Ellen Meiksins Wood on the state or “public power”

September 30, 2012

Whatever Marx and Engels may have thought about the future of the state, the real question is not whether a public power will be needed in a classless society, but whether that public power will constitute a problem. In other words, are there certain problems inherent in public power itself whether or not it is class power? I take it for granted that it is hopelessly naive to believe in an advanced socialist society administered by simple forms of direct and spontaneous democracy. It is difficult to avoid the conviction that even classless society will require some form of representation, and hence authority and even subordination of some people to others. That premise granted, it must be added that, whether or not one uses the term “state” to describe political and administrative power in a classless society, it seems unduly optimistic to believe that there can ever be a case in which power exercised by some people on behalf of others does not constitute a problem. Socialist political theory must, therefore, face the problems posed by representation, authority, and subordination, and the fact that their very existence makes possible the misappropriation of power.

Ellen Meiksins Wood
C.B. MACPHERSON: LIBERALISM, AND THE TASK OF SOCIALIST POLITICAL THEORY
THE SOCIALIST REGISTER 1978

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