Max Nomad, Political Heretics: From Plato to Mao Tse-tung, 1963.

Chapter II


There are malcontents and malcontents. Some would write down their dreams of a perfect society and hope that the logic of their reasoning would in the end persuade both the beneficiaries and the victims of an evil system to work in peace and harmony toward the realization of heaven on earth. These were and are the Utopians. Whether they are prompted by pity for the downtrodden, by fear of an inevitable bloody cataclysm, by envy, or by a hopeless lust for power -- they are as a rule not men of action; they console themselves either with the Oriental adage that "the ink of the savant is more valuable than the blood of the martyr," or with the mostly correct realization that they are far ahead of their times, that a courageous example on their part would meet with no emulation, and that at any rate it is better to be a living philosopher than a dead rebel. In contrast to these purely platonic champions of subversion, the conditions of the last two centuries have brought forth a number of outstanding malcontents of an altogether different caliber, men ready to risk their lives for the sake of their dreams, or, what in most cases means the same thing, their will to power. Men of this kind make their appearance only under circumstances of particular stress affecting both their social group and their private lives.

Circumstances of this kind were the revolutions, civil wars, economic depressions, and political tyrannies accompanying or following each other during the years of the great French Revolution and of the post-Napoleonic reaction not only in France but in all European countries.

The social group which at that time, next to the manual workers, suffered most under the changing conditions comprised the impecunious, educated members of the lower middle class -- men whose situation and prospects were comparable to those of the bulk of the unemployed or underpaid intelligentsia in the emerging but still industrially undeveloped or underdeveloped countries of the Asian, African, and South American continents.

Under such conditions submission to fate becomes meaningless to many who have noticed that things are in flux in their own or neighboring countries and have seen or have heard of the toppling fortunes of yesterday's political grandees or economic tycoons and their replacement by parvenus. So they turn against the new status quo, particularly if they come under the spell of a man of superior energy, will power, ambition, courage, eloquence, personality appeal, intelligence, integrity, or cunning.

Some of these qualities exclude others, but a combination of some of them is likely to create a type of leader who can sway men and women to follow his daring example, even if the conspiracies and expeditions be undertaken "with only three men and four stones," as some contemporaries of Mazzini put it in criticizing some of his patriotic-revolutionary ventures.

The ideas in behalf of which the men of action rose varied according to circumstances: Where, as in the case of the Italians or the Poles, the main or the most visible source of discontent was the rule of foreign conquerors, the ideology would be nationalism somewhat blended with vague sympathies for the uneducated rural and urban underdog; where, as in France, a revolution has supplanted the aristocratic old rich by a class of bourgeois newly rich, the militant malcontents among the educated would adopt a vocabulary of anti-capitalist revolt in order to attract the great mass of the disinherited. However, the cloven foot of their sometimes unconscious desire for their own advancement to the seats of power would appear, one way or another, either in their pronouncements or in their actions. For men of action are more often than not "domineering in temper, jealous of the influence of others . . . with more of anger in their heart, albeit righteous anger, than of love." What Mazzini, in these phrases, said about Marx holds for most men of action, rebels as well as conservatives. These characteristics explain why most of the active rebels are less consistent, as far as their "principles" are concerned, than the Utopians. For, with their "domineering temper" they are always prone, for the sake of their "dominion," to treat the ideals they professed at the outset of their careers either as dreams or as propaganda necessary for winning a following. Objectively, this is a fraudulent game, but it is not always so subjectively -- in the consciousness of the leading personalities concerned. It is natural for a leader to identify his power with the ideal he once preached to his followers or, to be more exact, with the period of transition before that ideal can be realized.


A case in point, yet somewhat apart as far as the eponymous hero and martyr of the revolutionary undertaking was concerned, was that of the "Conspiracy of the Equals" of 1796-97, which was directed against the post-Robespierrist masters of revolutionary France. The apparent head of it was Francois Noel ("Gracchus") Babeuf, a simple-minded dreamer rather than a revolutionary leader and politician. The "Conspiracy of the Equals," the communist ideas Babeuf expressed in his Tribune of the People, and his tragic death have helped to weave a tissue of legends around an enterprise which was even less "proletarian" in character and intent than the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917.

The material brought to light by the great historians of the French Revolution, Aulard and Mathiez, has contributed a great deal toward separating the elements of romantic myth from the cold facts and has helped to distinguish between the propagandist professions and the actual intentions of the "Equals."

Babeuf himself, whose name has been immortalized by the conspiracy, was a communist equalitarian in his beliefs, firmly opposed to the system of private property. He was influenced by communist philosophers, such as Mably and Morelly, by Rousseau, Linguet, and Brissot, and by a prolific contemporary journalist, Syl-vain Marechal, who was to go down in history as the author of the Manifesto of the Equals. Yet there was little connection between Babeuf's philosophical communism and the purpose of the conspiratorial activity that was to bring him to the scaffold.

Babeuf's career as equalitarian conspirator began after the defeat of Robespierre at the hands of that section of his own party which later came to be known as the "Thermidorians." Like most of the other Jacobins, Babeuf did not realize immediately the social significance of this overturn. He saw in it merely the triumph of liberty over the unbearable despotism of the "tyrant." At that time he was still a "free-lance" journalist, without any following and without any definite program. His communist aspirations were a personal religion with him rather than a political platform. A communist for the distant future, he was a fellow traveler of the Thermidorians for the immediate present.

Soon enough it became clear that Robespierre's fall meant not only the end of the Terror, but also the ascendancy of the upper middle-class profiteers who had enriched themselves as a result of the demise of the feudal system. The losers were not only the followers of the "Incorruptible" but also many other Jacobins who, while opposing Robespierre's terror, were not ready to accept the rule of the plutocratic elements represented by the corrupt Barras, the man who launched Bonaparte on his career and was later pushed aside by this ungrateful husband of his discarded mistress.

A number of Robespierre's followers were meeting in the house of Amar, a wealthy ex-member of the Convention, who had been affected by the fall of Robespierre. A few of them constituted what was called the "Amar Committee," which was later to play an important part in what has gone down in history as Babeuf's Conspiracy.

It was their common opposition to the plutocratic policy of the Directory that brought about a sort of united front of the radicals professing the communist views of Babeuf and of the followers of Robespierre who were thirsting for revenge. It was the latter who, according to Mathiez, one of the outstanding historians of the Revolution, supplied the financial backing for the Tribune of the People, a periodical edited by Babeuf. That financial backing was reflected in the contents of that publication, which could blow both hot and cold, and would defend, in turn, the principles of communist egalitarianism and the policies of Robespierre, who was a rabid opponent of communism.

An explanation of this seeming incongruity is not hard to find. An analysis of the social status of its 650 subscribers -- a very large figure for that period -- shows that all of them belonged to the well-to-do classes. Mathiez comes to the conclusion that they were certainly not interested in Babeuf's communism, but that they had all been, one way or another, connected with the overthrown Robespierre regime and that they had an ax to grind against the beneficiaries of the Thermi-dorian reaction. As practical men they readily understood that propaganda for an earthly paradise may be useful in inducing the poor to rise against the hated regime.

The general mood of the population was favorable to a revolutionary undertaking, and the Insurrectional Committee, a secret body composed of Babeuf and some of his closest associates, such as Darthe and Buonarrotti, conducted a skillful propaganda campaign among the masses.

One thing, however, stood out in this communist propaganda: it was not concerned with the practical, everyday needs of the workers. Strikes were going on at that time in Paris -- yet the Equals did not pay attention to them. Babeuf spoke continually to "the men of the people, to the workers of all classes (etats)." To be sure, the Equals tried to win over the workers, and it was for their consumption that equalitarian propaganda was spread in the poorer sections of the capital. But the wage workers were still a small fraction of the population. In order to be successful the Equals had to win over the middle and the lower middle classes, many of whose members were employers of labor.

While the Equals were getting ready for their insurrection, the amnestied followers of Robespierre were likewise making preparations for the coming events. On May 7, 1796, the two groups -- the Amar Committee of Robespierrists, and the Insurrectionary Committee of the Equals -- agreed on a joint program of action and on the distribution of functions after the seizure of power. Three days later all the leaders of the conspiracy were arrested. They had been betrayed by one of the leading members, Captain Grisel, military "revolutionary agent" of one of the districts of Paris.

Babeuf and Darthe were condemned to death and executed. Five of the conspirators, including Buonar-rotti, were deported to the penal colonies. It is worthy of note that, according to Aulard, the outstanding historian of the French Revolution, Babeuf's socialist opinions were not the subject of the indictment against the conspirators. He had, so to speak, signed his own death warrant by his advocacy of a "plebeian Vendee"; for this was an open appeal to civil war, threatening to break up that policy of union of all republicans which the Directory considered necessary against the mounting royalist tide.

The others were acquitted. The Directory, apparently, was reluctant to deepen too much the gulf between itself and the left wing of the republican camp, for the possibility of a Bourbon restoration had never ceased to haunt them.

To contemporaries the conspiracy was merely an episode in the family quarrel among various republican clans rather than a serious attempt to usher in a communist form of society. To the practical politicians of that period the communist professions of the conspirators were mere propaganda, the like of which they had seen before. It is significant that the Act of Insurrection ■ -- the last document in which the conspirators called upon the people to rise -- did not contain a word about communism. Babeuf himself and Buonarrotti, though sincerely believing in the gospel they preached, apparently realized at the moment of action that the time for their ideal had not come as yet.

The revelation that equalitarian, that is, truly communist slogans were used as a means for attempting the rehabilitation and the return to power of a group of ousted bourgeois politicians of the French Revolution, may come as a shock to those who are used to taking principles and programs at their face value. They should be reminded of the fact that the radical political movements of the last one hundred and fifty years have been one long succession of the exploitation of socialist and communist slogans either for the elevation of ambitious politicians to positions of power within the capitalist system or for the establishment of an all-powerful totalitarian bureaucracy on the ruins of private capitalism, just as the religious communism of the first semi-educated Christian preachers served as a stepping-stone for the rise of the powerful hierarchy of the Church.


The assumption that Babeuf's communism was not taken seriously by his Robespierrist backers is evidenced by the fact that the Manifesto of the Equals, which was an epitome of Babeuf's communist views, was not accepted as an official document of the Conspiracy. That Manifesto was written by the poet and journalist, Sylvain Marechal, who was a sympathizer of the "Equals" rather than an active member of the Conspiracy. For that reason he escaped persecution when the leaders of the "Equals" were arrested. At first one of the champions of the antireligious Cult of Reason, he sympathized with the extreme Left as against the politicians in power; but he was at heart a believer in a sort of idyllic, pastoral, or as the anarchist historian Nettlau put it, "patriarchical" anarchism, rejecting all authority, except that of the father. For the attainment of his ideal he advocated a peaceful general strike of all those who worked for the rich. He was thus one of the first champions of the idea of the general strike. Marechal's concept of communism as a system of complete equality of incomes is expressed in the following sentence: "Let us convert the earth into the common property of all its inhabitants. If there is any one among you who has two mouths or four arms, it is just that we give him a double portion. But if we are all made after the same pattern, we will give every one an equal share of the cake."

The point of departure of Marechal's Manifesto was the rejection of the purely formal equality as expressed in the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the insistence on real equality in the enjoyment of the good things of life. That equality, according to the Manifesto, can only be realized if the great majority no longer works for a small minority, if the distinction between rich and poor is abolished, if the land ceases to be private property, and if the fruits of the earth belong to all. For this purpose it is necessary to establish a Republic of Equals. "We claim," says the Manifesto, "henceforth to live and to die equals, as we have been born equals. We demand real equality or death; that is what we must have. And we will have this real equality, no matter at what price. Woe to those whom we meet, coming between it and us! Woe to whomsoever offers resistance to so determined a desire. The French Revolution is only a forerunner of another revolution, still greater, still more solemn, and which will be the last. . . . We must have this equality, not merely transcribed in the declaration of the rights of man and of the citizen: we must have it in our midst, under the roof of our houses. We consent to everything for its sake, to make a tabula rasa so that we may cleave to it alone. Perish, if need be, all the arts, provided there remains to us real equality!"

One of the sentences of his Manifesto of the Equals in which Marechal advocated the disappearance of "the revolting distinction between those who rule and those who are ruled" was ridiculed and rejected by Buonarrotti, Babeuf's fellow conspirator and during the 1830's the inspirer of the communist movement known as Babouvism.


Filippo Michele Buonarrotti (1761-1837), believed to be a lineal descendant of Michelangelo's brother, was at first active in the liberation of Italy from the domination of her various despotic rulers. Forced to flee from his native country he eventually went to Paris, where in 1792 he joined the republican opponents of the monarchy and was granted the honorary title of French citizen. In 1796 he participated in the "Conspiracy of the Equals." Arrested and convicted, he spent ten years in prison. Banished from France, he lived first in Geneva and later in Brussels, where in 1827 he published his History of Babeuf's Conspiracy. This book was to become the inspiration of various "Babouvist"-communist groups and sects active in France during the 1830's and 1840's. One of his disciples was the famous conspirator Auguste Blanqui.

As mentioned before, Buonarrotti had rejected as ridiculous Marechal's sentence about "the revolting distinction between those who rule and those who are ruled." He had accepted the Manifesto's ideal of complete equality of rewards, but his romanticism did not go so far as to assume that all government would become superfluous on the morning after the revolution. He firmly believed in the necessity of a dictatorship by the victorious conspirators, for he was convinced that, if permitted to vote after a revolution, the masses would invariably bring back the reactionaries. Skeptical of the intelligence of the masses, he had no doubt about the good intentions of their liberators. During the 1820's he actually called one of his secret organizations Sublimes maitres parfaits ("Sublime Perfect Masters").1 It may not be amiss to mention here that, prior to 1848, the terms "communism," "democracy," and "revolutionary dictatorship" were practically interchangeable, communist slogans being used for the purpose of establishing a revolutionary dictatorship which was meant to be a transitional period prior to the establishment of a democratic regime. It was not considered good manners to ask how this transition from a dictatorial to a democratic regime would be effected.


Out of the maze of the various, often mutually hostile, "Babouvist" groups manned chiefly by educated declassed and a sprinkling of self-educated workers, there emerged during the 1830's the personality of Au-guste Blanqui (1805-81), who, for several decades, was to impose the stamp of his name and of his ideas upon the activities of France's revolutionary intelligentsia and who was to fructify the minds of many rebels in other countries as well.2

A man of extraordinary gifts, an indomitable will, and a domineering temper, Blanqui was the very opposite of a Utopian dreamer. He never discussed the structure of the ideal system he wished to see established after the overthrow of the existing regime. He apparently preferred not to antagonize the followers of any of the various radical sects whom he hoped to win over. His political creed could be condensed in two simple propositions: the forcible overthrow of the monarchy was to be followed by the establishment of a "Parisian dictatorship" over the rest of France (i.e., the rule of Blanqui's party of conspirators); that dictatorship was to perform the task of breaking the hold of the Church over the minds of the masses.

He was firmly convinced that as long as the masses were under the sway of religion, they would, under a democratic setup, always return reactionary majorities to parliament, thus undoing the victory of the revolution. Once in power, the revolutionists would proceed with gradual reforms. In short, what Blanqui actually wanted was a benevolent anticlerical dictatorship that would usher in a sort of New Deal -- with socialism as a distant goal when the economic conditions were ripe for it.

Blanqui spent nearly half of his long life in various prisons because of the many uprisings in which he was the leading figure, yet, ironically, the Republic emerged not because of the revolts of his followers but as a result of the victory of Prussian arms in 1870 and of the disunity of the monarchists, who could not agree on the dynasty to rule France. The revolutionary dictatorship to which he had been aspiring since the 1830's was no longer needed to save the country from the double incubus of monarchy and priest rule. Such social changes as were necessary, he concluded, would be accomplished gradually within the framework of the Republic. He became convinced that "the abolition of exploitation of man by man" would be accomplished by "the future generation thanks to the instrument which we have bestowed upon it since 1848: universal suffrage." The progress of public education had converted him to very moderate gradualism.

However, not this septuagenarian well-nigh right-wing socialist Blanqui that is usually thought of whenever his name is mentioned. His reputation is based upon his "putschism," on the idea that a small, even very small, determined minority could accomplish a social revolution by a daring coup leading to the seizure of power. The lever to that revolution Blanqui saw in the educated declassed, or as Alan B. Spitzer put it in The Revolutionary Theories of Louis Auguste Blanqui: ". . . in the existence of a small group whose knowledge of the roots of oppression was not coupled with the desire to profit by it. Since the great mass was too ignorant to free itself, the instructed and altruistic few would have to strike the first blows in the battle for the freedom for all."

The idea that the "instructed few" would display "altruism" after the seizure of power was the great "life-lie" of Blanqui and all similarly minded post-Blanquist revolutionists. When the latter-day Russian followers of the early Blanqui, who preferred to call themselves Marxists-Leninists, won "the battle for the freedom for all," their "altruism" converted one-third of the globe into one big police state.


Blanqui's career shows how time and democratic liberties may convert even the most fiery social insurrectionist into a mild-mannered gradualist. Such was also the evolution of a German pre-Marxist communist rebel of the 1830's and 1840's who, like Blanqui, had taken his original inspiration from the Babouvists. His name was Wilhelm Weitling (1806- 1871) the illegitimate son of a German servant girl and a Napoleonic officer, he had tasted both the humiliation of his "irregular" birth and the miseries of an underpaid manual worker -- he was a tailor by trade. Self-educated, he had concocted a sort of ultraradical communist theory of his own, the result of a combination of Babouvist dictatorial ideas with primitive Christian thunderings against the rich. One peculiar aspect of his gospel was his hope that the denizens of the criminal underworld might become an effective ally of the manual workers in their guerrilla warfare against the bourgeoisie. It would seem that this idea greatly impressed Michael Bakunin, the later champion of anarchism, who had met him in Switzerland during the early 1840's.

Like Blanqui, Weitling had a very high opinion of himself. In a not too veiled form, he hinted that he was "a second Messiah, greater than the first"3 -- a megalomania which was probably a compensation for his lowly origin, just as Blanqui's conviction that he was the dictatorial man of destiny might have been an over-compensation for the fact that, for all the risks he was taking, his physical courage was not on a par with his other qualities.

Disappointed with his loss of influence among the German radical malcontents, particularly due to the growing prestige of Karl Marx, Weitling went to the United States, where the conditions of political liberty and economic opportunity turned the once fiery rebel to harmless Utopian schemes of communist colonies and industrial exchange banks. The only element that remained of his European past was his domineering character and his belief in his dictatorial indispensability in whatever enterprise he was engaged in. Are those correct who suspect that, next to the hatred of tyranny, the lust for power is the greatest stimulus of revolt?

To Karl Marx, Weitling's successful rival in the leadership of the early German communists, belongs a place apart in the gallery of champions of nineteenth-century radicalism. He was a rebel, of course, but he was also the spiritual fountainhead of three generations of radicals of various schools. It is for this reason that his role will be appreciated in the following chapter which deals with those opponents of the capitalist system who made a dent in history primarily as critics of the status quo.


Speaking in Marxian terms, there is a "class angle" for explaining the revolutionary ardor of a Babeuf, a Blanqui, or a Weitling -- the first two impecunious intellectuals in an era of a rising commercial and industrial bourgeoisie, while the self-educated tailor was born into a world which as yet had no labor unions that might appreciate his talents. But there is no such economic interpretation for the career of Michael Bakunin (1814-76), who was one of the most heroic figures among nineteenth-century rebels. Bakunin was a member of tsarist Russia's ruling aristocratic caste, the scion of a family of wealthy landed noblemen. Reasons of a purely psychological character made him declare war not merely on the system prevailing in his country but on all the powers of the world. There are those who explain his titanic revolt by his sex frustration -- his "sister-fixation" and ensuing total impotence or indifference toward all other women. Be that as it may, after serving for three years as an officer in the imperial army, Bakunin gave up his military career to devote himself to the study of philosophy in Germany, Switzerland, Belgium, and France. He became acquainted with the views of Proudhon4 and Marx5 and assimilated in his mind elements of both philosophies, accepting from the former the libertarian outlook and the "negation" of the state, and from the latter the "materialist interpretation of history" and the idea of the class struggle. These concepts were to become the basis of his revolutionary anarchist philosophy. Yet almost throughout his life his anarchism was shot through with a powerful admixture of democratic Slavic nationalism, a sort of revolutionary Pan-Slavism fortified with a chauvinistic aversion to Germans and Jews.

During the revolutionary years of 1848 and 1849 he participated in the uprisings of Prague and Dresden. Arrested and condemned to death, he was finally handed over to the Russian authorities. After six years of imprisonment, he was exiled to Siberia, from where he escaped in 1861.

Back in Western Europe, he preached the gospel of revolutionary Pan-Slavism and in 1863 gave his active support to the Polish insurgents who struck out for their independence from Russia. By the middle of the 1860's, . his nationalistic ardor cooled. Bakunin devoted himself entirely to general revolutionary activities in Western Europe and to the elaboration of his anarchist theories. However, for all his prolific writings, he never published a comprehensive work setting down his theories.

After a few years in Italy, where he won many followers among the declasse intellectuals, he settled in Switzerland in 1867. There he joined first the League for Peace and Liberty, a society of middle-class pacifists which he tried to win over to his ideas. A year later (1868) he left it to join the Geneva section of the International Workingmen's Association (the First International), which was at that time controlled by Marx, although his followers were a minority within that agglomeration of political groups and trade unions professing a variety of social philosophies. Bakunin, when joining the International, actually planned to wrest its control from Marx and make it into an instrument for his own revolutionary plans. The struggle for power between Bakunin and Marx came to a head in 1872, when Bakunin and his followers were expelled from the International, although they constituted at that time an actual majority within the organization.

Bakunin's ideas were subject to continuous changes, or, to be more exact, to a continuous evolution. In its final version his social philosophy was a combination of "anarchism" and "collectivism." Under anarchism Bakunin understood the negation of the state as a matter of principle and its immediate abolition after the victorious revolution. However, numerous documents from his pen -- letters and secret circulars to his close followers -- point unmistakably to the fact that Bakunin believed in the necessity of a revolutionary dictatorship by his own following, apparently as a transitional phase before the final liquidation of all forms of government. (At bottom this did not differ at all from the Marx-Engels concept of the "withering away of the State" as a sequel of the "dictatorship of the proletariat".) Under "collectivism" Bakunin understood the seizure of the means of production by the workers' associations, a concept which he opposed to what he called the "communism" of Marx and of other socialists who advocated the seizure of the industries by the government. In this respect there is a substantial difference between the concepts of Bakunin and those of Marx.

At the time when Bakuninism was in vogue, during the later 1860's and the 1870's, its followers came from the same stratum as those of Blanqui -- the impecunious, declasse lower middle-class intellectuals, the proverbial lawyers without clients, physicians without patients, underpaid or unemployed journalists, college graduates or undergraduates without prospects for jobs. They were badly in need of an immediate radical social change, in short, of a social revolution that would secure them immediately a place in the sun. To the Italian, Spanish, Balkan, and Russian following of Bakunin the immediate abolition of the state meant the same thing that the "Parisian dictatorship" meant to their French fellow declassed, except that Bakunin, by insisting -- in his public pronouncements, that is -- on the immediate destruction of all government power, was much less candid than Blanqui. The Russian rebel's double game was an outcome of his rivalry with Marx, whom he endeavored to outdo in radicalism by launching a slogan that sounded more radical than the "dictatorship of the proletariat."

Bakunin's followers were not Utopian sectarians who could actually believe in the immediate abolition of all state authority. This was clearly demonstrated by his Spanish disciples shortly after the proclamation of the first Spanish Republic in 1873. During the turbulent days of that period the Spanish Bakuninists, who were influential among the lower middle-class intellectuals and who also had a following among the workers, participated in the provisional governments established in a number of cities by left-wing republicans -- their theoretical "anti-statism" notwithstanding.

Bakunin's following in France was not as numerous as in the other countries outside England and Germany, where favorable economic conditions fostered the development of gradualist (or "reformist") movements, such as trade unionism and democratic socialism. Blanqui's prestige in France was an obvious handicap to the spread of Bakunin's competing gospel in that country. Yet two of French radicalism's most illustrious figures, Paul Lafargue and Jules Guesde, were during the 1870's in the camp of the Russian rather than of the French superrevolutionist. As time went on, both the economic evolution of the industrially backward countries and the liberalization or democratization of political institutions weakened the appeal of extreme radicalism and paved the ground for the spread of a political creed which combined radical, irreconcilable verbiage of hostility to capitalism with a moderate, law-abiding, gradualist practice -- in short, the democratic socialism advocated by Marx since the organization of the [First] International in 1864. In the course of that development both Lafargue and Guesde joined the Marxist camp, the former to become its outstanding theorist, while the latter, because of his oratorical and journalistic gifts, became the eponymous leader of the French democratic Marxists (the "Guesdists"), as distinguished from those French socialists who did not use the Marxist vocabulary. Lafargue's and Guesde's example was followed by the Bakuninist intellectual elite in most countries except Spain. Andrea Costa became the founder of the Italian Socialist party, while Ple-khanov and Axelrod went down in history as the founders of Russian Marxism.

It may not be amiss to mention here that, after the collapse of the revolutionary hopes of 1848, Marx for a while accepted wholeheartedly not only Blanqui's ideas of a revolutionary minority dictatorship, but even his tactical methods. With the followers of the French conspirator and some English revolutionaries he joined the secret Universal Society of Revolutionary Communists. The first article of the by-laws of that super-revolutionary and superconspiratorial body read as follows: "The purpose of the association is to do away with the privileged classes, to submit these classes to a dictatorship of the proletarians by maintaining the revolution in permanence until the realization of communism which is to be the last form which the human family will assume." This was also essentially the conception of the later Bakunin, except that, instead of speaking of a "dictatorship of the proletarians," he used, in his confidential missives, the expression visible dictatorship."6



A separate niche in the Pantheon of famous revolutionists is for Sergei Nechayev (1847-82), the original of the younger Verkhovensky in Dostoyevsky's The Possessed. A student at the St. Petersburg University in 1868-69, he had become acquainted with the writings of various Western and Russian revolutionists and considered himself a follower of Bakunin, although it is more likely that he had been just as much or even more impressed by the ideas of Babeuf and Blanqui and their concept of a revolutionary dictatorship. (It must not be forgotten that Bakunin himself, while preaching the destruction of all government, was at the same time firmly convinced of the necessity of the dictatorship of his own group.) To the teachings of his masters, Nechayev added the fanatical conviction -- not original by any means -- that in the pursuance of a good cause, revolutionists are justified in having recourse to any methods regardless of whether they are considered unethical or repulsive by the common run of humanity. It was the application of these methods in his dealings with his own comrades that established his fame, or rather notoriety, among the revolutionists of the world, as well as those of Russia. When, after a short fling at propaganda among students at the University, he was forced to go abroad in order to escape the dragnet of the police, he created the legend that he escaped from the prison of St. Peter and St. Paul -- a feat commonly held impossible of achievement. Later, after his return from abroad, he murdered one of the members of his group because he refused to submit unquestion-ingly to his authority. Eventually, he was repudiated and execrated by his own teacher, Bakunin, who had at first admired his energy. Nechayev is believed by many to have been the author of the Catechism of the Revolutionist which in a way was the code of ethics followed by him.7 In 1872 he was arrested in Switzerland and delivered to the tsarist authorities. He died in the prison of the Fortress of St. Peter and St. Paul after ten years. Nearly forty years after his death some of the Bolshevik historians proclaimed him a "superrevolu-tionist" and a paragon for the younger generation of communists. There is no doubt that "Nechayevsh-china" -- as the old-time Russian revolutionists called the ways of that fanatic -- is now the only code of ethics followed by both the Soviet government and its fifth columnists the world over.

A few of the twenty-six articles of that controversial Bakunin-Nechayev code of revolutionary Machiavellian ethics follow:

"1. The revolutionist is a doomed man. He has no personal interests, no affairs, sentiments, attachments, property, not even a name of his own. Everything in him is absorbed by one exclusive interest, one thought, one passion -- the revolution.

2. In the very depth of his being, not merely in word but in deed, he has broken every connection with the social order and with the whole educated world, with all the laws, appearances, and generally accepted conventions or moralities of that world which he considers his ruthless foe. Should he continue to live in it, it will ~be solely for the purpose of destroying it the more surely. 4. He despises public opinion. He despises and hates the present-day code of morals with all its motivations-and manifestations. To him whatever aids the triumph of the revolution is ethical; all that which hinders it is unethical and criminal.

c. The revolutionist is a doomed man. He is merciless toward the state and toward the entire system of privileged educated classes; he need in turn expect no mercy from them. Between him and them there is a continuous and irreconcilable war to the bitter end -- whether it be waged openly or secretly. He must be ready to die at any moment. He must train himself to stand torture.

15. The whole ignoble social system must be divided into several categories. . . .

19.  The fourth category consists of ambitious officeholders and liberals of various shades. One may conspire with them in accordance with their programs, making them believe that one follows them blindly and at the same time one should take hold of them, get possession of all their secrets, compromise them to the utmost, so that no avenue of escape might be left to them, and use them as instruments for stirring up disturbances in the State.

20.  The fifth category -- doctrinaires [refers to Baku-nin's opponents within the revolutionary camp], conspirators, revolutionists talking idly in groups and on paper. They must be continually pushed and pulled forward, toward practical neck-breaking statements, the result of which would be the complete destruction of the majority and the real revolutionary training of a few.

25. Therefore, in getting closer to the people, we must first of all join those elements of the masses which, since the foundation of the Moscow state power, have never ceased to protest, not in words alone but in deed as well, against everything which is directly or indirectly connected with the state: against the nobility, the bureaucracy, the clergy, the guilds [meaning the merchants and capitalists in general], and against the parasitic kulak. Let us join hands with the bold world of bandits -- the only genuine revolutionists in Russia."


The defection of many of Bakunin's followers to the camp of the gradualist socialists marked the end of the insurrectionist phase of anticapitalist radicalism in the Western world. The post-Bakuninist anarchism and the crypto-Bakuninist Bolshevism were phenomena of a different kind, to be dealt with in Chapters V and VI.

A phenomenon sui generis was the revolutionary underground which continued to operate in tsarist Russia long after Western insurrectionism had found a pleasant grave in parliaments and trade union mansions. At variance with the law-abiding verbal non-Russian anticapitalism, Eastern radicalism was, up to 1917, its various socialist theories notwithstanding, a revolutionary movement whose objectives were strictly bourgeois-democratic.

Paradoxical as it may seem, the first revolutionary champions of bourgeois democracy, wearing the cloak of democratic socialism in Russia, were the daring "dynamiters" erroneously called "Nihilists."8 They were the survivors of what amounted to a Children's Crusade of a whole generation of idealistic young students who, early in the 1870's, "went to the people" to arouse the peasants against the tsarist regime in the name of a naive anarchoid philosophy according to which it might be possible to leap from semifeudalism straight into the paradise of a stateless socialism without the transitional phase of capitalist industrialism. Most of those crusaders -- they were called Narodniks ("Populists") -- had been delivered to the police by the peasants themselves, who suspected an intrigue of the big landowners to restore serfdom against the tsar's


The so-called Nihilists of the "People's Will" organization set themselves a much more modest aim. All they wanted was to convert Russia into a democratic republic or a constitutional monarchy in which peaceful socialist propaganda and activity in behalf of democratic and social reforms would be possible. The peasants having failed as a potentially revolutionary force, those revolutionists decided to rely exclusively on their own daring, on their terrorist guerrilla warfare against the tsar and his highest dignitaries.


When this tactic too failed to achieve results some of the survivors of the revolutionary movements of the 1870's and the early 1880's concluded that there was no short cut in Russia to socialism or even political democracy Western style until, as a result of the country's economic development, there appeared on the scene a numerous industrial working class that would constitute the mass basis in the struggle for the overthrow of the tsarist regime. With the tsarist regime disposed of in a rather distant future as a result of a revolution of the urban masses, there would no longer be any need for revolutionary underground activities. The socialists of democratic Russia would then carry on the same law-abiding, parliamentary, and trade-union struggle against capitalism as did the democratic socialists in the Western countries. There would, of course, be eventually a "social" (or "socialist") revolution in accordance with Marx's prediction as to the inevitable collapse of capitalism, but that contingency was so far off that it was considered a purely academic question which it was idle to discuss.

The outstanding preacher of this theory, a former disciple of Bakunin, was George Plekhanov (1857-1918). At the outset of his revolutionary career, he was an active participant in the "Populist" (Narodnik) movement of the 1870's, which sought a short cut to socialism. Converted to Marxism, he became a founder of the group called "Emancipation of Labor" (1883), an embryonic stage of the Russian Social Democratic Workers party organized in 1898. Living abroad, he wrote a number of philosophical works which, when published in Russia under various pseudonyms, won many members of the Russian intelligentsia to the cause of Marxism. One of his disciples was Lenin. During the struggle between the followers and the opponents of the latter within the Russian Social Democratic Workers party, Plekhanov, who at first had sided with Lenin, eventually turned against his most famous disciple and remained his foe until his death. During the Russo-Japanese War (1904-5) he took the same attitude as all Russian revolutionists, wishing for a victory of Japan from which they expected a revolution in Russia. However, during World War I his views differed from those of most of the other Russian revolutionists. As against the defeatism of the latter who expected the downfall of the tsarist regime as a result of a military defeat, Plekhanov took a "defensist" attitude, for he believed that a world triumph of German militarism would be a greater evil than the survival of tsarism. When after the democratic revolution of March 1917 he returned to Russia, his attempts to rally a following around a program of national unity against the German foe met with little response among the revolutionists of the various schools.


Before the Revolution there were various currents within the camp of the Russian Marxists. Highly respectable scholars, mostly university professors, acclaimed Marxism as the theoretical justification of Russia's entrance upon the road of capitalist development. They were called the "legal Marxists" and did not participate in any underground activities, although they sympathized with them. Foremost among the active underground militants were Vladimir Ilyich Ulianov, better known as Lenin (1870-1924), and Julius Martov (1873-1923), at first Lenin's friend and co-worker in the St. Petersburg revolutionary underground during the 1890's, but later, in exile in Western Europe, the leader of the Russian Marxists opposed to those methods which led eventually to Lenin's complete break with democratic socialism. After his return to Russia as a result of the collapse of the tsarist regime in 1917, Martov opposed the seizure of power by Lenin's followers and had to leave the country in 1921.


At the turn of the century both Lenin and Martov opposed a group of influential heretics within the party who were to become known as "Economists" because of their support of strikes for higher wages -- a struggle which was called "economic" because it had no direct political implications. The "Economists" believed that the socialists could win the confidence of the workers not by trying to indoctrinate them with socialist ideas or by putting emphasis upon the struggle against absolutism, but by leaving politics to the liberal bourgeoisie and by concentrating efforts on helping workers in their bread-and-butter struggles. They argued that only after the violent suppression of strikes by the tsarist regime, proving to the workers that it was impossible to obtain any improvements under it, would the time be ripe for approaching the masses with political propaganda. It was a subtle plan, but the other Marxists sensed danger in it. Without saying so, they realized -- so some of their critics suspected -- that the workers, fighting for higher wages only and ignorant of any political issues, might eventually get out of hand; the movement might lead to wild, chaotic wage revolts, in the course of which the workers would be more anxious to force as much as possible from their employers than to ask for a more civilized form of government. Or, if in the course of the fight the tsarist government should find it expedient to grant political liberties, the workers -- if not indoctrinated by the Social-Democrats -- having obtained the right to organize, might become steeped in nonpolitical trade-unionism, pure and simple. In any case the Social-Democratic party, which sought political influence and power, would come out empty-handed.

The "Economists" were attacked violently in a volume entitled What Is To Be Done? written in 1902 by Lenin, then the outstanding personality of the Russian Social Democratic Workers party founded in 1898.

"what is to be done?"

The R.S.D.W.P. was a "workers' party" only in a Pickwickian sense, for most of its members were college-bred intellectual workers in search of a working-class following. Taking its inspiration from Marx, that party was distinguished from the other revolutionary groups in that it saw in the industrial workers the force which eventually would break the backbone of the hated tsarist system. Other opponents of Russian absolutism, such as the "Socialist-Revolutionists" (or "SR's"), expected the accomplishment of that task from the dissatisfied peasant masses. Organized in 1000, the Social Revolutionists combined elements of both old-time "Populism" with the terrorist tactics of the "People's Will" (the so-called "Nihilists").

At first all sections of the Russian Social-Democratic Workers party were in full agreement as to the character the hoped-for revolution was to assume. It was to give power to the middle-class parties, including the representatives of the peasantry; the Social-Democratic leaders of the working class were to constitute the law-abiding opposition, following the example of the social-democratic, socialist or labor parties of the democratic Western European countries.

Soon after the turn of the century, however, the harmony among the Russian Marxists was disturbed by the ideas put forward by the dynamic personality of Lenin. These ideas concerned primarily the organizational nature of the party and only later came to affect the very character of the Revolution itself.

In What Is To Be Done? Lenin laid down his specific conception of the methods of revolutionary activity. The crucial point of his argument was insistence upon the paramount importance of a body of professional revolutionists to direct the whole movement in an efficient manner. This was coupled with a belief in the necessity of recognizing as party members only those who were active participants in the party's underground activities. This would leave out all middle-of-the-road sympathizers from among the educated middle class -- professional men, university students, and high-school boys and girls -- who did not have the courage to burn their bridges behind them. In Lenin's opinion this course would avert the danger of swamping the party with weak-kneed adherents who might dampen its combative spirit.

With this object in view Lenin insisted on the greatest possible extension of the powers given to the Central Committee of the party, which was to direct all revolutionary activities. These powers included confirming the personnel of the local committees and even of nominating their members. These proposals met with the strongest opposition on the part of most of the old-time militants of Russian Marxism. Instead of a movement based on mass support, they asserted, Lenin wanted an organization of conspirators -- his attitude implying a belief that revolutions could be planned in advance -- as opposed to the genuine Marxist viewpoint that revolutions occurred but were not made. Some of Lenin's opponents, indeed, went so far as to call his postulates Bonapartist, because, if carried out, his scheme would have concentrated all the power in his hands. Among his opponents at that time was Leon Trotsky, who admitted no necessity for such a centralization of power and was inclined to suspect Lenin of ambitions for personal dictatorship. Denouncing this ambition, Trotsky wrote in 1904 that "for the dictatorship of the proletariat Lenin wanted to substitute the dictatorship of the party over the proletariat, for the dictatorship of the party -- the dictatorship of the Central Committee over the party, and for the dictatorship of the Central Committee -- the dictatorship of Lenin over the Central Committee."

Lenin's position was based upon two fundamental concepts: his very realistic understanding of the mentality of the working masses who, in his opinion, could think only in terms of wages and hours, but not in terms of social systems; and his quite unrealistic faith in, or hypocritical presumption of, the infallibility, good intentions, and messianic role of revolutionary leadership, as personified by himself and those intellectuals who accepted his views. (To be sure, among these intellectuals were also included exceptional, self-taught ex-workers who had succeeded in absorbing certain elements of education enabling them to assume leadership.)

This skepticism with regard to the ability of the masses to evolve socialist concepts out of their own midst, found its expression in a famous passage contained in the aforementioned What Is to Be Done?: "The history of all countries shows that, by its own efforts, the working class can develop only a trade-union consciousness -- that is, the realization of the need of getting together in unions in order to fight employers and to demand from the government the passing of laws necessary for the workers."

As against this inability of the masses to overcome, by their own efforts, their subordination to "bourgeois ideology" (i.e., the acceptance of the legitimacy of the existing system), Lenin emphasized the fact that "the theory of socialism grew out of the philosophic, historical, and economic theories that were elaborated by the educated representatives of the propertied classes, the intellectuals. The founders of modern scientific socialism, Marx and Engels, belonged to the bourgeois intelligentsia . . ." (ibid.).

To a large extent this view of Lenin's was derived from an opinion expressed in 1901 -- a year before the appearance of Lenin's book -- by Karl Kautsky, chief exponent of Marxian orthodoxy in Germany. In an article published in the theoretical organ of the German Social-Democratic party (Neue "Zeit, 1901-2, XX, I, No. 3, p. 79) Kautsky wrote: "Socialism and the class struggle [Kautsky has in mind the wage struggles of the manual workers] arise side by side and not one out of the other; each arises out of different premises. Modern socialist consciousness can arise only on the basis of profound scientific knowledge. . . . The vehicles of science are not the proletariat but the bourgeois intelligentsia [emphasized in the original]: It was out of the heads of the members of this stratum that modern socialism originated, and it was they who communicated it to the more intellectually developed proletarians who, in their turn, introduced it into the proletarian class struggle where conditions allow that to be done. Thus socialist consciousness is something introduced into the proletarian class struggle from without and not something that arose within it spontaneously."

It is beside the point here whether this view of the nonworking-class origin of socialism was in keeping with the original concepts of Marxism. Kautsky may have advanced this view merely in order to put in their place those ex-horny-handed trade union leaders within the social-democratic movement who, in their rivalry with the college-bred leaders, occasionally tried to prejudice the masses against lawyers, journalists, and professors holding top positions within the socialist movement. The fact remains that Kautsky and Lenin, two outstanding thinkers of modern socialism (including communism), took it for granted that a set of ideas introduced into the labor movement from a nonworking-class stratum, was nevertheless the true expression of the interests of the manual workers. To be sure, individual heretics within the radical intelligentsia, turning against their own group, suspected that the gift of socialism was a Trojan horse of the underprivileged, declassed lower middle-class intelligentsia, and that at bottom, the idea of socialization was nothing but the substitution of a new privileged class of managerial and political officeholders for the individual entrepreneurs and stockholders of private capitalism. But naturally enough, their logical arguments were powerless to overcome the interested rationalizations of those who were out to "emancipate" the working class by taking their historical turn as a ruling elite.

Lenin's insistence upon a strictly centralized, near-military form of organization led in 1903 to the historical split within the ranks of the Russian Marxists. The followers of Lenin, known as "Bolsheviks," were henceforth arrayed against the "Mensheviks" whose views were more or less identical with those of the traditional European socialist parties. Eventually, the rift between the two groups was to go beyond the mere organizational concept of the movement. It became a conflict between democratic "gradualism" -- aiming at peaceful transition from capitalism to collectivism -- and dictatorial revolutionism employing the methods of conspiracies and armed uprisings. At the time when the Bolsheviks ceased to call themselves social-democrats and assumed the "communist" label (1918), the difference between the communists and socialists had become a class conflict between the more impecunious and hence more adventurous section of the intellectual and white collar workers (with a sprinkling of well-to-do neurotics in search of a new religion) on the one hand, and the more sedate labor politicians with a "proletarian" vocabulary, whose ambitions did not go beyond the laurels of a parliamentary career or of a cabinet post within the capitalist system, on the other.


The unsuccessful Russian Revolution of 1905 deepened the original split by expanding it from the field of mere organizational to that of tactical methods. As the upheaval approached -- the disastrous war with Japan had brought the downfall of the hated regime within the sphere of imminent probabilities -- the Men-sheviks began to get ready, so to speak, for the modest role they expected to play in the future parliament of a democratic Russia. They saw themselves as a party of parliamentary opposition to a regime headed by middle-class liberals. A government of this kind was in their opinion the only solution under the prevailing economic conditions.

Lenin's solution was different. He believed that the liberal bourgeoisie was too pusillanimous to take the energetic measures needed to hold what had been won. The forces of reaction, in his opinion, were bound to come back -- as they had done in Western Europe in 1848 -- if the government were to be left in the hands of the liberals. His way out was a "democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry." These two classes would have to assume power and by ruthless measures destroy all vestiges of tsarism and render its return impossible. This, however, was not to be a social revolution. The "proletariat and the peasantry" were to exert their dictatorship only for the purpose of establishing an honest-to-goodness bourgeois-democratic system on the Western-European model. The big landowners, the mainstay of absolutism, were to be dispossessed and their land was to be distributed among the peasants. Some concessions with respect to wages, hours, and other conditions of labor would be made to the workers. Stripped of its specific terminology ("dictatorship of the proletariat and of the peasantry"), what the Bolshevik program of that period called for was the establishment of a coalition government of representatives of the Bolshevik professional revolutionists active among the industrial workers, and of those non-Marxian socialist intellectuals, lawyers, journalists, politicians, and ex-conspirators, known under the name of "Social Revolutionaries" or "Socialist Revolutionists," who were influential among the peasant masses.

During the Revolution of 1905 neither of the two Marxist factions nor the "Populist" Socialist Revolutionists were able to marshal enough popular forces to bring about the downfall of the initially shaken tsarist regime. So the factional strife, conducted mainly by refugees in periodicals published outside of Russia, continued until the Revolution of 1917, when the tsarist regime collapsed under the blows of the German army, which brought about the mutiny and the fraternization of the garrisons of Petrograd and Moscow with the war-weary and hungry population that demonstrated on the streets of the two capitals.


The provisional government established in March 1917 by the liberals and the right-wing near-Socialist Revolutionists headed by Kerensky was supported by the right-wing Mensheviks, who jointly with the Socialist-Revolutionists and the liberals were in favor of continuing the war and of driving the Germans out of the occupied territories. It is the belief of many critics that their reluctance to conclude a separate peace with the kaiser gave Lenin's party in November 1917 the opportunity to ride into power on the crest of the general war weariness and of the land-hunger of the peasant-soldiers.

Neither the Mensheviks nor the Socialist Revolutionists were willing to accept the dictatorship of the Bolsheviks. As long as there was still some semblance of political liberty the Mensheviks conducted a vigorous campaign against the new regime which they often embarrassed by encouraging strikes on the part of the workers under their influence. By 1920-21 their press was silenced, and they were either imprisoned or forced to leave the country. The Socialist Revolutionists resorted to the old weapon they had used against the tsarist regime -- terrorism. One of their members, Fanya Kaplan, seriously wounded Lenin in an attempt upon his life. Another member killed the chief of the Soviet secret police in Petrograd (renamed Leningrad after Lenin's death). They were particularly incensed against the new regime, for the general elections had given them a large majority of representatives to the Constituent Assembly, which the Bolsheviks dispersed on the very day of its opening. They could actually claim to be the legitimate rulers of the country by all standards recognized by democratic socialists. The Soviet government put a stop to their terrorist activities by holding all their leaders as hostages and threatening to execute them if there should be a recurrence of political assassinations.

Since that time the Socialist Revolutionists have either disappeared or merged with the Mensheviks in exile. Some of the Menshevik intellectuals who had remained in Russia and withdrawn from all political activity were permitted by the Soviet government to hold positions in various cultural and economic institutions. In 1932 Stalin, harassed by economic difficulties, used these men as scapegoats at one of the first "Moscow trials." They were offered the alternative of being shot or of "confessing" to acts of sabotage and counterrevolutionary plots. They "confessed."

There are no reports about present-day Menshevik activities in the U.S.S.R. The two most prominent survivors of the Old Guard -- both of them in New York -- are still active as critics of the regime -- the octogenarian Raphael Abramovich, the editor of the monthly Socialist Courier (in Russian), and Boris Nicolaievsky, a well-known historian.


1.  Max Nomad, Aspects of Revolt (New York, 1961), pp. 19, 91-92, 142-44, 158.

2.  For a biography of Blanqui, cf. Max Nomad's Apostles of Revolution (New York, 1962).

3.  Wilhelm Weitling, Garantien der Harmonie und Freiheit (1842). Quoted from the new edition (1908), pp. 238, 253.

4.  See pp. 77-81.

5.  See pp. 82-97.

6.  For more details of this point, see Max Nomad's Apostles of Revolution and Aspects of Revolt.

7.  The authorship of the Catechism has been attributed by Marxists to Bakunin, while most anarchists attribute it to Bakunin's wayward disciple Nechayev, with whom Bakunin had broken all relations. However, another famous disciple of Bakunin's, Michael Sazhin ("Armand Ross") in his Reminiscences, published in 1925 on the occasion of his eightieth birthday, declared that he himself had seen the manuscript of the Catechism in Bakunin's handwriting.

8.  That term had achieved currency after the publication of Turgenev's novel Fathers and Sons in which the purely philosophical individualism of Russia's rebellious but by no means revolutionary youth of the 1860's was designated as "nihilism." In the West -- but not in Russia -- where the Russian nonpolitical nonconformists of the 1860's were confused with the political revolutionists of the 1870's and early 1880's, the term "Nihilist" was henceforth applied to the democratic terrorists who killed the tsar in 1881. In Russia these rebels are called Narodovoltzi, i.e., members of the Narodnaya Volya ("the People's Will"), the name of their organization.