Anarchist / syndicalist history

Eugen Maria Karpf: “Bakunin and Marx” (letter from Prison Niederschoenenfeld, Bavaria, 20th June 1920)

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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


Marx vs Bakunin: “The [authoritarian] traditions of Marxism” (1981 review of Graham’s ” Marxism and Free Society”)

“The [authoritarian] Traditions of Marxism”

Freedom (London), 19 December 1981, v 42, n25, p. 15

BOOK REVIEW BY DP: Marxism and a Free Society by Marcus Graham Cienfuegos/ Monty Miller 16pp Price 50p

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THIS is subtitled ‘an anarchist reply to Isaac Deutscher’s address on Socialist Man.’ It was first printed in 1976. Deutscher’s address was to the second annual Socialist Scholar’s Conference in 1966. His contention was that the political acts of Marxist states are contrary to those envisaged by Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky. The aim of this pamphlet is to demonstrate that, in fact, these states are simply acting in the traditions of the old masters.

Graham does this by examining the methods and tactics used by Marx et al, in order to prevent libertarian, specifically Bakuninist, influences in the First International. Marx controlled the General Council, while many national federations leant to anarchism. Events came to a head at the Hague Congress of 1872, the eighth year of the International. The venue effectively prevented Bakunin from attending, he could not travel through France or Germany. The Marxists rigged the meeting and then used a mixture of procedural manoeuvreing, slander and lies to expel Bakunin (in his absence) and several others and push dubious resolutions about political action. It’s all there in the minutes. In the end they transferred the General Council to New York, with a packed membership, far from dangerous, autonomous influence. There it quietly died.

Graham then argues that these ‘end justifies the means’ tactics are typical of the authoritarian mind. The behaviour of Marxist states is just what might be expected.

The revelations that come to light in reading the excerpts from the Minutes of the Hague Conference of 1872 poses [sic] the question as to whether Marx, Engels and their associates were in view of the tactics they employed against their ideological opponents devils incarnate? The answer can only be a negative one, although their actions are a far more serious debasement of their integrity   than it might have been were it done out of spite. The tragic fact stands out that every one of their actions was undoubtedly done in the name of ‘The end justifying the means’ a basic tenet of every authoritarian-minded person.

The General Council of the International was controlled by Marx and his followers while most of the sections of the federation throughout the world were under the influence of Bakunin’s anti-authoritarian ideas. It was this fact that led Marx and his associates to choose the course they pursued at the Congress.

The decision to besmirch the character of so noble a personality as Victoria Woodhull, who was not even present to de fend herself, presented them with no qualms whatsoever. When one reads the charges brought against her by Marx one can scarcely believe they were uttered by a sincere antagonist. In fact, it was Victoria Woodhull who first published the ‘Communist Manifesto’ in the United States.

 Marx’s closest associate at the Congress, Frederick Engels, likewise demonstrated his lack of integrity when he had the Congress eject W. West even as a spectator, in spite of the fact that West had travelled four thousand miles to attend the Congress as the duly accredited delegate of section 12 of New York! Marx s total lack of integrity, however, was revealed in full when he showed no hesitation in lying outright to the Congress when stating that ‘the documents’ against Bakunin ‘have not been obtained in a dishonest manner’ and that ‘they were sent without having been requested’, when as a matter of fact it was but one document and as Hans Gerth shows in his Introduction to the Minutes’ Marx urgently requested Danielson, the Russian economist, to obtain for him the sole ‘document’ Nechaev s letter to the publisher who had advanced Bakunin 300 roubles for the proposed translation of Marx s Capital. p XVII

 How thoroughly rigged the Congress was is most strikingly illustrated by the fact recorded in the Minutes on page 213 that not only did Marx, Engels and other members of the old General Council propose to move the General Council to New York, but that they also named those who should constitute the new General Council. An equally striking illustration of the rigged actions of the Congress is revealed in the Minutes (page 206) recording that a resolution was introduced to the effect that the issue of political action should ‘be placed on the agenda of the next Congress’. The real manipulators of the Congress, evidently knowing beforehand that there would not be any next Congress, railroaded through a resolution adopting, for the first time, political action as a tenet of the I.W.A. (page 285, Minutes).

None of this is new to anarchists, of course. Similar ground is covered by Richard Warren’s pamphlet/comic Critique of State Socialism (reviewed FREEDOM Vol 42, No 23). However, it’s nice to have all the quotations, direct from the congress minutes. This is a useful pamphlet.