A reader responds to my post, “What is the difference between Association and the State?”

by Jehu

2the-communist-manifestoA reader has written a response to my post, What is the difference between Association and the State? I have posted the comment here for convenience and because it raises some important questions regarding how Marx and Engels should be interpreted. I hope to post a reply to the questions tomorrow:

Does the working class have any interest to assert against he ruling class?

You say, “There is no way around this argument. No Marxist can identify as a Marxist and assert the proletariat has an interest to assert against the bourgeoisie that could be represented by some proletarian state form of any sort. You can only make such an assertion by fundamentally revising Engels’ and Marx’s theory. It is only because the proletariat has no class interest, that it can put an end to all classes.”

You might want to tell that to Marx and Engels! E.g.,

“The Communists do not form a separate party opposed to the other working-class parties. They have no interests separate and apart from those of the proletariat as a whole.”

So either the Communists have no interests, or the proletariat “as a whole” does.

“The Communists are distinguished from the other working-class parties by this only: 1. In the national struggles of the proletarians of the different countries, they point out and bring to the front ***the common interests of the entire proletariat,*** independently of all nationality. 2. In the various stages of development which the struggle of the working class against the bourgeoisie has to pass through, they always and everywhere represent ***the interests of the movement as a whole.***”

Or take the March Address:

“Instead of lowering themselves to the level of an applauding chorus, the workers, and above all the League, must work for the creation of an independent organization of the workers’ party, both secret and open, and alongside the official democrats, and the League must aim to make every one of its communes a center and nucleus of workers’ associations in which the position and interests of the proletariat can be discussed free from bourgeois influence.”

“The first point over which the bourgeois democrats will come into conflict with the workers will be the abolition of feudalism as in the first French revolution, the petty bourgeoisie will want to give the feudal lands to the peasants as free property; that is, they will try to perpetrate the existence of the rural proletariat, and to form a petty-bourgeois peasant class which will be subject to the same cycle of impoverishment and debt which still afflicts the French peasant. The workers must oppose this plan both in the interest of the rural proletariat and in their own interest.”

“Although the German workers cannot come to power and achieve the realization of their class interests without passing through a protracted revolutionary development, this time they can at least be certain that the first act of the approaching revolutionary drama will coincide with the direct victory of their own class in France and will thereby be accelerated. But they themselves must contribute most to their final victory, by informing themselves of their own class interests, by taking up their independent political position as soon as possible, by not allowing themselves to be misled by the hypocritical phrases of the democratic petty bourgeoisie into doubting for one minute the necessity of an independently organized party of the proletariat.”

Is the Commune a state?

You say, “The employment of coercion against the capitalists, they assert, means the association of the working class is a working class state. This idea is not to be found in Marx or Engels writings and it isn’t even in the anarchist criticism leveled against Marx by Bakunin.”

Well Engels said,

“From the outset the Commune was compelled to recognize that the working class, once come to power, could not manage with the old state machine; that in order not to lose again its only just conquered supremacy, this working class must, on the one hand, do away with all the old repressive machinery previously used against it itself, and, on the other, safeguard itself against its own deputies and officials, by declaring them all, without exception, subject to recall at any moment….[T]he state is nothing but a machine for the oppression of one class by another, and indeed in the democratic republic no less than in the monarchy; and at best an evil inherited by the proletariat after its victorious struggle for class supremacy, whose worst sides the proletariat, just like the Commune, cannot avoid having to lop off at the earliest possible moment, until such time as a new generation, reared in new and free social conditions, will be able to throw the entire lumber of the state on the scrap-heap.”

He also said,

“Authority, in the sense in which the word is used here, means: the imposition of the will of another upon ours; on the other hand, authority presupposes subordination. Now, since these two words sound bad, and the relationship which they represent is disagreeable to the subordinated party, the question is to ascertain whether there is any way of dispensing with it, whether — given the conditions of present-day society — we could not create another social system, in which this authority would be given no scope any longer, and would consequently have to disappear.

“Why do the anti-authoritarians not confine themselves to crying out against political authority, the state? All Socialists are agreed that the political state, and with it political authority, will disappear as a result of the coming social revolution, that is, that public functions will lose their political character and will be transformed into the simple administrative functions of watching over the true interests of society. But the anti-authoritarians demand that the political state be abolished at one stroke, even before the social conditions that gave birth to it have been destroyed. They demand that the first act of the social revolution shall be the abolition of authority. Have these gentlemen ever seen a revolution? A revolution is certainly the most authoritarian thing there is; it is the act whereby one part of the population imposes its will upon the other part by means of rifles, bayonets and cannon — authoritarian means, if such there be at all; and if the victorious party does not want to have fought in vain, it must maintain this rule by means of the terror which its arms inspire in the reactionists. Would the Paris Commune have lasted a single day if it had not made use of this authority of the armed people against the bourgeois? Should we not, on the contrary, reproach it for not having used it freely enough?

“Therefore, either one of two things: either the anti-authoritarians don’t know what they’re talking about, in which case they are creating nothing but confusion; or they do know, and in that case they are betraying the movement of the proletariat. In either case they serve the reaction.”

Moreover, Bakunin wrote,

“We have already stated our deep opposition to the theory of Lassalle and Marx, which recommends to the workers, if not as final ideal then at least as the next major aim — the foundation of a people’s state, which, as they have expressed it, will be none other than the proletariat organized as ruling class. The question arises, if the proletariat becomes the ruling class, over whom will it rule? It means that there will still remain another proletariat, which will be subject to this new domination, this new state.”

And Marx directly responded,

“It means 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.”

Do the proletarians act as a class?

You say, “3. Since they have no class interest, the proletariat can only act as individuals. The proletariat cannot, under any circumstances, act as a class and all attempts to act as a class must fail. This means in all political conflicts where what counts is a clash of class interests, the proletariat is bound to lose. It cannot win, because it is incapable of acting as a class.”

Marx says,

“Political power, properly so called, is merely the organised power of one class for oppressing another. If the proletariat during its contest with the bourgeoisie is compelled, by the force of circumstances, to organise itself as a class, if, by means of a revolution, it makes itself the ruling class, and, as such, sweeps away by force the old conditions of production, then it will, along with these conditions, have swept away the conditions for the existence of class antagonisms and of classes generally, and will thereby have abolished its own supremacy as a class.”

He also says,

“proletarian revolutions, like those of the nineteenth century, constantly criticize themselves, constantly interrupt themselves in their own course, return to the apparently accomplished, in order to begin anew; they deride with cruel thoroughness the half-measures, weaknesses, and paltriness of their first attempts, seem to throw down their opponents only so the latter may draw new strength from the earth and rise before them again more gigantic than ever, recoil constantly from the indefinite colossalness of their own goals – until a situation is created which makes all turning back impossible, and the conditions themselves call out: Hic Rhodus, hic salta!”

And,

“But with the development of industry, the proletariat not only increases in number; it becomes concentrated in greater masses, its strength grows, and it feels that strength more. The various interests and conditions of life within the ranks of the proletariat are more and more equalised, in proportion as machinery obliterates all distinctions of labour, and nearly everywhere reduces wages to the same low level. The growing competition among the bourgeois, and the resulting commercial crises, make the wages of the workers ever more fluctuating. The increasing improvement of machinery, ever more rapidly developing, makes their livelihood more and more precarious; the collisions between individual workmen and individual bourgeois take more and more the character of collisions between two classes. Thereupon, the workers begin to form combinations (Trades’ Unions) against the bourgeois; they club together in order to keep up the rate of wages; they found permanent associations in order to make provision beforehand for these occasional revolts. Here and there, the contest breaks out into riots.

[NOTE BY COMMENTER: This is the really important bit:] “Now and then the workers are victorious, but only for a time. The real fruit of their battles lies, not in the immediate result, but in the ever expanding union of the workers. This union is helped on by the improved means of communication that are created by modern industry, and that place the workers of different localities in contact with one another. It was just this contact that was needed to centralise the numerous local struggles, all of the same character, into one national struggle between classes. But every class struggle is a political struggle. And that union, to attain which the burghers of the Middle Ages, with their miserable highways, required centuries, the modern proletarian, thanks to railways, achieve in a few years.

“This organisation of the proletarians into a class, and, consequently into a political party, is continually being upset again by the competition between the workers themselves. But it ever rises up again, stronger, firmer, mightier. It compels legislative recognition of particular interests of the workers, by taking advantage of the divisions among the bourgeoisie itself. Thus, the ten-hours’ bill in England was carried.”

In the Inaugural Address, he says of that bill,

“This struggle about the legal restriction of the hours of labor raged the more fiercely since, apart from frightened avarice, it told indeed upon the great contest between the blind rule of the supply and demand laws which form the political economy of the middle class, and social production controlled by social foresight, which forms the political economy of the working class. Hence the Ten Hours’ Bill was not only a great practical success; it was the victory of a principle; it was the first time that in broad daylight the political economy of the middle class succumbed to the political economy of the working class.”

Is the Communist Manifesto no longer relevant?

I think your work on political economy is very interesting, and I tend to agree with most of it. But this post exemplifies a lot of problems I have with what you say about politics, which you claim to be orthodox Marx and Engels. Well it’s not orthodox, its blatantly apostate. If you wanted to justify it on the basis of the “change circumstances” after the Great Depression that you claim render the Manifesto irrelevant, well that’s something, but you can’t act as if the politics outlined in the Manifesto, and consistently advocated and developed by Marx and Engels throughout their lives, and by Karl Kautsky up to 1909, by Rosa Luxemburg and Lenin until their deaths, simply did not exist because you don’t think they are still applicable.

I wonder, who do you think will champion the cause of reducing the working day among the working class? Who will agitate for it, educate workers about its necessity, and organize them to fight for it? Or do you really expect the mass of individuals composing the proletariat to at some point just realize, perhaps having read your blog, that this can and must be done? If so, I’m afraid that you like Bakunin conclude “it is better to do nothing at all… just wait for the day of general liquidation — the last judgement.”

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