Karl Marx & the State

By David Adam.

In April 1917, the Russian anarchist Voline met Leon Trotsky in a New York print works. Not surprisingly, both were producing revolutionary propaganda. Discussing the Russian situation, Voline told Trotsky that he considered it certain that the Bolsheviks would come to power. He went on to say he was equally certain that the Bolsheviks would persecute the anarchists once their power had been consolidated. Trotsky, taken aback by Voline’s conviction, emphasized that the Marxists and the anarchists were both revolutionary socialists fighting the same battle. While it is true that they had their differences, these differences, according to Trotsky, were secondary, merely methodological differences-principally a disagreement regarding a revolutionary “transitional stage.” Trotsky went on to dismiss Voline’s prediction of persecution against the anarchists as nonsense, assuring him that the Bolsheviks were not enemies of the anarchists. Voline relates that in December 1919, less than three years later, he was arrested by Bolshevik military authorities in the Makhnovist region. Since he was a well-known militant, the authorities notified Trotsky of his arrest and asked how he should be handled. Trotsky’s reply was terse: “Shoot out of hand.-Trotsky.” Luckily, Voline lived to tell his tale.1

It is on the basis of the Russian experience that anarchists generally affirm that their ideas have been vindicated. Bakunin’s predictions about Marxist authoritarianism came true, or so it seems. Voline’s story is the perfect snapshot of the anarchist’s historical vindication.  Years later, another prominent anarcho-syndicalist emphasized the main lesson of the Russian experience:

In Russia… where the so-called “proletarian dictatorship” has ripened into reality, the aspirations of a particular party for political power have prevented any truly socialistic reconstruction of economy and have forced the country into the slavery of a grinding state-capitalism. The “dictatorship of the proletariat,” in which naïve souls wish to see merely a passing, but inevitable, transition stage to real Socialism, has today grown into a frightful despotism and a new imperialism, which lags behind the tyranny of the Fascist states in nothing. The assertion that the state must continue to exist until class conflicts, and classes with them, disappear, sounds, in the light of all historical experience, almost like a bad joke.2

Here, in brief, is the historical verdict passed on Marxism by anarchism. But does this verdict discredit the theories of the supposed originator of Marxism, Karl Marx himself?  This essay will begin with a look at Marx’s basic understanding of the bourgeois state and move on to consider his conception of the transition to socialism in order to demystify Marx’s political ideas. Read More