Home > political-economy > Farewell, Great Leader!: Rethinking Marx, Liberty, the Individual and the State: Some comments

Farewell, Great Leader!: Rethinking Marx, Liberty, the Individual and the State: Some comments

Farewell, Great Leader!

Continued from

In his post, “Marxism And Libertarian Exploitation Theory”, Brad argues that the State, even under revolutionary conditions, will not whither away, but will find ways to persist and enjoy its privileged position in society:

The second point has been demonstrated in nearly every society which has taken a serious stab at state socialism. The rulers become quite fond of being the rulers, and enjoying the material and societal perks of being at the top of the food chain. Rather than dismantling the exploitive class, they replace it with themselves. If faced with the choice of “withering away” or putting down their opposition by whatever means necessary, they usually opt for the latter. Lord Acton’s old adage about power corrupting holds sway.

Michael, in his post, “Rethinking Marx”, quotes Peter A. Schraeder, who puts the revolutionary reconstitution of society this way:

“…a revolutionary situation emerges when advances in technological, scientific, and other forms of material development (the forces of production) outgrow an outmoded system of ownership of property among classes (the relations of production) such that the dominant class finds it increasingly difficult to maintain control over the rest of society through its traditional means. Because no “civilized” society ever forfeits its material level of development, the net result of the growing contradiction between the forces of production and the relations of production is a heightened class struggle in which the ruling class is eventually overthrown…”

I can say without fear of contradiction that neither of these portraits accurately reflect Marx’s view of a revolutionary transition to a stateless society. To understand him properly, we must begin where Marx ends: This stateless society itself.

In Marx’s model, this stateless society is founded directly on free cooperative voluntary association itself. There is no state apparatus other than this association. The idea that there is some intervening period of transition under which the management of society is undertaken by any State form other than this freely constituted voluntary association is a distortion introduced into Marx’s theory either by those who wish to deliberately twist his words, or the confused, but perhaps well-meaning, imbeciles who claim to be Marxists but have no accurate understanding of the man’s theory.

One clue that betrays the lack of understanding of Marx’s theory here, and in almost all writings on the subject, is the portrayal of this revolutionary reconstitution of society as a decidedly political act. Now, think back to what I established as Marx’s view of the Individual and the State in the first part of this piece. In Marx’s model the Individual is a complete abstraction from every quality we associate with human beings — an average member of society — set in a completely atomized environment in which every interest is counter-posed to every other interest in society; and, society itself acquires the character of a permanent, all-sided, all-encompassing state of civil conflict.  The State that emerges out of this conflict is precisely a Fascist State that renounces the all-sided conflict of society and seeks to put an end to this conflict by totalizing its control over society.

Where, in this scenario, is there a basis for the revolutionary reconstitution of society? Who is the agent of this reconstitution? Where, in a Hobbesian social atmosphere of universal distrust, competition and conflict — in which the economic activity of each member is truly a matter of life and death — is there a basis for a cooperative consciousness to emerge in the form of a political movement to replace the existing relations with voluntary association? It doesn’t exist, which is why the pathetic imbeciles who imagine themselves to be followers of Marx, must invent, out of whole cloth, the idea of a transition to a stateless society during which society is managed on its behalf by some enlightened despotism under the personal direction of the Great Leader! This fantasy, which can be found nowhere in Marx’s writings, is a 20th Century invention — a child’s fairy tale retold again and again, until like Goebbels Big Lie, it has become incorporated into the accepted interpretation of Marx’s writings.

A second clue that betrays the lack of understanding of Marx’s theory is the objects seized by this revolutionary reconstitution of society. Brad describes this as, “the proletariat seizing the means of production and then finding harmonious sustainable ways to equitably distribute the fruits of such production.” This is indeed consistent with the view of almost all Marxists, and non-Marxist literature without exception. In the scenario outlined here the revolutionary reconstitution of society begins with the seizure of the fixed capital — factories, farms, banks, businesses, roads, bridges, telecommunications and other such items. All of these are brought under the control of the revolutionary administration — the above cited clarification of the manner of this administration is assumed — and managed by society on its own behalf, and no longer on behalf of the capitalist class or the State.

This confusion can also be traced to Marx’s own writings as interpreted by his misguided followers who completely misunderstand what he meant, and by those who, building on this misinterpretation, swallowed it whole as an accurate reproduction of his thinking. I cannot find support for such an interpretation when I examine his most extensive sketch of what this reconstitution will look like.

So, for instance, Marx writes:

This appropriation is first determined by the object to be appropriated, the productive forces, which have been developed to a totality and which only exist within a universal intercourse. From this aspect alone, therefore, this appropriation must have a universal character corresponding to the productive forces and the intercourse.

But, then, oddly enough he goes on to say:

The appropriation of these forces is itself nothing more than the development of the individual capacities corresponding to the material instruments of production. The appropriation of a totality of instruments of production is, for this very reason, the development of a totality of capacities in the individuals themselves.

Marx is clearly making a distinction between the productive forces of society, and the material instrument of production corresponding to those productive forces. The point of the exercise is not to seize the fixed capital but the productive forces corresponding to this fixed capital. Moreover, this appropriation is identical with the development of the capacities of the individual. In the preceding section of the same work, Marx speaks of these productive forces as existing in:

…a world for themselves, quite independent of and divorced from the individuals, alongside the individuals: the reason for this is that the individuals, whose forces they are, exist split up and in opposition to one another, whilst, on the other hand, these forces are only real forces in the intercourse and association of these individuals.

So, the productive forces are nothing more than the capacities of the members of society, which, like they themselves exist in an environment of Hobbesian conflict and competition. The forces of production are their own individual capacities which, as we earlier wrote, have completely escaped their control as individuals, and evade every attempt by the members of society, singly or in concert, to reestablish control over them within this Hobbesian nightmare.

The revolutionary process has as its objective not to bring the fixed capital of society under its common control: this fixed investment in machinery, buildings, farms, and communications is actually a WORTHLESS CONGLOMERATION OF LIFELESS OBJECTS, which the capitalist, as a matter of routine operation, is constantly forced to devalue and discard under the competitive pressures of the market. Marx’s point is that it is the capacities of the individual members of society which constitutes its true wealth. These capacities must be brought under control in a fashion that is entirely consistent with the actual form in which they exist: as the capacities of each individual in society, indistinguishable from the physical container in which they repose: each individual.

A stateless society begins, therefore, with the individual seizing his own capacities back from this Hobbesian nightmare, and reclaiming them for his own. On this basis alone, free voluntary cooperative association can be constituted. Cooperative association can only be constituted by a society of individuals who are in complete control of their own human capacities as individuals, and, on this basis alone, can freely determine their relations with the rest of society.

To be continued

  1. January 25, 2011 at 1:31 pm

    If, as you say in a later post, Marx “never believed that there would need to be a period of state socialism to achieve a stateless society,” how do you account for The Communist Manifesto, particularly the ten “planks”?

    • January 25, 2011 at 2:30 pm

      The Communist Manifesto is a political program — a statement of the steps communists would take as a political party if they achieved a democratic majority. It is not a statement of Marx’s theory, but only a practical statement of measures necessary at that time to gradually realize voluntary association based n the prevailing conditions of mid-19th Century capitalism. I think too many Marxists have been confusing this limited political program with Marx’s theory, which leads them into a blind alley. Mid-19th Century capitalism was hardly of sufficient development to directly realize communist association, yet, the proletariat was becoming more organized as a class, and appeared intent on gaining political power on its own behalf. What would it need to do? The Communist Manifesto is a detailed practical guide for it at that time. Marx’s theory itself is better stated in its fully developed form in the German Ideology.

      • January 25, 2011 at 3:39 pm

        Thanks for the clarification. BTW, I’m enjoying this series of posts very much.

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