Bakunin vs. Marx
By Sam Dolgoff
As pointed out in my introduction to Bakunin on Anarchy
(Alfred A. Knopf, 1972), the clash of personalities between Marx
and Bakunin was not the essential element in their running controversy
during the congresses of the International. The debates transcend
petty personal squabbles' and embody two diametrically opposed tendencies
in the theory and tactics of socialism, the authoritarian and libertarian
schools respectively, the two main lines of thought that helped
shape the character of the modern labour and socialist movements.
Unfortunately, Ulli Diemer's articles Anarchism
vs. Marxism and Bakunin
vs. Marx (Red
Menace, Spring 1978) really do not deal with
the main issues involved in the debates. A discussion of these issues
is beyond, the scope of this paper. I limit myself to correcting
the more glaring factual errors and distortions. I also express
my deep appreciation to the comrades of Red Menace for granting
me.space. (Unless otherrwise specified, all quotes are Diemer's.)
The very fact that there is still, over a century later, a debate
between Marxism and Anarchism on fundamental principles proves that
Marx was not, and could not possibly have been the "central
figure in the development of libertarianism. Neither Marx or Engels
ever claimed that they were "central figure in the development
of socialism". According to Engels, the "central figures",
the founders of socialism, were the "utopians" Saint Simon,
Fourier, and Robert Owen, who formulated the leading principles
of socialism, as Marx himself acknowledged in a letter to his friend
Wedemeyer. (See Engels, Socialism: Utopian and Scientific.
Marx even praised Proudhon's What is Property as the first
"truly scientific analysis of capitalism," anticipating
Marx's later findings. (See J. Hampton Jackson's Marx, Proudhon,
and European Socialism.) Marx, who minimized the role of the
individual in history, would certainly have rejected the notion
that "...it is not possible to create...a libertarian world..."
Whether Marx or Engels did or did not use the term "dialectical
materialism" does not invalidate the fact that they WERE dialectical
materialists and that there is a fundamental indissoluble connection
between dialectics and Marxism. For Marx and Engels the dialectic
method was not only a theory but a LAW OF NATURE. Anyone who questions
this connection is not a Marxist. Engels emphasizes this in his
preface to the second edition of Anti-Duhring a work
written with the full approval of Marx:
" ..Marx and I were pretty well the only people to rescue
conscious dialectics from German idealist philosophy and APPLY IT
TO THE MATERIALIST CONCEPTION OF NATURE AND HISTORY ..." (emphasis
Engels devotes three whole chapters to dialectics, even trying to
demonstrate the validity of the dialectic method to chemistry and
Only one who is almost totally ignorant of anarchist literature
could assert that "with very few exceptions, anarchism failed
to produce a rigorous analysis of capitalism, the state, bureaucracy,
or authoritarianism..." A bibliography of such works could
easily fill several volumes. For example, Max Nettlau's bibliography
of anarchism compiled over half a century ago has been immeasurably
enriched by later works. While there is sufficient Marxist literature
on capitalism, there is almost nothing on such crucial questions
as the state, bureaucracy, federalism, self-management and other
forms of social organization which even modern Marxists deplore.
They are trying to drastically revise Marx's naive and erroneous
views on these vital issues.
Bakunin did not "deliberately fabricate" the accusation
that Marx believed in the "People's State". Bakunin criticised
Marx for this in 1870 and 1872. He could not be expected to forcee
that Marx would condemn the "People's State" THREE YEARS
LATER in 1875 in his Critique of the Gotha Program. The Critique
was published AFTER Bakunin's death about a year later. But this
error does not invalidate Bakunin's prophetic indictment of the
"Workers' State" which Marx and Co. DID champion.
The assertion that the Marx and Engels "...position is spelled
out most extensively in Marx's Civil War in France is in
flagrant contradiction to everything Marx and Engels wrote before
and after the Paris Commune. To establish this extremely important
point, I quoted Franz Mehring, Marx's disciple and authorized biographer
in my Bakunin on Anarchy. I strongly suspect that Diemer
ignored this quote because it decisively refutes his argument. Here
"..The opinions of the Communist Manifesto could not
be reconciled with the praise lavished by The Civil War in France
for the vigorous fashion in which began to exterminate the parasitic
State ...Both Marx and Engels were well aware of the contradiction,
and in a preface to a new edition of TheCommunist Manifesto
issued in June 1872 they revised their opinions... after the death
of Marx, Engels in fighting the anarchists once again took his stand
on the original basis of the Manifesto... if an insurrection was
able to abolish the whole oppressive machinery of the State by a
few simple decrees, was that not a confirmation of Bakunin's steadfastly
maintained standpoint? (Karl Marx, pp. 452-3)..."
Diemer's assertion that Marx and Engels "consistently maintain
that the state is INCOMPATIBLE with socialism
" (my emphasis)
is not correct. For them, the "workers state", the TRANSITION
toward full realization of communism, IS COMPATIBLE with socialism.
Diemer himself states correctly that. Marx and Engels believed the
proletariat must "use the state" to achieve the liberation
of the proletariat. "The state employs means which will be
discarded after the liberation." As if means can be separated
from ends: Diemer does not write that Marx and Engels proclaimed
the necessity for the "workers' state" not only to crush
the bourgeoisie, but also to institute socialism:
"...the proletariat will use its political supremacy to wrest,
by degrees, all capital from the bourgeoisie, to CENTRALIZE ALL
INSTRUMENTS OF PRODUCTION IN THE HANDS OF THE STATE... centralization
of credit... by the State. Centralization of communication ... and
transport by the State. Establishment of industrial armies by the
State..." (Communist Manifesto) (emphasis mine)
There is therefore no foundation for the assertion that for Marx
and Engels, socialism is not compatible with the state, and still
less that they were "in intransigent opposition to the state..."
It is significant that they proclaimed the same views thirty years
later in 1878. "... the means of production are... transformed
into state property... (Anti-Duhrinq, Part 3, Chapter 2 -
Theoretical). Solidly basing himself on their writings, Bakunin,
in this prophetic quote, defined the authoritarian character of
"...labour employed by the state such is the fundamental principle
of authoritarian communism, of state socialism ... after a period
of transition ... the state will then become the only banker, capitalist,
organizer, and distributor of all its products. Such is the ideal,
the fundamental principle of modern communism... " (quoted
in Bakunin on Anarchy, P. 217)
Since Diemer grudgingly concedes that "...use of the state
in the transition period is dangerous and the concern of Bakunin
about the possible degeneration of the revolution is valid..."further
comment is unnecessary.
On page eleven, Diemer takes exception to Bakunin's remark that
Marx "as a German and a Jew, is from head to toe an authoritarian."
On the next page he flatly contradicts himself. "Both Bakunin
and Marx displayed considerable arrogance and AUTHORITARIANISM"
(my emphasis) With respect to Marx there is ample evidence to substantiate
this accusation. I challenge Diemer to PROVE that Bakunin was either
arrogant or authoritarian.
The greatest historian of anarchism, Max Nettlau, the foremost
living authority on Bakunin and his times, Arthur Lehning, and Bakunin's
contemporary, the Spanish anarcho-syndicalist Anselmo Lorenzo
all of them at one time or another, deplored Bakunin's anti-semitic
streak and his anti-German prejudice. But Diemer, intent on white-washing
his hero, Marx, and discrediting Bakunin, deliberately hides the
fact that Marx was also anti-semitic and prejudiced against Slavic
peoples. (on anti-semitism see Marx's On The Jewish Question).
Max Nomad (Political Heretics, pp. 85-86) tells how Marx
...calling him the "Jewish Nigger' and Baran Itzik".
Marx wrote about the Croats, Czechs, Pandurs and "similar scum"
and demanded the complete "annihilation" of those "reactionary
races". Marx even justified the subjection of eight million
Slavs to four million Hungarians on the ground that the Hungarians
had more "vitality and energy"..."
Economic determinism constitutes the essence of Marxism. It is
clearly defined in this celebrated passage from Marx's Critique
of Political Economy:
" ... the economic structure of society always forms the real
basis from which in the last analysis, is to be explained, the whole
superstructure of legal political institutions, (the state) as well
as the religious, philosophical, and other conceptions of each historical
period..." (In another place, Max Eastman's introduction to
the Marx anthology Capital, he quotes Engels)"...with
the same certainty with which, from a given mathematical proposition,
a new one is deduced, with that same certainty, can we deduce the
social revolution from the existing social conditions and the principles
of political economy..."
Notwithstanding his anti-slavery sentiments, Marx in his polemic
against Proudhon, tried to justify slavery in America on the ground
that it was an economic necessity, arguing in line with his theory
of economic determinism, that slavery was progressive plase in the
evolution of society:
"...slavery is an economic category like any other. Slavery
is just as much an economic pivot of bourgeois industry as machinery
or credit... without slavery, North America, the most progressive
of countries, would be turned into a primitive country. Abolish
slavery and you will wipe America off the map of nations..."
(quoted from Poverty of Philosophy in Handbook of Marxism;
International Publishers, 1935, p.357)
Marx's attitude is justified by the editors of.the Handbook...
on the grounds that while slavery was an economic necessity in 1847,
when the North was industrially backward, the development of industry
in the 1860's made slavery economically unnecessary. The question,
How progressive is a country whose very existence depends on slavery?
never occurred to Marx. In his polemic with Duhring, thirty one
years later in 1878, Engels repeated that "the introduction
of slavery in Greece", was both an economic necessity and "a
great step forward."
How Diemer, in the face of overwhelming contrary evidence, can
insist that "Marx was not an economic determinist", supporting
his argument with two long quotations from Engels, which in no manner
whatsoever, invalidate their theory of economic determinism, is
difficult to understand. (see Anti-Duhring p.202)
To back up his charge that Bakunin was expelled from the International
in 1872, because Bakunin's secret Alliance conspired to "take
over the International", Diemer cites George woodcock's Anarchism
page 168. (There is no reference to this on page 168 or anywhere
else). He also cites Eilleen Kelly, an ignorant, scandal monger
whose review article in the New York Review of Books is on
par with Diemer's irresponsible allegations. Diemer's assertion
that "most historians" think that Bakunin was guilty is
false. All responsible historians insist that Bakunin and his close
comrade James Guillaume were expelled in a rigged congress packed
by hand picked "delegates" who "represented"
non-existent sections of the International.
Marx's friend Sorge, residing in the United States, sent Marx a
dozen blank credentials from non-existent groups which Marx distributed
to his stooges. Seraillier, Secretary for France, in the General
Council, also came to the Congress with a handful of credentials
which could not be verified. Of the five members of the Commission
of Inquiry chosen to investigate the charges against Bakunin and
other libertarian members of the International and report their
findings to the Congress, one, Walter (whose real name was Von Heddeghem)
was a Bonapartist police spy. The Commission reported that "...
the secret Alliance did at one time exist, but there is INSUFFICIENT
PROOF OF ITS CONTINUED EXISTENCE..." (my emphasis) Nor could
the Commission prove that the Alliance established rules opposed
to the rules of the International when it did exist. Roch Splingard,
a member of the Commission submitted a minority report contending
that Bakunin was being indicted on insufficient evidence. He declared
that "...I am resolved to fight the decision before the Congress..."
On the last day of the Congress after over half the delegates went
home, the Marxist clique staged a successful coup to kill the International
by moving its headquarters to New York. Nearly all the delegates,
including Marx's strongest supporters, refused to accept the decisions
of the Marx-Engels cliques. They joined the Bakuninist sections
of the International, not because they agreed with their anti-statist,
anti-parliamentary political action policies, but because they demanded
the complete autonomy of the sections irrespective of different
political or social ideas. They revolted because the phony Congress
enacted a resolution giving the Marxist dominated General Council
power to expel sections and even whole federations from the International.
Marx's authorized biographer, Franz Mehring noted that the Congress
of the International "...which the General Council in New York
called for in Geneva, drew up ... the death certificate of the International..."
while the Bakuninist counter-Congress which also took place in Geneva
was attended by delegates from all sections and federations of the
International - the Marxist congress consisted "mostly of Swiss
who lived in Geneva... not even the General Council, was able to
send a delegate..." (Karl Marx, pp.495-496).
Bakunin did NOT try to dominate the International. In his Letter
to La Liberte (Bakunin on Anarchy p.278) Bakunin declared
" ..since reconciliation in the field of politics is impossible,
we should practice mutual toleration, granting to each country the
incontestable right to follow whatever political tendencies it may
prefer or find suitable for its own particular situation. Consequently,
by rejecting all political programs from the International, we should
seek to strengthen the unity of this great association solely in
the field of economic solidarity. Such solidarity unites us while
political questions inevitably separates us..."
There is no reference to a post-revolutionary state in any of Bakuamin's
anarchist writings (there is none on page 153 of my Bakunin on
Anarchy given by Diemer.
There is not one shred of evidence to back up the charge that Bakunin
ever wrote that " ...Marx was part of an International conspiracy
with Bismark and Rothchild..."
The motion to invest the General Council with more power was NOT
made by Bakunin but by Marxist delegates. Bakunin voted for the
motion because it was presumably directed against the resolution
of the bourgeois delegate. In an article titled Mia Culpa
(I am guilty) Bakunin admitted that he had made a serious mistake.
It is true that Bakunin, in anarchist opinion mistakenly, advised
Italian members of the Alliance to became deputies in the
government, as a temporary measure dictated by extraordinary conditions.
Bakunin acknowledged that it constituted a violation of anarchist
principles. But to stress this contradiction as the essence of Bakunin's
doctrine is a gross distortion.
The question of whether Bakunin was a collectivist who advocated
that workers be paid according to the amount they produced and not
according to need is discussed by his close associate James Guillaume.
(Bakunin on Anarchy , p.157-158) Bakunin was not in this
sense a collectivist. Nor was Marx a strict "communist"
for whom payment according to need would prevail in the final stage
of communism, and payment according to work would prevail during
the socialist transition period.
In connection with secret societies Bakunin's well known predilection
for the establishment of tightly organized hierarchical organizations,
for which he worked out elaborate rules in the style of the Freemasons
and the Italian Carbonari, can be attributed partly to his romantic
temperment and partly to the fact that all revolutionary and progressive
groups were forced to operate secretly. Bakunin's secret organizations
were actually informal fraternities and groups connected by personal
contact and correspondence, as preferred by his closest associates
who considered that his schemes for elaborate secret societies were
incompatible with anarchist principles.
For anarchists intent upon guiding the revolution in a libertarian
direction by libertarian means, the question of how to stop authoritarians
from seizing power without instituting a dictatorship of their own
becomes increasingly complicated. Bakunin understood that the people
tend to be gullible and oblivious to the early harbingers of dictatorship
until the revolutionary storm subsides and they awake to find themselves
in shackes. He therefore set about forming a network of secret cadres
whose members would prepare the masses for revolution by helping
them to identify their enemies, fostering confidence in their own
creative capacities, and fight with them on the barricades. These
militants would seek no power for themselves but insist increasingly
that all power must derive and flow back to the grass-roots organizations
spontaneously created by the revolution.
Because Bakunin tried to organize this secret organization he has
been regarded by some historians as a forerunner of the Leninist
Bolshevik dictatorship. Nothing can be further from the truth. Lenin
would agree that an organization exercising no overt authority,
without a state, without the official machinery of institutionalized
power to enforce its policies, cannot be defined as a dictatorship.
Bakunin used the terms "invisible collective dictatorship"
to denote the underground movement exerting maximum influence in
an organized manner. According to the rules of his secret Alliance;
"... no member... is permitted even in the midst of full revolution,
to take public office of any kind, nor is the organization permitted
to do so ... it will at all times be on the alert, making it impossible
for authorities, governments and states to be re-established..."
The question of the relationship between revolutionary minorities
and mass movements, like the problem of power, will probably never
be fully resolved. But it is the merit of Bakunin, and the libertarian
movement as a whole, that it endeavors to reduce its built-in defects
to a minimum. There is no point in scolding Bakunin. If he did not
have foolproof answers he did ask the right questions and this is
no mean achievement. Our critics would be better advised to came
up with satisfactory answers.
In his remarks concerning Bakunin's relations with the ruthless,
amoral terrorist Sergei Nechaev, Diemer reluctantly admits that
"...Bakunin did indeed repudiate Nechaev when he found out
the true nature of his activities..." Recent research by Michael
Confino, (Daughter of a Revolutionary) conclusively proves
that Nechaev, NOT BAKUNIN was the SOLE author of the most notorious
document in socialist history: Rules That Must Inspire The Revolutionary
(better known as Catechism of the Revolutionary). During
his brief association with Nechaev, Bakunin is accused of writing
together with Nechaev, or under his influence, "...a number
of tracts that displayed a despotic Machiavellan approch to revolution..."
Diemer writes that in these pamphlets Nechaev and Bakunin advocate
a new social order, to be erected by (he quotes from the pamphlets)
"...concentrating all the means of social existence in the
hands of Our Committee, and the proclamation of compulsory physical
labor for everyone ...compulsory residence in communal dormitories,
rules for hours of work, feeding of children ... etc.
Diemer, to be sure unintentionally, omits vital information and
makes factual errors which must be corrected. He does not identify
the pamphlets in question, nor the source of the quotation. The
quotation is not part of any of the pamphlets. It comes from an
article in Nechaev's periodical Narodna ja Raspravy (The
People's Vengence) Spring 1870. An editorial note attached to
the article reads"
...those desiring a more detailed exposition of our principles
should read our article, The Communist Manifesto, which outlines
the practical measures necessary to attain our aims...
Nechaev himself wrote the article and edited the paper. Bukinin
took no part in writing the articles or editing the paper. In any
case, the measures advocated by Nechaev in his Catechism
and other writings are in flagrant contradiction to everything Bakunin
ever wrote or did. (source. Michael Bakunin and His Relations
With Sergei Nechaev - in French - edited with introduction and
notes by Arthur Lehning: International Institute of Social History,
Amsterdam, 1971, p. XXVIII )
The charge that Bakunin "...was infatuated with violence is
false. Bakunin insisted again and again that destruction must be
directed not against persons but against institutions:
"it will then become unnecessary to destroy men and reap the
inevitable reaction which massacres of human beings have never failed
and never will fail to produce in society..." (Bakunin on
Diemer's remarks about Bakunin's attitude toward the problem of
authority does not remotely resemble his views. It was precisely
in regard to the theory and practice of revolution and the nature
of authority which ranks Bakunin as one of the greatest revolutionists
in the history of the socialist movement. Bakunin did NOT reject
"... all forms of authority..." for example:
...do I reject all authority? Perish the thought. In the matter
of boots I consult the bootmaker, concerning houses, canals or railroads,
I consult the engineer... for science as well as industry, I recognize
the necessity for the division and association of labor. I bow before
the authority of specialists because it is imposed upon me by my
own reason. I give and receive such is human life. Each directs
and is directed in turn. Therefore there is no fixed and constant
authority, but a continual exchange of mutual, temporary, and above
all, voluntary authority and subordination..." (God and
" ... a certain amount of discipline, not automatic, but voluntary...
discipline which harmonizes per-fectly with the freedom of individuals,
is, and ever will be, necessary when a great number of individuals,
freely united, under-take any kind of work or collective action.
Under such curcumstances discipline is simply the voluntary and
thoughtful coordination of all individual efforts toward a common
goal..." (Knouto Germanic Empire and the Social Revolution)
In the days of the old International many socialists of both camps,
Bakunin included, then believed the collapse of capitalism and the
social revolution to be imminent. Although this was an illusion,
the debate they conducted on fundamental principles has remained
pertinent and in many forms, still goes on. To many others at the
time - as a French political scientist, Michel Collinet, has pointed
out - the issues discussed by the authoritarian Marxists and the
libertarian Bakuninists seemed to be merely abstract speculation
about what might happen in the future;
but the problems which then seemed so far-fetched, he says "...are
today crucial; they are being decisively posed not only in totalitarian
regimes, which relate themselves to Marx, but also in the capitalist
countries, which are being dominated by the growing power of the'state..."
(Le Contrat Sociale, Paris, January-February 1964)
Collinet lists the basic points in question: How can liberty and
free development be assured in an increasingly industrialized society?
How can capitalist exploitation and oppression be eliminated? Must
power be centralized, or should it be diffused among multiple federated
units? Should the International be the model of a new society of
simply an instrument of the State or of political parties? At the
Congress of Lausanne in 1967, the Belgian delegate, Caeser de Paepe,
raised just such a question regarding ...the efforts now being made
by the International for the emancipation of the workers. Could
this not". he inquired, "result in the creation of a new
class of ex-workers who wield state power, and would not the situation
of the workers be much more miserable than it is now?
A well researched, thoughtful, objective discussion of these always
fundamental questions involved in the controversy between Marx and
Bakunin - especially now when 19th century socialist ideas are being
re-examined, - is sorely needed. Regretfully, Diemer's articles
add nothing to the clarification of these perennial problems and
only obscure the issues.
Published in Volume 3, Number 1 of The
Red Menace, Winter 1979.
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