The abolition of the state - Karl Kautsky

A painting by Kautsky, sign of artistic genius?

This is the second article in a 3-part series by Karl Kautsky from 1881. This part is about the anarchist position towards the state.

As a necessary consequence of the fact that the state only exists because of the antagonism between the ruling and the ruled class, it seems that the first act of the coming revolution1, which wants to overcome class division, is the abolition of the state.

This was also Bakunin's view. 'The revolution as we understand it', he says, 'will have to destroy the State and all the institutions of the State, radically and completely, from its very first day ... We are the natural enemies of such revolutionaries – the would-be dictators, regulators, and trustees of the revolution – who even before the existing monarchical, aristocratic, and bourgeois states have been destroyed, already dream of creating new revolutionary states, as fully centralized and even more despotic than the states we now have etc.'2

The anarchist thus will, as soon as the revolution breaks out, decree the abolition of the state, and, supposing that he has more luck than Bakunin on 28 September 1870 in Lyon, destroy the state with its means of power, army, bureaucracy, police, etc., and hereupon leave it to each individual person, to carry out as best as possible the transition from the old to the new society.

Now what will happen?

The influence of the revolution will naturally in the given case, where it has no means of power, no army, no bureaucracy, no police, be able to extend itself only so far as the revolution itself. Every country however has its Vendée, its Tirol, its Pomerania. There the state organisation stays in existence, there the counter-revolution finds a fixed stronghold, while the revolution strains everything to disorganise itself.

The loyal Pomeranians, Tyroleans and Vendéans march in compact masses, destroying one "free" group and commune after the other. And at the same time the supporters of the overthrown system rise themselves up and organise the reaction within the zone of the revolution.

What is to be done?

One organises hurriedly what one has destroyed, an army against the external foe, a police against the internal foe and a bureaucracy, to raise the means to maintain both of these, one spurs a committee of public safety, or whatever one may name the thing, thus a government, in short one does everything what a ruling class does in order to keep its sway – the state is again there.

If the first act of the revolution were to consist in destroying of the state, then the second act for the sake of self preservation, would have to consist in building the state again.

Let us assume a Freischar corps3 has everything that it needs to be victorious, just no artillery. Finally it succeeds, after great losses, in conquering a battery. What does one do? Instead of turning the cannons around and point them against the foe, one nails them up, so that they can no longer harm anyone!

This nailed up logic is anarchist logic.

The proletarian revolution will not become victorious first then when all other classes besides the proletariat have vanished and as a result of the concentrating-power of capitals the whole proletariat faces just one capitalist; rather this revolution will occur, once the proletariat is able to obtain the predominance over the other classes in virtue of its dedication, its enthusiasm, its organisation and discipline. The victory of the proletariat does not yet involve the extinction of all class antagonisms. The coming revolution will for the time being raise the proletariat not to the sole, but to the ruling class; the antagonism between rulers and ruled will remain, and therefore the proletariat also will require a government, which as instrument of the ruling class keeps the ruled ones with all available means under control.

This may sound very undemocratic, but necessity will force us to it.

The industrial proletariat as ruling class is however a contradiction, which itself strives to its dissolution. The victorious proletariat can only do two things: either it appropriates the capitals and makes the previously ruling classes into its servants: this is posited as the goal by the literate and illiterate of our movement, though already the small number of property-owners in comparison to the property-less demonstrates the absurdity of such claim. The impossibility of this by our opponents attributed goal does to be sure not need to be elaborated here. Is this impossible, then the victorious proletariat can use its power as ruling class only to remove the class divisions as fast as possible.

A revolutionary proletarian government can in its action towards the other classes have only goal: not to make them servants, but to disintegrate them. The classes, whose interests run diametrically counter to the proletariat, big capital and big landownership, are directly destroyed, i.e. their property will directly have to be made possession of the whole, which is also without the heads of the property-owners possible, since property has the pleasant characteristic of not being inseparably tied to the body of the owner. With small landownership and small capital one will deal, depending on how they put themselves to us, probably by a compromise initiate their absorption by the ruling class.

This will be the task of the revolutionary government which it if necessary will have to implement with violence. That this task cannot be solved with one bang, that the means for its implementation must change depending on the political, social and technical relations, is clear. Whatever form these relations may take, one thing is certain: The interests of the proletariat demand that is absorbs as fast as possible the other classes. The longer the proletariat is the ruling class, the less it will be a ruling class, until finally all class divisions are extinguished.

The more however class differences disappear, the more also the power of the government disappears: once class antagonisms no longer exist, also the government is extinguished and in its place steps an administration. The whole activity of the proletarian government must be directed at making itself dispensable.

Quite a few have admittedly fear for such a government, which towards the 'people' could abuse its power, as all other ones have hitherto done. It matters little if the 'authority' calls itself revolutionary Dictatorship or 'Church, Monarchy, constitutional State or bourgeois Republic' ... 'we detest and reject all of them equally as the unfailing sources of exploitation and despotism'.

This view can only establish root there, where the erroneous idea rules, that the state rests on the antagonism between 'people' and government, a government, which possesses entirely miraculous mystical powers, and a people, which is entirely incredibly gutless and stupid, to let itself be enslaved by this mysterious creature government.

We know however, that governments have their point of support in the ruling classes, serve as their instrument, due to which, incidentally, they are in no way so easily overthrown, as many believe; only there, where several ruling classes exist alongside each other, of which not one is strong enough to rule for itself, can the government by a clever seesaw-policy counter-pose a certain authority against any of them, as long as it does not ignore the common interests of them. A race or class in contrast, which just has won the command, which stands in its full youthful vigor, never lets arise such an authority, the government remains always its instrument.

The fear for authority is a sign of weakness, it shows itself only with classes, who feel that they are no longer capable for the command. Where the socialist movement has developed itself out of the labour movement, we do not find any trace of the fear for authority. To a laughable degree it makes itself in contrast felt there, where the socialist movement forms a continuation of bourgeois radicalism. The bourgeoisie has admittedly reason enough to fear authority.

German Social Democracy shows clearly, that the working class considers its 'leaders' as its instruments. Towards the other classes they can act with the entire vehemence, which the organised working class possesses; inside the party their authority holds only so long as they understand and express the will of it.

He who claims that it are the 'leaders' who place the German workers on 'false' roads – in too 'legal' or too 'illegal' ones – he speaks of things, which he does not understand, or is a scoundrel. To speak of a 'misleading' of the poor 'deluded' masses by cunning 'authorities', who live from 'workers' money', is a real bourgeois phrase, may it also be parroted by those yet so far on the left.

Even more idiotic than the fear for authority of a 'government' is the fear for an intellectual 'authority', for the rule of genius. That the genius exercises an influence, that extends beyond the influence of normal people, is undeniable, but it is a great misunderstanding, if nothing worse, to equate the influence of the genius with the influence of a church authority, to honour the genius with the title of pope. Man submits to church authority all the more, the more ignorant he is, whereas the genius exercises no influence in the least on the ignorance. The more we develop ourselves, the more our knowledge and our power of independent thinking rises, the more the influence of the church on us sinks, the more we learn to appreciate and admire the genius. We admire e.g. a Goethe all the more, the more we mature ourselves. But this appreciation is not a slave-like, but a voluntary, a joyous and self-conscious one. It does not rest on the submission under the genius, but on the recognition of it. Its influence grows with the progressing intelligence of peoples. The intellectual 'authority' is thus not pushed back by socialism, but promoted; it is not a sign of regress, but of progress; to begrudge or fight or throw it on one heap with the authority of the church or government, is merely an affair of ignorance and of those, who themselves gladly would want to be authorities, the unrecognised genius.

The working class has to fear intellectual authority just as little, as that of the government installed by itself.

The abolition of the government and the state are not the first act of the proletarian regime, but the last consequence of this. The dissolution of the different classes in a single working class is not the work of a decree, but of long, arduous labour; a labour, which repeatedly will run into heavy opposition, and which therefore has to be supported with the entire power that is proper to the state.

We have said in our first article4: The solution of the social question by the state means suicide of the state. We found further that state socialism is socialism by the ruling classes and for the ruling classes. Now we have found that without the power of the state the social question can not be solved: from these premises follows: 1. It is the task of the proletariat, not to destroy, but conquer the state. The next goal of the proletariat consists of becoming the ruling class. Everything else must be subordinated to this purpose. We have to strive first of all for political power, for economic improvements only insofar as they do not stand in the way of this goal. In most cases the material betterment of the worker requires also his independence. 2. The rule of the proletariat has as a result the implementation of socialism, that of socialism the dissolution of the state. What forms this commonwealth after this dissolution will take, shall be examined in a concluding article.

(signed as 'Symmachos')

'Die Abschaffung des Staates' appeared in Nr. 51 of Der Sozialdemokrat,15.XII.1881.

Posted By

Noa Rodman
May 13 2015 18:11


Attached files


Noa Rodman
May 13 2015 22:41

The first article can be found here:

May 24 2015 19:28

Any plans to post the third part?

Noa Rodman
May 24 2015 22:29

Yes, I presume it appeared in the following issue nr. 52, will order a scan when I find more stuff to order alongside it (from the archives of the International Institute of Social History:, so not immediately.

Noa Rodman
Jun 18 2015 17:33

The concluding article is now found here: