Marx and Bakunin Argue



Mikhail Bakunin and Karl Marx walked into Bronx County’s 47th Precinct. Yet terming the action “walking” would be quite insufficient, as this term often implies the erroneous assumptions that such actions were free and voluntary; quite the contrary. To quote the reigning police chief on this matter: the two fellows were being: “forcibly escorted out of the central booking station of the New York City Police Department, and were subsequently led into their respected holding cells” (which were right next to each other). However, a more accurate portrayal of the affairs that transpired would provide a very different description; an unbiased look at the incident might reveal: a large gang of uniformed thugs using the coercive power of their nightsticks to both batter and break the resistance of two fiery personalities.

The circumstances regarding these two outstanding 18th century philosophers somehow living in the 21st century remained quite unclear; the true specifics as to how these seemingly ill fated individuals met each other, whether by come cosmic lapse in the linear progression of time, an accidental result of experimental new technology, or even by occult tinkering, remained quite unknown. Let it suffice to say that the only logical facts one might deduce from the situation was that: both Bakunin and Marx had lived in the United States for a period of at least 6-12 months. During this period they devoted nearly all available time studying (at the New York Public Library) the history, culture, philosophy, and political landscape of the last century. Additionally, both men had become involved with current political activism. Thus, later, whether by sheer coincidence or an ironic twist of fate, both individuals were unlawfully arrested during a demonstration, where, in the most unlikely of places, the two met upon arrest.

Bakunin was not brought to his cell without a fight; every ounce of him strained and struggled to grab a hold of anything and everything he passed; he held on until he was red in the face, in what might only be described as: a last effort to prolong his all-but-inevitable imprisonment. Tables, chairs, posts, it made no difference, so long as the item he grabbed could cause the thugs dragging him a bit more hardship and discomfort. In the end, Bakunin had to be forcibly pried from the objects in the hallway, as he was unwilling to cede an inch to his overseers. Marx responded in much the same fashion, although he felt it necessary to hurl insults at his captors while being insubordinate. The guards would angrily tug at his overcoat, and Marx would call them: “fascist puppets of the capitalist state.

Upon literally being thrown his cell, Bakunin staggered to his feet and dusted himself off. He looked around at every inch of the 6 x 8 foot cell; there were no windows. The room had dull, grey, linoleum floors, cold concrete walls coated with lime green paint that had long since faded. Bakunin thought to himself glumly: “I always figured they’d improve aesthetics of state prisons in the future, so that it might hide the tyrannical nature of the functionaries it serves.” It was in mid winter, and either by sheer malevolence or negligence on behalf of the police, no source of heating was active in the holding cells. Furthermore, there was no light to speak of except for one dimly lit bulb on the ceiling of his cell. Shivering, and bundling up for warmth, Bakunin thought to himself: “Well, I suppose there’s no way to hide it, even in a future society; one way or another, the true face of the rotten state edifice must surface at some point…. Although, at least in Russia I had sunlight…..”

Already in his cell, Marx folded his arms and glared across his cell at Bakunin with disdain; the two men hadn’t been on speaking terms since 1872 when Marx and his followers expelled both Bakunin and the Anarchists from the First International. “Why of all people did it have to be Bakunin” he thought? Why not Engels? I’m in the frigid epicenter of bourgeoisie class domination, and I’m sited next to an unscientific dolt!” Bakunin, (seizing upon the moment of silence) took it upon himself to become a bit of a rabble rouser stating:

“You know Marx, it appears that all of your predictions have failed; your historical materialism that put state socialism and finally communism on both an immutable and inevitable pedestal has all but collapsed. Your dialectical predictions masquerading as scientific commandments claiming the soon-to-be downfall of capitalism has been refuted by history itself. Additionally, all hitherto experiments involving in the implementation your ideas in societies have lead to nothing but: economic, social, and moral disaster! Did I not tell you that the Red Bureaucracy would be the most terrible lie of the century, that your dictatorship of the proletariat would be nothing more than a dictatorship over the proletariat?”

Marx interrupted: “do you think if a man calls himself a true Marxist or a socialist but acts like a gangster that this says anything about my ideas? Nonsense! I bear no responsibility for madmen hijacking my philosophy, perverting it into a noose to hang society. Your blatant intellectual snobbery merely stems out of your refusal to accept a scientific approach to politics. Moreover, how could I predict the rise of the mass media, and the entire public relations industry’s “manufacture of consent” without the use of the purse; in addition to the creation of privileged middle class used as societal managers for the subordination of the workers. Such institutions and conceptions didn’t even exist 18th century Germany, much less pre-capitalist Russia.”

Marx added: “What of the anarchists? You yourselves have done no better, after a few short lived revolutions you drift into utter political obscurity. What has been your “great” contribution to the emancipation of the working class? That is, aside from periodic influx of youth blinded by political idealism agitating for a few years, who then proceed to become disillusioned and absorbed back into contemporary society as cogs in the machine. Time has made you: irrelevant, weak, and petty; degradating to the point of a mere intellectual curiosity found only in the outskirts of academia, and in the semantics of post-modernism. Even Lenin was right when he referred to Anarchism as: “infantile ultra-leftism.”

Bakunin stood up, faced Marx, and with an increasingly loud and scathing tone shouted:

“Well Marx, a hundred years ago I called you vain, but I see that was insufficient in description, what you proclaim is dogma! Do you really still believe in the validity of authoritarian communism after all this time, and endless examples; do honestly think that the former Soviet Union could have taken any other path then the one of terror and bloodshed? Top-down communism doesn’t work, vanguards, parties, states, central committees, all fail! Anarchism and freedom is the aim of your communism, but the state and dictatorship is the means, so, by your logic, in order to free the masses, they have first to be enslaved; this is self-contradiction. True political, social, and economic change may only be derived from: universal rebellion, by the toiling masses from the bottom up. Liberty, equality, and emancipation aren’t gifts from authority, nor awards of the state, but its antithesis. Don’t you see that liberty can only be created by those who have the means to pursue it? Just as one cannot suspect that a small tree which has been turned into a club to produce leaves, so to can one equally not suspect that the state: organized violence, control, and subjugation, to produce anything out of its assigned role.”

Before Marx had the chance to interject Bakunin added:

“The tried and true methods of the anarchists are not perfect and we never claimed otherwise; yet, because we have perpetually admonished rigid adherence to a domineering philosophy outside of core ethics, we maintained the resolve to adapt, change, self-criticize, and self-improve and we have. True, our grand past revolutions have failed, but with inquiry into the matter reveals none but the most sinister intentions emanating from your camp. Lenin smashed the Black Communes, the Red Army crushed Makhno, and Stalin destroyed the last hope for democracy and freedom, betraying the Spanish Anarchists of Catalonia and Barcelona, and paving the way for Franco and Fascism. True, Anarchists are small in number, but our numbers are on the rise; yet never have we been irrelevant. Organizing, educating, agitating, striking for the 8-hour work day, proliferating solidarity networks with out comrades, resisting: war, occupations, aggression, capitalism, unionizing the disenfranchised, shutting down WTO, protesting the corporate parties, forming: collectives, councils, federations, associations, all under the principles of mutual aid, without hierarchy, without authoritarianism, a free and equal model in which all have a voice. And we have room for improvement.”

Bakunin cleared his throat, raised his hands in the air in the matter of an evangelist, and proclaimed with great enthusiasm: “If the present wave of repression can be beaten back, if the left can overcome its more suicidal tendencies and build upon what has been accomplished in the past decade, then, the problem of how to organize industrial society on truly democratic lines, with democratic control in the workplace and in the community, can become a dominant intellectual issue for those who are alive to the problems of contemporary society, and, as a mass movement for libertarian socialism develops, speculation will proceed to action.”

Upon hearing this, Marx was completely enraged, his face was flustered, his eyes fixated on Bakunin; he rattled the bars of his prison cell and roared:

“Fool! I neither supported nor envisioned vanguards or centralized party domination in which only those administrative organs at the top have the only measure of control. The party was supposed to be the living breathing embodiment of the people, a means to craft the general will into pragmatic action. Lenin, Stalin, Mao made the proletariat their tool, and both used and discarded them as such. When I say the dictatorship of the proletariat, I mean the entirety of the proletariat operating the mechanisms of the state on a free-egalitarian model, yet using the state organs to suppress the reaction of the bourgeois; those who would kill the revolution along with, peace, solidarity, and cooperation.

Bakunin shook his head, and replied:

Don’t you understand that the very state you tout about with glee, that entity you claim ought to be the benevolent embodiment of the people is the very reason for Marxism’s downfall? Marxism merely replaces: Venture Capitalists with the Central Bank, Markets with State Planners, and Capitalist Mangers with so-called Socialist Managers. We the Anarchists see these things for what they are; we call as spade a spade and reply: a boss, is a boss, is a boss, is a boss. Metaphorically speaking: when the people are being beaten with a stick, they are not much happier if it’s called “the people’s stick.”

Marx, you must know that it is impossible for a special interest group, limited in number, with more: rights, privileges, and powers than everyone else, to embody the will of the people. It is the nature of the human animal to pursue his own interest; thus, if you grant a man special privileges, he will use those privileges for his own ends. The revolution mustn’t be handed to the proletariat on a silver platter, as a revolution divorced from the people is merely a coup; rebellion must come from below, being derived from our innate need to pursue: material necessity and individual autonomy; in short: freedom. The people must be free to do as they see fit, without infringing upon the rights of others. We must abolish the state that fetters us so; Those: stealing, thieving, conniving, murderous thugs, they must be stopped where they stand; the will of the people must be set free to destroy the decadent failures of the old paradigm; as, the passion for destruction is a creative passion, and our creativity must be set free. Marx, we have no need of your top-down structures, your bureaucrats, planners, or Apparatchiks, we can run our own lives for ourselves; and we intend to do so.

Marx obviously overcome with emotion buried his hands in his face and remarked:

“It’s all gone wrong, all of it. Bakunin, the Communards of the Paris Commune regarded you as their national treasure; you saw their rise and fall, the glory and destruction of the commune. That was what I meant by the dictatorship of the proletariat. An association of men and women, freely constituting themselves for the purposes of production and consumption, yet, using the means available to combat those would take that away for their own selfish greed. I never intended for any of this to happen, communism should have bought about mans freedom, and instead buried him in the fetters of despair.”

Marx got up, unburied his hands and took a deep long breath; a long white puff shot out as he exhaled, the entirety of the moisture being consumed by the cold. “Bakunin” said Marx “how can we reconcile the failures of the past with the impending deficiencies of the present?”

Bakunin pointed to the police officers across from them: “There is no certainty, only opportunity; yet, if we cease to face the powers at be, and the many social ills that accompany their dominion, we will only guarantee that we lose. Thus, we must fight, we must pursue liberty with all our ferocity, we must insure a world where not only we are secure in our rights, but where the collective citizenry as a whole is guaranteed liberty; a circumstance where people are truly free to pursue their own: economic, social, cultural, and political livelihoods, in a manner which they themselves see as fit.”

Bakunin, (this time modest tone of voice) then replied: “we can organize. And as long as there is discontent, brutality, alienation, subordination, that which would deny both man and woman the things they needs to survive and discover happiness; as long as we apply the same level of skepticism to ourselves as we do to others, and as long as we constantly re-evaluate, update, and improve our: ethics, methods, morals, and organization, then certainly, there is hope.”

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