Letters to The Red Menace #4

Submitted by Reddebrek on May 27, 2016

What Bakunin said

Red Menace:

Your issue discussing the Marx-Bakunin dispute complains that anarchists merely talk around Marxism, rather than getting down to Marx's actual words and intent. But you then violate this stricture yourselves by not actually facing what Bakunin himself said. I am hoping that you'll print these following quotes, so as to provide your readers with at least a slice of Bakunin's critique and social vision.

“The leaders of the Communist Party, namely Mr. Marx and his followers, will concentrate the reins of government in a strong hand. They will centralize all commercial, industrial, agricultural, and even scientific production, and then divide the masses into two armies — industrial and agricultural — under the direct command of state engineers, who will constitute a new privileged scientific and political class.” 1873.

“The Dictatorship of the Proletariat... In reality it would be for the proletariat a barrack regime where the standardized mass of men and women workers would wake, sleep, work and live to the beat of a drum; for the clever and learned a privilege, of governing: and for the mercenary minded, attracted by the State Bank, a vast field of lucrative jobbery.” 1869.

“The programe of the International is very happily explicit: the emancipation of the workers can only be gained by the workers themselves. Is it not astonishing that Marx has believed it possible to graft on this never-the-less so precise declaration, which he publically drafted himself, his scientific socialism? That is to say, the organization of the government of the new society by socialistic scientists and professors - the worst of all, despotic governments! 1872.

“No dictatorship can have any other aim but that of self-perpetuation and it can beget only slavery in the people tolerating it; freedom can be created only by freedom.” 1872.

“We who are Materialists and Determinists, just as much as Marx himself, we also recognize the inevitable linking of economic and political facts in history. We recognize, indeed, the necessity, the inevitable character of all events, but we do not bow before them indifferently and above all we are careful about praising them when, by their nature, they show themselves in flagrant opposition to the supreme end of history... the triumph of humanity... by the absolute free and spontaneous organization of economic and social solidarity as completely as possible between all human beings living on earth.
... The Marxists do not reject our program absolutely. They only reproach us with wanting to hasten, to outstrip, the slow march of history and to ignore the scientific law of successive evolutions. Having had the thoroughly German nerve to proclaim in their works consecrated to the philisophical analysis of the past that the bloody defeat of the insurgent peasants of Germany and the triumph of the despotic states in the sixteenth century constituted a great revolutionary progress, they today have the nerve to satisfy themselves with establishing a new despotism to the so-called profit of the urban workers and to the detriment of the toilers of the countryside...
... Mr. Engels, driver on by the same logic, in a letter addressed to one of our friends, Carlo Cafiera, was able to say, without the least irony, but on the contrary, very seriously, that Bismark as well as King Victor Emmanuel II had rendered immense services to the revolution, both of them having created political centralization in their respective countries. I urge the French allies and sympathizers of Mr. Marx to carefully examine how this Marxist concept is being applied in the International.” 1872.

“To support his programme of the conquest of political power, Marx has a very special theory which is, moreover, only a logical consequence of his whole system. The poitical condition of each country, says he, is always the faithful expression of its economic situation; to change the former it is only necessary to transform the latter. According to Marx, all the secret of historic evolution is there. He takes no account of other elements of history, such as the quite obvious reaction of political., juridicial and religious institutions on the economic situation. He says: 'Poverty produces political slavery, the State.' But he does not allow this expression to be turned around to say, 'Political slavery, the State, reproduces in its turn, and maintains poverty as a condition of its own existence, so that, in order to destroy poverty, it is necessary to destroy the State!'” 1872.

“Either one destroys the State or one must accept the vilest and most fearful lie of our century: the red bureaucracy.”

“Freedom without socialism is privilege and justice, and socialism without freedom is slavery and brutality.”

In a subsequent letter I'd like to go into Bakunin's actual words on his programme for federative communalism and a world-wide federation and industrial parliament based on revolutionary industrial unions.

Gary Jewell
Delegate, IWW Defense Local 2

Critical distance

Dear Friends:

The articles by Ulli Diemer were excellent and I wholeheartedly concur with his position on the relationship between Marxism and anarchism. (The same old tired rhetoric in Murtaugh's piece provided a nice foil for his analysis) Further, his characterization of the uncritical editorial policy of THE OPEN ROAD was right on target.

It appears from the quality of Diemer's articles that libertarian Marxism has established a critical distance between itself and the Marxist tradition and in particular, the dark Leninist side of that tradition. Now it's up to Murtaugh and the anarchist movement of which he is a part to establish their critical distance from the Bakunist tradition and, in particular, the dark Nechaevist side of that tradition, best represented in our own day by the Red Brigade terrorists, the Baader-Meinhoff gang, and the Symbionese Liberation Army.

Anarchists must make a choice between their real libertarian impulses and their tendency towards anti-intellectualism, romanticism, terrorism, and conspiracy. For starters, they might do well to read Murray Bookchin's “Challenge the Icons of Anarchism” in THE OPEN ROAD, No. 5, Winter, 1977-78. But, as Diemer points out, the anti-intellectualism of most anarchists is the major stumbling block preventing them from overcoming their uncritical past.

One can only hope that many anarchists will break with their uncritical past and join with libertarian Marxists to become free and equal partners in a new left libertarian movement.

David Bean
St. Catharines

Point of order

Dear Comrades:

Just two points now. In your first [actually second -ed.] issue you publish an article on 'dialectical materialism', attempting one of the eternal neo-Marxist tries at redefining it. In the next issue you attempt to counter an attack on it by saying that it is not part of your politics. At least this is I assume the obscure reference to Plekenov meant. Ten to one as soon as the issue is forgotten you will start using the term again.

Second, as a point of order, you nowhere answer the charge that I put forward. I did not state that Bakunin was a saint and Marx was a devil. I did not say that some anarchists do not have some pretty stupid ideas (as do some Marxists). I am not a Bakunist and neither is the anarchist movement. This was most definitely stated as far back as the Congress of St. Imier in the 1800's. I would like to put the charge of ignorance back in your lap. You obviously know little about how widespread the opposition to much of Bakunin's politics was amongst the anarchist movement. You also do now know (or you deliberately disguise). the fact that many non-anarchists walked out on the International because of Marx's conspiracies against the anarchists. One thing I have got to hand to Marx: he was smart enough not to try and make a principle of conspiracy as Bakunin did. If anything, I agree with Malatesta that I am not a Bakuninist because Bakunin was too much of a Marxist.

What I did state was that the adoption of 'dialectical materialism' (or any 'correct interpretation' of Marx's philosophy, whatever you might like to call it) will have a certain effect on the socialist movement. To answer what I said you have to answer this charge, and answer it on some other basis than name-calling (ie., "anti Intellectualism”) .

Anyway, to get off the argument I really enjoyed the article on the use of 'lefty language'. I hereby cross my heart and hope to die if I ever use the word 'concrete' again (as I have in the past). This one especially struck me as I have to work with a trotskyist who is on the executive of the local union of the unemployed (as I am.) This fellow cannot open his mouth without spouting off rhetoric, and 'concrete' is one of his favourite words. Usually he doesn't even use this word right, as trots, in my experience, attempt to reduce the program of every organization they enter down to holding a demonstration and supporting the NDP. Therefore all the analysis of an organization has to be reduced down to "concrete demands”ie slogans for the demonstration. It doesn't matter how abstract these slogans are — as long as they can fit onto a placard. Concrete becomes a synonym for short.

In solidarity
P. Murtagh

Read before attacking

Dear Friends:

Congratulations on a great issue. 'Especially appreciated were the articles by Ulli Diemer on anarchism and Marxism. They shed quite a bit of light on the differences between the two, as well as clarified the actual theories of Marxism and the truth about the Marx-Bakunin split. I wonder if any anarchists will take the article seriously and read Marx before attacking him.

P. Murtaugh, it seems, contents himself with little knowledge of the writings of Marx, yet proceeds to attack him regardless. He charges that Marxism is “bifocal” having separate ideologies for the masses and the leaders. If Murtaugh had read Marx and not accepted the claims of the “Marxist-Leninists” so gullibly, he would have realized that the “Marxism for the leaders” is not Marxism at all. The leaders have abandoned nearly all of Marxism except the name, as has been documented amply. He would also realize that “Libertarian Marxism” is not “a rather recent development”, but the Marxism of today, a logical conclusion of the Marxism of yesterday.

Martin Deck
Face To Face: Letters

Dear Red Menace:

I enjoyed Vol. 2, No. 2 and it was in many ways one of the best magazines I've seen lately. Important points seemed to be the commitment to being non-sectarian within the libertarian left, and the need for an intelligent analysis leading to concrete social change. Nonetheless I have some criticisms.

Coming from a socialist anarchist background I would have liked to have seen the anarchism/marxism issue well worked out. However none of the articles on this issue was constructive at all. There seems to be little point to the historical aspects of the Marx vs. Bakunin feud except insofar as either or both can help us take the world we have now and move it toward liberation and socialism. If you have such analyses deriving from whoever it would be more useful to publish them than this sectarian bickering.

Thank you very much though and please enter a subscription for me.

Bill Coleman
Dear Red Menace:

About a month ago, a friend sent me a copy of your paper (the Spring 1978 issue). Great stuff! I particularly liked "Bakunin vs. Marx", "Words", and "Everything you wanted to know about Sects". One thing for sure your articles show a hell of a lot more original thought than those in the papers of the sectarian left. You've also got a sense of humour.

I have to disagree with P. Murtaugh when he says in his article "Some thoughts on organization" that insurrectional revolution in Canada is impossible and could never succeed. I think that non-insurrectional revolution is a contradiction in terms. I can't think of any successful revolution in history that didn't involve an armed uprising against the old regime and system. He's just kidding himself if he seriously believes that the ruling class won't react "to threats to its hegemony by either repression or bribery". It uses both even now when there is no threat of revolution. I personally know of cases where bosses have tried to prevent unions from organizing their employees by bribing the organizers with pay raises, promotions, etc.

As regards repression, what about police brutality at the Fleck strike (to name just one), the shooting of the mill workers in Montreal, and the military occupation of Quebec in October 1970? Isn't that repression? Revolutionary insurrection is quite possible in industrial societies. It almost happened in France in 1968 and in the north of Ireland the Provisional IRA has been fighting a revolutionary war against Britain since 1969. P. Murtaugh is right when he points out that there is bound to be a lot of hardship and suffering among the people in the course of an insurrection. Unfortunately, that's part of any revolution. The only alternative is to put up with this system.

Right now, despite unemployment, inflation, shitty working conditions, racism, etc. Most people are still pretty satisfied with the system. Conditions aren't bad enough yet that people are pissed off enough to overthrow the government and have a social revolution. However, I think that time will come sooner or later however long that may be.

Peter Flosznik



8 years ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by SRQ on May 28, 2016

and then divide the masses into two armies — industrial and agricultural — under the direct command of state engineers, who will constitute a new privileged scientific and political class.”

this has happen to anarchist movement during 80-90 es ekoanarchist are close to agriculture and syndicalist city and industrial issues, state engineers are some utopian at group co-operating whit government so on trying to lead whole movement internationally so it would destroy it self, or something. Continuous arguing city/countryside lifestyle splits people to part, what will save the world and humankind-question. Same time when has to do work has to consider nature, but sometimes it is impossible do so ethical work from nature point of view what would be ideal.