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Eugen Maria Karpf: “Bakunin and Marx”
Prison Niederschoenenfeld, Bavaria.
20th June 1920
Reprinted in Freedom Review 16 October 1982, Volume 43, number 20
Dear Comrade Tamlyn,
Your letter in No 372 of FREEDOM has given me much pleasure in my double imprisonment. For it proves to me that there are also in England people who have different conceptions about the Revolution from those put forward by party-programmes and literary theoreticians, under the penalty of being branded ‘not a true revolutionary’.
There are, I am sorry to say, too few of those who fearlessly and publicly stand up against hero- and leader-worship. It is not only the large, alas – too indolent body of Marx-worshipers which has to be moved. Many hesitate because the hornets-nest of literateurs and journalists, who as high-priests and apostles stand in the service of that indolent body of Marx-worshippers, is always ready to throw itself pitilessly upon everyone who tries to ‘drag their holiest possessions into the dust’. But they conveniently overlook one thing: not against their heroes or their revolutionary work are these attacks aimed, but against the comet’s-tail which, unconditionally admiring, attaches itself to them.
They all, before and after Marx, have done their part for the liberation of the working-class. But the working-class, as we learn from the course of history, from the moment when the first working man asked himself: why? And: for whom? – this always flows into the stream of the one, great movement which often for decades, centuries, flows under the surface, and when it comes above the surface is called revolution. And that is the point that only and alone matters. What have they, those heroes, may they as men, as investigators, as thinkers be as great as possible – what have they accomplished as Revolutionists? For Revolution is not a number of fights behind barricades or a matter of voting – Revolution is the conscious and by nature pre ordained struggle of life against decay, is the sudden coming to visibility of the writing with which nature writes her diary. But as little as she remains stationary, so little should we always and eternally repeat what a man has shown us once – also we have the duty to progress and to lay on the measure of our time to our history.
None of us will, for that reason, refuse recognition to the discoverer of that measure, just as none of us will allow himself to be forced to recognise that measure as the only infallible and absolutely right one. And none of us will admit that everything and only that will have the right to claim to be revolutionary which harmonises with that measure. Those who do and demand that, do not see that thereby they act contrary to the teachings of that man who has proclaimed the fact of the ever moving revolutionary development (Entwickelung) as his highest thesis.
And here you are right when you point out that Marx himself has given us the example.
To the questions about the relations of Marx to the German Social Democrats I will not reply this time; it would take up too much space. Although my verdict is personal, I want it also to be just. What it should be explains the first part of this letter. Perhaps I will write more fully in another letter.
Marx’s opposition to Bakunin was contrary to the revolutionary convictions as laid down in his works and letters. Personal quarrels and animosities played a great part. Before everything, Marx never made an attempt to do justice to Bakunin in any way. Even the part in Marx’s Revolution and Counter-revolution, in which Bakunin’s fearless leadership on the Barricades of Dresden in the year 1849 is fully admitted, does not speak against my opinion. The articles were compiled by Engels and appeared under Marx’s name. Altogether, Engels was the far more active (and important!) one of the two men. (The relations between Marx and Engels would be worth a closer study!) Marx’s unconditional belief in the world-historic role, which he thought was allotted to him, and the pertinacity with which he defended the exclusive truth of his teachings, did not allow him to give any credit or to admit any recognition of or significance to those who opposed his ideas. But in the conception of the nature of Revolution (Wesen der Revolution) there were fundamental differences between Bakunin and Marx. Bakunin’s critique and opposition proved by their success their justification. It is laugh able when the masses of Marx-worshippers believe that they find in the assertion of this and other facts a depreciation of the importance of Marx. We do not stand up against the Revolutionist Marx, but against the retrogressive, out-of-date part of his teachings, which with everything else Marx has said is blindly looked upon as gospel. And that only for the one reason, because it is meant to give to the comfortable masses the halo of the revolutionary, with which they clothe their unrevolutionary deeds and thoughts. There is no Backwards! and no Halt! in the Revolution – and Revolution is nothing other than Life, Growth -there exists only a Forward!
For us Forward-hastening and Forward-driving ones there is therefore no time for leisurely worship on the altar of past heroes and mortal leaders; it is our duty each in his own place to be hero and leader. Not the fame of a few, but the happiness of all is the aim of the Revolution.
We have no need to overthrow old gods, for we do not recognise gods, we only know comrades, fellow human beings, Revolutionists; to them we devote all our love! The god of Revolution is Humanity.
From my narrow cell I stretch out my hand to you in your country in the glad consciousness that there also truth and justice are to be found in the front rows in the fight for humanity. For us the victory!
With revolutionary greetings
EUGEN MARIA KARPF