cooperative societies with state aid (#marxtheory)

That the workers want to create the conditions for co-operative production in all society, and hence first of all on a national scale, means only that they are working for the overthrow of present-day conditions of production, and has nothing in common with establishing co-operative societies with state aid! But as far as present-day co-operative societies are concerned, they are only of value if they are independent creations of the workers and not creatures of the government or the bourgeoisie.

Marx Later Political Writings (p.221)

Here Marx is criticizing the German Workers’ Party for its demand of “state aid for setting up producers’ co-operatives under the democratic control of the working people.” I am no expert on the historical context to which Marx was speaking, but his critique strikes me as almost purist — and less than instructional concerning the relationship, practical or ideal, of a workers’ party to the state. Is Marx here suggesting an all-or-nothing contest between the proletariat and bourgeois classes for full control of the state apparatus? Ultimately, that is what Marx is advocating (e.g. with the phrase “dictatorship of the proletariat”), but is Marx conceding all concessions from the state in the interim? Is he suggesting that (bourgeois) state funding for worker-demanded cooperative projects is beneath the dignity of a true workers’ party — or that such an outcome is not a realistically attainable possibility? Must everything worth winning be seized? Can nothing first be conceded (by the bourgeois state, as it is, in the interim)? Could not the winning of such concessions be utilized by organizers as stepping stones — as tangible evidence of what collective action can accomplish, in order to whet workers’ appetite for larger victories? To what extent does Marx view the state as a contestable space?

4 responses to “cooperative societies with state aid (#marxtheory)”

  1. This comment by Marx is just another variation of his basic orientation, as reflected in one of the last quotes you posted disparaging co-operatives and other alternative enterprises. It runs through all of his polemics against Proudhon. Marx’s unnecessarily rigid opposition to these types of mutualist activities–state supported or not–created a deep division within the First International. Sometimes I think that differences between political thinkers were (and still are) exaggerated by their authors in order to gain a name and a following for themselves within the movement. Proudhon paid little attention to Marx’s attack on his ideas because Marx was a relatively unknown force in the socialist movement at the time, but Marx’s critique got him greater attention and notoriety. Instead of exploring contending ideas with the goal of reaching a deeper critical synthesis, these types of polemical disagreements turn into a “who’s right and who’s wrong?” battle than results in splits and mutual hostility. Sure, sometimes these confrontations are necessary for a movement to determine a course of action at a critical juncture, but not nearly as often as they have happened over history.

    1. I had similar thoughts—especially in this particular chapter—about Marx’s polemical style.

      Sometimes I think that differences between political thinkers were (and still are) exaggerated by their authors in order to gain a name and a following for themselves within the movement.

      Spot on. Marginal differentiation combined with polemics in the presentation and exploration of ideas encourages the same orientation in the flesh and blood. The orientation is to first attack over the small fraction of disagreement, rather than to first connect and build upon overwhelming commonality (and from there explore and negotiate differences). It is better to be right about everything in the abstract than to gain ground on anything in the messy real world. And I think I agree with you that egoism—specifically, attempting a shortcut to getting oneself and one’s ideas noticed—is a root motivator behind this toxic pattern.

      Seeds of the toxic, self-defeating sectarianism that plagues the Left seem to be embedded in the original texts. The polemical word made flesh.

  2. […] of the inevitability and ripeness of a proletariat revolution is precisely what causes him to dismiss the prospect of contesting power and policy within the bourgeois state. If his foundational assumption were correct, then the logic of his opposition to making—and […]

  3. […] contingencies as potential opportunities for contestation within the bourgeois state. Indeed, he is hostile toward any workers party’s attempt to do so. Here we must revisit Marx’s foundational assumption of the inevitability of proletarian […]

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