Unmasking the StateUnmasking the State: A Rough Guide to Real Democracy
(Book Review)

By Mike Bessler

It was something of a coincidence that I began reading Paul Feldman’s Unmasking the State: A Rough Guide to Real Democracy (Lupus Books, 2008) exactly two days after David Cameron became the new British Prime Minister.  I say this because Feldman explicitly mentions Cameron’s budding political future just a few sentences into the book’s Introduction:

Is David Cameron ready to become prime minister?  Who knows and, frankly, who cares because this is politics as a trivial pursuit. (5)

This very tone and sentiment sets the stage for an extensive and frank analysis of the nature of capitalism and its manifestation through the British state.  Indeed, Feldman – Communications Editor for the UK-based organization A World to Win –   does not mince any words or pull any punches in his assessment of the current state of affairs in the United Kingdom.  Unmasking the State is contemporary Marxist critique at its finest, combining the best attributes of a sourcebook and primer as a means to prepare the rank-and-file, street level activists for a battle that is as much cerebral as it is concrete.  

The strength of the text is its tendency to provide historical precedents as context for the situations and crises of today.  Consider Feldman’s chapter “The Struggle for Democracy” in which he expounds upon the inherent contradictions between real democracy and capitalism.  This section presents and overview of the struggles of groups like the Chartists and the Suffragettes as evidence that democratic social movements, which foster organization and mass action, are most effective in their opposition of the oppression and institutionalized stratification wrought by capitalism.   Feldman also provides a methodical account of the lessons of Britain’s most recent history in the epoch of corporate-driven globalization, examining the continual efforts of the ruling class to maintain the status quo of the “proxy state.”  It is, in a manner of speaking, reminiscent of the very conclusions reached by V.I. Lenin his major work The State and Revolution in which he described the bourgeois concept of democracy as “democracy that is curtailed, wretched, false, a democracy only for the rich, for the minority.” Such is the present state of affairs in the allegedly “democratic” societies of the West.

Feldman concludes Unmasking the State with his effort to answer the longstanding question: “What is to be done?”  In the chapter “A Way Forward,” the author argues that the ultimate defeat of capitalism is contingent upon radical changes in the form and functionality of “the state”.  Proposing a broad and bold list of proposals on fundamental democratic, economic and social rights, Feldman – on behalf of A World to Win – elucidates the fundamental tenets of a bold vision for revolutionary change:

A World to Win is confident that by making information technology available to everyone, by bringing the economy under the control of communities, workers and consumers, and by discouraging bureaucratic trends wherever possible, the state as a separate body can eventually be dispensed with. (p. 86)

Because the book is largely written from a British perspective and predominantly in the context of the British experience, Unmasking the State will undoubtedly find its largest and most appreciative audience to the working people and students of the United Kingdom.  That is not necessarily to say that Americans would not find the work captivating and inspirational at a number of levels. It would be most advantageous to organizers and proponents of mass action worldwide if they follow the lessons of Feldman’s text by developing comparable “action guides” which spur revolutionary changes at local and regional levels.  The strategy, in its most basic form is typified in the maxim, “Think globally, act locally.” The ultimate goal – now as always – remains common:  We have a world to win.

30 June 2010