On the Nation-State.
The term ‘state’ (or nation-state) is generally used to designate the various institutions, (parliaments, assemblies, legal bodies and enforcement agencies) created to govern countries. In every mode of production, representatives of the dominant class, along with their ideas, dominate the institutions of the state.
That is why nation-states are not neutral. Just as the Aristocracy (and their views) dominated Aristocratic state institutions, now the Capitalists (and their ideas) dominate the capitalist nation-state institutions.
States have numerous formal and informal connections to the citizens who live within their national boundaries. These connections operate through state laws, institutional practices and enforcement agencies. These links can extend to ex-Colonial acquisitions and past Imperial annexations, thus becoming broad and deep.
This mix of nation-state features represent a complex and often confusing interconnected network. However, the modern states relationships with its citizens can best be understood by considering two of its essential features. First; its sources of income and expenditure; Second: its political structure.
Sources of income.
It is obvious, that state institutions are not self-funding nor do they generate income by the production and sale of commodities. The states employees spend but do not economically earn or produce anything of non-state value. They obtain income from four primary sources; taxes and duties (which they impose), loans (which they attract) from individuals, groups, businesses and ‘aid’ from foreign governments.
However, the taxes of citizens pay for the bulk of the nation-states public buildings, its staff salaries, pensions and the grants they make. Payments, in the form of subsidies, benefits, grants, wages, salaries and interest payments, are re-distributions of money collected predominantly from citizens taxes, or from grants, loans and aid.
This bottom-up funding relationship between citizens and the modern state, gives rise to the idea that the states employees (bureaucrats, politicians, law enforcement agents etc.) ought be serving the interests of those who pay their salaries and pensions – ie the citizens!
So it often comes as a shock to tax-paying citizens when state employees are seen to be primarily serving their own narrow interests. Moreover, shock frequently spills over to anger when politicians and state bureaucrats use the states legal and penal powers against citizens who demonstrate against the policies of the states elite employees.
The spectacle of police using weapons such as batons, tear gas, pepper spray, Tazers and water cannons against peaceful protesters, can be a startling revelation to those, who through their taxes, have paid for the weapons used against them. The fact that they have contributed to the salaries of the uniformed ‘enforcers‘ wielding them, can also be a bone of contention when protesters are ‘kettled’, assaulted or imprisoned.
Furthermore, the fact that protesters taxes also go toward the salaries, expenses and pensions of the elite who ordered their rough ‘public order’ treatment can also be a shocking realisation. For in normal human transactions, if someone pays for a service, or contributes to the salaries of state employees they expect the needs of those who pay to be met.
Indeed, if we consider health and education services, we generally do get something we need for paying our taxes. The service in question may be above or below the value of tax-payer contributions, but this is still a ‘normal’ two-sided economic exchange. Citizens pay and normally expect to receive. That’s the economic form of social reciprocity. However, as we shall see parts of the nation-state are not a normal expression of social or economic activity.
Politics and the State.
Indeed, with regard to the state, there is frequently no reciprocity. Some state employees get money for doing nothing beneficial for the taxpayer. Others get extremely high salaries for judging and punishing unfortunate tax-paying victims of the capitalist system. Politicians and state officials get high salaries for doing nothing else but talk to each other – some for their entire careers! They also spend considerable tax-payer money on themselves.
When the political structures within nation-states are examined, the source of the huge contradictions mentioned above are revealed. Although the state takes money from practically everyone it can, it clearly does not serve everyone equally. Since the capitalist class, amasses great concentrations of wealth, it’s members can be (and influence) the employees of the state and elected politicians. Lobbying by industry, commerce and banking is more powerful, extensive and effective than any other sector of society.
Moreover, a majority of the officials ensconced in government (including those in Parliaments Senates and Assemblies, etc.) are drawn from the same groups who occupy elite positions in industry, commerce and banking – often from the same family. Therefore, political ‘lobbying’ is overwhelmingly the elite lobbying the elite on behalf of the elite.
This helps explain the way the taxes are apportioned (or eased) and spent. It also explains the political ‘revolving door’ of elite job swapping between finance, industry, commerce and government. The upper layers of the governing elite live in a wealth-saturated bubble funded by the ordinary citizens.
The real purpose of the nation-state elite is to perpetuate their own hierarchical positions at the top of the wealth pyramid whilst maintaining high levels of wealth inequality. When needing votes, they frequently employ a mantra of serving the public or national interests, but first and foremost they are serving their own interests.
In this regard, note the numerous examples around the globe of politicians and governmental officials deploying the most ruthless means of suppressing their citizens legitimate protests against austerity and poverty.
In practically every country, on every continent, the handling of the multi-dimensional crises of 21st century capitalism has provoked protest and demonstrations by the working, (and increasingly) middle-class, poor. Legitimate concerns have been met everywhere by uniformed men administering violent suppression and punishment simply for challenging the systems crumbling legitimacy.
Globally, politics amounts to – the nation-state versus the ordinary people. Why? The capitalist and pro-capitalist elite maintain order – with calculated violence – because it is their nation-state and their social order.
Roy Ratcliffe (November 2019)
The explanation of media double speak might have been carried to greater lengths, always be ready with a good sense of irony when they speak of “Our interests” or “Disruption of the economy”
also I feel a particular sense of indignation about the practice of detaining people in a “kettle” because of the quite arbitrary assumption that they may be planning some sort of mass conspiracy to commit crime, quite obviously it is the state which conspires and the expression of dissent which is considered to be a crime.
Hi Leslie. Good to hear from you again. You are right of course. However, this series of beginners guides are deliberately short so they are not too off putting for the new generation of young activists who are mobilising globally on climate and other issues. I have limited myself to 1000 words or less for these guides, which when completed will hopefully become the chapters of a new book ‘A beginners guide to Revolutionary-Humanism.’ Regards Roy