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The Legal Abolition of the State

There are many good arguments and plenty of historical evidence of why any suggestion of a parliamentary road to abolishing the State, even in an advanced liberal democracy, is extremely unlikely. There is the argument that parliament is innately a bourgeois parliament that excludes substantive reform which is won by extra-parliamentary means. Then there's the argument that parliament will corrupt and weaken any who attempt reform. Finally, there are arguments that any threats to it will result in violence by the ruling class to protect their privileges. These arguments have a degree of legitimacy, however, they are not the point of this discussion. Rather, it is the identification of the special privileges embodied in law that create economic classes and thus a State. In doing so one can, at least in a pro-forma sense, map out what changes would be required to abolish the State through such a means.

In the first instance, it is necessary to differentiate between "the State" and "government". Many anarchists, like most people, have conflated and confused the two, but there is much to be gained by making a distinction. Bookchin [1] notes that whilst all states have governments, not all governments are states. "A government is a set of organized and responsible institutions that are minimally an active system of social and economic administration. They handle the problems of living in an orderly fashion. A government may be a dictatorship; it may be a monarchy or a republican state, but it may also be a libertarian formation of some kind". Proudhon, the first person who identified politically as an anarchist, argued: "Anarchy is... a form of government or constitution in which public and private consciousness, formed through the development of science and law, is alone sufficient to maintain order and guarantee all liberties."[2] Etymologically the two differ; governance means "to steer" (from the ancient Hellenic "kybernan"), whereas anarchy, rather than the early modern English usage of "disorder", means to have no archon, or ruler, i.e., "no ruler", not "no rules". In contrast the state is from the Latin, "stare", "to stand", where we also have such terms as "estate".

The distinction is even noted by radical conservatives who would be considered part of the "libertarian capitalist" politics of contemporary times. Nock, for example, notes that "Wherever economic exploitation has been for any reason either impracticable or unprofitable, the State has never come into existence; government has existed, but the State, never" [3] but, following Engels (and before him, Rousseau), correctly identifies this as the rule of over land. "After conquest and confiscation have been effected, and the State set up, its first concern is with the land. The State assumes the right of eminent domain over its territorial basis, whereby every landholder becomes in theory a tenant of the State. In its capacity as ultimate landlord, the State distributes the land among its beneficiaries on its own terms" [3]. Now, this clearly identifies a particular feature of the State, which is not necessary for governance; the State establishes a class of people who own land and therefore also establishes a population that doesn't (renters).

Elaborating this step further, it is also the State that allows for private property. As Badie et al [4] note: "Private property cannot exist without a political system that defines its existence, its use, and the conditions of its exchange. That is, private property is defined and exists only because of politics." Traditional society emphasised the distribution and ownership of land through its fiefdoms, modern society has done the same for capital. What we call private property of course, consists of the continuum from personal to capital goods, especially through the invention of "legal persons" such as capital corporations, the "joint-stock companies", which Adam Smith was so opposed to [5]. "Property" of course originally referred to landed property with personal goods as "chattels". Like the relationship between landlord and renter, it is a legal system that defines the existence of the capitalist as an owner of the means of production through shares, and the worker who sells their labour.

It is through the definition of these legal privileges that economic classes are enforced but are also subject to their identification and thus their abolition. A class analysis, lacking in many contemporary political reformers who so often confuse it with mere wealth, is absolutely necessary for the abolition of the State. This could be conducted by a multi-step process. Private acquisition of land-rents, the source of income for the landlord class, is perhaps the most egregious and economically damaging privilege, well recognised by almost all economists capitalist and socialist alike. Whilst it is clear that people want and need the security of title, the right to exclude the public from a location creates an unearned income, driving up prices without contributing to production. It is one of the main sources of unemployment, poor housing and homelessness, and a lack of productive investment. Not only this, but as Stiglitz has shown, the beneficiary of public infrastructure investment is the landowner of sites where the investment occurs [6].

The abolition of this monetarised feudalism is the single most important requirement for the first step in abolishing the State. If property titles are changed from freehold to leasehold with a market-based annual site-rental whose revenues were used to provide social and physical infrastructure, there would be much greater wealth and productivity for all. Public revenue from the tawdry collection of taxes on labour or general transactions would no longer be necessary. For environmentalists too, Pigouvian fees and subsidies would be included here, as would the various licensing access to natural resources (e.g., radio spectrum). With the landlord class abolished, the capitalist class could engage in its historic mission; the investment in productive capital.

Of course, this is only the first step. Liberation from the shackles of landlordism benefits capitalists and wage-labourers alike. However, there is still the matter of conflict between the capitalist and worker. This is more complex than the matter between landlords and the rest of society. Ricardo, following Smith, once quipped accurately that the interests of the landlord class are contrary to the interests of all other classes. However, with capital investment, there is a conflict between those who made genuine productive investments, those who engaged in rent-seeking and were aided by State violence [7], not to mention the debate over surplus-value especially in the context of imperfect competition in the labour market [8] which almost always favours the capitalist.

The problem is that whilst land ownership and the extraction of economic rents is always damaging. With capital ownership in many cases, especially with small businesses, the modest accumulates are genuinely the result of work. Arguably it is the corporation, and especially their status as a "legal person", that unjust income is derived. Adam Smith (op cit) argued that corporations engaged in "negligence and profusion" and were antithetical to the capitalist who managed their own money, whilst legal academic Joel Bakan says the corporation is a "psychopathic creature" without responsibility [9], whilst Noam Chomsky points out that that the corporation is not just a legal person but an "immortal person" (at least in theory) without sufficient public oversight. The abolition of corporate, legal personhood, and the rent-seeking of corporate intellectual property, will return a sense of sober decision-making into contemporary economic affairs and provide productivity gains.

Another necessary model that can be implemented over time is that of worker's cooperatives replacing capitalist enterprises. Even liberals like John Stuart Mill recognised that over time that worker's cooperatives could replace the rule of the capitalist [10]. That time has arrived, with increasing evidence that worker's cooperatives are, in fact, more productive than capital-owned enterprises [11], also providing greater longevity, resilience in economic crises, longer employment stability, better pay, lower pay inequality, and higher levels of worker satisfaction. Capital investments, rather than representing ownership and financial control of an enterprise, can be carried out as debentures. With the removal of the ownership of land and the unearned income of landlords, and the removal of ownership of capital in enterprises and its replacement with cooperatives and debentures, the prospect of exploitation through a class system is removed.

It is a common suggestion in anarchist and socialist circles that a preferred future society will be moneyless as well as classless. Comparisons are often made with science fiction stories such as Star Trek or the excellent Culture series by Iain M. Banks, or are expressed in the slogan "Fully Automated Luxury Space Communism" and variants. These provide the technological and social requirements. In the meantime, however, the orientation must be made towards making money less of a motivating requirement. It is a creature of scarcity, its value relative to the availability of real goods. The real supply of money is its purchasing power, and thus an abundance of money and an abundance of goods (necessities first, utilities second, mementos as desired) reflects a reduction in the need for money.

These are all speculative and tentative steps, and they do not at this stage even address the matter of the armed forces and international relations, which are of course, necessary components of the State and class rule. But what is provided illustrates the need for social reformers to be very specific in identifying prescriptive changes required for a more ideal society that is wealthier, shows greater environmental sensitivity, is less exploitative and removes the class privileges that have been granted and enforced by the State and which act as a deadweight on social progress. There is, at least in theory, a parliamentary Road to the abolition of the State, because the property-owning classes have been created and exist as a legal fiction.


[1] Murray Bookchin, "Anarchism, Power, and Government" in Free Cities: Communalism and the Left, Pluto Press, 2011
[2] Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, Letter of 1864 in Selected writings of Pierre-Joseph Proudhon (1969) edited by Stewart Edwards, p. 92
[3] Albert Jay Nock, Our Enemy The State, 1935
[4] Bertrand Badie, Dirk Berg-Schlosser, Leonardo Morlino. International Encyclopedia of Political Science. SAGE Publication p. 2132., 2011.
[5] Adam Smith, An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, 1776
[6] Joseph Stiglitz, "The Theory of Local Public Goods". In Feldstein, M.S.; Inman, R.P. (eds.). The Economics of Public Services. Palgrave Macmillan, London. pp. 274–333, 1977
[7] For examples from the origins of capitalism see Karl Marx, Capital: A Critique of Political Economy Volume I, Chapters 27 and 28. FP 1867
[8] Joan Robinson, The Economics of Imperfect Competition (2nd edition), 1969 FP 1933
[9] Joel Bakan, The Corporation: The Pathological Pursuit of Profit and Power, Free Press, 2004
[10] John Stuart Mill, Principles of Political Economy with some of their Applications to Social Philosophy Book IV, Chapter VII ('On the Probable Futurity of the Labouring Classes'), 1848
[11] Virginie Pérotin, What do we really know about worker co-operatives?, Cooperative UK, 2018