Staunton, November 13 – Makhaevism, a phenomenon Lenin denounced a century ago, is making a comeback not only in Russia but in the United States and for the same reason: those who view the educated as the key problem and most appropriate target for attack are less inclined to go after their class enemies, the wealthy, exactly what the latter want.
The way in which the draft tax bills in the US Congress target those whose work is based on educational achievement and who seek to improve themselves via higher education to the benefit of those who are in business or even more those who live on the basis of unearned income has attracted widespread comment in the US.
And the attacks by Donald Trump on expertise and education per se have enjoyed remarkable resonance among many working-class Americans, especially given that these attacks have been accompanied by the American president’s insistence than any talk about increasing income inequality is a form of impermissible “class war.”
Now the same thing is happening in Russia, where Vladimir Putin and his regime are encouraging attacks on intellectuals of various stripes, portraying them as “a fifth column” or worse, in order to distract attention and make illegitimate any criticism of the wealth Putin and his entourage have gained for themselves (novayagazeta.ru/articles/2017/11/13/74527-goppi).
In the American case, this phenomenon hasn’t been given a name; but in the Russian one, some have suggested “goppi” or “gopniki” -- although in both a far better and more descriptive term would be Makhaevism, the term of abuse its opponents a century ago gave to the attitude of working-class Russians that the intelligentsia was more culturally alien than the rich.
What was called Makhaevism then reflects 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.
But 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 theanarchistlibrary.org/library/paul-avrich-what-is-makhaevism; 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.
Now, however, the term and the phenomenon it refers to not only have re-emerged but with the support of the leaders of two important countries to the detriment of the futures of the people in both.