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Social Democracy and Anarchism
In The International Workers Association

Rene Berthier
Merlin Press
ISBN 978-0=85036-7-19-5

      Just what was the issue around which the First International 'split', what was
      the difference between Marx and Bakunin which characterised that split, what
      was the actual point of issue between Anarchism and Social Democracy among
      whom the Marxists counted themselves ? Those are the subjects which this
      book address's itself, an often talked about but little researched area of labour
      movement history.
      With the First International Workers Association, the first real international
      coming together of different national workers federations, international bodies
      and political societies of the class, diversity demanded a broad platform.
      National bodies had already developed, some international alliances were
      already in existence and many had already political leanings and perspectives.
      The idea that all these bodies based upon national experiences and particular
      industrial conflicts and strategies would lay aside all their previous perspectives
      and accept a readymade fully formed stratagem was always going to be a
      major obstacle. I suspect, had CPCG(PC) members been projected back through
      time holding the positions they so often advance in broad front organisations
      today, they would find themselves somewhat at odds with Marx at least in
      terms of the evidence advanced in this book. Will it be possible for those for
      whom Marx's word reads like a gospel to be able to accept that perceptive
      genius aside, Marx was a bureaucratic, manipulative, tendency bully and not at
      all a team player? Anyone of us with lifetimes in the revolutionary workers
      movement will surely find such a discovery as not so surprising at all, that they
      actually didn't do it any better then, than we do now maybe. For Bakunin and
      the forces he brought to the table, a basic class struggle programme and
      organisation based upon international solidarity in a Federation of national
      centres and federations seemed the most practical, democratic and functional.
      For Marx however the International would follow the structure of a political
      party and a single programme and strategy. These broad organisational
      differences were in realities reflections of the way in which the two contending
      strategies seen the class war and way its locum of power was. Undoubtedly for
      the Marxists of this period the struggle was one, to construct Social Democratic
      parties, to campaign to deepen the franchise further into the working class and
      attain 'political' that is parliamentary power. For the people around Bakunin
      the sometimes self-declared 'anarchists' the centre of struggle was directly
      around the industrial struggles of the masses in industry and in confederations
      of workers transcending skills, and trades. Marxists today may find that the cap
      worn by Marx at the time of the formation of the First international was not
      the one he wore near the end of his life and the slogans which came to
      characterise his outlook would at the time of this great ideological clash would
      better have been attributed to the Bukuninists rather than Marx. Marx in this
      work is shown to be not a man for all seasons, the Marx we have at the end, is
      not the Marx we have at the beginning. The truth is that how Marx seen and
      understood 'power' changed as did 'Marxist' understanding of 'the state'
      certainly by the time of Lenin's 'State and Revolution' Marxism is occupying the
      positions, at least in terms of analysis, of the state, which had caused the
      Bukaninists and their federations such conflict with Marx and Engels. The
      apparent rejection of 'political struggle' by the Bukuninists was in reality a
      rejection of preoccupation with parliamentary struggles, rather than actual
      POLITICAL struggle. For Marx at the time of the First International 'taking
      power' meant achieving a Social Democratic government, they thought most
      probably in Germany or Britain. The Bukaninist rejection of 'taking power' had
      nothing to do with the class taking actual power which of course they wanted,
      but the concept that a Social Democratic Government in a bourgeois
      parliament was class power. For those of us raised at tender years in the Young
      Communist League such Marxist missives of 'the working class cannot take
      hold of the readymade state machine and wield it to their own purposes' or
      words to that effect, would seem to confront directly the word of 'the man'
      himself. Truth is, Marx's view of the centre of class struggle and the nature of
      alternative class society was informed by living experience as he seen its most
      forceful examples, and his vision changed as power moved from Parliaments
      and Parties to industrial conflict and battles on the streets like the Paris
      I think it is also true that conflictual visions of what a socialist non capitalist
      society would look like were also framed by the different methods each seen of
      'taking power' and what this 'power' looked like. The author comments that
      rather The British Road to Socialism being a revision of Marxist thinking it is
      something of a return to the original image. Although Marx said very little on
      how a future socialist society would operate its clear from the evidence in this
      book he foreseen something like, mass Social Democratic Parties occupying
      seats of office in national parliaments, at least during the period of the First
      International. Bakunin on the other hand like the subsequent Industrial
      Workers of the World, seen the mass industrial struggles at work at the heart
      of the productive process and centre of wage slavery as the workers industrial
      unions and trades societies constructed to fight it. He thought the struggles at
      work, the tasks of solidarity, the growth of class consciousness and
      construction of workers industrial combat organisations were the rough
      framework of fighting capitalism in the here and now and the framework of an
      alternative social system of administration of wealth and power at the other
      end. Ironically as the Soviets later mirrored the ideology of the IWW, Lenin
      seemed to come to this conclusion too, declaring 'all power the soviets'. The
      implication and the understanding of most of the Russian workers, was that it
      was their own direct industrial organisations which would embody the power
      and authority of the working class and administer society after the defeat of
      capitalism. Here is not the place to debate whether he actually meant that,
      rather than the Party taking over the role of 'power; rather than the masses
      Like many left alliances today, the conflict was not simply around ideology but
      of organisational structural principles, which would allow or supress different
      views and alternative visions being advanced. The so called split when it came
      was not formed around choices or visions, still less whether Marx or Bakunin
      was favourite of the international. The division was never that of choosing
      Marxism or anarchism. The 'Federalist' concepts around Bukunin and the
      international forces he represented were anathema to Marx and his team, who
      responded by expelling practically the entire affiliated international
      membership. The expulsions took place after what can only be described (and
      is described in much detail in the book) by a bureaucratic coup within the
      British section worthy of Arthur Scargill's tactics, (probably the only time I shall
      ever compare Marx to Arthur.) The political divisions between Social
      Democracy and Anarchism began to take shape by 1878. In 1905 the birth of
      the IWW in Chicago brought together the two strands again, at least until in a
      case of de ja vue they split again in 1909 over this vexed question of 'political'
      (that is Parliamentary) or non-political purely industrial strategies.
      This book is a credit to its author who has thoroughly researched the available
      evidence on this subject. He warns though at its inception that he does not
      come to this as neutral and writes the book from the view of Anarchism.
      Marxologists will doubtless see this as a huge jigsaw of a challenge and joyfully
      take time to pick it apart. As a Marxist-Anarchist (oh yes I can) I have found this
      book profoundly illuminating and in a matter of fact and non-fussy way it
      presents the trajectory of the different forces and their ultimate clash and
      division. It reads so true because many of us will have seen numerous other
      conflicts within the movement played out in exactly the same way. What was
      that about 'those who do not learn from history' ?

      David Douglass

      'Marx' and therefore 'Marxism' in its most literal sense