Marx and Engels and Racialism – W. O. Henderson

Marx, his daughters & Engels.
Marx, his daughters & Engels.

In disputes with anarchists Marxists have often been quick to refer to Bakunin’s (and occasionally, Proudhon’s) anti-Semitism to try to dismiss the credibility of all that Bakunin ever wrote. Anarchists generally respond by openly acknowledging this horrible fault in Bakunin but also insisting that Bakunin had interesting and relevant aspects of his thought worth considering.

Yet Marxists seem more often unaware of and/or silent on the far greater number of racial and ethnic slurs and prejudices found in the writings of Marx and Engels. The following PDF article, whatever its limitations, is a convenient collection of some of these comments.

Author
Submitted by Red Marriott on April 29, 2021

Marx and Engels had definite views on the historic roles of races and nations; though the article only mentions briefly in passing their ideas of historical and non-historical peoples and progressive and non-progressive nations that they applied to world history. Rosdolsky’s Engels and the ‘Nonhistoric’ Peoples: the National Question in the Revolution of 1848 is a marxist critique of this position - see a Leninist review here; https://www.marxists.org/history/etol/revhist/backiss/vol3/no2/rosdolsk.html

But at the first victorious uprising of the French proletariat ... the Austrian Germans and the Magyars will gain their freedom and take a bloody revenge on the Slav barbarians. The general war which will then break out will scatter the Slav Sonderbund [alliance], and annihilate all these small pigheaded nations even to their very names. The next world war will not only cause reactionary classes and dynasties to disappear from the face of the earth, but also entire reactionary peoples. And that too is an advance.' (F. Engels, The Magyar Struggle, January 1849)

Peoples which have never had a history of their own, which come under foreign domination the moment they have achieved the first, crudest level of civilisation ... have no capacity for survival and will never be able to attain any kind of independence. And that has been the fate of the Austrian Slavs. (Engels, Democratic Pan-Slavism, February 1849)

This racial hierarchy was applied globally:

There are “various disturbing references to the Latin American character. Thus the Mexicans are said to be “lazy” and to share “the vices, arrogance, thuggery and quixotism” of the Spaniards. Even after 1860, when Marx and Engels strongly opposed the French invasion of Mexico and celebrated the Mexican victory over General Lorencez in May 1862, they still could not refrain from from referring to the victorious Mexicans as “les derniers des hommes” [the last of men]. ... this kind of abusive remark was also used by Marx and Engels to refer to other “backward” nationalities and countries: the Montenegrans were labelled as “cattle robbers,” the Bedouins were branded as a “nation of robbers,” and there was a reference to the “hereditary stupidity” of the Chinese.” (Karl Marx’s Social and Political Thought, Vol. 6, Routledge, 1999 – edited by Jessop & Wheatley.)

None of this invalidates what value there is in the thought of Marx & Engels but it does show that they shared many of the faults of their contemporaries and rivals. While Bakunin’s anti-Semitism seems to have been plain old personal bigotry, Marx and Engels dressed their racism up in ‘scientific’ garb with references to the historically positive or negative, progressive or decadent roles supposedly played by different races.

Marx’s own daughter Laura married the French socialist, Paul Lafargue, whose ancestry was partly Negro. Curiously in the very same letter to Engels in 1866 which announced the betrothal of his daughter, Marx indicated his belief (following the French anthropologist Trémaux) in the relative inferiority of the Negro race, and the existence of intrinsic racial differences between the Slavs and Lithuanians; “the common Negro type was a degeneration form a quite higher one”, he quoted approvingly. (L. S. Feuer – Introduction to Marx & Engels, Basic Writings on Politics and Philosophy; Fontana, UK, 1984.)

Marx’s anti-Semitism was not so different from Bakunin’s: he also sees Jews as money obsessed, racially degenerate and as shadowy controllers of financial systems. For comparison, see: http://libcom.org/library/translation-antisemitic-section-bakunins-letter-comrades-jura-federation

Marx, Engels, Bakunin and their contemporaries were people of their time; since then, the whole 19th century notion of ‘race’, its biological and genetic validity, has become outdated in the light of scientific developments on the subject. Yet racism, pseudo-scientific or otherwise, in left- and right-wing versions, is still with us.

(Article source: W. O. Henderson, Marx and Engels and the English Workers And Other Essays (1989), Frank Cass & Co., UK.)

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adri

2 years 9 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by adri on April 29, 2021

I agree that there was some racist stuff in the works of Marx and Engels, as well as the argument that people being "victims of their times" doesn't absolve them of responsibility or make those views in any way acceptable today.

I was curious about the New York Tribune one since I came across Marx's and Engels' Civil War writings there. Here's the actual newspaper article (lower right side), and also the text on MIA (which seems like an abridged version, with some other discrepancies). It doesn't actually seem like Marx is arguing that "the classes and races, too weak to master the new conditions of life, must give way" is something good, but rather he's saying that this is the observable result of "the increase of productive power" and the development of capitalism, which is what the beginning part of the article deals with. Here's the full paragraph from MIA:

Now I share neither in the opinions of Ricardo, who regards ‘Net-Revenue’ as the Moloch to whom entire populations must be sacrificed, without even so much as complaint, nor in the opinion of Sismondi, who, in his hypochondriacal philanthropy, would forcibly retain the superannuated methods of agriculture and proscribe science from industry, as Plato expelled poets from his Republic. Society is undergoing a silent revolution, which must be submitted to, and which takes no more notice of the human existences it breaks down than an earthquake regards the houses it subverts. The classes and the races, too weak to master the new conditions of life, must give way. But can there be anything more puerile, more short-sighted, than the views of those Economists who believe in all earnest that this woeful transitory state means nothing but adapting society to the acquisitive propensities of capitalists, both landlords and money-lords? In Great Britain the working of that process is most transparent. The application of modern science to production clears the land of its inhabitants, but it concentrates people in manufacturing towns.

He also calls the 13th-14th century Mongols "barbarians," if I'm not mistaken, but I don't think that's really controversial. The "barbarian" status of Mongols I think is rather hypocritical when coming from the conquering and colonial empires of Europe, which one might also describe in similar terms.

Red Marriott

2 years 9 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Red Marriott on April 29, 2021

Ok, you may have a point in that case so I've edited that quote out of the intro. But in the wider context of M&E's views it's entirely likely they would see it as 'historically progressive'.

Elysard

2 years ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Elysard on January 24, 2022

Why on earth does a guy who never refers to Jews start being antisemitic at the age of 55? Therein lies the answer to Bakunin's antisemitism, in my opinion.

adri

2 years ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by adri on January 24, 2022

adri

He also calls the 13th-14th century Mongols "barbarians," if I'm not mistaken, but I don't think that's really controversial. The "barbarian" status of Mongols I think is rather hypocritical when coming from the conquering and colonial empires of Europe, which one might also describe in similar terms.

Regarding Marx's and Engels' use of words like "barbarian" and "primitive," which Engels uses quite a bit in his Origin/abolish-the-family book, it's worth pointing out this from the editor of Engels' book:

Hunt

The term ['primitive'] for peoples living in a hunting and gathering, or horticultural, economy is awkward due to its negative connotations in popular use. Suffice it to say, as Engels's book documents so thoroughly, primitive peoples are more 'civilized' than more 'advanced' societies if the term is used to denote humanistic interpersonal relations.

Engels showers praise on Indigenous peoples like the Iroquois (for being at the helm of their social organization, as well as for the greater respect/power accorded to women in such societies as compared to "civilized" capitalism), who he identifies as "barbarians" and "primitive," so the use of such words by themselves should not be taken as evidence of "racism." Obviously such words could also be used in a negative/racist sense (especially today), so that it really depends on the intentions of the person.

I was also alluding to this bit where Marx uses the word "barbarian," which I think is referring to the 13th-14th century Mongol invasions (since the reasons he gives for migration also apply to the Mongols' expansion out of their homelands). He could also be referring to some other Asiatic nomads, or an earlier time period (invasion of Rome?), so I'm not really sure:

Marx

It was the same pressure of population on the powers of production, that drove the barbarians from the high plains of Asia to invade the Old World. The same cause acted there, although under a different form. To remain barbarians they were forced to remain few. They were pastoral, hunting, war-waging tribes, whose manners of production required a large space for every individual, as is now the case with the Indian tribes in North-America. By augmenting in numbers they curtailed each other’s field of production. Thus the surplus population was forced to undertake those great adventurous migratory movements which laid the foundation of the peoples of ancient and modern Europe.

The Mongols/Golden Horde were fairly brutal (slaughtering entire villages in their conquest of eastern Europe, etc.) and also aided in the disintegration of Kievan Rus', without really "contributing" anything culturally speaking, so honestly describing them as "barbarians" in a negative/brutal sense seems kind of appropriate. Then again it's not like Kievan Rus' wasn't socially stratified or that violence didn't exist on the part of the upper-classes toward the peasantry. Russian serfdom itself partly has its roots in 10th century princes and boyars subjugating the once-free peasantry and turning their communal lands into private estates.

Elysard

2 years ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Elysard on January 29, 2022

I think we should avoid confusions and anachronisms (not to mention simplisms) when we talk about certain words used by Bakunin (or even Marx and Engels).

Bakunin had a solid Hegelian training which never left him, and if in his texts of the anarchist period he does not spend his time quoting Hegel, when one reads him "between the lines" one realizes that Hegel is almost always there (with a few others, to a lesser degree: Spinoza, Fichte, Feurebach). This is a question I addressed in a text written in the 1980s but never published.

Hegel's philosophy of history is full of civilisations that appear and collapse. These civilisations are represented by peoples or 'races'. In Bakunin's time "race" still had the meaning that this word had in 18th century literature (the French 18th century, a least, since Bakunin was writing in that language): it refers to people who descend from the same root. In French the root is said "racine" which has the same etymology as "race".

For Bakunin, the Germans played a decisive role in the constitution of feudal Europe.
According to him, the unity of the "Western world of Europe" is to be attributed much more to the "natural unity of the Germanic race" than to the Catholic Church (a thesis defended by Mazzini). Bakunin's thesis is interesting in that it provides an opportunity to understand the meaning he attributes to the term "race": it is the "identity of the natural temperament, customs, manners, sentiments, ideas, and primitive organisation" brought by the Germanic peoples to the various countries of Europe (Bakunin, "La Théologie politique de Mazzini", Œuvres, Champ libre, Fragment G, I, 133. )

It becomes clear that the term "race" does not include any ethnic characteristics, that there are only cultural determinations. Bakunin's analysis is largely in line with the one outlined in The German Ideology: while Marx said that feudalism originated in the organisational structure of the conquering Germanic army, Bakunin says that it is to be found in "the primitive organisation, customs, and mores of the Germanic invaders". An idea that was not absolutely original at the time.

Throughout Bakunin's work, we find this sympathy towards beings inhabited by a vital impulse, even if it goes against his own; an irreducible but passionate adversary will be preferred to a mediocre ally without sacred fire. In The Knuto-Germanic Empire, the "barbarians" of the early Christian era are thus described as "good people" ["braves gens"], an unexpected appellation to say the least. These "brave people" are "full of natural strength, and above all animated and driven by a great need and capacity for life". This is the Hegelian breath of vital momentum that drives the young and ascendant forces to sweep before them the dying and bereft forces.

adri

2 years ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by adri on January 31, 2022

Elysard

Why on earth does a guy who never refers to Jews start being antisemitic at the age of 55? Therein lies the answer to Bakunin's antisemitism, in my opinion.

Hal Draper touches on Bakunin's antisemitism before 1869 in his Karl Marx's Theory of Revolution, though I'm not sure which texts he's referring to (if anyone would like to point me to them),

Draper

In Bakunin's preanarchist life, anti-Jewish hatred cropped up only sporadically (as far as we know), perhaps no more than with other scions of the Russian nobility. It burgeoned and flowered in his strategy when he saw it was a weapon against his opponents in the International.

My hunch, as Draper hints at, would be that Bakunin did not just "suddenly become antisemitic," but that his antisemitism owed more to the general antisemitism in Russia at the time, which it seems he never really overcame. Russian Jews in the 19th century were restricted mostly to the Pale of Settlement, facing pogroms from gentiles at times. I don't know that much about the history of Russian antisemitism, but I guess the "answer" to Bakunin's antisemitism has its roots in this antisemitic environment, the same environment which produced the reactionary Black Hundreds in 1905 (Nicholas II even scapegoated Jews for the 1905 unrest/revolution, rather than it being caused by workers' conditions and lack of freedoms).

adri

2 years ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by adri on January 31, 2022

I'm not sure why pointing out that Bakunin did not just suddenly become an antisemite is a comment worth downvoting (a silly feature which I hope won't be around for much longer, because people might then have to explain why they disagree with you)? I also hope Elysard isn't trying to "philosophize" plain-and-simple antisemitism like this in his comment above,

Bakunin

Well now, this whole Jewish world which constitutes a single exploit­ing sect, a sort of bloodsucker people, a collective parasite, voracious, organized in itself, not only across the frontiers of states but even across all the differences of political opinion—this world is presently, at least in great part, at the disposal of Marx on the one hand and of the Rothschilds on the other.

Elysard

2 years ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Elysard on February 20, 2022

I have the CDRom of Bakunin's works published by the International Institute of Social History in Amsterdam. It contains all his writings from the early 1830s onwards, with their variants, his correspondence, reading notes etc. I did a search on the words "Jew" and "Hebrew" and their variants to identify the texts where these words appear.
I discovered that he almost never speaks about Jews, and the very, very few times he does, it can in no way be identified with antisemitism.
There is nothing in his early writings when he was frankly right-wing.

So I don't see where Hal Draper could have found any antisemitic texts before 1869. I would like to be pointed out.
I have the 4 volumes of his "Karl Marx's theory of revolution" but I confess to being too lazy to look for them.
The argument of the Russian's endemic antisemitism does not hold in Bakunin's case because the cultural atmosphere of his family circle was strongly impregnated with European culture and Enlightenment thought. His father spent much of his life in Italy and was not enthusiastic about returning home.

Again with my DCRom, I discovered that antisemitism exploded in 1869 after a scurrilous anti-Slavic article by Moses Hess (if I remember correctly) and a number of similar articles published by Marx's entourage.
After the publication of "Statism and Anarchy" in 1874, no more anti-Semitic articles can be found.
It is therefore not too far-fetched to conclude that Bakunin's anti-Semitism is an anti-Semitism provoked by particular circumstances, which obviously does not excuse anything.

Having said that, I find it very arrogant of Hal Draper to point to Bakunin's antisemitism, when he forgets about Marx's virulent antisemitism.
Again, I'm not trying to justify Bakunin's antisemitism, I'm trying to get the facts straight.

adri

2 years ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by adri on February 22, 2022

I discovered that he almost never speaks about Jews, and the very, very few times he does, it can in no way be identified with antisemitism.
There is nothing in his early writings when he was frankly right-wing.

So I don't see where Hal Draper could have found any antisemitic texts before 1869. I would like to be pointed out.

I’d have to take your word for it. The antisemitism section on Bakunin’s wiki is also just incorrect, or rather the Stoetzler person they quote. Stoetzler for example in their Antisemitism and the Constitution of Sociology writes how, “In his Appeal to Slavs (1848) he [Bakunin] wrote that the ‘Jewish sect’ was a ‘veritable power in Europe,’ reigning despotically over commerce and banking and invading most areas of journalism” (p. 139). Stoetzler uses as their source Draper’s Theory, but the text Draper is actually talking about is from 1869 it seems (I don’t speak French, but here’s an excerpt of what Draper is referring to, and also the full work here). You can also just look up Bakunin’s 1848 Appeal to Slavs and see that he does not talk about Jewish people at any point, so I’m not sure what’s going on with Stoetzler... unless I’m overlooking something.

The argument of the Russian's endemic antisemitism does not hold in Bakunin's case because the cultural atmosphere of his family circle was strongly impregnated with European culture and Enlightenment thought. His father spent much of his life in Italy and was not enthusiastic about returning home.

In any case I'm not really interested in "finding dirt on Bakunin"; I just thought it unlikely he suddenly became antisemitic (and I'm still not entirely convinced), rather than there being a longer history connected to antisemitism in Russia.

Steven.

1 year 11 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Steven. on March 4, 2022

Related to this, Marx refers to Lafargue in extremely racist terms (essentially calling him a gorilla) here for example, KARL MARX FRIEDRICH ENGELS, WERKE (DIETZ VERLAG BERLIN, 1965), 527:
https://marxwirklichstudieren.files.wordpress.com/2012/11/mew_band31.pdf

Serge Forward

1 year 11 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Serge Forward on March 5, 2022

I can't remember whether it was Marx or Engels, but in one of their letters, I recall one of them referring to Ferdinand Lassale as a "dirty Jewish n*****".

adri

1 year 11 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by adri on March 5, 2022

Serge Forward

I can't remember whether it was Marx or Engels, but in one of their letters, I recall one of them referring to Ferdinand Lassale as a "dirty Jewish n*****".

It doesn't seem he uses the word "dirty," but still offensive all the same.

https://marxists.architexturez.net/archive/marx/works/1862/letters/62_07_30a.htm

Marx also, in some English translations at least, uses the n-word in Capital Vol. I,

Marx

The simple dictates of humanity therefore plainly enjoin the release of the capitalist from this martyrdom and temptation, in the same way that the Georgian slave-owner was lately delivered, by the abolition of slavery, from the painful dilemma, whether to squander the surplus-product, lashed out of his n*****s, entirely in champagne, or whether to reconvert a part of it into more n*****s and more land.

It is always worth keeping in mind how stuff is translated; the word "Neger" could be translated as "negro" (as it is in other English translations of Vol. I). The translator above, rather dishonestly, translates "Negersklaven" to just the n-word, rather than to "negro slaves." The use of "negro," in English, was once an acceptable term that is now no longer in use, but is still far less offensive than the n-word today. It would also be strange for Marx to be somehow opposed to people of color when in the same work he writes how, "Labor cannot emancipate itself in the white skin where in the black it is branded."

Red Marriott

1 year 11 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Red Marriott on March 5, 2022

adri

It would also be strange for Marx to be somehow opposed to people of color when in the same work he writes how, "Labor cannot emancipate itself in the white skin where in the black it is branded."

Marx considered "the negro" as a lower racial form; he quotes Tremaux's theory approvingly;

the common Negro type was a degeneration from a quite higher one

As shown by recurring remarks like this in the letters between Marx & Engels

The Jewish n----- Lassalle ...
It is now quite plain to me — as the shape of his head and the way his hair grows also testify — that he is descended from the negroes who accompanied Moses’ flight from Egypt (unless his mother or paternal grandmother interbred with a n----- ). Now, this blend of Jewishness and Germanness, on the one hand, and basic negroid stock, on the other, must inevitably give rise to a peculiar product. The fellow’s importunity is also n----- -like. Marx to Engels, 30th July 1862 (MEW 30, 257) http://hiaw.org/defcon6/works/1862/letters/62_07_30a.html

Or Engel's letter to Lafargue's wife, Laura Marx;

My dear Laura,
My congratulations to Paul le candidat du Jardin des Plantes—et des
animaux
. Being, in his quality as a n...er, a degree nearer to the rest of
the animal kingdom than the rest of us, he is undoubtedly the most
appropriate representative of that district. (Engels to Laura Marx - 26 April 1887 - MECW, vol. 48, p.52)
[Referring to Lafargue standing as a candidate in the constituency containing the Botanical Gardens and its zoo animals.] http://www.hekmatist.com/Marx%20Engles/Marx%20&%20Engels%20Collected%20Works%20Volume%2048_%20Ka%20-%20Karl%20Marx.pdf

Marx & Engels' racial hierarchies aren't necessarily in contradiction to recognising that only the whole of humanity can be emancipated. Presumably they believed that the end of exploitation would mean its end even for those they considered racially inferior.

EDIT; the letter from Engels to Laura would have been in English - so no quibbles there about mistranslation - showing that the the n-word was in their used vocabulary. Similarly, in the letter between Marx & Engels - presumably written in German - the translators distinguished between "negroes" and the n-word so not a mistranslation of the kind suggested by adri above.

Red Marriott

1 year 11 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Red Marriott on March 5, 2022

steven

Related to this, Marx refers to Lafargue in extremely racist terms (essentially calling him a gorilla) here for example, KARL MARX FRIEDRICH ENGELS, WERKE (DIETZ VERLAG BERLIN, 1965), 527:
https://marxwirklichstudieren.files.wordpress.com/2012/11/mew_band31.pdf

If I understand the auto-translate right Marx is complaining that Lafargue is in Marx's house moping for his beloved Laura Marx, who is away and that he is "badly editing" Marx's work. He refers to Lafargue as a "Abkömmling eines Gorillas" - descendent or offspring of gorillas. (Marx in letter to daughter Jenny, 5 Sept. 1866)

Elysard

1 year 11 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Elysard on March 10, 2022

You mention "Stoetzler for example in their Antisemitism and the Constitution of Sociology writes how, “In his Appeal to Slavs (1848) he [Bakunin] wrote that the ‘Jewish sect’ was a ‘veritable power in Europe,’ "

There is no mention of Jews in the "Appeal to the Slavs".
Here is an English version of the appeal:
https://theanarchistlibrary.org/library/michail-bakunin-appeal-to-the-slavs

The text Stoetzler mentions must be a letter Bakunin wrote in 1869 to a publication ("Le Révei", I think) but I'm almost certain the letter as never been published.

In this letter he complains about the slander of Moses Hess against him. In fact he complains about the anti-Slavic racism of which he and other Russians are victims.
The question is whether Bakunin's anti-Semitism is more reprehensible (and I do not dispute that it is) than the anti-Slavic racism of Hess, Marx and his circle. (There are many quotations that testify to this anti-Slavic racism).

That said, I don't know if there's much point in putting Bakunin's anti-Semitism and Marx's anti-Slavism back to back; I do think, however, that considering the context of the time, if one is being discussed, there's no reason to ignore the other.

adri

1 year 11 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by adri on March 10, 2022

Elysard

There is no mention of Jews in the "Appeal to the Slavs".

That's what I said, and it's even more strange (depending on how you look at it I guess) that such a claim/oversight is coming out of a university publisher for it to be reproduced elsewhere. Anyway,

Red Mariott

Anarchists generally respond by openly acknowledging this horrible fault in Bakunin but also insisting that Bakunin had interesting and relevant aspects of his thought worth considering.

what is so darn interesting about Bakunin to all of you (because I haven't been able to find anything), or is it just a matter of pointing out that Bakunin was not alone in his antisemitism/racism ? I don’t guess anyone’s interested in his Collectivist ideas where people are “remunerated according to deed.”

He also didn’t even publish most of his “major writings,” and works such as What is authority? are just extracts from God and State, which itself was part of a larger work called the Knouto-Germanic Empire and the Social Revolution, which again Bakunin did not publish. You could raise the same criticisms against some of Marx's works, but the works Marx did put out are incomparably more interesting/valuable than anything Bakunin ever published. It is always worth questioning whether there was a reason why an author chose not to have something published. For any topic Bakunin dealt with Marx went into much greater depth, which is perhaps what prompted Bakunin to say, “As far as learning was concerned, Marx was, and still is incomparably more advanced than I.” Bakunin knew nothing about political economy (as Engels noted, 162), at least nowhere near as much as Marx.

Similarly, I don't see how Bakunin’s “authority” framework is at all useful for critiquing social relations. As Engels observed (in On Authority, where many anarchists strawman Engels by claiming he argued that “anarchists are opposed to revolution"), in decision-making there will always be a minority who must subordinate themselves to the will of a majority, regardless of whether that minority sees that as “authoritarian.” People can just claim anything to be “authoritarian." Capitalist society would quickly fall apart if everyone intuitively felt it a "violation of their liberty/freedom," but people don't view capitalism as inherently authoritarian, which shows how subjective the entire authority framework is.

His critique of religion (in the God and State manuscripts for instance) is likewise hardly compelling in arguing that “God and slavery have always gone hand in hand,” when this couldn’t be further from the truth historically speaking. If you want to read about historical social struggles/class conflicts involving religion, there are much better and serious works out there. I honestly don’t understand the appeal of any of these vapid writings/manuscripts, besides them being low-hanging fruit that don’t require any intellectual effort to engage with. We don't have to "throw the baby out with the bathwater," but in the case of Bakunin there isn't much of anything worth keeping to begin with.

Red Marriott

1 year 11 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Red Marriott on March 10, 2022

adri

what is so darn interesting about Bakunin to all of you (because I haven't been able to find anything)

For example; https://libcom.org/library/a-critique-of-the-german-social-democratic-program-bakunin

Elysard

1 year 11 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Elysard on March 15, 2022

adri
Mar 11 2022 01:29

Answer to Adri

“what is so darn interesting about Bakunin to all of you (because I haven't been able to find anything)”
That you find nothing interesting in Bakunin is a matter of your own subjectivity, and that’s it; and there is nothing to object to. But what you say about him inclines me to think not only that you have an approximate, fragmentary and probably second-hand knowledge of his thought – as is almost always the case with Marxists – but also that your knowledge of Marx's thought has gaps.

“or is it just a matter of pointing out that Bakunin was not alone in his antisemitism/racism ?”
Bakunin's antisemitism is regrettable, condemnable, and no anarchist condones it, but it remains secondary. Bakunin is not an anti-Semitic author: an anti-Semitic author is someone whose work has antisemitism as its centre of gravity. The centre of gravity of Bakunin's thought is the emancipation of the working class from political oppression, economic exploitation and religious alienation. This is exactly the same for Proudhon, who also had outbursts of anti-Semitism, which are relegated to his intimate notebooks, which he had absolutely forbidden to publish. The same goes for Marx, whose raging antisemitic statements in his correspondence cannot classify him as an "antisemitic thinker". But to Marx's raging antisemitism should be added his anti-Slavic racism. These exchanges about each other's antisemitism are not very interesting.

I don’t guess anyone’s interested in his Collectivist ideas where people are “remunerated according to deed.”
This remark is interesting because it reveals the second-hand character of Adri's knowledge. When the collectivists of the International spoke of “remuneration according to labour” their intention was only to combat parasitism, those who live at the expense of society without working. This concept was misinterpreted: some militants understood that those who are not directly involved in production, i.e. housewives, the elderly, children, the disabled, etc., would be excluded from consumption. This was not the case at all.
Thus, in his “Revolutionary Catechism”, which is close to being a political programme, we can read:

"The old, sick, and infirm will enjoy all political and social rights and be bountifully supported at the expense of society. "
"From the moment of pregnancy to birth, a woman and her children shall be subsidized by the communal organization. Women who wish to nurse and wean their children shall also be subsidized.”

Some activists at the time objected to the principle of “to each according to his work” because they thought that some workers would take advantage of it to work more than others in order to enrich themselves. Those who thought this were not realistic and were probably not wage earners; indeed, at that time people were working 14 hours a day, seven days a week, i.e. at the physical limit of exhaustion. To imagine that workers would work even longer hours to get rich makes no sense.

Now, since we're talking about the question of remuneration for work, before making fun of the collectivists of the International perhaps should one look at what Marx had to say about the matter.
For example, in the Critique of the Gotha Programme, we read this:

“The social working day consists of the sum of the individual hours of work; the individual labour time of the individual producer is the part of the social working day contributed by him, his share in it. He receives a certificate from society that he has furnished such-and-such an amount of labour (after deducting his labour for the common funds); and with this certificate, he draws from the social stock of means of consumption as much as the same amount of labour cost. The same amount of labor which he has given to society in one form, he receives back in another.” (My emphasis)

Without going into detail, the fact that the worker receives a “certificate” would seem to me to be a very archaic system of redistribution today, but at the time there was probably no other alternative. This is, moreover, how the communities in Spain functioned during the civil war (see Gaston Leval's book).

Marx also says that it is "society" which provides the worker with this certificate, but one would like to know what he means by “society”: in any case, it is obviously not the State… maybe is it an “anarchist” society? Finally, it seems obvious that for Marx, the worker receives from “society” the equivalent of what he has provided (i.e., of what he has worked).
I don't see the difference with the collectivist principle that Adri criticises so much.

Concerning the publication of Bakunin’s works
There seems to be a consensus among many Marxists that Marx has benefited from serious exegesis and publication while Bakunin's works are scattered and neglected. Of course, this kind of opinion is not the result of real research but of hearsay. Thus, one would have “on one side an army of competent, devoted and serious disciples who published the works of Marx and commented on them, and on the other side a bunch of dilettantes who did not take matters seriously.” (http://monde-nouveau.net/IMG/pdf/---mr_a.h._nimtz_and_bakunin_11-06-2018.pdf)

Adri is only repeating what he has read here and there when he writes that Bakunin “also didn’t even publish most of his ‘major writings,’ and works such as What is authority? are just extracts from God and State, which itself was part of a larger work called the Knouto-Germanic Empire and the Social Revolution, which again Bakunin did not publish.”

I don’t know the text entitled "What is authority?", which must be a publication specific to the English-speaking world, and it is probably correct that it consists of extracts from Knouto-Germanic Empire. It is also correct that God and the State is an extract from Knouto-Germanic Empire, but Adri seems unaware that God and the State has been translated into over 40 languages and has gone through at least 90 editions.

It is a complete falsehood to say that Bakunin “chose not to have something published”. It is also a complete lie that “Bakunin did not publish” The Knuto-German Empire: this book had a print run of 1000 copies and was circulated in May 1871. Statism and Anarchy was published during Bakunin's lifetime in 1873. These are his two major works, and it should be remembered that Bakunin, who died in 1876, was an anarchist for only the last eight years of his life, and that from 1875 to 1876 he was very ill and practically inactive. One cannot compare his achievements with those of Marx, who worked for forty years! Marx thus had ample time to go “into much greater depth”, as says Adri; and if Bakunin always recognised Marx's intellectual value, it is to his credit, and those who put forward this recognition to belittle him are only belittling themselves.

It is not true that Bakunin was ignorant of political economy, but it is certain that during the short period of his activity as an anarchist (eight years) this discipline was not at the centre of his concerns. Engels' denial of his knowledge of the subject is not at all convincing, but at the same time one understands how generations of Marxists after him have avoided thinking for themselves and have been content to repeat Marx or Engels.

Indeed, in the quotation to which Adri refers, Engels reproaches Bakunin for making a synthesis between communism and Proudhonism; and without giving any explanation, he concludes that Bakunin “understands absolutely nothing about political economy”. We should probably take his word for it. In any case, that's what Adri does. But I don't understand how this “proves” Bakunin's ignorance of political economy.

But another thing is surprising in what Adri says. Engels tells us (disapprovingly) that Bakunin borrowed from Proudhon the idea that Anarchy is “the final state of society”. But Adri seems to be unaware that Marx and Engels themselves declared that anarchy, i.e. a stateless society, was the goal to which the socialist movement aspired.

In a letter to Edward Bernstein of 28 January 1884, Engels quotes some passages from the Poverty of Philosophy (1847) and the Communist Manifesto (1848) to prove “that we proclaimed the cessation [‘Aufhören’] of the state before there were anarchists altogether” (quoted by Hal Draper, Karl Marx's theory of Revolution, vol. IV, p. 128)

Moreover, Adri is probably unaware of this famous sentence of Marx, who states:

“All socialists see anarchy as the following program: Once the aim of the proletarian movement – i.e., abolition of classes – is attained, the power of the state, which serves to keep the great majority of producers in bondage to a very small exploiter minority, disappears, and the functions of government become simple administrative functions.” (Fictitious Splits in the International, 1872.)

The problem with Marx and Engels is that they often say one thing and its opposite. If we want to be convinced that they are serious when they talk about the abolition of the state, let's remember what Engels wrote to Carlo Cafiero: “...and the 'abolition of the state' is an old German philosophical phrase, of which we made much use when we were tender youths.” (Engels to Cafiero, 1 July 1871, MECW, vol. 44, p. 163)

Bakunin is opposed to “all political action by the working classes”.
The accusation that anarchists are “opposed to the political action of the working class” is one of Marx's catchphrases repeated uncritically by his followers. When Marx talks about “political action”, he is referring to universal suffrage and parliamentary strategy.
When Marx speaks of “revolution” in the Manifesto, he speaks of a political revolution to conquer universal suffrage. The whole political strategy of Marx and Engels is based on the illusion that the proletariat constitutes the majority of the population and that it will inevitably end up electing a majority of socialists to parliament, whereas Proudhon had shown that parliamentary democracy only brought the bourgeoisie to power.

The “independent working-class political action” (i.e. the creation of a political party running for parliamentary elections) had been decided in September 1871 at the London Conference of the IWA, which was a confidential, fractional meeting that brought together Marx’s supporters. This decision was then voted the following year during the rigged congress of The Hague which inserted in the IWA statutes an Article 7a which made electoral action compulsory.

Bakunin was naturally not opposed to working class political action in general; however, he was:
a) Opposed to the adoption by the IWA of a mandatory political program because it would inevitably produce splits and, as he said, there would be as many Internationals as there were different programs” (Bakunin, “Writings against Marx”, Nov.-Dec. 1872. Bakunin, Selected texts 1868-1875, Anarres Editions. )
and
b) Opposed to the electoral strategy because, far from leading to the emancipation of the working class, it led instead to its subjugation to bourgeois politics.

Bakunin had formed his opinion on the one hand by observing the parliamentary politics of the Swiss socialists, which served the interests of the bourgeois radicals, but also by Proudhon’s experience, who had been elected to Parliament in 1848 and had discovered that elections simply drove the bourgeoisie to power. Is it necessary to say that Proudhon’s view has been widely confirmed by history? Is it necessary to say that when Socialists come to power through elections, they quickly turn into servants of the bourgeoisie?

So Bakunin was not opposed to the “political action of the working class”, but he thought that it should not be situated in the parliaments but on the class terrain. To sum up, Marx wanted to turn the IWA into an international of national political parties, while Bakunin wanted to turn it into a sort of revolutionary syndicalist International.
The political heritage of Marx and Engels is German social democracy

As says Engels in The Origin of Family, Private Property and State: “universal suffrage is the gauge of the maturity of the working class”.

adri

1 year 11 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by adri on March 15, 2022

Elysard

Now, since we're talking about the question of remuneration for work, before making fun of the collectivists of the International perhaps should one look at what Marx had to say about the matter.
For example, in the Critique of the Gotha Programme, we read this: . . .

Bakunin's Collectivism, or its feature of "remunerating people according to deed," was critiqued by anarchist communists like Kropotkin, Berkman and others; there's nothing controversial in pointing out its flaws. For example, see where Kropotkin writes in his Conquest of Bread:

Kropotkin

It is our opinion that collectivists commit a twofold error in their plans for the reconstruction of society. While speaking of abolishing capitalist rule, they intend nevertheless to retain two institutions which are the very basis of this rule—Representative Government and the Wages System.

Regarding Marx's support of labor vouchers in the Critique of the Gotha Program, he was referring specifically to a society emerging directly out of capitalism. Marx was not arguing that labor vouchers should be a permanent feature of a socialist/communist society. Marx distinguished between a lower and higher phase of communism (what Lenin would later describe as socialist and communist phases, which has little to do with Marx here), with the latter operating according to the principle of "from each according to their ability to each according to their needs":

Marx

In a higher phase of communist society, after the enslaving subordination of the individual to the division of labor, and therewith also the antithesis between mental and physical labor, has vanished; after labor has become not only a means of life but life's prime want; after the productive forces have also increased with the all-around development of the individual, and all the springs of co-operative wealth flow more abundantly – only then can the narrow horizon of bourgeois right be crossed in its entirety and society inscribe on its banners: From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs!

Speaking of Bakunin's Revolutionary Catechism, Marx's criticisms in the Gotha of the phrase that "labor is the source of all wealth" could equally apply to where Bakunin writes,

Bakunin

“H. Labor being the sole source of wealth, everyone is free to die of hunger, or to live in the deserts or the forests among savage beasts, but whoever wants to live in society must earn his living by his own labor, or be treated as a parasite who is living on the labor of others.

As Marx responded in the Gotha,

Marx

Labor is not the source of all wealth [value is another matter, in Marx's theory of value at least]. Nature is just as much the source of use values (and it is surely of such that material wealth consists!) as labor, which itself is only the manifestation of a force of nature, human labor power.

Elysard

It is also a complete lie that “Bakunin did not publish” The Knuto-German Empire: this book had a print run of 1000 copies and was circulated in May 1871.

Bakunin may have published part I in pamphlet form, but the Knouto (particularly part II) was not a completed work that Bakunin published during his lifetime. From Paul Avrich's introduction to the Dover edition of God and State:

Avrich

Part I, written against the background of the Franco-Prussian War, deals mainly with the resistance by the French to German imperialism, and was published in pamphlet form in 1871. What Cafiero and Reclus called 'God and the State' was a fragment from the unpublished and unfinished Part II, for which Bakunin's own title was 'The Historical Sophisms of the Doctrinaire School of Communism,' which, apart from being unwieldy, bears little relation to its contents.

Elysard

The accusation that anarchists are “opposed to the political action of the working class” is one of Marx's catchphrases repeated uncritically by his followers.

Elysard

As says Engels in The Origin of Family, Private Property and State: “universal suffrage is the gauge of the maturity of the working class”.

Going back to On Authority, Engels was merely pointing out how Bakunin’s "authority-principle" leads to contradiction, in that reactionary forces would certainly perceive their suppression at the hands of revolutionaries as “authoritarian”; it’s a useless and relative framework. Engels was well aware of what Bakunin and other anarchists thought, such that it's unnecessary to regurgitate, as is often done, every time Bakunin or another anarchist called for (“authoritarian”) revolution, as if this has anything to do with Engels’ point. Engels’ claim in the letter that Bakunin was opposed to political acts (or considered them authoritarian) is more in response to Bakunin regarding Marx and co as “authoritarian communists.” It also seems rather simplistic (and incorrect) to argue that Marx's and Engels' "whole political strategy" revolved around electing socialists to parliament to usher in a socialist/communist society. Marx argued in 1872 for example that in some countries socialism could be achieved through non-violent means, but that in most violence was necessary. You also omit in your quote the next couple sentences where Engels says,

Engels

It [universal suffrage] cannot and never will be anything more in the modern state [than a thermometer/gauge]; but that is enough. On the day when the thermometer of universal suffrage shows boiling point among the workers, they as well as the capitalists will know where they stand.

ZJW

1 year 11 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by ZJW on March 18, 2022

Elysard:

What would you contest (especially in relation to Bakunin) in the following quote from Alain Pengam: 'Anarchist-Communism' ( https://theanarchistlibrary.org/library/alain-pengam-anarchist-communism )

'Anarchist-communism must be distinguished from collectivism, which was both a diffuse movement (see, for example, the different components of the International Working Men’s Association, the Guesdists, and so on) and a specific anarchist current. As far as the latter was concerned, it was Proudhon who supplied its theoretical features: an open opponent of communism (which, for him, was Etienne Cabet’s “communism”), he favoured instead a society in which exchange value would flourish — a society in which workers would be directly and mutually linked to each other by money and the market. The Proudhonist collectivists of the 1860’s and 1870’s (of whom Bakunin was one), who were resolute partisans of the collective ownership of the instruments of work and, unlike Proudhon, of land, maintained an essence of this commercial structure in the form of groups of producers, organised either on a territorial basis (communes) or on an enterprise basis (co-operatives, craft groupings) and linked to each other by the circulation of value. Collectivism was thus defined — and still is — as an exchange economy where the legal ownership of the instruments of production is held by a network of “collectivities” which are sorts of workers’ jointstock companies. Most contemporary anarchists (standing, as they do, for a self-managed exchange economy) are collectivists in this nineteenth-century sense of the term, even though the term has now come to have a somewhat different meaning (state ownership, i.e. “state capitalism”, rather than ownership by any collectivity). [...] The split that occurred in the IWMA was essentially over the details of collectivism and over the ways of arriving at a ‘classless society’ whose necessarily anti-commercial nature was never stated (except in Marx’s Capital), or rather never played any part in shaping the practice of the organisation. Bakunin himself, a left-wing Proudhonist for whom the abolition of exchange value would have been an aberration, purely and simply identified communism with a socialistic Jacobin tendency and, moreover, generally used the term ‘authoritarian communism’ as a pleonasm to describe it. '

Fozzie

1 year 11 months ago

Submitted by Fozzie on March 21, 2022

Just bumping some recent conversations.

adri

1 year 11 months ago

Submitted by adri on March 21, 2022

Red Marriott

For example; https://libcom.org/library/a-critique-of-the-german-social-democratic-program-bakunin

I don’t see how a section of Bakunin’s 1870 Letters to a Frenchman on the Present Crisis, a brief section in which he mostly critiques the Eisenach Program of the Social Democratic Workers’ Party, makes Bakunin all that interesting; that’s like saying Marx’s Critique of the Gotha Program is what makes Marx interesting, rather than his economic treatises. Bakunin’s Letters was less of a serious treatise than a persuasive pamphlet aimed at French workers amid the Franco-Prussian War. In being persuasive Bakunin makes some demonstrably false claims, such that “authoritarian communists,” presumably the SDWP and the likes of Marx and Engels, ultimately desired for the state to become the sole proprietor,

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

Regarding Marx and Engels, the gathering of capital into fewer and fewer hands, or into the state, was just a general tendency within capitalism, and not some “end-goal” for a socialist/communist society (see Ch. 25 of Marx’s Capital Vol. I or Engels in Socialism: Utopian and Scientific).

The internationalist ideas Bakunin expresses in this section were likewise echoed by many other socialists at the time, and were hardly unique to him.

Also, in spite of Bakunin’s opposition to electoral politics and his belief that "power corrupts the best," that did not stop him from encouraging his friends to run for office, believing their socialist convictions would not corrupt them (which is just directly contradicting himself). As Sam Dolgoff notes,

"Bakunin did not oppose universal suffrage in principle but only insofar as it reinforced the bourgeois democratic state. But he never raised abstention from the electoral process to an inflexible article of faith. Under certain exceptional circumstances, he advocated temporary alliance with progressive political parties for specific, limited objectives. In a letter to his friend the Italian anarchist Carlo Gambuzzi, a former lawyer, Bakunin advised him to become a candidate for Deputy from Naples . . ." (p. 218).

One could similarly critique the first section of Bakunin’s Letters, “General Problems of the Social Revolution,” where he argues that socialist workers in France should stir up a revolutionary movement among the peasantry. Bakunin for example writes in relation to the peasants and the social revolution,

"What, then, should be done? Since the revolution cannot be imposed upon the rural areas, it must be germinated within the agricultural communities, by stirring up a revolutionary movement of the peasants themselves, inciting them to destroy, by direct action, every political, judicial, civil, and military institution, and to establish and organize anarchy through the whole countryside."

Such ideas, though directed at French workers, were obviously an inspiration for the Russian narodniks and their largely unsuccessful 1874-75 “going to the people” movement. The same ideas are in fact repeated, this time specifically addressing Russian revolutionaries, in Appendix A of Bakunin's 1873 Statism and Anarchy (see the Cambridge ed.), where Bakunin writes (my emphasis),

"In such a situation, what can our intellectual proletariat do, our honest, sincere, utterly dedicated social-revolutionary Russian youth? Without question they must go to the people [“narod”/peasants], because today—and this is true everywhere, but especially in Russia—outside of the people, outside of the multi-million-strong laboring masses, there is neither life, nor cause, nor future. But how and why are they to go to the people?" (p. 212).

And a bit further down,

"Our people obviously need help. They are in such desperate straits that any village can be stirred up without effort. Although an uprising, however unsuccessful it may be, is always useful, individual outbursts are insufficient. All the villages must rise up at once. The vast popular movements under the leadership of Stenka Razin and Pugachev [the Pugachev rebellion did not actually challenge tsarist rule itself, but only serfdom, which had already been abolished by the time Bakunin was writing in the 1870s] show us that this is possible. Those movements show us that an ideal truly lives in the consciousness of our people and that they are striving for its realization; from the failure of those movements we conclude that this ideal contains fundamental defects which have prevented it from being realized" (p. 214).

There were certainly other thinkers who influenced the student-narodniks of the ‘70s, and who advocated for different approaches to the peasantry, such as Herzen (Bakunin’s friend), Lavrov, Chernyshevsky and others. Rather than “establishing anarchy in the countryside,” however, the peasants were mostly unimpressed with the narodniks’ attempts at converting them, and in some cases handed them over to the authorities. Bakunin himself noted in the Letters how much the world of the French peasant differed from that of the worker, such as French peasants’ greater religiosity and respect for their emperor. Bakunin also specifically mentions the unique features of Russian peasants in Statism and Anarchy, such as the Russian peasants’ greater respect for their tsar, and the patriarchal nature of the mir (see p. 206).[1] Russian peasants’ greater respect for the tsar (or “tsaritsa” in the case of Catherine and co) under serfdom could be seen in peasants’ petitioning of him/her, i.e. asking for the tsar’s help, to shield them against the cruelty of their lords (see here). While there is nothing wrong with propaganda, it is a bit strange that Bakunin should have encouraged revolutionaries to “go to the people” in this way, when he himself acknowledged the gulf that separated revolutionary workers from peasants. Like the rest of the narodniks Bakunin seems to have placed excessive faith in peasants being open to revolutionary ideas, owing to peasants being exploited just as workers were (it’s also worth pointing out that some peasants worked in factories and handicraft, and not just in the fields). As Yakov Stefanovich, a participant in the movement who was influenced by Bakunin (among others), would later observe at his trial, “A peasant revolution would not shake Russia even if the whole Intelligentsia were allowed to move freely among the people and spread their propaganda without hindrance” (see here, p. 140).

[1] The influence of tsarist rule and the demands of lords (when serfdom was around) on the patriarchal structure of the mir, along with its multitude of other shortcomings, should always be taken into account, as opposed to viewing these flaws as “inherent features” of the mir itself.

Red Marriott

1 year 11 months ago

Submitted by Red Marriott on March 24, 2022

I answered your question, you don’t agree, fine. Perhaps due to having failed to refute Marx’s racism, you seem determined to ‘prove’ at length that Marx was a ‘superior theoretician’, something Bakunin freely agreed with. But this thread was anyway not about that at all but about M & E’s racism – your reaction seems to be, ‘well even if I have to admit their racism I have to insist they were still ‘better’.' This is a quite typical Marxist pose, their god must be superior blah blah. The reason for posting the above article was largely to show the distorting imbalance of such rivalrous attitudes which constantly emphasised Bakunin’s racism but glossed over/ignored Fr Engel’s & St Marx’s.
I find on certain crucial matters Bakunin was more insightful; on the state and its conquest, on parliamentarism and its pitfalls, on the potential despotism of science, on social democracy. You won’t agree (probably at great longwinded length), so what?

adri

1 year 11 months ago

Submitted by adri on March 24, 2022

RM wrote: Perhaps due to having failed to refute Marx’s racism, you seem determined to ‘prove’ at length that Marx was a ‘superior theoretician’, something Bakunin freely agreed with.

I acknowledged in my first post that "there was some racist stuff in the works of Marx and Engels," so I don't see how I'm trying to refute that. Pointing out misrepresentations of M&E (such as the New York Tribune article and the suggestion that Marx was calling certain races weak, and probably other stuff if one bothers actually reading what M&E were saying) is another matter. It's also not really shocking that the 19th century was racist, antisemitic, misogynistic and what have you, especially by our standards today. Jews for instance had always been targeted in medieval-Christian Europe, whether being scorned for their association with money-lending and usury (owing in part to other occupations being closed off to them) or being accused of ritual murder, etc.; such thinking did not just originate in the heads of Marx and Bakunin, but also does not excuse their writings. Considering this article is in defense of Bakunin's and Proudhon's ideas, as the intro mentions, and not their more objectionable views it seemed worth asking what's so interesting about them. I'm not really convinced there is anything, and I don't guess I'm going to be convincing anyone myself.

Red Marriott

1 year 11 months ago

Submitted by Red Marriott on March 24, 2022

adri

Considering this article is in defense of Bakunin's and Proudhon's ideas, as the intro mentions, and not their more objectionable views

No, the article is by an academic collating some of M&E’s racist views, nothing to do with anarchists, iirc doesn’t mention them. My intro does contrast the dissimilar treatment of the racist views of Bakunin and Marx & Engels - but I could accurately point that out even if I had no sympathy with Bakunin’s ideas. Similarly, the Marxist Mehring’s even-handed account of the split in the First International;

Unlike most other Marxists up to the present - and whilst maintaining his political disagreements with Bakunin's anarchism and criticising his faults and weaknesses - Mehring without bias also points out the slanders, intrigues and trickeries of Marx and his supporters in this episode. https://libcom.org/library/bakunin-marx-split-1st-international-franz-mehring

adri

Pointing out misrepresentations of M&E ... such as ... the suggestion that Marx was calling certain races weak

As quoted in the intro above;

Marx indicated his belief (following the French anthropologist Trémaux) in the relative inferiority of the Negro race, and the existence of intrinsic racial differences between the Slavs and Lithuanians; “the common Negro type was a degeneration form a quite higher one”, he quoted approvingly.

Also quoted above are Engels’ remarks –approved by his then-editor Marx – about the supposed inferiority of the Slavic races and the historical need for them to be annihilated. So I don’t see it as a “misrepresentation”.

We take from the past what we find useful and critique or discard the rest. But we’d all do well to remember that that has to be done honestly, not in a way that makes iconic brands of theories with their own loyalty cards.

adri

1 year 11 months ago

Submitted by adri on March 25, 2022

RM wrote: adri wrote: Pointing out misrepresentations of M&E ... such as ... the suggestion that Marx was calling certain races weak

RM wrote: As quoted in the intro above;

Marx indicated his belief (following the French anthropologist Trémaux) in the relative inferiority of the Negro race, and the existence of intrinsic racial differences between the Slavs and Lithuanians; “the common Negro type was a degeneration form a quite higher one”, he quoted approvingly.

You’re omitting the crucial bit of my comment where I’m specifically referring to the New York Tribune article. Earlier you also said I "had a point" with respect to the Tribune article, but I guess you’ve changed your mind? I don’t deny that people in the 19th century were influenced by the racial theories/”science” of their time, just as people in the 18th century were influenced by Carolus Linnaeus’ Systema Naturae, who (disgustingly) placed Africans on the lowest rung of the human hierarchy. What matters is how people acted on such theories and to what extent such thinking influenced their own ideas, which is not much in the case of Marx and Bakunin. It is simply not true that Marx was declaring that "certain races are weak" in the Tribune article. Here is the passage in question,

Marx wrote: Now I share neither in the opinions of Ricardo, who regards ‘Net-Revenue’ as the Moloch to whom entire populations must be sacrificed, without even so much as complaint, nor in the opinion of Sismondi, who, in his hypochondriacal philanthropy, would forcibly retain the superannuated methods of agriculture and proscribe science from industry, as Plato expelled poets from his Republic. Society is undergoing a silent revolution, which must be submitted to, and which takes no more notice of the human existences it breaks down than an earthquake regards the houses it subverts. The classes and the races, too weak to master the new conditions of life, must give way. But can there be anything more puerile, more short-sighted, than the views of those Economists who believe in all earnest that this woeful transitory state means nothing but adapting society to the acquisitive propensities of capitalists, both landlords and money-lords? In Great Britain the working of that process is most transparent. The application of modern science to production clears the land of its inhabitants, but it concentrates people in manufacturing towns.

As mentioned, Marx is not arguing that the “classes and races” whose lives were being uprooted by capitalism’s “progress” is something good (when you initially posted this article, your quote also omitted “classes” and just included “races”...). He importantly comments in the next sentence for example, “But can there be anything more puerile, more short-sighted, than the views of those Economists who believe in all earnest that this woeful transitory state means nothing but adapting society to the acquisitive propensities of capitalists, both landlords and money-lords?” So Marx is saying that even though economic forces are displacing people and destroying their old modes of living, they need not simply “submit” to these changes (which was the whole point of the IWA and of the workers emancipating themselves). By “weak” Marx is obviously referring to stuff like, for example, westward expansion in America and the inability of Native Americans to resist being enveloped by the exchange relations of capitalism. It is almost impossible to conceive of the California Gold Rush (which was contemporary to when Marx was writing in 1853—Marx even hints at it when he says "gold mania"), where Americans and people from abroad intruded on and massacred Indigenous peoples in the West, without the prior development of an exchange-economy. The economic forces or logic behind such intrusions and massacres are thus worth considering; people headed West to become “rich” and to invest their newfound "fortunes," all at the expense of Native Americans (some of whom had more communistic social relations at one point and did not worship gold like Americans/Europeans).[1] This is the sort of thing Marx is referring to when he compares economic forces to an earthquake, and says: “The classes and the races, too weak to master the new conditions of life, must give way.”[2] The proletarianization of handicraft workers, having their lives uprooted by machinery and having no other way of securing their means of subsistence, is yet another example of economic logic and of older classes “giving way” to the development of industrial capitalism (see the Luddites for instance). Of course capitalist social relations also developed the productive forces through competition (which had its positive aspects, such as providing the foundations for a socialist/communist society), but neither Marx nor Engels looked on capitalism as something “positive” or something people should simply “submit to.” I would largely agree with Engels’ comments on the positive-negative aspects of capitalist development in his Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State (my emphasis),

Engels wrote: Since civilization is founded on the exploitation of one class by another class, its whole development proceeds in a constant contradiction. Every step forward in production is at the same time a step backwards in the position of the oppressed class, that is, of the great majority. Whatever benefits some necessarily injures the others; every fresh emancipation of one class is necessarily a new oppression for another class. The most striking proof of this is provided by the introduction of machinery, the effects of which are now known to the whole world. And if among the barbarians, as we saw, the distinction between rights and duties could hardly be drawn, civilization makes the difference and antagonism between them clear even to the dullest intelligence by giving one class practically all the rights and the other class practically all the duties.

Re the IWA, there was certainly scheming on the part of Marx and Engels, but Bakunin’s expulsion from the IWA seems to have had more to do with Bakunin's secret Alliance and his association with the likes of Nechayev, who had sent an unpleasant letter (unknown to Bakunin) to a publisher to get Bakunin out of a contract in which money was advanced to him for translating Capital (can read the full letter here). We can see in some of Bakunin’s letters that he justified his own secret society by arguing that Marx and Engels had their own, which was not really the case at all (a secret vanguard organization to guide the masses played no role in the revolutionary strategy of M&E, unlike Bakunin who advocated for such things):

Bakunin wrote: The last Conference of London has pronounced the anathema against any secret society that could be formed in the heart of the International. It is obviously a blow against us. But what the Marxian coterie, which directed that Conference, as it directed the General Council at that time, what it has so carefully refrained from saying to the majority of the members of that Conference, and what it has only said to its very close friends or to its henchmen, is that it has been pushed to formulate that condemnation against us in order to prepare the way for its own conspiracy, for the secret society that has existed since 1848 under the direction of Marx, founded by Marx, Engels, and Wolff, and which is nothing other than the almost exclusively Germanic society of the Authoritarian Communists.

1. Though not entirely reliable as a historical source, Bartolomé de las Casas’ A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies surely captures many Indigenous peoples’ bewilderment at Europeans’ obsession with metals (see here, pp. 27-8),

De Las Casas wrote: In 1511 the Spanish set foot on Cuba. This island, which, as we have said, stretched for a distance as great as that which separates Valladolid from Rome, was home to a great many people. The Spanish set about treating them all in the manner we have already described, only even more cruelly. A number of extraordinary incidents took place here. One of the leading local lords, a cacique [Indigenous leader] who went by the name of Hatuey, had fled to the island from Hispaniola with many of his people in order to escape the miseries that arose from the inhuman treatment meted out to the natives of that island by the Spanish. When he heard that the Christians had now switched their attention to Cuba, he gathered most if not all his people about him and addressed them, saying: ‘You know that rumour has it that the Christians are coming to this island, and you already know what they have done to the lord so-and-so and so-and-so and so-and-so. What they did on Haiti (which is another name for Hispaniola) they will do again here. Does any of you know why it is that they behave in this way?’ And when they answered him: ‘No, unless it be that they are innately cruel and evil’, he replied: ‘It is not simply that. They have a God whom they worship and adore, and it is in order to get that God from us so that they can worship Him that they conquer us and kill us.’ He had beside him, as he spoke, a basket filled with gold jewellery and he said: ‘Here is the God of the Christians. . . .'

2. Marx's article is referring more specifically to capitalist agricultural improvements in Europe leading to the displacement and migration of farmers.

Red Marriott

1 year 11 months ago

Submitted by Red Marriott on March 25, 2022

adri

You’re omitting the crucial bit of my comment where I’m specifically referring to the New York Tribune article.

No I’m not - cos you weren’t only referring to that article but commenting more widely;
adri

Pointing out misrepresentations of M&E (such as the New York Tribune article and the suggestion that Marx was calling certain races weak, and probably other stuff if one bothers actually reading what M&E were saying)

adri

Earlier you also said I "had a point" with respect to the Tribune article, but I guess you’ve changed your mind?

What I actually said was, giving the benefit of the doubt;

Ok, you may have a point in that case so I've edited that quote out of the intro.

But "you’re omitting the crucial bit of my comment" where I then said;

But in the wider context of M&E's views it's entirely likely they would see it as 'historically progressive'.

So M&E certainly did express beliefs in a hierarchy of races and nations, weaker & stronger races/nations, ‘historically progessive’ & ‘reactionary’ peoples etc - as abundantly shown in the intro, in the article and in their writings.
If you’re going to be such a longwinded pedant at least start quoting comments accurately.

adri

1 year 11 months ago

Submitted by adri on March 25, 2022

RM complained: If you’re going to be such a longwinded pedant at least start quoting comments accurately.

I'm sorry, but not everything can be condensed into a couple sentences

RM wrote: But in the wider context of M&E's views it's entirely likely they would see it as 'historically progressive'.

I specifically addressed this in my response, so not going to repeat myself