When writing my last piece, I knew there was a good chance that I might have been misguided in my conclusion about Marx possibly being something other than a socialist. I knew there were libertarian Marxists out there but I thought they arrived at libertarianism through Marx’s works by making a stretch that would tax the elasticity of Mr. Fantastic. Libertarian socialism is stateless, and Marx advocated a workers’ state; you can’t just fuse the two. Still, I was inquisitive as to how the libertarian Marxists did it and I soon stumbled upon an eye-opening video by Youtuber ProSocialism entitled “A Marxist Video for Anarchists” and began to get a sense of how Marxism could be libertarian:
“Anarchists define the state as a hierarchical and centralized, undemocratic institution run by a minority who posseess monopoly on the legitimate use of violence. Marxism on the other hand defines the state as an organ of class rule that can take various different forms depending on the particular class that holds political power. A state in the Marxist view doesn’t have to be overwhelmingly democratic or undemocratic, centralized or decentralized, hierarchical or horizontal. The state is simply an instrument of repression used by one class to enact its will on another and since all states thus far have existed to preserve the rule of exploiting classes, the state thus far has always met the anarchist definition though it doesn’t have to meet this definition in the Marxist view…Going by the Marxist definition it’s impossible to abolish the state so long as class society remains intact because the state will inevitably arise to enforce the power of the dominant class. Anarchists might seek to abolish the state in accordance with their definition but nevertheless seek to create a workers’ state in accordance with the Marxist definition. Therefore, the debate surrounding this issue is–more or less–a product of confusion over semantics. Now, if as an anarchist watching this you agree that your aim is to establish a state in the Marxist sense although it doesn’t meet the anarchist definition, I’d implore you to simply become a Marxist. If you recognize now that in the Marxist view the existence of the state is inevitable so long as classes continue to exist, there’s nothing stopping you from simply becoming a Marxist and advocating the same level of decentralization as you already do–just realizing that what you advocate meets the Marxist definition of the state.”
This was pretty intriguing seeing as I assumed that the Marxist conception of the workers’ state was a political organization that had all the trappings of the anarchist definition of the state instead of a vision of society identical to anarchism’s, which Prosocialism outlines in various Youtube comments:
“Given that workers’ councils are directly democratic the new workers’ state would not be hierarchical and undemocratic like the old bourgeois state…Democracy and accountability are rightly central to anarchist theory, which drew me to it to begin with. But as time went I came to realise that anarchist arguments against Marxism are often at best confused and at worse straw men. So, I later became a Marxist, advocating the same level as democracy and accountability as I did when I was an anarchist. In fact, I came to realise that democracy and accountability are just as central to Marxist theory as they are to anarchism…The “worker state” is the “organized councils”. There aren’t two separate entities (a state as well as workers’ councils); the “organized councils” and the workers’ militia are the state (organs of class rule) …You’re creating a false dichotomy between ‘top’ and ‘bottom’ councils. Marxist workers’ councils do not govern from the ‘top’ down; they’re very much an all-encompassing state apparatus which flows from the bottom upwards.”
After digesting this, all that remained was to confirm if all of this is explicit in Marx’s writings and, sure enough, it is. As this excerpt from David Adam’s essay ‘Karl Marx and the State’ plainly demonstrates, there can be no mistake that Marx was opposed to the state in the anarchist definition and favors the anarchist principle of swiftly revocable delegates who have to adhere to a strict mandate from the people:
“The separation of the political state from civil society takes the form of a separation of the deputies from their electors. Society simply deputes elements of itself to become its political existence. There is a twofold contradiction: (1) A formal contradiction. The deputies of civil society are a society which is not connected to its electors by any ‘instruction’ or commission. They have a formal authorization but as soon as this becomes real they cease to be authorized. They should be deputies but they are not” [Marx] …Even from a formal point of view, the deputies recognized as deriving their mandate solely from the popular masses, become, once elected, independent of their electors, and are free to make political decisions on their behalf. This is distinct from Marx’s vision of a society that “administers its own universal interests.” As Marx put it, “The efforts of civil society to transform itself into a political society, or to make the political society into the real one, manifest themselves in the attempt to achieve as general a participation as possible in the legislature…The political state leads an existence divorced from civil society. For its part, civil society would cease to exist if everyone became a legislator.” There is an important point here: the separation of the state from civil society depends on limiting popular participation in government…“Only when real, individual man resumes the abstract citizen into himself and as an individual man has become a species-being in his empirical life, his individual work and his individual relationships, only when man has recognized and organized his forces propres [own forces] as social forces so that social force is no longer separated from him in the form of political force, only then will human emancipation be completed.”… Another example: when quoting Bakunin’s critique, Marx inserts a revealing parenthetical comment: “The dilemma in the theory of the Marxists is easily resolved. By people’s government they (i.e. Bakunin) understand the government of the people by a small number of representatives chosen (elected) by the people.” Here Marx is very clearly implying that he does not understand “people’s government” or workers’ government, as the government of the people by a small number of representatives elected by the people. This is a rather clear indication that Marx is still faithful to his 1843 critique of bourgeois democracy. Clearly, this conception of “proletarian” government is distinct from the bourgeois state, or from any previous form of state power. As Marx makes clear in the above statements, he is referring to a proletarian “government” only in the sense that the working class uses general means of coercion to enforce its aims. Proletarian government is not used by Marx to mean that some elite group (assumedly the intellectuals, as Bakunin argued) would use general means of coercion over the whole proletariat, for that would rule out working class “self-government.” …The method of political organization adopted by the Paris Commune is also described as “the reabsorption of the State power by society as its own living forces instead of as forces controlling and subduing it.” This “reabsorption” was accomplished when the Commune did away with “the state hierarchy altogether” and replaced “the haughteous masters of the people” by “always removable servants” acting “continuously under public supervision.” …The rural communes of every district were to administer their common affairs 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. The few but important functions which still would remain for a central government were not to be suppressed, as has been intentionally misstated, but were to be discharged by Communal, and therefore strictly responsible agents…As we have seen, Marx in fact foresaw a fundamental change occurring when the workers reabsorb their alienated political powers, and the state becomes servant instead of master of society…Building a new society is for Marx a process of self-emancipation. The wielding of political power is an important part of this: the workers must take charge, re-organize society, and exercise the social power previously denied them. This is why Lassalle’s socialism-from-above is totally inadequate.”
There’s no way anyone could deem Marx as anything but a libertarian socialist after reading that, so I am hereby revising my conclusion from the previous post. Perhaps one of the most unfortunate missed opportunities in history was that Marx did not make clearer his opposition to alienated political power. Although orthodox Marxists and anarchists do indeed agree on the shape of post-revolution society, I still wouldn’t take Prosocialism’s advice to convert to Marxism because there remain some things about Marxism for anarchists to disagree with (like capitalism being a necessary step to socialism, for example) but these differences are very minor (and more philosophical) compared to the false divide about the state that defines the separation between the two socialist sects. If this commonality—unintentionally concealed for so long—was ever brought to their attention, if it is communicated to the point where we all find ourselves no longer encased in a great state of confusion about the State but now on the same page, then Otto von Bismarck’s prediction that “Crowned heads, wealth and privilege may well tremble should ever again the Black and Red unite!” would surely come to pass.