Hal Draper 1966

In Reply to Max Nomad: Is Oligarchy Inevitable?

Source: New Politics, Volume 5, no 3, Summer 1966, and no 4, Fall 1966. A reply to Max Nomad, ‘Is There a Socialism From Below?’, New Politics, Volume 5, no 2, Spring 1966, which is a critique of Hal Draper, ‘The Two Souls of Socialism’, New Politics, Volume 5, no 1, Winter 1966. Scanned and prepared for the Marxist Internet Archive by Paul Flewers.

In Max Nomad’s discussion of my ‘Two Souls of Socialism’, the first two pages alone ask 17 questions about such things as Engels’ opinion of the Jungen faction in the German social-democracy of 1890, Marx’s editorship of the Neue Rheinische Zeitung in 1848, etc, etc. This is followed by essays on the Inevitability of Oligarchy, Luxemburg, syndicalism, Radek’s expulsion, and many others – the list itself would take part of a page – and the whole ollapodrida takes less than seven pages to whisk off.

I cannot hope to equal this remarkable compactness, since questions like these can be asked in four lines but need forty just to be explained to the reader (let alone answered). Nomad does not waste space explaining the point of his questions to readers unlearned in the minutiae of socialist history, thus showing a faith in the erudition of the NP reader which contrasts refreshingly with his dim view of the ignorant masses.

On the other hand, the part of Nomad’s article devoted to asserting his general view (the Iron Law) is a rather vulgarized version of that common theory – a theory which is standard equipment nowadays as much for the sophisticated political-science professors as for the cracker-barrel cynics who merely know that all-them-there-politician-fellers-are-crooks. This theory is indeed the characteristic and received political dogma of our day, as popular among many new-leftists (who avoid the danger of creating a new organizational oligarchy by the clever expedient of avoiding organization) as among apologists for the status quo (who deduce from it the reasonableness of adapting to the existing oligarchy rather than foolishly creating a new one), or among apologists for the status quo in Moscow and Peking (since, if oligarchy is inevitable anyway and ‘all power is evil’, the choice is simply between an evil capitalist power and an evil anti-capitalist power) – and many others, all of them quite as sincere as Nomad.

To take up this overshadowing political doctrine of the age in its relatively crude Nomad version is probably unfair to it. On the other hand, I cannot altogether convince myself that NP readers are more interested in Engels and Jungen. Since the editor, exercising Power, has wisely limited this rejoinder to far less than the necessary 50 pages, I am forced into a rotten compromise (so corrupting is the exercise of power) in which many subjects will only be touched on.

The subject of ‘The Two Souls of Socialism’, it says there, is the meaning of the socialist idea. Insofar as Nomad suggests a view of his own on this, it is in his sentence about ‘the neo-bourgeois essence of the socialist protest against capitalism’ which is ‘voiced ostensibly in behalf of the manual workers’ but is ‘in reality the expression of the dissatisfaction of the owners of education’ (intellectuals) with the owners of property. [1]

This tells us what socialism means to the intellectuals who dupe the ‘manual workers'; but now – what is the meaning of socialism to those ‘manual workers’ who are being deceived by the evil intellectuals?

Here, in the statement by him which deals directly with the question I raised of the meaning of socialism, Nomad implies that there are two different views about ‘the socialist protest against capitalism’ held by these two social strata, so different that one has to dupe the other. Even if we accept only for the sake of argument that this duping must always and invariably succeed 100 per cent, Nomad has obviously admitted, apparently unwittingly, that to the ‘workers’ he is talking about, ‘socialism’ must mean something different from the ‘neo-bourgeois’ business of simply substituting the intelligentsia for the capitalists. What then is this other meaning?

Moreover, if the evil intelligentsia have to go to all this trouble to hoodwink the ‘workers’ with an elaborate ideology, rituals, movement, etc, called socialism, then there must be a strong drive to be deflected and captured, and not simply one or two naive people with a utopian notion about ‘socialist freedom’ or socialism-from-below. In point of fact, behind the ideologists whom I have described as ‘socialists-from-above’ we find time and again mass movements which are not simply reflections of the leader’s socialism-from-above and were not called into being by it, but which arose out of real class struggles in society with aspirations of their own.

The answer to Nomad’s question ‘Is there a socialism-from-below?’ is to be found first of all not in the writings of any theoretician, not even Marx, but in the real fighting movements which arise out of the social struggle. (That, in fact, is what Marx kept repeating to all kinds of Nomads and others.) Ferdinand Lassalle was himself a thorough authoritarian, but the workersmovement which he partly put himself at the head of, and partly stimulated, was not simply Lassalle multiplied. Lassalleanism rode it, if you wish duped it – yes indeed – but that which this Evil Intellectual duped was something different from Lassalleanism.

Proudhon was a thorough authoritarian – yes indeed – but the ‘Proudhonist’ workers of Lyons who thought he was their leader did not understand just what he was getting at because they were getting at something else, among other reasons.

This goes on through most of the history of the socialist movement. Socialism-from-below is not represented simply by the very few outstanding thinkers whom I mentioned. On the contrary, they were what they were precisely because they viewed themselves primarily as the articulators, the generalizers, the porte-paroles, of an autonomous upsurge of struggle from below which could never be put in anyone’s bag until it was defeated. This is the message of Luxemburg’s Mass Strike, Marx’s Address to the Communist League of 1850, Debs’ ‘The Day of the People’.

The rhythm of class struggle from below goes through the whole history of the working class and the socialist movement, now quiescent, now breaking out in turbulent revolution, and various states in between. After Nomad has got through sneering that the workers’ struggles have always been defeated and swindled, all I want to know right now is this:

If my separation-out of a ‘socialism-from-below’ is nothing but a ‘great delusion’ as Nomad claims, how else does he account for these massive movements which have shaken society time and again in the last two centuries – not simply for ‘more and more’ but for social transformation? He may wish to argue that any movement for socialism-from-below is always and eternally fated to be defeated and duped: very well, but it is very difficult to dupe an illusion – the movement to be duped must first exist. His all-purpose theory of the Evil Intellectuals may account for the duping, but what accounts for the movements which have to be duped?

The stormy history of the socialist struggles in various countries (however duped) could not possibly exist on the basis of Nomad’s bitterly contemptuous picture of the working class. In a paragraph which starts with the year 1850, Nomad asserts that ‘the uneducated, horny-handed underdog’ can never become fit to run society:

Now, after a century of struggles for better wages, the enormous majority of the workers still constitute an ignorant mass of near-illiterate, racist-minded tabloid readers, interested in nothing but sports, crime news and movies, and absolutely unable to understand what is really going on in this complicated world [Emphasis added].

Is Nomad thinking of the Russian muzhiks or of the United States? If the latter, this sounds like an approximate description of Orange County, California, and not particularly of the workers in it; in fact, it is a common pop-sociological description not only of America’s suburbia but of most of the bourgeoisie too, even the non-Texan section. I do not have the space to discuss the simpleminded vulgarity of this sociological gem, but I do not have to. Because insofar as it is true that American labor and the American petty-bourgeoisie and its bourgeois rulers are politically and socially backward, to the same degree it is also true that there is no mass socialist movement in this benighted country. Neither from above nor from below. No need to dupe it. Nomad doesn’t even have to explain the ‘neo-bourgeois essence’ of this socialism.

But if Nomad’s bitter derision of the working class has any relationship to the reality of world history, it would be impossible to account for the existence of mass revolutionary movements and militant revolts which had to be deceived by the ‘neo-bourgeois’ misleaders. Nomad’s acrid imprecations against the workers who failed to make the revolution can be understood subjectively without difficulty, but it makes no sense historically. I am familiar, of course, with the line that socialism belongs only to the past, but for Nomad nothing ever existed except a ‘great delusion’.

If we look beyond the borders of Orange County, Texas and the United States, we see a most contradictory phenomenon (my essay pointed out): for the first time in the history of the world, a majority of its people consider themselves ‘socialist’ in some sense. For the first time! Yes, of course, they are duped as to what kind of ‘socialism’ they are handed in fact – otherwise we would be basking in the delights of a new human society right now – but this duping-business always has the side that Nomad is blind to. Put it this way: for the first time in the history of the world, it has become necessary to dupe a majority of its people about socialism.

Not in the US, but in most of the world the question of the meaning of socialism, not simply in theory but in day-to-day struggle, is automatically raised high on the agenda simply by the claim that ‘socialism’ has already been achieved or is the aim. In Britain the membership of the mass government party – consisting, one presumes from Nomad, of ‘an ignorant mass of near-illiterate, racist-minded tabloid-readers’, etc – is embroiled in arguments over Vietnam, nationalization, wage-freeze, and so on, not naturally on the superior level ardently desired by Nomad and me, to be sure, but merely on a level immensely higher than (say) in Marx’s day. And it takes Harold Wilson to dupe them, whereas in the US the workers are – well, to summarize, they are duped by an organism like George Meany. In the Communist countries, we see a new exploiting social system which has been racked by more unrest and mass revolt from below in its very first few decades than any other social system that has ever come into existence...

Enough of that: there is not enough space to continue. Remember, we granted for the sake of argument that all these stirrings from below are doomed eternally to defeat and deception because of the Iron Law. All we have been discussing is Nomad’s question, ‘Is there a socialism-from-below?’, and not any assurances that this amazingly ineradicable social reality can ever actually gain its aspirations. I certainly cannot offer guarantees of inevitable victory: that would be charlatanism. But when someone purports to offer guarantees – iron-clad moreover – of the reverse: that a movement which for two centuries has pressed for fruition, springing out of the ground with unceasing spontaneous motivation, is eternally never to advance to the first stage of realization, then I merely express the opinion that this is no less intellectual charlatanry – no less than the assurances of some self-styled Marxists that socialism is literally predestined because of the operation of the Historical Dialectic.

If, as Nomad reminds us, ‘a distinction is to be made between what a man thinks of himself and says, and what he really is and does’, then there is surely nothing personal in pointing out what is obvious: a would-be ruling class always likes theories which proclaim the inevitability of its victory. Of whose victory does Nomad proclaim the inevitability? If we can assume that he does not think capitalism is eternal, then his variant of the Iron Law of Oligarchy, viz, the theory of the Inevitability of the New Class, is a theory with the same appeal as Burnham’s managerial revolution or Ellul’s technological autocracy. It is the theory which fits the social aspirations of the main historical alternative to socialism-from-below, that is, of the long-run enemy of working-class socialist democracy. In the same sense that Marxist theory reflects the aspirations of socialist workers, so the theory of the Inevitability of (a New Class) Oligarchy reflects a genuine social reality in a world which is seeing, not the duel pictured in the Communist Manifesto, but a triangular class struggle: the struggle for the world between an historically-doomed capitalism, a beleaguered working class, and the ‘new class’ of the bureaucratic-collectivist societies.

In the preceding lines I have just equated socialism-from-below with ‘working-class socialist democracy’. Let us put the spotlight on democracy. Nomad’s case, at bottom, has nothing specially to do with socialism, from below or anywhere else. The other side of the coin of the Inevitability of Oligarchy is, of course, the theory of the Impossibility of Democracy, of democratic control-from-below.

For purely nostalgic reasons Nomad is in the habit of addressing his theories about the Impossibility of Democratic Control-from-Below to socialists, but this is only a personal idiosyncrasy. If the working masses are so ‘illiterate’ that they are qualitatively different in mental caliber from even the ‘small property owners’ of the age of bourgeois revolution (so Nomad asserts), [2] if they are ‘like the slaves and serfs of the past’, if they are just ‘an ignorant mass’, etc, then it is not socialism-from-below which is proved impossible, but democracy itself – any continuing democracy. Since the ‘utopian’ element in socialism-from-below is not alleged to be its anti-capitalism, it can only be the ingredient of democratic control-from-below which makes it impossible. Indeed, in the bureaucratic-collectivist states, socialism-from-below merges conceptually with democratic control-from-below. If the former is just an empty illusion, as Nomad assures us, then the latter cannot be any less illusory.

Of course, Nomad is not one of the increasing number who have the fortitude to look this thing in the face. All he tells us is that he does not ‘believe that there can be such a thing as “real democracy"’. But:

At best there can be a frequent change of masters who will rule ‘in the name of the masses’ and make concessions to them, lest they be displaced ‘democratically’ by another set of demagogues, likewise ruling ‘in the name of the masses’.

Delightfully cynical. But it is clearly a very special kind of ‘master’ who can be displaced ‘democratically’ (we are not told by Nomad what the quote-marks are supposed to mean) whenever the masses demand certain concessions. And it is puzzling how this degree of power over the ‘masters’ can be wielded by masses who are stupid, illiterate clods. In fact, if the Hungarian Revolution (say) had succeeded in installing such a government of ‘masters’ who could be replaced at will in more-or-less democratic elections when the masses wanted different policies ('concessions’), with the obvious necessary concomitants of certain rights of organization and speech, then I trust that Nomad would not have felt called on to ridicule this development in a very witty exposé on the ground that ‘real democracy’ had not yet been established. A qualitative change would have taken place, an epoch-making stride toward socialism-from-below.

That is all history can be expected to do for people who are not ultimatists: make strides toward socialism-from-below, toward ‘real democracy’ however defined. It is a direction, not a dogma. It is a line of struggle, not a finished utopia. But Nomad remains just as metaphysical a dogmatist now as when he thought he was an anarchist. He habitually proclaims things in absolutes: ‘history will always remain a merciless affray’, ‘there is no remedy...’, the Liebknechts ‘are fated to remain’ uninfluential, and, of course, ‘all power is evil...’.

How does he know all these flat, blown-in-the-bottle absolutes, not just about the past but about the eternal future? It takes chutzpah.

Nomad’s belief in the sacredness of his absolutes is so naive that he can ask whether ‘Lord Acton’s saying about the corrupting influence of power’ has ever been ‘disproved’. The answer is no. Power corrupts. This is the beginning and end of Nomad’s wisdom, but there are at least two other things about power that have never been disproved either:

1. Lack of power corrupts too.

2. Power not only has a ‘corrupting influence’ but also other ‘influences’. It does not have only a one-dimensional effect. Power sets up an inevitable tendency toward corruption, no doubt, but the actual outcome of any given social conjuncture does not depend on this one tendency alone.

The same game can be played with other counters. Organization corrupts... Civilization corrupts... Sex corrupts... Ideology corrupts... Yes, even education corrupts. All this is true, in the same context.

It is only as a dogmatic absolutist that Nomad accepts Acton’s game uncritically. In practice, insofar as he lives in the real world of power, he ignores it. For example, trade unions cannot exist without wielding power, and they also allocate power to people called either officials or porkchoppers. Power corrupts, and we well know that its corrupting influence is not exactly unheard-of in unions. Yet I take it that Nomad is assuming the existence of trade unions with power when he advocates – as against the struggle for socialism – that workers keep on fighting ‘for better wages’, etc. No one has heard of a trade union winning better wages except to the degree it exerts power – which, as we know, corrupts. If it is to win ‘more and more now’, as Nomad advocates with emphasis, it must exert still more and more power, which inevitably must corrupt more and more... Nomad never explains why the wielding of ever greater (corrupting) power for such ends is not only permissible but laudable, to be advocated; whereas if it is proposed that, in order to make ‘more’ possible, the capitalist class be stripped of its present power, he flies into a fury of denunciation of – the working class as a bunch of witless, illiterate dolts.

Now why not seek to deprive the capitalist class of its anti-social power? After all, this power corrupts too, doesn’t it? ‘All power is evil’ but apparently some power is more evil than others. All social systems are exploitive, declares Nomad, but clearly some exploitive systems, like the present one, are more tolerable than others (to Nomad), even though he is really ‘against’ all of them... in principle.

The theory behind this differentiation is presented in his article, in the passage already partly mentioned. In it he undertakes to explain why the bourgeoisie was able to ‘become fit to rule in their own name’ while the working class can never and will never become fit to rule. The italics in the following belong to Nomad:

... the working class is not like the other classes which, in the course of history, were struggling against the powers that be, classes like the bourgeoisie, the small property owners, and the intelligentsia, classes whose members were not illiterate or near-illiterate. The workers, on the other hand, are, like the slaves and serfs of the past, a class which is deprived of the education that could enable it to exert power, and it cannot get that education just by fighting.

Well, there is a theory about the nature of social classes through the history of the world. It is all a matter of literacy and education. We have already mentioned the illiteracy of the theory itself, but the crux is this: what Nomad seeks to prove is that the bourgeoisie is fit to rule, unlike the working class. He himself, you understand – we must do him justice – is against all social systems; but literacy is literacy, and at least this rotten corrupt ruling class which wields power now is fit to do so.

Because it is literate and educated: while we know, of course, that the Vietnamese peasants who are being exterminated by this educated ruling class are illiterate and uneducated. The bourgeoisie in Mississippi is literate and educated, therefore fit to rule, whereas the Negro masses there are even more illiterate and uneducated than the contemptible working-class canaille in the rest of the country. The German bourgeoisie which gave absolute power (which corrupts absolutely, we know from Lord Acton and Nomad) to the Nazis was literate and educated, while the mass German Socialist and Communist working-class movements which fought Nazism (very badly) were just a bunch of moronic slobs, unfit to displace their masters. The Democratic and Republican parties are fit to rule, and presumably ‘understand what is really going on in this complicated world’, being educated and all...

At any rate, Nomad’s theory should explain why it was fit for the bourgeoisie to deprive the feudal aristocracy of power (though it is puzzling to remember that the aristocrats were better educated than the shopkeepers) and to become masters of society themselves: that transfer of power was fitting. It is the idea of the working class doing the same that sends him into a tear.

This leads to an unavoidable conclusion, so unavoidable that, seeing it coming on him like an express train on a single track, Nomad asks me not to accuse him of it. Out of sheer amiability, I yield to his polite request and will steadfastly refrain from accusing him of being ‘a Gompersian defender of the capitalist status quo’. He therefore has nothing to complain about me, but that hardly ends the matter for him. Although I am good-natured and indulgent and have a weakness for people who declaim against ‘all social systems present and future’, what will he say to some rude and indelicate person who merely points to the stuff he writes? After all, Gomperism came to his own mind because his ‘slogan of more and more now’ is deliberately and literally taken over from no one else than Gompers. Therefore he begs not to be accused of being a ‘Gompersian’. He is violently anti-socialist, obviously, and propounds a theory that only the bourgeoisie is fit to rule today (though we must suspect he believes that the intelligentsia may be even more fit to rule). Therefore he insists on not being mistaken for a ‘defender of the capitalist status quo’. What brute could resist his plea?

All of which proves that Nomad is right – that ‘a distinction is to be made between what a man thinks of himself and says, and what he really is and does’.

* * *

Let us turn our attention to Max Nomad’s questionnaire. The following gives terse summaries of the facts behind his questions, or else indicates where the reader can find these facts if he is interested. To make even this much possible, I confine myself to his first and longest set of questions, dealing with Marx and Engels. [3]

1) ‘Was Marx, during the German Revolution of 1848, a revolutionist “from below” when... he avoided any mention of the labor movement in his Neue Rheinische Zeitung?’ – The brief answer is, yes. His writings in the midst of the revolution itself were brilliant examples of revolutionary appeal for militant mass action from below by the people. [4]

As for avoiding ‘any mention of the labor movement’ in the paper, Nomad doesn’t have his facts straight. It was only during the first month of the revolution that Marx (a socialist of some four or five years’ standing who did not have any book on Marxism at his disposal) operated on the theory that the task of socialists in this bourgeois-democratic revolution was to act as the extreme left-wing of the Democracy. The crucial part of the story – ignored by Nomad – is that it was precisely in the course of this school of revolution that Marx learned this line was a mistake. The NRZ’s policy, tone and contents began to change by fall of 1848: the paper began paying special attention to workers’ issues and the class struggle against the bourgeoisie. In fact, it was in the NRZ that Marx’s Wage-Labor and Capital first appeared as a series of leading articles! Suppressed in 1849, the last issue proclaimed in red type that: ‘Their last word will always and everywhere be: “The emancipation of the working class!"’ The following year, Marx even wrote down, specially for Nomad, a criticism of their initial mistake, in the course of the Address of the Communist League of March 1850, a brilliant exposition in concentrated form of the meaning of revolution-from-below. (I have hit only the highlights, omitting the story of Marx’s personal participation in the Cologne workers’ movement even in the initial period.)

2) Nomad’s second quiddity refers to Engels’ letter of April 1848, whose wording (inaccurately paraphrased by Nomad) reflected exactly the same line of the initial 1848 period that we have just discussed.

3) Nomad points to the phrase ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ with a crassness which makes even Professor Henry Mayo sound sophisticated. As it happens, I have written a very long essay tracing the history and meaning of Marx’s use of what Nomad calls ‘that unsavory term’, including a considerable section on the savory origin of the term itself. [5] It answers Nomad’s questions in detail.

4) The same essay also answers most of the issues Nomad raises with respect to Marx’s relationship to Blanqui, the ‘Universal Society of Revolutionary Communists’, etc. Once again, Nomad doesn’t have his facts straight. His description of the Society is entirely false. As for the one specific point he makes about Marx and Blanqui:

The leading modern authorities on Blanqui, Maurice Dommanget and Alan Spitzer, do not agree that the Blanquist movement ‘consisted almost exclusively of impecunious students, journalists and other déclassés’. To be sure, it was also not a ‘proletarian party’ in the modern sense. But observe the Nomadic method: suppose that Marx, writing from London, was mistaken in accepting the general impression held of the Blanquist movement, whose class composition is even today a hard knot to unravel after decades of research: What on earth has this to do with whether Marx was or was not a good revolutionist-from-below?

5) On the attitude of Marx and Engels toward self-determination, the various East European nationalities, etc: Nomad gives no sign he understands that the crux of this problem for the two men was the issue of Pan-Slavism as a tool of Russian czarist imperialism, which they regarded as the then prime reactionary force over Europe. Their attack was specifically directed against those nationalities, or Balkanised fragments of nationalities, which were then acting as stooges for pro-czarist Pan-Slavism. Here, too, for readers who are interested in the real and knotty problems behind Nomad’s reference, I freely recommend an article of mine which went into the matter in considerable details. [6] However, Nomad’s insinuation is that Marx and Engels’ approach, right or wrong, was inspired by racism. This is rubbish. There is no question but that, from our contemporary viewpoint, Marx undervalued national self-determination, but what ruins Nomad’s case is that this undervaluation was the result of Marx’s counterposing class conflict from below to the bourgeois-democratic aims of nationalism, in the cases we are discussing.

6) Nomad achieves his insinuation by throwing in Marx’s reference to ‘"niggers” (yes, niggers)’. I hope he would be less shocked if he also knew that Marx was wont to refer expansively to the fact that his daughter Laura had married a ‘nigger’ – the ‘nigger’ being his close comrade and friend (as well as son-in-law) Paul Lafargue, who was part Negro. What Nomad does not seem to know at all is that, decades before our very modern sensitivity to the use of ethnic labels, the word ‘nigger’ was not necessarily a racist slur in nineteenth-century England (just as Dutchman, for German, is not necessarily so today). [7] Another detail: Marx’s intimate nickname was – well, not quite ‘Nigger’ but not far from it for those days: it was ‘Moor’ because of his Negro-like complexion. (That I have to discuss such garbage is, in my opinion, a commentary – but not on Marx.)

Nomad’s small talk about the Jews is out of the same barrel. It is certainly a fact that Marx belonged to a widespread company: that of the numerous Americans who detest Americans above all; of the many Englishmen who despise the English à la Durrell; of the Germans who denigrate all Germans à la Mann; of the anti-Irish Irishmen à la Shaw; and so on through the world. For example, suppose Marx had written this in a letter:

I loathe Jewry and the Jews. They themselves stare at me in the street though I was born among them. Perhaps they read my hatred for them in my eyes.

Damning; but change the beginning to ‘Ireland and the Irish’ and this is a real quotation from James Joyce’s letter to his wife. The number of Irishmen who dislike the Irish is a sociological phenomenon in its own right, but that does not make them enemies of Ireland. Of this company, the Jew who dislikes Jews is one of the best publicized, with a long history, right up to the Zionists who proceeded to persecute Yiddish culture in Israel. That Marx was a Jew who had little liking for Jews is evident from a few remarks in letters.

But Marx’s politics and program was that of unconditional support for full Jewish social and political emancipation in society, and for the integration of Jews into the larger society. Proudhon, on the contrary, advocated a pure-and-simple Hitlerite extermination of the Jews. Yet Nomad makes an amalgam of the two: what’s the difference? This is a defamation. One, a Jew who dislikes Jews, fights all his life for equal rights for the Jews; the other advocates a pogrom of government persecution of Jews in mass pogroms as well as physical extermination – and Nomad’s pen equates the two, thereby graduating from mere washroom gossip to vile slander.

The innocent reader should know, by the way, that Marx’s letters are full of deplorably sweeping national cusswords: not only the ‘lazy Mexicans’ but ‘the lousy Yankees'; the French are usually crapauds, the Germans are Sträubinger, the English – well, in short, no one escapes the cutting edge. I have no objection whatsoever if anyone wants to denounce Marx’s cantankerousness – especially anyone who is himself sweet and amiable – but he should know how very general Marx’s was. Besides, we were supposed to be discussing socialism-from-below.

8) Next comes Nomad’s challenge regarding the marginal notes which Marx inscribed in his copy of Bakunin’s Statism and Anarchy. I devote the following points to show, first, how again Nomad cannot even get the facts straight, and second, to exhibit the Nomadic method in action.

a) Nomad gives the impression that Marx’s ‘refutation’ consisted of the remark ‘rêverie’. In fact, Marx’s marginal notes comprised 15 or 16 passages, some of them quite long and interesting, plus shorter interjections. [8]

b) The particular interjection which Nomad quotes (it read ‘Quelle rêveries’) did not refer to the passage he mentions but rather to Bakunin’s silly remark about ‘government by scientists’ as the Marxist aim. Alongside the passage Nomad is talking about, Marx wrote a separate paragraph, and some of his other notes bore on it as well. These I have discussed in the above-mentioned essay on ‘Marx and the Dictatorship of the Proletariat’.

c) What Nomad actually asks is: ‘Did Marx attempt to refute...’ When Marx scribbled these notes in the book margin for his own eyes, he did not know that Nomad would expect him to set down a definitive refutation. But Marx and Engels wrote a number of quite public pieces on Bakunin and anarchism; it is difficult to understand why Nomad refers only to these marginal scribbles, interesting as they are, and expects the refutation there.

d) How does one ‘refute’ a ‘prophetic prediction'?

e) Nomad writes that ‘Bakunin’s “invisible dictatorship” would have amounted to the same thing’ as Marx’s – would have, he says. But as Nomad well knows, Bakunin consciously advocated, planned and intended to establish a personal dictatorship by a secret élite over his ‘anarchist’ revolution. This Nomad equates with a ‘prophetic prediction’ that a government which is planned and intended to be a workers’ democracy would turn out to be something else in spite of the well-intentioned aims. We know, of course, that the Iron Law requires this prophetic prediction about everyone, including Nomad; but does this really mean that a man who proposes the building of a socialist democracy is to be thrown in the same bag with a man who deliberately plots a personal dictatorship? ‘Beside the point’, writes Nomad...

9) Then there’s Engels and the Jungen. If Nomad’s question means anything at all, it implies (but does not say) that Engels’ attack on the Jungen faction was due to their ‘radical opposition... to the official leadership of the German SD party’. This implication is a complete falsification. Engels was himself already worried by the trends in the party and soon (to quote a letter of his) he ‘found an opportunity to let fly at the conciliatory opportunism of the Vorwärts [party organ] and at the frisch-fromm-frölich-freie “growth” of the filthy old mess “into socialist society"’.

In fact, the Jungen tried to attach their wagon to Engels’ already known concern, and to associate Engels’ name with their politics. For this very reason (exactly contrary to Nomad’s implication) Engels had to publicly dissociate himself, and did so. The Jungen, while indubitably reacting against the opportunist trends in the party, mingled an amorphous stew of anti-parliamentarism, pro-anarchism, sectarianism, monarchism, élitism and plain confusion, without even a positive political program of their own to leaven the lot; and, incidentally, they did not represent a criticism from the point of view of socialism-from-below. [9]

10) Nomad asks about the programmatic point in the Communist Manifesto about ‘centralizing all means of production in the hands of the state’ – a statement which represented accurately the 1848 orthodoxy of the revolutionary-Jacobin elements in the Communist League for which Marx and Engels wrote the Manifesto. I'm afraid Nomad has put his foot into it again. He might have been more careful if he had asked himself why Marx never again repeated this formulation in the ensuing 35 years till his death. We know why, because Marx referred back to this very section of the Manifesto when he wrote the introduction to the new edition of 1872, explaining that it was obsolete. Why? Because:

One thing especially was proved by the [Paris] Commune, viz, that ‘the working class cannot simply lay hold of the ready-made state machinery, and wield it for its own purposes’.

Thus we not only know how Marx’s view of the state changed and developed, but Marx even published a prominent special warning to Max Nomad not to quote precisely the passage from the Manifesto that Nomad insists on quoting. What more could the man do?

This brings me to the end of the first section of Nomad’s questionnaire, with some loose ends left but no space. The whole thing makes me think of the Rummagers League, this being the name adopted in 1922 by a split-off from the Communist Party. They meant their name seriously, as marking their aim to ‘rummage the field of history and science’ in order to develop the proletarian intellect. Rummaging has also been Nomad’s literary vocation, but, as we see, it has its limitations.

Finally, let me propose a deal with Nomad. I am more than willing to recognize one theory of inevitability – that it is an historically inevitable tendency that men will continue to fight for more and more control over their own lives, and for better lives to control, no matter what new social system is won. That even under an advanced socialist democracy, at least into an indefinite future, the social struggle of the people will have to continue, and will continue, even if on a new level. That there will be centers of privilege to be conquered and power to be socialized, even though my crystal ball does not tell me just where the lines of struggle will be drawn. And Nomad can call the new enemy ‘the masters’ if he wishes.

In return, all I ask of Nomad is that he stop devoting his energies to telling today’s fighters for a new society nothing but, ‘You can’t win... you can’t win...’

Yet, in that crystal ball – looking forward to a time when the agenda is, perhaps, the abolition of the last remnants of state compulsion – I seem to see Nomad still on the scene, repeating, ‘You can’t win ... you can’t win...’

I guess it’s inevitable.


1. I pass over with regret any comment on the term ‘neo-bourgeois’ in this connection. In any case Nomad would first have to explain what is bourgeois (neo- or paleo-) about the anti-capitalism of intellectuals who actually do go about overthrowing capitalism, even if only for their own aggrandizement.

2. This assertion is so phantasmagorical, factually, that it tells us we are dealing not with an historical theory but with a cry of pain. Let Nomad undertake to show that the average Paris shopkeeper of 1789 had the equivalent of today’s grade-school education...

3. Except for one word on Nomad’s Luxemburg section: it is necessary to read JP Nettl’s new two-volume work on Luxemburg to see how far off the mark is Nomad’s silly claim that ‘she wielded despotic power’ in her Polish party. From Nettl’s detailed account emerges a clear view of what was Luxemburg’s fatal and basic inadequacy as a revolutionary leader, viz, her thoroughgoing incompetence and even lack of interest in party-organizational questions – that is, precisely in the field in which her name has been commonly used as a dead cat to throw at ‘Leninism’. The organizational ‘boss’ of the Polish SDKPL was Jogiches and only Jogiches, with whom she carried on an ambivalent personal-political relationship which she was never able to solve. The biggest sin of Jogiches’ leadership – and the one which I usually point to, myself, in debunking the use of ‘Luxemburgism’ against Lenin – was the expulsion of the Warsaw-łódź opposition of 1911. Nomad mentions only the expulsion of Radek. I learn from Nettl for the first time that Luxemburg, in emigration, was an objector to the latter expulsion and at least unhappy about, or reluctant about, Jogiches’ policies on the former. But in emigration she did not cease acting as the defense attorney for Jogiches in the international movement. No, Luxemburg was no ‘paragon’ (Nomad’s term): she was simply one of the greatest expositors of the meaning of socialism-from-below in terms of the ongoing social struggle. From my viewpoint, the tragedy of her failure as a revolutionary leader lies in her mistaken belief that class-struggle-from-below would more or less automatically straighten out the party-organizational problem too (in the first place, in the German Social-Democracy, in which she never made a move to organize a left-wing political tendency, till it was too late). This was her blind side. While I regret I have no ‘paragons’ to offer, Nomad’s two paragraphs on her, in which she is simply portrayed as a despot, are nothing but defamatory.

4. The best account is in B Nicolaievsky and Maenchen-Helfen’s biography; also see Nicolaievsky’s article in the American Philosophical Society’s Proceedings, 105:2, 21 April 1961. For the politics of the revolution: Engels’ Revolution and Counter-Revolution in Germany. The NRZ articles are available only in German reprint, but for one illustrative article in English, see Marx – Engels’ Selected Works (Moscow), Volume 1, p 66; see Volume 2, p 327 for Engels’ later account, ‘Marx and the NRZ’.

5. In Etudes de Marxologie (Paris), no 6, September 1962 (in English). A condensation, one-third the original size, appeared in New Politics, Summer 1962.

6. A three-part article in Labor Action for 9, 16, 23 February 1953, largely based on the then recently published Marx – Engels collection The Russian Menace to Europe (Free Press, 1952).

7. By chance, while writing this, I came across the entirely innocent use of ‘nigger’ well into the twentieth century by Bernard Shaw – who, by the way, was pro-Negro and unusually devoid of race prejudice (cf his Adventures of the Black Girl, etc, and Back to Methuselah).

8. The fullest version is presented and translated into English by Henry Mayer in Etudes de Marxologie, no 2.

9. The most detailed account of the Jungen is in two chapters of VL Lidtke’s The Politics of German Social Democracy, 1878-1890 (unpublished thesis, University of California, Berkeley, 1962), pp 419-39. There are a few pages in Carl Landauer’s European Socialism, Volume 1, pp 295ff. These two sources supersede the inadequate accounts in G Mayer’s biography of Engels and in Mehring’s Geschichte der deutschen Sozialdemokratie.