This article provides an overview on Withering Away of State:- 1. Meaning of Withering Away of State 2. Engels’s Version of Withering Away of State 3. Lenin’s Interpretation 4. Stalin’s Explanation 5. Evaluation.
Meaning of Withering Away of State:
The two models of Marxist theory of state; the instrumentalist model or the state is an instrument of class rule and, simultaneously, an instrument of exploitation which means the economically powerful class uses it to exploit the proletarians. The other one is relative autonomy model.
The first highlights the notion that the state always and everywhere acts as an agent of the powerful class. It has no other purpose than to protect the interests of the class.
The other model emphasizes that it tries to maintain its neutrality in the midst of various classes. Miliband says that in ultimate analysis there is no conflict between these two models. However, we are not concerned with it.
Engels in his The Origin of Family, Private Property and State says that after setting up of a classes society there will be no need of state, it will wither away. This is a logical conclusion. If there are no classes its function to keep peace between irreconcilable classes will cease to exist. If society is classless the state will disappear.
With the withering away of the state there will be no police force or army or any agency to suppress the proletarians.
The withering away of state according to Marx and Engels is inevitable. The proletarians will overthrow the bourgeoisie from power which means an end of bourgeois rule and disintegration of state machinery. So the state does not wither away at the sweet will of anybody. It is a logical inevitability.
Engels’s Version of Withering Away of State:
In several of their works Marx and Engels have repeatedly emphasized the end of state but the classic formulation of the withering away of state is to be found in Socialism – Utopian and Scientific.
In this famous pamphlet Engels writes:
“The proletariat seizes political power and turns the means of production into state property. But in doing this it abolishes itself as a proletariat, abolishes all class distinctions and class antagonisms, and abolishes also the state as state. The state was the official representative of society as a whole, the gathering of it together into a visible embodiment. But it was this only in so far as it was the state of that class which itself represented, for the time being society as a whole – in ancient times, the state of slave owning citizens, in the Middle Ages the feudal lords, in our time the bourgeoisie.”
“When at last it becomes the real representative of the whole society, it renders itself unnecessary. As soon as there is no longer any social class to be held in subjection, as soon as class rule, and the individual struggle for existence based upon our present anarchy in production are removed, nothing more remains to be repressed, and a special repressive force, a state, is no-longer necessary.”
“The state interference in social relations becomes, in one domain after another, superfluous and then dies out of itself; the government of persons is replaced by administration of things, and by the conduct of processes of production. The state is not abolished. It dies out. This gives the measure of the value of the phrase a free state, both to its justifiable use at times by agitators and as to its ultimate scientific insufficiency and also of the demands of the so called anarchists for the abolition of the state out of hand”
Engels concludes “Man’s own social organization, hitherto confronting him as a necessity imposed by Nature and history, now becomes the result of his own free action. The extraneous objective forces that have hitherto governed history pass under the control of man himself. Only from that time man will himself more and more consciously make his own history only from that time will the social causes set in movement by him have, in the main and in a constantly growing measure the results intended by him. It is the ascent of man from the kingdom of necessity to the kingdom of freedom.”
Lenin’s Interpretation of Withering Away of State:
Lenin’s State and Revolution published in 1918 contains by far the best exposition of Marxist theory of state. Lenin emphasizes that the key idea of the withering away of state enunciated by Engels is that it differs from the anarchist view of the abolition of state.
At the outset Engels has said that in seizing state power the proletariat “abolishes the state as state”. Engels uttered these words in the background of the experience of the Paris Commune of 1871.
The difference between the withering away and abolition is that the proletarian revolution will abolish the bourgeois state, after capturing power the proletarians will use the bourgeois state to further their own interests. That means certain remnants of the bourgeois state will find their place in the seized state.
The proletarian revolution is not the final stage. After it there shall appear or occur another revolution with is called social revolution. Lenin states that only after the social revolution the remnants of the bourgeois state will wither away.
In Lenin’s own words according to Engels, the bourgeois state does not wither away, but is abolished by the proletariat in the course of the revolution. What withers away after this revolution is the proletarian state or semi-state.
The proletariat needed a dying state. Why? All the elements or aspects of bourgeois state are not to be destroyed or abolished. Only those which are not harmful for proletarian rule and conducive to the furtherance of proletarian interests will be kept. Bureaucracy and judicial system are such elements. Trotsky calls it dying state, because it is not bourgeois state in the strictest term in the Critique of Gotha Programme Marx has said “communist society, not as it has developed on its own foundations, but on the contrary; just as it emerges from capitalist society, which is thus in every respect, economically, morally and intellectually, still stamped with the birthmarks of the old society from whose womb it emerges.”
According to Engels the state is a special “repressive force”. This characterization of bourgeois state according to Lenin is a splendid and profound definition. The bourgeoisie uses the state machinery to oppress the proletarians.
It is, in other words, the instrument of exploitation. After overthrowing the bourgeoisie from power the proletarians will abolish the exploiting character of the bourgeois state.
The word abolition has a wider connotation. The proletarians through the seizure of power will destroy the repressive weapons. All the means of production are to be taken by the proletarians.
The taking of possession will make the capitalist resource less and powerless. It is self-evident that such a replacement of one (bourgeois) special force by another (proletarian) special force cannot possibly take place in the form of withering away.
Lenin says that the withering away of state is directed against the anarchists and opportunists. The anarchists always spoke of the destruction of the state which Marx and Engels do not support.
The opportunists have distorted the concept of withering away of state. They have said that at the very first stroke the proletarian revolution will put the state to such a level that it will practically cease to exist. According to Lenin one revolution is not sufficient for the withering away of state.
A violent revolution will destroy the repressive character of bourgeois state but all the counterrevolutionary forces and agents acting against the interests of proletarians cannot be destroyed by a single revolution.
The remnants of the capitalists will remain and they will gather forces and after some time these forces wilt try to stage a counterrevolution. To frustrate this revolution more than one revolution will be required.
Many criticisms have been levelled against the concept of withering away. Critics as well as opportunists have held that if the state disappears who will settle the disputes arising between the citizen and various state authorities as well as among the individuals. This objection has been partially met by Lenin in many of his works and also by other Marxists.
They have attempted to draw a distinction between organized force that is government and administration When Engels says that the state withers away at the classless society he means that the repressive character of state withers away.
In a classless society the application of force will be redundant, because there will not be an economically dominant class. The proletarian state will always work for the benefit of the entire population.
In the classless society which is another name of communist society there will be disputes. Where there are disputes, the parties to them, if they cannot settle them amicably, will submit them to the arbitration and loyally accept the decisions of the arbiters.
In the State and Revolution Lenin has said that in a communist society all the individuals will be quite free to pursue their own ideals and will be fully politically conscious.
The repressive force being destroyed and freedom being established, people will voluntarily and spontaneously abide by the laws and rules created by the communist society. No extraneous force will be necessary to force them to show obligation to laws. In exceptional cases there shall be provisions for arbitration.
In a communist society one man is not the subject of another man. The communist society is a just society and justice in all its forms prevails. A member of the society is just one of the equals and he enjoys all sorts of dignity. He is conscious and prudent and cannot inflict injustice upon others.
Stalin’s Explanation to Withering Away of State:
In the background of Soviet state the bourgeois theoreticians have said that state has not withered away. Therefore, Engels’s concept is false. Stalin, a great interpreter of Marxism-Leninism, challenges this contention. Engels never used the idea of withering away in the case of any particular state.
To put it in other words, when there is socialism or when its transition to communism is complete in any one country the state as an organized force of exploitation will never wither away.
A socialist state encircled by a number of bourgeois states will not and cannot wither away. On the contrary, this particular socialist state will be more powerful to fight against the capitalist state. Stalin has said the purpose of all the capitalist states is to destroy the socialist state.
When all the states are socialist and capitalism is completely annihilated, the question of strengthening and consolidating the power of the socialist state will never arise. The antagonism between the capitalist and socialist countries will no longer be a live question. This suspicion of Stalin against the capitalist state is not unfounded and unreasonable.
After the establishment of USSR in 1917 and till the Second World War the bourgeois states of Europe were determined to destroy Soviet communism.
The political picture, of course, quickly changed. Soviet Union was included into Allied Power Group. France, England and America were convinced that only with the help of mighty Soviet Union could Germany and Italy be defeated.
Stalin admits that for the distortion and misinterpretation of withering away by the bourgeois theoreticians Marx and Engels can be blamed partially. They have not systematically explained the concept of state and interpreted the subtle distinction between withering away and abolition.
This shortcoming has been misused by them. However, Stalin says, Lenin has clearly explained the issue in his State and Revolution.
Stalin has further observed that when and at what stage the state will wither away the bourgeois academicians have not fully understood. Engels has clearly said that proletarians will abolish the state in its manifestation as a repressive force.
In Stalin’s judgment the capitalists do not admit that the state is an instrument of exploitation. Because of this the concept has been grossly distorted.
Evaluation of Withering Away of State:
Plamenatz argues that in the ordinary sense Marx and Engels are not anarchists. They had no intention to get rid of the state. The main purpose of the worker was to capture state power so that they could destroy the bourgeois social relations and bourgeois mentality.
But in a deeper sense they can be called anarchists because:
“They wanted workers to use the state to destroy the social conditions which made it necessary to have a state. They shared the belief common among all anarchists that class privileges and state power are corrupting”.
They are anarchists it another sense. They have depicted only one side of state—the state as an instrument of exploitation. They have not noted the utility of state enforcing authority of law and arbiter of disputes. They have laid heavy faith on people’s good sense and rationality.
The practical situation offers a contradictory picture. Without casting any doubt on people good sense we can humbly add that this is not a guarantee that all disputes will be settled amicably.
The abolition of the state, we apprehend, will create an anarchical condition and it is unfortunate that Marx and Engels have not suggested any palliatives. The abolition of the state will be followed by anarchical situation.
Marx and Engels, so far as their theory of state is concerned, are charged of being Utopians. After the abolition of state at first there will be set up socialism or which is called primary stage of communism.
Then the appearance of classless society will make the state redundant leading it to wither away. Dialectically or logically it may be correct but from practical point of view it is simply Utopian. Marx and Engels have held that in the old primitive society there was no state.
The state is not only the product of class and property relations, it is also the product of civilization and progress. It is associated with manifold evils, but its welfare activities or salutary aspects need not be minimized. Marx’s classless society may aptly be compared with Ram Rajya. But Ram Rajya is an imaginary concept; so also the classless society.
The abolition of state will make way for the creation of a classless society and class in Marx’s own sense. But the abolition of class in Marxian sense does not mean that classes in other forms will never surface in society and reality has taught us that classes in various forms other than Marxian sense appeared in former USSR, The definition of class in Marxian sense may have relevance in a developed industrial society, but it has very little relevance in undeveloped or developing societies.
So, abolition of state will not follow Marx’s prediction. Hence, despite their repeated pronouncements that the theory of state is based on scientific logic, it is not free from Utopian thought.
Critics point out that when Marx and Engels were writing i.e., in the second half of the nineteenth century, the state was largely an instrument of exploitation. This was chiefly due to the fact that the proletarians were not well organized and fully politically conscious. In Marx’s own words they were class-in-itself, but not class-for-itself.
This condition of the working class encouraged the capitalists to exploit them. Their apathy to struggle was another cause of exploitation. Today the social, economic and political conditions of the capitalist states have come under radical changes.
The emergence of Labour Party in England as a force to reckon with, its installation to power and determination, to fight for the cause of the workers, have made the capitalists think that the days of naked exploitation have gone permanently and they will have to adjust with the new epoch which relates to the new demands and rise of consciousness of workers.
Not only was Great Britain, the authorities of several other capitalist countries forced to take measures for alleviation of miseries and stop exploitation. The contribution of Fabian Socialism, in this connection, may be fruitfully remembered.
Modern state is generally called a welfare state the general meaning of which is the state adopts numerous projects for the upliftment of the improvement of the economic and social conditions of the public. The state is no longer an exploiting and repressive instrument.
It initiates welfare measures. For reasons best known to readers the state cannot leave every important matter to the profit-making magnate of the society and cannot allow the hapless workers to be exploited by them.
Even philosophers like Thomas Hill Green were pained seeing the unbound sufferings and degradation of the unfed denizens of London. The state is not simply a law- enforcing agency.
It cannot maintain studied indifference to the growing misery of the workers. The changed circumstances have forced the state to adopt certain welfare measures. This can be traced to Fabian Socialism.
In Marx’s time workers were alone and unorganized. In the twentieth century they were organized and the state at least peripherally comes to their assistance. This is, no doubt, a victory of the workers.
The methods of agitation have undergone sea changes during the past century. The workers nowhere are interested in class struggle, revolution, abolition of bourgeois state and setting up a classless society.
Parliamentary procedures, demonstrations, strikes, protest movements etc. are treated as more effective means to fulfill their various demands. Even Engels towards the end of his life admitted the effectiveness of democratic methods.
Workers want emancipation from exploitation, but not through the capture of state power or through its abolition. They feel the necessity of state and they think that it must come to their help.
In past, the bourgeoisie used the state as an instrument of exploitation; the workers today want to use the state as an instrument to fight against the exploiters. The role of the state is thus reversed. If Marx and Engels were alive today, the critics point out, they would not suggest abolishing the bourgeois state and predicting its withering away.
The withering away of the state has perhaps faced the severest criticism from a different angle. The critics have categorically said that the state has not withered away; on the contrary, it has become more powerful. No socialist state in the world has been found to wither away.
There is practically no difference between the Chinese state and American bourgeois state. From military point of view the erstwhile Soviet state and the present American state were equal. Both were aggressive and both aggravated the Cold War. Both were superpowers. In this background it is absolutely Utopian to think that the state will wither away in communism. It is difficult to challenge the validity of the above arguments. But Marxists view the concept of state and other conceptions from a different angle.
Marxian philosophy is a branch or part of social science and no concept of social science are in full conformity with the real situation. That is, a discrepancy between reality and concept is inevitable. But we are to remember that there is a logical consistency in all their views.
The critics may say that the state is not an instrument of exploitation. Today it is not, but in Marx’s time that was the chief characteristic feature of state. Every state has certain primary and secondary functions.
A bourgeois state generally protects the interests of the capitalist class. Its other functions are in addition to it. It is unthinkable that there is a bourgeois state but it does not work as an instrument of exploitation.
Harold Laski is the chief protagonist of the liberal view of state. He has attacked the capitalist state on various counts. Any state in which the instruments of production are privately owned cannot provide a technique of peaceful change or satisfy the demands of citizens on the widest possible scale. To what extent a state will be able to meet the demands of its people depends upon the property relations.
In a capitalist state the incentive to production is the making of profit. There is always discrimination between those who own property and means of production and those who do not own anything. “Only the capture of the state, followed by the definition of its legal postulates, could remedy this conditions” Laski’s conclusion is “the idealist theory of the state in its famous formulation by Bosanquet remains a formulation of conceptual state in posse rather than the state we know”.
The liberal and anti-idealist view, as expressed by L. T. Hobhouse, assumes but does not prove, that, given time, reason will always be victorious in matter of social conflicts. Neither Bosanquet’s view, nor that of Hobhouse, fulfills the scientific canon of prediction.
Broadly speaking, the Marxian view of the state has so defined its nature and functioning as to enable us to predict with assurance the course its operations will follow. As an index to the problems of our age it decisively, in my judgment, holds the field’.
During the last one hundred years the capitalist states have changed both in outlook and in methods of administration. But it has not changed to such an extent as to nullify the role of instrument of exploitation.
Marxist’s view in this regard is that the state remains more or less an instrument to exploit the working class. Its role will never assume a reverse character. The capitalists cannot be credited for this change.
It is the growing pressure of the working class which has forced the capitalists to change the mode of action. The capitalists of the modern world have come to the full realization that they cannot continue their production and business so long the workers will remain dissatisfied. They, therefore, are resorting to the ‘policy of appeasement’.
In conclusion we want to make the following considered opinion. It is very easy to say that both Marx and Engels are wrong so far as their assertion that the bourgeois state will wither away with the advent of communism. But we must remember that Marx and Engels made this observation in the perspective of their analysis of capitalism and materialist interpretation of history.
Their very simple version is if the state is an instrument of class rule and class exploitation, if there is no class this particular role of the state will no longer be a valid one. Again, since the role and nature of bourgeois state have changed, the withering away is invalid.