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All States Aren’t Bad


The historic #MarchaPorLaPatria in Bolivia. More than 1 million people, one tenth of Bolivia's population, filled the streets of La Paz in defence of their elected government.

As imperialism intensifies domestically and globally, so has the confusion around what a state is and the role a state plays in achieving a liberated sovereign society. The unfounded wave of backlash towards Marxism informed by ahistorical analysis and universalist statements disregards any and all material characteristics and conditions under which states, and formations in general, arise. Riddled in western chauvinism and American exceptionalism, points of view that equate the US empire with nations fighting the US empire have become all too common.

Despite what is being said in online fodder, a state is not inherently bad. A state is simply the  governing institution of a society. This governance takes on the form of a formal government, schools, universities, and law enforcement agencies. A state is not neutral as these institutions are the vehicle through which one class maintains dominance over other classes.  States each have their own specific class characters. If a nation is building socialism, the ruling class is not the small sect of corporations, but the people. In a socialist state, the masses would maintain dominance (ie. dictatorship of the proletariat). However, paternalism embedded in the US left completely ignores and rejects this.

The US is a capitalist society. The state reflects capitalists values and protects the interests of those who benefit from capitalism. It is only logical for living within the US capitalist society to fight to dismantle the state because of what that protection of capitalist interests means for colonized communities— displacement, limited access to  education, imprisonment, etc.  However, how the US has manifested is not the same historical context of all nation-states. For example, when pockets of Cubans erupted on the streets for anti-Cuban government protests last July, some were met with force and detained. This generated more criticisms of the detainment of those protesters against the Cuban government than criticisms of the US government being connected to having funded those anti-government protests. Discussion about Cuba being a “carceral state” began to take root with “abolitionists” who have little to no context for Cuban history or contemporary society. The act of arresting and detaining people, void of the context of Cuban law and society, was enough for leftists here to compare it to the US prison industrial system, which by and large houses more prisons than the entirety of any country in the world.

Western leftists, specifically here in the US, pivot to identity reductionism and lived experience instead of investigation to show solidarity with nations of people under the thumb of the US empire’s aggression. In doing so, they are left more susceptible to viewing these nations and their internal issues through a chauvinist lens that puts aside the material reality of nations, post-revolution, attempting to establish a non-capitalist society while up against the expansion of western capitalist hegemony. The bottom line is that once you’ve made a revolution, you have to defend it. Imperialism is not yet dead. 

It is simply not enough to speak in platitudes, weaponizing concepts like “autonomy” without investigation of how autonomous societies, post-revolutions, are functioning within and alongside states, because many are. Ideological, theoretical, and material implications must be scientifically examined because despite internal criticisms and contradictions that exist within states attempting to achieve non-capitalist or socialists societies, the masses of people do not see themselves separate from the state they are defending against western imperialism.

Words like “state”, “authoritarian”, “hegemony”, even “dictatorship” are not innately bad. What decides that is the class character of those seeking to make use of those terms. If workers are to take power in their own hands, they must confront and obtain state power in order to destroy or “smash” the state. Marxism is an analytical science not defined by what you’re against, but defined by investigation and study. Until western leftists, especially here in the US, understand that, they will continue to levy “principled anti-authoritarian critiques” against U.S. enemy states fervently.

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Erica Caines is a poet, writer and organizer in Baltimore and the DMV. She is an organizing committee member of the anti war coalition, the Black Alliance For Peace as well as an outreach member of the Black centered Ujima People’s Progress Party. Caines founded Liberation Through Reading in 2017 as a way to provide Black children with books that represent them and created the extension, a book club entitled Liberation Through Reading BC, to strengthen political education online and in our communities.

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