The Two Most Important Statements in Marx

 

The two most important statements in all of Karl Marx's writings come from the same book ("Contribution to the Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right").  In fact, they come from the very same page.  I call them "thesis 1" and "thesis 2," though Marx does not number them.  They are as follows:

Thesis 1: "...It is evident that all forms of the state have democracy for their truth, and for that reason are false to the extent that they are not democracy."

and 

Thesis 2: "...In true democracy, the political state disappears." 

How one interprets Marx hangs completely on how one interprets these two statements.  In a few words, Marx brings together all the diverse tendencies that made the group of thinkers to which he belonged so distinctive - a group that was familiar and conversant with the writings of Hegel and other important philosophers of the period, and yet represented a rebellious, even shocking divergence from tradition.  It was not only people like Mikhail Bakunin and Carlo Cafiero - people who eventually became known as "anarchists" - who were initially drawn to Karl Marx's theories because they saw in Marx a potential ally in the pursuit of emancipation and liberation.  Doubtless, Marxist-Leninists, Bordigaists - as well as right-wing conservatives - and others will counter that anarchists misinterpret Marx, and perhaps there's some truth to this.  But anarchists can be forgiven for taking Marx literally, and seriously.

Marx clarifies what he means in a paragraph in "The German Ideology":

...The proletarians, if they are to assert themselves as individuals, will have to abolish the very condition of their existence hitherto (which has, moreover, been that of all society up to the present), namely, labour. Thus they find themselves directly opposed to the form in which, hitherto, the individuals, of which society consists, have given themselves collective expression, that is, the State. In order, therefore, to assert themselves as individuals, they must overthrow the State.

Actually, the several paragraphs before and after this are worth reading, for this statement can only be understood in its context: 

For the proletarians, on the other hand, the condition of their existence, labour, and with it all the conditions of existence governing modern society, have become something accidental, something over which they, as separate individuals, have no control, and over which no social organisation can give them control. The contradiction between the individuality of each separate proletarian and labour, the condition of life forced upon him, becomes evident to him himself, for he is sacrificed from youth upwards and, within his own class, has no chance of arriving at the conditions which would place him in the other class.

Thus, while the refugee serfs only wished to be free to develop and assert those conditions of existence which were already there, and hence, in the end, only arrived at free labour, the proletarians, if they are to assert themselves as individuals, will have to abolish the very condition of their existence hitherto (which has, moreover, been that of all society up to the present), namely, labour. Thus they find themselves directly opposed to the form in which, hitherto, the individuals, of which society consists, have given themselves collective expression, that is, the State. In order, therefore, to assert themselves as individuals, they must overthrow the State.

It follows from all we have been saying up till now that the communal relationship into which the individuals of a class entered, and which was determined by their common interests over against a third party, was always a community to which these individuals belonged only as average individuals, only insofar as they lived within the conditions of existence of their class — a relationship in which they participated not as individuals but as members of a class. With the community of revolutionary proletarians, on the other hand, who take their conditions of existence and those of all members of society under their control, it is just the reverse; it is as individuals that the individuals participate in it. It is just this combination of individuals (assuming the advanced stage of modern productive forces, of course) which puts the conditions of the free development and movement of individuals under their control — conditions which were previously abandoned to chance and had won an independent existence over against the separate individuals just because of their separation as individuals, and because of the necessity of their combination which had been determined by the division of labour, and through their separation had become a bond alien to them. Combination up till now (by no means an arbitrary one, such as is expounded for example in the Contrat social, but a necessary one) was an agreement upon these conditions, within which the individuals were free to enjoy the freaks of fortune (compare, e.g., the formation of the North American State and the South American republics). This right to the undisturbed enjoyment, within certain conditions, of fortuity and chance has up till now been called personal freedom. These conditions of existence are, of course, only the productive forces and forms of intercourse at any particular time. 

Forms of Intercourse

Communism differs from all previous movements in that it overturns the basis of all earlier relations of production and intercourse, and for the first time consciously treats all natural premises as the creatures of hitherto existing men, strips them of their natural character and subjugates them to the power of the united individuals. Its organisation is, therefore, essentially economic, the material production of the conditions of this unity; it turns existing conditions into conditions of unity. The reality, which communism is creating, is precisely the true basis for rendering it impossible that anything should exist independently of individuals, insofar as reality is only a product of the preceding intercourse of individuals themselves. Thus the communists in practice treat the conditions created up to now by production and intercourse as inorganic conditions, without, however, imagining that it was the plan or the destiny of previous generations to give them material, and without believing that these conditions were inorganic for the individuals creating them.

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