Friday, March 21, 2008
The following is the transcript of a talk given by Adam Buick to the 1994 Socialist Party of Great Britain Summer School, which was held that year at Ruskin College in Oxford, England.
I once read a book which contained a sentence which began "As Marx said to Lenin ..." This would not have been a physical impossibility, as Marx’s life and Lenin’s life did overlap for 13 years. But quite why - and how - Marx would have confided his political views to a schoolboy in provincial Russia was not explained. In short, it never happened nor was it plausible to imagine it could have happened.
Marx-Kropotkin meeting on the other hand, though it never did happen, could well have. Kropotkin was born in 1842, Marx in 1818 so, although Marx was a generation older, they could have met and discussed (just as Marx had in fact met and discussed with the three founding fathers of modern anarchism, Proudhon, Bakunin and Max Stirner).
If Marx and Kropotkin had have met, it could have been on two occasions: in 1876-7 when Kropotkin arrived in England after making a dramatic and well-publicised escape from a Russian prison, or in 1880-1 when Kropotkin again lived in England for a while (before going to France - and ending up in a French prison).
As a matter of fact, I think Marx would have been quite keen to have met Kropotkin on both these occasions. In the last years of his life (he was to die in 1883. aged 65) Marx took a great interest in Russia. He had always seen Tsarist Russia as a threat to democratic, let alone socialist advance in Western Europe and was interested in the prospects of an anti-Tsarist revolution there. He learned Russian and began to study in detail its history and social and political structure.
Kropotkins reputation during Marx’s lifetime was not so much as an anarchist but as a Russian revolutionary with socialist leanings and as a geographer and explorer. Kropotkin came from a very privileged background. A member of the old Moscow aristocracy and a hereditary prince, he had been enrolled in the elite corps of pages, a military academy that supplied personal assistants to the Tsar. He had himself been the Tsar’s personal page for a while, but when it came to choosing which regiment to be an officer in he opted not for some prestigious one but for a regiment of Cossacks in Siberia a first sign that he was becoming disillusioned with the Tsarist regime. In Siberia, where he did his exploring and geological studies, his liberal sentiments grew turning in revolutionary ones, especially after a visit to Switzerland in 1872/3 where he joined the IWMA (International Working Mens Association, or First International). On his return to Russia he became involved in a revolutionary circle, of the "go to the people" variety rather than the conspiracies to assassinate Tsarist officials and even the Tsars that later developed. He got arrested and was imprisoned, escaping, as I have mentioned, in 1876.
Marx would have loved to have met such a person and to have discussed with him the prospects for an anti-Tsarist revolution and for socialism in Russia including the Russian peasant commune (or mir). But the title of this talk is not "What Marx Would Have Said to Kropotkin". but what "Marx Should Have Said to Kropotkin". So what, then, should Marx have said?
1. "Don’t call me a State Socialist! I was putting forward a case for abolishing the State while you were still a toddler".
2. "With regard to paying people in labour-time vouchers in the early days of Socialist society, you were right and I was wrong. This was a silly, unworkable idea".
3. "Like me. You’re a Socialist. We both want a stateless, moneyless, wageless society. Why then do you feel you have more in common with non-socialist opponents of the State than with me? After all, your disagreement with them is over ends, while you’re disagreement with me is only over means".
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