"[T]he workers must not only strive for [a] one and indivisible German republic, but also, within this republic, for the most decisive centralization of power in the hands of the state authority."--Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels [click here for the source]

"No they must not!"--egalitarians




The "authoritarian principle" is the wrong (click here to see why) notion that one must obey the highest level of government, no matter what. Often this principle is defended on the grounds that the government, typically a nation's central government, is "legitimate" because it was directly or indirectly elected, or because its leaders are special for some reason (closer to God than are regular people, divine, experts in the "science" of Marxism-Leninism, or whatever.)


If one knows only what we're taught in school and what we read in the newspaper, then it would seem that pretty much everybody throughout history has accepted the authoritarian principle without question. History, so we are led to believe, has been about conflicts over WHO should be in control of the central government, but never about whether one is obliged to OBEY it no matter what.


But people in the past HAVE, to their great credit, rejected the authoritarian principle. They knew that blind obedience to a far-away handful of people is a recipe for domination by an oppressive elite.


In England in the 1640s there was a revolutionary movement, known as the "Levellers," that aimed to abolish the monarchy and the House of Lords. There was also a popular and anti-Monarchist army called The New Model Army that was strongly influenced by Leveller ideas. "They expressly opposed blind obedience to unjust civil law. 'I confess to me this principle [of obedience] is very dangerous,' declared John Wildman, one of the civilian Levellers. '...It is contrary to what the army first declared' in the June 14 declaration: 'that they stood upon such principles of right and freedom, and the laws of nature and nations, whereby men were to preserve themselves though the persons to whom authority belonged should fail in it.'" [bracket in but emphasis not in the original: The Third Revolution, vol. 1, pg. 113, by Murray Bookchin]


In France at the outbreak of the Revolution in 1789, after people in the streets of Paris stormed the royal Bastille prison and took it over, similar events took place throughout the nation.


"When existing municipal corporations failed to meet the townspeople's demands for price controls on food, they would invade the Hotel de Ville [i.e., City Hall] and forcibly expel the old authorities, replacing traditional institutions and their officeholders with more democratic forms and personnel. Once again, the unreliability of the army made these changes possible. At Strasbourg, for example, royal troops looked on passively as the Hotel de Ville was sacked by demonstrators. By such various means did the vast local officialdom of the ancien regime--from the loftiest intendant to the lowliest bureaucrat--withdraw from the places they had occupied, causing the collapse of the central authority. Effectively, France was now decentralized: the new municipal governments agreed to accept the decisions of the Assembly [i.e., the central governmental body], but only with the proviso that those decisions accorded with the wishes of the local population." [emphasis not in the original: The Third Revolution, vol. 1, pg. 286, by Murray Bookchin]

The leaders of the French Revolution in Paris, people like Robespierre, were upper middle class people, typically lawyers, who were absolutely in love with the authoritarian principle. Their ideology held that there was something called the French "will of the people" and that it was the duty of their central revolutionary government in Paris to impose that "will of the people" on  everybody in France. They also believed that it was necessary to chop off the heads of all those who disagreed with them about what the General Will was. Eventually they ended up chopping off almost all of their own heads because of disagreements among themselves  about what the "will of the people" was.

Workers and Peasants Fought Against the Bolshevik Party's Authoritarian Domination

During the rule of the Bolshevik (Communist) Party in the Soviet Union, the Bolsheviks strictly enforced the authoritarian principle. The result was that the creative and intelligent initiative from below by the only people who had direct knowledge of the relevant facts--the workers in the various enterprises--was stifled. This in turn prevented the economic enterprises from functioning at all efficiently and reasonably to provide the products and services that people needed or desired. An excellent first hand account of this is provided by the author known as Voline, in Chapter 5 of his book The Unknown Revolution:1917-1921.


​In order that somebody could to do what ordinary workers were prevented from doing by the authoritarian principle, a new category of person was required, known as functionaries. The functionaries acted as intermediaries between the workers in the different kinds of economic enterprises and as decision-makers for these enterprises, from manufacturing to farming. Functionaries were people who did exactly what the Communist Party leaders told them to do. They were motivated to rise to a higher rank of functionary by being absolutely obedient to the Communist Party elite because if they made it to the top ranks they enjoyed special privileges--materially and otherwise. Eventually there were about two million high level "functionaries" bossing about eight million low-ranking functionaries.


Top-ranking functionaries versus rank-and-file workers and low-ranking functionaries: this was the form of the re-emergence of class inequality in the Soviet Union, all made possible, in fact made inevitable, by the enforcement of the authoritarian principle.

After the Bolsheviks seized power in Russia and Ukraine, there were major uprisings against their power by workers and peasants who wanted a real revolution. The sailors and workers in Kronstadt, in 1921, declared:

"A fundamental change in the policy of the government is required. In the first place, the workers and peasants need liberty. They do not want to live according to the regulations of the Bolsheviks; they want to decide their own destinies for themselves."

Two headlines of Kronstadt newspapers were:




These sailors and workers wanted their local elected soviet to be free from domination by the Bolshevik Party; they rejected the authoritarian principle. "Lev Trotsky was sent to Petrograd to organize the armed response. He assembled as many loyal troops as he could under the command of Mikhail Tukhachevskii, and on March 7 began the bombardment of the island by the great guns of Petrograd." Tragically the Bolshevik Party--led by Lenin, not yet Stalin!-- succeeded in defeating the good people of Kronstadt.

In Ukraine, a large peasant army led by the anarchist, Nestor Makhno, fought against the Bolsheviks for the same liberty of the workers and peasants that the sailors and workers of Kronstadt fought for. Unfortunately, the idea that the authoritarian principle needs to be rejected was not sufficiently widespread and understood in Russia/Ukraine at this time and the Bolsheviks, claiming to be the legitimate central government, were able to use lies to martial enough troops to be loyal to the central government to defeat these genuinely revolutionary workers and peasants. Read more about this in The Unknown Revolution:1917-1921.

Karl Marx Totally Advocated the Authoritarian Principle

Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, in their 1848 Communist Manifesto, said the aim was to "centralise all instruments of production in the hands of the State, i.e., of the proletariat organised as the ruling class" with these words:

"We have seen above, that the first step in the revolution by the working class is to raise the proletariat to the position of ruling class to win the battle of democracy. The proletariat will use its political supremacy to wrest, by degree, all capital from the bourgeoisie, to centralize all instruments of production in the hands of the State, i.e., of the proletariat organized as the ruling class; and to increase the total productive forces as rapidly as possible."

Marx's phrase, "of the State, i.e., of the proletariat organized as the ruling class" absolutely did not mean any rejection of the authoritarian principle whatsoever. On the contrary, Marx and Engels explicitly emphasized that they embraced what I call the authoritarian principle by writing in 1850, shortly after the publication of the Communist Manifesto, their "Address of the Central Committee to the Communist League" in which they criticized somebody else's plan and declared:

"In opposition to this plan the workers must not only strive for one and indivisible German republic, but also, within this republic, for the most decisive centralization of power in the hands of the state authority. They should not let themselves be led astray by empty democratic talk about the freedom of the municipalities, self-government, etc."


This site was designed with the
website builder. Create your website today.
Start Now