ICC on councilist left and anarchism

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Joined: 18-07-06
Aug 17 2008 16:23

Dave B, interesting post but neither Dave C nor myself denied that Marx urged participation in political struggles. We denied that he was in favor of the bourgeois, parliamentary republic and we have provided quite a bit of evidence to show this. Participation in a parliamentary republic is a tactical issue, about which Marx may have been correct or incorrect. (I'm not an anarchist so I'm not so horrified by the notion but I'm also not a social-democrat nor an SPGB'er so I'm not as enthusiastic about his support of parliamentary struggle as some are.) But he was fundamentally an anti-parliamentarian in the sense that he saw parliament as an inadequate form of proletarian rule.

Also, your claim that Marx and Engels were somewhat Blanquistic early on is an over-statement. In the Communist Manifesto they were already talking about the need for the proletariat to win the battle of democracy (an anti-Blanquistic notion if there ever was one). And Hal Draper has made a very strong argument that their politics even at that period was based on a strong anti-Blanquism. When the late Engels draws a parallel between himself and Marx at that point in time, and the Blanquists, he is talking about their overly enthusiastic (according to him) armed revolutionism, not in a supposed urge for a small clique to seize power.

Dave B
Joined: 3-08-08
Aug 17 2008 23:50

On Blanquism

I think the essence of Blanquism or we could call it vanguardism is that an organised elite organises the revolution on behalf or for the masses and ‘rally those vacillating elements’. This was the kind of position that Engels held in 1852 that he subsequently rejected for the position he put in The Class Struggles In France, Introduction by Frederick Engels 1895,Thus;

The time of surprise attacks, of revolutions carried through by small conscious minorities at the head of unconscious masses, is past. Where it is a question of a complete transformation of the social organization, the masses themselves must also be in it, must themselves already have grasped what is at stake, what they are going in for [with body and soul].


In 1852 his position was closer to Leninism or Vanguardism thus;

Revolution and Counter-revolution in Germany, XVII., Insurrection
SEPTEMBER 18, 1852.

“Now, insurrection is an art quite as much as war or any other, and subject to certain rules of proceeding, which, when neglected, will produce the ruin of the party neglecting them. Those rules, logical deductions from the nature of the parties and the circumstances one has to deal with in such a case, are so plain and simple that the short experience of 1848 had made the Germans pretty well acquainted with them. Firstly, never play with insurrection unless you are fully prepared to face the consequences of your play. Insurrection is a calculus with very indefinite magnitudes, the value of which may change every day; the forces opposed to you have all the advantage of organization, discipline, and habitual authority: unless you bring strong odds against them you are defeated and ruined.

Secondly, the insurrectionary career once entered upon, act with the greatest determination, and on the offensive. The defensive is the death of every armed rising; it is lost before it measures itself with its enemies. Surprise your antagonists while their forces are scattering, prepare new successes, however small, but daily; keep up the moral ascendancy which the first successful rising has given to you; rally those vacillating elements to your side which always follow the strongest impulse, and which always look out for the safer side; force your enemies to a retreat before they can collect their strength against you; in the words of Danton, the greatest master of revolutionary policy yet known, de l'audace, de l'audace, encore de l'audace!”


Lenin discuses this ‘Marxism’ of 1852 which Engels subsequently rejected in V. I. Lenin, Marxism and Insurrection, A Letter to the Central Committee of the R.S.D.L.P.(B.) although he miss attribute what Engels wrote to Marx.

“Marxists are accused of Blanquism for treating insurrection as an art! Can there be a more flagrant perversion of the truth, when not a single Marxist will deny that it was Marx who expressed himself on this score in the most definite, precise and categorical manner, referring to insurrection specifically as an art, saying that it must be treated as an art, that you must win the first success and then proceed from success to success, never ceasing the offensive against the enemy, taking advantage of his confusion, etc., etc.?
To be successful, insurrection must rely not upon conspiracy and not upon a party, but upon the advanced class.

That is the first point. Insurrection must rely upon a revolutionary upsurge of the people. That is the second point. Insurrection must rely upon that turning-point in the history of the growing revolution when the activity of the advanced ranks of the people is at its height, and when the vacillations in the ranks of the enemy and in the ranks of the weak, half-hearted and irresolute friends of the revolution are strongest. That is the third point. And these three conditions for raising the question of insurrection distinguish Marxism from Blanquism. “


Trotsky also discusses the relationship of Blanquism to ‘Marxist’ withj his typical sophistry at The History of the Russian Revolution, Volume Three: The Triumph of the Soviets, Chapter 43, The Art of Insurrection

“From his observations and reflections upon the failure of the many insurrections he witnessed or took part in. Auguste Blanqui derived a number of tactical rules which if violated will make the victory of any insurrection extremely difficult, if not impossible. Blanqui demanded these things: a timely creation of correct revolutionary detachments, their centralised command and adequate equipment, a well calculated placement of barricades, their definite construction, and a systematic, not a mere episodic, defence of them. All these rules, deriving from the military problems of the insurrection, must of course change with social conditions and military technique, but in themselves they are not by any means “Blanquism” in the sense that this word approaches the German “putschism,” or revolutionary adventurism.
Insurrection is an art, and like all arts it has its laws.

The rules of Blanqui were the demands of a military revolutionary realism. Blanqui’s mistake lay not in his direct but his inverse theorem. From the fact that tactful weakness condemns an insurrection to defeat, Blanqui inferred that an observance of the rules of insurrectionary tactics would itself guarantee the victory. Only from this point on is it legitimate to contrast Blanquism with Marxism. Conspiracy does not take the place of insurrection. An active minority of the proletariat, no matter how well organised, cannot seize the power regardless of the general conditions of the country. In this point history has condemned Blanquism. But only in this. His affirmative theorem retains all its force. In order to conquer the power, the proletariat needs more than a spontaneous insurrection. It needs a suitable organisation, it needs a plan: it needs a conspiracy. Such is the Leninist view of this question.”


And From Bakunin; Bakunin to Nechayev on the role of secret revolutionary societies, June 2, 1870

we should have only one revolutionary army: the people--the organization should only be the staff of this army, an organiser of the people's power, not its own... A revolutionary idea is revolutionary, vital, real and true only because it expresses and only as far as it represents popular instincts which are the result of history. To strive to foist on the people your own thoughts--foreign to its instinct--implies a wish to make it subservient to a new state... The organization must accept in all sincerity the idea that it is a servant and a helper, but never a commander of the people, never under any pretext its manager, not even under the pretext of the people's welfare.

"The organization is faced with an enormous task: not only to prepare the success of the people's revolution through propaganda and the unification of popular power; not only to destroy totally, by the power of this revolution, the whole existing economic, social and political order; but, in addition ... to make impossible after the popular victory the establishment of any state power over the people--even the most revolutionary, even your power--because any power, whatever it called itself, would inevitably subject the people to old slavery in a new form. Therefore our organization must be strong and vital to survive the first victory of the people and--this is not at all a simple matter--the organization must be so deeply imbued with its principles that one could hope that even in the midst of the revolution it will not change its thoughts, or character or direction.

"Which, then, should be this direction? What would be the main purpose and task of the organization? To help the people achieve self-determination on a basis of complete and comprehensive human liberty, without the slightest interference from even temporary or transitional power...

Finally they are strong in their solidarity which ties all the obscure groups into one organic whole... these groups will be able to lead the popular movement without seeking for themselves privileges, honours or power, in defiance of all ambitious persons who are divided and fighting among themselves and to lead it to the greatest possible realisation of the socio-economic ideal and to the organization of fullest liberty for the people. This is what I call the collective dictatorship of the secret organization.

"This dictatorship is free from all self-interest, vanity and ambition for it is anonymous, invisible and does not give advantage or honour or official recognition of power to a member of the group or to the groups themselves. It does not threaten the liberty of the people because it is free from all official character..."


Rosa Luxemburg, Leninism or Marxism?

Now the two principles on which Lenin’s centralism rests are precisely these:
1. The blind subordination, in the smallest detail, of all party organs to the party center which alone thinks, guides, and decides for all.
2. The rigorous separation of the organized nucleus of revolutionaries from its social-revolutionary surroundings.
Such centralism is a mechanical transposition of the organizational principles of Blanquism into the mass movement of the socialist working class.


Joined: 18-07-06
Aug 18 2008 21:11
Dave B wrote:
On Blanquism

I think the essence of Blanquism or we could call it vanguardism is that an organised elite organises the revolution on behalf or for the masses and ‘rally those vacillating elements’.

In that passage from "Revolution and Counter-Revolution in Germany", Engels is not putting forth a view of how the working class should seize power but is describing how the National Assembly in Germany fucked up its own insurrection (in so many words). And in any case, even if this were a view of how a working class seizure power would come about (which it isn't), it still wouldn't be Blanquist because all he's saying is that an insurrection is initiated by a certain group, not that a small group actually holds power and wields it over the working class, who it then "educates" (a la Blanqui, or later, Lenin). Again, Marx and Engels had been quite clear on this issue since even before the Communist Manifesto and it's strange to me that you're making this claim.

As for the rest of your quotes, I don't see exactly what your point is. The Lenin quote you provide simply isn't Blanquistic, although I don't deny that at times in theory, and more often in practice, he was Blanquistic. That piece is actually anti-Blanquist, insofar as Lenin is arguing that it is the proletariat which leads the social revolution. (His Blanquism comes in when he at times, and seemingly more often once the Bolsheviks had seized power, seems to mean the Bolshevik Party when he refers to "the proletariat".)

The Trotsky quote is a good example of a Blanquistic view of insurrection. But the Blanquistic part of his argument, in which he says that insurrection "needs a conspiracy", is the exact opposite of what Lenin said in the piece you cited! ("To be successful, insurrection must rely not upon conspiracy and not upon a party, but upon the advanced class.") So if one of the passages is Blanquist, then the other one isn't. And it's clear that Trotsky's argument is the Blanquistic one, and Lenin's isn't.

As for your quote of Bakunin, I'm no fan of Bakunin so I don't see how it is at all relevant. Certainly Marx was always opposed to that sort of "revolutionism."

And again I don't see how the Luxemburg quote is relevant. Neither of the "two principles" which she describes were ever held by Marx or Engels, even in their earlier writings. If you are arguing against Leninism then you are debating the wrong person, since I'm not a Leninist.

Dave B
Joined: 3-08-08
Aug 19 2008 18:51

Hi mikus

You will have to forgive me. I joined this thread late and I did not read all the posts but just a few to get the gist of it and for some reason assumed you were ICC yourself and therefore a Leninists.

Taking the ICC’s position on Lenin from the following Link from the ICC webb site.


I actually participated in a debate on their forum recently on the very issues we are discussing here pretty much.

I couldn’t get an ICC member to respond but somebody called DG I think who also was ‘not a Leninist’.

The article on the ICC webb site mentions Leon Trotsky’s Our Political Tasks which he wrote whilst a Menshevik. This is quite an interesting pamphlet as it is in essence a contemporary Menshevik/Marxist criticism and warning of what Lenin’s corruption of Marxism might lead to. And not that much different to Rosa Luxembourg’s criticism.
The most interesting section I think is part IV;


In it Trotsky predicts that ‘Maximilien Lenin’ will follow the path of Maximilien Robespierre and with it a corresponding reign of terror and the guillotining of everybody who disagrees with him. A remarkable prediction really given;

From Leninist historian, E.H. Carr, footnote in chapter 7 of The
Bolshevik, Revolution 1917-23;

"after the revolution he (Lenin) asked in the manner of
Henry II; `Is it impossible to find among us a Fouquier-Tinville to
tame our wild counter-revolutionaries?"

Fouquier de Tinville was Robespierre’s henchman, like Totsky himself.

Although perhaps not so remarkable after all if Trotsky had previously discussed the issue with Vera Zasulich, in 1904, and had been shown the letter Engels had written to her on 23 April, 1885.

Vera Zasulich is also attacked in the ICC article for her stupidity.

In the letter Engels discusses what is likely to happen in Russia. It is worth bearing it I mind before reading it, Engel’s theoretical interpretation of historical events. He saw the bourgeois or capitalist revolution, the over throw of feudalism as a necessary and inevitable stage that had to be gone through however ugly and unpleasant that might be. The idea being that the sooner you got over it the better, like pulling teeth.

So much so that the socialist could even to some extent participate in bringing it about as Engels outlined in the Filippo Turati letter;


Apart from the historical analysis of passing through inevitable stages, feudalism was viewed then in a similar the way we view fascism now and the gangster regimes of Central America with an ‘anything but somoza’ (Nicaragua) type idea, just to put it in some historical context.

To return to the letter of Engel’s, he predicted in Russia that some Blanquist/Jacobin type idiots could precipitate or ‘spark’ off the bourgeois, capitalist, or as it turned out a state capitalist revolution which would include a bit later a Maximilien Robespierre inspired or as it turned out a Maximilien Lenin inspired reign of ‘Red’ Terror of which the Anarchists were some of the victims.

Although it was the Mensheviks and the principled Anarchist who never collaborated with the Bolsheviks who were ‘rolled up’ first.

So from Engels to Vera Zasulich In Geneva on the Blanquists, the ‘revolutionaries of a preceding generation’ who might however be found in a backward country like Russia in the form of the Bolsheviks;

“What I know or believe about the situation in Russia impels me to the opinion that the Russians are approaching their 1789. The revolution must break out there in a given time; it may break out there any day. In these circumstances the country is like a charged mine which only needs a fuse to be laid to it. Especially since March 13. This is one of the exceptional cases where it is possible for a handful of people to make a revolution, i.e., with one small push to cause a whole system, which (to use a metaphor of Plekhanov's) is in more than labile equilibrium, to come crashing down, and thus by one action, in itself insignificaat, to release uncontrollable explosive forces. Well now, if ever Blanquism--the phantasy of overturning an entire society through the action of a small conspiracy--had a certain justification for its existence, that is certainly in Petersburg. Once the spark has been put to the powder, once the forces have been released and national energy has been transformed from potential into kinetic energy (another favourite image of Plekhanov's and a very good one)--the people who laid the spark to the mine will be swept away by the explosion, which will be a thousand times as strong as themselves and which will seek its vent where it can, according as the economic forces and resistances determine.

Supposing these people imagine they can seize power, what does it matter? Provided they make, the hole which will shatter the dyke, the flood itself will soon rob them of their illusions. But if by chance these illusions resulted in giving them a superior force of will, why complain of that? People who boasted that they had made a revolution have always seen the next day that they had no idea what they were doing, that the revolution made did not in the least resemble the one they would have liked to make That is what Hegel calls the irony of history, an irony which few historic personalities escape. Look at Bismarck, the revolutionary against his will, and Gladstone who has ended in quarrelling with his adored Tsar.

To me the most important thing is that the impulse should be given in Russia, that the revolution should break out. Whether this fraction or that fraction gives the signal, whether it happens under this flag or that flag matters little to me. If it were a palace conspiracy it would be swept away tomorrow. There where the position is so strained, where the revolutionary elements are accumulated to such a degree, where the economic situation of the enormous mass of the people becomes daily more impossible, where every stage of social development is represented, from the primitive commune to modern large-scale industry and high finance, and where all these contradictions are violently held together by an unexampled despotism, a despotism which is becoming more and more unbearable to the youth in whom the national worth and intelligence are united--there, when 1789 has once been launched, 1793 will not be long in following.”


I appreciate that you are not an ICC Leninists however do you think that the ICC are being anti Marxists in criticising the likes of Vera Zasulich and the Mensheviks for being wary of becoming part of what must have looked like this ‘Blanquist’ adventure?

Poor Engels must be groaning in his grave having tempting the fates beyond endurance with his ‘whether it happens under this flag or that flag matters little to me.’

Alf's picture
Joined: 6-07-05
Aug 19 2008 20:09

Dave B: I don't think the article in question anywhere calls Zasulich "stupid". It does say that the 'old guard' of marxism in Russia was increasingly becoming an obstacle to understanding the new situation that was developing, above all her idea that the working class would ahve to support the bourgeois revolution in Russia.

The perspective of a '1789', ie a bourgeois revolution, which Engels put forward in the above quote was understandable at the time he was writing but it was already being called into question in the early part of the 20th century, above all after 1905. Indeed the main reason that Trotsky broke with the Mensheviks, having initially sided with them against Lenin in 1903, was precisely because he could not accept that the classic bourgeois revolution was still on the agenda in Russia.

Given that Engels is talking about a bourgeois revolution, it is also understandable that he thinks that it could be initially sparked off by a small minority seizing power. But the other passages you quote from Engels show that he clearly saw that such methods were simply impossible for the proletarian revolution, which can only be the product of a massive social movement. This was understood by virtually all the marxists of the day, but they interpreted it in different ways. For Kautsky it meant the more or less gradual march to power through building up the social democratic party as a mass organisation and the 'democratic' conquest of power through parliament, backed up by well-marshalled strike action where necessary. But others began to see that the parliamentary road was fading - Luxemburg in her pamphlet on the mass strike, Pannekoek and Bukharin in their first reflections (based of course on previous writings by Marx and Engels on the Commune) about the need to destroy the bourgeois state through mass revolutionary action, a position subsequently adopted by Lenin and then the entire Communist International.

The issue here wasn't really Blanquism. It's true that both Blanquist and parliamentary forms of substitutionism still infected the revolutionary movement after 1905 and into the post-war revolutionary wave, above all when the latter went into retreat. But the best elements of the movement had already taken a giant step beyond both.

Joined: 18-07-06
Aug 19 2008 22:24
Dave B wrote:
I appreciate that you are not an ICC Leninists however do you think that the ICC are being anti Marxists in criticising the likes of Vera Zasulich and the Mensheviks for being wary of becoming part of what must have looked like this ‘Blanquist’ adventure?

I don't know enough about the conditions of Russia at this time. I do know that Marx was opposed to the position of the orthodox Marxists in Russia at that time (such as Zasulich) that a bourgeois revolution was necessarily on the agenda. He explicitly stated this both in his letter to Zasulich (although not in as much detail as in the drafts of the letter that he didn't end up sending) and in the Preface to the Russian edition of the Communist Manifesto. (Although the latter was actually written by Engels and signed by both Marx and Engels.)

Alf's picture
Joined: 6-07-05
Aug 19 2008 22:40

There's a chapter about Marx's approach to the Russian question (and more generally about Marx, Engels and 'primitive' societies) in our book on communism. This part is online: 'The Mature Marx - Past and Future Communism'

Dave B
Joined: 3-08-08
Sep 9 2008 23:59
mikus wrote:
Also, your claim that Marx and Engels were somewhat Blanquistic early on is an over-statement. In the Communist Manifesto they were already talking about the need for the proletariat to win the battle of democracy (an anti-Blanquistic notion if there ever was one). And Hal Draper has made a very strong argument that their politics even at that period was based on a strong anti-Blanquism. When the late Engels draws a parallel between himself and Marx at that point in time, and the Blanquists, he is talking about their overly enthusiastic (according to him) armed revolutionism, not in a supposed urge for a small clique to seize power.

On whether or not Karl and Fred were ‘Blanquists’ in their early years.

The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte. Karl Marx 1852, I

As is known, May 15 had no other result but that of removing Blanqui and his comrades – that is, the real leaders of the proletarian party – from the public stage for the entire duration of the cycle we are considering


Address of the Central Committee to the Communist League
June 1850

The Central Committee is in touch with the decisively revolutionary parties of the French, English and Hungarians by way of members delegated for this purpose. Of all the parties involved in the French revolution it is in particular the genuine proletarian party headed by Blanqui which has joined us. The delegates of the Blanquist secret society are in regular and official contact with the delegates of the League, to whom they have entrusted important preparatory work for the next revolution.


The Class Struggles in France, 1848 to 1850. Of which Engels introduction was a refutation.


Continuing on Blanquism and I think some one mentioned the ‘form and content’ of Leninism whatever that means. Has it got anything to do with ‘principle and reality, between words and facts’ ?

Perhaps some extracts from below may be an example of it.

Letters on Tactics, Written between April 8 and 13 (21 and 26), 1917

And this experience, as we know, and as Marx proved at length in 1871 and Engels in 1891 absolutely excludes Blanquism, absolutely ensures the direct, immediate and unquestionable rule of the majority and the activity of the masses only to the extent that the majority itself acts consciously.

but a state without a standing army, without a police opposed to the people, without an officialdom placed above the people.


And later from;

“Left-Wing” Childishness, April 1918

our task is to study the state capitalism of the Germans, to spare no effort in copying it and not shrink from adopting dictatorial methods to hasten the copying of it. Our task is to hasten this copying even more than Peter hastened the copying of Western culture by barbarian Russia, and we must not hesitate to use barbarous methods


The Immediate Tasks of the Soviet Government, March-April 1918

“Harmonious Organisation” And Dictatorship

The resolution adopted by the recent Moscow Congress of Soviets advanced as the primary task of the moment the establishment of a “harmonious organisation”, and the tightening of discipline Everyone now readily “votes for” and “subscribes to” resolutions of this kind; but usually people do not think over the fact that the application of such resolutions calls for coercion—coercion precisely in the form of dictatorship. And yet it would be extremely stupid and absurdly utopian to assume that the transition from capitalism to socialism is possible without coercion and without dictatorship.

And of the opponents;

or an expression of the dull-wittedness of the petty-bourgeois democrats, of the Chernovs, Tseretelis and Martovs, who chatter about the unity of democracy, the dictatorship of democracy, the general democratic front, and similar nonsense. Those whom even the progress of the Russian Revolution of 1917-18 has not taught that a middle course is impossible, must be given up for lost.

To continue;

The misfortune of previous revolutions was that the revolutionary enthusiasm of the people, which sustained them in their state of tension and gave them the strength to suppress ruthlessly the elements of disintegration, did not last long. The social, i.e., the class, reason for this instability of the revolutionary enthusiasm of the people was the weakness of the proletariat, which alone is able (if it is sufficiently numerous, class-conscious and disciplined) to win over to its side the majority of the working and exploited people (the majority of the poor, to speak more simply and popularly) and retain power sufficiently long to suppress completely all the exploiters as well as all the elements of disintegration.


Going back again to 1905 in the following Lenin in taking the more orthodox line that the coming revolution will be bourgeois or capitalists or as it turned out state capitalists, however the Bolsheviks want to govern it. The Mensheviks think this is not a good idea and are waving around the Engels to Filippo Turati, letter. Probably worrying about ‘infamy and treachery’ paralysing the ‘revolutionary action of the working class they were supposed to represent’.

The Third Congress of the R.S.D.L.P.
April 12 (25)-April 27 (May 10), 1905

It is in reference to this peculiar warning against the danger of victory in the struggle against the autocracy that Vperyod asks Martynov and L. Martov what they are talking about: a socialist or a democratic dictatorship? We are referred to Engels’ famous words about the danger involved in the position of a leader who has been given power in behalf of a class that is not yet mature for the exercise of complete domination. We explained in Vperyod that Engels points out the danger to the position of a leader when he establishes post factum a divergence between principle and reality, between words and facts. Such a divergence leads to disaster in the sense of political failure, not in the sense of physical defeat[1] ; you must affirm (this is Engels’ thought) that the revolution is socialistic, when it is really only democratic.

If we promised the Russian proletariat now that we could secure its complete domination immediately, we would fall into the error of the Socialists-Revolutionaries. It is this mistake of the Socialists-Revolutionaries that we Social-Democrats have always ridiculed—their claim that the revolution will be “democratic and not bourgeois”. We have constantly said that the revolution would strengthen the bourgeoisie, not weaken it, but that it would create for the proletariat the necessary conditions for waging a successful struggle for socialism.


Engels to Filippo Turati, In Milan


By 1922 the deed is done, the (state) capitalist are in power. And they can cry state capitalism, state capitalism , state capitalism at last!

Eleventh Congress Of The R.C.P.(B.) March 27-April 2, 1922

The state in this society is not ruled by the bourgeoisie, but by the proletariat (the bolsheviks). We refuse to understand that when we say “state” we mean ourselves, the proletariat (the bolsheviks), the vanguard of the working class. State capitalism is capitalism which we shall be able to restrain, and the limits of which we shall be able to fix. This state capitalism is connected with the state, and the state is the workers (the bolsheviks), the advanced section of the workers, the vanguard. We are the state.

State capitalism is capitalism that we must confine within certain bounds; but we have not yet learned to confine it within those bounds. That is the whole point. And it rests with us to determine what this state capitalism is to be. We have sufficient, quite sufficient political power; we also have sufficient economic resources at our command, but the vanguard of the working class (the bolsheviks). which has been brought to the forefront to directly supervise, to determine the boundaries, to demarcate, to subordinate and not be subordinated itself, lacks sufficient ability for it. All that is needed here is ability, and that is what we do not have.


Joined: 30-06-08
Sep 10 2008 10:33

advocating a state capitalist transition is not the same as being blanquist. I would say that both position implies a statist conception of revolution, but that don't mean they are the same (I'm not defending Blanqui nor Lenin here).

I'm not sure your quotations shows that Marx and Engels were blanquists (is that what you were stating?), only that they viewed Blanqui as the main revolutionnary leader in France at that time, which was quite correct it seams. their texts on proletarian revolution of that times shows some limitations, that's true (and I would say quite normal considering how little experience the proletarian movement had at that time), but that don't make Marx and Engels blanquists.

Dave B
Joined: 3-08-08
Sep 10 2008 17:54
piter wrote:
advocating a state capitalist transition is not the same as being blanquist. I would say that both position implies a statist conception of revolution, but that don't mean they are the same (I'm not defending Blanqui nor Lenin here).

I'm not sure your quotations shows that Marx and Engels were blanquists (is that what you were stating?), only that they viewed Blanqui as the main revolutionnary leader in France at that time, which was quite correct it seams. their texts on proletarian revolution of that times shows some limitations, that's true (and I would say quite normal considering how little experience the proletarian movement had at that time), but that don't make Marx and Engels blanquists.

There is a problem admittedly with the terms Blanquism and Blanquist and even Blanquistic as they mean different things to different people. However it is important as the terms were being bandied about particularly as a criticism of Leninism before during and after the revolution by people who considered themselves Marxists.

So irrespective of who has copyright on the term it is important I think to comprehend what people meant by it. It was also often used interchangeably with Jacobinism.

To make the situation even more complicated the people calling themselves Blanquist in the 1870’s were probably ultra Blanquists and who knows Blanqui may have said concerning them that ‘all I know is that I am not a Blanquist’. As Marx said concerning the impossibilists in their refusal to get sucked into reformism.

As Fred had unquivocally rejected the ‘Blanquism’ of the 1870’s ‘Blanquists’ in;


Which was in circulation and well known from 1905 onwards it was important for the Leninists to distance them from it, which they did by in my opinion by taking a very narrow definition of it.

To make things even more complicated it was an accusation that was even flung at some anarchists.

I would say that there is a core idea that perhaps we could call vanguardism. This would be the idea that masses do not or can not have any clear or precise understanding of what is required for their own emancipation but only some kind of instinct for it or general ‘vaguely felt’ understanding. So what is required is a kind of revolutionary intelligentsia who will lead them to their own emancipation once they obtain their support and show them what to do etc.

So from The Class Struggles In France, Introduction by Frederick Engels

“They appeared applicable, also, to the struggles of the proletariat for its emancipation; all the more applicable, since in 1848 there were few people who had any idea at all of the direction in which this emancipation was to be sought. The proletarian masses themselves, even in Paris, after the victory, were still absolutely in the dark as to the path to be taken. And yet the movement was there, instinctive, spontaneous, irrepressible. Was not this just the situation in which a revolution had to succeed, led certainly by a minority, but this time not in the interests of the minority, but in the real interests of the majority? If, in all the longer revolutionary periods, it was so easy to win the great masses of the people by the merely plausible and delusive views of the minorities thrusting themselves forward, how could they be less susceptible to ideas which were the truest reflex of their economic position, which were nothing but the clear, comprehensible expression of their needs, of needs not yet understood by themselves, but only vaguely felt? “

This was according to Fred the position that ‘everyone’ held at the time and that it was wrong;

“History has proved us, and all who thought like us, wrong”


I do not think that it is too difficult to see similarities to this position and the essential core idea to the following ‘definition’ of ‘Blanquism’, and for that matter Leninism.

1891 Introduction by Frederick Engels, On the 20th Anniversary of the Paris Commune

“and held together by the strict discipline which went with it, they started out from the viewpoint that a relatively small number of resolute, well-organized men would be able, at a given favorable moment, not only seize the helm of state, but also by energetic and relentless action, to keep power until they succeeded in drawing the mass of the people into the revolution and ranging them round the small band of leaders. this conception involved, above all, the strictest dictatorship and centralization of all power in the hands of the new revolutionary government.”


If that is not a working description of Leninism and the Bolshevik experiment I am not sure what is.

You could argue with some validity that given that general concept of say vanguardism. There could be several sub categories that fall within it, eg pure Blanquism, Blanquism, Leninism, Trotskyism, Jacobinism and even possibly some kinds of anarchisms etc . Differentiated perhaps by variations in emphasis on the several aspects of it, ie the degree to which pure conspiracy plays a part.

If you have a fundamental objection to the core idea of ‘vanguardism’ the differences between the various sub-categories would be of much less importance than it would be between the proponents of the various sub-categories themselves.

Fred and Karl clearly by at least say 1875 had totally rejected the core idea, the Paris commune failure was the last straw probably.

This does feed into the principle and valid concern of Bakunin of the development of a political elite or aristocracy.

Stateless Socialism: Anarchism
by Mikhail Bakunin 1814-1876

“however, should take place not from the top down, not according to an ideal plan mapped by a few sages or savants, and not by means of decrees issued by some dictatorial power or even by a National Assembly elected by universal suffrage. Such a system, as I have already said, inevitably would lead to the formation of a governmental aristocracy, that is, a class of persons which has nothing in common with the masses of people; and, to be sure, this class would again turn to exploiting and enthralling the masses under the pretext of common welfare or of the salvation of the State. “


With the Vanguardist approach you do not have to worry about an ‘aristocracy’ developing as they would already be in place. You would just have to trust them not to betray those they were supposed to help.

Here is an interesting view point from an ‘ex-Leninist’ and former leading trot theoretician, James Burnham.

"Both communism and fascism claim, as do all the great social
ideologies to speak for the people as a whole for the future of
mankind. However it is interesting to notice that both provide even
in their public words for an elite or vanguard. The elite is of
course the managers and their political associates the rulers of the
new society.

Naturally the ideologies do not put it this way. As they say it the
elite represents, stands for, the people as a whole and their
interests. Fascism is more blunt about the need for the elite,
for `leadership'. Leninism worked out a more elaborate
rationalisation. The masses according to Leninism are unable to
become sufficiently educated and trained under capitalism to carry in
their own immediate persons the burdens of socialism

The mases are unable to understand in full what their interests are.
Consequently, the transition to socialism will have to be supervised
by an enlightened vanguard which `understands the historic process as
a whole' and can ably and correctly act for the interests of the
masses as a whole; like as Lenin puts it, the general staff of an

Through this notion of an elite or vanguard, these ideologies thus
serve at once the two fold need of justifying the existence of a
ruling class and at the same time providing the masses with an
attitude making easy the acceptance of its rule.

This device is similar to that used by the capitalist ideologies when
they argued that capitalist were necessary in order to carry on
business and that profits for capitalists were identical with
prosperity for the people as a whole…………….The communist and fascist
doctrine is a device, and an effective one, for enlisting the support
of the masses for the interests of the new elite through an apparent
identification of those interests with the interests of the masses

Managerial Revolution,Chapter 13.

Dave B
Joined: 3-08-08
Sep 11 2008 18:21

I am a little bit concerned that some people, Leninists in particular, may think I have taken liberties in including in brackets and italics ‘the Bolsheviks’. And in doing so I may have caused some misunderstanding and confusion as to what ‘workers’ and ‘the proletariat’ actually are.

Fortunately Maximilien Lenin cleared this point up quite adequately I think, also in 1922, in the same tract in fact.

Eleventh Congress Of The R.C.P.(B.)
March 27-April 2, 1922

"Very often the word "workers" is taken to mean the factory
proletariat. But it does not mean that at all. During the war people
who were by no means proletarians went into the factories; they went
into the factories to dodge the war. Are the social and economic
conditions in our country today such as to induce real proletarians
to go into the factories? No.

It would be true according to Marx; but Marx did not write about
Russia; he wrote about capitalism as a whole, beginning with the
fifteenth century. It held true over a period of six hundred years,
but it is not true for present-day Russia. Very often those who go
into the factories are not proletarians; they are casual elements of
every description."


‘Ignorance is strength’, as they say.

We can only guess I suppose where the ‘real proletarians’ were induced to go, the Bolshevik party perhaps?

No doubt that I am a ‘casual element’ myself and not a ‘real proletarian’.

By way of contrast we have from Engels to Otto Von Boenigk, In Breslau, August 21, 1890, although it is written in Fred’s not uncommon flippant and sarcastic style.

“I cannot see how you can speak of the ignorance of the masses in Germany after the brilliant evidence of political maturity shown by the workers in their victorious struggle against the Anti-Socialist Law. The patronizing and errant lecturing of our so-called intellectuals seems to me a far greater impediment. We are still in need of technicians, agronomists, engineers, chemists, architects, etc., it is true,…………..

The biggest obstacle are the small peasants and the importunate super-clever intellectuals who always think they know everything so much the better, the less they understand it………….

who do not suspect how much they still have to learn from the workers... “


In my opinion this short letter raises an issue that I think is not often understood from their normal publicised material and that can only be gleaned from this kind of personal correspondence and it concerns the function of the ‘state’ after the revolution.

They realised I think that in their time that most of the specialised essential skills required to run an advanced industrial society where held by the capitalist class themselves. Even when it came to practical skills like engineering as opposed to ‘mechanics’ etc the people who so happened to possess them were often taken into partnership in capitalist concerns and thus became capitalist themselves.

Also at that time a significant section of the capitalist class were ‘working capitalists’ with the necessary skills to organise production etc.

I think that they thought 100 years ago that there would need to be some sort of coercive apparatus to get these people, that they would need to ‘participate’ in a socialist society and production, to work.

Although they sensibly realised that eventually all the essential functions of running a advanced industrial society would be proletarianised, which is pretty much the situation we are in now.

The problem that they had with the peasants was that they thought that all or most of them were only interested in owning and working their own little patch of land and trading with the rest of the world their produce. Like little shopkeepers or the Ingalls of the ‘Little House On The Prairie Fame’. In fact many peasants flocked to the US and elsewhere to do just that.

Capitalism on the other hand trained workers, in a way, into the idea and the concept of socialised and co-operative production.

Incidentally there was some discussion as to whether some sections of peasant ‘production’ and those involved in it in Russia that was communal could pass straight from that ‘consciousness’ to a socialist one.

I hope that the following link is relevant to that, without re-reading it.