The state has only one legitimate purpose: to protect the common good. This is, of course, the one thing that modern capitalist states (and all precapitalist states, too) do miserably. The modern state in contemporary capitalist societies is devoted, almost exclusively, to the promotion of private profit. The state, then, is the lap-dog of Capital. This comes as no surprise, since the owners of Capital are also office-holders. In the U.S., there is no recognizable boundary between the corporate ruling class and the national government. Members of one move into the other without resistance. You can’t tell where the corporate elite ends and the government begins.
Even the state activities that appear to be directed towards the common good are only coincidently so — for example, the interstate highway system or the national parks. These efforts would not be made if they weren’t needed to bolster the private profit of corporations involved (such as construction and maintenance, as well as peripheral businesses which rely on these public resources). Public health issues, such as pollution and disease, are defined entirely by the corporate perspective. The state is not interested in preventing polution, but only in regulating it in the interests of its corporate masters. In this way, people buy into the myth that the government is watching out for their interests. It is not. The same can be said for support for medical research. The state pays a portion of the considerable costs of developing new treatments, which are then claimed as private property — to be profited from — by the corporations receiving the state funding. The state then agrees to pay another set of corporations (the insurance companies) for the use of these treatments. (The people are screwed three times over: once, when they are made sick by the noxious agents that pollute our environment; a second time when the treatment that their taxes paid for is given away, and a third time when they are asked to pay again for, or are denied, the treatment they funded.)
Add to this the tendency of modern states to exploit the populations of other, poorer nations. The people in developed countries benefit from this exploitation, but imperialism is not done for the good of the people. It is done for the good of Capital. The people in the poorer countries suffer in obvious ways from the exploitation. Now, people in the imperialist states are also beginning to suffer. Thousands of people lost loved ones in the attacks on New York in 2001 because decades of imperialist exploitation has generated such hatred toward the United States throughout the world. (Let us be clear: we oppose all forms of political violence, including terrorism and military aggression. It only makes matters worse.)
The most pitiful thing about contemporary American society is the extent to which people accept without question the propaganda of the state. This includes both the current nationalist nonsense, but also the “corporate mystique” — the portrayal of ruthless profit-driven corporations as benevolent protectors of the common good. (Never mind the silly advertising campaigns of chemical or petroleum companies as pro-environment — only the stupidest viewer would be fooled — rather, think about the way that most Americans view a company like Disney.)
What kind of state do we want? A government that has as its mandate only the protection of the public good has these characteristics:
* It is limited. Government should be concerned with protecting public safety (through limited law enforcement and national defense), public health (by protecting the environment and nonhuman animals), and civil rights (by arbitrating equal opportunity and enforcing the rights of workers). The state has no legitimate role in managing the way people live. This means that morality and lifestyle issues are private, not public, matters. The state should not be telling people not to engage in self-destructive behaviors or not have sex. All God talk must cease.
* It is publicly funded and operated. Government officials should be public servants, not politicians. Individuals should not make a career out of elective office. Limited government should be administered by temporary officials. Corporations should not be allowed to purchase the legislative power of the state, as they currently do.
* It should spend public money only for public interests. There would be adequate funding for education and health care if the state stopped giving billions of dollars to corporations. A limited military force is enough to protect the nation; an arms build-up serves only two purposes, to ensure the private profit of weapons corporations and to empower corporate imperialism abroad. Neither of these is acceptable. Nor is the support of corporations through the giving away of national assets and other forms of corporate welfare. Education from primary to post-secondary should be free. Basic health care should be free. Those who are unable to work for a living wage should receive supplemental income. The state could easily afford these expenses if the others were eliminated.
If we want this kind of state, we will have to work for it. First of all, that means refusing to identify with the government. It is not our government, and it does not act in our name. It belongs to Capital, and we are cannon fodder. Unless we recognize this, we will continue to be participants in our own subjugation. We have to free our minds before we can free our bodies.
We can’t build the right kind of state until we tear down the current one. This means refusing to participate in the phony democracy of corporate America. There simply aren’t enough real choices to take elections seriously. True democracy is impossible as long as there is a corporate ruling class.
Finally, we need to stop giving money to organizations that work only for reform. These agents help prop up the facade of the modern state. Instead, support critical thinking and alternative forms of communication. (Give your money to avant garde artists!) We can make our meagre resources go further if we abondon hope of a real solution through reform. We are not likely to live to see the kind of revolutionary change we desire, but that should not deter us from desiring it. If we keep striving for it, our work will be for the future.