

Regardless, these are concerns that will never be entirely resolved and will never override the need for having a government in the first place. Such issues will therefore linger, and yet, so long as my dad and mom are able to be happier than they are now, in the current political regime we currently are stuck in, able to once again travel, to not worry about retirement, then all other concerns are secondary.


[1] This article includes insights from interviews with Clyde Barrow, Doug Henwood and Greg Albo.

Sudip Bhattacharya serves as a co-chair of the Political Education Committee at Central Jersey DSA and is a writer based in New Jersey, having been published in Current Affairs, Cosmonaut, New Politics, Reappropriate, and The Aerogram, among other outlets. Prior to pursuing a PhD in Political Science at Rutgers University, he had worked full-time as a reporter across the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast.