Vol. XLIII No. 04 January 27, 2019

Fight Against Bakunin’s Anarchism- 28

AFTER the fall of the Paris Commune, the Governments of the European countries organized police repression on the International’s sections and members. In France membership in the International was regarded as a criminal offence. The Governments of Germany, Russia and Austria were discussing joint measures against the organization.

Never since the defeat of the 1848-49 revolution had a campaign of slander reached such intensity in the bourgeois press, which resorted to every kind of falsification and misrepresentation of facts.

Marx wrote in a letter to a friend that he had the honour of “being at the present moment the most slandered and threatened man in London”. He added: “That really does one good after the boring 90-year-old swamp idyll”.

Marx was hardly the man to be silenced by threats. Time was sapping his strength, but he remained loyal to his view of human happiness, which was “to keep fighting”, as he had once put it to his daughters.

It was necessary now to keep fighting not only against the Government’s terror and the baiting of the bourgeois press, but also against those capitulators within the International who had cowardly dissociated themselves from the Paris Commune.


Bakunin, the Russian petty bourgeois revolutionary emigre and one of the organizers of the anarchistic trend in the International, and his followers decided that the moment was right to take over the International, stamp out scientific Communism and foist the ideology and anarchism on the working class movement.

The Bakuninists attempted to interpret the heroic struggle of the Communards in terms of their anarchistic aims, though the experience of the Commune in refuted anarchism.

The Bakuninists claimed that the working class must repudiate every State in principle and must combat the creation of a proletariat Sate as well. This pseudo-revolutionary phrase-mongering was contradicted by the fact that it was precisely by the Commune that the proletarian State had found its realization in the form of the dictatorship of the proletarian. The proletarian State had proved itself to be the most important instrument for the protection and advancement of the achievements of the proletarian revolution.

The Bakuninists also rejected the organizational unification of the proletariat in political parties, and opposed the participation of workers in the political struggle. Here, too, the experience of the Commune showed the foolishness of the anarchistic viewpoint. One of the most important reasons for the defeat of the communards was the fact that the Paris workers had not been led by a revolutionary class Party. For that reason there had been no completely unified leadership of the revolutionary movement, the alliance with the working peasants had been neglected, and the counter-revolution had not been combated with the necessary decisiveness in the first weeks of the Commune.


In the meeting of the General Council, and in his correspondence, Marx unerringly evaluated these weaknesses as an expression of the stage of development of the proletarian struggle for emancipation. The communards had to pay for their temporizing and their mistakes, with their blood. It was therefore all the more necessary to analyse bitter experiences and to recognize that the working class cannot achieve Socialism through spontaneous actions, and that social progress is indissolubly bound up with the development of the revolutionary party as the leader of the social movement.                  

In the International a vehement fight flared up now concerning the lessons of the Commune for the further development of the international workers’ movement. The weekly meetings of the General Council had never been so stormy as during the discussions about the position of the working class on the dictatorship of the proletariat.

A number of hotheads and adventures, for example, demanded that the International issue a call for new revolutionary uprisings. To these Marx calmly replied that first one had to prepare the proletariat for the revolution. He dealt patiently with all arguments, no matter how confused they might be, and refuted false conclusions. He was adamant, however, when he felt that the conduct of some “leaders” was based, not on insufficient understanding or theoretical unclarity, but on personal conceit and lust for power, and that they were in reality playing a frivolous game with the working class. That was precisely the situation with many anarchists.

The Bakunists announced their rejection “of every activity that did not have as its immediate and direct aim the triumph of the workers against capital”. In weeks of discussion, Marx succeeded, with the support of Engels, in convincing almost all of the members of the General Council and the most important sections of the International that there was nothing else behind the revolutionary phrases of the Bakuninists than the rejection of every organized political struggle and every revolutionary party of the proletariat.


Marx achieved a significant victory in these controversies in September 1871. The General Council had organized a Conference in London with delegates of various organizations affiliated to the International.

All the draft resolutions presented by the General Council had been worked out by Marx. Many of these contained ruling on oganisational questions and proposed new methods of struggle to the various sections of the International to suit the situation which had been made enormously complicated as a result of the counter-revolutionary campaign of persecution.

At Marx’s suggestion, the conference proposed that separate organizations of working women be set up inside the International wherever that could be useful.

A sharp ideological struggle against the anarchists unfolded at the London Conference. The Conference concentrated its attention on questions concerning the role of the proletarian party and the political struggle of the working class. These questions, vital for the present and future of the workers’ movement, became the subject of a heated debate.

Countering the anarchists’ sectarian ideas, Marx invoked the experience of the Paris Commune and the First International in all his speeches on the problems of the theory and tactics of the revolutionary movement. After the Commune, not only theory, but also practice showed convincingly that the working class must have political power, which it could win only having its own political party, if it were to carry out Socialist transformations.


The main result in the work of the Conference was that it adopted a resolution based on Marx’s conclusions on the proletarian party, in particular, its role in the revolutionary movement.

“…Against this collective power of the propertied classes the working class cannot act, as a class, except by organizing a political party, distinct from, and opposed to, all old parties formed by the propertied classes;

“…This organization of the working class into a political party is indispensable for ensuring the triumph of the Social Revolution and its ultimate end- the abolition of classes…”

Marx and Engels had to take the floor several times to speak on key questions of the theory and practice of Marxism, pointing to the erroneous views of the anarchists.

The resolution “On land Tillers” provided for the elaboration of concrete measures to persuade the peasantry to join the movement of the industrial proletariat, and emphasized the necessity of spreading the ideas of the International in rural areas.

Marx was satisfied with the results of the London Conference. After all, the resolution on the political action of the working class not only proclaimed the necessity of political struggle, but indicated how such a struggle could be carried out; it pointed to the need for the establishment of Communist Parties. “It was hard work….,” Marx wrote to his wife. “But much more has been done than at all the earlier Congresses together.”

But Marx did not delude himself into thinking that the Bakuninists had given up. To put an end to Bakunin’s splitting activities, the London Conference adopted a resolution that condemned existence of any separate societies within the International.


After the London Conference, the followers of Bakunin stepped up their attacks on Marx, Engels and the General Council. Their campaign against the International attracted numerous anti-Marxist groups.

In this period of controversies with anarchism and sectarianism, Marx did not make the slightest concession to reformism, which was especially supported by the English trade union leaders. Almost all these union leaders, under the pressure of the English bourgeoisie, and frightened by the armed struggles in Paris, moved closer to the liberals. They cultivated and spread the illusion that the proletariat could only advance to Socialism along the road of democratic and social reforms, and became increasingly opposed to the viewpoint of the General Council.

Marx naturally supported reforms but he and Engels constantly emphasized that the working class must link the struggle for partial aims with the struggle for the final aim, Socialism.

Dwelling on the question of the Socialist revolution, Marx stressed the view expressed by Engels back in the 1840s, that revolutionary armed struggle is to Communists not an end in itself, that an uprising would be folly if the task could be accomplished by peaceful means. At the same time Marx and Engels noted that armed suppression of working class actions would inevitably lead to the revolution taking a non-peaceful path and that the proletariat should be prepared for the most acute struggle, including armed struggle. In the epoch of the unchallenged sway of capital, such struggle was the most likely method of carrying out a Socialist revolution. It was important, they pointed out, that the proletariat should use parliamentary forms and win democratic rights and freedoms.