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On the Fate of the State: Bakunin Versus Marx - Paul McLaughlin (2001)

On the Fate of the State: Bakunin Versus Marx - Paul McLaughlin (2001)

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Published by: Bibliotecário da Silva on Apr 24, 2012
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On the Fate of the State: Bakunin versus Marx
Paul McLaughlin (2001)
The most well known differences between Karl Marx and Mikhail Bakunin concern their attitudes toward the State: its genesis, its ‘nature’, its relation to the economic side of affairs, and itsfate under revolutionary conditions. All of these issues are of interest and importance. In this brief  paper, however, we will focus on just one of them:
the fate of the State
.We should note initially that while these issues of State are often taken to constitute the soledifference between Marx and Bakunin (or between Marxism and anarchism), there are in fact morefundamental, philosophical distinctions between Marx and Bakunin that come into play at the level of discussion of the State. We cannot hope to discuss them adequately here[1], but we must at leastmention the two central distinctions. In the first place, there is a
logical distinction
 Bakuninsnegative dialectic
(in which sublation and mediation are excluded, so that each dialectical product is afulfillment of the antithetical or ‘revolutionary’) and
 Marxs affirmative dialectic
(in which theseaspects are retained, so that each dialectical product preserves something of what was confronted bythe negative, that is the ‘thesis’ or, in Bakunin’s terms, the ‘reactionary’); on this basis, Marx is, fromthe standpoint of ‘revolutionary logic’, what Bakunin terms a ‘compromiser’.[2] In the second place, there is an
ontological distinction
 Bakunin’s naturalism
(his prioritization of nature, of whichmankind is merely a part) and
 Marxs anthropocentrism
(his prioritization of man as, essentially, a productive mediator of nature); Bakunin, accordingly, rejects Marx’s anthropocentric economism asnon-naturalistic and metaphysical. 
1. The ‘Transitional’ and ‘Non-Political’ States
Now let us take up the title issue. Perhaps the notions that define Marx’s position here best arethose of 
the ‘non-political’ post-revolutionary State
the ‘transitional’ dictatorship
that will usher inthis utopia. (Thus, for Marx there are three forms of State: the present ‘political’ State; the ‘transitional’State; and the ‘non-political’ State.) These ideas have been explored previously by Richard Adamiak in‘The “Withering Away” of the State: A Reconsideration’.[3]Adamiak’s main conclusion in this articleis ‘although Marx and Engels anticipated the [eventual] demise of “politics” and “political power”, thefuture communist society they envisioned was [for all the talk of ‘abolition’ or ‘withering away’ of theState] by no means anarchistic; the State was to be its one indispensable institution’.[4]Bakunin, whodrew this conclusion originally, says of Marx and Engels, therefore, that ‘They have not learned how todismantle the religion of the State’.[5]Adamiak, accordingly, classifies Marxism as ‘a statist ideology’which is, as such, antithetical to anarchism.[6]Marx’s revolutionary vision, unlike that of Bakunin, certainly maintains a role for the State insome form we can say, in sublated form. This
 Marxian sublation of the State
(a) the abstract (post-transitional) negation of the (as Hegel describes it) ‘strictly political’ State
[7] (on the dubious basis of which Marxism identifies itself as
(b) the eternal preservation of the arbitrarily designated ‘non-political’ State
(on the basis of which Adamiak rightly denies Marxism’s anarchism). 
2. Marx’s ‘Anarchism’: The Negative Moment
Marxian thought represents, therefore,
(a) a revolutionary compromise, the compromising of thenegative moment 
- in fact
the compromising of anarchism
in the form of a ‘Marxian “Anarchism”’, bythe willful misrepresentation of Marxian socialism as the true anarchism. The key passage from Marx
on this topic is the following (from 1872): ‘What all socialists understand by anarchism is this: as soonas the goal of the proletarian movement, the abolition of classes, is attained, the power of the State...will disappear and
[or political] functions will be transformed intosimple
functions’.[8] Engels reiterates (in the same year): ‘All Socialists are agreed that the
State, and with it political authority, will disappear as a result of the coming socialrevolution, that is, that public functions will lose their political character and be transformed intosimple
functions of watching over the true interests of society’ (as determined by thesociological genius).[9]Which means that ‘Marxian “Anarchism”’ consists in the transformation of theclass-antagonistic political State, characterized by its ‘governmental functions’, into the classless non- political State, characterized by its ‘simple administrative functions’.Bakunin restates Marx’s argument as follows: ‘the State, having lost its political, that is, ruling,character, will transform itself into a totally free organization of economic interests and communities’.But even this ‘totally free’ administration remains a State, albeit a supposedly ‘non-political’ one. Inany event, it is a State which can never properly be brought into existence given that the
required transitional post-revolutionary ‘dictatorship
[that is, the post-revolutionary State] can have [no] other objective than to perpetuate itself’ as a political State, thereby ‘having the direct and inevitable result of consolidating the political and economic privileges of the [new] governing minority and the politicaland economic slavery of the masses’: the result of class division and State coercion.[10]On this transitional post-revolutionary dictatorship, Marx writes: ‘Between capitalist andcommunist society [and between the current ‘political’ State and the future ‘non-political’ State] liesthe period of the revolutionary transformation of one into the other. There corresponds to this also a political transition period in which the State can be nothing but
the revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat 
.[11]Marx and Engels write, similarly, but much earlier, ‘the first step in the revolution is to raise the proletariat to the position of ruling class’, to bring about ‘the supremacy of the proletariat’.[12] For Bakunin, this is the first and last step of Marxian revolution; thus the ‘transitional period’, the period in which the new ruling class gives up its power and dissolves the ‘political’ State (or, in fact,doesn’t), is decidedly post-revolutionary (or post-partial-revolution), that is, reactionary. It is anabundantly positive and not a negative stage in social development, preserving the essentialcharacteristic of the former order: not simple economic exploitation, but the socio-economic‘supremacy’ of simultaneously dominative and exploitative forces.The point of Bakunin’s critique is that:
(i) Marx’s State can never achieve ‘non-political’ status- since the transition required is an impossibility
; and
(ii) even if (hypothetically) such a transitioncould occur, the State’s ‘non-political’ status would be a myth, since every state - including the post-transitional merely ‘administrative’ one - is a class-ridden and therefore necessarily political / coerciveentity.
3. Marx’s Statism: The Affirmative Moment
The Marxian sublation of the State represents, aside from this compromising of the negative,then,
(b) a mystification of the preserved positive as (at least potentially) an ‘ungoverned’ State for all (in a classless society) - a universal State - and therefore a non-political or non-coercive State
: acontradiction in terms for Bakunin for whom the State is political by definition, for whom ‘the Statemeans
, domination by means of coercion, camouflaged if possible but unceremonious andovert if need be’.[13]Bakunin denies that there is anything ‘non-political’ – or any possibility for  benign administration - within the State, and believes that a mystification of the State – 
in its ideal  form
- by Hegel (as ‘the actuality of concrete freedom’[14]) and Marx (as an egalitarian‘administration’) gives rise to their assertion of its ‘non-political’ side.[15]Bakunin, then, maintains a principle of necessary class division (and
state. Such partiality is not merely ‘internal’; it relates not only to class division within theState - which generates class conflict necessitating internal forms of coercion (legal or extra-legal
 police coercion - coercion by the forces of law and order - and, in extreme cases, coercion by thestrongest State power, the military itself). States are also ‘externally partial’, partial in relation to other states. Bakunin explains: ‘whoever says State necessarily implies a particular and limited state... Statemeans
state, and...
state confirms the existence of 
states, and...
states means rivalry, jealousy, and incessant, endless war. The simplest logic and the whole of history bear this out’.[16] ‘External partiality’ relates, therefore, to divisions among states - which generates conflict amongstates necessitating military coercion. States simply cannot coexist harmoniously on an ongoing basis;it is contrary to their expansive and dominative, that is, imperialistic, nature. Or, in Bakunin's ownwords, ‘All of history bears witness, and logic itself confirms, that two states of equal strength cannotexist side by side. That is contrary to their nature, which invariably and necessarily consists of andmanifests itself in supremacy [a principle at once political and economic] - and supremacy cannottolerate equivalence. One force must inevitably be shattered and subordinated to the other’. Hence themilitarization of the relatively strong, for the purposes of further expansion (including that of their owneconomy) and subordination, and of the relatively weak, for the purposes of immediate self-defenseand long-term supremacy. Bakunin astutely draws the parallel between this political imperialism - thediminution of freedom - and commonplace economic imperialism - the diminution of equality; for Bakunin, in fact, they are actually inseparable, constituting together the essence of the ‘statist principle’(thus the following ‘analogy’ is far from accidental): ‘The modern State is analogous to capitalist production and bank speculation (which ultimately swallows up even capitalist production). For fear of  bankruptcy, the latter must constantly broaden their scope at the expense of the small-scale productionand speculation, which they swallow up; they must strive to become unique, universal, worldwide. In just the same way the modern State, of necessity a military State, bears within itself the inevitableambition to become a worldwide State... Hegemony is only a modest, possible display of thisunrealizable ambition inherent in every state. But the primary condition of hegemony is the relativeimpotence and subordination of at least all surrounding states’. The inevitable conflict between statesnotwithstanding, there is the possibility of cooperation between them when their very existence isthreatened (when the principle of State is challenged), as there was between their victims in the FirstInternational (when the principle of social revolution was embraced): ‘By nature mutually antagonisticand utterly irreconcilable, states can find no other grounds for joint action than the concertedenslavement of the masses who constitute the overall basis and purpose of their existence’. Hence‘measures against the International became a favorite topic of intergovernmental discussions’. It is inthis sense that Bakunin's statement ‘The State on one side, social revolution on the other’ is intended asa factual, and not simply a logical, assertion.[17]The State-‘administeredsociety, then, is never universal for Bakunin; neither can it beclassless.[18] (From a naturalistic standpoint, once again, Bakunin abhors Marxian economism (as anthropocentric), and can therefore draw non-economic elements, such as fundamental relations of domination, into his analysis of 
 social class
, while still emphasizing the economic component, whichis, in any case, inseparable from it. Therefore, he rejects the notion that mere economic equalization isin it self a corrective to a lack of liberty – any more than mere political liberalization is a corrective to alack of equality.[19]Neither component, on his account, can be realized in isolation from the other:this is the basis of his
integral vision of justice
.[20]) There are at least two social classes under thehypothetical economically-classless State: the administering and the administered; those who directaffairs (ultimately by coercive means), if only in the name of learnedness, and those who are directed(by such means), in this case, on the grounds of ignorance.Adamiak concurs, noting that ‘Marx and Engels appear to have remained naively oblivious to the factthat the specter of bureaucracy was haunting the specter of communism which, they boldly claimed,was haunting Europe’. He adds that Bakunin ‘perspicaciously predicted that the implementation of theMarxian blueprint for the future society would result in a new scientific-political class, in short, that the“classlesssociety of Marxian eschatology was a never-to-be-realized myth’.[21]Thus Bakuninannounces that the essentially ‘political’ Marxist ‘State [which is, as such, in a permanent condition of ‘transition’ or, in other words, permanently despotic] will be nothing but the highly despotic

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