Interpreting Marx's Theory of the State and Opposition to Anarchism (Revised Edition)

Though Marx intended to dedicate a volume of Capital to the question of 'the State', he died before he could even begin that work. We are, therefore, left to reconstruct the 'Marxist theory of the state' from scattered references littered throughout Marx and Engels' collected works. My analysis investigates the shifts and contradictions in their thought, as well as the utility these contradictions served in misrepresenting the anarchist alternative.

Submitted by Matthew Crossin on April 20, 2020

Revised Edition. The first draft of this essay was written in 2019 and then published in its original form through Red and Black Notes in 2020.

By Matthew Crossin

“… no state, howsoever democratic its forms, not even the reddest political republic… is capable of giving the people what they need: the free organisation of their own interests from below upward…”

- Mikhail Bakunin, Statism and Anarchy, p. 24

“[With the abolition of classes] the power of the State, which serves to keep the great majority of the producers under the yoke of the numerically small exploiting minority, disappears, and the functions of government are transformed into simple administrative functions. [The anarchists] put matters the other way round…”

- Karl Marx & Friedrich Engels, Fictitious Splits in the International, p. 74 1

Marxism, Anarchism, and the State

The purpose of this pamphlet is to reassess the views of Karl Marx, his close partner Friedrich Engels, and their anarchist contemporaries on the crucial question of ‘the State’.2 Specifically, I contend that dominant interpretations of Marx have unsatisfactorily addressed his varied and contradictory analysis of the State, its role (if any) in the construction of a socialist society, and the ways in which this has both overlapped and come into conflict with the anarchist view.

My analysis is divided into three parts: In Section I, I discuss the Marx of the Communist Manifesto and other earlier manuscripts, arguing that it is in this material3 that we find the clearest indication of a centralised, statist praxis.4 Section II concerns the Marx of the International Workingmen’s Association,5 both as an organiser and theorist. Close readings of The Civil War in France, and other writings concerning the Paris Commune, demonstrate contradictory shifts in his thought which complicate both the ‘Orthodox’ and ‘Libertarian’6 interpretations of this period. I contend that Marxists have failed to consider the context of Marx’s practical efforts at centralisation within the International, which allow us to better understand ambiguities in his theoretical work. Finally, in Section III, the incoherent nature of Marx’s final analysis is compared with the anarchist position. I argue that Marx and Engels developed an ever-shifting conception of the State, which – whether cynically, or out of mere ignorance – both they and their followers have long used to misrepresent and discredit the major alternative to their theoretical framework and movement.

I. The Young Marx: From the Critique of Hegel to the Transitional State

Though it remained unpublished until 1932, Engels pointed to the manuscripts which constitute the basis for The German Ideology (1845) as the point of departure for understanding Marx’s mature theory of the State.7 Prior to 1845, the young Marx and Engels had tended to use more radical rhetoric concerning the need for the State’s ‘abolition.’ Both had read and admired the work of the liberal-republican radical William Godwin, both for ‘developing the theory of exploitation in England’8 and taking the underlying principles of Republicanism "to its legitimate conclusions" of opposing "the very essence of the state itself".9

The most developed example of Marx’s youthful anti-statism can be found in the Critique of Hegel’s Doctrine of the State (1843), which contains an extended deconstruction of both constitutional monarchy and bourgeois government.10 In it Marx appears to reject any notion of ‘representation' in favour of mandated delegates:

The separation of the political state from civil society appears as the separation of the deputies from their mandators. Society delegates only elements from itself to its political mode of being… delegates of civil society form a society which is not linked with those who commission them by the form of the “instruction,” the mandate. Formally they are commissioned, but once they are actually commissioned they are no longer mandatories. They are supposed to be delegates, and they are not.11

This constitutes a radical break with the state-form of organisation and is one of only two cases where Marx places any emphasis on the delegate-representative distinction. He would not express these kinds of sentiments again until his ambiguous comments on the Paris Commune nearly three decades later. Similarly, the Critique also features an attack on the self-reproducing character of bureaucratic organisation, which shares far more in common with The Civil War in France than the rest of Marx’s work:

The bureaucracy is the ‘state formalism’ of civil society. It is … the ‘state power’ in the form of a corporation, i.e., of a particular, self-contained society within the state… The bureaucracy appears to itself as the ultimate purpose of the state. As the bureaucracy converts its ‘formal’ purposes into its content, it comes into conflict with ‘real’ purposes at every point. It is therefore compelled to pass off form as content…The bureaucracy is a magic circle from which no one can escape… As for the individual bureaucrat, the purpose of the state becomes his private purpose, a hunt for promotion, careerism… his existence is the existence of his office. 12

It is easy to see how the young Marx and Engels associated their ideas at this time with the demand to ‘abolish the State’. Engels, however, later dismissed this as “boyhood” philosophy — Marxism, he claimed, had matured beyond such things, whereas anarchism had not.13

The manuscripts which make up The German Ideology likewise locate the State’s origins in “the emancipation of private property from the community,” which is to say, the separation of society into classes.14 This act renders the State as a concrete apparatus of government; a “separate entity, alongside and outside civil society,” serving as “nothing more than the form of organisation which the bourgeois are compelled to adopt, both for internal and external purposes, for the mutual guarantee of their property and interests.” The German Ideology repeatedly refers to ‘the State’ as such a governmental model of social organisation, wherein “all common institutions… are given a political form” for the purposes of maintaining existing property relations.15 Therefore, Marx and Engels concluded that,

[Whereas] previous revolutions within the framework of [class-society] were bound to lead to new political institutions;16 it likewise follows that the communist revolution, which [abolishes class-society], ultimately abolishes political institutions.17

This formula, to which the word “ultimately” is crucial, set the foundations for the Marxist view of the State’s role in social revolution and continues to inform most contemporary interpretations. The approach was neatly summarised by Engels in an article for Der Sozialdemokrat (1883) following Marx’s death (initiating the cultivation of an ‘Orthodox Marxism’).18 Citing both the manuscripts which make up The German Ideology and the publicly available Communist Manifesto (1848), he identified their shared position as one which holds that the abolition of the State cannot be accomplished during the process of social revolution itself. Instead,

the proletarian class will first have to possess itself of the organised political force of the State and with this aid stamp out the resistance of the Capitalist class and re-organise society… without which the whole victory must end in a defeat and in a massacre of the working class like that after the Paris Commune.19

This is due to the fact that,

… after the victory of the Proletariat, the only organisation the victorious working class finds ready-made for use is that of the State. It may require adaptation to the new functions. But to destroy that at such a moment, would be to destroy the only organism by means of which the victorious working class can exert its newly conquered power… 20

This clear, statist analysis appears to be consistent with the programme proposed in the Manifesto, specifically Section II and its policy platform of progressive taxation, universal social services, the abolition of inheritance, the formation of “industrial armies,” the ‘necessary’ development of productive forces, and the gradual centralisation of all means of production “in the hands of the State.” This is, the authors declare, merely “the first step in the revolution,” wherein “the working class is to raise the proletariat to the position of ruling class to win the battle of democracy.”21

However, alongside this call by the Manifesto to ‘win the battle of democracy’ a contradictory idea begins to emerge. Having in The German Ideology also referred to ‘the State’ as “the form in which the individuals of a ruling class assert their common interests,” Marx and Engels now define their ‘revolutionary state’ as a condition (one could say, a ‘state’ of affairs) in which the proletariat has succeeded in reconstituting itself as ‘the new ruling class.’22

In the nineteenth century it was not uncommon to use the word 'State' as a synonym for 'society'. This is why, in the earliest years of the anarchist movement, one could even find anarchists calling for an 'anarchist state'. Mikhail Bakunin's Program of the International Brotherhood (1868), for instance, rejects the use of the State in revolution, only to call for a “new revolutionary State, organized from the bottom upwards by means of revolutionary delegation”.23 Realising the confusion this could cause the practice was quickly dropped.24

But Marx’s idea of the revolutionary State as ‘proletarian rule’ goes beyond equating the State with society. Instead, it suggests a new theory of the State; one which defines it as an act based on it’s abstract function for the exploiting class — i.e., the repression of one class by another, or, in other words, the perpetuation of class rule . This idea of the State is clearly not relevant to the reforms proposed in Section II of the Manifesto, or any of Marx and Engels’ other vague and confused attempts to describe their ‘transitional form’ of workers’ power. Contrary to their many attempts to pretend otherwise, it does not follow that the rejection of the kind of government called for by the Manifesto implies a rejection of ‘proletarian rule’. Marx and Engels would, nevertheless, continue to conflate the two concepts in order to defend their theory of a transitory revolutionary government. One such example is the speech entitled Indifference to Politics (1873), wherein Marx used the confusion around these concepts to criticise his anarchist opponents:

If the political struggle of the working class assumes violent forms, if the workers substitute their revolutionary dictatorship for the dictatorship of the bourgeois class… to satisfy their own base everyday needs and crush the resistance of the bourgeoisie, instead of laying down arms and abolishing the State they are giving it a revolutionary and transient form.25

Abolishing the State is therefore conflated with rejecting the 'violent form' of ‘proletarian rule’ because Marx has decided that his new definition is equally valid. For Marx, the proletariat ‘raised to the position of the ruling class’ is simultaneously both “a vast association of the whole nation” and a “public power,” which – until the final abolition of class distinctions – maintains its “political character.”26

Similar contradictions can be seen in Marx’s description of the ‘state machinery’ in The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte (1852). Here the State is an alienated, centralising apparatus of “governmental power,” defined by the development of infrastructure and public institutions, as well as the expropriation and management of property relations. Notably, however, Marx laments that all previous revolutions had “perfected this machine instead of breaking it,” with the respective parties having “contended in turn for domination regard[ing] the possession of this huge state edifice as the principal spoils of the victor.”27

Further complicating this already convoluted picture is the fact that, following the experience of the Paris Commune, Marx and Engels essentially disowned the prescriptions outlined in Section II of the Manifesto. In a Preface to the 1872 German Edition, they claim that these passages “would, in many respects, be very differently worded today” given the lessons provided by successive revolutionary experiments and the further development of productive forces.28 Though this joint declaration begs the question as to why Engels would continue to cite Section II’s analysis of the State,29 it, nevertheless, appears to constitute an important break by Marx with those who continue to draw from the Manifesto’s programme and underlying theoretical logic.

II. The Mature Marx: From the Commune to the Critique of Anarchism

What, then, were the lessons of the Paris Commune – and how did they influence the development of Marxism? The Manifesto’s reflective 1872 Preface has Marx reiterate one of his most famous lines from The Civil War in France (1871), stating that “the working class cannot simply lay hold of the ready-made state machinery, and wield it for its own purposes.”30 Not only is this distinct from previous appeals to the pursuit of political power (whether it be via electoral or insurrectionary means), it explicitly contradicts Engels’ post-Commune assertion regarding the necessity of wielding the State as “ready-made” machinery, given it is the ‘only instrument available to workers.’ The famous slogan is also at odds with Marx’s suggestion that, in certain countries, parliamentary means may be sufficient to establish communism, as well as his ongoing urging of workers organisations to compete in elections. Following Bakunin’s gerrymandered expulsion from the International in 1872, Marx delivered a short speech on these issues, warning workers to reject the revolutionary ideas of abstentionist anarchists:

A group had formed in our midst advocating the workers’ abstention from politics… The worker will some day have to win political supremacy in order to organise labour along new lines; he will have to defeat the old policy supporting old institutions, under penalty… of never seeing their kingdom on earth… we do not deny that there are countries [such as America, England, and perhaps Holland] where the working people may achieve their goal by peaceful means… we must also recognize that in most of the continental countries it is force that will have to be the lever of our revolutions…31

It is ironic that Marx, in confronting anarchism, suggested that it was the anarchists who put any hope in a revolution without force. Though Proudhon (who was more of a proto-anarchist than its genuine founder) could be accused of ‘indifference to politics’ in this sense, it is simply not true of the anarchist movement which followed. Bakunin and his admirers expressed clear support for direct action in the form of strikes and insurrection as a means of extracting reforms and preparing for revolution. Marx’s frustration over anarchist ‘indifference to political struggle’ can therefore only be understood in terms of his opposition to parliamentary abstentionism and workers' power via councils, rather than the State. Indeed, Marx and Engels worked tirelessly to change the rules of the International, so that previously autonomous sections would be forced to form political parties, compete in elections, and take seats in parliament. This, they argued, was the ends of 'political power' to which the Internationals efforts should be ‘subordinated.’32

Still, Marx’s analysis of the Paris insurrection appears to break with all of this. He exalts the worker’s apparent substitution of both the standing army and police with “the armed people,” as well as the replacement of traditional constitutional government (legislatures, executives, judiciaries, etc.) with a single democratic assembly, comprised of representatives subject to immediate recall. He praises the implementation of a “workman’s wage” for all elected officials (now to include those carrying out judicial functions), the elimination of church authority, the creation of an autonomous educational system, and the seizing of means of production by various workers associations.33 Most of all, Marx emphasises the radicalism of the Communards' vision of the revolutions future development:

common affairs [would be administered] by an assembly of delegates in the central town, and these district assemblies were again to send deputies to the National Delegation in Paris, each delegate to be at any time revocable and bound by the mandat impératif (formal instructions) of his constituents.34

Here we have Marx — the great admirer of centralisation — returning to the ideas of mandated delegation and federalism, seemingly with praise. Notably, the unpublished drafts of The Civil War in France go even further in their libertarian rhetoric. In the second draft, Marx refers to the State as,

That huge governmental machinery, entoiling like a boa constrictor the real social body in the ubiquitous meshes of a standing army, a hierarchical bureaucracy, an obedient police, clergy and a servile magistrature.35

Furthermore, he claims that,

the proletariat cannot, as the ruling classes and their different rival factions have done in the successive hours of their triumph, simply lay hold of the existent state body and wield this ready-made agency for their own purpose… The political instrument of their enslavement cannot serve as the political instrument of their emancipation. 36

It is worth highlighting that the final sentence here is remarkably similar to a comment made by Bakunin in his critique of Marx (and state socialism more generally) in Statism and Anarchy (1873):

They say that this state yoke, this dictatorship, is a necessary transitional device for achieving the total liberation of the people: anarchy, or freedom, is the goal, and the state, or dictatorship, the means. Thus, for the masses to be liberated they must first be enslaved.37

What are we to make of these convergences? Given that Marx had not renounced his call to seize state power, his admiration for the Paris Commune’s most radical aspirations (and apparent condemnation of those features typically understood to define the State) implies a mere problem of semantics. In the libertarian reading of Marx, ‘the State’ now seemingly referred exclusively to ‘the proletariat raising itself to the position of the ruling class’ – i.e., the act of revolution itself.

The Civil War in France was, in fact, interpreted this way by many readers, including Bakunin, who considered it a cynical manoeuvre. In an 1872 letter to the Editoral Board of La Liberte, he wrote:

[The Commune’s] general effect was so striking that the Marxists themselves, who saw all their ideas upset by the uprising, found themselves compelled to take their hats off to it. They went even further, and proclaimed that its programme and purpose were their own, in face of the simplest logic and their own true sentiments. This was a truly farcical change of costume, but they were bound to make it, for fear of being overtaken and left behind in the wave of feeling which the rising produced throughout the world.38

To be sure, though Bakunin also praised its radical aspirations, he recognised that the Commune had fallen short of the anarchist concept of revolution.39 Indeed, it should be clarified here that many of the aspects of the revolution highlighted by Marx were not actually realised within the Commune. Marx wrote his address with limited information about the realities of the uprising. The more far-reaching measures, such as its radical federalism, the use of recallable mandated delegates, the abolition of police, etc., reflected only the proposals of the most radical Communards — the followers of Proudhon and the collectivist anarchists.

In a 1929 article for Die Aktion, the German theorist Karl Korsch brought this uncomfortable fact to the attention of his fellow Marxists, and endorsed Bakunin’s assessment that it represented a radical reversal in Marx’s rhetoric:

In fact, if we analyze more exactly the political program and goals to be attained as proposed by the two founders of scientific socialism, Marx and Engels, not only in the time before the Paris Commune insurrection, but also afterwards, the assertion cannot be maintained that the form of proletarian dictatorship realized by the Paris Commune of 1871 would in any particular sense be in unison with those political theories. Indeed, Marx’s great opponent in the First International, Mikhail Bakunin, had on this point the historical truth on his side when he sarcastically commented on Marx’s having annexed the Paris Commune retrospectively… The revolutionary ideas of the Paris communardes of 1871 are partly derived from the federalistic program of Bakunin and Proudhon, partly from the circle of ideas of the revolutionary Jacobins surviving in Blanquism, and only to a very small degree in Marxism.40

Despite this, those making the case for his libertarian credentials routinely cite passages from The Civil War as indicative of a general theoretical shift in Marx's analysis of the State. In fact, few other texts are ever referenced by the Libertarian Marxists on the question of revolutionary strategy. Other deviations from Orthodox Marxism rely on material which remained hidden away in notebooks, if not actively suppressed by the leading figures of the Marxist movement.41

As with the Manifesto we must contend with some comments by Marx which further complicate the Libertarian interpretation. Private letters from the period indicate that Marx and Engels had not abandoned their preference for centralism, or view of its necessity in social revolution. Writing to his friend Louis Kugelmann on April 12 (prior to the Commune’s defeat), Marx says that the National Guard’s “Central Committee surrendered its power too soon, to make way for the Commune.” Ironically, the National Guard — effectively a soldiers council — embodied the Commune's principles of rank-and-file control far more effectively than the Commune itself.42 Yet Marx believed the Commune to be an assembly of mandated delegates appointed by the workers of Paris. His dismissal of the the National Guard’s action was, instead, a critique of ““honorable” scrupulosity” obstructing a strategy of revolutionary civil war.43 More explicitly, Engels' letter to Carlo Terzaghi (drafted January 6, 1872), argues:

If there had been a little more authority and centralisation in the Paris Commune, it would have triumphed over the bourgeois. After the victory we can organise ourselves as we like, but for the struggle it seems to me necessary to collect all our forces into a single band and direct them on the same point of attack. And when people tell me that this cannot be done without authority and centralisation, and that these are two things to be condemned outright, it seems to me that those who talk like this either do not know what a revolution is, or are revolutionaries in name only.44

Robert Graham’s history of the First International, We Do Not Fear Anarchy, We Invoke It, makes another important observation regarding The Civil War in France. Marx repeatedly declares the need to smash the ‘ready-made state machinery,’ but this is different to smashing the State as an organisational form and constructing new forms of workers’ power. Marx and Engels were consistent advocates of democratic republics, and the machinery they wished to see smashed were the ready-made bureaucracies of Europe’s despotic governments. Therefore, as Graham suggests, Marx’s words should be taken as a call to replace the existing State with a new (albeit, democratic) one, in the sense of a [i]governmental apparatus existing above society[i]. To Marx, it was the Communal administration that would “serve as a lever” in the abolition of class society.45 Marx presents the Commune as an assembly of delegates, accountable to some form of mandate, but it is in terms of an elected Council that he describes the process of transforming the relations of production. No such responsibility is given to the Parisian workers themselves,46 who, through their popular clubs and associations, were groping towards a politics of workers' control and new forms of self-organisation. Marx himself notes these facts, but places no great emphasis on them.47

We, therefore, appear to have a contradictory picture of Marx’s view of the State, both over time and within specific works. Indeed, a year after the Commune, Marx and Engels would circulate a scathing attack on Bakunin and the anarchists, accusing them of engaging in either ludicrous fantasies or dishonest semantics. Marx and Engels asserted that they were no more ‘statist’ than the anarchists, and that, so far as the anarchists believed in the forceful overthrow of capitalism, they were likewise ‘authoritarian’ (rendering it a meaningless slur when used in the derogatory sense).48 It is worth comparing Marx’s widely read ode to the Paris Commune with their derisive summary of the anarchist vision:

[The anarchistic commune] invites [others] to reorganise themselves in a revolutionary way and then to send their responsible and recallable deputies, vested with their imperative mandates, to an agreed place where they will set up a federation of insurgent associations… a revolutionary force capable of triumphing over reaction… Thus in this anarchistic organisation… we have first the Council of the Commune, then the executive committees which, to be able to do anything at all, must be vested with some power and supported by a police force; this is to be followed by nothing short of a federal parliament… Like the Commune Council, this parliament will have to assign executive power to one or more committees which by this act alone will be given an authoritarian character that the demands of the struggle will increasingly accentuate.49

As a result, they assert that the anarchist alternative to state socialism constitutes,

a perfect reconstruction of all the elements of the “authoritarian State”; and the fact that we call this machine a “revolutionary Commune organised from bottom to top,” makes little difference.50

Thus, The Civil War in France’s appraisal of the Commune as an alternative to the ‘political state’ appears to be almost entirely negated. At the same time, Marx and Engels suggest that anarchist ‘statism’ is evident in the fact that any proposed federation of workers’ associations would require force to achieve its ends. In addition to this, they contend that the coordination of these associations’ efforts would inevitably lead to the exercise of power by a central ‘authority’, requiring a police force, among other features of the State. Marx and Engels’ critique brings to mind some words of Lenin’s, which — incredibly — he took to be a defence of Marxism, rather than anarchism:

[They] simply cannot conceive of the possibility of voluntary centralism... of the voluntary fusion of the proletarian communes, for the purpose of destroying bourgeois rule... Like all philistines [they] picture centralism as something which can be imposed and maintained solely from above, and solely by the bureaucracy and the military clique.51

III. Definitions of the State: Marxist Obfuscation and the Anarchist Challenge

A close reading of the material thus far reviewed demonstrates a fluid, threefold use of the word ‘State’:

1. As a mere synonym for ‘society’; a ‘state’ of affairs. (e.g. a capitalist state or society as opposed to a communist state or society).

2. Referring to the organisation of class rule. In a socialist context this amounts to the act of revolution itself; an armed populace actively carrying out a transformation of social relations by expropriating the means of production. This supposedly establishes the proletariat as ‘the new ruling class.’

3. To indicate the specific governmental apparatus situated above society, which maintains class relations through its various instruments of coercion: the legislature, executive, judiciary, army, police, prisons, channels of information, schools, etc.

Applying the same term to three wildly different concepts became extremely useful, even central, to Marx and Engels’ strategy for establishing their theoretical influence over the International. By moving between the various definitions as necessary, it allowed them to effectively combat accusations of ‘authoritarianism’ (i.e., utilising ‘top-down’, statist methods) whilst simultaneously discrediting anarchism in the eyes of the workers movement as either dishonest or counter-revolutionary.52 Lenin, like most Marxists, is also guilty of this. Take, for instance, this passage from State and Revolution:

After overthrowing the yoke of the capitalists, should the workers “lay down their arms,” or use them against the capitalists in order to crush their resistance? But what is the systematic use of arms by one class against another if not a “transient form” of state?53

The anarchist reply would be that this does not constitute a ‘transient form of state.’ Rather, it is a libertarian use of force. To be a ‘State’ it would need to be a specific, alienated apparatus of government which manages and reproduces the antagonisms of class society. Instead, it is the social revolution in progress; the self-organised transformation of the relations of production, and their forceful defence by the workers in arms.

Anarchism’s major theorists and political organisations have been clear in accepting only the third of Marx and Engels’ definitions. For anarchists, the State is a concrete, territorial array of institutions claiming the sole legitimate right to make laws and enforce them. In discussing the “governmental system” of the State, Proudhon refers to the investment of authority in “Administrative centralization” and the exercise of that authority via “Judicial hierarchy [and] police.” For “countries in which the democratic principle has become predominant” one could also expect a constitutional system of shared powers – populated by elected representatives, responsible for enacting laws (typically through majority rule) – and a bureaucracy overseeing the collection of taxes.54 For Bakunin, the State consists of the branches of government (legislature, executive, judiciary, etc.) within defined borders, enforcing "the juridical consecration of privilege" via the "Church, University, Court of Law, Bureaucracy, Treasury, Police, and Army". They are, together, "authority, domination, and force, organized by the property-owning and so-called enlightened classes against the masses therefrom."55 As a final example, Peter Kropotkin's The State: Its Historic Role (1896), later published in Modern Science and Anarchy (1914), summarises the anarchist definition thusly:

[The State] not only includes the existence of a power placed above society, but also of a territorial concentration and a concentration of many functions in the life of societies in the hands of a few. It implies some new relationships which did not exist before the formation of the State. A whole mechanism of legislation and of policing is developed to subject some classes to the domination of other classes.56

The anarchist understanding of the State is, therefore, perfectly clear, unlike the Marxist one. A particularly concise articulation of Marx’s incoherent analysis can be found in his Conspectus of Bakunin’s Statism and Anarchy (1874), a series of private notes written in the margins of Bakunin’s 1873 book. In that work, Bakunin considered Marx and Engels’ argument that the revolutionary state “[would] be nothing other than ‘the proletariat raised to the level of a ruling class.’” In response he asked, “If the proletariat is to be the ruling class… then whom will it rule?”:

There must be yet a new proletariat which will be subject to this new rule, this new state… What does it mean, “the proletariat raised to a governing class?” Will the entire proletariat head the government? The Germans number about 40 million. Will all 40 million be members of the government? The entire nation will rule, but no one will be ruled. Then there will be no government; there will be no state…57

Marx dismissed Bakunin’s anarchist critique with considerable contempt, declaring it to be “Schoolboy nonsense!”58 In expanding upon his conception of ‘the proletariat as the ruling class’ he first claims that this refers solely to the collective ‘use of force’ (the ‘employment of coercive, meaning governmental, measures’) against “enemies and the old organisation of society,” which would “not vanish as a result of [the proletariat] coming to power.”59 Simply put, the ‘proletarian state’ is manifested in any instance where the proletariat “has gained sufficient strength and is sufficiently well organised to employ general means of compulsion” in the suppression of their former masters.60 It is this, rather than any specific form of social organisation, which would naturally ‘wither away’ following the disappearance of class struggle (i.e., the victory of that revolution).61 Furthermore, in responding to Bakunin’s question about ‘all 40 million Germans being members of the government,’ Marx replies that this is “Certainly” the case, “for the thing begins with the self-government of the commune.”62 As for the ‘head of government,’ Marx retorts:

And will everybody be at the top in Bakunin’s construction built from the bottom upwards? There will in fact be no below then.63

This notion of the State – though unhelpfully referred to as such – is thus far entirely in line with the anarchist conception of revolution. Possible contradictions only emerge in Marx’s notes when he introduces references to elected managers and trade union executive committees:

Does in a trade union, for instance, the whole union constitute the executive committee? Will all division of labour in a factory disappear and also the various functions arising from it?64

As has been pointed out by Alan Carter in Marx: A Radical Critique, this is an extremely weak rebuttal on Marx’s part, as it places no importance on the nature of the ‘executive committee’ — i.e., whether the committee functions as an assembly of mandated delegates, or as autonomous representatives.65 The record of trade union officialdom serving the interests of capital and the State, to the detriment of rank-and-file struggle, should be enough to embarrass Marxists who read the Conspectus today.

It is likely that the delegate-representative issue is at the heart of the Bakunin-Marx dispute over political organisation, and so a fundamental difference in the Marxist and anarchist theorisations of the State. As we have seen, Marx’s references to the appropriate model of organisation for revolutionary struggle are contradictory, and feature little discussion of decision-making practices. Anarchists, however, have long emphasised the necessary unity between means and ends, both in terms of practical activity and organisational structure. Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, unlike Marx, publicly advocated the use of “imperative mandate… and permanent revocability” as a libertarian alternative to statist representation. As Robert Graham notes:

The use of revocable delegates with imperative mandates was continued by Proudhon’s followers and other antiauthoritarians in the International [while] Marx and his allies favoured the use of representatives who were free to support policy positions contrary to the views of the people they were claiming to represent.66

This disagreement between the factions around Bakunin and Marx was brought to the fore during the attempt to impose electoral politics on the sections committed to abstention. The anti-authoritarian sections of the International argued (in keeping with Bakunin's theoretical insights) that workers' organisations of struggle could not replicate the structure of the State or seek to take on its institutional function, given the role of the State in reproducing class society.67

Engels provides the most explicit rejection of the anarchist insistence on a necessary unity between means and ends in his 1872 response to Bakunin in Der Volksstaat:

We Germans have earned a bad name for our mysticism, but we have never gone the length of such mysticism. The International is to be the prototype of a future society in which there will be no executions a la Versailles, no courts martial, no standing armies, no inspection of private correspondence, and no Brunswick criminal court! Just now, when we have to defend ourselves with all the means at our disposal, the proletariat is told to organise not in accordance with the requirements of the struggle… but according to the vague notions of a future society entertained by some dreamers.68

Marx joined his comrade in ridiculing the notion of those fighting the revolution being capable of self-governance. Referring to Bakunin’s notion of a ‘federation of the barricades’, they write:

… odd barricades, these barricades of the [anarchists], where instead of fighting they spend their time writing mandates…69

Nevertheless, let us, for the sake of argument, give Marx and the Libertarian interpretation of the Conspectus the benefit of the doubt. This raises the question as to what the Marxist critique of anarchism actually is. If the commune or council is an assembly of mandated delegates, in which the self-managed organisations of the working class are not governed by anyone from above; if ‘the State’ merely refers to the coordinated (or ‘centralised’) efforts of these free associations to expropriate the means of production, and defend this transformation of social relations, we are forced to conclude that Marx and Bakunin were simultaneously both anarchists and statists. The accuracy of either description simply depends on which definition of ‘the State’ is applied. It is only in projecting one of his own chosen definitions of the State on to anarchist theory that Marx is able to assert that,

[In refusing to] employ means which will be discarded after the liberation [Mr. Bakunin] concludes that the proletariat should rather do nothing at all and wait for the day of universal liquidation.70

t is left to the reader to determine if intellectuals as serious as Marx and Engels could have genuinely misinterpreted the anarchist literature so severely. A key comment within the Conspectus, it should be noted, indicates no misunderstanding. Marx ‘corrects’ Bakunin’s assertion that Marxists understand a revolutionary government to consist of “governing the people by means of a small number of representatives elected by the people”, claiming that this is Bakunin’s view, and not his own. Marx proceeds to explain that “the nature of elections” would change with the transformation of their “economic basis.” As a result, he claims that in such circumstances,

(1) government functions no longer exist; (2) the distribution of general functions becomes a routine matter and does not entail any domination; (3) elections completely lose their present political character.

This acknowledgement by Marx that he Bakunin had different definitions of the State suggests other, less innocent motives for his misrepresentations.

Lacking in a sufficiently materialist analysis of the state-form, Marx interprets Bakunin’s rejection of all States as the rejection of an ‘abstraction.’71 But for anarchists, the State has never been understood in such terms. Instead, the movement has merely taken the common, socialist understanding of the State’s origin and historical function seriously. As a result, it has reasoned that the State cannot be the vehicle through which capitalist social relations are overthrown. For Marx and Engels, class distinctions would have to be abolished before their vaguely defined 'revolutionary state' could be disposed of. And yet, at the same time, they also appear to agree that the State exists to regulate the social relations of class society, its processes of accumulation, and that its continued existence presupposes the perpetuation of class distinctions within the mode of production. This analysis led Bakunin to note that any revolutionary state purporting to consist of ‘workmen’ will instead consist of “former workmen.” In turn, Marx responded that a worker-turned-representative no more ceases to be a workman than “a manufacturer cease[s] to be a capitalist on becoming a town-councillor.”72

Here, and throughout their collected works, Marx and Engels appear to forget that the proletariat is defined by its class position in the existing mode of production, and that the State is not a neutral instrument within that arrangement. In taking hold of any part of the State machinery, the manufacturer, indeed, continues to occupy a structural position within the management of producers and capital. This is, however, a position that the proletariat, by definition, lacks. It is clear, then, that Bakunin’s observation logically follows; that a worker is tasked with the management and perpetuation of class society upon entering an apparatus designed for that purpose, and which cannot function without control over the economic life of society. As such, Proudhon concluded in System of Economic Contradictions (1846) that the modern state, “[created] to serve as a mediator between labor and privilege, finds itself inevitably enchained to capital and directed against the proletariat”.73 Bakunin, in agreement on the nature of political institutions, similarly declared that,

by its very nature and under the threat of self-destruction [the State] must inexorably and at all costs strive for the realization of its objectives regardless of or even against the will of [those] wielding it.74

In a society where property remains in the hands of a distinct class of property-owners, the reason for this is perfectly clear. As Errico Malatesta states in his pamphlet, Anarchy (1891):

With [private property] comes the division of the two sorts of power, that of the persons who control the collective force of society, and that of the proprietors, upon whom these governors become essentially dependent, because the proprietors command the sources of the said collective force… How could it be otherwise? If the government should reach the point of becoming hostile, if the hope of democracy should ever be more than a delusion deceiving the people, the proprietory class, menaced in its interests, would at once rebel, and would use all the force and influence which come from the possession of wealth, to reduce the government to the simple function of acting as policeman.75

However, direct control by the State over production also fails to fundamentally alter the relations of production. As Malatesta notes in an article entitled The Socialist State (1897):

When Friedrich Engels claimed, perhaps to fend off the anarchist critique, that once classes have disappeared, the State per se no longer has any reason to be and turns from government of men to administration of things, he was just playing on words. Whoever has dominion over things, has dominion over men; whoever governs production governs the producer.76

Moreover, as Malatesta’s Anarchy rightly notes, the nature of the State is that of an alienated political institution, with the power to make and impose laws. This means that, independent of all other factors, it requires a minimum degree of coercive capacity and the ability to reproduce itself. It therefore follows that,

[the State’s] principal characteristic and indispensable instruments are the bailiff and the tax collector, the soldier and the prison.77


Though Marx intended to dedicate an entire volume of Capital to developing his analysis of the State,78 only the first volume was completed in his lifetime, with the remaining two being posthumously assembled by Engels from various notebooks.79 We are, as a result, left with scattered references to the subject which reveal a contradictory and shifting conception of its definition, function within capitalism, and role within the process of social revolution. In this pamphlet I have argued that, the early critique of Hegel aside, the younger Marx's political strategy was fundamentally statist. However, this was later complicated by material inspired by the Paris Commune, some of which gives the appearance of a much more libertarian approach. In this work, Marx either reframes the State as an abstract concept, such as an act of revolution, or advocates for the construction of a new kind of ‘State.’80 Though the description of this ‘transitional’ form was often vague and contradictory, the democratic statism of Marx and Engels remained fundamentally different to the distortions most ‘Marxists’ across the world would come to advocate.81

Libertarian developments aside, Marx and Engels remained hostile to anarchism throughout their lives and organised the International in a hierarchical fashion to combat its influence within the movement. They alternated between dismissing anarchist accusations of ‘authoritarianism’ as unfounded and misrepresenting anarchist theory in such a way as to obscure the differences between the two movements. The utility of such an approach is clear, as an accurate representation of the anarchist position clarifies the central contradiction within Marx’s ever-evolving (and ultimately unrefined) theory of the State. In the final analysis, the Marxist position either becomes virtually identical in substance to the very ideology being denounced, or the anarchist critique must be accepted as legitimate – and the seizure of the government apparatus defended on its merits.

  • 1As cited within Marx, K., Engels, F., & Lenin, V.I. (ed. Kolpinsky, N. Y.). 1972. Marx, Engels, Lenin: Anarchism and Anarcho-Syndicalism. Progress Publishers: Moscow.
  • 2Primarily Mikhail Bakunin, who (though not the first to call himself an anarchist) is widely considered to be the first theorist of anarchism as a fully developed tendency and mass movement. He was the intellectual leader of the libertarian opposition to Marx’s faction within the International Workingmen’s Association.
  • 3Along with Engels’ consistently less sophisticated analysis. See note 18 for further comments.
  • 4Marx and Engels’ earlier work, particularly when selectively quoted, have been used to justify the behaviour of authoritarian currents that developed within the movement – i.e., the Leninist and post-Leninist variations. Interestingly, Lenin’s most famous work on the State, The State and Revolution (1917) is also his most libertarian, and essentially reproduces the obscurantist, threefold use of the term ‘State’ explored in Section III of this essay. He, likewise, takes advantage of the resulting confusion to the same ends.
  • 5Henceforth referred to as either the ‘First International’ or ‘International.’
  • 6The word ‘libertarian’ is used throughout this essay in its original form. Though now associated in some countries (most obviously, the United States) with ‘laissez-faire’ capitalism, this is a recent distortion (and an intentional one). Libertarianism historically indicated a general philosophical tendency toward free action. The first political use of the term was by the anarchist communist Joseph Dejacque in 1857. From that point on it became synonymous with the word anarchist. This usage has been retained throughout much of the world, though with the development of libertarian currents within Marxism it has since become an umbrella term for all anti-state socialists. Classical libertarians contend that the right-wing appropriation is actually authoritarian, given its support for the inherently hierarchical and exploitative social relations produced by capitalism. The ‘libertarian’ reading of Marx referred to here is the one which understands Marx as rejecting State power in the sense of taking power within a government.
  • 7Both Hal Draper and N.Y. Kolpinsky endorse the view that Engels is referring to the manuscripts of The German Ideology. See, Marx, Engels, Lenin: Anarchism and Anarcho-Syndicalism. Ibid. p.350fn107 and Draper, H. 1970. ‘The Death of the State in Marx and Engels’. Socialist Register: Volume 7: 281-307. p. 293
  • 8Marx, K. & Engels, F. 2010. Marx and Engels Collected Works, Volume 5: Marx and Engels, 1845-47. Lawrence and Wishart: London. p. 412
  • 9Marx, K. & Engels, F. 2010. Marx and Engels Collected Works, Volume 3: Karl Marx, March 1843-August 1844. Lawrence and Wishart: London. p. 486
  • 10This manuscript is sometimes published as Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right. The draft was, in reality, untitled, and Marx’s critique is limited to the section concerning Hegel’s ‘Doctrine of the State’.
  • 11Marx and Engels Collected Works, Volume 3. Ibid. p. 123
  • 12Marx, K. 1992. Early Writings. Penguin Classics. pp. 106-108
  • 13Marx, Engels, Lenin: Anarchism and Anarcho-Syndicalism. Ibid. p. 48
  • 14Here Marx and Engels follow in the footsteps of many radicals before them. Significant credit for the popularisation of the idea is owed to Rousseau’s Discourse on the Origins of Inequality Among Men (1755).
  • 15Marx, K. & Engels, F. 2010. Marx and Engels Collected Works, Volume 5: Marx and Engels 1845–47. Lawrence and Wishart: London. p. 90
  • 16i.e., New manifestations of the State.
  • 17i.e., The State itself. All quotes, Ibid. p. 380
  • 18Following Marx’s death, Engels and Karl Kautsky continued to edit and publish his work. Whether intentionally or otherwise, the material they compiled, published, and edited, was used to give weight to their own respective views. Kautsky’s interpretation of Marxist theory, influenced by Engels presentation of the original documents, would eventually become the standard one. Some have suggested that Engels misrepresented Marx, and that there is a fundamental split between the two thinkers. Though a close reading does indicate some differences between them, the split does not appear to be one which is fundamental, but rather a case of Engels writing with greater frequency and clarity on subjects where Marx was particularly weak as a theorist. It is worth quoting the anarchist Wayne Price on this issue:

    There are those, particularly among libertarian Marxists, who criticize Engels as the first of the “post-Marx Marxists” who led the Marxist movement in the wrong direction. Rather than criticize Marx for things about the historical Marxist movement which they dislike, they blame Engels. They claim to understand Marx better than did his long-time political partner and dearest friend! If true, this should raise questions about Marx; how come he could not explain his ideas even to Engels?… [For instance,] Marx is known to have read over Anti-Duhring and discussed all of it with Engels before its publication. Marx contributed a chapter to it – which he would hardly have done if he disagreed with major parts of it.

    - Price, W. 2012. Marx’s Economics for Anarchists. Zabalaza Books: Johannesburg. pp. 50–51

  • 19Marx, Engels, Lenin: Anarchism and Anarcho-Syndicalism. Ibid. p. 172
  • 20Ibid.
  • 21Marx, K. & Engels, F. 2010. Marx and Engels Collected Works, Volume 6: Marx and Engels 1845–48. Lawrence and Wishart: London. pp. 497–506
  • 22Marx and Engels Collected Works, Volume 6. Ibid. p. 504
  • 23Bakunin, M. (ed. Lehning, A.) 1973. Mikhail Bakunin: Selected Writings. Jonathan Cape: London. p. 172
  • 24The foremost anarchist communist theorist, Peter Kropotkin, noted as late as 1896 that “There is, as is well-known, the German school [associated with Marx and state socialism more generally] which likes to confuse the State with Society.” - Kropotkin, P. 2018. Modern Science and Anarchy. AK Press: Chico, Oakland, Edinburgh, & Baltimore. p. 234
  • 25Marx, Engels, Lenin: Anarchism and Anarcho-Syndicalism. Ibid. p. 95
  • 26Marx and Engels Collected Works, Volume 6. Ibid. p. 505
  • 27Marx, K. & Engels, F. 2010. Marx and Engels Collected Works, Volume 11: Marx and Engels 1851–53. Lawrence and Wishart: London. p. 186
  • 28Marx, K. & Engels, F. 2010. Marx and Engels Collected Works, Volume 23: Marx and Engels 1871–74. Lawrence and Wishart: London. pp. 174–175
  • 29Engels specifically refers to Section II as descriptive of his and (the recently deceased) Marx’s view. See, Marx, Engels, Lenin: Anarchism and Anarcho-Syndicalism. Ibid. p. 172
  • 30Ibid. p. 175. For the original usage see, Marx, K. & Engels, F. 2010. Marx and Engels Collected Works, Volume 22: Marx and Engels 1870–71. Lawrence and Wishart: London. p. 328
  • 31Marx, Engels, Lenin: Anarchism and Anarcho-Syndicalism. Ibid. pp. 84–85
  • 32For two of the best historical accounts of these debates and events, see Graham, R. 2015. We Do Not Fear Anarchy, We Invoke It: The First International and the Origins of the Anarchist Movement. AK Press: Edinburgh, Oakland, Baltimore. as well as Eckhardt, W. 2016. The First Socialist Schism: Bakunin Vs. Marx in the International Workingmen’s Association. PM Press: Oakland.
  • 33As Graham notes, the most radical Communards sought to make this the basis of revolutionary self-organisation and constituted a ‘mutualist and proto-syndicalist’ tendency, influenced by the work of Proudhon (and to a lesser extent Bakunin). – We Do Not Fear Anarchy, We Invoke It. Ibid. p. 153
  • 34Marx and Engels Collected Works, Volume 22. Ibid. pp. 331–332
  • 35Marx and Engels Collected Works, Volume 22. Ibid. p. 533
  • 36Ibid.
  • 37Bakunin, M. 1990. Statism and Anarchy. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge. p. 179
  • 38Mikhail Bakunin: Selected Writings. Ibid. p. 261
  • 39As Kropotkin writes in The Paris Commune (published in three parts, in 1880, 1881, and 1882), later published as a chapter in Words of a Rebel (1885):

    The Commune of 1871 could be nothing but a first attempt. Beginning at the close of a great war, hemmed in between two armies ready to join hands and crush the people, it dared not unhesitatingly set forth upon the path of economic revolution. It neither boldly declared itself socialist nor proceeded to the expropriation of capital nor the organization of labour. It did not even take stock of the general resources of the city. Neither did it break with the tradition of the state, of representative government, and it did not seek to effect within the Commune that organization from the simple to the complex which it inaugurated without, by proclaiming the independence and free federation of the communes… The people sent their devoted sons to the town hall. There, immobilised in the midst of paperwork, forced to rule when their instincts prompted them to be and to act among the people, forced to discuss when it was necessary to act, to compromise when no compromise was the best policy, and, finally, losing the inspiration which only comes from continual contact with the masses, they found themselves reduced to impotence. Paralyzed by their removal from the revolutionary source, the people, they themselves paralyzed the popular initiative.

    Kropotkin, P. (ed. McKay, I.) 2014. Direct Struggle Against Capital: A Peter Kropotkin Anthology. AK Press: Edinburgh, Oakland, Baltimore. pp. 441-446. Slight adjustments have been made in this translation to include additional wording from the Freedom Pamphlets edition.

  • 40Korsch, K. (ed. Kellner, D.) 1974. Karl Korsch: Revolutionary Theory. University of Texas Press: Austin. p. 207
  • 41One example is Marx’s Critique of the Gotha Programme (1875), an important articulation by Marx of the content of communism, and the need to avoid reformist rhetoric, but not a useful document for understanding Marx’s theory of the State as an instrument of revolution. Another is Marx’s analysis* of the revolutionary potential of the Russian peasantry. Both were originally written as private letters and subsequently suppressed by either their recipients or leading ‘authorities’ within the movement.

    *The rather short final draft of the Letter to Vera Zasulich (1881) has been used by Libertarian Marxists to suggest a break with a prior insistence on the need to develop productive forces under capitalism in the political form of a democratic republic as a necessary precondition to revolution. In other words, Orthodox Marxists had argued that a society must first pass through a period of capitalist production to reach socialism. This was a major source of theoretical justification for Bolshevik industrialisation policy and the brutal treatment of the peasantry, and has likewise led to reactionary positions in regards to indigenous peoples. However, prior drafts of the letter suggest that Marx believed this to be possible in Russia purely due to the level of international development. As such, only a global revolution could spare Russia the fate of undergoing a capitalist phase. For details, see: Marx, K. & Engels, F. 2010. Marx and Engels Collected Works, Volume 24: Marx and Engels 1874–83. Lawrence and Wishart: London. pp. 346–371. For informative discussion on this issue, see: Chattopadhyay, P. 2018. Socialism and Commodity Production: Essay in Marx Revival. Haymarket Books: Chicago. pp. 232-248

  • 42Ness, I. & Azzellini, D. 2011. Ours to Master and to Own: Workers’ Control From the Commune to the Present. Haymarket Books: Chicago. pp. 34-35
  • 43Marx, K. & Engels, F. 2010. Marx and Engels Collected Works, Volume 44: Letters 1870–73. Lawrence and Wishart: London. p. 132
  • 44Ibid. p. 293
  • 45We Do Not Fear Anarchy, We Invoke It. Ibid. pp. 153–154
  • 46These words recall Marx’s insistence that the proletariat’s liberation would be an act of self-emancipation, carried out by ‘the workers themselves.’ This was first articulated by Marx in the General Rules of the International (1864), later adapted in the Critique of the Gotha Programme, and included by Engels in the 1888 and 1890 prefaces to The Communist Manifesto. For details, see Draper, H. 1971. ‘The Principle of Self-Emancipation in Marx and Engels.’ The Socialist Register, 1971. 81–109
  • 47Marx and Engels Collected Works, Volume 22. Ibid. p. 339
  • 48The most infamous use of this argument – which essentially replicates the Marxist analysis of the State – can be found in Engels’ On Authority (1872). Here ‘authority’ is equated with force (which anarchists support, viewing it as an act of liberation from authoritarian social relations) and also justified within political and economic institutions (which anarchists oppose). Conflating the two (authority as force, authority as specialised control over producers) we again find the accusation that anarchists are either indistinguishable from the state socialists or believe that social revolution can be accomplished without confronting capital and the State. For a brief summary of the conflicting definitions of ‘authority,’ see: The First Socialist Schism. Ibid. pp.142–145
  • 49Marx, Engels, Lenin: Anarchism and Anarcho-Syndicalism. Ibid. pp. 110–111. Emphasis in original.
  • 50Ibid. p. 111. These extracts are taken from The Alliance of Socialist Democracy and the International Working Men’s Association: Report and Documents Published by Decision of the Hague Congress of the International (1873), a factional pamphlet written in collaboration with Marx’s son in law, Paul Lafargue. I have included here the most relevant passages, as much of the critique is mistakenly directed at works falsely attributed to Bakunin. For details regarding their real authorship, see: Leier, M. 2006. Bakunin: The Creative Passion. St Martin’s Press: New York. pp. 206–210
  • 51Lenin, V. I. 1964. Collected Works: Volume 25: June-September 1917. Progress Publishers: Moscow. p. 430. The original quote is directed at Eduard Bernstein in State and Revolution.
  • 52Given the trajectory of the Russian Revolution as well as references within State and Revolution to the ‘transitional’ need for ‘representative institutions,’ ‘subordination,’ and ‘bureaucracy,’ anarchists cannot simply dismiss this as a semantic issue. Furthermore, it should be remembered that the ‘proletarian vanguard’ would have necessarily – as Bakunin correctly noted – constituted a minority throughout much of the world, even at the time of the Russian Revolution (and certainly within Russia itself).
  • 53Ibid. p. 436
  • 54Proudhon, P. J. 1989. General Idea of the Revolution in the Nineteenth Century. Pluto Press: London. p 242
  • 55Bakunin. M. (ed. Cutler, R. M.). 1992. The Basic Bakunin: Writings 1869-1871. Prometheus Books: New York. pp. 140-121
  • 56Modern Science and Anarchy. Ibid. p. 234
  • 57Statism and Anarchy. Ibid. pp. 177–178. Here Bakunin echoes the analysis presented by Proudhon, who, in General Idea of the Revolution in the Nineteenth Century (1851), stated:

    Government implies as a correlative somebody to be governed… if the whole people, claiming sovereignty, assumes Government, one seeks in vain where the governed will be… where will the producers be…? We must come to the last hypothesis, that wherein the People enters into Government in the mass, and wields all the branches of Power; in which they are always unanimous, and have above them neither president, nor representatives, nor deputies, nor law-made country, nor majority… if the People, thus organised for Power, have nothing above them, what, I ask, have they below?… where are the labourers? Will you answer that the People are everything at once, that they produce and legislate at the same time, that Labour and Government are united in them? It is impossible… the reason for the existence of government is the divergence of interests… When the mass of the People becomes the State, the State has no longer any reason to exist, since there is no longer any People, the governmental equation reduces to zero.

    - General Idea of the Revolution. Ibid. pp. 158–161

  • 58Marx, Engels, Lenin: Anarchism and Anarcho-Syndicalism. Ibid. p. 148
  • 59Ibid. p. 147
  • 60Ibid. p. 149
  • 61‘Withers away’ is one of two popular translations from Engels’ famous text, Anti-Duhring (1878) (the other being ‘dies out’). The full text (here, the ‘withers away’ version) is worth quoting at length, as it encapsulates many of the contradictions and misrepresentations explored in this pamphlet:

    The first act in which the state really comes forward as the representative of the society as a whole – the taking possession of the means of production in the name of society – is at the same time its last independent act as a state. The interference of the state power in social relations becomes superfluous in one sphere after another, and then ceases of itself. The government of persons is replaced by the administration of things and the direction of the process of production. The state is not “abolished,” it withers away. It is from this standpoint that we must appraise the phrase “free people’s state” – both its justification at times for agitational purposes, and its ultimate scientific inadequacy – and also the demand of the so-called anarchists that the state should be abolished overnight.

    - Engels, F. 1939. Marxist Library: Works of Marxism – Leninism Volume XVIII: Herr Eugen Duhring’s Revolution in Science (Anti-Duhring). New York International Publishers: New York. p. 315

  • 62Marx, Engels, Lenin: Anarchism and Anarcho-Syndicalism. Ibid. p. 150
  • 63Ibid. p. 149
  • 64Ibid.
  • 65Carter writes:

    this might have seemed to Marx a century ago to be a satisfactory rejoinder, but it can hardly do today. In the infancy of trade unions, which is all that Marx knew, the possibility of the executives of a trade union becoming divorced from the ordinary members may not have seemed to him to be a likely outcome. We, however, have behind us a long history of union leaders ‘selling out’ and being out of touch with their members. Time has ably demonstrated that to reject Bakunin’s fears on the basis of the practice of trade union officials constitutes a woeful complacency with regard to power and privilege - a complacency that has born ample fruit in the form of present Marxist parties and ‘communist’ societies.

    - Carter, A. 1988. Marx: A Radical Critique. Westview Press: Boulder. pp. 217-218

  • 66We Do Not Fear Anarchy, We Invoke It. Ibid. pp. 35–36
  • 67Ibid. pp. 145–146, 168–194
  • 68Marx, Engels, Lenin: Anarchism and Anarcho-Syndicalism. Ibid. pp. 62–63
  • 69Ibid. p. 110
  • 70Or, as he and Engels repeatedly put it, the anarchists “[either do not] know what they are talking about” or they do and are instead explicitly calling for the workers to ‘lay down their arms,’ rather than fight. – Marx and Engels Collected Works, Volume 23. Ibid. p. 425.
  • 71Marx writes:

    Thus it is not the Bonapartist State, the Prussian or Russian State that has to be overthrown, but an abstract State, the State as such, a State that nowhere exists.

    - Marx, Engels, Lenin: Anarchism and Anarcho-Syndicalism. Ibid. p. 108

  • 72Ibid. p. 151
  • 73Proudhon, P. J. 2019. System of Economic Contradictions: Or, The Philosophy of Misery. Anodos Books: Whithorn. p. 189
  • 74Statism and Anarchy. Ibid. p. 195
  • 75Malatesta, E. (ed. Turcato, D.). 2014. The Method of Freedom: An Errico Malatesta Reader. AK Press: Edinburgh, Oakland, Baltimore, Chico. pp. 116-118
  • 76Malatesta, E. 2017. (ed. Turcato, D.). The Collected Works of Errico Malatesta, Volume III, “A Long and Patient Work…”: The Anarchist Socialism of L’agitazione, 1897–1898, AK Press: Edinburgh, Oakland, Baltimore, Chico. p.123
  • 77The Method of Freedom. Ibid. p. 118
  • 78Marx’s notes indicate that an unwritten volume of Capital was intended to be dedicated entirely to an analysis of the state. Cited in Marx, K. 1990. ‘Introduction by Ernest Mandel,’ chapter in Capital: Volume I. Penguin Classics: London. p. 28
  • 79Three if we include Theories of Surplus Value, edited by Karl Kautsky.
  • 80Or, as Marx and Engels sometimes put it, ‘a State which is not a State’ in the conventional sense.
  • 81Here I am thinking particularly of those who identify as ‘Marxist-Leninists’, if not ‘Stalinists’. For instance, on the question of dictatorship and Marx’s use of the term ‘dictatorship of the proletariat,’ see, Draper, H. 1987. The ‘Dictatorship of the Proletariat’ from Marx to Lenin. Monthly Review Press: New York. Draper convincingly demonstrates that the term is used in a manner similar to Marx’s second definition of ‘the State’ (i.e., as a reference to the use of revolutionary force).



4 years 3 months ago

In reply to by

Submitted by Fozzie on April 20, 2020

Hi Matthew - I've found that using tags within footnotes (like bold or italic) generally doesn't go well.

Matthew Crossin

4 years 3 months ago

In reply to by

Submitted by Matthew Crossin on April 20, 2020

Edit: Fixed!

darren p

4 years 3 months ago

In reply to by

Submitted by darren p on April 20, 2020

Looks like a well-researched piece, I'm looking forward to reading it.

darren p

4 years 3 months ago

In reply to by

Submitted by darren p on April 20, 2020

I’ve mentioned this video elsewhere, but may be worth watching after reading this article.

Personally, I think that in 2020 there’s little use in uncritically ascribing to either Marxism or anarchism, but a project to clearly explore how Marx’s and the anarchist conception of the state differ and converge is bound to be a fruitful and illuminating one.


4 years 3 months ago

In reply to by

Submitted by sherbu-kteer on April 21, 2020

Great article!


4 years 3 months ago

In reply to by

Submitted by freemind on April 21, 2020

darren p

I’ve mentioned this video elsewhere, but may be worth watching after reading this article.

Personally, I think that in 2020 there’s little use in uncritically ascribing to either Marxism or anarchism, but a project to clearly explore how Marx’s and the anarchist conception of the state differ and converge is bound to be a fruitful and illuminating one.

I think you are correctly Darren.Marx and Bakunin had a lot in common although Bakunin wasn't a Communist Anarchism essentially is and it was maybe too early and both ideologies too immature to square the circle and forge a unified movement.The split between both schools of Communism was a tragedy for the Working Class and a fresh look at the positives of both is overdue.Bakunin respected Marx and Marx said the ultimate goal of humanity is Anarchy.A start if nothing else.


3 years 10 months ago

In reply to by

Submitted by Elysard on September 8, 2020

Maybe could I advise you a text written in 1989: "MARXISM AND ANARCHISM Rapprochement, synthesis or separation?"

This text was written around 1989 in the context of an internal training of the “Pierre Besnard” group of the Fédération anarchiste. Slightly modified in October 1999.


3 years 10 months ago

In reply to by

Submitted by BigFluffyTail on September 21, 2020

You were more than charitable to Bakunin here. You can't present mister "invisible dictatorship" as coherent while painting Marx as incoherent. If we only ever got an incomplete analysis of the State by Marx, the same goes for Bakunin. If Marx never presented a coherent critique of the anarchist theory of the State, it's because there wasn't a coherent anarchist theory of the State to begin with.

Lacking in a sufficiently materialist analysis of the state-form, Marx interprets Bakunin’s rejection of all States as the rejection of an ‘abstraction’.

Marx believed that social revolution could only occur thanks to the proletariat, so in industrial countries (even when he later took interest in the possibility of a Russian revolution, its success depended on revolution in Western Europe - as you say). Bakunin by contrast believed the abolition of the State was possible no matter the economic conditions. Hence, Marx accuses Bakunin of understanding the State as a mere abstraction, not the expression of class conflict. The only bit of "materialist analysis" in Statism and Anarchy is when he talks of maritime trade. It's the only moment when he admits economic conditions determine anything. And even then he's not very good at it. Marx objects by pointing out various other factors he forgot to mention.

In said text, Bakunin largely invented Marx's "statism", asserting he inherited it from Hegel (in light of Marx's critique of Hegel's political philosophy, this is even more ridiculous), his German origins and of course his "Jewishness". Anarchists accused Marx of adhering to and even being behind the concept of the "Volkstaat", putting him in the same boat as Lassalle. This is just untrue (see his Critique of the Gotha Program).

organised the International in a hierarchical fashion to combat its influence within the movement

It's unfair to assert Marx was manipulating the International (not that he didn't have an ego). Marx didn't want the International to be controlled by this or that faction. Compare this to conspiracy-prone Bakunin and his shenanigans! Besides, the destruction of the International has more to do with the failure of the Commune than anything else.

Red Marriott

3 years 10 months ago

In reply to by

Submitted by Red Marriott on September 21, 2020


Bakunin largely invented Marx's "statism"

No, he was responding to Marx's consistent statism, as illustrated in the quoted evidence in comments below this article;

Matthew Crossin

3 years 10 months ago

In reply to by

Submitted by Matthew Crossin on September 25, 2020

You can't present mister "invisible dictatorship" as coherent while painting Marx as incoherent.

First, it is worth noting that my intention wasn't to say that Bakunin, by himself, is a satisfactory alternative to Marx. He is simply an important anarchist who represented the libertarian opposition to Marx at the time, and he is, therefore, a useful lens through which to analyse Marx's thinking. So far as I am writing about anarchism (my main subject is Marx and his opposition to anarchism), it is the anarchist theory of the state that I am really concerned with here, not Bakunin as an individual.

That being said, the "invisible dictatorship" concept has been wildly distorted by Marxists. It is not a major element of his thought and was articulated in a context defined by extreme repression (Bakunin's organizing was perfectly transparent where conditions allowed for it). It referred to a leadership of ideas and not a substitutionist authority.

If Marx never presented a coherent critique of the anarchist theory of the State, it's because there wasn't a coherent anarchist theory of the State to begin with.

I don't agree. But whatever the case, it certainly cant be said that this is the only reason. As I have demonstrated, the views of anarchists were misrepresented. You have not shown this conclusion to be incorrect.

Marx believed that social revolution could only occur thanks to the proletariat, so in industrial countries (even when he later took interest in the possibility of a Russian revolution, its success depended on revolution in Western Europe - as you say). Bakunin by contrast believed the abolition of the State was possible no matter the economic conditions. Hence, Marx accuses Bakunin of understanding the State as a mere abstraction, not the expression of class conflict. The only bit of "materialist analysis" in Statism and Anarchy is when he talks of maritime trade. It's the only moment when he admits economic conditions determine anything. And even then he's not very good at it. Marx objects by pointing out various other factors he forgot to mention.

I believe Bakunin was correct in disregarding this idea of 'necessary development in the productive forces', and I think it is telling that libertarian Marxists generally attempt to rescue Marx from himself on this point.

That said, you have missed the actual point I was making. My concern was about the concrete relation between the state-form and the capitalist mode of production. Any conception of the State which does not centre an analysis of it as a specific organisational form (and the way this form of social organisation reproduces capitalist social relations, which, in turn, reproduce the state-form) is fundamentally flawed. My contention is that the anarchists developed a far better understanding of this than Marx, with all his contradictions, and varied use of the term 'state', ever did.

In said text, Bakunin largely invented Marx's "statism", asserting he inherited it from Hegel (in light of Marx's critique of Hegel's political philosophy, this is even more ridiculous), his German origins and of course his "Jewishness". Anarchists accused Marx of adhering to and even being behind the concept of the "Volkstaat", putting him in the same boat as Lassalle. This is just untrue (see his Critique of the Gotha Program).

It is not invented, it is simply based on limited sources, which can be contradicted by certain readings of other texts. I say this in my essay. You note the anti-Semitic (and, arguably, verging on anti-German) ideas Bakunin had regarding why Marx was inclined toward such thinking - this is all true, and deplorable, as every anarchist I have ever known readily concedes. It is, however, irrelevant to the issue being discussed. You have not refuted the specific arguments presented in the essay (only a small sample of the available evidence, which I hope to one day expand upon when revisiting this subject).

It's unfair to assert Marx was manipulating the International (not that he didn't have an ego).

It is perfectly fair, as it is well documented that this occurred. Note I do not attribute all of his actions to 'manipulation', but merely point out the - perfectly obvious, and openly stated - fact that Marx wished to 'organise the International in a hierarchical fashion'. Something he ultimately achieved, though with short lived success.

Marx didn't want the International to be controlled by this or that faction.

Again - pure nonsense. He and Engels wanted to see their own views imposed upon the International, including those pertaining to the very organisational form (and function!) of the International itself. In fact, Marx was so insistent about having his strategic approach adopted throughout the movement that he even wrote in private correspondence to Engels (July 20, 1870) that, "The French need a thrashing. If the Prussians win, the centralisation of the state power will be useful for the centralisation of the German working class. German predominance would also transfer the centre of gravity of the workers' movement in Western Europe from France to Germany, and one has only to compare the movement in the two countries from 1866 till now to see that the German working class is superior to the French both theoretically and organisationally. Their predominance over the French on the world stage would also mean the predominance of our theory over Proudhon's."

Compare this to conspiracy-prone Bakunin and his shenanigans!

Those being?

the destruction of the International has more to do with the failure of the Commune than anything else.

It seems sensible to me that we should also consider the centralisation of power within the General Council in opposition to the autonomy of the sections; the expulsion of prominent anarchists; and the resulting split, which saw the anarchists set up their own international organisation.


3 years 10 months ago

In reply to by

Submitted by Reddebrek on September 24, 2020


Maybe could I advise you a text written in 1989: "MARXISM AND ANARCHISM Rapprochement, synthesis or separation?"

This text was written around 1989 in the context of an internal training of the “Pierre Besnard” group of the Fédération anarchiste. Slightly modified in October 1999.

That linked asks to login to view, here's the link I used to find the article


3 years 9 months ago

In reply to by

Submitted by Elysard on September 27, 2020

My comments on the objections made to Matt Crossin's text by BigFluffyTail

Reflecting on the anarchist theory of the state cannot be limited to Bakunin. Indeed, the essence of what Bakunin says about the state is directly inspired by Proudhon. The problem is that Proudhon is difficult to read, even for a French reader. The other difficulty in Proudhon is that the reader who hopes to find simple formulas in him is quickly disappointed. His analyses are complex and are based on a real sociological approach. It is not by chance that those who have written the most enlightening works on him are sociologists, I am thinking in particular of Georges Gurvitch and Pierre Ansart. I don’t know if they have been translated into English.

Georges Gurvitch
• Dialectique et sociologie, 1962;
• Proudhon, sa vie, son œuvre, 1965.
• “Proudhon et Marx”, in : L’actualité de Proudhon, colloque de novembre 1965, éditions de l’institut de sociologie, université libre de Bruxelles.

At that symposium, Gurvitch said: “For my part, it is not in France but in Russia that I became a Proudhonian, and if I came to France, it is to deepen my knowledge of Proudhon. I am therefore bearing a direct personal testimony. The first Russian soviets were organised by proudhonians, those proudhonians who came from left-wing elements of the revolutionary socialist party or the left wing of Russian social democracy. It was not in Marx that they were able to take the idea of revolution by the grassroots soviets, because it was an essentially, exclusively proudhonian idea. Since I am one of the organisers of the Russian soviets of 1917, I can speak about it with full knowledge of the facts.”

Gurvitch specifies elsewhere:

“I can bear witness to the extraordinary penetration of Proudhonian ideas both among Russian intellectuals and in the Russian workers' unions.”

Pierre Ansart
• Sociologie de Proudhon, 1967;
• Naissance de l’anarchisme, 1969;
• Socialisme et anarchisme : Saint-Simon, Proudhon, Marx, 1969; Naissance de l’anarchisme, 1970;
• La présence du proudhonisme dans les sociologies contemporaines

“Invisible dictatorship”
As far as I know, the question of the “invisible dictatorship” has been dealt with in four texts:
– a letter to Albert Richard, March 12, 1870 ;
– a letter to Albert Richard, April 1, 1870.
– a letter to Tómas González Morago, May 21, 1872
– in the program of the International Fraternity, 30 August-13 September 1872 :

In order to understand Bakunin's use of the idea of “invisible dictatorship”, one must:

♦ Take into consideration to whom he writes: Tomas Gonzalez, Albert Richard, i.e., members of the Alliance, militants very close to him. With them he can say things without any fuss.
♦ We must then take into account when he writes: March, April, May 1870, an extremely agitated period, on the eve of the war that will break out in July. In other words, Bakunin and his companions are discussing the strategy to be adopted when the crisis breaks out openly;
♦ Finally, it must be understood that once again Bakunin's reflections owe much to Proudhon, for whom society can be characterized by three things: it is immanent, it is always in motion, it is traversed by antagonisms, by unconscious forces to which individuals obey without realizing it. The function of revolutionaries is not to be in the vanguard and to guide individuals or groups by compulsory decrees, but to be in the midst of the masses and to enable them to become aware of these forces, to enable them to become aware of themselves (Proudhon, De la création de l'ordre dans l'humanité, Garnier Frère, 1849 (1843), p. 6.). It is not, therefore, a group of individuals manipulating the masses, but no more and no less than an “acting minority” in the sense that revolutionary syndicalism would understand it thirty years later.

Anyone with trade-union experience knows that in an organization of, say, a thousand members, a group of twenty organized militants has the choice of directing this organization in an authoritarian manner by posing as “leaders”, or to proceed in a flexible and pedagogical manner, through discussion and persuasion: in this case, whether we like it or not, we have an “invisible dictatorship”.

But the notion of “invisible dictatorship” has another meaning.
Let's take a closer look.
On April 1, 1870, reproaching Albert Richard – a member of the Alliance – for being a centralist, a partisan of the revolutionary state, Bakunin declares:

“you remain more than ever the partisan of centralization, of the revolutionary state. While I am more than ever the adversary, and see salvation only in revolutionary anarchy, directed in all points by an invisible collective force, the only dictatorship I admit, because only it is compatible with the frankness and full energy of the revolutionary movement.”

We understand that Albert Richard is in favour of centralization and the revolutionary state while Bakunin is opposed to them. For the latter, revolutionary action is exerted “on all points, but always invisible” [Bakunin, Letter to Tómas González Morago, 21 may 1872.], “a collective, invisible dictatorship” [Bakunin, Letter to Albert Richard, 12 March 1870], an “invisible collective force – the only dictatorship I admit to” [Bakunin, Letter à Albert Richard 1 Avril 1870.], etc. In the Program of the International Fraternity, he adds: “In revolution, we are the enemies of everything that is closely or remotely related to the authoritarian system, of any claim to the official leadership of the people, and therefore of everything that is called revolutionary dictatorship” [Bakunin, Programme de la Fraternité internationale, 30 August-13 september 1872].
Well, this “invisible dictatorship”, which is “collective” and exerts itself “on all points” is nothing other than social determinisms.
Let us recall that immanence is what exists inside the subject, what is in its own nature, as opposed to transcendence, which indicates an external and superior cause. The “invisible collective force” that exercises its “dictatorship” is simply the internal determinisms of the working class, as opposed to all the forces external to it that want to rule it.

And who constitutes this “collective, invisible dictatorship”? In another letter to Albert Richard (12 March 1870), Bakunin wrote that “to save the revolution, to bring it to a successful conclusion, in the very midst of this anarchy”, it was necessary to constitute a “collective, invisible dictatorship, not invested with any power, but all the more effective and powerful – the natural [my emphasis] action of all the energetic and sincere socialist revolutionaries, scattered over the surface of the country, of all countries, but strongly united by a common thought and will”.
So this “invisible dictatorship” is collective and has no particular power, which means in Bakunin's mind that it is not officially instituted. This “collective, invisible dictatorship” is opposed to the “Committees of Public Salvation and the official, ostensible Dictatorship” (letter to Albert Richard 1 April 1870)
So we can see how far we are from the conspiratorial vision that some people have of Bakunin, who probably never read him or who know him only through what Marx or, what is probably worse, what Hal Draper says about him.
Not being instituted, it is only “more efficient and powerful” because it gives way to the spontaneity of the masses, which is not compressed. It must be borne in mind that for Bakunin, freedom consists in knowing the determinisms that materially limit this freedom, and that a social movement is “spontaneous” when it is not hindered by determinations external to it. “Freedom is the knowledge of necessity.”

The concept of “invisible dictatorship” was used over a two-year period (1870-1872) corresponding to the Franco-Prussian War and the Paris Commune. It had no bearing on Bakunin's overall tactical and strategic vision, who wrote that socialism:

“finds real existence only in the enlightened revolutionary instinct, in the collective will and in the self-organization of the working masses themselves, – and when this instinct, will and organization are lacking, the best books in the world are nothing but empty theories, impotent dreams”. (Letter to a Frenchman on the Present crisis )

There are three inseparable elements in this dialectic of revolutionary development: revolutionary instinct; collective will; organization. We find here the same pattern as Proudhon when he sets out in the Political Capacity of the Working Classes the conditions for the emancipation of the proletariat.

(To be continued) (Maybe)


3 years 9 months ago

In reply to by

Submitted by Elysard on September 27, 2020

My comments on the objections made to Matt Crossin's text by BigFluffyTail
Continued from previous text

“Necessary development in the productive forces”
“BigFluffyTail” writes:

“I believe Bakunin was correct in disregarding this idea of 'necessary development in the productive forces', and I think it is telling that libertarian Marxists generally attempt to rescue Marx from himself on this point.”

It is difficult to get rid of a “Reader's Digest” view of Marxism, or of that simplified Marxism produced by the elementary courses of Marxist training produced by the innumerable communist groups. Here we have once again the conflict between the ideological vision of things and the historical, rational and critical vision.
Marxism is a body of doctrine that the epigones, and Lenin in particular, wanted to present as a coherent “block of steel” (in Materialism and Empiriocriticism) where everything was good and nothing to throw away. Now, when we take the trouble to consider Marx's texts as a whole, we see a man who searches, who goes backwards, who throughout his life analyses phenomena from different angles, etc.

From Marxism, we retain the exclusive explanation of historical phenomena by economic determinations. The German communists, says Bakunin, saw in human history only the necessary reflection of the development of economic facts. Bakunin did not question this principle, but he states that it is “profoundly true when considered in its true light, i.e. from a relative point of view”, but “considered and laid down in an absolute manner, as the sole foundation and primary source of all other principles”, it is false [Letter to La Liberté, November 5, 1872.]. The pre-eminence of the economic factor is real, but relative: Marx “takes no account of other elements of history, such as the reaction of political, juridical and religious institutions to the economic situation, however obvious” (Letter to La Liberté of Brussels, November 5, 1872.)

Twenty eight years later, Engels acknowledged that they may have been wrong to insist too much on this aspect: “Marx and I are partly responsible for the fact that at times our disciples have laid more weight upon the economic factor than belongs to it. We were compelled to emphasize this main principle in opposition to our opponents who denied it, and there wasn’t always time, place and occasion to do justice to the other factors in the reciprocal interaction.” (Letter to Joseph Bloch, September 21, 1890).
Unfortunately, in 28 years Marxism had taken on a physiognomy that a simple reservation in Engels' correspondence has not been able to rectify.

From Marxism, we retain a dialectic of development of capitalism in successive historical phases.
Bakunin was perfectly familiar with Marx's thesis, but only relatively subscribed to it, i.e. he added nuances. The dogmatic and mechanistic turn taken by Marxism after Marx obviously led to consider that the Russian revolutionary was opposed in principle to this theory. But careful examination of the texts reveals that on this question – as on many others – the rejection concerned more the exclusive character of the principle elaborated by Marx than the principle itself. On several occasions, in fact, Bakunin took up this theory, but delimiting its framework of validity to Western Europe.

It is in the letter to La Liberté of 18 October 1872 that the theoretical differences with Marx are expressed most clearly and in substance. The Marxists, Bakunin says, do not “absolutely reject our program. They only reproach us for wanting to hasten, to anticipate the slow march of history, and for ignoring the positive law of successive evolutions.”
However, like most of Bakunin's theoretical oppositions to Marx, this one must be relativized. Indeed, it is not in fact the theory of successive evolutions that Bakunin contests, but the absolute character that Marx seems to give it. It is true, says Bakunin, that historians who have so far tried to draw the “picture of human society” have always been inspired by an idealistic point of view: they have neglected the “anthropological and economic point of view, which forms the real basis of all human development” (L’Empire knouto-germanique, Champ libre, VIII, 283).
Bakunin bases his reservations on the fact the Slavic world, for historical reasons, had been different from that of the Western nations and responds to a different logic that brings into play other types of determinations, precisely because the Slavic “race”, understood in the Bakuninian sense as a homogeneous whole of political structures, customs, morals, has a totally different internal constitution. Abandoned to their autonomous development, the Slavs "never knew how to neither wanted to create a bourgeoisie within them nor to build a state”. ( , Champ libre, pp. 116-118) Bakunin recognized the validity of the Marxian theory of the successive phases of evolution of modes of production only for Western Europe.
Five years later, in 1877, Marx wrote to a Russian correspondent, Mikhailovsky, that it was a mistake “to metamorphose my historical sketch of the genesis of capitalism in Western Europe into a historico-philosophical theory of general development, imposed by fate on all peoples, whatever the historical circumstances in which they are placed...” (Letter to Otechestvenniye Zapiski, November 1877, MECW, Lawrence & Wishart, vol. 24, p. 200
On March 8, 1881 he confirmed in a letter to Vera Zasulich that he “expressly limited the ‘historical inevitability’ of this process to the countries of Western Europe.” (MECW, Volume 24, p. 346)

The problem is that these reservations, which were expressed towards the end of their lives by Marx and Engels in their correspondence, are crucial, but that for lack of having been expressed loud and clear, and publicly developed, the communist movement was put on the rails of a mechanistic, simplifying, vulgar Marxism. These are precisely the three essential points of Bakunin's theoretical refutation of Marx, namely:

1. The existence of a certain historical indeterminism because when one deals with human beings it is impossible to apprehend all the determinations that produce a fact;
2. The refusal to explain everything by economic determinations, even if they are recognized as crucial;
3. The relativization of the theory of the successive phases of historical development.

As we see, things are a bit more complicated than what people think, and I’m not far from thinking that Bakunin was a better Marxist than Marx…


3 years 9 months ago

In reply to by

Submitted by Elysard on September 29, 2020

Marx's “statism” Invented by Bakunin?

BigFluffyTail says that “Bakunin largely invented Marx's ‘statism’”...

Bakunin did not “invent” Marx's statism. Once again, stereotypes mislead the readers. If Bakunin attributes to Marx positions that are actually those of Lassalle, if he seems to reduce Marxism to statism and to a simple technique of economic analysis of history, this is simply because this is how Marx's thought was known at the time, and still is today except for people who have a better knowledge of his thought.

In 1870 not much of Marx’s works had been published and the communist program in the Manifesto confirms this statist view of Marx. So one cannot blame the Bakunin of 1870 for not having as extensive a knowledge of Marx's work as it is possible to have today.

As for the confusion between Marxism and Lassallism, one must recognize that Marx himself is largely responsible for it, through his contributions to the Lassalian press, by the contacts he had with Lassalle, etc. Moreover, Marx refrained from any public criticism because he needed him to get himself published in Germany and to borrow money from him, although his private correspondence, is full of sharp and petty criticism, aggravated by a delirious anti-Semitism.
Bakunin thus had no element to form a correct opinion on the differences between Marx and Lassalle, and that was the case for most people.
But in any case, there is enough evidence in Marx's work to confirm the general opinion on his statism.

Marx had made a severe criticism of the socialist program adopted in Gotha, whose inspiration was very clearly Lassallean. At that time, the socialist leaders did not want to hear about Marx’s disagreements concerning the Gotha program, so Marx’s critical text was not published. And when Marx asked Liebknecht to communicate it to Bebel, Liebknecht refused. When Bebel eventually read these critical notes in 1891 (Marx was dead), he tried by all means to prevent their publication... Lassalle was seen as the man who had given life to the German labour movement after the failure of the revolution in 1848 during which Marx and Engels had taken very ambiguous positions which were sharply criticized after and not forgotten: the official histories of Marxism naturally conceal the fact that, exiled in London, the German Communists excluded Marx and Engels from the League of Communists for their attitude during the revolution of 1848-1849 [See: René Berthier: “Quand Marx liquide le premier parti communiste de l’histoire… et s’en fait exclure” ( (When Marx liquidates the first communist party in history... and is excluded from it...)].

Lassalle was the one who had put in place the theoretical and organizational structures of what would later be called German Social-Democracy.
Naturally, the "orthodox" Marxist authors do not want to hear anything about the Lasallian impregnation of German social democracy. This is the reason for Hal Draper's fierce hatred of Marx's biographer Franz Mehring, who is also perfectly orthodox, but who has the peculiarity of being relatively honest for a Marxist, and who (I summarise) places Lassalle and Marx as co-founders of social democracy — although personally I think that Lassalle holds 75% of the shares and Marx 25%.
German social democracy is much more of Lassalian than Marxist inspiration: It should be known that the Gotha congress ended with the song of the “Marseillaise of the Workers” whose text said:

“We follow the audacious path that was shown to us by [...] Lassalle”

... which certainly did not please Marx... nor Hal Draper.


3 years 9 months ago

In reply to by

Submitted by Elysard on October 1, 2020

Bakunin antisemite

As for Bakunin's anti-Semitism, there is not much to say except that no anarchist can approve of it, and that he has been condemned by his own comrades, especially Anselmo Lorenzo.
However, when we look closely at this anti-Semitism, we discover curious things: He was antisemitic for three years, from 1869 to 1872. It is very easy to make this observation: examination of the CDRom with his works published by the International Institute of Social History in Amsterdam reveals that no text prior to 1869 can be qualified as anti-Semitic (in fact, he hardly ever speaks of Jews). And after 1872 he no longer speaks of them either.

It is therefore not difficult to link the beginning of his anti-Semitism to the beginning of the very serious slanders uttered against him by Marx and his entourage after the Basel congress of the IWA, at which the “Marxists” found themselves in serious trouble. After 1872 Bakunin was expelled from the IWA by Marx et al. and the question of the Jews no longer interested him.

Already in 1848 Bakunin had been the victim of slanders from Marx and his entourage, but this did not trigger an anti-Semitic reaction on his part. The same was true during his twelve years of detention in Russia.

So what happened in 1869? He was the victim of a rolling fire of accusations of “panslavism”, an obsession of Marx and Engels. This was probably the worst accusation that could be made against him because he had been fighting panslavism all his life. Panslavism is, in short, the doctrine that the Slavic peoples of Central Europe can only be free by placing themselves under the protection of Tsarist Russia. The accusation of being a "panslavist" was the worst insult that could be uttered against him and affected Bakunin enormously.

In October 1869, Bakunin began to write a Study on German Jews, which he spoke about to his friend Herzen in an unpublished letter of October 18, 1869. This manuscript, unfinished, speaks of Jews for only three pages, proof that the subject did not fascinate him, the rest being a long digression on Russians and Germans.

It must be said that the texts in which anti-Semitic remarks are found were not published during Bakunin's lifetime, such as his “Letters to the Bologna Internationals – Explanatory and Supporting Documents”, of December 1871, which were not published until 1963, or “To the Companions of the Jura Federation”, of February-March 1872, published for the first time in 1965.

Bakunin's anti-Semitism is extremely trivial, if I may say so. It revolves around the most usual commonplaces: the Jews constitute a power, etc. It is a very commonplace anti-Semitism. Thus in “To the Companions of the Jura Federation” he says that this power “was created by more than twenty-five centuries of persecution” and that “only the widest freedom will be able to dissolve it” — a rather original solution to the “Jewish question”.

To conclude on this point, I will quote what Bakunin wrote in his “Letter to the newspaper Le Réveil” (October 1869):

"I begin by asking you to believe that I am in no way the enemy or detractor of the Jews. Any cannibal I am supposed to be, I do not push barbarism to this point, and I assure you that in my eyes all nations are equal. Each one, moreover, is an ethnographically historical product, and is therefore not responsible either for its faults or its merits".

All this does not lessen the fact that his anti-Semitic statements are condemnable, that no anarchist today would take them up.

What about Marx?
Under the heading “anti-Semitism”, perhaps it is worth saying a few words about Marx and the Jews. While Bakunin was an antisemite for three years, Marx was so all his life.
I will not speak about his little book entitled “On the Jewish Question” which in my opinion has been the subject of many misinterpretations. The biggest misunderstanding being that this little book does not actually deal with the “Jewish question” but with Bruno Bauer's book entitled The Jewish Question. So the title of Marx's book should actually be: "On Bauer's book The Jewish Question”. I will therefore not dwell on the theoretical developments of the 1843 text but on the concrete attitude of Marx throughout his life.

In his correspondence, Marx never fails to mention the Jewish quality of the person he is talking about, and it is always in a contemptuous or negative way:

– Letter to Engels, March 31, 1851: “the Jew Stibel”.
– Letter to Engels, January 21, 1853: “This little Jew from Bamberger has not yet paid me a cent...”.
Idem, letter of June 29, 1853: “... I borrowed £2 from the little Jew Bamberger...”
– Letter to Engels, August 25, 1851: “Tausenau [...] is gifted with the sense of trickery that the little Jews have.”
– Letter to Adolphe Cluss, March 25, 1853: “The Jew Pulszky is over there”.
– Letter to Engels, September 28, 1852: “The Jew Fould is in permanent contact with the d'Orléans.”
– Letter to Engels, February 16, 1857: “The Jew Steinthal...”
– Letter to Engels, May 25, 1859: about Max Friedländer: “That damned Jew from Vienna does not write either.”
– Letter to Engels, February 9, 1860: “This scum of a Berlin correspondent for the Daily Telegraph is a Yid named Meier, a relative of the owner of the business, an English Yid named Levy.”
– Letter to Engels, April 12, 1860: “The factotum of the Jew Reuter who is not able to write in orthographic language .”
– Letter to Antoinette Philips, March 24, 1861: “This young lady, who literally overwhelmed me with her benevolence, is the ugliest creature I have ever seen in my life, an awful Jewish head, a thin and prominent nose, an eternal smile or sneer on her lips, ...”
– Letter to Engels, June 3, 1864: “...Oppenheim, that Jew Süss of Egypt.”
– Letter to Engels, August 19, 1865: “The Swiss have practically no more shares in the Bank of Switzerland. It is the Jews of Berlin and Frankfurt who make the decisions.”
– Letter to Engels, February 10, 1865: “This Jew Horn...”.
– Letter to Engels, April 14, 1870: “... the little Jew Leo Frankel…”
– Letter to Engels, April 15, 1870: “Frankelche* is the spitting-glass Jew...” (*pejorative diminutive in German).
– Letter to Engels, July 8, 1870: “The little Jew Frankel...” .
– Letter to Engels, August 21, 1875: “A yid, looking shrewd, with a small suitcase in his hand, ...”.
– Letter to Engels, August 25, 1879: “There are many Jews and fleas here.”
etc., ad nauseam

The only Jew who appears positively in Marx's writings is Moses, but he is not described as a Jew but as an "Egyptian priest" (letter to Engels, 10 may 1861)

Marx is shockingly antisemite when he mentions Lassalle in his correspondence. In his letters to Engels, Marx systematically calls him Ephraim, Itzig (pejorative diminutive of Isaac, the symbolic name of the Jew in German).
• Letter to Engels, February 25, 1859: “The yid Braun” (Jüdel in German) (Braun also means brown, in reference to the very brown skin of Lassalle).
• Letter to Engels, May 25, 1859: “I will not forget the trick the little Jew played on me.”
• Letter to Engels, July 30, 1862: “This Negro-Jew of Lassalle...” “I am now sure, as his head shape and his hair prove, that he is descended from negroes, from those who followed Moses during the flight out of Egypt”.

At the same time as Marx showed his sovereign contempt for Lassalle in his letters to Engels, he was exquisitely polite and mixed with flattery and demonstrations of friendship in the letters he sent to Lassalle, asking him to find him work, to find him a publisher or to borrow money.
When Lassalle published a book on Heraclitus, Marx wrote to him praising his perspicacity, etc. (letter of May 31, 1858 to Lassalle) but he immediately wrote to Engels (same date): “You must give me your absolution for the praises which I had to address to Heraclitus the Obscure.”

What about Engels? Here is what he wrote to Marx, 30 July 1862, about Lassalle:

"It is now quite plain to me — as the shape of his head and the way his hair grows also testify — that he is descended from the negroes who accompanied Moses’ flight from Egypt (unless his mother or paternal grandmother interbred with a nigger). Now, this blend of Jewishness and Germanness, on the one hand, and basic negroid stock, on the other, must inevitably give rise to a peculiar product. The fellow’s importunity is also niggerlike."

This digression on Marx's anti-Semitism was not intended to relativise Bakunin's anti-Semitism, both of which are equally reprehensible, but to re-establish a certain equilibrium in the discourse of those who constantly harp on Bakunin's anti-Semitism while modestly forgetting that of Marx.


3 years 9 months ago

In reply to by

Submitted by Elysard on October 5, 2020

My comments on “Interpreting Marx's Theory of the State and Opposition to Anarchism”

Destruction/manipulation of the International

"The destruction of the International has more to do with the failure of the Commune than anything else."

When an irremovable bureaucracy at the head of an international organisation excludes all the member federations of that international, it can be thought that the organisation is destroyed. This is what happened with the IWA after the congress in The Hague. Linking this destruction with the failure of the Commune makes no sense.
Marx was terrified at the idea that Bakunin should do what he himself had achieved: take the control of the General Council, if not of the International. But he didn’t understand that the federalist project of ensuring the autonomy of the federations did not fit at all with his phantasm of a Bakunin striving to take the control of the General Council, simply because the federalist tendency of the International was in favour of the autonomy of the federations, which were to decide by themselves the strategy of emancipation and not wait for Marx or anybody else to explain what to do.

The accusation of Bakunin striving to take control of the General Council is inconsistent with the fact that Bakunin was opposed to defining a unique and compulsory program for the IWA: he founded his strategy on the fact that the federations were all placed in extremely different contexts, which meant that no unique program or unique strategy could be possible. This is why John Hales, in the name of the British Committee, wrote to the Jura Federation that they supported the St. Imier Congress, that were in favour of parliamentary strategy but were not in favour of imposing such politics on all federations. (Quoted in James Guillaume, L’Internationale, documents et souvenirs, Vol. 2, part 5 Chapter 2, p. 25. See: René Berthier, Social-Democracy and Anarchism in the IWA, Anarres Editions, p.18.)

The conspiracy orchestrated by Marx and his faction at the Hague Congress could not remain undetected indefinitely.
When the different Federations of the IWA realized the manipulation of which they had been victims at The Hague, they rejected the decisions of this rigged Congress: between September 1872 and January 1873, the Jura federation, the delegates of the French sections, the Italian federation, the Belgian federation, the Spanish federation, the Dutch federation, the English federation: they denounced all the decisions of the congress of The Hague. And consequently they were all excluded from the International.
In other words, Marx and Engels excluded from the IWA the entire organized labour movement of their time (there was no German federation because... the law forbade it. But the law also forbade it in France, Spain and Italy).
The “destruction” of the International has little to do with Bakunin but with the catastrophic practices of Marx and his clique, who had managed to gain control of the General Council but had no federation to support them.

That is why the congress in Saint-Imier, which took place just after the congress in The Hague, was by no means a split. It brought together IWA federations that denounced the manipulations of The Hague: they decided to modify the statutes and continued to keep the International alive. It is so true that the numbering of congresses took over from that which had been in place before The Hague. Marx and his clique tried the following year to convene a congress to cover up the one in Saint-Imier, but it was such a lamentable fiasco (according to his own words) that the minutes were never published. If someone “destroyed” the International, it was Marx and his friends.

If Marxists and the mainstream media persist in describing the Saint-Imier congress as a “split,” it is incomprehensible that even some anarchists ended up internalizing this idea (As says Matt Crossin, wrongly in my mind: “the expulsion of prominent anarchists; and the resulting split, which saw the anarchists set up their own international organisation...”). In my opinion, this is a kind of “victim complex” that strikes many anarchists as opposed to Marxists. It is time for this to change.

The “anti-authoritarian” IWA continued to exist for a few years after St. Imier, but finally disappeared in 1877:

“By the time of the Verviers congress [1877], the Anti-Authoritarian International was only a shadow of its former self” (...)
“...The decay of the organisation which had beaten the London bureaucracy so spectacularly in September 1872 was such that after Verviers and Ghent many Jura anarchist delegates – Costa, Montels, Werner, Rinke and Kropotkin – simply did not return to Switzerland.” (René René Berthier, Social-Democracy and Anarchism, p. 134, p. 146)

The reasons why the International has literally dissolved into thin air remain to be analysed.


For information, I communicated to Matt Crossin my remarks on his very interesting study and we had a few exchanges before I uploaded them on Libcom.


3 years 9 months ago

In reply to by

Submitted by Elysard on October 10, 2020



The French sociologist Pierre Ansart (1922-2016), a specialist on Proudhon, does not seem to have been translated into English. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why Proudhon is so little known in the English-speaking world and particularly in anarchist circles, some authors and activists going so far as to dismiss him as a theorist of anarchism.

One of the authors who has been able to best "decipher" Proudhon is precisely Pierre ANSART.
I thought it would be useful to translate the chapter of "Sociologie de Proudhon" in which Ansart develops Proudhon's sociology of the State.