Lazy rascals, spending their substance, and more, in riotous living

The Civil War in Bolivia

Moll on the difficulties facing Evo Morales in Bolivia. What I find particularly interesting is the overlap between, for want of better terms, ethical and tactical questions. Moll is worried about Evo sending in the troops against the rich, racist protesters in Santa Cruz; both because if it worked it would reinforce the power of the state (the ethical concern) and because it might not work (the tactical one), fatally weakening the revolution/reform process currently underway. These concerns might look like they’re in tension with one another, if not flat-out contradictory, but I think they’re actually two sides of the same coin, an illustration of the difficulty of understanding the role of the state in revolution.

Well, not that I know enough about the specifics of the Bolivian situation to say anything definite about what Morales should or shouldn’t do. But the question in general of how the revolution should relate to the state is always an interesting one. I’ve been reading The Civil War in France, which is Marx’s attempt to address the question of state power. Sometimes nowadays Marxists adopt Weber’s definition of the state (well, Weber did attribute it to Trotsky), perhaps adding a quick reference to the class nature of the state. One of the things that’s particularly interesting about The Civil War in France is that it’s a mature work by Marx that maintains the very clear rejection of the state from his earlier works, because it rejects this way of understanding the state. Marx says that the state “inmeshes the living civil society like a boa constrictor” (162); aside from the vitalism of this phrasing (which is another link to the early Marx), the metaphor suggests the alienation of the state that, Marx thinks, is a fundamental part of class rule. This is why revolution can’t just involve taking over the state, replacing a bourgeois state with a workers’ state (a phrase which, as far as I know, Marx never used positively). Now, that’s not to say that the revolution shouldn’t or can’t use coercion, but violence doesn’t necessarily make for a state (contra Weber and Schmitt); what matters is whether the means of coercion are directly employed by the whole mass of the people, rather than being organized in an alienated form.

Given this, it’s odd that Marx says so little in The Civil War in France about the actual means of organization of the Commune. He writes much more about the composition of the ruling class, and the maneuvers of individual ruling-class statesmen. It’s possible that this is because Marx thinks that, with the abolition of alienated power, politics becomes transparent; there’s no need for the kind of tea-leaf reading and scrutinizing of political machinations that you get in a state. This seems like some kind of hippie-Rousseauianism to me, in which unalienated organization is simply natural; I don’t think this is Marx’s view. Another possibility is that Marx’s main concern is in the tactical room for maneuver opened up by fissures within the ruling class. But this would suggest that Marx held a surprisingly bourgeois understanding of political agency, with the working class figured as a unified agent, with its freedom to act a matter of a lack of restraints, a negative freedom. Neither of these strike me as satisfying interpretations of The Civil War in France.