A critique of the German social democratic program - Mikhail Bakunin

Mikhail Bakunin.

Bakunin makes an early and powerful critique of the statist, reformist, class-collaborationist and counter-revolutionary tendencies of emerging social democracy.

Bakunin's essay refutes the claims made by some Marxists, then and now, that early social democracy played a largely progressive role within the working class movement. In this particular case, Bakunin's comments are also far more radical than anything Marx and Engels were willing to say publicly at the time on the subject.
"...all historical experience shows that an alliance concluded between two different parties always benefits the more backward - the more advanced party is inevitably weakened because the alliance diminishes and distorts its programme and destroys its moral strength and self-confidence; whereas when a backward party lies, it always finds itself closer than ever to its own truth ... I have no hesitation in saying that all the Marxist flirtations with bourgeois radicalism - reformist or revolutionary - can have no other outcome than the demoralization and disorganization of the nascent power of the proletariat, and therefore the further consolidation of the power of the bourgeoisie." (Bakunin, 1870s.)

Text from: Bakunin on Anarchism, Black Rose Books, translated and edited by Sam Dolgoff, 1971.

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A Critique of the German Social Democratic Program
(1870, Michael Bakunin)

Let us examine the situation in countries outside France where the socialist movement has become a real power... The German Social-Democratic Workers party (S.D.W.P.) and the General Association of German Workers (G.A.G.W.), founded by Ferdinand Lassalle, are both socialist in the sense that they want to alter the relations between capital and labor in a socialist manner [abolish capitalism]. The Lassalleans as well as the Eisenach party [named after the congress held in Eisenach, August 7-9, 1869] agree fully that in order to effect this change, it will be absolutely necessary first to reform the State, and if this cannot be done by widespread propaganda and a legal peaceful labor movement, then the State will have to be reformed by force, i.e., by a political revolution.

All the German socialists believe that the political revolution must precede the Social Revolution. This is a fatal error. For any revolution made before a social revolution will necessarily be a bourgeois revolution – which can lead only to bourgeois socialism – a new, more efficient, more cleverly concealed form of the exploitation of the proletariat by the bourgeoisie. [By “bourgeois socialism”, Bakunin as well as Marx meant a partnership between capital and labor, the “public” and the State. – It was introduced in Germany by Bismarck and advocated in our times by right-wing democratic socialists, “enlightened capitalists.” and liberals in general.]

This false principle – the idea that a political revolution must precede a social revolution – is, in effect, an open invitation to all the German bourgeois liberal politicians to infiltrate the S.D.W.P. And this party was on many occasions pressured by its leaders – not by the radical-minded rank and file members – to fraternize with the bourgeois democrats of the Volkspartei (People’s Party), an opportunist party concerned only with politics and virulently opposed to the principles of socialism. This hostility was amply demonstrated by the vicious attacks of its patriotic orators and official journals against the revolutionary socialists of Vienna.

These onslaughts against revolutionary socialism aroused the indignation and opposition of almost all the Germans and seriously embarrassed Liebknecht and the other leaders of the S.D.W.P. They wanted to calm the workers and thus stay in control of the German labor movement and, at the same time, remain on friendly terms with the leaders of the bourgeois democrats of the Volkspartei, who soon realized that they had made a serious tactical error by antagonizing the German labor movement without whose support they could not hope to attain political power.

In this respect the Volkspartei followed the tradition of the bourgeoisie never to make a revolution by themselves. Their tactics, however ingeniously applied, are always based on this principle: to enlist the powerful help of the people in making a political revolution but to reap the benefit for themselves. It was this sort of consideration which induced the Volkspartei to reverse its antisocialist stand and proclaim that it too, is now a socialist party... After a year of negotiations, the top leaders of the workers’ and the bourgeois parties adopted the famous Eisenach Program and formed a single part, retaining the name S.D.W.P. This program is really a strange hybrid of the revolutionary program of the International Workingmen’s Association (the International) and the well-known opportunistic program of the bourgeois democracy...

Article 1 of the program is in fact contradictory to the fundamental policy and spirit of the International. The S.D.W.P. wants to institute a free People’s State. But the words free and People’s are annulled and rendered meaningless by the word State; the name International implies the negation of the State. Are the framers of the program talking about an international or universal state, or do they intend to set up only a state embracing all the countries of Western Europe – England, France, Germany, the Scandinavian countries, Holland, Switzerland, Spain, Portugal, and the Slavic nations subjected to Austria? No. Their political stomachs cannot digest so many countries at one time. With a passion they do not even attempt to conceal, the social democrats proclaim that they want to erect the great pan-Germanic fatherland. And this is why the only aim of the S.D.W.P., the construction of an all-German state, is the very first article of their program. They are above all German patriots.

Instead of dedicating themselves to the creation of the all-German State, the German workers should join their exploited brothers of the entire world in defense of their mutual economic and social interests; the labor movement of each country must be based solely on the principle of international solidarity... If, in case of conflict between two states, the workers would act in accordance with Article 1 of the social-democratic program, they would, against their better inclinations, be joining their own bourgeoisie against their fellow workers in a foreign country. They would thereby sacrifice the international solidarity of the workers to the national patriotism of the State. This is exactly what the German workers are now doing in the Franco-Prussian War. As long as the German workers seek to set up a national state – even the freest People’s State – they will inevitably and utterly sacrifice the freedom of the people to the glory of the State, socialism to politics, justice and international brotherhood to patriotism. It is impossible to go in two different directions at the same time. Socialism and social revolution involve the destruction of the State: – consequently, those who want a state must sacrifice the economic emancipation of the masses to the political monopoly of a privileged party.

The S.D.W.P. would sacrifice the economic, and with it, the political emancipation of the proletariat – or more correctly said, its emancipation from politics and the State – to the triumph of bourgeois democracy. This follows plainly from the second and third articles of the social-democratic program. The first three clauses of Article 2 conform in every respect to the socialist principles of the International: the abolition of capitalism; full political and social equality; every worker to receive the full product of his labor. But the fourth clause, by declaring that political emancipation is the preliminary condition for the economic emancipation of the working class, that the solution of the social question is possible only in a democratic state, nullifies these principles and makes it impossible to put them into practice. The fourth clause amounts to saying:

“Workers, you are slaves, victims of capitalist society. Do you want to free yourself from this economic straitjacket? Of course you do, and you are absolutely right. But to attain your just demands, you must first help us make the political revolution. Afterwards, we will help you make the Social Revolution. Let us first, with your strength, erect the democratic State, a good democratic State, as in Switzerland: and then we promise to give you the same benefits that the Swiss workers now enjoy... . (Witness the strikes in Basel and Geneva, ruthlessly suppressed by the bourgeoisie.)"

To convince yourself that this incredible delusion accurately reflects the tendencies and spirit of German social democracy, you have but to examine Article 3, which lists all the immediate and proximate goals to be advanced in the party’s legal and peaceful propaganda and election campaigns. These demands merely duplicate the familiar program of the bourgeois democrats: universal suffrage with direct legislation by the people; abolition of all political privileges; replacement of the permanent standing army by the volunteers’ and citizens’ militias; separation of Church from State, and the schools from the Church; free and compulsory elementary education; freedom of the press, assembly, and association; and replacement of all indirect taxation by a single, direct, and progressively higher income tax based on earnings.

Does not this program prove that the social democrats are interested in the exclusively political reform of the institutions and laws of the State, and that for them socialism is but an empty dream, which may at best be realized in the distant future?

Were it not for the fact that the true aspirations and radical sentiments of its members, the German workers, go much further than this program, would we not be justified in saying that the S.D.W.P. was created for the sole purpose of using the working masses as the unconscious tool to promote the political ambitious of the German bourgeois democrats?

There are only two planks in this program which free-enterprise capitalists will dislike. The first appears in the latter half of clause 8, Article 3; it demands establishment of a normal working day (limitation of hours), abolition of child labor, and limitation of women’s work; measures which make the free enterprisers shudder. As passionate lovers of all freedom which they can use to their advantage, they demand the unlimited right to exploit the proletariat and bitterly resent state interference. However, the poor capitalists have fallen upon evil days. They have been forced to accept state intervention even in England, which is by no stretch of the imagination a socialist society.

The other plank – clause 10, Article 3 – is even more important and socialistic. It demands state help, protection, and credit for workers’ cooperatives, particularly producers’ cooperatives, with all necessary guarantees, i.e., freedom to expand. Free enterprise is not afraid of successful competition from workers’ cooperatives because the capitalists know that workers, with their meager incomes, will never by themselves be able to accumulate enough capital to match the immense resources of the employing class ... but the tables will be turned when the workers’ cooperatives, backed by the power and well-nigh unlimited credit of the State, begin to fight and gradually absorb both private and corporate capital (industrial and commercial). For the capitalist will in fact be competing with the State, and the State is, of course, the most powerful of all capitalists. [It will be seen from the context of the next paragraph that Bakunin regards state subsidy of workers’ cooperatives as part of the transition from capitalism to state socialism.]

Labor employed by the State – such is the fundamental, principle of authoritarian communism, of state socialism. The State, having become the sole proprietor – at the end of a period of transition necessary for allowing society to pass, without too great dislocation, from the present organization of bourgeois privilege to the future organization of official equality for all – the State will then become the only banker, capitalist, organizer, and director of all national labor, and the distributor of all its products. Such is the ideal, the fundamental principle of modern communism.

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Comments

Spikymike
Jun 11 2014 15:52

As the introduction points out Bakunin was more upfront than Marx, despite some shared views, in his criticism of the early German Social Democratic Party, as some others from the marxist influenced tradition have come to accept. See for instance:
http://www.gci-icg.org/english/freepopstate.htm one of the better GCI texts which examines some of the strengths and weaknesses of the ideas of both these protaganists in the subsequent Anarchist/Marxist divide we are now, in changed circumstances, hopefully evolving beyond.

Reddebrek
Aug 4 2017 06:31

I read this and the Marx's critique of the Gotha program back to back, last week, I think this is the better of the two, It gets a bit deeper. One thing I did notice that was odd is that Engels claims that the decision to write the criticism was motivated by concern that Bakunin would publicly accuse them both of heavily influencing the drafting of the program but he doesn't mention them at all here and this appears to have been written five years before Marx's original letter on the subject.

Did Bakunin write more on this subject that did accuse Marx and Engels of being responsible for the Gotha program or the direction of the Social Democrats in the 1870's?

Noa Rodman
Aug 4 2017 12:08

This doesn't seem to be a critique of the Gotha program (1875), but of an earlier one.

FYI, before programs are adopted, it's normal that they're criticised by party members. For example the draft of the Gotha program was criticised in the pages of Der Volksstaat, to which a young Kautsky responded in its defense (see last comment here).

Reddebrek
Aug 4 2017 13:34

Yes this is an early proposal though most of the points Bakunin singles out made it into to Gotha program in some form. Marx and Engels criticised several of the same articles five years later.

And my limited German is enough to confirm the part about the free people's state made it in there
https://www.marxists.org/deutsch/geschichte/deutsch/spd/1875/gotha.htm as did a contradictory statement about internationalism.

It may well be normal Noa but that isn't the reason Engels gave in his foreword or in his letter to Bebel that preceded the Gotha criticisms publication. Quite the contrary in fact, Engels stresses the unusual circumstances that prompted him and Marx's decision to write their critical remarks. Then there's the really emotional and bitter tone Marx uses throughout and the allegation that Liebknecht withheld the details of the draft until the last moment from them both, well, it doesn't seem like that was a simple criticism exercise by the German Social Democrats.

Noa Rodman
Aug 4 2017 17:29

Well Liebknecht may not have alerted M&E to the publication of the Gotha draft, but they still had time to respond before its adoption (sending their critique to the leaders). I can't compare the draft (which was the target of critique) with the actual final adopted version, but some changes were made.

On Bakunin's critique here of this earlier (apparently Eisenach) program:

Bakunin wrote:
Instead of dedicating themselves to the creation of the all-German State, the German workers should join their exploited brothers of the entire world in defense of their mutual economic and social interests; the labor movement of each country must be based solely on the principle of international solidarity... If, in case of conflict between two states, the workers would act in accordance with Article 1 of the social-democratic program, they would, against their better inclinations, be joining their own bourgeoisie against their fellow workers in a foreign country. They would thereby sacrifice the international solidarity of the workers to the national patriotism of the State. This is exactly what the German workers are now doing in the Franco-Prussian War.

Liebknecht and Bebel opposed the war. Also, Bakunin was very anti-German so he might have an axe to grind here.

Red Marriott
Aug 4 2017 23:23

Bakunin was presumably commenting on chauvinistic remarks like this by Marx on the Franco-Prussian war;

Marx wrote:
The French need a thrashing. If the Prussians win, the centralisation of the state power will be useful for the centralisation of the German working class. German predominance would also transfer the centre of gravity of the workers' movement in Western Europe from France to Germany, and one has only to compare the movement in the two countries from 1866 till now to see that the German working class is superior to the French both theoretically and organisationally. Their predominance over the French on the world stage would also mean the predominance of our theory over Proudhon's, etc. https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1870/letters/70_07_20.htm

This letter was apparently quoted in an article in the German Social Democratic paper, the Volksstaat, on September 11th 1870 - a few weeks after the war began.

Noa Rodman
Aug 5 2017 09:46

Marx apparently reminded Liebknecht about the objectively positive result of German centralisation, but (I think obviously) didn't disapprove of Liebknecht's stance, and later Engels appreciatively reminded Bebel of it in 1875 to contrast it with the inferior Gotha draft. On the other hand, Bakunin's hatred for Germans dates before that, expressed e.g. in his confession to the Tsar (but that part isn't online apparently), see e.g. Carr's Bakunin, p. 212. Also this: "[Bakunin] recollected that once, when a German beggar came up to him to solicit alms, he refrained with difficulty from boxing his ears."

Red Marriott
Aug 5 2017 14:49

No matter how anyone tries to excuse it - for the German Social Democrats to print such comments during the war was hardly indicative of encouraging an internationalist stance among the working class - but rather of encouraging national chauvinism; later brought to full ghastly bloom in German Social Democrats voting for war credits in WWI. Whatever his other faults, Bakunin's position in this case is far superior;

Quote:
... the German workers should join their exploited brothers of the entire world in defense of their mutual economic and social interests; the labor movement of each country must be based solely on the principle of international solidarity...

Also worth noting that, if one sees any validity in playing the great predictive overseer of history a la Marx - that the most significant actual outcome of the Franco-Prussian war for the working class movement was (apart from mutual slaughter) the Paris Commune. Maybe the defeat of the Commune - in repessing the French workers - was all for the ultimate historical good/necessity as it would presumably help ensure Marx's desire that "the German working class is superior to the French both theoretically and organisationally" and that 'his theory would be dominant'? Yet it was the French Commune who, as Marx soon acknowledged, made "the first revolution in which the working class was openly acknowledged as the only class capable of social initiative".

Noa Rodman
Aug 5 2017 16:55

What's your source that the passage in this letter of Marx to Engels was even printed though?

In any case, it's used as strongest evidence of Marx's supposed pro-Prussianism. For a refutation see Draper's Karl Marx’s Theory of Revolution volume 5 (just do a search for the phrase "The French need a thrashing" on Google books).

Red Marriott
Aug 5 2017 18:50
Quote:
What's your source that the passage in this letter of Marx to Engels was even printed though?

It's mentioned by Lehning; p284, ftnte 22 - Michael Bakunin - Selected Writings - ed A. Lehning, 1973.

It seems unlikely that Bakunin would've been given private access to Marx's letter. So he presumably read it when it was quoted in the Volksstaat newspaper (I don't see any archive online) - he comments in Statism & Anarchy;

Quote:
"We cannot forget the article that appeared in September 1870 in the Volksstaat blatantly displaying pan-German exultation. It began with the following words: "Thanks to the victories won by the German army, the historical initiative has finally passed from France to Germany; we Germans..."
Noa Rodman
Aug 5 2017 20:01

The actual passage comes from this letter:
Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels to the Brunswick Committee of the Social-Democratic Workers’ Party of Germany, approximately 1 September 1870

Quote:
This war has shifted the centre of gravity of the working-class movement on the Continent from France to Germany. This places greater responsibility upon the German working class.

It was quoted by the Brunswick manifesto of 5 September (and this was reprinted in the Volksstaat on 11 September where Bakunin read it).

Stekloff wrote:
On September 5th, the Brunswick committee issued a manifesto, penned by Marx [actually just quoting a passage from that M&E letter – Noa], addressed to the German workers. These were reminded that the war had been undertaken for defensive purposes only. Now that Napoleon III. had been deposed, it was necessary to make an honourable peace with the French Republic. Working-class demonstrations must be organised throughout Germany to protest against the severance of Alsace and Lorraine from France.[239] On September 9th, the members of the committee were arrested; arrests of social democrats in other German towns soon followed; Bebel and Wilhelm Liebknecht were tried for high treason, and were sentenced to two years confinement in a fortress. On September 9th, also, the General Council issued a manifesto to all the branches of the International, pointing out how disastrous would be the dismemberment of France by the victorious Prussian reactionaries, and summoning the internationalists to action.

Evidently the Prussian authorities did not regard it as an example of Pro-Prussian chauvinism.

Pennoid
Aug 5 2017 21:21

It might be taken to mean (if the reader was at all familiar with the context) that the French Military needed a good thrashing.

Indeed I wonder why Marx would spend so much time publicly and privately defending the commune and the workers in it (in the press); the same workers he is here alleging need a thrashing. Unless of course he meant something else!

Red Marriott
Aug 6 2017 00:24
Quote:
Indeed I wonder why Marx would spend so much time publicly and privately defending the commune and the workers in it (in the press); the same workers he is here alleging need a thrashing. Unless of course he meant something else!

I don’t see anyone alleging that here. But Marx clearly thought the French nation generally needed "a thrashing", believing Germany national superiority would ensure the dominance of German social democracy over the workers movement and the dominance of his theory – he states this quite clearly in the quote I cited above.

But, despite his private judgements, bias and some vain ambition, the emergence of the Commune obliged him, with his leading role in the 1st International, to support it. And to keep his comments on German social democratic “superiority” largely out of the public domain. Marx certainly “meant something else” but history didn’t work out quite like he "meant" – the very existence of the French Commune challenged his assessment of Germany as supposed/desired centre of proletarian “superiority”. And, in the long term, to the extent that German social democracy became a dominant model for the workers movement it was as a reformist obstacle to a revolutionary movement: as their patriotic role in WWI and in crushing the German revolution proved. In the article above Bakunin is pointing out that such reformism was already present in 1870; he counterposes that with a call for workers' internationalist solidarity.

Noa Rodman
Aug 6 2017 09:48

It wasn't so much the war directly, as Germany's industrial development that insured "the dominance of German social democracy over the workers movement and the dominance of his theory". Bebel explained this very well (here) apropos the German translation of Lissagaray's book on the history of the commune. I'm sure Marx/Engels fully agreed with the essentials of Bebel's analysis. In Germany, unlike in France, the petty-bourgeoisie (/simple commodity producers), were economically destroyed, so Proudhonism (or petty-bourgeois politics) could gain little influence there.

Red Marriott
Aug 6 2017 10:19
Quote:
It wasn't so much the war directly, as Germany's industrial development that insured "the dominance of German social democracy over the workers movement and the dominance of his theory".

But that clearly isn't what Marx actually said in his letter to Engels;

Marx wrote:
The French need a thrashing. If the Prussians win, the centralisation of the state power will be useful for the centralisation of the German working class. German predominance would also transfer the centre of gravity of the workers' movement in Western Europe from France to Germany

Nor is it apparently what the Volksstaat article said. Your repeated convoluted attempts to gloss over Marx's arrogance and to perpetuate his supposed papal infallibility don't convince me. Such attitudes show how hierarchical relations of leader/led are embedded within leninist/social democratic ideology. Considering the sorry historical consequences of the patriotism and reformism of German social democracy we can see much truth in Bakunin's criticisms and too much tolerance in the attitude of Marx & co.

Noa Rodman
Aug 6 2017 12:08
Quote:
But that clearly isn't what Marx actually said in his letter to Engels;

No, but alongside the economic explanation for the shift of gravity from France to Germany, Marx's brief political assessment here of national centralisation, shows we're in the domain of objective analysis. And to predict that a greater responsibility will rest on the German working class, is not the same as predicting that it will prove to be up to the task. Marx's constant worry about the theoretical/political level of the German party should be enough to show that. In the letter to the Brunswick committee he also predicted that unless it compels the German government's renouncement of annexation, a French-Russian alliance would form, and indeed Alsace-Lorraine was a cause for the world war.

Bakunin's criticism may be correct, but the specific passage he referred to, doesn't quality as evidence. And like I said, his criticism is hardly surprising given his loathsomeness of Germans, and possibly rests on a conservative (/bourgeois liberal) belief in the Teutons' supposedly inherently militarist nature.

Pennoid
Aug 6 2017 23:21

Yeah, and Marx would have gotten away with World War 1 if it hadn't of been for you meddling kids!

Reddebrek
Aug 6 2017 17:30
Noa Rodman wrote:
Well Liebknecht may not have alerted M&E to the publication of the Gotha draft, but they still had time to respond before its adoption (sending their critique to the leaders). I can't compare the draft (which was the target of critique) with the actual final adopted version, but some changes were made.

No one is disputing that they managed to get a hold of the details some how. But in his letter to Bebel, Engels does accuse Liebknecht of not only attempting to sabotage them by not only refusing to give them a draft but also lying to other SPD leaders about giving both of them all the information they would need.

Quote:
On Bakunin's critique here of this earlier (apparently Eisenach) program:

Not quite Bakunin makes it clear he's talking about the whole current of German social Democracy including the Lassalleans who weren't part of the Eisenach group until the Gotha conference.

Bakunin wrote:
Instead of dedicating themselves to the creation of the all-German State, the German workers should join their exploited brothers of the entire world in defense of their mutual economic and social interests; the labor movement of each country must be based solely on the principle of international solidarity... If, in case of conflict between two states, the workers would act in accordance with Article 1 of the social-democratic program, they would, against their better inclinations, be joining their own bourgeoisie against their fellow workers in a foreign country. They would thereby sacrifice the international solidarity of the workers to the national patriotism of the State. This is exactly what the German workers are now doing in the Franco-Prussian War.

[qoute]Liebknecht and Bebel opposed the war. Also, Bakunin was very anti-German so he might have an axe to grind here.

Ok? That doesn't have any bearing on what Bakunin is saying here though. He's criticising the tactic of organising nationally and its tendency to forge links between classes within a nation.Its not saying Bebel and Liebknecht personally are war mongers, nor is it saying every single member of the Social Democratic Current is pro war. It's saying that this strategy is flawed based on objective circumstances like international politics.

And if you think this quoted passage is in any way anti German when the reference is used as an example of what Bakunin thought was a universal phenomena of national organising then I don't really trust your judgement here.

It seems like your trying to discredit a critique via character assassination.

Noa Rodman
Aug 6 2017 20:43
Reddebrek wrote:
But in his letter to Bebel, Engels does accuse Liebknecht of not only attempting to sabotage them by not only refusing to give them a draft but also lying to other SPD leaders about giving both of them all the information they would need.

But the draft was published is what I'm saying, as it was discussed in the pages of the Volksstaat prior to the Gotha conference.

Quote:
Not quite Bakunin makes it clear he's talking about the whole current of German social Democracy including the Lassalleans who weren't part of the Eisenach group until the Gotha conference.

He's specifically talking about points in the Eisenach program (and click following page also).

Quote:
if you think this quoted passage is in any way anti German when the reference is used as an example of what Bakunin thought was a universal phenomena of national organising then I don't really trust your judgement here.

It seems like your trying to discredit a critique via character assassination.

Not trying to discredit it in that way, just giving an advisory about Bakunin's racism.

On the argument itself, the Eisenach program further says:

Quote:
Considering that the liberation of labor is neither a local nor a national but rather a social task, encompassing all countries with a modern [form of] society, the Social Democratic Workers’ Party regards itself, to the extent that the associational laws permit, as a branch of the International Workers’ Association and is affiliated with the efforts of that body.

Anyway, I think Bakunin's main argument is not really about national organising (I notice there are 3 dots in the passage, so is there something left out?), but rather about the issue of a transitional state. And that's a discussion worth having.

Red Marriott
Aug 6 2017 23:30
Quote:
Not trying to discredit it in that way, just giving an advisory about Bakunin's racism.

If that's so necessary, why not also "an advisory" about Marx & Engels' racism - eg, their comments on Slavs as "ethnic trash", the "lazy Mexicans" who deserved to be dispossessed by the 'more historically progressive US', Lafargue's 'typical n*gger qualities', Marx's approving comments on Tremaux's theories of superior and inferior races etc? No relevance at all to their comments about superior and inferior nations, more & less historically progessive nations or Germanic expansionism?

Pennoid
Aug 7 2017 00:00

A piece of Draper's treatment of the oft-trotted out letter:

Quote:
This passage is the strongest evidence for Marx’s ‘pro-Prussianism’ and the one most often used to convict him of being a supporter of the war. He wants to see the French “thrashed!" He looks forward to a Prussian victory because it would assure his theorecical ascendance!
The background, the explosion of French chauvinism [reaching into the French left], is ignored.

A much more balanced analysis appeared in a letter the same day, July 28, to Paul and Laura Lafargue. Marx included two clippings from Der Volksfaat (Liebknecht’s paper) and commented “You will see that he and Bebel behaved exceedingly well in the Reichstag." Then he outlined, in softer tones than the earlier letter to Engels his speculation on the beneficial effects of a Prussian victory;
"For my own part, I should like that both, Prussians and French, thrashed each other alternately, and that as I believe will be the case-the Germans got the the better of it. I wish this because the definite defeat of Bonaparte is likely to provoke Revolution in France, while the definite defeat of the Germans would only protract the present state of things for 20 years."27

Both of these passages should be compared to Marx’s 1859 letter to Lassalle in which he warns of the reactionary consequences of a war between France and Germany. And there are other statements in 1870 on the reactionary results of a German victory which have to be taken into account if one wants a balanced view of Marx’s speculations on the war. Engels especially, in later years emphasized the reactionary consequences of the victorγ and, as we shall see shortly, eγen in the very first stages of the war Marx made opposition to the annexation of Alsace-Lorraine, which he and Engels anticipated, a key point in the resolutions of the International. What is clear from these letters is that Marx and Engels were thinking out loud about the war as it was developing. This 'thinking out loud’ did not, however, determine what official policy Marx urged on the IWMA.

But it is not only Marx’s public antiwar statements that are ignored. Those private letters which express his contempt for the Prussian king, for Bismarck and for German nationalism at the very beginning of the war also disappear in most accounts.

Discussing French Chauvinism reaching into the left, Draper points out that a latter Communard was even, while decrying the French Government, engaging in some proto-Jacobin French Nationalism. (Delescluze).

Marx noticed this in a letter to Engels prior to the war:

Quote:
But the paper [Le Réveil, a democratic French newspaper] is also interesting on account of the leading article by old Delescluze. Despite his opposition to the government, the most complete expression of chauvinism--because France alone is the home of ideas--(of the ideas it has got about itself). The only thing that annoys these republican chauvinists is that the real expression of their idol--L. Bonaparte the long-nosed Stock Exchange shark--does not correspond to their fancy picture.

This of course leads into Marx's claim that the French need a thrashing; that the part of the left and petit bourgeois who think that French nationalism can be of service deserve to be disabused of their illusions. This is combined with the predictive statements (somewhat correct) that a defeat in France would lead to revolution there (the commune) and incorrect (predictions that England would/might come in on the side of Germany).

And of course, from the first Engels and Marx agitated against an English intervention on behalf of Germany and praised the English working class's disinterest in any war on the continent which correspond with their general belief that a working class revolution required international cooperation from the first, and their conclusion after '48 that working class political independence was a necessary precondition for that class to take any step forward on the political plane *at all*.

Red Marriott
Aug 7 2017 07:50

Draper shows that Marx's views were a bit more complex than "the French need a thrashing" letter. But that doesn't mean Marx didn't strongly feel those sentiments or that his vanity and ambition expressed there wasn't real and that it likely coloured his political views. If one is so quick to say Bakunin's views were coloured by his prejudices why is it so hard for marxists to admit or accept the same for Marx? Papal infallibility again...

No surprise that people like Marx and Bakunin let their personal vanities, loyalties and prejudices get mixed up with their 'objective' assessments. What is worse is to see the same thing recurr now among marxists who, eg, quickly dismiss Bakunin as racist yet not mention Marx & co's racism - and tie themselves in all sorts of convoluted knots in trying to excuse/gloss over Marx's & German social democracy's failings, as seen here. The idealised Marx never existed - a man, not a god.

Noa Rodman
Aug 7 2017 08:33

Liebknecht (the leader of the Eisenachers whose program is criticised here) fell victim to one of Bakunin's antisemitic tirades (though he wasn't a Jew) in a letter on 1 April 1870. Directly relevant here also, is that Bakunin inveighed against the centralized German state as the entrenchment of “the Yid kingdom, the bankocracy” (Klier 2011 citing from Mishkinsky, “Russian Jacobins,” 328).

Red Marriott wrote:
If one is so quick to say Bakunin's views were coloured by his prejudices why is it so hard for marxists to admit or accept the same for Marx?

I'm not saying Bakunin's views were coloured by his prejudices here, just that they could very well have been and it's relevant/appropriate to note that.

Red Marriott
Aug 7 2017 12:48
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I'm not saying Bakunin's views were coloured by his prejudices here, just that they could very well have been and it's relevant/appropriate to note that.

Possibly - but then you could devalue and dismiss everything he wrote on the basis of an abstract possibility. But you seem more interested in harping on about that than about the validity of his critique here. If his critique is valid, as you acknowledge it may be, it wouldn't be invalidated even if it was based on petty motivations; only an attempted character assassination would claim so. And if it is valid it's truth couldn't be based solely on prejudice. But if "Bakunin's views... could very well have been... coloured by his prejudices here" then by your logic so equally could Marx's. But you seem to discount that "relevant" possibility; showing how your own views are coloured.

Pennoid
Aug 7 2017 14:54

No I don't think he or Engels were gods and I think there are statements he made that were reprehensible. I generally find this line of debate next to useless; everyone traded what are now deemed to be racial epithets easily back then, and "race-science" was of yet not quite dethroned. The result is that both sides say some pretty terrible things.

I think there are places where the specific analysis of these participants has to be reconciled (or not) with racist views. I think the core of 'orthodox marxism' (the germ brought through Social Democracy by Kautsky, Lenin, Luxemburg, Bebel iirc) stands up quite well as basing itself on science as it developed. I don't know details about how much racism influenced Bakunins views (still haven't read the complete Draper text and I think he comments on it). The stuff about the 'yid kingdom' seems harsh but could be chalked up to being fast and loose, again, with categories we now deem reprehensible to the last.

Proudhon of course had a hard time uncoupling his hatred of the jews from his political ambition but thankfully the anarchist tradition owes almost nothing to Proudhon in any meaningful sense. (Except for those anarchist who, thinking they've struck the root, argue anarchists have more in common with the likes of Rothbard and Hayek, and try to reconfigure Proudhon as a class struggle anarchist).

Social Democracy was, again, not a monolithic failure as a result of the original sin of it's father; it was a complicated historical process that led to Social Democracy's failure; the line of Marx and Engels was embattled from the first (e.g. in Engels intro to Marx's writings on the commune, Engels repetition that working class insurrection is a fundamental part of any proletarian uprising is struck from the text).

The histories of social democracy, bolshevism, stalinsim, etc. are not any more reducible to the personal errors of Marx than the complete failure of the Spanish Anarchists to seize the day from the Popular Front is a result of Bakunins lack of a razor.

Red Marriott
Aug 7 2017 15:42
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The histories of social democracy, bolshevism, stalinsim, etc. are not any more reducible to the personal errors of Marx than the complete failure of the Spanish Anarchists to seize the day from the Popular Front is a result of Bakunins lack of a razor.

I'm glad you think that, cos it wasn't my point at all.

Noa Rodman
Aug 7 2017 17:35
Red Marriott wrote:
Possibly - but then you could devalue and dismiss everything he wrote on the basis of an abstract possibility. But you seem more interested in harping on about that than about the validity of his critique here.

No, that's just a side-note. I'm definitely more interested in discussing the validity of his critique. You tried to defend the justness of his critique by presenting a passage from a letter of Marx as evidence of Pro-Prussian chauvinism, but that doesn't fly: 1) it is no evidence of Pro-Prussian chauvinism, 2) that passage wasn't printed so Bakunin couldn't be responding to it, 3) the actual passage to which Bakunin responded was not an example of Pro-Prussian chauvinism, on the contrary the Prussian authorities saw it as cause for arrest, thus rather showing Bakunin's bias in interpretation.

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And if it is valid it's truth couldn't be based solely on prejudice.

It could be entirely based on prejudice and still be valid (e.g. a defender of zionism could criticise Arab nationalism in terms of the corruption and brutality of their elites, poverty of their citizens, etc. – all true, though his motive is solely to defend Israel).

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But if "Bakunin's views... could very well have been... coloured by his prejudices here" then by your logic so equally could Marx's. But you seem to discount that "relevant" possibility; showing how your own views are coloured.

Of course it's possible, hence why I (or Draper) needed to argue that your interpretation of that passage in Marx's letter as motivated by anti-French chauvinism is wrong. But even if you're right then 1) you still wouldn't have invalidated Marx's point that the center of gravity would shift to Germany (you basically admitted it did), 2) you haven't at all discounted the possibility that Bakunin's text was motivated by prejudice.

Red Marriott
Aug 9 2017 18:54

The Bakunin article above is actually a critique of German social democracy, not of Marx personally. Yet you keep trying to reduce it all to a personality contest of ideological authority figures - Marx v Bakunin. This only reflects the failings of social democracy & leninism and their internalisation by its followers and devotees; its reproduction within itself of wider bourgeois social relations and an accommodation to them; a division of labour between politicians/constituency, leaders/followers, thinker/doers that tends to stifle abilities for independent thought and action.

Noa wrote:
You tried to defend the justness of his critique by presenting a passage from a letter of Marx as evidence of Pro-Prussian chauvinism, but that doesn’t fly: ...

Wrong; I suggested a motive for the critique, just or not. I said Marx’s comments were chauvinist, not that they were pro-Prussian. Marx was likely anti- the Prussian regime but saw Germany, its culture and the German workers movement as more historically progressive and so deserving of victory. Just because Marx wasn’t a Prussian patriot doesn’t mean there was no kind of chauvinism involved. The crude determinism in their views I cited earlier regarding “superior & inferior” races and nations can be considered chauvinist and would likely be justified as ‘objectively’ historically progressive.

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2) that passage wasn’t printed so Bakunin couldn’t be responding to it,

Many assumptions, few certainties. According to Lehning, in the footnote I cited earlier (to a text where Bakunin cites a September 1870 Volksstaat article), there was

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“...an article published in the Volksstaat of September 11th , 1870. The organ of the Social Democratic Party quoted a letter written by Marx to the German party leadership, dated July 20th, 1870, in which he said among other things: .. “

He then quotes from a different translation of this, the “French need a thrashing” letter; https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1870/letters/70_07_20.htm
He may be mistaken or correct that that letter was quoted; possibly it was but in a different article to the one you cited. Without seeing the relevant Volksstaat we can’t be sure. See below...

Noa wrote:
Red wrote:
And if it is valid it’s truth couldn’t be based solely on prejudice.

It could be entirely based on prejudice and still be valid (e.g. a defender of zionism could criticise Arab nationalism in terms of the corruption and brutality of their elites, poverty of their citizens, etc. – all true, though his motive is solely to defend Israel).

No, that would be based on some objective truth rather than just biased interpretation based solely on prejudice and no fact. I’m talking here about validity, not just motive as you try to make it appear.

Noa wrote:
Red wrote:
But if “Bakunin’s views... could very well have been... coloured by his prejudices here” then by your logic so equally could Marx’s. But you seem to discount that “relevant” possibility; showing how your own views are coloured.

Of course it’s possible, hence why I (or Draper) needed to argue that your interpretation of that passage in Marx’s letter as motivated by anti-French chauvinism is wrong. But even if you’re right then 1) you still wouldn’t have invalidated Marx’s point that the center of gravity would shift to Germany (you basically admitted it did),

No, quite the opposite; I said that in fact the Commune happened, contradicting Marx’s comparison between the French & German workers movements. German soc-dem became a dominant model but not the only one, eg, French syndicalism also had an international influence. But that is not the point I made anyway – which was that the German social democrats published – in the middle of the war – that “the French need a thrashing” which could only add to the prevailing national chauvinism. If that’s not true then Lehning is in error – but without seeing the Sep 11th 1870 issue of Volksstaat we don’t know. He may have mixed up the two letters (ie , Marx to Engels and Marx/Engels to Brunswick soc-dems) or he may be right that sections of both letters were printed, perhaps in different pieces; Lehning mentions a specific Sep 11th date. But regardless, sections of German socialist democracy took a patriotic/nationalist stand and they voted for war credits, there’s no doubt about that, and Bakunin was right to criticise that sentiment. But you probably agree with your master Lenin’s assessment;

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The war of 1870-1871 was a historically progressive war on the part of Germany until Napoleon III was defeated; for the latter, together with the tsar, had oppressed Germany for many years, keeping her in a state of feudal disintegration. But as soon as the war developed into the plunder of France (the annexation of Alsace and Lorraine), Marx and Engels emphatically condemned the Germans. And even at the beginning of that war Marx and Engels approved of the refusal of Bebel and Liebknecht to vote for credits and advised the Social-Democrats not to merge with the bourgeoisie, but to uphold the independent class interests of the proletariat. To apply the appraisal of this bourgeois-progressive and national-liberating war to the present imperialist war means mocking at truth. https://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1915/s+w/ch01.htm

Even 20 years later in 1891, as Lenin pointed out in the same article, an ageing Engels was saying

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“that in the event of war against Russia and France together, it would be the duty of the German Socialists to defend their fatherland”.

Split more hairs again if you like, mount a technical defence and say that advocating mutual slaughter of proletarians on the international chessboard as a socialist policy for the supposed objective greater historical good of furthering the socialist cause isn’t in any way chauvinistic or arrogant. He also quotes Marx & Engels;

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“No nation can be free if it oppresses other nations”

– indicating a nationalist and statist conception of idealised ‘freedom’ as apparently composed of benevolent fraternal countries.

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2) you haven’t at all discounted the possibility that Bakunin’s text was motivated by prejudice.

I haven’t tried to, I clearly acknowledged both Marx & Bakunin had their prejudice mixed in with their attempts at objective assessment. If you missed that, read more carefully. But, as I made clear again above, prejudice doesn’t necessarily exist in isolation from other motives.

Noa Rodman
Aug 9 2017 21:20
Red Marriott wrote:
The Bakunin article above is actually a critique of German social democracy, not of Marx personally.

And I addressed that, but you brought up Marx's letter.

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Wrong; I suggested a motive for the critique, just or not. I said Marx’s comments were chauvinist, not that they were pro-Prussian.

Well yes an anti-chauvinist motive, which is justifying his critique. So no need to pick a bone over my comment.

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According to Lehning ...He may be mistaken or correct that that letter was quoted; possibly it was but in a different article to the one you cited. Without seeing the relevant Volksstaat we can’t be sure.

The sentence which Bakunin recalled from the Volksstaat, exactly matches the Brunswick manifesto's line (penned by Marx/Engels) that I quoted, which was reprinted specifically in the 11 September issue (I found this mentioned somewhere on Google books). So either an old (July) private letter of Marx to Engels found its way in the same Volksstaat issue in which coincidentally appeared the Brunswick manifesto (based on the 1 September Marx/Engels letter to the Brunswick committee), which means that absurdly there were two Marx letters in the same issue, or Lehning simply mistook the July for the September letter (mislead by the similar sentiment).

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No, that would be based on some objective truth rather than just biased interpretation based solely on prejudice and no fact. I’m talking here about validity, not just motive as you try to make it appear.

Objective truth= validity, in my book. But besides its validity (which I mainly want to focus on), the motive can be discussed (and it is appropriate to bring it up). One doesn't exclude the other.

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No, quite the opposite; I said that in fact the Commune happened, contradicting Marx’s comparison between the French & German workers movements. German soc-dem became a dominant model but not the only one, eg, French syndicalism also had an international influence.

Well Bebel's article on Lissagaray's book on the Commune quoted him: "He who tells the people revolutionary legends, he who amuses therewith sensational stories, is as criminal as the geographer who would draw up false charts for navigators." So we should have no illusions about the Commune. Marx defended it because the whole bourgeois press was calumniating it.

Yes, syndicalism became also a model, though not quite the same as Proudhonism which Marx had in mind.

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But that is not the point I made anyway – which was that the German social democrats published – in the middle of the war – that “the French need a thrashing” which could only add to the prevailing national chauvinism. If that’s not true then Lehning is in error

I strongly believe Lehning was in error for the reasons stated above.

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But regardless, sections of German socialistic democracy took a patriotic/nationalist stand and they voted for war credits, there’s no doubt about that, and Bakunin was right to criticise that sentiment.

Sure there were, but not the Eisenach party MPs in 1870 under discussion here (as Bakunin himself acknowledged Liebknecht and Bebel's stance). He's "right" to criticise that sentiment, in the sense that I'm "right" to criticise you for beating your wife, even though you didn't, and actually you're even a loving husband.

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20 years later in 1891, as Lenin pointed out in the same article, an ageing Engels was saying
Quote:

“that in the event of war against Russia and France together, it would be the duty of the German Socialists to defend their fatherland”.

Split more hairs again if you like, mount a technical defence and say that advocating mutual slaughter of proletarians on the international chessboard as a socialist policy for the supposed objective greater historical good of furthering the socialist cause isn’t in any way chauvinistic or arrogant.

That's in a different time and context (war with Russia and indeed working class in Germany was more advanced), so not relevant directly, but I share your objection to the reasoning. However, would you be so kind as to mount a technical defence of this, which is directly relevant:

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A correspondent of the Volksstaat (Wilhelm Licbknecht's paper) had reported that the Parisian workers were "indifferent toward the war." Bakunin felt that it was perverse to accuse the workers of an apathy which, if actually present, would be criminal on their part. He wrote to the workers that they could not remain indifferent to the German invasion, that they must absolutely defend their liberty against the armed gangs of Prussian militarism.

From Guillaume's biographical sketch (Bakunin on Anarchy, pp. 40–1, and provided quote).

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indicating a nationalist and statist conception of idealised ‘freedom’ as apparently composed of benevolent fraternal countries.

"No nation can be free" in the sense that external oppression is reflected internally as well.

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I haven’t tried to, I clearly acknowledged both Marx & Bakunin had their prejudice mixed in with their attempts at objective assessment. If you missed that, read more carefully. But, as I made clear again above, prejudice doesn’t necessarily exist in isolation from other motives.

Actually you "acknowledged" only Marx was prejudiced as a means to deflect from my advisory note that Bakunin's critique could be, in part, didn't said solely, motivated by prejudice. So excuse my misreading, but if you now are willing to acknowledge that Bakunin's critique here could very well be motivated by prejudice, then I'm satisfied.

Red Marriott
Aug 9 2017 21:27

Yawn, too boring to continue...