It would seem safe to say that most people in the UK have a love hate relationship with the state. After all, most people love the NHS, or at least the principles it was founded upon – universal healthcare for all – and probably even more people hate those that roam around the Houses of Parliament, yet both systems are branches of the state. Most people love the fact that the state provides education for all up until the age of eighteen, yet most people hate the fact that the state has increased the cost of going to university by more than threefold in less than a decade.
In fact, most pundits, academics, politicians and citizens have a gripe to bear with the state, on that, almost everyone is in agreement. The sticking point is of course what to do with it, the state.
The right appears to have its agenda pretty clearly laid out in this regard: to them the state is evil, wasteful and prohibitive to economic growth and thus must be destroyed. Of course, one could list the many entities so cherished by the right which often go untouched when fiscal conservatives get into power; from the arms trade and the armed forces to the fossil fuel industry and the banking sector, but they always harangue the state.
It goes without saying that there are more nuances and sticking points amongst those dubbed to be on the right when it comes to the state but it seems unlikely that any of them would abject to being labelled as pro-market and anti-regulation, no matter their ideological differences. After all, if they weren’t at least ostensibly in favour of the free market, they wouldn’t be very right-wing!
However, it would be much harder to pin down and accurately articulate the left’s relationship to the state and its vision for it. Of course, many, often right-wingers, would say that the left are in favour of a top down, state driven economy in the form of nationalisation and heavy regulation, but such an analysis would be myopic at best.
Firstly, after nearly thirty years of unbridled neo-liberalism in the UK and much of the rest of the world, many of those so often described as left-wing, think most of the Parliamentary Labour Party and their cohorts, are in fact centre-right or even further along the political spectrum. Outside of Corbyn and his small group of allies (their many failings aside), who in amongst the country’s largest opposition party can say with a straight face that they are left-wing? At best these individuals might call for a raising of the highest tax bracket but most of them are market fundamentalists, seeing no reason for the state to do more than collect taxes from the money made by the market.
Away from parliamentary politics there are of course many hard working, honest and truly left-wing activists, academics, councillors and most importantly citizens but even they often have a contradictory relationship towards the state.
Many on the left rightfully criticise the state’s involvement in the war industry and arms trade, the preferential treatment of multinationals over small businesses, its growing surveillance powers, its corrupt dealings with the banking sector and media conglomerates and as well as its cosy relationship with many powerful and unscrupulous individuals and much more.
In short, many left-wing individuals and movements frequently decry the actions of the state. Yet these very individuals will often look to the state to solve many of their problems. For instance, many left-wing organisations look to state funding to maintain themselves and are thus at the whim of those in power regarding their survival.
Similarly, despite the ever encroaching power of the state and the well documented criticisms directed at its lack of accountability, cold bureaucratic manner and undemocratic nature, many self described leftists often call for more state power rather than less.
It would seem that if an ideal world were to be created, there would be no state. We would be governed by no one person or thing; hence if we are to eventually to be free, we must start by whittling away at the state rather than handing it more and more powers. To date such suggestions have been largely heralded as right wing goals, but are they not also the end goal for all leftists?
There are contemporary examples of radical, leftist groups working to eliminate the role of the state by providing the services it so poorly manages. Perhaps the most well known but also most misunderstood is the Blank Panther Party, which provided breakfast clubs for children before school, neighbourhood watch patrols and community health clinics. Hence why in 1969 J. Edgar Hoover described them as follows:
the Black Panther Party, without question, represents the greatest threat to internal security of the country
The Panthers were deemed such a threat, not because they legally carried fire arms or talked about black nationalism but because their community work served to undermine the role of the state. If education, healthcare and security were provided for by the community, what need was there for the state?
It goes without saying that the manner in which the state would be dismantled would be dramatically different to the way in which the right often implement their ideals. Rather than healthcare, education and housing being the first to be jettisoned, making the most vulnerable even more susceptible to exploitation, sadness and ultimately death, the most damaging elements of the state would go first.
Short term in the UK, Trident would not be renewed, saving tax payers, at the very least, tens of billions of pounds. The size of the armed forces would be dramatically reduced, with new jobs provided for the ex-servicemen in the NHS and the public sector. Subsidies for the arms trade and the fossil fuel industry would also be ended and the banking sector would be forced to repay the money used to it bail out in 2008.
Long term, however, people in the UK would take back control of everything, from healthcare to education and housing. This of course won’t be easy as all of us have been born and raised surrounded by the state, and just as it took many generations for the state to be built up, it may take just as long to pull it apart. However, that surely has to be goal, no?