Marx vs. Insurrectionism

Got tipped off to this quote by reading Hal Draper. His translation is slightly different, and slightly more damning. But this version–from the Marxists Internet Archive–makes the point pretty well. It’s from a review Marx wrote in 1850. The whole review is well worth reading as a polemic against the mixed-up milieu of police spies, provocateurs, and professional insurrectionists.

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“It is precisely their business to anticipate the process of revolutionary development, to bring it artificially to crisis-point, to launch a revolution on the spur of the moment, without the conditions for a revolution. For them the only condition for revolution is the adequate preparation of their conspiracy. They are the alchemists of the revolution and are characterised by exactly the same chaotic thinking and blinkered obsessions as the alchemists of old. They leap at inventions which are supposed to work revolutionary miracles: incendiary bombs, destructive devices of magic effect, revolts which are expected to be all the more miraculous and astonishing in effect as their basis is less rational. Occupied with such scheming, they have no other purpose than the most immediate one of overthrowing the existing government and have the profoundest contempt for the more theoretical enlightenment of the proletariat about their class interests.”

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4 Comments

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4 responses to “Marx vs. Insurrectionism

  1. Nice passage. I’m reminded of Gramsci, though, reading this quote: adequate preparation of a conspiracy is relatively straightforward to the extent that we imagine the state as a single fortress which can be stormed. In a complex, modern, highly developed nation-state, even an adequate conspiracy is hard to cook up without a lot of that contemptible educational work.

  2. Thanks for this! Great quote. I’ve not clicked through to the original Marx bit yet – would you mind telling me who he’s polemicizing against?

  3. Hey Nate. The quote comes from a review Marx wrote of a police informant’s memoirs. I guess this spy infiltrated some of the various conspiratorial revolutionary groups active in Europe during and after the revolutions of 1848.

    I think the lesson is that Marx spent much of his political career fighting against the conspiratorial and insurrectionist tendencies in the revolutionary movement. This included ‘communist’ groups like the Blanquists but also radical democrats.

    Marx thought a real revolution meant the coming to power of the whole working class, not of a group of self-selected leaders who planned their uprising in secret.

    I can’t recommend highly enough book three of Hal Draper’s Karl Marx’s Theory of Revolution, where I first found this quote. The whole text essentially focuses on this question.

  4. Thanks comrade, I’ll check that out as soon as I can.

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