John Tamlyn, “Marx and Bakunin” (1920)


[The following letter was sent to the Call, but the Editor declined to publish it, on the ground that it “might possibly lead to confusion in the minds of people who are little acquainted with the work either of Marx or Bakunin.”]

Dear Comrade,—If Marx was the revolutionary force that Comrade Lenin and other comrades would have us believe, and if his writings are still revolutionary, there are a few points upon which many of us would like more information. Many of us have now reached the point when we are ready to take help from any man’s thought, but refuse to have our own thought dominated by any man. In the writings of our comrade Lenin there is just a little too much of “Marx says it, therefore it must be all right.” The points I would have us discuss are these.

  1. If Marx was the revolutionary force some maintain, how was it that he and Engels gave their weight to the German manhood suffrage movement, which Michael Bakunin denounced right off as reactionary, and which soon proved itself to be so?
  2. Why did Marx and Engels help to build up the German political Socialist Party, with its members in the capitalist Reichstag?
  3. Why at the first thump of the capitalist war drum did the whole lot of this Second International do a stampede to the side of the capitalists and help them to cut the throats and blow out the brains of the working class?
  4. May not a thinker be judged by the kind of followers he turns out?
  5. Why did Marx and Engels try to ignore the work of Bakunin and the Anarchists, and why have the political Socialists boycotted Bakunin from their bookstalls?

Lenin may go down in history as our greatest master of revolutionary tactics, but some of us very much question whether it will decide that he got his wisdom from Marx. Lenin is a Marxian, and would have us see the whole wisdom of the universe in Marx. It is a trick of the hero-worshipper always to find more in his hero than was ever there. This to many of us seems another instance. Up to the present our side looks upon Karl Marx as being not so much a revolutionary as a social pathologist, who, very much as a doctor puts a carcase on the table and cuts it up, cut up Capitalism. But a man who spends his life in cutting up a body has not much life left to get rid of the dirty mess. All honour and glory to Marx for the work he did, and did well; but let us be accurate about it. We have no heroes to worship, but if we are asked to pick the revolutionary of Marx’s time, we say not Marx but Bakunin. The power of Marx was static, the other was the dynamic force of Revolution.—Yours fraternally,

John Tamlyn.

John Tamlyn, “Marx and Bakunin,” Freedom (London) 34 no. 372 (June, 1920): 33.

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