Jan Waclaw Machajski: A radical critic of the Russian intelligensia and socialism - Marshall S. Shatz

Jan Waclaw Machajski: A radical critic of the Russian intelligensia and socialism - Marshall S. Shatz

A biography of Polish-born Jan Waclaw Machajski and account of his radical critique of the role of the intelligentsia in Soviet Russia's political life which was known as Makhaevism.

It took Mama and Galya two weeks to walk to Kiev [in 1919]. They deliberately dressed to look like beggars; in actual fact, this is what they were. Galya went without glasses, and walked holding on to Mama's shoulder, like a blind woman. No one would have believed them to be poor if Galya had worn her glasses. Everyone treated people in glasses suspiciously in those violent times. They thought them cunning enemies, and hated them bitterly. It is amazing that this distrust of people wearing glasses has persisted up to the present time.

- Konstantin Paustovsky,
The Story of a Life

Text from Class against Class


Sep 24 2010 00:13

Machajski has never enjoyed a good press among intellectuals for obvious reasons. A particularly vicious attack on his work occurs in an article by Ernest Haberkern, “Machajsky A Rightfully Forgotten Prophet” , Telos 71 (Spring 1987), pp. 111-128. Haberken critiques Shatz’s writings on Machajski (not his book, which came out later, but articles in academic journals), and Alexandre Skirda’s compilation of Machajsky’s writings “Le Socialisme des Intellectuels”.

Haberken accuses Machajski of supporting the Black Hundreds (a Russian proto-fascist movement of the early 20th century) and suggests he may have been antisemitic like the Black Hundreds. Haberken bases his accusation on a pamphlet by Machajski entitled “Burzhuaznaya Revolutsia” (The Bourgeois Revolution). But Haberken did not have access to this publication, and his knowledge of it is based mainly on a Soviet book “Makhaevshchina” by L. Syrkin (Moscow, 1931).

“Burzhuaznaya Revolutsia” was not included in the published collection of Machajski’s writings. Skirda published about 20 pages of the pamphlet without mentioning the Black Hundreds, which allows Haberken to accuse him of bowdlerizing Machajski. Haberken also suggested Machajski may have bowdlerized his own writings. Shatz’s discussion of the problem can be found about half way through Chapter 4 of his book, where he discusses Machajski’s support of the Black Hundreds but denies he was antisemitic.

Machajski is far from being the only theorist of the “new class” to be tarred with antisemitism (see Bruno Rizzi) but without access to the pamphlet in question (Machajski’s pamphlets are book-length) it is hard to arrive at a judgement.