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The New International, November–December 1951


Excerpts on Russia from Karl Marx

Revelations on Russia; Dialogue with Bakunin [1]


From The New International, Vol. XVII No. 6, November–December 1951, pp. 360–366.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


Below the reader will find some extracts of the Revelations on Russia published by Karl Marx in The Free Press [2], London organ of the Russophobe David Urquhart, during 1856–1857. This text, suppressed by the editors of the works of Marx and Engels in the Russian language, has been cited, however, on several occasions in volume one of History of Diplomacy, published under the direction of V. Potiemkin, USSR Academy of Sciences (French translation, Librairie de Medicis, Paris, 1946). In this Soviet work, the art of citation reaches the heights of trickery. Phrases torn out of their context are placed within a chain of ideas which have not the slightest bearing upon the thought of Marx.

Unable to place the complete text of Marx’s work next to corresponding chapters from the History of the USSR, published in Moscow in 1948, we limit ourselves to the brief statement that the tendency of contemporary Russian historiography is not only the glorification of Stalin’s regime, but also the presentation of this regime as the logical consequence of Russia’s entire historic evolution. In addition, it is the consummation of the work of construction of the Russian State accomplished by Stalin’s predecessors, among whom Ivan III and Peter the Great hold first rank. All the Slavophile theses of former Russian historians have again been taken up by the official Soviet historians; notably, that stating the purely Slavic origin of the Kievian State. There is no allusion to the thesis accepted by Marx and numerous modern historians according to which the founders of the first Russian States were not Slavs, but foreign peoples, namely the Norman Vareguians. [3]Prince Rurik – a legendary figure! Not a word as to the Scandinavian origin of Oleg, Igor and Sviatoslav! The latter “was a Slav by his origin, name and appearance” (o.c., V. I, page 48). Thus, the Stalinist historians take over, for their own benefit, the historic teachings of M.V. Lomonosov, poet laureate in the service of the Empress Elisabeth.

M. Rubel

* * *

Does Russia Threaten the World with a Return to Universal Monarchy?

The overwhelming influence of Russia has taken Europe at different epochs by surprise, startled the peoples of the West, and been submitted to as a fatality, or resisted only by convulsions. But alongside the fascination exercised by Russia, there runs an ever-reviving scepticism, dogging her like a shadow, growing with her growth, mingling shrill notes of irony with the cries of agonizing peoples, and mocking her very grandeur as a histrionic attitude taken up to dazzle and to cheat. Other empires have met with similar doubts in their infancy; Russia has become a colossus without outliving them. She affords the only instance in history of an immense empire, the very existence of whose power, even after world-wide achievements, has never ceased to be treated like a matter of faith rather than like a matter of fact. From the outset of the eighteenth century to our days, no author, whether he intended to exalt or to check Russia, thought it possible to dispense with first proving her existence.

But whether we be spiritualists or materialists with respect to Russia – whether we consider her power as a palpable fact, or as the mere vision of the guilt-stricken consciences of the European peoples – the question remains the same: “How did this power, or this phantom of a power, contrive to assume such dimensions as to rouse on the one side the passionate assertion, and on the other the angry denial of its threatening the world with a rehearsal of universal Monarchy?” At the beginning of the 18th Century Russia was regarded as a mushroom creation extemporized by the genius of Peter the Great. Schloezer thought it a discovery to have found out that she possessed a past; and in modern times, writers, like Fallmerayer, unconsciously following in the track beaten by Russian historians, have deliberately asserted that the northern spectre which frightens the Europe of the 19th Century, already overshadowed the Europe of the 9th Century. With them, the policy of Russia begins with the first Ruriks, and has, with some interruptions indeed, been systematically continued to the present hour.

The Mongolian Origins of Russian Power

The policy of the first Ruriks is completely distinguished from that of modern Russia ... The Gothic period constitutes for Russia only a chapter of Germanic invasions ...

Thus the Russia of the Normans disappeared completely from the scene and those feeble vestiges which persisted were obliterated by the terrifying apparition of Genghis Khan. The origin of Moscovy lies in the bloody degradation of Mongolian slavery and not in the rude heroism of the Norman epoch. Modern Russia is nothing but a transfigured Moscovy ...

Ivan Kalita, the First [4], and Ivan III, called the Great, incarnate, [in] the one, the growth of Moscow under Tartar domination; [in] the other, Moscow becoming an independent power, thanks to the disappearance of Tartar domination. In the history of these two individuals is summarized the entire Moscovite policy from the moment of its entry upon the historic arena.

Ivan Kalita’s whole system may be expressed in a few words: the Machiavellism of the slave who wants to usurp power. His very weakness, his servitude, became for him the driving principle of his strength.

Ivan III delivered Moscow from the Tartar yoke, not by a bold and decisive blow, but by the patient work of twenty years. He did not break it, but surreptitiously extricated himself from it. Thus this deliverance bears more resemblance to a natural phenomenon than to a human act. When the Tartar monster was on the point of uttering its last death-rattle, Ivan appeared at its death-bed as a doctor who makes the diagnosis and announces the end, and not a warrior who strikes the coup de grace.

Every people appears to have grown in stature when it shakes off a foreign yoke. From Ivan’s hands, Moscovy emerged still more debased. To be convinced of this, it suffices to compare Spain and its struggle against the Arabs with Moscovy and its struggle against the Tartars.

It is still interesting today to note to what extent Moscovy endeavored – just like modern Russia – to conduct attacks upon the republics. Novgorod and its colonies open up the cycle, the Cossack Republic follows suit, and Poland closes it ... Ivan seems to have wrested from the Mongols the chains which crushed Moscovy only to impose them upon the Russian republics.

From Ivan the Great to Peter the Great, or Toward World Conquest

A simple substitution of names and dates will offer evidence that between the policy of Ivan III and that of modern Russia, there exists not similarity, but sameness. Ivan III, on his part, did but perfect the traditional policy of Moscovy, bequeathed by Ivan Kalita, the First. Ivan Kalita, the Mongolian slave, acquired greatness by wielding the power of his greatest foe, the Tartar, against his minor foes, the Russian princes. He could not wield the power of the Tartar but under false pretenses. Forced to dissemble before his masters the strength he really gathered, he had to dazzle his fellow-serfs with a power he did not own. To solve his problem he had to elaborate all the ruses of the most abject slavery into a system, and to execute that system with the patient labor of the slave. Open force itself could enter as an intrigue only into a system of intrigues, corruption and underground usurpation. He could not strike before he had poisoned. Singleness of purpose became with him duplicity of action. To encroach by the fraudulent use of a hostile power, to weaken that power by the very act of using it, and to overthrow it at last by the effects produced through its own instrumentality – this policy was inspired by Ivan Kalita by the peculiar character both of the ruling and the serving race. His policy remained still the policy of Ivan III. It is still the policy of Peter the Great, and of modern Russia, whatever changes of name, seat and character the hostile power used may have undergone. Peter the Great is indeed the inventor of modern Russian policy, but he became so only by divesting the old Muscovite method of encroaching on its merely local character and its accidental admixtures, by distilling it into an abstract formula, by generalizing its purpose, and exalting its object from the overthrow of certain given limits of power to the aspiration of unlimited power. He metamorphosed Muscovy into modern Russia by the generalization of its system, not by the mere addition of some provinces.

To sum up, it is in the terrible and abject school of Mongolian slavery that Muscovy was nursed and grew up. It gathered strength only by becoming a virtuoso in the craft of serfdom. Even when emancipated, Muscovy continued to perform its traditional part of the slave, as well as the master. At length, Peter the Great coupled the political craft of the Mongol slave with the proud aspiration of the Mongol master to whom Genghis Khan had, by will, bequeathed his conquest of the earth.

The Petersburg Empire: “Russia Needs Water”

The conquest of the Sea of Azoff was aimed at in Peter’s first war with Turkey, the conquest of the Baltic in his war against Sweden, the conquest of the Black Sea in his second war against the Port, and the conquest of the Caspian Sea in his fraudulent intervention in Persia. For a system of local encroachment, land was sufficient; for a system of universal aggression, water had become indispensable. It was but by the conversion of Muscovy from a country wholly of land into a sea-bordering empire that the traditional limits of the Muscovite policy could be superseded and merged into that bold synthesis which, blending the encroaching method of the Mongol slave with the world conquering tendencies of the Mongol master, forms the lifespring of modern Russian diplomacy ...

It was, from the first, a defiance to the Europeans, an incentive to further conquest to the Russians. The fortifications of Russian Poland in our own days are only a further step in the execution of the same idea. Modlin, Ivangorod, Warsaw, are more than citadels to keep a rebellious country in check. They are the same menace to the west which Petersburg, in its immediate bearing, was a hundred years ago to the north. They are to transform Russia into Panslavonia, just as the Baltic provinces were to transform Muscovy into Russia ...

Petersburg was not like Muscovy the center of a race, but the seat of a government; not the slow work of a people, but the instantaneous creation of a man; not the medium from which the peculiarities of an inland people radiate, but the maritime extremity where they are lost; not the traditional nucleus of a national development, but the deliberately chosen abode of a cosmopolitan intrigue. By the transfer of the capital, Peter cut off the natural ligaments which bound up the encroaching system of the old Muscovite Czars with the natural abilities and aspirations of the great Russian race. By planting his capital on the margin of a sea, he put to open defiance the anti-maritime instincts of that race, and degraded it to a mere wheel in his political mechanism.

If the Muscovite Czars, who worked their encroachments principally by the agency of the Tartar Khans, were obliged to tartarize Moscovy; Peter the Great, who resolved upon working through the agency of the West, was obliged to civilize Muscovy. In taking possession of the Baltic provinces, he at once seized the tools necessary for this process. They afforded him not only the diplomats and the generals, the brains with which to execute his system of political and military action upon the West. They yielded him, at the same time, a crop of bureaucrats, schoolmasters, and drill-sergeants who were to drill into the Russians that veneer of civilization that adapts them to the technical appliances of the western peoples, without imbuing them with their ideas ...

Real History will show that the Khans of the Golden Horde were no more instrumental in realizing the plans of Ivan III and his predecessors, than the rulers of England were in realizing the plans of Peter the First and his successors.

Karl Marx

* * *

These critical notes of Marx, which we present in the form of a “dialogue,” were interspersed with his resume of Bakunin’s well-known work, Gossoudarstvennost i Anarchia (Anarchism and the State), published in 1873. It was first published in Russian by the Marx-Engels-Lenin Institute from the original notes of Marx (in Russian and German), still in possession of the Russian government and therefore available to on one else. In 1935, it appeared in a French brochure entitled Contre l’Anarchisme, along with other anti-Bakunist material. This is the source of our extract, pages 43–45.

In presenting what we believe to be the first English translation of a document which bears upon certain basic problems of today, we call our readers’ attention to this series of translations which makes it impossible to guarantee complete accuracy. It is but one of similar texts whose verification must await other days. The collection of Marx by Maximilien Rubel which is reviewed in this issue of The New International also contains the text.

Marx’s remarks are given in italics; his summary and extracts from Bakunin’s work in roman type, and Marx’s caustic comments thereon are contained within brackets. – H.J.

* * *

Bakunin: Wherever there is a State, then there is inevitably domination and consequently, slavery as well. Domination without slavery, be it hidden or conspicuous, is inconceivable – this is why we are enemies of the State.

Marx: What is the meaning of the proletariat, raised to the rank of ruling class? It means that the proletariat, instead of struggling in an isolated way against the economically privileged classes, has conquered sufficient strength and organization to make use of generalized means of violence. But it can make use of only economic means which suppress its own character of wage-earner and, as a consequence, its class character. Furthermore, with its total victory its domination over other classes is finished, since its character as a class would disappear.

Is it possible for the entire proletariat to be at the head of the government? (In a trade union, for example, can the whole union form its executive committee? Will all division of labor cease in the factory, and will the various functions which flow from this division stop? And in Bakunin’s edifice from bottom to top, will everything go to the top? Isn’t it then true that there won’t be anything below! Will all the Commune members simultaneously administer the common interests of the district? Then, there is no more distinction between Commune and district.) There are about 40 million Germans. Will all 40 million, for instance, be members of the government? (Certainly! For the whole thing begins with self-government of the Commune.) The entire people will govern, and there no one will be governed (when a man rules himself, he does not do so according to this principle, for isn’t he only himself and no one else?) Thus, there will be no government, no State, but “if there is a State, there will be rulers and slaves’’ (this is simply to say, when class domination will have disappeared and when there will no longer be any State in the present political sense).

Bakunin: This dilemma in the theory of the Marxists is easily resolved (by them). By government of the people, they (that is, Bakunin – K.M.) mean government of the people, with the help of a small number of rulers elected by the people.

Marx: Asinine! This is democratic verbiage, political drivel. An election is a political form, be it that of the smallest Russian commune, or in the artel. The character of an election does not depend upon its designation, but, on the contrary, upon the economic base, upon the economic relations between the electors. As soon as functions will have ceased to be political, (1) governmental functions will no longer exist, (2) the distribution of general functions will have become a matter of profession and will confer no power, (3) elections will have none of their present political character.

Bakunin: Universal suffrage for all the people [such a thing as “all the people” is, in the present sense of the word, fantasmagoric!], where there are peoples’ representatives and elected rulers of the State – such is the last word of the Marxists, as well as that of the democratic school. A lie, behind which is hidden the despotism of the ruling minority, so much more dangerous since it appears as the expression of the so-called will of the people.

Marx: Under collectivized property, the so-called will of the people would disappear, to give way to the real will of the cooperative.

Bakunin: Thus, as result, administration of the great majority of the popular masses by a privileged minority. But this minority, the Marxists say [where], will be made up of workers. Yes, if I may say so, of former workers, but who the moment that they are more than representatives, or have become rulers of the people, cease to be workers.

Marx: No more than a manufacturer today ceases to be a capitalist because of the fact that he becomes a member of the city council.

Bakunin: ... and from the heights of the State they will look down upon the world of the worker as mean and vulgar; no longer will they represent the people, but themselves and their pretensions as the people’s government. He who doubts this is not at all informed about [isn’t acquainted with] human nature.

Marx: If M. Bakunin was au courant, be it only with the situation of a manager even in a workers’ cooperative, he would send all his authoritarian nightmares to the devil. He would have had to ask himself, what form can administrative functions assume, based upon a Workers’ State, if he wishes to so designate it.

Bakunin: But those elected will be ardently convinced socialists and, besides, scientists. The words: “socialist scientist” [has never been employed; “scientific socialism” employed only in opposition to utopian socialism which tries to inculcate new nonsense into people, instead of limiting its science to understanding of the social movement formed by the people itself; see my work against Proudhon], which are endlessly used in the works and speeches of the Lasallians and Marxists, show by themselves that the so- called Popular State will be nothing else but the highly despotic direction of the popular masses by a new and numerous aristocracy of real or pretended scientists. The people is not erudite. That means it will be entirely absolved of its cares by the government; it will be completely penned up inside the government’s stable. What a fine deliverance!

Men have felt this [!] contradiction, and recognizing that, despite all its democratic forms, the government of scientists [what a delirium!] would transform it into the heaviest, most hated, most despicable and effective dictatorship in the world, they console themselves with the idea that this dictatorship will be only transitory and for a short time [no, my dear fellow!], that class domination by the workers over those social strata of the old world which oppose them can last only so long as the economic basis for the existence of classes will not have been destroyed. They say that their only concern and their only goal will be to form and lift up the people [cafe politicians!], economically as well as politically, to such a degree that all government will soon become unnecessary and the State, having lost all its political character, that is, its character of domination, will transform itself into what is clearly a free organization. But if their State is truly popular, why destroy it, and if its destruction is necessary for the real deliverance of the people, why do they dare to call it popular?

Marx: An abstraction made up of Liebknecht’s hobby, The Popular State, which is itself a piece of idiocy directed against the Communist Manifesto, etc. All this simply means that, during the period of the struggle for the overthrow of the old society, since the proletariat still acts according to the basis of this old society and consequently still moves within those political forms more or less belonging to it, it has not yet attained its definitive formation during such a period of struggle and, for its deliverance, it uses methods which are suppressed thereafter. From this, Bakunin concludes that the proletariat should rather do nothing at all; it should await the day of general liquidation, the last judgment.

Bakunin: By means of our polemic against them [which naturally appeared before my book against Proudhon, before the Communist Manifesto, and even before Saint-Simon], we have forced them to admit that without freedom or anarchy [Bakunin has only translated Proudhon’s and Stirner’s anarchy into inept Tartar], that is, the free organization of the working masses from top to bottom [stupidity!] being reckoned with, their “People’s State” [servile] is a yoke which engenders despotism on the one hand, and slavery on the other.

* * *


1. The material here presented was translated and edited for publication by Henry Judd. A review by Comrade Judd of Maximilien Rubel’s collection of Marx’s essays appears at the end of the Marx excerpts.

2. With the exception of the section entitled, “The Mongolian Origins of Russian Power,” all extracts are the original English text as published in The Free Press during February and April 1857. The exception mentioned has been translated from the French. – Ed.

3. A Scandinavian people who invaded Russia in the 9th Century; their chief, Rurik, is considered to be the founder of the Russian Empire. – Ed.

4. Grand Duke of All-The-Russias in 14th Century; made Moscow his capital. – Ed.

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