G.V. Plekhanov

Anarchism and Socialism


The Bourgeoisie, Anarchism, and Socialism.

The “father of Anarchy”, the “immortal” Proudhon, bitterly mocked at those people for whom the revolution consisted of acts of violence, the exchange of blows, the shedding of blood. The descendants of the “father”, the modern Anarchists, understand by revolution only this brutally childish method. Everything that is not violence is a betrayal of the cause, a foul compromise with “authority”. The sacred bourgeoisie does not know what to do against them. In the domain of theory they are absolutely impotent with regard to the Anarchists, who are their own “enfants terribles”. The bourgeoisie was the first to propagate the theory of “laissez faire”, of dishevelled individualism. Their most eminent philosopher of today, Herbert Spencer, is nothing but a conservative Anarchist. The “companions” are active and zealous persons, who carry the bourgeois reasoning to its logical conclusion.

The magistrates of the French bourgeois Republic have condemned Grave to prison, and his book, Société Mourante et l’Anarchie, to destruction. The bourgeois men of letters declare this puerile book a profound work, and its author a man of rare intellect.

And not only has the bourgeoisie no theoretical weapons with which to combat the Anarchists; they see their young folk enamoured of the Anarchist doctrine. In this society, satiated and rotten to the marrow of its bones, where all faiths are long since dead, where all sincere opinions appear ridiculous, in this “monde ou l’on s’ennui”, where after having exhausted all forms of enjoyment they no longer know in what new fancy, in what fresh excess to seek novel sensations, there are people who lend a willing ear to the song of the Anarchist siren. Amongst the Paris “companions” there are already not a few men quite “comme il faut”, men about town who, as the French writer, Raoul Allier, says, wear nothing less than patent leather shoes, and put a green carnation in their button-holes before they go to meetings. Decadent writers and artists are converted to Anarchism and propagate its theories in reviews like the Mercure de France, La Plume, etc. And this is comprehensible enough. One might wonder indeed if Anarchism, an essentially bourgeois doctrine, had not found adepts among the French bourgeoisie, the most “blasée” of all bourgeoisies.

By taking possession of the Anarchist doctrine, the decadent, “fin-de-siecle” writers restore to it its true character of bourgeois individualism. If Kropotkine and Reclus speak in the name of the worker, oppressed by the capitalist, La Plume and the Mercure de France speak in the name of the individual who is seeking to shake off all the trammels of society in order that he may at last do freely what he “wants” to. Thus Anarchism comes back to its starting-point. Stirner said: “Nothing for me goes beyond myself.” Laurent Tailhade says: “What matters the death of vague human beings, if thereby the individual affirms himself.”

The bourgeoisie no longer knows where to turn. “I who have fought so much for Positivism,” moans Emile Zola, “well, yes! after thirty years of this struggle, I feel my convictions are shaken. Religious faith would have prevented such theories from being propagated;but has it not almost disappeared today? Who will give us a new ideal?”

Alas, gentlemen, there is no ideal for walking corpses such as you! You will try everything. You will become Buddhists, Druids, Sars Chaldeans, Occultists, Magi, Theosophists, or Anarchists, which- ever you prefer – and yet you will remain what you are now – beings without faith or principle, bags, emptied by history. The ideal of the bourgeois has lived.

For ourselves, Social-Democrats, we have nothing to fear from the Anarchist propaganda. The child of the bourgeoisie, Anarchism, will never have any serious influence upon the proletariat. If among the Anarchists there are workmen who sincerely desire the good of their class, and who sacrifice themselves to what they believe to be the good cause, it is only thanks to a misunderstanding that they find themselves in this camp. They only know the struggle for the emancipation of the proletariat under the form which the Anarchists are trying to give it. When more enlightened they will come to us.

Here is an example to prove this. During the trial of the Anarchists at Lyons in 1883, the working man Desgranges related how he had become an Anarchist, he who had formerly taken part in the political movement, and had even been elected a municipal councillor at Villefranche in November, 1879. “In 1881, in the month of September, when the dyers’ strike broke out at Villefranche, I was elected secretary of the strike committee, and it was during this memorable event ... that I became convinced of the necessity of suppressing authority, for authority spells despotism. During this strike, when the employers refused to discuss the matter with the workers, what did the prefectural and communal administrations do to settle the dispute? Fifty gendarmes, with sword in hand, were told off to settle the question. That is what is called the pacific means employed by Governments. It was then, at the end of this strike, that some working men, myself among the number, understood the necessity of seriously studying economic questions, and, in order to do so, we agreed to meet in the evening to study together. It is hardly necessary to add that this group became Anarchist.

That is how the trick is done. A working man, active and intelligent, supports the programme of one or the other bourgeois party. The bourgeois talk about the well-being of the people, the workers, but betray them on the first opportunity. The working man who has believed in the sincerity of these persons is indignant, wants to separate from them, and decides to study seriously “economic questions”. An Anarchist comes along, and reminding him of the treachery of the bourgeois, and the sabres of the gendarmes, assures him that the political struggle is nothing but bourgeois nonsense, and that in order to emancipate the workers political action must be given up, making the destruction of the State the final aim. The working man who was only beginning to study the situation thinks the “companion” is right, and so he becomes a convinced and devoted Anarchist! What would happen, if pursuing his studies of the social question further, he had understood that the “companion” was a pretentious Ignoramus, that he talked twaddle, that his “Ideal” is a delusion and a snare, that outside bourgeois politics there is, opposed to these, the political action of the proletariat, which will put an end to the very existence of capitalist society? He would have become a Social-Democrat.

Thus the more widely our ideas become known among the working classes, and they are thus becoming more and more widely known, the less will proletarians be inclined to follow the Anarchists. Anarchism, with the exception of its “learned” housebreakers, will more and more transform itself into a kind of bourgeois sport, for the purpose of providing sensations for “individuals” who have indulged too freely in the pleasures of the world, the flesh and the devil.

And when the proletariat are masters of the situation, they will only need to look at the “companions”, and even the “finest” of them will be silenced; they will only have to breathe to disperse all the Anarchist dust to the winds of heaven.


Last updated on 19.7.2004