Revolution from above?

May 30, 2014

The Two Souls of Socialism by Hal Draper first appeared in New Politics in 1966. Since that time, it has been reissued many times, providing a powerful argument for the concept of "socialism from below" as an alternative to other socialist currents, from utopianism to social democracy to Stalinism. This is the second part of's four-part republication--the first can be found here. The text is from the Marxists Internet Archive.

4. The Myth of Anarchist "Libertarianism"

One of the most thoroughgoing authoritarians in the history of radicalism is none other than the "Father of Anarchism," Proudhon, whose name is periodically revived as a great "libertarian" model, because of his industrious repetition of the word liberty and his invocations to "revolution from below."

Some may be willing to pass over his Hitlerite form of anti-Semitism ("The Jew is the enemy of humankind. It is necessary to send this race back to Asia, or exterminate it..."). Or his principled racism in general (he thought it was right for the South to keep American Negroes in slavery, since they were the lowest of inferior races). Or his glorification of war for its own sake (in the exact manner of Mussolini). Or his view that women had no rights ("I deny her every political right and every initiative. For woman liberty and well-being lie solely in marriage, in motherhood, in domestic duties...")--that is, the "Kinder-Kirche-Küche" of the Nazis.

Marxist Classics

But it is not possible to gloss over his violent opposition not only to trade unionism and the right to strike (even supporting police strikebreaking), but to any and every idea of the right to vote, universal suffrage, popular sovereignty, and the very idea of constitutions. ("All this democracy disgusts me...What would I not give to sail into this mob with my clenched fists!") His notes for his ideal society notably include suppression of all other groups, any public meeting by more than 20, any free press, and any elections; in the same notes he looks forward to "a general inquisition" and the condemnation of "several million people" to forced labor--"once the Revolution is made."

Behind all this was a fierce contempt for the masses of people--the necessary foundation of Socialism-from-Above, as its opposite was the groundwork of Marxism. The masses are corrupt and hopeless ("I worship humanity, but I spit on men!") They are "only savages...whom it is our duty to civilize, and without making them our sovereign," he wrote to a friend whom he scornfully chided with: "You still believe in the people." Progress can come only from mastery by an elite who take care to give the people no sovereignty.

At one time or another he looked to some ruling despot as the one-man dictator who would bring the Revolution: Louis Bonaparte (he wrote a whole book in 1852 extolling the Emperor as the bearer of the Revolution); Prince Jerome Bonaparte; finally Czar Alexander II ("Do not forget that the despotism of the czar is necessary to civilization").

There was a candidate for the dictator's job closer to home, of course: himself. He elaborated a detailed scheme for a "mutualist" business, cooperative in form, which would spread to take over all business and then the state. In his notes Proudhon put himself down as the Manager in Chief, naturally not subject to the democratic control he so despised. He took care of details in advance: "Draw up a secret program, for all the managers: irrevocable elimination of royalty, democracy, proprietors, religion [and so on]."--"The Managers are the natural representatives of the country. Ministers are only superior Managers or General Directors: as I will be one day...When we are masters, Religion will be what we want it to be; ditto Education, philosophy, justice, administration and government."

The reader, who may be full of the usual illusions about anarchist "libertarianism," may ask: Was he then insincere about his great love for liberty?

Not at all: it is only necessary to understand what anarchist "liberty" means. Proudhoun wrote: "The principle of liberty is that of the Abbey of Theleme [in Rabelais]: do what you want!" and the principle meant: "any man who cannot do what he wants and anything he wants has the right to revolt, even alone, against the government, even if the government were everybody else. "The only man who can enjoy this liberty is a despot; this is the sense of the brilliant insight by Dostoyevsky's Shigalev: "Starting from unlimited freedom, I arrive at unlimited despotism."

The story is similar with the second "Father of Anarchism," Bakunin, whose schemes for dictatorship and suppression of democratic control are better known than Proudhon's.

The basic reason is the same: Anarchism is not concerned with the creation of democratic control from below, but only with the destruction of "authority" over the individual, including the authority of the most extremely democratic regulation of society that it is possible to imagine. This has been made clear by authoritative anarchist expositors time and again; for example, by George Woodcock: "even were democracy possible, the anarchist would still not support it ... Anarchists do not advocate political freedom. What they advocate is freedom from politics..." Anarchism is on principle fiercely anti-democratic, since an ideally democratic authority is still authority. But since, rejecting democracy, it has no other way of resolving the inevitable disagreements and differences among the inhabitants of Theleme, its unlimited freedom for each uncontrolled individual is indistinguishable from unlimited despotism by such an individual, both in theory and practice.

The great problem of our age is the achievement of democratic control from below over the vast powers of modern social authority. Anarchism, which is freest of all with verbiage about something-from-below, rejects this goal. It is the other side of the coin of bureaucratic despotism, with all its values turned inside-out, not the cure or the alternative.

5. Lassalle and State Socialism

That very model of a modern social-democracy, the German Social-Democratic Party, is often represented as having arisen on a Marxist basis. This is a myth, like so much else in extant histories of socialism. The impact of Marx was strong, including on some of the top leaders for a while, but the politics which permeated and finally pervaded the party came mainly from two other sources. One was Lassalle, who founded German socialism as an organized movement (1863); and the other was the British Fabians, who inspired Eduard Bernstein's "revisionism."

Ferdinand Lassalle is the prototype of the state-socialist--which means, one who aims to get socialism handed down by the existing state. He was not the first prominent example (that was Louis Blanc), but for him the existing state was the Kaiser's state under Bismarck.

The state, Lassalle told the workers, is something "that will achieve for each one of us what none of us could achieve for himself." Marx taught the exact opposite: that the working class had to achieve its emancipation itself, and abolish the existing state in the course. E. Bernstein was quite right in saying that Lassalle "made a veritable cult" of the state. "The immemorial vestal fire of all civilization, the State, I defend with you against those modern barbarians [the liberal bourgeoisie]," Lassalle told a Prussian court. This is what made Marx and Lassalle "fundamentally opposed," points out Lassalle's biographer Footman, who lays bare his pro-Prussianism, pro-Prussian nationalism, pro-Prussian imperialism.

Lassalle organized this first German socialist movement as his personal dictatorship. Quite consciously he set about building it as a mass movement from below to achieve a Socialism-from-Above (remember Saint-Simon's battering-ram). The aim was to convince Bismarck to hand down concessions--particularly universal suffrage, on which basis a parliamentary movement under Lassalle could become a mass ally of the Bismarckian state in a coalition against the liberal bourgeoisie. To this end Lassalle actually tried to negotiate with the Iron Chancellor. Sending him the dictatorial statutes of his organization as "the constitution of my kingdom which perhaps you will envy me," Lassalle went on:

But this miniature will be enough to show how true it is that the working class feels an instinctive inclination towards a dictatorship, if it can first be rightly persuaded that the dictatorship will be exercised in its interests; and how much, despite all republican views--or rather precisely because of them--it would therefore be inclined, as I told you only recently, to look upon the Crown, in opposition to the egoism of bourgeois society, as the natural representative of the social dictatorship, if the Crown for its part could ever make up its mind to the--certainly very improbable--step of striking out a really revolutionary line and transforming itself from the monarchy of the privileged orders into a social and revolutionary people's monarchy.

Although this secret letter was not known at the time, Marx grasped the nature of Lassalleanism perfectly. He told Lassalle to his face that he was a "Bonapartist," and wrote presciently that "His attitude is that of the future workers' dictator." Lassalle's tendency he called "Royal Prussian Government socialism," denouncing his "alliance with absolutist and feudal opponents against the bourgeoisie."

"Instead of the revolutionary process of transformation of society," wrote Marx, Lassalle sees socialism arising "from the 'state aid' that the state gives to the producers' cooperative societies and which the state, not the worker, 'calls into being.'" Marx derides this. "But as far as the present cooperative societies are concerned, they are of value only insofar as they are the independent creations of the workers and not proteges either of the government or of the bourgeoisie." Here is a classic statement of the meaning of the word independent as the keystone of Socialism-from-Below versus state-socialism.

There is an instructive instance of what happens when an American-type academic anti-marxist runs into this aspect of Marx. Mayo's Democracy and Marxism (later revised as Introduction to Marxist Theory) handily proves that Marxism is anti-democratic mainly by the simple expedient of defining Marxism as "the Moscow orthodoxy." But at least he seems to have read Marx, and realized that nowhere, in acres of writing and a long life, did Marx evince concern about more power for the state but rather the reverse. Marx, it dawned on him, was not a "statist":

The popular criticism leveled against Marxism is that it tends to degenerate into a form of 'statism.' At first sight [i.e., reading] the criticism appears wide of the mark, for the virtue of Marx's political the entire absence from it of any glorification of the state.

This discovery offers a notable challenge to Marx-critics, who of course know in advance that Marxism must glorify the state. Mayo solves the difficulty in two statements: (1) "the statism is implicit in the requirements of total planning..." (2) Look at Russia. But Marx made no fetish of "total planning." He has so often been denounced (by other Marx-critics) for failing to draw up a blueprint of socialism precisely because he reacted so violently against his predecessors' utopian "plannism" or planning-from-above. "Plannism" is precisely the conception of socialism that Marxism wished to destroy. Socialism must involve planning, but "total planning" does not equal socialism just as any fool can be a professor but not every professor need be a fool.

6. The Fabian Model

In Germany, behind the figure of Lassalle there shades off a series of "socialisms" moving in an interesting direction.

The so-called Academic Socialists ("Socialists of the chair," Kathedersozialisten--a current of Establishment academics) looked to Bismarck more openly than Lasalle, but their conception of state-socialism was not in principle alien to his. Only, Lassalle embarked on the risky expedient of calling into being a mass movement from below for the purpose--risky because once in motion it might get out of hand, as indeed it did more than once. Bismarck himself did not hesitate to represent his paternalistic economic policies as a kind of socialism, and books got written about "monarchical socialism," "Bismarckian state-socialism," etc. Following further to the right, one comes to the "socialism" of Friedrich List, a proto-Nazi, and to those circles where an anti-capitalist form of anti-Semitism (Dühring, A. Wagner, etc.) lays part of the basis for the movement that called itself socialism under Adolf Hitler.

The thread that unites this whole spectrum, through all the differences, is the conception of socialism as equivalent merely to state intervention in economic and social life. "Staat, greif zu!" Lassalle called. "State, take hold of things!"--this is the socialism of the whole lot.

This is why Schumpeter is correct in observing that the British equivalent of German state-socialism is--Fabianism, the socialism of Sidney Webb.

The Fabians (more accurately, the Webbians) are, in the history of the socialist idea, that modern socialist current which developed in more complete divorcement from Marxism, the one most alien to Marxism. It was almost chemically pure social-democratic reformism unalloyed, particularly before the rise of the mass labor and socialist movement in Britain, which it did not want and did not help to build (despite a common myth to the contrary). It is therefore a very important test, unlike most other reformist currents which paid their tribute to Marxism by adopting some of its language and distorting its substance.

The Fabians, deliberately middle-class in composition and appeal, were not for building any mass movement at all, least of all a Fabian one. They thought of themselves as a small elite of brain-trusters who would permeate the existing institutions of society, influence the real leaders in all spheres Tory or Liberal, and guide social development toward its collectivist goal with the "inevitability of gradualness." Since their conception of socialism was purely in terms of state intervention (national or municipal), and their theory told them that capitalism itself was being collectivized apace every day and had to move in this direction, their function was simply to hasten the process. The Fabian Society was designed in 1884 to be pilot-fish to a shark: at first the shark was the Liberal Party; but when the permeation of Liberalism failed miserably, and labor finally organized its own class party despite the Fabians, the pilot-fish simply reattached itself.

There is perhaps no other socialist tendency which so systematically and even consciously worked out its theory as a Socialism-from-Above. The nature of this movement was early recognized, though it was later obscured by the merging of Fabianism into the body of Labor reformism. The leading Christian socialist inside the Fabian Society once attacked Webb as "a bureaucratic Collectivist" (perhaps the first use of that term.) Hilaire Belloc's once-famous book of 1912 on The Servile State was largely triggered by the Webb type whose "collectivist ideal" was basically bureaucratic. G.D.H. Cole reminisced: "The Webb's in those days, used to be fond of saying that everyone who was active in politics was either an 'A' or a 'B'--an anarchist or a bureaucrat--and that they were 'B's'..."

These characterizations scarcely convey the full flavor of the Webbian collectivism that was Fabianism. It was through-and-through managerial, technocratic, elitist, authoritarian, "plannist." Webb was fond of the term wire-pulling almost as a synonym for politics. A Fabian publication wrote that they wished to be "the Jesuits of Socialism." The gospel was Order and Efficiency. The people, who should be treated kindly, were fit to be run only by competent experts. Class struggle, revolution and popular turbulence were insanity. In Fabianism and the Empire imperialism was praised and embraced. If ever the socialist movement developed its own bureaucratic collectivism, this was it.

"It may be thought that Socialism is essentially a movement from below, a class movement," wrote a Fabian spokesman, Sidney Ball, to disabuse the reader of this idea; but now socialists "approach the problem from the scientific rather than the popular view; they are middle-class theorists," he boasted, going on to explain that there is "a distinct rupture between the Socialism of the street and the Socialism of the chair."

The sequel is also known, though often glossed over. While Fabianism as a special tendency petered out into the larger stream of Labor Party reformism by 1918, the leading Fabians themselves went in another direction. Both Sidney and Beatrice Webb as well as Bernard Shaw--the top trio--became principled supporters of Stalinist totalitarianism in the 1930s. Even earlier, Shaw, who thought socialism needed a Superman, had found more than one. In turn he embraced Mussolini and Hitler as benevolent despots to hand "socialism" down to the Yahoos, and he was disappointed only that they did not actually abolish capitalism. In 1931 Shaw disclosed, after a visit to Russia, that the Stalin regime was really Fabianism in practice. The Webbs followed to Moscow, and found God. In their Soviet Communism: a New Civilization, they proved (right out of Moscow's own documents and Stalin's own claims, industriously researched) that Russia is the greatest democracy in the world; Stalin is no dictator; equality reigns for all; the one-party dictatorship is needed; the Communist Party is a thoroughly democratic elite bringing civilization to the Slavs and Mongols (but not Englishmen); political democracy has failed in the West anyway, and there is no reason why political parties should survive in our age...

They staunchly supported Stalin through the Moscow purge trials and the Hitler-Stalin Pact without a visible qualm, and died more uncritical pro-Stalinists than can now be found on the Politburo. As Shaw has explained, the Webbs had nothing but scorn for the Russian Revolution itself, but "the Webbs waited until the wreckage and ruin of the change was ended, its mistakes remedied, and the Communist State fairly launched." That is, they waited until the revolutionary masses had been straitjacketed, and the leaders of the revolution cashiered, the efficient tranquility of dictatorship had settled on the scene, the counter-revolution firmly established; and then they came along to pronounce it the Ideal.

Was this really a gigantic misunderstanding, some incomprehensible blunder? Or were they not right in thinking that this indeed was the "socialism" that matched their ideology, give or take a little blood? The swing of Fabianism from middle-class permeation to Stalinism was the swing of a door that was hinged on Socialism-from-Above.

If we look back at the decades just before the turn of the century that launched Fabianism on the world, another figure looms, the antithesis of Webb: the leading personality of revolutionary socialism in that period, the poet and artist William Morris, who became a socialist and a Marxist in his late forties. Morris' writings on socialism breathe from every pore the spirit of Socialism-from-Below, just as every line of Webb's is the opposite. This is perhaps clearest in his sweeping attacks on Fabianism (for the right reasons); his dislike of the "Marxism" of the British edition of Lassalle, the dictatorial H.M. Hyndman; his denunciations of state-socialism; and his repugnance at the bureaucratic-collectivist utopia of Bellamy's Looking Backward. (The last moved him to remark: "If they brigaded me into a regiment of workers, I'd just lie on my back and kick.")

Morris' socialist writings are pervaded with his emphasis from every side on class struggle from below, in the present; and as for the socialist future, his News from Nowhere was written as the direct antithesis of Bellamy's book. He warned

that individual men cannot shuffle off the business of life on to the shoulders of an abstraction called the State, but must deal with it in conscious association with each other...Variety of life is as much an aim of true Communism as equality of condition, and...nothing but an union of these two will bring about real freedom.

"Even some Socialists," he wrote, "are apt to confuse the cooperative machinery towards which modern life is tending with the essence of Socialism itself." This meant "the danger of the community falling into bureaucracy." Therefore he expressed fear of a "collectivist bureaucracy" lying ahead. Reacting violently against state-socialism and reformism, he fell backwards into anti-parliamentarism but he did not fall into the anarchist trap:

...people will have to associate in administration, and sometimes there will be differences of opinion...What is to be done? Which party is to give way? Our Anarchist friends say that it must not be carried by a majority; in that case, then, it must be carried by a minority. And why? Is there any divine right in a minority?

This goes to the heart of anarchism far more deeply than the common opinion that the trouble with anarchism is that it is over-idealistic.

William Morris versus Sidney Webb: this is one way of summing up the story.

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