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Bakuain*s Controversy With Marx

An Analysis of the Tensions Within Modern Socialism


between Mao and Khrushchev, the Chinese system of

communes and the Russian system of collectives, the levelling tendency of
the Chinese revolution and the stratifying tendency of Soviet society, are
due in large part to the different stages in the development of socialism
represented by each. Yet they are also evidence of a continuing struggle
within the socialist world between the forces of political realism and the
tendency to revolutionary messianism, a struggle which can be traced to
Bakunin's controversy with Marx.
During the initial stages of the Russian and Chinese revolutions, revolutionary messianism seemed to many to herald a genuine break with the
class societies of the past. The passion for destruction was at its height,
leading to a genuine levelling of social distinctions and economic privileges. In addition to socialization of the means of production, the distinction between wages and salaries was well-nigh abolished. In New
China, the intelligentsia is expected to register voluntarily for physical
labor in State-sponsored projects, with serious repercussions for those who
do not. The campaigns against "white collarism" in China are reminiscent of the efforts of the early Soviet regime to establish a common wage
standard for both intellectual and manual workers. It h noteworthy that
the chief critics of individualism and privilege in the communist world
today are the Chinese and not the Russians. While Khrushchev has been
willing to make concessions to Tito and to adopt a more liberal policy
toward the West, the Chinese Commimists have been intransigent in
their opposition to Titoism and to any soft-pedalling in the struggle for
The levelling tendency within socialism, like the belief in the revolutionary potential of economically backward countries and the revolutionary role
of the peasantry, is not a part of orthodox Marxism, but is traceable instead
to the influence of Bakunin. Mao's revolutionary strategy owes more to
Bakunin thatfto-M^rx. Democratic socialists openly denounced Lenin for
following Bakunin instead of Marx and for championing a policy of wage
equalization during the formative period of Russian socialism. Martov
criticized Lenin's pamphlet. State and Revolution, for asserting that the
condition of socialism is the smashing of the bureaucratic machinery of tlie
State and the introduction of equality in labor and wages. Like Bernstein,


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he suspected that Marx, too, had shown a momentary weakness and defection to Bakuninism, in defending the policies of the Paris Commune during the civil war in France. Revolutionary struggles of this kind have
invariably led to a renascence of Bakuninist doctrines within the socialist
movement, while post-revolutionary construction has tended to realism
rather than idealism and, ultimately, to a liberal revision of Marx. The
struggle against right-wing deviations and Marxist revisionism, which has
spread from China to the Soviet sphere, is an indication that China is still
in the throes of her revolution, and that left-wing policies with a Bakuninist slant are what presently distinguish her from the rest of the socialist
During the early days of the Russian revolution the Bolsheviks were
also criticized for their levelling tendencies by the older, better established,
and more conservative Social Democratic leadership. Those were the days
in which syndicalists and leaders of the American I.W.W., such as "Big
Bill" Hajrwood, William Z. Foster, and Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, went
over to the Communists. These latter day followers of Bakunin were ready
and willing to join forces with the revolutionary wing of socialism because
of its policy of direct action and its intention of realizing the classless
society during their lifetime. History would seem to repeat itself in the
current slogans of the Chinese Communists and their policy of "Communism Now." Once again, well-intentioned individuals, whose sympathies are with the workers, have gone over to communism in the vain hope
of its issuing in a messianic age.
Lenin openly recognized the doctrinal similarity between Daniel De
Leon's variant of Marxism, which was strongly affected by Bakuninism,
and his own. It is difficult to know whether Mao also recognizes his kinship with Bakunin. Of course, Lenin and Mao subordinated Bakunin's
doctrines to their own variant of Marxism, so that one looks in vain to the
communist world for the type of free labor movement and workers' control of industry envisaged by Bakunin. Syndicalist opposition to the State,
to the leadership of intellectuals in the labor movement, and to socialism
imposed from above was quickly crushed by both Lenin and Mao. Nonetheless, current Russian, and especially Yugoslav, criticism of the levelling
tendencies of the Chinese communes testifies to the shades of Marx and
Bakunin, and to the continued importance of the Bakuninist controversy
for undei^tanding the tensions within modern socialism.

is the key to the theoretical differences

dividing Marx and Bakunin. The significance of this controversy for the


Bakunin's Controversy With Marx


theory of historical materialism is that it became the model for all subsequent attempts to "purify" Marxian sociology or to rid it of non-proletarian modes of thought. Historical materialism was originally designed
as a proletarian sociology, a sociology concerned with problems of special
interest to the proletariat, so that efforts to purify it were motivated
primarily by social and political considerations.
The sociological significance of Bakunin's struggle with Marx on the
issue of apoUtism, or whether the proletariat should participate in politics,
is that it questioned for the first time the Marxian claim to represent the
interests and perspective of the wage earner. Marx had lumped together
in a single class all the employees of capital, so that the term "proletariat"
was almost as amorphous as the bourgeois concept of the "people." It
was Bakunin's merit to have foreseen the disintegration of the proletariat
into two hostile classes, a decomposition similar to that of the people (or
third estate) into bourgeoisie and proletariat. Yet it remained for Bakunin's successors to analyze in detail the Marxian concept of the proletariat
and to question the Marxian belief in a future classless society.
Politically, Bakunin's controversy with Marx was waged over the question of apolitism: "It is this point which mainly divides the Socialists or
revolutionary coUectivists from the authoritarian Communists," wrote Bakunina statement of their differences which also agrees with Engels'
accoimt of the controversy.^ However both Bakunin and Marx recognized that their differences were not merely strategical but theoretical
and, despite the similarity of their ultimate goals, that they were divided
by a class issue as well. Thus Bakunin regarded Marx and his followers
as "bourgeois socialists," a bourgeois socialist being formally defined as a
revolutionary who accepts the principle that political revolution must precede social and economic revolution.^ The partisans of proletarian State
dictatorship belong in this category, according to Bakunin. Although the
mortal enemies of capitalism, they would replace it by the dictatorship of
social scientists and wotJd-be bureaucrats. Anticipating Michels' "iron
law of oligarchy," Bakunin wrote of the political leaders of the proletariat:
"obeying the iron law, according to which the social position of a given
person outweighs as a determining factor his subjective wishes, they serve
the cause of reaction, without even being aware of it. . . ."^
In sharp contrast Marx and Engels characterized Bakunin as an "ad^G. P. Maximoff (ed.). The Polificd Philosophy of Bakunin: Scientific Anarchism,
Glencoe, Free Press, 19J3, p. 300; K. Marx and F. Engels, "Letters on the Struggle for
the Proletarian Party," Ktrl Marx: Selected Works, ed., C P. Dutt, 2 vols.. New York,
International Publishers, n.d.. Vol. II, pp. 619-20.
2 Maximof, op. cit., p. 283.
8 Ibid., p. 282.


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venturer" and "intriguer," and his followers as "riff raff."* It is noteworthy that these terms were usually applied by Marx to the unreliable
and declasse elements within the lumpen-proletariat. The latter, consisting of the refuse of all classes, was an altogether unreliable ally of the
proletariat, according to Marx. Moreover, he considered Bakuninism a
variety of "sectarian socialism," a sect being defined as a group "remote
from every real activity, from politics, strikes, trade unions, in a word,
from every collective movement."" (The sects were regarded as characteristic of the infancy rather than of the maturity of the labor movement.)
This characterization was obviously unfair to Bakunin. Nonetheless it is
true that Bakunin was a declasse revolutionary, a conspirator and "rabblerouser," and that he represented the interests of the migrant laborer and
unsettled working class stratum. Indeed, this accounts in large part for
his greater popularity in the less industrialized and Latin-speaking countries. According to Bakunin: "In Italy there prevails the wretchedly poor
proletariat, about which Messrs, Marx and Engels, and following them
the whole German Social Democratic school, speak with such deep disdain.
Surely this is a mistake, since it is in this proletariat, and only in this, not
in the bourgeois rank of the working class, that the whole reason and
strength of the future Social Revolution lie."^
The first major attempt to revise Marxian sociology was not the revisionism of the "right" begun by Edward Bernstein, but the revisionism of
the "left" dating from Bakunin's controversy with Marx. Although in the
forefront of their controversy was the question of apolidsm, the answers
to this question revealed a schism within the ranks of the proletariat that
was more than a disagreement over strategy and tactics. The answers to
this question followed from their different conceptions of the proletariat,
which became the basis for their different theories of historical materialism.
To answer "yes" with Marx implied that the proletariat could capture
the State with the correct strategy, whereas to answer "no" with Bakunin
meant that the State could not be seized by the proletariat by any means. As
a matter of fact, both were correct. The issue between Marx and Bakunin
was fundamentally over the question of the meaning of exploitation and
the composition of the exploited class, so that disagreement on this issue
could be expected to generate differences in strategy. Although each was
a self-professed champion of the proletariat, each differed in his analysis
of exploitation, ergo, in his conception of the proletariat.
* K. Marx and F. Engds, "Letters on the Struggle for the Proletariaa Party," op. dt..
Vol. II, pp. 614, 624.
5 K. Marx, "Critique of the Gotha Programme," Karl Marx: Selected Works, op. cit.,
Yd. II, p. J61n.
* Quoted by E. Pyziur, The Doctrine of Anarchism of Michael A. Bakut^, Marquette
University, 195 J, pp. 81-2.

Bakunin's Controversy With Marx


It was Bakunin's lasting contribution to have discovered within Marx's

concept of the proletariat the germs of a new type of exploitation based
not upon material property or capital, but upon intellectual power and
bureaucratic capacity.'^ Bakunin perceived, however vaguely, that Marx's
goal of proletarian emancipation did not necessarily imply the abolition
of exploitation, and that the victory of the proletariat, in Marx's sense,
would mean something different from the liquidation of classes.
The basis of Bakxinin's criticism was taken in part from Marx himself,
from his analysis of exploitation in the first volume of Capital. Bakunin
intuited, without taking the trouble to analyze the reasons for his misgivings, that the labor theory of value cotild be used to justify the exploitation
of a proletariat of manual wage earners by a salariat of professional and
administrative employees. Consequently, he felt that Marx's concept of
the proletariat had to be revised in order to make it consistent with the
socialist goal of abolishing exploitation. To Bakunin belongs the credit
of being the first to analyze the Marxian concept of the proletariat into its
elements: a proletariat, in the strict sense of a class of wage earners or
manual laborers; and a salariat of white collar employees, who are paid
salaries instead of wages and who manipulate persons and symbols instead
of things.
The Bakuninist controversy has underlined the theoretical confusion
resulting from Marx's failure to clarify the distinction between a $alary
and a vfzsp^ i.e., remuneration for intellectual and administrative labor as
distin(Ji:om that for manual or drudge labor. Marx's great error was to
argue that the abolition of capital is identical with the abolition of the
wages system. However, under so-called socialism, in which bourgeois
property is either abolished or in process of liquidation, the fundamental
distinction is between a class of wage laborers and a class of salaried
Possessing neither intellectual nor institutional command over the means
of production, the manual workers, as Bakunin foresaw, are as much at the
mercy of salaried employees under socialism as they once were dependent
upon the accumulated power of capital.^ Justification for wage-salary differentials has been sought in Marx, who argued that only social injustice
and not natural injustice is overcome by socialism.* But it is extremely
questionable whether such differentials express differences in physical and
intellectual aptitudes only and not also differences in bureaucratic status
and education. Recent analyses of the class structure under socialism
^ Maximoff, op. dt., pp. 77-80, 189, 208, 251-2, 278, 283-*.
8 Ibid., pp. 191-2, 328-31, 411-2.
^ K. Marx, "Critique of the Gotha Programme," op. dt., pp. 564-?.


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would seem to support Bakunin's theory rather than Marx's.^o Indeed,

the course of recent history is living testimony of the continued significance of Bakunin's contribution to contemporary social and political

is the extent to which Marx and Bakunin can be said to

represent faithfully the interests of salary and wage earners. Paradoxically, the class issue underlined by the Bakuninist controversy originated
in a clash between men both of whom may be regarded as declasse. The
theoretical differences within "scientific socialism" have been the product
for the most part of controversies over philosophical, political and economic theories that have been generally beyond tiie comprehension of the
class of wage earners. The theoreticians of "scientific socialism" have
been intellectuals, not proletarians.
Marx and Bakunin were continually in debt and were not self-supporting. It was Engels who kept Marx's household going by supporting it
from the profits of the Manchester spinning firm of which he was a partner. At the same time, Herzen and other Russian emigres, like the Princess Obolensky, made it possible for Bakunin to devote his entire time and
energies to revolutionary activities. Thus the main protagonists of the
Bakuninist controversy were neither wage earners nor members of the
salariat, but were the proteges respectively of the German bourgeoisie and
Russian nobility.
Karl Kautsky sheds some light upon the origins of "Scientific socialism"
and the conditions leading up to the Bakuninist controvgrsf'in an article
for the Neue Zeit, the theoretical organ of the German Social-Democratic
Socialism and the class struggle [he wrote] arise side by side and not one
out of the other . . . Modern socialist consciousness can arise only on the
basis of profound scientific knowledge . . . The vehicles of science are
not the proletariat but the bourgeois intelligentsia: It was out of the heads
of the members of this stratum that modern socialism originated, and it
was they who communicated it to the more intellectually developed proletarians who, in their turn, introduced it into the proletarian class struggle . . . Thus socialist consciousness is something introduced into the
proletarian class struggle from without and not something that arose
within it spontaneously.^^
This analysis of the origins of "scientific socialism" makes it questionable whether either Marxism or Bakuninism is the true expression of the

10 F. Utley, The Dream We Lost, New York, John Day, 1940; D. J. Dallin, The Real
Soviet Russia, tr., J. Shaplen, rev. and enlarged ed., Yale University, 1947; W. W. Kulski,
The Soviet Regime, Syracuse University, 19J4.
"Quoted by M. Nomad, "Communism," European Ideologies, ed., F. Gross, New
York, Philosophical Library, 1948, p. J4.

Bakunin's Controversy With Marx


interests of the wage earners. Kautsky and Lenin, as well as Marx himself, took for granted that the interests of manual laborers are best
understood by a revolutionary vanguard, which is for, but not of, the
proletariat. On the other hand, Bakunin and his followers have been
skeptical not only of the Marxist claim, but even of their own claim to
represent faithfully the interests of manual laborers.
In a noteworthy passage, Bakunin wrote: "Revolutionary Socialists
believe that there is much more of practical reason and intelligence in
the instinctive aspirations and real needs of the masses of people than in
the profound minds of all these learned doctors and self-appointed
tutors of humanity, who, having before them the sorry examples of so
many abortive attempts to make humanity happy, still intend to keep on
working in the same direction.''^^ jt seems to have been Bakunin's selfappointed task to defend the wage earners against the radical intelligentsia,
in the suspicion that the gift of "authoritative socialism" was a Trojan
horse masquerading the would-be rule of a new bureaucratic class of social
scientists and managerial and political office holders. Indeed, his Polish
follower, Waclaw Machajski, has become known for his criticism of
nineteenth century socialism as the ideology of the underprivileged, malcontent, adventurous, declasse, lower middle class salaried employees.^^
A similar thesis is frequently urged today in the effort to explain fascism
or national socialism; but it has seldom been applied to Marxism. Certainly the Marxists cannot be accused of betraying their own group, the
radical intelligentsia. Yet the charge most frequently advanced against
Bakunin and his followers is that they were anti-intellectual.

seems to have considered himself an exception to his own theory, that it "is not the consciousness of men that
determines their being, but, on the contrary, their social being that determines their consciousness."^* Certainly, he was not skeptical of his ability
to represent faithfully the perspective of the wage earner without himself
being one. It is difficult to reconcile Marx's theory with his conception of
the socialist intelligentsia, which is supposedly representative of the interests of the proletariat, but whose social position and way of life radically
separates it from the working and living conditions of the wage earners.
Indeed, it is necessary to consider some of the biographical details of
Marx's life in order to determine the circumstances which prevented his

12 MaximofiF, op. dt, p. 300.

1^ M. Nomad, "The Evolution of Anarchism and Syndicalism: A Critical View,"
European Ideologies, op. cit., p. 340.
1* K. Marx, Preface to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, tr., N.
I. Stone, Chicago, C. Kerr, 1913.


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thought from being fully representative of the interests of the wage earners and to learn what in fact was the principal motivation behind his
dedication to socialism. The extent to which Bakunin's thought is representative of the wage earners' interests may also be learned in part by an
inquiry into his personal motivations. Besides, the contrast in Marx's and
Bakunin's social origins may be expected to shed light upon their theoretical differences.
The contrast in family and social background is striking. Marx was a
German Jew by descent, the son of a middle class lawyer who had embraced Christianity; Bakunin, a Russian nobleman, born to an estate of
five hundred souls, the third of eleven children. There is an obvious
connection between Marx's social origin and his tremendous need to
assert himself. It has been suggested that in an anti-Semitic environment
the converted Jew suffers doubly: "He is treated as a Jew, without having
the moral support and consolation of knowing that he is one of God's
chosen people."^^ Indeed, Marx's violent polemics against his fellow
socialists and his inability to stand opposition, which he interpreted as
either obtuseness or infidelity to the revolutionary cause, suggest that he
needed to compensate for the lack of personal recognition commensurate
with his superior talents. This quality does not seem to have been a part
of Bakunin's make-up, who was also supremely talented both as a writer
and an original thinker, but who was generous toward his personal
enemies, quick to recognize their theoretical and practical contributions
to the socialist movement, and without jealousy toward his rivals. Such
differences in character and upbringing are especially significant because
they help to explain the motivation of intellectuals in turning to authoritarian and libertarian forms of socialism.
It is noteworthy that Bakunin thought of Marx as vain and morose,
whereas Marx called Bakunin a "sentimental idealist."^* Yet not Marx
but Bakunin was the apostle of pan-destruction. Unlike Marx, who seems
to have suffered from a brooding sense of personal and social insecurity,^^
Bakunin felt the contempt for social status that makes a man try to compensate for his advantages, not for his disadvantages. Beginning higher
than Marx he could allow himself to sink much lower without an affront
to his self-esteem. Although always in need, he was cavalier about money
and ready to part with what he had to help someone needier. ^^ In his
letter of resignation from the International he wrote: "If I were young, I
15 A. Gray, The Socialist Tradition: Moses to Lenin, London, Longmans, Green, 1947,
p. 297.
16 O. Ruhle, Karl Marx: His Life and Work, tr., E. and C. Paul, New York, Viking,
1935, p. 126.
17 Ibid., pp. 372-86.
18 E. H. Carr, Michael Bakunin, London, Macmillan, 1937, pp. 118-9.

Bakunin's Controversy With Marx


should have adopted the life of a working-man and, sharing a life of toil
with my brethren, should have participated equally with them in the
organization of the forces of the proletariat. "^^ And elsewhere, he
writes that a man like himself, with a bourgeois or aristocratic origin, can
become a sincere or genuine socialist "only when he has broken all ties
binding him to the privileged world and has renounced all its advantages."^" Without personal bitterness toward any, he could indulge in
that impersonal hatred for persons and symbols of authority which
made him eminently suited to become the "Father of Terrorism." Undoubtedly his long imprisonment and Siberian exile had much to do with
his apostleship of Satan. But his desire for "compensation" was not
repressed nor did it take a personal form as it did with Marx.

and the clash of personalities

have been of main interest to the biographers of Marx and Bakunin, the
cultural influences upon each are vastly more important for understanding
their theoretical differences. Yet most studies of the cultural forces
which have shaped their thought are academic in keeping within the
formal boundaries of particular disciplines. Thus Lenin stressed the
impact of German philosophy, French socialism, and English political
economy upon Marx's social philosophy, while the anarcho-syndicalist
Kenafick argues that Bakuninism is distinguished from Marxism by its
particular blend of Proudhonian anarchism and Comtean positivism.^^
The interdisciplinary and specifically cultural interpretations of Marx and
Bakunin are mostly superficial interpretations found in general works on
cultural history. By far the best attempt to understand Marx as the child
of a particular age is Bar2un's Darwin, Marx, Wagner.'^^ However, it
falls into the error of underestimating the influence of older traditions,
notably the biblical messianic heritage, upon Marx's thought.
Marx criticized the "Utopian socialists" for basing their concern for
the interests of the wage earners upon sentimental grounds, viz., the consideration that they are the "most suffering class."^^ In his desire to
change the world, his concern was less philanthropic than revolutionary.
Despite his outwardly conservative manner of life and the rigorous intellectual discipline to which he submitted, Marx was fundamentally a

^ Quoted by Carr, ibid., p. 460.

^^ Maximoff, op. dt., p.i59\cf. also pp. 281-2.
2^ V. I. Lenin, "Karl Marx," Collected Works of V. I. Lenin, ed., A. Trachteoberg,
tr., M. J. Olgin, New York, International Publishers, 1930, Vol. XVin, pp. 20-46; K. J.
Kenafick, Michael BakMnin and Karl Marx, Melbourne, A. Mailer, 1948.
^^ J. Barzun, Darwin, Marx, Wagner, Boston, Little, Brown, 1947.
*' K. Marx and F. Engels, The Communist Manifesto, auth. tr.. New York, International Publishers, 1932, p. 40.


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revolutionary in search of support from the "most revolutionary class."

"Marx was before all else a revolutionary," Engels said at Marx's grave,
a revolutionary not only in practice, but in political theory, economics,
history, and philosophy.2* To the question of a news reporter: "What is
your idea of happiness?" he replied: "To struggle.''^^ While Bakunin
was an apostle of Satanic rebellion against tyranny, Marx likened himself
to Prometheus.2
Marx's heroic posture, his Faustian defiance and struggle against the
philistinism of the bourgeois world^^ mark him as a typical romantic.
However, his romanticism was balanced by a harsh realism. He supported
the most revolutionary class only because he believed in an historical
guarantee of victory. Marx sought to ride the wave of the future to
eminence as the intellectual leader and organizer of the new class by
consciously identifying himself with its "avant-garde." There is no
reason for gainsaying his profound indignation at the exploitation of the
wage earners and his tremendous intellectual labors on their behalf. Yet
he considered himself not so much the champion or tutor of the oppressed
as the "mortal enemy of capitalism."
Bakunin was also in the depths of his soul a romantic, for whom the
proletariat was the means of universal upheaval.^s However, he differed
from Marx in his belief that the "drudge people" are the end as well as
the means of world revolution, and in his Slavic conception of the
greater revolutionary role of the moral instincts as compared to Western
scientific intelligence. He was far from being the theoretical equal of
Marx, although what he lacked in German thoroughness he partly made
up for by the most remarkable insights into human nature and society.
He was astute enough to recognize immediately the significance of Marx's
painstaking work of research that went into the composition of Capital.
With Capital as his stepping stone he was able to adapt Marxism to the
revolutionary needs of the peasantry as well as the wage earners, and to
underline their opposition to the intelligentsia.
It is a grave mistake to interpret Bakunin's revolutionary theory of "direct action" and his contempt for rational theory as a token of theoretical
emptiness or muddleheadedness. Unlike Marx, he substituted Comte for
Hegel, thereby ridding himself of the rationalism and doctrinairism which
continued to haunt Marx's "inverted dialectic." As an empiricist, it was
2* Quoted by A. Lozovsky, Marx and the Trade Unions, New York, International
Publishers, 1942, p. 13.
2 Ibid.
2* R. Hunter, Violence and the Labor Movement, New York, Macmillan, 1914, pp.
4-J; F. Mehring, Karl Marx, tr. E. Fitzgerald, New York, Covid, Friede, pp. J8-9.
2' Mehring, ^d., pp. 87-8.
28 Carr, op. dt., pp. 20-26, 149-80, 239#.

Bakunin's Controversy With Marx


not theory to which Bakunin was opposed, but abstract and involved speculations about man and society. Regarding the accusation that Bakunin was
guilty of anti-intellectualism, it is true that he had misgivings that (if
"scientific socialism" were to become the starting-point for social upheaval)
the revolutionary movement would fall into the hands of scientists and
specialists, who would in turn constitute themselves into a new privileged
class. 2 Although against intellectuals, whom he feared as the auxiliary
arm of the political bureaucracy and as a privileged class in its own right,
he had no lack of respect for intelligence. His contempt was not for
science but for scientists.
As CONTEMPORARIES and eager students of Hegel and every new current
in the intellectual life of the Continent, Marx and Bakunin were subject to
similar cultural influences. Despite their efforts neither succeeded in shaking off entirely their biblical heritage. Indeed, their social philosophies
reveal three distinct and opposing strains of thought: a Jewish, moralistic,
messianic orientation; a liberal, scientific and humanistic one; and a
revolutionary, romantic influence. These competing modes of thought corresponded to their several leading roles. Besides championing the "underdog," their task was to enlighten the proletariat and to organize the forces
of social revolution. Their efforts on behalf of the wage earners testify to
the influence upon them of the Old Testament tradition of moral
righteousness and resistance to oppression. Their task of liberating men
from religious absurdities, political mystification, and the role of unreason
in economics reflected the realism and materialism of the Enlightenment.
Finally, their struggle to abolish capitalism and to introduce a socialist
"new order" by revolutionary means shows the influence of Romanticism.
Both Marx and Bakunin fought a war on each of these different although related fronts. The abolition of "exploitation," the refutation of
"metaphysics," and the liquidation of the "bourgeoisie" were believed by
each to be merely different sides of a single struggle to achieve "socialism."
But this end was no less ambiguous than the process of achieving it.
Indeed, their respective goals were determined by the relative weight each
assigned to these fundamental social problems.
Marx's life and work testify to a peculiar synthesis of revoliztionary
romanticism and enlightened realism. ^ Bakunin was correct in appraising
Marxism as a species of Jacobinism, which also reveals these qimlities.'^
Marx's insistence upon principles before expediency and his rejection of
^^ Maximoff, op. cit., pp. 283-4.
^Bar2un, op. cit., pp. 155-9, 364-6; J. Barzun, Romanticism and the Modem Ego,
Boston, Little, Brown, 1947, pp. 143-4.
31 Maximoflf, op. dt., pp. 395-402.


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Realpolitik also point to a Jacobin influence. Equally Jacobin was his

critique of Utopian socialism as sentimental idealism, his concern for the
proletariat as the most revolutionary rather than as the most suffering
class, and his strategy for acquiring undisputed leadership of the International. The proletariat was to be the means of revolution rather than
the end, while science was to be the guide. Thus the liberal, scientific
and humanistic orientation in Marx was also given precedence over the
immediate needs of the wage earners.
Like Marx, Bakunin sacrificed theory to practice, and "scientific socialism" to the practical aims of the International. However, he had a
much more radical interpretation of the relation of theory to practice than
Marx, in believing that science should also be subordinated to the immediate and everyday struggle of the workers. At the same time, he
was the sworn enemy of Jacobinism or revolution by decrees. Bakunin's
glorification of the "evil instincts," his impatience with "revolutionary
ideas," and his apostleship of destruction indicate that he was less dependent than Marx upon theoretical work as a preliminary to revolution, and
that he had greater faith in the "revolutionary instincts" of the oppressed.
It is true that there is a utilitarian strain in Bakunin's concept of terrorism
which likens it to Jacobinism. However, his desire to "turn the tables,"
to reverse the roles of the exploiters and exploited that "the first might
be last and the last might be first" is not Jacobin but biblical in inspiration.
Like Proudhon, Bakunin was an avowed Satanist, the end of Satanism
being rebellion against heavenly tyranny and its earthly representative, the
State.^2 Precisely because Satan is doomed to everlasting defeat, the end
of Satanism is anarchy and pan-destruction. Of course, Bakunin was
optimistic about the possibility of social revolution, so his Satanism was
compromised by his revolutionary romanticism. The point, however, is*
that by means of Satanism he was able to avoid the temptations of
In marked contrast to Satanism, the essence of Jacobinism is the political
revolution, not the destruction of the State but the capture of political
power and the foundation thereon of a new social order. Its essence, according to Lenin, is "the transfer of power to the revolutionary oppressed
dass,"^^ which has meant in practice the revolutionary vanguard, the backbone of a new bureaucracy. Despite Bakunin's perpetual plotting, it was
not Jacobinism which characterized his intrigues so much as "revolutionary impatience" to rid the world of economic evil or exploitation. At
the same time, his patience with die backwardness of the masses and his
32 Hunter,/<w. dt.; cf. Maximoff, op. dt., pp. 118-21, 130-2, 143-4, 346.
88 K. Marx., and F. Engels., Selected Correspondence, tr., D. Torr, New York,
International Publishers, 1942, p. 460.

Bakunin's Controversy With Marx


rejection of a conspiratorial revolution from above show that he was less

of a revolutionary than a rebel and less concerned with the creation of a
new order than with the negation of an old one.

within the framework of

Marxian sociology help to explain the different interpretations of historical materialism as well as the fundamental differences between the
several socialist movements. Contrary to the apostles of orthodoxy, each
of the major forms of socialism is "revisionistic" in representing a onesided approach to the body of Marxian sociology. The question of their
comparative orthodoxy is an insoluble one precisely because of this onesidedness. It is true that Marx assigned different weights or values to
different traditions and combinations of influence, and that Jacobinism
was of foremost importance in determining the general tenor of his
thought. However, his Jacobinism was balanced by liberal and biblical
tendencies in a way in which Bolshevism is not.
Revolutionary syndicalism, whose roots go back to Marx as well as to
Bakunin, is closest in spirit to the prophetic element in Marxism. It is a
peculiar combination of the Satanic and Promethean, since its major concern for the lot of the exploited and oppressed is buttressed by a fierce
desire for action in the romantic tradition. Of the different sides of
Marxism, it underlines the Jewish moralistic, messianic doctrines, such
as the Marxian theories of surplus value and exploitation, the class war,
the revolutionary role of the proletariat, and the prophecy of an imminent
cataclysm in which the forces of good defeat forever the powers of evil.
The fact that revolutionary syndicalism is the principal heir of the First
International, whose leading figures were Marx and Bakunin, is explained
by the revision which Marxism underwent under the influence of
Social Democracy or democratic socialism is the successor to the liberal
tradition of the Enlightenment and differs from revolutionary syndicalism
in giving precedence to the scientific ingredient in Marxism at the expense of the revolutionary and messianic. It stresses the objective and
empirical aspects of Marxism, such as its exaltation of scientific method,
its critique of ideology, and its historical approach. Unlike Bolshevism, it
does not subordinate moral considerations to Realpolitik.^* Jacobinism
rather than Jewish moralism is the bogus of the Social Democrat. Personal
freedom and self-realization are major values to him, so that his socialism is not only democratic but also liberal. Of the varieties of socialism,
democratic socialism has promoted the greatest variety of opinion among

** S. Hook, Mwx and the Marxists, New York, Van Nostrand, 19 J5, pp. 121-30.


The American Journal of Economics and Sociology

its leaders. The differences between De Leon and Kautsky, Kautsky and
Bernstein, Bernstein and Luxemburg were too great to have been tolerated by any other tradition of Marxism. It is noteworthy that the recent
statement of principles adopted by the Socialist International at Frankfurt-on-Main continues to stress this liberal heritage of socialism.^"
Bolshevism is professedly Jacobin, according to Lenin's own statement,
so that it gives precedence to revolutionary romanticism and the realistic
elements within Marxism at the expense of both liberal and messianic
tendencies. It underlines those doctrines of Marx which reflect the influence of romanticism, such as the doctrines of the revolutionary vanguard, proletarian dictatorship, and the strategy and tactics of the socialist
revolution. Science and scholarship are subordinated to the requirements of
practice, so that even history is rewritten with a regard for practical results. On the other hand, science is the principal guide to revolution so
that it, too, is given precedence over the Jewish, moralistic and messianic
tendencies within Marxism.
Unlike democratic socialism, Bolshevism has proclaimed a war against
heresy both within the Third International and its offshoot, the Trotskyist
Fourth International. The Jacobinism of the Bolsheviks has led to official
terrorism, purges, and the subordination of the demands of the wage
earners to specifically political goals. Democratic socialists have shown
somewhat greater concern for the immediate interests of the wage earners.
On the other hand, they, too, tend to use the proletariat as a lever for their
own political purposes. Indeed, the leadership of both Social Democracy
and Bolshevism has been dominated by an intelligentsia of salaried employees concerned with reforms from above rather than from below. Thus
it might have been expected that they would represent primarily the interests of the salariat rather than those of the proletariat.

has been far from rivalling Marxism in the claims of its

successors to orthodoxy. Nonetheless the same set of perspectives has
been influential in shaping different aspects of this tradition. From
Bakunin's revision of Marxism three different social movements have
arisen^although only one of them, Bolshevism, is unequivocally socialist.
As in the case of Marx's successors, it is impossible to determine with any
conclusiveness the comparative degree of orthodoxy of each of these
movements. Although revolutionary syndicalism may seem to be
Bakimin's only legitimate child, its vigorous anti-liberalism and increasing messianic pessimism make it definitely post-Bakuninist.

35 Ibid., pp. 243 #.

Bakunin's Controversy With Marx


Revolutionary syndicalism claims to be both Marxian and socialist.

However, the dominant traditions within Marxism, as represented by
both Social Democracy and Bolshevism, have become increasingly recognized as representing the interests primarily of the salaried or "new middle class." The same cannot be said of revolutionary syndicalism or
trade unionism, which is a movement from below initiated by the wage
earners. The leading principles of revolutionary syndicalism, such as
the supremacy of the trade unions, apolitism, and the general strike, are
not Marxian but Bakunian. The intellectual "lights" of the movement
have especially emphasized the conflict of interests, indeed, the class conflict between the two main segments of the so-called working class, the
brain and manual workers.
From Bakunin to Machajski, Pelloutier, Sorel, Michels, and, more recently, Camus, revolutionary syndicalists have attacked the dominant forms
of socialism for betraying the interests of the wage earners. Although the
intellectuals of syndicalism have not always been wage earners themselves,
neither have they constituted the leadership of the trade imions. Instead,
they have served trade unionism, for the most part, from the sidelines
without any vested interest in the movement.
Bakunin was also the father of nihilism or the militant variety of
anarchism. Whereas revolutionary syndicalism is obviously inspired by
the Jewish messianic cult of the oppressed, anarchism goes back through
Stirner and Proudhon to Godwin, who was just as obviously a child of the
Enlightenment. Indeed, the extreme individualism and libertarianism of
the leading anarchists before Bakunin testify to the prominent place of
liberalism within anarchist thought. Bakunin's federalism and libertarianism, his critique of the socialist "Welfare State," his opposition to the
increasing tendency of the modern bureaucratic State to extend the limits
of its authority, point definitely to his inclusion within the anarchist tradition. Bdcunin's liberal tendencies were saturated by his feelings for the
oppressed, so that they were considerably more radical than the liberal
strains within Marxism.
Yet it is a mistake to conceive of the main issue between Marx and
Bakunin as a contest between Statism and anarchy. Bakunin's anarchist
followers have sometimes considered this to be the central issue. However, the most illustrious of the intellectual leaders of terrorism have
fallen far below the theoretical level of the philosophers of socialism.
Nechayev, Most, Goldman, and Berkman were predominantly activists and
believers in the propaganda of the deed. Perhaps the main difference between the anarchist followers of Bakunin is the one to which Camus has


The American fournal of Economics and Sociology

drawn attention, namely, that between the earlier wreckers and incendiaries, following in the footsteps of Nechayev, and the later "fastidious
assassins," of which Kaliayev is one of the best examples.^ In general,
nihilism is a kind of inverted Jacobinism. Certainly, it is not representative of the perspective of the salariat, but neither is it a mass movement
like trade unionism.
The third movement which fell under Bakunin's influence was Bolshevism. Although the Bolsheviks went directly to Marx for their science
of society, their revolutionary strategy and theory of soviet power were
derived for the most part from Bakunin. Contrary to most ofl&cial interpretations of Marxism-Leninism, Lenin was independently influenced by
the Russian Jacobin, Tkachev, from whom he got his ideas of the proletarian elite, professional revolutionaries, and the secret conspiratorial
society. It is noteworthy that Tkachev, a major exponent and interpreter
of Bakunin's ideas, was criticized by Engels for his conception of the revolutionary role of the peasantry^'^also a Leninist idea. The influence of
Nechayev's "revolutionary Machiavellianism" upon Bolshevism has also
been increasingly recognized by scholars.* Thus between Marx and
Lenin were at least three revolutionary figures of consequence who helped
to mold Lenin's thought.
The Bakuninist controversy still lives in the opposition between militant anarchism and syndicalism, on one side, and the reigning forms of
socialism on the other. The struggle within the so-called proletariat or
successor to the bourgeoisie, as Bakunin originally prophesied, becomes
inaeasingly a struggle between brain and manual workers, white collar
and denim, salary and wage earners. Thus the issue between Marx and
Bakunin over the question of apolitism underlines one of the major
social struggles of oiir time, usually but superficially depicted as the rise
to power of a "new middle class." Yet Bakunin's influence upon trade
unionism has been grossly underrated, while scholars have been devoting
too much energy to investigating his effect upon Bolshevism. It is true
that through Bolshevism Bakuninism has had a determining influence
upon political events. However, Bakunin was closer in spirit to both
militant anarchism and trade unionism, which means that his revolutionary romanticism was cast in a libertarian and syndicalist rather than
in a Jacobin mold.
Uiriversity of Miaouri
3 A. Camus, The Rebel, New York, A. A. Knopf, 19J6, pp. 164-73.
8^F. Engels, "On Social CcHtditiom in Russia," Karl Max: Selected Works, op. dt.,
pp. 669-8 J.
38 pyziur, op. dt., pp. 11-12,17-18, 91-3.