The Alliance and the International
At the Berne Congress of the League of Peace and Freedom, Bakunin had tried to induce the league to adopt a revolutionary programme, and to affiliate to the International. When this attempt failed, he resigned from the league, and, in conjunction with J. P. Becker, founded the International Alliance of the Socialist Democracy, also known as the Alliance of Social Revolutionaries. His aim now was to get this Alliance accepted as part of the International; then, by degrees, to excavate and absorb the International; until, at last, the International would be replaced by the Alliance.
For, as he had said at the Berne Congress, he hated communism because it implied the annihilation of freedom, and would concentrate all the powers of society (property included) in the hands of the State. His aim, he had said, was not communism but collectivism, the socialization of the individual by way of free association. He also advocated republicanism and atheism. But high above all principles, he contended, must stand the moral principles of universal human justice.
This programme places him somewhere between Marx and Proudhon. Mehring characterizes Bakunin’s attitude very aptly when he says: “Bakunin had advanced far beyond Proudhon, having absorbed a larger measure of European culture; and he understood Marx much better than Proudhon had done. But he was not so intimately acquainted with German philosophy as Marx, nor had he made so thorough a study of the class struggles of western European nations. Above all, his ignorance of political economy was much more disastrous to him than ignorance of natural science had been to Proudhon. Yet he was revolutionary through and through; and, like Marx and Lassalle, he had the gift of making people listen to him. Whereas, however, Marx considered that the core of the revolutionary fighting forces would be formed by the manufacturing proletariat, by the workers whose characteristics he had studied in England, France, and Germany, Bakunin counted upon declassed youth, the peasant masses, and even the tatterdemalion proletariat, for support. Marx favoured centralism, as manifested in the contemporary organization of economic life and of the State; Bakunin favoured federalism, which had been the organizational principle of the pre-capitalist era. That was why Bakunin found most of his adherents in Italy, Spain, and Russia, in countries where capitalist development was backward. Marx’s supporters, on the other hand, were recruited from lands of advanced capitalist development, those with an industrial proletariat. The two men represented two successive phases of social evolution. Furthermore, Bakunin looked upon man rather as the subject of history who, ‘having the devil in his body, spontaneously ripens for the revolution, and merely needs to have his chains broken; but Marx regarded man rather as the object, who must slowly be trained for action, in order that, marshalled for class activity, he may play his part as a factor of history. The two outlooks might have been combined, for in combination they supply the actual picture of man in history. But in the case of both of these champions, the necessary compromise was rendered impossible by the orthodox rigidity of intellectual dogmatism, by deficient elasticity of the will, and by the narrow circumstances of space and time, so that in actual fact they became adversaries. Then, owing to their respective temperaments, owing to the divergences in mental structure which found expression in behaviour, their opposition in concrete matters developed into personal enmity.”
The concrete oppositions found their first expression in the determination of the General Council to refuse the proposed affiliation of the Alliance. This decision was inspired by Marx. Rightly or wrongly, he regarded the Alliance as a rival of the International, and was afraid that in the future there might be two General Councils, two Congresses, and two Internationals. To him, this was an intolerable idea. Presumably that was why, in this particular case, he was so rigid in his insistence that the Alliance was not a suitable body for affiliation to the International, although the latter had not in general been strict in its demand for qualifications. In any case, at his instigation, the General Council insisted that the Genevese section, which had proposed the Alliance for affiliation, must refrain from setting up a Central Committee of the Alliance and from holding its own congresses. Geneva expressed its willingness to comply with these instructions, and the Genevese section was thereupon accepted. But Marx and Engels distrusted the Genevese, who were led by Bakunin. They felt that between them and Bakunin there was an irreconcilable opposition, which could not be shuffled out of the world by formalities. They believed that Bakunin would continue to pursue his hidden aims, would try to make of the Genevese section the centre of a secret society which would establish itself inside the International in order to disrupt this latter. They were anxious about the foundations of their power.
A further difficulty was the material incompatibility between the programmes of the Alliance and the International. The Bakuninist programme was not what Marx angrily called it: “an olla podrida of worn-out commonplaces, thoughtless chatter; a rose-garland of empty notions, and insipid improvisation.” It was, however, based upon another foundation than that of the mental and political characteristics of the workers in contemporary Europe. Bakunin’s programme was directed towards a distant goal, whereas Marx was predominantly interested in the way thither. “Marx said to himself: ‘The mentality of the workers, arising out of their economic conditions, is this or that. Ways in conformity with the powers of these workers are to be chosen in order to establish economic conditions which will give them enhanced powers. First of all, the workers must be made aware of their own strength by awakening their class consciousness. When that has been done, other things will follow in due course.’ On the other hand, the programme of the Alliance, as Marx saw it, wanted the end before the beginning. It turned the aims of education upside down, and thus interfered with the Marxian method of education.”
The fear that Bakunin was plotting rivalry to the International was intensified by the fact that, living in Geneva, he had, by zealous agitation, succeeded in winning a large number of adherents among the homeworkers in the watchmaking industry of the Neuchâtel and Bernese Jura. Here there already existed the beginnings of a revolutionary movement; and some years before, in 1865, Dr. Coullery had founded in La Chaux de Fonds a section of the International with four or five hundred members. These highly skilled workers—whose principal leader was James Guillaume, a teacher at the Industrial School in Le Lode, and a Hegelian in philosophy—were federalistically inclined because they were Swiss and were independently working proletarians; they were atheistically inclined as a protest against the sanctimonious orthodoxy of the Genevese; and they were revolutionary because they were in poor circumstances and because they were affected with repressed religious impulses. They became ardent supporters of Bakunin. He amalgamated their groups into a federal council; founded a weekly, “Egalité,” and started a vigorous revolutionary movement. In London, this aroused the impression that Bakunin was trying, by a devious method and working within the International, to attain the ends which he had been unable to reach by a direct route. At the Basle Congress of the International, on September 5 and 6, 1869, Bakunin was no longer, as he had been in Brussels, alone against the Marxian front, but was backed up by a resolute phalanx of supporters.
In the proceedings at this congress, Bakunin’s views concerning the right of inheritance and the collective ownership of the land did not, indeed, gain an unqualified victory over the views of the General Council. It was obvious, however, that Bakunin’s influence was on the increase. This became especially plain during the discussion of the question of direct legislation by the people (initiative and referendum). On this matter, Bakunin reports: “At the Basle Congress there were present for the first time delegates from Germany, Austria, and German Switzerland in very large numbers, extremely well organized, and members of the patriotic, unified, pangerman party, called the Social Democratic Labour Party. Under the instigation of Marx and the Marxists, and in obedience to a strict discipline, the German and German-Swiss delegates presented to the Basle Congress a new political programme which, had it been accepted, would have completely ousted the true programme of the International, and would have made that organization a tool in the hands of the bourgeois radicals. Their scheme was warmly supported by all the German and English delegates of the General Council. Fortunately, the Latin delegates were in the majority, and the project of the Germans was rejected. Hence this wrath.”
For a long time, Bakunin’s opponents had been working to undermine his position. They tried to check the growth of his influence by a flood of suspicions and invectives. In particular, an individual named Borckheim, a literary man of doubtful antecedents, who had been helping Marx in various monetary affairs and as intermediary in the arrangement of loans, inaugurated a russophobe campaign against Bakunin. The year before (1868), in the “Demokratisches Wochenblatt” published in Leipzig under Liebknecht’s editorship, he had attacked Bakunin’s personal honour in the most odious way. At the same time Bebel, in a letter to J. P. Becker, had written that Bakunin was “probably an agent of the Russian government.” Liebknecht, too, had circulated a report that Schweitzer had been bought by Bismarck, and that Bakunin was in the Tsar’s pay. Moses Hess, likewise, had joined in the underground intrigues against Bakunin by disseminating suspicion. At the Basle Congress, Bakunin was able to bring matters to a head with Liebknecht, and to secure the appointment of a court of arbitration to investigate the charges. Liebknecht had no proofs to adduce, and declared that his words had been misunderstood. The jury unanimously agreed that Liebknecht had behaved “with criminal levity,” and made him give Bakunin a written apology. The adversaries shook hands before the congress. Bakunin made a spill out of the apology, and lighted a cigarette with it.
Although it was natural that Bakunin should have defended himself against calumny, suspicion is aroused by his extreme sensitiveness, and by the violence of his reaction. Backbiting, detraction, the utterance of suspicions, were then, as they are now, common enough in times of ferment—especially in the revolutionary camp, which is always a focus for the activities of spies. As we know today (although the matter was then a profound secret), there was a weak spot and a sore one in Bakunin’s revolutionary past, something he would fain have forgotten if he could. In 1851, when confined in the fortress of St. Peter and St. Paul, after years of rigorous imprisonment, and when in a condition of intense bodily weakness and profound mental depression, he had, at the instigation of Tsar Nicholas, signed a “confession,” in the hope that this would procure his liberation from the grim dungeon. It was a confession as to his revolutionary past, “a mixture of truth and fiction,” as he wrote to Herzen; a romantic and inaccurate document, intended to mislead, penned in a tone of assumed humility and hypocritical subserviency. But it gave no names, and betrayed no one. It was, as Polonski said, a “Machiavellian masterpiece.” Bakunin was disappointed in his expectations. Nicholas, dissatisfied with the confession, gave orders that the prisoner was to remain where he was till further notice. When, in the end, after the death of the tsar, Bakunin was at least partially freed by being sent to Siberia, memories of this mysterious document haunted him, filled him with shame, anxiety, and despair. He was continually dreading that its publication would expose him to ridicule, hatred, and accusations of dishonourable conduct. These fears made him irritable, unduly sensitive. The worst of it was that the emissaries of the tsarist police, who followed him whithersoever he went, and were always on the watch to counteract his revolutionary machinations, threatened again and again to publish his confession, which they had ready for circulation printed as a pamphlet. This happened in Stockholm, in Lyons, and in Italy. Bakunin naturally believed that some knowledge of the confession had filtered through to his adversaries in the International, and he trembled to think of the day when the story would be spread far and wide and his name as a revolutionist would be tarnished for ever.
In actual fact, his opponents had heard nothing of the confession. They continued to spread calumnies about him, none the less. The rebuke given to Liebknecht had no more than a temporary effect. Even Marx was not ashamed to disseminate suspicion again and again, and in the obscurity of private correspondence to besmirch the honour of the detested rival. In this enterprise, Marx accepted the unclean assistance of a Russian named Utin, who to begin with, “a vain and talkative man,” had forced himself on Bakunin, subsequently, when he met with a rebuff, to persecute the latter by spreading abroad malicious reports about him. This same Utin, after Bakunin had removed from Geneva to Locarno, was able by interminable underground machinations to bring about a split in the Genevese section, and to get the editorship of “Egalité” into his hands. Under Marx’s protection, he became the go-between in promoting the policy of the General Council of the International. On the strength of information mainly received from Utin, Marx, on March 28, 1870, through the instrumentality of his friend Kugelmann in Hanover, sent a “confidential communication” to the Brunswick executive of the Eisenach Labour Party—the party that had been founded in 1869 by Liebknecht and Bebel as a rival of the General Union of German Workers. In this confidential communication, Marx not only revived the disproved charges against Bakunin, but added a new “revelation.” He declared that Bakunin, after Herzen’s death, had embezzled an annual subvention of 25,000 francs, which Herzen had intended to be used for propaganda purposes by a “friendly pseudo-socialist panslavist party in Russia.” There was not a word of truth in the story. It is mentioned only to show the depths to which those stooped who were engaged in this disastrous quarrel among brethren.
It is necessary to point out, however, that Bakunin never tried to pay Marx back in the same coin. What Mehring says of Bakunin’s writings, that “we shall look in them in vain for any trace of venom towards the General Council or towards Marx,” applies with equal force to all Bakunin’s doings in this fierce campaign. Notwithstanding his unfortunate experiences, he preserved so keen a sense of justice and so splendid a magnanimity, that on January 28, 1872, writing to the internationalists of the Romagna about Marx and the Marxists, he was able to say: “Fortunately for the International there existed in London a group of men who were extremely devoted to the great association, and who were, in the true sense of the words, the real founders and initiators of that body. I speak of the small group of Germans whose leader is Karl Marx. These estimable persons regard me as an enemy, and maltreat me as such whenever and wherever they can. They are greatly mistaken. I am in no respect their enemy, and it gives me on the contrary lively satisfaction when I am able to do them justice. I often have an opportunity of doing so, for I regard them as genuinely important and estimable persons, in respect both of intelligence and knowledge, and also in respect of their passionate devotion to the cause of the proletariat and of a loyalty to that cause which has withstood every possible test—a devotion and a loyalty which have been proved by the achievements of twenty years. Marx is the supreme economic and socialist genius of our day. In the course of my life, I have come into contact with a great many learned men, but I know no one else who is so profoundly learned as he. Engels, who is now secretary for Italy and Spain, Marx’s friend and pupil, is also a man of outstanding intelligence. As long ago as 1846 and 1848, working together, they founded the party of the German communists, and their activities in this direction have continued ever since. Marx edited the profound and admirable Preamble to the Provisional Rules of the International, and gave a body to the instinctively unanimous aspirations of the proletariat of nearly all countries of Europe, in that, during the years 1863-1864 he conceived the idea of the International and effected its establishment. These are great and splendid services, and it would be very ungrateful of us if we were reluctant to acknowledge their importance.”
To the obvious question why, since these things were so, there had been a breach between Bakunin and Marx, Bakunin, in the same epistle, gives the following answer: “Marx is an authoritarian and centralizing communist. He wants what we want: the complete triumph of economic and social equality, but he wants it in the State and through the State power, through the dictatorship of a very strong and, so to say, despotic provisional government, that is, by the negation of liberty. His economic ideal is the State as sole owner of the land and of all kinds of capital, cultivating the land through well-paid agricultural associations under the management of State engineers, and controlling all industrial and commercial associations with State capital.
“We want the same triumph of economic and social equality through the abolition of the State, and of all that passes by the name of law (which, in our view, is the permanent negation of human rights). We want the reconstruction of society, and the unification of mankind, to be achieved, not from above downwards, by any sort of authority, or by socialist officials, engineers, and other accredited men of learning—but from below upwards, by the free federation of all kinds of workers’ associations liberated from the yoke of the State.
“You see that two theories could hardly be more sharply opposed to one another than ours are. But there is another difference between us, a purely personal one.
“Marx has two odious faults: he is vain and jealous. He detested Proudhon, simply because Proudhon’s great name and well-deserved reputation were prejudicial to him. There is no term of abuse that Marx has failed to apply to Proudhon. Marx is egotistical to the pitch of insanity. He talks of ‘my ideas,’ and cannot understand that ideas belong to no one in particular, but that, if we look carefully, we shall always find that the best and greatest ideas are the product of the instinctive labour of all. ... Marx, who was already constitutionally inclined towards self-glorification, was definitively corrupted by the idolization of his disciples, who have made a sort of doctrinaire pope out of him. Nothing can be more disastrous to the mental and moral health of a man, even though he be extremely intelligent, than to be idolized and regarded as infallible. All this has made Marx even more egotistical, so that he is beginning to loathe every one who will not bow the neck before him.”
Insuperable material differences and invincible personal antagonisms combined to form the abyss which separated the life work of these two men. Fundamentally, the severance was a forcible laceration of their intrinsic interconnexion, and the hatred each felt for the other was a hatred that sprang from love. That is why the severance and the hatred were so distressing and so disastrous for both.
The Franco-German War and the Commune
The first half of the year 1870 was characterized by perpetual quarrels, jealous struggles, and polemical wrangles between the International and the Alliance, especially between the opposing parties in the region of the Jura. The climax of the bickerings occurred at the congress of the Alliance held in La Chaux de Fonds, on April 4, 1870, at which such violent differences of opinion became manifest within the Alliance that it broke up, and the majority and the minority continued their discussions in two separate congresses. The 1870 congress of the International was to have been held in Paris. Since, however, the Bonapartist police had inaugurated legal proceedings against the members of the International, and was staging a great public trial, the General Council summoned the congress for September 5th in Mainz.
But in July 1870, the Franco-German war broke out. In an address issued by the General Council under date July 23rd, Marx expounded the position of the International towards this war, which was described as a consequence of the war of 1866, and as “an amended edition of the coup d’état of December 1851.” He strongly opposed the attitude of Prussia. “On the German side, the war is a war of defence; but who put Germany to the necessity of defending herself? Who enabled Louis Bonaparte to wage war upon her? Prussia! It was Bismarck who conspired with that very same Louis Bonaparte. ... After her victory, did Prussia dream one moment of opposing a free Germany to an enslaved France? Just the contrary. While carefully preserving all the native beauties of her old system, she superadded all the tricks of the Second Empire. ... The Bonapartist regime, which till then only flourished on one side of the Rhine, had now got its counterfeit on the other. From such a state of things, what else could result but war?” What inference was to be drawn as far as the working class was concerned? It must be on its guard lest the defensive character of the war should be transformed into an annexationist one. “If the German working class allows the present war to lose its strictly defensive character, and to degenerate into a war against the French people, victory or defeat will prove alike disastrous.”
In a second address, under date September 9th, Marx showed that Germany had no historical claim upon Alsace-Lorraine, and did not need these provinces for the protection of the country as a whole against France. “If limits are to be fixed by military interests, there will be no end to claims, because every military line is necessarily faulty, and may be improved by an flexing some more outlying territory; and, moreover, they can never be fixed finally and fairly, because they always must be imposed by the conqueror upon the conquered, and consequently carry within them the seed of fresh wars.” He expressly referred to the interests of the working class, which must be given due consideration after the war. “The German working class have resolutely supported the war, which it was not in their power to prevent, as a war for German independence and the liberation of France and Europe from that pestilential incubus, the Second Empire. It was the German workmen who, together with the rural labourers, furnished the sinews and muscles of heroic hosts, leaving behind their half-starved families. Decimated by the battles abroad, they will be once more decimated by misery at home. In their turn they are now coming forward to ask for ‘guarantees’—guarantees that their immense sacrifices have not been brought in vain, that they have conquered liberty, that the victory over the imperialist armies will not, as in 1815, be turned into the defeat of the German people; and as the first of these guarantees, they claim an honourable peace for France, and the recognition of the French republic. ... The French working class moves, therefore, under circumstances of extreme difficulty. ... They have not to recapitulate the past, but to build up the future. Let them calmly and resolutely improve the opportunities of republican liberty, for the work of their own class organization. It will gift them with fresh Herculean powers for the regeneration of France, and for our common task—the emancipation of labour. Upon their energies and wisdom hinges the fate of the republic.”
The establishment of the French republic did not, indeed, as yet signify the taking over of political power by the working class, but only the proclamation of bourgeois interests, above all in respect of the question, who was to pay the gigantic war indemnity demanded by Prussia. The bourgeois class was determined that the burden of the war should on no account fall upon its shoulders, but should be shifted to those of the proletariat. With this end in view, it came to an understanding with the German bourgeoisie (which it had just been fighting) against the proletariat (which had just been fighting as its ally). The negotiations between Thiers and Bismarck meant to the French workers: “Your money or your life!” When the Commune was proclaimed on March 18, 1871, the Parisian proletariat, as vanguard of the French workers, presented a bold front against the bourgeois highwaymen. It drove its adversaries to Versailles, and engaged upon a life-or-death struggle.
On March 19, 1871, the first number of the “Journal Officiel,” the organ of the Commune, was published in Paris. Next day, in a leading article, we read: “Amid the defeats and the treachery of the ruling class, the proletarians of Paris have understood that the hour has struck when they must save the situation by taking the conduct of public affairs into their own hands. ... They have understood that it is their highest duty and their absolute right to make themselves masters of their own fate, and to seize the powers of government.” Marx was overflowing with enthusiasm. Writing to Kugelmann, under date April 12th, he said: “What elasticity, what historical initiative, what capacity for self-sacrifice in these Parisians! After six months’ starvation and ruination by internal treachery, even more than by the enemy without, they rise under the Prussian bayonets as if there had never been a war between France and Germany, and as if there were no enemy outside the gates of Paris. History offers no parallel to this greatness!”
At the communal elections held in Paris on March 26, 1871, 72 socialists were elected (out of a total membership of 92), among whom were members of the International. Although, in subsequent elections, many more Internationalists became members of the Commune, they did not gain a majority. The tactics were decided by the radicals and the Blanquists. Though there were members of the International in the most important administrative bodies, and though these revolutionists distinguished themselves by efficiency and by devotion to duty, the political influence of the International was restricted to the giving of occasional advice.
“The Commune was formed of the municipal councillors, chosen by universal suffrage in various wards of the town, responsible and revocable at short terms. The majority of its members were naturally workingmen, or acknowledged representatives of the working class. The Commune was to be a working, not a parliamentary body, executive and legislative at the same time. Instead of continuing to be the agent of the central government, the police was at once stripped of its political attributes, and turned into the responsible and at all times revocable agent of the Commune. So were the officials of all other branches of the administration. From the members of the Commune downwards, the public service had to be done at workmen’s wages. The vested interests and the representation allowances of the high dignitaries of State disappeared along with the high dignitaries themselves. Public functions ceased to be the private property of the tools of the central government. Not only municipal administration, but the whole initiative hitherto exercised by the State was laid into the hands of the Commune.”
“The multiplicity of interpretations to which the Commune has been subjected, and the multiplicity of interests which construed it in their favour, show that it was a thoroughly expansive political form, while all previous forms of government had been emphatically repressive. Its true secret was this. It was essentially a working-class government, the product of the struggle of the producing against the appropriating class, the political form at last discovered under which to work out the economical emancipation of labour.”
“The working class did not expect miracles from the Commune. They have no ready-made utopias to introduce by popular decree. They know that in order to work out their own emancipation, and along with it that higher form to which present society is irresistibly tending, by its own economical agencies, they will have to pass through long struggles, through a series of historic processes, transforming circumstances and men. They have no ideals to realize, but to set free the elements of the new society with which old collapsing bourgeois society itself is pregnant. In the full consciousness of their historic mission, and with the heroic resolve to act up to it, the working class can afford to smile at the coarse invective of the gentlemen’s gentlemen with the pen and inkhorn, and at the didactic patronage of well-wishing bourgeois doctrinaires, pouring forth their ignorant platitudes and sectarian crochets in the oracular tone of scientific infallibility.”
“When the Paris Commune took the management of the revolution into its own hands; when plain workingmen for the first time dared to infringe upon the governmental privilege of their ‘natural superiors, and, under circumstances of unexampled difficulty, performed their work modestly, conscientiously, and efficiently—performed it at salaries the highest of which barely amounted to one-fifth of what, according to high scientific authority, is the minimum required for a secretary to a certain metropolitan school board—the old world writhed in convulsions of rage at the sight of the red flag, the symbol of the republic of labour, floating over the Hotel de Ville.”
“In every revolution there intrude, at the side of its true agents, men of a different stamp; some of them survivors of, and devotees to, past revolutions, without insight into the present movement, but preserving popular influence by their known honesty and courage, or by the sheer force of tradition; others mere bawlers, who, by dint of repeating year after year the same set of stereotyped declamations against the government of the day, have sneaked into the reputation of revolutionists of the first water. After March 18th, some such men did also turn up, and in some cases contrived to play preeminent parts. As far as their power went, they hampered the real action of the working class, exactly as men of that sort have hampered the full development of every previous revolution. They are an unavoidable evil; with time they are shaken off; but time was not allowed to the Commune.”
Owing to a number of grave tactical errors, owing to the lack alike of a sufficiently definite aim and of adequate revolutionary determination, and owing to internal dissensions, the Commune was not equal to the performance of its historic mission. The Versaillese gained the upper hand. “If only the Commune had listened to my warnings,” wrote Marx to Professor Beesly. “I advised its members to fortify the northern side of the heights of Montmartre, the Prussian side; and they still had time to do this. I told them that otherwise they would find themselves in a mouse-trap. I denounced Pyat, Grousset, and Vésimier. I begged them to dispatch instantly to London all the papers which could compromise the members of the Committee of National Defence, so that the savagery of the enemies of the Commune might to some extent be held in check. This would in part have frustrated the plan of the Versaillese.” Instead, during the last days of May 1871, the Commune was overthrown and its defenders were massacred by the Parisian bourgeoisie and the Versaillese troops.
“The civilization and justice of bourgeois order comes out in its lurid light whenever the slaves and drudges of that order rise against their masters. Then this civilization and justice stand forth as undisguised savagery and lawless revenge. Each new crisis in the class struggle between the appropriator and the producer brings out this fact more glaringly. Even the atrocities of the bourgeois in June 1848 vanish before the ineffable infamy of 1871.”
“To find a parallel for the conduct of Thiers and his bloodhounds, we must go back to the times of Sulla and the two triumvirates of Rome. The same wholesale slaughter in cold blood; the same disregard, in massacre, of age and sex, the same system of torturing prisoners; the same proscriptions, but this time of a whole class; the same savage hunt after concealed leaders, lest one might escape; the same denunciations of political and private enemies; the same indifference for the butchery of entire strangers to the feud. There is but this difference, that the Romans had no mitrailleuses for the dispatch, in the lump, of the proscribed, and that they had not ‘the law in their hands,’ nor on their lips the cry of ‘civilization.’”
Within a few days after the Commune had been drowned in the blood of the Parisian workers, Marx laid before the General Council of the International the draft of the Address it was to issue on The Civil War in France—the address from which the foregoing extracts have been taken. Brilliantly written, it is alive with revolutionary passion, and gives a masterly historical sketch of the Commune. At once a report and a criticism, simultaneously a justification and a work of propaganda, it presents a marvellously powerful picture of this volcanic outbreak, unique in the history of revolutions. It defends the honour of the Commune against the shameful injustice of its adversaries. It is a clarion call to arms against the bourgeoisie, a declaration of war whose menace rings through the decades and through the centuries.
End of the International
The Commune left three lessons for the European proletariat. First of all it showed that the struggle of the working class against the bourgeoisie must not be confined to the economic or industrial field, but must take a political form as well. Secondly it showed that in bourgeois national States this struggle could only be carried on upon the platform of bourgeois politics, in parliament, the entry to which must be secured by electoral campaigns. Thirdly it showed that the main incidence of the political struggle had been transferred from France to Germany, where the working class was rapidly acquiring political impetus. Marx was quick to recognize the new features of the situation. Writing to Kugelmann, he said: “Through the fight in Paris, the struggle of the working class against the capitalist class and the capitalist State has entered upon a new phase. No matter how the affair may end, a fresh starting-point of worldwide historical importance has been won.” He was prompt, likewise, to do justice to the changed situation.
He foresaw, however, that the Bakuninists inside the International would be a serious obstacle. The more definitely Marx became inclined to elaborate the tactics of a law-abiding policy, in conformity with the methods and trends of the bourgeois State, and the more he aimed at the conquest of the State instead of at the destruction of the State, the more must Bakunin and the Bakuninists consider that he was betraying the revolution, and the more, therefore, would they feel impelled to attack him. Consequently, he had made up his mind to clear the Bakuninist opposition out of the way.
With this, end in view, instead of summoning a regular congress of the International, he arranged for a conference to be held in London, paying no heed to protests from Geneva, “the focus of intrigues and quarrels.” The personnel of the conference was carefully chosen and sifted. Since the General Council was represented by thirteen members, and there were only ten additional delegates present, Marx was in control from the first, and was able to ensure the passing of the resolutions he wanted. The sessions were held from September 17th to 25th, and the work was done with “compressed energy.” The General Council was given increased power to deal with refractory organizations, its dictatorial authority being thus notably enhanced. Then arrangements were made for the change in tactics. Whereas in the Preamble to the Provisional Rules it had been stated “that the economical emancipation of the working classes is therefore the great end to which every political movement ought to be subordinate as a means,” the London Conference adopted the following resolution: “Considering that, against this collective power of the propertied classes, the working class cannot act as a class except by constituting itself into a distinct political party, distinct from and opposed to all old parties formed by the propertied classes; that this constitution of the working class into a political party is indispensable in order to ensure the triumph of the social revolution and its ultimate end, the abolition of classes; that the combination of forces which the working class has already effected by its economical struggles ought at the same time to serve as a lever for its struggles against the political power of the landlords and capitalists—this Conference recalls to the members of the International that, in the militant state of the working class, its economical movement and its political action are indissolubly united.” The passing of this resolution implied the adoption of a definite line against Bakunin. The instruction to Utin to collect materials against Bakunin which would enable action to be taken against the latter, was nothing more than a formal gesture, masking a fixed determination to oust Bakunin from the International at all hazards.
The first result of the London Conference was to make the opposition consolidate its forces. In congress at Sonvillier, the Swiss Bakuninists decided to organize themselves as the Jura Federation, and to issue a circular to all sections of the International, protesting against the decisions of the London Conference, and demanding that a congress be summoned. The circular was widely supported in Italy and Spain, and aroused considerable sympathy in Belgium, France, and the United States. In London, the relations between the General Council and the trade unions had gradually become less intimate, and had at length been completely broken off. Odger, Lucraft, and other trade-union leaders, had resigned from the International. The Federal Council formed in accordance with a decision of the London Conference was soon at loggerheads with the General Council; and within the General Council itself there had appeared a majority and a minority faction which before long were at open war. Eccarius had resigned his position as secretary-general, and had quarrelled with Marx because Marx had accused him of conspiring with the American federalists. Jung was fiercely at odds with Engels, who had come to live in London in 1870, and was now a member of the General Council. Hales, finally, the new secretary-general, being also the leader of the newly founded Federal Council, entered into communication, without consulting the General Council, with the Spanish Federation, which had adopted the platform of the Alliance, and had expelled Lafargue, Marx’s son-in-law. Thus the centre and headquarters of the International was rent with internal dissensions at the very time when it was threatened with formidable onslaughts from without.
Thus unfavourable were the omens when the Hague Congress opened on September 2, 1872. “The congress is a life-and-death question for the International,” Marx had written to Kugelmann. “Before I resign from the General Council, I want at least to free the International from disintegrating elements. Germany, therefore, must have as many representatives as possible. Write to Hepner and tell him that I shall be glad if he will procure for you a mandate as delegate.” Thus Marx was carefully organizing the personnel of the Hague Congress just as he had carefully organized that of the London Conference. This was to be a decisive battle, in which he would gain a definitive victory over Bakunin. He wanted to rid the International of all dangerous elements. As soon as the purge had been effected, he intended to withdraw from the General Council.
There were sixty-seven persons at the congress. Two more had turned up, but their credentials were rejected. This was the first congress at which Marx was present; he came as member of the General Council, and had, besides, three mandates (Mainz, Leipzig, and New York). Engels, in addition to his vote as member of the General Council, had a vote for Breslau and a vote for New York. In these circumstances it was not difficult for Marx to control a majority, especially seeing that Bakunin’s Italian supporters had abstained from sending delegates. Marx was sure of a victory before the fight had begun. Bakunin was not there. The cause of the Jura Federation was represented by James Guillaume.
The congress did not get down to solid business until the fourth day. Then the dictatorial powers of the General Council were not merely maintained, but were considerably augmented. This was decided by 36 votes against 6, with 15 abstentions, after Marx had made a long speech in favour of the change. Then, since Marx and Engels were afraid of Blanquist influence in London, the seat of the General Council was transferred from London to New York. (The French delegates, greatly disgruntled by this, declared in a pamphlet they subsequently issued that the International “summoned to do its duty, refused. It evaded the revolution, and took flight across the Atlantic ocean.”) As regards the question of political action, a resolution was adopted declaring the “organization of the proletariat as a political party” to be “indispensable,” and describing the “conquest of political power” as “the prime duty of the proletariat.” A committee was appointed, to sit in camera, in order to inquire into the conflict with the Alliance. This committee, after Guillaume had refused to appear before it in order to defend the Alliance, declared that that body had been founded as a secret organization within the International, that Bakunin had been responsible for its foundation, and that “Citizen Bakunin has resorted to fraudulent manoeuvres in order to possess himself of other people’s property.” The committee therefore urged the congress: “(1) to expel Citizen Bakunin from the International Workingmen’s Association; (2) likewise to expel Citizens Guillaume and Schwitzguébel.” When the motion for Bakunin’s expulsion was put, it was carried by 27 votes against 7, with 8 abstentions; and Guillaume’s expulsion was carried by 25 votes against 9, with 9 abstentions.
Marx had won the victory over his detested adversary. Not content with breaking the political ties between himself and Bakunin, he had emphasized his animus by securing that Bakunin should be publicly stigmatized as an embezzler. It was said that Bakunin had failed to repay an advance of three hundred roubles made him for the translation of Capital into Russian. Such was the rope used by Marx to hang his enemy—Marx who had been involved in a thousand shady financial transactions, and had lived all his life as pensioner on a friend’s bounty.
Marx was justified in promoting the adoption of a policy which, he was convinced, could alone lead to the liberation of the proletariat. He was right, too, in insisting that the International must free itself from Bakunin, seeing that Bakunin was a declared opponent of this policy, and was doing all he could to counteract it. But that Marx, in order to secure this concrete triumph, should have stooped to personal calumny, is a condemnation, not of Bakunin, but of Marx himself. We have here a deplorable demonstration of the disastrous trait in his character which made him regard all the problems of politics, the labour movement, and the revolution, from the outlook of their bearing on his personal credit. A council of international revolutionaries, whose main business in life is to blow to smithereens the world of private property and bourgeois morality, is induced by its leader to pass a vote of reprobation and a sentence of expulsion upon one of the most brilliant, heroic, and fascinating of revolutionists the world has ever known, on the ground that this revolutionist has misappropriated bourgeois property. Is it possible to point to anything more painfully absurd in the whole story of the human race?
A victory thus secured could bear no fruit. Now that the national labour organizations were taking shape as political parties, and were assuming functions within the framework of the political system of the extant State, there was no longer any justification for the existence of the International. Subordination to the purposes of an extra-national centre could not fail, at this juncture, to conflict with the national independence of the labour parties, and, for the time being, to prove an obstacle to their development. Bakunin had foreseen this. In a contribution to the “Liberté” of Brussels, in October 1872, he wrote: “I regard Monsieur Marx as an extremely earnest, if not always perfectly upright revolutionist, as one who honestly desires the uplifting of the masses, and I ask myself how he can fail to see that the establishment of a universal, collective, or individual dictatorship, which is designed to carry out, as it were, the work of a chief engineer of the world revolution, regulating and guiding the insurrectional movement of the masses in all countries much as a machine might—that, I say, the establishment of such a dictatorship would alone suffice to paralyse and falsify all popular movements? What man, or what group of men, however richly endowed with genius, can venture to flatter themselves—in view of the enormous quantity of interests, trends, and activities, which are so different in every country, every province, every locality, every occupation, and whose huge ensemble, united but not made homogeneous by a great common aspiration and by certain principles which have now entered into the consciousness of the masses, constitutes the coming social revolution—who can flatter themselves that they can grasp and understand this huge ensemble?”
Indeed, as time went on, the threads of political interconnexion and revolutionary leadership which had been concentrated in the International were passing more and more hopelessly out of Marx’s hands. The transference of the General Council to New York proved to have been an egregious error. In London, the International remained active only as a heap of ruins, for the mastery of which a swarm of dwarf potentates were ceaselessly bickering. Marx barely escaped the vengeful destiny of being expelled. At length, when the last congress began at Geneva on September 8, 1873—a congress for which, as Becker said in a letter to Sorge, he had “conjured up, out of the ground, as it were, thirteen delegates” out of the thirty present—Marx had to admit, not only that the congress was a complete fiasco, but also that the International had collapsed.
But Marx could not bring himself to retire from the stage without throwing a last handful of mud at Bakunin. The Hague Congress had instructed the committee that examined the charges against Bakunin to publish the results of the investigation. Since the committee had failed to carry out this behest, Marx, in conjunction with Engels and Lafargue, undertook to elaborate a report. It was published under the title Die Allianz der sozialistischen Demokratie und die Internationale Arbeiter-Assoziation [The Alliance of the Socialist Democracy and the International Workingmen’s Association], a malicious pamphlet, in which almost every line is a distortion, almost every allegation an injustice, almost every argument a falsification, and almost every word an untruth. It furnishes pitiless evidence of the way in which years of rivalry, years of struggle poisoned by vanity, hate, and the lust for power, had corrupted and demoralized the genius for controversy which radiates so magnificently from Marx’s earlier writings. Even Mehring, who is invariably an indulgent judge where Marx is concerned, places this work “at the lowest rank” among all those published by Marx and Engels.
Bakunin, an old man with one foot in the grave, suffering, disappointed, broken, embittered, was content to meet the attack with grieved resignation. Writing in the “Journal de Genève,” he said: “This new pamphlet is a formal denunciation, a gendarme denunciation directed against a society known by the name of the Alliance. Urged onward by furious hatred, Monsieur Marx has not been afraid to box his own ears, by undertaking to expose himself before the public in the role of a sneakish and calumniatory police agent. That is his own affair; and, since he likes the job, let him have it. ... This has given me an intense loathing of public life. I have had enough of it, and, after devoting all my days to the struggle, I am weary. ... Let other and younger persons put their hands to the work. For my own part, I no longer feel strong enough, and perhaps also I lack the necessary confidence to go on trying to roll the stone of Sisyphus uphill against the universally triumphant reaction. I therefore withdraw from the arena, and ask only one thing from my dear contemporaries—oblivion.”
When Bakunin died on July 1, 1876, no trace of the Marxian International remained.
The Great Achievement
The painful feelings aroused in us by Marx’s campaign against Bakunin, and the moral judgments we may be inclined to pronounce on the former’s uncomradely behaviour, must not lead us astray, must not incline us to overlook how immense an achievement was the foundation of the International, must not blind us to the fact that the appearance of that organization marks an epoch.
The economic situation that prevailed throughout Europe in the sixties had brought proletarian masses into being every where, and was in itself an incitement to the workers. Nevertheless, the voicing of a call to arms was the outcome of Marx’s genius, and the mobilization of the awakening forces by the stimulus of international contact was a historic deed which will always remain associated with his name. In the perspective of history, it is of minor importance in what tone and in what rhythm the clarion call was sounded. Only the chronicler need care today to ascertain how much in the programmes and rules and regulations of the first labour battalions was true or false, practicable or impracticable. Marx, with clear vision and sound insight, discerned along what lines and in accordance with what theoretical principles the advance must be made; and this cannot but increase the admiration we feel for his shrewdness and his breadth of vision. By energetically safeguarding the proletariat against confusions, deviations, and misleadings, he did immense service, and saved the workers from many discouragements and disappointments. If Marx were to fulfil the task which he believed to be his historic mission, he had to take his course straight ahead, relentlessly and brutally, regardless of feelings and sentiments, honour and morality, ties of friendship or affection. If, in doing this, he had to forfeit much which is conventionally regarded as virtuous, had to lose the right to be considered what by traditional standards is spoken of as an estimable character, had to dispense with the attributes of a fine humaneness—this was undoubtedly the greatest of the many sacrifices he had to make in the cause. It was not the aim of his endeavour to be a man of noble disposition, a man shining with all the virtues. His business was, amid the turmoil of the moving forces of his age, to secure the triumph of subjecting these forces to his own intellectual guidance and control. The matter at stake was the victory of head over heart, the establishment of the superiority of the intellect in the configuration of life and the regulation of human affairs.
Herein, Marx was the most typical representative of the epoch in which he originated and acted.
The bourgeois era is ideologically characterized by a supreme development of individualism. Previously, individuality had been cabined, cribbed, and confined by family traditions, vestiges of feudalism, communal ties of all kinds; but at the opening of the new era it was definitively freed by the emancipating and isolating power of money, so that its independence became boundless. The pure ego, absolute individuality, was born, no longer isolated, but as a mass phenomenon. Fichte, the typical representative of philosophical individualism, drank champagne for the first time in his life when his little son said “I” for the first time. The ego is the final and unconditional repudiation of the community. Individuality becomes the sole master of the world, and mirrors itself in the image of the divine.
But this extremity of isolation, in which all ties with fellow men are severed, implies also the utmost peril, and therewith the utmost insecurity. The world of the community encountered every danger and every insecurity with the instrument of communal activity. As the individual awakened, and cut loose from the collectivity, it was necessary for him, since he had to maintain himself amid grave perils, to increase and develop within his own individuality all the forces of defence, all possible capacities for safeguarding, every kind of means for keeping himself going. Until now, with the aid of affects, feelings, moods, with the assistance of fantasy, suggestion, and ecstasy, individuals had been able to achieve transient or sometimes merely apparent community. With the definitive constitution of the individual, however, with the emergence of unconditional isolation, these expedients ceased to be effective. The individual, thrown back on himself, had for his maintenance to disclose and to apply the last reserves of his energy. He set the intellect free, and made of it the chief instrument of his safeguarding.
Thus the bourgeois phase inaugurates itself with the appearance of a vigorous trend towards intellectualization and rationalization. In the world of phenomena and relations, as time goes on, the supreme question is, what can justify itself before the tribunal of the intellect? Religion, hitherto human experience finding expression in works, is rationalized by Luther to a bare faith. Nature, the creation of God and a paradise of wonders and mysteries, is disclosed by science, measured, classified, brought under the dominion of law, and handed over to the exploitation of technique. Society, which man has hitherto regarded as a harmonious structure of will and work, requirement and performance, necessity and action, is made the object of the investigating, analysing, and theorizing human understanding; is fixed as a system, labelled as an evolutionary phase, and rationalized in the law-abidingness of its dynamic. Socialism, as the great hope and the fascinating dream of a complete liberation from the most arduous and most widely generalized needs of life, socialism which has hitherto been regarded as the outcome of human sacrifice and labour, the result of unselfish readiness, self-sacrificing education, noble zeal, and the boundless development of all the spiritual powers—this socialism of the utopists, fanciful enthusiasts, and pure fools—becomes the object of logical demonstration, the upshot of a historical process developed in accordance with fixed laws, something that can be fully grasped by the intelligence, the product of a naturally and scientifically demonstrable necessity.
Thus we proceed from Luther by way of Fichte, Adam Smith, Humboldt, and Darwin, in a direct line to Karl Marx. In this connexion, it is worth remembering that Marx lived in England, where economic life had already assumed a highly developed capitalist form. It was in Britain that political economy first came into being, as a typical science of the capitalist age. It was there that utilitarianism wove a philosophical mantle for capitalist interests. It was there that liberalism was born as the political doctrine of capitalism. It was there, too, that Marx first applied the methods of bourgeois intellectualism to the study of social happenings. Under his treatment, socialism for the first time ceased to be an affair of faith, hope, fantasy, the dream imagination; ceased to be a construction of the arbitrary creative will of man. His rationalist investigation supplied glimpses into the movements of history and the structure of social phenomena, just as the anatomist’s scalpel was doing into the functions of the body, just as the formula of the mathematician was doing into the mosaic of numbers, the microscope of the biologist into the cell-structure of the tissues, the analysis of the chemist into the mysteries of substance. Feelings, emotional heart-beats, spiritual stirrings, and ethical postulates no longer have anything to do with the case. The realm of fantasy is excluded. Ordinary humanity is no longer current. Just as in the world of commodities nothing counts but cash payment, so in the world of social forms and relations nothing counts but the exactly demonstrable, the scientifically proved, and in the world of the ideologies nothing counts but the concept as a coin minted by the intellect. In this way socialism becomes the last link in a chain of proof, all of whose links are strung together in accordance with the laws of logic; becomes the Z of an alphabet beginning with A; becomes the precipitate of a process of fermentation which proceeds in accordance with an ascertained formula; becomes the unknown x of a problem which can be mathematically worked out. Socialism is in this way lifted from the lowlands of mysticism, utopism, millenarianism, and a simple-minded faith in salvation, into the sphere of science. It quits the realm of religion, sectarian magic, charlatanry, and social quackery, to be consecrated by the approval of the intellect, to be legitimized academically. Taking its place in the domain of exact knowledge, it is ranged upon the same level as the natural sciences.
Such was the immense achievement of Marx—to have effected this scientific ennoblement of socialism! To that task he devoted the greatest number of his years, the ripest of his energies, and the utmost of his diligence. To the sphere of immediate practice, to the International, he gave only part of his attention and energy during less than a decade, whereas to the performance of his task in the domain of theory he addressed himself with the self-sacrifice and the indefatigability of a worker bee for nearly forty years.
The International had fulfilled its role as vehicle of the labour movement within a very short time of its foundation.
Socialist theory, on the other hand, as the spiritual ferment of the movement, had only just begun to get to work when the masses were first set in motion. Since then, operating powerfully and unrestingly down to the present hour, it has helped the proletariat to climb to a point at which the workers have become the decisive factor of history.
Marx’s theory, known for short as Marxism, takes indisputable precedence of all other socialist theories, and has had a decisive influence upon the life and struggles of the modern proletariat. It is today almost the only determinative trend of the proletarian class, almost the only one that is achieving realization in a revolutionary direction.
The driving force of this trend is the materialist interpretation of history.
The Materialist Interpretation of History
The Communist Manifesto contained the first draft of scientific socialism—sketchy, it is true, but precise. Studying this draft, we can realize how far the plan to write a great politico-economic work on the capitalist method of production had already matured. A partial contribution to the carrying out of this design was made by Marx in the lectures on Wage Labour and Capital which he delivered to the Workers’ Educational Society in Brussels. During the decade that followed, his work was continually being interrupted by indisposition or other unfavourable circumstances, and not until 1858 was he able to proceed further with the elaboration of his materials. In 1859 he was able to publish his Kritik der politischen Ökonomie.
For the moment, our only interest in this book is in the preface, where Marx, in a survey of the evolution of his scientific thought, presents the first connected account of his method of materialistic interpretation of history.
“My study of the Hegelian philosophy of right led me to understand that legal relations and forms of State are not to be comprehended out of themselves, nor yet out of the so-called general evolution of the human mind, but are, rather, rooted in the material conditions of life, whose totality Hegel, following the example of English and French eighteenth-century writers, subsumed under the name of ‘civil society’; but that the anatomy of civil society was to be sought in political economy. ... The general result at which I arrived, the result which, once achieved, served as guiding principle of my studies, may be formulated as follows. In the social production which human beings carry on, they enter into definite relations which are determined, that is to say, independent of their will—productive relations which correspond to a definite evolutionary phase of the material forces of production. The totality of these productive relations forms the economic structure of society, the real basis upon which a legal and political superstructure develops and to which definite forms of social consciousness correspond. The mode of production of material life determines the general character of the social, political, and intellectual processes of life. It is not the consciousness of human beings that determines their existence, but, conversely, it is their social existence that determines their consciousness. At a certain stage of development, the material productive forces of society come into conflict with the existing productive relations, or (to express the matter in legal terminology) with the property relations within which they have hitherto moved. These relations, which have previously been developmental forms of the productive forces, now become metamorphosed into fetters upon production. A period of social revolutions then begins. Concomitantly with the change in the economic foundation, the whole gigantic superstructure is more or less rapidly transformed. When we contemplate such transformations, we must always distinguish: on the one hand, between the material changes in the economic conditions of production, changes which can be watched and recorded with all the precision proper to natural science; and, on the other, the legal, political, religious, artistic, or philosophical forms (in a word, the ideological forms) in which human beings become aware of this conflict and fight it to an issue. Just as little as we form an opinion of an individual in accordance with what he thinks of himself, just so little can we appraise a revolutionary epoch in accordance with its own consciousness of itself; for we have to explain this consciousness as the outcome of the contradictions of material life, of the extant conflict between social productive forces and productive relations. No type of social structure ever perishes, until there have been developed all the productive forces for which it has room; and new and higher forces of production never appear upon the scene, until the material conditions of existence requisite for their development have matured within the womb of the old society. That is why mankind never sets itself any tasks which it is not able to perform; for, when we look closely into the matter, we shall always find that the demand for the new enterprise only arises when the material conditions of existence are ripe for its successful performance—or at any rate have begun to ripen. In broad outline we can describe the Asiatic, the classical, the feudal, and the modern (capitalist) forms of production, as progressive epochs in the economic development of society. Bourgeois relations of production are the last of the antagonistic forms of the social process of production—antagonistic, not in the sense of individual antagonism, but in the sense of an antagonism proceeding out of the social conditions in the individual’s life; nevertheless the productive forces developing within the womb of bourgeois society create simultaneously the material conditions for the solution of this antagonism. Consequently, with this formation of society, the primitive history of human society comes to an end.”
The foregoing sentences embody a classical statement of the fundamentals of the materialist interpretation of history. The idealist view, according to which the processes of history are the outcome of the unsearchable purposes of God, the expression of the activities of an objective world-spirit, or the achievements of heroic, almost superhuman, divinely endowed personalities, had thus been superseded and discarded.
The change in outlooks was connected with the great transformation that had been taking place in social life. In a world where all things were assuming the form of commodities, and where all the phenomena of the mental and spiritual life were acquiring circumstantiality, it was becoming less and less possible for “the idea” to maintain its credit as the motive force of history. When (as was now obvious in England), behind the theses of philosophy, the postulates of ethics, and the doctrines of politics, the material interests of the bourgeoisie could be plainly seen at work, it had become natural to look upon economic interests as the general determinants of all happenings, all changes in the world of thought, and all the phases of history.
Day by day, Marx’s experiences in the environing world taught him to how preponderating a degree economic factors condition the lives and activities of human beings. He was acquainted, too, with the writings of Saint-Simon and Adam Smith, whose theories bordered on that of the materialist interpretation of history. Soon, therefore, it became clear to him that economics were the “motive force” of history, in this sense, that the development of economic life brought about changes in the institutions of society, the forms of the State, social structures, ideologies, and ideals, these latter following the transformations of the former. The changes which human beings effect in the ways by which they satisfy their material needs are attended by changes in social forms, legal institutions, the principles of State, scientific systems, moral ideas, artistic ideals. To simplify matters into a vivid formula, the social and ideological superstructure of any epoch is upbuilded upon the economic foundation of the time.
This foundation is in part supplied ready-made to men, as climate, the fertility of the soil, water supply, the treasures of the earth. Another part of the foundation consists of the traditional technique with the aid of which human beings get to work upon the gifts and the productive forces of nature in order to turn these to human account. But for this it is necessary that human beings should make a further contribution: their more or less developed powers of work, their formative capacities, their mentality, their language, their powers of mental representation, their mind. Natural forces and human forces contribute to the joint effect, and the concrete expression of both combined comprises the relations of production. The general significance of production, as achieved in the cauldron of productive relations by means of the forces of production, is the control of the world in the interests of human beings, and the safeguarding of mankind against the hostile powers which threaten its existence. The forces of production and the relations of production are in a perpetual interplay of mutual dependence, each determining the other. The forces of production are not dead matter, and the relations of production are not a rigid framework. Their life flames up, their forms are transmuted, their content is fertilized, as they unceasingly act on one another in the dialectical process.
The fulfillers, the executors, of this process are human beings. Furthermore, human beings fulfil the process, not as lifeless machines, but as creatures animated with living consciousness.
Consciousness receives its directives from the necessities of the process. In turn, however, it reacts formatively and purposefully upon the process. Thus the ideological life of mankind becomes an image of mobile reality; and reflexes from the ideological content of human consciousness find their way back into reality. Religion, science, morality, politics, legislation, education, and art, receive their content and their form from the procreative power of the material conditions and the economic necessities of their time. They make pictures, sketch systems, fix values, establish postulates; and they introduce ideas into the consciousness of men. Then, this mental world, itself primarily a consequence, becomes in its turn a cause. From it there radiates a modifying, a formative, an ordering energy, which plays its joint part within the sphere of men’s lives—that sphere in which men are perpetually trying to safeguard their position.
The materialist interpretation or conception of history has never consisted wholly and exclusively of the gross and commonplace view that hunger alone, eagerness to satisfy the material needs of the stomach, is the driving force of history. But the materialist conception of history certainly arises out of the elementary, recognition that human beings (as Engels said in his address at Marx’s funeral) “must have food and drink, clothing and shelter, first of all, before they can interest themselves in politics, science, art, religion, and the like.”
The supporters of the materialist interpretation of history have never been so one-sided as to declare that economic forces are the only forces that make history. What they have always, and most emphatically, contended is that, among the factors of history, economic forces have the last word.
The initiators of the materialist interpretation of history never advocated that crudely mechanical form of materialism, according to which the motive force of history is exclusively derived from the dead materiality of things, so that there can be no place in the world of happenings for the functions of the mind. On the contrary, Marx vigorously opposed the misleading half-heartedness and the metaphysical spurious enlightenment of so-called naturalism—as we see, in especial, in the Theses on Feuerbach. He always insisted that, not lifeless things, but living met are the sustainers of the evolutionary process.
Those who advocated the materialist interpretation of history never denied the influence of the mind, never ignored the power of ideas, never under-estimated the importance of the mental or spiritual factor in the course of history. On the contrary, when recognizing that history is made by human beings, they recognized in these human beings the importance of all human attributes, including, therefore, mind, intelligence, consciousness, and ideas. What they were up in arms against was the notion that the phenomena of a purely mental world, as set apart by German ideologists in the form of an “absolute idea,” a “moral ego,” or something of the kind, should be regarded primarily and abstractly as the essential factor of historical evolution. In their view, neither, the idea nor matter was “in the beginning.” For them, all life was an inseparable and eternally mobile interweaving and mutual conditioning of force and matter, combined into an integral unity. And the human being who constituted the core of this living whole was for them a social human being, one who had countless interrelations with his fellows.
For the socialists of the days before Marx, socialism was not an evolutionary product, was not the outcome of a historico-dialectical process, but was the realization of an ethical demand, was something that had an aesthetic, a humanitarian, a philanthropic aim, was a scheme constructed in some one’s brain. As starting-point for their socialism they needed an ethic, a philosophy, a philanthropy, a psychology, or an aesthetic; but they did not need history, did not need any specific way of contemplating history. For them it was enough to know that there was poverty, and that poverty was due to exploitation. For them, therefore, the theory of political economy as stated by Ricardo was amply sufficient. Ricardo showed that capitalism is based upon exploitation, and consequently upon injustice. With shrewd insight, he already perceived in the capitalist system the potential elements of serious conflicts, and he even looked forward to the ultimate collapse of the system. Nevertheless, he did not dream of trying to do away with that system. Still farther from his sphere of thought was the assumption that the abolition of capitalism would occur as the outcome of an internal and inevitable economic development acting in conjunction with the class struggle.
To Marx the problem presented itself in a very different way. The materialist interpretation of history showed that the forms of society and the State, social institutions, human behaviour and human ideas, as these manifest themselves in the structural environment characteristic of a particular epoch, are dependent upon the economic relations peculiar to that epoch, and find therein the conditions of their realization. It was therefore incumbent on Marx to show that socialism was a logical outcome of socio-economic development. For this purpose, he had to study economics, the economics of is own day, the economics of industrial capitalism, in whose womb socialism was developing. His inquiries must be directed to discovering whether, out of the evolution of capitalism, there would organically and necessarily arise the economic basis and therewith the necessary conditions which would make the existence of socialism possible, indeed inevitable. He must reconstitute socialism by means of history and economics; must replace ethico-aesthetic socialism by historico-economic socialism.