Chapter 1: Poland and Siberia

Jan Waclaw Machajski was born poor, Polish, and a subject of the Russian tsar, a set of circumstances not sufficient to make him a revolutionary but certainly conducive to such a result. The place of his birth, on December 15 (December 27, N.S.),1866, was the small town of Busko, in Kielce gubernia, twenty-eight miles south of the city of Kielce. Kielce gubernia was part of the Congress Kingdom of Poland, established in 1815 by the Congress of Vienna and attached to the Russian Empire. Machajski's father, Konstanty, was a minor official and a former mayor of the town. He died when Machaiski was still a child, leaving his large family in considerable financial difficulty.The family must have had aspirations, however, if not means, for Machajski received a good education. He prepared for admission to a gymnasium, the educational route to university training, first attending a progymnasium in the town of Pinchow, where his family may have resettled. To supplement the family's income he tutored fellow students whom his mother boarded in the family apartment. He then attended the gymnasium in Kielce, from which he graduated with a gold medal. In i886 he entered Warsaw University, spending four years in the Natural Sciences Faculty and then transferring to the Medical Faculty, which he never completed.
Machajski first became acquainted with socialist ideas in his student days. It will be useful, therefore, to identify some of the distinctive features of Polish socialism as Machajski encountered it in the 1880s, in order to assess the contribution it may have made to the formation of his later views.
Machajski came of age in a period of abrupt and far-reaching change in Russian Poland, change both socio-economic and intellectual.The traditional gentry domination of the Kingdom of Poland had been shattered by the events of 1863 and 1864. The defeat of the 1863 insurrection against Russian rule discredited, at least for some time to come, the romantic vision of a national uprising to restore the independence of Poland and physically decimated the gentry class (the szlachta) which had cultivated that vision and led the insurrection. A further blow came in 1864, when the Russian government emancipated the Polish peasants on terms considerably more favourable than those the Russian peasants had been granted in their emancipation, thereby successfully destroying the economic position of much of the middle and smallholding gentry which had been the bulwark of Polish nationalism.
One major effect of the peasant emancipation was to open the way to industrialisation by creating an urban labour force. In fact, industrial development proceeded even more rapidly in Russian Poland than in post-emancipation Russia itself, and the Kingdom of Poland quickly became one of the leading industrial areas of the Russian Empire, particularly in mining and metalworking and in textile manufacturing. In response to this economic growth, as well as to the failure of the insurrection, Polish thought turned away from romantic nationalism and dreams of political independence and came to be dominated by the program of "organic work." As articulated especially by the so-called Warsaw Positivists, "organic work" promoted the virtues of peaceful social, economic, and cultural development through education and productive industrial and commercial activity, accepting Russian political domination and taking advantage of Poland's access to the large Russian market. It was this 'bourgeois" program, and its materialistic and individualistic approach to things, that Polish socialism arose to challenge in the 1870s.
A peculiar disparity had arisen by the seventies between development in Russia and in Poland. For the moment, at least, industrial growth was greater and an impoverished urban working class more in evidence in Poland than in Russia, where industrialisation would achieve its most rapid development only in the late eighties and the nineties. Thanks to the severe political and cultural repression which the Russian authorities exercised, however, socialism was slower to develop in Poland; here, the political quietism of Warsaw Positivism prevailed even as the populist movement was reaching the peak of its activity in Russia. As a result of this disparity, when socialism did come to Poland, it came largely from Russia. This was due in part to admiration for the populists, particularly the Narodnaia Volia (People's Will party), whose determination in hunting down and ultimately assassinating Alexander II made a strong impression on many Poles. It was also a result of the influence of Polish students from the borderlands of European Russia, sizeable numbers of whom chose to study at Russian universities rather than in the Congress Kingdom. There they were introduced to radical Russian authors such as Chernyshevskii, Dobroliubov, and Pisarev, then Lavrov and Bakunin, and to Lassalle, Marx, and other Western writers. They also came in direct contact with the Russian revolutionaries, and a number of them became active participants in the Russian revolutionary movement. Others, however, made their way to Warsaw, clustering particularly around Warsaw University, to proselytise their new ideas - including the use of terrorism as an instrument of political and social action which they accepted from Russian populism.
With its militancy and acute sensitivity to social injustice, the socialism of these radicalised students fell on fertile soil: increasing impatience with the prosaic materialism of "organic work," and increasing revulsion at the deprivations endured by the industrial workers. By 1876 and 1877, various socialist groups and study circles had arisen in Warsaw, not only in the student and intellectual milieu of the university but among some elements of the working class as well. (Like St. Petersburg, Warsaw was not only a cultural and administrative centre but also a major industrial centre, particularly of the metallurgical industry.) Despite a wave of arrests in 1878-1879, the ideas of socialism continued to make headway both at home and in the emigration, and in 1882 the first Polish socialist party was formed. It called itself the Social-Revolutionary "Proletariat" party, more familiarly known simply as the Proletariat party, or sometimes as Wielki (Great)Proletariat to distinguish it from later parties of the same name. Its leadership consisted largely of former students at Russian universities, including the party's prime mover, Ludwik Warynski. The party's ideology was strongly Marxist-inspired, emphasising class division and class conflict rather than social or national solidarity, and, most significant in the Polish context, staunchly rejecting patriotism and the struggle for Polish independence in favour of international class struggle. (Just as Plekhanov and the early Russian Marxists had to ignore Marx's kind words about the Russian peasant commune, these Polish Marxists found themselves more "orthodox" than Marx and Engels themselves, who consistently supported the cause of Polish independence as a way of striking a blow at the bastion of European reaction, tsarist Russia.) In a manifestation of the party's internationalism, the Proletariat co-operated closely with the remnants of the Narodnaia Volia in Russia.
Such a rejection of the national issue, however, could hardly have universal appeal in a country which was ruled by foreign conquerors and whose very cultural identity was under attack.This is the issue that runs like a great fissure through the Polish socialist movement from its very beginnings: whether, and how, to combine national and social objectives, and which should take precedence over the other. Even before the founding of the Proletariat, Polish socialists had begun to divide over the subject of the national struggle. In 1881 a group led by Boleslaw Limanowski had formed the Lud Polski (Polish People), rejecting Warynski's rigid class outlook and combining both socialist and patriotic principles. The Proletariat itself proved short-lived: the original leadership, including Warynski, was arrested in police operations of 1883 and 1884. The party managed to keep going until i886, but even before its final destruction the influence of Polish nationalism had begun to reassert itself over some of the party's adherents. It would remain the fundamental issue that Proletariat's remnants and successors had to face, as well as the issue that confronted Machajski as he attained political awareness.
It is not surprising that at first he was drawn to the patriotic viewpoint. As a Polish gymnasium and university student, Machajski could hardly avoid direct and forceful experience of what Russian rule over the Poles meant. After the insurrection of 1863, the tsarist government embarked on a ruthless policy of Russification, introducing a series of measures designed to obliterate Polish national identity. The Kingdom of Poland was integrated into the administrative structure of the empire, losing not only its autonomy but even its name: it was now officially referred to as Privislanskii Krai, the Vistula Territory. Russian was made the language of the courts and administrative institutions, and, increasingly, of the educational system as well. In 1867 Polish educational affairs were placed under the control of a newly created Warsaw Educational District, headed by an appointed curator directly subordinate to the Ministry of Education in St. Petersburg. In 1869 the Warsaw Central School, which had been established just seven years earlier as the first comprehensive institution of higher education in Russian Poland since the insurrection of 1831, was transformed into the Russian-language Warsaw University. By i88~ the entire Polish school system had become Russified: Russian was made the language of instruction in all Polish schools for all subjects, with the exception of religion and the Polish language. Machajski therefore was educated in a system where even Polish history and literature were taught to Polish students in Russian! In the spring of 1883, the so-called Apukhtin affair occurred. When Aleksandr Apukhtin, the particularly repressive curator of schools for the Warsaw Educational District, attempted to implement new and harsher regulations in institutions of higher education, he provoked a wave of student protests and street demonstrations. Numerous students were suspended or arrested, and one student (who was in fact Russian) became a national hero when he managed to slap Apukhtin's face.With the school system a focal point of the tsarist government's Russification policy, the students inevitably became a focal point of resistance to that policy.
Fortunately for the historian, one of Machajskis closest friends both at the Kielce gymnasium and at Warsaw University was the future novelist Stefan Zeromski. Thanks to this famous literary figure, whose friendship with Machajski continued long after their school days, some details of Machajski's early life, and of his intellectual and political development, have been preserved which would otherwise be unobtainable. In Kielce, Machajski lived in a private home where he received room and board in return for tutoring the two boys in the family.As in Russia, students even at the secondary-school level in Poland developed a kind of unofficial curriculum parallel to the official one, immersing themselves in disapproved and even contraband readings and doctrines. According to Zeromski, at the gymnasium in Kielce one of the students' favourite extracurricular activities was to gather for nocturnal readings of whatever literature they could lay their hands on. "We read whatever came to hand, in any bookcase: Victor Hugo and Karol Libelt, Slowacki and Turgenev, Henry Thomas Buckle and Brandes, Mickiewicz and Draper, Quinet and Sienkiewicz."Machajski loved to declaim heroic speeches from romantic plays and for a time even aspired to go on the stage.Many years later, Zeromski penned this vivid and affectionate portrait of Machajski as a schoolboy: <blockquote>
Jan Waclaw, always the best pupil and candidate for the gold medal, imagined at that time that he was the most accomplished actor on the face of the earth, a great tragedian and fiery artist. He wore his hair long, so impermissibly and culpably long that he suffered more than a few persecutions at the hands of the director of the gymnasium, . But none of the latter's punishments, threats and blustering, foot-stamping, or peremptory focusing of his spectacles on the long-haired culprit could induce Jan Waclaw to cut his Absalom-like locks. </blockquote>
From exalted literature, students often went on to radical political and social ideas, to which all the efforts of the tsarist censorship were unable to bar their access. Machajski received at least some exposure at the gymnasium to both the socialist and nationalist currents of thought in circulation at this time. At one point in his diary for 1885, Zeromski recorded that he and Machajski and another friend had stayed up until 3:00 A.M. arguing about "socialism and patriotism," with Zeromski defending "patriotism and republicanism against communism and cosmopolitanism."
By the time Machajski reached the university, Proletariat had been crushed and the revival of patriotism had begun to generate new currents of thought and new organisations. In contrast to the gentry democracy of the past, the goal of Polish political independence now appeared in combination with various radical ideas, both populist and socialist.Within this framework Machajski, as seen through Zeromski's eyes, seems to have spent his first year or two in Warsaw experimenting with different ideological positions - trying on a variety of ideological roles, as it were. In his diaries for 1886 and 1887, Zeromski rebukes his friend on a number of occasions for betraying his ideals by adopting cosmopolitanism, materialism, and even a Bazarov-like nihilism. In May 1887, for example, he recorded a quarrel with Machajki over the latter's "cosmopolitan principles, his disrespect for Mickiewicz, and his materialism."
In November 1886, however, Machajski told Zeromski that he accepted "the program of Zagloba." "Zagloba" was the pseudonym of a student named Leon Wasilkowski, who was associated with the periodical Glos (The Voice).Begun in 1886, Glos was one of the first significant expressions of the new patriotism, espousing a nationalist position with a strongly populist tinge and emphasising the interests of the Polish peasantry. In 1887, this current gave rise to an organisation in Switzerland called the Liga Polska (Polish League, reorganised in 1893 as the Liga Narodowa, or National League, and, under the leadership of Roman Dmowski, increasingly right-wing in orientation). The Liga Polska combined the goal of political independence with socialist ideas and accepted the use of anti-govemment terror. Shortly thereafter, the student youth of Warsaw organised a parallel group called the Zwiazek Mlodziezy Polskiej (Union of Polish Youth), known as Zet, which soon affiliated itself with the Liga Polska.Wasilkowski was one of the leaders of Zet, and both Machajski and Zeromski were drawn into its activities.
Zet, like the Liga Polska, was predominantly patriotic in orientation but with a socialist tinge, anticipating a democratic Poland based on the working classes and especially the peasantry. Its socialism was closer to English Fabianism than to revolutionary internationalism, and it recognised the necessity of education and a considerable period of preparatory work. Zet was organised along Masonic lines in a three-tiered conspiratorial structure, and its combination of socialism and nationalism proved highly appealing to Polish students. It established branches throughout the Polish territories and the Russian Empire, as well as in European cities where Polish students were concentrated. The Warsaw section soon had at least several dozen members.
They devoted themselves largely to educational activity among the artisans and workers of the capital. (Zet branches in the countryside conducted similar activity among the peasants.) Establishing secret libraries and reading rooms, lecturing and teaching literacy in small study-circles, they introduced the workers to the history and literature of Poland, arousing their patriotic moral fervour and attempting to win their support for Poland's independence.This was Machajski's first venture into conspiratorial activity,and he threw himself into it wholeheartedly, staying up nights to prepare maps, charts, and other materials for his geography and history lessons to the workers.He proved an able and effective teacher - and at the same time his activity among the workers may have had a role in turning him away from idealisation of the peasants and toward a greater awareness of the proletariat.
He was slow to take this step, however, even though he had the opportunity to familiarise himself with the program of proletarian socialism. Zeromski recorded that toward the end of 1888 a representative of the Proletariat turned up at a meeting of Machajski's worker circle and expounded the party's socialist program.The reference presumably is to the short-lived Second Proletariat party, which, revived in 1888, upheld the commitment of its predecessor and namesake to class struggle and social revolution, and its opposition to nationalism, as well as placing a particular emphasis on terror in its tactical thinking.According to at least one source, however, when a schism developed in 1889 within the Kielce student group in Warsaw, Machajski was considered the leader of the "socialist-nationalists" rather than the "international socialists."
Hence, he was drawn to the views of the Paris-based Gmina Narodowa-Socjalistyczna (National-Socialist Commune). Founded in i888, the Gmina had the active participation of Boleslaw Limanowski, among others, and it was to some degree the successor to his Lud Polski; in 1889 it became a unit of the Polish League. As its name suggests, it was dedicated, at least in theory, to combining patriotism with socialism, regarding a revolution in Poland as the road both to national independence and a socialist order.In 1890, Machajski had an opportunity to make contact with the Paris émigré's: when the remains of Adam Mickiewicz were exhumed in June of that year for reburial in Cracow's Wawel Castle, Machajski and Zeromski travelled to Paris to attend the ceremony as representatives of the youth of Warsaw.In the following year he journeyed to Cracow and in April was arrested by the Austrian authorities in Galicia while attempting to smuggle illegal literature across the border into Russian Poland. After four months in a Cracow prison he was expelled from Austrian Poland, and since the Russian police were now aware of his activities and he could not return to Warsaw, he emigrated to Switzerland and settled in Zurich.
Here he became acquainted with the Polish émigré' circles located in Switzerland and the Polish student groups at the University of Zurich. It was at this point that he finally began to turn away from the nationalist sentiments which he had previously held. In January 1892 he published a report on the work of the "national socialists" in the Congress Kingdom. Entitled Underground Life in the Congress Kingdom," it appeared in Pobudka (Reveille), the Paris journal of the Gmina Narodowa-Socjalistyczna. As far as is known, this was Machajski's first publication, and it marked a crucial step in his ideological evolution. Some of the sentiments expressed in this article, as well as the periodical in which it appeared, indicate that he had not yet broken completely with the socialist-patriot position. Clearly, however, he had begun to feel an acute contradiction between the socialist and nationalist components of that position and was moving toward a repudiation of the latter and a firm commitment to proletarian socialism.
The article was highly critical of the patriotic student circles among which he had lately worked in Warsaw. By contrast with the energetic activities of the "social democrats, or internationalists, he found the national socialists lethargic, lacking a clear political profile, and, worst of all, narrowly concentrating on intellectuals and students while refusing to participate in May Day demonstrations and remaining aloof from the rising labour movement. <blockquote>
We agitate among the intellectual proletariat, or rather among the youth. Although this is very receptive material for any revolutionary activity (and therefore for socialist propaganda), as the basis for a party it is very elastic, irresolute, and highly susceptible to the blandishments of those parties which have nothing in common with socialism. In particular, the symptom is distinctly appearing among us whereby all strata of the people are in some measure in opposition to the partitional regime and to the gullible may be viewed as revolutionaries.
The main hindrance to the efforts of the national socialists was their insistence on making common cause with democratic elements who held them back from any effective revolutionary activity.
We have apparently gone blind and do not see that those who seem to us sincere friends are our most dangerous enemies in the field of socialist propaganda, that we are doing nothing at all through them, that they hold us back from any bold step, and therefore above all from sincere participation in the socialist movement; we do not perceive that each one of those people is a skilled "secret Jesuit" who, represent-mg himself to us as a socialist, at the same time behind our backs paralyses the growth of socialism more effectively than the government and the bourgeoisie.
</blockquote> He concluded with the hope that this blindness would clear and that instead of joining forces with other "revolutionary" Polish parties "we will come to understand that the labour question is not a question of a single class . . . but a question of millions, a question of whole societies." Then, "by the solemn celebration of the workers' holy day, our youth will show the world that it understands the pulse of the people's life, that it itself lives and that Poland lives!"
Now Machajski began to draw a firm line of demarcation between patriotism and revolutionary socialism. According to his wife, Vera, he later recalled his thinking in this period in the following terms: "The patriots were becoming socialists. And I felt that they were becoming socialists only in order to draw the masses of the people into the struggle for the 'fatherland,' that these aristocrats were thinking not at all about the liberation of the masses but about an independent Polish state." Henceforth, his wife's account adds, he would reject "any sort of 'national-liberation' movement, any struggle for the fatherland."
He now joined a student organisation of the Second Proletariat party in Zurich.In May 1892 the workers of Lodz, the major textile centre of Russian Poland, organised a general strike which turned into a virtual uprising. Lasting eight days, the strike involved over twenty thousand workers, there were street battles with the authorities, and more than two hundred people were killed or wounded and hundreds more arrested.In June, Machajski set out for Poland bearing copies of an appeal to the Polish workers; although the appeal urged no immediate action, it sought to draw lessons from the events in Lodz and define the course that the workers' movement should take in the future. The appeal was printed by the Proletariat group and was signed "The Polish Social-Revolutionary Party," but its author was in fact Machajski himself.The keynote of the appeal was militant internationalism. It urged the workers not to rest content with local strikes, but to organise a nation-wide general strike - a tactic that would later reappear as a feature of Makhaevism. "In the future, we will organise a strike not in one city but in the entire country; we will carry our workers' banner to the farthest corners, we will call all the working people to battle. And then our strike and our struggle will last not eight days but as long as it takes to obtain our demands."Cooperation with the Russian revolutionary movement had been one of the central tenets of the original Proletariat party, and Machajski echoed this principle in assuring the Polish workers that bold action on their part would arouse the Russian workers to a joint assault on the tsarist regime: "Then our brothers, the Russian workers, seeing how weak the tsar is in the face of the people's might, will awaken from their age-old bondage; they will call their own rich men to account, and together with the Polish working people they will crush the tsar, the greatest tyrant on earth."In contrast to the principles he would adopt later, he still considered the autocracy the workers' main enemy and the overthrow of tsarism the immediate objective of the workers' movement; ultimately, he would reject political goals entirely and urge the workers to confine their strike activity to strictly economic demands. The militancy of this appeal, however, including the acceptance of violence, would remain a permanent part of his outlook. <blockquote>
In taking up the struggle with the factory owners, we are at the same time calling tsardom itself to battle. To the fusillades of the troops the workers of Lodz replied with rocks, and were therefore obliged to retreat. In the future, we will reply to bullets with bullets and bombs, and we will blockade the streets against cavalry attacks. And we will bear in mind that in the struggle with a regime like the tsar's, any means of battle that the mind and hand of man can devise is noble. </blockquote>
Neither Machajski nor his proclamation reached Poland. On June 17 he was arrested on the Prussian border by the tsarist police, and his participation in the Polish socialist movement came to an end. Shortly thereafter the national issue, which had preoccupied Polish socialism for so long, finally produced an irrevocable split in the ranks of the Polish socialists. In 1892-1893 the Polska Partia Socjalistyczna (Polish Socialist party, or PPS) was organised and came under the leadership of Jozef Pilsudski. The PPS squarely adopted a national approach to socialism, with the struggle against tsarism for the resurrection of Polish independence taking precedence over social revolution. It was, in effect, the ideological culmination of Lud Polski, Zet, Liga Polska, and other manifestations of the patriotic current which had been gathering strength within the Polish socialist movement in the course of the 1880s, and even drew in some remnants of the old Proletariat party. The minority who rejected the nationalist position and adhered to the Marxist orthodoxy of internationalism, viewing themselves as the ideological heirs of the Great Proletariat party, formed the Socjaldemokracja Krolestwo Polskiego (the Social Democracy of the Kingdom of Poland, SDKP; with the adhesion of the Lithuanian Social Democrats in 1899, it became the Social Democracy of the Kingdom of Poland and Lithuania, or SDKPiL). Rosa Luxemburg was its leading light.Machajski could only follow these events from a distance, if at all. He was imprisoned in the Warsaw Citadel for a year and a half, and then for another year and a half in the "Kresty" prison of St. Petersburg. He was finally exiled for five years to Viliuisk, in the Iakutsk region of Siberia.
In what ways, and to what degree, did Machajski's early political experience in Poland influence the development of his later critique of the intelligentsia? Some of the seeds of Makhaevism may well have been planted in this period. The element of revolutionary militancy, for example, a salient feature of Makhaevism, emerges clearly toward the end of this period, especially in the 1892 manifesto. Doubtless, it was the product of a personality already inclined in this direction interacting with a political culture favourable to its development. The biographical information available on Machajski is too thin to support any but the most general kind of psychological profile. At the very least, however, it can be said that Machajski was a highly intense, strong-willed individual who made commitments passionately and wholeheartedly. "Even in his childhood and youth," Zeromski wrote of him, "an unbridled fanaticism characterised him. Initially it was adoration of the poetry of Slowacki, of the theatre, then it was materialist, patriotic, social fanaticism."Zeromski also attributed to him an "inflexible character and iron will."At the same time, bitterness was easily bred in the Polish situation, where political repressiveness and social injustice were exacerbated by national oppression. The fact that the Polish socialist movement developed in close ideological and organisational interaction with the Russian Narodnaia Volia further encouraged in its adherents a tendency to regard terror as an acceptable weapon of struggle. There was no lack of heroic martyrs to serve as examples for the young Machajski: at the beginning of i886, in fact, just a few months before he entered the university, the Warsaw Citadel had been the scene of the execution of four leaders of the Proletariat party.
A more specific element of the Polish scene may also have made a lasting impact on Machajski. After the insurrection of 1863, there was a noticeable tendency in Russian Poland for impoverished members of the szlachta to enter the ranks of the intelligentsia. Considerable numbers of them went into the professions or assumed managerial positions in the new industries.The Proletariat party's newspaper, Proletariat, even classified the "bourgeois-gentry intelligentsia" among the reactionary and exploiting classes, with only a tiny segment (including, presumably, the Proletariat's own leaders, many of whom, such as Ludwik Waryivski, were drawn from this group) capable of becoming allies of the proletariat.This phenomenon could, perhaps, have established the first link in Machajski's mind between the intelligentsia and the privileged classes, his unshakeable image of the intelligentsia as the servant of the bourgeoisie. Although it may have been more pronounced in Russian Poland, however, this social development was not unique to it and could be observed in Russia itself. There, state service provided an alternative for members of the gentry leaving the land (while in Russian Poland state service was largely barred to non-Russians), but they were also moving into the professional intelligentsia.
Finally, and most important, it was Machajski's Polish experience that first opened his eyes to the possibility that forces within the socialist movement itself were holding back the kind of all-out class struggle to which he had become committed. As he picked his way through the various Polish political groups and currents of the 1880s, he became increasingly critical of what came to be known as the "socialist-patriots." Most of all, he rejected their view of the nation as an organic whole with certain common interests that transcended class conflicts - a reprise of the notion of social solidarity which the early Polish socialists had criticised so vehemently in the proponents of "organic work." Machajski's growing militancy impelled him to repudiate such an outlook because it seemed to pose the threat of reformism and the restraint of working-class radicalism; this, too, would reappear as a fundamental component of Makhaevism.
Given the position he had reached by 1892, it is easy to see why the PPS would have had little appeal for him. The question arises, however, as to why he did not ultimately throw in his lot with the SDKPiL. With its Marxist internationalism and unremitting anti patriotism, it would seem to have been the natural political destination toward which he was headed at the time of his arrest. Yet he eventually rejected it, along with all other forms of socialism, no less firmly than he rejected the PPS. Quite possibly he would have joined the SDKPiL had he remained in Polish politics. Fate - in the person of the Russian authorities -intervened, however, and he emerged from his prolonged imprisonment and exile with a different, and much broader, perspective than he had had previously. This new perspective was based not merely on a re-examination of Polish socialism, but even more on an analysis of developments within the German Social-Democratic party, which he was able to follow in Siberia. As the largest and apparently most successful of Marxist parties, German Social Democracy had exemplary significance for many other socialists, especially in Eastern Europe, who minutely examined its evolution and heatedly debated its doctrines and practices. It was his investigation of German Social Democracy that formed the main subject of Machajski's first essays, and by the time these began to appear at the end of the 1890s he was moving well to the left of Marxism itself.
The relationship between Machajski's Polish experience and his later views, therefore, was complex and somewhat indirect. Certainly it would be a mistake to regard Machajski's critique of the intelligentsia and socialism merely as a kind of projection of his earlier reaction against Polish nationalism. This is the implication of Vera Machajska's statement that Machajski's rejection of the socialist-patriots was his "first lesson in how the intelligentsia was using socialism in its own interests."Although revolutionaries in the Russian Empire did tend to mature early, it should be kept in mind that Machajski was not quite twenty when he entered Warsaw University, and only twenty-five when he was arrested. Makhaevism was the product of an older man who had gone through the fire of prison and exile, and not just the continuation of an earlier path. Furthermore, it is worth noting that except for a brief period after the 1905 revolution Machajski never again directly involved himself in Polish affairs, in itself a reflection of the shift in his interests and preoccupation's. Most significantly, however, it is a considerable leap from rejection of Polish patriots to rejection of the intelligentsia. After all, the Polish situation, where the national issue was of paramount importance, was hardly typical of socialist movements in general, and Machajski could not have been unaware of this. It was only when he was forcibly removed from the Polish context that he reached the conclusion that the threat of socialist reformism came not just from some misguided or self-interested Polish nationalists but from a much more widespread and significant social force, and, indeed, from the theory and practice of Marxism itself. His early years in Poland may have first raised in his mind the question of the "corruption" of socialism, but the answer he arrived at, and began to voice in his initial essays, was largely the product of his years in exile.
The Siberian exile to which Machajski was subjected was neither a desired nor a desirable experience, but it had little in common with the Gulag of Stalin's time. For the most part, the tsarist government was interested in isolating from the Empire's population centres those whom it considered to be political subversives, not in brutalising them or in exploiting their labour. Isolation was certainly accomplished: the Iakutsk region, or Iakutiia, comprising most of eastern Siberia, was an area about two-thirds the size of European Russia and very sparsely settled. Political exiles were dispersed in small groups, or "colonies," across this immense and nearly empty space. For some, that was punishment enough; loneliness and inactivity drove a number of exiles to madness or suicide.
For those able to withstand the isolation, the living conditions, the boredom, and, in the northernmost settlements, the winter-long Arctic darkness, exile was, at worst, tolerable, and, at best, provided a kind of graduate course in political science. In the prisons and convoys en route to their places of exile, the "politicals" were separated from the common criminals and were generally treated more carefully and more respectfully by their keepers. Although the exiles were subject to police surveillance, climate and lack of transportation made escape from the more remote settlements unlikely (though not impossible), and there the exiles were left pretty much to their own devices. There was no shortage of books, even on sensitive subjects, and there was plenty of time for political debate, which could be carried on with a greater degree of freedom and openness than at home. Especially if an exile received financial help and reading matter from family and friends, Siberia could prove a refreshing and educational respite from the anxieties of underground life. Those who resumed their political activity when their term of exile was over were no less determined to overthrow the tsarist government, but, thanks to their reading and their discussions with other exiles, they were often much better informed as to how to go about doing it. Lenin provides the most famous example: during his term of exile his relatives kept him well supplied with books and journals, and in between salubrious outdoor activities he was able to compose a series of Marxist treatises and articles for publication in St. Petersburg. Even for Machajski, in a much more remote and uncomfortable location than Lenin, Siberian exile had positive benefits. It gave him the leisure (albeit enforced) to work out his new ideas,and it gave him the opportunity to disseminate them to a receptive audience of fellow exiles. Far from hindering him, the conditions of Siberian exile played a decisive role in enabling him to develop Makhaevism and to introduce it into the Russian revolutionary movement.
Viliuisk itself was hardly a spot that any revolutionary would have chosen as a place of residence. Though not as far north as some of the exile communities (it was at least below the Arctic Circle), it was one of the more remote locations to which political exiles were sent, situated several hundred miles Northwest of the town of Iakutsk. It had a total of fifty buildings and contained, according to the 1897 census, all of 609 inhabitants. Even the pre-Revolutionary Russian encyclopaedia which soberly reported these statistics could not refrain from characterising Viliuisk as a "sorry settlement." Its chief claim to fame in radical circles was that Chernyshevskii had endured eleven years of exile there. When Machajski arrived, however, he was greeted by a small but lively and harmonious community of exiles. According to Mikhail Romas', who was living there when Machajski reached the settlement in the winter of 1895, there were some two dozen exiles in and around Viliuisk, including several whose wives had accompanied them.If the political exiles in lakutiia as a whole formed a broad cross-section of the revolutionary movement in the Russian Empire, the Viliuisk colony reflected that movement in microcosm: there were Poles and populists, and Social Democrats of various stripes. Henryk Duleba, for example, had been a member of the old Proletariat party, while Romas' himself was a narodovolets. A bit later came the Social-Democratic "economists": Liubov' Aizenshtadt, who, according to Vera Machajska, became one of Machajski's adherents, was of this persuasion. Most of the exiles managed to find some work, such as giving lessons, or kept themselves busy in other ways, and were on friendly terms. "Only Machajski, a man of great intellect and crystal-clear soul, immediately upon his arrival pounced upon the books and refused any work or assistance; he was in very great material need. Quite often, especially in the winter, we gathered in one apartment or another, and arguments and endless discussions would begin. Iudelevskii [a populist exile] and Machajski, who were studying Marx, often did not see eye-to-eye on the interpretation of one or another of his positions."
Machajski had no lack of books to pounce upon, now that his years of imprisonment had come to an end. "As far as books were concerned," his wife wrote, "conditions in Viliuisk were exceptionally favourable," with the exiles in possession of "not only the basic works of Marx, Engels, and Kautsky, not only Russian journals, but whole runs of Neue Zeit for several years."New books arrived as well, including Eduard Bernstein's works of Social-Democratic revisionism, which played a crucial role in the formation of Machajski's ideas. Bernstein's Voraussetzungen des Sozialismus was circulating in Iakutiia in 1899, the year of its publication, and copies of it quickly made their way to Viliuisk.
Between 1898 and 1900, Machajski composed the first two of the essays that were to form his major work, The Intellectual Worker (Umstvennyi rabochii). His fellow exiles in Viliuisk helped him to duplicate them on a hectograph and send copies to other exile colonies.The exiles seem to have had a remarkably effective distribution network for what would today be termed samizdat literature, for Machajski's work quickly made its way across the vast spaces of Siberia. The effect of these hectographed pamphlets was electrifying, and for months they dominated the exiles' discussions. To some degree, Makhaevism aroused interest simply as an intellectual novelty, bringing a breath of fresh air into the stale ideological debates of the exiles. In some cases, however, its criticism of the intelligentsia caught the conscience of individuals who, of course, were themselves intelligenty. "On many people it made an enormous impression. Not a few exiles became 'Makhaevists' under its influence."
There is ample evidence of the widespread circulation of Machajski's essays in the Siberian exile community. To the north-east, in the Verkhoiansk colony, "the question of the intelligentsia" became an acute issue, thanks to Machajski.By the end of 1899 a copy of the first part of The Intellectual Worker had reached the Polish socialist Jan Strozecki in the settlement of Sredne-Kolymsk, in the far northeastern corner of Iakutiia. Strozecki, a schoolmate of Machajski's in Kielce and Warsaw, had been associated with the Second Proletariat party and subsequently with the PPS; he referred to Machajski's essay in a letter dated December i6, 1899 (N.S.).58 South of Viliuisk, in Olekminsk, the pamphlets came into the hands of B. I. Gorev, a Social Democrat who would later write on the history of anarchism - and at one point Gorev helped to bury them in the ground in anticipation of a police search.Far to the southwest, the pamphlets reached Leon Trotsky, then in exile in Ust'-Kut, in Irkutsk gubernia.
<blockquote> Down from Viliuisk, Machajski's lithographed booklets were delivered to us. The first booklet, in which he subjected the opportunism of Social Democracy to criticism, made a great impression on everyone with its array of facts and quotations. The second booklet, as far as I remember, was in the same mode, but weaker. The third one, however, in which the author spelled out his positive program, slipping in part into revolutionary syndicalism and in part into trade-unionism, seemed to me, as it did to the majority of the Social-Democratic exiles, extremely weak. Machajski had a few followers, primarily from the Viliuisk colony. The old populists seized upon his criticism as a weapon against Social Democracy in general, without worrying unduly about his conclusions. </blockquote>
This was not the last of Trotsky's encounters with Makhaevism. In fact, he later had the opportunity to become personally acquainted with its creator. On a visit to Irkutsk in the summer of 1902, he was present at an evening-long argument between Machajski and K. K. Bauer, an adherent of the Legal Marxist and liberal Peter Struve. When Trotsky tried to intervene in the debate, both of its participants turned on him, and, in what was certainly a rare act of forbearance on Trotsky's part, he deemed it best to keep his silence.
From Siberia, the exiles subsequently carried word of Machajski's views to their revolutionary comrades in Russia and Europe. Trotsky provides a noteworthy example. When he turned up on Lenin's doorstep in London late in 1902, the two strolled around the city while Trotsky filled Lenin in on the news from Siberia, telling him, among other things, "about the three essays by Machajski."
Shortly after composing these essays, Machajski himself was able to begin disseminating them to a somewhat broader audience, and to begin creating an organisation based on them. He was released from exile in 1900, but in the course of his journey westward he was accidentally arrested, having been mistaken for the future Bolshevik (and biographer of Michael Bakunin) luni Steklov, who had escaped from Iakutsk exile in November 1899. When the police found a number of copies of The Intellectual Worker in his possession, they put him in jail. A group of exiles in the city of Irkutsk put up 5,000 rubles in bail for him, which facilitated his release from prison but prevented him from fleeing the city. He remained in Irkutsk under police surveillance .
In Irkutsk, Machaj ski formed the first group of "Makhaevists" and began to make contact with the railroad workers, bakers, and typesetters of the city.The Intellectual Worker was reproduced on a mimeograph, a small printing press was established, and in April 1902 the group printed a May Day appeal to the workers. This manifesto embodied the basic Makhaevist position that the workers must struggle solely for their own economic demands and not for political goals, which would benefit only "educated society." It berated the Social Democrats for politicising the workers' movement, and it called for mass economic strikes and demonstrations.
At the beginning of 1903, the Makhaevist group was broken up by arrests - although, as the Social Democrats were to discover, it left lasting traces on the labour movement of Irkutsk. According to one source, the immediate cause of the arrest of Machajski and his adherents was their organisation of a bakers' strike and their publication of leaflets calling for an "insurrection of the hungry."Machajski and three of his associates were sentenced to six years of exile each in the forbidding settlement of Sredne-Kolymsk.First, howeyer, they were taken to Aleksandrovskii Tsentral, a transit prison located a few miles outside Irkutsk where the warden was instructed to keep them under the strictest surveillance as especially dangerous persons."
The starosta, or elected spokesman, of the political prisoners at the time of Machajski's arrival at Aleksandrovskii Tsentral was the Social Democrat Petr Garvi, whose memoirs provide a detailed account of Machajski's stay there. Machajski's ideas had by now created such a sensation throughout Siberia that Garvi himself had heard about him while en route to the prison; when Machajski was brought there he was received by the other politicals almost as a celebrity. A hectographed copy of his Intellectual Worker circulated among them and was read "to shreds," provoking, as usual, heated debates, and overshadowing even the old arguments between the Marxists and the populists.
Machajski himself made a vivid, and for the most part favourable, impression on his fellow prisoners. When he arrived, an agreement was in effect between the prison administration and the political prisoners which gave the latter certain liberties in return for their promise not to attempt escape. Machajski, though he expressed disapproval of such arrangements in principle and was in fact hoping to make an escape, agreed to abide by the arrangement - and Garvi adds that he soon came to realise that Machajski was a man who would not go back on his word. As Garvi describes him, Machajski had considerable personal charm. "Of medium height, well built, with the eyes of a Polish revolutionary fanatic set in an energetic face framed by a thin beard, he had a striking vitality." Though unyielding when it came to defending his views, he was extremely cheerful, delighting in gymnastic tricks, chess, and dancing. He also turned out to be an excellent cook and considerably upgraded the prisoners' cuisine -which was perhaps just as well for his own health, for Garvi also noted in him a weakness for alcohol.
During the few months that Machajski spent at Aleksandrov-skii Tsentral, a dramatic confrontation took place between the political prisoners and the prison administration. Following a precedent set by the previous year's batch of exiles, the prisoners bound for the various colonies in Iakutiia demanded to be told their precise destination before their departure instead of en route, in order to notify relatives and maintain uninterrupted mail deliveries. When the authorities in Irkutsk refused their request, the prisoners barricaded themselves in their barracks - and then faced the question of what to do next. Garvi depicts Machajski as a firebrand in this episode, and not just figuratively speaking. If Garvi is to be believed, Machaj ski first argued that the prisoners should offer armed resistance to any attempt to storm the barracks, even though they had only a few revolvers and knives amongst them. Then he proposed that the prisoners threaten to burn down the barracks, with themselves inside, rather like the Old Believers of yore, if their demands were not met. He must have had considerable powers of persuasion, because a majority of the prisoners adopted his proposal, over Garvi's strenuous objection, and an ultimatum was issued to the authorities. It worked, in a manner of speaking: after two weeks, the prisoners were finally informed of their specific destinations - but in many cases discovered that those destinations were now more remote than their original sentences warranted.
With this episode, the gentlemen's agreement between the prisoners and the warden broke down, and Machajski was now morally free to make an escape attempt. He was assisted by one of his adherents, A. Shetlikh, who had met him in prison in St. Petersburg and been exiled with him to Viliuisk. Shetlikh, having been released from exile, now came to the area and helped to organise Machajski's escape.At the end of May or beginning of June, on the very day the prisoners were to set off from the transit prison under armed guard (thus making flight virtually impossible), Garvi persuaded the too-trusting warden to allow him to go into the free settlement to buy provisions for the journey, accompanied by Machajski and his comrade Mitkevich. They talked their guard into allowing them to pay a last visit to a "sick" friend who lived in the village, and while Garvi sipped coffee with the guard in the next room, first Machajski and then Mitkevich climbed out the invalid's bedroom window and down a ladder. Even at such a delicate moment, Machajski had sufficient aplomb to wave good-bye to Garvi, behind the guard's back, as he climbed over the windowsill. Garvi learned later that after wandering about in the taiga for some time, the two made their way back to Irkutsk, where they found refuge with friends and completed their escape. Machajski returned to European Russia and from there went abroad, finally settling in Geneva. "In 1904," Garvi concludes his narrative, "I met him-very warmly-in Paris."
During the next two or three years Machajski published most of his major writings, developing the theoretical foundations of Makhaevism that he had first laid out in his Siberian essays. It is clear, however, that even before he left Siberia, Makhaevism was already very well known. The hectographed and mimeographed copies of his writings continued to circulate. Familiarity with Makhaevism had begun to seep into the various branches of the revolutionary movement and, thanks to the Makhaevists' efforts in Irkutsk, into the labour movement as well.Whatever the degree of obscurity that may have enveloped Machajski subsequently, in the early years of the twentieth century his criticism of the intelligentsia as a "new class" of exploiters, and of socialism as its class ideology, were the subject of widespread interest, discussion, and debate.