2 essays by Daniel Guerin
"Be realistic, do the impossible"
A LIBERTARIAN MARX?
Marx's famous address 'The Civil War in France', written in the name of
the General Council of the International Working Mens Association two days
after the crushing of the Paris Commune, is an inspiring text for
Libertarians. Writing in the name of the International in which Bakunin
had extensive influence, in it Marx revises some passages of the
Communist Manifesto of 1848. In the Manifesto Marx and Engels had
developed the notion of a proletarian evolution by stages. The first
stage would be the conquest of political power, thanks to which the
instruments of production, means of transport and credit system, would
'by degrees', be centralised in the hands of the State. Only after a long
evolution, at a time when class antagonisms have disappeared and State
power has lost its political nature, only then would all production be
centered in the hands of 'associated individuals' instead of in the hands
of the State. In this later libertarian type of association the free
development of each would be the condition for the free development of all.
Bakunin, unlike French socialists, had been familiar with the Communist
Manifesto in its original German since 1848 and didn't miss a chance to
criticise the way in which the revolution had been split into two
stages - the first of which would be very strongly State controlled.
He put it like this: "Once the State has installed itself as the only
landowner... it will also be the only capitalist, banker,
moneylender, organisor and director of all the nations work and
distributor of its products. THIS is the ideal, the fundamental principle
of modern communism." What's more: "This revolution will consist of the
expropriation, either by stages or by violence, of the currant landowners
and capitalists, and of the appropriation of all land and capital by the
State, which, so as to fulfil its great mission in both economic and
political spheres, will necessarily have to be very powerful and highly
centralised. With its hired engineers, and with disciplined armies of
rural workers at its command, the State will administer and
direct the cultivation of the land. At the same time it
will set up in the ruins of all the existing banks, one single bank to
oversee all production and every aspect of the nation's commerce." And
again "We are told that in Marx's people's State there will be no
privileged class. Everyone will be equal, not just legally end
politically, but from the economic point of view. At least that's the
promise, although I doubt very much, considering the way they go about it
and their proposed method, whether it's a promise that can ever be kept.
Apparently there will no longer be a privileged class, but there will be a
government, and, note this well, an excedingly complicated government,
which would not simply govern and administer the masses in a political
sense, as all present governments do, but which would also
administer the economy, by concentrating in its own hands production,
the fair distribution of wealth, the farming of the land, the
establishment and development of trades, the organisation and control of
commerce, and lastly the application of capital to production through the
only banker, the State."
Goaded by Bakunin's criticisms, Marx and Engels felt the need to correct
the overly statist ideas they had held in 1848. In a preface to a new
edition of the Manifesto, dated 24 June 1872, they agreed that 'in
many respects' they would give a 'different wording' to the passage in
question of the 1848 text. They claimed support for this revision in
(among others) "the practical experience gained first in the February
Revolution (1848), and then, still more, in the Paris Commune, where the
proletariat for the first time held political power for two whole months."
They concluded that "This programme has in some details become antiquated."
One thing especially was proved by the Commune, viz., that the working
class cannot simply lay hold of the ready-made State machinery and wield
it for its own purposes." And the 1871 Address proclaimes that the
Commune is "the final discovery of the political form by which the
economic emancipation of labour may be created."
In his biography of Karl Marx, Franz Mehring also stresses that on this
point 'The Civil War in France', to a certain extent, revises the
Manifesto in which the dissolution of the State was certainly forseen,
but only as a long-term process. But later, after the death of Marx,
Lehning assures us that Engles, struggling with Anarchist currents, had
to drop this corrective and go back to the old ideas of the Manifesto.
The slightly over-rapid volte-face of the writer of the 1871 Address
was always bound to arouse Bakunin's scepticism; He wrote of the
Commune: "It had such a great effect everywhere that even the Marxists,
whose ideas had been proven wrong by the insurrection, found that they
had to lift their hats respectfully to it. They did more; contrary to the
simplest logic and to their own true feelings, they proclaimed that its
programme and aim were theirs too. This was a farcical misrepresentation,
but it was necessary. They had to do it - otherwise they would have been
completely overwhelmed and abandoned, so powerful was the passion this
revolution had stirred in everyone."
Bakunin also observed: "It would appear that Engels, at the Hague
Congress (Sept. 1872) was afraid of the terrible impression created by
some pages of the Manifesto, and eagerly declared that this was an
outdated document, whose ideas they (Marx & Engels) had personally
abandoned. If he did say this, then he was lying, for just before the
Congress the Marxists had been doing their best to spread this document
into every country."
James Guillaume, Bakunin's disciple in the Jura Federation, reacted
to reading the 1871 Address in similar terms: "This is an astonishing
declaration of principle, in which Marx seems to have thrown over his own
programme in favour of Federalist ideas. Has their been a genuine
conversion of the author of _Capital_, or has he at any rate succumbed to a
momentary enthusiasm under the force of events? Or was it a ploy, aimed at
using apparent adherence to the programme of the Commune to gain the
benefit of the prestige inseperable from that name?"
In our own day, Arthur Lehning, to whom we owe the learned edition of
the Bakunin Archives - which are still being published - has also
emphasised the contradiction between the ideas in the Address and those of
all Marx's other writings: "It is an irony of history that at the very
moment when the struggle between the authoritarian and anti-authoritarian
factions in the 1st International had reached its height, Marx,
influenced by the enormous effect of the Parisian proletariats
revolutionary uprising, had given voice to the ideas of that revolution,
(which were the very opposite of those he represented) in such a way that
one might call them the programme of the anti-authoritarian faction which
(in the International) he was fighting by all means possible. ...There can
be no doubt that the brilliant Address of the General Council... can find
no place in the system of "scientific socialism". The Civil War is
extremely un-marxist...The Paris Commune had nothing in common with
Marx's State Socialism, but was much closer to Proudhon's ideas and
Bakunin's federalist theories...According to Marx, the basic principle of
the Commune was that the political centralism of the State had to be
replaced with the workers governing themselves, and by the devolution of
initiative onto a federation of small autonomous units, until such time
as it was possible to put trust in the State... The Paris Commune did not
aim at letting the State "wither away", but at doing away with it
immediately.... The abolition of the State was no longer to be the final,
inevitable, outcome of a dialectical process of history, of a superior
phase of social development, itself conditioned by a superior form of
"The Paris Commune", Lehning continues, "abolished the State
without effecting a single one of the conditions previously laid clown by
Marx as a prelude to its abolition ... The defeat of the bourgeois State
by the Commune was not with the aim of installing another State in its
place ... Its objective was not the founding of a new State machine, but
the replacement of the State by social organisation on federalist
economic bases... In 'The Civil War' it's not a question of a 'withering
away', but of an immediate and total abolition of the State."
Likewise the marxologist Maximilien Rubel has admitted that: "It is
undeniable that Marx's idea of the proletariat's conquest and
suppression of the State found its definitive form in his Address on
the Paris Commune, and that as such it differs from the idea given by the
Nevertheless there is disagreement between the two scholars: Lehning, who,
for right or wrong, sees in Marx an 'authoritarian', asserts that the
Address is a "foreign body in Marxist socialism, whereas Rubel, on the
other hand, would like to see a 'libertarian' in Marx, and holds that
Marxian thought found its 'definitive form' in the Address.
For all this the 1871 Address still has to be seen as a point of
departure in the effort today to find a synthesis between anarchism and
marxism, and as a first demonstration that it is possible to find a
fertile conciliation of the two streams of thought. The Address is
(This is the concluding essay appended to the book from which both the
essays in this pamphlet have been taken, "Pour un Marxism Libertaire",
published by Robert Laffont, 1969. Translations by D.R.)
WHY LIBERTARIAN MARXISM?
To conclude this book I shill dare to sketch the rudiments of a
programme - at the risk of being accused of drifting into
Todqy it is stupid to procede to some sort of patching up of the
ramshackle edifice of socialist doctrine, throwing together relevant
fragments of traditional marxism and anorchism, making a show of marxist or
bakuninist erudition, trying to trace, simply on paper, ingenious
synthesis and tortuous reconciliations...
Modern libertarian marxism, which flowered in May 1968, transcends
marxism and anarchism.
To call oneself a libertarian marxist today is not to look backwards
but to be committed to the future. The libertarian marxist is not an
academic but a militant. He is well aware that it is up to him to change
the world - no more, no less. History throws him on the brink.
Everywhere the hour of the socialist revolution has sounded. Revolution -
like landing on the moon - has entered the realm of the immedidte and
possible. Precise definition of the forms of a socialist society is no
longer a utopian scheme. the only utopians are those who close their
eyes to these realities.
If this revolution is to be a success, and, as Gracchus Babeuf would
say, the last, what guidelines are there for making it?
Firstly, before going into action, the libertarian marxist makes a
careful assessment of the objective conditions, trying to sum up quickly
and accurately the relations between the forces operating in each
situation. For this the method Marx developed is not at all archaic -
historical and dialectical materialism is still the safest guide, and an
inexhaustable mine of models and points of reference.
Provided, however, it is treated in the way Marx did: that is, without
doctrinal rigidity or mechanical inflexibility. Provided too that the
shelter of Marx's wing does not lead to the endless invention of bad
pretexts ond pseudo-objective reasons for botching, missing and
repeatedly failing to drive home the chance of revolution.
Libertarian marxism rejects determinism and fatalism, giving the greator
place to individual will, intuition, imagination, reflex speeds, and to
the deep instincts of the masses, which are more far-seeing in hours of
crisis than the reasonings of the 'elites'; libertarian marxism thinks of
tho effects of surprise, provocation and boldness, refuses to be
cluttered and paralysed by a heavy 'scientific' apparatus, doesn't
equivocate or bluff, and guards itself from adventurism as much
as from fear of the unknown.
(REST UNDER CONSTRUCTION)
The libertorian marxist has learned the art of throwing dice.*
The liberttrian marsist spurns thc poe7crless ch>a06 of cnisorganisation
just 2S much ns the burerLucrrtic chainweight of over_organisL^tion.
The libort2rian narxist is fnithful to both }Erx and Bikunin, in
challenging the fetishism of tha single, mono_ lithia, totalitLariLan
Party jugt ns nuch Qs hc 2voids the sntrcs of gerrymandering and
demobilising eloctorK isn;
The libertorian mLarxi8t is of c8Bence internationd ist. He s008 the
global struggle of the exploitet' as forming a tJhole But ho cloes not
under_e9timate the uniquenoss of new forms of soci21ism in differont
countries. He has no time for phoney proletnrian internntionalism - for
him it only has ne3ning if its clriving force is at thc grass roots, on 2
footing of &bsolute equality, with no boving to somc 'big brother' who
thinks himself more poverful and cunning.
The libertarian marxist never sncrifices the revolutior._ cry struggle to
the c'iplomatic imporatives of tho grect, so-c.^lled socinlist~#-cmpircs.
Like Che, he is quick to send them pteking if their 2berrrnt frrtricidal
quarrcls mortally thre2ten the cause of univorsel soci31ism.
When the time comos for the revolutionnry test of strength, thc
libert3rian m3rxist 3ttncks in both tho centro nad tho outlying creas, snd
on the economic a8 well 0.8 tho politiccl and 3t'< nistrative pinin. On
the one hand he spares no cffort in mercilesslyt if nocess3ry by moans of
armed struggle, settling his score with the bourgeois State and all its
coRplex machinexy of power, whether this be in the c2yital, the regions,
the departments or counties, or in the local comsunities - he nevor fills
into the '~#politicall trnp of neglecting, underestim3ting, nnd failing to
disnantle the stronholds from which the enemy directs his resist3nce.
*You libertari2n m2rxi6ts will hcve to lcarn the art of throwing somothing
a bit heavior than that. (Typist.)
On the other hand, but at the 82me tima, hc combines the politicEl ~#vith
an economic struggle, seizing thc employcrs positions in the t70rkplacc,
stripping the me2ns of production of thoir posscssors, uld returning thcm
to their only rightful owners: the Belf-managing ~#70rkers and tcchnicimns.
Onec this social revolution has gained full victory, the liborterinn
marxist AoeS not straightt~#2y reconstitute n new form Of State in the
ruins of the ono hc has just smashed - a Stnte now more oppressivc than
the old by virtue of the colossal extension of its pouers. Instca.' he
looks for the transfer of all power to a confederttion of confederations,
i.e., n confederation of communities tzhich arc thomsclves feder2ted by
region, and 2 confederation of revolutionary Trade Unions dating from
before thc revolution, or, f~# ling this, a confederation of the workers
councils born in thc revolution (though a combinntion of the two is quitc
possible.) The ~#elcgates in thcsc various bodies are elected with 2 short
mendatc, are not immcdiatcly re_elignble for election, and axc under
continual control and subject to recall at &ny moment.
The libertnrian marxist opposes all fragmcnt2tion into small units,
con~#uniti~#s, or workers councils, anA aims instc3d for closes
freely-entered, co-ordinntion. Ho rejects bureaucrptic and authorit2rian
pl2nning, but believes in the necessity of coherent democratic planning
th.at takes its iqpotus from below.
The liber4vrian Azidxlst ls up to dste and-consequently wants to strip tho
mbleficent monopolists of their cantr31 of the mass media, ntomic energy,
automatlon and inform2tion systems,- ~#d use them for the liberation of
Inveternto nuthoritarians or sceptics hold that the demands of
contemporary technology would bc incompatible with a libertari2n marxist
80 ciety. The reverse iB the casc. The libertarinn narxist intends to let
loose a new tcchnological revolution, but this timc oriented not just
towrfflds higher productivity and shorter workiing hours, but
s ~#reJ \
tow3rds clecentralisation, decongestion, c'ebureaucr2tisotions
disalien2tion, 2nd a roturn to the nnturnl. He exploles the degrading
nentH ity Of the consuncr society vrhilst proparing to carr consumption to
its highest level ever.
The libcrtari on marxist carries out this gigantic overturning vrith the
zntimem of disorder, and without 2cting slowly or hurrelly. He is well
nvra:s th2t the doopcst social changos of 211 time cannot be magically
cre3ted in a flnsh Hc kccps sight of the fnct th2t it will t2ke t timc for
a soci31ist man to form out of c man c'isfigurec' by thousnnds of years of
oppression, obscurantism ond ogoism4 Be is agreed on the need for
transition periois whilst refusing to lot them lnst eternd ly.
Uherofor, wherece the denth of competition, frec public and soci&l
serviccs, the obolition of money, Qna the distribution of ~#buncnant goods
to ecch nocording to his needs, ars seen 3s ultimate goQls to bc nchicvcd
by stzgcs; whorecs all the while free co-operction botwoan selfm2naging
f&rm anc f2ctory workers is beiIlg aimod at, the libertarian mnrsist knows
that competition and tho lrws of tho market, paymont 2ccording to lnrk
donc, smnll scale owncrship of land or workshops, or small trnding, crsnot
possibly be 3bolished overnight.
Ho does not believ¢ that thc tcaporcry help of better ecMcnted minorities
- whatever nrimo thay go undor _ i8 unnecossrgy. The contribution Of thesc
minoritics is ess¢ntirl for bringing iha renrguard to full socialist
maturity, but they must be re2dy not to clutter the sccno onc momcnt too
long, and reaAy to dissolve thcmsel~#rcs os quickly as possiblc into the
ogalitari&n workers 6roups.
The libertnrian NCrXiSt i8 not proposing en option of act$on through small
groups. The guidelines described abovc appear to him to coincide with the
elementaxy class instincts of the workntg clnss.
Lang hard experienco has now domonstrated thnt outside of libertarien
marsism there i8 no true socinlism.
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