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Author: Richard Barbrook

Marx on the State

20th century Marxisms were a theology of state power with Marx’s anti-statist writings as holy texts.

Social Democracy = parliamentary democracy and the welfare state.
Bolshevism = totalitarian party and state planning.

19th century Marxism of Marx proposed two different concepts of state power:
The Parasite State = “Strong government and heavy taxes are identical”.
The Class State = “the managing committee of the bourgeoisie”.

Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels grew up during the post-1815 Restoration.
Bonaparte’s liberal empire replaced by European Christian monarchies.
Georg Hegel, The Phenomenology of the Spirit (1806).
Georg Hegel, The Philosophy of Right (1820).

Young Hegelians attacked the reactionary politics of the Prussian monarchy by criticising conservative appropriation of Hegel’s Idealist philosophy.
Freedom was creating materialist philosophy to discredit the alienated consciousness of religion.
Ludwig Feuerbach, The Essence of Christianity (1841).

Marx and Engels rejected philosophical criticism for the critique of political economy.
Freedom required a materialist conception of history to end alienated labour under capitalism.
The grand narrative of history as successive modes of production: tribalism → slavery → feudalism → capitalism → communism.
Increasing efficiency of labour through specialisation and professionalisation, especially science and technology.
Egoism of bourgeois individual in market economy reflected one-sided development of modern everyday life.
Bourgeois private property as expression of alienated labour of capitalism.
Proletariat was the propertyless class which would liberate all of humanity by overcoming the division of labour.
Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, The German Ideology (1845).
Karl Marx, Theses on Feuerbach (1845).
Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, The Communist Manifesto (1848).

Hegel celebrated the universal class of state bureaucrats who regulated the selfish interests of bourgeois society.
Marx saw the state bureaucrats as a self-interested caste created by the division of labour within capitalism.
The common interests of the people transformed into the private property of the government bureaucracy: the parasite state.
Karl Marx, Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right (1843)

1848 German Revolution: Red republic against Prussian and Austrian monarchies.
1851 coup d’etat by Louis Bonaparte replaces French republic with new empire.
State was above and against all classes within civil society.
The parasite state living off the taxes extracted from the people.
Oriental despotism: autarchic villages and irrigation schemes
Absolutist monarchy: declining aristocracy and rising bourgeoisie.
Bonapartism: economic modernisation and repression of the proletariat.
Capitalism was authoritarian rule by a liberal oligarchy which feared political democracy.
Karl Marx, British Rule in India (1853).
Karl Marx, The Class Struggles in France (1850).
Karl Marx, The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte (1852).

Marx and Engels lived most of their lives as political refugees in London and Manchester.
Great Britain was the first capitalist nation with 50% of global industrial production in 1850.
Britain was the future of the rest of the world in the present.
Friedrich Engels, The Condition of the Working Class in England (1845).
Karl Marx, Capital Volume 1 (1867)

Britain was a crowned bourgeois republic: limited franchise, free speech and the rule of law.
Under the liberal republic, the state acted as “the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie”.
Class violence against internal enemies, including repression and confiscation.
Rule of law to protect private property: human rights and free contracts enabled class exploitation.
Public works to support capitalist development, such as canals, railways and education.
Economic policies favourable to national bourgeoisie, such as free trade in Britain or protectionism in Germany and the USA.
Imperial conquests to grab resources or exclude competitors from overseas markets, such as the British in Ireland and India.
The struggle over the franchise was over which class fraction would control British state through parliamentary elections.
The abolition of the Corn Laws marked the ascendency of industrial bourgeoisie over the capitalist landowners.
Egoism of civil society undermined political democracy.
Bourgeois politicians were professional hucksters and swindlers.
Karl Marx, On the Jewish Question (1843).
Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, Articles on Britain (1971).

Two-stage revolutionary struggle: political democracy -> social democracy.
Primary task of the continental European Left was to overthrow parasite state.
Alliance of proletarians, petit-bourgeoisie and peasantry fighting to create the democratic republic: the 1871 Paris Commune.
Primary task of British and American Left was to extend the franchise and campaign for social reforms: the Chartist movement.
Both liberals and socialists believed that universal suffrage would lead to “the dictatorship of the proletariat”.
Democratic republic under capitalism was inherently unstable as workers can exercise political power while still being economically exploited.
Universal suffrage secured through participatory politics: abolition of state bureaucracy, official religion, national education, media censorship and professional army.
Marx had been a newspaper editor in 1840s who opposed press censorship, nationalised media and government press subsidies.
“The Paris Commune made that watchword of the bourgeois revolution – cheap government – into a reality.” – Karl Marx.
Participation of citizens in DIY politics ended the division of labour between bureaucrats and people: militia, juries, posses, administration.
From the Ancient Athenian agora to the Wild West democracy of the USA.
The dictatorship of the proletariat would use emergency powers against the threat of the “slave owners’ revolt” like the Union against the Confederacy in the American Civil War.
Karl Marx, Debates on Freedom of the Press (1842).
Karl Marx, The American Civil War (1861-4).
Karl Marx, The Civil War in France (1871).
Prosper Lissagaray, History of the Paris Commune (1876).

The self-emancipation of the proletariat through the three wings of the labour movement: mass political parties, workers’ militia and trade unions/cooperatives.
Revolutionary reformism of Marx and Engels emphasised political campaigns for economic improvements: limiting the working day, factory regulations, consumer protection, regulating banking system.
Participatory politics abolished politics as a profession: “the withering away of the state”.
Communism was the overcoming of the division between mental and manual labour within civil society.
Workers’ cooperatives were prefiguring the democratic organisation of the whole economy.
“The socialist future will an Athens without slaves.” – Paul Lafargue.
Communism was the principles of participatory democracy applied to all aspects of life.
Karl Marx, Capital Volume 3 (1894).
Paul Lafargue, The Right To Be Lazy (1883).

Within this MySpace version of the electronic agora, cybernetic communism was mainstream and unexceptional. What had once been a revolutionary dream was now an enjoyable part of everyday life.