A Dialouge on Anarchy: An Imaginary Conversation Between Karl Marx and Mikhail Bakunin

MAURICE CRANSTON, born 1920, lectures on political science at the London School of Economics. He is the author of Freedom: a new social analysis; Human Rights Today; a biography of John Locke and a recent study of Sartre.

On November 3, 1864, Karl Marx and Michael Bakunin met for the last time. Their conversation took place in Bakunin's lodgings in London, where the Russian anarchist was paying a short visit, and where Marx was living in exile. They had known each other for twenty years, but their friendship was precarious. Each was wary of the other, and both were competing for leadership of the workers' international. Their theories of socialism were sharply opposed, but each still regarded the other as a possible ally in the struggle against the bourgeoisie. In time they were to become bitter enemies; but their meeting in London was in the eyes of both a success. In this dialogue, broadcast by the BBC in October, Maurice Cranston has attempted to reconstruct their exchange of ideas.

BAKUNIN: My dear Marx, I can offer you tobacco and tea; but otherwise I fear the hospitality of these lodgings is frugal. I am at the moment impoverished.

MARX: I am always poor, Bakunin. There is nothing I do not know about poverty. It is the worst of evils.

BAKUNIN: Slavery is the worst of evils, Marx, not poverty. A cup of tea? I always have it ready; these London housemaids are very kind. When I lived in Paddington Green there was one called Grace — a bonne a tout faire — she used to run up and down stairs all day and most of the night with my hot water and sugar.

MARX: Yes, the working classes have a hard life in England; they should be the first to revolt.

BAKUNIN: They should be. But will they be?

MARX: They, or the Germans.

BAKUNIN: The Germans will never rise. They would sooner die than rebel.

MARX: It is not a question of national temperament, Bakunin; it is a matter of industrial progress. Where the workers are class conscious …

BAKUNIN: They are not class conscious here in England. That housemaid I spoke of was entirely docile, resigned, subdued. It pained me to see her so exploited.

MARX: You appear to have exploited her yourself.

BAKUNIN: London is full of exploitation. This vast city, full of misery and squalor and dark, mean streets — yet no one seems to want to throw a barricade across them. No, Marx, it is no place for a socialist.

MARX: But it is almost the only place that will have us. I have been here for fifteen years.

BAKUNIN: A pity you never came to see me in Paddington Green. I was there for more than twelve months. When I found your card yesterday, I realised our paths had not crossed since the old days in Paris.

MARX: I had to leave Paris in 1845.

BAKUNIN: Ah yes, before the rising in Dresden, when I fell, so to speak, into the enemy's hands. They kept me in prison for ten years. Then they sent me to Siberia; but as you know, I escaped, and made my way to London. Now I have a place to live in Italy. I am going back to Florence next week.

MARX: Well, at least you keep moving.

BAKUNIN: I have to. I am not so discreet a revolutionary as you are. The crowned heads of Europe have kept me moving.

MARX: The crowned heads of Europe have expelled me from several countries, too. And poverty has forced me out of several homes.

BAKUNIN: Ah yes, poverty … I am always penniless, always having to borrow money from friends. Indeed I suppose I must have lived on borrowed money for a large part of my life — except when I was in prison — and now I am fifty. But I never think about money. It is very bourgeois to think about money.

MARX: You are fortunate. You have no family to keep.

BAKUNIN: You must know that I acquired a wife in Poland. Though it is true that we have no children. Have some tea? I shall. A Russian cannot live without tea.

MARX: And you are very much the Russian, Bakunin; very much the Russian nobleman, to be more precise. It must be difficult for someone of your temperament to enter into the mind of the proletariat.

BAKUNIN: And what of yourself, Marx? Are you not the son of prosperous bourgeois, a lawyer? And is your wife not Fraulein von Westphalen, the daughter of Baron von Westphalen and the sister of the Prussian Minister of the Interior? That is hardly a plebeian background.

MARX: Socialism needs intellectuals as well as working men. Besides, I have learned a lot from persecution and hunger in the cold and sleepless night of exile.

BAKUNIN: The night of imprisonment is longer and colder. But I am so accustomed to hunger that I scarcely even notice it now.

MARX: I think the worst thing is to see one's children die because one has not enough money to feed them properly.

BAKUNIN: Yes, I can believe it would be. To be condemned to death oneself is not as bad as you would think. In a way, I found it quite exhilarating.

MARX: Since I have been in London, I have lived in cheap and sordid furnished rooms. I have had to borrow and buy food on credit, and then pawn our clothes to pay the bills. My children are used to answering the door and telling creditors I am not at home. All of us, my wife and I, and the children and an old servant are still crowded into two rooms — and there is not a clean or decent piece of furniture in either of them. I try to work at the same broken table where my wife sews and the children play, and often we sit for hours without light or food because there is no money to pay for either. My wife is often ill, and so are the children but I cannot call a doctor, because I could not pay his fees or buy the medicines he would order.

BAKUNIN: My dear Marx! Does not your collaborator Engels? — I always understood —

MARX: Engels is extremely generous, but he has not always been able to help me. Believe me, I have suffered every kind of misfortune. My greatest unhappiness came eight years ago, when my son Edgar died at the age of six.

Francis Bacon says that really important people have so many contacts with nature and the world, and have so much to interest them, that they easily get over a loss. I am not one of those important people, Bakunin. My son's death affected me so greatly that I feel the loss as bitterly today as I did on the day when he died.

BAKUNIN: If money is what you need, Alexander Herzen has plenty. I usually turn to him first. I see no reason why he should not help you too.

MARX: Herzen is a bourgeois reformer of the most superficial kind. I have no time for the society of such people.

BAKUNIN: If it had not been for Herzen, I should not have been able to translate your Communist Manifesto into Russian as I did a year or two ago.

MARX: A belated translation; but I am grateful for it. Perhaps you might think next of translating The Poverty of Philosophy.

BAKUNIN: No, my dear Marx, I do not rank that among your greater works. It is altogether too hard on Pierre-Joseph Proudhon.

MARX: It is intended to be hard on him. How could it be otherwise since it is a refutation of his Philosophy of Poverty?

BAKUNIN: It is a work of polemics against another socialist.

MARX: Proudhon is not a socialist. He is an ignoramus — a typical lower-class autodidact, a parvenu of economics who makes a great show of the qualities he does not possess. His loudmouthed, boastful, blather about science is really intolerable.

BAKUNIN: I admit Proudhon is limited. But he is a hundred times more revolutionary than all the doctrinaire and bourgeois socialists. He has the courage to declare himself an atheist. Above all, he has come out for liberty against authority, for a socialism which is to be entirely free from any kind of government regulation. Proudhon is an anarchist, and admitted.

MARX: In other words, his ideas are very like yours.

BAKUNIN: I have felt his influence, but Proudhon never goes far enough for me. He shrinks from action and violence. He does not see that destruction is itself a form of creation. I am an active revolutionary. Proudhon was a theoretical socialist, like yourself.

MARX: I do not know what you mean by a theoretical socialist, Bakunin; but I venture to claim that I have been as active a socialist as you.

BAKUNIN: My dear Marx, I meant nothing disrespectful. Indeed I remember that you were removed from Bonn University for duelling with pistols, so I know you will be a useful soldier of the revolution if we can ever get you out of the library at the British Museum and on to the barricades. When I spoke of you as a theoretical socialist, I meant to say that you are a theorist of socialism as Proudhon is. I could never write a long philosophical treatise of the kind that you and he write. A pamphlet represents my limit.

MARX: You are an educated man. You could not write in the vulgar way that Proudhon writes. BAKUNIN: Well, it is true that Proudhon is the son of a peasant, and a self-taught man, whereas I am the son of a landowner, though I suppose what you are thinking of, Marx, is that I studied Hegelian philosophy at Berlin University.

MARX: You could not have a better education. And I should expect a socialist of your culture to do more than shoulder a rifle at the barricades or set fire to the Opera House at Dresden.

BAKUNIN: You flatter me, Marx. I did not personally set fire to the Opera House. And I was certainly not acting in Dresden on behalf of anarchism. The fact of the matter, as you ought to remember, is that the Saxon Diet voted for a federal constitution for Germany. The King of Saxony would have nothing to do with any kind of unification, and dismissed the Diet. The people were indignant, and in May of that year they began to put up barricades in the streets of Dresden. The Parliamentary leaders — who were, of course, bourgeois liberals — entered the Town Hall and proclaimed a provisional government.

MARX: Not, I should have thought, an inspiring cause for one so opposed as you are to all forms of government.

BAKUNIN: Well, at any rate, the people had taken arms against a King. They had rebelled. That was something. So, as I happened to be in Dresden, I put myself at the disposal of the revolution. After all, I was trained for the army. The Saxon bourgeois liberals had no knowledge of arms whatever. I and a couple of Polish officers formed the general staff of the insurgent forces.

MARX: Soldiers of fortune, eh? But, then, you were not very fortunate.

BAKUNIN: No, it did not last more than a few days. The King found Prussian reinforcements, and we had to evacuate Dresden. As you said, some of our men set fire to the Opera House. I was all for blowing up the Town Hall with ourselves in it. But the Poles had disappeared by that time, and the last of the Saxon liberals wanted to remove his government to Chemnitz. I could not desert him, and so I was led like a lamb to the slaughter. At Chemnitz the local burgermeister arrested us in our beds.

MARX: So you went to prison, Bakunin, for the cause of German unity; and for trying to establish by force a bourgeois liberal government. I find that ironical.

BAKUNIN: I might well have been shot for it. But I am a wiser man now than I was then. Indeed I have learned a lot from you, Marx. I disagreed with you in 1848 but now I see that you were far more right than I was. I am afraid that the flames of the revolutionary movement in Europe went to my head, and I was more interested in the negative than the positive side of the revolution.

MARX: Well, I am glad you put your years of enforced reflection to good use.

BAKUNIN: Still, there was one point where I was right, and you were wrong Marx. As a Slav, I wanted the liberation of the Slav race from the German yoke. I wanted this to be brought about by a revolution — that is, by a destruction of the existing regimes of Russia, Austria, Prussia and Turkey; and by the reorganisation of the people from below upwards in complete liberty.

MARX: So you have not thought better of your old Panslavism? You are still the same old Russian patriot you were in Paris.

BAKUNIN: What do you mean by "Russian Patriot"? Be frank, Marx, do you still believe that I am some kind of Russian government agent?

MARX: I have never believed it, and one of the reasons why I have come here today is to clear away any lingering vestiges of that unfortunate suspicion.

BAKUNIN: But the story was first published in the Neue Rheinische Zeitung when you were the editor.

MARX: I have explained that before. The story came from our Paris correspondent that George Sand had said you were a Russian spy. Afterwards we published George Sand's denial and your own in full. We could do no more. I have also expressed my own regret. BAKUNIN: But you haven't succeeded in killing the rumour. Even though I was sent from an Austrian prison to a Russian one, kept for years in solitary confinement and then sent to Siberia. You have never been to prison, Marx. You will never understand what it feels like to find yourself buried alive. To have to say to yourself every hour of the day and night "I am a slave; I am annihilated". To be full of devotion and heroism, to serve the sacred cause of liberty, and to see all your enthusiasm break against four bare walls. That is bad enough. It is worse to come out and find you are pursued by the wicked libel that you are an agent of the very tyrant who has persecuted you.

MARX: But nobody believes that story any longer.

BAKUNIN: Alas, my dear Marx; it is circulating afresh here in London. It has been printed in one of those papers, published by Denis Urquhart — an English friend of yours I am sorry to say.

MARX: Urquhart is a monomaniac. He loves everything Turkish and hates everything Russian — indiscriminately. He is not altogether sane.

BAKUNIN: But you write for his press and you appear on his platforms my dear Marx.

MARX: He is a likeable eccentric. And since he shares my views of Palmerston — or thinks he does — he provides a medium for the publication of my work. It is propaganda. And it pays a little, just as the New York Tribune does. But let me assure you, Bakunin, that the reappearance of that idiotic story of your being a Russian spy has distressed me more than it has distressed you. And I hope you will allow me to apologise once more here and now, for ever having had anything to do with the circulation of it. I have never ceased to regret it.

BAKUNIN: Of course I accept your apology, Marx.

MARX: But there is one thing that I must in honesty add, that I regard your Panslavism as being entirely inimical to the interests of socialism, and only conducive to the sinister growth of Russian power in Europe.

BAKUNIN: Panslavism — and I mean, of course, democratic Panslavism — is one part of the great movement of European liberation.

MARX: Nonsense, nonsense.

BAKUNIN: Prove that it is nonsense, my dear Marx. Justify your criticism.

MARX: The proper age of Panslavism was the 8th and 9th centuries, when the Southern Slavs still occupied all of Hungary and Austria and threatened Byzantium. If they could not defend themselves then, and win their independence when their two enemies, the Germans and the Magyars, were hacking one another to pieces, how can they expect to do so now, after a thousand years of subjection and denationalisation? Nearly every country in Europe contains minorities, odd ruins of people, left-overs of the past, pushed back by the nations which became the carriers of historical development. Hegel, you will remember, called them ethnic trash.

BAKUNIN: In other words, you see such peoples as wholly contemptible, as having no rights to live.

MARX: I do not understand the language of rights. The very existence of such peoples is a protest against history; and that is why they are always reactionary. Look at the Gaels in Scotland — supporters of the Stuarts from 1640 to 1745; look at the Bretons in France, supporters of the Bourbons from 1792 to 1800. Or the Basques in Spain. And look at Austria itself in 1848. Who made the revolution then? The Germans and the Magyars. And who provided the armies which enabled Austrian reactionaries to crush the revolution? The Slavs. The Slavs fought the Italians and stormed Vienna on behalf of the Hapsburg monarchy. Slav troops keep the Hapsburgs in power.

BAKUNIN: Naturally there are Slavs in the Emperor's armies. But you know very well that the Panslavist movement is a democratic one, determined to oppose the Hapsburgs just as much as the Romanovs and the Hohenzollerns.

MARX: Oh, I have read your manifestoes, Bakunin. I know what you would like to achieve.

BAKUNIN: Then you will know what I have advocated: the abolition of all artificial frontiers in Europe and the creation of boundaries which are traced by the sovereign will of the people themselves.

MARX: That sounds very well. But you simply ignore the real obstacles that stand in the way of any such scheme — the completely different levels of civilisation that different European peoples have achieved.

BAKUNIN: I have always seen the difficulties, Marx; and I have said that the only way of surmounting them is by a policy of federation. The Slav is no enemy of democratic Germans or democratic Magyars — we offer them a brotherly alliance on the basis of liberty, fraternity and equality.

MARX: But those are mere words. They tell us nothing about facts. And the facts are quite brutally simple. Except for your own race and the Poles, and perhaps the Slavs of Turkey, no other Slavs have any future whatever, because those other Slavs have none of the historical, geographical, economic, political and industrial prerequisites of independence. They have no civilisation.

BAKUNIN: And the Germans have? Is that it? You think that their greater civilisation gives the Germans the right to dominate Europe, and commit any crimes against the rest.

MARX: What crimes? So far as I read history, I find that the only crime that the Germans and the Magyars have committed against the Slavs is to prevent them from becoming Turkish.

BAKUNIN: Well, my dear Marx, I have always said of Germany what Voltaire said of God: if it did not exist we should have to invent it For there is nothing so effective for keeping Panslavism alive as hatred of Germany.

MARX: There you have another proof that your wretched Panslavism is reactionary. It teaches people to hate the Germans instead of hating their real enemies, the bourgeoisie.

BAKUNIN: The two go together. That is where I have. advanced beyond the crude nationalism of my youth. Now I say that liberty is a lie for the great majority of people if they are deprived of education, leisure, and bread.

MARX: I consider you a friend, Bakunin, as you know, and I do not hesitate to call you a socialist, in spite of everything …

BAKUNIN: In spite of what?

MARX: Well, you are clearly not interested in what I call politics.

BAKUNIN: I am certainly not interested in parliaments, and parties, and constituent assemblies or representative institutions. Humanity needs something altogether more inspiring. A new world without laws and without states.

MARX: Anarchy?

BAKUNIN: Yes, anarchy. We must overthrow the whole political and moral order of the world as it is today. We must change it from top to bottom. It is no good just trying to modify existing institutions.

MARX: I do not wish to modify them. I simply say that the workers should take them over.

BAKUNIN: They should be completely abolished. The state corrupts our instincts and our will as well as our intelligence. The first principle of any valid socialism is to overthrow society.

MARX: I should call that a curious definition of socialism.

BAKUNIN: I am not interested in definitions, Marx. That is where I differ from you. I don't believe that any ready-made system is going to save the world. I have no system. I am a seeker. I believe in instinct rather than thought.

MARX: But you cannot be a socialist without a policy.

BAKUNIN: Of course I have a policy. And if it impresses you to have things set out point by point, I will tell you what my programme is. First it is to do away with man-made laws.

MARX: But you cannot do away with laws. The whole universe is governed by laws.

BAKUNIN: Natural laws assuredly — they cannot be done away with. Indeed I agree with you that men can enlarge their liberty by extending their understanding of the natural laws which rule the universe. Man cannot escape from nature, and it would be absurd to try to do so. But that is not what I proposed. I said we should abolish man-made laws — artificial laws — in other words, political and juridical laws.

MARX: You cannot seriously believe that society should impose no laws on its members?

BAKUNIN: Society should have no need to impose laws. Man is by nature a social creature. Outside society he is either a wild beast or a saint. There have to be laws in capitalist society because capitalist society is competitive, acquisitive, and sets one man against another. Freedom will only be possible when all men are equal. That is why there cannot be liberty without socialism.

MARX: There I entirely agree with you.

BAKUNIN: You say you agree with me, Marx. But when I say that there cannot be freedom without socialism, I also say that socialism without freedom is slavery and brutality.

MARX: I have never advocated socialism without freedom.

BAKUNIN: You have, my dear Marx, you have. You ask for the dictatorship of the proletariat.

MARX: The dictatorship of the proletariat is a part of freedom too because it is part of the process of liberation.

BAKUNIN: When I speak of liberty, I have in mind the only freedom worthy of that name — liberty consisting in the full development of all the material, intellectual and moral powers latent in man — a liberty which does not recognise any restriction but those traced by the laws of our own nature. I think of a freedom which, far from finding itself checked by the freedom of others, is, on the contrary, confirmed and extended by the freedom of all. I think of freedom triumphing over brute force and the principle of authority.

MARX: I hear your words, Bakunin, but I do not know what meaning to ascribe to them. But one thing, I will say, and that is you will never hasten the coming of socialism, or achieve anything else in politics unless you have a principle of authority.

BAKUNIN: Socialism will need a principle of discipline, but not authority. And not the kind of discipline which is imposed from outside; but a voluntary and reflective discipline which a man imposes on himself, and which harmonises perfectly with the principle of freedom.

MARX: You do not appear to have learned much from your experience of rebellions, Bakunin. Such movements could not prosper without a principle of authority. There must be officers even in the armies of anarchism.

BAKUNIN: Naturally at a time of military action, in the midst of a struggle, the roles are distributed in accordance with everyone's aptitudes, evaluated and judged by the whole movement. Some men direct and command, and others execute command. But no function remains fixed and petrified. Heirarchic order does not exist, the leader of today may become the subordinate tomorrow. No one is raised above others, and if he does rise for some little time, it is only to fall back later, like the waves in the sea, to the salutary level of equality.

MARX: Well, Bakunin, if you admit that direction and command are necessary during the struggle, then perhaps we may agree after all. I myself have always said that the dictatorship of the proletariat will only be needed during the preliminary stages of socialism. As soon as the classless society is matured, there will be no need for a state; in a phrase of my collaborator, Engels, the state will wither away.

BAKUNIN: There is not much indication of the state withering away in the Communist Manifesto that you and Engels wrote together. That is a marvellous pamphlet, and I should not have translated it if I did not admire it. But the fact remains that out of the ten points for the socialist programme which you outline in those pages, Marx, no fewer than nine call for the enlargement of the state — the state is to possess all the means of production, to control all commerce and credit, it is to impose forced labour and collect taxes, it is to monopolise the land, it is to control all means of transport and communication, and also it will run the schools and universities.

MARX: If you do not like that programme, you do not like socialism.

BAKUNIN: But that is not socialism, Marx; it is the most far-reaching form of statism — the usual German hankering for the big stick of the magnified state. Socialism means the control of industry and agriculture by the workers themselves.

MARX: A socialist state is a workers' state; they will control things indirectly.

BAKUNIN: But that is a typical illusion of bourgeois democratic theory that the people can control a state. In practice it is the state that controls the people, and the more powerful the state, the more crushing its dominion. Look at what is happening in Germany. As the state grows, all the corruption that goes hand in hand with political centralisation is sweeping over a public that used to be the most honest in the world. What is more, monopoly capitalism is growing as fast as the state grows.

MARX: The growth of monopoly capitalism is paving the way for the coming of socialism. The reason why Russia is so far from socialism is that it is only beginning to emerge from feudalism. BAKUNIN: The Russian people are closer to socialism than you realise, my dear Marx. The Russian peasants have their own tradition of revolution, and they have a great role to play in the liberation of mankind. The Russian revolution is rooted in the whole character of the people. In the seventeenth century the peasants rose in the South-East; and in the eighteenth century Pugachev led a peasants' revolt in the basin of the Volga which lasted for two years. The Russians will not shrink from violence. They know that the living fruit of human progress is watered with human blood. Nor do they shrink from fire. There was something truly Russian about the setting fire to Moscow which led to the defeat of Napoleon. Such are the fires in which the human race will be purged of the dross of slavery.

MARX: That sounds very dramatic, my friend; but the plain fact remains that socialism depends on the emergence of a class-conscious proletariat; and that is something which we can only expect in highly industrialised countries like England and Germany and France. The peasantry is the least organised and the least ready of all social classes for revolution. Peasants are even more backward than the Lumpenproletariat of the towns. They are natural barbarians or troglodytes.

BAKUNIN: That shows how much we differ, Marx. To me the flower of the proletariat does not consist, as it does for you, in the upper layer, in the skilled artisans of the factories, who are, in any case, semi-bourgeois in their outlook. I have known such men in the labour movement in Switzerland; and I can assure you that they are permeated with all the social prejudices, all the narrow aspirations and pretensions of the middle-classes. The skilled artisans are the least socialistic of the workers. To my eyes, Marx, the flower of the proletariat is the great mass, the rabble, the disinherited, wretched and illiterate millions that you speak of so contemptuously as the Lumpenproletariat.

MARX: You have clearly not given much thought to the concept of the proletariat. The proletariat is not the poor. There have always been poor people, but the proletariat is something new in history. It is not their poverty or wretchedness which makes men a proletariat. It is their indignation against the bourgeoisie; their defiance; their courage and their resolution to end their condition. A proletariat is created only when this inner indignation, this class-consciousness is added to poverty. The proletariat is the class with revolutionary ends, the class which aims at the destruction of all classes; the class which cannot emancipate itself without emancipating mankind as a whole.

BAKUNIN: But your socialist state will not eliminate classes, Marx. It will create two classes; the rulers and the ruled. There will be a government which is to do much more than is done by any government known to exist at present. Then there will be the people who are governed. On the one hand the Left-wing intelligentsia — the most despotic, arrogant, self-opinionated kind of men who exist — they will command, in the name of knowledge; and on the other hand there will be the simple ignorant mass, who will obey.

MARX: The legislators and administrators of the socialist state will be the representatives of the people.

BAKUNIN: But that is another liberal illusion, namely that a government, issuing from popular elections, can represent the will of the people. Even Rousseau saw the folly of that idea. The instinctive aims of governing elites are always opposed to the instinctive aims of the common people. Looking at society from their exalted positions, they can hardly avoid adopting the attitude of the schoolmaster or the governess.

MARX: Liberal democracy cannot work because the political institutions are always manipulated by the financial power of the bourgeoisie.

BAKUNIN: Socialist democracy, so called, would be vitiated by other pressures. A parliament made up exclusively of workers — the self-same workers who are staunch socialists today — would become a parliament of aristocrats overnight. It has always been the way. Put radicals in positions of power in the state, and they become conservatives.

MARX: There are reasons for that.

BAKUNIN: The chief reason is that the democratic state is a contradiction in terms. The state entails authority, force, predominance, and therefore inequality. Democracy by definition entails equality. Therefore democracy and the state cannot exist together. Proudhon never said a truer word than when he said that universal suffrage is counter-revolutionary.

MARX: That is an exemplary half-truth, a characteristic product of Proudhon's journalistic mind. It is true that the workers are usually too oppressed by poverty, too easily influenced by the propaganda of the bourgeoisie, to make good use of the vote. But universal suffrage can be exploited for a socialist end. We can go into politics and help to make what is nominally democratic actually democratic. We cannot achieve all our ends by parliamentary means; but we can achieve a great deal.

BAKUNIN: No state — not even the reddest political republic — can give the people what they most need — that is freedom. Every state, including your socialist state, my dear Marx, is based on force. MARX: What is the alternative to force?

BAKUNIN: Enlightenment.

MARX: But the people are not enlightened.

BAKUNIN: They can be educated.

MARX: Who is to educate them, if the state does not?

BAKUNIN: Society will educate itself. Unfortunately the governments of the world have left the people in such a state of profound ignorance that it will be necessary to establish schools not only for the people's children, but for the people themselves. But these schools must be free from any taint of the principle of authority. They will not be schools at all in the conventional sense; they will be popular academies, and the pupils, being rich in experience, will be able to teach many things to their teachers, even as they are taught. In that way there would develop a sort of intellectual fraternity between them.

MARX: Well, at least you admit the two categories of teachers and taught. I do not myself see any great problem of education, once the socialist society has been created.

BAKUNIN: Yes, the first question is economic emancipation; and the rest will follow of itself.

MARX: It will not follow of itself unless the socialist state provides it You have all the evidence of history to prove it. The most educated people in Europe today — the French and the Germans — owe their education to a strong state system of public instruction. In countries where the state provides no schools, the people are hopelessly illiterate.

BAKUNIN: The great schools and universities here in England are not controlled by the state.

MARX: They are dominated by the Church of England, which is worse; and which is part of the state, in any case.

BAKUNIN: The colleges of Oxford and Cambridge are governed by independent and self-perpetuating societies of scholars.

MARX: You know little of English life, Bakunin. Both Oxford and Cambridge have had to be radically reformed by Acts of Parliament The State has intervened to save them from complete intellectual decay. They are backward enough as it is compared to German universities.

BAKUNIN: But their existence shows that it is possible for scholars to control their own colleges. And there is no reason why the workers should not administer their own farms and factories in the same way.

MARX: One day, no doubt, many such things will come about, but in the meantime a workers' state must replace the bourgeois owners until a better system is prepared.

BAKUNIN: That is the great difference between us, Marx. You believe that you must organise the workers to take possession of the state. I want to organise them to destroy, or, if you prefer a politer word, to liquidate the state. You want to make use of political institutions. I want to see the people federate themselves spontaneously, freely.

MARX: What does it mean to federate spontaneously?

BAKUNIN: Labour will organise itself. Productive associations based on mutual aid will be joined together in districts, and these districts will be freely combined in larger units. All power will come from below.

MARX: Such projects are utterly unrealistic. They are no different from the phalansteres and other duodecimal editions of the New Jerusalem proposed by utopian Socialists. They are all foolish, but they are not, unfortunately, harmless; because they introduce a spurious notion of socialism which may take the place of the real thing. And in diverting men's attention from immediate conflict, their effect is conservative and reactionary. BAKUNIN: One thing you cannot say about me, Marx, is that I divert men's attention from the immediate conflict. What is more, I think, as you do, that there are only two parties in the world; the party of revolution and the party of reaction. The peaceful socialists, with their co-operative societies and their model villages, belong to the party of reaction. The party of revolution is unfortunately already, dividing itself into two factions: the champions of state socialism, which you represent, and the libertarian socialists, of which I am one. Your side has greater following, naturally, in Germany, and also here in England. But the socialists of Italy and Spain are libertarians almost to a man. So the question before us is; which side is going to prevail in the international workers' movement.

MARX: The genuinely socialist side, I hope; and not the anarchist side.

BAKUNIN: You call yours the genuinely socialist side because you deceive yourself about the nature of popular dictatorship. You do not realise the danger, but it would bring enslavement just as all other states have done.

MARX: You suppose that because the state has always been an instrument of class oppression, that it always must be? Can you not imagine the possibility of a different kind of state?

BAKUNIN: I can imagine one so different that it could not be called by the same name. There is room for something on the lines proposed by Proudhon — a sort of simple business office, a central clearing house at the service of society.

MARX: Perhaps that is all that every socialist society will ultimately have. There will come a time, when the government of people will give way to the administration of things. But before the state can wither away it must be magnified.

BAKUNIN: That is not only paradoxical; it is contradictory.

MARX: But what if it is? You know your Hegel as well as I do. You know that the logic of history is the logic of contradiction. What we affirm, we also deny.

BAKUNIN: The argument may be good Hegel, but it is not good history. You will never destroy the state by enlarging it. I am your disciple, Marx. The longer I live, the more certain I am that you were right when you followed the great high road of economic revolution, and invited others to follow. But I shall never understand, or agree with, any of your authoritarian proposals.

MARX: If you are an anarchist, you cannot be my disciple. But perhaps I had better tell you in greater detail just where you go wrong. First of all, you speak of the principle. of authority as if it were everywhere and in all circumstances wrong. That is a very superficial view. We live in an industrial age. Modern factories and mills where hundreds of workers supervise complicated machines have superseded the small workshops of the individual producers. Even agriculture is falling under the dominion of machines. Combined action displaces independent action by individuals. Combined action means organisation and organisation means authority. In the medieval world, the little craftsman could be his own master. But in the modern world, there must be direction and subordination. If you are going to resist any kind of authority, you will have to live in the past.

BAKUNIN: But I do not resist any kind of authority, Marx. In the matter of boots, I refer to the authority of bootmakers; in the matter of houses, I refer to the authority of architects; in the matter of health, I refer to the authority of physicians. But I do not allow the bootmaker or the architect or the physician to impose his authority on me. I accept their opinions freely; I respect their expert knowledge, but still reserve to myself the right of criticism and censure. Nor do I content myself with consulting a single authority. I consult several; I compare their views; for I recognise none as infallible. I know that I cannot know everything; and I also know that no one else can know everything either. It is because there is no universal and omniscient man, that my reason forbids me to accept any fixed, constant, and universal authority.

MARX: But if you eliminate authority from political and economic life, nothing will ever be done efficiently even if it is done at all. How could a railway, for example, run, if there was no one with power to keep people off the lines, no one to decide at what hours the trains should start; no one to lay down the order in which they should run, if only to avoid accidents; and no one to decide who should be admitted to the carriages.

BAKUNIN: The railway workers would elect the guards and signalmen and obey their instructions freely. As to the question who is to stoke the engines and who is to travel in the first-class compartment — well, that is a question for you to put to any socialist. Under my kind of socialism, people would take it in turns to do the work and enjoy the comfort, by mutual agreement. But under your kind of socialism, Marx, I fancy we should see the poor old-fashioned kind of locomotive fireman still stoking away at the engine, and only a new kind of privileged passenger, the administrator of the socialist state smoking a big cigar in the first class compartment.

MARX: Listen, Bakunin, I am no more in love with the state than you are. All socialists are agreed that the political state will disappear as soon as the success of socialism makes it unnecessary. But you demand that the political state shall be abolished overnight, and the workers left without any kind of leadership or discipline or responsible control. The truth of the matter is that you anarchists have no plans for the future whatever.

BAKUNIN: That is because we cannot foretell exactly what the future will hold. I am mistrustful of all detailed schemes, Marx. When competitive instincts have given way to fraternal instincts, I believe that the technical problems of production and distribution will be solved by the common intelligence and good will of the people themselves.

MARX: Your troubles, Bakunin, are partly psychological and moral: but they are also intellectual. You seem to be under the gross misapprehension that it is the state which has created capital, or that the capitalist has his capital only by grace of the state. This accounts for the almost stunning simplicity of your views; as you see it, we have only to do away with the state, and capitalism will go to blazes of itself. Now the truth, I have to tell you, is the other way round. Do away with capital — do away with the concentration of the means of production in the hands of the few — and the state will no longer be an evil.

BAKUNIN: But the evil lies in the very nature of the state. All states are the negation of liberty.

MARX: But by taking this extreme and emotional attitude towards the state, you do great harm to the cause of the workers. You are using your influence, Bakunin, to prevent them taking part even in elections.

BAKUNIN: I tell the workers to do more than take part in elections; I tell them to fight.

MARX: You tell them to fight even before there is any prospect of victory. And that is another form of irresponsibility. I said just now, that your defects were partly moral. One of them is that you have no patience. You like shooting rifles at the barricades, even for causes you do not really believe in, because that satisfies your emotional craving for violent action, for excitement at all costs. You will not dedicate yourself to real political activity because that requires patience, order, reflection.

BAKUNIN: My whole life is dedicated to political activity.

MARX: Your life is dedicated to political conspiracy, but that is not the same thing.

BAKUNIN: My whole life is spent among the workers. Organisation, propaganda, education …

MARX: Education for what?

BAKUNIN: For the revolution. I certainly do not think the workers should waste their energies in the bogus institutions of representative government, so called.

MARX: I can understand that such ideas have a following in Italy and Spain, among lawyers and students and other intellectuals. But the workers will not allow themselves to be persuaded that the political affairs of their country are not also their own affairs. To tell the workers to abstain from politics is to drive them into the arms of the priests and the bourgeois republicans.

BAKUNIN: My dear Marx, if you have read my published writings you will know that I have continuously and passionately opposed both the Church and the republicans. Your own opinions are very guarded in comparison to mine.

MARX: My friend, I do not for a moment deny that you do really hate both the priests and the republicans, but what you do not realise is that your own thinking is permeated by their assumptions.

BAKUNIN: You are jesting, my dear Marx.

MARX: No, I mean it quite seriously. First, take all your talk about liberty. It is abundantly clear that the only freedom you believe in is individualistic liberty — in fact the same freedom which is advocated by bourgeois theorists like Hobbes and Locke and Mill. When you think of freedom you think that nobody should be ordered about by anyone else. You think of each separate man, standing with all his rights, being menaced by social and collective institutions like the state. You never think, as a real socialist must think, of humanity as a whole, or of man as a creature inseparable from society.

BAKUNIN: There again, Marx, you show that you have either not listened to me or not understood what you have heard.

MARX: I fancy I have understood you better than you have understood yourself. If you cannot conceive of a state as anything but oppressive, that shows you cannot think of men as anything but isolated units, each with his own private will and desires and interests. This is how the theorists of bourgeois liberalism think; and you anarchists have just the same image of the human being and society. Your anarchism is only liberalism pushed to an extreme, pushed to a somewhat hysterical extreme, I might add. Your philosophy is essentially egoistic. You have a conception of the self, and of freedom for the self which belongs to the metaphysics of capitalism.

BAKUNIN: I am not interested in metaphysics.

MARX: But anarchism has its metaphysical assumptions, whether you choose to understand them or not. It also has its own ethics, which is very like Christian ethics. "Mutual aid", I hear you repeating; or you might put it in more conventional Christian terms and say "Love your neighbour" or "sacrifice yourself for others". But real socialism needs no such precepts because it does not recognise the isolation of the individual. In a socialist society, man is no longer alienated either from his neighbour or himself.

BAKUNIN: Since the state is the cause of their alienation — the obvious remedy is to eliminate it.

MARX: But we cannot eliminate it until we have removed the conditions which make the state a necessary outgrowth of society.

BAKUNIN: As soon as the workers' movement has recruited enough power to remove it, the state will cease to be necessary.

MARX: You admit it is necessary at present?

BAKUNIN: It is necessary to a property-owning society. Once private property has been redistributed; once socialism has triumphed …

MARX: But is is a very vulgar kind of socialism which is bothered about the redistribution of property. Surely, Bakunin, you are not one of those who thinks that socialism consists in the fair sharing of goods among individuals?

BAKUNIN: That is certainly one of its aims.

MARX: My friend, the aim of socialism is far more radical than that. Its aim is to bring about a complete transformation of human nature, a change of the self, the creation of a new man. The individual will be fused into society. Each will be freed from his self-alienation: You tell me your own goal is freedom. Socialism will bring a freedom which is quite unknown in the past experience of mankind.

BAKUNIN: You make freedom too mysterious a thing.

MARX: And you make it too commonplace a thing. As you look at the world, Bakunin, you imagine that some people are free to-day and some oppressed.

BAKUNIN: I do not imagine it. It is so. The few are free. The rich.

MARX: I tell you that nobody is free in the world today. Not even the richest bourgeois. Morally speaking, the capitalist, as a man, is as much a slave of the system as the workers are. This is what enables us to say, with truth, that the emancipation of the proletariat means the emancipation of mankind.

BAKUNIN: But the hard fact remains that at present the rich man can do what he likes, while the poor man cannot even get what he needs.

MARX: But the rich man's choice is governed and restricted by the bourgeois culture, by a system which denies the humanity of everyone. Besides, it is a very narrow theory of freedom which defines it as doing what you want to do.

BAKUNIN: But it is better than the theory of freedom which defines freedom as doing what you ought to do. That is what the priests say — the service of the Church is perfect freedom; and what Hegel says, obedience to the state is perfect freedom. Personally I'd rather have the plain man's notion that liberty is doing what you want to do.

MARX: But you yourself have just defined liberty as the fulfilment of the potentialities in man. And that is much closer to the goal of socialism. The socialist man will be free because he will be a changed man.

BAKUNIN: But if men are not left alone to develop themselves they will not realise the best that is in them.

MARX: There you are, Bakunin, betraying your bourgeois liberal philosophy in bourgeois liberal words. For is that not just what Adam Smith and all his kind say? Leave men alone and each will do the best he can for himself? The economic man will have his own incentive to self-improvement? What is the phrase "Laissez nous faire …"?

BAKUNIN: Of course, if you choose to ignore the fact that the liberals stand for private property and competitive economy, while I believe in everything being held in common …

MARX: But if your overriding principle is that every man must have his precious private right to freedom unrestrained, then you will soon find there are those who want to abstract something from the common pool and claim it as their own. For you cannot have at the same time complete individual liberty and no individual property. For what could you say to the man who claimed the right to property? Or rather, not what would you say to him, but what would you do to him, if you had no state or any other instrument of socialist authority to restrain recalcitrant or anti-social individuals?

BAKUNIN: But you yourself, Marx, have said that socialist man will be a changed man. He will no longer have the egoistic, acquisitive, unnatural impulses which are generated by life in bourgeois society.

MARX: My kind of socialist man will be changed, Bakunin. But I do not recognise your kind as socialist man at all. You think of men as individuals, each with his little empire of rights; I think of humanity as a whole. Freedom, as I see it, is the liberation of mankind; not the liberty of the individual.

BAKUNIN: But that is Hegel's notion of freedom again. The idea that acting freely is acting morally, and acting morally is acting in accordance with the principle of reason which is embodied in the state.

MARX: Hegel was not altogether wrong. Only a rational being can be free, because only a rational being can make a choice between alternatives. An irrational choice is not a free choice. To act freely is to act rationally. And to act rationally is to acknowledge the necessity of nature and of history. There is no real antithesis between necessity and freedom.

BAKUNIN: But we are not talking about the question of the freedom of the will, Marx. What we are considering is political freedom. There is nothing metaphysical or difficult about that. Political freedom depends on the removal of political oppression. One does not need any philosophical training to see that. A child of nine can look at the world and see who is oppressed and who are the oppressors.

MARX: And a child of nine might well suppose that the situation could be briskly remedied by doing away with the state. He might well become an anarchist. And his tender years would excuse his folly.

BAKUNIN: There is the folly of the philosopher as well as the folly of the child. All your abstruse reasoning about liberty can only take you where it took Rousseau and Hegel: to the belief that men can be forced to be free.

MARX: Of course men can be forced to be free, in the sense that you can force them to act rationally — or at any rate prevent them from acting irrationally.

BAKUNIN: But a freedom which can be imposed on a man is not worth the name of freedom.

MARX: It is reality that matters, not names.

BAKUNIN: Well, look at reality then. If you talk about forcing men to be free you must be thinking about two classes of people — the one who does the forcing and the one who has his freedom forced upon him. And there you have the two types who make up the so-called classless society of authoritarian socialism: the rulers and the ruled, those on top, and those below.

MARX: Of course some people must be superior to others. As I have said to you before, a socialist society must be regulated, especially in the early stages. The alternative is the Tower of Babel, a world in which no one knows what to do, or what to expect; a world where there is no order, no security, or reliance on settled and fixed arrangements. Anarchy means chaos; and chaos appals me. If it appeals to you, Bakunin, it is because you are susceptible to the meretricious charm of Bohemian or gypsy life. After the rigidity of your early life, with your upper-class family and your military schools, it may be only natural that Bohemian disorder should attract you. But if you reflect upon it you will see that Bohemianism is really only an elaborate tribute to the bourgeois ethos, studiously defying and outraging it. But I tell you, the bourgeois ethos is not worth such attention. The socialist has more serious things to think about.

BAKUNIN: You speak of "vulgar socialism" Marx, but you yourself have a vulgar notion of what anarchism means. To the uneducated mind the word "anarchy" means just chaos or disorder. But an educated man must know that the word is only a transliteration from the Greek and that it means nothing more than opposition to government. It is pure superstition to assume that the absence of government means the presence of chaos or disorder. The most orderly nations in Europe to-day are not those where the government bears most heavily upon the public, but those where its pressure is felt the least. As for what you say about Bohemianism, I do not understand you; I certainly have no relish for disorder.

MARX: But you have spoken eagerly enough about blood and fire and destruction.

BAKUNIN: That is mere zeal for battle. I may be more impatient for the coming of the revolution than you are, Marx; but I can assure you that the anarchist yearns as much as you do for the tranquility of the socialist order.

MARX: It is no use you yearning for it; because without the socialist state you will not have it. Your kind of revolution will bring blood and fire and destruction, assuredly; but it will not bring much else.

BAKUNIN: And your kind of revolution, Marx, will bring something infinitely worse, and that is slavery.

MARX: Well, my friend, I fancy it is a good thing that we have both been persecuted by the bourgeois; otherwise, if we continued this conversation much longer, we might both of us cease to be socialists.

BAKUNIN: I must ring for more hot water. The tea has got stone cold.

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Sep 5 2016 20:52


Anarchy: a journal of anarchist ideas

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