Marxists view of the state is an extension of their rigid view of other social relationships and economic categories. It is crude and ahistorical. Their perception of state is an organization that came to existence with the development of trade and creation of class society. These Marxian class societies have a standing armed organization. Whereby this organization's central task is to protect the interests of the privileged classes against the disenfranchised ones. The role of the downtrodden is to suffer and wait for an opportunity to overthrow the propertied classes.
If one looks at a scene of a police squadron in a U.S. city attacking a strike picket line, this could leave an impression in support of a Marxist prognosis; that the primary role of the state and its force is to suppress the disadvantaged and propertyless strata of the society. But these confrontations as serious as they appear, in some eyes, has never captured the imagination of the majority. At the same time it is not hard to see that the overwhelming portion of the state military force has been deployed in wars with other nations.
The overwhelming majority of the Americans identify with their government, or state, and its forces. But is this not the general trend throughout the history? In general the populace identify with their own state and see themselves to have a stake in it and the overwhelming force of the state is deployed in wars with other states or peoples who they do not identify with. This trend goes back all the way to the times immemorial, to pre-history. It goes back to primitive societies, Marx's "egalitarian" societies. They all fought with competing tribes. To the extent that one wants to define their primitiveness as "egalitarian", this skewed notion of the egalitarianism gets shoved out of the door as soon as one steps outside the bounds of the tribe.
If one wants to look at the reality of the historical development, it seems that the state as the expression of the social status quo always existed as far back as the dawn of human existence and the armed body of the society always existed and it was mainly to safeguard the boundaries of the society.
So where does this Marxian notion of the state come from? If one wants to believe the Marxists definition of the state then one at least has to find a main historical trend that the armed forces of a society had to be engaged against its own subjects more often than against the outside forces. And this trend has to go back as far as the primitive tribes. That means that it has to apply to those tribes as well. Remember, all the evidence points out that different levels of privilege has been part of those tribes and they had their own status quo.
Marx saw privilege and social status corresponding to that privilege as something very recent in our evolutionary past. For him this went back just a few thousand years ago and prior to that is the early communism. Once one discards this Marxist notion and realizes that there is no cut off period in social differentiation and it actually goes back to our pre homo sapiens era and it even goes back to the lives of animal packs then the Marxist "state" becomes a fiction.
Among the animal packs it is the stronger and naturally the relatively younger which leads the pack. Among the human tribes it was the wiser, the one who carried the tribal myth and naturally the more mature and older who was leading the tribe. And this transition probably took place because of the development of the language, which became the repository of the tribal heritage and experience. As much as the pack needs the strong alpha leader and heeds, the tribe heeds to the elder leader and to his interpretation and reinterpretation of the tribal myth as the tribe faces challenges. The alpha leader gets the first fill of the kill and the tribe has to support the survival of the myth keeper during the hard times, periods of starvation and attack by other warring tribes. The pack needs its alpha leader and the tribe its shaman, without which there would not be a society.
Society without differentiation and privilege is meaningless. It can only float in heaven or the imagination of an intellectual who is lost in the turmoils of his time.
The general historical trend is clear and does not speak for the Marxist notion of the state. On the contrary if one wants to find a broad definition for the "state" one cannot escape the fact that it is the nexus of the merger of different interests in a society. That is how a society organizes its progress. The expression of this concept can easily be seen in the American society. It has demonstrated itself through the processes of the abolition of slavery, civil rights gains, equal rights for women, labor rights and many more on their way toward realization. While each interest or interest group has been pushing hard for their position we have seen that the society has the capacity to respond to the all "classes", or more accurately interests. As the interests are not the same, the response or outcome has not been the same, but the overall outcome and its expression in political changes give credence to this notion of state. As the state broadened its base it also strengthened the society as a whole. Our direct experience with the American political institutions and its innumerable social organizations does give credence to this non-Marxist concept.
Interesting thing is that Marx saw certain peculiarities about American society, particularly with the eruption of the civil war in 1861. Of course his prognosis flew out of his "class" perception. He thought that the capitalists do not have as tight of a grip on the American state as it is the case in Europe. On this basis, he perceived that it is very likely that the civil war could lead directly to a socialist transformation in North America. It is clear that the American government and its broad democratic institutions did not fit Marx's view of the state, so he interpreted it as an exception that could actually facilitate a socialist transformation. Marx missed the point that the state institutions of the United States was a clear refutation of his notion of the state and not an exception.
Marx's dogmatic approach was not limited to this subject alone. Marx perceived the main stages of the human development as primitive or early communism, slavery, feudalism and capitalism. His twisted exposition of the European societies, in terms of those categories or stages became problematic for Marx. European societies were a smaller subset of all human societies and he became dumbfounded trying to explain the development of the Asian societies. Again he found another exception to his rules of human development and he called the Asian developments as "Asian mode of production", some sort of anomaly.
Interesting thing is that his disciples found in Marx's anomaly conditions for transition to socialism, never mind that these societies were far behind the more advanced western ones. This exception seems to be in parallel with his diagnosis for the exceptional mid 19th century American state. We have to assume that the highlight of the "Asian mode of production" transition to socialism is the barbaric North Korea, since more than any of the other backward societies it is sticking to its socialist gun!
Let's get back to the notion of the state as the nexus of the convergence of different interests in a society. As I mentioned it is not hard to see the validity of this abstraction vis-à-vis the American state and even European states. But can the same be said about agricultural societies of the past with peasants and kings being at the extremes of the social differentiation and privileges. How could a kingdom and its institutions be one that peasants could have an interest and stake in?
A broad look at those societies makes it clear that the peasant not only had an interest in their overlord and kingdom, this interest was a vital one. While one could contemplate that paying tribute or taxes to the king might not have been the most pleasant thing it surely beats being robbed to the bone and killed by the marauding tribes. King had an interest to protect his subjects and certainly his subjects sought his protection against the invaders. Of course this relationship was not static and evolved and at some point king lost his usefulness and at times transformations were turbulent but any stable outcome was a state which represented the nexus of the broadest interests. This seems to be the predominant trend in the development of the state and its relation to the status quo in every society.
The above piece is part of a book that I am developing. If you would like to follow, please read the blogs titled "Perspective..." and then read all the blogs which the title name ends with " -- Book". As you might have guessed, you have to read from the earlier posts moving to the present.