Rudolf Rocker

The state

(extract from Nationalism and Culture)




A powerful indictement of the state in general and of the dictatorial states in particular.



The history of the state is the history of human oppression and intellectual disfranchisement. It is the story of the unlimited lust for power of small minorities which could be satisfied only by the enslavement and exploitation of the people. The deeper the state with its countless agencies penetrates into the sphere of activity of social life, the more its leaders succeed in changing men into mindless automatons of their will, the more inevitably will the world become a vast prison in which at last there will be no breath of freedom. The conditions in Italy, Hungary, Poland, Austria, Russia and Germany speak too eloquent a language for us to be longer deceived about the inevitable consequences of such an "evolution." That along this pathway there lies no rosy future for men is clear to all who have eyes to see and ears to hear. What is today arising on the social horizon of Europe and the world is the dictatorship of darkness which believes that the whole of society can be geared to the wheels of a machine whose steady drive smothers everything organic and elevates the soullessness of mechanics to a principle. Let us not deceive ourselves: It is not the form of the state, it is the state itself which creates the evil and continually nourishes and fosters it. The more the government crowds out the social element in human life or forces it under its rule, the more rapidly society dissolves into its separate parts; which then lose all inner connection and either rush thoughtlessly into idiotic collisions over conflicting interests or drift helplessly with the stream, not caring whither they are borne.

The further this state of things progresses, the harder it will be to gather men again into a new social community and to persuade them to a renewal of social life. The delusive belief in a dictatorship spreading over Europe like a pestilence is only the ripe fruit of an unthinking belief in the state, which has for decades been implanted in men. Not the government of men but the administration of things is the great problem set for our age, and it can never be solved within the frame of the present state organization. It is not so much how we are governed, but that we are governed at all; for this is a mark of our immaturity and prevents us from taking our affairs into our own hands. We purchase the "protection" of the state with our freedom even to stay alive and do not realize that it is this "protection" which makes a hell of our life, while only freedom can endow it with dignity and strength.

There are today only too many who have recognized the evils of dictatorship as such, but who comfort themselves with the fatalistic belief that it is indispensable as a transition stage, provided, that is, that we have in mind the so-called "proletarian dictatorship," which, we are told, is to lead to socialism. Were not the perils by which the young communist state in Russia was threatened on every side a moral justification for the dictatorship? And must one not concede that the dictatorship would yield place to a condition of greater freedom as soon as these perils were overcome and the "proletarian state" had been consolidated internally?

Since then almost twenty years have gone by in that country. And Russia is today the strongest military state in Europe and is bound to France and other states by a strong alliance for mutual security. The Bolshevist state has not only been recognized by all the other powers, it is also represented today in all the bodies of international diplomacy and is exposed to no greater dangers from without than is every other great power in Europe. But the internal political conditions in Russia have not changed; they have grown worse from year to year and have made any hope for the future a mockery. With every year the number of the political victims has become greater. Among them are to be found thousands who for the last fifteen years have been dragged from prison to prison, or have been put to death, not because they have rebelled against the existing system with weapons in their hands, but merely because they were unable to accept the doctrines prescribed by the state and were of a different opinion from the ruling powers as to the solution of the social problem.

This situation cannot be explained by the pressure of external conditions, as so many have naïvely persuaded themselves. It is the logical result of an out and out anti-libertarian attitude which has not the slightest understanding or sympathy for the rights and convictions of men. It is the logic of the totalitarian state, which concedes to the individual only so much justification for his existence as makes him of service to the political machine. A system which could stigmatize freedom as a "bourgeois prejudice" could only lead to such an outcome. In its course it had to raise to a fundamental principle of state the suppression of all free expression of opinion and to make the scaffold and the jail the cornerstone of its existence. More than that: it had to proceed further along this disastrous course than any reactionary system of the past. Its leaders did not content themselves with rendering their revolutionary and socialistic opponents harmless, with dragging them before the bar or burying them alive; they also denied to their victims sincerity of opinion and purity of character, and shrank from no means of picturing them to the world as scoundrels and purchased tools of reaction.

The men and women who sat in the prisons of tsarist Russia were regarded by the liberty-loving world as martyrs to their opinions. Even the prison wardens of tsarism did not have the effrontery to attack their integrity or to question their sincerity. The victims of the proletarian dictatorship, however, were shamelessly besmirched and slandered by their oppressors and held up to the world as the scum of society. And hundreds of thousands of blind fanatics in every country, with their poor brains tuned only to the rhythm of the Moscow waltz, having lost all capacity to think for themselves, or perhaps never having possessed it, babble back, without thinking, whatever the Russian autocrats have dictated to them.

We have here to do with a reaction that goes deeper and is more disastrous in its consequences than any political reaction of the past. For the reaction of today is not embodied in special systems of government that have grown out of the methods of violence employed by small minorities. The reaction of today is the blind faith of broad masses which proclaims as unconditionally good even the most shameful violation of human rights so long as it is perpetrated by one particular side, and condemns uncritically whatever is damned by that side as false and heretical. Belief in the political infallibility of the dictator today replaces the belief in the religious infallibility of the Catholic pope and leads morally to the same results. It is possible to struggle against the force of reactionary ideas as long as one can appeal to reason and to human experience. Against the blind fanaticism of unthinking parrots who condemn any honest conviction in advance, all reason is powerless. Hitler, Mussolini and Stalin are merely the symbols of this blind faith which ruthlessly condemns everything that opposes its power.


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