More from Bakunin: Against Marx


From “Critique of the Marxist Theory of the State,” in Bakunin on Anarchism, translated and edited by Sam Dolgoff, Knopf, 1972, pp. 330-331):

“If there is a State, there must be domination of one class by another and, as a result, slavery; the State without slavery is unthinkable – and this is why we are the enemies of the State.

What does it mean that the proletariat will be elevated to a ruling class? Is it possible for the whole proletariat to stand at the head of the government? There are nearly forty million Germans. Can all forty million be members of the government? In such a case, there will be no government, no state, but, if there is to be a state there will be those who are ruled and those who are slaves.

The Marxist theory solves this dilemma very simply. By the people’s rule, they mean the rule of a small number of representatives elected by the people. The general, and every man’s, right to elect the representatives of the people and the rulers of the State is the latest word of the Marxists, as well as of the democrats. This is a lie, behind which lurks the despotism of the ruling minority, a lie all the more dangerous in that it appears to express the so-called will of the people.

Ultimately, from whatever point of view we look at this question, we come always to the same sad conclusion, the rule of the great masses of the people by a privileged minority. The Marxists say that this minority will consist of workers. Yes, possibly of former workers, who, as soon as they become the rulers of the representatives of the people, will cease to be workers and will look down at the plain working masses from the governing heights of the State; they will no longer represent the people, but only themselves and their claims to rulership over the people. Those who doubt this know very little about human nature…

The Marxists are aware of this contradiction and realize that a government of scientists will be a real dictatorship regardless of its democratic form. They console themselves with the idea that this rule will be temporary. They say that the only care and objective will be to educate and elevate the people economically and politically to such a degree that such a government will soon become unnecessary, and the State, after losing its political or coercive character, will automatically develop into a completely free organization of economic interests and communes.

There is a flagrant contradiction in this theory. If their state would be really of the people, why eliminate it? And if the State is needed to emancipate the workers, then the workers are not yet free, so why call it a People’s State? By our polemic against them we have brought them to the realization that freedom or anarchism, which means a free organization of the working masses from the bottom up, is the final objective of social development, and that every state, not excepting their People’s State, is a yoke, on the one hand giving rise to despotism and on the other to slavery. They say that such a yoke – dictatorship is a transitional step towards achieving full freedom for the people: anarchism or freedom is the aim, while state and dictatorship is the means, and so, in order to free the masses of people, they have first to be enslaved!

Upon this contradiction our polemic has come to a halt. They insist that only dictatorship (of course their own) can create freedom for the people. We reply that all dictatorship has no objective other than self-perpetuation, and that slavery is all it can generate and instill in the people who suffer it. Freedom can be created only by freedom, by a total rebellion of the people, and by a voluntary organization of the people from the bottom up.”


6 thoughts on “More from Bakunin: Against Marx

  1. Wow, he nailed the Bolshevik and all subsequent Marxist revolutions. Sadly, State power literally destroys such ideas and people during revolutions. The withering away of the State was not one of Marx’s great ideas, as Lenin, Stalin, Mao, and Fidel remind us. To flip the conversation, one of the central contradictions of anarchism, as postulated by Bakunin, is that in all historical examples, including the famed Spanish Civil War, the modern State crushed all forms of bottom up, worker democracy, thus showing that, although theoretically and ethically Bakunin is right, historically he seems to have underestimated the power of the State to organize both violence and revolutionary discourse and ultimately the destruction of democracy in the anarchist sense. Anarchism has yet to answer this central contradiction, and in the past 20 years has moved away from “total revolution” to a Zapatista model. I hope Bakunin is right, I fear that he is not. Just some thoughts.

    • I share your wow. The prescience is eerie.

      I don’t think we should assume that because the Spanish State (for example) defeated the anarchists/democrats that there was some iron law of history at work, or that the State is necessarily more powerful than emergent power (I think, following H&N, the opposite is true). And I think 15m shows that while democracy was defeated in 1930s, it was not crushed. It remains an ever present possibility, one that can always emerge, that is always emerging. It erupted powerfully in 2011, taking inspiration and energy from Tunisia and Egypt, and Argentina in 2001, and Tienanmen in 1989, and Hungary in 1956, and Spain in the 30s. I don’t think the lesson from Spain in the 30s is that the left is lost if it does not seize the power of the State (although that is what many concluded); it is rather that we should marvel at how far democracy got, how widely it spread, and we should continue to help it to flourish and grow, to spread and pervade society to the point that it becomes taken for granted, and the other forms of constituted power become like a VHS player: so obsolete they are quaint and we have to cast our mind back to recall a time we thought we couldn’t live without them.

  2. You missed a bit! Between “human nature…” and “The Marxists…” there is this paragraph:

    “These elected representatives, say the Marxists, will be dedicated and learned socialists. The expressions “learned socialist,” “scientific socialism,” etc., which continuously appear in the speeches and writings of the followers of Lassalle and Marx, prove that the pseudo-People’s State will be nothing but a despotic control of the populace by a new and not at all numerous aristocracy of real and pseudo-scientists. The “uneducated” people will be totally relieved of the cares of administration, and will be treated as a regimented herd. A beautiful liberation, indeed!”

    Personally, I would have left that in – I think it’s an important illustration of his point. Terms like “scientific socialism” really do lend themselves to the creation of a privileged class of administrators, those with the time and inclination to come to the full “scientific” understanding of Marxist theories. They pave the way for the shouting down of “un-scientific” socialists, who “merely” feel oppressed/exploited/alienated, but can’t “prove” their oppression/exploitation/alienation using “science” like the labour theory of value. Whether or not this “science” is in fact a “cargo-cult science” (Richard Feynman’s term) is the question these “uneducated” people then ought to ask themselves!

    • Yes…the ellipsis is there because I felt like he was reiterating in that passage what was clear from the rest of the quote, that the State inevitably creates a privileged class of administrators, and the Communist-Party State (or the Socialist-Party State) will be no different. Here he is just specifying the specific form the “privileged minority” will take in those States.

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