Karl Marx is among the most cited of intellectuals. He is, in fact, the most cited intellectual in the Arts and Humanities Citation Index. Most people would at least recognize the name. It is therefore quite odd, given such widespread recognition, that there could be such incredible misunderstanding and confusion regarding Karl Marx and his work.
In the general sense of the Left it is more than predictable that there should be not only misunderstanding but also an intentional misinformation campaign waged against an individual so greatly associated with revolutionary movements. Within a hierarchically class structured society where there exists a ruling class with special privileges and power (among them, near absolute domination of the means of communication) it follows almost axiomatically that there should be waged a disinformation campaign against all that which threatens the current relations of power.
The most common myth regarding Karl Marx involves associating him with Soviet Russia’s Bolshevism and state totalitarianism in general. Exacerbating this confusion are the various self-described Marxists who are nothing more than the descendents of the Bolsheviks. A great many so-called Marxists are Leninists, Trotskyites and Maoists of one form or another who, in concert with bourgeois propaganda, hold up Karl Marx and his work as the foundation for their positions and actions regarding the seizing of the state by a party dictatorship.
With the self-described Marxists who follow in the footsteps of Lenin and company there is a great sense of anachronism. It may have been quite forgivable for socialists living after Marx and before the dissemination of his unpublished works to assume that Lenin’s work and actions paralleled the work of Marx due to much of it remaining unpublished and unknown as well as suppressed by the Soviets. Modern Bolshevik sympathizers have no such excuse. Long has Marx’s unpublished works been rediscovered and distributed by people of a wide variety of political persuasions, largely beginning with the Marxist Humanists such as Raya Dunayevskaya, Erich Fromm and Maximilien Rubel, among many others, who popularized Marx’s Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844 (Dunayevskaya was the first to translate the manuscripts), among other lost and obscure texts.
People can no longer pretend as though the Communist Manifesto contains the final word by Marx on the matters of state and revolution. It is no doubt true that in the Manifesto Marx lays out the revolutionary transition in stages with the first stage seeing to, “little by little,” the means of production, the means of transportation and credit all being centralized into the state. However, even were the Manifesto to be the last word on the matter it must be observed that Marx does not end socialist transition with centralized state power, as many bourgeois reactionaries often incorrectly shriek, but rather with the eventual dissolution of classes and the state into the association of individuals. No matter familiarity or lack thereof with the entirety of Marx’s oeuvure, the end goal remains a stateless free association. It remains libertarian socialism.
With this established it is quite obvious that the bourgeois misinformation confuses the end whereas the so-called “Marxists” who follow the likes of Lenin, Mao and others confuse the means as well. For the Manifesto does not contain the final word and was, in fact, itself revised with a forward (dated June, 24 1872), as described in Daniel Geurin’s No Gods No Masters. Marx and Engels explain in the forward that “in many respects” they would now “rephrase” the Manifesto’s content regarding the state. Geurin points out that “they cited in support of such redrafting ‘the practical experiences, first of the February  revolution, then, to a much greater extent, of the Paris Commune, when, for the first time, the proletariat held political power in its hands over a two month period.’” Marx and Engels conclude the forward by stating that all of this “means that, in places, this program is no longer up to the minute. The Commune in particular has supplied proof that the working class cannot rest content with taking possession of the existing machinery of the State in order to place it in the service of its own aims.”
The Paris Commune discussed in the forward is discussed at much greater length in perhaps Marx’s most underappreciated and ignored work: the three addresses drafted by Marx for the General Council of the Workers’ International on the situation in Paris, better known under the pamphlet name The Civil War in France. The Paris Commune saw to the implementation in Paris of the federation of communes, the basis of libertarian socialism, and at once the negation of state power.
Arthur Lehning writes that Marx’s addresses involve not a “’withering away’, but rather” the “utter extirpation of the state.” This could not possibly be any clearer when in the third part of the third address given by Karl Marx he writes that “the working class cannot simply lay hold of the ready-made state machinery, and wield it for its own purposes.”
Following the unequivocal comment about state power, Marx then further analyzes the role of the state within developing industrial society. He writes that “[a]t the same pace at which the progress of modern industry developed, widened, intensified the class antagonism between capital and labor, the state power assumed more and more the character of the national power of capital over labor, of a public force organized for social enslavement, of an engine of class despotism.” He continues the analysis several paragraphs later when he writes that “[i]mperialism is, at the same time, the most prostitute and the ultimate form of the state power which nascent middle class society had commenced to elaborate as a means of its own emancipation from feudalism, and which full-grown bourgeois society had finally transformed into a means for the enslavement of labor by capital.”
Marx’s analysis of the state is in this sense virtually indistinguishable from the analyses of many anarchists. Rudolf Rocker is in a sense paraphrasing Marx’s analysis when he writes that “[a]s long as within society a possessing and a non-possessing group of human beings face one another in enmity, the state will be indispensable to the possessing minority for the protection of its privileges.”
Marx’s analysis, in fact, anticipated the role of the state within Soviet Russia and the form of state capitalism ruled by a single-party dictatorship centralized within the state as manifested in Soviet Russia and in China. It must not be overlooked that socialism never existed within Russia and has never existed in China (the two nations most readily misidentified as socialist or communist). Many anarchists, libertarian socialists and, in this sense, true Marxists (such as Gorter, Ruhle, Pannekoek, Luxemburg and so on) predicted that the policy of the Bolsheviks was going to lead to the state despotism that sunk the Russian people into the Soviet dungeon. They argued that rather than replacing capitalist relations with socialist relations the Bolsheviks were merely condensing many capitalists into the single capitalist of the state. The political economy of Soviet Russia remained capitalist. It was the ultimate form of state capitalism, where the state is sole capitalist.
Nothing could be more counterrevolutionary and nothing could be more contrary to the totality of Marx’s work than turning the state into the single capitalist and centralizing all power therein. Doing justice to Marx’s work and doing justice in the real world period means dismantling the state altogether. Not piece by piece or with the hope, after seizing it, that it will simply disappear on its own accord with the dissolution of the antagonism of classes. Instead, the state must be rendered superfluous and powerless through the instituting of the power of the federation of communes (the workers’ councils, community cooperatives and so on), in the face of which the state can only dissolve into irrelevance and out of existence and history altogether.