Karl Kautsky

State Socialism

(December 1881)

Der Staatssozialismus, Der Sozialdemokrat, No. 50, 8 December 1881.
Translated by Noa Rodman.
Copied with thanks from the Libcom.org Website.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

First article of a 3-part series by Karl Kautsky from 1881. It is a critique of state socialism. The second article can be found here.

I do not want to talk here of that mixture of unclarity and higher dupery which in the latest time has made itself felt so widely in Germany; about this we Social Democrats indeed are agreed.

Alongside this reactionary feudal socialism there is however also a modern socialism, which fully represents the demands of social science, expects their implementation however from the state just like the former.

How does it stand with state help?

Those, who desire from the state the implementation of socialist demands, proceed mostly from the sentence: It is the task of the state to protect the weak against the strong. This sentence rests on the contract theory, which formed itself at the end of the sixteenth century, in the past century dominated science and still today, namely in jurisprudence plays a great role.

This theory says: In the original condition of the human was isolated; solitarily he wandered through the forests, to seek his nourishment. Once the single individuals come into inclosures, the stronger oppressed the weaker and a war of all against all raged. To end this war, the different individuals made a contract with each other, in which they relinquished a part of their freedom to a by them installed authority, so that this one upholds the peace situation among them and prevents the strong to oppress the weak. The misuse of this, to the authority by the people granted power has then drawn in its consequence the evil of the present society and the present state system. There are thus merely two factors in the state system, which are of decisive significance: the government – may it be monarchical or republican – and the ‘people’. The government has to take care for the entire ‘people’, it has to stand above the parties and classes, to protect the weaker party and weaker class from the exploitation of the stronger.

This is the theory, which underpins the republican socialism of a Louis Blanc, the monarchical socialism of a Lorenz von Stein and Albert Schäffle.

This theory is very lovely, it has only one error: it is false. The living together of humans rests not on a contract, but lies in the nature of humans. The social life of humans rests on social instincts, which it inherited from its apelike ancestors, and which work as powerfully as in the swallow the instinct to build a nest or move in the winter to the south. The human descends from apes, which lived in hordes, and insofar as we can trace back the development of humans, we find them living in hordes.

But these original hordes are not yet a state. We do not find a government among them. The influence of the chieftain is a very weak one, it is obeyed only insofar as it represents the will of the totality. Often under natural peoples there are chieftains only in wars.

The representative of contract theory will object against this: Even if the original human did not conclude a contract to arrive at the state, perhaps this is done by single tribes.

Such contracts, amphictyonies or confederations we admittedly find already early on. Even the Indians of North America arrived at these. The Iroquois formed a confederation of five, later six nations, the Mohawk, Onondaga, Oneida, Cayuga, Seneca and since 1712 the Tuscarora. But also this confederation formed not yet a state, for any member nation kept complete independence in its own matters. The meeting of the league could certainly make decisions, but only with unanimity.

Of an authority, which at the command of the totality could exercise a coercive power over the single ones, there was no question there. The administration of the league was thus even weaker than that of the single tribe.

The first state, which we encounter, is the Egyptian one. Let us examine this structure closer. We find here certainly a government – but how does it stand with the ‘people’? The ‘people’ consists of a ruling and a ruled race and class. Only toward the ruled class the government has authority. Toward the ruling class it lacks such completely. For the Greeks the ruling class of Egypt appeared as a class of priests – it would lead too far to explain which circumstance prompted them to this view – and hence they said: The Egyptian sultans rule over Egypt, the priests however rule the sultan. The government is only the instrument of the ruling class, for the ruling class the government is merely administration.

The government hovers thus not above the ‘people’ in the air, as the spirit of god above the waters, it has a very solid point of support below it: the ruling class. Without the antagonism between the ruling and the ruled class there is no government, thus also no state.

This we can trace from the first state onward, which we know, the Egyptian one, until the modern time. Whether it are the landowners or the lumpen proletariat, which have in their hands the government, mercenaries, praetorians, Mamluks, Janissaries or priests, nobility or bourgeoisie, it is always a class, which rules, a class, which even if it worked itself up from below, still has a class under it.

The different conquests have in antiquity layered different tribes and castes above each other, and likewise the technical development in the modern time layered different classes. However much these classes and races may feud with each other, whether the lumpen proletarians or the Italian allies or the provinces rose up against the Roman optimates, the continuance of the state remained invulnerable, as long as under them all the great mass of slaves remained calm. As soon however as the slaves rose up, the continuance of the state was threatened.

And so it is also in the modern time. May the priests and nobility, great and small capital feud among themselves, the continuance of the state is invulnerable, so long as the proletariat does not raise its call for equality. The equalisation of the proletariat with the other classes, or more accurately, the abolition of class rule, is the main feature of socialism, contains however within it the negation of the state.

To expect from the state that it will implement this equalisation means to expect the voluntary suicide from it. To expect from the government of the propertied classes that it will help by its mighty hand the strivings of the proletariat towards victory, means to expect the impossible from it. The power of the government reaches only so wide, as the interests of the ruling classes permit it. It can by a clever seesaw game between single parts of the ruling classes obtain a certain independent power from them, when these classes are too corrupted and exasperated to keep their independence: This independent power however disintegrates before the united onslaught of the ruling classes in the moment when it wants to help up the common underlayer, the lowest class.

State socialism is socialism by the state and for the state.

It is socialism by the government and for the government.

It is thus socialism by the ruling classes and for the ruling classes.

The abolition of the states seems therefore the necessary precondition for the emancipation of the proletariat.

If and to what extent this is correct, on this in the next article.



Last updated on 1 September 2016