1990s >> >> no-1056-august-1992

Book Review: Against the state

 Karl Marx’s Theory of Revolution, Volume IV: Critique of Other Socialisms by Hal Draper, Monthly Review Press

Marx and Engels gave few details about what they thought socialism would be like. However, they both wrote an enormous amount about what they thought socialism would not be like. Or rather, they provided a critique of “other socialisms”—hence the subtitle of this volume of Draper’s exhaustive analysis of Marxian politics.

The “other socialisms” were Utopian Socialism (Saint-Simon, Fourier and Owen gave useful criticisms of existing society and interesting ideas for a future society, but were naive about how this was to come about); Sentimental Socialism (not a school of socialism but a tendency to be found in various schools, substituting the power of love, humanity or morality for the class struggle); the Anarchism of Stirner, Proudhon and Bakunin (criticised for the authoritarianism inherent in its anti-democratic nature); Reactionary Anticapitalisms (those who yearn for a pre-capitalist golden age, as in the writings of Thomas Carlyle); and Boulangism (after General Georges Boulanger in France, an arch-opportunist and a forerunner of “National Socialism”).

Marx and Engels were also confronted with a “socialist” ideology which was patently anti-socialist—Bismarckian Socialism (or so-called “State Socialism”). In late nineteenth century Germany the Bismarck regime introduced nationalisation and social-welfare reforms; in part this was to undermine the growing support for the German SDP led by Lassalle, who proposed similar statist reforms (and criticised by Marx in his Critique of the Gotha Programme). It is this Bismarckian, statist conception of “socialism” which—via Lenin in to Bolshevism and the Fabians into Labourism—has become world famous. The irony, however, is that this conception of socialism is largely anti-socialist in its origin.

Draper accepts that in Socialism: Scientific and Utopian Engels gave a “definite repudiation” of “the view that statification equals socialism, or that statification was progressive”, but that doesn’t stop him peddling the Trotskyist (that is to say, Bolshevik) nonsense about the need for a “workers’ state”. Engels, in the same place, is quite clear:

The modern state, no matter what its form, is essentially a capitalist machine, the state of the capitalists, the ideal collective capitalist. The more it proceeds to the taking over of the productive forces, the more it actually becomes collective capitalist, the more citizens it exploits. The workers remain wage-workers, proletarians. But the capitalist relation is not done away with; it is rather brought to a head.

Lew Higgins