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To what extent have socialists agreed that the existing state must be destroyed in order to achieve socialism?
Socialism is an ambiguous ideology which seeks to create a society that embraces collectivism and common humanity, which inform other socialist values and principles such as equality, welfare and common ownership. Some socialists believe the state must be destroyed completely in order to achieve socialism such as Marx and Engels, though most believe that the existing state should have a minimal control hence why this essay will argue that socialists disagree to a great extent that the existing state must be destroyed in order to achieve socialism.
Some socialists agree that the state must be destroyed in order to achieve socialism. For example, Marx and Engles argued that capitalism must disappear before socialism. In their works like ‘the Communist manifesto’, they propounded that human nature has been contaminated by capitalism which encouraged selfishness, ruthlessness and greed, which in turn instills a false consciousness in mankind far removed from their original nature - one that had been cooperative and fraternal. As a result, this creates conflict between the classes: the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, the latter being exploited due to capitalism’s harsh inequalities of wealth and power. As the ruling bourgeoisie use the state apparatus to maintain their dominance, this would consequently create an unstable society leading the state being eventually overthrown by an inevitable proletarian revolution. This revolution is essential to destroy the current state in order to create a new, more socialist state that would govern in the interests of the new, economically dominant class – one they called the dictatorship of the proletariat seen in the Soviet Union and China. Once this alternative state had cemented socialist values, it would ‘wither away’ and be replaced by communism, a stateless society involving common ownership which endorses socialist values eg. redistribution of wealth. However, revisionist socialism seeks to revise the Marxist view that socialism is incompatible with capitalism. They do not believe that the state needs to be destroyed via a revolution so that socialism can be achieved. That is because by the end of the 19th century, as Eduard Bernstein’s revisionist study revealed, the condition of the working-class were steadily improving and capitalism — especially in those states were capitalism was less developed, undermining Marx’s convictions. They instead believed that capitalist economies could provide an even greater improvement to work as conditions, eliminating the need for a revolution. Though, one argument why socialists would not want the state to be destroyed completely is because of common good. All socialists agree that industries should be owned or regulated by the state in order to serve the broader public interest but also to ensure the distribution of goods and services via state intervention and state planning are fair to ensure social justice. As such, the socialist position on the role of the state inevitably follows from their perspective on human nature and the importance of community. Hence, whilst it is recognised that some socialists do want the state to be destroyed as they believe that in a stateless society, workers can achieve fulfilment, all subsequent socialist thinkers have detected misleadings in Marxists views on the state its endorsement of capitalism is not entirely exploitative but rather beneficial for workers as long as state ownership of key industries, legal safeguards and welfare measures are taken to protect the workers.
Some socialists disagree that the state should not be completely destroyed in order to achieve socialism. For example, social democracy is a revisionist form of democracy and attempts to reconcile free-market capitalism with state intervention. That is because state intervention in economic and social affairs protects the public and remedies capitalism’s weakness which is to distribute wealth unequally. Subsequently, to bring social justice, social democrats focus on peaceful constitutional methods rather than revolutionary ones accorded by Marx and Engels. This notion was also endorsed by Anthony Crosland who believed that reform rather than removal of capitalism, using the welfare state, to distribute wealth and tackle social inequality in property should be maintained in order to an egalitarian society and remove class barriers. However, the Third Way which was introduced in the UK by the labour party or ‘New Labour’ under Tony Blair in the 1990s rejects state intervention. They reject the state as they believe that state welfare and redistribution foster a culture of dependency. Instead, they argue a ‘social investment’ state is needed i.e. a ‘contract’ between the state and the citizen. Meaning that the state benefits from growth so they must invest in education and infrastructure. This would lead to people who will take advantage of this and help themselves, promoting equality of opportunity. On the contrary, one reason why socialists would want the state to be completely destroyed is due to its incompetence to ensure equality and fair treatment. They believe that the state creates a division between the social classes as they allow priorities and prospects to be given to those who are depending on the social class they are born into. This means that social classes are profoundly unequal in terms of power and influence: those in the working class, for example, are seem to less influence within their society. Hence why, they wouldn’t want the state to intervene as they want to treat everyone equally as to ensure everyone has a level chance to fulfil their potential. Hence, whilst it is recognised that all socialists want limited state intervention as they allow the existence of social classes and the absence of social justice within the social classes, ultimately they do not agree that it should be destroyed completely as they value their intervention when it comes to fixing the ramifications of capitalism.
To conclude, whilst it is recognised that some socialists agree that the state should be completely destroyed for socialism to be achieved, most see the state in an optimistic way to improve the quality of the workers lives.