Marx versus Bakunin - Part Two

The Paris Commune put to the test the different currents inside the First International. Its subsequent defeat created an atmosphere where all kinds of demoralised elements thrived. Intrigue was on the order of the day. This led to a questioning of centralised leadership, of the very role of the leadership. Marx and Engels answered all this fully.

Bakunin and the Franco-Prussian War

In the middle of all this, stormy events were being prepared. The thunder-clouds of war that hung over Europe erupted in the Franco-Prussian War. The defeat of the French armies at Sedan led to the collapse of the Bonapartist regime and the Paris Commune. France was once more in the throes of revolution. Here the adventurist character of Bakunin was exposed in practice.

During the war Bakunin supported France, fearing that it would become a German colony “and then instead of living socialism we will have the doctrinaire socialism of the Germans.” (James Joll, The Anarchists, p. 90).

When on July 19, 1870 the war erupted it took Europe by surprise. A few days after the outbreak of hostilities the General Council published a proclamation written by Marx, which began with a quotation from the Inaugural Address of the International on war: "a foreign policy in pursuit of criminal designs, playing upon national prejudices and squandering in piratical wars the people's blood and treasure."

Marx fiercely denounced Napoleon III, pointing out that whichever side won, the last hour of the Second Empire had struck. This was a prophetic prediction. In about six weeks the regular French army was smashed at Sedan. On September 2, Napoleon had already surrendered to the Prussians. Two days later a republic was declared in Paris. But the war continued. It passed into the second phase, in which Prussia was no longer fighting a defensive war against the Empire but a predatory war against the French people to seize Alsace-Lorraine and plunder France.

On September 9, 1870, immediately after the proclamation of a Republic in France, the General Council issued its second Manifesto on the war, also written by Marx. It contains one of the most profound analyses in all of Marx's writings. Long before the fall of Sedan, the Prussian general staff declared itself in favour of a policy of conquest. Marx opposed any annexations or indemnities, and prophetically predicted that such a predatory peace would create a state of permanent war in Europe. France would fight to regain what she had lost and would enter into an alliance with Tsarist Russia against Germany. This was exactly what happened in 1914.

The Manifesto urged the German workers to demand an honourable peace and the recognition of the French Republic and advised the French workers to keep a watchful eye on the bourgeois republicans and make use of the Republic for the purpose of strengthening their class organization to fight for their emancipation. However, Marx warned the French workers not to try to take power under present circumstances.

While Marx was trying to restrain the French workers from entering into an untimely battle against overwhelming forces, Bakunin was doing his best to stir them to revolt at all costs. As soon as he heard of a local uprising in Lyons Bakunin went to that city on the 28th of September where he installed himself in the Town Hall. He declared the “administrative and governmental machinery of the State” abolished and the “Revolutionary Federation of the Commune” proclaimed in its place.

Bakunin carried his rejection of authority to the point that he neglected to post guards on the door of the Town Hall, so that when the State finally appeared in the form of the National Guard, it was able to enter the premises without difficulty and arrest everyone inside. Marx wrote about this episode with heavy but justified irony:

“London, October 19, 1870

“As to Lyons, I have received letters not fit for publication. At first everything went well. Under the pressure of the ‘International’ section, the Republic was proclaimed before Paris had taken that step. A revolutionary government was at once established ‑ La Commune ‑ composed partly of workmen belonging to the ‘International’, partly of Radical middle class Republicans. The octrois [internal customs dues] were at once abolished, and rightly so. The Bonapartist and Clerical intriguers were intimidated. Energetic means were taken to arm the whole people. The middle class began if not really to sympathise with, at least to quietly undergo, the new order of things. The action of Lyons was at once felt at Marseilles and Toulouse, where the ‘International’ sections are strong.

“But the asses, Bakunin and Cluseret, arrived at Lyons and spoiled everything. Belonging both to the ‘International’, they had, unfortunately, influence enough to mislead our friends. The Hotel de Ville was seized for a short time ‑ a most foolish decree on the abolition de l'etat [abolition of the state] and similar nonsense were issued. You understand that the very fact of a Russian ‑ represented by the middle class papers as an agent of Bismarck ‑ pretending to impose himself as the leader of a Comite de Salut de la France [Committee for the Safety of France] was quite sufficient to turn the balance of public opinion. As to Cluseret, he behaved both as a fool and a coward. These two men have left Lyons after their failure.

“At Rouen, as in most industrial towns of France, the sections of the International, following the example of Lyons, have enforced the official admission into the ‘committees of defence’ of the working-class element.

“Still, I must tell you that according to all information I receive from France, the middle class on the whole prefers Prussian conquest to the victory of a Republic with Socialist tendencies.” (Marx and Engels Correspondence, Marx to Edward Beesly)

His attempt to proclaim anarchism having ended in farce, “Citizen B” was compelled to return to Switzerland empty-handed. Now he turned his attention once more to the IWA. Unable to overthrow the bourgeois state, he intensified his efforts to overthrow the General Council, which, on the eve of the Paris Commune, had to take up precious time with Bakunin’s constant intrigues.

The Paris Commune

Just as Marx thought, the French republicans immediately showed their cowardice and their readiness to enter into an agreement with Bismarck against the working class, who were prepared to fight against the Prussian forces. The attempt of the French bourgeois to disarm the workers of Paris was the spark that lit the flame of the Paris Commune.

A barricade in the Paris Commune, March 18, 1871.A barricade in the Paris Commune, March 18, 1871. The Commune lasted three months (March 18 to May 29, 1871) but finally succumbed to overwhelming force. A few days after the defeat of the Commune Marx wrote the famous Address we now know as The Civil War in France. At a time when the Communards were being systematically maligned by the bourgeois press, Marx defended them. He pointed out that the Paris Commune was the prototype of a future workers’ state, a concrete expression of the “dictatorship of the proletariat”.

Basing himself on the experience of the Revolution of 1848, Marx had come to the conclusion that the working class, after having seized power, could not simply lay hold of the bourgeois apparatus of the state and use it for its own purposes, but that it would have to demolish this military-bureaucratic machine and erect in its place a new state, a state that would not be a replica of the old state of the oppressor class, but a workers’ state, democratically run by the working class, a transitional state dedicated to its own eventual dissolution. The Paris Commune was just such a state.

Bakunin and his followers arrived at diametrically opposite conclusions. Their opposition to politics and the state became even more insistent, advocating the creation of communes in separate towns as soon as possible; with the idea that these communes would inspire other towns to follow their example. But one of the reasons the Commune failed was precisely that it remained isolated in Paris. What was required, as Marx explained, was to march on Versailles, where the counterrevolution was based, and crush the enemy before the enemy crushed the Commune, which was unfortunately what occurred.

Some time later, Garibaldi replied to the Bakuninists that the Paris Commune was defeated because it was not centralized and disciplined enough: “You intend, in your paper, to make war upon untruth and slavery. That is a very fine programme, but I believe that the International, in fighting against the principle of authority, makes a mistake and obstructs its own progress. The Paris Commune fell because there was in Paris no authority but only anarchy. Spain and France are suffering from the same evil.” (Engels, Comment upon Giuseppe Garibaldi’s letter to Prospero Crescio, 7th July 1873, MECW, vol. 23, p. 453.)

After the Commune

The defeat of the Commune inevitably created a very difficult situation for the International. The International faced the attacks of enemies on all sides. There were the slanderous attacks by the bourgeois press of all countries. But the General Council was able to reply to such attacks openly, and for a while the attacks actually served to strengthen the International.

In France, however, the raging counterrevolution meant that for a few years the French workers’ movement was paralyzed and links with the International were broken. As a consequence of the defeat and the White Terror that followed it, an army of communard refugees flooded into London, virtually the only place in Europe that would receive them. At a time when almost all governments now began to mobilize their forces against the International, it was overwhelmed by the necessity of assisting the many refugees from the Communards, most of whom ended up in London. The collection of the necessary funds to assist them absorbed a lot of the time of Marx and other members of the General Council.

Worse was to come. As so often happens in exile circles following the defeat of a revolution, the French refugees were demoralized and disoriented by events, and bitter factional strife was continually breaking out amongst them. This affected the General Council, which had co-opted a number of refugees to make up for the loss of contacts in France itself. It was later exposed that a number of French police agents and provocateurs had penetrated the ranks of the French exiles and infiltrated the ranks of the International.

The International was besieged by enemies on all sides. Bakunin launched an attack on Marx and “State communism”: “We shall fight to the hilt against their false authoritarian theories, against their dictatorial presumption and against their methods of underground intrigues and vainglorious machinations, their introduction of mean personalities, their foul insults and infamous slanders, methods which characterize the political struggles of almost all Germans and which they have unfortunately introduced into the International.” (Quoted in Mehring, Karl Marx)

Meanwhile, Mazzini published violent attacks on the Commune and on the International in a weekly publication which he published in Lugano, but Garibaldi, who was a genuine revolutionary and a national hero, saw in the International “the rising sun of the future”. The German labour movement also suffered the attacks of the state. Bebel and Liebknecht, who had protested against the annexation of Alsace-Lorraine and declared their solidarity with the Paris Commune, were arrested and sentenced to confinement in a fortress. Bismarck came down hard on the German working-class movement and particularly the supporters of the International.

Ultra-leftism and opportunism

Marx was forced to fight on different fronts. On the one hand there were the ultra-left anarchists, but on the other there were all kinds of confused, reformist elements who had joined the International as a means of furthering their trade union activity, but were by no means revolutionaries. These people were frightened by the Paris Commune and the ferocity of the repression that followed. More than one of them deserted the International on one pretext or another.

A typical representative of this trend was the English trade unionist John Hales, who was at the time the General Secretary of the IWA. Hales was a reformist with nationalist prejudices. Marx said that in his dealings with the English reformist workers’ leaders he had to be very patient: “mild in manner but bold in content.” He must have had the patience of Job!

On reading the minutes of the General Council, one gets a clear impression of what Marx and Engels had to put up with from such people. The English members of the Council displayed a narrow-minded parochial attitude to most questions, indulging in petty quarrels over trivial organizational matters, which often detracted from far more important work.

Needless to say, men like Hales were deeply suspicious of genuine revolutionaries and had an ambivalent attitude to the Paris Commune. They were hostile to Republicanism and inclined to seek accommodation with Liberal elements. As Hales showed in his attitude to the Irish question. He demanded that the Irish members of the IWA should come under the control of the British Federal Council – a demand that was rejected by the General Council with only one vote in favour – that of Hales.

At first sight it may seem that there could be no common ground between English reformists like Hales and Co. and the Bakuninists. But in politics we can find all sorts of strange bedfellows. The Alliance’s demand for autonomy for the national sections found a sympathetic hearing from some of the English. To the degree that Hales felt that his position as General Secretary of the IWA was being threatened, to establish his position he manoeuvred the British Federal Council as a counterweight to the General Council.

And that was not all. Bakunin’s demand that the workers must abstain from politics also chimed well with the class collaboration politics of the trade union leaders who were stuck firmly to the apron-strings of the Liberal Party and had no desire to take the initiative of setting up an independent Labour party. All this was sufficient grounds for the English reformists to make common cause with the Spanish and Italian anarchists – and always against Marx and the General Council.

Barrage of letters

Anarchism is the communism of the petty bourgeois and the lumpenproletarian. In both cases, the central consideration is always the same: extreme individualism, a total rejection of any rules, discipline and centralization. In the course of the dispute with the Bakuninists, the latter ignored all the democratic structures of the International. They refused to recognize the General Council, although it had been elected by the World Congress and repeatedly re-elected.

The Bakuninists were small in numbers, but made a lot of noise. On 28 July 1871 Engels wrote to Carlo Cafiero:

“The Bakuninists are a tiny minority within the Association and they are the only ones who have at all times brought about dissension. I am referring mainly to the Swiss, because we had little or nothing to do with the others. We have always allowed them to have their principles and to promote them as they thought best, so long as they renounced all attempts at undermining the Association or imposing their programme on us.” (MECW, vol. 44, p. 180)

The limited resources of the General Council were put under severe strain by the problems that flowed from the defeat of the Commune. The constant attacks by the enemies of the International, the intrigues of the Bakuninists and need to assist the ever increasing numbers of starving and destitute refugees from France, took up a colossal amount of time. For weeks on end Marx was unable to dedicate any time to Capital and other important theoretical work. He wrote in desperation to Kugelmann:

“Remember, mon cher, that if the day had 48 hours, I would still not have finished my day’s work for months now.

“The work for the International is immense, and in addition London is overrun with refugees, whom we have to look after. Moreover, I am overrun by other people – newspaper men and others of every description – who want to see the ‘monster’ with their own eyes.

“Up till now it has been thought that the emergence of the Christian myths during the Roman Empire was possible only because printing had not yet been invented. Precisely the contrary. The daily press and the telegraph, which in a moment spreads its inventions over the whole earth, fabricate more myths in one day (and the bourgeois cattle believe and propagate them still further), than could have previously been produced in a century.” (Marx to Ludwig Kugelmann, 27 July 1871, MECW, vol. 44, pp. 176-177)

One way of sabotaging the work of an organization is by overloading it with tasks that surpass its real ability to cope. The Bakuninists adopted the tactic of bombarding the sections and individual members with a barrage of letters, circulars etc., defaming Marx and the General Council. Commenting on this tactic, Engels wrote:

“As private correspondents these men are assiduous beyond belief; and if he [were] a member of the Alliance they would certainly have bombarded him with letters and blandishments.” (To Lafargue, 19 January, 1872, MECW, vol. 44, p. 301). Engels fortunately did not live in the age of emails, or he would have had a lot more to complain about.

The Sonvillier circular accused the London Conference of the deadliest of all deadly sins ‑ authoritarianism:

"This Conference has... taken resolutions... which tend to turn the International, which is a free federation of autonomous sections, into a hierarchical and authoritarian organization of disciplined sections placed entirely under the control of a General Council which may, at will, refuse their admission or suspend their activity"!

The circular claimed that the very fact that some people were members of the General Council had a "corrupting effect", for "it is absolutely impossible for a person who has power" (!) over his fellows to remain a moral person. The General Council is becoming a "hotbed of intrigue". This is just another way of expressing the common prejudice of backward workers that “all leaders are corrupt”. If that were really the case, the outlook for socialism would be very poor indeed.

Yet another complaint of the “anti-authoritarians” is that the same members of the General Council were re-elected every year. The same leadership was sitting in the same place (London). The General Council has been "composed for five years running of the same persons, continually re-elected". To this complaint Marx gave the obvious answer: “The re-election of the General Council's original membership, at successive Congresses at which England was definitely under-represented, would seem to prove that it has done its duty within the limits of the means at its disposal” ibid.).

It is clear that the Congress would only re-elect a leadership if it considered that its work was generally satisfactory. The Sixteen, on the contrary, interpreted this only as a proof of the "blind confidence of the Congresses", carried at Basel to the point of "a sort of voluntary abdication in favour of the General Council". In their opinion, the Council's "normal role" should be "that of a simple correspondence and statistical bureau".

No leadership?

The idea that the International should have no guiding centre and that its leading bodies should only co-ordinate the work of the national sections was later put into practice by the Second International, which, as Lenin remarked, was not an International but only a post office. This played a big part in bringing about the national-reformist degeneration of the Second International.

Moreover, this argument is not confined to the International. It equally applies to national and local organizations. The logic of it would be to dissolve the organization altogether – which suits the anarchist point of view admirably. Unfortunately, the workers are involved in the class struggle and cannot do without strong centralized organization to fight the bosses. The workers’ organizations are very democratic and willing to discuss different opinions as to whether to call a strike or not. But at the end of the day, the issue is put to the vote and the majority decides.

The question is: what is the real character of a revolutionary leadership? Is it to provide political leadership, or merely to act in an administrative (i.e. bureaucratic) character? Is it to organize and centralize the work or merely to pass on information and co-ordinate the work of the constituent bodies that will function with complete autonomy? Is the revolutionary organization a school without any definite ideas, which discusses endlessly the views of every comrade in order for an idea to “emerge” of its own accord? Or is it an organization that is formed on the basis of very definite ideas, theories and principles that are regularly re-discussed, concretized and voted on in democratic congresses with elected delegates?

Marx answered the anarchists as follows:

“First, the General Council should be nominally a simple correspondence and statistical bureau. Once it has been relieved of its administrative functions, its correspondence would be concerned only with reproducing the information already published in the Association's newspapers. The correspondence bureau would thus become needless.

“As for statistics, that function is possible only if a strong organization, and especially, as the original Rules expressly say, a common direction are provided. Since all that smacks very much of ‘authoritarianism’, however, there might perhaps be a bureau, but certainly no statistics. In a word, the General Council would disappear. The federal councils, the local committees, and other ‘authoritarian’ centres, would go by the same token. Only the autonomous sections would remain.

“What, one may ask, will be the purpose of these ‘autonomous sections’, freely federated and happily rid of all superior bodies, ‘even of the superior body elected and constituted by the workers’?

“Here, it becomes necessary to supplement the circular by the report of the Jura Federal Committee submitted to the Congress of the Sixteen:

"‘In order to make the working class the real representative of humanity's new interests, ‘its organization must be’ guided by the idea that will triumph. To evolve this idea from the needs of our epoch, from mankind's vital aspirations, by a consistent study of the phenomena of social life, to then carry this idea to our workers' organizations — such should be our aim,’ etc. Lastly, there must be created ‘amid our working population a real revolutionary socialist school.’

“Thus, the autonomous workers' sections are in a trice converted into schools, of which these gentlemen of the Alliance will be the masters. They ‘evolve’ the idea by ‘consistent’ studies which leave no trace behind. They then ‘carry this idea to our workers' organizations’. To them, the working class is so much raw material, a chaos into which they must breathe their Holy Spirit before it acquires a shape.” (Fictitious Splits in the International, MECW, vol. 23, p. 114)

As the elected leadership of the International, the General Council could not allow itself to be bullied and blackmailed by self-appointed individuals and groups. In a letter to Carmelo Palladino, dated 23 November 1871, Marx explained his attitude to all this:

“Whatever your fears in regard to the great responsibility the General Council has taken upon itself, that Council will remain ever loyal to the flag entrusted to its care seven years ago by the faith of the working men of the civilised world. It will respect individual opinions, it is prepared to transfer its powers to the hands of its mandators, but as long as it is charged with the supreme direction of the Association, it will see to it that nothing is done to vitiate the character of the movement which has made the International what it now is, and will abide by the resolutions of the Conference until such time as a congress has decided otherwise.” (MECW, vol. 44, pp. 261-2)

Marx pointed out, the only sin that the General Council was guilty of was – carrying out Congress decisions. The Congress consists of elected delegates who, after participating freely in democratic debate, decide by a majority what ideas and methods the International has to follow. The International elected a leadership composed of the most capable and experienced people to do precisely this. And democracy has always consisted of the fact that the majority decides. The minority has the right to express its views within the organization, but if you are in a minority you have to accept it, not shout about “authoritarianism”.

The problem here – and in general with the “anti-authoritarians” – is that they do not respect the rights of the majority. Their real complaint is that they are a minority, and not the majority. They believe that the tail ought to wag the dog. Marx remarked ironically: They seem to think that the mere fact of belonging to the General Council is sufficient to destroy not only a person's morality, but also his common sense. How else can we suppose that a majority will transform itself into a minority by voluntary co-options?” (Fictitious Splits in the International, MECW, vol. 23, p. 114)

Factional use of private correspondence

As part of their “anti-authoritarian” campaign, the Bakuninists did not hesitate to make unscrupulous use of private correspondence for factional purposes, and even demanded that the General Council should debate with them in public. When the Bakuninist papers Egalite joined the Progres in inviting the Travail (a Paris paper) to denounce the General Council, Marx wrote:

The General Council does not know of any article, either in the Rules, or the Regulations, which would oblige it to enter into correspondence or into polemic with the Egalite or to provide 'replies to questions' from newspapers. The Federal Committee of Geneva alone represents the branches of Romance Switzerland vis-a-vis the General Council. When the Romance Federal Committee addresses requests of reprimands to us through the only legitimate channel, that is to say through its secretary, the General Council will always be ready to reply. But the Romance Federal Committee has no right either to abdicate its functions in favour of the Egalite and Progres, or to let these newspapers usurp its functions. Generally speaking, the General Council's administrative correspondence with national and local committees cannot be published without greatly prejudicing the Association's general interests. Consequently, if the other organs of the International were to follow the example of the Progres and the Egalite, the General Council would be faced with the alternative of either discrediting itself publicly by its silence or violating its obligations by replying publicly.” (Fictitious Splits, MECW, vol. 23, p.90, my emphasis, AW)

This is quite clear: the leadership of the International is not under any obligation to enter into public polemics with anybody. On the contrary, to do so would represent a violation of its obligations. Internal correspondence cannot be published without greatly prejudicing the Association's general interests. Such correspondence must be conducted through the normal channels that exist for that purpose. To suggest anything else would be tantamount to proposing the dissolution of the International, eradicating the difference between members and non-members and abolishing any element of internal democracy, congress decisions, elections, etc. In other words, it would represent the triumph of anarchy over democratic centralism – which is precisely what Bakunin wanted.

The Sonvillier circular complained bitterly that: "the [London] Conference aimed a blow at freedom of thought and its expression... in conferring upon the General Council the right to denounce and disavow any publicity organ of the sections or federations that discussed either the principles on which the Association rests, or the respective interests of the sections and federations, or finally the general interests of the Association as a whole (see L'Egalite of October 21)."

What had L'Egalite of October 21 published? It had published a resolution in which the Conference "gives warning that henceforth the General Council will be bound to publicly denounce and disavow all newspapers calling themselves organs of the International which, following the precedents of Progres and Solidarite, discuss in their columns, before the middle-class public, questions exclusively reserved for the local or federal committees and the General Council, or for the private and administrative sittings of the Federal or General Congresses."

To which Marx replied:

“To appreciate properly the spiteful lamentations of B. Malon, we must bear in mind that this resolution puts an end, once and for all, to the attempts of some journalists who wished to substitute themselves for the main committees of the International and to play therein the role that the journalists' bohemia is playing to the bourgeois world. As a result of one such attempt, the Geneva Federal Committee had seen some members of the Alliance edit L'Egalite, the official organ of the Romanish Federation, in a manner completely hostile to the latter.” (Fictitious Splits, MECW, vol. 23. p. 104)

Marx and Engels did not regard the party press as an open forum where anyone could air their views in public. On 9 August 1871 Der Volksstaat published a statement by Amand Goegg addressed to the editors of the Schwäbischer Merkur, in which he declared himself an advocate of anarchist individualism. On 12 August Der Volksstaat published a letter by Bernhard Becker referring to the time of his expulsion from the General Association of German Workers in 1865.

When Engels found out, he was furious and wrote to the German Social Democratic leader Wilhelm Liebknecht: “Why bother to rehabilitate that good-for-nothing B. Becker? And allow that jackass Goegg to parade his own idiocies before the public?” (MECW, vol. 44, p. 199). Even the publication of a letter by an undesirable element was considered to be unacceptable. This shows how far Marx and Engels were from the idea of the party press as a free-for-all.

Another issue was the public distribution of private and internal correspondence for factional purposes. On this we can cite Marx’s numerous comments on the subject. Marx wrote a letter to Nikolai Danielson, 12 December 1872, in which he says:

“Dear Friend,

“From the enclosed you can see the results of the Hague Congress. I read out the letter to Lyubavin to the Commission d'enquête on the Alliance in the strictest confidence and without divulging the name of the addressee. Nevertheless, the secret was not kept, firstly because the Commission included Splingard, the Belgian lawyer, among its numbers, and he was in reality no more than an agent of the Alliancists; secondly, because Zhuhovsky, Guillaume et Co. had already earlier — as a preventive measure re-counted the story all over the place in their own way and with apologist interpretations. This was how it came about that, in its report to the Congress, the Commission was compelled to pass on the facts relative to Bakunin that were contained in the letter to Lyubavin (of course, I had not revealed his name, but Bakunin’s friends had already been informed on that score by Geneva). The question that presents itself now is whether the Commission appointed by the Congress to publish the minutes (of which I am a member) may make public use of that letter or not? That is for Lyubavin to decide. However, I may note that — ever since the Congress — the facts have been going the rounds of the European press, and this was none of our doing. I found the whole business all the more distasteful since I had reckoned on the strictest discretion and solemnly demanded it.” (MECW, vol. 44, pp. 455-6, Marx To Nikolai Danielson, my emphasis, AW)

We see here that Marx considered the public use of private and internal party correspondence as something absolutely unacceptable, in fact, distasteful. It amounts to a breach of trust between comrades and an unscrupulous misuse of information. It goes without saying that one does not necessarily speak in the same terms about a subject in a private conversation as one would in a public meeting. If I believe that any chance remark I make in a private communication (either spoken or written) will the next day be broadcast to the four winds, I will be very careful about what I say, and a frank and honest interchange of ideas will be impossible.

This is particularly true in the course of a factional dispute, where tempers can flare up and even the most reasonable comrades may make comments that they may later regret. If one wishes to solve a dispute in the best (i.e. political) way, it is necessary to shrug one’s shoulders at such things, which constitute the small change of politics, trivial details that represent nothing serious. But if one wishes, not to solve a dispute, but to inflame it, to poison the atmosphere, increase tension, create personal clashes and carry matters to the point of a split, then the correct tactic is to spread all kinds of gossip, reveal in public what has been said (or written) to you in private, and violate every norm of comradely behaviour.

When Engels discovered that the Italian Bakuninists had got hold of a letter he had written to a comrade in Italy, and were using it for factional purposes, he was indignant. This is what he wrote:

“Having rebelled against the whole organisation of the International, and knowing that it will have great difficulty in justifying itself at the Congress next September, the Jura Committee is now looking for letters and mandates from the General Council in order to fabricate false accusations against us. I, like all of us, willingly consent to all letters being read to the Congress, but we do not find it agreeable to learn that the same letters, written for this or that section, have been put at the disposal of these gentlemen.” (Engels to Cesare Bert, 7 June 1872, MECW, vol. 44, p. 392)


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