by Ernie Haberkern
The rise of a new bureaucratic ruling class in Russia in the thirties and forties of the twentieth century has artificially inflated the stock of several opponents of the social democratic movement who attacked it on the grounds that it was preparing a dictatorship of ‘intellectuals’ or men of ‘science’ over the untutored working class.
The subject of this study – Jan Waclaw Machajsky – is one such figure.
What all of them have in common is :
1) They attacked the socialist movement from a ‘left’ or ‘libertarian’ perspective, accusing the socialists of betraying their goals and deceiving their followers;
2) they cannot be portrayed as pro‑capitalist apologists;
3) their writings and, therefore, the anti-democratic nature of their politics are inaccessible to the average reader.
Bakunin, for example, is no longer as much in vogue just because his views have become too well known. They meet the first two criteria but the anti‑democratic content of his critique of social democracy has been too often and too thoroughly documented.
In Machajsky’s case, these anti‑democratic features are easily glossed over because his work is in Russian, a language not widely read even by most educated readers in Western Europe and North America, and he has not been translated, except in dribs and drabs, into any western European language. There is an exception to this last statement – sort of. A heavily bowdlerized translation of extensive selections from Machajsky has appeared in French.[i] More about that later.
Machajsky is mainly known because one of his followers, Max Nomad, emigrated to America and popularized his ideas in English. Popularized them in much the same way that Classic Comics used to popularize Homer’s Illiad or Shakespeare’s King Lear. In Nomad’s version, Machajsky comes off as a cracker‑barrel critic of big government and big labor; his consistent, principled opposition to labor unions as such and democratic politics in general and the reactionary conclusions Machajsky drew from his principles Nomad deemphasized. An awareness of these political conclusions, however, not only throws light on Machajsky’s basic position, it helps explain some bizarre statements by Nomad himself.
In addition to Max Nomad’s brief summaries of Machajsky’s doct-rine that appeared in his books Renegades and Rebels and Dreamers, Dynamiters and Demagogues, he published an article in Le Contrat Social [ii] in which he reviewed Machajsky’s career and work in a critical light. A number of other scholars also have written brief essays on Machajsky in English; these include Anthony D’Agostino, Marshall Shatz and Paul Avrich.[iii] All of these sources give the reader a glimpse of Machajsky’s novel views concerning the coming ‘dictatorship of the intellectuals’ and more or less explicitly claim that these views amount to a prediction of the degeneration of the Russian Revolution into Stalinism. In some cases, the claim that Machajsky’s theory of the ‘dictatorship of the intellectuals’ also describes fascism is made.[iv] Machajsky, himself, made no such claim.
Indeed, since he died in 1926 at a time when both phenomena were only just appearing, he was not in a good position to do so. What is more important, Machajsky’s theory was a closely argued defense of the proposition that the democratic state and its institutions, including especially a free trade union movement, were the instruments through which the ‘new class’ of intellectuals would rule. His whole polemic is directed at the pre‑World War I Social democracy and its tactic of using parliamentary and trade union activity as a means of organizing the working class in its struggle against capital. For Machajsky, as for Edward Bernstein whose revisionism first led Machajsky to question the Social Democracy’s commitment to revolution, political democracy and trade unionism were means of reforming capitalism and making it tolerable for a working class that could not hope to free itself. As Machajsky put it:
The bourgeoisie, like all prison wardens, makes concessions to buy peace from its slaves and forestall their riots. It gives the workers the right to organize trade unions so that it will not be forced to new, greater concessions by these riots but will be able to deal with peaceful trade unions whose demands can be refused without fear. And here the whole doctrine of the workers’ brothers, the socialists included, appears as the ally of the bourgeoisie in propagating this prison politics. With all their might they try to instill in the workers’ soul this slave sentiment, so necessary to the thieving bourgeoisie. Like real prison guards they teach that the workers’ riots, which threaten the thieves, will not bring victory but rather the trade unions which do not threaten the thieves, will.
Of course, Bernstein was for the unions and a reformed socialist party playing this role and Machajsky was against it. Neither doubted that this prospect of uninterrupted reform was the ‘wave of the future.’ Since the principal common element of fascism and stalinism is the destruction, root and branch, of all democratic institutions, including, especially, the trade unions, using a totalitarian party recruited, at least initially, from the ranks of the oppressed; it is hard to see how Machajsky’s theory could be considered a prediction of these movements or to say what his reaction to them would have been. At best he would have had to consider the rise of these ‘plebian’ movements of the declassed and their displacement of the democratic ‘intellectuals’ as a family quarrel between two sections of the ‘new class.’ At worst, he would have had to see the fascist or stalinist ‘revolutions’ as an injection of fresh and less corrupted plebian elements into the ruling stratum of what Nomad called State Capitalism. In Rebels and Renegades Nomad himself vacillates between these two positions.
What Machajsky would have said has to remain an unanswered question. His analysis of the early Soviet state published in 1918[v] simply treats it as an example of an extreme form of democratic state through which, in the name of the workers, the ‘intellectuals’ rule because they alone have the education to manipulate democratic forms.
For the Trotskyists the revolution was finally defeated in the late twenties when all political opposition inside the Communist party was outlawed; for others the banning of opposition parties in the course of the civil war from 1918 to 1920 was the turning point; the anarchists dated the end of the revolution from October 1917 when the soviets became organs of state power; Machajsky, so far as I know, is the only one to claim that the revolution was defeated in February 1917 when the soviets were founded. As democratic institutions soviets were the finished form of the intellectual’s dictatorship. Here, as elsewhere, Machajsky’s hostility to the ‘intellectuals’ conceals, barely, a contempt for the uneducated workers and dismisses as a fiction their power over the institutions they have built.
In any case, he did not in 1918, or after, argue that the Communist government was something new as compared to any other democratic state with a socialist governing party. In fact, he had to argue that it was not basically different from the social‑democratic governments that came to power after WWI. In the early twenties when others, especially dissidents within the communist parties and social democrats, were beginning to ask if the new soviet bureaucracy was turning into something new, into something other than a socialist party corrupted by office, Machajsky was silent. What could he have said?
There is, however, one clue as to what Machajsky’s response to fascism and stalinism might have been. That lies in his positive appraisal of the proto‑fascist Black Hundreds in 1905 and their pogroms against the intelligenty. Before going into this question which has been ignored by all but one of Machajsky’s non‑Soviet critics,[vi] we have to look at a little background.
HISTORICAL BACKGROUND The origin of the Russian social democratic movement in the 1880’s was in small circles of mostly university educated democratic radicals who had lost faith in the populist project. They could not help but notice the contrast between the failure of all attempts at organizing the peasant mass in Russia with the growing success of the socialist movement in the west based in the industrial working class. This success was especially impressive in Germany which was, like Russia, an autocratic state.
In the decade that followed, up until 1897, the new radical movement seemed to be moving in the same direction. While the social democratic groups were small, disorganized and subject to the same police repression that their populist predecessors had suffered, they had one major advantage. They had no competition. No one else was addressing the problems and demands of the small but strategically located industrial working class of the Russian empire. The small groups and study circles could provide only amateurish and scattered political leadership for the workers’ movement, but there was no one else trying to provide any kind of leadership.
In the late 1890’s, this new movement suffered two serious blows. One came from outside and the other was from within Russia itself.
In 1896, Edward Bernstein, a former pupil of Friedrich Engels and leading spokesman for the German Social Democratic Party, published a series of articles which proposed turning the SPD into the liberal reform party that the German bourgeoisie had been unable to create for itself. The gradual, piecemeal struggle would transform German society without a confrontation with the Prussian autocracy. Applied to Russia, Bernsteinism seemed to mean turning one’s back on the revolutionary tradition and attempting to carry on whatever legal work Tsarist authorities would allow.
More threatening to the Russian movement than Bernstein’s ideological argument was the growth of the legal trade union movement under the auspices of Sergei Zubatov, chief of the Moscow secret police. This interesting and much misunderstood figure became the competition the Social Democrats had lacked. He organized a reformist but militant trade union movement which in a few years found itself the dominant force in a massive strike wave culminating in the Odessa general strike of 1903. Its successor organizations continued to be the most influential labor organizations in the country until the revolution of 1905 put an end to the trust of the Russian working class in the benevolence of the autocracy. It would be a digression here to go into detail about Zubatov and his peculiar brand of christian socialism or to investigate the social basis of this bizarre offspring of a medieval relic like tsarism. Fortunately, a competent treatment of the subject already exists in English.[vii]
What does need to be mentioned is the line of attack Zubatov took against the social democrats and their response to it. Zubatov preached, and believed in, a christian, social monarchy which protected all social classes and strata and especially the oppressed. The greed and exploitation of capitalism, like the socialist attacks on it, were western imports. Socialism was not the expression of the legitimate economic needs of the workers but, rather, a rationalist creed which used the workers discontent to fuel a movement to modernize and secularize Tsarist, orthodox, Russia. Such a project was alien to the real spirit and needs of the Russian people. As alien as capitalism itself. Zubatov’s answer was to organize a movement which would represent the workers’ real interests, their economic interests, as against the greed of the capitalists while rejecting the democratic, antiTsarist slogans of the ‘intellectuals.’
Zubatov’s anti‑intellectualism was selective, however. The hunger of the Russian worker, especially the kind of worker attracted to labor organizations, for education was as pronounced as that of his western counterparts. Part of the appeal of the Zubatov organizations was their sponsorship of lectures and reading clubs led, at first, by prominent academics. The subjects included not only the western labor movement ( Zubatov himself introduced his working class converts to Bernstein and the Webbs Industrial Democracy) but also a range of academic topics from poetry to Darwin. When the campaign of the radicals and socialists made it politically impossible for liberal academics to continue this work for Zubatov, he was forced to fall back on an earlier type of intellectual worker – the clergy. Unfortunately, bible readings never attained the popularity of Darwin.
Nevertheless, the Zubatov meeting rooms continued to provide a center of worker self‑education and organization (under the careful eye of the police) until 1905.
The success of the Zubatov experiment provoked a crisis – in some cases a real panic – in the social democratic organizations. The need to compete with this well‑organized, well‑financed movement was one of the driving forces in the debates of the 1901‑1903 period which are often treated as if they were abstract discussions on the nature of political organization. The possibility of a ‘British’ style trade union organization – his majesty’s loyal trade union federation – seemed real. The German model of a politicized labor movement leading the fight to modernize and democratize society as a whole might be side-tracked. And what role then for the revolutionary from the educated classes who had cut his or her ties to respectable society?
The range of responses was wide. Perhaps the best known is that of the ‘Economists.’ While rejecting Zubatov’s monarchical socialism, they argued for a ‘pure and simple’ concentration on economic issues in the belief that the growth of such a movement would generate the social pressure that could, in the long run, civilize and Europeanize Russia and Russian Tsarism. At the other extreme, many of the underground committees saw legal unions and even the strike movement as nothing but an evil, a means of coopting the potential mass base of the social democracy. The response of the mainstream was most often to try and compete with the Zubatov movement by ‘broadening’ the social democracy itself. That is, they hoped that by dropping or just forgetting to mention awkward anti‑tsarist political demands, the social democrats could replace Zubatov’s supporters at the head of the legal mass movement. Lenin was peculiar in his insistence on agitating inside the non‑party legal organizations for the social democratic program.
Initially, however, the attempts of the social democrats to raise political demands in the 1903 Odessa strike had very little success by all accounts.[viii]
It is in the context of this debate that Machajsky’s theories of the class of ‘intellectuals’ arose and gained a hearing. Social democratic opponents then and soviet scholars subsequently have pointed to the similarities between Machajsky’s slogans and those of Zubatov.
Hostility towards the intellectuals – that is the social democratic revolutionaries – and emphasis on economic demands at the expense of political reform characterized both. Machajsky himself in his best known work Umstvennii Rabochii (The Intellectual Worker) [ix] takes the 1903 strike in Odessa as a model precisely because the Social Democrats were isolated at first when they attempted to raise political demands.
WHO ARE THE INTELLECTUALS Machajsky did not derive his ideas from Zubatov or the Economists. Rather, like them, and at the same time as them, he began with Bernstein. Initially, in 1898, he was seen as, and probably thought of himself as, a defender of orthodox Marxism.
In fact, the notion that recruits to the socialist movement from the ‘educated classes,’ especially those recruited to a growing and successful socialist movement, would tend to see the party and other working class institutions as a source of jobs and influence which could be jeopardized by revolutionary talk was not new. Marx and Engels were concerned about the influence of such types long before Bernstein revisionism appeared on the scene.[x]
Even Machajsky’s notion that the real aim of socialism was the foundation of a new form of ruling class on the basis of these office holders was not new. Bakunin had already made that claim and it was fairly standard in the anarchist movement. Machajsky did make it a much more central point of his program than did most but that is all. The anarchist movement, especially in Russia, also extended this to trade union officials. So Machajsky was not new there either.*
Machajsky extended this theory to include anarchist forms of organization. Not only syndicalist unions but voluntary anarchist communes would suffer the same tendencies to dictatorship of the educated.
MACHAJSKY’S REVOLUTION What social forces were to be the basis of this general strike? While a great deal of attention has been paid to Machajsky’s dissection of the ‘intellectuals’ including the workers corrupted by union organization, his critics, favorable and unfavorable, tend to pass quickly over this, the most important and distinctive, component in Machajsky’s work. The alternative to the organized, and therefore corrupted, working class was the raw recruit from the countryside, the unemployed and, especially, the criminal and semi‑criminal elements of the urban population. Bakunin had also looked to these strata as the counterweight to the ‘bourgeoisified’ worker. Today, the ‘secret’ writings in which he outlined his schemes for a tightly organized conspiratorial secret society which would control and manipulate this unorganized mass are well known.[xi]
What Bakunin glorified as the ‘destructive forces’ were not his movement any more than the organized workers were. The advantage of the former was that, being unorganized, they could be manipulated by the hierarchical, one can even say totalitarian, Bakuninist conspiracy.* Unlike Machajsky, however, Bakunin concealed this aspect of his teaching. He did not openly attack the union movement. Indeed, he counterposed it as an economic movement to the political movement the Marxists were attempting to build. Even those anarchists who opposed the union movement [xii] as ‘authoritarian’ tended to consider it a mistake not just an evil. In Machajsky’s view, on the contrary, unions,reformist or revolutionary, syndicalist or craft, like the democratic workers’ parties and like the anarchists’ communes, were part of the ‘conspiracy of intellectuals’ which had to be blackmailed by the insurrectionary general strike fomented by the ‘Workers’ Conspiracy.’
What is most characteristic of Machajsky, and most consistently ignored by his western commentators, is just this clear, unambiguous focus on the organized workers’ movement as the enemy. We have already seen Machajsky sympathizing with the Zubatov instigated hostility to democratic political demands in the 1903 strike.*
An even more revealing incident in Machajsky’s career, literary and practical, came in 1905. The revolutionary upsurge of that year jostled everyone out of accustomed ruts. The collapse of the Zubatov unions and the conversion of the urban working class to social‑democracy took on an almost religious character.[xiii] The whole society saw the, in retrospect, temporary steps toward a constitution on the part of the Tsarist authorities as a major breakthrough in the ‘Europeanization’ of Russia. Machajsky was repelled by this prospect. While social democrats of all tendencies and factions welcomed this democratic revolution as a chance to break out of the prison of conspiratorial groups, Machajsky responded with renewed attacks on the intellectuals’ predilection for open, legal, democratic political life.
In a work that has been mentioned by only one of his English critics, Burzhuaznaya Revoliutsia [xiv], Machajsky excoriated the socialist intelligenty because of their hungering after democracy. He took this opportunity to publish his previous works in a new revised form, collecting his three pamphlets into a work, the above mentioned Umstvennii Rabochii, which was organized around the thesis that democracy was, historically, a tool used by the intellectuals to deceive the workers.** Democracy was nothing but a trap more dangerous than the open despotism of the Tsar. In the pamphlet Burzhuaznaia Revoliutsia published at the same time but less theoretical and more polemical, Machajsky glorified the elemental uprising of the people as an alternative to the demands of the political revolutionaries, including of course the rapidly growing trade union and soviet movements, for a democratic republic and political freedom. He emphasized the necessity of the masses to organize on conspiratorial lines without regard to the nature of the state. Despotic or democratic it was all the same.
The party of workers’ revolution, of insurrection does not demand political freedom ‑ it will live underground in a democracy just as it does under absolutism. Its only demands will be economic demands pertaining to manual labor. Its sole activity the organization of a conspiracy with the aim of uniting all mass workers’ strikes into one worldwide uprising. [xv] It is in this pamphlet that Machajsky justified the pogroms of the notorious proto‑fascist ‘Union of the Russian People.’
MACHAJSKY AND THE BLACK HUNDREDS This movement, organized by pro‑tsarist conservatives searching desperately for some means of turning popular anger against the revolution and deflecting it away from the monarchy, appealed to the simplest and crudest passions of the disoriented underclass of the Russian empire. Unlike Zubatov, promonarchist conservatives in 1905 could no longer hope to counterpose a legal ‘pure and simple’ unionism to the radical, democratic ‘intellectuals.’ The organized working class had swung solidly into the radical camp after the shooting on January 9, 1905 of peaceful demonstrators petitioning the Tsar, bearing icons, and following Zubatov’s successor, the priest Gapon.
The only recourse for supporters of the monarchy was to appeal to the hatred of the despairing, unorganized mass for their ‘betters.’ Their ‘betters’ were not the Tsar and his ministers or the really wealthy. For the struggling small businessman or artisan, for the shabby genteel civil servant passed over for promotion while ‘non‑Russians’ advanced up the ladder, not to mention the average slum dweller, the upper classes might as well have lived on another planet. They were being pressed by two more proximate forces. From above the social order that they knew was threatened by the modernizing process initiated with whatever reluctance by the Tsar’s own government. (Some of whose agents were clearly ‘non‑Russian.’) From below, their pretensions were threatened by the increasingly militant labor movement.[xvi] Behind it all were the radical pamphleteers, the liberal and socialist politicians, the educated, the ‘intellectuals’ they could identify as the enemy.
These ‘Black Hundreds,’ as they were known, became a byword for several decades. Until replaced by Mussolini’s fascists, they were the archetypal reactionary movement in socialist and liberal literature. Machajsky defended them.
Apparently not their anti‑semitism. There is no evidence that Machajsky was an anti‑semite. Machajsky, on the other hand, didn’t oppose their anti‑semitism either. He paid no attention to it. It didn’t interest him. He was attracted to the Black Hundreds because of the way they dealt with the ‘intellectuals.’ In Machajsky’s words:
The hooligans who are beating up the intellectuals ‑ the intellectuals assure us ‑ are all monsters in the pay of the police, thugs no different than Tsarist spies or police agents … In fact, it is more complicated…The fact that the intelligentsia are fighting for freedom and the black‑hundreds are set on them by Trepov’s men (Trepov was Minister of the Interior ‑ EH) does not in the least alter the positions of the two; the Black Hundreds are killing their masters, who, not satisfied that they live by robbing the workers, are using the workers’ struggle to intensify their parasitism.*
The masters here are the radical democrats and socialists, including the ‘bourgeoisified’ workers, and the ‘intensification of their parasitism’ is – the democratic republic. For Machajsky in 1905 in this pamphlet the democratic republic is the greater evil, an ‘intensification of parasitism’ as compared to Tsarism.
The one commentator on Machajsky in English who mentions this material, Marshal Shatz, is flabbergasted. What does one make of such stuff coming from a thinker one has been led to believe is an apostle of liberty and a prescient opponent of the coming totalitarianism?
Shatz at least raises the issue. Alexandre Skirda, the editor of the French selection of Machajsky’s work, translates extended passages from the Burzhuaznaia Revoliutsia amounting to some twenty pages out of a work which in the original ran only to a little over one hundred pages. There is not a word about Machajsky’s praise of the Black Hundreds.
Shatz attempts to deal with the problem by defending Machajsky from two charges which no one has made. (No one has made any charges since no one else has even mentioned the incident.) Shatz first denies that Machajsky was anti‑semitic. The proof is that Machajsky’s wife was Jewish. Of course, Wladislaw Gomulka’s wife was also Jewish and that didn’t stop him from instigating a pogrom in 1968 when political necessity demanded it. Nevertheless, there seems to be no basis for believing that Machajsky apologized for the pogroms of the Black Hundreds because they were anti‑semitic; any more than he was repulsed by them because of this unfortunate trait.*
The second non‑charge from which Shatz defends Machajsky is that of being pro‑monarchist. In Shatz’s words ‘his ultimate objective was a social revolution, and he could therefore have little in common with the principles of the monarchist Black hundreds.’ But Machajsky’s kind of ‘social revolution’ was indifferent to political forms. His whole theory, as Shatz knows, was based on the principle that political forms were at best irrelevant. Indeed, in this pamphlet especially, Machajsky goes out of his way to demonstrate that democracy is the greater evil.
Shatz concludes by stating that Machajsky ‘sympathized’ with the Black Hundreds only to the extent that he regarded them as outcasts from ‘respectable’ bourgeois society and hence imbued with elemental anti‑establishment hostility.’ Machajsky, however, made it clear that he ‘sympathized’ with such elements ‘only to the extent’ that he considered them the basis of his kind of ‘social revolution.’ He was not ashamed to embrace them.
Time and again, Machajsky returns to the thesis that ‘the starving masses’ cannot be helped by political struggle or political reforms or even by revolution. The alternative he proposes is a continuous riot fomented by an underground conspiracy. In Nomad and other sympathizers of Machajsky this riot is translated as a ‘general strike’ as if Machajsky’s proposal was similar to that of the syndicalist movement. But Machajsky considered the anarchist cooperative and the syndicalist ‘one big union’ to be simply variants of the social democrats’ new society. They also were forms of dictatorship by the ‘new class’ of intellectuals. True, he does use the terms ‘stachka’ and ‘zabastovka’ – strike – to describe the principal weapon of his conspiracy. However, his most common term is ‘bunt’ which means riot.
In addition to a military or naval mutiny or a prison riot, the term is most often used to describe the peasant ‘jacquerie’ which was the traditional form of Russian popular movement for centuries. Typically, such movements were local and temporary. On occasion, they would rapidly spread over vast areas. And just as rapidly collapse. They never left behind any permanent institutions.
One way of looking at Machajsky is as an intellectual reflection of the traditional Russian peasant’s distrust of people who could read, write, and count. Any time two such people got together they would undoubtedly conspire to cheat honest folk. Given the historical experience of the Russian peasant this distrust was not completely unfounded. But the practical consequence is that anything as complicated as a strike, let alone a union is out of the question.
In his 1908 pamphlet ‘The Workers’ Conspiracy’ , Machajsky outlined how this operation would work. He spelled out what the riot – the ‘bunt’ he advocated entailed.
In their own, bourgeois, revolution the socialists understand that the enemy must be taken by surprise, they scorn governmental bans and go underground, they set up secret conspiracies to bring down the autocracy. In the workers’ revolution, which is foreign to them, the socialists shun conspiracies, forbid underground activity, demand of the workers that they take even the smallest step in their struggle openly before the eyes of the enemy, the eyes of the bourgeoisie, the police, the government. In their revolution they are content to shed blood, the worse the atrocity, the better; in the workers’ fight they forbid force, argue for peaceful struggle, against the shedding of one drop of blood. In the intelligentsia’s riots they put a revolver in everyone’s hand, and a bomb; in the workers’ riots they strike from the workers’ hands even the rocks, which the latter, unarmed, pick up. When political riots are suppressed the socialists call the whole world to help, when workers’ riots are suppressed they counsel peace and quiet. Political murder and terror the socialists praise to the skies, economic terror ‑ they condemn. The murder of a bureaucrat who oppresses the intelligentsia – that is an heroic deed. The murder of a capitalist exploiter or a lily‑handed engineer – that is a monstrous evil, deserving immediate death and eternal obloquy.[xvii]
It would be a digression here to go into the whole historical question of individual terror in the Russian movement. Presumably, most readers of this article will be aware of the fact that the Russian Social Democracy was distinguished from its predecessors by a rejection of individual terror, among other things. That tendency stood for political methods of struggle against both Tsarist autocracy and capitalist exploitation. What should be asked here is, what is Machajsky arguing for? What does his ‘bunt,’ his riot, his conspiracy come down to? Does it not amount to the same thing as the atrocities of Ravachol in the late 19th century carried out in the name of Anarchism? Or, to take a more contemporary example, how would Machajsky’s ‘workers’ conspiracy’ differ from the Red Brigades or the Red Army Fraction?
THE WORKERS’ CONSPIRACY There is another similarity between Machajsky’s argument and that of Bernstein. That is the theory of the declining working class. Common to both is the notion that modern society, contrary to Marx’s alleged view, is not breaking down into a small minority of exploiters and a vast majority of oppressed and miserable proletarians. Rather, a new middle class is growing at the expense of the extremes. This similarity of views is noted, even insisted upon, by Machajsky. It is his justification for his rejection of democracy.
The answer to Bernstein from the camp of proletarian socialism is not the denial (like some social democratic leaders) of the undoubted fact of the growth of new middle classes, but the exposure of this ‘new stratum, significant in numbers and growing’ as a new enemy of the proletariat and the call to war with it ‘to do away with all privileges.’..[xviii]
For Bernstein the conclusion is: the organized working class must avoid isolation by moderating its demands to accommodate the middle classes. It must even merge, as a minority, into a larger reform movement. For Machajsky, the conclusion is: the working class, the starving masses, will be even more isolated in a democratic state. Even a section of the working class itself will be integrated into the democratic order. Only an underground conspiracy can carry out the kind of blackmail the oppressed minority must use to achieve its ends. Machajsky does not object to the demagogic and sham character of representative institutions under capitalism. Such objections were common in the social democracy. Instead, he objects to such institutions to the extent that they do represent more or less accurately the real sentiments of the majority.
This 1908 pamphlet is most interesting for what is not in it. What is missing is any description of how the Workers’ Conspiracy will be organized. Like the anarchists, who also considered democratic forms inherently a fraud, Machajsky would seem to be under some obligation to present an alternative. No such luck. Outside of attacking the demands for political democracy and the legalization of trade union and other working class forms of organization, outside of proposing to blackmail whatever authorites are in power with a universal riot, Machajsky is silent on organizational questions. He is not vague or evasive. He just doesn’t discuss the issue at all. So far as is known, Machajsky’s few adherents followed the traditional anarchist pattern of organizational behaviour. There were a few small groups formed on the periphery of the real movement which lived a brief, if exciting, life of mutual recrimination before disbanding.[xix]
THE RUSSIAN REVOLUTION As far as we know from 1908 until 1918 Machajsky published nothing and took no part in any political activity. He lived abroad for most of this time. When the revolution broke out he returned to Russia but there is no evidence he took part in any political activity. Not until 1918, six months after the October revolution, did he write anything as far as we know. Through eighteen months of upheaval, of the most turbulent, popular mass revolution since 1789, Machajsky was silent. And when he did speak?
In The Russian Revolution written in November 1918, Machajsky tried to convince the Russian workers that nothing had happened. The Bolsheviks were still protecting capitalism.
The Bolshevik party that the workers’ trusted so deeply in October, when it promised to overturn the system of exploitation, after taking a few steps, halted like a coward and began a disgraceful retreat. …It is time finally to consider a real workers’ revolution, the seizure of factories and plants, the confiscation of the capitalists’ profits in order to realize a greater increase in wages. For this goal the same kind of unified mass is required as was required in October. The seizure by the workers of all production will only be successful if it is done all at once. Therefore, it is necessary first of all to force the soviet power to undertake a general, immediate expropriation of the large and middle bourgeoisie. All property, bringing in an income exceeding a fixed norm (say 10 thousand a year), should be confiscated; all income of the intelligentsia should be under the same maximum. [xx]
That is all there is to this pamphlet. Unlike Rosa Luxemburg and other supporters of the revolution who came out of the pre‑war marxist tradition, unlike some members of the Communist party itself, unlike Lenin himself on some days; Machajsky had no criticism to make of the restrictions on democratic liberties that the regime had already begun to take. He takes it for granted that the Mensheviks and Socialist Revolutionaries have been outlawed because they refused to proceed fast enough with the expropriation of the bourgeois. There is no mention of the argument made most frequently at the time by defenders of the Bolshevik government. That argument justified the outlawing of the opposition on the grounds that it had taken up arms against the elected soviet government. Such a charge, whatever the evidence for or against it, meant nothing to Machajsky. He wasn’t for democracy. The opposition he urges on the workers is the same as before. Not the defense of democratic rights within the revolution – what use would that be – but rather the bringing of pressure on the government through direct action.
Both soviet and western writers, pro‑Machajsky and anti‑Machajsky, claim to see his influence in the opposition that grew up beginning in 1920 in Russia. Nobody at the time seems to have noticed it. No oppositionist refers to him and there is no evidence that he had anything to do with the proliferating opposition groups. He wrote nothing even though there was plenty of discussion of the possibility of the regime spawning some sort of new class.
There is no indication that he was persecuted or silenced by the government. Such persecution did not prevent others from carrying on more or less open oppositional activity even within the ranks of the CP itself. The twenties were a time of furious political debate, public and underground. Russia was not yet a totalitarian state.
When Machajsky died he got a mildly favorable obituary in the party press which, just as mildly, criticized his views.[xxi] Of course, Machajsky may just have joined the ranks of burnt‑out ex‑revolutionaries like many others before and since. The suspicion remains, however, that his views on democracy would have been of little use to those organizing against the bureaucratization of the regime.
MAX NOMAD Machajsky himself did not, as we have seen, have anything to say on the question of fascism and stalinism. Max Nomad did. It can even be said that without Nomad’s attempt to apply Machajsky’s theory to these new phenomena, the latter would have been forgotten. It is Nomad who, in the early thirties, when the issue of a ‘New Class’ was widely discussed, claimed that Machajsky’s arguments against the pre‑war social democracy amounted to a prediction of Stalinism and fascism.[xxii] His most detailed presentation of the argument is his book Renegades and Rebels. It is in this book that he presents himself most consistently as a disciple of Machajsky [xxiii]. It is also the book in which Nomad’s ambivalent attitude towards fascism and stalinism is most apparent.
Like Machajsky, Nomad, at this point, held that, in so far as the state capitalism of the intellectuals was different from private capitalism, it was progressive. Both Machajsky and Nomad made this point consistently. It is the reason why Machajsky could make it his main demand in 1918 that the Bolsheviks immediately expropriate private property. Neither Machajsky nor Nomad usually emphasized this view, however, since it would have detracted from their attack on the new class of intellectuals.
Nevertheless, throughout his essay on Mussolini in Renegades and Rebels, Nomad, while maintaining a contemptuous attitude towards all parties, emphasizes the vitality of the new caesar.
.. he is disparaged as an erratic later‑day imitator of the classical tyrants of old, whose histrionic antics and high‑sounding pronouncements need not be taken too seriously. Still, this evaluation of Benito Mussolini fails to consider adequately the actual historical forces that have brought him to the fore. His methods of dealing with his opponents may be archaic – borrowed as they are from the Marius‑and‑Sulla or Abdul‑Hamid periods – and his various ex‑post‑facto philosophies may be reactionary, but historically speaking, the movement he personifies is something new. It is part of a new historical process – the rise to power of a new class, whose Protean character has expressed itself during the last hundred years in the most contradictory currents and activities, from the loftiest idealism of a Malatesta or Liebknecht, to its exact opposite as exemplified by the Italian dictator and his would be imitators in other lands.[xxiv]
With whatever qualifications and hesitations, this remarkable passage by the man who staked out Machajsky’s claim to be the prophet who predicted modern totalitarianism clearly places Mussolini alongside Liebknecht (presumably Karl not Wilhelm) as one of those opening the way for the ‘new order’ the ‘wave of the future.’
Let us put this into historical context. The book was published in 1932. A year before Hitler came to power. The storm troopers were brutalizing trade unionists, socialists and liberals in the streets. The German bourgeoisie was plucking up its courage, trying to decide whether or not to turn over the resources of the German state to this particular ‘wave of the future.’ And not only the German bourgeoisie. Throughout Europe and America respectable public opinion wavered on the question. Might not the fascist movement be the solution to the social problem? Fabians and New Dealers alike saw in Mussolini and Hitler serious thinkers addressing the crisis of the depression. Socialists, trade unionists and some liberals fought an uphill battle when they tried to convince public opinion of the threat posed by fascism. What is the political meaning in this historical setting of a book that sees the socialist Liebknecht, the anarchist Malatesta and Mussolini as part of the same ‘wave of the future?’
There is more. It is in this book that Nomad most clearly emphasizes the progressive character of ‘state capitalism.’ In his essay on the American Communist leader of the time, William Z. Foster, Nomad writes:
..the Communist Party regardless of the human – all-too‑human-squabbles and failings of its leaders, is drawing into its ranks all that is vigorous, combatative and enthusiastic among the dissatisfied elements of the younger generation of workers and intellectuals. They may still be unconscious of the deeper implications of the movement they are engaged in, of the lurking contradiction between the interests of its working‑class contingents and those of the intellectuals and former workers constituting its upper crust. Nevertheless, they are a great advance guard in the struggle against a bankrupt system of chaotic private capitalism. Already scores of far‑seeing economists are pointing the way by recommending one form or another of State Capitalism, with the government as the sole business concern, whose ‘stockholders’ are bureaucrats, technicians, and other intellectual workers-the new ruling class to come. The growth of the communist movement, with its menacing host of hoboes, unskilled ‘hunkeys,’ negro workers, and declassé intellectuals may hasten the process of transition to that higher form of capitalism.
A new form of class domination, State Capitalism simplifies the class struggle to a contest between manual and mental workers and may thus foreshadow the twilight of all class domination. [xxv]
Was Machajsky responsible for all this? Was he a premature apologist for Mussolini and the Stalinism of the ‘third period’? The fact is that Machajsky did not apply his analysis of the ‘new class’ of intellectuals to stalinism and fascism. It was Nomad who did that. The choice is clear. Either Machajsky should be read on his own terms – in which case he has nothing to say about post‑world war I totalitarian movements; or, Nomad’s interpretation is right and Machajsky is responsible for claiming Mussolini and Stalin as the – somewhat disreputable – heirs of the socialist movement and executors of its progressive mission. Take your pick.
Nomad himself in the late fifties and sixties began to raise questions about the ‘libertarian’ values embedded in Machajsky’s speculations on the ‘intellectuals.’ This rethinking, however, was part of Nomad’s own slide to the right. The position he came to hold was that even Machajsky secretly hankered after political power in the manner of Bakunin.* The conclusion that Nomad drew was that socialism and perhaps progress in general was not possible. Machajsky’s original cynicism about political democracy is here extended to all activity. In an article in the magazine New Politics [xxvi] he carried Machajsky’s hostility to political activity to its logical conclusion coming out for ‘pure and simple’ economic action on a piecemeal basis as the only activity the working class was capable of. Everything else, the whole history of the working class movement from its earliest days was nothing but a case of the worker being duped by the intellectuals. Machajsky’s fantasies of a general strike were no different. It is all sham. Nomad’s final position came very close to the ‘pure and simpilism’ of Samuel Gompers.
I hope my skepticism as to the manual workers, as a mass, ever becoming ‘fit’ to rule ‘in their own name,’ and my insistence on the slogan of more and more now will not earn me from H.D. (Hal Draper) the accusation that I am a Gompersian defender of the capitalist staus quo. … At best there can be a frequent change of masters who will rule ‘in the name of the masses’ and make concessions to them, lest they be displaced ‘democratically’ by another set of demagogues, likewise ruling ‘in the name of the masses.’
And the workers? Those of them who have not got it in them to become as cultured as the Reuthers or as smart as the Dubinskys, will keep on fighting for better wages and dreaming of better cars and of homes in neighborhoods not ‘infested’ by ‘inferior’ human breeds. For they belong to the same animal species as their bourgeois or neo-bourgeois ‘betters,’ with the only difference that they have less money and education and more prejudices. Yet I beleive in helping them in their struggle for a better share of the good things of life. But I have no illusions that they will turn a new leaf of human history. For history will always remain a merciless affray in which the most ruthless, the most cunning, and the most intelligent fight among themselves for the best places on the back of the underdog.
WHAT WAS MACHAJSKY? This essay began with the question ‘who was Machajsky.’ The available material in French and English provides a generally adequate answer to this question with one or two notable omissions. Where these accounts fall down is in their attempts to asses the significance of Machajsky’s writings and place him in a political context. It is this inability to see the link between Machajsky’s sympathy for the underclass and hatred for what he saw as the self‑seeking false prophets of socialism on the one hand, and his antidemocratic politics on the other, that makes these accounts confusing and incoherent. The fundamental contempt of this despairing liberal for the untutored masses is not faced.
All the writers on Machajsky approach their subject sympathetically. He was after all a libertarian whose hostility to the bureaucratic crust forming around the legal labor movement led him to see it as the forerunner of a new class and, therefore, to anticipate stalinism. When confronted with Machajsky’s contempt for all democratic institutions as inherently corrupt they fall back in confusion. As we have seen, they fail to mention Machajsky’s praise for the Black Hundreds. The result is a picture out of focus. Only Alexandre Skidra manages a clear picture, by adjusting his camera so that the disturbing background fades out altogether.
Was Machajsky a prescient critic of stalinism and fascism or was he a forerunner of those movements? I would suggest that Machajsky, and the anarchist movement whose theory and practice were so close to his, were predisposed in certain ways to the demagogy of a plebian movement whose anger was directed at social democratic or labor parties and unions.
The ideological bridge between social democracy and stalinism, as has been noted before, was the identification of socialism with nationalization of industry and state planning. Machajsky’s virtue lies in his emphasis on this identification as the defining characteristic of the right wing of the socialist movement, as the driving force behind revisionism. For him, of course, there wasn’t any left wing of the social democracy. There was just more or less rhetoric covering up the lust of the intellectuals for government and union jobs.
Is there a similar bridge in the case of anarchism and Machajsky? Doesn’t the hostility to all forms of representative democracy provide such a bridge? The emphasis on the right of the ‘militant minority’ to act without regard not just for parliamentary majorities but for the majority opinion of the working class in whose name this minority presumed to speak, the cult of action for action’s sake, the hostility towards the ‘authority’ of the elected leaders of unions and workers’ parties all predisposed anarchists and Makhaevists to accept the antidemocratic demagogy of the fascist and stalinist movements.
I do not wish to replace the slogan ‘Leninism leads to Stalinism’ with an equally hack slogan like Anarchism/Makhaevism leads to Stalinism/fascism.’ There were many steps in the passage from pre-World War I syndicalism, anarchism or makhaevism to stalinism or fascism. Not all of these steps, or even the most important, were ideological. Nevertheless, these were all people who took politics seriously. They required some ideological validation of their actions.
None of this is of purely academic interest. The political responses of Machajsky to the political backwardness of the labor movement are common today. That is the reason for the revival of interest in him. In the sixties the same hostility towards a conservative labor movement and representative democracy became the characteristic of the dominant political currents on the left. The same glorification of the ‘spontaneous’ semi‑insurrectional tendencies of the ‘underclass’ resurfaced. When the New Left gave birth to monstrosities like the Red Brigades or the one-hundred percent American Weatherman faction of the SDS more sober elements were as confused as our Machajsky experts are over the latter’s embrace of the Black Hundreds.
* Machajsky’s discovery that trade unions are really nothing but a device for controlling the workers is one of the oldest traditions on the left. It was common in the Chartist movement in the 1840s. Marx and Engels were peculiar in their emphasis on the trade union movement as a progressive force even when led by reformists. Despite their influence anti-union attitudes were rife in the Second International even among people – good people – who thought of themselves as Marxists. Rosa Luxemburg is a sad example of this tendency. In Poland she supported the attempt of the social democratic party to keep the unions under formal party control while in Germany, where this was impossible, she simply ignored the movement even though her support in the party came from the ranks of the organized workers.
* As Mendel and others have pointed out Bakunin’s schemes for an underground conspiracy organized along totalitarian lines remained largely fantasy. In the case of Nechayev, however, Bakunin certainly lent his support to an attempt to organize such a conspiracy. He defended Nechayev’s use of murder as a disciplinary tool in building this underground organization. Even if Nechayev’s organization was more of a clique representing no real threat to the Tsarist authorities, Bakunin is still responsible for endorsing the methods used.
The most notorious case of Bakunin’s conspiratorial activity, of course, was not directed at any government. His Alliance of Social Democracy was, rather, an attempt to ‘rule or ruin’ the most prominent workers’ organization in existence, the International Workingmen’s Association.
* Machajsky, by the way, overemphasizes the extent of the isolation of the social democrats. Especially towards the end of the movement, when it became increasingly difficult to present the Tsarist authorities as benevolent or even neutral, social democratic propaganda began to have more effect. Within a few months the Zubatov created Independent Labor Party that had been so influential fell apart.
** This version of Machajsky’s earlier pamphlets may be self-bowdlerized. On the publication of his first pamphlet Machajsky was treated as simply another defender of orthodox social democracy. It is hard to see how this could be if the pamphlet were in the form it is in Umstvennii Rabochii.
* The emphasis in this passage is Machajsky’s. It is he who emphasizes that it is true that the Black Hundreds were allies of the secret police while the intelligenty fought for political freedom. It is he who emphasizes that the former are to be supported when they beat up the socialists.
For some reason Shatz leaves this material emphasized by Machajsky out. The full quote is in Syrkin.
See Syrkin p.67, Shatz pp 242-243. Both give the reference in Bourzhuaznaia Revoliutsia as p. 51.
* This statement has to be qualified. I have not seen a copy of Burzhuaznaia Revoliutsia. The Institute for Social History in Amsterdam has lost its copy and I know of no other. However, since Syrkin did have a copy and is critical of Machajsky, the fact that he does not mention any anti-semitic sentiments appears to be pretty good negative evidence.
* In his article in Le Contrat Social Nomad argues that Machajsky aimed secretly at a dictatorship of his revolutionary band in the manner of Bakunin. The latter’s secret doctrines are no longer secret having been published far and wide. No such >smoking gun’ has been found for Machajsky. Nomad’s evidence is a private conversation with Machajsky’s widow in 1934. As he reports it in the article the conversation is little more than an attempt at entrapment on Nomad’s part. Nomad never seems to have come to grips with Machajsky’s real politics. In Bakunin’s case the underground conspiratorial attack on democratic organization was explicitly justified as making it possible for the totalitarian band to exercise real power. AAnarchy’ disrupted democratic authority in order to make this possible. The hostility towards democracy and democratic authority in the state and in the workers’ movement were just as strong for Machajsky but there is no evidence that he ever planned to go farther than his Astrike.’
His band was not organized on totalitarian lines even in theory. What is more in his 1918 pamphlet Russkaya Revolutsia, Machajsky argued for support for the Bolshevik government as against the Whites on the grounds that only under such a democratic government was his conspiracy possible. The 1905 emphasis on democracy as the greater evil disappeared under real revolutionary conditions.
[i]. Alexandre Skirda, Le Socialisme des Intellectuels, Editions du Seuil, Paris 1979.
[ii]. Max Nomad, AUn Meconnu: W. Makhaiski,’ Le Contrat Social, 1968)
[iii]. Paul Avrich, AWhat is Makhaevism ?,’ Soviet Studies (JULY 1965); Anthony D’Agostino, AIntelligentsia Socialism and the Workers’ Revolution,’ International Review of Social History, Vol. XIV,(1969); Marshal Shatz, AMachajsky,’International Review of Social History, Vol. XV (1969).
[iv]. Max Nomad, ALe Socialisme des Intellectuels,’ La Revolution Proletarienne, 1934.
[v]. Jan Waclaw Machajsky, Russkaya Revolutsia, Moscow (1918) reprinted in Umstvennii Rabochii, Mezhdunarodnoe Internationnalnoe Izdatelstvo. (1968)
[vi]. One serious Soviet Study does mention this fact.
See L. Syrkin, Machaevshchina, Gosudarstvennoe Sotsial’no-Ekonomicheskoe Izdatel’stvo, Moscow and Leningrad. (1931)
[vii]. Jeremiah Schneiderman, Sergei Zubatov and Revolutionary Marxism, Cornell University Press, Ithaca NY (1976)
[viii]. Schneiderman, Sergei Zubatov, p. 328
[ix]. Machajsky, Umstvennii Rabochii, p. 51
[x]. For a discussion of Marx and Engels views on intellectuals and intellectual workers see Hal Draper,Karl Marx’s Theory of Revolution, Vol. II, Monthly Review Press, New York and London,(1978) p. 481 ff.
[xi]. For the most recent summing up of Bakunin’s lifelong fascination with conspiratorial organization and dictatorship before and after his relatively brief Aanarchist’ phase see Arthur P. Mendl, Roots of Apocalypse, Praeger, New York (1980)
[xii]. See Paul Avrich, The Russian Anarchists, Princeton University Press, Princeton NJ (1967) for a discussion of the Russian Anarchists treatment of Unions.
[xiii]. See Solomon M. Schwartz,The Russian Revolution of 1905, The University of Chicago Press, Chicago and London (1967)
[xiv]. Marshall S. Shatz, AThe Makhaevists and the Russian Revolutionary Movement,’ The International Revue for Social History, vol. XV (1969)
[xv]. Burzhuaznaia Revoliutsia, p. 80 quoted in Syrkin p. 33
[xvi]. For a discussion of this singularly unappetizing movement see John Joseph Brock Jr., The Theory and Practice of the Union of the Russian People 1905-1907: A Case Study of ABlack Hundred’ Politics, Unpublished Ph.D Dissertation, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor Michigan(1972). University Microfilms no. 73-11,052
[xvii]. See Rabochii Zagavor pp. 49,50.
[xviii]. Umstvennii Rabochii p.147.
[xix]. Umstvennii Rabochii, p. 13
[xx]. Umstvennii Rabochii, p. 354.
[xxi]. Albert Parry, Umstvennii Rabochii, Introduction p. 20
[xxii]. Revolution Proletarienne,
[xxiii]. According to Parry in Umstvennii Rabochii Nomad actually broke with Machajsky in 1910. Umstvennii Rabochii p. 19.
[xxiv]. Rebels and Renegades, p. 262.
[xxv]. Rebels and Renegades, p.390.
[xxvi]. Max Nomad, AIs There a Socialism From Below,’ New Politics, Vol. V, No. 2.