Review of Karl Marx: Man and Fighter by Boris Nicolaievsky and Otto Maenchen-Helfen
Man and Fighter is the subtitle of Boris Nicolaievsky and Otto Maenchen-Helfen's biography of Karl Marx. It is also readers' first clue that the work is something unique, something that transcends the triviality of biography. With taut prose and careful research, the authors are as capable of recounting how Marx wooed his wife as they are of charting the struggles inside of the First International. But Nicolaievsky and Maenchen-Helfen give us something more than a book that combines portraits of Marx as a man and Marx as a fighter. They show that Marx the Man and Marx the Fighter are one and the same. This, and the authors' keen understanding of Marx's politics and his respect for the working class, make this book a worthwhile read even 70 years after its publication and 120 years after the death of its subject.
The personal lives of revolutionaries aren't usually of much interest -- even Lenin's personal life has largely escaped hyperanalysis -- but with Marx it's different. Generations of anarchist and bourgeois critics, perhaps despairing of any other route of attack, have painted Marx as a veritable monster. One such accusation paints Marx as a hypocrite who was contemptuous of the class he claimed to champion. The authors make it clear that such criticism has no basis in fact. Marx's ties to the working class were real, meaningful, and went in both directions. For instance, when Marx was called before a court in Cologne in 1849, local workers gathered outside the courthouse and refused to disperse until Marx reappeared. By the same token, when police framed the Cologne branch of the Communist League, Marx worked tirelessly in defense of the accused workers. Despite Marx's defense, seven of the eleven defendants were convicted and endured tremendous hardship in a fortress-prison. Marx afterward forever steered clear of secret organizations which endangered others.
Another blow is struck against the mythical elitist Marx when the authors demonstrate time and time again Marx's dedication to the education of the working class. Men like Willich wanted to turn the Communist League into an organization of plotters whose conspiracies would ignite the revolt of the working class. Marx instead fought to preserve this organization and the as means for educating and organizing the working class. To this end he invested considerable time in lecturing, particularly on economics, of which he always was careful to speak clearly. Knowing that clear speaking wouldn't always be enough, Marx quizzed his audience to make sure that they considered and understood the material. He did all of this even though he routinely spent the better part of his day in the reading room of the National Library! And when the publication of the French translation of Das Kapital had to be delivered to the public in installments due to the financial difficulties of the publisher, Marx remarked that "this work will be more accessible to the working class in this form, and for me that consideration takes precedence of all others."
A second pair of charges hurled against Marx are even more remarkable for the fact that they completely contradict each other: on the one hand, it's sometimes said that Marx allowed his family to languish in poverty while he diligently avoided work. On the other hand, it's occasionally claimed that Marx and his family lived a proper Victorian life of opulence while the workers he cared so much for starved and shivered. Indeed, the authors write a good deal about the dire straits the Marx family found itself in when living in London. We are told that their poverty was so great that several of the children died (as was common in proletarian families of the day), meat was a rarity, and at one point Karl Marx was forced to stay indoors all winter because he had to sell his coat! Marx made a living at times by writing on foreign affairs for the capitalist press, but their interest in the matters Marx knew most about was not always long-lived. Consequently, for many years Marx's financial security, such as it was, depended on Engels, who was forced to work a job he despised in order to ensure that his compatriot could at least count on having the merest sustenance. Nicolaievsky and his co-author make it obvious that Marx was a loving, dedicated father and husband who did his utmost to support his family. His failing, such as it was, was the inability to find work; those who fault him for this reveal their own inability to understand the misery of 19th-century England or the fact that some men, such as Marx, will not abandon their convictions for money (as Marx probably could've done by writing handsome lies).
Nicolaievsky and Maenchen-Helfen also meld the political and the personal in instances where the political implications of the personal are obvious. For instance, they demolish the undying misconception that Marx was the first communist, or even the first communist to strike out in the vein he did. Even as late as 1842 Marx vehemently denied accusations that he was a communist. Nicolaievsky and Maenchen-Helfen point to Ludwig Gall as a forerunner of Marx; Gall was particularly exceptional in that he anticipated the language of the Communist Manifesto in 1835, 13 years before that seminal rallying-cry of the exploited was put to paper. In charting the personal and political development of Marx in the 30s and 40s, our authors clearly evince that Marx, far from inventing communism in his own prodigious mind, was merely the best of an entire generation of men and women who revolted against the degrading and impoverishing tendencies of capitalism.
Indeed, perhaps the greatest value of the present volume is that its authors prove that the ideas of Marx and his compatriots were not derived from some Utopian vision or eternal, unchanging sense of justice or rights, but rather from the process of attempting to answer a question they constantly posed: what will hasten the development of the working class as a revolutionary class that can smash capitalism and destroy class society once and for all?
This method is best exemplified by Marx's stance on the various wars of his days, on which Nicolaievsky and Maenchen-Helfen provide much commentary. For Marx, the question was always which side's victory would do the most to hasten the social revolution -- and in his day this question was synonymous with asking which side would destroy more barriers to capitalist development or prevent the old barriers of feudalism from being reintroduced. This was not because Marx supported capitalism over feudalism per se, but because capitalism created the preconditions for socialist revolution. Marx wrote in the Neue Rheinische Zeitung on 21 January 1849:
We are certainly the last people to desire the rule of the bourgeoisie ... but we say to the workers and the petty bourgeoisie that it is better to suffer in the contemporary bourgeois society, whose industry creates the conditions for the foundation of a new society that will liberate you all, than to revert to a bygone society...
Accordingly, the primary criterion by which Marx judged wars in his day was whether Russia was involved. As "the great stronghold, reserve position, and reserve army of European reaction," as Engels wrote, Marx sided with Russia's foes in every war. When Russian advances on Istanbul in the 1850s prompted the French and British to declare war, Marx was so enthusiastic in promoting the war effort that he eagerly contributed anti-Russian commentaries to conservative newspapers and even took an interest in the anti-Russian fanatic Urquhart. Indeed, during the '60s Marx was best known to Englishmen -- the only people who remembered him -- merely as an anti-Russian. When France and Austria went to war in 1859, Marx supported Austria since it was a powerful counterweight to the power of Russia. And in 1877, during the brief war between Turkey and Russia, Marx once again called on the workers' movement to support Russia's foe.
In wars not involving Russia, Marx applied the same principle of supporting whichever country or bloc would promote the development of capitalism and, in turn, the strengthening of the working class, the gravediggers of capitalist society. During the American Civil War, Marx enthusiastically supported the cause of the modern, capitalistic Northern states over the semi-feudal South, which was antagonistic to industrial development. This view was so pervasive within the workers' movement that many of Marx's comrades found themselves fighting for the North. (Ironically, American conservatives point to the presence of "Marxists" within the ranks of the Union army as evidence of the federal government's "socialism," when in fact the reason they fought for the North was precisely because only under Northern leadership could the whole of America experience real capitalist development!) Even in British cities where workers were turned out of the factories for lack of cotton from America -- prevented from reaching Britain by a powerful Union blockade of Southern ports -- there was nearly unanimous support for the Union war effort. Finally, during Prussia's war with France in 1870, Marx and Engels supported Prussia since its victory would (and did) unite Germany and open the way for unified capitalist development in Germany, thus enabling the workers' movement there to move on make more important demands, and because Prussian victory would topple Napoleon III's regime (and did). However, once the Prussians had met their objectives and continued to press onwards into France, Marx quickly swung to the side of France -- not out of a moral abhorrence for wars of conquest, but to prevent a Franco-Russian alliance that would (and in fact did) arise from a humiliating French defeat and harsh German peace terms.
Contrast this method, which saw Marx supporting powerful states against weaker ones and national oppressors against national unification movements (e.g., Austria, the oppressor of Italy, in its war against France), to the method used by, say, the Trotskyists, who speak endlessly of the "rights" of "smaller countries," or worse yet, of the need to respect the sovereignty of (capitalist) nations, or any of a dozen mystifications which amount to taking the side of one group of capitalists against another group of capitalists, without ever considering the interests of the working class (which, today, has no interest in supporting any war since, as capitalism already rules the entire globe, no war can serve a progressive role).
The last third or so of the book focus on Marx's dispute with the anarchists. These chapters reiterate and amplify all of the wonderful work the authors did to record the integrity of Marx and the process by which he came to possess his political opinions. Equally important, they show that "official Anarchism" is an ideology that has no place within the workers' movement, and that the anarchists who have been great fighters for our class -- of which there were and are many -- have only become such by breaking with the noxious ideas of Bakunin.
To better understand Marx's dispute with the anarchists, we must first get a bit of history of anarchism -- particularly the personal history of its greatest 19th century proponent, Bakunin -- as well as the history of the Workingman's International, which was to be the battleground between the "Marxists" and the anarchists.
Bakunin was not the first modern to be called an anarchist -- that distinction belongs to Proudhon -- but he was arguably the first whose anarchism was really at odds with the established capitalist society. (Whether Bakunin's vision was incompatible with capitalism in general is debatable.) Born to nobility, Bakunin quickly renounced his heritage. Already by the 1840s he was well-known to Europeans as a voice of opposition to Tzarist absolutism. He was first sentenced to death by Saxony for his part in the 1849 risings in Dresden. He was sentenced to death for a second time by Austria, whereupon he was handed over to the Russians where he served five years in solitary confinement.
Marx and Bakunin were already familiar with each other by 1844. The two seemed to respect each other's abilities and tread a common path, but there conceptions of revolution were inimical. Bakunin saw revolution as a great sweeping away while Marx, of course, saw it as growing from the foundations of the present society. Accordingly, Bakunin criticized Marx for teaching "paralyzing theory" to the working class in 1848.
The next misstep was Marx's. In 1848, Marx printed a letter from Polish radicals charging that Bakunin was a Russian agent. Marx was acting in good faith, but was duped. He publicly retracted the letter later, and subsequently defended Bakunin when a similar smear was made a few years later, but the damage was already done. Still, Marx and Bakunin both were men who would not let personal disputes stand in the way of working for a common cause. Unfortunately, the two -- and their factions -- did not have a common cause, or at least a common vision of how that cause was best served.
The International Workingmen's Association -- afterward known as the First International -- was a mass organization founded in the middle of the 1860s which brought together a wide spectrum of groups within the workers' movement. English members saw the organization as tool to aid strikes by discouraging foreign scabbing. On the other hand, the French saw it as a way of furthering reforms beneficial to artisans and went so far as to repudiate strikes! Because its goal was to organize all workers, this incoherence was to be expected. By 1869, the First International had 800,000 members on every inhabited continent.
Marx joined in 1864 though he realized its composition and leadership were not ideal. Even so, he felt that its ties to the working class were real enough that he was obligated to join. He was soon elected to the first committee, for which he wrote the inaugural address, which reads thusly: "The capture of political power has become the great duty of the working class." Marx quickly became leading member and quite busy. He worked to keep disparate factions united, even though he privately had many criticisms of them. At the same time, he wouldn't budge on the class character of the international -- he was happy to see Mazzini and other Italians forced out after their attempts to dilute the class character of the international by promoting nationalistic schemes.
Like Marx, Bakunin was an early member of the First International. However, unlike Marx, Bakunin rejected the idea that the proletariat was capable of organizing and acting as a class. Instead, like the Leninists that modern anarchists denigrate while venerating Bakunin, Bakunin was firmly attached to the notion that the revolution would be effected by heroic actions, undertaken by shadowy conspiracies, that would ignite the revolution. Accordingly, Bakunin told Marx he would agitate for international in Italy, but upon arrival promptly founded a society. Meuron, who joined Bakunin's next secret society in Switzerland, saw these conspiracies as a means for protecting the International from ambitious, scheming men who craved power and success more than revolution. As the authors point out, Meuron like Bakunin could not conceive of a large, public organization organized in a way that wasn't a "cockpit" for ambitious men. Like the anarchist caricature of Lenin, Bakunin and his compatriots had an incredibly low regard for the ability of the working class to organize itself. In this they were truly the first vanguardists.
The best example of the elitist, anti-proletarian attitudes of the anarchists is provided by Bakunin's association with a young Russian emigre named Nechaiev. A long extract from Nicolaievsky and Maenchen-Helfen's book detailing this affair will ably tell this story and give readers a taste of how the authors write.
The Nechaiev affair plays such an important role in the history of the International, or rather in the history of its decline, that it deserves to be recounted at some length.
Nechaiev was the son of a servant in a small Russian provincial town. He put to such good use the few free hours that his work as a messenger in the office of a factory left him that he succeeded in passing his examinations as an elementary school teacher. He starved and scraped until he had saved enough money to go to St. Petersburg, where he had himself entered as an external student at the university. In his first winter term, in 1868, he entered the student movement, in which his energy and the radical nature of his views soon earned him prominence. But that was not enough for him. He wanted to be foremost, and in order to enhance his reputation as a revolutionary he started inventing stories of his adventurous past. First he said he had been a prisoner in the Peter and Paul Fortress. Then he added an account of his daring escape. The majority of his listeners accepted all this unquestioningly, and were filled with indignation at the stories he told of his treatment by the prison warders, and a students' meeting was actually called and a delegation actually approached the university authorities. Nevertheless there were some who doubted. Some of the details of Nechaiev's prison experiences sounded improbable to the more experienced among his colleagues, and the officials declared that Nechaiev had never been under arrest.
Before this fact had been established, however, Nechaiev illegally went abroad to make contact with the Russian emigre leaders. He reached Geneva in March, 1869, and made the acquaintance of Herzen and Ogarev, the patriarchs of the 'emigration,' as well as of the representatives of the younger generation of refugees. He made an extraordinary impression upon them all. Herzen, who had grown old, tired and sceptical, said that Nechaiev went to one's head like absinthe. But the young student was not satisfied with praise and honour. He added details of his own. He said that Russia was on the eve of a tremendous revolutionary outbreak, which was being prepared by a widespread secret society. Of this society he was a delegate. And he repeated the story of his imprisonment and flight. In Geneva also there were a few people who refused to be taken in so easily. A number of emigres had been prisoners in the Peter and Paul Fortress themselves and knew how impossible it was to escape, and letters came from St. Petersburg from people who ought to have known, saying that the secret society did not exist, or at any rate gave not the slightest sign of its existence. But those who regarded Nechaiev with suspicion belonged to groups who were hostile to Bakunin. It was these who not long afterwards formed a 'Russian section' of the International and made Marx their representative on the General Council. This, however, cannot have been the deciding factor in causing Bakunin to ignore their warnings. He knew the Peter and Paul Fortress himself and knew--could not possibly have helped knowing--that Nechaiev was a liar. But what did it matter? Lies could be useful in revolutionising the slothful, and after all this Nechaiev was a marvellous fellow. Bakunin wrote a regular panegyric about him in a letter to Guillaume, describing him as 'one of those young fanatics who hesitate at nothing and fear nothing and recognise as a principle that many are bound to perish at the hands of the Government but that one must not rest an instant until the people has risen. They are admirable, these young fanatics--believers without God and heroes without phrases!' Bakunin and Nechaiev became fast friends.
Bakunin did not apparently formally admit Nechaiev to his secret society. The idea of his association with Nechaiev being surveyed by its otherwise fully initiated members was an uncomfortable one to him. The Bakunin--Nechaiev society was a quite intimate super-secret society, such as the old conspirator loved. Its object was the revolutionising of Russia.
In the spring and summer of 1869 Bakunin wrote as many as ten pamphlets and proclamations, and Nechaiev had them printed. Among them was the subsequently famous Revolutionary Catechism, which was intended to be a reply to the question of what were the best ways and means of hastening the outbreak of the revolution in Russia. The answer was to be found by the consistent application of two principles. The first was 'the end justifies the means' and the second was 'the worse, the better.' Everything--and by that Bakunin meant every thing without any exception whatever--that promoted the revolution was permissible and everything that hindered it was a crime. The revolutionary must concentrate on one aim, i.e. destruction. 'There is only one science for the revolutionary, the science of destruction. Day and night he must have but one thing before his eyes--destruction.' That was Bakunin's own summary of the duties of a revolutionary. Within the revolutionary organisation the strictest centralisation and the most rigorous discipline must prevail, and the members must be completely subordinate to their leaders. The object of this organisation was 'to use all the means in its power to intensify and spread suffering and evil, which must end by driving the people to revolt.' The Catechism even defended terrorism, which, however, it did not recommend against the worst tyrants, because the longer such tyrants were allowed to rage the better it would be for the revolutionising of the people.
Towards the end of the summer of 1869 Nechaiev travelled illegally to Russia, taking with him a mandate from the 'Central Committee of the European Revolutionary Alliance,' written and signed by Bakunin, recommending him as a reliable delegate of that organisation. Bakunin had actually had a special stamp prepared, with the words: 'Office of the foreign agents of the Russian revolutionary society Narodnaia Rasprava.'
Nechaiev remained in Russia for more than three months. He succeeded in forming an organisation based on, or alleged to be based on, the Revolutionary Catechism. Revolutionary-minded young men were not so very difficult to find, and his letter of recommendation, signed by Bakunin, whose name was universally honoured, earned him the greatest respect. He chose Moscow as his centre and it was not long before he had gathered a group about him. Had he assigned it practical aims and objects, its fate would have been the usual fate of such organisations in Russia. It would eventually have been discovered and dissolved by the police, but two or three new groups would have arisen to take its place. To Nechaiev, however, that would have appeared an idle pastime. He wished his followers to believe that there was a secret revolutionary committee which they must unconditionally obey, and, true to the injunctions of the Catechism, he used every means that tended to serve his aim. Once, for instance, he persuaded an officer he knew to pose as a supervisory party official sent from the secret headquarters on special duty. That ruse might pass at a pinch. But Nechaiev did not shrink from even cruder mystifications, so crude that he ended by perplexing some of his own followers. Finally a student named Ivanov announced to other members of the group that he no longer believed in the existence of any committee, that Nechaiev was lying to them and that he wished to have nothing more to do with him. Nechaiev decided that the 'criminal' must die. He succeeded in persuading the rest of his followers that Ivanov was a traitor and that only his death could save them. On November 29, 1869, they lured Ivanov to a dark corner of a park and murdered him. Ivanov defended himself desperately and bit Nechaiev's hand to the bone as he was strangling him with a shawl. Nechaiev bore the scar for the rest of his life! The murderers were soon discovered and arrested, and only Nechaiev succeeded in escaping abroad.
Detailed reports of Ivanov's murder appeared in the papers, and the crime was remembered for many years. It armed the Russian revolutionaries against Nechaiev-like methods.
Bakunin knew the whole story in detail, but it only enhanced Nechaiev's reputation in his eyes. On learning that Nechaiev had arrived in Geneva--he was living at Locarno at the time--he leapt so high with joy that he nearly broke his old skull against the ceiling, as he wrote to Ogarev. He invited Nechaiev to Locarno, looked after him and was his friend as before. 'This is the kind of organisation of which I have dreamed and of which I go on dreaming,' he wrote to his friend Richard. 'It is the kind of organisation I wanted to see among you.' At this time Bakunin had already started his struggle against the General Council of the International on the ground of its 'dictatorial arrogance.'
To the same period there belongs the incident which, apart from the other reasons, led directly to Bakunin's expulsion from the International. His financial position had always been precarious, but in the autumn of 1869 he was in particularly desperate straits. Through some Russian students who were followers of his he was put into touch with a publisher who offered him 1,200 roubles--far more than the author himself ever got for it--for translating Marx's Capital. Bakunin accepted the offer gladly and received an advance of 300 roubles. He did not show himself to be in any hurry to complete the task, however, and three months later he had only done sufficient to fill thirty-two printed pages. He readily let himself be convinced by Nechaiev that he had more important matters to fill his time and that he belonged to the revolution and must live for the revolution only. So he laid the work aside and gave Nechaiev full authority to come to an arrangement with the publisher. Nechaiev set about this task in an inimitable manner. It was impossible for Bakunin to communicate directly with the publisher himself on account of the police, and a student named Liubavin had undertaken to do so on his behalf. The contract had been formally made out in Liubavin's name and in the publisher's books Liubavin was nominally liable for the 300 roubles' advance. One day Liubavin received a letter bearing the stamp of Nechaiev's organisation. Its most remarkable passages are quoted below:
'DEAR SIR, --On behalf of the bureau I have the honour to write to you as follows. We have received from the committee in Russia a letter which refers among other things to you. It states: "It has come to the knowledge of the committee that a few young gentlemen, dilettanti Liberals, living abroad, are beginning to exploit the knowledge and energy of certain people known to us, taking advantage of their hard-pressed financial straits. Valuable personalities, forced by these dilettante exploiters to work for a day-labourer's hire, are thereby deprived of the possibility of working for the liberation of mankind. Thus a certain Liubavin has given the celebrated Bakunin the task of translating a book by Marx, and, exploiting his financial distress just like a real exploiting bourgeois, has given him an advance and now insists on the work being completed. Bakunin, delivered in this manner to the mercy of young Liubavin, who is so concerned about the enlightenment of Russia, but only by the work of others, is prevented from being able to work for the supremely important cause of the Russian people, for which he is indispensable. How the behaviour of Liubavin and others like him conflicts with the cause of the freedom of the people and how contemptible, bourgeois and immoral their behaviour is compared with that of those they employ and how little it differs from the practices of the police must be clear to every decent person.
'The committee entrusts the foreign bureau to inform Liubavin:
'"(1) That if he and parasites like him are of the opinion that the translation of Capital is so important to the Russian people at the present time they should pay for it out of their own pocket instead of studying chemistry and preparing themselves for fat professorships in the pay of the state...
'"(2) It must immediately inform Bakunin that in accordance with the decision of the Russian revolutionary committee he is exempt from any moral duty to continue with the work of translation..."
'Convinced that you understand, we request you, dear sir, not to place us in the unpleasant position of being compelled to resort to less civilised measures...
'AMSKIY, 'Secretary to the Bureau.'
Bakunin subsequently stoutly denied that he knew anything of the contents of this letter, and there is every reason to believe him. But when Liubavin sent him a letter indignantly protesting against these threats, Bakunin, instead of talking to Nechaiev about it, for he must have guessed who was behind it all, took occasion to be offended at Liubavin's intelligibly not very courteous tone. He wrote to Liubavin that he proposed to sever relations with him, that he would not continue the translation and would repay the advance. He never did repay the advance and must have known that he would never be able to do so.
In Nechaiev's opinion this species of blackmail was not only permissible to a revolutionary but was actually demanded of him. At every opportunity he threatened denunciation or the use of force, and stole his opponents' letters in order to be able to compromise them with the police. He shrank at nothing. He caused revolutionary appeals to be sent to one of his greatest enemies, a student named Negrescul, who was being kept under police observation, and, as Nechaiev expected, the material fell into police hands and Negrescul was arrested. He succumbed to tuberculosis in prison and died a few months after his release.
Bakunin knew what Nechaiev was capable of, as many others did by this time, but he remained loyal to him as before. Not till Nechaiev actually started threatening people whom Bakunin held dear--Herzen's daughter for instance--did Bakunin raise his voice against him. The final impulse that caused Bakunin to break with him seems to have been provided by Nechaiev's plan to form a gang for the specific purpose of robbing wealthy tourists in Switzerland. He even tried to force Ogarev's stepson to join him, whereupon Bakunin protested. At that Nechaiev appropriated a strongbox of Bakunin's containing correspondence, secret papers, and the statutes of his revolutionary organisations--including the original manuscript of the Catechism--and threatened Bakunin with publication should he take any steps against him.
That was the end of Bakunin's friendship with Nechaiev. Bakunin was horrified at the practical conclusions that Nechaiev drew from principles that he himself had helped him to formulate. The story that Nechaiev told some of his acquaintances, namely, that when he first came abroad he was an 'unspoiled, good and honourable youth' and that it was Bakunin who corrupted him, was, of course, not true. Nechaiev had started his mystifications in Russia before his first journey abroad. But Bakunin not only made no attempt to counter-act Nechaiev's inclinations, he actually encouraged them by giving them a kind of theoretical foundation. Their quarrel is not sufficient to obliterate the fact that Nechaiev was very strongly influenced by Bakunin and that it was Bakunin himself who evolved the theory by which all things were permitted.
Not much more needs be said about Nechaiev's further career. He lived two more years abroad, First in London, then in Paris and finally in Switzerland. He published more revolutionary literature and threatened and blackmailed as before. Bakunin refused to have anything more to do with him and was so embittered against him that he would have liked to denounce him as a 'homicidal maniac, a dangerous and criminal lunatic, whom it was necessary to avoid.' Nechaiev was finally betrayed by a Polish emigre in the service of the police. He was arrested in Zurich in the middle of August, 1872, and repatriated to Russia as a common criminal. On January 8, 1873, he was condemned to twenty years' hard labour in the mines of Siberia. He was not sent to Siberia, however, but confined in the Peter and Paul Fortress. Such was his power over people that he actually succeeded in winning over the soldiers who kept guard over him, and they helped to put him in touch with revolutionaries outside. He devised a plan for seizing the fortress during a visit of the Tsar's, but he was betrayed by one of his fellow-prisoners and transferred to severe solitary confinement. He died of scurvy on November 21, 1882.
Faced with the obvious association of the bandit Nechaiev and Bakunin, a leading figure in the International, as well as the Anarchists' unwillingness to set aside insurrectionist conspiracies, Marx decided that it was necessary to purge the international of Bakunin. The authors carefully defend this.
In many ways, this was a fight Bakunin himself had begun a few years before. In 1869 Bakunin and his followers tried to have the First International's council transferred from London (where Marx lived) to Geneva (where the anarchists usually resided). But by 1871 or '72 a tremendous waning of the International's strength prepared the way for bitterest infighting. Jacobin emigres from France revived Bakunin's old claims that Marx was authoritarian, a pan-German, or, even more unscrupulously, they revived the bourgeois press's claims that he swindled workers or was a secret servant of Bismarck. The English section, increasingly conservative, felt entitled to their own regional council, whereas previously the General Council, on which Marx served, and which was based in London, had served this role. Finally, Bakunin and some of his followers were incensed at the growing importance of Germany within the European workers' movement. Seizing upon all of these tensions, Bakunin -- who had already declared his intention of conquering the International by taking down Marx's weaker factional supporters -- decided to use local autonomy as his rallying cry. Marx and the General Council, on the other hand, sought more centralization, in order to combat Bakunin's incessant plotting and the increasingly fractious nature of the International.
After much wrangling, a congress of the 1st International decided to expand the purview of the General Council, to move the General Council to New York (where Marx would not be able to follow it, which meant this measure was heartily supported by the Anarchists -- and which demonstrates, for the umpteenth time, that Marx was no power-seeking authoritarian), and, in the end, to expel Bakunin. Marx's faction received support from the Germans, Swiss, and Americans (who were mostly German emigres), while Bakunin's faction received its support from the Spanish, French, and the conservative English, whose demands for local autonomy meshed up with the hypocritical but tactical stance of Bakunin (who, as we saw before, was not hostile to the most intense centralization, even going so far as to invent centralized bodies that did not exist).
Once again demonstrating a keen understanding of the personal and political, Maenchen-Helfen and Nicolaievsky suggest that Bakunin's contempt for the ability of the working class to self-organized stemmed from his focus on the periphery of capitalist Europe: "the differences between Marx and Bakunin boiled down to the differences between the historical tasks necessarily confronting the proletariat in countries in which capitalism was fully developed and the illusions to which the semi- and demi-semi-proletarians living in countries in which capitalist development was only just beginning were equally necessarily subject."
In the end, then, our brave authors forever smash the notion that Marx unfairly prosecuted Bakunin or that some personal agenda was at work in their dispute. They also clearly show that Marx was deeply committed to fighting alongside the working class, rather than working outside of it as a conspirator who regarded the class as an inert powder-keg waiting for its spark. Perhaps the best summary of Marx's role in the workers' movement is offered by a passage of Engels's which the authors cite:
By his theoretical and practical work Marx has acquired such a position that the best people in the workers' movements in the various countries have full confidence in him. They turn to him for advice at decisive moments, and generally find that his advice is best. ... but any attempt to influence people against their will would only do harm and destroy the old trust that survives from the time of the International. In any case, we have too much experience in revolutionary matters to attempt anything of the sort. It is not Marx who imposes his opinions, much less his will, upon the people, but it is they who come to him.
Under the weight of anarchist criticisms, one might dismiss this as vapid hagiography from a devoted friend. Thanks to the work of Nicolaievsky and Maenchen-Helfen, we instead see that this portrayal is true. Their book reminds us of Marx's respect for the capacity of the working class, as well as how he based his politics on the interests of the working class and its fight, rather than abstract principles or morality and justice. In this way their work is an antidote to Official Anarchism, Leninism, Trotskyism, Stalinism, and all the other bourgeois ideologies that lay claim to the name of Marx.
Karl Marx: Man and Fighter by Boris Nicolaievsky and Otto Maenchen-Helfen is available for free download at archive.org.