Revolutionary Programming Languages

15 Nov 2013: The Marx-Engels Reader (“After the Revolution: Marx Debates Bakunin,” 1875, Karl Marx)

Crosscurrents of insight roil around inside the somewhat informed reader to see Marx’s contentious rebuttal of the criticisms of Russian anarchist Mikhail Bakunin. The first is simply that Marx is hot-tempered and violent in his responses, antedating with his frequently taunting and insulting retorts the supposedly modern phenomenon of poor debating etiquette on the Internet – he makes it very clear that name-calling and rudeness have been around long before online anonymity. His method of quoting brief blocks of Bakunin’s text before skewering them in lengthy paragraph kebabs is perhaps not “fisking” proper, in that Bakunin is given a bit of chance to show his views, but it’s still surprising how similar this format is used to undercut the development and contextual flow of the original by chopping it up into easier portions for the ridiculing. Second, Bakunin’s criticisms, even in pieces as they are, appear shockingly prescient of the Bolshevik-Soviet horrors to come: the history of the Leninist and then Stalinist regime obviously seems to have borne out his contention that “state” is unthinkable without rulers and ruled even given the notion of a ruling proletariat, and his fearful warning that any “temporary dictatorship” is bound to be a contradiction in terms due to the allure and inherent structure of power (to be commented on later by Foucault). But, third, Marx’s responses yet seem so rational (albeit angry and dismissive) that one can still see the argument through his eyes regardless of historical events, which as many have noted bear little resemblance to Marx’s descriptions or desires. There’s some of the “no true Scotsman” fallacy in his vision of the state, just as there is in most contemporary “liberal” discourse on government, but he explicitly argues that it should consist of the workers themselves and that its structure should dissolve rapidly into obsolescence as a transition to the communist world that follows, something Trotsky and Lenin couldn’t possibly have digested properly if at all in the 1921 mass shelling of Kronstadt. This leads to the fourth, rueful observation that much more may have been achieved from a willingness on the part of Bakunin and Marx to work together rather than at odds.

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