Martin Buber, Paths in Utopia (1949).
MARX AND THE RENEWAL OF SOCIETY
We have seen that it is the goal of Utopian socialism so-called to substitute society for State to the greatest degree possible, moreover a society that is "genuine" and not a State in disguise. The prime conditions for a genuine society can be summed up as follows: it is not an aggregate of essentially unrelated individuals, for such an aggregate could only be held together by a "political", i.e. a coercive principle of government; it must be built up of little societies on the basis of communal life and of the associations of these societies; and the mutual relations of the societies and their associations must be determined to the greatest possible extent by the social principle -- the principle of inner cohesion, collaboration and mutual stimulation. In other words: only a structurally rich society can claim the inheritance of the State. This goal can be attained neither by a change in the order of government, i.e. those who dispose of the means of power, alone; nor by a change in the order of ownership, i.e. those who dispose of the means of production, alone; nor yet by any laws and institutions governing the forms of social life from outside, alone -- nor by a combination of all these. All these things are necessary at certain stages of the transformation, with the restriction, of course, that no coercive order shall result which would standardize the whole and not tolerate the emergence of those elements of spontaneity, internal dynamism and diversity so indispensable to the evolution of a genuine society. What, however, is essential, so essential that all these phases should only subserve its full implementation, is the growth of the genuine society itself, partly from already existing societies to be renewed in form and meaning, partly from societies to be built anew. The more such a society is actually or potentially in being at the time of the changes, the more it
will be possible to realize socialism as an actuality in the changed order, that is, to obviate the danger of the power-principle -- be it in political or economic form or both -- finding entry again, and of the human relations -- the real life of society -- remaining, underneath the changed surface of laws and institutions, as hopelessly out of joint and askew as ever they were under the capitalist regime. Those changes in the economic and political order inevitably imply, as regards the realization of socialism, the necessary removal of obstacles, but no more and no less. Without such a change the realization of socialism remains nothing but an idea, an impulse and an isolated experiment; but without the actual re-structuring of society the change of order is only a facade. It is not to be supposed that the change comes first and the re-structuring afterwards; a society in transformation may well create for itself the instruments it needs for its maintenance, for its defence, for the removal of obstacles, but changed power-relations do not of themselves create a new society capable of overcoming the power-principle. "Utopian" socialism regards the various forms of Co-operative Society as being the most important cells for social re-structure; and the more "Utopianism" clarifies its ideas the more patently does the leading role seem to fall to the Producer-cum-Gonsumer Cooperative. The Co-operative is not an end in itself for the "Utopian", not even when a large measure of socialism has been successfully realized within it; the point is rather to produce the substance which will then be released by the new order, established in its own right so as to unify the multifarious cells. Genuine "utopian" socialism can be termed "topical" socialism in a specific sense: it is not without topographical character, it seeks to realize itself in a given place and under given conditions, that is, "here and now", and to the greatest degree possible here and now. But it regards the local realization (and this has become increasingly clear as the idea has developed) as nothing but a point of departure, a beginning, something that must be there for the big realization to join itself on to; that must be there if this realization is to fight for its freedom and win universal validity; that must be there if the new society is to arise out of it, out of all its cells and those they make in their likeness.
Let us, at this juncture, put the decisive questions of means and ends to Marx and Marxism.
Right from his earliest socialistic formulations up to the full maturity of his thought Marx conceived the end in a way that comes very close to "utopian" Socialism. As early as in August, 1844, he was writing (in his essay Critical Glosses): "Revolution as such -- the overthrow of existing power and the dissolution of the old conditions -- is a political act. But without Revolution socialism cannot carry on. Socialism needs this political act in so far as it needs destruction and dissolution. But when its organizing activity begins, when its ultimate purpose, its soul emerges, socialism will throw the political husk away." We must read this in conjunction with the following passage written earlier on in the same year (On the Jewish Question): "Only when man has recognized and organized his 'forces prOpres' as social forces [it is therefore not necessary, as Rousseau thinks, to change man's nature, to deprive him of his 'forces propres' and give him new ones of a social character] and, consequently, no longer cuts off his social power from himself in the form of political power [i.e. no longer establishes the State as the sphere of organized rule] only then will the emancipation of mankind be achieved." Since Marx is known even in his early days to have regarded politics as obviously nothing but the expression and elaboration of class-rule, politics must accordingly be abolished with the abolition of the latter: the man who is no longer "sundered from his fellow-man and from the community" is no longer a political being. This, however, is not regarded as the first consequence of some post-revolutionary development. Rather, as is clearly stated in both the above passages, Revolution as such, i.e. Revolution in its purely negative, "dissolvent" capacity, is the last political act. As soon as the organizing activity begins on the terrain prepared by the overthrow, as soon as the positive function of socialism starts, the political principle will be superseded by the social. The sphere in which this function is exercised is no longer the sphere of the political rulership of man by man. Marx's dialectical formulation leaves no doubt as to what the sequence of events actually is in his opinion: first the political act of social revolution will annihilate not merely the Class State, but the State as a power-formation altogether, whereas the political revolution was the very thing that "constituted the state as a public concern, that is, as the real State". On the other hand, "the organizing activity" will begin, i.e. the reconstruction of society, only after the complete
overthrow of existing power -- whatever organizing activity preceded the Revolution was only organization for the struggle. From this we can see with the greatest clarity what it is that connects Marx with "utopian" socialism: the will to supersede the political principle by the social principle, and what divides him from it: his opinion that this supersession can be effected by exclusively political means -- hence by way of sheer suicide, so to speak, on the part of the political principle.
This opinion is rooted deep in Marx's dialectical view of history, which found classical formulation fifteen years later in the preface to his book A Critique of Political Economy.
Yet, in the concluding section of his polemic against Proud-hon, we encounter what appears to be a not inconsiderable limitation. "The working-class," he says, "will, in the course of its development (dans le cours de son developpement), replace the old bourgeois society by an association which will exclude classes and their antagonisms, and there will no longer be any political power in its proper sense (il n'y aura plus de pouvoir politique, proprement dit), since political power is nothing but the official sum (le resume officiel) of the antagonisms obtaining in bourgeois society." "No political power in its proper sense" -- that means: no political power in the sense of an expression and elaboration of class-rule, which is quite self-evident if class-rule really has been abolished. Let us leave aside for the moment the question which obviously never entered into Marx's field of vision, namely, whether in those circumstances the proletariat would really be the "last" class, with whose accession to power class-rule would collapse altogether, that is, whether a new social differentiation would not arise within the victorious proletariat itself, one which, even though the class-designation might not apply, might very well lead to a new system of domination. There still remains, however, the no less momentous question as to the nature and extent of political power in the "improper" sense, that is to say, the political power that no longer rests on class-rule but persists after the classes have been abolished. Might it not be possible for such power to make itself no less felt, indeed more felt, than that based on class-rule, especially so long as it was a matter of "defending the Revolution" -- so long, in fact, as humanity as a whole had not abolished class-rule, or even, perhaps, so long as humanity had not adopted the view or the realization of socialism prevailing in that particular State in
which the victory of the proletariat had been won? But the thing that concerns us most of all is this: so long, in such a State or States, as this fixed point of view prevails, and prevails with all the technique and instruments of power at the disposal of our age, how can that spontaneity, that free social form-seeking and form-giving, that unfettered power of social experimentation and decision so indispensable to the realization of socialism and the emergence of a socialist form of society -- how can they possibly get to work? By omitting to draw a clear line of demarcation between power in its proper and improper senses Marx opens the door to a type of political principle which, in his opinion, does not and cannot exist: a type which is not the expression and elaboration of class-rule, but is rather the expression and elaboration of power-tendencies and power-struggles not characterized by class, on the part of groups and individuals. Political power in the improper sense would accordingly be "the official sum of antagonisms" either within the proletarian class itself or, more precisely, within the nation in which "class-rule has been abolished".
His impressions of the problematical revolution of 1848 served to sharpen Marx's critical attitude to experiments in social re-structure. If the "little experiments, inevitably abortive" had already been censured in the Manifesto, now (in the report The Class War in France of 1850) "doctrinaire socialism" was accused of "wishing away the revolutionary conflict of the classes and the need for it by means of petty artifices and gross sentimentalities", and (in the Eighteenth Brumaire of 1852) the French proletariat was reprobated for having partly committed itself to "doctrinaire experiments, exchange-banks and workers' associations", and thus to a "movement which, having given up the struggle to overthrow the old world despite all the means at its disposal, prefers to seek its own salvation behind society's back, privately, inside the narrow framework of its existence, and which will thus necessarily come to grief".
Marx's faith in the impending revolution was still unshaken at that time, but his confidence in an impending World Revolution in the full sense of the word began to waver. In 1858 he wrote to Engels: "The difficult question for us is this. On the continent the Revolution is imminent and will immediately assume a socialist form. But will it not necessarily
be crushed in this small corner of the earth [meaning the continent of Europe!], seeing that over a far greater area the movement of bourgeois society is still in the ascendant?" His doubts seem to have deepened still more in the following years. On the other hand he became more and more impressed with the significance of the extra-revolutionary political struggle. After another six years this was worked out inter alia in the "Inaugural Address to the International Workers' Association". Having praised the Ten-Hour-Law as the "triumph of a principle", he went on to call the rise of the Co-operative Movement "a still greater triumph for the political economy of labour over the political economy of capital". The value of these great social experiments, he said, could not be over-estimated; for the workers, who had set up co-operative factories without any help at all, had thereby proved that wage-labour "is destined to give way to associated labour". The co-operative system, however, if it was to free the masses, needed "developing on a national scale and consequently promoting by national means", hence precisely what Louis Blanc and Lassalle had hoped and striven for. But such a thing would not be conceded by the big landed proprietors and the capitalists of their own free will. "Therefore," he ends, it is "the great duty of the working class" to seize political power. We must give this word "therefore" our full attention. Labour is to win political power in the parliaments in order to sweep the obstacles out of the way of the Go-operative Movement. Marx is here ascribing a central significance to co-operation, and in particular to the Producer Co-operatives. Although it is stressed, as also in Resolutions Marx drew up for the Geneva Congress of 1866, that the Co-operative Movement was not capable of remodelling capitalist society of itself, it is none the less acknowledged as the proper way to remodel it, save that for this to succeed the acquisition of State power by the workers was essential. At this point Marx comes remarkably close to re-structural thinking in practice without accepting it in principle. Worthy of mention in this connection is the fact that he clearly recognizes the danger of the Co-operatives degenerating into ordinary bourgeois joint-stock companies, and even recommends the right remedy: that all the workers employed should receive the same share.
But less than three months before the opening of the Geneva Congress for which he drew up this Resolution, Marx wrote to
Engels about the tendencies expressed by the French in a debate of the General Council of the International: "Proudhonized Stirnerism. Splitting everything up into little 'groupes' or 'communes' and then making a 'company' of them, but not a State." It is here that the undercurrent of State Centralism creeps unmistakably into Marx's ideas if only by implication. The federalism of Proudhon he is attacking has not the slightest wish to split everything up into communes, it only wants to confer relatively extensive autonomy on the existing communes and combine them in units, whose own combination would represent a more organic form of community than the existing State. As against this Marx once more holds fast to the State as such.
But now, another five years later, a revolutionary event exerted a new influence on Marx's views, an event stronger than any preceding it and tending in another direction: the Paris Commune. In one of his most significant writings, the address to the General Council of the International on the civil war in France, he sketched a picture of the growth, activities and aims of the Commune. The historical reliability of this picture has been disputed, but that does not concern us here: the picture is a confession and one that is of great importance for our theme, which is the variations in Marx's views concerning the evolution of a new society.
What distinguished the Commune in Marx's eyes toto genere from all earlier endeavours, "its true secret", is that it was "essentially a working-class government". That is to be understood literally: Marx means a government not merely appointed by the working-class but also actually and factually exercised by it. The Commune is "the self-government of the producers". Born of universal suffrage and elected by the Parisians themselves, representation of this kind, consisting as it does of members who can be replaced at any time and who are bound by the definite instructions of their electors -- such representation "should not be a parliamentary but a working body, executive and legislative at the same time". The same form of organization was to be provided for every commune in France right down to the smallest village. The provincial communes were to administer their common affairs in the district parliament and the district assemblies in their turn were to send deputies to the national delegation. In place of centralized State-power originating from the era of absolute monarchy, "with its
omnipresent organs", there would consequently emerge a largely decentralized community. "The few, but important, functions, still left over for a Central Government were to be transferred to communal, i.e. strictly answerable officials." The decentralization, however, would not be a fragmentation but a reconstitution of national unity on an organic basis, and would mean a reactivating of the nation's forces and therefore of the national organism as a whole. "The communal constitution would have rendered up to the body social all the powers which have hitherto been devoured by the parasitic excrescence of the 'State', which battens on society and inhibits its free movement. By this deed alone it would have brought about the regeneration of France." It is obvious that Marx is speaking here not of certain historical State-forms but of the State in general. By becoming something "self-evident" local self-government renders State-power "superfluous". Never did any "utopian" Socialist express himself more radically on this point.
But the political structure of the Commune is, for Marx, only a prelude to the real and decisive thing -- the great social transformation to which, with its plans and its dispositions, it would inevitably have led had it not been destroyed. He sees in the Commune "the finally discovered political form, in whose sign the economic liberation of labour can march forward". The Commune wanted "to make individual property a truth, by converting the means of production, land and capital into the mere tools of free and associated labour", and labour amalgamated in Producer Co-operatives at that. "If Co-operative production," Marx cries, "is not to remain a snare and a delusion, if it is to oust the capitalist system, if the Co-operatives as a whole are to regulate national production according to a common plan and thereby take it under their own control -- what else would that be, gentlemen, but Communism, and a Communism that is possible?" That is, a communism that proves its possibility in the teeth of the widespread notion of its "impossibility". A federalism of communes and Co-operatives -- for that is precisely what this picture sketches -- is thus acknowledged by Marx as genuine communism. To be sure, he still sets his face against all "Utopianism". The working-class "has no cut-and-dried Utopias to introduce by a plebiscite". The communal and co-operative system which it wants to build up into a new community and a new society,
is not a contrivance of the mind: only out of the reality of the association of old and new generations, the reality that is gradually emerging from the nation itself, out of these things alone can the working-class build its work and its house. "It has no ideals to realize, it has only to set free those elements of the new society which have already developed in the womb of the collapsing bourgeois society." Here we have that notion of "development" again, dating from 1847; but this time it is completely unequivocal and indubitably meant in the sense of a pre-revolutionary process, one, moreover, whose nature consists in the formation of small, federable units of men's work and life together, of communes and Co-operatives, in respect to which it is the sole task of the Revolution to set them free, to unite them and endow them with authority. This certainly accords at all points with the famous formula given in the Critique of Political Economy twelve years previously, as regards the new and higher conditions of production which, however, will never supplant the old "until the material conditions for their existence have been gestated in the womb of the old society itself". But it is nowhere hinted in the report of the General Council that the Paris Commune miscarried because the gestation had not been completed. And the "elements of the new society" that had developed in the womb of the old, collapsing one -- they were for the most part those very Cooperatives which had been formed in France under the influence of "utopian" socialism, just as the political federalism of the communes Marx described had been formed under the influence of Proudhon. These Co-operatives it was that were characterized as "little experiments, inevitably abortive" in the Communist Manifesto; but had the Commune triumphed -- and everything in the Report indicates that it could have triumphed but for this or that particular circumstance -- then they would have become the cell-substance of the new society.
From this standpoint -- i.e. of Marxist politics of revolution -- statements like the following one by Engels in 1873 can therefore be understood: "Had the autonomists been content to say that the social organization of the future would admit authority only within the bounds unavoidably set by the conditions of production themselves, then we could have agreed with them." As if Proudhon had not time and again emphasized the necessity of constantly setting boundaries between possible decentralization and necessary centralization! Another time
(1874) Engels says -- adhering strictly to the formulation Marx gave in the Report of the Commission set up by the Hague Congress in 1872 to examine the activities of the Bakuninists -- that all socialists were agreed that the State would wither away as a result of the social Revolution-to-be, and political authority with it; but that the "anti-authoritarians" were wrong to demand "that the political State should be abolished at a blow before the social conditions producing it were abolished". "They demand," Engels continues, "that the first act of the social revolution should be the abolition of authority." In actual fact no prudent anti-authoritarian socialist had ever demanded anything but that the revolution should begin by curing the hypertrophy of authority, its proliferation, and from then on concentrate on reducing it to proportions that would correspond to the circumstances given at any time. Engels answers the alleged demand as follows: "Have you ever seen a revolution, gentlemen? A revolution is certainly the most authoritarian thing there is." If that means that the revolutionary struggle as such must proceed under far-sighted leadership and strict discipline, so much cannot be doubted; but if it means that in the revolutionary epoch (of which nobody can say when it will end), the whole population is to be limitlessly determined in all branches of its life and thought by one central authoritarian will, then it is inconceivable how such a stage can ever evolve into socialism.
Four years after his paper on the Commune Marx, in a letter sharply criticizing the programme sketched for the Unification Congress of Gotha, set out afresh his misgivings about the Co-operatives, with the obvious political intent of bringing one of the chief points in the programme of the Lassallites into question and thus undermining the possibility of any compromise with them. Certainly Marx was only setting his face against the "establishment of Co-operative Societies with State aid", though allowing Co-operative Production to stand as the socialist goal; but expressions like "specific miracle-cure", "sectarian movement" and even "reactionary workers" in connexion with Buchez' programme are clear enough. Despite that, however, the paragraph dealing with Producer Associations financed out of State Credit was accepted by the Congress.
But nothing affords us a deeper insight into Marx's ambivalent attitude to the question of the internal transformation of society
and the conditions for it than his correspondence with Vera Zasulitch in 1881.
The publication of these documents by Ryazanov is therefore particularly valuable, because they acquaint us with Marx's drafts, some of them very detailed, for his answering letter; as published the drafts run to more than 900 lines, with innumerable deletions, emendations, amplifications; the letter itself runs only to about 40.
Vera Zasulitch, "the woman of the moment, the woman with a mission," as Stepniak calls her, had written to Marx from Geneva to ask him, as author of Capital, the first volume of which was "enjoying great popularity in Russia" and was also playing a part particularly in discussions on the agrarian question and the Russian village community -- to ask him what he thought about the prospects of the village community in the future. It was, she said, "a question of life and death" for the Russian Socialist Party, and on it also depended the personal fate of the revolutionary Socialists. For, either the village communities, once free of the excessive taxes and tributes as well as of the Government's arbitrary dealings, were capable in themselves of developing in a socialist direction, i.e. of gradually organizing the production and distribution of goods on a collective basis, in which case the revolutionary Socialist would have to "devote all his powers to the freeing of the communities and their development" -- or else, as many people who called themselves Marxists declared, basing themselves on Marx, the village community was an "archaic form" condemned by history and scientific socialism alike to perdition. In that case the Socialists, who would seek in vain to calculate in how many decades the land would pass out of the hands of the Russian peasants into those of the bourgeoisie and in how many centuries capitalism in Russia might conceivably reach a stage of development similar to that in Western Europe, would have to restrict themselves to propaganda among the urban workers, propaganda which "will continue to pour into the masses of the peasants who, as a result of the dissolution of the village community, will be thrown on to the streets of the great cities in their search for wages". One can see that as a matter of fact it is nothing less than the decision whether or not the work of the Socialists in Russia could have any assured future for the next few generations. Must Russia go the way of Western Europe where, with the rise of Advanced Capitalism,
the "archaic" forms of community necessarily dissolve of themselves, and is there no alternative but to prepare a class-conscious core of urban proletariat for the still distant time of industrialization? On the other hand if there exists, by reason of her special agrarian institutions, a special way for Russia, quite apart, as it were, from the general dialectics of history, a way by which to imbue the traditional pattern of communal ownership and production with Socialist spirit; if one could, by developing this pattern from within and obtaining a better position for it externally, create an organic social reality which would ripen into the Revolution, and, liberated by the latter and established in full freedom and right, which would thereupon constitute itself as the backbone of the new society -- if all this, then there is indeed a great and immediate constructive-revolutionary task which may lead quite soon, perhaps, to the realization of socialism. The decision as to which of the two was the historical truth was left in Marx's hands.
His exertions to give the right answer are of a thoroughness and scrupulosity worthy of admiration. Already before this he had occupied himself with the same knotty problem, and now he attacked it afresh with especial intensity. Again and again we see him cancelling one formulation of great delicacy and precision only to seek another still more adequate. Although but a series of fragmentary sketches these notes seem to me the most important attempt that has been made to grasp synthetically the theme of the Russian village community.
Owing to the paucity of historical material the village community is still one of the least understood departments of ethnic sociology, within which the Russian type, whose development is extremely poorly documented, forms a perplexing chapter. In accordance with the prevailing scientific opinion of his time, Marx was inclined to attribute a very early origin to it. To-day we are wont to regard it as rather late in origin and as an outcome of Russia's fiscal policy. But this is surely not the final word. Research will, I think (as important works of our own day indicate) establish that Marx was not so wrong as people assume and that the fiscal system did not create new social forms, but made use of old ones. But here we have to concern ourselves not so much with historical inquiry as with an inquiry into the socialist prospects of the village community, as Marx saw them.
Marx declared in his drafts, in connexion with a remark of the
ethnologist Morgan, that the present crisis of capitalism would end by modern society returning to a higher form of the archaic type of communal ownership and production, that is, by its going over to the communist pattern. Hence we were not to let the word "archaic" alarm us -- for in this direction lay the golden opportunity for the Russian village community. It had a big advantage over all other archaic communities of the same type: it alone in Europe had maintained itself on a wide national scale. It would not, therefore, as had been the fate of communal ownership in Western Europe, disappear with social progress. Rather, it might "gradually slough off its primitive characteristics and develop as the direct basis of collective production on a national scale". Marx points out that he had, in his "Capital", confined the "historical fatality" of the accumulation of capital which progressively expropriates all property accruing from personal labour, expressly to Western Europe. Since the land in the hands of the Russian peasants had never been their private property, such a line of development was inapplicable to them. Instead, one needed simply to replace the Government institution of the Volost, which "links a fair number of villages together", by a "peasant assembly elected by the commune itself and serving as the economic and administrative organ of their interests". The transition from work in allotments to full co-operative work would easily be accomplished then, in which connexion Marx stresses the familiarity of the peasants with the communal work-contracts of the Artel1 as an added inducement to this. The inevitable economic need for such a process would make itself felt as soon as the village community, freed of its burdens and with more land at its disposal, was in normal circumstances; and as for the necessary material conditions, Russian society, having lived so long at the expense of the peasant, surely owed him the requisite wherewithal for such a transition. It is clear that Marx is thinking of a change that can actually be accomplished in the circumstances given. But on the other hand he draws emphatic attention to a peculiarity of the Russian village community which afflicts it with impotence and makes all historical initiative impossible for it. By this he means its isolation; it is a "localized microcosm", and no connexion exists between the life of one commune and that of the others. In other words, what Marx is really missing without consciously making use of
the idea, is the trend towards federation. This peculiarity, he says, is not to be found everywhere as the characteristic of this type of community; but "wherever it is found it has given rise to a more or less centralized despotism over the communes". Only by means of a general revolt can the isolation of the Russian village community be broken. Its present state is (for reasons which Marx does not specify) economically untenable; "for the Russian communes to be saved a Russian revolution is needed". But the revolution must come in time and it must "concentrate all its powers on securing the free rise of the village community". Then the latter will soon develop "comme element regenerateur de la societe russe et comme element de superiorite sur les pays asservis par le regime capitaliste".
In the short letter that Marx actually sent to Vera Zasulitch, a single sentence follows the reference to the relevant passages in his Capital. The sentence runs: "The analysis given in my Capital offers, therefore, no reasons either for or against the viability of the village commune; however, the special study I have devoted to it and the material for which I have sought in the original sources convince me that the commune is the mainstay of social regeneration in Russia, but that, if it is to function as such, one must first of all eliminate the injurious influences which work upon it from all sides, and then secure for it the normal conditions of spontaneous development."
The basis of the argument is so enormously compressed that even the message it manages to convey can hardly be grasped in its proper significance. Evidently this process of compression was inevitable, since in the drafts the pros and cons confronted one another in such a manner as to be irreconcilable in fact if not in appearance. In theory Marx affirmed the possibility of a pre-revolutionary development of the commune in the direction desired, but in practice he made its "salvation" dependent on the timely appearance of the revolution. Here as elsewhere the determining factor is clearly the political element: the fear lest constructive work should sap the strength of the revolutionary impetus. Since, however, the political element in Marx was not offset by any insight into the significance of social re-structure, the pros and cons had ultimately to be replaced by a sentence which could hardly appear to Vera Zasulitch as an answer to her fateful question. Even in his own lifetime Marx, as Tonnies says, was something of an oracle who, on
account of the ambiguity of his answers, was often petitioned in vain. At any rate Vera Zasulitch, in the answer to her question as to whether the revolutionary socialist should devote all his strength to the freeing and developing of the communes, could have heard no "yes" echoing out of Marx's letter, which for her was of the highest authority.
Not long afterwards she wrote (in the preface to the Russian translation of Engels' Evolution of Socialism from Utopia to Science, published in 1884) a few passages on the village community which draw the conclusion from Marx's oracle: that the gradual liquidation of communal ownership was inevitable; that Russia's immediate future belonged to capitalism, but that the socialist revolution in the West would put a term to capitalism in the East as well, "and then the remnants of the institution of communal ownership would render a great service to Russia". In his Foreword to the Russian translation (also by Vera Zasulitch) of the Communist Manifesto in 1882, Engels had given a somewhat different answer to the question he himself formulated obviously under the influence of ^larx. "Can the Russian village community," he asked, "which is already an extremely corrupt form of the original communal ownership of land, pass over direct to a higher, communist form of ownership -- or must it first of all go through the process of liquidation familiar to us in the historical development of the West?" His answer (as usual, less equivocal and more massive than Marx's, but also less regardful of the profundity of the problem) is as follows: "Should the Russian Revolution become the signal for a workers' revolution in the West, so that both complement one another, then the Russian communal ownership of to-day might serve as the starting-point for communist development." Later he seems to have grown more sceptical, but he avoided (so Gustav Mayer reports) "getting involved in the internal struggles between those Russian Socialists who trusted more to the peasants and those who trusted more to the rise of an industrial proletariat".
As against Eduard Bernstein, who rightly pointed out the similarity between the programme of the Paris Commune as reported by Marx and Proudhon's federalism, Lenin declared emphatically that Marx was a centralist and that his statements in the Civil War in France show "no trace of a deviation from centralism". Stated in such general terms this view is untenable. When Marx says that the few functions "which will then
remain for centralization" should be handed over to communal officials, he means without a doubt: decentralize as many State-functions as possible and change those that must remain centralized into administrative functions, not, however, only after some post-revolutionary development lasting an indefinite time, but inside the revolutionary action itself -- thus realizing what, according to Engels' well-known criticism of the draft to the Erfurt programme, "every French department, every parish possessed: complete self-administration". Nevertheless, Lenin was not wrong; Marx always remained a centralist at heart. For him the communes were essentially political units, battle-organs of the revolution. Lenin asks, "If the proletariat were to organize itself absolutely freely into communes, and were to unite the activities of these communes in a common front against Capital . . . would that not be . . . proletarian centralism?" Of course it would, and to this extent Lenin and not Bernstein is Marx's faithful interpreter. But that is true merely of the revolution as such, which -- in the sense of Marx's definition of the commune -- is not a "development" spread out over several generations, but a coherent historical act, the act of smashing capitalism and placing the means of production in the hands of the proletariat. But in the French programme for the communes each individual commune with its "local self-government" is by no means a mere cog in the great apparatus of revolution, or, to put it less mechanically, not merely an isolated muscle within the revolutionary exertions of the body politic -- on the contrary it is destined to outlast the upheaval as an independent unit equipped with the maximum of autonomy. During the act the commune's particular will merges spontaneously in the great impulse of the whole, but afterwards it is to acquire its own sphere of decision and action, so that the really vital functions are discharged "below" and the general administrative functions "at the top". Each commune is already invested in principle with its own proper powers and rights within the revolutionary process, but it is only after the accomplishment of the common act that they can come into actuality. Marx accepted these essential components of the commune-idea but without weighing them up against his own centralism and deciding between them. That he apparently did not see the profound problem that this opens out is due to the hegemony of the political point of view; a hegemony which persisted everywhere for him
as far as concerned the revolution, its preparation and its effects. Of the three modes of thinking in public matters -- the economic, the social and the political -- Marx exercised the first with methodical mastery, devoted himself with passion to the third, but -- absurd as it may sound in the ears of the unqualified Marxist -- only very seldom did he come into more intimate contact with the second, and it never became a deciding factor for him.
To the question of the elements of social re-structure, a fateful question indeed, Marx and Engels never gave a positive answer, because they had no inner relation to this idea. Marx might occasionally allude to "the elements of the new society which have already developed in the womb of the collapsing bourgeois society", and which the Revolution had only "to set free"; but he could not make up his mind to foster these elements, to promote them and sponsor them. The political act of revolution remained the one thing worth striving for; the political preparation for it -- at first the direct preparation,
afterwards the parliamentary and trades unionist preparation --
the one task worth doing, and thus the political principle became the supreme determinant; every concrete decision about
the practical attitude to such re-structural elements as were
actually present, in the process of formation or to be constituted anew, was reached only from the standpoint of political
expediency. Naturally, therefore, decisions in favour of a positive attitude were tepid, uncoordinated and ineffectual, and finally they were always cancelled out by negative ones.
A characteristic example of the purely political way in which the spiritual leaders of the movement treated the social structures most important for the re-shaping of society, is afforded by Engels' attitude to the Co-operatives. In 1869 (in his preface to the new impression edited by Wilhelm Liebknecht of the paper on the German Peasant War) he had declared: "The agricultural day-labourers can only be redeemed from their misery if the chief object of their work, the land itself, is converted into communal property and cultivated by Co-operatives of Landworkers for the common good." From this fundamental premise he seems to draw a perfectly practical conclusion, when he writes to Liebknecht in 1885 to the effect that the Social-Democratic party of the German Reichstag should say to the Government: "Give us guarantees that the Prussian domains, instead of being leased out to big leaseholders
or peasants incapable of living without day-labour, will be leased to Workers' Co-operatives; that public works will be commissioned to Workers' Co-operatives instead of to capitalists -- well and good, we will do the rest. If not, not." All these, Engels adds, are things that can be introduced at a day's notice and got going within a year, and are only blocked by the bourgeoisie and the Government. This sounds like genuine demands to be fought for. But in 1886 Engels is demanding of Bebel that the party should propose socialistic measures such as these on the ground that they would conduce to the overthrow of capitalist production; which, therefore, would be a practical impossibility for that Government as for any other bourgeois Government. Here the tactical-propagandist character of the demands is laid bare: the Co-operative principle is merely made use of, not propounded in all seriousness as something simply to be striven and fought for. The tactical application would not be so bad if only the fundamental thing were put boldly and clearly in words: but that is not the case. I cannot help seeing Lassalle's belief -- shortsighted as it was -- in the practical possibility of Co-operatives with Government aid, as the more socialistic attitude.
As another example of how the leaders' lack of principle on the subject of re-structure led to the sterility of the movement in this respect, I will again give a characteristic sequence of resolutions passed by the Party held to be the most knowledgeable in Marxist matters -- the German Social Democrats -- anent their relations to the Co-operative. In the Gotha Unification programme of 1875 (concerning the draft of which Marx had voiced his misgivings as mentioned above) it had been demanded that Producer Co-operatives should be set up for industry and agriculture "of such scope that they would result in the socialist organization of all Labour". This was a clear avowal of the re-structural principle, as appeared to be necessary for union with the Lassallites. But in the Erfurt programme of 1891 nothing more was heard of it -- which is not to be explained solely by the failures of the Worker and Producer Cooperatives founded in the meantime, but principally by this same lack of fundamental directive, and at the Berlin Party Congress of 1892 it was decided that the Party "could only approve the founding of Co-operatives in so far as they were designed to enable comrades, on whom disciplinary punishment had been inflicted in the political or trades-union struggle, to live a decent
social life, or in so far as they served to facilitate agitation"; for the rest, "the Party was opposed to the founding of Co-operatives". This is refreshingly outspoken. But in the resolution of the Hanover Party Congress in 1899 it was stated that the Party was neutral as regards the founding of Industrial Co-operatives, that it saw in the founding of such Co-operatives a suitable means of educating the working-class to the independent control of their affairs, but that it attributed to the Co-operatives "no decisive significance in the matter of freeing the working-class from the chains of wage-slavery". Yet in Magdeburg in 1910 the Consumer. Co-operatives were not merely acknowledged as effectively supporting the class-struggle, it was also declared that Co-operative activity in general was "an effective complement to the political and trades-union struggle to raise the position of the working-class".
This zig-zag line may well serve as a symbol of the tragic mis-development of the Socialist Movement. With all the powerful forces of propaganda and planning it had gathered the proletariat about itself; in the political and economic field it had acted with great aggressive aplomb in attack and defence, but the very thing for which, ultimately, it had made propaganda and planned and fought -- the evolution of the new social form -- was neither the real object of its thought nor the real goal of its action. What Marx praised the Paris Commune for, the Marxist movement neither wanted nor achieved. It did not look to the lineaments of the new society which were there for all to see; it made no serious effort to promote, influence, direct, co-ordinate and federate the experiments that were in being or about to be; never by consistent work did it of its own accord call any cell-groups and associations of cell-groups of living community into existence. With all its great powers it lent no hand to shaping the new social life for mankind which was to be set free by the Revolution.
1 Described in the next chapter.