Postmodernism, Part 35: Nationalism and Internationalism

What is postmodernism? Is it a problem?  The following continues a series of posts explaining postmodernism.  It is inspired by the excellent Explaining Postmodernism: Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to Foucault, by Prof. Stephen Hicks.  (Additional support includes Trotsky on World War One, by Leon Trotsky; The Red Flag: A History of Communism; Mussolini, by Nicholas Farrell.)

Erstwhile
Red Star Rising

The Franco-Prussian War united victorious Germany.  Defeated France divided in civil war.  Marx exploited the bloody Paris Commune.  Marx’s First International split.  The anarchist Bakunin warned against Marx’s authoritarianism, dictatorship, and slavery.  Nietzsche hinted of looming twentieth century catastrophe, likening Socialists to poisonous spiders, bent on vengeance and weaving webs of deception.

The First World War would see Marx’s Second International split, this time over nationalism.

Nationalism and Internationalism

The twentieth century saw nationalism blamed for the world wars.  Was nationalism to blame?  Who ascribed blame?  Why?  What were nationalism’s alternatives?  Imperialism? International Communism?  When the First World War broke out, nationalism faced Communism with an existential crisis.

Earlier, in 1872, the First International had fallen apart, riven by divisions between Marx’s state socialism (“authoritarian communism”) and Bakunin’s anarchism (“revolutionary collectivism”).  They shared goals (a new social order, collective ownership of the means of production), but disagreed over the means.  Bakunin warned that Marx’s corrupt “cult of the state” would conquer and enslave.

International Communism was an inevitable fact of history, Marx and Engels had espoused.  However, the anarchist Bakunin had questioned Marx’s internationalism.  He accused Marx of being a German nationalist.  Marx’s international communism, Bakunin warned, would be a “great Pan-German State” dictatorship.  So, the First International collapsed.  Marx’s state socialists split from the anarchists.

The Communists organized “Social Democrat” parties to represent workers within the bourgeois political system until the inevitable (international) proletarian revolution and “dictatorship of the proletariat”. (Communists then identified as Social Democrats, with the terms “Communist”, “Social Democrat”, and “Democratic Socialist” being generally interchangeable.)  “Socialism”, they said, would follow until the “withering of the state” and true Communism.

Crisis

The German Social Democrats showed their nationalist stripes when war began in 1914.  Germany was the capital of Communism.  The German Social Democrats were the largest member of the Second International.  All nations furthered bourgeois interests and all war was bourgeois war.  The Second International collapsed when the Germans chose nation over class.

leon-trotsky
Leon Trotsky

As war broke out, Russian Social Democrats took strong anti-war positions. “Revolution has no real interest in war,” argued Leon Trotsky, in his anti-war booklet, The War and the International.  The proletariat should not shed blood for bourgeois war.  He blasted German Social Democrats for their nationalist war support.

Trotsky condemned German Social Democrats for “hysterical nationalism” and abandoning “the standpoint of international Socialism”.  He blamed the Germans for the collapse of the Second International (but also blamed the Austrian, French, English, and Polish socialists for their nationalism).  “The German party was the strongest, most influential, and in principle the most basic member of the Socialist world,” he said, “Its historic capitulation reveals most clearly the causes of the downfall of the Second International.”

Nevertheless, Trotsky believed the War marked the end of nations.  “All talk of the present bloody clash being a work of national defense is either hypocrisy or blindness,” he argued, the war was “at bottom a revolt of the forces of production against the political form of nation and state” that meant “the collapse of the national state as an independent economic union.”

The war would spark revolution, Trotsky claimed.  “When the people, deafened by the thunder of the cannon, realize the meaning of the events now taking place in all their truth and frightfulness,” he wrote, “The revolutionary reaction of the masses will be all the more powerful the more prodigious the cataclysm which history is now bringing upon them.”

Trotsky scoffed at German Social Democrats’ promises to “liberate” Russia from czarism.  Russian Social Democrats “stand so firmly on the ground of internationalism, that we cannot … entertain the idea of purchasing the doubtful liberation of Russia,” he wrote, “which German imperialism offers us in a … munitions box, with the blessing, alas! of German Socialism.”  This was not liberation, but the “unlimited mastery of German militarism in all Europe … which began with the capitulation of [German Social Democrats] to nationalistic militarism,” he wrote, “the cause of the Social Revolution would have received a mortal blow.”

The nationalism crisis did not shake Trotsky’s faith that proletariat victory was near.  “Why should we have faith in the future of the Socialist movement?” Trotsky asked, when the “the [bankruptcy] of the old Socialist parties has become catastrophically apparent”?  His faith was unshaken.  “It is not Socialism that has gone down, but its temporary historical external form,” he claimed, “The revolutionary idea begins its life anew as it casts off its rigid shell.”  It is “the old Socialist parties [that] have become the main hindrance to the revolutionary movement of the working class,” Trotsky argued, “The New International … must rise up out of the present world cataclysm, the International of the last conflict and the final victory.”

Seeds of Fascism
mussolini-young
Benito Mussolini

The nationalism crisis did shake the faith of another Communist, Italy’s Benito Mussolini.  He would forsake international Communism, but remain a Socialist to his dying day.

Benito Mussolini followed the socialist politics of his father, Alessandro Mussolini.  Alessandro was a revolutionary Socialist agitator, who had joined the First International.  Alessandro participated in local politics until his death in 1910.

By 1910, Benito was a revolutionary Socialist agitator and journalist.  In the preceding years, he was tutored by Angelica Balabanoff, a Ukrainian revolutionary Socialist.  After deserting from the army, Mussolini fled to Switzerland (where he attended lectures by Italian economist, Vilfredo Pareto) before returning to complete his military service after the king granted amnesty to deserters. By 1908, he had begun his career in Socialist journalism.

In 1912, Mussolini rose to leadership in the Italian Socialists.  To Lenin’s approval, Mussolini ousted the “reformist” (democratic) leadership and replaced them with revolutionaries.  (Lenin later remarked, “Mussolini was the only one among you [Italian Socialists] with the mind and temperament to make a revolution.”) Mussolini awaited unrest that he might use to stir up revolution.  Then, in June 1914, came “Red Week”, a general strike and uprising that was quickly crushed.

Months later, the War broke out. Italy remained neutral (disregarding its treaty obligations to Germany and Austria).  Italian Socialists advocated neutrality because “any war between nations was a bourgeois war”.  Mussolini demanded neutrality, “or else the proletariat will know how to impose [neutrality] on [Italy] with all its means”.

Then, the Second International collapsed.  Classical revolutionary socialist theory was dead.  The proletariat did not rise up in general strikes and refuse to fight.  German, then British, then French socialists supported their governments.  The governments did not collapse.  The Second International collapsed, instead.  Mussolini contemplated a different Marxian theory: that bloody war would cause the proletariat to rise in revolution (a theory shared by Italy’s revolutionary syndicalists).

The nationalism issue remained. Mussolini considered the power of nationalism. Nationalism had prevailed over class for Germany’s devout Social Democrats.  Why not nationalism? And why not national war against foreign class enemies?  The Italian Mussolini favored neutrality, while the Socialist favored war.

Finally, Mussolini renounced neutrality and joined support for the War.  After Italy joined the war, he joined the fight.  Nationalism had collapsed the Second International and brought his own incipient nationalism to the fore.  The War, its aftermath, and the plight of its veterans would lead Mussolini and Italy further to Fascism.

Commentary

Marxist theory failed, causing a crisis for the faithful.  The socialists had chosen nation over class.  This crisis was especially hard on “reformist” socialists (who favored gaining power through democratic means).  Revolutionary socialists (like Lenin and Mussolini) were more adaptable because they had little faith in democracy.  Trotsky and Lenin clung to international Communism, while Mussolini parted company.  He embraced nationalism but clung to revolutionary socialism.

Mussolini was far from alone in Italian nationalism.  Italy was a young nation.  National unity was still recent.  (The Risorgimento had culminated a few decades earlier, in 1870.)  Nationalist feeling was shared across the political spectrum.  For a revolutionary socialist, like Mussolini, nationalism appeared a means to revolution.  And why not?

Bakunin was proved prophetic (and, awfully, would be again).  The German Social Democrats had chosen nationalism.  They had betrayed international Communist ideals.  Bakunin was right that Marxism anticipated a “great Pan-German State”.

By and large, Marxist theory would continue to fail.  The major failures would cause new existential crises.  Each crisis would spawn mutations that bring us ever closer to postmodernism.

Next

Marx’s theory is taking too long.  So, the Communists get tired of waiting and come up with a new plan.  Next: Part 36, What Is To Be Done?.

 

Postmodernism, Part 33: The Anarchist Bakunin

What is postmodernism? Is it a problem?  The following continues a series of posts explaining postmodernism.  It is based on the excellent Explaining Postmodernism: Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to Foucault, by Prof. Stephen Hicks.  (Additional support includes Marxism, Freedom, and the State, by Mikhail Bakunin; Writings on the Paris Commune by Marx, Engels, Bakunin, Kropotkin, and Lenin; Freedom and Organization, by Bertrand Russell; The Russian Revolution: A New History, by Sean McKeenin.)

Erstwhile

Enlightenment and Darkness

Marxist postmodernism seeks to overthrow modernism (reason, individualism, liberal democracy, free markets).  Postmodernism is based on nihilism and radical left politics.

Rousseau’s Revolutionary Politics

Postmodern political philosophy is related to Rousseau, whose totalitarian collectivism inflamed the French Revolution and Reign of Terror, leading to the rise of Napoleon and his conquest of Germany.

Right Collectivism

Right Collectivism fused Rousseau, the German Counter-Enlightenment, and Napoleonic stress disorder.  Rousseau got a German makeover: hero worship, state worship, German supremacy, and the dialectic.

Left Collectivism

Left Collectivism fused German Counter-Enlightenment ideas with romanticism: passion, revolution, and disgust (at industrial working conditions).  Disgusted, Marx and Engels concocted “scientific socialism” and published the Communist Manifesto.

Revolutionary Disappointment

The Revolutions of 1848 frustrated Marx and Engels.  The French Second Republic’s socialist experiments flopped (triggering failed leftist uprisings), as did German Communism and Italian unification, but not Bismarck’s unification of northern Germany .

Red Star Rising

In the Franco-Prussian War, Bismarck united victorious Germany, while defeated France divided in civil war.  Marx used the brutally crushed Paris Commune as a “teachable moment”.

The Anarchist Bakunin
mikhail-bakuninMikhail Bakunin

Marx and Mikhail Bakunin, one of his fiercest critics, had deep animosities.  Bakunin was born a Russian aristocrat (and Marx hated Slavs).  Marx was born Jewish (and Bakunin hated Jews).  Marx falsely accused Bakunin of being a spy, after Bakunin escaped from a Siberian penal colony.  (Bakunin, for his role in the Revolutions of 1848, had been sentenced to death by Germany and Austria, sent to Russia, then imprisoned and packed off to Siberia.)  Marx dropped his allegations, but later revived them to have Bakunin expelled from the 1872 meeting of the First International.

Anarchism

Bakunin and Marx had fundamental differences over political action and the State.  Marx was an “authoritarian communist” (State Socialist) while Bakunin was a “revolutionary collectivist” (Anarchist) who argued for liberty:

  • Liberty is essential to individual material, moral, and intellectual development.
  • Without liberty, political and social equality are a pack of lies.
  • A State that can limit liberty, will reduce individual rights to zero.
  • Equality must be built spontaneously by freely organized producers’ associations (not by a paternalistic domineering State).
peter-kropotkinPeter Kropotkin (Anarchist)

Bakunin shared Marx’s goals (a new social order based on the organization of labor, collective ownership of the means of production) but fundamentally differed on the means:

  • Communists use political power (of the urban proletariat and radical bourgeois).
  • Anarchists use non-political social power (of the working class and all people of goodwill).
  • Communists seek the political power of the State.
  • Anarchists seek to destroy the political power of the State.
  • Communists advocate authority, force, and planning by “superior minds” (imposed on the “ignorant” masses).
  • Anarchists advocate liberty, persuasion, and spontaneous organization.
  • Communists have faith in the “profound intelligence of all the doctors and guides of humanity who, after so many failures, still keep on trying to make men happy”.
  • Anarchists have faith in the “practical good sense and wisdom in the instinctive aspirations and real needs of the masses”.

The problem isn’t the form of government, but “the very existence of government, whatever form it takes,” Bakunin argued.

The State is “a mere abstraction, a fiction, a lie,” Bakunin admonished, a vast slaughterhouse where all the real aspirations and living forces of a country go to die. “No abstraction exists for and by itself,” he explained, the State “represents the no less real interests of the exploiting class … a dominant oligarchy [ruling] an enormous mass of … hopeless creatures … who live in perpetual illusion”.

 The Paris Commune

Bakunin put an Anarchist spin on the Paris Commune, claiming that it was a “bold, clearly formulated negation of the State”.  The Commune, he praised, marked a new era of “complete emancipation of the masses … destroying nationalism”.

mikhail-bakunin Louis Delescluze (Jacobin)

Bakunin rejected Marx’s Communist spin on the Commune.  Most Communards were not socialists, but Jacobins, he reminded (correctly).  The socialist minority had little influence, he said, and imposing socialism was a lower priority than meeting immediate needs (like food, shelter, and defense).

Bakunin rejected Marx’s criticisms of the Commune.  The Communards “were right a thousand times over,” he replied, for avoiding dictatorship and slavery.  Social revolution through political revolution, he said, risks political dictatorship and economic slavery.

The State
marx-karlKarl Marx

Marxism is “the out and out cult of the State”, Bakunin chided.  Marx worshiped “power so much that he wanted to impose and still means … to impose his dictatorship on us … the establishment of the great People’s State”.  He derided Marx’s lust for power.  Marx, he claimed, had established a sort of Communist Church, where Marx ruled an army of fanatics (mainly German Social Democrats).

The State will not whither under Communism, Bakunin scoffed, quite the opposite.  Based on Marx’s theories and actions, Bakunin predicted the Marxist State must:

  • Be supreme and absolute,
  • Conquer and enslave,
  • Have a State morality (of power) that negates human morality,
  • Control education to control thought,
  • Use secret police to monitor thought,
  • Use censorship to limit thought and opinion, and
  • Use the military against domestic enemies.

Marx’s State is based on a lie, Bakunin warned, because the State is an abstraction and a lie, and so is the “public good” (“will of the people”, “common interest”, “public safety”).  These abstractions are only the sacrifice of real people’s wills and interests, he wrote.  The “omnivorous abstraction” of the State cannot impose itself on millions, he said, without a ruling class.

Marx’s State won’t destroy class privilege, Bakunin advised.  History shows the absolute necessity of a privileged class, he said, and “a people who or more or less ignorant … riffraff … always incapable of governing themselves [who] must submit … to the benevolent yoke” of a wise and just ruling minority of “superior intelligence”.

gulag Soviet Gulag forced labor

Marx’s State will never “be able to do without the forced labor of the masses,” Bakunin warned, “whether wage-earners or slaves” because this is the “absolutely necessary basis of the liberty and and culture of the [ruling] political class”.  This was true in the United States, he said, whose morality was depraved by Northern industrialists who imposed ruinous protectionism on evil Southern agricultural oligarchs.

Marx’s State will be corrupt, Bakunin cautioned, because power corrupts.  In an ideal State, he said, the masses would elect the brightest and most virtuous, but power would corrupt their morality by breeding contempt (for the “inferior” masses) and hubris (arrogant overestimation of their own merits).

Marx’s State will be “the most aristocratic, despotic, arrogant, and contemptuous of all regimes”, Bakunin predicted, because Marx’s extremely complex government is totalitarian, governing everything: politics and economics (industry, agriculture, banking).  “All that will require an immense knowledge and many ‘heads overflowing with brains’,” he said, “It will be the reign of scientific intelligence … a hierarchy of real and pretended scientists … ruling in the name of knowledge … [over] an immense ignorant majority”.

International Communism

Marx’s vision of global emancipation is only German world domination, Bakunin warned.  Marx is a German nationalist, he reminded, who claims to seek “the emancipation of the proletariat of all other counties”.  How,  Bakunin asks, “can this contradiction be resolved?”  There is only one way, he answered, the triumph of Germany is the triumph of humanity and all that opposes “this great new omnivorous power is the enemy of humanity”.

In 1871, Marx tried to use the International to set up “this great Pan-German State”, Bakunin reminded.  Marx failed “not for lack of very great efforts and much skill on his part, but probably because the fundamental idea which inspires him is false and its realization is impossible”.

soviet-poster

In 1872, Marx nearly killed the International with his mad dreams of imposing “a universal State, government, [and] dictatorship,” Bakunin recounted.  Marx, “a new Moses”, inscribed his commandments on the flag of the International, and attempted to impose “a dictatorial government … directed by a head extraordinarily filled with brains … a complete fabric of political and economic institutions strongly centralized and very authoritarian”.

Marx was mad to dream that the working masses of the world would unite under the flag of the International, Bakunin exclaimed, madness “driven by ambition, or vanity, or both at once”.  Nothing could be more burlesque or revolting, he scoffed, than this “heresy against common sense [and] … the experience of history”.  The Popes, at least, had an excuse, “the absolute truth which they claimed rested in their hands by the grace of the Holy Spirit,” he admonished, but Marx has no excuse because he claims no such absolute truth.

Commentary

In 1872, the First International fell apart, largely due to Marx’s disputes with Bakunin and others.  After Marx’s death, the Second International would take up the cause of defining Marxist orthodoxy.  Bakunin’s dire predictions of Marxist totalitarianism would prove accurate.

Bakunin’s anarchist ideas and Bastiat’s libertarian ideas had much in common:

  • Both decried the fiction of the State and how it deluded the masses.
  • Both looked to a sort of natural law – fundamental liberty, based on our innate need to survive.
  • Both objected to State limits on our natural liberty.
  • Both viewed society as a natural institution born of our social nature (not as some mere creature of the State).

Bakunin and Bastiat had many fundamental differences:

  • Bastiat was a Christian.
  • Bakunin was an atheist, who violently opposed the Church (for many reasons, including its partnership with the State and its many historical evils).
  • Bastiat thought property was a natural extension of fundamental liberty.
  • Bakunin thought property should be collectively owned.
Next

Nietzsche predicts twentieth century catastrophe.  Next: Part 34, Tarantulas.

Postmodernism, Part 32: The Commune and Communism

What is postmodernism? Is it a problem?  The following continues a series of posts explaining postmodernism.  It is based on the excellent Explaining Postmodernism: Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to Foucault, by Prof. Stephen Hicks.  (Additional support includes The Fall of Paris, by Alistair Horne; The Red Flag: A History of Communism, by David Priestland; Civil War in France: The Paris Commune, by Karl Marx and V. I. Lenin; The Paris Commune, by Ernest Bax; Socialism by Ludwig von Mises.)

Erstwhile

Enlightenment and Darkness

Marxist postmodernism seeks to overthrow modernism.  Modernism’s political philosophy proposes reason, individualism, liberal democracy, and free markets.  Postmodernist philosophy is based on the metaphysical nihilism of (Nazi) Martin Heidegger.  Postmodernist radical left politics don’t flow from Heidegger’s philosophy, but from twentieth century Marxists’ crisis of faith (in the face of undeniable Marxist catastrophe).

Rousseau’s Revolutionary Politics

The postmodernists took refuge in the totalitarian collectivist Rousseau.  Rousseau’s ideas inflamed the French Revolution and Reign of Terror, leading to Napoleon’s beatdown of Germany.

Right Collectivism

Right Collectivism morphed out of the German Counter-Enlightenment (Kant, Herder, Fichte, Hegel), Rousseau, and Napoleonic stress disorder.  The Germans gave Rousseau their own twist: hero worship, state worship, and dialectical history (plus German supremacy).

Left Collectivism

Left Collectivism also came from the German Counter-Enlightenment, plus passion: disgust and romanticism (that valued passion, violence, radicalism, and revolution, but not morality).  Marx and Engels (disgusted at industrial working conditions) mated Hegel with Darwin to concoct “scientific socialism” (revealed history, Communist prophecy, and pseudo-science).  In 1847, the Communist League published their Communist Manifesto.

Revolutionary Disappointment

Marx and Engels were frustrated with the Revolutions of 1848.  The French Second Republic’s socialist experiments flopped (triggering leftist uprisings – crushed).  German Communism flopped.  (Exit Marx, stage left.  Enter Bismarck, stage right.)  In Italy, Mazzini and Garibaldi were failed and returned to exile.  Bismarck united northern Germany using “blood and iron”.

Red Star Rising

The Franco-Prussian War united victorious Germany, but divided defeated France (triggering insurrection, civil war, and the Paris Commune – brutally crushed), setting the stage for the World Wars, Soviets, and Nazis.

The Commune and Communism

Marx used the Paris Commune of 1871 as a “teachable moment”.  Marx penned his dire “lessons learned”, The Civil War in France (his most influential work after The Communist Manifesto).  Lenin and Stalin expanded on his ideas and put them into action (terribly).

Marx’s Teachable Moment

In London, Marx and Engels (frustrated by proletariat intransigence) were busily making Communism “scientific” by grafting Darwinian notions onto their sketchy Hegelian metaphysics.  Their rosy dreams of a Workers Paradise were mutating into a grimy Dictatorship of the Proletariat with industrial schemes of central planning.

karl-marxKarl Marx

The Paris Commune took Marx quite by surprise.  Marx’s “First International” (an organization of socialist parties of different nations) was (predictably) fractious, split between authoritarians (like Marx) and anarchists (like Mikhail Bakunin).

The Commune gave Marx notoriety as the “Red-Terrorist Doctor” and gave Bakunin a shot at some action.  In France, Marx’s International was sprouting, spreading propaganda, and fomenting insurrections in the French provinces.  Bakunin, himself, went to Lyon to foment insurrection.

Marx’s spin on the Commune was propagandist and polemical, but he got much right:

  • Class struggle.  Marx correctly identifies a powerful class element in the Commune.  Paris suffered the sort of “third world” industrial misery described by Engels.  The Paris slums of Belleville and Montemarte were fetid breeding grounds of unrest.
  • Revolution betrayed.  Marx was correct that the bourgeois betrayed the working class in previous revolutions (1815, 1830, 1848).  Working class mobs fruitlessly manned the barricades and shed blood.  The Second Republic and Empire were thoroughly corrupt and decadent.  (Marxist revolutions are treacherous, as well, as Bakunin warned and Trotsky showed.  Bastiat argued that the revolutions were shams that made impossible promises.)
  • Turning point.  Marx was correct that the Paris Commune marked a new phase in the Marxist battle.  (Marx’s usual wishful-thinking became a self-fulfilling prophecy when taken up by his adherents.)
Promise

Marx claimed that the Commune had promised a new (Communist) political form:

  • Good government.  The Commune would have delivered “cheap” (efficient and ethical) government (free of corruption), abolishing and replacing oppression with self rule.
  • Emancipation of labor.  The Commune would have appropriated the means of production (“changing the character of labor”).  (This is the “joy of labor” idea that, under socialism, “labor awakens feelings of satisfaction, not of pain,” wrote economist Ludwig von Mises.  Yet, he said, if labor and its rewards are disconnected, we will always feel like we are doing more than our share.)
  • Enlightenment.  The Commune  freed the workers from (politically oppressive) religious education.
  • Abolition of debt.  The Commune would have freed the poor from their debts, including rural peasants (who opposed Paris radicalism).
  • Civic virtue. The Commune  ended crime (murder, robbery, assault).  (People rarely ventured out after dark.)
Apologetics
leninEmancipation of Labor

Marx justified the acts committed by the Paris Commune:

  • Arson.  The Communards were justified in setting Paris ablaze, he argued, because this was war.  (C’est la guerre.)
  • Murder.  The Communards were justified in murdering the hostages, he argued, because the Government had executed Communard prisoners (in violation of the laws of war).  (This is a matter of perspective, of course.  To the Government, the insurrectionists were mutineers or treasonous rebels.)
Lessons Learned

Marx criticized the Communards’ mistakes:

  • The Communards should have taken up arms and destroyed their enemies (before they could rebuild).
  • The military command (the Central Committee) surrendered power too soon (to the elected Commune) and should have retained it to destroy their enemies.  (Of course, “enemies” is a fluid concept, as demonstrated by the Reign of Terror and the Russian Revolution’s Red Terror.)
Closing

As with the Communist Manifesto, Marx closed in dramatic style:

  • “There can be neither peace nor truce between the working men of France and the appropriators of their produce,” Marx declared, “The battle must break out again and again”.
  • “The French working class is the only advance guard of the proletariat”, he stated.
  • “The Commune will forever be celebrated as the glorious harbinger of a new society,” Marx said.

The history of the Commune’s exterminators, Marx thundered, “has already been nailed to that eternal pillory from which all the prayers of their priest will not avail to redeem them.”  (Drops mic.)

Lenin’s Lessons Learned
leninLenin

After the failed Russian Revolution of 1905, Lenin expanded on Marx’s lessons learned:

  • Go big or go home.  “The proletariat stopped half-way,” Lenin wrote, and were misled by “dreams of establishing a higher justice”.  The Communards should have seized property and taken over the banks, he said.
  • Ruthlessness.  “The second mistake was excessive magnanimity,” Lenin wrote, “instead of destroying its enemies, it sought to exert moral influence on them.”  (Lenin would practice what he preached.)

The proletariat will not forget the lessons of the Commune, wrote Lenin:

  • By any means necessary.  “The proletariat should not ignore peaceful methods of struggle,” Lenin wrote, “but it must never forget that … the class struggle assumes the form of armed conflict and civil war”.
  • Purges.  “There are times when the interests of the proletariat will call for ruthless extermination of its enemies,” said Lenin.
Commentary

The British Marxist Ernest Bax, a contemporary of Lenin, offered his own lessons learned:

  • War.  The Communards were too scrupulous, wrote Bax, they “did not appreciate the ethics of insurrection … [and] should have been guided by the French maxim a la guerre, comme a la guerre (in war, as in war).”  The Government was the rebel power and should have been crushed. (C’est la guerre.)
  • Amorality.  The Communards were too sensitive “to bourgeois public opinion.  The first thing for [a revolutionary leader] to learn is a healthy contempt for the official public opinion of the ‘civilized world’.  He must … harden his heart against … its ‘indignation’, its ‘abomination’ … and must learn to smile at all the [name-calling].”
  • Big Lie.  The tool for controlling public opinion, wrote Bax, is media control because “public opinion possessed of wavering or of no definite principles … takes the impress of any statement that it finds repeated a few times without very decisive and publicly-made contradiction”.  (“A lie told often enough becomes the truth,” said Lenin, more succinctly.)

Lenin and Stalin logically extended Marx.  Their ideas infused the Red Terror and Stalinist purges.  As we’ll see, the Red Terror bears the indelible stamp of the earlier Reign of Terror, further linking Marx and Rousseau.

Next

Marx’s stand on the Paris Commune split the International.  One of Marx’s fiercest critics was Mikhail Bakunin (whose baleful warnings against Marx came all too true).  Next: Part 33, The Anarchist Bakunin.