marx and engels on the state and society

by Ernie Haberkern

“The “New Question” posed by the experience of the Labor government is not, then, whether socialism can be established by parliamentary means or only by extra-parliamentary means. It is this: Can the working class reach socialism only by its own efforts, by its direct class rule over the economic and political life of the country, or can socialism be attained without workers’ control and simply by an expropriation of the bourgeoisie carried out, one way or another, under the control and direction of a more or less benevolent workers’ bureaucracy? The spread of Stalinism has raised the same question in one way; the Labourite government in another way. If it is not the most vital question of our time, it is certainly one of the most vital. Not a few Marxists have abandoned the basic convictions of the founders and teachers of scientific socialism by replying, in effect, in the affirmative: Yes, the road to socialism lies or may lie through the domination of society by a workers’ bureaucracy or a bureaucracy that arose out of the labor movement. They have concluded that the Stalinist revolution is the socialist revolution, that Stalinist society is progressive, that the Titoist state is socialist, and the like. As for ourselves, we remain unreconstructed in our belief that the emancipation of the working class, that is, socialism, is the task of the working class itself and no one else. The experience of the Labor government, especially when considered, as it must be, in the light of the social and historical significance of the rise of Stalinism, has not modified our belief in the slightest degree and we see no grounds in the realities of British society to warrant such a modification.”

Max Shachtman, The New International, January/February 1951

This article, in which the author repudiated his long-held position that nationalization by itself was a progressive step towards socialism, argues that nationalization of private capital by the state bureaucracy, even when carried out by a party based on the working class is not a step forward. The article even goes so far as to argue that the Attlee government, if it continued on this path, was heading towards a social system that would differ little, if at all, from Stalinism.

Shachtman was rediscovering Marx and Engels’ views on the subject of statification. Continue reading “marx and engels on the state and society”