In the process of questioning the socialist credentials of Lenin and the Bolsheviks, I implied that Karl Marx might have not been socialist either and I think there’s something to that. First, Marx believed in the unnecessary stage where the state is still retained following the revolution until it will simply wither away at some very, very distant date:
“Between capitalist and communist society there lies the period of revolutionary transformation of the one into the other. Corresponding to this is also a political transition period in which the state can be nothing but the revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat…What we have to deal with here is a communist society, not as it has developed on its own foundations, but, on the contrary, just as it emerges from capitalist society; which is thus in every respect, economically, morally, and intellectually, still stamped with the birthmarks of the old society from whose womb it emerges.”
So why does there need to be a state? Marx doesn’t truly explain this. Sure, he writes in ‘Conspectus of Bakunin’s Statism and Anarchy’ that “so long as the other classes, especially the capitalist class, still exists, so long as the proletariat struggles with it (for when it attains government power its enemies and the old organization of society have not yet vanished), it must employ forcible means, hence governmental means. It is itself still a class and the economic conditions from which the class struggle and the existence of classes derive have still not disappeared and must forcibly be either removed out of the way or transformed, this transformation process being forcibly hastened”; but this isn’t very convincing since he never addressed libertarian socialist critics who argued that this type of organization could be accomplished without using a state. Vladimir Lenin goes a bit more in-depth and provides a dubious rationale for the state that Marx might have agreed with—namely, the people aren’t ready to govern themselves:
“Socialism means the abolition of classes. The dictatorship of the proletariat has done all it could to abolish classes. But classes cannot be abolished at one stroke. And classes still remain and will remain in the era of the dictatorship of the proletariat. The dictatorship will become unnecessary when classes disappear. Without the dictatorship of the proletariat they will not disappear…by overthrowing the bourgeoisie the proletariat takes the most decisive step towards the abolition of classes, and that in order to complete the process the proletariat must continue its class struggle, making use of the apparatus of state power and employing various methods of combating, influencing and bringing pressure to bear on the overthrown bourgeoisie and the vacillating petty bourgeoisie.”
Leon Trotsky tersely concurs, writing “the necessity for state power arises from an insufficient cultural level of the masses and their heterogeneity.” Yet these same masses were admitted by Trotsky to be “incomparably more revolutionary” than the vanguard party, which was allegedly of a lofty cultural level that justified their minority rule. Upholding the state because the people aren’t revolutionary enough to run society doesn’t wash so is there another reason for retaining the state?
Friedrich Engels favored the state nationalizing the means of production, writing “State ownership of the productive forces is not the solution to the conflict, but concealed within it are the technical conditions that form the elements of that solution” and this economic system “shows itself the way to accomplishing this [socialist] revolution” But this is bunk because authoritarian socialists have never been able to find those tools within state capitalism because the Bolsheviks were never able to discover the means of controlling this peculiar capitalism (it’s an impossible task and I bet all the authoritarian socialists knew this and were in on a grand deception) as Lenin confessed:
“Our society is one which has left the rails of capitalism, but has not yet got on to new rails…State capitalism is capitalism which we shall be able to restrain, and the limits of which we shall be able to fix…State capitalism is capitalism that we must confine within certain bounds; but we have not yet learned to confine it within those bounds. That is the whole point. And it rests with us to determine what this state capitalism is to be. We have sufficient, quite sufficient political power; we also have sufficient economic resources at our command, but the vanguard of the working class which has been brought to the forefront to directly supervise, to determine the boundaries, to demarcate, to subordinate and not be subordinated itself, lacks sufficient ability for it. All that is needed here is ability, and that is what we do not have.”
I doubt the Bolsheviks really tried to curb capitalism, but they couldn’t even if they wanted to. At any rate, Engels was being mendacious by asserting that state capitalism will blaze the trail to socialism because it’s impossible to conjure up the alchemy that will build socialism from capitalism. So, if statist ‘scientific socialists’ aren’t socialists what is their ideology? Well, we get a different view from footnote 21 of the Wikipedia entry for state capitalism–“[Alvin W.] Gouldner argues that Bakunin formulated an original critique of Marxism as “the ideology, not of the working class, but of a new class of scientific intelligentsia—who would corrupt socialism, make themselves a new elite, and impose their rule on the majority”–and from the entry proper there’s “Jan Waclav Machajski’s argument in The Intellectual Worker (1905) that socialism was a movement of the intelligentsia as a class, resulting in a new type of society he termed state capitalism.”
Marx could have set out to create an ideology designed for the intelligentsia that he called socialism but wasn’t. Was his ‘scientific socialism’ created to be different from the older conception of socialism (which he derided and dismissed as utopian) so as to co-opt it? A great reason to think it was co-option is because Marx suspiciously avoided the issue of the state as an actor that can be independent of economic power and did not spend much ink on describing how the transition from the statist dictatorship of the proletariat to socialism would come about (would another revolution be needed, etc). Further, it’s pretty sketchy when you have Engels acknowledging that the state is indeed an independent entity and nevertheless advocated for the state to get even more powerful for the supposed sake of socialism:
“the key thing is that Engels recognised that the state was “endowed with relative independence.” Rather than being a simple expression of economic classes and their interests, this “new independent power, while having in the main to follow the movement of production, reacts in its turn, by virtue of its inherent relative independence–that is, the relative independence once transferred to it and gradually further developed–upon the conditions and course of production. It is the interaction of two unequal forces: on the one hand, the economic movement, on the other, the new political power, which strives for as much independence as possible, and which, having once been established, is endowed with a movement of its own.” There were three types of “reaction of the state power upon economic development.” The state can act “in the same direction” and then it is “more rapid” or it can “oppose” it and “can do great damage to the economic development.” Finally, it can “prevent the economic development proceeding along certain lines, and prescribe other lines.” Finally, he stated “why do we fight for the political dictatorship of the proletariat if political power is economically impotent? Force (that is, state power) is also an economic power!” Conversely, anarchists reply, why fight for “the political dictatorship of the proletariat” when you yourself admit that the state can become “independent” of the classes you claim it represents? Particularly when you increase its potential for becoming independent by centralising it even more and giving it economic powers to complement its political ones!” [AFAQ H3.9]
Even more evidence that Marx and Engels weren’t socialists, but state capitalists is that Engels thought the development of the nation state was a progressive thing (despite him writing elsewhere that the state was “at best an evil”): “There is no country in Europe which does not have in some corner or other one or several ruined fragments of peoples (Völkerruinen), the remnant of a former population that was suppressed and held in bondage by the nation which later became the main vehicle of historical development. These relics of a nation mercilessly trampled under foot in the course of history, as Hegel says, these residual fragments of peoples (Völkerabfälle) always become fanatical standard-bearers of counter-revolution and remain so until their complete extirpation or loss of their national character, just as their whole existence in general is itself a protest against a great historical revolution.” In all, I think they were enamored of the state and wanted to get rid of capitalism so that the state could be the dominant force in society once more. They probably felt like Lenin* did that their ‘socialism’ will unleash the state’s fullest potential; that socialism is the state reaching its true form.
*“And this can be done by utilizing the achievements already made by large-scale capitalism (in the same way as the proletarian revolution can, in general, reach its goal only by utilizing these achievements) …The big banks are the ‘state apparatus’ which we need to bring about socialism, and which we take ready-made from capitalism; our task here is merely to lop off what capitalistically mutilates this excellent apparatus, to make it even bigger, even more democratic, even more comprehensive. We can “lay hold of” and “set in motion” this “state apparatus” (which is not fully a state apparatus under capitalism, but which will be so with us under socialism) at one stroke.”