On the fate of the state: Bakunin versus Marx - Paul McLaughlin

An article in which Paul McLaughlin compares the role of the State in Marx and Bakunin's thought. He concludes that Marxism is statist in ends, not solely in means.

Submitted by it.r on July 30, 2014


The most well known differences between Karl Marx and Mikhail Bakunin concern their attitudes toward the State: its genesis, its ‘nature’, its relation to the economic side of affairs, and its fate under revolutionary conditions. All of these issues are of interest and importance. In this brief paper, however, we will focus on just one of them: the fate of the State.

We should note initially that while these issues of State are often taken to constitute the sole difference between Marx and Bakunin (or between Marxism and anarchism), there are in fact more fundamental, philosophical distinctions between Marx and Bakunin that come into play at the level of discussion of the State. We cannot hope to discuss them adequately here,1 but we must at least mention the two central distinctions. In the first place, there is a logical distinction between Bakunin’s negative dialectic (in which sublation and mediation are excluded, so that each dialectical product is a fulfillment of the antithetical or ‘revolutionary’) and Marx’s affirmative dialectic (in which these aspects are retained, so that each dialectical product preserves something of what was confronted by the negative, that is the ‘thesis’ or, in Bakunin’s terms, the ‘reactionary’); on this basis, Marx is, from the standpoint of ‘revolutionary logic’, what Bakunin terms a ‘compromiser’.2 In the second place, there is an ontological distinction between Bakunin’s naturalism (his prioritization of nature, of which mankind is merely a part) and Marx’s anthropocentrism (his prioritization of man as, essentially, a productive mediator of nature); Bakunin, accordingly, rejects Marx’s anthropocentric economism as non-naturalistic and metaphysical.

1. The ‘Transitional’ and ‘Non-Political’ States

Now let us take up the title issue. Perhaps the notions that define Marx’s position here best are those of the ‘non-political’ post-revolutionary State and the ‘transitional’ dictatorship that will usher in this utopia. (Thus, for Marx there are three forms of State: the present ‘political’ State; the ‘transitional’ State; and the ‘non-political’ State.) These ideas have been explored previously by Richard Adamiak in ‘The “Withering Away” of the State: A Reconsideration’.3 Adamiak’s main conclusion in this article is ‘although Marx and Engels anticipated the [eventual] demise of “politics” and “political power”, the future communist society they envisioned was [for all the talk of ‘abolition’ or ‘withering away’ of the State] by no means anarchistic; the State was to be its one indispensable institution’.4 Bakunin, who drew this conclusion originally, says of Marx and Engels, therefore, that ‘They have not learned how to dismantle the religion of the State’.5 Adamiak, accordingly, classifies Marxism as ‘a statist ideology’ which is, as such, antithetical to anarchism.6

Marx’s revolutionary vision, unlike that of Bakunin, certainly maintains a role for the State in some form – we can say, in sublated form. This Marxian sublation of the State represents simultaneously: (a) the abstract (post-transitional) negation of the (as Hegel describes it) ‘strictly political’ State7 (on the dubious basis of which Marxism identifies itself as genuinely anarchist); and (b) the eternal preservation of the arbitrarily designated ‘non-political’ State (on the basis of which Adamiak rightly denies Marxism’s anarchism).

2. Marx’s ‘Anarchism’: The Negative Moment

Marxian thought represents, therefore, (a) a revolutionary compromise, the compromising of the negative moment - in fact the compromising of anarchism in the form of a ‘Marxian “Anarchism”’, by the willful misrepresentation of Marxian socialism as the true anarchism. The key passage from Marx on this topic is the following (from 1872): ‘What all socialists understand by anarchism is this: as soon as the goal of the proletarian movement, the abolition of classes, is attained, the power of the State... will disappear and governmental [or political] functions will be transformed into simple administrative functions’.8 Engels reiterates (in the same year): ‘All Socialists are agreed that the political State, and with it political authority, will disappear as a result of the coming social revolution, that is, that public functions will lose their political character and be transformed into simple administrative functions of watching over the true interests of society’ (as determined by the sociological genius).9 Which means that ‘Marxian “Anarchism”’ consists in the transformation of the class-antagonistic political State, characterized by its ‘governmental functions’, into the classless non-political State, characterized by its ‘simple administrative functions’.

Bakunin restates Marx’s argument as follows: ‘the State, having lost its political, that is, ruling, character, will transform itself into a totally free organization of economic interests and communities’. But even this ‘totally free’ administration remains a State, albeit a supposedly ‘non-political’ one. In any event, it is a State which can never properly be brought into existence given that the required transitional post-revolutionary ‘dictatorship [that is, the post-revolutionary State] can have [no] other objective than to perpetuate itself’ as a political State, thereby ‘having the direct and inevitable result of consolidating the political and economic privileges of the [new] governing minority and the political and economic slavery of the masses’: the result of class division and State coercion.10

On this transitional post-revolutionary dictatorship, Marx writes: ‘Between capitalist and communist society [and between the current ‘political’ State and the future ‘non-political’ State] lies the period of the revolutionary transformation of one into the other. There corresponds to this also a political transition period in which the State can be nothing but the revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat’.11 Marx and Engels write, similarly, but much earlier, ‘the first step in the revolution is to raise the proletariat to the position of ruling class’, to bring about ‘the supremacy of the proletariat’.12 For Bakunin, this is the first and last step of Marxian revolution; thus the ‘transitional period’, the period in which the new ruling class gives up its power and dissolves the ‘political’ State (or, in fact, doesn’t), is decidedly post-revolutionary (or post-partial-revolution), that is, reactionary. It is an abundantly positive and not a negative stage in social development, preserving the essential characteristic of the former order: not simple economic exploitation, but the socio-economic ‘supremacy’ of simultaneously dominative and exploitative forces.

The point of Bakunin’s critique is that: (i) Marx’s State can never achieve ‘non-political’ status - since the transition required is an impossibility; and (ii) even if (hypothetically) such a transition could occur, the State’s ‘non-political’ status would be a myth, since every state - including the post-transitional merely ‘administrative’ one - is a class-ridden and therefore necessarily political / coercive entity.

3. Marx’s Statism: The Affirmative Moment

The Marxian sublation of the State represents, aside from this compromising of the negative, then, (b) a mystification of the preserved positive as (at least potentially) an ‘ungoverned’ State for all (in a classless society) - a universal State - and therefore a non-political or non-coercive State: a contradiction in terms for Bakunin for whom the State is political by definition, for whom ‘the State means coercion, domination by means of coercion, camouflaged if possible but unceremonious and overt if need be’.13 Bakunin denies that there is anything ‘non-political’ – or any possibility for benign administration - within the State, and believes that a mystification of the State – in its ideal form - by Hegel (as ‘the actuality of concrete freedom’14 ) and Marx (as an egalitarian ‘administration’) gives rise to their assertion of its ‘non-political’ side.15

Bakunin, then, maintains a principle of necessary class division (and hierarchy) within any state. Such partiality is not merely ‘internal’; it relates not only to class division within the State - which generates class conflict necessitating internal forms of coercion (legal or extra-legal police coercion - coercion by the forces of law and order - and, in extreme cases, coercion by the strongest State power, the military itself). States are also ‘externally partial’, partial in relation to other states. Bakunin explains: ‘whoever says State necessarily implies a particular and limited state... State means a state, and... a state confirms the existence of several states, and... several states means rivalry, jealousy, and incessant, endless war. The simplest logic and the whole of history bear this out’.16 ‘External partiality’ relates, therefore, to divisions among states - which generates conflict among states necessitating military coercion. States simply cannot coexist harmoniously on an ongoing basis; it is contrary to their expansive and dominative, that is, imperialistic, nature. Or, in Bakunin's own words, ‘All of history bears witness, and logic itself confirms, that two states of equal strength cannot exist side by side. That is contrary to their nature, which invariably and necessarily consists of and manifests itself in supremacy [a principle at once political and economic] - and supremacy cannot tolerate equivalence. One force must inevitably be shattered and subordinated to the other’. Hence the militarization of the relatively strong, for the purposes of further expansion (including that of their own economy) and subordination, and of the relatively weak, for the purposes of immediate self-defense and long-term supremacy. Bakunin astutely draws the parallel between this political imperialism - the diminution of freedom - and commonplace economic imperialism - the diminution of equality; for Bakunin, in fact, they are actually inseparable, constituting together the essence of the ‘statist principle’ (thus the following ‘analogy’ is far from accidental): ‘The modern State is analogous to capitalist production and bank speculation (which ultimately swallows up even capitalist production). For fear of bankruptcy, the latter must constantly broaden their scope at the expense of the small-scale production and speculation, which they swallow up; they must strive to become unique, universal, worldwide. In just the same way the modern State, of necessity a military State, bears within itself the inevitable ambition to become a worldwide State... Hegemony is only a modest, possible display of this unrealizable ambition inherent in every state. But the primary condition of hegemony is the relative impotence and subordination of at least all surrounding states’. The inevitable conflict between states notwithstanding, there is the possibility of cooperation between them when their very existence is threatened (when the principle of State is challenged), as there was between their victims in the First International (when the principle of social revolution was embraced): ‘By nature mutually antagonistic and utterly irreconcilable, states can find no other grounds for joint action than the concerted enslavement of the masses who constitute the overall basis and purpose of their existence’. Hence ‘measures against the International became a favorite topic of intergovernmental discussions’. It is in this sense that Bakunin's statement ‘The State on one side, social revolution on the other’ is intended as a factual, and not simply a logical, assertion.17

The State-‘administered’ society, then, is never universal for Bakunin; neither can it be classless.18 (From a naturalistic standpoint, once again, Bakunin abhors Marxian economism (as anthropocentric), and can therefore draw non-economic elements, such as fundamental relations of domination, into his analysis of social class, while still emphasizing the economic component, which is, in any case, inseparable from it. Therefore, he rejects the notion that mere economic equalization is in it self a corrective to a lack of liberty – any more than mere political liberalization is a corrective to a lack of equality.19 Neither component, on his account, can be realized in isolation from the other: this is the basis of his integral vision of justice.20 ) There are at least two social classes under the hypothetical economically-classless State: the administering and the administered; those who direct affairs (ultimately by coercive means), if only in the name of learnedness, and those who are directed (by such means), in this case, on the grounds of ignorance.

Adamiak concurs, noting that ‘Marx and Engels appear to have remained naively oblivious to the fact that the specter of bureaucracy was haunting the specter of communism which, they boldly claimed, was haunting Europe’. He adds that Bakunin ‘perspicaciously predicted that the implementation of the Marxian blueprint for the future society would result in a new scientific-political class, in short, that the “classless” society of Marxian eschatology was a never-to-be-realized myth’.21 Thus Bakunin announces that the essentially ‘political’ Marxist ‘State [which is, as such, in a permanent condition of ‘transition’ or, in other words, permanently despotic] will be nothing but the highly despotic government of the masses by a new and very small aristocracy of real or pretended scholars’, who claim ‘to educate the people and raise them... to such a level that government of any kind will soon become unnecessary’. It seems, therefore, that ‘for the masses to be liberated they must first be enslaved’.22 Bakunin simply denies at this point that despotic means can ever lead to free ends.

Elements of Bakunin’s revolutionary practice and the ‘theory’, which immediately serviced it certainly contradict this philosophical principle. However, to capriciously exaggerate the scope of this contradiction by absolutizing it is simple dishonesty - on the part of Bakunin scholars like Eugene Pyziur and Aileen Kelly in particular. Kelly, evidently as little qualified in psychiatry as she is in philosophy, diagnoses Bakunin’s ‘acute schizophrenia’: ‘while in his anarchist tracts and his polemics with the Marxists he preached absolute liberty, in his secret correspondence he was simultaneously defending a form of absolute dictatorship’. (Pyziur writes in the same vein: ‘in spite of its vitriolic anti-State phraseology, Bakunin's doctrine does in fact reintroduce political power and does it on a scale hardly known up to his time’.23 ) Kelly concludes that a ‘strange blend of anarchism and authoritarianism... was Bakunin's final political philosophy’.24 No: anarchism is Bakunin's final political philosophy. Nowhere does he defend absolute dictatorship; that’s a fabrication. To the extent that he contradicts his political philosophy in words, as opposed to deeds, it is in programmatic documents, letters, etc. which relate immediately to his contradictory deeds and simply endorse them. Nowhere does Bakunin expound an authoritarian philosophy. The contradictions are real, and I have no intention of denying them; but they have little if any bearing on the merits of his practically-oriented and historically-grounded philosophy: it stands alone and must be assessed as such (a scholarly honor that is done, it might be said, to less radical thinkers than Bakunin25 ). The attempt to jumble up supposedly weak elements of Bakunin’s thought (in the case of his philosophical writings, without understanding them, and in the case of his programmatic writings, without conceding that this limits their significance and scope) and discreditable elements of his practical activity (after magnifying a highly select few), and to assess his thought on these grounds is unacceptable intellectual and scholarly procedure - though it is the norm in his case.

For Bakunin, once again, ‘Liberty can only be created by liberty’. The only goal of despotism is to ‘perpetuate itself’. (This argument applies equally against the social-democratic tendencies of Marxists, or their penchant for statist - and specifically parliamentary - means in the ‘pre-revolutionary’ period. Bakunin holds that ‘the theory of the State communists... enmeshes and entangles its adherents, under the pretext of political tactics, in endless accommodations with governments and the various bourgeois political parties - that is, it thrusts them directly into reaction’. The final destination of the social-democratic school is clear to all by now: it is the cynical and opportunistic politics of the ‘Third Way’ which claims to overcome the ‘contradiction’ between socialism or equality and liberalism or freedom by reducing what are in themselves, to Bakunin, abstracted half-truths to zero, by draining all content from them. Thus, according to this account, there is no contradiction between ‘old’ and ‘new’ social-democracy, between, in the British context, ‘Old Labor’ and ‘New Labor’ - though the latter may be, in the consistency of its reaction, a little more forthright (and a great deal more efficient) than the former, for all its ‘socialist’ and ‘revolutionary’ bluster. Blairite politics are the logical culmination of classical social-democracy. Admittedly, however, there is a degree of integrity within the old school, for all its weaknesses, that has simply evaporated in its successor school.)26

4. Statist Means and ‘Anarchist’ Ends

Bakunin claims, in any event, that the idea that the transitional form of enslavement or despotism is to be ‘temporary and brief’ is mere consolation.27 As such, Marx's notion of a political hereafter - that is, ‘non-political’ hereafter - is seen to fulfill much the same function as the notion of a religious hereafter, teaching ‘patience, resignation, and submission’.28 Adamiak argues that the apparent convergence of Marxian and anarchist ends - at some point in the distant future - is illusory, or, rather, part of the ‘specious anarchistic facade [‘adroitly constructed’ by Marx and Engels] to ward off the successive threats from their more radical rivals, the Anarchists’.29 Indeed, Bakunin had made this point himself: ‘Our polemics against [the Marxists] have forced them to recognize [at least formally] that freedom, or anarchy... is the ultimate goal of social development’.30

Many who acknowledge the influence of anarchism on Marxism in the formulation of apparent revolutionary ends (and many Marxists don’t even acknowledge that) have failed to acknowledge, as Adamiak has, that the Marxist end – as far as the State is concerned - is in fact not anarchist at all; that is, many have failed to acknowledge that Marxism and Bakuninian anarchism differ with respect to revolutionary ends as well as revolutionary means. David Miller, then, speaks of anarchism and Marxism ‘Sharing the same ultimate goal’ on the one hand, and of their ‘disagreement over revolutionary methods’ on the other.31 George Woodcock, too, evidently misses this vital point: ‘The Marxists paid tribute to the anarchist ideal by agreeing that the ultimate end of socialism and communism must be the withering away of the State, but they contended that during the period of transition the State must remain in the form of the dictatorship of the proletariat’.32

To summarize, there are two Bakuninian objections to the Marxian account: first, as regards Marxian means, the transition to a non-political stage by means of (dictatorial) State-authority is impossible (therefore the Marxian State is predicted to be highly despotic); second, as regards ends, the hypothetical post-transitional society is State-ordered (that is ‘administered’ by a ‘non-political State’) anyway (therefore the Marxian State, to the extent that it embraces post-transitional elements and represents itself as the actualization of the Marxian revolutionary vision, is predicted to be highly bureaucratic). These predictions are ‘perspicacious’ indeed.

Bakunin himself summarizes the entire argument - on the despotic-bureaucratic nature of the Marxian State - most succinctly in the following passage: ‘There will be no more class, but a government [or ‘administration’], and please note, an extremely complicated [or bureaucratic] government which, not content with governing and administering the masses politically, like all the governments of today [Bakunin simply rejects Marx’s ‘non-political’ rhetoric here], will also administer them economically... this will require vast knowledge [une science immense] and a lot of heads brimful of brains in the government. It will be the reign of scientific intelligence, the most aristocratic, despotic, arrogant, and contemptuous of all regimes. There will be a new class, a new hierarchy of real and fictitious savants, and the world will be divided into a minority dominating in the name of science [or ‘scientific socialism’] and a vast, ignorant majority. And then let the ignorant masses beware!’33

This statement alone seems to me to justify Bakunin’s own claim for himself: ‘my name will remain, and to this name, which [Marxists] will have contributed so effectively to making known in the world [not least, says Bakunin, by their slander], will attach the real and legitimate glory of having been the pitiless and irreconcilable adversary, not of their own persons, which matter very little to me, but of their authoritarian theories and ridiculous and detestable pretensions to world dictatorship’.34

5. Objections

Firstly, I could be accused of giving Bakunin too much credit here. The fact that the history of Marxian-inspired despotism - and it is surely, at the very least, inspired by the (more or less) authoritarian aspects of Marxian thought (though subsequent ‘Marxist’ thought obviously bears much of the responsibility too) - is largely congruent with Bakunin’s prognosis is not the main issue here, difficult as it may be to ignore. What is in question is the theoretical debate about the State, and I maintain that Marxian theory is statist, and therefore in no way anarchist, on the grounds that it embraces the State as a pre-revolutionary and post-revolutionary means, and the post-revolutionary, post-transitional end. To this extent, Bakunin’s theoretical analysis seems entirely correct. This in itself need not worry the Marxist: in itself it amounts to the claim that Marxism is Marxist. However, Marx claims that his theory is genuinely anarchist: that it embraces the principle of freedom as well as that of equality. The motivation for Bakunin’s critique is not simply that Bakunin disagrees with Marx; his critique is also motivated by Marx purporting to agree, after a fashion, with him, or purporting to be an anarchist too, but a ‘better’ one. The notion that a manifestly non-anarchist ‘anarchism’ is the true anarchism - that a statist ‘anarchism’ is liberating (from the State) - is the kind of notion that Bakunin attributes to what he calls the compromising reactionary: it is an attempt on the part of an avowed revolutionary to subvert the negative principle; an attempt which proves ultimately more reactionary - more despotic and stupefying - than consistent reaction, which at least engages ‘honestly’ with its adversary by acknowledging it as such.35

Secondly, I could be accused of ignoring Marx’s response to Bakunin’s critique in his Konspekt von Bakunins ‘Staatlichkeit und Anarchie’ (1874-75) as well. To me there appears to be little to ignore: it’s a simple abusive and dogmatic restatement by Marx of his position (‘when class domination ends, there will be no State in the present political sense of the word’, etc.36 ), without any effort to confront the issues raised by Bakunin. It adds up to a bare declaration that ‘I’m right, he’s wrong’. (Granted, the very nature of this text - mere marginal comments - limits Marx’s ability to entertain serious discussion. However, there is no suggestion that Marx is willing to do so: he simply refuses to acknowledge that Bakunin’s objections pose any problems at all. And surely they do, even if they can ultimately be overcome. Bakunin, in this case as in many others, deserves better.) Therefore, I can only agree with Adamiak’s description of the Konspekt as ‘remarkably ingenuous’37 and with Peter Starr’s view, that ‘as a concise statement of the [theoretical] grounds for dispute in the Marxist / anarchist polemic that rocked the First International, Marx’s [Konspekt is] quite useless’.38 And in this sense it seems justified to ‘ignore’ it.

Text taken from here.

  • 1I discuss them extensively in my doctoral dissertation, The Philosophical Basis of Mikhail Bakunin’s Anarchism’.
  • 2See Die Reaktion in Deutschland (1842) (Hamburg: Nautilus/Nemo Press, 1984).
  • 3Journal of Politics, XXXII (1970), pp. 3-18.
  • 4Ibid., p. 3.
  • 5L'Empire knouto-germanique et la Révolution sociale (Seconde livraison) (1871), Archives Bakounine, VII, ed. Arthur Lehning (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1981), p. 132.
  • 6op. cit. p. 17.
  • 7Philosophy of Right, trans. T.M. Knox (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1952), p. 163 (§267).
  • 8Quoted by David McLellan in The Thought of Karl Marx: An Introduction, Third Edition (London: Papermac, 1995), pp. 211, 220 [originally from Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, Die angeblichen Spaltungen in der Internationale, Werke, XVIII (Berlin: Dietz Verlag, 1981), p. 50]; emphasis added.
  • 9On Authority, The Marx-Engels Reader, Second Edition, ed. Robert C. Tucker (New York: Norton, 1978), p. 732; emphasis added.
  • 10Gosudarstvennost’ i anarkhiia (1873), Archives Bakounine, III, ed. Arthur Lehning (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1967), pp. 148-49, 114 [translation from Statism and Anarchy, trans. Marshall S. Shatz (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990), pp. 179, 137]; emphasis added.
  • 11Critique of the Gotha Program (1875), The Marx-Engels Reader, p. 538; emphasis added.
  • 12Manifesto of the Communist Party (1848), The Revolutions of 1848, ed. David Fernbach (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1973), pp. 85-86.
  • 13Gosudarstvennost’ i anarkhiia, p. 20 [Statism and Anarchy, p. 24]; emphasis in original.
  • 14op. cit., p. 160 (§260).
  • 15The word ‘political’ requires caution. There is continual debate in anarchist circles as to whether a Bakuninian equation of the State with politics rules out an anarchist politics or revolutionary politics. [See, in particular, The Murray Bookchin Reader, ed. Janet Biehl (Washington: Cassell, 1997), Chapter 8.] Certainly, it rules out the politics of State or quasi-State institutions (though what exactly this implies remains open to question). However, there may still be room for social forms of organization that are identifiable as ‘political’ in the classical, but not the modern-statist, sense.

    Bakunin wouldn’t quibble with this distinction, I believe. In the classical sense of (in principle) a universal (and therefore ‘true’) form of participatory politics, his anarchism is a political philosophy; however, in the statist sense of partial politics – of domination of some (the majority) by others (bogus ‘representatives’ of ‘popular’ interests, true representatives of corporate interests, etc.) – he rejects the ‘political’ entirely. Thus the supposed contradiction observed by Peter Marshall: ‘[Bakunin] talks of the need for the “total abolition of politics” and yet argues that the [First International] offers the “true politics of the workers”’ [Demanding the Impossible: A History of Anarchism (London: Fontana Press, 1993), p. 265]. This may be semantically troublesome, but there is no real contradiction involved. Nevertheless, for semantic ease, it may be better to refer to the anarchist philosophy as social (and universal as such) rather than political (and partial in the ordinary sense of this word). This, at any rate, is how the words are understood in this paper.

    When Bakunin says that the State is political by definition, therefore, he means that it is necessarily a partial (dominative and exploitative) institution. This is evidenced by, for example, his repeated distinctions between the ‘social-revolutionary’ project of the anarchists and the ‘political-revolutionary’ project of their ‘bourgeois’ (liberal or socialist) opponents. [See, for exemple, Trois Conférences faites aux Ouvriers du Val de Saint-Imier (1871), Archives Bakounine, VI, ed. Arthur Lehning (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1974), pp. 217-45].

  • 16Ecrit contre Marx (1872), Archives Bakounine, II, ed. Arthur Lehning (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1965), p. 202; emphasis in original.
  • 17Gosudarstvennost’ i anarkhiia, pp. 52-53, 11-12, 3, 17 [Statism and Anarchy, pp. 63, 13-14, 3, 20].
  • 18Bakunin summarizes this in Organisation de l’Internationale (1871): ‘whoever speaks of a State thus necessarily speaks of more than one State [that is, of a partial principle] – oppressive and exploitative internally, mutually hostile if not seeking conquest externally – and so is negating [the universal principle of] humanity’ [translated in The Basic Bakunin: Writings 1869-1871, ed. Robert M. Cutler (Buffalo: Prometheus Books, 1992), p. 141]; emphasis added.
  • 19‘[We] know, from painful experience, that without liberty there can be neither dignity nor prosperity for man. But [we] do not conceive of liberty other than in equality; because liberty in inequality is privilege, that is to say, the pleasure of some based on the suffering’ of others [La Double Grève de Genève (1869), Le Socialisme libertaire, ed. Fernand Rude (Paris: Denoël, 1973), p. 67].
  • 20‘... there is but one way for justice to triumph, that is, the most complete liberty of each in the most perfect equality of all’ [L’Instruction intégrale (1869), Le Socialisme libertaire, pp. 137-38].
  • 21op. cit., p. 6, note 8.
  • 22Gosudarstvennost’ i anarkhiia, pp. 148-49 [Statism and Anarchy, pp. 178-79].
  • 23The Doctrine of Anarchism of Michael A. Bakunin (Milwaukee: Marquette University Press, 1955), p. 146.
  • 24Mikhail Bakunin: A Study in the Psychology and Politics of Utopianism (Oxford: Oxford University Press), p. 193.
  • 25See Howard H. Harriott, ‘Defensible Anarchy?’, International Philosophy Quarterly, XXXIII (1993), p. 319-20, note 2.
  • 26Gosudarstvennost’ i anarkhiia, p. 149 [Statism and Anarchy, pp. 179-80].
  • 27Ibid., p. 148 [p. 179].
  • 28Fédéralisme, socialisme et antithéologisme (1867), Oeuvres, I, ed. Max Nettlau (Paris: Stock, 1972), p. 102.
  • 29op. cit., p. 17.
  • 30Gosudarstvennost’ i anarkhiia, p. 149 [Statism and Anarchy, p. 179].
  • 31Anarchism (London: J.M. Dent & Sons, 1984), pp. 93, 79.
  • 32Anarchism: A History of Libertarian Ideas and Movements (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1975), p. 158.
  • 33Écrit contre Marx, p. 204; emphasis added except to the phrase `scientific intelligence' which is emphasized in the original.
  • 34Lettre à la Liberté (5/10/1872), Archives Bakounine, II, p. 158.
  • 35See note 2, above.
  • 36The Marx-Engels Reader, p. 545; emphasis added.
  • 37op. cit., p. 6, note 8.
  • 38 See Logics of Failed Revolt: French Theory After May '68 (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1995), pp. 205-09; emphasis added. I’m happy to add that I don’t agree with another word Starr writes about Bakunin and Marx and their ‘elaborate castration drama’ or ‘narcissistic phallodrama’!



9 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Y on August 1, 2014

Bakunin's 'negative dialectic' is compared with Marx's 'affirmative dialectic'. The movement out of a unity of opposites and into a synthesis is misunderstood by the author. IOW, what is described as Bakunin's uncompromising negative dialectic is in fact no dialectic at all:

"In the first place, there is a logical distinction between Bakunin’s negative dialectic (in which sublation and mediation are excluded, so that each dialectical product is a fulfillment of the antithetical or ‘revolutionary’) and Marx’s affirmative dialectic (in which these aspects are retained, so that each dialectical product preserves something of what was confronted by the negative, that is the ‘thesis’ or, in Bakunin’s terms, the ‘reactionary’); on this basis, Marx is, from the standpoint of ‘revolutionary logic’, what Bakunin terms a ‘compromiser’.2"

Sublation is ALWAYS the result of synthesis between the unity of opposites. Water is liquid but is not possible without the combination of two different gases--the different gases are 'opposites' i.e. they are not the same elements.

So, my initial reaction to this piece is that the author does not know what s/he's talking about and is attempting to put theoretical distinctions between Marx and Bakunin up onto metaphysical foundation with no methodological legs.

"In the second place, there is an ontological distinction between Bakunin’s naturalism (his prioritization of nature, of which mankind is merely a part) and Marx’s anthropocentrism (his prioritization of man as, essentially, a productive mediator of nature); Bakunin, accordingly, rejects Marx’s anthropocentric economism as non-naturalistic and metaphysical."

This is ridiculous. It's as if Bakunin was addressing anarchism as much to birds and weeds as to humans and that Marx was a product of Biblical teachings about 'mankind' being given dominion over the Earth.

So, you see, the piece is problematic. It's conclusions are flawed because its premises are off base.

Ross Arctor

9 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Ross Arctor on August 1, 2014

Y, you might want to check out McLaughlin's book which explains his reasoning further on those two points: http://libcom.org/library/mikhail-bakunin-philosophical-basis-his-anarchism-paul-mclaughlin

The other thing I have to say is that his reasoning and conclusion in this article that Marxism is statist in ends aren't really related to the quotations you chose to write about. McLaughlin writes, right after the paragraph you chose, "Now let us take up the title issue." He wrote that the paragraph before was about two "fundamental, philosophical distinctions" which "we cannot hope to discuss adequately here." So your statement that "It's conclusions are flawed because its premises are off base" is false since you haven't addressed McLaughlin's most relevant premise to this article.

Regardless, McLaughlin wrote that this essay "represents some very youthful thinking, but is still – I hope – of some, limited value." So he may no longer agree with what he wrote.


9 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by augustynww on August 1, 2014

Dialectics as ontological theory about the world is pre-scientific thinking. It's like ancient cosmology explaining everything as combinations of elements: water, fire, air etc. Philosophy is not a science.
It's clear in Engel's "dialectics of nature"


9 years 9 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by factvalue on August 16, 2014

In terms of ontology, in his book McLaughlin describes Marx as an idealist and charges him with what the analytical philosopher John Searle once called the 'phenomenological illusion', the foundational error in which the point of view becomes part of the ontology. In his view Marx's mediated perspectivalism is such as to suppose that the point of view from which phenomena are described is part of their ontology. Representing something as water involves taking a different stance towards it than representing it as two hydrogens and an oxygen. But from the fact that these two representations are from different points of view it does not follow that the viewpoints are part of the reality represented. So McLaughlin's Marx conflates the relative existence of social facts with basic facts which do not have a relative existence in the way that e.g. semantic or institutional facts do. It's an interesting and erudite read, thought provoking if not entirely convincing and nicely partisan wrt Bakunin.


9 years 9 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by augustynww on August 17, 2014

It looks like so from this description. I wonder what it means for his theories if there is no interplay of dialectics' "elements", no relations involved, only changing of points of view. Dialectics is supposed to reflect dynamics of capitalism.


1 year 4 months ago

Submitted by bendunn on January 24, 2023

Anyone know what year this was originally published? Or what happened to McLaughlin. Overall, I thought this was very good.

darren p

1 year 4 months ago

Submitted by darren p on January 25, 2023

The webpage listed as the source is archived here: