Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels said little about the transition period before the ‘withering away of the state,’ which Engels in particular considered to be necessary. Marx said even less about it than Engels. Later the Marxists filled this gap with, stated simply, two different conceptions: The social democrats followed (and still follow) the ten demands formulated by Engels in the ‘Communist Manifesto’ (1848) with measures to nationalize industry, land, money and credit; furthermore, with high progressive taxes. This should happen (and has happened) without a revolution through the conquest of political power within the democratic state. The Social Democrats have never bothered with the ‘withering away of the state’ and have simply ignored those statements of Marx that were critical of the state; social democrat measures make the state and its bureaucratic apparatus grow incessantly and intervene ever more deeply into all areas of human life.
The other concept of the transition came from Lenin and the Bolshevism he founded. Lenin adhered to the revolution and also at least paid lip service to the long-term goal of a ‘withering away of the state.’ Thus he certainly kept closer to the wording of most texts by Marx and Engels (with the exception of the ‘Manifesto’). For the transition state, however, which was to prepare its own withering away, he envisioned a centralist and dictatorial form, which was diametrically opposed at least to the ideas developed by Marx following the Paris Commune (1871) and the criticism of the Gotha programme of the German Social Democrats’ predecessor party (1875). The tragic implementation of Leninism in the USSR, China and elsewhere has shown that this concept has given rise to the very worst of atrocities and that the state has made no attempt to ‘wither away’ in any way, shape or form. On the contrary: nationalism, militarism and oppression by the state of every form of free expression of life were the order of the day.
This strategic split in the Marxist movement goes far beyond Marxism; it has paradigmatic significance. Unfortunately, a similar development is emerging in the classical liberal, conservative and libertarian counter-movement against the prevailing social democracy (social democracy still prevails even when the particular social-democratic parties are in decline, since all other parties have in principle become social-democratic parties). Until recently, the main difference in the libertarian movement was that between minarchists (who favor a minimal state) and anarchists. This difference has receded into the background, while in the meantime a new strategic one has arisen; and I believe that both of the contending strategic options are misleading.
The strategy following the line of social democracy assumes that the conquest of power within the existing system is sufficient to push back the state: “Roll back the state!” was already the battle cry of the classic liberal and libertarian followers of the Reagan revolution, which in this respect achieved far less than their followers, as well as their opponents, believed (and still believe). In Germany the illusion of achieving a substantial change in politics through the exchange of leading personnel is expressed in the slogan “Merkel must go.” Schmidt must go, Kohl must go, Schröder must go, no matter who it was who had to go, what then followed was no better, no, rather worse than the one who was replaced. This is already evident today when looking at specific requirements. For example, when the TV licence (for which every German household has to pay), which has to ‘go,’ is instead to be converted into a tax-funded public media institution as an alternative for Germany. A media structure that is indirectly dependent on the state and corporately intertwined with it is to become a direct state institution. This is certainly not a step in the direction of less state.
This example leads me to the second, the ‘Leninist’ strategy. The movements called ‘right-wing populist,’ which nourish the - in my opinion - illusionary hope of libertarians for a short-term, real-political enforcement of state limits and state dismantling, face a problem when they have conquered the political heights: The entire state apparatus is (still) committed to social democracy (keyword: ‘deep state’). It torpedoes and hinders the desired transformation of the state wherever it can. Likewise, key public opinion formers such as television, newspapers and other media, as well as many educational institutions and even the entire judiciary are shot through with supporters of social democracy. That is why the right-wing populist governments are massively attacking these institutions and trying to bring them into line. If, for example, the judiciary does not support the new policy of pushing back migrants, the judges' posts must be filled by persons loyal to the line, and where replacements are not possible, civil servants must be subjected more strongly to political instructions. When the media criticise the new government, it becomes the main target and its independence is at stake. However, this calls into question the liberal achievements that have achieved a certain restriction on direct powers by the state authorities. Unfortunately, as long as someone agrees with the government and its decisions, this formal change doesn’t usually bother him: it’s only when ‘the other side’ takes over again, because the favor of the ‘plebs' has changed, that they yell bloody murder. But by then it's too late.
A fundamental libertarian insight is that state power is a structure independent of content. Whoever conquers it, in whatever way, can use it in a way that suits them. Those who do not protest against the authorities simply because they are in agreement with their decisions will soon find themselves as their victims, but no one will then be available to help the protest succeed. Equally, protesting against the authority of the state must be independent of content, that is to say, whether I am in agreement with its decisions or opposed to them, it is fundamentally wrong to enforce one's own ideas by means of state authority.
Translated from eigentümlich frei, where the original article was published on 25th June 2018.