Marxism and State Communism: the Withering Away of the State - Groepen van Internationale Communisten (GIC)

Original publication: Marxisme en staatscommunisme; Het afsterven van de staat. – Amsterdam: Groepen van Internationale Communisten, 1932. – 18 p. A 1932 pamphlet hard to find in English, in which the Group(s) of International Communists (GIC) criticise Lenin's 'The State and the Revolution.' Part of this text was integrated into 'Basic principles of communist production and distribution'.

Submitted by Craftwork on October 7, 2016


The economic revolution begins with the conquest of the means of production

As soon as the rule of the working class in an industrialized country has become a reality, the proletariat will be confronted with the task of starting the transformation of the economy on new foundations, that of common labor. The abolition of private property is easily pronounced: this will be the first measure of the political rule of the working class. But this is only a legal act which will lay the foundation for real economic life. The actual transformation and truly revolutionary work will start from this point.

Leninist state communism
The wage laborer remains a wage laborer

To the extent that this issue is dealt with by the official communists, it is considered a foregone conclusion that the state has to accomplish this task.

The Russian Bolshevik Party has consistently implemented the idea of placing the means of production under State control since the 1917 revolution.

That this has only succeeded to a limited extent is due to the backward state of social production in Russia; a natural limit to some extent to bringing the means of production under state ownership. Therefore, the question is not whether and to what extent this transition can take place. It is rather, whether transfer of the means of production to the state by the victorious working class, as reflected in Bolshevik theory and practice, is the way to communism.

To this question, the development of Russian enterprises under Bolshevik government gave a clear answer. It has now become an established fact that the workers in the nationalized enterprises have remained wage laborers. The state has replaced the former private capitalists, and to this state the worker sells his labor. The state determines these wages by law and allows the union, which has become itself a part of the state, to accomplish the implementation of the labor laws. The wage laws in force at this time in Russia, contain 17 different wage grades plus others for piecework, bonuses, etc. In short: When industry is in the hands of the state, it behaves in exactly the same way as private capitalist production based on the exploitation of labor.

The state bureaucracy becomes the ruling class
In this system Soviet elections are a sham
The “free” workers finally achieve “workers participation”

The state itself – which is called a workers and peasants state in Russia – as owner of the means of production opposes the class of wage laborers. The centralized pinnacle of the state bureaucracy is the legislative and executive organ of the state which at the same time is also the leader in production. It occupies the same place as monopoly capital in private capitalism, and it represents in fact the new ruling class: the state bureaucracy and peasantry. The workers sell their labor power to the state, but can do so only according to the labor laws, in which the price and the conditions are set by the state bureaucracy. An unprecedented sharp exploitation is prescribed by law and all opposition is suppressed as counterrevolutionary in principle. Discipline and subordination to the state complete this compulsory organization. One wonders, in what way the basic requirement of communism, “freedom from wage labor” has been accomplished.

On the other hand, in order to influence the economy and politics of the state, the workers, as well as the population as a whole, are referred to Soviet elections and participation in party and trade union life. However, as the Soviet elections are decisively influenced by the powerful state bureaucracy (and the wealthy peasant class), and as party and union are powerful instruments of the bureaucracy, it has to be acknowledged that the influence of the proletariat cannot be effected in this way. The latter is practically reduced to the “co-management” by the workers that the Social Democrats also demand under capitalism.

“The association of free and equal producers”

According to Marx, the state is a special oppressive instrument

  • In capitalism: the domination of the working class;

  • under the proletarian dictatorship: to hold down the bourgeoisie and counter-revolution.

However, this does not mean that the state in a communist society should become the exclusive power in society through central leadership and concentration of the entire economic life in its hands. Quite the contrary, both Marx and Engels expressed the view that the mark of a communist society exists in “the association of free and equal producers” and that the state must disappear, when there is nothing to suppress, i.e. if the resistance of the bourgeoisie and its ideological domination over the workers has been overcome. “The association of free and equal producers” no longer has class conflict and thus in such a society the state as an instrument of power has become obsolete.

Lenin is the founder of state communism. In The State and Revolution where he creates the basic support for this theory, he refers to Marx and Engels. Although this document is written in defense of the proletarian dictatorship against Menshevism and in this respect has lasting merit, the shape this dictatorship should take, according to Lenin, is contrary to the beliefs that the founders of scientific communism had about this subject. This can even be shown in the quotes that Lenin takes from the writings of Marx and Engels. So Lenin quotes e.g. Engels:

“The state, then, has not existed from all eternity. There have been societies that did without it, that had no idea of the state and state power. At a certain stage of economic development, which was necessarily bound up with the split of society into classes, the state became a necessity owing to this split. We are now rapidly approaching a stage in the development of production at which the existence of these classes not only will have ceased to be a necessity, but will become a positive hindrance to production. They will fall as they arose at an earlier stage. Along with them the state will inevitably fall. Society, which will reorganize production on the basis of a free and equal association of the producers, will put the whole machinery of state where it will then belong: into a museum of antiquities, by the side of the spinning-wheel and the bronze axe."1  

Engels says in another place, that the means of production will be state-owned. Therefore, Lenin founds his theory on this statement.2  

But it must be a peculiar state, because it is only created (dictatorship of the proletariat), to give away, blow upon blow, all its power, to gradually make itself superfluous.

But what if the state concentrates in its hand “the administration of things and the leadership of the production”, and thereby secures its control over the workers even more by its management of the system of production? If the administrative apparatus lies in the hands of a small party that also has political power, it is in fact in control over broad masses. The excuse that the party is “the party of the proletariat”, does not change anything. One should always remember that this management device, such as the Russian example teaches, can be managed only from the center, as a centrally organized apparatus. Within this apparatus there is no place for “independent producers” (the workers). It would not correspond to a central leadership. Therefore, we also see that strict discipline, subordination to the commands of the top leadership has become a dogma of faith in Russian economy and politics.

The Soviet elections should provide – in theory – a guarantee that the state which, “in the name of society” takes over the means of production, actually manages the affairs and directs the productive apparatus in the name of society. Practice shows that the state bureaucracy enforces its plans with all means of power, and that soviet elections result in nothing. Thus influencing the management of the state by Soviet elections does not take place, not even by the State party (RCP) and the unions. The state bureaucracy does not permit the development of any position other than its own policy. Needless to say democracy in this state communism, namely, in party and trade union organizations and Soviet elections can provide no guarantee that the state withers away, as Marx and Engels demanded and as Lenin imagined as well.

Production centralized in one hand defines a new form of domination
The state cannot wither away as a result
Democracy cannot wither away either
Democracy remains the fig leaf to conceal oppression

We conclude that this government or central leadership cannot wither away, but on the contrary has to confirm itself more and more, as a consequence of the way it took possession of the means of production. It actually means the subordination of the producers, who want to be free, to the government, their economic dependence on the latter and thereby their subjugation. As a consolation, they then have the prospect to shape their own subjugation in accordance with their interests. However, this road is beyond their function as producers, it is the road of democracy.

Undoubtedly, as producers the workers are a power, but as such, they must comply with the central leadership. Outside the enterprises they would only be a decisive power if they were armed. However, in Russia we see that the workers have been disarmed and that, by contrast, a Red Army has been formed, which is available to the central government. As a result, in this democracy the workers don’t have the least impact. Essentially, it doesn’t distinguish itself in any way from bourgeois democracy, and noting can be done against a strong incumbent governing bureaucracy. (That this has been the case in Russia, first of all depends upon the social relations in that country. These made Russian State Communism win. But at the same time one can see from this what a blow it must be for the working class, if in high capitalist countries attempts are made to implement state communism according to the Russian model).

The result of the state taking possession of the means of production according to the theory of Lenin, so its central organizational leadership and management, is a new, stronger and more capable instrument of domination of the ruling bureaucracy. Democracy will be, as in bourgeois society, the fig leaf, which has to cover the new domination of the workers.

Despite this, Lenin expressed in The State and Revolution, that this state must die, and, he even comes to the correct conclusion that democracy must also die.

“[…] in speaking of the state ‘withering away’, and the even more graphic and colorful ‘dying down of itself’, Engels refers quite clearly and definitely to the period after ‘the state has taken possession of the means of production in the name of the whole of society’, that is, after the socialist revolution. We all know that the political form of the ‘state’ at that time is the most complete democracy. But it never enters the head of any of the opportunists, who shamelessly distort Marxism, that Engels is consequently speaking here of democracy ‘dying down of itself’, or ‘withering away’.”3  

Undoubtedly Lenin meant by that democracy in state communism. Apart from the actual contrasting development in Russia, we can only repeat the words of Engels who says the exact opposite:

“The government of persons is replaced by the administration of things, and by the conduct of processes of production. The state is not ‘abolished’. It withers away.”4  

It is clear, that the theory of Lenin here is in contradiction with itself.

The contradiction in the Leninist theory of the state

Here we want to expose the contradiction in the Leninist theory of the state. If the withering away of the proletarian state and of its democracy is to be achieved, one cannot simultaneously force society politically and economically under the most oppressive central leadership of the government. Because this is tantamount to the existence of a new state with greater power and wider competences than bourgeois state capitalism. However, only the politically childish could believe that the state would release its power at a given time, even if the state were able do so, without collapse of the entire central apparatus built for production and administration. On the contrary, it will attempt to confirm its power and grow to become the biggest instrument for oppression society has ever seen.

A new ruling caste grows in this new state communism. It consists of the leaders that rose up from the working class and of defectors from the bourgeoisie, who put themselves into the service of state communism and make themselves master of the central administration. This is demonstrated absolutely clearly in today’s Russia. Only a vanishingly small number of the Russian workers have been able to take a leading position in the administrative machinery of production drawn to the state. To kick start the economy, one needed to take the officials and the leaders of the capitalist system. These people, legitimized as communists by integration into the Communist Party, together with competent workers – the leaders – control the production of the country. They form a new ruling caste and already at present use their position of power to take a much better material position than the workers. Withholding complaints of Russian workers, that even penetrate into official newspapers – such as the “Pravda” – (which is very telling in today’s Russia) highlight that the bureaucrats only care for their own [interests], without heeding the most glaring emergencies of the workers. It is therefore hardly surprising that in Russia itself, the word “Soviet bourgeoisie” has arisen.

State communism stands in contrast to the argument that under communism the state needs to wither away. Only one of both is possible: either state communism, i.e. central organizational leadership and management of production by the state – in that case the state remains, and strengthens its power – or the withering away of the state and of democracy, while society is passing over to the association of free and equal producers and therefore a state oppressive power becomes unnecessary. But then the central apparatus for the leading of production covered by the state, has to disappear.

Lenin as a state communist

“A witty German Social-Democrat of the seventies of the last century called the postal service an example of the socialist economic system. This is very true. At the present the postal service is a business organized on the lines of state-capitalist monopoly. Imperialism is gradually transforming all trusts into organizations of a similar type, in which, standing over the “common” people, who are overworked and starved, one has the same bourgeois bureaucracy. But the mechanism of social management is here already to hand. Once we have overthrown the capitalists, crushed the resistance of these exploiters with the iron hand of the armed workers, and smashed the bureaucratic machinery of the modern state, we shall have a splendidly-equipped mechanism, freed from the “parasite”, a mechanism which can very well be set going by the united workers themselves, who will hire technicians, foremen and accountants, and pay them all, as indeed all “state” officials in general, workmen’s wages. Here is a concrete, practical task which can immediately be fulfilled in relation to all trusts, a task whose fulfillment will rid the working people of exploitation, a task which takes account of what the Commune had already begun to practice (particularly in building up the state).”5  

“To organize the whole economy on the lines of the postal service so that the technicians, foremen and accountants, as well as all officials, shall receive salaries no higher than “a workman’s wage”, all under the control and leadership of the armed proletariat –that is our immediate aim. This is what will bring about the abolition of parliamentarism and the preservation of representative institutions. This is what will rid the laboring classes of the bourgeoisie’s prostitution of these institutions.”6  

Lenin plainly says here that the central leadership and management of the production in the state communism will be based on the model of the post, or rather, made in the manner of a state capitalist monopoly. “Technicians, foremen and accountants, as well as all officials are correctly state officials, officials in the state production monopoly that controls the entire production.” “A mechanism of general public enterprise, which is organized to the example of the capitalist state monopoly”, that is indeed is the characteristic description for State Communism, as Lenin outlines it.

It’s necessary to point out here that Engels (and Marx in a different place) said: “The proletariat seizes state power and turns the means of production into state property to begin with.”7  

It has the appearance as if he says the same thing as Lenin, but he emphasizes, that the means of production will be “first” transferred to state ownership and he further claims that the appropriation of the means of production in the name of society at the same time constitutes the “last independent act” of the proletarian state.

This clearly shows that the taking into possession of the means of production should initiate just another act which only can be – if we don’t want to turn the teaching of Marx and Engels on its head – “the association of free and equal producers”. If taking possession of means of production by the proletarian state initiates this association, then “management of affairs” and “management of production processes” will develop while the associated society of free and equal producers arranges its life itself on a free economic foundation. Only to the degree to which this association is gathering pace will the coercive force of the state become redundant, so the state can and will die away. At the same time, the setting up of this association, which facilitates the withering away of the state, is the only task of the proletarian dictatorship. Only in this sense we can understand the statement of Marx and Engels. Marx and Engels were careful not to present the taking into possession of the means of production by the state as a “mechanism of the general public company, organized to the example of the capitalist state monopoly.”

Such a view is merely the product of “a witty social democrat”, but it hasn’t anything to do with Marx and Engels. Lenin has adopted here the way the “witty social democrat” explains Marxist doctrine, and by this he necessarily went beyond the rigid, mechanistic conception of socialist society, as shown in state capitalism. The state, which holds the monopoly of production, represents in this view society – in this respect there is not the slightest difference with the social democratic theory of nationalization.

“Nationalization” and “socialization”

Although Marx gave no “picture” of communist industrial life, it is well known that regulation of production would be established according to him “not by the state but by the organization of free associations of the socialist society” a conception which, according to the reformist Cunow, Marx would have derived from the liberal-anarchist currents of his time, (H. Cunow, Die marxsche Geschichts-, Gesellschafts- und Staatstheorie, I, p. 309).

The management and administration of production and distribution would accrue directly to the producers and consumers themselves and not by taking the detour of the state.

The equation of state and society is only an invention of later years.

Around 1880-1890 this position was also taken by Social Democracy, which for example, is clearly reflected in a speech held by the elder Liebknecht following attempts to put the railways, coal mines and other large industries into hands of the state. He said:

“The more bourgeois society recognizes that eventually it cannot defend itself against the onslaught of socialist ideas, the closer we get to the time that state socialism will seriously be proclaimed and the final battle, which social democracy will have to fight, will be fought under the slogan: ‘Here social democracy – there state socialism!’”

Cunow gives following note to this: “Accordingly, the Congress (of the Social Democratic Party) also declared itself against the transfer of the enterprises to the state; because social democracy and state socialism were called ‘irreconcilably opposed’.” (Cunow, supra, p. 340).

However, about 1900, in the struggle for “social reforms” this position was abandoned, and “nationalization”, bringing different branches of business under state or municipal control, were presented as an even closer step towards socialism. In social democratic terminology such enterprises therefore are called “social enterprises” although the producers have nothing to do with their management and leadership.

The Russian revolution went also totally according to the scheme of “nationalization” of industry. Again the branches of businesses that were ‘mature’ enough to do so, joined the central state apparatus. In 1917, producers began to expropriate the owners in different companies, to the great discomfort of those who wanted to lead and manage economic life “from above”. The workers wanted to organize production on new bases according communist rules.

Instead of these rules they got stones for bread: The Communist Party gave guidelines according to which companies should unite into trusts, as to get them under central management. What could not be included in the central disposal plan was returned to the owners, as these companies were not yet “ripe”. So we see how already the first All-Russian Congress of Economic Councils, adopted following resolution:

“In terms of the organization of production an overall nationalization is necessary. It is necessary to proceed from the implementation of nationalization of individual companies (of which 304 have been nationalized and confiscated) to effective nationalization of industry. Nationalization should not be an “organized” nationalization, and should come about only through the Supreme Economic Council of Deputies and approved by the Supreme Economic Council.” (A.Goldschmidt, Wirtschaftsorganisation in Sowjet-Russland, p. 228).

Thus the Communist Party gave no guidance to the workers themselves on how they should add their enterprise to the communist sector, it gave no guidelines to which the administration and management of the production process indeed would proceed to society, for it the liberation of the workers was not the task of the workers themselves, but the implementation of communism was a function of the “men of science”, of the “intellectuals”, the “statisticians” as all those learned men were variously called. The Communist Party believed that it was sufficient to dislodge the old generals of industry and to take control itself of the Commando Law over labor, to lead all into the safe haven of communism! The working class was just good enough to sweep away the old rulers over work – and to put new ones in their place. Its function reached no further and could not have gone further, because the basis for self-organization was not given by providing generally applicable rules for production.8  

How Lenin “simply” solves the difficulty

Lenin has been certainly aware that the concentration of the entire production owned by the State monopoly, which is based on the most stringent organizational centralism, means a strengthening of state power. However, when The State and Revolution was written, he could not in any way have foreseen the actual development in Russia. Here it was necessary – as the Bolsheviks wanted to remain in power – to strengthen state power as much as possible, so to build its monopoly over production, without taking into account any other purpose. So the situation in Russia itself developed Lenin’s theory of State Communism. The way to make the state increasingly stronger, tighter, was gradually reserved for those who had taken Russian state power. This process, which was started as a “mechanism of the general public enterprise, organized to the example of the capitalist monopoly of the state” had to become increasingly opposed to that of “free and equal producers”.

Russia has developed the best example of Leninist state communism in reality, not as its bearers wished but as it had to develop.

Lenin could neither foresee all details of the actual outcome, but it was still clear to him that the proletarian state is a coercive institution as well. Moreover, he emphasizes this several times. Lenin now tries to solve the contradiction in an original way, how this state, that is still – according the theory of Lenin – a permanent institute of central leadership and management of overall production, will make itself redundant, will die down. In The State and Revolution Lenin proposes:

“We, the workers, shall organize large-scale production on the basis of what capitalism has already created, relying on our own experience as workers, establishing strict, iron discipline backed up by the state power of the armed workers. We shall reduce the role of state officials to that of simply carrying out our instructions as responsible, revocable, modestly paid “foremen and accountants” (of course, with the aid of technicians of all sorts, types and degrees). This is our proletarian task, this is what we can and must start with in accomplishing the proletarian revolution. Such a beginning, on the basis of large-scale production, will of itself lead to the gradual “withering away” of all bureaucracy, to the gradual creation of an order--an order without inverted commas, an order bearing no similarity to wage slavery--an order under which the functions of control and accounting, becoming more and more simple, will be performed by each in turn, will then become a habit and will finally die out as the special functions of a special section of the population.”9  

One recognizes clearly a mechanical organization in the extreme: in the economic field – as producers – the workers must adapt to the most severe discipline of state production monopoly, and obey the state officials. These state officials are the “employers” who find their supreme leadership in the government. The workers have as well their supreme representation in government. By means of political democracy (Soviet- elections-party activity) they can influence government and thereby control production with its state officials.

We repeat that in such a system all power is concentrated in government, that the workers are more severely oppressed in this society than under capitalism, that democracy here is turned into a joke again and that the prosperity of such society finally depends on the good will and capacities of the governmental men and their administration. Under such circumstances, the state with its democracy must give itself firmer foundations, rather than be redundant and die down, as Lenin wants as well. Lenin assures us that despite this the state will still die, precisely because of this severe organization would make it happen. But he gives no argument for this other than the quoted obscure reasoning that “the functions of control and accounting, becoming more and more simple, will be performed by each in turn, will then become a habit and will finally die down as the special functions of a special section of the population.”

As said already, this is obscure, because if one can imagine it in the abstract, then it is mere fantasy. To present the leadership of the state production monopoly (like the postal system or a trust) as functions of supervision and settlement, which are very easy to create, turns things upside down.

Therefore, we should stigmatize this argument of Lenin as a phrase without content, by which he moved from his neck findings troublesome for him too, that follow from the teachings of Marx and Engels about the withering away of the state.

State communism clashes with the council concept

If one tries to follow the thoughts of state communism, one will soon find two peculiarities.

First, state communism considers all problems only from a mechanical point of view. It sees everything solely from the point, how this or that area can be integrated by controlling its organization and central leadership and management.

That brings them to see the implementation of communism as the continuation of the concentration of business, as already happens under capitalism. But what does the organization of production created by the concentration of capital mean? What does it mean, as seen from the angle of the wage laborers on the one hand, and from the position of the capitalists on the other? It is about control of labor, the organized control of wage workers. The Marxist analysis of capitalism leaves not the slightest doubt about it. For Marx the social position of the capitalist to the wage-laborer is characterized by his disposition over the work, over the workers in production.

The socialization theories of all currents of social democracy all concentrate on the same point of control over the working class. That the work must be dominated, is obvious for them and so (because it is a social, inseparably linked system) requires a strict central organization. This is considered “natural”.

But it is equally important that State Communism puts decisive weight on the capacities of the leaders. Certainly this is a result of central organizational conjunction, because now everything depends on the skill and firmness of principle of the leaders placed in the center, to which the mass must subordinate with strict discipline.

One must admit with the Bolsheviks, that the working class can only win power, if it is a closely united, ready for struggle. However, whether this can be accomplished along the way of organizational discipline and its subordination under a central command, is another question that will not be investigated now.

We draw attention to this phenomenon, because it shows how state communism can be understood. The decisive factor is that all the problems of “leaders” here are opposed to the idea of councils.

A questionable departure from Marxism

The entire tactical framework of the workers’ organizations, which are part of the 3rd International that therefore see their aim as State Communism, starts from the idea of encompassing great masses by organizing and putting them under central leadership. Once the organization is created, the leader is the main thing. However, this means the success of the proletarian revolution is made highly conditional upon the ability of leaders – a dubious deviation from Marxism.

This issue of leadership, we encounter every day in the tactics of the parties and organizations of the 3rd International (we mention only the trade union issue, parliamentarism and organizational issues in the C.P. itself), has also been transferred to the economic field in communism. The ability and the attitude of the leader according to this view, determines to a large extent the fate of such a society. Likewise, the glorification of Lenin and others, can be explained as the unhealthy worship of individuals.

“The emancipation of the workers must be the task of the workers themselves.” These words do not lose their validity when considering the economic liberation of the workers. The most skilled leaders, even when the workers follow them with absolute discipline, cannot take over the task of liberating labor from the proletariat. Moreover, if the proletarian dictatorship petrifies to the relationship of leader to mass, as reflected in State Communism, then this leadership develops, despite all democracy, into a new ruling class, on which society is dependent.

The unified power of the workers is necessary

When Russia, the country where a determined, heaven-storming, revolutionary vanguard led a multi-million-headed gloomy, dull mass into revolution, has given birth to the doctrine of State Communism. This doctrine, as the flaming signal of the first successful proletarian revolution, roused the enthusiasm of the workers in all countries. Then it demonstrated in its rigid bureaucracy, in re-established state power through the monopolization of production, that the final emancipation of the working class cannot come about through state communism, nor through leaders to whom the mass is obediently disciplined, but only by the autonomous strength of the workers themselves.

Of course, the united power of the armed workers must crush the bourgeoisie, because the concentrated power of the bourgeois state can only be overcome in this way. But here too it is the workers themselves, armed and organized in the workplace, that form the new state power.

The political unity of the workers’ state, led by Councils or Soviets, whose head is the Council Government, is a necessary consequence of this struggle. The abolition of the private ownership of the means of production and its declaration to “State” – more accurately, social property, should be pronounced by the proletarian State, thus by government.

The lessons of the Paris Commune (1871)

But State Communism deviates from Marxism here, because in organizing State ownership by order of the central leadership of the government organization, it denies the immediate producers access to the means of production and puts it in the hands of government.

Marx and Engels however, demanded the transfer of the means of production into social property, social production by association, that is to say, association of free and equal producers. However, as we will demonstrate below, this is completely different from the central organization of production carried out by the state.

Marx in his Civil War in France learned lessons from the Paris Commune (1871), this first attempt to establish the power of the workers. Lenin in The State and Revolution serves himself with various quotations from it, to defend the dictatorship of the proletariat against the Social-Democrat Marx-falsifiers. Same quotations which Lenin utilized, will be used by us because we want to prove that by “dictatorship of the proletariat” Marx understood something quite different from what it has become in Russia.

“The first decree of the Commune, therefore, was the suppression of the standing army, and the substitution for it of the armed people.”

“The Commune was formed of the municipal councilors, chosen by universal suffrage in the various wards of the town, responsible and revocable at any time.”

“The Commune,” Marx wrote, “was to be a working, not a parliamentary, body, executive and legislative at the same time […].”

Instead of deciding once in three or six years which member of the ruling class was to represent and repress [ver- and zertreten] the people in parliament, universal suffrage was to serve the people constituted in communes, as individual suffrage serves every other employer in the search for workers, foremen and accountants for his business.10  

The council system according to Marx

Marx thus provided us with a striking characteristic of the proletarian council system, as it now has become standard tenet of revolutionary workers’ parties.

It must be kept in mind that the Council appointed according to this statement any time can be deposed directly by its voters, just like employers appoint or dismiss workers, foremen and accountants. The voters are the workers, in this case they are completely master of their “business”! How completely different the construction of the Commune was thought compared to centralized Russian State Communism, is shown by the following sentences from Marx:

“In a brief sketch of national organization, which the Commune had no time to develop, it states explicitly that the Commune was to be the political form of even the smallest village […]. The communes were to elect the “National Delegation” in Paris.

“[…] The few but important functions which would still remain for a central government were not to be suppressed, as had been deliberately mis-stated, but were to be transferred to communal, i.e., strictly responsible, officials.”

“[…] National unity was not to be broken, but, on the contrary, organized by the communal constitution; it was to become a reality by the destruction of state power which posed as the embodiment of that unity yet wanted to be independent of, and superior to, the nation, on whose body it was but a parasitic excrescence. While the merely repressive organs of the old governmental power were to be amputated, its legitimate functions were to be wrested from an authority claiming the right to stand above society, and restored to the responsible servants of society.”11  

The question of mass and leaders in the communes

Unambiguously and clearly it states here that the “few but important functions which would still remain for a central government” are to be exercised by communal officials who are strictly responsible at any moment to their immediate constituents. The executive officers of the Central Government are not state officials, but communal officials, not responsible to the government of the State, but to their direct voters in the Commune. Assuming the possibility of such an order (i.e. the central social functions are exercised by communal and therefore responsible officials of the Commune, which guarantee the unity of the country or society), also a withering away of the state can be imagined. But when such an order exists, there is no “State” at all, because what still can be called a central government has no separate power, because it is in the hands of the Communes. The implementation in the whole country of the commune or council system, would thus be the simultaneous elimination of the parasitic State. “The merely repressive organs of the old governmental power were to be amputated, its legitimate functions were to be wrested from an authority claiming the right to stand above society, and restored to the responsible servants of society”. Once such order actually is implemented, then the state really withered away since society does not need it anymore.

The conditions for the withering away of the state

It’s clear that this situation cannot exist under the dictatorship of the proletariat. Only when the former legitimate functions of State Power, now to be called the central functions of society, can be transferred to the communal officials, a State Power – here proletarian dictatorship – will be unnecessary. Whether these functions can be transferred depends on the commune exercising these central functions voluntarily and that these functions and measures to hold together society meet no resistance. The former State Power must, as it were to come to life in the Communes, by creating a voluntary centralization for the exercise of the central functions and monitoring of the resulting measures.

But because the main central functions of proletarian dictatorship consist of the abolition of private property and, furthermore all privileges, by transferring the means of production into social possession (by association of free and equal producers), all individuals that can lose these privileges or private property, or even their ideology, will resist to these central functions. The functions of the new social order can therefore not be transferred to these persons or classes; as long as this resistance exists proletarian dictatorship is necessary. However, those Communes by which this resistance has been overcome, (for example when there is a large majority of workers who are loyal to Communism), could take over these functions themselves. Otherwise the gradual withering away of the state is unthinkable.

But from this also follows that the proletarian state from the beginning must be aware of depriving itself of all power, by reassigning power into voluntary centralization, i.e. transferring it to the Communes. The ability to create these conditions is the task of the dictatorship, becoming superfluous in itsgoal.

Contradiction of the two systems

According to Marx, the few but important functions of the central government will be transferred to communal officials (strictly responsible to the Commune). Thus, when the local communal self-government has become a matter of course, the central state power is superfluous by voluntary centralization of Communes. Lenin agrees with this line of thinking and even makes it his own. However, according to the theory of state communism (also developed by Lenin), all means of production are state owned, centralized on “the manner of a State Capitalist monopoly”. These organizational “mechanization of the general public enterprise” assumes the leadership of the government. It is therefore an instrument of power of the State and not of the Communes.

And the functions of this monopoly, this organizational “mechanism of the general public enterprise”, has to be exercised by officials that are responsible to the central government and not to the communes. A more glaring contrast than that which is reflected between the two systems, cannot be imagined.

However Lenin tried to unite both views in his work The State and Revolution and that this is possible all supporters of the 3rd International still believe even today.

Source original and transcription: Collection a.a.a.p.
Translation from Dutch by F.K., 16 September 2016
Compiled by Vico, 17 September 2016.

  • 1Lenin’s “The State and Revolution”, The g.i.c. quoted from the translation into Dutch by Herman Gorter.
  • 2“The proletariat seizes from state power and turns the means of production into state property to begin with.” Anti-Dühring, quoted by Lenin in The State and Revolution, under 4, The “Withering Away” of the State, and Violent Revolution. This fragment can also be found in Engels The development of Socialism: Utopian and Scientific (separate reissue of some of the Anti-Dühring). Engels notes in the Preface to the German edition of 1891, “The development […]” that he has added significant text by the end of Part III of the “now become important new form of production of the Trusts.” (M.E.W., Bd. 19, p. 523).
    For example:
    “But, the transformation – either into joint-stock companies and trusts, or into State-ownership – does not do away with the capitalistic nature of the productive forces. In the joint-stock companies and trusts, this is obvious. And the modern State, again, is only the organization that bourgeois society takes on in order to support the external conditions of the capitalist mode of production against the encroachments as well of the workers as of individual capitalists. The modern state, no matter what its form, is essentially a capitalist machine — the state of the capitalists, the ideal personification of the total national capital. The more it proceeds to the taking over of productive forces, the more does it actually become the national capitalist, the more citizens does it exploit. The workers remain wage-workers – proletarians. The capitalist relation is not done away with. It is, rather, brought to a head. But, brought to a head, it topples over. State-ownership of the productive forces is not the solution of the conflict, but concealed within it are the technical conditions that form the elements of that solution. This solution can only consist in the practical recognition of the social nature of the modern forces of production, and therefore in the harmonizing with the socialized character of the means of production. And this can only come about by society openly and directly taking possession of the productive forces which have outgrown all control, except that of society as a whole. The social character of the means of production and of the products today reacts against the producers, periodically disrupts all production and exchange, acts only like a law of Nature working blindly, forcibly, destructively. But, with the taking over by society of the productive forces, the social character of the means of production and of the products will be utilized by the producers with a perfect understanding of its nature, and instead of being a source of disturbance and periodical collapse, will become the most powerful lever of production itself.” (
    Follows a more extensive quote from the same statement, in continuation of the quote above:
    “Active social forces work exactly like natural forces: blindly, forcibly, destructively, so long as we do not understand, and reckon with them. But when once we understand them, when once we grasp their action, their direction, their effects, it depends only upon ourselves to subject them more and more to our own will, and by means of them to reach our own ends. And this holds quite especially of the mighty productive forces of today. As long as we obstinately refuse to understand the nature and the character of these social means of action – and this understanding goes against the grain of the capitalist mode of production and its defenders – so long these forces are at work in spite of us, in opposition to us, so long they master us, as we have shown above in detail. But when once their nature is understood, they can, in the hands of the producers working together, be transformed from master demons into willing servants. The difference is as that between the destructive force of electricity in the lightning of the storm, and electricity under command in the telegraph and the voltaic arc; the difference between a conflagration, and fire working in the service of man. With this recognition, at last, of the real nature of the productive forces of today, the social anarchy of production gives place to a social regulation of production upon a definite plan, according to the needs of the community and of each individual. Then the capitalist mode of appropriation, in which the product enslaves first the producer and then the appropriator, is replaced by the mode of appropriation of the products that is based upon the nature of the modern means of production: upon the one hand, direct social appropriation, as means to the maintenance and extension of production – on the other, direct individual appropriation, as means of subsistence and of enjoyment.
    Whilst the capitalist mode of production more and more completely transforms the great majority of the population into proletarians, it creates the power which, under penalty of its own destruction, is forced to accomplish this revolution. Whilst it forces on more and more the transformation of the vast means of production, already socialized, into state property, it shows itself the way to accomplishing this revolution.
    The proletariat seizes political power and turns the means of production in the first instance into state property. But, in doing this, it abolishes itself as proletariat, abolishes all class distinctions and class antagonisms, abolishes also the state as state. Society thus far, based upon class antagonisms, had need of the state, that is, of an organization of the particular class, which was pro tempore the exploiting class, for the maintenance of its external conditions of production, and, therefore, especially, for the purpose of forcibly keeping the exploited classes in the condition of oppression corresponding with the given mode of production (slavery, serfdom, wage-labour). The state was the official representative of society as a whole; the gathering of it together into a visible embodiment. But it was this only in so far as it was the state of that class which itself represented, for the time being, society as a whole: in ancient times, the state of slave-owning citizens; in the Middle Ages, the feudal lords; in our own time, the bourgeoisie. When at last it becomes the real representative of the whole of society, it renders itself unnecessary. As soon as there is no longer any social class to be held in subjection; as soon as class rule, and the individual struggle for existence based upon our present anarchy in production, with the collisions and excesses arising from these, are removed, nothing more remains to be repressed, and a special repressive force, a state, is no longer necessary. The first act by virtue of which the state really constitutes itself the representative of the whole of society – the taking possession of the means of production in the name of society – this is, at the same time, its last independent act as a state. State interference in social relations becomes, in one domain after another, superfluous, and then dies out of itself; the government of persons is replaced by the administration of things, and by the conduct of processes of production. The state is not "abolished".It dies out. This gives the measure of the value of the phrase “a free people’s state”, both as to its justifiable use at times by agitators, and as to its ultimate scientific insufficiency; and also of the demands of the so-called anarchists for the abolition of the state out of hand.
    Since the historical appearance of the capitalist mode of production, the appropriation by society of all the means of production has often been dreamed of, more or less vaguely, by individuals, as well as by sects, as the ideal of the future. But it could become possible, could become a historical necessity, only when the actual conditions for its realization were there. Like every other social advance, it becomes practicable, not by men understanding that the existence of classes is in contradiction to justice, equality, etc., not by the mere willingness to abolish these classes, but by virtue of certain new economic conditions. The separation of society into an exploiting and an exploited class, a ruling and an oppressed class, was the necessary consequence of the deficient and restricted development of production in former times. So long as the total social labour only yields a produce which but slightly exceeds that barely necessary for the existence of all; so long, therefore, as labour engages all or almost all the time of the great majority of the members of society – so long, of necessity, this society is divided into classes. Side by side with the great majority, exclusively bond slaves to labour, arises a class freed from directly productive labour, which looks after the general affairs of society: the direction of labour, state business, law, science, art, etc. It is, therefore, the law of division of labour that lies at the basis of the division into classes. But this does not prevent this division into classes from being carried out by means of violence and robbery, trickery and fraud. It does not prevent the ruling class, once having the upper hand, from consolidating its power at the expense of the working class, from turning its social leadership into an exploitation of the masses.
    But if, upon this showing, division into classes has a certain historical justification, it has this only for a given period, only under given social conditions. It was based upon the insufficiency of production. It will be swept away by the complete development of modern productive forces. And, in fact, the abolition of classes in society presupposes a degree of historical evolution at which the existence, not simply of this or that particular ruling class, but of any ruling class at all, and, therefore, the existence of class distinction itself has become an obsolete anachronism. It presupposes, therefore, the development of production carried out to a degree at which appropriation of the means of production and of the products, and, with this, of political domination, of the monopoly of culture, and of intellectual leadership by a particular class of society, has become not only superfluous but economically, politically, intellectually a hindrance to development. This point is now reached. Their political and intellectual bankruptcy is scarcely any longer a secret to the bourgeoisie themselves. Their economic bankruptcy recurs regularly every ten years. In every crisis, society is suffocated beneath the weight of its own productive forces and products, which it cannot use, and stands helpless face to face with the absurd contradiction that the producers have nothing to consume, because consumers are wanting. The expansive force of the means of production bursts the bonds that the capitalist mode of production had imposed upon them. Their deliverance from these bonds is the one precondition for an unbroken, constantly accelerated development of the productive forces, and therewith for a practically unlimited increase of production itself. Nor is this all. The socialized appropriation of the means of production does away, not only with the present artificial restrictions upon production, but also with the positive waste and devastation of productive forces and products that are at the present time the inevitable concomitants of production, and that reach their height in the crises. Further, it sets free for the community at large a mass of means of production and of products, by doing away with the senseless extravagance of the ruling classes of today and their political representatives. The possibility of securing for every member of society, by means of socialized production, an existence not only fully sufficient materially, and becoming day by day more full, but an existence guaranteeing to all the free development and exercise of their physical and mental faculties — this possibility is now for the first time here, but it is
    With the seizing of the means of production by society production of commodities is done away with, and, simultaneously, the mastery of the product over the producer. Anarchy in social production is replaced by systematic, definite organization. The struggle for individual existence disappears. Then for the first time man, in a certain sense, is finally marked off from the rest of the animal kingdom, and emerges from mere animal conditions of existence into really human ones. The whole sphere of the conditions of life which environ man, and which have hitherto ruled man, now comes under the dominion and control of man who for the first time becomes the real, conscious lord of nature because he has now become master of his own social organization. The laws of his own social action, hitherto standing face to face with man as laws of nature foreign to, and dominating him, will then be used with full understanding, and so mastered by him. Man’s own social organization, hitherto confronting him as a necessity imposed by nature and history, now becomes the result of his own free action. The extraneous objective forces that have hitherto governed history pass under the control of man himself. Only from that time will man himself, with full consciousness, make his own history – only from that time will the social causes set in movement by him have, in the main and in a constantly growing measure, the results intended by him. It is the humanity’s leap from the kingdom of necessity to the kingdom of freedom.
    To accomplish this act of universal emancipation is the historical mission of the modern proletariat. To thoroughly comprehend the historical conditions and thus the very nature of this act, to impart to the now oppressed class a full knowledge of the conditions and of the meaning of the momentous act it is called upon to accomplish, this is the task of the theoretical expression of the proletarian movement, scientific socialism.”
  •; see also note 2.
  • 8Here the fragment identical to Fundamental principles ends.
  • Italics after ‘we’ added by the translator, as found in the Dutch original by the g.i.c. and in Lenin, Werke, Berlin&nbs: Dietz Verlag, 1981, Bd. 25, p. 439. According to the latter edition Lenin writes “Let’s organize as workers ourselves large-scale production […]”.