Hermann Duncker 1922

The Marxist Doctrine of the State

Introduction to Lenin's "The State and the Revolution"

First Published: in Jugend-Internationale, Vol. 3, No. 11 (July 1922), pp. 329-330.
Source: Hermann Duncker: Introduction to Marxism. Selected Speeches and Writings, VEB Edition Leipzig, Leipzig, 1963, 2. enl. ed., pp. 187-193.
Online Version: Marxists Internet Archive 2021
Transcribed: Geoff
HTML Markup: Zdravko Saveski

Modern communism is nothing else than the application of Marxism to the economic and political questions of the present. What actually is Marxism then? The teaching of Karl Marx. His theoretical system, however, embraces several main parts. First of all the fundamental conception - grown out of Marx's naturalistic (materialistic) world outlook, free from all supernatural fancies - of the nature of human society, the relationship between the different spheres of social life and the ultimate driving forces in social development.

This sum total of social scientific (sociological) conceptions is mostly given the name "the materialist conception of history". Starting out from the fundamental idea of his historical materialism, according to which the economic relations are the enduring and in the final instance the decisive basis of all social phenomena, Marx proceeded to work out his economic teaching. It was evolved out of a penetrating criticism of the capitalist mode of production, as it is shown in the main scientific work by Marx: the three volumes of "Capital".

By this theoretical insight was revealed the exploiting character of capitalist society and the growing class antagonism between capitalist und proletarian. Thus the third field of activity in Marx's work was the revelation of the way towards the emancipation of the working class. However, this seizure of political power presupposes a struggle against the bourgeois state. Out of that resulted a Marxist policy and doctrine of the state.

Of course, Marxism does not stop short at sociology, economics and politics. Nor does it act in these fields in the spirit of bourgeois science. This is because Marx arrived at and developed his knowledge, not to support but to overthrow the existing social order. Marxism is precisely the union of revolutionary theory and revolutionary practice. But in order to obtain a preliminary survey of Marx's teaching, we would always do best to divide it into a Marxist doctrine of society, a doctrine of economics, and a doctrine of the state, although of course the doctrine of society already contains both the other two fields of knowledge, and above all represents Marx's fundamental method of research and in the end the economical determines the political.

The inexperienced reader will not immediately detect the threefold arrangement of Marx's intellectual work which we have described here. But Marx left behind him as a completed field of knowledge only the "Criticism of the capitalist mode of production" and that only as a mighty trunk of the whole body. As is known it was only after Marx's death that Engels compiled the 2nd and 3rd volumes of "Capital" from the manuscripts and Kautsky published, from the papers Marx left, another three volumes on the Theory of Surplus Value. And even with that, the gigantic plan of economic presentation intended by Marx is still not carried out in all its parts by a long way.

Marx had only expressed himself in sporadic sentences on his materialist conception of history directly, but his entire intellectual work is nothing other than a large scale application of the historical materialist method. In contrast, Marx's doctrine of the state at first sight appears to be the least developed of all. So it has come about that in this field the oddest contradictions have shown themselves in the heads of various Marxists. Which, of course, should not be taken to deny that the "Marx apostles" have also shredded and twisted the remaining parts of Marx's teaching to their own purposes, so that with the aid of Marx they can prove anything.

In general it was thought that Marxist politics were limited to the recognition that the state is the instrument of oppression, that the economic fight of the proletariat must be extended into the political struggle and that, by exploiting bourgeois democracy, the bourgeois state was to be "conquered" step by step.

The world-historic achievement of the Russian proletarian revolution of November 1917 opened up for the first time, with one blow, quite new perspectives: the dictatorship of the proletariat, the building up of Soviet institutions, and so on. How did that square with the Marxist politics - as up to then one had imagined to understand it? The national-social Mensheviks immediately opened up a battle with fire and the sword against the young Soviet Republic. And the old "watch dogs" of Marxism, the Kautsky, Bauers and their associates, shuddering, hid their heads.

Nevertheless, already one month before the Socialist Revolution in Russia a work was written which sketched the broad outlines of Marx's doctrine of the state and proved theoretically how fully and finally the Bolshevik policies were grounded in Marxism. That was Lenin's book "The State and the Revolution", which he had written in August and September 1917. The seventh chapter on "Experiences from the Russian Revolutions of 1905 and 1917", which Lenin had planned, could not be completed. It was "more pleasant and useful to go through the experience of the revolution than to write about it", added Lenin in a final note to his work, on November 30th, 1917.

This book by Lenin, available in German since 1918, is the main theoretical work of modern communism, which thus, with one mighty heave, freed itself from all "Social Democratic" watering down and falsification of Marxist policy and with a "Back to Marx" made sure the "Forward to the proletarian world revolution". No writing of modern communism can match this work by Lenin. And no one should call himself a communist if he has not worked his way through this book time and time again.

Lenin carefully compiled and thoroughly examined, from Marx's works, "The Poverty of Philosophy", the "Communist Manifesto", "18th Brumaire", "Civil War in France", "Marginal Notes on the Gotha Programme", as well as the letters to Kugelmann, just as from Engels works "The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State", "Anti-Duehring", "International Articles from the "Volksstaat", "Letters to Bebel", and "Critique of the Erfurt Programme", all the parts referring to the Marxist doctrine of the state. The result was quite startling and unmistakable. From under the rubbish heap of Menshevik "national-social" falsification, revisionist, imperialist opportunism and Kautskyite twisting On-the-one-hand... on-the-other-hand, Lenin brought once more into view the leonine head of the Revolutionary Marx. Out of the "forgotten words" of Marxism, Lenin created the political programme of revolutionary Communism in our time.

Let us try first to arrange one after the other main theses of this Marxist political and state doctrine as they were established in Lenin's work. This cannot replace the reading of the book on the contrary, the enumeration of its spiritual wealth will serve only to stimulate it.

1. The state is the product of the irreconcilable class antagonism in society and the instrument of oppression by which the ruling class holds down the subject and exploited classes. The state is therefore by no means an instrument of class reconciliation poised above classes and parties as is put across the mass of the people in the phrase "civil truce".

2. The public power erected by the ruling class (standing army, police, prisons, and so on) is strengthened in proportion to the sharpening of the class antagonism within the state. It acts by force, internally and externally (the plunder policy of imperialist states).

3. The civil service, including particularly that of the democratic republic, shows itself likewise to be an organ of capitalist rule: consider the corruption of civil servants and the brotherhood of government and finance capital.

4. Indispensable for the overthrow of the bourgeois state is the revolutionary seizure of state power by the proletariat. Only when the construction of communist society is completed does the state wither away altogether. The anarchist demand for the "abolition" of the state is just as senseless as the reformist belief in a gradual peaceful, "falling asleep" of the bourgeois state.

5. The dictatorship of the proletariat is the state of the proletariat, organised as the ruling class, with the object of carrying socialisation through. "Between capitalist and communist society lies the period of the revolutionary transformation of one into the other. There corresponds to this also a political transition period in which the state can be nothing but the revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat."[1]

6. The bourgeois, parasitical and oppressive state machine cannot be taken over and carried further by the victorious proletariat. On the contrary, the bureaucratic-military state machine must be smashed. Here Lenin revealed the grotesque falsifications perpetrated by the Right and Left wing of the old Social Democracy in the 1872 preface to the Communist Manifesto. Where Marx had put it thus: "the working class cannot simply lay hold of the ready-made state machinery." German Social Democracy was pleased to interpret this as the demand for a step-by-step, peacefully experience gaining take-over of the functions of the bourgeois state.

7. A victorious "people's revolution" can only come about through the alliance of the proletariat and poor peasantry, comprising the majority of the people.

8. After the smashing of the bourgeois state machine these proletarian state measures must come into force:

a) The arming of the people;

b) All state officials to be subject to election and recall;

c) Simplification of the function of state administration in order to educate the broad masses in turn to take over official posts;

d) The reduction of even the highest official to a worker's wage;

e) The breaking of clerical power.

9) Parliament must be transformed into an institution of true proletarian democracy, above all through the union of legislative and executive power.

10) The setting-up of new representative institutions of the victorious proletariat from local authority level, through all stages to the highest.

11) When examining democracy one must always differentiate between bourgeois democracy which represents a monstrous deception of the people and proletarian democracy which can also be described as the dictatorship of the majority over the minority (the bourgeoisie) and finally the democracy which is withering away inasmuch as the habituation to social forms of life has set in.

12) From this arise the two main phases of communist society: The first period during which on the basis of the state of proletarian dictatorship, a distribution of revenue according to work contributed must still go on; whereas in the "no state" period, the "need" of the individual can serve as the yardstick for distribution (Half and Full Communism).

It is interesting to see what extraordinary theoretical gain Karl Marx made for his doctrine of the state from his passionate interest in one of the mightiest political events of his time namely the heroic struggle of the Paris Commune in 1871. (See sections 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10.) - This is very different from his blind Menshevik and Kautskyist followers, who met the first victorious "people's revolution" in the world, the Russian November Revolution of 1917, not only without sympathy, but by slandering and fighting it, and who on the other hand, faced with the bourgeois democratic Ebert Republic, still could not descend from their paper illusions about the Jacob's ladder of bourgeois democracy and social reform.

Thus the Marxist doctrine of the state is also the sharpest dividing line between the old "Social Democracy" and modern communism. For that is the decisive, main object, the fundamental difference between the political attitude of these two workers parties. Scientific communism, built on Marxism, face to face with the dictatorship of capitalism, existing also in the so called bourgeois democracy, recognised the inexorable necessity of achieving the dictatorship of the proletariat where "the proletariat still uses the state, ... it does not use it in the interests of freedom, but in order to hold down its adversaries"[2] and not to "transfer the bourgeois state, seized by revolution, from one hand to another, but to smash it".[3]


[1] K. Marx, Marginal Notes to the Programme of the German Workers' Party, 1875, Selected Works, vol. II, p. 30.

[2] Letter from Engels to Bebel 1875, Marx-Engels, Selected Works, vol. II, p. 39.

[3] K. Marx, Letter to Kugelmann, Marx-Engels, Selected Works, vol. II, p. 420.