2 essays by Daniel Guerin

"Be realistic, do the impossible"


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

Communist Manifesto."

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

libertarian marxist.


(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.)


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.


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 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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