Unmasking the StateA classical analysis of the crisis in British democracy

Review by Charley Allan
Morning Star
Sunday 11 January 2009

Unmasking the State by Paul Feldman
(Lupus Books, £3.99)

THE fourth publication by left-wing campaign group A World to Win is part democracy for dummies, part revolutionary socialist manifesto.

It starts off by distinguishing between the government, which governs, and the state, which rules. In the past, this referred to the monarchy, but now an ever-expanding bureaucracy of departments, senior civil servants and quangos have their hands firmly on the levers of power.

Next, we're taken on a historical tour of British radicalism, from the Chartists through the Suffragettes to the miners' strike. A theme emerges - those with power will do everything necessary to keep it.

But the state is suffering an identity crisis. Under neoliberal globalisation, its role as "mediator between class interests has been abandoned in favour of facilitating corporate and financial interests" and its "capacity to influence economic and financial policies has narrowed appreciably."

We're beginning to ask just what we need these unaccountable overlords for, while "moving to authoritarian rule becomes the state's Achilles heel."

Feldman argues that we live under a capitalist state and that, if we want to go beyond a profit-driven economy, then we will need to come up with new forms of democratic rule.

It's difficult to argue with any of his political proposals or the need for a "transitional state" to tide us over until we build a truly co-operative society. But Feldman admits that no-one can forecast how such a transfer of power would take place.

Unfortunately, this emphasis on theory might put off some readers, be they activists or not. There's plenty of excellent information but some of it is laid on a bit thick.

Some of it reads a bit like an advert for A World to Win's website, from which the group co-ordinates its campaigns. Whether trying to stop the third Heathrow runway or calling for a written constitution, the lively blog has plenty going for it.

There's never been more of a need for a classical Marxist analysis of the current crisis of representation and this is without doubt a great place to start.