Withering away of the state

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Withering away of the state is a concept of Marxism, coined by Friedrich Engels, and referring to the idea that the social institution of a state will eventually become obsolete and disappear, as the society will be able to govern itself without the state and its coercive enforcement of the law.

Origin of the phrase[edit]

The phrase was coined by Engels[1] in Part 3, Chapter 2, of Anti-Dühring:

The interference of the state power in social relations becomes superfluous in one sphere after another, and then ceases of itself. The government of persons is replaced by the administration of things and the direction of the processes of production. The state is not “abolished,” it withers away.[2]

Another related quote from Engels comes from Origins of the Family, Private Property, and the State:

The society which organizes production anew on the basis of free and equal association of the producers will put the whole state machinery where it will then belong–into the museum of antiquities, next to the spinning wheel and the bronze ax.[3][4]

Interpretations[edit]

Although Engels first introduced the idea of the withering of the state, he attributed the underlying concept to Karl Marx; other Marxist theorists — including Vladimir Lenin — would later expand on it.[1][3] According to this concept[which?], a communist society will eventually require no coercion to force individuals to behave in a way that benefits the society.[1][2] Such a society would occur after a temporary period of the dictatorship of the proletariat.[2]

This scenario depended on Marx's view of coercive power as a tool of those who own the means of production, i.e. certain social classes (the bourgeoisie) and the capitalist state.[2][3] In a communist society the social classes would disappear and the means of production would have no single owner; hence, such a stateless society will no longer require law, and stateless communism, a communist utopia, will develop.[1][2][3][5]

The concept of the withering of the state differentiates traditional Marxism from state socialism (which accepted the retention of the institution of the state) and antistatist anarchism (which demanded the immediate abolition of the state, with no perceived need for any "temporary", postrevolutionary institution of the state).[2]

In Soviet Marxism of the USSR, Lenin supported the idea of the "withering of the state" as seen in his State and Revolution (1917). Joseph Stalin's government mentioned it occasionally, but did not believe the world was yet in the advanced stage of development where the state could wither away. Stalin believed in the short-term need for building a strong communist-controlled state primarily for defense against external enemies. Thus the Stalin-era USSR marginalized the notion of the withering of the state.[2]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d withering away of the state. (2007). In Palgrave Macmillan Dictionary of Political Thought. Retrieved from http://www.credoreference.com/entry/macpt/withering_away_of_the_state
  2. ^ a b c d e f g "Withering Away of the State." In The Encyclopedia of Political Science, edited by George Thomas Kurian. Washington, DC: CQ Press, 2011. http://library.cqpress.com/teps/encyps_1775.1.
  3. ^ a b c d withering away of the state. (1999). In The Blackwell Dictionary of Political Science. Retrieved from http://www.credoreference.com/entry/bkpolsci/withering_away_of_the_state
  4. ^ Frederick Engels. "Origins of the Family- Chapter IX". Marxists.org. Retrieved 2012-12-26. 
  5. ^ Jianmin Zhao; Bruce J. Dickson (2001). Remaking the Chinese State: Strategies, Society, and Security. Taylor & Francis Group. p. 2. ISBN 978-0-415-25583-7. Retrieved 26 December 2012. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Surin, Kenneth (1990). "Marxism(s) and "The Withering Away of the State"". Social Text (27): 35–54. 
  • Bloom, Solomon F. (1946). "The "Withering Away" of the State". Journal of the History of Ideas 7 (1): 113–121. doi:10.2307/2707273.