Rudolf Rocker's accusations against Marx in Marx and Anarchism

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Vlad The Inhaler's picture
Vlad The Inhaler
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Nov 17 2017 17:32
Rudolf Rocker's accusations against Marx in Marx and Anarchism

I'd never read the article/pamphlet Marx and Anarchism by Rduolf Rocker before, I'd never even heard of it until I read a reference to it in the Anarchist FAQ appendix: Reply to errors and distortions in David McNally's pamphlet "Socialism from Below". I rooted out the document at link

In this piece of writing Rocker makes a number of accusations against Marx, not the least of which is Rocker's rejection of Marx's metaphysics (otherwise known as the widely accepted laws of Historical Materialism & the Labour theory of Value), but what really caught my attention is Rocker's accusation that Marx was not an original or contributory figure in the milieu of political economy and revolutionary politics.

Rocker argues that Marx & Engels copied the Communist Manifesto wholesale from Victor Considerant's Manifesto of Democracy. I've been unable to find a copy of said work but would be interested in Libcom'ers thoughts. Was Rocker off his Rocker or has Marx's contribution all these years been dramatically overstated?

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Nov 18 2017 09:49

Yes, the structural and stylistic similarities between Considerant's and M-E's Manifestos are considerable (no pun intended). This is an older observation that predates Rocker's pamphlet by a few decades, I think. However, Considerant's manifesto is a defense of a the reconciliation of classes based on democratic ideals (embedded within a vision of constitutional monarchy in France), while M-E's work is famously a celebration of class struggle, revolution, the necessity of a complete overthrow of the present order, and the abolition of classes. A rather important difference, I'd say. The dashing young Stalin responds to the accusation of plagiarism, with his usual "style", in "Anarchism or Socialism?" (1907).

Of course Marx and Engels copied a lot from the earlier authors. In this respect, I think the academic or scholarly culture of the 19th century (and before) was quite different than today; much of what is now considered plagiarism was then a normal modus operandi of authors (this applies even to classics like Smith's Wealth of Nations). If you look at The German Ideology (an unpublished manuscript by M and E, roughly from the time of the Manifesto), some passages look like they're straight out of Adam Ferguson, down to paragraph structure (there's an excellent 2009 paper in German about this by an author called Danga Vileisis, unfortunately not online).

However, I'd say Marx's key contribution is the critique of political economy, as contained in Capital, Vol. 1 and the related unpublished manuscripts. In this field, he of course had many important predecessors (classical political economy, the Ricardian socialists, and to a lesser extent, Proudhon), but it is not difficult to show that the theory as a whole is an original contribution unmatched by any of the predecessors or any of the left critics, socialist or anarchist. (Which is also why most class struggle anarchists accept Marx's critique, there's simply no match for that in the anarchist tradition.)

ajjohnstone
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Nov 18 2017 11:29
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the academic or scholarly culture of the 19th century (and before) was quite different than today; much of what is now considered plagiarism was then a normal modus operandi of authors

I knew my copy and paste was from a rich tradition... smile

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Dec 10 2017 18:22
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while M-E's work is famously a celebration of class struggle, revolution, the necessity of a complete overthrow of the present order, and the abolition of classes.

Well, that's the reputation its gained now but most of the text of the manifesto in regards to political activity advocates communists collaborating with other political factions in several countries and contains a 10 point program for the building of a national economy, most of its comments on internationalism and class abolition are pretty sparse.

There is a reason why so many people think Marxism is state control and nationalisation and usually leads to a citation from the Manifesto.

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Dec 10 2017 18:40
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Well, that's the reputation its gained now but most of the text of the manifesto in regards to political activity advocates communists collaborating with other political factions in several countries and contains a 10 point program for the building of a national economy, most of its comments on internationalism and class abolition are pretty sparse.

I think that is a pretty odd analysis of the book. The first chapters is mostly an analysis of the development of capitalism and the proletariat and the connections between the development of capitalism and the struggle against it, the arguments that is used against the abolition of private property, why other "socialist" factions are wrong and so on. Marx and Engels even write in their 1872 preface that the ten point program isn't really relevant anymore. The people who get the interpretation that it's about nationalization have either not actually read the manifesto, or they read it through an anarchist or stalinist lens.

The manifesto is just saying that the communists aren't separate form the proletarians and therefore don't form their own party separate from the workers party.

To quote on the formation of the political party,

Quote:
Now and then the workers are victorious, but only for a time. The real fruit of their battles lies, not in the immediate result, but in the ever expanding union of the workers. This union is helped on by the improved means of communication that are created by modern industry, and that place the workers of different localities in contact with one another. It was just this contact that was needed to centralise the numerous local struggles, all of the same character, into one national struggle between classes. But every class struggle is a political struggle. And that union, to attain which the burghers of the Middle Ages, with their miserable highways, required centuries, the modern proletarian, thanks to railways, achieve in a few years.

This organisation of the proletarians into a class, and, consequently into a political party, is continually being upset again by the competition between the workers themselves. But it ever rises up again, stronger, firmer, mightier. It compels legislative recognition of particular interests of the workers, by taking advantage of the divisions among the bourgeoisie itself. Thus, the ten-hours’ bill in England was carried.

Then again to quote the part about not creating a party separate from the other workers parties, they also bring up the abolition of private property, which in effect is the abolition of classes.

Quote:
In what relation do the Communists stand to the proletarians as a whole?

The Communists do not form a separate party opposed to the other working-class parties.

They have no interests separate and apart from those of the proletariat as a whole.

They do not set up any sectarian principles of their own, by which to shape and mould the proletarian movement.

The Communists are distinguished from the other working-class parties by this only: 1. In the national struggles of the proletarians of the different countries, they point out and bring to the front the common interests of the entire proletariat, independently of all nationality. 2. In the various stages of development which the struggle of the working class against the bourgeoisie has to pass through, they always and everywhere represent the interests of the movement as a whole.

The Communists, therefore, are on the one hand, practically, the most advanced and resolute section of the working-class parties of every country, that section which pushes forward all others; on the other hand, theoretically, they have over the great mass of the proletariat the advantage of clearly understanding the line of march, the conditions, and the ultimate general results of the proletarian movement.

The immediate aim of the Communists is the same as that of all other proletarian parties: formation of the proletariat into a class, overthrow of the bourgeois supremacy, conquest of political power by the proletariat.

The theoretical conclusions of the Communists are in no way based on ideas or principles that have been invented, or discovered, by this or that would-be universal reformer.

They merely express, in general terms, actual relations springing from an existing class struggle, from a historical movement going on under our very eyes. The abolition of existing property relations is not at all a distinctive feature of communism.

[...]

The distinguishing feature of Communism is not the abolition of property generally, but the abolition of bourgeois property. But modern bourgeois private property is the final and most complete expression of the system of producing and appropriating products, that is based on class antagonisms, on the exploitation of the many by the few.

In this sense, the theory of the Communists may be summed up in the single sentence: Abolition of private property.

And on the ten point program from the 1872 preface,

Quote:
However much that state of things may have altered during the last twenty-five years, the general principles laid down in the Manifesto are, on the whole, as correct today as ever. Here and there, some detail might be improved. The practical application of the principles will depend, as the Manifesto itself states, everywhere and at all times, on the historical conditions for the time being existing, and, for that reason, no special stress is laid on the revolutionary measures proposed at the end of Section II. That passage would, in many respects, be very differently worded today. In view of the gigantic strides of Modern Industry since 1848, and of the accompanying improved and extended organization of the working class, in view of the practical experience gained, first in the February Revolution, and then, still more, in the Paris Commune, where the proletariat for the first time held political power for two whole months, this programme has in some details been antiquated. One thing especially was proved by the Commune, viz., that “the working class cannot simply lay hold of the ready-made state machinery, and wield it for its own purposes.”
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Dec 11 2017 05:49

Reddebrek, what I meant was that unlike Considerant, M-E are clearly hostile to class collaboration and to any idea of achieving social peace in capitalism. I agree that there are important flaws in the Manifesto and this was acknowledged by the authors themselves.

Anarcho
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Dec 11 2017 11:53

Kropotkin made similar points (in 1912 French edition of Modern Science and Anarchy, which is out -- finally! -- in full English-translation next year! thanks to AK Press). He was basing his comments on work by Warlaam Tcherkesoff -- such as Pages of Socialist History.

I would not be surprised if they did borrow from Considerant -- Marx "borrowed" from others, not least Proudhon, without acknowledgement (often, as with Proudhon, misrepresenting their ideas).

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Dec 11 2017 11:58
comrade_emma wrote:
Marx and Engels even write in their 1872 preface that the ten point program isn't really relevant anymore. The people who get the interpretation that it's about nationalization have either not actually read the manifesto, or they read it through an anarchist or stalinist lens.

They did not quite say that in 1872 -- they suggested that some elements of it may need revision.

As for being about nationalisation, it most certainly was. As can be seen not only from the text itself but from articles written around the same time. That was how it was read by Marx's followers -- during his lifetime and after.

Those who read it otherwise have always been in a very small minority -- not least because the text is so clearly about nationalisation.

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Dec 11 2017 13:48

I think Cherkesov/Cherkezishvili was the first who brought up the plagiarism issue.

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Dec 11 2017 15:36
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They did not quite say that in 1872 -- they suggested that some elements of it may need revision.

I did quote if further down, and they do mention that last part of Section II needs to be redone specifically but that the foundations of the books are still valid.

Quote:
As for being about nationalisation, it most certainly was. As can be seen not only from the text itself but from articles written around the same time. That was how it was read by Marx's followers -- during his lifetime and after.

I mean, that depends on what you mean with nationalisation. Marx and Engels were for the dictatorship of the proletariat taking over industries and so on but they weren't for the bourgeois state owning everything. They didn't develop much on it in the manifesto but Engels wrote later in Anti-Düring that nationalisation is the last refugee of the bourgeois when they can't manage an industry.