The Western Socialist
Vol. 36 - No. 272
No. 6, 1969
Among the many distortions, charges and direct canards made by the many opponents of Marx not the least is that the early Marx was but a "Jacobin Democrat."
There can be no question as to his sympathy with the French Revolution, or with the Jacobins. But of greater importance (in dealing with great historic events) the sympathy is that of understanding. This takes priority over feelings or sympathy and in this Marx stood well ahead of his contemporaries, such as Bruno Bauer, who saw in bourgeois Revolution merely the separation of state from religion. (Die burgerliche Revolution in Deutschland — Berlin, 1849); or Louis Blanc, who considered 1793 to be distinctly different from 1789. (Histoire de la Revolution francaise. — Paris, 1866).
Marx clearly grasped the historic significance of the Revolution, and realized the social as well as the political significance of 1789. A perusal of his early writings reveals that Marx understood that a revolutionary situation, or even a revolution itself, could produce not only a revolutionary terminology but also an ideology without being able to realize the end which that terminology and ideology dictated. He saw clearly that revolutionary ideas must precede a revolutionary achievement, but that this achievement is impossible in a society where the socio-economic conditions have not yet developed for its success.
Not on moral grounds, but on those of historic understanding, he looked upon the Jacobins as muddle-headed. The French Revolution he saw as a necessary episode in historic development: the sweeping away of feudal power and institutions without which the development of capitalism would at least be difficult. And he made it quite clear that the recourse to "Terrorism" (as of 1793) was proof that the aims sought could not then be realized, and that it was less a means of revolutionary achievement than a complete acknowledgment of failure.
It is not the intention here to go into all the avenues explored by Marx when dealing with this subject. The interested student can travel those for himself with profit. It is rather, because we today are witnessing not only acts of "terrorism" being indulged in by misguided persons mouthing revolutionary slogans, but also — what Marx pointed out — that "terrorism" is accompanied with "censorship"; and that he was definitely opposed to both.
From the many quotations one could make in this regard the following from "The Holy Family" (pp. 1645) might be appropriate:
"Robespierre, Saint Just and their party fell because they confused the ancient, realistic and democratic republic based on real slavery with the modern spiritualistic democratic representative state which is based on emancipated slavery, on civil society. What a terrible mistake it is to have to recognise and sanction in the Rights of Man modern civil society, the society of industry, of universal competition, of private interest freely following its aims, of anarchy, of self-alienated natural and spiritual individuality, and yet subsequently to annul the manifestations of the life of that society in separate individuals and at the same time to wish to model the political head of the society after the fashion of the ancients ... Terror wished to sacrifice (civil society) to an ancient form of political life."
In 1847 (Deutsche Brusseler Zeitung, Nov. 11, 1847) he warned against premature action by the proletariat that would ultimately be compelled to use political methods:
"If the proletariat brings down the domination of the bourgeoisie, its victory will be merely ephemeral, only a moment in the service of the bourgeoisie (just like anno 1794), so long as within the processes of history, within its 'movement' THOSE MATERIAL CONDITIONS HAVE NOT BEEN CREATED THAT MAKE NECESSARY THE ABOLITION OF THE BOURGEOIS MODE OF PRODUCTION AND THEREFORE ALSO THE DEFINITIVE FALL OF POLITICAL BOURGEOIS DOMINATION." (Emph. mine-WAP).
Marx held for the free flow of ideas and as he denounced "Terrorism" he was equally opposed to "Censorship" as itself being terroristic. It seeks punishment on a man for his thoughts and not necessarily for any overt acts. Russia today is a shining example of this type of intimidation and many so-called democratic capitalist countries indulge in this form of terrorism in the name of protecting "Freedom."
Opposing censorship of the press, Marx (Werke 1, 14) declares himself as follows:
"The writer is exposed to the most dreadful terrorism, the jurisdiction of suspicion. Tendencious laws, laws that do not supply objective norms, are laws of terrorism, as they were thought out by the necessity of the state under Robespierre and by the corruption of the state under the Roman emperors. Laws that take as their criteria NOT ACTION AS SUCH, BUT THE STATE OF MIND OF THE ACTOR ARE NOTHING ELSE THAN THE POSITIVE SANCTION OF LAWLESSNESS." (Emph. added)
The writings of Marx teem with expressions of opposition to "Terrorism" and its twin, "Censorship," as also to a proletarian "elite" or intelligentsia destined to "lead" the proletariat to Socialism. His opposition to Blanqui and Felix Pyatt: The idea of a small, determined minority of "activists . . . giving point to the formless will of the masses" (as some communists proclaimed years ago) was not only repugnant to him but was a demonstration of folly. As he put it to the Dutch socialist, Ferdinand Domela Niewuwenhuis, Feb. 22nd, 1881:
. . . "a socialist government does not come into power in a country unless conditions are so developed that it can immediately take the necessary measures for intimidating the mass of the bourgeoisie sufficiently to gain time - the first desideratum - for permanent action."
Socialism cannot be established until the socio-economic conditions are so developed as to make it possible, and it can become possible only when a majority of society desire it and is determined to get it.
W. A. P.