Chris has responded to me on the matter of whether or not 'the executive of the modern state is but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie'. I'm afraid his response is based on failing to grasp - or is it to accept? - the logic of the 'but' in that claim. Taken literally the quoted words from the Communist Manifesto encourage people to think that this is all the modern state is: a committee with the single purpose of managing the affairs of the whole bourgeoisie. Here's the German version of the sentence:
Die moderne Staatsgewalt ist nur ein Ausschuß, der die gemeinschaftlichen Geschäfte der ganzen Bourgeoisklasse verwaltet.
And the key word is 'nur', meaning 'only' or 'merely' or 'simply'. Now, it could well be that the claim by Marx and Engels is rhetorically overstated, and that the point it exaggerates - as I allowed in my two previous posts on this issue - is that the modern state is mainly, or at least importantly, about the management of bourgeois interests. But if that is so, then the way to defend the truth of the Communist Manifesto sentence, if that is what one wants to do, is to uphold what one takes to be its unexaggerated meaning and to distinguish this from the literal and totalizing claim.
This, however, is not Chris's choice. He asks us to believe that the assertion that the modern state is but - i.e. only, or simply, or merely, or no more than - a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie - will be true provided that the aforesaid state does nothing which is incompatible with that purpose.
His suggestion defies every canon of straightforward usage. If I were to say that Miguel MacTeague is but a decision centre for calculating how to keep himself alive, my statement will be false in the case that Miguel is also a husband, father and sibling to various people and sometimes makes decisions with other purposes in mind. It will be false even if these other purposes do not jeopardize Miguel's life; for the other purposes will demonstrate that Miguel is more than a decision centre governed by just the one aim. If you say that this small room in your house is only - or merely or no more than - a place for storing books, that will be false if you also keep medicines and elastic bands in the same room and sometimes sit there and read; even though it is true that you do keep lots of books there. If Deirdre says that hospitals in this country are devoted simply to looking after the very rich, that's false if the hospitals also look after the poor as well as the rich, and some people in between - true even in the case that the needs of the rich get priority.
To go through all this is tedious, but it is made necessary by Chris's style of riposte, which is to take any apparently other function of the modern democratic state than managing the affairs of the bourgeoisie and to say that, well, this is in the interests of the bourgeoise too. But the fact, when it is one, that the state does this too, doesn't mean it doesn't do the other thing. And since, on Chris's own account, it does do the other thing, it is not reducible to its bourgeois-management function.
Chris pauses to ask whether his argument doesn't make the Marxian 'but a committee' claim unfalsifiable, and quickly dismisses his own question by asserting that it doesn't. I'm not so sure. According to him, so long as the state continues to preside over a capitalist economy and society without attacking capitalist interests the Marxian claim remains both intact and falsifiable in principle. But how does this work? If a rightwing union-busting, welfare-eroding government openly assaults the living standards of working people, that presumably is an attempt, wise or otherwise, to manage the common affairs of the bourgeoisie by increasing capitalist opportunities for profit. If a reforming social-democratic government introduces labour legislation, a generous minimum wage, progressive welfare measures, that also is managing the common affairs of the bourgeoisie, since a happier and healthier labour force will make capitalist firms function better. Savage cuts in the education budget and generous increases alike will suit bourgeois interests, the former saving money from the taxes of the rich, the latter contributing to the quality of the human resource pool in the long run. And so on.
But another, and more compelling, way of looking at the same thing is that political policies which better serve the needs of working people, whatever they do for the 'whole bourgeoisie', are evidence that modern democratic states have functions wider than managing the affairs of that (ruling) class. Chris's failure to recognize how the simple logic of 'both-and' is crucially different from the logic of 'but a committee etc' comes out in his various examples, of which I will cite just one:
Capitalists want their lives and property to be protected. The easiest way to do this is for everyone's basic rights to be so protected, whether they have property or not.
Whether this is in fact the easiest way or not I leave aside; but to assert of a polity in which the fundamental rights of all human beings are by and large protected that it remains only - nothing more than - a committee for managing the affairs of the bourgeoisie is not only a violation of simple logic; it bespeaks a serious misjudgement concerning one of the things that matters most of all in this anguished world.
A final observation. Chris's reply to me focuses on a matter I raised as an example. He bypasses what was the starting point of my post, which was to indicate the folly of an approach to the world in which Marx is still said to be, simplistically, 'right'. Whether or not his (Chris's) silence on this point represents an acknowledgement that he accepts it, I do not know. But his poor attempt to persuade people that 'only x' means roughly the same as 'not directly contrary to x' is yet one more proof that defending the view of Marx - or anybody - as more right than the evidence will support is not a fruitful enterprise.