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Marxism and the Left Laying the Foundations

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Marxism and the Left



Laying the Foundations

WHO  WERE  MARX  AND  ENGELS? Karl Marx (1818–83) and his collaborator Friedrich Engels (1820–95) were scions of the very class they hoped to destroy: the self-confident and pros- perous  bourgeoisie,  whose  spokesmen  were  slowly  emerging  in  Prussia’s western  provinces  into  a  belief  in  their  progressive  role  in  history.  Marx seemed poised to repeat his father’s career as a successful lawyer in Trier, enrolling  at  Bonn  and  Berlin  Universities;  Engels  was  apprenticed  in  the Barmen family firm of Ermen and Engels in 1836, moving to a merchant’s office  in  Bremen.  Their  early  lives  neatly  revealed  the  main  axis  of  the developing social order—Bildung und Besitz, education and property, the twin pillars of German bourgeois respectability.

Both lives were blown off course by intellectual radicalism. Marx joined the Berlin  circle of Young Hegelians in 1837, Engels the Young Germany movement in 1841. But while the textile industry and Bremen’s commercial traditions  faced  the  young  Engels  toward  the  dynamism  of  British indus-


trialization,  the  Rhineland’s  recent  Francophone  history  pointed  Marx  to the  progressive heritage of the Enlightenment and  the French Revolution. Both  comparisons gave the German intelligentsia a sense of urgent inferi- ority during the Vorma¨rz, or “Pre-March,” in the years preceding the 1848 revolutions.  Well  before  those  events  would  sweepacross  Europe,  Marx and  Engels  had  ample  chance  for  reflection—Marx  by  returning  in  July

1841 to the progressive western corner of Germany, where he deepened his philosophical  critique  of  the  Prussian  state;  Engels  by  a  two-year  stay  in Manchester, observing industrialization’s social effects at first hand. Meet- ing in Brussels in August 1844, they began their intimate collaboration. While writing together, they worked politically among migrant German artisans in Brussels, Paris, and London, joining the German Revolution in

1848–49. After the triumph of European counterrevolution in 1849, Marx withdrew  to  London  for  the  rest  of  his  life,  while  Engels  ran  the  family business  in  Manchester.  The  1850s  were  bleak  for  Marx,  with  financial difficulties, family tragedies, and little to show for his efforts. This changed in 1857, when a first Europe-wide crisis rocked the record-breaking capi- talist  boom  then  underway.  It  spurred  Marx  to  resume  his  “economics,” pursing this feverishly until the end of the 1860s. He also returned to pol- itics,  connecting  with  the nascent labor movements in Germany and else- where, especially via the First International, which he helped found in 1864. This decade climaxed in 1867–71, with the publication of the first volume of  Capital,  Marx’s  intended  life  work,  and  the  brief  success  of  the  Paris Commune,  the  workers’  revolution  in  action.  But  the  Commune’s  after- shock and Michael Bakunin’s machinations wrecked the First International. Though Marx extended his international range in his final years, he pub- lished little and participated in events rarely, his ailments exacting a heavier toll. In 1870, Engels moved to London and took a much stronger role in the relationship.

What influence did Marx and Engels have in their own time? To answer this question requires suspending the endless debates about Marxism as a whole. It means forgetting about 1917, the Russian Revolution, and what we know about Communism. It means forgetting about Marx’s philosoph- ical writings of the 1840s, which had little relevance to the 1860s and were entirely  unknown  to  contemporaries.  The  question  of  what  Marx  “really meant”—for  example,  whether  or  not  the  early  philosophical  arguments about  “alienation”  still  informed  the  theory  of  economics  in  Capital— clearly matters for other purposes. But here, it can be safely set aside. In- stead, we should ask: What political goals did Marx and Engels argue for in  the  1860s  and  1870s,  which  the  first  generation  of  social  democratic politicians also took for themselves? How was their general theory of so- ciety understood?

The Marx we know was not the Marx of contemporaries. Our images are shaped not only by the Marxist tradition’s later course but also by those of Marx’s writings that were unavailable before his death. Posterity—and


the  labors  of  ideologists  hostile  and  sympathetic—have placed Marx and Engels outside of history, blocking our access to their contemporary stand- ing. To grasp that influence, we need to concentrate on the perceptions of socialist  politicians  and  labor  activists  in  the  last  third  of  the  nineteenth century. What was distinctive about Marx’s ideas by the end of his career? How were they used in politics?

It was only with the events of the 1860s that Marx’s political influence arrived.  Few  of  his  writings  were  available  in  his  own  lifetime. These in- cluded  a  few  early  philosophical  tracts;  the  journalistic  commentaries on the European revolutions (1847–53) plus the Communist Manifesto (1847–

8); two works of economic theory (1857 to late 1860s); and political writ- ings from the First International (1864–72). These appeared in various lan- guages  (German,  French,  English),  passing  quickly  out  of  print.  Marx’s theoretical reputation rested on the great economic writings—the Critique of  Political  Economy  (1859),  and  the  first  volume  of  Capital  (1867). Po- litically, he was known vaguely for his exploits in 1848; he had some no- toriety  as  a  leader  of  the  First  International  who  backed  the  Paris  Com- mune;  and  he  had  a  growing  reputation  as  an  economic  theorist  and historian. But in most of Europe, knowledge of his ideas stayed within the small networks of British and German socialists who adopted his intellec- tual authority.4

Marx first encountered workers in the educational meetings of German migrant artisans in Paris during early 1844. By early 1846, he had formed the Communist Correspondence Committee with fellow revolutionaries in Brussels, seeking links with workers through the London-based and semi- clandestine League of the Just. Typically for revolutionary societies of the time, this combined a secret inner core with a public front of cultural ac- tion, namely, the German Workers’ Educational Union. When the Brussels Communists merged with the Londoners in the Communist League in sum- mer 1847, accordingly, they likewise formed a German Workers’ Associa- tion  in  Brussels.  By  this  strategy,  democratic  radicals  sought  a  broader working-class base, aiming to move it in a socialist direction.

This  organizational  norm  of  local  working-class association was com- mon to the available models of popular radicalism in the 1840s: the con- spiratorial  and  insurrectionary tradition of Babeuf, Buonarroti, and Blan- qui; Chartism in Britain; and the practical trades socialism associated with Proudhon and the apolitical schemes of utopian socialists. These were not totally  separate  traditions.  The  communitarian  experiments  of  the  utopi- ans blurred with the co-operative ideals preferred by most politically active workers,  a  convergence  strongest  in  the  Owenite  socialism  of  the  early

1830s and the utopian communism of Cabet’s Icarians in the 1840s. Ideas of  producer  co-operation  also  ran  through  Chartism,  as  did  some  open- ness  to  insurrection.  If  Blanqui  and  his  coconspirators  had  a  social  pro- gram,  it  was  on  the  ideas  of  Proudhon  and  the  utopians  that  they  natu- rally  drew.


The  1840s  saw  a  key  transition,  from  the  purer  Blanquist  model  of revolutionary action to more broadly based popular agitation. While Marx painstakingly broke with the conspiratorial habits of existing revolutionary groups, he remained trapped in Blanquism’s practical logic during the 1848

Revolution itself: moving ahead of popular consciousness, he still aimed to steer  the  masses  toward  insurrectionary  showdown.  But  he  stressed  the

“bourgeois-democratic” limits of the 1848 Revolution; opposed premature confrontations; and in the revolution’s final crisis urged the Cologne work- ers  against  any  last-ditch  uprising.  Above  all,  Marx  was  explicitly  com- mitted  to  public  agitation  and  the  democratic  voice  of  the  masses  them- selves  rather  than  the  Blanquist  fantasy  of  a  secret  revolutionary  e´lite exercising dictatorship for a people not mature enough to govern for them- selves.

Yet the practical conjuncture of 1848—with a highly self-conscious rev- olutionary  intelligentsia  summoning  an  industrial  proletariat  yet  to  be formed in a Europe of extremely uneven development—made vanguardism hard to avoid. Marx and his friends claimed to know the future by virtue of understanding history’s inescapable progress. This put them in a superior relation to the masses, divining the true direction of their interests.5  In this way revolutionary democrats in 1848 raced ahead of the social movements needed to carry their programs through. Such movements could only suc- ceed, according to Marx, if capitalist industrialization occurred first.

In 1848, Marx radically misread the signs. As Engels ruefully acknowl- edged,  what  he  and  Marx  mistook  for  capitalism’s  death  throes were ac- tually its birth pangs. This sent Marx back to his desk. He already regarded the economics of exploitation as the motor of change, with the oppressed proletariat   providing   the   new   revolutionary   impulse:  no   longer  small groups of revolutionary conspirators supplied the agency, but social classes defined by conditions of economic life. But after 1848, he reapplied himself to the underlying theoretical inquiry that eventually produced Capital. He broke  politically  with  the  Communist  League,  which  in  defeat  hankered for  the  old  Blanquist  temptation.  As  he  argued  in  the  key  meeting  of  its Central  Committee,  revolutions  were  no  mere  feat  of  the  will  but  came from  gradually  maturing  conditions.  Workers  faced  a  politics  of  the long haul:  “If  you  want  to  change  conditions  and  make  yourselves  capable of government, you will have to undergo fifteen, twenty or fifty years of civil war.” This was also a general principle: “While this general prosperity lasts, enabling  the  productive  forces  of  bourgeois  society  to  develop  to  the  full extent possible within the bourgeois system, there can be no question of a real revolution. Such a revolution is only possible when two factors come into  conflict:  the  modern  productive  forces  and  the  bourgeois  forms  of production.” And: “A new revolution is only possible as a result of a new crisis; but it will come, just as surely as the crisis itself.”6



The year 1850 was the watershed in Marx’s career. He felt the rush of revolutionary optimism only once more, during the first great cyclical crisis


of  the European capitalist economy in 1857, when he set down the basic framework  of  his  economic  theory  in  the  seven  notebooks  of  the famous Grundrisse,  which  remained  unpublished  for  a  century.  This  produced  a much tougher emphasis on the social forces and objective structures that, while constraining people’s abilities to change their environment, ultimately made  this  possible.  From  this  central  insight  then  came  the  political  per- spectives separating Marx and Engels so sharply from the rival traditions of the nineteenth-century Left.

MARX’S  AND  ENGELS’S  LEGACY

For Marx and Engels, economics were fundamental. This began as a gen- eral  axiom  of  understanding:  “The  mode  of  production  of  material  life conditions the general process of social, political, and mental life. It is not the  consciousness  of  people  that  determines  their  being,  but,  on  the  con- trary, their social being that determines their consciousness.” Or: “Accord- ing to the materialist conception of history, the ultimately determining el- ement  in  history  is  the  production  and  reproduction  of  real  life.”7   This philosophical materialism dated from the 1840s. It now became a general theory of economics—of the capitalist mode of production and its general

laws of motion”—to be fully explicated in Capital. Explicitly linked to a political project, bringing 1848–49 into perspective and explaining the cir- cumstances  of  a  future  capitalist  collapse,  this general theory was Marx’s most important legacy for the pre-1914 social democratic tradition. It be- came what contemporaries mainly understood by “Marxism”—the role of the “economic factor” in history, the determining effects of material forces on human achievement, and the linking of political opportunities to move- ments of the economy. In a nutshell: revolutionary politics had to wait for the social forces and economic crises needed to sustain them.

The  1860s  galvanized  such  hopes.  In  a  fresh  drama  of  constitution- making,  Italy  and  Germany  were  unified.  And  after  the  long  gapof  the

1850s, labor movements resurged, including the craft unions of the Trades Union  Congress  in  Britain  and  workers’ associations in the various states of Germany. Labor organizing spread geographically through the European strike  wave  of  1868–74,  dramatized  by  the  great  event  of  the 1871  Paris Commune. What excited Marx was not just the return of class conflict but its  connections  to  politics,  which  gave  the  impetus  for  the  First  Interna- tional in 1864. Just as vital as labor’s revival, moreover, was the changing constitutional  context  in  which  it  happened.  For  Marx  and  Engels,  new nation-states in Germany and Italy became the key progressive gain, pro- moting capitalism in those two societies and creating circumstances favor- able  for  workers’  advance.  Added  to  the  Second  Reform  Act  in  Britain

(1867), replacement of the Second Empire by the Third Republic in France

(1871),  constitutional  compromise  between  Austria  and  Hungary  in  the


Habsburg Empire (1867), liberal revolution in Spain (1868–69), constitu- tional  reforms  in  Greece  (1864)  and  Serbia  (1869),  and  even  reforms  in Russia (1861–64), this was a fundamental redrawing of the political map. In  the  1860s,  liberal  constitutionalism  gained  the  ascendancy  in  Europe, giving labor movements their first shot at legal activity on a national scale. This inspired a new type of working-class politics, the independent mass party  of  labor:  independent,  because  it  organized  separately  from  liberal coalitions; mass, because it required broadly based public agitation; labor, because  it  stressed  the  need  for  class-based  organization;  and  a  party,  by proposing  permanent,  centrally  organized, programmatically coordinated, and  nationally  directed  activity.  Marx  consistently  advocated  this  model, which  the  First  International  was  created  to  promote.  Workers  needed  a political class movement, which valued trade unionism and other reforms but  hitched  them  to  the  ulterior  goal  of  state  power,  taking  maximum advantage  of  the  new  parliamentary  and  legal  frameworks.  Marx  didn’t expect  this  to  happen  overnight,  and  during  the  First  International  there was  only  one  case  of  a  nationally  organized  socialist  party,  the  German

Social Democratic Party (SPD) and its predecessors.

The  case  for  national  trade  union  and  party  organizations  “as  organ- izing centers of the working class in the broad interest of its complete eman- cipation” could only be won by defeating older Left traditions.8  Opposition to Marx in the First International had various sources: the liberal-reformist proclivities of many union leaders, especially the British; French Proudhon- ists,  hostile  to  both  trade  unionism  and  political  action  via  the  state;  the unpolitical revolutionism of Bakunin and the anarchists, who opposed the centralist structure of the International and its stress on party organizing; and what remained of Blanquism.

Marx  had  mixed  success  in  dealing  with  these  enemies.  With  British trade unionists, whose International involvement ran through the London- based  crafts,  he  failed:  his  modest  goal  of  a  break  with  the  Liberal Party showed few returns, and after 1872 the International’s English section dis- appeared. With the followers of Proudhon and Bakunin, he decisively won: the  former  were  defeated  via  the  policies  on  public  ownership  adopted during 1866–68, and the latter were outmaneuvered at the Hague Congress in  1872,  when  Marx  countered  Bakunin’s  challenge  by  transferring  the General Council from London to New York. Though in practice this meant closing the International down and abandoning those parts of Europe un- der  Bakunin’s  sway,  principally  Italy,  Switzerland,  and  Spain,  it  gave Marx’s  allies  control  of  the  International’s  symbolic  legacy.  Henceforth, anarchism  was  a  permanently  marginalized  political  creed,  with  regional impact on Europe’s southern rim, but never again challenging political so- cialism’s general dominance in Europe’s working-class movements.

Marx was most successful against the Blanquists. Outside Britain, Blan- quism  was  the  main  revolutionary  tradition  before  1848.  Until  the  Paris Commune, its imagery of barricades, popular insurrection, disciplined con-


spiratorial  leadership,  heroic  sacrifice,  and  necessary  dictatorship  still de- fined what revolutions were supposed to be. Marx and Engels repudiated conspiratorial  politics  in  the  1840s,  and  1848  confirmed  this  hostility  to vanguardism. Instead, they urged the broadest popular democracy, in both public agitation and internal organization. Linked to the idea of the work- ing class as the agency of progress, whose majority followed from capital- ism’s  unfolding,  this  transformed  the  image  of  revolution.  Henceforth,  it meant  not  a  voluntarist  uprising  hatched  by  a  self-appointed  conspiracy but  the  coming  to  power  of  a  class,  the  vast  majority  of  society,  whose revolutionary  potential  was  organized  openly  and  democratically  by  the socialist party for dispossession of an ever-narrowing circle of exploitative capitalist  interests.  In  this  respect,  the  victory  of  Marx’s  perspective  was complete.

In Marx’s view, each of these factors—the practical import of his social theory;  the  1860s  and  the  new  opportunities  for  legal  politics;  the  fight against opponents; and the necessity of publicly conducted mass campaign- ing—pointed to the same conclusion: that the emancipation of the working class  was  a  political  question.  This  was  true  in  three  senses:  it  had  to  be organized politically, coordinated by a class-based socialist party; the party had to concentrate the workers’ collective strengths in a centrally directed movement capable of challenging the political authority of the ruling class; and  because  the  existing  state  was  an  expression  of class rule, it couldn’t simply  be  taken  over  but  had  to  be  destroyed.  This  necessitated a transi- tional state authority, namely, the “dictatorshipof the proletariat.”9

In  Marx’s  own  thinking,  the  “transitional  proletarian  state”  was  une- quivocally  democratic. By  democracy, he meant something different from liberal parliamentary institutions. For Marx, it was a system of participa- tory  decision-making,  which  demolished  the walls  of  professionalism and bureaucracy  separating  the  people  from  government  or  from  the  special categories  of  politicians  and  officials  who  mystified  power  and  severed it from the people’s control. Marx never set this down systematically. But he saw the Paris Commune as an example of participatory democracy in ac- tion. He urged the return of all offices (armed forces, civil service, judiciary) to  the  citizenry  by  direct  election.  The  separation  of  legislative,  judicial, and executive powers would be abolished; a “political class” would cease to exist; and “leadershipfunctions” would be diffused as widely as possible. This was a “vision of democracy without professionals,” quite distinct from the social democratic heritage before 1914, which saw democratic rule in mainly parliamentary terms.10

Finally, to return to Marx’s and Engels’s basic materialism: if one side of  this  was  cautionary—avoiding  premature revolutionary adventures be- fore the social forces and economic contradictions had matured, with the need for patient political building—the other side was more optimistic. If one side was the power of objective processes over human political agency and  the  subordination  of  politics  to  historical  development,”  the  other


was the ultimate inevitability of the victory of socialism. Marx believed in the historical necessity of workers’ emancipation, because the processes of capitalist accumulation themselves created “a class constantly increasing in numbers, and trained, united, and organized by the very mechanism of the capitalist process of production.”11  Politics that neglected these underlying processes  could  not  hope  to  succeed;  politics  that  built  from  them  were assured  of  victory.  This  powerful  mixture  of  optimism  and  certainty—in the inevitable victory of history’s massed battalions—was decisive for pre-




1914 social democracy.

There were gaps in Marx’s thought. He never systematically addressed the problem of the state, nor the transition to socialism and the character of  postrevolutionary  society.  Nor  have  I  addressed  every  aspect  of  his thought,  most  notably  internationalism.  But  there,  Marx  and  Engels  had less to say that was original. International solidarity predated the First In- ternational and mattered less than the idea of national party organization, which was new. Marx’s and Engels’s belief in revolutionary war came from the  Jacobin  tradition.  And  on  nationalism  they  often  repeated  the  preju- dices of the age. Finally, some aspects of Marx’s thinking, like his apparent openness in the 1870s to Populist strategies based on the peasantry in Rus- sia, were not widely known at the time.12

Marx’s and Engels’s ideas should be judged for their contemporary sig- nificance as opposed to  their future or abstract meanings. Marx’s activity in the First International has often been seen as a sideshow or a distraction from his finishing Capital. In fact, it delivered the vital political perspectives for the socialist parties about to be founded, particularly when contrasted with  the  older  radicalisms  of  the  1830s  and  1840s.  Organizationally  the First  International  had  limited  impact.  In  1869–70,  it  became  riven  with conflicts  and  by  1872  it  was  a  dead  letter.  But  certain  policies  had  been publicly stated—for example, the practical program of labor legislation and trade union reforms in Marx’s “Instructions” for the delegates to the Ge- neva Congress in 1866; or the resolution on public ownership at the Brus- sels  Congress  in  1868;  or  the  resolution  on  the  “Political  Action  of  the Working  Class,”  which  called  for  “the  constitution  of  the  working  class into a political party,” adopted by the London Conference in 1871. These became fixed referents for the later socialist parties. In other words, through their influence in the First International Marx and Engels supplied the guid- ing perspectives for the first generation of social democratic politicians and the movements they tried to create.

THE  DIFFUSION  OF  MARXISM

The period between publication of Engels’s Anti-Du¨ hring in 1877–78 and his  death  in  1895  saw  “the  transition,  so  to  speak,  from  Marx  to Marx- ism.”13   This  was  orchestrated  by  Engels  himself.  As  Marx’s literary exec-


utor  with  Eleanor  Marx,  he  made  the  popularization  of  Marx’s  thinking the  mission  of  his  final  years.  He  edited  Capital’s  remaining  volumes  for publication, with volume 2 appearing in 1885 and volume 3 in 1894, vol- ume  4  becoming  the  three-volume  Theories  of  Surplus  Value  (1905–10) edited by Karl Kautsky.14  Engels revived older works, published new ones, and codified Marx’s thought into a comprehensive view of the world.15

Engels also managed an extraordinary network of international socialist contacts, rapidly expanding with the new socialist parties and the founding of the Second International in 1889. He advised these national movements, especially  the  German,  French,  Austrian,  Italian,  and  Russian  ones,  and helped launch the new International. He represented Marx not only via the printed  word  but  in  constant  communications  and  personal  visits,  with countless  practical  interventions.  He  tutored  the  first  generation  of conti- nental Marxist intellectuals. His influence “provided the formative moment of  all  the  leading  interpreters  of  the  Second  International”  and  a  good number of the Third as well.16

Making  Marx’s  heritage  secure  thus  established  a  “Marxist”  political tradition. Older veterans eschewed this label as a “sectarian trade-mark,” an  aversion  Marx  and  Engels  had  shared,  preferring  “critical  materialist socialism,” or “scientific” as against “utopian socialism.”17  Kautsky, how- ever,  had  no  such  compunctions.  Using  his  closeness  to  the  SPD  leaders August Bebel and Wilhelm Liebknecht and to Marx’s and Engels’s leading protege´  in  the  1880s,  Eduard  Bernstein,  he  maneuvered  skilfully through the  party  debates  of  the  1880s  and  made  Marxism  into  the  social demo- cratic  movement’s  official  creed.  His  vehicle  was  the  monthly  theoretical review  Neue Zeit, which he founded in 1883. He assured his standing as theoretical  heir  by  publishing  The  Economic  Doctrines  of  Karl  Marx  in

1887, which swiftly became the standard introduction.18

If  Engels  was  the  final  arbiter  of  Marx’s  authority,  Kautsky  was  its faithful  mouthpiece.  Kautsky’s  orthodoxy  systematically  expunged  non- Marxist  traces.  Other  leading  thinkers  of  the  first  generation—Eduard Bernstein,  Victor  Adler,  Georgy  Plekhanov,  Antonio  Labriola—were  less dogmatic  but  shared  the  same  commitment.  They  wished “to systematize historical  materialism  as  a  comprehensive  theory  of  man  and  nature,  ca- pable  of  replacing  rival  bourgeois  disciplines  and  providing  the  workers’ movement  with  a  broad  and  coherent  vision  of  the  world  that  could  be easily  grasped  by  its  militants.” This meant validating Marxism as a phi- losophy of history and dealing with themes Marx and Engels had not de- veloped, like literature and art, or religion and Christianity.19

This work had practical urgency. Within two decades of the SPD’s foun- dation  in  1875,  every  European  country  acquired  a  movement  aligning itself  with  Marx’s  ideas.  New  generations  of  militants  needed  training  in the movement’s basic principles, not only as a cadre of socialist journalists, lecturers, and officials but also to impart socialist consciousness to the rank


and file and the great mass of the yet unconverted. The culture of Europe’s labor movements began to organize.

We can track this organization by the availability of Marx’s own writ- ings in Europe. The original German edition of Capital appeared in 1867, the French translation in 1875, and a Russian one in 1872. The Communist Manifesto was revived in over nine editions in six languages from 1871 to

1873,  during  which  time  Marx’s  statements  on  the  Paris  Commune  also became widely known. European diffusion continued apace, with editions of Capital in Italian, English, and Polish and abridgements in Spanish, Dan- ish, and Dutch. By 1917, translations had followed in Bulgarian, Estonian, Czech,  Finnish, and  Yiddish. By 1918, the Manifesto had appeared in 30 languages, including Japanese and Chinese. Aside from Germany, Austria, Italy,  and  France,  the  liveliest  interest  was  in  east-central Europe and the tsarist empire, with 11 editions of the Manifesto in Polish, 9 in Hungarian,

8 in Czech, 7 in Yiddish and Bulgarian, 6 in Finnish, 5 in Ukrainian, 4 in Georgian, 2 in Armenian, and a remarkable 70 in Russian. The countries of weakest diffusion were those of the Iberian peninsula, where anarchism dominated, and the Balkans and parts of eastern Europe where there was no labor movement yet and little popular literacy.20

Most evidence—memoirs, print runs for particular titles, catalogues and lending records of socialist and union libraries, questionnaires on workers’ reading habits—shows that Marx was read mainly by movement intellec- tuals.  Even  in  a  broad  definition  of  these, embracing not only recognized theoreticians,  journalists,  and  parliamentarians but  also activists who ran the workers’ libraries, taught party education classes, organized discussion circles, and lectured at public meetings, we are still dealing with minorities. In addition, the SPD, for example, contained a plurality of outlooks. Even the  Party  School,  founded  in  1906  under  Marxist  control,  gave  a  mixed picture. Having won the fight for an orthodox curriculum, with tight the- oretical  training  and  screening  of  enrollees,  the  Marxist  instructors  were chagrined by many students’ revisionist ideas. Moreover, the 240 students graduated  by  the  Party  School  during  1906–14  were  offset  by  the  1,287 passing  through  the  Trade  Union  School,  with  its  highly  practical curric- ulum. The actual diffusion of Marxism among the cadres was limited, and as we move outward to the unschooled outlook of ordinary members, this becomes  plain.  Only  4.3  percent  of  borrowings  from  workers’  libraries were in the social sciences, with another 4.4. percent covering philosophy, religion, law, and miscellaneous subjects. The vast bulk, 63.1 percent, were in  fiction,  with  another  9.8  percent  in  children’s  books  and  another  5.0 percent in anthologies.21   Works by Marx and Engels (and for that matter Kautsky) were mainly absent from the chosen reading.

The  diffusion  shouldn’t  be  too  narrowly  understood.  Even  if  Marx’s own  writings  were  hard  to  get  hold  of,  there  were  many  commentaries about them—some three hundred titles in Italy alone from 1885 to 1895,


or over two books a month on Marxism and socialism for a decade.22  Not surprisingly, then, early socialist intellectuals acquired garbled versions of Marx. They knew a few basic ideas: the primacy of economics in history; the natural laws of social development; the scientific basis of socialism; the class struggle as the motor of change; the proletariat as the agency of pro- gress;  the  independent  political  organization  of  the  working  class;  the emancipation of labor as the emancipation of society. To this degree, Kaut- sky’s popularization had already succeeded: awareness of “Marxism” pre- ceded  awareness  of  Marx  himself  and  supplied  rudiments  of  popular  so- cialist consciousness.

The socialist press was key. In Germany, the SPD’s daily and periodical press was  the most popular working-class reading matter. By 1913, there were 94 party newspapers, all but four appearing six times a week, with a combined circulation of one and a half million, or a sixfold increase over



1890. This press achieved blanket coverage of party members. In Berlin in

1906,  less  than  3  percent  of  the  48,352  SPD  members  were  not  reading Vorwa¨rts (the party daily) or another party paper, and elsewhere subscrib- ers often outnumbered party members. Moreover, party newspapers were consumed collectively, passed hand to hand, and available in cafe´s, clubs, and  bars.  Most  decisive  were  the  rhythms  of  daily  communication  in working-class  communities.  Joining  in  the  life  of  the  movement,  with  its politicized  sociability,  cultural  opportunities,  and  face-to-face interaction, made people into Social Democrats.23

It’s  unclear  how  consciously  Marxist  this  everyday  culture  of  the  so- cialist movement was. On some interpretations, the SPD’s official Marxism was  disconnected  from  its  practical  life,  whether  in  unions,  daily  propa- ganda,  cultural  and  recreational  clubs,  or  general  consciousness  of  mem- bers.24  But this can go too far. Most people most of the time don’t hold an explicit philosophy, let alone sophisticated doctrinal bases for their beliefs. That doesn’t preclude deeply felt political values, which in the early labor movements  meant  ideas  of  social  justice,  separateness from the dominant culture,  an  ethic  of  working-class  community  and  collective  solidarity,  a class-combative anger against the powerful, and so forth. Marxism wasn’t the  only  creed  sustaining  those  beliefs.  But  its  contribution  was clear, es- pecially  in  derivative values and popular discourse. A cadre of more con- sciously Marxist militants was also created before 1914, and during wider popular agitations this cadre clearly came into its own.

Pre-1914 labor movement values were broadly congruent with the po- litical  legacy  of  Marx  and  Engels.  This  was  true  of  the  basic  materialist outlook;  the  new  opportunities  for  national  politics created by the 1860s constitutional  reforms;  the  antipathy  to  anarchism;  the  sense  of  the  need for  strong  union  and  party  organization  to  wrest  gains  from  government and  employers;  and  the  general  conviction  that  history  was  carrying  the working  class  to  its  rightful  inheritance  in  society.  This  congruence  was especially strong in Germany, where the SPD lacked rivals in the working-


class movement, whereas in Italy and France socialists competed with syn- dicalists in the movement’s overall culture. There were some discordances. The SPD had no unequivocal belief in the ultimate revolutionary confron- tation  Marx  thought  inevitable.  Socialist  parties’  growing  parliamentary strengths  also  posed  dilemmas  of  revolution  versus  reform  Marx  was spared. But Second International parties broadly accepted the politics Marx pioneered  so  consistently  in  his  final  two  decades.  If  Marxism  is  defined like  this  rather  than  by  detailed  knowledge  of  Capital,  popular  socialist consciousness appears in a far more Marxist light.

In two respects the legacy changed in the passage from Marx to Marx- ism. One was the bifurcation of labor movements into political and indus- trial arms. As each pursued their own reformist ends, the unified struggle for workers’ emancipation conceived by Marx fell apart. Marx’s other com- mitment to participatory forms of direct democracy was also lost, making the main versions of democracy almost completely parliamentary in form. Second,  Engels’s  and  Kautsky’s  renditions  of  Marx’s  thought  brought  ev- olutionism  and  naturalism into  historical materialism. Engels had already set the tone in his speech at Marx’s funeral, drawing parallels with Charles Darwin:  “Just  as  Darwin  discovered  the  law  of  development  of  organic nature,  so  Marx  discovered  the law of development of human history.”25

Engels elaborated this claim in his works of the 1880s, which Kautsky then consummated in his further works of popularization.

In most accounts of Second International Marxism, this “scientific” lan- guage was its hallmark. A natural-scientific outlook formed by reading Dar- win and the works of Ludwig Bu¨ chner and Ernst Haeckel permeated Kaut- sky’s    pre-Marxist    thinking.    This    encounter   with   evolution   proved intellectually liberating for Kausky’s socialist generation. In Neue Zeit, the dual  affiliation  to  Marx  and  Darwin  was  virtually  on  the  masthead. The class struggle—“the struggle of man as a social animal in the social com- munity”—mirrored the biological struggle for existence. What was true of Kautsky  characterized  the  SPD  at  large.  Bebel  declared  confidently:  “So- cialism  is  science,  applied  with  full  understanding  to  all  fields  of  human activity.” After Bebel’s own Women and Socialism, popularizations of Dar- win and evolutionary theory were the favorite nonfiction reading in work- ers’  libraries.26   The  same  applied  to  Italian  socialism,  where  the architect of  a  remarkably  vulgar  Darwinian  Marxism  was  Enrico  Ferri,  a  leading party official and long-time editor of the party newspaper Avanti!27  When the  young  socialist agitator Benito  Mussolini began editing a party news- paper in Forli in 1910, he called Marx and Darwin the two greatest think- ers of the nineteenth century.28

The  hallmark  of  popular  socialist  consciousness,  however,  was robust eclecticism.  In  shaping  a  socialist  political  tradition,  certain  general  prin- ciples—the labor movement’s basic values—mattered more than the exclu- sive and esoteric graspof any one theory. Non-Marxist influences, includ- ing  Lassalleanism  in  Germany,  Mazzinianism  in  Italy,  Proudhonism  in


France, the nameless amalgam of Carlyle and Ruskin, secularism and free thought,  and  residual  Chartism  in  Britain,  all  influenced  the  socialist tra- dition.  By  1900,  a  string  of  others  were  added,  varying  across  the  conti- nent—the  theories  of  Henry  George,  the  ethical  teaching  of  Leo  Tolstoy, Edward  Bellamy’s  socialist  fiction,  an  assortment  of  futurist  utopias,  and the “Darwinist” ensemble of evolutionist theories. Socialist propagandists could also  use the languages of popular religion, “presenting socialism as both science and faith, as at once religion or faith in human kindness and as the heir to the humanitarian condition.”29   In autobiographies, working people describe coming to Marxism via these eclectic and circuitous routes, with a thirst for unifying and ecompassing philosophies of the world. En- gels  and  later  Marxists  might  decry  the  woolly-headed  popularizers,  but works  like  Anti-Du¨ hring  did  as  much  to  strengthen  as  negate  the  impact of simplified materialist accounts.30

A large centrally organized socialist party like the SPD strengthened the resources  available  to  the  worker  wanting  to  learn.  But  this  proceeded largely beneath the level of official party ideology, whether avowedly Marx- ist as in Germany or an obstinately non-Marxist ethical socialism as in the British Labour Party after 1900. At the movement’s grassroots was an eclec- tic and  autodidactic type of working-class socialism, where Marxism was only the most powerful in a larger “constellation of socialist ideologies.”31

A special set of circumstances made this eclecticism possible—after oppor- tunities for popular literacy had grown, but before these individual efforts at   self-learning  became  preempted  by  comprehensive  systems  of  state schooling and more doctrinaire approaches to party educational work.32

Underpinning  the  organized  efforts  of  socialist  movements,  moreover, were  the  momentous  social  changes  produced  by  capitalist  industrializa- tion,  which  assembled  massive  concentrations  of  working-class  people  in the  new  urban  environments.  Collective  action  became  essential  to  the hopes  and  material  well-being  of  these  new  populations,  and  it  was  here that the relevance of Marxist ideas decisively converged. Before considering the emergent socialist parties in more detail, therefore, it is to industriali- zation and the making of the working class that we must turn

during  the   “dual  revolution”   be- tween the 1780s and 1840s—industrialization in Britain, political upheaval in France—class became the modern name for social divisions. No   less   than   “industry”   or   “democracy,”

class  became  a  modern  keyword.  “Social- ism,”  “working  class,”  and  “proletariat”  all appeared  in  Britain  and  France  by  the  early

1830s, in Germany a decade later. Terminol- ogy           then  became         truly         polarized  into

“worker”  and  “bourgeois”  during  the  third quarter of the nineteenth century in the wake of  the  failed  1848  revolutions,  as  capitalism began its first worldwide boom.1  The progress of   machinery,  steam  power,  factories,  and railways  became  increasingly  the  markers  of progress  in  Europe,  and  as  the  first  industri- alizing  society  Britain  pointed  toward  an ex- citing  and  necessary  but  forbidding  future. Moreover, the novel concentrations of indus- try presaged a dangerous new presence in so- ciety,  one  troublesomely  resistant  to  social and political control.

Industry   brought   the   “social   problem.” New  forms  of  regulation  were  needed  for public health, housing, schooling, poor relief, recreation,  and  criminality.  Worse,  industri- alization contained a political threat. Industry brought  the  rise  of  a  working  class,  with  no stake  in  the  emerging  order  or  its  laws.  For polite society, collective action by the laboring masses  became  a  constant  anxiety,  and  to cope with such fears distinctions were drawn between  “respectable”  workers  and  the  rest. To such thinking, the skilled working man be- came demoralized by an unhealthy urban en- vironment,  corrupted  by  the  criminally  indi- gent and seduced into radicalism by socialists


and other agitators. But for their own part, the agitators drew the opposite conclusions. The socialist advocates of the class-conscious proletariat found in  workers’  communities an  essential unity of purpose, borne forward by the logic of capitalist growth. This chapter, by sketching the working class as it emerged into social history, provides a framework for measuring those claims. In what ways were socialist hopes justified?



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