The following text written by Nahuel Moreno elaborates on the distinction between “state”, “regime”, and “government”. While its enumeration of the various modes of production is a bit dated, rigid, and Eurocentric, it nevertheless is a useful analytical text for teasing apart how different aspects of societies’ bases and superstructures interact. Moreno demonstrates that states are defined by their economic modes of production, in turn leading to regimes that crystallize the domination of specific classes within the political superstructure, and which finally are led by a variety of governments that may enact different policies while remaining loyal to the underlying regime. The text closes with a definition of fascism as a regime that promotes a violent broad-based counterrevolutionary movement in order to protect the state of imperialist monopoly capitalism against a revolutionary workers’ movement, destroying liberal bourgeois democratic institutions in the process as well.
Excerpt from Revolutions of the XXth Century by Nahuel Moreno, (1984)
The precise definitions of state, political regimes and governments are critical to the revolutionary Marxist party, because this is the terrain of political action. The party wants to achieve a world society without classes or exploitation, so that humanity progresses, with abundance for all, without wars and with the achievement of full freedom. To achieve this, the party fights to end imperialism and expropriate the multinationals, to end with national boundaries and to conquer a planned world economy at the service of the needs of the human species.
But the party does not act directly on the productive forces; nor does it develop new tools, techniques and branches of production. Neither can it act directly on the social structure; it does not expropriate the capitalist class on its own. The party acts in politics, in the superstructure. It strives to take the government and from there to destroy the capitalist state. That is, the party wants to destroy the institutions of bourgeois government. It wants the working class to assume political power and implement their own democratic institutions. It wants to build in each country where the revolution triumphs a strong workers’ state, to help the revolution succeed in other countries. From the government of the workers’ state it wants to plan the economy, federating with other workers’ states to advance their productive forces. From this workers’ state the party wants to revolutionize the social system, eliminating the bourgeois ownership of the means of production at the national level, and to put it at the service of revolutionary tasks at the global level. And only after having liquidated the resistance of the capitalist class, these workers’ states or federations of workers’ states will begin to disappear, and with them, so will the state and the party. Until then, the problems of states, regimes and governments will remain key policy issues of international and national revolutionary Marxist parties, because it is in this arena that the political action of the revolutionary party is concentrated, as well as that of its enemies, the bourgeois, petty-bourgeois and bureaucratic parties. (…)
The different states
The state cannot be defined by the level of development of the productive forces. If we talk about these, we may refer to the “Greco-Roman economy” (slavery), to the “subsistence economy” (feudalism), to “mechanization and large-scale industry” (capitalism). But these terms are insufficient for defining the state.
Neither can it be defined by the existing or predominant relations of production, although they express it much more directly than the development of the productive forces. Capitalism has been the dominant form of production for 400 years, but for centuries the states remained feudal, with a few different adaptations here or there, because the power was in the hands of the nobility, who defended their property and privileges against the threat of the rising bourgeoisie.
The state is defined, then, by the caste or the class that uses it to exploit and oppress other classes and sectors. To date there have been five types of state:
1) The Asiatic state, which defended the bureaucratic caste with its pharaohs, and oppressed the farmers.(1)
2) The slaveholding state, which defended the slave owners and oppressed the slaves(2)
3) The feudal state, which defended the feudal lords and the Church property, and oppressed the serfs.(3)
4) The bourgeois state, which defends the capitalists and oppresses the workers.
5) The workers’ state, non-capitalist or transitional.
In the same society, there are sectors of the dominant classes or castes that monopolize the state for a time, and then are displaced by other sectors. The most significant example of this phenomenon is the current dominance of the big capitalist monopolies, which displaced the non-monopoly bourgeoisie of the last century. The dominant mode of production of the 19th century and the 20th century have been capitalist states, but nevertheless they are characterized by different sectors of the bourgeoisie. That is to say, we classify the types of state by the class sectors which dominate at a certain time. This classification has to do with social sectors, not the governing institutions. For example, in a bourgeois monarchy, during one stage the commercial and industrial bourgeoisie of free competition can dominate the state, and in another stage, the monopoly bourgeoisie. Or other different combinations can occur. Unfortunately, the same thing has started to happen with the workers states: there are different types according to the sectors that control them. If it is the majority of the working class through its democratic organizations, it is a workers state. But if it is controlled by the bureaucracy, imposing a totalitarian state, it is a bureaucratized workers state.
The political regimes
The definition of the character of the state only serves as a starting point for study. It only answers the question: What class or class sectors have political power? The political regime is another category which answers another question: Through what institutions does that particular class rule in a given period or stage?
This is because the state is a complex of institutions, but the ruling class does not always use them the same way to govern. The political regime is the different combination or articulation of state institutions used by the ruling class (or a section of it) to rule. Specifically, to define a political system we must answer the questions: What is the fundamental institution of government? How are the other state institutions articulated within it?
The five types of state that we have listed have gone, in turn, through different political regimes.
The slaveholding state, in Rome, changed three times its workings. First it was a monarchy, with its kings. Afterwards it became a republic, and finally an empire. But it always remained a slaveholding state. The King and the Emperor defend the social structure; the owners of the slaves remain slaveholders. The republic as well, although it lacked a single autocratic authority, this role was filled by the Senate because only the slave owners were represented in it, never the slaves.
The bourgeois state has given rise to many political regimes: absolute monarchy, constitutional monarchy, federal and unitary republics, republics with a single chamber or two (one of deputies and one very reactionary of senators), Bonapartist dictatorships, fascist dictatorships, etc. In some cases they are regimes with extensive bourgeois democracy, which allow workers to have their legal parties with parliamentary representation. In other cases they are the opposite; there is no freedom of any kind, not even for the bourgeois parties. But through all these regimes, the state remains bourgeois, because the bourgeoisie remains in power, using the state to continue to exploit the workers.
Governments, however, are flesh and blood men who, at some point, are at the head of the state and political regime. This category answers the question: Who rules?
It’s not the same as regime, because many governments can change without changing the regime, if the institutions remain the same.
In the United States, for example, for two centuries there has been a bourgeois democratic regime, with its president and parliament elected by voting, and its Judiciary. The Republican and the Democratic Parties alternate in government. In recent years we had the Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter and Reagan governments. We can call them that because, in the complex of institutions that constitute the Yankee bourgeois democracy, the strongest is the presidency. Through all these governments, the regime did not change; it remained a presidential bourgeois democracy.
We must not confuse the different regimes with the different types of state. The state is defined, as we have seen, by the classes or class sectors that dominate it; the regimes, by the institutions.
Nazi Germany and the Stalinist Soviet Union had very similar regimes: one-party government, without the slightest democratic freedom and a fierce repression. But their state types are diametrically opposed: the Nazi is the state of the most reactionary and warmongering monopolies; the USSR is a bureaucratised, non-capitalist workers state.
The same applies to monarchies: there are Asian, slave, feudal and capitalist. As things stand, there are familiar governments also in the workers states: the Castros in Cuba, the Maos in China, the Titos in Yugoslavia, the Ceausescus in Romania, the father with his daughter in Bulgaria… Will we see workers monarchies?
This does not deny that sometimes there is some coincidence, more or less generalized, between a type of state and the regime. Every bureaucratized workers state tends to be totalitarian. The states of the big monopolies also tend towards totalitarianism, which can only be imposed when they defeat the working class with methods of civil war.
What is Fascism?
After the first revolutionary wave, inaugurated by the Russian Revolution and lasting until about 1923, the bourgeoisie and imperialism launched their political counteroffensive. Unable to stop the revolution in various countries through bourgeois democracy by peaceful means, the bourgeoisie calls on methods of civil war to defeat the working class. Where it manages to capture government, a new type of political regime appears, previously non-existent: fascism in Italy and Nazism in Germany. Fascism, i.e. the counter-revolutionary bourgeois imperialist regime is characterized by its use of the methods of civil war against the working class, the masses and its vanguard. To do this, they form a broad counterrevolutionary popular movement, based on the middle class and the underclass, which they mobilize and arm against the proletariat. When it comes to power it eliminates political freedoms and the institutions of bourgeois democracy. Its main objective is to destroy workers’ democracy and its organizations: trade unions, mass workers parties. But this can only be achieved by also terminating all bourgeois democratic rights and institutions: parliament, political parties, free press, etc.
In a sense, it resembles the old monarchies. It is absolutely totalitarian and ruthlessly suppresses all opposition and all freedom. But it is not the same. Those old regimes expressed the feudal past. Fascism has nothing of the feudal. It expresses the capitalist-imperialist present. It is a barbaric dictatorship, but not of the nobles or of the king, but of the most modern and concentrated capitalism: the imperialist monopolies. It is not seeking to reinstate feudalism, but to defend imperialist capitalism, using the methods of civil war to crush the workers’ revolution. It is the first, monstrous expression of capitalism’s inexorable march toward barbarism if socialism does not prevail. This is the fundamental content of the fascist regimes that succeed: Mussolini in Italy, Chiang Kaishek in China, Hitler in Germany, Salazar in Portugal, Franco in Spain. Colonial regimes like that of France in Indochina and Algeria have the same character: a terrible repression of the masses to defend the French capitalist empire. And the same can be said of the brutal pro-imperialist dictatorships supported by Yankee imperialism in its semi-colonies, as were those of Batista, Trujillo, Somoza and company in Latin America, or more recently those of Pinochet and the Brazilian, Uruguayan and Argentine military. These semi-fascist dictatorships are not defending old feudal structures, as Stalinism has insisted so much, but the modern semi-colonial relations, absolutely capitalist, between the backward nations and the imperialist powers.
(1) This refers to the Asiatic mode of production theorized by Marx and Engels. Its use is controversial both within Marxist theory and more broadly, as Marx overgeneralized in an attempt to apply it not only to Ancient Mesopotamia, but to most of Asia throughout history up until the modern period. It is most applicable as a general understanding of Ancient Mesopotamian economies, characterized by a class society where peasants who pool labor and property for their own subsistence at a small-scale communal level are exploited by a ruling class that combined elements of a bureaucracy, theocracy and aristocracy. The exploitation takes the form of periodic or seasonal forced labor on large-scale projects, such as temples, granaries, pyramids or military campaigns.
(2) This refers to the mode of production that was predominant in Classical Greece through Imperial Rome. In contrast to the “Asiatic” mode of production, the slave state has more rigid property relations, and the exploited classes are primarily exploited through continuous legal ownership of the exploited as property (i.e. slaves).
(3) While feudalism shares many traits with the Asiatic mode of production, such as the importance of religion in justifying the political superstructure and the domination but not outright ownership of the exploited classes, its key difference is the method of exploitation: the periodic forced labor of the Asiatic state is replaced by taxation of the peasant’s regular production.