The State and the Ruling Class


Marxologists today tend to respect Marx’s critique of political economy more than his critique of politics. Anecdotes prove nothing, but it was very telling for me when, several years ago, I encountered John Holloway in a university building occupied by anarchists in Thessaloniki, Greece, where he was invited to speak. I asked him about Marx’s political writings, and he replied that they were stupid whereas his political economic ones were brilliant. Ever since then, I have wondered whether this underestimation of Marx’s politics is not an index of the Left’s growing political irrelevance, not to mention a case of “sour grapes.”

I want to examine one question regarding Marx and Engels’ writings on the problem of the state: Is it an instrument of the ruling class? This necessitates a detour into Marxology. I wish I could say that such an article addresses the “burning questions of our movement” and that it is a significant practical intervention through theory, as was, most obviously, Lenin’s State and Revolution. But even if reality thwarts such ambitions, the question has its own relevance as a means of tracking regression on the Left.

Rethinking Marxism’s understanding of the state is especially timely given the gigantism of the state in recent years, a trend the Left has largely ignored if not enabled. In the face of recent phenomena—ranging from the huge bank bailouts to the massive green-transition subsidies; from the draconian COVID response and rescue packages, and the colossal budget bills and budget deficits, to the growing militarism, rearmament, and the accompanying military spending—one wonders whether Marx’s formulations such as the following even make sense today: “The Commune made that catchword of bourgeois revolutions—cheap government—a reality by destroying the two greatest sources of expenditure: the standing army and state functionarism.”[2]

What underlies the Left’s response to this hypertrophy of the state? The pattern that characterized the 20th century still persists—socialism is widely conflated, not only on the Right but on the Left, with statism. Instead of attempting to facilitate the working class’s assumption of political responsibility for the problem of the state through its independent organizations, the Left has taken to pushing capitalist parties to adopt or oppose specific state policies. Consequently, it is increasingly difficult to even recognize how Marxism understood itself, not only as distinct from other flavors of socialism and from anarchism, but also from statist liberalism. It is revealing that criticisms of the state, or even of the “deep state,” come today from the Right more than the Left. So, is Marxism different from progressive liberalism?

It is commonly thought today that Marxism regards the existing state apparatus as neutral and, thus, as amenable to socialist ambitions. But Lenin in his State and Revolution praises Marx and Engels for grasping the experience of the Paris Commune, that it showed that “the working class cannot simply lay hold of the ready-made state machinery and wield it for its own purposes.”[3] Lenin quoted Marx to this effect: “the next attempt of the French Revolution will be no longer, as before, to transfer the bureaucratic-military machine from one hand to another, but to smash it, and this is the precondition for every real people’s revolution on the Continent.”[4]

How can the state be conceived as a “ready-made machine”? Only as a tool. An axe, for example, can be used by either a murderer or a logger. But can the same be said for the bureaucratic-military machine of the state? Today’s Left is plainly at odds with Marxism on this point.

The general understanding today is that Marxists regard the state as a mere instrument of the ruling class. And, indeed, there are passages in Marx’s oeuvre that justify this view. For example, in one early work by Marx and Engels, the state is considered “nothing more than the form of organization which the bourgeois necessarily adopt both for internal and external purposes, for the mutual guarantee of their property and interests.”[5] And, famously, there’s this from the Communist Manifesto: “The executive of the modern state is but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie.”[6]

But Marx and Engels themselves did not conclude the issue with these formulations. In a later preface to the Manifesto, Marx and Engels referred to the “practical experience gained, first in the February Revolution, and then, still more, in the Paris Commune” which suggested that “here and there, some detail might be improved.”[7] Specifically, they had come to regard their pre-1848 understanding of the state as inadequate.

Marx and Engels “corrected” their theory in the light of historical experience. To ascribe to Marxism the view that the state is a mere instrument is to ignore all the political works of Marx and Engels following the Manifesto. In these works, the state is analyzed as Bonapartist, a category which they draw from liberalism but specify in these terms: “the only form of government possible at a time when the bourgeoisie had already lost, and the working class had not yet acquired, the faculty of ruling the nation.”[8] How can the state be considered a tool of the ruling class if the bourgeoisie has lost its capacity to rule? And, if the state is nothing but an instrument of the ruling class, why does Marx claim that in France in the period from 1848 to 1852 the class struggle was “to be settled in such a way that all classes, equally powerless and equally mute, fall on their knees before the rifle butt?”[9]

Engels referred to exceptional historical periods “when the warring classes are so nearly equal in forces that the state power, as apparent mediator, acquires for the moment a certain independence in relation to both,”[10] giving as examples the absolute monarchy of the 17th and 18th centuries, the Bonapartism of the modern French empires,[11] and the new German Empire of Bismarck. (Lenin added to the list the short-lived Kerensky government in republican Russia).[12] Marx elsewhere spoke of British governments under the Liberal Palmerston and the Tory Disraeli in these terms.[13]

What happened in the Revolution of 1848? Marx is clear that, fearing the rising working class, the bourgeoisie faced a new dilemma: “to preserve its social power intact its political power must be broken.”[14] For a brief moment under General Cavaignac, the butcher of the June Days, the bourgeoisie had reigned in the state. But, over the course of the Revolution, it had to succumb to democracy “for the preservation of its socio-economic domination.”[15] With Louis Bonaparte’s coup d’état the state seemed “to have made itself completely independent.”[16] The bourgeoisie invited the state, which it considered its tool, to suppress its opponents. But that led to the state being turned against the bourgeoisie itself. “Bonaparte would like to appear as the patriarchal benefactor of all classes. But he cannot give to one without taking from another.”[17] Consequently, in the coup d’état of 1851 “bourgeois fanatics for order [were] shot down on their balconies”[18] by the new organs of safety and order which they themselves had bred.

This destiny does not only concern the French bourgeoisie. De te fabula narratur. Marx writes: “If the June insurrection raised the self-assurance of the bourgeoisie all over the Continent and caused it to league itself openly with the feudal monarchy against the people, who was the first victim of this alliance? The Continental bourgeoisie itself.”[19] But Bonapartism required more than just the political subjugation of the bourgeoisie: It was no mere counterrevolution. Bonapartism arose from the democratic revolution; elections in the age of universal suffrage signed its birth certificate.[20]

The Bonapartist state is therefore not just a tool, an instrument in the hands of the bourgeoisie. It is both fully socialized and remains an organ of class domination. Herein lies the paradox: How can the state remain class oriented, in favor of a single class, which is thereby the ruling class, when it does not function as an instrument of that class? How can it be perfected as an instrument of class domination when it precisely escapes its role as a tool in the hands of a class?

Engels famously wrote of Bismarck that he “carried out the will of the bourgeoisie against its will.”[21] The state serves the reproduction of class domination precisely because it does not function as a mere tool for securing the bourgeoisie’s immediate economic interests (which are anyway contradictory); it manages the crisis of the whole of society. Especially in times of high volatility, capital as a crisis of social relations must be served by a state that is not staffed by servants following orders from the capitalists. After all, the capitalists, according to Marx, are nothing but the character masks of capital; they are not identical with it. As a reflection of a society in deep crisis, the capitalists are torn internally by such intense antagonisms that their attachment to their short-term interest renders them incapable of politically looking beyond their own noses. As Karl Kautsky puts it, “the capitalist class reigns but does not govern.”[22] Therefore, the capitalists seek a robust state, autonomous from themselves, one that (re)emerges as the savior of society in moments of crisis.[23] They are in no position to simply install a state of their own design, but rely instead upon democracy. (A non-democratic, repressive, state is also quite expensive, hence not so desirable.) They do not seek and cannot have a tool-like state comprised of lackeys with an agenda predetermined by them. After all of the “progress” of the 20th century, don’t we all still treat the state as the savior of society?

This apparently autonomous state subordinates to itself the ruling classes themselves, as it is the only political form by which alone the required order and social peace can be guaranteed. This, in turn, promises smooth economic growth, though not necessarily profits (or even a fair competitive field) for individual capitalists. The subordination is never maintained positively, by some capitalist utopia of unhindered profitability, but negatively, through the persistence of the anarchy of production that is the essence of capital. The ruling class resists, but in the end surrenders to the hard lesson of history: It is in capitalists’ interest as a class that the state should not only not act as a mere tool but, if circumstances require it, should even turn its repressive power against them.

The Marxist conception of the state is not instrumentalist, precisely because it theorizes the collapse of the state as a mere instrument of class interests, a collapse that became gradually evident during the nineteenth century with the exhaustion of liberalism and of the bourgeoisie as representing the general will of society as a whole. In the heroic years of the bourgeois revolution, political power, it was speculated, would finally adjust to the unfolding of society in freedom. But, as it happened, it was society that had to conform to the state’s dictates. The state for Marxism was now revealed as a monstrous authoritarian symptom of a society whose disintegration could not otherwise be addressed: no longer by the bourgeoisie, nor, for the moment, by the working class.[24]

The Bonapartist state embodies not only the problem of the exploitation of one class by another, but the problem of capital as social domination of all classes. (Hence, defined by this despotism, capitalist democracy can plausibly be called the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie.)[25] Marx did not hesitate to acknowledge that “the propertied class and the class of the proletariat present the same human self-estrangement. But the former class feels at ease and strengthened in this self-estrangement, it recognizes estrangement as its own power and has in it the semblance of a human existence. The class of the proletariat feels annihilated in estrangement; it sees in it its own powerlessness and the reality of an inhuman existence.”[26]

So, the proletariat is motivated to politicize the problem of capitalism up to the point of a struggle for state power. The state machine, however, is not susceptible to simply being diverted from its course after its revolutionary conquest. It is the political form of the perpetuation of this human self-estrangement.[27]

To further specify: With the emergence of class society the care of general social affairs was taken over by the state, which appears on the scene as the servant of society.[28] As the state crystallizes to perform a socially recognized and necessary role, it gradually begins to escape the control of society. Instead of serving society, state institutions begin to dominate it. But by placing themselves outside of social control, they come under the control of a narrow segment of society, namely the ruling class. This is the beginning of all written history. As Engels notes: “Society gives rise to certain common functions which it cannot dispense with. The persons selected for these functions form a new branch of the division of labor within society. This gives them particular interests, distinct too from the interests of those who gave them their office; they make themselves independent of the latter and—the state is in being.”[29] The independence of the state from society has thus historically coincided with its dependence on the ruling class. So far, the purely instrumentalist view of the state is accurate. This view alters on account of another, equally important, phenomenon: the state’s ability to relax its dependence on the ruling class, even to shake it off completely. On the model of the Hegelian dialectic of master and slave, the economic ruler is transformed from master of the state into its slave. Engels was quite clear about this:

“What had been the characteristic attribute of the former state? Society had created its own organs to look after its common interests, originally through simple division of labor. But these organs, at whose head was the state power, had, in the course of time, in pursuance of their own special interests, transformed themselves from the servants of society into the masters of society, as can be seen, for example, not only in the hereditary monarchy, but equally also in the democratic republic.”[30]

Democracy was the most advanced form of posing the problem, not the ultimate solution of it. Liberal democracy is a contradiction.

The state is therefore not just a tool. It is not a passive lever that historical actors manipulate at will. The image of the tool may be useful to depict part of the problem, but it in no way exhausts the problem as Marxism understands it. The instrumental view correctly but inadequately highlights the class structure of society, which is reflected in the need for a state. But the state is not only interwoven with the domination of a class, but also with the real need to organize class society as a whole. In an important article[31] of Marx’s youthful period, we read: “From a political point of view, the state and the organization of society are not two different things. The state is the organization of society.” An instrumentalist view focusing on the needs of a certain segment of society misses the way the state expresses the needs of the historically concrete social whole. Thus, it cannot grasp the reality of the relative autonomy of the state from the capitalists. This is not, however, autonomy from capital,[32] according to Marx. The state, like capital, will remain a problem even if the capitalists were abolished. Their institutional abolition through revolution would radically improve the conditions for dealing with the problem of the state politically, but it wouldn’t instantly solve the problem. In this sense, the famous Manifesto phrase quoted above would have to be reformulated, to reflect the full range of Marx’s thought, to present modern political power as the committee that mitself is locked in competition with the state, even as, at the same time, it depends upon it.

So, the state is the political expression of the contradictions that plague society under conditions of capital.[36] It is a pathological symptom arising “from below” rather than the product of some sort of conspiracy “from above.” The state not only polices the worker for the sake of the capitalist, but also the worker and the unemployed for the sake of the worker himself. Capital naturalizes the persistence of the unemployed population, which must be policed against the working population, not just against the capitalists. Both workers and capitalists need to be disciplined against themselves, because, apart from the one between workers and capitalists, there is also competition between workers themselves and between capitalists themselves. Capital is based upon and further enhances the inequality of so-called “bourgeois right,” that is, the inequality and injustice of “equal pay for equal work” between workers with different and “unequal” needs, with different and “unequal” access to labor, who thus often turn bitterly against each other. Finally, capital is the compulsion to produce value, which leads not only capitalist enterprises, but even workers’ collectives, to increase productivity to ensure their survival. They compete not only with capitalist enterprises, but also with other collectives, a competition that spontaneously invites state arbitration.

The political conclusion is this: The state is not just a tool in the hands of the capitalists, but flesh of the flesh[37] of class society in its totality. It therefore cannot be instrumentalized as a ready-made machine by the working class in its political struggle to overcome capital as a self-contradictory totality. On the contrary, through its independent organizations and parties the working class politicizes the problem of the state as it assumes responsibility for capital as a self-contradiction of social relations. It does so in the course of exercising power in the dictatorship of the proletariat—by developing historically new institutions, such as the Commune or workers’ councils (soviets). These new institutions are characterized by the principle of the electability and revocability of all officials who undertake to carry out public duties, without any separation of powers and without independent bureaucratic, judicial, or armed bodies and mechanisms. Once the old state machine is smashed, these new institutions will allow, for the first time in history, serious political engagement with the problem of the state, putting on the agenda the possibility of its historical transcendence. Indeed, this flows from the attempt to install workers in the place of state bureaucrats. The revolution gets rid of the bourgeois state but not of the problem of the state in general.[38] The revolution removes the obstacles to its ultimate emancipatory overcoming.

But aren’t these new institutions just a way to utilize the state as a tool for the working class’s struggle? As Lukacs famously put it, aren’t the workers’ soviets “the state as a weapon in the class struggle of the proletariat”[39] and hence an instrument of the working class in its effort to become the ruling class? According to Marxism, as opposed to all the class struggle that preceded the appearance of the proletariat, the proletariat is destined to end class rule:

When the proletariat is victorious, it by no means becomes the absolute side of society, for it is victorious only by abolishing itself and its opposite. […] It cannot emancipate itself without abolishing the conditions of its own life. It cannot abolish the conditions of its own life without abolishing all the inhuman conditions of life of society today which are summed up in its own situation.[40]

If the proletariat during its contest with the bourgeoisie is compelled by the force of circumstances to organize itself as a class, if, by means of a revolution, it makes itself the ruling class, and, as such, sweeps away by force the old conditions of production, then it will, along with these conditions, have swept away the conditions for the existence of class antagonisms and of classes generally, and will thereby have abolished its own supremacy as a class.[41]

So, the new institutions of the dictatorship of the proletariat are not just tools for the consolidation of proletarian rule but simultaneously work against this rule, against any class rule. They are and, at the same time, they are not instruments of class rule. They are political but also part of the struggle to facilitate the withering away of political power per se, and hence of the state. For Marxism, “political power, properly so-called, is merely the organized power of one class for oppressing another.”[42] But if the political aspect of the state is encapsulated in organized power for forceful oppression, power that is ultimately destined to wither away, this doesn’t exhaust the notion of the state. For Marx, there is also a different, administrative, aspect to the problem of the state.

Already in the dictatorship of the proletariat and socialism, according to Marx, “while the merely repressive organs of the old governmental power were to be amputated, its legitimate functions were to be wrested from an authority usurping preeminence over society itself, and restored to the responsible agents of society.”[43] Even beyond the dictatorship of the proletariat and socialism, after the possible achievement of the full self-abolition of the proletarian conditions of life, Marx was adamant that “freedom consists in converting the state from an organ superimposed upon society into one completely subordinate to it.”[44] Marx was referring explicitly to a “future state” that would have some functions analogous to those of the present state:

In this sense, it is possible to speak of the “present-day state” in contrast with the future, in which its present root, bourgeois society, will have died off. The question then arises: What transformation will the state undergo in communist society? In other words, what social functions will remain in existence there that are analogous to present state functions?[45]

If Marx was considering the state as just an instrument of the ruling class, or even as just an instrument of class rule in general, he wouldn’t contemplate the social functions of a future state in classless society that would be analogous to the present state functions. Engels summarized brilliantly this aspect in one of his books (in which Marx contributed a chapter himself), by describing classless society with this phrase: “the government of persons is replaced by the administration of things.”[46] Of course this administrative aspect would be then uninhibited by capital. It will be free in ways we cannot even imagine today. But we cannot lose sight of the continuity that Marx sustains, without which the Marxist conception of the state would remain, however eloquently, instrumental in the final analysis.

We shouldn’t forget that these conclusions were reached by Marx while he was criticizing the deeply flawed, Lassallean concept of “the free state”. This concept, “instead of treating existing society (and this holds good for any future one) as the basis of the existing state (or of the future state in the case of future society), it treats the state rather as an independent entity that possesses its own intellectual, ethical, and libertarian bases.”[47] As we already mentioned, freedom for Marx does not consist in the freedom of the state but in its complete subordination to society. “The forms of state are more free or less free to the extent that they restrict the “freedom of the state”.”[48] The concept of the “free state” naturalizes the bourgeois “government machine, or the state insofar as it forms a special organism separated from society through division of labor.”[49] So, the fact that the state is not merely a tool doesn’t mean that the state is “free” or ahistorical; it’s part of socio-historical development seen and comprehended as a totality.

Now for a final clarification: The idea of the state as not just an instrument is not peculiarly Marxist. It comes from liberalism. The “chartered burghers of the earliest towns,”[50] out of whom the modern bourgeoisie emerged, had to utilize the state as a tool to consolidate their class rule. But they did so because they thought (and not without good reason) that the bourgeoisie represented the interests of society as a whole. Its particularity was self-conceived as fully conciliated with universality. It’s very indicative that Bluntschli famously wrote that “the whole concept of society in the social and political sense has its natural basis in the customs and views of the Third Estate. It is not really a popular concept, but a Third Estate concept.”[51] So, it’s not that Marxism and liberalism generally agree about the concept of the state with the only difference between them being in Marxism’s utopianism, its hope that the state and class divisions could wither away at some point. As we’ve already discussed, Marxism had the historical advantage of watching the historical course that led to the internal schism of the revolutionary Third Estate, which included initially all the so-called productive classes, into capitalists and proletarians. This resulted in the bourgeois state expressing the self-contradiction of the general interest; and this self-contradiction needed to be advanced politically beyond the bourgeois state. Instead of being a balancing factor between opposing particular interests, the state-arbiter had grown to a monstrous particular interest itself. There exactly lies the brilliance of the Marxian criticism of Hegel’s concept of the bureaucracy:

The mind of the bureaucracy is the formal mind of the state. It therefore makes the formal mind of the state, or the real mindlessness of the state, a categorical imperative. The bureaucracy asserts itself to be the final end of the state. Because the bureaucracy makes its formal aims its content, it comes into conflict everywhere with the real aims. Hence it is obliged to present what is formal for the content and the content for what is formal. The aims of the state are transformed into aims of bureaus, or the aims of bureaus into the aims of the state. […] In a true state it is not a question of the possibility of every citizen to dedicate himself to the universal in the form of a particular class, but of the capability of the universal class to be really universal, i.e., to be the class of every citizen. But Hegel proceeds from the postulate of the pseudo-universal, the illusory universal class, universality fixed in the form of a particular class.[52]

Thus, as opposed to the liberal understanding of the state as neutral, the state for Marxism is “at best an evil inherited by the proletariat after its victorious struggle for class supremacy, whose worst sides the proletariat, just like the Commune, cannot avoid having to lop off at the earliest possible moment, until such time as a new generation, reared in new and free social conditions, will be able to throw the entire lumber of the state on the scrap heap.”[53]

This article has sought to prompt reflection, not to definitively resolve all the problems concerning the Marxist conception of the state. For Marxism, besides, such a conception of the state is necessarily incomplete without the clarification that only revolution can provide. Nevertheless, the misconceptions addressed here have proven particularly durable over time. They have been widely reproduced by Marxists and anti-Marxists alike. We lack the critical discussion of them which I hope this article might occasion, a critical discussion that might help to clarify both recent and more enduring failures of the Left. Without a sober-minded approach to the problem of the state, any ambition to overcome it may end up being as effective as the overcoming of sleep achieved by the steps of the sleepwalker.

[1] An earlier version of this text was published in Greek.



[4] Ibid.







[11] Of course, all these examples should not be treated in the same exact way. To differentiate between the first and the second French empire, Marx wrote: “Hegel remarks somewhere that all great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice. He forgot to add: thistory itself in this act of repetition (especially since a perfect repetition is never possible, as one changes something by repeating it). And furthermore: when we choose to exhaust the discussion of a theory by relating it to the historical past relevant to it, do we do so consistently or rather selectively? For the anarchist theory of the state did not prevent leading anarchist leaders in the past from being paralyzed at the moment of crisis, when the problem of the working class seizing political power was put before them, with terrible consequences; and it didn’t even subsequently prevent them from occupying ministerial posts in a bourgeois government (which government also actively suppressed workers uprisings). Finally, if we take this perspective absolutely seriously then the utter political irrelevance of various anti-Marxist theories of the state that emerged after the Second World War must have been a clear sign of their bankruptcy; but they persist and actually there is no point in trying to get rid of theories by simply directing them to the tribunal of history. After all, Marxism failed politically but also came closer to what would look like success compared to any other approach. So, it’s more complicated. Let’s try to avoid the intellectual laziness that simply scorns and dismisses any discussion of Marxism just by identifying the latter with what happened in the Soviet Union during the twentieth century.

[28] For a very good introduction to the historical reasons for this emergence, see Engels, The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State,

[29] Engels to Conrad Schmidt, 10/27/1890, available here:


[31] Critical Notes on the Article “The King of Prussia and Social Reform. By a Prussian” [1844], available here:

[32] “Here, in the bourgeois republic, which bore neither the name Bourbon nor the name Orleans, but the name capital.”

[33] Karl Marx, “The Rule of the Pretorians” [1858], available here:


[35] Quoted in Draper, Marx’s Theory of Revolution, vol. 1, 485.

[36] “The fate of the worker becomes the fate of society as a whole”,

[37] Genesis 2:23

[38] That is why it is inappropriate to prematurely beautify it as the immediate conquest of fully achieved freedom, and why it is rather appropriate to speak of it as, of course, desirable and historically progressive, but still pathological, and call it hence the dictatorship of the proletariat.







[45] Ibid

[46] The whole passage is worth quoting in its entirety: Whilst the capitalist mode of production more and more completely transforms the great majority of the population into proletarians, it creates the power which, under penalty of its own destruction, is forced to accomplish this revolution. Whilst it forces on more and more the transformation of the vast means of production, already socialized, into state property, it shows itself the way to accomplishing this revolution. The proletariat seizes political power and turns the means of production in the first instance into state property. But, in doing this, it abolishes itself as proletariat, abolishes all class distinctions and class antagonisms, abolishes also the state as state. Society thus far, based upon class antagonisms, had need of the state, that is, of an organization of the particular class, which was pro tempore the exploiting class, for the maintenance of its external conditions of production, and, therefore, especially, for the purpose of forcibly keeping the exploited classes in the condition of oppression corresponding with the given mode of production (slavery, serfdom, wage-labor). 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 own time, the bourgeoisie. When at last it becomes the real representative of the whole of 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, with the collisions and excesses arising from these, are removed, nothing more remains to be repressed, and a special repressive force, a state, is no longer necessary. The first act by virtue of which the state really constitutes itself the representative of the whole of society — the taking possession of the means of production in the name of society — this is, at the same time, its last independent act as a state. 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 the administration of things, and by the conduct of processes of production. The state is not “abolished.” It dies out.


[48] Ibid

[49] Ibid


[51] Quoted in Christoph Gödde’s “Editor’s Notes” in Theodor W. Adorno, Introduction to Sociology, trans. Edmund Jephcott (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press), 164.



[21] The Role of Force in History, 1887, Available here:


[23] “Finally, the scum of bourgeois society forms the holy phalanx of order and the hero Crapulinski installs himself in the Tuileries as the ‘savior of society.’”

[24] As Max Horkheimer noted, “For the error is not that people do not recognize the subject but that the subject does not exist” [Dawn and Decline: Notes 1926-1931 and 1950-1969, trans. Michael Shaw (New York: Seabury Press, 1978), 51].

[25] “That was the constituted bourgeois republic itself as against the intrigues and ideological demands of the revolutionary faction of the bourgeoisie that had founded it and was now amazed to find that its constituted republic looked like a restored monarchy”.

[26] Available here:

[27] Allow me to digress here in order to discuss the frequent objection that can be summarized as follows: it doesn’t matter what Marx and Lenin said about the state, what matters is the failed historical outcome of the attempt to apply their theory in practice. First of all, I don’t think Marx and Lenin would be particularly bothered to hear that what happened politically in the Soviet Union from 1919 onwards, especially after the failure of the other European revolutions that broke out in parallel, and especially the German one, was not in line with their conception of the state. Secondly, while it is not invalid to invoke the historical fate of a theory, this fate cannot (and clearly does not) exhaust the debate around theory. After all, neither Marx nor Lenin would consider particularly Marxist the attempt to deal with the problem of the state by uncritically copying and pasting from the past to the present the same old formulae without trying to import history itself