The State: Your Friend?
Every free activity is a question of: may I? In this country, the conflicts that people carry out, the interests they pursue, are subject to the say-so of the authorities. Whether workers go on strike, protestors take to the streets, employers lay off sections of their workforce or reduce wages, even if smokers smoke – everything is a question of law. The question is not whether someone harms someone else, but whether they have a right to do it. Acts that comply with the state’s statutes, hence are legal, enjoy protection of the public power versus other citizens whose interests are harmed by them. But acts that can’t show legal authorization are considered – regardless of whether they infringe on somebody or something besides the law – as an attack on the state’s authority and are forcibly prevented, suppressed, punished. This is so normal that it isn’t even noticed – social co-existence is determined by the political rule’s regulations and governed by force.
The modern state is the political power of capitalist society. It does not react to a capitalism which has fallen from the sky or wrestle with anarchic laws of market conditions which it can’t do anything about, but enacts the capitalist economic mode within its sphere of control. This is done by enacting a few basic rights. With the rights of the “free individual” and the real content of this freedom – the “protection of private property” – as well as the “equality of all citizens before the law,” the world of self-centered private property owners is created in which everyone searches for their own well-being at the expense of others and is realized in the exploitation of other people’s dependence on what belongs only to oneself: competition is politically created as the universal form of association between citizens. From this war of all against all, the legal order makes the life of the society and each individual dependent on it and forces everyone to orient themselves towards it.
The political power does not leave things alone within an abstract framework of regulations, but continuously intervenes into the enacted competition. With ever new laws, it regulates citizens’ activities down to the smallest detail, not to prevent the ruinous and self-destructive consequences of reciprocal exploitation and inflicting of damages, but to make them functional for the greater whole and in the last instance for itself. It specifies to the private interests their permission to damage one another and draws their limits, creating and thus forming the social types who it then protects with its laws. The class of wage laborers, alongside and long after the propertied class, find that they too are officially recognized as private owners whose property deserves official protection – even if they own nothing themselves. They are granted worker’s rights which recognize that their service to the national economy also depends on certain living conditions which are guaranteed as much as feasible.
Of course, the capitalist state does not limit itself to the role of neutral protector of the social classes that it creates and to protecting the rights that it grants them. It promotes the successful production of capitalistic wealth on which it makes all living conditions in the country, including its own financial base (tax revenue), dependent. This is why the state seeks the growth of capital and the global competitive success of its national business territory. Its economic policies provide for both by making the whole society available as an investment site (infrastructure, education, research, a cheap safety net, etc.) and putting it at the service of the growth of capital. In this sense, it is the “ideal collective capitalist.”
State decisions are made in the form of laws. The law is the state’s method of rule and functions even without democracy. In democracies, elected representatives of the people make policies by debating legislation, i.e. which binding orders will best get the citizens of the different classes to promote the success of the national capitalism. The state power allows this debate only under the condition that the classes recognize their dependence on the growth of capital as the precondition for their private interests, thus prioritize this precondition over their own interests. If not, the capitalist state functions as a dictatorship. In the so-defined public interest, every fundamentally entitled status group tries to establish that their special interests are beneficial and needed by the whole – of course, with very different degrees of success: the entrepreneurs can rightfully point out that everything in the country depends on their success, so the common good is essentially identical to their private interests. The workers by contrast must always disrupt and damage the common good if they want to remind the country that their ability and willingness to do their service also has certain conditions and a price. If representatives who are free and only committed to the greater whole examine the various issues and decide exactly how much labor-, maternity- and environmental protection is needed by the national capitalism for it to be able it to continue and what it can afford without harm to its growth and competitiveness, then the concerns of the less important part of the population have found their proper place in the system.
Democracy permits “fighting for your rights” as a way of dealing with unsatisfied or injured interests. Grass-roots movements, labor unions, and political parties all promote their issues by pleading, calling on, or lobbying the legislature, the great licensor, and petitioning it to elevate their concerns into laws, i.e. to finally use the power of the state to counter the interests of other competing citizens.
Anyone who demands their rights from the state is basically viewing it as their protector – maybe one late in coming, maybe one that has lent its ear to the wrong advisors or the wrong lobby, but nevertheless a power that has been appointed to do good deeds for those who for some strange reason are always powerless under its rules.
Secondly, someone who calls for protective laws has no objection against the competition that is set in motion by laws and which leads to outcomes which make new laws necessary. Even those who might demand a right to work, a basic income, or a minimum wage do not turn against these results of competition – rich, poor, and totally wretched. This wretchedness should just have limits and a minimal existence should be guaranteed.
Thirdly, anyone who demands rights believes that this demand fits the general state program and can find some room there. This might be true. Anyone who wants nothing more than to supplement the existing state program in areas that are in the long term interest of the state and the success of its system is on the right track when he draws the legislators’ attention to failures and warns that there will be problems if they do not take care of them. Indeed, it shows the priorities of the ideal collective capitalist that even considerations for the natural and social living conditions of its own system of exploitation can only be squeezed from it by strikes and demonstrations. The environmental and labor movements have seen their demands become laws (the eight hour day, unemployment insurance, sick pay, the phasing out of nuclear power, etc.), but only and to the extent that legislators have recognized them as conditions for the long-term success of the nation’s capitalism.
Anyone who has different objectives is better off not pursuing them by demanding laws from the state. Anyone who does not aim for a subsistence level for the poor but for the elimination of poverty; who does not try to get better treatment for the unemployed but to eliminate the absurdity that people become destitute because the society no longer needs their labor; who does not just want respect for labor as a human “cost factor” but the abolition of its role as a cost factor which is always obstructing the real economic goal of profit – he or she has to get rid of the illusion that their goals are compatible with the state’s. He or she needs to understand and make clear to others that their cause can only be realized when the state’s program is overthrown and the political power which socially establishes it with its force is abolished. To obtain these goals, he or she will not want to be granted any rights.