Karl Marx: Anti-bourgeois or neo-bourgeois? - Max Nomad

1960s text by Max Nomad, criticising Marxism and revolutionary ideologies in general as vehicles for the emancipation of the educated middle classes. We do not necessarily agree with all of it.

Loathed by the haves of the Western status quo as the satanic symbol of subversion and worshipped by millions of the educated and uneducated malcontents as the Holy Ghost of the world-redeeming Marx- Lenin-Mao Trinity, the author of The Communist Manifesto and of Das Kapital is a psychological enigma to many maverick radicals. Was he really the Anti-Bourgeois incarnate? Was he really the champion of the horny-handed underdog? Or shouldn't he rather be called the crypto-ideologist of the neo-bourgeoisie, the office-holders and managers of the non-capitalist orbit? And isn't the credit which he deserves as the merciless critic of capitalist exploitation, counter-balanced by the fact that he never as much as hinted at the possibility of a post-capitalist subjection of the uneducated masses to the non-capitalist owners of the invisible "capital" called education?

To reassure my readers, I promise them that I'll not torment them with a discussion of such subjects as the labor theory of value, surplus value, materialist interpretations of history, dialectical materialism, or even "alienation" - the pet subject of present-day philosophical marxologists, I'll stick exclusively to the one single theme, the one which Marx only fleetingly touched upon in his work - exactly the one which at present is of greater importance than all the others taken together.


"The will", Schopenhauer says somewhere, "forbids the intellect to hit upon certain ideas; it prevents the rise of certain lines of thought . . . in order to prevent painful and shameful shocks." Without referring to this passage the radical German sociologist Franz Oppenheimer mentions in his monumental Der Staat the way the conservative economist Adolf Wagner reacted to his (Oppenheimer's) views about the State. At variance with the current idea - accepted by Marx as well - about the evolutionary, that is non-violent origin of that venerable institution, Oppenheimer defended the realistic thesis that the emergence of the State and of the privileged classes was everywhere and at all times the result of a conquest, that is of, mass brigandage and mass homicides. A highly esteemed member of the privileged classes, Adolf Wagner winced at this implied slur at the traditional respectable genealogy of the Prussian Establishment. So, instead of arguing with his radical colleague, he expressed his shock with the words "Es kann doch nicht wirlich so sein!" (It couldn't really be so!)

It is with a similar shock that a few decades earlier, the founder of what is called "scientific socialism," reacted to Bakunin's prophetic analysis of Marx's concept of the "dictatorship of the proletariat". In his last work, Statism and Anarchy (1873), the founder of the revolutionary anarchist movement wrote what fifty years later was to become a commonplace, namely that the dictatorship of workers, but the rule of "government engineers who will constitute a new privileged, scientific political class." To Marx this prediction of his rival was a preposterous reverie.

This unrealistic response to what was the obvious truth brings up the question of what was hiding behind the "will" that "forbade" Marx's "intellect to hit upon the idea" suggested by Bakunin, and that "prevented the rise of those lines of thought" which could touch upon the question of the antagonism between the manual workers, that is, the uneducated, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, the intellectual workers, or, as Bakunin put it, "the government engineers who will constitute a new, privileged, scientific. political class." For, in Marx's opinion, there was no antagonism, present or future, between these two classes; they were both parts of the "proletariat" - a term which, though it colloquially refers to the manual workers, in strict socialist terminology covers all recipients of wages and salaries, regardless of whether they are college-bred or illiterate. Just as in the eighteenth century all non-feudals, whether rich or poor, constituted the "people" in the opinion of ideologists or the rising capitalist bourgeoisie.


Marx's inability or unwillingness to concern himself with the problem of the educated versus the uneducated touched upon by Bakunin crops up in all those passages of his writings in which, for one reason or another, he deals with the educated non-capitalist stratum of society. One of the first essays written by him in the early 1840s, when he was still groping his way toward . . . Marxism, was his Criticism of Hegel's Philosophy of Right. That essay contains the following passage: "The emancipation of the German is the emancipation of man. The head of that emancipation is philosophy, its heart the proletariat. " There were those who, like the German radical historian Arthur Rosenberg and the present writer, simultaneously, during the 1930s, interpreted this passage to the effect that in a revolution headed by philosophers, that is by intellectuals, Marx needed the "heart" that is, the physical force of the workers. This passage was written when Marx was still chiefly a revolutionary philosopher and not yet an active revolutionary necessarily concealing a malcontent intellectual's conscious or unconscious will to power behind a screen of a self- deceptive philosophy of devotion to the "emancipation of the proletariat."

In the Communist Manifesto, written five years later (1848), Marx made no distinction between "philosophy" (meaning the intellectuals) and the "proletariat" (in the meaning of the working class). There he wrote about the "physician, the lawyer, the man of science" having been turned by capitalism into "paid wage laborers." Which meant that they were fellow "proletarians" who apparently would not think of setting themselves up as their "head". that is. as the workers' new masters. That the specific invisible "capital" owned by these "wage laborers" in the form of higher education, constituted a privilege fraught with very bourgeois or neo-bourgeois possibilities - that shocking idea, if it ever occurred to Marx, was apparently dismissed the shocking idea that at bottom his accomplishments are nothing but banditry "writ large."

Marx's blindness on this point, on the one hand, and, on the other, his obsession with power, is revealed in another, seemingly commonplace statement contained in the Communist Manifesto. There he says that "every class struggle is a political struggle," which, of course, implied that it is a struggle for power. Now, the uprisings of the illiterate slaves and of the no less illiterate serfs and the mass wage strikes of the illiterate or near-illiterate industrial workers were certainly class struggles, but they were not political struggles for power which they could not exercise anyhow. They became "political" only when they were exploited by more educated elements - in other words, by men like Marx's - in their struggle for power.

It would seem that the "paid wage laborers" phrase about the intellectuals did not carry much conviction with the author himself. At any rate, he made a disastrous slip a few pages further in the same pamphlet, where he says that "a portion of the bourgeoisie goes over to the proletariat, and in particular a portion of the bourgeois ideologists, who have risen to the level of comprehending theoretically the historical movement as a whole." Thus Marx inadvertently attempted to kill one bird with two stones, so to speak, by explaining the participation of the intellectuals in the "proletarian" movement (1) by the fact that they were fellow wage-workers, and (2) by the fact that, though bourgeois, they were aware that the future ("historical movement") belongs to the underdog. For all his realism and awareness of the selfish urges of the various social classes, Marx rejected the idea that his own class, that of the intellectual workers, may be dominated by the urge of not only "comprehending theoretically the historical movement" but also of becoming the beneficiaries of the "movement" - by setting themselves up as the new ruling class. At any rate, it seems that in the Communist Manifesto Marx protested too much.

An unwitting satire on the Marxist claim that all recipients of wages (and salaries) belonged to the same class was supplied, no doubt tongue in cheek, by Marx's contemporary, the ultra-reactionary Imperial Habsburg General Jellachich who called himself a "proletarian who lives only on his wages" (quoted in Karl Kautsky's Krieg Und Demokratie, P. 438). But it would seem that, just as to Saint Paul "master and servant are one thing in Christ," manual workers and potential office holders were "one thing" to Marx and his disciples. To the horny-handed underdog the world over this harmony between the post-capitalist masters and their servants was dished out as part of the gospel of class struggle.

The way Marx and Engels used the term "proletariat" and "proletarian" is sometimes amusing. Thus in 1848, Marx wrote in the Paris Vorwaerts: "In the realm of theory, mankind is indebted to he German proletariat, and in the realm of politics, to the French proletariat." In crediting the illiterate or at best semi-illiterate, manual workers with the ideas of Europe's anti-capitalist intelligentsia, Marx was seeking to identify the latter with the working class. Thus, in seeking power, Marx and his following of intellectuals and self-taught ex-workers could claim that they did it on behalf of the working class.

It is interesting to note that more than a half a century after Marx had credited the "proletariat" with the authorship of all the philosophical, economic and political theories which radical intellectuals, like himself were elaborating at that time, Lenin, his most famous disciple, in his best known book What Is to Be Done took the position that socialist ideas had come to the working class from the bourgeois intelligentsia. To a large extent this view of Lenin's was derived from an opinion expressed in 1901 (one year before the appearance of Lenin's book) by Karl Kautsky, chief exponent of Marxist orthodoxy in Germany. In an article published in the theoretical organ of the German Social Democratic (Socialist) Party, Neue Zeit, 1901- 1902, XX,I, No, 3, p, 79, Kautsky wrote: "Socialism and the class struggle (Kautsky had in mind the wage struggles of the manual workers) arise side by side and not one out of the other; each arises out of different premises. Modern socialist consciousness can arise only on the basis of profound scientific knowledge . . . The vehicles of science are not the proletariat but the bourgeois intelligentsia (emphasized in the original); it was out of the heads of the members of this stratum that modern socialism originated and it was they who communicated it to the more intellectually developed proletarians who, in their turn, introduced it to the proletarian class struggle, where conditions allow that to be done. This socialist consciousness is something introduced into the proletarian class struggle from without and not something that arose within it spontaneously."

It is beside the point that Marx's most famous disciples made these statements in order to put in their place the spokesmen of certain trade-unionist or quasi-trade unionist trends within their respective parties who, in their rivalry with the college-bred leaders, occasionally tried to prejudice the masses against the intellectuals holding top positions within the socialist movement. The fact is that, without mentioning the Teacher's name, Lenin and Kautsky, for factional considerations, at one given moment, challenged an important tenet of Marxism, without, however, drawing any logical - and "shocking" - conclusions from their challenge.


Marx's identification of his own social class with the working class was rudely jolted for a while by the Revolution of 1848 which occurred shortly after the appearance of the Communist Manifesto. The revolution opened to the French underprivileged - workers and declasse intellectuals - vistas of a "social republic." It was, however, seen in a somewhat different light by the German radical intellectual Marx as far as his country was concerned. While in France the radical intelligentsia was jointly with the workers arrayed against middle and big capital and their office-holding partners, the situation in Germany required, in Marx's opinion, a different orientation. There the Junkers had been weakened but not yet defeated, for they were supported by the mostly illiterate peasantry. So the situation, according to Marx, called for a united front of all middle class elements and of the workers as well. However, there was a discordant note in that symphony of democratic hopes. The heart of the workers, the alleged "heart of the revolution" was not in it, and the workers actually threatened to sabotage the concert. No, they had not been seduced by any reactionary, counter-revolutionary propaganda. They only thought that, once a Revolution was on, they had the right to get something out of it. So they started striking for higher wages and began to form labor unions. This so frightened and disconcerted the bourgeoisie that it lost all enthusiasm for its own revolution against the Junkers.

Marx's attitude at that juncture is worth noting. Convinced that under the prevailing circumstances the success of the democratic revolution was impossible if the bourgeoisie were antagonized by the radicals, he had joined the liberal Democratic Party, dropped all Communist propaganda, and published no reports on the labor movement in the Neue Rheinisce Zeitung, the daily which he edited in Cologne and into which he had sunk all the money left to him by his father. His alter ego, Frederich Engels, who never disagreed with him, in a letter written at that time from his industrial home town Barmen, even went as far as to disapprove of the workers' attempts to form unions lest they affect the attitude of the bourgeoisie towards its own revolution. (see K. Marx-F. Engels briefwechsel, Berlin, 1929, Vol. 1, p. 100)

It might be argued that, from the "broader" historical point of view, the triumph of political democracy was more important than the satisfaction of the workers' immediate demands for better wages. But the fact is that this conflict the intellectual Karl Marx behaved not as a "paid wage laborer" but as a regular "bourgeois ideologist" who was ready to sacrifice the immediate interests of the workers for the sake of a bourgeois revolution whose immediate beneficiaries would have included his own social stratum.


After the defeat of the French and German revolutions of 1848, Marx beheld the seizure of power of Louis Bonaparte, the later Napoleon III. That coup d'etat resulted in a dictatorship which anticipated some features of fascism. A section of Frances' educated lower middle class malcontents, supported by the big city riffraff, took possession of the country with the primary object of "soaking" through taxation, all classes of the population for the benefit of an enormous bureaucracy.

In his Eighteenth Brumaire dealing with that event, Marx referred to the "enormous bureaucracy, well-trimmed and well-fed" which was the "'Napoleanic idea' close to the heart of the second Bonaparte." However, Marx was either unable or unwilling to draw any conclusions form the parasitism of that "enormous bureaucracy. As Napoleon III was opposed both by the bourgeoisie and the workers, the founder of modern scientific socialism concluded that the usurper was the representative of the interests of the small peasantry which had given him the decisive vote. Marx was not unaware of the fact that the peasantry was just as heavily taxed as the other classes for the purpose of supporting an enormous army of office-holders, army officers and other hangers-on of the new regime; for he himself writes about it. But he shied away from the idea that this "artificial caste" (of office holders) for which the maintenance of Napoleon's regime was a bread -and-butter question, was potentially the emerging new class of inheritors of capitalism, such as seven decades later was to be set up by some of his Russian disciples. To be sure, those Bonapartists spoke a different political lingo and used different methods in their attack upon the capitalists' pocketbooks, But, to use a bon mot coined in 1848 by the poet Beranger about the quarrels of the various political parties, it was not so much the difference of principles as the similarity of apppeties that made Marx ignore the real nature of that phenomenon.

Marx was of course aware of the fact that there were "third persons" who got a share of the capitalists' profits. He referred to them facetiously as "king, priest, professor, whore, soldier," while completely omitting the office-holders and technical managers, As a matter of fact, the technical experts were in his opinion simply "workers" as exemplified by a letter of his to one of his friends in the United States to whom he recommended two "workers" who shared his views one of them a baker and the other a . . .mining engineer.


Shortly before his death, Marx undertook the task of analyzing the various social classes. He never finished that piece which, in its incomplete form, is contained at the end of Das Capital. It is possible of course that his failing health prevented him from finishing that manuscript. However, another explanation is likewise possible, An explanation which suggested to his writer by Clemenceau's refusal to write his autobiography after he had retired form political life. He had done, he said in substance, too many indefensible things in his life which he would rather not write about, He was reluctant to write lies at the end of his life. ("I could not tell the truth without ruining my reputation, and now I am too old to write a book of lies.") In approaching the question of the educated, non-capitalist strata of society, Marx might have felt the same way as Clemenceau. For it might have occurred to him, while fighting the capitalist profiteers, he never referred to the real source of those bourgeois or neo-bourgeois incomes which were derived not from his possession of capital but from the privilege of education.

To make such an admission, implying that Bakunin's prediction was correct, would have meant canceling his entire life-work, For it was his ambition not merely to interpret the world but also to change it. And the admission that this great change was merely a change in masters, that is, of the form of political and economic inequality, was apparently more that could be expected from a man, who in his life-time already, was hailed as the Redeemer of the underdog by those who, consciously or unconsciously, were out to substitute the rule of the office holder and manager for that of the capitalist stockholder.

It is a truism that on the historical arena as in private life, it is difficult to know one's own motives and that men lie not only to others but also to their own selves. The tragicomedy of Marx's, shall we say "reticence" on the question of the intellectual workers is part and parcel of the general tragi-comedy of deceit and self- deception which, along with brute force, is the essence of the historical process. Did the champions of the American and French Revolutions realize whose freedom they were fighting for when they maintained chattel slavery in the United States, and prohibited strikes and the formation of labor unions in France? Did Michael Bakunin, the apostle of anarchism, who exposed Marx's spurious "dictatorship of the proletariat" realize that the "invisible dictatorship" of his own "International Brothers" it established, would amount to the same thing? And did the champions of syndicalism, Pelloutier, Sorel and Monatte realize that the non-political "direct action" of the labor unions which they advocated, would, if successful, result in the rule of union leaders rather than the "emancipation of the proletariat"? Did Lenin anticipate that his victory would result in the totalitarian bestiality of his successor? He certainly didn't. But he used the most disingenuous arguments to deceive others and perhaps also himself, to the effect that what he achieved was a decisive step toward the "emancipation of the working class"and not merely a link in the endless chain of what might be called history' eternal recurrence of the conflicts between "ins" and "outs".

The fact is, as Marx's most famous disciple put it, "people have always been and always will be stupid victims of deceit and self-deception in politics until they leave behind every kind of moral, religious, political and social phrase, declaration and promise, to seek out the interests of this or that class or classes." Did it ever occur to the Father of Bolshevism, who wrote these lines, that the interests of a new privileged class of upstart office-holders might lurk behind his own "proletarian" gospel? At any rate, it almost looks as if he had deliberately written that passage as a lampoon on himself and his immortal teacher.

The basic Marxist (and general socialist) fiction that the elimination of the capitalists means the "emancipation of the working class" has been repeated by its protagonists so many times for more than a century that in the course of time it began to appear plausible even tot thinkers who should know better. Thus, Arnold Toynbee, who had devoted his life to finding out everything about the civilizations that preceded our time, was so taken in by this propaganda that he unwittingly parroted one of the most absurd lies of our time to the effect that in Russia "there has been . . .a transfer of power from he middle class to the industrial working class."


The secret of Marx's reticence or blindness on the question of the intellectual workers was unwittingly hinted at on several occasions by his alter-ego. In his study of Feuerbach, Engels says "that every class that wants power must claim that its own interests are identical with society as a whole." It is in linewith this correct idea that the Marxist intellectuals identified themselves with the working class. That's also why the office- holding and managerial neo-bourgeois if the Communist orbit presents its own rule as the "dictatorship" and the "emancipation" of the working class.

Engels also wrote, that at the onset, every bourgeois revolution of the last two centuries had to go somewhat beyond its essential aim which was to secure the rule of the rising capitalist class. In other words, that the leaders of these revolutions had to make promises to the masses which they did not intend to keep. Is it too far-fetched to read into this statement an inadvertent or unconscious admission that the "proletarian" revolution promised by the Marxists was nothing but bait for the masses on behalf of the neo- bourgeois revolution of the new middle class of would be office-holders and managers.

There is also a similar hint to the same effect in Marx's Civil War in France (1871) where the author says that to achieve its emancipation "the working class has to pass through long struggles, through an entire succession of historical processes in the course of which men and circumstances will undergo a complete change." Doesn't this mean that until the workers have undergone such a "complete change" as to become as educated as the privileged classes - The Greek Calends - they would have to ruled by those of their "comrades" who already now are in possession of higher education.

However, the crowning give-away was perpetrated by Engels in article written in 1895 shortly before his death. In predictions the inevitable victory of the Marxist movement, he compared its progress with that of early Christianity which eventually scored its full victory under Constantine, the first Roman Emperor who embraced the new faith and established it as the official state religion, Yes, Marx's alter ego actually mentioned the name of Constantine, the same Constantine under whose rule the ideal image of Christian brotherhood bore the same relation to opulence of the Church hierarchy as the idea of "proletarian emancipation" has to the rule of an office-holding and managerial neo-bourgeoisie.


The idea that Marx may have deceived himself as to the real meaning of the movement that has immortalized his name is challenged by some of his ex-followers. In deference to his genius, they assume that he may have anticipated - without avowing it - the views of the "pessimists" in sociology: such as Mosca, Michels and Pareto who believed in the "circulation of elites" (Pareto) or in the "iron law of oligarchy" to use the term coined by Robert Michels. The view implies that the majority of the human race will always remain the pedestal for the ever changing privileged minorities. In a man as familiar with the history of mankind as averse to utopian dreams as was Marx, such a concept could have been quite natural. It was also quite natural that he kept that insight to himself; for its avowal would get him nowhere with the "pedestal" whose assistance he needed for the enthronement of his own elitist group. In the further pursuit of this assumption those critics also suspect that Marx may have likewise anticipated - again without avowing it - Hans Vaihinger's philosophy as if to the effect that "deliberate untruth is a condition essential to life", in other words, that the fiction of the "dictatorship of the proletariat" was necessary for the substitution of the rule of the "knows" for that of the "haves."

Some typos have been corrected by libcom.org. Also, words all in capitals in the original text had been replaced by words in bold in this version.