Rosa Luxemburg
The National Question

4. Centralization and Autonomy

We have noted the general centralizing tendency of capitalism in the bourgeois states. But local autonomy also grows simultaneously out of the objective development and out of the needs of bourgeois society.

Bourgeois economy requires as great a uniformity as possible in legislation, the judiciary, administration, the school system, etc., in the entire area of the state, and as far as possible, even in international relations. But the same bourgeois economy, in carrying out all these functions, demands accuracy and efficiency quite as much as uniformity. The centralism of the modern states is of necessity connected with a bureaucratic system. In the medieval state, in a serf economy, public functions were connected with landed property; these were the “concrete rights,” a kind of land tax. The feudal lord of estates was at the same time and by the same token a civil and criminal judge, the head of the police administration, the chief of military forces in a certain territory, and collector of taxes. These functions connected with owning real estate were, like the land itself, the object of transactions, gift, sale, inheritance, and so on. Absolutism, which increased toward the end of the Middle Ages, paving the way for capitalism by its struggle against feudal dispersal of state authority, separated public functions from land ownership and created a new social category for the execution of these functions, namely crown officials. With the development of modern capitalistic states, the performance of public functions passed completely into the hands of paid hirelings. This social group increased numerically and created the modern state bureaucracy. On the one hand, the transfer of public functions to hired personnel – completely devoted to their work and directed by one powerful political center – corresponds with the spirit of bourgeois economy, which is based on specialization, division of labor, and a complete subordination of manpower to the purpose of maintaining the social mechanism: on the other hand, however, the centralist bureaucracy has serious drawbacks hampering the economy.

Capitalist production and exchange are characterized by the highest sensitivity and elasticity, by the capacity, and even the inclination for constant changes in connection with thousands of social influences which cause constant fluctuations and undulations in market conditions, and in the conditions of production themselves. As a result of these fluctuations, the bourgeois economy requires subtle, perceptive administration of public services such as the centralized bureaucracy, with its rigidity and routine, is not able to afford. Hence, already as a corrective to the centralism of the modern state, there develops, in bourgeois society, along with legislation by representative assemblies, a natural tendency toward local autonomy, giving the possibility of a better adjustment of the state apparatus to social needs. For local autonomy takes into account the manifold variety of local conditions and also brings about a direct influence and cooperation of society through its public functions.

However, more important than the deficiencies inseparable from the rule of bureaucracy, by which the theory of bourgeois liberalism usually explains the necessity for autonomy, there is another circumstance. The capitalist economy brought forth, from the moment of the inception of mass factory production, a whole series of entirely new social needs imperiously demanding satisfaction. Above all the penetration of big capital and the system of hired labor, having undermined and ruined the entire traditional social structure, created a plague unknown before, namely mass unemployment and pauperization for the proletariat. Since capital needs a reserve labor force and since public security must be preserved, society, in order to hold in check the proletarian masses deprived of means of livelihood and employment, cannot but take care of them. In this way, modern public welfare comes into being as a social function within the framework of capitalistic production.

The agglomeration of big masses of industrial proletarians in the worst material conditions in the modern industrial centers created for the adjacent bourgeois classes a threat of infectious diseases and brought about another urgent social need: public concern for health, and in connection with this, the whole management of the sewage system and supply of water as well as public regulation of building construction.

The requirements of capitalist production and of bourgeois society brought about for the first time the problem of popular education. The system of schools accessible to broad masses, not only in the big cities but also in the provinces and among the rural population, brought the idea that the creation and regulation of schools was a public function.

The movement of goods and persons in the whole area of the state as a normal phenomenon and a condition of the existence of capitalist production brought forth the need for constant public concern about roads and means of communication, not only in the form of trunk-line railroads and maritime traffic, important from the point of view of military strategy and world trade, but also of vehicular roads, highways, bridges, river navigation, and subsidiary railroads. The creation and maintenance of these indispensable conditions of internal communication became one of the most urgent economic needs of bourgeois society.

Finally, public safety of persons and property as a matter of general concern and social need is also a clearly modern product, connected with the requirements of capitalist economy. In medieval society, safety was guaranteed by some special areas of legal protection: for the rural population, the area of the respective feudal dominion, for the burghers, the protective walls of the city and the statutes and “freedoms” of each city separately. The knights were supposed to guarantee their own safety. Modern society, based on the production of goods, needs safety of persons and property as a universal social guarantee for everybody in the entire territory of the state without discrimination. The central government cannot satisfy all these needs. There are some the government cannot take care of at all, like the local affairs in the remote parts of the country; understandably, the government tends to transmit the expenses of managing such affairs to the local population.

Local autonomy, therefore, originates in all modern states very early, above all in the form of transferring the material burden of a series of social functions to the population itself.

On the other hand, capitalism stratifies and links into one economic and social organism the biggest state areas, and, to a certain extent, the entire world. At the same time, however, in order to promote its interests, to perfect and integrate the bourgeois economy, capitalism splits the [autonomous] states and creates new centers, new social organisms, as, for instance, big cities and provincial regions, etc. A contemporary modern city is tied by numberless economic and political bonds not only to the state but to the entire world. The accumulation of people, the development of municipal transportation and economy, turns the city into a separate small organism; its needs and public functions are more numerous and varied than were those of a medieval city, which with its handicraft production, was almost entirely independent both economically and politically.

The creation of different states and of new urban areas provided the framework for the modern municipal government – a product of new social needs. A municipal or provincial government is necessary in order to comply with the needs of these specific social organisms into which capitalism, following the economic principle of the contradictory interests of the city and the village, transformed the city on the one hand and the village on the other. Within the framework of the special capitalistic connection between industry and agriculture, that is, between city and village, within the framework of the close mutual dependence of their production and exchange, a thousand threads linking the daily interests of the population of each major city with the existence of the population of the neighboring villages there goes, in a natural way, a provincial autonomy as in France – departmental, cantonal, or communal. Modern autonomy in all these forms is by no means the abolition of state centralism but only its supplementation; together they constitute the characteristic form of the bourgeois state.

Besides political unification, state sovereignty, uniform legislation, and centralized state government, local autonomy became, in all these countries, one of the basic policy issues both of the liberals and of the bourgeois democracy. Local autonomy, growing out of the modern bourgeois system in the manner indicated, has nothing in common with federalism or particularism handed down from the medieval past. It is even its exact opposite. While the medieval particularism or federalism constitutes a separation of the political functions of the state, modern autonomy constitutes only an adaptation of the concentrated state functions to local needs and the participation in them of the people. While, therefore, communal particularism or federalism in the spirit of

Bakunin’s ideal is a plan for splitting the territory of a big state into small areas partly or completely independent of each other, modern autonomy is only a form of democratization of a centralized big state. The clearest illustration of this point of modern autonomy which grew in the chief modern states on the grave the former particularism and in clear opposition to it.


State administrative and bureaucratic centralism was initiated in France by absolutism during the ancien régime. By the suppression of communal independence in the cities, especially in Paris, by subjugating the largest feudal possessions and incorporating them into the crownlands, finally by concentrating administration in the hands of the state council and royal supervisors, there was created already in the time of Richelieu a powerful apparatus of state centralism. The former independent feudal fiefs were reduced to the condition of provinces; some of them were governed by assemblies whose power, however, was more and more of an illusion.

The Great Revolution undertook its work in two directions. On the one hand, continuing the tendency toward political centralization, it completely abolished the territorial remnants of feudalism; on the other, in place of the provincial administration of bureaucrats assigned by the government, it created a local administration with representatives elected by the people. The Constituent Assembly wiped from the map of France the historical division of the country into provinces, as well as the medieval division into administratively diverse cities and villages. On the tabula rasa which was thus left the Constituent Assembly, following the idea of Siéyès, introduced a new, simple, geometrical division into square departments. The departments, in turn, are subdivided into arrondissements, cantons, and communes, each governed by a body elected by public vote. The constitution of the Directory of the Year III made certain changes in details, maintaining however, the foundations of the great reform effected by the Constituent Assembly; it was this reform which had given to modern history an epoch-making model of modern autonomy, which grew up on the grave of feudal decentralization and was imbued with an entirely new idea, namely, democratic representation by election.

There followed a hundred years of change in the history of autonomy in France. This history and the whole political fate of democracy in the country oscillated, in a characteristic manner, between two poles. The slogan of the aristocratic, monarchical reaction is, throughout this time, decentralization, in the sense of returning to the independence of the former historical provinces, while the slogan of liberalism and democracy is close adherence to political centralism and at the same time, the rights of representation of the local population, especially in the commune. The first blow to the work of the Revolution in that field was dealt by Napoleon, who was crowned by the so-called Statute of Pluvois 28 of the year VIII (Feb. 17, 1800), his coup d’état of 18th Brumaire. This statute, taking advantage of the general confusion and chaos caused especially in the provinces by the counter-revolution during the time of the Directory, for which the democratic autonomy was blamed, hastily compressed the work of the Revolution into the framework of bureaucracy. Maintaining the new territorial division of France in line with political centralism, Napoleon abolished, by one stroke of the pen, any participation of the people in local autonomy and gave over the entire power into the hands of officials assigned by the central government: prefect, sub-prefect, and mayor. In the department, the Napoleonic prefect was, in a considerable measure, a resurrection of the supervisor from the happy times of the ancien régime. Napoleon expressed this reversion with characteristic frankness when he said, “Avec mes préfets, mes gens d’armes et mes prêtres, je ferai tout ce que je voudrai.” [“With the help of my prefects, police, and priests I will do whatever I like.”]

The Restoration kept the system of its predecessor in general, according to a current expression. “The Bourbons slept on a bed that had been made by Napoleon.” However, as soon as the aristocratic emigration returned home its battle cry was decentralization, a return to the system of the provinces. The notorious chambre introuvable had scarcely assembled when one of the extreme Royalists, Barthe Lebastrie, at a meeting of January 13, 1816, solemnly announced the indispensability of decentralization. On many later occasions the leaders of the right, Corbière, De Bonald, La Bourdonnaye, de Villèle, Duvergier de Hauranne, argued “the impossibility of reconciling the monarchy with republican uniformity and equality.” Under this standard, the aristocracy fought simply for a return to its former position in the provinces from the economic and political point of view. At the same time, it denounced political centralism as “a gre:nid for revolution, a hotbed of innovations and agitation.” Here we already hear literally the same arguments under cover of which the right, half a century later, tried to mobilize the provincial reaction against the revolutionary Paris Commune.

Therefore, the first timid attempt at the reform of the local administration with application of the principle of election, that is, the project of Martignaque, called forth a storm in the honorable pre-July assembly and was rejected clearly as the “beginning of revolution.” The enraged representatives of the landed aristocracy demanded only the broadening of the competence of the prefect and sub-prefect and making them dependent on the central authority. However, the days of the Restoration were already numbered and the defeat of Martignaque’s project became the prologue of the July Revolution. The July Monarchy, which was only an improved edition of the Restoration in the spirit of the rule of the richest bourgeoisie, introduced insignificant changes in local autonomy; it provided a shadow of the system of election. The law of 1831 on the communes and the law of 1833 on the departments gave the right of suffrage for municipal and departmental councils to a small minority of the most highly taxed as well as to the bureaucracy and bourgeois intelligentsia, without, however, any broadening of the attributes of these councils.

The revolution of 1848 restored the work of its great predecessor, introduced universal suffrage for departmental councils, and made the meetings of the councils public. After the June days, the party of the aristocratic-clerical right violently demanded the return to decentralization as a weapon against the hydra of socialism. In 1849-1851, the departmental councils unanimously demanded the extension of their competence and extraordinary powers in case of civil war, for use against Paris. Thiers, at that time still a liberal, on the contrary, insisted on centralism as the most certain preventive means against socialism. (The very same Thiers, it is true, in 1871, himself waved the banner of federalism and decentralization to mobilize the provinces against the Paris Commune.) The Second Republic, in liquidating the work of the February Revolution, prepared in 1851 a project for the reform of local administration which restored completely the system of Napoleon I, with an all-powerful prefect, and in this way built here, as in general, a bridge on which Napoleon III entered. The latter undertook an even more thorough revision of the February achievements, put local administration even further back than the reforms of Napoleon I, and abolished the openness of the meetings of the departmental councils and their right to elect their own cabinet; from then on the government appointed mayors quite arbitrarily, i.e., not from within the communal council. Finally, Napoleon III expanded the power of the prefects (by the laws of 1852 and 1861) to such an extent that he made them completely independent of the government. These omnipresent departmental satraps, dependent directly on Louis Napoleon, became, by virtue of their function of “directors” of elections to Parliament, the main pillars of the Second Empire.

The course of the above history until the beginning of the Second Empire was characterized by Marx in broad strokes in his The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte in the following way:

This executive power with its enormous bureaucratic and military organization, with its ingenious state machinery, embracing wide strata, with a host of officials numbering half a million, besides an army of another half-million, this appalling parasitic body, which enmeshes the body of French society like a net and chokes all its pores, sprang up in the days of the absolute monarchy, with the decay of the feudal system, which it helped to hasten. The seignorial privileges of the landowners and towns became transformed into so many attributes of the state power, the feudal dignitaries into paid officials, and the motley pattern of conflicting medieval plenary powers into the regulated plan of a state authority whose work is divided and centralized as in a factory. The first French Revolution, with its task of breaking all separate local, territorial, urban, and provincial powers in order to create the civil unity of the nation, was bound to develop what the absolute monarchy had begun: centralization, but at the same time the extent, the attributes, and the agents of governmental power. Napoleon perfected this state machinery. The Legitimist Monarchy and the July Monarchy added nothing but a greater division of labor, growing in the same measure as the division of labor within bourgeois society created new groups of interests, and, therefore, new material for state administration. Every common interest was straightaway severed from society, counterposed to it as a higher general interest, snatched from the activity of society’s members themselves and made an object of governmental activity, from a bridge, a schoolhouse, and the communal property of a village community to the railways, the national wealth, and the national university of France. Finally, in its struggle against the revolution, the parliamentary republic found itself compelled to strengthen, along with the repressive measures, the resources and centralization of governmental power. All revolutions perfected this machine instead of smashing it. The parties that contended in turn for domination regarded the possession of this huge state edifice as the principal spoils of the victor.

But under the absolute monarchy, during the first Revolution, under Napoleon, bureaucracy was only the means of preparing the class rule of the bourgeoisie. Under the Restoration, under Louis Philippe, under the parliamentary republic, it was the instrument of the ruling class, however much it strove for power of its own.

Only under the second Bonaparte does the state seem to have made itself completely independent. As against civil society, the state machine has consolidated its position so thoroughly that the chief of the Society of December 10 suffices for its head, an adventurer blown in from abroad, raised on the shield by a drunken soldiery, which he has bought with liquor and sausages, and which he must continually ply with sausage anew.[1]

The bureaucratic system of Napoleon III stirred up, especially toward the end of his reign, a strong opposition; this opposition comes through clearly in the statements of certain local administrations. The most striking example was the famous “Nancy Manifesto,” which demanded extreme decentralization and under whose banner there rallied, in 1865, the whole legitimist-clerical opposition of the last phase of the Empire. In the name of “freedom and order” the Manifesto demanded the liberation of the Commune from the super-vision of the prefect, the appointment of the mayor from among the communal councilors, and the complete elimination of the arrondissement councils. On the other hand, the Manifesto demanded establishing cantonal councils and assigning to them the distribution of taxes, and finally, revising the boundaries between departments in the spirit of returning to the historical boundaries of the provinces and making the departments so revised independent concerning budget and the entire administration. This program, which aimed “to create preventive measures against revolutions,” to save “freedom compromised by three revolutions,” was accepted by all liberal conservatives of the Odilon Barrot type, and its advocates were headed by all the leaders of legitimism, i.e., the Bourbon party: Béchard, Falioux, Count Montalembert, and finally, the Pretender to the crown himself, Count Chambord, who, in his Manifesto of 1871 raised “administrative decentralization” to the role of a leading programmatic demand on the banner of the white lilies.

The Nancy program provoked sharp resistance from two sides – from the Empire and from the extreme Left, Republicans, Democrats, and Socialists. The latter, condemning the counter-revolutionary tendency of legitimist “decentralization,” said, in the words of Victor Hugo: “Gentlemen, you are forging a chain and you say: ‘This is freedom.’” “Therefore,” they exclaimed, “we do not want your departmental councils as a legislative authority, nor your permanent departmental commissions as administrative authority in which a triple feudalism would prevail: the landed interest, the church, and industry, interested in keeping the people in ignorance and misery.”[2] Under the pretext of freedom, France was to be handed over as prey to bishops, landed aristocracy, and factory owners – this is the opinion of contemporary democracy and socialists about the 1865 program. Louis Blanc was an especially inflexible opponent of decentralization, even to the departments, which he considered an artificial creation, though he fervently encouraged the widest self-government of the Commune as the natural historical organization and the foundation of the state.

In the revolutionary camp the advocates of decentralization, who indeed went further than the legitimists, were only adherents of Proudhon, such as Desmaret, who distinctly proclaimed the slogan of federalism both in application to “the United States of Europe” and to communes and districts within the state, as an ideal solution of the social question because it was a way of “annihilating power by dividing it.” That the adherents of this anarchistic manner of disposing of the bourgeois state have not yet died out in France is proved by the book which appeared in 1899, Le principe sauveur par un girondin [Cited by Avalov, p.228], in which the author sharply polemicizes against the centralism and homogeneity of the modern state, advocating, instead of departmental autonomy, the complete dissolution of the state in the spirit of federation. New voices in the same spirit have been heard even in later years – and enthusiasts for “historical” decentralization still crop up from the camp of the Royalists, as is demonstrated by the legitimist pamphlet from the time of the Dreyfus affair, La decentralization et la monarchie nationale.

The opposition between the views of the contemporary socialists and the anarchistic Proudhon was formulated as early as 1851 by Louis Blanc in his pamphlet, La République une et indivisible, in which in a thunderous voice he warned the republic against the danger of federalism, opposing to the antagonisms of thirty-seven thousand tiny parliaments “la grande tradition montagnarde en fait de centralization politique” and “une administration surveillée”. As a matter of fact, France at that moment was less threatened by the danger of federalism than by its opposite: the coup d’etat of Louis Bonaparte and the absolute rule of his prefects.

The same grouping of parties with regard to local administration was also reflected in the notorious national assembly in Bordeaux after the fall of the Empire. After the destruction of the Paris Commune the main question concerning decentralization was whether it could serve as a preventitive against the revolutionary movements of the proletariat. First of all, the Third Republic hastened to expand the competence of the departments, equipping them – in accordance with the leading idea of reaction since the time of the Restoration – with special powers against the revolution. The so-called “Loi Tréveneuc” of February 15, 1872, bears the significant title “Loi relative au rôle eventuel des conseils généraux dans des circonstances exceptionnelles.” On the other hand, the powers of the communes were, after a temporary expansion, again restricted: whereas in 1871 the communal councils had received the power of electing their mayor, after three years they were again deprived of this right, and the government of the Third Republic appointed thirty-seven thousand mayors through its prefects, thus showing itself a faithful exponent of the monarchical traditions.

However, in the foundation of the Third Republic there occurred certain social changes which, despite all external obstacles, pushed the matter of local autonomy on to completely new paths. Although the independence of the urban and rural communes might have been abhorrent to the bourgeois reaction, intimidated by the great traditions of the Paris Commune from 1793 to 1871, it eventually became an indispensable need, especially since the inception of big industry under the wings of the Second Empire. It was then that railroads began to be built on a large scale. The artificially fostered and protected big industry not only flourished in Paris but in the fifties and sixties it spread into the provinces and suburban areas where capitalism sought cheap factory sites and cheap labor. Enterprises, industrial centers, financial fortunes mushroomed in the hothouse temperature of the Empire, suppressing small industry and introducing mass factory labor of women and children. The Paris Stock Exchange occupied second place in Europe. Together with this explosion of “original accumulation,” as yet unbridled by any protective law – there was still no factory inspection – or by labor organization and struggle, there took place in France an unparalleled accumulation of mass poverty, disease, and death. Suffice it to mention that there were cases when female factory workers were paid one sou, i.e., five centimes per day, in a period of general unparalleled high prices of the prime necessities of life.[3] The short period of this exploiting economy made bourgeois society painfully aware of the lack of any public activity to prevent glaring poverty, infectious diseases, danger to life and property on public roads, etc. As early as 1856, much was written and spoken about the necessity of an official inquiry concerning pauperism in France. In 1858, such an inquiry “confidentially” ordered by the government predictably came to naught.

The state of public education corresponded more or less with these economic conditions. School courses for adults, subsidized by the government under Louis Philippe by the tiny sum of 478 francs on the average annually, were, during the Empire, deprived of this subsidy and neglected. A certain historian described the state of elementary schools in 1863 as follows:

Thousands of communes are without schools for girls; villages are deprived of any schools at all; a large number of others stay briefly in school and do not learn anything useful; there are no schools for adults and not a single library in the villages; the annual figures show that there is more than 27 percent illiteracy; that living conditions of the male and female teachers are miserable; that 5,000 female teachers receive less than 400 francs annual wages, some receive seventy-five francs per year. Not a single one is entitled to retirement pay. Not a single male teacher enjoys a retirement pay which would assure him of one franc daily subsistence.[4]

Among the workers in Paris, the inquiry ordered by the Chamber of Commerce in 1860 ascertained that fifty thousand, i.e., about 13 percent of the working population, was completely illiterate. The Third Republic, whose mission it was to build a durable home for the bourgeoisie and first of all to liquidate the bankrupt estate taken over from the Empire, found itself faced with a number of new tasks: military reform, and in connection with this, a health reform; also a reform, or rather creation of public education; reform of transportation, completely neglected by the Empire, which was solely occupied with decorating and reforming Paris to turn it into a model capital of the Monarchy. Moreover, the Third Republic faced the task of acquiring means for these reforms. This meant an increase of taxes. However, these went primarily for military expenditures, for colonial policy, and especially for the maintenance of the bureaucratic apparatus. Without the participation of the local population, above all of the communes, the Third Republic would never have been able to solve these tasks.

At the same time, big industry’s revolutionizing of conditions under the Empire completely changed the role of the department. When Louis Blanc, in the national assembly in 1871, declared that the department is an artificial product of administrative geometry, this was doubtless an anachronistic view. Indeed, in their beginning, emerging from the hands of the constituent assembly, the departments were an entirely “free improvisation” of the genius of the Revolution, a simple network of symmetrical figures on the map of France; and it was exactly in this abolition of all historical boundaries of the provinces that the powerful innovating thought, that great “tradition montagnarde“ consisted, which, on the ruins of the medieval system, created a politically unified modern France. For decades, during the Restoration and later, the departments did not have any life of their own; they were used by the central government only as branch offices, as the sphere of action of the clerk-prefect whose only palpable expression was the obligatory “hôtels de préfecture”. However, in modern France, new local needs have brought, in the course of time, new institutions surrounding these fortresses of the central bureaucracy. The new “departmental interests” which have gained increasing recognition are centered around shelters, hospitals, schools, local roads, and the procurement of “additional centimes” necessary to meet the costs.

The originally empty framework of the departments, drawn on the grave of the medieval particularism of the provinces, became in the course of time, through the development of bourgeois France, filled with new social content: the local interests of capitalism. The local administration of France by all-powerful prefects could suffice in the second half of the nineteenth century only for the artificial maintenance of the Empire. The Third Republic was eventually forced, in its own interests, to admit the local population to participation in this administration and to change the communes and departments from exclusive instruments of the central government into organs of democratic autonomy.

However, this shift could be effected only within the Third Republic. In the same way that the republican form of government was consolidated in France ultimately thanks only to circumstances which permitted the social nucleus of this clearly bourgeois political form to be husked from its ideological cocoon, from the illusion of “social republic” created by three revolutions in the course of almost half a century, so the local self-government had first to be liberated from the traditional ideology hostile to it. As late as the 1871 National Assembly, some advocates of liberalism abhorred the “reactionary” idea of autonomy which they persistently identified with feudal decentralization. The Monarchist, d’Haussonville, warned his party, reminding it that already during the Great Revolution the appearance of adhering to federalism was sufficient to send people to the guillotine, while Duvergier de Hauranne declared that France was faced with a dilemma: either uniform administration represented in each department by a prefect, or a federation of autonomous departments. These were the last reverberations of an opinion which weighed on people’s minds for three-quarters of a century. Only when, with the fall of the Second Empire and the triumph of the Third Republic, the attempts of the aristocratic clerical reaction were defeated once and for all and the phantom of the federalism of the “historic provinces” was relegated to the realm of disembodied spirits did the idea of the relative independence of the departments cease to give an impression of federalism which frightened away bourgeois liberalism and democracy. And only when the last flicker of the Paris Commune revolutionary tradition died out in the cinders of the 1871 Commune and under the withered lawn of the “Confederates’ Wall” [“Mur des Fédérés”] at Père Lachaise, where the corpses and half-dead bodies of the Commune’s heroes were dumped, only then did the idea of communal self-government cease to be synonymous with social upheaval in the minds of the bourgeoisie, and the Phrygian cap cease to be the symbol of the City Hall. In a word, only when both departmental and communal autonomy were able to demonstrate their proper historical social value as genuinely modern institutions of the bourgeois state, growing out of its own needs and serving its interests, did the progressive development of local autonomy in France become possible. The organic statute of 1871, supplemented by the law of 1899, at last authorized representatives of departments chosen by general elections of the people to participate in the administration with a determining voice, and the statute of 1884 gave a similar right to the communal councils, returning to them the power of choosing their own mayor. Slowly and reluctantly, and only in recent times, the modern autonomy of France has liberated itself from the iron bonds of bureaucracy.

The history of self-government in England followed entirely different paths. Instead of the revolutionary change-over from medieval to modern society, we sec here, on the contrary, an early compromise which has preserved to this day the old remnants of feudalism. Not so much by the shattering of old forms as by gradually filling them with new content, bourgeois England has carved out a place for itself in medieval England. And perhaps in no other area is this process so typical and interesting as in the area of local self-government. At first glance, and according to a commonplace expression, England appears as the country with the oldest local self-government, nay, as the cradle, the classical homeland of self-government, on which the liberalism of the continent sought to model itself. In reality, that age-old self-government of England belongs to the realm of myths, and the famous old English self-government has nothing in common with self-government in the modern sense. Self-government was simply a special system of local administration which originated at the time of the flowering of feudalism and bears all the hallmarks of its origin. The centers of that system are the county, a product of the feudal conditions after the Norman Conquest, and the parish, a product of medieval, ecclesiastical conditions; while the main person, the soul of the whole county administration, is the justice of the peace, an office created in the fourteenth century along with the three other county offices: the sheriff, conducting the elections to parliament, administering judgments in civil lawsuits, etc.; the coroner, conducting inquests in cases of violent death; and finally, the commander of the county militia. Among these officials only the secondary figure of the coroner is elective; all other officers are appointed by the Crown from among the local landed aristocracy. Only landed proprietors with a specified income could be appointed to the office of justice of the peace. All these officers fulfilled their duties without remuneration, and the purely medieval aspect is further indicated by the fact that in their competence they combined judicial and executive power. The justice of the peace did everything in the county as well as in the parish, as we shall presently see. He ran the courts, assigned taxes, issued administrative ordinances, in a word, he represented in his person the whole competence of public authority entirely in accordance with the feudal attributions of the landed proprietor; the only difference here was his appointment by the Crown. The justice of the peace, once appointed, became an omnipotent holder of public power: justices of the peace were entirely independent of the central government, and in general, not responsible, because the old system of English self-government obviously knows nothing of another basic feature of modern administration: the judicial responsibility of officials and the supervision by the central authority over local offices. Any participation of the local population in this administration was out of the question. If, therefore, the ancient English self-government may be regarded as a kind of autonomy, this can be done only in the sense that it was a system of unrestricted autonomy of the landed aristocracy, who held in their hands the complete public power in the county.

The first undermining of this medieval system of administration coincides with the reign of Elizabeth, i.e., the period of that shattering revolution in rural property relations which inaugurated the capitalistic era in England. Violent expropriations of the peasantry by the aristocracy on the broadest scale, the supersession of agriculture by sheep-herding, the secularization of church estates which were appropriated by the aristocracy, all this suddenly created an immense rural proletariat, and in consequence, poverty, beggary, and public robbery. The first triumphal steps of capital shook the foundations of the whole society and England was forced to face a new threat – pauperism. There began a crusade against vagrancy, beggary, and looting, which extends in a bloodstained streak until the middle of the nineteenth century. Since, however, prisons, branding with hot irons, and even the gallows proved an entirely insufficient medicine against the new plague, summary convictions came into being in England and also “public philanthropy”; next to the gallows at the cross-roads arose the parish workhouse. The modern phenomenon of mass pauperism was the first problem transcending the powers and means of the medieval system of administration as carried out by the self-government of the aristocracy. The solution adopted was to shift the new burden to new shoulders of the middle classes, the wealthy bourgeoisie. Now the mold-covered church parish was called to a new role – care of the poor. In the peculiar English administration, the parish is not only a rural but also an urban organization, so that to this day the parish system overlaps the modern administrative network in the big cities, creating a great chaos of competences.

At the end of the sixteenth century, a tax for the poor was introduced in the parish, and this tax gradually became the cornerstone of the tax system of the commune. The poor rates grew from £900,000 sterling at the end of the seventeenth century to £7,870,801 sterling in 1881. The collection and administration of these funds, the organization of assistance and workhouses, called forth a new organization of the communal office: and to it there also fell presently another important public function which was likewise caused b the needs of the nascent capitalist economy: supervision of roads. This organization also comprised, from then on, besides the rector who was at the head and two church wardens elected by the commune, two overseers of the poor, designated by the justice of the peace, and one surveyor of the highways, also designated by the justice of the peace. As we see, this was still the use of the old self-government apparatus for modern purposes. The landed aristocracy in the persons of the justices of the peace preserved power in their hands; only the material burden fell on the bourgeoisie. The commune had to carry the burden of the poor tax; however, it didn’t have any voice in the apportionment of the tax. The latter function was an attribute of the justice of the peace and of the communal overseers subject to him.

In such a state the local administration survived until the nineteenth century. A few attempts at admitting the population to participation in this administration were undertaken at the beginning of that century but came to nothing.

In the meantime, capitalism in England entered new paths: big machine industry celebrated its triumphal entry and undertook an assault on the old fortress of self-government, which the crumbling structure could not withstand.

The violent growth of factory industry at the end of the eighteenth and the beginning of the nineteenth century caused a complete upheaval in the conditions of England’s social life. The immense influx of the rural proletariat to the cities soon brought about such a concentration of people and such a housing shortage in the industrial cities that the workers’ districts became abhorrent slums, dark, stinking, filthy, plague-ridden. Sickness among the population assumed terrifying proportions. In Scotland and Ireland an outbreak of typhoid took place regularly after each price increase and each industrial crisis. In Edinburgh and Glasgow, for instance as stated by Engels in his classic work, The Condition of the Working Class in England in 1844, in the year 1817, 6,000 persons fell ill; in 1826 and 1837, 10,000 each; in 1842, in Glasgow alone, 32,000, i.e., 12 percent of the entire population. In Ireland, in 1817, 39,000 persons fell ill with typhoid, in 1819, 60,000; in the main industrial cities of counties Cork and Limerick, one-seventh and one-fourth respectively of the entire population fell victim in those years to the epidemic. In London and Manchester, malaria was endemic. In the latter city, it was officially stated that three-quarters of the population needed medical help every year, and mortality among children up to five reached, in the industrial city of Leeds in 1832, the terrifying figure of 5,286 out of a population of 100,000. The lack of hospitals and medical help, housing shortages, and undernourishment of the proletariat became a public threat.

In no less a degree, the intellectual neglect of the mass of the people became a public plague when big industry, having concentrated immense crowds of the proletariat under its command, made them a prey of spiritual savages. The textile industry especially, which was the first to introduce mass labor of women and children at the lowest age and which made impossible any home education, however rudimentary, made the filling of this gap, i.e., the creation of elementary schools, a public need. However, the state performed these tasks to a minimal degree. At the beginning of the fourth decade [of the century], out of the budget of England amounting to £55 million, public education is allotted the ridiculous sum of £40,000. Education was left mainly to private initiative, especially of the church, and became mostly an instrument of bigotry and a weapon of sectarian struggle. In Sunday schools, the only ones accessible to working-class children, the latter were often not even taught reading and writing, as occupations unworthy of Sunday; while in the private schools, as was demonstrated by a parliamentary inquiry, the teachers themselves often did not know how to read or write. In general, the picture revealed by the famous Children Employment Commission showed the new capitalistic England as a scene of ruin and destruction, a wreckage of the entire antiquated, traditional, social structure. The great social reform was accomplished for the purpose of establishing tolerable living conditions for the new host, i.e., for the capitalistic bourgeoisie. The elimination of the most threatening symptoms of pauperism, the provision of public hygiene, elementary education, etc. became an urgent task. However, this task could be achieved only when both in state policy and in the entire administration the exclusive rule of the landed aristocracy was abolished and yielded to the rule of the industrial bourgeoisie. The election reform of 1832, which broke the political power of the Tories, is also the date from which begins self-government in England in the modern sense, i.e., self-government based on the participation of the population in the local administration, and on paid, responsible officials in the role of executor of its will under the supervision and control of the central authority. The medieval division of the state into counties and parishes corresponded to the new grouping of the population and local needs and interests as little as the medieval offices of the justice of the peace and parish councils. But while the revolutionary French liberalism swept from the country the historic provinces and in their place erected a homogeneous France with new administrative divisions, the conservative English liberalism created only a new administrative network – inside, beside, and through the old divisions, without formally abolishing them. The peculiarity of English self-government consists in the fact that, unable to utilize the completely in adequate framework of traditional self-government, it created a new kind of base: special communal associations of the population for each of the basic functions of self government.

Thus, the law of 1834 establishes new “poor law unions”, comprising several parishes whose population jointly elects, on the basis of a six-class electoral law, in accordance with the taxes paid, a separate board of guardians for each union. This body decides the whole matter of welfare, building of workhouses, issuing doles, etc.; it also hires and pays the officials who carry out its decisions. The old office of the parish overseer of the poor changed from an honorary to a paid one, and was reduced to the function of imposing and collecting taxes assigned by the board.

According to the same model, but quite independently, the law of 1847 created a new, broad organization to take care of public health and supervision of buildings, cleanliness of streets and houses, water supply, and food marketing. Also for this purpose new associations of the local population with representatives elected by it were established. On the basis of the Public Health Act of 1875, England – with the exception of the capital – is divided into urban and rural sanitary districts. The organ of representation is, in the urban districts, the city council; in the boroughs, special local boards of health; and in the rural districts health is supervised by the board of guardians. All these boards decide all matters pertaining to health and hire salaried officers who carry out the resolutions of the board.

The administration of local transportation also followed the same lines but independently of the two bodies mentioned above. For this purpose, highway districts were created, composed of several parishes whose population elects separate highway boards. In many rural districts, transportation is the concern of the local board of health, or the board of guardians which administers both transportation and poor relief. The highway boards or the boards of guardians decide about transportation enterprises and hire a paid district-surveyor as the official carrying out their orders. And so the office of the former honorary highway surveyor vanished.

Finally, education was also entrusted to a specail self-governing organization. Individual parishes, cities and the capital form as many school districts. However, the board of education of the council of state has the right to combine several urban parishes into one district. Every district elects a school board entrusted with supervision of elementary education: it makes decisions concerning tuition-free schooling and the hiring of officials and teachers.

In this way there came into being, quite independently from the old organization of self-government, new, multiple, autonomous organizations which, precisely because they originated not by way of a bold revolutionary reform but as discrete patchwork, formed an extremely complex and involved system of often overlapping areas of competence. However, it is characteristic for the classic country of capitalist economy that the axis around which this modern self-government was crystallized – so far clearly on the lowest level in the rural commune – was the organization of public welfare, the organization for combating pauperism: the “poor” was, in England, to the middle of the nineteenth century, the official synonym for the worker, just as in a later time of orderly and modernized conditions, the sober expression “hands” became such a synonym. Beside this new organization of self-government, the old counties with their justices of the peace became a relic. The justice of the peace fell to the subordinate role of participant in the local council, and supervision of administration was left him only to a certain extent in matters of highways. When, however, the local administration passed from the hands of the justice appointed by the Crown to the elected representatives of the local population, the administrative decentralization by no means increased, but on the contrary, was eliminated. If, in the old days, the justice of the peace was an all-powerful master in the council, entirely independent of the central government, at present, the local government is subject on the one hand to the uniform parliamentary legislation, and on the other to strict control by the central administrative authorities. The Local Government Board specially created for this purpose controls the activity of the local boards of guardians and boards of health through visiting inspectors, while the school boards are subject to the board of education of the state council.

Also, urban self-government in England is a product of most recent times. Only slight traces survived to modern times of the communal independence of the medieval city. The modern city, an outcome of the capitalist economy of the nineteenth century, made a new urban organization indispensable: initiated by the law of 1835, it was not finally established until 1882.

The history of self-government in Germany and Austria lacks such distinctive features as that of France or England; however, it generally followed the same lines. In both countries, the division into cities and rural communes resulting from the medieval development brought about a highly developed self-government of the cities and their political independence, and also created the political split, perhaps the greatest in Europe, of the state territory into independent feudal areas. After the sixteenth century, and especially in the eighteenth century, during the time of enlightened absolutism, the cities completely lost their independence and fell under the authority of the state. At the same time, the rural communes lost their traditional self-governing institutions, having completely fallen, through the growth of serfdom, under the authority of landowners. Although much later than in France, absolutism nevertheless, as the creator of a unified state authority and territory, triumphed in Germany in the eighteenth century. At the beginning of the nineteenth century, bureaucratic centralism is everywhere victorious.

However, before long, in connection with the rising big-industrial production and the aspiration of the bourgeoisie to introduce modern conditions into the state, the development of local self-government on new principles begins. The first general law of this kind originated in Austria during the March Revolution. Actually, however, the foundations of the present self-government were laid in Austria by the statute of 1862; in the respective crownlands, particular communal laws came into being later through legislation of the Diet.

In Germany, there prevails French law, partly derived from Napoleonic times, which does not distinguish between the urban and rural commune: for instance, in the Rhineland, in the Bavarian Palatinate, Hesse, Thuringia, etc. On the other hind, the Prussian model prevailing in western and eastern Germany is an independent product. Although the Prussian urban law dates already from 1808, the actual period of the development of the present self-government in Prussia fell in the sixties and the main reforms in the seventies and eighties. Among the main areas of urban administration – province, district (Kreis), and commune – only the last has well-developed, self-governing institutions, i.e., extensive power of the representatives elected by the population; in the remaining ones, representative bodies (Kreistag, Provinzallandtag) exist but they are rather modernized, medieval class diets and their competence is extremely limited by the competence of officials appointed by the Crown, such as Regierungspräsident in the province, and Landrat in the district.

Local self-government in Russia constitutes one of the most outstanding attempts of absolutism which, in the famous “liberal reforms” after the Sebastopol catastrophe, aimed at adjusting the institutions of oriental despotism to the social needs of modern capitalist economy. Between the peasant reform and the reform of the courts at the threshold of the “renewed” Russia of Alexander II, stands the law which created the territorial institutions. Modeled on the newly established self-governing institutions of Prussia, the system of the Russian “zemstvo” is a parody of English self-government; it entrusts the entire local administration to the wealthy nobility, and at the same time subjects this self-government of the nobility to strict police supervision and the decisive authority of tsarist bureaucracy.

The law governing elections to the county and gubernial territorial councils happily combines, in the tri-curial system and indirect elections, the class principle with the census principle. It makes the county marshal of the nobility the ex-officio chairman in the district council, and securing in it to the nobility curia half of the seats suspends over all resolutions of the council, like a Damocles sword, the threatening veto of the governor.

As a result of this peculiarity of Russia’s social development, which, in the period before 1905 made not the urban bourgeoisie, but certain strata of the nobility the advocates of “liberal dreams” however pale, even this parody of self-governing institutions represented by the Russian zemstvos has become, in the hands of the nobility, a framework for serious social and cultural activity. However, the sharp clash that immediately arose between liberalism, nestling in the territorial administration, on the one hand, and the bureaucracy and government on the other, glaringly illuminated the genuine contradiction between modern self-government and the medieval state apparatus of absolutisni. Beginning a few years after the introduction of the zemstvos, the collision with the power of the governors extends like a red thread through the history of self-government in Russia, oscillating between the deportation of recalcitrant council chairmen to more or less distant regions; and the boldest dreams of Russian liberals in the form of an all-Russian Congress of zemstvos which was supposed to be transformed into a constituent assembly that would abolish absolutism in a peaceful manner.

The few years of the action of the [1905] revolution solved this historical collision, violently moving the Russian nobility to the side of reaction and depriving the parody of territorial self-government of any mystifying resemblances to liberalism. Thus was clearly demonstrated the impossibility of reconciling the democratic self-government indispensable In a bourgeois society with the rule of absolutism, as well as the impossibility of grafting modern bourgeois democracy onto the class action of the territorial nobility and its institutions. Local self-government in the modern sense in only one of the details of the general political program whose implementation in the entire state constitutes the task of the revolution.

In particular, the Kingdom of Poland and Lithuania must participate in this political reform. This Kingdom is at sent a unique example of a country with a highly developed bourgeois economy which, however, is deprived of any traces of local self-government.

In ancient Poland, a country of natural economy and gentry rule, there obviously was no local self-government. Polish district and provincial councils possessed only functions connected with elections to the sejm. Although cities possessed their Magdeburg laws, imported from Germany and standing outside the national law, in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, with the complete decline of cities, the majority of them fell under the law of serfdom or regressed to the status of rural settlements and communes, and in consequence urban self-government disappeared.

The Duchy of Warsaw, which was an experiment of Napoleon, was endowed with a system of self-government bodily transferred from France, not the one which was the product of revolution, but a self-government squeezed in the clamps of the Statute of Pluvois 28. The Duchy was divided into departments, counties, and communes with “municipal” self-governments and “prefects” who appointed municipal councillors from a list of candidates elected at county diets, which was a slavish copy of the Napoleonic “listes de confiance” in the department. These bodies, destined mainly to impose state taxes, had only advisory functions otherwise, and lacked any executive organs.

In the Congress Kingdom, the French apparatus was completely abolished; only the departments remained, renamed “voyvodship.” However, they still had no self-governing functions, only a certain influence on the election of judges and administrative officials. After the November Insurrection [1830], even this remnant of self-governing forms was abolished, and with the exception of the short period of Wielopolski’s experiment in 1861, when provincial and county as well as urban councils were created on the basis of indirect, multilevel elections and without any executive organs, the country to this day remains without any form of self-government. A weak class commune crippled by the government is the only relic in this field. Consequently, the Kingdom of Poland represents at present, after a hundred years of the operation of Russian absolutism, some analogy to that tabula rasa which the Great Revolution created in France in order to erect on this ground a radical and democratic reform of self-government unrestricted by any historical survivals.


Karl Kautsky characterizes the basic attitude of Social Democracy to the question of autonomy as follows:

The centralization of the legislative process did not by any means involve the complete centralization of administration. On the contrary. The same classes which needed unification of the laws were obliged thereafter to bring the state power under their control. However, this took place only incompletely under the parliamentary form of government, in which the government is dependent on the legislature. The administration, with the whole bureaucratic apparatus at its disposal, was nominally subordinate to the central legislature, but the executive often turned out to be stronger in practice. The administration influences the voters in the legislature through its bureaucracy and through its power in local matters; it corrupts the legislators through its power to do them favors. However, the strongly centralized bureaucracy shows itself less and less able to cope with the increasing tasks of the state administration. It is overcome by them. The results are: fumbling, delays, postponing the most important matters, complete misunderstanding of the rapidly changing needs of practical life, massive waste of time and labor in superfluous pencil work. These are the rapidly increasing shortcomings of bureaucratic centralism.

Thus there arises, along with the striving for uniformity of legislation, after the several provincial legislatures have been superseded by a central parliament, a striving for decentralization of administration, for local administration of the provinces and communes. The one and the other are characteristic of the modern state.

“This self-government does not mean the restoration of medieval particularism. The commune [Gemeinde] and likewise the province) does not become a self-sufficient entity as it once was. It remains a component part of the great whole, the nation, [Here used as synonymous with “state.” – Kautsky] and has to work for it and within the limits that it sets. The rights and duties of the individual communes as against the state are not laid down in special treaties. They are a product of the general system of laws, determined for all by the central power of the state; they are determined by the interests of the whole state or the nation, not by those of the several communes.” – K. Kautsky, Der Parlamentarismus, die Volksgesetzgebung und die Sozialdemokratie, p.48.

If Comrade Stampfer will keep separate the centralization of administration and the centralization of the legislative process, he will find that the paths being followed by German and Austrian Social Democracy respectively are not diverging at all, but are going in the same direction as the whole of modern democracy. Opposition to all special privileges in the country, strengthening of the central legislature at the expense of the provincial parliaments as well as of the government administration; weakening of the central administration both through the strengthening of the central legislature and through the devolution of self-administration to the communes and provinces – this latter process taking, in Austria, in accordance with its own local conditions, the form of self-administration of the nationalities – but a self-administration regulated for the whole country by the central legislature along uniform lines: that is, in spite of all historical and other social differences, in Germany and Austria the position of Social Democracy on the question of centralism and particularism.[5]

We have quoted the above extensive argument of Kautsky on the question we are examining but not because we unreservedly share his views. The leading idea of this argument: the division of modern state centralism into administrative and legislative, the rejection of the former and the absolute reognition of the latter, appears to us somewhat too formalistic and not quite precise. Local autonomy – provincial, municipal, and communal – does not at all do away with administrative centralism: autonomy covers only strictly local matters, while the administration of the state as a whole -mains in the hands of the central authority, which, even in such democratic states as Switzerland, shows a constant tendency to extend its competence.

An outstanding feature of modern administration in contradistinction to medieval particularism is precisely the strict supervision by central institutions and the subordination of the local administration to the uniform direction and control the state authorities. A typical illustration of this arrangement is the dependence of the modern self-governing officials in England on the central offices and even the special creation over them of a central Local Government Board which eliminates genuine administrative decentralization represented by the old system in which, it will be recalled, the all-powerful justices of the peace were entirely independent of the central government. In the same way, the most recent development of self-government in France paves anew the way to democratization, and at the same time gradually eliminates the independence of the prefect from the central ministries, a system that had characterized the government of the Second Empire.

The above phenomenon also completely corresponds to the general direction of political development. A strong central government is an institution peculiar not only to the epoch of absolutism at the dawn of bourgeois development but also to bourgeois society itself in its highest stage, flowering, and decline. The more external policy – commercial, aggressive, colonial – becomes the axis of the life of capitalism, the more we enter into the period of imperialistic “global” policy, which is a normal phase of the development of bourgeois economy, and the more capitalism needs a strong authority, a powerful central government which concentrates in its hands all the resources of the state for the protection of its interests outside. Hence, modern autonomy, even in its widest application, finds definite barriers in all those attributes of power which are related to the foreign policy of a state.

On the other hand, autonomy itself puts up barriers to legislative centralization, because without certain legislative competences, even narrowly outlined and purely local, no self-government is possible. The power of issuing within a certain sphere, on its own initiative, laws binding for the population, and not merely supervising the execution of laws issued by the central legislative body, constitutes precisely the soul and core of self-government in the modern democratic sense – it forms the basic function of municipal and communal councils as well as of provincial diets or departmental councils. Only when the latter in France acquired the right of deciding in the last instance about their problems instead of submitting their opinions in a consultative capacity, and particularly when they acquired the right of drafting their independent budget, only from that time dates the real beginning of the autonomy of the departments. In the same way, the foundation of urban self-government in Germany is the right of establishing the budget of the towns, and in connection with this the independent fixing of supplements to the state taxes and also the introduction of new communal taxes (although within limits fixed by state law). Further, when, for instance, the city council of Berlin or Paris issues binding regulations concerning the building code, insurance duties for home industry, employment and unemployment aid, the city sewage-disposal system, communications, etc., all these are legislative activities. The axis of the incessant struggle between local representatives and organs of the central administration is the democratic tendency constantly to expand the legislative competence of the elected organs and to reduce the administrative competence of the appointed organs.

The attitude to local autonomy – its legislative and administrative functions – constitutes the theoretical basis of the political fight which has been going on for a long time between Social Democracy on the one hand and the government and the bourgeois parties on the other. The latter hold a uniform view on the matter in question except for a small group of extreme-left progressives. While the theory of bourgeois reaction maintains that local self-government is, by its nature, only a localization of state administrations, that the commune, district, or province as a financial unit is called to administer the state property, Social Democracy defends the view that a commune, district, or province is a social body called upon to take care – in a local sphere – of a number of social matters and not only financial ones. The practical conclusion of these two theories is that the bourgeois parties insist that electoral rights to self-governing bodies should be limited by a property qualification, while Social Democracy calls for a universal and equal electoral right for the whole population. Generally speaking, the progress of modern self government toward democracy can be measured by the expansion of the groups of population which participate in self-government by way of elections, as well as by the degree to which their representative bodies extend their competence. The transfer of some activities from the administration to the legislative, representative bodies is a measure extending the latter’s competence. It seems therefore that the centralized state apparatus can be separated from local self-government, and modern self-government from feudal and petit bourgeois particularism. This can be done, in our opinion, not by a formalistic approach, whereby the legislative and the administrative powers are separated, but by separating some spheres of social life – namely those which constitute the core of a capitalist economy and of a big bourgeois state – from the sphere of local interests.

In particular, Kautsky’s formula including national autonomy under the general heading of local self-government would, in view of his theory about legislative centralization lead Social Democracy to refuse to recognize regional diets on the ground that they were a manifestation of legislative decentralization, i.e., medieval particularism. Kautsky’s arguments are in their essence extremely valuable as an indication concerning the general tendency in Social Democratic policy, concerning its basic standpoint toward centralism and big power policy on the one hand and particularistic tendencies on the other. But precisely from the same foundations from which, in all capitalistic states, grows local self-government, there also grows in certain conditions national autonomy, with local legislation as an independent manifestation of modern social development, which has as little in common with medieval particularism as the present-day city council has with a parliament of the ancient Hanseatic republic.

[1] Karl Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte (New York: International Publishers, 1969), pp.121-23.

[2] Quoted in Avalov, Decentralization and Self-government in France, Departmental Councils from the Reform of Bonaparte to Our Days, p.246. Original note by R.L.

[3] This fact is quoted by G. Weill, Histoire du mouvement social en France (1904), p.12. Original note by R.L.

[4] Ibid., p.11. Original note by R.L.

[5] Karl Kautsky, Partikularismus and Sozialdemokratie, in Die Neue Zeit, 1898-1899, Vol.I, pp.505-06.

Next Chapter: The National Question and Autonomy

Last updated on: 16.12.2008