The Changing Role of the State

It’s no accident the state is defined as sovereign political power. Traditionally the state was the apparatus that allowed those who exercised power within a specific territory to enforce that power. The sovereign enjoyed a monopoly in that territory on the exercise of power. Anarchists have traditionally considered themselves to be the enemy of the state because the state gives those who exercise power and accumulate wealth, the mechanism by which to enforce inequalities in the communities they control.

The revolutionary struggles of the late 18th century, 19th century and the first half of the 20th century slowly transformed the state from an instrument of terror to an instrument that was used to look after the interests of people living within a specific geographical locality.

The traditional anarchist aversion to the state became more and more irrelevant as the state began to look after the interests, welfare and liberties of its citizens. In many one party communist or socialist nation states, the state was both an instrument of terror and personal salvation. The collapse of state capitalism (an ideology that give a one party state the power to own the means of production, distribution, exchange and communication) gave way to corporate capitalism (an ideology that gives unaccountable corporations, whose major responsibility is to create ever increasing profits irrespective of the human, social, environmental and national costs, the power to own the means of production, distribution, exchange and communication).

The privatisation, globalisation, deregulation and corporatisation mania that has swept the globe over the past four decades has seen the state revert back to its original function – protection of those who own the means of production, distribution, exchange and communication at the expense of the rest of the community.

In the 21st century the sovereign nation state is rapidly becoming an instrument of control. This is particularly evident in Australia as individual citizens do not enjoy constitutional protections from the arbitrary exercise of state power. No wonder more and more Australians are complaining about the overreach of the state despite legislative changes being made that theoretically protect the citizen from the state.

Anarchists in the 21st century call for the abolition of the state because it concentrates power and wealth in a minority who use that accumulated power and wealth to set the parliamentary agenda. Parliament in a 21st century parliamentary democracy does not represent the will of the people or sets the political, economic and social agenda. Today the state’s primary objective is to centralise power not devolve it and to protect those who accumulate wealth. In order to devolve power and share wealth, the hierarchically structured state needs to be replaced by non-hierarchical structures that decentralise power and share wealth.

Dr. Joseph Toscano

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