Friday, November 25, 2016

Makhaevism Making a Comeback

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 25 – Makhaevism, the term of abuse its opponents a century ago gave to the view among many working class Russians that the intelligentsia was more culturally alien and hostile to them than were even the rich, appears to be making a comeback, albeit in today’s hybrid world not under its own name.

            Indeed, it appears to be a better description of the attitudes of many working class people across the world today and also and especially importantly to the way wealthy leaders are exploiting this anger in ways that ultimately work against that interests of those who feel it than do many of the terms now applied to the various tectonic shifts taking place around the world.  

            On the one hand, hostility to educated cultural elites explains the voting and polling behavior of workers better than class interests. Thus, many working class people in many places view such elites as alien and out of touch with their needs even while supporting those who have or have gained great wealth.

            And on the other, one of the basic failings of Makhaevism, its lack of a solution to this problem except to call for a permanent general strike by the workers against the educated, points to an outcome that history has seen before: the rise of authoritarian populism which in the name of protecting the workers from the alien cultural elite ends by defending those in power.

            The term comes from the denunciations by Lenin and then Stalin of the writings of Jan Waclaw Machajski (1866-1926), a Polish Marxist of anarcho-syndicalist tendencies. (For background, see Paul Avrich, “What is Makhaevism’?” Soviet Studies, July 1965, available online at; Marshall Shatz, Jan Wavlaw Machajski (Pittsburgh, 1989), and Albert Parry’s introduction to the collection of Machayski’s writings collected and republished as Umstvennyy rabochy (New York, 1968).

            Lenin first denounced Machajski and Makhaevism both because the Polish writer’s argument was fundamentally non-Marxist in that it viewed cultural and educational divides as deeper than economic ones and because it threatened Lenin’s Bolshevik Party which included far more intellectuals than workers.

            In the early and mid-1920s, Stalin joined in that denunciation, viewing it as a useful tool in his campaign against his better educated opponents in the Bolshevik party by playing to the hostility of many workers and peasants against a class they often despised as “those who wore glasses” and deserved to be killed rather than listened to.

            Later in the mid-1930s, after he had vanquished his more educated Old Bolshevik opponents and sought to promote support for the new Soviet intelligentsia, Stalin too joined in the denunciation of Makhaevism among the Soviet population as something antithetical to the interests of Marxism-Leninism.

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