Hunt has argued at some length that this formulation – which nowhere else occurs
in Marx’s writing – was put in to appease the members of the Communist League
who commissioned the Manifesto. They did not like the idea of a bourgeois
revolution anyway, but a bourgeois revolution immediately followed by a
proletarian one was enough to sugar the pill. Hunt’s argument is that this notion
of permanent revolution – that a bourgeois revolution becomes relatively quickly a
proletarian one – does not square with classical Marxism and the emphasis placed
elsewhere in the Communist Manifestoon the gradual, step-by-step, education of
the proletariat preparing them for revolution and power (Hunt, 1975: 180, 246).
Whatever tactical considerations played their part in this fateful formulation, the
argument is never actually repudiated by Marx and Engels, although they did later
speak of the Communist Manifestoas an ‘historical document which we have no
longer any right to alter’ (Marx and Engels, 1967: 54). Whether we find Hunt’s
argument convincing, the point is that the notion that one revolution can
immediately follow another has had significant historical consequences, and has
come to be seen as part and parcel of Marxist theory.
The implication is that relatively undeveloped countries can become socialist or
communist without the lengthy period of preparation which capitalism unwittingly
and normally allows the proletariat. Since this period is precisely the one in which
workers become familiar with liberal ideas and institutions, it is not difficult to see
that the omission or dramatic compression of such a period can only increase the
need for the authoritarian leadership of a ‘vanguard’ party, and authoritarian
political institutions themselves. Is it surprising then that the USSR, and later the
People’s Republic of China, followed a development in which the liberal tradition
was suppressed, rather than made the basis for further political advance?
What happens when revolutions are ‘pre-mature’?
Engels told the German socialist Weydemeyer that ‘we shall find ourselves compelled
to make communist experiments and leaps which no-one knows better than
ourselves to be untimely’ (Hoffman, 1995: 135). But if revolution is deemed
inevitable, then Marxists will ‘find themselves’ compelled to support ‘experiments’
and ‘leaps’ which are not only untimely, but can only be sustained by authoritarian
institutions. A good example of this problem can be seen in relation to Marx and
Engels’s attitude towards the Paris Commune. Because of the heroism of the
Communards, Marx extolled the virtues of the Commune. This he did in a book
called The Civil War in France, which outlined a radical polity that became the
basis of Lenin’s blueprint in The State and Revolutionwritten in 1918.
Yet the Commune was in reality influenced by Blanquism (a rather elitist and
coercive egalitarianism named after the French socialist Blanqui, 1805–81) and
anarchist trends, and reflected what has been called ‘an unsophisticated anti-
bureaucratism’ (Hoffman, 1995: 137) – an anti-bureaucratism that enshrined anti-
liberal political practices. Despite his private reservations, Marx felt obliged publicly
to support an ‘experiment’ that could only have succeeded if power had been
concentrated in an unambiguously authoritarian manner.
Chapter 10 Socialism 221