15 THESES ABOUT COMMUNISM AND YUGOSLAVIA, OR THE TWO-HEADED JANUS OF EMANCIPATION THROUGH THE STATE (Metamorphoses and Anamorphoses of “On the Jewish Question” by Marx) (2010-11)(9000 words)

–To the memory of my Praxis colleagues at the Faculty of Philosophy, Zagreb: Rudi Supek, Gajo Petrović, Branko Bošnjak, Predrag Vranicki, Veljko Cvjetičanin, Milan Kangrga

–For Boris Buden, who fought for truth and justice

The State everywhere presupposes that reason has been realised. But in this very way it everywhere comes into contradiction between its ideal mission and its real preconditions.

Marx, 1844

Part 1. Introductory1/

1.1. The Basis of Theses

I have taken over the basic epistemological approach to people, the State, and emancipation from the first part of On the Jewish Question (Zur Judenfrage, publ. 1844, MEW 1: 352-61) by Karl Marx. He counterposes–in the terms of his age, which at times do not correspond to today’s historical semantics–political and legal emancipation to complete emancipation. Marx’s approach here uses Feuerbach’s term “species-being” (Gattungswesen, that is, the natural being of the genus Homo sapiens), to which I shall return. This way to speak about human potentials rather than about privatised individuals has however  much deeper roots, in the French Revolution and in Spinoza’s discovery that human freedom is primarily threatened by a belief in a predetermined, holy teleology, consubstantial to power and rule. I take that this approach transcends Marx’s epoch, and that at its core would in today’s semantics be: what is the relationship of special political (primarily State-building) alienation to general social alienation as well as to “species-specific” de-alienation or disalienation as the individuals’ emancipation or classless freedom? I believe that the relationship between emancipation and alienation remains a constant horizon for Marx. True, he still lacks here the key field between theory and practice: the economy, where commodity reification and fetishism will appear as the antagonists of freedom. But this is no Althusserian coupure épistemologique, as the new terminology will be a more precise reformulation of the old one from which it evolved.

The very important lack, however, means that the limit of my theses is that they do not address economic relationships. Their conclusions would have to be supplemented (and perhaps significantly re-metamorphosed) with further considerations, starting primarily from Marx’s rich considerations about alienation and exploitation of living labour, which I approached in my essay “Living Labour”: I would have to advance from its conclusions. But the State and politics must be dealt with first.

I must stress that my attempt does not deal in Marxology, although I did take it into account in Part 1.2. In terms of genre, this is a reworking, a genus of its own. It is a quintessentially Marxian stance: he starts with reworking Hegel, and then continually and gluttonously reworks himself and other partial and incomplete cognitions (for example, Adam Smith or the experience of the Paris Commune). Since Marx’s argument in the 1840s is literally inapplicable today (who cares about the State of King Frederick William IV?), I am violently tearing out, assembling, and re-functioning these passages for today’s purposes. I start from a dozen passages by Marx that I completely or incompletely metamorphosise, and the resulting metamorphic text then demands to be supplemented with other considerations. This makes the whole of my essay anamorphic in relation to that of Marx: rotated into the dimension of Post-Fordism, the new Leviathan. The text is therefore mine, written because of Yugoslavia after the 1941-45 revolution, and uses Marx as an indispensable stimulus and catalyzer–because his style is consubstantial to some fundamental methodological insights into philosophical anthropology that I would like, mutatis mutandis, to preserve.

In the 1840s’ situation of the Prussian State and Europe, Marx’s essay asks this question in form of emancipation from the fiction of “the religious State”. My hypothesis is that, regardless of great differences between the Europe of early capitalism in 1844 on one hand, and on the other the world after  1945–a situation of full imperialist capitalism and after the first anti-capitalist revolutions–I can usefully apply the following basic operator to post-revolution Yugoslavia: replacing Marx’s official “religion” with “communism (official)” everywhere and seeing what comes out of this.  Of course, I do not claim that communism is simply a religion–although it is an annunciation of this-worldly salvation (see Suvin, “Inside”) and its organised professional avant-garde easily translates into an analogue of the Church. But it is a sufficiently robust analogy, the basis of which is the existence of an explicit and articulated doctrine that contains all central values for the orientation of humanity in the present historical moment. The justification for its use can only be its fruits.

For the analogy to work, subsidiary metamorphic operators should also be used: replacing “religious” with “ideological”, and “political” (in Marx’s lay meaning of opposition to the religious State and government) with ”social”: through society or the social, humanisation or disalienation is achieved. The reigning alienation is not to be understood, looking backward, as a Fall from Earthly Paradise (neither Eve and Adam’s nor the Noble Savage’s) but looking forward to the natural possibilities of the human generic being—the disalienation draws its poetry, as Marx will say, from the future. (Today we could formulate the alienation as three interlocking alienations: that of labour, that of language, and finally that of freedom and sense of life—but this transcends the brief of the present Theses.) However, an important limit of my two analogies should also be considered, which is marked by using the image and concept of the two-headed Janus.

Contextual tact and flexibility should also be applied. First, in selecting only some passages, which are not just crucial, but also roughly applicable to Yugoslavia after the revolution. And then in translating between epochs and contexts; for example, Marx’s early chiasmic rhetoric (if A: B then NonB : NonA), which is nice, but not always efficient as real–not only rhetorical–proof, should be used in supple ways and cautiously. I quote the passages according to the English translation, available in Spring 2011 on WMAW/1844/jewish-question; this translation is useful because, among other things, it is itself (unavoidably) a half-step towards a reworking of Marx’s speculative historiosophy  into English empiricism, and thus useful for my epistemological purpose. In the following multiple translating, before metamorphosing it into my own text, I often corrected the English text using the German original which has been identified after each passage. (I debated whether to quote the German text too, but since it can be readily found, I preferred not to overload the apparatus.) Through the discussion of these passages, the method and argument will gradually crystallise.

Just as Marx distinguished between earthly and heavenly reality of religion, I start with “communism” in the sense of official, “State” communism in SFR Yugoslavia as a belief, as an ideological vulgate on and of the State.  The obverse of “religion”, Marx’s “atheism”, for him the true orientation towards complete human emancipation unlike illusory religion, is the true emancipatory communism (to which Marx will explicitly arrive immediately after the Jewish Question). One should take care here to discern whether this denotes theory, practice or both (with Marx this was not a problem since he hadn’t got that far yet).

I was thinking about naming this little tractate “Sing Me a Song of Translation”. It involves not only shuttling between three languages (German, English, and the Croatoserbian in which it was originally written), but also among three time epochs, translating Marx’s discourse from the time of the already tottering Sacred Alliance into our own discourse of looking backwards from 2011 to post-revolutionary Yugoslavia from 1945 to the mid-1970s (the possibility for subsequent degeneration is based on the consideration here but will not be dealt with explicitly in this essay).

1.2. An Excursus on Marx and His Evolution

Though the following theses are not an exegesis, they presuppose an exegesis of some essential parameters of Marx and his evolution, and therefore of the specific weights and significance (Stellenwert) of the short text used here, the first part On the Jewish Question. The Theses develop the basic dichotomy and opposition of bürgerliche Gesellschaft against Staat from early Marx.

  1. 21. “Bürgerliche Gesellschaft”

Marx started with this opposition in his 1843 Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right in: “The general law is[:] the bürgerliche society and State are divided. Therefore the Staatsbürger as well as the Bürger, member of the bürgerliche Gesellschaft, is divided.” (MEW 1: 281)  I am here faced with the fundamental and already metamorphic problem in form of the classic translator’s dilemma of how to translate bürgerlich. The central denotation is “civil,” the adjective derived from civis, citizen, but does this aim at „the citizen as a subject, that is member of the State“, or „the citizen as a member of the bourgeoisie or the middle class”? As in the above quotation, Marx occasionally uses the term Staatsbürger, which is the first denotation, but he also has to add in apposition the member of the bürgerliche society. While by this we might today mean the whole of the people minus the State apparatus, this second term also participates in and oscillates between both poles of the translator’s dilemma: is it something like “civil society” or like “bourgeois/ middle class society”? The terminology here expresses Marx’s persistent probing around the not yet completely clear joints of reality. A few months later, precisely in On the Jewish Question, Hegel’s undeveloped opposition between the citoyen and the ambiguous and limited bourgeois (cf. Rehmann 5-6 and passim)  will have become Marx’s brilliant and deeply significant, though again not fully developed,  dichotomy between  the citoyen as bearer of the French Revolution and the bourgeois as bearer of both every political counterrevolution from 1794 to 1848 as well as of anti-feudal capitalistic development of production and the corresponding miserable human relationships. Since Marx’s texts were at the time only beginning to push toward clarity on this convoluted but also crucial issue, each individual instance of bürgerlich should be examined to see which of the two above translations, or of their contaminations, may be more correct (Rehmann 6-7 maintains that the sense of „civil society,”  which Marx uses when writing in French, is predominant). In English and Italian, bürgerliche Gesellschaft is unambiguously translated as civil society, società civile, perhaps also because in the Hegel of 1821 it is a translation of civil society by 18th-century liberals (as Marx explained in the Preface to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy) such as Adam Ferguson and Adam  Smith. I unfortunately have no French translation, but the very “orthodox” Labica-Bensussan dictionary  explains that société civile is Hegel’s term, société bourgeoise being Marx’s (see 182 and 414), which is, to put it very mildly, insufficient.

Each of the above solutions has significant flaws. Those associated with the use of “citizen” I have suggested above. “Civil society” does not have those flaws, but has two other major ones. First, in the major European languages, civil means civilian (as opposed to military, and in English “civil law” as opposed also to criminal), then committed to public interest (as in French civisme), and finally civilised, cultured, with a connotation of a narcissistic national, even class-related self-praise. Second, “civil society” has been taken over from English around the 1980s as a propagandistic term used by advocates of parliamentary (hence bourgeois) democracy to denote lack of freedom in officially “communist” countries of the Soviet bloc or Yugoslavia, with the purpose of wringing from the regime a return of opposition parties and the restoration of private ownership over central means of production. However, no matter how abhorrent some of us might find this one-sided, ideologised abuse of both Hegel’s and Marx’s perspectives, which are richer and deeper (if often mutually contradictory), a plebeian and associational concept of civil society seems to me utterly indispensable in a discourse about what was missing in “really existing socialism.” We therefore cannot leave this category in the hands of its kidnappers but must use it, cleared of abuse and properly articulated, within Marx’s radical perspectives of direct democracy. Binoculars do allow a better view of artillery or sniper fire at, let’s say, Sarajevo, but I doubt that is reason enough to discard binoculars.

I would therefore propose to use “civil” for Marx’s bürgerliche in most cases. (Due to the neuralgic memories of abuse this may have to be modified by some compromise formula in my Croatoserbian version.)

22. Marx 1843-75: Political Emancipation and the State

Thus, in the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right Marx uses Hegel’s terms in order to identify–contrary to Hegel–the opposition between the “holy” State apparatus interests of governance, coercion, and ideology, and the profane social and economic interests of the rest of society. The latter are ruled by bourgeois individualism and egotism (as in Hegel), yet they are opposed to the State as real life versus abstract universalism. Further, Marx was an avid reader of Rousseau and the Jacobins as well as “the modern Frenchmen” (MEW 1: 232—meaning utopians and communists such as  Babeuf and Buonarroti, Saint-Simon and his school, Fourier, Proudhon, and Cabet) and supporters of  radical popular sovereignty; thus, Marx diametrically opposes Hegel’s allotting of priority, rationality, and absolute importance to the State. Hegel’s topology of bürgerliche Gesellschaft is in Marx first overturned, becoming a precondition for the State; and  then this antithesis as a whole has to be transcended by a total politicisation of civil society which would abolish both itself and the separate State (compare MEW 1: 326-27 et passim).

On the Jewish Question is a big step forward because it introduces the theme of „false holiness“, which was to culminate in the theory of commodity fetishism in Capital: false, but extremely important as it dominates the mind of the masses.  On both sides of Hegel’s dichotomy of social life between State and civil society, man is a “plaything of alien powers,” under “the rule of inhuman elements and relationships” (MEW 1: 355 and 360), human “species-being” is alienated; in particular, “civil society” is Hobbes’s war of all against all (MEW 1: 356). Marx’s reading of Feuerbach and the human Gattungswesen terminology about the species or generic essence of man resonates here, but he reaped the maximum benefit out of this single-minded focus on human sensuality (MEW 1: 345). First, Feuerbach’s anthropology, although applied to religion only, was and remains revolutionary in its view from the bottom up, that is, basing and centering the creation and understanding of social beliefs and relationships in material and sensuous humans. His stance was a useful topological device of separation and rupture, opposed to Hegel’s view downward from the height of the Absolute reconciliation (here the State)–so that Engels’s later comments on Feuerbach are not sufficient. Marx aspired to such a radical anthropology even before he read Feuerbach, and it remained his absolute and fixed guiding star throughout, including his work on Capital. Furthermore, the epistemological limitations of Feuerbach’s humanism have been largely evaded in the last quotation from Marx in this essay (see MEW 1: 370) which stresses power in society: he transfers the notion of species to politics, where instead of reposing upon the intersubjectivity of sexual love, it reposes on the Hegelian “life of the people” (cf. Kouvelakis 289). The limits are fully transcended a year later, in the essay on ”Alienated Labour” from Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844, with the laconic formula “Gattungsleben [the species or generic life of man] is productive life”: the direct usefulness of Feuerbach for the transition into the critique of political economy comes here into view (MEW Ergänzungsband 516—see Zolo 122, and a bibliography on the relationship Marx-Feuerbach ibid. 90). In On the Jewish Question the civil society stands for all economic and ideological aspects under the political State’s and the ruling class’s structure of power (see also Thesis 10 on Feuerbach, MEW 3: 7). And I shall further suggest that this focus on the emancipation of people and their productivity–in the widest sense of all creativity–is not only constant in Marx’s thought, but also very pertinent to later contradictions, after the proletarian revolution, between that emancipation and the “socialist” State.

I shall here briefly deal only with the perhaps most important stages in his development of this emancipatory or libertarian opposition. In the important German Ideology, within the “civil society” in all social formations there is an ongoing conflict of classes, which depends on material production relationships; still, the “civil society” itself remains the “true hearth and arena of all history”! Here this society is resolutely liberated from the narrow context of the bourgeoisie and Hobbes–although it is from the bourgeoisie that both the term for as well as the first full form of such a society come from: “civil society [bürgerliche Gesellschaft] comprises the whole material traffic [that is, relationships, DS] of individuals within a given developmental stage of the relationships of production” (all MEW 3:36). Moreover, it is here, I think, that Marx for the first time proposes the thesis according to which the precondition for a free development of personalities is their rule over contingency and reified relationships, namely, a communist organisation of society (MEW 3: 424-25, and cf. 69-70).

Similar positions are to be found in the Communist Manifesto, with the important addition of discussing class economic interests protected by the State. But in The 18th Brumaire further developments can be found in the analysis of Bonapartism and its complete subordination of  legislative to executive power. The deep structure is that of the youthful critique from the 1840s, with the State as the antagonist and negation of the civil society, but now also as an apparatus for regulating the economic class conflict. Marx induces from historical experience that, in a stalemate between classes, the executive can appear completely autonomous in relation to civil society (MEW 8: 197); after a further historical experience of 150 years I would add that in our “hot” society this is inherently  unstable and may last no longer than one generation. This horizon is clarified and developed in two other vital writings: Marx’s admiring 1871 analysis of the Paris Commune, and his 1875 critique of the German Social Democratic Party.  In The Civil War in France, written in English, Marx rejects the earlier assumption that the proletariat should form a non-bureaucratic State centralism after the fall of the bourgeois State apparatus, and most resolutely advocates a federation of communes, therefore decentralisation, the reason being that–as in On the Jewish Question!–the quasi-religious sacralisation of the State, which has replaced medieval Heaven and Church, must be smashed. In the note “The Character of the Commune” (WMAW/1871/civil-war-france/drafts/ch01.htm#D1s1), Marx dismisses the State, “this supernaturalist abortion of society,” and its “Holy State Power,” and praises the Paris Commune counter-project of “the reabsorption of the State power by society as its own living forces instead of as forces controlling and subduing it.” As Zolo’s research has cogently argued, Marx’s analysis of revolutionary changes in the Paris Commune opposes the economic and social element to the political and bureaucratic one: this historical overview “matches the opposed pair ‘civil society’-‘political State’ that Marx has ever since the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right used to express, even though with partly diverse and tentative semantic values, the basic contradiction within that formation.” (176-77) This stance is in Marx the presupposition for his focus on the organisation of associated labour in the Commune and the organisation of the entire nation on the basis of self-government (which is exactly what this essay of mine also wants to be).

Finally, in the Critique of the Gotha Program (Randglossen zur Programm der deutschen Arbeiterpartei) from 1875 it can be seen, by contraries, how important it was for Marx to resolve  his youthful dichotomy of State vs. civil society through communism, as the only possible way out and horizon. In this perspective the State is no longer simply power over society, but–contrary to the anarchists–it becomes after the proletarian revolution the executive organ of universal social functions. Such a project can be approached, he avers, only in a scholarly way, which suggests his conclusions from Capital about gradually but resolutely abolishing “the commodity form,” that is, abstract labour to produce commodities for the market. The goal or telos of the process is to make it possible, “after the enslaving subordination of the individual to the division of labour … has vanished,” that “the narrow horizon of bourgeois right be entirely transcended and [that] society inscribe on its banners: From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs!” (WMAW/works/1875/gotha/ch01.htm)

I conclude that the term “civil society,” in opposition to the State as apparatus, recurs in Marx’s political thought. After the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, it was gradually but surely liberating itself from its Hegelian matrix, where civil society meant the corrupt egotism of private interests, and approaching the meaning of interaction between politics and the sphere of social and economic relationships, the relationships which ultimately co-determine production. Civil society becomes co-extensive with those activities where social decision-making is not incorporated into the State as apparatus. The central oscillation remaining in Marx is then whether civil society is necessarily also co-extensive with class struggles, as is clearly the case in both absolutism and capitalism. His notions such as proletariat and communism as abolition of class society do not fit into the opposition between civil society and State but represent its utopian and scientific supersession (Aufhebung). Let me add that I would today doubt this “annulment of politics” aspect of Marx’s oscillation, which was then exclusively developed by Lenin in The State and Revolution.

Part 2. The Theses Developed

–ENGLISH TRANSLATION OF MARX, PASSAGE 1 (MEW 1: 352): ): “The question of the relation of political emancipation to religion becomes for us the question of the relation of political emancipation to human emancipation.”

–COMMENT: Since politics has become a substitute of religion as self-awareness by the government, Marx’s relationship lay politics : religion should be metamorphosed into our relationship social : officially political. But a further complication arises:  social or complete human emancipation (soon to centrally include for Marx economic emancipation from misery and exploitation) is identical to Marx’s vision of communism, which I shall awkwardly, but I hope clearly, call “true communism” here. To my mind, this is a horizon of total social justice and disalienation, politically implemented through free self-determination of every person in independent working and territorial communities with no State.  This means that the relationship of such complete human social emancipation to the official political emancipation is also a relationship of true communism, or of the original Marxian project (we may call it C1), to official Party and State communism (we may call it C2).  True— Partizan, plebeian—communism with direct democracy relates to, but is very different from, actually existing Party and State communism.  Here then is the beginning of my reworking of Marx for the chronotope of SFR Yugoslavia.


Thesis 1. The problem of the relation of complete social emancipation of people to official (and partly real) State and political emancipation is the problem of the relation of real plebeian, directly democratic communism that liberates and empowers people vs. official State and Party communism, emancipatory only to a degree.

Gloss to 1: It follows that the problems of emancipation in Yugoslavia were a version of constant conflict and permeation between two currents within the socialist and communist tradition from the Industrial Revolution on: should sovereign democracy, and even organisation, flow from bottom upward or from top down? On the first extreme of the spectrum are both Marx and the anarchists, on the other Stalin, while Lenin, perforce, moved from the first pole in his theory up to 1917 toward the other one in his extremely endangered application after 1918. This dilemma is explicated in Mao’s harsh initial slogan of the first Cultural Revolution in a communist State: “Bombard the headquarters [with criticism]”.


–ENGLISH TRANSLATION OF MARX, PASSAGE 2  (MEW 1: 353): “The limits of political emancipation are evident at once from the fact that the state can free itself from a restriction without man being really free from this restriction, that the state can be a free state [pun on word Freistaat, which also means republic] without man being a free man…. It follows from this that man frees himself through the medium of the state, that he frees himself politically from a limitation when, in contradiction with himself, he raises himself above this limitation in an abstract, limited, and partial way.”


Thesis 2. The limits of social emancipation are evident at once from the fact that the State can free itself from a restriction without people being really free from this restriction, that the State can be politically free or a parliamentary republic without people being free. It follows that when people free themselves through the medium of the State, they free themselves only in a limited way.

It follows also that when the State freed itself from the restrictions of capitalist class rule while preserving, in Marx’s encompassing anthropological sense, a capitalist organisation of production and distribution and bourgeois law, the working people or plebeians were not really freed from the restriction of the “capital-relationship,” that is, the exploitation of labour and all particular egotisms that arise from it on the side of the exploiters and the exploited. This is accompanied by other class alienation factors: the legacy of patriarchal despotism, different gender roles, city vs. country, intellectual vs. manual labour (readers can supply additional factors).

Gloss to 2: But in this entire essay it is very important, and not to be disregarded, that the actual chronotope of Yugoslavia is doubly philosophically “impure” in comparison to Marx’s orientation.  It is first impure in general, as any praxis in comparison to theory, since it involves practical politics with all the necessary compromises, anachronisms, etc. It is also impure, second and especially, since it involves a “transitional period”  from capitalism to communism like the one that Marx–only initially, but fundamentally–characterised much later, in the Critique of the Gotha Program. Consequently, we are not dealing with a largely closed and stable historical chronotope, such as the early 1840s, but with tempestuous ebb and flow on a much more complex terrain. An example: the revolutionary enthusiasm and plebeian tradition of the National Liberation War 1941-45 were in the beginning able to completely neutralise the capital-relationship (note for example the economically ridiculous radicalism of nationalisation of small family-owned stores and taverns after 1946/47). Contrarywise: this initial enthusiasm abated naturally somewhere around 1960, for biopsychological reasons of the revolutionary generation’s wear and tear, and it was not being continually reinvigorated by a permanent revolutionising of human relationships, both in production–because of a ghettoisation of self-government at company level while blocking its ascent to the summits of power–and in public life or civil society (in the sense of citizen, citoyen, participation).


–ENGLISH TRANSLATION OF MARX, PASSAGE 3 (MEW 1: 353): “It follows, finally, that man, even if he proclaims himself an atheist through the medium of the state – that is, if he proclaims the state to be atheist – still remains in the grip of religion, precisely because he acknowledges himself only by a roundabout route, only through an intermediary. Religion is precisely the recognition of man in a roundabout way, through an intermediary. The state is the intermediary between man and man’s freedom. Just as Christ is the intermediary to whom man transfers the burden of all his divinity, all his religious constraint, so the State is the intermediary to whom man transfers all his non-divinity and all his human unconstraint.”

–DS METAMORPHICALLY (I use an additional operator: Marx’s „atheist“ = today „true communist“):

Thesis 3. It also follows that people, when they proclaim themselves socialist/communist through the medium of the State–that is, when they proclaim the State to be socialist/communist—still remain non-communist, because they acknowledge themselves only by a roundabout route, only through an intermediary. Non-communism is precisely the recognition of people through an intermediary, by an indirect, and not by direct route. The State is the intermediary between people and people ’s freedom, just as religion (a Christian would say Christ) is the intermediary to whom the working people  transfer all their communism and all their unconstraint.

It further follows that belief in the State is in a sincere (not Stalinist and counter-revolutionary) communist government a homologue of religion in Marx’s Prussia and the like: it replaces further communist emancipation of the working people by a supernaturalist principle of emancipation.

It finally follows that a sincere (not Stalinist and counter-revolutionary) communist party is to be understood as a key attempt at neutralising the deleterious effects of this etatist intermediary after the revolution. However, for this purpose it needs to change from an instrument primarily of violence to an instrument primarily of learning and education (including educating the educators) for the most complex task of permanent revolutionising.

Gloss to 3: This mediation is not, and cannot be, seriously undermined by a representative (parliamentary, essentially class) democracy, but only by associative plus direct democracy. I shall worry at this in the following Essays.


–ENGLISH TRANSLATION OF MARX, PASSAGE 4  (MEW 1: 355): “Political emancipation is, of course, a big step forward. True, it is not the final form of human emancipation in general, but it is the final form of human emancipation within the hitherto existing world order. It goes without saying that we are speaking here of real, practical emancipation.”

–DS METAMORPHICALLY (”political” vs. “human emancipation” is State vs. human emancipation here):

Thesis 4. Political and legal emancipation through the State is, of course, a big step forward. It is the final step of human emancipation possible in the hitherto existing world-order and macro-framework of States and classes.



Thesis 5. What are the limits of applicability of this entire metamorphic transfer of Marx from the 1840s to Yugoslavia after 1945? Two clusters of arguments indicate that these limits exist.

5.1. The first cluster is that after all there are limits to the analogy religion = communism (Marx’s “politics” is consequently “society” for us, and what is called politics in our chronotope is not  affected by this since it is the zone of tension between the State and the rest of  society— or the  civil society). Other lengthy but secondary distinctions would be needed here, which I shall avoid simply by using scissors: by dealing only with those passages from Marx that I need; for, this brilliant text of his is anyway just a crucial incentive, catalyst, and indispensable base for a reworking. 

Gloss to 5.1: A large-scale forgetfulness of one’s object would be a very questionable practice, but since this is not a text about Marx but through him, I would vigorously defend this method.

5.2. The other cluster is that, in a largely differing historical reality, similarities to Marx’s chronotope walk hand in hand with significant differences. The knot of Yugoslavia and the world in the time of multilateral revolutionary dynamics in productive forces and production relationships is much more convoluted that the static Prussian-European one when Marx wrote his diatribe. Neither the economy nor the government nor ideology were in the 1940s what they used to be in the 1840s.

Thesis 6. The reflections so far lead to a thesis fundamental for a cognitive understanding of SFRY: the Party/State government was a two-headed Janus (at least in 1945-72). Diametrically opposed to Marx’s State in the 1840s, the Party/State government of Yugoslavia was not only a factor of alienation, but concurrently also the initiator and lever of real liberation–up to a certain important limit (the liberation is important and the limit is important!).

Liberation: banishment of occupiers and collaborators–capitalists, bureaucrats, and mercenaries–hence the independence of the country (Tito) as a prerequisite for all other moves toward self-government; nationalisation and creation of a unified planned economy (Kidrič); realisation of a bourgeois revolution in a patriarchal-comprador and despotic country. Such liberation included equality for all before the law including women and the young; mass rise of young peasants (to power during the revolution, to urban employment after the revolution); mass creation of industry and the working class as well as the intelligentsia; realisation of even a Welfare State with social security (employment, education, health-care, electrification, a serious although inadequate attempt to build housing and urban infrastructures, etc.). It opened the doors to full freedom or disalienation, its emblem was policy (to adapt Rancière). It was a road to C1.

Limit: at the same time, the Party/State government was an intermediary, custodian, and protector of a liberation that, with numerous zigzags, increasingly turned towards oppression; that is, the oligarchy became a class in statu nascendi*. It closed the doors to the freedom of Marx’s “final human emancipation,” its emblem was the police (to adapt  Rancière). C2 was fossilising and fencing in C1.2/

6.1. These two principles, horizons, and currents clashed within the leadership of the Yugoslav Communist Party and the State: so far so good. But their potential dialectics was suffocated by a “bureaucratic” tradition (in Marx’s sense) of monolithism and non-transparency, here of Stalinist origin. Add the economic, as well as ideological, pressures of capitalism from outside, and then increasingly from inside as well (as per the immensely popular song “Tata, kupi mi auto”–“Daddy, Buy Me a Car”), stir and shake well in a closed vessel, and there’s the SFR Yugoslavia for you. 


–ENGLISH TRANSLATION OF MARX, PASSAGE 5 (MEW 1: 359-60): “Criticism is, therefore, fully justified in forcing the state that relies on the Bible into a mental derangement [Verrücktheit, pun on craziness vs. displacement, DS] in which it no longer knows whether it is an illusion or a reality, and in which the infamy of its secular aims, for which religion serves as a cloak, comes into insoluble conflict with the sincerity of its religious consciousness, for which religion appears as the aim of the world. This state can only save itself from its inner torment if it becomes the police agent of the Catholic Church. In relation to the church, which declares the secular power to be its servant, the state is powerless, the secular power which claims to be the rule of the religious spirit is powerless.

It is, indeed, alienation which matters in the so-called Christian state, but not man. The only man who counts, the king, is a being specifically different from other men, and is, moreover, a religious being, directly linked with heaven, with God. The relationships which prevail here are still relationships dependent of faith. The religious spirit, therefore, is still not really secularised.

But, furthermore, the religious spirit cannot be really secularised, for what is it in itself but the non-secular form of a stage in the development of the human spirit? The religious spirit can only be secularised insofar as the stage of development of the human mind of which it is the religious expression makes its appearance and becomes constituted in its secular form. This takes place in the democratic state. Not Christianity, but the human basis of Christianity is the basis of this state. Religion remains the ideal, non-secular consciousness of its members, because religion is the ideal form of the stage of human development achieved in this state.”

–DS METAMORPHICALLY (taking Thesis 6 into account!):

Thesis 7. Criticism is, therefore, fully justified in forcing the State that relies on Holy Writ to understand it is in a deranged and crazy position in which it no longer knows whether it is a fiction or a reality, and in which the dubiousness of its empirical aims, for which ideology (C2) serves as a cloak, comes into insoluble conflict with the sincerity of its communist (C1) consciousness, for which communism appears as the purpose of the world. This State can only save itself from its inner torment if it becomes the police agent of the institutionalised Party.

Gloss to 7: In the two-headed Janus perspective from Thesis 6 above, the idea of the State as the police for the Party is true only for one completely negative–monolithic and despotic–face of government in SFRY: this was completely and “purely” striven for by the Party conservatives, who are therefore non-Stalinist Stalinists. But with this reservation and to that extent (which is yet to be determined)–it is true. The only alternative: the State should—gradually but steadily—wither.

7.1. For the etatised, oligarchic, police face of the so-called communist State, what counts (gilt) is alienation, and not people. The only people who count are those of “a special mould” (Stalin), moreover directly linked with ideology (with Heaven). The relationships that prevail here are still relationships of faith. The religious horizon of official communism is, therefore, still not secularised or laicised.

But the “State-communist” (C2) horizon cannot be really secularised, for what is it in itself but the alienated form of a transitional stage in the potential development of human emancipation from millenary State power, patriarchal violence, and class exploitation? These alienations demand a schism between the earthly and the heavenly horizon, operative also in the period of potential transition from class society to communism as well. The State-communist stance can be realised and abolished (aufgehoben) only insofar as the stage of development of human emancipation of which it is the ideologically alienated expression makes its appearance and becomes constituted in a this-worldly, disalienated spirit. This may take place in such a socialist society where direct plebeian self-government would prevail over etatism and other alienations. The basis of this State would then not be State communism but the human basis of communism (C1).


–ENGLISH TRANSLATION OF MARX, PASSAGE 6 (MEW 1: 360-61): ): “Political democracy is Christian since in it man, not merely one man but everyman, ranks as sovereign, as the highest being, but it is man in his uncivilised, unsocial form, man in his fortuitous existence, man just as he is, man as he has been corrupted by the whole organisation of our society, who has lost himself, been alienated, and handed over to the rule of inhuman conditions and elements…. That which is a creation of fantasy, a dream, a postulate of Christianity, that is, the sovereignty of man – but man as an alien being different from the real man – becomes, in democracy, tangible reality, present existence, and secular principle.”

–DS VERY METAMORPHICALLY (but within Marx’s vocabulary):

Thesis 8. Real and integral political democracy is communist (C1): it restrains and humanises the necessary State. State communism (C2), however, empirically knows man in his uncivilised, unsocial form, man in his fortuitous existence, man as he has been corrupted (verdorben) by the whole organisation of our patriarchal and capitalist society, alienated, handed over to the rule of inhuman conditions and elements. Official communism may dream of and postulate the sovereignty of man as the highest being, but that is an alien being, different from the “really existing” man. In real communism (C1) this creation of fantasy and dream would however be tangible reality, present existence, material principle—carrier of self-determination and self-awareness. Marx’s “transitional period” is the growth of people from C2 to C1. This is the criterion for any measure and institution in it.


–ENGLISH TRANSLATION OF MARX, PASSAGE 7 (MEW 1: 354-55): “Where the political state has attained its true development, man – not only in thought, in consciousness, but in reality, in life – leads a twofold life, a heavenly and an earthly life: life in the political community, in which he considers himself a communal being, and life in civil society, in which he acts as a private individual, regards other men as a means, degrades himself into a means, and becomes the plaything of alien powers.”

–DS METAMORPHICALLY (this alienation is not transferrable to Yugoslavia tel quel, at least not before the 1970s):

Thesis 9 (alternatively to Thesis 8). Where the communist State government has developed into a closed ruling elite or politocracy, people  lead—not only in thought, in consciousness, but in reality, in life—a twofold life, ideal and real (heavenly and earthly). They live in the State community in which they consider themselves communal beings, and also live in the civil or bourgeois society in which they consider themselves private individuals, regardless of all other individuals that are being treated as a means, and in which they become degraded and playthings of alien powers.


–ENGLISH TRANSLATION OF MARX, PASSAGE 8 (MEW 1: 357-58): “The so-called Christian state is the Christian negation of the State, but by no means the political realisation of Christianity. The state which still professes Christianity in the form of religion, does not yet profess it in the form appropriate to the state, for it still has a religious attitude towards religion – that is to say, it is not the true implementation of the human basis of religion, because it still relies on the unreal, imaginary form of this human core. The so-called Christian state is the imperfect state, and the Christian religion is regarded by it as the supplementation and sanctification of its imperfection. For the Christian state, therefore, religion necessarily becomes a means; hence, it is a hypocritical state. It makes a great difference whether the complete state, because of the defect inherent in the general nature of the state, counts religion among its presuppositions, or whether the incomplete state, because of the defect inherent in its particular existence as a defective state, declares that religion is its basis. In the latter case, religion becomes imperfect politics. In the former case, the imperfection even of consummate politics becomes evident in religion. The so-called Christian state needs the Christian religion in order to complete itself as a state.“

–DS METAMORPHICALLY (with a supplement):

Thesis 10. Similarly to a State which professes religion, the so-called communist State is the communist negation of State, but by no means the social realisation of communism. The so-called communist State is the imperfect State, and communism is regarded by it as the supplementation and sanctification of its imperfection, so that communism necessarily becomes a means, and the State – a hypocritical State. The so-called communist State needs communism in order to complete itself as a State.

Gloss to 10: In that case, the official Party-State communism (C2, although the official interpretation in Yugoslavia avoided the term ”communism”!) becomes an ideology in the negative sense of an alienated view of reality.  Since it still invokes the original communism of Marx and of Lenin at his best (C1), C2 becomes hypocrisy as well, like to the Christian Pope preaching evangelic love for fellow-man (to stay with Marx’s parallel) from the magnificent St Peter’s Cathedral and the State enclave of the Vatican to masses gazing at the wonderful colonnade. The closing of doors to Marx’s integral emancipation (lineaments of which were becoming visible as an integral self-determination in economics and politics) transforms even the very real contributions of the first Janus’s head increasingly into hypocrisy. Yet that hypocrisy remains “a tribute which vice pays to virtue” (La Rochefoucauld).

C2, the “religion” of government, is in comparison to C1 always a partial–and eventually becomes a fake–achievement. It is within this discrepancy that the Zagreb magazine Praxis appears, as an example of the conscience of communism (C1)—which itself is also one-sided, being oppositional and militant instead of sovereign and triumphant, etc.

Thesis 11. In (important!) contrast to other-worldly religion, this-worldly communism understands the second sentence of Thesis 10 as a temporary postponement of perfection—until the productive forces of a people are developed and outside threats eliminated (which practically means sine die or, so far as we can see in the ever worsening capitalism, when hell freezes over). I suppose that this aporetic gap gives rise to important strategic modifications for the future to Marx’s political horizon itself, which are to be based on philosophical anthropology and very costly experiences. Centrally, there is a need to supplement the necessary orientation towards the role that economic production and consumption—albeit in the long term pivotal—plays in disalienation with the role of democratic power outside direct production.

Gloss to 11: In fact, communism has no sense whatsoever unless it preserves the horizon of a radical this-worldly salvation, namely mass production of a qualitatively better life, and not only social-democratic reformism. But how? C1 is politically a matter of developing, within communism and as the essence of communism, efficient and intertwined forms of both associative and direct democracy, in the interaction of State and the rest of society, and economically a matter of developing efficient and intertwined forms of many-sided and pyramidal planning on the basis of critical feedback from such a democracy.  Philosophically, it is a matter of resisting all pretences to the One Final Truth, and all attendant corollaries of Oneness from top down; these are best seen in Stalin’s monolithism and his ubiquitous vertical chain of the “single command” system [odinonachalie], but are well and thriving in all Churches and capitalist corporations.

Religion (monotheistic) is beyond repair; Marxism and communism (C1) are not.

Thesis 12. Communism cannot abolish politics, that is oppositions within the civil society between citizens of a State or other community. Marx gave to politics the exclusive sense of antagonistic collisions, in the final instance based on class interests; this strand runs from the passages discussed earlier to, for example, The Misery of Philosophy, and culminates in the Communist Manifesto conclusion that “Political power, properly so called, is merely the organised power of one class for oppressing another.” (Tucker ed. 353) After the 20th Century revolutions, however, we know also of “non-antagonistic contradictions within the people” (Mao). Without civil-society politics to resolve them, only the State remains for that job–a necessary, but very one-sided politics from above. This became the major fault of Leninism, growing out of a backward patriarchal reality.

Today we may redefine politics as existing outside class antagonisms too – that is, in the relations of production –  so that its germs could well be present in and intertwine with class politics (what else is C1 in the “transitional period”?). The State cannot really be abolished until its necessary functions were taken over by associations of producers as well as associations of citizens–civil society–in manifold institutions of direct democracy from below (see more in Suvin, “Communism” and the following essays).

Gloss to 12: We are talking here about the self-determination and self-awareness of individuals interacting within the social totality (according to Hegel at his best). These terms are derived from individuals, as active and reflexive aspects of their sovereign being, and they can be understood as self-government of oneself and of human collective affairs against the horizon of mortality.

If self-government is understood solely as a translation of these terms into the language of mass administration (self-management, as in Kardelj), this remains a necessary but not a sufficient step.


–ENGLISH TRANSLATION OF MARX, PASSAGE 9 (MEW 1: 357): “In periods when the political state as such is born violently out of civil society, when political liberation is the form in which men strive to achieve their liberation, the state can and must go as far as the abolition of religion, the destruction of religion. But it can do so only in the same way that it proceeds to the abolition of private property, to the maximum, to confiscation, to progressive taxation, just as it goes as far as the abolition of life, the guillotine. At times of special self-confidence, political life seeks to suppress its prerequisite, civil society and the elements composing this society, and to constitute itself as the real species-life of man, devoid of contradictions. But, it can achieve this only by coming into violent contradiction with its own conditions of life, only by declaring the revolution to be permanent, and, therefore, the political drama necessarily ends with the re-establishment of religion, private property, and all elements of civil society, just as war ends with peace.”

–DS METAMORPHICALLY (and, in the end, totally different but within Marx’s vocabulary):

Thesis 13. In periods when the State government is born violently out of society, when liberation through the State is the form in which people strive towards their liberation, in this time of special self-confidence, the State seeks to suppress (erdrücken) its prerequisite, the society of citizens, and to constitute itself as the real fullness of man, devoid of contradictions. But the State can achieve this only by coming into violent contradiction with its own conditions of life, only by declaring the revolution to be permanent, and the drama necessarily ends with a change in the character of the State or a change in the character of the society.

Gloss to 13: I think this corresponds to the ongoing dilemma of SFRY. Extraordinary: although Marx cannot be literally applied to it, he formulated the dilemma of its government as coercive power brilliantly indeed! As we know, the drama ended with a change in the character of the State (in the worst possible version of the Yugoslav Secession Wars between feuding mini-classes and captive peoples), because no change had come about in the character of the citizens’ civil society (no full direct and associative democracy) in order to empower a full vertical association of producers.


I have two conclusions, one based on Marx and the other on experiences from the October Revolution onwards:

–ENGLISH TRANSLATION OF MARX, PASSAGE 10 (MEW 1: 370): “Only when the real, individual man re-absorbs in himself the abstract citizen, and as an individual human being has become a species-being in his everyday life, in his particular work, and in his particular situation, only when man has recognised and organised his >own powers< [Rousseau, Contrat social] as social powers, and, consequently, no longer separates social power from himself in the shape of political power, only then will human emancipation have been accomplished.”


Thesis 14. Only when real, individual people re-absorb in themselves the abstract citizen of the State (Staatsbürger) and when individual human beings have become in their empiric day-to-day life, work, and relationships integrally human beings, only when people have recognised and organised their “own powers” (Rousseau) as social powers, and, consequently, no longer separate social power from themselves in the shape of State power, only then will human emancipation have been accomplished. 


Thesis 15. However, whenever C2 suppresses C1 (Stalinism, today PR China), we arrive to a counter-revolution that annuls the beginnings of disalienation (Enlightenment, Welfare State, attempts at self-government). The metamorphosis of Luxemburg’s slogan “socialism or barbarism” in conditions of hegemonic world capitalism is: “Communism (C1) or counter-revolution into savagery”.


coupure épistemologique: epistemological break

mutatis mutandis: having changed what needs to be changed

in statu nascendi: just being born

tel quel: as is

sine die: without defined or any deadline, irony for “never”


1/ Footnotes don’t go well with Theses, I have avoided further ones, except for the following afterthought. This goes for the apparatus too, so that from the large library on the subject treated here I have cited only the indispensable Kouvelakis and Zolo, also the best treatment of the polysemic minefield of civil society in Hegel that I found in Bobbio 143-50, 185-87, and passim, though I do not agree with his stance on Marx.

2/ Two years after writing this I stumbled upon two cognate matters:

First, data about the 4th Century  theologian Ticonius, according to whose commentary upon the Apocalypse the Christian Church is a “bipartite body,” divided into a black and a clean aspect (fusca vs. decora), the first of which belongs to the Antichrist and the second to the Saviour. He was clearly influential on Augustine of Hippo’s concept of Earthly and Heavenly City—which Marx may have remembered in the Jewish Question. It was no big surprise, I dealt with the salvational parallels as well as differences of communism and religion already in “Inside,” but the exasperated split into two notional bodies is a pleasing boomerang.

Second, a sentence in Engels’s letter to Bracke of Apr. 30, 1878: “[W]e should not forget that all transfer of industrial and commercial functions to the State can today have a double meaning and double effect, according to the particular circumstances: a reactionary one, a regress to the Middle Ages, and a progressive one, a progress to Communism” (Marx-Engels, Briefe 236).


Works cited

Bobbio, Norberto. Which Socialism? Transl. R. Griffin. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1987.

Kouvelakis, Stathis. Philosophy and Revolution: From Kant to Marx. Transl. G.M. Goshgarian. London: Verso, 2003.

Labica, Georges, and Gérard Bensussan. Dictionnaire critique du marxisme. Paris: Quadrige/PUF, 1999.

Marx, Karl. The Civil War in France. WMAW/1871/civil-war-france/index.htm

[Marx, Karl, and Frederick Engels.] The Marx-Engels Reader. Ed. R. C. Tucker. New York: Norton, 1972. [cited as Tucker ed.].

Marx, Karl, and Friedrich Engels. Briefe über “Das Kapital.” Berlin [DDR]: Dietz V., 1954.

—. Werke. Berlin DDR: Dietz, 1958ff. [cited as MEW with volume number].

Suvin, Darko. “Communism Can Only Be Radical Plebeian Democracy.” (forthcoming in International Critical Thought).

—. “Inside the Whale, or etsi communismus non daretur,” in his Defined by a Hollow: Essays on Utopia, Science Fiction, and Political Epistemology. Oxford: P. Lang, 2010, 473-502.

—. “Living Labour and the Labour of Living” in his Defined by a Hollow: Essays on Utopia, Science Fiction, and Political Epistemology, Oxford: P. Lang, 2010, 419-72.

—. “Socialist” Yugoslavia: Splendour, Misery, and Potentialities. [book MS, circulating]

Zolo, Danilo. La teoria comunista dell’estinzione dello stato. Bari: De Donato, 1974.


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