On the International Workingmen's Association and Karl Marx
Mikhail Bakunin 1872
Source: Bakunin on Anarchy, translated and edited by Sam Dolgoff, 1971.
This selection was written when the decisive struggle in the International Workingmen’s International had reached its climax with the expulsion of Bakunin from the International by the Hague Congress in 1872. The first part concerns Marx’s conduct in the International and concerns the differences of principle and tactics between the two opposing factions. It also deals with the basic principles of revolutionary syndicalism, including a critique of Marxism, particularly in relation to the labor movement. Bakunin takes up such matters as 1) non-worker members of the International; 2) should the General Council assume dictatorial powers over the International; 3) should the International be a model of the new society it is trying to build, or a replica of the State; 4) the relatively prosperous “semi-bourgeois caste of crafts and industrial workers” who could easily constitute the “fourth governing class” (the other three being the Church, the State bureaucracy, and the capitalists); and 5) Bakunin’s confidence in the revolutionary potential of the most oppressed, poorest, and alienated masses whom he calls “the flower of the proletariat.”
The second part deals primarily with Bakunin’s criticism of Marx’s historical materialism and political economy.
When it comes to exploitation the bourgeoisie practice solidarity. In combating them the exploited must do likewise; and the organization of this solidarity is the sole aim of the International. This aim, so simple and so clearly expressed in our original statutes, is the only legitimate obligation that all the members, sections, and federations of the International must accept. That they have done so willingly is shown by the fact that in barely eight years more than a million workers have joined and united their forces under the banner of this organization, which has in fact become a real power, a power with which the mightiest monarchs are now forced to reckon.
But all power entices the ambitious, and Mr. Marx and company, it seems, having never taken into account the nature and source of this prodigious power of the International, imagine that they can make it a stepping-stone or an instrument for the realization of their own political pretensions. Mr. Marx, who was one of the principal initiators of the International (a title to glory that no one will contest) and who for the last eight years has practically monopolized the whole General Council, should have understood better than anyone two things which are self-evident and which only those blinded by vanity and ambition could ignore: 1) that the marvelous growth of the International is due to the elimination from its official program and rules of all political and philosophic questions, and 2) that basing itself on the principle of the autonomy and freedom of all its sections and federations the International has happily been spared the ministrations of a centralizer or director who would naturally impede and paralyze its growth. Before 1870, precisely in the period of the International’s greatest expansion, the General Council of the International did not interfere with the freedom and autonomy of the sections and federations — not because it lacked the will to dominate, but only because it did not have the power to do so and no one would have obeyed it. The General Council was an appendage trailing behind the spontaneous movement of the workers of France, Switzerland, Spain, and Italy.
As far as the political question is concerned, everyone knows that if it was eliminated from the program of the International, it was not the fault of Mr. Marx. Nor is it due to any change of mind on the part of the author of that famous Manifesto of the German Communists published in 1848 by him and his friend and accomplice, Mr. Engels. Nor did he fail to emphasize this question in the Inaugural Proclamation — a circular addressed to all the workers of all lands — published in 1864 by the London Provisional General Council. The sole author of the Proclamation” was Mr. Marx.
In this proclamation the chief of the German authoritarian communists stressed that “the conquest of political power is the first task of the proletariat ...”
The First Congress of the International (Geneva, 1866) nipped in the bud the attempt of Marx — who now poses as the dictator of our great association — to inject this political plank. It has been completely eliminated from the program and statutes” adopted by this congress which remain the foundation of the International, Take the trouble to re-read the magnificent “Considerations” which are the Preamble to our general statutes and you will. see that the political question is dealt with in these words:
Considering that the emancipation of the workers must be the task of the workers themselves; that the efforts of the workers to achieve their emancipation must not be to reconstitute new privileges, but to establish, once for all, equal duties and equal rights; that the enslavement of the workers to capital is the source of all servitude — political, moral, and material; that for this reason the economic emancipation of the workers is the great aim to which must be subordinated every political movement, etc. [All emphases are Bakunin’s.]
This key phrase of the whole program of the International breaks the links which chain the proletariat to the politics of the bourgeoisie. The proletariat, in recognizing this truth, will further widen the gap that separates them from the bourgeoisie with each step they take.
The Alliance, the Geneva section of the International, has interpreted this paragraph of the “Considerations” in these terms:
The Alliance rejects all political action which has not for its immediate and direct aim the triumph of the workers over capitalism. Consequently it fixes as its ultimate aim the abolition of the state, of all states, [these to be replaced] by the universal federation of all local associations through and in freedom.
Contrary to this, the German Social Democratic Workers party, founded in 1869, under the auspices of Mr. Marx, by Mr. Liebknecht and Mr. Babel, announced in its program that “the conquest of political power was the indispensable condition for the economic emancipation of the proletariat” and that consequently, the immediate objective of the party must be the organization of a big legal campaign to win universal suffrage and all other political rights. The final aim was the establishment of the Great Pan-Germanic State, the so-called People’s State.
Between these two tendencies there exist the same conflicting conceptions and the same abyss that separate the proletariat and the bourgeoisie. Is it surprising, therefore, that these irreconcilable adversaries clashed in the International, that the struggle between them, in all forms and on all possible occasions, is still going on? The Alliance, true to the program of the International, disdainfully rejected all collaboration with bourgeois politics, in however radical and socialist a disguise. They advised the proletariat that the only real emancipation, the only policy truly beneficial for them, is the exclusively negative policy of demolishing political institutions, political power, government in general, and the State, and that to do this it is necessary to unify the scattered forces of the proletariat into an International organization, a revolutionary power directed against the entrenched ]power of the bourgeoisie.
The German Social Democrats advocated a completely opposite policy. They told these workers, who unfortunately heeded them, that the first and most pressing task of their organization must be to win political rights by legal agitation. They thus subordinated the movement for economic emancipation to an exclusively political movement, and by this obvious reversal of the whole program of the International they filled in at a single stroke the abyss that the International had opened between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie. They have done more. They have tied the proletariat to the bourgeois towline. For it is evident that this whole political movement so enthusiastically extolled by the German Socialists, since it must precede the economic revolution, can only be directed by the bourgeoisie, or what is still worse, by workers transformed into bourgeois by their vanity and ambition. And, in fact, this movement, like all its predecessors, will once more supersede the proletariat and condemn them to be the blind instruments, the victims. to be used and then sacrificed in the struggle between the rival bourgeois parties for the power and right to dominate and exploit the masses. To anyone who doubts this we have only to show what is happening now in Germany, where the organs of social democracy sing hymns of joy on seeing a congress of professors of bourgeois political economy entrusting the proletariat to the paternal protection of states, and it has occurred in parts of Switzerland where the Marxian program prevails — at Geneva, Zurich, Basel, where the International has declined to the point of being only an electoral ballot box for the profit of the radical bourgeois. These incontestable facts seem to me to be more eloquent than any words.
These facts are real and they are a natural effect of the triumph of Marxian propaganda. And it is for this reason that we fight the Marxian theories to the death, convinced that if they should triumph throughout the International, they would at the least kill its spirit, as they have already in great part done in the places I have referred to.
Certainly we have deplored and still deeply deplore the immense confusion and demoralization which these ideas have caused in arresting the promising and marvelous growth of the International and almost wrecking the organization. In spite of this none of us ever dreamed of stopping Mr. Marx and his fanatical disciples from propagating their ideas in our great association. If we did so, we would violate our fundamental principle: ‘absolute freedom to propagandize political and philosophic ideas.
The International permits no censor and no official truth in whose name this censorship can be imposed. So far, the International has refused to grant this privilege either to the Church or to the State, and it is precisely because of this fact that the unbelievably rapid growth of the International has surprised the world.
This is what the Geneva Congress (1866) understood better than Mr. Marx. The effective power of our association, the International, was based on eliminating from its program all political and philosophical planks, not as subjects for discussion and study but as obligatory principles which all members must accept.
It is true that in the second congress of the International (Lausanne, 1867), misinformed friends, not adversaries, moved for the adoption of a political plank. But most fortunately the question of politics was harmlessly formulated in this platonic statement: “that the political question was inseparable from the economic question” — a declaration to which any of us could subscribe. For it is evident that politics, that is, the institutions of and relations between states, has no other object than to assure to the governing classes the legal exploitation of the proletariat. Consequently, from the moment that the proletariat becomes aware that it must emancipate itself, it must of necessity concern itself with the game of politics in order to fight and defeat it. This is not the sense in which our adversaries understand this problem. What they have sought and still want is the constructive politics of the State. But not finding the sentiment favorable at Lausanne, they wisely abstained from pressing the question.
In 1868 they tried again at the Brussels Congress. The Belgian Internationalists, being communalists, i.e., anti-authoritarians and by tradition and history, offered our opponents no ,chance of success. Once again, they did not press the political question.
Three years of defeats! This was too much for the impatient ambition of Mr. Marx. He commanded his army to make a direct attack, which order was carried out at the Basel Congress ( 1869). The chances seemed favorable. The Social Democratic party had enough time to organize itself in Germany under the leadership of Mr. Liebknecht and Mr. Babel. The party had links with German Switzerland, at Zurich and Basel, and even in the German section of the International in Geneva. It was the first time that German delegates were present in any great number in a congress of the International.
... Though well prepared for the great battle, the Marxists lost ... . Soon after his defeat at this congress, the General Council, which was in effect Marx’s puppet, awoke from its enforced lethargy (so healthful for the International) and opened an offensive. It began with a torrent of odious falsehoods, character assassinations, and plots against all those who dared to disagree with Marx’s clique, disseminated by the German papers and in the other countries by secret letters and confidential circulars, and by all sorts of agents recruited in various ways into the Marxist camp.
This was followed by the London Conference (September 1871), which, prepared by the long arm of Mr. Marx, approved all that he wished — the conquest of political power as an integral part of the obligatory program of the International and the dictatorship of the General Council, that is, the personal dictatorship of Marx, and consequently the transformation of the International into an immense and monstrous state with himself as chief.
The legitimacy of this conference has been contested. Mr. Marx, a very able political conniver, doubtless anxious to prove to the world that though he lacked firearms and cannons the masses could still be governed by lies, by libels, and by intrigues, organized his Congress of the Hague in September 1872. Barely two months have passed since this congress and already in all of Europe (with the exception of Germany where the workers are brainwashed by the lies of their leaders and their press) and its free federations — Belgian, Dutch, English, American, French, Spanish, Italian — without forgetting our excellent Jura Federation [Switzerland] — there has arisen a cry of indignation and contempt against this cynical burlesque which dares to call itself a true Congress of the International. Thanks to a rigged, fictitious majority, composed almost exclusively of members of the General Council, cleverly used by Mr. Marx, all has been travestied, falsified, brutalized. Justice, good sense, honesty, and the honor of the International brazenly rejected, its very existence endangered — all this the better to establish the dictatorship of Mr. Marx. It is not only criminal — it is sheer madness. Yet Mr. Marx who thinks of himself as the father of the International (he was unquestionably one of its founders) cares not a whit, and permits all this to be done! This is what personal vanity, the lust for power, and above all, political ambition can lead to. For all these deplorable acts Marx is personally responsible. Marx, in spite of all his mis-deeds, has unconsciously rendered a great service to the International by demonstrating in the most dramatic and evident manner that if anything can kill the International, it is the introduction of politics into its program.
The International Workingmen’s Association, as I have said, would not have grown so phenomenally if it had not eliminated from its statutes and program all political and philosophical questions. This is clear and it is truly surprising that it must again be demonstrated.
I do not think that I need show that for the International to be a real power, it must be able to organize within its ranks the immense majority of the proletariat of Europe, of America, of all lands. But what political or philosophic program can rally to its banner all these millions? Only a program which is very general, — hence vague and indefinite, for every theoretical definition necessarily involves elimination and in practice exclusion from membership.
For example: there is today no serious philosophy which does not take as its point of departure not positive but negative atheism. (Historically it became necessary to negate the theological and metaphysical absurdities.) But do you believe that if this simple word “atheism” had been inscribed on the banner of the International this association would have been able to attract ore t an a few hundred thousand members? Of course not because the people are truly religious, but because they believe in a Superior Being; and they will continue to believe in a Superior Being until a social revolution provides the means to achieve all their aspirations here below. It is certain that if the International had demanded that all its members must be atheists, it would have excluded from its ranks the flower of the proletariat.
To me the flower of the proletariat is not, as it is to the Marxists, the upper layer, the aristocracy of labor, those who are the most cultured, who earn more and live more comfortably than all the other workers. Precisely this semi-bourgeois layer of workers would, if the Marxists had their way, constitute their fourth governing class. This could indeed happen if the great mass of the proletariat does not guard against it. By virtue of its relative. well-being and semi-bourgeois position, this upper layer of workers is unfortunately only too deeply saturated with all the political and social prejudices and all the narrow aspirations and pretensions of the bourgeoisie. Of all the proletariat, this upper layer is the least social and the most individualist.
By the flower of the proletariat, I mean above all that great mass, those millions of the uncultivated, the disinherited, the miserable, the illiterates, whom Messrs. Engels and Marx would subject to their paternal rule by a strong government — naturally for the people’s own salvation! All governments are supposedly established only to look after the welfare of the masses! By flower of the proletariat, I mean precisely that eternal “meat” (on which governments thrive), that great rabble of the people (underdogs, “dregs of society”) ordinarily designated by Marx and Engels in the picturesque and contemptuous phrase Lumpenproletariat. I have in mind the “riffraff,” that “rabble” almost unpolluted by bourgeois civilization, which carries in its inner being and in its aspirations, in all the necessities and miseries of its collective life, all the seeds of the socialism of the future, and which alone is powerful enough today to inaugurate and bring to triumph the Social Revolution.
In almost all countries, this “rabble” would refuse to join the International if that association had an official commitment to atheism. It would be a heavy blow if they should reject the International, for on them rests the entire success of our great association.
It is absolutely the same in respect to all political policies. No matter how hard Messrs. Marx and Engels may try, they will not change what is now plainly and universally apparent: there does not exist any political principle capable of inspiring and stirring the masses to action. Attempts to spear the masses collapsed after a number of years, even in Germany. What the masses want above all is their immediate economic emancipation; this emancipation is for them equivalent to freedom and human dignity, a matter of life or death. If there is an ideal that the masses are today capable of embracing with passion, it is economic equality. And the masses are a thousand times right, for as long as the present condition is not replaced by economic equality, all the rest, all that constitutes the value and dignity of human existence — liberty, science, love, intelligence, and fraternal solidarity — will remain for them a horrible and cruel deception.
The instinctive passion of the masses for economic equality is so great that if they had hopes of receiving it from a despotic regime, they would indubitably and without much reflection, as they have often done before, deliver themselves to despotism. Happily, historic experience has been of service even to the masses. Today they are everywhere beginning to understand that no despotism has had or can have either the will or the power to give them economic equality. The program of the International is very happily explicit on this question: the emancipation of the workers can be achieved only by the workers themselves.
Is it not astonishing that Mr. Marx has believed it possible to graft onto this precise declaration, which he himself probably wrote, his scientific socialism? For this — the organization and the rule of the new society by socialist savants — is the worst of all despotic governments!
But thanks to the great, beloved common people, the “rabble,” who are moved by an instinct invincible as well as just, all the governmental schemes of this little working-class minority already disciplined and marshaled to become the myrmidons of a new despotism, the scientific socialism of Mr. Marx will never be inflicted upon them and is doomed to remain only a dream. This new experience, perhaps the saddest of all experiences, will be spared society because the proletariat in all countries is today animated by a deep distrust against everything political, and against all politicians — whatever their party color. All of them, from the “reddest” republicans to the most absolutist monarchists, have equally deceived, oppressed, and exploited the people.
Taking into consideration these feelings of the masses, how can anyone hope to attract them to any political program? And supposing that the masses allow themselves to be drawn into the International even so, as they do, how can anyone hope that the proletariat of all lands, who differ so greatly in temperament, in culture, in economic development, would shoulder the yoke of a uniform political program? Only the demented could imagine such a possibility. Yet Mr. Marx not only enjoys imagining it, he wanted to accomplish this feat. By a despotic sneak attack he tore to shreds the pact of the International, hoping thereby, as he still does today, to impose a uniform political program, his own program, upon all the federations of the International, and hence upon the proletariat of all countries.
This has caused a great split in the International. Let us not deceive ourselves; the basic unity of the International has been fractured. This was accomplished, I repeat, by the acts of the Marxist party which throughout the Hague Congress has tried to impose the will, the thought, and the policy of its chief upon the whole International.
If the declarations of the Hague Congress are to be taken seriously our great association would have no alternative but to dissolve. For we cannot imagine that the workers of England, Holland, Belgium, France, the Swiss Jura, Spain, America, not to mention the Slavs, would submit to Marxist discipline.
Nevertheless, if one agrees with the various politicians in the International — with the revolutionary Jacobins, the Blanquists, the democratic republicans, not to mention the social democrats or Marxists — that the political question must be an integral part of the program of the International, he must admit that Marx is right. The International can be powerful only if it acts as a unit, with only one political program for all. Otherwise there would be as many different Internationals as there were programs.
But as it is clearly impossible for all the workers of all the different countries to unite voluntarily and spontaneously under the same political programs, this single program would have to be imposed upon them. To avoid the impression that it was foisted on the International by the Marxist-dominated General Council, a rigged Marxian congress “voted” it in, thus demonstrating in a new way this old truth about the representative system and universal suffrage: in the name of the free choice of all will be decreed the slavery of all. This is what really happened in the Hague Congress.
It was for the International what the battle and surrender of Sedan was for France:” the victorious invasion of pan-Germanism, not Bismarckian but Marxist, imposing the political program of the authoritarian communists or social democrats of Germany and the dictatorship of their chief over the world proletariat. The better to hide his scheme and sweeten the bitter pill, this notorious congress sent to America a dummy general council, chosen and rehearsed by Mr. Marx himself, always obeying his secret instructions, to assume all the trappings, the drudgery, and appearances of power, while from behind the scenes Mr. Marx will exercise the real power.
But disgusting as this scheme may appear to delicate and timorous souls, it became absolutely necessary from the moment the proposal was made to anchor the political question in the program of the International. Since unity of political action is considered necessary, and since it cannot and will not freely emerge through the spontaneous and voluntary agreement of the federations and sections of the different countries, it must be imposed on them. Only in this way can this most desired and highly touted political unity be created. But at the same time slavery is also being created.
To sum up: By introducing the political question in the official and obligatory programs and statutes of the International, the Marxists have put our association in a terrible dilemma. Here are the two alternatives: Either political unity with slavery or liberty with division and dissolution. What is the way out? Quite simply: we must return to our original principles and omit the specific political issue, thus leaving the sections and federations free to develop their own policies. But then would not each section and each federation follow whatever political policy it wants? No doubt. But then, will not the International be transformed into a tower of Babel? On the contrary, only then will it attain real unity, basically economic, which will necessarily lead to real political unity. Then there will be created, though of course not all at once, the grand policy of the International — not from a single head, ambitious, erudite, but nevertheless, incapable of embracing the thousand needs of a proletariat no matter how brainy it may be, — but by the absolutely free, spontaneous, and concurrent action of the workers of all countries.
The foundation for the unity of the International, so vainly looked for in the current political and philosophical dogmas, has already been laid by the common sufferings, interests, needs, and real aspirations of the workers of the whole world. This solidarity does not have to be artificially created. It is a fact, it is life itself, a daily experience in the world of the worker. And all that remains to be done is to make him understand this fact and help him to organize it consciously. This fact is solidarity for economic demands. This slogan is in my opinion the only, yet at the same time a truly great, achievement of the first founders of our association, among whom, as I always like to remember, Mr. Marx has played so useful and preponderant a part — excepting his political schemes which the Geneva Congress (1866) wisely eliminated from the program he presented.
I have always avoided calling Mr. Marx and his numerous collaborators the “founders” of the International, not because I am motivated by mean sentiments to deprecate or minimize their merits: on the contrary, I gladly give them full credit. Rather, I am convinced that the International has been not their work but the work of the proletariat itself. They (Marx and Company) were somewhat like midwives rather than parents. The great author (unaware, as authors of great things usually are) was the proletariat, represented by a few hundred anonymous workers, French, English, Belgian, Swiss, and German. It was their keen and profound instinct as workers, sharpened by the sufferings inherent in their situation, which impelled them to find the true principle and true purpose of the International. They took the common needs already in existence as the foundation and saw the international organization of economic conflict against capitalism as the true objective of this association. In giving it exclusively this base and aim, the workers at once established the entire power of the International. They opened wide the gates to all the millions of the oppressed and exploited, regardless of their beliefs, their degree of culture, or their nationality.
One cannot commit a greater mistake than to demand more than a thing, an institution, or a man can give. By demanding more than that from them one demoralizes, impedes, perverts, and renders them totally useless for any constructive action. The International in a short time produced great results. It organized and will continue to organize ever greater masses of the proletariat for economic struggles. Does it follow from this that the proletariat can also be used as an instrument for the political struggle? Because he thought so, Mr. Marx nearly killed the International at the Hague Congress. It is the old story of the goose that laid golden eggs. At the summons to unite for the economic struggle. masses of workers from different countries hastened to join forces under the banner of the International, and Mr. Marx imagined that the masses would stay under it — what do I say? — that they would rush to join in even greater numbers, when he, the new Moses, had inscribed the commandments of his new decalogue on our banner, in the official and binding program of the International.
This was his mistake. The masses, regardless of their degree of culture, religious beliefs, country, or native tongue, understood the language of the International when it spoke to them of their poverty, their sufferings, and their slavery under the yoke of capitalism. They responded when the necessity to unite in a great common struggle was explained to them. But here they were being told about a political program — most learned and above all quite authoritarian — which for the sake of their own salvation was attempting — in the very International by means of which they were to organize their own emancipation — to impose on them a dictatorial government (only temporarily, of course! ) directed by an extraordinarily brainy man.
It is sheer madness to hope that the working masses of Europe and America will stay in the International in such circumstances.
But, you may ask, “Has not the remarkable success [of the International] shown that Mr. Marx was right, and didn’t the Hague Congress vote in favor of all his demands?”
No one knows better than Mr. Marx himself how little the resolutions approved by the unfortunate congress at the Hague expressed the true thoughts and aspirations of the federations of all countries. The composition and the manipulation of this congress have caused so much pain and disappointment that no one has the least illusion about its real value. Outside of the German Social Democratic party, the federations of all countries — the American, the English , the Dutch, the Belgian, the French, the Jura — Swiss, the Spanish, and the Italian — protested all the resolutions of this disastrous and disgraceful congress and vehemently denounced its ignoble intrigues.
But let us set aside the moral question and deal only with the main points. A political program has no value if it deals only with vague generalities. It must specify precisely what institutions are to replace those that are to be overthrown or reformed. Marx’s program is a complete network of political and economic institutions rigidly centralized and highly authoritarian, sanctioned, no doubt, like all despotic institutions in modern society, by universal suffrage, but nevertheless subordinate to a very strong government — to quote Engels, Marx’s alter ego, the autocrat’s confidant.
But why should this particular program be injected into the official and binding statutes of the International? Why not that of the Blanquists? Why not ours? Could it be because Mr. Marx concocted it? That is no reason. Or is it because the German workers seem to like it? But the anarchist program is with very few exceptions accepted by all the Latin federations; the Slavs would never accept any other. Why, then, should the program of the Germans dominate the International, which was conceived in liberty and can only prosper in and by liberty? ...
It is clear that the wish to force the federations — be it by violence, by intrigue, or both — to accept a single arbitrary political program must fail; the most likely result would be the dissolution of the International and its division into many political parties, each promoting its own political program. To save its integrity and assure its progress, there is only one procedure: to follow and preserve the original policy and keep the political question out of the official and obligatory program and Statutes of the International Workingmen’s Association — which was organized not for the political struggle but only for economic ends — and absolutely refuse to let it be used by anyone as a political instrument. Those who would [capture the International] and commit it to a positive political policy in the struggle between the rival political parties [for the attainment of state power] will be immediately demoralized. Those who foolishly imagine that they really have this power will see it gradually slip from their fingers and dissolve before their very eyes.
But would the International then cease to concern itself with political and philosophical questions? Would the International ignore progress in the world of thought as well as the events which accompany or arise from the political struggle in and between states, concerning itself only with the economic problem? Would the International limit itself to gathering statistics, studying the laws of production and the distribution of wealth, regulating wages, gathering strike funds, organizing local, national, and international strikes, establishing national and international trade unions, and founding mutual — credit and consumers’ — production cooperatives wherever possible?
We hasten to say that it is absolutely impossible to ignore political and philosophical questions. An exclusive preoccupation with economic questions would be fatal for the proletariat. Doubtless the defense and organization of its economic interests — a matter of life and death — must be the principal task of the proletariat. But it is impossible for the workers to stop there without renouncing their humanity and depriving themselves of the intellectual and moral power which is so necessary for the conquest of their economic rights. In the miserable circumstances in which the worker now finds himself, the main problem he faces is most likely bread for himself and bis family. But much more than any of the privileged classes today, he is a human being in the fullest sense of this word; he thirsts for dignity, for justice, for equality, for liberty, for humanity, and for knowledge, and he passionately strives to attain all these things together with the full enjoyment of the fruits of his own labor. Therefore, if political and philosophical questions have not yet been posed in the International, it is the proletariat itself who will pose them.
On the one hand, the political and philosophical questions must be excluded from the program of the International. On the other, they must necessarily be discussed. How can this seeming contradiction be resolved?
This problem will solve itself by liberty. No political or philosophical theory should be considered a fundamental principle, or he introduced into the official program of the International. Nor should acceptance of any political or philosophical theory be obligatory as a condition for membership, since as we have seen, to impose any such theory upon the federations composing the International would be slavery, or it would result in division and dissolution, which is no less disastrous. But it does not follow from this that free discussion of all political and philosophical theories cannot occur in the International. On the contrary, it is precisely the very existence of an official theory that will kill such discussion by rendering it absolutely useless instead of living and vital, and by inhibiting the expression and development of the worker’s own feelings and ideas. As soon as an official truth is pronounced — having been scientifically discovered by this great brainy head laboring all alone — a truth proclaimed and imposed on the whole world from the summit of the Marxist Sinai, why discuss anything?
All that remains to be done is to learn by heart the commandments of the new decalogue. On the other hand, if people do not have and cannot claim that they have the truth, they will try to find it. Who searches for the truth? Everyone, and above all the proletariat, which thirsts for and needs it more than all others. Many do not believe that the proletariat can itself spontaneously find and develop true philosophical principles and political policies. I will now try to show how this is being done by the workers at the very core of the International.
The workers, as I have said, originally join the International for one very practical purpose: solidarity in the struggle for full economic rights against the oppressive exploitation by the bourgeoisie of all lands. Note that by this single act, though at first without realizing it, the proletariat takes a decisively negative position on politics. And this in two ways. First of all, it undermines the concept of political frontiers and international politics of states, the existence of which depends upon the sympathies, the voluntary cooperation, and the fanatical patriotism of the enslaved masses. Secondly, it digs a chasm between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat and places the proletariat outside the activity and political conniving of all the parties within the State; but in placing itself outside all bourgeois politics, the proletariat necessarily turns against it.
The proletariat, by its adherence to the International, has unconsciously taken up a very definite political position. However, this is an absolutely negative political position; and the great mistake, not to say the treason and the crime of the Social Democrats — who are urging the German workers to follow the Marxist program — is that they tried to transform this negative attitude into positive collaboration with bourgeois politics.
The International, in placing the proletariat outside the politics of the State and of the bourgeois world, thereby constructed a new world, the world of the united proletarians of all lands. This is the new world of the future: the legitimate inheritor, but at the same time the gravedigger of all former civilizations, which, founded on privilege, are completely bankrupt, exhausted, and doomed to extinction. On the ruins of the old world, on the demolition of all oppressions divine and human, of all slavery, of all inequality, the International is destined to create a new civilization. This is the mission, and therefore the true program of the International — not the official, artificial program, from which may all the Christian and pagan gods protect us — but that which is inherent in the very nature of the organization itself.
The true program, I will repeat it a thousand times, is quite simple and moderate: the organization of solidarity in the economic struggle of labor against capitalism. On this foundation, at first exclusively material, will rise the intellectual and moral pillars of the new society. To bring such a society into being, all the thoughts, all the philosophical and political tendencies of the International, born out of the womb of the proletariat itself, must originate, and take as their principal point of departure this economic base which constitutes the very essence and the declared, obvious aim of the International. Is this possible?
Yes, and this process is now taking place. Whoever has kept in touch with developments in the International during the last few years will notice how this is slowly taking place, sometimes at a quickened, sometimes at a slower pace, and always in three different, but firmly connected, ways: first, by the establishment and coordination of strike funds and the international solidarity of strikes; second, by the organization and the international (federative) coordination of trade and professional unions; third, by the spontaneous and direct development of philosophical and sociological ideas in the International, ideas which inevitably develop side by side with and are produced by the first two movements.
Let us now consider these three ways, different but inseparable, and begin with the organization of strike funds and strikes.
Strike funds aim only at collecting resources which make it possible to organize and maintain strikes, always a costly undertaking. The strike is the beginning of the social war of the proletariat against the bourgeoisie, a tactic that remains within the limits of legality. Strikes are a valuable tactic in two ways. First they electrify the masses, reinforcing their moral energy and awakening in them the sense of profound antagonism between their interests and those of the bourgeoisie. Thus strikes reveal to them the abyss which from this time on irrevocably separates the workers from the bourgeoisie. Consequently they contribute immensely by arousing and manifesting between the workers of all trades, of all localities, and of all countries the consciousness and the fact itself of solidarity. Thus a double action, the one negative, the other positive, tending to create directly the new world of the proletariat by opposing it in an almost absolute manner to the bourgeois world.
It is significant that in this connection the radical and bourgeois socialists have always bitterly opposed the idea of strikes and made desperate efforts to discourage the proletariat from striking. Mazzini never could bear any talk of strikes; and if his disciples, many of whom have become demoralized, disoriented, and disorganized since his death [March 10, 1872], today timidly endorse the strike, it is only because the propaganda for the Social Revolution has so stirred the Italian masses, and social and economic demands have manifested themselves with such power in the strikes that have simultaneously erupted all over Italy, that they fear to oppose this movement lest they become isolated and lose all influence among the people.
Mazzini, together with all the bourgeois socialists and radicals of Europe, was from his point of view right in condemning strikes. For what is it the Mazzinisti want who today are so imbued with the spirit of conciliation that they are about to unite with those who call themselves “the Radicals” in the Italian parliament? They want the establishment of a single great democratic republican state. To establish this state they must first overthrow the present one, and for that the powerful support of the people is indispensable. Once the people have performed this great service to the politicians of the school of Mazzini, they will naturally be sent back to their factories and workshops or to their fields to resume their essential labors. There they will submit not to the paternal monarchy but to the fraternal protection of the new but no less authoritarian republican government. Today the workers must renounce the strike and make appeal to their new rulers. But how can the bourgeois radicals and socialists be stirred to act on behalf of the workers?
By appealing to their socialist instincts? Impossible! This would be the surest way to stir up the hatred and bitter opposition of all the capitalists and proprietors against both themselves and the republic of their dreams. Also impossible because it is precisely with these exploiters that the bourgeois and radical socialists want to collaborate and with them they wish to constitute the new government. They cannot establish an orderly new government with the “barbaric, ignorant” anarchical masses, especially when these masses have been roused and stirred in the course of their economic struggles by the passion for justice, for equality, and for their real freedom, which is incompatible with any and all governments. The radical and bourgeois socialists must, therefore, avoid the social (economic) question and concentrate on inciting the political and patriotic passions of the workers. This will cause their hearts to beat in unison with the hearts of the bourgeoisie, and the workers will then be psychologically prepared to render to the radical politicians the precious service demanded of them: that of overthrowing the monarchical government.
But we have seen that the first effect of strikes is to destroy this touching and very profitable harmony with the bourgeoisie. Strikes have the effect of reminding the workers that between them and their rulers there exists an abyss and of awakening in the hearts of the proletariat socialist passions and aspirations which are absolutely incompatible with patriotic and political fanaticism. Yes, from this perspective Mazzini was a thousand times right: Strikes must be prohibited!
Mazzini, for reasons which I have just indicated, clearly wishes to put an end to the antagonism between classes. But does Mr. Marx really want to preserve this antagonism, which renders all participation of the masses in the politics of the State absolutely impossible? For such political action cannot succeed unless the bourgeoisie enter into it, and will succeed only when this class develops and directs it. Of this, Marx cannot be ignorant. It is impossible for me to believe he is unaware of this, after the speech he recently delivered in Amsterdam in which he declared that in certain countries, perhaps in Holland itself, the social question can be peaceably resolved; that is, in an altogether friendly, legal way, without force. This can mean only that the social problem can he resolved by a series of successive, tranquil, and judicious compromises between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. Mazzini has never differed from this.
In the end, Mazzini and Marx agree on a cardinal point: that the great social reforms which are to emancipate the proletariat can be put into effect only by a great democratic, republican, and very powerful, highly centralized state. This state, they allege, must impose upon the people a very strong government, this being in the people’s interest, to secure their education and well-being.
Between Mazzini and Marx there has always been an enormous difference, and it is all to the honor of Mazzini. Mazzini was a profoundly sincere and passionate believer. He adored his God, to whom he devoted all that he felt, thought, did. In regard to his own style of life, he was the simplest of men, the most modest, the most unselfish. But he became inflexible, furious, when anyone touched his God.
Mr. Marx does not believe in God, but he believes deeply in himself. His heart is filled not with love but with rancor. He has very little benevolence toward men and becomes just as furious, and infinitely more spiteful, than Mazzini when anyone dares question the omniscience of the divinity whom he adores, that is to say, Mr. Marx himself. Mazzini would like to impose on humanity the absurdity of God; Mr. Marx tries to impose himself. I believe in neither, but if I were forced to choose, I would prefer the Mazzinian God.
I believe it is my duty to give this explanation, so that the friends and disciples of Mazzini cannot accuse me of dishonoring the memory of their master by likening him to Mr. Marx. I return to my subject.
I say then that for all the reasons I have given, it would not surprise me if we soon hear talk of a reconciliation between the Mazzinian agitation and the Marxist intrigue in Italy. I maintain that if the Marxist party, the so-called Social Democrats, continues along the road of political action, it will sooner or later be forced to oppose economic action — the tactic of strikes — so incompatible are these two methods in reality...
Political Consciousness and Statist Civilization
Is it possible even by means of the most cleverly devised and energetically expressed propaganda to imbue the great masses of a nation with tendencies, aspirations, passions, and thoughts that are absolutely foreign to them, that are not the product of their own history, of their customs and traditions? It seems to me that when the question is so posed, any reasonable and sensitive man who has even the least idea of how the popular conscience is developed, can answer only in the negative. Ultimately, no propaganda has ever artificially created a source or basis for a people’s aspirations and ideas, which are always the product of their spontaneous development and the actual conditions of life. What, then, can propaganda do? It can, in general, express the proletariat’s own instincts in a new, more definite and more apt form. It can sometimes precipitate and facilitate the awakening consciousness of the masses themselves. It can make them conscious of what they are, of what they feel, and of what they already instinctively wish; but never can propaganda make then what they are not, nor awaken in their hearts passions which are foreign to their own history.
Now to discuss the question whether by means of propaganda it is possible to make a people politically conscious for the first time, we must specify what political consciousness is for the masses of the people. I emphasize for the masses of the people. For we know very well that for the privileged classes, political consciousness is nothing but the right of conquest, guaranteed and codified, of the exploiter of the labor of the masses and the right to govern them so as to assure this exploitation. But for the masses, who have been enslaved, governed, and exploited, of what does political consciousness consist? It can be assured by only one thing — the goddess of revolt. This mother of all liberty, the tradition of revolt, is the indispensable historical condition for the realization of any and all freedoms.
We see then that this phrase political consciousness, throughout the course of historical development, possesses two absolutely different meanings corresponding to two opposing viewpoints. From the viewpoint of the privileged classes, political consciousness means conquest, enslavement, and the indispensable mechanism for this exploitation of the masses: the coextensive organization of the State. From the viewpoint of the masses, it means the destruction of the State. It means, accordingly, two things that are diametrically and inevitably opposed.
Now it is absolutely certain that there has never existed a people, no matter how low-spirited or maltreated by circumstances, who did not feel at least at the beginning of their slavery some spark of revolt. To revolt is a natural tendency of life. Even a worm turns against the foot that crushes it. In general, the vitality and relative dignity of an animal can be measured by the intensity of its instinct to revolt. In the world of beasts as in the human world there is no habit more degrading, more stupid, or more cowardly than the habit of supine submission and obedience to another’s oppression. I contend that there has never existed a people so depraved that they did not at some time, at least at the beginning of their history, revolt against the yoke of their slave drivers and their exploiters, and against the yoke of the State.
But it must be acknowledged that since the bloody wars of the Middle Ages, the State has crushed all popular revolts. With the exception of Holland and Switzerland, the State reigns triumphant in all the countries of Europe. In our “new” civilization there is the enforced slavery of the masses and, for reasons of profit, the more or less voluntary allegiance of the economically privileged classes to the State. All the so-called revolutions of the past — including the great French Revolution, despite the magnificent concepts that inspired it — all these revolutions have been nothing but the struggle between rival exploiting classes for the exclusive enjoyment of the privileges granted by the State. They express nothing but a fight for the domination and exploitation of the masses.
And the masses? Alas! It must he acknowledged that the masses have allowed themselves to become deeply demoralized, apathetic, not to say castrated, by the pernicious influence of our corrupt, centralized, statist civilization. Bewildered, debased, they have contracted the fatal habit of obedience, of sheepish resignation. They have been turned into an immense herd, artificially segregated and divided into cages for the greater convenience of their various exploiters.
Critique of Economic Determinism and Historical Materialism
The Marxist sociologists, men like Engels and Lassalle, in objecting to our views contend that the State is not at all the cause of the poverty, degradation, and servitude of the masses; that both the miserable condition of the masses and the despotic power of the State are, on the contrary, the effect of a more general underlying cause. In particular, we are told that they are both the products of an inevitable stage in the economic evolution of society; a stage which, historically viewed, constitutes an immense step forward to what they call the “Social Revolution.” To illustrate how far the obsession with this doctrine has already gone: the crushing of the formidable revolts of the peasants in Germany in the sixteenth century led inevitably to the triumph of the centralized, despotic State, from which dates the centuries-old slavery of the German people. This catastrophe is hailed by Lassalle as a victory for the coming Social Revolution! Why? Because, say the Marxists, the peasants are the natural representatives of reaction, while the modern, military, bureaucratic state, beginning in the second half of the sixteenth century, initiated the slow, but always progressive, transformation of the ancient feudal and land economy into the industrial era of production, in which capital exploits labor. This State, therefore, has been an essential condition for the coming Social Revolution.
It is now understandable why Mr. Engels, following this logic, wrote in a letter to our friend Carlo Cafiero that Bismarck as well as King Victor Emmanuel of Italy (inadvertently) had greatly helped the revolution because both of them 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.
We who, like Mr. Marx himself, are materialists and determinists, also recognize the inevitable linking of economic and political facts in history. We recognize, indeed, the necessity and inevitable character of all events that occur but we no longer bow before them indifferently, and above all we are very careful about praising them when, by their nature, they show themselves in flagrant contradiction to the supreme end of history. This is a thoroughly human ideal which is found in more or less recognizable form in the instincts and aspirations of the people and in all the religious symbols of all epochs, because it is inherent in the human race, the most social of all the species of animals on earth. This ideal, today better understood than ever, is the triumph of humanity, the most complete conquest and establishment of personal freedom and development — material, intellectual, and moral — for every individual, through the absolutely unrestricted and spontaneous organization of economic and social solidarity.
Everything in history that shows itself conformable to that end, from the human point of view — and we can have no other — is good; all that is contrary to it is bad. We know very well, in any case, that what we call good and bad are always the natural results of natural causes, and that consequently one is as inevitable as the other. But in what is properly called nature we recognize many necessities that we are little disposed to bless, such as the necessity of dying when one is bitten by a mad dog. In the same way, in that immediate continuation of the life of nature called history, we encounter many necessities which we find much more worthy of opprobrium than benediction, and which we believe we should stigmatize with all the energy of which we are capable in the interest of our social and individual morality. We recognize, however, that from the moment they have been accomplished, even the most detestable facts have that character of inevitability which is found in all the phenomena of nature as well as those of history.
To clarify my thought, I shall give some examples. When I study the social and political conditions of the Romans and the Greeks in the period of the decline of antiquity, I conclude that the conquest of Greece by the military and political barbarism of the Romans and the consequent destruction of a comparatively higher standard of human liberty was a natural and inevitable fact. But this does not prevent me from taking, retrospectively and firmly, the side of Greece against Rome in that struggle. For I find that the human race has gained absolutely nothing by the triumph of Rome.
Likewise, that the Christians in their holy fury destroyed all the libraries of the pagans and all their treasures of art, ancient philosophy, and science is an absolutely natural and therefore inevitable fact. But it is impossible for me to see how this fact has in any manner whatsoever furthered our political and social development. I am even very much disposed to doubt the inevitable process of economic facts in which, if one were to believe Mr. Marx, there must be sought to the exclusion of all other considerations the only cause of all of history’s moral and intellectual phenomena. Further, I am strongly disposed to think that these acts of holy barbarity, or rather that long series of barbarous acts and crimes which the first Christians, divinely inspired, committed against the human spirit, were among the principal causes of the intellectual and moral degradation, as well as the political and social slavery, which filled that long series of centuries called the Middle Ages. Be sure of this, that if the first Christians had not destroyed the libraries, the museums, and the temples of antiquity, we should not have been condemned today to fight the mass of horrible and shameful absurdities which still clog men’s brains to such a degree that I sometimes doubt the possibility of a more humane future.
Continuing my protests against the kinds of historical facts whose inevitability I myself also acknowledge, I pause before the splendor of the Italian republics and before the magnificent awakening of human genius during the Renaissance. Then I see two friends, as ancient as history itself, approaching; the same two serpents which tip till now have devoured everything beautiful and virtuous that mankind has created. They are called the Church and the State, the papacy and the empire. Eternal evils and inseparable allies, embracing each other and together devouring that unfortunate, most beautiful Italy, condemning her to three centuries of death. Well, though I again find it all natural and inevitable, I nevertheless curse both emperor and pope.
Let us pass on to France. After a century of struggle, Catholicism, supported by the State, finally triumphed over Protestantism. Do I not still find in France today some politicians or historians of the fatalist school who, calling themselves revolutionists, consider this victory of Catholicism — a bloody and inhuman victory if ever there was one — a veritable triumph for the cause of the Revolution? Catholicism, they insist, was then the State representing democracy, while Protestantism represented the revolt of the aristocracy against the State and consequently against democracy. This sort of sophism is completely identical to the Marxist sophism, which also considers the triumph of the State to be a victory for social democracy. It is with these disgusting and revolting absurdities that the mind and moral sense of the masses are perverted, habituating them to hail their bloodthirsty exploiters, the masters and servants of the State, as their saviors and emancipators.
It is a thousand times right to say that Protestantism, not as a Calvinist theology but as an energetic and armed protest, represented revolt, liberty, humanity, the destruction of the State; while Catholicism was public order, authority, divine law, the mutual salvation of the Church and the State, the condemnation of human society to protracted slavery.
Hence, while recognizing the inevitability of the accomplished fact I do not hesitate to say that the victory of Catholicism in France in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries was a great misfortune for the entire human race. The massacre of Saint Bartholomew and the revocation of the Edict of Nantes were facts as disastrous for France as were, in our times, the defeat and massacre of the people of Paris in the Commune of Paris. I have actually heard very intelligent and very worthy Frenchmen ascribe the defeat of Protestantism in France to the revolutionary nature of the French people. “Protestantism,” they allege, “was only a semi-revolution; we need a complete revolution; it is for this reason that the French neither wanted nor could prevent the Reformation. France preferred to remain Catholic till the moment when it could proclaim atheism. This is why the French people, with true Christian resignation, tolerated both the horrors of Saint Bartholomew and the no less abominable revocation of the Edict of Nantes.”
These worthy patriots either fail to or do not want to consider one thing. A people who for any reason whatsoever tolerates tyranny will finally lose the salutary habit and even the very instinct of revolt. Once a people loses the inclination for liberty, it necessarily becomes, not only in its external conditions but in the very essence of its own being, a people of slaves. It was because Protestantism was defeated in France that the French people lost, or perhaps never acquired, the habit of liberty. It is because this habit is wanting that France today lacks what we call political consciousness, and it is because it lacks this consciousness that all the revolutions it has made up till now have failed to achieve its political liberty. With the exception of its great revolutionary days, which are its festival days, the French people remain today as they were yesterday, a people of slaves.
Going on to other cases, I take up the partition of Poland. Here I am very glad, at least on this question, to agree with Mr. Marx; for he, like myself and everyone else, considers this partition a great crime. I would only like to know why, given both his fatalistic and his optimistic point of view, he contradicts himself by condemning a great event which already belong to the historical past. Proudhon, whom he loved so much,” was much more logical and consistent than Marx. Trying with might and main to establish an historical justification for his conclusion, he wrote an unfortunate pamphlet” in which he first showed quite decisively that the Poland of the nobility must perish, because it carries within itself the germs of its own dissolution. He then attempted to contrast this nobility unfavorably with the Tsarist Empire, which he deemed a harbinger of the triumphant socialist democracy. This was much more than a mistake. I do not hesitate to say, in spite of my tender respect for the memory of Proudhon, that it was a crime, the crime of a sophist who, in order to win a dispute, dared to insult a martyred nation at the very moment when it was for the hundredth time revolting against its Russian and German debauchers and for the hundredth time lying prostrate under their blows...
Why does Marx, in contradiction to his own ideas, favor the establishment of an independent Polish state? Mr. Marx is not only a learned socialist, he is also a very clever politician and a patriot no less ardent than Bismarck, though he would approach his goals through somewhat different means. And like many of his compatriots, both socialist and otherwise, he desires the establishment of a great Germanic state, one that will glorify the German people and benefit world civilization. Now among the obstacles to the realization of this aim is the Prussian Empire which, with menacing power, poses as the protector of the Slavic peoples against German civilization.
The policy of Bismarck is that of the present; the policy of Marx, who considers himself at least as Bismarck’s successor, is that of the future.” And when I say that Mr. Marx considers himself the continuation of Bismarck, I am far from defaming Marx. If he did not consider himself as such, he could not have permitted Engels, the confidant of all his thoughts, to write that Bismarck serves the cause of the Social Revolution. He serves it now, inadvertently, in his own way; Mr. Marx will serve it later, in another way.
Now let us examine the particular character of Mr. Marx’s policy. Let us ascertain the essential points in which it differs from the policy of Bismarck. The principal point and, one might say, the only one, is this: Mr. Marx is a democrat, an authoritarian socialist, and a republican. Bismarck is an out-and-out aristocratic, monarchical Junker. The difference is therefore very great, very serious, and both sides are sincere in their differences. On this point, there is no agreement or reconciliation possible between Bismarck and Mr. Marx. Even apart from Marx’s lifelong dedication to the cause of social democracy, which he has demonstrated on numerous occasions, his very position and his ambitions are a positive guarantee on this point. In a monarchy, however liberal, or even in a conservative republic like that of Thiers there can be no role for Mr. Marx, and much less so in the Prussian Germanic Empire founded by Bismarck, with a militarist and bigoted bugbear of an emperor as chief, and all the barons and bureaucrats as guardians. Before he can come to power, Mr. Marx will have to sweep all that away. He is therefore forced to be a revolutionary.
The concepts of the form and the conditions of the government, these ideas separate Bismarck from Mr. Marx. One is an out-and-out monarchist and the other is an out-and-out democrat and republican and, into the bargain, a socialist democrat and socialist republican.
Let us now see what unites them. It is the out-and-out cult of the State. I have no need to prove it in the case of Bismarck. The proofs are there. He is completely a state’s man, and nothing but a state’s man. But neither is it difficult to prove that Mr. Marx is also a state’s man. He loves government to such a degree that he even wanted to institute one in the International Workingmen’s Association; and he worships power so much that he wanted, and still intends today, to impose his dictatorship upon us. His socialist political program is a very faithful expression of his personal attitude. The supreme objective of all his efforts, as is proclaimed in the fundamental statutes of his party in Germany, is the establishment of the great People’s State [Volksstaat].
But whoever says state necessarily says a particular limited state, doubtless comprising, if it is very large, many different peoples and countries, but excluding still more. For unless he is dreaming of a universal state, as did Napoleon and the Emperor Charles the Fifth, or the papacy, which dreamed of the Universal Church, Marx will have to content himself with governing a single state. Consequently, whoever says state says a state, and whoever says a state affirms by that the existence of other states, and whoever says other states immediately says: competition, jealousy, truceless and endless war. The simplest logic as well as all history bears witness to this truth.
Any state, under pain of perishing and seeing itself devoured by neighboring states, must tend toward complete power, and having become powerful. it must embark on a career of conquest so that it will not itself be conquered; for two similar but competing powers cannot coexist without trying to destroy each other. Whoever says “conquest,” under whatever form or name, says conquered peoples, enslaved and in bondage.
It is in the nature of the State to break the solidarity of the human race. The State cannot preserve itself as an integrated entity and in all its strength unless it sets itself up as the supreme be-all and end-all for its own subjects, though not for the subjects of other unconquered states. This inevitably results in the supremacy of state morality and state interests over universal human reason and morality, thus rupturing the universal solidarity of humanity. The principle of political or state morality is very simple. The State being the supreme objective, everything favorable to the growth of its power is good; everything contrary to it, however humane and ethical, is bad. This morality is called patriotism. The International is the negation of patriotism and consequently the negation of the State. If, therefore. Mr. Marx and his friends of the German Social Democratic party should succeed in introducing the State principle into our program, they would destroy the International.
The State, for its own preservation, must necessarily be powerful as regards foreign affairs, but if it is so in regard to foreign relations, it will unfailingly be so in regard to domestic matters. The morality of every state must conform to the particular conditions and circumstances of its existence, a morality which restricts and therefore rejects any human and universal morality. It must see to it that all its subjects think and, above all, act in total compliance with the patriotic morality of the State and remain immune to the influence and teachings of true humanistic morality. This makes state censorship absolutely necessary; for too much liberty of thought and opinion is incompatible with the unanimity of adherence demanded by the security of the State, and Mr. Marx, in conformity with his eminently political point of view, considers this censorship reasonable. That this is in reality Mr. Marx’s opinion is sufficiently demonstrated by his attempts to introduce censorship into the International, even while masking these efforts with plausible pretexts.
But however vigilant this censorship may be, even if the State were to have an exclusive monopoly over education and instruction for all the people, as Mazzini wished, and as Mr. Marx wishes today, the State can never be sure that prohibited and dangerous thoughts may not somehow be smuggled into the consciousness of its subjects. Forbidden fruit has such an attraction for men, and the demon of revolt, that eternal enemy of the State, awakens so easily in their hearts when they are not entirely stupefied, that neither the education nor the instruction nor even the censorship of the State sufficiently guarantees its security. It must still have a police, devoted agents who watch over and direct, secretly and unobtrusively, the current of the people’s opinions and passions. We have seen that Mr. Marx himself is so convinced of this necessity that he planted his secret agents in all the regions of the International, above all in Italy, France, and Spain. Finally, however perfect from the point of view of preserving the State, of organizing the education and indoctrination of its citizens, of censorship, and of the police, the State cannot be secure in its existence while it does not have an armed force to defend itself against its enemies at home.
The State is the government from above downwards of an immense number of men, very different from the point of view of the degree of their culture, the nature of the countries or localities that they inhabit, the occupations they follow, the interests and aspirations directing them — the State is the government of all these by one or another minority. This minority, even if it were a thousand times elected by universal suffrage and controlled in its acts by popular institutions, unless it were endowed with omniscience, omnipresence, and the omnipotence which the theologians attribute to God, could not possibly know and foresee the needs of its people, or satisfy with an even justice those interests which are most legitimate and pressing. There will always he discontented people because there will always be some who are sacrificed.
Besides, the State, like the Church, is by its very nature a great sacrificer of living beings, It is an arbitrary being in whose heart all the positive, living, unique, and local interests of the people meet, clash, destroy each other, become absorbed into that abstraction called the common interest or the common good or the public welfare, and where all the real wills cancel each other in that abstraction that bears the name will of the people. It follows from this that the so-called will of the people is never anything but the negation and sacrifice of all the real wills of the people, just as the so-called public interest is nothing but the sacrifice of their interests. But in order for this omnivorous abstraction to impose itself on millions of men, it must be represented and supported by some real being, some living force. Well, this force has always existed. In the Church it is called the clergy, and in the State the ruling or governing class.
And, in fact, what do we find throughout history? The State has always been the patrimony of some privileged class: a priestly class, an aristocratic class, a bourgeois class. And finally, when all the other classes have exhausted themselves, the State then becomes the patrimony of the bureaucratic class and then falls — or, if you will, rises — to the position of a machine. But in any case it is absolutely necessary for the salvation of the State that there should be some privileged class devoted to its preservation.
But in the People’s State of Marx [See Critique of the Gotha Program, 1875, for Marx on “free state”] there will be, we are told, no privileged class at all. All will be equal, not only from the juridical and political point of view but also from the economic point of view. At least this is what is promised, though I very much doubt whether that promise could ever be kept. There will therefore no longer be any privileged class, but there will be a government and, note this well, an extremely complex government. This government will not content itself with administering and governing the masses politically, as all governments do today. It will also administer the masses economically, concentrating in the hands of the State the production and division of wealth, the cultivation of land, the establishment and development of factories, the organization and direction of commerce, and finally the application of capital to production by the only banker — the State. All that will demand an immense knowledge and many heads “overflowing with brains” in this government. It will be the reign of scientific intelligence, the most aristocratic, despotic, arrogant, and elitist of all regimes. There will be a new class, a new hierarchy of real and counterfeit scientists and scholars, and the world will be divided into a minority ruling in the name of knowledge, and an immense ignorant majority. And then, woe unto the mass of ignorant ones!
Such a regime will not fail to arouse very considerable discontent in the masses of the people, and in order to keep them in check, the “enlightened” and “liberating” government of Mr. Marx will have need of a not less considerable armed force. For the government must be strong, says Engels, to maintain order among these millions of illiterates whose mighty uprising would be capable of destroying and overthrowing everything, even a government “overflowing with brains.”
You can see quite well that behind all the democratic and socialistic phrases and promises in Marx’s program for the State lies all that constitutes the true despotic and brutal nature of all states, regardless of their form of government. Moreover, in the final reckoning, the People’s State of Marx and the aristocratic-monarchic state of Bismarck are completely identical in terms of their primary domestic and foreign objectives. In foreign affairs there is the same deployment of military force, that is to say, conquest. And in home affairs the same employment of armed force, the last argument of all threatened political leaders against the masses who, tired of always believing, hoping, submitting, and obeying, rise in revolt.
Let us now consider the real national policy of Marx himself. Like Bismarck, he is a German patriot. He desires the greatness and glory of Germany as a state. No one in any case will count it a crime for him to love his country and his people, and he is so profoundly convinced that the State is the condition sine qua non for the prosperity of his country and the emancipation of his people. Thus he naturally desires to see Germany organized into a very powerful state, since weak and small states always run the risk of being swallowed up. Therefore Marx, as a clear and ardent patriot, must wish for the power and expansion of Germany as a state.
But, on the other hand, Marx is a celebrated socialist and, what is more, one of the principal initiators of the International. He does not content himself with working only for the emancipation of the German proletariat. He feels honor bound to work at the same time for the emancipation of the proletariat of all countries. As a German patriot, he wants the power and glory, the domination by Germany; but as a socialist of the International he must wish for the emancipation of all the peoples of the world. How can this contradiction be resolved?
There is only one way — that is to proclaim that a great and powerful German state is an indispensable condition for the emancipation of the whole world; that the national and political triumph of Germany is the triumph of humanity.
This conviction, once vindicated, is not only permissible but, in the name of the most sacred of causes, mandatory, to make the International, and all the federations of other countries serve as a very powerful, effective, and, above all, popular means for establishing the great pan-Germanic state. And that is precisely what Marx tried at the London Conference in 1871 and with the resolutions passed by his German and French friends at the Hague Congress . If he did not succeed more fully, it is assuredly not for lack of zeal or great skill on his part, but probably because his fundamental idea was false and its realization impossible.
Marxism on The State
Bakunin Archive | Documents of The Hague Congress 1872