Thursday, January 11, 2007

Marxism, Anarchism and the State

Larry, I fully agree that whatever mass enterprises exist need to be worker-controlled. But I still think there's a role for a proletarian state in the transition, which is where we probably differ. "Victor Serge" of Monuments Are For Pigeons Blog

Yes, Victor, we differ on this issue, but the real question is why and to what extent? Don't worry, I am not about to feed you the usual anarchist dogmas about Marxists.

I would like to make it clear, however, that while social anarchists are opposed to the state in any form, we are not opposed to organization. For social anarchists there is a major difference between the state and the form of organization during and immediately after the revolution. Kropotkin says it well;

On the other hand the State has also been confused with Government. Since there can be no State without government, it has sometimes been said that what one must aim at is the absence of government and not the abolition of the State. However, it seems to me that State and government are two concepts of a different order. The State idea means something quite different from the idea of government. It not only includes the existence of a power situated above society, but also of a territorial concentration as well as the concentration in the hands of a few of many functions in the life of societies. The State: Its Historic Role, Peter Kropotkin

Nor do we think we can leap to full-blown libertarian socialism in one bound without an intervening period of transition. The archetypal models for this transition are found with the Paris Commune and the workers councils in Russia and Germany. You would agree, no doubt, but might well say, "Yes, but the Paris Commune and the workers councils are EXAMPLES of the worker's state."

So what you call a workers' state, we call a workers' non-state? Is this a case of "You say tomato, I say tomahto?"

I believe that the root cause of the distinction between anarchists and marxists over the state or non-state nature of the transition lies in Hegelian philosophy. The anarchist describes the real, empirical, existing state, whereas Hegel is searching for the ontological essence of the state. For Hegel,

A multiplicity of human beings can only call itself a state if it be united for the common defense... of its property... state authority is basic, necessary, minimal. HEGEL'S THEORY OF THE MODERN STATE, Schlomo Avirneri 40, 47

For Hegel the state is not a particular thing, a structure, but exists in the unity of the universal and the particular, the universal being those common agreements and defense that people engage in, and the particular being civil society.(1) Hegel saw the Athenian polis as the "eternal model", and an "unsurpassed paradigm for a contemporary revolution." (2)

The flaw in Hegel's thinking should be obvious. By his reasoning, any non-statist Aboriginal tribe defending its territory and possessing a council which engages in common agreements is a state. Not a single contemporary social scientist would agree.

The Paris Commune and the workers councils existed to defend the revolution. In their direct democratic and assemblyist aspects they were modern versions of the polis. For Hegel, these revolutionary organizations would have been examples of a state. Marx and Engels undoubtedly got their ontological view of the state from studying Hegelian philosophy. One could leave the discussion at this point, but the question of state or no state during the transition in Marxist theory is a good deal more complicated.

Marx and Engels did not chain themselves in perpetuity to the Hegelian ontological concept of the state. The living practice of the working class seems to have changed their minds and they rejected the notion of a workers' state in favor of a workers' commune, structurally based upon the direct democratic Paris Commune.

The whole talk about the state should be dropped, especially since the Commune, which was no longer a state in the proper sense of the word. The "peoples state" has been thrown in our faces by the anarchists too long, although Marx...directly declare[d] that with the introduction of the socialist order of society the state will dissolve of itself and disappear. As, therefore, the "state" is only a transitional institution which is used in the struggle, in the revolution to hold down adversaries by force, it is pure nonsense to talk of a "free peoples state"... We would therefore propose to replace the word "state" everywhere by the word Gemeinenwesen (community) , a good old German word which can very well represent the French commune. Engels, Selected Correpondance p.336

Such a pity their followers didn't take them up on this!

1. Joachim Ritter, "Hegel and the French Revolution", p. 25

2. Georg Lukacs, "The Young Hegel", p 4.


Blogger Werner said...

Comment must be getting a few nasties over here. (I've been lucky so far.) Anyway I like the way you throw Hegel/Marx back in the lap of this guy. Well done.

P.S. I may have posted this twice.

5:51 PM  
Blogger Mike said...


I am agreeing with you on this one. I look no further than to Hugo Chavez. His latest pronouncements - nationalization of industry, requesting the power to rule by decree - indicate he has been seduced by the absolute power the sate can have.

He's done some good things, and perhaps he's merely being misquoted, but I don't trust anyone who wishes to "rule by decree". the power he excercises because of the apparatus of the state have, it seems, turned him into a State Socialist...


7:14 PM  
Blogger Larry Gambone said...

Warner, a pedophile threatened to flame my blog, so that's the reason for the change.
Mike, I agree that it is worrysome, but it really depends what Chavez does. Here is a more balanced statement on his proposals, see;

3:44 PM  
Blogger Mike said...

Thanks for the link Larry

7:46 AM  
Blogger Victor Serge said...

Hi Larry,

Thanks for posting this, and I'm sorry it's taken me so long to respond! I agree the distinction between a state and government is a useful one: a government as the actual, concrete structures used in governing, in which case anarchists are for a government. Vs a state, as a more abstract 'type' used to cement class rule and manage subordinate classes.

I do think the question is concrete: how long does it take for a state to 'wither away'? We've never seen it happen: capitalism is a world-system and has protected its own. The Commune was a model, but its tragedy was to show, on a small scale, what would happen to Russia, Spain, Iran, Nicaragua and other countries later: the rallying of forces by an external capitalist power, if the internal capitalist forces proved too weak.

In my opinion, the USSR's deterioration was already seriously advanced by 1921. I say this not to split hairs, but to emphasize how small the window of opportunity really is, and why I agree that counter-organization, to defend the gains of workers revolution from within and without, is essential.

Chavez is a contradictory power. I admire his rhetoric, but any socialist/anarchist worth her salt knows politicians are only as strong as the organized class forces behind them.

Apparently Fifth Estate is now running articles arguing for votes for the Democratic Party. It saddens me that the proud, anti-statist anarchist tradition in the U.S. has been reduced to that. I think we're all suffering under the continued fragmentation of the left. Our task now is a united front: find a basis of unity on concrete demands to rebuild. I look forward to the day when we can debate the state substantively!

And neither of us mentioned Krondstadt once :-)

4:38 PM  

Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home

Blogging Change
BCBloggers Code: Progressive Bloggers Site Meter