Marx and Engels on the State

This on-line version is the pre-copyedited, preprint version. The published version can be found here:

‘Marx and Engels on the state’, in S. Hibbin, ed., Politics, Ideology, and the State, London: Lawrence and Wishart, 40-68, 1978.


It is a commonplace that Marx did not produce an account of the state to match the analytical power of his critique of the capitalist mode of production in Das Kapital. Indeed, although this great work was to have included an extended treatment of the state, Marx did not succeed in committing it to paper. Instead his legacy in this respect comprises an uneven and unsystematic collection of philosophical reflections, journalism, contemporary history, political forecasts, and incidental remarks. It was left to Engels to develop a more systematic account of the origins and nature of the state and to discuss the general relations between state power and economic development. However, while it was Engels rather than Marx who first adumbrated a class theory of the state, the ‘General’ was no more successful than Marx himself in developing this insight into a complete and coherent analysis of the capitalist state.

But this commonplace should not be taken to imply that Marx made no lasting contribution to political analysis. On the contrary it is as much for his theory of proletarian revolution as for his critique of political economy that Marx merits his eponym and continues to have an exceptional posthumous influence. Likewise Engels is as well known for his work on the state and politics as he is for his indictment of early English capitalism or his philosophy of ‘scientific socialism’. In this respect it is worth noting that, although Lenin, Trotsky, and Gramsci also failed to produce a systematic analysis of the capitalist state, their contributions to Marxism are nonetheless heavily weighted towards political analysis and revolutionary practice. Accordingly it is most unfortunate that the rich and varied work of these five leading Marxists (and others) on the state and political power has still to be elaborated and transformed into a coherent theoretical analysis. Such a task is clearly beyond the scope of the present paper but some first steps can be taken in relation to the work of Marx and Engels.

The early Marx

Since the publication of the 1844 manuscripts in 1927 there has been a lively debate among Marxists and Marxologists alike concerning whether or not Marx effected (or experienced) a radical break during the course of his intellectual development. This debate is generally focused on the basic epistemological and philosophical presuppositions of the 1844 Manuscripts and Das Kapital and it has been much complicated by the still more recent republication in 1953 of the hitherto unremarked Grundrisse. But it is also concerned with the relative continuity or discontinuity of Marxian concepts and principles of explanation in the analysis of specific topics in the domains of economics, politics, and ideology. That the two levels of debate are closely related can be seen particularly clearly in the present context from the Hegelian-centred reading of Marx rendered by Avineri, who seeks to establish the deep-seated continuity of the social and political thought of Marx by tracing the themes of his early work on Hegel’s political philosophy through the vicissitudes of Marx’s subsequent theoretical development (Avineri 1968, passim). It is beyond the scope of this chapter to discuss the general issues involved in this debate but it is clearly essential for us to confront the particular question of continuity in the Marxian analysis of politics.

This question is overlain by another. For there is also a major dispute concerning whether the Marxian analysis of politics is an original theoretical product or whether it is largely borrowed from the works of Machiavelli, Montesquieu, and Rousseau. Thus Colletti argues that Marx had already developed a near definitive theory of state power before the 1844 Manuscripts started him on the long march to his most important theoretical discoveries. In particular Colletti argues that the Critique of Hegel’s ‘Philosophy of Law’ (1843) and the Introduction to a proposed revision of that critique (written in 1843-44) embody a mature theory which neither the older Marx, nor Engels, nor Lenin would improve upon in the least substantially. And he also argues that this so-called mature Marxist theory was heavily indebted to Rousseau for its critique of parliamentarism, the theory of popular delegation, and the need for the ultimate suppression of the state itself. From this Colletti concludes that the originality of Marxism must be sought in the field of social and economic analysis rather than in its politics (Colletti 1975: 45-48).

In contrast Blackburn has argued that the real focus of the work of Marx and Engels was political rather than philosophical or economic and that their decisive contribution was the theory of proletarian revolution. And he insists most strongly that in no field has Marxism been more original than in political theory and that Marxists either discovered or thoroughly reworked every important political concept. For the historical materialist concepts of class, party, revolution, bureaucracy, state, nation, etc., are not in the least anticipated in the work of earlier political theorists and philosophers. This leads Blackburn to a different periodization of the development of Marxian political analysis. Thus, whereas Colletti finds a mature and near-definitive theory in the 1843 Critique, Blackburn argues that Marx did not even commit himself in outline to the proletarian revolution until 1844 (in the Introduction) and was still employing political concepts that were ‘spare and rudimentary’ in the Communist Manifesto some four years later. And, although Marx and Engels were able to develop these concepts through their involvement in the First International, their intervention in the development of the German workers’ movement, and their observation of French politics (especially the Paris Commune), they could not – according to Blackburn – complete their theory of proletarian revolution even if they were able to distinguish it from Blanquism and ‘democratic faith in miracles’. Blackburn concludes that it was not until the events of 1905 and 1917 in Russia that other revolutionary Marxists could substantially (albeit not finally) accomplish this task (Blackburn 1976, passim).

What evidence can be adduced for these radically different views of the trajectory followed by Marx in developing his political theory? In the rest of this paper I shall argue that the evidence is far from consistent and unambiguous because neither Marx nor Engels presented a definitive analysis of the state and politics. Instead we find a wide variety of themes and approaches which are capable of independent (and in part contradictory) theoretical development but which are typically combined in various ways by Marx and Engels in their empirical studies of particular societies and political conjunctures. These themes and/or approaches occasionally receive an exclusive and one-sided treatment but they are generally articulated in a way that ensures their mutual qualification in a state of theoretical tension. However, it is also true that we can trace a gradual transformation of these different elements and the manner of their combination so that the Marxian theory of the state and politics undergoes substantial development from the 1840s to the 1880s. It remains ill-formulated and inconsistent throughout its development but the final version is much more adequate theoretically. But, before presenting our reconstruction of the final Marxian approach, let us first consider the early political writings.

The Critique of Hegel’s ‘Philosophy of Law’ is the central work of political theory written by Marx in the period before he became a communist. It is mainly concerned with a criticism of Hegel’s method of dialectical logic rather than with a direct examination of Hegel’s doctrine of the state. Marx first shows how this method results in an apologia for the Prussian constitution and system of government on the thoroughly idealist grounds that it is the ‘empirical existence of the truth’, the self-incarnation of God in the world (Marx 1843a: 3-40, especially 38-40). He then proceeds to examine Hegel’s own prescription concerning the mediation between the separate spheres of state and civil society to be effected through the monarchy, the executive, and the legislative assembly. It is here that Marx develops a general critique of the separation of the state and civil society and argues that this separation cannot be resolved either through the rule of a universal and neutral bureaucracy or the election of a legislative assembly to govern in the interests of the people (Marx 1843a: 20-149).

Thus, although Marx agrees with Hegel that there are two distinct spheres in modern society and that civil society is a sphere of egoism or self-interest, he also denies that this separation is immanent or inevitable and that the state can transcend the war of each against all and secure the common interest of all its citizens. In opposition to the claim that the institutional separation of the state is the logical complement to the self-particularisation of the universal Idea, Marx argues that the state becomes fully differentiated only in definite historical circumstances which he identifies mainly in terms of freedom of exchange in commerce and in landed property (Marx 1843a: 16-17 and 32). And, whereas Hegel claims that the bureaucracy in the modern state is a ‘universal class’ whose necessary and objective function it is to realize the ‘universal interest’, Marx argues that the egoism of civil society implies that any concept of a ‘universal interest’ is necessarily a pure abstraction (Marx 1943a: 45-46). Nor does the agreed fact that the state assumes an independent material form mean that it can therefore transcend the generalized particularism of civil society. Instead the state itself becomes shot through with crass materialism and the bureaucracy simply becomes one particular interest among others. Indeed Marx notes that the various independent groups in Prussian civil society struggle to maintain their interests against the encroachments of the bureaucracy but also need the latter to act as the guarantor of their interests against other groups. In turn the officials tend to appropriate state power as their private property and use it to further both their corporate and individual interests (ibid.). Moreover, because state power is used to protect the rights of property (especially those of the Junker class), the Prussian state actually functions to reproduce the war of each against all in civil society (Marx 1843a: 98-99 and 108). Accordingly the citizens of the modem state are involved in an alienated and estranged form of public life since its constant penetration by private egoism ensures that the universal interest remains abstract and illusory (Marx 1843a: 46 and passim).

Nor can the introduction of a recharged organic feudal order with representation based on estates or, indeed, the further development of the bourgeois democratic republic based on universal suffrage can overcome this estrangement through the re-integration of the public and private lives of the citizens. For, in opposition to Hegel’s proposal that each social class be legally incorporated as a basis for political representation and for the fusion of the public and private spheres, Marx argues that this would involve the refeudalization of modem society and destroy the individual freedoms and formal equality of private citizens (Marx 1843a: 72-73 and 79-81). He also argues that estates or corporations of this kind would not materially represent the universal interest but would simply reproduce the antagonisms of civil society inside the state (Marx 1843a: 90-91). In addition Marx criticizes Hegel’s proposals for the popular election of deputies on the twin grounds that such deputies would employ public office to further private interests and that they would dominate rather than represent the people (Marx 1843a: 122-123). This means that the parliamentary republic is necessarily limited as a form of popular control because it is inserted into a state whose claim to represent the interest of all its citizens must remain illusory so long as civil society is dominated by the egoism engendered by private property and competition. Thus, if real democracy and the universal interest are to be realized, private property and the abstract state must be abolished.

These themes are elaborated by Marx in his contemporaneous essay On The Jewish Question. This is a critique of the ideas of Bruno Bauer regarding Jewish emancipation and compares the nature and effects of religious and political emancipation. Marx argues that the modem state abolished the political significance of religion, birth, rank, education, and occupation through the institution of formal equality among its citizens; but it could not abolish their continuing social significance in the reproduction of substantive inequalities. Thus, although the modern state and civil society are structurally distinct, it is the egoism of civil society that shapes political activity (Marx 1843b: 153 and 164). Accordingly Marx concludes that the emancipation of man requires more then the concession of formal political freedom. It can be completed only when the individual activities of men are reorganized to give full expression to their social and public nature (Marx 1843b: 167-68).

This stress on human emancipation is articulated with class struggle for the first time in the Introduction to a Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s ‘Philosophy of Law’. In this brief essay Marx discusses the uneven development of philosophy and society in Germany (noting that social development lagged behind philosophical) and argues that complete emancipation is possible only on the basis of a proletarian revolution. For, since the nascent proletariat is subject to all the evils of modern society, it can achieve its own emancipation only through the total elimination of all exploitation and oppression (Marx 1844a: 185-187). Moreover, given the wholly miserable conditions in which the proletariat lives, all that is required for the German revolution to occur is the widespread diffusion of the critical philosophy of the whole man (Marx 1844a: 187). In short, whilst the proletariat has nothing to lose but its chains, it stands to gain the whole world not just for itself but for mankind in general.

We are now in a position to assess the contributions of the young Marx to the analysis of politics and the state. It should be apparent that these studies do not amount to a near-definitive theory of the state apparatus or state power and, indeed, since they take the form of critiques and are very much preliminary analyses, it is unreasonable to expect them to do so. At best they reproduce and elaborate certain elements of anti-statism current at the time and also present a series of acute observations on the nature of bureaucratic rule and political representation. In this respect it should be noted that, although these ideas clearly owe much to the work of other radical liberal democrats, the young Marx locates them in a problematic that is inspired by Hegel rather than Rousseau. In addition to his analyses of the modem state Marx also examines the question of revolution. His emphasis on the role of the proletariat in this context is original but its initial presentation is still much influenced by the Hegelian approach. Indeed, since Marx had not yet developed the fundamental concepts of historical materialism, it is difficult to see how these studies could seriously be described as works of mature Marxism.

Thus entire theoretical discussion is cast in a philosophical framework and that many of the key economic and political concepts are heavily imbued with philosophical overtones. For, not only are class differences assimilated to those of rank, religion, and education and discussed in terms of an undifferentiated and non-specific conception of private property and human egoism, but the relation between the state and civil society is also analyzed mainly in terms of such oppositions as ‘universal-particular’ and ‘real-abstract’. Likewise the proletariat is seen largely as an underclass (even a lumpen-class) precipitated in the course of a general social disintegration and its emancipation is seen in terms of the final liberation and fulfillment of an essentially social man who has hitherto lived in conditions of unfreedom and/or self-estrangement (see especially Marx 1843b: 167-168, and 1844a: 187). It is certainly true that Marx consistently argues that this final stage in human emancipation requires the abolition of private property and the abstract state and the introduction of social cooperation and true democracy. But he does not attempt to delineate the future society or to specify how the transition will be effected. In short a careful reading of these early studies does not support the claim that they contain an elaborate and adequate theory of the modern state and the dynamics of proletarian revolution. Their significance for Marxism in this respect is almost wholly prospective and that, had Marx died in 1844, they would merit no special attention today.

Towards a class theory of the state

In general the earliest theoretical work of Marx treats the state as an irrational abstract system of political domination which denies the social nature of man and alienates him from genuine involvement in public life. It also sees the state elite as the representative of private interests and, indeed, argues that the bureaucracy attempts to appropriate state power in its own interest. None of this suggests that Marx had yet developed a class theory of the state (let alone one articulated with the political economy of capitalism). For, although his contemporary political journalism on such matters as the ‘wood theft’ law and the plight of the Moselle peasants alludes constantly to the use of state power to advance particular economic interests (Marx 1842: 224-263; 1843c: 332-359), Marx does not integrate these remarks with his view of the Prussian state as a system of political domination to produce an account of the state as an organ of class rule. This is hardly surprising. For, not only was Marx still working within the Hegelian-Feuerbachian approach of his student days in Berlin, but for most of this time he was living in the Rhineland province of Prussia. If his general theoretical view meant that Marx continued to discuss political matters in terms of the opposition between state and civil society rather than class struggle, the fact that the Rhineland was the centre of German industrialism and bourgeois liberalism and was nonetheless oppressed by a strong, feudal state meant that this approach could be applied to contemporary issues without too much difficulty. This should not be taken to imply that Marx was uncritical in his use of the Hegelian framework. For he used the methods of Feuerbachian transformative criticism to reveal the need for the abolition of private property and the abstract state as necessary preconditions for the full realization of democracy and human emancipation. But this commitment was not articulated with a class perspective and remained essentially Jacobin in its over-riding concern with popular-democratic struggle.

In contrast Engels underwent a different theoretical path. For, although he was also active in the Young Hegelian movement with Marx and became a communist in 1842, it was his stay in Manchester from 1842 to 1844 that was the fundamental formative influence on his understanding of political economy and that enabled him to anticipate the Marxian class theory of the state. Thus, as early as 1843 (while Marx himself was engaged in political journalism and his critique of Hegel), Engels had already written his Outlines of a Critique of Political Economy as well as several articles on the social question in England. Moreover, while Marx was busy on his 1844 Paris manuscripts, Engels formulated a preliminary version of the class theory of the state in his articles on the English Constitution and his classic work on The Condition of the Working Class in England. In these studies Engels argues that it is property — specifically the middle class — that rules in England and he describes how ‘the bourgeoisie defends its interests with all the power at its disposal by wealth and the might of the State’ (Engels 1844b: 501). Thus, in addition to an examination of the institutional channels through which the political domination of the middle class is secured within the state apparatus, Engels also discusses the class nature of legislation, the common law, the poor law, and philanthropy (Engels, 1844a: 489-513, and 1844b: 562-583). Despite the clarity and the vehemence of these analyses, however, Engels does not elaborate them to produce a general ‘class-theoretical’ account of the state. This had to await the collaboration of Marx and Engels in the following years.

The first general formulation of the new approach is found in The German Ideology which was co-authored in 1845-1846 but was not published in full until 1932. It was subsequently elaborated in the Manifesto of the Communist Party and many other political analyses. However, while it is customary to talk about the Marxist class theory of the state, these studies do not contain a unitary and coherent analysis. Instead Marx and Engels present a complex array of ideas and arguments unified (if at all) through their common concern with the relations between class struggle and state power within the general framework of historical materialism. Since it is beyond the scope of this introductory chapter to give a full account of these ideas and arguments, we will concentrate on the main themes to be found in the various Marxian and/or Engelsian analyses of the state.

One of the most prominent themes is the argument that the form of the state is a reflection of the economic base of society and that its interventions are a reflection of the needs of the economy and/or of the balance of economic forces. This interpretation of politics in terms of a ‘base-superstructure’ model is most clearly stated in The German Ideology, The Poverty of Philosophy, the Preface to a Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, the third volume of Capital, the second part of Anti-Dühring, and Engels’s letters on historical materialism. In the first of these works, for example, Marx and Engels argue that the state develops with the social division of labour and is the form in which the ruling class asserts its common interests. They also argue that political struggles within the state are merely the illusory forms in which the real struggles of antagonistic classes are fought out (Marx and Engels 1845-1846: 46-47). Marx presents similar ideas in The Poverty of Philosophy in his observations on the method of political economy (Marx 1847: 161-178). Likewise, in the famous 1859 summary of his general approach, Marx suggests that the relations of production are the real foundation on which rises a legal and political superstructure and to which correspond definite forms of social consciousness (Marx 1859: 503-504). This view is further developed in various parts of Capital and is forcefully re-stated when Marx examines the genesis of capitalist ground-rent. For he argues that:

(i)t is always the direct relationship of the owners of the conditions of production to the direct producers — a relation always naturally corresponding to a definite stage in the development of the methods of labour and thereby its social productivity — which reveals the innermost secret, the hidden basis of the entire social structure, and with it the political form of the relation of sovereignty and dependence, in short, the corresponding specific form of the state (Marx 1894: 791).

The same theme is taken up by Engels in his attack on Dühring’s argument that direct political force is the primary determinant of the economic situation and that the reverse relationship is purely secondary in nature (Engels 1878: 2 17-255). And it is often repeated in Engels’s letters on economic determinism (Marx and Engels, 1975: 394-396, 397-401, 433-445, and 441-443).

This theme was described by Marx in his 1859 Preface as a guiding thread for his studies and no doubt Engels would acknowledge this too. But it is a thread which is split and frazzled. For it is subject to various twists in their work and is often interwoven with other ideas and themes. At its most extreme this theme could be taken to imply that the state is a pure epiphenomenon of the economic base with no reciprocal effectivity and that there is a perfect correspondence between base and superstructure. This version is not stated explicitly anywhere in the work of Marx and Engels although certain formulations are susceptible to such a construction. Instead they tend to argue that different forms of state and state intervention are required by different modes of production and that the nature of state power is determined by the changing needs of the economy and/or by the changing balance of class forces at the economic level. This view is elaborated in relation to various stages in capital accumulation with different forms of state and state intervention required at different stages in its development; and it is related to the development of the balance of class forces in struggle as it changes under the impact of the continuing reorganization of the capitalist labour process (Marx 1858: 651; TSV3: 467, 468-469, 470, 49 1-492; Capital l: 252-286, 667-725. In this context Engels also notes that, as a rule, he state cannot oppose the long-run development of the forces of production since this would generally result in the collapse of state power (Engels 1878: 253-54).

That such arguments are not wholly satisfactory is apparent from the qualifications that Marx and Engels themselves often made in their political analyses. But this did not prevent the widespread adoption of simple economism in the Second International nor the development of more complex forms of economic reductionism by the modern ‘capital logic’ school which attempts to deduce the form, function, and effects of the capitalist state from the nature of the capitalist mode of production considered in isolation.

The theoretical difficulties involved in an exclusive, one-sided emphasis on economic determinism can be stated quite easily. For such a position implies that the economic base is ultimately (if not immediately) self-sufficient and that its spontaneous development is the sole determinant of social evolution. If it is once conceded that the reproduction of the economic base depends on factors outside its control, it follows that its nature and dynamics cannot provide a sufficient explanation for those of society as a whole. This creates insuperable problems for any attempt to prove a simple correspondence between the relations of production and juridico-political relations and/or between economic classes and political forces. It also implies that political action cannot alter the economic base and/or the nature of class relations until economic factors themselves permit or require such an alteration. At most this position allows for temporal deviations in economic development through the introduction of ‘leads’ or ‘lags’ between base and superstructure and/or between different levels of the class struggle. It cannot concede more without becoming inconsistent. However, although Marx and Engels emphasized the role of the economic base (sic) in social development (especially when engaged in criticism of Hegelian idealism or Dühring’s ‘force theory’), they do not adopt a monodeterminist line. Instead they are sensitive to the problems involved in economic reductionism and attempt to avoid them through a mixture of qualifications and resort to alternative modes of analysis.

The instrumentalist concept of the state

In this respect it is important to consider the recurrent thesis that the state is an instrument of class rule. For, although this approach can be assimilated to economic reductionism through the assumption that the economic base determines the form of the state as an instrument and the balance of political forces in the struggle for state power, this thesis can also be developed in a voluntarist direction focusing on the independent role of political action in the transformation of the economic base and the conduct of class struggle. This means that it is important to consider the interpretation which Marx and Engels themselves placed upon the instrumentalist approach.

In its least developed form the instrumentalist approach merely involves the claim that the state is not an independent and sovereign political subject but is an instrument of coercion and administration which can be used for various purposes by whatever interests manage to appropriate it. In this sense Marx had already developed such a view in his 1843 Critique and his articles on the ‘wood-theft’ law and similar matters. But it was Engels who first combined this instrumentalist view with the claim that it was a specific class which controlled the state apparatus and used this control to maintain its economic and political domination. This view is further developed in The German Ideology, in which Marx and Engels note that the state is the form in which the individuals of a ruling class assert their common interests (Marx and Engels 1845-1846: 90); and again in the Communist Manifesto, in which they conclude that the executive of the modern state is but a committee for managing the common affairs of the bourgeoisie (Marx and Engels 1848: 486). Similar remarks occur throughout the subsequent political analyses of Marx and Engels and much of their work is concerned to reveal the various ways in which the modern state is used as an instrument for the exploitation of wage-labour by capital.

Moreover, in developing this instrumentalist approach, they also make a fundamental contribution to the analysis of class struggle. For both Marx and Engels are interested in the specific forms and the peculiar dynamics of such struggle at the political level in different social formations as well as in the essential class antagonism evident at the heart of a pure mode of production. Thus, although they sometimes assert or imply that political class struggle is a simple reflection or, at best, a tendential reflection of the economic conflict between capital and wage-labour, they also frequently refer to the many complexities introduced through the presence of other classes and social forces and to important discontinuities between different levels of class struggle. In this respect it is most instructive to compare the general theory of class struggle offered in the Communist Manifesto with the concrete historical analyses presented in the work of Marx and Engels on France, Germany, and England. In the latter we find a wealth of descriptive concepts specific to the political class struggle and its various modalities. For Marx and Engels discuss the relations between class fractions, the role of class alliances, the role of supporting classes such as the smallholding conservative peasantry and the lumpenproletariat, the relations between classes in charge of the state and economically dominant classes, and so forth (cf. Poulantzas 1973: 229-253). They also examine the role of political parties in the representation of class interests in the struggle for control of the state apparatus and compare it with the effects of Bonapartism and other forms of executive rule. Thus, at the same time as their analyses of political class struggle reveal the complexities of state power, they also affirm the importance of that struggle in securing control of the state apparatus and shaping its operation. This leads further credence to the instrumentalist approach.

The frequency of such arguments is reflected in subsequent studies. For the instrumentalist approach is particularly common in exegeses of the Marxian theory of the state and is widely adopted in more recent Marxist studies. In association with more or less complex forms of economic determinism it can be found in ‘neo-Ricardian’ analyses of economic policy-making and implementation and in various studies of ‘state monopoly capitalism’. Thus, whilst the neo-Ricardian theorists tend to focus on the instrumentality of the state on behalf of capital in its interventions to maintain or restore profits at the expense of wages, ‘stamocap’ theorists argue that the state and monopolies have ‘fused’ into a single mechanism which acts on behalf of monopoly capital in the twofold attempt to secure the political and ideological conditions necessary to capital accumulation and to mobilize counter-tendencies to the rate of profit to fall. Interpreted in a different manner this view also underlies the reformism of social democratic movements. These tend to see the state apparatus in liberal parliamentary regimes as an independent, neutral instrument which can be used with equal facility and equal effectiveness by all political forces and they have therefore concentrated on the pursuit of electoral victory as the necessary precondition of a peaceful and gradual transition to socialism. A classic in this context is Ralph Miliband’s study of The State in Capitalist Society (1969: 23-67). But, as the debate between Miliband and Poulantzas indicates, there is far from complete agreement that instrumentalism is the most adequate approach to a Marxist analysis of the state and politics.

Indeed a close examination of the work of Marx and Engels should be sufficient in itself to disclose several problems with such a view. Firstly there is some uncertainty in its formulation. For Marx and Engels generally allude to the simple instrumentality of the state in aphorisms and metaphors rather than in more extended and concrete analyses; elsewhere, they employ different formulations and contrary arguments. And, if one accepts a simple instrumentalist approach, it is difficult to account for the different forms of the state as well as to explain why it is necessary to smash or transform the state apparatus rather than seize its control. In general these difficulties are resolved in terms of changes in the economic base and/or in the balance of class forces – solutions which it is difficult to square with the view that the state is an essentially neutral instrument. Moreover, whilst such a view implies that the state apparatus is non-partisan and passive, as early as 1843, Marx had referred to its penetration by competing private interests (Marx 1843a: 3-129). Likewise, if the state is a simple instrument of class rule, it is necessary to explain how the dominant mode of production is successfully reproduced when the economically dominant class does not actually occupy the key positions in the state system. This situation is noted by Marx and Engels themselves in relation to the political rule of the landed aristocracy on behalf of capital in the nineteenth-century Britain (Marx and Engels 1962: 423-27). The same problem is raised when the state apparatus acquires an extensive measure of independence from the dominant class owing to a temporary equilibrium in the class struggle. This situation is alleged to have occurred in the absolutist state in connection with a temporary equilibrium between feudal lords and ascendant bourgeoisie, the Second French Empire under Louis Bonaparte in connection with a temporary equilibrium between a declining bourgeoisie and an ascendant proletariat, and the German Reich under Bismarck (see particularly: Marx and Engels 1845-1846: 90; Marx, 1852: 128-29, 139, 172-73, and passim; Marx, 1871: 208; Engels 1872: 348-349; Engels 1878: 4 17-421; and Engels 1884: 328-329). Indeed, whereas the simple instrumentalist thesis would seem to suggest that the dominant class is generally in immediate and overall control of the state apparatus, it is evident from the many political studies of Marx and Engels that the bourgeoisie is rarely in such a position in any capitalist social formation.

In this context we should consider the argument that the state is the factor of cohesion in the social formation. This perspective is closely identified nowadays with the anti-instrumentalist arguments of Poulantzas but it is also evident in the classic texts. Thus Marx and Engels argue in The German Ideology that an institutionally separate state emerges before the development of class antagonism to manage the common affairs of the members of gentile society. Such an institution is socially necessary because of the mutual interdependence of the individuals in any society with a complex division of social labour (Marx and Engels 1845-1846: 46-47). It should be noted that, although this argument is continuous with the Hegelian framework of ‘state-civil society’ and ‘public-private’, it is also articulated with concepts relating to class analysis. This is apparent from the subsequent argument that the public power of gentile society is over-determined in its operation by the emergence of class conflict rooted in an antagonistic mode of production. Thereafter the socially necessary institution becomes a class institution as well and the state must be sensitive to the complex relations between the common interest and class interests. In this respect Marx and Engels suggest that the conquest of state power presupposes the successful representation of a class interest as the general interest (Marx and Engels 1845-1846: 60). These ideas are taken up in later studies by both founding fathers but are not stated again with the same clarity and simplicity until Engels presented his general observations on the origins of the state. Thus Marx refers to the English factory acts as essential not only for the physical survival of the working class but also for its capital (Marx 1867: 264-280); and Engels discusses the housing question in Germany in similar terms (Engels 1872: 323-24 and passim). Likewise Marx notes in The Eighteenth Brumaire that the political need to restore social order in France as a precondition of the continued social power and economic domination of the bourgeoisie induced it to abandon its control over the state apparatus through parliament in favour of a strong executive under the personal sway of Louis Bonaparte (Marx 1852: 128-129, 139, 171, 175-176, and passim). And, of course, in his general treatise on The Origins of the Family, Private Property, and the State, Engels argues that the state is necessary to moderate the conflicts between antagonistic classes and keep them within the bounds of social order. This is a complex functional requirement. For, while the state must appear to stand above society and keep class antagonisms in check, it is normally the state of the most powerful, economically ruling class. As a rule its class function predominates over its socially necessary function but exceptional periods occur when the warring classes are so nearly equal in strength that the state apparatus, as apparent mediator, acquires for the moment a certain independence from the immediate (or, indeed, indirect) control of these classes (Engels 1884: 326-329). The effects of such an independent state power in maintaining both social cohesion and capital accumulation need to be examined case by case.

This approach lends itself to various lines of development. Thus Bukharin attempted to develop a scientific analysis of the state in his general sociological work on Historical Materialism. He treats society as a system of unstable equilibrium inside which the state functions as a ‘regulator’ (Bukharin 1921: 150-154, 157-158, 229, 262-267, 274, and passim). Gramsci is also concerned with the problem of cohesion – albeit from a far less mechanistic position. For Gramsci is especially interested in the ideological and political practices through which the dominant fraction or class maintains its hegemony through the articulation of popular aspirations with its own class interests, so that the dominated classes and groups in society consent to their subordination and exploitation (see Gramsci, 1971, passim). And Poulantzas pursues this line of analysis in his studies of the capitalist state. Indeed, whilst others tend to treat cohesion as a contingent effect of state power, Poulantzas actually defines the state in terms of its necessary and objective function in the maintenance of social cohesion and thus includes all those political and ideological apparatuses which contribute to this function within the boundaries of the state. This definition is coupled with an essentialist account of capitalism to produce the conclusion that the state in a capitalist society must, in the long run, reproduce the social conditions necessary for continued capital accumulation and bourgeois hegemony (see Poulantzas 1973: passim).

This approach not only involves serious theoretical difficulties when it is developed in a one-sided manner but it can also produce rather odd results even in less extreme formulations. Thus, although Poulantzas adopted a functionalist and essentialist definition of the state focusing on its role in the maintenance of social cohesion, he presents several case studies which show that cohesion is a contingent rather than necessary effect of state power. Likewise, although he includes all those apparatuses which contribute to cohesion within his overall definition of the state, his own studies reveal that there are significant differences between liberal and fascist regimes in the boundaries of the ‘public’ and ‘private’ and in the articulation between repressive and ideological institutions and organizations (see Poulantzas, FD, passim). But these differences are hard to square with his all-inclusive definition of the state.

These inconsistencies in the work of Poulantzas seem less significant, however, when compared with the one-sided arguments developed in other theoretical and political analyses. For, unless one insists with Marx and Engels on the complex and contingent articulation of the socially necessary and the class functions of the state, concern with the role of the state in maintaining social cohesion can easily lead to the conclusion that it can ‘reconcile’ class conflict by acting as a neutral mediator. But, as Lenin argues forcefully in his monograph on The State and Revolution, the state would never have arisen nor maintained itself had it been possible to reconcile classes (Lenin 1917: 387). Thus, in opposition to the bourgeois and petty bourgeois politicians who equate social cohesion with class reconciliation, Lenin stresses that ‘order’ involves the oppression of one class by another and the systematic denial of means of struggle to the oppressed class (Lenin 1917: 290-1). And, although Lenin tends to emphasize the repressive side of state power, one can give due weight to the role of ideology and social welfare in the maintenance of cohesion without abandoning his general conclusion that the state is an organ of class domination. But to move from the recognition of the role of ‘egemonia’ (hegemony) as well as ‘dominio’ (coercion) in the reproduction of class rule to the argument that the state is neutral and able to reconcile antagonistic classes is clearly to abandon the basic premises of Marxian political economy and to draw diametrically opposed political conclusions.

Finally it is necessary to consider the presupposition of all the themes and arguments outlined in the preceding pages. For we have not yet established the Marxian definition of the state and examined its implications for political analysis. Indeed, although the point is often ignored in exegeses of Marxian political theory, the themes and arguments reviewed above presuppose a definition of the state rather than provide it. Thus the assertion that the state is an epiphenomenon (simple or complex) of an economic base is a theoretical proposition; the claim that the state is an instrument of class rule is best interpreted metaphorically rather than literally and is at best inexact as to the nature of the instrument; and the view that the state is a factor of cohesion performing socially necessary as well as class functions could be seen as an empirical generalization. In short these approaches might usefully be interpreted as adjectival rather than substantive, as predicates rather than subjects, as propositional rather than definitional. This not to downgrade these approaches but to insist that we reconsider their theoretical status within the Marxian system. In turn this means that we must examine how Marx and Engels actually defined the state itself.

Marxian definitions of the state

The institutional separation of state and civil society was taken for granted by Marx and Engels in their earliest writings and they did not concern themselves at length with its genesis until The German Ideology. In this work they still take the form of this separate entity for granted and merely allude to its control of military force and its connections with the legal system. In general Marx and Engels view the state as a ‘public power’ that develops at a certain stage in the social division of labour (usually identified with the emergence of private property and/or modes of production based on the exploitation of one class by another), and which involves the emergence of a distinct system of government separated from the immediate control of the people and/or dominated classes. They generally refer to its control of the means of coercion and often employ ostensive definitions which offer a more or less complete list of the institutions that comprise the state.

Thus, in his celebrated study of The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, Marx refers to the French state as ‘(this) executive power, with its enormous bureaucratic and military organisation’ and proceeds to discuss its forms of representation and their transformation (Marx 1852: 185). Likewise, in his address on The Civil War in France, he identifies the French state as ‘(the) centralized state power, with its ubiquitous organs of standing army, policy, bureaucracy, clergy, and judicature’ (Marx 1871: 217). And, in the Critique of the Gotha Programme, Marx refers to the Prussian state as ‘a state which is no more than a military despotism and a police state, bureaucratically carpentered, embellished with parliamentary forms and disguised by an admixture of feudalism’ (Marx 1875: 356). Several similar ostensive definitions are offered by Engels in his various studies of England, Germany, and other countries. In addition, in his general treatise on the origins of the state, Engels identifies its defining attributes as organisation on a territorial basis, specialized coercive apparatus or force, taxation, administrative staff, and, as a rule, political rights graded on a property basis (Engels 1884: 155-156). But it is the less well-formulated definitions that provide the framework within which Marx and Engels develop their arguments about the concentration and centralization of power in the modern military-bureaucratic state and their analysis of the changing balance of political forces in various forms of state in nineteenth-century Europe.

There have been few attempts to develop a Marxist theory of the state based on a narrow institutional definition similar to those of orthodox social and political science. Such an approach has obvious theoretical difficulties for historical materialism since it tends to treat the state as a ‘thing’ in isolation from other institutions and/or as a separate instance engaged in external relations with other structures. Accordingly, the ‘relative autonomy’ of the state becomes total and the complex internal relations between the different levels of a social formation dominated by a determinate mode of production are also ignored. But, although a narrow institutional approach is usually eschewed in Marxian analyses of the state, many studies adopt an institutional definition in association with an instrumentalist approach in the false belief that this is sufficient to establish the class nature of the state. This is particularly clear in the oft-denigrated but widely read analysis in Miliband’s The State in Capitalist Society. Yet even this approach is preferable in certain respects to the a priorism of other studies which attribute an essentially capitalist character to the state in capitalist societies.

The latter approach is found in the economic reductionism of the ‘capital logic’ school and its analysis of the state as ‘an ideal collective capitalist’. It is also evident in the recent debate on the nature of the dictatorship of the proletariat and its implications for political strategy in the workers’ movement. Thus, in opposition to the sort of instrumentalism that often underlies the right-wing Eurocommunist refusal of the dictatorship of the proletariat, Balibar argues that state power is always the political power of a single class, which holds it in an absolute way, does not share it with any other class, and does not divide it up among its own fractions. He also argues that the state power of the ruling class is embodied in the development and operation of the state apparatus which therefore has an absolute and unequivocal class character, cannot be used in neutral fashion (Balibar 1977: 64-77). Unfortunately, although this sort of approach may be most valuable in polemical discourse about party strategy, it is most inappropriate to analyses of the complex and contingent articulation of different apparatuses or the effects of state power on the reproduction of bourgeois domination and capital accumulation. In this respect it would be preferable to adopt an institutional approach in combination with a firm grasp of Marxist political economy and an historical appreciation of the nature of class and popular-democratic struggles.

It is significant that Marx and Engels themselves do not offer a conclusive, abstract definition of the state similar to those presented for commodity, value, organic composition, etc., in Capital. For, whilst Marx is concerned with the analysis of a pure mode of production at high levels of abstraction in the latter work, it is concrete social formations with which he and Engels are concerned in their various political studies. This has fundamental implications for their analysis of the state in capitalist societies. For, as Marx himself argues in his 1857 Introduction to the method and concepts of political economy, ‘real-concrete’ phenomena cannot be grasped in themselves but must be reconstituted in thought as the ‘complex synthesis of multiple determinations’ (Marx 1857: 101). This implies that the state is both the point of departure and the point of arrival in political analysis since it can only be comprehended after a complex process of theoretical analysis and synthesis. It means that one cannot take the state as an unproblematic empirical given nor reduce it to one of its multiple determinations. Thus, if the narrow institutional approach and the view of the state as a unitary subject share the assumption that the state is a given, economic and class reductionism both take a one-sided approach and define the state only in relation to the mode of production or to the class struggle. This does not mean that it is illegitimate to focus upon particular determinations of the state apparatus and/or state power; nor that it is illegitimate to focus on specific effects of the state and state power on other elements of the social formation or a pure mode of production; but it does mean that such abstract and restricted forms of analysis are not equivalent to a concrete analysis of specific forms of state or state power in determinate conjunctures.

This is emphasized by Marx in his Critique of the Gotha Programme of the German Social Democratic Party. For he argues that, while one can generalize about ‘present society’ across national boundaries, it is impossible to do so about the ‘present state’. Thus, whereas capitalism could be found in all ‘civilized countries’ and varies only in its degree of development, the form of state changes with each country’s border and differs between the Prusso-German Empire and Switzerland, between England and the United States. However, although Marx concludes that ‘“the present state” is thus a fiction’, he also argues that modern states share certain essential characteristics. This follows from the fact that, despite their motley diversity of form, states in the civilized countries all stand on the ground of modern bourgeois society. This means that one can talk of ‘present states’ in contrast to the future when their present root, bourgeois society, will have died off (Marx, 1875, p. 26). But it is still necessary to examine each state in its own terms rather than treat all capitalist states as identical because of their common foundation. Thus Marx points out that the failure of the SPD to grasp the fictitious character of ‘the present state’ leads to a ‘riotous misconception’ of the Prusso-German Empire to which the Social Democrats addressed their demands. In turn this means that their political programme and strategy are dishonest and unworkable (1875: 25 and 27). In short both the 1857 Introduction and the 1875 Critique suggest that it is incorrect to adopt an essentialist approach to the state and that one must always engage in a complex process of analysis and synthesis in order to comprehend ‘present states’ and change them.

Continuity and discontinuity in the class theory of the state

We have examined in broad terms the various themes and arguments of the class theory of the state adopted by Marx and Engels. But our account still leaves certain questions unanswered. We have suggested that these themes remain unchanged (except in their articulation with each other) from The German ideology to the final texts on the state. Yet we have also argued that it was unreasonable to expect the young Marx to have developed a mature Marxist political theory in his critical remarks on Hegel and Bauer since he had not yet developed the central concepts of his mature political economy. Does this imply that there should be some discontinuity in the development of the Marxian theory of the state? Conversely, in his The Civil War in France, Marx repeats the demand for the abolition of the abstract state and the creation of real democracy. Does this imply that Marx has returned to the themes and arguments of his Hegelian-Jacobin youth? In short we must ask whether there are major elements of continuity and/or discontinuity that our rapid overview of Marxian state theory has distorted or ignored.

It must first be emphasized that the Marxian analysis of state power was throughout this period basically ‘class-theoretical’ rather than ‘capital-theoretical’ in orientation. For Marx and Engels were generally concerned with political class struggle focused on control of the state apparatus and its use in the repression of the dominated classes. They were less often concerned with the integration of the state into the circuit of capital or the effects of state power on the reproduction of capital at the economic level. Marx discusses such topics in detail only in Capital and even then confines the analysis to primitive accumulation, social legislation, and banking. Likewise, in his analysis of The Role of Force in History, Engels examines the role of the Prussian state under Bismarck in the creation of a national market and certain other conditions necessary to accumulation in Germany (Engels 1888: 378-381 and 398-400). He also notes in Anti-Dühring that ‘the modern state . . . is only the organisation that bourgeois society takes on in order to support the general external conditions of the capitalist mode of production against the encroachments as well of the workers as of individual capitalists’ (Engels 1878: 386). It could thus be said that Engels anticipated the work of the ‘capital logic’ school on the state as an ‘ideal collective capitalist’. But neither he nor Marx elaborates these insights into a coherent, general theoretical account of the capitalist state premised on the nature and dynamics of the capitalist mode of production. And, although it is true that Marx had intended to write on the state in Das Kapital, this does not alter the overall lack of such an account elsewhere in their work on political economy. It is for this reason that there may well be more continuity in the Marxian analysis of the state than Marx and Engels themselves may have intended or wished.

In this connection it should also be noted that Marx and Engels do animadvert on the forms of state and law that correspond in various ways to the dominance of the capitalist mode of production. Thus both men discuss the emergence of Roman law and the juristic world outlook with the growth of capitalism and demonstrate how legal equality in the realm of circulation and exchange underwrites the domination of capital over wage-labour in the sphere of production (Marx 1867: 172 and 547; Engels 1886a: 370-72; Engels 1886b, passim; and Marx and Engels 1975: pp. 355 and 399). And both argue that the development of the capitalism permits and/or requires changes in the state apparatus. In particular they refer to the centralization of power in the modern state and the correspondence between capitalism and the parliamentary republican regime (e.g., Marx and Engels, 1848, p. 486; Marx, 1850, passim; Marx, 1852, passim). But these arguments are part of the ‘base-superstructure’ tradition and are not elaborated into an account of the various forms of the capitalist state. Indeed most of these political tendencies in the modern state are related not only to the economic base but also to the changing balance of political forces in different countries and conjunctures.

More significant for the overall development of the materialist approach is the analysis of the Paris Commune presented by Marx in his address on The Civil War in France. For this text represents a major advance in the Marxian analysis of the state and revolution. In all three drafts of this study Marx emphasizes that, whilst the ruling classes and their different rival fractions can simply lay hold of the existing state apparatus and wield it as a ready-made agenda for their own political purposes, it is essential for the working class to smash its repressive machinery and to reorganize the way in which its socially necessary functions are performed (Marx 1871: 244-250). The centralized state power of the modern state is said to be the organ of bourgeois domination in France even when it is not directly controlled by bourgeois deputies in Parliament. In most political upheavals in nineteenth-century France one had seen merely the dwarfish struggles between parliamentary and executive forms of bourgeois class domination. But the Communards were not in revolt against this or that – legitimist, constitutional, republican, or imperialist — form of state power; their revolution was aimed against the state itself so that the people could resume control of its own social life (Marx 1871: 250). This is a revolution that can only be carried out by the proletariat since only they have the incentive and power to do away with all classes and all forms of class rule. Indeed, whereas the state apparatus is the general organ of political class domination, the Commune is the political form and means of the social emancipation of labour. For the political instrument that has been used to secure the enslavement of the working class cannot also be employed as the political instrument of their self-emancipation. This requires a revolutionary new form of political organisation which ensures that the people control its own social life through direct and continuous involvement in all facets of government.

Now, although this crucial text is replete with instrumentalist metaphors, its basic thrust is strongly anti-instrumentalist. Indeed Marx implies that the state is a system of political domination whose effectiveness is to be found in its institutional structure as much as in the social categories, fractions, or classes that control it. In turn this implies that different forms of state have different effects on the balance of class forces and the course and outcome of political struggle. Thus the analysis of the inherent bias of the system of political representation and state intervention is logically prior to an examination of the social forces that manage to wield state power.

This fundamental insight is also stressed in Lenin’s remark in The State and Revolution that the bourgeois democratic republic is the best possible political shell for capital and that, once it has gained possession of this shell, capital establishes its power so securely that no change of persons, institutions, or parties can shake it (Lenin 1917: 393). And it is taken up in the recent German debate with its stress on the separation of the modern bourgeois state from capitalist production as well as on the institutionalization of formal political equality in the bourgeois democratic republic (cf. Holloway and Picciotto 1977: passim).

Unfortunately Marx himself does not develop this new approach in other political studies nor does Engels do more than repeat the arguments in his subsequent work. But it should be clear that, although certain of the ideas first presented in the 1843 Critique and 1844 Introduction are reproduced in this analysis of the Paris Commune, they have been radically transformed through their articulation with the concepts and principles of Marxian political economy. For the ‘abstract state’ is now seen as an organ of political class domination rather than an expression of the political self-estrangement of private individuals; the ‘universal class’ is no longer seen as a poverty-stricken mass precipitated through the acute social disintegration of modern society during the process of primitive accumulation and is now recognized as a wage-labouring class economically exploited through determinate relations of production by capital; and ‘real democracy’ is no longer premised on the reintegration of the schizoid ‘public’ and ‘private’ lives of modern man but on the class dictatorship (in the sense of a specific form of state as well as a specific social basis) of the proletariat in alliance with the urban petty bourgeoisie and rural peasantry. In short, far from marking a simple return to the radical-liberal blue-print of his political youth, this text sets the keystone in the arch of Marxian revolutionary theory.

Concluding Remarks

We have now examined the youthful philosophical reflections of Marx, the adumbration of a class theory of the state by Engels, its subsequent development by both men, and the final (albeit unfinished) approach implied in their comments on the Paris Commune. But we have not attempted to establish the Marxian theory of the state. Indeed an attempt of this kind has been deliberately and studiously avoided throughout our review. In part this stems from our belief Marx and Engels adopted different approaches and arguments according to the problems with which they were concerned from time to time and did not themselves attempt any systematization of their various forms of analysis. But it also stems from my belief that it is impossible to establish a unitary and coherent theory of the state in general on the basis of the methods and principles of the Marxian critique of political economy.

It is true that Engels wrote a general treatise on the state but its exact theoretical status should be established before we conclude that a general theory of the state is possible. For Engels presents an historical account of three different paths of state formation (in Greece, Rome, and Germany) rather than a single theory of the origins of the state in general. And he then proceeds to discuss only the most abstract determinations of the state and state power rather than to give a complete account. This coincides with the arguments propounded by Marx in his 1857 Introduction concerning the method of political economy. For he insists that production in general does not exist in the real world but can still be a valid object of analysis in so far as it brings out and fixes the common element in all production and thus saves repetition; but, since production is always production at a definite stage of social development, it is always necessary to analyze production in each epoch as a complex synthesis of general and specific elements. In the same way it can be argued that the state in general is also a rational abstraction but can still be useful in theoretical work to the extent that it brings out the common elements and foundations of all states. Indeed, as Marx himself points out in his 1875 Critique, ‘the present state’ is a valid abstraction based on the essential characteristics of the motley diversity of all bourgeois states. But such conceptions must always be complemented and combined with many other determinations in order to produce an adequate account of concrete forms of state and state power. Thus, although Engels provides certain basic elements in a Marxist account of the state, his work does not (and cannot) amount to a definitive and exhaustive theory of the state. Only through the synthesis of many different determinations can one move from the abstract to the concrete and this involves the articulation of quite different principles of explanation and modes of analysis. For to attempt to produce a theoretical account of a specific state in a given conjuncture on the basis of a single causal principle is to engage in the most extreme form of reductionism or essentialism. In short, while a theoretical account of specific states is possible, no single theory of the state can be constructed without rejecting the basic premises of historical materialism.

This conclusion can be illustrated through the work of Marx and Engels themselves. Most of their political writings were produced to describe specific political events and to situate them in a specific historical context; and/or to provide a theoretical basis for the identification of political class interests and an appropriate mode of intervention in the class struggle. They draw on several different principles of explanation and combine different themes and approaches. They offer a series of acute generalizations and present a number of valuable practical concepts for conjunctural analysis. They focus upon the organisation of the state apparatus as well as the appropriation and organisation of state power. But they do not offer a systematic and coherent theory of the state based on any one given causal principle or major theme. It is the exegetists who have blocked further advance in the Marxist analyses of the state and state power through their desire to present a simple theory of this kind. This is particularly evident in the facile way in which many subsequent Marxists have seized upon the instrumentalist metaphor to exposit the Marxist theory of the state or, alternatively, reduced the state to a more or less complex epiphenomenon of an economic base. Nor is this criticism just a sign of academicism or theoreticism. For, as Marx himself argues in his 1875 Critique, errors of analysis concerning the ‘present state’ are linked to errors in political practice.

It follows that no one can afford to ignore the crucial problems of state power in the formulation of specificity of political strategy and tactics in different circumstances. Whilst it is important to recognize the complexities of the current situation and adapt political practice to the changing forms of state and the changing balance of political forces, it is nonetheless necessary to remember the most abstract determinations of the ‘present state’ in Marxist analysis. For Marx insisted that, regardless of the specific forms of the modern state, it stood on the ground of capitalist relations of production and had a vital role to play in the process of capital accumulation. This view implies that the abolition of capitalism entails the transformation of the modern state and its characteristic forms of representation and intervention. Furthermore, as Marx argued philosophically in his youth, and in terms of the critique of political economy in his mature political writings, it is not just the capitalist form of state that must be abolished in the transition from capitalism to communism. For it is the historic mission of the communist movement to abolish the state itself – to overcome the separation of state and civil society and to destroy the state as a system of political domination as well as an instrument of class exploitation. In the short term this implies a commitment to popular-democratic struggle as well as class struggle in capitalist societies. In the long term it means that the dictatorship of the proletariat must be a vehicle for the eventual withering away of the state as well as for the creation of communist relations of production. Indeed it is only through the complex articulation of the popular-democratic struggle and the class struggle in appropriate forms of mass organization that it will prove possible to realize the abolition of the abstract state and class exploitation. For, whereas the popular-democratic struggle can be realized only through the creation of the social conditions necessary to popular self-government, the class struggle must be articulated with the values and aspirations of the people if the working class is to isolate and defeat the ruling class. It is in the development of the appropriate forms of struggle that the key to the fulfillment of Marx’s revolutionary vision will be discovered.


Wherever possible, reference is made to the new Marx/Engels Collected Works <MECW> (London: Lawrence & Wishart, 1975-).

Altvater, Elmar (1972) ‘Notes on Some Problems of State Interventionism’, Kapitalistate, 1, 1973, pp. 96-108, and. 2, 1973, pp. 76-83.

Avineri, Shlomo (1968) The Social and Political Thought of Karl Marx, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Balibar, Etienne (1977) On the Dictatorship of the Proletariat, London: New Left Books.

Blackburn, Robin (1976) ‘Marxism: Theory of Proletarian Revolution’, New Left Review, 97, May–June, pp. 3-35.

Bukharin, Nikolai I. (1969) Historical Materialism, Ann Arbor: University of Michigan.

Colletti, Lucio (1975) ‘Introduction’, in idem (ed.), Karl Marx; Early Writings, Harmondsworth: Penguin.

Engels, Friedrich (1845) The Condition of the Working-Class in England in 1844, MECW 4, 295-590 <1975>

Engels, Friedrich (1872) The Housing Question, in Marx-Engels Selected Works, 3, Moscow: Progress Publishers, 295-375 <1975>

Engels, Friedrich (1878) Anti-Dühring: Herr Eugen Dühring’s Revolution in Science, Moscow: Foreign Languages Publishing House <1954>

Engels, Friedrich (1884) The Origins of the Family, Private Property, and the State, in Marx-Engels Selected Works, 3, London: Lawrence & Wishart, 377-428 <1969>

Engels, Friedrich (1888) The Role of Force in History, Marx-Engels Selected Works iii, Moscow: Progress Publishers, 377-428 <1969>

Holloway, John and Picciotto, Sol (eds) (1977) State and Capital: A German Debate, London: Edward Arnold.

Lenin, Vladimir Illich (1917) ‘The State and Revolution’, Lenin Collected Works, Moscow: Progress Publishers, 25, 283-376 <1978>

Marx, Karl (1843a) Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Law, in MECW 3, 175-87.

Marx, Karl (1843b) ‘On the Jewish Question’, MECW 3, 146-74.

Marx, Karl (1844a) ‘Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Law: Introduction’, in MECW 3, 175-87.

Marx, Karl (1844c) Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844, in MECW 3, 229-346.

Marx, Karl (1847) The Poverty of Philosophy, in MECW 6, 105-211.

Marx, Karl (1850) The Class Struggles in France, 1848 to 1850, in MECW 10, 205-99.

*Marx, Karl (1852) The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, in MECW 11,  398-477.

Marx, Karl (1857) ‘Introduction to a contribution to the Critique of Political Economy’, in idem, Grundrisse, ed. M. Nicolaus, Harmondsworth: Penguin , 81-114 <1973>

Marx, Karl (1858) Grundrisse: Introduction to the Critique of Political Economy, ed. M. Nicolaus, Harmondsworth: Penguin <1973>

Marx, Karl (1959) ‘Preface to a Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy’, in Marx-Engels Selected Works, 2, Moscow: Progress, 502-506.

Marx, Karl (1867) Capital: a critical Analysis of Capitalist Production, vol 1, London: Lawrence & Wishart (translated from fourth German edition of 1890)

Marx, Karl (1871) The Civil War in France, in D. Fernbach (ed.) Karl Marx: the First International and After, Harmondsworth: Penguin, 178-243 <1973>

Marx, Karl (1875) ‘Critique of the Gotha Programme’, in D. Fernbach (ed.) Karl Marx: The First International and After, Harmondsworth: Penguin <1973>

Marx, Karl and Engels, Friedrich (1848) Manifesto of the Communist Party, in MECW 6, 477-519.

Marx, Karl and Engels, Friedrich (1962) On Britain, Moscow: Foreign Languages Publishing House.

Marx, Karl and Engels, Friedrich (1975) Selected Correspondence, 3rd edn., Moscow: Progress.

Miliband, Ralph (1969) The State in Capitalist Society, London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson.

Poulantzas, Nicos (1973) Political Power and Social Classes, London: New Left Books <1968>.

Poulantzas, Nicos (1974) Fascism and Dictatorship, London: New Left Books, <1970>

Poulantzas, Nicos (1976) ‘The Capitalist State: a Reply to Miliband and Laclau’, New Left Review, 95, pp. 63-83.

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