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One of the most, if not the most, remarkable observations on the state in the works of Marx and Engels is contained in the following passage in Engels' letter to Bebel dated March 18-28, 1875. This letter, we may observe parenthetically, was, as far as we know, first published by Bebel in the second volume of his memoirs (Aus meinem Leben ), which appeared in 1911, i.e., thirty-six years after the letter had been written and mailed.

Engels wrote to Bebel criticizing that same draft of the Gotha Program which Marx also criticized in his famous letter to Bracke. Referring particularly to the question of the state, Engels said:

"The free people's state is transformed into the free state. Taken in its grammatical sense, a free state is one where the state is free in relation to its citizens, hence a state with a despotic government. The whole talk about the state should be dropped, especially since the Commune, which was no longer a state in the proper sense of the word. The 'people's state' has been thrown in our faces by the anarchists to the point of disgust, although already Marx's book against Proudhon and later the Commmnist Manifesto directly declare that with the introduction of the socialist order of society the state will dissolve of itself [sich auflöst ] and disappear. As, therefore, the state is only a transitional institution which is used in the struggle, in the revolution, in order to hold down one's adversaries by force, it is pure nonsense to talk of a free people's state: so long as the proletariat still uses the state, it does not use it in the interests of freedom but in order to hold down its adversaries, and as soon as it becomes possible to speak of freedorn the state as such ceases to exist. We would therefore propose to replace state everywhere by the word 'community' [Gemeinwesen ], a good old German word which can very well represent the French word 'commune.'" (Pp. 32I-22 of the German original.)

It should be borne in mind that this letter refers to the party program which Marx criticized in a letter dated only a few weeks later than the above (Marx's letter is dated May 5, 1875), and that at the time Engels was living with Marx in London. Consequently, when he says "we" in the last sentence, Engels, undoubtedly, in his own as well as in Marx's name, suggests to the leader of the German workers' party that the word "state" be struck out of the program and replaced by the word "community ."

What a howl about "anarchism" would be raised by the leading lights of present-day "Marxism," which has been falsified for the convenience of the opportunists, if such a rectification of the program were suggested to them!

Let them howl. This will earn them the praises of the bourgeoisie.

And we shall go on with our work. In revising the program of our party we must unfailingly take the advice of Engels and Marx into consideration in order to come nearer the truth, to restore Marxism by purging it of distortions, to guide the struggle of the working class for its emancipation more correctly. Certainly no one opposed to the advice of Engels and Marx will be found among the Bolsheviks. The only difficulty that may, perhaps, arise will be in regard to terminology. In German there are two words meaning "community," of which Engels used the one which does not denote a single community, but their totality, a system of communities. In Russian there is no such word, and perhaps we may have to choose the French word "commune," although this also has its drawbacks.

"The Commune was no longer a state in the proper sense of the word" -- from the theoretical point of view this is the most important statement Engels makes. After what has been said above, this statement is perfectly clear. The Commune was ceasing to be a state in so far as it had to suppress, not the majority of the population, but a minority (the exploit ers); it had smashed the bourgeois state machine; in place of a special repressive force, the population itself came on the scene. All this was a departure from the state in the proper sense of the word. And had the Commune become firmly established, all traces of the state in it would have "withered away" of themselves; it would not have been necessary for it to "abolish" the institutions of the state; they would have ceased to function in the measure that they ceased to have anything to do.

"The 'people's state' has been thrown in our faces by the anarchists." In saying this, Engels above all has in mind Bakunin and his attacks on the German Social-Democrats. Engels admits that these attacks were justified in so far as the "people's state" was as much an absurdity and as much a departure from Socialism as the "free people's state." Engels tried to put the struggle of the German Social-Democrats against the anarchists on right lines, to make this struggle correct in principle, to purge it of opportunist prejudices concerning the "state." Alas! Engels' letter was pigeonholed for thirty-six years. We shall see further on that, even after this letter was published, Kautsky obstinately repeated what in essence were the very mistakes against which Engels had warned.

Bebel replied to Engels in a letter, dated September 21, 1875, in which he wrote among other things, that he "fully agreed" with Engels' criticism of the draft program, and that he had reproached Liebknecht for his readiness to make concessions (p. 334 of the German edition of Bebel's Memoirs, Vol. II). But if we take Bebel's pamphlet, Our Aims, we find there views on the state that are absolutely wrong. 

"The state must be transformed from one based on class rule into a people's state." (Unsere Ziele, German edition, 1886, p. 14.)

This was printed in the ninth (the ninth!) edition of Bebel's pamphlet! It is not surprising that so persistently repeated opportunist views on the state were absorbed by German Social-Democracy, especially as Engels' revolutionary interpretations had been safely pigeonholed, and all the conditions of life were such as to "wean" them from revolution for a long time!
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