Karl Marx
Original publication: marxists.org

Conspectus of Bakunin’s Statism and Anarchy (1874)

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Despite all the wrongheaded effort on the part of “Anarcho-Communists,” the chasm between Marxism and Anarchism remains fundamental and unbridgeable. Engels and Lenin are often cited, but Marx was explicit, among other occasions, in this tear-down of Bakunin’s work.

Karl Marx (1818-1883) and Mikhail Bakunin (1814-1876) clashed at various points in their lives, most famously at the International Workingmen’s Association (“First International”). Marx’s “collectivist” faction eventually expelled Bakunin’s anarchist faction in 1872. This incident is bookended by the publication of important works: Marx’s Capital (1867) and Bakunin’s Statism and Anarchy (1873).

This private conspectus of Statism and Anarchy was written by Marx in late 1874. It consists of handwritten reproductions of several of Bakunin’s proclamations, interweaved with and followed up by Marx’s reactions to each excerpt.

(Bakunin:) We have already stated our deep opposition to the theory of Lassalle and Marx, which recommends to the workers, if not as final ideal then at least as the next major aim — the foundation of a people’s state, which, as they have expressed it, will be none other than the proletariat organized as ruling class. The question arises, if the proletariat becomes the ruling class, over whom will it rule? It means that there will still remain another proletariat, which will be subject to this new domination, this new state.

(Marx:) It means that so long as the other classes, especially the capitalist class, still exists, so long as the proletariat struggles with it (for when it attains government power its enemies and the old organization of society have not yet vanished), it must employ forcible means, hence governmental means. It is itself still a class and the economic conditions from which the class struggle and the existence of classes derive have still not disappeared and must forcibly be either removed out of the way or transformed, this transformation process being forcibly hastened.

e.g. the krestyanskaya chern, the common peasant folk, the peasant mob, which as is well known does not enjoy the goodwill of the Marxists, and which, being as it is at the lowest level of culture, will apparently be governed by the urban factory proletariat.

i.e. where the peasant exists in the mass as private proprietor, where he even forms a more or less considerable majority (as in all states of the west European continent), where he has not disappeared and been replaced by the agricultural wage-labourer (as in England), the following cases apply: either he hinders each workers’ revolution and makes a wreck of it, as he has formerly done in France; or the proletariat must, as government, take measures through which the peasant finds his condition immediately improved, so as to win him for the revolution (for the peasant proprietor does not belong to the proletariat, and even where his condition is proletarian, he believes himself not to be). These measures will at least provide the possibility of easing the transition from private ownership of land to collective ownership, so that the peasant arrives at this of his own accord, from economic reasons. It must not hit the peasant over the head, as it would, for example, by proclaiming the abolition of the right of inheritance, or the abolition of his property. The latter is only possible where the capitalist tenant farmer has forced out the peasants, and where the true cultivator is just as good a proletarian wage-labourer as is the town worker, and so has immediately, not just indirectly, the very same interests as him. Still less should small-holding property be strengthened, by the enlargement of the peasant allotment simply through peasant annexation of the larger estates, as in Bakunin’s revolutionary campaign.

Or, if one considers this question from the national angle, we would for the same reason assume that, as far as the Germans are concerned, the Slavs will stand in the same slavish dependence towards the victorious German proletariat as the latter does at present towards its own bourgeoisie.

Schoolboy stupidity! A radical social revolution depends on certain definite historical conditions of economic development as its precondition. It is also only possible where with capitalist production the industrial proletariat occupies at least an important position among the mass of the people. And if it is to have any chance of victory, it must be able to do immediately as much for the peasants as the French bourgeoisie, mutatis mutandis, did in its revolution for the French peasants of that time. A fine idea, that the rule of labour involves the subjugation of land labour! But here Mr. Bakunin’s innermost thoughts emerge. He understands absolutely nothing about the social revolution, only its political phrases. Its economic conditions do not exist for him. As all hitherto existing economic forms, developed or undeveloped, involve the enslavement of the worker (whether in the form of wage-labourer, peasant etc.), he believes that a radical revolution is possible in all such forms alike. Still more! He wants the European social revolution, premised on the economic basis of capitalist production, to take place at the level of the Russian or Slavic agricultural and pastoral peoples, not to surpass this level […] The will, and not the economic conditions, is the foundation of his social revolution.

If there is a state [gosudarstvo], then there is unavoidably domination [gospodstvo], and consequently slavery. Domination without slavery, open or veiled, is unthinkable — this is why we are enemies of the state.

What does it mean, the proletariat organized as ruling class?

It means that the proletariat, instead of struggling sectionally against the economically privileged class, has attained a sufficient strength and organization to employ general means of coercion in this struggle. It can however only use such economic means as abolish its own character as salariat, hence as class. With its complete victory its own rule thus also ends, as its class character has disappeared.

Will the entire proletariat perhaps stand at the head of the government?

In a trade union, for example, does the whole union form its executive committee? Will all division of labour in the factory, and the various functions that correspond to this, cease? And in Bakunin’s constitution, will all ‘from bottom to top’ be ‘at the top’? Then there will certainly be no one ‘at the bottom.’ Will all members of the commune simultaneously manage the interests of its territory? Then there will be no distinction between commune and territory.

The Germans number around forty million. Will for example all forty million be member of the government?

Certainly! Since the whole thing begins with the self-government of the commune.

The whole people will govern, and there will be no governed.

If a man rules himself, he does not do so on this principle, for he is after all himself and no other.

Then there will be no government and no state, but if there is a state, there will be both governors and slaves.

i.e. only if class rule has disappeared, and there is no state in the present political sense.

This dilemma is simply solved in the Marxists’ theory. By people’s government they understand (i.e. Bakunin) the government of the people by means of a small number of leaders, chosen (elected) by the people.

Asine! This is democratic twaddle, political drivel. Election is a political form present in the smallest Russian commune and artel. The character of the election does not depend on this name, but on the economic foundation, the economic situation of the voters, and as soon as the functions have ceased to be political ones, there exists 1) no government function, 2) the distribution of the general functions has become a business matter, that gives no one domination, 3) election has nothing of its present political character.

The universal suffrage of the whole people…

Such a thing as the whole people in today’s sense is a chimera…

…in the election of people’s representatives and rulers of the state — that is the last word of the Marxists, as also of the democratic school — [is] a lie, behind which is concealed the despotism of the governing minority, and only the more dangerously in so far as it appears as expression of the so-called people’s will.

With collective ownership the so-called people’s will vanishes, to make way for the real will of the cooperative.

So the result is: guidance of the great majority of the people by a privileged minority. But this minority, say the Marxists…


…will consist of workers. Certainly, with your permission, of former workers, who however, as soon as they have become representatives or governors of the people, cease to be workers…

As little as a factory owner today ceases to be a capitalist if he becomes a municipal councillor…

…and look down on the whole common workers’ world from the height of the state. They will no longer represent the people, but themselves and their pretensions to people’s government. Anyone who can doubt this knows nothing of the nature of men.

If Mr. Bakunin only knew something about the position of a manager in a workers’ cooperative factory, all his dreams of domination would go to the devil. He should have asked himself what form the administrative function can take on the basis of this workers’ state, if he wants to call it that.

But those elected will be fervently convinced and therefore educated socialists. The phrase ‘educated socialism’…

…never was used.

…’scientific socialism’…

…was only used in opposition to utopian socialism, which wants to attach the people to new delusions, instead of limiting its science to the knowledge of the social movement made by the people itself; see my text against Proudhon [1]

…which is unceasingly found in the works and speeches of the Lassalleans and Marxists, itself indicates that the so-called people’s state will be nothing else than the very despotic guidance of the mass of the people by a new and numerically very small aristocracy of the genuine or supposedly educated. The people are not scientific, which means that they will be entirely freed from the cares of government, they will be entirely shut up in the stable of the governed. A fine liberation!

The Marxists sense this (!) contradiction and, knowing that the government of the educated (quelle reverie) will be the most oppressive, most detestable, most despised in the world, a real dictatorship despite all democratic forms, console themselves with the thought that this dictatorship will only be transitional and short.

Non, mon cher! — That the class rule of the workers over the strata of the old world whom they have been fighting can only exist as long as the economic basis of class existence is not destroyed.

They say that their only concern and aim is to educate and uplift the people (saloon-bar politicians!) both economically and politically, to such a level that all government will be quite useless and the state will lose all political character, i.e. character of domination, and will change by itself into a free organization of economic interests and communes. An obvious contradiction. If their state will really be popular, why not destroy it, and if its destruction is necessary for the real liberation of the people, why do they venture to call it popular?

Aside from the harping of Liebknecht’s Volksstaat, which is nonsense, counter to the Communist Manifesto, etc., it only means that, as the proletariat still acts, during the period of struggle for the overthrow of the old society, on the basis of that old society, and hence also still moves within political forms which more or less belong to it, it has not yet, during this period of struggle, attained its final constitution, and employs means for its liberation which after this liberation fall aside. Mr. Bakunin concludes from this that it is better to do nothing at all, just wait for the day of general liquidation — the final judgement.

[1] The Poverty of Philosophy (1847).