The Real Movement

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Socialism: Lassallean and Leninist

One of the difficulties of the so-called struggle for socialism is the proliferation of definitions of socialism. These differences fall into two broad categories.

In the first group, we have those socialists who trace their intellectual lineage to Lassalle, including the modern social democracy movement, like the Democratic Socialists in the United States (DSA). The folks in this group typically identify socialism with the existing state, the capitalist state, the dictatorship of capital.

In the second group, we have the socialists who trace their intellectual lineage to Marx. This includes a bewildering array of groups from so-called orthodox Leninist parties like the Communist Party in the United States historically (although not at present) and an even more bewildering array of splinter groups. Folks in this group typically identify socialism with the overthrow of the existing state, and its replacement by a self-governing commune.

(NOTE: I didn’t include anarchists and similar tendencies in the discussion at this point, because they don’t envision any sort of state. Anarchists envision the direct establishment of a stateless, classless society that I here will refer to as full communism. I will address the anarchist view later)

Thus between the first and the second group of socialists we have a difference over whether socialism is possible under the existing state. Lassalleans, like the DSA, assume the existing state is a neutral body that can serve to implement a fully socialist program. Marxists, like most communist parties and their splinter offshoots, assume the state is a dictatorship of capital and must be overthrown prior to the establishment of a fully socialist program.

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Is the struggle for socialism regressive?

Here is a question I recently posed to followers of my Twitter account:

“If full communism is now possible has the struggle for socialism now actually become regressive?”

This is me trying to understand the implications of the idea full communism in one leap is now possible. If full communism is possible right now, what does this imply about the so-called struggle for socialism.

The question probably is startling to my readers. So let me address the implications of saying communism is possible right now.

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When Money Has A Price: A critique of Fred Moseley on fascist state fiat

I have been asked by a commenter, Noa, to examine this paper by Fred Moseley: Money has no price: Marx’s theory of money and the transformation problem. At issue is the mechanism for the transformation of labor values into prices of production for capitalistically produced commodities. Says the commenter,

“The issue is the existence or not of a price of production of gold. Moseley rejects that gold has a production price, unlike all the other commodities, which in capitalism exchange at their production price. The organic composition of capital in the gold industry is below the social average (at least for Marx and this seems still generally accepted), so normally part of its surplus-value would be distributed to branches with a higher OCC, that it would be taking part in the formation/equalisation of the average profit rate. But not if gold has no production price, as Moseley believes.”

As some might know, the transformation problem is one of the most intractable problems of Marx’s labor theory. Many Marxists have tackled it — and failed, in my opinion.

The central problem is how prices of gold in particular (but also all other commodities as well) are constituted under the capitalist mode of production, where commodity production prevails, but  the prices of produced commodities are not a direct function of their socially necessary labor times.

Although the subject matter may seem a bit dry, it touches on one of the most important problems of communism today: how the fascist state props up wage slavery and the role of inflation in subsidizing the rate of profit.

Moseley got Marx’s theory wrong and his errors are killing communism. Clarity on why Moseley got it wrong is important for all communists who want to see the end of wage slavery in their lifetime.

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Labor hours reduction and the abolition of capitalism: An outline for an essay

NOTE: This outline has been developed based on Marx’s argument in Capital, volume one and volume three. In particular, I borrow the salient points of Marx’s theory from chapters seven and fifteen in volume one and chapter fifteen in volume three.

Any errors are the result of my misreading, not the author.


INTRO: The production of surplus value, i.e. profit as a direct function of hours of labor:

“the past labour that is embodied in the labour-power, and the living labour that it can call into action; the daily cost of maintaining it, and its daily expenditure in work, are two totally different things.” -Capital, Volume 1, chapter seven

“The fact that half a day’s labour is necessary to keep the labourer alive during 24 hours, does not in any way prevent him from working a whole day.” (Ibid)

“The labourer therefore finds in the workshop the means of production necessary for working, not only during six, but during twelve hours.” (Ibid)

“If we now compare the two processes of producing value and of creating surplus-value, we see that the latter is nothing but the continuation of the former beyond a definite point.” (Ibid)


1. Thus, in Marx’s labor theory of value, the production of surplus value, i.e., profit is nothing more than labor of a duration that is longer than that required for the subsistence of the worker. In first place, a reduction of hours of labor acts on this duration, by reducing it and by reducing the duration of labor that is in excess of that required for the subsistence of the worker. A reduction of hours of labor that does not go so far as to impinge on the duration of labor required to produce the subsistence of the worker, must reduce the absolute quantity of surplus value, i.e., profit, produced by the worker for the capitalist.


2. What impact might this have on a system of production of material wealth founded on the production of surplus value, i.e., profit? As we have seen, the reduction of hours of labor in first place reduces the absolute quantity of surplus labor time and thus reduces the absolute quantity of surplus value. In a system founded on production for profit (capital), profit is the goad of all investment. With his profits suffering the impact of of a sudden fall in the absolute mass of surplus labor time, in theory at least, the capitalist can respond by extending hours of labor and by increasing the intensity of the labor he has employed.


3. Since an extension of the individual hours of labor of his workers is not possible (hours having been fixed by law or by direct action on the part of the workers), what other recourse does the capitalist have for extending aggregate hours of labor? If he wishes to recover his profits, the capitalist can extend hours of labor, not by extending individual hours of labor, but by employing more workers. Two hundred workers, each working four hours, can create as much value as one hundred workers each working eight hours. If hours of labor are cut in half, the capitalist can offset this reduction by doubling the aggregate number of workers he employs.


4. The first and most immediate effect of a fall in profit subsequent to a reduction of hours of labor is an increase in the employment of labor power; this being the simplest methods of recovering the lost profits for the capitalist. From where do these additional workers come? In first place, they come from the domestic industrial reserve army of workers; those workers who are by and large utterly cut off from all productive employment in normal times. This includes, in the United States, for instance, a huge mass of black and brown workers, who, owing to rampant anti-blackness, have been permanently imprisoned in the labor reserve (often literally by mass incarceration in prisons). It also includes, a rather sizable number of migrant workers who travel to the US in search of employment. And, finally, it includes a very large number of workers who are now employed, but in jobs that produce no value, such as defense industry workers, and household labor of the very wealthy. These superfluous workers too form a part of the reserve army, but their labor is seldom tapped for productive purposes even in normal times; they are a hidden reserve of capital, whose cost is expressed in rising prices rather than increased unemployment..


5. A reduction of hours of labor that goes so far as to reduce profits to zero has an effect of forcing capital to tap all available sources of additional labor power for the production of surplus value, i.e., profit. It may be asked how a fall in profits results in increased employment of labor power? Surely the capitalist has fewer profits with which to hire labor power. To ask this question is to ask how, at the very nadir of a depression, when profits are at their lowest, capital finds means to increase investment. A surplus population of workers is accompanied by a mass of excess capital, which, like these workers, is unable to find productive employment for purposes of self-expansion of the invested capital. According to Marx:

“This plethora of capital arises from the same causes as those which call forth relative over-population, and is, therefore, a phenomenon supplementing the latter, although they stand at opposite poles — unemployed capital at one pole, and unemployed worker population at the other.” Capital, volume 3, chapter 15

The same forces than condemn a huge mass or the worker population to the industrial reserve army, produces a huge mass of excess capital that cannot find productive investment. A reduction of hours of labor operates so as to require the mobilization of this excess capital for capital’s self-expansion.


6. A second question might now be asked: Even if a reduction of hours of labor has the effect of increasing employment, isn’t it true that with increased employment of labor power, labor costs (wages) also rise? Two hundred workers working four hours may indeed produce as much value as one hundred workers working eight hours, but the wages of two hundred workers is twice that of one hundred workers. If, before, half the day was spent producing the wages of one hundred workers, now the entire day is spent producing the wages of two hundred workers. What have I missed? The absolute mass of surplus value is still zero.


7. Marx’s answer is that more value can be created in less time with the two hundred than could be created by the one hundred previously. While the duration of labor is the same in both cases, 800 hours, with 200 workers the density of the labor time is increased. Based on England’s experience in the 19th century, Marx discovered that fewer hours of work allowed the workers to work with greater intensity. This enabled them to produced the same amount of value in less time, or, conversely, more value in the same period of time. Although one would assume that value is fixed in relation to its duration, Marx discovered that a labor period of shorter duration created the same or more value than the labor of a longer duration. -Capital, Volume 1, chapter fifteen


8. The effect occurs because the worker is no longer being worked to the point of exhaustion and can maintain greater attention to task for shorter periods. Although we assume the workers works with the same intensity over the entire workday, this is obviously not true. Labor after lunch, for instance, may have entirely different productiveness than labor when the worker is fully rested first thing in the morning. In the course of the labor day the workers capacities are progressively used up, degraded, by the act of labor itself. A shorter period of labor exerts less degradation than a longer period of labor, allowing the worker to be more productive. The conclusion seems to be that two hundred workers, each working four hours, will be more productive than one hundred workers, each working eight hours.


9. Modern industrial studies seem to confirm Marx’s observations. See, for instance, studies drawn on labor hours experiments in Sweden.


10. But we haven’t exhausted the impact of labor hours reduction on the mode of production. Increased employment of labor power, the employment of the industrial reserve, migrants and superfluously employed workers, is the most readily available means for offsetting a reduction of hours of labor, but it has material requirements itself. These additional workers cannot be employed unless the means upon which they will labor has also increased. This means additional raw materials, additional machines, additional technology and science, less waste in production and greater efficiency. In a phrase, a reduction of hours of labor calls upon the entire mode of production to increase its productivity by intensifying the employment of improved methods of production.


11. A reduction of hours of labor, therefore, has the effect of accelerating capital’s own revolutionizing of methods of production. The aim of this revolution is to further reduce the necessary portion of the labor day in order to increase the unpaid portion. Reducing hours of labor not only has the effect of reducing that portion of workers who are locked out of productive employment and decreasing the mass of excess capital sloshing around the economy, (which is the primary source of speculation), it also accelerates capitalism headlong into its inevitable demise. The most important result of reducing hours of labor is the effect this reduction has on capitalistic automation.


12. This impact should be prized by communists; it is the very one we seek because it is the creation of the material foundation for communism. We don’t, in first place, fight to reduce hours of labor in order to reduce unemployment — in fact we want to abolish all employment — but because a reduction of hours of labor, in and of itself, makes possible a world without labor.

PRO-TIP: Communists don’t care about how communist production will be organized

One of my mutual follows on twitter tweeted this today:

“asking questions like ‘how will communism actually work’ will be classed as unnecessarily pedantic within 6 months”

Let us all hope this prediction comes true.

I say this because the question itself is incoherent. Its persistence can be explained by the fact that too many radicals do not realize capitalism has already answered this question.

To understand my point, consider that no radical ever asks, “How does Walmart or Amazon actually work.” It’s obvious that these huge capitalistic firms manage huge supply chains. They bring the most diverse products together with customers without any of the fuss or bother that is said to be an obstacle in a planned economy.

The only objection to this cold fact is to assert that Walmart and Amazon do this rather amazing feat without planning their activities. We know in fact that this is not true. Production and distribution of commodities is not an art, but a hard science. These massive capitals know, almost down to a single screw, where every commodity is in their logistic chains and can tell you when and where it will finally arrive on a store shelf or your doorstep.

Place an order with Amazon and you can follow your purchase from reception to delivery on your smartphone. Communism doesn’t invent this modern marvel and to ask how communism works in this regards is indeed to concern oneself with trivialities.

There is a deeper question here, however.

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Does fascism lead to communism too?

I got this question from one of my follows:

“How do you see fascism as an alternative path to communism?”

I have asserted on more than one occasion that fascism, or what Marxists since Luxemburg have called barbarism ends in communism just like socialism. This is admittedly a heresy from the point of view of most Marxists.

However, the basis for this statement is taken directly from Marx, who wrote this in Capital, volume 3, chapter 15:

“Development of the productive forces of social labour is the historical task and justification of capital. This is just the way in which it unconsciously creates the material requirements of a higher mode of production.”

To compare capitalist accumulation to socialism, we have to ask ourselves a question: What is the purpose of socialism? The purpose of socialism is to consciously create the material requirements of a higher mode of production. In other words, what socialism does consciously, capital is already doing unconsciously; there is no distinction to be made between the two modes of production on this score.

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Land, Wilderson and the nine billion names of God

I thought about a post bringing together Land’s nihilism with Wilderson’s Afropessimism but that’s like writing the 9 billion names of God. The nine billion names of God is, of course, the name of a 1950s short story written by British writer Arthur C. Clarke.

Clarke tell the story of a group of Tibetan monks who have taken on the onerous task of recording all the names of God in the belief that this would fulfill the purpose of the universe. Once the names of God have been duly recorded, and its purpose fulfilled, God would bring the universe to an apocalyptic end. Toward this end they engage a group of computer programmers to automate the process of revealing God’s many names so as to bring the task to its rapid completion.

Although ridiculing the monks for their superstition, the programmers set about the task of automating the process of revealing God’s names. However, fearing the monks would stiff them once the program has run and the nine billion names of God revealed without any effect, The programmers time the completed run so that it ends after they are safely away with their final pay. When the run is completed and as the programmers are about to board their plane home, they look up and see the stars winking out one by one.

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MEMO TO ANTIFA: Fuck Chomsky, the fascists are already in power

How many people disputed my claim that Chomsky is a pig? Show of hands.

An article posted to Libcom, 6 reasons why Chomsky is wrong about antifa, is important not just because it confronts that pig, but also because it is the first real defense against the charge that antifa is a misdirection of the energies of the radical Left:

Noam Chomsky recently made some comments about antifa, and militant anti-fascism in general, which were as ill-timed as they were ill-informed. Here’s what we think he’s got wrong about the subject.

In the aftermath of Charlottesville, the spotlight has been turned on the reality of fascist violence in America. The murder of Heather Heyer is only the most recent in a year which has seen numerous other killings (such as the two on the Portland MAX in May and Timothy Caughman in New York City), with the 2015 killing of nine worshippers at Denmark Vesey’s church in Charleston by Dylann Roof showing a continuity of far-right violence long before the election of Donald Trump.

Despite all this, many liberal talking heads have also decided that now is the time to condemn those opposing the fascists. Perhaps the most upsetting, has been the intervention of Noam Chomsky, given how important a figure he was to our politics when we were growing up. But what did Chomsky get wrong?

(NOTE: I would call the antifa movement communists, i.e., anarchists and Marxists, but some say the movement is more inclusive than this, so I will settle for the less precise term, radical. In any case, my comments here will be solely directed to communists in antifa.)

The Libcom article focuses on six points that pig Chomsky made against antifa and offers a defense of sorts.Since everyone will probably wants to add their voices to the chorus, allow me to speak up as well.

In the first place, Fuck Chomsky!

I don’t even know why you pay attention to that asshole. His idea of radical is voting democrat. Even giving him a platform is to play to the section of radicals who continue to hold him in some esteem despite his awful history. You want to deny fascists a platform but you give a platform to people who advocate voting for fascists? What sense does this make?

The real burn for antifa is that Chomsky hurt your feelings. He called you insignificant, provocative, illiberal, unrealistic and unconstructive. Your feeling are hurt and now you want to strike out at your critics, but is this article really the best you can do? There is no acknowledgement in this article of observations which might be valid no matter the source.

Antifa is certainly the inheritors of any number of similar movements in history which all share in common one salient characteristic. They failed and left behind nothing in their wake. The antifa movement, even if it can be justified on political grounds, has to take into account these previous failures.

You don’t have to have an answer to the failures of movements that came before you, but you do have to be working on a solution. That solution cannot be limited to street fighting and similar sorts of actions.

To Chomsky’s charge that you are provocative this is nothing new. Communists have always been provocative and will likely continue to be provocative until wage slavery is abolished. The fascists feed off spinning resistance to oppression and exploitation as the cause of social conflict and they are very adept at it. Even someone as obviously non-violent as King was accused of being a troublemaker by his peers in the clergy — both black and white.

You will always be called troublemakers because any alteration of existing relations is trouble for our exploiters. Chomsky can get in line and take a number. The problem here is not that you are troublemakers, but that you aren’t very good at it.

You folks know just like the rest of us that the fascists already completely control the state power in this country. Fascism is not a threat sitting on the margin of mainstream politics to be employed by Washington as it sees fit. That is Chomsky’s view of things.

The US is today a fascist dictatorship which employs organized fascist street thugs when necessary. Fascism is not limited to one party, the GOP, or one politician, Trump, but is a pervasive features of all political relations in the US. To deny a platform to the fascists we literally have to abolish the state; and then march on Washington, burn it to the ground and pour salt on the Earth.

Washington is the fascists’ platform, not some speaking engagement on some college campus. While you are entirely correct that denying fascists a platform is not wrong in principle, your effort in this direction is ineffective. You don’t even scratch the wax finish on the fascist paint job.

I want you to think seriously about the proposition that you can be the toughest and most brutal in a direct confrontation with the fascists. Go ask the folks in Pyongyang how tough and brutal the US can be. Go ask the folks in Hanoi how tough and brutal the American fascists can be. Ask Gaza, Iraq, Syria how tough and brutal the American fascists can be. You are kidding yourself to think you can be anything like that. That you can raze entire cities to enforce your demands.

The shit you are facing in confrontations with fascist street thugs is nothing like the brutality American fascism is capable of. It is, in fact, a device to keep you occupied and distracted. To keep tension raised while the mainstream fascists dismantle the Trump administration brick by brick.

How is it that some folks been demanding removal of confederate icons for decades without getting a hearing, but now they are coming down? Do you really think that is you? Do you really think they are doing it because they suddenly don’t like white supremacy? You have finally won Mitt Romney over to anti-fascism?

Not likely. The bourgeoisie always employs proletarians as a shock force to crush its enemies. And once its enemies are crushed, they turns on the proletarians and crush them. We have seen this play out time and again, including the Red Scare of the early 20s after World War I and McCarthyism in the 1950s, after World War II. Read a fucking book, please.

Today two factions in the ruling class may be fighting for control of the state power, but tomorrow it’s your jobs, your homes and your social media accounts. One side will win and then you and your organizations will be destroyed. And they will quote Chomsky on MSNBC as they come for you.

We got to do better than this. We have to begin thinking strategically and not just reacting. Fascist street thugs are not our target. Our target is Washington and we need to think through how we bring it down.

The first rule of strategy is don’t make dumb promises

Marxists who want to insist on their differences with anarchists can certainly find a lot of support for this position in Marx’s writings. Marx and Bakunin did not hesitate to make their differences known to the point it ultimately crippled and destroyed the first international.

The most important difference between them is in fact something they never actually had to grapple with in their own lifetimes: What social arrangement would exist after the bourgeois state was overthrown? Bakunin, a Proudhonist, believed nothing should replace the state. Marx insisted the present state would be replaced by an association.

Notice here that there was no difference between Bakunin and Marx with regards the existing state, the bourgeois state. Both thinkers agreed that it had to be overthrown. The question that separated them is what would happen next. While Bakunin thought a stateless society was possible immediately after the overthrow of the bourgeois state, Marx held that this would be unrealistic given the state of the productive forces of society.

For Marx, in the immediate aftermath of the overthrow of the bourgeois state, the working class would be forced to organize itself as a ruling class and impose its dictatorship over the old classes. This dictatorship would have two important tasks: (a) crush the resistance of the old classes; (b) expropriate their property and employ it to speed up the development of the productive forces.

The first task is probably uncontroversial. No one in their right mind would let capitalists keep their property, guns and political power, otherwise what is the point of making the revolution in the first place? Bakunin’s real objection to Marx’s argument likely hung on the idea that the workers commune would take all of this newly expropriated property under its control and manage it socially.

To give an example: there would be no distribution of land to the peasants; land would be nationalized and managed by the commune. The land of the aristocrats would be seized by the commune and its cultivation would be managed by the commune, not divided up again among the peasants. The commune would have a monopoly on ownership of land and this monopoly would be enforced by its political dictatorship.

As anyone can see, this is patently a state.

Between capitalism and communism

With all land monopolized by the commune, the most advanced techniques and scientific knowledge would be implemented to speed up agricultural development. This acceleration of the development of production in agriculture would be ensured by removing the barriers created by the drive for profit. The peasants would become social producers and their private means of production would be replaced by a new social production infrastructure.

According to Engels, Marx even speculated that the peasant’s interest in the land could be ‘bought out’ by the commune to ease the transition. This would be possible, since, in Marx’s view, the commune should also establish a monopoly over money. It could print up currency in whatever quantity was necessary to simply purchase the peasants interest in the land, much as the Fed does today with the toxic assets of the financial sector.

For Bakunin, of course, this sort of idea was anathema, a cursed attempt to replace one dictatorship with another. His (Proudhon’s?) idea seems to be that property would be distributed among the population and managed through a federation of producers. The goal Bakunin had in mind was to prevent the sort of central control that could give rise to the very sort of communal monopoly on the means of production Marx advocated.

There is, in my mind, some logic to this objection, because what Marx was actually proposing was to do exactly what capital was already doing. Capital was already in the process of monopolizing the land and subjecting it to the most advanced technical and scientific methods of production possible. The peasants and other intermediate classes would be brutally expropriated and forced into the ranks of the propertyless mass, the proletarians

Marx wasn’t promising peasants they could avoid this fate; he simply promised there would be no brutality; the peasants could be part of the commune and decide how to accomplish this transition. The peasants didn’t have to accept, of course. They could cling to their tiny plots of land. They could oppose the revolution. It didn’t matter. Even absent a proletarian revolution, capital would expropriate their small holding anyway. And capital wouldn’t negotiate how to get it done.

As Engels put it, “it is the duty of our Party to make clear to the peasants again and again that their position is absolutely hopeless as long as capitalism holds sway”. The peasant could climb on-board with the antisemites if they want, but it would not save them from their fate. The commune could not prevent the abolition of the small producers, it could only promise no force would be employed to do this.

There were two paths to the demise of the small producers and we all know which path they chose. To put this another way, Bakunin’s objection to Marx’s proletarian dictatorship was no objection at all in reality. Nothing anyone did could avoid what was going to happen to the peasants. Capital was going to expropriate the small producers and then capitals would turn on each other and kill each other off in a bloody conclusion to the capitalist epoch.

Don’t make dumb promises

However, I believe there is a second lesson in this example: There was no way Marx’s idea could ever work; it was the biggest ‘Hail Mary’ in socialist thinking. The real purpose of the idea (in my opinion) was never to actually implement this scheme, but to stop fucking communists from making dumb promises they could never fulfill.

No one could promise peasants they could be saved from extinction, unless you were the worst sort of charlatan. At best, you could promise them that the process would not be as brutal as it was going to get as capital entered the 20th century. It didn’t do anyone any good to make promises to peasants and other intermediate strata that we could protect them from what was coming. As Engels put it presciently in 1894,

“[We] can do no greater disservice to the Party as well as to the small peasants than to make promises that even only create the impression that we intend to preserve the small holdings permanently. It would mean directly to block the way of the peasants to their emancipation and to degrade the Party to the level of rowdy anti-Semitism.”

No, the communists could not save peasants from ‘Jewish bankers’ and we never even should try to engage them on that level. They were already extinct as a class; we could give them hospice, but no protection.

This isn’t a politically palatable position, (who runs on a platform that says, “Your economic position is hopeless and you have no future as a class, vote for me.”), but communists are not magicians; they cannot just promise everything will be an idyllic agrarian utopia if people just vote for them. They had to honestly state what was possible and what was not possible given the actual material state of society at the time.

If you are willing to lie to people to win, what sort of morality is this? At a time when progressives are offering a smorgasbord of false promises in the form of universal basic income, jobs guarantee or a $15 minimum wage as solutions for the social ills created by capital, it would do communists well to remember that nothing will prevent wages from going to zero and unemployment to 100%.

Ideas that promise this can be prevented are false and should not be part of our strategy.

Rethinking Marx’s Grand Strategy

Of the three men Marx, Bakunin and Lassalle, it might be helpful to think of their differences in terms of grand strategic thinking. Each of the three had a unique grand strategic idea.

Lassalle’s is probably easiest to describe as it is this way by Wikipedia:

“Lassalle considered the state as an independent entity, an instrument of justice essential for the achievement of the socialist program.”

This attitude toward the existing state is in marked contrast with that of both Bakunin and Marx. Despite their differences with Lassalle, however, Bakunin and Marx had entirely different strategic views of the existing state. Bakunin is generally held to have rejected any involvement with, or action in relation to, the existing state.

A Proudhonist in outlook, Bakunin’s view can likely be characterized this way in a quote from Graham:

“[Pretending] to establish order among men, [states] arrange them forthwith in hostile camps, and as their only occupation is to produce servitude at home, their art lies in maintaining war abroad, war in fact and war in prospect.” Governments arouse and manipulate nationalist feelings, such that the “oppression of peoples and their mutual hatred are two correlative, inseparable facts, which reproduce each other, and which cannot come to an end except simultaneously, by the destruction of their common cause, government.”

In the Proudhonist theory of the state, government was the “common cause” of social conflict and divisions; for Marx, it was the reverse: the state was not the cause of social divisions, but a product of those social divisions. As long as society remained divided by classes, classes would give rise to states that, essentially, were only dictatorships of one class over another:

“But whatever form they may have taken, one fact is common to all past ages, viz., the exploitation of one part of society by the other. No wonder, then, that the social consciousness of past ages, despite all the multiplicity and variety it displays, moves within certain common forms, or general ideas, which cannot completely vanish except with the total disappearance of class antagonisms. “

Three thinkers, three different views of the state, three different grand strategies.

Lassalle’s grand strategy is likely the easiest to understand: The working class should aim to gain control of the state through universal suffrage. It would then use the existing state to implement radical reforms in the form of a comprehensive practical program.

For Bakunin’s grand strategy, the working class should aim for the immediate abolition of the state. Since the state was itself the common cause of social conflict and divisions, abolition of the state was the common remedy.

Marx’s grand strategy is likely the least understood and most often misstated. Like Bakunin, Marx believed the working class should aim for the abolition of the existing state. However, in Marx’s opinion, the state was a product of class society and could not be completely abolished until class society was. In the best scenario, the working class could put an end to existing state and replace this state with its own association.

According to Marx, initially, the association would retain features of the old state it replaced in that it would still be an instrument of class repression. The working class would employ its association to repress its class enemies, with all the brutality this implies. But the state power would also be used to speed up the development of the productive forces by concentrating under its control all instruments of production. This latter effort would eventually result in abolition of social conflict and divisions; making possible the final abolition of the state.

This greatly complicates reducing Marx’s ideas to a bumper sticker. With Lassalle, it is easy to state his objective: Seize the state. With Bakunin, it is also easy to state his objective: Abolish the state. With Marx, it is nuanced: Abolish the existing state, replace it with our association, develop the productive forces and eventually the state will go away.

Try putting that on a bumper sticker.

While Lassalle wanted to seize the existing state, Marx wanted to abolish it. But while Bakunin also wanted to abolish the existing state, he argued that nothing should replace it, while Marx argued for an association.

Marx’s grand strategy after Marx

Here is where it start to get complicated; and where I think Marxists lose the thread of Marx’s thinking. Certainly Marx’s differences with Bakunin are fundamental: Marx thinks the state is a product of social conflict while Bakunin thinks the state is the cause of social conflict. However Marx’s differences with Bakunin is based on the actual material state of society. Which is to say, Marx thought the state had to be abolished, but did not think it could be abolished on the basis of then existing economic reality.

Marx’s differences with Bakunin, although resulting from a different analysis of the relation between class society and the state, had to change as society itself changed. If in 1874 the state could not be abolished because class society could not be abolished, this was by no means a permanent feature of society; rather, whether the state could be abolished was determined by the actual state of development of the productive forces.

It was possible that with the development of the productive forces of society, in theory at least, we could one day get to the point where both class society and the state could be immediately abolished in one and the same stroke. Development of the productive forces was the only way to put an end to classes and class society — and thus the only way to be finally rid of the state.

But — and this is what many Marxists miss — development of the productive forces is exactly what capital does. It is entirely possible that capital could develop the productive forces to such an extent that the simultaneous abolition of both class society and the state could be accomplished.

Marxists, however, have dropped the thread of Marx’s argument on this score. Ask a Marxist today and they will insist that there has to be a more or less extended period of time — the duration of which is never quite defined — where wage slavery has been abolished, but society is not ready for full communism. There is in fact nothing in Marx’s theory of the state that says this must be true.

To give this a practical example: Suppose in Marx’s day, the period of socialism would have lasted –say — 140 years, would it still be 140 years in the 1930s? Would it still be 140 years today — almost 140 years after Marx’s death? Does the proletariat get time served off its sentence of hard labor? In another 140 years from now, will it still take another 140 years?

Ask a Marxist this question and watch them gaze dully into the middle distance.

Marxists who, today, still reproach anarchists for seeking the immediate overthrow of the state in its entirety don’t have a leg to stand on; not because Bakunin was right in his dispute with Marx, but because it has been 134 years since that dispute played out.

Our grand strategy as communists today cannot look like Marx’s in 1848. To try to make it look the same would be to deny history itself. What sort of historical materialism is it that denies history?