Correspondence: Those Misrepresentations of Marx Turn Up Again

To the Editors.

Dear Sirs,

I have formed certain conceptions concerning the nature of a proletarian revolution which are somewhat critical to the position you adopt, and my reason for writing is to get you, if possible, to reply to, or to deal with, what I conceive to be the Marxian position concerning same, a position which opposes yours.

From my reading of Marx and Engels I find that on the question of Parliament you antagonise the Marxian position, even though you claim your organisation to be Marxian.

We accept Marx and Engels, of course, only in as far as their position can be accepted upon its merits, and I assume, therefore, that, as you claim to be Marxian, you will find me quite in order if I did a little quoting from Marx and Engels in opposition to your attitude toward this question.

Under the circumstance of your Marxian claim, how do you reconcile the following statements by Marx and Engels with your declarations, as well as those of your speakers, that Parliament is the political machine that will be used for the purpose of emancipating the workers? In the preface to the “Communist Manifesto” Marx and Engels quote from Marx’s “Civil War in France” to the effect that “the working class simply cannot lav hold of the ready-made State machinery and wield it for its own purposes.” Does this not run counter to your statement (to quote J.F. in last month’s issue of the “S.S.”) “when they”—(that is the working class previously mentioned by J.F.)— “agree with Socialism, they will send Socialists” to Parliament ? There is no statement that that mode of procedure on the part of the workers would be wrong, but rather does the writer make the terms Parliament and Power synonymous. He indicates as well what would be to him an obvious reply to his question when he asks why the workers “did not vote themselves into power” by voting for Parliament, which serves again to show that, by direct statement and inference you regard Parliament to be the political instrument for working-class emancipation.

From your conception of the political struggle one would conclude that the struggle occurs only at election times, whereas “every class struggle” being “a political struggle” (“Communist Manifesto”), the political struggle is being prosecuted now and at all times. Again, Marx wrote referring to the Paris Commune that “the Commune was to have been not a parliamentary but a working corporation,” and in the same passage he derides the Parliamentary corporation by comparing how the “working corporation” operated “instead of deciding once in three or six years which member of the ruling class was to ‘represent’ and repress the people in Parliament.” (Quoted by Lenin. “State and Revolution.”) Then again in reference to the Commune Marx says : “its true secret was this. It was essentially the government of the working class—it wa a the political form, at last discovered, under which Labour could work out its own economic emancipation” (ibid). I would, if the question was discussed on its merits, say that if constitutional Parliamentary action will emancipate the workers, then it will be a departure from the historic fact that there can be no such thing as a constitutional social revolution.

In conclusion I will refer you to the proud concluding passage of the “Communist Manifesto,” which is quite different to “a-cross-next-to-his-name-and-into the-ballot-box-revolution.” “The Communists disdain to conceal their views and aims. They openly declare that their ends can only be attained by the forcible overthrow of existing social conditions. Let the ruling class tremble at the prospects of a Communistic revolution.” I contend that as parliamentarians you conceal your views and aims—if you are Communists ; or else you are not Communists, in which case why are you parliamentarians ?

From the Marxian standpoint there is only one conclusion, namely, that Parliament is part of the bourgeois State which stands in the way of working-class emancipation, and it follows, therefore, that during the proletarian revolution the bourgeois State machine will not be utilised but broken, and in its stead another State erected—the dictatorship of the proletariate.

Yours faithfully,



So far is Mr. Dight from having read Marx and Engels, that, as the above letter shows, he has not read even the work of Marx that he tries to quote from. Nor is his reading of Lenin’s pamphlet either full or clear, or he would have seen how flatly Lenin contradicts his (Dight’s) attempt at a case.

Our correspondent says that we make the terms “Parliament” and “Power” synonymous. Had he read our Declaration of Principles and articles in the SOCIALIST STANDARD, he would have seen that we stated that Power is dependent upon the control of the political machinery and that Parliament is the central organ of that machinery. Hence to obtain Power, control of the political machinery is absolutely essential. How Lenin agrees with this fact is shown in the pamphlet Mr. Dight mentions—”The State and Revolution.” On page 29 we read:

“The exploited classes need political supremacy in order completely to abolish all exploitation, i.e., in the interests of the enormous majority of the people and against the tiny minority constituted by the slave-owners of modern times—the landlords and the capitalists.”

On page 30 Lenin says:

“The proletariat needs the State, the centralised organisation of force and violence, both for the purpose of crushing the resistance of the exploiters and for the purpose of guiding the great mass of the population—the peasantry, the lower middle class, the semi-proletariat — in the work of economic Socialist reconstruction.”

On page 33 it is stated that the general lessons of history set out in the “Communist Manifesto” :

“bring us to the necessary conclusion that the proletariat cannot overthrow the capitalist class without, as a preliminary step, winning political power, without obtaining political supremacy.”

When Mr. Dight has read Lenin’s pamphlet that he quotes from he might compare the above statements with Clauses 6 and 7 of our Declaration of Principles.

Mr. Dight’s great point of what he fancies is opposition to our policy is the statement from Marx’s “Civil War in France” that the working class cannot “simply lay hold of the ready made machinery of State and wield it for its own purposes.”

As Mr. Dight has not read this work he is unaware that the context of that sentence totally contradicts the interpretation he tries to put upon it. The sentence is taken from section III., which opens as follows:

“On the dawn of the i8th of March Paris arose to the thunder burst of “Vive la Commune.” What is the Commune, that Sphinx so tantalizing to the the bourgeois mind ?

“The proletarians of Paris” said the Central Committee in its Manifesto of the 18th March, “amidst the failures and treasons of the ruling classes, have understood that the hour has struck for them to save the situation by taking into their own hands the direction of affairs . . . They have understood that it is their imperious and their absolute right to render themselves masters of their own destinies, by seizing upon the governmental power.” But the working class cannot simply lay hold of the ready made State machinery, and wield it for its own purposes.

The centralised State power, with its ubiquitous organs of standing army, police, bureaucracy, clergy, and judicature—organs wrought after the plan of a systematic and hierarchic division of labour —originates from the days of absolute monarchy, serving nascent middle-class society as a mighty weapon in its struggles against feudalism. Still its development remained clogged by all manner of mediaeval rubbish, seignorial rights, local privileges, municipal and guild monopolies and provincial constitutions. The gigantic broom of the French Revolution of the 18th century swept away all these relics of bygone times, thus clearing simultaneously the social soil of its last hindrances to the superstructure of the modern State raised under the First Empire, itself the offspring of the coalition wars of old semi-feudal Europe against modern France. During the subsequent regimes the Government, placed under parliamentary control—that is under the direct control of the propertied classes— became not only a hotbed of huge national debts and crushing taxes ; with its irresistable allurements of place and pelf and patronage, it became not only the bone of contention between the rival factions and adventurers of the ruling class ; but its political character changed simultaneously with the economic changes of society. At the same pace at which the progress of modern industry developed, widened, intensified, the class antagonism between capital and labour, the State power assumed more and more the character of the national power of capital over labour, of a public force organised for social enslavement, of an engine of class oppression.”

I have given this long quotation from the “Civil War in France” to show how Marx has been misrepresented by the use of a phrase torn out of its context, and to show what Marx himself meant when using the phrase. Here, as even a “Communist” might have understood had he read the work, Marx is referring to the workers’ position after they have seized this power.

It is when Mr. Dight attempts to quote Marx on the functions of the Commune that he shows conclusively that he has never read Marx’s work. Mr. Dight says :

“Marx wrote referring to the Commune that “the Commune was to have been not a Parliamentary but a working corporation,” and in the same passage he derides the Parliamentary corporation by comparing how the “working corporation” operated, “instead of deciding once in three or six years which member of the ruling class was to ‘represent’ and repress the people in parliament.”

It is true that the two phrases quoted above are given by Lenin (p. 47), with other matter, in one paragraph between quotation marks, thus misleading the reader not acquainted with the original into believing that Marx put it in that form. Actually the first phrase occurs in the seventh paragraph of section III., while the second one appears in the tenth paragraph of the same section. Moreover, although Lenin gives the full sentence containing the first phrase, Mr. Dight only quotes a part of it. Why? Because the second part, though only consisting of seven words, destroys the interpretation he tries to place upon the phrase he quotes. The full sentence is: “The Commune was to be a working, not a parliamentary body, executive and legislative at the same time.” (Italics mine.)

The words italicised show clearly that the Commune was to perform parliamentary as well as the other duties imposed upon it.

Paragraph ten of section III. details the work of the rural Communes and contains the following important sentence :

“The few but important functions which would still remain for a central government were not to be suppressed, as has been intentionally misstated, but were to be discharged by Communal and therefore strictly responsible agents.”

while further on occurs the phrase Mr. Dight tries to use against our case :

“Instead of deciding once in three or six years which member of the ruling class was to represent the people in Parliament, universal suffrage was to serve the people, constituted in Communes, as individual suffrage serves every other employer in the search for workmen and managers in his business.”

How the quotation from the twelfth paragraph, describing the Commune as “the political form, at last discovered,” etc., helps Mr. Dight, who is opposed to political action and policy, I fail to see.

His statement that it is “a historic fact that there can be no such thing as a constitutional social revolution” merely exposes his ignorance of even modern history, for Japan carried through “a constitutional social revolution” in 1871 when feudalism was abolished.

The nonsense chattered by the “Communists” against “constitutional” action is flatly contradicted by Lenin’s own words and actions. It was only by “constitutional” action that the Bolsheviks obtained control of the Duma and carried through their revolution, while on page 27 of Lenin’s pamphlet “The Proletarian Revolution,” where he refers to the people who control parliaments he says :

“This, of course, does not mean that bourgeois parliamentarism ought not to be made use of; the Bolsheviks, for instance, made perhaps more successful use of it than any other party in the world, having in 1912-14 captured the entire Labour representation in the fourth Duma.”

Crushing as this statement is against his own followers, it is surpassed by the views of one who Lenin himself would admit was far greater than any Russian Communist:

“The irony of the world’s history places everything upon its head. We, the “revolutionaries,” the overturners,” we succeed better with the legal means than with illegality and force. The self-named “Party of Order” goes to pieces upon the legal conditions created by itself. They despairingly cry with Odilon Barrot “Legality is our death,” while we from this same legality gain strong muscles, ruddy cheeks, and the appearance of eternal life.”

These words are from Engels’ last work—the introduction to Marx’s “The Class Struggle in France”—written in the year in which he died, 1895.

When Mr. Dight reads Marx’s and Engels’ writings, he may grasp the substance of their teaching. And when he condescends to read our Declaration of Principles and our Party Organ he will see the utter falsity of his statement that we conceal our views and aims.

J. F.

(Socialist Standard, October 1920)