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Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume 39, Number 24, September 27, 1976.

Role of the State

Role of the State

Nor can we ignore, as Rowling and Tizard seem to be ignoring ("Karl Marx and I aren't even good friends") some essential issues on the nature of the state and the participation of people in that framework. The analysis must go a little deeper than a quick summary of the history of the Labour Party.

The chief function of the state in any society is that of social cohesion. The state arbitrates between various groups and claims to decide things for the good of all. As Engels put it "in order that society should not consume itself in fruitless struggle it becomes necessary to have a body, seemingly standing above society". This body is the state.

Yet there is a contradiction between the state's assumed role and its chief function. It is a matter of logic that, given an antagonistic class society, where one class exploits another, the state must take some part in that struggle. Simply because its role is social cohesion, protecting the status quo, the state must also be protecting the interests of the ruling class.

The class nature of the state is thus a matter of objective function, not of who is in power in the state at a particular time. Yet the state is not just a "committee of management" of the bourgeoisie. This is so for two reasons. Firstly, the bourgeoisie itself is far from being a united class. Secondly, because the state attempts, in its own terms, to "stand above society", it therefore has some independence of its economic base.

Capitalist society, based on the commodity form of production, has within itself severs! sub-modes of production. Different sub-modes are characterised by differing methods and forms of production. Thus while they all are part of the capitalist mode of production these are significant differences between the agricultural sub-mode, the small industry/service sub mode and the big industry sub mode. Within each sub mode, stemming from the productive relationships, there are classes, essentially based on owners and workers.

The classes stemming from each sub mode exist beyond their purely economic existence. They have political and ideological attributes as well. Thus in New Zealand the agricultural sector is marked by a particular political outlook, essentially opposed to the extension of state control and a particular ideology of the value of hard work, rugby, and mistrust for the city. The industrial sub mode on the other hand, dependant as it is on state protection, has differing political and ideological attributes. Politically it seeks an uneasy extension of the state's regulatory role. Ideologically the values of consumerism and city Hiring are strong.

The overall class of owners therefore comprises the collection of the owners in the various sub-modes, and the overall class of workers similarly includes workers in different areas. These groups are known as class fractions. As part of its role of social cohesion, the state must clearly attempt to unite the ruling class fractions (into a 'power bloc') and also try to disunite the working class fractions.

In these attempts the state is caught in contradictions. Competition, especially between bourgeois class fraction, tends to fragment the ruling class. There is noone the farmers hate more than the finance companies. At the same time, the development of society breaks down divisions and hence unifies the working class. The fact that the jobs of respective unification and fragmentation get more difficult over time is a major reason for the growth of state 'intervention' in the economy.

The second reason why the state is not just a management committee of the bourgeoisie lies in its relative automomy from the economic sphere. Because it exists iwth a particular institutional framework on the political level, the state is the focal point for class struggle. And class struggle necessarily implies that the dominated classes can achieve some measure of success. Successes, albeit short lived, can be seen in the working class's victory in 1935 in New Zealand, or the petty bourgeois movement in Germany that brought Hitler to Power.