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The Problem of Statism

February 3, 2018

It’s taken me a bit to get around to this brilliant essay by Andrew Hartman. At base it’s a review of Nancy MacLean’s provocative book (*Democracy in Chains*), but Hartman expertly weaves in references to Martin Sklar, S.M. Amadae, Richard Hofstadter, William Clare Roberts, Antonio Gramsci, and, of course, Karl Marx.

I have leveled some harsh criticism about Hofstadter’s philosophy of education and his *Anti-Intellectualism* book (and works built on it). But Hartman demonstrates why James Livingston has both vigorously defended Hofstadter and advocated for him as an exemplar to historians today. Hartman’s counterintuitive conclusion depends, in a way, on an insight gathered from RH’s *The American Political Tradition*–in particular from the essay on John C. Calhoun.

Hartman’s essay raises an implicit question that has bugged me since I recently became acquainted with Marxist anti-statism. Or, to put the latter more precisely, there is an anti-statism evident in Marx and Engels’ work, but it has been conveniently forgotten by many so-called Marxists and authoritarian communists. My encounter with this line of thought came in reading *The Eighteenth Brumaire* and *The Civil War in France* (both in Robert Tucker’s *Marx-Engels Reader*).

My question is this: What kind of proletarian administration is acceptable to Marxist thinkers? Or, to make it more relevant, what alternative to the state, or statism, does Marxist-inspired thinking offer to today’s anti-liberals?

I haven’t completed my review of Tucker’s *Reader*, but the “Civil War” essay only mentions the election of all administrative officials and wage equality (sames wages for all). The latter seems a great place to start, in terms of thinking about how to level our federal, state, and municipal civil service—to make it something more than a tool for corporate elites and self-serving politicians.

Does Marx, or do Marx and Engels, elaborate more elsewhere on their conception of how the body politic administrates itself? Or has another Marxist thinker provided a correlating view of the state that will help people today reimagine the practical issues around administration of the public good?

In sum, how can we have a national administration without falling into statism? – TL

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  1. Harry Angell permalink

    What kind of proletarian administration is acceptable to Marxist thinkers?
    Well, they have had a lot of shots at the goal, Tim, in the last 100 years. That Marx and Engels left such a vacuum behind them indicates they did not care or did not know. They had plenty of time to clear that up after Manifesto. I think the Manifesto said all they wanted to say and knew, thus the name, “Manifesto.” They both toss around “Democracy” is to be used (after the Dictatorship of the Proletariat, of course) but neglect the inevitable result of faction, which is always a “threat” to the revolution…and paradise doesn’t have faction. Autocracy was/is the only solution.


    • Thanks for the comment, Harry. Honestly, I think Marx did offer a little clarity, in a few spots. As I note above, *The Eighteenth Brumaire* and *The Civil War in France* offer a few hints: (a) wage equality among leaders/administrators, and the election of all administrators. A dictatorship of the proletariat does not necessitate that the proletariat could not have leaders to administer the new state/entity.


      • Harry Angell permalink

        Indeed, “Civil War…” does, but those comments were approvals/responses to policies instituted. The argument would be better supported if those same policies were a direct result of some correspondence with Marx or Engals to those leaders. Perhaps they did. I have never read that they did.


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