Front Page Titles (by Subject) Centralism vs Decentralism - Literature of Liberty, January/March 1978, vol. 1, No. 1
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Centralism vs Decentralism - Leonard P. Liggio, Literature of Liberty, January/March 1978, vol. 1, No. 1 
Literature of Liberty: A Review of Contemporary Liberal Thought was published first by the Cato Institute (1978-1979) and later by the Institute for Humane Studies (1980-1982) under the editorial direction of Leonard P. Liggio.
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Centralism vs Decentralism
“Marx, Engels, and Duehring.” Journal of the History of Ideas (USA), 35 (1974): 98–112.
Although most students of modern political thought know Friedrich Engles's Anti-Duehring (1877–1878), few are familiar with the writings and beliefs of Eugen Duehring (1833–1921). He was the blind privatdocent of political science and philosophy at the University of Berlin. Not much is known about his influence on the politics of the German Social Democratic Party and its doctrinal skirmishes of this period. Duehring deserves more study in the history of Marxian thought since his was an early and respected voice within socialism that opposed the centralized, bureaucratic state favored by Marx and Engels.
Duehring's own elaborated system of socialism, Kritische Geschichte der Nationaloekonomie und des Socialismus (1871), analyzed Das Kapital, vol. 1, in what Gerhard Albrecht called “the first serious scientific critique of the Marxian system.” As an advocate of a “force theory” stressing the efficacy of political action, Duehring viewed Marx's economic determinism as too one-sided. More importantly, Duehring branded Marx with Hegelian mysticism in his logical formalism and nebulous dialectic of concepts as a subtitute for a practical program of political action. He also criticized Marx's failure to spell out the ultimate product of his dialectical evolution, namely, the precise nature of socialist or communist society. Duehring also questioned Marx's labor theory of value and his theory of progressive pauperization.
Duehring's own theories advanced in Cursus der National-und Socialoekonomie (1873), and Cursus der Philosophie (1875), are somewhat inconsistent. He advocated worker strikes as a means to oppose not only capitalists but also the centralized “force state” which the capitalists used. Although not one himself, Duehring approached the anarchists in his advocacy of political and economic decentralization. A vague utopian system of egalitarian workers' communes marks his ideal socialist system. Duehring stressed decentralization in sharp contrast with the state centralization advocated by both Marx and the academic Katheder Socialists.
In the first half of the 1870s, Duehring attracted an influential following in the socialist movement because of his radical attack on the prevailing order. Such followers as Eduard Bernstein admired “the liberal element in socialism” as spun out by Duehring, since many socialists feared the state worship and statist thinking in socialist ranks.
Other sympathizers of Duehring's decentralism in socialist ranks were August Babel and the political agitator, Johann Most. They, and others on the left wing of Social Democracy, contrasted Marx's use of a strong state to confiscate the means of production with Duehring's system of democratic egalitarian communes.
Almost the whole leadership of the Berlin Social Democratic Party organization supported Duehring. This provoked the counterattack against Duehring by Engels (and Marx) in his Anti-Duehring articles of 1877–1878, perhaps the most systematic presentation of the Marxian system. Engels conceded that Marxism had used Hegel's inevitable dialectical laws with their negation of negations. Engels spelled out how dialectics with an assist from state centralism would “negate” the contradiction of capitalist private ownership of the means of production: “The proletariat seizes state power and immediately transforms the means of production into state property.” Engels's advocacy of “one single vast plan” is far removed from the decentralized network of Duehring's communes, the system so popular with German Social Democracy. In his near-anarchist prescriptions for the future, Duehring stood to the left of Marx and Engels.
Duehring characterized the Marxian system as “Staatscommunismus” and protested that it would mean “the enslavement of society by the state.” He concluded that “Mister Marx's theocratic, authoritarian state communism is unjust, immoral, and contrary to freedom,”—an echo of Bakunin's critique of a decade earlier.