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, with realization of the ideals of socialism, 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:

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


Although Engels first introduced the idea of the withering away 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 of the withering away of the state, eventually a communist society will no longer require coercion to induce 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]

It proceeds from the concept of the transformation of the state in the previous stage of society called socialism. In socialism, Engels posits that, similar to the arguments made by Henri de Saint-Simon before him, that in a socialist society, public organization would become primarily concerned with technical issues such as the optimal allocation of resources and determination of production as opposed to drafting and enforcing laws, and thus the traditional state functions would gradually become irrelevant and unnecessary for the functioning of society. Engels argued that the state transforms itself from a "government of people, but the administration of things", and thus would not be a state in the traditional sense of the term.

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 communist society will develop.[1][2][3][5]

The concept of the withering away 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 the Soviet Marxism of the Soviet Union, Lenin supported the idea of the "withering away of the state" as seen in his The 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 Soviet Union marginalized the notion of the withering of the state.[2]

See also[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. doi:10.2307/466306. 
  • Bloom, Solomon F. (1946). "The "Withering Away" of the State". Journal of the History of Ideas. 7 (1): 113–121. doi:10.2307/2707273.