* Drafts & Translations *

About the Free State

preached by social-democracy

"As against the coalesced bourgeoisie, a coalition between petty bourgeois and workers had been formed, the so-called Social-Democratic party. [...] The revolutionary point was broken off and a democratic turn given to the social demands of the proletariat; the purely political form was stripped off the democratic claims of the petty bourgeoisie and their socialist point thrust forward. Thus arose social-democracy. [...] The peculiar character of social-democracy is epitomized in the fact that democratic-republican institutions are demanded as a means, not of doing away with two extremes, capital and wage labor, but of weakening their antagonism and transforming it into harmony. However different the means proposed for the attainment of this end may be, however much it may be trimmed with more or less revolutionary notions, the content remains the same. This content is the transformation of society in a democratic way, but a transformation within the bounds of the petty bourgeoisie."
-Karl Marx, The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte-

* * *

Social-democracy, as the bourgeois party for workers, takes its program from a positivation of aspects of the present society and from an apology for the various institutions of the bourgeois world. The very definition of social-democracy, which historically represents the alliance (that is to say the dissolution) between the (proletarian) social party and the (bourgeois) democratic party, contains the "socialist" positivation of democracy. From Bernstein to Luxemburg and Kautsky, reformism always aims at the conciliation of democracy (which is nothing but the social organization peculiar to commodity production society guaranteeing the bourgeois dictatorship) with socialism; a project which appears in all of its texts (of the 19th or the 20th centuries) and even in its own name (social-democratic party).

Therefore it is not surprising that social-democracy has tried, by fair means or foul, to embellish the face of the state and to make it seem positive by defending the necessity to set it "free", "popular", "democratic",... This is a historical tendency which is inherent to the bourgeois state inasmuch as the state can only fully fulfil its function if it hides its real class nature, its intrinsically despotic character, and presents itself as popular (and not as bourgeois!), as democratic, as the representative of the whole society (and not only that of the dominant class!), as the guarantor for the realization of the ideals of liberty (and not that of dictatorship!).

It is thus quite normal that this historical tendency appeared very early and has been formulated in an explicit way by these bourgeois sectors or parties, namely by the social democratic parties, especially conceived to frame and neutralize workers, that is to say, by the historical party of the social democracy, regardless of its label. This tendency has been materialized, at least since the second half of the 19th century, by a series of realizations and structuring of the capitalist state, more or less openly supported by socialist parties. From Bismarck to Bonaparte, from the Stalinist state to the people's states of the so-called "socialist countries", the claims to set the state more popular and the demand for liberty for the bourgeois state remain a permanent ideology of the capitalist dictatorship, defended on innumerable occasions by avowed or hidden heirs of the most classic historical fraction/section of social-democracy: the German social-democracy.

This is the reason why in such an important text about liberty, and particularly about the democratico-bourgeois claim of liberty as the expression of the commodity producing development of the society, it seems indispensable for us to include an appendix about the classic social-democratic claim of free state (a claim which contains such democratic demands as "the liberty of Science", "the liberty of conscience", etc). Since the demand for free state cannot be separated from that of people's state (which is also a democratic state), it is understandable that we found it relevant to analyze these claims jointly and submit them together to the criticism of our party.

On the basis of what was said above and having been inspired by classical texts produced by revolutionary militants, we want to lay emphasis on our historical conception of the revolutionary destruction of the state. We affirm:


A long time before the first social-democratic parties formally constituted themselves, the antagonism between revolution and counterrevolution had already been crystallized around the question of the state, and especially around the program which aimed at setting the state more free. Indeed, at the time of the so-called "French revolution", while republicans of all kinds called to set the state more free and proclaimed the political rights and defended the citizens' liberty, revolutionaries defined this liberty on the level of the state as a lie for the exploited; already at this time they affirmed that any kind of liberty of the state, all formulations of equality and liberty as regards rights, mean absolutely nothing from a social point of view and that the political liberation is a bourgeois tale aiming to perpetuate exploitation and social oppression.

During the so-called "French revolution", when the distinction between the bourgeois program, the reformist program for workers, the social-democratic program regarding the liberty of the state and the revolutionary program generated and affirmed by the proletariat in its struggle was already clearly marked.

For example, Buonarroti in his book "Conspiracy for Equality" explains that those who took part in the revolutionary conspiracy ("the friends of Equality") knew that a constitution, does not matter how democratic it is, could not guarantee happiness, and thus, first of all, it was indispensable to "destroy the contradiction established by our institutions [...] and to drag out of the natural enemies of Equality the means to deceive, to frighten and to divide: [...] finally, they knew, and since the experience has too long already justified their outlook, that to establish the constitutional order of elections without these preliminaries, means to abandon the power to the friends of all abuses, and to lose forever the opportunity to assure public happiness." Following this Buonarroti adds this significant note: "As long as things will stay as they are, the most free political form will be advantageous only for those who can do without work..." (2)


We are now going to quote some key paragraphs of the program approved by the Gotha Congress of the German Workers' Party. The Gotha Congress took place from 22nd to 27th May, 1875 and it marked the constitution of the German social-democracy into a big "Marxist" mass party (3). It was this party which was to become the model for social-democracy of the whole world. This organization - henceforth called Socialist Workers' Party of Germany - is the result of the fusion operated at this Congress between the Social-Democratic Workers' Party of Germany, the so-called "Marxists", or eisenachians, controlled by Bebel and Liebknecht, and the General Association of the German Workers, the lassallian organization led by Hasenclever, Tölcke and others (4).
"The working class strives for its emancipation first of all within the framework of the present-day national states, conscious that the necessary result of its efforts, which are common to the workers of all civilized countries, will be the international brotherhood of peoples."
"Starting from these basic principles, the German Workers' Party strives by all legal means for the free state and socialist society..."
"The German Workers' Party, in order to pave the way to the solution of the social question, demands the establishment of producers' co-operative societies with state aid under the democratic control of the toiling people."
-excerpts from the Programme of the German Workers' Party, 1875-
It is obvious that the key of the bourgeois policy for workers invariably consists of the will to integrate the proletariat into the state. In the same way, the emancipation is not conceived as a rupture with the bourgeois order as a whole, but as a rupture with something internal to the "setting of the present national state", according to the German Workers' Party. Even the evident conceptual confusion, which is peculiar to all social-democratic formulations regarding the state, is part of the strategy which attempts to subsume the proletariat in a policy which maintains it within the framework of the state. Not only the fact that the state is the organised power of the dominant class is ignored and masked, but the ambiguity about its nature is also maintained, and as a result, it is always obscure if one speaks about the governmental apparatus or about a country, about a given situation, a given state or about the present society: the terms "present national state" synthesize all these confusions because they try to trap the proletariat in a national policy and to maintain its division by countries. These programmatical ambiguities and confusions constitute the ideological antecedent of the later Marxist-Leninist conceptions peculiar to "socialism in only one country", to workers' state (degenerated or not), to the people's states and more generally, to all the people's democratic republics which came into being during this century in Russia, in China, in Eastern Europe, in Albania, in Cuba, in Korea,... This is the reason for the importance of the revolutionary criticism on this question made by the revolutionary party all along its history.

The official program of social-democracy insists on:

A. "The free basis of the state".
B. "The German Workers' Party demands as the intellectual and ethical basis of the state: 1. Universal and equal elementary education by the state..."


Facing these windy discourses on the way to set the state more free, more popular, more democratic,... all the revolutionaries of the time reacted.

First of all, and independently of the programmatical disagreements we might have with Bakunin, we want to underline the excellent criticism this comrade made about the social democratic conception of people's and free state; it was an open, violent, lucid and public criticism, which even inspired Marx and Engels.

"Between a monarchy and the most democratic republic there is only one essential difference: in the former, the world of officialdom oppresses and rabs the people for the greater profit of the privileged and propertied classes, as well as to line its own pockets, in the name of the monarch; in the latter, it oppresses and robs the people in exactly the same way, for the benefit of the same classes and the same pockets, but in the name of the people's will. In a republic a fictitious people, the 'legal nation' supposedly represented by the state, smothers the real, live people. But it will scarcely be any easier on the people if the cudgel with which they are beaten is called the people's cudgel."
-M.Bakunin, Statism and Anarchy, Cambridge University Press, page 23-
The clarity of these programmatical affirmations marks out the uneven way of the constitution of the proletariat into a revolutionary party opposed to all bourgeois state; they decisively pave the way for the criticism of democracy, people's republic and political liberty.
"This means that no state, howsoever democratic its forms, not even the reddest political republic - a people's republic only in the sense of the lie known as popular representation - is capable of giving the people what they need: the free organization of their own interests from below upward, without any interference, tutelage, or coercion from above. That is because no state, not even the most republican and democratic, not even the pseudo-popular state contemplated by Marx, in essence represents anything but government of the masses from above downward, by an educated and thereby privileged minority which supposedly understands the real interests of the people better than the people themselves."
-M.Bakunin, Statism and anarchy, idem, page 24-
Bakunin rigorously criticised all kinds of state and particulary the democratic conceptions of people's and free state. He unfortunately mixed this understanding with a nationalist and racist vision of the events, which would inevitably lead him to consider some races as statist and others as non-statist; he placed the affirmations of social democracy regarding people's and free state, in the framework of a German statist plot. Bakunin, considering Marx and Engels as the powerful chiefs of this party (cf. bellow), attributed to them erroneously the whole of the bourgeois policy of the German social democracy, a policy for which they were not even responsible, but never stopped to criticize. However, Marx and Engels, definitely due to opportunism, didn't make public their criticisms, and they never overtly proclaimed their rupture with social democracy, which rupture they announced in private so many times (5); this reality undoubtedly contributed to the origin of Bakunin's false opinion, and to the development of the confusion. The result of all these was that the real class divisions between the social democratic and the revolutionary positions, between the partisans of the free state and those who strived for the abolition of the state, remained hidden behind the quarrels of chapels between the Marxists and the Bakuninists, between "the authoritarians" and "the anarchists", or even between different nationalist and racist currents: behind the opposition between the "historical peoples" on one hand, and the Slavic and Latin on the other.

But let's come back to the real rupture between revolution and counterrevolution, to the criticism made by revolutionaries in opposition to the social democratic programme aimed at reforming the state on liberal and democratic bases:

"Is this not new evidence of that truth which we never tire of asserting, in the conviction that the quickest resolution of all social problems depends on its universal comprehension: that the state, any state, be it vested in the most liberal and democratic forms, is necessarily based on domination, on force, that is, on despotism - covert, perhaps, but all the more dangerous?"
-M.Bakunin, Statism and anarchy, idem, page 34-
Similar to the criticism made by Marx and Engels, Bakunin's criticism starts from the destruction of the idea of the emancipation of the state. Just like the one of Marx and Engels, his analysis takes its strength from the criticism of the people's and free state. But Bakunin had the courage to clearly and publicly position himself outside and against social-democracy. He understood its historical function (perfectly understanding its total antagonism with the IWA) and defined social-democracy as it really is: a mere bourgeois party for workers.
"[...] emancipation of the proletariat is absolutely impossible within the framework of any state, and that the primary condition for achieving it is to destroy every state. That is possible, however, only through concerted action by the proletariat of all countries, whose organization first on an economic basis is precisely the object of the International Working Men's Association. [...]
But the Austrian workers did not take these necessary first steps because they were brought to an abrupt halt by the propaganda of Liebknecht and the other social democrats who came with him to Vienna, I believe in July of 1868. Their objective was to direct the true social instinct of the Austrian workers away from the path of international revolution and toward political agitation for the establishment of a unified state, which they term popular but which obviously means pan-German - in short, for the realization of Bismarck's patriotic ideal but on a social-democratic basis and by means of so-called legal popular agitation.
It is not just the Slavs who should refuse to take this path but the German workers as well, for the simple reason that the state, be it called popular ten times over and embellished with the most highly democratic forms, will necessarily be a prison for the proletariat. [...] Therefore we will refrain from urging our Slavic brothers to join the ranks of the Social Democratic Party of the German workers, which is led first and foremost by Marx and Engels in a kind of duumvirate vested with dictatorial power, with Bebel, Liebknecht, and a few Jewish literati behind them or under them. On the contrary, we must exert all our efforts to dissuade the Slavic proletariat from a suicidal alliance with this party, which is in no way a popular party but in its orientation, objective, and methods is purely bourgeois and, furthermore, exclusively German, that is, lethal to the Slavs.
The more energetically the Slavic proletariat, for its own salvation, must reject not just alliance but even rapprochement with this party - we do not mean with the workers who belong to it but with its organization and particularly its leadership, which is bourgeois through and through - the more closely, likewise for its own ssalvation, it must join forces with the International Working Men's Association. The German party of social democrats should by no means be confused with the International (6). The political and patriotic program of the former not only has almost nothing in common with the program of the latter but is even totally opposed to it."
-M.Bakunin, Statism and anarchy, idem, pages 49/51-
Like so many other revolutionary comrades, Bakunin was clearly aware that the more liberal, popular and democratic the declarations regarding the state are, the more counterrevolutionary the actions of the party which formulates them are. He perfectly understood that the more liberal and democratic a legislation or a constitution are, the more powerful the state which puts them forward is.
"[...] they become out [...], all the more dangerous to the people the more liberal and democratic their public pronouncements."
-M.Bakunin, Statism and Anarchy, idem, pages 52/53-
"One would have to be an ass, an ignoramus, or a madman to imagine that any kind of constitution, even the most liberal and democratic, could modify this relationship of the state to the people for the better."
-M.Bakunin, Statism and anarchy, idem, page 62-
When he denounces here these liberal and democratic forms of domination, Bakunin rightly insists on the fact that not only they do not limit the dictatorship and the despotism at all, but they even make them more powerful.
"At that time no one even suspected the truth which has now become obvious even the most stupid despots, that so-called constitutional forms, or forms of popular representation, do not impede state, military, political, and financial despotism Instead, they have the effect of legalizing it and giving it a false appearance of popular government, and they can significantly enhance its internal strength and vigor."
-M.Bakunin, Statism and anarchy, idem, page 114-


As for Marx, he (and to a certain extent Engels) would develop this same criticism of the free and people's state. Very early, he would criticize the conception of liberty linked with the state according to which man frees himself while freeing the state: ("[...] the state can be a free state without man being a free man") (Karl Marx, On the Jewish question, 1843 (7)). Consequently, having read the Gotha Programme, Marx immediately launched a furious criticism of the conception which economically and socially underlies this program, concentrating this criticism on the famous "free state":
"First of all, according to the 2nd article, the German Workers' Party strives for 'the free state'.
Free state -- what is this?
It is by no means the aim of the workers, who have got rid of the narrow mentality of humble subjects, to set the state free. In the German Empire, the 'state' is almost as 'free' as in Russia(8). Freedom consists in converting the state from an organ superimposed upon society into one completely subordinate to it; and today, too, the forms of state are more free or less free to the extent that they restrict the 'freedom of the state'.
The German Workers' Party -- at least if it adopts the program -- shows that its socialist ideas are not even skin-deep; in that, instead of treating existing society [...] as the basis of the existing state [...] it treats the state rather as an independent entity that possesses its own intellectual, ethical, and libertarian bases.
And what of the riotous misuse which the program makes of the words 'present-day state', 'present-day society', and of the still more riotous misconception it creates in regard to the state to which it addresses its demands?
'Present-day society' is capitalist society, which exists in all civilized countries, more or less free from medieval admixture, more or less modified by the particular historical development of each country, more or less developed. [...]
Nevertheless, the different states of the different civilized countries, in spite or their motley diversity of form, all have this in common: that they are based on modern bourgeois society, only one more or less capitalistically developed. They have, therefore, also certain essential characteristics in common. In this sense, it is possible to speak of the 'present-day state' in contrast with the future, in which its present root, bourgeois society, will have died off.
The question then arises: What transformation will the state undergo in communist society? In other words, what social functions will remain in existence there that are analogous to present state functions? This question can only be answered scientifically, and one does not get a flea-hop nearer to the problem by a thousand-fold combination of the word 'people' with the word 'state'."
-K.Marx, Critique of the Gotha Programme-
Like Bakunin and all the revolutionaries of yesterday and today, Marx denounced the strive to set the state more free or more popular. He refuted that by ornamenting the word state with these adjectives, one comes closer one iota to the solution of the problem and, finally, he clearly opposed the communist position to the bourgeois democratic solution of the people's and free state:
"Between capitalist and communist society there lies the period of the revolutionary transformation of the one into the other. Corresponding to this is also a political transition period in which the state can be nothing but the revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat."
-K.Marx, Critique of the Gotha Programme-
By the same occasion Marx denounced the claims of social-democracy as a part of the old bourgeois program - the democratic program -, a programm already achieved in capitalist society. Otherwise, it is fully revealing to note that already at this time the concepts, the objectives, the "program" of social-democracy came from the idealization of democracy, the idealist improvement of what that already existed in the bourgeois world at the time:
"Now the program does not deal with this [dictatorship] nor with the future state of communist society.
Its political demands contain nothing beyond the old democratic litany familiar to all: universal suffrage, direct legislation, popular rights, a people's militia, etc. They are a mere echo of the bourgeois People's Party, of the League of Peace and Freedom. They are all demands which, insofar as they are not exaggerated in fantastic presentation, have already been realized. Only the state to which they belong does not lie within the borders of the German Empire, but in Switzerland, the United states, etc. This sort of 'state of the future' is a present-day state, although existing outside the 'framework' of the German Empire."
-K.Marx, Critique of the Gotha Programme-
But social-democracy as a national party of conciliation of the classes was even not consistent with this bourgeois program, and it didn't even act as a radical bourgeois democratic party. It is obvious, as W.Liebknecht himself would later confirm it from the parliament, that this party had never been a revolutionary party but a party of reforms. It was besides the essence of social-democracy which manifested itself there: It promised to the rest of the bourgeois parties that it would achieve its aspiration for the free state by legal means: "[...] the German Workers' Party strives by all legal means for the free state" (Gotha Programme).

Marx denounced democratism and legalism, opposing them to the old revolutionary position recalling that the class struggle will be resolved by violence and by the force of weapons.

"Since one has not the courage [...] to demand the democratic republic [...] one should not have resorted, either, to the subterfuge [...] of demanding things which have meaning only in a democratic republic from a state which is nothing but a police-guarded military despotism, embellished with parliamentary forms [...]; and then to assure this state into the bargain that one imagines one will be able to force such things upon it 'by legal means'!
Even vulgar democracy, which sees the millennium in the democratic republic, and has no suspicion that it is precisely in this last form of state of bourgeois society that the class struggle has to be fought out to a conclusion -- even it towers mountains above this kind of democratism, which keeps within the limits of what is permitted by the police and not permitted by logic."
-K.Marx, Critique of the Gotha Programme-
Then Marx attacked the other political claims of bourgeois socialism peculiar to this free state, for which social-democracy aspired so much. He insisted on the fact that these demands were nothing but the "good side" of a miserable bourgeois society already existing. He thus revised and put into another context the different claims in which the words "liberty" and "popular" appeared: progressive taxes, "liberty of science", "liberty of conscience", "popular, general and equal education"... all those things had already been achieved by the bourgeois state:
"That, in fact, by the word 'state' is meant the government machine, or the state insofar as it forms a special organism separated from society through division of labor, is shown by the words 'the German Workers' Party demands as the economic basis of the state: a single progressive income tax', etc. Taxes are the economic basis of the government machinery and of nothing else. In the state of the future, existing in Switzerland, this demand has been pretty well fulfilled. Income tax presupposes various sources of income of the various social classes, and hence capitalist society. It is, therefore, nothing remarkable that the Liverpool financial reformers -- bourgeois headed by Gladstone's brotherr -- are putting forward the same demand as the program."
-K.Marx, Critique of the Gotha Programme-
Then, opposing the thesis of the German Workers' Party, that revindicates "[...] demands as the intellectual and ethical basis of the state: 1. Universal and equal elementary education...", Marx says:
"Equal elementary education? What idea lies behind these words? Is it believed that in present-day society (and it is only with this one has to deal) education can be equal for all classes? Or is it demanded that the upper classes also shall be compulsorily reduced to the modicum of education -- the elementary school -- that alone is compatible with the economic conditions not only of the wage workers but of the peasants as well?
'Universal compulsory school attendance. Free instruction.' The former exists even in Germany, the second in Switzerland and in the United states in the case of elementary schools. [...]
'Elementary education by the state' is altogether objectionable."
-K.Marx, Critique of the Gotha Programme-
Marx denounces the intention of social-democracy to "appoint the state as the educator of the people".
"'Freedom of science' says paragraph of the Prussian Constitution. Why, then, here?
'Freedom of conscience'! If one desired, at this time of the Kulturkampf to remind liberalism of its old catchwords, it surely could have been done only in the following form: Everyone should be able to attend his religious as well as his bodily needs without the police sticking their noses in. But the Workers' party ought, at any rate in this connection, to have expressed its awareness of the fact that bourgeois 'freedom of conscience' is nothing but the toleration of all possible kinds of religious freedom of conscience from the witchery of religion. But one chooses not to transgress the 'bourgeois' level."
-K.Marx, Critique of the Gotha Programme-
The concept of the free state is the synthesized expression (9) of all these particular bourgeois liberties and, that is to say, of the bourgeois liberty strictly speaking, the liberty of exchange, the liberty of private property, the liberty to exploit, the liberation of work as we said in the main text about liberty. Therefore it is totally logical that the Gotha Programme also praises the liberation and emancipation of work, an apology historically resulting from a correction/revision of the sentence of the Communist Party Manifesto pleading for the emancipation of the working class. Marx and Engels evidently criticize this claim of the social-democracy too.
"[come then] the windy discourses about the `liberation of work' instead of the emancipation of the working class, because work is nowadays too much free!"
-Letter of Engels to Bebel, 12th October 1875 - [Our translation]
Considering now the totality of the program, Marx concludes that it is nothing but a conciliation between the faith in democracy and the faith in the state, which is in total opposition to the interests of the proletariat and its revolutionary program:
"But the whole program, for all its democratic clang, is tainted through and through by the Lassallean sect's servile belief in the state, or, what is no better, by a democratic belief in miracles; or rather it is a compromise between these two kinds of belief in miracles, both equally remote from socialism."
-K.Marx, Critique of the Gotha Programme-
Engels will also criticize the program and the party stemming from Gotha:
"[...] the principle of internationalism of the worker's movement is, to all intents and purposes, utterly denied [...].
[...] as its one and only social demand, the program puts forward the Lassallean state aid in its starkest form, as stolen by Lassalle from Buchez. [...] Our party could hardly demean itself further (10)! Internationalism sunk to the level of Amand Goegg, socialism to that of the bourgeois republican Buchez, who confronted the socialists with this demand in order to supplant them!"
-letter of Engels to Bebel, 18-28th March 1875-
The free people's state also constitutes the central target of Engels' criticism:
"The free people's state is transformed into the free state. Grammatically speaking, a free state is one in which the state is free vis-à-vis its citizens, a state, that is, with a despotic government. All the palaver about the state ought to be dropped, especially after the Commune, which had ceased to be a state in the true sense of the term (11). The people's state has been flung in our teeth ad nauseam by the anarchists, although Marx's anti-Proudhon piece ['Misery of philosophy' NoR] and after it the Communist Manifesto declare outright that, with the introduction of the socialist order of society, the state will dissolve of itself and disappear (12). Now, since the state is merely a transitional institution of which use is made in the struggle, in the revolution, to keep down one's enemies by force, it is utter nonsense to speak of a free people's state; so long as the proletariat still makes use of the state, it makes use of it, not for the purpose of freedom, but of keeping down its enemies and, as soon as there can be any question of freedom, the state as such ceases to exist. We would therefore suggest that Gemeinwesen ['commonalty'] be universally substituted for state; it is a good old German word that can very well do service for the French 'Commune'."
-letter of Engels to Bebel, 18-28 March 1875-
Engels, after having expressed his complete opposition to the totality of the program, announces, with Marx, that they will assume their responsibilities publicly, which, as it is known and mentioned above, they will never do for completely blameworthy reasons of opportunity. In the same way, they will not make a public criticism of social-democracy and its program either, which will permit until today the perpetuation of the amalgam between Marx/Engels and social-democracy:
"I shall desist, although almost every word in this program, a program which is, moreover, insipidly written, lays itself open to criticism. It is such that, should it be adopted, Marx and I could never recognise a new party set up on that basis and shall have to consider most seriously what attitude -- public as well as private -- we should adopt towards it. Remember that abroad we are held responsible for any and every statement and action of the German Social-Democratic Workers' Party. E.g. by Bakunin in his work 'statehood and Anarchy', in which we are made to answer for every injudicious word spoken or written by Liebknecht since the inception of the 'Demokratisches Wochenblatt' [the democratic newspaper published in Leipzig from 1868 to 1869 under Liebknecht's leadership NoR]. People imagine that we run the whole show from here, whereas you know as well as I do that we have hardly ever interfered in the least with internal party affairs [...]. But, as you yourself will realise, this program marks a turning-point which may very well force us to renounce any kind of responsibility in regard to the party that adopts it."
-Engels' letter to Bebel, 18-28th March 1875-


One can see in this letter, like in the whole correspondence of Marx and Engels of that time, that Bakunin's correct and powerful criticism of the social-democratic practice and the conception of the free state had an enormous influence on Marx and Engels. On the other hand, while reading without prejudices the texts against the state written by Marx and Engels, as well as by Bakunin, one will notice the existence of decisive programmatical coincidences; despite the fact that the political divergences were at that time in full development, typical divergences of a period of defeat and of the unavoidable sectarian renewal coming with this phase. Unfortunately the convergences existing between these revolutionary militants won't resist sectarianism, and soon the whole movement will be weakened by hate and fratricidal struggle between groups of militants to be supressed.

We are not going here into the details of this polemic and we are not going to tackle the rough falsifications made by the different fractions of the social-democratic party (from the republican "anarchists" to the democratico-popular "communists") either, but we want to affirm that what has been said about this polemic, what has been popularized under the form of a division between the marxists and the anarchists is profoundly false. This false polarization finds its source in the sectarian vision mutually addressed by these militants. Thus, Bakunin's point of view criticizing a populist and democrat Marx who didn't exist, was completed by Marx's vision about Bakunin: a Bakunin in continuous dissolutive (and populist) alliance with all kinds of bourgeois organizations (like the famous League for Peace and Liberty), a Bakunin with a reformist project aiming "to abolish class differences" instead of the classes themselves... A more serious study of Bakunin would demonstrate that he never was the populist, the democrat or the anti-authoritarian that official "anarchism" made of him afterwards (and they even made a republican of him); a scrupulous investigating would, on the contrary show that he was a systematic partisan of internationalist organisational structures with a clearly revolutionary program. Moreover, as all genuine revolutionaries, he was induced by the very movement to admit and assume the necessity of dictatorship to put an end to capitalism; even if, unlike Marx and Engels, who always overtly claimed the latter as dictatorship of the proletariat, Bakunin was in favour of a more conspiratorial, secretive and elitist conception of the revolutionary dictatorship:

"Like invisible pilots in the middle of the popular storm, we must lead it, not by a conspicuous power, but by the collective dictatorship of all allies. Dictatorship without any presidential sashes, without any title, without any official rights. This dictatorship will be the most powerful since it will not have any of the appearances of power." (13)
-Letter of Bakunin to Richard, 1st April 1870 - [Our translation]
The weight of the historic falsification carried out by social-democracy about the division between marxists and anarchists is enormous, but we will finish these critical commentaries while rather insisting on the common content of the attacks carried on by revolutionaries against the free state. Indeed, what is fundamentally of interest for revolutionaries stands beyond the denunciation of this falsification, beyond the explanation of the real polemic.

It would be easy for us to oppose to the "anarchist" and "communist" ideological families, in a provocative but at the same time very illustrated way, the total opposition of what is generally said. This way one could criticize Marx - completely against the current of common affirmations - because of his "libertarian and sponttanist" aspect which led him in an irresponsible way to consider, shortly after his war with Bakunin, that the party of the proletariat didn't need an international formal organization any more and that the dissolution of the IWA was necessary. In the same way, one could linger over the completely "partitist" character of Bakunin, which drove him to adopt a fractionist policy inside this very International (14). But from the point of view of the affirmation of the revolutionary program, the general antagonism between reforming or destructing the state is a more fundamental reality. And this is not by chance that precisely this antagonism is pushed into the background by the different social-democratic tendencies, while promoting the Marx/Bakunin polemic.

Therefore, in opposition to this eclipse, what we want to emphasize here is that Marx, Bakunin and a lot of revolutionary militants of the time criticized the concept of the free and people's state of social-democracy and that this critique drove them naturally to affirm (certainly still in a confused and embryonic form) the necessity of the revolutionary dictatorship and the destruction of all state.

Of course also here, in the affirmation of this necessity of revolutionary dictatorship, there is a qualitative difference between Marx and Bakunin, even if once again, one can find positions which are in complete opposition to what is generally said. Usually, Marx is presented to us as a supporter and Bakunin as an enemy of politics. It is true that some aspects of their polemic took this form and used this terminology. But the reality is completely different. Marx understands the dictatorship of the proletariat as a social and historical necessity to abolish the society of Capital, a necessity in which the subjective, voluntary, political action is materially determined and must be proclaimed openly. And vice versa, the so-called apolitical attitude of Bakunin, combined with his non-recognition of the social dictatorship of the proletariat and his rejection of the historic necessity of the dictatorship as a social question (against the law of the value), leads him to a completely voluntarist, secret and therefore politicist conception of the dictatorship and the party.

"[...] and to save the revolution, to carry it off successfully, in the middle of this anarchy, the action of a collective, invisible dictatorship, which doesn't assume any kind of power and due to this it is more efficient and more powerful, the natural action of energetic and sincere socialist revolutionaries scattered on the surface of the country and of all countries, but greatly united by a common thought and a common will."
Bakunin's letter to Richard, 12 March 1870 - [Our translation]
But it's clear that also in these affirmations, and despite the divergences, Bakunin stood on our side of the barricade: he organized, led, affirmed will and conscience as the key of the party and revolution (15), he defended the necessity of direct action of revolutionary militants ("our small party", as he said in some documents) to lead the revolution.

After these precisions, let's remain once again, beyond these divergences through which one always try to overlook the main thing, that what was the most important at the time, was that the proletariat developed a community of program and struggle which crystallized among others in the practical and theoretical actions of militants like Marx, Bakunin and a lot of others.

It is not the inconsequencies of Marx or Bakunin that are really crucial in this phase of historic affirmation of the proletariat. Of course, it would be incorrect to pass over the lack of clarity of Marx in silence, as for his rupture with social-democracy, a lack of clarity which would lead him to lots of programmatical limps incoherent with his revolutionary theory (for example, the question of universal suffrage, national liberation, or also German formal social-democracy); in the same way, one must evidently denounce the politicist practices of Bakunin which would lead him to contradict in practice the decisive elements of the revolutionary theory (for example, his attempt to abolish the state with a decree adopted at the time of the seizure of the town hall of Lyon or his total lack of public rupture with the League for Peace and Freedom). What is really crucial, beyond all these oscillations peculiar to a period where the proletariat tries to distinguish itself from the social-democracy by its revolutionary practice, is the fact that an open struggle exists, pushing this rupture and the clarification of this historical antagonism. The goal of this struggle, as it is widely expressed in Marx's, Engels's, Bakunin's texts and also by other internationalist militants of those years, is the constitution of the proletariat into an historic force antagonist to all established order, the total rupture with bourgeois democracy and therefore with all the parties of social-democracy; its aim is the organization of the party of the revolution for the total destruction of capital and the world state.

It is very precisely in this framework and at this historical level of our Party that our criticism of the liberty of the capitalist world, our criticism of the free state, of the people's state... stands. It is precisely at this level that the contributions of these old comrades stands (who are not to be considered as idols) comrades who developed the first systematizations of the historical antagonism between the social-democratic solution (the free, people's, democratic state) and the revolutionary solution of the question of the state: revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat to destroy the commodity producing society and abolish all state (16).


1. In all precapitalist social formations, as well as under capitalism, the state, as the armed organization of authority, as the power which enables the extended reproduction of the mode of social production and exploitation, is par excellence a power of self-perpetuation. The capitalist state, as the power of the united bourgeoisie, has the function of perpetuation of capitalism, maintenance of capitalists as a class, and thus it has the function to sustain itself. The proletariat, on the contrary, in its social war for the destruction of capitalism, not only contains the negation of capitalism, but its own negation too. For this reason, the proletarian "state" is not a state in the traditional sense of the expression, as it also includes its own dissolution, its own extinction. It is the active negation of the dictatorship of the capital, and thus it is the negation of all kinds of dictatorship and state.

2. Buonarroti, "Conspiration pour l'Egalité dite de Babeuf" [Conspiracy for the so-called Babeuf's Equality - Our translation], Les Classiques du Peuple, Editions Sociales, pages 45 and 46.

3. It is necessary to clarify two things here. First, we use the term "Marxist" in the sense of the dissection, disintegration of Marx's work and in the meaning of the elaboration of a Marxist ideology, as an ideology of the bourgeois state for workers. This ideology contains the apology for labour, economic centralization, nationalizations, democratic institutions, etc. Second, this official and mass formation of social-democracy is not the first manifestation of social-democracy as the bourgeois party for the workers. In fact, social-democracy as the conception and historic party of counterrevolution is a more global phenomenon, and its historical origin much preceded the formalisation of the party about which we speak here. As soon as the proletariat strived to become emancipated from the bourgeoisie, tried to place itself outside and against its domination, the bourgeois attempts to constitute parties for the workers also started to develop. These parties were prepared to use any means at all in order to promote a policy which is diametrically opposed to the interests of the proletariat: a policy of submission to nations, to democracy, to alliances, to fronts, to the realization of democratic and/or national tasks... Thus, long before that the social-democratic party came into existence in the form it adopted in 1875 in Germany, its various formal expressions had already appeared in several countries.

4. It is necessary to know that the program of social-democracy presented here, whose main writer was the "Marxist" W.Liebknecht, governed the life of this organization for more than 15 years on, until the Halle Congress on 16th October, 1890 recommended the writing of a new program project. This task was accomplished shortly after, and the new program was ratified in Erfurt in 1891.

5. Marx, for example, affirms in a letter to Bracke: "After the Coalition Congress Engels and I will publish a short declaration and say that we have nothing to do with this programme of principles." (Marx's letter to Bracke, 5th May, 1875) Under the absurd pretext that both classes of the society considered it as a real revolutionary and even communist programme, though it was nothing else just a bourgeois democratic programme, Marx and Engels didn't make public their rupture with it. "But donkeys of the bourgeois newspapers took this program seriously, they read what was not there and interpreted it as communist. The workers seem to do the same. [Our translation until here] It is this circumstance alone which has made it possible for Marx and myself not to disassociate ourselves publicly from a programme such as this. So long as our opponents as well as the workers continue to read our views into that programme, we are justified in saying nothing about it." (Engels' letter to Bebel, 12th October 1875). It was an enormous political mistake, because while basing themselves on "what people think of it", Marx and Engels especially refrained from saying what it was. The proletariat and its vanguard minorities paid a gigantic price for this silence.

6. Bakunin mistakenly believed that the German socialist party was represented by Marx and Engels in the International, but he was right when he described social-democracy as a bourgeois national party, and he was also correct when claiming that in reality this party of social-democracy opposed the International not only programmatically but also all the attempts to practically organise with the International. Indeed, the joining/adhesion of the left-wing of this party to the International was merely formal (one only speaks here about Bebel and Liebknecht, since the others didn't even sympathized with the workers' International). As Engels said in a letter to T.Cuno of 7th/8th March 1872: "The position of the German Workers' Party in relation to the International was never clear. There were only some merely platonic relations, there was never a real adherence, not even from isolated people (despite some exceptions)..." [Our translation] After recalling that no sections were ever constituted because it was legally forbidden, Engels insisted on the fact that "in Germany, they limited themselves to claim the rights of members (of the International NoR) without supporting the duties..." [Our translation]

7. In the same text Marx adds: "But, the attitude of the state, and of the free state in particular, to religion is, after all, only the attitude to religion of the men who compose the state. It follows from this that man frees himself through the medium of the state, that he frees himself politically from a limitation when, in contradiction with himself, he raises himself above this limitation in an abstract, limited, and partial way." (K.Marx, On the Jewish question)

8. Marx ridicules here the claiming of the free state, while affirming that in Germany one is almost as "free" as in Russia, which means, if you take into account the following sentence and the understanding Marx had of the European reality of that time, that in Germany the government was practically as despotic as the regime in Russia, which was considered at that moment as the despotism par excellence. It is noteworthy that Marx was attentive enough to put this "liberty" of the "state" into inverted commas, to oppose it to the real liberty which begins where the "liberty of the state" is limited (or more essentially, when the state doesn't exist any more).

9. We do not think that it is correct to affirm that the free state is the supreme level of all these liberties. It is clear that the liberty of work, resulting from the liberty achieved by the historic separation of the producer and his means of production, constitutes the main determination.

10. Engels denounces the Socialist Workers' Party of Germany stemming from Gotha because of its practice and program, and he defines it as a democratic party, a bourgeois party, a party of conciliation with the state... but while qualifying this organization as "our party" (!), he makes an extremely serious concession which has, still today, innumerable and immeasurable practical consequences.

11. Reading the programs of social-democracy and all of its epigones, one can never exactly decide about which situation (pre- or post-revolutionary) one is speaking, which state (bourgeois state or proletarian semi-state) it is about (cf. for example the Trotskyist transition program). This is why Engels found himself first obligated to criticize the free state as a bourgeois state while showing that this one is necessarily despotic; and it is only after that he talks about the post-revolutionary "state", while specifying that it is not a "state" in the sense this term is usually used by social-democracy and including those who proclaim themselves "anarchists".

12. Facing Marxism-Leninism which invented socialism embracing commodity, money, the law of value and "the Workers' state", it is fundamental to emphasize the disappearance of the state, about which Engels speaks here, and to restore the ABC of the conception of the proletarian revolutionary dictatorship which aims to set up a social regime without commodity, without private property, without value,... a socialist social system which made itself superfluous and allows the extinction, the disappearance of the state.

13. This affirmation of a secret and powerful dictatorship made here by Bakunin is not an exception in his militant life; it is rather permanent feature of all his "alliancist" period, contrary to the legend claiming that it was his most anti-authoritarian period. One can only understand that if one knows Bakunin's general practice, a practice marked by innumerable degrees of the organization and the program, where very open populist levels, and extremely clandestine levels are in juxtaposition; these latter are clearly partisans of internationalism and revolutionary socialism, on basis of a completely disciplined and hierarchical organisation. It is for example the case of the organization of Y., that is structured on the basis of a set of categories which go from the international brothers to the local alliances. Bakunin establishes that "all lower categories (must) be organized in a way that they always obey, all the more in fact than of right, the direction which will be given to them by the upper categories." -M.Bakunin, "Programme of Y [of the internnational fraternity]" - [Our translation], Oeuvres complètes, vol.6, Ed. Champ Libre, page 186.

14. Guy Debord in "The society of the spectacle" is one of the rare militants who understood, at least partially, the sense of the polemic between Bakunin and Marx. Cf. the fourth part of this book ("The proletariat as subject and as representation") and in particular thesis 91 of which we reproduce here a short excerpt: "Marx thought that the growth of economic contradictions inseparable from democratic education of the workers would reduce the role of the proletarian state to a simple phase of legalizing the new social relations imposing themselves objectively, and denounced Bakunin and his followers for the authoritarianism of a conspiratorial elite which deliberately placed itself above the International and formulated the extravagant design of imposing on society the irresponsible dictatorship of those who are most revolutionary, or those who would designate themselves to be such."

15. There are some partitists -particularly among the bordiguists- who believe that Bordiga was the first to affirm the party as a fact of conscience and will!

16. Cf. Communisme n°.40 (our central review in French) and Comunismo n°31 (our central review in Spanish) dedicated to the historical antagonism between Communism and state and titled: Against the state.



Dictatorship of the Proletariat for the Abolition of Wage Labour

Central review in English of the Internationalist Communist Group (ICG)